The Nine by Tracy Townsend #review

 

One of the best things about being part of the online book loving community of Instagram is discovering new-to-me authors! I would never have heard of Tracy Townsend if not for @basiclandcave’s posts.

And I loved every bit of The Nine, the first book in the Thieves of Fate series. This book is a complex, fascinating world that resembles our own a bit but for some very key elements. Like how science is a kind of religion and the Nine are the people (or creatures) whose actions determine the world’s fate (so say this self-scribing book that only some can decipher). There are fascinating walking tree-like beings and giant beasts with eyes on their feet (and in my mind, Komodo dragon-like but perhaps because my 7yo likes Komodo dragons and was telling me all about it over the weekend).

Similar to the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson (the last fantasy series I read before this), there is a young girl who has seen tough times working as a courier for the black market. Also, some fascinating world-building, but in a more of a steampunk variety, along with this exploration of the melding of science and religion.

I immediately jumped from this first book to The Fall, the second (is there more or is this a duology?), but am only just a couple of chapters in.

Gideon the Ninth

This book is an absolutely brilliant, soul-sucking, bloody, batshit crazy yet completely absorbing read that has you holding your breath with every insane twist and turn of this roller coaster of reading ride.

It is impossible to really describe this book accurately but I’ll try.

Gideon the Ninth is set in a very distant future (perhaps?) in which there are nine houses and all of them deal in a kind of death-related magic. 

And there is to be a tournament in which each House sends a necromancer and a cavalier who is an expert at sword fighting (although there are clearly more advanced technologies around, these Houses feel very ancient somehow, including the tournament’s preference for the cavaliers to use rapiers). 

Gideon Nav is the cavalier (well, sort of, more like a sub really) to the Ninth House, to Harrowhark, with whom she has had a mutual hatred since they were young. But she has been promised freedom if she accompanies Harrow to this tournament to become a Lyctor. Lyctors are insanely powerful and work directly for the Emperor in his war against an unknown enemy (I’m guessing it’s to be revealed in the rest of the series). And guess what, this tournament takes place on another planet. And it turns out all the Houses exist on different planets. 

So yes, let’s see, there are necromancers, there are warriors, there are skeletons and death magics and they all take place on a galactic empire. And the Ninth House is the creepiest, the weirdest House of all, the kind which has people avoiding their gaze in case they inflict a curse on them or something (and yet dying to watch every little thing they are doing).  Sounds a bit insane but it is gloriously brilliant (and also insane). 

Ok so this might sound a bit too “out there” for some but this was for me, an absolutely compelling read. The crazy world building, the heart-thumping action, the dark whimsical magic, and that Gideon, that funny, irreverent humour, that hate-not-hate relationship with Harrow, it was everything. 

 

 

Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer

It’s funny when you stumble across a book that is just right for your frame of mind. This book, in all its pastoral ramble-y ways, was that quiet I did not know I needed, in a world that is strangely quiet in ways (less traffic) but crazily loud in so many other ways (ALL THE NEWS).

This is a book about a woman and her birds, and I was startled to learn at the end of the book that Len was a real person, a woman who did live in Sussex, and who observed and wrote about the birds who lived in her garden, although her work wasn’t deemed scientific enough and are now out of print.


It’s strangely charming and yet profoundly sad, this woman’s life among her birds, especially in contrast to her younger self as a musician in London. An explanation for her reclusiveness isn’t exactly stated (at least not that I recall) but maybe the reader is meant to reflect on that and wonder

Author Eva Meijer is Dutch and has also written a non-fiction book, When Animals Speak. 

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

It can sometimes be intimidating starting a new-to-me writer, especially one with a huge collection of series and books written. And perhaps even more so for speculative fiction, where the worlds are strange and may take some time to sink into.

So admittedly the first chapter didn’t really do it for me, but as we moved on and met Vin, the young girl with a tough life and some strange power she calls Luck, it began to grow on me and I realized that I did not want to stop reading. And at the same time, I didn’t want to read it too fast because that would mean the end of the book. This was an amazing read. It was exciting and immersive and had this kind of Ocean’s Eleven kind of feel in parts – not in the smooth, Vegas way but in that great camaraderie among the crew and how they all played unique roles that came together as a whole.

And Allomancy, I mean, how clever that is. To introduce this use of metals, metals we are all familiar with, yet use them in this almost wuxia kind of way (all that leaping about especially).

And well, as you can see, I did bring myself to finish it, much as I didn’t want this story to end. But Sanderson has so many books (including more in this Mistborn series) that will make this newfound fan thrilled for many more reads to come

Review: Know My Name by Chanel Miller

I’ve been struggling with this, trying to figure out the best way to write about this book.

What can one say, what should one say, when reading this? It’s not an easy book to read, but it is such a brave and powerful book.

I soon learned that I couldn’t read this in bed, I couldn’t read this before falling asleep as it made me very tense, it made me grit my teeth while reading it, it made my head full of thoughts, angry thoughts, swirling around and keeping me awake instead of lulling me into a deep sleep. I learned to read it in the daylight.

“They were deciding whether I’d make a good victim: is her character upstanding, does she seem durable, will the jury find her likeable, while she stay with us moving forward. I walked out feeling like, You got the job! I did not want this job. I wanted my old life. But let him walk away? I could not let it happen. Pressing charges was my choice, they’d say, but sometimes you feel you don’t have one.”

As I read it, I kept thinking, but this is so readable. It reads so easily, it reads so beautifully. But really, why am I reading this at all? Why did this book exist? Because of Brock Turner, a man, a vile person who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on the campus at Stanford University. And a judge, who decided that putting this man in jail for six months was enough punishment for such a deed. He was released three months early.

As a review in The Atlantic put it: “When trauma is transformed into art, there will always be a paradox at play: The art’s existence is beautiful. But it shouldn’t have to exist at all.”

So many people have written about this book more eloquently than I can. So I’ll point you to Book Marks, which has already put together links to reviews of this book.

“His fault, her fault. How quickly victims must begin fighting, converting feelings into logic, navigating the legal system, the intrusion of strangers, the relentless judgment. How do I protect my life? From the investigators? The reporters? I was being equipped with a prosecutor, going into battle, but no one could tell me how to hold all this hostility, this wrecking sadness.”

What I can tell you is what I took away from this piece of writing. This is an important book by a brave young woman. This is also a brutal read. It is precise, unflinching, as Miller takes us through the whole process – being swabbed, photographed, examined all over at the rape processing rooms; and that ridiculously time-consuming legal process. I didn’t really follow the news at the time, so it was disheartening to see how the media portrayed both Miller and Turner.

“They counted my drinks and counted the seconds Brock could swim two hundred yards, topped the article with a picture of Brock wearing a tie; it could’ve doubled as his LinkedIn profile.”

Know my Name is powerful, heartbreaking and infuriating (teeth-clenching and all), and I am full of admiration for Miller who writes her story with such wit and determination.

 

 

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Wang wrote the fantastic The Prince and the Dressmaker, a comic with a wonderful message about acceptance and love, and so I was looking forward to this one, which seemed less fairytale-like with its cover of two young girls sitting together.

But similar to The Prince and the Dressmaker, this is a story about an unlikely friendship.

Moon Lim and her mother move into the granny flat behind Christine’s house, after Christine’s parents offer it to the struggling widow and her child. Christine isn’t sure about Moon at first, she’s rumoured to be free with her fists, she’s impulsive and rambunctious, while Christine is reserved and obedient, trying hard to please her parents. But they soon share a love for dancing to K-pop music and plan to join the school’s talent show.

Moon has a secret though, she sometimes sees celestial beings who want them to join her, so she says. Christine eventually learns what the reason behind that is. And that kind of surprised me, but later, when I read the author’s note about her own background, it made a lot of sense.

I really liked how Wang showed the diversity among the Chinese-American community. Christine’s family is what you would consider more typically Asian – hardworking, studious, plays the violin, attends Chinese school, strict parents, that kind of thing. Moon is more of a free spirit, she doesn’t know much (if any) Chinese, she’s vegetarian, and more drawn to the arts.

Stargazing is a great comic for kids but I think adults will like this one too. I definitely did.

Dystopian near-future or present? Reading A Song for a New Day

In A Song for a New Day, there is the Before, that is, before the virus hit, and before the terror attacks on large public gatherings. And then there is the After, when large gatherings like concerts and performances are banned.

Tied in with both Before and After is Luce Cannon, who had been on her way to stardom with her hit song Blood and Diamonds. And despite the ban on concerts, she’s persisting in playing live, via a series of illegal performances. Then there’s Rosemary Laws, who doesn’t quite know of life in the Before. She lives in a virtual world, in what is known as the Hoodspace, where she works her online job, helping customers with their drone deliveries. She isn’t good with crowds – or real live people in general – as she works in isolation on her parents’ farm. But a job opportunity comes up with a company called StageHoloLive or SHL to discover new musicians for their virtual reality performances. That means going out into the real world and finding them.

Reading this book in today’s COVID-19 panicked world, I can so easily see this happening, and in a sense, it has, in parts of the world. Cities in Hubei province in China have been locked down. A live fashion show in Italy was altered in that models walked the runway to an empty theatre and the show was live-streamed. Travelers in a hotel in Tenerife have been quarantined.

And I wonder, how far will this go?

Could life end up like in A Song for A New Day?

I really enjoyed the music aspect of the book and wish there could have been a soundtrack to go along with it! Pinsker effortlessly captures that magic of being in a concert, amidst a sea of fans all singing the lines together. She’s a musician herself and her love for music is evident throughout.

Rosemary is a fascinating character, having lived all her life on the farm, she’s not used to, well, people. And when she begins her new job, she has to attend concerts, be among a crowd, take public transport. Life in the After means isolation booths in restaurants, and interstate buses. It means drones delivering you everything you need. Imagine growing up in that and never being out and among other people besides your family. This new job requires such growth from her and Pinsker gradually coaxes it out, nothing too shocking or dramatic, and in the end, satisfying.

A Song for a New Day is an entertaining and immersive read that will stay with me for a long time.

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

Which booklover can resist a book about books? A book about readers? And also ticking some boxes for me, a book written by a woman, and translated into English from French.

And then it begins with one of my favourite quotes, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” by Jorge Luis Borges. 

We begin on the metro where Juliette spends her commute watching people who are reading. There’s the man in the green hat reading a history of insects. The young woman reading romance novels whose eyes begin to tear around page 247. Juliette prefers watching readers to reading her own book. 

One day, Juliette steps off the train at a different stop, takes a walk around the strange neighborhood, and finds herself at a house with the front door wedged open with a book. 

There she meets Soliman whose house is full of books. And book passeurs come by, they deliver books to people. Not just randomly, but people they have watched, followed, until they can sense the book that person needs. 

And it all sounds kind of lovely, the way I’m describing it, but while I expected to be enchanted by this book, I just wasn’t. Although I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe because she doesn’t seem to really do much as a book passeur. And maybe because I didn’t really feel much of a connection to any of the characters. Maybe I was looking for something more whimsical. 

This book wasn’t quite for me but maybe it will be for you.

Comics: The Girl from the Other Side; Nancy

THE GIRL FROM THE OTHER SIDE: SIÚIL, A RÚN vol 2

First read of the year is a strange one. Also it’s the second volume in the series as I started and finished the first one on the last day of 2019. A series I hadn’t heard of until browsing the library’s ebook catalogue and the cover just stood out for me.

Who is this strange creature and why is this little girl with it? I also loved the stark colors. And the inside, like pretty much all manga I’ve read, is only in black and white. 

There is a fairy tale-likeness to this series. A young innocent girl separated from her family and into the house of this beast with horns. But he is no vile monster. He looks after her, feeds her, and cares for her. She calls him Teacher. But she can not touch him for those who touch these beasts are cursed. 

The curse itself isn’t really explained much in the first two volumes but it is horrible enough that people have died, villages emptied, and armed soldiers sent to look for this possibly cursed young child in the woods.

A fascinating series with beautiful artwork

NANCY BY OLIVIA JAIMES

Book 2 of 2020 is another comic. This one also one I hadn’t heard of before. Apparently it started in 1938 and was at its height in the 70s (in over 700 newspapers). Growing up in Singapore, our one newspaper was (and pretty much still is) The Straits Times and they didn’t carry Nancy. Or at least I don’t remember that they did. I remember they had Sherman’s Lagoon and Baby Blues. Probably Peanuts.

So it was another case of browse the ebook catalogue and oh this looks fun and hit download.

And what a delight this was. Seeing the cover I expected an older comic so I was thrilled to see how phone addicted Nancy was – and also soon realized this was the new Nancy. One that was published from 2018 with its first-ever female author who goes by the pen name Olivia Jaimes.

And Nancy is such a hoot. She’s grouchy and she’s sassy. And it was such an absolute delight to read. I just loved every page of it, especially those meta ones!

How I read in 2019 (with pie charts!)

As we wrap up the last few days of 2019, here is a summing up of my reading of the year.

I’ve done these year-end summaries for a few years now, you can check out what I was up to in 2018201720162015, 2014, and 2013.

2019 total: 244

2018 total: 226
2017’s total: 216
2016’s total: 234
2015’s total: 286
2014’s total: 217
2013’s total: 223
2012’s total: 227
2011’s total: 171 

The shortest book I read was 60 pages long (Likely Stories), the longest book I read was 980 pages long (A Breath of Snow and Ashes) with The Fiery Cross a close second at 979 pages! Boy does Gabaldon like to write long books or what.

My reading has taken me around the world: Alaska, Amsterdam, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia, Sweden, Singapore, Tahiti, Taiwan, the UK, Uruguay, and of course, many states in the US, and many made-up settings.

Material types

I was a bit surprised by this as I thought there would be a greater majority of ebooks! I have been trying to borrow more physical books from the library though!

Diversity

I like how this percentage of POC authors read is slowly increasing. Last year, I was at 39%.

New-to-me authors

I always think it’s amazing that there can still be so many new-to-me authors out there.

Gender

By ‘both’, this usually refers to the team working on the comics. I am glad I am reading a majority of books by women!

Translated books

I read 19 translated books, of which 7 were comics/manga/graphic novels.

They were translated from the following languages:

Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian

I’m hoping to read more translated books in 2020.

Publication date

The oldest book (by publication date) I read was published in 1857 (The Professor by Charlotte Brontë).

1800s: 5 books

1900s: 8 books

2000- 2009: 23 books

2010-2014: 22 books

2015: 17 books

2016: 23 books

2017: 30 books

2018: 60 books

2019: 56 books

READING GOALS FOR 2020

  • read more books in translation
  • continue to read more books by women and writers of colour
  • try to read more backlist books!
  • continue to borrow more books from the library but also read more from my own shelves
  • more nonfiction!

How was your 2019 reading? What are your goals for 2020?