Soul Ripping Romance Tag

I am skipping Top of the TBR this week because I only had three books to talk about today anyway, and more importantly because there’s an Amazon protest going on until the 16th and I don’t want to log into Goodreads (which is Amazon-based) in the meantime. (I forgot and logged on yesterday when I FINALLY finished reading The Stand– it’s disturbing to realize how automatic logging into Goodreads is!- but I’m fully committed now.)

Which means this is the perfect time for a tag- and thanks to the kind and wonderful Naty (who nominated me for this one; check out her post here!), I have the perfect tag in mind!

“It feels intellectually unserious to concern himself with fictional people marrying one another. But there it is: literature moves him.” -Sally Rooney, Normal People 

The Rules

  • Thank the person who tagged you and create a pingback to the original author – Nel at Reactionary Tales.
  • Share at least 5 (but more are welcome) romances that tugged your heart strings. They can be from books, movies, TV shows, manga; anything you can think of! They can be examples of sad tears, angry tears, happy tears or a combination of all three.
  • Nominate 5 (or more) people to share their emotional traumas
  • (Note: Try not to spoil the story for your readers in case they would like to check out these romances on their own)

The Romances

  1. crookedkingdomLeigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Romance-driven fantasies don’t often work for me, but when the romance is a background detail I tend to love it. Romance is definitely not the Point of Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, and for that reason I think the relationships feel so much stronger. There’s also the fact that they’re friendship-based, which is excellent. I particularly love the way Kaz and Inej skirt around each other (though Jesper and Wylan are also adorable and Nina and Matthias are clearly meant for each other). I desperately want Kanej to have an honest conversation about their feelings, but I do not want the eventual third book in this series cheapening the romance with too much wish fulfillment. *fingers crossed for subtle greatness*
  2. theblindassassinMargaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I use this book in tags as often as I can, because though the pace is a bit slow the payoff was huge for me, (and it fits so many prompts!). It’s a genre-bending novel by one of my favorite writers, part family saga, part fantasy- and completely, utterly tragic. The chapters switch in and out of a mysterious ongoing affair throughout most of the novel, but the heart-wrenching love story comes in a bit later. It all fits together so incredibly, I doubt I’ll ever forget this one.
  3.  Margaret Mitchell’s gonewiththewindGone With the Wind. This was one of the first classics I ever read, and I was young enough at the time that reading it opened doors for me, so it holds a special place of honor in my reading life. This is another tragic romance, in my opinion. Scarlet O’Hara was the first unlikable character that I ever really appreciated. She’s so set on having what (and whom) everyone else seems to want that she can’t see what’s in front of her, which might be a better match. Her love life was always destined to go awry because dissatisfaction with her lot (even when everything is grand) is her modus operandi, and frankly, that’s why I found her choices so compelling.
  4. conversationswithfriendsSally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends. Naty already used Normal People, so I have to go with Rooney’s other novel because I can’t refrain from including one! The relationships in Rooney’s books are just brilliant- awkward, difficult, somewhat inappropriate, and completely captivating. Though Normal People resonated with me more, Conversations with Friends was delightful to read. It gave me a lot of anxiety because as usual the characters repeatedly make poor decisions without learning from them, but the intensity of emotion that Rooney manages to invoke- all kinds of emotion- is only further proof of her skill.
  5. Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever. thetruthaboutforeverI figured that with this being a romance tag, I should at least pick one book that’s an actual romance novel. Here is a YA contemporary romance that I first fell in love with at age 12, and reread (for the first time in a long time) in 2017 only to fall in love with it all over again. Sarah Dessen is one of my most nostalgic tween/teen authors, and I was so relieved to discover upon the reread that I enjoy her work just as much as an adult. The Wish Catering crew in this novel is probably my favorite fictional friend group of all time, the romance is a slow-burn built on honesty, and underneath the banter are heavier themes like handling grief, finding a self-identity separate from what others expect of you, and refraining from judging others because there’s always more to them than you see on the surface. I am not a YA contemporary romance reader anymore. But I will 10/10 read this again and love it just as much.

The Tags

I’ve tagged a bunch of specific people in my last few tag posts, so I’m going to open it up in this one instead, to whoever wants to participate. If you’ve read this far and your heart has ever stirred for fictional characters, consider yourself tagged!

What’s your favorite romance of all time?

