June TBR

I wanted to do something a little different with my TBR this month. I wanted to create a short list of must-reads and a longer list of books to choose from in the reading time I would have left afterward. But the more I looked at all the time the short list would leave me and the great books on that longer list of choices, the more I narrowed them down; soon I had a full length list of must-reads and not many choices left. So below you’ll find a pretty normal TBR, although I left some flexibility in it to keep things interesting.

  1. City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare. I’m prioritizing the Shadowhunter books because I’m right in the middle of the two older series and I’m excited to get to the Dark Artifices soon, so I will definitely be reading at least one Cassandra Clare book this month. I think it’s highly likely that I will also be reaching for Clockwork Princess, the final book in the Infernal Devices trilogy (and next in publication order) later in the month if I reach the end of the list early. I won’t explain what these are about here because 1. many of you probably know about the Shadowhunter books by now, and 2. if you don’t, these are middle/end-of-the-series books and spoilers are cruel.
  2. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. This is my classic of the month (it’s about a man who can’t work because he’s turned into a bug). Since I set up a schedule of twelve classics I wanted to read this year and I haven’t ditched the plan yet, I’ll definitely be reading this month’s classic so I can keep up with my list. Although I decided months ago to read this one in June, I’ll also have a choice with this one–the actual story of Metamorphosis is pretty short, but the copy I bought also has other stories in it. I’ll leave it up to impulse whether I’m going to be reading those other Kafka stories in June.
  3. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I’m starting another series, guys. A trilogy. Shocker. I’ve been having such a hard time choosing which series to dive into next because there are so many good ones I want to read this year, but I checked this one out of the library so I’ll definitely be reading it soon. I think it’s about a special magic book that’s been lost and is unexpectedly found by some unsuspecting soul, and there are witches and maybe vampires? I don’t remember, but it sounded fun and I grabbed it at the library to stop myself from purchasing three more books I don’t even know yet if I’ll like. I’ve made a wise money decision! I feel like an adult!
  4. A BOTM book. Here’s a bit of flexibility in my TBR. I have a small backlog of BOTM books (Swimming Lessons, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, and Since We Fell), and I don’t know yet what the June selections will be (they’re announced on the first), so by the time my BOTM box arrives I’ll have several to choose from. I’ll read one of them for sure, but who knows what it’ll be.
  5. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. I decided to add an extra interactive post to my monthly repertoire in May to help me decide which unread book from my shelf to read next. (You can watch for it again near the end of June–I think I’ll try it at least one more time with a fresh category to vote from.) I had fun with it, and I hope the three people who voted had fun with it, but I led myself straight into the dilemma of offering five books to choose from and no plan for a tie-breaker. Since I originally had a shorter list this month anyway, I decided just to read all three books that received a vote, and this was one of them. It’s a YA first-in-a-series book about a new Kansas girl who steps in to solve some problems that have arisen in Oz after Dorthy went a little power-crazy and turned the well-known fantasy world upside down.
  6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Here is another book that received a vote from the unread selections I posted about in May (check out this link if you’re interested in the layout/process or want to see the other selections). I had originally planned to read this one in October, but I have too many books I want to read around then. Also, I’ve been really intrigued by this one for years and it’s beyond time I finally fit it into my schedule. It’s about a traveling magical circus, at the heart of which are two competing magicians who fall in love, but aren’t both supposed to survive the deadly “game” they’ve been pushed into.
  7. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. This is the final book that received a vote from Choose My Next Read: Round 1. It’s a fantasy novel (first in a trilogy, because clearly I like to start a million series at once and try to juggle them) about a girl who becomes a queen and finds that leadership is not what she expected. I know there’s magic that involves a special sapphire, and an evil queen (there are multiple queens in this world) and some politics and a quest for revenge. Beyond that, I’m going in blind on the strength of the reviews and recommendations I’ve seen for this series.
  8. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I gave myself a month away from the Grishaverse, but it didn’t feel like a vacation. I missed Ravka. I feel like this should be a low-priority book because I’m not invested in the story yet (this is the first book in a duology), and I own it, so it’s not going anywhere while I put it off; but I know in my bones that I’m too impatient to wait any longer so I might as well add it to the official list. I think it’s about a big heist that a group of misfits work together to pull off in the same setting as the Grisha trilogy.
  9. Vicious or A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. Here’s another choice I’m leaving myself. You may remember (kudos if you do) that A Darker Shade of Magic appeared way at the end of my May TBR, but even at that time I knew I was assigning myself more books than I would probably have time for. As I feared, I didn’t manage to read it in time. I still really want to, so expect to see it being reviewed in the next month or two, but since I have several first-in-a-series books in this list already, I am considering reading Vicious for now instead. I know for sure I want to start reading Schwab’s books this month, but I’m going to let myself choose which one I feel most in the mood for later in the month, once I’ve decided how many of these other series I intend to continue juggling.

