Tag: Spring Cleaning

I went through my drafts to find a tag I want to do because I have not finished a book in days and I don’t think I will anytime soon. Given that I just moved and therefore organized my shelves and got rid of quite a few books this tag seemed appropriate. I was tagged by Sarah whose wonderful blog you should all check out.

THE STRUGGLE OF GETTING STARTED: A BOOK OR SERIES YOU STRUGGLE TO BEGIN BECAUSE OF ITS SIZE

32200595I am very good at starting series and not good at all at finishing them. The first answer that comes to mind is therefore A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab, not only is it the last book in a series, it is also ridiculously long. I am hoping to finally tackle it in May, when Wyrd and Wonder is taking place.

CLEANING OUT THE CLOSET: A BOOK OR SERIES YOU WANT TO UNHAUL

Honestly? At the moment none. Like I said, I got rid of so many books recently (mostly books I owned for years and that don’t appeal to me anymore) and at the moment I am super pleased with my collection.

OPENING THE WINDOW AND LETTING FRESH AIR IN: A BOOK THAT WAS REFRESHING

36136386I adored Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends enough to be super excited about literary fiction after months of only reading fantasy. Rooney is a genius and everything about her writing excites me

WASHING OUT THE SHEETS: A SCENE THAT YOU WISH YOU COULD REWRITE

33368868I recently read Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden and while I hated the vast majority of the book, the ending nearly made me throw the book (or my phone). It is a special kind of awful. Rachel’s review is mostly about the ending of that book, if that gives you any indication of just how horrible it was.

THROWING OUT UNNECESSARY KNICK-KNACKS: A BOOK IN A SERIES YOU DIDN’T THINK WAS NECESSARY

Did I mention that I am horrible that finishing series? What I meant is that I often only read the first book. However, I am currently making my way through Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series and that has been a brilliant but sometimes uneven experience. She does a great job at always moving the main story along, but some books are weaker than others (Blaze of Memory for example was boring to no end).

POLISHING DOORKNOBS: A BOOK THAT HAD A CLEAN FINISH

Again, Conversations With Friends is the obvious answer here. The ending is pitch-perfect. Enough so that I have listened to the last chapter twice since finishing the book. Just thinking about it makes me giddy.

REACHING TO DUST THE FAN: A BOOK THAT TRIED TOO HARD TO RELAY A CERTAIN MESSAGE

I don’t usually mind politics in books at all – even if they are included in a way that others perceive as heavy-handed, but I do think that Tolstoy’s books and short stories got weaker the older he got. He argued that only morally worthwhile books can be considered great, which is premise I don’t totally agree with but something that becomes painfully obvious when reader his works in publication order.

THE TIRING YET SATISFYING FINISH: A SERIES THAT WAS TIRING BUT SATISFYING TO GET THROUGH

I am not quite sure whether I understand this prompt correctly but the series that came to mind is N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy – it becomes painfully obvious early on that the series can only end in heartbreak and I was scared for my heart and for these characters I adored throughout the final book.

I tag Rachel, Naty, Hadeer, Ayunda, and Emily. As well as everybody else who wants to do the tag.

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Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

37539457Verdict: Rooney is a genius.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Faber & Faber, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

I am such a fan of Sally Rooney’s writing and I cannot imagine this changing, ever. The way she constructs her characters is something extraordinary and I am so very glad this book is on the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I needed a brilliant book after some of other nominated books just did not work for me at all. I really hope she’ll make the shortlist.

Told in alternating viewpoints and skipping forward in time, this book chronicles Connell’s and Marianne’s friendship/relationship from their final year in school until shortly after their undergraduate degree. It is both fast-paced and intimate in a way that nearly perfectly catered to my reading preferences. For me the intimacy of her story worked exceedingly well; she narrows her gaze into those two characters in a way that made them near unbearably real for me. Rooney’s prose is readable and without frills but still expertly done to keep me engaged but for me, Rooney’s biggest strength are her characters; they are fully realized and flawed people who I cannot help but root for. Even more so than in her debut novel, she expertly broke my heart. I felt for these two people who keep on missing each other, who just for the life of them cannot communicate effectively, and who still cannot be without each other.

While I think that Conversations With Friends is the stronger of her two novels, both of them are ridiculously well-done and I am glad Rooney gets all the praise she deserves. She is such an exciting voice and I just cannot wait to see what she does next.

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. The Pisces by Melissa Broder (review)
  2. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (review)
  3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
  4. Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  5. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (review)
  6. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (review)
  7. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (review)
  8. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (review)

Review: Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

36203384Verdict: Indulgent.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Published by Hutchinson, June 2018.

Find it on Goodreads.

They told him everything.

He told everyone else.

Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.

In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.

A dazzling debut about the line between gossip and slander, self-creation and self-preservation, SWAN SONG is the tragic story of the literary icon of his age and the beautiful, wealthy, vulnerable women he called his Swans.

‘Writers write. And one can’t be surprised if they write what they know.’