 

The Literary Elephant

 

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Review: Animals Eat Each Other

I hadn’t heard of Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other before reading the succinct and compelling review that Callum wrote about it last month, but it sounded like just the sort of brief, bizarre, and hard-hitting story that’s been working so well for me this year. I couldn’t miss it. (And if this book sounds at all interesting, you can’t miss Callum’s review!)

animalseateachotherIn the novel, “Lilith,” not long out of high school, is working with an old friend at a RadioShack. One day an enigmatic couple enters the store, and the friend persuades “Lilith” to show them her latest tattoo. Later, “Lilith” is told that the pair is interested in her, and she goes to their apartment to meet them again. Mark and Frankie name her Lilith and adopt her as their girlfriend, treating her more like a pet than an equal. As she becomes more involved with them, she grows less certain of herself.

“All I could think about was how I was not like these people, and how that was bad. I wanted to feel part of something. I wanted Frankie to like me so badly. I was ready to mold myself into what she wanted.”

At its core, this slip of a novel is an examination of identity; how we define who we are, how other people can change our sense of self, what is left of us in times when those powerful influences are not present. “Lilith,” our first person protagonist who reveals no name for herself beyond what Mark and Frankie bestow upon her, is only nineteen and at a perfect point in her life for a crisis in self-discovery. Most of the cast is around the same age, floating between legal adulthood (18) and the legal age for alcohol consumption (21- US); they are more or less all leaning on each other… some leaning a little harder than others.

“I spent so much of my life doing what everybody asked me that I wasn’t even sure what I wanted anymore, if I wanted anything, if I had needs at all.”

The book opens with an intense glimpse into Lilith’s sex life with Matt and Frankie; it’s a grim but memorable moment that sets the tone for everything that will follow. It did leave me a bit worried that Lilith’s account of this period of personal exploration might deteriorate into explicit gratuity, but fortunately this is not the case. Nash keeps the focus consistently on the protagonist’s emotional and mental state, displaying behaviors primarily as a means of characterization and development. There is no denying the narration’s brutal honesty, but it’s handled shrewdly. In fact, there were a few instances in which I had to double check the MC’s age, such is the level of her self-awareness. She may be confused about what she’s gotten into and where it will end for her, but she does recognize that a major change is taking place and is often able to pinpoint what unsettles her.

One thing I found particularly interesting about this story is that while her  experiences with Matt and Frankie clearly alter our protagonist, it seems equally clear that her shaky sense of identity runs deeper than this questionable relationship. Well before meeting Matt and Frankie, she’s tattooed the backs of her thighs with a slogan she’s not sure has ever fit her. She began sleeping with her boss only to tick off a box on a list of taboos. She took a job because her mother prodded her to, and chose the RadioShack because her friend was able to get her a position there. It seems as though Lilith has been waiting a long time for someone to tell her what to do and who to be; she’s uniquely suited for this story. If Matt and Frankie had approached anyone other than this girl they’ve managed to shape as their Lilith, it’s hard to believe that things would have escalated to the level that they do.

“I was an object in her eyes. I was a tool. Every time I heard the name Lilith, pieces of me slipped and gave way underneath her perception of me.”

The only other element that curbed my enthusiasm for this book was the writing- I just didn’t quite get on with Nash’s style. Though I tabbed over a dozen brilliant lines and passages in this 120-page volume, there were plenty of places where it felt to me like the narration was trying a bit too hard to be taken as profound. Furthermore, I thought it relied a little too heavily on telling rather than showing in a way that might have been avoided if the piece had been given a bit more length; some of my favorite concepts and observations in the narration came as quick comments and then were left behind, where I would have appreciated further expansion. The plot is fairly predictable, which shouldn’t matter too much in a character study like this, but when a character takes center stage in this way I hope for a full exploration, to an extent I didn’t quite find here.

But overall, I did find the story compulsively readable. It’s main theme- that people destroy each other- will stick with me, as will some of the more vivid details. There’s one scene, in which Frankie displays her power over Lilith in a very public way at the local WalMart, that will particularly haunt me.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I’m still debating between a 3 and 4 star rating here, and may change this number as I let it settle more firmly in my mind. Though it didn’t have quite as strong an effect on me as I was hoping for based on its early chapters, this was nevertheless a captivating and read that left quite an impression. I’m glad I picked it up, and would certainly be curious to check out more from this author if she were to publish again.

