Books You’ve Been Putting Off Poll

Hi, readers,
Here is your “oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to read that” poll, as I’ve taken to calling it. Thank you for the submissions. I know there were a few that were told to me that I probably forgot to include; sorry if that is the case! I did include all that were submitted online.
The last few weeks have been incredibly hectic between traveling, graduating, family, and random other things, so I apologize for how long it took me to finally compile this and get it out to you. Our schedule should, hopefully, be returning to usual. We will meet for the first book on July 14, and the second on July 28.
If you submitted a book, please vote for it. You can then use your 2nd vote on any other book that seems interesting to you. If you submitted multiple, it’s up to you how you use your second vote, but considering the theme, please at least vote for one book you submitted. If you don’t have a submission in the poll, you can vote however you like.
I will close this poll and announce the results in a few days 🙂

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.

Notable review by Rick Riordan

It may be cliche to say a book was impossible to put down, but well, dang it, this book was impossible to put down!

I was intrigued by the lovely cover art, which seemed to promise a Zulu-inspired fantasy world with dragons. That’s exactly what I got, but there is so much much to the story. We meet our hero Tau Solarin as a young man, just training for his warrior trials, which in the society of the Omehi is a requirement for all commoner men. If he passes, Tau can join the ranks of the Ihashe, the more elite division of the rank-and-file army. If he fails, he has two choices: serve as cannon fodder in the Omehi’s endless war against the indigenous Hedeni who populate the continent, or become a Drudge, a servant with no rights and no honor.

Tau’s people the Omehi have been in a constant state of war with the Hedeni for almost two hundred years, even since they landed on their peninsula, escaping from the fall of their old empire at the hands of a wicked force called the Cull. To gain a foothold, the Omehi had to use their ‘nuclear option’ on the hedeni: invoking the aid of dragons, which has terrible consequences both for the caller and the enemy. The Omehi’s dragons, and their militant society, are the only things that allow them to hold on to their peninsula in the face of the Hedeni, fierce fighters who outnumber them a hundred to one.

That’s just the set up! Tau’s life journey would be intriguing enough if it followed its predicted course. But fate has many twists, turns and tragedies in store for him. We watch Tau evolve from a commoner boy who just wants to skip his military service and marry his hometown sweetheart, to a fierce fighter driven by revenge and haunted (literally) by demons. He must achieve his personal goal — vengeance upon certain nobles who destroyed his happiness and his family — while dealing with the challenges of his whole nation. After centuries of warfare, things are changing for the worse. The Hedeni attacks are intensifying. The Omehi are struggling, losing more warriors and Gifted (their all-female mages) than they can replace. And there is a horrible secret behind the Omehi’s use of dragons . . . Is it possible the mighty Omehi are losing their eternal war? And if so, can one young man, Tau, make a difference? Does he even want to save the caste-driven society that has kept him down so long?

The novel is rich and complex. I would recommend giving it fifty pages or so before passing judgment because there is a lot of new terminology to take in: all the different names for the castes, the peoples, the vocabulary of magic, not to mention the characters who often carry multiple names and titles. But once you get the hang of the world-building, you will be hooked. The chapters are short and breathless, and will carry you through a rip-roaring good story. This is one of those books where you find yourself thinking, “Okay, just one more chapter.” Then you look up and realize you read half the book. I’m delighted to see that there will be a sequel. Pre-ordering now!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.

Notable review by Emily May

“All freedom is relative—you know too well—and sometimes it’s no freedom at all, but simply the cage widening far away from you, the bars abstracted with distance but still there, as when they “free” wild animals into nature preserves only to contain them yet again by larger borders. But I took it anyway, that widening.”

4 1/2 stars. Stunning.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is quite a book. It is not surprising that the author is a poet, as this reads almost like a poetry collection – prose poems, each capturing a moment, a memory, a feeling, or an idea so beautifully. It doesn’t follow a regular narrative structure, but is instead a series of snippets or moments. The style won’t be for everyone, but for those who love the raw punches of poetry, it is a fantastic book.

