April Book Haul

April is my birthday month! That means new books. I did somewhat try to resist, for most of the month, but the week of my birthday I went a little crazy with the online ordering. For May I’ll be back on the book-buying ban, but for now, here are some new books!

  1. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkein, including The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read any of these or watched the movies. I always wanted to read the books first and just never got around to it. Part of the problem is that they’re not at my library, and I always wanted a matching set of my own if I was going to buy them, but matching sets are expensive and every time I almost bought them I ended up buying something else. But this time I found a sale and I bought them. And I’m going to make the effort to read them all this year. It’s one of my 2017 goals.
  2. One Day We’ll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul. This is my Book of the Month Club pick for April: a collection of essays written by an Indian Canadian, if I’m remembering correctly, about life and the internet and being a woman and all sorts of cool relevant things that I’m looking forward to reading about further.
  3. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller. I added this one as an extra in my BOTM box, although it was a selection from a few months back. This one’s been on my radar for a while, and every time I see anything about it I’m more and more eager to check it out. So I finally bought it (for $1, thank you, BOTM) and I think I might read it in a couple months while I’m taking my brother to swimming lessons, because that just seems fitting, although the book is actually about a woman who disappears, leaving letters behind for her family to find in their books.
  4. Eligible by Curtis SittenfeldOkay, this one’s exciting, because I won it from a Goodreads giveaway. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am very rarely a winner of anything that’s left up to chance. So receiving a copy of the new paperback edition 6 days before its public release and 3 days before my birthday was pretty darn exciting. Also, this one’s a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which was already on my list of to-read classics this year and I am so excited to be able to read this one right along with Austen’s original work.
  5. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. After reading Norse Mythology this month, I checked into other works by Neil Gaiman. There are several I want to check out, but this one’s soon to be a TV series so it’s especially high on the public radar lately and it was easy to find. Thanks to my mom for buying me this copy for my birthday!
  6. Classic Works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, including The Beautiful and Damned, and This Side of Paradise, as well as nineteen short stories. Again, thanks to my mom. This one’s a cheap bind-up, and it’s inconveniently huge, but I thought that was part of its charm. It matches another book I have from this same classics set, and I like the variety in this edition. I’ve been meaning to read more F. Scott Fitzgerald, so I think this will be good.
  7. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. I bought myself a signed copy of this book at my favorite indie bookstore, on my birthday. A treat to myself. I had recently seen this one recommended with another book I’d already read and enjoyed, although I can’t recall at this moment what the other book was. Anyway, this one sounded good and the cover is beautiful and it was my birthday. (“Birthday,” in this case, meaning “excuse to buy books.”) This one’s about a girl who discovers her father’s rough past and realizes that while she was growing up there was a lot more going on than she was aware of–dangerous things.
  8. Mischling by Affinity Konar. This is a WWII historical fiction released last year with good reviews. I can feel the mood for historical fiction creeping back up on me, and I have several good choices now to select from; I’m thinking that once the mood strikes I’ll read several in a row, and this will be one of them. I’m patient, though. The thing about good historical fiction is that it never gets old. No matter how many years since its release, it’ll always be good, so I don’t feel pressed to read it right away even though I suspect I will like it a lot. So I included this one in my birthday Book Outlet order, and I will read it… eventually.
  9. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Here’s another case of “books that age slowly.” This was a Man Booker Prize winner in 2013, and though I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it when I get around to it, I’m not worried about enjoying it any less if I wait awhile to read it. Whereas other books, especially YA, thrillers, and series that are popular right now, I’m pretty sure will lose a bit of their magic once they’ve been thoroughly trodden by public opinion and have been replaced by the next current trend. With books like The Luminaries, I like to save the best for last, so to speak, like dessert. I’m going to like the chocolate pie whenever I eat it, but if I eat it first it might ruin the rest of the meal for me.
  10. A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab. I found both of these as signed copies! Someday, maybe, I’ll go to actual signings where I can meet the author and watch them sign my books in person, but I live in an inconvenient area for that right now, so I’m excited to find signed copies in any way I can. At least with two to compare from different sellers it’s pretty clear that the signatures are authentic. Anyway, I’m excited to start this series about alternative magical Londons ASAP now that I have all of the books.
  11. Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner. There are basically only two types of YA I still like reading in my early twenties: the action-packed crazy adventures, and the powerfully emotional. I don’t read much YA fluff anymore. This one, I think, will fall into the emotional category. I first spotted the beautiful cover, but after I read the synopsis I was surprised I hadn’t heard of this one before. It has good ratings, sounds powerfully real, and I am just personally  morbidly interested in the idea of phantom limbs, even the metaphorical kind. I wish I had spotted this one sooner. Its cover makes me think it would’ve been a perfect “April showers” read.
  12. This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills. I could tell more or less the same story for this one as the last book. The gorgeous cover art caught my eye, and the synopsis drew me further in. I like books about self-discovery, realistic self-discovery more than the John Green-type crazy adventure self-discovery that doesn’t quite relate to my life. When I’m in the mood for contemporary YA, this is what I’m interested in picking up next. The title sounds irresistibly tragic.
  13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson. Every now and then, I pick up a classic that sounds interesting to me. My year of classics is working out well for me so far, so every now and then I see another classic I had my mind set on reading eventually and I pick it up thinking I can add it to next year’s list when I will (probably) decide to try it again with fresh titles. Or, maybe I’ll stick in an extra classic some month in the nearer future. I do like classics. I just don’t reach for them as often as I should.
  14. The Goldfinch by Donna TarttI read and loved Tartt’s The Secret History last year, but I’ve been unsure of this one. It won a Pulitzer prize, though, and I did really like The Secret History. Although the premise doesn’t interest me quite as much as The Secret History‘s did, I’m confident enough in the quality of the writing that I’m willing to give it a chance. It’s not high on my list of priorities at the moment, but I’m happy to have it available. It was an impulse birthday buy, cheap on Book Outlet because that’s how I roll.
  15. Do Not Disturb and If You Dare by A. R. Torre. These are the second and third books in a series that starts with The Girl in 6E, which, admittedly, I also own but have not read. I’ve just been so sure that I would want to read them all that I kept an eye out for these later books in the trilogy and finally spotted them in limited quantity on Book Outlet. This was after my birthday and I wouldn’t have ordered anything further if it hadn’t been something I was looking out for and thought I wouldn’t find cheaper anywhere else. And now I can read the whole series, because clearly starting another trilogy is just what I need to do right now (I’m in the middle of several series simultaneously already, if you’ve missed my reviews).

