Category Archives: Wrap-ups

Wrap-Up 8.19

I’m a little late with wrapping up my August reading, but as we’re still in the first week of September I didn’t want to abandon ship altogether.

Here’s what I read in August:

  1. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager. 4 stars. After the mild disappointment of last year’s The Last Time I Lied, Sager really delivered in his newest thriller release. Though I found the main character a bit insufferable, I loved this premise and the extremes Sager takes it to in the end, as well as the commentary on poverty and missing persons.
  2. The Need by Helen Phillips. 4 stars. This one’s slower paced for a thriller, but I would argue it’s more of a suspense novel than a proper thriller, which I enjoyed. Though I was somewhat disappointed to realize that this book’s biggest twist was one I’d seen before, Phillips used the set-up for a dark character study that was sadly missing the last time I read this trope. It’s a great exploration of identity and motherhood.
  3. Finders Keepers by Stephen King. 2 stars. This was the second book in a trilogy that I started reading almost a year ago, and sadly I found this volume a poor continuation of the Bill Hodges series. Not only does it barely relate to the overall arc of the trilogy, but the writing grated on me to such an extent that I couldn’t enjoy the story.
  4. Lanny by Max Porter. 4 stars. This short little gem had already been on my radar, but seeing it longlisted for the Booker Prize (sadly, not shortlisted) finally gave me the push I needed to pick it up. Though I didn’t entirely enjoy the magical realism element, I thought the structure and writing was such fun, and I appreciated the commentary on small town life and human nature.
  5. End of Watch by Stephen King. 3 stars. Though slightly less problematic than the second book in this trilogy and back on track with the main story arc, this conclusion to the Bill Hodges set just did not excite me the way the first book had. A reasonable conclusion and a nice return to SK’s most popular genre (sci-fi), this was a very middle-of-the-road read.
  6. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. 3 stars. Another title from the Booker Prize longlist (that didn’t make the shortlist); I picked this one up for its fascinating premise, but though the writing style exceeded expectations, the plot did not. A short book that I mostly enjoyed, despite some ups and downs.
  7. An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma. 2 stars. A Booker prize longlister (and shortlisted besides!) that also had a promising premise but turned out disappointing. Though in theory I liked the concept of this one, the execution fell flat for me in almost every regard- a weak Odyssey connection, an impenetrable language barrier, unaddressed misogyny/toxic masculinity in the main character, unexplored side characters, etc. Do not recommend.
  8. Human Acts by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith. 4 stars. The only title I managed to complete for WIT (women in translation) month, this was an excellent but emotionally challenging read. It offers a dark recap of a historical event and speculates on innate cruelty/vulnerability in human nature. So many trigger warnings, but worth the read if you can stomach it.
  9. Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss. 3 stars. This was one of my last Faber Stories read from the original collection of 20 individually-bound stories. My reviews of the final stories should be coming up later this week. Of this one, I’ll say now that I had a lot of fun with the three tiny stories in this volume but ultimately didn’t find much lasting takeaway.
  10. Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson. 5 stars. Yet another Booker Prize longlist title (which tragically missed the shortlist); this Frankenstein retelling is quite a mashup of Mary Shelley’s original themes, her (fictionalized) real life, a metafiction element, and a modernized continuation of the classic story. There is SO MUCH content and food for thought crammed into this novel that I don’t know how to sum it up briefly, so I’ll just say that each page was an absolute delight.

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(Photo missing my 3 library checkouts from early in the month, Lock Every Door, The Need, and Lanny)

To be honest, I started the month strong and then flagged in the middle, meaning I didn’t get to everything I wanted to. But 10 book is still a great number for me, and everything that I read came directly from my excessive TBR list for the month (except for Three Types of Solitude, which is only a short story anyway and fit a previous TBR goal), so I didn’t go off track with content. I just had too many goals, as usual.

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.4

Best of month – Frankissstein, hands down, although Human Acts also left quite a strong impression.

Worst of month – Finders Keepers, which completely failed at its purpose of entertainment for me, whereas An Orchestra of Minorities at least conveyed an interesting topic under lamentable writing choices.

Books hauled 7, and I’ve already read 4! (You can check out the full list in my September TBR, or take a quick glance here) –>bookhaul8.19

Owned book read for the first time – 6 total, including 2 books that I’ve had on my shelf prior to 2019. Sadly, my owned-unread TBR increased again this month, though fortunately only by 1 book!

August TBR tally 0/11. This is abysmal, and I’m now aiming to pick up some of my August TBR books in September. –>tbr8.19

Year total – 87 books at the end of August, plus I’ve already finished 2 in September to put me at 89 currently! I might hit my Goodreads goal of 100 later this month if I’m lucky, but I have a couple of long books on my TBR so I’m guessing I’ll meet that goal in October. I’m more invested in reading great books than pushing for numbers, so I won’t be raising this goal no matter when I reach it.

All in all, a fairly average reading month for me, missed TBR goal and all. I’m still thrilled about my 5-star read, and the 2-star books were productive if disappointing (one from the Booker prize longlist/shortlist, and one as prep for a September SK buddy read.) Sadly I didn’t get to any nonfiction in August, though Three Women is now one of my top priorities for September.

I hope everyone’s September reading is off to a good start!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

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Wrap-up 7.19

The end of July is the time of year that my alarm bells start going off to warn me that summer’s almost over- there’s still a month left, but somehow August never seems to last as long as it should. I have to mentally prepare to lose the warmth and the long days. But July was nice and leisurely, and I accomplished some quality reading!

Books I finished in July:

  1. The Farm by Joanne Ramos. 5 stars. Though the plot turned transparent toward the end, I loved the way this book approached a sensitive issue (surrogacy facilities) from many angles, leaving the reader to form their own opinions.
  2. Daughters of Passion by Julia O’Faolain. 3 stars. Though I enjoyed the concept of this one (a woman on a hunger strike in an Irish prison recounts her decision to become involved with the IRA), the structure and brevity of the story kept me from investing in the characters properly. Full review will be posted when I finally manage to read the last two Faber Stories I’m missing.
  3. Animals Eat Each Other by Elle Nash. 3 stars. Another shorter story (novella) that I loved in concept (a young woman becomes involved in a three-way relationship and begins to question her sense of identity), but wished for a bit more length to explore its themes more deeply. Even so, I found it dark, gritty, and immersive.
  4. The Stand by Stephen King. 3 stars. King’s longest novel, and also my longest buddy read to date- this one took 6 weeks! Though I surpsingly didn’t have any issues with the length or pacing, the book’s climax was somewhat unsatisfactory, as was King’s portrayal of female characters.
  5. Recursion by Blake Crouch. 4 stars. An impressive follow-up to Dark Matter, but rather too similar to that former novel to completely win me over. This one features a new form of technology that allows for navigation of human memories, and the worldwide catastrophe that erupts when various groups fight for control of it.
  6. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. 3 stars. Though I think Kerman’s idea to reveal to the masses what life is like on the inside of a prison- and the injustices that reign there- is commendable, her perspective just didn’t quite seem to be the right fit for her intention. At least, not her voice alone. I learned a few things, but also wished this book had made space for others to chime in.
  7. Again, But Better by Christine Riccio. 3 stars. A YA/NA study abroad romance with a magical element. I had a few issues with style and premise, but ultimately found this very readable and enjoyable. Not a preferred genre for me, but I mainly picked this up to see whether Riccio’s writing style matched her video style, as a sort of reading experiment.
  8. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. 4 stars. Though a bit slow-paced and repetitive for me (I’m fairly new to nonfiction), I found this true crime story of a shady Silicon Valley company utterly fascinating. The things people will do for money… horrifying. Full review should be up tomorrow.
  9. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. 5 stars. This former women’s prize winner is one of the most difficult and emotionally devastating books I’ve ever read. The unique writing style takes a lot of patience, but the payoff was huge in the end. Full review should be up early next week.
  10. The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller by Henry James. 4 stars. I read this in snippets on the side while trying to work through my long list of library checkouts this month (I had to carry a couple of titles over to August, oops), but still thoroughly enjoyed it. The first story has given me a lot to puzzle over and appreciate in the days since I’ve completed it, but the second story was more immediately engaging to read- both intriguing, but very different pieces! Full review should be up next week.

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Some stats:

Average rating – 3.7

Best of month – A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, followed by The Farm

Worst of month – Daughters of Passion, just because it felt the most unrealized. It was too short to regret reading, though.

Books hauled – 14 total, 11 of which appear in my August TBR and 3 that I read in my childhood and recently purchased to reread someday (Dreamland by Sarah Dessen, Pet Sematary by Stephen King, and The Doll People by Ann M. Martin, Laura Godwin, and Brian Selznick.)

Owned book read for the first time – 5 total, 3 of which were on my July TBR and 2 that I’ve owned for years (The Stand and The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller).  This has been yet another month of increasing my owned-unread TBR.

July TBR tally 3/8. (Recursion, Daughters of Passion, and Animals Eat Each Other) –>bookhaul6.19

Year total – 78 books. I’m guessing I’ll hit my Goodreads goal of 100 in late September or early October, but anything could happen. I’m not planning to readjust my goal.

 

All in all, not a bad month. I was hoping to finish a couple more titles, but instead I took a few days off of reading, which was good for the soul. I’ve been much more in the habit this year of reading whatever amount feels comfortable to me on any given day rather than forcing it, which is one of the reasons I don’t want to readjust my Goodreads goal even though I’m 99% confident about reaching it early. (Not reading keeps reading fun?)

I only read 2 nonfiction books in July, and don’t have much room in my August reading schedule for nonfiction, which isn’t boding well for my lofty “Summer of Nonfiction” plans, but I liked what I did read and am eager to continue my nonfiction adventures beyond this summer, so it is what it is. Otherwise, quite a variety of genres, story lengths, and topics once again, which is just the way I like it. I wouldn’t say this was necessarily a “fun” reading month, but I certainly had quite a few interesting experiences! Buddy reads, a TV show tie-in, a Booktuber book, a Prize winner, etc.

Tell me about a standout reading experience you had this month- not necessarily the greatest (though that’s welcome too), but something you had a unique experience with!

(And of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read any of these books!)

 

The Literary Elephant

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

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.
remembered

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