A year in books

It’s hard to believe I only started reading novels as a hobby two years ago. I wasn’t much of a book lover when I was still studying and the only novels I read back then were those that were required for English class. I didn’t even finish most of the books that were assigned to us and I was happy enough to get all the details I needed from online summaries (yes, I have a shameful past). It’s not that I hated reading, but anything that was required for school simply lost its charm. Luckily, however, I picked up the habit a few years down the road, and here I am tearing through as much fiction as I can.

I finished 10 novels in 2014 – a big improvement considering I spent several years prior with an annual book count of zero. When the year ended, I was determined to read more. I felt that although  I had read so much, there are still so many stories to enjoy; so many treasures waiting to be discovered.

These days I often find myself standing in the middle of bookstores wondering if I’ll have enough time to read every book I want to read. There are just so many stories! And I want to read as many of them as I can. So for this year, I set out to finish one novel for each month, and I’m happy to say I was able to accomplish my goal. Here’s a look at the twelve books that made my 2015 amazing.

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Book #1 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

I had a lot of fun with this one, and I imagine anyone who was ever a boy would, too. Tom Sawyer is a classic tale about a boy who did everything a juvenile male would; from escaping chores and corporal punishment, to roughhousing, to flirting with schoolgirls and getting into all sorts of trouble. Twain’s work is the embodiment of “boys being boys.”

Book #2 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Do not let the bad film adaptations dissuade you from picking up this novel. Shelley’s masterpiece, hailed as one of the cornerstones of science fiction, makes for an entertaining read. This cleverly written novel cautions against the sin of hubris and the dangers of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Read: Beyond pitchforks and torches

Book #3 – The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is why I don’t let classifications such as “children’s literature” deter me from picking up books. This illustrated novel is like a silent film on paper. Selznick’s illustrations give life to the story and make for a truly unique reading experience. The story is brilliantly conceptualized and will surely delight you from beginning ‘til end.

Interesting fact: The invention of Hugo Cabret is the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, an award reserved only for picture books.

Book #4 – The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Gangsters, drugs, prostitutes and three unlikely heroes crammed inside a walled city. This fast-paced dystopian fiction will have you turning pages as you follow the protagonists in their struggle to survive Hak Nam and escape the city of criminals before it’s too late.

Book #5 – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Set against the backdrop of 19th century New York, Wecker’s historical fiction is an epic tale that spans a thousand years. This is fantasy done right. I really liked how the author created very human relationships between two magical beings and the people around them. What’s even more amazing is the fact that this is only her first novel. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Wecker’s future works.

Read more about the book and its author here.

Book #6 – Dracula by Bram Stoker

The king of horror stories. Mystery, suspense, adventure and a diabolical villain combine for a thrilling read. As with Frankenstein, no movie adaptation can ever do justice to this classic. Don’t make the mistake of lumping this book together with all the other vampire stories. The amount of creativity and originality that went into this novel is simply mind-blowing, especially if you consider the fact that it was first published in 1897. This book started it all. Literally.

Book #7 – Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Probably the most grueling book I’ve read so far. This is another historical fiction novel that draws on the real-life account of Charles Jamrach, a famous 19th century wildlife dealer, saving a boy from the jaws of an escaped Bengal tiger. The novel crafts a story of survival that revolves around Jaffy Brown, the boy Jamrach saved, who unfortunately gets involved in a failed expedition to capture a dragon.

Book #8 – Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola

This dark fantasy/horror novel from the creator of Hellboy is both thrilling and enchanting. Mignola’s illustrations add to the eerie atmosphere of the book, and you’re sure to find yourself highly engrossed with each chapter. If you like stories of the supernatural, this book is definitely for you.

Read: The Mignola novels

Book #9 – The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The book is about a dystopian world where much of the human population has been wiped out by a fungus that hijacks the brain and turns its victims to flesh eaters – but this isn’t your typical zombie apocalypse. Carey’s work is emotionally charged as it depicts the struggles of the five protagonists to keep, and in some cases, find their humanity amid all the hardships and tough choices they face along the way. I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation.

Book #10 – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This wasn’t the simple, happy family story I expected, and I’m glad for it. Alcott’s novel is more than the story of four daughters growing up. In its own way, it perfectly depicts life and all its twists and turns. This coming of age book is a reminder that not all things turn out the way you expect them to. That, in fact, very few things do. But while you may not get what you initially wanted, there could be other happy endings in store for you. This is one book that I’m excited to read again when I get older.

Read: Meet the Marches

Book #11 – The Number 7 by Jessica Lidh

This book caught me by surprise. The early chapters gave me what I would expect from young adult novels, but as the ending drew near, the story progressed to something much deeper. The closing chapters made me wish I could read more about the Magnusson family, but at the same time the length of the entire novel felt just right. Teenage problems and a mystery rooted in the protagonist’s family history make this an entertaining read.

Book #12 – Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Who wouldn’t want to read about a magical circus? Reading this novel was a complete joy from start to finish. It’s one of those books that, if you didn’t run out of pages, you’d just keep on reading. Finishing it almost felt like being in a real circus and not wanting to leave even when the show’s over.

And there you have it; 12 books in 12 months! As great as this year was, I’m hoping to read much, much more in 2016. There are so many classics that I have yet to get acquainted with and even more new authors who are putting out brilliant stories on the shelves. It’s definitely a good time to be a bibliophile.

 

Author’s note: Since this is a year-end post, I’d like to take the opportunity to send a big THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to check out my blog. I’m quite new at this and having people take interest in the things I share is such a treat. Always feel free to reach out – I enjoy and appreciate all the comments and exchanges. Have a happy new year, and may your 2016 be filled with adventure and wonder!

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Holiday pick: Emily Brontë’s lone novel

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A leather-bound copy of Wuthering Heights. Cover art by Jessica Hische, cover design by Jo Obarowski, book design by Patrice Kaplan.

So this is what I decided to read for the holidays. I’ve been wanting to read novels from the Brontë sisters since I haven’t heard anything about their works and I find it a real treat to go into a novel blind, not having any notion of what it’s about or what to expect. I’m also very interested to see how one sister’s writing style differed from the others, so I was really excited to start reading this one.

Unfortunately, the only thing Christmassy about Wuthering Heights is that you’d probably enjoy it best during a snowstorm. (At least I would imagine so; we never get any snow here and it’s been all sunshine for days now.) This is one dark and gloomy book, but don’t get me wrong – I am enjoying it immensely.

You know how some neighborhoods have that one weird family that everyone wants to avoid? And everyone has some story or speculation explaining why they’re like that? That’s precisely what this book is. I like how the novel opened with Mr. Lockwood’s first encounter with the strange characters living in Wuthering Heights. I found myself quite confused, just as the protagonist was, by their unnatural, almost uncivilized mannerisms and queer interactions. Lockwood would later find someone who could shed light on the grim events that had transpired on the premises in decades past, and the story just gets more and more addictive from there. Every chapter reveals a part of the family’s dark history that aids you in understanding how their relationships deteriorated over time; and the more you find out, the more you want to know.  Stories about old secrets of old families are always fascinating, especially if they’re weird. So although I’m only nine chapters in, I can already tell this will be a very good read.

The modern gods

Stories about superhumans have been around perhaps as long as civilizations existed. From religious texts, to Greek mythology, to today’s novels and comic books, we see all sorts of beings capable of performing the most amazing feats. Whether these stories were products of pure imagination or inspired by real-life events, people have always been captivated by the idea that greater beings exist. And oftentimes, the heroes that emerge in such stories reflect, in some way, what’s going on in the world.

At a time when nations were on the brink of war, Superman was born, and the savior that the world desperately needed quickly rose in popularity and forever changed the comic book industry. Similarly, Captain America enjoyed the adoration of countless readers, being the man who would willingly take on the Nazis at the height of their power.  In Grant Morrison’s book Supergods, the author noted that it is no coincidence that the two most popular superheroes today are playboy billionaires who happen to be geniuses, referring to Iron Man and Batman. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out what that says about our world’s current state.)

Last month saw the birth of yet another super being with the debut of Image Comics’ Huck. In their latest comic book series, writer Mark Millar and artist Rafael Albuquerque introduce their version of the everyday hero.

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Covers A and B for Huck #1

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Covers A and B for Huck #2

Huck is about a man who has incredible strength, speed, invincibility and the apparent ability to find humans and objects no matter where they are in the world. What makes him unique is that he uses his powers to do good deeds for everyone in his community. And by good deeds, I don’t mean he fights off super villains and stops natural disasters from happening. I’m talking everyday good deeds like returning a lost necklace and… well… taking out everyone’s trash and buying everyone lunch.

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He fights terrorists, too.

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The series is only two issues in but so far it has been a delightful read. One of the reasons I like reading superhero stories is that they tend to give you that “everything will be alright” feeling. And in a world where even the most mundane good deeds are becoming more and more scarce, Huck reminds us that these things matter just as much as stopping the bad guys.

Millar and Albuquerque combine great storytelling and dynamic art in this promising tale about the hero that the world needs. I’m really hoping they get a long, solid run with this series.

Weekend find

I found this book in the graphic novels section and suspected it to be an illustrated novel (meaning it’s still mostly text but it has some pages with illustrations on them). It turns out I was right, but I’m happy the misclassification drew my attention to it. I’m always on the lookout for good fantasy stories and this one shows a lot of promise – I really can’t wait to read it.

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The Trilogy of Two – the first novel from Lebanese-born author Juman Malouf.

“Identical twins Charlotte and Sonja are musical prodigies with extraordinary powers. Born on All Hallows’ Eve, the girls could play music before they could walk. They were found one night by Tatty, the Tattooed Lady of the circus, in a pail on her doorstep with only a note and a heart-shaped locket. They’ve been with Tatty ever since, roaming the Outskirts in the circus caravans, moving from place to place.

But lately, curious things have started to happen when they play their instruments. During one of their performances, the girls accidentally levitate their entire audience, drawing too much unwanted attention. Soon, ominous Enforcers come after them, and Charlotte and Sonja must embark on a perilous journey through enchanted lands in hopes of unlocking the secrets of their mysterious past.”