Recent Reads – April to July 2019

The hardest part about reading is knowing when to stop.

This is obviously true when a gripping story threatens to keep you up well past your bedtime.  And all the more so in the midst of a book that is decidedly opposite to that.

The decision of whether to DNF (i.e. “did not finish”, using Goodreads parlance) is a complex one for me.

As a writer myself, I know some of the challenges involved in writing a novel, and thus want to stand in solidarity with my fellow wordsmiths by finishing their books.

As well, when not enjoying a book, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been reading it wrong.

On the whole, I’m confident in my opinions of stories, and can always give concrete reasons and evidence to support them.

For books that are widely popular, though, where my dislike is a massive outlier to the prevailing view of hundreds, if not thousands of other reviewers, this definitely weighs upon the DNF decision.

Sometimes I’m just the wrong target audience for a book, for example those of the Young Adult category.  One might think quitting such a book would be that much easier.

But it’s not, for knowing the story in question is not explicitly for me (and thus my chances of disliking it already so much higher from the outset), I feel a certain guilt because it’s not the author’s fault.  This makes me want to keep going as recompense (solidarity), as well as try to expand my horizons.

In addition, sometimes perhaps it’s not the book itself that’s bad but just the timing.  Like that time I tried to treat Guns, Germs, and Steel as a beach read. (Guns, Germs, and Steel, though fascinating, is most assuredly not a beach read.)

In cases like this, I might actually stop reading, but won’t have fully quit the book.  I’ll leave it on my Goodreads “currently reading” shelf to await a better time, and indeed do regularly pick books up again after a break.

Balancing the challenge

Ultimately, the thing that most often leads me to give up on a book is concern for my reading stats.

I tend to DNF more books during years when I take part in the Goodreads reading challenge (2015, 2016, 2017, and this year) because to indeed challenge myself (as well as out of some measure of vanity), I always target more books than I can comfortably read in a year.

An uninteresting book takes longer to read than an interesting one, so I usually can’t afford to stick it out if I want to complete the reading challenge successfully. (I want to complete the reading challenge successfully.)

Yet, just as often, I don’t decide to DNF soon enough, instead taking too long reading too far to turn back without losing ground in the challenge.  When this happens, I wind up just pressing on in spite of myself.

And so I also tend to read more books I would have otherwise quit during the Goodreads reading challenge, which seems to balance everything out quite nicely in the end.

I did DNF a couple of books this quarter.  But here are my partial reviews of the ones I did finish.  All of my full reviews can be found on Goodreads, with links and excerpts from 2018 and 2019 included in past blog posts.

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Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo
Genre: YA fantasy
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Six of Crows is a fantasy version of the Ocean’s movies (Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, etc.), and it is an unputdownable ride. From the very first page I was hooked and pulled along the fast-paced adventure…[.]  There is a real emotional maturity to the book that is not often found in YA novels[.]
Read the entire review

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Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein
Genre: YA Historical fiction
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Not much more that can be said about the plot without giving much of it away, but the book is an at times harrowing, at times heroic, tale of bravery, friendship, and survival amidst the hardship of the Second World War.  I did find the beginning a bit slow, for the authorial choice of having the narrator give her account from the point of view of [an entirely different character] is an inexplicable one. 
Read the entire review

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A Day in the Life of Ancient Athens
Hilary J. Deighton
Genre: Historical nonfiction
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A lot of ground is covered in its short 78 pages. It may be a bit too concise for someone without pre-existing knowledge about the Classical world, leaving them with more questions than it answers. For those already familiar, however, A Day in the Life of Ancient Athens adds great colour to one’s understanding and appreciation of the people of Classical Athens.
Read the entire review

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A Light of Her Own
Carrie Callaghan
Genre: Historical fiction
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I really liked the descriptions of Judith at work in her studio, preparing her supplies and creating works of art. I appreciated how the author showed her noticing the subtleties of light, shadow, and colour in everyday objects. So many books where the main character is supposed to be an artist don’t succeed in conveying this special way of seeing the world.  I do think this story could have been improved by a stronger overarching goal for Judith.
Read the entire review

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We Hunt the Flame
Hafsah Faizal
Genre: YA Fantasy
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I liked that this book featured a world inspired by Middle Eastern mythology, as for so long the fantasy genre has been dominated by western settings. However … [q]uest stories are generally very difficult to pull off…[.]  For the bulk of the plot there just wasn’t not enough action, nor was there enough depth to the characters to compensate for this[.]
Read the entire review

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Immigrant Women in Athens: Gender, Ethnicity, and Citizenship in the Classical City
Rebecca Futo Kennedy
Genre: Historical nonfiction
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This fascinating reference focuses on metics, a class of ancient Athenians who are discussed far less often than citizens, or even slaves, in popular representations of the time period….  [It] discusses at length the precariousness of metic women’s lives as they navigated the restrictions and standards of respectability imposed upon them as a double Other—both women and foreign[.]
Read the entire review

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(Image source #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7)

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