Sunday, December 31, 2023

December reads

This month, I planned to read something light and gorgeous to end the year. Unfortunately, the book I was looking forward to ended up being quite the disappointment, but luckily I got my hands on three more of the Gaslight Mystery series and discovered a new favorite, so December wasn't a total loss.

With five books read this month, that brings my total for the year to 23! Considering I planned to read 10, I'm pretty damn happy with that result.

After a month of no reading, I was so looking forward to picking the perfect book to end the year. I wanted something cozy and interesting and beautiful, something to ease back in after a month of being writing-focused. When The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern came available on Libby, I thought it was perfect timing. I'd heard such good things and I loved The Night Circus back when it first came out.

It really sucks to be so let down by a book you've been looking forward to for weeks, but it sure gave me a lot to write about! To read my full review – because I just couldn't keep it brief and this post is about more than just this one book – click here.

The long and short of it is that I had really high hopes for this novel and it just didn't live up to the hype. The Starless Sea is about a grad student named Zachary who finds a book of short stories in which he is one of the characters. This discovery leads him down a rabbit-hole of secret societies, an underground library guarded by opposing factions, and a twisty tale of Fate and Time.

I enjoyed the "story in a story" trope, beautiful descriptions and imagery, and the premise of the novel. The interludes between chapters were interesting and it was fun to decipher  how the metaphors in the stories connected to the larger first. However, the novel dragged on. It's too long and too convoluted. Too many metaphors never pan out; too few characters are fully fleshed out, to the point that I didn't care about any of their arcs or journeys.

In the end, this novel was the worst kind of disappointment: an intriguing, new, almost experimental work that doesn't quite deliver on its promises and is boring to boot.

Next, I read three more of the Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson: Murder on Marble Row, Murder on Lenox Hill, and Murder in Little Italy. 

All three of these were quick, engaging reads. As usual, the mysteries are twisty with satisfying
resolutions. Lenox Hill broke the mold in that the murder doesn't happen until well into the book. Malloy has been aware of his own feelings for Sarah in the last few books, but we finally see Sarah admitting to herself that she's fond of him in a way that goes beyond friendship. Their dynamic and banter are definitely my favorite part of the series.

We also get to see these two more involved in each other's personal lives in a way that feels organic and just the slightest bit "slow burn". These three books show their friendship growing beyond the usual "we've been thrown together to solve a murder" plot device.

I'm still greatly enjoying this series and after the disappointment that was The Starless Sea, this binge was welcome.

I meant to end the year there, but surprised myself by picking up one more novel. I can't remember who recommended Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley, but I distinctly remember it being described as wholesome and heartwarming. I read this over two days and never lost interest. Suffice to say, it did not disappoint.

Truly, it was the perfect novel to end the year. The story follows a band of strangers who take the same train for their morning and afternoon commutes. When a near-death experience forces them to interact, a web of friendships grows between them.
I loved this book. The characters are sympathetic, their problems relatable, their triumphs well-earned. Despite the writing being fairly bare-bones in some ways, I was moved to tears multiple times, I was that wrapped up in the characters' stories. Not to say it was depressing! As promised, this novel is wholesome and left me feeling warm and happy inside.

Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting was, basically, everything I had hoped The Starless Sea would be.

This is a book about found family, starting over, defining yourself, and making connection. We live in a world where it's just too easy to be rather cut off from other people, and this was an excellent reminder of how taking risks and opening yourself up can be so rewarding. 

I can't recommend it enough. I borrowed it through Libby but may need to buy myself a hardcopy, and these days, that's really saying something.


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