2019: What I’ve Read So Far

2019 books .pngSo,  we are well over halfway through 2019, and I thought I’d take a moment to look back at the books I’ve read so far this year. Currently, I’ve had a really good year when it comes to reading. I’ve read the second books for two authors I absolutely love (Elizabeth Lim and Angie Thomas), I read books by VE Schwab for the first time (City of Ghosts and the Shades of Magic series), and the debut novel from the very talented Elizabeth Macneal, who I also had the pleasure of meeting. Oh! And I meet VE Schwab, too. I started the year with 0 signed books, and now have 7. So far, so good. Out of the 38 books I’ve read, I’ve given 21 5-stars on Goodreads, 6 have had 4-stars and 3, and only 1 each for 2-star and 1-star books. Basically, I’ve read some really good books so far.

I’ve picked out one book from each month so far (January – July), and below you’ll find short reviews of the book, along with links to the full review, if there is one.

January

hill house.jpg

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

*****

After the death of her mother, Eleanor is at a loss. She answers an invitation to go the mysterious Hill House, and there she meets Dr Montague, Luke, and Theodora. The doctor searches for evidence of paranormal activity at the house. Luke is set to inherit the ugly building, and Theodora, like Eleanor, has attended out of curiosity. As events unfold, Eleanor struggles with external and internal forces, trying to find her place in the world.

With Hill House, Jackson creates an eerie atmosphere, masterfully painting an image of an uneasy house, but leaving it up to the reader to decide what is actually happening. Questions multiple throughout the novel, leaving us to wonder if there really is an entity targeting Eleanor, or if it is some manifestation of her own psyche. Jackson handles the genre really well, using the tropes to great effect, while making it completely her own.

February

Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

*****

Another horror, but this one is much less subtle than Hill House. In Hex, we meet the hexresidents of Black Spring, a town with a very unique problem. A witch walks their streets, a woman with sewn-shut eyes and mouth, a woman who has been dead for hundreds of years. The elders use modern technology to track the witch, ensure tourists don’t come across her, and that their people are safe. But the town’s teenagers aren’t happy with the arrangement, or thier forced isolation.

Another 5 stars from me. I really enjoyed this. No character is clearly evil or clearly good, all are a mixture, depending on their circumstances, and the characters felt very real to me, trying to deal with this supernatural event and get on with their lives as best as possible. Hex does something all my favourite horror novels do – shows real reactions to extraordinary events, even when those reactions aren’t exactly morally right. I can’t wait for Heuvelt’s next English-translated novel.

a darker shadeMarch

Shades of Magic – A Darker Shade of Magic & A Gathering of Shadows

*****

Yeah, I know, I’m including two books here. But that’s because I read this trilogy one after another – A Conjuring of Light just slipped into April, so I’m focusing on these two instead. I did mean to write a review for the trilogy, but everytime I did it was hard to avoid spoilers.

In ADSOM, we meet Kell, one of the last Antari, users of magic that allow them to travel between worlds. Kell lives in Red London, but travels to White and Grey London delivering messages between royalty. He also smuggles items, and when a woman begs him to take a black stone from her, he does, setting off a chain of events that quickly spirals out of his control.

In Grey London, we are introduced to Lila Bard, a young thief who dreams of being a pirate queen. Initially, Lila steals the stone from Kell, but soon joins him as they attempta gathering of shadows to stop the magic spreading. The second book widens the scope of the world, as the elemental games approach and Kell finds himself roped into competing. Unknowingly to him, Lila has also found a way to compete, alongside her captain, Alucard, the former lover of Red London’s Prince Rhy.

The writing is beautiful, the settings are vivid, and the plot feels like travelling down a river on a kayak. Sometimes calm, allowing you look around and absorb everything, sometimes throwing you into rapids and occasionally throwing you off a waterfall, leaving you to hope you don’t hit the water head first. The characters are fully realised, enjoyable to hang out with, and drag you fully into rooting for them. If you haven’t read this series yet, I highly suggest you do.

