Tampa

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This was a strange and unexpected read for me. Not something I would generally have chosen on my own, it was recommended by a friend during a game night. We were discussing deviant sexual practices and the double-standards that can arise between men and women when allegations of sexual abuse are made (as one does), and Tampa was brought up. At the end of the evening I asked to borrow it, and here we are.

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Tampa follows Celeste Price, a middle school teacher in Tampa, as she preys on fourteen-year-old boys to satisfy her intense sexual desires. This was not a comfortable read. Celeste is a well-constructed character who finds it hard to think of things other than slaking her lust. Every action she takes she does with that in mind. She constantly manipulates everyone around her, using her beauty and her body as currency to keep the suspicions of others at bay.

All secondary characters are seen through Celeste’s rather biased eye. Her husband, who disgusts her. Janet, who disgusts her. Buck, who disgusts her. Jack and Boyd, the only ones she finds appealing in any way, are purely sexual objects to her and it shows. She is dismissive of other adults as to her they’ve passed their prime long ago, but she certainly doesn’t consider Jack or Boyd to be equals either. This narcissistic view, while interesting, does at times make things rather repetitive.

While at times I found it hard to believe that nobody suspected Celeste’s true actions or intentions, I have to admit that was culturally accurate. We are less likely to suspect the young and beautiful, especially if they’re women. Her deft manipulations of Ford (her husband) played right into his stereotypical view of women as mercurial creatures of mystery designed to plague men with frustration. Nobody tried to delve further into Celeste’s life because they believed so deeply that there was nothing there worth finding.

Tampa is undeniably a well-written novel. The narrative is carefully constructed with sometimes gorgeous turns of phrase coming out of nowhere. That didn’t lessen my discomfort as scenes of abuse took place between Celeste and her students. They’re written in a graphic way that I would term erotica if the subject matter wasn’t so disturbing. I felt vaguely sick the entire time I was reading though I did fly through the book in one sitting.

It is a mark of Alissa Nutting’s skill as a writer that I would recommend this book both despite and because of its subject matter. It’s not an easy thing to read about, but its something that is certainly worth thinking about more in depth. Will the content disturb you? Almost certainly. Will it spark an important discussion about male survivors of sexual violence and female perpetrators? I hope so.

There is more I could say, but for now I will sign off. Have you read Tampa? Do you have any books to recommend with strange or difficult subject matter? Let me know in the comments below!

The Cuckoo’s Calling

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I don’t generally listen to audiobooks. I haven’t enjoyed them since I was a kid listening to A Series of Unfortunate Events and Artemis Fowl. I often find it difficult to focus on the story, too distracted by the slow pace, my hang-ups with the narrator’s voice and inflections interfering with the plot.

Circumstances forced my hand, so I listened to samples of more than a dozen audiobooks before settling in to listen to the entirety of The Cuckoo’s Calling. I thought a mystery would be easiest for me to follow and exciting enough to keep me listening.

It’s nigh impossible to separate my opinion of the text itself from the narration so I will not attempt to do so.

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I enjoy a good mystery and thriller, being particularly fond of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad. I found the pacing of The Cuckoo’s Calling to be quite slow, the narrative taking the reader step-by-step through the investigative process and into Robin and Strike’s personal lives. While the story was interesting enough I did wish it would give me more of one and less of the other as the focus seemed unnecessarily divided.

I did enjoy the characterizations of Robin, Strike and the supporting cast. The narrator’s efforts to do the voices for all characters was appreciated, if unequal at times. I will confess for the entire book I believed that Strike’s first name was ‘Cormorant’ like the bird rather than ‘Cormoran’. Auditory perception really makes a huge difference to the way you experience a story. I’ll never know if I would have viewed characters differently were it not for the inflections of the narrator’s voice. Would I have been able to guess the outcome of the investigation? Would I have found characters more or less sympathetic?

As it was, I didn’t guess the outcome until the plot was rounding its final corner. By then I was so relieved to be through so many hours of narration I would have accepted any ending. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book.

While I found Cormoran Strike to be quite off-putting at times, he was a thorough private eye. He found and interviewed people I wouldn’t have considered and was willing to re-evaluate his stance on people when necessary. I liked Robin, though I found her passive-aggressive attitude both frustrating and funny. I’m interested to see the evolution of their personalities and working relationship as the series continues.

I think the most unrealistic thing about the book for me was people just agreeing to cooperate and speak with Strike at all. He’s not a police officer, just a private citizen who could be lying to them for all they know. Nobody ever asks for any identification nor do they call the man who paid for the inquiry to verify his identity. I thought it was absolutely bizarre and it certainly got me thinking on tangents when I should have been paying attention to the plot.

I found it frustrating that Strike would go over the same information with the same people at times. While a legitimate investigative tactic, it can make for a tiring chapter. I wished that Strike’s thought process was more available to the reader so that his investigative process would be shown less.

I did like that the story touched on the paparazzi and the way that celebrities in certain countries are hounded. It’s interesting to wonder if that subject was chosen because of the author’s own experience with them. Certainly not a topic I expected but I was glad it was brought up by quite a few characters.

While I will be reading the next book in the series, the format is still in question. Regardless, I hope that I warm to Strike and become sharp enough to deduce the ending with more than a chapter to spare.

Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling? Do you listen to (and enjoy) audiobooks? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Update

It’s been more than a year since my last post.

I guess you could say I lost track of things – too distracted by day to day life to pick up a book and analyse its contents. I’ve missed it more than I thought, and I want to try to get back into a routine. I hope to post not only reviews, but also short fiction and opinion pieces in the future as well. While I can’t necessarily promise the quality of the writing, I can promise that it will be written and revised with enthusiasm.

I’m currently concussed and not weathering it as well as I would like. At my clinic assessment my doctor told me to do the things I love and not let it hold me back (within limits). It definitely got me thinking about my lack of motivation and the writing I’ve neglected for far too long.

So here I am, back for good. At least, that’s the hope. You can look forward to some audiobook reviews in the near future. If you’re still here, thanks for sticking around!

Everless

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Though I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve still been reading. Sort of. I’ve squashed some reading time into transit rides and before bed. It’s not the best but it’s all I can fit in just now.

I’m woefully behind on my NetGalley reviews, and my library e-book holds come and go before I can download them. Still, I’ve returned to bring you one of many reviews to come.

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I had super low expectations going into this book. If we’re being honest, I think we can acknowledge that YA has been shifty on quality of late. The cover of Everless is less than impressive, as is the tagline ‘Time is a prison, she is the key.’

I mean… really?

But the content. Wow.

The concept of time being quite literally money is one that I’ve never seen before. That’s the thing that piqued my interest despite the cover and tagline. That concept was so well-executed that I didn’t spend any of the book confused over it. The mechanics of everyday life and the clear divide between the aristocracy and the working population are easily understood and believable once you’ve accepted the premise of Sempera. While the circumstances surrounding ‘blood-iron’ and time being bound to blood/money are vague and unexplained, it was clearly a plot device.

Which brings me to the plot. It seems simple enough at the outset. Girl needs money. Girl returns to place of childhood trauma. Things spiral as new truths are uncovered.

I didn’t want to put this book down. Secrets were revealed at just the right pace and frequency to keep me going and Jules was a likeable protagonist. She’s just trying to get by at the beginning of the novel, which I’m sure many of us can empathise with.

When I began reading I was expecting this to be predictable as heck but as I read further it became clear that that wasn’t the case. So then I thought to myself – ‘maybe the author tried to be clever and do the opposite of what readers would expect’.

I was wrong about that too. I’m grateful that Sara Holland wrote a plot and characters twisty enough to be unpredictable.

Seeing Sempera through the lens of Jules was interesting. Her opinion of her world and it’s occupants definitely coloured mine as a reader, but Holland is such an expressive writer that that isn’t all you see. There is plenty of room to see past Jules’ prejudices and realise that she holds them in the first place. We don’t learn a lot about any side characters, but it seems purposeful rather than lazy and I wasn’t bothered by it.

Bonus points for this book: women supporting women, no true love triangle, no overt or overtly annoying romance, great characters, cool world concept, and an interesting villain.

The more I read, the better it got. I was breathless by the last chapter. I will certainly be reading the next book.

What did you think of Everless? Read any shifty or non-shifty YA lately? Let me know in the comments below!

Books to Read Sans Synopsis

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Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Thoughts on Tomes and created by Lainey @ Ginger Reads Lainey. You can check out the group’s Goodreads page for this month’s topics!

This week’s theme is books that it’s best to go into blindly. Those few titles you want to recommend without spoiling anything, and just end up describing as vaguely as possible. “No trust me, don’t google it – just read it! You’ll love it, I swear.” These books are usually fantastic if you can read them unspoiled, but even their own back covers can sometimes mar the story within. (How do publishers let that happen?)

Here are five books that I think you should read without a synopsis. Either they spoil the content a little too much or they misrepresent the story enough to make you unhappy with it. Just trust me.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

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Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

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Cathy’s Book, by Jordan Wiseman

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Genesis, by Bernard Beckett

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Deathless, By Catherynne M. Valente

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There you have it! Some of these are genre fiction, and some are not. I’ll not be telling you which is which, because that would spoil the whole point of this post. Have you read any of my choices? Do they coincide with the books you would recommend someone read without a synopsis?

Let me know in the comments below!

Books for Hufflepuffs

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Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Thoughts on Tomes and created by Lainey @ Ginger Reads Lainey. You can check out the group’s Goodreads page for this month’s topics!

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This week’s topic is books that represent your Hogwarts house – for me, that’s Hufflepuff. Though I admittedly look awful in yellow, I’m a proud badger! The listed choices for this week are in no particular order.

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Watership Down
As a kid I couldn’t get enough of this harrowing tale of friendship and survival. As an adult, I try to re-read it once every few years. This book shook me to my core the first time I read it. The rabbits keep on keeping on, despite all odds. What’s more Hufflepuff than that?

AsterixAsterix

That’s right, this is on the list. I grew up reading these (je suis franco-ontarienne) and love them to this day. These BD’s about a small village’s refusal of the Roman occupation is still laugh out loud funny – especially all those name puns. Asterix and Obelix have an exceptional friendship, and the resistance of their village to being conquered is earmarked by stubbornness and good humour that is characteristic of Hufflepuffs. Plus, they love a good feast!

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The Southern Vampire Mysteries

I loved these books. I sped through them faster than you’d believe (and no, I haven’t seen the show). They’re on the list because Sookie is for sure a Hufflepuff. She’s just trying to live her life and all this bizarre stuff is happening around her. What does she do? Takes it in stride, ’cause that’s life. Also, she’s a romantic who really does not react well to betrayal. Why? Because she’s a hella loyal badger.

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Maresi

A simple story told in a fairy-tale style, I really enjoyed this book. The first in a series, it follows the burgeoning friendship of two girls, Maresi and Jai. They live in the Red Abbey, a haven for females as it is forbidden for men to set food on the island. It’s a story of loyalty, community, magic, and sacrifice. Hufflepuffs can be brave, clever, and sneaky when they have to but the driving factors are always loyalty and friendship. This story has that in spades. redwall.jpg

Redwall Series

Literally all of these books capture what it means to be a Hufflepuff. The peaceful beasts of Redwall abbey extend aid to all those who ask, and live quiet lives of plenty. They live as a community with shared values and goals, and when threatened they’ll take up arms to defend their lives, though they mostly abhor violence. In far away Salamandastron there live warrior badgers who are capable of entering berserker rages and decimating throngs of vermin foes – but who live as benevolent overseers of the hares of the long patrol unless absolutely necessary. That is about as Hufflepuff as anything could ever be. Also, there are feasts. Because again, we’re ‘Puffs.

That’s all for T5W this week! Have you checked out any of the books on my list? Do you have other suggestions for Hufflepuff reads, or for books that suit your Hogwarts House? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

T5W: Favourite Minor Characters

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Wednesday is here again, and with it time for another Top 5! Top Five Wednesday was created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and you can find the group with topics and participants here.

This week the topic is favourite minor characters! This topic was pretty much made for fanfic fanatics and so I’m super pleased to participate. Every character I’ve chosen is one whose potential I think extends beyond the canon they were placed in. I’ve either written fanfic about them or read it extensively.

#1 – Leah Clearwater (Twilight)

That’s right, the very first one is a Twilight character. I’m not even sorry. The only female werewolf of known existence in the series canon is a bitter and spiteful woman who would rather spit on everyone who gives her a side-eye than consider accepting help from a friend. I love her for it. She was intensely screwed over by fate and remains strong in the face of teenage boys thinking about what a bitch she is all the time. You go girl. Live your damn life.

#2 – Fleur Delacour (Harry Potter)

Fleur is a Tri-Wizard champion and eventually becomes wife to Bill Weasley. The magical prowess that she must have had as a champion is often overlooked in favour of her Veela heritage and the general dislike that the Weasley family have for her. She’s a powerful witch who knows her own mind, eschewing those who think her silly or vain. Ain’t nobody got time for that, especially someone who can turn into a fireball-wielding bird woman or destroy you in a non-verbal duel.

#3 – Genya Safin (The Grisha Trilogy)

Genya is a Tailor, hated by her peers and superiors and doomed to a rather tragic life. While her gift is unique and arguably powerful she is made a servant and a plaything to royals who know nothing of how to love or respect their subjects. Genya does the best she can with the choices she’s been given. Beautiful and ruthless, she hides a soft and vulnerable interior and holds a torch for a man more interested in science than romance. Her story is a tragedy and she was incredible throughout it all.

#4 – Angela the Herbalist (Inheritance Cycle)

Angela is a mysterious woman of indeterminate age. A fortune-teller, witch, and herbalist accompanied by a werecat companion, the reader doesn’t learn much of her background. She knows (and sometimes follows) the customs of many races, most notably the Urgals. Is she one of the greatly diminished Grey Folk? Uncertain, but she is far older than she appears and has no issues with poisoning a whole bunch of dudes before a battle breaks out to lower the casualties on her own side.

#5 – Tolkien’s Literary Ladies

I’d also like to give a shout-out to Tolkien’s literary ladies. Eowyn, a shieldmaiden who dreams of the glory of battle and learns the truth of war. Arwen, who loves where she will though it meant she would never sail to Valinor. Galadriel, ring-bearer and one of the greatest of the Noldor. Tolkien’s canon has played host to thousands of tales about these ladies and their peers, and I’m eternally grateful for that.

That’s it for today! What do you think of my choices? What would yours be? Let me know in the comments below!