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Review: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

My Cassandra Clare marathon of 2017 continues. This month I read Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, the second short story collection in Shadowhunter publication order. I had high hopes for this one, but honestly it didn’t impress me any more than The Bane Chronicles. This second collectiontalesfromtheshadowhunteracademy is co-written by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman.

About the book: There are ten short stories set around Simon’s time at Shadowhunter Academy, after the events of The Mortal Instruments novels. You should read those first to avoid spoilers. Each story is precluded with a key excerpt from the coming story, and a page of beautiful matching graphics. And now for the stories:

“Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy” : 3 stars. Nothing happens in this one that we don’t know already from the end of The Mortal Instruments. There’s a lot of angst about Simon’s missing memories, and a lot of snobby characters. Familiar faces from TMI appear like “guest stars.” Simon is trying to make a stand against prejudices at the school, but he’s a weaker character at this point because of his unknown past, and we’ve seen these same prejudices in Clare’s previous books. I was expecting a little more flare in this first story, but it’s heavy.

“The Lost Herondale” : 4 stars. This one, at least, follows a traditional story arc with steadily increasing tension to keep the reader engaged throughout the story. It starts a little slow, and trickles off after the tension fades, but it’s stronger than the first story. Most of the characters are still unpleasant, and the prejudices are back… I keep expecting Clare to make a big show of resolving conflict between the species and it just keeps… well, not happening.

” ‘We are all what our pasts have made us,’ Catarina said. ‘The accumulation of thousands of daily choices. We can change ourselves, but never erase what we’ve been.’ “

“Every decision you make, makes you. Never let other people choose who you’re going to be.”

“The Whitechapel Fiend” : 2 stars. Here are two stories in one, in which neither story seems to have a purpose. Especially the story Tessa tells– it’s heartening to see her in this context, but the moral to her story is “problems solve themselves.” There’s a second storyline with Jace and tree falls, which also has little point. “The Whitechapel Fiend” might have made a decent chapter in one of Clare’s novels, but it does not work as a short story. Stories are supposed to stand alone. And they’re supposed to be eventful. Halloween bonus for the demon child, though. She’s creepy.

“Nothing but Shadows” : 4 stars. Another story-within-a-story. Again, I believe a story is supposed to have a purpose, and when Catarina tells Simon her story, it seems at first that she’s going to offer some insight to help him with his current situation and instead she ends it with “you have to work these things out for yourself.” Which is what he would have done without her story anyway. It was a great tale, though. I could read a whole book about Jamie Herondale.

“That is the wonderful thing about making changes and meeting strangers, Jamie. You never know when, and you never know who, but someday a stranger will burst through the door of your life and transform it utterly. The world will be turned upside down, and you will be happier for it.”

“People are afraid of anybody who is different: It makes them worry everyone else is different too, and just pretending to be all the same.”

“Do not let any of them tell you who you are. You are the flame that cannot be put out. You are the star that cannot be lost. You are who you have always been, and that is enough and more than enough. Anyone who looks at you and sees darkness is blind.”

“The Evil We Love” : 4 stars. The back-and-forth narration of this one is more successful than the stories-within-stories. Both of the tales in this one have proper story arcs with increasing tension, and they feel properly related to each other. It provides a fascinating view of Valentine’s Inner Circle, and the difficult relationship between Simon and Isabelle; both are handled well, and even though they both fit into larger plots this story could stand on its own, which is something I’m looking for in a short story.

“Sometimes first impressions were misleading; sometimes they peered straight through to a person’s inner soul.”

“Love, real love, is being seen. Being known. Knowing the ugliest part of someone, and loving them anyway. And…I guess I think two people in love become something else, something more than the sum of their parts, you know? That it must be like you’re creating a new world that exists just for the two of you. You’re gods of your own pocket-universe.”

“Pale Kings and Princes” : 4 stars. Here’s yet another way to tell two stories: book-ending one with another. In this case, the two stories are connected with a single character, and the Shadowhunter prejudices against faeries. The best part of this story, as with much of Clare’s writing, is the trick of perspective: two people (or groups of people) will always tell the same story in different ways. That’s an important reminder in the real world as well as fiction, and it strengthens this story. This one works as a stand-alone, even though it features familiar characters. Thumbs up.

“Bitter of Tongue” : 3 stars. This story is compelling and emotional, but it doesn’t have much of a purpose here. It feels more like a chapter in the Blackthorn family history than anything related to Simon, or even to Shadowhunter Academy. The tension in the story is something that began before this story started and doesn’t end with it either, so nothing is resolved. Thus, the structure feels weak, though the prose is remarkably beautiful in places.

“Fortunate are the ones who know the name of their heart. They are the ones whose hearts are never truly lost. They can always call their heart back home.”

“Some were born with abs, some achieved abs, and some– like Simon– had abs thrust upon them by cruel instructors.”

“The Fiery Trial” : 3 stars. This one seems longer than necessary for the small amount of events it contains. On top of that, the main parabatai bond discovered here is predictable. But there is some wonderfully mysterious confused reality in the middle of the story that’s incredibly compelling, even though the beginning and end are more drawn out than needed.

“Born to Endless Night” : 2 stars. This story offers a unique mix of Magnus’s and Simon’s perspectives. But again, it’s too long. I don’t mind long stories when something is happening; there is only one really notable event in this story, it happens early on, and it has little to do with Simon or Shadowhunter Academy. The rest is all about everyone’s feelings, which can be nice too, but it doesn’t feel like the meat of this story. Also, I dislike babies being named after someone else. A name can affect a person. I think all people should have their own chance to make their own name significant instead of living in the shadow of whoever made the name significant before them. I do understand the desire, I just don’t support it for the naming of human (or warlock) babies.

“I think sometimes it’s too hard to believe in yourself. You just do the things you’re not sure you can do. You just act, in spite of not being certain. I don’t believe I can change the world– it sounds stupid to even talk about it– but I’m going to try.”

“Angels Twice Descending” : 4 stars. Here is an example of a story that is predictable and filled mostly with internalized emotion, but still makes a compelling story. This one could stand on its own, but it’s also full of now-familiar characters and memories. It’s an end and a beginning. It’s a beautiful exploration of meaning and determination that readers can apply off the page, despite all of the fantasy details that also make it the heart of this fictional collection. This is the reason I read the book.

“Choosing what’s right for you, maybe that’s the bravest thing you can do.”

“The point wasn’t that you tried to live forever; the point was that you lived, and did everything you could to live well. The point was the choices you made and the people you loved.”

Simon is one of my favorite characters in the Shadowhunting world, but at times he felt like a weak character in these stories because he’s constantly dwelling on his memory loss. It makes him less certain of himself and more anxious than usual. Also the academy is a disgusting place. It’s not like Hogwarts, which is whimsical and sometimes dangerous but still essentially a good place– Shadowhunter Academy is slimy, with bad food, prejudiced professors, torturous “classes,” horrible students, infestations, and a lack of plumbing. Every new detail about the school is something equally disturbing. It seems like an uninhabitable place, not a zany and educational one. Bad environments make my whole reading experience less pleasant.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. My average rating was actually 3.3. Although Shadowhunter Academy did not live up to my expectations, I am glad that I included it in my Shadowhunter marathon because it’s likely that certain details from this collection will crop up in future novels. It also added extra closure to TMI. But… I finally get to read Lady Midnight! Most of my Shadowhunter marathon has been enjoyable, but the biggest reason I wanted to read/reread all of Clare’s books this year was for The Dark Artifices, except I wanted to read those without missing anything from the previous books. So even though most of these stories did not even meet my standard expectations of what a short story should be, this collection was worth my time.

What’s next: I’m still reading George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords and will review that as soon as I finish. But I’m also picking up Matthew J. Sullivan’s Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, an adult mystery/thriller about a book-related death.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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Mini-Review: The Haunting of Hill House

I don’t usually review classics, but I couldn’t resist with this one. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a perfect October book, but it’s surprisingly little-known. I had an interesting experience with this one from the start– the copy I checked out from the library is an old hard-cover with no dust jacket, and it was not an edition logged into the Goodreads database. A mysterious start, perfect for this mysterious story.

thehauntingofhillhouseAbout the book: Dr. Montague is a studier of such “phenomena” as those that take place in haunted houses. He wants to write a scholarly book about these unnatural occurrences, and with Hill House, he believes he’s found the ideal place. It has a tragic history, a frightening facade, and no one in nearby Hillsdale will go near it or hardly speak of it. He arranges for various persons with past supernatural encounters to spend a summer at the house with him, to awaken whatever unseen spirits might be in the house and to record the events that take place. Thus four strangers meet at Hill House half in seriousness, half in jest, to discover just how real the rumors about the haunted house will turn out to be.

” ‘I think we are only afraid of ourselves,’ the doctor said slowly. ‘No,’ Luke said. ‘Of seeing ourselves clearly and without disguise.’ ‘Of knowing what we really want,’ Theodora said.”

The Haunting of Hill House is, obviously, a haunted house tale. There’s something very different about seeing a scary house film and reading about one; in a book such as this, it’s the psychological nature of the story that contains the horror, and Jackson handles that well here. It’s like a cross between Ethan Frome and The Bell Jar. From early in the book, we see Eleanor’s vulnerability, the easy shift of her mind and her willingness to lie– to others and to herself. Throughout the book there is a sort of hidden danger behind what appears on the surface to be an ordinary summer trip to a big, abandoned house. It is up to the reader to decide how much of the supernatural to believe; and if you don’t want to believe any of it, the story still works because Eleanor does, and the reader can’t deny that Eleanor is changing, no matter what is happening with the house.

“No; it is over for me. It is too much, she thought, I will relinquish possession of this self of mine, abdicate, give over willingly what I never wanted at all; whatever it wants of me it can have.”

Eleanor, one of Dr. Montague’s recruits, is the sort of well-developed character that a person can read about over and over again, and reach different conclusions every time. Her malleability is apparent in her contradicting thoughts, but most notably in her dialogue. And her supporting characters do not disappoint. Dr. Montague, ever the scientist, seems to be studying his guests as much as the house. Theodora is pegged early as the girl who says just what the other person is thinking, and selfish Luke is a causer of mayhem between the two women who may otherwise have been friends.

If you’re looking for a classic scare that’ll keep you guessing, look no farther.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I loved this book. It’s short and to-the-point, it’s creepy and weird, and it keeps the reader actively involved in the constructing of the story. It really is up to the reader how much is to be believed. I also want to read Jackson’s The Lottery at some point. If it’s anything like Hill House, I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

What’s next: I’m still reading Martin’s A Storm of Swords but I really didn’t want to give up a whole week in October to reading that exclusively, so I’m reading it slowly in the midst of all these other books. So that review will still be coming up eventually, but I think first you’ll see my thoughts on Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare et al. It’s the second collection of short stories between her older series and her newer ones (still in progress), and I’m getting really excited about finishing my Shadowhunter marathon so this should go quickly.

What are you reading this October?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I don’t know how this happened. I had an overflowing list of books to read in October, and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft was not one of them. I ordered it in September, thinking that I would get around to it someday but not today; except when it arrived in the mail I was intrigued enough to read the first foreward, and then the second forward, and then the third, and then the next thing I knew I was laughing and crying and marking one hundred quotes that I loved and closing the book because I’d finished the whole thing. Which is rare for me with any sort of nonfiction, but that’s what happened.

onwritingAbout the book: On Writing is divided into sections within sections, some about King’s early life and writing career, some full of advice on honing your writing skills, some on questions King wanted to answer about his writing (complete with examples from his books and tales of how he came up the ideas). There’s a sample revision section, and a section full of book recommendations (in the 10th anniversary addition there’s an expanded list). There are instructions for assembling your writer’s “toolbox” and using to build a stronger writer. It’s all written with King’s usual flair, so that stories of King’s early childhood and cautions about the horrors of adverbs are equally appealing to consume.

“Some of this book– perhaps too much– has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it– and perhaps the best of it– is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

On Writing consists of fewer than 300 pages, but it covers a lot. Each topic is kept brief enough (surprising for King) that the reader never gets bored, but the writer gives enough detail– succinct detail– that every section feels rich and worthwhile, a mountain packed into a molehill.

“A Memoir of the Craft” is a perfect description for this little book because it is most definitely a memoir, but it is also entirely focused on one man’s account of writing life. This book’s target audience seems to be the aspiring writer, the novelist as yet unpublished, and even the details of King’s life shared in this volume fit that aim: we see an ordinary child try and fail, try and rise, rise and nearly fall. King is humble about his talent, but honest in a way that new writers long to see.

Haven’t read any of King’s books before? That’s not a problem with this book. Although he does talk about his first publications and refer to some of his novels as examples when he’s giving literary advice, the reader of this memoir needs no outside knowledge of those works, in case horror and sci-fi aren’t your genres. On Writing is not about fiction and genres. It’s about being brave enough to pick up your pen and write, if that’s what you’re trying to do. It’s about making writing fun, and also taking it seriously. It’s a handbook of insightful reminders and doubt-banishing encouragements. Writing is hard. But King is here to help, no extra sci-fi reading required.

It is recommended, though. Reading, in general, is recommended. And isn’t that just what we readers want to hear?

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I still can’t believe how much fun I had reading grammar rules and suggestions, and that wasn’t even the best of the book. It’s an encouraging read– no, an empowering read. It’s easily the best memoir I’ve ever encountered (although to be honest I don’t read memoirs very often). A lot of the writing tips were familiar to me from my college writing classes, but I was surprised how much I needed the reminder of a few of them, and they were all amusing to read. I’m going to be recommending this one loudly for a long time, so get comfortable and prepare yourself for that.

Further recommendations:

  1. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, especially the illustrated edition.  Stephen King talks about this one a lot in On Writing, and for good reason. If you’re new to writing (or not) and looking to improve your techniques, this is the best place to go. It’s a non-fiction guide full of the rules for writing and suggestions on when to break them. It’s not always a fun read, per se, but it is helpful. I’ve been inspired to revisit it after reading On Writing.
  2. Anything written by Stephen King. If you came into On Writing for tips on writing, enjoyed the book, and haven’t read much else by King, you should fix that. He’a the King. My personal favorites at the moment are 11/22/63 (a time-travel book about attempting to prevent JFK’s assassination), The Dead Zone (the protagonist can see selectively into the future and must commit a treasonous crime to stop a growing tyrant), and Bag of Bones (a writer who’s just lost his wife is trying to put his life back together ends up living in a haunted house that’s maybe trying to kill him).

Coming up next: who really knows, at this point. I wasn’t intending to read On Writing, for starters, and lately I’ve been having a lot of fun reading multiple books at once (I just finished an entire four-book series that I’ll talk about in my monthly wrap-up). So I’m currently reading A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin and plan to review that soon, but I’m also starting Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’ll probably be reviewing one of these soon.

Have you read anything that really surprised you lately?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Skewed Goodreads Ratings

“One learns most clearly what not to do [when writing] by reading bad prose.” -Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

The thing about Goodreads ratings is that they’re not accurate. They are not the opinions of random, objective readers. Almost every single person who contributes a review or star rating for any given book has picked up that book for a reason and went into it with expectations that will affect their concluding opinions of it. Have you noticed that ratings for books in a series tend to be rated higher as the series goes on, even though the overall ratings are fewer? That’s probably at least partially due to the fact that the readers who make it that far in the series are readers who’ve already found something they liked in the first book and know they’ll find what they’re looking for in subsequent novels. There are exceptions, and of course it is possible that the books in any given series do actually improve, but I think it’s also worth noting that the people who read (and rate) book 2 are usually people who liked book 1. And by book 3, even more readers who were on the fence have been weeded out, thus driving ratings up even more.

That’s just an easy example. We also have people who rate books they’ve DNF’d (unfair, in my opinion), people who rate books before they’ve read them, people who know the author, or have been given a free early copy, or had to read a book for a class and wound up letting their feelings about the class show in their review of the book. No matter how it happens, anyone who checks for reviews on Goodreads before picking up a book should be aware that almost every single person who’s left their opinion in the reviews section has been biased in some way. They believed the Booktube hype, or have read something else by the same author, or found the title on a list of reputed “good books”, or are in love with a particular genre. Most of those readers aren’t people who saw the title in a bookshop, picked up the book without knowing anything at all about it, and reviewed it completely impartially. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but it’s not the norm.

Don’t be fooled: I love Goodreads. I check the ratings there before I pick up a book, often. But it’s important to note that sometimes books are rated highly not because they’re good, but because they contain whatever their readers were looking for when they picked them up. Case in point: Elle Kennedy’s Off-Campus series.

I’ve been highly stressed lately, and in times of stress I reach for guilty pleasures. I often go for something I’ve already read and know will be a guilty pleasure, but this time I picked up something new. In the Off-Campus series, Elle Kennedy has written four NA romance books. They’re pretty short and easily readable–I read all four in four days. I’m talking about these here because they’re rated highly on Goodreads; every single book in this series is rated above 4 stars, and they’re not good.

That’s not to say they’re all bad. I’ve read worse. I gave each of the books in this series (The Deal, The Mistake, The Score, and The Goal) 3 stars for my enjoyment level, which is certainly not my lowest rating. They’re cheesy, predictable, somewhat sexist books with transparent plot mechanics. But even though the plot is obvious and feels fictionalized, it is a functioning plot. It makes sense, at the very least. The mechanics are in working condition, even if they are more visible than they should be. Even though it’s clear from the first two chapters who’s going to end up with whom and which major obstacle they’ll have to overcome, there’s emotion in there. There are abundant sex scenes, if that’s your thing. And that’s why I think these books have been rated so highly. The people reading these ab-covered books are the people looking for predictable bodice-rippers starring college hockey players who believe they’re God’s gift to women. The abs on the covers attract a certain audience. There are some topics these books handle well– every main character has something difficult in their present or past: a rape, an abusive parent, a sick parent, a dead friend, an unexpected pregnancy, etc. These details are dealt with carefully and respectfully. It’s the “puck bunnies” I have a problem with. The use ’em and lose ’em mentality of the men in this book. And that’s why I’m not posting full reviews for each of the books in this series. They’re all very much the same and I had the same complaints about them all. Admittedly, I liked them enough to read all four, but I think it’s like Stephen King says: we learn what not to do in our writing by reading bad books, and that’s as important a lesson as reading examples of what we should do.

Sometimes you just have to read a bad book or two. Or four. There’s nothing wrong with reading whatever the heck you want, literary merit be damned. I just wanted to use this opportunity to talk about the Goodreads rating system, because I was shocked that the third book in this series is rated higher than some books well-known for their goodness. The Score, an NA romance novel about a horny hockey player who falls in love with a girl who’s ashamed she had a one-night stand with him, is rated higher on Goodreads than Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s important to keep in mind when using Goodreads that it’s not a tool for rating literary goodness. It rates enjoyment. Sadly, those are two very different categories. And further, enjoyment levels are affected by the fact that readers always, always have expectations of the books they’re reading.

The reading world would be a different place without Goodreads. A lonelier place. But, like any other tool, we must use it wisely.

How do you feel about the Goodreads rating system? Also, does anyone have any better NA reading recommendation for me?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Reading Challenge Update 3

My interest in completing a reading challenge this year was starting to wane because I was picking up different books than I’d planned early in the year, and I was becoming disheartened by my lack of progress. But I realized that even though I wasn’t necessarily reaching for the books I thought I would be to complete these challenges, I was still fulfilling some of the categories. So after re-examining my list and changing a few of my plans from earlier in the year, I’m feeling good again about my progress and the possibility of completing the challenge (or at least coming close).

User’s guide: the books in parentheses (and orange type) are titles I intend to read but haven’t yet. No parentheses means I’ve already read it and checked it off my list this year. I’m not providing links this time to my corresponding reviews, but if you’re curious about my thoughts on any of the books I’ve read from this list I’d be happy to talk about them in the comments, and I do have full reviews on my site for most of the books I’ve read this year. Stats will be listed at the end.

Here’s where I stand:

  1. A book with more than 500 pages: City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
  2. A classic romance: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  3. A book that became a movie: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  4. A book published this year: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
  5. A book with a number in the title: (Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo)
  6. A book written by someone under thirty: (The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon)
  7. A book with nonhuman characters: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
  8. A funny book: A Million Junes by Emily Henry
  9. A book by a female author: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
  10. A mystery or thriller: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  11. A book with a one-word title: Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  12. A book of short stories: Because You Love to Hate Me by various, ed. Ameriie
  13. A book set in a different country: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  14. A nonfiction book: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  15. A popular author’s first book: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  16. A book you haven’t read before from an author you already love: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
  17. A book a friend recommended: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  18. A Pulitzer Prize-winning book: (All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr)
  19. A book based on a true story: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  20. A book at the bottom of your to-read list: (The Color Purple by Alice Walker)
  21. A book your mom loves: Vows by LaVyrle Spencer
  22. A book that scares you: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
  23. A book more than 100 years old: Persuasion by Jane Austen
  24. A book you picked up because of its cover: Faithful by Alice Hoffman
  25. A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t: (The Lover by Marguerite Duras)
  26. A memoir: Talking as fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
  27. A book you finish in a day: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  28. A book with antonyms in the title: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  29. A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit: Lies She Told
    by Cate Holahan
  30. A book that came out the year you were born: (The Alienist by Caleb Carr)
  31. A book with bad reviews: Lucky You by Erika Carter
  32. A trilogy: The Grisha trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
  33. A book from your childhood: (The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen)
  34. A book with a love triangle: Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
  35. A book set in the future: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  36. A book set in high school: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  37. A book with a color in the title: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  38. A book that makes you cry: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  39. A book with magic: The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  40. A graphic novel: (Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples)
  41. A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
  42. A book you own but have never read: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  43. A book that takes place in your hometown: (Still not sure about this one. There are no books that take place in my hometown. I’m still considering adjusting this prompt, but if I can’t come up with a nice compromise, I’ll concede this slot.)
  44. A book that was originally written in a different language: (The Iliad by Homer)
  45. A book set during Christmas: (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)
  46. A book written by an author with your same initials: (The Wonder by Emma Donoghue)
  47. A play: (Macbeth by Shakespeare)
  48. A banned book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  49. A book based on or turned into a TV Show: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
  50. A book you started but never finished: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

My stats –>    Completed Categories: 37/50      Undecided Categories: 1/50     Left to Read: 13/50

My thoughts on reading challenges have changed a lot over the course of this year, and my next (and final) update on this list will reveal those. For now, I’ve got 13 books to fit into the last three months of this year in order to complete this challenge for 2017. I feel like it’s possible, but also I know of several other books I’m going to be reading in these last three months as well, so it’ll be a surprise even to me whether I’m going to check off every item on this list or not.

Are you still working on a 2017 reading challenge? Have you read any of these books? Which of my unread titles here do you recommend I pick up next?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Sept. Reading Wrap-up

This felt like a slow month for me. The numbers actually look pretty average, but for some reason I felt like I was crawling through my TBR this month and just didn’t have any posts to upload. I may have been in a small slump. I think October will be very different, because I’ve been looking forward to some of those spooky reads for months, but before I get started with those, here’s a look at how I spent my reading time in September:

  1. City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare. cityofheavenlyfire4 out of 5 stars. I started this one at the end of August, but even though I felt like I was making good progress every day, and even though this was one of my favorites in the whole series, it just went on and on forever. It was a great end to the Mortal Instruments though, and it made me more eager to carry on with my Shadowhunter marathon despite its size, so even though it may have been the beginning of my little slump (series ends occasionally do that to me), I’m calling this one a success.
  2. Because You Love to Hate Me ed. by Ameriie. 3 out of 5 stars. This collection of becauseyoulovetohatemeshort stories is a pretty new release, and I got what I wanted from it, so it’s another success for me. Although I didn’t like all of the stories, this collaboration was a great way to sample some YA authors I haven’t gotten around to reading from yet, and seeing all the different writing styles did help me decide who I did or did not want to read more from. My favorite was the V. E. Schwab story, closely followed by Soman Chainani’s story.
  3. The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh. 4 out theblindsof 5 stars. I feel a little bad about my Book of the Month subscription because I love it and I’m always so excited about the selections, but I keep falling farther behind with my monthly choices. This one’s from August, which isn’t too far back, although at the time I read it I was receiving three more for September that I knew I wouldn’t have time to read all of within the month. Anyway, this was a highly intriguing read that seemed perfect for end-of-summer reading: a little creepy and weird to start out fall, but still full of summer heat and the plot’s intriguing but not too heavy. I’m surprised I haven’t seen this one around more because I thought it was really unique and well done.
  4. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I can’t rate this one, and I dedicated a whole post twilightthis month to talking about why that is and more generally, why I reread it in the first place. I’ve been reading this book one chapter per day, only on days when I felt like picking up a chapter, over the course of several months. My opinions of this book, and of what I’m looking for when I read, have changed a lot since my first time through this book, and seeing those changes was probably the primary source of enjoyment for me in picking up this book again this year.
  5. The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Maureen Johnson. 3 out of 5 stars. Finishing The thebanechroniclesMortal Instruments with City of Heavenly Fire earlier this month put me in a great frame of mind for wanting to continue on my Shadowhunter quest. I was a little wary about this one with the additional authors, but Cassandra Clare’s writing style was still apparent, and truthfully, I think the change in medium and message was another help in refreshing my interest for continuing with the Shadowhunter books. There were  a couple of stories that I really liked, but mostly I was just enjoying the overall sense of Downworld that this book provides, and the glimpses into secondary characters from TMI and TID.
  6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. 5 out of 5 stars. Though I found this the most predictable of the Austen novels I have read thus far, I did not predict becoming so immediately and wholeheartedly engrossed in this story. I was dragging my feet a little about finally starting prideandprejudicePride and Prejudice because I was afraid it would start slowly, like the other Austen novels I’ve read. But the very first conversation in the book amused me, and by the time Mr. Darcy was complaining about the tolerable women at the novel’s first dance, I was entirely hooked. It took me a long time to actually like Mr. Darcy, but from his very first appearance he intrigued me enough that I liked reading about him. He reminded me of Bronte’s Mr. Rochester. I think Persuasion is still my favorite Austen novel so far, mostly because the ending of Pride and Prejudice didn’t particularly surprise or impress me the way that Persuasion did, but P&P is a close second. I absolutely loved Mr. Bennet’s character, which routinely made me chuckle to myself, but Mr. Collins actually made me laugh out loud on two occasions. The whole cast was highly entertaining, and after about the fifth chapter I could not put the book down to sleep at night because I had to know how it would all tie together. For a long time I was skeptical about Mr. Darcy’s love, because it seemed he’d had so little contact with the woman in question that I couldn’t quite believe he was truly in love with her for more than her looks, but by his concluding explanations I was on board. I will definitely be reading more Austen in the future, I have already watched a film adaptation of this one, and immediately after finishing P&P I jumped straight into:
  7. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. 5 out of 5 stars. This is a modern retelling of Austen’s classic (P&P)eligible, and especially with the plot of P&P so fresh in my mind I was curious about how it would all play out in a more familiar setting. I may have loved this one even more than the original, but it’s hard to tell. I definitely think reading P&P right before Eligible heightened my enjoyment of it. P&P is meant to be funny at times, and I was worried that expecting those same funny moments would take some of the humor out of Eligible, but if anything I found it even more amusing when I already knew which characters were going to be ridiculous. I’m really interested in checking out more of the Austen Project series for more retellings, althought I’ve heard Eligible is by far the best of them. (Has anyone read the others? Are they worth reading?)
  8. Lies She Told by Cate Holahan. 2 out of 5 stars. Here is my biggest liesshetolddisappointment of the month. Toward the end of the month I was getting excited about spooky reads for October and wanted something suspenseful to satisfy my mood, but that’s not what I got from Lies She Told. I can’t even say that it was a bad book, but I was bored through most of it because I was able to guess all but one detail before it happened. The premise about the narrator’s reality starting to blend with the fictional thriller she’s writing was so exciting, but nothing inside the book impressed me as much as its synopsis. If you’re good at predicting where mysteries are going, maybe skip this one.

And that’s a wrap. Eight books in a month isn’t too bad for me, especially considering a couple of them (ahem, Cassandra Clare) were rather long. There were only 6 books on my TBR for the month, 5 of which I finished (I’m currently reading the sixth, George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords), so I feel really good about my TBR progress for the first time in a while. I felt like I wasn’t reading as much as usual, but fall is a busy time of year and I think I did well with the changes in my schedule. I have no idea what my October wrap-up will look like because I’m planning for the month very differently than I did for September, but here’s to hoping for plenty of great spooky books in the near future.

What did you read in September? Have you read any of the books that I finished this month (and what did you think of them)?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

September Book Haul

I *almost* stuck to my 5-book goal this month. It wasn’t until this last week that I gave in and checked out a sale, and we all know how that ends. I might have still considered myself within the goal if those extra books hadn’t arrived yesterday, but they did, so I’ll admit to their existence on my shelf and add them to this list where they belong.

Check out my new September books:

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I choose this novel as my Book of the Month for September (have I mentioned yet this week how much I love Book of the Month Club? I feel like I’m saying it all the time, but they really do have great books and I can’t restrain myself). This was the book I was most looking forward to reading in September, so of course I didn’t get to it. I’ll be aiming for October with this one because I’ve heard good things and I’m still really excited about it.
  2. Lies She Told by Cate Holahan. Here’s a second September selection from Book of the Month. I told myself I was only going to buy one this month, so of course I ended up selecting the maximum number of books (three) for my monthly box. I was highly intrigued by the blending of fact and fiction in this thriller’s premise, and it was the shortest of my BOTM choices (thus easiest to fit into my schedule), so I’ve already read and reviewed this one. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it did put me in the thriller mood for October.
  3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. A couple of years ago I discovered how much I love Margaret Atwood’s books, so of course when I saw this one added as an extra to BOTM’s September list, I had to have it. It looks pleasantly thick, and the prospect of a story within a story sounds perfect for me. But I’m currently in the habit of reading one Atwood book per year, in January, so unless I suddenly find 300 fewer books or so on my Goodreads TBR, I probably won’t be picking this one up for a few months. But I’m excited for it. So excited.
  4. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. After reading Pride and Prejudice (and it’s modern update Eligible) this month, my interest in reading all of Austen’s novels has been renewed. This is the only one of her six major works that I didn’t own yet, and I think it’s the one I want to read next, so I found a cheap copy that’ll work for me and I’m looking forward to reading it. It probably won’t happen in October because I already have a crazy TBR planned, but I’m hoping to read it within the next few months while my Austen appreciation is still fresh.
  5. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon. I became addicted to Gabaldon’s Outlander series about a year and a half ago, which has mostly faded, except for my interest in the TV show. The third season just started a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to watch all of its episodes, so I picked up this new season-3-cover-edition of Voyager to peruse my favorite parts during the season (I read the whole book last year). I’ve also got the first two books with the TV show covers, so this one matches and I’ve been intending to buy it for months, which means it wasn’t an impulse buy.
  6. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. This one, however, was an impulse buy. I always have more Stephen King books on my radar at this time of year than usual, and this is one that I’ve been vaguely planning to read for years. I found a 10th anniversary edition and picked it up even though I don’t know when exactly I’ll be reading it. King is a fantastic author and I’ve heard great things about this book, but it’s probably not scary like his novels, which I’m more inclined to reach for in October. Still, I’m glad to have this one on my shelf and am looking forward to reading about King’s writing experience.

septemberbookhaul

And that’s all I’ve added to my shelves this month. Even though I didn’t quite hit the 5-book mark, I’m happy with the new books I’ve picked up this month. Two of them I’ve already read, and at least one I plan to be reading very soon, which means I’m not adding a ton of extra clutter to my TBR shelf. I think I made some solid choices.

Have you read any of these books? Which titles did you pick up in September?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant