My Month in Books: October 2021

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

October always puts me in the mood for reading books about magic and I’ve had this series on my TBR list ever since I heard someone describe it as ‘Harry Potter for depressed and cynical adults.’ This person was not lying. Our hero (I use this term loosely) is Quentin Coldwater, a young man who has lived all of his life wishing that he could walk through a magical portal into the world of Fillory, the setting of his favourite fantasy novel. So you’d think that the day he discovers that he is actually a magician and has been chosen to attend a highly selective and prestigious secret university where he will learn the art of magic is the best day of his life, right? Wrong. Quentin spends the next four years at Fillory learning spells, making friends and falling in love and he couldn’t be more of a misery guts about it. While I appreciate that Quentin is a psychologically realistic character who embodies the old adage that no matter where you run off to you’ll always end up running into yourself, it was honestly kind of exhausting living in his head for an extended period. This is especially pertinent because Alice was right there being infinitely more interesting than Quentin and I would have killed to have had the book written from her perspective instead. But alas, you can’t always get what you want. I probably will pursue this series further because it was a really interesting and creative adult take on portal fantasy, but I definitely need a long break from Quentin before I do so.

When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn

My quest to get through all of the Bridgerton books continues at pace. This instalment focuses on the love life of Francesca Bridgerton, one of the quieter (and frankly more forgettable) members of this extremely horny Regency-era family. Surprisingly for a Bridgerton novel, Francesca begins the book already happily married to a perfectly nice earl named John. The intrigue begins when it emerges that John’s cousin, heir and bestie, Michael, is madly, passionately and secretly in love with Francesca but has resigned himself to a life of pained brooding as he third wheels on his best friend and the love of his life. But then John randomly drops dead, Michael becomes the earl and Francesca is single. You might think Michael is internally punching the air at this point but in actual fact he feels entirely too grief-stricken and guilty about stealing his dead best buddy’s wife to make his move. Until he isn’t that is. This was definitely one of the better Bridgerton novels I’ve read and it definitely benefitted from the fact that the heroine actually had received something resembling a sex education. If you have enjoyed the previous Bridgerton novels, you should love this one too.

Dune by Frank Herbert

I’m a big proponent of reading the book before you see the movie and also of going to see all movies that have Zendaya in them, so it was only natural that Dune would be on my reading list for this month. For the approximately six people that are not already aware, Dune is an epic science fiction saga that tells the story of the young Paul Atreides, who moves to the desert planet of Arrakis with his family to take over the ruling of the planet and oversee the production of ‘spice’, the most valuable commodity in the galaxy which can only be mined on Arrakis. Paul has to contend with the political machinations of the Harkonnens, the sworn enemies of his family, the emergence of some unexpected psychic powers, recurring visions of a future in which he appears to be leading a jihad to conquer the universe and the fact that he is living in a desert populated by highly skilled warriors (who think he might be the messiah) and ginormous carnivorous sandworms. And on top of that the poor guy is having to drink his own recycled sweat to survive! Honestly the first few chapters of this book are incredibly confusing because Herbert flings you right into the action with very little exposition or background but I would advise you to push through. Just as the best way to learn a language is through exposure, the best way to understand the complicated but rewarding Dune saga is to persevere, let the world-building wash over you and not be scared off in the first few pages. After all, fear is the mind killer…

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

By this point in October, I was well into spooky season and wanted something that would sake my insatiable taste for blood (in fiction only). So naturally I turned to the queen of murder mysteries, Agatha Christie. And Then There Were None is one of her most well-known tales and for good reason. The central conceit is that ten strangers are invited to an isolated island off the coast of Devon, all for different reasons and with seemingly nothing linking the ten of them. When they arrived there is no sign of their elusive host but a mysterious recording accuses each of the ten of being a murderer who managed to escape punishment for their crime. Their host has invited each of them to the island but intends for none of them to leave. They shall be picked off one by one, in line with a creepy poem on display all over the house, and executed as punishment for the lives that they took. And Then There Were None is a fast-paced psychological thriller with an audacious premise and a mystery so stunningly constructed that it necessitates an epilogue narrated by the killer explaining how precisely they managed to get away with it. It’s hardly a hot take, but Agatha Christie really is fabulous.

The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century by Amia Srinivasan

I love it when a book really forces me to think hard about about long-held opinions. Srinivasan has crafted a seriously of intellectually rigorous essays that examine some of the messier contradictions and conflicts that lie at the heart of the modern feminist movement and its relationship to sex. While she holds them up to the light, she offers no easy answers and indeed actively encourages her readers to sit with their uncertainty and discomfort over the issues that some of these debates raise. Srinivasan tackles everything from the politics of who is and is not desired, the ethics of student-teacher relationships, the impact of pornography and the uncomfortable relationship between rape accusations and racial justice. This book is a fascinating read for those interested in feminism and expanding their own understanding of sexual liberation.

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

After murder and feminist theory, I felt like my brain needed a little break and so I turned to my annual Renaissance Faire-themed romance novel. At this point the Willow Creek Renaissance Faire needs to start putting ‘Find the Love of Your Life Here or Your Money Back!’ on their posters and seriously rack up their ticket prices. This instalment features April, older sister to Emily, the protagonist of the first novel, and a single mom who is about to be an empty nester. For years April has put her life on hold for her daughter and has hoped that when she finally heads off to college, she’ll be able to sell her home, move to the city and start living her life for her. As she starts fixing up her house to sell it she acquires assistance from Mitch, one of the local Ren Faire organisers and a serious kilt enthusiast. In exchange for his DIY assistance, April agrees to pretend to be his girlfriend at a family gathering so that his family will take him more seriously and stop harassing him about settling down. However, the line between reality and pretend grows increasingly blurry and once Ren Faire kicks off it seems to disappear entirely. This was a lovely romance though again I must complain about a serious gap in the jousting department. Perhaps my patience will finally be rewarded in the next instalment.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

After I read a romance novel, I usually read something deeply fucked up in order to keep the universe in balance. Baby Teeth was perfect for this. It centres around Hanna, a little girl with selective mutism who is an angel whenever her father is around and saves her crueler and more psychopathic side for her stay at home mother Suzette. Essentially this book is We Need to Talk About Kevin if Kevin got to the homicidal part of his career at a much more precocious age. This book was totally bonkers but a great, captivating thriller that would be perfect for breaking up a period of heavier reading.

The Workshop of Filthy Creation by Richard Gadz

Thank you to NetGalley and Deixis Press for giving me an ARC of this book. The Workshop of Filthy Creation has all of the hallmarks of a perfect Halloween read, it’s a daring semi-sequel to Frankenstein which picks up with the descendent of the infamous Dr Frankenstein (called Von Frakken in this story) and features all manner of grisly murders, scientific experiments and generally terrible people. Von Frakken has gone beyond the ambitions of his ancestors and, instead of reanimating a dead body, he has grown and given life to an entirely man-made body from scratch. Her name is Maria and after she escapes her creator and finds herself in the harsh world of London in 1879, she discovers that there are many, many people with opinions about her existence. Some want her studied, some want her locked up and many many many people want her dead while Maria is left trying to figure out what it means to just be. Honestly, I think the book would have benefitted more from focusing on Maria and her struggle to come to terms with who she is and what life she wants for herself rather than the repeated gruesome digressions focusing on the activities of various nefarious mad scientists. If you’re looking more for a gothic tale full of nightmarish body horror, this is the book for you. But if you’d rather have an even scarier story that focuses a girl trying to get on with her life while a bunch of powerful men try to make decisions about her and body, you may be left wanting.

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