TBR 7.19

I set myself a goal for 2019 in which I aim to read all of the new books I acquire by the end of the following month. Recently, I’ve considered abandoning this goal, because my TBR for each month includes more than just the previous month’s purchases and it’s been disheartening to never reach the goal. But upon reflection, keeping track of which new books I read or don’t read right away is helping in the two areas I most intended it to: I’m more likely to resist buying books that I want to read eventually instead of immediately, and I am reading a higher percentage of unread books from my shelves, rather than ignoring my own books to borrow more from the library. Of course, I still buy books that I don’t end up reading immediately, and I still use the library, but I’ve decided to at least keep tracking this goal through the rest of the year even if I’m not sticking to it as closely as I’d hoped, because I do want to see my end stats and be able to set more realistic goals for next year.

So I’ll continue to post my book haul / TBR list for each month, but at the end I’ll include a list of what I think my reading for the month might actually include.

These are the new books added to my shelf throughout June:

  1. Daughters of Passion by Julia O’Faolain. This is a short story from the Faber Stories collection. It’s about an Irish woman on a hunger strike who loses track of what’s real and what’s not (as far as I recall). This is one of only 3 Faber Stories I still needed to complete my collection, but the other two are still too expensive.
  2. Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, trans. by Marilyn Booth. This is the winner of this year’s Man Booker International prize, for literature translated into English. I believe this is a story about three sisters from Oman. I’ve heard mixed things, but I want to start making more of an effort to read current and past prize winners so I’m going to give it a try.
  3. Flight or Fright ed. by Stephen King and Bev Vincent. This is a short story collection about the horrors of planes and flight, which is a topic one of my friends is very interested in and I’ve also become a bit attracted to by extension. I originally bought this for her birthday, and then found out she had unknowingly bought it for herself  right after so I’ll keep this copy and find a replacement gift. I’ll probably save this for a spooky fall read, if I get around to it this year at all.
  4. The Phantom of the Opera and Other Gothic Tales by Gaston Leroux and others. I bought this leather-bound classics edition on sale from Barnes and Noble. It’s 800 pages of relatively short Gothic stories from a variety of authors, some I know of and some that will be new to me. I’ve been wanting to buy this since it was added to the B&N classics collection last year, and ended up buying it this month just because I could get it at a good price. I’ll probably also save this one for fall.
  5. Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-LeachI bought this from the same Barnes and Noble sale, a clean hardcover copy for only about $5. This book features a set of twins, one of whom is missing, and may be playing a game that only her sister can solve. This one’s been on my radar for a long time, and I finally decided to give it a go.
  6. Animals Eat Each Other by Elle Nash. This book features a woman who enters a “three-way relationship” with another woman and his girlfriend, but essentially I believe it’s about a crisis of identity. It sounds really weird and highly intriguing, but my library doesn’t have a copy so I bought my own. I’m really excited to pick this one up!
  7. Recursion by Blake Crouch. Here is my BOTM selection from June, which I’ve also been eyeing impatiently ever since it arrived, though I’ve been so busy trying to keep up with my June library books and my buddy read of Stephen King’s 1400+ page The Stand that I haven’t had time to dive into yet. This is the new sci-fi thriller from the author of Dark Matter, and it deals with memory. That’s all I know and all I want to know- I’m also really looking forward to this one!
  8. City of Omens by Dan Werb. I chose this nonfiction about the deaths of women in Tijuana as a BOTM add-on in June. I’m trying to incorporate more nonfiction into my reading this summer (and beyond), so I picked this up just because it was a new release that caught my attention, and I’m looking forward to learning more.

bookhaul6.19

Those are all of the new books I’ve acquired this month. I haven’t read a single one yet, and I’m not even going to pretend to expect that I’ll read them all in July. From this list, I’m most expecting to read Daughters of Passion, Animals Eat Each Other, and Recursion. I’m less certain about but still HOPING to also read City of Omens, Celestial Bodies, and/or Dead Letters.

In addition, I’ll also have these library books for sure: The Farm by Joanne Ramos, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, Again, But Better by Christine Riccio, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.

I should be finishing my buddy read of The Stand within the first two weeks of the month also, which will feel like SUCH an accomplishment and will also free up a lot more reading time for me, though of course until it’s done it will still occupy a good portion of my reading time.

Last but not least, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced on July 24, which I hope to be reading again this year (though in a more timely manner than I managed last year). I have no idea what the nominated titles will be or how available they will be to me, so I’m not sure I’ll get to any of these at the end of July, but it’s certainly a possibility.

And so, even though I’m tentatively planning to read more than 8 books this month, I’m sure they won’t be the 8 new books I picked up in June. Which is okay.

My June wrap-up will be up next week, featuring everything I read this month, and a look at how closely it followed my May book haul / June TBR.

Happy reading, all!

