This year, I’ll be participating in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by thatartsyreadergirl.
This is a mixed list of books – some of them are genuinely too good to review properly, but most of them are actually too difficult to review. This is (in part) my list of books that are so caught up with a specific time, place or feeling, it’s difficult to put such a personal experience into words.
- Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Part of the reason this book is hard to review is because it’s best to go into it knowing as little as possible, and to let yourself be swept along with the main character. It’s definitely an experience best lived without expectation – making Piranesi very hard to review for other readers.
- Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
It’s equally hard to review a book where the pitch is just ‘it hurts. You need to read it’. Plenty of people have put into words why Butler is a master of the genre, so luckily I didn’t have to.
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
This one is so specifically caught up in a time period for me that any review would struggle to articulate why it’s objectively good. I read this in the middle of a global pandemic, sad about celebrating my birthday alone – at any other time it may well have been too twee, but in that moment, it was exactly the soft, quiet balm for my soul that I needed.
- The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
I read this book when I was just getting back into epic fantasy after a long absence, and a large part of its meaning for me was in reminding me that there is a place for women and queer people in the general after all. Someone actually wrote a 900 page tome (that, admittedly, totally should have been a duology) with people like me in mind.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is the book that made 14 year old me want to be a writer (still a dream, if I ever find the right plot). I’ve read this several times and I always find something new in the richness of the language and the way the story unfurls over time. I’ve also met the author (this is my most treasured signed book) and he’s a total gem of a person.
- The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty
I binged my way through all 700+ pages of this two years ago, and never wrote a review. Looking back, I’d struggle to review this book because I’ve forgotten a lot of the details, I just remember being completely immersed in the world and feeling a desperate need to keep reading and find out what happened next.
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Another book that I read at the right time when I was desperately in need of something optimistic. It’s also hard to review without mentioning the highly formal prose – but I worry that would turn many readers off when, imo, it’s one of the most creative and fun parts of the book once you get your head around it.
- To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers
I find Chambers more hit and miss than many do, but this is by far my favourite of her books. It’s technically very competent – good prose, well-rounded characters, story fits nicely in the restricted novella length – but what it really does well is capture the sheer awe and horror of space exploration, and really bring back all those childhood feelings about how cool it would be to explore the great unknown, but with an adult tinge of better understanding the difficult ethical questions that come alongside it. I’m glad I read this pre-pandemic when I was less jaded.
- A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
These books are actually fairly easy to review individually – Lady Trent charms us with her narrative voice, plot things happen – but this is a series where the whole is more than the sum of the parts, for me. Each book is fun on its own, but the real joy is in seeing the mystery unfold across the series, until the jaw dropping moment in book #5 where you realise exactly what Isabella is seeing, and all the clues slot into place. I don’t typically re-read, but I’m very tempted to revisit this series this year.
- The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
Another book that should be easy to review; this is basically the textbook example of how to write a science fiction thriller that uses all the elements of the genre to best effect. But I spent most of the book with my heart in my mouth, making it very difficult to form coherent sentences when I was first done.