Twenty Tomes to Tackle!

I’m currently reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I have had on my to-read shelf for an eternity. I’ve always meant to read it, but I haven’t yet because I’ve been so intimidated. It’s about 800 pages long. Whenever I choose another book to read, I just look at it askance, hoping it won’t notice that it’s being passed over yet again for a book with a more manageable page length. It’s a kind of book-indenture. If I start it, I feel I must forsake so many other books for such a long time, that I would just rather absorb the guilt of not reading it than make that kind of commitment. But no longer! I’m making 2017 The Year of the Tome!

If you too can overcome your anxiety of the doorstop-book and are willing to risk a sprained wrist, here are 19 other long books to entice you:

edgar_sawtelle-cvr

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Why I want to read it:  I heard about it ad nauseam on Oprah. And it’s supposed to be worth the effort.

Page length: 566

 

pilcrowPilcrow by Adam Mars Jones

Why I want to read it:  It’s about a severely disabled, gay boy growing up in 1950s England. It looks cerebral and magical and introspective, which is right up my alley.

Page length: 525

 

soldier

 

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

Why I want to read it: Looks like a whopper of an adventure story.

Page length: 792

 

drownedWe, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

Why I want to read it: I’ve read half of it, and for some reason I put it down, even though I was enjoying it. It’s full of magical realism and the sea. And that cover!

Page length: 688

 

war War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Why I want to read it: Doesn’t everyone? Not to mention, I have a soft spot for Russian literature. I can’t believe I haven’t read this already.

Page length: 1273

 

 

seveneves_book_coverSeveneves by Neal Stephenson  

Why I want to read it: Dystopian sci-fi saga. ‘Nuff said.

Page length: 867

 

 

reamde

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Why I want to read it: From reviews I’ve read, seems like a ’round-the-world thriller that leaves readers out of breath with their hair mussed. Fast pacing WITH character development, which is hard to achieve.

Page length: 1044

 

thecorrectionscvr

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Why I want to read it: Because I haven’t read any Franzen yet (for shame). Supposed to be a cornucopia of dysfunctional characters.

Page length: 568

 

infinitejestInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Why I want to read it: I’m not sure I do? But somehow, I just can’t let go of the idea of reading this. I’m supposed to want to read this . . . but will that carry me through a billion pages?

Page length: 1079

 

wind-up_bird_chronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Why I want to read it: Supposed to be Murakami’s best. Every time I bring up the fact that I’ve only read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I hear, “But you haven’t read Wind-Up Bird?!”

Page length: 607

 

tipperary

Tipperary by Frank Delaney

Why I want to read it: Because it’s about IRELAND.

Page length: 448

 

 

thebigwhyThe Big Why by Michael Winter

Why I want to read it: To be candid, because it’s set in Newfoundland and the cover resembles We, The Drowned (go ahead – scroll up and see what I mean). Any book with an ocean on the cover immediately piques my interest.

Page length: 384

 

theowlkillers

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

Why I want to read it: It’s a medieval mystery that centers around a beguinage, a group of women outcasts who challenge societal norms and the patriarchy of the church. What’s not to like?

Page length: 511

 

theunconsoled The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

Why I want to read it: It’s Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go were engrossing and beautiful. I love him. 500+ pages of Ishiguro sounds like a dream.

Page length: 535

 

signalSignal & Noise by John Griesemer

Why I want to read it: You got me – ocean and ship on the cover. It’s about the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable with the background of romantic character drama.

Page length: 640

 

Theinterestings Interestings by Meg Wolitzer 

Why I want to read it: It follows the transformation of six friendships from optimistic adolescence through jaded middle age.

Page length: 468

 

 

thequickThe Quick by Lauren Owen 

Why I want to read it: Victorian Gothic historical fiction with a huge twist right at the beginning that no reviewers will even discuss for fear of spoilers.

Page length: 523

 

lifemaskLife Mask by Emma Donoghue

Why I want to read it: Because I loved Slammerkin.

Page length: 672

 

 

lostfleet

The Lost Fleet by Barry Clifford

Why I want to read it: Because it’s about 17th century piracy, shipwrecks, and underwater archaeology, all things that I find fascinating.

Page length: 304 pages (so, not a tome, but the book is large)

 

distant-hoursThe Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Why I want to read it: It’s Kate Morton. Her books are enchanting historical fiction that I never want to end, and I loved The House at Riverton

Page length: 562

 

 

Wish me luck! It should only take about 5 years to get through all of these.

