Happy Friday, everyone!
Can you believe five months of 2021 have already come and gone? Much like in 2020, the fact that I haven’t really been able to go anywhere has completely warped my sense of time, so even though I feel like we’ve been under lockdown forever, I’m still wondering where all those months went 😅 Time can’t fly by like this, I need it to work on my thesis! Especially now that my computer is not cooperating!
Speaking of COVID, though: I finally got my first vaccine!! Even though my arm feels like it’s about to drop off as I’m writing this, I couldn’t feel more thrilled! Two days ago, I was still expecting to have to wait at least another two months, but then, just as my flatmates [Or apartment-mates? Probably not, that sounds absolutely awful… Does flatmates have an American English equivalent? 🤔] and I were about to start eating lunch, the doorbell rang. We were all mystified, since none of us had ordered anything that might have arrived by mail and obviously, we weren’t expecting company.
But then it turned out to be my dad with the news that we had one hour to drive back home to our family doctor if I wanted a vaccine! Apparently, there had been a delivery mix-up, which meant that my relatively small hometown now had a ton of BioNTech/Pfizer serum they had to get rid of quickly, so that our doctor was able to vaccinate every single person on the waiting list. Obviously, I dropped everything immediately and jumped in the car. And now here I am, relatively sore but extremely happy! 😊
But let’s get back to books! Despite having a ton of work to do, I actually got quite a bit of reading done this past month. And guys – I don’t think I’ve ever had a reading month like this one!! Seriously, I read SO MANY good books 😍😍😍 I honestly think I got pickier and pickier with my ratings as the month went on because almost everything I read was pretty dang close to five stars and raised my standards astronomically… So be prepared for some great recommendations! 😁
Also, let’s just say May is a testament to the fact that I have absolutely no reading tastes. I read books from a hodge-podge of different genres and age categories, so yeah – there should be something for almost anyone among these 😉 Feel free to skip ahead to the ones that interest you!
Loveless by Alice Oseman (4/5 Stars)
Even though I rated the Heartstopper graphic novels higher, this is probably my favorite Alice Oseman book yet. It was relatable on so many levels and had an abundance of things I absolutely love to see in books, such as extremely well-written friendships, a college setting, and lots of Shakespeare!
The story follows 18-year-old Georgia Warr, who has just graduated from secondary school and is about to start her first year at Durham University. Georgia is a hopeless romantic, obsessed with anything Disney and possibly more-than-healthy amounts of slash fanfiction, and she’s been planning her wedding in her head for years. The only problem – Georgia has never been in love, never kissed anyone, never even had a crush. She desperately wishes that she was like everyone else, for whom love seems to be so easy. So, at university, Georgia and her new roommate Rooney make a plan. A plan that is supposed to help Georgia find the romance she’s always been searching for.
This book was funny, sad, inspiring, and definitely something I would recommend, especially to other college-age readers. Georgia and her struggles were so well-written, and I think it really showed that this book is own voices. The asexual representation was excellent and handled with a lot of nuance, and I really hope this book paves the way for similar novels in the future!
My only point of criticism is that this book made it seem like Georgia pretty much never thought about anything other than not being in a relationship and her sexual identity. Even when she was spending time with her friends, performing Shakespeare, or exploring Durham, love was the main thing on her mind. I mean, everybody is different, and maybe this issue really was such a big deal to Georgia that she couldn’t focus on other things. But since this is also a novel about starting university, meeting new people, and growing up, I would have liked if those things had also gotten a bit more attention. The academic aspect of university was rarely mentioned at all, and unless British universities are vastly different from German ones, I fail to see how the insane workload and harder subjects would not be something Georgia also had to struggle with initially…
Still, I loved this book, and would highly recommend checking it out if it sounds at all up your alley!
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (3.5/5 Stars)
(Original Russian title: Преступление и наказание; I read the German version, Schuld und Sühne, as translated by Hermann Röhl)
I’ve been wanting to get into Russian classics for a while now, but always postponed those plans in hopes of one day being able to read them in Russian. However, after it took me almost two entire months to get through Умная собачка Соня, I figured I would probably be around fifty by the time I got that far 😅 So a translation it was! I actually started reading an English one on Scribd at first, but then discovered that
a) my parents had a physical copy at home and
b) the German translation was actually way better. [I suspect this might be due to German and Russian being more similar grammatically than English and Russian are, but maybe the German translator was also just more talented 😂]
So about 50 pages in, I switched languages, and started over.
And overall, I must say that I was very surprised by how much I liked this, considering that this book is basically 800 pages of a man walking around St. Peterburg and wondering if he should feel bad about committing a double murder. Sure, parts of it were a bit boring, but the psychological insight into Raskolnikov’s mind was super interesting! And I loved getting to know the people of 19th century St. Peterburg better.
Also, the murder scene itself!! 🤗🤗 It was so good!! I don’t know what exactly it says about me that I fascinated by Raskolnikov hacking away at a fellow human being with an axe, but there you are…
However, apart from some of the boring passages, one other thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the portrayal of women in this book, especially Raskolnikov’s sister Avdotya and our “heroine”, Sonya. They were just too perfect and forgiving, and I couldn’t stand it 🙄 Couldn’t they at least have had some flaws? As psychologically interesting as the men were, the women were completely bland and pretty much your stereotypical “angel of the house” – the important ones, anyway.
So yeah, my overall verdict? Dostoyevsky is certainly worth reading, but you do need to take things slowly and really let the story sink in. You need to be prepared for things to get boring at times. Don’t expect a lot of plot, but if you like character-driven stories, this one might be worth checking out!
Anyway, I really want to try something by Tolstoy next, to see how they compare. I’m thinking maybe Anna Karenina? Let me know if you’ve already read something by Tolstoy and have a favorite that I should check out first 😉
Dunkelnacht by Kirsten Boie (5/5 Stars)
(As far as I’m aware, this book has not been translated into English. The German title means “Dark Night”)
Kirsten Boie is the author of some of my absolute favorite German children’s books, so I was very intrigued when I saw this new book that I had never heard of before lying around in our living room. My mom had apparently bought it a short while ago, and she said it was really, really good – and most definitely NOT a children’s book.
And I completely agree with her. This book is amazing, but probably also one of the most horrific things I have ever read. Based on a real historical event, this novella tells the story of what happened in a small Bavarian town called Penzberg between April 28th and April 29th, 1945, right after the news broke that the Americans had successfully invaded Germany. Full of hope, those citizens who had never seen eye to eye with Nazi ideals decided to take their town back and welcome the US army with open arms. The war was lost, so why should they do what had been ordered and destroy anything that might fall into the hands of the enemy? They were excited for peace, excited for a life after the war.
But Nazi superiors didn’t see it that way. Even though Penzberg’s NSDAP mayor was prepared to hand over power, the military said traitors needed to be punished. So they asked the townspeople to put anyone who had been acting suspiciously on a list. And the entire town looked away as their former friends and neighbors, whom they themselves had just handed in, were brutally slaughtered overnight.
Dunkelnacht is an extremely brutal story, that in nevertheless told with a lot of insight and nuance – which is partly due to the many perspectives it combines. There’s the town mayor. The former mayor, who was sent to a concentration camp for having “communist” ideals and had returned to Penzberg only a short while ago. Two teenagers who might be falling in love with one another. A young boy desperate to prove himself to the Nazis and show he is not a traitor like his father. Ordinary townspeople. Nazi lieutenants. All these perspectives combine in the form of a sort of military-style log to paint the picture of a town that turned on its own people and has tried to erase its history ever since.
It’s really good. If you speak German, I advise you to read this.
Midnight Never Come (4.5/5 Stars) and In Ashes Lie (3/5 Stars) (The Onyx Court #1 and #2) by Marie Brennan
The Onyx Court is a historical fantasy series set during different time periods in British history, the premise being that deep beneath the streets of London, there is a hidden court of faeries whose politics are heavily entwined with those of humans. I had never heard of it before, but Line @First Line Reader said I had to read it, so obviously, I listened 😁
And Line was right – this was completely up my alley! The first book, Midnight Never Come, I absolutely adored 🥰 Set in the Elizabethan era and told from the alternating perspectives of a human named Deven and a disgraced faerie named Lune, the book has plenty of politics, intrigue, mystery, disguises, and a dash of romance. I was completely hooked, and once I realized that there were also a bunch of references to Renaissance drama, I was in love 😍😍😍
Everything within me was itching to give Midnight Never Come five stars, but there was this voice in the back of my head that kept telling me I did have one issue with it: namely that characters don’t have to work very hard to obtain highly classified information. There is a bunch of intrigue, back-stabbing, and betrayal, characters don’t really know who they can trust, and then, just by asking one random person, they immediately find out who can tell them what they need to know and then find that person and get them to talk with no trouble at all? It didn’t seem very believable. So grudgingly, I’m going to dock half a star.
Then, however, came In Ashes Lie… And I did like it! It’s just that, after Midnight Never Come, it was also a bit of a disappointment.
I think part of the reason I initially struggled was that this takes place a century after the events of Midnight Never Come, in the years leading up to the Great Fire of London in 1666 – which meant that all the human characters I had grown to love in the previous book were long dead. The faeries, who are immortal, were still around, but even with new human characters, it just felt like something was missing. I never truly connected to our second main character Antony – I did like his wife and Jack, though! – and felt a lot of the character-drivenness we had had in the first installment was pushed aside for history lessons in this one. There were passages upon passages reflecting on Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, the monarchy vs. the Commonwealth, the role of Parliament in politics – and I was bored 😅 Let’s just say that if you have a degree in English literature, you’ve probably already studied all of this extensively, and don’t need a recap that doesn’t add any new, story-relevant information…
Also, I felt like Marie Brennan wasted so many great opportunities she had set up for in book one! Take Vidar, for example – in Midnight Never Come, he was mysterious, intriguing, and you never really knew what his true motives were. In In Ashes Lie, he turned into a super bland plot device with no ulterior motives whatsoever 🙄
Still, I do really like where this story is going and how the author managed to intertwine history and fantasy in such a unique way. And since all the books are available on Scribd, I think I’ll probably be continuing on with A Star Shall Fall pretty soon 😁
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (4/5 Stars)
I found this book in my parents’ attic while on the hunt for Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game – which both my mom and dad swear we have and which I desperately want to read because it inspired The Betrayals! Alas, my search is still ongoing, but in the meantime, Walk Two Moons definitely wasn’t a bad alternative!
This is a middle-grade novel following 13-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, who is currently on a road trip with her grandparents. While in the car, she tells them about her friend Phoebe Winterbottom, and as the two storylines intertwine, we slowly get to know more about Sal’s own life. Why she and her father left their farm and moved across the country to a bigger city. What happened to Sal’s mother. Who the mysterious lunatic that Phoebe and Sal have been stalking for a while now is. What Phoebe’s mother’s secret is. How Sal’s grandparents met.
I absolutely loved the way this was written – the prose had so much depth to it, and you couldn’t help but root for Sal and laugh at her escapades. There were sad scenes. Funny scenes. Heart-warming scenes. Plot-wise, there isn’t really a whole lot that happens, but if you like character-driven books, this one’s for you!
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (5/5 Stars)
How, you may ask, did I get a degree in English Literature without ever reading To Kill a Mockingbird or knowing any details of what it was about? I’m not really sure, either 😅 [In my defense, my focus was on British, not American, literature, so maybe that excuses it? 🤪] Suffice it to say, when I was hunting through my parents’ bookshelves in search of something new to read and ran across this one, I thought I might as well try it.
And boy, was I surprised! I’d heard a ton of people mention with little enthusiasm that they had to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school, so I figured it was probably one of those literary classics that dealt with a bunch of important themes, but was written in a super dry, uninteresting style. Sure, people mentioned this as one of the greatest American novels ever written – but Absalom, Absalom! was also on that list, and I absolutely detested that 😅
So I was definitely not expecting to fall head over heels in love with this book! And yet, that’s exactly what happened. To Kill A Mockingbird didn’t quite top The Betrayals, but right now, it’s a very strong contender for my second-favorite book of the year 🥰
For everyone as uneducated as I was: To Kill a Mockingbird is set in southern Alabama during the Great Depression, at the height of the US Jim Crow era. It is told through the eyes of eight-year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, whose father, Atticus, has been asked to defend a Black man accused of raping a white woman in court.
But the court case, while central to the novel, is not actually what this book is mainly about. Instead, it is a story about siblings, about growing up, about friendship. It’s a story about right and wrong, and how the boundary between them might not always be as simple as it seems. It’s about being a hot-headed young girl who’s a bit of tomboy. It’s a love letter to the American South, as well as an appeal for change. Honestly, as someone who grew up in northern Florida, parts of this book had me feeling extremely nostalgic for my childhood, while others filled me with sadness that some of the issues discussed in here still aren’t even close to solved.
Why exactly I loved it so much, I couldn’t say. I think it was a combination of things. The nuance with which important topics like racism were explored from the innocent perspective of a child. Scout herself, fiery and headstrong. The writing and absolutely wonderful narrative voice of this book. The way To Kill a Mockingbird pointed out some of the most awful characteristics of a society and still gave you hope that things might one day change.