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And that’s my TBR for June. It’s pretty fantasy-heavy, and there are several new series I’ll be starting this month, which doesn’t really seem like what I was expecting for June, but it looks good. I also have several extras (with more genre variety) in mind in case I finish the list early, but nine books already looks like a full month for me, so we’ll see. Although there are nine books in this TBR photo, those are subject to change, according to the choices I left open in the descriptions above. I just like to have a visual map for the month, even if it’s a tentative one.

Have you read any of these books? Are any of them in your summer reading plans?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Girl Before

The Girl Before is a psychological thriller, and JP Delaney’s debut novel (although I believe it’s a debut under a pseudonym from an author who’s been published previously). I bought it on a whim  when it was brand new, and picked it up this month as a much-needed palate-cleansing thriller. Probably not many people consider thrillers palate cleansers, but the good ones are quick reads that run lightly through the gamut of emotions and plot devices and seem to work for me as a reset button on my reading mood, which is helpful at the end of a long month.

thegirlbeforeAbout the book: Edward Monkford is a mysterious, slightly creepy, totally obsessive architect, famed for his minimalist designs. He’s built an extraordinary house in London that can be rented cheap–which attracts a lot of attention to the space, but only a rigorous application, a personal interview, and a lot of luck can secure a new prospective tenant access to the home. There is a list of rules a mile long for how new residents are to live in the space, and the fact that the house collects constant data on its inhabitants is enough to discourage some potential renters. But Emma and her boyfriend, Simon, make the cut and take up residence at One Folgate Street, only for things to go awry very quickly. Three years later, Jane is granted permission to live in the space, and is sucked into the mystery of Emma’s unsolved death as her own life is increasingly entwined with Edward Monkford and One Folgate Street. Jane tracks down all of Emma’s old connections, finding odd parallels to her own life in places, and glaring inconsistencies in others. Her involvement–or perhaps her presence alone–sets danger in motion, and soon it’s not only Emma’s life on the line.

“It’s a fortress, I’d said to Simon. But what if the house itself decides not to protect me? How safe am I really?”

About the layout: The first hundred pages or so of this book continually impressed me. The narration starts out with two alternating perspectives (Then: Emma, and Now: Jane). These two main characters are both distinctly different and beautifully parallel. Right away, the two characters are set apart by their private circumstances, and the sections are also easily distinguishable by their dialogue–the Then: Emma sections do not use quotation marks for spoken words, a tactic that both helps set her apart and gives her sections a feel of memory rather than physical presence, which is fitting because her story has already ended several years before Jane’s starts. Once the two women are separated in the reader’s mind, however, their stories become a tennis match of back-and-forth rallies: one of the women tours One Folgate Street. The other one decides to apply for residence there, and sends off the application packet. The first woman’s application packet is accepted. The second woman moves into the apartment. Etc. There are so many similarities between what happens to the two women regarding the house and its architect that many of the sections seem to pick up right where the previous one left off. The only times both stories are narrated in full detail are to display repetition in Edward Monkford’s habits. Futhermore, the unlabelled chapters are also divided with headers featuring odd questions from the application packet that both pique the reader’s interest and pertain to the content ahead. It’s a gorgeous and effective format that’s both easy to read and logistically pleasing.

I will admit, though, that the tension is mild, at best. For the first two thirds of the book there’s intrigue and foreboding rather than anything really terrifying or dramatic. The reader learns early on that Emma has died mysteriously. The reader is also guided to believe that Jane’s story is following a similar, disastrous path. That, and Edward’s growing creepiness, are the driving forces through much of the book, rather than any immediate danger.

“I can’t go back, I say. […] When something’s gone that wrong, you can’t ever put it right.”

Seeing the ending coming a mile away is one of the biggest downfalls of a book for me, but that’s not exactly what happens here. There’s a good amount of misdirection, which leaves the possibility of surprises. If the reader can figure out which point of the story to focus on, the plot twists aren’t ground-breaking, but neither are they overt. All of the clues are given before they puzzle is assembled, which means that prediction is possible. But the narration is multi-layered enough that even when a prediction plays out correctly the reader is propelled onward to see how all of the misdirections will fall into place.

