Recent Reads – January to April 2020: On Good Reads vs. Should Reads

You might think I’m reading more because of the pandemic.

You would be wrong.

I am still working (from home) and my commute was only ever 15-20 minutes each way by bicycle.  Add in my past preparation time and I’m now probably saving at max an hour a day.

This is time I now use either listening to the Prime Minister’s daily briefings, sleeping more, or on Twitter #SorryNotSorry.

And yet I’ve nonetheless managed to read seven books between January and now—something of a feat given I usually average a book a month.

I even managed to read a book in just three days.

Admittedly, it was a very simple read.  But also very entertaining.

This has been the biggest difference in my pandemic reading habits: I’ve made a stronger effort to choose books I think I’ll actually like (and luckily have largely proven myself correct).

I always chose books that interest me before.  But so too did I often wait to read what I wanted in order to prioritize those I thought I should read.

The bookshelf on my Kindle app is evidence enough of this—loaded with books I was so excited for when I bought them.  Yet these have been pushed further and further down my TBR list in favour of “important” books.

Or comparable titles for my WIPs.

Or friends’ book choices that I agreed to buddy-read with them.

Or any other books I do actually want to read—just not necessarily right this moment.

Conversely, new books are coming out all the time, and some of these sound really good.  Yet I tell myself I already have enough to read, and should finish all that first before thinking about getting any more.

But if there’s one important lesson to be taken from a global pandemic, it’s that life can be short.

There’s never a better time to read a book you really want to than the moment that you first decide you do.  Reading books that capture your interest is also key in helping you read more.  As I discussed in a past post on the subject, in a book you love, the pages just fly by.

Here are my ratings and partial reviews for the books I’ve read during the first four months of 2020, and my first six weeks in pandemic lockdown:

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The Map of Salt and Stars
Zeyn Joukhader
Genre: Literary fiction
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The story isn’t fast-paced and full of tension and conflict as is typical in the western storytelling structure.  Still, at every stage of Nour’s journey their plight becomes increasingly worse, to the point of inspiring genuine fear for their ultimate outcome….  Although their circumstances are different—Rawiya in search of adventure, Nour in search of a safe haven from war—both girls are on a journey of self-discovery toward their true selves[.]
Read the entire review

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Queen of the Conquered
Kacen Callender
Genre: Adult fantasy
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ½ (rounded to ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ )

The climax of the story was incredible; I’ll give it that.  A thrilling plot twist that unfortunately lost most of its impact through being narrated in six straight pages of solid exposition….  I kind of want this book to get picked up as a movie in order to see told the story in a more visual way because overall the promise of its premise was ruined by unengaging, expository writing.
Read the entire review

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The Clergyman’s Wife
Molly Greeley
Genre: Historical fiction
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

It fills in the missing formative details of Charlotte’s early life from Pride and Prejudice, and then goes on to show the impact of what she chose for herself so long ago.  In particular, the book does an excellent job of portraying the desperate, selfless love she has for her daughter, as well as Charlotte’s subtle, dangerous changes of thought and behaviour as her emotional intimacy with Mr. Travis increases.
Read the entire review

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The Water Dancer
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Genre: Historical fiction
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Coates creates an immersive picture of the lives of enslaved people in the American South….  The magical realism of Conduction, Hiram’s ongoing attempts to learn it, and its mastery by a famous member of the Underground Railroad, gives the story a hopeful tone.  So too does the fact that Coates brilliantly almost never used the words “slave” and “slavery” in the text, instead using “Tasked” and “the Task”[.]
Read the entire review

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The Selection
Kiera Cass
Genre: YA dystopian
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I blew through this book in three days, in part because it was in no way a difficult read, and in part because it was surprisingly entertaining. The more I read, the more I wanted to see what would happen[….]  Much of what makes or breaks a dystopian novel is the worldbuilding and backstory on how society ended up the way it is.  Unfortunately, in The Selection this was the weakest part of the story.
Read the entire review

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Save the Cat! Writes a Novel
Jessica Brody
Genre: Non-fiction/reference
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The method REALLY resonated with me….  Overall I found Save the Cat! Writes a Novel to be instructive without being prescriptive….  I can definitely see myself using this method.  So too can I see how it overlays stories I’ve both read and written myself, which gives it a feeling of universality in western storytelling.
Read the entire review

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Monstrous Heart
Claire McKenna
Genre: Adult fantasy
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The concept was fascinating and as a gothic, maritime fantasy novel, it dripped with atmosphere….  Mythical sea monsters like plesiosaurs and kraken wander the deeps, while the salty air whispers the ancient lore of an underwater king served by drowned sailors and worshipped by offshore oilmen on a nearby chain of rugged island.  The worldbuilding is so inventive[.]
Read the entire review

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(Image source #1, #2-#8 via Goodreads)

2 thoughts on “Recent Reads – January to April 2020: On Good Reads vs. Should Reads

  1. You sure are as methodical and thoughtful in your reviews as you are with your own writing Janna. I too review most of those I read, but not in such depth. Question: would the histfic genre include those books partly set in history and partly in the present day? Or maybe it’s a sub-genre…

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    • I always think I’m only going to write a short review but then find myself having so much to say. The fact that I take notes while reading probably contributes. But then, I’ve been told I can be stinting with my star-ratings, so I do like to give a solid explanation for each rating.

      As for whether I consider dual timeline stories histfic, for me it would really depend on how fulsome the historical storyline is. For the book I read this quarter (The Map of Salt and Stars), I didn’t find the historical portion very effective from a storytelling perspective. It would not have stood well on its own while the modern-day storyline would. This is why I called that book literary instead of histfic.

      Personally, I’m not a fan of dual timeline story for all sorts of reasons I won’t get into right now. But as a result, having to decide how to categorize them isn’t an issue that comes up very often for me.

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