 

Manderley Forever – Tatiana de Rosnay

daphneAfter reading Manderley Forever, I put a photo of Daphne du Maurier on my desk. I think Daphne and I would’ve been good friends. At least, I’d like to think so. Or maybe I would have just trailed behind her like a puppy, begging for a modicum of her affection. Tatiana de Rosnay’s biography shows her admiration and her respect for Daphne, too. I think if I had been able to meet Daphne while she was alive, I would have been enamored but also somewhat intimidated.

The biography de Rosnay has created is enthralling. Daphne du Maurier was a complex, non-conformist, reclusive writer who eschewed contact with fans and the media. I enjoyed reading about her life with the backdrop of the development of her novels, how her love for Cornwall, or her travels abroad, affected her writing or inspired various storylines. I played a game while reading trying to guess which novel was coming next. I learned a lot about Daphne – what inspired her, what motivated her, who captured her heart.

De Rosnay handles Daphne’s various loves, those fulfilled and those unrequited, with grace and compassion. Manderley Forever gives insight into the life of this beloved novelist who was often written off by critics as only a best-selling romance writer. She was enigmatic, and her novels were darker and more complicated than she was often given credit for. Her alter ego, Eric Avon, was Daphne as her most genuine, and de Rosnay explores that side of Daphne with wonder.

I appreciated the multi-faceted character de Rosnay gives her readers. She shows Daphne’s darker side, her temperamental personality, but also her loyalty and devotion to family and life-long friends. Her peccadilloes are all there in the open, which only serves the book’s legitimacy. Daphne had an obsessive personality, often inexplicably drawn to places or people that she would cling to tenaciously, but she also suffered from social anxiety, hiding from fans who came to Menabilly seeking autographs. Her life story was well-researched, but more importantly, it was written with care and love, which shows on every page. Manderley Forever has inspired me to read all the du Maurier novels I haven’t yet read, now that I know the story and inspiration behind the tales.

Highly recommended for du Maurier fans, and for those just beginning to discover her.

My gratitude to Netgalley, Tatiana de Rosnay, and St. Martin’s Press for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Let’s all embrace tolerance . . . of literary genres

blog1When I’m book-browsing, this often happens: skip past romance section, point kids in direction of YA (but I don’t need to look there),  ignore mystery section that’s in the way before I finally get to good ol’ literary fiction shelves. Breathe sigh of relief and settle down into my genre.

But recently, I’ve had a suspicion . . . an inspiration . . . a shock that perhaps I’m cheating myself by allowing a closed-minded attitude to book categories. For many genres, I’ve tried them and they just don’t do it for me. I find most mystery novels to be 250+ pages of build-up for 3 pages of Big Reveal. YA (that’s “Young Adult”) usually makes me cringe with puppy love stories and overly-ambitious misunderstood manic pixie girls. I’ve read my fair share of both of those genres, and they’re not my go-to, but I’ll make exceptions if a book really intrigues me or is recommended by someone whose tastes I trust. But the others? I don’t just like them because I think I don’t like them. There are some genres I have renounced without a reason:

  • Romance? Like kissy-kissy, swoon, oh-his-biceps-thrill-me? Is that what those are about? Probably not. But I’ve never allowed myself to find out otherwise.
  • Graphic novels? I don’t like comic books. At least, I don’t think I like comic books. Okay, I’ve never read a comic book. Is that what those are? I read Maus and liked it . . . Does that count?
  • And those punny-titled cozy-mysteries set in bakeries? Are those really a thing? I thought they were just memes.

I NEED TO STOP BEING NARROW-MINDED ABOUT MY READING CHOICES.

Step 1: I’m going to the library today to get Persepolis, a graphic novel recommended by numerous readers that I trust on Litsy. I think I can find graphic novels that I may like. And I don’t want to miss out. This may turn out to be a slippery slope.

persepolis

Step 2 (completed): I branched WAAAAY out there and got not only just a romance novel, but a historical male/male romance novel. And ya know what?! It was really good! It wasn’t silly, it wasn’t bodice-ripping (or the male version of bodice-ripping). It was historically well-researched, romantic, and unpredictable. Shame on me for taking so long to find these. I’m getting more, and I don’t care if you tease me about them. england

Step 3: Cozy-mystery assignment underway. The husband and I have formed a two-person book club to read the most ridiculously-titled punny-cozy-bakery-mystery we could find: Gluten for Punishment. (BlueBuried Muffins was a runner-up). I’m game. And honestly, I think I may enjoy myself. I’m going in with a positive attitude expecting to have fun.

gluten

Would love to hear what genres you eschew  . . . maybe I can convince you to join me in my transformation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow is a beautiful, engrossing story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat conscripted by a Bolshevik Tribunal to live out his days under house arrest in the Metropol, a luxury hotel within view of the Kremlin. Rostov, however, no longer is allowed to inhabit his sprawling suite, but must instead hole up in the small attic amongst the looming heirloom furniture. Rostov maintains his dignity, never forgetting his ancestry or the honor of a gentleman.

moscow
Find it here on Goodreads

Spanning the decades following the Russian Revolution, this is the story of Rostov as he experiences the changes in politics and society from the time of Lenin to Khrushchev. He maintains his sophisticated lifestyle; although he can never step outside the hotel. The characters within the Metropol show Rostov what life is like on the outside, and many become as close to him as family, especially a certain 8-year-old girl, who is both precocious and adoring, who changes his life forever.

This book is delicate, subtle, full of humor and pathos. Every small, seemingly insignificant detail has ramifications as the story progresses. This is an exploration of the changing political and social climate of Russia as it affected individuals, the importance of tradition, and the bonds that can form over the treasures of a shared past. Towles’ descriptions made the book come alive. I smelled the delectable bouillabaisse prepared with black market ingredients, I tasted the tartness of the whiskey sipped in the hotel bar after closing, I chuckled at the sharp retorts to uninformed politicos.

I absolutely adored this story. I hung on every word, every description of Russian delicacies, every anecdote of the Russian gentry. I recommended this book highly. Watch out 2017 Booker committee, you need look no further for your winner.

 

Spaceman – Mike Massimino

spacemanThe best thing about this book? Mike Massimino is a regular guy. He’s a guy you’d want to sit down and have a beer with, the guy who might be your kid’s cub scout leader, or your neighbor who lets you borrow the edger. This book is about Mike’s rise to superhero astronaut, and all the bumps, failures, and doubts along the way. He’s a regular person (albeit a super-smart, courageous one), and look what he did!

Mike doesn’t dwell too long on his childhood in New York, but does include some important aspects about his growing up that helped him along his path. The meat of the story is his quest (at times thought quixotic) to work for NASA and eventually become an astronaut. Unlike many memoirs, this book focuses only on the important parts of the story, and doesn’t include every anecdote or biographical tangent. It’s tight, entertaining, fascinating, and, most importantly, honest.  It’s not overwhelming with scientific explanations. This is a human interest story. At times, my palms were actually sweating while reading about Mike’s first EVA on his flight to repair the Hubble.

And Mike didn’t write this book to make himself look like a hero. He doesn’t leave out the doubts, the fears, the downright terrors, he experienced, both during his studies and exams and also while in space. He even talks about having imposter syndrome, feeling that he wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or prepared enough to go into space. But time and again, he was tested, and he was the right man for the job. That’s a real struggle a lot of us mortals can identify with, which only makes this book more intriguing. I was amazed at the lengths he went to in order to overcome deficits, even to the point of not accepting that his vision wouldn’t pass him into astronaut training. He was going to have 20/20 vision no matter what. For Mike, there is no door that is completely closed.

Spaceman gets five big ol’ stars from me. This is a book for everybody. I’m passing this on to my middle-schooler, who wants to work for NASA as soon as humanly possible. Whether you’re interested in space exploration or not (and if not, what’s wrong with you?), this is a story that everyone can relate to. Mike Massimino is my new hero. Read Spaceman, and he’ll be your hero too. I only hope that maybe if I write him a fan letter he’ll send me an autographed photo. How about it, Mike?

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Follow Mike on Twitter

Buy Spaceman here

Mike’s bio

 

 

 

 

Mischling – Affinity Konar

mischling
Find it here on Goodreads

 

Up until recently, I had to stop reading books set during WWII. I couldn’t take anymore horror. I was having nightmares about hiding in a subway tunnel during the Blitz. The truth is, though, that these horrors actually happened, and they were real life nightmares to so many. So, I’m not giving up.

Mischling is worth it, even if it’s difficult.

Stasha and Pearl are twin sisters who have been sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of Mengele’s Zoo. There are atrocities. There is torture, medical experimentation, unspeakable dehumanization. By being part of the Zoo, the sisters believe that they may be getting special treatment and their mother and grandfather are better taken care of. The torture the girls undergo, however, isn’t always explicit. Konar has a delicate hand, and many of the terrors are indirect and left up to the imagination of the reader, often to an even more powerful effect.

What I appreciated most is that the story of the sisters doesn’t end with the liberation of the camps. There is no scene of the girls grabbing a Russian soldier by the hand and being led into the sunshine through the gates. There is no “happily ever after” now that the war is over. There is only “after.” The real story starts after the horrors of the camp have ended. Now the children of Mengele’s Zoo are free, but they’re lost. They have no families, they can’t find their parents or siblings. The children and those adults who were forced to assist Mengele with his experiments are left to fend for themselves, burdened with the memories of what they had to endure, and what they had to do to others in order to survive. There were delusional rationalizations they had to construct for self-preservation, and now that clarity has come they’re not sure what’s true anymore.

Please don’t be dissuaded by the subject matter. Like I said above, Mischling is worth it. It’s worth it because it’s honest. One of the sisters is bent on revenge. She fantasizes about plans to hunt and kill Mengele. She contemplates suicide. She imagines what life may be like without her sister, and it’s unendurable. She holds on to violence and draws power from it. She seeks how to make herself whole again, but she can’t let go of her anger. This book is about moving forward, finding the strength to believe that there is an “after.”

The effects will last a lifetime, but the love they hold onto will carry them through. Mischling is sorrowful and unimaginable, but it’s also redemptive. The story of Stasha and Pearl deserves to be read.

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride

bohemians
Buy the book here

One phrase kept coming to mind as I read this book: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” This quote is from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and captures the essence of McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians. At the surface, this is a story of a young drama student having a relationship with an older, established actor. It’s almost a cliché – the teenage girl infatuated with an older man who takes advantage of her naiveté.

The difference here is that McBride’s tale forces the reader to be accepting and sympathetic of others’ experience, almost without judgement. It’s raw and disturbing, but that’s what makes it work.

Doubtless many readers will be aware that the writing style is not traditional. McBride writes in snippets, in phrases, short fragments of sentences. It’s not exactly stream-of-consciousness, but this style  allows for introspection and first person point-of-view more honestly than the usual straightforward structure. It’s poetic and innovative, and not linear or direct. This writing creates succinct paragraphs without wordy descriptions. Dialogue is not bordered with quotation marks, but is directly inserted into the text. It may be off-putting or confusing at first, but it really doesn’t take long to adjust to this narrative voice. If you’re able to read Shakespearean English, or dialect, or an invented language, such as seen in The Country of Ice Cream Star or Cloud Atlas, then The Lesser Bohemians, though challenging, won’t be too difficult to tackle. Just let your mind go, be free of the burden of expectations, and absorb the words as they appear on the page. You’ll be just fine.

The subject matter may appear harmless – a May/December relationship – but it’s far from innocent. There are uncomfortable, sometimes taboo, subjects in this book. Incest, psychological abuse, drug use, child abuse . . . it’s all in there. It’s reminiscent of A Little Life, but this book is more believable and much better written. The characters are despicable, but they’re real.

I was bothered by the acceptance of psychological abuse as it was treated in this book. The young girl, Eily, allows herself to be cruelly manipulated by her older lover, mostly because she just doesn’t know any better. There is so much drama and on/off in their relationship, such desperation, dependency, and  “he loves me and he’ll come back,” that it practically made me nauseous. The reasons for his behavior are made clear, but does that make his abuse and infidelity acceptable? I pity any young girl who reads this book and thinks this type of relationship is okay, or worse, that it’s normal and the best they can expect to have. Sex is used for approval, sex is used for revenge, sex is used for power. Even though there is some catharsis and growth, there remains a horrifying lack of self-esteem in both characters. This relationship is too damaged to be healthy, and McBride’s novel doesn’t address that danger. As an adult, I recognize that fact; as an 18-year-old, I may not have.

I recommend The Lesser Bohemians for those readers who want to experience a different narrative style and can handle difficult issues. I would only recommend it for adults. I prevaricated between giving a 3 or 4 star review. So, 3 stars for the story and 4 stars for the raw, powerful writing. McBride’s first novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, wowed me with her bold use of language. I admire McBride’s writing, and give her kudos for creating a daring story. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Read more about this author: click here