THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES by John Boyne
Hogarth Press, August 2017
This book wasn’t perfect, but then again, the books I rate 5 stars rarely are. But I loved it. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. I can’t remember the last time I read something that managed to be both wickedly funny and devastating, often at the exact same time.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a sweeping epic about the life of a gay man growing up in twentieth century Ireland. The story begins with Cyril’s mother, Catherine Goggin, being denounced by her village church for becoming pregnant at 16 and forced to relocate to Dublin. Deciding she can’t raise the child alone, Catherine gives Cyril up for adoption to a very odd couple who constantly remind him (in a surprisingly humorous way) that he’s “not a real Avery.” The closest companion that Cyril has is his friend Julian, whom he loves and idolizes in a way that he’s forced to downplay as the two grow up together.
This is an ambitious novel which spans about seventy years, addressing themes of sexuality, religion, the hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic church, as well as how attitudes change over time. As a protagonist, Cyril is incredibly flawed – he makes arguably unforgivable mistakes, but never out of malice; always out of a desire to find his place in a society that refuses to accept him. Despite the absurd humor, at its core this is a very sad story that actually moved me to tears more than once.
Much like The Glorious Heresies, another fantastic contemporary Irish novel that I’d highly recommend, The Heart’s Invisible Furies subtly makes use of fate as a prominent theme. Characters show up in each other’s lives with a regularity that stretches coincidence, so fair warning, you’re going to need to suspend your disbelief early on. But this is ultimately a story about how Cyril and Catherine come to find one another – you learn in the first few pages that they eventually reconnect, so it’s always a question of when and how – and though neither is actively searching for the other, they weave in and out of each other’s lives in unexpected ways, never knowing the other’s identity. It’s such a moving saga of these two flawed but strong individuals living with their regrets and the mistakes they’ve made.
I’ve seen some reviews that criticize this book’s length, and it’s a fair point. I thought the pace was fantastic until the last hundred pages or so, which I thought could have been condensed. But for the most part, I absolutely flew through this – I couldn’t put it down and I was sad when it was over. This was my first John Boyne novel, but it will certainly not be my last.
I chose this book as my August Book of the Month selection. If you’re interested in checking out this great subscription service, use my referral link!
Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm. This week’s topic:
AUGUST 15TH – Top 5 buzzwords that make me NOT want to read a book
Last week we did Top 5 Favorite Buzzwords, and this week it’s the opposite – top buzzwords that make me want to avoid a book. All of the books pictured are ones that I’ve read that I don’t care for.
There is nothing that annoys me more than when a book tries too hard to make me cry. I’m not going to cry, especially when I feel like I’m being manipulated into it. When I see ‘tearjerker’ I just think ‘melodramatic.’ Hard pass.
Literally the most surefire way to make me stop reading a book’s summary is if the word ‘heartwarming’ appears. In general, I really can’t stand uplifting, life-affirming books. If it doesn’t give me depression and/or an existential crisis, I’m not interested.
Ah, my least favorite genre. Apologies for the unpopular opinion. And it’s strange that I don’t click with this genre, because I love ‘weird’ books. The Vegetarian by Hang Kang? Weird. Perfume by Patrick Suskind? Weird. Bright Air Black by David Vann? Real weird. But there is a certain brand of weirdness that just does not appeal to me, and that is magical realism. I don’t know why, but books about ordinary people who randomly have wings or have roses that grow out of their arms just don’t do it for me. There have been exceptions, certain magical realism books I’ve enjoyed – but on the whole, I tend to avoid this genre.
I like to think that I have a good sense of humor, but if a book calls itself ‘funny,’ I find that it rarely is. There is one caveat – if a book is described as “darkly comedic,” chances are I will enjoy it. I love dark humor. But laugh out loud, “haha” funny? Not my thing.
I’m learning to equate the word ‘gritty’ with ‘how can I make this sex scene as awkward as possible,’ and after reading such delightful passages as Lauren Groff comparing a guy’s stomach to the tautness of creme brûlée and Jardine Libaire’s protagonist literally thinking that he’s a monkey in the middle of a threesome, I’m done. I’m out. I have suffered all I can suffer. Sorry, grit-lit, we’re through.
I’ll be curious to hear what your auto-no buzzwords are – comment and let me know!
I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award twice in the last couple of days – first by the fantastic Irena @ Books and Hot Tea and then by the lovely Shaz @ Shaz Reads. Go check out their blogs if you don’t already follow them! Thanks so much guys!
Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
Answer the 11 questions your nominator has given you.
Nominate 11 other people and give them 11 new questions to answer.
List the rules and display the award
1. What is your favourite period in history (the one you find most interesting)?
I’m going to shock everyone with this answer and say Classical – Hellenistic Greece. I can’t help it, I’ve been obsessed with Ancient Greece since I was a kid.
But also, I did study Art History in college, and my favorite period was the Italian Baroque which was heavily influenced by the Protestant Reformation and subsequent Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent, so that’s another period that interests me that I don’t usually talk about. There – slightly less boring and predictable.
2. If you could be a fictional character for a day, who would you be and why?
This answer changes daily, but right now I’m going to say Inej from Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom. I’d love to be that stealthy for a day.
3. What is your favourite TV show at the moment?
I’m so bad at TV….. I mainly watch British soaps and reality competition shows (Survivor, ANTM, GBBO, Bachelor/Bachelorette)…… sorry if you were expecting a more highbrow answer. I just struggle to get invested in dramas because I feel like they usually take themselves too seriously, or are too violent, or…. something. I don’t know. I haven’t found a tv drama I’ve loved in a while. That said, my all time favorite series is probably Black Mirror. There we go. Acceptably highbrow answer.
4. What is the best book you’ve read so far in 2017? (Or at least one of the best, I know it can be hard to choose.)
I have read so, so, so many good books this year, I already know my ‘best books of 2017’ post at the end of the year is going to be torturous. But the two that really stand out to me are two that I actually read very early in the year: East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
5. Do you have a favourite toy, from childhood or now? (Yes, I still buy toys for myself.)
Hmm, not really – though when I was younger I had a very impressive Beanie Baby collection. I’m not sure where they all got to…..
6. Who are some of your favourite villains?
Voldemort/Tom Riddle from Harry Potter, Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire, Big Brother from 1984, Cathy Ames from East of Eden, Edmund from King Lear.
7. What is the favourite place you’ve visited?
I’m cheating – I have two answers. The first is Bologna, Italy, where I lived for a year, which is pretty much my favorite place on earth.
My second answer is Belgium, which fits the question better as it’s somewhere I’ve only visited, rather than lived.
I spent about four days in Brussels and Bruges in December during my year abroad, and it was stupidly pretty in both of those cities.
8. What is your favourite snack?
Tortilla chips and guacamole. Also those Luna peanut butter chocolate protein bars.
9. If you had to choose, would you rather become a vampire or a werewolf?
Yikes, neither… I guess a vampire, if I had to choose?
10. Pirates or ninjas?
Hmm, I’m not terribly keen on either… at the moment I’ll say ninjas, but I’ve recently started Black Sails at Chelsea’s urging, so if I get really into that maybe my answer will change. (For anyone who is invested in my potential future enjoyment of Black Sails, have patience. I watch tv maddeningly slowly.)
11. Share a quote you really like!
“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
1. What inspired you to start blogging?
It wasn’t that anything inspired me as much as the fact that I was writing book reviews anyway, so I liked the idea of having them all in one place!
2. What is one thing that you wished you knew when you started blogging and why?
People love it when you comment on their posts. Don’t be scared. Talk to people. (I got over this pretty quickly. I’m pretty good at talking to strangers on the internet. I’ve been at this for quite a while now.)
3. What are your top five favorite books or series?
Harry Potter, Les Miserables, The Iliad, A Little Life, The Secret History.
4. What is your favorite dessert?
Tiramisu, probably, but at my favorite gelateria in Bologna I always got one scoop of dark chocolate and one scoop of coconut gelato, and I would literally die for that right now.
5. What is the best vacation you have ever been on?
When I graduated college, I treated myself to a three week vacation to visit one of my best friends who lives in Germany, in Braubach. So when I was there I also got to see Berlin (the coolest city ever), Frankfurt, Cologne, Marburg, and Koblenz, and then we also took a few days and went to Paris – I’d been to the south of France before but this was my first time in Paris, which was just as gorgeous as I expected. The real standout from that trip was Berlin, though – my friend’s aunt let us use her flat while she was out of town, so we had this swanky flat all to ourselves so we kind of pretended that it was our own flat, I felt very European. We also had the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted.
6. If you could bring to life a book or movie character for one day, who would you choose? What would you do with them?
I’d bring Sansa Stark to life so we can complain about men and plot to overthrow the patriarchy, and she can teach me how to sew.
7. If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?
Pay off my student loans, buy somewhere for my parents to retire, and travel.
8. Do you like spending time outdoors?
In the summer, I love it more than anything! I live in a stunningly beautiful place. I’m not very sporty, but one thing I do love to do is kayak in the summer. Or just sit out on my porch with a book. In the winter, I would pretty much rather die than step outside.
9. What kinds of shoes do you usually wear?
Well, one element of my job involves physical labor, so I have to be practical and wear tennis shoes every day. In an ideal world, oxfords, I guess.
10. What would your dream home look like?
I’m obsessed with modern architecture and buildings that have huge floor to ceiling windows – I love natural light more than anything. But also there would have to be sufficient wall space for a massive bookshelf.
HOLDING by Graham Norton
Atria Books, August 1, 2017
Most reviews I’ve seen of Holding, both positive and negative, seem to be written by readers who only picked it up because of the name Graham Norton. I was the opposite – I read the summary and thought ‘that sounds exactly like a book I would like,’ but my cursor hesitated over the request button because of the author. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Graham Norton is a great television presenter. I just wasn’t confident in his novel writing skills. But I was too tempted by the premise to not at least give it a shot.
It was… okay. Holding is a sort of cozy mystery meets romantic comedy (if I’d realized how heavily romance factored into the plot, I would have stayed away), set in a modern day small Irish town, which follows sergeant P.J. Collins as he attempts to solve a decades old murder. The plot is rather flimsy, and takes an unnecessarily long time to gather steam. Characters are well developed, ordinary people with Dark Secrets, but there’s a certain intrigue missing. And it doesn’t help that most of the Big Reveals are from people just… deciding to tell P.J. things at opportune moments.
The prose was technically decent, but it really failed to hold my attention. This book probably took me twice as long to read as it should have – I lost track of the number of times I realized my mind had been wandering, and I had to go back several pages because I hadn’t been paying attention. Part of the reason for this was the rather poorly executed third person omniscient point of view – the “head hopping” got really out of hand at times and made it difficult to follow.
I think this book is in some ways a direct homage to The Casual Vacancy – a slow moving mystery set in a remote town with a large host of unlikable characters, it’s hard not to draw comparisons – but for me, it fell totally flat. I was actually one of the few who quite liked The Casual Vacancy (‘liked,’ not ‘loved’), but Holding didn’t manage to improve upon any of The Casual Vacancy‘s flaws. Where Rowling’s plotting was intricate as ever, and her first adult novel managed to pack quite a punch by the end, Holding was only ever a tepid, flavorless imitation.
Norton’s certainly a better writer than I had expected; his wit and humor are as omnipresent as you would expect, and I like some of his ideas – I would be willing to read another novel from him in the future. But Holding just wasn’t executed as well as I’d have liked. It was almost there, but not quite.
Also, warning: there’s a fairly graphic rape scene about halfway through. Proceed with caution.
Thank you Netgalley, Atria Books, and Graham Norton for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
Have you ever wanted to read War and Peace but haven’t found the right time to commit to the 1000+ page monster? Well, now is your chance!
Myself and Hadeer are co-hosting a War and Peace group buddy read that’s going to start on September 1. There’s a rough reading schedule that you’re welcome to follow, but if you’d rather read at your own pace, that’s fine too! It’s going to be very relaxed and fun. So if you’d like to join us (and no pressure to commit if you don’t end up wanting to finish the book), join our Goodreads group and come say hello! Hadeer’s set up some really great threads about Russian history and Russian names to kick things off. But again, we’re starting on September 1, so you’ve still got nearly a month to choose a translation and find a copy, should you care to join us.
Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm. This week’s topic:
AUGUST 8th – Top 5 buzzwords that make me want to read a book
This is a great topic, and it was difficult to narrow it down… Each of these sets includes both books that I’ve read and books on my TBR.
I don’t know how or why this began, exactly, but I love Irish lit. Seeing the word ‘Irish’ attached to a book summary or an author’s bio has been enough for me to buy a book or click request on Netgalley, without really knowing anything else about it. Irish lit tends to be atmospheric, a bit bleak and dreary and depressing, and often grapples with religious themes, all of which I find fascinating,
(Have already read: The Glorious Heresies, The Wonder.)
Because I have to admit, I get tired of reading books about straight white men. I’m all about reading diversity, and think it’s important to support books with LGBT+ protagonists – so if I see a book shelved as LGBT+ on goodreads, I am automatically more inclined to look into it. Bonus points if no one dies.
(Have already read: More Happy Than Not, Maurice, The Price of Salt, Fun Home.)
Evocative & Atmospheric
Grouping these two buzzwords together because they’re quite similar. I love books with immersive settings, so if a book promises a strong atmosphere, my interest is definitely piqued – especially if the atmosphere is bolstered by the prose itself. I don’t care for ‘purple prose,’ i.e., prose that tries to be elaborate for the sake of being elaborate and the whole attempt comes across as rather amateur, but I do love when writing comes off as both authentic and lyrical. Bright Air Black is a fantastic example.
(Have already read: all of these.)
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. I consider myself a feminist (hopefully of the intersectional variety), so I love narratives that explore the struggles unique to women, and which ultimately advocate equality across all genders, races, classes, etc. If a book’s description calls it feminist, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it’s probably going on the TBR.
(Have already read: Venus in Fur, The Awakening, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Bell Jar.)
It’s probably no coincidence that most of my all-time favorite books are 500+ page monsters.
(Have already read: all of these.)
Which buzzwords always grab you? And what do you think of my choices? Comment and let me know!
LADY COP MAKES TROUBLE by Amy Stewart
Houghton Mifflin, 2016
Girl Waits with Gun was one of my favorite books I read last year – I thought it was a fun and delightful story with vibrant characters that I found unexpectedly moving. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is a formidable attempt at continuing Constance Kopp’s story, but for me, it just lacked the magic of Girl Waits with Gun.
My main problem is that I think this actually would have been much better suited to a short story than a novel. The overarching plot – prisoner escapes, Constance tracks him down – is somehow stretched out to span 300 pages, in a narrative that gets bogged down by a lot of filler, which includes some cases in the background that end up being ultimately inconsequential.
One element from Girl Waits with Gun that I was really hoping would be explored in more detail here is Constance’s relationship with Fleurette (I won’t say why, in case you haven’t read Girl Waits with Gun, because you should). But Norma and Fleurette actually took a backseat for the most part of Lady Cop Makes Trouble. Sheriff Heath had a much bigger role than the two of them, and while I found his dynamic with Constance compelling, I would have liked to have seen much more of Constance’s sisters. After all, that was my favorite thing about Girl Waits with Gun – over a year later, a lot of details of that plot escape me, but what really stands out when I think about that book is the fascinating relationship between Constance and her sisters. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is somehow more focused on plot than characters, even though its plot is weaker. It’s not a good combination.
As always, Amy Stewart’s research is impeccable. I highly recommend reading her afterword about which elements of this book were real and which were fictionalized – it’s fascinating reading.
Bottom line – I didn’t dislike this at all. But where I found Girl Waits with Gun to be fun, enthralling, and a real page-turner, I was always lukewarm about Lady Cop Makes Trouble – at some points I got engrossed in the narrative, but at others, I really had to push myself to keep reading. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for it, maybe it’s suffering from Second Book Syndrome, I don’t know. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it the way I’d wanted to. At any rate, I have the third installment, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions, from Netgalley, and I’m hoping this series continues (concludes? I’m not sure if Stewart intends to write more) on a stronger note.
YESTERDAY by Felicia Yap
Mulholland Books, August 1, 2017
This book enticed me with its unique premise. In the world that Felicia Yap depicts in Yesterday, society is divided into two groups: the majority, Monos, who only have a day’s worth of memories, and the elite Duos, who can remember up to two days. When a woman is found dead, the detective on the case is literally racing against time to solve the mystery before his memory resets itself. When I read the summary, it reminded me a bit of the Nolan film Memento, which I love, so I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, it was a major letdown.
My first major disappointment with this book came when I realized that Yap hadn’t created a futuristic universe, but rather, a sort of half-baked parallel one. The events in this story take place in 2015… just a different 2015, where people have limited memories. But Virginia Woolf was still a writer, Quentin Tarantino is still making movies, and Steve Jobs is still patenting Apple products. It doesn’t make any sense, and it feels lazy, like Yap took the easy road rather than putting sufficient effort into the world building. Am I really supposed to believe that civilization would have developed at the exact same rate with this massive neurological deviation?
The characters have this handy device called the iDiary, in which they record their activities each day, and which they can peruse at their leisure to recall details. Characters say things like ‘According to my diary, I think she’s a very nice woman’ and ‘According to my diary, I saw them have a fight last week.’ So even though they can’t ‘remember’ everything, they still have easy access to information, and the memory twist starts to feel more like a gimmick than a quintessential thread that holds the story together. Why does it matter that they can’t remember, when they have the information at their fingertips anyway?
The mystery itself is bland and uninteresting. Without the memory twist, is there much of a story here? Not really. It’s just window dressing. So with that in mind, what does this book have to offer? Not much. The characters are boring and paper thin, the writing is clumsy and amateur… There’s nothing here that’s noteworthy except for the premise, which is never utilized to its full potential. I’m glad I stuck with it, because it picks up steam about halfway through, but I have to admit I was quite relieved when I finished.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley, Mulholland Books, and Felicia Yap.
This month’s Top 5 Wednesday prompts aren’t really up my alley, so I’m going to temporarily jump ship and do a couple from Top 5 Tuesday, hosted by Bionic Book Worm. We’re starting out with a sort of difficult one, because I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but let’s see what I can come up with!
AUGUST 1ST – Top 5 book worlds I want to live in
Harry Potter. I mean, this is almost too obvious to even mention, but I have to say it anyway. There is no fictional universe that I have ever wanted to be a part of more than the Harry Potter world. Touring the Leavesden Studio in London was one of the most magical experiences of my life. (Tragically, I was always too practical to be ‘waiting for my Hogwarts letter.’ I knew it was fictional. Kid me wasn’t much of an idealist.)
When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen. I had some problems with this book, but one thing is for sure: I loved the atmosphere. This is a vaguely Victorian paranormal fantasy with a moody, evocative, sultry vibe, and it was awesome. I mean, granted, I’d much rather be rich in this universe than poor, but that’s true of most places, isn’t it?
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I read this book almost two years ago, and I still can’t decide what I thought of it. Sometimes I think it’s gorgeous and compelling and beautiful, and sometimes I think it’s underdeveloped and overrated. But again, there is absolutely no arguing that the atmosphere in this novel is stunning. I don’t even like ‘circus stories,’ usually, but damn did I ever want to dive straight into these pages and visit the Night Circus.
Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault. This is usually my answer to the ‘which historical period would you visit’ question. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and see Alexander the Great in action. He’s a historical figure who’s practically become mythologized, so you can’t help but to be curious about what the real person was like.
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. I can’t help it, I love the aesthetic of elite academia. I would love so much to attend Dellecher Classical Conservatory, Rio’s fictional school of higher education, where students study theatre, Shakespeare, dance, art, etc… I can’t remember if classical languages is a department at Dellecher, but if it is, that’s definitely what I would do. Continuing my studies of Latin in a vaguely pretentious environment like that is the aesthetic dream.
Which fictional universes do you want to be a part of? Comment and let me know!
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia ★★★★★ + review
Best: Human Acts by Han Kang
Runner up: King Lear by William Shakespeare
Worst: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen
July was a noteworthy reading month for me for a couple of reasons – first of all, I finally managed to get out of my 7 books a month rut and somehow ended up with 11. And second of all, this was a month of extremes – I rarely give 5 stars or 1 stars, but 8/11 of those books ended up being one or the other.
This is also the month where I reached my Goodreads reading challenge goal of 60 books a year, yay! I purposefully set it at a number that I knew was manageable because I didn’t want to get too obsessed with hitting an arbitrary number, but it was still exciting to finish my goal as early as July. I’m up to 63 books total.
As you can see, I really enjoyed most of these! The notable exceptions were Gone Without a Trace and See What I Have Done, but you can’t win them all I guess. The only two I didn’t review were the two plays I read, Body Awareness (which I really enjoyed but I didn’t have a whole lot to say), and King Lear (because I’m not really sure what to say about this that hasn’t been said already).
I’m currently reading 4 books: Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart, Yesterday by Felicia Yap, Holding by Graham Norton (yes, that Graham Norton – who knew he was a novelist, not me), and The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander. All of these will be reviewed in the next couple of weeks, I’m hoping.
Other books I’m definitely reading in August include American War by Omar El Akkad (for a book club), and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Otherwise, as always, the TBR is up in the air.
So have you read any of these books I’ve mentioned? And what was the best book you read in July? Comment and let me know!