Tag Archives: Books

Review: Fever Dream

This was the first year I’ve followed along with The Morning News’ Tournament of Books, and as I’d already read the winner (My Sister the Serial Killer– so glad it won!) and its top contender (Warlight– so glad it didn’t win!) I decided to pick up last year’s winner. Samanta Schweblin, also longlisted for the Man Booker International this year for a newer release, wrote last year’s ToB winner, Fever Dream. 

feverdreamIn the novella, a mother and her young daughter have taken a trip to the countryside. They’re staying in a rented house in a small village, where they meet a local woman who shares an odd story about her son. The two children play together, much to their mothers’ fright, but the disaster that occurs soon after can only be linked to the boy’s strange past by those willing to walk the line between reality and impossibility.

“Where is Nina? What happens at the exact moment? Why is all this about worms?”

The book opens on a conversation about a sensation of worms in the body. Our  narrator (the woman on vacation) is already lying in a hospital bed at the local clinic, in critical condition. She is speaking to David, her new acquaintance’s son, who may or may not actually be present. Together they discuss the events of the previous few days in an attempt to locate the “exact moment.”

This is more or less all I can say with certainty about the story, as much of it is confusing and mysterious and left to the reader’s interpretation. Which, honestly, is just the way I like it. I became so engrossed in this little book that I finished the whole thing in one sitting, through which I maintained such a level of concentration that I forgot to tab quotes or make any review notes or any of those other reading-adjacent tasks I normally do. There are no chapters, and no breaks in the narration as the story races to its conclusion, but it’s compulsively readable and the constant need to know more about the situation drives the reader ever onward. Perhaps best of all, the ending is not a clarification and the reader is given the chance to draw their own conclusions.

Why do mothers do that? … Try to get in front of anything that could happen- the rescue distance.

It’s because sooner or later something terrible will happen. My grandmother used to tell my mother that, all through her childhood, and my mother would tell me, throughout mine. And now I have to take care of Nina.”

Thematically, I would say this is a story of family; of what we would do or risk for those we love, and whether those choices are worth their cost. Our narrator constantly calculates a “rescue distance” to ensure her daughter’s safety- the length of time it would take her to reach her daughter at any given moment, should disaster strike. But in the end, horror can strike in any place, at any time, no matter how near your child may be, as both women at the heart of this story discover.

There’s also a striking bit of commentary here about the difficulties of raising children (or living at all) in areas with environmental dangers (whether they’re natural or caused by humans), especially in scenes where our narrator notices local children with deformities and calls David “more normal” than the other children his age, despite what she’s been told of his history.

David was the only element of this book that held me back from a 5-star rating- I found his dialogue a bit jarring and grating at times, and would have appreciated fewer interjections from him throughout the story. I didn’t have any trouble remembering he was there or the conversational format through which this story was being told- I simply didn’t need the constant reminders. But this was a small issue; overall I loved Schweblin’s writing and her command of this completely bizarre story.

It’s a challenging puzzle of a read, one I would love to have spoiler discussions about because I think there are several options to choose from in trying to piece together what has actually happened to these characters. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first closed the cover, but I appreciate books that keep me thinking after I’ve put them down, and after much consideration I’ve formed some opinions. Even so, I will probably want to reread this soon; I think Fever Dream would be one of those excellent stories with as much (or more) to offer the reader on a second pass as the first time through. If you’re a reader who is routinely disappointed or even annoyed by predictable plots, Fever Dream may be the book for you. It’s atmospheric, eerie, and utterly engaging.

“I don’t want to spend another night in the house, but leaving right away would mean driving too many hours in the dark. I tell myself I’m just scared, that it’s better to rest so tomorrow I can think about things more clearly. But it’s a terrible night.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Some of my favorite books this year have been mysterious/experimental novellas- Ghost WallMy Sister the Serial Killer, and now Fever Dream. This wasn’t quite a top favorite forever-love read, but it did confirm that I must read more of Schweblin’s work, probably starting with the Man Booker International nominee Mouthful of Birds (which I think is the only other title she has published that’s been translated into English?)

What’s the weirdest book you’ve read this year?


