Recent Reads is a monthly reading wrap-up, with mini-reviews of all the books I finished in the past month. I’ll also share what I’m currently reading and any other books that are in the pipeline. Want to share your bookish happenings, too? Feel free to do so in the Comments section at the end!
Something electric must be in the air. Out of the five books I read in October, I enjoyed four of them enough to write reviews. So, those positive bookish vibes that made September a great month for reading haven’t gone away yet. 🙂
What also made October a fun month for reading was including two “Halloween-ish” novels. Not scary horror stories by any means, but stories with a creepiness factor that fit the time of year. You’ll see what I mean as you check out the reviews, starting with my Read of the Month, which is…
Read of the Month: This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee
Set in Geneva, Switzerland in 1818 (the year when Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published), This Monstrous Thing explores the question, “What if there was a real-life inspiration behind Frankenstein?”. Enter Alasdair Finch, a Shadow Boy who uses machinery to give new limbs to French Revolution and Napoleonic War survivors. However, Alasdair has done the unthinkable: Using his talents, he’s brought his older brother Oliver back from the dead – and Oliver is no longer the carefree, compassionate person he once was. As Frankenstein grows in controversy and the local authorities intensify their search for Shadow Boys (their trade is illegal in Geneva), Alasdair is offered the opportunity of a lifetime: A university education at his dream school, and refuge with his idol, the “mad scientist” Dr. Geisler. But what – including Oliver – is Alasdair willing to sacrifice for ambition’s sake?
This Monstrous Thing seized me by the heart early on and refused to let go. Worldbuilding details, especially Geneva at Christmastime and the “nuts and bolts” of the Shadow Boys’ craft, were breathtaking yet not overdone. Characters were shown at their best and worst, making them multi-dimensional and relatable. (My two favorites were Oliver and Clemence, Dr. Geisler’s full-of-surprises assistant.) Most of all, I loved how Alasdair and Oliver’s tremulous relationship was the centerpiece. It’s a refreshing change from romance-centric YA stories. Plus, it mirrors the story’s other struggles with loyalty, prejudice, and secrets, clanging at the essence of what it means to be human.
Some reviewers have said they wanted to see Oliver’s resurrection and other flashbacks play out “in real time.” Personally, I was fine with Lee’s approach. It allowed relevant memories to inform Alasdair’s current, more urgent dilemma. And apart from some modern-sounding dialogue, This Monstrous Thing blew me away. Even if a Frankenstein reimagining isn’t your typical reading fare, give this a chance. I did, and I came away exhilarated by the last few chapters and heartened by how far the Finch brothers had come.
Other Books I Read in October
In this heartrending final installment of Leigh Bardugo’s best-selling Grisha Trilogy, Alina finds herself weak and in hiding after the Darkling overthrows Ravka’s capital. Her plans, however, don’t include staying underground with the Apparat and the fanatics who worship her as a living saint. Instead, she desperately wants to find the firebird and claim it as her last hope for defeating the Darkling. But once her best friend Mal and the last remaining Grisha on her side help Alina escape, she discovers truths she’d never fathomed about the Darkling’s past and the history behind Morozova’s amplifiers. Will she be willing to do what it takes for the sake of strengthening her light-summoning powers and saving her country?
For me, Ruin and Rising is a welcome rebound from Siege and Storm. It’s also the grimmest act of the trilogy, missing missing the humor from the previous two books but tugging at my heartstrings hard enough to make me cry. (Tears always earn a book bonus points!) Also, I thought Alina’s obsession with the firebird was necessary (some fans weren’t keen on it), and I didn’t see the big plot twist coming, either. And as shocking as said twist was, I appreciated how it forced Alina to re-evaluate the person she could have become.
The only real issue I had with Ruin and Rising was the swampy beginning. It seemed to take forever for Alina and her crew to leave the underground, and only then does the story feel like it’s moving along. After that, Bardugo’s evocative prose was able to shine, and a number of supporting characters endured some fascinating development. The ending is also more satisfying than I could have hoped for. So, if you ask me, Ruin and Rising redeems this series, and has made the Grisha Trilogy one of my favorite YA fantasy series of all time.
NOTE: This book will be released on December 15, 2015.
I don’t typically read romance, but when I reconnected with a former writing pal (Alyssa Palombo) last year and learned about her book deal, I knew I’d want to read it. 🙂 And as it turns out, there’s a lot more going on than a love story.
The Violinist of Venice follows Adriana d’Amato through 30 years of struggles with passion, music, and repentance. It all begins when she seeks out famed composer and priest Antonio Vivaldi so she can take violin lessons again. They never expect that their lessons will turn into an intense love affair that thrills and consumes Adriana. The consequences of their relationship – and the separate choices they make – send ripples through the rest of their lives. And as time goes on, Adriana must learn how to carry on in love and marriage, and to find the courage to ignore society’s expectations and keep music in her life.
While I found Adriana and Vivaldi’s storyline predictable (which could just be me), I was smitten by other aspects of The Violinist of Venice. Adriana’s transformation is astounding: from a naive, willful 18-year-old; to a bitter yet defiant young wife; to a wiser, nurturing woman who finally chooses forgiveness. The formal narrative voice takes some getting used to, but it was appropriate for her background and the setting. Violinist also offers a window into the opulence and strict traditionalism of 18th century Venice that tantalizes the senses and opens one’s eyes. Where Palombo shines, though, is when the music plays. Her descriptions of performances, techniques, and the composing process are so emotive and alive that you swear you can hear the violins – or an entire orchestra. This was a moving, spellbinding story, and one that resonated with me more than I’d anticipated. Thank you, Alyssa!
(NOTE: I read an ARC provided by the author. This has in no way influenced my opinion of the book. Also, some things may have changed in the final version.)
A phantasmagoria. That’s the best word to describe Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. When this urban fantasy classic begins, Richard Mayhew lives a relatively normal life, with an office job in London and a lovely yet fussy fiance. Everything changes when he stops to help a bleeding girl on the sidewalk. After she leaves, Richard’s existence is erased from the world. The only way he can retrieve his old life is by traveling into London Below: the home of the girl he rescued, and a strange underworld of angels and monsters, saints and shadows. And as he joins the girl’s quest to find who murdered her family, he learns that nothing – even what’s perceived to be reality – is ever as it seems.
Reading Neverwhere was like crossing a dark, mesmerizing, and dangerous dreamworld. It’s equal parts comedy, fantasy, and horror; and 100% sheer imagination. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the colorful cast of characters and “visiting” the chimerical settings and creatures of London Below. Richard was also an endearing, sympathetic protagonist. This young man, who once accepted the safety of “normalcy,” feels profoundly lost on his journey until he finds bravery and purpose. Sometimes the lines between genres blurred, and made what should have been terrifying more or less comical. My inner editor also cringed at some of the grammatical choices (especially when paragraphs didn’t break to signal a change in speaker). But overall, Neverwhere entranced me from start to finish, and was a fitting choice to sneak in during October.
What I’m Reading Next
I’m finally reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss!! 😀 I should be more than halfway done with it by the time this post goes live, and so far I’m LOVING it. The Name of the Wind is a long book too (the paperback is 700+ pages), so November might be a “three-book” month instead of four or five.
How about you? What books did you recently read? Have you read any of the titles mentioned above?