Tag Archives: bookish

Review: Finders Keepers

CW: murder, living with serious injury, theft, racism, homophobia, sexism, fatphobia, child abuse (tying wrists, pushing through window, threatening at gunpoint)

Finders Keepers is the second book in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy. I read book one, Mr. Mercedes, in a buddy read last year, and have been slow to continue despite thoroughly enjoying that first book. The prospect of an upcoming buddy read for another King novel (The Outsider) has finally motivated me to finish the series- today I’ll talk about Finders Keepers, and End of Watch (book 3) should be up later this week. No spoilers of course, as usual, though I’ve got plenty of complaints to air.

finderskeepersIn the novel, a writer-turned-recluse is robbed and murdered in 1978. Most of the crew that committed this crime were in it for the money, but one wanted the unpublished manuscripts and miscellaneous written work. To avoid getting caught for the crime, the books are packed away, only to be discovered by a teenager in 2014. One becomes desperate to sell the books on the black market, one becomes increasingly desperate to keep them, and neither is quite in control of the situation once a shady book dealer realizes what they have. Retired cop Bill Hodges and his PI buddies are brought into the case by a friend who wants to settle the matter before official police become involved.

“MacFarland may think [Morris is] too old to be a wolf, but what his parole officer doesn’t know is that Morris has already killed three people, and driving a car isn’t the only thing that’s like riding a bike.”

Finders Keepers is very much a bookish book. A bookish horror, one might say. It’s crammed full of references to titles and authors from a wide variety of genres; two of the main characters are big readers, and one is a bookshop owner, where part of the novel takes place. Sadly, bookish books don’t always work for me- name dropping and copious bookstore visits don’t quite make up for quality characterization and plot. Though King is generally known for his convincing characterization and unique plots, I found both elements severely lacking in this novel.

In fact, there were quite a host of aspects that just didn’t work for me here. First and foremost is that for a second book, Finders Keepers barely fits into the trajectory of the trilogy started by Mr. Mercedes and concluded in End of Watch. The few characters carried over from book one are largely unessential in this story, their appearances more like unnecessary cameos rather than a link to the rest of the series. The Mercedes Massacre (from Mr. Mercedes) does help lay the ground for the events of this volume, but any injury for Tom Saubers could have led these characters into the same situation. A bit of overt foreshadowing to indicate that the next volume will pick up the threads left dangling at the end of Mr. Mercedes comprises the only tenuous connection between Finders Keepers and the rest of the trilogy. In my opinion, this novel should have been a stand-alone with Hodges removed, and the other two books could have formed a nice duology.

My main problem with the plot actually has more to do with the novel’s structure. Though I usually enjoy irony, much of the suspense is removed from this story by the fact that we follow multiple characters who know different parts of the mystery. By the time Morris is panicking about where the manuscripts are, the reader has already learned their location from Pete’s perspective. Furthermore, I believe Hodges (and crew)’s sole purpose in this book is to guide the reader through this “mystery,” though by the time Hodges catches up to what is going on, everything is already clear to the reader- it’s the other characters who could use a guide.

On the subject of characters, I feel the need to address King’s poor representation of female characters- again. The last few King novels I’ve read have been much older (see: The Stand), and it’s been easier in those cases to chalk up the sexism as the product of an unenlightened era, but Finders Keepers was published in 2015. We’re way past the point where a raped woman should be presented as a villain for trying to convince her attacker’s parole board that he should remain imprisoned. And shame on King, for making her apologize to her rapist for that effort. But even outside of unsavory plot points, there were just some really awful lines making casual appearances in this book. Here’s just one example:

“Holly smiles, and Hodges thinks- as he always does- that she should do it more often. When she smiles, Holly is almost beautiful. With a little mascara around her eyes, she probably would be.”

If Holly is going to smile, it had better be for her own sake rather than to reassure Hodges that she is beautiful.

And women are not the only victims of this treatment.  The word “fat” is also thrown around copiously as a negative descriptor; villains are frequently referred to as “fat fucks,” etc. I noted at least one (each) racial and homophobic slur. Even if terrible remarks only crop up as characterization for old white men, it’s just gross for things like this to keep showing up- there are other ways to show that a character is evil (or in Hodges’s case, outdated). Instances like these are exactly the reason that his pro-lesbian messages in Elevation felt insincere to me.

