Library Scavenger Hunt: March

March’s challenge was to read a book with an adaptation, and since I’d had the Kate Bush song stuck in my head for a good two weeks at that point, Wuthering Heights seemed like the obvious choice. Once again, however, I have a small confession to make: I didn’t get this from the library, as it’s one that I’ve owned on kindle for some time, and I’m pretty sure we have several copies around the house as well; I actually ended up reading mainly from what I believe is my mum’s old copy (with this weird piece of cover art by Paul Hogarth)…

As I mentioned in last month’s LSH post, I’ve decided to really focus in on whittling down the number of books on my already-owned TBR shelf, so this pick wasn’t entirely in keeping with the spirit of the LSH, but I’m still finding that the challenges are doing a good job of inspiring me to read books that I’ve been putting off for one reason or another… so I’ll be keeping with it for now. Anyway, on to the review:

WUTHERING HEIGHTS
Emily Brontë

As a child, Catherine Earnshaw forms a strong bond with the wild urchin Heathcliff whom her father has taken in, but their relationship is shaken by her decision to marry another man. Years later, their children become friends, and find themselves pawns of Heathcliff’s vengeance.

Considering how well known Cathy and Heathcliff are, I was surprised that less than half of Wuthering Heights is actually dedicated specifically to the two of them; the impact of their relationship is definitely felt throughout the novel, but the focus of the book was primarily on the effect that that relationship had on the lives of the people around them… and most particularly on the lives of their children, who are the central characters of the majority of the book.

This was definitely a bonus for me, as although Cathy and Heathcliff were both quite interesting characters, this part of the story can be summed up as two horrible, selfish people doing their best to ruin their own lives as well as the lives of everyone around them. The second-generation characters (Cathy-the-younger, Linton and Hareton) were on the whole much more sympathetic; understandable within the context of their lives, if occasionally almost as horrible as their predecessors. And while she also had her petty moments, I thought that Nelly, Cathy’s servant/childhood friend, made for an excellent choice of narrator, as she was close enough to the main events to know a lot of the intimate details of it, but far enough removed that much of the situation remained a mystery to her.

For Mr. Lockwood’s part, he was an essential component of the story’s set-up (his introduction after the events of the story, but before Nelly’s recounting of them, shows us a tantalising glimpse of the future to leave us guessing at how it came about), but his role thereafter seemed rather redundant; I’m glad that his appearances in the story dropped off after a little while, and kind of wish that his final scene had been told from Nelly’s perspective instead.

I tend to struggle with books when I don’t like the characters very much, so (unsurprisingly) I found Wuthering Heights a little difficult to get into, but by the halfway point I was 100% invested. The plot, though often melodramatic enough to remove all believability, was incredibly gripping; the second-generation characters were (usually) likeable despite their flaws, and their individual struggles under Heathcliff’s tyranny were compelling; and the nightmarish atmosphere that suffuses the novel is spine-tinglingly affecting. This was a three-star read for me, but definitely a high three stars – and I’m looking forward to seeing how Emily Brontë’s most famous novel compares to her sisters’!

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Advertisements

Library Scavenger Hunt: February

This month’s challenge was to read a short story, and my pick ended up being something I actually already had on my (digital) shelf, which may end up as a trend for 2019, as I’d really like to focus on cutting back the number of unread books I own… 😓 So this isn’t entirely in the spirit of the LSH, but oh well. Here’s what I thought of…

THE LOST SISTERS
Holly Black

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but if you haven’t begun the series at all, then click here to check out my review of The Cruel Prince.]

After the events of The Cruel Prince, Taryn writes an apology to her sister Jude, explaining the secrets she kept over the course of the book, and her reasons for keeping them.

Taryn & Jude’s complicated relationship was one of my favourite things about The Cruel Prince, so it was really interesting to finally get Taryn’s perspective on everything that happened, and I also really enjoyed the way that this short story was written; the majority of it was Taryn recounting the book’s events, but she also included bits and pieces of various fairytales from their childhood, all with a slightly dangerous edge born of their less-than-amazing experiences in Faerie.

If I had one complaint, it would be that there were a couple of scenes that seemed like they were mostly just lifted from The Cruel Prince, and Taryn’s perspective didn’t add much to them, but whenever this happened it was for scenes important enough that the story might have felt a bit fragmented if they’d been left out entirely… and in any case, it was a pretty minor issue. Overall, I think The Lost Sisters makes a great addition to the Folk of the Air universe, and I’m left feeling even more excited for The Wicked King than I already was. (Which, given that I’m not likely to be able to read it any time soon, might not be as good a thing as it sounds. 😅)

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: January

This month’s challenge was to read a book with your favourite colour on the cover, which in my case is orange, and I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival at the library to be reminded that the paperback version of Release – a book which I hadn’t had specific plans on reading, but which I had a good reason to think I might like (that being its author) – is, in fact a glorious celebration of the colour! 🍊 There were a few other interesting-looking orange books that I spotted, too, but to be honest, it wasn’t much of a competition… thus:

RELEASE
Patrick Ness

Adam’s ex-boyfriend is moving away, and Adam’s not entirely okay with this, even though he’s trying to at least pretend that he’s moved on. But despite the many crises (including but not limited to: his ultra-religious family, his creepy manager, and his own conflicted feelings) that are threatening to tear his life apart, he’s determined to make it to the farewell party. Meanwhile, the ghost of a local murdered girl has emerged from the lake, and is hunting her killer.

If that last sentence seems random, it’s because it is. I really liked this book, but it was despite the supernatural sub-plot, not because of it, and had the ghost-story sections been longer, I probably would have rated the book lower. I get the feeling that Ness was aiming for a Pan’s Labyrinth-style atmosphere, but the two storylines were just too disconnected for it to work; apart from a brief scene at the very end, there was no character crossover, and neither plot had any impact on the other.

However, the main part of the book, Adam’s story, was amazing. His strained relationship with his parents was poignant, and provided a dramatic contrast to the heartwarming bond he had with his best friend Angela, who in my opinion was one of the highlights of the whole book. And although his failed romance with Enzo seemed like more of a focal point of the story than his new relationship with Linus, I found myself surprisingly invested in the success of the latter.

This is not a long book (the entire story takes place over the course of a single day), but it feels incredibly substantial; powerfully written, and dramatically plotted. The two wildly different storylines make it hard to rate, but on the whole I felt that the greatness of Adam’s tale outweighed the book’s more lacklustre parts.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: December

The final LSH challenge of 2018 was to read a book with a lamp on the cover, and although I had a backup pick in the form of The Bedlam Stacks, in case my reservation didn’t arrive in good enough time, I knew pretty quickly what my first-choice book was going to be, as I’ve been wanting to read more from this author for a while now. And as luck would have it, my library came through for me again this month, so I’ve spent the last week or so reading (and pondering)…

THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES
Yuri Herrera
(translated by Lisa Dillman)

An epidemic is spreading across the city, and a young man and woman have died, but whether it’s by chance or design is up to the Redeemer to discover – and his also is the faint (and growing fainter) opportunity to keep their feuding families from all-out war.

My decision to pick up The Transmigration of Bodies was based primarily on my previous enjoyment of Signs Preceding the End of the World; it’s a very short book, with a heavy focus on crime, and none of these are things that I would usually gravitate towards, but I was drawn in by my appreciation for Herrera’s writing (and further reassured to see that Transmigration and Signs also share a translator)… And although I didn’t like this book as much as Signs, I’m glad to have read it.

As I almost expected, I didn’t really like a lot of the characters. The Redeemer – our protagonist – grew on me after a while, but I particularly disliked our introduction to him, where he comes across as an old man perving over his young neighbour (though in fact I don’t think we’re ever told how old he actually is), and most of the other characters came in and out of the story very quickly, which is to be expected from a novel this length, but disappointing nevertheless, as some of them seemed quite interesting. (The sister of one of the two deceased, known only as the Unruly, was my favourite.)

That said, what I was hoping to get out of Transmigration was not pure enjoyment, so much as a thought-provoking reading experience, and that was something that Herrera delivered in spades; he’s an absolute master of making a huge impact in a tiny amount of space. In this case, the story’s dark premise allowed for some really interesting discourse on violence and its consequences, and the eerie emptiness of the unnamed, plague-ridden city makes for an excellent backdrop, and was a huge highlight of the book for me.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: November

My tiredness laziness overcame me somewhat while assigning this month’s challenge, which was to read a book chosen by someone else, but thankfully I have good friends who are willing to put up with this kind of nonsense. 😊 I prevailed upon my friend Grace to pick something for me to read, and she very kindly came up with (and lent me) a set of journal entries from her favourite Antarctic explorer, which had a couple of advantages, those being 1) extreme shortness, and 2) ticking another continent off on my personal challenge to read a book set on every continent this year… The journal in question (from the anthology The Ends of the Earth, Volume 2: The Antarctic) is:

MAWSON LIVES
Douglas Mawson

In January 1913 – towards the end of the Australian Antarctic Expedition, which he led – Douglas Mawson found himself stranded on his return to the Hut (the expedition’s base of operations) only a few days before they were due to leave Antarctica, his companions and dogs dead, and the vast majority of his food lost. For the ten days chronicled in this extract from his journal (Home of the Blizzard; 1915,1930), he struggled his way through the snow on foot, alone and starving.

I always find it somewhat challenging to review non-fiction, as there’s no way to talk about plot or character development in regards to real people and events. What’s left is the writing – something that Mawson does very well. He is well-spoken, his descriptions are vivid, and paired with the life-or-death situation that he was in, the journal is both gripping and engaging. Personally, I could have done without the stomach-turning description of the condition of his feet, but my reaction to it certainly proves its effectiveness. I’d definitely be open to reading more of his journals, though, realistically speaking, I don’t know if it’s something that I’d ever get around to.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: October

As soon as I decided what this month’s challenge would be (a retelling), I knew exactly which book I should be looking for, both because a retelling of a classic horror novel would be particularly seasonal, and also because this book keeps catching my eye when I’m at work (I work at a bookshop, if you didn’t already know), yet I never seem to be able to make reading it a priority. Well, I’m glad to say that that’s finally changed! And the book in question is…

THE HISTORIAN
Elizabeth Kostova

When a young girl discovers a strange old book in her father’s library, printed with the curious image of a dragon, she is compelled to confront her father about it… but she doesn’t expect it to lead to a tale spanning continents and generations, concerning a great evil that has haunted her father since his postgraduate days, and which may even be connected to the mysterious, long-ago disappearance of her mother.

I struggled quite a bit with this book, but it’s difficult to put my finger on why, except that it is a very long book that also feels very long, and the plot – though interesting – is not quite gripping enough to make up for its incredibly slow pace. The payoff at the end of the book was significant, and the last hundred pages or so were incredibly engrossing, but it was definitely more of a challenge to get there than it ought to have been.

The book is more concerned with scholarship than action (all of its primary characters are academics), and is full of interesting tidbits about the life of Vlad the Impaler, as well as vampire lore, which was of particular interest to me as I’ve been somewhat fascinated by this era of history since reading Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga – but it may not be quite so appealing to somebody less so. Kostova also pays a great deal of attention to the history and culture of the different countries that her characters visit (mostly in Eastern Europe, but a significant portion of the book is also set in Istanbul), and her descriptions are vivid and full of character…

I do think that this is a novel way of retelling the tale of Dracula. Like its source material, much of the story is told through letters, retaining the feel of the original even though the story is quite different. And lastly, it occurs to me how appropriate it is that I borrowed The Historian from the library, as so much of it is set in, and concerned with libraries and librarians. 😊

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: September

This month’s challenge – to read a book connected with the antipode of the place where I live – was particularly exciting to me, as (assuming that I took “connected to” to mean “set in”) it would allow me to tick off another continent on my read-a-book-set-on-every-continent challenge for the year (and in fact, my eventual choice unexpectedly ended up ticking off two!), but it ended up being a tougher search than I was expecting. 😨 Not because there aren’t a lot of great books set in New Zealand (which is the closest landmass to my antipode), but because my library doesn’t seem to stock a lot of them… 😓 Nevertheless, I did manage to find myself a couple of options, of which I was most drawn to…

THE LIFE & LOVES OF LENA GAUNT
Tracy Farr

In her youth, Lena Gaunt was at the forefront of electronic music’s wave of popularity. Now in her eighties, she is approached by a filmmaker, who wishes to make a documentary about her, and so finds herself looking back over her life, and the people – and instruments – that shaped it.

I was primarily drawn to this book because, on the surface at least, the main character seemed a lot like my sister – a cellist, and a theremin player, whose name is Helen(a) – which amused me, but thankfully the similarities end there. The Life & Loves of Lena Gaunt is a great novel, but Lena’s life isn’t the most cheerful… 😓

The story spans eighty years, and switches back and forth between Lena’s present-day encounters with the filmmaker Mo, and her memories of her earlier years; her childhood in Singapore and Perth, and later her time travelling wherever her loves (both human and other) led her. Both of these storylines were heartfelt and compelling, and although it could at times seem a little directionless, I found myself really appreciating the meandering, introspective tone of Lena’s narration.

I also appreciated how much Lena’s love was directed towards music, and how much that love of music influenced her life. Many of the significant moments in her life were, of course, affected by the people she most cared for (most notably, her Uncle Valentine and her lover Beatrix, among others), but just as important were her two instruments, the cello and the theremin. Lena was an incredibly vivid, realistic character, and I had to remind myself a few times while I was reading that this is a fictional autobiography.

This definitely isn’t my usual literary fare, but I’m glad to have read it nonetheless, and am sure that Lena’s journey will be sticking with me for a while. I’m interested, too, in checking out more of Farr’s writing, which also doesn’t look like what I’d usually gravitate towards, but will hopefully surprise me as pleasantly as this one did.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]