Reading Bingo: 2017

I was pondering the best way to do a 2017 wrap-up post when I saw this awesome bingo card over on Cleopatra Loves Books. She says anyone can join in, so here’s my list and I hope to see many other lists pop up in my Reader. ūüėÄ

Most of my 2017 reads fit into multiple categories so I had to mush them around a little, especially since I haven’t yet finished 50 books this year.

(Links lead to my reviews.)

Bingo!

 

A book with more than 500 pages

At 1,116 pages, It is the¬†longest book I read this year. Given how well my attempts to read The Stand have gone I didn’t expect to enjoy it. However, there were some excellent scary moments and the friendship between the kids was a heartwarming through-line.

A forgotten classic

This is the toughest square because no matter which book I pick someone will say:¬†I’ve never forgotten that one! I’ve listed She because it’s not usually the first Haggard book to come up in conversation.

A book that became a movie

Let the Right One In has two film adaptations: the Swedish original and an unnecessary remake. Though it’s been a while since I’ve seen either, they’re both solid even though the original better captures the book’s vibe. This book was more thoughtful and terrifying than expected and I plan to write a full review.

A book published this year

I started with NetGalley this year and read many more new releases than usual. I wasn’t sure which to pick, but¬†House of Names is the one that prompted me to sign up for NetGalley in the first place. I’m in the minority for rating it so highly, but it’s still the best ARC I’ve gotten.

A book with a number in the title

…There’s a number on the cover, does that count? Goodreads lists the title as “Stone Mattress: Nine Tales” so I’m going with that. I haven’t gotten my review together yet but the title story (link) is superbly done.

A book written by someone under 30

Mary Shelley was 21 years old when she wrote Frankenstein which makes me feel old and unaccomplished. When I looked up the ages of authors for this square I also learned that Colson Whitehead wrote The Intuitionist at 30. Wow.

A book with non-human characters

Gulliver’s Travels has a whole cast of non-human characters. The tiny Lilliputians and giant Brobdingnagians are most memorable but there are also immortals and talking horses.

A funny book

Best satire ever! The Sellout may also be the first Man Booker Prize winner that didn’t remind me of homework. Beatty’s prose has the rhythm of great stand-up comedy and he even writes a joke in proper APA format. My quest to read all the Booker Prize winners is going to hit a snag next year when I read Lincoln in the Bardo¬†(which sounds awful).

A book by a female author

Daphne du Maurier has been one of my favorite authors since I first read Rebecca¬†in high school. Jamaica Inn felt a little campy in places but it was an excellent read on a stormy night. Why are so many books better when it’s raining?

A book with a mystery

I’m really enjoying the Miss Marple series and The Moving Finger is my current favorite. Each mystery has had a different narrator and occurred in a different place (all in small towns, though). I don’t often like books where a regular person solves mysteries in their immediate vicinity, but Miss Marple has travelled a bit and nicely sidestepped this particular pitfall.

A book with a one-word title

I don’t like this book. At all. However, it’s my most recent review and has a one-word title so… Artemis has a place here.

A book of short stories

I still don’t entirely know what to make of The Dinner Party and Other Stories. Ferris’ writing quality was quite varied, even within a single story, but there were a few I really enjoyed. Mostly I’m just excited to have finished one of his books. He’s one of those writers whose short fiction I much prefer to their novels.

FREE SQUARE

My review for The Gathering¬†was a lot of fun to write even though I didn’t finish the book. I will read another by Enright, but it’ll be a long long time before I return to this one.

A book set on a different continent

My Name Is Red takes place in Istanbul and the setting is a major part of the book—it becomes a character.

A book of non-fiction

I read so little non-fiction that Dead Wake¬†is my only option for this square. (Technically,¬†The Glass Castle¬†is also non-fiction since it’s an autobiography, but I’ve always understood “non-fiction” to be research-based with an index/bibliography at the back.)

The first book by a favorite author

This one is a little bit of a stretch because it’s the only Colson Whitehead book I’ve read. I don’t think I can say he’s a “favorite author” based on one book. That said,¬†The Intuitionist is a strong debut and he’s one of the few authors on my “to read more of” list for the year. I can see him becoming a favorite.