 

The Literary Elephant

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Mystery Blogger Award

I was tagged by Sarah for this fun award! I’ve been saving it for a while in order to post something different in the middle of my long buddy read of The Stand, which has been taking up a lot of my reading and reviewing time. If you’re not already following Sarah you should definitely check out her blog, she’s a delightful human and her reviews are always so thoughtful and thorough!

What’s the Mystery Blogger Award?

“It’s an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.”

Okoto enigma

The original creation post comes from Okoto Enigma’s Blog!

Rules

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog
  2. List the rules
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  5. Answer the 5 questions you were asked
  6. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  7. Nominate 10 – 20 people
  8. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  9. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
  10. Share a link to your best post(s)

Questions to Answer

  1. What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently? – Ooh, this is tough, as I haven’t watched any movies in a couple of months! I think the last I saw was Bohemian Rhapsody, right in the midst of my Daisy Jones craze this spring, which made it a perfect fit!
  2. How often do you make music playlists? – Only once or twice a year. I tend to spend a lot of time carefully curating them to my current taste and adding a ton of songs so that I can use them for ages, until I feel like my life has changed enough that I need an all-new soundtrack.
  3. What’s the last book you were gifted? – One of my friends gave me One Day in December by Josie Silver as a belated Christmas gift. I haven’t yet read it because I want to pick it up in December- we exchanged gifts on New Year’s Eve so there wasn’t time last year!
  4. What are you looking forward to right now? – I’m really looking forward to the announcement of the Man Booker longlist! I had so much fun following along with the Women’s Prize this spring (even though it didn’t turn out as I’d hoped it would) that I’m excited to start again with another prize! Even though I’m not fully committing to reading the entire longlist before seeing it, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do so.
  5. [weird question] If you could switch places with one actor in any scene in any movie/TV show, which would it be? –  [appropriately weird answer, lol] I would want Leonardo DiCaprio’s role on Titanic when the ship first sets out. Waving to the crowds and all. Titanic sank on my birthday (historically; I wasn’t born in 1912) and I’ve always been fascinated with the story of its sinking. So many things had to happen in the exact way that they did for that disaster to have been as bad as it was, it’s eerie. But when the ship sets sail on its first and only voyage, what a time to be alive, right? I would’ve loved to be on Titanic. Except not really, because of the 1,500+ people dying and all. So movie Titanic would be the best option, really. Rose just doesn’t have the right level of enthusiasm, but for Jack it’s the best time of his life. That’s the closest I’d like to get to experiencing Titanic.

About me

  1. I collect postcards. I haven’t been many places, but I ask my family and friends to pick them up for me as well so I’ve gathered probably upwards of 200? Looking at places I want to go is very conducive to goal setting for me.
  2. I have never been able to fall asleep while reading. I get tired, but I have to put the book down and make the choice to close my eyes before I’m able to sleep.
  3. My favorite food is probably popcorn. I like a lot of other things, but popcorn is the only food I don’t think I have ever or would ever turn down, if offered.

Nominations

  1. Kristen @ Kristen Kraves Books
  2. Elysa @ Words Words Words
  3. Donna @ Donna’s Reading Chair
  4. Melanie @ Grab the Lapels
  5. Laura @ The Book Habit
  6. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus
  7. Ren @ What’s Nonfiction?
  8. Lou @ Random Book Reviews Web
  9. Anne @ I’ve Read This
  10. Jenna @ Jenna Bookish

(If you’re not tagged and want to participate, consider yourself nominated! I tagged only the minimum number of bloggers today, so feel free to jump on board if you haven’t been tagged for this lately and/or feel inspired to answer my questions!)

Questions I’m Asking

  1. What’s your favorite place that you’ve ever visited?
  2. Do the number of bookshelves that you use hold all of the books that you own and/or what do you do with overflow books?
  3. Which book-to-film adaptation do you wish would be redone?
  4. Name a story you loved as a child/teen that never gets old?
  5. [weird question] Which of your favorite characters would win a karaoke contest, and with what song?

Fave posts

  • I had a lot of fun assembling my Women’s Prize longlist wrap-up, especially since this was the first year I managed to keep up with the prize schedule. I also loved chatting with everyone else who read longlisted titles this year!
  • Almost-favorites is a list I started last Thanksgiving, that I intend to continue on a yearly basis. This list highlights top contenders that don’t quite make it to my favorite reads of the year list, though I still consider them valuable moments in my reading life.
  • Top of the TBR is a new series I’ve started that I really love posting every week. It’s easy to keep up with, but it also builds a lot of bookish excitement for me. I’ve linked the most recent addition.

Thanks again to Sarah for the tag!

I really enjoy the tags/awards that look different every time you see them; there’s so much room for creativity here. If you haven’t tried it yet, now is your chance! And even if you have, this is a great post to repeat with different questions and answers. Happy blogging, all!

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Killer Across the Table

Two of my current reading goals are 1) to read more nonfiction, and 2) to catch up on the BOTM titles still waiting unread on my shelf. Picking up The Killer Across the Table by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker this month contributed toward both.

thekilleracrossthetableIn the book, former FBI agent / criminal profiler John Douglas looks back on his conversations with convicted serial killers in an attempt to explain why they do what they do.

“Because let’s be honest: the fascination with ‘true crime’ is actually fascination with what writers and philosophers call the human condition. We all want to know and understand the basis of human behavior and motivation, why we do the things we do. And with crime, we are seeing the human condition writ large and at the extremes…”

Right out of the gate, Douglas and Olshaker make clear that this book was written with the intent of showing readers what the human mind is capable of, for the purpose of understanding what causes violent crime and perhaps recognizing the signs to prevent history repeating itself. The book is divided into four sections, each of which examines a different “type” of serial killer, though Douglas flips between cases frequently and with ease wherever they fit his arguments.

In the first section, a would-be serial killer finds himself behind bars after only one crime; his victim’s death ultimately results in the national adoption of Joan’s Law. The second section examines a killer who chooses victims disturbingly close to home. The third, a hospital orderly the likes of whom you’ll never want to meet. And the fourth, a killer whose crimes do not seem to follow any pattern. The first two are the strongest, in my opinion, but my attention and interest never wavered. The Killer Across the Table is a great introduction to true crime, and offers such a wealth of psychological insight that readers already familiar with the genre will probably find something new here, as well. 

If, like me, you’re fairly new to true crime and aren’t sure about your interest level in serial killers, let me assure you that this volume is beginner-friendly. Though it does not read like a novel, it does touch on a wide variety of cases and motivations that will probably help you decide whether you want to read about anything or anyone specific in more depth. My only previous experience with true crime lit was In Cold Blood, so I did appreciate this broader overview. I’ve also watched a couple of recent true crime Netflix films, which is how I came to be reading The Killer Across the Table– I saw Netflix’s Mindhunter, a new adaptation of another book by these authors that uses the same style of approach to accomplish the same purpose, and became intersested enough to pick up this quasi-related work; the two make for great companion pieces. 

John Douglas, the first listed author, is the agent who pioneered this method of criminal profiling that’s become so familiar from detective shows and novels in the last couple of decades. He’s the basis for Jack Crawford, the senior FBI agent from The Silence of the Lambs. There’s no doubt in these 300-some pages that he’s an intelligent person, and good at what he does. And yet, it’s still worth bearing in mind that there’s some subjectivity involved with presuming to know what goes on in another person’s mind. Douglas’s arguments are easy to follow and always backed up with evidence, but this is still a fairly new branch of criminology and Douglas’s word seems to be as close to proof as we can get within this volume.

But this is where it gets a bit controversial. My favorite part of the Mindhunter adaptation (so far) comes toward the end of the first season- agent Ford, the character based on Douglas, seems to become a bit mentally unstable as he spends more time interviewing and deciphering notorious killers. The lengths he goes to in the interviews become more extreme, he lies to cover up an action he knows others will see as morally wrong, he makes serious decisions in both his relationships and career based on deductions from behavior rather than listening to others. Perhaps I read more into it than the writers of the show intended, but in any case this questionable impression of Ford/Douglas’s character was fresh in my mind when I started The Killer Across the Table. For this reason, I was perhaps a bit paranoid in my reading. After cold descriptions of gruesome crimes, Douglas does occasionally admit that the details of the crime were difficult for him to stomach and he feels only disgust for the people who would do such things. But for me, these quick, infrequent statements were not able to penetrate the sense of absolute detachment and indifference in the writing. The grammar is perfect, the words chosen carefully, and behind them… I felt no emotion.

Of course Douglas (and Olshaker, who never seems to be the “I” in the writing here though he must undoubtedly be present behind it) has no need to prove his emotions to me or any other reader. This is a book about what makes serial killers tick, not Douglas’s personal life. But I can’t deny that this sense of detachment in the writing affected my reading experience. The deaths of the victims are described in as tasteful a way as possible, but even in concept these acts are abhorrent; I expected to find an emotional connection, as I did with In Cold Blood. I might have managed to shrug this absence off in the end, if not for this passage:

“Perhaps the most-discussed exchange in the first season of the Netflix Mindhunter series occurs in episode 9 […]. In an effort to get past Speck’s contempt and get him engaged, Holden [Douglas’s character] rhetorically asks him what gave him the right to ‘take eight ripe cunts out of the world.’

It was actually pretty much like that in real life. We were in a conference room in the prison with Speck and a corrections department counselor and Speck was consciously ignoring us. I turned to the counselor and said, ‘You know what he did, your guy? He killed eight pussies. And some of those pussies looked pretty good. He took eight good pieces of ass away from the rest of us. You think that’s fair?’ “

This is exactly the scene in the Mindhunter film series that I began to strongly question the inherent goodness of agent Ford’s character and his motivations behind the criminal interviews. Seeing the same action repeated here, with an attempt at explanation but still no remorse, did nothing to shake my discomfort, though I know that Ford is a character, played by an actor, in what is probably a more fictionalized account. In the interest of keeping things fair, I’ll also point out that Douglas is only acting in the way he believes to be the best, most objective way to extract important information from criminals who don’t entirely want to play along:

“My role is to get these guys to talk, to find out what is, and was, going on inside their minds. Confrontation and moral indignation do not achieve that. In the end, talking to killers is about playing the long game, with every move a deliberate one- outrage, anger, these emotions are ever present in the background, but they work against you only if they come to the surface.”

He admits only one instance when emotion came to the surface for him during an interview.

I am so very curious about what Douglas would have chosen to do with his life if he hadn’t found such a perfect fit as a pioneer of criminal profiling for the FBI. His understanding of the human mind- in all its complex variations- is uncanny.

“We had proved we could think like the worst of’em.”

But whatever your eventual opinion of Douglas’s morals, there’s plenty of reason to read this book if you have any interest in the workings of the human brain. Douglas is undoubtedly an expert in his field, and he does an excellent job of shedding light on the dark side of humanity without glorifying these killers.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I think this is a good moment to mention again that I choose my star ratings based on personal enjoyment. Fortunately, my level of enjoyment is often pretty equal to the amount of merit I find in a book, but this is not always the case. By rating nonfiction, I am using the same scale of enjoyment as with fiction, by expressing a completely subjective summary of my experience; I am in no way attempting to pass judgment on the writer’s life or person. While I did find The Killer Across the Table a worthwhile read, it also taught me that I do tire of reading about serial killers. Though I’m still looking forward to the eventual release of Mindhunter‘s second season, I am not at this time planning to read any of Douglas and Olshaker’s other books, or any other serial killer books for the foreseeable future. I’m fairly new to nonfiction, and serial killers are only one small niche of a much wider interest for me, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else is out there and moving away from this topic for now. That said, if serial killer nonfiction is your niche or a budding interest, I do recommend checking out this author duo!

 

The Literary Elephant

Top of the TBR 6.25.19

(I’m a day late with this post, and I’ve basically fallen out of touch with everything and everyone over the last week or so, partially due to a mild family emergency. Fortunately that seems to be turning around for the better, and catching up on Top of the TBR seemed like the easiest way to start getting back into the swing of things. I should also have a few reviews and tags coming up this week, and I’ll be catching up on blog posts I’ve missed over the last few days as well. Probably no one noticed my absence, but if you did, know that I missed being here and talking about books! Here’s to hoping for a better week ahead.)

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

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

43821991. sy475 The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff (Pub: Sept 2019)

How I found it: I came across this lovely post by Ren at What’s Nonfiction, full of some great upcoming nonfiction titles, and I couldn’t resist this one.

Why I added it: 9/11 is one of the “historic” events I’m most interested in reading about, probably because I was actually alive to remember this one, and also because I find plane crashes of all kinds morbidly fascinating.

Priority: Middling. I would love to read this as soon as it’s released, but Sept/Oct are my busiest times of the year, when it’s harder for me to get my hands on new books. I am making an effort to incorporate more nonfiction into my reading this summer, and I’m really hoping that will continue as a general reading practice forever, so hopefully I’ll get to this in a reasonable amount of time.

44901909. sy475 Cursed by Frank Miller and Thomas Wheeler (Pub: Oct 2019)

How I found it: In a Netflix ad on Instagram, if I remember correctly.

Why I added it: Mostly to keep it on my radar. This is slated to be released as a Netflix series in 2020, which I’ll probably want to check out at that time. I’ve seen it described as a gender-bent King Arthur retelling, focusing on the Lady of the Lake, whom I’ve found very intriguing since reading Meg Cabot’s Avalon High way back in middle school.

Priority: Low. I haven’t looked at reviews yet, so I’m not sure how interested I’ll actually be in picking this one up. I might save it for closer to the adaptation release in any case.

36863721. sy475 A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Pub: 1934)

How I found it: I bought a book for my friend’s birthday coming up in July, and last week found out she’d just gone out and bought the same book for herself. I started looking through the Penguin English Library set for a replacement gift, and in the meantime managed to find a couple of titles I’m interested in myself.

Why I added it: Gothic mansion; a combination of comedy, tragedy, and irony; high class affairs. Everything from the synopsis appeals to me, and I haven’t yet read anything by Waugh, though I want to.

Priority: Middling. I haven’t been reading many classics this year, and I miss them. I’m hoping I can find a copy and squeeze this in to the second half of 2019 somehow.

14743257The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Pub: June 1905)

How I found it: Same as above.

Why I added it: I really liked Wharton’s Ethan Frome last year and have been meaning to read more of her work. I saw this passage in the synopsis and was immediately sold: “The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.”

Priority: Middling. Same reasons as above.

38589871Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller (Pub: July 2018)

How I found it: I follow Fuller on Goodreads because I love her reviews, and similarly think I would love her novels… except I have never tried any them because I’m terrible at prioritizing.

