book review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
★★★★★
originally published in 1962

I’m seeing the play adaptation of A Clockwork Orange off Broadway in a couple of weeks, so I thought it would be a good idea to read the book first. I read one paragraph and thought ‘oh god, what am I getting myself into?’ before deciding to soldier on anyway. Now, since I’m guessing this has been the experience of just about everyone who has ever read the first paragraph of A Clockwork Orange only to put it down after that, my advice is: push through it. By the second chapter it gets easier, and by the fourth or fifth you’re practically fluent in nadsat.

But let’s back up. The most notable thing about A Clockwork Orange is that it’s written in Anthony Burgess’s invented argot, ‘nadsat,’ which draws on Cockney, Malay, and Russian. You’re thrown into this hybrid language immediately without any explanation, and it’s a little disorienting, which I think was the effect that Burgess was going for. But it works, beautifully. It draws the reader into Alex’s world, and somehow serves to desensitize from the brutal violence that Alex and his gang inflict on others. The relief you feel at being able to understand the language washes over you in stark opposition to the horrors that the nadsat is masking, and it’s a uniquely unsettling experience. I was completely drawn in by the effect that Burgess created here.

Thematically, this book is absolutely fascinating. Burgess constructs a vaguely futuristic totalitarian state that draws on elements of both communism and capitalism, which makes sense given the social climate that Burgess was writing in, in 1960s Britain. This book raises a lot of questions about humanity, free will, and the symbiotic relationship of the state and the individual. What value is there in free will if an individual doesn’t choose to be good? Is it better to choose to be evil, or to be forced to be good? What’s so striking about A Clockwork Orange is that we don’t have a hero worth rooting for in this dystopian society, but it’s still a powerful commentary on governmental injustice and youth violence. I was very moved by Alex’s story, and it’s a testament to Burgess’s skill that he was able to evoke pity for this character who should by all accounts be irrevocably loathsome.

I really enjoyed reading this, as much as you can ‘enjoy’ a brutally violent book. I don’t recommend this lightly, but if you can handle this kind of dark fiction, reading this book is a surprisingly rewarding experience.

What Cats Do Book Tag

I saw Steph do this tag the other day (week?) and I couldn’t resist, because, cats.  This tag was originally created by Melting Pots and Other Calamities!

Purr: As cats do this when they’re happy or relaxed, what is the book that makes you happiest or relaxed?

3I feel like I always use this for an answer, but… the Harry Potter series.  I’m not a big re-reader in general, but I’ve read each of these books at least 15 times, and there is absolutely no end in sight.

 

 

Twitch while dreaming: Have you ever dreamt of a book you read?

michaud-the-subversive-brilliance-of-a-little-life-320I’ve had a lot of dreams about Harry Potter… Otherwise, this isn’t a dream, but I think it’s noteworthy to say that I literally lost sleep over A Little Life.  And I don’t mean, I was up so late reading that I lost sleep.  I mean, I went to bed at a perfectly reasonable hour, but right before I went to bed I read [spoiler redacted] and I probably got two hours of sleep that night because I was so distraught, every time I managed to fall asleep I remembered that [spoiler redacted] and I woke up immediately.  I can’t remember if I had actual dreams about it, but it definitely infiltrated by subconscious.

Seems to play nice…until the claws are out!:  Which book had the biggest plot twist(s)?

51o3rh1onbl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Since the question is about getting scratched, I’m going to go with a twist that I hated, so, here we go: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen.  This book….. this book.  Where do I begin.  Okay, you know what, I’m just going to tell you what happens.  I’ll warn for spoilers when necessary.  So, the premise of this book is that Hannah has the perfect life, the perfect job, the perfect boyfriend.  Until she comes home one day and finds that her boyfriend Matt is gone, he’s taken all of his stuff and deleted his number from her phone and quit his job and she has no way to contact him.  SPOILERS: So Hannah eventually tracks Matt down, and it turns out he left because she was physically abusive and he feared for his life, which Hannah just….. forgot about???  During the entirety of her search for him???  AND THEN it turns out he’s having an affair with her best friend (the most obvious reveal ever), so Hannah flies off the handle, pushes the best friend off a balcony, and while he’s running to get help, Matt trips over a backpack, hits his head on a table, and goes into a coma.  This book.  How did this get published.

