I haven’t been writing much lately, because I’ve been busy with school, and also because I started a BookTube channel (that’s YouTube about books)! Right now I’m mostly posting random content while I discover the shape of the thing I want it to be, but I’d love if you checked it out: WithTheClassics
I read 14 books in May, and loved many of them, so I thought I’d share my favorites with you here. I did a full wrap-up that will be on my channel in a few days, and I talk about all of these books in various May videos, so if you’d like more of my thoughts, check them out.
In the order I read them:
The Bedlam Stacks | Natasha Pulley
Merrick Tremayne is an ex-East India Co smuggler, trapped at home in England by an injury. He’s recruited to travel to Peru to help steal cuttings of the tree that produces quinine, the only treatment for malaria. He is asked because of his smuggling experience, his hobby as an amateur botanist, and his family’s history in that particular part of Peru. But once he arrives in New Bethlehem, he realizes that things are not what they seem.
This book is historical fiction with *just* a touch of magical realism, and it’s a lovely mix. It is a lyrical, beautiful book, the kind that burrows into your heart and then declares its staying forever. Although action-packed, the focus is on Merrick and the choices he makes as he learns more about the unique place his grandfather and father had come to love, and that action-packed plot is quite character-driven. It left me with warm, fuzzy feelings and everyone should go read it.
Circe | Madeline Miller
I feel like people have been slow to pick this new release up, and they need to get a move on! Circe is about the titan goddess by that name, the one whose best known for being a witch and turning men into pigs in the Odyssey. Beginning with the circumstances of her birth, Circe narrates her life for us, telling both a fascinating tale and contemplating her choices and actions. It’s a wonderful, unique retelling.
This book was so refreshing to read after all the YA retellings I’ve experienced lately. Not that I’m knocking them, but this one, being literary fiction in addition to a myth retelling, had a lyricism and depth the YA ones don’t. Circe is a fascinating, complex woman, and Miller doesn’t hesitate to show the heroic and problematic aspects of other mythological characters; Circe lives a long life and meets a lot of people and gods along the way. But aside from the tour through mythology, it is Circe herself, and her struggle to understand her long life and to find meaning in it that makes this such a wonderful read.
City of Brass | S.A. Chakraborty
An adult fantasy that (nearly) avoided any kind of romance (*insert clapping hands emoji*). City of Brass then gets even better by being rooted in Middle Eastern mythology. Here be Genies, although they’re called, more accurately, Djinn or Daeva. Nahri is a thief living on the streets of Cairo in the early 1800s when she accidentally summons one of those Djinn. He realizes that she’s more than just a street thief, and takes her to Daevabad, the titular City of Brass. The only thing is, Daevabad is in the middle of its own political problems, and the arrival of the last surviving member of one of their most powerful families, accompanied by one of the most feared and hated Djinn in thousands of years, does not improve things.
City of Brass is an essentially political novel, which I liked. It was a nice change from the sweeping epics I’ve read lately. The magic system is well-done, and not dumbed down. The characters who are magic do magic; they don’t run around and explain everything. My favorite aspect of this novel is the characterization. Every major character has his or her own desires, and the conflict arises from the clash of those desires. It works brilliantly, especially because everybody’s actions make sense. There are no villains here, just people trying to do their best. My only issue with the book is that it IS a trilogy, and definitely reads like a part I. There’s no awful cliffhanger, but the plot and character arcs feel unfinished.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay | Michael Chabon
Joe Kavalier escapes Prague in 1939 by the skin of his teeth and comes to live with his cousin, Sam Clay, in Brooklyn. When Sam realizes Joe can draw, he pitches a comic book to his boss, and the rest is history. Told over 15 years, and against the backdrop of the early days of WWII, mostly, and of the Golden Age of comic books, this thick novel is nevertheless surprisingly intimate. It remains focused on Joe and Sam, who both have strong, well-drawn and dynamic characters.
Basically, I loved everything about this book, and it is one of my favorites now. Funny in a lot of places, sad in a few, really sad in another few, poignant, thoughtful, and all-around entertaining, it feels like an heir to the great Victorian novelists. It’s the kind of story I think modern literary fiction is lacking sorely. To try to say more would force me to be spoilery, and coherent, so just pick it up while you’re grabbing The Bedlam Stacks.
Now excuse me, I’m going to go read everything Chabon has ever written, and throw Natasha Pulley’s other book in the pile while I’m at it.