Here we are – the last of my finally unprivated 2019 posts! I ended December on a reading high: Christmas break was here, which meant I finally had a bit more time to laze around and read! I also had quite a bit of luck with the books I read this month. Overall, I really enjoyed a lot of them, so I hope you get a few nice recommendations from this 🙂
Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave by Aphra Behn (3/5 Stars)
This was yet another book I read in preparation for the Staatsexamen, the huge exam you need to pass at the end of your studies if you want to become a teacher. And, let me tell you, it was bloody. Apparently, Aphra Behn was ardently opposed to slavery, and this book was her way of showing just how horrible it is – With success, it seems, since some people in England really did change their views after reading it. For that alone, I genuinely applaud Aphra Behn – and it was actually a pretty compelling story, even if it wasn’t exactly to my taste.
The story follows Oroonoko (Who would have thought, given that title?), Prince of Coramantien and successful war hero, who falls in love with the virtuous and beautiful Imoinda. However, when Oroonoko’s grandfather casts eyes on his grandson’s beautiful fiancée, he decides he needs her for himself and kidnaps her. Oroonoko goes to great lengths to try and rescue Imoinda, but things go horribly wrong and both Oroonoko and Imoinda are sold into slavery, each believing the other to be dead. The story’s narrator, who, like Aphra Behn herself, is a young English woman who grew up in Surinam, then tells the story of how she got to know Oroonoko and Imoinda, and how their tragic love story ended.
Trust me, it’s not for the faint-hearted. And also, be prepared to get very suspicious glances shot your way if you and your study group start talking about people’s sex organs being cut off and slowly roasted over the fire in the physics department. True story – I think those people have been avoiding me ever since…
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (4/5 Stars)
It took me a while to get into this book, but I ended up genuinely loving it. I’d never heard of it before seeing it on my required reading list for the Staatsexamen, so I’m really glad it was on there! It has the perfect mixture of humor, adventure, romance, folklore and more serious topics, and the amazon classics audiobook, which is what I listened to, is also one I’d highly recommend.
There’s so much going on in here that it’s difficult to give you an idea without spoiling it, but here is my attempt: In the center of the story stands the knight Wilfred of Ivanhoe, who was banished by his father Cedric, a loyal Saxon, for joining Richard the Lionheart, a Norman, in the crusades. We learn that Wilfred has now returned to England and is hoping to win the hand of his father’s ward, Rowena. However, King Richard is still missing, and his treacherous brother John wants to use this opportunity to seize the throne for himself. Cedric, meanwhile, hopes to restore England to Saxon rule. From various different points of view, we embark on an adventure full of intrigue, tournaments, battles and deception.
And I really mean various points of view – this book has it all. Saxon servants, like the jester Wamba and the swineherd Gurth, who are among the funniest, and, in Wamba’s case, also most cunning characters in the book. Norman noblemen, like the horribly annoying and self-righteous Sir Brian de Bois-Gilbert. We have a Robin Hood storyline, with plenty of intriguing characters to go along with it. And, by far my favorite character, Rebecca, a Jewish healer who was single-handedly raised by her father. I loved how complex Rebecca was and really related to some of her struggles. I was honestly quite astounded to see such a nuanced portrayal of a Jew in a classic, which, to be frank, are often quite antisemitic. And, in all fairness, Rebecca’s father Isaac was portrayed in the stereotypical money-hungry fashion so prevalent at the time when this was written. However, this book explored why Isaac became the way that he is, showed the prejudice he and his people had faced, and gave him a much more nuanced character than simply being greedy. He was an amazing father, a good friend, and often inadvertently funny, and I also genuinely loved him.
Overall, if you like classics and/or historical fiction, I highly recommend Ivanhoe! In my opinion, it’s severely underrated! Just trust me and give it a try; Once you get past the prologue, which is basically “a dummy’s guide to historical fiction”, and the tedious descriptions of the clothes people are wearing in the first chapter, you’ll be hooked!
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (4/5 Stars)
What with my audiobook consumption being pretty high at the moment – since I always listen to classics on the way to and from university now – I decided to switch from audible to scribd. A great decision, because now I can also physically read a ton of books I’ve had my eye on for ages, I can get as many books as I want in one month, and I still pay about the same price as I did for my audible subscription 🙂 Anyway, all this is to say that When Dimple Met Rishi popped up in my suggestions, I immediately downloaded it.
The story – an Indian-American teenager meeting the boy her parents arranged for her to marry at an IT-camp – had always sounded intriguing, and I’d heard that it was really cute. And since here it was, at my free disposal, I needed to use my chance! I wasn’t disappointed. This was a cute, fluffy, hate-to-love romance, and the characters really grew on me. Especially Rishi, who was just so precious and pure that I wanted to reach right through the pages and hug him.
My only complaint is that, for a book taking place at an IT-camp, there sure wasn’t a lot of IT-stuff in it. The apps mentioned were never really discussed in great detail, and, in my opinion, the camp only functioned as a convenient place for Dimple and Rishi to meet, rather than contributing a great deal to the story. My nerdy math-self would have truly appreciated a bit more computer science input! However, apart from that, this was a solid YA romance. If you need something cute and fluffy to relax, this is perfect.
The Toll (Arc of a Scythe #3) by Neal Shusterman (5/5 Stars)
This is the final book in Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, so I obviously can’t say much without spoiling anything. However, I don’t think I really need to – just go and pick up this series if you haven’t already!
It’s an awesome dystopian series about a world that has conquered death, and this was a great conclusion. I kept being surprised by all the twists and turns the story took, I loved the philosophical questions it sparked, and I was very satisfied with finally getting answers to so many of my questions. Also, can I just mention that I love the Thunderhead? I don’t know what it is with AIs (AIDAN in the Illuminae Files also really got to me, as did ELIXIR in The Unseen World), but I somehow always end up adoring, or at least being fascinated by them. And with every book in the series, the Thunderhead just grows on me more and more. I love how it looks after humanity, how it worries about the decisions it makes for them, and how it tries to find loopholes to get around restrictions in its programming! It’s great 🙂
Vengeful (Villains #2) by V.E. Schwab (2.5/5 Stars)
I love Vicious and have re-read it multiple times by now, so I was really excited when it got a sequel. With everything that was going on, it seemed like it would be the perfect thing to look forward to during Christmas break, so I asked for a copy as a birthday present. Then, I started reading it. The first couple of chapters, I thought I just wasn’t into it. I kept reading, hoping that once I gained momentum, I’d love it more.
However, halfway through, I was still bored. The characters were somewhat interesting, true, but it seemed like there were no real stakes, like they had no real, graspable motivations anymore. Sure, they wanted things, but the story no longer captivated me or also made me want those things for them. I felt like I was an impartial spectator. I didn’t care much about the extra backstories we got. I didn’t care when people got killed. Even at the showdown at the end, I just didn’t care.
I have no idea why exactly. I re-read Vicious again afterwards, just to see if my feelings on that had changed as well, and I just wasn’t in the mood for this type of story, but I adored it as much as ever. There was just something about the way Vengeful was written and the story itself that didn’t click with me. I don’t hate it – It’s not another Cursed Child situation where I have to pretend I never read the book – but feel completely indifferent about it, which seems to have been the trend with a lot of Victoria Schwab’s more recent books (see Our Dark Duet). Does anyone else feel this way, or is it only me?
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (3.5/5 Stars)
This is also one of the classics I listened to as an audiobook during my commutes, although I did go back afterwards and read some excerpts physically – especially since Gulliver’s Travels also includes illustrations that are referenced in the story, and I wanted to see those!
