My Top 3 Reads – First Quarter 2020

Wow have the first three months of this year managed to both crawl by like shifting glaciers before global warming took hold and yet also afford me no extra time in all their slowness.

But this is not a place for complaining about the weird elastic qualities of time. This is a place for me to tell you that I read twelve books in the first three months of the year and I have picked my top three to recommend to you.

Shall we begin? Let’s proceed in the order read so as to not actually rank them since they are rather different from each other 🙂

1. Hollow Kingdom – Kira Jane Buxton

This is the story of ST (Shit-Turd), a crow hailing from Seattle, Washington, who is trying desperately to understand why his human and all humans are acting very strangely. He sets off with his human’s dog (who doesn’t seem to be very smart) to find the one creature in the city who he believes will have the answers. Unfortunately, he’s not entirely sure where this creature is and navigating a zombie-ridden Seattle is dangerous.

I listened to the audio book while driving up and down I-405 on the east side, and then back and forth across the 90 bridge from Bellevue to Seattle. Being stuck in traffic in Seattle while reading about a zombie apocalyptic Seattle was highly entertaining. In fact, this book is pretty darn hilarious.

ST doesn’t really consider himself a crow. He’s not like the other crows. He’s been living with his human for years, and he’s learned everything there is to know about them. He knows so much, he’s basically a human himself. Except he doesn’t have hands, which makes getting into and out of buildings hard. ST pretty well thinks that the rest of the bird community is beneath him, especially since they don’t agree that humans are extraordinary.

The book isn’t all laughs. There’s some seriously sad content in here, but thankfully it’s beautifully balanced so that you don’t get too stuck on the horrible realities of what would happen if society did collapse.

Disclaimer: I read this back in January before our country recognized we were moving toward a pandemic. I don’t honestly know what it would be like to read this book right now. If you’re like my friend who wants to read books and think to yourself, ‘at least it’s not that bad!’ then this is probably a solid read for you. If you’re looking for a laugh and don’t mind a bit of the macabre, dive in! If you’re wanting to completely escape to sunshine and rainbows, just keep walking.

2. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams – Matthew Walker

I feel like this book needs a warning sign that reads: you will become obsessed with getting enough sleep after you read this book.

A neuroscientist friend recommended this book to me last year when I was looking for fresh non-fiction to read. She’s got great taste in books, fiction or nonfiction. I put it on my hold list at the library, and then proceeded to wait for MONTHS for the book to come in.

When it finally came in, I had too many library books checked out for me to reasonable read them all in time, so my partner snagged this one and read it first. In the end, I bought a copy. It was that or wait for several more months for the book to come back around to me at the library. I didn’t have that kind of patience. My partner had read me excerpts while I’d been busy with other books, and I really wanted to dive into Walker’s book.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t a perfect book. I find that many non-fiction books I read that are written by experts in their fields are great for about 75% of the book and then they dive so deep into explaining the awesomeness of their field and what they know that I’m left yelling (mentally) I GET IT! I’m being up front with you about this. You will, by 70-75% of the way through this book, really really understand that sleep is vitally important to your health.

I still highly recommend the book because Walker does present the studies in interesting and compelling ways, and the information is, as i said before, vitally important to your health.

It’s been over a month since I finished this book, and I’m still going to bed half an hour earlier, and cringing when I get fewer than seven hours of sleep.

3. Witchmark – C. L. Polk

This is a book that was recommended to me awhile ago and it sat on my to-be-read list until I went to Futurescapes in February and yet another person recommended that I read it. I honestly have no idea why I didn’t dive into it sooner. I think a small part of me thought it was going to be too slow. Or too much trying to create the feel of a certain type of classic mystery that I love but that I feel strangely protective of. Why did I think this? Well, the cover, to be honest. To be perfectly frank, I misread the cover art and made assumptions based on 1) the bowler hat, 2) the two figures in the shadow of the bicycle and 3) the background with skeletal trees, fog, and those empty cobblestone streets that remind me of a scene out of the Exorcist.

If you’ve been following me for very long, you know I am 100% one of those people who will pick up a book because of the cover. Good cover art, or really interesting book construction, will draw me to a book faster than just about anything else about a book. Once I’m drawn in, I’ll read the backcopy or blurbs online. The other thing that will make me pick up a book, even if the cover isn’t exciting, is knowing the author is amazing.

I’d never read C. L. Polk before. Having now read Witchmark, the cover makes perfect sense. In fact, I love it now. But when I first looked at it, I thought I knew what the book was about and I was very wrong.

Now it wasn’t the cover alone that kept me from reading this book sooner, if I’m brutally honest. I also read the backcopy and thought the book sounded dark, brooding, and a bit tedious in a time when I wanted something simple and light.

I started with the audio book, back when I was driving more for work, before the Washington stay-at-home order went out. The audiobook is probably great for some, but this particular one was hard for me because it was hard for me to tell who was speaking when there was dialogue, and also because I struggled to pay attention to the rich descriptions while driving. So I picked up a digital copy of the book and then I was doomed. Completely doomed.

I devoured this book once I had it properly in my hands. I was obsessed with it to the extent that I stood in the kitchen while my partner made us dinner and described to him in great detail, just short of reading him the passage, a bicycle race scene.

The book follows Miles Singer, a doctor with the gift of magic that allows him to see into his patients, know what’s ailing them, and then be able to heal them. The book is set in what feels like pre-World War 1 England, but is actually a fictional world with a war between Aeland and Laneer. The book starts with a patient recognizing Miles for who he really is, a man hiding from his family and past to avoid becoming a tool for their political aspiration. When the patient dies after claiming to have been poisoned, his death pushes Miles to work with a strange man who is as desperate as he is to solve a murder case everyone else seems ready to ignore.

I was drawn into this book for the murder mystery, but also for the romance. The world is interesting, but familiar, and I particularly liked the prose. If you’re looking for something well written, with a new magic system, a mystery AND a romance, this is the book for you.

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