Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Awaken My Wanderlust

When I saw that this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was Books That Awaken the Travel Bug In Me it seemed meant to be; Just three weeks ago I got back from a largely book-inspired vacation to the UK! So I’ve chosen to talk a little about books that have already inspired me to travel, and about books that might inspire me to travel to a specific destination in the future.

Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Bookish Places I’ve Been

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
(Paris, France)

Les Misérables will always hold a special place in my heart for being the site of my very first bookish vacation! Although I’d only read a heavily abridged version of the novel at the time and was more familiar with the musical, my trip to Paris was heavily influenced by Les Misérables. I loved strolling through the Jardin du Luxembourg, where Marius first spotted Cosette, standing on the Pont-au-Change bridge over the Seine, where Inspector Javert makes a fateful decision, and exploring the sewers Jean Valjean carried a wounded Marius through on the Paris Sewer Tour.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
(The Harry Potter Studio Tour in London, England)
(The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida)

Like most 90s kids, I grew up on Harry Potter. Initially my mom read the books aloud to me and my younger brother, and as the series continued my mom and I read separately and discussed our thoughts along the way. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I ended up visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my parents. We loved the thrilling and immersive rides, sipped our butter beers, and enjoyed looking in the many shops. I still haven’t made it to Platform 9-and-3/4s (it was under construction the last time I was at King’s Cross), but nearly five years ago I took the Harry Potter Studio Tour and loved seeing the props, costumes, and sets used in the movies!

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
(York Minster in York, England)

Ever since I picked up Susanna Clarke’s magical novel about the resurgence of English magic during the Regency period, visiting the city of York has been on my bucket list. Fans of the book (or the recent BBC miniseries) will recall a scene where the reclusive Mr. Norrell proves his magical abilities by making all of the statues within York Minster speak. I couldn’t wait to visit York Minster myself and imagine the noise and wonder of such a scene! York Minster is beautiful enough to merit a visit anyway, but it definitely made it special that it plays such a small but pivotal role in one of my favourite books!

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
(Edinburgh, Scotland)
(Hexham Abbey in Hexham, England)

Anyone who knows me is sick to death of hearing me talk about the Lymond Chronicles! Nothing has quite captured my imagination like Dorothy Dunnett’s series about a genius polyglot 16th century Scottish nobleman/spy. A climactic scene in the first book, The Game of Kings, sees Francis Crawford of Lymond pursuing an opponent into Hexham Abbey, so naturally I had to visit Hexham! Much of the rest of the book is set in Scotland, so I also tracked down the location on the Royal Mile where Lymond is, for a time imprisoned. The Tollbooth, as the prison was called, no longer exists, but its former entrance is marked with a stone heart near St. Giles Cathedral.

The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett
(St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland)


I love Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful historical city, that I would love regardless of literary connections, but I must admit that I also love it because it’s the setting of many scenes from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. The altar at St. Giles Cathedral is the scene of a truly epic swordfight at the climax of the third book of the series, The Disorderly Knights, so naturally I had to visit (and take many, many photos)!

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff and The Camulod Chronicles by Jack Whyte
(Hadrian’s Wall/Roman British sites)


Okay, I’m cheating a little bit here since I hadn’t actually read The Eagle of the Ninth in advance, only seen the movie, but I bought a copy on my trip and started reading it at Housesteads Roman Fort in Northumberland. Roman Britain is one of my favourite periods in history, and Hadrian’s Wall figures both into The Eagle of the Ninth and a favourite series of mine while I was in university, Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles. If you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend Housesteads Roman Fort, which has a picturesque location on a hill, and offers some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Britain and the rare chance to stand on a section of Hadrian’s Wall!

Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
(221B Baker Street, London)


Admittedly I’m more familiar with the consulting detective from film and television adaptations, but I’ve read a few of the original mysteries and really enjoyed them. Naturally I stopped in at 221B Baker Street on a previous trip to London and posed in the famous dearstalker. I definitely have to make an effort to read more Sherlock in the future!


