Month two of 2023 is officially a memory. Unfortunately, February was not a stellar reading month for yours truly. However, I did manage to read three incredible novels, which I will now briefly discuss.
If you are looking for a complex work of science fiction with tremendous world-building and characters, this is your book. However, if you are wanting something a little more intimate that explores human identity, well this is still a great choice. Micaiah Johnson has managed to craft a great work of dystopian fiction, while also serving as a multiverse-spanning adventure.
I have a deep and abiding love for dark and surreal horror fiction. From the first page, Catriona Ward plunges you headfirst into a mind-bending story about a man, his daughter, and a talking cat who live in this insanely creepy house not far from where a horrific murder took place. You’ll think you’ve figured it all out, but trust me, this novel delivers more twists than a roller coaster.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room might be a short read, but there is so much depth. This was my first experience with James Baldwin, and the writing is so beautiful and compelling. This is an author who can makes you feel the power of love in one sentence, and then bring you crashing down in the next. I understand why this book is considered the pinnacle of LGBTQ fiction. I’ll be posting a full review later this week.
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
2023 Goals and Challenges:
Books Read: 10/60
Books Reviewed: 8/10
Classics Remaining for Classics Club: 1/14
Translated Works: 3/10
TBR Challenge: 1/12
Read Christie Challenge: 1/12
As I reflect back on February, I discover I’m more satisfied than I originally thought. I read a fascinating sci-fi novel, an outstanding work of surrealist horror, and a beautiful, yet heart-wrenching classic. I’m still on track to complete my goals, so no worries over here.
I’ve been reading The Cabin at the End of the World, as it has recently been adapted to screen by M. Night Shyamalan (no spoilers please). John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids is also proving to be an interesting read. Hopefully, I’ll continue to find phenomenal books to enjoy as we prepare for Spring.
Tell me about books you read in February. What are your reading plans for March? Let me know with a comment below!
Last year, I started to post monthly recaps in order to better summarize the highs and lows of a particular month. It also helped me look at progress I’ve made overall towards that year’s reading goals. I’m proud to announce the tradition shall continue. Below are some random thoughts on each book I read in January. Feel free to click on the title for the full review.
My reading year started off beautifully thanks to this fantastic story by one of my all-time favorite authors. Fairy Tale once again demonstrates just how magnificent King continues to be as a writer. Serving as an homage to the stories that inspired him growing up, this is a novel that is pure magic from beginning to end. Not only is it a modern fantasy, but also a Lovecraftian nightmare, as well as a sweet adventure story about a boy and his dog.
Novelist as a Vocation is a collection of essays examining this business (or vocation) of writing in greater detail. While I found it lacking in regards to actual tools to be a better writer, I did find it a fascinating examination into the mind of one of the most unique authors I will ever encounter.
The four stories in this collection are actually two pairs of connected tales, with the first and last story making up one narrative, and the two middle stories connecting together. The title story, “I’m Waiting for You,” was originally written in 2015 by the request of a fan who asked if the author would write a story he could use in order to propose to his girlfriend. I don’t think I can name many authors that would create a story for one devoted reader in mind. That’s quite a romantic tale, and this story is such a powerful one surrounding lost love and human determination. Kim Bo-Young would later pen a follow-up story, “On My Way to You.” These stories follow an engaged couple who are on different missions in different parts of space. A series of unfortunate circumstances continue to happen to each of them, resulting in years continuing to pass as they work to find each other again. Meanwhile, centuries pass on Earth, and the devastating effects of various factors result in humanity becoming nearly extinct. I felt the crushing weight of loneliness on behalf of the protagonist of “I’m Waiting for You,” who is staying alive powered by hope and to also keep the memory of their beloved alive.
No Longer Human is considered the Osamu Dazai’s masterpiece and ranks as the second-best selling novel in Japan. Although a work of fiction, it is clearly a semi-autobiographical glimpse into one of the most tortured and brilliant minds to have ever existed. For several reasons, I had a difficult time finishing this novel, which manages to explore difficult themes such as mental illness, addiction, suicide, and alienation. Our protagonist, Yozo, explores his battles with depression since childhood and how he often had to play the role of the comic while never showing his true self. It’s quite a powerful story, made all the more heartbreaking once I researched the tragic end to the author’s life.