Why I added it: Every Claire Fuller synopsis sounds perfect for me, and I’ve had a copy of Swimming Lessons on my shelf for years because I’m just so sure she’ll be a match for me. But as with other authors that I’ve been meaning to read multiple titles from, sometimes starting with the most recent helps me finally get going, so I’m thinking of trying that here.

Priority: High, except I want to read this in the fall and (again) that’s the hardest time of year for me to get my hands on new books. But I need to read at least one Fuller novel this year, someone please hold me to this!

32600212. sy475 Madame Zero: 9 Stories by Sarah Hall (Pub: July 2017)

How I found it: I read Hall’s Mrs Fox earlier this year, and loved the story enough that I went searching for more of Hall’s work, and found this collection that includes that short story.

Why I added it: After hunting for it on Goodreads, someone specifically recommended this to me, which further cemented my decision to read it.

Priority: Middling. Now that I’m at an impasse with the Faber Stories collection (the last two I need to buy have become too expensive for me to condone buying them) I’m looking to pick up more full collections of short stories to keep up with my short story goal for this year. But I don’t have a copy of this one yet, which always complicates things.

42505366Wilder Girls by Rory Power (Pub: July 2019)

How I found it: I honestly don’t remember, but so many readers are anticipating this one that it’s been all over upcoming releases posts.

Why I added it: YA horror is a genre I haven’t spent much time with, but if this is what it’s like, I want to. A quarantined school, a missing girl, LGBTQ+ rep, and THAT COVER.

Priority: High. This a new release I’m really hoping to pick up a copy of right away in July.

7871256The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller by Henry James (Pub: 1878)

How I found it: I actually found this cool vintage copy from the 60’s in my grandparent’s house when they moved out, in a box of books they were going to THROW AWAY.

Why I added it: I’ve been meaning to read this for years, ever since I found it, but I’m looking to read it more urgently now; The Turn of the Screw is a story I want to read before the second season of The Haunting of Hill House (a 2020 release, I believe) and also Ruth Ware’s imminent novel, The Turn of the Key. I also need to read Daisy Miller before I pick up The Maze at Windermere, which has been on my TBR for months.

Priority: high. These are short stories that I already own and have a lot of excitement for. If I don’t get to them this summer for whatever reason, I’ll certainly pick this up in the fall.

 

And that’s that. I had a really slow book-adding week on Goodreads what with my hiatus from most social media and the internet in general, so in addition to the four books new to my want-to-read shelf, I’ve also included four older titles that for one reason or another caught my attention today. There’s definitely a classics-and-horror trend here; I’m loving the summer weather but really looking forward to fall reading.

Have you read any of these titles, or recognize them from your own TBR? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Review: The Last

Summer is the season of heat and light and beach reads, but for me it’s also when the dark and spookies start settling in, and I like to reach for something more chaotic. And so I came by Hanna Jameson’s The Last, a suspenseful apocalyptic mystery set in an atmospheric old hotel. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I would have to get my hands on a copy.

thelastIn the novel, Jon is staying at a large hotel in Switzerland for a conference when nuclear war suddenly wipes out many of the world’s major cities. The hotel guests (including Jon) spiral into a panic; many leave to catch planes that won’t be flying to return to families that no longer exist. Jon remains at the hotel with several strangers who opt to wait for help to arrive. When a dead girl is found in the hotel’s water supply, Jon takes charge of investigating the obvious murder as a means to keep busy. He suspects that the killer is still living among them. As life goes on for the few that remain, it becomes difficult to know who to trust, what is real, and where to draw the line between right and wrong.

“Is this it? I mean, for humanity. Am I the last person alive making notes on the end of the world? I’m not sure whether I would rather already be dead.”

Part dystopia, part murder mystery, part character study, part political/social commentary, part psychological suspense, and part horror novel, this is a book full of surprises. The essential end of the world provides an eerie backdrop, while Jon’s quest to hunt down an unknown murderer lends structure and plot to the novel. The tension of this story does not derive from a burning need to win justice for this girl (most of the characters are surprisingly indifferent to her death) as much as from a desire to uncover the secrets of the other guests stranded in the hotel, and to discover what extremes they might be driven to in the absence of recognized law and authority. The cast of suspects is large, and red herrings abound. I would be beyond impressed by anyone who manages to guess the true culprit before reading the final sequence- the reveal requires a certain level of suspended disbelief, but it does win points for unpredictability. Furthermore, this desperate world full of lies and radiation is made all the more compelling by how closely Jameson ties this nuclear war to our real world’s current political climate.

Though the story is formatted as a record of events written by Jon, he is open about his own biases and faulty memories. Despite the fact that his writing the story at all means he has already survived the dangers being described, the tension of the story is not lessened by this inherent evidence of his safety. Jameson makes it clear that anyone else- friend or foe- is fair game, and there’s a frightening psychological aspect behind every small discovery. The unflinching look at the morally-gray heart of humanity prevents stagnation. Crimes and disagreements within the hotel require the group to make tough life-or-death decisions. There is so much depth behind what is, on the surface, already a dark and captivating premise.