Bookish Places Wishlist

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
(Haworth/West Yorkshire moors)

The one place I didn’t make it to on this book-inspired vacation was the moorland that inspired the Bronte sisters. I read Wuthering Heights as an undergraduate and can’t say that it appealed to me since Heathcliff and Cathy were both such horrible people, but I had better luck with another Bronte sister. I recently read Jane Eyre for the first time and I would love to one day walk some of the landscapes that inspired Charlotte Bronte, although I know they must have changed a great deal. There’s just something about the idea of walking through the desolate moors, the wind swirling a coat or perhaps a scarf behind me that appeals!

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
(The Orkney Islands)

I’m still in the process of reading Dorothy Dunnett’s dense historical standalone about the real MacBeth (I paused it in January and haven’t returned – oops!) but I’ve already added the Orkney Islands to my places I’d love to go list! Prehistoric stone village Skara Brae is a must-see at somepoint and I’m sure I’ll add book -related destinations on the islands as I continue reading.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
(Prince Edward Island, Canada)

Like most Canadian girls, I grew up reading about spirited red-headed orphan “Anne -with-an-E” who comes to stay with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert at Green Gables. I haven’t traveled much domestically at all and would love to visit Prince Edward Island one day!

What are some of the bookish places on your wishlist?

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Books: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

32620332The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published June 13, 2017
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When reclusive film star Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the story of her life, her loves, and her rise to fame, she requests unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job. No one is more shocked than Monique, but she’s determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career. However, as Evelyn’s story unfolds, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s in tragic and inescapable ways.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a very human story. From the messy imperfectness of its relationships to its flawed, but deeply compelling characters, everything in the novel feels real and raw, particularly when set against the surface-deep glamour of Hollywood in the mid-twentieth century.

At the center of the narrative is the titular Evelyn Hugo, a fictional film star reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor. A complex anti-heroine, Evelyn is not always likable. In fact she’s often not, displaying a ruthless pragmatism when it comes to doing what she believes she must to protect herself and her career. She’s also completely unapologetic about the decisions she’s made to get ahead. Although her actions sometimes fall into a moral grey area, I always understood what was behind Evelyn’s choices. The secondary characters are every bit as nuanced, flawed, and sympathetic as Evelyn. They interact as friends, rivals, and lovers, sometimes all three at once, revealing a complex stew of emotions from jealousy to pride. I simply couldn’t get enough of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s characters or of her vision of Hollywood!

As with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, I was so drawn in by the richly described fictional films and the quality of the performances that I wanted to dash out and watch them! What I wouldn’t give to see Evelyn Hugo play Jo in Little Women and to see her friend/rival Celia’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Beth!

I wasn’t quite as bowled over by this novel as some of my blogging friends, but I suspect this is mostly a case of right novel-wrong time. I brought The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo with me on vacation, and while I enjoyed reading it when I had the chance, I wasn’t as immersed in the world because I kept having to put it down to venture out of my room and explore. Ultimately Evelyn Hugo was overshadowed by the fabulous sights I was seeing. Nonetheless I loved this surprising novel and especially its complicated, compelling anti-heroine. It’s definitely worth picking up, especially if you have a weekend free to completely lose yourself in the rich detail of Evelyn’s memories.

Spring Wrap-up

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’ve been a little scarce for the last few months. The combination of dealing with the shock of being let-go from my job this winter, applying and interviewing for new positions, and then planning for a (much-needed and already partially paid for) vacation have kept me busy.

I’m happy to announce that while May was not a good month for reading, it was a pretty great month for me personally! Despite all my anxiety, I had a lovely vacation, visiting Edinburgh, some of the north of England (including part of Hadrian’s Wall, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, and beautiful York Minster), and London, where I took in several shows. It was a trip that combined bookish sites with history and picturesque settings and I loved every minute of it!


I’ve also started down a new and very different path of librarianship, working as a public librarian! I’ve mostly worked in corporate libraries in a research role and was ready for a change. Although I have a lot to learn, and this is a temporary contract, I’m really enjoying it so far and hope that this is something I can pursue long-term.

Without further ado, onto the books!

From March through May I read just ten books, so I’ve grouped them here in a seasonal wrap-up post. I’ve written reviews for the most recently read books and will try to backtrack and write at least mini-reviews for my other reads over the next month.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli  small 5 stars
Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke  small 4 stars
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  small 4 stars
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill  small-2-stars
Circe by Madeline Miller  small 3 half stars
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte  small 5 stars
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid  small 4 half stars + RTC
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff  small 3 half stars + Review
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli  small 4 stars + Review
Confessions by Kinae Minato  small 4 stars + Review


Book of the Season:
It has to be Jane Eyre. This is a rare classic that I never encountered through my English undergraduate degree but one that has been on my TBR for probably a decade. Every year I’d think ‘oh yeah, I should probably read that…’ Well I finally did and wow! I loved the gothic atmosphere of the book, the arrogance of the mysterious Mr. Rochester but also how charismatic he is, and, of course, I adored Jane. She goes down on my list of favourite heroines of all time and her story through childhood abuse and tragedy to independence on her own terms and knowing her own heart still resonates today.

Runner-up: Even having seen the movie first, I found Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda to be an absolute delight that I read in one sitting and re-read a few weeks later before I had to return it to the library. I loved the characters, the group dynamics, and the sweet love story at the center of it all. Fluff isn’t usually my thing, but this melted my cold, (fictional) tragedy loving heart! I also really loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I think this was a case of maybe not reading it at the right time – I took it with me on vacation, but it meant that the reading experience was broken up and that it was a little overshadowed by all of the wonderful historic sights I was seeing.

Least Favourite: Admittedly I didn’t do my usual book research before picking up The Lonely Hearts Hotel. This was something I happened to see at the library that I had heard good buzz about. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this at all. The subject matter, which deals with childhood sexual abuse and abuse, drug addiction, prostitution, and abusive relationships, is DARK, but the author strikes a whimsical tone throughout and the mismatch in style and subject matter makes the book sound flippant and dismissive. Also there are quite a lot of clowns.

***

Seen on Stage: Toronto usually has a lot to offer in terms of theatre during the winter and early spring – perhaps producers figure that once summer roles around we’ll all be at the cottage or enjoying the warm weather and won’t want to see a show. This year I found the pickings a little slim, but enjoyed most of what I did see, especially the Toronto premiere of Fun Home with a stellar all-Canadian cast, and the National Ballet of Canada’s Made in Canada mixed program. This included The Dreamers Ever Leave You, a moving work inspired by the stark natural beauty of the arctic landscapes painted by Lawren Harris, The Four Seasons, and Emergence, an unsettling and innovative piece about the hive mind.


TORONTO

Bunny (play) at Tarragon Theatre
Made in Canada by the National Ballet of Canada
The Sleeping Beauty by the National Ballet of Canada
Les Miserables (play) by Theatre Smith-Gilmour – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Picnic in the Cemetery (Canadian Stage) – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Fun Home by Musical Stage Company
Bernstein’s Candide at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The London part of my vacation was almost entirely theatre-based, so I’m thrilled to say that I loved every single show I saw. Unfortunately the stars didn’t quite align for me and I twice missed seeing an actor, David Thaxton (out ill for the week) who had been part of the impetus for my trip, in Les Miserables, but the London cast heading into its final week is generally very strong, with standout performances from Killian Donnelly (Valjean) and Carley Stenson (Fantine). I adored Northern Ballet’s interpretation of Jane Eyre, which effectively conveyed Jane’s spirit and independence, as well as her passion for Mr. Rochester through the medium of dance. Although I definitely have issues with the plot, it’s hard not to be blown away by the sheer stage magic and brilliant performances in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. My favourite though, was witnessing the closing performance of The Ferryman, a brilliant and devastating play about The Troubles.

