Sunday, June 30, 2024

What I read this month: June 2024


With four active library cards now at my disposal, I'm back to reading! I ended up having a surprising reading month. I figured I'd continue with my Gaslight Mystery series, but then the third book in a different series I've been following dropped, and, on a whim, I decided to revisit an old favorite. So I ended up reading six books in June, three of which I read within 4 days!

Murder in the Bowery and Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson.

I read these two back-to-back. The first is set against the backdrop of the newspaper strike that brought us that beloved musical Newsies. The second threatened to lose me in the very beginning because it followed a trope I hate—the main character is the accused murderer, and they have to clear their name. Luckily, the way the police force worked in 1890s New York means Frank wasn't in prison long and the plot wasn't some anxiety-inducing race-against-time sort of thing. I enjoyed both and found the twists handled well. Some familiar faces from past books resurfaced, too, which was fun.

Apostles of Mercy by Lindsay Ellis

The third book in the Noumena series, Apostles of Mercy picks up several months after the end of book two. The series is sort of a twist on The Transformers meets the monster-lover trope. I don't typically read sci-fi, but I like Ellis's video essays so I started this series when she published the first book and really enjoyed it.

The series takes place in an alternative early-2000s future where the world knows about aliens and, in fact, knows they've made contact and are somewhere on earth. It follows Cora, a messy, unambitious woman in her early-20s, who, through a set of unfortunate events, becomes the official interpreter for one of these aliens. 

There's a lot of political intrigue (both American and alien) and some of the off-worldbuilding is hard to keep straight, especially with such a long time between books. I wouldn't hate it if Ellis stuck an appendix of terms and species in the back of these books because who's who, how they relate, and their political histories can get fairly muddled. But once I had refreshed myself on books one and two, I found myself happily devouring the third.

Book two is a pretty dark slog with a depressing ending (but don't get me wrong; I enjoyed it), so I was glad to see some growth and healing for Cora in Apostles. I was also very happy with where this book ended, and can envision where the next installment will (hopefully) lead.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I first read this trilogy shortly after they were published, between 2008 and 2010. I vaguely remember my thoughts on them then: I enjoyed the series but didn't find it special. I found the writing style juvenile and too simple. I didn't connect with the characters so none of the deaths impacted me. I didn't see the value in the love triangle because there was always one clear choice to me. And, finally, I felt the author gave up in Mockingjay and brushed over too many big, important events instead of going into detail about them.

In short, I enjoyed the books, but didn't totally get the hype.

Over a dozen years later, my opinions on these books are much different.

This time, I read these with a critical eye with my own writing in mind and could truly appreciate the worldbuilding Collins accomplishes in these novels. She provides a lot of detail when it matters but doesn't bog down her writing with too much description. The characters are well-developed and sufficiently different from one another, and their choices feel true to who they are. The love triangle is well-executed and Katniss's final realization and choice is earned through a lot of reflection and emotional work.

This time around, I cried pretty hard through some of the major character deaths. Maybe having seen the movies helped me picture the scenes better, but I also think I just took the time to get invested in the relationships more. And, as an adultier-adult this time around, I could appreciate the trauma and horror of the novels so much better. At 22, reading about 16-year-olds fighting to death was gruesome but not tragic. After all, 16 feels almost adult to a 22-year-old. But at my current big age, picturing the kids in the arena hit much harder. 

I now understand why Katniss spends so much of book three sedated. And more importantly, I read her story through a different lens. Rather than reading this as a "chosen one" story, I read it as a "normal teenage girl forced into a horrific war" story.

It has always annoyed me that Katniss was such a reluctant hero and weak in so many ways, but I've seen discourse over the years that has changed my view on this a bit. Katniss isn't supposed to be a hero in these books. She is supposed to be the everyman; the common person who wants their own world as uninterrupted and protected as possible, and damn the rest. She is someone who is wracked with guilt and believes every death is her fault. Her actions and thoughts reflect her deep that guilt goes. Reading through this lens, Collins does a magnificent job of showing the horrors of oppression and revolution, and Katniss's point-of-view is highly relatable.

The series is supposed to show the reality of rebellion, the flawed people who become heroes, and the confusing gray areas of war, not in the shiny, exciting, sugarcoated sort of war we see in many YA books.

That said, I still think book three falls short. We don't connect with the newly introduced characters who end up in the final "arena" with Katniss and I think the pacing is a little off. I still stand by my assessment that Collins should have showed us more in book three, particularly with regard to Katniss's trial—we, the readers, deserve to see Katniss's actions debated and, in the end, validated.

All in all, though, I can see why there's still so much discourse surrounding this series. It was incredibly fast to read, even at 300+ pages a book, and I enjoyed every minute. Now I'm stoked to rewatch the movies.


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