Books read September – December 2015

I started writing at-the-time reviews for books I read well before 2015, but in late 2015 I was falling well behind on my review-writing, so rather than holding off on putting a book on Goodreads (I’d only update the status to “Read” once I had a review to post for the book) I just declared review-writing-bankruptcy and went through these books without writing reviews for them. So here are the books I read from September to December of 2015, and the thoughts I have on them now.

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Series: The Handmaid's Tale #1
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
Released: January 1, 1985
Pages: 311
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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now . . .

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

Back when I read it, The Handmaids Tale was much, much less well known than it has become after the release of the television series (I know, I know. I’m just that cool). Fortunately I really liked it. I still haven’t watched the TV series (did I mention that I’m just that cool?), but from what I’ve heard about it, it seems like it is good in exactly the same ways I found good about the book. The Handmaid’s Tale is harsh, uncomfortable, poignant, and depressing. But it’s also a really good book, and while I’m a little more optimistic that those who think that society is on it’s way to become something like the one in this book, I certainly think it’s appropriate for this story to be invoked when society edges toward the philosophies or injustices described in the book.

Hollow CityHollow City by Ransom Riggs
Series: Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #2
Publisher: Quirk
Released: January 14, 2014
Pages: 428
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This second novel begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

Complete with dozens of newly discovered (and thoroughly mesmerising) vintage photographs, this new adventure will delight readers of all ages.

Hollow City is the second in the “Peculiar Children” series. Like the first one I enjoyed it very much: it has a nice fairytale feel to it, while still having a substantial story.

Finders KeepersFinders Keepers by Stephen King
Series: Bill Hodges Trilogy #2
Publisher: Scribner
Released: June 2, 2015
Pages: 448
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A masterful, intensely suspenseful novel about a reader whose obsession with a reclusive writer goes far too far—a book about the power of storytelling, starring the same trio of unlikely and winning heroes King introduced in Mr. Mercedes

“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.

Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.

Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever.

My expectations to Finders Keepers were as high as they are to any Stephen King book. However, Finders Keepers exceeded them. I’m quite a fan of the Bill Hodges trilogy – there is a lot about the series that appeals to me, and I thought this was the best book of the series.

Library of SoulsLibrary of Souls by Ransom Riggs
Series: Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #3
Publisher: Quirk
Released: September 22, 2015
Pages: 464
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A boy with extraordinary powers. An army of deadly monsters. An epic battle for the future of peculiardom.

The adventure that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls. As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all. Like its predecessors, Library of Souls blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.

Library of Souls was the final book in the Peculiar Children trilogy… until a film came out which seems to have prompted the continuation of it. Still, this was a satisfying apparently-not-the-end to the story. As the others, this is a proper story set in something which seems like a fairytale world, and I had a lot of fun reading it.

V for VendettaV for Vendetta by Alan Moore
Publisher: Warner Books
Released: May 1, 1990
Pages: 296
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A frightening and powerful tale of the loss of freedom and identity in a chillingly believable totalitarian world, V for Vendetta stands as one of the highest achievements of the comics medium and a defining work for creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

Set in an imagined future England that has given itself over to fascism, this groundbreaking story captures both the suffocating nature of life in an authoritarian police state and the redemptive power of the human spirit which rebels against it. Crafted with sterling clarity and intelligence, V for Vendetta brings an unequaled depth of characterization and verisimilitude to its unflinching account of oppression and resistance.

I’ve been inconsistent on whether to include comics in my book-reading record, but it felt appropriate to include V for Vendetta. It’s a fantastic story that should be included in all lists of great literature, and the comic-book medium really conveys the darkness of this story in a great way. This is one of those works I think everyone should read, both for the story itself, and also to challenge the preconception many people probably have about what comics are and aren’t.

Northern LightsNorthern Lights by Philip Pullman
Series: His Dark Materials #1
Publisher: Scholastic
Released: July 9, 1995
Pages: 399
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When Lyra's friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him.

The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where armoured bears rule the ice and witch-queens fly through the frozen skies - and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about.

Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her - something with consequences which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights...

In 2015 I finally decided to re-delve into the Dark Materials universe, and I’m pretty sure I’d read Northern Lights before, but had no memory of reading it. I’m glad that I picked it back up, and, as it would turn out, this first book is my favourite book of the trilogy. It’s a solid story – very obviously geared toward the younger spectrum of adult, but without feeling immature. It’s the building of a great world, and, more so than in the next two books, in this one the world felt inviting and magical. A good story is build upon the world, making this a really good book.

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