LONDON
Les Miserables (x2)
Jane Eyre by Northern Ballet
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I & II (play)
The Ferryman (play)

***

Coming up in June: In a desperate attempt to catch-up on my goodreads challenge I’ve been reading some YA, mysteries, and other shorter fiction. So far I’m in a bit of a slump this year and very few of the books I’ve read to date are ones that I’ll remember fondly enough to put on my Best of list at the end of the year, so I’m going to keep it loose and read some recs from friends I trust utterly in the hopes of finding a few new favourites!

What are your summer reading plans?

Books: Confessions

19161835Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder
Published August 19, 2014
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When I read Kanae Minato’s second novel to be translated into English, Penance, this winter, I found it an engaging thriller, but one that relied too heavily on coincidence to be truly believable. Confessions bears a lot of similarities, a surprising number really, but is an altogether darker and more twisted reading experience. With first person chapters told not only from perspectives of those impacted by the crime, but also the murderers themselves, Minato constructs another compelling tale of revenge.

I was hooked pretty quickly from the first chapter, in which middle grade teacher Yuko Moriguchi announces to the class that she is retiring from teaching and then proceeds to explain that her four-year-old daughter was recently murdered by two of her students. The chapter ends with a twist so disturbing that I gasped out loud and immediately wanted to know what happened next!

With each chapter in the book, Minato switches first person narrators, moving onto a classmate and then a family member of one of the murderers before we get the perspectives of the two students. Although I didn’t find the chapters told from the murderers’ POVs to be the strongest overall, Minato cleverly maintains tension before imparting some answers about the students’ motivations for the murder and their thoughts during the aftermath.

Although to a certain extent I expect books by an author to have stylistic and maybe even plot similarities, I was surprised by just how similar Minato’s novels are. Both deal with the aftermath of a child’s death on school property and the mother’s desire for revenge. Both are told through multiple perspectives and focus on the consequences of an action, and both stories shock with their twists and turns. In this case I found Penance and Confessions differed enough to keep me interested (and I actually preferred Confessions, finding it to be a tighter and more believable book), but I wonder how often Minato can repeat this formula before it grows tired.

Books: Leah on the Offbeat

31180248Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Published April 24, 2018
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In Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli not only gave us an incredibly sweet gay romance, she also created a close-knit group of friends who are diverse, emotional, dramatic, and, most importantly, believably teenage. Arguably the hardest to understand was complicated, prickly Leah Burke. Leah on the Offbeat puts the burgeoning drummer front and center in this sweet, but angsty, story of self-discovery set against the emotional backdrop that is senior year.

As in the previous Creekwood/Simonverse books, Albertalli captures the teenage experience so well. I’m definitely not a teenager anymore, but the pop-culture filled dialogue, emphasis on social media, and the messy emotional space of trying to decide if you have a crush on someone or are just flattered to be liked, rang true for me. I also couldn’t help smiling at the DRAMA of it all! I’m sure all of us remember stressing about problems or situations that felt all-important at the time, but in retrospect really weren’t all that big of a deal.

Like Albertalli’s other books, Leah on the Offbeat can be broadly classed as YA drama with a fluffy ending. Leah herself may be a more cynical (although no less oblivious) narrator than Simon Spier, and she’s less inclined to wear her heart on her sleeve, but the various tangled plot threads all wrap up neatly into an ending that will no doubt satisfy fans of the characters.

Often the most intriguing fictional characters are those that really don’t have it all together yet, and that definitely describes Leah Burke. Her narrative voice is sarcastic, stubborn, and completely unapologetic, but underneath her take-no-shit exterior, she’s kind of a confused mess – particularly when it comes to her feelings. What’s so interesting about Leah on the Offbeat is how Albertalli manages to craft a story in which the reader often knows more about the first-person narrator’s emotional state than the protagonist does! Yes, it takes awhile for Creekwood High’s “resident fat Slytherin Rory Gilmore” to realize that she has a crush on someone who is definitely-totally-probably-maybe not? off limits.

Although romance is once again a major part of the plot, and I’m thrilled to see young bisexual women gaining some much needed representation, to be honest I was more invested in Leah Burke’s personal journey. If something isn’t perfect then Leah withdraws completely, likely in an attempt to fend off rejection. It’s incredibly relatable. How many times have I rewritten reviews striving to find the perfect word until it’s published so far after the fact that it’s no longer relevant? Watching Leah accept that things don’t have to be perfect, that things can have imperfections but still hold value, was really special.