But, terrible writing choices aside (and I swear it’s not always this bad), Finders Keepers does have a couple of redeeming features. The basic premise is interesting and engaging, and once we move past the mystery portion of it, the conflict is intense and unpredictable. Its morals are worthwhile for any reader, though I like to think that most are sensible enough not to kill for unpublished works from their favorite authors in the first place.

“Pete was coming to the conclusion that creative writing couldn’t really be taught, only learned.”

It is also interesting, the more of King’s work that I read, to see some of his ideas being recycled. Finders Keepers bears some striking similarities to King’s Misery in regards to theme and tone- both explore the quandary of whether a published work belongs primarily to its creator or to the audience who receives it- and reminds fans that no piece of literature is worth the writer’s (or anyone’s) life. In terms of plot Misery is a very different work (and the one I would recommend to anyone who can stomach a bit of body horror), but both seem to lead back to the same basic seed of idea; it’s intriguing to see the ways in which a thought can evolve over the course of about 30 years. Insights like these are why I keep going with King’s books, even though some of the stories really don’t work for me; it’s incredible to be able to follow a prolific writer’s trajectory through the many ups and downs of a long and remarkable career.

My reaction: 2 out of 5 stars. I can’t deny that it held my attention, though I think there were a few instances when I slipped into hate-reading it, which is compelling for a different reason. Overall, this has been a real contender for my least favorite Stephen King novel, though the other least favorites that come immediately to mind were disliked for different reasons, which makes it hard to hold them up side by side. In any case, I’m still intending to finish the series and my full read of King’s oeuvre; fortunately, End of Watch is looking like a vast improvement so far.

Is there any particular book that you wish you could remove from a series that you otherwise enjoy?

 

The Literary Elephant

 

 

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Top of the TBR (5.27.19)

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

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

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

50246The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. (Pub: 1969)

How I found It: I recently saw Cathy’s wonderful review of this one, and realized that I forgot to add the book to my TBR after deciding to based on Callum’s review a while back!

Why I added it: I’ve only read du Maurier’s Rebecca, which is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’d very much like to branch out with some of her other brilliant novels. I’ve also got My Cousin Rachel on my TBR, so I’ll aim to read these two before adding more du Maurier books to my TBR- I like to add only one or two books by any given author rather than bogging down my list with an entire series or oeuvre.

Priority: Middling. I expect that du Maurier will be an author I love beyond Rebecca, so it makes sense to prioritize what I know I’ll enjoy, but I don’t have a copy of this one yet and it sounds like a good book for fall.

25904473So Sad Today by Melissa Broder. (Pub: March 2016)

How I found it: I read Broder’s The Pisces (and loved it!) almost a year ago. Upon completion, I looked up other works by the author, and this was the only non-poetry title I came up with.

Why I added it: I wasn’t sure at first whether enjoying Broder’s fiction meant I wanted to read her essay collection, but after seeing Rachel’s review last week I was ready to give it a chance.

Priority: Middling. I might make this a part of my summer nonfiction list, as I don’t have any other essay collections in mind yet and I do want to read a variety of types/subjects for that.

41150487Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. (Pub: May 2019)

How I found it: I’ve seen ARCs of this one floating around the blogosphere and Bookstagram, etc. It’s been on my radar for weeks.

Why I added it: I’m not sure that I’ve ever read an LGBTQ+ rom com. I just don’t read romances very often, but I’ve heard too many good things about this one to skip over it for something more lackluster, which tbh is my usual .

Priority: Middling. I read usually 2-3 romances a year, and I already have Hoang’s The Bride Test coming up soon in my reading queue, so it’ll probably be a few months before I’m ready for another. But this will be the next in line.

40917488Naamah by Sarah Blake. (Pub: Apr 2019)

How I found it: I saw this short but intriguing review, which was the first time I realized that this book is about the biblical Ark story, from Noah’s wife’s perspective.

