wrap up: April 2019

  1. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li ★★☆☆☆ | review
  2. Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li ★★★★☆ | review
  3. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett ★★★★☆ | mini review
  4. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli ★★★☆☆ | review
  5. Medusa by Pat Barker ★★★★★ | mini review
  6. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden ★★☆☆☆ | review
  7. Maus by Art Spiegelman ★★★★★ | review
  8. The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott ★★★☆☆ | review
  9. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn ★★★☆☆ | review
  10. Lie With Me by Philippe Besson, translated by Molly Ringwald ★★★★☆ | review

Favorite: Maus by Art Spiegelman
Honorable mention: Lie With Me by Philippe Besson
Least favorite: Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Medusa is a short story published in The New Yorker, which I’m only including in this wrap up because I added it on Goodreads to share some interest over there, and I want my numbers to match.  You can read it here.


Other posts from this month:

Life updates:

Well, for once there’s a kind of big one… I got a new job!  The company I’d been working for since 2013 went out of business in February and I was hired mid-April as an editorial assistant for a local (but also kind of low-key very well known) publisher and I am so thrilled about it.  I was already working in publishing, but I really hadn’t been expecting to find a position like this without having to relocate, so it was just a wonderful case of the timing working out perfectly.  It’s been a bit of an adjustment though, which is why I haven’t been posting as regularly; for the past year I’ve been working from home which obviously allowed me ample blogging time, and having to write posts in the evening is exhausting as I’m sure most of you know.  But I’m going to try to get back into the swing of my reading life in May, not least of all because I’m still looking for the the 5 star novel that’s been eluding me all year.

Also, unrelated, but my friend Chelsea also visited for a weekend and got me a VERY COOL belated birthday gift: she had Sally Rooney (my queen) sign a book for me!


So, that was neat.

Currently reading: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See, Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (audio), A Natural by Ross Raisin.

What was the best book you read in April?  Comment and let me know!

P.S. Follow me!  @ Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Letterboxd


book review: Lie With Me by Philippe Besson



LIE WITH ME by Philippe Besson
translated by Molly Ringwald
Scribner, April 30, 2019


Lie With Me felt to me like a cross between Call Me By Your Name and Tin Man, but stronger and less heady than the former, and more bitter and perhaps more ambitious than the latter. Translated beautifully from the French by Molly Ringwald (yes, that Molly Ringwald), Lie With Me tells the story of a love affair between two teenage boys in 1984 rural France, narrated years later by Philippe with the kind of mature perception that only time can bring.

Nothing about this story is new; homophobia, class disparity, and shame all chart the course for this short novel, whose inherent tragedy makes itself apparent to the reader in an exchange between Philippe and Thomas, the latter of whom lays their dynamic out plainly the very first time they speak (“you will leave and we will stay”) – but it felt immeasurably fresh nonetheless. Probably most interesting is the sharp contrast between Philippe, whose candid narration reads as more of a confession than a monologue, and Thomas, who remains largely unknown except for the parts of himself that he allows Philippe to see. The character work is deceptively impressive, and Besson’s unrelenting attention to these characters’ similar and disparate vulnerabilities effectively cultivates an atmosphere of longing and regret and anxiety.

There’s something I can’t quite put my finger on that’s holding me back from the full 5 stars (maybe I should have read this in one sitting, I think that might be it), but this is a very strong 4.5, and one of the more accomplished novels that I’ve read recently. Ultimately it’s an intimate, erotic, sparse yet hard-hitting read that ends with one of the saddest sentences that I think I’ve ever read, and if that doesn’t make you want to rush out and read this 160 page book immediately, I don’t know what will.

Thank you to Netgalley and Scribner for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

You can pre-order a copy of Lie With Me here on Book Depository.

book review: Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn



BOTTLED GOODS by Sophie van Llewyn
Fairlight Books, 2018


I think Bottled Goods is an interesting, impressive book in a number of ways, but I can’t help but to feel a bit underwhelmed by it. It tells the story of Alina, a young woman living in 1970s communist Romania, whose family comes under surveillance when her brother-in-law defects to the west. Blending a quotidian story with elements of Romanian folklore, this book is a unique, magical creation that I think will satisfy a lot of readers despite its brevity.

But while I was particularly intrigued by its ‘novella-in-flash’ premise, it turned out that the whole flash thing kind of ruined it for me. Each of these chapters is brief – some are a few sentences, some are two or three pages – and each jumps the narrative ahead several weeks or months with no preamble. I hadn’t realized just how much I appreciate a consistent pace and flow in storytelling, but I guess it makes sense, because I’ve noticed over the years that my reading speed gradually increases the further into a book I get; at the very beginning, before I’ve been pulled into the narrative, my mind wanders easily and I find myself rereading the same passages over and over. That’s what kept happening to me with this book – it’s only 190 pages, and rather tiny pages at that, but it took me probably six or seven sittings to get through it, because the jolting pace made it particularly difficult for me to care about any of it.

