month year decade (woah) started with the kids and I finishing up listening to Jim Dale narrate Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I didn’t have much memory of anything Harry Potter after book 3, so I don’t know why I gave the Order of the Phoenix a 3 star rating when I first read it about 11 years ago. At the time it was my least favorite book in the series. This time I found it pretty close to perfect (I gave it 5 stars). I loved it, and I love experiencing the books with my kids; they are really enjoying the series. At 8 and 9 years old, I am sure a good amount is over their heads, but they are following pretty well so far. I meant to stop at Prisoner of Azkaban because I feel like after that point HP books get more dark and written for older audiences…but they wanted to continue, so here we are. We are about 100 pages into HP and the Half Blood Prince now…the opening chapter of this book confused them (they didn’t understand why Fudge was recounting events to the “other minister”) but overall I am impressed with their retention of detail.
My first physical read of the year was Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. In my opinion it was just shy of hitting the 4 star mark. In my reading journal I marked it as 3.75, which is entirely arbitrary, but felt right. I found it harder to get into than Rogerson’s debut stand alone, An Enchantment of Ravens. I also found the romantic chemistry in Thorns to be completely flat, while I was enthralled by the romantic tension in Ravens. The plot in this sophomore novel was definitely more ambitious, and the lack of connection to the main characters was made up for by my adoration for Silas, the supporting demon. I also loved the bookish theme of this fantasy. All in all, an enjoyable YA fantasy read.
Next I read Sarah Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan (3.5 stars). This was a very quick read that caught my attention as I was organizing my bookshelves. I added it to our home library knowing that it was an award winning children’s book, but I couldn’t remember what was so great about it. It was fairly enjoyable, despite the robotic dialogue. For kids, this is a story about children getting a mother in reply to their widowed father’s advertisement in search of a wife. For adults, this is a story about a quite, displaced woman trying to maintain agency over her own life within the limits of her gender.
I listened to The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, narrated by Tom Hanks (4 stars). Hanks did a wonderful job reading this novel; so well I didn’t even increase the playback speed, which I usually do to match the audiobook to my own reading speed. I think the novel started off very strong with its fairytale-esque characters: the disengaged father, the evil stepmother, the beautifully charming daughter, the innocent son, and even the fairy godmother type housekeepers. The second half of the book dragged quite a bit, and I feel like it strayed away from the connecting theme of the house that was the driving force of the conflict. I’m actually surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did, because I have to admit the overall tone was rather bleak. The plot spans 50 years and it felt like it. This is starting to sound negative… but I really did enjoy this. I highly recommend it and actually want to try reading more Ann Patchett.
I found the latest release in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, Come Tumbling Down, to be wonderfully dark and intense. I definitely prefer the books in this portal fantasy series that take place in high logic worlds. In this novella, we return with Jack and Jill to the Moors where tension between the sisters has reached a deadly high. To be honest the beginning had me questioning if I would enjoy it as much as I had anticipated, but maybe I was just distracted, because by the end I was captivated and gave it 4 stars.
I read The Story of a Goat by Perumal Murugan (translated from Tamil) on the recommendation of booktuber Russell, from the channel Ink and Paper Blog. He posted this book on his Instagram and I was immediately intrigued. What I expected was a feel-good story about a couple adopting a sickly goat and the animal in return bringing joy back to their lives. Not. the. case. There is so much to unpack from this short novel. We get an examination of humanity from the perspective of the goat, political commentary and an illustration of caste systems from the perspective of the humans, and overall themes of love, desperation, pride, and loss. (4 stars)
The kids and I listened to The Lost Heir, book 2 in the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland (3.5 stars). I really appreciate that this middle-grade novel doesn’t hold back. It is high stakes and the consequences are real. There is betrayal, violence, and death without being gratuitous. Ultimately friendship and loyalty is rewarded. The kids have enjoyed following up the audiobooks in this series by reading the graphic novel versions (which are gorgeous).
I have really been feeling the Force this month. Not only did I start watching the Clone Wars animated series on Disney+, but I also got a 400 page Clones Wars graphic novel out from the library, AND downloaded the audiobook of the Clone Wars movie novelization by Karen Traviss from Overdrive. The graphic novel (Star Wars Omnibus Clone Wars volume 1: The Republic Goes to War, to be exact) was AMAZING!!! I love discussing the gray areas of Jedi ethics with my husband. Seriously, the nerd talk is intense. This graphic novel was full of Jedi questioning their role in the conflict between the Separatists and the Republic. The audiobook had full sound effects, so that was a lot of fun, and it did raise the same sorts of questions, particularly regarding the Republic’s use of clone soldiers, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much (I gave it 3 stars, where I gave the graphic novel 5 stars).
My bookclub read Sylvain Neuvel’s The Test this month. It was a really short book that packed a HUGE punch. The story revolves around a man from Tehran in the not-so-distant future taking a citizenship test in the UK. Let’s just say that from the vague reviews I’d seen of this, I expected the point of the book to be calling out the hypocrisy and absurdity of immigration requirements, but this book took a crazy turn! I should have known, since Neuvel’s other novels are super twisty scifi, but it caught me by surprise. I gave it 3 stars, but after our bookclub discussion I think I appreciate it more.
In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., I read to the kids his biography in the “Who Was___” series. They actually really liked it. It presents historical and biographical information in a manner very digestible for young readers.
I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison this month. I had posted on Instagram that I haven’t read any Toni Morrison, and my high school English teacher messaged me to correct that, and to start with The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s debut novel. So I did. But I didn’t love it. I feel so terrible about that. While there were moments I was blown away by the evocative writing, I didn’t find the story enjoyable. I know that’s the point, but I feel like there have been books with hard subject matter that I have still managed to find the experience of reading it positive (The Story of a Goat, for example). I didn’t enjoy all the tangents the story telling took- too often the focus broke away from the main plot to introduce background characters. I don’t usually mind this; in fact, I loved the way Fredrick Backman creates a familiarity with every resident of Beartown for the reader. But for some reason it didn’t work for me in this case. I wish the progression of the plot in The Bluest Eye was more linear. I don’t always mind when the narrative bounces around in time, but I didn’t care for the way it was done here. I’m not sure what precisely missed the mark with me and this book, and I’m pretty disappointed in myself for not liking it much (I gave it 2.5 stars).
I have some books that I didn’t finish this month that I look forward to wrapping up in February… and so many more I can’t wait to pick up. In the meantime- Happy Reading!