Originally published in 1934, Tender is the Night is the fourth and final novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, serving as a denouement to the era known as the Jazz Age. As you may have read in my most recent review, I nearly didn’t finish this novel, as the misogyny and narcissism of its title character, who Fitzgerald based on himself, nearly made me scream. Since posting my scathing review, I’m pleased that others out there agree.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay:
I should have a full review of this one up by the end of the week. While this one starts a little slow, it’s definitely worth reading as an extremely chilling and grotesque story about possession by demonic spirits. Our protagonist, Merry, recounts events that happened to her family when she was eight years old and her older sister becomes possessed by several spirits. While I wouldn’t say this is the best horror story I’ve ever read, it is quite good. One aspect of Paul Tremblay’s story that I enjoyed was the satire on how our society glorifies paranormal experiences through various ghost documentaries.
Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie:
Five Little Pigs sees legendary detective Hercule Poirot take on an interesting case. He gets a visit from Carla Lemarchant, a young woman whose mother was convicted of killing her father, 16 years previously. The thing is, just before she died, Carla’s mother, Caroline Crale, sent Carla a letter saying she was innocent and did not kill her husband, Amyas Crale. Carla believes her and asks Poirot to look into the case, even after all this time, and prove her mother’s innocence by finding the real killer. This one was quite fun, as we hear events told from the perspective of five different suspects, so it’s Christie’s tribute to Rashomon.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
2023 Goals and Challenges:
Books Read: 7/60
Books Reviewed: 5/7
Classics Remaining for Classics Club: 1/14
Translated Works: 3/10
TBR Challenge: 1/12
Read Christie Challenge: 1/12
January was an excellent reading month for me. I read a total of 7 books, so all in all, off to a great start. The quality was definitely there, as I enjoyed everything I read, with the exception of Tender is the Night. Fortunately, I was able to get back on track with a fun horror story from an author I’ve never read plus a delightful Agatha Christie mystery. The variety of authors was great, and I’m proud that I read 3 works in translation this month.
In an attempt to read the final 14 books that have been languishing on my list for Classics Club, I am going to work on either The Dead Secret or The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I also have a couple of sci-fi classics on my TBR list that I’m excited to read with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein and The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. Meanwhile, I’m pretty confident there will be some contemporary works mixed into the bag. Reading at night has definitely been more enjoyable thanks to the wonders of reading glasses.
Tell me about books you read in January. What are your reading plans for February? Let me know with a comment below!
One of the best novels to come out of Japan in years was 2018’s Konbini Ningen (or Convenience Store Woman). It’s a short novel that tells the story of a neurodivergent woman who has worked in a convenience store for 18 years. It explores the fragility of Japanese society in how it functions like a clock, providing all the cogs are greased. While I went into the book not knowing what to expect, I was immediately enchanted with its quirky protagonist and her struggles to be a functioning cog.
Between the World and Me (a line taken from a Richard Wright poem) by Ta-Nehisi Coates was inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 classic work The Fire Next Time, which was written in epistolary form to his nephew. In this book, Coates writes directly to his teenage son, Samori, about the struggles of being black in America. Filled with insights into his own struggles as a black man, Coates leaves nothing behind in his sharing of their people’s hardships, trials, and hopes. The writing of Between the World and Me is so powerful and evocative. The author sends a message that will force you to stop every few sentences and think. While upsetting and pessimistic at times, it’s a necessary read.
I love stories that blend touches of fantasy into real life, and Kate Atkinson effortlessly weaves these two worlds together. I typically avoid binge-reading a short story collection; instead, I dip in and out while reading a novel so I have some processing time between tales. That wasn’t the case this time, as I just couldn’t resist jumping immediately to the next story. Yes, they’re just that good!
This is a science fiction novel that turns out to not be a science fiction novel at all. Instead, this novel is an examination on the positive aspects of faith, but also the dangers of blind devotion. It’s a story about a minister of the Christian faith who travels to a distant planet to spread the word to a group of aliens. Meanwhile, his wife is struggling at home with numerous tragedies occurring in her husband’s absence. This is a beautiful novel from one of my all-time favorite writers.
Best Classic Book (That I Read for the First Time)
If half the world was destroyed in a nuclear war and a massive amount of radioactive dust was headed your way, how would you choose to spend your final months? This is the question at the heart of On the Beach, one of several post-apocalyptic novels that were written in the wake of the Holocaust and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Despite the lack of action or riveting plot, I thought this human story about middle-class people finding meaning at the end of the world was sheer genius.
For as long as he can remember, Piranesi has lived in the House, a labyrinthine-like structure with endless rooms, statues that line every corridor, and an ocean trapped in the lower levels that rises and falls throughout the structure. Piranesi knows no other world outside the House and spends his days as its caretaker. Besides being a meticulous record-keeper, he has learned several survival skills, such as fishing, collecting seaweed, and calculating when the tides will rise. His most striking characteristic is his reverence for the House and all its inhabitants, mostly birds. For Piranesi, there is no higher honor than to be the caretaker. This novel is so much fun that I guarantee you will be hooked within minutes. The titular Piranesi is such a quirky character that you will enjoy trying to figure out what is actually happening in this book.
