Novel Progress 3.18

I have had a superb writing month.

In my last writing update, I talked about being stuck in the third chapter of my book, and about wondering when it’s an appropriate time to modify writing goals if the original goal just isn’t working. In the month since then, I finished editing chapter three and it’s currently my favorite chapter. Once I let myself focus on the story instead of the word count, it was much easier to approach the work and make productive progress, and in the end I was only 30 words short of my original 10,000 word count, which is about 970 words more than I was afraid I would end up with. In addition, I worked through most of chapter four (of nine) as well.

Chapter four is one that still had some narrative holes this time around. When I opened up chapter four this month, it had 8k of 10k words, which meant that before final edits, I had some more writing to do: my first substantial writing jog on this project since I started working my way through my manuscript in chronological order. It was a nice change to get back into pure creating, though it does mean that even though I’ve gone through the entire chapter once to do a rough edit and fill in the missing content, I will have to go through the whole thing one more time as a whole.

It should maybe feel like a lot more work since I’ve only had to edit the last three chapters without generating new content, but this chapter was written more recently and thus was more polished to begin with. I approached it just as rigorously as the first three chapters, combing through sentence by sentence,  but overall there were just less edits to be made. Also I had good notes already in place for the content that needed to be added, and it was nice to have a little change of pace with the project. I have more editing ahead of me on the final trek through chapter four, but I know I’ll be getting back to writing in section five again. The alternating is keeping me on my toes. Figuratively.

So, where do I stand.

Right now in section 4 I need about 500 more words, but I’ve got the basis of the missing part worked in so it should be easy to work in those last 500 words as I expand the new content a little more. I’m pleased with about 2/3 of the chapter at this point, but I’ll read through it all (making any more minor changes along the way, of course) so that I have a good lead-in to edit the last 1/3 that still needs some work. I’m planning to finish with the 500 missing words today, and from there I expect the editing and final read-through of this chapter will take only another day or two.

But I do have a busy week outside of my manuscript so I’m not giving myself an exact schedule to follow. I find that exact schedules make me feel boxed in and when I fail them it sours the whole project so I’m trying to keep myself going at whatever pace feels the most productive on a day-by-day basis.

It’s always exciting to reach the end of a chapter and feel like there’s a whole new section complete, but chapter four is especially exciting to me to finish because it’s so close to the halfway point (half of nine chapters is 4.5, so halfway through chapter five I’ll hit it). I’ve been over and over the first three chapters of the book in the last year and a half, and it’s so exciting to put them on the back burner, safely out of the way, and to move into the second arc to the story (each group of three chapters has its own arc inside the main plot).

One more thing I want to talk about in this update: reading for writing.

For several weeks as I struggled through the end of chapter three and then changed pace for the new arc in chapter 4, I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. This has been the perfect book to read at this point of my own novel, especially as I’m getting back into the writing parts of it rather than just the editing. Atwood’s prose is so… visceral, colorful, metaphorical… She uses so much imagery and makes such unique connections that reading her work inspires me to add to the atmosphere of my own manuscript. I know I tend to err on the side of writing action and inner conflict, so reading something so sensory has been a great reminder to describe things a bit more and pull the reader into the world of my story. Different things help me with different aspects of my writing, and often I don’t know how they’ll help until I’m in the middle of them. This is part of the reason I try to read so widely– it’s surprising what can motivate you.

What do you read for writing inspo? Or have you had any writing break-throughs lately? I love hearing about the ups and downs of everyone’s writing process!


The Literary Elephant


Review: An American Marriage

Oprah has made her book club selection for 2018, and it’s Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage. That’s actually not the reason I picked it up, but it’s always a nice bonus when a book you’ve read / want to read gets some big recognition. And now that I’ve read An American Marriage, I understand exactly why it’s been getting so much attention.

anamericanmarriageAbout the book: Roy Hamilton Jr. is visiting his parents in Louisiana. He and his wife, Celestial, have traveled from their home in Atlanta. They sleep in a local hotel instead of Roy’s old bedroom because he has something to tell his wife that he doesn’t want to talk/fight about in his parents’ home. It goes about as well as he expected. What doesn’t go as expected is the rest of the night: another lady on their floor, who met Roy at the ice machine, is raped that night, and even though Roy and Celestial swear they’ve been together and alone all night, Roy is arrested. He’s convicted of the crime, and sentenced to twelve years in prison. While he and Celestial are dealing with this fresh strain on their young marriage, life changes for them both and the relationship warps, leaving Roy, Celestial, and their mutual friend Andre in increasingly awkward and painful positions until the situation explodes when the three find themselves together again.