I am in two minds about this book: while I thought there were moments of brilliance, overall I found it indulgent, tedious, and way too long. Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcotts sets out to retell Truman Capote’s final years from the perspectives of his ‘Swans’, high society ladies he first befriended and then betrayed.

The strength of this book for me was hands-down the narrative choice to tell the story from a we-perspective, reminiscent of Greek choruses. As such she creates a cacophony of voices and competing narrative strands that I enjoyed. Listening to the audiobook worked really well for this facet of the story. I found some of these stories, especially Slim’s and Babe’s compelling and interesting to follow – but there were some women I just could not tell apart; they blended together in a picture of overwhelming privilege. I think Greenberg-Jephcott set out to make these women sympathetic victims of Capote’s scheming – but for this to work they have to be just that: sympathetic. But it is difficult to feel for people whose whole lives seem to revolve around gossip (who wore the wrong dress to whose party on a yacht is also not particularly interesting gossip).

The book would have been altogether a lot better had it been a lot shorter; as I said, I really enjoyed the narration and for the first two hours I found the glib narrative voice charming and interesting. But once it got old, it got really old and then I had to spent hours upon hours listening to what read for vast stretches like a gossip column. Had the book been 200 pages shorter and more focused on the compelling Swans (yes, Babe and Slim but also CZ and Gloria), I could have really loved this book.

By biggest problem, however, was Capote’s characterization. Come to think about it, cutting his parts nearly completely would have made for a much more interesting reading experience. While I know next to nothing about the man and he might very well have been awful, I found the gleeful hatefulness in which he is described both uncomfortable and uninteresting. He is referred to throughout the book as “the boy”, we are constantly hit on the head about his height (or rather, lack of height) to in a way that just felt unnecessary and steeped in deeply disturbing ideas about masculinity, and calling him repeatedly “the fag” or “the kobold” or variations thereof is offensive and pointless.

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. The Pisces by Melissa Broder (review)
  2. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (review)
  3. Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  4. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (review)
  5. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (review)
  6. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
  7. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (review)

 

Review: Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn

38720267Verdict: Weirdly not for me.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Short Stories

Published by Fairlight Books, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

When Alina’s brother-in-law defects to the West, she and her husband become persons of interest to the secret services, causing both of their careers to come grinding to a halt.

As the strain takes its toll on their marriage, Alina turns to her aunt for help – the wife of a communist leader and a secret practitioner of the old folk ways.

Set in 1970s communist Romania, this novella-in-flash draws upon magic realism to weave a tale of everyday troubles, that can’t be put down.

This book was really not for me – and this is weird because I really thought it would be. I love novels told in short stories and I love books inspired by Eastern European fairy tales. But I really failed to connect to this book. Part of this has to do with the fact that I read so many similar books that this felt derivative in a way that feels mean to communicate (drawing on real life atrocities as it is).

Told in short, flash fiction like chapters, this is Alina’s story, as she is navigating an increasingly cold marriage while living in a dictatorship that threatens everything about her life. It is similar in themes to the (much better) Milkman and maybe the closeness in which I read these books were to its detriment. Alina is incapable of communicating effectively with those closest to her and van Llewyn shows how the climate of the time suffocates any possible feeling between Alina and the others. The insidiousness of her dealings with the secret police is explored, but it mostly stayed on the surface. Scenes were strikingly similar to other books in a way that seems like it might have been intentional (the obvious comparison for me was The Zsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra, a book also told in short stories and dealing with atrocities but also a book I adore beyond measure). I guess what I am trying to communicate is that I found this book lacking in comparison to other novels, a critique that is not particularly helpful, I know.

For me, the book worked best in the stories that were more magical in nature, here I thought van Llewyn really added something to the canon. Her exploration of fairy tales in dictatorships was lovely and interesting. It helped that my favourite character (the wonderful Aunt Theresa) was front and centre of these fairytalesque stories. This is not a bad book by any means but one that I found not quite exciting and not as well written as I would have hoped it would be.

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. The Pisces by Melissa Broder (review)
  2. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (review)
  3. Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  4. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (review)
  5. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
  6. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (review)

Thoughts: 2019 Hugo Award nominees

I know I have been all about the Women’s Prize for Fiction lately, but my first love is SFF – so I am always ridiculously excited when the Hugo Award nominations are announced and this year was no exception. While I have not been reading all that much hard SFF in these last few months (I am loving my romance spec-fic too much), I have heard of the vast majority of the fiction nominees (and many of the other nominees as well) and I am very excited for this year’s list!

You can find the complete list of nominees here. I do have some thoughts on some of the categories and felt the need to share them, if only to give a counterweight to the heavy lit-fic slant my blog had in March (and because I love talking about book prizes).

Best Novel

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

Of these six books, I have read two (I loved both Spinning Silver (review) and Trail of Lightning (review)). I already own Record of a Spaceborn Few (I am a big fan of Becky Chamber’s brand of optimistic scifi and had this book preordered since forever but had to wait until the edition matched the other two books in the series). I have been itching to buy Space Opera because how can I not? A literal space opera? Inspired by my favourite event of the year – the Eurovision Song Contest? Literally everything about this sounds amazing. While I adore Mary Robinette Kowal’s online presence and have heard great things about the book, The Calculating Stars does not speak to me. And Yoon Ha Lee’s writing just scares me. Hard SciFi just is not my idea of a great time.

