Anything But Books Tag

I’m bored at work so I’m going to do the ‘Anything but Books’ tag, borrowed from Zuky!

One. Name a cartoon that you love.

Pass.  Not my thing!  Unless animated movies count?!  In that case, The Prince of Egypt.  Best movie ever.

Two. What is your favourite song right now?

Probably Harrowdown Hill by Thom Yorke.

Three. What could you do for hours that isn’t reading?

Watch Survivor.  I’m serious.  Thankfully my roommate/friend likes it as much as I do.  We have Survivor marathons multiple times a year.

Four. What is something that you love to do that your followers would be surprised by?

I think I’ve mentioned this before so I doubt it’s surprising, but, tennis.  My dad’s a professional tennis instructor, so it’s in my blood, or something.  I’m not athletic at all, like, your typical ‘picked last in every gym class ever’ type, but then I’m randomly a pretty decent tennis player.

Five. What is your favorite unnecessarily specific thing to learn about?

Greek mythology.  This will surprise no one, but I once spent 20 minutes reciting to my mother the entire history of the House of Atreus.

Six. What is something unusual that you know how to do?

I can recite the first seven lines of The Aeneid in Latin?!

arma virumque cano troiae qui primus ab oris
italiam fato progus laviniaque venit
litera multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum saevae memorem iunonis ob iram
multa quoque et bello passus dum conderet urbem
inferretque deos latio genus unde latinum
albanique patres atque altae moenia romae

You’re just going to have to take my word for it that that was off the top of my head.

Seven. Name something you made in the last year and show us if you can.

 I don’t really make things!  I’m not very creative, I’m afraid.

Eight. What is your most recent personal project?

paceamorelibri.wordpress.com 😉

Nine. Tell us something that you think about often?

My cats.

Ten. Give us something that is your favorite.

I’m copying these categories from Zuky, who copied them from someone, who copied them from someone, from what I understand.

Favourite fruit: Mango.

Favourite Funko: I have no idea what this is?!

Favourite BookTubers to watch: The only one I watch regularly is Jen Campbell.

Favourite food: Bagels.

Eleven. Say the first thing that pops into your head.

How is it only 4:30?!

Do this tag if you want to!

book review: The First Day by Phil Harrison

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THE FIRST DAY by Phil Harrison
★★★☆☆
Houghton Mifflin, October 2017

There is no denying that the prose in this novel is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever encountered. But that’s about all that can be said for The First Day, which I found to be directionless and disappointingly misogynistic.

This book is divided into two parts. The first half chronicles a love affair between a priest called Orr and a Beckett scholar called Anna, living in Belfast. The two of them fall in and out of love, and somewhere in between, they have a child, called Sam. The second half is set some thirty years into the future in New York City, where Sam is working at the Met, and suddenly comes into contact with a figure from his past.

There’s not much congruity between these two halves. Each focus on different themes – the first, adultery, religion, predestination; the second, sexuality, fear, shame. Harrison’s writing seemed to exist constantly on the precipice of genuine insight – if he had given himself more room to develop the themes in this novel, I think the result would have been a lot more resonant. But unfortunately, coming in at 224 pages, this novel stops short of making any sort of statement that hasn’t been made before. And it’s frustrating, because Harrison is an incredibly skilled writer. His prose is incisive and clever and compulsively readable – lyrical, but not flowery – but really, it ends up being window dressing for a rather aimless story, that builds tension but culminates in a lackluster conclusion.

And now to my second criticism – the treatment of female characters in this novel is abhorrent. Or should I say, character. One. There’s really only one female character who makes any significant impact on this story, and while the men around her are three-dimensional, complex, enigmatic, contradictory, she, Anna, is essentially a void, unfulfilled until she becomes a mother. This is one of those books that is so, so obviously written by a male author. I’m sorry, but when you devote an entire paragraph to the experience of motherhood being literally (I’m not bending the use of the word ‘literally,’ folks) orgasmic, you’ve lost me.

