Lincoln in the Bardo – review

Author: George Saunders
Publication date: February 14, 2017
Genre: historical fiction, literary fiction
My rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

Witty, wise, weird, and wrenching, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary tour-de-force that brims with brilliance and takes a little-known historical event as a lens to examine truths about the human condition. It is quite unlike anything I have read in a long time, and it makes the writer’s intelligence and skill apparent almost immediately. And, somehow, it manages to do this while still being an accessible read that passes far faster than you would expect–though you wish it could last just a tiny bit longer.

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2019 Reading Recap – The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre-at-Best

Usually, I would do a Top Ten Tuesday post since, you know, it’s a Tuesday. But this week’s theme is “Favorite Books I Read in 2019,” and I’ll let you in on a secret (which isn’t really a secret): I’m not very good at choosing favorites. I agonize over making selections of which books were the “best” I read each year, especially once I try to account for things like literary merit vs my own personal enjoyment, different criteria for books of different genres, new books vs classics, what to do about multiple good books in a series, and so on. Plus, with 105 books under my belt from this year alone, there’s just such a high chance that a generic “top ten” would leave out books that deserve more love. So instead, this is a little clustered “list” of my thoughts from the year, across different categories, genres, and more, with both favorites and least-favorites galore. (Hey, that rhymed.)

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Thoughts on a Thursday – TBR, upcoming review, and more

It’s been a long week (despite having Monday off for Labor Day, and the fact that it’s not even Friday yet). I have some more legitimate posts in the works, but for now, I thought I might share some scattered things I’m currently thinking about. Most are book-related; a few are not. All are intended to be very casual updates, so don’t expect anything too fancy, but here’s what’s up:

  • First, something I found tremendously exciting: Quichotte by Salman Rushdie made the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize. I was fortunate enough to read a digital ARC of this book before its release this past Tuesday, and I absolutely loved it. It makes me happy to see great authors continuing to get the recognition they deserve! Check out my review here.
  • This month, I’m participating in a group reading challenge on Facebook called Reading Rivalry. We get sorted into teams, we have book prompts and posts to respond to, and we get points for things we get read. It’s pretty fun, and it helps me prioritize my TBR a little. This month’s overarching theme is Harry Potter, and I’m on the Marauders team!
  • Speaking of TBR, I still have so many books to read this month! I have eARCs of The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman, and The Bone Ships by RJ Barker, and I’m currently working through The Ten Thousand Doors of January. And these are just the ones I need to finish before they release this month! Plus all the September releases I’m hyped about, which either just came out or are coming in the next few weeks–Darkdawn, Five Dark Fates, Wayward Son, The Testaments, Serpent & Dove…why must so many good titles all come out at once??
Three eARCs, all coming out in September!
  • I’m currently interning/clerking at a medical malpractice law firm in Chicago, and I’m really getting into the swing of things finally. The attorneys really like me, and I’m working on some pretty cool cases.
  • Also on the law front…the LSAT is in just over two weeks, so I need to step up my game as far as prep work. I’m feeling pretty good about it, but still, it’s a tad overwhelming.
  • Been listening to a few audiobooks lately, and I think I’ll do a series of mini-reviews for them. Stay tuned for Shadow of the Fox, The Alchemist, and Nevernight (yes, that last one was a reread in preparation for Darkdawn).
  • Also in reviews to expect soon, The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier. I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway, and wow. Just finished it last night. I hadn’t heard of her before, but found out she’s actually quite popular (many of her books came out when I was still too young to read them), and now I see why. Fantastic book, lovely characters, and great worldbuilding! Plus, like…musicians who are also kickass warriors? Totally my kind of story.

So…that’s all for now, folks! Have you read any of these? Of my three remaining ARCs for this month, which one would you most like to see a review for next? What did you have for breakfast this morning? Leave a comment and let me know!

Top Ten Tuesday 9/3 – Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside My Comfort Zone

Hey, y’all! Hopefully everyone in the US enjoyed their long weekend for Labor Day, and hopefully everyone else enjoyed their normal weekend and subsequent Monday. Today’s post is another Top Ten Tuesday, a themed weekly post run by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the topic du jour is, as you probably gathered from this post’s title, “Top 10 Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone.” A few of these titles are ones I read for school, but a fair number are also ones I tried out just because, so I included a little explanation with each one. As usual, the titles are in no particular order. Enjoy!

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Top Ten Tuesday 8/27 – Books I’ve Read That I Want in My Personal Library

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly post hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic, as you probably gleaned from the post title, is books I’ve read that I want in my personal library. Because these aren’t necessarily just favorites (though some of them are), I have a little explanation for each one as well! Enjoy! (Note: these are in no particular order, so don’t take it as an indicator of priority.)

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Top Ten Tuesday 8/20 – Favorite Tropes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed post hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and I’ve seen several others doing it, so I figured I would take a stab at it as well! This week’s prompt is “Top 10 Favorite Tropes.” I have a lot of favorites, and yet I still had a hard time coming up with this list, so hopefully y’all like it. Without further ado…here we go!

1. Kickass female protagonist
Who doesn’t love a little girl power? Mia Corvere, Inej Ghafa and Nina Zenik, Sancia Grado, Vin and Sarene and Siri and Vivenna, Katniss Everdeen…these are the girls I want to be like and love to read about. Girls who kick ass and take names, who stand up and don’t run away when the going gets tough.

2. The angsty one who loves the happy one
This may sound weirdly specific, but you know the type. Sullen, angry Ronan Lynch who loves the innocent sweetheart Adam Parrish. Crowley, a demon, who loves the angel Aziraphale. Baz, the Draco Malfoy-vampire-type character who loves Simon Snow, the hapless Chosen One. I just think it’s so sweet to see icy exteriors that defrost for one specific person.

3. The morally ambiguous hero
Much as I love a hero who really has pure motives, I’m more intrigued by the heroes with dubious codes of honor. An obvious example is Kaz Brekker, from the Six of Crows duology, who doesn’t really care who gets hurt as long as he gets his payment. Another obvious one is Kelsier, from the Mistborn trilogy, who has good motivation for his revolution, but who sometimes lets his hatred of the upper class overpower his sense of decency. People aren’t simply black or white, good or evil, and a complex hero is more interesting (and believable) to read about.

4. The morally ambiguous villain
Yep, that’s right. I like moral ambiguity in all its forms. When a book reveals that the so-called villain is actually doing what they do for really good reasons–or reasons that started out good, anyway–their villainhood becomes more complex, and their relationship with the protagonist grows as well.

5. Surprise! They’re gay!
Not sure if this is accepted as a legitimate trope, but I find it very cool when a character who isn’t obviously queer-coded ends up being gay. Not that there is anything wrong with out-and-proud, obviously gay characters, but when it happens subtly, believably, a character who grapples with an unexpected realization about their sexuality is great, especially when it leads to greater development for them. Plus, you know, I’m a huge fan of representation for minority groups in general, especially the LGBTQ+ community. Bonus points for oft-neglected genders/sexualities, like trans/nonbinary characters, bisexuality, and asexuality. (Note: this does not include retconned diversity, a la “Dumbledore is gay,” nor does it include characters whose sexuality is briefly mentioned once but then never plays into their character again.)

6. Reluctant allies
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and all that jazz. Or, “we both need the same thing, so let’s join forces.” I’m listening to the audiobook of Shadow of the Fox right now, and Yumeko and Tatsumi are in this exact situation. It also makes for a great setup for an enemies-to-lovers romance…at least when done correctly.

7. The sarcastic narrator
Don’t you love it when the person telling the tale makes it humorous and enjoyable for you as a reader, even if the story itself isn’t particularly funny? Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events is a perfect example. Another one is the narrator from the Nevernight books, whose snark never fails to brighten even the goriest of scenes.

8. Tragic backstory/tortured soul
So I like characters that are basically emotionally devoid as a result of past trauma, or ones who somehow managed to stay positive despite their lives being absolutely awful. I promise I’m not a terrible person–they’re just so interesting! Their growth almost inevitably ends up profound and fascinating. This applies across all genres, from fantasy to contemporary to historical to nonfiction.

9. Breaking the fourth wall
This isn’t one I come across super often, but a great trope, especially in satire, is when the characters say something to obliquely acknowledge that they’re in a book. You see this crop up in Quichotte by Salman Rushdie, for example. Or, an example from television is the song “Who’s the New Guy?” in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

10. The funny sidekick
Comic relief is generally appreciated. In real life, most friend groups have that one person who’s “the funny friend,” and in books, it’s nice to have a character who is constantly making wisecracks, or whose subplot is way lighter than the main one. From the Fool characters in Shakespeare to the antics of Karou in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, humorous side characters have existed across centuries and across genres.

So…that’s my list for today! What do you guys think? Any of these that you also love (or ones that you hate)? Which tropes do you love that I didn’t include? Let me know in the comments!

The Grammarians – ARC review

Author: Cathleen Schine
Publication date: September 3, 2019
Genre: literary fiction, contemporary fiction
My rating: 4/5 stars

The Grammarians is a tale of sisterhood and a love letter to the English language. Cute, quirky, and highly readable, this book was a good deal of fun, especially for someone as word-obsessed as I am.

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Quichotte – ARC review

Release date: September 3, 2019

“To each his/her/their own articulation of the universal Don.”

Quichotte, by Salman Rushdie

You know that feeling when you’re reading a book and you just pause for a second and think, “Damn, this is some good writing”? That’s the closest description I can give to the time I spent reading Quichotte. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given Salman Rushdie’s well-deserved reputation as a masterful writer, but I feel like I need to reinforce it. This book is absurd and brilliant and hilarious and heartbreaking and so meta and I loved every minute of it.

Without giving too much away, let me sketch the plot for you. Sam DuChamp, author of mediocre spy fiction, decides to write one last book: something more literary, something that could make him look like a real, serious writer. Drawing inspiration from the classic Don Quixote, Sam crafts a tale of an old man who goes by the name Quichotte. With his wits addled from a lifetime watching too much TV, Quichotte decides he is in love with a famous actress and sets off across the country, accompanied by his imaginary son Sancho, to win her over. Meanwhile, DuChamp’s life is filled with drama of its own, and as time goes on, the line between fiction and reality begins to blur.

From plot to characters to linguistic brilliance, the novel excels on all fronts. Zany characters get themselves in way over their heads, managing to maintain distinct voices even as their fates become increasingly similar. The shift between third person for most characters and first person could come off as just “odd” but instead is oddly fitting. The pages are populated with witty quips like:

“To be a lawyer in a lawless time was like being a clown among the humorless: which was to say, either completely redundant or absolutely essential”

and pithy observations like:

“social media has no memory,”

and the storyline jumps back and forth between the pain and ridiculousness of our own world, and the equally painful and ridiculous world of a man on a futile quest for love.

This book isn’t for everyone, but it was definitely for me. What can I say? I love literary fiction, Indian literature, satire, and zany plotlines that simultaneously tackle major problems. Quichotte is all of that and so much more.

Rushdie has a penchant for verbosity, absurdity, playing tricks on the reader, absurdity, making more allusions than should probably be legal (works and characters referenced range from Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Jessica Rabbit and Mario to Dante’s Inferno and the compositions of Beethoven), casually sniping about our current sociopolitical climate, absurdity, commentary on the immigrant experience, and taking the wildest of gags and simply running with them. Oh, and did I mention absurdity? It isn’t an easy read by any means; Rushdie makes you work for the payoff, juggling characters and storylines that seem increasingly random, only to have them all come together for a finale that is perfectly satisfying, if a little strange at first glance. It really is the most appropriate sort of ending for a book like this.

Dealing with topics including mental illness, racism, social media, “cancel” culture, political corruption, drug abuse, terminal illness, love, family, and the end of the world, the novel could have easily turned into a mishmash that lost sight of itself while trying to fit everything in. Instead, Rushdie’s deft hand manages to weave dozens of hot button issues into a bizarre but beautiful book that leaves you laughing all the way. This is pastiche elevated to a whole new level, and I am so glad I was able to read it.

In short, Quichotte is a brilliant, wild ride from start to finish. That’s really the most appropriate description for it. Be patient at the beginning, and don’t let the little details pass you by, but also don’t let them drag you down. Just fasten your seatbelt, prepare for some jarring terrain, and enjoy the journey.

Thank you to the publisher for providing an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A People’s History of Heaven – ARC review

“It’s funny, being a girl. That thing that’s supposed to push you down, defeat you, shove you back, bad, and farther back still? Turn it the right way, and it’ll push you forward instead.”

Book cover for A People's History of Heaven

A People’s History of Heaven is a rich, poignant river of poeticism that pulls you slowly and irresistably through the lives of five remarkable girls and the women surrounding them. This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, and I give it five stars without the slightest reservation.

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