If August was a less than stellar month when it came to my reading list, September brought a number of excellent reads that I was very excited about. It’s been a good book month.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. The first book in Jemisin’s new series shows that she hasn’t lost any of her talent for innovative and exciting fantasy. Set in a world punctuated by periodic cataclysms (the titular “Fifth Seasons”) and inhabited by a subset of people able to control plate tectonics, Jemisin sets up a story that weaves together a compelling picture of a world both peculiar and familiar. As always, her female protagonists are compelling, difficult in the best of ways, and impeccably human. I cannot wait to read the future installments of this series. The gradual, masterful unveiling of the major twist of this book is one of my favorite parts – but I will avoid saying more so that other readers can have the pleasure of experiencing the dawning comprehension I did.
The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson. I know, I know – I’m late to the party. But having gotten there, I’m very excited to join. Eric Larson writes delicious, thrilling narrative history, weaving stories out of often little known or underexplored episodes of history. The Devil and the White City combines the story of the building of Chicago’s Columbian Exposition, which aimed to surpass the World’s Fair, and the path of the man frequently called America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, who preyed on women leading up to and during the fair. Larson’s talent is such that he made the architectural exploits of the fair’s builders as fascinating as the killer moving parallel to them. A stellar piece of narrative history that was a delight to read from start to finish, and left me craving more of Larson’s work.
The Likeness by Tana French. It feels like cheating because this is a sequel, technically, but this particular sequel in my opinion far surpassed Tana French’s first and more widely read book, In the Woods, and the two are loosely connected enough that I feel The Likeness could be read without In the Woods. (Although I do, less enthusiastically, recommend that one – it was great up until a rather disappointing conclusion.)
The Likeness, however, did not disappoint. It is a mystery that is beautifully written and well crafted, about a detective whose doppelganger is found murdered under a name she used for an undercover investigation years ago. Through an elaborate bit of trickery, she infiltrates the primary group of suspects in order to find the murderer. I did not see the solution to this one coming, and even if I had, the characters and prose are stellar. Would recommend especially for fans of The Secret History.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (and also Broken Monsters). These two books are not related (and yes, I am cheating) but they have certain things in common. Supernaturally tinged mystery/thrillers, both showcase Lauren Beukes as an author to watch. The Shining Girls is about a time-traveling serial killer who targets women because of their potential, following the lone survivor of his attacks and her attempts to catch her attacker. The killer is vile but never exaggerated, and the heroine Kirby is ‘damaged’ but unbroken, her determination leaping off the page. I look forward to seeing Beukes’ continued work.
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. This might seem like kind of an odd one out, but while I don’t often read scientific writing I love it when it’s good, and this was good. Quammen writes on the phenomenon of zoonoses, or diseases that jump from animals to people – tracing a variety of famous illnesses from Ebola to AIDS, finding their origin points, and discussing what all this means for the future. Sobering but not depressing, and scary but not alarmist, Quammen writes clearly and concisely, creating a quality book for the layperson that illuminates both the history of the study of diseases, and where we might be going next.
That’s five for this month. I’m already halfway through Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra, and looking forward to reading more N.K. Jemisin, Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin, and Vicious by V.E. Schwab in the next thirty one days. (And maybe trying to find some quality horror for Halloween.) Here’s to another month of subway reading!