Read in May 2023

May was a bit of a colourless reading month. I was not very lucky with the books I chose. Even though I read a few good books, the feeling of reluctance and antipathy prevailed.

In total, I read 8 books in May, amounting to 2494 pages, significantly less than any previous month of this year. The average May book comes to 312 pages/book.

It also became a bit of a month of extremes, where I would have been better off if I hadn’t persevered and just DNF’ed some books. This brings the average book for May to 2.9 stars.

In terms of target group, I alternated between 3 Young Adult books and 5 adult books.

As always, I also varied in my reading style, with 1 ebook, 3 audiobooks and 4 physically owned books.

For the genres, I switched between 5 genres, namely thriller (1), graphic novel (1), sci-fi (1), mystery (1) and fantasy (4).

For the language I stuck to English again and did not read a single book in Dutch.

Below is the list of the books I read in May and my rating in stars.
Click the link to jump to the blurb and my review! As always, be aware that both blurb and review may contain spoilers, especially if they are sequels in a series!

  1. Nagamatsu, Sequoia – How High We Go in the Dark ★★★
  2. Lucier, Makiia – Year of the Reaper ★★★★
  3. Jameson, Hanna – The Last 🎧 ★
  4. Candlish, Louise – The Other Passenger 🎧 ★★
  5. Vaughan, Brian K. – Saga, Volume 2 (Saga #2) ★★★★
  6. Maas, Sarah J. – A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) 🎧 ★★★★
  7. Sanderson, Brandon – Edgedancer (The Stormlight Archive #2,5) ★★★★
  8. Andrew, Kelly – The Whispering Dark

Nagamatsu, Sequoia – How High We Go in the Dark ★★★

Genre: Sci-Fi

For fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven, a spellbinding and profoundly prescient debut that follows a cast of intricately linked characters over hundreds of years as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a climate plague—a daring and deeply heartfelt work of mind-bending imagination from a singular new voice.

Beginning in 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.

Once unleashed, the Arctic Plague will reshape life on earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.

From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resiliency of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.

Through a collection of interconnected short-stories, we learn about the outbreak of a devastating virus, threatening human life on Earth. We follow humanity as they adapt to this new reality, where we see the rise of opportunistic corporations and follow frantic scientific research.

The ideas presented here were very interesting and explore human nature and how different people cope with this trauma in different ways. I liked discovering the connections between the stories and seeing how the world evolved following the years after the infection.

However, I did not really enjoy reading this, found it mostly boring and long-winded.
Some stories were more impactful than others, but for most I was just left wondering what new insight I was supposed to gain from them. One story did manage to make me cry, the most emotional one about the theme park, but overall I really had to force myself to slog through story after story.
I hoped it would culminate in a sort of epiphany by the end. The final reveal was pretty cool (reminded me a lot of Ayreon’s concept albums) and did sort of shed a new light on some of the stories, but unfortunately wasn’t enough for me to forget I had to drag myself through this book to get to that revelation.

Lucier, Makiia – Year of the Reaper ★★★★

Genre: Fantasy

The past never forgets . . .

Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer’s apprentice on a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over the land, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas’ title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a merciless sickness. Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget the horrors of the past. But home is not what he remembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.

When an assassin targets those closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for a killer… one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret—one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plunge it back into war.

In my resolve to finally get cracking on all those YA Fairyloot books I have been collecting for years without reading them, I chose this standalone with the highest average rating on Goodreads. And yes, this was definitely a great pick!

I’ve been feeling less and less inclined to pick up YA books, while I still have a shameful amount of them languishing unread on my shelves. So yes, I was a bit apprehensive to start on this one. While I deliberately chose a standalone and not the start of yet another series, I also know I’m often disappointed by how quickly those stories are wrapped up.

But this one was definitely an exception! It captivated me right from the beginning and kept me enthralled throughout the entire book culminating in a very nice and solid ending.
In a short time, the author managed to weave an interesting story, rife with mystery and intrigue, populated by well-developed characters and an easy yet immersive writing style.
I found the twist very good and surprising. While part of me is still curious to read more about this world and characters, I did found the ending satisfying. I think it’s to the credit of the author that I feel both satisfied and interested in reading more.

🎧 Jameson, Hanna – The Last

Genre: Mystery

Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife’s text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he’s waiting in the lobby of the L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That’s all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black—and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange.

Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can’t bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel’s water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl.

As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world?

This was mostly boring and pretty pointless. So many hints were giving to potential intriguing storylines, but all were just left out to dry. I kept waiting for something, anything to happen to steer this story towards a satisfying conclusion, but it just didn’t. The end was extremely anticlimactic and all I was left with was a sense I had just wasted my time.

🎧 Candlish, Louise – The Other Passenger ★★

Genre: Thriller

It all happens so quickly. One day you’re living the dream, commuting to work by riverbus with your charismatic neighbour Kit in the seat beside you. The next, Kit hasn’t turned up for the boat and his wife Melia has reported him missing.

When you get off at your stop, the police are waiting. Another passenger saw you and Kit arguing on the boat home the night before and the police say that you had a reason to want him dead. You protest. You and Kit are friends – ask Melia, she’ll vouch for you. And who exactly is this other passenger pointing the finger? What do they know about your lives?

No, whatever danger followed you home last night, you are innocent, totally innocent.

Aren’t you?

This was not at all the story I had been expecting. I had imagined a whole mysterious plotline about an elusive passenger, but what I got was a bland story about a stupid middle-aged man who does stupid cliché middle-aged-men-things and is then surprised it comes back to bite him.
Even though I did like some of the plot twists, especially the epilogue, this was a below average and weak read.

Vaughan, Brian K. – Saga, Volume 2 (Saga #2) ★★★★

Genre: Graphic Novel

Collecting the epic second storyline of the smash hit series Entertainment Weekly called “the kind of comic you get when truly talented superstar creators are given the freedom to produce their dream comic.
Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and alien monstrosities, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters her family’s greatest challenge yet: the grandparents.

This was just as weird and intriguing as the first volume.
We got a bit more backstory on some characters, although it was confusing at first to understand that they were indeed flashbacks, since no indication was given that they were different than the current story.
The current story did not progress all that much. I guess this volume was mainly to flesh out our main characters, which I certainly appreciate.
It did end once again with a juicy cliffhanger, so I’m definitely curious to continue.

🎧 Maas, Sarah J. – A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) ★★★★

Genre: 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.

When one of my prompts for the side quest in the magical readathon was to reread a book, I cycled through a couple of options, to eventually fix on this one. I had been wanting to try out the dramatized audioplay available on Storytel, because I was curious to see how it differed from a standard audiobook. I’ve also been meaning to read the 4th book for years now, and thought this would be a good push in that direction.

To answer the question about the dramatized audiobook, the difference with a regular audiobook is that the story is actually acted out and there are background sounds. Dialogues are acted out by a full cast of characters, so lines like “she said” are simply left out.
It took some getting used to it. I found it both compelling and at times awkward. The impact of certain words when you read them, compared to when they are acted out is sometimes very different, lol.

As for the story, well, my original opinion still stands. It starts off a bit slow, but I still enjoyed the story with all its twists and peeks of the bigger world and mythology.
In the mean time I have read a lot more and more intricate fantasy stories. So in comparison, I guess this one has lost a bit of its shine, but it was still fun and offers great escapism.
Though, I had forgotten what an extremely unlikable character Feyre’s sister is. It kind of put me off wanting to read her story. On the other hand, I do love a good redemption story and am curious to see how she experiences things.

Sanderson, Brandon – Edgedancer (The Stormlight Archive #2,5) ★★★★

Genre: Fantasy

Three years ago, Lift asked a goddess to stop her from growing older–a wish she believed was granted. Now, in Edgedancer, the barely teenage nascent Knight Radiant finds that time stands still for no one. Although the young Azish emperor granted her safe haven from an executioner she knows only as Darkness, court life is suffocating the free-spirited Lift, who can’t help heading to Yeddaw when she hears the relentless Darkness is there hunting people like her with budding powers. The downtrodden in Yeddaw have no champion, and Lift knows she must seize this awesome responsibility.

“Lift prepared to be awesome”

What a cute, nonsensical, whimsical little story that suddenly makes you realize that it does have some serious depth to it. There were also a surprising amount of reveals that will most likely impact the whole Stormlight Archive. I won’t pretend I picked up and even understood all the references, because I most definitely didn’t.
But even without getting the full picture, I really liked this little side story.

“Being young was an excuse. A plausible justification”

I loved seeing Lift’s evolution.
She’s a very divisive character, with how obnoxious she is and how she desperately clings to her freedom by exaggerating her childishness. But she experiences a lot of growth in this adventure and I have a feeling we’ll need to keep our eyes peeled for her, because she seems to be an underdog that will become quite important for the times to come!

“I will remember those who have been forgotten.”

Andrew, Kelly – The Whispering Dark

Genre: Fantasy

Delaney Meyers-Petrov is tired of being seen as fragile just because she’s Deaf. So when she’s accepted into a prestigious program at Godbole University that trains students to slip between parallel worlds, she’s excited for the chance to prove herself. But her semester gets off to a rocky start as she faces professors who won’t accommodate her disability, and a pretentious upperclassman fascinated by Delaney’s unusual talents.

Colton Price died when he was nine years old. Quite impossibly, he woke several weeks later at the feet of a green-eyed little girl. Now, twelve years later, Delaney Meyers-Petrov has stumbled back into his orbit, but Colton’s been ordered to keep far away from the new girl… and the voices she hears calling to her from the shadows.

Delaney wants to keep her distance from Colton—she seems to be the only person on campus who finds him more arrogant than charming—yet after a Godbole student turns up dead, she and Colton are forced to form a tenuous alliance, plummeting down a rabbit-hole of deeply buried university secrets. But Delaney and Colton discover the cost of opening the doors between worlds when they find themselves up against something old and nameless, an enemy they need to destroy before it tears them—and their forbidden partnership—apart.

I danced around the idea of DNF’ing this book so many times, but always felt reluctant to do so. In the end I persevered, albeit by skim-reading the last 30%.

Starting this story felt like beginning a book on the second chapter, having skipped both the prologue and chapter 1. This feeling of missing some vital piece of information, that had clearly been spelled out in those skipped parts and therefore did not need repeating, persisted throughout a big chunk of this book. The other parts were a mix between a very confusing fever dream and a major slog with two cardboard carton main characters initiating a weird unbalanced relationship.

Slowly, some confusing things got revealed, but that feeling of missing out on something did persist throughout, sicnce not everything got an explanation.
The pacing of this entire story was haphazard. Everytime I thought we were getting into the flow, the tempo just screeched to a halt, presenting another couple of pages of a highly confusing and overwritten narrative.

All in all, this story had the bones of a really interesting tale, but missed all its muscles and tendons, leaving us with a confusing mess of meat and fat.