Books have been my escape these past weeks of stressful personal situations. Ever since I’ve been foolish enough to take up the writing life, it’s been hard not to read like a writer.
In times of crisis, the process of reading falls back to what it once was, the pure pursuit of pleasure. (Horrid alliteration, but in the spirit of not taking things too seriously, I’ll let it stand.)
I’ve found myself reading across genre, and wanted to share my ‘escape books’ with you.
For fun, I’ll post the titles and the first few lines of each.
— First up, FIND HER by Lisa Gardner.
You start off with one of her books, and you’re guaranteed a few lost hours. I needed those in the past few nights I wasn’t sure I wanted to sleep, and Gardner kept me company.
These are the things I didn’t know:
When you first wake up in a dark wooden box, you’ll tell yourself this isn’t happening. You’ll push against the lid, of course. No surprise there. You’ll beat at the sides with your fists, pummel your heels against the bottom. You’ll bang your head, again and again, even though it hurts. And you’ll scream. You’ll scream and scream and scream. Snot will run from your nose. Tears will stream from your eyes. Until your screams grow rough, hiccuppy. Then, you’ll hear sounds that are strange and sad and pathetic, and you’ll understand the box, truly get, hey, I’m trapped in a dark wooden box, when you realize those sounds come from you.
— I read the next book because it’s been recently recommended in all the book groups I’m part of, with a promise of being transported to an absolutely different world. While I’m not a huge fan of the romantic aspect of this book, it is extremely well plotted, and I can see why it is so popular. It was an excellent escape read, and I finished it in about seven hours that would have proven torturous without the aid of a book. I don’t know if I’ll pick up the sequel rightaway, but maybe yes, on another day when I need to leave the real world behind.
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES by Sarah J. Maas.
The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.
I’d been monitoring the parameters of the thicket for an hour, and my vantage point in the crook of a tree branch had turned useless. The gusting wind blew thick flurries to sweep away my tracks, but buried along with them any signs of potential quarry.
Hunger had brought me farther from home than I usually risked, but winter was the hard time. The animals had pulled in, going deeper into the woods than I could follow, leaving me to pick off stragglers one by one, praying they’d last until spring. They hadn’t.
— Audiobooks have been my mainstay since the beginning of the pandemic, and while doing a thousand and one chores, I managed to finish the tome that has been on my TBR book pile forever. This is many books within one, and while the structure, the characters, and the atmosphere fascinated me, what blew me away was that it truly replicated my childhood experience, of reading. Like reading the Arabian Nights. Or A Tale of Two Cities. Back in those days when I read huge tomes and lived more in that world than my own. I might re-read Shadow of the Wind if I don’t die anytime soon, because it’s an extended love letter to books, authors, reading, and readers.
THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Lucia Graves (Translator)
A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept. My first thought on waking was to tell my best friend about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Tomás Aguilar was a classmate who devoted his free time and his talent to the invention of wonderfully ingenious contraptions of dubious practicality, like the aerostatic dart or the dynamo spinning top. I pictured us both, equipped with flashlights and compasses, uncovering the mysteries of those bibliographic catacombs. Who better than Tomás to share my secret? Then, remembering my promise, I decided that circumstances advised me to adopt what in detective novels is termed a different modus operandi. At noon I approached my father to quiz him about the book and about Julián Carax–both world famous, I assumed. My plan was to get my hands on his complete works and read them all by the end of the week. To my surprise, I discovered that my father, a natural-born librarian and a walking lexicon of publishers’ catalogs and oddities, had never heard of The Shadow of the Wind or Julián Carax. Intrigued, he examined the printing history on the back of the title page for clues.
— I found the next read, a wonderful, post-apocalyptic urban fantasy set in Nigeria, in what I consider the best way to stumble upon a book that will hold you captive–by walking along library shelves and picking up a novel at random. It is a different world in ways more than one, and kept me turning the pages.
DAVID MOGO GODHUNTER by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
This is going to be a bad job.
I know it from the angular smile of the wizard-ruler seated before me. I know it because I should sense the icy heat of his godessence on my collarbone, but feel absolutely nothing. I know it because right outside this handcrafted palace, the rest of Lagos mainland is a dank, brooding, perilous hog pen; yet this foyer smells like orange air freshener, and you can only ignore the stink of your own shit for so long.
— And for the last book, which I haven’t yet finished, I went back to my first love, short stories. Balzac was one of the finest writers of his time, and his stories are a masterclass in suspense and revelation. I started reading them for entertainment, but have been studying them for the way he provides psychological and social insight, without being didactic.
SELECTED SHORT STORIES by Honoré de Balzac
The clock of the little town of Menda had just struck midnight. At that moment a young French officer, leaning on the parapet of a long terrace which bordered the gardens of the chateau de Menda, seemed buried in thoughts that were deeper than comported with the light-hearted carelessness of military life; though it must be said that never were hour, scene, or night more propitious for meditation. The beautiful sky of Spain spread its dome of azure above his head. The scintillation of the stars and the soft light of the moon illumined the delightful valley that lay at his feet. Resting partly against an orange-tree in bloom, the young major could see, three hundred feet below him, the town of Menda, at the base of the rock on which the castle is built. Turning his head, he looked down upon the sea, the sparkling waters of which encircled the landscape with a sheet of silver.
What books have you read lately that you’d recommend? Did you ride along for my month of crime novel recommendations in April? Have you read any of the above books?
My lit crime novel, The Blue Bar will be out this October with Thomas & Mercer. It is already available for preorders. Add it to Goodreads or pre-order it to make my day.
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