My problem with this book did not stem from predictability, but rather from a let-down with the final reveals. The climax of the story passes quickly and with few shocks. Once the true culprit is made known, the clues are obvious. Even that didn’t bother me. It was the  language usage at the very end of the book that finally made me dock a star. The narration repeatedly tries to nudge the reader into shock, using phrases like, “And then I finally told him the truth,” and “This was my intent all along,” followed by rather bland reveals that seem to matter little after death has struck. I did retain a lot of respect for the choices the characters each made at the end–the book wasn’t wrapped up too neatly, but everyone went the way their character seemed destined to go, be it for better or worse. It was the fact that the story kept trying to make me think something grand and outlandish was happening when there were only bland, minor details left to be explained. And yet, as I mentioned, I remain content with each character’s ending.

“You can make your surroundings as polished and empty as you like. But it doesn’t really matter if you’re still messed up inside. And that’s all anyone’s looking for really, isn’t it? Someone to take care of the mess inside our heads?”

It also bothers me a bit when psychological thrillers draw on the trope of dangerous men preying on women who look a certain way. (There’s definitely a Fifty Shades vibe in this book. I’m recommending adult audiences only, here). I can understand how it might be startling and strange to meet someone who looks very much like a lost loved one, but matching victims seems like such an obvious tactic.

Furthermore, secrets are unrealistically unguarded here. Everyone involved in Emma’s life is just helpful enough to provide the next clue for Jane–the psychologist, the retired cop, the ex-lovers; everyone’s willing to share a name or personal detail.  Are real people so quick to share other peoples’ private information?

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I didn’t love the characters of this book, but I was okay with that because I don’t think the reader is meant to. At some points, in fact, I was truly disgusted by some of the things they said or did or even thought. And yet the construction of the book was laid out so perfectly that I didn’t mind some questionable content. I don’t think this is a book for everyone, but for readers who look as much between the lines as at them, the style of the formatting in this book is worth any imperfections in the story itself. I believe this is going to be made into a movie, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for it, as well as for future works by this author.

Further recommendations:

  1. Whether you like The Girl Before or not, if you’re looking for a great mystery/thriller with an unbelievable ending, it’s Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. This one has a slower, more literary start, but again, all the clues are woven in and you still won’t guess where this one’s heading. If surprises in books are your thing, this is the book for you.
  2. Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger is another good recent release involving a unique home, a death, and an unexpected look-alike. This time, though, I fully support the use of nearly identical women because it makes an excellent plot point.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the recent(ish) sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird. I may or may not review it in full. I don’t usually post complete reviews of classics–my thoughts on To Kill a Mockingbird will go up in my monthly wrap-up and I’m not sure yet whether to post for its sequel or whether it makes more sense to simply review it more briefly alongside its classic counterpart. I’ll decide as I’m reading. Either way, you’ll see my thoughts on Go Set a Watchman soon. And after that, I’ll be starting a new fantasy trilogy and reviewing its first book, A Discovery of Witches, as usual.

What are you reading to wrap up the month of May? Anyone else use thrillers as palate cleansers?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

May Book Haul

I did so well this month! I actually read more books than I bought. I read as many books from my own shelves as I bought. I mean, that was my goal for every month this year, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually achieved it. And I’ve already read several of these! New books make me so happy, but I’m proud of myself for sticking to a reasonable number this month. Hopefully the smaller number doesn’t make this a boring book haul, because I’m excited about all of these.

Books I bought in May:

  1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This is a Gothic classic that has been intriguing me since I read Jane Eyre. I haven’t read a lot of Gothic literature, but I’ve liked what I’ve read, and this one has been recommended to me. I already have twelve classics to read in 2017, but I may even pick this one up as an extra in upcoming months. And if not, it’ll almost certainly be on my list of classics for next year. I ordered this one around the time of my birthday in April, but it took a while to ship. I wasn’t in a big hurry for it anyway, although I am growing more and more eager to read it. It’s pretty rare, I think, for a book to be both popular in its own time, and a long-standing classic, so I’m interested to see if this one lives up to its reputation.
  2. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. Despite its overpopularity for a bit there in 2016, I did love The Girl on the Train when I read it, and I liked the movie. I appreciated that the protagonist is fallible. I’ve been in such a thriller mood lately that I thought this one would be perfect, but now that I’ve read it I wouldn’t call it a thriller at all. In any case, I had to see where this author was going after The Girl on the Train before all the hype (or the bad reviews, if it goes that way) could ruin it for me. When I saw BOTM was adding it to their extras in May, I added it to my box so fast and I almost didn’t even care what the actual monthly selections were going to be. They were good though, in case you were wondering.
  3. Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane. This was my Book of the Month Club pick for May. I was sold at the “literary thriller” description (yep, another thriller), and the fact that this is the same author of the mindwarping novel Shutter Island. If I hadn’t already had so many books in mind to read in May, I would have read this one already, so I’m hoping to get to it soon. I think I want to start leaving my monthly TBRs a little more open, so I have room for unexpected new releases and discoveries that I don’t want to wait for. I’m falling a little behind with my BOTM books, and I think it’s because I tend to plan a pretty rigid TBR for the upcoming month before the new selections for BOTM are announced. I’m still just as thrilled about the books (like this one) that I have yet to read, though.
  4. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas. I have been waiting for this release (book three in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series) since I read book two in December. Don’t even get me started on the hellish two week wait I endured between its release date and the arrival of my own copy, when reviews started pouring in and that cliffhanger from book two was at the forefront of my mind. But I finally got my hands on this book and read it in about three sittings. Next time, I will have a better plan regarding ordering a new book in a series that I can’t stand to wait for. It’s one thing to wait for a publication date to arrive, but quite another thing to wait for a copy once the rest of the world is already reading the book.
  5. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. When I ordered ACOWAR (above), I had an argument with myself about whether it was better to have books on my shelf that I actually enjoy and could see myself rereading, or that look nice in a set. Meaning, I didn’t think I would want to own book one of this series, but it seemed odd to only own book three. So I ordered ACOMAF, book two, along with ACOWAR, and I’ve already skim-read it again and could maybe even see myself wanting to buy and reread book one at some point for a full series reread, maybe around the time book four comes out. For the Feysand scenes, mostly. I didn’t really like Rhysand in A Court of Thorns and Roses, though it was clear to me that he wasn’t as evil as he was depicted by Tamlin. But this isn’t a review, so I’ll leave it at the fact that I really liked ACOMAF and I’m glad to own my favorite part of this series, at least, if not the whole thing at the moment.

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I’m really happy with this haul. It feels like a good place for my book-buying to be at present. I’m going to set a goal for myself to stick to 5 books for June, just to see how it goes having a planned amount to stick to. (You’d think I would have tried that sooner, but here we are.) I’m mentioning it here to help hold myself accountable, but we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, you can help me plan my June TBR by checking out my first ever Choose My Next Read post! There are a few hours left to vote for the selection you’d like to see me read and review in June, so go look at the list and tell me what I should read next!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Clockwork Prince

“When I think of you, and you are not there, I see you in my mind’s eye always with a book in your hand.”

I’m reading all of Cassandra Clare’s books in publication order this year, and I’m up to Clockwork Prince, book two of the Infernal Devices trilogy. This is my last Shadowhunter reread for the year, so the next five books will be all new to me and I feel like I’ve reached a milestone in my 2017 Shadowhunters journey. I was a little nervous because I didn’t like Clockwork Angel (the first book in this trilogy) as much as I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised with this second volume. No spoilers for book two here, but please read Clockwork Angel before continuing below.

About the book: The Consul has given clockworkprinceCharlotte two weeks to find the missing evil mastermind Mortmain, or lose leadership of the London Institute. Some of the Institute residents are determinedly helping her achieve this goal, but others make for surprising hindrances to her success. Benedict Lightwood wants control of the Institute for himself and will stop at nothing to wrest it from Charlotte; his leadership, of course, would leave the Institute uninhabitable for Charlotte’s friends, as well. Benedict would be enough to handle on his own, but there is also the slippery nature of Mortmain and his helpers to contend with, who always seem to be a step ahead of the Institute crew. These two adversaries Charlotte and her adoptive family must deal with at once are almost more than they can manage–but not so much to keep the teenaged orphans too busy to fall in love, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

“You are in love and you think that is all there is in the world. But the world is bigger than you […] and may have need of you. You are a Shadowhunter. You serve a greater cause. Your life is not yours to throw away.”

About the characters: in Clockwork Angel, I was put off by how rudely all of the characters seemed to be speaking and behaving toward each other. In Clockwork Prince, the reader is given explanations for some of the more deliberate cases of rudeness (which doesn’t quite excuse them from being so awful to each other, but at least it shows the reader that they’re not always cruel, soulless creatures intentionally hurting each other). Furthermore, one of the main characters’ pasts is examined much more closely in this novel, providing evidence for the fact that underneath the insults lies a caring heart.

“There is a soul under all that bravado. And he is really alive, one of the most alive people I have ever met. When he feels something, it is as bright and sharp as lightning.”

Speaking of character development… I should mention that so, so much of this book seems dedicated to a certain love triangle. SO MUCH LOVE TRIANGLE. I mean, all three of the triangle characters are fully developed and a choice is made, but there’s no getting around the triangle. I think several relationships within and surrounding this triangle would’ve been forced to a very different place if either of the two suitors had been aware of the other’s pursuit, but alas, all of the one-on-one friendships/relationships growing here seem to be occurring primarily in private. I’m guessing that the final decision of who will be with whom will have to be remade again in book three, when they’re all finally honest and open with each other and the full truth comes out. All the secrecy is unsustainable.

“I feel myself diminished, parts of me spiraling away into the darkness, that which is good and honest and true– If you hold it away from yourself long enough, do you lose it entirely? If no one cares for you at all, do you even really exist?”

While Mortmain evades capture, hundreds of pages focus instead on the characters constantly present, and all their complicated feelings. All of the “research” and “discoveries” made by the Institute’s Shadowhunters involve little to no contact with their adversaries, or even, hardly, with acquaintances who may be able to help. There are a couple of brief conversations, but overall there is little advancement in any regard but romance in Clockwork Prince.

“I had always thought one could not be truly lost if one knew one’s own heart. But I fear I may be lost without knowing yours.”

A non-romance-related writing tactic worth noting is the repetition involved in the revelation of information in Clockwork Prince. These characters are each independent, but they all also have unique relationships inside the group, in which information is revealed piecemeal. The reader will learn a bit of a character’s past, and then the narration will remind the reader that other characters do not hold the same information, and later page space will be taken up by those other characters learning what the reader has already been told. It can be interesting trying to piece together new layers to clues that are divided this way, but it’s annoying to be given a piece of information and then forced to wait patiently as the other characters continue guessing at a truth that has already been revealed to someone else. A key point of Will’s past is disclosed in Clockwork Prince, for example, and I believe I read the same information about it three times as different characters discovered it, with several incorrect guesses and assumptions mixed in between. Each instance focused on the shock of the reveal all over again, rather than presenting unique perspectives or additional layers to the information that would have provided the reader with something new to discover through the repetition.

And yet, the emotions and mysteries of the characters drive the plot steadily onward, and there is less general unpleasantness than I found in Clockwork Angel.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I’m still not loving the series, but this one did improve my opinion of it and I suspect the third book will be even better. This one was definitely an improvement from Clockwork Angel, and I’m still planning on reading onward to see if it keeps improving. I first started reading this trilogy in 2012, I think, and I read Clockwork Prince for the first time right after its release, so I’m excited to finally be getting around to finishing the series. For as much as I loved all the Shadowhunter books when I first experienced them, I’ve been putting off reading the endings for an awfully long time, and I’m ready to fix that. Next up in publication order will be City of Lost Souls, and then on to the third and final book in this trilogy, Clockwork Princess. I have high hopes for wrongs being righted there.

Further recommendations:

  1. Cassandra Clare quotes lots of classics in the Shadowhunter novels, and especially in the Infernal Devices trilogy. If you like the Clockwork books, you should check out some of the novels that inspired Cassandra Clare–like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  2. Shakespeare also makes a few appearances in references in the Infernal Devices; if you want something a little more poetic but just as classic and inspiring, try Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play full of magic and revenge and romance.

Coming up Next: I’ll be reading my classic(s) of the month next, both of Harper Lee’s books. I only review classics in my monthly wrap-ups, so you’ll have to wait until then to find my responses to Lee’s books. I think I’ll take a short break between them though, to read another book from my May TBR, so my next review will be of JP Delaney’s The Girl Before, a recent thriller about two girls who’ve inhabited the same apartment space and found similar disaster within.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now read my full review of the next book in this series, Clockwork Princess!

Choose my Next Read

Hello, fellow readers. I want to try something new here. I want to give you a choice in the reviews you’ll find posted on my blog (and I also just need some help making up my own mind). Over the last year or so, I’ve accumulated more books than usual–while I plan to read them all eventually, it’s gotten more and more challenging to decide which title to reach for next.

I’m launching what I hope will be a monthly event, dependent on the interest level in it. I will choose a book-related theme, and five unread books from my shelf, one of which will appear on my TBR for the next month. I’ll count on you to help me choose! I’ll share the books’ synopses, and set an end-date for votes. Then I’ll tally up the responses in the comments, and the book with the most votes will find its way onto my next TBR for reading and review. I hope you’ll have as much fun with this as I will!

The theme for June is red books. Here are the choices:

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  1. The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister. A female illusionist is accused of her husband’s murder after her participation in an impressive new magic show. She is given one night to prove her innocence after her actions in the magic show seem to have spelled her guilt, in which time it is revealed that nothing is as it appears.
  2. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. (YA) Dorothy came back to Oz and turned the world upside down when she became a little too power-hungry. Another girl from Kansas is swept into the tale, forced to sort out the differences between the stories she’d heard of Oz and the reality she’s found, in which many of the good and evil characters seem to have switched roles.
  3. The Girl in 6E by A. R. Torre. A woman has shut herself off from the world for the safety of everyone around her–she can’t stop thinking about murder and fears that any contact with the outside world will end badly for the other party. She works from home, online, pulling in paychecks with erotica, until she sees something online that may lure her out of solitude–someone is set on murder, and the only way she can stop them is to turn the tables and unleash herself on the potential murderer.
  4. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. (YA/NA) A young princess finds herself thrust into the role of queen. She’s not the only queen in this divided land, nor does she inherit a peaceful, prosperous realm. She possesses a magical sapphire, and is immediately tested in her abilities as she becomes immersed in the Red Queen’s plot for fresh revenge.
  5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A secret, magical circus sets the stage for a battle between players who don’t know the true nature of their competition–or how high the stakes. They fall in love amidst the illusions and charms of the circus, but their masters in magic have other ideas about how the show will end, and plan for only one of them to remain standing at the end of the game.

After writing those descriptions, I’ve realized that there’s a lot of magic/fantasy in this list. I was hoping that choosing books based on their appearance would give this first list more variety, but as I’ll select a different bookish category each month there should end up being quite a lot of variety.

Now you decide: what should I read in June?

Feel free also to leave suggestions for future categories I might select books from, but I’ll have to check that I have enough unread books on my shelf to match the category before I can make any promises on what’s next.

All votes will count until 10pm (Central Time, US) on the 29th of May.

May the best book win!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

TBR Tag

As usual, I have not been tagged for this one, and I think it’s pretty old, and I don’t know where it actually originated (if you know, please leave a link in the comments or at least let me know, so I can give credit where its due). But this is one that is always fun for me to read, and I don’t think I’ve talked about my TBR on my blog before. So we’re gonna let it happen.

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Two ways. I joined Goodreads in…2012? But I didn’t start using it regularly enough for that to be a reliable way to keep track of things until 2015 or so. So I use my Goodreads TBR shelf primarily now, but I also have written lists. With my written lists, I keep track of books I own but haven’t read yet, so that nothing new and unread on my shelf can get lost in the shuffle, and I keep a list of the books that I know I can get pretty easily through my library. (I live in a very small town and a lot of my library books come through a loan system shared with other towns in the area, so sometimes the wait isn’t worth it or there simply aren’t any copies available.) This way I can keep track on Goodreads of all the books I ever want to read, but I can also keep track of what’s easily available to me to help me prioritize. I make an effort to update about once a month.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

Right now, I’m reading exclusively print books. I use my TBR shelf on Goodreads to keep track of books I don’t own or have access to yet, as well, so I guess it’s not fair to say that my entire TBR is in print format. By the time I get around to reading some of them, maybe I’ll have switched over to e-book or audiobook copies, who knows. But right now, I’m reading print books, and if they come up in my TBR and I don’t own a physical copy yet, I try first to get a physical copy.

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

I set monthly TBRs for myself. If I surpass the monthly goal, I generally try to pick up books that have been on my shelf unread the longest because I feel bad for neglecting them. But first, when I’m planning my monthly TBRs, I look at my list of books I can get easily through the library, and I pick usually 2-4 that I’m most in the mood for. I prioritize books in a series, both with my library picks and the books I plan to read from my own shelf. If I’ve started a series, there will be at least one book from it on my monthly TBR. Sometimes I’m in the middle of several at once, and if I’m not in the middle of any series…well, I’ll probably be starting one. I also am currently a subscriber of Book of the Month Club, so I put at least one BOTM book on each monthly TBR. After planning for whichever series I’m in, and my BOTM book, and my library books, then I turn to the list of unread books on my bookshelf, and choose from there as many more as I feel like I can handle that month. Of course, there are always new releases or new discoveries, so I have to be flexible enough to add new books on a whim. But mainly, once my monthly TBR is set, I just choose whatever I’m most interested in at the moment from that list, until it’s gone.

What book has been on your TBR the longest?

It’s impossible to say. I know I’ve had books on my mental TBR longer than I’ve had my Goodreads TBR, but now they’re all on Goodreads (mostly) and all I know is the date I added them to that shelf, which may or may not be the date that I decided I wanted to read them. I didn’t have a great system until 2015 so… the closest to truth I can get in this question is to say that the first/oldest book on my Goodreads TBR shelf is Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. (Which I will be reading this year as part of my 2017 reading challenge, so it won’t have that spot too much longer.)

What book has been most recently added to your TBR?

Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. I’ve been hearing about how good this book is for so long, and when I went to check its rating on Goodreads (an impressive 4.55), I realized I’d had it in mind but never actually added it to my Goodreads TBR. So I did that.

What book is on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

I don’t decide to read a book based on its beauty. I do sometimes decide whether to buy or borrow based on cover attractiveness, however. Last month I bought Emma Mills’ This Adventure Ends because it was on my TBR list and it’s beautiful.

Which book on your TBR do you never plan on reading?

I cull my TBR regularly for books that I added on impulse and am not actually really interested in reading, so I don’t think that I have any. But I will say that Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is on my TBR and I know it’s going to be a long time before I pick it up because it’s so long and I’ve seen the movie enough times that it’s going to be a real challenge to forget enough of the plot to want to start reading.

What is an unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

I discovered Ruth Ware’s two thrillers in 2016 and coming up soon (July 25) is her next release–The Lying Game. I’m super excited for it. I haven’t pre-ordered yet, but I probably will.

What book on your TBR does everyone recommend to you?

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. I own it. I fully intend to read it. Probably even this year. I don’t know what’s holding me back. I guess I just haven’t been in the mood for WWII historical fiction, but I do really want to read it, and I will. Eventually.

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

  1. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I’ve read other Austen, and I have a copy of this one, and it’s my classic of the month for September, so I’ll get there.
  2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. Again, I own it, and I really want to read it, and especially around the time Caraval came out I felt really left out for not having read this one. I just feel like it’s going to be a good October read, thrilling and magical and…spooky? Is it a little spooky? For some reason I have a full October TBR already even though that’s still so far away and I don’t have any other months planned.
  3. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. I just officially added this one last week when I read A Court of Wings and Ruin. I feel like I’m not going to like it as much as the ACOTAR series, but I want some more Sarah J. Maas in my life while I’m waiting to see what’s happening with the fourth ACOTAR book. Everyone’s read it, everyone has opinions, and… I want to see for myself.

I realize that was three and not one. (My answers for these questions have been a bit long, oops!) I just always feel left out when anyone has read a book that I haven’t, which is awful because it’s not even possible to read enough books to combat that. But I’m trying to cope, and these three have been on my mind a lot lately.

Which book on your TBR are you dying to read?

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown. Its release date got pushed back from August 2017 to January 2018, and those four months extra seem like eternity. I’m trying to avoid think about it at all, but clearly it’s not working. I absolutely loved Brown’s Red Rising trilogy when I read it in 2016 and I neeeeeed to know what happens next.

How many books are in your Goodreads TBR shelf?

295 at the moment, but that fluctuates a lot. For most of the year it’s been hovering around 280, but I’ve been adding books again. The problem is partially that when I read a book I really like, I always add another book by that author to my TBR afterward, or a book in a similar genre or with a similar premise if it feels like something new that I haven’t experienced enough of. I only keep one book from a series on my Goodreads TBR at a time–even if I want to read the full series, I only add the first book to my TBR, and when I finish that, I add only book two, and so on. So my TBR is this constantly changing beast that I’ll probably never conquer, and that makes me sad on one level, but then again, what kind of life would it be without a perpetual list of books I’ve yet to read? As satisfying as it is to complete a list, I don’t ever want to hit zero on this one.

And that’s a wrap.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this inside look at my TBR. I’m not going to tag anyone, as usual, because I wasn’t tagged myself and this is an old one. But I do love to see answers for this one, so if you want to give it a shot, let me know in the comments below so I can check out your TBR tag post! (I love tags like this that you can answer fresh every year or so and always have different answers. It’s interesting to compare where you stand and how things have changed.)

I’m really curious: how big is your TBR?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Into the Water

I remember when I picked up Paula Hawkins’ debut thriller, The Girl on the Train. It was the end of summer, 2015. I was in my favorite bookstore in my college town, browsing before I checked out the books I needed for classes. At that point, I had never heard of Paula Hawkins or The Girl on the Train. I had barely any experience with thrillers in general. I picked it up on a whim, and I loved it. So when I heard she had a new book coming out in 2017, I had to check it out. Here’s what I thought about Into the Water.

intothewaterAbout the book: Nel and Jules Abbott grew up in Beckford, near the Drowning Pool. They’d heard the stories of the women who had died there under all sorts of circumstances. Jules thought she had left that place behind for good, but Nel was too obsessed to ever let it go–until her obsession cost her her life in that same infamous section of the river. Now that she’s dead–exact cause to be determined–Jules must return to settle her affairs and take up custody of Nel’s teenage daughter. The investigation hits a snag, though. Not long before Nel’s death, a teenaged girl committed suicide in the Drowning Pool, and the deaths seem to be connected by some unlikely thread. Someone has all the pieces–is it the local policeman and his family? The mother of the girl who committed suicide? Nel’s daughter or sister? The “psychic” trying to keep a standing in Beckford? Everyone’s connected, and yet each story is distinct, a braid of woven threads rather than a single strand. But until the mystery is solved, there’s no telling who’ll be next to go into the water.

“You didn’t tell the truth, you never did–the stories you’d been telling weren’t the truth, they were your truth, your agenda.”

About the layout: Jules Abbott, sister to the most recently deceased woman, addresses her narrated sections to Nel. At first seems confusing, because she’s the first narrator of the book and early in the section there’s also a general “you” being used; it took me a minute to figure out that a sort of second-person narration was in play (although she also narrates herself as “I” and “me,” in the first-person narrative style), and then it took me almost her entire first section to understand who that “you” was aimed toward. Once that’s cleared up, though, it’s one of the most interesting aspects of the book. The fact that Jules seems to center all of her thoughts around her sister, to address every impression and emotion first to “you,” someone who is gone, is deeply compelling and unsettling at once.

“You were never the princess, you were never the passive beauty waiting for a prince, you were something else. You sided with darkness, with the wicked stepmother, the bad fairy, the witch.”

Then we have Lena solidly in the first person; she’s the daughter of the dead woman, and although she does care deeply about certain characters, she’s the youngest and the most self-centered, which makes this other switch in narrative style equally fitting for her character.

“I lay on my bed in silence. I can’t even listen to music because I feel everything has this other meaning that I didn’t see before and it hurts too fucking much to face it now. I don’t want to cry all the time, it makes my chest hurt and my throat hurt, and the worst thing is that no one comes to help me. There’s no one left to help me.”

Other than these two exceptions, the characters of Into the Water are given short, alternating sections of third-person narration.

“She was not the woman she used to be. She could feel herself slipping, slithering as though she were shedding a skin, and she didn’t like the rawness underneath, she didn’t like the smell of it. It made her feel vulnerable, it made her feel afraid.”

I would hardly call this book a thriller. A mystery, a murder mystery, but not a thriller because of the nature of its tension. Into the Water is not a breath-snatching, heart-pounding hurricane wave of clues and deceptions and danger, but an unrelenting current of unease, of nagging suspicion and dark inevitability. The evil lies not with a single person, but spread through everyone in the town. Whether Nel jumped or was pushed, no one in this tale is innocent, and the secrets are bound to wash up after the storm of deaths and accusations passes.

“I thought how odd it was that parents believe they know their children, understand their children. Do they not remember what it was like to be eighteen, or fifteen, or twelve? Perhaps having children makes you forget being one. I remember you at seventeen and me at thirteen, and I’m certain that our parents had no idea who we were.”

I’m not convinced any of these characters really know who they are at present, either. This is as much a story of self-discovery as a revelation of the people each character thought they knew so well. None of them are particularly likable, but they’re captivating. They’re creepy. They’re the best sort of characters to read about in the dark, maybe with the sound of water moving in the background.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This was not the page-turner I expected, but considering I hadn’t known anything about the story going in, I’m not sure I can justify having expected anything. I liked the mystery, though. I liked the flawed characters and their messed-up secrets. Well, I didn’t like them particularly, but I wanted to see what had made them that way and where it would lead them. It wasn’t my favorite book of the year or anything, but I had no trouble finishing it in just a couple of days and I’m still 100% committed to reading whatever Paula Hawkins publishes next, so I’d call it a success.

Further recommendations:

  1. For a more thrilling tale of water-related intrigue, check out The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. (Or just read it in preparation of Ware’s new release coming out in July, also related to drowning.) In this one, a journalist on a new leisure boat must get to the bottom of the absence of one of the passengers that no one else on the boat will acknowledge ever existed.
  2. If it’s the characters who kept you going in Into the Water, check out Erika Carter’s Lucky You, a literary fiction book about three women and one boyfriend who go off to live in the woods to escape civilization. They’re looking for a change, looking for answers in their unhappy lives, but the problems lie within themselves and none of them can get off their respective paths of self-destruction.

What’s next: I’m currently reading my next Cassandra Clare book, as part of my quest to read all of her novels this year. Now that her newest release, Lord of Shadows, is almost out in the world, I’m pretty eager to catch up to that point. I’ve got a few more to read first, though, starting with Clockwork Prince, book two in the Infernal Devices trilogy. It’s a reread for me, but I don’t remember much, so you’ll have to wait for my upcoming review to see what trouble Tessa and her new Shadowhunter friends will be finding in Victorian London this time.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant