Book Haul 1.18

A new year means a new book goal– and I’ve already failed it. In 2018 I’m challenging myself to acquire no more than three books per month, with strong intent to read them within the month I acquire them. I’m determined to work hard at that this year, but apparently harder in the second month because January was a lost cause. I received 4 books as belated Christmas gifts on the 1st, and since that already put me over my goal I wasn’t as careful about exercising restraint. Here’s what’s new:

  1. Emma by Jane Austen. I love this edition (Vintage Classics) and maybe someday I’ll have more that match because right now I have five different editions between the six Austen novels on my shelf. I know absolutely nothing about the plot but that hasn’t stopped me from loving other Jane Austen novels. This is going to be my first of (at least) twelve classics for 2018, but since I revamped my TBR system those twelve might not fit neatly one per month, as Emma did not. I am planning to get to this one soon though.
  2. The Waves by Virginia Woolf. This one also found its way to my 2018 classics list, but it’s a bit farther down. It’s the same pretty Vintage Classics edition as Emma, a matching Christmas gift. All I know about the plot is that (I think) a child dies while a group of friends are playing at the beach, and the narration explores how the other characters are affected by the loss. I think I’m going to like it a lot, and I don’t think it’ll be sitting unread on my shelf in 2019, which is the real goal for new this year. I want to get as close as I can to reading every new book I acquire in 2018 before the end of the year.
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. A Christmas gift, again. I think this is the only Rowell book I haven’t read yet (along with its companion, Carry On, which I won’t read until after Fangirl). I’ve been saving these two for last, so I’m hoping to read and love them both this year. This one features a girl who’s starting college and trying to find her (metaphorical) feet through fanfiction after a family tragedy. She feels more at home participating in an online fandom than out in the real world, but now that she’s in a new place she needs to reconcile her online life with the changes around her.
  4. A Poem for Every Night of the Year ed. by Allie Esiri. This is the last of my Christmas gifts. I have been reading a poem per day, as the title suggests, and it’s been interesting. I’ve recognized a few of the poems for January already, and I like how some of the poems are connected to their significant dates– different celebrations and commemorations of writers from around the world, etc. It’s just a little something calm and interesting to wind down with at the end of the day, and I do intend to keep up with these throughout the year.
  5. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner. This is my BOTM choice for January. I didn’t read much historical fiction in 2017 but I want to dip my toes back into that water. So I chose this heart-wrenching book about Spanish Influenza in 1918 Philadelphia, a subject I knew next to nothing about when I chose it. I want to pick up more books this year about new-to-me subjects. This is my current read, so I’ll have a review up soon.
  6. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. This was BOTM’s book of the year winner for 2017, so I had to add it extra to my box. I’m making it a rule in this year not to add extras, but I couldn’t skip “book of the year” from my favorite subscription box. This one’s another historical fiction; it looks hefty and wonderful and I just know it’s going to be a quality read, which was my intent for 2018 reading: quality over quantity. All I remember about the premise is that the protagonist travels between Ireland and the US in recent history, trying to reconcile his personal and national history with present society.
  7. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown. I mean, it’s Pierce Brown. I love his Red Rising books. This one came out on the 16th, and I’m planning to pick it up as soon as I finish As Bright as Heaven. I bought a signed copy and I’m beyond excited to see how it’ll turn out for Darrow and crew (ten years later plus new characters) as they struggle to rebuild a better society on the bones of the one they ripped apart in Brown’s first three books. I hope this new installation is as beautifully chaotic as the rest of the series has been.
  8. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. True crime has been piquing my interest for a while now but I haven’t really delved into the genre yet. This will be my first true crime novel (a sort of classic of its genre, I think) and I expect to like it a lot. It seemed like a good place to start and I expect it’ll show up on my next TBR in February. I think the murders it covers take place in the 1960’s, but I really like going into books as blind as possible so I didn’t look into details. (I’m sorry if a lot of my descriptions are vague on books I haven’t read, but I really don’t want to know more before I read them.)
  9. Aramada by Ernest Cline. I read and loved Cline’s Ready Player One in 2016, and I’ve heard over and over that that’s the better book, but this one’s got a gorgeous cover and I need to see for myself how well Cline’s writing transfers to another novel. It’s clear from the cover that this one has something to do with space invasions/battles but I don’t remember if it also involves a game, as well. I’m getting Ender’s Game vibes, but I really don’t remember the premise. It was on sale and my previous appreciation for Cline’s writing was enough of a motivator for me to pick this one up.
  10. Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, but I bought it on a whim. This is the kind of un-pre-meditated book shopping I’m aiming to eliminate in 2018 by limiting myself to 3 books per month (It’s not that I regret buying this book, it’s that I regret buying any books on a day when that wasn’t in my plan). If I end up loving this one I do intend to read more of Albertalli’s books, but since I think they’re companion books, I want to read them in publication order and this is the first. In this one, something private of Simon’s is sent in an email to all the kids at his school, which causes his love/social life to blow up. I think.


So those are my new books. New BOTM selections will be posted in mere hours and I already know of one more that will be arriving in my mailbox in February, but I’m going to try really hard to stick to my 3 book goal. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, I am pleased that I’m already currently reading 2 of these, and planning to pick up at least 3 more within the next month. But still, that’s only half of the list, and I want to be eliminating unread books on my shelves this year, so here’s to doing better as the year progresses.

What new books did you pick up this month? Do you have book-buying resolutions? Have you read any of these?


The Literary Elephant


Reading Lesser-Known Books

I’m thinking about lesser-known books today because I just finished rereading a personal favorite from my teenage days: Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Have you heard of it? I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is no. This book was published fifteen years ago, and still has less than 20,000 reviews on Goodreads. And I don’t understand why. It’s rating is 4.15 currently, and I do understand that. No book is truly perfect, but this one’s pretty great. Instead of reviewing(/raving about) a book that basically no one has even heard of, I’m going to use Hawksong to talk about the merits of reading lesser-known books; and the sludge readers occasionally have to sort through to find the hidden gems in that category.

