This is the first year in a very long time where I actually prioritized reading. It may have helped that we are all in quarantine and free time came in abundance. When in the past I would struggle to get even three books a year in my roster, I’ve so far finished 19 books this year already! This is such a huge personal achievement for me, and I am hoping to finish the year off with least 25 books under my belt.
Also, did anyone ever have those “25 Books Challenge” in elementary school, where, if you completed 25 books, you got to participate in Roller Skating Day at school? Oh, man. THAT got me motivated!
Anyway! I’m starting this seasonal list of completed books because I realize books are something that we take when we travel, generally. You know, for those moments in the airport and on the plane, by the beach or in a forest. Maybe there will be something on this list that inspires your next read for your future travels.
So, what have I read?
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (#4)
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Genre: Mystery, Fiction, Short Stories
With Sherlock Holmes’s reputation as the scourge of the criminal underworld preceding him, the ingenious detective, with the aid of Dr Watson, is confronted in these stories by some of his most fiendishly difficult cases yet.
The collection culminates in ‘The Final Problem’, in which the evil Professor Moriarty is plotting the detective’s downfall. Soon Holmes and Watson are led across Europe in a deadly pursuit of their devilish quarry, until the final showdown in Switzerland, at the precipitous Reichenbach Falls…
Quick Review: This is my second book in the Sherlock Holmes series that I’ve read (even though it’s the fourth in the short stories collection) and once again, I feel like each short story was written in a slightly different way. Not to say that that’s a bad thing, by any means. In fact, I’d actually say it spices things up and makes the stories seem less formulaic. In regards to the last story of the book, “The Final Problem”, oh boy. I had to reread the last couple of pages twice to make sure I fully comprehended what just happened. Suffice it to say, I will be putting more books from the Sherlock Holmes series on my reading list!
Where the Crawdad Sings
By Delia Owens
Genre: Fiction, Coming Of Age
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. She’s barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark.
But Kya is not what they say. Abandoned at age ten, she has survived on her own in the marsh that she calls home. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life lessons from the land, learning from the false signals of fireflies the real way of this world. But while she could have lived in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.
Quick Review: It took me forever to convince myself to pick this up. Not sure why. But, once I started, I couldn’t put it down! I guess there’s a reason why Where the Crawdads Sing has been on the NYT’s Bestsellers List for 67 weeks! I will say, the beginning few years of the story chugged just slightly for me because of the hillbilly dialogue, but once we got past that stage, the story quickened. I sympathized with the main character Kya, and felt myself rooting for her success as she struggled through childhood. By the end of the book, I wanted nothing more than to pick up a sketchbook and document everything in nature.
Owens’ writing style is beautiful, and for some reason, reminds me of just sitting in a rocking chair on a summer’s evening while drinking sweet tea in North Carolina. In any case, if you haven’t read this book, it comes highly recommended!
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (#3)
By Arthur Conan Doyle
Genre: Mystery, Fiction, Short Stories
From his Baker Street apartment, Sherlock Holmes wields his powers of deduction in pursuit of justice and truth, venturing out into foggy Victorian London accompanied by his faithful sidekick Dr Watson. This classic collection of Holmes tales includes many of the detective’s most-loved exploits: Holmes is confronted by a venomous snake in ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, mystified by a missing thumb in ‘The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb’ and beguiled by a beautiful opera singer in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, never once losing his famous cool.
Quick Review: Similar to what I mentioned in my “Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes” review, this book has a great collection of short stories regarding the various cases that Holmes solves (or doesn’t). As a Capricorn, I admire his use of logic, and I honestly wish I had that level of minute method of deduction as this great British detective. I think I’m more on the level of Watson, hah.
By Madeline Miller
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child — not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power — the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Quick Review: It is embarrassing how little I retain of Greek mythology. Reading Circe was like reading a very well-written fanfiction, as it tells the story of the witch who Odysseus fell in love with during his great journey. However, this isn’t a retelling. There were no stories that conveyed Circe’s journey through life, and yet, Miller brought the pieces from other stories together to form one. The story of Circe is one of perseverance and the realities of love and the human (or immortal?) connection.
It’s been years since I’ve read anything related to Greek mythology (hello, Percy Jackson series!) and I was thoroughly pleased to delve back into this world. I hope she comes out with more Greek mythology stories.
Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
By Jules Verne
Genre: Classic, Fiction
When an unidentified “monster” threatens international shipping, French oceanographer Pierre Aronnax and his unflappable assistant Conseil join an expedition organized by the US Navy to hunt down and destroy the menace. After months of fruitless searching, they finally grapple with their quarry, but Aronnax, Conseil, and the brash Canadian harpooner Ned Land are thrown overboard in the attack, only to find that the “monster” is actually a futuristic submarine, the Nautilus, commanded by a shadowy, mystical, preternaturally imposing man who calls himself Captain Nemo. Thus begins a journey of 20,000 leagues—nearly 50,000 miles—that will take Captain Nemo, his crew, and these three adventurers on a journey of discovery through undersea forests, coral graveyards, miles-deep trenches, and even the sunken ruins of Atlantis.
Quick Review: I’m trying to get through the classics, and when “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” was repeatedly referenced in “All the Lights We Cannot See”, I had to see what the fuss was about. Oh gosh, it took me forever to get through this book. It was originally published in 1872, and reading older writing styles already take extra effort to read. But this book is filled to the brim with nautical and aquatic animal references that I’m not familiar with, making it even more difficult to get into the story.
This is a book about the adventures of voyaging across the underwater world, and there were pockets in the book that was exciting. Overall, though, it just wasn’t really the book for me. Perhaps if I learned more about marine life first and reread it, the book would have a stronger impact.
By Jane Austen
Genre: Classic, Fiction
Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect
Quick Review: As someone who has loved “Pride and Prejudice”, it is rather shameful that I haven’t gotten around to reading more of Jane Austen’s novels! “Emma” is now the third novel of hers that I’ve completed, and it’s a charming read. I enjoyed reading through Emma Woodhouse’s character development as well as the others. I also found it interesting how we, the readers, are given so much information about Jane Fairfax and most of it was told through the dialogue of the characters, and not Jane herself.
After reading this, I immediately had to watch “Clueless” and the new “Emma” movie (the cinematography is so beautiful!)
Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng
Genre: YA, Mystery
Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.
When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest in the family – Hannah – who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.
Quick Review: Some people have called this a dark book, due to the nature of the premise. Yes, it is a sad book. I wanted so much to tell Lydia that it’ll get better, that the situation she’s in – being weighted down by the expectations of her parents – is something she can remove herself from in just a couple of years. But this book isn’t so much focused on her, as it does with her family members and the aftermath. At its core, it’s a book about the dynamics of a particular family unit.
Little Fires Everywhere
By Celeste Ng
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned–from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren–an enigmatic artist and single mother–who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Quick Review: I fell in love with Celeste Ng’s writing style after reading this book. She writes in a way that is calming, but not slow, and somehow, she’s able to weave the narrative between all these different characters so seamlessly. Similar to “Everything I Never Told You”, at the core of this book is the dynamics between two family units – one seemingly stepford family living in this beautiful suburban house, and another comprises of an atypical single-mom artist/waitress and her daughter – and how their lives intertwine.
If you have seen the Hulu adaptation and only that, I beg of you, read the book. I could not stand the series. I felt like it was way over-the-top dramatic compared to how the book was written.
A Court of Thornes and Roses (1-3)
By Sarah J. Maas
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …
Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.
Quick Review: This series was a bit of a rollercoaster. It started off as a sort of retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a twist – a badass hunter girl that can’t read is forced into living with a masked faerie that can turn into a beast. It was a cute version.
By the second book, the world of faeries became way more expansive, and we stepped away from the realm of Beauty and the Beast. New characters were introduced and things get a little steamy. I loved so much of what this book brought to the table.
When it came to the third book, I don’t know what happened. It’s like all the built-up plots were miraculously easy to solve and nothing climactic really happened. What were the other two books for, then?
There are future books in the works for this series, but after that tragic letdown of a third book, I don’t know if I can muster the energy to read them. If you’re looking for an easy fantasy-filled romantic series, though, maybe this isn’t a bad option.
By Joseph Heller
Genre: Classic, Fiction, Satire
The novel is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. It mainly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occur while the fictional 256th Squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea, west of Italy. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they may return home.
Quick Review: I have tried many a times to read Catch-22. Again and again, I’d read a hundred pages and stop reading. But this has been on my to-read list for ages, and damn it, I’m going to finish it!
So I finally did. I think what throws me off sometimes is that, because it’s satire, the dialogues are harder to get into since they are written vs when it’s being performed on t.v. or a movie. Overall, it’s a fun read of a guy who’s trying to get out of the military and save his own life, and all the while, everyone around him are different characters of crazy. Sometimes in real life, you are surrounded by crazies, and you just can’t help but sympathize with Yossarian and the company that he’s dealt with.
All the Lights We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical Fiction
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
Quick Review: First, I love reading stories set in WWII. I think because of how globally interconnected the setting and characters are, and this one is no different. The story takes place among two characters – one, a blind girl living in Paris with her father, and the other, a German boy whose skills at fixing technology garners the attention of Nazi higher-ups. It is a story that touches on so many emotions – love and hate, fear and courage, life and loss.
The Undomestic Goddess
By Sophie Kinsella
Genre: Chick-Lit, Contemporary, Humor
Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She’s made a mistake so huge, it’ll wreck any chance of a partnership.
Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she’s mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they’ve hired a lawyer–and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can’t sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope–and finds love–is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake.
But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does…will she want it back?
Quick Read: I have read a couple of other books from Sophia Kinsella, and I find them to be fun little reads when you just want to get a little romantic comedy into your life. This is no different. The premise is rather unbelievable in a way – how in the world does one just accidentally get hired as a maid? But the aftermath does lead to some hilarious situations, and Kinsella is a writer that can make me chuckle. Yes, it’s cheesy and predictable, but what rom-com isn’t? In fact, some might argue that’s actually the beauty of them.
Anne of Green Gables (1-5)
By L.M. Montgomery
Genre: Classic, Fiction, Children, YA, Coming of Age
As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever . . . but will the Cuthberts send her back to to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected—a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anyone else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special—a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.
Quick Review: I am not sure how I never got around to reading the “Anne of Green Gables” series when I was younger. I missed out on such a gem! I picked this book up after watching the Netflix series “Anne with an E”, and can I just say that the Netflix series is so much darker than the book series? Like, the books are so fun and innocent, and Netflix brought that happiness down a few notches, haha.
But yeah, Anne as a character is so wholesome and high-spirited. She is the best friend that you would want in your life. The series takes place on Prince Edward Island in Canada, and it is the most idyllic setting for someone who just imagines living life in a cottage. Perfect setting, really.
As the books progress, so does Anne’s age. In “Anne of Green Gable”, we are introduced to her when she’s 11. By the fifth book, “Anne’s House of Dreams”, she’s in her mid-20s. To say that this is a children’s series is not necessarily true since she’s only a child for a couple of the books. But I would have loved to have been introduced to the series in my teen years!
There are two more books in the series that I need to read asap and finish the story of Anne out!
A Gentleman in Moscow
By Amor Towles
Genre: Historical Fiction
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Quick Review: In the beginning of the book, I wasn’t too fond of the main character. He knew too much – about everything. He was a worldly gentleman with refined taste, but through the circumstances of Russia and its political uncertainty, Count Rostov found himself under house arrest at one of the finest hotel in Moscow. Instead of being upset, however, he accepts the cards that were dealt to him and makes the best of his situation, such as by getting a waitering job at the high-class restaurant, and parting his extensive food and wine knowledge to the customers. This is when Count Rostov became a character I can get behind.
It is a slice-of-life story about an aristocrat who lived during the Russian Revolution. We don’t quite get a full look into what happened politically, only how the members of society is dealing with it.
And there you have it!
I wonder, at the rate of books I’m reading through, is it better if I wrote a blog post after each season, versus half the year?
At the moment, to celebrate the month of October and its spooky nature, I finally picked up Frankenstein. I’m about a third of the way done, and so far, so good!
I’d love to know if there were any books on this list that you’ve been inspired to read next. Or even what you’re currently reading!