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?

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

This is THE LIGHT BRIGADE by KAMERON HURLEY.

A book I hadn’t heard of before going over the Tor.com reviewers’ best books of 2019.

Some years ago, if you’d have said “military sci-fi” my answer would have been, what? no!

But this was fascinating! Mars and Earth are at war and Dietz has signed up to fight. He’s part of a team that is turned into particles of light and then beamed at lightspeed to wherever they’re ordered, sometimes Mars. But something keeps going wrong with his drops, he seems to be joining his team at different times and situations. And soon he learns the truth behind it all.

It is an intense read. So much happens and the reader is trying to puzzle it out along with Dietz. I’ve seen a few reviews since that talked about this book being a new take on Starship Troopers, which I don’t know about as I’ve not seen the movie or read the book. So I’ve come into this as a reader who doesn’t really know much about more classic SF or military novels.

But what I really liked about this book is the way she constructed her future world. Where there are no nations, just corporations. Where you are either citizens or not. And if not, you have no rights and privileges. You are a “ghoul”. Dietz is a one of these “ghouls”, once an inhabitant of São Paulo which has been wiped out by the Martians.

What a read this is. It is brutal and bloody. It discusses politics and capitalism that, while set in a future society, rings so relevant and true to our current one. Loved it.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

For a long time I had Atwood on a pedestal. I mean she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale!

Then I read Angel Catbird and it was a bit sad and embarrassing (please don’t read it). So it has been a while since I’ve read anything by Atwood (not counting the brilliant graphic novel adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale).

I was however curious about The Testaments.

Please note I will attempt to make sure there are no spoilers in this review and as such, I won’t talk much about plot (here’s the the Goodreads synopsis) but the storyline takes place 15 years after the first book.

First of all, if this were written by a YA author as her version of what happened to Gilead I probably would have applauded it.

But this is Margaret Atwood we are talking about, and so I had high expectations.

I don’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I liked (or liked despising) the fact that we were back in Gilead and hearing from Aunt Lydia. Lydia was a great character and it was especially interesting hearing from her perspective.

The story was fast-paced, very plot-driven, and it ended up being a quick read despite its 400 pages. But I felt that her young teenaged character in the non-Gilead world wasn’t convincing. Some of what she said sounded odd. And really, I was disappointed that we don’t hear from Offred.

After I read the book, I saw a review that remarked that The Testaments picks up plot elements from the TV series and I wondered, what have I missed out on since I haven’t seen the TV show? And to be honest, after learning about that, I was a bit pissed off. Is this a sequel of a book or of a book and a TV show? Did I need to get a Hulu subscription in order to learn what I was missing?

So after it all I feel that this book, while readable and entertaining, was, for me, not very satisfying. It brought me back into a familiar world with hopes of answers but I wasn’t wowed by it.

Sudden Traveler by Sarah Hall

 

 

“We are, all of us, sudden travelers in the world, blind, passing each other, reaching out, missing, sometimes taking hold.”

Reviewing a collection of short stories isn’t an easy task. With a few exceptions, short story collections tend to feel like they need to be read over a longer time than it takes to read a book. For example, read one story, take a break and go read something else. Then come back to another story after that breather.

And in a collection such as this slim volume by Sarah Hall, a lot of breaks are needed, as the stories take on such varied settings, some weird and otherworldly and a bit experimental, some more rooted in the every day. Is that why the title is such? That as we read the stories, we are, too, “sudden travelers”, having to switch our perspectives completely?

For these stories are set in Turkish forests, Cumbrian villages, some that seem more like dreamscapes with weird transformations.

There is no doubt that Hall is a great writer. The stories are full of beautiful writing. For myself, as I am not much of a reader of more experimental turns, I was more drawn to her more ‘real’ stories like Orton and, especially the penultimate story, Sudden Traveler. And her writing pulled me in deep to those stories, tears falling, even, for one of them.

So while I stumbled during a couple of stories, unsure of where these pieces were leading me, the end result was worth it.

 

 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and

publisher Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book.

Check out the rest of the tour stops here

Grab a copy of this book: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 
Find out more about Sarah Hall: Website and Facebook

 

 

X-23 and Abbott – 2 comics for #ripxiv

X-23 Vol 1: Family Album by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Juann Cabal

Abbott Vol 1 by Saladin Ahmed, illustrated by Sami Kivelä

I loved this X-23 series! If you’ve not heard of X-23 (Laura) she’s a clone of Wolverine and she has her own clone, a young girl named Gabby. What I know about X-Men I learnt from that cartoon series that aired in the 90s (I think) and from the movies. X-Men comics have never really attracted me much but I did read the previous X-23 series a few years ago and I always thought her character was kinda overlooked – although I’ve since realized that she became the All-New Wolverine. (Side note: how does one keep up with all these different comic series??)

Anyway in this volume, Laura and Gabby have great interaction (I especially liked that short story set in a high school). And the Stepford Cuckoos! This is the first time I’ve come across the multiples and they are fascinating – they have a telepathic hive mind and erm, well, some of the sisters are dead.

Very suitable for #ripxiv I reckon.

Also extremely in the #ripxiv mood is Abbott, a new series by Saladin Ahmed. I wasn’t expecting the supernatural aspect of this series though! But it adds a different element that has me wanting more. It’s set in 1970s Detroit with a black female reporter as its main character. The artwork has a gorgeous vintage feel and Ahmed deftly weaves in issues like racism and sexism into the storyline. I’d love to read more!