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Farm

Like many “dystopian feminist” titles released over the past few years, I think Joanne Ramos’s The Farm suffers from its Handmaid’s Tale comparisons. Fortunately, I think it has plenty to offer in its own right.

thefarmIn the novel, Jane, a US immigrant from the Philippines, has recently left her husband and must now care for their newborn daughter alone. When her elderly cousin, Ate, must leave a baby-nursing job due to failing health, Jane is persuaded to take Ate’s place; thus begins her career of caring for the babies of the rich in order to provide for her own small family. When Jane must leave that first job, Ate finds her another- this time as a surrogate mother at a facility where women are paid to carry and birth the babies of those who can afford to outsource their pregnancies.

The first thing to know about The Farm is that it is not, in fact, dystopian. Though Golden Oaks (“The Farm”) is fictional, we do currently live in a world where the wealthy can pay other women to carry their babies to term. Furthermore, I’m not even sure I would call this a feminist book, as Ramos herself admits that she’s not trying to make any particular point with this story:

I didn’t write [The Farm] to come up with answers, because I don’t have them. Instead, the book is meant to explore- for myself, and hopefully for its readers, too- questions of who we are, what we cherish, and how we see those who are different from ourselves.

As such, I think this book is a huge success.

It follows four main characters- Jane, Ate, Reagan (another surrogate mom), and Mae (head of the Golden Oaks facility). Several other significant characters are introduced and play their own tangential roles, but all of these women- even the other three perspective characters- primarily serve to add depth to Jane’s situation. And yet, though each fulfils a specific role and may seem at first a stereotypical representation of the viewpoint they embody, all are nuanced and distinct. Their motivations differ wildly, and yet even as they act in opposition it seems that each is making the only logical choice available to them. The clincher is that there really is no obvious judgment one way or the other; The Farm‘s greatest strength is that it presents so many facets of a delicate issue while also leaving readers plenty of room to form their own opinions.

What is this “difficult situation,” this “delicate issue?” At heart, it is the question of legality vs. morality, especially when it comes to women’s bodies. When Jane agrees to become a surrogate for a Golden Oaks Client, she signs a contract stating that she will care for the Client’s child to the best of her ability. The leaders of Golden Oaks have some ideas about what this means- living in a secure environment, eating particular healthy foods, attending mandatory exercise classes and weekly ultrasounds, etc. But when the “Host” and baby inhabit the same body, where does one draw the line between the Host’s own rights and the Client’s right to dictate their baby’s care?

” ‘Fetal security’ is Ms. Yu’s excuse, although Lisa insists it’s a ruse, a way to keep the Hosts ignorant, because then they’re easier to control.”

The greatest conflict arises when Jane wishes to prioritize her own child’s well-being, while the Golden Oaks folks cannot allow anything to sabotage the well-being of their Client’s child. While searching for middle ground, Jane and Mae push each other nearly to their breaking points.

But the commentary does not begin and end with the complications of surrogacy. Jane, Ate, and many of the Hosts are immigrants struggling with poverty, and Golden Oaks, all specifics of its business aside, is attached to a big corporation that is either helping with or taking advantage of their precarious positions- another moral quandary. Jane cannot afford proper housing and needs money in a hurry; is she in a position to decline questionable business propositions? Furthermore, is she in a position to recognize when she is being taken advantage of?

“She always said the worst thing you can do to a child is raise it with too much softness, because the world is hard. But Jane is not sure. There are people who move through the world like they own it, and the world seems to bend to their demands.”

The Farm is a conceptual story, meant to enlighten and test the boundaries of perspective. It doesn’t have a busy plot, because plot is not the driving force of the novel. In fact, I found the plot completely transparent, especially at its climax. The book doesn’t particularly encourage readers to develop a sense of emotional closeness with the characters over the course of the story either, as not even they are the driving force. And yet, despite the lack of those two main elements that often make or break my reading experiences, I was absolutely hooked from beginning to end. I loved the dialogue, the complex relationships and myriad confrontations within, and most of all the repeated shocks of the many ways in which women are used, allow themselves to be used, and continue to use each other. Ramos has done a stellar job with this one.

” ‘You’re letting a rich stranger use you. You’re putting a price tag on something integral–‘

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I had a few minor issues, mainly with the predictability of the plot, but ultimately I was excited to continue every time I picked the book up again and thought about it constantly when forced to put it down. This story could easily have been sensationalized, but never felt heavy-handed. There are no clear villains and no clear solutions, though The Farm certainly raises a lot of questions. I would absolutely read more from this author.

