The monthly book round-up is going to be a regular column on my blog. I’ve often been told that I have a rather unusual ability to read at ridiculous speeds (You mean it’s not normal to go through a book in a single day?) so I am going to put that to use here. I won’t be mentioning every book I read, but definitely the ones that stand out to me. Just a warning, I have very unusual taste in books, so the books will likely be all over the map. I also have a tendency to read multiple books at the same time as my mood affects what type of book I feel like reading at the moment. I always like book suggestions so if you have any, send them my way!
Red Rising – Pierce Brown (Red Rising Book #1)
I am at a loss of what category to put this book in, is it teen fantasy? Is it Adult Science Fiction? Not sure about this one. The author himself has come out to say that it is not a YA (young adult) novel and yet it inexplicably reads like one. In fact I’ve started the second book now and it seems to be following the general progression of most YA trilogies. The first book, usually on a smaller scale (often set in a school-like environment) has a more local plot with mostly young characters, then it all expands in the second book. Suddenly these young people are charged with solving the fate of their world. Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent, they all follow this same sort of pattern. However, in terms of the violence and brutality, it’s almost on par with Game of Thrones. So I rest, unable to put this book in either category.
The good; I think Brown does a good job of world building, the book is set in a far futuristic world with classes of colours (like actual primary colours, Pink, Blue, Red, not traditional skin colour) on the colonized planets around earth. This sounds a little bizarre when you try to explain it to someone but he does a good job of setting up the world and explaining the history. He also does a good job building up his characters, he doesn’t idolize them, he makes them real. All the characters have flaws and strengths and the main character, Darrow, is quite complex. He struggles between his attachments to his friends and his duty and never totally chooses one over the other. The other thing I have to commend Brown on is his ability to kill off characters. I read an interview with him where he said he chose one of the characters to kill by pulling names out of a hat. He didn’t really want to kill that person but went with it anyway. This is one way he goes more Game of Thrones than YA, don’t assume your favourite characters will survive.
The not so good; Here’s where YA fantasy has been a victim of its own success (yes I’m back to referring to the book as YA). There have been so many YA fantasy books that all follow the same general pattern that it’s starting to get repetitive. Because this series is more recent it doesn’t have the advantage of being one of the first, it just feels familiar and not particularly original. That being said, I’ve read a lot more books than most people so if you’re a more casual reader you may not experience this same feeling.
Overall; I give this book a good rating, it’s entertaining and interesting, but it won’t knock your socks off.
Longbourn – Jo Baker
When I first heard about this book I was pumped, a mix of Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey? What could possibly go wrong? And it didn’t go wrong per se, but it didn’t really go right either. I loved the idea of Pride and Prejudice from the servants angle, and I liked how the book followed the path of the original, but it all just seemed a bit depressing. I get where Baker was going with it, trying to paint a more realistic picture of what life would have really been like at the time, but it just came off rather melancholy.
Jane Austen had such a lovely writing style, it was breezy and light and yet managed to convey so much depth and emotion. This book just didn’t hit the mark in tone. In Downton Abbey, the servants have a much more difficult life than those upstairs and yet they all seem to maintain a pride in their life and their work, an optimism of the future. In Longbourn, Baker seems to lose sight of that, and we’re left with just the hard work. That’s not to say there wasn’t anything good about it, just at the end it left me with a general feeling of meh. Baker did do a good job of building up the romance and longing and as mentioned she did do a good job a paralleling the story with the events of pride and prejudice but I can’t give it more than a rating of okay.
The Taming of the Queen – Philippa Gregory
I must preface this review with the fact that I’m a big Philippa Gregory fan, I think I’ve read almost all of her books, at least all the ones set in the Tudor time period. This book takes the perspective of Kateryn Parr, the 6th and final wife of Henry the 8th. I didn’t know too much about Kateryn Parr before reading the book, usually wives one and two (Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon) get all the attention. What I love about Gregory is how much historical research she puts into all her books, you’re reading fiction based on real people and real events. Obviously she has to add a lot of character and context to the stories, but it’s a different sort of feel reading about a real person.
There’s usually a lot of drama and intrigue in her books, Henry the 8th does have a habit of disposing of his wives after all. This one centred a lot on religious reform in England which is why I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as some of her previous books. It was quite a dramatic history of going back and forth between the Catholic Church and the Church of England, but it’s just not as interesting of a subject to me. So I give it an overall rating of good. I will I’m sure still read the next book she comes out with, this one is just not my favourite.