July 2020 Wrap-up

July was a pretty good month for me reading-wise. I read a total of 15 books, most of which I loved, so I’m really happy about how it went. So let’s dive into it, because it’s going to take some time.

I started the month by reading the first three books in the Witcher series: The Last Wish, Sword of Destiny and Blood of Elves. The first two are short stories collections centered around Geralt of Rivia, a witcher. Witchers are magically enhanced humans created to fight monsters who present a danger to human. They are trained to kill any monster, for the right price. I have a review of them here, if you’d like a few more details.

The third book, which is the first actual novel of the series, took me a bit by surprise. It starts just a little while after the events of the other books, but while Geralt is still one of the main characters, we have to wait almost half of the novel to reach a section that focuses on him as the previous books did. The rest of the time we are following Ciri, the child of surprise we learned about in the short stories.

We also find again some of the characters we came to know in the first two books: Triss Merigold, Dandelion and especially Yennefer are given much more space than before. Still, the book was a bit on the slow side compared to the short stories; not much happens on page, but it serves as a setup for what’s going to happen next, and it provides a bigger idea of the world and the politics.

I also finished The Crippled God by Steven Erikson, the last book of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and it was absolutely epic. I laughed, I cried. I would have read the second half of this book in a single setting, if it hadn’t been so long; it took two very long days instead.

It was worth it, though. Almost every character got a satisfying ending – or, at least, my favourite did; the plot threads intertwined beautifully; every object, concept, deity, character or event that had previously been mentioned has been called upon in the end.

Well, to be honest… there are a couple of loose bits. One or two characters just upped and left off-screen, and there was at least one thing that felt a bit too convenient for my taste, but I can’t really go into details because spoilers.

Still, what Malazan accomplished is absolutely incredible. The last two chapters had me on the verge of tears in multiple occasions, and nonetheless managed to make me chuckle a couple of times. All I have left to do now is to gather all the other books set in this universe – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a shared universe created by Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont together, something like 20 or 30 books – and read them in the authors’ recommended order. Because that’s the kind of person I am, I guess.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a found family wuxia fantasy novella by Malaysian author Zen Cho.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and everything goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins with him and his group of thieves in a quest to protect a sacred object, but it’s going to be harder than it sounds.

Aside from the beautiful cover – can we just take a moment to appreciate it? Thanks – this novella has a beautiful atmosphere, with an extremely interesting cast of characters and a lot of diversity. I really liked it, but at the same time I feel like this setting could be explored so much more than it has been. I would have been down for a full-lenght, 500-pages novel set in this world or with this characters. And despite being so short, it managed to surprise me more than once.

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti is a beautiful coming of age story about growing up as a girl in world dominated by men, and the mixed feelings caused by trying to reconcile personal desires with what’s expected of a girl.

Sidney, the protagonist, is the daughter of a declining movie star who has been seen all her life as a beautiful object, and she projects her harmful views on her daughter. Sidney is told she grew sexy; she realises that she is starting to attract male gazes, and this makes her feel powerful and scared at the same time, beautiful but dirty. In this cyclone of feelings and insecurities, she is also dealing with Jake, her mother’s current boyfriend, and what seems to be their very unhealthy relationship.

It was a really good book, but still miles away from the heights Deb Caletti reached with A Heart in a Body in the World, at least in my opinion. While I find the topic to be extremely important, I failed to emotionally connect to the protagonist at times.

A Declaration of the rights of magicians by H. G. Parry is just brilliant.

A French revolution retelling with magic, necromancers and vampires. Do I need to say more?

The main characters are William Pitt and William Wilberforce, in London, trying to ease the restrictions on commoner magic and abolish slavery; Maximilien Robespierre and his friends and colleagues, rebelling against the King of France; and Fina, an escaped slave in Saint Domingue on the eve of slave rebellion.

If it still doesn’t sound interesting enough, I can only add that the characters are amazing and the magic elements are woven in the story with such skill it’s almost unbelievable. It’s a slower pace read, but so so good. You can find a more detailed review here.

I needed a break from heavy reads – plus I was trying to pick up an audiobook, and I don’t do very well with fantasy on audio – so I started listening to All That Remains: A Life in Death by Sue Black. The author is a forensic anthropologist, and in her memoir she recounts her first experience with death, how she ended up studying anatomy and the like, and how it affected her career.

I found the first half, where the author talks about her first experiences and the details of her job, to be extremely fascinating. After that, the book switched lane to talk about a series of unresolved crimes or the sites of catastrophies, and how her job allowed her to be of help in these situations. I admit it lost my attention a bit in that section. It picked up again towards the end, though, and all in all I found it to be an enjoyable read. Not exactly what I was expecting – I had the idea it was more about the science and less about personal experiences, but hey, I guess that’s my fault for not reading the synopsis ever.

The Monster Baru Cormorant is the second book in the Masquerade series by Seth Dickinson. I loved the first book in this series, and it utterly destroyed me.

In this one, Baru is dealing with the consequences of her actions at the end of the first book, and she now has a new task to accomplish for the Empire.

This book is still really good, and it hurts quite a lot, but it lacked the shock factor the first book managed at the end. I did however enjoy the new characters that were introduced in this installment – especially Tau-Indi, he’s just precious – and the world expands so much in this book. We finally see a bit more of the people behind the throne, and we realise that the consequences of Baru’s actions are much more widespread than she could ever imagine. And the third book is coming out in August, so it’s only a matter of days until I can put my hands on it and devour it.

The Twisted Ones is a horror novel by T. Kingfisher.

