Category Archives: Wrap-ups

Wrap-Up 10.20

I’ve gotten through my busy work season and come out the other side! I’ve voted! I’ve spent a couple of days wallowing in election stress and have finally convinced myself that worrying about it isn’t helping anything! So now I am ready to make my return to blogging. I’ve got a lot to catch up on, so a wrap-up and some blog hopping seemed like a good way to re-immerse myself.

First off, even though I never found the time to post about it (which means I also never shared the list of new releases for October that I had my eye on, unfortnuately), I did set a five-book October TBR:

The books were: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson, House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski, My Name is Monster by Katie Hale, and The Deep by Alma Katsu. I thought I’d reach for some horror in October: a 2020 release I’ve been excited about (the Katsu), a title from our alternate women’s prize list (the Hale), and several titles from my 20 in ’20 list, to help me work back toward some of my bookish goals this year. But my reading’s been pretty erratic the last few months and I had library books that I needed to return, so I ended up reading only one of these titles alongside some library Booker reads and just whatever I happened to be in the mood for. But even though I didn’t complete this TBR, I think it’s safe to say I’ve broken through the reading slump that’s been plaguing me since summer, which was the only victory I really needed, reading-wise. Here’s what I finished reading in October:

  1. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – 5 stars. This is a YA contemporary novel written in verse. It’s very prose-like verse, so don’t panic if you’re not typically into poetry. It’s a quick read that digs into the cultural experience of a Latina teen living with her family in the US, struggling against parental expectations while also discovering her talents as a writer and falling in love. It’s cute and heavy, and I loved the entire experience. Review to come.
  2. The New Wilderness by Diane Cook – 3 stars. A Booker shortlist title that’s technically a dystopian but really more of a (wo)man vs. nature tale. It’s much more focused on landscapes and motherhood issues than on the futuristic society that hovers at the edges, which didn’t exactly fit my taste. Nevertheless, I found it to be a fairly quick and frictionless read that’ll surely excite the right reader. I just didn’t fit that bill.
  3. This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga – 3 stars. Another Booker shortlist title, this one is the third book in a trilogy; I didn’t end up having time/energy to reread the first book this past month as intended. While this one does make sense on its own, I think a lot of the tension here is built up from the earlier books so I would recommend reading them all in order if possible. There are some great post-colonial themes continued here, and a nuanced look at chasing career success in Zimbabwe, but I found the story a bit too slow and meandering and not nearly as strong as I remember the first book in this trilogy being for me, though admittedly it’s been a few years. Review coming soon.
  4. The Body Lies by Jo Baker – 5 stars. A title from our alternate women’s prize list that featured on one of my previous 5-book TBRs. I’d call this a literary thriller, though the ‘thrill’ is a pretty slow build and it’s not until the very end of the book that the suspense really becomes palpable. There’s a bit too much explanatory exposition in the final pages for my taste, but I loved the feminist commentary running throughout the book and thought the characters were delivered so well on the page. At another time this would likely have been a 4-star read, but it was a standout for me this month.
  5. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen – 3 stars. I had to postpone my Spotlight post for September, which will focus on YA, so I thought I’d use some of the extra time to pick up more YA reads in preparation. A couple years back I reread a childhood favorite Dessen novel and it held up, so I’ve been meaning to gradually reread more of her backlist; this one was next up. It was a quick read as expected, and it is a rape story with themes of accepting victim/survivor behaviors and encouraging speaking out if possible, as I remembered. But the characters aren’t as strong as some of Dessen’s other work and this was just way too long for what it needed to do, so it’s gone down a star from my first read as a teen.
  6. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen – 3 stars. I intended to follow up Just Listen with some newer YA from my 20 in ’20 list, but that one threw me into a nostalgic mood to reread, so I picked up another favorite Dessen circa my middle school days. Although I really like the messages in this one about understanding but not accepting abusive relationships, this was one of Dessen’s first publications and it seemed to me as an adult reader now that she just hadn’t hit her stride yet, as far as crafting goes. Every character and scene just seemed utterly transparent as to what it was supposed to be making the reader think or feel, so I found it much less effective as a narrative this time around than I had at thirteen, though I still respect the concept. This one’s down two stars from my original rating.
  7. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen – 4 stars. Clearly, I was in a mood. Here, finally, a Dessen reread that held true to my first impressions. I still take issue with some of the ‘romantic’ scenes (for example, the MC has a no-eating-in-the-car rule that the love interest expresses disagreement with by spreading french fry grease onto the interior of her car, which is ultimately condoned by the narrative, whereas I believe a polite and repeated request about the treatment of one’s own property while doing the other person a favor should be respected), but ultimately I think the main messages here about taking chances and remaining open to personalities and approaches that are very different from one’s own are still worthwhile, and the banter between these disparate characters is entertaining. Down one star from my original rating.
  8. My Name is Monster by Katie Hale – 3 stars. The alternate women’s prize title from my October TBR. I actually started reading this before the Sarah Dessen distraction, but it’s a dystopian survival story focused on motherhood that was very reminiscent of The New Wilderness for me and I struggled with reading the two of them so close together. Ultimately I really liked Hale’s prose and focus on language, and it was surreal reading about such a deadly sickness during an actual global pandemic, but I picked it up at the wrong time and the plot suffered for me because of that. Review to come.
  9. Redhead at the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler – 3 stars. This title from the Booker longlist did not make the shortlist cut, but I already had it from the library and by this point couldn’t keep it any longer. Coming in under 200 pages it seemed like as good a place as any to sample Tyler’s work, which I’d been meaning to do. In the end, I have no idea how this ended up on the Booker list at all, it’s so straightforward and I was bored through most of the read. Everything about it I found frustratingly unremarkable. Review coming soon.
  10. The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff – 5 stars. I started this book on September 11 and read it in bits and pieces up through the end of October. It ended up being a bit too emotional for me to sit through while I was stressed with my work schedule this fall, which is why it took me a while even though I loved the read. It’s so detailed, and yet so broad, and all so thoughtfully put together without any gratuitous dwelling on individual pain or loss. I found it incredibly compelling, sometimes harrowing, always poignant. Review to come.

(Not pictured: The New Wilderness and This Mournable Body, library checkouts I’d already returned.)

It was yet another weird reading month, but at least I was mostly enjoying myself and finally felt like I was making a dent in some of my goals again. I still have a couple of Booker reads to finish and I’ve got library holds coming my way to close out the alternate women’s prize endeavor- I’ll do a wrap-up and ranking later this month, perhaps. I’ve also got plenty of thoughts and fodder for my YA Spotlight post, before I switch gears to catching up with October’s horror theme and November’s non-fiction. I am also tentatively planning to continue my Sarah Dessen rereads (I’ve already finished another one in November) to eventually do a full ranking of her books and put my thoughts in one place instead of subjecting you all to individual reviews. Even though I only read one book from my October TBR, two of my other reads were from previous TBRs, so I still feel hopeful of finishing all of my TBR books before the end of the year. One of the titles outstanding from my October list is nonfiction, so that would be perfect to get to this month. In order to keep myself going though, I know I’m going to lean toward mood reading over pushing through all of my arbitrary reading goals.

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.7

Best of month – The Only Plane in the Sky

Owned books read for the first time – 4 out of 10. The rest were an even split between owned rereads and library checkouts.

Year total – 83 books read. I fell behind in September but am right on track again now for my Goodreads goal of 100 books in 2020.

I don’t have any non-review posts from September to link, since I was barely here, and only one of the books I read this month is actually linked to a review in the list above- I’ve got plenty to catch up on.

Looking ahead: I’m going to continue prioritizing my Booker reviews because it’s nice to feel like I’m on top of at least one thing; I’ve got two reviews started and I’m currently reading my last shortlist title, so these will be coming up soonest, with some sort of wrap-up around the time of the winner announcement on the 19th. I’ll also post my November TBR fairly soon, I think, then work on catching up with the rest of my reviews and Spotlight posts afterward. I missed out on Nonfiction November posts last year and am out of the loop right now but might try to fit something in for that if I can work it out. I also need to catch up on about two months of blog hopping, which I’ll be starting imminently. So, you can expect to be seeing me around here a whole lot more, and I’m excited about it!

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 9.20

September was a doozy. I’ve been harping on about my reading and reviewing slump long enough (and it seems mostly gone now so this will be the end of it), but concentrating was a struggle for me through most of September even when I was enjoying what I was picking up. I also got very busy with work this month, which will continue for a few more weeks before I’m able to fully catch up here. But all is well, and I’m already looking forward to the time when I’ll be back in full swing. My reading is steadily improving! But I do like to have a little record on my blog for each month, so here’s a (belated) look at my September in books, even though it’s a bit sad.

Mid-month, I set this TBR in the hopes of boosting myself out of the slump:

I started two of these books and finished none before the end of the month; I might have done better if I hadn’t started with the long nonfiction (The Only Plane in the Sky), but the date was right for it and it’s been an incredible read so far. The YA selections were supposed to be nice quick reads to ease me back in and also help me get my Spotlight post for September (focusing on YA lit) up in time, which unfortunately didn’t happen either. That will still be coming, and I have finished one of the YA titles (The Poet X) already in October. I am also planning to start this month or next focusing more earnestly on reading through all of the 5-book TBR titles I haven’t completed yet from previous months, so I do still expect to get around to reading and reviewing the rest of these books in the near future.

It was a slow and awkward month, but I did manage to finish a few things, thanks mostly to buddy reads and library due date deadlines keeping me motivated. Here’s what I did complete:

  1. Gutshot by Amelia Gray – 3 stars. This is a short collection of flash fiction stories that I read and discussed with Melanie (be sure to check out her review here!). These are excellent off-the-wall stories for those who love following a tale down whatever bizarre path it takes, otherworldly elements and all; I wished for more thematic resonance but did otherwise have a fun time reading these.
  2. Death, Desire, and Other Destinations by Tara Isabelle Zambrano – 4 stars. Another short set of flash fiction stories with an even shorter average page count (most of Zambrano’s pieces are 2-4 pages in length); these worked slightly better for me overall because I found more meaning and emotion under the surface of the stories and appreciated the lgbtq+ characters. This one’s a brand new September release.
  3. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – 4 stars. I had already started this Booker Prize longlist title when the time for the shortlist announcement rolled around last month; seeing it make the cut helped keep me going through this 400+ page sobfest of alcoholism in spite of my slump. I found it surprisingly immersive and compelling for how slow-paced and tragic it is.
  4. Sisters by Daisy Johnson – 5 stars. After loving Johnson’s Booker-nominated Everything Under a couple of years back I couldn’t miss this evocative sibling horror story. This might ordinarily have been a 4-star read, but it was perfect slump fare and checked a few boxes I just really love in reading. I have a penchant for literary thriller-type books a la My Sister, the Serial Killer; they’re just such a fun ride. So, maybe don’t look at my 5-star and expect an all-time favorite, but this is a perfect quick fall read and if toxic loyalty in sisterhood sounds at all appealing I recommend picking it up! Review coming soon(ish).

Yep, that’s my entire list. And I read an eARC of Death, Desire and Other Destinations and returned the two library books before I took the picture, so my stack is even more sparse visually. I threw The Only Plane in the Sky in there (backwards since I didn’t finish it) as an honorable mention, because I did read a good chunk of it before the end of the month (as you can maybe see by the tabs marking my progress).

This is my smallest monthly wrap-up in years, but I’m not upset about it. Four books isn’t bad- no amount of reading is bad. It’s important to take breaks. I always feel supportive of other bloggers or bookish social media accounts who admit to an off month or need some time away, so holding myself to an impossible standard of always increasing just doesn’t make sense. Take a breath when you need to. I will do the same.

Some stats:

Average rating – 4.0

Best of month – Sisters

Owned books read for the first time – 1 out of 4. I wasn’t sure whether to count the eARC; I actually don’t think I’ve read anything in that format since I started noting this statistic. But I suppose by ‘owned books’ I mean ‘purchased books.’

Year total – 73 books read. After months of hanging 2-3 books ahead of schedule in my Goodreads goal of 100 books for 2020, I finally fell behind. At the end of September I was one book behind schedule. I’m not really worried about it, tbh. I’m confident my reading will keep improving and at some point I’ll catch up. It’s not really about the numbers anyway, so if I end up missing this goal it wouldn’t be a crushing disappointment.

Non-review posts this month included:

  • Some thoughts on the Booker Prize shortlist, or primarily just an update on my 2020 Booker reading plans, since I fell behind on the longlist. As long as we’re on the subject, I want to mention for anyone who hasn’t seen yet that the Booker winner announcement has been pushed back to November 19 this year. I’ll continue reading and reviewing as I’m able; I have 2 pending shortlist reviews that’ll probably be my next posts (or nearly so), and I’m planning to read probably 3 additional titles from the longlist before wrapping up for the 2020 prize season.

Not a great month, but I made it through. And, interestingly, even though I’ve barely been reading and have hardly been posting or keeping up with my blog at all, September was an all-time record month for my blog stats; just a casual reminder that focusing on the numbers will only drive you mad. Hitting all-time highs when I’ve been so frustratingly absent seems completely backwards, but the likes and comments and follows really do keep me going some days when the going is tough, so here’s a huge thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to stop by and check out my reading life. You’re appreciated!

I hope your fall reading is off to a good start. Let me know in the comments something great you’ve read recently- seriously, I can’t keep up with blog hopping right now so I have no idea what you’ve all been reading and I want to know!

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 8.20

First off, apologies for my absence. I’ve barely been reading, I’ve not really been blogging, I’ve been slow at answering comments and reading others’ posts. Even so, I wholeheartedly appreciate everyone who has interacted with my blog over the last two or three weeks- I haven’t had the energy to respond in a timely manner, but there have been days when the comments I get here are the only thing to put a smile on my face, and I am immensely grateful for that.

