September 2020 wrap-up

Another month is over, and I have mixed feelings about the books I read this time. I finished 12 things and abandoned another one, but even though I read some good stuff, I don’t think I found any new favourites this month. Sadly. I also mostly stuck to short fiction because I’m just finding it easier to focus if the stories are not stretched over 500+ pages, but with mixed results.

Freedom is Space for the Spirit by Glen Hirshberg (2016)

This is more of a short story. The protagonist, a middle-aged German man named Thomas, receives a telegram from an old friend urging him to go to St. Petersburg. Once he arrives in the city, Thomas notices that bears are roaming the streets, but the inhabitants act like everything is normal.

Any more than this and we would get into spoiler territory, so I’ll try to keep it as short as possible: I feel like the story needed a shorter start, and a longer ending. I’m coming to realise this must be a personal problem I have with weird stories: I can do without a real explanation, but I want the “weirdness” to be at least fleshed out. I feel like the way the bears came to be in the city is barely glossed over, to the point were the ending felt anticlimactic for me. You can read a bit more about the story and my thoughts in this post

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (2020)

This is the third book in The Masquerade series, so I won’t go into many details (duh). I like the fact that the protagonist finally manages to shake off some of the apathy from the previous book, but at the same time this book felt like a very long epilogue to the second one. Or, at least, the second half of it (which is ridiculous, since this book alone was over 700 pages!). Still, things happen, we get explanations, an ending with a real punch, and the epilogue promises to expand the world in the next instalment, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that – whenever it’s coming out.

Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences by Mark Twain (1895)

This is not really a novel, or even a story, but I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a while. Mark Twain reviews a story written by author Fenimore Cooper pointing out all the mistakes and absurdities present in the story, providing an hilarious background for his famous 19 rules for good writing; and he does it with sarcasm, and irony, and it was just instructive and a lot of fun to read. It made me really curious about Fenimore Cooper’s story, though.

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg (2020)

Uiziya lives with the desert people. She has been waiting for the last forty years for her aunt’s return from exile, so that she can pick up her training again and learn how to weave from bones. She finally decides to go look for her in the desert, together with the nameless man, and from there unfolds their adventure.

This had a lot of potential. The world is unique and interesting, the religion and the magic system are something I hadn’t seen before, the idea of weaving carpets from wind, sand, song and bones is great. Where it sadly fell flat for me was in the execution. The characters weren’t well fleshed out, the story felt rushed, and it sometimes became repetitive instead of moving the plot forward. I just couldn’t really care for anything that was going on, and I’m really sad about that. You can read a bit more about my thoughts here.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (2020)

Lucien is the son of a rockstar, a man who abandoned him when he was still a toddler to follow his career. Since then he has been the unwilling prey of the paparazzi, who keep portraying him as a wasted young man, only interested in parties, alcohol, and sex, even though it’s seldom as simple as it looks from the outside. This has been ruining his ability to trust people and build relationships for most of his life, but now that it might affect his job as well, Lucien needs to put a stop to the gossips. He recruits Oliver Blackwood, a respectable friend-of-a-friend barrister, to pretend to be his boyfriend and help him to show a healthy, normal façade in the attempt to rescue his public image and keep his job. But the relationship doesn’t feel as fake as it should, and both Luc and Oliver need to change something and learn to trust each other if they want it to work.

This was absolutely adorable. I don’t read romance very often, but when I do is because I need to turn away for a while from complex worldbuilding and dense stories, and I just need some feel-good entertainment. This totally did it for me! Luc’s personality shines through the pages, and even though it’s marketed mostly as an enemy-to-lovers story, there’s much more going on. I couldn’t put it down, and the only thing that rubbed me the wrong way a little bit is a scene with Oliver’s family towards the end of the book. I won’t say anymore because of spoilers, but I feel like it was a bit heavy handed and it would have sent the message even if it were toned down a little.

Horrid by Katrina Leno (2020)

Jane and her mother are forced to move back to her mother’s family old mansion after her father suddenly dies and leaves them with little money. As Jane settles into her new city and makes a few new friends, she realises that everyone in town knows about her house and its history. When her mother refuses to tell her the truth, Jane starts looking for answers in the house itself, all the while trying to ignore the ominous feeling of it…

This one is something in between a haunted house story and a family mystery. I loved the creepy atmosphere of the old house, and the story behind it is both interesting and well developed. If I had to find a fault to this book, it would be that the protagonist is at times a bit too obtuse to be realistic, and the ending feels rushed. You can read more of my thought in my review.

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour (2020)

Mila has finally aged out of the foster care system and she knows the family she stayed with doesn’t plan on adopting her. Maybe that’s why she accepts a job as tutor in an isolated farm in North Carolina, between the fog and the crashing ocean waves below. Maybe this time she will find a home and a family. Maybe she can forget about her past. But she didn’t know about the ghosts, and while she aches to be part of the farm’s life, painful memories start to resurface.

Nina LaCour has a gift for writing quiet, eerie atmosphere. The image of the ghosts is both weird and beautiful, and even though there are some darker undertones to the story at times, this is mostly a story of pain, loneliness, and healing. It’s beautifully written and touching. Full review here.

The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker by Lauren James (2020)

Harriet is exploring an abandoned dorm building for a class project, when she trips and falls from the fifth floor. Waking up from the fall, she realises that she is dead, and the energy released during her fall woke up a lot of ghosts. While still getting used to her new condition, she starts to learn about the afterlife: the ghosts are split in groups, some of them friendlier than others; and she can’t leave the building she died in, or she will dissolve. But Harriet wants to go home, and she will do anything to succeed.

I read about 36% of this book before giving up. I wanted to love it, I really did, but I hated the main character so much that I just couldn’t force myself to finish it. Plus, all the other point-of-view characters were stereotypes, and the rules regulating the afterlife were confusing at best, and completely nonsensical in some cases. It’s a big no for me.
I have another couple of books from this author that I’d like to check out, but now I’m kind of hesitant.

Seven Ways to Kill a King by Melissa Wright (2020)

Princess Myrina was forced into hiding when seven men killed her mother, captured her older sister, and named themselves kings. Now Miri is tired of hiding, and with the help of her bloodsworn soldiers, she is ready to take the kingdom back and save her sister. She has a plan for each one of the seven kings, and she will kill them one by one…

This was an enjoyable but pretty standard YA fantasy. The worldbuilding is really basic, there’s very little magic, and the plot follows predictable steps throughout, even though there are flashes of originality here and there. The protagonist makes fairly intelligent decisions, which is a big plus, except when she suddenly doesn’t catch up on a very obvious piece of information in order not to spoil the surprise at the end. Cass, the young man who follows and helps her, is a pretty decent guy, and there were a few sweet moments between them but not too much romance. The plot in general moved quickly, and the book is also a standalone, which is always refreshing when most of the books published in the last decade are series. I’m still a bit confused about some of the things explained at the end, but it was still an enjoyable read. If you’re looking for something that blows your mind for originality, though, I would keep looking.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (2020)

Twenty-five years ago, five-year-old Maggie and her parents lived for three weeks in Baneberry Hall, before fleeing in the dead of night. Her family became famous when her father published a book about the haunted house and their experience when they lived there, but now that he’s dead, Maggie discovers that she inherited the old Victorian mansion. Determined to find out what really happened in those fateful days, she travels to the house with the excuse of renovating it and starts digging for answers. But strange events start to take place in the house, and she begins to wonder if maybe her father’s book was more than just fiction.

Do you spot a theme here? Apparently something happened with me and haunted houses this month.
This book is extremely creepy at times, which I loved – and also forced me to stop reading when it went dark outside. It’s told alternating Maggie’s experience in the present and her father’s through the pages of his bestseller. I did prefer her father’s account, but only because I didn’t really care for the protagonist. Moreover, part of the reason for the “haunting” is given the most ridiculous explanation and I just… no. You can read more of my thoughts in my review.

Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford (2018)

Ada and her father are not exactly humans: they have very long lives, and the peculiar power of “opening” people with their bare hands to find sickness and extract it. And if the problem is too big for them to tackle, they can always bury someone in the Ground, a small piece of land next to their house that has strange qualities. This is what they have been doing for a very long time, until Ada starts growing affectionate with a man named Samson, incurring in her father’s disapproval.

This is an eerie and beautiful little book. The story itself is interesting and well realised, narrated in a style that at times reminded me of fairytales. The story behind Ada and her father’s origin remains a mystery until the end, but the magic in the book is so original and interesting that it just doesn’t feel that important to understand everything. I don’t really know how to talk about it; I really liked it, but I also feel like I haven’t fully grasped its meaning.

Driftwood by Marie Brennan (2020)

Driftwood is where worlds go to die after their apocalypses. Imagine it in a series of concentric circles: the worlds first appear on the Edge, flanked by a wall of Mist; then, they are slowly pushed in the middle by new worlds, losing bits and pieces and reduced to Shred; finally, when there’s only fragments left of them, they reach the centre, the Crush; and here, they disappear forever.
Last is the only one left of his race. His world disappeared a long time ago, but he is still alive, watching countless other worlds reach their ends and trying to comfort, if not help, the ones that are disappearing with them. No one knows how he has survived so long, not even him; but now, when rumour says he’s finally dead, a group of people gather to try and find out the truth, narrating stories about him and his past deeds.

This was so interesting. The world of Driftwood is one of the most original I have read about for a very long time. Last is a tragic hero, bound to remember everything and still be unable to move on himself or help other people achieve his feat of survival. I would have easily read another 500 pages set in this fascinating world, but the story did reach its intended purpose, so I guess I’ll just have to reread it when I feel the need.

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar (2020)

Sheetal is a half-star: her mother lived with her and her father until she was seven years old, and then one night abandoned them to return to her celestial home. Still, Sheetal has her silver hair and her talent for song and music. She does her best to live a normal life, but when she accidentally burns her father with her starfire, she knows she needs her mother’s help to save him. But when she reaches the celestial court, she is thrust in a competition full of secrets and betrayals, and she will have to win it in order to get the help she needs.

This was such a refreshing read! I really liked the protagonist and her relationship with her best friend; the story proceeded at a good pace throughout, the love subplot was present but not overpowering, and the celestial court had the right amount of intrigue to keep me guessing about everyone’s true objective. I found all the names a bit confusing in the beginning, though; I guess they indicate various degrees of family, but it was hard to understand who the characters where talking about, especially when two characters referred to the same person in different ways. Aside from that, though, it was one of the best YA fantasy I have read in a while.

So there you have it, these are all the books I read in the month of September! Have you read any of them? If so, what do you think about them?

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