Tag Archives: wrap-up

Wrap-Up 10.19

I’m not back to regular blogging yet (I’ve got about two more really busy weeks coming up, and hope to catch up with posts later this month), but I had this one mostly drafted in advance and wanted to get it up before it seemed irrelevant. I read mostly spooky/gothic/horror books in October, and it turned out to be probably my best reading month of the entire year so far in terms of enjoyment, which seems like a sign that I should read these genres more frequently year-round!

Here’s what I read in October:

  1. Dark Age by Pierce Brown. darkage4 stars. I actually read most of this in September, but finally finished it at the start of this month. It’s a 700+ page 5th book in a series that I enjoyed, but perhaps not as much as I expected to or as much as I’ve previously enjoyed other books in this series. In my review, I talk more broadly (no spoilers) about the Red Rising series as a whole, so feel free to check that out if you’re at all interested in the series, no matter how many of the books you’ve read (or not read) so far!
  2. In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill. 4 stars. I read this short, supernatural horror story just as the Netflix adaptation was being released, and thoroughly enjoyed both mediums. My review covers both!
  3. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. driveyourplowoverthebonesofthedead4 stars. This is a translated literary fiction novel about a “crazy” old woman in a remote Polish village who loves animals more than people. Though the mystery wasn’t the most compelling aspect for me, I still found the story delightfully macabre and perfect for October, and the narrator’s voice is so compelling that I imagine it would be great to pick up at any time of the year.
  4. A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore. aspellofwinter4 stars. Despite the title, this was another excellent October read (though of course it would be great in winter as well), with a wonderful gothic tone running through most of this incredibly tragic historical fiction tale. I’m a bit more cautious about recommending this one because there are some major trigger warnings that come with this title, but I did find it a worthy first Women’s Prize winner and really enjoyed the experience even though it was so sad!
  5. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann.ducks,newburyport 5 stars. This Booker shortlisted novel missed the win, but fully deserves more attention. It’s a thousand-page book mostly told in one single run-on sentence, but it’s been one of my favorite reads of the year without question. My review ran a bit long but I’m pleased with how it turned out (which doesn’t happen so very often), so if you’re at all curious about this literary novel on motherhood and violence in Trump’s America, please do check out my review for more info!
  6. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. wehavealwayslivedinthecastle5 stars. A classic horror story here, and another duo review with some thoughts on the recent film included alongside the novel as well. This was creepy and so bizarre, and exceptionally well-written; a perfect fit for my reading taste and one I highly recommend for anyone looking for some fairy-tale-esque psychological horror.
  7. Wilder Girls by Rory Power. 3 stars. This is a recent YA release set in a dystopian near-future, on a secluded island housing a girls’ school. There’s a cli-fi element to this one, as well as plenty of body horror, but the mystery aspect was what kept me most interested. (Quite a genre-bender, this one!) I had some issues with characterization and the way that Power explained things, but overall found this a quick, fun read. Full review pending.
  8. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. thesilentcompanions5 stars. Here we have a gothic, historical horror. By the time I picked this one up I had forgotten everything about its synopsis, which made it quite a delightful surprise. I adored Purcell’s writing from the start, found all of the characters/perspectives compelling (even when I didn’t necessarily like or agree with the character), and loved the balance of psychological/fantastical in the horror element. Full review pending.
  9. Ghostly Stories by Celia Fremlin. 4 stars. This was the first story I picked up from the new additions to the Faber Stories collection, and is actually a little volume of two short stories. Both deal with motherhood (though neither from the mother’s perspective, interestingly) and hauntings; they are simple and straightforward enough that they failed to really surprise me, but both are competent literary works that address an interesting point of view, and they pair nicely. Full review pending, to appear in my next batch of Faber Stories mini reviews.

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I was hoping to get to a few more spooky titles, but Ducks took longer to read than planned and I couldn’t begrudge it for the extra time- it was so nice to give it my complete attention and just luxuriate in its brilliance rather than trying to finish on a schedule. That meant that I wasn’t finished with it before the winner(s) announcement for the Booker Prize (you can find my thoughts on that here), but I didn’t mind. And, since I enjoyed the spooks I did read so much this month (three 5-star reads! and almost everything else was a 4-star! I didn’t dislike anything!), I don’t mind having some horror stories left for other months. I’m still currently reading my Halloween book, Thomas Harris’s Hannibal, the third book in the Hannibal Lecter series that I’ve been reading at the rate of one book per Halloween; additionally, I’m currently reading Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How it Ends, a short nonfiction essay piece that works as a companion to Lost Children Archive. Reviews for both of these will be coming up as well. (If you’re wondering how I’m still finding time to read and not blog, the answer is that I have some down time at work without good internet access. Fitting in some reading has been a lifesaver in the midst of my current crazy work schedule!

 

Some stats:

Average rating – 4.2 (a 2019 record high!)

Best of month – Ducks, Newburyport

Worst of month – Wilder Girls, but even my “worst” was pretty enjoyable this month, and naming it here is more a result of not quite jiving with the writing style than thinking it’s a bad book at all.

Books hauled 14, I think; I’ve got my October haul / November TBR partially drafted as, so maybe that will be up later this week or early next? (I feel bad posting anything when I don’t also have time to interact with all of my blogger friends and their posts, so we’ll see.)

Owned books read for the first time – 6. Not as many as I hauled (again. This is seriously getting to be a problem), but it does mean that 2/3 of the books I read this month were owned-unread books, which is a good proportion. And I expect November will be similar, as I haven’t had time to visit the library, either.

October TBR tally 1/8. I had a couple more of those 8 in my October-hopefuls stack that I didn’t end up getting to at the end of the month, but I knew going in that I was planning to focus more on reading horror than on reading whatever was new to me this month, so I’m not surprised this result is low. (In case you’re curious, here’s the link to my Sept. haul / Oct TBR.)

Year total – 104. I have officially surpassed my Goodreads challenge of 100 books for 2019! It feels like a good time of year for that- my goal wasn’t too easy or too hard to reach, but if I feel like pushing myself I can still try to beat last year’s total of 118 books for the year.

 

I haven’t had a chance to peruse any other wrap-ups yet, so if you feel like sharing, let me know what your favorite book from October was! (Spooky or non, of course!)

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 9.19

September was sort of a rough month for me. I had more 2-star reads (the lowest I rate, so far) than 5-stars, and just didn’t read as much as I’d hoped, all around. I am also very upset that the weather went straight from balmy to unreasonably cold (though to be fair anything under 60 degrees feels unreasonable to me). Fall is not my happy time. But I have a very exciting October TBR planned, so I’m looking to make the most of it!

Here’s the pre-spooky mix I read in September:

  1. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. 4 stars. This was the last of the Faber Stories (that have been published so far) that I’ve been trying to get my hands on for ages- fortunately I found a friend to lend me a copy! Even more happily, it turned out to be one of my favorites from the entire set! It’s about a small-minded family who encounter some trouble on their vacation travels. If you follow the link to my review, you can also check out my complete ranking of the first 20 Faber Stories.
  2. The Wall by John Lanchester. 2 stars. The Booker Prize longlist introduced me to this title, which in the end did not impress me as much in execution as its synopsis suggested it might. Though it’s a competent story with a lot of political parallels, it just doesn’t push boundaries in a satisfactory way and left me very underwhelmed.
  3. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware. 4 stars. Though Ware’s mystery style is becoming a bit predictable for me, I still enjoyed this story and, as always, loved the atmosphere Ware creates. There’s a bit of tragic ambiguity toward the end that really made up for the slow pace at the beginning. On the whole, I was entertained, and didn’t find any major issues to dampen the fun.
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood, art and adaptation by Renee Nault. 4 stars. I wasn’t planning to reread The Handmaid’s Tale before The Testaments, so finding this one available at my library last minute was a nice stroke of luck. I adored every single thing about this book except for the last three pages, which take a final turn the novel doesn’t, in preparation for the sequel.
  5. Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created FRANKENSTEIN by Lita Judge. 5 stars. Reading Frankissstein last month reignited my love for Shelley’s classic, and this genre-defying graphic work was a perfect follow-up. I was worried at first that the writing was aimed at younger readers (YA doesn’t always work for me these days), but the style and themes seemed to reflect Mary’s age and maturity throughout the book, which I appreciated more as the story progressed. All in all, beautiful, brilliant, and so very sad.
  6. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. 2 stars. This isn’t an offensive book, and many fans of The Handmaid’s Tale are going to love it, but very little about this book fit what I would have wanted from a sequel. It checked another title off the Booker Prize list for me, but otherwise I didn’t find this particularly rewarding.
  7. Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman. 4 stars. I expected this nonfiction title to be a bit more informational about endometriosis and how it’s treated medically, but instead it’s very much a memoir of one woman’s experience, endometriosis and otherwise. Though it wasn’t quite what I expected, I’m so glad I kept reading anyway because this is a perspective I think everyone should hear from- especially anyone with a uterus and/or involved in a medical profession.
  8. The Outsider by Stephen King. 3 stars. I read this with a buddy through all of September, which is always a fun experience! There were some delightfully creepy moments in this book (I read a lot of King but his horror doesn’t always scare me, so I enjoy when it does), but the latter half wasn’t as strong as the beginning. It was still a great book to be reading while planning my spooky TBR though. I’ll have more detailed thoughts coming up in a full review soon!

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(Quite a few of my September reads were library books, which I returned before taking the picture.)

Overall, this is a somewhat disappointing list. I really liked the graphic novels and the short story, but they were such quick reads that as I look back at the month it doesn’t look like I spent much quality time with books in September. Even though I did? Oddly, the Booker Prize nominees I read this month were the least fulfilling of the set. I just don’t know what happened here. It didn’t feel like a bad month, but it certainly could’ve gone better.

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.5

Best of month – Mary’s Monster

Worst of month – The Testaments. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad book; if you’re interested, you should look up more info because it might be a better fit for you. It was just not what I wanted this book to be at all.

Books hauled 14, which includes 6 I’ve already read and 8 still to read. (You can check out the full list in my October TBR post, or take a quick glance here) –>bookhaul9.19part2

Owned book read for the first time – 3. Not as many as I hauled, so my own-unread TBR took a hit again. No surprise, really, at this point.

September TBR tally 0/3, but I was so close to finishing 1 of these books from my August haul/Sept. TBR. I started Pierce Brown’s Dark Age this month, the biggest title from the stack, and managed 640/750 pages. This is the book facing backwards in my wrap-up stack; I’m a little farther now than where the tabs stopped when I took the picture yesterday morning. I’m starting my October reading regardless, but I’m hoping to finish Dark Age in the next day or two as well. In case you missed it, the full August haul stack: –>bookhaul8.19

Year total – 95. This was not as productive a reading month as I had hoped, but I’m still pretty confident that I’ll hit my Goodreads goal of 100 books next month!

Posts recap – I don’t usually round up my non-review posts in my monthly wrap-ups, but I did a few interesting tags this month that I’d love to see more bloggers trying out, so I’ll link them here in case you missed them and/or are looking for a fun post idea:

The Liebster Award

Choose the Year Book Tag

The Translated Literature Tag

And to get in the right mood for better (spookier) books ahead in October, let me know in the comments a book you’re most excited about picking up this month! I’m really looking forward to Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle!

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 8.19

I’m a little late with wrapping up my August reading, but as we’re still in the first week of September I didn’t want to abandon ship altogether.

Here’s what I read in August:

  1. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager. 4 stars. After the mild disappointment of last year’s The Last Time I Lied, Sager really delivered in his newest thriller release. Though I found the main character a bit insufferable, I loved this premise and the extremes Sager takes it to in the end, as well as the commentary on poverty and missing persons.
  2. The Need by Helen Phillips. 4 stars. This one’s slower paced for a thriller, but I would argue it’s more of a suspense novel than a proper thriller, which I enjoyed. Though I was somewhat disappointed to realize that this book’s biggest twist was one I’d seen before, Phillips used the set-up for a dark character study that was sadly missing the last time I read this trope. It’s a great exploration of identity and motherhood.
  3. Finders Keepers by Stephen King. 2 stars. This was the second book in a trilogy that I started reading almost a year ago, and sadly I found this volume a poor continuation of the Bill Hodges series. Not only does it barely relate to the overall arc of the trilogy, but the writing grated on me to such an extent that I couldn’t enjoy the story.
  4. Lanny by Max Porter. 4 stars. This short little gem had already been on my radar, but seeing it longlisted for the Booker Prize (sadly, not shortlisted) finally gave me the push I needed to pick it up. Though I didn’t entirely enjoy the magical realism element, I thought the structure and writing was such fun, and I appreciated the commentary on small town life and human nature.
  5. End of Watch by Stephen King. 3 stars. Though slightly less problematic than the second book in this trilogy and back on track with the main story arc, this conclusion to the Bill Hodges set just did not excite me the way the first book had. A reasonable conclusion and a nice return to SK’s most popular genre (sci-fi), this was a very middle-of-the-road read.
  6. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. 3 stars. Another title from the Booker Prize longlist (that didn’t make the shortlist); I picked this one up for its fascinating premise, but though the writing style exceeded expectations, the plot did not. A short book that I mostly enjoyed, despite some ups and downs.
  7. An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma. 2 stars. A Booker prize longlister (and shortlisted besides!) that also had a promising premise but turned out disappointing. Though in theory I liked the concept of this one, the execution fell flat for me in almost every regard- a weak Odyssey connection, an impenetrable language barrier, unaddressed misogyny/toxic masculinity in the main character, unexplored side characters, etc. Do not recommend.
  8. Human Acts by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith. 4 stars. The only title I managed to complete for WIT (women in translation) month, this was an excellent but emotionally challenging read. It offers a dark recap of a historical event and speculates on innate cruelty/vulnerability in human nature. So many trigger warnings, but worth the read if you can stomach it.
  9. Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss. 3 stars. This was one of my last Faber Stories read from the original collection of 20 individually-bound stories. My reviews of the final stories should be coming up later this week. Of this one, I’ll say now that I had a lot of fun with the three tiny stories in this volume but ultimately didn’t find much lasting takeaway.
  10. Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson. 5 stars. Yet another Booker Prize longlist title (which tragically missed the shortlist); this Frankenstein retelling is quite a mashup of Mary Shelley’s original themes, her (fictionalized) real life, a metafiction element, and a modernized continuation of the classic story. There is SO MUCH content and food for thought crammed into this novel that I don’t know how to sum it up briefly, so I’ll just say that each page was an absolute delight.