So, August. I had lofty goals, and the month started incredibly well, reading-wise. And blogging-wise. Here was my TBR for the month:

Despite my strong start, I only ended up finishing three of these books. The month took a weird turn about halfway through when a new book in an old series left me trying to reconcile my past self and my present self, and reliving all that melodramatic teenage angst. The slump hit right around that time. Working around that, here’s what I managed to finish reading in August:

  1. How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. 4 stars. This is a wonderful memoir/how-to guide for those looking to swap out passive (and ineffectual) non-racism for active antiracism in their lives. Kendi uses his own learning experiences (including mistakes!) to show the reader in a relatable way how to self-reflect and do better. My review also discusses target audience at more length.
  2. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager. 2 stars. There’s always something compelling about Sager’s atmospheric thrillers, but so many things bothered me about this one. The structure, the basic premise, the layout of the “haunted” house. Others are loving this dual-timeline narrative of a possible haunting and mysterious deaths in Vermont, but the details just didn’t work for me.
  3. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. 4 stars. This is a soapy, dramatic contemporary about a young Black woman dealing with modern racism from people in her life who claim to be trying to help her. It’s a fun, quick read that brings important topics to the casual reader. Perhaps unusual fare for the Booker Prize longlist, but I found it enjoyable nonetheless.
  4. Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica, translated by Sarah Moses. 4 stars. The only book I managed to pick up in honor of Women in Translation month, this is a brutal doozy that uses mass cannibalism as a satirical criticism of factory farming. You need a strong stomach for the details here and I wished the plot had received the same level of attention as the impeccable world-building, but it’s a great thought experiment for those who can stand to pick it up.
  5. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste. 3 stars. This is a Booker Prize longlisted historical fiction piece looking at the Italian invasion of Ethiopia just before the start of WWII. It’s a beautiful and informative story, though it seemed less feminist-focused than the jacket claims and would have worked better for me if narrowed in scope. Not a bad book by any means, but not what I expected and I was perhaps simply not the right reader for it.
  6. Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer. No rating. I thought my Twilight-loving days were well-behind me, but I had a surprising amount of fun reading this long-awaited installment. It’s the exact same story as Twilight, presented from a “new” perspective. It has the same issues as the earlier books, though fewer plot holes, and told through the lens of Edward’s self-loathing and morality crisis it becomes much more interesting than the original romance. Even so, this is clearly a wish fulfillment book meant for long-time fans. My review is a fairly thorough overview of the pros and cons here (she says humbly) if you’re curious but not interested enough to pick this book up yourself.
  7. Different Seasons by Stephen King. 2 stars. This rating feels a bit harsh for only actively hating one of the four novellas in this collection, but these stories are popular among King fans and I had high expectations that were not at all met. This was largely a ‘meh’ read, but I don’t have much positive to say about it beyond finding it ideal for a buddy read. I’ll have a review that looks at each of the four stories coming soon (hopefully).
  8. How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang. 4 stars. Another Booker longlister, this historical fiction of Chinese-American children who find themselves orphans in the dying days of the gold rush is beautifully told. I loved the writing, enjoyed the surprises Zhang folded into the characterization, and found the story compelling despite having to battle my slump to get it. Review coming soon (hopefully).

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.3

Best of month – How Much of These Hills is Gold

Owned books read for the first time – 5 out of 8. I’ve started using the library again, now that they’re open again with pandemic safety rules. It’s nice to be back, even though I can’t really go in and browse like normal. Interloan services are such a boon for me. And I’m still making progress with the unread books on my own shelves.

Year total – 69 books read. I’m two books ahead of schedule for my 100 books in 2020 goal.

Non-review posts included:

My belated Spotlight on Thrillers post that just missed the end of July; and in that vein, I’ll include August’s Spotlight on Translated Literature in this wrap-up as well, even though it also came a little late and went up in early September.

All in all, a decent reading month despite the slump, despite the 2-star reads and the lack of 5-star reads. All of my 4-stars were very strong contenders and even though things have been weird I’ve mostly enjoyed what I read.

I’d like to say that September will be better, that I’ll be more active here going forward, but in all honesty my slump is still in full swing and on top of that I’m about to become so busy with work that I’ll likely be taking an internet break from about mid-September to mid-November. I’ll pop in when I can; I do have a few posts to fit in within that time frame, but I’ll likely fall behind on reviews, and on blog hopping. I’m aiming to catch up on my pending posts before then, but I just can’t make guarantees right now on how many I’ll manage and when exactly they’ll appear. I’ve got two unfinished reviews from August that I’d like to wrap up (mentioned above), a September buddy read post scheduled, a sort-of solicited review scheduled, my September TBR, and an update on the Booker in regards to the upcoming shortlist announcement all on my list of hopeful posts to finish soon.

And speaking of book prizes, the Women’s Prize winner was announced today. I was planning to finish reading the Mantel trilogy beforehand and post my prediction- since it’s coming late, you may or may not believe that I was correct in predicting Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell as this year’s winner, but that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Congrats to Hamnet! You can find my review of Hament here, and my thoughts on the shortlist here in case you missed them. Since Evaristo had already joint-won the Booker and Mantel’s trilogy already had two Booker wins and a third nomination behind it, I thought Hamnet was the only one of the obvious three top contenders for the winning spot that could belong solely to the Women’s Prize, and I thought the judges would like that. Whether my reasoning was correct or not is anybody’s guess. Hamnet was a 4-star read for me, tied with Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, but it is the longlisted book I had the most fun reading so I’m happy with its win. It may not necessarily seem like a literary prize book and I can admit it has some flaws, but I think worse choices could have been made this year so I’ll stand by this. Since The Mirror and The Light is the only Women’s Prize book I haven’t read yet, and because it is also nominated for the 2020 Booker Prize at present, I do still intend to read that, and perhaps I will post some belated final thoughts on the 2020 Women’s Prize at that time.

In the meantime, I’m letting my mood determine what and when I read and blog, so I guess I’ll bookend this post with apologies and say I’m sorry for the state of disorganization my blog will probably be in for the rest of the fall season. I’ve got more Booker reads checked out from the library that I’m trying to get to- I’m currently reading Shuggie Bain, very slowly, but I’m also currently reading Stephenie Meyer’s Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined (the gender swapped version of Twilight) and have a lot of ranty thoughts I’d like to eventually share. But lately it seems I’m lucky if I feel up to reading the back of the cereal box. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with my reading, and I’m not looking for pity here because I feel fine about it, but I’m so sorry that this is affecting my blogging schedule and general level of engagement.

On the plus side, I’ve been writing like crazy. If I can’t get traditionally published, perhaps I’ll serialize my novel in my little corner of the internet here. It’s really coming together, I think. A silver lining.

Enough about me. Tell me what I’ve missed. How was your end of August / beginning of September? Thoughts on the Women’s Prize winner? Noteworthy WIT reads? Favorite Booker longister? Great new releases? Let me know below!

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 7.20

Summer is winding down in my corner of the world by the end of July, but it isn’t quite over yet! I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors this past month tending my garden and soaking up the sun, which meant less reading than I was hoping, but July still ended up being a pretty average reading month for me. I didn’t plan well enough to fit all of the specific titles in that I wanted to from my TBR, but I did participate in a record FOUR buddy reads, all of which I enjoyed! (Actually two of these haven’t completely concluded yet, but more on that below.)

To start off, my TBR for July looked like this:

TBR7.20

From the list, I ended up finishing two and a half titles before the end of the month. This is the aspect of my July reading goals I’m saddest about not completing, because I set my TBR full of Black-authored books that I was excited about- it was (and is) important to me to to read these, and yet I couldn’t work all of them around a surplus of additional commitments (which I do not regret either- my only regret here is double booking my schedule, to be clear!). I will still be reading the books that I didn’t get to in July, hopefully in August but definitely before the end of the year.

