wrap up: books read in October 2017

  • The End We Start From by Megan Hunter ★★★ + review
  • Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart ★★★ + review
  • The Book Collector by Alice Thompson ★★★★ + mini review
  • Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn ★★★ + review
  • Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie ★★★★★ + review
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman ★★★★★ + review
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy ★★ + review

Best: Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Runner up: Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie
Worst: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

OCTOBER TOTAL: 7 books
YEARLY TOTAL SO FAR: 85 books (goal was 60)

I feel like these star ratings don’t accurately represent my reading month, which was Not Great….. continuing from September I had a long streak of 3 stars, and then most of my month was spent reading War and Peace, which clearly I did not end up loving.  (Though I do feel a bit bad giving it the distinction of the worst of the month…. perhaps a more fair assessment would be The End We Start From which is one of the most unremarkable books I’ve ever read, but at least that held my attention – War and Peace was just a massive two month long struggle for me.)

In non-book news, it wasn’t a bad month!  I went on a road trip to Hartford and Boston and got to see some theatre and got to hang out with Chelsea and Steph, which was a lot of fun.  We saw the Les Miserables tour and then a sadly short-lived production of Merrily We Roll Along in Boston – review of that HERE.

Now the currently reading/TBR stuff… I’m in the middle of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (buddy read with Steph) and having a lot of fun with that!  Also reading An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, and I haven’t touched The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride in weeks but now that I’ve finished War and Peace maybe I’ll have the mental energy to dive back into that.  Or maybe I’ll put it off for another month.  Anyway, November will also include a buddy read of Wuthering Heights with Hadeer, The Absolutist by John Boyne, The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor, A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee… and maybe other things!  We shall see.  I’m really excited about some of these.

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

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The Fall Book Tag

fall-book-tag

I can’t remember if I was tagged to do this at any point but I am BORED so I grabbed this from Steph‘s blog.

The rules:

  • Please link back to me, Bionic Book Worm, as the creator of this tag!! I want to see your answers!!
  • Use the graphics – if you want
  • Have fun!

Crisp fall air – a book that felt fresh and new

4867141I’m only partway through this, but An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  It’s a retelling of the Trojan War, but it goes a bit avant garde, with Pyrrhus working at a strip club… I’m not really sure how to explain this book BUT I’m really loving it.  I’ve read so many Greek mythology and Homeric retellings that I’m loving how different this one is.

Howling winds – an ending that blew you away

32968558All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan… I don’t really know how to talk about this book without giving a lot of the plot away, but suffice to say that I found the ending very striking.  I have a thing for novels where characters are punishing themselves for something that they did in their past, and Melody’s particular struggle really resonated with me for whatever reason.  (I initially wanted to say Burial Rites but I’m also trying to limit myself to copying only one of Steph’s answers.)

Comfy sweater – a book that gave you the warm and fuzzies

cover_girl_waits_with_gun_amy_stewart

 

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart.  I’m not usually big on fluffy reads, but I guess I have a weakness for historical ladies kicking ass.  This book is such a delight.

 

Bright colors – a cover with either red, orange, or yellow

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The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See.  An appropriately autumnal cover!  And I really enjoyed the book, too.

 

 

Leaf fight – a book with nonstop action

22299763Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.  I don’t read a lot of action-y books but this one definitely fits the bill.  How Bardugo was able to pack so much adventure and so many twists and turns into this duology – Crooked Kingdom especially – I will never understand.

 

 

Pumpkin spice – your most anticipated read

13414716The Absolutist by John Boyne…  After The Heart’s Invisible Furies absolutely destroyed me (aka rocked my world) this summer I’ve been wanting to give Boyne another try, and this is the other novel of his that appeals to me the most.  Chelsea kindly gifted me a copy earlier this month so I am going to start it once I finish a couple of the four books I am currently reading, and I am very excited.

 

Tagging anyone who wants to do this!

book review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

417rmz3iq5l-_sx324_bo1204203200_WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy
★★☆☆☆
originally published in 1868
translated by Anthony Briggs

I don’t even know where to begin with reviewing a book like War and Peace. But in an effort to condense my experience with it into a single sentence, here we go: I didn’t like it. I wanted to like it, I tried to like it, I was in fact sure I was going to like it, but even giving this novel the unenthusiastic three stars would be disingenuous.

If you made a Venn diagram of things that interest me in a novel and things that interest Leo Tolstoy, there would be nothing the middle. On my side at the top of the list you’ve got: characters. On Tolstoy’s side you’ve got: Russian history.

Maybe it was naive for me to expect less war in a book where War comprises half the title, but my expectations going into this were all wrong. I’d been familiar with the musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which was adapted from the 70 page segment of War and Peace which focuses on the affair between Natasha and Anatole Kuragin. Already having some affection for these characters, I dove into War and Peace with a list of questions that weren’t apparent to me from the musical alone: What exactly was Helene’s role in the affair? What were the circumstances of Anatole’s first marriage? Did Anatole ever love Natasha, or was he always out to use her? Unfortunately, such details turned out to be beside the point entirely.

I’ve never quite read a novel like this, where the plight of the characters always seemed secondary. Here is a list of things that got more narrative attention than the main characters: Napoleon, military strategy, Tolstoy’s personal philosophical musings, heavy criticism of the Great Man Theory… and if all that interests you, you will love War and Peace. But as someone who isn’t so interested in war, who needs something more quotidienne to drive a story than Big Philosophical Ideas, this ended up being a long slog for me.

I don’t mean to imply that there’s no character development at all in this 1,358 page behemoth. Pierre and Andrey notably struggle with finding their place in the world, each adopting different philosophies at different points in their lives, constantly striving to be good men. But their personal journeys weren’t quite enough to really pull me into this story, especially when I didn’t find either of them particularly interesting to begin with. Characters who I found much more intriguing – Helene, Anatole, Natasha, Sonya – were only ever paper thin.

I think War and Peace also suffered for the unintentional contrast with Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables that I couldn’t quite get out of my head. (This was the initial reason I was sure I was going to love War and Peace – my only other experience with a monster-length nineteenth century novel resulted in me finding my favorite book of all time.) I can’t help but to see these two novels and their musical counterparts as inversions of one another. Les Mis condenses the contents of the novel into a two and a half hour long musical, cutting it down to the absolute essential characters and events. And while it does a good job, reading the book only enriches the experience and gives you a fuller picture. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 extrapolates from a very small section of War and Peace – it takes characters who weren’t very well developed to begin with, and gives them new depth and new life.

If I ever read this again (which I don’t intend to, but, never say never!) it will have to be with the intention of furthering my understanding of the Napoleonic Wars. This, in my opinion, is the height of what War and Peace has to offer. It’s a seminal text where military history is concerned. But I wanted more of a story.

I’m glad I can say I’ve read War and Peace… but the relief I felt at turning the final page isn’t like anything one should feel while reading a much-loved novel.

The “Nope” Book Tag

I was tagged by Jenna at Bookmark Your Thoughts for the NOPE Book Tag – sounds like fun, let’s do it!

NOPE. ENDING: a book ending that made you go NOPE either in denial, rage, or simply because the ending was crappy

51n2bghtdlnl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Marlena by Julie Buntin – I thought this entire book was a rather bland reading experience, but I was hoping for SOMETHING from its conclusion… instead I found the ending rather trite and uninspired.  I really can’t figure out why this book exists.

 

NOPE. PROTAGONIST: A main character you dislike and drives you crazy

efjsffslfMia in Little Fires Everywhere.  Celeste Ng is a brilliant writer who usually has the gift of making me sympathize with even the most unlikable characters, so I don’t know what it is about Mia that puts me off so much.  Although she has plenty of positive qualities, I guess I’m just sort of tired of narratives that romanticize the ‘bohemian parent’ type – I feel really strongly that moving your child from place to place and school to school just because your current town no longer gives you artistic inspiration is a horribly selfish way to raise a child.  (Still loved the book – just not the protagonist!)

NOPE. SERIES: A series that turned out to be one huge pile of NOPE after you’ve invested all of that time and energy on it (or a series you gave up on because it wasn’t worth it anymore)

themirrorempire-144dpiI’m not a big series reader, so I have to choose one where I only read the first book, but I’m going to go with The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley.  This book was such a mess.  Even after reading all 500+ pages I could not tell you what this book was actually about.  Some of the most amateur writing I’ve ever encountered in traditionally published fiction, far too many characters, and extremely messy world building.  Hard pass on the sequel(s).

NOPE. PAIRING: A “ship” you don’t support

31931941Eliza/Wallace from Eliza and Her MonstersSPOILERS for the second half of this book: telling Eliza that she had to finish the comic so he could get his book deal was such blatant emotional manipulation, I’m sorry.  I know Wallace has been through some Stuff, but so has Eliza, and him taking all his personal shit out on her and refusing to look at it from her perspective really ruined this pairing for me (which I hadn’t really been feeling up until this point).  His half-baked ‘sorry I was an asshole’ explanation didn’t really do it for me either.

NOPE. PLOT TWIST: A twist you didn’t see coming and didn’t like

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Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen.  If I read a million more books before I die I will never come across a twist this stupid.

 

 

 

NOPE. GENRE: A genre you will never read

The only one I can think of that I don’t see myself ever reading is Middle Grade.

NOPE. BOOK FORMAT: Book formatting you hate and avoid buying until it comes out in a different edition

I mean… I don’t do audiobooks because they never hold my attention, but thankfully I don’t need to wait for a different format to come out where those are concerned.

NOPE. TROPE: A trope that makes you go NOPE

Miscommunication as a plot device.  If a huge plot point hinges on something that could be resolved if your characters would only talk to each other, then write better, maybe?  (IMO this trope should only be used for comedy.)

NOPE. RECOMMENDATION: A book recommendation that is constantly pushed at you, that you simply refuse to read

People who know I love Greek mythology tend to recommend Percy Jackson a lot, but I don’t see myself reading those at any point.  I think I would have loved them when I was 11, but at this point in my life I just can’t read children’s books or middle grade fiction.  I can’t get past the ‘I’m too old for this’ feeling which admittedly I also feel with a lot of YA.

NOPE. CLICHE: A cliche or writing pet peeve that always makes you roll your eyes

Characters stopping to make out in the middle of a dire situation.  There’ll be time for that later, kids.

NOPE. LOVE INTEREST: The love interest that’s not worthy of being one

22299763Matthias Helvar from Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom.  Sorry, major unpopular opinion… but I think Nina is amazing and I think Matthias has the personality of a boiled potato.  He is just so deeply boring to me.

 

 

NOPE. VILLAIN: A villain you would hate to cross

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Ramsay Snow is pretty terrifying.

 

 

NOPE. DEATH: A character death that still haunts you

17333319(In an effort to go one tag without mentioning A Little Life.)  I’ll say Agnes in Burial Rites.  (I don’t think it’s a spoiler that she dies because the premise of the book is that she’s been sentenced to death.)  The way this death scene is written shook me very deeply.

 

 

NOPE. AUTHOR: An author you had a bad experience reading for and have decided to quit

32508637I absolutely detested See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt, mostly because of the writing style, so I don’t see myself picking up anything else she writes in the future.

 

 

Tagging whoever wants to do this!

Favorite Book Quotes

Earlier this week, the Top 5 Tuesday prompt was Top 5 Book Quotes.  Narrowing it down was pretty excruciating, so I wanted to make a post with some of the quotes that didn’t quite make the shortlist.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few more favorites… enjoy!  (None of these contain spoilers, which tragically meant I had to omit the final paragraph of Never Let Me Go, which is one of my favorite pieces of writing of all time.)

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“All great and precious things are lonely.”

— John Steinbeck, East of Eden

 


381619

“Me, I want to bloody kick this moronic bloody world in the bloody teeth over and over till it bloody understands that not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more bloody important than being right.”

— David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

 


17333319“Those who are not being dragged to their deaths cannot understand how the heart grows hard and sharp, until it is a nest of rocks with only an empty egg in it. I am barren; nothing will grow from me anymore. I am the dead fish drying in the cold air. I am the dead bird on the shore. I am dry, I am not certain I will bleed when they drag me out to meet the axe. No, I am still warm, my blood still howls in my veins like the wind itself, and it shakes the empty nest and asks where all the birds have gone, where have they gone?”

— Hannah Kent, Burial Rites 


33253215“A line came into my mind, something that Hannah Arendt once said about the poet Auden: that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face.”

— John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies

 


41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_“There was no signature, but instead a tag from the Iliad, in Greek.  It was from the eleventh book, when Odysseus, cut off from his friends, finds himself alone and on enemy territory:

Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier;
I have seen worse sights than this.”

— Donna Tartt, The Secret History

NB.  Sorry, I’m a classics nerd, so I have to make a note about this.  This is NOT a quote from the Iliad – the closest it comes is to a line from the Odyssey, book XX, when Odysseus is contemplating the task ahead of him in challenging Penelope’s suitors, which translates to “Be firm, my heart! For you have endured even worse things than this.”  I don’t think anyone knows Donna Tartt’s exact motivation in attributing this line to the wrong book, or why she says Odysseus’s night raid in the Iliad occurred in book 11 when it was actually book 10, but I’m just being pedantic.  Wherever they’re from, for whatever reason Tartt choose to write them here, they’re gorgeous words.


1371“So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men
live on to bear such torments—the gods live free of sorrows.”

— Homer, the Iliad (translated by Robert Fagles)

 


41-czdznnjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

“I walked on the river, which swirled like smoke under me, and I was moonlight.”

— David Malouf, An Imaginary Life

 


31196

“When he sacrifices himself man for a moment is greater than God, for how can God, infinite and omnipotent, sacrifice himself?”

— W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

 


12912“All the rest they burn, unnumbered and unsung,
an enormous tangled mass of bloody carnage waits
and the wasteland far and wide lights up with fires,
with pyre on pyre striving to outblaze the last.”

— Vergil, the Aeneid (translated by Robert Fagles)


 

29983711

“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.”

— Min Jin Lee, Pachinko

 


41nsvhy8t2bl-_sx322_bo1204203200_“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure. She had believed in her own inherent goodness, her humanity, and lived accordingly, never causing anyone harm. Her devotion to doing things the right way had been unflagging, all her successes had depended on it, and she would have gone on like that indefinitely. She didn’t understand why, but faced with those decaying buildings and straggling grasses, she was nothing but a child who had never lived.”

— Han Kang, The Vegetarian (translated by Deborah Smith)


 

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“What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.”

— Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

 


44796“Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them. We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener’s aunt is in the house.”

— W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence


11250317

“There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.”

— Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

 


24280Il dort. Quoique le sort fut pour lui bien étrange,
Il vivait. Il mourut quand il n’eut plus son ange.
La choise simplement d’elle-même arriva.
Comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s’en va.

He is asleep. Though his mettle was sorely tried,
He lived, and when he lost his angel, died.
It happened calmly, on its own.
The way night comes when day is done.”

— Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


michaud-the-subversive-brilliance-of-a-little-life-320

“‘I’m lonely,’ he says aloud, and the silence of the apartment absorbs the words like blood soaking into cotton.”

— Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

 


29441096“I hold onto her and tell her I love her and tell her I’ll do anything she wants me to do but beyond my words and her weight in my arms there’s the knowing we fucked this up. There was something beautiful here once.”

— Lisa McInerney, The Glorious Heresies

book review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

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BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman
★★★★★
Ecco, 2014

Bird Box is one of the most original and downright terrifying horror novels I’ve ever read. Set in the near future, the novel begins in a vaguely post-apocalyptic wasteland that used to be suburban Michigan, where a young woman, Malorie, leads her two children to a rowboat, all of them blindfolded. Five years previously, there was some kind of event which wiped out the majority of the population – there’s something outside, and when people see it, they’re driven to madness and violence. There’s only one rule in the new world in order to survive: don’t open your eyes.

This is more of a survival story than I had been expecting from a horror novel, but I was okay with that, because it focuses on the elements of survival that I find particularly interesting. How does a group of individuals move forward together in a lawless world? Which social norms from the old world are worth preserving? At what point does survival stop being enough? (It’s strangely reminiscent of Station Eleven in this regard.) I highly recommend this to anyone who prefers their horror light on the gore and heavy on the psychological.

But survival is only one element. Bird Box is scary. The tension that Josh Malerman creates in this novel never lets up, even for a second. Malerman taps into a really primal fear – fear of the dark, fear of the unknown. What’s so remarkable about Bird Box is that the scariest passages aren’t necessarily ones where you see horrifying things happening. It’s the ones where the characters are taking a tentative step outside, eyes closed, not knowing if they’re mere inches away from danger.

No, it’s not perfect; yes, there are questions that go unanswered, but I loved this. The atmosphere is unsettling and frightening, the characters are real and flawed and believable, and the climax is incredible. What a delightfully creepy and striking book. I wanted to start it again the second I finished.

top 5 tuesday: Favorite Quotes

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

OCTOBER 17 – Top 5 book quotes

Narrowing down this list PAINED ME so think of these as my top 5 book quotes at this exact moment in time (8:54 pm on a Monday in October), because in ten minutes I’m sure I would have chosen a different selection.  Also I’m not going to add my commentary to these, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves, but if there’s anything that needs clarifying or if you’re curious as to why any of these struck me, do let me know.

31548“It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched for they are full of the truthless ideal which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real, they are bruised and wounded. It looks as if they were victims of a conspiracy; for the books they read, ideal by the necessity of selection, and the conversation of their elders, who look back upon the past through a rosy haze of forgetfulness, prepare them for an unreal life. They must discover for themselves that all they have read and all they have been told are lies, lies, lies; and each discovery is another nail driven into the body on the cross of life.”

– W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage


michaud-the-subversive-brilliance-of-a-little-life-320“Now he got out of bed and wrapped his blanket around himself, yawning. That evening, he’d talk to Jude. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he would be safe; he would keep them both safe. He went to the kitchen to make himself coffee, and as he did, he whispered the lines back to himself, those lines he thought of whenever he was coming home, coming back to Greene Street after a long time away – “And tell me this: I must be absolutely sure. This place I’ve reached, is it truly Ithaca?”- as all around him, the apartment filled with light.”

– Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life


381619

“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”

— David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

 

 


harper-perennial-edition“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


51yqc21t3nl-_sy344_bo1204203200_“He stood between death and life as between night and morning, and thought with a soaring rapture, ‘I am not afraid’.”

— Mary Renault, Fire From Heaven

 

 

 

What are your favorite quotes and what did you think of mine??  Comment and let me know!