I’m not normally a seasonal reader, but Leah on the Offbeat strikes me as the perfect Spring/Summer book. From the colourful cover to the bittersweet goodbyes of senior year within, this is a book that’s meant to be read outside. It may not have grabbed me in quite the same way as the first book in the series, but if you’re invested in the lives of Simon, Leah, Blue, Abby, and everyone at Creekwood High, like I am, it’s definitely worth reading.

Books: The Eagle of the Ninth

751744The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
March 9, 2000
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I picked up Rosemary Sutcliff’s acclaimed children’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth with some apprehension, but a healthy dose of curiosity. A long-time fixture on my TBR, I spotted it in a gift shop while visiting a roman fort in England and it seemed like fate. What better place to get swept away by a story of Roman Britain than along the remains of Hadrian’s Wall? Roman Britain is a favourite historical era of mine, but I worried that the story, generally shelved as middle grade, would be too juvenile for me to appreciate. Fortunately this is children’s lit with broad appeal. Published in the 1950s, its sophisticated prose and historical detail make Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth an enduring classic.

I confess to enjoying the 2011 Hollywood adaptation of the novel, mostly because it employs a lot of the tropes I enjoy. There’s ‘enemies to grudging respect to love’ (whether you interpret it as platonic, brotherly, or romantic), ‘opposites attract’, and ‘shifting power dynamics’ all rolled up in a Roman Britain-set quest. However The Eagle is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good movie. For one thing it stars Channing Tatum. For another, all of the Romans speak with American accents. The novel on which the movie is based is not just enjoyable though, it’s genuinely well-written historical fiction.

The Eagle of the Ninth draws inspiration from two historical mysteries – the disappearance of the Ninth Legion, which marched from York into Northern Britain and was never heard from again, and the discovery of a wingless Roman Eagle during excavations at Silchester eighteen hundred years later. When Centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila receives a career-ending wound in the line of duty, he embarks on a personal quest to find out what happened to his father, who led the Ninth Legion, and to recover the Eagle from the Northern Tribes.

In Marcus, Sutcliff has created a genuinely likable protagonist, who I was sorry to leave behind when the book ended. Intelligent, brave, and moral, he shows a genuine respect for, and desire to understand, his fellow human beings and different ways of life. I also loved that although Marcus is a (former) soldier, there’s no toxic masculinity here. Marcus feels feel and pain, relies on others, and treats everyone he meets with kindness. The secondary characters are also engaging, particularly Cottia, a stubborn teenage firebrand who speaks her mind and reminds me of another favourite character from childhood, Princess Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books. I enjoyed Esca and his unwavering loyalty to Marcus, but wished we received more insight into his character and mind over the course of the book.

Unlike the movie, The Eagle of the Ninth moves at a measured pace. Although it feels more realistic and historically accurate, tension isn’t always maintained and I wasn’t fully engaged from start to finish. The prose is solid and descriptive, providing a window into life in Roman Britain and among the Tribes north of the wall, although Sutcliff doesn’t always provide translations or definitions for Roman terms or place names, which can make it difficult to follow.

There are also a few problematic™ elements here, with Sutcliff writing at one point that slavery sat easy on the old house slaves because they had a good master. Cue me cringing, but besides that the book has aged well and is still an engaging read today.

Most of all though, I appreciated The Eagle of the Ninth‘s central message, about the importance of friendship, loyalty, and home. Although it’s important that Marcus embark on this quest to learn what happened to his father, what matters most are the lessons he learns along the way about where his heart truly lies.

The Feminist Book Tag

I’ve taken a step back from blogging for the last few weeks while I tried to come to terms with an upheaval in my personal life. A few weeks ago I was laid-off from my job, along with most of my department. The loss of stability, both financially and professionally, has definitely thrown me, particularly because the job loss was sudden and unexpected. I’m going to ease my way back into blogging, but may still be a little scarce as I’m having trouble focusing enough to read fiction lately.

