Weekly Reading List #5: Ships, Shadows and Little Fires Everywhere

I know, I know, it’s not so much ‘weekly’ as ‘sporadically’ at the moment. I’ve had a couple of weeks when I couldn’t really read anything because I had no brain due to my internal organs falling apart.

But I’m back on track, so here’s the latest reading list update.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This one was sent to me by the publisher for review, so it gets its own post. However, I’m not allowed to post the review until the 14th of November, so save the date! And in the meantime, here’s a sneak preview: I liked it a lot.

S. by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst

I didn’t want to open this one because it had a cool seal across the front. And once I’d made myself break the seal and open the book, I really really wanted to like it because it was fucking expensive. I added it to my basket when I bought House of Leaves, which had been very highly recommended on Reddit but which I ended up hating. So it was with some trepidation that I opened S., or Ship of Theseus as it’s otherwise known.

Like House of Leaves, it’s a story within a story. The main story is a novel in which a man has amnesia and is desperately trying to remember who he is and what he stands for, all the while trying to dodge the dangers around him and navigate through a world filled with complex politics and life-threatening situations. Who are his friends? Who are his enemies? How can he tell?

Alongside the main text, two academics are having a discussion about the book using notes in the margins. V.M. Straka, the author of Ship of Theseus, is a controversial figure and no one is really sure who he is. The academics are working to find out, but they too are being drawn into a dangerous situation. As their feelings for each other grow, their desperation to solve the mystery of the novel’s true provenance and meaning grow in turn.

It is difficult to read this book in the bath (my personal favourite reading place) because of all the little bits of paper that pop out of the pages and end up floating on the water like accidental origami boats.

I stuck at it for about three weeks before I gave up. Bear in mind that it normally would take me about an hour and a half to finish a book of this size; perhaps you could double that total since there are two separate storylines to consider. I kept picking it up, reading it for a while, then putting it down. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to read anything else until I’d finished it. I told myself it was fun, like playing a game; and sometimes it was. But it was just so much work.

I may go back to it at some point in the future, and if I do then I’ll probably read the whole novel (i.e. Ship of Theseus) in one go, and then return to the start and read all the notes between the academics. For now, however, it just feels like too much effort to be worth it. I did enjoy it more than House of Leaves, mainly because it felt less silly storyline-wise, but it’s still certainly an acquired taste.

If you liked House of Leaves, you’ll probably like this; also I think it would probably suit gamers. I’m not sure why I think that, not being one myself, but perhaps partly because it felt a bit like playing a game with the characters. A tiring game, though, and one from which I retired long before I’d finished the book.

Shadows by Paula Weston

While I am very aware that good books can come in all genres, I rarely meet a fantasy book I enjoy. I think it’s because of the suspension of disbelief that’s required: I just can’t make myself believe in vampires or magic or demons or angels. I also find that a lot of fantasy books don’t build their worlds convincingly enough, or require a lot of imaginative input from the reader, and frankly I’m too lazy to bother with that.

There are exceptions: I love Harry Potter, and I’ve enjoyed one or two other fantasy books over the years. But they are very much the exception rather than the rule.

Shadows by Paula Weston focuses on the story of Gaby, whose twin brother was killed in a horrific accident. She moved away to start a new life, and has been trying to get over his death ever since. She’s been making progress, but in the meantime she’s been having nightmares in which she has to fight evil demonic-looking creatures.

And then a character from her nightmares shows up in real life.

Gaby is confused: whom should she trust? What should she do next? Is anything she remembers about her old life real?

It’s actually pretty good. I didn’t hate it, which means it must be better than average for fantasy-based fiction, and it’s also quite an easy read. It’s the first in a series, and if I happened across the next one I’d probably pick it up.

99 Red Balloons by Elisabeth Carpenter

Your classic twisted family whodunnit, 99 Red Balloons follows the story of eight-year-old Grace’s worried parents when she disappears. As their lives unravel around them, Emma and her husband are forced to confront the issues shaking the foundations of their marriage, and Emma’s relationship with her sister Stephanie changes beyond all recognition.

Meanwhile, far away in another part of the country, elderly widow Maggie Taylor thinks she sees the face of her long-lost daughter staring out at her from a newspaper. But that can’t be true… can it?

This book kept me guessing and I was thrilled by its twists and turns. Not the best whodunnit I’ve ever read, but certainly a good read if you’re into thrilling novels.

Monster In The Closet by Karen Rose

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I enjoy Karen Rose’s books because you know exactly what you’ll be getting before you even open the first page, and Monster in the Closet is no exception.

All her life, Taylor Dawson has grown up afraid of her father, a terrifying monster of a man whose goal is to harm her – or so she’s always believed. Now a young adult, she crosses the country to locate him and face her fears; and in the process, gets swept up in the life of a little girl who witnessed her mother’s murder and is now under threat from the killer.

In a world where monsters seem to be around every corner, Taylor must decide whom to trust. And once she’s done that, she’ll need to make some big decisions about her future: decisions that could uproot her whole life and hurt those she loves most.

Karen Rose’s inimitable writing returns with Monster in the Closet, which will make you feel like you’re having a cup of tea with an old friend – albeit one who’s talking about monsters.

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