wrap up: books read in May 2017

  • Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose ★★★★★ + review
  • Roses of May by Dot Hutchinson ★★★ + review
  • When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen ★★★ + review
  • Into the Water by Paula Hawkins ★★★★ + review
  • Black Swan Green by David Mitchell ★★★★★ + review
  • Penance by Kanae Minato ★★★★ + review
  • White Fur by Jardine Libaire ★ + review

Best: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Runner up: Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
Worst: White Fur by Jardine Libaire

Kind of all over the place, this month!  Two 5 stars, two really high 4 stars, two lukewarm 3 stars, and one ‘if I could give this zero stars I would’ 1 star.

There are times when I’d be saying ‘ah man, I only finished 7 books?’ but May was pretty rough, especially work-wise, and I’ve been really mentally and physically drained lately, so it’s definitely a ‘hell yeah I finished 7 whole books’ kind of month.  I also managed to review everything I read, which is the first time I’ve done that in a while!

As for June: I’m going to be in NYC for ten days and I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to that (one of my best friends lives in Brooklyn and I usually visit her every couple of months, but I haven’t actually been down since this time last year, so it’s long overdue), but that’ll cut down on my reading time a bit.  Still, a couple of books you can look forward to seeing on here next month: I’m currently reading The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (and loving it!), I have an ARC of The Former Chief Executive by Kate Vane which I’m hoping to get to this weekend, I finally bought Six of Crows for Kindle, I have Yesterday by Felicia Yap and See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt from Netgalley, and I have The Leavers by Lisa Ko and American War by Omar El Akkad from Book of the Month which I’m hoping to get to soon (I started American War a couple of weeks ago, but I only read the first 10 or 15 pages, so I took it off my currently reading shelf since I think it’s going to be a couple of weeks until I have time to return to it).  Also I’ll hopefully read a couple of plays, which I usually do every month.

So there you have it.  What’s the best book you guys read in May?  And do you have any summer plans you’re looking forward to?  Let me know in the comments!  🙂

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book review: White Fur by Jardine Libaire

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WHITE FUR by Jardine Libaire
★☆☆☆☆
US pub date: May 30, 2017
Publisher: Hogarth Press
My review on Goodreads

Alright guys, it looks like I’m gonna be in the minority with this one. This is Fates and Furies all over again.

White Fur was a long, painful slog for me. I thought this book was overwritten and vapid; the characters were loathsome and one-dimensional; and perhaps most frustratingly, there was a distinct lack of subtlety to a narrative which was anemic to begin with. Filthy rich Jamey falls in love with Elise from the wrong side of the tracks, and… they have a lot of sex. That’s it. That’s the book. If you’re expecting a nuanced examination of class differences, keep looking, because there’s none of that here.

Take this passage, where Elise is meeting Jamey’s family:

Elise should be a Dartmouth lacrosse star whose granddad went to Groton with Bats, and she should be bronzed from the Vineyard, lips opaquely shiny from Chapstick. So happy to meet you, Mr. Hyde!

But no! Jamey is pushing forward the real Elise, in couture dress, shins bruised from basketball, cornrows latticing her lean head, feet wedged into slingbacks.

Getting hit by a freight train whose sides are painted with the words THEY COME FROM DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS may have been more subtle, but okay. And this wouldn’t be quite so bad if it weren’t literally the entire book. There is absolutely no depth here. Jamey is rich and handsome and discontent and restrained, and Elise is poor and crass and loud and impulsive. Jardine Libaire leaves all her cards on the table by the end of the second chapter. There is nothing left to discover about these characters when every facet of their practically non-existent personalities has been spelled out from the very first page.

There’s something undeniably voyeuristic about the way this story is spun. This book isn’t romantic. It’s gritty, dirty, raw. It’s about the ugly sides of relationships, about jealousy and obsession. But that wasn’t the problem, because in theory that all sounds great to me. I love books that take a conventional premise and then spin the narrative in a different direction. It’s Romeo and Juliet but instead of love it’s passion, lust, obsession? Cool. Sounds fun.

But it wasn’t. I just didn’t care. Why was I suffering through the uncomfortable experience of acting as a voyeur into the lives of these two characters who bored me to tears? The answer is because I don’t DNF books. That’s it. That’s the only thing that kept me going. There was absolutely no intrigue, and absolutely no payoff for sticking with it as long as I did.

I thought the prose was terrible. It was trying so hard to come across as devil-may-care that I felt an acute sense of secondhand embarrassment for how much it did care. Each sentence felt artificially manufactured with MFA-degree precision (not that there’s anything wrong with getting an MFA in creative writing, but sometimes it just shows; what should come across as effortless becomes painfully obtrusive on every page.) What we’re left with isn’t artistic or poignant or emotional or insightful, it’s mostly just insipid.

(Vaguely NSFW text ahead, this quote is taken from a sex scene.)

Jamey is starting to operate in a trance, biting his lip. He’s a mystical vision of an orangutan in a nature show. He actually has the thought: I’m a monkey, and that’s okay. He’s got a dumb look on his face and that’s okay. For a minute, an hour later, right before he comes again, with two tongues licking him like kittens, he understands everything.

I’m sorry, but what is the point? Is this supposed to be profound? Sexy? Shocking? It’s not any of those things. It’s awkward. It’s dumb. It’s embarrassing. I could not stop cringing the entire time I was reading this.

But in an effort of not ending on a terribly negative note: none of my Goodreads friends who have read this have given it less than 4 stars. This is clearly a matter of personal taste, so if you think this sounds like the sort of thing you’ll like, give it a try! And I’m sorry for being so negative, but this is one of those books which managed to tick every item on a checklist I didn’t even know I had of things I hate in fiction. Sorry White Fur, we were like oil and water from the beginning.

Thank you Netgalley and Penguin First to Read for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are taken from an ARC copy and may be edited before publication.

The Unique Blogger Award

I was nominated by the lovely Charlotte Annelise for the Unique Blogger Award!  Thanks for thinking of me!  And the rest of you should go follow Charlotte, her blog is great (and flowerful)!

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The Rules

  • Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
  • Answer the questions.
  • In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.
  • Ask them 3 questions.

Charlotte’s Questions

1. What is your favourite genre to read and why?

That’s a great question.  It’s hard!  I’m tentatively going to say… classics.  I read a lot of literary fiction and I read a lot of mysteries/thrillers, but I feel like for as many books as I love from those genres, just as many let me down.  But I find that I rarely hate the classics that I read these days – I’m scrolling through my ‘classics’ shelf on Goodreads, and the only thing on the first page that I gave less than three stars to was To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, which I still sort of appreciated on an academic level, I just found it difficult to get into.  Most of the classics I can think of that I hate are ones that I read in high school, when I was probably too young to get as much out of them as I could have.  Seriously, how is a 16 year old supposed to engage on any level with The Jungle by Upton Sinclair?

2. What is the latest book that you added to your TBR?

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Peter and Alice by John Logan, because I was chatting with Callum about plays on my review of Twelve Angry Men, and he mentioned really liking this one!  It had already been on my radar because I have a friend who was obsessed with the West End production a few years ago (cast pictured above), but I’m not personally familiar with it and would love to read it.  (And I wish I could have seen that production, because I saw Ben Whishaw as John Proctor in The Crucible last summer and he was phenomenal.)

3. What is your favourite holiday to celebrate (i.e. Christmas, Halloween)?

Christmas, hands down, which is weird because I’m not religious, and my family isn’t really either.  My mom was raised Catholic as she comes from an Irish family, but she doesn’t go to church these days or anything.  But I love the mood of Christmas, I love giving gifts and watching the same two films with my parents every year, and I just love the general aesthetic of it.

I Nominate

My Questions

  1. Who’s your favorite actor/actress and what’s your favorite performance that they’ve ever done?  It can be something you’ve seen on stage, or in a film/television show/etc.
  2. Which book would you most like to see adapted into a film and why?
  3. Talk about and share a picture of your pet(s)!

Obviously feel free to skip it, etc etc, my feelings will not be hurt.  And sorry Chelsea, I’m aware that the first question is going to torture you.

book review: Penance by Kanae Minato

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PENANCE by Kanae Minato
★★★★☆
US pub date: April 17, 2017
Publisher: Mulholland Books
My review on Goodreads

Five girls go out to play and only four come home. Sae, Maki, Akiko, and Yuko were a close group of friends, joined by Emily in the summer of fourth grade, whose family just moved to their rural town. One day a man approaches them while they’re playing, asks if one of them could help him for a moment, and walks off with Emily. A few hours later, she’s found dead. The problem is, the four remaining girls can’t remember what the man looked like.

Penance takes place over a decade after these events, in five chapters told from the point of view of each of the girls and Emily’s mother, and focuses on the aftermath of the murder, and the effect it had on each of them.

I could not put this book down. It’s not really a gripping page-turner in the sense that there’s an urgent mystery to solve or anything like that. It’s more of a psychological thriller, which thoroughly examines the role that guilt plays in the lives of each of the girls, and how a promise they made to Emily’s mother prevents each of them from living a normal life. Each of the characters is compelling – Emily’s mother perhaps most of all – and the numerous layers to this story makes it an engaging read. Penance explores themes of guilt, rage, retribution, and revenge, centering entirely on a host of female characters, each with a distinct voice and personality.

Certain aspects of this story are unrealistic – something happens to each of the girls that’s like, ‘what are the odds?’ – but it honestly lends this story the air of a parable, something that feels more like a story than something that could happen in real life. But that’s okay. It’s a damn good story.

Fair warning: this is a dark book. Trigger warnings for rape, suicide, child abuse, and violence. Proceed with caution.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Mulholland Books, and Kanae Minato.

top 5 wednesday: Favorite Minor Characters

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

May 24th: Favorite Minor Characters.

It’s Wednesday again?!  Usually I prepare these posts in advance, but this week it snuck up on me!

Anyway, minor characters.  Let’s go.

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Andromache (The Iliad by Homer).  As if I could go a week without mentioning the Iliad.  Very few characters in this thousand-page epic can be described as ‘minor,’ but as she’s only in a couple of scenes, I think Andromache fits the bill.  Wife of the Trojan hero Hector and mother of their son Astyanax, Andromache’s character adds some much-needed humanity to this larger than life story, and her scenes are always my favorite to read.

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Volkheimer (All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr).  Half of what’s so compelling and heartbreaking about this book are the characters that Doerr creates – each one feels so three-dimensional, not just the two main characters.  Frederick, Etienne, and Jutta are all likewise incredible characters (Frederick in particular), but the one that stands out to me the most from this story is actually Volkheimer, one of the students that Werner meets at his Hitler Youth school.  Volkheimer, massive and imposing in stature and a star pupil, seems to be the model German soldier.  But he’s also quiet and thoughtful and loves classical music, and he’s gentle with Werner and their friendship is so compelling.  One of the best things about this book is how Doerr really brings to life how tragic the Hitler Youth was, and how these children really were just victims – Werner and Frederick and Volkheimer in particular.

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Finnick Odair (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins).  ‘Mockingjay’?  Never heard of it.  I’m only familiar with the third installment of this franchise called ‘Finnick Odair Lives Happily Ever After’ – it stars Finnick, and, you guessed it, he lives happily ever after.  Not sure what happens with Katniss and the revolution and all that, but Finnick!!! lives happily ever after!!!

 

30319086Filippa Kosta (If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio).  I loved all of the characters in this book, James in particular, but probably the most intriguing character is one who lurks somewhat in the background through the whole thing, Filippa.  In this tight-knit group of friends who have known each other for years, Filippa is the only one who remains an enigma, as she’s deliberately vague in sharing any information about her family or home life with her friends.  We find out the reason why that is by the end of the book, and it’s awfully sad, but Filippa remains a favorite because of the sheer strength of her character, because of the things she’s able to accept and deal with where the rest of her friend group is too afraid.  She’s fantastic and I wish she had a larger role – on stage and off!

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Viserys Targaryen (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin).  It was hard to narrow it down to just one from the massive host of characters in the ASOIAF universe, and this probably seems like a bit of a random choice, but I actually adore Viserys’ character.  Not because I think he’s secretly a good person or anything like that – I love him as a tragic villain.  He’s multifaceted and interested and his relationship with Dany is horrible and compelling.  I wish he hadn’t died as early as he does, especially in the show, because Harry Lloyd’s performance remains one of my favorites in the entire series.

Who are some of your favorite minor characters?  Comment and let me know!

book (play script) review: Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

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TWELVE ANGRY MEN by Reginald Rose
★★★★★
originally published in 1954
Penguin Classics

Twelve Angry Men is a fascinating meditation on a certain misplaced faith in the US judicial system.  In this play by Reginald Rose, a jury of twelve men is serving on what appears to be a cut and dry case: a sixteen year old boy stands accused of murdering his father, and there are multiple witnesses who claim to have seen him do it.  While initially eleven of the twelve men are in favor of a guilty verdict, there is a lone dissenter – Juror #8 – who hopes to talk through the evidence they were presented to make sure no facet of the case has been left unexamined.  In the discussion that follows, more and more holes begin to emerge in a case which had initially been deemed air-tight, and more men are willing to consider the possibility of the boy’s innocence.

This is an incredibly tense and moving piece of drama.  Even just reading this I was on the edge of my seat, thoroughly invested in this case – though of course, the specifics of the case aren’t really The Point.  Twelve Angry Men is a reflection on human nature, on the temptation to swallow ‘facts’ without questioning them, on the difficulty required to go against the grain.  The questions that are raised about this case go beyond simple clarification – they require a deeper examination of human behavior.  After all, just because someone heard the boy yell “I’ll kill you!” – is that really enough to convict him, when that phrase is used colloquially so often?  These are the sort of questions that Juror #8 asks of his peers and the audience, and the discussions that follow are appropriately challenging.  While a certain herd mentality characterizes the conversation at first – eleven of the twelve men attempting to silence the only one who disagrees – individual personalities begin to emerge for each of these twelve men over the course of a drama which becomes more and more divisive.

The flaws in the US judicial system that Reginald Rose illuminates are downright terrifying.  Why must jurors be silent – why are those who decide the fate in life or death cases not more involved in the process?  Why can’t jurors speak up, ask questions?  How can objectivity on a jury ever be reached when jurors are bringing in their own beliefs and prejudices?

We don’t ever find out whether the boy is guilty or innocent, but we do find out which verdict the jury reaches, and that alone gives the play a satisfying conclusion.  But again, it’s not this specific case that will haunt readers and viewers as much as the challenging discussion that unfolds over the course of the play.  This was a terrific, thought-provoking, and quick read: highly recommended for anyone who enjoys theatre, or stories which concern themselves with themes of the law and justice.

If you’re interested in how the film adaptation starring Henry Fonda compares, check out my friend Chelsea’s review HERE!

This or That tag

I was tagged by the fabulous Chelsea to do the ‘This or That’ tag, so here it goes!

Rules:

  • Mention the creator of the tag (Ayunda @ Tea and Paperbacks)
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you.
  • Choose one of the options, you don’t have to tell the reasons why you chose that but you can also do them if you want to.
  • Tag other people to do this tag to spread the love!

This or That?

Reading on the couch or on the bed?

Couch, but only if no one has the tv on.  I can’t stand reading with background noise.  But yeah, sitting on the couch with a book and a blanket is so relaxing.  Plus I usually end up getting both cats to come hang out with me, whereas only one of them ever comes in my room.  I like to plan my reading around having the maximum possible number of cats in the vicinity.

Male main character or female main character?

Generally speaking, female, especially in genre fiction.  But also a lot of my favorite books are about male characters, so I’m not too picky as long as the character and narrative is well-written.

Sweet snacks or salty snacks?

Salty.  I do not have a sweet tooth at all.  Chips and guacamole all the way.

Trilogies or quartets?

Stand alones?  I mostly read literary fiction, which are rarely a series… but when I do read fantasy, I prefer series to be on the shorter side, so we’ll go with trilogies.

First person POV or third POV?

It’s funny, right at the beginning of the year I hit a streak of maybe 10 or so books in a row which were all first person, and it was starting to drive me crazy by the end.  I just like to mix it up.  If I had to read only one I’d say third person, but I see the merits of both.  I hate when novels mix first and third person though.  I thought Hannah Kent did an exceptional job of this in Burial Rites, but most of the time I find it just doesn’t work.

Reading at night or in the morning?

At night.  I am such a night owl.  It’s a rare day that I’m asleep before 1 am.  On weekends I do like to read in the morning, but I’ll never wake up earlier than I need to on days when I have to work.  So I end up reading late into the night on most weekdays.

Libraries or bookstores?

Both!  If I had to choose though, bookstores.  Browsing bookstores is my favorite thing to do.  And my local library is so small, it’s not a terribly exciting place, but I do have a really fantastic bookstore nearby.  Supporting libraries is so important, though!

Books that make you laugh or books that make you cry?

Chelsea, can you guess what I’m going to say??  Can you???  But yeah, books that make me cry.  I like to suffer.  I once described my taste in books and films as ‘if it doesn’t give me an existential crisis, I’m not interested.’

That said, when I say ‘make me cry,’ I rarely actually cry.  I have a Goodreads shelf called ‘I actually cried’ which currently has 3 books: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (The Forest Again chapter gets me every time), All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (That One character death…… ugh. destroyed me.), and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (to say that I was bawling through the last 200 pages of that book is an understatement – I don’t remember the last time I cried that hard over anything).  I mean, there are probably more from when I was younger, but those are the main ones.  I also have a Goodreads shelf called ‘I’d have cried but I’m heartless’ which… is self-explanatory, I think.  (I’m not heartless, I swear!  It just takes a lot to make me cry!!)

Black book covers or white covers?

Oh, I don’t know!  I’m leaning toward white?  But it depends on the design.

Character driven or plot driven?

Characters, characters, characters.  I mean, would anyone who reads literary fiction answer plot to this question?!  Plot is also important, but if it’s too complex I get bored.  I am all about those characters and relationship dynamics.

I Nominate:

You, if you want to do this!  Just tag me and say that I tagged you!