The thing is, you just can’t trust the hype. Haven’t you been burned before, picking up a book that everyone’s talking about only to find out it’s just not the book for you? Every reader has his or her own opinions and preferences, and for that reason, it’s best not to listen too closely to whether the masses love or hate certain books. If popular opinion were the best factor in finding books to love, we’d all just go to Goodreads and read only the highest rated books, regardless of things like genre and subject. But no one really does that, right? Sometimes other readers’ opinions are helpful in gauging whether we might like or dislike a certain book, but in the end we’re all marching to the beat of our own drum because we’re readers, not sheep following the herd. Which means sometimes you pick up a book that no one you know has ever read. And sometimes you find a true gem.

hawksong&snakecharmFor me, Hawksong is one of those gems. It’s a fantasy story, a genre plenty of people reach for, but it does have it’s own quirks: it’s a fantasy story about shapeshifters; people who can transform into birds and snakes make up the main characters. The romance is obvious, partially due to the fact that it’s outlined on the book’s back cover, but it’s wonderful in its simplicity. The fight for peace is as uplifting and relevant as it is unrealistic in its abruptness, but a lack of realistic qualities matters little in fantasy novels. For me, the excellent world-building and the general kindness and acceptance practiced by the main characters is worth the short and otherworldliness of the plot. Guessing the identities of the assassins is a bonus side mystery. What’s not to love?

“The first of my kind was a human woman. Surely your kind comes from like roots. We have human minds and human bodies. If we can speak as humans do, and love as humans do, then what makes us so different?”

I don’t remember how I ended up picking up Hawksong in the first place. I know it was one of a limited number of books in my middle school’s tiny library, but why this one? I didn’t know anyone else who had read it, and as time has passed, that hasn’t really changed. I’ve pushed it on a couple of friends (and my mom), but I never see this book in bookstores and I never hear about anyone reading it. I’ve read it more times than any other book in existence. Because often the books that hit hardest, the books that surprise me most, the books that feel most tailored to me, aren’t the books that everyone else is reading. They’re the books that seem weird and unusual, that you pick up on a whim without ever having heard of and are totally surprised to fall completely in love with.

Sometimes the books no one is reading are overlooked for a reason– you encounter some bland (or even just downright bad) books while you’re looking for those hidden gems. But that’s no reason to quit trying.

I know I read things off the beaten path sometimes, and I know I get fewer likes and views and all those good things on my reviews of those lesser-known books, but that doesn’t make me like them (or want to talk about them) any less. Think about how small the world of books would be if everyone truly was reading the same things all the time, only the most popular choices. So many crazy great things wouldn’t even be published. We’d all be reading prize-winners and classics and steamy romances (because apparently tons of sex scenes equals a high Goodreads rating even if the book is trash), but that’s not the case in reality; the truth is, classics can be boring for readers who just want a quick escape, prize-winners have themes that don’t appeal to everyone, and some readers just can’t stand trashy writing even if the make-out scenes are good. So we pick up books that sound the most interesting to us, even if no one else seems to be reading them.

And that’s a good thing.

I feel that I can’t give Hawksong a fair rating anymore. It was a 5-star read back when I was twelve, and now when I reread it I’m probably blinded to its potential flaws by my familiarity with it, and the fact that every time I read it I remember what it’s like to fall in love with reading all over again. Which, in my mind, is still worth a high rating. But I’m not trying to sell you on Hawksong. I’m saying… keep picking up those lesser-known books that no one is talking about. Stay weird. Be you. Find your reading niche. And tell us about the unusual books you love, because how else are we going to hear about them?

What’s your favorite lesser-known book? I would love to hear some titles I’ve never come across before! (And I would especially love to hear that someone else has read Hawksong…)


The Literary Elephant

Review: It

I read Stephen King’s It! It currently stands as the longest book I’ve ever read, ringing in at 1,153 pages. I spent four weeks buddy reading this book, about 250-300 pages per week between the other books I read this month, ending each week with a phone chat with my buddy about the section we’d just read. It was a great way to make it through what might otherwise have seemed a very daunting book, and thus I ended up really loving not only the buddy read experience but the entire long novel.

it2About the book: Something is haunting Derry. Only the kids seem to be able to see It, although they don’t all see the same thing, and some of the grownups know It’s there. But no one seems to understand what It is, or why it’s murdering kids. In 1958, the Losers Club bands together, united by their shared experiences as victims of local bully Henry Bowers and the terrifying supernatural force they call It. Once they start talking about their frightening experiences with Pennywise the clown (in Its various forms) they start piecing together truths about Derry’s dark nature that no one else seems to understand– or at least admits out loud. One of the Losers has lost a sibling to Pennywise’s reign of terror, and won’t let that stand– the group dedicates their summer to killing It; and just in case, they swear to come back to Derry as adults and try again if It manages to survive and return.

“And once dreams became real, they escaped the power of the dreamer and became their own deadly things, capable of independent action.”

Of course, as with every Stephen King novel (that I’ve read so far, anyway), the writing is superb. King always seems to know which details to share to breathe life into his characters and keep the plot rolling. Yes, It is long. It’s really long (and thus my review is also a bit longer than usual). But there weren’t aspects of this book that felt superfluous like long books run the risk of including. Every word has its place, and they’re good words. It is easy to read, in the sense that it’s not full of unknown words or obscure concepts, and yet he ties things together in eye-opening ways. Despite its supernatural elements, It is full of relatable ideas about human nature, about relationships and emotions that many readers are familiar with. No one writes like King.

It covers two main timelines, a summer in 1958 and another in 1985. The book goes back and forth between the two times, sometimes switching chapters between the two right in the middle of a sentence that meshes with another sentence fragment from the other time. But both times move forward chronologically, the switches are clearly labelled, and there’s such an age difference for the Losers between ’58 and ’85 that it’s easy to keep track of which time you’re reading about. There are also vignettes of Pennywise’s deadly mischief in other years, but again these are clearly labelled and woven fittingly into the story.

In addition to the range of years, the reader is also given close third-person perspectives of each of the seven main characters, as well as a few brief glimpses into Pennywise’s psyche and several of the other children outside of the Losers Club. But again, these sections are distinct, though they aren’t always labelled. Each character is impressively unique, and at the first mention of one of their names the reader knows exactly which character they’re following.

These formatting details alone make the length of the book evident: to follow so many characters closely over a 27-year time span with extra bits thrown in to widen the story, It covers a huge scope of plot, and it does so at a perfect pace– slow enough for the reader to take in every important detail, but fast enough that the reader is never bogged down with a ton of boring backstory. The 1,153 pages are necessary– you just need to be interested in a really big story if you’re thinking about attempting it.

