top 5 wednesday: Books Without Romance

July 5th: Books Without Romance

I love this topic. I’ll admit, I haven’t been crazy about the shipping topics lately. I’m not much of a romantic.  Here are some of my favorite romance-less books:

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And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: The queen of mystery does indulge in some romantic subplots every now and then, but not here. And Then There Were None tells the story of ten strangers, all of whom have been issued a mysterious invitation to an island a mile or so off the English coast. Then one by one, they start to be murdered. The most recent BBC adaptation actually throws in a romantic subplot, but it’s not present in the original novel, which is about as devoid of romance as anything can be.

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Penance by Kanae Minato: This Japanese thriller follows the aftermath of a horrible event in the lives of four young women.  One day in the summer of fourth grade, five girls go out to play and one of them, Emily, is murdered.  Although there are some relationships in the background of this novel, none of these are the focus.  I actually don’t remember the male characters in this story at all – the focus is all on the women, Emily’s mother in particular, who blames the remaining girls for the death of her daughter and who threatens them to either find the murderer before the statute of limitations is up or perform an act of penance, lest she take revenge on them.

29034Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose: This is a play which takes place entirely in a courtroom.  Twelve men are on the jury for a case which at a glance appears to be simple – a young boy stands accused of murdering his father, and there are several witnesses to testify.  Eleven out of the twelve men are in favor of a guilty verdict, but one lone dissenter, Juror 8, advocates for an open discussion which slowly begins to illuminate cracks in the case.  Romance is absolutely the last thing on the agenda in this story, which is at once a fascinating character study and an even more fascinating meditation on the flaws in the U.S. judicial system.

51xhgjvwgvl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski: Told in the format of a podcast, Six Stories is about the investigation of a twenty year old murder.  By interviewing people who knew the victim, 15-year-old Tom Jeffries, investigative journalist Scott King attempts to recreate the circumstances of his mysterious death as comprehensively as possible.  Although there are some accounts of teenage relationships in these pages, this novel is devoid of any romance or sentimentality – it’s a rather cold yet compelling account of the dynamics of the friend group that Tom Jeffries had been a part of.

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An Imaginary Life by David Malouf: This is a short and incredibly moving little book, in which David Malouf gives a fictionalized account of the final years of the poet Ovid, which he lived out in exile.  Malouf tells a strange and unconventional story about Ovid forming a relationship with a child who’s grown up in the wilderness, without human contact.  As Ovid doesn’t speak the language of the characters around him, there isn’t any romance here – just a rather fascinating and intelligent look at human nature and isolation.

So what are some of your favorite books without romance?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Favorite “Unlikable” Protagonists

Hey guys, I’m back! Before I get to this week’s T5W, just a quick note: I haven’t spent very much time online these past 10 days, and it’s probably going to take me a couple of days to get caught up on everything and I’m sure there’s a lot I’m still going to miss, so if there’s anything you really want me to see for whatever reason – your reviews, tags, awards, comments I haven’t responded to, etc. – just leave a comment here with the link, I would really appreciate it. Thanks!!!

Now let’s get to it.

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

June 21st: Favorite “Unlikeable” Protagonists: People always tear down “unlikeable” protagonists. But tell us the ones you pulled for!

I love this topic. I have to admit, I find myself often defending books with ‘unlikable’ characters. To me, a good character isn’t someone I necessarily want to be friends with, but rather, someone who’s well-developed, intriguing, and multi-faceted.  I love each and every one of these characters, even when I don’t particularly like them.

30900136Ava Antipova (Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach). The first thing I tell people who are considering whether or not to read Dead Letters is that if you can’t deal with unlikable characters, you’re going to hate this book. Dead Letters features one of the most dysfunctional family dynamics I’ve ever seen, and this story is filled to the brim with characters who are compelling but at times rather loathsome. The protagonist Ava is no exception. She’s occasionally selfish, hypocritical, and holier than thou… and yet, she is one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen.  For all her flaws, she has just as many virtues, and she’s three-dimensional enough that I found myself relating to quite a few aspects of her character, even when I didn’t really want to.  For all fans of literary fiction who like their characters as aggravatingly realistic as possible, Dead Letters is a must read.

