book review: Jo Cox: More in Common by Brendan Cox


Hodder & Stoughton, 2017

I cried a lot in the middle seat on a plane listening to this audiobook. (I’m not an audiobook person but I get very motion sick and I can’t read on planes, so a few people suggested I try a nonfiction book narrated by the author. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any of the ones I was looking for, but when browsing the nonfiction section Jo Cox’s biography caught my eye, which I had been interested in reading for a while. Luke Thompson does a good job with the narration – empathetic but not overly sentimental in a tale already rightfully wrought with sentiment.)

Anyway, this book wrecked me. I’m not British, and I’ll admit to not knowing anything about Jo Cox until her murder in 2016. But I remember looking her up that day, seeing her relatively young face, reading briefly about her politics, and just feeling very deeply sad.

In her biography written by her husband and fellow politician Brendan, we delve into the life and politics of an incredibly strong, inspiring, and resilient individual. I have so much respect for Brendan Cox to be able to write this biography only nine months after Jo’s murder, in the midst of grieving the loss of his wife and mother of his two young children. Brendan’s love for Jo shines through every page of this book, but he still manages to depict her as a real and flawed person.

From her background working with Oxfam to her humanitarian efforts in developing countries to her passion for providing aid to Syrian civilians, Jo’s work and personal life were both characterized by her fervor and determination to provide equal opportunities to as many people as her efforts would reach. It’s an effort that is thankfully ongoing – all proceeds from this book go to the Jo Cox Foundation.

And even though I’m sadder now knowing what a truly beautiful soul was lost that day, I think it’s incredible just how much positive change Jo was able to instigate in her short life. This is a book that everyone should read – Jo’s story is one that everyone should hear, regardless of interest in or knowledge of British politics.


book review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware


THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware
Gallery/Scout Press, 2016

I’m always stunned when I end up disliking a thriller this much, because I never go into them with particularly high expectations. If it can provide me with some suspense and some fun escapism for a few hours, I’m pretty easy to please. Unfortunately, The Woman in Cabin 10 slid under my relatively low bar.

This book was boring. I don’t say that a lot. I read a lot of character-driven literary fiction, and not a whole lot of what I read is terribly plot-heavy. I don’t need consistently high stakes or action packed adventure to hold my interest. But this was boring. Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist who goes on a luxury cruise, and while she’s on the boat, she believes she witnesses a murder. The majority of this book is then Lo just attempting to convince people of what she saw, and it gets old pretty fast.

This book also required a positively excessive amount of suspension of disbelief. Characters consistently did not act like real people, or else their motives, Lo’s in particular, made zero sense. An early example of this is when Lo’s long-time boyfriend, Judah, asks her to move in with him. Until this point in the book, Lo had essentially been waxing eloquent for thirty pages about how much she loves him, and then when he poses this question, she completely freaks out and they get into a fight. And there are plenty of reasons why someone wouldn’t want to move in with their partner, even if they’re in love, but are any of these reasons actually explored? Not particularly. Their argument is a pretty transparent plot device to drive a wedge into their relationship before Lo embarks on her cruise. Also, at the very beginning of this book, Lo’s apartment is burgled while she’s inside, an event that was supposedly terrifying and which had a pretty huge effect on her for the rest of the novel, but while we’re told over and over again just how traumatic and upsetting this was for Lo, I never really felt it. There’s this constant disconnect between her actions and what she’s relaying (in first person) to the reader. ‘I need to snap out of this,’ she muses frequently, without ever detailing what THIS actually is.

Anyway, back to the boat. Ruth Ware was clearly attempting an Agatha Christie-esque locked door mystery, but where she failed was the sheer amount of interchangeable characters. First of all, while there are only ten cabins, you’d think that that would limit the number of suspects to ten, right? Incorrect – there are so many crew members on this boat I couldn’t even begin to keep track of them. And even of the aforementioned ten guests, only about three of them had any sort of personality. The rest just bled together. I figured out pretty early on in this book that I wasn’t going to care about the whodunnit reveal, because these were some of the least interesting characters I have ever encountered.

There are also some pretty gargantuan leaps of logic on a fairly regular basis. For example. Lo thinks she sees a woman get thrown overboard; she tells the security guard about a woman in that room lending her some mascara earlier that day, and the security guard and Lo both conclude that the ONLY possible person who could have been thrown overboard is that particular woman – he doesn’t even bother taking inventory of all the passengers and crew members?? In what universe does this make sense??

It finally, finally picked up toward the end – even though there weirdly was not much of a climax to this book, the final five or six chapters do provide a bit of long-overdue excitement. But by this point I really didn’t care what happened either way.

But my biggest problem with The Woman in Cabin 10 was actually its treatment of mental illness, which, interestingly, I’ve seen praised by a lot of reviewers. And look, I get it. I think this book thinks it’s conveying a pro-medication message, and it’s easy to be distracted by its good intentions and not examine just how offensive these words actually are. (For the record, I have been taking anxiety medication for over five years, which I’m only disclosing to let you guys know that this is something I care a lot about on a personal level as well as an academic one.)

“There’s no reason, on paper at least, why I need these pills to get through life. I had a great childhood, loving parents, the whole package. I wasn’t beaten, abused, or expected to get nothing by As. I had nothing but love and support, but that wasn’t enough somehow.”

I’m tired of even well-meaning narratives feeding into this idea that depression needs to be justified. You’re allowed to be depressed without having had a shitty childhood. And yes, you could argue that that’s exactly what Ruth Ware is saying here, but this entire book bends over backwards to remind us how normal Lo is, and isn’t it weird how someone so normalneeds to take medication?? Sorry, but if her intention is to normalize medication, she’s failing miserably. I felt condescended to by the fact that every time meds were brought up in this book, there was this aura of othernessabout them – in fact, early on in this book, we find out that Lo is taking medication for something, but we don’t know what, and it isn’t until her sanity is being called into question that another character reveals (in hushed tones, of course) that Lo is taking meds for… dun dun dun… depression. Is it too much to ask that a character can just take depression or anxiety medication without there being a whole song and dance about it??

“Cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, psychotherapy – none of it really worked in the way that the pills did. Lissie says she finds the notion of chemically rebalancing your mood scary, she says it’s the idea idea of taking something that could alter how she really is. But I don’t see it that way; for me it’s like wearing makeup – not a disguise, but a way of making myself more how I really am, less raw. The best me I can be.”

And then there’s this. Where do I even begin with this. Wearing makeup isn’t empowering or feminist. There is a social and historical precedent that women are expected to wear makeup in order to be taken seriously, in order to succeed at our careers that should have nothing at all to do with appearance. It’s one thing to enjoy wearing makeup on an individual level, but it’s important to acknowledge just how messed up it is that women are fed this idea from an early age that we aren’t our best selves until we paint our faces on. (I don’t want to derail this review too badly, so here is a great article that goes into this in more depth. And this tumblr post, while brief, pretty much sums up my feelings exactly.)

And look, I don’t care if this character likes wearing mascara. But Ruth Ware drawing a comparison between makeup (an artificial standard of beauty that forces unhealthy expectations onto young women) and medication (something that actually saves lives) is offensive, and counterproductive to whatever point she was trying to make. You’re really going to try to frame your narrative as progressive by asserting that it’s okay to take medication for mental illness, and in that same breath feed into this false makeup = empowerment narrative?

Basically, this book dropped every ball it was trying to juggle. The plot was weak, the characters were weaker, and the treatment of Lo’s mental illness would have been laughable if I weren’t so offended by it. The only reason this is getting 2 stars instead of 1 is that 1-star books require a certain passionate hatred that this book didn’t inspire in me. It mostly held my interest and offered a few surprises, but on the whole I just wanted it to end.

book review: Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon


Scribner, February 6, 2018

I was blown away by this book.

Self-Portrait with Boy is a ruthless examination of the cost of success for a young hopeful photographer. Lu Rile is in her late 20s, squatting in an Artists in Residence abandoned-warehouse-turned-apartment in Brooklyn which is so run down it should be condemned, working three jobs and trying to break into the competitive arts scene. When she accidentally captures in a self-portrait the image of a young boy falling to his death, the photograph turns out to be stunning, and Lu is forced to decide if she should destroy the print out of respect for the grieving family who she ends up befriending, or if she should use it to launch her career. (There’s also a supernatural element to the story, as Lu believes she is being haunted by the ghost of the boy who died – though whether this element is literal or a manifestation of Lu’s internal turmoil, I think Rachel Lyon leaves that for us to decide.)

Lu is one of the best anti-heroines I think I’ve ever read. She’s fueled by an almost ruthless ambition, but so vulnerable that I found myself sympathizing with and rooting for her, even though she never asks you to. She’s not a warm narrator and she doesn’t ask for pity, but she’s all the more honest and compelling for that fact. When she looks at her photograph she’s forced to confront the very nature of art itself and the role of the artist – is it her responsibility to spare the feelings of this boy’s family, or does she have a stronger duty to her career and the truth behind her art?

I’m actually very familiar with the Brooklyn neighborhoods – Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights – that provided this story with its setting, so that was definitely part of the appeal for me. It was fascinating to step back in time and look at Dumbo not as I know it now, but on the brink of gentrification in the early 90s. But even if you’ve never been to Dumbo, I think it’s still possible to be impressed by just how immersive this novel is. It’s such a brilliant and insular look at the New York art scene in the 90s; fans of twentieth century American art in particular I think will be entranced by this story.

There’s really only one element of this novel that didn’t work for me – the omission of quotation marks in dialogue. I can only assume that since Lu is recounting this story 20 years later, the desired effect is to imply that it’s Lu’s remembrance of characters’ dialogue, rather than verbatim quotes? But I’m still not sure that it was necessary – it seems like a rather arbitrary stylistic choice. It didn’t bother me enough to detract from my 5 star rating, but I think it’s going to be a big deterrent for some people.

But like I said, all things considered, I was blown away. I don’t think I appreciated just how hard-hitting this book was until I read the final sentence and nearly burst into tears. This whole novel was beautiful and unsettling and unique, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’ll look forward to anything Rachel Lyon writes in the future – she’s a huge talent to look out for.

Thank you to Scribner and Rachel Lyon for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

Ben & Jerry’s Book Tag

Hi from Houston!  I haven’t been keeping up with blogging as well as I would have liked, but I do have some free time today because it’s snowing (in Texas?!) and the whole city shut down early.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist this tag.  I worked at the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont (the one where you can take factory tours and visit the Flavor Graveyard and all that jazz) for something like six years, as a diligent and underpaid gift shop employee.  So anyway, I saw this tag on Ally’s blog and I felt compelled.

Vanilla Caramel Fudge: Pick a light, fluffy contemporary

35388948First of all THANK YOU Steph for reminding me that I HAVE actually read something that can be considered a ‘light, fluffy contemporary’ when I was positive that I’d never read anything that fit that description.  A Fugitive in Grass Valley by I.M. Flippy is a delightful M/M romance novel with clever, engaging prose, and two main characters whose relationship you’re actually rooting for the whole time.  Not my usual genre, obviously, but a friend of mine wrote this, and I was really hesitant but I decided to give it a shot anyway, and I was so glad I did.

Mint Chocolate Cookie: A new release that you wish everyone would read

35297335Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon which will be published by Scribner on February 6.  I still need to write my review for this one, but WOW.  I was completely blown away.  It’s about a photographer who accidentally captures an image of a young boy falling to his death, and the repercussions of her photograph.  Anyway, if you like literary fiction, anti-heroines, and art, you’re going to want to check this out!

Cherry Garcia: An ending that was bittersweet

mohsin-hamid-exit-west-novel-refugeesExit West by Mohsin Hamid.  This whole book is the very embodiment of the word ‘bittersweet,’ but the ending in particular is both hopeful and heartbreaking.  I don’t want to say anymore, but if you haven’t read this book, you really should.


Strawberry Shortcake: A book containing your OTP of OTP’s

23460877Well, the Iliad has both Achilles/Patroclus and Hector/Andromache, so it’s the clear winner, obviously.  Yes, I am aware that I am the only person on the planet who would answer the Iliad for a question like this.



Milk and Cookies: Two authors who, if they collaborated, would go perfectly together?

2017040430319086Emily St. John Mandel and M.L. Rio.  I made this connection because I remembered that Mandel blurbed If We Were Villains, but I think this could be a really interesting collaboration.  Both authors have a very clear knowledge and passion for Shakespeare, King Lear in particular, but I thought Station Eleven and If We Were Villains had very different strengths – the former had a massive, massive scope, and the latter was much more intimate and character-driven.  But both were atmospheric with incredibly strong prose, so I imagine they could play off each other’s strengths well.

Boston Cream Pie: A book that had you turning the pages late into the night

19161835Confessions by Kanae Minato was a thrilling, intense, creepy book that I couldn’t put down.




Chocolate Therapy: A book that makes you feel better after a long day of life


33253215The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne.  I mean, it’s sad, but it’s also hilarious and uplifting.




Coffee, Coffee, BUZZBUZZBUZZ: A book not yet released that you can’t wait to get your hands on

36906103From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan, which will be released I believe in the summer.  Donal Ryan is one of those authors where I know I’ll eventually want to read every book by them, even though I’ve only read one so far.  But I found his prose so striking, I can’t wait to get my hands on this.


I’m tagging Steph because ice cream, and anyone else who wants to do it.

ARCs I need to read

Since one of my bookish resolutions for 2018 was to cut down on ARCs, I’m trying very hard to get caught up – I only have 7 left!  So this post is partially for my own reference, so I can just have these all in one place to make sure I can get to them before their publication dates.  But if you’re curious about some of the books I’ll be reading and reviewing soon, check it out.

Also, I just noticed that all of these ARCs are by women, so that’s cool.

Currently reading:

35297335Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Received from: physical ARC from publisher
Goodreads summary: “A compulsively readable and electrifying debut about an ambitious young female artist who accidentally photographs a boy falling to his death—an image that could jumpstart her career, but would also devastate her most intimate friendship.

Lu Rile is a relentlessly focused young photographer struggling to make ends meet. Working three jobs, responsible for her aging father, and worrying that the crumbling warehouse she lives in is being sold to developers, she is at a point of desperation. One day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures on film a boy falling past her window to his death. The photograph turns out to be startlingly gorgeous, the best work of art she’s ever made. It’s an image that could change her life…if she lets it.”
Current thoughts: I’m loving this.  It’s compelling and uncomfortable, and this anti-heroine is absolutely ruthless.

EDIT: ★★★★★ Review HERE.

35137915I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Received from: e-ARC from Penguin First to Read
Goodreads summary: “A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times bestselling author Maggie O’Farrell. It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?”
Current Thoughts: I’ve only read the first chapter, but I think I’m going to really like this.  I haven’t read anything else by O’Farrell, but I’m loving her writing style.  And being the morbid individual I am, I couldn’t pass up on a book with a premise like this.

EDIT: ★★★★☆ Review HERE.

To read:

35142025The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: February 13, 2018
Received from: e-ARC from Netgalley
Goodreads summary: “Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.”

EDIT: ★★★☆☆ Review HERE.

35412372Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication date: February 13, 2018
Received from: e-ARC from Netgalley
Goodreads summary: “An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.

Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves–now protective, now hedonistic–move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.”

EDIT: ★★★★★ Review HERE.

34275212Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Received from: physical ARC from publisher
Goodreads summary: “A searing, electrifying debut novel set in India and America, about a once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two girls who are driven apart but never stop trying to find one another again.

When Poornima first meets Savitha, she feels something she thought she lost for good when her mother died: hope. Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, and the two girls are quickly drawn to one another. Savitha is even more impoverished than Poornima, but she is full of passion and energy. She shows Poornima how to find beauty in a bolt of indigo cloth, a bowl of yogurt rice and bananas, the warmth of friendship. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond the arranged marriage her father is desperate to lock down for her. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend again. Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India’s underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face relentless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within them.”

EDIT: ★★☆☆☆ Review HERE.

36110370Happiness by Aminatta Forna
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Received from: e-ARC from Netgalley
Goodreads summary: “London. A fox makes its way across Waterloo Bridge. The distraction causes two pedestrians to collide–Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes, and Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist there to deliver a keynote speech. From this chance encounter, Aminatta Forna’s unerring powers of observation show how in the midst of the rush of a great city lie numerous moments of connection.

Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma, as he has done many times before; and to contact the daughter of friends, his “niece” who hasn’t called home in a while. Ama has been swept up in an immigration crackdown, and now her young son Tano is missing.

When, by chance, Attila runs into Jean again, she mobilizes the network of rubbish men she uses as volunteer fox spotters. Security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens–mainly West African immigrants who work the myriad streets of London–come together to help. As the search for Tano continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.”

EDIT: ★★★☆☆ Review HERE.

32993458Circe by Madeline Miller
Publisher: Little, Brown and Co
Publication date: April 10, 2018
Received from: physical ARC from publisher
Goodreads summary: “In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.”

EDIT: ★★★☆☆ Review HERE.


Have you guys read any of these yet?  If so, let me know what you thought of them!

book review: Elmet by Fiona Mozley


ELMET by Fiona Mozley
Algonquin Books, December 2017

It was hard not to be curious about Elmet, this year’s wild card on the Man Booker shortlist that didn’t even have a U.S. release date until after the winner (Lincoln in the Bardo) was announced. I didn’t know what to expect from this novel, but maybe that was for the best, because what started as a rather unassuming story really crept up on me, and I’m finding this review particularly difficult to write, because I’m so in awe of the scope and composition of this novel.

Elmet (in terms of theme more than style of prose) is All We Shall Know meets All the Birds, Singing, meets Wuthering Heights – a gothic-inspired novel set in the lawless outskirts of British society. The story’s setting, an unnamed rural town, is located on a site once known as Elmet, a Celtic kingdom now a part of west Yorkshire. Fiona Mozley’s sensory descriptions are so vivid, I felt like I was transported straight into the heart of this rustic setting. The novel is narrated by 14-year-old Daniel, an effeminate boy who lives in a cabin in the woods with his tomboy sister Cathy and his father John, an almost paradoxically sensitive and brutal bare-knuckle fighter referred to only as ‘Daddy.’ Throughout the book their peaceful existence is threatened by a local landowner and his family, and the conflict between the two parties crescendos into an inevitable and harrowing conclusion.

Though Elmet is a quiet and subtle pastoral tale, it’s also an absolute powerhouse meditation on violence, gender, familial ties, and societal views on morality. There’s an anger and a restlessness simmering beneath the surface of this positively humorless novel, but it’s not actually as bleak of a read as you might think. There’s a sort of innocence to Daniel’s narration that doesn’t evoke pity as much as demand reflection on the lifestyle of this novel’s unlikely heroes. Mozley’s prose is lyrical and incisive – there’s nothing to do while you’re reading this book but give it your full attention.

I understand why Elmet doesn’t work for certain readers. It’s light on plot and heavy on backstory and its pace is slow, so if you aren’t sustained by its themes and characters, I can see where the word ‘boring’ may be leveled against it. But if you’re the sort of reader who loves a subtle and atmospheric story, this is well worth checking out. This is a solid 4.5, but the more I think about it, the more I like it, so 5 it is.

Thank you to Netgalley, Algonquin Books, and Fiona Mozley for the copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

top 5 wednesday: Books I Didn’t Get To In 2017

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.

January 10th: Books You Didn’t Get to In 2017: These are books you didn’t end up getting to in 2017, but really want to prioritize in 2018.


Himself by Jess Kidd.  I bought this on a total whim a few months back, but I’ve been excited to read it ever since.  I’d wanted to read it around Halloween time, as it’s supposed to be very atmospheric and creepy, but oh well.  It’s about a young man living in Dublin who was orphaned at birth, who goes back to his remote Irish village to find out the truth about his birth mother.  It sounds exciting and compelling – hopefully I’ll get to it soon.


28187230The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.  I got this off the free shelf at the library a few months back, and I meant to read it immediately and return it (I don’t really feel the need to own thrillers, because I only ever read them once) but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.  Maybe I’ll bring it to Houston with me.  Anyway, my mom just read it and quite liked it, and we have pretty much the exact same taste in books, and it was recommended to me again in the comments on my review of The Woman in the Window… so all things considered, I’m excited!

15995144The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.  I’ve owned this for a while but felt no immediate urge to read it, and then I read Donal Ryan’s novel All We Shall Know and was blown away by it, so I meant to read The Spinning Heart right after.  Sadly I didn’t get around to it, but hopefully soon.  It’s supposed to be a candid look at rural Ireland post-financial collapse, which sounds fascinating to me.  I loved Ryan’s style of prose so much in All We Shall Know, so I’m especially curious how this will compare.

33641244The Power by Naomi Alderman.  This is one of those books that I feel like I should read, more than I actually want to read it.  I’d been curious about it since it won the Baileys prize earlier this year, so I ended up choosing it for my October BOTM (I think it was October?), but then I just didn’t get a chance to read it.  I always read my BOTM picks straight away, but I think I was busy with War and Peace at the time… anyway, after not getting the chance to read it immediately, I read some negative reviews (including Steph’s, and we agree on just about everything) so my desire to read it kind of plummeted… but I do own it, so I still want to give it a try.

18907479This House is Haunted by John Boyne.  After adoring The Heart’s Invisible Furies I made it my mission to read another John Boyne novel, and then after adoring The Absolutist I made it my mission to read all of John Boyne’s novels.  I’ve heard mixed things about This House is Haunted, but I have to say, I’m excited – I love a haunted house story.  And I’m fascinated by the fact that John Boyne writes across so many genres.  His literary and historical fiction has wowed me, so I’m excited to see how he handles horror.

What books are you hoping to read this year?  Comment and let me know!

Winter Is Coming Book Tag

First, quick life update!  On Sunday I’m going to Houston for 17 days for work, and I’m not quite sure how that will affect my blogging… it may be business as usual or I may drop off the face of the planet for a couple of weeks, but just so you know, that’s where I’ll be!  Also, if you have any idea of things to do in Houston, please tell me.  I have no idea what to do in Houston.

So, to celebrate the fact that I am getting away from my hellish northern winter, I’m doing this wintry book tag, which I borrowed from Callum.

30288282Snow: It is beautiful when it first falls, but then it starts to melt. A book/book series that you loved at the beginning, but then, at the middle of it, you realized you don’t like it any longer.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.  The prologue was wonderful and intriguing, and sets up a brilliant premise: how would you live your life if you knew the date you were going to die?  But then the book was split into four chapters, one each from the perspective of four siblings, and I found I liked each chapter less than the one that came before.

284066Snowflake: Something beautiful and always different. Choose a book that stands out, that is different from all the other books you’ve read.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.  This book is like… a weird contemporary odyssey through the darkest corners of Tokyo, that follows a man who starts out the novel looking for his wife’s cat.  It’s like Alice in Wonderland meets Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut meets Ulysses meets… I don’t know, I’m struggling here.  But it’s weird.  I’ve read and enjoyed Murakami in the past, but I only ended up giving this one 3 stars.  Even I have a weirdness threshold, apparently.  Some parts of this worked for me more than others.

9361589Snowman: It is always fun to make one with your family. Choose a book that a whole family could read.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I have no idea if I liked this book.  I could honestly make an argument for it getting 1 star or 5 stars depending on my mood.  (The prose and atmosphere were striking, but the plot and characters left a lot to be desired.)  But there’s no doubt that it’s a compelling, enchanting read that people from many different ages could find the magic in.

81ztg9z2b1hlChristmas: Choose a book that is full of happiness, that made you warm inside after reading it.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.  I hate all variations of this question because I don’t read happy books, ever, so I had to scroll all the way back to the beginning of 2016 on my Goodreads shelves to find something that fit the bill.  Anyway, The Price of Salt isn’t all lightness and fluffiness, but it’s a beautifully written lesbian romance that doesn’t end in tragedy, and I always smile when I think about the impression it left on me.

36461399Santa Claus: He brings wonderful presents. Choose a book that you’d like to get for Christmas.

Well, Christmas has come and gone, so I’ll talk about a book I got.  Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard.  I haven’t read all of SPQR, but I think Mary Beard is a genius, so I was excited when I saw that she’d put together a feminist nonfiction work.  Supposedly it’s about how history has treated women in positions of power, and the relationship between power and gender.  I’m quite excited to read it.

6334Snowballing: It can be painful to be hit by a snowball. Choose a book that hurt, that made you feel some strong emotion, like sadness, or anger.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I’ve read this… I believe only twice, but both times, I’m filled with such a strong sense of aching sadness throughout the whole book, and then the ending absolutely shatters me.  There’s such a strong sense of sadness and anger and abject helplessness for these characters’ situations.

53498Sledding: We all loved it when we were younger. Choose a book that you loved when you were a child.

Did you guys read Sharon Creech when you were younger?  I don’t even remember why, but I think I read all of her books in elementary school… And I saw her give a talk on Love That Dog after it won the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (a tiny literary award that’s voted for by Vermont schoolchildren).  Anyway, Love That Dog is a novel in verse in the style of Walter Dean Myers’ poetry, and it’s really cute, so if you like children’s books you should check it out.

21398943Frostbite: Choose a book that you were really disappointed in.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  The main character works at a bookstore in San Francisco which attracts a strange clientele, and he starts to realize the bookstore and its enigmatic owner hold some kind of secret.  Sounds awesome.  It was not awesome.  It’s like…. convoluted and boring, and the bulk of this book is the author thinking he’s funny because he makes boob jokes.  Ha, ha.

23460877Reindeer: Something that is dear to us. Choose a book that is of great sentimental value to you.

The Iliad by Homer.  I met Caroline Alexander a few months ago and she signed my Iliad and I was intimidated by her brilliance.



Not tagging anyone – if you do it pingback to me so I can read your answers!  🙂

book review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee


Katherine Tegen Books, 2017

This was occasionally entertaining but consistently underwhelming. I’m sure it was mostly a fault in my own expectations, but I’d been in the mood for something unapologetically fun and silly, so I was disappointed by how deceptively seriously The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue ended up taking itself. I’m conflicted about this book.

It tells the story of Monty, rich but rebellious heir to his father’s estate. Monty embarks on a Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend Percy (who he happens to be in love with), and his sister Felicity. Again, what I was expecting was an unabashedly ridiculous romp through early-Modern continental Europe, but unfortunately I found the plot anything but thrilling. It bounced from city to city in a rather perfunctory way (I never was able to visualize the atmosphere of the setting in a way I would have liked), and it dealt with an array of rather serious topics: homophobia, racism, abuse. In and of itself this isn’t a bad thing at all, but I thought the execution here was just a bit… basic? The extent of Mackenzi Lee’s exploration of these issues kind of amounted to ‘Percy is not afforded as many opportunities as Monty because of the color of his skin.’ Okay…? Yes? Obviously? That’s all? This ultimately struck me as a book that was on the rather young end of the YA spectrum. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy it if you’re older, of course, but this is the kind of occasionally preachy YA book that I ordinarily like to shy away from.

Though I loved each of these characters individually and was ultimately rooting for their relationship, I also wasn’t a fan of how Mackenzi Lee chose to develop it. Here’s the thing: when your story centers around the possibility of a relationship between two characters, you can’t show your hand too early. You can’t tell us essentially from the very beginning that Monty and Percy are into each other, and then rely on the tired trope of miscommunication to keep them apart for the duration of the story. There’s just… no tension, just a rather prolonged story while you’re awaiting the inevitable conclusion.

But as I said, I did love these characters, Monty in particular. He’s exactly the kind of well-rounded anti-hero I love. Though you see nothing but his flaws at first, his guile and loyalty easily won me over. He’s the sort of character who acts in a loud and brash way to cover up his own fears and insecurities, and I thought Mackenzi Lee did a very good job of developing his character in a believable way throughout the book. He’s occasionally infuriating, but ultimately hard not to love. I was pleasantly surprised by Felicity as well, who for some reason I thought was going to be an awkward accessory to the main narrative – but she ended up having a fantastic role.

I know this review has been mostly negative, but I did really enjoy reading this. It was quick and occasionally fun – the truly lighthearted moments were the ones I thought shone the most – but this basically boils down to the fact that I was not the right reader for this book. And that’s perfectly fine – I’m still glad to have read it.

book review: Confessions by Kanae Minato


CONFESSIONS by Kanae Minato
Mulholland Books, 2014

Confessions is one of the most twisted books I’ve ever read – it’s unsettling and at times downright disturbing. But it’s also an engaging revenge tale that’s so Aeschylean it could have been straight out of The Oresteia. I mean, naturally I loved it.

I read Kanae Minato’s second novel to be translated into English, Penance, earlier this year, and I really enjoyed it, but I was actually surprised by how similar Confessions ended up being. Each deals with the aftermath of a child’s death, and the revenge sought by the grieving mother. Both books are also told in a series of chapters which change point of views and tell the same story from different angles. In this case, the story centers around Yuko Morigucho, a teacher and a single mother whose daughter Manami was recently murdered by two of her students.

Admittedly the first chapter of Confessions, the one narrated by Moriguchi, ended up being my favorite. It went out on such a bang that I actually yelled out loud at the chapter’s final reveal. It’s genuinely one of the most shocking and disturbing twists I’ve ever read.

Though the other chapters didn’t end up being quite as strong, it was still a fast paced, engaging, sinister read. Rather ironically, the two chapters which I found the least interesting were the point of views of the two murderers (doesn’t that sound like it should be exciting?). By that point, the rehashing of the events was getting a bit stale, and neither perspective offered as much insight as it should have. But the rest of the chapters were rather brilliantly conceived and executed, and the final chapter was nearly as harrowing as the first. Altogether a compelling and haunting read that will stay with me.