I do want to mention some not-as-stellar aspects of this particular King novel, however. While I didn’t find any of this book truly scary, I would say It is a book for more mature audiences. There are some creepy clown scenes as well as other horror scenes that may potentially be frightening. In addition, there are a lot of slurs and insults aimed at the Losers. The Losers are: an asthmatic, an African American, a Jew, an overweight boy, a stutterer, a myopic goof (class clown type), and a girl. There are also some gay characters. All of these people are made fun of, bullied, called every inappropriate name that applies, etc. Even amongst themselves they joke about the things that make them “losers.” This is done as tastefully as possible (as far as such a thing can be done tastefully): the Losers Club is a self-proclaimed title, and they’re fully accepting of each other inside the group. The narration makes it clear that the slurs and such are the opinions of the small-minded, the real losers; the Losers Club is actually pretty charming and awesome. I would’ve read 1,000+ pages about them even without Pennywise the supernatural clown to keep the plot rolling.

“Maybe, he thought, there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends– maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for, too, if that’s what has to be.”

But then there are the weird sexual moments. These actually bothered me more than any of the racist/homophobic/misogynistic/etc. comments and the murders of small children. Some of the murders are disturbing, but generally their supernatural nature makes them seem more fictional while the sexual moments seem very much more real. I don’t want to give a list of the weird sexual things that happen, but they’re there. It’s not even always a sex scene, per se, it’s just some normal childhood moment that ends up oddly charged. Sex comes into this novel much more frequently than seems necessary. I almost took a star off my rating for these moments, but in the end I liked the rest of the content enough to overlook these bizarre and uncomfortable moments. There’s one scene toward the end of the book when the Losers Club is still a group of 11 year-olds that particularly bothered me.

For anyone who’s read the book (I plan to watch both the old miniseries and the new movie in the near future but I haven’t yet), I’ll say this: I preferred the childhood timeline to the adult one, except for the Ritual of Chud scenes. Ben was my favorite character throughout, though I liked the entire Losers Club, especially as children. The reunion scene was my favorite adult Losers Club section. My favorite scene of the whole book is the phone call to Stan and his wife’s subsequent discovery. The end of the novel was definitely not what I expected (which is to say It was not what I expected) and I would’ve rated the book lower for that “final battle” scene if the adult version of the Ritual of Chud hadn’t fulfilled my expectations more where the child version failed (seriously what were the rest of them doing as kids while Bill was in that Other Space?)

” ‘We’re dead, but sometimes we clown around a little, Stanley.’ “

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I had a stellar experience reading this book, even with a few scenes that made me uncomfortable. I knew going in that there was a chance It would be uncomfortable to read at times, although in the end it wasn’t Pennywise that creeped me out. I am so excited to watch the film versions of this book, and to read more Stephen King novels. The size of his novels can be daunting, but they’re definitely worth the time in the end.

Further recommendations:

  1. More Stephen King, obviously. I couldn’t decide between my favorites, so here’s a few: If you like fictional politics and can suspend your disbelief, try The Dead Zone. If you like a historical twist and a character-driven plot (less sci-fi), go for 11/22/63. If you want another tie to Derry and a potential scare, go for Bag of Bones. And if you’ve read a bunch of Stephen King but haven’t yet read his memoir, definitely pick up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft because he writes about his own early life like he writes his fictional characters and it is everything.

What’s your favorite Stephen King novel? I’ve decided I want to read them all (I’ve read twelve), but I’m trying to prioritize some of the best ones and I’ll take all opinions!


The Literary Elephant

Review: Lord of Shadows

I’m not sure if the release date for Dark Artifices book 3 (Queen of Air and Darkness) got pushed back or if I just wasn’t paying enough attention to it in the first place, because I thought I needed to be prepared to read it by February or March, not December 2018. That’s why I decided to pick up Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows (Dark Artifices books 1 and 2) in January. I hope I will remember them well enough when book three is published, because after reading Lord of Shadows this week I know I’m definitely going to be reading the final book of this trilogy ASAP.

lordofshadowsAbout the book: Emma is trying to prevent the parabatai curse from befalling her and Julian by convincing him that she’s not in love with him. In the midst of that emotional turmoil, there’s a dangerous trip into Faerie that sets a new adventure in motion. The Seelie Queen wants to make a deal with the Blackthorns– a deal that involves finding Annabelle and the Black Volume. But she’s not the only one with an interest in the book, which means Emma, Cristina, and the Blackthorns need to watch out for some new deadly enemies. No one is sure whether Kieran is on the Blackthorns’ side now, or how far they can trust the Centurions who come looking for Malcolm. And where is Annabelle? What will she do next? Is she truly alive?

“We fear things because we value them. We fear losing people because we love them. We fear dying because we value being alive. Don’t wish you didn’t fear anything. All that would mean is that you didn’t feel anything.”

One thing that Lord of Shadows does better than Lady Midnight is to let the inevitable forbidden love angst stand behind the rest of the plot. Sure, Emma and Julian still love each other and that’s still a problem, but they’re trying to solve it by moving on, which means the rest of the story can take precedence. And it’s a great story. There are surprising twists woven throughout the book, and hints at what the final book of the trilogy will pull from its sleeves. The characters are coming into their own a little more, changing and becoming stronger and finding their own places in the story. We get more perspectives, more of Christina and Mark, more of the other Blackthorn siblings, more Kit. I find I care more about Emma and Julian when the narration takes a step back from their tortured love story.

“I think you cannot root out love entirely. I think where there has been love, there will always be embers, as the remains of a bonfire outlast the flame.”

It’s also great to see farther inside of Faerie with this trilogy. It’s a darkly whimsical place, and it rounds out the Downworld side of Clare’s Shadowhunter novels– we’ve seen vampires, warlocks, werewolves, and of course Nephilim, but faeries only in passing. Lord of Shadows takes the reader a step out of the mundane world for a whole new aspect of Clare’s Shadowhunting universe. Even in fantasy novels, it’s wonderful to see all perspectives represented.

Speaking of representation, Lord of Shadows covers a wide range of more familiar diversity topics as well. While Shadowhunter books have always been advocates of diversity, I have to admit that aspect is starting to feel a little more forced. It did to me in Lord of Shadows, anyway. For example, there’s a transgender character who reveals her medical history seemingly for the sole purpose of receiving an acceptance speech from another character. Accepting transgender characters is good, but it felt like it was just pushed into the story so that Clare could write about being accepting of it. If this character had made a stand against the Clave and the law that prevents her from holding the job she wants because of her gender identity, this reveal would’ve fit into the story a whole lot better. But the law goes unchallenged even hypothetically, and I don’t understand why.

There are good examples too, though. Like Mark’s conflicting loves for Cristina and Kieran. The conflict isn’t in the fact that he’s bisexual and loves both a boy and a girl, the conflict is in the fact that one of them is a faerie and one is a Shadowhunter; Mark is caught between two worlds, and his relationships are a reflection of that. It fits into the story as more than a display of bisexuality.

