Melissa Ratcliff’s Summer 2017 TBR: Felicia Day, Neil Gaiman and More

So many books, so little time.

Melissa Ratcliff Summer 2017 TBR

For the past two months, I have desperately been trying to catch up on my backlog of TBR books from previous months. Although I am slowly making progress, and thoroughly enjoying re-reading one of my favorite books in the process, I am still really behind (six books behind, to be exact). And, the sad part is, one of them is from January and has been something that I have been looking forward to reading for almost two years.

So, in an attempt to play catch up and finally read everything that I have set my mind to in the past five months, I am trying to keep my list somewhat short. From recent releases, to books that I’ve had my eye on for quite some time, my Summer 2017 TBR has a bit of everything:

I Am a Cat, Natsume Soseki

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Tuttle Publishing / Wikicommons

Synopsis: I am a cat. As yet I have no name.

So begins one of the most original and unforgettable works in Japanese literature.

Richly allegorical and delightfully readable, I Am a Cat is the chronicle of an unloved, unwanted, wandering kitten who spends all his time observing human nature – from the dramas of businessmen and schoolteachers to the foibles of priests and potentates. From this unique perspective, author Natsume Soseki offers a biting commentaryshaped by his training in Chinese philosophyon the social upheaval of the Meiji era.

I Am a Cat first appeared in ten installments in the literary magazine Hotoguisu (Cuckoo), between 1905 and 1906. Sōseki had not intended to write more than the short story that makes up the first chapter of this book. After its great critical and popular success, he expanded it into this epic novel, which is universally recognized as a classic of world literature.

Thoughts: I Am a Cat has been on my list for years. I have had it sitting on my bookshelf for longer than I would like to admit, as I bought it during my first Seminar on Japanese literature in college.

Although I will admit that the first thing that drew me to pick up I Am a Cat is the fact that the narrator is a cat, Natsume Soseki is a brilliant writer. Sit in on any class on Japanese culture, literature, or film and you will no doubt hear of him in some way. I Am a Cat, Sanshiro, and Kokoro, which is arguably his most well known work outside of Japan, are often mentioned in other works of Japanese fiction. In fact, if you have read any of Haruki Murakami’s books, you should recognize at least Sanshiro, as his narrators’ can often be found reading a bit of Soseki from time to time.

Needless to say, I am excited to finally be reading this book. I have been looking forward to it for a very long time.

Sanshiro, Natsume Soseki

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Penguin Classics / Wikicommons

Synopsis: Sōseki’s work of gentle humour and doomed innocence depicts twenty-three-year-old Sanshirō, a recent graduate from a provincial college, as he begins university life in the big city of Tokyo. Baffled and excited by the traffic, the academics and—most of all—the women, Sanshirō must find his way amongst the sophisticates that fill his new life. An incisive social and cultural commentary, Sanshirō is also a subtle study of first love, tradition and modernization, and the idealism of youth against the cynicism of middle age.

Thoughts: I hate to admit that the only work I have read by Soseki is Kokoro. Not that Kokoro is a bad book by any means, but I read it at least three times for three different Japanese classes in college. Although each time I learned something new from it, I would have loved to be able to explore different works by the beloved Japanese author. However, most of my Japanese literature classes focused on more contemporary works, so often times, Soseki was only mentioned in passing as a profound author of classics.

Part of the reason I am reading Sanshiro now is due to my current desire to read all of Murakami’s works. If you pay attention, Sanshiro is mentioned in almost all of his books (at least all of the ones that I have read so far this year, not to mention those that I have read in the past). Going by the synopsis, this isn’t without reason, as it is incredibly easy to draw parallels between Soseki and Murakami based on a short introduction alone.

Regardless, I can’t wait to pick up Sanshiro.

Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Vintage / Haruki Murakami

Synopsis: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Thoughts: As if mentioning Sanshiro wasn’t enough, it is incredibly clear from the synopsis of Norwegian Wood that Murakami has taken a Japanese classic and written it in a way that relates to contemporary Japanese society. Although it might not be entirely true, when compared to the previous synopsis of Sanshiro, you can definitely draw a few parallels.

While it might seem like I chose Norwegian Wood on purpose as a pick in my Summer TBR, it’s actually just a coincidence. Of course I had to include Murakami on my TBR if I want to make my way through all of his works, so a few weeks ago, I chose two Murakami novels at random to read over the summer months.

