January Wrap-up February TBR List

2017 is off to a great start. I completed 5.5 out of 6 books from my TBR January List and reviewed Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett which you can check out here.

I’m halfway done with my final book on my January list, All the Light You Cannot See, and I will be posting a review for it in a few days.

Now, on to my February Reading List:

  1. The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman–Historical fiction
  2. Eleanor by Jason Gurley–Fantasy, magical realism, YA
  3. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon–Fantasy, YA
  4. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo–Fantasy, YA
  5. The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie–Fiction, contemporary

I am reading a lot of YA Fantasy this month. I read 4 contemporary novels in January, 2 that focused on the Holocaust, so this month is a little bit lighter.

Okay, so here’s where I’d love some reading suggestions. I’ve decided that March will be my “Classics” month. I want to read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and two other class sci-fi/fantasy books, possibly Asimov’s Foundations series. I also want to read 2 classic lit books.

If you have any classic sci-fi or fantasy novels that you think are essential reading, please comment below and I will add some to my March reading!

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Book Reviews: Commonwealth and Hag-Seed

I’ve almost completed my reading list for January! If you haven’t checked that list out, it’s posted here.

The only book I have left to read is All the Light We Cannot See, which I’m very excited to finally read.

I’ve decided that I’m going to post at least 2 book reviews each month, and I plan on reviewing books I have the most to talk about. I LOVED The Bronze Horseman (a historical fiction that takes place in Soviet Russia), and I may do a short blurb on it, but I’ve decided to focus on these two books instead.

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

4.5/5 stars

This is a contemporary novel that debuted in September 2016. The novel spans five decades, following the intertwined lives of two families, brought together by an affair, a separation, and several remarriages.

What most intrigued me while I was reading this novel, was how the various connections between the siblings and step-siblings played out throughout the years. The step-siblings only ever spend a handful of summers together, but their actions and relationships have a lasting effect on everyone around them. Caroline and Franny Keating are sisters, the daughters of Fix and Beverly Keating. Cal, Holly, Jeannette, and Albie Cousins are the children of Bert and Teresa Cousins. When Bert and Beverly begin and affair and then marry for several years, the six children become family, until that marriage dissolves as well.

There is an especially poignant moment towards the end of the novel, when Franny Keating cares for Teresa Cousins, in her old age. What an interesting coupling–Teresa is the mother of Franny’s ex-stepsiblings. Teresa and Franny had only ever seen each other once, at a funeral decades ago. The two are basically strangers, but Franny spends Teresa’s final moments with her, and when a nurse asks about their relationship, Franny calls Teresa her step-mother, even though there is no name for what Teresa really is to her. But Teresa is the mother to people Franny loves and sees as brothers and sisters and that’s enough to deeply connect two strangers.

The story is a nonlinear one. Each chapter dances between decades as Patchett slowly reveals more and more about the sibling’s lives. We learn that while in her twenties, Franny dates a famous novelist who writes a book based on the lives of her and her extended family. This fills her with regret, because she has given away a deeply personal story that may not be hers to tell, one that focuses on her ex-stepsiblings and once the story is out there is a struggle and an examination on the ownership of stories and memory.

“All the stories go with you, Franny thought, closing her eyes. All the things I didn’t listen to, won’t remember, never got right, wasn’t around for. All”

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Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

4/5 stars

The Tempest by William Shakespeare tells a tale of magic, fantasy, desire and revenge. Hag-Seed is such a layered retelling of the tempest, it is a play within a play. The book itself parallels The Tempest: Our main character, Felix is cunningly wronged and deposed of by a power-seeking individual. He is ousted as the Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival after a praised career. His wife and daughter have both tragically died, and at that moment he is betrayed by his protege who stages a coup and has Felix fired and physically removed from the theater. Felix than completely disappears from the world and spends years living in a shack, growing mad all whilst planning and obsessing over his growing plot for revenge. His daughter, Miranda, has now been dead for 12 years, but she grows up with him in that shack, and ever more real ghost he resurrects as his companion.