The Literary Elephant


Review: The Bride Test

Last year I read Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient in a rare romance mood, and though I had a few qualms with it about miscommunication and lack of consent, I thought it showed a lot of promise and immediately added The Bride Test, Hoang’s second (and related) novel, to my TBR. I managed to get my hands on a copy early this month.

thebridetestIn the novel, Esme (or Mý) is working a steady- if somewhat undesirable- cleaning job at a Vietnam hotel to support herself, her mother, grandmother, and small daughter. At the hotel, she meets a bold woman who is wife hunting for her grown son, Khai, who lives in America and has no idea what his mother is planning. Esme isn’t sure she’ll manage to convince anyone to marry her, but she does want to go to California to search for her long lost father, and decides to take a chance. Then she meets Khai- a kind, autistic man who doesn’t believe himself capable of love. Their families seem eager to push the two of them together, but can they admit their feelings for each other in time to wed before Esme’s travel visa expires?

“She wasn’t impressive in any way you could see or measure, but she had that fire. She felt it. That was her worth. That was her value. She would fight for her loved ones. And she would fight for herself. Because she mattered. The fire inside of her mattered. It could achieve and accomplish. People might look down on her, but she was making her way with as much integrity as she could with limited options.”

Right off the bat, I knew I was going to appreciate the exact same things about this book that I did with The Kiss Quotient; it’s wonderful to encounter a romance that offers such great representation- the man is autistic, he is American but his family is from Vietnam, and the woman is fully Vietnamese, unmarried with a child. I’m not a huge fan of romance books in general, so I like to be able to pick up a book from that genre that’s also going to offer insight into aspects of life that I’m not so familiar with. My list of elements to admire in this one included: seeing Esme learning to navigate a US airport without full grasp of the English language; seeing Khai’s perspective on how autism affects his emotions; seeing Esme care for Khai with the same enthusiasm both before and after she knew about his diagnosis, without letting him use the autism as an excuse when he does something hurtful; and seeing Quan look out for his younger brother (Khai) in a patient and considerate way. The Bride Test is a love story, but it’s also so much more.

“Everyone deserved to love and be loved back. Everyone. Even her.”

But in spite of the positives, I had more issues with this novel than I did with The Kiss Quotient, even though I liked the premise of The Bride Test more.

First, I had the same qualms as with Hoang’s first book- consent is not always asked for or given before things get physical, and, I thought a lot of the climactic tension could have been resolved (or at least lessened) if the characters had taken a moment to communicate with each other instead of walking off alone with their hurt feelings and assumptions. I understand that there’s a bit of a language barrier between Esme and Khai- she prefers to speak in Vietnamese and he prefers English; they understand each other but continue to converse in different languages. I also understand that Esme doesn’t really know what autism is or how it might manifest in Khai’s behavior or thought processes, but I do believe she knows him well enough that she would understand where he’s coming from if they would’ve had an honest conversation instead of being stubborn.

But my biggest problem with this book is simply that the entire major conflict made me uncomfortable. Admittedly, I don’t know much about autism or how to help an autistic person understand something that they seem hardwired against believing, so it’s possible that everything happening here is the “correct” way of going about it. But Esme and Quan, literally making Khai sick while trying to change his viewpoint on the matter at hand was hard to stomach. What bothers me most is that the truth was plain for everyone to see- they only pushed him because they wanted him to admit the words aloud. This is probably just a personal opinion, but I don’t think that what something is called matters as much as what something is. Esme and Khai butting heads over semantics in the final days before the deadline of her visa was not cute and angsty for me; it was torturous seeing Khai squirm between a rock and a hard place. I could see why Esme wanted Khai to say what she was asking him to say, but I couldn’t bring myself to sympathize with her. I agreed with most everything she thought and said, and yet I did not completely agree with her behavior.

“If he didn’t love her, someone else would. She wasn’t going to settle for a one-sided love. Not in this lifetime. Not ever.”

