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Wrap-up 6.18

I have had a phenomenal reading month in June, which is great because I’ve been struggling with everything else. With the year half-over now (whaaaaat?!?), it’s time to start thinking about what I still want to get done in 2018 so I’m not scrambling in December. (That will probably happen anyway though.) After the halfway point of the year I really end up feeling like I’m slowly but surely running out of time, so I’ve been kind of stressed lately and frustrated when things go slow (like my writing). But despite feeling like I’m falling behind, I did pretty well this month.

Personal trends:

  • I subscribed to Penguin Random House’s Season of Stories this month, which sends pieces of short stories through your email 4 days a week. So I read one short story in 4 snippets throughout the week (or all at once on Friday) and I’ve been enjoying it a lot! The first story I read was “Adela’s House” by Mariana Enriquez, which has been my favorite so far. I’ve also read “Paranoia” by Shirley Jackson and “Bad Behavior” by Alexia Arthurs. I love short stories but I hardly ever make time to read them because I feel like I have to read the whole collection at once and the whole collection is never as great as the one or two best pieces in it. But SoS has been incredibly manageable and fun.

Book-to-film Adaptations:

  • NONE. Again. I’ve been so busy writing and reading and enjoying summer that I haven’t been watching anything.

Finished Books (titles linked to my reviews):

  1. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule. 3 stars. This was a fun read that kept me entertained even if it didn’t add much to the sci-fi genre. There were a few disappointing factors toward the end that took this book from a 4-star read to 3, unfortunately, but it was an enjoyable fast-paced summer read nonetheless. It’s been slow work decreasing my BOTM backlog, but reading this one (and my June selection, farther down this post) did shrink that list by one.
  2. Not That Bad ed. by Roxane Gay. 5 stars. This essay collection about rape culture came out of nowhere (for me, at least). I loved every essay, every theme, every page. I highly, highly recommend for anyone interested in modern social issues. It’s nonfiction, but that just makes it stronger. Possibly the best nonfiction book I’ve ever read, which is great considering how many different writers contributed (31)– every single one is appreciable.
  3. Food by Gertrude Stein. 2 stars. Plotless books don’t feel very worthy of my time, though this one was amusing in its absurdity, at the very least. I can now say I’ve read the highest (Letter From Birmingham Jail) and lowest (Food) rated Penguin Moderns, so that’s neat. I’m still in love with this collection, but I wouldn’t recommend this volume unless you like abstraction and/or poetry. And food, though that wasn’t a strong enough factor for me.
  4. The Vegetarian by Han Kang. 4 stars. Despite the fact that I think this book is impeccably written, I didn’t entirely enjoy my experience with it. Usually the lit nerd in me can love a book that’s well-written even if other aspects fail, but one section of this book made me so uncomfortable that I couldn’t overlook it. I did appreciate how much this book made me think about social perceptions and individual choice. Also it’s got a sort of Kafka-esque creepiness to it that I loved.
  5. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. 3 stars. Speaking of creepiness… Ruth Ware’s books are so atmospheric. This one took me straight into the world of du Maurier’s Rebecca, which was the highlight of the novel for me. The plot was completely transparent, and more disturbing in conception than in narration; I guessed every twist before it happened. There were some good aspects, but this was y least-favorite Ware novel.
  6. The Vigilante by John Steinbeck. 3 stars. This book was disturbing and unpleasant for the most part, but I do love Steinbeck’s style. I love how he makes a point without ever stating it outright– it’s just so clear through his characters’ thoughts and actions what the moral is, and that, in my opinion, is great writing. Though this one didn’t quite live up to my expectations, it was a quick read and not off-putting enough to turn me away from the author or collection.
  7. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. 3 stars. Despite the mediocre rating, I had a lot of fun with this book. It’s a great light-but-impactful romance, perfect for summer reading. It fit my mood exactly. It just had a few flaws I couldn’t help criticizing, but hey, nothing’s perfect. In the end, I really liked the autistic representation here, though some of the details of the romance and the structure of the plot fell a little flat.
  8. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. thehatinggame4 stars. I’ve been reading a million books at once again, and it was only by accident that I finished these 2 romances back to back. This one was a quick, straight-forward romance that’s a tad unrealistic but perfectly readable. I hardly ever read “funny” books but I did laugh aloud a couple of times with this one– it fit my sense of humor pretty well, which I wasn’t expecting. But as usual in romance, there’s a certain amount of predictability that’s somewhat disappointing.
  9. When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy. whenihityou5 stars. I was expecting good things from this book, but nothing could’ve prepared me for how much I ended up appreciating it. The power, the structure, the poetry… Kandasmy pulls it all off so well.  If anything, this book made me so much more excited to pick up the Women’s Prize winner for 2018, because if this one didn’t take the gold the winner must be spectacular.
  10. Lance by Vladimir Nabokov. 2 stars.lanceBeautiful writing, not much substance. I was more disappointed in this one than Food because I expected more story here, but in the pros column there were some pleasantly unsettling moments and a bit more meaning to the madness. The prose was very purple, which isn’t my preferred style, but this is clearly well-written. Overall, the Penguin Moderns have not especially impressed me in June, but I’m still interested in the series and hoping to find better selections in my next batch.
  11. Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. askingforit5 stars. Apparently I’ve been reading  a lot about rape this month, which was unexpected. But it’s an important topic, and this book takes it a step further by introducing an unlikable character as the victim. This was a gut-wrenching reading experience, but I’m impressed by what it accomplishes and so glad I picked it up. Also this was my third 5-star read this month, which is unusual for me, especially with new-to-me authors.
  12. Why I am not going to buy a computer by Wendell Berry. img_2172 3 stars. This is the most recently-written material I’ve come across in the Penguin Modern series so far, and it’s also surprisingly the text that felt the most out-dated. But nevertheless, it was a though-provoking read that made me consider some of my own choices, and cultural norms I’ve taken for granted. Best PM of the month, hands down, don’t let the rating fool you. Full review coming soon.

Some Statistics:

  • Best this month = Not That Bad. It was a tough choice this month, but this one was the most addictive and eye-opening at the same time.
  • Worst this month = Food. Another surprisingly tough choice; there were definitely some disappointments in June, though some of them had more to do with my expectations than overall merit.
  • Average rating = 3.5, a pretty average number. Maybe even a little low. There were a lot of extreme highs and lows for me this month.
  • Books Hauled = 5. I failed my goal of 3 new books or less, but I actually read every new book I bought this month, which is the first time in probably years that I’ve managed that.
  • Owned Books Read for the First Time = 10. I shrunk my TBR by 5 books this month, yay! I’m still too ashamed to admit how many unread books I own, but I’m happy to have made some small progress.
  • Total Books Read in 2018 = 61. My goal for the year was 90, so I’m definitely ahead of schedule.

Overall: I read 12 books this month! That’s my highest number so far this year. I realize 4 of them are Penguin Moderns, which are only about 60 pages long each. But they affect the way I think about literature so deeply that I can’t not count them. In any case, I’m pretty proud of my reading this month– I read some great titles, I learned even from the books I didn’t like as much, and I finished a lot more than I intended to. I wish every month looked like this one.

Did you read any of these books in June? (Or in the past?) What did you think?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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Wrap-up 5.18

May is over, and summer is officially here. I am so ready for beach reads and bonfire reads and rainstorm reads. May felt a bit like a downward slope, but I think I’m coming back around now and excited for what comes next. Which means it’s time to wrap up another month gone.

Personal Trends:

  • I’ve been craving feminist lit lately, which you’ll notice in my book list below. I have a feeling plenty of feminist lit will be showing up again in future posts because strong women are fantastic and this is a trend that’s probably going to become a habit.
  • Now that the weather is finally decent again (no more winter, at last!), I’ve resumed my outdoor walks/jogs. Being able to move around more really helps inspire my creativity, so I’ve been binging on reading and writing and “projects.”

Book-to-Film Adaptations:

  • NONE. What a shame. I’ve just been too busy for TV. I started watching a couple of shows, but didn’t get far enough to share any opinions here.

Finished Books:

  1. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. freshwater5 stars. In the first chapter of this book I was afraid it was going to bore me and/or go over my head, but it soon became addictive. I finished it even more impressed with its themes and construction than I had been with the plot while reading. In short, I ended up loving every single aspect of this book and I know it will stay with me a long time. This is an important Own Voices book about culture, perception, and identity, and I could feel myself growing as a person while I read it.
  2. The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier. thebreakthrough3 stars. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but as someone who does read (or watch) the occasional science fiction tale, I feel qualified in saying that this story is not very impressive. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a low-stakes and predictable story compared to others from this genre that I’ve come across in the past. Superb writing saved this one for me, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite from the Penguin Modern collection, or from du Maurier.
  3. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.thegreatalone 4 stars. This was my first Kristin Hannah book, and I’m glad for that. I adored this story (especially the main character), but I did have some issues with the writing style that I’m not sure I would’ve been able to overlook with any other plot. Nevertheless, I liked The Great Alone enough that I want to give Kristin Hannah another try. (Also I really want to visit Alaska– though I know I would not survive long in the Alaskan bush.) There are some great feminist aspects to this book, which I think are strengthened by the fact that feminism doesn’t seem to be the novel’s sole purpose.
  4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. thesevenhusbandsofevelynhugo4 stars. Despite my aversion to celebrity fame, I was completely immersed in this story. Evelyn is inspiring and strong and compellingly flawed. Only the fact that I was able to predict the biggest points of the story held me back from a full 5-star rating here, but sometimes that happens. I really wanted to solve the puzzle, so it’s hard to blame the book for the fact that I did. I’ll definitely be recommending this one often. This was another great feminist read, as well as one of my favorite LGBTQ+ reads.
  5. The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer. thefemalepersuasion2 stars. The only thing I liked about this book was its characters, though I can’t think of anything I wish had been done differently with the story to give the characters a better backdrop. This was a tough book to rate and review because it wasn’t exactly a bad read, it just ended up feeling so bland. Perhaps I expected too much from the first Barnes & Noble Book Club selection, but even though I’m pretty new to feminism, this book (which is full of feminism) offered nothing new for me. I’m glad I read it, but it did not live up to the hype.
  6. Still Lives by Maria Hummel.stilllives 3 stars. This was my Book of the Month Club selection for May. There is an attempt at feminism in this book, but it was certainly not what I expected. This one gets points for holding my interest with its mystery and characters despite the botched feminism; if I hadn’t expected particularly strong women I probably would’ve liked this book more for what it is. I especially appreciated the way the setting (L.A.) comes alive in this story, as well as the insight into modern art.
  7. Notes on Nationalism by George Orwell.notesonnationalism 4 stars. I’ve been loving the nonfiction titles from the Penguin Modern collection even more than the fiction titles, which surprises no one more than myself. This one is more political than I usually prefer, but Orwell’s ideas about Nationalism (a sort of prejudice) felt relevant to today’s political atmosphere, despite the fact that he’s writing from 1945, which means WWII is heavily featured alongside his topic. If you’re one who reads to learn, I highly recommend trying some of the nonfiction Penguin Moderns. They’re enlightening.
  8. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. incoldblood3 stars.  I just finished reading this book in the final hours of May, so my review is still in progress. For now I’ll say that for my first true crime read, this one went pretty well. There were places I wanted more or less detail, but the dedication it must have taken to gather enough research to write this book was obvious and awe-inspiring. It never quite felt like a story as much as reporting on a story, but to some extent I expected that from this type of nonfiction.

Some Statistics:

  • Best this month = Freshwater, no question.
  • Worst this month = The Female Persuasion, though it pains me to say so because there wasn’t anything that struck me as bad about that book. I even considered naming Still Lives here instead, but while neither was what I expected, Still Lives was more engaging.
  • Average rating = 3.5; A little low for me, but not a bad month overall.
  • Books Hauled = 2; I met my goal of 3 or less!
  • Owned Books Read for the First Time = 5; Finally more read than hauled, which means my TBR shelf shrank by 3 books this month! There’s still an obscene number of owned-and-unread books on it, but at least I didn’t go backwards… again.
  • Total Books Read in 2018 = 49

That’s a wrap. I did read some really good things this month, but my general impression of this list is that I expected more than I got from many of them. I probably need to recalibrate my expectations. But I am optimistic about June, nonetheless, and I’ve already started fresh reading material. I learned a lot in May, but June is going to be fun.

What was your favorite read of the month? Least favorite?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-up 4.18

April has been a mixed month for me and books. The numbers show I did a fair amount of reading, but I didn’t love much of what I read. I am glad that I read from a good range of topics, and I also liked how unique some of my books this month felt. But I don’t have that feel-good reading vibe a good month brings.

Personal Trends:

  • I read a higher number of Book of the Month Club selections than usual in April. Unfortunately not all of them came from my personal stash, so I still have a sizable backlog to work through. I was really disappointed this month with how long it took to receive my BOTM box (3 weeks). It was the first bad experience I’ve had in over a year with BOTM so I was pretty bummed that it happened in my birthday month.
  • I’ve been working a lot on my writing project this month, and the progress I’m making there feels great. But I think spending more time writing is probably why I spent less time reading. Apparently it’s true when they say “you can’t do it all.” I wish I could.

Book-to-film adaptations I watched:

  • I read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in August 2017 and rated it 4 stars, and now I’ve watched the new film adaptation. The movie was easier to immediately engage with, but I preferred the book. I felt like I had more of a handle on what was happening and could sift through the clues and explanations to make my own guesses in the novel, whereas in the movie I felt like I was just along for the ride.

Books I finished reading:

  1. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer.newmoon No rating. I’ve been rereading the Twilight saga for close to a year now, by reading only one chapter per day on only the days that I feel like it. This one took me over six months to finish reading. I’m doing this as a sort of way to explore my reading growth over the last ten years. Follow the linked title for my rereading experience and updated (spoilery) thoughts on the book.
  2. The Power by Naomi Alderman.thepower 3 stars. I liked the concept better than the story with this one. I’m glad that I read it, but I wish I would’ve found the time back in October and gotten this one out of the way sooner; it’s a better fit for that time of year and it was not what I was looking for in my reading this month. Alderman has some great ideas, but I found the execution somewhat disappointing here.
  3. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong. goodbye,vitamin4 stars. I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did, and even having loved it it’s hard to explain why. It was just such a light and easy read that still felt important. Alzheimer’s is something that  worries me (it runs in my family), and I found this such a great humorous/serious approach to it. Books like this are why I continue to appreciate BOTM so much, and why I keep trying with their selections even after some of them haven’t worked for me.
  4. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. sing,unburied,sing3 stars. I love Ward’s writing but still haven’t found a favorite now that I’ve finished another of her books. There are some beautiful and important ideas about race, justice, and history wrapped into this novel, but the reading experience just wasn’t as enjoyable or powerful as I was hoping. I’m glad I read this one, and I loved Ward’s writing all over again, but I’m still waiting for one of her books to really impress me the way it seems that they have the potential to.
  5. Illuminaeby Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.illuminae4 stars. I haven’t read a lot of YA sci-fi, but I like certain sci-fi aspects and certain YA aspects and lots of interesting formatting, so I couldn’t pass this one up. It was a great ride, as promised. I usually can’t stand zombies, and space stories are hit or miss for me, but even with both of those elements featured this book did not disappoint. Teenage me would’ve been all over this trilogy and adult me found plenty to appreciate.
  6. I Stop Somewhere by T E Carter.istopsomewhere4 stars. I also still like YA contemporaries that deal with social issues, and this was a good representative of that type. It reminded me a lot of The Lovely Bones, which I read years ago and… (loved? enjoyed?) regarded highly. I love books that tackle difficult topics in an un-put-downable way, and especially when they’re made accessible for young readers. This wasn’t my favorite YA rape culture book, but it definitely had some strong and worthy attributes.
  7. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall. ourkindofcruelty2 stars. This really wasn’t a bad read, just boring. It felt so familiar, like every aspect of this book came out of another book I’d already read. But it wasn’t difficult to read and there wasn’t anything actually wrong with it. Something the author said in her author’s note about this book being a jab at the patriarchy made me feel a little better about the story even though I didn’t see evidence for that side of it while reading.
  8. Origin by Dan Brown. origin3 stars. I started reading the Robert Langdon series in high school with my best friend, and at that time I loved these books. By the time I started book 5 (Origin), I was starting to worry I had outgrown them– and indeed I think I have. I still love the messages and ideas behind these books, but the narration reminds me of Hallmark movies and this time I could hardly get past the writing to enjoy the plot. I appreciate having read these, but I’m not sure I’ll be reading any future books in this series. Full review will be up tomorrow.

Some Stats:

  • Fave book this month = Goodbye, Vitamin
  • Least fave book this month = Our Kind of Cruelty (yes, even lower than New Moon, though that’s a tough call. I think if I had been reading New Moon purely for entertainment it would have won this category hands-down, but because I was using it to learn about myself it scraped by.)
  • average monthly rating = 3.3 (low for me)
  • books hauled = 12
  • owned books that I read for the 1st time this month = 3 (my TBR shelf grew by 9 books this month)
  • total books read in 2018 = 41 (12 books ahead of schedule for my Goodreads reading goal)

A small wrap-up this month. 8 books isn’t bad at all, but without any 5-star reads this month I am left a bit disappointed. I wish I had enjoyed more of what I read this month. But my biggest regret is that my TBR shelf grew again by 9 books, which is a trend I was hoping not to see this year. I love getting new books, but I need to be reading them more promptly so that my unread shelves aren’t as full as my read shelves. That’s not a pretty sight when you know you’ll only be accumulating more.

Have you read any of my April books? What did you think of them?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-up 3.18

March has been an incredible reading month, but I’m glad it’s over. (It was starting to feel like another January, which always seems to last about a year.) I read some great things, I was excited to see all the great new releases this month (even though I haven’t read them all yet), and I was happy with my progress on my reading challenge. It was just an all-around great reading month, but I’m ready to start fresh again. But before we get too far into April, here’s how March looked – – – >

Personal trends:

  • February was black history month, and March was women’s history month. I wasn’t prepared in February so I read to honor both this month.
  • March was also the month of Penguin Moderns for me; I read six of the little volumes in this new set already and I added another 6 to my shelf already.
  • I had one of those crazy book-buying sprees this month where all of my patient book-buying resistance of 2018 turned into a free-for-all at the bookstore. You can check out my book haul if you want, but I’ll admit right here that I was way past my limit this month for no good reason.

Book-to-Film Adaptations:

  • I watched Stephen King’s It (1990), the mini-series (although it watches like a normal 3-ish hour movie). I read the novel It in January 2018 for my first buddy read, and rated it 5 stars. My buddy and I finally got together for an It film marathon. I wasn’t really impressed with this version, and I don’t think I would have liked it at all without having read the book, but this one does follow the novel’s details pretty well, which I appreciated.
  • We also watched the new (2017) adaptation of It, which is the first part of a two-movie duo. The second part comes out Sept. 2019, but I can see myself watching this one repeatedly in the meantime. It doesn’t follow the novel as religiously, but I think the changes it made suited the story. The scares were more dramatic than terrifying (though the movie is rated R and I would not recommend it to immature viewers), and you don’t need to read the (1000+ page) novel to enjoy this one.
  • I saw The Glass Castle this month, after reading Jeannette Walls’ memoir of the same name in January 2018, which I rated 5 stars. I prefer the book to the movie, but the film made me cry (which is rare), and I loved seeing the real photos/videos of the Walls family with the movie credits.
  • I also saw Ready Player One this month; I’ve been eagerly awaiting this film since reading Ernest Cline’s corresponding novel in  September 2016 and rating it 5 stars. The movie seemed less 80’s than the book, but it had equally great characters and a compelling plot and I honestly loved the movie as much as the book despite their differences. Highly recommend.

Books I finished reading this month:

  1. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. thestoriedlifeofajfikry3 stars. I did like this book, but it didn’t wow me. I appreciated the diversity and uniqueness of the characters, but I found the plot predictable and the conclusion obvious. Some of the characterization even seemed a little weak. Nevertheless, there are things I like about Zevin’s writing, even in a book with a transparent plot. This is a book for book lovers about book lovers, with lots of literary references that are fun if not always relevant to the overall story.
  2. Hunger by Roxane Gay.hunger 4 stars. This memoir was a phenomenal and enlightening reading experience, and only a few stylistic details in the writing structure kept me from a 5-star rating here. Recently I’ve been loving nonfiction books that advocate for equality and loving yourself, and I love learning about the real world in a way that doesn’t feel like reading a textbook. I’m going to be recommending this one a lot.
  3. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. anamericanmarriage4 stars. This one has been named Oprah’s 2018 book club selection, so I’m sure it’ll be getting a lot of attention this year and I’m glad. I thought I was over love triangles in literature, but this one stems from wrongful imprisonment rather than any of the usual petty drama, and it’s used not as a love saga but an acknowledgment of current social injustices. I’m on more of a read-to-learn kick this year, and books like this are a great way to step into other people’s shoes without leaving my beloved realm of fiction.
  4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. theblindassassin4 stars. I read an Atwood book every year; this is my fourth year, and all four novels have been vastly different. Atwood is one of my favorite writers, and even though this one took me a long time to finish (I started it in February) it did nothing but reinforce my good opinions of Atwood and her literary works. This one made me sadder than I can convey, but I’ll definitely read it again someday (t’s one of those books that has more to offer on subsequent reads).
  5. Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. letterfrombirminghamjail5 stars. I was even more thrilled with my Penguin Moderns when they arrived in my mailbox than I’d expected. I decided to read the ones I bought in numerical order. This was the first one, and it was a great note to start on. I’m so glad America has seen strong voices like this one; I love reading about the need and effort to reach equality, and and I love that great writers/orators can put their words to such constructive and powerful use.
  6. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan. rainbirds3 stars. This is my March BOTM, and I actually read it before the month was half over. So proud. Although I found the style of writing in this book very readable, I couldn’t connect with any of the characters in the emotional way I expected to so it ended up being a bit of a bland read. The plot interested and occasionally surprised me, but there’s a lot of grief in this book that I just wasn’t feeling. I debated between 2 and 3 stars, but even though I don’t have many fond thoughts of it in the aftermath I really didn’t struggle while reading it.
  7. Create Dangerously by Albert Camus. createdangerously3 stars. Even though I didn’t love this volume as much as expected, I did find appreciable points within it and my mild reaction wasn’t enough to turn me off of the Penguin Moderns. There are some beautiful ideas in this volume of three speeches, and I liked the size and variety of the works. It was Camus’s philosophical style I was having a hard time with, and I recognized it as a personal issue rather than anything wrong with this book.
  8. The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson. themissinggirl4 stars. I sped through this one a lot faster than the nonfiction Penguin Moderns. I was completely engaged in the stories but I don’t think they’re going to stick with me and keep me thinking the way that the nonfiction books did. Still, this is my favorite kind of fiction: reality with a twist. Well-crafted creepiness that keeps me wanting more. (P. S. Mint green is hard to photograph accurately and I’m just bad at photography in general, I know. I just like to provide a visual of the edition I’m reviewing.)
  9. Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine. stillhouselakesquare3 stars. I started this one way back on Christmas 2017, as my first Kindle Unlimited book. I have been reading it off and on all this time, just a few pages here and there when I have some unexpected free time on my hands. It probably would’ve gone faster if I had enjoyed it more, but I was determined not to quit. I’m glad I didn’t, because once the plot picked up about halfway through I did speed up and enjoy this enough that I’ll continue with the sequel.
  10. The Distance of the Moon by Italo Calvino. thedistanceofthemoon5 stars.  This one really surprised and delighted me, and it was the one that helped me decide to buy more Penguin Moderns to read after this month. I love Calvino’s writing even more than I love these specific stories, and I really love these stories. If you’re interested in literary astrology (or just some short well-written sci-fi), this is the volume for you. The writing is beautiful and constantly unexpected.
  11. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. rebecca5 stars.  I was a little worried in the first chapter of this book because I don’t like a lot of place description and revelatory dreaming, but even those aspects found their place in this story and by chapter 2 I was enchanted. I don’t read a lot of Gothic literature (there does tend to be a lot of description of nature/landscapes as well as prophetic/revelatory dreaming), but in small doses I absolutely love the creepiness and the old buildings and the ghosts. This book was a perfect fit for me, even better than Jane Eyre.
  12. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell. sonsofares4 stars. I was looking for some sort of graphic novel to check out while I’m waiting for the next Saga comic, and I realized this one was going to be published in March. Of course, it’s Pierce Brown so I had to read it right away. I’m glad I waited until all six volumes were published in one book. It was not my favorite part of the Red Rising story, but it was a great way to spend an evening nevertheless. And now I can’t wait to reread the novels in anticipation of Dark Age, Brown’s Sept. ’18 release.
  13. Piers of the Homeless Night by Jack Kerouac. piersofthehomelessnight2 stars. I thought I might be interested in some of Kerouac’s books, but I’d heard more about his topics than his style. I haven’t had many encounters with stream-of-consciousness writing, but I was definitely not a fan with this volume. I’m glad I figured out Kerouac isn’t for me with this little sample volume rather than an entire book; I did like reading some of his thoughts, but I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of them.
  14. The Problem That Has No Name by Betty Friedan. theproblemthathasnoname5 stars. The last of my Penguin Moderns for the month, and a good note to end on. I had not heard of Friedan before picking up this volume and the blurbs for these books are so short and not entirely helpful in discerning contents, so I was really pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s a sort of feminist history that’s unlike any of the more recent books on feminism that I’ve read. I felt like I learned a lot with this one.
  15. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. childrenofbloodandbone4 stars. First, this book has some glorious exterior details, and they absolutely fit the gorgeous writing within the story. Some of the broader sweeps of the story seemed rather stock (a “chosen” teen on a quest to save magic with three artifacts despite powerful opposition), but the cultural details are beautiful and plentiful, and an undercurrent of modern social issues helps set this story apart. I’m glad dipped back into YA for this one. Full review tomorrow.

Some stats:

  • average monthly rating = 3.9 (pretty typical for me)
  • books hauled = 15 (I counted the Penguin Moderns as one book in my book haul, but here I’ll count each of them. Either way, I clearly failed my 3 books or less goal)
  • owned books read for the first time this month = 11 (WOW, even if 6 of them were short! But even so, my TBR shelf grew)
  • total books read in 2018 = 33

And that was March! This has been an excessively long post, so I’ll stop here. Fingers crossed for April being even better– because it’s my birthday month!

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

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

Wrap-Up 2.18

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

Trending:

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

Book-to-film Adaptations:

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

Books I finished reading:

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

Some stats:

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 1.18

It’s a new month! (Finally!)

January has been a month of change, including some firsts, like my first buddy read. Another trend: I’ve been reading multiple books at the same time more than usual again. I’m also switching to a new TBR system this year, which means no more monthly to-read lists, but I will still be wrapping up at the end of every month (like so). I’m giving myself more room to read what I feel like when I feel like it in 2018, and to read outside of my normal comfort zone, so I’ll be noting more reading trends like these as the year progresses. You can follow the links to the corresponding posts if you missed them.

And now for the main attraction, the books I finished reading in January:

  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.theundergroundrailroad 4 stars. This one fell between years for me, more or less. I read the bulk of it at the end of 2017 but finished it in the first hours of 2018. I counted it as the last book for my 2017 reading challenge (I was feeling generous that day, it was the first day of a new year), but I will count it as “read” in 2018, since that is technically when i finished it, and also because it didn’t get to appear in my 2017 wrap-ups. It’s a powerful story with a twist on the historical aspect (a literal underground train), and the prose is consistently thought-provoking and fresh. A wonderful end/start to the year(s).
  2. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. theglasscastle5 stars. I hardly ever read memoirs, but I want to change that, especially after my experience with this one. For the first 2/3 of the book, it was just a wacky read about an unusual family and I was thinking it would end up being a 4-star book, but then in the end it got more empowering and exciting and emotional and encouraging and I loved it. I know I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time, about how a person who comes from nothing can make their biggest dreams come true, and can find something to appreciate even in the most grueling conditions. I’m definitely going to be picking up more memoirs this year, thanks to The Glass Castle.
  3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. eleanoroliphantiscompletelyfine4 stars. Literary fiction can be done very well, or it can be very boring. I knew right away that this one would not bore me for one single page, and that assumption proved to be correct. I’ve never come across a protagonist quite like Eleanor, and I’m certainly going to miss her now that I’ve finished the book. She’s unique and definitely nutty, but also inspiring. Which is a good thing, because the plot is pretty obvious, but Eleanor is more than up to the task of carrying the reader all the way through.
  4. Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover. 2 stars. uglyloveI’m resolving not to even try with guilty pleasures anymore. They’re more guilt than pleasure these days, and they don’t fit my 2018 goal to read books that will make me think about the world and broaden my horizons. I was already having these thoughts before I started reading this one, and if it hadn’t been a library book (I feel bad not reading them before returning them) I probably wouldn’t have even bothered. That’s probably partially what made this a less-than-stellar reading experience for me, but if you want more details on the things that went wrong with Ugly Love, follow the link to my rant. (I mean review. Sorry.)
  5. Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare.ladymidnight 4 stars. I intended to read all of Cassandra Clare’s published books in 2017, but I didn’t quite make it to the Dark Artifices trilogy. I picked this one up before the details from the eleven Clare books I did read last year could slip out of my mind; I picked it up to cross it off my list without really expecting much from it, and through most of the book it was a 3-star read, just another Shadowhunter novel that had some good parts but really could have stood to lose a couple hundred pages… But the end really pulled me in and prompted me to immediately pick up:
  6. Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare. 4 stars. lordofshadowsThis one was a more consistent 4 stars for me than Lady Midnight. The twists were scattered so that I was more interested throughout the story rather than just at the end– but the end was still a big catalyst moment that made sure I’m invested in this trilogy enough to pick up the last book. This is probably kind of morbid, but I’m really looking forward to some of the darker aspects I predict coming up in book three: loves lost, dangers fatally realized, elemental character shifts. I’m reading for that final moment of triumph for the Blackthorns, but also for the hurt they’re going through. Rip my heart out, Clare. Just sew it back up again at the end, please.
  7. It by Stephen King. 5 stars.it I spent 4 weeks buddy reading this book in the midst of reading all the other books on this list, and I loved both the experience of reading with my buddy and just of reading this book in general. I wish I had spent my childhood in the Losers Club. This one wasn’t as scary as I suspected it might be, but it was delightfully creepy in places and also very reflective of growing up, facing one’s fears, and withstanding adversity. It could be a contender for my new favorite King novel, and it’s definitely inspiring me to pick up more of King’s books, even if they are long.
  8. Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. 4 stars. hawksong&snakecharmThis book has been one of my favorites since the first time I read it at 12 years old. It’s outlasted a lot of other books that have been pushed off my favorites list by new arrivals, and I reread it almost every year. It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s simple. I love the unique world, the understated love story, the themes of peace and sacrifice, and so much more. I finally (after 10+ years) lowered my rating to 4 stars because I don’t see it quite the same way I did when I was younger, but I have no idea what I might rate this book if I were reading it for the first time today. Every time I reread Hawksong it renews my passion for reading and I’m always surprised it never ended up being more popular. It deserves the love, and it will probably always be one of my faves.
  9. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner. 3 stars. asbrightasheavenThis was my January Book of the Month selection, and it was actually not one of the first selections that caught my eye, but I wanted to branch out a bit this year. I should’ve gone with my first instinct though because this one disappointed me. I did find the parts about the Spanish Influenza very interesting, but I had some other complaints. Full review coming soon. In the end, I am mostly just glad to have finished it within the month; maybe because I disliked parts of it, I found it easy to read quickly, so now I’m ready to read my February selection, which I’m already thrilled about.

I am proud of this list. Most of the books I read in January were 4-star books or higher for me, and considering It was over 1,000 pages by itself, I also read a high page count. I’m going for quality over quantity this year, but I wouldn’t mind continuing this trend of quality and quantity. Last year I averaged about 9 books per month, and it seems that I’m on track so far to continue that average. I haven’t actually made much progress in my first TBR of the year so far (one of five books), but with my new system I had a chance to keep up with my library books and my buddy read as well, and my TBR books are next up in my mental reading roster.

What books did you pick up in January? Have you read any of these books?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

2017 Reading Review, and 2018 Goals

Curious about my reading stats? Here’s how I did in 2017:

My reading goal for the year was to surpass the number of books I read in 2016– 73 books. I met that goal in August and kept right on going, to reach a total number of 112 books read in 2017 (153% of my goal). That’s an average of 9 books per month. With those 112 books, I read 42,130 pages, for an average book length of 376 pages.

I had been planning to then set a goal of 112 books for 2018, but since this is a trend I’m probably not going to be able to continue indefinitely, I’ve decided to challenge myself in other ways for 2018 and set my goal at 90 books for 2018. I’m hoping that I’ll surpass that number and keep going again, but I don’t want to find myself reading a bunch of short/easy books just to meet a high goal, so I’m going to leave the bar a little lower than I think I’ll realistically achieve and put the challenge in the content I’m reading instead of the number. 2018 is going to be about quality over quantity for me.

But before I look too far ahead, here are some more stats for my 2017 reading:

YA- 38 books (34%)     NA- 10 books (9%)     Adult- 64 books (57%)

Fantasy- 34 books (30%)     Mystery/Thriller- 16 books (14%)     Classic- 15 books (13%)     Fiction/Lit Fic- 13 books (12%)     Contemporary- 11 books (10%)     Romance- 10 books (9%)     Historical Fiction- 3 books (3%)     Non-fiction- 3 books (3%)     Paranormal/Magical Realism- 3 books (3%)     Short Stories/Anthology- 3 books (3%)

Hardcover- 65 books (58%)     Paperback- 42 books (38%)     Ebook- 5 books (4%)

New to me- 107 books (96%)     Started over- 3 books (3%)     Reread- 2 books (1%)

2017 releases- 27 books (24%)     2016 releases- 15 books (13%)     Older publications- 70 (63%)

12 books that I read this year made it to my Favorite Reads of 2017 list.

I also completed a 50-book Reading Challenge in 2017.

I established a book-acquiring goal a few months into the year (March) of adding only 5 books per month or less to my shelves. Sadly, I achieved this goal only three times in ten months, although twice more I was close, at 6 books. I’m planning to lower this goal to 3 new books per month in 2018 and work harder at eliminating unread books from my shelves.

Here’s a look at all the new books I acquired in 2017:

janbooks febbooks1 febbooks2 FullSizeRender (6) FullSizeRender (16) maybooks  junebookhaul julybookhaul augustbookhaul septemberbookhaul octoberbookhaul novemberbookhaul decemberbookhaul

I acquired 119 books in total in 2017. Of this number, I’ve read 46 books. That number (39%) is much lower than I would like, but actually higher than I expected while looking through these haul photos. I’m intending to read a lot more of these in 2018.

Of my 112 books this year, I read:

Bought in 2017: 38 books (34%)     Older titles from my own shelves: 28 books (25%)     Borrowed [from library or friends]: 46 books (41%)

[some of my newly acquired books I’m counting as read even though I what I read was a borrowed copy prior to owning my own, if you’re wondering why the numbers don’t add up.]

Another 2017 goal I set was to read one classic per month. These are the 12 classics I picked out last December to read throughout the year:

classics

Of these, I’ve read 10 and 1/3 (The Iliad is the 1/3) of the stories I designated for 2017. But I did make some changes to this list as the year progressed and picked up a few extras, so I did end up reading 15 classics in 2017 (125% of my goal). I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t get around to Dracula or The Count of Monte Cristo, but I am definitely satisfied with the number and titles I did read. I’m setting the same 12-book classics goal in 2018, and I’m planning to structure it the same way: choosing 12 books at the beginning of the year (post to come soon), designating a month for each, and sticking to that list as much as I can throughout the year.

I also want to talk about my first year with a subscription box– Book of the Month Club. I love that BOTM offers a five-book selection that I get to chose from each month, as well as plenty of great extras. The selections are almost always brand new releases (and some early releases), which is awesome. And I also love the online account that goes with the box– where I can log the BOTM books I’ve finished on my virtual bookshelf, review them, sort them by how much I enjoyed them, and see what other readers thought. It’s been a lot of fun. But the downside… it’s been so much fun selecting new BOTM books that I’ve been acquiring more of them than I’ve been able to keep up with reading. I am staying with BOTM for another year. But I’m adding a goal for myself in 2018: to catch up with the books I’ve already received from them, and to stay caught up. By the end of 2018, I want no unread BOTM books on my shelves. For this reason, I’m implementing a goal of choosing only one book per month (instead of the maximum option of three) at least until I’m caught up, when I’ll reconsider how many BOTM books I’ll be able to keep up with per month. I’ve made one exception: in addition to my one new selection in January, I also added 2017’s Book of the Year as an extra to my box. But that’s a one-time-per-year thing, and I did force myself to choose only one new selection for January. Here’s a look at all the books I chose through BOTM throughout the past year:

botm2017

I selected 21 books from BOTM in 2017. I’ve read only 11 BOTM books so far. [This is my most shameful statistic.]

To see more (and more specific) goals you can also check out my 2018 reading challenge, which I self-created.

And in conclusion: I’m happy with the number of books that I read, the variety of genres (though I want to read less fantasy and romance next year), the balance of adult/YA/NA books, the number of borrowed and owned books I read, the amount of new releases and the completion of my reading challenge. But in 2018 I want to pick up more books outside of my norm, fewer guilty pleasures and more books that I think will surprise me. More of the BOTM books I’ve been putting off even though I’m excited for them. More books that I can learn from, rather than just reading for entertainment purposes. I want to broaden my horizons. My biggest goal though is just to buy fewer books until I’m more caught up. Acquiring so many more books than I’m actually reading is a new trend that I don’t like.

What did you read in 2017? Are there any more stats you’d like to see from me?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant