wrap up: books read in June 2017

Best: The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
Runner up: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Worst: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

I seem to be stuck at 7 books a month!  But all things considered I think that’s pretty good for June, since I was on vacation in New York City for ten days (it was supposed to be nine but my first flight got cancelled) and I barely read while I was there.  And I managed to review 6/7 – or 7/7 if you include my Goodreads review of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which just said “Brilliant.”

It was a pretty solid reading month – this is the first time in ages that the lowest I rated a book in a month was 3 stars.  Apologies to The Leavers – I feel a bit bad calling it the worst book I read this month when it really wasn’t bad, but I’m left with no alternative.

I’m also up to a total of 52 books so far this year – how I’ve managed that I literally have no idea, but it was exciting to see that number.

As always, my TBR isn’t set in stone, but here are a couple of things you can look forward to seeing on my blog in the upcoming weeks: I’m currently reading Chemistry by Weike Wang, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and The First Day by Phil Harrison, all of which I hope to finish within the next week or so.  I still need to read See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt and Yesterday by Felicia Yap by their August 1 publication date, and Hadeer was kind enough to lend me two of her books when I saw her a few weeks ago – The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, so I’m really looking forward to getting around to those.

What was the best book you read in June?  Comment and let me know!

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book review: Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie

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THREE ACT TRAGEDY by Agatha Christie
★★★★☆
originally published in 1934

I’ve been on a bit of an Agatha Christie kick lately. After never having read any of her books, Three Act Tragedy marks the fourth that I’ve read so far in 2017 (following And Then There Were NoneMurder on the Orient Express, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). So far, none have disappointed.

What I find so remarkable about Agatha Christie is that when I read her books, I never have the slightest clue whodunnit. With contemporary mysteries, I find that early on in the book I always have a guess. It’s not always right, but usually 20-30% into the book I point to one character and say with a certain amount of authority, ‘you, I think it was you.’ I’ve yet to be able to do that with Agatha Christie. I still try to take a guess for the sake of being able to say ‘ha, I knew it’ if it ends up being right, but so far I’m 0 for 4. And my guesses are always tenuous at best – I always end up second guessing myself, because there are just so many moving pieces to her mysteries, which always come together in the most unexpected ways. She has that rare ability to make the reader go ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ while creating plots that are so complex there’s almost no way the reader is ever going to figure it out. But you still don’t feel tricked, at the end, because it makes too much sense. There’s such a distinct sort of satisfaction that comes from watching Christie work her magic.

Three Act Tragedy starts with a dinner party thrown by Sir Charles Cartwright, where thirteen guests attend and by the end of the night, one ends up dead. It turns out the victim was just the first in a series of murders that are to unfold over the upcoming months, a mystery that the characters attempt to solve, aided by famous detective Hercule Poirot.

Of the Christie novels I’ve read so far, Three Act Tragedy is the most focused on individual psychology, and how that factors into the crime in question. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that I was impressed by the motive that Christie devised for the murders, as well as the the way she examined the biases which prevented each of the characters who were investigating the case from solving it sooner.

This wasn’t quite as good as And Then There Were NoneMurder on the Orient Express, or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – there’s a reason those are three of her most famous works – but still thoroughly enjoyable and shocking.

I also bought this copy in The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, which is worth a visit for all mystery/thriller fans!

Ultimate Harry Potter Tag

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Happy 20th anniversary, Harry Potter!  I may not talk a lot about these books on my blog, but to say that Harry Potter changed my life would be an understatement.  I met a lot of my closest friends through a shared love for this series, and these books shaped my life in a pretty big way.  In honor of that, I decided to do this Ultimate Harry Potter tag, which I borrowed from Reads and Dreams.  This tag was created by Isabeau’s Literary Musings.

GENERAL

 1. Favourite book?

Order of the Phoenix.  Which I know is an unpopular opinion, but it’s always been my favorite.  I love how bleak it is but also how hopeful, I love the spirit of resistance in that book, and The Lost Prophecy is one of my favorite chapters ever (probably second only to The Forest Again.)

2. Least favourite book?

Without a doubt, Half-Blood Prince.  Every time I re-read it I like it less and less.  I’m interested in Tom Riddle’s backstory, but not much else.  There’s also too much Dumbledore.  I can’t stand Dumbledore.

3. Favourite movie?

My movie opinions are so unpopular, but it’s got to be Deathly Hallows part 2.  While it wasn’t a technically faithful adaptation, I felt like it captured the spirit of the book in a way that a lot of the other movies didn’t, including Deathly Hallows part 1, which was a very faithful adaptation scene-by-scene but which just lacked something for me.

4 Least favourite movie?

Either Prisoner of Azkaban because I loathe the tone and vibe of that movie, which was trying so hard to be dark and edgy it came across as utterly soulless, or Order of the Phoenix because I think it missed the point of that book entirely.

5 Favourite quote?

The Snitch. His nerveless fingers fumbled for a moment with the pouch at his neck and he pulled it out.

I open at the close.

Breathing fast and hard, he stared down at it. Now that he wanted time to move as slowly as possible, it seemed to have sped up, and understanding was coming so fast it seemed to have bypassed thought. This was the close. This was the moment.

He pressed the golden metal to his lips and whispered, “I am about to die.”

CHARACTERS

6. Favourite Weasley?

This is a weird answer, but actually, Percy.  I think he’s the most interesting and multifaceted, and his redemption arc breaks my heart.  I think it’s important to remember how young he was when he was seduced by this Big Important Job which essentially manipulated him away from his family.  (He is not actually Percy the cat’s namesake, though.)

7. Favourite female character?

It has to be Hermione.  She’s the first character that I felt really connected to, and I admire her bravery and loyalty.

8. Favourite villain?

You know, one of my favorite plot twists in the series has always been the reveal that Goblet of Fire-Moody is Barty Crouch Jr., so I’m going to go with him.  But also Tom Riddle/Voldemort.

9. Favourite male character?

Harry Potter.  Harry Potter always has been and always will be my favorite Harry Potter character.

10. Favourite professor?

McGonagall.  I fucking love her.

WOULD YOU RATHER

11. A, Wash Snape’s hair, or B, spend a day listening to Lockhart rant about himself.

B.  It would be amusing.  Lockhart is actually one of my favorite comedic characters in the series.

12. A, duel an elated Bellatrix, or B, an angry Molly

B.  Bellatrix still scares me too much.

13. Travel to Hogwarts via A. Hogwarts Express or B. flying car.

A.  I’ve always wanted to ride the Hogwarts Express.

14. A, Kiss Voldemort. Or B, give Umbridge a bubble bath.

A., with the caveat that he looks like Christian Coulson as Tom Riddle.

15. A, ride a hippogriff, B, ride a firebolt

B.  I used to horseback ride, and the idea of my horse suddenly flying sounds utterly terrifying.  More control with a firebolt.

BOOK TO MOVIE ADAPTATION

16. Is there a character which you felt differently about in the movies vs books?

While I never even cared about her all that much in the books, the movies utterly destroyed Ginny.

17. Is there a movie you preferred instead of the book?

No.

18. Richard Harris or Michael Gambon as Dumbledore?

Richard Harris, though I’m not sure his performance would have fit the tone of the later films.  I’d be interested to see how that would have worked.  I hate Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore though.

19. Your top thing (person or event) which wasn’t included in the movie that annoyed you most.

Harry’s interview with Rita Skeeter in Order of the Phoenix.  It was such a seminal moment in Harry taking actions into his own hands while everything else was outside his control.

20. If you could remake any of the Potter movies, which would it be?

Order of the Phoenix.  Everything about that movie was wrong.

HOGWARTS

21. Which house was your first gut feeling you’d be a part of?

Ravenclaw.

22. Which house were you actually sorted into on Pottemore (or another online sorting quiz)?

Gryffindor (lol), but on other online quizzes I always get Ravenclaw.

23. Which class would be your favourite?

I have always wanted to try Transfiguration.  But given that I was quite good at Latin in school I think I’d probably be good at Ancient Runes.

24. Which spell do you think would be most useful to learn?

Accio.  Ugh, so much envy for that spell.

25. Which character do you think at Hogwarts you’d instantly become best friends with?

Neville and Hermione.

MISCELLANEOUS

26. If you could own one of the three Hallows, which would it be?

Invisibility Cloak.  There are way more real world applications for that than the other two.

27. Is there any aspect of the books you’d want to change? This can be a character, an event, anything.

This is an obvious answer, but, the epilogue.  I’ve reread the series more times than I can count (at least 10 times each), but I’ve only read the epilogue once.  Once was enough.

28. Favourite marauder?

Remus.  He’s the Harry Potter character I’ve always most identified with, and honestly, the only Marauder who I find very interesting.  I guess I’d like to know more about James.  Peter is vile, and (unpopular opinion to end all unpopular opinions) I cannot stand Sirius.

