Category Archives: Wrap-ups

Wrap-Up 6.19

Somehow, apparently, the year is half over. I’m not even sure what to say about that, so we’ll just move on.

Here’s what I read in June:

  1. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang. 3 stars. This was a quick, fun romance that didn’t quite impress me the way that Hoang’s debut, The Kiss Quotient, did. I loved the autism rep, but the plot and characterization didn’t win me over. Still, I finished this sequel in just two days and had a good time with it, which seemed like a good start to the month.
  2. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. 4 stars. A delightfully eerie novella that I loved both in plot and theme. This was atmospheric and impactful and so short that I read it in a single evening. The only aspect I didn’t like was the child’s dialogue, which I found a bit repetitive and intrusive. Still, highly recommend if you like a good literary puzzle.
  3. The Last by Hanna Jameson. 5 stars. This genre-crossing apocalyptic murder mystery was not without its flaws, but never failed for an instant to engage and entertain me. I found it so thought-provoking and unique, and untraditional thrillers like this seem to be doing wonders for me lately.
  4. The Killer Across the Table by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. 3 stars. Here was one of my nonfiction choices for this month, a true crime book about former FBI agent Douglas and the insight he gained from interviewing serial killers. I appreciated the approach that the writers took with the topic, and found the content fascinating. The emotionless tone of the writing did not work for me as well, and some sections of the book seemed stronger than others. A worthwhile read, but I think I would’ve had a better experience starting with the author duo’s first book rather than this most recent title.
  5. Little Darlings by Melanie Golding. 3 stars. Review coming in the next day or two. I loved the visceral, evocative writing of this book and the premise was off to a great start. But ultimately, I felt that the ending took a bit of a left turn from the themes the book seemed to be tackling up to that point, and I had a lot of issues with characterization. Even so, this was entertaining and I would probably take another chance on this author in the future.
  6. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. 4 stars. Another nonfiction work. Mini-review probably coming soon. I actually read the titular piece, “A Room of One’s Own,” back in December in another edition, which I rated 4 stars on its own. I bought this copy because I liked that essay enough to want to own it, without realizing that this edition also contained a second piece, “Three Guineas.” So this month I only read “Three Guineas,” which I also appreciated. Ultimately, I think these two pieces are better read for historical background than modern perspective; the points being made are still relevant, but not as problematic as they were in the 1920s and 30s, when these pieces were written. Even so, no one makes an argument quite like Woolf, and I’m glad to have read both of these pieces.

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I believe 6 books in a month is the lowest amount of completed books I’ve had to show for any month this year, but the main reason June looks slow for me is that I’ve been reading Stephen King’s The Stand all month, on the side. (The book turned backwards in my photo- I’ve read to the point where the tabs stop.) I could have read around three other books in the time I spent on those thousand pages, which does put me right on track with my average monthly reading for the year, so I’m actually not any farther behind than usual. It just looks/feels that way.

I returned my three library books earlier in the month, so they’re not pictured.

June has been the first month all year that I haven’t read any short stories. Reading short stories was one of my goals for 2019, so that’s a bit disappointing to have missed this month, but I’ve done well enough so far that I don’t mind having taken one month off. Hopefully I’ll manage to pick up some short stories in July- I have plenty to choose from!

Additionally, a goal I set for myself this summer is to incorporate more nonfiction into my regular reading. I was hoping to complete 3 titles this month, but managed only 2, one of which was a single essay. But even so, 2/6 titles is an increase in nonfiction reading for me, so not a total loss. I would say I’m more interested in nonfiction than ever, and I do have more titles lined up for July, so… success?

Some Stats:

  • Average rating – 3.67
  • Best of month – It’s a tie between The Last and Fever Dream. I know I rated them differently, based on immediate enjoyability, but both left strong impressions and I know they will stick with me for a long time, each in their own way.
  • Worst of monthThe Bride Test. This wasn’t a truly awful book, but I was really hoping it would be a step up from Hoang’s last novel and for me it wasn’t. Also I just don’t get along with romance novels very often, so I’d like to clarify that this was my least favorite read of the month, not the worst in any objective way.
  • Books hauled – 8.
  • Owned books read for the first time – Only 3. The rest were library checkouts. Once again, I added more books to my owned-unread TBR than I managed to clear off.
  • Year Total – 68. My Goodreads goal for the year is set at 100, which feels comfortably manageable at this halfway point.
  • June TBR tally – Below I’ve posted the photo of my May book haul / “official” June TBR stack. From the stack of 7, I read only 3. But unofficially, the other three books I read were also planned for the month, so I’m happy with what I read and didn’t deviate by picking up anything completely irrelevant to my goals.

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And that’s June, wrapped. I was thrilled to find a 5-star read this month, and think my reading is finally (slowly) starting to turn around for the better! I’m currently reading Joanne Ramos’s The Farm, which I’m finding fascinating so far, as well as The Stand. 

I hope everyone has a great July ahead!

 

The Literary Elephant

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Wrap-Up 5.19

May was such a strange reading month for me. It went both better than expected and not quite as well as I’d hoped. It seemed like May lasted about 5 minutes, but apparently that’s just the way life is now. At least the weather is finally becoming enjoyable!

