wrap up: books read in August 2017

  • Yesterday by Felicia Yap ★★ + review
  • Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides ★★★★
  • Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart ★★★ + review
  • Holding by Graham Norton ★★ + review
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne ★★★★★ + review
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess ★★★★★ + review
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo ★★★★★ + review
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward ★★★ + review
  • American War by Omar El Akkad ★★ + review

Best: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Runner up: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo or A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Worst: Yesterday by Felicia Yap

9 books in August and a total of 72 books so far in 2017.  Everything was kind of hit or miss this month.  Either books I loved wholeheartedly and could not put down, or books I couldn’t wait to be done with.  I’m also impressed that I managed to finish 9, since I went to Montreal for a weekend and then had a friend visiting for a couple of days, both of which cut down on my reading time.

So, what’s next?

In case you missed it, Hadeer and I are co-hosting a War and Peace read along – you guys are absolutely welcome to join us if you’d like, details in that post!

So while War and Peace is going to be taking up a lot of my time in September, there are a couple of other books I’m hoping to get to as well.  I’m currently reading The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride and Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini, and I’m hoping to finish both of those soon.  I have Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land and Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart from Netgalley and I need to read both of those soon.  And my book club is reading All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld in September, so I’m looking forward to that.  I’m also very intrigued by Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.  A little ambitious, especially since I’m going to New York City for Labor Day weekend, but we’ll see.

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

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book review: American War by Omar El Akkad

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AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad
★★☆☆☆
Knopf, April 2017

It’s hard to say where exactly Omar El Akkad went wrong with American War, because on the surface, this appears to be such a well-constructed novel. El Akkad ties in the story of our protagonist, Sarat, with his imagined vision of a second American Civil War in a way that’s comprehensive and undeniably steeped with tragedy. The world building in this novel is immense, with various news articles scattered like historical set pieces throughout the narrative. But when you look closer, there are too many gaping holes.

What about the current social climate in America, with all our institutionalized racism and police brutality, suggests that we’re moving toward a post-racial, colorblind society? How can El Akkad draw so heavily on the first American Civil War for his narrative and completely ignore the question of slavery and racism? How can the South continue to use fossil fuels when the rest of the country no longer does? How did the Mexican annexation of a large region of the U.S. come about? How on earth did every country in the Middle East come together in the span of about fifty years (?!?!) to form a republic?

These are just a few of the questions American War left me with. Maybe they’re not the point. But I can’t help but to feel like a novel which goes to such great lengths to set the stage for this future-alternate history needs to be able to provide the reader with satisfactory answers.

My second issue with this book is that it’s dull, tedious, and downright boring. If I hadn’t been reading this for a book club, I would have strongly considered DNFing, which as you guys know, I never do. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Sarat, who felt more like a caricature than a well-developed character in her own right, or about the background characters who littered the narrative without much depth or individual personalities.

I was really disappointed by this book. I thought that a novel about a second American Civil War would be difficult to read because of what a realistic possibility it is, but American War was never able to convince me that it was anything other than highly imaginative fiction. Maybe I could have forgiven that if the plot or characters held my attention, but they didn’t. It was such a relief to finish this.

top 10 tuesday: Ten Hidden Classics Gems

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish – to join in the fun, check out their blog here!

This is probably going to be my most hastily written weekly meme post ever, I say as I begin to write this on 3:57 pm on Tuesday afternoon.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this topic, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of it, so here we go:

August 29Ten Hidden Gem Books in X Genre: Pick a genre and share with us some books that have gone under the radar in that genre!

I’m going to go with classics!  It’s such a broad genre, and obviously a book doesn’t get to be considered a classic without quite a bit of acclaim, so these may not be as ‘hidden’ as if I had chosen another genre… but here are some classics that I consider to be frequently overlooked for their much more oft read peers (To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, etc).

227463A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.  I only read this recently (review here), but I absolutely loved it.  This is one of those books that seems to be on everyone’s TBR list, but very few people have actually read it.  So if you’re waiting for some kind of sign to motivate you, here it is.  Read this book!  It’s unsettling and fascinating, and it becomes easier to read than you’d think possible as you struggle wrapping your head around the first chapter.

 

6251566The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.  It’s one of her more famous novels, admittedly, but often gets eclipsed by And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express.  As good as both of those novels are, Roger Ackroyd is one of the most unique mystery novels I’ve ever read.  If you’re able to guess who murdered Roger Ackroyd, I’d like to buy you a drink.

 

923693White Noise by Don Delillo.  It was published in 1985, so it’s a more recent classic, but a classic nonetheless.  White Noise is a bizarre post-modernist literary exercise in coming to terms with one’s own mortality.  It’s funny and unsettling and weird.  It took me longer to read than it should have, because there was something I found rather draining about thinking about mortality at the end of a long day, but I ultimately found this very fascinating and satisfying.

3103Maurice by E.M. Forster.  This novel is flawed, especially stylistically as it was published posthumously and didn’t undergo the kind of rigorous editing that it needed, but that doesn’t stop me from singing its praises.  Maurice is Forster’s gay romance that he wrote in 1913, so it’s really remarkable that this is a novel we have access to.  I haven’t read any other Forster, so I can’t comment on how it compares to some of his better known novels, but it’s a delightful book that everyone should read.

76778The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  I love Fahrenheit 451 as much as the next person, but it’s a shame to not read any Bradbury beyond that.  The Martian Chronicles is a series of vignettes that are loosely linked together, about the future colonization of Mars.  It’s a very odd and disturbing book, and while some of the stories make a stronger impression than others, this whole collection is a relevant allegory on imperialism that’s not to be missed.

31196The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.  I adore everything I’ve read by Somerset Maugham, none more than Of Human Bondage, but an oft-overlooked brilliant novel by him is The Razor’s Edge, about a group of friends in postwar London and Paris.  Not a whole lot happens in this book, but at the same time, it covers so much.  Somerset Maugham’s writing is absolutely stunning, and if you haven’t read anything by him you should amend that immediately.

13270Poetics by Aristotle.  I think Plato’s Republic is really fascinating, but Aristotle’s Poetics is perhaps more accessible and interesting reading, for those looking for a good introduction to Greek philosophy.  It’s basically a short analysis of Greek tragedy and how plot and language come together to elicit certain reactions from the viewers – how we basically use theatre as a form of catharsis in seeing such dramatic emotions portrayed on stage.  As a fan of theatre and philosophy, I found this fascinating.

51yqc21t3nl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault.  Renault’s epic Alexander the Great trilogy isn’t to be missed by historical fiction fans who like a heavy emphasis on the historical.  There isn’t much of a fast-moving plot, here, but Renault’s writing is gorgeous and the sheer amount of research she put into these novels is admirable.  This isn’t the kind of book you can read in a quick weekend, but if you’re interested at all in Alexander the Great, it is an amazing novel to devote several weeks or months to.

847168A View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller.  People usually think they can call it a day with Miller after reading The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, but A View From The Bridge I think is one of his masterpieces.  It’s a play about a Brooklyn family who take in two Italian cousins who are looking to find work in America so they can send money home to their starving families.  Like The Crucible, A View From The Bridge deals with themes of perception and honor, just on a more intimate scale.

566328The Betrothed/I promessi sposi by Alessandro Manzoni.  Since it’s usually assigned high school reading, most Italians I know hate this book.  I didn’t.  Okay, granted, it’s a bit long, but it’s also an epic whirlwind romantic adventure of a novel, and I can’t help but to love this story a lot.  Sorry, my Italian lit degree is completely useless if I can’t recommend an obscure 700 page long Italian classic on my blog every now and then.

How many of these classics have you read?  Comment and let me know!

The Sunshine Blogger Award #3-4

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I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award…. twice!  Again!  My first post is HERE in case you missed it.  I was nominated this time by the lovely Shanah @ Bionic Bookworm and TwinBookmarks.  Thanks so much, guys!  Make sure to check out their blogs if you haven’t already.

Shanah’s questions:

1 – WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST BOOKISH PET PEEVE?