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(Photo missing my 3 library checkouts from early in the month, Lock Every Door, The Need, and Lanny)

To be honest, I started the month strong and then flagged in the middle, meaning I didn’t get to everything I wanted to. But 10 book is still a great number for me, and everything that I read came directly from my excessive TBR list for the month (except for Three Types of Solitude, which is only a short story anyway and fit a previous TBR goal), so I didn’t go off track with content. I just had too many goals, as usual.

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.4

Best of month – Frankissstein, hands down, although Human Acts also left quite a strong impression.

Worst of month – Finders Keepers, which completely failed at its purpose of entertainment for me, whereas An Orchestra of Minorities at least conveyed an interesting topic under lamentable writing choices.

Books hauled 7, and I’ve already read 4! (You can check out the full list in my September TBR, or take a quick glance here) –>bookhaul8.19

Owned book read for the first time – 6 total, including 2 books that I’ve had on my shelf prior to 2019. Sadly, my owned-unread TBR increased again this month, though fortunately only by 1 book!

August TBR tally 0/11. This is abysmal, and I’m now aiming to pick up some of my August TBR books in September. –>tbr8.19

Year total – 87 books at the end of August, plus I’ve already finished 2 in September to put me at 89 currently! I might hit my Goodreads goal of 100 later this month if I’m lucky, but I have a couple of long books on my TBR so I’m guessing I’ll meet that goal in October. I’m more invested in reading great books than pushing for numbers, so I won’t be raising this goal no matter when I reach it.

All in all, a fairly average reading month for me, missed TBR goal and all. I’m still thrilled about my 5-star read, and the 2-star books were productive if disappointing (one from the Booker prize longlist/shortlist, and one as prep for a September SK buddy read.) Sadly I didn’t get to any nonfiction in August, though Three Women is now one of my top priorities for September.

I hope everyone’s September reading is off to a good start!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Review: End of Watch (Bill Hodges Trilogy Wrap-up)

CW: suicide, murder, gaslighting, racism, homophobia, fatphobia, cruelty to hospital patient, cancer

Almost a year after I started, I have finally finished reading the Bill Hodges trilogy, which concludes with End of Watch by Stephen King. For more thoughts on the trilogy, you can check out my full reviews of the previous books, Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, though I’ll also do a small series wrap-up below. It should all be spoiler-free, except any characters mentioned at this point have obviously survived books 1 and 2, etc. All in all, I see End of Watch as a fair conclusion to the series, though it failed to live up to the promising start of the trilogy for me.

endofwatchIn the novel, Hodges’s old partner on the police force calls Hodges in on a case that looks like a standard murder/suicide. One of the deceased was also a victim of the Mercedes Massacre (an intentional hit and run at a job fair), a case Hodges helped close. Though the police don’t want to look further into these new deaths, some strange clues lead Hodges back to Mr. Mercedes- aka Brady Hartsfield- at the brain injury ward of the local hospital. But is Brady still impaired? There have been some rumors on the ward that he might be faking, that strange things have been happening around him. Has he found a way to keep killing without leaving his room? And if so, how can anyone stop him?

“Dead people never look more dead than in police photos.”

Right away I was much more excited about the premise of End of Watch than I had been about book 2, because this final volume harks back to the Mercedes Massacre in a big way- an element I enjoyed in the first book and found lacking in the second. In End of Watch, we see into Brady Hartsfield’s disturbed mind once again as he attempts to resume murdering the citizens of this trilogy’s unnamed Ohio city. Furthermore, we see King return to his well-known sci-fi/horror brand in this volume rather than sticking strictly with a PI/police style mystery as in books 1 and 2. Everything boded well for me to enjoy this one.

Though ultimately I did like the basic plot and the return to some of the trilogy’s earlier threads, it just didn’t quite come together here as well as I’d hoped based on the similarities to Mr. Mercedes. In the first book, Hodges becomes freshly involved with the hunt for Mr. Mercedes for close personal reasons- Hartsfield comes after him purposefully, trying to capitalize on Hodges’s depression to goad him into suicide; in End of Watch, Hodges’s involvement in the latest case is less exciting: meddling has become a habit, and with his health coming into question he’s looking for closure (how trite). Additionally, a common issue for me with King’s work (more pronounced in some stories than others), is the ease with which the characters manage to jump to the right conclusions. They stumble upon the answers they’re looking for, or somehow know just where to look. They make no wrong turns. Intuition runs high, and actual detective work remains minimal. I found this particularly problematic in this trilogy as a whole, which purports to be a crime mystery series, but specifically it seemed most pronounced in End of Watch.

I also had some of the same complaints with this final book as I did reccently in Finders Keepers; though the writing seemed a bit more considerate towards marginalized characters, there are still a couple of racial and homophobic slurs in use, fatness is shown as something to be ashamed of, and women are fairly insignificant. Most of these annoyances come up in the killer’s thoughts and dialogue, which supports the possibility that they are knowingly used for characterization rather than an indicator of the author’s personal opinions, but I found them distasteful nonetheless. Fortunately, it’s toned down a bit from the last volume, at least.

The most worrisome element for me in End of Watch was the extreme emphasis on suicide. The National Suicide Prevention hotline is mentioned both in the text and in an author’s note at the back of the book, but I would still caution anyone sensitive to this topic to enter with caution, if at all. Though we see in book 1 how effective Hartsfield can be at persuading his victims to kill themselves, that’s only one small stepping stone in Mr. Mercedes whereas it’s the main conflict in End of Watch. Not only do several teens and young adults attempt (and mostly succeed at) suicide, but we see Hartsfield maliciously whittle down their self-esteem to convince them to do it. He capitalizes on anything these characters have been bullied about- their weight, their sexuality, their intelligence, etc. It’s plenty unsettling to see these young and vulnerable people taken advantage of in this way, and also a bit concerning that many of the characters who are victimized are the “misfits”- not straight, white, thin, and pretty. It’s difficult to say whether King meant to emphasize how difficult life can be for bullied teens, or whether he simply found them the most expendable.

“Four in the morning is usually an unhappy time to be awake. It’s when unpleasant thoughts and pessimistic ideas come to the fore.”

All in all, a mixed experience. I enjoyed the sci-fi element and was suitably horrified by the villain’s capabilities and intent; I found the plot solid if a bit convenient and predictable. The thematic focus seems to shift towards the importance of found family and supporting one’s friends, but I don’t pick up Stephen King novels for wholesome morals; they feel gimmicky to me amidst the grisly deaths and psychological terror. End of Watch, like the rest of this trilogy, isn’t really a book that’s meant to teach- it’s pure entertainment.

Was I entertained? With Mr. Mercedes, the answer is a whole-hearted yes. I thought the plot was well-crafted, the characters strong and interesting each for their own reason, and the writing acceptable. (I did read it almost a year ago, so it’s possible I just didn’t pick up on as much or don’t remember it as clearly.) With Finders Keepers, I was entertained, but I spent a decent portion of my reading time marveling over how bad that book seemed, so I wouldn’t say it was an entirely positive sort of entertainment. I liked the concept, but didn’t think much of it was executed well. With End of Watch, I’m not sure I can say I was entertained. The trajectory of the novel seemed obvious to me from early on, so I spent most of the read just waiting for the big showdown I expected at the end to arrive.

Across the entire series, my favorite elements were 1) seeing the Mercedes Massacre from every angle- its conception, its execution, its aftermath. I thought King did a great job of conveying how far-reaching a tragedy like this can be for a community, and at every turn it felt woven into the fabric of these characters’ lives. And 2) the main characters. I feel the need to caveat though that I appreciated them more early on, as they were still morphing into the people they would become. But watching Hartsfield deteriorate? Watching Holly stabilize and find her independence? Seeing Jerome succeed in school and save the day in his spare time? These are the moments I’ll remember from this trilogy, and the reason I’m still interested in reading further about Holly in The Outsider (and potentially in the upcoming If It Bleeds), despite some dissatisfaction with King’s style of late.

Final ratings: Mr. Mercedes – 5 stars. Finders Keepers – 2 stars. End of Watch

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I wanted to like this one so much after my dismal experience with Finders Keepers, but sadly it never seemed more than fine. Still, I’m glad I took the time to see where the storyline from Mr. Mercedes went in the end, and this trilogy certainly gave me some food for thought in my journey through King’s work. And, honestly, it’s just so nice to finish something! I feel like I’ve gotten worse in recent years about starting series and reading projects that I take forever to finish, if I ever do. And if my possible buddy read pans out, I’ll be knocking out The Outsider soon as well, the Holly spin-off. Progress is being made.

Thanks for bearing with me this far if you’re still here. I know this has turned into a particularly long and meandering review. It was probably a mistake deciding to finish this at 1:30 am.

 

The Literary Elephant

 

Wrap-up 7.19

The end of July is the time of year that my alarm bells start going off to warn me that summer’s almost over- there’s still a month left, but somehow August never seems to last as long as it should. I have to mentally prepare to lose the warmth and the long days. But July was nice and leisurely, and I accomplished some quality reading!

Books I finished in July:

  1. The Farm by Joanne Ramos. 5 stars. Though the plot turned transparent toward the end, I loved the way this book approached a sensitive issue (surrogacy facilities) from many angles, leaving the reader to form their own opinions.
  2. Daughters of Passion by Julia O’Faolain. 3 stars. Though I enjoyed the concept of this one (a woman on a hunger strike in an Irish prison recounts her decision to become involved with the IRA), the structure and brevity of the story kept me from investing in the characters properly. Full review will be posted when I finally manage to read the last two Faber Stories I’m missing.
  3. Animals Eat Each Other by Elle Nash. 3 stars. Another shorter story (novella) that I loved in concept (a young woman becomes involved in a three-way relationship and begins to question her sense of identity), but wished for a bit more length to explore its themes more deeply. Even so, I found it dark, gritty, and immersive.
  4. The Stand by Stephen King. 3 stars. King’s longest novel, and also my longest buddy read to date- this one took 6 weeks! Though I surpsingly didn’t have any issues with the length or pacing, the book’s climax was somewhat unsatisfactory, as was King’s portrayal of female characters.
  5. Recursion by Blake Crouch. 4 stars. An impressive follow-up to Dark Matter, but rather too similar to that former novel to completely win me over. This one features a new form of technology that allows for navigation of human memories, and the worldwide catastrophe that erupts when various groups fight for control of it.
  6. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. 3 stars. Though I think Kerman’s idea to reveal to the masses what life is like on the inside of a prison- and the injustices that reign there- is commendable, her perspective just didn’t quite seem to be the right fit for her intention. At least, not her voice alone. I learned a few things, but also wished this book had made space for others to chime in.
  7. Again, But Better by Christine Riccio. 3 stars. A YA/NA study abroad romance with a magical element. I had a few issues with style and premise, but ultimately found this very readable and enjoyable. Not a preferred genre for me, but I mainly picked this up to see whether Riccio’s writing style matched her video style, as a sort of reading experiment.
  8. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. 4 stars. Though a bit slow-paced and repetitive for me (I’m fairly new to nonfiction), I found this true crime story of a shady Silicon Valley company utterly fascinating. The things people will do for money… horrifying. Full review should be up tomorrow.
  9. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. 5 stars. This former women’s prize winner is one of the most difficult and emotionally devastating books I’ve ever read. The unique writing style takes a lot of patience, but the payoff was huge in the end. Full review should be up early next week.
  10. The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller by Henry James. 4 stars. I read this in snippets on the side while trying to work through my long list of library checkouts this month (I had to carry a couple of titles over to August, oops), but still thoroughly enjoyed it. The first story has given me a lot to puzzle over and appreciate in the days since I’ve completed it, but the second story was more immediately engaging to read- both intriguing, but very different pieces! Full review should be up next week.

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Some stats:

Average rating – 3.7

Best of month – A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, followed by The Farm

Worst of month – Daughters of Passion, just because it felt the most unrealized. It was too short to regret reading, though.

Books hauled – 14 total, 11 of which appear in my August TBR and 3 that I read in my childhood and recently purchased to reread someday (Dreamland by Sarah Dessen, Pet Sematary by Stephen King, and The Doll People by Ann M. Martin, Laura Godwin, and Brian Selznick.)

Owned book read for the first time – 5 total, 3 of which were on my July TBR and 2 that I’ve owned for years (The Stand and The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller).  This has been yet another month of increasing my owned-unread TBR.

July TBR tally 3/8. (Recursion, Daughters of Passion, and Animals Eat Each Other) –>bookhaul6.19

Year total – 78 books. I’m guessing I’ll hit my Goodreads goal of 100 in late September or early October, but anything could happen. I’m not planning to readjust my goal.

 

All in all, not a bad month. I was hoping to finish a couple more titles, but instead I took a few days off of reading, which was good for the soul. I’ve been much more in the habit this year of reading whatever amount feels comfortable to me on any given day rather than forcing it, which is one of the reasons I don’t want to readjust my Goodreads goal even though I’m 99% confident about reaching it early. (Not reading keeps reading fun?)

I only read 2 nonfiction books in July, and don’t have much room in my August reading schedule for nonfiction, which isn’t boding well for my lofty “Summer of Nonfiction” plans, but I liked what I did read and am eager to continue my nonfiction adventures beyond this summer, so it is what it is. Otherwise, quite a variety of genres, story lengths, and topics once again, which is just the way I like it. I wouldn’t say this was necessarily a “fun” reading month, but I certainly had quite a few interesting experiences! Buddy reads, a TV show tie-in, a Booktuber book, a Prize winner, etc.

Tell me about a standout reading experience you had this month- not necessarily the greatest (though that’s welcome too), but something you had a unique experience with!

(And of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read any of these books!)

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 6.19

Somehow, apparently, the year is half over. I’m not even sure what to say about that, so we’ll just move on.

Here’s what I read in June:

  1. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang. 3 stars. This was a quick, fun romance that didn’t quite impress me the way that Hoang’s debut, The Kiss Quotient, did. I loved the autism rep, but the plot and characterization didn’t win me over. Still, I finished this sequel in just two days and had a good time with it, which seemed like a good start to the month.
  2. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. 4 stars. A delightfully eerie novella that I loved both in plot and theme. This was atmospheric and impactful and so short that I read it in a single evening. The only aspect I didn’t like was the child’s dialogue, which I found a bit repetitive and intrusive. Still, highly recommend if you like a good literary puzzle.
  3. The Last by Hanna Jameson. 5 stars. This genre-crossing apocalyptic murder mystery was not without its flaws, but never failed for an instant to engage and entertain me. I found it so thought-provoking and unique, and untraditional thrillers like this seem to be doing wonders for me lately.
  4. The Killer Across the Table by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. 3 stars. Here was one of my nonfiction choices for this month, a true crime book about former FBI agent Douglas and the insight he gained from interviewing serial killers. I appreciated the approach that the writers took with the topic, and found the content fascinating. The emotionless tone of the writing did not work for me as well, and some sections of the book seemed stronger than others. A worthwhile read, but I think I would’ve had a better experience starting with the author duo’s first book rather than this most recent title.
  5. Little Darlings by Melanie Golding. 3 stars. Review coming in the next day or two. I loved the visceral, evocative writing of this book and the premise was off to a great start. But ultimately, I felt that the ending took a bit of a left turn from the themes the book seemed to be tackling up to that point, and I had a lot of issues with characterization. Even so, this was entertaining and I would probably take another chance on this author in the future.
  6. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. 4 stars. Another nonfiction work. Mini-review probably coming soon. I actually read the titular piece, “A Room of One’s Own,” back in December in another edition, which I rated 4 stars on its own. I bought this copy because I liked that essay enough to want to own it, without realizing that this edition also contained a second piece, “Three Guineas.” So this month I only read “Three Guineas,” which I also appreciated. Ultimately, I think these two pieces are better read for historical background than modern perspective; the points being made are still relevant, but not as problematic as they were in the 1920s and 30s, when these pieces were written. Even so, no one makes an argument quite like Woolf, and I’m glad to have read both of these pieces.

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I believe 6 books in a month is the lowest amount of completed books I’ve had to show for any month this year, but the main reason June looks slow for me is that I’ve been reading Stephen King’s The Stand all month, on the side. (The book turned backwards in my photo- I’ve read to the point where the tabs stop.) I could have read around three other books in the time I spent on those thousand pages, which does put me right on track with my average monthly reading for the year, so I’m actually not any farther behind than usual. It just looks/feels that way.

I returned my three library books earlier in the month, so they’re not pictured.

June has been the first month all year that I haven’t read any short stories. Reading short stories was one of my goals for 2019, so that’s a bit disappointing to have missed this month, but I’ve done well enough so far that I don’t mind having taken one month off. Hopefully I’ll manage to pick up some short stories in July- I have plenty to choose from!

Additionally, a goal I set for myself this summer is to incorporate more nonfiction into my regular reading. I was hoping to complete 3 titles this month, but managed only 2, one of which was a single essay. But even so, 2/6 titles is an increase in nonfiction reading for me, so not a total loss. I would say I’m more interested in nonfiction than ever, and I do have more titles lined up for July, so… success?

Some Stats:

  • Average rating – 3.67
  • Best of month – It’s a tie between The Last and Fever Dream. I know I rated them differently, based on immediate enjoyability, but both left strong impressions and I know they will stick with me for a long time, each in their own way.
  • Worst of monthThe Bride Test. This wasn’t a truly awful book, but I was really hoping it would be a step up from Hoang’s last novel and for me it wasn’t. Also I just don’t get along with romance novels very often, so I’d like to clarify that this was my least favorite read of the month, not the worst in any objective way.
  • Books hauled – 8.
  • Owned books read for the first time – Only 3. The rest were library checkouts. Once again, I added more books to my owned-unread TBR than I managed to clear off.
  • Year Total – 68. My Goodreads goal for the year is set at 100, which feels comfortably manageable at this halfway point.
  • June TBR tally – Below I’ve posted the photo of my May book haul / “official” June TBR stack. From the stack of 7, I read only 3. But unofficially, the other three books I read were also planned for the month, so I’m happy with what I read and didn’t deviate by picking up anything completely irrelevant to my goals.

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And that’s June, wrapped. I was thrilled to find a 5-star read this month, and think my reading is finally (slowly) starting to turn around for the better! I’m currently reading Joanne Ramos’s The Farm, which I’m finding fascinating so far, as well as The Stand. 

I hope everyone has a great July ahead!

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 5.19

May was such a strange reading month for me. It went both better than expected and not quite as well as I’d hoped. It seemed like May lasted about 5 minutes, but apparently that’s just the way life is now. At least the weather is finally becoming enjoyable!

Books I finished this month:

  1. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin. 4 stars. This is the main reason for my strange reading in May- I spent just over two weeks reading nothing but this 1000+ page beast, the third book in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. It was enjoyable being back in this world and this felt like a worthy addition to the set, but also I did start to feel like it would never end and I would be reading this until I died. I’ve got a few more long books queued up for this summer though, so this was good practice. The final third of this book was where the plot really picked up, and I definitely prefer a slow beginning with a  strong ending rather than the other way around, so this mostly worked well for me.
  2. Women Talking by Miriam Toews. 4 stars. (I love Martin’s characters and world-building, but after two weeks in Westeros I needed some feminism.) This is a title I’ve been highly anticipating for months, and it was a haunting joy. There are some stylistic choices here that will probably not please everyone, but I thought it all fit together. It’s a short read that packed just enough punch and wasn’t too heavy.
  3. Women & Power by Mary Beard. 4 stars. I didn’t post a full review for this book and I don’t intend to. It’s a collection of two lectures/essays about women’s voices (literally the sound of their voices) and their current standing in governmental/power positions. I loved the way Beard tied her modern standpoints back to Greek and Roman history, and I agreed with her viewpoints overall. But I think there were places it seemed obvious that these were originally speeches, and hadn’t been thoroughly adapted for a wider reading audience; there were details that felt rushed past that I wished for more expansion on, and others that felt catered to a specific audience that I was perhaps not a member of. It felt rather like Beard was trying to answer questions that I hadn’t asked? It’s possible I went into this too blindly. It paired well with Women Talking in the moment that I needed some feminism, but (and I don’t mean this in a discouraging way if you want to pick this up, because I did find it worthwhile and enjoyable) I don’t know who I would ever recommend this to. It’s a very specific sort of book whose reception I think will depend a lot on what the reader is looking for, and why.
  4. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. 3 stars. This was my BOTM selection from April. I reeeeally loved this in the first twenty pages, and then I made a guess as to who the real culprit of the central mystery was, and grew increasingly bored as every clue pointed toward that guess being correct. It’s exciting to figure out whodunnit, in theory, but reading 300 pages for the reveal that I knew was coming just wasn’t doing it for me. Other than that setback, I loved everything about this book, and I do highly recommend it. There’s a ton of meaningful commentary about immigration and the struggles involved in parenting special needs children, as well as flaws in the US legal system. I just wish it hadn’t been formatted as a mystery.
  5. Cosmopolitan by Akhil Sharma. 3 stars. This is a short story from the Faber Stories collection about an elderly man whose wife and grown daughter have moved away from; he fixates on his neighbor. I thought it was fine, but it’s not a favorite from the collection. More thoughts will be coming soon in another exciting round of Faber Stories mini-reviews.
  6. The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Mötley Crüe and Neil Strauss. 4 stars. This is not my usual type of reading material but I have many, many thoughts to share about it in a review that should be up later this week. At a glance, I think these people are victims of their circumstances who act in appallingly abhorrent ways; I found them unlikeable as “characters” but was engrossed in their story anyway, flabbergasted that the world could allow- even encourage!- such debauchery to exist.
  7. Dante and the Lobster by Samuel Beckett. 3 stars. Another Faber Story that’ll appear in my upcoming mini-reviews. This one features a man going about his ordinary afternoon routine, and experiencing a shock at the end. I appreciated the strangeness of this one, but again, not a personal favorite.
  8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 4 stars. This was a reread I wanted to fit in before wrapping up my time with the Women’s Prize shortlist and predicting winner. I originally read this novel over a year ago and gave it 4 stars, but over time had lowered my rating and overall opinions because my criticisms stuck with me better than my appreciations. Here are the links to my original review and my updated review, for anyone curious. In short, I’ll simply say that this novel is a commendable effort that just didn’t quite fit what I wanted it to be; there’s a lot to appreciate about it, but I found it difficult to in the characters for a number of reasons.
  9. The Lydia Steptoe Stories by Djuna Barnes. 4 stars. The last of this month’s Faber Stories, and my favorite of the bunch. This is actually a set of three tiny short stories from the early 1920s, and I enjoyed all of them. Each features a character meant to challenge gender and/or sexuality “norms,” generally after something awkward happens to them. They’re written as diary entries. More info coming up in my mini-reviews.

 

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Some Stats:

  • Average rating – 3.7, and I’m so bummed that I didn’t have a single 5-star read this month. I don’t think I’ve actually read a 5-star novel since Pachinko in February. I hope that will change in June!
  • Best of month – Storm of Swords. Followed closely by Women Talking.
  • Worst of month – Probably Cosmopolitan, just because it was bland? Nothing I read was truly bad, and even my lowest rated novel, Miracle Creek, was objectively good- I just didn’t have a great experience with it.
  • Books hauled – 11. I’ve read 4 and a half already, which leaves 6 and a half on my TBR for June.
  • Owned books read for the first time – 5 or 6, depending on whether you count rereading An American Marriage in a new, recently-bought copy as “reading for the first time.” My total also includes one book bought prior to 2019 (Storm of Swords), one from my May TBR, and a few that would have ended up on my June TBR if I hadn’t gotten to them early.
  • May TBR tally – 1/1! For the first time all year, I read all of the books acquired in a month by the end of the following month! Obviously it helped that there was only one book I bought in April that I hadn’t read before May (Miracle Creek). I’m still pleased.
  • Year total – 62 books. My Goodreads goal for the year is 100, which I’m well on my way toward. I feel a bit like I’ve been cheating with all the Faber Stories counting toward this tally even though they’re so small. But I’m planning to balance it out with some more long books this summer, so it is what it is. I’m not planning to raise my goal, because I think 100 is a realistic number for me, and I like the room that I have right now to spend two weeks on one book like I did with Storm of Swords. Low key I’d like to beat my record from last year, which was 118, but it’s casual.

I think that’s everything I have to say about May. It was a weird month, but onward and upward!

Did you have any 5-star reads this month?

 

The Literary Elephant