Fortunately, Rachel of pace, amore, libri tagged me for this fun feminist-themed book tag, and what better way to ease back into blogging than with a book tag?!

1- Your favorite female author

112077Even people I’ve only talked to once or twice before could probably tell you the answer to this one. Frequent readers of this blog are probably thinking ‘when will she shut up about this Dorothy Dunnett woman?!’ and the answer is not anytime soon! I’m a devotee of her sixteenth-century set historical epic The Lymond Chronicles, which span a decade in the life of misunderstood Scottish nobleman Francis Crawford of Lymond. To be honest I haven’t read much of her other work (I’m slowly working my way through standalone King Hereafter about the historical Macbeth, and have read the first two House of Niccolo books), and I’m less enthralled by these works so far, but in five-and-a-half years I’ve read The Lymond Chronicles three times and am now embarking on a fourth. That’s certainly enough to make Dorothy Dunnett my favourite female author.

2- Your favorite heroine

cityofbladesMy favourite heroine is actually a bit of a spoiler for The Lymond Chronicles, so I’ll go with another of my favourites, Shara Komayd from City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. Clever but practical, Shara is a tea-drinking, glasses-wearing, middle-aged, woman of colour spy. I. Love. Her. She’s vivid, incredibly intelligent, and visibly torn between her duties as an operative and her passion for history. The second novel in the series, City of Blades, features an equally unique and fabulous heroine in General Turyin Mulaghesh. Short-tempered, and often swearing, she’s a cynical, older disabled woman of colour and makes for an entirely different protagonist. If you picked up these books without noting the author’s name, you would never ever guess that they were written by a white man.

3- A novel with a feminist message

11925514Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Focusing on female friendship during WWII, Code Name Verity is divided into two parts. The first half is written from the perspective of Julie, a Scottish spy who is captured and detained as a prisoner of war in German occupied France, while the second part is told from her best friend Maddie’s point-of-view. Both young women are fighting for the Allied forces, and both excel in roles that were traditionally male (as a spy and a pilot, respectively). They’re incredible characters and the relationship at the center of the book isn’t romantic or sexual, but this overpowering platonic love between two women.

4- A novel with a girl on the cover


5- A novel featuring a group of girls

31423183Penance by Kanae Minato features Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko, who were tricked into separating from their friend Emily by a mysterious stranger. Hours later, Emily was found murdered. The novel is told from the perspectives of the surviving girls fifteen years after the murder and deals with how they have each been shaped and hindered by what occurred. Each of the characters are clearly differentiated from one another and exhibit believable and unique responses to the trauma they have undergone. Although I found that some of the unrealistic plot twists took me out of the story, I still recommend this quick read for its engaging female characters and exploration of themes of guilt and responsibility.

6- A novel with a LGBTQIAP+ female character

29414576Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee is one of the first novels I’ve found to prominently feature an asexual character. The protagonist of this YA contemporary novel deals with the sudden popularity of “Unhappy Families”, a webseries adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that she and her best friend Jack have created, while also navigating what it means to be asexual. Asexual representation in fiction is so rare that it was an absolute delight to find Tash’s sexuality handled so well in Tash Hearts Tolstoy. She’s a hardworking, creative protagonist who experiences crushes and romantic feelings for others, just not sexual attraction, and it’s so powerful to see asexuality portrayed with such care.

7- A novel with different feminine POV

19161852The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin. The Fifth Season gives us three very different perspectives; Damaya, a frightened child, Syenite, an ambitious young woman, and Essun, a middle-aged grieving mother. All are women-of-colour surviving in a world in which inhabitants endure occasional “fifth seasons”. These periods of catastrophic climate change mean that people who have the power to control and create earthquakes are feared and used, brainwashed from a young age to obey for their own good. The world-building is exquisite in its complexity, the characters (both major and minor) diverse in race, sexuality, and experiences, and the prose is gorgeous. Even if you don’t read fantasy, you should read this book.

