The Reading List (April to June)

List

We’re going on an adventure, you and I. After eons of cruising through pages of internet I’ve been hungry for something different. It’s time to return to the place that fed my personality more than anything, books. From Goodreads recommendations to Which Book, a website that searches for books for you, to pure curiosity based on the cover, let’s see what we’ve got to work with. (For those of you inclined to judge a book by its cover, you can find the visual list here.)

1. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordan Dahlquist

Synopsis: Here begins an extraordinary alliance—and a brutal and tender, shocking, and electrifying adventure to end all adventures.It starts with a simple note. Roger Bascombe regretfully wishes to inform Celeste Temple that their engagement is forthwith terminated. Determined to find out why, Miss Temple takes the first step in a journey that will propel her into a dizzyingly seductive, utterly shocking world beyond her imagining—and set her on a collision course with a killer and a spy—in a bodice-ripping, action-packed roller-coaster ride of suspense, betrayal, and richly fevered dreams.

Thoughts: This is exactly the kind of title that piques my curiosity. Dream Eaters, you say? I am so there. But the description does promise a lot to the point where I’m not entirely convinced I’m going to enjoy the story that follows.

2. May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

Synopsis: In this vivid, transfixing new novel, A. M. Homes presents a darkly comic look at twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation. Harold Silver has spent a lifetime watching his more successful younger brother, George, acquire a covetable wife, two kids, and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York City. When George’s murderous temper results in a shocking act of violence, both men are hurled into entirely new lives. May We Be Forgiven digs deeply into the near biblical intensity of fraternal relationships, our need to make sense of things, and our craving for connection. It is an unnerving tale of unexpected intimacies and of how one deeply fractured family might begin to put itself back together.

Thoughts: Biblical intensity? Okay. *squints* Craving for connection? I’m listening. This is a book I normally turn away from but I’m trying to expand my literary playing field. I’m hoping this book hits right in the feels and doesn’t hold anything back. Sibling relationships in literature are either the stuff of nightmares or an immediate and, if done correctly, desperate need to hear the other’s voice(s).

3. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Synopsis: Tyrone Slothrop, a GI in London in 1944, has a big problem. Whenever he gets an erection, a Blitz bomb hits. Slothrop gets excited, and then (as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his sinister, insinuatingly sibilant opening sentence), “a screaming comes across the sky,” heralding an angel of death, a V-2 rocket. The novel’s title, Gravity’s Rainbow, refers to the rocket’s vapor arc, a cruel dark parody of what God sent Noah to symbolize his promise never to destroy humanity again. History has been a big trick: the plan is to switch from floods to obliterating fire from the sky.Slothrop’s father was an unwitting part of the cosmic doublecross. To provide for the boy’s future Harvard education, he took cash from the mad German scientist Laszlo Jamf, who performed Pavlovian experiments on the infant Tyrone. Laszlo invented Imipolex G, a new plastic useful in rocket insulation, and conditioned Tyrone’s privates to respond to its presence. Now the grown-up Tyrone helplessly senses the Imipolex G in incoming V-2s, and his military superiors are investigating him. Soon he is on the run from legions of bizarre enemies through the phantasmagoric horrors of Germany.

Thoughts: This one was recommended by several friends and from what I understand I can’t prepare myself for it. It’s long, challenging and a whole new experience waiting to be had. Honestly, they already had me at long.

4. The Calligrapher by Edward Docx

Synopsis: This beguiling first novel is a provocative romantic comedy centered on a young London calligrapher named Jasper, who is an engaging, intelligent serial seducer and a breaker of hearts. But when he meets Madeleine, a captivating but enigmatic woman who is his equal in every way, he falls helplessly in love. Vulnerable for the first time, he is headed for his comeuppance at last. Jasper is transcribing the Songs and Sonnets of that other great lover, John Donne, for a rich American client. As he works on them (revealing to us the fascinating art of the calligrapher), he discovers that these wise and beautiful love poems illuminate his own experiences — of the difference between love and lust, of the play of truth and deceit between men and women, of the cost of constancy. As well as bringing modern London vividly to life, The Calligrapher is keenly observant of contemporary relationships and modern mores. Underlying its sparkling surface are Jasper’s wry but heartfelt lamentations about the diminishment of our culture: the trivial masquerading as the consequential, the rising tide of ignorance, the triumph of the lowest common denominator. At once wickedly witty and deeply serious, sweet and cynical, romantic and reflective, this stylish, wonderfully entertaining novel is an accomplished and exciting literary debut.

Thoughts: You’ve got your noteworthy seductive, selfish heartbreaker that meets his match in the form of a woman who is his mirror personality. So what you’re saying is: my life story? Just kidding.The book does appeal to me on an emotional level. While the basic idea doesn’t seem that original, I am interested to see how Docx does it.

5. The Waking by T.K. Burckhardt

Synopsis: Despite the fact that she is an orphan, Valie is your ordinary teenage girl—or at least she believes as much until she meets Jack, a werewolf tasked with stalking her to see if she should be turned into one of them. The person calling the shots, however, turns out to be none other than the father she has never met. Suddenly, with Jack at the helm, Valie is thrown into a world of secrecy and magick in which conspiracy and murder surround her at all sides. Her life as an ordinary teenager ends, only to be replaced with questions and fear, fear of her father apparently seeking her death, fear of the Lycanthrope Council that would also have her head and fear of not being able to answer the question: what is she?

Thoughts: I could not make a reading list without including a book that one of my very close friends wrote. But I will be as honest with this one as I can be as if I didn’t know the author personally. I’m always interested in books that use a significant metamorphosis to capture some part of personality development. I’m hoping there’s a focus on the relationships that contribute to the fearful situations Vallie finds herself in.

  1. The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian

Synopsis: A hospital is preserved, afloat, after the Earth is flooded beneath seven miles of water. Inside, assailed by mysterious forces, doctors and patients are left to remember the world they’ve lost and to imagine the one to come. At the center, Jemma Clafin, a medical student, finds herself gifted with strange powers and a frightening destiny. Simultaneously epic and intimate, wildly imaginative and unexpectedly relevant, The Children’s Hospital is a work of stunning scope, mesmerizing detail, and wrenching emotion.

Thoughts: When this book showed up in my search on Which Books, I was originally going to skip it until their description mentioned something about angels. I have a thing for angels in stories, especially when they’re more like the gods of ancient times; indifferent, occasionally selfish, and a tad bit sassy. There’s also children in it, and that makes me tilt my head in meh. Probably because I’m still at the mentality where I’m hungry for stories that reflect some facet of my personality. I feel like I know what to expect and at the same time I’m going into this unable to look away.

7. The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels

Synopsis: In 1964, a newly married Canadian couple settles into a Nile River houseboat moored below the towering figures of Abu Simbel. Avery is one of the engineers responsible for moving the temple above the rapidly rising waters of the Aswan Dam. At the edge of a world about to be lost forever, Avery and and his new wife Jean begin to create their own world. But it will not be enough to bind them when tragedy strikes and they go back to separate lives in Toronto. There Jean meets Lucjan, a Polish artist whose haunting stories of his shattered childhood in occupied Warsaw draw her further away from Avery. But, in time, he will also show her the way back to consolation and forgiveness.

Thoughts: Love is a very difficult concept for me to grasp so I don’t normally read anything that even hints at romance. This leads me to look for stories that if they are about love, they tend to focus on the actual experience of love. The reason it makes the list is a  fragment of a quote, “…moments that are the mortar of our days, innocent memories we don’t know we hold until given the gift of the eagerness of another.” Oh my god, we’re reading this. I have my highlighters ready.

8. The Skin Palace by Jack O’Connel

Synopsis: Amid the post industrial decay of Quinsigamond glitters a fabulous jewel – Herzog’s Erotic Palace- America’s most lavish porn theatre and a gangland laundry for semi-sour cash. But most of all, Herzog’s is the place where dreamers meet, seductive nightmares find their dazzling realization, and a former triple X film director, a ruthless gangster, and a photographer’s son dangerously cross paths.

Thoughts: I’ll level with you, I have no clue. I thought I was ready and I’m not, but I don’t care. I like gritty but beautiful city stories. Hit me with your best shot, O’Connel.

9. The Mirrored World by Debra Dean

Synopsis: The critically acclaimed author of The Madonnas of Leningrad (“Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share” —Isabel Allende), Debra Dean returns with The Mirrored World, a breathtaking novel of love and madness set in 18th century Russia. Transporting readers to St. Petersburg during the reign of Catherine the Great, Dean brilliantly reconstructs and reimagines the life of St. Xenia, one of Russia’s most revered and mysterious holy figures, in a richly told and thought-provoking work of historical fiction that recounts the unlikely transformation of a young girl, a child of privilege, into a saint beloved by the poor.

Thoughts: I feel like this book is going to be heavy. Love, madness, privilege and poverty. It’s a combination that appears often in a variety of forms but rarely executed with at least some awareness of the weight of those concepts. I’m optimistic, historical fiction is typically out of my comfort zone, but I’ll give the fair shot it deserves like every bookelse.

10. The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

Synopsis: Set in the 23rd century, The Glass Bead Game is the story of Joseph Knecht, who has been raised in Castalia, the remote place his society has provided for the intellectual elite to grow and flourish. Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy, which he achieves in adulthood, becoming a Magister Ludi (Master of the Game).

Thoughts: Haven’t we all wondered what it would be like to get away from “stupid” people? I’ve grown to find that wishful thinking kind of scary because people can learn and not everyone is brilliant in the same way, but anyway! I like what I’m hearing here, especially a game based off of the blend of some of the most difficult subjects some people tend to shy away from. I love games, so I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

11. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

Synopsis: In this piercing story of innocence betrayed set in the thirties, the orphaned Portia is stranded in the sophisticated and politely treacherous world of her wealthy half-brother’s home in London.There she encounters the attractive, carefree cad Eddie. To him, Portia is at once child and woman, and her fears her gushing love. To her, Eddie is the only reason to be alive. But when Eddie follows Portia to a sea-side resort, the flash of a cigarette lighter in a darkened cinema illuminates a stunning romantic betrayal–and sets in motion one of the most moving and desperate flights of the heart in modern literature.

Thoughts: From this description I am reminded of Lolita, which was a hell of a book in so many ways. This is another book I’m mostly intrigued by the emotional situations as well as Bowen’s depiction of innocence. I’m going into this one a little guarded because I expect it to be a little emotionally straining.

12. Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

Synopsis: In Finch, mysterious underground inhabitants known as the gray caps have reconquered the failed fantasy state Ambergris and put it under martial law. They have disbanded House Hoegbotton and are controlling the human inhabitants with strange addictive drugs, internment in camps, and random acts of terror. The rebel resistance is scattered, and the gray caps are using human labor to build two strange towers. Against this backdrop, John Finch, who lives alone with a cat and a lizard, must solve an impossible double murder for his gray cap masters while trying to make contact with the rebels. Nothing is as it seems as Finch and his disintegrating partner Wyte negotiate their way through a landscape of spies, rebels, and deception. Trapped by his job and the city, Finch is about to come face to face with a series of mysteries that will change him and Ambergris forever.

Thoughts: The “us”, the “them” and the “loner”. Okay, not lingering…but there’s a cat and multiple mysteries? This was another Which Book find, “the noirest of steampunk” which is why we’re still going to read it. You do not casually throw out that phrase without some serious soul moving story telling to back it up. Sometimes, when the description lacks to grip it me, it’s because there’s a lot going in a story and I’m totally fine with being surprised in that manner.

13. Embassytown by China Mieville

Synopsis: In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language. When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties: to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak—but which speaks through her, whether she likes it or not.

Thoughts: I am intrigued by the idea of someone being “a living simile of their language” in addition to not being able to speak it. This also goes on the list of branching out into new ideas in books. I dive in willingly with no resistance.

14. I, Vampire by Michael Romkey

Synopsis: From yesterday to a hundred years ago, he lives in the world and walks among us. He enjoys the finest things in life, including beautfiul women, well-aged wine, and the finest classical composers. He has no guilt — he has no need of it. Neither good, nor bad, neither angel nor devil, he is a man, he is a vampire. And this is his story….

Thoughts: I mean, really though? It’s a vampire book from the 90s that I haven’t read. It’s out of shame and waiting for the next Anne Rice novel to come out.

15. The Alchemy of Desire by Tarun J. Tejpal

Synopsis: In turn-of-the-millennium India, a penniless would-be writer halts work on his novel only to feed his ceaseless desire for his beautiful wife. Then a chance occurrence moves the lovers to a sprawling old house in a mist-shrouded spur of the lower Himalayas, where a set of diaries written by a glamorous American adventuress is uncovered during renovations. Her words irresistibly draw the writer away from his beloved, thrusting him through the hole of history into another world and time, revealing dark secrets and overturning all certainties.

Thoughts: I’m always curious how other people define “ceaseless desire”. I find myself constantly developing obsessive interest in other people (while of course respecting boundaries as best I can), but I wouldn’t call that ceaseless. I’m really here for the diaries part, the examination of other people’s desire while so intensely experiencing his own? I am going to need so many notebooks for this collection I’ve got going on here.

16. Dark Dance by Tanith Lee

Synopsis: Drawn to the ominous house of Scarabae by the promise of passion, Rachaela soon finds herself a prisoner of her own desire, seduced into a dark and dangerous existence by a lover who bears her family name.

Thoughts: Usually I look at this description and do that look of “Mhmm, really?” But I cannot shake this curiosity for “lover who bears her family name”. What? How? Tell me, tell me right now. (Don’t tell me. I’ll read it and squint at it in mixed feelings and then talk to you about it.)

17. A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

Synopsis: Two years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable…despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection, though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.

Thoughts: I actually have this book, and it is a bit of a challenge from page one. It’s also very long which I love. Long books in fine print….*sigh* Oh sorry, got distracted. I’m motivated to give it another shot because it showed up on Which Books results. I’ve gotten about a chapter in and I can tell you the synopsis barely scratches the surface of what is in store and it’s a series.

18. Dream London by Tony Ballantyne

Synopsis: In Dream London the city changes a little every night and the people change a little every day. Captain Jim Wedderburn has looks, style and courage by the bucketful. He’s adored by women, respected by men and feared by his enemies. He’s the man to find out who has twisted London into this strange new world, and he knows it. But the towers are growing taller, the parks have hidden themselves away and the streets form themselves into strange new patterns. There are people sailing in from new lands down the river, new criminals emerging in the East End and a path spiralling down to another world. Everyone is changing, no one is who they seem to be, and Captain Jim Wedderburn is beginning to understand that he’s not the man he thought he was…

Thoughts: This book is in the same situation as the one above and probably the one I’m going to read first. I would say it’s a bit fast paced and I prefer books that really savor their moments. I keep reading because I feel the pacing suggests there’s a lot of story to cover and that’s what is important here.

Now the question is whether or not to review each book or just the three that I liked best for each month. Decisions, decisions. Feel free to leave a comment if any of these books captured your interest, or if you’re disappointed in the list, your own recommendations. For a visual version of the reading list check out my Tumblr and as they arrive Instagram. For the video versions of blog posts subscribe to my second home on YouTube, and last not but not least, for a general all around update please visit my Facebook.

Until next time,

Z.e.D.

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