Cuddles: Which book character would you give a hug to?

33253215My first reaction was to choose Jude St. Francis, because obvious reasons, but he doesn’t like physical contact, understandably, so I’ll choose someone else.  Cyril Avery from The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne.  Cyril is such a flawed and tragic protagonist and even though he’s frustrating at times I wanted to yell LET THE POOR MAN BE HAPPY for the majority of this book.

Catnip: What’s a book that made you have warm and fuzzy feels?

12875258Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  This book is quite heavy at times for YA, but the bond that the main character makes with her dead uncle’s boyfriend was just delightful.  Delightful and sad.  But there were still a lot of happy times recorded in these pages.  (Is it obvious I don’t read a lot of happy books?)

 

Cat breeds: Your favorite book(s)?

These guys.

Getting the cat: How did you find your favorite book(s)?

A Little Life: My mom told me to read it.
Everything I Never Told You: My book club.
Pachinko: Book of The Month.
East of Eden: My good friend told me it’s one of her favorite books.
The Secret History: It’s set in Vermont so it had been on my TBR for ages.
The Iliad: I read it first in college in 2010.
The Pillars of the Earth: I saw the BBC miniseries and loved it.
Harry Potter: Childhood.
Les Miserables: I decided to read it on a whim when I was 18 (fun fact: I got into the book before I’d ever heard or seen the musical.)

Being in places they shouldn’t: Least favorite cliché?

51sz0tslgal-_sx330_bo1204203200_Female characters dying for the sole purpose of filling male characters with righteous pain as they continue on in their testosterone-filled hero’s journey….. I’m not naming any names – wait a second, how did that picture get there?!

 

The good old cardboard box: Most underrated book series?

59603259500416This is hard, I don’t read a lot of series!  I guess I’m going to go with Lisa See’s duology, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy.  The former is about two sisters emigrating from Shanghai to San Francisco in the twentieth century, and the latter is about one of their daughters running away to China to explore her roots, set against the backdrop of the rise of communism.  These are some unexpectedly dark books; the former includes rape and the latter includes some of the most harrowing descriptions of starvation I’ve ever read.  Proceed with caution, but I think they’re both brilliantly written, intelligent, educational and highly entertaining reads.

Bonus: some pictures of my babies!

The grey one is Percy and the black one is Lily.  I have more pictures of Percy because Lily looks like a black feather duster in pictures more often than not.  Alas.  Anyway, they are my children and I love them.  (They’re indoor cats – they’re only allowed outside when supervised.)

Tagging: anyone who wants to do it!

top 5 tuesday: Favorite Retellings

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm.  This week’s topic:

AUGUST 22 – Top 5 Retellings

To absolutely no one’s surprise, I am a little obsessed with Greek mythology, and so to absolutely no one’s surprise, I am cheating big time with this prompt.  I tried to narrow it down to five and failed spectacularly.

Bright Air Black by David Vann
The original: Medea by Euripides & The Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes

Bright Air Black is one of the most stunning books I’ve ever read.  The prose is gorgeous and lyrical, and the characterization of Medea is everything I could have asked for.  Vann renders her as a sympathetic figure without losing any of the ferocity that makes her such a fascinating and iconic figure.  Because this novel is so character driven, I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the story of Medea before reading it, probably through reading the Euripides play, though the Apollonius of Rhodes story also factors heavily into Vann’s narrative.

Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin
The original: The Aeneid by Vergil

I’ve read The Aeneid about a hundred times, and I have to admit, that probably clouded my judgment of Lavinia just a little bit – I don’t personally love this quite as much as the others on this list.  But it felt unfair to omit it.  It’s a beautifully written book that tells the story from the point of view of Aeneas’s wife, in a way that’s both inventive and also incredibly faithful to the original.  I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to have read The Aeneid before reading Lavinia – in fact, reading Lavinia first might be a better way to approach the story.

Alcestis by Katherine Beutner
The original: Alcestis by Euripides

The play by Euripides is one of the only remaining Greek ‘tragicomedies’ that we have access to (though scholars still argue about how exactly to classify it).  It’s undoubtedly tragic and comedic at the same time.  Basically, the story is that king Admetus had been promised by Apollo that he could cheat death, as long as when the day of his death came, someone would agree to die in his place.  That person ended up being Admetus’s wife, Alcestis, who ends up going to the underworld before being eventually retrieved by Herakles.  In Beutner’s retelling, when Alcestis dies, she falls in love with the queen of the underworld, Persephone.  This isn’t a flawless book, but the prose is lovely and evocative, and I loved the lesbian twist to the story.  All things considered, I really enjoyed reading this.  It’s certainly not necessary to have read the Euripides play before reading this novel, though with its short length I’d recommend going for it.

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
The original: Herakles & Geryon from The Geryoneis by Stesichorus

Autobiography of Red isn’t an autobiography at all, but a retelling of this rather obscure Stesichorus poem.  This is a ‘novel in verse,’ so basically a lengthy poem about the life of Geryon, the monster who in Carson’s story is actually the protagonist.  There’s also a gay twist here where Geryon is in love with Herakles.  This book is absolutely striking and unlike anything I’ve ever read.  Anne Carson is a goddess.  It’s absolutely not necessary to read the Stesichorus before reading this book – there’s an introduction that explains away any questions you might have.

An Iliad by Lisa Peterson & Denis O’Hare // Ransom by David Malouf // The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The original: The Iliad by Homer

Retellings of The Iliad are my raison d’être, so I couldn’t choose just one.  Each of these retellings is completely unique and brings something different to the story.

An Iliad by Lisa Peterson & Denis O’Hare: This is a play which spins The Iliad in a firmly anti-war direction.  This play is a one-man show, where the main character, ‘The Poet,’ recounts the story of The Iliad, focusing on the conflict between Achilles and Hector.  In this interpretation, the Poet is forced to recount the same story again and again until there is no more war.  It’s an incredibly hard-hitting interpretation of the story.  I would love to see a live performance of this, but even reading the script was very entertaining.

Ransom by David Malouf: This short little book is a beautifully written retelling of books XXII – XIV of The Iliad, where the Trojan king Priam crosses battle lines to ransom the body of his son Hector from Achilles, who had murdered Hector and has been publicly desecrating his body.  Malouf’s prose is vibrant and lyrical, and his characterization is stunning.  This is a must-read for all Iliad fans.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Probably the most famous Iliad retelling, The Song of Achilles tells the story of Achilles and Patroclus, which Miller depicts as an explicitly romantic relationship.  This book is gorgeous and devastating and while not 100% faithful to The Iliad, Miller pays homage to it in a satisfying way.  I love this book a lot.

BONUS: One more!  I had to include this non-mythological retelling:

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The original: Cain and Abel from the Bible

East of Eden is one of the most beautiful family sagas I’ve ever read.  It tells the story of two families in Salinas Valley California, the Hamiltons and the Trasks, whose two family stories come to mirror the fall of Adam and Eve and the story of Cain and Abel.  You don’t need to be religious to appreciate this book – even without the biblical undertones, this book is striking.

So those are my top five eight retellings – what are some of your favorites?  And what do you think of my choices?  Comment and let me know!

book review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

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THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES by John Boyne
★★★★★
Hogarth Press, August 2017

This book wasn’t perfect, but then again, the books I rate 5 stars rarely are. But I loved it. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. I can’t remember the last time I read something that managed to be both wickedly funny and devastating, often at the exact same time.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a sweeping epic about the life of a gay man growing up in twentieth century Ireland. The story begins with Cyril’s mother, Catherine Goggin, being denounced by her village church for becoming pregnant at 16 and forced to relocate to Dublin. Deciding she can’t raise the child alone, Catherine gives Cyril up for adoption to a very odd couple who constantly remind him (in a surprisingly humorous way) that he’s “not a real Avery.” The closest companion that Cyril has is his friend Julian, whom he loves and idolizes in a way that he’s forced to downplay as the two grow up together.

This is an ambitious novel which spans about seventy years, addressing themes of sexuality, religion, the hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic church, as well as how attitudes change over time. As a protagonist, Cyril is incredibly flawed – he makes arguably unforgivable mistakes, but never out of malice; always out of a desire to find his place in a society that refuses to accept him. Despite the absurd humor, at its core this is a very sad story that actually moved me to tears more than once.