Books I finished this month:

  1. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin. 4 stars. This is the main reason for my strange reading in May- I spent just over two weeks reading nothing but this 1000+ page beast, the third book in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. It was enjoyable being back in this world and this felt like a worthy addition to the set, but also I did start to feel like it would never end and I would be reading this until I died. I’ve got a few more long books queued up for this summer though, so this was good practice. The final third of this book was where the plot really picked up, and I definitely prefer a slow beginning with a  strong ending rather than the other way around, so this mostly worked well for me.
  2. Women Talking by Miriam Toews. 4 stars. (I love Martin’s characters and world-building, but after two weeks in Westeros I needed some feminism.) This is a title I’ve been highly anticipating for months, and it was a haunting joy. There are some stylistic choices here that will probably not please everyone, but I thought it all fit together. It’s a short read that packed just enough punch and wasn’t too heavy.
  3. Women & Power by Mary Beard. 4 stars. I didn’t post a full review for this book and I don’t intend to. It’s a collection of two lectures/essays about women’s voices (literally the sound of their voices) and their current standing in governmental/power positions. I loved the way Beard tied her modern standpoints back to Greek and Roman history, and I agreed with her viewpoints overall. But I think there were places it seemed obvious that these were originally speeches, and hadn’t been thoroughly adapted for a wider reading audience; there were details that felt rushed past that I wished for more expansion on, and others that felt catered to a specific audience that I was perhaps not a member of. It felt rather like Beard was trying to answer questions that I hadn’t asked? It’s possible I went into this too blindly. It paired well with Women Talking in the moment that I needed some feminism, but (and I don’t mean this in a discouraging way if you want to pick this up, because I did find it worthwhile and enjoyable) I don’t know who I would ever recommend this to. It’s a very specific sort of book whose reception I think will depend a lot on what the reader is looking for, and why.
  4. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. 3 stars. This was my BOTM selection from April. I reeeeally loved this in the first twenty pages, and then I made a guess as to who the real culprit of the central mystery was, and grew increasingly bored as every clue pointed toward that guess being correct. It’s exciting to figure out whodunnit, in theory, but reading 300 pages for the reveal that I knew was coming just wasn’t doing it for me. Other than that setback, I loved everything about this book, and I do highly recommend it. There’s a ton of meaningful commentary about immigration and the struggles involved in parenting special needs children, as well as flaws in the US legal system. I just wish it hadn’t been formatted as a mystery.
  5. Cosmopolitan by Akhil Sharma. 3 stars. This is a short story from the Faber Stories collection about an elderly man whose wife and grown daughter have moved away from; he fixates on his neighbor. I thought it was fine, but it’s not a favorite from the collection. More thoughts will be coming soon in another exciting round of Faber Stories mini-reviews.
  6. The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Mötley Crüe and Neil Strauss. 4 stars. This is not my usual type of reading material but I have many, many thoughts to share about it in a review that should be up later this week. At a glance, I think these people are victims of their circumstances who act in appallingly abhorrent ways; I found them unlikeable as “characters” but was engrossed in their story anyway, flabbergasted that the world could allow- even encourage!- such debauchery to exist.
  7. Dante and the Lobster by Samuel Beckett. 3 stars. Another Faber Story that’ll appear in my upcoming mini-reviews. This one features a man going about his ordinary afternoon routine, and experiencing a shock at the end. I appreciated the strangeness of this one, but again, not a personal favorite.
  8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 4 stars. This was a reread I wanted to fit in before wrapping up my time with the Women’s Prize shortlist and predicting winner. I originally read this novel over a year ago and gave it 4 stars, but over time had lowered my rating and overall opinions because my criticisms stuck with me better than my appreciations. Here are the links to my original review and my updated review, for anyone curious. In short, I’ll simply say that this novel is a commendable effort that just didn’t quite fit what I wanted it to be; there’s a lot to appreciate about it, but I found it difficult to in the characters for a number of reasons.
  9. The Lydia Steptoe Stories by Djuna Barnes. 4 stars. The last of this month’s Faber Stories, and my favorite of the bunch. This is actually a set of three tiny short stories from the early 1920s, and I enjoyed all of them. Each features a character meant to challenge gender and/or sexuality “norms,” generally after something awkward happens to them. They’re written as diary entries. More info coming up in my mini-reviews.

 

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Some Stats:

  • Average rating – 3.7, and I’m so bummed that I didn’t have a single 5-star read this month. I don’t think I’ve actually read a 5-star novel since Pachinko in February. I hope that will change in June!
  • Best of month – Storm of Swords. Followed closely by Women Talking.
  • Worst of month – Probably Cosmopolitan, just because it was bland? Nothing I read was truly bad, and even my lowest rated novel, Miracle Creek, was objectively good- I just didn’t have a great experience with it.
  • Books hauled – 11. I’ve read 4 and a half already, which leaves 6 and a half on my TBR for June.
  • Owned books read for the first time – 5 or 6, depending on whether you count rereading An American Marriage in a new, recently-bought copy as “reading for the first time.” My total also includes one book bought prior to 2019 (Storm of Swords), one from my May TBR, and a few that would have ended up on my June TBR if I hadn’t gotten to them early.
  • May TBR tally – 1/1! For the first time all year, I read all of the books acquired in a month by the end of the following month! Obviously it helped that there was only one book I bought in April that I hadn’t read before May (Miracle Creek). I’m still pleased.
  • Year total – 62 books. My Goodreads goal for the year is 100, which I’m well on my way toward. I feel a bit like I’ve been cheating with all the Faber Stories counting toward this tally even though they’re so small. But I’m planning to balance it out with some more long books this summer, so it is what it is. I’m not planning to raise my goal, because I think 100 is a realistic number for me, and I like the room that I have right now to spend two weeks on one book like I did with Storm of Swords. Low key I’d like to beat my record from last year, which was 118, but it’s casual.