My completed reading for the month, by title:

  1. Mother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman – 3 stars. A new release in July, and one I read because I received a physical ARC earlier this year. I was so excited about the premise of this one (a woman steps off a bus with no ID and no memory of her life up to that point), but the threads of this story never quite came together satisfactorily for me. Furthermore, some of the characterization seemed a bit off and detrimental to the book’s feminist themes.
  2. The Wild Unknown Tarot Guidebook by Kim Krans – 4 stars. I won’t do a full review for this one; it’s a guidebook that came with a specific tarot deck, which is something I’m just starting playing around with. I like how artistic and simple this set is, and the lack of human figures on the cards and in the book. As a total newbie I found this a fair place to start; it answered a lot of questions and helped get me going with basic understanding and simple readings. However, this set clearly reveals the artist’s take on tarot rather than impartially conveying full info; even though I think I like with this approach, I’ll need to see other perspectives to know for sure what’s going to work best for me. I’ve got a couple more guidebooks in line to check out but feel free to recommend anything you’ve found useful!
  3. Four Past Midnight by Stephen King – 3 stars. a 900+ page buddy read of four novellas. There were some ups and downs for me with these stories, but on the whole I found this a solid offering of King’s shorter works with each piece very readable and interesting. We have disappearances on a plane mid-flight, a writer with an extreme fear of plagiarism accusations, a library policeman who exacts extreme payment for late returns, and a Polaroid camera that seems to take the same picture over and over no matter where you aim it. Despite the middling rating, I think it will be hard for other collections of King’s short work to top this one for me.
  4. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 3 stars. Unfortunately, another case of loving the premise but finding the execution a poor fit for my personal taste. This is a magical realism story about the Underground Railroad; I loved the use of the magic and the characterization throughout the book, but found it a bit too episodic and theatrically written, also slightly repetitive after having read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad previously.
  5. Africa’s Tarnished Name by Chinua Achebe – 4 stars. A small essay collection that mainly focuses on how Africa and Africans are (now and historically) perceived and represented by outsiders. Africa may have its own internal struggles, but it is hobbled by the enmity placed upon it primarily by European countries that benefited from slave trade. Achebe also talks about problematic elements of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness here.
  6. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado- 4 stars. I buddy read this collection of short stories with Donna (be sure to check out her post here)! There were more hits than misses for me in this book and I had a great time chatting about the stories with Donna, even though we didn’t always agree on favorites! This volume makes a perfect fiction/nonfiction pair with Machado’s memoir, In the Dream House.
  7. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 4 stars. A buddy read with Melanie, and the first time reading Moreno-Garcia for both of us! We had a good chat about this book yesterday and should both have reviews coming up later this week. I enjoyed the read but had some small issues with writing and characterization, and talking with Melanie teased out some more, so expect a mixed review from me, and be sure to check out her post as well on Thursday!
  8. Supper Club by Lara Williams- 4 stars. A Women’s Prize Squad title that’s gotten a lot of buzz from the group lately! I had a lot of fun reading this tale of women reclaiming their space by feasting without restraint. The only downside for me was the book’s failure to explore the theme a little more deeply once it was established. I liked what was on display, but was left wishing for a bit more.
  9. Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown – 4 stars. This YA memoir/magical realism tale is a great place for teens to turn to read about Black childhood and adolescence in America- whether looking for something inspiring to relate to, or a bit of education on others’ experiences. There’s an empowering magical element at use here and a cool formatting trick that allows the narration to shift between scenes midsentence. This might have been a stand-out favorite for me 10 years ago but unfortunately it did feel a little too young and repetitive for me at present. Full review coming soon.

wrapup7.20

Honorable mentions:

  • My fourth buddy read of the month is ongoing; we’re making our way through another set of Stephen King novellas, this collection called Different Seasons. Two stories down, two to go. It’s too soon to say for sure but I suspect this one won’t be as successful for me as Four Past Midnight was.
  • Additionally, I’m also more than halfway through Ibram X. Kendi’s nonfiction memoir/guidebook How to Be An Antiracist; it has a great format and so many important messages (of course), but I’m not finding it quite as life-altering as I’d hoped. I knew nonfiction reading about racism was a long game, and this is cementing that truth for me. (Which is ultimately a good thing, considering how many I bought last month!)
  • I started Home Before Dark recently because I was in the mood for a thriller (and wanted to read one to prep for my Spotlight on Thrillers post which… I also forgot to finish before the end of July, so that’s still forthcoming!) but I’m prioritizing the two titles above and am only about 1/4 of the way through this one. Surprisingly for a Riley Sager read, it’s not really grabbing me yet! However, I remain hopeful, and I’m sure it’ll go fast once I get into it.

 

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.6

Best of month – Her Body and Other Parties

Owned books read for the first time – 9 out of 9. But I bought more books than I could keep up with this month, so my personal TBR stash grew. I will be cutting back on book purchases for a little while, but I will also be returning to the library this month for the first time since early March (which is exciting, but will not help my own-unread shelf). I’ll be following safety guidelines and starting off with Booker longlistees as a trial run- if any issues arise I’ll suspend library use again until it’s safer.

Year total – 61 books read. I’m just a little ahead of schedule for my 100 books in 2020 goal.

 

I’ve linked my review posts for the month to the titles above; non-review posts included:

  • a Top of the TBR list featuring some excellent books I want to read and the fantastic bloggers who’ve put them on my radar
  • a round-up of the Booker longlisted titles for 2020 and my initial thoughts/plans on reading the list

My August TBR (including new releases I’ve got my eye on and plans for Women in Translation month reading) will be coming up soon, along with that belated Spotlight post and my two pending reviews. Looks like it’ll be a busy month for blogging! Stay tuned.

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 6.20

Black lives matter! If you haven’t yet, check out this post where I’ve rounded up and explained a number of ways to help the movement, or just go straight here to do your part.

One of the things I’m doing to try to show my support and (hopefully) affect a change is to increase the number of Black authors whose work I’m buying, reading, and promoting through my book accounts. For this reason, 66% of the books I finished in June were written by Black authors. In July I’m aiming for 50%; yes, that’s a decrease, but the goal is ultimately to read diversely from many races and countries, not to replace the Black-authored works in my reading lists with content from white Americans.

For the record, here was the June TBR I decided on before protests swept America and my reading interests for the immediate future drastically changed:

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As predicted, I didn’t read many of these books within the month, though I will be working them back into my reading schedule soon because they’re related to various reading goals and commitments I’ve made. From the chosen 5, I finished one (My Dark Vanessa) and a half (Four Past Midnight, a buddy read that a friend and I had to postpone for timing, though we’re finding ways to fit it in alongside other reading priorities and have now read 2 of the 4 novellas from the collection).