“Existing isn’t everything.”

The characters all come unique and fully formed, though learning their pasts and motives does not prepare the reader for anything these people might try next. But let’s take a moment to look closer at our narrator, Jon. In a story brimming with remarkable characters, I was struck by the unfortunate impression that Jon is the most boring, straightforward person we could possibly follow through this ordeal. Jameson does some interesting things with his characterization, making him receptive to feminism and then throwing him into situations that require him to choose between actively fighting for what is fair or settling for what is easy. His hunts for a child killer stems from an urge to do what is right, but also from a fear of finding himself idle. He is far from a perfect human- and yet, for all the hints that he’s made bad choices in the past, I expected something more extreme than the history that is finally revealed. For all of his flaws though, the biggest obstacle for me was simply that he never stopped feeling like a man written by a woman (an issue that I have only ever experienced in the opposite scenario, finding discomfort in female characters obviously written by men), and I was never quite certain why Jameson chose to make him the lead character. Any one of them could have kept an end-days record. But in the end, this mild confusion wasn’t enough to hold me back from enjoying every single page.

“The only meaning we might have left as a species- indeed, the only thing left that might matter, that might keep us motivated to get up in the morning- is the small acts of human kindness we show one another, and in my compulsion to be helpful, useful, to keep things moving forward, I’ve mostly forgotten to be kind.”

My only other small complaint involves a few inconsistencies that weren’t weeded out before publication. For instance, an entry for one of the most eventful days at the hotel begins with Jon saying that he’s been busy and is writing from the following day. Later within the account of the same day, he mentions taking a break from the group to go up to his room and write the events of the day up to that point. There are a few other details like this that don’t quite match up, but obviously this isn’t a major issue. The plot aligns properly.

As a side note, if you’re a reader who enjoys juxtaposition, let me confirm that The Last pairs perfectly with the first third or so of Stephen King’s The Stand. Though the former features a nuclear “final war” and the later a 99% effective superflu, both are apocalyptic novels that explore life for the few after the deaths of the many. It’s incredible to compare two strong writers’ ideas of the end of life as we know it, and the shreds of humanity that are left. Apparently the answer to “how do I make an apocalyptic novel reading experience more perfect?” is to pick up a second apocalyptic novel.

“I think it was Stephen King who said that the sum of all human fear is just a door left slightly ajar.”

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars. For most of this read, I expected that I would rate The Last as a 4, but once I reached the end I couldn’t think of a single flaw substantial enough to hold it back from a 5. Throughout the week that I read this novel, I was always enthused to pick it up again and find out what would happen next. It was engaging on the surface, and memorable for its hidden depths. It’ll stick with me for a long time, I’m sure. I would recommend this to fans of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter or Ling Ma’s Severance; though a bit different than both, it’s exciting and introspective on a level that I think will appeal to the same demographic.

Have you read this one? Do you plan to?

 

The Literary Elephant

Top of the TBR 6.17.19

Top of the TBR is a new series I’m starting with the intent of it eventually replacing my book hauls. Since my TBR goal for this year is tied to the new books I’m buying throughout the year, I will (probably) still be mentioning new titles I’ve acquired each month for a while yet. But by the end of the year, Top of the TBR should have completely replaced those book hauls. (See my first Top of the TBR post for more info on why I’m making this switch.)

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

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

146772Altmann’s Tongue by Brian Evenson (Pub: 1994)

How I found it: Grab the Lapels recommended this one to me when I mentioned wanting to read some horror in last week’s Top of the TBR!

Why I added it: I like horror, I have a goal to read more short stories this year (this is a story collection), and it comes recommended. Also this part of the Goodreads synopsis really piqued my curiosity: “Brian Evenson has added an O. Henry Award–winning short story, “Two Brothers,” to this controversial book and a new afterword, in which he describes the troubling aftermath of the book’s publication in 1994.

Priority: Middling. I haven’t set my spooky reading plans for October yet, but this looks like exactly the sort of book that will appeal to me in the fall.

41880609On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Pub: June 2019)

How I found it: Initially, I saw this on bookstagram. It’s been on my radar for awhile and I just finally got around to doing the thing and actually adding it to Goodreads.

Why I added it: This looks like a book about identity, which I always enjoy. There’s a family history here, it’s said to be written in an epistolary form, and it seems like it could be a bit of a sob fest. The title is beautiful, reviewers I trust have loved this, and I can’t see any reason why this won’t be a win for me as well.

Priority: Middling, only because I don’t have a copy and they’re all checked out at my library. It sounds like it might be a good fall book, before all the spooky reads.

Blank 133x176The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (Pub: 2020)

How I found it: I just read The Bride Test this month, and upon marking that as read on Goodreads I discovered this sequel, book 3 in the Kiss Quotient series.