Much like The Glorious Heresies, another fantastic contemporary Irish novel that I’d highly recommend, The Heart’s Invisible Furies subtly makes use of fate as a prominent theme. Characters show up in each other’s lives with a regularity that stretches coincidence, so fair warning, you’re going to need to suspend your disbelief early on. But this is ultimately a story about how Cyril and Catherine come to find one another – you learn in the first few pages that they eventually reconnect, so it’s always a question of when and how – and though neither is actively searching for the other, they weave in and out of each other’s lives in unexpected ways, never knowing the other’s identity. It’s such a moving saga of these two flawed but strong individuals living with their regrets and the mistakes they’ve made.

I’ve seen some reviews that criticize this book’s length, and it’s a fair point. I thought the pace was fantastic until the last hundred pages or so, which I thought could have been condensed. But for the most part, I absolutely flew through this – I couldn’t put it down and I was sad when it was over. This was my first John Boyne novel, but it will certainly not be my last.

I chose this book as my August Book of the Month selection.  If you’re interested in checking out this great subscription service, use my referral link!

top 5 tuesday: Top Buzzwords to Avoid

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm.  This week’s topic:

AUGUST 15TH – Top 5 buzzwords that make me NOT want to read a book

Last week we did Top 5 Favorite Buzzwords, and this week it’s the opposite – top buzzwords that make me want to avoid a book.  All of the books pictured are ones that I’ve read that I don’t care for.

Tearjerker

There is nothing that annoys me more than when a book tries too hard to make me cry. I’m not going to cry, especially when I feel like I’m being manipulated into it.  When I see ‘tearjerker’ I just think ‘melodramatic.’  Hard pass.

Heartwarming

Literally the most surefire way to make me stop reading a book’s summary is if the word ‘heartwarming’ appears.  In general, I really can’t stand uplifting, life-affirming books.  If it doesn’t give me depression and/or an existential crisis, I’m not interested.

Magical Realism

Ah, my least favorite genre. Apologies for the unpopular opinion.  And it’s strange that I don’t click with this genre, because I love ‘weird’ books. The Vegetarian by Hang Kang? Weird. Perfume by Patrick Suskind? Weird. Bright Air Black by David Vann? Real weird.  But there is a certain brand of weirdness that just does not appeal to me, and that is magical realism.  I don’t know why, but books about ordinary people who randomly have wings or have roses that grow out of their arms just don’t do it for me.  There have been exceptions, certain magical realism books I’ve enjoyed – but on the whole, I tend to avoid this genre.

Funny

I like to think that I have a good sense of humor, but if a book calls itself ‘funny,’ I find that it rarely is. There is one caveat – if a book is described as “darkly comedic,” chances are I will enjoy it. I love dark humor. But laugh out loud, “haha” funny? Not my thing.

Gritty

I’m learning to equate the word ‘gritty’ with ‘how can I make this sex scene as awkward as possible,’ and after reading such delightful passages as Lauren Groff comparing a guy’s stomach to the tautness of creme brûlée and Jardine Libaire’s protagonist literally thinking that he’s a monkey in the middle of a threesome, I’m done. I’m out. I have suffered all I can suffer.  Sorry, grit-lit, we’re through.

I’ll be curious to hear what your auto-no buzzwords are – comment and let me know!

The Sunshine Blogger Award x2

I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award twice in the last couple of days – first by the fantastic Irena @ Books and Hot Tea and then by the lovely Shaz @ Shaz Reads.  Go check out their blogs if you don’t already follow them!  Thanks so much guys!

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The Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions your nominator has given you.
  3. Nominate 11 other people and give them 11 new questions to answer.
  4. List the rules and display the award

Irena’s questions:

1. What is your favourite period in history (the one you find most interesting)?

I’m going to shock everyone with this answer and say Classical – Hellenistic Greece.  I can’t help it, I’ve been obsessed with Ancient Greece since I was a kid.

But also, I did study Art History in college, and my favorite period was the Italian Baroque which was heavily influenced by the Protestant Reformation and subsequent Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent, so that’s another period that interests me that I don’t usually talk about.  There – slightly less boring and predictable.

2. If you could be a fictional character for a day, who would you be and why?

This answer changes daily, but right now I’m going to say Inej from Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom.  I’d love to be that stealthy for a day.

3. What is your favourite TV show at the moment?

I’m so bad at TV….. I mainly watch British soaps and reality competition shows (Survivor, ANTM, GBBO, Bachelor/Bachelorette)…… sorry if you were expecting a more highbrow answer.  I just struggle to get invested in dramas because I feel like they usually take themselves too seriously, or are too violent, or…. something.  I don’t know.  I haven’t found a tv drama I’ve loved in a while.  That said, my all time favorite series is probably Black Mirror.  There we go.  Acceptably highbrow answer.

4. What is the best book you’ve read so far in 2017? (Or at least one of the best, I know it can be hard to choose.)

I have read so, so, so many good books this year, I already know my ‘best books of 2017’ post at the end of the year is going to be torturous.  But the two that really stand out to me are two that I actually read very early in the year: East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

5. Do you have a favourite toy, from childhood or now? (Yes, I still buy toys for myself.)

Hmm, not really – though when I was younger I had a very impressive Beanie Baby collection.  I’m not sure where they all got to…..

6. Who are some of your favourite villains?

Voldemort/Tom Riddle from Harry Potter, Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire, Big Brother from 1984, Cathy Ames from East of Eden, Edmund from King Lear.

7. What is the favourite place you’ve visited?

I’m cheating – I have two answers.  The first is Bologna, Italy, where I lived for a year, which is pretty much my favorite place on earth.

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View from Chiesa San Luca; Bologna, Italy.

My second answer is Belgium, which fits the question better as it’s somewhere I’ve only visited, rather than lived.

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Main square in Brussels – terrible quality as I’m lifting it from my Facebook.

I spent about four days in Brussels and Bruges in December during my year abroad, and it was stupidly pretty in both of those cities.

8. What is your favourite snack?

Tortilla chips and guacamole.  Also those Luna peanut butter chocolate protein bars.

9. If you had to choose, would you rather become a vampire or a werewolf?

Yikes, neither… I guess a vampire, if I had to choose?

10. Pirates or ninjas? 😛

Hmm, I’m not terribly keen on either… at the moment I’ll say ninjas, but I’ve recently started Black Sails at Chelsea’s urging, so if I get really into that maybe my answer will change.  (For anyone who is invested in my potential future enjoyment of Black Sails, have patience.  I watch tv maddeningly slowly.)

11. Share a quote you really like!

If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.” – David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

Shaz’s questions:

1. What inspired you to start blogging?

It wasn’t that anything inspired me as much as the fact that I was writing book reviews anyway, so I liked the idea of having them all in one place!

2. What is one thing that you wished you knew when you started blogging and why?

People love it when you comment on their posts.  Don’t be scared.  Talk to people.  (I got over this pretty quickly.  I’m pretty good at talking to strangers on the internet.  I’ve been at this for quite a while now.)

3. What are your top five favorite books or series?

Harry Potter, Les Miserables, The Iliad, A Little Life, The Secret History.

4. What is your favorite dessert?

Tiramisu, probably, but at my favorite gelateria in Bologna I always got one scoop of dark chocolate and one scoop of coconut gelato, and I would literally die for that right now.

5. What is the best vacation you have ever been on?

When I graduated college, I treated myself to a three week vacation to visit one of my best friends who lives in Germany, in Braubach.  So when I was there I also got to see Berlin (the coolest city ever), Frankfurt, Cologne, Marburg, and Koblenz, and then we also took a few days and went to Paris – I’d been to the south of France before but this was my first time in Paris, which was just as gorgeous as I expected.  The real standout from that trip was Berlin, though – my friend’s aunt let us use her flat while she was out of town, so we had this swanky flat all to ourselves so we kind of pretended that it was our own flat, I felt very European.  We also had the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted.

6. If you could bring to life a book or movie character for one day, who would you choose? What would you do with them?

I’d bring Sansa Stark to life so we can complain about men and plot to overthrow the patriarchy, and she can teach me how to sew.

7. If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?

Pay off my student loans, buy somewhere for my parents to retire, and travel.

8. Do you like spending time outdoors?

In the summer, I love it more than anything!  I live in a stunningly beautiful place.  I’m not very sporty, but one thing I do love to do is kayak in the summer.  Or just sit out on my porch with a book.  In the winter, I would pretty much rather die than step outside.