Instead of sticking to my TBR, I read:

  1. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. 3 stars. This was a May TBR title for me that I did read most of in May and just finished up this month. It’s an urban fantasy novel set on the Yale campus, featuring magical secret societies. I loved a lot about it but this volume felt like groundlaying for future installments; I suspect I’ll like the sequel considerably more, but this was a very solid start. This will be my next review.
  2. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. 5 stars. I put this on my list both because of the synopsis (historical fiction featuring a racist and abusive reformatory school in Florida, based on a real place) and also because I’d enjoyed a previous book from the author. I was even more invested in this newest release from Whitehead than the last, and am eager to keep reading from his backlist!
  3. Lot by Bryan Washington. 4 stars. I picked up this story collection following a mixed race gay man in Houston; the stories also highlight other experiences from minority groups in the area. I liked that it felt both very specific to these characters but at the same time also indicative of the treatment many people in cities across America receive. It’s perhaps not the best starting point if you’re new to fiction about racism and/or LGBTQ+ discrimination; it’s wonderfully subtle.
  4. Real Life by Brandon Taylor. 5 stars. This is a literary fiction campus novel that dissects how racism affects one man’s stint in grad school (studying biochemistry), taking place over the course of a single weekend. I loved Taylor’s writing overall (though it did feel a bit overwritten in places) and that he hones in on the MC’s distinct voice and experience rather than using him as a mouthpiece to speak for an entire group of people (though it is clear that the MC is not alone in his struggle). I suspect this one will end up on my favorites list at the end of the year!
  5. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. 4 stars. A YA utopian/dystopian novel set in a city where justice and equality for all have finally become the norm, with peace disturbed when a creature comes out of a painting, certain that a “monster” is hiding in their midst, and working with trans teen Jam to hunt him down. This was a little young for me, but glorious nonetheless.
  6. Aries by Stella Andromeda. 4 stars. A helpful guide to get me started in astrology. I’ve always been vaguely interested, but the fact that there are a few glaring discrepancies between my personality and my sun sign has made me slow to dig deeper. Now I know there’s more to it (I’m a Gemini moon and Pisces ascendant, for those curious). The imagery is simple but pleasing, the info split pretty evenly between sign-specific insights (this volume is part of a series that includes a book for each sign of the zodiac) and broader info on astrology- how it should be used, what the other signs mean and how they interact, where to find and how to read your chart, etc. This is great for beginners, and lists further resources at the end. I may look into the Gemini and Pisces volumes at some point, but I suspect a lot of the basics will be repeated so I don’t think it’s necessary to read more than one or two of these to get the gist of how they apply to one’s personal life. I probably won’t review this book in full, as it’s pretty self-explanatory and small, so free to ask further in the comments if you have any questions!  (Sort of related, I’ve also been vaguely interested in tarot for a long time and have just started my journey on that; is anyone interested in an experience/review post for specific tarot decks and guidebooks or should I stick to the monthly wrap-ups for those as well??? Comment below if you’re interested, please!)
  7. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. 5 stars. This is the book I was reading (as part of the Women’s Prize Squad longlist!) that I desperately needed a break from and thus picked up Aries. Russell’s fictional account of a fifteen year old girl groomed and sexually abused by a teacher at her private school utterly broke my heart. It’s incredibly written and insightful, and makes for a very emotional and thought-provoking read. I’ll have a review coming soon.
  8. Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi. 4 stars. For a book under 200 pages, this one packed a big punch in the end for me. It took me a little while to warm up to this contemporary-with-a-fabulist-element story about modern oppression and its effects, but the final section left a big impression. It’s a great fictional story and also motivated me to do some further research, so a win-win.
  9. The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde. 5 stars. It’s rare for me to rate a very short book (this one’s around 50 pages) so highly, but Lorde’s writing is stunning and hits right at the truth. There are 5 essays collected in this little volume, some of which I found more impactful than others, but I appreciated them all and would highly recommend Lorde’s work to anyone doing nonfiction reading about racism and feminism. Not to be missed.

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Dedicating June mostly to books by Black authors has been one of the best reading decisions I’ve made all year, as I had a much higher set of ratings last month than I have for most of 2020, and I felt like I was getting a lot out of what I was reading, which is always my goal. Some of these books I’ve been sleeping on for far too long, and I’ll definitely be using this positive experience as encouragement to make my reading more diverse in the future. I’m pretty excited about my line-up for July, as a start!

 

Some Stats:

Average rating – 4.3!

Best of month – I don’t think I can choose. I would say The Master’s Tools may be overall the “best,” although My Dark Vanessa had the most emotional impact and I was most impressed with the style and impact of Real Life, but The Nickel Boys was also pretty much flawless… I think having to choose between FOUR 5-star reads in one month is unprecedented for me, but it’s a wonderful dilemma to have!

Owned books read for the first time – 9 out of 9. Two of them were new purchases this month, but 7 were pulled from my own-unread stacks from previous months. But I also acquired another 9 books in June that I haven’t read yet, so… *shrugs.* My library is in the process of reopening now but there have been a surge of covid cases in my area so the jury’s still out on whether I’ll be borrowing any physical books anytime soon.

Year total – 52 at the end of the month, which had me slightly ahead of my goal to read 100 books this year (the end of June marked the halfway point of 2020- hopefully the second half will be better than the first all around!). But I’ve also finished two more books in July already (that I had started in June but not quite finished) so I’m well on-track with my reading goal.

 

Non-review posts in June included:

 

Something good this month: I received a raspberry plant as a belated birthday gift. It arrived in the mail, looked dry but alive, and after I planted it there were several days it looked like it wasn’t going to make it. In the last few days though, it’s got several areas of new growth and is now thriving! I love raspberries but the ones available in stores are just not the same as the home-grown variety, and they don’t seem to be a common farmer’s market item where I live. I’m so excited to have some fresh berries later this summer!

Tell me something good that happened to you in June!

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 5.20

Black lives matter! If you haven’t yet, check out this post where I’ve rounded up and explained a number of ways to help the movement, or just go straight here to do your part.

One of the things I’m doing to try to show my support and (hopefully) affect a change is to increase the number of Black authors whose work I’m buying, reading, and promoting through my book accounts. Because I want this to be a long-term and sustainable change, I’m going to start catching up on the posts I’ve been holding back, while also continuing to review Black-authored books as I read them. I’ll have a review of Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet coming soon (hopefully tomorrow), and in the meantime I’m sharing my wrap-up for May. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Black books to promote in May (part of the reason I’ve held off on posting it), but it’s time to hold myself accountable and prepare to do better going forward.

My TBR for the month of May looked like this:

tbr5.20

I managed to read two and a half books from this list within May, and wrapped up the third (Ninth House) in June. 3/5 is getting to be a familiar track record! But I did read a few other things over the month as well, including one lingering title from a previous 5-book TBR. Here’s a run-down of what I read in May:

