What I'm Reading: March 31-May 14, 2021

When I decided to periodically write about the books I'm reading this year, instead of doing it all at one go in December/January, I didn't imagine how hard it would be to actually sit down and write something everything month or so. But let's just say I didn't imagine a lot of things at the beginning of 2021 that have since transpired.

Here are five books that I read between March 31 and May 14, 2021, in the order that I completed them:

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

402 pages

My book club watched Netflix's Bridgerton around the time it was released. I couldn't finish the show (I think I made it about halfway, to the duel episode) because I found the depiction of race to be too confounding and also I just wasn't that interested in most of the characters. However, we decided to read The Duke and I as part of our ongoing project to find a romance novel that we can all enjoy.

The story is about Daphne Bridgerton, eldest sister but fourth sibling of the Bridgerton family, who is looking for a husband in Regency England. Everyone is rich and gorgeous and there is also a gossip columnist called Lady Whistledown. Daphne gets involved with an old friend of her brother's, who has recently inherited the title of Duke from his asshole father.

To my very extreme astonishment, I enjoyed this book a lot. It is absolutely not a perfect book: everyone is too quippy and also everyone is constantly threatening to murder other people (in a non-serious, but sort of serious way) which is... odd? And yet it has this core of fun in it that I found really hard to resist. There is an issue of consent in the book that I think could have been avoided altogether by the reality of fertility, and also Daphne suffers from not-like-other-girlsitis, but other than that it was just so relaxing to read this book. I've since read the second in the series, which I'll be addressing in a future post, and have the third on hold at the library. I can barely believe it either.


The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

375 pages

A horror novel that started off strong and then descended into absolute incomprehensible chaos, but not in a good way. The main character here is a woman in her thirties who clearly has a pretty loose grasp on reality and sanity after some extreme bullying and other incidents in her youth and some more recent workplace and relationship struggles. She is an antique appraiser or something of the sort, and she gets called in to catalogue a collection of various items for sale by the descendent of a well-known but reclusive taxidermist.

I dunno exactly what was going on here and where it went so wrong. The protagonist, whose name I unfortunately can't recall at the moment, is really well-developed and interesting. She's an excellent unreliable narrator. But then I think Nevill just had too many ideas that he tried to pack into one novel: taxidermy, incest (?!), religion (!?), marionettes, an old creepy house, "cruelty plays," etc. etc. With a main character as fragile as the one in this novel, I feel like the author at least needs to have a firm grasp on what is going on, and I just didn't feel that here.

Still, this had a lot of potential, and I'm inclined to give Nevill another try or two, we'll see if I get along better with one or more of his other novels.


And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

247 pages

Note: this book was formerly published under a much more problematic title, for no clear reason except that ole Aggie must've been kind of racist?

My second ever book by Agatha Christie was another one of her more famous ones, and I feel as if I liked and disliked the same things as I did with Murder on the Orient Express. Basically the characters are all very broadly drawn and the mystery isn't really possible to figure out with the clues we're given. On the other hand, I'm probably a bit bitter because I accidentally spoiled the whole thing for myself by flipping to the back to see how many pages were left and glimpsing something I shouldn't've seen.

I couldn't put it down for the whole last half.


Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, Vol. 3 by Ito Junji

255 pages

The third and final volume of the Uzumaki horror manga finds our main characters in a town they can't escape, full of whirlwinds, gradually transforming into a spiral itself. I do find myself wondering whether Jeff VanderMeer took any inspiration from this manga for his Southern Reach Trilogy, because there are some similarities in the two works for sure.


Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary

155 pages

Looking at Beverly Cleary's bibliography after her death in late March, I realized that I had never read any of her books, and decided to remedy this by reading the very first one, Henry Huggins, published in 1950. The book is about Henry, eight years old or so, and his dog Ribsy. Each chapter is a different adventure of Henry's, with Ribsy being more or less involved. Over the course of the book, Henry does all sorts of things like losing a friend's football and therefore having to figure out how to earn enough money to buy a new one, breeding guppies, and taking Ribsy to a dog show in the park. Henry is a really charming little boy and overall I enjoyed the book.

The book is definitely aimed at an audience of children, but of course as a budding connoisseur of old children's books, I found it fascinating. So much about childhood has changed in the 71 years since this book was published. At the beginning of the book, Henry is eight years old, alone in downtown Portland with something like ten cents in his pocket, navigating his way home on a city bus.

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