Like everyone else, I’m baffled as to how quick this year has gone. As we approach the end of the year, I’m looking back on a few of my new year’s resolutions. Despite having failed to achieve most (guess I’ll try to learn Japanese next year), one of my resolutions was to read every day. After a couple of years of merely traipsing my way through my degree’s required reading lists, this year I rekindled my love for getting lost in a good book.
October was without a doubt the slowest reading month of the year for me. It was a whirlwind month of moving into my new flat, starting a new job and winding up lost in Madrid’s streets. Throughout the frenzy, I only managed to finish two books. November, on the other hand, was great, Despite the homesickness and stress of teaching, I settled down and reawakened my daily habit of reading. I even discovered a couple of favourites. So without further ado, here I’ve combined the last two months into one overarching wrap-up, featuring a few 5-star reads:
I’ve linked each book to my full review if you want to check them out!
Odd One Out – Nic Stone, 5 stars
My full review for this book can be found here
Odd One Out is a coming-of-age story which explores friendship, love and self-discovery. Through her telling of the story, Nic Stone triumphs with her representation of race and sexuality, the complex nature of discovering who we truly are and the reality that is the fluidity of labels.
In this book, we have what is the epitome of the complicated love triangle. Friendships turn into crushes, crushes turn into secrets and secrets ultimately lead to heartbreak, tension and betrayal.
I felt so conflicted while reading this. I found all the characters to be so loveable that I wanted them all to be happy. However, in this story, things don’t necessarily go as hoped. There’s love, there’s loss, there are heartbreak moments to heart-warming scenes. It’s messy and it’s true.
The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths, 4 stars
My full Goodreads review.
Part murder mystery, part Victorian ghost story, The Stranger Diaries makes for the perfect autumnal read.
Clare Cassidy is no stranger to tales of murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer R.M. Holland, she teaches a short course on them every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an R.M. Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.
I found this to be a slow-burning novel, but one in which Griffiths meticulously builds an atmosphere for the old school whodunnit. One thing I do wish there was more of; supernatural elements. The ending also fell flat for me, the reveal somewhat underwhelming, especially after the growing sense of dread built up by the author.
Nonetheless, it was a great story and I appreciated the abundance of British allusions which is sure to entertain any fellow Brit:
“E often used to come here and they’d drink wine and watch Strictly (the opium of the middle-aged.)”
Skyward – Brandon Sanderson, 3 stars
My full Goodreads review.
Skyward is a sci-fi alien fighting adventure which follows 17-year-old Spensa who, after having spent years of dreaming about flying among the stars, discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship. We thus watch Spensa as she repairs the space vehicle, progresses through her months at flight school and persuades the peculiar talking machine to help her pursue her dream.
This book could be 100 pages shorter and we would still have the same outcome. I found the detail about the flight and battle simulation scenes repetitive, so much so that I skimmed over some descriptions. Eventually, after hundreds of pages of battle scenes, we’re suddenly hit with an abundance of revelations and twists.
Perhaps I didn’t truly immerse myself into Sanderson’s world, perhaps this genre isn’t for me. However with a sassy talking AI machine, battle scenes left right and centre and an ominous enemy, this book is perfect for any sci-fi fanatic.
Girls of Paper & Fire – Natasha Ngan, 4 stars
As soon as we begin reading we’re thrust into the Asian inspired fantasy world of Ikhara in which its citizens comprise of three castes: the oppressed, fully human “Paper” class; “Steel,” a human-animal mash-up; and the reigning “Moon” caste, made up of animals called demons.
I was entranced by the Asian elements interwoven throughout Ngan’s intricate prose. Yes, this is an incredible magical world with anthropomorphic demon animals. Nonetheless, it is real. The setting is unique, intriguing and I didn’t feel as if I were drowning in flowery descriptions.
Ngan faultlessly tackles feminist themes of concubines rebelling and the commodification of women, as well as condemning homophobia and the system of oppression, still prevalent in contemporary society. She also delves into difficult themes of rape and sexual assault which readers should be aware of.
The ending is one massive cliff-hanger. It forebodes the plot of the next novel in the Paper Girls series, ending on the promise that there will be more horrors to come.
Outside – Sarah Ann Juckes, 5 stars
My full Goodreads review
The perspective from which this extraordinary story is told is what makes this book so unique. Ele knows nothing about the outside world. Her only guide to the world beyond the sheltered ‘Inside’ are the few fairy tale stories which keep her company. Literature, therefore, is her only point of reference as to how the world works. She truly believes she’s trapped in a tower, and like Rapunzel, a Prince will come to rescue her.
Outside is nothing like I’ve ever read before. I swallowed this book whole and the ending was incredible with a plot twist which left me wanting more from the curious character.
The Kiss Quotient – Helen Hoang, 4.5 stars
My full Goodreads review
This was the most wholesome story I have read for a long time. While it was one steamy read, it proved to be so much more than just a romance story.
The depth of this relationship was incredible. Yes, the plot was a little unrealistic at times, but, the chemistry between Stella and Michael was amazing. I adored Stella, a successful businesswoman who has Asperger’s syndrome. Unable to enjoy the intimacy of a relationship, or even the talking part for that matter, she hires Michael, an escort, to teach her.
Michael made her feel comfortable from the get-go and doesn’t force her into anything. This gave Huang the opportunity to explore the importance of consent – Michael is deeply respectful of her boundaries and always waits for her to be 100% ready.
This was a book so full of heart and I’ve added The Bride Test straight onto my TBR list.
Once Upon A River – Diane Setterfield, 5 stars (new favourite!)
My full review for this book can be found here.
It is the magical realism that makes this story so captivating. The line between reality and the supernatural fissures as folklore and superstition play into the characters’ everyday lives. Tales of ghosts, the supernatural and fortune-telling spread throughout the town like wildfire, the villagers not knowing what to believe. Can a young girl who was found dead really come back to life?
Most importantly, this is a book about story-telling. The young girl is just one mystery which opens the window to a story teeming with various plots, background history and twists which will keep you guessing until the end.
This is an enchanting tale with a timeless quality in which every intricate detail is significant. It is an atmospheric, character-driven novel where magic can be found in the mundane.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas – 5 stars
My full Goodreads review.
I might be late to the party, but this book opened my eyes in so many ways.
Not only does The Hate U Give carry a strong political message about cultural appropriation, police violence and racial bias in America’s justice system, but it is emotionally-charged and fantastically written. I couldn’t put it down. Each and every character has depth. Thomas has crafted the book so that while it carries a powerful message, it also makes the reader laugh out loud. You would find me reading this on the way to work with a smile slapped onto my face amid the tired gloomy faces of the metro riders.
I loved reading from Starr’s perspective. The abundance of pop culture references from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air to Harry Potter provided light entertained throughout while I could also feel tears welling up during Starr’s lowest moments. Most importantly, she encourages young people to use their voice as a weapon for change.
Have you read any of these books? What was your favourite read this Autumn?