  1. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. 3 stars. I read quite a bit of this Thomas Cromwell historical fiction novel in April and finally finished it up in early May. I spent nearly a full month reading this, which I think is the longest amount of time I’ve spent focusing on a single book (ie not reading other things on the side) in well over a year. I liked the story but wasn’t as excited about it as others seem to be. My hopes for the rest of the trilogy are higher though- I’ll be reviewing all three books together later this summer.
  2. Shanti by Vikram Chandra. 3 stars. The last of the Faber Stories for me, it was quite rewarding to finish this short story reading project after more than a year, even though I didn’t end it on favorite title. I needed a win and this post-WWII story-within-a-story provided. If you’re interested in this set at all, I recommend following the link in the title to my latest batch of reviews, where I rank the full collection and connect to reviews for each story.
  3. Beach Read by Emily Henry. 3 stars. I was hoping to find a little much-needed escapism in this new bookish romance, and fortunately succeeded. I had some petty personal issues with some of the writing choices, but ultimately appreciated the way Henry used a romance format to talk about deeper issues like grief and genre snobbery while still delivering a pretty great romance as well.
  4. The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane. 4 stars. One romance novel was not enough positivity, so I turned to this personal essay about the power of giving books as gifts. It’s a very specific piece that doesn’t echo much of my own experience, but it increased my optimism and served as a nice reminder that there is still some good in the world, which was much needed.
  5. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. 4 stars. I did a buddy read for this one with Gil, who is an incredible blogger that you should definitely check out and follow! This saga of a gay Irishman’s life did not quite live up to expectations for either of us (we were expecting a serious literary work and were a bit put off by the level of comedy involved), but it was an interesting read nonetheless and having someone to joke about the absurd bits with really made the experience for me. 🙂
  6. Bunny by Mona Awad. 4 stars. I finally tried getting into the Women’s Prize Squad list that I helped assemble with some great blogger friends, and it was a good choice. When the world gets you down, you can still trust your friends to recommend great books. This is a sort of dramatic light-fantasy account of an MFA writing program taken to extremes. Full review forthcoming.
  7. Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor. 4 stars. While I still can’t believe I actually managed to stick with Melanie’s read-along schedule of one story per day throughout the entire month of May, I think the structure of it was helpful for me in keeping some balance as the world went steeply downhill. That said, as much as I enjoyed following along with Melanie’s discussion posts and was impressed with O’Connor’s writing, the slurs and racism in here became increasingly painful to read alongside current news. I have lots of thoughts about the content and the timing that I’ll share in a forthcoming review.

wrapup5.20

Two very short books, two buddy reads (and thus outside forces to hold me accountable!), one book I had a solid headstart on, and two attempts at escapism. I read from Ireland, Canada, India, the UK, and the US, but sadly this list is predominantly white. I posted this TBR for June, but have mainly been reading the Black-authored books listed in the final section of the post rather than focusing on the 5 books I had prepped into the post earlier in May. My next wrap-up will look different!

 

Some Stats:

Average rating – 3.6; once again, no 5-star reads this month.

Best of month – Bunny. 

Owned books read for the first time – 7 out of 7. Isolation still in full swing here.

Year total – 43. Goodreads said that at the end of May I was two books ahead of schedule for my goal of 100 books this year.

 

And in case you missed it, my one non-review post last month was the latest installment in my genre series: Spotlight on Fantasy. Head over to the post to talk all things fantasy with me in the comments! Coming up toward the end of June will be my Spotlight on Mystery.

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 4.20

April is usually such a highlight for me- it’s my birthday month!- but this year it was bookended with reading slumps, brought unwelcome post-season snow, and was filled with mostly underwhelming Women’s Prize content. I’m looking forward to moving on as quickly as possible.

My TBR goal for April looked like this:

tbr4.20

In the end I finished three and a half  out of the five. The three books I did read were all 4-star ratings for me, and I am enjoying Wolf Hall, which is the one I’m halfway through. In fairness, I’ve read over 350 pages of it, which feels like it should count for something– it is very long. I’m still planning to read The Glass Hotel very soon. And I finished one of the books from my March TBR that I fell behind on that month. So even though I didn’t finish everything as quickly as I’d hoped, I’m not disappointed with where I’m at.

Here’s what I read this month:

  1. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara – 4 stars. Under other circumstances, this child-narrated mystery of disappearances in an Indian slum might have been a 3-star read for me; the mystery element was a little disappointing. But the narrative voice and themes blended well, and this did turn out to be among the highlights of the Women’s Prize for me this year.
  2. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie – 2 stars. Though the premise was very strong with this one- examining the effects of large-scale disaster on a poor community- this book neglected to follow through on any of the deeper commentary it hinted at.
  3. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – 3 stars. This retelling of the Trojan War through female perspectives is a solid read with some great characters, but unfortunately failed to break free of the original narrative and didn’t bring anything new to the table for me.
  4. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – 4 stars. My favorite read from the Women’s Prize longlist, in terms of enjoyability! Though perhaps not the most impressive on a technical level, I was nevertheless caught up by the prose and characters in this reimagining of a chapter in Shakespeare’s family life.
  5. Queenie by Candince Carty-Wiliams – 3 stars. A young Jamaican-British woman in London hits rock bottom as her love life spirals out of control, dragging everything else down with it. I thought this was a great story, but so surface-level that I’ve barely thought about it at all since turning the last page.
  6. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee – 4 stars. A stellar WWII fiction set in Singapore. The delivery of information is a bit clunky, especially at the end, but I appreciated each of the perspectives and thought the story was done beautifully, with nuance, and didn’t pull any punches. A real win for the Women’s Prize longlist this year, and a shame it didn’t advance.
  7. Actress by Anne Enright – 4 stars. This story of a famous (fictional) British-Irish actress and her daughter didn’t have quite as much emotional effect for me as I’d hoped, and yet I loved Enright’s skill with language and the complex dynamics she created between the two main characters.
  8. The Vagina Bible by Dr. Jen Gunter – 4 stars. I’ve been reading this in bits and pieces since January; it is essentially a nonfiction medical reference work rather than something meant to be read cover to cover for fun, so I needed to take my time with it though I am glad to have seen all of the information at least once. This is an absolutely incredible resource. Review coming soon.

When I finished the Women’s Prize longlist (except for the Mantel trilogy) and the shortlist was announced, it was like hitting a reading wall for me. It wasn’t that I suddenly didn’t want to read, but that I could only manage a few pages at a time. My attention would wander. I would get tired. I would get distracted. I’m battling some sort of mild but persistent head cold which has really wiped me out. It’s been a weird time. I am happy to put this hot mess behind me and start fresh, and hopefully my immune system will do the same. I know it could be so much worse so I’ve been trying to just take a step back instead of complaining. Here’s to hoping May will be better for everyone.

wrapup4.20

(The book turned backward in the photo is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; as I’ve read over half I’m giving it an honorary mention.)

Some Stats:

Average rating – 3.5  This is the same as last month, but somehow it feels worse when there are no five stars in the bunch.

Best of month – I’m calling a tie between Hamnet, my most enjoyable read of the month, and The Vagina Bible, the book whose very existence excited me most.

Owned books read for the first time – 7 out of 8. That’s great! I had one library book to finish up at the beginning of the month, but otherwise I’ve been reading off of my own shelves, and expect it’ll be the same for May. I’m not sure when my library will reopen, but my due dates are now pushed back to June so it doesn’t look promising. I think this is the first time I haven’t been to a library all month in over five years. Now if only I could hold off on buying more books in order to make an actual dent in my TBR stack in the meantime… 6 of the books I read this month were only bought in March!

Year total – 36. Goodreads says I’m three books ahead of schedule for my goal of 100 books this year. Considering the fact that I’ve barely been reading the past two weeks, I’m just relieved I haven’t fallen behind yet.

Even though there’s been plenty to complain about through April, it wasn’t all bad! The Women’s Prize longlist was largely underwhelming this year, but I still had a lot of fun reviewing the books and chatting about them with all of you! Be sure to check out my

if you missed them! Also in response to the Women’s Prize this year, don’t miss the announcement for the alternate longlist I’m participating in:

And last but not least, my Spotlight Series post of the month featured literary fiction for April, and it’s crammed full of recommendations! Be sure to check it out and weigh in if you’re interested!

I’ll have my May TBR coming up next, and hopefully will be getting back into the swing of reading and reviewing soon. If things go as planned, I should have plenty of content coming up this month and hopefully a handful of 5-star reads to review among my posts! I am determined to have a better month. Tell me about a book you’re excited to read in May!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

 

Wrap-up 3.20

Things that happened at the beginning of March already feel like they took place a year ago, so this will be interesting.