9. What kinds of shoes do you usually wear?

Well, one element of my job involves physical labor, so I have to be practical and wear tennis shoes every day.  In an ideal world, oxfords, I guess.

10. What would your dream home look like?

I’m obsessed with modern architecture and buildings that have huge floor to ceiling windows – I love natural light more than anything.  But also there would have to be sufficient wall space for a massive bookshelf.

11. What is a fandom that you are envious of?

Hmm, I can’t think of any?

I nominate:

Chelsea / Hadeer / Steph / Ann / Fiction Fan

Charlotte / Maddie / Ally / Kristin / Sarah / Thrice Read

My questions:

  1. What’s the last movie you saw and what did you think of it?
  2. Do you have any weird or random talents?
  3. What’s your favorite song at the moment?
  4. What time of day do you do most of your blogging?
  5. What’s your favorite museum that you’ve been to?
  6. When’s the last time you went to a wedding?
  7. Do you have a celebrity doppelganger?
  8. If you were a cat, what color cat would you be?  (Very important question.)
  9. Do you have a favorite publisher or publisher imprint?
  10. Have you ever dressed up like a fictional character?  (Bonus points for photo evidence.)
  11. What’s your favorite thing about your city (or state, or country)?

book review: Holding by Graham Norton

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HOLDING by Graham Norton
★★
Atria Books, August 1, 2017

Most reviews I’ve seen of Holding, both positive and negative, seem to be written by readers who only picked it up because of the name Graham Norton. I was the opposite – I read the summary and thought ‘that sounds exactly like a book I would like,’ but my cursor hesitated over the request button because of the author. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Graham Norton is a great television presenter. I just wasn’t confident in his novel writing skills. But I was too tempted by the premise to not at least give it a shot.

It was… okay. Holding is a sort of cozy mystery meets romantic comedy (if I’d realized how heavily romance factored into the plot, I would have stayed away), set in a modern day small Irish town, which follows sergeant P.J. Collins as he attempts to solve a decades old murder. The plot is rather flimsy, and takes an unnecessarily long time to gather steam. Characters are well developed, ordinary people with Dark Secrets, but there’s a certain intrigue missing. And it doesn’t help that most of the Big Reveals are from people just… deciding to tell P.J. things at opportune moments.

The prose was technically decent, but it really failed to hold my attention. This book probably took me twice as long to read as it should have – I lost track of the number of times I realized my mind had been wandering, and I had to go back several pages because I hadn’t been paying attention. Part of the reason for this was the rather poorly executed third person omniscient point of view – the “head hopping” got really out of hand at times and made it difficult to follow.

I think this book is in some ways a direct homage to The Casual Vacancy – a slow moving mystery set in a remote town with a large host of unlikable characters, it’s hard not to draw comparisons – but for me, it fell totally flat. I was actually one of the few who quite liked The Casual Vacancy (‘liked,’ not ‘loved’), but Holding didn’t manage to improve upon any of The Casual Vacancy‘s flaws. Where Rowling’s plotting was intricate as ever, and her first adult novel managed to pack quite a punch by the end, Holding was only ever a tepid, flavorless imitation.

Norton’s certainly a better writer than I had expected; his wit and humor are as omnipresent as you would expect, and I like some of his ideas – I would be willing to read another novel from him in the future. But Holding just wasn’t executed as well as I’d have liked. It was almost there, but not quite.

Also, warning: there’s a fairly graphic rape scene about halfway through. Proceed with caution.

Thank you Netgalley, Atria Books, and Graham Norton for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

operation: War and Peace

Have you ever wanted to read War and Peace but haven’t found the right time to commit to the 1000+ page monster?  Well, now is your chance!

Myself and Hadeer are co-hosting a War and Peace group buddy read that’s going to start on September 1.  There’s a rough reading schedule that you’re welcome to follow, but if you’d rather read at your own pace, that’s fine too!  It’s going to be very relaxed and fun.  So if you’d like to join us (and no pressure to commit if you don’t end up wanting to finish the book), join our Goodreads group and come say hello!  Hadeer’s set up some really great threads about Russian history and Russian names to kick things off.  But again, we’re starting on September 1, so you’ve still got nearly a month to choose a translation and find a copy, should you care to join us.