Hilarious side note: it took me longer than I’d like to admit to realize that the shapes on this cover are probably the vague silhouettes of pregnant women; until I really thought about it, they looked to me like the edges of violins…

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf was one of those classic authors I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read yet (beyond a few excerpts in college), which led me to pick up A Room of One’s Own back in December. I appreciated it enough that I wanted to add a copy to my shelves, and inadvertently ended up with an edition that also contains Woolf’s “Three Guineas” essay. I read the latter last month.

aroomofone'sownIn “A Room of One’s Own,” Woolf considers why women have not been as successful as men in the arts- particularly in writing. She argues that women cannot be judged by the same standards as men if they have not experienced the same advantages as men, and claims that in order to pursue their interests in the way that men have been allowed to pursue their interests, each woman needs a room of her own and 300£ per year.

“Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom.”

Though Woolf’s involved and intelligent style demands the reader’s full attention, I would be flabbergasted by any reader who could read this piece without completely understanding Woolf’s perspective on this matter; such is her power with written argument. Though it is not impossible to disagree with some of the conclusions that Woolf draws, she goes to such painstaking efforts of showing how she’s reached those conclusions that any disparity of opinion must come from differing personal beliefs than any flaw in Woolf’s ability to persuade.

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

This piece is structured as though scripted for a speech at a women’s college graduation, and though probably most relevant to the audience of its time, it certainly has the feel of a timeless work. Originally published in 1929, “A Room of One’s Own” serves today partially as a historical reference point, as a glimpse into the ongoing struggle of feminism in the recent aftermath of woman’s secured right to vote, to work in professions outside of the home for a fair wage, and to own property (in Britain). Conditions for women today are not as outrageously unfair as during Woolf’s time- in this first essay she mentions visiting a university where she is not allowed to set foot in certain buildings, and even the meals vary according to gender- but enough similarities remain that the crux of her argument has not yet lost its urgency. And for its historic relevance, I doubt it will ever lose its importance.

“For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.”

In “Three Guineas,” Woolf examines how one might prevent war, in response to a letter supposedly asking for advice and a donation. In the course of her argument, she also answers a letter from someone seeking a donation to build a woman’s college, and pens another aimed at female writers; she believes both can help to prevent war, and by donating and asking others to assist with these causes she can aid in that prevention.

Though at first the possible prevention of war may seem to have little to do with women’s rights, Woolf wastes no time explaining that war has always been a man’s profession, and how the historical and habitual silencing of women’s voices may lead to war. It does seem a fitting piece to accompany “A Room of One’s Own” in such a volume as this, though it does advocate more openly for equality between all people rather than focusing solely on assisting women. Indeed, in “Three Guineas” Woolf wants to eradicate the word feminism altogether, because she does not believe it conveys the spirit of total equality the term is meant to invoke.

Sadly, the argument appears to have come too little, too late- it was first published in 1938, only a year or so before Britain entered WWII. Perhaps this essay did not fall into the hands of enough people willing to act on her advice… Who can say?

Nevertheless, Woolf is just as persuasive and convincing in this piece as the first, and the prevention of war feels as timeless a topic as feminism. This second piece is somewhat longer, and unfortunately I did think that it felt longer, as well; this is a multi-faceted argument with many tangents that cause the pacing to ebb and flow more dramatically than in “A Room of One’s Own.” It’s a solid piece that makes some great points, but I wouldn’t recommend “Three Guineas” as a starting point with Woolf’s nonfiction.

“Is it not possible that if we knew the truth about war, the glory of war would be scotched and crushed where it lies curled up in the rotten cabbage leaves of our prostituted fact-purveyors; and if we knew the truth about art instead of shuffling and shambling through the smeared and dejected pages of those who must live by prostituting culture, the enjoyment and practice of art would become so desirable that by comparison the pursuit of war would be a tedious game for elderly dilettantes in search of a mildly sanitary amusement – the tossing of bombs instead of balls over frontiers instead of nets? In short, if newspapers were written by people whose sole object in writing was to tell the truth about politics and the truth about art we should not believe in war, and we should believe in art.”

On the whole, these are not the most accessible or timely classics I’ve read, but I did find them worthwhile. I would highly recommend reading the first piece, to anyone interested in classics or feminism or Woolf’s writing; I would recommend the second only based on a thorough appreciation of the first piece, as it does seem more a continuation than a work that will change any minds about Woolf’s writing on its own.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I rated both essays individually since I read them so far apart, and they both came out exactly the same for me at 4 stars each. I appreciated both, but I wouldn’t call this book a “fun” read; I found it rewarding, and did enjoy Woolf’s voice- I think she would’ve made a great presence on Twitter, though her strength clearly lies in more complex sentences than would fit in a tweet. In any case, I’m very much looking forward to checking out some of Woolf’s fiction!

Have you read any of Virginia Woolf’s work- fiction or nonfiction? What did you think?

 

The Literary Elephant

Top of the TBR 7.8.19

Top of the TBR is a weekly post I created that will showcase any new books added to my Goodreads TBR recently, with a short explanation of why each title caught my interest. I’ll aim for 5-10 books per post; in weeks that I’ve added more than that, I’ll hold some back, and in weeks that I don’t have enough, I’ll include titles I haven’t discussed yet. Each title will be linked back to its Goodreads page for anyone interested in exploring further, as I’m not a fan of copy/pasting synopses. Anyone who wants to take part in this series with me is absolutely welcome! Please link back to any of my Top of the TBR posts so I can see what you’re reading! 🙂

Here are some of the new books I’ve added on Goodreads over the last week:

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The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (Pub: April 2019)

How I found it: This one caught my eye from Ren’s post of her favorite new nonfiction of the year so far!

Why I added it: I’ve been interested in true crime lately (and nonfiction more generally), and this one stood out to me for the Jack the Ripper connection but primarily for the fact that “it delves into the Victorian experience of poverty, homelessness, and alcoholism, but also motherhood, childbirth, sexuality, child-rearing, work, and marriage, all against the fascinating, dark, and quickly changing backdrop of nineteenth century London.”

Priority: Low. This sounds great, but I’ve got a lot of other nonfiction already on the docket for this summer (and beyond) so I’m not sure when I’ll get to it.

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Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky (Pub: July 2019)

How I found it: I’d heard of this one a while ago without looking into it, but then saw it again on Bookstagram last week, compared to Sally Rooney’s work.

Why I added it: I mean, Sally Rooney. Not having read it yet, I’m not sure how well the comparison holds up, but I was sold on unlikable characters. I love to see what a book can do beyond making characters “likable.”

Priority: Low. I’ve got some recent and upcoming new releases I’m already more focused on, so I’m not sure when I’ll get to this.

22822858. sy475 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Pub: March 2015)

How I found it: I live in the world.

Why I added it: I feel like I’m pretty late to this one, but I don’t want to miss it completely. I hear it’s depressing and fantastic and I always meant to read it eventually but realized last week it wasn’t actually on my TBR, so I’m remedying that.

Priority: Low. This sounds like a good winter read, so I’ll put more effort into adding it to my reading schedule then.

3413831Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman (Pub: April 1992)

How I found it: I’ve been thinking and chatting about Netflix’s Mindhunter series lately. Ressler is one of the main characters in that series, so I went looking through his titles, for a little more background.

Why I added it: I just read a book by John Douglas last month- Douglas was Ressler’s partner in the FBI. It seems like a good idea  to check out Ressler’s perspective as well! I decided to start off with the very first published book this time, since I ended up regretting not doing that with Douglas’s work.

Priority: Low. I’m planning to watch the new season of Mindhunter in August. At some point afterward I’ll read Douglas’s Mindhunter book. And after that, eventually I’ll read this.

39854434Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey (June 2019)

How I found it: In Hannah’s recent romance mini-reviews post!

Why I added it: I’m still fairly new to the romance genre and struggling a bit with finding titles that I’m going to like; I think the best way to learn how to find what I’m looking for is just to keep trying different things. I know Tessa Bailey is a big name in romance, so I’ll give this new release a chance.

Priority: Low. I’m currently reading only about 2-3 romances a year, and I’ve already chosen my next contender: Kasey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue. I’ll probably pick this up after that.

36508441. sy475 Constellations by Sinead Gleeson (Pub: April 2019 – UK)

How I found it: I read Rachel’s glowing review!

Why I added it: This is a collection of nonfiction essays about the author’s life and body, which might not have caught my attention on its own, but the way Rachel describes it makes it sound absolutely brilliant. Heavy but resonant, each essay a valuable contribution to the set.

Priority: Middling. There aren’t many essay collections in my TBR, and this one sounds great so I’d like to bump it up my list if I can find the time. The catch: this one’s only out in the UK right now, which is not where I live, so I’ll have to acquire a copy before I can seriously commit to a time frame.

41940306. sx318 Lanny by Max Porter (Pub: March 2019)

How I found it: I’ve seen a few highly intriguing reviews of this one over the last few weeks, including Callum’s and Kristin’s!

Why I added it: I’m particular about magical realism, but when it works for me I really love it. I also like some experimental writing, and have seen a few readers predict that this one will appear on the Man Booker longlist later this month.

Priority: Middling. This looks fairly short and engrossing, which would be easier to fit into my reading schedule. I don’t really think I’ll get to it before the Man Booker longlist announcement, and its presence or absence there will definitely affect my timing with this one.

42046111The Body in Question by Jill Ciment (Pub: June 2019)

How I found it: Mentioned on bookstagram.

Why I added it: This looks like a nice fictional piece to read in conjunction with my true crime fascination. It’s a short work about a sequestered jury on a big murder trial, in which an affair between two jury members will have deep consequences.

Priority: Middling. I’m really curious about this one, and it is available through my library (though currently checked out and not due back until August).

36332136. sy475 The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley (Pub: July 2018)

How I found it: I read Hannah’s enthusiastic review!

Why I added it: So much of what Hannah says about this book in her review sounds appealing to me, and I’m almost always interested in classics retellings. I haven’t even read Beowulf yet, but I know that I will want to read a retelling of it.

Priority: Low, because I’ve not yet decided whether to go ahead and read this before Beowulf or after; if after, it’ll take me longer to get around to because that’s not an urgent title on my TBR.

 

For once, there are no “high priority” books in this list. Priority for me is determined by a mix of excitement and ability to fit the title into my reading schedule, and with the Man Booker longlist looming ahead (finally!), I’m trying to be realistic about my scheduling expectations for once. It’s possible that when I see the list I’ll decide not to read it in its entirety and will find myself with more time for new-to-me books like these, but in the meantime I’m trying not to plan anything else for myself in August, reading-wise. I’m mentioning this mainly because I don’t want the handful of “low priority” books on this list to make it seem like I’m not excited about what I’m adding to my TBR; if it’s here, I’m excited!

Have you read any of these books, or recognize them from your own TBR?

 

The Literary Elephant

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag 3.0

It’s time for the mid-year check-in! I’ve been unsure about whether to do this post this year because my reading hasn’t been feeling very inspired, but who am I to break tradition? Hopefully this bit of bookish excitement will help put my 2019 reading back on track.

I’m sure you know the drill by now, so without further ado…

1. Best Book You’ve Read in 2019 SO FAR

pachinko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Most of my favorites so far this year have been books that I love with caveats (some of the caveats being only that the book was short- I’ve read a handful of fantastic novellas this year!), but Pachinko I adored full stop. I wish I had gotten to this one the year it was released, but it was 100% worth picking up late.

2. Best Sequel You’ve Read in 2019 SO FAR

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I haven’t read many sequels this year to give it much competition, but George R. R. Martin’s Storm of Swords likely would have won no matter what it was up against. Westeros continues to captivate and impress. I’m so hoping to finish books 4 and 5 this year!

3. New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Really Want To

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Three Women by Lisa Taddeo actually comes out next week, but I’ve already selected a copy from BOTM and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. I haven’t known about this one for very long, but I’m so excited about checking out more nonfiction titles in the second half of the year and this one is at the very top of that list. And of course there are about a million other new releases on my list, but the most uplifting course of action seemed to be choosing one that I knew I would be reading soon! (I still haven’t read last year’s answer for this question.)

4. Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

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Margaret Atwood is one of my all-time favorite writers , and the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale has been haunting me (in a good way) for years. The Testaments is its sequel, slated for September release. That’s a busy time of year for me, so… I pre-ordered.

5. Biggest Disappointment

99percentmine

Last year my biggest disappointment and my worst read of the year (so far) did not line up, but this year they do. I’m not a romance genre pro, but I found The Hating Game highly entertaining last year and thus was pretty excited for Sally Thorne’s 2019 release, 99 Percent Mine. Unfortunately, not only did it not live up to its predecessor for me, but I really thought it was quite a mess.

6. Biggest Surprise

the dirt

I’ve never been much of a nonfiction reader, and I had barely even heard of Mötley Crüe before their memoir-based Netflix film released this spring, so I was shocked both to find myself reading their book, The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, and to consider it a fairly valuable read. Though I still don’t have much respect for the members of this band, The Dirt was so psychologically fascinating and it opened my eyes to a perspective I’d never considered. Of course, I wouldn’t have even considered picking this book up if not for Daisy Jones

7. Favorite New Author

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I read Sarah Moss‘s Ghost Wall early this year and fell absolutely in love with it. It says more about my prioritizing and time management skills than my interest level that I haven’t read any more of her work yet; I’ve added quite a bit of it to my TBR and am very much looking forward to checking it out.

8. Newest Fictional Crush

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My answers for this prompt are always strange because I don’t crush on fictional characters in the way that I think is meant. I’ll give an honorable mention to Quan, who I don’t wish to date but did appreciate in Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test (and also briefly in The Kiss Quotient); though Hoang’s romances never seem to work as well for me as I hope, I’m looking forward to Hoang’s (untitled) 2020 release in which Quan’s story will take center stage.

9. Newest Favorite Character

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I so enjoyed following Korede through Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer! The dynamic between these sisters is so wonderfully rendered, but it was absolutely Korede that I found most sympathetic and fascinating from this duo. She’s understandably frustrated with Ayoola’s habit of murdering boyfriends, but never lets her sister down in a moment of need. 10/10 would want a sister like that.

10. Book That Made You Cry

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I don’t think I’ve cried over a book all year- it’s rare for me, though it does occasionally happen. But even without actual tears, Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood absolutely made me saddest. Major trigger warnings for suicide.

11. Book That Made You Happy

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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid covers a lot of sad moments and heavy topics, but it also puts a delightfully modern spin on a favorite pop cultural moment and it put me in such a rock ‘n roll mood that I haven’t been able to shake, months later. I will remember this book so fondly for such a long time.

12. Favorite Book-to-Film Adaptation

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I don’t read a lot of YA these days, and I certainly don’t read much cute YA. It’s just not my type anymore. But I picked up Julie Murphey’s Dumplin’ earlier this year while I was ill and simply couldn’t put it down. I loved the Netflix film adaptation even more; it’s very loyal to the original story, with a few streamlining changes that I thought benefitted the plot. I did not like Dolly Parton until watching this movie.

13. Favorite Post This Year

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Probably my Women’s Prize content, especially the longlist wrap-up and shortlist wrap-up. Not because I think my posts stand out among the plethora of related posts from other bloggers, but because I had such a fun time following along with the prize, reading everything, chatting with other readers, and making predictions. I’ve never read a prize longlist “on time” before, so it was a great experience all around.

14. Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought (or Read) This Year

See the source image

I just bought this edition of The Phantom of the Opera and Other Gothic Tales which is shiny and detailed and wonderful. It’s been on my want-to-own list for a while and I finally went for it. But I haven’t read it yet, so…

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I want to also mention the Faber Stories collection, which is technically 20 books rather than one, but I absolutely adore these editions! I’ve read 17 of them so far (reviewed in mini batches one, two, three, four, and five) and can’t get enough of these covers, especially coupled with the tiny size. They’re perfection.

15. A Book You Need to Read By the End of the Year

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My answer to the Favorite New Author prompt last year was Daphne du Maurier; I read her novel Rebecca for the first time in 2018 and knew I needed to explore more of du Maurier’s work. Other than The Breakthrough, a small Penguin Modern volume, I’ve not managed to do so yet. I really must get back to her oeuvre this year, and The House on the Strand is at the top of my du Maurier list.

Tagging: anyone who hasn’t done this post yet, because this is one of my favorite tags and it’s so fun to compare and contrast answers!

I’m glad I decided to do the post after all. If you’re interested in my answers from previous years, here are the links to my 2018 and 2017 posts (wow, my reading taste has changed). Whether you’re a seasoned pro with this one or trying it for the first time, I hope you have fun with it! And as always, happy reading. 🙂

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: Little Darlings

The summer spooks continue with twins and changelings, a new mom who’s a bit mentally unstable, and a years-old unsolved case of attempted baby-snatching. Such is the content of Melanie Golding’s thriller debut, Little Darlings.

littledarlingsIn the novel, Lauren gives birth to twins. The experience is much more traumatizing than she had been led to believe, and she’s beyond exhausted before she even meets them. To make matters worse, she endures a terrifying experience in the hospital, in which a strange, dirty woman with eel-like twins of her own threatens to take Lauren’s babies when she refuses a one-for-one trade. No one believes Lauren’s story. But the strange woman is persistent, and when an accident with the twins culminates in Lauren insisting that her babies have been exchanged, it’s up to one stubborn detective to find proof that Lauren’s claims are not as crazy as everyone thinks.