Out of all of Murakami’s novels that I have read so far (besides the recent, Men Without Women), I have very high expectations for this one. While I have loved every Murakami work that I have read, I was slightly (and I mean slightly) disappointed with the love story in Sputnik Sweetheart, so I have very high hopes for the potential love story hidden in the pages of Norwegian Wood.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Vintage / Haruki Murakami

Synopsis: Haruki Murakami gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

Thoughts: After writing the article on Murakami’s yet to be released worldwide, Killing Commendatore, I learned that before Men Without Women, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was his latest translated work. As such, I decided that it would be the next Murakami novel that I would be reading.

The synopsis has made it clear that this will be another heart-breaking work by Murakami, but as it was talked about highly for quite some time after its translation, I am looking forward to it.

The Guild, Felicia Day

the guild felicia day book review
Dark Horse / Wikicommons

Synopsis: Set before the web series begins, these stories follow lonely violinist Cyd Sherman trying to navigate a frustrating personal life as she stumbles on an online MMO called -The Game-. As she gathers friends in-game, she gains confidence to confront all the problems in her real life. With, ahem, varying results.

The Guild is a pioneer among web series, referred to by Rolling Stone as -[one of] the net’s best serial shows.- Heartwarming and hilarious, this is a comic origin story that brings an award-winning world to life in a unique way that will delight geeks of all ages. Especially gamers.

Thoughts: Nothing has been on my TBR longer than The Guild graphic novels. Eight years ago I was introduced to World of Warcraft, and with it, The Guild. I have been a fan of Felicia Day ever since.

After watching all of the episodes of The Guild, I have grown incredibly attached to the webseries. Not only was it incredibly relatable, but it was witty, and, still to this day, is a joy to watch. Thanks to Edelweiss, I was recently given access to a DRC of the upcoming release of the library edition of The Guild and I can’t be more excited. I always wanted to learn more about the characters, but was never able to find individual copies of the graphic novels in stores.

Always Happy Hour: Stories, Mary Miller

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Liveright / Twitter (@MaryUMiller)

Synopsis: Combining hard-edged prose and savage Southern charm, Mary Miller showcases transcendent contemporary talent at its best. With its collection of lusty, lazy, hard-drinking characters forever in their own way, Always Happy Hour confirms Miller as an heir apparent to Mary Gaitskill.

Claustrophobic and lonesome, acerbic and magnetic, the women in Always Happy Hour seek understanding in the most unlikely places—a dilapidated foster home where love is a liability, a trailer park laden with a history of bad decisions, and the empty corners of a dream home bought after a bitter divorce. Miller evokes the particular gritty comfort found in bad habits as hope turns to dust, and proves yet again her essential role in American fiction.

Thoughts: Before the decision was made to do an entire TBR list for the summer, I was planning on keeping my lists light for a month or two in order to catch up on past reading. As such, I was going to focus on short stories, as they are a wonderful way to read without commitment, meaning that short stories do not all need to be read at once. I was lucky enough to win this collection through a Goodreads giveaway earlier this year. And, as it is a collection that I probably would not have picked up on my own, I am really excited to take a look at it.

As I have severely neglected short stories as a form of reading in my free time (I read plenty of great collections and short stories in college), I have decided to start reading more, especially after thoroughly enjoying Murakami’s recent collection, Men Without Women, and the science-fiction collection, Pets in Space, from earlier this year.

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories, Mariana Enriquez

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Hogarth Press / Mariana Enriquez

Synopsis: Macabre, disturbing and exhilarating, Things We Lost in the Fire is a collection of twelve short stories that use fear and horror to explore multiple dimensions of life in contemporary Argentina. From women who set themselves on fire in protest of domestic violence to angst-ridden teenage girls, friends until death do they part, to street kids and social workers, young women bored of their husbands or boyfriends, to a nine-year-old serial killer of babies and a girl who pulls out her nails and eyelids in the classroom, to hikikomori, abandoned houses, black magic, northern Argentinean superstition, disappearances, crushes, heartbreak, regret and compassion. This is a strange, surreal and unforgettable collection by an astonishing new talent asking vital questions of the world as we know it.

Thoughts: I have had my eye on Things We Lost in the Fire since I joined Goodreads back in January. I constantly saw this collection of short stories in the new releases and recommended sections when browsing the site for at least a month and a half. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win a giveaway for a copy of the book and it showed up last week. The cover is beautiful, and I will admit, was what initially made me want to read this collection.