About the layout: there are no white characters in this book. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Roy, Celestial, and Andre. Some parts of the book consist entirely of letters that these characters write to each other in their time apart. Everything is written in the first person, so the reader can see into each character’s head and heart.

” ‘Six or twelve,’ he sometimes said when he was depressed, which wasn’t all the time but often enough that I recognized a blue mood when it was settling in. ‘That’s your fate as a black man. Carried by six or judged by twelve.’ “

This is a thought-provoking book. I knew a lot of the plot going in; the premise gives almost everything important away. I think it’s good to go about this book that way, because the plot progresses with abrupt spurts. I thought reading this book would give me a better idea of how this crazy love triangle of injustice started, but this novel focuses much more on consequences than reasons. I wish this book had been longer, to give a little more depth leading in to the conflicts of the story. I certainly would have followed these characters on a longer journey.

“If I say that my husband is in prison, that’s all anyone can focus on, not me or my dolls. Even when I explain that you’re innocent, all they remember is the fact that you’re incarcerated. Even when I tell the truth about you, the truth doesn’t get delivered. So what’s the point of bringing it up?”

But there were some things I didn’t like: Roy, to begin with. Mostly because of the way he thought about women and sex, which came up a lot. Andre’s sections had less sexual focus, but in all other ways it was hard to tell Andre and Roy’s sections apart. Especially when the two of them would appear in the same scene, I would have to check back to the chapter header to double check which perspective I was reading.

“Celestial suggested the word forgive, but I couldn’t give her that. I could ask for understanding. I could ask for temperance, but I wouldn’t ask him to forgive me. Celestial and I were not wrong. It was a complex situation, but we were not on our knees before him.”

Celestial also was difficult for me at times. I love her career and her dedication to her art. I thought everything about the dolls she makes in this book came across beautifully and I was so proud of her success at making a career with them. But when it comes to her love life… she seems so easily swayed. She’s always giving, but never seems to know what she wants for herself. She resorts to silence when she could help settle things by making her own choices and explaining her actions, even if her feelings are confused. As the lead female, and caught between two men, I expected more strength from her. Some of her thoughts on men/women/sex were also uncomfortable for me. Passages like this come up in her narration:

“A woman doesn’t always have a choice, not in a meaningful way. Sometimes there is a debt that must be paid, a comfort that she is obliged to provide, a safe passage that must be secured. Every one of us has lain down for a reason that was not love.”

I don’t outright disagree that sex isn’t always about love, but she’s using this as a defense. She doesn’t want to have sex, but she feels obligated to. That’s not consent. Even in her mind, that shouldn’t be consent.

But in the end, despite the problems I had with the pacing and the characters, I had so much respect for this story because it feels real. Every one of these characters felt like someone I could meet on the street. They’re not perfect and likable because real people aren’t perfect and likable. We all have flaws, and we’re no less entitled to justice for them, or to love or respect or anything else that all humans should be entitled to.

There’s incredible insight and portrayal of emotion in this book, and reading it is an eye-opening experience, but I think a little more time with some of the situations in this story would have gone a long way. I would have appreciated seeing Celestial fall in love rather than just hearing that she had. I would have appreciated seeing more of the letters between Roy and Celestial, and more of their visits in the prison; it’s clear in the early days of Roy’s imprisonment that the narration is skipping over some of their exchanges and I wish it didn’t. This book has so much to say. But I wish it would have said even more. I was ready to listen.

“Even if you go in innocent, you don’t come out that way.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I was torn between 4 and 5 stars, because this book is so well-written and impactful, but in the end I did think it fell a little short for me. Nevertheless, it deserves the impact it will have (and is already having) on its readership– a further understanding and acknowledgment of real problems in this world, and a drive to fix them. The world needs more fiction like this: compelling stories of social issues that are too often overlooked. I know I’ll be looking for more.

Further recommendations:

  • I’ve read nothing like An American Marriage, except perhaps Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, 2017’s popular YA novel about police brutality against black citizens. This one reflects the Black Lives Matter movement, and I highly recommend it for all fiction readers (teen and up) interested in the current state of racism in America.
  • Jones’ readers might also enjoy Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a surprisingly modern and fictional take on the history of black slavery in America. Although the atmosphere of this novel takes the reader back to the 1800’s, so many of its messages are even more relevant today.

Which new releases have you been loving lately?


The Literary Elephant

Review: Hunger

One of my goals for 2018 is to read more nonfiction. That won’t mean exclusively memoirs, but I have been enjoying a few of those already this year– including the one I just finished, Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.

hungerAbout the book: Roxane Gay discusses what it’s like to live in modern America as a woman several hundred pounds overweight. She talks about the trauma from her past that led her to eat, a rape that left her wanting her body to become an untouchable fortress, and the difficulty she’s had with moving on from that mindset and changing her methods of defense. But perhaps most importantly, she talks about how hard it has been to fit into a world that doesn’t want to accommodate her body– a world that hurt her and yet won’t accept the results of that pain.

No book has ever made it more clear that what you see on the surface is not the whole story.

In my opinion, a good book both entertains and teaches. There’s a lot of darkness in Gay’s story, so in this case I’m using “entertains” to mean “holds the reader’s attention.” With that allowance, let me say that this book certainly both entertains and teaches. Gay addresses every aspect of her life that I might have had a question about given the premise, and she does so in an intelligent and considerate way. She talks about diets and eating disorders, the clothing industry, cooking shows, health affects, gyms and trainers, travel, restaurants, etc. There’s not a lot of structure to these points, but like chapters are grouped together. Each chapter feels like its own mini essay. Perhaps “essay” isn’t even the right word– some of these chapters feel so raw and intimate that they’re more like journal entries. The one that felt the strongest to me was the one in which Gay talks/speculates about the present-day life of her first “love,” the boy who raped her. But while Gay holds the reader’s attention with the secrets of her life, she also teaches the reader to consider rather than assume, to act respectfully and equally toward all humans, because the book can most definitely not be judged by its cover.

“I am nowhere near as brave as people believe me to be. As a writer, armed with words, I can do anything, but when I have to take my body out into the world, courage fails me.”

One of the interesting details about Hunger‘s construction is that it isn’t a success story. It doesn’t even have a plot arc– the anecdotes of past experiences that appear are used as supporting details for present ruminations rather than steps in a narrative ladder. This is a book about struggling, about being in the middle of a journey rather than the end. It’s about failed projects and what-ifs and maybe-somedays. Who can’t relate to that?

“I am determined to be more than my body– what my body has endured, what my body has become. Determination, though, has not gotten me very far.”

Another aspect I loved about this book is that you don’t need ever to have suffered any sort of weight issues, eating disorders, or even body image anxieties. It’s entirely possible to read about Gay’s life without finding anything in common with her, and still appreciate her story. She’s not just fighting for control of her body, she’s fighting for a place in the world, and fighting to love herself. Gay’s stance as a feminist shines through this book beautifully, and there’s a definite undertone of equality for all that makes this book fitting for all sorts of readers, no matter what they weigh. It’s about breaking unfair expectations and making the world a fairer place.

“This is what most girls are taught– that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.”

The only thing I didn’t like about Hunger was its use of repetition. In some cases, repetition can add emphasis and new meaning to what’s being said. Sometimes it even works wonderfully in this book. The repetitions of “I hunger” seem particularly apt, and add many new ways to look at the meaning of the word “hunger.” There were other examples of strong repetitions throughout the book as well, like this list of variations:

“We don’t necessarily know how to hear stories about any kind of violence, because it is hard to accept that violence is as simple as it is complicated, that you can love someone who hurts you, that you can stay with someone who hurts you, that you can be hurt by someone who loves you, that you can be hurt by a complete stranger, that you can be hurt in so many terrible, intimate ways.”