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There’s my April book haul. I can’t wait to read these, but I’ve been looking back through older book hauls and trying to pick out more books that I’ve had on my shelf for a while and not gotten around to yet. I’m doing better this year than last year about picking up a few of my own books every month instead of just borrowing–I want to read all of the books I own, but the ones I don’t own just feel so much more precarious on my TBR (which I know is ridiculous. If someday I finish reading everything on my shelf I would not at all worry about buying more, assuming I have money).

Have you read any of these books? What should I pick up first?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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May TBR

Just when I thought I was getting back on track with my monthly TBRs, I had to go and set an extremely ambitious one…

Here are my top-priority books for May:

  1. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham. I’ve been interested in this memoir since around the time Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life came to Netflix. It’s on my reading challenge list for 2017, so I’m eager to cross it off that list as well as check out what Lauren Graham has to say about her experience as Lorelei Gilmore.
  2. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. This one also counts toward my reading challenge, and with as many YA series as I’ve been reading/planning to read lately, it’ll be nice to pick up a stand-alone this month, as well. Also, I’ve heard this one’s funny and spring seems like a good time of year for a nice laugh.
  3. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman. I’ve been reading this trilogy for a couple months now, and loving almost everything about it. I have predictions for events in this last volume that I’m eager to look into, and it will be especially rewarding to be able to cross another finished series of my 2017 reading list. There are so many more series I still want to start soon, and I’m on the verge of getting lost in the middles of all the series I’ve started now, so it’ll feel good to complete this one for that reason, as well as for the story I’m hooked on.
  4. Big Little Lies by Liane MoriartyI’ve been meaning to start reading Moriarty’s books for months now, and this one was not the one I intended to start with, but I feel like I’m missing out for not having read this one yet. I know the new corresponding TV series has already started so I’m a little late, but I do want to see what all the hype is about by at least reading the book. And if I love it, I’ll probably get around to the other Moriarty book I wanted to read that much sooner, and go from there. The hardcover copy I checked out from my library looks deceptively large, but mysteries usually go pretty quick for me so I’m hoping I won’t get bogged down in what I thought would be a “light read.” Ha. Big books don’t scare me, but I’ve got a few long ones on my list this month and I’ll be sad if I can’t fit them all in.
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and
  6. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. This duology is my classic of the month; I considered swapping for another month’s pick just because I knew this month’s TBR was going to be long already without having two books in my classic slot, but I’m afraid if I start putting off books from my classics schedule I’ll never get back on track, and I don’t want my classics list to fall by the wayside this year. So I’m making the effort to read both of these. To Kill a Mockingbird is actually a reread, but it’s been several years since my sophomore English class so I’m excited to see if I’ll like it as much this time around on my own, and what will happen with the sequel, which I’ve successfully managed to learn nothing about so far.
  7. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. Hawkins’ first novel, The Girl on the Train, was not my favorite thriller of all time, but I did enjoy it, and I do own it. I’m excited to see what she has in store for her readers next, so I’ve added this one as an extra already to my next Book of the Month Club box and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. I’ve been in a thriller mood after reading The Perfect Stranger, and I have high hopes for this one. It’s coming out the 2nd of May, I think, and I definitely want to read it before I hear what everyone else thinks, as I know there will probably be some strong opinions after Hawkins’ wildly successful debut.
  8. Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare. I’m still marching through all of the Shadowhunter books in publication order, and I’ve reached book six, the second book in the Infernal Devices trilogy. While I did not enjoy Clockwork Angel a whole lot this year, I did like City of Fallen Angels this past month and am excited again to see where it’s all going. I’m looking forward to getting back into Victorian  London and just continuing with Clare’s books in general. I believe her latest novel, Lord of Shadows, comes out this month, and I’m so eager to read her newest series that I definitely want to make sure I’m finishing up with my journey through her earlier books to get my hands on these newest ones.
  9. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas. This is the third book in the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy, which has been a guilty pleasure read so far. I don’t own the first two, and so I only have a library hold on this one (coming out May 2nd), but I don’t know when exactly I will have my hands on a copy and when it will fit into my schedule. But I’ve been dying to find out what happens next after I read the cliffhanger ending of A Court of Mist and Fury back in December, so I’ll definitely be getting to this one as soon as possible.
  10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. I own this entire series now, and I’ve been dying to delve into it for months already, but this list is getting long and there are long books on it and I know I’ll be getting busier now, too. I’m adding this one to the list to challenge myself, and I really hope I’ll get to it. This is one of several series I’m anxious to start, and it was difficult to decide which first-in-a-series book I wanted to reach for this month. Really, I want to reach for them all. Definitely expect more series coming up, but hopefully I’ll be starting with this one in May.
  11. The Girl Before, by J P Delaney. By this point I must admit that I may not get this far in my TBR. I bought this thriller in February and wanted to get to it pretty quickly after buying it, but even though it’s been in my mind for the past couple months, I still haven’t gotten around to it. I have been in a thriller mood lately, though, and I know these sorts of books are fast reads for me, so again, it’s here as a challenge.