“For Anna, the sheer physicality of her son was a starling location of pleasure, an eroticism she had not expected but found herself longing for daily, the strange combination of pain and focused, visceral pleasure[…]”

Anyway. Disappointing too were Anna’s lack of convictions about Orr, who let her down on more than one occasional, but who she still begged to take her back when he tried to leave. Again, all of this wouldn’t sting quite so much if Anna weren’t the only noteworthy female character in this novel.

I still have no idea how to rate this, so I’m going with the noncommittal 3 stars. I occasionally liked this in spite of myself, in spite of my many criticisms, and undoubtedly it will work better for some people than it did for me. Phil Harrison is definitely one to watch in Irish literary circles. With the self-assured quality of the prose, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Houghton Mifflin, and Phil Harrison.

Summer Reader Book Tag

I was tagged by the lovely Reads and Dreams for the Summer Reader book tag – thank you!  Tag created by islandOFbooks.

Lemonade: Pick A Book That Started Off Bitter But Then Got Better

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  It took me about 30% to really get into this book, but I’m so glad I stuck with it, because I ended up giving it 5 stars.  It was a slow start and too focused on romance initially for my taste, but it ended up being one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read.  This book is the reason I don’t DNF.

Golden Sun: Pick A Book That Made You Smile Beyond Compare

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As if there’s any other answer to this question… I don’t read a lot of happy fiction, but Harry Potter will always make me smile.  Especially the first one, before the series takes a turn for the darker.

 

Tropical Flowers: Pick A Book Set In A Different Country

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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  I could have chosen just about anything for this category… scrolling through my book cover images just now, I realized that I actually rarely read books set in America.  I randomly stopped scrolling and landed on this one, Follett’s historical epic set in medieval England.

Tree Shade: Pick A Book Where A Mysterious Or Shady Character Is Introduced

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  In this phenomenal post-apocalyptic novel about a pandemic that wipes out civilization as we know it, a host of fascinating characters weaves in and out of the narrative.  One of these characters is a mysterious man known only as ‘the Prophet,’ whose identity plays a key role in the story.

Beach Sand: Pick A Book That Was Grainy And The Plot Never Developed

51mh8qgdc4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_White Fur by Jardine Libaire.  The ‘plot’ in this novel was feeble at best.  It’s just 300 pages of two deeply unlikable people having really awkward sex, and… that’s it, that’s the book.

 

Green Grass: Pick A Character That Was Full Of Life Making You Smile

9781250098221Sophie Ducel from Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge.  Even though Sophie’s just survived a plane crash and lost her new husband, she’s got such a fiery personality that she’s consistently the most engaging and unpredictable part of this charming and heartbreaking novel.

 

Watermelon: Pick A Book That Had Some Juicy Secrets

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I See You by Clare Mackintosh.  This book is full of twists and turns – some predictable, some not so much – but the final secret revealed on the very last page of this novel literally made my jaw drop.

 

Sun Hat: Pick A Book With A Vast Universe

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I’m going with one of my current reads, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (which I am reading maddeningly slowly – apologies to everyone who’s holding their breath on my rating for this one).  The universe that Bardugo created in her Grisha series and which she expands on in Six of Crows is insane – so thorough and richly detailed, comprising so many different cultures and languages.

BBQ: Pick A Book In Which A Character Is Portrayed As A Hunk

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My first thought was ‘I don’t read enough romance to answer this’ and my second thought was ‘Achilles and Hector.  Duh.’  Leave it to me to choose the Iliad for a category like this.

 

Summer Fun: Pass The Tag On!

Sorry to be boring, but, I tag: you, if you’re reading this and it looks fun!  Pingback to me so I can read your answers!

book review: When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn

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WHEN I AM THROUGH WITH YOU by Stephanie Kuehn
★★★★★
Penguin, August 1, 2017

What a pleasant surprise. I’ve never read a YA thriller before, which is why I requested this one on a whim. I was curious. But honestly, my expectations hadn’t been very high. More fool me.

When I Am Through with You is told from the point of view of Ben, a high school senior who’s waiting to go on trial for murder. As his story begins to unfold, we first learn about Rose, his girlfriend of two years who he allegedly ends up murdering. We also learn all about the school hiking trip up in the mountains that went wrong, as this compelling story of intrigue, adventure, and betrayal develops.

