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I’ve tweaked this week’s topic slightly – (First Ten) Books I’ve Reviewed – to 10 books I’ve reviewed which have become favourites, and here they are, in no particular order.
The first, ‘Storm of Steel’, is a WW1 memoir told from the point of view of a German soldier. All the war-related books I’ve read have been from the viewpoint of the Allied forces, usually British and American. The translation is very well done, and I found this a riveting read, showing that, when it comes to war, the experiences are universal.
The ‘Watch’ series by Sergei Lukyanenko, set in the former Soviet Union. I’ve read the 5 books in the series (not sure if there’s a 6th in the works), but to be honest, I only enjoyed the first 4. I was surprised when I heard there was a 5th because the story wrapped up nicely in book 4. Living alongside normal human beings are those Lukyanenko has named ‘others’, who are human but with supernatural powers. And these ‘others’ choose to be on the side of Light or Dark, and the organisations that police them are called the Night Watch for the Light and the Day Watch for the Dark.
The next 2 are by Ruta Sepetys. ‘Between Shades of Grey’ was her debut and is about the fate of the Lithuanian people and those of the Baltic states during WW2, with the threat coming from the Soviet Union, not Nazi Germany; Germany and Russia had signed a non-aggression pact in 1939 before Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941. The narrator of the story is 15-year-old Lina who, along with her mother and brother, are taken by the NKVD (Soviet secret police) and deported together with countless others.
The second book I read was ‘Salt to the Sea’. Again, set during WW2, she tells the story from 4 separate viewpoints, giving voice to the thousands of children who were orphaned during the war. I was a bit sceptical about the multiple viewpoints when I began reading it, but I quickly settled into it and had no difficulty following the story despite the different narrators. And I learned about a real-life tragedy I hadn’t come across before, the sinking of the ‘Wilhelm Gustloff’.
John Steinbeck is my favourite American author and I’ve read most of his books. I think my favourites are ‘Cannery Row’, set before WW2, and ‘Sweet Thursday’, set after the war. He based the characters on people he knew. As with most of his stories, he doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life. But what I enjoy about these two books is the humour, the undercurrent of happiness that runs through the books.
I can’t remember what I’d been reading where the author mentioned Parke Godwin and his interpretation of King Arthur. I managed to find a copy of ‘Firelord’ and, wow! Was I blown away with the story, one which is familiar yet refreshingly different. The story is told by Arthur himself, and Godwin has planted it solidly into the ruins of Roman Britain. This has, without a doubt, become my favourite Arthurian novel.
‘The Vagrant’ is the debut novel of Peter Newman. I was browsing the Fantasy section of a bookstore in London – Forbidden Planet, if anyone knows it and has been – when the cover caught my eye. I read the blurb and decided to give it a go. I am so glad I did. The story is told in present tense and, even though it’s a style I don’t enjoy, it felt ‘right’ for this story. The world Newman has created is an interesting blend of an apocalyptic sci-fi world and a corrupted fantasy one. Sadly, the second book in the trilogy left me cold, which makes me doubly glad ‘The Vagrant’ can be read as a standalone.
Another debut novel, ‘The Enchanted’ by Rene Denfeld, a book I picked up while looking over the ‘new releases’ section in a local bookstore – having ‘Death Row’ feature in a book titled ‘The Enchanted’ piqued my interest. Another first-person story, told by a nameless, mute prisoner who’s on death row.
Thanks to a Japanese series my boys are very much into called ‘Fate’, which encompasses so much more than just anime and games, and one they’ve introduced me to, I became interested in the idea of Mordred being more than the ‘villain’ in Arthurian stories. ‘I Am Mordred’ by Nancy Springer has become, in my opinion, the definitive ‘Mordred’. Instead of portraying him as sneaky or crafty, Springer shows him as an innocent, confused teenager, trying to find his place in the world.
Finally, a book by an author who was new to me – Madeline Miller. I love mythology in general and Greek mythology has been one I’ve been into for a long time. I can’t remember where I saw or heard about ‘Circe’, but the moment I did, I knew I had to read it; my favourite read of 2018. All I remembered of Circe from Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ was she’d used her witchcraft to turn Odysseus’ men into swine. Miller has taken a minor character and given her a full life and story. The thing I really enjoyed about this book – the focus is all on Circe with no unnecessary side stories.
I just realised, there are a lot of first-person stories here, yet it’s not a viewpoint I usually enjoy reading. I guess it’s testament to the authors that I’ve enjoyed these.