February TBR

It’s practically impossible to keep my monthly TBRs under control because there are so many books I want to read and I want to read them all right now. But in the interest of avoiding burning out in a major book slump, I’ve made some tough cuts and formed this list. My January reading went so well (I read a record 14 books!); I finished every book on my TBR and felt so good about being on top of my plan that I wanted another realistic plan to stay on top of for February. So here’s what I want to read for sure this month:

  1. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare. I am rereading/reading for the first time all of Cassandra Clare’s books this year, and I had such a good time with the first two that this third book is high on my February list. If I end up having extra reading time this month, I’ll probably pick up the next Shadowhunter book as well, but we’ll see. I was planning to read this one first in February, but then I ordered my own copy on a sale so  suppose I’d rather wait for its arrival and read my own copy. It bothers me to have books on my shelf that I’ve read, but not in my own copy.
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen. I’ve decided to make 2017 a year of classics (although I’m hoping I’ll keep up the trend for more than one year), and this is my scheduled classic of the month. I started the year easy with a very short book in January, and this month I’m easing farther in by picking up a slightly longer novel I’ve that started before but never finished. I will be starting over when I pick it up this month, but this time I’ll read all the way through. I don’t know anything about the storyline, but an Austen novel seemed like a solid February classic.11111111
  3. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I wanted to read this book in January, but the wait list at my library was longer than I anticipated, and I already had it on hold there before I started seeing sale copies in stores that I might have been tempted to grab. I finally have a copy available and will be reading it this month. I’ve heard great things about this author, but this is my first time reading one of her books so I don’t know exactly what to expect. I have high hopes!
  4. Landline by Rainbow Rowell. A few months ago when I was ready to start reading Rowell’s books, I was disappointed to discover that my library didn’t have any of them. But now they have Landline, so I checked it out. I liked Rowell’s other adult novel, Attachments, but I didn’t love that one as much as I expected. Still, it interested me in reading more Rowell books, and  I’m hoping this one will be even better.
  5. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. I discovered Sarah Dessen’s books in my first year of middle school, and loved them enough that I’ve kept up with her new releases, more or less. I haven’t always read them right when they come out, but I believe this is her newest release at the moment and I think it’s the only one I haven’t read yet. Also it’s just been sitting unread on my shelf for a few months now so it’s time I get around to it and February seems like the right time.
  6. Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke. I’m working toward clearing some unread books from my shelves, and even though I haven’t had this one waiting as long as some others, I’m highly intrigued by this mysterious and quirky YA book, so I want to pick this one up this month. It’s a pretty short stand-alone book, so it seems less daunting to dive into than some of my other options at the moment. I believe there are three contrasting characters who share a secret and at least one of them is lying about what happened.
  7. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. I’m right in the middle of a gigantic Cassandra Clare read/reread, with eight books still to go (and another new release on its way), but I’ve decided to divide my series-reading time between the Shadowhunters and the Grisha world. I just can’t wait any longer to start reading Leigh Bardugo’s books, and getting through them all will mean five fewer unread books on my shelf. I don’t know much about this series, but that’s been my chosen reading method lately. I did read the synopsis before I bought this trilogy and I remember it sounded fantastic, so I can’t wait to refresh my memory and see for myself by diving in this month.
  8. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. This one has been on my radar for several months, and it stood out as I was looking through my TBR and trying to decide on another adult book for this month. I’m in the mood for a thriller after reading Dark Matter in January, and I’ve heard good things about this one. I really don’t remember what it’s about, but I’m sure it’ll be a nice break from all the teen books.

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Wow, this is a YA-heavy list. I also have library holds on Stephanie Garber’s Caraval and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s We Should All be Feminists, but I don’t know exactly when those will be available for me. I’ll also be reading those these month if I receive them soon. I’m trying to prioritize and refrain from digging myself a hole too deep to climb out of, but I’m really hoping I’ll have another month like January, where I can finish my TBR and just keep going. I’m ahead of schedule for my 2017 reading goal, so if I end up busy with other things, I’m okay with scaling back my reading for a while. I mean, I’m going to be concerned about my social life and mental health if I don’t start spending a little more time in the real world, but that’s a worry for another day. Maybe the day after they ship me to the nuthouse. Although think about all the reading time I could have there–maybe I wouldn’t even want to worry about it then.

What did your first reading month of the new year look like? Stay tuned to see how I turned out with my January TBR!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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January Book Haul

Finally, a manageable book haul! I didn’t spend money on a single book this month, so the number of books I acquired isn’t as scary as other recent months. Still larger than I intended, but manageable. I’m proud of myself for saving up some book money in the first month of the year, but I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep that up. I’m really excited about some anticipated 2017 releases. But I’m going to be reasonable about it. Here’s January:

  1. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this book, but I’m so enamored with the idea of telling a story through the eyes of secondary characters that I had to see for myself. This is an idea I’ve been playing with for my own writing, so even if I end up disliking the book, I think it’ll be a good learning experience to find out what works and what doesn’t. Even better, without trying I managed to buy a signed copy of this one! This one, and the next 6, came from a Book Outlet order during their Boxing Day sale; I purchased them in December and they arrived early in January.
  2. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. This is an adult fiction novel about, I believe, a dysfunctional family who stand to inherit a “nest” of money left in a trust by their late father. Except there are rules for receiving the money, and all of the siblings’ funds are at stake. Plus, of course, the cover is absolutely divine. I’ve had my eye on this one for a while, and I think I’ll be reading it in the spring/summer.
  3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. My positive experience with Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle books has renewed my interest in YA series, and I always love a good fantasy tale. I’ve heard good things about this series, although I’ve also found that many people who say it’s a great series end with, “I just haven’t picked up the third book yet,” which is a little suspicious, but we’ll see. I found a nice Christmas sale with this entire set available, so I also picked up the sequel:
  4. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. Although I’ve already got a little list going of the next few YA series I want to read, I’m glad to have these books in reserve. There’s almost nothing as satisfying as knowing I can avoid that crippling anxiety of not having the next book in a series at hand when I want it. Honestly, that’s more or less how I’m determining what to read when, because I’ve learned (yet again) how difficult it is to get lost in a great new release and then be left hanging until the next publication (ahem, ACOMAF). I also grabbed the third book in the trilogy:
  5. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. You may have noticed by now that I really know next to nothing about the specifics of this series. I did read the synopsis, but it’s been months. I like jumping into books without knowing too much about them, so lately I’ve been reading synopses and blurbs, deciding which ones I want to read, and then waiting until I’ve forgotten what I learned about them to start reading.
  6. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. I’ve been more interested in magical realism recently, and this one looks really intriguing. There’s some sort of magical prison, and a woman with unique powers, and I think a priest factors in somehow, too. It looks like a short, captivating read with a great cast of characters and I’m excited to find a more promising read in this genre than my last pick.
  7. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. In my last haul, I mentioned that I have a mild interest in accumulating the books of Gabaldon’s Outlander series, but I’m really more enthused about the TV show than Gabaldon’s writing style, so I’ve picked up the first two books now with the TV covers and I’m perfectly content to wait for the next two seasons’ release (the show’s been contracted through season 4 so far) to acquire those. I like to be able to look back on my favorite parts or double check details, but I’m not looking for a full series reread anytime soon, so no hurry.
  8. Lucky You by Erika Carter. This is my first month with Book of the Month Club, and I’m so excited about it. I only selected one book for January (I can see how easy it will be for me to jump off the deep end and add all the possible extras, so I forced myself to start small while it was still manageable). This one’s about  a trio of twenty-something girls–and one boyfriend–who are having a little trouble getting their lives started and decide to run away and live in the woods instead of dealing with their problems. Except reality follows them, of course. This one’s not in bookstores until March, which is a cool bonus as a BOTM member to have access to a book that’s not even released to the public yet.
  9. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn. This is a bonus short story bound alone in book form that arrived in my January Book of the Month box. I was so excited to see this “Happy New Year extra” in my box because 1. I love free books, and 2. this one was already on my TBR. It’s so short I’ve already squished it into my reading schedule, and found a perfectly sized spot for it on my overflowing bookshelves. It’s weird and creepy and utterly unique.
  10. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro. My mom bought me this book on a sale. I’ve been wanting to read Sherlock Holmes, and I think this will go well with that. There are so many great YA books these days–not just unique stories, but unique takes on familiar stories, like this Sherlock spinoff. I wish the YA category had been as diverse and exciting as it is now back when I was first discovering it.
  11. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I’ve been wanting to read the Grisha trilogy and this accompaniment duology so badly, and now that I have all the books I will start picking them up probably in February. I used my Christmas gift card plus a nice sale discount and my membership perk of free express shipping to order this set from Barnes and Noble after the holidays, which also included:
  12. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. This is the second book in the Six of Crows duology. I’m pretty sure I’m going to absolutely love these books, and they have the gorgeous red and black ink on the sides of the pages that make these books stand out even more. I can’t wait to get started on these.

