not a book review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM by William Shakespeare
★★★★★
originally published in 1595

 

This is more of a diary entry than a book review which I have never done before, but… times are weird!

One of my friends had a BRILLIANT idea to organize a Shakespeare read-through over Zoom this weekend. (The irony is lost on none of us that we’re essentially reenacting Station Eleven.) A group of us divvied up parts and read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which, incidentally, is the play in which I made my acting debut as Mustardseed the fairy when I was 11. I was angling for Puck so that casting decision came as quite the blow. It felt redemptive to read as Hippolyta last night, a slightly meatier role.

Anyway, all silliness aside, times are tough right now and I know a lot of us are having difficulties concentrating on our usual sorts of escapism, which for most of us includes reading. This virtual Shakespeare production amongst a group of friends was such a fun distraction that we’re going to make it a weekly thing, proceeding with The Tempest next weekend. If you have a friend group who’d be down for this kind of thing (it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare – you could do any play or movie script), I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s the only 2 hours this week that I’ve felt truly switched off from the constant news stream and existential dread that’s been eating away at me. That’s why I thought I’d share – there’s so much discourse floating around about how you need to Make The Most of this quarantine to clean your house and learn a new language and write the next great American novel, but I think what we really need are lower-stakes, delightfully distracting and unproductive projects like reading Shakespeare with your friends around the globe with a glass of wine.

Hope you all are staying safe and healthy!  Tell me something fun and silly you’ve done to help you through the pandemic?

book review: Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

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LONG LIVE THE TRIBE OF FATHERLESS GIRLS
by T Kira Madden
★★★★★
Bloomsbury, 2019

 

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls was a breath of fresh air.  If you isolate many of its thematic elements and you read a lot of this type of memoir, there’s plenty of familiarity – coming of age, coming to terms with queerness, racial identity, sexual assault, trauma, drugs, love, family ties.  But T Kira Madden does something completely unique with it, revealing enough of her life to the reader in each chapter to keep us absorbed, yet employing a non-linear structure so faultlessly that its full impact cannot be felt until you turn the final page.

Set mostly in Boca Raton where Madden grew up, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls chronicles a childhood marked both by privilege and instability (she grew up with many material comforts being related to the Steve Madden shoe dynasty, but under the guardianship of neglectful parents battling addiction).  Each chapter, charting a different period of Madden’s life, is in its own way fresh, dynamic, and heart-wrenching, but the titular chapter is probably the stand-out – the depiction of the tight bonds of teenage girlhood underscored by Madden’s burgeoning sexual awakening made my heart hurt – as well as the final chapter that so brilliantly ties the whole book together.

It’s hard to talk about this book without getting into specifics which would neuter some of the impact if you know too much of what to expect, but I can’t say enough good things about it and about Madden’s prose.  It was gentle, visceral, intricate, and structured with a kind of careful deliberation that ultimately elevates what was already going to be an exquisite book.


You can pick up a copy of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls here on Book Depository.

book review: The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

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THE ILLNESS LESSON by Clare Beams
★★☆☆☆
Doubleday, 2019

 

The thing about The Illness Lesson is that it isn’t enough of anything. It isn’t historical enough, it isn’t weird enough, it isn’t feminist enough.  The premise – girls at a boarding school who fall prey to a mysterious illness – sounds like it’s going to make for a positively entrancing book, but I could not have been more bored while reading this.  It never felt grounded enough in its setting to really provide much commentary about the time period (which historical fiction is wont to do) – not to mention that about a quarter of the way through the book I had to ask a friend who was also reading it if it was set in the U.S. or the U.K.

There’s a recurring motif of red birds throughout the novel – strange red birds have flocked to the school for reasons no one knows.  This was an intriguing thread that proved to be, like everything else in this book, utterly inconsequential; it’s empty symbolism shoehorned in in order to imbue this book with some kind of meaning that wasn’t actually there.

As for the girls falling ill: this plot point is relegated to the latter half of the book (what happens before that, I don’t think I could tell you), and I was frustrated and a little sick at the way their invasive treatment was narratively handled.  This book does contain an element of rape, which is never given the depth or breadth it deserves; instead it seems like it’s there for shock value in the eleventh hour, not offering near enough insight to justify its inclusion.

On the whole, I found this book incredibly anemic and unsatisfying.  I finished this a few weeks ago and I think, at the time, there was a reason I opted for 2 stars instead of 1, but I may need to downgrade my rating because I cannot think of a single thing I liked about this.

Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.


If you think you will fare with it better than I did, you can pick up a copy of The Illness Lesson here on Book Depository.

Women’s Prize 2020 Longlist Reaction

It’s here!  (The below are affiliate links – if you order any of these from this post I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Some quick stats:

6 UK authors/6 US authors/1 Singapore/1 India/2 Ireland

7 authors of color/9 white authors

4 debuts

I got 4 predictions correct

At the time the longlist was announced I had only read… 1/4 of one book!  A record low for me.

So, initial thoughts were that I was a little disappointed at all the heavy hitters on the list: I do love a good debut-heavy longlist.  That said, I’m getting more excited to read it and I cannot wait to discuss the list with you guys in the upcoming months.

My plans:

I have the following out from the library:

Weather: I’m halfway through this and so far I’m enjoying it but it’s not exactly knocking my socks off like it has done for so many other readers.  Full thoughts to come hopefully in a few days.

Dominicana: I started this last night and I’m not at all crazy about the writing style, but I’m also only 20% in.

Girl: I’m a little wary of this one but also a little excited?  Will start soon.

How We Disappeared: Possibly my biggest unpopular literary opinion is that I don’t mind a good WWII novel every now and then, so I have high hopes for this!

I have the following on hold:

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line: This does not seem like my kind of book, but I’ve also heard it’s good and a quick read, so I’m fine with giving it a go.

Fleishman is in Trouble: Ugh.  This is the one I’m most annoyed about.  I have not heard good things and this does not seem like something I will enjoy at all.

Queenie: Ooh, yes!  Nearly made my predictions list.  I’m excited.

Actress: Never read Anne Enright but I’m really excited for this!

Girl, Woman, Other: FINALLY a concrete excuse to read this.  It’s such a shame that I haven’t made time for it before now.

The Most Fun We Ever Had: I must have read this summary four or five times and it has never made any impression on me.  It’s also very long.  We’ll see how this goes.

Hamnet: Very very very excited to read this.

The Dutch House: Meh?  I’ve not had the best history with Ann Patchett – I DNF’d Bel Canto and I 3 starred Commonwealth.  I do like the sound of this one though so hopefully it works for me.

Red At the Bone: Another meh.  I’ve only read one Woodson and it did absolutely nothing for me.

I ordered the following:

A Thousand Ships: I’d been holding out for a US publisher for over a year, but fuck it.  I am SO excited for this book and so happy to finally read it.

Nightingale Point: Never heard of it, didn’t even read the summary, I just placed an order.

Which leaves:

The Mirror & The Light: TBD.  I’ve not read Wolf Hall so that complicates things for me.  I’m going to save this one for last – if I don’t get around to it by the time the winner is announced, oh well; but who knows, maybe I’ll finish the longlist by early May and have ample time to devote to this trilogy.  We’ll see!


Finally, I just wanted to talk about some snubs real quick:

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson: My favorite novel of 2019 never got the attention it deserved, and this was really its last chance to show up on a big literary prize list, so I’m a little heartbroken.  Just – please read this.

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy: This is a brilliant brilliant BRILLIANT book – I cannot state that enough.  It almost definitely deserved a spot over some that made it onto the list.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: ding dong the witch is dead

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman: Mixed feelings about this not showing up; in a way I’d kind of have liked the excuse to read it!  But on the other hand, the length is pretty scary when it’s up next to 15 other books I’m also trying to read in a set period of time.


Other reaction posts:


What are your thoughts about the longlist?  What are you happy/unhappy to see and what are you happy/unhappy to see snubbed?  What are your reading plans?  Comment with all things Women’s Prize!

Reading Ireland Month 2020 TBR

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Reading Ireland Month!

You can read Cathy’s post about it HERE, but basically, it’s what it says on the tin: you read Irish books throughout the month of March.  You can read exclusively Irish lit all month, or you can mix it up – I’ll probably end up doing the latter since March is when the Women’s Prize longlist gets announced, but I still want to cram in as much Irish lit as I can.

Cathy laid out a schedule which you are welcome to follow, should you so desire:

2nd – 8th March – Contemporary Irish Novels

9th – 15th March – Classic Irish Novels

16th – 22nd March – Irish Short Story Collections

23rd – 29th March – Irish Non-Fiction

Last year I themed my reading around the schedule and it worked out really well, but this year I think I’m going to do things a bit more free-form.

Before you see this massive list and panic on my behalf, I am under NO illusions that I will read all of these books in March.  This is just a selection off my shelves that I feel particularly drawn to at this moment in time.  Who knows what I’ll end up going for.

So without further ado, here are some of the books I’m thinking about picking up in March:

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton
The Dregs of the Day by Máirtín Ó Cadhain
The Cruelty Men by Emer Martin
For the Good Times by David Keenan
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel
Being Various edited by Lucy Caldwell
The Long Gaze Back edited by Sinéad Gleeson

Honestly I think if I manage to read even 2 or 3 of these, I will be happy!  Or maybe I’ll read something else entirely, but this list is what I’m feeling drawn toward at this very moment.  So there you have it.  Have you read any of these, and what are your Reading Ireland Month plans?  Comment and let me know!

Women’s Prize 2020 Longlist Predictions

In case you missed it, I recently spent way too long on this post in which I compiled every longlist in the history of the Women’s Prize.  So just in case it wasn’t clear from that alone: I love this prize, a lot.  And I have been working on my predictions list probably for the last six months (sadly not an exaggeration).  So, here we go!

I’m going to start with a wishlist of sorts – only 8 books – that I will explain in the paragraph down below, then I will move on to my predictions.

Wishlist

My wishlist falls into 2 categories: books I’ve read that I think deserve to make the list, and books I haven’t read, that I’m desperate to read, and I hope to see them on the longlist so I finally have an excuse to read them.  Some of these will show up on my predictions list below; some will not.

Have read/adored:

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
The Body Lies by Jo Baker

Have yet to read:

Bunny by Mona Awad
Supper Club by Lara Williams
Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
The Island Child by Molly Aitken

Now let’s move on to the main event.

I told Hannah I would not look at her list until I posted my own, but I cheated and peaked at it and I loved that she included whether the author had been longlisted in the past and whether she personally wanted to see the books longlisted, so I am stealing that format.

Longlist prediction

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Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

This National Book Award winner has been incredibly Marmite, which I have to say I’m intrigued by.  While I personally know quite a few people who hated it, the widespread literary praise it’s received can’t be ignored, which I think makes it a solid contender.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Honestly, it would not be my first, second, or third choice.

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The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

This historical mystery about a maid accused of murder was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award, and I’ve seen so much other praise for it, especially in the UK.  I think it’s a solid contender.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  Yes!  I’d love to read this.

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The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

I don’t know too much about this, but I keep seeing it crop up in ‘2020 debuts to look out for’ lists.  I think it’s a Nigerian coming of age tale about a young girl advocating for her education – seems very Women’s Prize to me.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  Sure!

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Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This co-Booker winner is a bit of an obvious choice.  It’s received so much praise, and I think the general mood about it is indignation that it was not the sole Booker winner.  (That also explains my omission of The Testaments from my own predictions – while there are hardly American Dirt levels of ill-will toward it, I do think on the whole people are a bit tired of it, and I have to wonder if Atwood herself may have asked that it not be submitted to the Women’s Prize.  She seemed a bit embarrassed by the Booker co-win, honestly.)

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES.  It is a crime that I haven’t read this book.

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The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

I think it’s fair to assume that this one is going to show up on just about every prize list this year.  I haven’t actually read Mantel yet, but I’ve heard so many good things about her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which The Mirror & The Light will be concluding.  Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies made the Women’s Prize shortlist in years past, and – notably – both won the Booker.  I think this one is a pretty safe prediction.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Shortlisted 3 times and longlisted 1 time beyond that.

Would I be happy to see it?  It’s inevitable but no.  I really, really, really want to read the Wolf Hall trilogy, but I also want to read the entire longlist and the thought of reading a whole trilogy on top of 16 books stresses me out.  I should have read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies this month to prepare.

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Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride

I also think this one is a safe prediction, and if it doesn’t make the longlist, I think it will be because the word count fell short.  It seems to be borderline, so it’s hard to predict without knowing the exact word count, but I’m going out on a limb and throwing it on here.  McBride’s debut A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won, and her sophomore novel The Lesser Bohemians was also longlisted.  I’ve heard excellent things about this one too.

Has the author been longlisted before?  1 time winner, 1 time longlister beyond that.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES.  I am DYING to read this.

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The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Another one I don’t know too much about – Italian invasion of Ethiopia, I think?  This made its way onto my predictions list when I felt I was lacking those ‘epic length historical fiction’ picks.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Not really.

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Long Bright River by Liz Moore

One thing that struck me when I was scrolling through past longlisters was just how many crime novels have been longlisted in the past.  I feel like the Women’s Prize has been moving away from mysteries and thrillers in recent years, but the fact that Paula Hawkins is on the judging panel this year gives me an inkling that we might see at least one literary thriller on the list.  Long Bright River seems the obvious choice for a lot of reasons – Moore is a versatile author who’s written literary fiction in the past, this novel tackles Serious Issues (the opioid crisis, namely), and it was blurbed by – you guessed it! – Paula Hawkins.  It was a great, solid, well-written thriller that I would not mind seeing on the list, even if my personal choice for a thriller would be The Body Lies, if we can just have one.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Sure, I think it’s deserving.

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Inland by Téa Obreht

Obreht won the Women’s Prize for her brilliant novel The Tiger’s Wife back in 2011, and her follow-up Inland had been a long time coming.  It sounds incredibly different, other than both of them being historical fiction, but Obreht is such a strong writer I would not be surprised to see this on there.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Winner!

Would I be happy to see it?  Not really.  I loved The Tiger’s Wife but the summary of this one does not appeal.

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Girl by Edna O’Brien

O’Brien is such a prolific and esteemed author I was a bit shocked to see that she’s only been longlisted once in the past, but I still feel confident that her newest novel, Girl, is going to make the list this year.  Set in Nigeria, this follows the girls who are kidnapped by the Boko Haram.  It sounds harrowing, but I also think it will spark some conversations about #ownvoices in literary fiction should it get longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  Torn.  I desperately want to read more Edna O’Brien (I’ve only read one short story, but it was brilliant), but I’m not convinced this is the best place to start for me.

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Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Her upcoming novel inspired by Shakespeare and his son is quite a departure for Maggie O’Farrell – I don’t think she’s written historical fiction before?  It’s been getting quite a bit of buzz and I would not at all be surprised to see it longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No, surprisingly!

Would I be happy to see it?  Yes!!!

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Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

This literary-mystery hybrid set in a remote Russian peninsula is such a brilliant depiction of a culture and community that is so often neglected by western literary fiction.  I think it’s a brilliant depiction of a rural community torn apart by tragedy and also by racism against its indigenous population – I would be delighted to see it longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  YES YES YES.

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Another literary thriller of sorts, this one explores the long-lasting psychological damage on a young woman by the teacher she had been involved with in high school.  This has been on my TBR for so long that I’ll be a little gutted if it doesn’t make the list, but I do intend to read it soon either way.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No – debut.

Would I be happy to see it?  God yes!

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Bina by Anakana Schofield

Requite Canadian pick!  I honestly don’t know a whole lot about this other than that people have been raving about it and that it was blurbed by Eimear McBride and Rachel Cusk.  Seems like a safe bet.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  No strong feelings either way.

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Supper Club by Lara Williams

Williams’ sophomore novel is about a secret society of women who meet after dark to feast.  I don’t know anything more and I don’t need to.  I just desperately want to read this.

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Absolutely!

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Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

Winterson’s novel is a sort of playful retelling of Frankenstein that ticks so many feminist boxes that I will be incredibly surprised if it’s not longlisted.

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes, twice.

Would I be happy to see it?  It wouldn’t be my top choice for the Booker crossover (team Levy!!!), but I did enjoy it, so sure.


There you have it.  If you’ve done your own Women’s Prize longlist predictions, please link me!  Otherwise, comment and let me know what you expect to see on the list!


Other longlist predictions on my radar:

book review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

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LONG BRIGHT RIVER by Liz Moore
★★★★☆
Riverhead, January 2020

 

Long Bright River may be nearly 500 pages, but it reads as though it’s half the length, even though (paradoxically?) I wouldn’t describe it as a page-turner.  It’s definitely a slow-burner, and it takes its time setting the stage for its central mystery, instead focusing brilliantly on establishing the setting and the atmosphere of some of Philadelphia’s poorer neighborhoods; but there’s something so engrossing about it from the onset that it’s hard to put it down.

What drew me to Long Bright River, aside from my fondness for thrillers, is the focus on the opioid crisis, and this Moore handled spectacularly.  First off, if you haven’t read Dopesick by Beth Macy, what are you waiting for; second of all, I’m always so drawn to books which humanize drug addicts and treat their stories with respect and sensitivity (recommendations welcome!); Moore achieves this while also keeping up the momentum of the narrative.

Moore’s prose is another strength; this is the first novel of hers that I’ve read, but I’m definitely more likely to pick up something off her backlist now.  This book’s one failing for me is something that I find myself frequently lamenting in thrillers; a too-quick denouement and a too-neat resolution of character arcs.  But still, my opinion of Long Bright River is mostly favorable, and I think it’s very deserving of all the hype.


You can pick up a copy of Long Bright River here on Book Depository.