Why I added it: There’s something about the plots of Hoang’s romance novels that has never quite worked for me, but I love the autism rep and am not ready to give up on this series yet. This third book will feature Quan, my favorite character from the series so far, so hopes are high.

Priority: High. These are such quick reads for me, and because I am caught up in the series already and don’t queue up many romances I’ll probably be ready to pick this up as soon as it comes out.

42815544Bunny by Mona Awad (Pub: June 2019)

How I found it: Bookstagram.

Why I added it: This seems like one of those controversial books that a lot of readers end up hating because of unlikable characters, but I don’t mind unlikable characters and I feel like I might enjoy this more than some seem to. I think this one’s about a group of writing students (women) and has some Secret History vibes, which sounds extremely up my alley, and the synopsis suggests a blurring of fiction/reality, which I’m always down for.

Priority: High. Maybe. This sounds like a great summer read. I want to pick it up right away, but I’m so swamped, and my library doesn’t have a copy.

44427431Stranger Things: Runaway Max by Brenna Yovanoff (Pub: June 2019)

How I found it: Bookstagram

Why I added it: I read another Stranger Things novel earlier this year, and though I didn’t love it, I enjoyed it enough to be willing to pick up more novelizations set in this world. This is a YA backstory of Max’s character, which I think will be a better fit than the young-reader-friendly book about adults signing up for sketchy experiments in the 70s like the last ST novel was.

Priority: Low. I wish I could pick this up before season 3 arrives in about 2 weeks, but it’s not at my library and I’m not rushing out to buy it. So I suppose I’ll save it for the drought between seasons 3 and 4.

Blank 133x176Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (Pub: unknown, tbd)

How I found it: Rachel brought this to my attention, which seemed only fitting as her review of The Pisces was a big part of why I picked up Broder’s first novel.

Why I added it: The Pisces was exactly my brand of weird. It was another one of those controversial books with unlikeable characters, but I loved its Greek element and its commentary about modern dating and sexuality. I’m hoping to pick up Broder’s essay collection (So Sad Today) this summer, but this upcoming novel is what I really want. It sounds just as delightfully bizarre and compelling as The Pisces. The entire synopsis at this point describes, “a spiritually ambivalent young Jewish woman with an eating disorder who, while taking an emotional detox from her mother, has an affair with the zaftig Orthodox woman working at her local Los Angeles frozen yogurt shop.”

Priority: High. I’m absolutely reading this as soon as it’s released.

12468The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer (Pub: 1979)

How I found it: This was mentioned in my current read, The Killer Across the Table (review coming up this week).

Why I added it: I’ve not yet read anything by Mailer, and I want to. This was a Pulitzer Prize winner (nonfiction), about a topic that’s been intriguing me lately: true crime. I appreciated Capote’s In Cold Blood, and would be interested in reading another OG crime story- this one specifically interests me because the convicted killer, sentenced to death, apparently has quite an arduous struggle convincing the state to actually kill him for his crime.

Priority: Low. I’m interested in the topic, so maybe I’ll pick this up sooner rather than later, but it’s a 1000+ page account, and as I’m also currently in the middle of Stephen King’s 1400+ page The Stand, you’ll understand why I’m not rushing to add this to my immediate TBR.

38612739Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Pub: Sept 2019)

How I found it: Emezi wrote one of my favorite books of 2018, Freshwater, so I’ve been trying to keep an eye out for their future publications.

Why I added it: With as much as I loved Freshwater, and as captivating and unique a voice as Emezi proved to be with that novel, I can’t imagine disliking this one. I’m curious about it being YA, as their first novel seemed very adult, but I imagine this will be great as well, albeit a bit different.

Priority: High. I’ll probably want to read this one as soon as it’s published as well.

42368604Lock Every Door by Riley Sager (Pub: July 2019)

How I found it: I loved Sager’s first thriller, Final Girls, and have been keeping an eye out for his future publications.

Why I added it: Sager’s 2018 release, The Last Time I Lied, did not live up to expectations for me, but it wasn’t outright bad so I’m still hoping for another Final Girls-type read on the horizon. Hopefully this will be the one.

Priority: High? This comes out early in July and I’m tempted to pick it up right away- summer is a great time of year for thrillers, and I haven’t seen any disappointing reviews yet. But I’m not sure whether I’ll buy this one, which might make it take longer to get my hands on a copy. My library does not seem to have ordered a copy yet.

 

42118856Cari Mora by Thomas Harris (Pub June 2019)

How I found it: two years ago I started reading a Thomas Harris novel every October, as part of my annual spooky TBR. I’ve been aware of this book for months because I’ve been enjoying the Hannibal Lecter series and keeping an eye out for upcoming releases.

Why I added it: The Silence of the Lambs and its accompanying volumes are becoming a bit dated (though I still highly recommend this classic to anyone who enjoys psychological horror) and so far that series is the only part of Harris’s oeuvre I’ve read. When I finish that by picking up Hannibal this October (I’ll probably let the series stand as a trilogy), I thought it would be interesting to pick up Harris’s most recent work for a bit of compare/contrast. I have heard this one’s quite different, though.

