Quarterly Bookthoughts: July-Sept 2019

This post is a long one, so I’ll just jump right in:

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

After finishing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I wanted to start this month with something light. Broken Wheel was a charming book with a happy ending. The reader warms up to the titular town and the protagonist, Sara, gradually, just as the characters themselves do. It’s a book for book lovers, like Guernsey and A.J. Fikry (though it falls a bit short in terms of plot and characters).

Side note: Reading the English translation, I noticed that the American characters often used more British-sounding terms (e.g. have done vs have, mad vs crazy, mince vs ground beef), a quirk that was more interesting than annoying.

Overall, it was a few steps above a Hallmark movie. Pretty good, but not great. Enjoyable.

Persuasion by Jane Austen (reread)

This was my least favorite of Austen’s six completed novels, and I wanted to give it another chance. I did like it better the second time around. It’s still not my favorite; there were too many characters I didn’t care for or care about; there was a sense of melodrama heightened by a heavier use of symbolism (which might be a topic for another blog post).

Even so, saying Persuasion is my least favorite of her books is like saying the vanilla truffle is my least favorite in the chocolate box. It is Austen, after all.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

In my last post, I described this book as “an intriguing mid-1800s mystery with witty writing, compelling characters, and a multiple-narrator structure that really enhances the suspense.” Wilkie Collins is definitely one of my new favorite authors (see The Moonstone below).

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I did not expect to finish this book in less than two days, and I did not expect that, on the penultimate page, I would cry.

John Green is an incredibly thoughtful, brilliant, kind human being, as viewers of his YouTube channel (vlogbrothers) will know. But I think a couple of his books — Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, i.e. his most well-known and popular ones — are somehow less than the sum of their parts. In the beginning, I thought Turtles was going to be the same. It was not.

If you are going to read one John Green book, it should be Turtles, because it is the kind of book that will (hopefully) make you a more empathetic person — to others, especially those who deal with mental illness, but also to yourself.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

While this book’s striking cover first piqued my interest, I decided to read it because the “Gosford Park” vibes with a time-traveling twist intrigued me. I was not disappointed. Like Where the Forest Meets the Stars, it’s a debut novel that makes me excited to read the author’s future works.

Not only is the story a page-turner, but Stuart Turton is a master of metaphor and figurative language. I’ll leave it at one example:

I turn to meet the voice, reddening as a dozen faces swim up through their boredom to inspect me. My name runs laps of the room, a sudden excited buzz chasing it like a swarm of bees.

Stuart Turton, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

A delightfully absurd children’s story. What’s not to like about a book that contains the sentence, “The space dinosaurs all had their pictures taken holding the milk and smiling at the camera”?

To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North

A clever, funny retelling of Hamlet through the eyes of various characters, in a choose-your-own-adventure format. While I enjoyed the modern humor — “Being corporeal, man. I dunno” — I was soon reminded that what I like most Shakespeare is the Shakespearean language. This book would probably be a good companion to a high school reading of the play.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I hadn’t planned to read another Wilkie Collins book so soon, but after sampling the first few pages I couldn’t resist. I was lucky enough to get the audiobook as well and alternated between listening and reading (narrator Matthew Lloyd Davies does a fantastic job). Although I didn’t feel as invested in the characters and plot as I did with The Woman in White, this book was chock-full of hilarious, quotable lines — so many that I couldn’t possibly do the book justice by just picking one.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I borrowed this audiobook from the library, and the first bit was enjoyable. There was a quaint peacefulness about it that I really liked. But the more “profound” the story became, the more I lost interest.

There were a few lines I liked — for example, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are.” Overall, though, it left a lot to be desired.

Holding by Graham Norton

I had been watching hilarious clips of The Graham Norton Show on YouTube when I came across an interview with the eponymous host: He had written a book. Multiple books, actually, two of which are fiction. After investigating his bibliography, I selected the audiobook of Holding (read by the author).

What an unexpected gem! The pacing was impeccable, the characters were vivid (thanks in part to Norton’s talent as a narrator), and the plot was an exceptionally satisfying mystery. With this, I ended the quarter on a high note.

Thanks for sticking with this long post until the end. If you have any thoughts about these books (or recommendations for what I should read next), let me know in the comments below, on Instagram, or on Twitter!

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