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The fact that I ended up with a dozen new books in a no-buy month that I felt pretty good about sticking to is a little sad. I’m going to try to stick to a book budget in February, but I already have a few new books in mind so we’ll see how that goes. It’s not that I mind buying books. I love reading them, and I love having them available to reread whenever the mood strikes me, but I need to get my “bookshelf TBR” in order. This is the year, I swear.

Anyone else still depressed about a single lifetime being too short to read all the books?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Writing Update No. 2

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I’ve been writing a book. (If you missed that post and want to check it out now, I’ll link it here.) Here’s how it’s been going since then:

Editing is drudgery.

Last time, I mentioned that I don’t write in strict chronological order. The book will be in chronological order, but I write different sections based on what I’m in the mood to work on. I decided for the new year, though, to start from the beginning, go all the way through, and see what I’ve got. I planned to work on the incomplete parts and the parts that needed editing along the way so that by the time I got to the end I would more or less only have editing left. So far, I’ve gotten through the first two sections, and then gone back through the first again. The beginning, I feel, is the strongest point of my book right now. I wanted this run-through to clean up the first section, to make some final changes, and send that bit along to a couple of trusted second-opinions so that I’d have extra incentive to keep working hard at it and come up with a complete draft.

Progress: 90% satisfied with the first section. 70% satisfied with the second.

My biggest change in editing the first two sections has been cementing the format. This is something I’ll continue to match now throughout the book, but I’ve finally worked out a good system. When I started writing my book, I divided it into 9 sections for my own convenience–I wanted to be able to navigate different parts of the narration without having to load and sort through one giant document every time I was looking for one specific part. These sections are too big to be chapters, but they’re pretty complete in themselves and separate from each other, so in the final product these will be labeled as “Part I, Part II,” etc. They will also have names. Inside these parts, the narration is further divided into chunks that I have begun labeling as numbered (but unnamed) chapters. Inside these chapters, the narration is further divided into perspective shifts.

I’m following three main characters in this story, all through third person narration, but a close enough narration to reveal each character’s thoughts, one at a time. At first I was using one stream of narration with no division, and it focused primarily on broad observations and then dipped into the different characters’ thoughts when that was necessary, with no break in the narration; but I think the reader can connect better to the characters by focusing on one at a time. I’ve been making little tweaks to even that out. The character switches within chapters will not be numbered or labeled in any way, they’ll simply have one empty line break between characters, usually without even a scene shift. These are pretty smooth transitions, but the space calls attention to the fact that something is changing. Shifts between chapters usually switch scenes, and some of them are short newspaper articles. All of the chapters are relatively short, and they all drive toward the main theme of the part. This has been my largest task in going back through my book so far.

My second point, of course, has been editing what’s already written, and either adding or making a note to add any pieces that I know I need but haven’t written yet. I wanted to start from the beginning and fill out everything that was missing, smooth every part, every chapter, down to the last sentence, but I’ve decided to save some small edits that I’m just not in the mood for until my next run-through after I’ve gotten all the content. I changed my mind about that because editing is tough and I can’t do it all at once. Editing is the most annoying and satisfying part of writing, for me. I can tell when it seems a sentence just isn’t working, but sometimes it takes so long to say the right things in the right way. It’s indescribably rewarding to find the right wording and look back through a section that feels really complete, as good as I’ll ever be able to make it, but it’s so difficult to reach that point sometimes. I was doing a great job of pushing through and making a “final” version of the first section (about 11,000 words total), but then somewhere in the middle I was sick of those small edits. I hit one middle chapter that had the right content, but it just wasn’t exciting enough to read. I want every chapter to have a spark. I just couldn’t find all the sparks this month, so I read the section to keep its content in mind moving forward, but made a note to come back and edit that bit later. Luckily, as I moved forward, I realized it wasn’t the whole second half of the part that had that problem, it was only the one piece in the middle. At this point, I’m very happy with the first part, all but that one chapter that’ll still need some time-consuming edits. That’s on the back-burner for now.

You may have noticed I mentioned going through the first section twice. See, the first time through, I thought I was pretty satisfied with this part already and only needed a content refresher. But as I got past it, I found a missing spark. I had a great idea for how to start it off and let the reader into the characters’ heads and lives so much quicker; as I went back to the very beginning to rework the opening scene, I decided to keep going in the same vein and add in some small details that would hark back to that scene, to keep the whole part cohesive. I got into a great editing mood and worked hard at fixing things on the smaller level, and was going good with that then until I found that awkward middle chapter. I did start reworking it, but I couldn’t quite finish this time around. Hence the 90% satisfaction with the first part.

The second part is where I’m at now. The first couple chapters of this part (which is about 10,500 words total) is the area that needs the most work, so it’s been slow slogging through that. I’m not so much in the mood for working on those scenes, but I was doing such productive editing and I did want to work through in chronological order, so I’ve been fixing the formatting and pushing through. Still, it’ll need some more work, hence the 70% satisfaction level.

I want it to be perfect, and perfection is more than plot.

Is there such a thing as an editing slump? This week I feel like I’m on the edge of a cliff, looking down at it.

I’m still happy with my plan, and I feel like I’ve made some solid progress, but editing… it’s drudgery.

My goal for the next two weeks: I want to keep going with the second part until I’m up to at least 90% satisfaction (I wish there was a less subjective way to measure that, but basically I just want to feel pretty good about where it’s at, even if there’s a spot or two that’s tough that I make a note to come back to). By the time I share my next update, I want to be at least at this same point in the third part. After that, I know there are more gaps where I’ll need to do some actual writing, so I’m hoping having that on the horizon will help me power through some more edits in the meantime.

Are any of you struggling through an awesome book draft?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Flight

After reading and loving Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I picked up YA novel Flight by the same author to find out whether I wanted to be reading more of Alexie’s writing. Here’s a brief comparison.

P.S. – although this book features a teenaged main character and may be classified as YA, it features some difficult and mature themes. Read with caution if you’re a younger teen.

About the book: “Zits” is a half-Indian half-flightIrish teen who’s been shuffled from foster home to disastrous foster home, causing mayhem and fighting over everything just because he can. His experience with abuse as a child has closed him off from healthy relationships and any sense that his life might turn out right. A brush with death, however, sends Zits spinning into the lives of other potential killers and influential figures, and he begins to see a bigger picture behind the violence in his life. When Zits is convinced to walk into a bank with a pair of guns, nothing will ever be the same for him–although what happens from there is nothing like what the reader might expect.

“How can you tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys when they say the same things?”

The writing style of Flight is very similar to that of The Absolutely True Diary. No fun graphics in this novel, but the same sort of ironic humor and strong teenage character drives the messages of this book home. That said, I did think the tone of this book was much darker. Absolutely True Diary‘s Junior has the tough life of a constantly-ostracized victim, but Zits has been repeatedly abused and let down by the people he should have been able to trust most, on top of the crappy hand life deals him. Junior, at least, remains optimistic about turning the bad aspects of his life around. Zits approaches every situation with his fists raised and protects himself from potential harm by being the first to attack. Although it is easy to see what makes Zits so cynical, it’s harder to root for him sometimes when he’s so attached to his own negativity.

“You can’t trust people with your love. People will use your love. They’ll take advantage of you. They’ll lie to you. They’ll cheat you.”

Zits learns his lessons in a unique and compelling way, however. Personally, I think books that play with time and reality are some of the most interesting stories that exist, and I particularly enjoyed journeying through various historical lives with Zits as he’s forced to confront the collision course he’s on. Alexie made a great writing choice by sweeping the reader along with Zits on this adventure; the beginning of the journey is just as confusing for the reader as for Zits, which is the aspect that finally draws the reader solidly onto Zits’ side and sparks concern for his physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The detail and description with which each episode of this ride are described keep the reader grounded, although the reason for the journey and the factors that make it possibly remain unknown until the end. I wish the technicalities of Zits’ in-other-bodies experience had been a little more deeply explored, but the unusual method of story-telling certainly keeps the reader engaged in the narrative.

“As we fall, I think about my mother and father. I think about the people I loved. I think about the people I hated. I think about the people I betrayed. I think about the people who have betrayed me. We’re all the same people. And we are all falling.”

My favorite part of the book, however, is the relatable messages in the end. Although Zits’ situation is very different from my own and from any real situations that I’m closely familiar with, I found his revelations of trust and non-violence widely applicable. Bad things happen in life–horrible things–and although readers may not have experienced the same bad things as Zits, they can learn the importance of kindness and forgiveness, and the hopefulness of moving on.

“I am surrounded by people who trust me to be a respectful stranger. Am I trustworthy? Are any of us trustworthy? I hope so.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. While I didn’t react quite as strongly to this book as to The Absolutely True Diary, I did thoroughly enjoy reading Flight. I love being a little uncertain about what’s going on in a book and what’s real, and I think this book used those tactics well to convey worthwhile messages about equality, a sense of belonging, and the horrors of killing, among others. I liked the book enough to want to read more of Alexie’s work in the future, although I think I’ll take a break from him before I decide what’s next. His novels seem to resonate with me more than his short stories did a few years ago, so I’m really glad I gave this author another chance in a new format.

Further recommendations:

  1. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a powerful adult fiction novel about a soldier’s reaction to the Vietnam War. It addresses some of the same sorts of messages as Flight, like the endless cycle and pointlessness of killing, as well as the burdens of guilt and grief the soldier brings back home. With the same sense of uncertainty about what’s real and what’s imagined, The Things They Carried is a great next choice for fans of Flight‘s format as well as its underlying themes.
  2. If you like Michael’s/Zits’s journey through various lives and perspectives in history, you may want to try a book like Ann Brashares’s My Name is Memory, a YA adventure/romance featuring a man who is aware of every one of his reincarnations and must use that advantage to find and save the girl he loves by thwarting his evil competition.
  3. Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec is a moving collection of narrative poetry that conveys a young woman’s perspective of her brother’s drug addiction as life on and off the reservation veers away from the tradition and culture of their ancestors. If the modern fate of Native Americans is something that you’re interested in reading about, this set of poems is another eye-opening choice.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading Erika Carter’s Lucky You, which is my first Book of the Month Club pick and is unavailable to the public outside of BOTM until early March, I believe. This is an NA story about a small group of girls (plus one boyfriend) who try to outrun their problems by going “off the grid” in Arkansas and essentially leaving the world behind, but soon realize that their troubles can’t be escaped so easily.

What are you reading next?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Dark Matter

Blake Crouch’s new science fiction thriller Dark Matter has been sitting sadly unread on my shelf for months, and I finally did the right thing and started reading. This was the last official book on my January TBR, so it was an exciting experience both because the story is out-of-this-world fantastic and because I finally feel like I’m back on top of my reading. If I had read this book a month ago, it would have been on my list of favorites for 2016. Instead, it gets to be my first favorite read of 2017, and I hope it’ll also be yours.

darkmatterAbout the book: Jason Dessen had the potential to be a great scientist, but he dedicated his time to his new wife and son instead of continuing his research. Now he’s an undergrad professor with a teenage son in the Chicago suburbs, and though he wonders what his life would have been like if he’d taken another path, he’s happy with where he ended up. Until he’s kidnapped by an eerily familiar man and wakes up in a strange place among strange people who seem to know him already. The city looks like Chicago, but not quite. Streets have different names. Buildings are moved or missing or replaced. His home isn’t his home, and his family is gone. The problem could be a dream, a brain tumor, or, though at first it seems impossible, an open door to alternate realities. Is it possible that some other version of Jason completed his research and bridged the gap between the known universe and the universes of paths not taken? Or is it all inside his head? Has he been a renowned scientist all along, and stumbled upon a discovery that altered his memory?

“At this point, I’m not even sure what to be afraid of–this reality that might actually be true, or the possibility that everything is going to pieces inside my head. I liked it much better when I thought everything was being caused by a brain tumor. That, at least, was an explanation.”

The scenes of this book are vivid, but no matter how grounded the reader is in place detail, the entire book is a mysterious enigma. After the opening scene of “family night,” (which ends with the narrator announcing that it would be the last night the family shares in their home, an excellent move on Crouch’s part) the reader finds him-/herself just as confused about what’s real and how it’s happening as the narrator, with just enough clues to avoid becoming totally lost in the plot. Dark Matter is nonstop action, with plot twists from far left field that keep the reader guessing through every chapter.

“My thoughts fire at the speed of light. Is there even a drug capable of this? Creating hallucinations and pain at this level of horrifying clarity? This is too intense, too real. What if this is actually happening?”

“And if I have lost my mind, what then? What if everything I know is wrong?”

There’s definitely some science to this story. Just enough to clarify the plot, but it’s a complex plot and the science aspects take some concentration. There are some truly mind-boggling statements in Dark Matter. It’s not so technical that readers can’t follow what’s going on without a scientific background, but there are times you may feel like you’re sitting in on a quantum physics class. That said, it’s the most enjoyable science class I’ve ever experienced.

“What if our worldline [perceived reality] is just one of an infinite number of worldlines, some only slightly altered from the life we know, others drastically different? The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics posits that all possible realities exist. That everything which has a probability of happening is happening. Everything that might have occurred in our past did occur, only in another universe.”

At its core, Dark Matter is a thriller. If you like that genre, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

What really appealed to me, though, was the concept of a fourth dimension, and of the possibility of access to other lives. I love theories like that. Just when I thought I had a handle on the rules of this world, the narrator would take a step sideways into a whole other world and the rules flew out the window. This is a book that plays with time and space, and “what if”s, and the basics of what makes a person be that person. It’s about questions of reality and identity, set into a thrilling chase to regain one’s life before that life no longer exists.

“It occurs to me that if I do survive, I’ll carry a new revelation with me for the rest of my days: we leave this life the same way we enter it–totally alone, bereft.”

What if you could take another path?

“It’s terrifying when you consider that every thought we have, every choice we could possibly make, branches into a new world.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I wish I could give it more. I loved the characters that felt so real. I loved their choices. I loved the premise. I loved the narration. This is not a book for everyone, but don’t let that scare you–I guarantee it will take you by surprise, no matter what your preconceptions of the book might be. Dark Matter is best approached with an open mind, because it goes where no book has gone before.

Further recommendations:

  1. If the never-ending plot twists are what get you going, you must pick up Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, and if you’ve already tried the first book and found it not to your liking (how could such a thing be possible?) pick up the next book anyway because it only gets better from there. This series is a dystopian tale set on Mars and through space, but it’s the compelling characters and gut-wrenching surprises that sealed the deal for me. Pick it up yesterday.
  2. If thrillers are your literary niche, try Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, which was released at about the same time as Dark Matter. This one follows a woman on a small ship aboard which one of the passengers goes missing–and none of the others will admit she ever existed at all. Fearing danger for the rest of the people on board, the narrator sets out to discover what happened to the missing woman, and risks becoming a killer’s next target.

What’s next: I’ve just finished reading Flight by Sherman Alexie, and will be reviewing that soon. This one’s a book about an orphaned teen of mixed parentage who looks for meaning in his life after a close brush with death that allows him to experience other killers’ perspectives firsthand. Then I’ll be caught up on my reviews, but never fear–I’m on such a great reading streak that I’ve already compiled a full plan for next week. Great things are in store.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Grownup

Gillian Flynn was one of the first thriller authors I ever read, back in the Gone Girl heyday and she certainly knows what she’s doing in that genre. I’ve recently read her newest publication, a short story (only 66 pages) called The Grownup. This book is nothing like I expected, but it’s certainly worth talking about.

P. S.–this book is for grownups. I would not recommend it for middle teens or below.

About the book: The unnamed narrator of thisthegrownup book first made her living by begging on the streets with her mother, making up stories that played on people’s sympathies so that the two could afford to live without real employment. From there, our narrator found work as a professional hand job distributer, in a building that doubled as a fortune-telling booth. When carpal tunnel becomes a real problem, the main character decides she’s good enough at reading people and guessing what they want to hear that she’s ready to take on the role of a psychic. Most of her clients are easy–bored housewives who need a little injection of drama and eagerly fill in all of the blanks themselves. One woman whom is easily coaxed into expensive “house cleansings” which could make our narrator a fortune if the trend catches on. But the cleansings do not go as expected. The house may actually be haunted. One of the children living there is clearly disturbed. Something isn’t right, and maybe they won’t all escape. But the question remains–where is the danger originating? Who is in trouble, and who is the trouble?

The fun of this book is that someone must be lying, but the reader must decide for him- or herself which version of the truth to believe; the narrator’s life depends on whom she trusts, though she may also be untrustworthy. Her talent for spinning stories and her profession as a “psychic” alert the reader to the narrator’s proclivities toward convincing lies.

We see only background details that relate to the plot since this book is so short–only a snapshot of each character. This means that every sentence is important, every action and conversation and thought revealed must be weighed carefully as the reader endeavors to sort out what will become of each of the characters. And that job is left entirely to the reader–this book ends in a precarious place with no more than insinuations in each direction, leaving the reader to decide whether the narrator found safety or dug herself into deeper catastrophe. This is a book that requires the puzzling out of clues, and a possible second read to sort out opinions once all of the information has been presented. This is a story that makes readers think, even after putting the book down.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I read this book in one very short sitting over a week ago now, and I’m still trying to sort out what I think is going on with the ending. I wish I could say more about my own theories, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises of the story. I definitely think I’ll be rereading this one at some point to see if my ideas hold up, and I appreciate that this book is short enough that I could do that at any time. The Grownup made me laugh, it made me worry, it left me constantly wondering what would happen next. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you like creepy stories and want something a little more full-length, let me suggest Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I thought this was the creepiest of Flynn’s novels, and it has a lot of the same qualities as The Grownup, only darker–much darker. The narrator of this book goes back to the place where her family was brutally murdered during her childhood and finds herself in fresh danger as she begins to piece together what she couldn’t understand at such a young age.
  2. The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane is a great choice for readers who enjoy trying to decide which parts of the story are real. A mild magical realism tale, this book focuses on an elderly woman who lives alone after the death of her husband and begins to sense that a tiger is inside her house at night. The government worker who arrives to help our protagonist manage day-to-day life takes the tiger in stride, but brings other problems for our confused main character. This one sorts itself out in the end, but it’s a wonderfully unusual journey to the truth that keeps readers wondering whether the danger is real or imagined.

I haven’t read much short fiction. Short stories, yes, and I love them, but usually those are even shorter than The Grownup. I like long books so much that I hardly ever read short works, and I really want to find more books under 200 pages or so to give this format more consideration. I’m not necessarily looking only for creepy thrillers, so if you have any great recommendations of short books for me, please leave a comment so I can check it out!

Coming up next: I’ve just finished reading Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, a science fiction thriller. I put off reading this one for months, and I’m so mad about that because it absolutely swept me away. It certainly would’ve found a place on my favorite books of 2016 if I had read it sooner, and even though it’s early in the year, I think it has a good chance of finding its way onto my 2017 list of favorites. Check back tomorrow to find out why!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: City of Ashes

I recently read the sequel to Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, entitled City of Ashes. This was a reread, but it’s been seven years since my last encounter with this book, so reading it again now was almost a new experience (I have a horrible memory for plot). Check out how this one compares down below. This will be a spoiler-free review of the second book, but I will mention some details about where we left off at the end of book 1, so if you haven’t read that yet, take a break and check it out before reading further!

cityofashesAbout the book: Clary’s and Jace’s relationship has reached a new level of awkward since their parents waited to reveal that the two were siblings until they’d begun falling in love. Then, of course, the reader must consider that their mother is under a magic spell of unconsciousness and their father is the evil Valentine who basically wants to take over the world with his army of demons. Simon and Jace are both blinded with infatuation, complicating matters with their inability to see what’s right in front of their eyes. There’s hardly time for love, though, with the Inquisitor hounding the wrong people for Valentine’s crimes. Speaking of Valentine’s crimes, it turns out that the mortal cup isn’t the only mortal instrument he’s after, and he’s got dastardly plans for the second object. When most of the adults refuse to see what’s happening, can Clary and her friends stop Valentine before it’s too late?

” ‘I remember you saying that growing up happens when you start having things you look back on and wish you could change. I guess that means I’ve grown up now.’ “

My favorite part of this book, of course, is the characters. Although I wish Clary was a more active participant in the Shadowhunters’ adventures, her role is already broadening in this second volume and I have a sense that it’ll only improve from here. Simon, on the other hand, has been a great character from the beginning, and I loved him even more here. He becomes a whole new person, practically. Although he, too, is a bit of a tag-along at times, Simon is a wonderful character because no matter how much crap he faces, he keeps plowing forward into the unknown. Alec and Isabelle are finally ready to accept that their group is bigger than three now, and though they don’t always like that fact, they’re fiercely loyal and will leave no one behind. And Jace–he’s stronger and funnier than ever, and never gives up. His character is truly tested in this book, and no matter how difficult it may be to make the right choices, no matter how lightly he seems to take dire situations–

” ‘I don’t want to be a man,’ said Jace. ‘I want to be an angst-ridden teenager who can’t confront his own inner demons and takes it out verbally on other people instead.’ “

–he’ll stand on the right side until his final breath, which may come sooner than he thinks. There are so few people who understand Jace, so he can’t help but keep Clary close. He wants something he can’t have with her though, which makes things harder for everyone. Still, in the end he’ll make what is arguably the best choice.

“Not everything Jace did was insane and suicidal, she reminded herself. It just seemed that way.”

We also have a new character in this book–Maia the werewolf. New characters after the first book always make me wary, but Maia makes a nice addition to the story. Allowing the reader to see Maia’s past and grow to appreciate her personality gives City of Ashes more impact when she is one of the characters threatened by Valentine’s new plan. I have a theory about how Maia will grow more involved in the story as the next volume progresses, and I certainly won’t be upset to see her there. She gives the reader a new angle from which to view some of the characters who are already familiar, which helps keep this sequel from becoming repetitive or disappointing after the end of a remarkable first novel.

Last but not least, our villain has some intriguing depth. Instead of being merely evil, Valentine has opinions and ideals that are not entirely wrong–his fault is that he takes his fight for them too far before he figures out which things he is wrong about. He’s blind to the possibility that he may be causing more problems than the problems the Shadowhunters were already facing. With a dark past and some serious cunning, Valentine is the sort of nefarious character that keeps readers guessing. Despite his outrageous methods, he’s not short on intelligence and can spin some remarkable arguments. He’s not quite likeable, but far from dismissable, as any good villain should be.

“Demons, to you, are hideous creatures that leap out from the shadows to rend and attack. And there are such creatures. But there are also demons of deep subtlety and secrecy, demons who walk among humans unrecognized and unhindered.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I originally gave this one a 4-star rating in 2010, but I think that was my petulant teenaged response to the ending going a way I didn’t prefer and the friction between Jace and Clary that (necessarily) slows their relationship. This time through, perhaps with the skewed perspective of knowing a little of what’s coming in book three, I was more impressed with the character growth the reader is shown through the difficulty of the ending for Clary, Jace, and Simon. I think I had more patience for this sequel now that I’m past my own angsty teenager stage. I’m more and more impressed all the time with how well Cassandra Clare draws her readers into the Shadowhunter stories; personally, I’m hooked. Carrying on in the Mortal Instruments series with City of Glass is one of my most-anticipated reading plans for February. Despite how much I know I’ll love the few books I’m reading now in my break between Mortal Instruments books, it’s hard to read other things when I’m so in the mood for the Shadowhunters right now. I couldn’t put down City of Ashes and I can hardly wait to get my hands on City of Glass .in early February.

Further recommendations:

  1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown is perhaps more adult that YA, but if well-developed characters and non-stop action / plot twists are your thing, you absolutely must check out the first book in his dystopian trilogy. Fans of Cassandra Clare will not be disappointed by the world-building and diverse cast of characters in this rebellious tale of an underling seeking to upset the oppressive balance of power on Mars.
  2. Graceling by Kristin Cashore would be another great YA choice for readers who want a little more fantasy in their TBRs with the same great sense of woven plot and smoldering atmosphere that Cassandra Clare utilizes. This is the first in a set of three companion novels, and a staple of YA fantasy. The main character is gifted, or “graced,” with killing, and must prevent her talent from being claimed by the wrong masters.

What’s next: I’ll be briefly reviewing a very short book I read last week (a short story bound in book format)–Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup. It’s a spooky story about a haunted house, a ghost, a mysterious child, a fake psychic, and more. Stay tuned for more info tomorrow!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now read my review of the next book in this series, City of Glass!