This is one of the most addicting books I’ve ever read. It had me from the very first page. I cared about these characters, who were at once sympathetic and realistically flawed, and I was intrigued by Ben’s complicated relationship with Rose. I was drawn into the host of fascinating characters – whip-smart Avery; mean and self-loathing Archie; kind-hearted but unfulfilled Mr. Howe, the history teacher who leads their expedition. Each of these characters is multifaceted, and has their own story to tell.

I’d never heard of Stephanie Kuehn before, but I can say with certainty that I will be reading more of her books in the future. I thought her prose was intelligent, compelling, and quick-witted. The pacing in this novel was outstanding – I sat down to start this yesterday and when I blinked hours had gone by. Kuehn brought the scene of this treacherous camping trip to life – I truly felt like I was with this group of students on that mountain. It’s been a while since I’ve read something with such an immersive setting.

I highly recommend this to fans of adult and YA thrillers alike. The only thing that served as a constant reminder that this was YA were the ages of the characters – otherwise, I found this novel surprisingly mature and dark and quite twisted.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Penguin First To Read in exchange for an honest review. Big thank you to Penguin Random House and Stephanie Kuehn.

book review: Human Acts by Han Kang

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HUMAN ACTS by Han Kang
★★★★★
Hogarth Press, 2017

“Every time I recall the blood that flowed in the small hours of that night – literally flowed, gushing over the stairs in the pitch dark – it strikes me that those deaths did not belong solely to those who died. Rather, they were a substitute for the deaths of others. Many thousands of deaths, many thousands of hearts’ worth of blood.”

I am in awe of this book.

The Vegetarian, Kang’s first novel to be translated into English, was one of the best and most thought-provoking books I read last year. Among of the numerous themes explored in those pages, Kang fearlessly tackled the question of violence – whether it’s possible to live a life free of violence, or whether violence is an inherent part of the human experience.

In Human Acts, Kang takes this same theme and amplifies it, chronicling pages upon pages of brutality that resulted from the Gwangju Uprising of 1980. At the center of this novel, which operates almost as a series of vignettes told from the POV of different characters, is a young boy, Dong-ho, who dies in the massacre. Human Acts spans the next thirty years, following characters who had known Dong-ho, some personally, some peripherally. You don’t need to be an expert or even to know anything about Gwangju before starting this book – translator Deborah Smith gives a brief but succinct summary of the sociopolitical context surrounding the uprising in her Introduction (as well as a note on the difficulty in translating such an ambitious novel).

While I thought The Vegetarian was a very intense read, Human Acts was much more so, for me. Kang doesn’t sensationalize the events in these pages – the prose is succinct, sparing – and yet, this novel is anything but unfeeling. It’s understated, told without melodrama, but it’s all the more hard-hitting for that fact. Interestingly, the riots themselves aren’t the focus of this novel – it’s the quiet moments in between gunfire that Kang hones in on; the aftermath; the decay of rotting flesh of the bodies who have yet to be claimed. I felt a visceral ache while reading this book that I’ve only ever experienced with a few others in my life. After the chapter entitled “The Prisoner” I actually had to put the book down for a while – despite there being only 100 pages left, I wasn’t able to force myself to finish this in one sitting. This is a book that demands reflection.

Human Acts examines grief, guilt, brutality, injustice – all on a universal scale while still relating so inextricably to the events of Gwangju in 1980. It’s masterfully written and uncompromising, raw and harrowing and more thematically relevant than ever. It’s difficult to read at times due to the sensitive and graphic nature of the subject matter, but if you’re able to commit to it, it’s incredibly rewarding. Han Kang deftly explores the cruel side of humanity without burying the thread of hope that runs unbidden through this narrative. She’s created something that’s absolutely striking, both heartbreaking and beautiful.

The Liebster Award

I was nominated for the Liebster Award by the lovely Olivia @ Arrow and Dot – thank you!  Everyone go check out Olivia’s blog if you haven’t already, her reviews are fantastic.  Also, sorry this took me so long!

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1. Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog

2. Answer the 11 questions the person asked you –

(i) Why did you decide to start a blog?