I found it difficult to believe this was fiction. There is something about Little Dog’s story, a certain raw honesty and earnestness, that seems to come from a place of truth. Maybe because much of it does. The author draws on recent and historical events, stories of well-known figures, artists and tragedies to weave his fictional story with every inch of our reality.

The book is a letter from Little Dog to his illiterate mother. He talks frankly about race, gender, sexuality, masculinity, grief and language, without allowing the book to be overwhelmed by the heavy subject matter. The last one – language – is a major theme, and the author explores the importance of language on both a micro and macro level – the choice of individual words and phrases, and the power (or lack of) bestowed upon an individual by having access to language and literacy.

For such a tiny novel, it is huge in its scope. From the Vietnam War to Barthes to Tiger Woods to 50 Cent to Little Dog’s first romance with a white boy, it’s somehow both a philosophical book about humanity and language, and a deeply personal bildungsroman.

It is impossible to categorize, but it is undeniably both brief and gorgeous.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her two protagonists.

Notable review by Kinga

I received this book as a Christmas present from my boss over a year ago. In fact, everyone in the office received a copy – that’s how much our boss wanted us to read it. Before you start wondering what sort of wonderful place I worked at, let me clarify it was a literary agency, so such things were totally commonplace. So despite the terrible cover, and a rather idiotic blurb I knew it would be a fine book.

No review of Ferrante’s book is complete without a mention of how no one knows who Ferrante is or even if she exists as an individual woman at all. Personally, I find this whole mystery of little interest as I share her view that all that the author wants to say she should say in the book and there is no need for the entire marketing circus.

Ferrante’s Naples novels have been compared to Knausgaard’s magnum opus because both authors can be characterised by their hyperreal scrutiny which seemingly can only be achieved in autobiographical novels. The autobiographical component is official in case of Knausgaard and alleged in Ferrante’s. Additionally, Knausgaard has happily joined the marketing circus, which is why I find Ferrante’s presumed exhibitionism a lot more palatable.

These books defiantly ignore all creative writing advice and cheerfully tell and not show, abandon all sensible plot structure and introduce as many characters as they feel like, not really caring whether that whole cast is in any way necessary. Neither do they have time for stylistic flourishes. Ferrante’s prose is bare; the language takes a back seat and is nothing more than a tool to the narrative that is pushed forward by its own urgency. What we are left with, though, is so vivid and authentic that no carefully polished novel could compete with it. This is great news. Rejoice, people, because in the age when it is possible to get a DEGREE in novel writing (without having to write anything of significance), comes a book which just doesn’t give a shit and still manages to steal the hearts of thousands.

I don’t suppose I have to explain what this book is about, because you have other reviews for that. But in short it’s about the intense friendship and rivalry between two girls growing up in the impoverished outskirts of Naples. You might argue it’s a book about female experience, and to an extent it certainly is, but judging by how much men love this book, I’d say it’s rather universal. But then, I generally feel female experience, once stripped of all telling signs could be pretty universal, because, you know, women are people too. Anyway, to me this book was more about class than gender. That constant anger, violence, the ‘let’s get them before they get us’ feel permeates the novel. And the moral, if ‘My Brilliant Friend’ has a moral at all, is that you can take a girl out of the Naples slums, but you can’t take the Naples slums out of the girl. Make no mistake, though. This is by no means an emotionally manipulative misery memoir. This is a story of childhood that simply doesn’t know it’s underprivileged.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one…Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Abdullah, Pari – as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named – is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. Each night they sleep together in their cot, their heads touching, their limbs tangled. One day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand. Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, with profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, the ways in which we help our loved ones in need, how the choices we make resonate through history and how we are often surprised by the people closest to us.

Notable review by Leah

Blown like leaves in the wind…

‘A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later.’

Within the first few pages of this book, the reader knows s/he’s in the hands of a master storyteller. In a village in rural Afghanistan, mid 1940s, a father tells a folk tale to his two young children. On the next day, they will travel to Kabul and start a chain of events that will take the reader on a journey across the world and through the decades.

The novel is made up of a series of linked and interlinked stories about members of this one family, their descendants and people whose lives they touch. Hosseini takes us back and forwards in time but each episode tells a whole story of one of the characters. This made the book feel in some ways like a collection of short stories rather than a novel, but Hosseini brings us round in a perfect circle and the last few chapters bring all these disparate episodes into one immensely moving whole.

The beauty of the writing is only matched by the humanity of the characters. Hosseini takes us inside their minds and their hearts and we see them laid bare, essentially good people but with their flaws and weaknesses exposed, to us and to themselves. Although much of the book takes place in Europe and America, Afghanistan remains at the heart of it because it remains in the hearts of the characters, even though they may have become part of the war- and poverty-driven diaspora.

A beautiful and very moving book that brought me to tears on several occasions, this isn’t fundamentally about politics or war; it is about the unforgettable people who populate its pages – about humanity. And though there is sadness and sorrow here, there is also love and joy and a deep sense of hope. Highly recommended.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

In this stunning debut, author Scott Lynch delivers the wonderfully thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his band of confidence tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part “Robin Hood”, one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling…

An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains — a man who is neither blind nor a priest.

A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans — a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.

Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful — and more ambitious — than Locke has yet imagined.

Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men — and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game — or die trying…

Notable review by Petrik

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The Lies of Locke Lamora is a double fuckdamn for me. First, for postponing reading this book for such a long time. Second, Scott Lynch’s capability to successfully craft such an incredible debut exceeded my expectations.

“There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.”

Together with The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and Malice by John Gwynne, The Lies of Locke Lamora—the first book in the Gentleman Bastard sequence—has become one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read so far. This and the other debuts I just mentioned are completely different from each other in terms of content and writing style, but quality-wise they’re all the same: exceptionally stunning.

Picture: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Edward Miller

In The Lies of Locke Lamora, we follow a group of elite con artists called the Gentleman Bastards. Led by their leader, Locke Lamora (the infamous Thorn of Camorr), the story begins with the gang trying to pull off the biggest heist they ever attempted. This heist, as you can probably predict, eventually lead them into something much bigger and dangerous than what they’ve signed up for. There was no shortage of dark humor and profane langue thrown around, and at first, this might cause you into thinking that this is a light-hearted book. But as the story progressed, the tone of the story increasingly turned darker, and the complexity of the storyline improved; the intensity of the plot grew gradually towards reaching a marvelous climax sequence. Equally plot and character-driven, Lynch has created a multi-layered narrative within his unforgettable debut, and every recipe required for a compelling heist fantasy was fulfilled. I personally think that The Lies of Locke Lamora could, and would’ve, worked magnificently as one standalone novel. If Lynch had decided to not continue the series after this, I honestly would’ve been satisfied with what I’ve read here, and I also would’ve called this one of the greatest standalone novels—with no sequels—of all time. However, knowing that the Gentleman Bastard sequence is planned to be a seven-book series, I will rejoice and cheers to that fucking grand menu. We’re only at the appetizer here, we still have a full course to look forward to, and the taste has been spectacularly delicious already.

“You’re one third bad intentions, one third pure avarice, and one eighth sawdust. What’s left, I’ll credit, must be brains.”