But there were also chapters that began in such a way that for an entire paragraph or two I had the impression that I had already read those exact words, that exact phrasing. A couple of times I even started a chapter wondering if there had been some sort of editorial mistake and the same chapter had somehow been included twice. This is by no means a long or unbearable memoir; I read the entire book in three sittings, and it only took more than two because I was interrupted. But with such powerful content, I think a more succinct style could have fit this book even better than constant repetitions. You know how you can listen to a great song on repeat and it feels like it’ll never get old? But eventually it does, and you hear it some more, and before you know it you can’t stand to hear the song at all. Hunger is like a great song on repeat– it is great, but by the time I finished I had hit my limit for the song, and as much as I loved it the first time I don’t think I could read it again. At least not any time soon.

But I know different readers have different tastes, and the fact that the only issue I had with this book was such a stylistic one explains to me why this book has been so well-received. It’s at a 4.25 rating on Goodreads right now, and it deserves that love.

“In our culture, we talk a lot about change and growing up, but man, we don’t talk nearly enough about how difficult it is. It is difficult. For me, it is difficult to believe I matter and I deserve nice things and I deserve to be around nice people.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I’m so glad I read Hunger, and I will certainly be reading more of Roxane Gay’s work. Surprisingly, from a list of fiction and nonfiction, I think I’m more interested in nonfiction for once in my life. I think I’ll pick up Gay’s Bad Feminist when I’m ready to read more from her. My positive experience with memoirs continues– I can’t believe it took me so long to explore this genre, and I can’t wait to see what other gems are out there.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you’re looking for more powerful memoirs, try Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, another sad but empowering tale. This one deals with poverty and (questionable) parenting, but it uses more of a plot arc and it ends on an encouraging note.
  2. Elie Weisel’s Night is another impactful memoir I’ve read this year. This one won the Nobel Peace Prize for its look back on the concentration camps of WWII, and it deals with my favorite nonfiction subject: equality.

What’s your favorite brand of nonfiction?


The Literary Elephant

Review: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Back in high school, I read a wonderful book called Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, about where we go when we die, before we’re born again. It was beautiful and whimsical, but for some reason it took me about eight years to pick up another of the author’s books. I’ve been feeling these conflicting desires lately to read old favorites, but also to read new and different things, which led me to The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, a newer Zevin novel.

thestoriedlifeofajfikryAbout the Book: A. J. Fikry has a lot to be upset about, and he is. The beloved wife who convinced him to leave school and open a bookshop with her in a hard-to-reach town died in a car accident one night after an author event, leaving A. J. to make do however he can on Alice Island, alone. He turns snobby and rude, and sometimes drunk. But his story doesn’t end with Nic’s death, and when he finally starts making room for some new people in his life and bookstore, a new chapter of his life begins.

The Storied Life is a bookish book, a tale about a bookseller who reads and talks about books and buys and sells books and lives and breathes books. There are title drops and references, discussions of genres and writing techniques and reader habits. These sorts of books are especially intriguing for the average book nerd, but I’ve got to admit this is probably one of the least fun bookish books I’ve read.

Part of the absence of “fun” in The Storied Life stems simply from the fact that a lot of sad things happen. There are thefts and losses and deaths, lies and missed opportunities. There are some great moments too, of course– weddings and babies and great books and wins. But for me, there were not enough of the good moments to outweigh the sad.

But the biggest reason I didn’t have much fun with this book was its predictability. As Fikry notes,

“He doesn’t believe in random acts. He is a reader, and what he believes in is narrative construction. If a gun appears in act one, that gun had better go off by act three.”

And so it does, metaphorically speaking. Of course Amelia the new sales rep from Knightly Press, the whimsical woman with a passion for books who is scared off in the first chapter, is going to become a giant part of Fikry’s life. Of course the baby left in his store is there to stay. Of course the stolen Tamerlane hasn’t vanished into thin air. A lot of the main plot points are easy to see coming in the regular narration; but then there are the short story commentaries Fikry adds to the book. It’s clear almost immediately that these are being written for someone in particular, and often the phrasing in these little summaries gives away a big detail that’s just about to appear in the greater story. Personally, I thought the book could have done without these passages entirely.

And in the end the point is… that books are a good way to connect with people? That love is the answer/reason for everything? The Storied Life is just that– a life that makes a good story, though in the end it’s just someone’s life, and he’s lived and learned his lessons and left what he could, just like anyone else. I didn’t close the book feeling like I gained anything from reading it other than a few momentary chuckles and threatening tears. There weren’t any new ideas for me to take away from it.

“Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.”

The pacing also felt a little off; this is a pretty short book– 250 pages, but the book is small with relatively few words per page– but it covers a lot of ground. Some big moments in Fikry’s life pass very quickly in the narration, while other moments are drawn out for haphazardly chosen characterization. The reader is given as much detail about some of the lesser characters’ lives as some of the more important ones, which gives the novel an odd balance.

“Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A. J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.”

I also found this book a little discouraging, as an aspiring writer. There’s some talk about writers laboring fruitlessly over the next Great American Novel, there’s a writer who had to lie and cheat the system to get her book published because no one thought her idea would sell. Galleys are thrown around and ruined, taken for granted and overlooked. I know the publishing world is relatively small, that there are a lot more prospective writers out there than publishers prepared to take them, that not everyone who writes a book will go somewhere fantastic with it, but even knowing those things I was disappointed with the way this book seemed ready to shut out newcomers to the book market.

“It is the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us […] but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable. Someday, you do not know when, you will be driving down a road. And someday, you do not know when, he, or indeed she, will be there. You will be loved because for the first time in your life, you will truly not be alone. You will have chosen to not be alone.”

It’s not all bad, of course. I did like reading The Storied Life. There’s a great variety of characters: a mix of races, a mix of professions, a mix of ages, some poverty, some illness, a thrift shopper and a fake author and even a tabby cat. There are some great, optimistic messages about appreciating the good things in life and soldiering through the bad days. There are lines especially geared toward prolific readers, familiar scenarios and thoughts and difficulties that come with a lifetime of reading widely.

“Her mother likes to say that novels have ruined Amelia for real men. This observation insults Amelia because it implies that she only reads books with classically romantic heroes. She does not mind the occasional novel with a romantic hero but her reading tastes are far more varied than that. Furthermore, she adores Humbert Humbert as a character while accepting the fact that she wouldn’t really want him for a life partner, or a boyfriend, or even a casual acquaintance. She feels the same way about Holden Caulfield, and Misters Rochester and Darcy.”

The Storied Life is a very quotable book. It’s also the sort of book that’s best read primarily for amusement, in one or two sittings, and then moved on from.

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I expected to like this more than I did, but I think I was approaching it the wrong way. I think I was expecting Elsewhere and instead I got The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry when I should have just reread Elsewhere. This was definitely not a bad or unenjoyable read, just not what I was looking for at this moment. I’ll probably try something else from Zevin at some point, or at least reread Elsewhere and see if I still love that one as much as I remember.


The Literary Elephant



TBR 3.2.18

In case you missed it, I’m trying this new thing in 2018 where I set a 5-book TBR every time I finish the last one, rather than setting a monthly TBR and letting my anxiety grow for four weeks because of the time constraint. This is only my second TBR of the year so far, but I have been reading borrowed books and other things in the midst of working on my first TBR, so I have read more than 5 books since I started, never fear. In fact, in the time since I set my last 5-book TBR, I read 16 books.

Things like library books, buddy reads, and new subscription box books are not items I’m including in my TBRs this year– instead I’m only listing the books that I have no other deadlines for. So these won’t necessarily be the next five books I read, but I will read all five of these before setting a new TBR.

I don’t anticipate this one taking as long to finish because I think I’ll have fewer conflicts now that the year is farther underway, but the timing of finishing books isn’t bothering me as much with this new system anyway; I’m more focused on what I’m reading and whether I’m enjoying it, than how long it’s taking me to read something or finish a TBR list. It’s only been a couple of months, but I’m really loving this new system.

I’m currently finishing up the 5th book from my last TBR, and plotting what to read next. Here are the titles I’m looking at:

  1. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It’s time that I read a true crime novel. The closest I’ve ever gotten to that genre is Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, which I loved but was not focused entirely on the crime. I want to branch out more this year, delve deeper into reading pools I’ve only skimmed the surface of. I’ve heard this one’s a classic of its genre, so this is where I’ll start. I believe it follows a murder case from the 50’s or 60’s in the American midwest.
  2. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Here is a new release from February that I’ve been really excited about. I have not yet read any of Kristin Hannah’s books, though I own The Nightingale, which has been gathering dust on my TBR shelf for a year. I’ve heard such great things about her writing, but I’m rarely in the mood for WWII fiction these days, and this new historical fiction book about solitude and abuse in the wilderness of Alaska sounds much more intriguing to me. And if I like it, hopefully I’ll get around to The Nightingale that much sooner.
  3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I’ve had my eye on this classic Gothic horror novel since reading Bronte’s Jane Eyre at about this time last year. Somehow I haven’t gotten around to it yet, so I added it to my list of 12 classics to read in 2018. I did originally schedule my 12 classics month by month, but this is only the second book on the list and I was still reading my January classic in February so I’m a little off schedule. I’m still trying to figure out how to fit a few monthly goals in with this new TBR system, but I’m confident that I can catch up with my classics list. I’m eager to start this one, which features some sort of mystery about the male lead’s first wife, who is maybe haunting or hiding in his giant old house and terrifying his new wife? I’ve forgotten the exact synopsis, but it sounded creepy and psychological with a touch of romance.
  4. Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. This is a YA sci-fi book that drew my attention with its unique narrative formatting. I like unique formats, and the inside of this book looks like artwork. Artwork with a focus on words. I’ve seen great reviews for this story and the third (and final, I believe) book in the series is releasing next week. I want to be on board that train, but I have to start by seeing if I like the first book.All I remember about the story is that two characters with some sort of shared history are awake on a spaceship that’s headed for disaster.
  5. The Power by Naomi Alderman. I’m working on my BOTM backlog, which mostly consists of “extras” that I added to my monthly boxes in 2017, but there are some (like this one) that I just didn’t have time to get around to in the month that I chose them and it’s time that I do. This was my October selection and I’ve been so curious to read it but just… haven’t. And that’s what TBRs are for. This one’s a lit fic novel about a swapped gender dynamic– women wield (some sort of electrical?) power through their hands.

TBR 3.2.18

I’m excited for this list, and I really don’t think it will take me as long as the first one did. But, timing aside, I’m anticipating some quality reads in my future. It’s really fun trying to prioritize my giant Goodreads TBR into bite-sized 5-book lists, even if they do end up with all the fall color vibes at the wrong time of the year. :/

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading next?


The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 2.18

Another month gone, and what have I been up to?


  • February was a short month, and I ended up reading a handful of short books to match. I was just in a short-book mood, I guess. Sometimes it’s nice to be in the middle of an epic series, and sometimes it’s nice to just sit down with a plate of cheese and crackers and have the whole novel finished by the time you’re done nibbling on your lunch. This month I had some of both lengths, but I don’t anticipate reading this many short books in the upcoming months, so I’m calling it a trend.

Book-to-film Adaptations:

  • This month I finished watching the TV series Big Little Lies for the first time. I read the novel in May 2017, and rated it 3 stars. Watching this series definitely made me appreciate the story more, perhaps because the film seemed more focused on the characters than the mystery, which was a more compelling tactic, in my opinion. The violence in the TV series seemed more shocking to me than it did in the book, but I think that stems from the difference in reading about it happening to fictional people and seeing a visual representation of it acted out by real people. The mystery portion of the film seemed flimsy at best, with the excessive gossipy interviews and the actual murder so glossed over and “artsy” at the end, so I’m glad I experienced this story in both formats, since they played to such different strengths.
  • I also watched the movie Room for the first time. I read the novel in June 2016, and rated it 4 stars. The film gave me a much stronger sense of Jack’s mother right from the beginning; the book begins with narration from 5 year-old Jack, which gives a unique perspective to a terrible situation, but in the film (obviously) the viewer sees the room and the mother with his/her own eyes, forcing the narration to take a different approach than the novel. Nevertheless, though both mediums have their merits, I don’t think anything vital is missing from either, and watching the movie felt a lot like rereading the book likely would have.
  • Lastly, I re-watched the movie of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in February. I read the novel in January 2013, and rated it 5 stars. I watched the film immediately after. I haven’t watched it since, until last week. The plots are very similar between the two, although the two mediums have their own personalities and styles that makes both of them equally enjoyable to me. I love Emma Watson’s acting. I love this story in general, but I think it’s one that I could get tired of if I see/read it too many times. It needs a bit of shock value to hit the emotions properly, which it definitely did for me this time.

Books I finished reading:

  1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown. 5 stars.irongold It took me a while to read this one, but only because Pierce Brown’s books speak to my soul and I want to savor them and also not have a heart attack from reading all the intensity at once. I cannot wait until the next book is released in September, so I’ll probably be doing some Red Rising Saga rereading this year. In this latest edition to the series, Brown’s characters are as strong as ever, though some of them are moving in some new and intriguing directions. Iron Gold felt like a set-up book for what’s coming next, but even though it covers a lot of building ground it’s not lacking in plot.
  2. Night by Elie Wiesel. 5 stars. nightA short nonfiction book about the Holocaust should’ve seemed a world away from a futuristic space drama, but with Iron Gold so focused on war, Night felt like a pretty decent follow-up for it. I think it’s important to dig out the grains of truth in fiction, but it’s equally important to remember the real stories. This is a powerful book narrated by a Jewish WWII survivor and it’s probably the best book about that time period that I’ve ever read.
  3. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 5 stars. dearijeaweleLast year I read Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, and while I loved it, very little of it surprised me. This one felt more practical, more proactive. I don’t have any children at this point in my life, but there are some great reminders in here about which lessons children learn from this world are worth remembering, and which should be uprooted before they even take hold. This one was more inspiring to me, and I liked that it felt more personal, as a letter to a real person. And now that I’ve read Adichie’s shortest works, I’m definitely ready to move on something longer, like her novel Americanah.
  4. Saga: Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. 4 stars. This wasn’t my favorite Saga volume, but it did have some good features, including a punch at the end that I’m glad I waited to read until I also had my hands on:
  5. Saga: Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. 5 stars.sagavolumessevenandeight I’m caught up on this series now! Luckily the end of this one wasn’t so cliff-hanger-y; I’m going to miss these characters while I’m waiting for Volume 9. This one actually ended up being one of my favorite volumes of the set, though it’s definitely more focused on the relationships than the Landfall/Wreath war most of the time. Some cool seeds were sown for new enemies/alliances coming up though, so I’m still pretty interested in where this is all going and I’ll definitely be reading more as future volumes are released. I might even pick up some other comics while I’m waiting.
  6. Emma by Jane Austen. 4 stars. emmaThis is the first Jane Austen book that really impressed me with its formatting; so much of the strength of this story depends on the use of its dialogue and the personality traits that are displayed more through what’s not said than what is. The romances are lovely, of course, but predictable. It’s the character development evident through much of the dialogue that kept me reading this one, and I found it a perfect Valentine’s read because of the love stories but also because of the tragedies that result from Emma’s attempts at match-making (I’m a little cynical, I like to commemorate the day of love with some serious consequences to meddling with love. Last year I read Jane Eyre).
  7. Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. gwendy'sbuttonbox3 stars. I liked the idea behind this one, and the writing itself was fine, but somehow this one failed to make much of an impression– good or bad. I had no trouble finishing this short book quickly and I enjoyed its oddities, but I’m glad it wasn’t any longer and I was fully ready to get back to full length novels after this novella. I’m still looking forward to reading more from Stephen King, but I don’t think this one will stick with me very long and I’m not sad about it. His writing is superb, but his longer works do it better justice.
  8. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. crookedkingdom5 stars. I’m ashamed that it took me four months to get around to reading this one after Six of Crows, even knowing I loved that first book and would probably enjoy the end of this duology just as much as the beginning. It was a fun ride, but I actually didn’t love this one as much as Six of Crows. Book 2 operated the same ways as Book 1, so its surprises were less surprising. But it still has some great messages, some fun twists up its sleeve (we can call a dust jacket a sleeve, right?), and some of the best characters ever to appear in YA fantasy. I’m so glad I finally got around to this one and I desperately hope Inej makes future appearances in Bardugo’s Grishaverse because she’s my fave.
  9. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller. thephilosopher'sflight4 stars. I’m proud of myself again, for reading my Book of the Month selection within the month I received it. 🙂 I’m actually in the middle of a second BOTM book that’s backlogged from last year, but I did at least finish my February selection, so I’ve achieved the bare minimum by not falling farther behind. And this was a good one! It’s probably the weirdest book I’ve read all year, but I liked it. It was a fun experience. It was unusual, and that’s my goal for the year– to read books that are unusual to me. And also to catch up on my BOTM books, but there’s still time. I’m going to be picking up some of BOTM’s other February selections in upcoming weeks, as well, but this one was an unexpectedly good start.

Some stats:

  • Avg. rating this month: 4.4 . . . (wow, that’s high!)
  • Books hauled this month: 3 . . . (I met my goal!)
  • Owned books that I read for the first time this month: 4 . . . (I reduced my TBR bookshelf!)
  • Total books read in 2018 = 18 . . . (I’m ahead of schedule for my goal of 90 books!)

All in all, this was a good month. February didn’t drag on like January, I read more books that I thought I would get through (although some of them were short), and I mostly loved what I read. I’m excited to see what next month will bring! Did you notice I’m making some changes to my usual wrap-up structure? Let me know in the comments what you like to see in my monthly wrap-ups, so I know whether to keep things like the “trending” section, my thoughts on film adaptations from the month, and my overall stats. Is there anything more you would like to see?

Have you read any of these books? What was your favorite book from your February reading?


The Literary Elephant

Book Haul 2.18

New books for February! I set myself a hard goal this year of acquiring only 3 new books per month, and I suppose if I couldn’t make it happen in the shortest month of the year then I’d really be in bad shape. Fortunately, I persevered, and am now sharing with you my smallest book haul in over a year. I’m PROUD. (And also so very tempted to celebrate by buying new books.) But for this month, here’s what I got:

  1. King Lear by William Shakespearre. I’m on the hunt for my favorite Shakespeare play, so after a few recommendations I made sure to add this one to my list of classics to read in 2018. I was originally planning to read it in December, but I’ve changed my TBR system and I’m pretty interested in giving this one a try so I might pick it up early. In any case, I’m ready to read it now that I have a nice Pelican copy. I don’t know anything about the plot of this one, but that’s the way I like to read, so please don’t spoil me.
  2. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller. This one is my February Book of the Month Club selection, and I did manage to read it within the month! I had my eye on four of the selections this time, and I do have borrowed copies of a couple of the other choices in my possession at the moment, but I’m so proud of myself for facing the temptation head-on and sticking to my resolution of only choosing one in my BOTM box. I’m only supposed to be selecting one per month until I’m caught up with my BOTM backlog from last year, so this month was a success in that regard, as well. Follow the link for my review of this one, I had a great time reading it! It’s a sort of sci-fi/fantasy novel with historical and feminist elements, but mostly its a whimsical, wild ride about chasing dreams.
  3. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I guess I did buy a second BOTM selection, but not through BOTM. I bought a regular copy of this one after its release date for the cool cover details that BOTM generally doesn’t include, but also just because I was planning to get this one with a coupon through another bookseller before the February BOTM choices were announced. And I’m glad I did, because this book is GORGEOUS and will look perfect on my shelf next to The Nightingale, which admittedly I haven’t read yet. But I’m excited to read both! This one sounds like a hard-hitting story about abuse and the Alaskan wilderness, and I’ve seen nothing but good reviews. I’m planning to read this one in the next week or two.


That’s my entire list of new books for February. It’s short, but I think I made some good choices, and I’ll definitely read all of these within the year. I’ve only read one of three so far, but I did read four previously unread books from my shelves this month, so even though two of these are still unread I am actually down one book on my owned-books TBR this month, which also feels good. Success on so many levels.

Which new books did you pick up in February? And what’s good in new YA? I didn’t see much that caught my eye for YA in February, but I’m looking forward to some March releases!


The Literary Elephant

Conquering the world of literature, one book at a time