Perhaps most problematic to my reading experience, I was never quite convinced by Esme’s character. From the way she’s described by the other characters and the personality she presents in her own chapters, it seems like there’s absolutely nothing to dislike about her. She’s sunny and optimistic, nice to everyone, and smoking hot besides, of course. She’s worried that she’ll be turned away because of her family’s poverty or her young daughter, born out of wedlock. Unfortunately, these are real possibilities in life, but it’s obvious to the reader- and should be obvious to Esme- that they bear no significance with Khai. Furthermore, I don’t think The Bride Test is promoting very healthy practices between new couples by allowing Esme to get away with concealing her daughter from Khai’s family for almost the entire novel- that’s just not something you should wait to introduce to a potential partner until the day of the wedding, no matter the circumstances.

But The Kiss Quotient won Hoang a lot of fans, and I’m sure The Bride Test will as well. It’s funny, it’s steamy, it’s got some quality commentary about minority experiences. Esme’s situation (well, before the mail-order bride bit) feels plausible and worth the attention it receives here, as does Khai’s. Matt and Stella are given a couple of honorable mentions that’ll please past Hoang readers, and despite my criticisms, I am still completely on board for the next novel in this series, which looks to be Quan’s chance to shine. (It is not necessary to read the entire series or to read these books in any particular order, though of course you’ll not catch the references to previous MCs if you haven’t read the earlier books.)

All in all, there’s plenty to recommend about The Bride Test and The Kiss Quotient, and even if they aren’t perfect, they’re a step in the right direction for the genre (and literature) as a whole; I’m so excited to see more authors jump on this trend in the future and make this genre more inclusive and irresistable. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying with Hoang.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. This was an incredibly quick read for me; even in the moments I completely disagreed with what was happening, I couldn’t seem to put the book down. I’m glad I picked it up, and I’m sure parts of it will stick with me, but I’m also glad I decided to check this one out from the library instead of purchasing immediately. I’m really looking forward to the Quan book, though! Before that one hits shelves, next up for me in romance will probably be Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue, but I’ll warn anyone anticipating my review of it that it might be a while before I pick it up, simply because I’m not a frequent romance reader.

What’s your favorite romance novel? Have you read either of Helen Hoang’s books? I’d love to know what you thought!


The Literary Elephant

Review: The Dirt

There’s a bit of a story behind my picking up Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt: Confessions of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band (with Neil Strauss) last month. First, I read Daisy Jones. While reading, I happened to log into to Netflix (which I hadn’t done for weeks) on the very day that the film version of The Dirt was released there. My reaction to the trailer was basically “Mötley who?” but it seemed on theme, so I gave it a go. Soon after, coincidentally, I found some Mötley Crüe original vinyl in my parents’ basement, and had a chat with my dad about his days as a fan back in college. Then I found The Dirt on the Rory Gilmore reading list, of all places. A Stranger Things 3 trailer was released with a Mötley Crüe song playing through the opening scene. If any of these things hadn’t happened, I don’t think I would have ended up checking out this book, despite all the rest. But those things did happen, and here we are.

the dirtIn the book, the four original members of glam metal band Mötley Crüe– along with several adjacent “characters”- tell the nonfiction tale of the group’s creation, its rise to fame, and subsequent fall. Through alternating perspective chapters and a fairly straightforward chronology, we see the band confess their highs and lows through a retrospective lens of reflection. There are shocking reveals of crimes, deaths, and general immorality as remembered by Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, and Mick Mars, but the book also offers a broader depiction of the rock scene in this era, and the circumstances that birthed the wild lawlessness that defines Mötley Crüe.

“There was Nikki, who was dying; Tommy, who was getting loaded and fighting with his wife; Vince, who was completely out of control; and Mick, who basically woke up every morning and drank and sobbed to himself until he passed out. And this was supposed to be one of the biggest, greatest rock bands in the world.”

By far the most compelling aspect of this autobiography is the mix of 80’s glamour and, as the title suggests, absolute dirt. It’s simultaneously thrilling to watch this misfit band of nobodies beat the odds of superstardom, and appalling to encounter their (mis)adventures along the way. Actually, I’m not sure “appalling” is a strong enough word. If you’re a reader who needs to like or sympathize with characters to enjoy a book, this will absolutely not be the book for you. My enjoyment while reading this book is not in any way on par with my opinions about these people. In fact, I have a friend who probably still hates me for my constant updates on the changing status of “which Crüe member I hate most at the moment” through all 400 pages of this read.

“At first I was relieved because it meant I hadn’t raped her. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I pretty much had. I was in a zone, though, and in that zone, consequences did not exist. Besides, I was capable of sinking even lower than that.”

Though there’s certainly an attempt made by all band members to look back on their 80’s wrongdoings with enlightened 2000’s perspectives, the quote above is a fair example of how close they actually come to remorse or apology- not close at all.

So why keep reading, you may ask?

It becomes clear very early on that the rock ‘n roll culture of the 80’s that has been so immortalized was also a very dangerous place. The members of this band are people who’ve had absent parents and/or difficult childhoods, and if I remember correctly, every single one of them dropped out of high school; they founded the band on desperation and street smarts, with a love of music and Jack Daniel’s and not much else. Some of them were not even old enough to legally enter the establishments where they played their early shows when the band began, though this didn’t stop them from entering or consuming plenty of booze while there. Daisy Jones didn’t lie about the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in band life- if anything, that novel seems to have downplayed the problem.

“Because I was always starving and amped on uppers, I often felt as if I didn’t have a body, like I was just a vibrating mass of nerves.”

Not only was bad behavior allowed as Motley Crue’s popularity increased, but it was encouraged. And that is the reason I stuck with this book despite everything horrendous it had going on. The Dirt showcases an unjustifiable level of corruption and greed in the music industry during this era; from managers and producers admitting aloud to caring about nothing but the money they stood to gain, to fellow musicians reinforcing the party lifestyle, it’s obvious that the most shining of personalities would’ve stood little chance of coming out clean.

“We thought we were the baddest creatures on God’s great earth. Nobody could do it as hard as us and as much as us, and get away with it like us. There was no competition. The more fucked up we got, the greater people thought we were and the more they supplied us with what we needed to get even more fucked up. Radio stations brought us groupies; management gave us drugs. Everyone we met made sure we were constantly fucked and fucked up.”

Alcoholism wasn’t understood at the time. Addiction wasn’t understood. The corrupt bosses who sold the records stayed quiet, behind the scenes. The fans heard the music, and saw Mötley Crüe’s energy and excitement on stage- the band’s health and well-being didn’t matter to the crowds. Their whole lives were on display for public entertainment, and the public was entertained. What shocked me most while reading The Dirt wasn’t anything that the band members did under their disturbed interpretation of “fun;” it was that everyone else seemed to accept these actions from them so easily. To want them, even. The band members themselves seem surprised by how far they were allowed to go.

“For ten years solid, we had been invincible. No one could touch us. Tommy and I had raped a drunk girl in the closet, and she had forgotten about it. Vince had killed someone in a car accident, and gotten away with it. We had released two albums we hardly even remembered recording, and they still sold like crazy. I had overdosed and forced the cancellation of our European tour, and our popularity only increased.”

When Mötley Crüe crashed and burned in the 90s, they were completely lost. They made attempts, tried to carry on each in their own way, but sobriety and a changing music industry pulled them out of the only lifestyle they knew. Yet they never quite grew up or out of old habits.

The last third of the book was not as captivating for me as the rest. The format grew lax, fewer pictures were included (and a portion of the ones that were present came from the band’s heyday rather than fitting their ages in the narration), and it felt like a group of celebrities trying to convince the world they were still big after everyone had moved on. Awkward. Certainly there was still a lot of public interest in their marriages, their incarcerations, their breakups and makeups as musicians. It wasn’t quite the same, though. And through no fault of the book, it ended and was published before the band’s Final Tour in 2014-15 and the making and release of The Dirt film (which obviously wouldn’t have happened before the publishing of the book anyway), both of which brought fresh attention to the band and might have wrapped up their story in this volume more satisfactorily.

And yet, even after the end of the book lost my interest and the only band member I had any respect left for was Mick Mars- the quiet one with the bone disease that prevented him from living the high life in quite the same manner as his bandmates- I still found The Dirt compelling and downright eye-opening. I’m no psychology expert, and it’s never explicitly stated, but I do think the intent of this book is not to glorify the “decadence” Mötley Crüe describes, but to expose the ways that an entire cultural movement contributed to their ruination. That was my takeaway, at least.

“Then Ricky asked, ‘Are you wearing makeup?’ 

‘Yeah,’ I told him.

‘Men don’t wear makeup,’ he said firmly, like it was a law, with his friends backing him up like a jury of the normal.

‘Where I come from, they do,’ I said, turning on my high heels and running away.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. My experience with this book has only reinforced my determination to pick up more nonfiction this summer. If this is what it’s like, I’ve been seriously missing out. I do think this a book that’s worth the read if you’re interested in nonfiction at all, even if you don’t like Motley Crue’s music or “glam metal” in general. (I didn’t even know that was a genre, to be honest.) I can’t say I’m a big fan, myself. I had only a mild interest in classic rock before Daisy Jones and The Dirt; I watched Bohemian Rhapsody twice, but I’ve never seen any of those band documentaries or reunion shows that seem to air pretty regularly. I barely even recognized the name “Mötley Crüe” before watching the film, but in the end I’m so glad that circumstances led me to this book. It’s been a weird, horrifying, and enlightening ride.


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.



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


Top of the TBR 6.3.19

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:

25463201Noah’s Wife by Lindsay Starck (Pub: Jan 2016)

How I found it: This was recommended to me by the blogger behind Grab the Lapels after I mentioned Sarah Blake’s Naamah in last week’s Top of the TBR post!

Why I added it: I still have mixed thoughts about wanting to read Naamah, based on several reviews I’ve seen for it. The concept of a Noah’s Ark retelling from the wife’s perspective is intriguing, and this sounds similar, although perhaps a modernization as well; I’m hoping two titles with similar premises will mean that at least one of them will hit the mark for me!

Priority: Low. I’m intrigued, but my summer reading list is pretty full already.

45183786Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (Pub: Aug 2018)

How I found it: I don’t exactly remember. This one’s been on my radar since its release.

Why I added it: Foundryside been on my TBR for a while but got bumped up this week when I entered a giveaway for it. (Still ongoing!) Apparently there’s always at least one case of this in every week’s post. This one’s adult fantasy with a high rating!

Priority: Low. I want to read more adult fantasy this year, but before I plan what to start next from that genre I have to finish the Song of Ice and Fire series (hoping to pick up book 4 any day now) and Kingdom of Copper, which I read half of and had to set aside because it just wasn’t the right time for me to enjoy it.

22571552So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (Pub: Mar 2015)

How I found it: This has gotten tons of reviews across all sorts of bookish social media.

Why I added it: I’m putting together a list of nonfiction I want to read this summer (I’ll probably be posting a TBR later this week), and while sorting through a master list of all the nonfiction I want to read ever (so far), I realized this one was missing. It’s about people who have received a huge amount of backlash for comments/posts they’ve made on the internet, which sounds intriguing.

Priority: Middling. This would add some great variety to my summer nonfiction reading, but real estate on that list is more valuable than I thought it would be and I’m just not sure whether there’s room for this late addition!

709734Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee (Pub: Jan 2007)

How I found it: Searching for more Min Jin Lee books after reading (and loving) Pachinko.

Why I added it: Pachinko has really stuck with me as a favorite since I read it a few months ago and I would like to experience that again, if possible. Other than the author, I don’t know anything about this book.

Priority: Middling. For some reason, even though I read Pachinko back in February and didn’t get around to adding Free Food For Millionaires to my TBR then, it’s really caught my attention lately. I don’t have a copy on hand but I’m tempted to pick one up!

43192297Norco ’80 by Peter Houlahan (Pub: June 2019)

How I found it: This title is now being offered as an add-on by BOTM.

Why I added it: I did not add this title to my box, because much to my surprise a copy is on order through my library. I’ll pick it up there. I’ve been interested in true crime lately, and I thought a book about a bank robbery would be a nice break from all the serial killer books on my list.

Priority: High. I wanted to add a couple of new release non-fiction titles to my summer reading, and this one caught my attention. Easy availability through my library cinched that decision.

40653138City of Omens by Dan Werb (Pub: June 2019)

How I found it: Another BOTM add-on option in the nonfiction category.

Why I added it: I actually did add this one to my June box, and so should be receiving my copy in the coming weeks. It’s not going to be available through my library, but “A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands” sounded exactly like something I wanted to read- especially in the wake of my appreciation for Lost Children Archive.

Priority: High. I’m going to own a copy of this very shortly, and buying it in June means it will show up on my July TBR.

40796190Eyes in the Sky by Arthur Holland Michel (Pub: June 2019)

How I found it: What can I say, BOTM has just been killing it with their add-ons lately, especially in nonfiction.

Why I added it: This is a science nonfiction book that sounds perfect for conspiracy theory nuts- which I’m not, though I do find such theories interesting. This is a brand new book about US military-owned technology with the power to surveil a whole lot of people on a creepy level- and is currently in use. Who doesn’t want to know more about that?

Priority: Middling. This one doesn’t look like it’ll be available through my library either, and I didn’t allow myself two nonfiction add-ons this month, so even though I’m interested I don’t think I’ll be able to read it soon.

43124139What Red Was by Rosie Price (Pub: Aug 2019)

How I found it: I saw this review on Goodreads!

Why I added it: The review definitely piqued my interest. Once I’d followed the review to the book’s Goodreads page I saw a few other readers I follow had also marked it as to-read, and I found this excellent passage from its synopsis: “What Red Was is an incisive and mesmerizing novel about power, privilege, and consent–one that fearlessly explores the effects of trauma on the mind and body of a young woman, the tyrannies of memory, the sacrifices involved in staying silent, and the courage in speaking out.” What’s not to like?

Priority: High. I have no idea how I’ll fit more of anything into my summer TBR, but this looks like a new release I won’t want to miss!

13623848The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Pub: Sept 2011)

How I found it: No idea, this has been on my radar for years.

Why I added it: I thought this had been on my TBR before I’d ever heard any anticipation or early reviews for Circe, and usually when I finish a book by an author I want to read more from I add another of their books to my TBR immediately after finishing the first. So I’m not sure how this has escaped my “official” TBR, but I really think I will enjoy this more than Circe and I feel like the only person on the planet who hasn’t already read this one! (In case you’re like me and haven’t read it yet, it’s a retelling of Homer’s The Iliad.)

Priority: Middling. I really want to get to this one, but I don’t have a copy nor a set plan for when it will fit into my schedule yet.


I’ll wrap it up there! I actually have added a few more titles to my Goodreads TBR earlier today, but I’ll hold them back until next week because I’ve already covered 9 books here. I think it’s very apparent from this series that I have TBR issues- If I add around 10 books per week, every week, and only read 1-3 books per week, I’m never going to balance everything that I want to read. But I’m okay with that- I like having options. Current TBR tally: 663, and going strong.

But what about you? Have you read any of these, or recognize them from your own TBR? What’s a book you’re most excited to read in the future?

The Literary Elephant

TBR 6.19

My TBR goal for the year is to read any new books I’ve acquired by the end of the following month. We’re not quite halfway through the year yet, but I am seriously considering throwing this goal out the window, which is an unusual stance for me in general and especially after May, which was the first month all year that I’ve succeeded with this self-challenge. But May has also been the first month of my new Top of the TBR series, which I’m enjoying a whole lot more than these book haul TBR posts. And May has also been the third month in a row for me of no 5-star novels, which is seriously putting me in the mood to just reach for whatever I think is going to break this weird reading funk I’m in and skip the plans and lists.

But I’ve decided to stick with this set-up for the month of June, at which point the year will be half over- a nice round number that seems opportune for reassessment. So here are the new books I’ve picked up in May that my TBR goal says I should be reading in June:

  1. The Buried: An Archeology of the Egyptian Revolution by Peter Hessler. This was my BOTM selection for May, and it’s at the top of my list for the nonfiction binge I tend to partake in this summer. (List of probable nonfiction titles I’ll be reading coming soon.) I haven’t read Hessler before and I don’t know anything more about this book beyond what the title suggests, but I thought a regional history of a country I’m not especially familiar with would be a great addition to my summer nonfiction stack.
  2. The Killer Across the Table by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. This was an extra nonfiction title I picked up from BOTM in May. I just watched the first season of Mindhunter recently (on Netflix), which is related content. I’ve succumbed to a serial killer / true crime fascination and am looking forward to continuing down that path in my reading life as well.
  3. A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley. This is a collection of short stories that was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2018, and the author was one of my TAs in the creative writing program at the University of Iowa. I’m also trying to read more short stories this year, and as I near the end of the Faber Stories collection I’m looking forward to getting back into other collections of short stories.
  4. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston. I believe this is a YA novel about a high school cheerleader who is drugged and assaulted at a party. I haven’t been reading much YA this year but I do still appreciate hard-hitting books from that age range. This also sounds a bit like Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, which turned out to be one of my favorite reads of 2018. The clincher was that this was only $1 on Book Outlet.
  5. Winter by Ali Smith. I own but haven’t read Autumn yet, though all signs point to me enjoying this seasonal quartet when I get around to it. I didn’t expect I would ever find it cheaper than I did this month, so I decided it was worth getting it now for my future self. I don’t really anticipate that I’ll be reading either Autumn or Winter this June, which means I’ve probably failed my TBR goal for the month before I’ve even begun. But who knows, anything could happen.
  6. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I actually read the titular piece from this book last year, and liked it enough that I wanted to pick up my own copy. This one matches my edition of The Waves (which I have not read yet). But it also contains a second essay, much to my surprise, so I will have to read that as well before I can count this as completed.
  7. Fever Dream by Samanta Scweblin. I was not expecting this one to be as small as it is, but I suppose that bodes well for my ability to get around to it right away. This one is the 2018 Tournament of Books winner, and I also remember it being described as something like a psychological ghost story? That sounds right up my alley. I will actually pick this one up soon. Probably.


Those are the books I’ve picked up in May and haven’t read yet. In the interest of inclusivity, I’m also going to mention that I picked up my own copy of An American Marriage by Tayari Jones for a good price this month, and am currently rereading it in preparation for a Women’s Prize shortlist wrap-up post (coming soon). I’m also working my way through another batch of Faber Stories that I’m pretty confident I’ll finish before the end of May- I’ve already read Akhil Sharma’s Cosmopolitan and will promptly be reading Samuel Beckett’s Dante and the Lobster and Djuna Barnes’s The Lydia Steptoe Stories (mini-reviews coming soon). All of these I’ve acquired in May but expect to finish before June begins.


Additionally, I’ve got a few library holds that have come in recently that I’ll be reading in the first half of June: Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test, Hanna Jameson’s The Last, and Melanie Golding’s Little Darlings.

Furthermore, I’m on a quest to finish reading George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (as much of it as is published so far); I’ve got a few episodes left to watch from season 4 of the corresponding Game of Thrones TV series, and then I anticipate that I’ll be reading A Feast for Crows in June.

And in case that wasn’t enough, I’ve also agreed to a buddy read of Stephen King’s The Stand, his longest novel (we’re reading the uncut 1400+ page version), starting on the first of June. Which we aren’t even expecting to finish until early/mid July. I’ll only be reading about 200-250 pages of this per week, which is typically less than half of my weekly reading, so I will be reading plenty of other books in the meantime, but there’s no use denying that this is a substantial commitment.

So as you can see, my reading is all over the place and there’s no way I’ll manage to fit everything in unless I suddenly learn to speed read this month. But there’s a lot I’m looking forward to, and I’m hoping something here will break my sad no-5-stars streak. I have been enjoying most of what I’ve been reading, and I haven’t stopped reading so I wouldn’t say I’m in a slump, but something just has not been right in my reading life lately. (May wrap-up coming soon.) So if there’s anything I’ve mentioned in this post that you really want to see me review, let me know in the comments so nothing gets lost in this month’s shuffle! I really have no idea how much of this I might be reading in June, or what to prioritize. Send help.

Have you read any of these books? What’s your top-priority read for June?


The Literary Elephant

Review: Women Talking

I’ve been anticipating Miriam Toews’s Women Talking for months, and in the wake of 1000+ pages of George R. R. Martin‘s writing I was in desperate need of some feminism. Women Talking, along with Mary Beard’s Women & Power (which I’ll talk about more in my month wrap-up) gave me exactly what I needed.

womentalkingIn the novel, a handful of women from the Mennonite colony of Molotschna gather secretly in a hay loft to discuss a response to the men that have raped them. The eight men who stand accused of making nightly visits to women of all ages in the colony- subduing them with an anesthetic spray  and then raping them while they lie unconscious in their beds- are being held in the city jail, away from Molotschna. Others from the community have gone to post bail and bring them home pending trial. The women know they will be asked to forgive these men and carry on as usual; refusing forgiveness would mean- according to bishop Peters- being barred from heaven for the hatred they harbor.

“A very small amount of hate is a necessary ingredient to life.”

It would be easy to make an argument that this book presents as fiction for feminism newbies. The Molotschnan women have been cut off from the rest of the world- they are even made to speak a dead language that prevents them from communicating with anyone outside of their own religion- and thus are coming to the idea of gender equality as though it’s a radical revolution. All facets of this concept are new to them, or at least new as a topic of discussion outside their own private thoughts, and thus all sides of the issue are laid out simply and in great detail. To consider disobeying the men of their community is indeed an act of rebellion. The women laugh at the prospect of asking for more rights and protections because they know these desires will be stamped down without any fair consideration. Such is life in Molotschna.

“She once explained to me that, as a Molotschnan, she had everything she wanted; all she had to do was convince herself that she wanted very little.”

What keeps the story from feeling behind the times or too basic is the specific combination of rapes and religion in this limited environment. In an introductory statement, Toews mentions a real-life case of Bolivian colony women who were subjected to similar mysterious attacks as recently as 2009. Beyond the outrage of such a parallel is the necessary consideration that the men in this equation are husbands, brothers, sons, and long-time acquaintances of the women. They have been raised to value non-violence and forgiveness, to such an extent that they believe retaliating will cost them their souls. This is no straightforward discussion about taking revenge against evil men, but an exploration of the community hierarchy that birthed such a situation, without disregarding the fact that these women have been conditioned to believe that fighting the system could mean eternal damnation, a fate they actively fear.

Women Talking takes a philosophical approach to this one unique case of injustice, through which many broader statements can be more generally applied. It is at heart an examination of faith and the self- what each woman is willing to do or sacrifice for what she believes she deserves- rather than a condemnation of men or religion outright.

“Our freedom and safety are the ultimate goals, and it is men who prevent us from achieving those goals.

But not all men, says Mejal.

Ona clarifies: Perhaps not men, per se, but a pernicious ideology that has been allowed to take hold of men’s hearts and minds.”

If you’re looking for plot, you won’t find it here; the title tells it true- almost the entire book consists of a handful of women talking through their options across two days of meetings. Because the women can’t write, they entrust one man with the task of keeping minutes for the meeting- he is our narrator. He goes on many tangents, makes his own assumptions, and in the end manages to skew the process of recording the minutes to seem a project entirely about himself, all of which contributes to the sense of claustrophobia and powerlessness these women must be experiencing.

The format and general lack of action happening on the page will likely alienate some readers, but I found it a beautiful, insightful look at a problematic power structure, which paired nicely with Beard’s nonfiction lectures/essays in Women & Power. I found myself outraged and emotional over many of the story’s details (there are so many infractions I haven’t mentioned in this review), and devoured both books in one sitting.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Though a bit too short and beginner-friendly to pack the full 5-star punch for me, I did find this little book an absorbing change of pace. Everything about it fit so seamlessly together, and I loved the way that this piece of fiction reflects/addresses a real-life catastrophe in a way that gives voice to silenced women. I may pick up more from Toews in the future, but I was more interested in this specific concept and book than the author’s work more broadly at the moment; Women Talking was exactly what I wanted it to be, but… I’m fine with it ending here for now. Feel free to drop suggestions if you think there’s another Toews book I’m missing out on, though!


The Literary Elephant