29. If you could bring one character back to life, which would it be?

Cedric.  This has always been my worst Harry Potter death.

30. Hallows or horcruxes?

Hallows.  I’m a little afraid of anyone who chooses Horcruxes for this.  Unless it’s like, which one you find more interesting.  That’s fair.  Anyone who would choose to make a Horcrux though is scary.

Tagging Steph, Hadeer, Chelsea, and Callum, because I’ve talked to all of you about Harry Potter, but also anyone else who wants to do this!

book review: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

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THE LEAVERS by Lisa Ko
★★★☆☆
Algonquin Books, May 2017

I’m having a hard time getting my thoughts together on The Leavers. You know those books that technically do everything right, but you still don’t love them for some reason? 3 stars feels unfair to the author, who’s created a beautiful story that sweeps across multiple generations and locations, but I’m in the habit of using my reviews and ratings to express my personal experience with books. I’m not trying to reach an objective truth, here, just explain why I wasn’t able to love this book the way I’d thought I was going to.

The Leavers tells the story of Deming Guo, whose mother, Peilan, leaves for work one day in New York City and never comes home. Deming is then adopted by a white family, the Wilkinsons, who live in rural upstate New York. The story then follows Deming, who’s been rechristened Daniel, in the decade following his adoption, as he tries to assimilate to his new life while still searching for information about his birth mother.

If this book had been told entirely from the point of view of Peilan, I probably would have given it 5 stars. I found her chapters riveting; from her early years growing up in a small Chinese village to working in a factory in Fuzhou to her immigration to America, I thought her story was compelling, and I could not put the book down during these segments. Unfortunately, this was a comparatively rather small part of the novel.

I just could not get invested in Deming. While there was a lot that I found intriguing about his character – his insecurity about his cultural identity, never feeling American enough or Chinese enough to fit anywhere, as well as his uncertainty about his future – there was also a lot that just bored me, for lack of a better word. So much of his narrative focuses on his gambling addiction as well as his floundering career as a guitarist, and I just felt detached from a lot of it, like I was viewing the action of this story through a hazy lens and I didn’t care enough to examine it more closely. I was often frustrated by Deming, who made a series of poor decisions without much thought for the consequences, and I think this frustration was partially the point, but this character just never managed to grab me in the way I had hoped for. I pitied him in an abstract kind of way, but given that this is a largely character driven novel, there just wasn’t enough to sustain my interest.

The parts of this novel that deal with the unique struggles of being a Chinese American adoptee – quite literally torn between two worlds – are heart-wrenching and fascinating, but I’m sorry to say that for the most part, this book just left me cold. It’s very technically well made, just lacking in emotional resonance for me. Sometimes certain books just don’t work for certain readers, and there isn’t always a rhyme or reason to it, which I think might be the case here.

book review: A Fugitive in Grass Valley by I.M. Flippy

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A FUGITIVE IN GRASS VALLEY by I.M. Flippy
★★★★★
Self-published, June 24, 2017

I think this is the first romance novel I’ve ever read, and let’s be real, probably the last, because romance is decidedly Not My Thing, but I’m going to be honest here. This book was delightful. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book so addicting that I couldn’t resist pulling it up on my phone every time I got a spare ten seconds throughout the day, but here we are.

A Fugitive in Grass Valley tells the story of Lev, part-time artist/part-time barista in a Sacramento suburb, who falls in love with Ernie, a mysterious stranger with a Tragic Past. Okay, so there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in this premise, but trust me when I tell you that this book is seriously addicting. The characters are endearing, their relationship progresses at a believable pace, the humor is consistently on point, the dialogue is realistic, and even though it’s largely centered on the romance, there’s also a lot going on here, as Ernie’s past as a Marine-turned-mercenary starts to catch up with him. Flippy did a positively impressive amount of research for such a short little novel, and it all comes together in such a satisfying way. I honestly do not have a single negative thing to say about it.

In case you’re still unconvinced, let me reiterate: you do not need to be an avid romance reader to enjoy this book. If you’re a fan of contemporary dramas and compelling characters, there is a very good chance that you’ll also be charmed by it. Sure, it may indulge in a bit more sappiness here and there than the kind of stuff I usually read, which is why I doubt I’m going to make a habit of reading this genre, but there’s nothing wrong with that every now and then. And if you are a fan of the romance genre, even better. Lev and Ernie are a couple worth rooting for if I’ve ever seen one.

