Book Reviews: Quarter Four

The list of books read from the Goodreads 2019 reading challenge.

Quarter Four! The end of the year is upon us, and I indeed met my goal of reading 50 books this year!

Like Quarter Three, Quarter Four books were less than stunning, and I’m bound to reflect why am I reading so many books if I don’t like many of them? Much of it boils down to the following -I’m reading books available to me instead of making myself available to books.

But, good enough doesn’t mean good. As always, I’ll set a goal to read this year, but I’m going to be flexible with it. I want to read some really weird books such as the puzzle ridden House of Leaves which has lived on my shelf for near five years waiting for me to accept its challenge. Or take the time to reread something cherished like Dune for the um, I don’t know, 7th time? in anticipation of the new, perhaps actually good, movie. Or Harry Potter as I jealously watch my significant other restart the series. So many possibilities, but this time, focus on the ones that bring me joy.

With that, I have only two recommendations for Quarter Four.

1. The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman

A picture of the book cover for "The Book of Dust Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth".

I hope for your sake that you’ve been enjoying the new HBO show, His Dark Materials. Based off the trilogy of the same name, the series follows Lyra Belacqua through a world much like our own save for one major detail. In Lyra’s world, part of a human’s soul lives outside the body as an animal familiar called a daemon. In His Dark Materials, Lyra travels North in search of her missing friend Roger, one of many children kidnapped by a nefarious secret organization. Along the way, Lyra learns more about a human’s relationship to a daemon and of their connection to original sin, good and evil, and ultimately the fate of the Universe, etc.

Everything in His Dark Materials resolves when Lyra is about 13. The Book of Dust is the story that comes later. In volume two, The Secret Commonwealth, Lyra is now in her 20s studying to become a scholar. When she witnesses the murder of a botanist, a series of events force her to once again travel the globe, searching for someone dear to her, uncovering larger schemes of powerful parties along the way.

Volume 1 of The Book of Dust, La Belle Sauvage, I devoured in one sitting. The Secret Commonwealth took a bit longer to become engrossed, but by the end I made marathon sessions to find out “What happens next!”. If you haven’t read His Dark Materials, I recommend starting there lest you spoil things for yourself, but for those already in love, certainly The Secret Commonwealth will be a good treat. And, ending with a cliffhanger, you’ll be more than eager for the final installment as yet unnamed, release date unannounced.

2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Book cover for The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

In keeping with my newfound love of Stephen King and the horror genre, I picked up a copy of The Haunting of Hill House. I knew there was a Netflix show, and, as always, I wanted to finish the book before watching the movie. I read The Lottery in 8th grade as you’re want to do in English literature, never exploring further. As I read the novel, I began to realize I knew the plot from yet another cinematic version, the 1999 film The Haunting . From then on, it was a race to the end. Would The Haunting of Hill House be a psychological thriller or a good old fashioned ghost story?

It’s no wonder the book’s remained popular since it was published in 1959. It so precisely toes the line, hinting that the horror may be of supernatural origin…or the girl could just be crazy. Which one is it? Even when you reach the end, you still probably won’t be sure yourself, hence the enduring desire to go read it and find out for yourself.

While I genuinely enjoyed the decadent descriptions, the prose does make it somewhat hard to get through. With the characters flying through sarcastic and joking dialogue, it gets hard to keep up where you are with who. Like the confusing construction of Hill House, you’re kept off balance as you wander the pages. My recommendation would be to ensure you read only when you have time to adequately digest.

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