Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

17333319The Litwits met on Sunday to discuss Hannah Kent’s debut novel released last year. Putting this book off for almost a year was next to impossible because so many of my online bookish friends loved, loved this story. And for the first time in a long time, I had to force myself to stop at 50 pages a day because I wanted to savor this gem of a book. I never wanted it to end.

Burial Rites is another novel that I don’t feel needs much introduction. It takes place in Iceland in the 1820s. Two women and one man have been charged and convicted of killing a man. Our protagonist, Agnes, has been sentenced to death by beheading. Kent writes of her final months living with a farm family as she awaits her looming death.

That’s not spoiling anything because this is a historical fiction novel based on the true story of the last beheading in Iceland. So…you know how it ends going in, but damn if you don’t hope and pray Agnes will find someway to beat her murder wrap. Whether or not she even committed the crime becomes almost a non issue as you fall in love with this orphaned, lonely, sad woman. I defy you not to want Agnes’s name cleared!

Beyond the central plot, Kent gives you so much else to love. The Icelandic landscape in all its cinematic glory and rolling hills and biting cold surrounds you and places you firmly within the story. Her writing is GORGEOUS. Her descriptions are lyrical and immersive. Some members did think she could be a bit long-winded at times and a little too dirty with her imagery (she doesn’t shy away from the nasty smells and ugliness of  bodily function), but others adored her language for its realism. Personally, I found myself reading the passages out loud – sometimes over and over again – mesmerized by all the pretty words.

Agnes was my favorite character, but many Litwits loved Margret as well. We discussed how Margret desperately didn’t want Agnes in her house, sleeping right next to her own two daughters. But once Agnes arrives in her pitiful state, Margret can’t help but feel for the doomed woman. What makes that so particularly interesting is how un-motherly Margret seems around her own children. Margret’s daughter, Lauga, quickly grows to resent her mother’s affection for Agnes creating such tension as the story unfolds.

We discussed the novel’s ending at length. Several of us felt the ending to be very abrupt, too rushed in its conclusion. Others thought this was done on purpose to emphasize the death that couldn’t be stopped. But it was just so sad.

So Burial Rites was a winner among the Litwits! We got a lot of good conversation in before our inevitable fall into the descent of television, tumblr, and fanfiction. Until next time ladies!!

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The Walking Dead: “Us”

tumblr_n2wqirrlhZ1slwvwgo1_1280Well, Terminus looks like a place that is filled with rainbows, sunshine, and evil fucking clowns that eat people. Seriously, how can this group walk in, guns lowered, and not suspect a damn thing? This place has ZERO fortification.

Glenn and Maggie’s reunion was one of my most favorite moments of this show. EVER. God, I teared up and I’m not even bothered by that. I was just screaming at my tv – it’s Maggie! It’s Maggie!! Jimmy thought I had gone insane. I’m a bit worried about that whole burning the picture scene. It seems to foreshadow imminent death. You can’t ever just be happy on TWD.

I’m glad Glenn loves Tara.

Eugene is weird and odd and I didn’t like him at first but now I do? My feelings for him are confused, but he went back for Glenn and that made me happy. Plus, this show just needs more mullets.

That scene with Rick, Michonne, and Carl was utter perfection and made my heart so happy. I know next episode will be brutal for Rick (see above picture) so I’m glad he’s getting these small moments of familial happiness. Michonne and Carl are just too damn cute.

DARYL, though. Get away from these people, please. I know you saw Michonne’s candy wrapper, and I know you know what her favorite chocolate bar is. So I know you know who they’re tracking. You better just be with them now to protect your family. That line Joe fed him about being an outdoor cat trying to be an indoor cat crushed my spirit. I hope Beth’s words were running through his head louder than that nonsense. Also, when he picked up that sheet to cover Len’s body, he was totally channeling Beth but then he put it back down. I HATED THAT MOMENT.

I don’t know what happens next week. I have ideas and sad panda thoughts. But it’s going to be brutal. I’ll need bourbon. Lots and lots of bourbon.

WHY HAS MAGGIE NOT EVEN MENTIONED BETH ONE TIME?

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

16250900I’m handing this out for World Book Night 2014 and decided that before doing so I should probably give the thing a read, no? It won a Printz Honor when it was released and the sequel has been earning extra heapings of praise for both books. When choosing my WBN selection, I wanted something that lots of people, particularly young readers, could really sink their teeth into. A book with meat, plot, and purpose. Code Name Verity seemed just the thing.

Here’s where a synopsis should go, but I don’t want to reveal too much. How about…two friends are involved in some espionage during WWII that gets one of them captured in occupied France after their plane crashes. Oh, and the two friends (the pilot and the spy) are teenage/college-aged girls. Did that synopsis work at all? Just go read the thing.