A decade into his obsession on revenge, he creates a new identity and gains a job as a teacher at a correctional facility. Years go by as he teaches the Literacy Through Theater class, until the time comes for him to produce The Tempest and enact his revenge. The reader gets to see the production The Tempest and the progression of Felix’s madness.

Hag-Seed is a fun read. It is dark and dramatic, and it pulls you in to Felix’s plot. You both understand him and hope for him, but you also understand that he cannot sustain this life he has carved out for himself, that Miranda cannot be tethered to him forever. I also found the chapter length to be a great set-up. Most chapters are only three pages long which allowed for quick reading and I felt it really fit the feel of the book (it made it more play-like). I would really recommend this to both fans of The Tempest and people who were never able to get into Shakespeare, because this is a really accessible way to jump in.

Book Review: Between the World and Me

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

4.5/5 stars

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a beautiful and powerful writer. He currently writes for the Atlantic and you should go check out some of the articles he’s written, and then read this collection of essays. Between the World and Me is written as a letter to Coates’ son, a study on race relations in America and how racism oppresses and terrorizes black people and their bodies. Coates dives into personal and national history to examine and explain the way systems in the United States work as well-oiled machines that maintain the status quo of assault and violation of black people.

A lot of the criticism of this book has been, “this is too dark, there is no hope in Coates’ words,” and these critics are correct in the describing the book as bleak. I was listening to Another Round, a Buzzfeed podcast, in which Coates guest starred in and spoke about this criticism. Coates explained that as a black writer, people expect him to speak for all of his people. He’s expected to inspire and enlighten and bring about change. As a black writer, he is not afforded the same liberties as Fitzgerald, who was able to paint a picture of excess and social failings. I think that this is an apt analysis of the criticism against Coates. Coates looks at his life and he looks at the history of black oppression and he writes what he sees.

I’m going to include some quotes from Between the World and Me that I found particularly moving.

This first quote appears toward the beginning of the book. Coates breaks down how our belief in race is a tool that perpetuates racism.

“Americans believe in the reality of “race” as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism–the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them–inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores and earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.

But race is the child of racism, not the father.”

The second quote I’m going to include is one that features the American school system, which plays a prominent role in this book. Coates is very critical of public education. To him, schools are where the power imbalance is maintained. You either do well in school, or the streets will claim you and you will end up dead or in jail. If you will adapt and excel in school, you will be taught to exist and work within systems of oppression. Coates calls the classroom a “jail of other people’s interests.”

“But a society that protects some through the safety nets of schools, government-backed homes, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.”

That something darker is what Coates really dives into, and it is something that pushed me to think even harder about the issue of race. He talks about the Dream, the white man in power and how if there is a mountain of power there must be people left down below in its shadow. Which is all to say that racism exists because people allow it, because people enjoy the benefits they are allotted because of it.

“Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

 

What I’m Reading: April 11

I have so many feelings.

I finished both books on my TBR list, so let’s just jump into that.

Last week I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. And I enjoyed them both so much.

So, Harry Potter. As I mentioned last week, I am reading the Harry Potter books for the first time and I cannot explain just how much I love them. J.K. Rowling’s world building skills are phenomenal and the characters are fantastic. I was obsessed with books on magic when I was younger (and still am) and I can’t believe I didn’t read this series sooner. Because I am loving being in the HP world of adventure, friendship and magic and I don’t want to speed through the process, I’m trying to pace myself. So the goal is to read a HP book and then three other non-HP books before reading the next HP book. It’s hard, because I want to immediately pick up the next book after I finish one, but I know that my patience will make this whole thing more fun.

The Goblet of Fire is my favorite HP book thus far. **SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW** I always liked Harry, but I think this is the book that made me really fall in love with him as a character. All the tests that he goes through were great, and the book was a perfect blend of action and character development. The final battle scene between Voldemort and Harry was perfect and I had to go back and read it several times because it was that good. The fact that Harry stood his ground and decided that he would rather die standing up straight, like his father, made me cry way more than I was prepared to. I was out in public, reading at a local coffee shop, and I had to hide my face as I silently sobbed. Cedric asking Harry to take his body back, Lily talking to her son, UGH. It was heartbreaking. That whole scene was beautiful and a great end to a great book. The Goblet of Fire was SO good that it made me excited to finish and reread the entire series just so I could reread this one.

HP & The Goblet of Fire: 5/5

Now, on to Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. I need to preface this by saying that I went into this already loving Lauren Groff. I read her first novel The Monsters of Templeton last year and I would easily recommend that book to anyone. It was an incredible debut novel and it’s one of my favorites books of all time. It blends historical fiction, folklore, magic, and hyper-realism into a great tale about family and the mundane life issues everyone faces. Fates and Furies got so much more attention than her other works, but I have to say, I was slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the majority of the novel, but the ending, which I will not spoil, left me pretty unsatisfied. I felt like it was a cheat, an ending that’s shock-value wasn’t earned. I don’t like to feel that I was manipulated by an author, and the twist of the novel left me sort of feeling that way.

Lauren Groff is a prose master. Fates and Furies gave a realistic portrait of the ups and downs marriages face, and the characters were so human in their highs and lows. Both of the main characters are brilliant and highly talented people who are deeply flawed, and if I separate the first 95 percent of the text from the ending, I think they are incredibly believable.

Here is a a quote from the book. Mathilde is contemplating her marriage:

“Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silences, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.”

Groff beautifully and precisely writes about the way that people can never truly know other people, at least not fully. Despite my distaste for the book’s ending, reading Fates and Furies left me with so much to contemplate and damn, Groff’s prose. So it’s hard for me to not recommend this book to people. I’m torn between rating this book a 3.5 and a 4, but I have to make a decision, so here we go.

Fates and Furies: 4/5

Now, on to what I will be reading this week:

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. This book is a YA high fantasy novel about a teenage assassin who lives in a tyrannical kingdom in which magic has been wiped out. I’ve heard a lot of my kick-ass feminist internet friends praise this book and I’m so excited to read it.

and

Purity by Jonathan Franzen. This is a novel that came out in Sep of 2015 and it’s about recent college grad named Pip, who is $130,000 in debt with and she is increasingly becoming aware of how far from “normal” she is. Her mother has never been honest with her about who her father is or what her real name is. I’m ready to dive into this world.

If you can’t tell, I’m trying to read a wide mix of things. There will be YA, contemporary lit, sci-fi, fantasy, memoir, and whatever catches my eye. Feel free to send me recs! I love them.

Catch you next week 🙂

 

What I’m Reading and Why You Should/Shouldn’t Read This Too

Hey everyone! Today is my first day of what is now my weekly “What I’m Reading” Monday posts.

As this is the first post in this new column, today’s will be a short one. I will tell you what two books I’ve picked for the week and then I will check back in with you next Monday, let you know how it went, and what two books are next.

So for the week of April 4th, the two books I will be reading are:

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

and

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Okay, so here is a confession. I have never read the Harry Potter Series. I know, crazy. I have heard from so many people that I am really lucky to be experiencing the HP series for the first time and I agree. It is absolutely amazing. The series has been incredible thus far and I can hardly put the books down. That being said, while I want to read all of the books, I also want to spread my reading out a bit to prolong the experience. That will make sense to some of you and not so much to others. But I am loving learning about the HP world and story and I want to keep loving it for a bit longer. So I’ve decided to read one HP book and then three non-HP books in-between the next. And I am currently on the Goblet of Fire

Also, just a bit of extra information. I have not seen the HP movies either. Well, now that I’ve completed the first three HP books, I watched the first three HP movies. And I am really enjoying the movies as well. The reason I haven’t seen the movies is that I always knew that I wanted to read the book series and I am the type of person who can’t see a movie and then read the book after. So there is no way I wanted to ruin the books for myself by watching the movies.

On to Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Some of you may have heard about this book. It had sort of a fantastic year. I mean, Obama announced that it was his favorite book of the year. And if it’s good enough for Obama, then it’s good enough for me. Maybe. I guess we’ll see. But really, I have heard such great things about Groff and I can’t wait to read this book and let you all know what I think.

Okay. I’m off to go read and do the whole adult-work thing.

Bye for now.