I’d been writing book reviews on Goodreads for quite a while, and I liked the idea of having all my reviews in one place.  My friend Chelsea and I had been toying with the idea of starting blogs for a while, and we finally decided to take the plunge this past January.  I’m so happy that we did – I’ve had a really great blogging experience so far and met some really cool people.

(ii) What fictional character would you most want to be friends with?

Hmmmm.  Willem Ragnarsson from A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

(iii) What are you most looking forward to this summer?

My big ten day NYC vacation already happened, so now I’m mainly just enjoying the nice weather.  I’m probably going to go to Montreal for a weekend in August, so I’m looking forward to that.  I love that city and it’s a really short drive up.

(iv) What are your goals for your blog this year?

I don’t have any!  This is just a hobby.  If I get too hung up on stats and follower count, I won’t enjoy it as much.  I know this from years of experience in trying to be #popular on the internet.  It’s just not all that it’s cracked up to be.  That said, I hope to keep reviewing as consistently as I have the first half of this year, and I hope to continue to read all your posts and interact with you lovely people.

(v) What fictional world would you most like to live in?

The Harry Potter universe, obviously.

(vi) How do you prefer to read books: Paper, e-book, or audio book?

I like juggling between paper and e-books.  I wish I had the attention span for audiobooks since I have a really long drive to work every day, but I can never focus on them.

(vii) Where do you like to buy books? (Amazon, used book store, new book store, etc.)

All of the above.  I try to support vendors not owned by Amazon as often as possible, though.

(viii) What is your favorite and least favorite thing about the area in which you live?

Favorite: it is stunningly pretty.  Least favorite: I’m a city girl at heart, and Vermont is dull dull dull.  I also have seasonal affective disorder, and the winters can be pretty brutal.

(ix) Coffee or tea?

Tea!  I’m a huge tea drinker.  Not a big coffee fan.

(x) What did you study in college/university? Or, what are you studying/what do you want to study? Or, have you chosen a path that does not involve college?

I have a degree in Italian Literature with a minor in Art History.  Clearly I was trying to be as employable as possible.

(xi) What is something that you learned or improved at through blogging?

Obvious answer alert, but, I’ve improved at reviewing.  Sometimes I look at reviews I wrote as recently as a year ago and think that I’m much more articulate these days – practice makes perfect, I guess!

3. Nominate 11 people (comment on their blog to let them know)

Chelsea // Steph // Hadeer // Ella // Bentley // Irena
Ann // Zuky // Mischenko // Carissa // Jennee

4. Ask the people you have nominated 11 questions

(i) What’s your dream vacation?
(ii) How do you take your coffee (or tea)?
(iii) What’s your favorite kind of blog post to make (e.g. book reviews, monthly wrap ups, Top 5 Wednesday/Top 10 Tuesday, etc)?
(iv) Have you met any of your internet friends in real life?
(v) If you had to blog about something other than books, what would it be?
(vi) What’s the best movie you’ve watched so far this year?
(vii) Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?
(viii) Do you name your car(s) and other inanimate objects?
(ix) Which blog that you follow do you think is the most similar to yours?  In terms of, ‘if you like my blog, you should also follow ____.’
(x) Favorite season?
(xi) Are there any genres that you refuse to read?

As always, I will not be offended if you’d rather pass, etc.  🙂

top 5 wednesday: Books Without Romance

July 5th: Books Without Romance

I love this topic. I’ll admit, I haven’t been crazy about the shipping topics lately. I’m not much of a romantic.  Here are some of my favorite romance-less books:

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And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: The queen of mystery does indulge in some romantic subplots every now and then, but not here. And Then There Were None tells the story of ten strangers, all of whom have been issued a mysterious invitation to an island a mile or so off the English coast. Then one by one, they start to be murdered. The most recent BBC adaptation actually throws in a romantic subplot, but it’s not present in the original novel, which is about as devoid of romance as anything can be.

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Penance by Kanae Minato: This Japanese thriller follows the aftermath of a horrible event in the lives of four young women.  One day in the summer of fourth grade, five girls go out to play and one of them, Emily, is murdered.  Although there are some relationships in the background of this novel, none of these are the focus.  I actually don’t remember the male characters in this story at all – the focus is all on the women, Emily’s mother in particular, who blames the remaining girls for the death of her daughter and who threatens them to either find the murderer before the statute of limitations is up or perform an act of penance, lest she take revenge on them.

29034Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose: This is a play which takes place entirely in a courtroom.  Twelve men are on the jury for a case which at a glance appears to be simple – a young boy stands accused of murdering his father, and there are several witnesses to testify.  Eleven out of the twelve men are in favor of a guilty verdict, but one lone dissenter, Juror 8, advocates for an open discussion which slowly begins to illuminate cracks in the case.  Romance is absolutely the last thing on the agenda in this story, which is at once a fascinating character study and an even more fascinating meditation on the flaws in the U.S. judicial system.

51xhgjvwgvl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski: Told in the format of a podcast, Six Stories is about the investigation of a twenty year old murder.  By interviewing people who knew the victim, 15-year-old Tom Jeffries, investigative journalist Scott King attempts to recreate the circumstances of his mysterious death as comprehensively as possible.  Although there are some accounts of teenage relationships in these pages, this novel is devoid of any romance or sentimentality – it’s a rather cold yet compelling account of the dynamics of the friend group that Tom Jeffries had been a part of.

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An Imaginary Life by David Malouf: This is a short and incredibly moving little book, in which David Malouf gives a fictionalized account of the final years of the poet Ovid, which he lived out in exile.  Malouf tells a strange and unconventional story about Ovid forming a relationship with a child who’s grown up in the wilderness, without human contact.  As Ovid doesn’t speak the language of the characters around him, there isn’t any romance here – just a rather fascinating and intelligent look at human nature and isolation.

So what are some of your favorite books without romance?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Chemistry by Weike Wang

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CHEMISTRY by Weike Wang
★★★★☆
Knopf Publishing, May 2017

Chemistry was without a doubt my worst subject in high school. I have such a lingering resentment toward it that I almost dismissed Chemistry the novel for its title alone, but I was able to put my hatred of the subject aside long enough to really enjoy this – though I’m not sure ‘enjoy’ is the right word. This is an incredibly intense book, and I felt like I wasn’t able to truly come up for air until I’d finished it.

Chemistry is The Bell Jar meets The Vegetarian but also something a bit lighter, quirkier. It doesn’t indulge in the same gory details of the two I just compared it to – this isn’t a book about psychiatric wards and forced hospitalization. Our unnamed narrator begins seeing a psychiatrist of her own free will, tries to make sense of the reason she can’t seem to commit to her long-term boyfriend, or the reason she just walked out on her PhD program at a prestigious university in Boston. It’s about her journey learning to trust, learning to give herself to another person while not compromising what she was raised to believe.

Weike Wang takes the traditional disintegrating mental health narrative and propels it into uncharted territory, by chronicling the mental breakdown of a young Asian American woman. The novel examines the ways that her upbringing – born in China, raised in the U.S. by Chinese immigrant parents – influenced the way she navigates adulthood, and the struggles that have arisen for her because of it.

The prose is spare and concise, but it isn’t simplistic. This is a very technically well crafted book, which plays with a fusion of tenses, past and present narratives often coexisting in a single paragraph. Though the large font and just-barely-200-pages makes it tempting to breeze through this, speed read Chemistry at your own peril. This is such a richly detailed book that you need to really slow yourself down in order to get everything out of it that Wang intended.

This book won’t work for everyone. It’s very light on plot and heavy on character analysis, full of razor sharp commentary on parental expectations and academic pressure. It’s definitely one of these books that’s going to appeal the most to people who have been in similar situations as the narrator, whether it’s being raised in the U.S. by Chinese parents (which does not apply to me) or having struggled with mental health while in an intensive academic setting (which definitely applies to me), so if you read this summary and think ‘there’s nothing here for me,’ chances are, there probably won’t be. But if you see even a fraction of yourself reflected in the narrator’s circumstances, this can be a very intense and harrowing read, though one that’s not without an underlying glimmer of hope.