The early chapters start this book off with a bang as the narration takes the reader through visceral details of Lauren giving birth to the twins. A bit of grit always appeals to me in novels- I like to know that the author won’t shy away from anything difficult, and Golding proves herself right away with ripped stitches and an invasive fix made by a doctor who says “tell me to stop if it hurts too much,” and then doesn’t. I’ve never given birth, but by the time Lauren is finished I felt like I had.

I also appreciated the way that the narration flirts with Lauren’s “madness” throughout the story. The chapters alternate between Lauren’s perspective and that of DS Harper, a woman willing to bend the rules and follow her hunches; neither of them can abide by the hospital’s assurances that the woman who threatened to take the twins was a figment of Lauren’s overtired imagination. And yet, there’s plenty of room for doubt. Through these two women’s experiences we see many other characters dismiss Lauren’s claims primarily because they seem too far-fetched or inconvenient. The doctors seem eager to medicate Lauren into a stupor and the police just don’t want the expense of spending more time on the case than needed. Is Harper’s gut correct? Are money and protocol guiding the case toward its easiest conclusion, or is Lauren seeing things that aren’t there? A shadow on the hospital camera and trampled grass in an area where Lauren claims to have seen the threatening woman suggest one possibility, while Lauren’s own admittance that she’s only been managing a couple of hours of sleep at a time for weeks and is off her depression medication suggest quite another. It’s a proper mystery.

” ‘You used to walk, every day,’ said Patrick, apparently struggling not to sound accusatory, failing. ‘You said it kept you sane.’ […] For thirty-one days, her boots had stood unused on the shoe rack by the back door.”

Unfortunately, I felt that some of the characterization was overdone and at times even nonsensical. Of course different characters perceive each other in different ways, but Patrick (Lauren’s husband) swung so wildly from devoted family man to selfish cad that it’s impossible to say what kind of person he is or what his motives might be.

DS Harper bothered me as well. It seems she is meant to be taken as a sympathetic and plucky detective, willing to see past the beauracracy of the police department and go the extra mile to track down criminals. Instead, her flagrant and unnecessary penchant for rule-breaking mars this image and makes it difficult to take her seriously. If she doesn’t respect the law enough to follow it, how can we respect her as the potential hero? Many of her decisions seem poor and/or unnecessarily risky. Harper jumps to quick assumptions, makes impulse decisions, and is clearly willing to believe what seems plausible to no one else. Her vote of confidence in Lauren, sadly, does not particularly imply credibility.

Furthermore, there seems to be an odd gap between the real and the magical in this story. Lauren keeps the otherworldly details about the mysterious woman and her babies-that-are-not-quite-babies to herself. Somehow, everyone concludes she is seeing things even without those details. And yet, how could so many people become involved in a case involving infant twins whose mother is worried about them being “changed” without anyone even jokingly making a connection to changeling tales? (Isn’t changeling lore fairly common knowledge?) For the reader, the magical influence is obvious; the characters, even Lauren, seem to remain oblivious.

But the biggest disappointment arrives in the final few chapters, as the solution to the mystery is finally revealed. My issue is not with the reveal itself- it’s not offensive or plot-holed or particularly problematic. Strangely, it does not adhere to traditional changeling narratives at all. I expected, from the premise and the direction the entire novel seemed to be taking, at least the possibility of fairies. Instead, after following Harper into the beginning of a seemingly-unrelated case, we learn a very different truth about what has happened, a truth not hinted at in the premise and tangentially mentioned only once in the story. To me, this complete change of direction feels like a cop-out of sorts; a departure from the original topic. It’s a creative answer to the problem, but left me feeling like I was in one of those awkward conversations where two people are talking about two different things without realizing that they’re not on the same page.

Nevertheless, I found Lauren and the central mystery engaging throughout most of the novel. I never stopped wanting to know whether the mysterious woman was real and what would happen to Lauren’s babies. Despite its faults, I cannot say that Little Darlings was not an entertaining read. It has some great things to say about new motherhood and modern relationships, and will probably delight many readers who their thrillers dark with a dash of magic.

“You can’t stay here until you’re sane. You won’t ever leave.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. This was a pretty average read for me- some ups, some downs, worth a few hours of amusement. It’s quick and easy to read as a great summer thriller should be, though ultimately it left me dissatisfied. Little Darlings is a debut that feels like a debut, but I enjoyed enough of its elements that I would probably give this author another try in the future.

Have you read Little Darlings? 

 

The Literary Elephant