SO GOOD. I could not put this down. I’d lowered my expectations going in because so many had warned me the book bored them and was bogged down under dull aviation details that wouldn’t interest anyone who wasn’t a pilot. Wein, herself, is a pilot. But I didn’t find this to be the case at all. The details that were included just made the story feel more authentic and gave the tone of the novel a gripping sense of realism.

The writing is wonderful and smart and emotionally riveting. The girls are well written and believable. The plot is nonstop – full of twisty, turny moments that genuinely shocked me more than once. It is so rare for a plot twist to find me unawares these days, but Code Name Verity pulled it off not once, but twice. The ending was gut-wrenching, and I can understand why so many previous readers were moved to tears. The story manages to be centered around a beautiful female friendship and themes of feminism in the best and most brilliant of ways. This is a book that shows you a thing instead of telling you a thing. And I loved it.

After having read and loved and read and hated a vast plethora of WWII fiction and nonfiction, I really didn’t think it possible for a book set during this time period to feel fresh and to teach me something I didn’t know. But Code Name Verity does this – excels at this – and deserves all its praise and accolades. I can’t wait to hand this book over to people of all ages in April and to get my greedy little hands on the sequel!!

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

6276045Yet another book I was all prepared to love. In fact, it was a total free choice book at the end of February. There was no obligation – just desire! Meant as a fabulous birthday present to myself. Because I loved – LOVED – The Knife of Never Letting Go which kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Heart attack central. But y’all, I found myself bored more often than not.

I’m not going to detail the plot since this is the second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. The series as a whole follows the human race after abandoning Earth and shacking up on a new planet. Lots of things have gone horribly wrong. Men’s thoughts are heard by all. Where are all the women? Alien races are being oppressed. And the leaders are complete dictatorial douches. You know, the usual. The story follows adolescent protagonist Todd Hewitt as he tries to navigate his enemies and usurp the political status quo.

TKoNLG was all about the chase. And it was epic. Page after page of Todd running, running, running. He met new people along the way and uncovered so many secrets. To be honest, the plot was almost too exciting. It required breaks for my sanity. The heartbreak was also staggering. I knew The Ask and the Answer was going to be an entirely other thing – a book about tyranny and oppression – but I didn’t expect to grow bored.

So what happened? The basic story was fine, even great. The number of pages it took to tell was unfortunate. As we switched back and forth between our narrators, I often found myself yawning and hoping somebody would finally make a decision or a revelation or something. I could simply blame this dullness on the back and forth narration. But that wouldn’t be telling the whole truth because both Todd and Viola annoyed me.

Did I enjoy anything? Of course! I still gave the book three stars, after all. I enjoyed seeing Mayor Prentiss charm and manipulate the town. The elaborate chess game the charismatic dictator plays is fascinating to watch. The gender commentary was also engrossing. I love that Ness’s books are never just one thing. He takes writing for young adults seriously and respects their intelligence. Love, love that. The novel’s conclusion was a force to be reckoned with and does a beautiful job urging one on to the final installment. I just wished all the character bits had lived up to all that.

But don’t take my word for it! Several readers cite this as their favorite in the trilogy. Some readers think the whole thing is trash. I’d suggest, however, that this is one YA series worth giving a go.

The Walking Dead: The Grove

14503359-mmmainLike Talking Dead said: Sometimes there are just no words.

Mika and Lizzie’s deaths were brutal. And Carol. Oh, Carol. Melissa you are by FAR the most talented actress on this show. I’m really worried you aren’t going to make it to season 5. Like so, so worried.

And Tyreese. That was so much for you to deal with. UGH. Thank you for forgiving.

Part of me can’t believe TWD had the guts to go there, but the other part of me is so proud of my little show. Push the limits. Challenge your audience. Teach us something.

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Prediction for next week: Rick saves Daryl!!! PLEASE???? I wish Beth could somehow save him, but that’s highly unlikely. Also, I hope Daryl puts a knife in that janky ass redneck fucker’s gut.

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Three-SoulsWhat made me pick up Three Souls? I think subconsciously I’ve been seeking out historical fiction all year, but more than that even, I wanted something Chinese and feminist with a deftly paced plot. I got that and much, much more in Janie Chang’s novel set against the backdrop of the beginnings of World War II and the Chinese civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists.

Leiyin is a young mother who awakens to find herself at her own funeral. She remembers nothing of her life. Her three souls surround her as she realizes something is barring her entrance into the Afterlife and eventual reincarnation. As her lost memories play out before her, Leiyin must watch and process all the missteps and egregious mistakes she’s made in her short 24 years in order to understand how to make amends for her discretions.