After reading the synopsis, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this collection as includes so many different events and circumstances, some of which are horrifying. I am really looking forward to learning more about contemporary Argentina and seeing how all of these elements come into play in this rather small book.

Woman No. 17, Edan Lepucki

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Hogarth / Beck Diefenbach for Chicago Tribune

Synopsis: High in the Hollywood Hills, writer Lady Daniels has decided to take a break from her husband. She’s going to need a hand with her young son if she’s ever going to finish her memoir. In comes S., a magnetic young artist, who will live in the secluded guest house out back, care for Lady’s young toddler son, and keep a watchful eye on her older, teenage, one. S. performs her day job beautifully, quickly drawing the entire family into her orbit, and becoming a confidante for Lady. But as the summer wears on, S.’s connection to Lady’s older son takes a disturbing, and possibly destructive, turn. Lady and S. will move closer to one another as they both threaten to harm the things they hold most dear.

Darkly comic, twisty and tense, this mesmerizing new novel defies expectation and proves Edan Lepucki to be one of the most talented and exciting voices of her generation.

Thoughts: Woman No. 17 is another novel that I was immediately drawn to by the cover, as well as the attention that it was receiving on Goodreads. I have recently been enjoying mystery novels more than I ever thought I would, given that I had never really experienced the genre much before this year. While I will admit that under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t be picking up this book, the fact that is a generally well-received, new release immediately caught my attention and influenced my decision to add it to my TBR.

Poison’s Kiss, Breeana Shields

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Random House / Breeana Shields

Synopsis: Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It’s a miserable life, but being a visha kanya, a poison maiden, is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon.

Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she is really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose.

This rich, surprising, and accessible debut is based in Indian folklore and delivers a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Thoughts: The fact that Poison’s Kiss is a fantasy romance novel was enough for me to want to read it, as fantasy romance is, without a doubt, my new favorite sub-genre of fantasy, of which I have always been a huge fan.

While YA fantasy romance is usually lacking in the romance department, the fact that Indian folklore is included in the novel seems like a nice touch that will make up any shortcomings. I must say that I am not particularly a fan of the idea of a girl kissing a ton of boys in order to assassinate people, as I’m not quite sure how practical that is (or if it would even work), but it is a plus to know that main character, Marinda, is questioning her actions from the synopsis alone. As YA fantasy romance has fallen somewhat flat for me in the past, particularly with The Invisible Library, I am hoping that Poison’s Kiss changes my opinion of the sub-genre.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
Penguin India / Wikicommons

Synopsis: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness transports us across a subcontinent on a journey of many years. It takes us deep into the lives of its gloriously rendered characters, each of them in search of a place of safetyin search of meaning, and of love.

In a graveyard outside the walls of Old Delhi, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby suddenly appears, just after midnight. In a snowy valley, a bereaved father writes a letter to his five-year-old daughter about the people who came to her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, a lone woman chain-smokes as she reads through her old notebooks. At the Jannat Guest House, two people who have known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around each other, as though they have just met.

A braided narrative of astonishing force and originality, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once a love story and a provocation-a novel as inventive as it is emotionally engaging. It is told with a whisper, in a shout, through joyous tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Its heroes, both present and departed, have been broken by the world we live in-and then mended by love. For this reason, they will never surrender.

Thoughts: I have been patiently awaiting the release of Arundhati Roy’s latest novel since it was announced earlier this year that she would be returning to fiction writing with the release of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

As The God of Small Things was an incredibly thought-provoking and complex read that I analyzed in depth in college, I am excited to see what Roy has in store in her latest novel and am hoping to learn more about the contemporary state of India in the process.

Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman

melissa ratcliff summer 2017 tbr
William Morrow / Wikicommons

Synopsis: God is dead. Meet the kids.

Fat Charlie Nancy’s normal life ended the moment his father dropped dead on a Florida karaoke stage. Charlie didn’t know his dad was a god. And he never knew he had a brother.

Now brother Spider’s on his doorstepabout to make Fat Charlie’s life more interesting… and a lot more dangerous.

Thoughts: My recent re-read of American Gods and the wonderful television adaptation have made me want to explore Neil Gaiman’s world of the gods in more depth. Thankfully, Anansi Boys is somewhat of a spin-off world in which the gods live. Based off of the children of Anansi, this novel is sure to be a great read that will help to fill the gap left by the end of the series of the first season of American Gods.

Have you read any of the books on this list?!

Tell us which books you’re most looking forward to reading in the comments below!
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Written by Melissa Ratcliff

Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.