This is such a random thing, but I was thinking the other day about how much I hate it when authors describe characters’ dreams in detail?  Like, 100% of the time I will skim those paragraphs.  I’m not really into dream interpretation, and I feel like whatever ‘symbolism’ there’s supposed to be always ends up being really on the nose.

2 – WHAT’S ONE NON BOOKISH FACT YOUR READERS DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I’ve had an irrational fear of chairlifts ever since I fell off one when I was about 9 or 10.  You’d think that chairlifts would not be a frequent thing that one has to confront in one’s life, but I do live in Vermont.  A couple of years ago my family wanted to do this foliage hike where you ride up a mountain on a chairlift and hike down, and oh my god my heart is hammering just thinking about that.  I vowed to never again ride a chairlift after that day.  It was horrible.  Needless to say, I do not downhill ski anymore.  Though I never liked downhill skiing much anyway.

3 – WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE HOBBY BESIDES READING?

People have hobbies besides reading???  Hmmm.  I play tennis.

4 – HAVE YOU EVER WATCHED A MOVIE/TV ADAPTATION THAT WAS BETTER THAN THE BOOK?

Yes!  The ones that always come to mind are Atonement (I thought the book was okay but sort of bland, whereas the movie I thought was very emotional), Revolutionary Road (ditto), The Devil Wears Prada (I don’t remember the book very well, but I remember thinking it was just kind of boring), and The Reader (I think it may have been a better book if I could read it in the original German?  I absolutely loved the film though).

5 – WHAT ONE BOOK DO YOU ABSOLUTELY LOVE THAT’S OUT OF YOUR NORMAL READING GENRES?

A Fugitive in Grass Valley by I.M. Flippy.  I’d never read a romance novel before and don’t intend to make a habit out of it, but this book was absolutely delightful.

6 – IF YOU GOT TO PICK WHICH APOCALYPSE YOU HAD TO FACE, WHICH TYPE OF APOCALYPSE WOULD YOU CHOOSE? (ZOMBIE, NUCLEAR, ETC)

Ugh, pass.  I’d be useless in an apocalypse.  The wifi would go down and I’d just be like, fuck it, I’m out, good luck everyone.

7 – IF YOU HAD A FAMILIAR, WHAT ANIMAL WOULD YOUR FAMILIAR BE?

I don’t know what this means!!!  Probably a cat, but ???

8 – HOW BIG IS YOUR TBR?

According to Goodreads, there are 373 books on there.  Yikes.

9 – IF YOU WERE IN A STORY, WOULD YOU BE THE VILLAIN OR THE HERO?

Hmm, good question.  I’m usually drawn to villains and antiheroes, but to be honest I am not particularly villainous?  But I’m also not particularly heroic?  I’d probably be a Sansa Stark type hero, where I don’t know how to wield a sword but I’m fighting for what I believe is right in more quiet, subtle ways.

10 – WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDHOOD TV SHOW?

Full House!

11 – WHAT ONE AESTHETIC WOULD YOU SAY IS REPRESENTATIVE OF WHO YOU ARE? (FLORAL, DARK, BRIGHT, LACE, BOHO, ETC)

My Instagram sums up my aesthetic pretty well.  Feel free to follow me on there.  It’s about 50% books and 50% cats.  Okay, probably more cats.

TwinBookmarks’ questions:

1 – For starters – how’s life?

It’s okay!  I was actually sort of depressed for the first part of summer, which is really uncharacteristic of me because this is my favorite time of year.  But a couple of weeks ago I started planning all these upcoming trips, and that’s helped put me in a better mood!  I went to Montreal last weekend, I’m going to New York next weekend (I’m seeing the first preview of A Clockwork Orange, the final show of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and then going to the US Open!) and in October I’m seeing the Les Mis tour and meeting two of my favorite bloggers who I have yet to meet irl, so lots of fun things coming up!

2 – If your house was on fire – what 3 things would you grab first? NO BOOKS…fine 1 book if you must 😉

My cat, my other cat, my laptop.  Sorry, books.

3 – Favourite colour?

Red!

4 – Favourite food?

Bagels.

5 – Favourite blogger? 😉 😉

Too many… I love Chelsea, Steph, Callum, Ann, and Hadeer‘s blogs, to name a few!  Go follow all of them if you don’t already.

6 – What book do you want to read right now?

My book club is reading All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld in September and I cannot wait to get started.  It looks weird and wonderful.

7 – Cats or Dogs?

CATS.  I’m a big animal lover so dogs are cool too, but there is no competition.

8 – Fish or Fish? Only kidding, you can see how bad we are at this – so what do you find hard to do (doesn’t need to be the hardest thing you had to do in your life, but it can be)? e.g. studying, swimming, cooking, sticking to a schedule etc.

Cooking.  I’m a rubbish cook.  I mean, I can follow a recipe, but the downside of that is that I NEED to follow the recipe to a T, because I just have no sense of intuition when it comes to cooking.  It’s probably not a coincidence that Chemistry was far and away my worst school subject.

9 – Blogger or Millionaire? oh and you can’t be the other if you choose one 😜

Millionaire.  As much as I love blogging, I couldn’t say no to the kind of security that lifestyle would provide.

10 – Shoutout to your BFF (or anyone – just specify)

I have several BFFs, I am lucky that way!  Shoutout to Ashley, my friend/roommate who lives with my family and me, who’s my most sister-like friend.  (Of course, I’m an only child, so I’m not sure what exactly having a sister is like.)

11 – And finally – what would you want as a gift? (who knows – maybe your gifter may gift you what you want without you actually having to ask 😉)

I still don’t own this box set of Harry Potter and it makes me sad.

I’m actually not going to tag anyone because I did this so recently, but if you want to answer any of these questions, feel free to leave a comment with your answers!

book review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

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SING, UNBURIED, SING by Jesmyn Ward
★★★☆☆
Scribner, September 5, 2017

Hmm. Still processing my thoughts, here. I’ll be honest: I didn’t love this. I just can’t quite put my finger on why.

Jesmyn Ward is a brilliant writer. Her prose is gorgeous and immersive. The comparisons to Faulkner and Morrison are not unwarranted at all; to Morrison especially. This is an important story about one African American family navigating the systematic discrimination that they have endured for years. It’s moving, disheartening, tragic, and lyrical. It’s exactly the kind of book that I usually love.

It seems a bit callous to say that I didn’t really care about these characters, and I’m not sure that’s even true… I did care about Jojo, the thirteen year old son of drug addict Leonie who’s more of a parent to his younger sister, Kayla, than their mother is. But it just wasn’t enough to hold my interest. So much is attempted in these pages, right down to the inclusion of actual ghosts, but I can’t help but to feel like there was a certain lack of subtlety to the themes Ward was addressing. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of depth buried beneath the surface – I thought it was all spelled out in a sort of obvious way. Perhaps if the novel had been longer, Ward could have given herself more space to develop this narrative and its themes in a more challenging and compelling way. The bottom line is, this book tried to engage me on both an emotional and intellectual level, but it failed to really do either. But I can’t help but to feel like that’s more on me than the author.

Read this book*. This is a timely and important novel that will hopefully infuriate and inspire you. It didn’t work for me, but for once I’m glad to be in the minority. I’m glad that so many people are loving this book the way I had hoped to.

*Unless you have emetophobia. Literally half the novel is a child vomiting in a car. It got to be a bit much for me.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley, Scribner, and Jesmyn Ward for the opportunity.

book review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo
★★★★★
Henry Holt & Co, 2016
(Six of Crows #2)

I LOVED THIS. Crooked Kingdom is everything that was great about Six of Crows – fast paced action, characters getting out of impossible situations in unexpected ways – but it built something even better upon its already solid foundation, thanks to some truly phenomenal character development. In Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo digs into her characters’ backstories to create even more depth and dimension to this already flawed and fascinating group of individuals, and I came out of it with an even greater appreciation of each of them.

Where the plot in Six of Crows is much more straightforward and I can see where some people may prefer it for that reason, Crooked Kingdom is where Bardugo shows her complete mastery of weaving together intricate plot threads. I was mesmerized by the fact that every time there appeared to be a straightforward outcome to a situation, Bardugo still managed to veer the narrative in an unexpected direction. And it was never a cheap trick or a deus ex machina – just Bardugo cleverly staying one step ahead of the rest of us.

I wasn’t really fond of That One Thing that happens toward the end – I thought it was sort of rushed and thrown in for shock value, and I think Bardugo could have been capable of writing that in a much more satisfying way.

But on the whole, I loved this. I love Kaz. I love Inej. I love Wylan. I love this group of flawed characters looking out for each other and wreaking utter havoc. This duology was such a fun ride, and I’m sad for it to be over.

Guilty Reader Book Tag

I saw this tag on Confessions of a YA Reader‘s blog – I’m not sure who started it, if anyone knows can you let me know so I can link back to them?  Anyway, this looked like a fun and quick tag, so here we go:

1. Have You Ever Regifted A Book That You’ve Been Given?

I’ve never given someone one of my books and pretended it was brand new, if that’s what this means?  Occasionally a friend will ask to borrow a book and if it’s one I’m not crazy about I tell them they can just keep it, so that may have happened with a book I’ve been gifted, I can’t remember.

2. Have you ever said you’ve read a book when you haven’t?

I mean, sometimes I used to say I’ve read something that I didn’t get very far into?  Like, I read a couple of chapters of Pride and Prejudice when I was younger and I vaguely recall saying that I’ve read that…  I don’t do that anymore, though.  For me, if I DNF a book I’m not allowed to say that I’ve read it.  (I’m not saying that everyone has to think this way, especially if you’re more flexible with DNFing than I am – it’s just my own standard that I use.)

3. Have you ever borrowed a book and not returned it?

My copy of Black Swan Green was technically lent to me by a friend about three or four years ago… I do intend to return it, but it’s tricky as she lives in Germany.  (I also have a different friend’s copy of Eliza and Her Monsters, but that’s going in the mail this week; I have a different friend’s copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling but he’s told me I’m allowed to hold that hostage until he reads my copy of A Little Life.  And I have two of Hadeer’s books, The Obelisk Gate and The New Jim Crow, but I haven’t had the chance to read them yet!  So it doesn’t count as not having returned them if I haven’t even read them, right?)

4. Have you ever read a series out of order?

Only things where the order doesn’t matter, like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels.  With a more traditional series, no, of course not.

5. Have you ever spoiled a book for someone?

Only if they ask me to.  Otherwise I’m very tight-lipped when it comes to spoilers.  On a somewhat related note, I remember when I was reading Half-Blood Prince, my dad was watching the news loudly in the other room, and I read the chapter where Snape killed Dumbledore, and not even five minutes later I hear from the television, “fans are distraught that Snape killed Dumbledore,” and I still can’t believe my luck with that bullet that I dodged.  I mean, I don’t even care about spoilers for the most part usually, but Harry Potter was sacred.

6. Have you ever doggy eared a book?

I’d occasionally do this with my textbooks, but I don’t make a habit of it, no.

7. Have you ever told someone you don’t own a book when you do?

No?  Why would I do that?

8. Have you ever told someone you haven’t read a book when you have?

I repeat: why would I do that?  I guess this means for books that it’s ’embarrassing’ to have read like Twilight or something?  I read Twilight when I was 15 and I hated it so I didn’t read the rest of the series.  I don’t mind admitting to that.

9. Have you every skipped a chapter or a section of a book?

No, but if I ever read Les Mis again I’ll probably skip the Waterloo section.  I understand the historical significance, but I’ve read it twice.  I’m good.

10. Have you ever bad mouthed a book you actually liked?

No.  It helps that I don’t really read many ‘guilty pleasure’ books?  Also I am generally very open and honest about my bookish opinions, both positive and negative.

I wasn’t technically tagged for this, so I won’t tag anyone.  Just pingback to me if you do it so I can read your answers!