Written decades apart, these two mysteries from Japan are not only disturbing but so wickedly brilliant. I have found a love of Japanese mysteries, and these two are phenomenal. The Decagon House Murders is the perfect homage to Agatha Christie’s greatest work, And Then There Were NoneThe Devotion of Suspect X is a standard police procedural with a difference. The reader witnesses the murder at the start of the novel. Knowing the circumstances of the murder and the identity of the killer become irrelevant; rather, it’s trying to figure out the steps taken to cover up the murder. While the questions of who and why are already answered, it’s the question of “how was this all pulled off?” that becomes the true mystery. The answer leads to one of the most shocking revelations I’ve ever read in a detective novel.
I just adore this cover artwork that conveys the animosity the village has against these protagonists. Plus, it has a cat. I would love to have a fully-illustrated edition of one of my all-time favorite novels.
Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing begins with a young boy named Jojo determined to prove his manhood. It’s his 13th birthday, and he’s helping his grandfather, Pop, slaughter the goat that will serve as the family dinner. “I like to think I know what death is,” Jojo boldly claims, while he does his best not to flinch at the visceral act laid before him. Desperate to emulate this man who has been his only father figure, the boy just wants to prove that he’s “old enough to look at death like a man should.” While Sing serves as Jojo’s dark and twisted coming-of-age journey, it also unearths generational trauma and shows how the ghosts from our past refuse to be forgotten.
I had been putting off reading The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue’s novel of the 1918 flu epidemic, for two reasons: 1) I thought it would be depressing as hell to read during these chaotic times, and 2) historical fiction isn’t necessarily my favorite genre of literature. After finishing the book, I can safely attest to reason number one without a doubt. A story about a plague that resulted in the deaths of millions is hardly a laugh-a-minute read. However, Emma Donoghue embodies this story with so much beauty and heart that one cannot but help feel that spark of hope. My only prior experience with this writer was her unbelievably phenomenal Room, which became one of my all-time favorite books. After finishing The Pull of the Stars, I can now count two of Donoghue’s books as favorites.
Kazuo Ishiguro, who was made a Nobel Laureate in 2017, has managed to create a lasting legacy of stories exposing human fragility using great empathy. No two novels are alike in their settings, or genres for that matter. The commonality lies in the struggles of his characters, all trying desperately to find true meaning to this mystery called life. The Unconsoled is no exception, a place that could be anywhere within any time period. Writing the entire novel in the form of an anxiety dream takes a little getting used to, but once I did, I found myself wrapped up in it the same as I do all of his works. Kazuo Ishiguro is my favorite author of all-time, and I look forward to doing a complete reread of all of his novels in 2024.
There you have it, my favorite reads of 2022. I look forward to many more great books this year!
Overall, October was a decent month for reading some great books. I’m continuing my exploration into Lawrence Block’s hardboiled detective series and plan to get back to reading more Raymond Chandler as well. Hopefully, a review will be forthcoming. Of course, it’s Halloween, so I have to read a spooky book or two. I read Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree for the first time and really loved it. Fledgling by Octavia Butler was good but lost steam near the end. It was such a pleasure to reread my favorite Shirley Jackson book of all-time. My spin for Classics Club was another favorite with Gulliver’s Travels. All in all, it was a high quality reading month.
November will be a busy month, as I’m in the midst of transitioning to a new job. I’m hoping to still get a fair amount of reading done. My next review will be of a really good Stephen King novel called The Outsider. I will attempt to get that posted by end of week. Stay gold!
Tell me about books you read in October. What are your reading plans for November? Let me know with a comment below!
My apologies that this hasn’t been a prolific blogging month for me. Due to a sudden death in our family, life ground to a halt for a bit. I read a lot (for me anyway), so hopefully I’ll play catch-up over the next couple of weeks.
I really enjoyed the variety of books I read in September. There were a great mix of settings that fell into several different genres. Returning to writers Michel Faber and Julie Otsuka always promises to be wonderful. I read two back-to-back from Toni Morrison, which were both excellent. The Baron in the Trees, originally written in Italy, turned out to be far more enjoyable than I expected. The Italo Calvino classic was one of the three translated books I read last month, the others being classic mystery The Honjin Murders (Japan) and the contemporary suspense The Hole (Korea).
I’m reading The Outsider by Stephen King and The Halloween Tree to represent this spooky time of year. My latest spin book for Classics Club is an old favorite, Gulliver’s Travels, which I last read over two decades ago! Feeling my age over here.
Tell me about books you read in September. What are your reading plans for October? Let me know with a comment below!