A Fugitive in Grass Valley goes on sale tomorrow. Perfect for some light beach reading this weekend.

Amazon || Goodreads || I.M. Flippy

Many thanks to the author for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my opinion in any way.

Rapid Fire Book Tag

I have so many tags and awards to catch up on and I’m going to try to do this chronologically… I was tagged by the wonderful Hadeer a while ago to do the Rapid Fire Book Tag, so here we go!

Question 1: E-books or Physical Books?

Both.  I wouldn’t be able to use just one or the other.  I love the weight and smell and texture of physical books, but I also love the convenience of my Kindle, especially for Netgalley.  In an ideal world I’d have enough money to buy brand new hardcopies of every book I want to read, but until that day, I’ll continue to juggle ebooks and physical copies.

Question 2: Paperbacks or Hardbacks?

Paperbacks. I love the aesthetic of hardcovers, but they’re a pain to carry around.

Question 3: Online or In-store Shopping?

In store.

Question 4: Trilogies or Series?

It depends on the series, but usually I say the shorter the better.

Question 5: Heroes or Villains?

Villains.

Question 6: A Book You Want Everyone To Read

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Question 7: The Last Book You Finished

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – my one word review on Goodreads was “Brilliant.”

Question 8: The Last Book You Bought

Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie

Question 9: Weirdest Thing You’ve Used as a Bookmark

I’ll use anything as a bookmark.  I use my phone a lot.  Ironically, I have probably at least 100 of the free Book Depository bookmarks lying around my house since I get them at work… they just never seem to be in the right place at the right time.

Question 10: Used Book Yes or No?

Yes.  I prefer browsing new book stores just because the layout is usually more navigable – I wish I were one of those people who enjoyed browsing chaotic used bookshops where you need to dig around for an hour to find a hidden gem, but I don’t like that very much.  I prefer bookstores to be organized logically.  In terms of buying books though, I really don’t care if they’re used or new.

Question 11: Favorite Book Genre

Classics.

Question 12: Buy or Borrow?

Buy, just because my local library is very, very small.  It depends on where I’m living, though.  If I lived somewhere with a better library system, I’d use the library a lot more.

Question 13: Characters or Plot?

Characters.  No contest.

Question 14: Long or Short Books?

It really depends.  I’m inclined to say short, but some of my all-time favorites are over 500 pages (A Little Life, East of Eden, The Iliad, The Pillars of the Earth, Les Miserables…..)

Question 15: Long or Short Chapters?

SHORT.  I will never for any reason whatsoever prefer long chapters.

Question 16: Name the first three books you think of

The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Maurice by E.M. Forster, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Question 17: Books that make you laugh or books that make you cry

Cry.  I don’t cry very often, but I always prefer dark and sad books.

Question 18: Audiobooks Yes or No?

No.  I can’t concentrate when I’m listening to audiobooks or podcasts, I’m a very visual person.  And it sucks, because my commute to work is a 1.5 hour drive round trip every day, so it’s a ton of time I could be ‘reading’ if only I could concentrate on audiobooks.

Question 19: Do you ever judge a book by its cover?

I mainly use covers to figure out what genre a book is in, if I’m seeing it outside the context of being shelved by genre (e.g., when browsing Goodreads giveaways, if I see a cover with a girl in a dress holding a sword, I’m going to dismiss it outright because it’s probably YA fantasy which isn’t my thing.)

Question 20:Book to Movie or TV adaptation?

It depends, but I think miniseries are usually the best option for book adaptations.

Question 21: A Movie or TV show you preferred to the book

Brooklyn (by Colm Toibin).

Question 22: Series or Standalones?

Standalones, since I read SFF very rarely.

I Tag

Ann Reads Them // Ella @ A Book Without End // Sarah Ames-Foley // Bookish In Bed // Olivia @ Arrow and Dot

I’ve lost track of who’s done this one already… anyway, if you want to do it, consider yourself tagged!

top 5 wednesday: Favorite “Unlikable” Protagonists

Hey guys, I’m back! Before I get to this week’s T5W, just a quick note: I haven’t spent very much time online these past 10 days, and it’s probably going to take me a couple of days to get caught up on everything and I’m sure there’s a lot I’m still going to miss, so if there’s anything you really want me to see for whatever reason – your reviews, tags, awards, comments I haven’t responded to, etc. – just leave a comment here with the link, I would really appreciate it. Thanks!!!

Now let’s get to it.

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.

June 21st: Favorite “Unlikeable” Protagonists: People always tear down “unlikeable” protagonists. But tell us the ones you pulled for!

I love this topic. I have to admit, I find myself often defending books with ‘unlikable’ characters. To me, a good character isn’t someone I necessarily want to be friends with, but rather, someone who’s well-developed, intriguing, and multi-faceted.  I love each and every one of these characters, even when I don’t particularly like them.

30900136Ava Antipova (Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach). The first thing I tell people who are considering whether or not to read Dead Letters is that if you can’t deal with unlikable characters, you’re going to hate this book. Dead Letters features one of the most dysfunctional family dynamics I’ve ever seen, and this story is filled to the brim with characters who are compelling but at times rather loathsome. The protagonist Ava is no exception. She’s occasionally selfish, hypocritical, and holier than thou… and yet, she is one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen.  For all her flaws, she has just as many virtues, and she’s three-dimensional enough that I found myself relating to quite a few aspects of her character, even when I didn’t really want to.  For all fans of literary fiction who like their characters as aggravatingly realistic as possible, Dead Letters is a must read.

29441096Ryan Cusack (The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney).  Ugh, my heart hurts just thinking about this character.  At a glance, Ryan is hard to love.  He’s a teenage drug dealer who’s apathetic about his future; he cares deeply about his girlfriend Karine but doesn’t always know how to show it, and ends up making some stupid mistakes.  But what Lisa McInerney does so expertly in this book is depict crime and poverty as a vicious, multi-generational cycle.  It’s clear that Ryan is the way he is because of the way he was raised – and his father is the way he is because of the way he was raised, etc., and it’s heartbreaking because of how unavoidable it all seems.  But there’s still so much good in this character who’s somehow managed to not be irrevocably damaged by everything he’s gone through, and for that reason, I managed to root for Ryan through all his many ups and downs.

41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Richard Papen (The Secret History by Donna Tartt).  My knee-jerk reaction to thinking about Richard Papen is ‘ugh, Richard,’ but when I think about it – what would The Secret History have been without him?  Richard anchors this story together in a way that’s absolutely essential to the narrative.  He’s the outsider coming into this tight-knit group of friends, and his instant idolization of their group dynamic is what really allows the story to be set into motion.  Richard’s mere presence in a lot of ways was a catalyst – his idolization in some ways being the justification they all needed to do the things they managed to do.  Richard is self-centered, and willfully blind to horrible things that he had been in a position to prevent, but still he makes for a compelling protagonist.  Surrounded by wealth and luxury, Richard himself comes from a poor background, and this class difference plays heavily into the way he interacts with this group of friends, and it’s difficult to fully condemn him when the temptation to do what they did is laid out so clearly for the reader.

220px-the_girl_on_the_train_28us_cover_201529Rachel (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins). I’m still somewhat conflicted about this book, but amid all my mixed feelings, there is one certainty: I love Rachel. I love her. Maybe I was predisposed to like her because we share a name, or maybe I just appreciated seeing such an openly flawed female character in such a mainstream novel – I’m not sure what exactly it was, but I was instantly drawn to Rachel.  Make no mistake, she is frustrating as all hell.  She’s an alcoholic who doesn’t care much about how her addiction affects the lives of those around her, she’s a complete busybody, she’s obsessed with her ex to a positively annoying degree… and yet, all of these things make for one of the most realistic protagonists I’ve ever encountered.  At times I want to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, but at the same time, I found it so refreshing to read about a female character who’s been afforded the same depth as so many famous male protagonists.

tender-by-belinda-mckeonCatherine (Tender by Belinda McKeon).  Catherine is so easy to loathe… almost too easy, in fact.  Because to loathe her is to distance yourself as a reader from her many complexities, and I for one would be hypocritical to not own up to the many ways that I related to this character.  Her obsessiveness is almost frighteningly realistic – Tender is told in terse, frantic prose which deteriorates the further you read, as Catherine becomes more and more mentally unstable.  She does some things that are morally reprehensible, and I want to condemn her for them, but I really can’t in good conscience.  This is a book about all the ugly sides of human nature, and you have to be willing to own up to them, because Catherine is almost unnervingly real.

Who are some of your favorite unlikable protagonists?  Comment and let me know!  And again, comment if there’s anything I missed these past 10 days that you’d like me to see!