My Month in Books: February 2023

The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin

The City We Became was one of my absolute favourite reads of 2020 and I was buzzing with excitement to hear more from the five avatars of New York City and explore the other living cities of the world. Jemisin, as always, delivers a gripping and creative novel full of breathtaking world-building. However, my only critique is that the whole thing does feel somewhat rushed. This makes sense once you learn that Jemisin originally intended for Great Cities to be a trilogy rather than a duology but I still found myself feeling as if the pacing was a bit too fast for me. I’m also left wanting to know more about all of the other living cities who Jemisin gives us a tantalising glimpse of. Basically my main critique of this book is that there isn’t more of it, so I shall have to content myself with devouring the rest of Jemisin’s extensive oeuvre.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad is a tightly woven collection of short stories that broadly revolve around music producer Bennie Salazar and his assistant Sasha. Although their lives and pasts are largely hidden from each other, the reader is plunged into an array of vivid snapshots of the lives of their friends and associates, from Bennie’s high school friends to Sasha’s strange uncle to the children of Bennie’s reckless mentor. I found myself particularly moved by Great Rock and Roll Pauses a short story told from the perspective of Sasha’s daughter entirely through the medium of a Powerpoint presentation. You might think it sounds like a strange thing to be moved by a Powerpoint presentation, but such is the power and vulnerability of Egan’s writing. While the subject matter is varied and could have felt chaotic if written by a lesser author, Egan instead creates a symphony where all of the different, interlocking parts come together in perfect harmony to tell us a story about longing, art, self-destruction and redemption and the way that time comes for us all.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

When life gets a little bit much, it’s always nice to be able to retreat back into an old favourite. Revisiting the romantic travails of the Dashwood sisters still evokes all the passionate responses of the first time (namely a strong desire to shake Edward Ferrars, slap Lucy Steele into next week and condemn John Willoughby to a life of appropriate child support payments) but because this story is so familiar I have the comfort of knowing that in spite of all the tortured silences, the fraught letters and the dramatic walks in the rain that a happy ending is just around the corner. Sense and Sensibility is bursting with Austen’s signature wit and whether it’s your first time reading this or your fifth, you can’t help but be delighted.

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino

Summarising this book will be extremely difficult because it is less a story and more an experimental treatise on what it means to be a reader. The novel opens with a direct address to the reader, asking them to sit down and make themselves comfortable as they settle in to read a new book by Italo Calvino (so far, so meta). But after a few pages, the reader discovers that there is a printing error and the book just endlessly repeats the first section. Desperate to finish the story, the reader returns to the book shop to purchase a replacement but instead is given another book entirely and meets a mysterious and intriguing other reader. Thus begins a cycle of starting brand new stories only to have them cut short and find them replaced with another story entirely, leaving both the fictional reader and the reader themselves flitting through romances, comedies, thrillers, erotica and horror with each one mulling on what it means to read and why we do it. While I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this book (honestly I was hoping for more of a story) I think that Calvino has unquestionably produced a fascinating and innovative novel.

Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade

All good things must come to an end, including Olivia Dade’s extremely fun Spoiler Alert series. Centring on the cast of a wildly popular big-budget fantasy TV series with a terrible ending and useless show-runners (totally not Game of Thrones), this series has provided a fabulous source of warm and fuzzy feelings as well as copious nerdy fanfiction nostalgia. However, I found this last instalment a little underwhelming. I think the reason for this is that the main characters are isolated from the rest of the cast and so we don’t get as much of the characters we’ve grown so fond of over the course of the series. I also have a funny feeling if I was Swedish that I would hate this book because the sheer volume of national stereotypes and Swede jokes floating around would have probably driven me insane. Ultimately though, this was a fun, light read that still delivers plenty of good vibes, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

This was actually a reread for me but I wanted to refresh myself on the story ahead of the sequel finally coming out (you’ll have to wait for next month for that review!). This is a gripping paranormal thriller that centres around Alex Stern, a young woman who can see dead people, is understandably pretty messed up as a result and whose life has taken a few wrong turns. When she wakes up in a hospital bed after being found as the sole survivor of a brutal mass murder, she is offered an escape – a full ride scholarship to Yale. However, everything comes with a price. In exchange for this golden opportunity Alex must monitor Yale’s eight infamous secret societies to ensure they aren’t getting up to too much mischief. But this isn’t just supervising frat parties. The societies have been practicing magic for centuries and Alex’s natural gifts make her a perfect fit for making sure that their rituals don’t go too far. She struggles to adapt to New England, her classes and her new mentor in all things magical but when a local girl turns up murdered on campus, Alex, ironically, comes alive. Dealing with death is something she is familiar with and she’s prepared to square off against the privileged society members to make sure this girl gets justice. Full of twists, turns and spooky surprises, this book is perfect for fans of dark fantasy.

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