A book you heard about online

I haven’t reviewed The Lodger¬†yet, but when I do I’ll link to FictionFan’s blog because I only picked it up after she named it the Best Vintage Crime Fiction/Thriller.

A best-selling book

Sometimes I worry I don’t pick enough popular books so I read¬†Big Little Lies¬†to be cool.

A book based on a true story

I’m not saying The Glass Castle¬†isn’t strictly true by putting it in this category. Saying it’s “based on” a true story doesn’t mean it isn’t a true story—just that it has been balanced and curated to craft a linear “plot” and “characters” for the reader to follow.

A book at the bottom of your TBR pile

My copy of Girl with a Pearl Earring was purchased at a book sale for $1.00 almost 15 years ago. While I heard good things about it, I thought it was going to be much drier and more like a history book. It sat on the shelf until I read New Boy from NetGalley. Surprisingly, many of the things I disliked in New Boy were on display here though to a lesser degree.

A book your friend loves

The Shape of Water was recommended by a friend who was kind enough to let me keep it for the two years it took me to pick it up. My inability to read books on a deadline is why I’m not the best with challenges. Of course, this won’t dissuade me from signing up for challenges in 2018.

A book that scares you

Not conventionally scary, but the book with the greatest number of jump-scares (Stephen King’s¬†It) is filling the “500 pages +” square. This one gave me a shiver though because The Talented Mr. Ripley‘s lead character, Tom Ripley, has got a real dark side. His entitled air and willingness to take whatever he wants is chilling. Though a lot of the book is darkly funny, there are some brutal moments that are made more effective by how they slice through the humor.

A book that is more than 10 years old

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde¬†holds up well for something written in 1886. I plan to pull together a full review at some point. Maybe for next October…

The second book of a series

I read 80% of the second book of a series but I didn’t finish it because I just needed a refresher before book 3. Next time, I’ll read the whole book and complete this square.

A book with a blue cover

Scrolling through Goodreads, I realized I’ve read a number of blue-covered books this year. I picked¬†The Ballad of the Sad Caf√©¬†for this square because it’s almost entirely blue and it has blue content to match. (The Goodreads cover of Breathing Lessons has just as much blue, but that book made me see red.)

I hope everyone had a great year of books! I can’t say “see you in 2018” just yet though because I’ve got a few NetGalley reviews I need to post first. It would be great to start the new year fresh (and not behind)!

Mini Reviews (Halloween Edition)

A lot of people ask me to recommend creepy books this time of year. I wasn’t able to do this until recently because I didn’t often read scary stuff. As a kid, I ran out of the room if a trailer for a horror movie came on TV, and R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series was almost too much to handle. (I’m pretty sure there was one with an evil ventriloquist’s dummy…) Reading nightmarish stuff the last few Octobers has been fun because this is a genre I’d previously neglected—I thought it would be all gore and jump scares—but it’s full of imaginative writing, memorable characters, and brilliant pacing. This is also the one genre where I almost don’t mind cheesy “and then everything was okay” happy endings because if the monster weren’t defeated at the end I might never sleep again. ūüėČ

So here’s this year’s crop:

(Title links lead to Goodreads pages; this will be long enough without summaries!)

– – – – –

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Overall: 4.0 (of 5.0)
It’s a classic, but I’m not sure it’s aging well. The core story (creating the monster, some of the monster’s experiences, and the final showdown) are solid, but the connective tissue comprises middling philosophy and rampant sentimentality. Everyone in Dr. Frankenstein’s life (except the monster) is the absolute BEST: his friends are paragons of virtue, his cousin/wife-to-be is a shining beacon of goodliness, and his saintly mother dies with a smile lest she upset anyone with her grief. Dr. Frankenstein is a tedious narrator and his self-pity is trying. All his misery comes from his inability to treat his creature with a shred of decency, but what is he to do when the poor creature is just so…ugly?

His words had a strange effect upon me. I compassionated him and sometimes felt a wish to console him, but when I looked upon him, when I saw the filthy mass that moved and talked, my heart sickened and my feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred. I tried to stifle these sensations; I thought that as I could not sympathize with him, I had no right to withhold from him the small portion of happiness which was yet in my power to bestow.‚ÄĚ (81)

And check out this hyperbolic whinging after the creature exacts his revenge:

A fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness; no creature had ever been so miserable as I was; so frightful an event is single in the history of man. (112)

Dr. Frankenstein is worse off than anyone in history! Shelley’s use of “creature” here is great, though, since it shows (again) that the doc’s chief fault is a lack of empathy. The sections narrated by the creature are a welcome change of pace, but they soon become too long-winded (impressive for a being that just learned to speak). In a blessing to English teachers everywhere, the creature remains unnamed and students out themselves as not having read the book the instant they call him “Frankenstein.”

– – – – –

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Overall: 4.7 (out of 5.0)
The most surprising book of the month! I saw both film adaptations (the Swedish original and the American remake) circa 2010 and only remembered the basic plot. The book was much more expansive, with a larger cast, more vampires, and more gross-out moments. When I started reading, I didn’t pay as much attention to characters I thought would stay on the periphery (i.e., everyone outside Eli and Oskar’s immediate orbit). Far from being the filler characters they are in the movie, though, many of them have complete story arcs. Eventually, I figured this out and started paying more attention. Once I did, I was impressed.

Let the Right One In has got a little of everything. Lindqvist’s version of vampirism has its supernatural/fairy-tale elements alongside pseudo-sciency bits. Vampires can’t enter a room without being invited, even as the virus that creates them is described more like a medical condition. As in, modern people who catch the virus describe it in medical terms—it’s an old condition described in a new way. This makes for a suprisingly interesting mash-up, something I didn’t even know was missing from usual vampire fiction. There are vampires resigned to their fates, tragic ones, and truly disgusting ones; this range is unusual and leads to a deep and involving story. Be warned though: It’s pretty disgusting.

Note: The pedophilia angle (mostly in the first quarter of the book) was unexpected. If it was implied in the movie I either blocked it out or didn’t catch it. Eli’s relationship with H√•kan is symbiotic in a bad way: She knows he’s attracted to children and he knows she’s a vampire. Their exchange of services is nauseating and clearly untenable. I mention this because it isn’t something you’d expect to encounter in a vampire book and it’s incredibly disturbing.

– – – – –

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

Still reading…no score yet.
Part of familiarizing myself with a genre means I’ve got to spend time with the classics. I read some H.P. Lovecraft in high school, but his writing didn’t appeal to me. The stilted, old-fashioned language and the weirdness put me off. The King in Yellow has been cited as one of Lovecraft’s influences for the Necronomicon. I’m only halfway through this collection now. While the stories are good, they’re also deeply strange and skin-crawling.

With the exception of one story so far, this collection is structured around an assortment of characters finding the play “The King in Yellow” and going mad. Some are drawn to it, others try to avoid it, but no one can stop reading once they get started. The play itself is never outlined (not yet at least) so it exists mostly in its effect on the characters. Given that the same general plot is explored in each, I was expecting a lot of repetition, but there’s a good amount of variety in the characters so far. Somehow, it’s eerier that a variety of people are drawn to the play, including seemingly normal people. Since this is one of those books that has influenced many others, readers who are more familiar with horror might see these stories as rote and predictable (even I’ve called a couple endings), but they’re well-written and definitely provoke a shiver.

– – – – –

It by Stephen King

Overall: 4.5 (out of 5.0)
Full review here. TL;DR: Great book; great movie.

– – – – –

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

I’m not posting a mini review since The Loney deserves a full one. I’ve read it twice now and can’t make up my mind about it. The brooding atmosphere that comes from two (two!) gothic mansions and a religious mania make it a claustrophobic read, but the warm relationship between the brothers adds some lightness—plus, they give the reader someone to cheer for. The pacing is brilliant but the ending… There’s just not enough information for me to sort it all out. There are a few ways to interpret it, but all open a plot hole. I read The Loney with a couple friends and everyone had a slightly different take on the ending, but no one’s theory answered all questions. There was a loose thread in each that unwound the whole thing. Frustratingly, not enough people have read this little gem, so online chatter is in short supply.

Therefore, I should give this book a high score so that many, many more people read it! But if any one of those people ask me to explain the ending I’ll be at a loss and look like an idiot… My hope is that in pulling quotes for a full review, I’ll figure out the ending. It’ll be like in college where I didn’t figure out my thesis statement until halfway through the paper.

– – – – –

Zero K by Don DeLillo

Still reading…no score yet.
I’m not sure why I thought this book would be creepy. I wanted something with a little sci-fi edge to round out the list. Don DeLillo’s unsettling White Noise is one of those books I had to read for class that turned out to be good. Though I own a couple other DeLillo books, I keep returning to White Noise. I do this sometimes—when I find a book I really like by an author, I’ll stall on their other works in case they aren’t as good. It’s so disappointing when a writer follows up a great book with a mediocre one!

Fear of death is a big theme of White Noise and, while it isn’t scary, the repeated refrain “Who will die first?” is the kind of thing that gets stuck in my head when I’m trying to sleep. Since Zero K digs into dying more directly, I expected the same kind of unsettling vibe. Though many reviews describe this book as funny, the cryogenic facility felt terrifyingly sterile to me. I thought this book was heading into some dark territory (hence its presence on my October list), but I put it down halfway through. I wasn’t feeling a connection to any of the characters and their ridiculously pretentious mode of speaking got to me.

99% of the reason I picked up this book is that I’ve been working on a series of stories about a cryogenic facility and wanted to check out the competition. DeLillo and I have gone completely different directions with our stories, which is really all I wanted from this book.

– – – – –

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Overall: 4.8 (out of 5.0)
This is more of a psychological thriller than a horror novel, but Tom Ripley isn’t someone I’d ever want to meet. I didn’t link to Goodreads because this is a book that’s more fun the less you know about it; spoilers are tough to avoid for this one given its popularity. All you need to know is the barest outline: A wealthy man pays Tom to convince his son to return home. The son, Dickie Greenleaf, has been gallivanting around Europe and his father thinks Tom, a former schoolmate, can push him in a way that family can’t. Tom soon becomes enamored with Dickie’s way of life and doesn’t want to uphold his end of the bargain since it’ll upend the gravy train.

The Talented Mr. Ripley starts slow but builds to a fever pitch. The writing is clever and tight, there are numerous bits of dark humor, and details from the earliest chapters pay off at the climax. Tom’s internal monologue, bizarrely, is simultaneously over-confident and paranoid. It’s such a closely-written, internal portrayal of his mindset that it’s hard to see how this was ever adapted into a film. Even if you’ve seen the film, there’s plenty here for a more unfiltered view of the characters.

– – – – –

Happy Reading!

20 Books of Summer 2017: Wrap Up

A new personal best!

Summers pass faster now than when I was a kid. By the time I hit Publish on this post, I’ll be mulling next year’s list and it’ll be June again soon.

But before I bid farewell to this year’s list, I need to break out the champagne.

I read 16 books!
I reviewed 9 books!
A new personal best!!

I went off-list a little in the middle, but still made a sizeable dent in the original list from my sign-up post. The links below lead to my reviews. Happy Summer, Everyone!

Original Reading List

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Postponed

 

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.6

 

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Postponed

 

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.5

 

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.8

 

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.7

 

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.4

 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Postponed

 

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.4

 

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Postponed

 

Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.0

 

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

She by H. Rider Haggard

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 4.5

 

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Postponed

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Postponed

 

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Postponed

 

As always, a few queue jumpers…

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Read and reviewed!
Rating: 1.5

 

The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri

Read, not yet reviewed…

 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Read, not yet reviewed…

Monthly Round-up: August 2017

Whew. August was a crazy month! The 20 Books of Summer 2017 reading challenge ends on September 3, which means I’ve got four books to finish reading in a short amount of time. Is it the weekend yet?

Books Reviewed:

  1. The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
  2. Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Books Read:

  1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  2. The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri
  3. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
  4. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier

Current State of the TBR:

  • Kindle Titles: 76 (includes rereads)
  • Paperback Titles: 178 (includes rereads)
  • NetGalley Queue: 14
Keen observers (creepy people?) may notice my TBR has surged a little. I sold some books to a used bookshop and picked up the following ten books for $7.11. That averages to seventy-one cents¬†per book!! ūüėÄ

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

 

The Sea by John Banville

 

Mao II by Don DeLillo

 

Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

 

The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie, Jr.

 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

 

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

 

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler

 

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett