Happy New Year, everyone! The last month of 2017 was, for me, full of shopping and baking, an awful lot of eating, and – of course – lots and lots of books. Most of what I read was actually short stories, as I was trying to tick off the last of my reading challenges for the year, but still, I did a lot more reading in the last month than I have in a while. 😊 In total, I managed to read three novels, and eight short stories (and, yes, I did manage to complete that challenge 🎊).
Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally. The first book in the Hundred Oaks series, a collection of contemporary books that share a setting, but have largely disconnected stories and lead characters… I had high hopes for this series as another set of cute contemporaries – this time with a sports focus, which I seem to be susceptible to 😅 – but I probably would have been better off just re-reading Now & Then (by Emma Mills), which is just a better book all around. It was quite cute, but the characters were all pretty bland, and the story and romance were both completely predictable. I doubt I’ll be reading any more from this series.Bombshells by Jim Butcher. A Dresden Files novella that I found in the Dangerous Women anthology, which follows Harry Dresden’s apprentice Molly on what she thinks is a mission to rescue a vampire who’s being held hostage – but she quickly realises that she’s only been told a small fraction of the true story. I found the plot of this quite interesting, but, as someone who’s only read the tiniest bit of The Dresden Files (volume 1 of one of the graphic novel adaptations) and barely remembers it, most of the finer details were lost on me… I definitely think that this is a story that is aimed at people who already know the series, though it does still make an enjoyable standalone.Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn. A short story from the Dangerous Women anthology about a Soviet fighter pilot during the second world war, who’s aiming for the five kills she needs in order to be recognised as an ace fighter, but is held back by worry for her brother, who’s recently been declared missing in action. As is the case with many short stories, I enjoyed this, but found that there wasn’t really enough of it for me to find something to get really invested in. Raisa was an interesting character, and seeing the air force from the perspective of a female pilot was also interesting… Given everything that she was going through, however, I was surprised that the narrative was so fast-paced and action-oriented…Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale. Another short story from Dangerous Women, though in this case the titular dangerous woman didn’t have much of an active role in the story; the main character is a teenager called Marvin who’s having problems with bullies, and ends up being taken under the wing of a surprisingly tough old man, who turns out to be a former wrestler. These days, he only fights once every five years though, against a rival who’s in love with the same woman… Despite my dislike for wrestling, I really liked this story; it’s definitely one of my favourites so far from this anthology. Marvin was a great, relatable lead, and the old man (usually called by his stage name X-Man) offered both wisdom and comedy… I was more interested in Marvin’s situation with the bullies than with X-Man & Jesus’ rivalry, but both parts were very entertaining. 👍 (Also, major Karate Kid vibes, especially in the first half.)Neighbors by Megan Lindholm. A short story (also from Dangerous Women) about an old woman called Sarah whose neighbour disappears one foggy night. Sarah witnesses Linda’s departure, but when she later sees strangers in the streets wearing Linda’s distinctive backpack, nobody believes her. Meanwhile, believing her to be unable to care for herself any longer, Sarah’s two children try to persuade her to sell her house and move into an assisted living home… A powerful and moving (and also quite sad) take on growing old, with a touch of magical realism, and an incredibly unreliable narrator. Lindholm’s writing was beautiful, and made me feel really connected to Sarah, which is an impressive feat in a story that’s less than fifty pages long. Definitely a hit!
I Know How to Pick ‘Em by Lawrence Block. A man and a woman meet in a bar, and the woman takes the man home with her, hoping that she can entice him to help her sort out a little problem, but unfortunately he’s already guessed at her plan, and has one of his own. This short story (from Dangerous Women) was an interesting look into the minds of two terrible people (neither named); one incredibly selfish, and the second – from whose perspective the story is told – deeply disturbed. And Block’s narrative cleverly makes it so that it takes a while to realise exactly how awful each of the characters (but particularly the second one) truly is… I don’t know if I’d say that I enjoyed this, but it definitely got me thinking.Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson. A short story from Dangerous Women which is set in the world of Cosmere, and tells the tale of an innkeeper and her daughter, who live in the middle of a dangerous forest filled with spirits, and secretly hunt down criminals who cross their path. Sanderson’s worldbuilding is always top-notch, and this story was no exception to that rule; he was really able to bring the forest and all its dangers to life. The plot was really intriguing, too, and I really liked both the main characters, Silence and William Ann… I believe there are more Cosmere books, but I definitely feel that this story can stand alone.Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot. The final book in the Princess Diaries series, set several years after the conclusion of the main series, and documenting Mia’s adult life, where her main thoughts have shifted from Michael, her domineering grandmother, Michael, and the difficulty of being a teenage princess, to Michael, her still domineering grandmother, Michael, and the difficulty of being a no-longer-teenage princess… So, Mia is still the same person she’s always been, and I kind of love her for it. And also find her hilarious. 😂 This book was very much a blast from the past, and I enjoyed it immensely; I hadn’t realised quite how much I’d missed Mia and all her crazy worries. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, so you can find a full review of it here.A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman. A historical short story (from Dangerous Women) about Queen Constance of Sicily, with a focus on her husband’s invasion of her homeland, and the birth of her son (Frederick II, who would go on to become the Holy Roman Emperor). This was an interesting story, but I’m not sure how much I actually liked Constance’s voice, and Penman’s writing style was rather matter-of-fact… I am, however, somewhat curious to read some of her other books, so clearly it wasn’t actually all that off-putting. 😉
Midnights by Rainbow Rowell. Snapshots of a pair of friends during the countdown to every New Year they’ve experienced together. This was a really cute little story (from the anthology My True Love Gave to Me, for a change! 😋); not as good as Kindred Spirits, Rowell’s other short story, but that one sets the bar pretty high. The characters were well fleshed-out, however, and the snapshots of them year after year showed the progression of their relationship brilliantly.Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. My final book of the year follows a sixth-former called Frances, who is focused on doing well at school to the exclusion of almost everything else – until one evening a boy she knows accidentally reveals himself to her as the creator of her favourite podcast, Universe City, which tells the tale of a person stuck in a strange, monster-ridden university campus. I heard briefly about this book a while ago, but wasn’t really all that interested in reading it until I found it on a list of books with confirmed asexual characters, something that there isn’t nearly enough of in the literary world as a whole, let alone YA… But I’m really glad that I decided to pick this up, as it connected with me on so many levels, even disregarding the asexuality issues that it brings up (briefly; that’s not the focus of the book by a long shot). I’ll be posting a review soon (once I’ve got all my New Year posts out of the way), so keep an eye out for that, but in short: An amazing book, and definitely one of my favourites of 2017.