When Melissa’s father asks her to clean out the house of her recently deceased grandmother, she packs her dog and gets to work. What she doesn’t know is that her grandmother was a hoarder, and that her step-grandfather left a journal full of nonsensical rants… until she encounters some of the things he described for herself. If you like strange carved rocks in the forest, impossible hills, “puppets” made of sticks and bone, and a rhyme that’ll stick in your mind for a long time, than this might be for you.

The beginning was a bit on the slow side, but it got creepy quickly enough. I know that, for a lot of people, the trope of the protagonist reading someone’s journal, or diary, or letters is a bit trite, but for some reason I always find it so interesting. The novel had the perfect amount of creepy and mystery for me, but sadly the ending fell apart. The idea was there, but when we started to peel the mystery away, it just lost all of its allure and the ending became predictable. It was much scarier in the first half than during the climax, and I believe that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

After that, I picked up Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. Malcolm Kershaw, bookseller and co-owner of the Old Devils Bookshop, doesn’t know what to think when an FBI agent wants to talk to him about a series of murders that might be related to a blog post he wrote years ago. The blog post was about eight perfect fictional murders, a list of the most unsolvable crimes he could think of in the mystery genre. Now, apparently, someone is using that list and replicating the murders in real life, and it seems there might be a connection to Malcolm…

I don’t pretend to be a mystery/thriller expert – I read very little in the genre – but I was expecting much more from this book than what I got. I heard high praise from people whose judgment I generally trust, and that probably contributed to the high expectations I had for this novel.

It was a quick read for sure – I read it in two sittings – but it didn’t leave me anything. The most surpising ‘twist’ was the part about the cat, and that’s saying something in a novel that supposedly has a shocking ending. Yeah, sure, I didn’t guess who the culprit was, but the real problem is that I didn’t care. I didn’t feel the tension, it was obvious from the beginning that the narrator was hiding things – and the author was not subtle at all in this regard; plus, the story itself is quite unbelievable at times. I had no idea it was so easy to get people to talk about very personal – and possibly traumatising – stuff, or to trespass on a stranger’s house in the middle of the day without no one noticing. The whole thing with his friend’s wife was just plain weird. And if this is not enough, it spoils the plot of all of the murder mysteries in the list, so if you’re planning on reading those, you should probably do it before you pick this book up. Just to be clear, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from reading it; I firmly believe that if something sounds interesting to you, you should go for it and see it for yourself. It surely has an audience, judging by the high rating and praise it received, and I’m not saying it’s a bad book or anything; it just didn’t blow me away.

After my disappointment, I decided to try another mystery to kind of cleanse my palate, and I choose And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. A well known and well loved classic mystery novel.

Eight strangers are invited – with various excuses – to spend some time on a private island off the coast of Devon. What they have in common is a dark secret in their past, and the fact the one by one they will die on the island, until there is no one left.

I did really like this book. The idea is genius and apparently I have a thing for rhymes and the like, because trying to imagine who was going to die and how based on the nursery rhyme was a delight.

However, I had the unfortunate idea of listening to it as an audiobook – and in one sitting, at that. I had a hard time remembering the characters’ names, even though the audiobook was really well done and they managed to give each of the characters a distinctive voice. My brain just doesn’t work too well sometimes, apparently.

I was apparently still in the mood for French history after reading about the revolution, so I picked up the first volume in The Accursed Kings series by Maurice Druon, which was apparently a strong inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.

The story follows the last couple of years of life of King Philip the Fair of France, his battle against the Templars, his sons and their unfaithful wives, his daughter stuck in an unhappy marriage with the king of England, and an italian banker.

I love reading about history, especially when it’s a bit fictionalised and I can actually imagine the people and their actions. History books are too dull and impersonal to really stuck with me. It was extremely interesting seeing how some events that seem irrelevant in the moment end up having huge consequences on the life of so many people. My only problem with this book was the writing style, which I found grating at times, but it might be due to the translation. I know a bit of French, but sadly I don’t feel comfortable reading entire novels in that language. Still, it was an interesting read and I’ll read the rest of the series for sure.

Burn Our Bodies Down is a horror family mystery.

For all of Margot’s life, it’s always been just her and her mother. She doesn’t know anything about her family, but when she founds an old picture that points her to a city called Phalene, she knows what she’s going to do. When she gets there, however, she gets more than she bargained for. There’s a reason if her mother left the city so many years ago…

Burn Our Bodies Down was a good book. I liked it more than the author’s debut last year – Wilder Girls – even though I so wanted to love that one as well. The author has a gift for crafting haunting atmospheres, and if the characters feel a little bit stilted at times, the weird and creepy aspects of the novel totally make up for it, at least for me. You can read more detailed thoughts in my review here.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is the first book in the Murderbot Diaries series of novellas – a series that got its first full lenght novel this year.

Murderbot is a security unit hired to protect a group of researchers while they’re exploring a planet to decide if there’s anything of interest to them on it.

Problem is, Murderbot doesn’t care about the job. It overrun its own governor module years ago, and as long as its humans stay alive, it’s more than happy to spend its time binge-watching old tv series. All of this changes, though, when another researcher’s group is found dead, they realise that someone is out to get them. Murderbot has to act to protect its humans, or it will face dire consequences; but this means putting at risk its most dangerous secret.

I loved this novella, more than I could imagine. Murderbot is strangely so relatable, and I found its awkward interactions with the group of researchers to be extremely funny. The story was also interesting and a quick read. I’m looking forward to read more about Murderbot and this world.

So there it is, everything I managed to read in the last month! Have you read any of those books, or plan to? If so, let me know what you think about them!

2 thoughts on “July 2020 Wrap-up”

  1. These look like some interesting books. I’ve just started branching off into thrillers/horror books. I’m going to add these to my To Be Read List. Thanks!

    Like

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