As long as we’re on the topic of love, I think I’ve finally realized my biggest pet peeve with Cassandra Clare books: every single character seems to be romantically interested in basically every character he or she could ever possibly ever be romantically interested in. There’s something about the narration that makes every routine introduction between characters oddly charged. Every friendship also seems to include both parties being especially aware of the other person’s body and love life. Every gesture and sentence is noticed by someone in some romantic way. Clare’s just covering all the bases for angst, I guess, but can’t anyone just be friends? Can’t they just be casual acquaintances? Is there really that much romance in life? Am I missing out?

But that’s a small matter. Clare readers who’ve been interested in the Shadowhunter novels this long know they’re at least partially in it for the forbidden romance. Let’s go back to diversity.

I especially appreciate the Greek and Roman references in this trilogy, though I am a little disappointed we’re getting so many Latin phrases and quotes from ancient Rome without much reference to the mythology. Especially with a character named Diana after “the goddess of the hunt,” I expected a little more. But I’ve been loving practicing my Spanish skills every time Cristina or Diego forget to speak English. There are some great names thrown in when Shadowhunters from all over the world meet for missions or meetings. And even our main characters do some traveling to show readers a bit of variety in culture. Even though Idris is a made-up place, it’s even exciting to see the differences between real places and fictional ones. Fantasy is a genre uniquely capable of uniting very different peoples and creating spaces where peace and harmony are possible in ways we don’t see anywhere yet in reality. It gives readers a goal, something to strive for in real life even where there aren’t Shadowhunters and Downworlders fighting to the death.

“Fiction is truth, even if it is not fact. If you believe only in facts and forget stories, your brain will live, but your heart will die.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This is the same rating I gave Lady Midnight, but I definitely liked Lord of Shadows better. And I’m hope book 3 will impress me even more. I’m so excited (even though I’m a month late to count it as a successful end to my 2017 goal) to finally have finished my Shadowhunter reading marathon! I have now officially read all the Shadowhunter books currently published, and it feels good. I’m glad I kept going this far even though I haven’t loved every Clare book I’ve read in the past year. I’m still waiting for the Clave to be reorganized, though. Still. Waiting.


The Literary Elephant

Review: Lady Midnight

One of my 2017 goals (that I failed) was to read all of the books Cassandra Clare has so far published. At the time I set that goal, Lady Midnight was the most recent title, but Lord of Shadows was imminent. Now I’m finally finishing those up because better late than never, right? I just read Lady Midnight, the first book in the Dark Artifices trilogy, which is a sort of continuation from the Mortal Instruments series. You can read Lady Midnight without going through all those other Shadowhunter novels, but you probably will have the best sense of who’s who and what’s going on if you do read Clare’s books in publication order. (You can check out my review for City of Bones if you’re just getting started!)

ladymidnightAbout the book: Five years have passed since the Dark War in which Sebastian (Johnathon) Morgenstern tried to take over the world with his evil army. Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs are parabatai now, and still live in the Los Angeles Institute with all of Julian’s younger siblings, who rely on him as their guardian. After years of dead ends and false hope, Emma has finally found a clue that could crack the mystery of her parents’ murder, and of course the Blackthorns will help her en masse, no matter how dangerous or twisted the investigation becomes. The Fae, currently on the Nephilim blacklist, make an interesting proposition to the Los Angeles Institute regarding the murder investigation; it means more risk for Emma and the Blackthorns, but also brings Mark back into the family– at least for a little while.

” ‘The world is terrible,’ said Mark tonelessly. ‘And some are drawn down into it and drown there, and some rise above and carry others with them.’ “

There are beautiful and powerful sentiments scattered throughout Clare’s novels, and Lady Midnight is no exception. But the farther I get into Clare’s oeuvre, I’m noticing that those poignant sentences are hidden under a lot more fluff. The books keep getting longer (my copy of Lady Midnight is 669 pages before the extra content sections in the back) but it seems that less is actually happening. At this point, part of the problem is that so much space is needed to recap previous events in this massive series because everything in the Shadowhunter world is intertwined, and Clare loves name-dropping past beloved characters even when it’s not really necessary to her current plots.

Sometimes Clare hits it spot-on with the humor, especially in the dialogue. But the humor in Lady Midnight often feels forced. Jokes are often followed by explanations that ruin them, random comments are too unnatural and “silly” to be amusing. The same lines and phrases are used over and over again, or sarcasm is brought into situations where it feels out of place. It fell pretty flat for me in this novel.

I think if Clare had written this story in about 200 fewer pages, a lot of these little annoyances would’ve worked themselves out.

But let’s take a look at Lady Midnight‘s central characters:

“She felt suddenly old, not just seventeen instead of twelve, but old. Old in her heart, and too late. Surely if she were going to find her parents’ murderer she would have done so by now.”

  • Emma is described as reckless and brave, and the leader of the group– into battle, at least. But there’s a line between being brave and being careless, and sometimes it feels like Emma makes unintelligent choices just to further the plot, and the others dismiss her rashness too easily.
  • Julian almost falls into that horrible trope where a lack of communication is really the biggest obstacle to his perceived problems, but I do think Emma changes enough throughout the course of the novel that it’s justifiable that he doesn’t try to talk to her openly right away. Many of his “secrets” are obvious before they’re officially revealed, but he’s a good liar, which keeps him interesting.
  • Cristina is a brand new and intriguing character, but so far she’s pretty bland. I could see how eventually it might come in handy to have a main character outside of the Blackthorn family tree, though that hasn’t been necessary to the plot yet. Her backstory is interesting and she seems like she could have a strong personality if she’s developed a bit more, which would make her less superfluous.
  • And then there are all the younger siblings. It was hard for me to keep them straight at first because for a while the reader is only being told about them instead of actually seeing them moving through the novel. I was more interested in seeing them take part in the investigation than in seeing Emma and Julian describe their mannerisms and hobbies.
  • Mark is great. It’s fascinating to see him straddling the line between two worlds, two lives. There’s a depth to his character that isn’t immediately apparent but ensures that he’s more than an object in a tug-of-war between the faeries and the Blackthorns.
  • And Kit Rook– easily my favorite character. He has only a few POV sections and not much action yet, but the things he is involved in are game-changing. His knowledge of the Black Market and its visitors, his skewed view of Shadowhunters, his criminal father, and his eavesdropping on questionable critters from the basement suggest he’s going to provide a unique vantage point to this trilogy going forward.

