Midnight Riot (Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the first in the Peter Grant / Rivers of London series. I had read some hype for this series over the years. It’s right up my alley as it’s a series set in London and it’s urban fantasy. I realized while reading this that I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy set in London including Neverwhere, The Rook series, and Harry Potter counts too. Speaking of Harry Potter, this book had many references to that series. Too many and to the point of self-indulgence. As a mystery, it uses London as a setting like the Robert Galbraith books as well. It also reminded me of Doctor Who and I was not surprised to found out that author also wrote for Doctor Who.

This book had some interesting world building and it moved along, but there were a couple of aspects to it that were disappointing. At some points, I did not find it that well written. For example, the character development was lacking. I did not get a good sense of any of the characters. While Peter is written with some wit, I found it a struggle to really get to know him. For example, as a narrator, he sometimes felt inconsistent. There were too many conversations in the book that he seemed to accept and not investigate or pry further into. For example, his mentor Nightingale’s age. At times, he seemed like a clever copper but other times, he seemed quite thick or too distracted to notice things. He ends up having oblique dialogues with other characters and he doesn’t seem to follow up. Is this a character flaw? This character trait of being unobservant is somewhat alluded to in the novel by another character; however, it also felt like a cheap excuse to drop hints and be mysterious without much explanation until much later.

I just found some of the character development lacking. None of the characters get particularly developed especially the female ones: his crush Leslie, his other crush Beverely and the enigmatic Molly. I would have liked to know more about them. Furthermore, the author uses the word breast a lot when describing these characters.

Having said that, these books are quite easy to read and the actual mystery was ok. The best part is the London setting and the world building. I really enjoyed Nightingale training Peter in magic. If I look over the inconsistent character work, I could enjoy this series. I am aware there is a graphic novel series as well. I think that format would work well. I will look into reading the next novel and the graphic series.

Read June 25-July 1, 2020.

Sapiens: A brief history of humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

This is one of the most dense books I’ve read in awhile. It’s not actually that long compared to some other nonfiction history books, but it has a lot of history, ideas, and thoughts. Probably too many ideas.

I really liked the start of the book. After reading the Jean M Auel series, I have been more interested in human kind’s life pre-Agricultural Revolution. This book presents what life could have been like for early hunter gatherers including an exploration of the Cognitive Revolution. Early homo sapiens were not that different from us and genetically the same. They were intelligent and had their own complex system of beliefs, rituals, and relationships. They were clever hunters. The extinction of megafauna coinciding with homo sapiens migration is a sobering reminder of human consumption and survival.

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The Valley of the Horses by Jean M. Auel

The sequel to Clan of the Cave Bear. With the current situation in the world and after some nonfiction, I needed escapism far removed from the present day. I like that this series offers some actual history and anthropology.

As mentioned in a previous post, I have been busy with work and have not had time to read as much. This book took a couple of weeks to finish. The first half was not that engaging for me. I missed the characters from the first book like Ayla did. I found her solitary adventures in the first half the book somewhat interesting, but I found the other stuff with Jondalar a tad slow.

I don’t think Jondalar is particularly interesting male lead. For the first half other book, he is defined mostly by his attractiveness and not being able to fall in love with a woman. Like the first book where Ayla was incessantly described as big and ugly (when she was not at all), this book kept reminding the reader how good looking Jondalar is and how he couldn’t seem to find a soul mate.

Things pick up when they finally meet and I liked their interactions as I can learn through them what it’s like for people in the prehistoric era. It also becomes a romance novel when they meet. I know that this series becomes more of a romantic one as it progresses. It does not interest me much. While Auel is a good at weaving things from the past into a novel, there is a lot of repetitiveness and somewhat cliched writing. I think the characters and relationship can be quite good but the prose leaves something to be desired.

A friend told me that she made it to book 5 and that I should probably stop at book 4. I will keep going until I can’t but I am starting to see how difficult it may be if the writing does not improve significantly.

Read May 9-May 26, 2020.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

This took me awhile to read because this is non fiction and even in this “Stay at home” life, I have been busy with work and general life.

I love this topic as I consider sleep is closest thing to a universal panacea. It’s delicious and wonderful. I love having a long night of uninterrupted sleep. Always have and always will. I’m also an avid dreamer and can lucid dream which makes my dream life fun. In the past year, I’ve become increasingly interested in sleep and dreams again.

This book has interesting academic and scientific evidence. It’s written well and very accessible. The author puts in a couple of personal theories and experiences, but he does it just the right amount without being dry or prosaic.

If I had more time, I would have read this book much more quickly. I’ve read a lot non fiction books and this is a good one considering the number of studies it cites. It is almost a must to read these in paper book form because he has a few footnotes and personal notes at the bottom of the pages.

Reading this book was a little like preaching to the choir for me. I do feel like on the whole people in the world underestimate the value of sleep. I know my sleep enough and when I don’t get it, I don’t dream as well or feel as rested. There are a lot of being reporting more vivid dreams and this is more a result of them getting sufficient REM sleep.

