Three Things About Elsie // Joanna Cannon

Thank you to Scribner, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for an early review copy of Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, which was published August 7, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

“There are three things you should know about Elsie.  The first thing is that she’s my best friend.  The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.  And the third thing… might take a bit more explaining.”

Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly.  As she waits to be rescued, she thinks about her friend Elsie and wonders if a terrible secret from their past is about to come to light.  If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?


When Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for the Women’s Prize, I read review after review but never gathered any intention of reading it.  Then, I decided to request it from Scribner on a complete whim because I have no self control, at least when it comes to books.  The result of my momentary weakness was a quirky, heartwarming story about growing old, being young, and the tough questions we must ask ourselves as we age.

Three Things About Elsie has a little bit of everything.  There’s a little romance, a little mystery, and a little suspense, but at its center is the sweet friendship between Florence, the main character, and Elsie, her childhood best friend.  The pair have a special relationship; they know each other better than anyone else, and I imagined them as those cute little old ladies I see while I’m out grocery shopping.  They were hysterical together, and I enjoyed reading about the unique bond they shared with one another.

Beyond Florence’s relationship with Elsie is her role as an unreliable narrator.  I have a growing admiration towards unreliable narration, so I fell in love with that aspect of Three Things About Elsie. While reading about Florence’s mishaps, I wondered if someone was actually setting her up for misfortune or if she was just losing her marbles. I believe Cannon intended for her audience to question Flo’s sanity, just like she intended for it to be a page-turning mystery.

Though I found a lot to admire with the characters of Three Things About Elsie, I found it too predictable when it came to plot, and unfortunately that ruined it for me.  The “surprise” ending was all too obvious, and something I’d assumed from the start.  I’m sure it would’ve been less predictable if I didn’t read so much, but it made me lose interest around the halfway point.  I enjoyed the quirky characters and the unreliable narration, but the awkward writing style and predictability made this one a miss for me.

Find this book on Goodreads.

Sweetbitter // Stephanie Danler

I had every intention of saving Sweetbitter to read on my trip to New York in a few weeks, but I just couldn’t wait any longer.  This book, Stephanie Danler’s debut, was an instant hit two summers ago, and its recent development into a Starz series re-inspired my interest.  I devoured Sweetbitter just like one would devour a meal at the Union Square Café: slowly, savoring every minute, while still impatiently craving the rest.


“You will develop a palate.”

-Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter


From the jacket:

Shot from a mundane, provincial past, Tess comes to New York in the stifling summer of 2006.  Alone, knowing no one, living in a rented room in Williamsburg, she manages to land a job as a “backwaiter” at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant.  This begins the year we spend with Tess as she starts to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing, and privileged life she has chosen, as well as the remorseless and luminous city around her.  What follows is her education: in oysters, Champagne, the appellations of Burgundy, friendship, cocaine, lust, love, and dive bars.  As her appetites awaken- for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, belonging- we see her helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle.  With an orphan’s ardor she latches onto Simone, a senior server at the restaurant who has lived in ways Tess only dreams of, and against the warnings of her coworkers she falls under the spell of Jake, the elusive, tatted up, achingly beautiful bartender.  These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s most exhilarating and painful lesson of all.


If I struggled with any aspect of this book, it was Tess, our whiny narrator.  Sweetbitter is categorized as a “coming-of-age” novel, but by the end, I had a hard time believing Tess had truly matured into an adult.  The so-called “romance” between Tess and Jake frustrated me immensely.  At one point, Jake told Tess to wipe off her lipstick because she looked like a clown, and I just sat back and wondered why she would put up with a guy like that.  If you know me, you know I don’t really give a crap about being in a relationship, so Tess’s desperation to be with Jake that badly irked me.  I think Tess was supposed to come of age by realizing how silly it is for her to tolerate the constant shit that Simone and Jake give her, but even in the last few pages, Tess still felt immature and whiny.  I’m not sure she learned anything from her post-grad identity crisis.  I wanted to see her grow more, but she was too busy worrying about what other people thought of her, and drinking too much to try to forget about it.


“She belonged to herself only.  She had edges, boundaries, tastes, definition down to her eyelashes.  And when she walked it was clear she knew where she was going.”

-Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter


I think Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter is the kind of book where it really matters when in your life you read it.  In all honesty, if I wasn’t a nineteen-year-old dreaming of life in New York, I don’t think I would’ve liked it as much as I did.  I also enjoyed all of the commentary on the quirks of the service industry, and the exploration of the special bond restaurant co-workers share with one another.  I worked in a fast-casual restaurant for my first year of college, nothing fancy like Tess’s job but closer to a Panera Bread, but still the kitchen environment was entirely similar, and I loved reading Danler’s take on a world I had experienced myself.  Parts of Sweetbitter had me cracking up and reminiscing about my own days cleaning fridges and dropping food in front of everyone, so I really felt for Tess, her struggles, and her insecurities in a way I’m not sure someone who hadn’t once worked in a restaurant would understand.

Danler’s fiction is somewhat experimental in that MFA-writing way, but it’s dripping with talent and I’m curious to see what she does next.  Though Sweetbitter, like any piece of writing, wasn’t perfect, I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time reading it.

Find this book on Goodreads.

On My Nightstand: August 2018

As a full-time student, I rarely have time for reading during the fall and spring semesters, so I always try to read as much as possible during the summer.  My unread pile is endlessly growing so I’m really trying to hold back when it comes to buying books, but I was lucky enough to come across hardcovers of The Sport of Kings, Moonglow, and Commonwealth for just five bucks each, and I just couldn’t refuse!  Here are all the books I got in July that I’m hoping to get to this month before classes start up again.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

This one is absolutely massive, but with its hefty size comes even more praise.  It was shortlisted for the 2017 Women’s Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer the same year, but I hadn’t really heard of it until a few months ago when I was caught up in all the Women’s Prize talk.  It’s an American epic seemingly about horse-racing, but really about racism, power, and justice, and it’s my favorite type of book: a chunker that follows multiple perspectives over a period of time.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

I haven’t read any Chabon (yet!), but I’ve been dying to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay since I got it back in January.  It’s categorized as literary fiction but it’s based on stories Chabon’s grandfather told him while on his deathbed, so I’ve heard it reads like a memoir, which I love.  This seems like the kind of book you’d want to lose yourself in on a snuggly December morning, so I think I might hold off for a while, or at least until I get around to Kavalier and Clay.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I’ve been meaning to read Patchett’s latest since it came out two years ago, when I read the first chapter and was immediately sucked in.  The opening sentence hooked me: “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”  How could you not want to read further?

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

I have to be honest, I wasn’t planning on reading The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.  As I followed along with the 2018 Women’s Prize, for which this book was shortlisted, I read a lot of reviews but was never intrigued enough to want to pick it up myself, especially since I’m not crazy about historical fiction.  Then I came across an ARC at work and I couldn’t walk away without it!  It reminds me of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which I checked out of the library ages ago and didn’t end up finishing, so hopefully I’ll have better luck with The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.

Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson

Every time I read an excerpt from Tonight I’m Someone Else, I’m absolutely blown away.  I’ve watched so many livestreams of her readings on Instagram (thanks @belletrist!), and heard enough praise from Emma Roberts that I finally caved and bought myself a copy.  Also, I’m interning for Hodson’s agent this summer, which means this was basically a work expense (or, at least that’s what I told myself).  I’m planning on losing myself in Tonight I’m Someone Else while traveling to New York later this month, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Have you read any of these titles?  What reads are you planning on getting to this month?  Let me know!

xx,
Hannah

The Incendiaries // R.O. Kwon

When my copy of The Incendiaries arrived in the mail from the lovely people at Riverhead Books (thank you!), I almost cried.  I’ve been looking forward to reading this one for months, and I was thrilled to finally have a copy in my hands!  The Incendiaries wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, but it definitely surpassed my high expectations.


From the jacket:

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at an elite American university.  Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death.  Will is a misfit scholarship boy transferring in from Bible college, waiting tables to get by.  What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Haunted by her loss, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group- a secretive cult tied to North Korea- founded by a charismatic former student with an enigmatic past involving Phoebe’s Korean American family.  Will struggles to confront the obsession consuming the one he loves, and the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape.  When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears.  Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.


At its heart, The Incendiaries is a story about loss: loss of faith, of family, of love, and what that means for different people.  For Will, who has already lost his faith and family, it means tracking down the woman he loves and saving her from the life she’s chosen to lead.  But for Phoebe, who blames herself for her mother’s sudden death, it means running away from love and from faith, and turning to something horrible in return.


“Faces lit up if I walked into a room, the liking a light I could refract, giving it back.  Phoebe, oh, I love that girl, people said, but it’s possible they all just loved the reflected selves.”

-R.O. Kwon, The Incendiaries


The Incendiaries comes at an all-too-perfect time, discussing racial and religious prejudice, terrorism and extremism.  It’s a topical novel that reflects brilliantly on the current global and political climate while weaving together the lives of two very different people.  It’s incredibly slow-paced, and it personally took me two weeks to get through its measly two-hundred pages, but it packs a punch and it’s certainly not a book you’ll forget any time soon.

Read if you liked: (1) Exit West by Mohsin Hamid for its glittering yet abrupt, abbreviated prose on a timely topic; (2) The Mothers by Brit Bennett for its heartfelt story about a young woman losing her mother and struggling with her role in it; (3) The Girls by Emma Cline for its powerful, cult-centered tale about adolescence and extremism.

Find this book on Goodreads.

The Bucket List // Georgia Clark

Thank you to Atria Books, Emily Bestler Books, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for an early review copy of The Bucket List by Georgia Clark, which will publish August 7, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Twenty-five-old Lacey Whitman is blindsided when she’s diagnosed with the BCRA1 gene mutation: the “breast cancer” gene.  Her high hereditary risk forces a decision: increased surveillance or the more radical step of a preventative double mastectomy.  Lacey doesn’t want to lose her breasts.  For one, she’s juggling two career paths; her work with the prestigious New York trend forecaster Hoffman House, and her role on the founding team of a sustainable fashion app with friend/mentor, Vivian Chang.  Secondly, small-town Lacey’s not so in touch with her sexuality: she doesn’t want to sacrifice her breasts before she’s had the chance to give them their hey-day.  To help her make her choice, she (and her friends) creates a “boob bucket list”: everything she wants do with and for her boobs before a possible surgery.  This kicks off a year of sensual exploration and sexual entertainment for the quick-witted Lacey Whitman.  The Bucket List cleverly and compassionately explores Lacey’s relationship to her body and her future.  Both are things Lacey thought she could control through hard work and sacrifice.  But the future, it turns out, is more complicated than she could ever imagine.


I read Georgia Clark’s The Bucket List over the course of one insomniac night, flying through its majority in a solid four hours before my eyelids felt heavy, then finishing up the remaining fifteen percent in the morning over breakfast.  I couldn’t get enough of The Bucket List, which was a bit of a surprise for me given that I never read chick lit, but it was such a fun read and I wholeheartedly enjoyed every word.

The Bucket List is the work culture of The Devil Wears Prada meets the love story of Me Before You meets the hot sex of Grey’s Anatomy.  (I didn’t know this going into it, but fair warning: The Bucket List is full of sex scenes.)  It’s cute, cliché chick lit that manages to be smart and sexy at the same time, all while taking on the tough subject of breast cancer.  Cancer is definitely at the forefront of this novel, but I wouldn’t categorize this as a “Cancer Book”; it’s also about love, family, friendship, and being a struggling twenty-something in New York, working too much and struggling to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life.  In Lacey’s case, it’s more than just career-wise, as she is forced to make the tough decision about getting a double mastectomy.  Throughout the novel, I really felt for Lacey and the difficulty of her decision-making; Clark presents the pro’s and con’s of each choice in a way that I could understand why someone would choose either option, getting the mastectomy or not.

The Bucket List really opened my eyes to the realities of serious illness.  Clark writes about the emotional, romantic, and financial difficulties of facing a BRCA1 gene mutation with intelligence and wit; she brings awareness to a difficult topic through a heartfelt, honest story that manages to be relatable and unputdownable.

Find this book on Goodreads.

Current Reads: July 19, 2018

I used to be a one-book-at-a-time gal, but the times are a changin’!  I’m currently switching between five different books: two novels, two manuscripts, and a poetry collection.

For Fun

I dove into The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon on Sunday morning.  It’s my most anticipated release of the year, and I already know it won’t disappoint.  I’m only around eighty pages in so far, but I’m really trying to take my time with it; it’s one of those books you want to read slowly in order to absorb every word.  Massive thanks to the lovely people at Riverhead Books for sending this one my way!

I also picked up Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems on Tuesday.  I read a few of his poems for my English Literature survey class last semester and I fell in love, especially with “Aubade” and “This Be The Verse.”  I was in the mood for something really different, and I don’t normally read poetry outside of coursework, so I thought I’d pick this one up.  Reading a poetry collection feels very non-committal, something I’m in desperate need of right now while juggling jobs and responsibilities.

For Work

My internship is sucking up the majority of my reading time, but I absolutely adore feeling a part of the publishing process!  I’m interning at a literary agency; so far I’ve read two queries, and I’m currently working my way through two manuscripts, one acquired and one for evaluation.  I honestly wish I could talk more about them, because they’re both fantastic and I can’t wait to see them published.  One’s an apocalyptic thriller, Station Eleven meets Gone Girl, and the other’s a searing, honest tale of motherhood.  Both have me mesmerized.

For Review

I finished The Bucket List by Georgia Clark over the weekend, and my review will be up later this week.  Spoiler alert: I loved it!  It was a sweet, smart, sexy read that I devoured over one sleepless night.  Up next is A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua, which I plan on picking up tomorrow.  I’ve heard nothing but great things so I’m eager to start reading it.  I’ve talked about both of these titles briefly in my Summer 2018 ARC List, so check that out for more!

What are you currently reading?

xx,
Hannah

My Love-Hate Relationship with Literary Awards

I’ve enjoyed following along with literary awards and book prizes since I first ventured into young adult fiction and learned about the Printz Award.  I’d read a few books that had either won or been honored, like Looking for Alaska by John Green and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and I enjoyed those so I sought out more Printz-recognized reads.  I read I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, which remain my two favorite young adult books to this day.  Even the few young adult books I’ve read as a college student have been Printz honorees, like We Are Okay by Nina LaCour and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  That’s not to say I haven’t read my fair share of YA books unrelated to the Printz, but I always viewed the award as providing me a great list of novels to choose from.  Today, as a nineteen year old who doesn’t read much YA anymore, I view the Printz winner as the young adult book that I absolutely must read this year- if I’m only going to read one, it should be that one.

As I started to move into reading adult fiction, I noticed that almost all of the books recommended to me had been recognized by a different set of awards: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Man Booker Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the National Book Award for Fiction.  Naturally, I started to follow along with these awards, and the longer I followed them, the more I thought about them: their importance, their meaning, etc.  I generally love literary awards, because they’re fun and they’re a great way to discover new books, but, like anything else, they certainly have their con’s.

I love the excitement, the conversation, and the discovery.

It sounds cheesy, but awards are exciting!  Most awards release a longlist and a shortlist before announcing the winner, so it’s fun to follow along with the “countdown” and see if my favorite makes it to the “next round.”  Awards create a lot of buzz and get everyone talking about the books they feature.  I see a lot of bloggers and YouTubers reading the entire longlist/shortlist and sharing reviews on each one, and a lot of them like to share their predictions as well, either predictions for who will make it on the longlist, or their prediction for who will win.  In this sense, they are also a great way to discover books, especially through awards for specific categories like PEN America’s Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction.  I love to watch the National Book Foundation’s annual 5 Under 35, which showcases five exceptional debut novelists under the age of 35.  I’ve found a lot of my favorite books through awards.  There’s nothing better than a list!

I hate the subjectivity and the lack of diversity.

Though I only have two dislikes regarding book prizes, they’re big ones.  The first, that they are very subjective as there are different judges every year, so the winner could be different depending on that year’s judging panel.  Not only that, but the judges could have ulterior motives, like picking a winner that benefits a friend/publisher/agent other than picking the best book.  I think I would appreciate the validity of an award-winner more if I knew the same people were picking it year after year.  My second issue is that literary prizes, like most awards, lack diversity, in this case diversity between race, sex, and class.  Historically, wealthy white men have won or been longlisted for more awards than any other group, especially with the Man Booker, and though this has started to change in the past few years, it’s still a huge issue.  (This is part of the reason I’m such a huge fan of the Women’s Prize, which was founded in direct opposition of the sexist Man Booker, and only honors writers who identify as women.)

What do you think about literary awards?  What do you like/dislike about them?  What are your favorites to follow along with?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx,
Hannah