April

On The Come Up – Angie Thomas

*****

on the come upIf you haven’t read either of Angie Thomas’ novels yet, I suggest you get them. Like, now. I was blown away by The Hate U Give, and I was majorly impressed by On the Come Up. If I had a tenth of Thomas’ writing talent, I’d be a happy woman.

On The Come Up follows Bri, a young woman scraping by, trying to look out for her family while all around her, people – including her aunt – are getting involved in gangs. Bri has a talent, the ability to rap, and it could be her ticket out of Garden Heights. Like The Hate U GiveOn The Come Up is about voice, and place, and racism. It tackles the issues young black teenagers face, the way society tries to keep them down, and how they combat it. Like her debut, Thomas gives us a strong, courageous young woman who needs to find her voice, and needs to decide how she’s going to use it. These books are amazing, and should be required reading for everyone.

May

The Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

**

The first book on this particular list I wasn’t really impressed by.queen of the tearling

Kelsea is the heir to the Tearling throne, and on her 19th birthday, soldiers arrive to escort her to the castle so she can take her crown. There’s a lot of travelling, a lot of talk, a lot of…not much really happening.

For the most part, I found this book really frustrating, badly written in some parts, and quite forced in others. The world-building is weak, with implications this is perhaps another planet, maybe? I don’t know. But if that’s the case, apparently the only people they bothered to bring were white. So it’s the future, because there’s references to LOTR and HP and the like, but it’s got the technological advancements of medieval period. It was just an odd read for me, one I struggled with. Read my full review for, err, full Elle-rant mode.

June

The Wicker King – K. Ancrum

****

wicker kingNow, this book, I loved. I got through it in about a day. The Wicker King is the story of two young men, finding their place in the world, and working out if that place involves each other. On the face of it, the novel seems like it could be any coming-of-age fantasy YA, but this goes deeper. I loved the style, the characters, the constant questioning of what was real and what wasn’t, and the formatting. The book combines prose with snippets of letters, mix tape listings, notes, etc. There’s something to discover in all of them, and it’s worth spending a bit of extra time studying them and the way things are written, rather than skipping ahead. The book combines various factors really skillfully, and I was so glad I got to read this.I will definitely be picking up Ancrum’s other books in the future, and I am super excited for her Peter Pan retelling. (Not to mention I got to read her King Arthur short story and was blown away. So yeah. Check out her books!)

July

Spin The Dawn – Elizabeth Lim

*****

I cannot shut up about this book. And it’s my most recent review, so I’m not going recap everything here. But basically, Maia wants to be a master tailor, but, boo, sexism! Master spin the dawntailors can’t be women, because, well, they’d clearly be better at it than the men, like Maia is. She disguises herself as her brother to go to the palace, where a competition is held to find the new Imperial Tailor. Maia faces complications, jealous competitors, and the mysterious enchanter Edan in the palace.

This book is absolutely freaking beautiful. Including the cover. It’s amazing! And the writing? I couldn’t stop grinning throughout. It’s an enjoyable story, with great characters and plenty of twists, and at no point does it feel like it’s moving slowly. It just draws you along, dragging you completely and utterly into Maia’s world. There is nothing not to love about this book.

So there we are. A few of my reads for the year so far. I might do another one later in the year, maybe purposefully mix it up a bit more, but right now it’s hard. I’ve read a lot of great books.

Have you read any of these? What books this year stick out in your mind the most? And how is your reading year stacking up so far?

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HEX – Thomas Olde Heuvelt [Books – SPOILERS!]

hexAs indicated by the title of this post, this post will contain spoilers. If you haven’t yet read the book (and if you have, I would love your thoughts on this!) then I suggest getting a copy, reading it, then coming back.