Best Novella

Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)
The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press / JABberwocky Literary Agency)

All I wanted to say is that tor.com really is crushing this category. I learned last year that novellas don’t really work for me – but this list seems stellar.

Best Graphic Story

Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami Kivelä, colours by Jason Wordie, letters by Jim Campbell (BOOM! Studios)
Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and Aaron Covington, art by André Lima Araújo, Mario Del Pennino and Tana Ford (Marvel)
Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden (First Second)
Paper Girls, Volume 4, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher (Image Comics)
Saga, Volume 9, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Monstress!! I haven’t read this volume yet but adored the first two and I am very excited to see it on this list. Everything about this series excites me. I haven’t really been reading any graphic novels lately but Monstress is a literal masterpiece.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Katherine Arden (2nd year of eligibility)
S.A. Chakraborty (2nd year of eligibility)
R.F. Kuang (1st year of eligibility)
Jeannette Ng (2nd year of eligibility)
Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2nd year of eligibility)
Rivers Solomon (2nd year of eligibility) 

I am super excited for this list. Katherine Arden obviously has my heart and R. F. Kuang is such an exciting author. I am also really happy to see Jeannette Ng on here, while I didn’t absolutely adore her book The Pendulum Sun her online presence is so very brilliant. And I have not been able to stop thinking about The Pendulum Sun either, so I cannot wait for her next book, whenever that might come out.

So overall I am mostly pleased. I don’t see myself attempting to read a large chunk of the many many nominated books or authors but I cannot wait to see who will win.

Are you pleased with the nominations? Are you planning on reading any of the categories in full? Is there any one book in particular that I should get to?

Wrap Up: March 2019 or hello, Women’s Prize Longlist

I think this is the month I have blogged the least since I started. But I am still reading at my normal pace and I think I just need to be ok with the fact that I don’t have a lot of time for blogging at the moment. My decision to stop writing reviews for everything I read has helped me immensely to not lose my blogging mojo.

Books I read in March:

  1. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. The Playmaker by Cathryn Fox: unrated.
  3. The Sheikh’s Pregnant Lover by Leslie North: unrated.
  4. The Bastard by Lisa Renee Jones: unrated.
  5. Milkman by Anna Burns: 3 out of 5 stars (review)
  6. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden: 1,5 out of 5 stars (review)
  7. Heart of Obsidian (Psy-Changeling #12) by Nalini Singh: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. Wild Embrace (A Psy-Changeling Collection) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  9. Shield of Winter (Psy-Changeling #13) by Nalini Singh: 4 out of 5 stars
  10. Wild Invitation (A Psy-Changeling Collection) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  11. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn: 2 out of 5 stars (rtc)

Favourite of the Month:

Conversations With Friends, hands down. I am still so very much in awe of this book that I don’t think any other book will top the reading experience for me any time soon.

Continue reading “Wrap Up: March 2019 or hello, Women’s Prize Longlist”

Review: Doggerland by Ben Smith

42363317Verdict: Bleak, but beautiful.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction, Speculative Fiction

Published by HarperCollins UK/ 4th Estate, April 4th 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

Doggerland is brilliantly inventive, beautifully-crafted and superbly gripping debut novel about loneliness and hope, nature and survival – set on an off-shore windfarm in the not-so-distant future.
‘His father’s breath had been loud in the small room. It had smelled smoky, or maybe more like dust. ‘I’ll get out,’ he’d said. ‘I’ll come back for you, ok?’ The boy remembered that; had always remembered it. And, for a time, he’d believed it too.’
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…
Doggerland is a haunting and beautifully compelling story of loneliness and hope, nature and survival.

This book is possibly a definite contender for the bleakest book I have read in years. Set in the future on a slowly breaking down wind farm maintained as much as possible by the Old Man and the Boy whose names remain a mystery for most of the book. To say that not much is happening would be unfair (there is actually a lot of action here) but everything crumbles in slow motion and there is not much either person can do against it. The comparisons to The Road are spot-on; this future is bleak and narrow in the way th world can be seen by the protagonists. The atmosphere is equally distressing and overwhelming while the language remains a sharp edge that can dazzle the reader.

That this book was written by an author who also writes poetry, is impossible to overlook – the sentences are beautiful and unusual and by far my favourite thing about this book. The way Ben Smith’s prose flows reminded me of the ocean – something that has to be intentional given that the North Sea is as much of a protagonist as the three other people in this novel.

But I don’t particularly like The Road and I feel a lot of the same feelings towards that book as I do towards this book: I can see how it is very well done, impressive even, but for me the bleakness became overwhelming and I had to force myself to keep reading. But this has everything to do with the kind of reader I am and nothing to do with this book. It is a book I can see many people loving and I hope many people will pick it up – because it is so very well done and so interestingly told.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins UK/ 4th Estate in exchange for an honest review.