” ‘Everyone is more than one thing,’ said Kieran. ‘We are more than single actions we undertake, whether they be good or evil.’ “

(On a side note, what is the point of the wild hunt? They’re always described so poetically but… vaguely. They ride among the stars, through storms, with the wind… but for what purpose? What do they actually do? Does anyone know?)

I just don’t love Clare’s books like I did back when The Mortal Instruments was just a trilogy that I binged on a whim. Even in my reread of those first Clare books last year I still had some love for the early novels, but the later books don’t have that same spark for me. The ‘forbidden love’ theme is getting boring, the actual plots– wars and murders and evil robots and whatnot– take so long to play out. But every time I read another book, I’m encouraged to keep going, just one more. I still like something about them, though at this point it’s hard to say exactly what. I guess I keep waiting for the Clave to get what’s coming to them. I’ve been waiting since their bad rules were introduced in City of Bones, but the Shadowhunters are taking an awfully long time to get around to fixing their laws.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This was a solid 3-star read for me until the last 50 pages, to be honest. Everything was really coming together well at the end and it made me so hopeful for Lord of Shadows (Lady Midnight‘s sequel). I keep thinking “maybe I’ll quit reading Clare’s books after this one,” but then once I start reading I remember why I appreciated them so much in the first place. My goal is to finish with the old releases so that I can read her new novels as they are published.

Further recommendations:

  1. Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is the first book in an excellent YA fantasy duology. It features a group of misfits who are maybe friends or maybe just stuck together by circumstance. Either way, they have to work together to carry out an impossible heist. The stakes are high, the betrayals are vicious, and the characters are bold and lovable. It’s also full of underlying morals of fighting for equality, justice, and peace.
  2. Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series is a fantasy tale of romance and righting the wrongs of the higher powers in charge. If you like Clare’s battles between good and evil, Maas’s stories will probably also appeal to you. In my opinion, you just have to push through this first book to get to the good stuff in the rest of the trilogy, which is a similar battle to pushing through the fluff of Clare’s increasingly long novels for the excitement of the plot.

Are you a Shadowhunter reader? If you are, do you prefer her earliest books, or the latest ones? I guess I’m asking if the excessive length of her newer books is still worth the story? I’m on the fence.


The Literary Elephant

Update: here’s a link to my review of the next book in this series, Lord of Shadows!



Reading Multiple Books at Once

Some people do it, and some people won’t. I’m realizing this month that lately I’ve gotten back into the habit of reading multiple books at once, and I think there are some pros and cons to attempting multi-book reading.

There are several reasons a reader might end up in the middle of several books at the same time, especially now when multiple book formats are so easily available. There’s also the fact of where it’s best to read certain books: some are good for travel, some are best at home in one’s bed. Length can be a factor. Genre can be a factor. Certain deadlines can be a factor. Here’s a look at the books I’m in the middle of, for some specific examples:

It by Stephen King. This one’s over a thousand pages, and I’m buddy reading it all month with a friend. I can actually read faster than one thousand pages per month, but I don’t want to get ahead of my friend in our buddy read, so I’m constantly picking this one up and then putting it back on hold.

A Poem For Every Night of the Year ed. by Allie Esiri. This one should be fairly obvious from the title– I read one poem per night, so I’m going to be reading this one all year. Of course, the poems are each separate works so there’s no problem with forgetting a story line.

Aesop’s Fables by Aesop. I’m reading this one pretty similarly to A Poem for Every Night of the Year, although admittedly I don’t pick it up every night or I’d be done with it already. This is another example of separate works in one book that are easy to read in small pieces here and there without confusing a continuing story line with any other books I’m reading.

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine. I received a Kindle Unlimited subscription for Christmas and I linked it on my phone. It’s one of the first times I’ve had really good, consistent access to ebooks, which I don’t like as much as print copies but have been using because they’re more convenient to carry around. Thrillers are fairly easy for me to go in and out of, so I picked this one as my first Kindle read. I’ve been reading a few pages here and there when I’m waiting in parking lots or waiting rooms or eating lunch alone or whatnot.

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. This is the book I would call my “current read,” despite all the other books on this list. This is the book I reach for most often and will finish first from this list. I’ll pick up another book immediately after finishing this one even though there are several other books I’m still in the middle of. I need to finish this one and start Lord of Shadows right away because I have that one checked out of the library and it’s due soon.

The Iliad by Homer. Here’s where it starts getting dicey, at least for me. This was my “current read” for a while in December, which I set aside temporarily to meet some of my other 2017 goals before the end of the year. Technically, it’s on pause right now, but in a couple months The Odyssey will be coming up as my classic of the month and I do intend to unpause and finish this one before then. I intend to pick it up again probably within a month so that I don’t forget the characters and the plot I’ve read so far. Generally after six months or so I take a book off “pause” if I haven’t gotten back to it because I feel like I need to start entirely over.

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin. And here’s where I start to get ashamed. I was reading this one in October, and loving it, when my fall job just got too busy for me to give a book of this length and depth the attention it deserved. It’s also on “pause,” and I also am intending to get back to it before the six month mark. I’m more ashamed of being in the middle of this one because the only reason I’m not jumping right back in to finish it up is because I got out of the mood during my fall pause– even though I was really enjoying it then and I know I’d thoroughly enjoy it now if I just picked it back up.

That’s seven books I’ve got marked and could pick up at any time to read from the middle. Seven is getting to be a bit of a stretch, it’s going to start to seem unrealistic if I increase it any farther, but I don’t have a problem with being in the middle of seven books. It is more books than I’ve been in the habit of multi-reading in the last few years though, and lately I’ve noticed that when I tell someone about the books I’m currently reading they’re rather comically alarmed at the idea of my reading more than one book at a time. Is multi-reading more uncommon than I think?

It’s a constant goal to work this number back down to one, but I only have that goal because I know I’m going to be multi-reading more books and if I don’t cross any of these seven off the list before I pick up more they’re going to start falling into that “need to start over and try again” category, which I don’t want to happen. For me, I suppose the ideal number would be 3 or 4: a current read, a Kindle read, maybe a buddy read (I like buddy reading so far but I don’t expect to have one going at all times), and a long-term read (like the poems or fables, short works to read one or two of at a time). Does that seem unreasonable?