To get started, a little refresher on my TBR goal for March:

tbr3.20

As I’m doing for every month this year, I set myself a goal of five specific books to read in March. For the first time in 2020, I did not manage to read all five books. I knew when I started out that this would be a tricky month to plan ahead of time, and I did make a conscious choice about halfway through the month to set this list aside to in order to focus on the Women’s Prize longlist. I managed to finish 3/5 of these books, plus I made progress in The Vagina Bible– I passed the halfway point. I didn’t even start The Heart’s Invisible Furies. These books won’t be appearing in future TBR sets, but I do still expect to read them this year; I might be able to finish The Vagina Bible next month, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one of my 20 in ’20 titles, so if you’re looking for my reviews on those they will still be coming eventually. As it is, I’m satisfied with my 3 out of 5 for now.

Here’s what I have been reading:

  1. The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall – 3 stars. A gothic murder mystery wrapped up in historical fiction, this was a fascinating read. Some of its many elements worked better for me than others and the ending didn’t quite satisfy, but overall this was a good time.
  2. Things in Jars by Jess Kidd – 4 stars. I liked everything about this historical fiction mystery set in Victorian London except its whimsical writing style, which grated considerably for me. I probably would have adored this about ten years ago, but this month 4 stars felt generous.
  3. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – 4 stars. An absolutely stunning memoir of abuse in same-sex relationships. It’s full of important content and incredible writing, a nearly perfect read.
  4. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – 5 stars. This historical fiction novel re-imagines a terrible storm and a bad case of witch trials in a small sea town of northeastern Norway. I was utterly drawn in by the characters and the author handles the subject deftly, making room for new conversations about centuries-old witch hunts.
  5. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – 4 stars. A short family drama following three generations in Brooklyn and the choices that set them apart and bind them together. I would’ve liked a little more from this book but overall had a nice time reading it.
  6. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – 4 stars. Despite a whole lot of infuriating characters, I very much admired what this book set out to do. Even though it didn’t quite come together as well as I’d hoped, I loved the writing and commentary and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the read.
  7. Girl by Edna O’Brien – 2 stars. I picked this one up with low expectations and it still managed to disappoint. It focuses on the kidnapping and abuse of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls, but the perspective and approach left its brutal content feeling sadly flat and ineffective.
  8. Dominicana by Angie Cruz – 3 stars. Featuring a young Dominican Republic girl who enters a loveless marriage in hopes of helping her family immigrate to the United States, this book failed to impress and yet was nevertheless very readable for me.
  9. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo – 3 stars. A family saga in which four daughters aspire to find the level of perfect romance modeled by their parents; a secretly adopted son returns to the fold and shakes things up. I found this such an entertaining read, but wished it had more to offer than fun. Full review coming soon.
  10. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – 3 stars. Another family saga, this one follows two children who were rich for a short time and lived in a fancy house, only to be turned out and faced with poverty. I loved Patchett’s writing but found myself increasingly disappointed with the book’s characters, plot, and structure. Full review coming soon.

wrapup3.20

This was actually a great reading month, if you consider that I barely read for an entire week while on vacation in early March and still managed to finish one more book than my recent average of nine. I feel on the verge of a reading slump but I’m trying to push through at least until I’ve finished with the Women’s Prize. I’m saving some of the titles I’m most looking forward to for last, so hopefully I’ll have better luck soon.

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.5

Best of month – The Mercies

Owned books read for the first time – 2 out of 10. I read so many library books this month, and I won’t even mention how many books I acquired but it’s a lot more than 2- which my own-unread TBR grew considerably this month. But I only have one library book left and am not planning to check out any more (physical copies at least) until the lockdown has ended, so I expect to spend next month (if not longer) crossing quite a few own-unread books off my list and fixing this balance.

Year total – 28. Goodreads says I’m three books ahead of schedule for my goal of 100 books this year. I’m perfectly happy with where I’m at.

 

If you noticed a lot of historical fiction in my reading list above, it’s partially because I was preparing for my Spotlight on Historical Fiction post. Feel free to check it out and weigh in with your own experience with historical fiction! I had fantasy slotted for my genre spotlight post in April, but since I’m planning to stick to the Women’s Prize list for a few more weeks and haven’t been reading a lot of fantasy lately, I’m swapping fantasy with literary fiction. Stay tuned if this is a genre you’re looking forward to chatting about! Fantasy will feature later this year.

Here’s to April being a better month than March! We need it. Stay healthy, stay informed, escape with a good book. Be well, everyone.

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-up 2.20

After a slow start and some surprises in my schedule this month, I ended February on a high note!

From my planned TBR

tbr2.20

I managed to once again read all five books I’d assigned myself for the month! I had a ton of library books to start the month off so I was delayed in getting around to this list, but it all worked out in the end. From the set, I ended up with one 5-star rating, two 4-stars, a 3-star, and a 2-star. Quite a range, and not nearly as successful as January, but it felt rewarding to complete the list anyway, and fortunately I started out with the lowest rating and worked my way up, which is what I would have preferred if I had known what those ratings would be!

In total, here’s what I read in February:

  1. A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne. 2 stars. I picked this up as part of a buddy read and because I’m working my way through some past Women’s Prize winners. Unfortunately, this one was my least favorite so far. Part of my struggle was that the book is described as something it’s not (a murder mystery), and the rest came down to dissatisfaction with the narrator.
  2. All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg. 3 stars. This is not a bad book, just a basic look at problems with the patriarchy, which wasn’t new to me. The “plot” follows a family reuniting around the death of the father, though it’s more of a revelation of each character’s past than a plot. I picked it up because I had seen good reviews and knew it to be shortlisted for the 2020 Tournament of Books.
  3. The Tenant by Katrine Engberg, translated by Tara Chace. 3 stars. A Danish murder mystery (a new release from January) in which the victim is killed in the same way described in a writer’s unpublished manuscript. I found this entertaining and enjoyed the plot, but I’m afraid it won’t turn out to be a memorable thriller for me. I found the characterization a bit weak.
  4. Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. 4 stars. I grabbed this title from BOTM in December, and picked it up this month to help put me in the mood for my Spotlight on Romance post. I think it was the first m/m romance I’ve read, and I adored almost everything about it. Perfect Valentine’s read!
  5. Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown. 3 stars. This is a historical/contemporary book about women’s roles in marriage, in the 1950’s and now. I expected it to have something more substantial to say about modern marriage, and was disappointed to find that it’s more revelatory about the 50’s side of things, which wasn’t new information for me. I loved the authentic quotes about historic marriage at the beginnings of the chapters, but otherwise I just wasn’t the right reader for this book.
  6. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. 4 stars. An unread book from own shelves, a 20 in ’20 pick, and another romance to suit the month. This one follows two sisters in 19th century England as they find themselves unlucky (so they think) in love. It was my least favorite Austen novel so far, but I always love her writing, and spared some room in my review to talk about the film as well, which is excellent!
  7. Weather by Jenny Offill. 3 stars. I picked this up as a new release this month, and knowing it’s also eligible for the Women’s Prize list, which will be announced imminently(!). I adored the writing and the snappy (mostly depressing) observations about present society, but wasn’t drawn in by the narrative. Full review coming soon.
  8. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. 5 stars. I should’ve picked this book up last year when it first caught my interest, because I absolutely loved it. Shortlisted for the National Book Award and eligible for the Women’s Prize longlist, I think this one’s fully deserving of the recognition it’s been receiving. It focuses on a Russian community’s response to the disappearance of two young girls. It’s a quiet novel, but stunning. Full review coming soon.
  9. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. 5 stars. A final romance to end the month, and one more from my 20 in ’20 list. Also another previous Women’s Prize winner! I just barely finished this one before the end of February, and if it hadn’t been so good I probably wouldn’t have managed! This is a mythological m/m romance set in Trojan War times, and it absolutely ripped my heart out. Full review coming soon.

