Hello and welcome to the blog! Thanks for sticking around through my break––school, as it tends to do, ramped way up just as I was finishing it! But, with my two-year associates degree (in science, of all things) behind me, I have a number of delightful reads from last month to share with you. Let’s dive in!
31. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
This last volume of Philip Pullman’s moving, expansive, magically scientific (and scientifically magical) His Dark Materials trilogy might be the best of all three books. I was wary about Pullman wandering into his universe’s pantheon in book two, but I ought not have been––The Amber Spyglass goes mind-bogglingly big in scale with its conflict and theme, but it handles it well, keeping the multiverse stuff to the deeply personal conflicts between characters His Dark Materials does best. In the least spoilery terms: Spyglass takes us into an intricate new universe whose mysteries can be untangled only through science, across a warped angelic empire, and into the afterlife and back, and every step of the journey feels utterly purposeful. I can’t wait to take it again when I watch the show. (Also, for those of you who’ve read it: Mary’s subplot is good. Fight me!)
32. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
Set on a Mississippi estate, 1955’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof follows the disillusioned children (and children-in-law) of a dying cotton magnate as they vie for the inheritance. I actually read this play a few years ago for a book club and hated it, but now, I can see some of its merits, even if they don’t totally illuminate it in a positive light. I can appreciate, for example, how Tennessee Williams tackles mortality and materialism and internalized homophobia…while also holding my reservations about how little he does to undermine the racism he depicts on the page. I’m glad I re-read it, especially in an academic setting (with my English class!), but as for enjoying it? That’s a different story.
33. Control by Lydia Kang
Control’s world is a lovely 2013 YA sci-fi number with all the bells and whistles: a semi-gritty futuristic setting where high-tech meets a corporate criminal underbelly, plenty of lab work, and a superpowered found family. If you live for that stuff, Control will be a familiar treat, but it has a secret boon for all those who seek heavy science in their sci-fi: Kang, a practicing physician, uses the gory details to her advantage. (Control, as a title, refers actually to the feature of experimental design 🥰.) In the plot department, though, Control struggles. The climax and conclusion are messy and keep the book from landing on its feet––ditto for the faceless antagonists and various interchangeable henchmen who appear only for the big fight at the end. Kang certainly does her best to tap into her story’s thrills, but the sleek face of evil in Control only has so much menace.
34. Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
Set after the overthrow of King Richard II, this play kicks off a duology ostensibly about his replacement, Henry IV…but actually about the young ne’er-do-well prince, Hal. Where some of Shakespeare’s other history plays are more consistently somber, Henry IV, Part 1 is a crowd-pleasing balancing act between the heavy drama of (yet another!) uprising and the raucous comedy of Prince Hal’s drunken exploits. Your mileage with the comedy may very, but if it happens to work for you, it’s a warm anchor to a delicious overplot of courtly intrigue. If, like I did on my first go-round, you find yourself getting impatient with the play’s long-winded comic relief character, Falstaff, get your hands on a taped (or real-life!) production: this humor, especially, is best absorbed in performance.
35. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Following the events of Maggie Stiefvater’s paranormal fantasy, The Raven Boys, Gansey, a young scholar obsessed, is still on the hunt for the legendary Welsh king Glendower. Blue Sargent is still sitting on a prophecy that bodes a kiss that will kill her true love. And Ronan Lynch has just started using a deadly magic to pull things out of his dreams. In line with the series’ first installment, Stiefvater again sets up a careful use of foils for a potent character study––this time of Ronan––but owing to a fumbling of tone with an important supporting character, this one doesn’t cut nearly as deep as its predecessor. But among The Dream Thieves’ familiar charms are haunting visuals, witty and self-aware prose, and a mythic focus, all of which manage to give this volume a lot of what made The Raven Boys so special to begin with.
36. Exo by Fonda Lee
Fonda Lee’s YA take on extraterrestrial occupation is as thoughtful as it is bracing. Exo is set a century after Earth becomes a colony of the hyper-hierarchical zhree, and it follows a young loyalist security officer, Donovan, as he discovers his buried ties to the human rebellion. Lee’s stark, cinematic prose style makes Exo read like a high-caliber summer blockbuster, but this book has its thrilling cake and eats it, too. Lee looks at everything from the class disparity under occupation to the human cost of violent resistance, and Exo emerges from the scrutiny with more questions than answers, rich in nuance and all the better for it. The ensemble, however, is too numerous for Exo’s available page time, and much of it languishes in character soup. Two major family dynamics for Donovan carry a lot of weight, but both feel shirked by a few important beats.
37. Small Favors by Erin A. Craig
Small Favors is fantasy-horror scribe Erin A. Craig’s sophomore work, following the sea-drenched, wind-swept gothic vibes of House of Salt and Sorrows (reviewed here) with a rustic, something-in-the-woods approach to her signature chills. With more darkness coming from our main characters’ neighbors than from any sinister magic, and a much less romantic frontier setting, Small Favors is a very different book, but I found myself engrossed in it even more. Craig uses her setting to make extremely salient commentary on how hardship makes people turn on one another, and the darker undertones to her choice of love story serve to deepen it and make it more memorable. The monster reveal, too, is always a delicate dance in a work of horror, but whatever terror her concept loses in coming into the light is more than made up for in resonance.
38. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
First thing’s first: Matt Haig’s cheesy as hell. But here, it works to his advantage. How to Stop Time stars the functionally immortal Tom Hazard, who’s found himself detached from humanity after centuries of loss and secrecy…until he meets the person who will prove to be the second love of his life. Weaving through history, the book probably has its most fun in flashbacks: Elizabethan England, Jazz-Age Paris, Gilded-Age New York. Where Haig runs into trouble is when he tries to bring a secret society and its accompanying life-and-death stakes to a book he’s committed to steering away from darker territory: every time a gun is pulled in How to Stop Time, it’s a moment of overpowering whiplash. Still, the book’s sincerity lands what it most needs to say––that we can’t shy away from pain, that there’s always more to learn and live for––and does so beautifully.
39. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published in 1968, A Wizard of Earthsea opens Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, tracing the many voyages of a young sorcerer as he grows into his power. Le Guin’s worldbuilding, first of all, is top-tier: Earthsea comes alive in a totally different way every time we dock at one of its distinctive islands. Filled with tradition, illuminated by a magic system that strikes the perfect balance between order and mystery, and making liberal use of the natural world and its power, this book’s settings are among fantasy’s best. But the execution in this first book, as much as I can appreciate its ideas, is mixed. Its episodic structure makes it difficult for the story to achieve unity, with the lead, Ged’s, character arc feeling more like a set of ideas than a manifest progression of personal change. The prose, though, makes it feel like a gift anyway.
Thank you so much for reading! How was your April in books? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below 💕