29441096Ryan Cusack (The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney).  Ugh, my heart hurts just thinking about this character.  At a glance, Ryan is hard to love.  He’s a teenage drug dealer who’s apathetic about his future; he cares deeply about his girlfriend Karine but doesn’t always know how to show it, and ends up making some stupid mistakes.  But what Lisa McInerney does so expertly in this book is depict crime and poverty as a vicious, multi-generational cycle.  It’s clear that Ryan is the way he is because of the way he was raised – and his father is the way he is because of the way he was raised, etc., and it’s heartbreaking because of how unavoidable it all seems.  But there’s still so much good in this character who’s somehow managed to not be irrevocably damaged by everything he’s gone through, and for that reason, I managed to root for Ryan through all his many ups and downs.

41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Richard Papen (The Secret History by Donna Tartt).  My knee-jerk reaction to thinking about Richard Papen is ‘ugh, Richard,’ but when I think about it – what would The Secret History have been without him?  Richard anchors this story together in a way that’s absolutely essential to the narrative.  He’s the outsider coming into this tight-knit group of friends, and his instant idolization of their group dynamic is what really allows the story to be set into motion.  Richard’s mere presence in a lot of ways was a catalyst – his idolization in some ways being the justification they all needed to do the things they managed to do.  Richard is self-centered, and willfully blind to horrible things that he had been in a position to prevent, but still he makes for a compelling protagonist.  Surrounded by wealth and luxury, Richard himself comes from a poor background, and this class difference plays heavily into the way he interacts with this group of friends, and it’s difficult to fully condemn him when the temptation to do what they did is laid out so clearly for the reader.

220px-the_girl_on_the_train_28us_cover_201529Rachel (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins). I’m still somewhat conflicted about this book, but amid all my mixed feelings, there is one certainty: I love Rachel. I love her. Maybe I was predisposed to like her because we share a name, or maybe I just appreciated seeing such an openly flawed female character in such a mainstream novel – I’m not sure what exactly it was, but I was instantly drawn to Rachel.  Make no mistake, she is frustrating as all hell.  She’s an alcoholic who doesn’t care much about how her addiction affects the lives of those around her, she’s a complete busybody, she’s obsessed with her ex to a positively annoying degree… and yet, all of these things make for one of the most realistic protagonists I’ve ever encountered.  At times I want to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, but at the same time, I found it so refreshing to read about a female character who’s been afforded the same depth as so many famous male protagonists.

tender-by-belinda-mckeonCatherine (Tender by Belinda McKeon).  Catherine is so easy to loathe… almost too easy, in fact.  Because to loathe her is to distance yourself as a reader from her many complexities, and I for one would be hypocritical to not own up to the many ways that I related to this character.  Her obsessiveness is almost frighteningly realistic – Tender is told in terse, frantic prose which deteriorates the further you read, as Catherine becomes more and more mentally unstable.  She does some things that are morally reprehensible, and I want to condemn her for them, but I really can’t in good conscience.  This is a book about all the ugly sides of human nature, and you have to be willing to own up to them, because Catherine is almost unnervingly real.

Who are some of your favorite unlikable protagonists?  Comment and let me know!  And again, comment if there’s anything I missed these past 10 days that you’d like me to see!

top 5 wednesday: Books for your Hogwarts House

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

June 7th: Books For Your Hogwarts House: Show your Hogwarts House Pride, and tell us the top 5 books that represent your house!

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Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind.

I know there’s nothing particularly original about being a book nerd who identifies as Ravenclaw, but oh well.  I’ve always been decently ‘book smart’ (except where Chemistry is concerned, but let’s not talk about that), but more important than any innate intelligence I may or may not possess, I never seem to be satisfied with merely consuming media without engaging with it on a critical level.  That’s why I started writing book reviews in the first place – primarily to have somewhere to get all my thoughts down, because regardless of whether I loved or hated a book, my mind is always racing when I read.  I may have gotten really burned out with school toward the end there, but I’m always going to love learning.

(If you’re interested, the order that I identify with each house is: Ravenclaw > Slytherin > Hufflepuff >>>>> Gryffindor.)

Anyway, let’s get to it!  I think these books would be Ravenclaws, too.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt: This is an obvious one, but I had to include it.  Donna Tartt’s intelligent prose alone would earn this book a spot at the Ravenclaw table, but then when you throw in the subject matter – a group of pretentious classics nerds at an elite liberal arts school who want their lives to play out like a Greek drama – it’s hard to argue that this book belongs anywhere else.

517iynhfy5lThe Awakening by Kate Chopin: The Awakening is an early feminist novel about a woman who becomes dissatisfied with her marriage.  While the subject matter isn’t particularly innovative or shocking today, Kate Chopin is one of the first authors to lend such a daring portrayal of independence to her female protagonist.  I think this book belongs in Ravenclaw because the ‘awakening’ that the heroine Edna undergoes has to do with questioning the limitations of her own life, as well as the role of women in late 1800s society.  It’s not a book about action, but reflection, and how quiet reflection leads to a change in the way Edna lives her life.

6460814Ransom by David Malouf: What, a top 5 Wednesday where I don’t include the Iliad???  The Iliad is clearly a Gryffindor.  Alas.  Fortunately though, we have found a loophole, which is: being able to talk about the Iliad anyway.  Hooray!  Ransom is Australian writer David Malouf’s retelling of books XXII-XXIV of the Iliad, which focuses on the conflict between Priam and Achilles.  Achilles has killed Hector, Trojan prince, and has been dragging Hector’s body around the city walls of Troy, so Hector’s father, Priam, crosses battle lines to approach Achilles and ransom his son’s body.  While the Iliad is all rage and bloodlust and battle scenes, Ransom puts a quiet and contemplative spin on this famous tale.

33564The Crazed by Ha Jin: Do you ever finish reading something and think ‘I am too stupid for this book’?  That was me and The Crazed.  This is one of the most erudite things I’ve ever read.  Steeped in Chinese literary history, the intertextuality in this book is layered and masterful.  It’s hard to understand everything Ha Jin is trying to say in a single reading of The Crazed – this is the kind of book that could probably use five re-readings, as well as an intimate knowledge of multiple other texts before approaching it.

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The Vegetarian by Han Kang: The Vegetarian is one of my favorite books that I read last year, about a South Korean woman who stops eating meat in reaction to a violent dream.  This book is complex and layered – it raises questions about violence, sexuality, mental illness, social norms – and it gives no easy answers.  This is a book meant to stimulate and challenge the reader to think critically about the questions it poses, and my Ravenclaw brain loved the sheer amount of thematic complexity here.

So, what’s your Hogwarts house?  And which books do you think belong there?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Favorite Minor Characters

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

May 24th: Favorite Minor Characters.

It’s Wednesday again?!  Usually I prepare these posts in advance, but this week it snuck up on me!

Anyway, minor characters.  Let’s go.

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Andromache (The Iliad by Homer).  As if I could go a week without mentioning the Iliad.  Very few characters in this thousand-page epic can be described as ‘minor,’ but as she’s only in a couple of scenes, I think Andromache fits the bill.  Wife of the Trojan hero Hector and mother of their son Astyanax, Andromache’s character adds some much-needed humanity to this larger than life story, and her scenes are always my favorite to read.

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Volkheimer (All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr).  Half of what’s so compelling and heartbreaking about this book are the characters that Doerr creates – each one feels so three-dimensional, not just the two main characters.  Frederick, Etienne, and Jutta are all likewise incredible characters (Frederick in particular), but the one that stands out to me the most from this story is actually Volkheimer, one of the students that Werner meets at his Hitler Youth school.  Volkheimer, massive and imposing in stature and a star pupil, seems to be the model German soldier.  But he’s also quiet and thoughtful and loves classical music, and he’s gentle with Werner and their friendship is so compelling.  One of the best things about this book is how Doerr really brings to life how tragic the Hitler Youth was, and how these children really were just victims – Werner and Frederick and Volkheimer in particular.

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Finnick Odair (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins).  ‘Mockingjay’?  Never heard of it.  I’m only familiar with the third installment of this franchise called ‘Finnick Odair Lives Happily Ever After’ – it stars Finnick, and, you guessed it, he lives happily ever after.  Not sure what happens with Katniss and the revolution and all that, but Finnick!!! lives happily ever after!!!

 

30319086Filippa Kosta (If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio).  I loved all of the characters in this book, James in particular, but probably the most intriguing character is one who lurks somewhat in the background through the whole thing, Filippa.  In this tight-knit group of friends who have known each other for years, Filippa is the only one who remains an enigma, as she’s deliberately vague in sharing any information about her family or home life with her friends.  We find out the reason why that is by the end of the book, and it’s awfully sad, but Filippa remains a favorite because of the sheer strength of her character, because of the things she’s able to accept and deal with where the rest of her friend group is too afraid.  She’s fantastic and I wish she had a larger role – on stage and off!

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Viserys Targaryen (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin).  It was hard to narrow it down to just one from the massive host of characters in the ASOIAF universe, and this probably seems like a bit of a random choice, but I actually adore Viserys’ character.  Not because I think he’s secretly a good person or anything like that – I love him as a tragic villain.  He’s multifaceted and interested and his relationship with Dany is horrible and compelling.  I wish he hadn’t died as early as he does, especially in the show, because Harry Lloyd’s performance remains one of my favorites in the entire series.

Who are some of your favorite minor characters?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Summer Reads

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

May 17th: Summer Reads:  The weather is heating up (for half of the world), so what books remind you of summer and are your quintessential summer reads?

I’ll be honest: I’m not much of a seasonal reader.  I get the logic behind it – some books being better suited for certain seasons – but I can’t say that’s a huge factor in me deciding what’s next on my TBR.  I mean, I read A Little Life in July – coming in at around 700+ pages of pure depression, I’m pretty sure that should be a February book, but not for me.

That said, I’ve read a lot of books that I think would make for good summer reads!  So if you’re looking for something quick, thrilling, and addicting to read at the beach this summer, maybe give one of these a try:

51xb75isx7l-_sx343_bo1204203200_The Last Night at Tremore Beach by Mikel Santiago

The one sentence summary: The recently divorced Peter Harper decides to spend his summer on the idyllic Irish coast, which turns out to be anything but peaceful as this vaguely paranormal thriller unfolds.

Why it’s a good summer read: The beach setting and the page-turning storyline makes this a fantastic summer book.  You won’t want to put it down until you get to the end, making it a great book to take with you while you spend the day by the ocean.  (Ironically, I read this in December.)

9781250098221Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

The one sentence summary: Barry Bleecker and Sophie Ducel’s plane crashes somewhere in the Marquesas, leaving these two strangers to survive together on an island.

Why it’s a good summer read: Because reading about this beautiful tropical island in the middle of winter is going to make you cry.  This short and sweet book is best consumed with a body of water nearby.  As it’s under 300 pages long, this is the perfect book to read in a day, and it’s so compelling that you won’t want to put it down.  If you’re looking for something addicting to help you get back into the reading groove on your summer holidays, look no further.

19542841More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

The one sentence summary: 16 year old Aaron Soto is finally settling back into a routine in the months after his father’s suicide, supported by his mom and his girlfriend Genevieve; but then Thomas moves into the neighborhood, and everything Aaron thinks he knows is called into question.

Why it’s a good summer read: The stifling heat of summers in the Bronx is captured so well in these pages.  Though it starts out slow, this is ultimately a compelling story with believable and sympathetic characters.  I read this in my garden on a hot summer day, and it was the perfect atmosphere to complement the evocative setting of this novel.

30304221Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

The one sentence summary: Ingrid has been missing for years, presumed dead; but little does her family know she’s actually left a series of letters behind, chronicling the years and then months leading up to her disappearance.

Why it’s a good summer read: This is another one that takes place by a beach, but it’s the addicting prose and refreshing storyline that makes this the perfect summer vacation book.  Though the mystery is compelling, it’s really the characters and the family dynamic that make up the meat of this story, so this is recommended to anyone looking to unwind with a quiet sort of family-driven literary contemporary.

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The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The one sentence summary: Two mothers (sisters by marriage) give birth on the same night in the same house, and they come to an agreement which ends up having indelible consequences on their lives.

Why it’s a good summer read: This addicting family saga of a novel will keep you turning pages, even well after you’ve figured out the twist.  Short and sweet and and unexpectedly emotional ride, this is the perfect book for anyone looking for a compelling and unique family drama to devour in one sitting on your holidays.

So what are your favorite summer reads?  Have you read any of these books?  Comment and let me know!

top 5 wednesday: Authors You Want to Read More From

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

April 26th: Authors You Want to Read More From: Talk about some authors that you’ve only read one or a few books from, and you NEED to read more!

For this week’s topic I decided to focus on authors who’ve only written one or two books, as opposed to prolific authors like Shakespeare who I should get around to reading more of one of these days. Instead, all of the authors I’ve chosen I hope will publish more in the future!  Also, all women, because why not.

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Hanya Yanagihara: Of her two novels, The People in the Trees and A Little Life, I’ve only read the latter, but it had such a profound effect on me that I won’t even hesitate to call her one of my favorite authors. I’ve heard mixed reviews of The People in the Trees but I do intend to get around to it one of these days. Regardless, anything she publishes in the future I won’t even hesitate to pre-order.  Her prose flows with an effortless beauty, and the characters she creates are flawed and sympathetic.  A Little Life was almost painfully bleak and difficult to read, but it was also one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read.

 

994Hannah Kent: Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites was published in 2013, and her sophomore novel, The Good People, comes out in the fall in the US. I’m really looking forward to it. With Burial Rites, Kent managed to combine historical and literary fiction – two of my favorite genres – to create a story that was both atmospheric and emotionally devastating. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to read her new one.

 

celeste-ng-c-kevin-day-photographyCeleste Ng: Another one with a new novel coming out in the fall! Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, was an absolutely outstanding little book, which I found to be a masterclass in intricate storytelling. I actually have an e-galley of her new novel, Little Fires Everywhere, and I can’t wait to get around to it! I think even if I hate it (which I doubt I will), I’ll still read anything Ng does in the future, because an outstanding novel like Everything I Never Told You can’t possibly be a fluke. This woman is a genius.

 

caitedolanleach.jpgCaite Dolan-Leach: Her debut, Dead Letters which I read recently, is the quintessential ‘love it or hate it’ kind of book – but I loved it. I thought Dolan-Leach’s writing was so clever, and it suited the story flawlessly. She had such a distinct style in this book, and I’m mainly curious to see if and how she’d change it up in the future.  Also, as Dead Letters was a ‘literary mystery,’ I’m curious which of those two genres she’ll pursue in the future, or if she’ll continue on with more literary-mystery hybrids.  Whatever she decides to do, I’m sure I’ll love it.

 

nightshotsmallerKatharine Beutner: And finally, a relatively unknown author… Beutner’s debut, Alcestis, a lesbian retelling of the Euripides play of the same name, was published in 2010, and she hasn’t come out with anything since. I didn’t love Alcestis unconditionally, but I thought Beutner’s prose was outstanding and she showed so much promise for a new writer. Plus, I’m really interested in retellings of Greek mythology (and especially retellings such as this one which included an LGBT twist as well as a lot of feminist aspects), so if she decides to write something similar in the future, I would love to read it!

Which authors do you guys hope will publish more in the future?  Or, alternately, which published authors do you hope to read more from?  Comment and let me know!