I think Three Souls is a novel best read cold. No need to know any real plot points about who Leiyin is or was. No need to start guessing her transgressions before even opening the book. Can you imagine being stuck in some sort of limbo having to watch your life literally pass before your eyes? All the embarrassments and bad decisions? The moments where you realize how awful of a person you’ve been at times? To feel buried under the weight of a debt or a horrific fuck up that you might never be able to mend?

That, for me, was the most compelling aspect of Three Souls. Janie Chang has created such a masterfully drawn, full-bodied female character filled with darkness and joy and despair and folly and good intentions. Leiyin won me over almost immediately as a person who transcends the page – who walks and talks and breathes. Watching her watch herself stumble and fall and learn and grow and falter and wobble was heartbreaking and inspiring and infuriating. She stayed with me even when I wasn’t reading the novel and will, no doubt, be with me long after. She’s the perfect example of an often unlikeable character who grabs hold of a reader and won’t let go despite her flaws.

I just kept reading and reading and telling myself, “Good God, this book is so good.” Which, I guess, surprised me in the best of ways. It’s at once page-turning and cerebral. The ending came as a complete surprise, and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Janie Chang is now firmly situated on my authors to watch list and I hope you’ll give her a chance, too!

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Thanks so much to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Check out the other tour stops here!

About the Author:

Janie-ChangBorn in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She holds a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. Three Souls is her first novel.

The Walking Dead: “Alone” & The Best Ship EVER

I just erased this really long analytic discussion post because I have only one thing I really want to talk about:

I SHIP BETH AND DARYL SO HARD.

I mean, how could you not after Sunday’s episode? I’ve never thought about or cared about shipping anyone on TWD until this very moment in time. Sure, I like the Richonne dynamic, but I don’t live for it. I enjoyed Daryl and Carol’s platonic, familial bonding. Maggie and Glenn are fine in their own boring way. But Beth and Daryl break my fucking heart.

And I fought this. I fought this something fierce. Beth and Daryl prior to season 4 had little to no screen time together. I didn’t even know they knew each other’s name. But when season 4 started, they shared a hug in the very first episode that had me totally icked out. I literally yelled at the television, “Yuck! Do not do this, Scott Gimple. Do not do this for the love of all things good and holy.”

I take it all back.

What changed my mind? Episode 13, for the win!!

It’s no secret that Daryl Dixon is my favorite character on TWD. And it’s not because I think Norman Reedus might be the sexiest man on this earth. It’s really not. His character arc has just been the most well-played and best plotted I’ve seen on tv in a long while. The little redneck baby brother who belligerently bumbled across our screens for the first time in 2010 resembles our current leading man NOT AT ALL. And in the past two episodes he’s had an almost coming-of-age thing (at least emotionally) right alongside Beth Greene.

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So why doesn’t the age difference bother me anymore?  First, see the last sentence of the above paragraph. In episode 12, I really came to understand just how emotionally stunted Daryl has always been despite his age. I think, for him at least, age really is just the random amount of years he’s been stuck on this planet. His emotional maturity really isn’t any further along than Beth’s 18 or so years.  He’s never been a grown ass man on his own making his own decisions. And likewise, Beth has never been a fully grown woman doing the same. Now they are doing this together and with each other and holy shit is it compelling.

The second reason I’m not bothered? Daryl Dixon is not a womanizer. He doesn’t go around lusting after and being grotesque with the women on the show. Mostly, he’s terrified and avoids them unless he has a specific job to do with Maggie, Michonne, or Carol. I’ve never seen him objectify or sexualize anyone in any kind of yucky way. So this development with Beth feels honest, real, and incredibly touching. The way this scene below plays out? All of the feels. Daryl Dixon is falling in love and it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t expected. And it’s the best thing ever.

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Reason three? This is the goddamn zombie apocalypse and both characters are consenting adults. We’re in a new world. A brutal, harsh world where Beth and Daryl have watched their families be destroyed. Beth is an 18 year old who has attempted suicide. Watched her mother and brother die and become undead creatures. Watched her father beheaded by a madman who makes the zombies look tame. She’s killed. She’s survived. I have to imagine years in TWD are more akin to dog years than human years, ya know? The rules of before are gone. They don’t make sense. What we’re left with now are humans stripped down to the core of what being human means. We’re in a world where preteens shoot their moms in the head. Daryl offers Beth safety, guidance, loyalty, and stability. Beth offers Daryl love, hope, and faith. And that is more than enough for me.

AND WHEN DARYL RUNS ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT TRYING TO CATCH UP WITH BETH WHICH GOES AGAINST ALL REASON BECAUSE HOW CAN HE RUN DOWN A CAR? If that ain’t love, folks, I don’t know what is. Watching him collapse for the first time, I believe, completely defeated, tore my heart out. Beth and Daryl might have sneaked up on me, but now that they’re here, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. POWERS THAT BE – HEAR THIS: Give Beth back to Daryl you heartless assholes!