The storytelling structure is arranged in a slightly similar fashion to The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. This doesn’t mean there’s a chronicler in the present timeline writing Locke Lamora’s life here, but the narrative did shifts between the present and the past timeline. However, contrary to The Kingkiller Chronicle, the jumping back and forth between two timelines definitely happened more frequently within The Lies of Locke Lamora. The Interludes sections function as the past timelines, and these Interludes occurred at the end of almost every chapter. I loved the Interludes chapters; Lynch used the Interludes sections to terrifically cultivate the character’s background, personality, and developments. And, to sweeten things even further, several aspects of the world-building were also explored within these chapters. The juxtaposition of these two timelines created a superlative result in bringing a superbly-written story enhanced by incredibly addictive pacing. Seriously, the relatively slow start to the novel signified the calm before the storm; after one hundred pages, it was pretty much impossible for me to stop reading as the plot thickens. I actually read three hundred pages of the book within a day right after I got back from work. Sleeping hours were sacrificed, and did I regret it? No, I’ll gladly do it again on my future reread of this book.

Picture: The Lies of Locke Lamora (French edition cover art)

The Gentleman Bastards is one of the most lovable gangs I ever had the pleasure of knowing out of every storytelling medium. The six individuals trained by Father Chains that formed this group consists of Locke Lamora (the garrista/leader of the group,) Jean Tannen (the brute,) Calo and Galdo Sanza (the jack-of-all-trades identical twins,) Bug (the overlooked young apprentice,) and Sabetha (she didn’t make an appearance in this book) were characters that made me feel invested in their journey. Their genius scheming, their engaging interactions, and the wholesome brotherhood they have with each other was immensely entertaining. Just within the first one hundred pages, I was already head over heels with these characters. Laughing while reading a high fantasy novel can be considered a rare occasion for me, and these characters managed to pull that off several times throughout the whole book with their amazingly humorous banter. I was going to put a quote here, but I think it would be better for you to read and find out by yourself; they’re all golden.

Picture: The Lies of Locke Lamora (Japanese edition cover art)

One brilliant thing to note—among many—about Lynch’s prose is the creativity in profanity. There’s a myriad of swearing, cursed words, and mockery I never even had the imagination to ever think of; this book is pretty much filled with them. I personally loved them; they were eloquent, full of sass, and highly appropriate for the overall story and setting of the book. Profanity included, I found Lynch’s prose in every factor of the book to be intricate and well-delivered; the heists, the brutal actions, the dialogues, the politics, and the settings were all vivid in my mind’s eye.

“We’re a different sort of thief here, Lamora. Deception and misdirection are our tools. We don’t believe in hard work when a false face and a good line of bullshit can do so much more.”

I can’t stress this highly enough, the world-building was brilliantly detailed. The setting in The Lies of Locke Lamora takes place in the city of Camorr, a city inspired by medieval Venice with its canals and Falselight—lights that illuminate the city during a period of the night. The setting, mixed with elements of high fantasy, was gorgeous and breathtaking. With the addition of the bloody history of Camorr, the stylish fashions plus the intricate description of food, liquors, appearances, and tastes, Lynch did a fantastic job in bringing the world-building and the city of Camorr to life. Being in Camorr with these characters played a huge factor in why I’m enamored with this book, and I will definitely revisit this place again in the future.

Picture: The Lies of Locke Lamora (Chinese edition cover art)

I could probably end this review by telling you that this book is overrated, or maybe I could tell you that it didn’t meet my expectation, but these statements would belong in a gallery of blasphemy called The Lies of Petrik Leo. Truthfully speaking, this cleverly crafted book deserves all the fame and praise it has received, and more. The Lies of Locke Lamora is effortlessly one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read, simple as that. It will be difficult for the rest of the series to top this one, but I’m definitely eager to find out. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the rest of the series will continue to awe me with the same quality of ingenious content that never fails to steal my attention from cover to cover here. I absolutely recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora to every reader of adult high fantasy. Original, engrossing, emotional, and devastatingly impactful; this extremely well-written tale of avarice and brotherhood is a treasure of gold, and you will want your share of it.

“To us — richer and cleverer than everyone else!”

Vote Here

What shall we read next?

  • On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (29%, 4 Votes)
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (29%, 4 Votes)
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (21%, 3 Votes)
  • The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter (14%, 2 Votes)
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (7%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 7

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