Library Scavenger Hunt: August

This month’s LSH challenge was to read a book that was recommended to you, and I’m sorry to admit that I cheated (just a little bit) once again. 😳 This was a genuine recommendation, but that recommendation was also accompanied by a gift of the book in question, so I’m afraid that I haven’t actually set foot in the library this month… 😓 (I will do better next time, I promise!) But in any case, my pick for this challenge was:

FATHERLAND
Robert Harris

It’s 1964, just one week before Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday – and the body of a high-ranking Nazi official is found floating in a lake. Was it an accident? Suicide? Or is that just what it’s supposed to look like?

On the surface, Fatherland is your basic murder mystery (unusual setting notwithstanding), which I’m generally not a fan of, and I probably wouldn’t have ever chosen this book for myself – but I’m grateful for the recommendation that led me to it! The mystery is of course an integral part of the plot, but Harris seemed less concerned with the murder that occurred than with the political implications of it, which were fascinating, and utilised the Orwellian backdrop excellently.

In fact, I found myself reminded a lot of 1984 while reading this – or rather, of what I hoped 1984 would be. The two books share their unsettlingly close-to-possible style of dystopia, but while I detested everybody in 1984Fatherland’s protagonist, SS Sturmbannführer Xavier March, was sympathetic despite his (reluctant) Nazi affiliation, and there was a memorable and compelling supporting cast. As the book went on, I became particularly invested in March’s relationships with his partner Jaeger, and with the American journalist Charlie Maguire.

It’s an excellently-crafted world: Picking out the differences between Harris’ alternative history and our true history was an interesting experience, but the similarities were also very striking (again, in a rather unsettling way), and I was impressed by how well Harris was able to play off my expectations of which things would and wouldn’t have changed.

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

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Library Scavenger Hunt: July

I was torn between two different books for this month’s challenge, to read a book without a picture on the cover,  my eventual choice and H.G. Wells’ The Rights of Man – both uncharacteristically non-fictional, and (I will admit with some shame) not actually from the library; they’ve been sitting on my shelf for more than half a year, while I’ve looked longingly at them, but have ultimately found myself too busy with other books. ☹️ I am pleased, therefore, to have finally made the time to read at least one of them (despite breaking stretching rules which I set myself), and that book was…

WOMEN & POWER
Mary Beard

A write-up (and slight update) of two lectures that Beard gave in 2014 and 2017, which discuss ways in which Western society tries (and often succeeds) to keep women out of power and delegitimise those women who manage to achieve it regardless – and how those same methods have been modelled in antiquity, from Homer’s Telemachus telling his mother off for speaking amongst men, to Perseus, lauded for decapitating the monstrous-but-still-powerful Medusa.

The first chapter, The Public Voice of Women, is primarily a study of women as public speakers – or the lack of them. Beard begins with the example I mentioned earlier, where Telemachus tells his mother to go away and leave the talking to the men at the beginning of The Odyssey, and goes on to talk about various other women in antiquity (both historical and mythological) who have tried to speak up outside the home, and been dismissed, or ridiculed, or seen as un-feminine because of it. The thing that I found most interesting in this first essay was actually the exceptions that Beard gives us; examples of the rare times when the classical world considered it acceptable for women to be given a voice. Specifically, when denouncing a rapist, or discussing “women’s issues”, or representing a group that is only made up of other women – but never when speaking on any issue that might be thought to concern society as a whole.

Afterwards is the 2017 lecture, Women in Power, which draws heavily on the tale of Perseus and Medusa as an example of powerful women being seen as a threat to be defeated, illustrated by the many, many depictions that exist of various female politicians as Medusa – most notably Hillary Clinton, with one particularly striking image showing Trump-as-Perseus holding up her severed head. This chapter also discusses the tactics that women in power use to make themselves be taken more seriously – often by making themselves seem more masculine. Beard compares this with classical figures like Athena (among others), who, by taking on an un-womanly role, became something other than a woman; she could be a woman or she could be powerful, but to be both was a contradiction in terms.

I wouldn’t really qualify Women & Power as the manifesto that it claims to be, as it doesn’t really offer any suggestions on what can be done to rectify this tendency of society, but it is a very interesting collection of observations, and will undoubtedly open a few eyes. Personally, I leave this book with a re-discovered appreciation for those women who speak out, and are brave enough to bear the consequences, and a vague desire (which may or may not pass) to read Herland, a book that Beard refers to a few times, about an all-female utopian society.

