This Week (and a bit) I Have Mostly Been Reading…

This week has been a bit of a quiet one, even by lockdown standards. I’ve been furloughed from work – which means I can’t do anything work-related. The first week of May I felt really energetic and productive, as I got to work on some house-related stuff as we’ve still never really recovered from moving last year. I also began doing some consistent writing for the first time since I was in my late teens; although I’ve written essays for my degrees, and I’ve done bits and pieces of blogging and writing, this is the first concentrated period of working on the one project I’ve managed probably since I was at school. I’m very excited about it and I’m hoping to keep it going.

Last week as I’d mentioned was much less productive. I felt exhausted most of the week and my mental health hasn’t been optimum. Fortunately though, I’ve been able to spend time recovering (and reading!) and I think this week is looking a lot brighter. Here’s what I’ve been reading over the last two weeks…

PAPER BOOKS

Aurora Burning – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This was a step-up from the first one. I’m still a bit disappointed in the writing and characterisation as it feels much less well-realised than in The Illuminae Files – it feels like the work of less-skilled authors, almost like these were written before that series. However, it really improves over the course of the book, and the plotting is much tighter. By the time I got to the end I was totally on the edge of my seat and I’m really mad that I have to wait for the third one now.

Verdict: recommended with caution.

Spindle – EK Johnston

This is the sequel to A Thousand Nights and is also known as Kingdom of Sleep. Where ATN was loosely based on the Thousand and One Nights, this is a take on both Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. It reads much more middle grade than ATN for the most part, and the writing is less poetic and more matter-of-fact which I think perhaps has to do with the change in narrator and time period. I really enjoyed it but it wasn’t as good as ATN and I didn’t really feel like it was an essential addition and the conclusion felt both rushed and not terribly logical.

Verdict: only for completists.

Akata Warrior – Nnedi Okorafor

This continues the story of Sunny Nwazue some months after the end of Akata Witch. Okorafor is a brilliant writer and I love that she expects plenty from the reader in terms of working to understand the book as she gives so much back. Sunny’s world is so vividly realised and I love her and her friends’ sense of humour and empathy for each other. This is a world that could honestly keep going in terms of storytelling but I also like the choice to leave it where it is (if that’s how it ends up).

Verdict: highly recommended.

American Housewife – Helen Ellis

Some of the stories in this collection were amazing. I particularly liked Hello! Welcome to Book Club as a piece of satire. However, overall, I felt that the tone was overly cynical and sometimes felt a bit misogynistic almost? Like the disapproval for the type of woman portrayed outweighed the examination of patriarchy. I’m not sure how to better phrase that. A couple of the stories also felt oddly superficial. It’s a short read though, and I think it’s worthwhile for the good bits.

Verdict: recommended with caution.

Am I Alone Here? – Peter Orner

I’m not familiar with Orner’s other writing and I haven’t read the majority of the books that he references in this. Despite that, this was a fascinating and sometimes emotional read. It’s a look into the life of someone who – in the same way I do – links the events of his life back to things that he’s read and interprets them in terms of these works, and vice-versa. Central themes are his relationship with his ex-wife, both of their struggles with mental health issues, and his relationship with his father.

Verdict: highly recommended.

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

This was basically as heartbreaking as I expected. I like the way that Jones draws the relationships between Celestial, Roy, and Andre; she engages in a very careful balancing act of characterisation in which you can sympathise with all of the characters in turn even as they act in ways that are unpalatable. There’s no more or less here than there needs to be – just the stark portrayal of the loss and grief that surrounds incarceration, and the violence done by the state to those in prison and to the people they love.

Verdict: pick of the week.

EBOOKS

My ebook reading over the last few weeks has been working through the Miss Marple books. I’ve been reading them in order although I don’t think that would be necessary if you wanted to read them out of sequence. I will say it is nice to be able to pick up the little connections between the books. The stories themselves are very standard Agatha Christie fare – they’re great for a bit of light relief! There’s definitely some dodgy views on offer here, especially on race, so fair warning – it’s rarely more than a passing comment but it’s still pretty jarring. There’s some really nice stuff as the books go on about the perils of aging, though I would say I found the hankering back to a prior era a bit tiresome.

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