Overall, I had a really good time with this. I loved all the satirical references, and since I’m currently also taking a course on 17th and 18th century British literature and also doing lots of reading up on the time period for my exam, I felt I was able to get so much more out of this – though I don’t think that kind of background is necessary to enjoy and understand the story. Still, I had so much fun relating events in the book to contemporary British politics and finding parallels between the experiments and writings of the Royal Society and those of Laputa and Balnibari; so if you’re at all interested in history and want to give this book a try, I highly recommend also looking into the time period a bit 😉
However, this book is also a fun adventure story for non-scholars. It tells the tale of the surgeon and seafarer Lemuel Gulliver and the different countries he visits on his voyages. The book is told in four parts – the first two are very well-known, in these Gulliver visits Lilliput, whose inhabitants are absolutely tiny in relation to him, and Brobdingnag, a country full of giants. But despite being less famous, the other parts are also really interesting. In Part Three, Gulliver visits several islands, among them a country where science and mathematics is revered, a country were the dead can be conjured, and a country in which some inhabitants are immortal. In Part Four, Gulliver is stranded in the land of the Houyhnhnms, a very cultured horse-people, and is startled to see how brutish the human Yahoos seem in comparison (Yes, that’s partly where the name of the search engine comes from – almost insulting, isn’t it? I highly approve, that’s just my type of humor 🙂 ). Anyway, this is a fun read I can recommend to anyone looking for a good traditional seafaring adventure, a bit of critique on humanity and, frankly, lots of fecal humor.
The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton (3.5/5 Stars)
Just like Leslye Walton’s debut The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, this story was dark, lyrical, and beautifully atmospheric, though it didn’t manage to capture me in quite the same way Ava Lavender did. I still enjoyed it, but it’s not a new favorite like I was hoping it might be.
The book follows Nor Blackburn, who lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest and comes from a family of cursed witches. However, Nor hopes to leave all of that behind and live a relatively normal, unremarkable life. But when a mysterious book of black magic comes out and Nor’s abusive, crazy mother suddenly reenters into the picture, Nor realizes that may not be possible. A storm is brewing, and Nor has to figure out how to deal with it.
Overall, this is a beautifully written book that thrives on atmosphere and suspense, and, although I had hoped for a bit more from the ending, a solid read.
Circe by Madeline Miller (2.5/5 Stars)
This book took me forever to finish – I started it at the beginning of September and was instantly enthralled by the lyrical writing. However, then I went on my trip to Russia and didn’t take it with me. When I came back, I wasn’t really in the mood for it, and then university started again. So by the time I picked it back up, it was Christmas break. I got back into the story easily, and I still really loved the writing – But: I also expected the plot to pick up as I read on, and it didn’t.
Basically, this is a story of Circe’s everyday life, especially after she was exiled to her island by the Olympic Gods. The problem for me was, I think, that I’m extremely familiar with Greek and Latin mythology and that all the stories told in here weren’t new to me. I went to a school with a strong classical focus, studied Latin for five years, and translated some of these stories myself. I loved Greek and Latin myths as a kid and my parents read lots of them to me. I was therefore really excited about seeing this material reworked into a novel, but for me, Circe didn’t do anything special. It didn’t add to the stories I already knew but basically put them to paper unchanged, though in an extremely slow, unemotional style that I didn’t find particularly engaging.
Maybe if you aren’t already as familiar with it, this story will prove more exciting, but I was soon pretty bored reading it. Still, this is a huge bestseller, so I’m probably in the minority with that opinion. Let me know what you think if you’ve read this!
Roomies by Christina Lauren (4/5 Stars)
Christina Lauren are my go-to authors when I need something light, fluffy, smutty, and intellectually non-challenging to read and relax with, and I was not disappointed with this one. It was exactly what I was looking for 🙂
This story follows Holland Bakker, a writer who has never actually written anything and is currently working for her uncle, a famous Broadway director. Holland is captivated by the music of a street musician who plays guitar at a local subway station, and slowly develops a crush on him. Unable to muster the nerve to talk to him, she finally gets her chance when someone attacks her in the subway station, and Calvin comes to her rescue. Then, when a spot opens up in one of her uncle’s shows, Holland knows Calvin would be the perfect fit. She scores him and audition, and he nails it. There is just one problem: Calvin, an Irish immigrant, is in the US illegally, meaning he can’t work. To solve the conundrum, Holland has the perfect solution – why not get married? Only as a sham, of course – they can live together platonically and get divorced at some point. At least, that’s how she pitches her idea to Calvin.
Of course, nothing works out as simply as Holland imagines, and lots of chaos and cuteness ensues. I had a great time with this one!
And that was it for my December wrap-up! If you’ve read any of these books, feel free to tell me what you thought of them! Also, keep your eyes peeled for my favorite and least favorite books of the year lists! 😉