I think that’s everything I have to say about May. It was a weird month, but onward and upward!

Did you have any 5-star reads this month?

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Wrap-Up 4.19

April was a pretty terrible month for me all around, though it did have a few good moments I don’t want to overlook. I had a great birthday, I got to see a friend that I haven’t in a while, and I did manage to finish reading the Women’s Prize longlist by the deadline I set for myself. But I also hit a major reading slump (that I’m still struggling to pull out of), I was hardly blogging, the Women’s Prize shortlist didn’t turn out the way I was hoping, and I’ve just been feeling pretty low. So I’m looking forward to a new month and a fresh start, but first let’s wrap April.

Books I finished reading:

  1. The Shielding of Mrs Forbes by Alan Bennett. 5 stars. A short story from the Faber Stories collection, my favorite of these little books so far. I love a good tale of irony, and this one has that in spades. This is the story of a man having an affair with a male lover, the secret at the heart of a family who are all keeping different sides of the same truth from each other.
  2. Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine by Thom Jones. 3 stars. I didn’t realize it when I picked it up, but this turned out to be a reread, possibly from my high school days. I appreciated the main character’s growth throughout the story, but I just wasn’t hooked by the boxing aspect, so a mixed bag. My mini-reviews for these first two Faber Stories can be found here.
  3. Early Riser by Jasper Fforde. 3 stars. I started this (Feb.) BOTM selection at the end of March, but it turned out to be a rather slow read with a lot of terminology and world-specific concepts that took me about a week to finish. This one’s set in a hibernating society upset by a case of viral dreams. It’s so rich and complex, but it wasn’t quite able to convince me that the narrator was ever in danger. Most interestingly, the narrator’s gender is left up to the reader.
  4. Ordinary People by Diana Evans. 3 stars. A Women’s Prize longlister about two struggling relationships (one a marriage, one not quite) between black couples with young children in London. This one also has a small supernatural element. I thought Evans’ prose was wonderful, but overall this one just didn’t excite me much. Certainly a worthwhile book, just a bit too quiet for my personal preference.
  5. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott. 3 stars. This is a massive, semi-biographical (longlisted) novel about Truman Capote’s downfall, which I found highly entertaining for the first half and then I started to realize it wasn’t going to be doing anything more or different than it had been in the first 250 pages. I found all of the characters interesting (though rather unlikable), but I was just struggling to stay focused and invested through nearly 500 pages of more-of-the-same.
  6. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. 4 stars. This is another longlisted book that felt longer than it really was, and after Swan Song I really struggled with this one at first even as I admired Luiselli’s prowess. This story is about a family taking a road trip and recording sounds, pulling present and past US horrors into one cohesive narrative. It’s a very skilled work that nevertheless seemed a bit dull, until a narrative shift at the halfway point completely won me over.
  7. Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton. 3 stars. My final Women’s Prize longlist read, and I finished it just in time. This one was a mix of pros and cons for me, but ultimately a quick, engaging read that came as a relief after the heftier titles I’d just finished. This one’s a historical fiction about a freed slave woman recounting her life experiences to her dying son. That’s oversimplifying of course; I did find this a unique and worthwhile read that brings something new to Civil War-era lit.
  8. An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah. 3 stars. Another from the Faber Stories collection. I’ll have another set of mini-reviews for these coming up soon. For now I’ll say that this one features a poverty-stricken temporary town in Zimbabwe, and in particular a woman with an untreated mental illness who becomes pregnant. I found it intriguing but ultimately felt that it was missing something.
  9. A Country Funeral by John McGahern. 3 stars. I wavered between 3 and 4 stars for this one, as it seemed very readable and engaging (and I like reading about death) but again, it just didn’t impress me as much as other Faber Stories have. This one depicts three brothers who travel together for their uncle’s funeral, an event that shapes each of their perspectives about their own lives.

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Nine books doesn’t sound like a bad total- I know plenty of people read less and that’s perfectly fine. It’s no numbers contest. But I do think it’s my lowest monthly tally so far this year, and four of these are single short stories, which I wouldn’t count as “books” except for the fact that Goodreads does and it’s easier to stay organized with my stats if I agree with Goodreads. I think I did pretty well about sticking to my top priorities for April though- four of these were Women’s Prize books (which enabled me to complete the longlist before the shortlist announcement), one was a BOTM book (when I fall behind on these they stack up fast), and the remaining four were own-unread books from my April TBR (even if they were only short stories).

Some Stats:

  • Average rating – 3.3, a bit low for me.
  • Best of month – Lost Children Archive or The Shielding of Mrs Forbes – the latter was much more fun but the former will have a more lasting impact.
  • Worst of month – I can’t choose. Objectively, maybe Swan Song? But I did quite enjoy the first half, so naming it feels rather disingenuous. Honestly none of these 3-star reads really stands out as anything that’ll particularly haunt me, they were all okay.
  • Books hauled 4, but only one that I haven’t already read. This was a major success after three months of buying too many books.
  • Owned books read for the first time – 5. For the first time all year, this means I eliminated more books from my own-unread TBR shelf than I added throughout the month! Yay!
  • Year total – 51. My Goodreads goal for the year is 100 books, so I’m well on track. I’m not considering increasing my goal at present, but knowing I’m ahead makes it easier to accept months like this when I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, and it also makes it easier to decide to read thick books that’ll take me longer to read, which I did in April and am planning also for May.
  • April TBR tally 6/10. I was really hoping to read my entire March book haul in April, but this slump really knocked me out of the running. I’ve already read one more of the remaining books (another Faber Story, so it wasn’t difficult) at the start of May. And since my May TBR officially consists of only one book, I think I might be looking ahead at my first TBR victory of the year (finally)…

Have you read any of these books, or are you planning to? Do you have any non-reading advice for escaping a slump/funk?

 

The Literary Elephant

Women’s Prize 2019: Longlist Wrap-Up & Shortlist Prediction

I didn’t post my initial reaction to this year’s Women’s Prize longlist or my plans to read it in its entirety, but I have been slowly working through it. I’ve now officially finished reading the longlist and am looking forward (with much excitement!) to Monday’s shortlist announcement. Without further ado…

The Longlist

When the Women’s Prize 2019 longlist was announced on March 4, I was shocked to discover that I had already read nine (!) of the sixteen titles. I read seven of them in 2018, up to a year prior to the announcement, and two in early 2019.

Having already read over half of the list, I decided to try finishing the longlist before the shortlist announcement. I didn’t declare this intent very loudly because I wasn’t entirely sure it would happen (the only other longlist I’ve read took me about six months to complete. I have a long-standing habit of jumping around genres and reading commitments).

Of the remaining seven, I was familiar with only two titles (Number One Chinese Restaurant and Lost Children Archive) at the time of the longlist announcement. But I was game for the rest.

At this point, I have read all sixteen books, but I have one left to review (Remembered). I wanted to prioritize this overview/prediction post as many hours as possible before the shortlist announcement.
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I’ve arranged the photos above in the order that I read the longlist. Below, I’m listing each of the titles in order of my personal preference, from most to least favorite. Here’s how the longlist turned out for me (titles linked to my full reviews):

  1. Milkman by Anna Burns, 5 stars
  2. The Pisces by Melissa Broder, 5 stars
  3. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, 5 stars
  4. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, 5 stars
  5. Normal People by Sally Rooney, 4 stars
  6. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, 5 stars
  7. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, 4 stars
  8. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn, 4 stars
  9. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, 4 stars
  10. Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton, 3 stars
  11. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, 3 stars
  12. Circe by Madeline Miller, 3 stars
  13. Ordinary People by Diana Evans, 3 stars
  14. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, 3 stars
  15. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, 2 stars
  16. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden, 2 stars

(Yes, there’s a 4-star in the midst of the 5-stars, that’s not a mistake. Normal People felt like a 5-star book based on the literary merit I saw in it and its ability to bring out all sorts of emotions during my read, but I rate based on enjoyability and it resonated with me so deeply at one point that it made me very uncomfortable, which I acknowledged with a 4-star rating. It still has a solid place among my favorites.)

There were more extreme highs and lows for me in this longlist than in the last longlist I read, the 2018 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Unfortunately, most of my top favorites came from the nine titles I read before the longlist announcement, and most of my least favorites came from the titles I read most recently. I’m usually a save-the-best-for-last type, so I would not have chosen to read them in this order if I’d had more control over it. But overall, I do think this is a very strong list and almost everything felt worth my while. I don’t anticipate reading the entire longlist every year, and with that in mind I do feel at the end that this was a great year for me to read every title.

One of the most interesting aspects of this particular longlist is the way that so many of the titles felt linked to others from the list. I enjoyed piecing together so many ways in which these titles seemed to be speaking to each other. Someone more savvy with graphics might have been able to map this out better, but I’m simply going to list some of the similarities I encountered:

  • Circe and The Silence of the Girls and The Pisces: retelling Greek myth elements
  • The Silence of the Girls and Circe and Swan Song: giving voice to familiar women history has regarded unfairly (perhaps)
  • Ghost Wall and Lost Children Archive: (inadvertently?) leading one’s children astray
  • Freshwater and The Pisces: challenging gender norms, examining mental health
  • Milkman and Bottled Goods: exploring the consequences of rumor in a time of governmental conflict
  • Number One Chinese Restaurant and My Sister, the Serial Killer: exploring hurtful/helpful sibling relationships
  • Normal People and Ordinary People: elevating the everyday
  • Ordinary People and Swan Song and Remembered: questioning and pushing the bounds of hauntings/ghosts
  • Ordinary People and An American Marriage: depicting black relationships in the modern world
  • Praise Song for the Butterflies and Remembered and Lost Children Archive: raising awareness of historical (and recent) societal wrongs
  • Remembered and An American Marriage: depicting racial injustice

There are probably many connections I’ve missed here, as there seem to be SO MANY thematic similarities in this list and I waited too long to start jotting them down. It’s so interesting to consider how the conversations these books seem to encourage are both related to one another and also tangential to each other. But sadly, some of these pairings seem so closely tied that I find it unlikely that both titles would pass on to the shortlist. (For instance, does anyone expect to find TWO Greek retelling books advance?) It bothers me that these similarities might limit the shortlist, but even in my own predictions I’ve taken such considerations into account.

Also taken into account: the fact that some of these titles don’t need the publicity that a win would grant them. (For instance, Milkman and Normal People have already received quite a bit of buzz, largely due to their places on the Man Booker 2018 list, which Milkman went on to win.) Then there’s the fact that this longlist is nicely balanced as far as both topics covered and countries represented, which I’m sure the judges will want to reflect in the shortlist as well. And so my six favorites from the ranks above are not actually my predicted contenders for the shortlist.

