Two Damn Fine Books

These two books each deserve their own long, objective reviews; they can get them elsewhere. Every time I sat down to write, I found that I was unable to do anything but enthuse about them for two full paragraphs, which doesn’t make for a very substantial post. So I’ll get the gushing done here: these are two of the best books I’ve read this year. Though very different genres, one fantasy and one historical fiction, they both share that quality I’ve talked about before: literary writing. I give them a blanket recommendation to anyone and everyone, whether or not you believe you like either of these two oft-overlooked genres.

Seraphina Cover   Seraphina

“A feeling rose in me, and I just let it, because what harm could it do? It only had another thirty-two adagio bars of life in this world. Twenty-four. Sixteen. Eight more bars in which I love you. Three. Two. One.” (Seraphina by Rachel Hartman)

Gush. Gush. A beautiful book with a brave, intelligent, secretive female protagonist. Even though the plot is perfectly paced, the romance is weak-knee worthy, and magic system is enviable, what stands out here is the language. Hartman places the reader directly into her medieval-type world with carefully chosen descriptions of pre-industrial tools and clothes, and a vivid portrayal of her protagonist’s inner life and imagination.

I read in an interview with Hartman that the book took her ten years to write. You can tell. Though it is in no place over-wrought, every aspect is so exquisite that it had to have taken much more than talent to craft such a masterpiece.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBRAvoid

Length:  451 pages (Audiobook Quality: Excellent)

Ending: Remarkably Satisfying. The book stands alone, but one can tell that the plot needs a sequel.

Further Reading: This book is a natural read-alike for Graceling by Kristin Cashore, the other phenomenal literary fantasy novel to have come out of the YA market in recent years. The care in which the world was crafted also reminds me of Clarke’s masterpiece: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Rules of Civility Cover

   Rules of Civility 

“In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions—we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.” (Rules of Civility by Amor Towles)

Ah! Another beautiful book with a protagonist I would love to meet in real life and befriend. While listening to the story of Katey Kontent’s life, both the depressing bits where she played bridge with her imaginary friends and the high-society parts where she found diamond earrings in couches, I couldn’t help but think that I’d like to be more like her. She has an easy, contented way of looking at disappointments and a casual wit in conversation that I don’t believe I could ever achieve. I shall take her for my role model nonetheless.

The language here was nothing short of spectacular. I kept rewinding the audio so that I could listen to the phrasing again and again, and I do think I’ll have to get it in print sometime so that I can dwell on the words more permanently. I particularly loved the repetition of lines in T.S. Eliot.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBRAvoid

Length: 451 pages (Audiobok Quality: Exemplary)

Ending: Unexpected

Further Reading: If I knew of a great follow-up for this book, I’d be reading it right now.


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