Reading Round Up – September

At the start of the year I set myself the challenge of reading one book a week, and am actually ahead of schedule – go me! For fun, I’ve started to number the books in my reviews.

46. 1984

George Orwell

Rating: 3 out of 5.
1984

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.

Is my three star rating unfair given what a classic this book is? Perhaps. The world is terrifying (and given the current state of things, the reason I decided to read the book at last), but I had little interest in main character Winston, who served as no more than the vessel through which we see this terrifying world. Apologies for what is probably my unpopular opinion, but honestly, who has ever mentioned 1984 to discuss Winston and not Big Brother?


47. Half a King

Joe Abercrombie

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)

Betrayed by his family and left for dead, prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the shattered sea itself – all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge. Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, traps and tragedy.

Thanks to this book, I’ve really pinned down my love of the Coming of Age trope. As a character, Yarvi is instantly relatable, which is not a surprise as this book is penned by Character Master Joe Abercrombie. What is a surprise is that not everyone in this book is a back stabbing stain on society, as I’ve also come to expect from Abercrombie, who can sometimes take Grimdark to such depressing depths I feel the need to shower in Rom Coms afterwards.

While I absolutely loved this book, I have two criticisms. First, was that the “surprise” twist at the end was so obvious it may have been flashing headlights and banging a drum. Second, I have no desire to read the next is the series. Perhaps one day I’ll read it and call myself an idiot, but right now reading the blurb of what’s to come… no interest.


48. 100 Days of Sunlight

Abbie Emmons

Rating: 4 out of 5.
100 Days of Sunlight

When 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickinson is involved in a car accident and loses her eyesight for 100 days, she feels like her whole world has been turned upside-down. 

Terrified that her vision might never return, Tessa feels like she has nothing left to be happy about. But when her grandparents place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a typist to help Tessa continue writing and blogging, an unlikely answer knocks at their door: Weston Ludovico, a boy her age with bright eyes, an optimistic smile…and no legs.

Knowing how angry and afraid Tessa is feeling, Weston thinks he can help her. But he has one condition — no one can tell Tessa about his disability. And because she can’t see him, she treats him with contempt: screaming at him to get out of her house and never come back. But for Weston, it’s the most amazing feeling: to be treated like a normal person, not just a sob story. So he comes back. Again and again and again.

Tessa spurns Weston’s “obnoxious optimism”, convinced that he has no idea what she’s going through. But Weston knows exactly how she feels and reaches into her darkness to show her that there is more than one way to experience the world. As Tessa grows closer to Weston, she finds it harder and harder to imagine life without him — and Weston can’t imagine life without her. But he still hasn’t told her the truth, and when Tessa’s sight returns he’ll have to make the hardest decision of his life: vanish from Tessa’s world…or overcome his fear of being seen.

100 Days of Sunlight is a poignant and heartfelt novel by author Abbie Emmons. If you like sweet contemporary romance and strong family themes then you’ll love this touching story of hope, healing, and getting back up when life knocks you down.

I decided to read this book after watching Abbie’s YouTube series about character and her mantra of ‘Why It Matters!’ I would say in this she has achieved to set out what she intended, with characters built to test each other, with Tessa and Weston (I keep wanting to say Tessa and Will) perfect for each other’s issues.

Is the book perfect? (Are any?) No. The opening is a tad cliched and all the characters are just too… good? Perhaps it’s that I lurk in the realms of Grimdark Fantasy that skewed my opinion here. I’m not asking for Weston to be Jorg Ancrath (poor Tessa if he were…), but I wish there was a little more lurking beneath the surface. But maybe that’s just me! Overall, a good read.


49. Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Great Expectations

‘In what may be Dickens’s best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of “great expectations.” In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride.

I knew enough about this book going in (thanks to adaptations and parodies) that I was familiar with the characters of Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham. But I was not prepared for the character of Joe Gargery, who I absolutely fell in love with. Starting the book, I expected Joe to be Pip’s childhood antagonist (rather than Pip’s sister). How wrong I was and how I raged at Pip every time he treated Joe badly.

This novel was Grimdark before Grimdark was a thing, a complete study of character and human flaws. It could have done with an edit (I say, passing judgement on a classic), but in a book already so long did we need scenes about Pip and Herbert writing lists of debts, or the many, many characters there were to keep track of. 

The bonus of Dickens’ works (I say after reading just two of his novels) is that even when writing, he set his novels in the past already, and as a result explains how things are different. There’s no assumptions from the author as there are in Austen’s work, for example, where owning a chaise and four makes a gentleman of a certain wealth bracket. So it’s easy to read and understand, despite its age.


50. The Court of Miracles

Kester Grant

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Court of Miracles (A Court of Miracles #1)

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). 

When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

I decided to read this book after hearing about it at Voyager Con. I’m a huge fan of Les Mis, though I must admit to not having read Victor Hugo’s original (the audiobook is 57 hours! I’m daunted, okay!), and have always had a soft spot for Eponine. Author Kester Grant is right, she is the best. 

I had expected something more like the film Ophelia, with the novel simply playing out from Eponine’s point of view with scenes previously unseen. This was definitely better. I loved the story, but in a way would have preferred it to have been an original. That way, I wouldn’t have been constantly comparing changes. [SPOILERS AHEAD] For example, I love Val Jean and Cosette in the original, and to find that even in the two years they spent together they had no bond… crying… And perhaps controversially, I love the original Javert. I was a bit devastated to see the new Javert reduced to a woman scorned (she’s hunting Val Jean because he hit it and quit it; he banged her then canned her). This is supposedly a feminist retelling, and that one just didn’t sit right with me. But I loved the other changed involving Nina (Eponine) and Ettie (Cosette). [NO MORE SPOILERS]

I was disappointed with one aspect of the plot, where the reader is essentially tricked into believing something which it is later revealed POV character Nina knew was a lie all along. That knocked a star off for me.

One thing to point out, because for a while it confused the hell out of me, is that the blurb states the book takes place ‘in the wake of the French Revolution’. So you aren’t confused when Nina runs across the Dauphin, the novel is set in an alternative Paris where the French Revolution was only a failed uprising and the monarchy is still very much in play. 

1 thought on “Reading Round Up – September

  1. You make a good point about 1984. And I loved Abercrombie’s Half a King series, feel in love with all the characters. And I believe it does us good (writers & others) to read the originals of those many adaptations we’re spoon fed on TV. Often a wonderful eye-opener.

    Liked by 1 person

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