Two wrap-up pictures this month (and they don’t quite match, because I had to take them on different days, sorry, hopefully this doesn’t bother anyone but me); I had so many library books in the beginning of the month that I returned before the end, before I knew what else I would manage to read. But otherwise, a satisfactory month. Two 5-star reads that saved it at the end!

Some stats:

Average rating – 4.0 , can’t complain!

Best of month – I… cannot decide. Disappearing Earth was a slow delight that I wanted to savor; it’s well written and I enjoyed every single chapter and character. The Song of Achilles was an emotional marathon of a read that hit all the highs and lows and I couldn’t put it down. I can’t rate one over the other.

Owned books read for the first time – 4 out of 9. I will be adjusting my library usage because 5 books at a time turned out to be a little more than I wanted. But even with so many checkouts, I only acquired 3 books this month (none of which I’ve managed to read yet, sadly); anyway, I crossed off more unread titles from my own-unread TBR than I added, so I’m still happy with this.

Year total – 18. I’m two books ahead with my Goodreads goal (100 books in 2020), and I managed to read just as many books as in January, despite the fact that Jan lasts ten years and Feb lasts ten seconds. I’m happy with this as well!

 

A couple of non-review posts from this month:

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 1.20

January. What a month to start the year! To be honest, I’ve been at a mental and emotional low for a few weeks, for reasons and no reasons. I think it’s affecting my reading speed, but not my reading experiences, and I think that every month I tend to read a little less than I expect going in so it’s hardly worth dwelling on here. Other than feeling a bit off, it has actually been a great reading month, as far as content! My goal for the year is to read more books that I will enjoy (as opposed to books that I’m generally happier to have read than to have enjoyed reading), which of course is hard to judge in advance, but it’s going well!

First off, I’m using a new TBR system again this year, where I focus on 5 specific books I want to read that count toward goals/commitments, and then fill in the rest of my reading time with whatever I please. This was my selection for January:

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…and I’m happy to say I’m off to a good start, because I’ve completed the list this month! Three of these were 5-star reads for me, and the other 2 were 4-stars. Here’s a little breakdown of my reading this month:

  1. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi – 5 stars. Though this story got off to a rough start for me, I ended up loving the unique structure and meta element of this book, and felt it worked so well with the book’s themes of sexual abuse of students from teachers/mentors. I can see why it won the 2019 National Book Award for fiction!
  2. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder – 3 stars. I loved the magical premise of forgetting / losing memories of objects, and the themes of conformity vs individuality certainly made an impression. But ultimately I was disappointed this one didn’t dig a little deeper into its magical element, and I felt like opportunities were missed in unanswered questions.
  3. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier – 4 stars. I read this along with Melanie! It features a young Englishman and his enchanting cousin who may or may not be a murderess. I couldn’t quite sympathize with the male narrator, but loved the ambiguity of the plot and nuance of characterization. I also watched the 2017 film adaptation this month, and for a movie that follows the story fairly closely, I was surprised how disappointed I was with basically every aspect of the film, right from the beginning!
  4. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy – 5 stars. In an experience similar to that of Trust Exercise, I wasn’t sold on this one until the structural shift halfway through the book. It ended up being an emotional and convincing read that plays with time and intent very well! A great end to my 2019 Booker Prize journey.
  5. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey – 3 stars. I loved the messages I pulled from this read about the quiet ubiquity and internalization of abuse and manipulation women suffer at the hands of men, but the layout of each chapter as a different conversation/story from the narrator’s life never quite worked for me the way it seemed like it should’ve.
  6. The Martian by Andy Weir – 4 stars. This is a modern sci-fi staple that I’m several years late with, but have finally picked up and fully agree with the positive reviews! The narrative POV didn’t work quite as well for me as I’d expected after watching the film several years ago, but I still immensely enjoyed this interplanetary survival story, science and all.
  7. Long Bright River by Liz Moore – 5 stars. My BOTM selection from December, and an anticipated 2020 release, I had such a good time with this mystery about the opioid epidemic. It’s not flawless, and it might over time get bumped down to a 4-star rating for me, but I was completely sucked in by the complicated family dynamic and the challenges that come with addiction. Review to come.
  8. All Systems Red by Martha Wells – 5 stars. I’ve seen sci-fi readers raving about this novella, and now I understand why. I picked this up one evening out of curiosity, just intending to read the first page or so and get a feel for when I might like to read it, and ended up finishing it the same night. I loved the personality of this part-robot SecUnit whose job is to protect humans and whose passion is avoiding all contact to watch serial television. Review to come.
  9. Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford – 4 stars. This was actually close to a 3-star for me simply because again, I was left with a lot of unanswered questions and vague ideas where I tend to like more concrete magical elements and directly implied messages, but the themes I drew from this brief plot really made an impact, and I adored the writing style. Such a weird, wonderful little book. Review to come.

Honorable mention: I (finally) started reading Dr. Jen Gunter’s The Vagina Bible this month as well, but it’s a bit textbookish so I’m fine with taking it slowly and wasn’t trying to finish it this month. I really love that this exists and am looking forward to reviewing. Maybe February! …Maybe March.

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All in all, a quality reading month. I read 4 library books, 2 BOTM selections from my unread shelf, a couple of 2019 releases I was sad to miss last year, 3 2020 releases, a buddy read, a translation, and a couple of backlisters I’d been meaning to get to for ages. And ratings were so high!

Some stats:

Average rating – 4.2!

Best of month – Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Owned books read for the first time – 5. Out of 9. More than half! And I only acquired 3 books this month, one of which I’d already read and simply received a free copy to own, one of which I read this month, and the last of which I’m planning to read in February. This is a great start to the year for my own-unread TBR! Hopefully it’s the start of a longer trend.

Year total – 9. I’m on track for my Goodreads goal of 100. Even though it’s a slightly lower number than I was hoping for in the longest month of the year, it’s a great number for me. Yay!

 

Since I’m mentioning anticipated releases in all of my TBR posts this year (February’s list coming soon), I’d also like to note here that I read 3/12 of my featured releases for January within the month. I have library holds on a few others that have recently come available, and I’ve crossed two books off of my TBR entirely, at least for now. The two I’m no longer interested in are: Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt, which has been the subject of much recent controversy; Hannah sums up perfectly in this post! The other is Raymond Fleishman’s How Quickly She Disappears, which I could end up changing my mind about but for now Naty’s review post has convinced me this isn’t what I’m looking for at the moment.

 

And a few of the non-review posts I’ve shared this month, in case you missed them!

 

Is the reading year off to a good start for you? Let me know below!

 

The Literary Elephant