It doesn’t to me, but as long as I don’t wait too long to un-pause a book I’m reading, I don’t have any trouble remembering where I left off. I probably wouldn’t want to be in the middle of two very similar books at a time unless I was reading them for comparison and paying a lot of attention. Generally I like to be reading a mix of genres so I have less risk of forgetting the details of each book. That seems like the biggest risk to me in reading multiple books at once– starting to confuse the details from different books into one mega-story that doesn’t make sense. (But I’m not too worried about accidentally mentally transplanting It‘s Pennywise the Freaking Terrifying Clown into Clare’s Shadowhunting world, or for Emma and Julian from Lady Midnight to end up in Aesop’s tortoise and hare race, or for Achilles to start narrating my bedtime poems or fighting for control of Winterfell.) Another risk I can see would be pausing a book for too long to remember where I left off.

My biggest problem so far has been losing bookmarks because I decide to reshelve a book I’ve paused too long (to start over later) and then after a few more months (or even years in some cases) I can’t remember which book I left it in.

But there are good results to reading multiple books! You read more! At least, I do. By the end of the year, my Poem for Every Night of the Year book will feel like a bonus in my December wrap-up; it’s so easy to read the page or two that’s dedicated to each day that by December I won’t have hardly even noticed that I’ve finished an entire 512 page book, though it will absolutely count. My ebook makes it easy to read on the go, in situations I might (unlikely but might) not have carried a physical book along for. My buddy read this month is getting me through a thousand page book I probably wouldn’t have picked up this month on my own. There are just different circumstances that work better for reading different books, and when you read a lot, it just starts to seem natural to pick up fitting books for those situations rather than let reading time slip through the cracks because your current read wasn’t convenient for that available time.

But it’s a controversial practice, I’m discovering. Do you read multiple books at a time? How many, and why?


The Literary Elephant

My First Buddy Read

2018 is going to be a year of firsts– including one that started on the very first day of the year, my first ever buddy read!

My friend (Ellie) and I are reading Stephen King’s It together this month, all 1,153 pages of it. I’ll be posting a regular review as soon as I reach the end, but before I actually finish the book I wanted to talk a bit about my experience with this buddy read.

We’re taking four weeks to read It— that’s 250-300 pages per week. This is the first time I’ve ever read the same thing at the same time as another person so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but I really like the pace we’ve got going. It allows me to read big chunks of It at a time, so I stay on top of what’s happening there, but it also allows me to read other books at the same time because I can read more pages than that in a week. I think if I was only reading It from cover to cover on my own, I would be struggling with it more, getting tired of reading the same thing for so long.

Every week we have a chat about what we’ve read. We’ve had two of the four chats so far, and we talk for an hour or two, depending on how off-topic we get with all the other books we want to read. Again, I like this pace. It’s a good amount of time to ramble through our opinions and questions from the 250-300 pages, and it’s easy to work the chat time into my schedule. I think it would feel more like a chore if we had to read more pages or schedule more chat times during the week, but I also think I wouldn’t connect to the book and the experience as well if we went any slower. That’s why It was a good first buddy read choice for us– a shorter book would’ve given us fewer chats and less buddy time with the book.

A perk of buddy reading in general: it’s so much easier to stay motivated. I’m pretty motivated to read in general, but I don’t think I would’ve picked up a book this thick right away in the new year if Ellie and I hadn’t spontaneously decided it was as good a time as any to start It and that we were going to hold each other accountable. It seems a lot less daunting to only be reading a fourth of it at a time, with a chat to look forward to at the end of the week. I can put a bookmark in the finish line for the week and watch my progress toward that without focusing so much on how many hundred pages are left in the whole book, which I would be doing if I were reading It on my own, at my own pace. One of my goals for 2018 was to read quality over quantity, and Stephen King is definitely quality; but reading with someone helps keep me going even though quality in this case is over a thousand pages long. I’ll have to check the length of my copy of A Clash of Kings, but I think It will be the longest book I’ve ever read, once I’ve finished it. My fourth book over 1,000 pages, but only the second over 1,100.

Buddy reading is also more fun with Goodreads. Ellie and I can watch each other’s progress through the week, and since we do tend to read at about the same pace, we’re usually pretty close and it’s fun to know what part my friend is reading at the moment. I’m a pretty big fan of Goodreads in general, but this is one of those times that it’s extra helpful and fun, and sometimes it’s just cool to take a moment and appreciate what the internet can do.

I’m halfway through It right now, and so far it’s been a 5-star experience. Stephen King is a phenomenal writer, It feels like a book that deserves to be over 1,000 pages long, and I love being able to talk closely about a book with a friend. I’ve heard that the ending of It tends to make or break readers’ experiences with the book, so I’m really hoping I’m going to keep loving it all the way through, but you can check back in two weeks when I’ll be posting my full review if you’re curious about how it’s turning out for me.

Do you buddy read? What sort of reading/chatting schedule do you use when you buddy read? I’m having a hard time imagining this working very well for me any other way, so I’m really curious about what works for other buddy readers!


The Literary Elephant

Review: Ugly Love

I read Hoover’s It Ends With Us a little over a year ago. I liked what it was trying to do, but wasn’t thrilled with the ways it went about it. But it did have some good morals, was fun to read, and made me think I should try another of Colleen Hoover’s romance novels before giving up. At the very least, romance novels are occasionally a nice guilty-pleasure read for me. From her oeuvre, I chose Ugly Love.

uglyloveAbout the book: Tate moves into her brother’s apartment in Seattle because the empty room allows for a convenient commute to her nursing job. She isn’t intending to stay forever, but she gets along well with her pilot brother and a few months with him seems like a good choice. While she’s there, she meets one of her brother’s pilot friends, Miles. He’s drunk and desperate and in need of assistance. Their reintroduction in the morning when he’s sobered up a bit doesn’t go much better. But he is attractive, and she sees something in him that first night, a vulnerability that he’s extremely careful never to show when he’s in control of himself. So even when he makes it clear that he’s not interested in talking about the past or the future or love, that he’s only looking for a physical relationship, she agrees, hoping she’ll see that real, raw, deeper part of him again eventually. He’s highly motivated to make sure that doesn’t happen, which seems to doom their relationship from the start.

“I don’t see how love could get ugly enough for a person to just shut himself off from it completely.”

First, let’s look at the formatting. Many of Miles’ POV sections, which mostly focus on his traumatic past, are written with center alignment. Usually I appreciate unusual formats, but this simply had no purpose. I believe it was intended to make some of his story seem more poetic, but Miles is a pilot, not a poet. All of the books on his stuffed-full shelves are aerodynamic texts. And present-day Miles is still pretty bitter about the events unfolding in those past sections, not poetic.

What the formatting does accomplish however, is emphasis. This has more to do with spacing and sentence structure than the central alignment, and it’s especially noticeable in Tate’s POV chapters. There’s a lot of emphasis to be found in the parts that are probably supposed to be romantic. But spacing does not make up for the fact that the narration is constantly telling rather than showing in Ugly Love.

And what is it telling? A cute sentence Miles speaks is repeated in Tate’s head word. by. word. as the phrase becomes her new favorite sentence. Someone blushes and it’s mentally gushed over for an entire paragraph. “His fingertip touched my knee. OMG HE TOUCHED. MY. KNEE.” These are things that any reader can generally pick up on without being told three times in various ways that something significant is happening. An interested reader can identify a cute bit of dialogue without being told it’s there. He/she can identify a blush and recognize what it signifies. And if these cues are being given appropriately, we will be just as interested as the protagonist that the tiniest bit of the love interest’s skin is casually touching her knee. A tighter round of editing might have served better than the emphatic use of spacing, central alignment, and italics. So many italics.

“You look up there and think, I wish I was up there. But you’re not. Ugly love becomes you. Consumes you. Makes you hate it all. Makes you realize that all the beautiful parts aren’t even worth it. Without the beautiful, you’ll never risk feeling this. You’ll never risk feeling the ugly.”

But even the worst formatting, if a story has good bones, can be overlooked. And yet I could not quite bring myself to appreciate Ugly Love‘s bones. Tate is made to seem commendable for sticking with Miles while he struggles with his past. But sticking with him is pretty harmful to Tate from the start, worse as the novel wears on, and awful toward the end. There is a time she thinks “he RUINED me,” and stays with him. There is an incident when kissing is compared to killing. Miles is never physically or even intentionally abusive, but he’s constantly hurting Tate, and I didn’t think it commendable to show readers that staying in those situations is good for the person who’s constantly being hurt and coming back for more. But let’s skip to the big question of the novel: Are the ugliest parts of love worth the beautiful parts? An old question. One that’s already been answered time and time again, in better ways. Who doesn’t know “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” The romance is obvious before one even cracks open the book– but even the themes are predictable.

Where there’s predictability, there’s boredom. I didn’t need 100+ pages of proof that Miles had been in love before his romantic tragedy. That’s a no-brainer. That’s what makes his disaster disastrous. The tragedy itself has good shock value, but I believe I would’ve had the same reaction to reading it without all the backstory of how they’d gotten there. Even just hearing Miles say it in present day would’ve been as powerful as reading it directly from his past. Hoover gives point 1, dangles point 2, and then with 2 in sight she takes the reader on a scenic trip to 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc. There could’ve been a bit more mystery to the book, a bit more subtlety.

Instead, there’s insta-love. My problem with insta-love isn’t that I don’t agree with the possibility of love at first sight, it’s when the initial attraction never becomes more than that superficial first layer of physical attraction. And after finishing Ugly Love, I still can’t tell you what either Tate or Miles might have found lovable about the other. It’s just relentless physical attraction. Where’s the love?

Also there are a handful of details that seem to be pulled directly from Fifty Shades, which is unfortunate.

My reaction: 2 of 5 stars. Not the worst book I’ve ever read. It just wasn’t right for me, apparently. I had a lot of eye-rolling moments, but I did also laugh twice. It’s a romance, which is what Ugly Love purports to be, so it is successful in that.  I just wish there had been more focus on provocative and worthwhile content than on distracting formatting and familiar sentiments. I still feel like maybe in one of her novels Hoover will get just the right balance of unique and interesting story with the proper, powerful narration it deserves. But I’m not in a hurry to comb through the rest of her books looking for the one that will finally hit that mark.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you’re serious about picking up a Hoover book and haven’t already tried It Ends With Us, I recommend that one. While parts of It Ends With Us seemed preachy to me, there were more main characters and deeper questions, morals I wanted to hang on to longer. This one deals with spousal abuse and homelessness, and the epistolary formatting for part of the story is reasonably explained. It’s not so predictable.
  2. Although I would say Hoover’s books would be considered Adult romance, or maybe New Adult at lowest, I’m going to suggest Paper Princess by Erin Watt if you want a romance that really has the power to surprise. Paper Princess, a romance in the YA age range, was also a guilty pleasure for me, but I didn’t have nearly as many problems with it. The characters are teens, but it’s just as explicit as an adult romance. It’s gritty and weird and a little less obvious– there’s a whole family of hot boys, and it took me longer than I want to admit to figure out which one of them was the love interest. They’re interesting people, at the very least.

I’m sorry to have so many complaints about one book and I want to end on a good note: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is indeed a beautiful sentiment.


The Literary Elephant

Novel Progress 1.18

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you almost don’t even want to try for it? Because there’s that chance that you won’t get it, that you’ll give everything you’ve got and you still can’t get it, and that’s worse than dreaming forever without following through.

That’s how I feel about writing a novel.

But I know that’s not a helpful way of thinking, or of potentially succeeding at my goals. So here I am again, committing to monthly progress updates (whether anyone else is interested in them or not) to hold myself accountable, to push forward and find out whether writing is a dream I should keep chasing.

So here’s where I’m at:

Between my busy fall job and the holiday season, I started back at the beginning (as I’ve done a hundred times before) with the intent to revise, edit, finish writing in missing pieces, etc. all the way through to the end of my working manuscript. My book is divided into nine sections that’ll be about 10,000 words each (further divided into chapters within the sections). Currently I’m trending toward running closer to 11 or 12 thousand words per section, but I think at this point that’s the preferable way to skew. I want to hit the end without being short on anything, then do one final sweep to take out anything that doesn’t belong.

Right now I’m very happy with the first two sections, and working hard on the third. I’ve never been this excited about the progress I’m making, the changes to the story and the way it’s all turning out. I wish I could share a few excerpts here, but I just don’t trust the internet enough with something I hope to publish at some point. But I think the very fact that I’m ready to share parts of it, that I can read back through what I’ve edited and think, ‘Wow, I wrote that?’ is a great sign of achievement. I cannot wait until I feel that way about the entire book, and send it out into the world to try my luck with publishing.

But I’m not getting ahead of myself this time. I’m a big believer in goals, but I don’t want to fall back into the trap that brought my progress to a halt last year: failing to meet my goal meant I didn’t want to post a progress report, and when there were no progress reports to keep me motivated to work, there was less incentive to make progress… It was a vicious cycle in which I accomplished very little for too many months.

