It seems like ditching the Malazan series last week was definitely a good idea. In the first 2 weeks of September, I read 4 books (and one of them was a novella). In the 3rd week I read 7 books. 7!! I think this is a record for this year. Since there’s a lot of content to go over, let’s just dive right in.
The Animals, by Christian Kiefer: Finished September 14th. This book is everything I wanted The Wolf Border to be. It’s about a man who runs a wildlife sanctuary in a small, wintry town. He has a criminal history that comes into conflict with his idyllic present life, so in a lot of ways it’s a book about old vs new, past vs present. While the plot might not sound like edge-of-your-seat excitement, I loved every single thing about it. The writing is lush and gorgeous. The characters are complex and well drawn, including the animals in the sanctuary–by the end you feel like you know them, especially the bear Majer. The story unfolds organically, alternating between past and present. It’s a dark, lush, gorgeous book that ripped my heart right out. And I loved every second of it. If you like literary fiction and/or grit lit, I highly recommend this!
Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell: Finished September 16th. This is not the kind of book I’d normally gravitate towards. It’s a family drama, basically. A woman’s husband goes missing in the heatwave of ’76 in London. This crisis pulls together her three disparate children, who have all basically abandoned their family a long time ago. The actual core mystery is not what is interesting here: I mean, it’s okay, and I did like the resolution. What really shines here is the characters.
There are two sisters and one brother, all of whom are incredibly well done. Each is going through a kind of mini personal crisis in the midst of this reunion, so this book is like a nesting doll of family drama. And as I’ve said, that type of thing usually bores me to death. But man, something about this book! The heatwave was a great backdrop, and I just loved all the characters. It was far from perfect, though: I think everyone’s plot threads got wrapped up way too fast and neatly, and I think the main mystery could have been stronger.
Breathe, by C.D Reiss: Finished September 16th. This is the 10th book in a series, so it’s hard to talk about it without major spoilers. It’s actually kind of a standalone (though reading it before the rest of the series really spoils the ending, so… if you don’t mind knowing what happens with Johnathan and Monica, maybe it’s a good place to start?), and focuses on the empty time period in Coda. This was too short for me to get really invested in the plot, but I love these characters and story so much that even a little bite is wonderful.
Mind of Winter, by Laura Kasischke: Finished September 17th. I’ve been over psychological thrillers for a while. After reading a chain of just really terrible ones (Before I Go To Sleep, The Good Girl, The Girl On The Train, Don’t Stand So Close) I kind of broke up with the genre. But I guess it’s been long enough since I read one that I saw this and thought “yes, this is a great idea. Let’s read it!” Though actually, I did enjoy this. It’s about a woman and her adopted daughter, who are trapped together during snowstorm on Christmas. Yeah, sounds a lot like Don’t Stand So Close, but this is a decent read. The writing gets a little repetitive (though for a reason explained later on), and I felt like it was lacking that special spark, but… a fun, fast read. It had a really creepy mood that was closer to horror than thriller, and some of the scenes were very unsettling. And, for once, the conclusion/twist was actually interesting! You can go back and see all the pieces fit together. Overall, though, a little forgettable–I think I’ll look back at the end of the year and go “what was that about?”
Satin Island, by Tom McCarthy: Finished September 17th. It seems that all the reviews of Satin Island are all either one stars (this is the crappiest book I’ve ever read) or 5 stars (it’s a masterpiece!). It’s obvious what side I fall on, but I understand why people hate this book. In fact, I’m kind of shocked anyone but me likes it. Imagine if Sam Pink and Haruki Murakami teamed up to write the echo chapter in House of Leaves, and then turned it into an introspective anthropological article. Yeah, not appealing for most people. But not only do I love all of those things, I have a degree in cultural anthropology, so reading this was like coming home.
Satin Island has none of the things you would expect in a book–plot, fleshed out characters, consistent pacing. It’s kind of a not-book, an unconnected series of rambling about an odd assortment of things (oil spills, parachute deaths, the Shroud of Turin, cancer) with no particular drive or direction. Except… they all are connected, thematically. This book tackles a lot of the big questions that pop up in anthro: how do we invest things with meaning? Who decides what is real and not real? How do things BECOME real? Does the act of recording something change it? How do we define reality from perception? I just loved everything about Satin Island.
Magic Bites, by Illona Andrews: Finished September 19th. So after I dumped the Malazan books, I really did need a series for September. So of course I picked an 8-book one, sigh. Really, I’m probably not going to finish this in September. I’m honestly not even sure why I picked the Kate Daniels series: urban fantasy is not usually my thing, but I loved the Dresden Files SO much I was like “hey, why not?”
Like most long UF series, this starts out slow. A lot of this book is just setting up the world, which I don’t particularly mind because the world is awesome. It’s an almost post-apocalyptic Atlanta, where magic and technology clash in ‘waves’ of power. I loved Kate: a strong female character who doesn’t fall into the “super girly” or “acts like a dude” binary. Kate is decidedly feminine, but unlike some UF female leads she doesn’t run around in a corset and leather and perfectly styled hair. However, I wasn’t attached to any of the supporting characters here, I thought the main plot was a little lackluster, and I wanted to throw my book when it turned out that the big bad was a rape monster. WHY is that such a trope in UF? I don’t like it. I don’t want it. Makes me appreciate the Dresden Files even more.
Magic Burns, by Illona Andrews: Finished September 20th. Continuing on with Kate! There was definitely improvement in this book: the main plot was a lot more interesting, and we got the full info on why the world is like it is. And the side characters! Liked them so much more here! Mostly Ghastek, who I adore so much.
But I still have some quibbles. I hate that the big “mystery” of Kate’s powers/heritage is already totally solved. I was hoping for a slow-burn development on that (a la Harry Dresden’s still-unsolved mystery past/purpose), but it’s just handed to you. Also… WHY is every male character threatening Kate with sexual violence? Bad guys, good guys: they all want to force her into bed. It’s not a fucking compliment. If this continues in book 3, I don’t know if I can go on even though I do love the world & main character.