For once, I agree with the critics. This book is excellent.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (4.5/5 Stars)
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle [or, if you’re from the US, where the book was renamed to avoid confusing it with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle] had been on my radar for quite a while, so when it popped up on my Scribd feed, I knew I immediately had to read it!
The book follows our protagonist – Their name is mentioned in the synopsis, but I thankfully didn’t read that before starting the book, since, in my opinion, the name is actually quite a big spoiler! – as they wake up in a series of different host bodies and relive the same day over and over again to solve a murder mystery. Our protagonist has no memory of their past life, no clue who they really are, but they do discover one thing fairly early on: They aren’t the only one trying to solve the mystery, and if someone else figures out the solution before they do, they’ll be stuck in this time loop forever.
Overall, I loved this book! It took me a while to really get into it, but once things really started going, I was totally hooked! The author himself mentioned in a note at the end of the book that he grew up devouring Agatha Christie novels and that The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was his way of paying homage to the Queen of Crime. And I definitely see the similarities! This book was intricately plotted; the way the puzzles pieces fit together absolutely ingenious.
Still, I think Agatha Christie does it slightly better. When you finish an Agatha Christie novel, you almost always think, Now that you mention it, that’s actually really obvious. How could I not have seen that? And I did partially have that here as well, but not completely. Not all of the clues were mentioned in a way that made them particularly noticeable, so that when they turned out to be important, I didn’t remember that some of them even existed. Which isn’t bad, per se, but I just love having that “How could I have been so blind!” moment! Here, it was more like “Well, no wonder you didn’t catch that detail, the protagonist never even wondered about it, either.” But, I mean, Stuart Turton still has plenty of time to practice, and if he ends up writing as many books as Agatha Christie, I certainly wouldn’t mind 😁
Also, can I just mention that this book tied in really interesting philosophical elements that had to do with our protagonist being in this time loop? I would have loved a bit more background on that, although I do also kind of like how it left a lot of room for interpretation.
Anyway, I’d totally recommend this one to my fellow mystery fans!
A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses #4) by Sarah J. Maas (2.5/5 Stars)
Reading Sarah J. Maas’s books, especially the more recent ones, is kind of like watching a really bad singer perform on stage. You cringe, get flooded with second-hand embarrassment, but somehow, you can’t look away. And maybe you laugh about the performance with your friends afterwards.
And, I mean, it’s not like I was expecting a literary masterpiece when going into this. I knew it was going to be smutty, I knew there would be lots of fae males growling and snarling at traumatized
women females they couldn’t wait to get into bed with. However, this book managed to surpass my wildest expectations. There was SO MUCH SEX 😳😳😳 In fact, Nesta and Cassian didn’t even manage to have a single meaningful conversation, because the moment they started talking to one another, they would get so horny that they started tearing each other’s clothes off in a matter of seconds.
And don’t even get me started on the other characters! “Feminist icon” Rhysand turned into an over-protective egomaniac, Feyre watched it all happen with adoring eyes, Elain was the biggest wallflower ever, and Mor and Amren made a few rare appearances to tell Nesta how much they hated her. Thank the Cauldron that Azriel, Gwyn and Emerie were in this, because they were pretty much the only things about this book I genuinely liked.
As for plot – well, there wasn’t really a lot of it. As I already said, most of the book consisted of smut. But, boy, the plot we did get had some pretty gaping holes! The Night Court’s foreign policy makes every world leader ever look like a genius in comparison. People started hacking each other into pieces in a competition that required teamwork and allowed loads of winners. It was bizarre…
And yet, I didn’t give this one star. Because, guys, it was just so freaking funny! I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time I was reading it, which made this reading experience so enjoyable that I can’t help but give it 1.5 extra stars. A Court of Silver Flames definitely passed the “so ridiculous it’s actually kind of good again”-threshold. I mean, I had so much to say on that I probably wrote the longest spoilery review that I’ve ever written for this very book 😂
So yeah, those were my two cents on ACOSF. I’m really sorry if you love this series and I just grievously offended you, but these are only my opinions, remember? If you love this book and thought it was amazing, you do you!
And that, my friends, brings us to the end of this insanely long wrap-up. I just had a lot of thoughts, okay? 😁
Anyway, I’d love to hear your opinions on any of these books that you’ve read, or if you’re planning to pick some of them up in the future! Which of these do you think sounds the most interesting? What do you think I should read next? I would love for you to tell me down in the comments!