Why I added it: To keep it on my radar, primarily. I do look through my Goodreads TBR shelf quite often, taking off anything that I’ve decided against reading and checking in on titles I’ve been on the fence about, so I’ve mainly added this one in the interest of further consideration. It seems like there are quite a few lukewarm and negative reviews, so even though the premise intrigues me I’ll have to look into this one further before I go looking for a copy.

Priority: Low. Not even sure I will read. (If you’ve read this, please share your thoughts!)

42202089An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim. (Pub: June 2018)

How I found it: I don’t remember. This has been on my TBR for a while but got shifted in the order of my list this week when I entered a Goodreads giveaway for it (still ongoing if you’re interested!)

Why I added it: This is a sci-fi dystopian in which a flu pandemic rages through America and a woman decides to try time travel to save her boyfriend. If I remember correctly, the themes running under the surface plot have more to do with uprooting one’s life and then finding oneself in a strange place not entirely like what was expected, similar to an immigrant’s experience. I was getting a bit of an Exit West vibe from the synopsis, which is a favorable comparison for me.

Priority: Low. If I won a free copy I would get around to this one faster, but as I don’t yet have a copy and I do have a list of more pressing summer reads (probably the reason most of this list is turning out to seem low priority, tbh), I’m not in a hurry to get to this one.

41961994The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith. (Pub: Oct 2019)

How I found it: Mentioned on Bookstagram.

Why I added it: The Library of the Unwritten is a place in the afterlife full of unwritten books, as far as I understand. The librarian has to hunt down a missing book, with “a handful of Hell’s most unlikely escorts.” If that’s not intriguing, I don’t know what is.

Priority: Middling. I’m looking forward to catching some early reviews of this one, which could either prompt me to drop this book entirely, or bump it up to the top of my list, depending on whether the promise of the premise seems to hold up in execution.

39653535Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, trans. Marilyn Booth. (Pub: 2010/2018)

How I found it: I did a thorough look through the Man Booker International longlist earlier this year, and actually thought I’d put this one on my TBR at that point. Now that it’s won, I went back to its Goodreads page to read more about it and realized it wasn’t on my list yet, for some reason.

Why I added it: I’ve become much more interested in winners and nominees of literary prizes in the last couple of years, and I do want to be a more worldly reader. I added quite a few of the longlisted titles for this prize of translations into English, and of course I want to read the winner.

Priority: Middling. Maybe high. I don’t have a copy yet, but I’d love to get to this one before shifting focus to the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in July.

44140764Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. (Pub: Oct 2019)

How I found it: I went searching for this one on Goodreads last week. I vaguely remembered Bardugo had another book coming out this year and wanted to look it up.

Why I added it: This is Bardugo’s first adult book. I liked her Grisha trilogy and loved Six of Crows, but have opted out of King of Scars (so far) because I’m not much in the mood for YA spin-off fantasy this year, apparently. An adult possibly-fantasy book sounds much more my current speed, and the mention of Yale secret societies dabbling in the occult sounds like something I must explore further.

Priority: High. This sounds like a great October read, I’d really like to read it upon release.

 

Have you read any of these books, or recognize them from your own TBR? Spot something new that you like? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Tag: Spring Cleaning

I was nominated for this Spring Cleaning bookish tag by Hannah last month! I’ve fallen desperately behind this season between being busy and a bit of a reading/blogging slump, but I had a lot of fun putting this one together and it’s still spring in my corner of the world, so thanks for the tag, Hannah!

The Struggle of Getting Started: A Book or Series You Struggle to Begin Because of Its Size

11264999I’d have to say A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin. I struggle with picking up every single one of the books in this series, even though I love the world and story and do delight in reading them once I get going. I believe the shortest of the series is the first book, A Game of Thrones, which stands at over 800 pages (at least in the copy that I own). I’m currently hesitating about picking up book 4, but I think I’ll get around to it in about a week or so.

Cleaning Out the Closet: A Book or Series You Want to Unhaul

6186357The Maze Runner series by James Dashner. After the harassment allegations against Dashner a couple of years ago I no longer want to support his writing in any way. I’ve been hesitating because The Death Cure (book 3, the final installment) would be the first book I’ve bought and then unhauled without reading, which doesn’t sit well with me either. Though I found the plot of this story interesting, the writing style has bothered me from the first chapter of the first book, so between that and Dashner’s recent reputation, I just don’t have any interest in picking it up in order to read it to send it away- a stalemate.

Opening the Window and Letting Fresh Air In: A Book that was Refreshing

40597810Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’d heard a lot of hype, I’d seen some reviews criticizing the documentary-script-style formatting, and I wasn’t sure how interested I was in reading about a fictional 70’s rock band. But The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo had convinced me to set my expectations aside and give TJR a chance with any subject and style, and to no one’s surprise I adored almost everything about this book. By the time I finished, I found myself completely addicted to classic rock. The modern spin on this “historical” trend was perfection. Refreshing.

Washing Out the Sheets: A Scene that you Wish You Could Rewrite

39938177I really liked the plot and characters of Taylor Adams’s recent thriller, No Exit, but there was one disturbing scene that felt gratuitously cruel and ruined the suspension of disbelief for me once and for all. (It was the door hinge scene, for anyone curious who’s read the book. Not really a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t.) I’m not sure what I would have wanted to happen in place of this event, but I found it disturbing and unnecessary in a way that negatively impacted my opinion of the entire book.

Throwing Out Unnecessary Knick-Knacks: A Book in a Series You Didn’t Think Was Necessary

32283133Origin by Dan Brown. Honestly the art that I was encouraged to look up after encountering it in this novel is the only benefit I remember encountering as a result of reading this book. I loved the first three books in Brown’s Robert Langdon series when I was in high school and my first year of college. Inferno (book 4) was beginning to lose my interest, but I still found its concept intriguing (forced mass sterility as a method of worldwide population control) and was interested in Dante and his Divine Comedy at the time, so I didn’t mind. But Origin (book 5) felt completely unnecessary and frankly much less engaging than I’d found the rest of the series. So unnecessary that I’m not sure I would ever continue reading future books that might follow it someday.

Polishing Doorknobs: A Book That Had a Clean Finish

30849411I tend to prefer endings that leave something open for the reader to consider after closing the book, which is not exactly what I would call a “clean” ending. The first thing that comes to mind that might fit what I think is the spirit of this prompt is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This is a multi-generational story set in multiple locations, and though the ending was not the most impressive chapter of the book for me, I did appreciate how it tied all of the characters and their stories together without wrapping up all of the suffering in the book in an overly neat or dismissive way. Just the right amount of hope and grief.

Reaching to Dust the Fan: A Book That Tried Too Hard to Covey a Certain Message

37969723I think I’ll have to go with The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. Overall, I enjoyed this book and appreciate its themes, but after much consideration (probably due in part to the book’s inclusion on the Women’s Prize shortlist this year) I’m still not on board with the Achilles chapters. I think Barker makes a valuable point about ownership of stories and history by including him the way she does- allowing him to take over Briseis’s story- and perhaps disliking his character the way I did was the Point. But I wish she had found some other way to make this Point because the Achilles chapters continue to mildly irritate me, months later.

The Tiring Yet Satisfying Finish: A Series That was Tiring But Satisfying to Get Through

165035Last year I read Vilhelm Moberg’s (translated) Emigrants series, about a Swedish farming family relocating to the American Midwest in the mid 1800s. I found the writing a bit dry and progressed through the four books rather slowly, but ultimately look back on this series fondly. I had never before read anything remotely similar to my own family’s history, so it felt rewarding to learn about it through my favorite art medium- fiction, obviously. I’ve actually met some of my grandma’s Swedish relatives since finishing this series, and appreciated having a bit more context with Swedish history and culture prior to meeting them.

 

Since we’re just on the cusp of summer (at least we are where I’m at), I won’t obligate anyone to this decidedly spring tag. It’s definitely my own fault that I’m getting to this one so late, which is not a reflection of my enjoyment level over putting these answers together! So I’m not tagging anyone specifically, but please feel free to try it if it looks interesting to you, and link back to me so I can see your answers!

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

 

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.

wrap-up4.19

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

TBR 5.19

The usual spiel: my 2019 TBR goal is to read all of the new books I’ve acquired by the end of the following month, which means that my official May TBR is comprised of books I acquired in April.

But April was a bad month for me this year, even though it was my birthday month and therefore predisposed toward greatness; somehow I managed to acquire only one book that I haven’t already read. It was:

  1. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, my BOTM choice for April. This is the only book that my TBR goal “requires” me to read in May. I believe this is a legal/courtroom mystery about a woman who may or may not have murdered her autistic son, but I know there’s a lot more to it than that. Miracle Submarines and such, which I’m intrigued to learn about. People have been raving about this one and I’m looking forward to picking it up this month.

I also picked up a few of my favorites from the Women’s Prize longlist that I’ve already read but thought I would like to reread if shortlisted. None of them ended up advancing (a damn SHAME) but I’ll probably reread them soon anyway, just maybe not in May. These titles are:

  1. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, a powerful novel unlike anything I’ve read before or since that deserved a WIN, not only a spot on the shortlist. This is the exclusion I’m most upset about. This is a book about a Nigerian person who struggles with identity; there are cultural African elements (ogbanje spirits), and a challenging look at gender and mental health. Don’t let the shortlist fool you, this is absolutely a book worth picking up.
  2. The Pisces by Melissa Broder. I was less certain about this one making the shortlist because it has been very polarizing, but I found it fresh and captivating, despite its more disturbing moments. It’s about a woman struggling with her thesis on Sappho, searching for love and stumbling across a merman. It’s absolutely weird, but I marked so many great quotes the first time around that I ended up losing right after I sent the book back to the library, so a reread has been a long time coming (and I’m not taking any chances on the quotes disappearing from my computer file again).
  3. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. I read this one only two months ago, but it’s so short and impactful that I’m already ready for another go… and I hardly ever reread, which is saying something. I wavered on buying this one because it’s rather expensive for a novella, but I love the artistic touches in this edition so I went ahead and bought it. This one’s about a teenaged girl whose family is taking part in an Iron Age reenactment that goes too far. It’s so atmospheric and horrifying and brilliant that I can’t recommend it highly enough.

bookhaul4.19

And now I want to share a little about my reading/blogging plans for May, since this TBR isn’t giving much away. Right now, I have one library book checked out: Miriam Toews’ Women Talking; I have a couple more holds pending as well, but I’m not sure when they’ll come in. I want to catch up with some of my backlist BOTM titles, including Lot by Bryan WashingtonA Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum, and When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry. At some point either in May or June, I want to reread Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage in preparation for a Women’s Prize shortlist/winner post. But primarily, I want to catch up on Game of Thrones. I’m seriously missing out on one of the biggest stories in pop culture because I’m one of those weirdos who needs to read the book first and I’ve only read two books so I’ve only watched two seasons. (Please, everyone who is caught up with season eight, remember that spoilers are cruel.) I want to read at least Storm of Swords (by George R. R. Martin) this month, and farther in the series if I can keep my momentum.

tbr5.19

Since I’ll likely be starting with Storm of Swords, which will probably take me around a week (or possibly longer) to read, and I haven’t decided yet whether to post a full review upon completion (I’m not sure whether anyone would be interested in reading more than a few spoiler-free sentences in my month recap), this will probably affect my posts for the near future. I have two tags to complete and another round of Faber Stories mini-reviews coming up, but depending on how much time I spend reading Game of Thrones (and watching the corresponding episodes) I might be taking a bit of a hiatus from regular posts this month. I still expect to be perusing my feed, and I have a new weekly series in mind that I’m looking forward to starting, so I’m not going totally MIA.

Stay tuned for my April wrap-up (including the completion rate for my April TBR) which is coming up tomorrow.

Have you read Miracle Creek or any of the other titles I might be reaching for this month? I’d love to know what you thought in the comments!

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: Remembered

Women’s Prize No. 16/16

I was ecstatic (and to be honest, a little surprised) that I managed to finish reading the Women’s Prize longlist mere hours before the shortlist reveal! You can find the rest of my thoughts in my longlist wrap-up, but I do want to give a fair look at Yvonne Battle-Felton’s Remembered before completely switching my attention to the shortlist.

rememberedIn the novel, Spring goes to visit her son in the hospital as he lays dying from injuries sustained in a streetcar accident that he may or may not have caused. The accusations against him have more to do with his race than any factual evidence, but if Spring can’t change public opinion she can at least help Edward’s soul find its way to heaven (and his birth mother) by sharing the truth of his ancestry with him. With her dead sister by her side, Spring begins to tell the tale of slavery and freedom through several generations of family history, making sure it’s told the way she remembers it rather than the way it’s been publicly recorded and opined by the (white) masses.

“Either I’ll tell it my way or it won’t get told.”

I thought this was a good title to cap off my longlist experience, as it didn’t strike me as overly similar to anything else on the list (I’ve been noting a ton of thematic overlap this year) and it moves along at a decent pace. The plot moves smoothly and quickly from one scene to the next, focusing on each situation just long enough for the reader to engage with the characters and then moving along before the prose has a chance to dip into any exposition that’s too overt or sentimental- something I struggle with in Civil-War-era fiction.

At this point, I’ve read plenty about the evils of slavery in US history, which made a few sections of this book feel rather expected and already-done. But ultimately, no other title I’ve read on this topic has managed to convey the complex level of competition slavery forces between people who live and work together with quite the same finesse that Battle-Felton manages in Remembered. I was stunned by the heart-breaking way that Ella learns the other slaves aren’t necessarily on her side, even as they claim to be helping her. We’ve read about the wrongs that plantation owners and overseers have performed against the African Americans sold into their “care,” but have we heard about the wrongs one slave would perform against another? Especially the wrongs that come from a place of love? I found Mama Skins’s actions regarding the two teenaged girls she cares for to be the most nuanced and compelling part of this book.

I also particularly appreciated the juxtaposition of the news clippings alongside Spring’s firsthand account. I found this a very effective way of demonstrating the disparity between what might actually happen (or what people remember having actually happened, memory being an entirely different beast) and the way events are written and distributed for public consumption. I found this especially poignant immediately following Luiselli’s also-longlisted Lost Children Archive, which addresses the same topic.

“Freedom come alright. For most of us, it hasn’t come on horses or with golden trumpets. Wasn’t no angel going around saving all the slaves. Some owners turn people loose. Some slaves walk off. Far as I know, wasn’t nobody going round checking if people had set slaves free. And don’t seem like nobody’s making sure we stay free either.”

Unfortunately, other aspects of the story did not work quite so well for me. The ghost appearing to Spring might have made for an interesting spiritual/supernatural element, but instead she felt more like a device for Battle-Felton to convey information to Spring, information that might have been just as effectively left to deduction or assumption. Also, Edward’s position as a scapegoat for the streetcar accident seemed at first a deft move toward showing the ways Spring and her family are still hindered by unjust white whims long past the official date of emancipation Instead Edward’s impending death felt like a contrived reason for Spring to narrate the history that fills most of the novel. I suppose for me the things Remembered seemed like it most wanted to say didn’t always seem to match up with the way the story was being told.

Which, of course, is a stylistic issue, a matter of opinion that’ll vary widely between readers. In the end, I mean only to say that this book was full of ups and downs for me; I have no argument against Remembered, but it didn’t provoke the same level of excitement in me that other longlisted titles have. I think this may have been another sad case (see: Number One Chinese Restaurant) of a prize-nominated book that I might have found more enthusiasm for if I had read it independently of the Women’s Prize. On the other hand, I might never have heard of it without its inclusion on the longlist, and I am grateful to been introduced. I’m not sure where that conflict leaves me.

“When I get mad about them telling me all they think they know about my life, they call me angry. They say it like I ain’t got no cause at all to be upset, sad. Can’t hardly feel nothing without somebody telling me how I should feel instead.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. This was a quick read for me, and I think a good title to herald the end of my time with the longlist. It was easy to get through but it also made me think, which I enjoy in a book. It just didn’t sway me strongly one way or the other, and those seem to be the very hardest books to review.

 

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