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And now, I’ll acknowledge that this TBR is crazy long. The picture doesn’t look too impossible, but two of the books I’m planning to read have not even arrived yet. Also, some of these books are pretty hefty. But I haven’t pushed myself too hard with my TBRs yet this year, and I’ve only failed to reach my goal once (and then caught up in the following month), so i’m thinking it’s time to have one that seems practically impossible. Besides, May has 31 days, so at least it’s not a short month. I’m hoping that the YA books and the thrillers will be quick enough reads to make up for the extra days it might take to get through some of the longer books.

Well, we’ll see where I stand at the end of the month. And stay tuned to find out soon how I’m turning out with my April TBR!

Have you read any of these books? Are you planning to read any of these books? What else are you looking forward to reading in May?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Perfect Stranger

I read Megan Miranda’s 2016 thriller All the Missing Girls (narrated backward, to surprising effect–link to my review below) last fall, and was eager to pick up her 2017 (loosely termed) companion novel, The Perfect Stranger.

About the book: Leah Stevens’ journalism FullSizeRender (14)career (or more accurately, her quest for the truth) has tanked and sent her life spinning off in a new, unprecedented direction. Eager to escape the fallout, she runs into an old roommate at a bar and agrees instantly to relocating to a small west Pennsylvanian town where she’ll acquire her teacher’s license in a hurry and work at the local high school. Her chosen roommate, the enigmatic Emmy, is running from her own past, like Leah. Leah doesn’t pry. But when crime becomes a problem in the previously quiet town and Emmy doesn’t come home, Leah must risk having her own history dredged up to report Emmy missing. As the cops start the search–led by the attractive Detective Donovan, who’s after truths of his own–Leah is forced to admit that there are a lot of important details she doesn’t know about her friend. When strange links keep appearing between the death and destruction sweeping through town and Emmy’s suspicious actions, Leah is more shocked than anyone to realize that the common denominator to all the town’s emerging problems is the name Leah Stevens. Somehow, even Leah is involved, though everyone has a different opinion on whether she’s a suspect or a victim–or still in danger.

“I had brought myself to a place where people stop caring who you are or what happens to you. The type of place where people don’t look too closely or for too long.”

With many thrillers, the scare comes from the twists and turns, the implications and surprises of the wrong person being in the right place at a bad time. With this one, the creepiness emerges not through the plot twists, but through Leah’s internalization of everything that’s happened in her life. She’s got a history of being accused rather than helped or believed when she tries to tell someone the truth, so she holds everything closer now. Truly, there’s not much action at all for the first two thirds of the book, and yet that was the part that hooked me. The scary parts of this book are the surety that some things will not work out right for the narrator in the end. She has done things wrong that will prevent her from going back to her old life and being re-accepted by the people she’s left behind. There are truths she can’t ever reveal about others because they’ll cause problems for her, too. The scary part is seeing that something dangerous is going on now, and there’s nothing she can do about it.

With her experience as a crime reporter, Leah’s accustomed to proximity with the morbid and frightening, and dismisses it easily. When the trouble starts in Pennsylvania, when she realizes it started long before her move to Pennsylvania, Leah sees that she’s been in danger longer than she ever realized.

“The problem was with me. I had become effectively desensitized to the danger of words.”

Leah’s close relationship with the main detective on the case is both helpful and hindering. He’s the kind of guy who, like her, is willing to bend the rules to uncover the truth. This means that he’s willing to share more information with her than he should, sometimes, but also that when it suits him he’ll use her to reach his own goals, regardless of the consequences for Leah. They need each other, but they can’t quite trust each other. He’s a compelling character in his own right–he’s not the cop that shows up in most thrillers, and that’s why I liked him. He’s just a guy. Sometimes he’s part of the problem. He feels even more real than Leah sometimes. Megan Miranda does supporting characters well.

On another note, while the reader is always looking carefully at every word the characters speak, looking for double meaning and hidden motives in thoughts and statements? Megan Miranda takes a new tack in The Perfect Stranger–or, at least, a less common one. She points out that the reader should be thinking more about what’s not present than what is, which makes the story more of an engaging read, trying to assemble pieces that aren’t even there.

“Sometimes it’s what’s missing that’s the answer. Sometimes that’s the story. The missing knife. Or the No comment, or the demand to speak to an attorney. Sometimes what they don’t say is all the evidence you need.”

My thoughts in context with All the Missing Girls: after the unique structure (the backwards chronology) of Megan Miranda’s first adult thriller, I expected something more from The Perfect Stranger than a straight-forward thriller; and thus, I found myself a little disappointed. I also had been under the impression that these were companion novels–even the cover designs seem to suggest that–but they really don’t have anything beyond genre in common. However, while the story wasn’t quite what I expected, it did interest me enough that I read the whole book in three sittings, in just over 24 hours. Also, the writing style seemed much improved in this newer volume. I didn’t experience those cringe-worthy moments of seeing the writing trying to point something about itself out to the reader the way I did in All the Missing Girls, which made the narration more pleasant in this one.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. While not my favorite thriller of all time, I did not regret reading this one. These are the sorts of thrillers that don’t wrap up neatly, that leave some hidden truths still secret at the end. I like that. I’ve given both of Megan Miranda’s thrillers the same rating, but if I really had to choose a favorite I’d probably say I liked All the Missing Girls better. There are pros and cons to each, of course. I would read another one if Megan Miranda were to publish a third adult thriller in upcoming years, so I’ll be on the lookout for that.

Further recommendations:

  1. All the Missing Girls, firstly, would be a good choice for fans of The Perfect Stranger who haven’t yet read Megan Miranda’s first adult thriller.
  2. If you really want to read a mystery/thriller with a startling (and downright spooky) ending, check out Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. I’m talking about the kind of ending that leaves readers with the creepy-crawlies, the kind of ending that you never see coming though all the clues are there.
  3. If it’s disturbing characters you’re after, and surprising tactics like Megan Miranda’s backwards narration in All the Missing Girls, don’t miss Caroline Kepnes’ You, a creepy “romance” thriller in which the narration is provided by the unbalanced stalker.
  4. And finally, if you like the struggling/ruined journalist aspect mixed with small-town intrigue, try Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, where one writer goes back to her hometown to write a story that she did not expect to turn personal.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading Leigh Bardugo’s Ruin and Rising, the third and final book in the Grisha trilogy, which I started earlier this year. I can’t wait to see how it’ll all end, and then to dive into the Six of Crows duology soon, as well. Although I don’t particularly like all of the characters in this trilogy, I can’t wait to find out what Ravka’s fate will be, and what will become of the Darkling. I’m determined to finish this one before the end of April, so expect a review soon!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Bookish Pet Peeves

This is not a tag or a review. I’m lining up more of my regular posts for the rest of this week and next, but I wanted to take a break from the regular and try something different.

Here I’ve compiled a list–a list of book-related pet peeves, little things that annoy me, although they’re not deal-breakers. Is anything really a deal breaker? I’ll read just about anything, but I do occasionally have some issues with the books I’m reading. So here are ten structural components (not content related, as that’s a whole different category) that irk me when it comes to books:

  1. Deckled edges. You know, the ones where pages are designed to look rough and uneven. I think I might like the aesthetic of it more if the pages were cut more randomly, but they usually have these uniform zigzags (I’m talking about looking at the book from the bottom or top, not at each ragged page individually) that make even this attempt at disorder look orderly. And they’re harder to turn, at least for me. I prefer being able to thumb through evenly cut pages while I’m reading.
  2. Covers with people on them. Sometimes they’re abstract enough that I don’t mind as much, but I hate when my creative process is thwarted by having a character’s appearance thrust upon me that way before I’ve even opened the book. Sometimes, the person on the cover doesn’t even match the description given inside the book for the character he/she is supposed to represent. Generally, I just don’t like covers that try to tell me how to visualize any part of the story.
  3. On a related note, cover art that doesn’t match the content of the book. For example, a book about a one-story haunted house with a cover dominated by a creepy-looking two-story house. If a visual is going to be forced upon me, I would at least like one that’s plausibly accurate to the story. Generally I prefer cover art that’s sparse and/or abstract, or features a symbol from the story rather than a photographic image, because the photograph often seems to have been taken in the wrong place.
  4. Titles in a series that are too similar. I’m talking City of… City of… City of… in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, or Percy Jackson and the… Percy Jackson and the… Percy Jackson and the… in Rick Riordan’s (obviously) Percy Jackson series, or even A court of… A court of… A court of… in Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series. When I’m reading them, and when there’s only a couple of books published so far, I can keep track of the order. But when they’re farther back on my radar, when I’ve got the whole story in my memory and I’m not anticipating the next title, how am I supposed to keep track of which one’s which? I don’t mind a nice long series, but in fantasy especially I have to keep a list of the order because some of those fantasy series are more about the bigger picture than the individual book and it gets hard to tell pieces of the story apart. Even Harry Potter could’ve been titled simply “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Chamber of Secrets,” etc.
  5. Books published in all different sizes. I can’t exactly complain about buying different editions of books in a series that leave me with differently sized books in a set, but wouldn’t the world be so much simpler for book lovers if all books were printed at a uniform size? Or even a couple of uniform sizes, to give paperbacks and the smaller YA books their usual form. Instead, it seems that many publishers adopt their own sense of book-size norms, and thus it is such a challenge to arrange my shelves properly because my lack of space means I have to organize by size instead of something more obvious, like the alphabet or genre.
  6. Built-in bookmarks.  These look nice, sometimes, and they feel like getting a bonus with a book purchase, but when I’m not actually reading the book, what do I do with that bookmark? I hate leaving it in the middle of the book because I leave bookmarks in the middles of books when I’ve started them and then put them back on the shelf for whatever reason to wait for a rainy day. I’ll probably come across that book in three years and wonder why I never finished the book and try to pick it up there where the bookmark is at. Or, even if the bookmark is left at the front or back of the story, it still has its tail dangling out of the edge, which will probably develop a permanent crease from being stuck under the book on the shelf for however many years it takes me to pick it back up, and it’s just so disappointing to have marred that bonus part of the book. Besides, what kind of reader doesn’t already have their own bookmarks? Or, if not actual bookmarks, little pieces of paper or small objects that easily substitute for one?
  7. Incomplete boxed sets. I know this is a marketing trick to convince more people to buy more books early on, but why can’t we wait for boxed sets until the series is actually complete? And if it is, why in the world would I want only part of the series in the box? I adore boxed sets, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with my excitement as a child for all those books and stories wrapped up in one gift package when I’d done well in school or something. But now I have a Harry Potter boxed set of books 1-5. I appreciated that at the time, because it meant I was able to read all five books at once. But now I love those copies because they’re the ones I read over and over, so I’ll always have a mismatched set. I could buy another set, but I still wouldn’t be able to part with my first copies.
  8. Redundant headers on book pages. You know how sometimes there’s that header or footer on every right or left page (usually near the page numbers) with the chapter title on it? I don’t mind those. I mind when the header is on every page with information that’s on the book’s cover, like the title of the book or the author’s name. I suppose maybe if I were an author I would like seeing my name on every page I’d written, but the title? Which reader forgets on every other page which book he or she is reading? That’s just unnecessary labeling. If it’s a detail I can check in half a second by flipping back to the cover of the book, I don’t need it on all the pages inside the book. Sometimes having a chapter title there, if it’s aptly named can be fun to look back on throughout the chapter to see how it ties in to the story, but I’m not likely to need reminders on the title or author all through the book. It’s overkill.
  9. Dog-eared pages in books that have been borrowed. I don’t mind bending down the corner of the page on principle. I don’t usually do that, but I have done it. In your own book, you have every right to do whatever you want to the pages. But when a book I check out from the library, or worse, a book I lent to a friend, comes to me with the corners still turned down, that bothers me. If it’s used as a bookmark, then when the page is passed the corner should be smoothed out again. If it’s used to mark a page with a quote the reader wanted to jot down, then the reader should jot down his or her quote and smooth out the corner. This is not as bad as someone writing in a borrowed book. I would consider that a worse transgression than a “pet peeve” would indicate. But dog ears in borrowed books grate on my nerves.
  10. Words written vertically on spines or covers, with the letters standing on top of one another. This is not necessarily always bad, if the words are particularly short or there is some necessary meaning to their being arranged this way. In English, we read from left to right in rows; that’s the standard. Unusual fonts are fun. I don’t mind if the letters overlap, or are written at a slant, or even if I have to turn the book to read them. But there’s something about reading English letters up and down that takes extra unnecessary effort. I don’t usually have to read many words, I just look once and move on to the next one because I know the shape of the word on sight without having to decipher the order and sounds of each of the letters. Think about it. As you’re reading this, your eyes jump from one word to the next, right? You don’t look at every letter, you see the word as a whole, recognize it, and move on. That doesn’t happen with vertical words. I’m not opposed to difficult reading. But I do mind having to put extra work into puzzling out the title. The title should pull a reader in, not antagonize him or her.

These are a few of my bookish pet peeves. Recognize any of yours on this list? Have any others you’d like to share? Keep in mind these are all a matter of opinion, and that my disliking any of these elements does not mean that I think they are “bad.” I just do not understand the appeal to using them this way. Is there anything in my list that surprises you? Feel free to comment below!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: City of Fallen Angels

I finally picked up Cassandra Clare’s fourth book in the Mortal Instruments series, the fifth book she published: City of Fallen Angels. I won’t spoil anything from this one, as usual, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series (City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass) you should probably check those out first, just in case.

Now, I was pretty darn sure I had stopped after reading the first three in this set, the original trilogy, but I kept having moments of something like deja vu while I was reading this one. I wonder if I did read this one when it was first published and have just somehow blocked it mostly from my mind, because the plot didn’t feel as familiar to me as in the first three books, but there were definitely some people and details that made me think, “Oh yeah, I knew that;” I’m not sure how else I could have known about Simon’s fourteen year-old fan and the return of Maia’s ex-boyfriend and Jace returning to the Silent City. So the jury’s still out on how new of an experience this book was, but I can certainly say I enjoyed it.

FullSizeRender (13)About the book: Clary is finally undergoing proper Shadowhunter training, but she’s still nowhere near as skilled as her friends–except at drawing runes. Jace should be having the time of his life now that he can have a legitimate relationship with the girl he loves, but other things keep getting in the way. He’s having nightmares that leave him afraid of being around her at all. Meanwhile, Simon is feeling the long-standing Nephilim prejudice against Downworlders and vampires in particular, though he doesn’t exactly fit in with them, either. Maia’s past comes back to bite her–or maybe it already has. Isabelle is coming to terms with her place in her family, with her friends, and maybe with her boyfriend, if he’ll stop two-timing her. Alec is also having boyfriend issues, but they’ve been hidden behind a lot of traveling and the standard Magnus glitter. With everyone dealing with their own problems, it’s difficult for them all to realize how the dreams, the dead Shadowhunters, the new (old) vampire in town, and Sebastian’s fate all tie together in a disturbing way that concerns them all.

“…it didn’t matter; the world, the city, and all its lights and life seemed to have narrowed down to this, just her and Jace, the burning heart of a frozen world.”

One way in which this book feels disparate from City of Glass (book 3) is its use of new plot. There are significant details from prior events in this series that come back in City of Fallen Angels, but whereas City of Glass was originally the end of a trilogy with everything from those first three books all coming together inside it, City of Fallen Angels feels like the beginning of something new rather than a continuation of what came before. It seems more like City of Bones, when the group is setting off on an adventure they don’t really understand yet; little mysterious things are happening but it doesn’t all make sense until the last hundred pages or so. And then it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger that will definitely connect this volume to further books. I didn’t expect this one to feel so much like the beginning of a second trilogy, but it does.

On another note, I did not like the weird Clary/Jace situation in this book. It just seems so pointless to me when two people in a book who love each other can’t just talk about their problems and they let them spiral out of control instead until they’re forced to talk about the problems eventually anyway. Exceptions to this rule usually involve a third party who is protected along with the secrets, but there’s no third party here. So that was frustrating, but it did eventually right itself. And really, after the happy ending for Clace at the end of the third book, I’m not surprised to see new problems with very little backbone arriving between them because where can you go from perfection? Everything going right makes for a boring book. I just hope Cassandra Clare has something more substantial in mind for them in the upcoming volumes.

“What they had wasn’t ordinary, or subject to the ordinary rules of relationship and breakups. They belonged to each other totally, and always would, and that was that. But maybe everyone felt that way? Until the moment they realized they were just like everyone else, and everything they’d thought was real shattered apart.”

A side warning: Do not try to look up reminders on who’s who in the Shadowhunter series if you haven’t already read it all. Cassandra Clare ties lots of details together between books and series within the Shadowhunter realm, and it is apparently impossible to double check details online without being spoiled on what’s still coming. This has been a bigger problem for me with the Clockwork series than the Mortal Instruments, but it’s definitely worth noting, and highly annoying.

That said, while I was reading this one, I did really love the connections I spotted to Clockwork Angel, and it seemed like even though I could recognize some names and details from that companion trilogy there may be even more hints at plot points from the Infernal Devices that would be fun to see after having read all of those books, rather than just the previous books in publication order. Cassandra Clare is one of my favorite authors when it comes to cross-novel references to her other works; that level of detail really brings a world to life, and I wish it happened more often in fiction. I like to think of fiction as one giant multiverse, and I wish different parts of it bled together more often.

In the Shadowhunter world, that aspect is especially great because the main characters are all somewhat connected (so far, anyway) so the references to what happened in the past has more emotional appeal and seeing seeds laid in the Infernal Devices trilogy for what will come into New York in the future is also exciting. It’s like the ripple in the pond, every action affecting what comes after it.

Don’t you know better? Hearts are breakable. And I think even when you heal, you’re never what you were before.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I was worried about this one after I didn’t like Clockwork Angel as much as I’d expected, but it turned out there was nothing to worry about. I’m invested in the Shadowhunter world all over again, and even though I’m still wary because my next Clare book will be Clockwork Prince, back in the Infernal Devices trilogy which I wasn’t loving as much this time around, I cannot wait to find out how that series will improve and then get back to the Mortal Instruments for another exciting round of demon-slaying in Brooklyn.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman is more adult than YA, deals with magic in a more scientific/mathematical way than the supernatural nature of the Shadowhunter world, but it contains an interesting band of friends on a magical adventure, fighting the Beast and learning about a secret magical world.

What’s next: I’m currently reading my classic of the month, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in college, and always was a bit sad that my high school didn’t have more mandatory reading of classics like that. So I’m getting around to it now on my own. I will add my thoughts on this one to my monthly wrap-up, but my next full review post will feature Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger, the thrilling just-published companion to All the Missing Girls, a murder mystery told backward. I hope this new edition to the set will be just as interesting.

Which new releases are high on your radar at the moment?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant.

Update: you can now read my complete review of the next book in this series, City of Lost Souls!

Review: Marlena

I’m a little late with my March BOTM club selection (Julie Buntin’s debut novel, Marlena), but you know what? It was just as good in April as March, and someday I’ll catch up again. I actually finished this book a few days ago and have been struggling to put together some formal thoughts. Although I loved this beautiful novel, it’s hard to say exactly why because I have very little in common with the characters and their story. And yet, somehow, I could relate.

About the book: Cat’s parents are FullSizeRender (12)newly divorced, and she’s moved with her mom and brother to Silver Lake, Michigan. Her mom cleans rich people’s houses for a living, and her brother, Jimmy, has put off college to work at a plastics factory to help their mom pay for the tiny house they’ve moved into. Next door is a barn that’s been converted into a home for a meth chef and his two uncared-for children: Marlena and Sal. Marlena is a seventeen year old girl trying to take care of herself and her eight year-old brother while also keeping her dad out of legal trouble. Having been introduced to the drug-and-alcohol scene from a young and impressionable age, and having no role models to speak of, she’s already developed some bad habits and a reckless streak. She befriends Cat almost immediately, and leads her down a dangerous path, but she also tries to protect her from some of the worst aspects of her own life. It’s a doomed relationship from the start, but that doesn’t stop them from giving it everything they’ve got.

Marlena is primarily one of those coming-of-age stories that explores what happens when a young girl faces bigger conflicts than she’s equipped to handle yet. It’s told from a future perspective, in alternating viewpoints of the narrator’s present and her past.

“When you grow up, who you were as a teenager either takes on mythical importance or it’s completely laughable. I wanted to be the kind of person who wiped those years away; instead, I feared, they defined me.”

The thing about friendships in literature is that they’re either unrealistically perfect or make the reader want to slap the friend that’s making an obviously horrid decision. In real life, while true friendships are great, there’s always a little jealousy behind the love and desperation behind the loyalty. Maybe you’d do anything for your friend, but you expect the same in return, and yet people are imperfect and often just end up hurting each other even with their good intentions. Marlena hits true friendship right on the nose, complete with those moments when the main character hates her best friend, when she tags along no matter the cost, and when the friend encourages bad choices. It’s a real, gritty friendship.

“I thought being her best friend meant keeping her secrets. I trusted that she knew what she was doing.”

The story benefits from its point of telling, as well. It’s a story about fifteen and seventeen year-old girls, but the narrator is in her mid-thirties by the time she’s telling it. This gives the reader two things: room to doubt some of the details that have been weathered by time and memory, and insight into life and meaning that the narrator lacked as a teenager. Cat can look back and recognize aspects of the story that she didn’t understand yet while she was living it. She sees how she could have helped, in a way that she probably didn’t fully grasp at the time and which gives the story it’s sense of tragic guilt.

“Before that year I was nothing but a soft, formless girl, waiting for someone to come along and tell me who to be.”

Marlena is not a plot-driven book. The reader is told right away which of the characters will not survive, and even the event in the narrator’s present that keeps that part of the story moving forward is a small event, and an anticlimactic one. This, in a sense, fits the story well, though. Marlena’s life was a spark that burned hot and quick, and after it’s gone out there’s simply nothing left. That’s the problem with losing a loved one–they’re just not there, and nothing you can do after can reignite the lost connection. So in a way, the disappointment of Cat’s present fits right in with the tragedy in her past.

“…that day, I learned that time doesn’t belong to you. All you have is what you remember. A fraction; less.”

The only thing I might mention disliking about this book were its sentence fragments. The rules of grammar exist to be broken, I know, it’s an artistic thing; but there were so many beautiful, complete sentences in this book that I’d stumble upon the half-finished ones occasionally and not know what to do with them. There’s nothing wrong with sentence fragments, really, it’s just that they reflect connections in the writer’s thoughts, and sometimes those connections are less clear to readers. It can be a fault of the book when the writing is so lyrical and grammatically perfect that the narration becomes boring, so maybe the fragments help in the end, but they did require a couple of reads sometimes when I was trying to make grammatical sense of a long sentence fragment that just tied back to something mentioned earlier. These awkward little stops and starts were the only problem I had with the writing style.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. At first, the cover made me wary. I think the white swirls are supposed to maybe represent cigarette smoke, but to me they looked like ribbons. The glowing red letters at the ends of the words maybe represent the glowing end of a cigarette, but at first it just looked like some odd pattern with the lettering. An actual cigarette on the cover might have turned me off from the book completely, so perhaps there is something to be said for the subtle approach, but for most of the time I was reading it just looked nonsensical. Between that and the instant removal of plot by Cat mentioning Marlena’s sad and pathetic death, I was skeptical. But somehow this book made me feel everything, even though my own life has been nothing like the story Cat is telling in this novel. This one’s going to stick with me.

Further recommendations:

  1. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. Here’s a coming-of-age story about a fifteen year-old girl growing up in Minnesota who meets with death in a strange and painful way before she understands that she could have helped prevent it.
  2. The Girls by Emma Cline. This one’s also a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl, in this case one who becomes involved with a Manson-esque cult in the 1960’s. It’s full of the same sort of commentary on what it means to be a teenage girl that Buntin does so well in Marlena.
  3. Faithful by Alice Hoffman. If it’s the tragedy of Marlena that appeals to you, nothing beats Faithful for difficult emotion and the struggle to rise above one’s past. Also, this is a book for lovers of dogs.

Coming up next: I’m currently finishing up Cassandra Clare’s City of Fallen Angels, the fourth book in her Mortal Instruments series. Unlike the first three volumes in this series, this one is a first-time read for me, and without the nostalgia factor it’s a bit of a different experience. I hope I’ll end up enjoying this one as much as the other Cassandra Clare books I’ve read so far, and I also hope to have a review ready for you tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Magician King

Although I’ve been finding more of them in the last year, it’s still pretty rare for me to be able to say I liked a sequel better than the first book in its series. In this case, I’m talking about the second book in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy (you can check out my review of the first book here, in case you missed it), which I started last month and was so very eager to continue. Although the first ten pages or so had me worried, the rest of book 2, The Magician King, met absolutely every expectation.

FullSizeRender (11)About the book: Being a king of Fillory is everything it was supposed to be, but that still isn’t enough for Quentin. He and Julia, Eliot, and Janet have everything they could’ve asked for as Fillory’s kings and queens–everything but adventure. The other three might be content enough with the adventure of being royalty in a magical land, but Quentin longs for a quest. Still, it’s been a long time since he’s had a clear purpose for action, so when a quest presents itself, he walks away with the others. The quest, however, will not walk away from them. So when Quentin finds an excuse to make a sea voyage to Outer Island, the far reaches of Fillory, he takes it. Then he listens to a story about seven golden keys, and instead of returning to his castle he sets out to find them. Little does he know then that he will never make it back to Whitespire Castle at all.

“There was more to life than being fat and safe and warm in a clockwork luxury resort. Or maybe there wasn’t more, but he was going to find out. And how did you find out? You had an adventure. That’s how. You picked up a golden key.”

The beginning vs. the end: the book starts in a very different place from where it leaves off, and both reminded me of points in other literary works. The first ten pages or so reminded me of that time in the Chronicles of Narnia when Henry, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have been royalty so long that when they stumble back upon the lamp post that marks the entrance back to Earth they hardly remember that part of their lives at all, or even where they came from. Fillory is different than Narnia, though. Fillory’s kings and queens see their chance to be more than fat and safe and warm, but unlike the Narnian royalty these magicians don’t take the chance. Of course, the chance ends up taking them, but at first there’s the disappointment of reading about characters who are too content to take chances. It’s the only boring part of the book.

“If you’re too good too much of the time, people start to forget about you. You’re not a problem, so people can strike you off their list of things to worry about.”

But the end! The end is huge and tragic and exciting. The hero doesn’t win the reward, the hero pays the price. Of course Quentin set out to be the hero, and thus pays the biggest price. It reminded me strongly of the end of Pierce Brown’s Golden Son, also the second book in a trilogy. The plots of these two works are vastly different, but the emotional wreckage matches up nicely. Between the crazy plot twists and the devastation of the main character losing everything that’s most important at that point, it would’ve been hard to carry on at all if not for the surety that the extreme lows are just a setup for the epic finale coming up next. Quentin is being pushed into greatness.

“You didn’t get the quest you wanted, you got the one you could do. That was the hard part, accepting that you didn’t get to choose which way you went. Except of course he had chosen.”

On another note, the layout has improved since book 1. We have some great back-and-forth in this one between Quentin’s present and Julia’s past, which keeps the book from stalling. In the first book there were times when the reader needed to see that not much was going on, and to understand the atmosphere at those times even when the plot went dull. It was part of the world-building, when Quentin was studying at school, and part of the character-building as relationships were being established and tested at Brakebills and beyond. In this sequel, the main characters and the world are set; there are new people and new elements, but the main course is already served. All that’s left is to taste it.

“Careful what you hunt, lest you catch it.”

The best part of this book: seeing an old “friend” from The Magicians reappearing unexpectedly. I won’t say who, but I will say that this reappearance makes me even more hopeful that another beloved character will find a way to return yet before the end of the series. I mean, this is a magical world where space and time and life and death have been proven capable of manipulation. Anything should be possible, right? There’s one more chance for this person to come back, so I will definitely be picking up the final book in this trilogy early next month. I have a hunch. I also have a hunch about the Watcherwoman. This is a series that’s impossible to read without making predictions about how everything will connect. Luckily, it’s also one of those series that doesn’t feel like the world is shrinking as connections are being made.

“The higher you get the more you realize how much bigger than you everything is.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I absolutely love this series. I love all of its references to other fantasy worlds and I love that it feels like Narnia for grownups and I love the characters with all their flaws. Even with a whole book still left to read I know I’m going to miss this story when it’s over. I’m interested to see how the rest of the TV series will pan out. At this point, I’d advise reading the entire trilogy before starting to watch the show because it does mix in elements from beyond the first book even in the beginning of the first season. Which also means that I’m ready for a rewatch to pick up details I missed in season 1 the first time around. I just can’t wait to see where this trilogy is going next and I hope Lev Grossman is busy writing something new that’s long and amazing right this very minute.

Further recommendations:

  1. Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is a science fiction thriller with such high level physics that it feels almost as magical as the Magicians trilogy (though just as accessible). The multiverse comes into play in this one as well, although the door-filled corridor looks much different than the Neitherlands (the magical fountain land between worlds in Grossman’s trilogy). If you like highly intelligent characters and fast plot twists, check this one out.
  2. If it’s the sword fights and the politics and the crossing-between-worlds that interest you in the Magicians trilogy, try Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, the first volume in a historical fiction saga that involves time travel and various supernatural elements mixed in with actual wars from the mid 1700s.

Coming up Next: Even though I just finished reading The Magician King last night, I’ve already started my next April read, Julie Buntin’s adult lit fic novel Marlena. This was my BOTM club pick from March (which I’m clearly starting a little late), and I’m already completely invested in these tragic characters and their risky choices.

Have you read any of those great books lately that are both character-driven and have fantastic plots? I’ll always pick good characters over plots, but both combined are… magical. That’s how the Magicians trilogy is going. What have you read that makes you feel like all the elements are perfectly balanced?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now check out my full review on the next book in this series, The Magician’s Land!