Priority: Low. I’m very content with my one-Harris-novel-per-year habit at the moment, and on that schedule, even if I pick this up immediately following Hannibal, I’ll get to Cari Mora in October 2020 at the earliest. I haven’t actually seen any glowing reviews for this yet, which makes the wait easier.

 

And that’s a wrap. Last week was a slower week for adding to my TBR, so I’ve supplemented this list with a few titles that I’ve had saved on Goodreads longer, recent or upcoming releases that I’ve been paying attention to lately. There are a surprising number of high priority reads this week, and this list also clearly reveals some of my summer and fall reading trends- thrills and chills and unlikable characters for the win!

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

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: Fever Dream

This was the first year I’ve followed along with The Morning News’ Tournament of Books, and as I’d already read the winner (My Sister the Serial Killer– so glad it won!) and its top contender (Warlight– so glad it didn’t win!) I decided to pick up last year’s winner. Samanta Schweblin, also longlisted for the Man Booker International this year for a newer release, wrote last year’s ToB winner, Fever Dream. 

feverdreamIn the novella, a mother and her young daughter have taken a trip to the countryside. They’re staying in a rented house in a small village, where they meet a local woman who shares an odd story about her son. The two children play together, much to their mothers’ fright, but the disaster that occurs soon after can only be linked to the boy’s strange past by those willing to walk the line between reality and impossibility.

“Where is Nina? What happens at the exact moment? Why is all this about worms?”

The book opens on a conversation about a sensation of worms in the body. Our  narrator (the woman on vacation) is already lying in a hospital bed at the local clinic, in critical condition. She is speaking to David, her new acquaintance’s son, who may or may not actually be present. Together they discuss the events of the previous few days in an attempt to locate the “exact moment.”

This is more or less all I can say with certainty about the story, as much of it is confusing and mysterious and left to the reader’s interpretation. Which, honestly, is just the way I like it. I became so engrossed in this little book that I finished the whole thing in one sitting, through which I maintained such a level of concentration that I forgot to tab quotes or make any review notes or any of those other reading-adjacent tasks I normally do. There are no chapters, and no breaks in the narration as the story races to its conclusion, but it’s compulsively readable and the constant need to know more about the situation drives the reader ever onward. Perhaps best of all, the ending is not a clarification and the reader is given the chance to draw their own conclusions.

Why do mothers do that? … Try to get in front of anything that could happen- the rescue distance.

It’s because sooner or later something terrible will happen. My grandmother used to tell my mother that, all through her childhood, and my mother would tell me, throughout mine. And now I have to take care of Nina.”

Thematically, I would say this is a story of family; of what we would do or risk for those we love, and whether those choices are worth their cost. Our narrator constantly calculates a “rescue distance” to ensure her daughter’s safety- the length of time it would take her to reach her daughter at any given moment, should disaster strike. But in the end, horror can strike in any place, at any time, no matter how near your child may be, as both women at the heart of this story discover.

There’s also a striking bit of commentary here about the difficulties of raising children (or living at all) in areas with environmental dangers (whether they’re natural or caused by humans), especially in scenes where our narrator notices local children with deformities and calls David “more normal” than the other children his age, despite what she’s been told of his history.

David was the only element of this book that held me back from a 5-star rating- I found his dialogue a bit jarring and grating at times, and would have appreciated fewer interjections from him throughout the story. I didn’t have any trouble remembering he was there or the conversational format through which this story was being told- I simply didn’t need the constant reminders. But this was a small issue; overall I loved Schweblin’s writing and her command of this completely bizarre story.

It’s a challenging puzzle of a read, one I would love to have spoiler discussions about because I think there are several options to choose from in trying to piece together what has actually happened to these characters. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first closed the cover, but I appreciate books that keep me thinking after I’ve put them down, and after much consideration I’ve formed some opinions. Even so, I will probably want to reread this soon; I think Fever Dream would be one of those excellent stories with as much (or more) to offer the reader on a second pass as the first time through. If you’re a reader who is routinely disappointed or even annoyed by predictable plots, Fever Dream may be the book for you. It’s atmospheric, eerie, and utterly engaging.

“I don’t want to spend another night in the house, but leaving right away would mean driving too many hours in the dark. I tell myself I’m just scared, that it’s better to rest so tomorrow I can think about things more clearly. But it’s a terrible night.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Some of my favorite books this year have been mysterious/experimental novellas- Ghost WallMy Sister the Serial Killer, and now Fever Dream. This wasn’t quite a top favorite forever-love read, but it did confirm that I must read more of Schweblin’s work, probably starting with the Man Booker International nominee Mouthful of Birds (which I think is the only other title she has published that’s been translated into English?)

What’s the weirdest book you’ve read this year?

 

The Literary Elephant