book review: There There by Tommy Orange

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THERE THERE by Tommy Orange
★★★☆☆
Knopf, 2018

 

Powerful but uneven. It’s easy to see why There There has been one of 2018’s most beloved books – it provides a much-needed look at the urban Native American experience, which Orange takes pains to remind us is a rich and varied culture that has endured unspeakable violence and hardship, and which our contemporary American society is still ready to stereotype and dismiss. The sheer breadth of voices here speaks to Orange’s vision with this novel, as do the flawlessly written prologue and interlude, which provide the reader with a brief but succinct idea of the cultural context in which Orange is writing.

But the tapestry of perspectives that Orange attempts to weave doesn’t fully come together for me – I think there were a few too many POVs shoehorned in at the detriment of plot and character development. Keeping track of the threads between the characters became a bit of a chore – apparently a character needs only be mentioned once for them to have a significant role in the narrative that we should remember 75 pages down the line – and the ways in which some of their stories converged was beyond contrived. I would have been happier to read about ten different characters’ disparate lives in a sort of thematically connected short story collection and been spared the awkward attempt to braid their lives together. For example, one character finds out that he has fathered not one but TWO children he hadn’t known about, and these two individuals happen to be friends with one another… I’m happy for a novel to employ this sort of narrative device when fate is being used as a prominent theme, but in There There it just felt like unnecessary coincidence. And I unapologetically love a bit of melodrama, so the novel’s conclusion didn’t bother me for its theatricality as much as the fact that it felt like a rather hastily drawn attempt to tie up a bunch of narratives that hadn’t organically run their course. Maybe that was the point, I don’t know. But I think this should have been longer – its denouement could have used some more room to breathe.

Nonetheless, it’s an impressive debut. Orange ruminates with a surprising amount of depth not only on Native identity, but also on themes like alcoholism, domestic violence, and sexual assault. It’s a short book that packs a powerful punch and I’ll definitely be interested in reading whatever Tommy Orange writes next. There There just felt like a rough draft of something that had the potential to be even more hard-hitting.

book review: The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

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THE CRANES DANCE by Meg Howrey
★★
Vintage Books, 2012

 

The Cranes Dance follows Kate Crane, a soloist in a professional ballet company in New York, where she dances alongside her younger and more talented sister Gwen. But Gwen has recently suffered a nervous breakdown and returned home, and now alone for the first time, Kate feels unmoored and on the verge of some kind of collapse herself, even though her sister’s absence could allow for advancement in Kate’s own career.

I already forgot that I finished this book last night which I think speaks to how anticlimactic I found the ending, but otherwise, I just loved this. I don’t know the first second or third thing about ballet so I’m afraid I can’t comment on how accurate of a portrayal this was, but I’m inclined to believe that former professional ballet dancer Meg Howrey knows her stuff. The ballet scenes were electrifying to read at any rate.

But the best thing about this book for me was its protagonist Kate – I probably went into this expecting to be more intrigued by Kate’s sister Gwen, talented and tortured, who remains a sort of shadowy figure in the background throughout Kate’s story, but it was actually Kate herself that was the heart and soul of this novel. Her narration is snarky, hard-edged, honest, and surprisingly vulnerable, and I found myself rationing my reading of this so I could spend more time with her. The pacing could have used a lot of work – about 100 pages could have been cut easily and never at any point could I figure out how much time was passing between chapters – but ultimately, for a character-driven novel it got the job done, because I was so invested in this character and in Howrey’s candid portrayal of mental illness and its many manifestations.

Anticipated 2019 Releases

Just what it says on the tin: some books that are going to be published in 2019 that I cannot wait to get my hands on.  Summaries (italicized) are from Goodreads, and all publishers & publication dates are for the U.S. unless otherwise indicated.

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Virtuoso by Yelena Moskovich
January 3, 2019
Serpent’s Tail (UK)

For the first ten years of her life, Jana was a simple Czech girl, a watercolour. Her days were a clock run by the Czechoslovakian State Security, snapping hidden photos in their plainclothes. Much fervent artwork was created: Man Subverting Republic (Black and White), Woman Distributing (Tryptic). Man and Woman Organizing (Reprint).  Jana was a watercolour, until the raven-haired girl Zorka came. Jana, now an interpreter in Paris, hasn’t seen Zorka in a decade.

Aimée is in Paris too, happily married and trying to get into her hotel room. On the other side of the door is her wife Dominique, face down on the hotel linen, one hand drooping off the side of the bed, fingers curled in, wedding ring white gold like an eye frozen mid-wink.

A body now, no longer a person.

As Aimée and Jana’s stories slowly circle through time and place, they lead inexorably together…

I’ve read this summary multiple times and still couldn’t tell you what this book is actually going to be about – all I know is that it sounds like it could be genius.

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Loyalties by Delphine de Vigan
translated from the French by George Miller
January 10, 2019
(originally published in 2018)
Bloomsbury

Adults are as lost as the children they should be protecting, in this compelling exploration of the destructive secrets and loyalties that are kept behind closed doors.

Thirteen-year-old Theo and his friend Mathis secretly drink on an almost daily basis. Their teacher, Helene, suspects something is not right with Theo and becomes obsessed with rescuing him, casting aside her professionalism to the point of no return.

Cecile, mother of Mathis, discovers something horrifying on her husband’s computer that makes her question whether she has ever truly known him.

This is a short little novel translated from French that I certainly hope will be as hard-hitting as it sounds.

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The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
February 7, 2019
Penguin (UK)

Iceland, 1686. The brutal, lava-scarred landscape can swallow a man without so much as a volcanic gasp.

Jón Eiríksson has just married his second wife in a year. But Rósa’s new home in the windswept village of Stykkishólmur is terrifyingly isolated – the villagers are suspicious of strangers and fearful of something which they will not name.

What is Rósa’s new husband secret, and why does the spectre of his first wife Anna haunt them so?

Set against the backdrop of the seventeenth-century Icelandic witch trials, in a land governed by religion and fear, THE GLASS WOMAN is addictive, breathtaking, and perfect for readers of BURIAL RITES and THE ESSEX SERPENT.

I hate to admit that I’m occasionally pulled in by comp titles, but “for readers of Burial Rites” is a hard sentence for me to resist.  I just love books set in Iceland.  (To be published in the US on September 3 by Harper, but I’m including the UK edition in this post as the US edition does not yet have a cover reveal.)

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The Cassandra by Sharma Shields
February 12, 2019
Henry Holt and Co.

Mildred Groves is an unusual young woman. Gifted and cursed with the ability to see the future, Mildred runs away from home to take a secretary position at the Hanford Research Center in the early 1940s. Hanford, a massive construction camp on the banks of the Columbia River in remote South Central Washington, exists to test and manufacture a mysterious product that will aid the war effort. Only the top generals and scientists know that this product is processed plutonium, for use in the first atomic bombs.

Mildred is delighted, at first, to be part of something larger than herself after a lifetime spent as an outsider. But her new life takes a dark turn when she starts to have prophetic dreams about what will become of humankind if the project is successful. As the men she works for come closer to achieving their goals, her visions intensify to a nightmarish pitch, and she eventually risks everything to question those in power, putting her own physical and mental health in jeopardy. Inspired by the classic Greek myth, this 20th century reimagining of Cassandra’s story is based on a real WWII compound that the author researched meticulously. A timely novel about patriarchy and militancy, The Cassandra uses both legend and history to look deep into man’s capacity for destruction, and the resolve and compassion it takes to challenge the powerful.

This is a retelling of the Cassandra myth and I could not be more excited for it.

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Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima
translated from the Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt
February 12, 2019
(originally published in 1979)
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

It is spring. A young woman, left by her husband, starts a new life in a Tokyo apartment. Territory of Light follows her over the course of a year, as she struggles to bring up her two-year-old daughter alone. Her new home is filled with light streaming through the windows, so bright she has to squint, but she finds herself plummeting deeper into darkness, becoming unstable, untethered. As the months come and go and the seasons turn, she must confront what she has lost and what she will become.

I recently read a short story by Yuko Tsushima that I really enjoyed and am looking forward to reading more of her work, so I’m glad I have an ARC of this!

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When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
March 5, 2019
Thomas Dunne Books

If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said?

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual ¬- though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.

Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerful and poignantly laid bare.

The first of many Irish titles you’ll unsurprisingly see on this list.  It’s blurbed by John Boyne so I don’t see how we can go wrong here.

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The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
March 19, 2019
Scribner

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

I’m a Lisa See superfan – I’ve read six of her novels and I think she writes some of the best historical fiction out there.  This one’s going to be a departure for her as it’s set in Korea rather than China, but she’s proven to be an impeccable researcher and I can’t wait to see what she does with this great premise.

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The Ghost Factory by Jenny McCartney
March 21, 2019
4th Estate (UK)

The Troubles turned Northern Ireland into a ghost factory: as the manufacturing industry withered, the death business boomed. In trying to come to terms with his father’s sudden death, and the attack on his harmless best friend Titch, Jacky is forced to face the bullies who still menace a city scarred by conflict. After he himself is attacked, he flees to London to build a new life. But even in the midst of a burgeoning love affair he hears the ghosts of his past echoing, pulling him back to Belfast, crying out for retribution and justice.

In my Milkman-inspired quest to read more fiction from Northern Ireland, this book came to my attention and it sounds perfect, quite frankly.

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The Killer in Me by Olivia Kiernan
(Frankie Sheehan #2)
April 2, 2019
Dutton Books

Death is no stranger to Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan, but she isn’t the only one from her small, coastal suburb to be intimately acquainted with it. Years ago, teenager Seán Hennessey shocked the tight-knit community when he was convicted of the brutal murder of his parents and attempted slaying of his sister, though he always maintained his innocence. Now, Seán is finally being released from prison—but when his newfound freedom coincides with the discovery of two bodies, the alleged connection between the cases only serves to pull Frankie further from answers even as it draws her closer to her town’s hidden darkness. With a television documentary revisiting Seán’s sentence pushing the public’s sympathies into conflict on a weekly basis, a rabid media pressuring the police like never before, and a rising body count, Frankie will need all of her resources if she is not only to catch a killer, but put to rest what really happened all those years ago.

I really really enjoyed Kiernan’s debut Too Close To Breathe, despite my usual hatred of police procedurals.  The characters were fantastic and I’m looking forward to diving back into their story.

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Doggerland by Ben Smith
April 4, 2019
4th Estate (UK)

In the North Sea, far from what remains of the coastline, a wind farm stretches for thousands of acres.

The Boy, who is no longer really a boy, and the Old Man, whose age is unguessable, are charged with its maintenance. They carry out their never-ending work as the waves roll, dragging strange shoals of flotsam through the turbine fields. Land is only a memory.

So too is the Boy’s father, who worked on the turbines before him, and disappeared.

The boy has been sent by the Company to take his place, but the question of where he went and why is one for which the Old Man will give no answer.

As the Old Man dredges the sea for lost things, the Boy sifts for the truth of his missing father. Until one day, from the limitless water, a plan for escape emerges…

I’m still not completely sure what this is about but I am so ready for it.

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The Fire Starters by Jan Carson
April 4, 2019
Transworld Digital (UK)

Dr Jonathan Murray fears his new-born daughter might not be as harmless as she seems.

Sammy Agnew is wrestling with his dark past, and fears the violence in his blood lurks in his son, too.

The city is in flames and the authorities are losing control. As matters fall into frenzy, and as the lines between fantasy and truth, right and wrong, begin to blur, who will these two fathers choose to protect?

Dark, propulsive and thrillingly original, this tale of fierce familial love and sacrifice fizzes with magic and wonder.

I saw this on Lisa McInerney’s Instagram (aka the queen) – I’m not sure if it has her stamp of approval yet, but it does have Donal Ryan’s, so that’s good enough for me.

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The Last by Hanna Jameson
April 9, 2019
Atria Books

For fans of high-concept thrillers such as Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts, this breathtaking dystopian psychological thriller follows an American academic stranded at a Swiss hotel as the world descends into nuclear war—along with twenty other survivors—who becomes obsessed with identifying a murderer in their midst after the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the hotel’s water tanks.

Murder mystery meets dystopia sounds like a promising combination.

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The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott
April 23, 2019
Berkley

Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago—her father.

Leaving London behind to settle the inheritance from her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home, nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, joined by the half-sister who’s almost a stranger to her.

Ailsa can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her—as if her past hungers to consume her. She also can’t ignore how the neighbourhood animals refuse to set one foot within the gates of the garden.

When the first nighttime intruder shows up, Ailsa fears that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything.

I never got around to reading Elliott’s debut, The French Girl, but I’m still interested in reading that at some point, and the summary of her new one sounds wonderful.

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Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
April 23, 2019
Knopf

“Machines Like Me occurs in an alternative 1980s London. Britain has lost the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher battles Tony Benn for power, and Alan Turing achieves a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. In a world not quite like this one, two lovers will be tested beyond their understanding.

Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda’s assistance, he co-designs Adam’s personality. This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong, and clever—a love triangle soon forms. These three beings will confront a profound moral dilemma.

I really should read more McEwan before declaring myself a fan, but On Chesil Beach was just so good that I want to read everything he writes ever.

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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
June 4, 2019
Penguin Press

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

I haven’t yet read Vuong’s poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, but I’ve heard nothing but good things and this novel sounds like it’s going to be excellent.

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The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
(The Poppy War #2)
August 6, 2019
Harper Voyager

[spoilers for The Poppy War]

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The Poppy War was one of the best books I read all year and certainly one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read, and I cannot wait to continue this story.


Are you looking forward to any of these?  And what are some of your most anticipated 2019 releases?  Comment and let me know!

book review: The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

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THE ITALIAN TEACHER by Tom Rachman
★★★★★
Riverrun, 2018

 

“‘Because there’s no malice in Dad. He’s just that way. Like a huge ship, powering forward on his mission, and nobody can stop it.’

‘I see,’ Natalie notes, ‘that you’re still very engaged with Bear.’

He looks to the restaurant clock, irritated. Nobody likes to be understood without warning.”

My goodness, was The Italian Teacher ever my kind of book. I didn’t love it from the very first page – admittedly with a book about characters called Bear and Pinch I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to look past my hatred of quirky names long enough to actually pay attention to what I was reading – but once over that hurdle I settled into this easily and could not put it down.

The Italian Teacher follows the life of Charles ‘Pinch’ Bavinsky, the son of a renowned contemporary American artist, from infancy to adulthood. Pinch is a character who manages to be sympathetic, pitiable, and contemptible at all once, and it’s interesting to watch this transition; at what point do we stop feeling for this neglected child and start hating the spineless man he becomes? Rachman never really answers that question and I love this novel all the more for that; this book is all about the sins of the father and the complicated, lasting, ugly effect they have on the son. Pinch idolizes his father, who the reader easily recognizes as arrogant and misogynistic, but Pinch is consumed with Bear’s renown in the art world; likewise, he pities and fears becoming his luckless mother Natalie. To Pinch, Bear is success and Natalie is failure.

But the influence of Natalie can strongly be felt throughout the novel – in fact, she’s the only one who calls Pinch by his nickname rather than his real name, Charles, but still he is ‘Pinch’ in the third-person narration. His mother is his sole confidante and only friend throughout his childhood, but still he abandons her as soon as he is able, driven by his tunnel vision to live a life worthy of his father’s legacy. As he navigates life in his father’s shadow, there’s a wealth of commentary on art vs. the artist, and the cost of creative genius, that make this book a clever, entertaining, and deeply sad read.

Frankly I just loved everything about this. (Other than the characters’ names.) I loved the setting in the first section of 1950s Rome because I used to live in Italy, I loved Rachman’s clear knowledge of 20th century art because I studied the same thing in college and I cannot tell you how much I adored it, I loved that Pinch’s favorite artist was Caravaggio because my favorite artist is Caravaggio, I loved these characters’ complexity because I would choose depth over likability any day, I loved the sharp writing and wonderfully entertaining storytelling and the insight into the many themes that Rachman so expertly explored. This isn’t going to be for everyone – namely, I’d advise you to avoid if you can’t abide terrible, self-involved characters and you find discussions of art tedious – but this was just the perfect storm of everything I could want in a book, and I was so captivated by it.

book (play script) review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh

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THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE by Martin McDonagh
★★★★☆
originally published 1996

 

This was my sixth Martin McDonagh play and actually my third and final read from his Leenane trilogy (despite it being the first Leenane installment – but these plays are only very loosely connected and you do not need to read them in order). Here I was thinking that McDonagh couldn’t possibly shock me any more than he has in the past – I do consider myself familiar enough with his style of black comedy that my continued reading of his plays has more to do with their comfortable familiarity than with unearthing a facet of his writing that I feel I haven’t already uncovered.

But what I hadn’t counted on with The Beauty Queen of Leenane was how immeasurably sad it was going to be. For once McDonagh’s characters aren’t memorable for their immorality as much as for how pitiable they are, and though the dialogue is as sharp and irreverent as ever, the humor in this one doesn’t hit its mark quite as much as the more somber undercurrents do. Isolation, wasted youth, mental illness, and domestic claustrophobia are all at the heart of this deceptively dark story about an elderly mother and middle aged daughter living in a cottage together in rural Ireland. I think it shows that this is McDonagh’s first play – his craft of dark comedy doesn’t feel sufficiently honed and there are some dissonant elements that don’t fully come together, but my god is this haunting.

2019 Backlist TBR

One of my 2019 reading goals is going to be spending less time on new releases and more time on backlist books that I neglected this year (that is, books published prior to 2018).  But, this is one of my reading goals every single year and I never end up able to resist the pull of new books.  So I decided to make this post to hold myself accountable.  I am most certainly going to read more backlist books than the ones I’m mentioning here, but these are just a few that I’m interested in, AND I already own all of them.  I’ve narrowed it down to 12, so I can conceivably read one a month which doesn’t feel too intimidating:

  1. Troubles by J.G. Farrell: This is a pretty seminal work of Anglo-Irish fiction that I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet.  I have no reason to believe I’m not going to adore this.  EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review
  2. A Natural by Ross Raisin: I don’t know much about this other than that it features a gay protagonist who plays football (soccer), and that a friend of mine loved it and recommended it to me very highly.  I included it on my last 5 star predictions post that I made way earlier this year, so I do want to get to this one sooner rather than later.  EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review
  3. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: I read my first Hardy a few months ago, Far From the Madding Crowd, and I really loved it and want to check out more of his writing.  I had a very in depth discussion with someone about whether to choose Tess of the D’Urbervilles next or Jude the Obscure, and she convinced me to choose Tess.  Incidentally, a lot of my close friends seem to really despise this book… so I’m a little scared but mostly convinced that I’ll like it.
  4. The Quiet American by Graham Greene: This one also featured on my 5 star predictions post, so this is definitely another one for the first quarter of 2019.  I haven’t read any Graham Greene before, but this seems like the kind of modern classic that’ll be right up my street.  EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker: I mean, enough said.  I hate admitting that I haven’t read this book when it seems so short and accessible?  And I’m sure I will love this.  EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review
  6. The Persian Boy by Mary Renault: I read Fire From Heaven uhh… nearly two years ago?!  I loved it and had every intention of continuing this series, but that book also took me something like 4 months to read, so whenever I look at this one I’m a little intimidated.  But I need to just do it.  I think people have generally preferred The Persian Boy to Fire From Heaven anyway, so hopefully that’s also true for me.  But I don’t really mind either way, I just really love Alexander the Great and am eager to dive back into this series.
  7. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch: 2018 was going to be the year that I read more backlist Man Booker winners, and… suffice to say, 2018 was not that year.  But maybe 2019 will be.  I’ve wanted to check out Murdoch for years.
  8. Cassandra by Christa Wolf: I adored Wolf’s take on Medea and I LOVE the character Cassandra and I’ll read just about any mythological retelling.  And Hannah raves about this.
  9. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I just don’t know how I haven’t read this yet.  The Secret History is probably one of my top five favorite books of all time.
  10. No Bones by Anna Burns: After adoring Milkman by Man Booker winning queen Anna Burns I immediately added her two backlist books to my TBR.  I bought a copy of No Bones and it’s probably one of the titles on this list that I’m the most excited for.  But Milkman wasn’t exactly a quick, breezy read and I doubt this one will be either, which is why I didn’t dive straight into it when I bought it.  But soon.
  11. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: I’m either going to love this or hate this and I don’t see myself falling anywhere in between.  But, I’ve wanted to give it a shot for ages, and I do love that cover.
  12. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien: I’ve been wanting to read this ever since it was shortlisted for the Booker in 2016 and I just never got around to it.  This seems 100% like my kind of book.

Have you guys read any of these, and what did you think?  And what are some backlist titles you’d like to read in 2019?  You should comment here with your list or make your own post and link to me so we can all hold each other accountable.  2019 is gonna be the year of the backlist!

My Good Reading Habits Tag

In contrast to the Bad Reading Habits Tag that’s going around, Ally created the Good Reading Habits Tag, where we basically cut ourselves some slack and talk about the bookish things that we think we do well.  Thanks for tagging me, Ally!

Rules

  • Pingback to Ally’s post
  • List some of your good reading habits, the things you think you do well
  • Nominate some of your blogging friends

Some bookish things I think I am decent at:

Reading outside my comfort zone: If I asked someone to describe my taste in books they’d probably say ‘literary fiction’ and they would not be wrong.  I know that’s what I like and I always end up coming back to it.  But it also doesn’t stop me from randomly taking a chance on a book like Vita Nostra that I really have no reason to believe I’ll like, because fantasy has never been my favorite genre, and ending up with a fantastic reading experience.  Obviously this method backfires and I end up with quite a lot of ‘I don’t know what I expected’ moments, usually with YA, but I’m open to trying just about anything and I think it’s good for readers to expand their horizons to avoid getting stuck in a rut with a single genre.

Reading multiple books at once: This alone is a fairly neutral habit that I wouldn’t consider either good or bad, but I think I do a good job with it.  I know that some people don’t like to read multiple books at once because they can’t keep details straight, but I have a good memory for details and don’t tend to confuse the different books I’m reading.

Giving books a fair chance: I don’t DNF (I talked about that here), which means that I end up appreciating a lot of books that don’t hook me in the first 20% or so.  Again, DNFing and not DNFing are both neutral habits, but I think my open-mindedness with the books I read allows me to have a lot of very positive reading experiences.  If I don’t think I’ll like a book I am always very willing to be proven wrong.

Talking about books: It feels a bit narcissistic writing this one out and I want to clarify that I don’t think my reviews are amazing or anything, a lot of times I read them back and think ‘oh god, why did I use that word, why did I explain that concept like that, why do I always write out adjectives in groups of threes,’ typical writing nonsense.  But in terms of content, I think I’m decent at evaluating books, and just conveying my overall impression of a book in a way that’s both personal (because reading is always going to be subjective) and analytical enough that we can dig a bit deeper than ‘I liked this book so you guys should read it.’

Tagging anyone who feels like talking about their good bookish habits!

book review: The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg

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THE THIRD HOTEL by Laura van den Berg
★★☆☆☆
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018

 

The Third Hotel follows a newly widowed woman named Clare, trying to come to terms with the death of her husband and the illness of her father, while attending a film festival in Cuba. One day in Havana she thinks she sees her husband standing outside a museum and she decides to follow him. Much surrealism and existential angst ensues.

I think my biggest issue with The Third Hotel was that I did not feel the slightest emotional connection to this story. I really don’t need to feel an emotional pull to every single thing I read – I am happy for something to appeal to me on a more intellectual level if that’s what the author is trying to achieve – but when a book is about something as intensely personal as grief, I want to feel… something? Sad or unsettled or moved in some way? Anything other than bored.

But this book’s darkly sardonic and disaffected tone just left me cold, and didn’t give me enough to chew on that I put it down feeling intellectually stimulated enough to compensate for the emotional hollowness. Laura van den Berg certainly has some interesting ideas, but unfortunately none of them are developed past their infancy. The ruminations on the role of the traveler and the tension between the internal and external selves in particular had the potential to be intriguing – and I also liked the commentary on horror films – but I’m sorry to say that for the most part this was just tedious and lacking in focus.

The Naughty or Nice Book Tag

This tag was originally created by Jenniely and I’m borrowing it from Hadeer.  Let’s get started.

Received an ARC and not reviewed it

Unfortunately yes.  I’ve been good about reading all my physical ARCs (the solicited ones anyway), but there are a couple I got on Netgalley that I decided I am just not interested in anymore.

Have less than 60% feedback rating on Netgalley

I’m currently at 80% exactly which is the norm for me, but I have definitely dipped below that.  I’ve never gone below 60% though.  (Did this question mean to say 80%?  That’s the magic number.)

Rated a book on goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)

No.  With the exception of certain times that I’ve been traveling, I don’t think I have ever waited more than 48 hours to write a review.  I know if I don’t do it as soon as possible I’ll end up regretting it.  But also, I really like writing reviews.  (Whenever I see someone complain about how much they hate it I do have to wonder why they are forcing themselves.  I mean, this is a hobby?)

Folded down the page of a book

I don’t do this now but I definitely have in the past, especially with textbooks.  Also, I think people get way too worked up about this.  If someone wants to dog-ear their books I don’t see how that’s anyone’s business.

Accidentally spilled on a book

I don’t think so.

DNF a book this year

Nope, I don’t DNF.

…. but there is kind of one exception, I’m realizing.  I started the audiobook of When Breath Becomes Air on a plane earlier this year and made it about 20 minutes in before deciding that that was just a terrible idea.  I am such a hypochondriac and I get really easily freaked out about cancer, and the book starts with Kalanithi being diagnosed when he goes to the doctor with a sort of run of the mill backache, and as we all know the book was published posthumously.  Also, I find audiobooks to be kind of claustrophobic in this regard, I find it much easier to desensitize when I’m reading something written than when I’m listening to it?  So, I was sitting there on this plane with my heart RACING and thinking ‘this is literally the stupidest idea you’ve ever had’ before giving up and turning on Spotify.  But since I’m a masochist I do want to read this book in print form at some point, so I don’t really consider it a DNF.

Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it

Hmm, I don’t think so.  I mean, there are a couple of books that I collect editions of (Les Mis and the Iliad) and I’m easily convinced to buy an edition of those that I don’t have if they’re pretty… but my collection of those is more about the different translations than anything.  Anyway, I don’t buy contemporaries just because the covers are pretty.  But if I want to read a book anyway, a pretty cover might sway me to buy it rather than get it from the library?

Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework)

Definitely.  I read when I’m supposed to be working all the time.  I mean, I work from home, so, it’s kind of hard to resist.

Skim read a book

Yes.  This is the flip side of not DNFing – if I am truly HATING a book I’ll start to skim read it.  But I’m a relatively fast reader anyway so I don’t think I miss a whole lot when I do this.

Completely missed your Goodreads goal

Oh definitely.  2012-2015 were dark years for my reading.

Borrowed a book and not returned it

I mean… technically?  But I do intend to give them back sooner rather than later.  I tried to give Hadeer back one of her books when she visited me in September but then she FORGOT IT.

Broke a book buying ban

I’ve never set a book buying ban.  I’m pretty disciplined when I tell myself I want to do something, so I don’t think I’d struggle to stick to it… but I also don’t really feel compelled to force myself to do that.  Books are my one indulgence.

Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about

God no.  I always review things right away and I have a freakishly good memory anyway so I think I’d be fine if I left the review for a while.  It definitely gets harder to review the longer you wait, but remembering the plot isn’t the issue for me.

Wrote in a book you were reading

Is it weird that I don’t do this but wish I did?  My reason for not annotating books is SO dumb, too: I let my mom borrow a lot of my books and she HATES writing in books and I fear her judgment.

Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads

Nope, I always keep Goodreads updated.

Tagging Hannah so she can brag about her Netgalley feedback ratio.  And anyone else who wants to do this!

top 5 tuesday: Favorite Book Titles

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

DECEMBER 4 – Top 5 book titles

When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

I love everything about this.  I love the subtitle and I love that the title is a line written by the protagonist’s husband.  The framing of her narrative around this abusive man is so effective, and when you read that line in the book it’s such a gut punch.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Elif Batuman

There’s something about describing your own protagonist with this bizarrely harsh word that I’m always drawn to.  (Have read the Batuman, have not yet read the Dostoevsky.)

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

Delightfully irreverent and contradictory.  This is a fantastic pairing of words.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

I mean.  This title is perfection.  Haven’t read this yet; am largely interested because of that title.

Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch by Henry Miller

Another one I haven’t read, so I do not have the slightest clue how the title works in the context of the book, but that is just the most wonderfully unexpected way to finish a title that begins with ‘Big Sur’ and I just adore it.  Also because Hieronymus Bosch is one of my favorite artists and I’m just dying to know the connection between California and the Northern Renaissance.

What’s your favorite book title?  Comment and let me know!