Books: Let’s Talk About Love

31625039Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
Published January 23, 2018
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Protagonist Alice is a black, teenage, biromantic asexual student who’s still trying to figure herself out. Her parents are pushing her towards a career she isn’t interested in, and Alice’s two best friends are heading towards marriage, making her feel like a third wheel. Then there’s the icing on the cake; her last girlfriend believed that Alice’s lack of desire for sex translated into a lack of love and broke up with her. She’s understandably reluctant about pursuing romantic relationships, but when Alice’s new coworker at the library exceeds her colour-coded scale of attractiveness (her Cutie Code™ ) she begins to question everything.

YA contemporary really isn’t my genre. When Alice introduced her Cutie Code™ in the first few chapters, my first thought was, ‘oh here we go’, and I steeled myself for a sickeningly fluffy romance. While Let’s Talk About Love‘s vibe is definitely a little cutesy for my personal tastes, it’s an enjoyable, realistic, and refreshing addition to the still disappointingly slim selection of books where asexuality is represented.

The plot is admittedly thin. Let’s Talk About Love focuses more on Alice’s character development and her interpersonal problems, than it does a broader storyline, but putting aside Alice’s sexuality for a moment, the subplots of well-intentioned but overbearing parents pushing their child into a career she doesn’t want, and of increasingly feeling like the third wheel in a friendship are incredibly relatable and will appeal to readers. The novel also directly (sometimes a little too directly in a way that feels more like a PSA than an organic conversation) tackles some of the misconceptions that asexuals face and challenges the idea that sex is required in order to have a romantic, loving relationship.

This quote alone, said by a therapist to Alice, is worth half a star!

“My advice to you is to be prepared to educate. It may feel unfair that the onus of that responsibility will fall on you, but when most people think the A stands for Ally, you will have to speak louder, with bravery and dignity, to be heard. You will have to be willing to inform and to educate. And you will have to know when it is time to remove yourself from situations and disconnect from those who either do not understand or are unwilling to.”

Alice herself is a delight. She’s not without flaws – her relationship with her two closest friends is codependent to say the least and she has a tendency to ignore her problems rather than confronting them – but she’s also bubbly, thoughtful, and compassionate. I rooted for her throughout, and I loved that she’s not just an asexual woman, but a black, biromantic asexual woman. I also really enjoyed her love interest Takumi, a kindergarten teacher who is patient and loves to cook.

Although I wasn’t overwhelmed by the book, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that it exists! There are so few depictions of asexuality in fiction and in the media that every time I see a book or television show with an ace character it feels like a triumph for a community whose biggest issue is erasure.

The Netflix Book Tag

I wasn’t tagged for this specifically, but I remember it going around a few months ago and bookmarked it to do when I had more time.

RECENTLY WATCHED: The last book you finished reading

31625039Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, which is a YA contemporary novel featuring a black, biromantic asexual protagonist. I’m not always a big fan of the genre, so I found this a little cutesy for my personal tastes, but I think it’s a hugely important book and I’m so glad that it exists. The romance is very sweet and Alice’s troubles with her parents (who are pushing her into a career that doesn’t interest her), and with feeling like a third wheel are relatable as well.

TOP PICKS: A book that has been recommended to you based on books you have previously read
AssasinsApprentice
A few friends have recommended Robin Hobb’s books to me and one even left her copies with me when she moved to New Zealand! I don’t know why I haven’t gotten to them yet, but I’m planning to dive in next month!

 

RECENTLY ADDED: The last book you bought
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I bought The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff in the gift shop at Housesteads Roman Fort, and read it while on vacation. I don’t often buy books as souvenirs but this was a good purchase!

 

POPULAR ON NETFLIX: Books that everyone knows about (2 you’ve read and 2 you haven’t read or have no interest in reading)

Have Read: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Circe
Haven’t Read Yet: Lincoln in the Bardo, The Poppy War

COMEDIES: A funny book
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I don’t read a lot of comedies, but I really enjoyed Lianne Oelke’s Nice Try, Jane Sinner, about a teenage girl who signs up to be on a community college version of Big Brother in order to afford moving away from home.

 


DRAMAS: A character who is a drama queen/king

112077Francis Crawford of Lymond.

Here’s his entrance in Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings: “Lucent and delicate, Drama entered, mincing like a cat.” In the second book he apologizes to another character for his repeated dramatic entrances. He is the High King of Drama and I love him.


ANIMATED: A book with cartoons on the cover
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I don’t know about cartoons, but the cover for Leah on the Offbeat features a stylized version of Leah Burke.

 


WATCH IT AGAIN: A book or series that you want to re-read


219811The problem with me is that I’m a serial re-reader who loves to revisit my favourite books – especially when I hit a bit of a reading slump. The book I just finished, Amberlough, reminded me in some ways of Sarah Monette’s excellent Doctrine of Labyrinths series, and in other ways of Vale Aida’s Magpie Ballads duology, so those are the books I’m most itching to re-read right now, but I’m trying to work through the urge in order to read some new books!

DOCUMENTARIES: A non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyone
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I read VERY little non-fiction, but I really enjoyed Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, which weaves together the story of serial killer Henry H. Holmes with that of  Chicago’s World Fair of 1893.

 

ACTION AND ADVENTURE: An action-packed book
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Has anything ever kept me on the edge of my seat like the Six of Crows duology? I love the brisk pace of the series, which effectively balances character moments with action scenes, to create books that make you go, ‘maybe just one more chapter…’


NEW RELEASES: A book that just came out or will be coming out soon that you can’t wait to read

39676520By this point John Boyne is on my list of authors that I trust enough to automatically buy or borrow. I’ve read three of his books so far and each one I’ve given 4 stars or above, with The Heart’s Invisible Furies being named my favourite read of 2017. I CAN’T WAIT for his newest novel, A Ladder to the Sky, which comes out this summer. I think Steph, Rachel, and I are planning a buddy read, so stay tuned for that in a few months!

Not tagging anyone in particular, but if you’re interested please consider yourself tagged and ping back to me so I can read your answers!

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2018

Last year I participated in this book tag, which offers a great chance to look back on your reading for the first half of the year. I’m still a little in shock that it’s been almost an entire year, but here’s a review of my reading in 2018 so far.

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2018

Just sneaking in under the wire (I read it last weekend), the best book I’ve read so far this year is Tin Man by Sarah Winman. It’s a thoughtful, quiet book about the relationship between two men in England. Told first through the perspective of one character and then through the diary entries of the other, it’s a poignant story that packs an emotional punch.

The runner-up couldn’t be more different. I’ve never read anything like Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne. Told through prose that is by turns lyrical, eerie, and thoughtful, Borne follows a scavenger in a post-apocalyptic city who brings home and cares for a sentient being she names Borne. But as the being grows and changes, questions arise about Borne’s purpose. Serving as a moving exploration into what it means to be human, Borne is the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve read it.

Besides these two choices though, I haven’t been reading a lot of quality books so far in 2018 and I’m hoping to change that in the second half of the year!

Question 2 – Your favorite sequel of the year

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I’ve only read one or two sequels this year, so by default it’s The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. I actually found The Girl in the Tower a little disappointing though. I obviously still enjoyed it – I gave the book four stars – but it just didn’t cast the same spell over me as The Bear and the Nightingale, which was one of my favourite reads last year. I’m still eagerly looking forward to finishing the trilogy next year though.

Question 3 – A new release that you haven’t read but really want to

I have The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang on hold at the library! It’s received glowing reviews on goodreads and from my blogging friend Hadeer, and looks right up my alley as an adult fantasy featuring rich worldbuilding and an intriguing heroine. Similarly I’ve heard wonderful things about Kirsty Logan’s The Gloaming, and I’m looking forward to Tessa Gratton’s The Queens of Innis Lear, a retelling of one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

Question 4 – Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I’ve read three of John Boyne’s books so far and have really enjoyed them all, so I can’t wait for his latest, A Ladder to the Sky! I’m also really looking forward to Pat Barker’s take on The Iliad in The Silence of the Girls. There are also a bunch of sequels I can’t wait to read: Seth Dickinson’s The Monster Baru Cormorant, which continues the tale of Baru’s climb to infiltrate the system that colonized her island, killed one of her fathers, and rewrote her culture, V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful, the continuation of her story about supervillains, Record of a Spaceborn Few, the latest in Becky Chmbers’ Wayfarers series, and Kirsten White’s Bright We Burn, the final book in her Conqueror’s Saga about a gender-swapped Vlad the Impaler.

Question 5 – Your biggest disappointment


The three reads that, in one way or another, didn’t live up to my expectations were Circe by Madeline Miller, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, and The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. I loved The Song of Achilles and was really looking forward to seeing Miller’s take on a divisive female character like Circe, but I found the heroine passive and thought the book dragged in the middle. I wanted to love Dear Martin, but it read very much on the young side of YA so this was more a mismatch of book and reader than a reflection on the book itself. I really disliked The Lonely Hearts Hotel. It’s whimsical prose was tonally a complete mismatch for the dark and disturbing subject matter and as a result the book ended up sounding rather flippant about topics like sexual abuse, prostitution, and drug abuse.

Question 6 – Biggest surprise of the year

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Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke. I went in with no idea what to expect and, as a YA contemporary, which isn’t really my genre, didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. The book follows Jane as she attends community college to finish her last few classes of high school after an ‘incident’ caused her to be absent for the last semester. Yearning for independence, but unavailable to afford a place on her own, Jane lies about her age and signs up for a Big Brother-inspired community college show. So long as she stays on the show, she has a place to stay and a shot at the prize! Jane is a fiercely funny, sometimes ruthless heroine that I rooted for and I loved the unique premise of the book.

Question 7 – Favourite new to you or debut author

Probably Sarah Winman. Based solely on Tin Man, I’d love to read more of her works. My mom read one of her other books, When God Was A Rabbit, several years ago and marked it as one of her favourites, so I should probably start there!

Question 8 – Your new fictional crush

Pass.

Question 9 – New favourite character

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Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s novel of the same name. I FINALLY got around to reading Jane Eyre for the first time and it was everything I hoped it would be. It sucked me in and I loved Jane with all of her spirit, intelligence, and passion. Special mention to a few other fierce females I’ve loved this year though: Evelyn Hugo is often unlikable, but I couldn’t help admiring her ruthless pragmatism, ambition, and ability to go after what she wanted most in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and, as I was mentioning, I adored Jane Sinner, a flawed, funny, competitive high school student competing on a community college reality program like Big Brother in Nice Try, Jane Sinner.

Question 10 – A book that made you cry

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Once again, my answer is Sarah Winman’s Tin Man!  It’s a slim volume that you can read in a matter of hours, but I found it incredibly moving and there were definitely some waterworks by the end!

Question 11 – A comic book that made you happy

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I’m so glad this questions exists this year because I was so delighted by the first arc of Rainbow Rowell’s continuation of my favourite Marvel comics series, Runaways! Rowell captured the essence of each of the Runaways characters and brought them back together in a way that felt organic and not forced. I can’t wait to see where she takes them next and how the relationships between these characters have changed in the year or more that they were apart.

Question 12 – Your favourite book to movie adaptation that you’ve seen this year


The adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda to Love, Simon. I actually saw the movie first, but they’re different enough (while still capturing the essence of the characters) that I don’t think it would have mattered, I fell in love with both the fluffy but compelling novel and this movie, which had one of the most engaged audiences I’ve ever seen!

Question 13 – Favourite book post you’ve done this year

I was really pleased with how this week’s Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Awaken My Wanderlust post shaped up, and I enjoyed the First Impressions post I did early this year where I read the first 50 pages of five books and wrote about my initial thoughts and whether or not I planned to continue reading them. As far as reviews go, I can’t lie I’m pretty proud of my comparing the ridiculous sounding summary for Borne, a book that actually works extremely well, to what the pitch for SpongeBob SquarePants must have sounded like.

Question 14 – The most beautiful book you have bought/received this year

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I buy very few books (I’m a heavy library user), but I did purchase the beautiful paperback edition of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, one of the best books I read last year.

Question 15 – What are some books you need to read by the end of the year

All of the upcoming releases I mentioned, and I’m trying to read some more classics, so hopefully East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin.

Tagging anyone who wants to do this!

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

Books: Runaways – Find Your Way Home

35249910Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home
Written by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Kris Anka
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What a delight it is to see my favourite Marvel comics characters reunited and back in action! Acclaimed YA author Rainbow Rowell’s revival of Marvel’s Runaways, a title that was cancelled in 2007, is a promising debut that will leave readers wanting more.

I usually don’t review graphic novels because, with the exception of contained stories like Watchmen or Marvel 1602, it feels a bit like reviewing a third of a novel. The trade paperbacks (or ‘trades’) that I read often collect six issues of an ongoing comic series. Sure there may be a contained arc in there, but there are often also plotlines, and character development that take place over a longer period and it seems unfair to review something incomplete.

I couldn’t quite help myself when it comes to Runaways though for a few reasons:

1) This is my FAVOURITE comics series of all time. It’s the only series I’ve cared enough about to make special trips to a comic book store to buy individual issues.

2) In 2007 the title was indefinitely postponed. The characters were split up and appeared only occasionally and separately in other Marvel titles. I’ve literally been whining about this cancellation for eight years.

3) In the current push for diversity in fiction, Runaways is even more relevant than it was when first published. It’s a team of teenagers who talk and act like teenagers, and who represent diverse backgrounds. In what other series could you find a lesbian alien who glows like a rainbow and flies, a genius latino cyborg, an overweight agnostic jewish girl and her genetically engineered dinosaur, all led by a Japanese-American witch?

and 4) This revival is being penned by a popular YA author, so it may be of interest to the book blogging community.

So how does Rainbow Rowell’s first arc for Runaways fare? Arguably the first several issues are the most challenging because Rowell is faced with the task of believably reassembling a team of characters who have been apart for several months, moved on, changed, and (in some cases) even died. So I was pleasantly surprised by just how smooth the transition was! Rowell captures the essence of each of the Runaways, showcasing their insecurities and what makes them so likeable. Most of the characters have gone through some changes, yet they remain recognizable and the growth feels organic.

In the world of comics there is certainly precedent for bringing back deceased characters, but Runaways has always had a more grounded feel to it, despite the super-powers. With the exception of a few early issues where the teenagers struggled with identity, there are no costumes and no superhero names here, just a well-meaning group of teens trying to atone for some of the sins of their supervillain parents. Without spoiling anything, I worried a little about whether a resurrection would cheapen the original death scene, and was pleased to find that it didn’t. There’s still a sense of loss and a pervasive bittersweet feeling to the scene that made it work for me.

Although I had some quibbles when I saw the initial designs for each character in this book (particularly Chase and his manbun), I actually really enjoyed the art style once I got used to it.

For those who’ve never read Runaways before but are debating jumping aboard, there are enough notes in the narration to make reading this volume possible without context, but I’d recommend backtracking and reading the original issues either first or at the same time as Rowell’s continuation to fully understand and appreciate the characters and the series.

I’m so thrilled to have Runaways back in comic stores and can’t wait to see where the series goes next!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Awaken My Wanderlust

When I saw that this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was Books That Awaken the Travel Bug In Me it seemed meant to be; Just three weeks ago I got back from a largely book-inspired vacation to the UK! So I’ve chosen to talk a little about books that have already inspired me to travel, and about books that might inspire me to travel to a specific destination in the future.

Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Bookish Places I’ve Been

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
(Paris, France)

Les Misérables will always hold a special place in my heart for being the site of my very first bookish vacation! Although I’d only read a heavily abridged version of the novel at the time and was more familiar with the musical, my trip to Paris was heavily influenced by Les Misérables. I loved strolling through the Jardin du Luxembourg, where Marius first spotted Cosette, standing on the Pont-au-Change bridge over the Seine, where Inspector Javert makes a fateful decision, and exploring the sewers Jean Valjean carried a wounded Marius through on the Paris Sewer Tour.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
(The Harry Potter Studio Tour in London, England)
(The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida)

Like most 90s kids, I grew up on Harry Potter. Initially my mom read the books aloud to me and my younger brother, and as the series continued my mom and I read separately and discussed our thoughts along the way. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I ended up visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my parents. We loved the thrilling and immersive rides, sipped our butter beers, and enjoyed looking in the many shops. I still haven’t made it to Platform 9-and-3/4s (it was under construction the last time I was at King’s Cross), but nearly five years ago I took the Harry Potter Studio Tour and loved seeing the props, costumes, and sets used in the movies!

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
(York Minster in York, England)

Ever since I picked up Susanna Clarke’s magical novel about the resurgence of English magic during the Regency period, visiting the city of York has been on my bucket list. Fans of the book (or the recent BBC miniseries) will recall a scene where the reclusive Mr. Norrell proves his magical abilities by making all of the statues within York Minster speak. I couldn’t wait to visit York Minster myself and imagine the noise and wonder of such a scene! York Minster is beautiful enough to merit a visit anyway, but it definitely made it special that it plays such a small but pivotal role in one of my favourite books!

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
(Edinburgh, Scotland)
(Hexham Abbey in Hexham, England)

Anyone who knows me is sick to death of hearing me talk about the Lymond Chronicles! Nothing has quite captured my imagination like Dorothy Dunnett’s series about a genius polyglot 16th century Scottish nobleman/spy. A climactic scene in the first book, The Game of Kings, sees Francis Crawford of Lymond pursuing an opponent into Hexham Abbey, so naturally I had to visit Hexham! Much of the rest of the book is set in Scotland, so I also tracked down the location on the Royal Mile where Lymond is, for a time imprisoned. The Tollbooth, as the prison was called, no longer exists, but its former entrance is marked with a stone heart near St. Giles Cathedral.

The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett
(St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland)


I love Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful historical city, that I would love regardless of literary connections, but I must admit that I also love it because it’s the setting of many scenes from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. The altar at St. Giles Cathedral is the scene of a truly epic swordfight at the climax of the third book of the series, The Disorderly Knights, so naturally I had to visit (and take many, many photos)!

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff and The Camulod Chronicles by Jack Whyte
(Hadrian’s Wall/Roman British sites)


Okay, I’m cheating a little bit here since I hadn’t actually read The Eagle of the Ninth in advance, only seen the movie, but I bought a copy on my trip and started reading it at Housesteads Roman Fort in Northumberland. Roman Britain is one of my favourite periods in history, and Hadrian’s Wall figures both into The Eagle of the Ninth and a favourite series of mine while I was in university, Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles. If you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend Housesteads Roman Fort, which has a picturesque location on a hill, and offers some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Britain and the rare chance to stand on a section of Hadrian’s Wall!

Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
(221B Baker Street, London)


Admittedly I’m more familiar with the consulting detective from film and television adaptations, but I’ve read a few of the original mysteries and really enjoyed them. Naturally I stopped in at 221B Baker Street on a previous trip to London and posed in the famous dearstalker. I definitely have to make an effort to read more Sherlock in the future!


Bookish Places Wishlist

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
(Haworth/West Yorkshire moors)

The one place I didn’t make it to on this book-inspired vacation was the moorland that inspired the Bronte sisters. I read Wuthering Heights as an undergraduate and can’t say that it appealed to me since Heathcliff and Cathy were both such horrible people, but I had better luck with another Bronte sister. I recently read Jane Eyre for the first time and I would love to one day walk some of the landscapes that inspired Charlotte Bronte, although I know they must have changed a great deal. There’s just something about the idea of walking through the desolate moors, the wind swirling a coat or perhaps a scarf behind me that appeals!

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
(The Orkney Islands)

I’m still in the process of reading Dorothy Dunnett’s dense historical standalone about the real MacBeth (I paused it in January and haven’t returned – oops!) but I’ve already added the Orkney Islands to my places I’d love to go list! Prehistoric stone village Skara Brae is a must-see at somepoint and I’m sure I’ll add book -related destinations on the islands as I continue reading.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
(Prince Edward Island, Canada)

Like most Canadian girls, I grew up reading about spirited red-headed orphan “Anne -with-an-E” who comes to stay with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert at Green Gables. I haven’t traveled much domestically at all and would love to visit Prince Edward Island one day!

What are some of the bookish places on your wishlist?

Books: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

32620332The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published June 13, 2017
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When reclusive film star Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the story of her life, her loves, and her rise to fame, she requests unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job. No one is more shocked than Monique, but she’s determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career. However, as Evelyn’s story unfolds, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s in tragic and inescapable ways.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a very human story. From the messy imperfectness of its relationships to its flawed, but deeply compelling characters, everything in the novel feels real and raw, particularly when set against the surface-deep glamour of Hollywood in the mid-twentieth century.

At the center of the narrative is the titular Evelyn Hugo, a fictional film star reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor. A complex anti-heroine, Evelyn is not always likable. In fact she’s often not, displaying a ruthless pragmatism when it comes to doing what she believes she must to protect herself and her career. She’s also completely unapologetic about the decisions she’s made to get ahead. Although her actions sometimes fall into a moral grey area, I always understood what was behind Evelyn’s choices. The secondary characters are every bit as nuanced, flawed, and sympathetic as Evelyn. They interact as friends, rivals, and lovers, sometimes all three at once, revealing a complex stew of emotions from jealousy to pride. I simply couldn’t get enough of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s characters or of her vision of Hollywood!

As with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, I was so drawn in by the richly described fictional films and the quality of the performances that I wanted to dash out and watch them! What I wouldn’t give to see Evelyn Hugo play Jo in Little Women and to see her friend/rival Celia’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Beth!

I wasn’t quite as bowled over by this novel as some of my blogging friends, but I suspect this is mostly a case of right novel-wrong time. I brought The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo with me on vacation, and while I enjoyed reading it when I had the chance, I wasn’t as immersed in the world because I kept having to put it down to venture out of my room and explore. Ultimately Evelyn Hugo was overshadowed by the fabulous sights I was seeing. Nonetheless I loved this surprising novel and especially its complicated, compelling anti-heroine. It’s definitely worth picking up, especially if you have a weekend free to completely lose yourself in the rich detail of Evelyn’s memories.

Spring Wrap-up

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’ve been a little scarce for the last few months. The combination of dealing with the shock of being let-go from my job this winter, applying and interviewing for new positions, and then planning for a (much-needed and already partially paid for) vacation have kept me busy.

I’m happy to announce that while May was not a good month for reading, it was a pretty great month for me personally! Despite all my anxiety, I had a lovely vacation, visiting Edinburgh, some of the north of England (including part of Hadrian’s Wall, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, and beautiful York Minster), and London, where I took in several shows. It was a trip that combined bookish sites with history and picturesque settings and I loved every minute of it!


I’ve also started down a new and very different path of librarianship, working as a public librarian! I’ve mostly worked in corporate libraries in a research role and was ready for a change. Although I have a lot to learn, and this is a temporary contract, I’m really enjoying it so far and hope that this is something I can pursue long-term.

Without further ado, onto the books!

From March through May I read just ten books, so I’ve grouped them here in a seasonal wrap-up post. I’ve written reviews for the most recently read books and will try to backtrack and write at least mini-reviews for my other reads over the next month.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli  small 5 stars
Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke  small 4 stars
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  small 4 stars
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill  small-2-stars
Circe by Madeline Miller  small 3 half stars
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte  small 5 stars
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid  small 4 half stars + RTC
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff  small 3 half stars + Review
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli  small 4 stars + Review
Confessions by Kinae Minato  small 4 stars + Review


Book of the Season:
It has to be Jane Eyre. This is a rare classic that I never encountered through my English undergraduate degree but one that has been on my TBR for probably a decade. Every year I’d think ‘oh yeah, I should probably read that…’ Well I finally did and wow! I loved the gothic atmosphere of the book, the arrogance of the mysterious Mr. Rochester but also how charismatic he is, and, of course, I adored Jane. She goes down on my list of favourite heroines of all time and her story through childhood abuse and tragedy to independence on her own terms and knowing her own heart still resonates today.

Runner-up: Even having seen the movie first, I found Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda to be an absolute delight that I read in one sitting and re-read a few weeks later before I had to return it to the library. I loved the characters, the group dynamics, and the sweet love story at the center of it all. Fluff isn’t usually my thing, but this melted my cold, (fictional) tragedy loving heart! I also really loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I think this was a case of maybe not reading it at the right time – I took it with me on vacation, but it meant that the reading experience was broken up and that it was a little overshadowed by all of the wonderful historic sights I was seeing.

Least Favourite: Admittedly I didn’t do my usual book research before picking up The Lonely Hearts Hotel. This was something I happened to see at the library that I had heard good buzz about. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this at all. The subject matter, which deals with childhood sexual abuse and abuse, drug addiction, prostitution, and abusive relationships, is DARK, but the author strikes a whimsical tone throughout and the mismatch in style and subject matter makes the book sound flippant and dismissive. Also there are quite a lot of clowns.

***

Seen on Stage: Toronto usually has a lot to offer in terms of theatre during the winter and early spring – perhaps producers figure that once summer roles around we’ll all be at the cottage or enjoying the warm weather and won’t want to see a show. This year I found the pickings a little slim, but enjoyed most of what I did see, especially the Toronto premiere of Fun Home with a stellar all-Canadian cast, and the National Ballet of Canada’s Made in Canada mixed program. This included The Dreamers Ever Leave You, a moving work inspired by the stark natural beauty of the arctic landscapes painted by Lawren Harris, The Four Seasons, and Emergence, an unsettling and innovative piece about the hive mind.


TORONTO

Bunny (play) at Tarragon Theatre
Made in Canada by the National Ballet of Canada
The Sleeping Beauty by the National Ballet of Canada
Les Miserables (play) by Theatre Smith-Gilmour – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Picnic in the Cemetery (Canadian Stage) – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Fun Home by Musical Stage Company
Bernstein’s Candide at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The London part of my vacation was almost entirely theatre-based, so I’m thrilled to say that I loved every single show I saw. Unfortunately the stars didn’t quite align for me and I twice missed seeing an actor, David Thaxton (out ill for the week) who had been part of the impetus for my trip, in Les Miserables, but the London cast heading into its final week is generally very strong, with standout performances from Killian Donnelly (Valjean) and Carley Stenson (Fantine). I adored Northern Ballet’s interpretation of Jane Eyre, which effectively conveyed Jane’s spirit and independence, as well as her passion for Mr. Rochester through the medium of dance. Although I definitely have issues with the plot, it’s hard not to be blown away by the sheer stage magic and brilliant performances in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. My favourite though, was witnessing the closing performance of The Ferryman, a brilliant and devastating play about The Troubles.

LONDON
Les Miserables (x2)
Jane Eyre by Northern Ballet
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I & II (play)
The Ferryman (play)

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Coming up in June: In a desperate attempt to catch-up on my goodreads challenge I’ve been reading some YA, mysteries, and other shorter fiction. So far I’m in a bit of a slump this year and very few of the books I’ve read to date are ones that I’ll remember fondly enough to put on my Best of list at the end of the year, so I’m going to keep it loose and read some recs from friends I trust utterly in the hopes of finding a few new favourites!

What are your summer reading plans?

Books: Confessions

19161835Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder
Published August 19, 2014
star-4
When I read Kanae Minato’s second novel to be translated into English, Penance, this winter, I found it an engaging thriller, but one that relied too heavily on coincidence to be truly believable. Confessions bears a lot of similarities, a surprising number really, but is an altogether darker and more twisted reading experience. With first person chapters told not only from perspectives of those impacted by the crime, but also the murderers themselves, Minato constructs another compelling tale of revenge.

I was hooked pretty quickly from the first chapter, in which middle grade teacher Yuko Moriguchi announces to the class that she is retiring from teaching and then proceeds to explain that her four-year-old daughter was recently murdered by two of her students. The chapter ends with a twist so disturbing that I gasped out loud and immediately wanted to know what happened next!

With each chapter in the book, Minato switches first person narrators, moving onto a classmate and then a family member of one of the murderers before we get the perspectives of the two students. Although I didn’t find the chapters told from the murderers’ POVs to be the strongest overall, Minato cleverly maintains tension before imparting some answers about the students’ motivations for the murder and their thoughts during the aftermath.

Although to a certain extent I expect books by an author to have stylistic and maybe even plot similarities, I was surprised by just how similar Minato’s novels are. Both deal with the aftermath of a child’s death on school property and the mother’s desire for revenge. Both are told through multiple perspectives and focus on the consequences of an action, and both stories shock with their twists and turns. In this case I found Penance and Confessions differed enough to keep me interested (and I actually preferred Confessions, finding it to be a tighter and more believable book), but I wonder how often Minato can repeat this formula before it grows tired.