Another month, another list! Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly challenge hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, where each week you write a list of ten particular books.
This week the theme is: books with single-word titles.
This one was definitely a challenge. It forced me to look beyond my usual lists of favourite books, mostly because that would be entirely in the fantasy genre, of which books are not well-known for their brevity when it comes to titles. But I have a few!
So it was actually quite nice discovering old favourites and repping my recent reads. The graphic novels I love finally get a look-in too.
Includes: contemporary fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, historical fantasy, mythology, poetry, YA.
Queenie – Candace Carty-Williams
Synopsis: Caught between the Jamaican British family who don’t seem to understand her, a job that’s not all it promised and a man she just can’t get over, Queenie’s life seems to be steadily spiralling out of control.
This author’s debut novel was an instant hit with both critics and readers, and it doesn’t dissappoint. The story follows the titular Queenie, as she struggles along in her everyday life – and seems to be getting everything wrong. It’s a very compelling read. The plot isn’t anymore complex than ‘slice of life,’ but it isn’t just that. Queenie discusses race, mental health, consent.
It’s all the things you want to read about a young woman growing up without shying away from all of the difficult, with character voice that is undeniably realistic, taking you along for her highs and low without impunity.
Inda – Sherwood Smith
Synopsis: Indevan-Dal is the second son of the Prince and Princess of Choraed Elgaer, destined to become his elder brother Tanrid’s Shield Arm—his military champion. Like all second sons, he is to be privately trained at home by Tanrid, the brother whose lands he will one day protect. But when the King’s Voice comes to summon Inda, he will soon learn that the greatest threats to his safety will not come from foreign enemies, but from supposed allies within his own country.
I’m not going to lie, this book can be a difficult read. Smith has a habit of abruptly switching the POV narration, making it hard to keep track of who’s speaking and also, why would you do that. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting book that pleasantly surprised me with the inclusion of women as actually having important roles in society, (which gave away its female writer tbh). Despite the undeniable patriarchal world, female characters are prominent from the outset. The worlds they inhabit are secret to the men’s public, which is an excellent setup that has real effect on the plot.
The world building in its entirety is very decided in this book. Smith is sure about its history and its future, partly because this book is just the first in a sprawling universe. It can be a little daunting, and although I’d like to read more I’m not too fussed about the urgency of it, as this is enjoyable alone.
Monstress – Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Synopsis: Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, MONSTRESS tells the epic story of Maika Halfwold, a teenage survivor of a cataclysmic war between humans and their hated enemies, the Aracnics. In the face of oppression and terrible danger, Maika is both hunter and hunted.
This comic book series has won endless awards, and it’s not hard to understand why. Takeda’s recognisable artwork illustrates a dark fantasy world at the tail-end of a world war. Right from the beginning it introduces you to a cast of rich characters: from the morally dubious hero to evil, powerful witches. Even in an industry which requires originality kind of as a standard, this is an imaginative story. The characters are rich, the plot has sufficient mysteries to keep you involved and it perfectly fits the form – there’s no overuse of words where the art can do the job of showcasing the story, and it quickly became one of my favourite comics.
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
Synopsis: The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and the great-grandaughter of Iran’s last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life.
This graphic novel is as different from the previous as you can get! An entirely black-and-white series of drawings, Satrapi illustrates her life as a young girl in Iran: before, during and after war. The art is simple and easy to understand and frequently funny, and yet throughout there’s a dim sense of horror, both from Satrapi and us, reading. Iran is a complex country, and that isn’t glossed over in the book. In fact, this memoir provokes deep thought, and is a true study on ideas about things like identity, appearance, politics.
Saga – Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Synopsis: When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.
I have no doubt Saga will make an appearance of many lists for this weekly challenge. It’s hard not to be drawn in by the story – a space-adventure about a couple and their baby, trying to escape an incredibly encompassing war. Vaughn’s writing is, as usual, on-point (I’m on volume 3/9 so far so I shouldn’t speak for the whole series). Staples’ art, along with the colours in the book, make it look like your typical comic book series, but when you combine things such as interplanetary bounty hunters, magic-users living on a moon and baby-possessing ghosts, normal goes a little out of the window.
The incongruence of magic and modern weaponry is part of what makes this series so engaging – you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next, and I kinda like that.
Temeraire – Naomi Novik
Synopsis: Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old; finding a warmer berth in Nelson’s navy than any he enjoyed as the youngest, least important son of Lord Allendale. Rising on merit to captain his own vessel, Laurence finds himself in charge of a rare cargo: a dragon egg.
I didn’t know what to expect from this book at first. Although Naomi Novik is well-liked as an author, it’s the first book of hers I’ve read. The setting (the Napoleonic wars), means there’s quite a Proper English tone in the book, with Laurence, the protagonist, a little dismayed to find a dragon has attached to him, because he loves society. He’s the son of a lord and enjoys the appropriate gentlemanly pursuits, such as the opera.
It’s funny, then, to watch this character combat the arrival of a dragon he is incredibly fond of, and in fact Novik makes this a subtley funny book. Everything seems incredibly well-researched, and it’s odd that even the inclusion of dragons doesn’t transport you too far out of nineteenth century England. I enjoy the characters – dragon and human alike – but even more so just the general world here. It’s the kind of story you can’t help but enjoy, and luckily there are seven more books to help you do so.
I’m exactly halfway through this series so expect a review on the whole thing shortly!
Tigana – Guy Gavriel Kay
Synopsis: Set in a beleaguered land caught in a web of tyranny, Tigana is the deeply moving story of a people struggling to be free. A people so cursed by the dark sorceries of the tyrant King Brandin that even the very name of their once beautiful land cannot be spoken or remembered. But not everyone has forgotten.
It’s been a little while since I read this book, so you’ll have to forgive my imperfect knowledge of it. But what I can say, is that it was an incredibly immerse experience. This is the first of GGK’s books I read. He’s an author who frequently writes historical fantasy fiction, inspired by various events throughout history. (This one not so much as his other works, but it’s based kind of on fifteen century Italy.) He also likes to tell stories that are encompasing, with a large character list comprised of complex people.
There’s an expectant tone throughout this whole book that really excites you: this wait and search for Tigana, the characters across the world who are united in their love for it. You become one of them. And now I’m wanting to reread this I think…
Circe – Madeleine Miller
Synopsis: In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Yet, in the golden halls of gods and nymphs, Circe stands apart, as something separate, something new. With neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and scorned and rejected by her kin Circe is increasingly isolated. Turning to mortals for companionship, she risks defying her father for love, a path that leads her not to the marriage bed but to a discovery of a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
Man, I really love this book! I read it shortly after it’s release, on the heels of Miller’s Song of Achilles, and the equal parts love and pain, failure and determination, the emotion in that first book is repeated here. I am absolutely enjoying the new trend that rewrites mythology from the perspectives of the women, and Circe is a book that fails to release you from the first moment. Women and witchcraft seem inextricably linked across all cultures and histories. It was (and in some forms, remains) an easy relegation for a woman who sits a little bit outside of the societal norms, and all of that is explored here, and will remain with you indelibly.
Omeros – Derek Walcott
Synopsis: A poem in five books, of circular narrative design, titled with the Greek name for Homer, which simultaneously charts two currents of history: the visible history charted in events – the tribal losses of the American Indian, the tragedy of African enslavement – and the interior, unwritten epic fashioned from the suffering of the individual in exile.
This is a book I’m only familiar with because I studied it – and am I glad I did! There is almost no poetic work I enjoy more than this (however many pages) retelling of the Odyssey, set in St Lucia. It covers so many topics it’s hard to describe them simply – colonialism and identity, fatherhood and belonging, environment and friendship. Symbolism is not lacking in this book and neither is skill, as each line is deliberate and impactful. Worth the study.
Bedlam – Derek Landy
Synopsis: On a desperate journey to recover her sister’s lost soul, Valkyrie Cain goes up against the High Sanctuary itself, and there’s nothing Skulduggery Pleasant can do to stop her.
I explain a little more about this series here (scroll to bottom).
Ngl, I’m not sure why this second iteration of the Skulduggery Pleasant books continues to be marketed towards children. It’s incredibly violent, for a start. Maybe because the original series was for kids? But I’d imagine its readers (of which I was one), have grown up. Anyway I enjoyed this book. It’s fun, if dark; Landy continues to deliver his trademark wit and I enjoy the characters and their various tragic quests.
I found it more enjoyable than any of the other books in the second series so far, perhaps because the action gets interesting, perhaps because Landy commits to this creeping evil, perhaps because the characters are sufficiently developed enough for you to have an emotional stake in their fates. I look forward to the next one!
Have you read any of these books? Leave me a link to your #TTT!