8- A book where a girl saves the world

29749085Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. My only experience with Wonder Woman going into this book was the recent feminist movie, which I enjoyed but didn’t LOVE. I don’t think I would have given this a second glance were it not for the author. I’m so glad that I picked up Wonder Woman: Warbringer though because Leigh Bardugo created such wonderful female characters, bringing a teenage, unproven Diana Prince to life, alongside original characters like Alia, a shy teenager with a brilliant scientific mind, and her confident, overweight, gay, brown best friend Nim. Their race against both the clock and external forces to save the world maintained my interest throughout and I felt thoroughly empowered by the book.

9- A book where you prefer the female sidekick to the male MC

j6n48zI was one of those kids who loved to read and enjoyed the learning part of school, although not always the teaching methods or the social aspects, so of course I spent the Harry Potter books relating more to studious, passionate Hermione Granger than to Harry Potter himself. I’m also a big fan of Luna Lovegood, who is compassionate and unafraid of marching to the beat of her own drum. Harry’s a likable enough character and he makes a great protagonist for the series, but I’d rather hang out with Hermione and Luna is given the chance!

10- A book written by a male author and featuring a female character

barucormorantAside from Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy, the other fantasy book you’d never believe was written by a man is Seth Dickinson’s brilliant and devastating The Traitor Baru Cormorant. Baru is a fascinating protagonist. After the Empire of Masks invades her childhood island home, they rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. Baru vows to tear down the empire from the inside. Swallowing down her hate, she applies her considerable abilities to rising within the ranks. Ruthless and calculating, Baru is a complicated, fierce, morally ambiguous protagonist set on attaining her goal at all costs.

I won’t tag anyone in particular, but if you feel like doing this tag please pingback so I can read your answers!

 

Books: A History of Loneliness

22318411A History of Loneliness by John Boyne
Published February 3, 2015
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A powerful novel about silence, complicity, and guilt, John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness is a fictionalized, unflinching account of the Irish Catholic Church practice of covering up allegations of abuse among its ranks by transferring abusive priests to another parish, where they were likely to re-offend, instead of reporting them to the gardaí (Irish police). In doing so, the Church opted to place the survival of the institution above the safety of its parishioners.

As he does in both The Absolutist and The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Boyne opts to tell the story from the perspective of a man looking back on his life. Each chapter is set during a different year of Father Odran Yates’ life, but the story unfolds non-chronologically, shifting back and forth through time. A History of Loneliness spans Odran’s early family life and his seminary schooling during the 1960s and 70s through to twenty-first century accusations made against the Catholic Church and Odran’s recognition of the role his silence has played in allowing the abuse to continue.

Odran is a sympathetic character, a man pushed towards the priesthood by his mother but who genuinely believes in his vocation. Like some of Boyne’s other protagonists, Odran has a boyish quality of innocence that isn’t quite extinguished until the novel draws to a close. Although Odran is a good man and has never abused another individual, he is not wholly innocent either. Boyne masterfully depicts the feeling of melancholy and heavy guilt that hang over Odran’s later life as he comes to terms with the consequences of his inaction and willful blindness. I found Odran’s plight incredibly moving and felt for the character, even as a part of me was screaming ‘how could you not do something?!’

“What kind of life was this, I wondered. To what sort of an organization had I dedicated my life? And even as I searched for blame, I knew a darkness was stirring inside me concerning my own complicity, for I had seen things and I had suspected things and I had turned away and done nothing.”

As in The Absolutist, I guessed where the story was going long before the characters themselves did, but Boyne’s guilt-ridden prose and narrative voice are so captivating that it didn’t matter.

As someone who is not Catholic or an Irish citizen, I came to A History of Loneliness as an outsider. I was aware, of course, of the history of abuse and scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church in Ireland, but I had no personal connection to the material. I imagine this haunting novel is infinitely more poignant for those who have a deeper understanding of the Catholic Church and its impact on Ireland, but even without that personal history, A History of Loneliness is a compelling and sympathetic account of a troubled time in Ireland’s history, and its message about being complicit through silence is one that I won’t soon forget.