FINAL SPOILER WARNING PUPPY!

close up of dog on grass
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Glancing over reviews on Goodreads, this book seems to provoke a love/hate reaction. Some feel the book might have sexist tones, and an ‘obsession’ with certain aspects of the female form. But to me, the book was less sexist in itself, than portraying the attitudes of the townsfolk. Grim seems to take a very dim view of women. He goes out of his way to protect the town, to try to make things right, and has clear views of what is right and what is wrong – but he still obsesses over the appearance of women. Personally I don’t think that’s reflective of the author, but of the character. Grim might be good at his job, but clearly living in the same town, unable to leave for any extended period of time, and being forced to watch over the same people day in, day out, with actually very little power, has taken its toll on him. And he’s as dismissive of the men, too.

One argument is that there’s no ‘positive’ female characters, but I think Jocelyn is quite positive. And even if she weren’t, personally, I don’t see any particularly positive male characters, either. Jocelyn definitely comes out much better than Steve who, after Tyler’s death, is so obsessed with it he doesn’t really seem to care about Matt, and thinks bitterly about ‘her son’ still being alive.

Of course, one of the amazing things about books is that everyone takes away something different from different pieces of writing. The actions and thoughts of the characters can be seen as sexist and misogynistic, but I personally feel this was the characters, not the author, though without further works to read, it’s a hard judgement to make.

The book definitely carries a Pet Semetary vibe for me, and a complete Stephen King feel, from the strange small town where odd things happen, to the absolute humanity of the characters. They feel real, and they do things – good and bad – that make sense. They try to protect loved ones, and hurt when they fail.

It’s easy to see early on that Katherine isn’t the real evil in the town. She’s creepy, yes, but that feels like it’s because of the interference by the townsfolk. She’s creepy because they made her creepy. And in a trope any horror fan will recognise (*cough* Mama *cough*), at the end of the day she is a lost mother mourning her children, who ends up – not in the best way – replacing them. The attacks are her self-defence mechanism, and when the town becomes a nightmarish hell hole, it’s less because of Katherine and more mass hysteria.

Overall, if I haven’t made it clear already, Heuvelt has written something which has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. This is the first English translation of one of his novels, and I really hope it’s the first of many.

HEX – Thomas Olde Heuvelt [Books]

hexI’m actually going to do two posts for this novel, because there’s a fair bit I want to talk about which would contain spoilers. This is the spoiler-free review of HEX, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

In the English language version of HEX, the story takes place in Black Spring, a town situated not too far from New York in the USA. Black Spring seems like a pretty normal town, with normal, small town type characters. The novel mainly focuses on the Grant family – Steve, Jocelyn, Tyler and Matt. As newlyweds, Steve and Jocelyn moved to Black Spring, with no idea what awaited them. Because Black Spring has a secret, known to the townspeople, but kept hidden from Outsiders.

That secret is the witch, Katherine van Wyler.

Katherine has a tragic history – accused of witchcraft, forced to do something horrific, and killed for it. The townspeople believe they are under Katherine’s curse – she wanders through the town, her eyes and mouth sewn shut, appearing in people’s homes and disappearing at will.

Katherine is creepy. Her presence is creepy, and Heuvelt does what any good horror writer should do – he takes what is normal, even if that normality is different for the characters than for us – and twists it. We come to accept Katherine’s presence, but similar to Stephen King’s Derry, there are trails of the curse in the town, in the population. It makes us question whether this is a result of the curse, or if people are just shit.

One of the things I really loved about this book was that the characters, and their problems – even where they involved Katherine – were so damn real. The characters are human, and relatable, from the teenager who just wants to live a normal life, to the father who would do anything for his son, and the woman just trying to protect herself and her son after an abusive relationship.

All the characters are, essentially, trying to make the best out of bad situations. But, well, it’s a horror novel. Things happen that change Katherine’s ‘routine’, and the tension kicks in, rising up until we hit the climax.

Overall, I really liked this book. The setting has been transported from the original setting to the USA, and works really well, allowing the more American elements and history to bleed into the novel. The horror is handled brilliantly, with the tension not just rising from the supernatural, but the more mundane issues of the Black Spring residents, as well.

There are some issues, a few strange moments, but these were easy to overlook amongst the strengths. A really fantastic horror novel, and one I would definitely recommend.