top 5 tuesday: New to Me Authors in 2017

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

DECEMBER 12TH – Top 5 (OR 10!) new to me authors in 2017

I wasn’t initially going to do this topic since it slipped my mind this week, but I was #blessed with a snow day today and have nothing better to do, so why not!

I could easily do 10, but I think I like the challenge of narrowing it down to 5.

123715Agatha Christie.  It’s hard to believe I only read And Then There Were None earlier this year – I feel like I’ve been reading Christie for so much longer.  Since then I’ve read five more Christie novels – Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Three Act Tragedy, Sparkling Cyanide, and Crooked House – and none of them has received less than a 4 star rating from me.  I’m not even a little bit tired of her books, and I can’t wait to read even more in 2018.

7195John Boyne.  I know, I won’t shut up about John Boyne, but I just think he’s brilliant.  I’ve only read two of his books so far – The Heart’s Invisible Furies and The Absolutist, and no, I’ve never read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – but both of them ripped my heart out, which, if you know me, is something I particularly enjoy.  He also published this fantastic Guardian article today about why women are better writers than men which is worth checking out, particularly if you hate Jonathan Franzen.

Also this was the single most iconic moment of 2017:


recp_vsv_400x400Lisa McInerney.  Another Irish writer I discovered this year, when I read her genius debut The Glorious Heresies.  This book knocked the wind out of me in the best possible way.  McInerney provides a really brilliant exploration of crime and poverty in contemporary Ireland – her novel is is moving and profane and challenging and utterly fearless.  I’ve never read anything like it.  And her character Ryan Cusack still haunts me.  I can’t wait to hopefully read the sequel, The Blood Miracles, next year.

38185Mary Renault.  I’ve only read one Renault novel so far, Fire From Heaven, and it took me the better part of three months, so that probably doesn’t sound like the biggest endorsement ever.  But it’s one of those books that’s completely worth the effort that you need to put into it.  Renault’s research into the life of Alexander the Great is absolutely impeccable, and I have so much admiration for her as a writer and historian.  I didn’t want to rush straight into The Persian Boy, the next book in her Alexander trilogy, but I really look forward to getting around to it in 2018.

3p216vdmMin Jin Lee.  I haven’t stopped talking about Pachinko since I read it very early this year, but that’s only because that book ripped my heart out and positively haunted me.  I still find myself thinking about that novel and its characters – and since I’ve read about 90 books since then, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.  I haven’t gone back and read Lee’s debut yet, but I intend to, and I will definitely pick up anything she publishes in the future.

Honorable mentions to: Donal Ryan, Leigh Bardugo, M.L. Rio, Caite Dolan-Leach, Mira T. Lee, Josh Malerman, Maggie Stiefvater, Edward St. Aubyn, Kanae Minato, David Mitchell, Mohsin Hamid, David Vann, and Brian Friel.  And probably others.

Who’s your favorite author that you discovered in 2017?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 tuesday: Favorite Quotes

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

OCTOBER 17 – Top 5 book quotes

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

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

– W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

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

– Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life


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

— David Mitchell, Black Swan Green



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

— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

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

— Mary Renault, Fire From Heaven




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

book review: Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault


Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault

published in 1969


I know I said I wouldn’t finish this today, but I surprised myself!  I’ll have to edit my monthly wrap up post accordingly.  I can’t believe I actually finished this in April.

Coming in at around 3 months, this is the longest it’s taken me to finish a book in years. That isn’t to say that I didn’t love it. I did. But make no mistake: this book is hard. Renault’s prose is gorgeous but dense; pages upon pages upon pages are devoted to military strategy; characters appear without proper introduction because of a certain amount of knowledge already expected from the reader; the third-person omniscient narration is at times difficult to follow. Verbose and academic, this isn’t exactly one to take to the beach this summer.

But I loved it.

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

This book is beautiful. Immersive, lyrical, and intelligent, Renault gives us a truly credible window into the world of Ancient Greece, and into the life of Alexander in particular.

Fire from Heaven is about Alexander the Great before he was Alexander the Great – when he was just Alexander, son of Philip II and Olympias, tenuous heir to the Macedonian throne.

Alexander only lived for 32 years, from 356 – 323 BCE, but in that time, became one of the most accomplished military strategists in history, creating one of the largest empires in the ancient world, that extended into Egypt as well as Asia. Even during his lifetime, Alexander’s character became almost mythologized. No wonder countless books – fiction and nonfiction – have been written in an attempt to understand him, to humanize this man who was the cynosure of all of Greece, who seems too legendary to have ever been mortal.

But Mary Renault does just that. There are no first-hand accounts of Alexander’s early life, as Renault tells us in her afterward, and this book is an attempt at recreating this period of Alexander’s life, drawing on the few sources that do exist. Raised by two parents who openly disdain one another – haughty, manipulative Olympias, and proud, cruel Philip – much of Alexander’s childhood is characterized by this tension. Alexander, the boy we first meet and the man he becomes, is kind, bright, forgiving; but he’s also impulsive and stubborn; ambitious but without a clear path leadership, as the question of his birthright and Philip’s chosen successor dogs him through adolescence. In short, though the Alexander that Renault creates is in many ways a product of her imagination, he’s also clearly been derived from intensive research; his fictionalized personality dovetailing with the historical records of his character.

Renault also famously, controversially, depicts the relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion to be a romantic one. While the romance is just about as explicit as you would expect from a novel written in 1969 (i.e., not very), it’s an undeniable force to this story, which adds yet another compelling layer to this novel already so rich in detail.

Fire from Heaven is not for the casual reader. It’s a good introduction to Alexander the Great… if you truly want to learn about Alexander the Great. While it is historical fiction, this book is decidedly strong on the history and light on the fiction. Renault’s research is thorough, and undoubtedly will not be of interest to readers hoping for a fast-paced story. There actually isn’t much action to be found here, despite the numerous battles recounted. This is a sort of quiet historical reimagining, that in some ways serves as an elaborate preface to the latter two novels in Renault’s Alexander series – The Persian Boy and Funeral Games, both of which I look forward to reading.