Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
Previous Top Ten Tuesday Topics
- 30th August: School Freebie
- 6th September: Books I Loved So Much I Had to Get a Copy for My Personal Library
- 13th September: Books with Geographical Terms in the Title
- 20th September Bonus: Favourite Literary Queens
- 20th September: Books on my Fall TBR
- 27th September: Typographic Book Covers
- 4th October: Favourite Bookshops and Bookstores I’d love to visit
This week’s topic is a tricky one in some respects, less so in others. As a teacher, the summer vacation is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on reading; as a parent, significantly less time is available to reading – and other me time – than you’d imagine. And as for vacations away, well, we’ve not been in a position to have vacations away for a number of years.
I do have distinct memories in the past of reading on skiing holidays for some reason. Perhaps the frech air and exercise energised my little grey cells. But I remember re-reading the whole The Lord of the Rings trilogy at the hotel over the course of one skiing holiday, and of finishing Atonement on the bus back to an airport from another. When I was on a Greek island, I did succomb to the setting and re-read The Iliad – or was it The Odyssey? I think it might have been – and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I also recall I was reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in the hotel where my brother was holding his wedding – albeit not during the actual ceremony! Although it was probably in a jacket pocket.
But let’s look at what I did read over the summer just gone.
Oh ,William! Elizabeth Strout
Lucy Barton is a successful writer living in New York, navigating the second half of her life as a recent widow and parent to two adult daughters. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband – and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidante. Recalling their college years, the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a tender, complex, decades-long partnership.
I found this just a little tedious if I am honest, perhaps because I was coming into it cold having not read the first two novels – but I found the main characters hard to engage with or like. Carefully crafted and well written but it missed something…
Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman
Once merely creatures of legend, the dragons have returned to Krynn. But with their arrival comes the departure of the old gods–and all healing magic. As war threatens to engulf the land, lifelong friends reunite for an adventure that will change their lives and shape their world forever . . .
When Tanis, Sturm, Caramon, Raistlin, Flint, and Tasslehoff see a woman use a blue crystal staff to heal a villager, they wonder if it’s a sign the gods have not abandoned them after all. Fueled by this glimmer of hope, the Companions band together to uncover the truth behind the gods’ absence–though they aren’t the only ones with an interest in the staff.
An odd companion piece to the previous entry, and almost the mirror image of the comment I made on Oh, William: this is not a great piece of writing, its language is pedestrian and its structure loose and episodic. It is what it is – a novelisation of a D & D game in essence – and it shows. Its characters though, however two-dimensional and heavily trope laden, and with the benefit of a huge dose of nostalgia, were immensely likeable.
Unraveller, Frances Hardinge
In a world where anyone can create a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them.
Kellen does not fully understand his talent, but helps those transformed maliciously – including Nettle. Recovered from entrapment in bird form, she is now his constant companion, and closest ally.
But Kellen has also been cursed, and unless he and Nettle can remove his curse, Kellen is in danger of unravelling everything – and everyone – around him…
A far better fantasy novel than Dragonlance, but Frances Hardinge is exquisite as a writer. This novel married the two aspects that make me fall in love with a book: fantastic craftsmanship in the writing and the structure; wonderful and engaging characters. The curses…. wow! Echoes of fairytales, of horror, of myth… and wholly Hardinge.
Treacle Walker, Alan Garner
An introspective young boy, Joseph Coppock squints at the world with his lazy eye. Living alone in an old house, he reads comics, collects birds’ eggs and plays with his marbles. When, one day, a rag-and-bone man called Treacle Walker appears, exchanging an empty jar of a cure-all medicine and a donkey stone for a pair of Joseph’s pyjamas and a lamb’s shoulder blade, a mysterious friendship develops between them.
My first ever Garner novel and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t expect this, a terribly moving yet quietly written study that is – like the Hardinge – bound up with myth and legend and fairytale. It is profound and haunting and philosophical…. I’m not sure I understood it and I suspect that, if I re-read it in five or ten years time, it will feel like a different book.
Case Study, Graeme Macrae Burnet
I have decided to write down everything that happens, because I feel, I suppose, I may be putting myself in danger.
London, 1965. An unworldly young woman believes that a charismatic psychotherapist, Collins Braithwaite, has driven her sister to suicide. Intent on confirming her suspicions, she assumes a false identity and presents herself to him as a client, recording her experiences in a series of notebooks. But she soon finds herself drawn into a world in which she can no longer be certain of anything. Even her own character.
Like many on this list, Macrae Burnet was listed for the Booker and I had loved His Bloody Project. Here, the so-called found novel structure was starting to feel a little overworn perhaps and his characters, whilst well drawn and convincing, were… rather unlikeable. The development of the Rebecca Smyth persona alongside the unnamed narrator’s own persona – and the rather volatile arguments between these two halves of the same body – was the best part of it. But the whole exploration of personal re-invention and re-creation was a little… laboured for me.
Eyes of the Void, Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Human Colony worlds are in turmoil as they face extinction. Some believe alliances with other species can save them. Others insist humanity must fight alone. But no one has the firepower or technology to ensure victory, as the Architects loom ever closer.
Idris spent decades running from the last war’s horrors. Yet as an Intermediary, altered to navigate deep space, he’s one of humanity’s only weapons. He’s therefore forced back into action. With a handful of allies, Idris must find something – anything – to stop the Architects’ pitiless advance. But to do so, he must return to the nightmare of unspace, where his mind was broken and remade. What he discovers there will change everything.
This novel, and the Final Architecture series is unashamedly a cracking epic space opera: a band of misfit spacers turned unlikely heroes, moon sized enemies who can re-structure a planet, the mysteries of unspace through which interplanetary travel is possible. There was less action in this second book than the first and it was – as much as anything – a scientific exploration of that unspace and the makings of scientific discoveries at the heart of the novel. Language was a little, well, prosaic and repetitive: how many times do you need to describe the architects as moon-sized?
Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki
When a book and a reader are meant for each other, both of them know it . . .
After the tragic death of his father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house and sound variously pleasant, angry or sad. Then his mother develops a hoarding problem, and the voices grow more clamorous. So Benny seeks refuge in the silence of a large public library. There he meets a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret; a homeless philosopher-poet; and his very own Book, who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
I wrote a cracking review of this novel.
I truly did, honest. But it has, somehow, gone. Disappeared into the aether. Not even Version History has reconstructed it. I could try to dredge it up from my own memory…. I mean, I could….
Suffice perhaps to say that this book was stellar: witty, good natured, generous, tender, mythic.Very self-referential – I mean, the book is itself the main narrator of well, itself.A stunning depiction of another way of viewing the world, an other which may or may not be reliable but which can never be dismissed.
The Paper Palace, Miranda Cowley Heller
On a perfect August morning, Elle Bishop heads out for a swim in the pond below ‘The Paper Palace’ – her family’s holiday home in Cape Cod. As she dives beneath the water she relives the passionate encounter she had the night before, against the side of the house that knows all her darkest secrets, while her husband and mother chatted to their guests inside…
So begins a story that unfolds over twenty-four hours and fifty years, as Elle’s shocking betrayal leads her to a life-changing decision.
Oh this felt such a summery read: Elle’s life is laid bare to us through this novel, starting with her rather shocking infidelity the night before, and through flashbacks recounting her childhood, her troubled relations with her family, her childhood traumas, her loves. A gorgeous depiction of a life: messy, horribly painful, complicated and wonderful.
Woman Eating, Claire Kohda
Lydia is hungry.
She’s always wanted to try sashimi, ramen, onigiri with sour plum stuffed inside – the food her Japanese father liked to eat. And then there is bubble tea and the vegetables grown by the other young artists at the London studio space she is secretly squatting in. But Lydia can’t eat any of this. The only thing she can digest is blood, and it turns out that sourcing fresh pigs’ blood in London – where she is living away from her vampire mother for the first time – is much more difficult than she’d anticipated.
Vampires remain so popular: I re-read Dracula recently and Carmilla, I listened to the BBC Sounds Podcast English Rose over the summer, I have Jay Kristoff’s Empire of the Vampire queued up on my Kindle.
Kohda’s take is to put the demon to one side and let us see the human managing her vampirism. Lydia’s moving away from her mother, becoming independent, securing an internship whilst wrestling with her mother’s demonisation of her vampiric nature was powerfully and poignantly portrayed. Her longing to taste the food she knew she could not eat, her longing to belong through the cuisine to her culture but being excluded by it, was wonderfully done.
So, there we have the books that I read over the long (not long enough) summer vacation, between the end of July and August 2022. Nine does not seem a bad number, to be fair to myself, and that’s not counting the three or four books I began and – whilst I’ve not DNFed them – I’ve not finished them.
I do love and value all your comments each week and am humbled that so many of you stop by and spend a few moments on this blog. Please do let me know what you all read over your summer (or any other) vacation!
Upcoming Top Ten Tuesday Themes
October 18: Favorite Words (This isn’t so much bookish, but I thought it would be fun to share words we love! These could be words that are fun to say, sound funny, mean something great, or make you smile when you read/hear them.)
October 25: Halloween Freebie
November 1: Unlikable Characters You Can’t Help but Love (These are villains, criminals, jerks, etc. that make you fall in love with them anyway, perhaps because they evolve by the end or they’re secretly wonderful and have been all along.)
November 8: Series I’d Like to Start/Catch up on/Finish
November 15: Favorite “Aww” Moments In Books (Share those sweet/cute moments in books that give you warm fuzzies.)
November 22: Thankful Freebie
November 29: Cozy Reads (Share books that give off a cozy vibe, whether through atmosphere, setting, or some other factor. Please tell us why they’re cozy for you, too!)
December 6: Freebie
December 13: Books on My Winter 2022-2023 To-Read List
December 20: Books I Hope Santa Brings This Year
December 27: Most Recent Additions to My Book Collection (What books did you get as presents this holiday season? Or what did you buy with gift cards?)