The Shortlist

The books I hope (and might more realistically expect) to see advance are as follows:

  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney
  • Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
  • The Pisces by Melissa Broder
  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Some additional thoughts- I would not mind Milkman advancing to the shortlist, though I rather hope it doesn’t win for the mere fact that it is already a prize winner and there are other great contenders here. I would not mind seeing My Sister, the Serial Killer advance, though I think Ghost Wall is the stronger novella and I doubt more than one of the three novellas will advance. Based on popularity in other reviews, I would not be entirely surprised to see Swan Song, Circe, or Number One Chinese Restaurant advance, though personally I hope not to see that happen.

If shortlisted, I will probably reread: Ghost WallThe Pisces, and/or Freshwater in the lead-up to the winner announcement.

The Winner

And finally, I’m going to predict a winner. I’m actually going to predict two winners at this point, though between the shortlist and winner reveals I’ll limit myself to endorsing only one of the six possibilities. But as we’re still at sixteen contenders for the moment, I’ll say that:

  1. The title I most want to see win at this point is Freshwater
  2. But the title I think is actually most likely to win, based on its general reception and strong merit, is Lost Children Archive.

I could be completely wrong about all of these guesses. In fact, I probably am. I’ve never predicted a shortlist or prize winner before, so I feel rather unqualified though I am having a lot of fun pondering the choices!

Speaking of fun, I’ve been loving seeing so many differing opinions and reviews of these longlisted titles! Literary prizes are a great way to join in with a large group of readers who are all talking about the same books at the same time. And I’d love to talk about theories and preferences even more in the comments below, so if you’ve read any of these titles, please let me know what you thought, and what you hope will happen next!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

 

 

Wrap-Up 3.19

March has been such a mixed reading month for me. Ratings all across the board, a high number of books read but very few from my March TBR. I read way more library books than usual, so I’m looking at my little wrap-up stack of the books still in my possession and it looks pretty sad, even though the written list looks good. All in all, I suppose March just felt like a second January, albeit with slightly better weather- it just went on and on and there’s basically no rhyme or reason to anything I’ve accomplished. I suppose I’ve just felt a bit unfocused.

Finished Books:

(Titles link to my full reviews, with a few exceptions mentioned below.)

  1. The Victim by P. D. James. 3 stars. A single short story from the Faber Stories collection. The first of several that I read this month; these are so short that they hardly seem to count, but Goodreads counts them so here we are. I loved how carefully this one was constructed, but didn’t find the murder scheme as shocking or innovative as I had hoped.
  2. The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. 5 stars. A new release novella that I read in one evening and loved. The commentary made up for a bit of predictability in the plotting, and it was just so engrossing and unique that it completely hooked me.
  3. Mrs Fox by Sarah Hall. 4 stars. A Faber Story, one of my favorites from the handful I’ve read so far. Great themes.
  4. A River in Egypt by David Means. 3 stars. Another Faber Story, one of my least favorites so far. The writing simply wasn’t to my reading taste. (This link will take you to my most recent Faber Story mini-reviews for more detailed thoughts on each.)
  5. No Exit by Taylor Adams. 3 stars. A distinctly winter thriller. I actually fit this one in over the last blizzard weekend of the year, so it still felt appropriate. This one had its ups and downs. I thought the plot and structure were done well, but didn’t like the way some of the details (especially one of the “torture” moments) were handled, and overall believability was a bit of an issue for me. But ultimately, this seemed unlike other thrillers so I’m glad I gave it a chance.
  6. Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond. 3 stars. I cannot adequately express my excitement for the upcoming Stranger Things season 3. I picked this up in an attempt to fill the void and found it generally interesting but nowhere near as compelling and creepy as the TV series.
  7. Color and Light by Sally Rooney. 5 stars. This is a short story I read online which has apparently vanished from Goodreads entirely but I’m counting it anyway. I think this is the only short story that I’ve read this year that I’ve rated 5 stars, but it’s stuck with me. I found some very resonant lines in this one. I believe it’s still available through The New Yorker so I’ll link it here.
  8. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li. 2 stars. The first Women’s Prize novel that I picked up after the longlist announcement earlier in March. This might have been a 3-star read if I had managed my expectations better, but I’m standing by my first impression that this was a solid idea that just never quite lived up to its potential.
  9. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. 4 stars. I read this to discuss it with a friend who was rereading this month, and I fell a bit in love with it. I have never seen so many Beatles songs referenced in one work, and some of the commentary on mental health was wonderful. It didn’t quite make the cut as a favorite, but I’m sure I’ll always remember it fondly and probably reread it someday as well.
  10. Looker by Laura Sims. 3 stars. A thriller that’s not quite a thriller- more of an intense, psychological character study. I did find this short novel compelling and fun to read, but ultimately didn’t agree with some of the points it seemed to be making or the way it went about them.
  11. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden. 2 stars. Another Women’s Prize book- this one was also disappointing, mainly because of stylistic choices in the execution of what should have been a very moving premise.
  12. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. 4 stars. Somehow even though I had been anticipating this one for months and seeing many great reviews in the lead-up to publication, I didn’t expect to love this one quite as much as I did. I still have not stopped listening to 70s/80s rock.
  13. 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne. 2 stars. I really liked The Hating Game (by the same author) but this one felt very unpolished and messy.
  14. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn. 4 stars. From the Women’s Prize longlist. Fortunately, in this one, I did find a new-to-me title that I expect will leave a good, lasting impression. I loved the flash format and the way all of these little chapters fit into a larger narrative, and the magical realism element gave this historical backdrop (70s communist Romania) an interesting spin without overwhelming the story. I’ll have more thoughts in a full review tomorrow, if life goes as planned.
  15. Terrific Mother by Lorrie Moore. 3 stars. Another Faber Story. I’ll have another set of mini-reviews up soon with more in-depth thoughts on these most recent Faber Story reads, but for now I’ll just say that this wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought it would be a bit darker, and found it less compelling for its lightness.
  16. Come Rain or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro. 4 stars. Another strong favorite from the Faber Stories collection.This one also was not quite what I expected, although this one was better for it.

A nice long list, right? So many of these feel like cheating to include though because of how short they were- 5 Faber Stories, a novella, and three more books under 200 pages. I wasn’t picking up short things to improve my numbers though, those are just the titles I was interested in this month, so I guess it is what it is.

wrap-up3.19

Some stats:

Avg. rating – 3.3, which is a bit low for me. Usually I’m more enthusiastic just to be reading and tend to rate high; I’m much more likely to lower a previous rating after some time has passed than raise one.

Best of month – The Test. This was a hard choice- I loved the Rooney, Hall, and Ishiguro stories, but because of their brevity I didn’t feel like I’d spent enough time with them for those titles to stand a fair chance here. I’m very much a novel person. I’m sure the Murakami will stick with me longest, and I had the most fun with Daisy Jones. But the Neuvel definitely made the best immediate impression this month.

Worst of month – 99 Percent Mine. I think it’s a first for me, to have three 2-star ratings all for different authors in one month. But this was a much easier choice. The two women’s prize books that disappointed me at least left me with some positive food for thought.

Books hauled – 18. Eleven of those are single short stories, so I feel pretty good about limiting myself to only seven books this month, and I’ve already gotten a decent start on reading that list.

Owned books read for the first time – 8. Five of these were only short stories, though. And it’s less than I hauled, so my owned-unread TBR grew again.

Year total – 42 books. My Goodreads goal is set for 100, so I’m well on track.

March TBR tally – 4/14. In February I hauled fourteen books, and when March began I had already read three of those. Throughout the month I read only one more from that list. But I’m also working on another- I’m partway through Early Riser by Jasper Fforde, one of my February BOTM choices that I’ll finish up before moving on to my April TBR.

The seven library books really threw off my plans this month- I usually stick to around 2-4 library books per month; I mainly just had a lot of previous holds that all came in at the same time in March. But everything I read was either a new release, newly added to my owned-unread TBR, and/or a Women’s Prize longlister, so I’m satisfied.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 2.19

February lasted about two seconds, and I think knowing it was going to be gone so soon made it hard for me to really commit to things and make decent progress. I’m also so over Midwest winter at this point, after the Polar Vortex cold in January and several feet of snow and ice in February; unfortunately the weather probably won’t be more to my liking until at least April.

But I have managed to complete a few things instead of just hibernating through the blizzards.

Book-to-Film Adaptations Watched:

  • 1922based on the novella in Full Dark, No Stars. This wasn’t my favorite Stephen King story in text or film, but I think the film did some things better in this case. While the written story felt gratuitously gory and gross, the film took the same details and made them creepy and scene-setting in a more effective way. The film is very loyal, except that it doesn’t end with quite the same psychological punch that (in my opinion) was the saving grace of the novella.
  • You ssn 1 – based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes. I loved reading this disturbing but completely addicting book a few years ago (and am still dying to know what happens after that cliff-hanger at the end of book two!), and for the most part watching this series gave me that same experience. It was fun/horrifying to revisit these crazy characters, but I will admit that there was a point in the middle when it started to seem like the episodes were getting formulaic. Beck does something stupid, Peach does something sneaky, Joe does something insane, everything *almost* falls apart but not quite. It’s a little different from the book (as far as I remember it) but there are plenty of scenes to recognize from the novel.
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – based on the first book of Jenny Han’s YA trilogy of the same name. Much like the book, it has its cute moments but not much actually happens. I do think the film streamlines the book nicely and retains the same great commentary for all kinds of relationships. I’ll on board for the sequel.

Books finished:

  1. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. 4 stars. This is a collection of four novellas that I started in Jan. I did read 3 of the 4 stories in Feb though, and enjoyed them much more than the first story (1922). I’m on a quest to read all of King’s books, but this was the only title of his that I managed to complete this month.
  2. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. 4 stars. This is a graphic novel I borrowed from the library. It took longer to read than I was expecting for a bind-up of comic volumes, but I did like the story quite a bit and am glad I got to read the whole series altogether. Would recommend for any comic/graphic novel fans out there that haven’t picked it up yet.
  3. Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath. 3 stars. This was a single short story, but Goodreads counts it so I will too. This one was a lot of fun to read but left me with an abundance of unanswered questions at the end. Would recommend primarily to readers who already love Plath’s writing.
  4. The Odyssey by Homer. 4 stars. Another of my “projects” for 2019 reading is to complete books that I started/borrowed too long ago and never finished; I read The Iliad from the bind-up I own of The Iliad and The Odyssey months ago, but stopped there, so I focused this month on The Odyssey. This one struck me as more readable and immediately engaging than The Iliad, but it didn’t leave me with quite the lasting impression and storytelling awe that The Iliad did. But I’m glad I’ve finally completed both classics, and am relieved also to have one less loose end on my currently-reading shelf.
  5. The Inner Room by Robert Aickman. 4 stars. Another single short story from the Faber Stories collection. These were technically supposed to be on my March TBR, but I couldn’t wait. This one was delightfully creepy and weird, and right up my alley.
  6. Paradise by Edna O’Brien. 4 stars. The last short story for this month. This one was far more grounded in reality than the other two Faber Stories I’d read in Feb, and I found its main character and her commentary on the wealthy friend group she’d infiltrated very compelling.
  7. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. 5 stars. This is one of those books that I expected to be a 5-star read, and yet… I just kept procrastinating about reading it. I don’t know why. At about 500 pages it’s not unbearably long, and actually it was a delight to read. I’m so glad I bought my own copy to push myself into picking this up sooner, and I know I’ll want to reread it eventually as well. I hope this will serve as a lesson for me with other expected-5-stars that I’ve been putting off for ages!
  8. Saga Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. 4 stars. I didn’t write a full review for this one because it’s the 9th in its series and I didn’t have much to say about it. It was a quick and engaging read, as all the Saga comics have been for me, but I felt like it was impressive mainly for the shock value of its cliff-hanger than for anything else that happened within the volume. The few plot points that stood on their own in this volume were rather predictable, but I am very intrigued about where this series will go in its second half of installments… which I think was the point of ending this one so dramatically right before the creators take a year-long break.
  9. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. 3 stars. This boxed set was a gift from a friend, and I thought it would be a great way to feed the romance novel craving this month. It was indeed a light, fun read that was hard to put down once I’d started, though a bit outside of my norm.
  10. P. S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han. 3 stars.
  11. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han. 3 stars. I read all three of these together and didn’t have a particular favorite or least favorite.
  12. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. 4 stars. This was another delight to read, close to 5 stars. Review coming soon.
  13. The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo. 3 stars. This was my BOTM pick for Jan, but since my 2019 TBRs have me reading newly hauled books by the end of the following month, this was the time to read it. I just managed to finish it at the very end of the month; honestly this TBR system isn’t working out as well as I’d hoped, but I am making an extra effort not to fall any farther behind with my BOTM selections this year so I prioritized this one. In any case, this was a solid 4-star read until near the end; more info in my review, coming soon.

wrap-up2.19(Not pictured: Watchmen, Saga Vol. 9, and The Dreamers, which are back at the library.)

Some Stats:

  • Average Rating – 3.7
  • Best of Month – Pachinko
  • Worst of Month – Nothing I read this month really disappointed me, but if I had to pick I’d say the Jenny Han trilogy was my least favorite read this month simply because it was a bit juvenile for my current reading taste.
  • Books Hauled 17. Of those, 12 are unread at the start of March, so those will go on my March TBR.
  • Owned Books Read for the First Time – 10. Other than 3 library books, I read exclusively unread books from my own shelves, and 10 is a great number to cross off of my owned-unread TBR. Unfortunately it’s not as many books as I hauled. I really need to get this more balanced, for my own peace of mind.
  • 2019 Total – 26 books. My Goodreads goal is set at 100, so I’m well ahead of schedule right now.

TBR Check-In:
tbr2.19There were 18 books on my Jan book haul / Feb TBR. Of those 18, I read only 5. I also finished a leftover from my Jan TBR, 3 from my March TBR (ahead of schedule), 3 library books, and 1 book that had been stuck on my currently-reading shelf for months. I am also in the middle of 1 more book from my Feb TBR that I’ll finish before moving on to March books though it won’t count here. I do wish I had gotten to more of the titles from my Feb. TBR, but I don’t feel like I strayed off-task. The short stories probably could’ve waited, but they’re short stories so the time I spent on them is pretty negligible anyway.

How was your February reading? Did you meet any goals? Hit a slump? Let me know in the comments.

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Wrap-Up 1.19

Before we get into what I read, here’s a reminder of what I was supposed to read -> according to my 2019 TBR goal, I was aiming to read my 2018 December book haul this January:

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which came in at exactly 25 books, minus 4 I had read before January, plus 3 library books I had checked out. In a perfect world, that math shows that I should have read 24 books in January. Surprise: I did not. I knew I would not. There were 3 specific books from my December haul that I wanted to read in conjunction with other titles outside of that haul, and I knew none of those bigger projects would likely happen in January. But I didn’t read the remaining 21 books, either. Instead, I finished a respectable 13. Here they are.

Books Completed:

  1. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand. 4 stars. I let a friend pick my first read of the year, and she was spot-on with this choice. Sawkill Girls is great for winter (or fall) because it’s dark and atmospheric; and I had been out of touch with YA and fantasy for a while so it was refreshing getting back into those categories.
  2. Severance by Ling Ma. 4 stars. This was my December BOTM selection, and I was disappointed not to get to it before the end of the year so I picked it up early in January. I did pretty well at keeping up with my BOTM books in 2018 and didn’t want to start 2019 by falling behind. Severance ended up being a great selection to start the year with- I even loved the zombie aspect, which is rare for me.
  3. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. 4 stars. Yes, this is a short story that I’m counting as an entire book. For Christmas I received a bind-up of just the one story, so Goodreads counts it as a book and it’s easier to just go along with that than bother with mentally subtracting it all year. This story was creepy and compelling, but unfortunately it’s such a well-known classic that the ending didn’t hold as much shock and horror for me as it might have if I had known less about it going in. I wish I had been assigned this story in high school.
  4. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. 4 stars. This was delightful. In a moment of weakness, I decided to watch the new Netflix adaptation last month before reading the novel, and ended up loving it enough to pick up a copy of the book right away. I had just as much fun reading this story as I did watching it. YA contemporary isn’t a genre I read much from anymore, but I’m glad I made this exception.
  5. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. 4 stars. This was my first foray into Wells’ classic sci-fi work, and I finished it feeling like I should absolutely read 1) more from Wells, and 2) more classic sci-fi in general. And I finally understand references to the Morlocks and Eloi!
  6. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. 5 stars. I started flipping through this one on the way home from the library and ended up reading almost the entire book that first afternoon. I found it 100% addicting, amusing, and enjoyable. I adored the irony and the horrifying morals of the sisters. This isn’t what I would call a traditional thriller, nor did it seem especially plausible, but I didn’t mind. It was exactly what I wanted it to be, and if you’re looking for a thought-provoking quick read that’ll keep you hooked with absurdity, I highly recommend.
  7. Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King. 4 stars. This is a short (for Stephen King) and engrossing character study with a touch of horror. I enjoyed parts of it immensely, but it’s not nudging any of my all-time-favorite Kings down the list. After the last few King titles I read that I didn’t think were very kind to King’s female characters, this was a refreshing reminder that sometimes King can be trusted with one.
  8. “Mr. Salary” by Sally Rooney. 4 stars. Another single short story. This one’s part of a new collection of short Faber Stories that looks highly attractive to me, but I found this gem available online (link: here) and couldn’t wait to read it long enough to order a copy of the cute little paperback. I adored this little story about death and love, and two people who maybe or maybe don’t belong together. Rooney writes fantastic characters, and I’m so glad to have been able to enjoy this little piece of her work while I wait for her next novel.
  9. Fen by Daisy Johnson. 3 stars. I think I would have enjoyed this more before reading Johnson’s Everything Under. I am enjoying getting back into short story territory this month, but I haven’t found any new favorites yet. I did enjoy the bizarre magic of this collection, though.
  10. The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty. 4 stars. I had mixed thoughts about this book, but it left a pretty good impression in the end so I’ve already ordered the sequel (The Kingdom of Copper was just released in January! Perfect timing!) and I’m intrigued enough that I’ll probably dive into it next week.
  11. The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay. 3 stars. This was an extra BOTM selection I chose in December. It’s a longer tale, set in India- it’s a sort of mystery that begins to unravel after the main character’s mother dies suddenly. By the time I reached the end, I appreciated this book a lot in concept, but I struggled too much with the main character while reading that it just quite work for me.
  12. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. 5 stars. This is a novella that doubles as a horrifying glimpse into humanity’s tendency to abuse power throughout the ages. It can take a little effort to get invested in this story, but the payoff is absolutely worth it.
  13. Aesop’s Fables by Aesop. 4 stars. I’ve been working my way through this collection of fables for over two years. It felt a lot like reading a book of riddles, and there are only so many riddles I can read in one go, so I spread them out. Rather longer than necessary, but her we are. I really want to finish the books that’ve been on my currently-reading shelf on Goodreads for way too long, and with this one done I feel like I’m off to a good start. These are truly timeless and worthwhile tales, combining observant character morals with whimsical details like talking animals, and I’m glad to have read something that has survived so long (these fables originate from around 500 BC) and is still relevant.

Some Stats:

  • Average rating – 4.0; what a month for 4 star reads!
  • Best of the month – Ghost Wall
  • Worst of the month – The Far Field; this wasn’t actually a bad book, it just doesn’t compare well with the other titles I’ve read in January.
  • Books hauled – 27
  • Owned books read for the first time – 9; At the end of the month, I’ve read a total of 12 of the 25 books from my Dec book haul, and I’m in the middle of a 13th. I’m a bit bummed to still have 12 and a half unread books left over, but I’m planning to keep them stacked together to catch up on throughout the year. I also read 3 library books in January, and finished 1 older book from my currently-reading shelf, so I do feel good about having stuck to my goals. The only book I read that didn’t count towards any goals was “Mr. Salary,” which was only a short story that I picked up outside of my regular reading time. All in all, I’m happy with where I’m ending the month, even though I’m technically already behind by twelve books for 2019.

Book-to-Film Adaptations Watched:

  • I re-watched Dumplin’ after finishing the book. There were some details in the movie that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate before having read the novel, so I’m glad I didn’t just call it quits after watching the movie the first time. I think the movie is a polished, streamlined depiction of this story, but if you really want to immerse yourself in Willowdean’s world, the book is the way to go.
  • I finished Under the Dome ssn 3. I really only watched through this final season of the show because I’m a stubborn completionist; the first season is the only one worth watching even for Stephen King fans who’ve read and loved the novel of the same name. Season 3 was terrible, with the same bad dialogue and all-over plot that started devolving in season 2, but this finale was even worse because the characters lost all personality and switched sides every other episode. The only fun I had with this season was laughing at how ridiculous it became, which is a total shame following the compelling character studies of season 1. Do not recommend.

Personal Trends:

  • Unfortunately, January was full of procrastination for me. I worked hard at finishing things in December, and when January rolled around I was out of energy and drive to keep going, even though I’m always excited about new beginnings. Catching sick early in the month played a serious part in my lack of motivation and ability to concentrate, but I have to admit that I was mainly just cold and tired and decided to rest instead of be ambitious. I’m hoping February will go better.

wrap-up1.19

 

The Literary Elephant