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: June

Last month’s challenge – suggested a few months back by my dad – was to read a book where the title and author’s name begin with the same letter, and it’s one that I’ve been holding onto for a while, saving for such a time as I was really, really eager to read the last Imperial Radch book. 😉 Considering that, I think it’s fairly obvious what I picked for the challenge – though I am rather glad that it was available, as I didn’t think to check beforehand… 😓

ANCILLARY MERCY
Ann Leckie

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from the previous books in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware. Click here for my reviews of Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword.]

After the events of Ancillary Sword, Athoek Station enters a period of calm – but it is a short-lived one, soon interrupted by the troubling appearance of an unexpected visitor in the Undergarden, and then by the even more worrying arrivals of first a new Presger Translator, and then the Lord of the Radch herself, and not the part of her that purports to be Breq’s ally.

Ancillary Mercy is the final book in the Imperial Radch trilogy, and takes place entirely on and around Athoek Station, which was also the setting of Ancillary Sword. In tone, it’s also more similar to Sword than Justice, which is a bit of a shame (as Ancillary Justice is definitely my favourite of the two), but I did find that it did a good job of showing how the events of the second book tied into the overarching storyline, and answered a lot of the questions that I had at the end of Ancillary Sword. I also really enjoyed the way that Leckie wrapped up the plot; it was both brilliantly conceived, and completely unexpected.

Other things I appreciated about this book: Though the relationship between Breq and Seivarden didn’t go in quite the direction I was hoping, it did evolve in a way that felt very natural for both characters, and I was glad generally that Seivarden seemed to have a much more prominent role than in Sword. Breq’s assumptions about her bond with Mercy of Kalr were also challenged in a significant way, which made for several very interesting, character-defining moments… And I really enjoyed Tisarwat’s continued development; of all the characters in the series, she’s probably the one who’s grown on me the most. 😊

In terms of worldbuilding, Mercy gives us a better insight into Athoek Station’s importance to the Radch Empire than was previously known, as well as more information about the Presger, via Translator Zeiat (they’re still a difficult race to wrap my head around, but in an intriguing way rather than a frustrating one). A lot of attention was also given to the question of A.I. rights, a topic which interests me greatly, from a great many different angles – as there were so many prominent A.I. characters (even discounting Breq herself) – and I loved the discourse over the issue…

My favourite in this series is still Ancillary Justice, but I do think that this book was an improvement on Ancillary Sword – and, to be honest, the whole series is so good that “not-as-good-as-Justice” isn’t a very meaningful criticism. I will say, however, that those unhappy few who didn’t like Ancillary Sword at all will likely be disappointed by Mercy as well. I’m looking forward to reading Provenance, which I believe is connected to the trilogy (though I’m not sure how), but mostly I’m anxious to get hold of my own copies of these three, so that I can re-read at my leisure. 🎶

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: May

I’ve taken the last couple of months off from the LSH due to what I’m finally ready to admit to myself is probably something of a reading slump, but since I had some time off work this month, and am feeling a bit less frazzled, I thought it’d be a good time to try to get back into the swing of things – and although this month’s challenge (to read a book with “away” in the title) wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, I’m pretty happy with the choice I made. 😊 The book I ended up reading was…

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Melissa Pimentel

Years ago, Ruby and Ethan were in love, before she broke up with him without explanation. Ruby might still be in love, but she’s not holding out hope that Ethan feels the same way, after everything she’s put him through… Her resolve to stay away, however, is put to the test when they’re thrown together again and again in the lead-up to her sister’s wedding – and could this romantic atmosphere lead to a rekindling of feelings on Ethan’s side as well?

It took me a little while to realise that this was a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and even then it was only because I saw a review that mentioned the fact – but to be honest, I would consider this story to be loosely inspired by Persuasion rather than an outright retelling. The premise is obviously similar – two characters meeting again after a breakup that neither of them really got over – and there are a few resemblances between Austen’s characters and a couple of Pimentel’s, but the tone of this book is quite different, and many of the complexities of Austen’s story have been left out of The One that Got Away. Familiarity with the source material is certainly not necessary in order to enjoy this book (though, if you don’t know Persuasion, why not? It’s great! 😋). In terms of Austen retellings, The One that Got Away is much closer to Bridget Jones’ Diary than, say, something like Eligible (for which you can find my review here).

The story is structured in two parts – past and present – and yo-yos between the two with each chapter, and it’s a structure that works well, building on the main plot largely uninterrupted, while gradually revealing more of the backstory in a separate storyline; it does a good job of building suspense  for the big reveal of what exactly happened to break Ruby and Ethan up, which is explained to us at almost the exact same time as it’s explained to Ethan – though, being that we are in Ruby’s head for most of the story, a fair number of readers will have already guessed it by that point. Speaking of which, the entirety of the present-day storyline is seen from Ruby’s perspective, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the past storyline was partially told by Ethan, allowing us to get to know him on a more personal level than just through Ruby’s eyes, without ruining the mystery of his present-day view on her… Both timelines seemed very well-crafted, but I will admit that I found it a little easier to get into the past storyline, if only because I found the things that they were both going through at that time to be more relatable.

Ruby and Ethan both made for relatable leads, and although their (very cute) romance is the driving force behind the plot, their own personal growth was just as compelling. It was genuinely upsetting to see Ruby’s downward spiral of (what seemed to me to be) depression in the past timeline, especially when contrasted with the huge bright spot earlier on that was the beginning of her relationship with Ethan. And Ethan got less of a spotlight, but he was incredibly likeable, and grew a lot over the course of the story… Where they both ended up in the present-day timeline was completely believable, and I’m glad to say that their character development didn’t stop there, either.

As you can probably tell from the review so far, I really enjoyed most of this book, but it definitely also has its flaws. The very ending felt incredibly rushed: The chapter where Ruby finally reveals to Ethan why she broke up with him is only four pages long, and is mostly  just Ruby mentally building herself up to it; the actual revelation happens off-screen, which is fine because we as readers witness what happened to Ruby first-hand in the next chapter (which is set in the past timeline), but in the few subsequent chapters there’s very little follow-up to their discussion, especially on Ethan’s part. And Ethan’s reaction to Ruby’s confession is actually quite problematic, as it indicates either that Ethan is not as good of a person as we’ve been led to believe, or else a complete disconnect between what Pimentel thought she was implying about what happened to Ruby, and what she actually implied… and this disconnect (which I think is the more likely answer) left a really sour taste in my mouth, very nearly spoiling what was otherwise a really fun read.

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: February

This month’s LSH challenge was to read a book with pictures in it, and since I’ve been craving Batman comics recently, I thought it’d be fun to try out some of the Gotham-based series that I’m not already collecting… There were two series in particular that I considered reading for this challenge, but although I borrowed them both (and I intend to read the second of them very soon, too), the one that I decided to review this month was…

WELCOME TO GOTHAM ACADEMY
Becky Cloonan & Brendan Fletcher
(Illustrated by Karl Kerschl)

Gotham Academy is home to the best and brightest students in Gotham… as well as a whole slew of strange secrets. Olive Silverlock just wants to get on with her life – and hopefully puzzle out what happened over the holidays that’s got her jumping at bat-shaped shadows – but unfortunately the world has other ideas, as she (along with Maps, the new student she’s supposed to be showing around) becomes drawn into investigating a series of school-wide ghost sightings.

This was a really fun read! The plotline (and the little mysteries that it presented) was both interesting and engaging, and surprisingly self-contained; though I am intrigued by the hints at a larger storyline in Gotham Academy, this first volume is quite satisfying to read as a standalone. It’s definitely lighter in tone than many of the other Gotham-based comics that I’ve read, but I found that that made for a really lovely change of pace…

The two main characters, Olive and Maps, played off one another wonderfully, with Maps’ innocent exuberance proving a nice counterpoint to Olive’s more serious character. (Maps was probably my favourite thing about this book, though – she’s just so cute! 😆) The cast of secondary characters wasn’t large, but those that we were introduced to seemed interesting, too, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them all better. And the tease at the very end of the book that Damian Wayne may be joining the Academy is another reason that I’m very likely to continue reading this series.

I also really enjoyed Kerschl’s artwork, which was incredibly expressive, super-cute, as well as consistently high-quality throughout the book.

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: January

This month’s LSH challenge was, in honour of it now being the year of the dog, to read a book with a dog on the cover. Creative, I know, but upon consideration (and after reading a few of the suggestions on the LSH discussion thread), I was surprised by the number of books I was able to think of that fulfilled the challenge that I had already been hoping to read: The HumansThe Art of Racing in the RainSpill Simmer Falter WitherMy Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, and so on, and so on. Sadly, my library had none of these, so my first trip there ended up with me coming home with a book that I had no interest in, and then regretting it so much that I eventually decided to just request a book to be sent over from another library. So the book I finally ended up reading (which arrived in the nick of time) was…

THERE IS NO DOG
Meg Rosoff

Ever thought that the world is far too chaotic to have been created by a sensible god with a plan? Well, that’s because it wasn’t. God, it turns out, is a self-absorbed, sex-crazed teenage boy called Bob, and after all these years, the only part of his creation that still interests him is the beautiful girls. Lucy is human, and wants desperately to fall in love. One day on the way to work, she sends out a prayer for love that she hopes will be heard – but unfortunately for Lucy, Bob thinks that the ideal man for her is none other than… Bob himself.

I’ve read three of Meg Rosoff’s books so far, and all of them are very original – distinct both from other works with similar themes, and from one another – but this is quite possibly one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever come across. It’s also really, really enjoyable, with a cast of wonderful and awful characters whose stories are all connected, but each with their own troubles. There’s Bob, of course, who causes catastrophe wherever he goes; his long-suffering assistant Mr. B; his mother Mona, seemingly the bane of Bob’s existence; and his pet Eck (a kind of sentient, penguin-y creature), who is despairing over his seemingly inevitable death-by-being-eaten; as well as Estelle, who’s on a mission to save Eck from being eaten by her father. On the less divine side of things, there’s also Lucy, an assistant zookeeper whose main concerns are finding love, and avoiding her grumpy supervisor at work; along with the aforementioned grumpy supervisor, Luke; Lucy’s interfering mother; and her godfather Bernard, a vicar who’s questioning the value of his work.

As you can see, the cast is huge, which might have presented a problem if the characters were any less memorable and entertaining (I won’t say likeable, because not all of them are, or are even meant to be), but in this case really doesn’t. The narrative moves fluidly between characters, and although their different concerns made it difficult to pin down any one main plot, I really liked all the miniature storylines that the book presents… It really comes across more as a snapshot of all these people’s lives with a potentially apocalyptic backdrop, rather than a cohesive story. (My favourite parts were probably Eck’s friendship with Estelle, any scene that involved Mr. B, and Lucy and Luke’s brief moments of bonding towards the end of the book.)

There Is No Dog is a comedy of wonderful absurdities, but I can definitely see why people would dislike it. The silliness could easily become too much for someone (even I was glad that Rosoff didn’t try to make it any longer than it is), and if you’re looking for some kind of deep message in this book, then you’re not likely to find one – unless it’s that, if there is a god, let’s hope they’re a Mr. B and not a Bob. 😅 I would also definitely not recommend this to anyone who’s super-serious (in the not-to-be-joked-about sense) about religion, as they’d probably find it more offensive than funny…

Also, for the record: This book has nothing to do with dogs.

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: December

For this month’s LSH – to read the last book in a series – I have to admit that I cheated a little… I did make a trip to the library in hopes of finding something, but the only series that I was near to finishing ended with books that I either already owned, or planned to buy before reading, so I went home empty handed, deciding instead to read a book that was waiting for me at home, and that I was extremely excited for. I feel a little bit bad about it, but not so bad that I won’t still count this towards the challenge…

ROYAL WEDDING
Meg Cabot

Seven years after the conclusion of the original Princess Diaries series, Mia Thermopolis is now twenty-five years old, a published author, the founder of a community youth programme, a powerful public figure… and still subject to the dramatic mood swings of the media, who love her and hate her in unpredictable turns.

Seven years passed between the releases of Ten Out of Ten (/Forever Princess) and Royal Wedding in real-time, as well as in the books, and I was a little nervous to be stepping back into Mia’s life after such a long break; these were books that I couldn’t get enough of as a teenager, but haven’t really looked at since, so I was worried that Mia would seem either altered beyond recognition, or else petty and immature. But it appears that my fears were unfounded! 😁 Mia definitely seems different enough that the years show, but still retains all the character traits (and flaws) that made her so loveable in the original books. I think that Cabot has done a great job in this book of making her relatable to an audience that’s also grown older.

Plot-wise, there weren’t very many surprises in this book, but my primary enjoyment wasn’t in being surprised, but in watching Mia be surprised – and I don’t think that surprising the readers was Cabot’s objective, either. Mia’s narrative was as hilarious as always, and it was lovely to revisit all her old friends as well, and see what they were up to. I was pleased to find that Mia was still close to both Tina (now in medical school) and Lilly (in law school), and the references to Rocky’s obsession with farting reminded me of a few real-world pre-teen boys that I know. 😓 And I loved the way that Boris was worked into the story, although he never showed up in person. Many of my favourite moments, however, came at the hands of Grandmère, who – in classic Grandmère style – caused as much trouble as she could to as many people as she could, wherever possible.

And, of course, there will always be a place in my heart for Michael and Mia. 💕

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