Here’s to a new reading year that will hopefully be better than the last one! Or not just hopefully – it’d better be better because I still have hundreds of classics left on my Staatsexamen reading list, and I should definitely have read a big portion of them before taking the exam this summer… Anyway, I’m keeping my hopes up, even if I only read four books this January – though I guess that’s still better than last year, when I read absolutely nothing apart from psychology textbooks in January. So maybe I’m off to a good start? Keeping my fingers crossed that these are only the first of many, here are the books I read so far this year:
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (3/5 Stars)
I loved Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, so I was beyond excited when I heard she had another book coming out – especially once I heard that it featured a secret underground library and a college-age protagonist. It sounded right up my alley and exactly like the whimsical winter read I was still missing. And at first, it was just that. I was sucked in immediately, engaged by Zachary Rawlins’ obsession with a mysterious book he found in his college library, the stories within that book, and my attempts to figure out how these stories were connected to Zachary’s everyday life. The writing was beautiful and whimsical, the plot alluring and fascinating, especially once we actually got to see said underground library. I was hooked, and sure this was going to be a five-star read for me – but then I hit the 80% mark, and things just got really, really weird. I’m not saying that the ending was bad per se, it just wasn’t one I personally found very satisfying. To me, it felt like this was just the beginning of what could have been a really great story and then it petered off into some strange meta-discourse that I didn’t really like anymore. If you’ve read this, you probably know what I’m talking about – and I’d be really interested to hear how you felt about it! I have a friend who read this and absolutely adored the ending, so I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, I’d still really recommend it to anyone looking for a whimsical book dealing with the philosophy of writing and storytelling!
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (3.5/5 Stars) and The Evolution of Mara Dyer (4/5 Stars) (Mara Dyer #1-2) by Michelle Hodkin
I avoided this series for ages because all I’d heard about it was that it was paranormal, had an unreliable narrator, and the love interest was a bad boy with a British accent. Somehow, that never struck me as particularly appealing – I imagined a Twilight-esque Holden Caulfield with influences from Pretty Little Liars‘ Wren, and nothing about that sounded remotely interesting. However, people whose bookish opinions I normally trust a lot kept pushing it at me, I was suddenly in the mood for some trashier paranormal fiction again (the stress of university can do that to you), and it popped up in my scribd recommended feed, so I thought I might as well give the first chapter a try – and I was hooked. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The story follows Mara Dyer, whose family moves to Florida after a former lunatic asylum collapses with Mara and three of her friends in it. Mara is the the sole survivor, but struggles with the accident’s aftermath, especially since she can’t remember what led up to it. She continues to have weird visions, and the feeling that her thoughts have more influence on the real world than they should have. The doctors tell her it’s just her PTSD, but Mara feels there’s more to it, and the only one who seems to listen is her new school’s British bad boy Noah Shaw – who turns out to not be a typical bad boy at all. Similarly, I wouldn’t really classify Mara as a typical unreliable narrator – yes, you can’t trust all her observations, but that’s only because Mara herself doesn’t know whether to trust them, and her confusion is transmitted through her narrative. She never once knowingly gives the reader wrong information, instead we discover things along with her. This story is mysterious and creepy (but without any vampires and werewolves), it features great sibling relationships, an ominous ex-boyfriend, and a compelling romance. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fast, somewhat spooky read!
Emma by Jane Austen (4/5 Stars)
I seem to have a thing with Jane Austen’s books where I really don’t like the beginning, but once I get into them, I start loving them. That’s what happened when I read Pride and Prejudice, and the same thing happened with Emma. At first Emma, annoyed me to no end, what with her absolute inability to keep her nose out of business that doesn’t concern her and her constant ill-fated attempts at matchmaking. But slowly, Emma and the town of Highbury grew on me. Even though I thought Emma’s decisions were often very stupid, I could understand why she made them, and I also really enjoyed seeing Emma having to face the consequences. She’s definitely one of the more interesting and flawed characters that I’ve read about in a while, and a character that shows superb development throughout the story. Basically, if I had to describe Emma in one word, I’d say it is a coming-of-age book, following a girl trying to find her position as a woman in a small Regency England town. But it’s also much more than that. It’s about friendship and family. About neighbors. About class. It’s funny. Mr. and Mrs. Elton irritated and amused me to no end, as did the hypochondriac tendencies of Emma’s father. I adored the banter between Emma and Mr. Knightley. I loved figuring out the true nature of things before Emma did, and the mistakes Emma made because of her inability to see the obvious. The proposal scene at the end was so adorable that I went back to read it physically at least twice (I listened to Emma as an audiobook on scribd, as part of my attempt to get extra reading time in on my commutes to and from university – though I can’t really recommend this particular audiobook because I thought the narrator’s voice was extremely annoying and different characters’ voices were hardly distinguishable from one another). I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good romantic classic!