Hope to see some of you there!!

top 5 tuesday: Top Buzzwords

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm.  This week’s topic:

AUGUST 8th – Top 5 buzzwords that make me want to read a book

This is a great topic, and it was difficult to narrow it down… Each of these sets includes both books that I’ve read and books on my TBR.

Irish

I don’t know how or why this began, exactly, but I love Irish lit.  Seeing the word ‘Irish’ attached to a book summary or an author’s bio has been enough for me to buy a book or click request on Netgalley, without really knowing anything else about it.  Irish lit tends to be atmospheric, a bit bleak and dreary and depressing, and often grapples with religious themes, all of which I find fascinating,

(Have already read: The Glorious Heresies, The Wonder.)

LGBT+

Because I have to admit, I get tired of reading books about straight white men.  I’m all about reading diversity, and think it’s important to support books with LGBT+ protagonists – so if I see a book shelved as LGBT+ on goodreads, I am automatically more inclined to look into it.  Bonus points if no one dies.

(Have already read: More Happy Than Not, Maurice, The Price of Salt, Fun Home.)

Evocative & Atmospheric

Grouping these two buzzwords together because they’re quite similar.  I love books with immersive settings, so if a book promises a strong atmosphere, my interest is definitely piqued – especially if the atmosphere is bolstered by the prose itself.  I don’t care for ‘purple prose,’ i.e., prose that tries to be elaborate for the sake of being elaborate and the whole attempt comes across as rather amateur, but I do love when writing comes off as both authentic and lyrical.  Bright Air Black is a fantastic example.

(Have already read: all of these.)

Feminist

This one’s pretty self-explanatory.  I consider myself a feminist (hopefully of the intersectional variety), so I love narratives that explore the struggles unique to women, and which ultimately advocate equality across all genders, races, classes, etc.  If a book’s description calls it feminist, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it’s probably going on the TBR.

(Have already read: Venus in Fur, The Awakening, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Bell Jar.)

Epic

It’s probably no coincidence that most of my all-time favorite books are 500+ page monsters.

(Have already read: all of these.)

Which buzzwords always grab you?  And what do you think of my choices?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart

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LADY COP MAKES TROUBLE by Amy Stewart
★★★
Houghton Mifflin, 2016

Girl Waits with Gun was one of my favorite books I read last year – I thought it was a fun and delightful story with vibrant characters that I found unexpectedly moving. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is a formidable attempt at continuing Constance Kopp’s story, but for me, it just lacked the magic of Girl Waits with Gun.

My main problem is that I think this actually would have been much better suited to a short story than a novel. The overarching plot – prisoner escapes, Constance tracks him down – is somehow stretched out to span 300 pages, in a narrative that gets bogged down by a lot of filler, which includes some cases in the background that end up being ultimately inconsequential.

One element from Girl Waits with Gun that I was really hoping would be explored in more detail here is Constance’s relationship with Fleurette (I won’t say why, in case you haven’t read Girl Waits with Gun, because you should). But Norma and Fleurette actually took a backseat for the most part of Lady Cop Makes Trouble. Sheriff Heath had a much bigger role than the two of them, and while I found his dynamic with Constance compelling, I would have liked to have seen much more of Constance’s sisters. After all, that was my favorite thing about Girl Waits with Gun – over a year later, a lot of details of that plot escape me, but what really stands out when I think about that book is the fascinating relationship between Constance and her sisters. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is somehow more focused on plot than characters, even though its plot is weaker. It’s not a good combination.

As always, Amy Stewart’s research is impeccable. I highly recommend reading her afterword about which elements of this book were real and which were fictionalized – it’s fascinating reading.

Bottom line – I didn’t dislike this at all. But where I found Girl Waits with Gun to be fun, enthralling, and a real page-turner, I was always lukewarm about Lady Cop Makes Trouble – at some points I got engrossed in the narrative, but at others, I really had to push myself to keep reading. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for it, maybe it’s suffering from Second Book Syndrome, I don’t know. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it the way I’d wanted to. At any rate, I have the third installment, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions, from Netgalley, and I’m hoping this series continues (concludes? I’m not sure if Stewart intends to write more) on a stronger note.