So right now I’m working in section three of nine. I’m expecting to take about two weeks to pick it apart and stitch it back together in a way that’ll satisfy me. This isn’t a goal, it’s an estimate based on the time frame of the last two sections I edited and the current state of section three. I’m hammering out small details in my editing, but I’m also still asking myself the big questions, ‘What themes am I reaching for here,’ ‘What’s the point of this character, or this event, or this chapter?’ I have an ending in mind, but I haven’t written as much of the plot in the later sections so I want to make sure I stay on track with the purposes of the novel and make sure everything is staying together cohesively.

I don’t know if anyone’s actually curious about my novel-writing endeavors, but I think it would be kind of cool to have some record of my working on it in case it ever does turn into the biggest accomplishment of my life.

Also, updates help keep me on track. I’m aiming for one update per month, and I think the more I get into it, the more I’ll share details about it, and about my process. Right now I’m going through sentence by sentence, changing everything that just doesn’t excite me. Making sure every word is relevant to the overall story. Culling adverbs. Streamlining dialogue tags. Adding sensory details. Cutting redundancies. There’s a lot of set-up in this first third of the book, but by the end of section three, everyone important is introduced, all of the fictional elements specific to my novel’s world are named and explored, the settings are covered, etc.

Oh, it’s a superhero book, by the way. New heroes, new monsters, new plot. New Adult age range primarily, but I wouldn’t say it’s inappropriate for younger audiences or too immature for adults. It’s also an exploration of soul mates– whether they exist, under what conditions, how important they are (or aren’t) in the grand scheme of things. It’s a nice balance between fast action and introspection (at least I think so); it’s got a strong female lead with an admirable sometimes-partner in a world turned upside down by man’s quest for immortality. I’m hoping it’ll be pretty good, in the end.

But I gotta get back to section three now.

Any other writers out there? How long have you been working on your projects?


The Literary Elephant


Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

I’m on a quest to eliminate my BOTM backlist, and the first one on the agenda was my December selection, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It’s adult literary fiction, which was all I knew going in other than that Eleanor’s social skills are nonexistent at best, and abrasive at worst.

“Did men ever look in the mirror, I wondered, and find themselves wanting in deeply fundamental ways? When they opened a newspaper or watched a film, were they presented with nothing but exceptionally handsome young men, and did this make them feel intimidated, inferior, because they were not as young, not as handsome? Did they then read newspaper articles ridiculing those same handsome men if they gained weight or wore something unflattering?”

eleanoroliphantiscompletelyfineAbout the book: Eleanor has a crush. He’s a musician, and she’s seen him on stage once. They’ve never met. Nevertheless, she decides he’s absolutely the man of her dreams, he’ll fall madly in love with her when they meet, and he’s the key to turning her life around. And so she embarks on a self-remake journey and reconnaissance mission to learn about him before making her move. In the meantime, she’s thrust into a new social circle when she aids an elderly man who had a heart attack in the street; between her experiences with them and her weekly conversations with Mummy, she reveals a dark and tragic past that has made her adult life bleak and lonely. Her difficulty understanding other people’s perspectives has always made her seem so aloof and strange, but as the musician and the elderly man (along with a few other new acquaintances) begin to turn her life upside down, she learns that she’s not as remote and untouchable as she thought.

“Although it’s good to try new things and keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you are. I read that in a magazine at the hairdressers.”

Eleanor’s dark past is one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel. The reader learns almost right away that there is more to Eleanor than meets the eye, and every subsequent clue is deeper and more curious. Her personality alone is enough to captivate the reader, but she also gives frequent hints about people in her past that turned bad (or were always bad without her quite understanding), the origin of her facial scars, and certain disastrous events which led to further hardships and her current life situation.

“Life is all about taking decisive action, darling. Whatever you want to do, do it– whatever you want to take, grab it. Whatever you want to bring to an end, END IT. And live with the consequences.”

I don’t know much about Asperger’s, but I’ve seen reviews claiming that Eleanor exhibits similar symptoms from the Autism spectrum. This is not a matter directly addressed in the novel, but from what little I do know, I do believe that this could be a contributing factor in Eleanor’s unusual personality. If this is indeed the case, I want to mention that the novel handles it pretty well. First, because it’s subtle. Eleanor has been mistreated, perhaps taken advantage of because a child with a neurological disorder can be particularly vulnerable, but the story is essentially about Eleanor, it’s not a moralizing reprimand to the masses about how to (and how not to) treat persons with Asperger’s; not that those books don’t have their place, but I find a subtle approach like this more endearing and effective. But most importantly, Eleanor Oliphant also offers readers examples of kind people who persist in helpful relationships with Eleanor not because of or despite any social difficulties she might display, but because she’s a person who needs friends like any other person needs friends. I know the world needs more diverse books– better representations of genders, races, disabilities– and this is the kind of novel I like to see fulfilling that demand: it’s informative but not preachy, enlightening but still fun. Eleanor is a fantastic character.

“Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration? Was it really that simple? Wear some lipstick, go to the hairdressers and alternate the clothes you wear? Someone ought to write a book, or at least an explanatory pamphlet, and pass this information on.”

Sadly, the present-day part of the plot is fairly transparent. It takes very little observation of Eleanor’s social encounters to figure out exactly how her plans with the musician are going to end up (though I was actually a bit disappointed with how internalized that final confrontation was, I was expecting more… confrontation), and almost as little time studying Raymond’s personality to know how things will end up with him. Even Eleanor’s secrets from the past are not entirely surprising when they’re finally revealed, due to the constant hints throughout the narrative that guide the reader to the truth. A little more subtlety with these techniques would’ve made this a definite 5-star read for me, but I think it’s a testament to how well-written the rest of the novel is that I couldn’t put the book down despite predicting where it was headed.

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer– a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I absolutely loved Eleanor. She may be a bit unusual in her willingness to say out loud the first thought that pops into her head, but she has some darn good points to make in some cases, and even when I could see the mistakes in her assumptions, they never failed to amuse me. Eleanor Oliphant was Honeyman’s debut novel, and you can bet that I’ll be anxiously awaiting any new works she’ll have coming out in the future.

Further recommendations:

  1. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is a darker classic about a young woman who becomes dangerously depressed when she goes out to find her place in the world. Unlike Eleanor, who’s tragedy lies in her past and can be pushed behind her, Esther’s catastrophes take place during the time frame of the novel, which she struggles to turn back around.
  2. A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman is a lighter book with similar themes. Ove, an elderly Swede, has been grouchy and cantankerous (and downright unsocial) since the death of his wife– but when a new family moves in next door, he begins to see that he still has a few things worth living for. This book is as humorous as it is emotional, perfect for fans of Eleanor.

Have you read any books that surprised you lately?


The Literary Elephant