On a personal note, two people in my life have sleep apnea including my father. My dad snored my whole life and he got tested a few years ago. Within three to six months of getting a CPAP/APAP machine, he felt a huge change in his quality of life. He was able to remember things better. He lost weight more easily. His mood improved drastically. I am grateful to our family physician who noticed it and referred him to a sleep clinic.

Sleep is undervalued and I believe the author in that I think sleep deficiency is the cause of many problems, chief of which is car accidents. This book is popular at my library and I hope more people read into how important sleep is at a personal and societal level.

Read April 18-May 3, 2020.

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

This was an okay Christie novel. I brought all my Christie novels to my current home from storage and this was the last one I believe.

It took me awhile to really get into it. I have not actually had much time to read during isolation. I already worked from home and I am thankful to still have a job. As a result, work has been steady. I cook and bake a bit more, but I am a homebody so not much has changed in terms of finding time.

The other reason it took me awhile to get in this book is that it’s a bit slow and meandering. The actual murders and crime seems incident and more of a B Plot to some romantic A Plots. Nothing violent happens for almost 40 pages and Miss Marple doesn’t show up for 142 pages.

While the ending is not anticlimactic, I did feel it was just there. It was not an exciting book. I do like Christie’s writing overall, but I wish there was more Marple or suspense.

Will try to read more books in the next few weeks as my library is closed and I have all my library books waiting for me to read them.

Hope anyone who reads this is healthy and stress free.

Read March 24 – April 8, 2020

The Toll by Neal Shusterman

This is the final instalment to the Arc of the Scythe trilogy. I quite enjoyed this Young Adult trilogy. I feel like in some aspects it’s not that objectively good, but it was entertaining. I do not think I would recommend it to most people though given how dense these books got at times. It’s hard to describe why I liked them so much in some ways.

I think there are some interesting and entertaining ideas. I liked the cast of characters which involved mostly equal split of women and men. There is even a non-binary character in this one. I’ve found the character development relatively good for books mostly centred on world building, ethics, and action. I have to say that with the expanded universe and cast of characters, Citra and Roman are not really developed in this book. Maybe it’s because their development seems to have been mostly finished in the last book. I felt Roman should have had more development time in this. I missed Faraday as well.

All the books in this series are long and this was one was over 600 pages. The author adds a lot of details and it all comes together by the end which is satisfying. I do feel that some things were padded. Too many characters and time spent on plots here and there.

The first book in this series is being adapted to a movie. I do think it is better than Hunger Games and some other YA novels, but I can’t see how they can adapt it easily. There is a lot of violence in these books. I also feel most of these characters have deep internal lives and motivations that would not be easy to translate on to the screen given the world building.

I am glad to have read and finished this trilogy. While the books are long and padded, I don’t feel like it was dragged out. I enjoyed this series.

Read March 1-5, 2020.

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

What a lovely graphic novel. It has beautiful art which is fantastical and perfectly fits the mood of night time adventures. I already liked the style from the cover. It vaguely reminds me of a close artist friend’s style. The book uses really nice paper as well.

This is the second young adult graphic novel that I’ve read recently which I find amazing. I think this is an area of young adult fiction that does not seem to be limited creatively right now. It feels like there is a lot of space for authors and artists to explore or at least styles that I like. I am biased because I am really into children’s fiction these days.

The story is a coming of age fantasy adventure with two boys named Ben and Nathaniel. Ben is quite annoying at times because he is insecure but typically so of a kid his age. Nathaniel is earnest and sweet. You see Ben grow at least. I wonder if there will be a sequel or a series. The ending is left open ended for more adventures.

This novel seems to be set in the pre-Internet era when kids would play outside even at night. I guess nostalgia is a factor here too. I like to read about kids who also didn’t have too many screens growing up like myself.

I’ve read seven books in 2020 so far and half of them have been graphic novels. A good getaway into my reading year and as a reprieve after a long day working.

Read February 20, 2020.

Umbrella Academy Vol. 3: Hotel Oblivion by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá

I have mixed feelings on this series. Like the first volume, I found this one disjointed.

There were at least four separate storylines and over a dozen characters for most of the novel. Keeping track of the plotlines is one thing and I don’t mind it as much in Monstress (which is more confusing and complex than this series). I don’t find many of the characters that compelling especially when they are apart.

While the art here is good, I find it is not as dynamic or interesting as some other graphic novels I’ve read recently. This series is more similar to comic book aesthetic which is an area I’ve never been truly enamoured with.

The second half of the novel and the ending are quite good. There is a character who is a Japanese scientist and is depicted with a strong likeness to Hayao Miyazaki. That was amusing.

I think this is an interesting series. I am doubtful if I will seek out the next volume in the future.

Read February 19, 2020.

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima

In an attempt to meet new people and read books, I have started to attend some book clubs. I read this book for one. The synopsis interested me right away. I had not heard of this author who is relatively well known in Japan.

This novel from the beginning is beautifully written. Nature in particular is rendered poetically. It sometimes feels quiet but movingly so. The first third or half of the novel is slower than the last half. Death and omens of death do feature throughout the novel.

The beginning of the novel and the subject matter of old world aristocracy reminded me of The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa which is also nostalgic and beautifully written peace about the past. While this novel was written in the 1960s and set in 1912, it does not look at the past nostalgically in a pleasant way so much as showing the various characters of different socio-economic situations and the changing landscape.

The narration is third present omniscient and does give perspective on many of the characters. The women are less developed than male characters which I’ve found is typical of Japanese novels. However, Satoko is rendered well and I can see her agency and development clearly.

The central character is often not likeable, but he did become oddly compelling in some way. Of course, Honda is more likeable and relatable. His relationship with the protagonist Kiyo is the best in the novel. Honda is the central figure in this tetralogy.

Even with some strange elements and slowness, I really liked how this book was written. I think I will read the second book and see how far I get from there. The books are too heavy to be read one after he other though.

Read on Kindle February 10-13 2020.

Monstress Volume Four The Chosen by Marjorie Liu

Another interesting volume of this graphic novel series. This instalment was less confusing than the previous one. I often forget so many of the details of this series between volumes. They come out only once a year so I can’t remember all the details from volume one or two let alone three.

I did like this volume better than the last one. There was some family drama and the little Fox got some things to do. I have to admit there is a lot of details about this series which confuse me because there are a lot of characters and rivalling parties. However, I continue to like the artwork and many of the characters. Maika has really grown on me.

I read a review for this volume and another reviewer echoed all my thoughts here. I am glad I am not the only one who finds this series sometimes confusing and hard to follow; however, I still find it very compelling and well done.

Read February 4, 2020.

Evie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

A bit late with this review. I finished this book almost two weeks ago on a plane.

This book was nice and sweet. I listen to Linda Holmes on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. I remember reading her recaps back in the day when she was Miss Alli on Television Without Pity. I had heard this book got good reviews for a debut novel.

It is a good debut novel. Holmes is a proficient writer and as a first time novelist, it did not feel rough or hackneyed. The main character in the book and I aren’t extremely similar but we are of a similar age so I could relate a little.

I also liked that the abuse in this novel is subtle and not one that you can easily explain to the public or even to those that liked the abuser. I think a lot of people have met That Guy. It’s hard to put into words so Holmes did a good job describing what sort of man Evie had married.

All in all, a good novel. I was not knocked off my feet, but I liked the read. I also want to go to Maine a little after it.

Read January 19-23, 2020.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

It has been many years since I read The Handmaid’s Tale. I did not list it in my books read in the early aughts but I remember reading it and Alias Grace at some point in high school.

As a Canadian, I think I read it for school. I could barely remember the ending but I remember liking the writing enough. I had to remind myself and read a synopsis of it before I started this book. I have not seen the tv show but I read more about it after I finished this novel.

I have read only a handful of Atwood’s works and sometimes, I’ve struggled to feel for her characters. I remember thinking The Handmaid’s Tale was well written but I didn’t find there was enough character work. I had a similar feeling for Alias Grace, and I think that book was excellently written too. However, I found Grace was fascinating. I tend to avoid adaptations of Atwood’s work because her subject matter is often bleak and I don’t love her books enough to invest in to an adaptation.

When I started The Testaments, I was reminded of all these things. I did not find myself that interested in the three narrators in the beginning. Over time, I became engrossed. I felt this was the most engaging of Atwood’s work in a long time. This book is more like a TV thriller than her other books. Even with its internal monologues, there is a lot more plot than the first book. It’s a larger book but it did feel slightly pulpier. I managed to finished this book in one Sunday.

I began to slowly feel invested in almost all the main characters such as Lydia, Becka, and Agnes. Daisy was quite annoying at times. I guess it can be blamed on upbringing and her adolescence, but she seemed too much like a stereotypical bratty teenager. I found the writing for Agnes and Becka so much more compelling when they were preteens. Daisy served as their foil but it was not realistic how tactless and ungrateful Daisy could be at times.

The Aunt Lydia character was fascinating. I’ve read Atwood was inspired by the TV’s Ann Down version of Aunt Lydia. This did interest me slightly because it would take a very talented actor to portray such a complex amoral woman. The psychological aspect of Lydia reminded me of how Atwood wrote Alias Grace.

I think there is literary debate if this is Atwood’s best written work and if it deserved the joint Booker in 2019. I can see why it is controversial because it feels a bit less literary than her other works, but I actually like this. As I get older, I appreciate being taken more of a ride and having less bleak or ambiguous endings . Maybe this is why I do not read as many Pulitizer or Booker prize winners like I did in university. This book is still written well especially with respect to the characters. I had a good time.

Read January 12, 2020.