But anyway, all of that has more to do with me as a reader than what this book does or does not offer. I think it offers a lot: it’s a perceptive commentary about a young woman living under an oppressive governmental regime, an interesting counterpart to Milkman on the Women’s Prize longlist (though I think Milkman is the stronger novel in just about every conceivable way). And I did find its unique style both paradoxically stimulating and distracting; hopefully it will fall more toward the stimulating end of the spectrum for a lot of readers. Finally, I know that everyone who knows me was worried about my reception to this book as soon as the words ‘magical realism’ entered the summary, but I actually didn’t mind that element – I’m not sure it added anything that couldn’t have been achieved with more literal storytelling, but it was an interesting way to comment on the lengths one goes to in order to escape an oppressive government. So on the whole, not really the book for me, but a solid book nonetheless.

You can pick up a copy of Bottled Goods here on Book Depository.

book review: The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott



THE MISSING YEARS by Lexie Elliott
Berkley, April 23, 2019


Beginning with the terrifically gothic premise, The Missing Years is an easy book to like. Ailsa Calder, a young woman living in London, finds herself inheriting half of an old Scottish manor when her mother dies. Though she initially wants nothing to do with it, she’s unable to sell it unless the joint owner agrees; the problem being that the other half belongs to her father, who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago. So Ailsa moves into the manor with her half-sister, and from the very first night, she can’t shake the suspicion that something is deeply wrong with the house.

The atmosphere in this book, as I’m sure you can imagine, was pitch-perfect, and that’s really the main reason I’d recommend it. The setting of a creepy old house in the Scottish Highlands is hard to mess up, and Lexie Elliott mercifully uses it to its potential. The potentially supernatural element (is the house actually haunted?) is mostly kept ambiguous until the conclusion, which is how I prefer it when a supernatural element encroaches on a thriller; it’s always interesting to me when characters feel like they’re losing their grip on reality.

The problem with this book for me was that it was severely under-edited. This is a very slow-building mystery, which is fine, but when your book is a slow burn, you still need something to propel it forward; instead I felt like The Missing Years was just spinning its wheels for about two-hundred pages. I felt like I was slowly being driven mad by the sheer amount of repetition here – I wasn’t sure I could take another instance of Aisla anthropomorphizing the house without losing the last shred of my own sanity. I’m not kidding, there is barely a page where Aisla doesn’t reflect on the feeling that the house is watching her, which I thought was a rather ham-fisted addition to what was otherwise a fantastically rendered setting.

I still mostly enjoyed reading this, and I’d suggest picking it up if the setting appeals to you, but if you prefer your thrillers on the fast paced side, it’s probably best to skip this one.

Thank you to Berkley for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

You can pick up a copy of The Missing Years here on Book Depository.

1000 Followers Giveaway | CLOSED


1000 followers?!  This is a milestone I honestly never thought that I would hit and I can’t quite believe that we’re here, but thank you, thank you, thank you.  You guys are the best.

So, I’m going to do the done thing and host a giveaway!

GIVEAWAY: Win one of my top 10 books of 2018
(2 winners)

I wanted to not only thank you guys for your support, but emphasize just how much I appreciate this support as a literary fiction blogger in a community that’s dominated by YA and romance.  (Which isn’t to say that I dislike either of those things… as you’ll see, there’s a YA and a romance novel in the list of books below.)  And I don’t mean to break out the tiny violin here, because believe me, I appreciate the friendships I’ve made here and the pleasant interactions I have every day much, much more than an arbitrary follower number, but having been in this game for a couple of years now, I do know that it’s tricky to build up a follower base when your reading taste deviates from the community norm.

All that to say, I wanted to say thank you by sharing some of my favorite books with you guys!


Full list of books with details and links to Book Depository, where you can read longer summaries is below.  OR, if you’d like to read my thoughts on any of these in more detail, you can read my Best Books of 2018 post HERE.

  1. Milkman by Anna Burns | literary, Irish, Man Booker winner 2018, Women’s Prize longlister 2019
  2. Self-Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyon | literary, American
  3. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney | literary, Irish
  4. Asking For It by Louise O’Neill | YA, Irish
  5. The Idiot by Elif Batuman | literary, Turkish-American, Women’s Prize shortlister 2018
  6. The Pisces by Melissa Broder | literary, American, Women’s Prize longlister 2019
  7. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney** | literary, Irish, Women’s Prize winner 2016
  8. The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney | literary, Irish, sequel to The Glorious Heresies
  9. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker | British, Women’s Prize longlister 2019
  10. Dopesick by Beth Macy | nonfiction, American
  11. Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko, translated by Julia Hersey | adult SFF, Ukrainian

**I read this in 2017, but as The Blood Miracles is its sequel, I thought I’d offer The Glorious Heresies as an option as well.  It’s not in the graphic because putting 5 on one row and 6 on the next felt like it was going to require too much math to manage on MS Paint, but it’s there in spirit.

So, that’s that; you can choose any one of those 11 books!  (If by some miracle you’ve read all of them, or the thought of reading any of these causes you physical pain, you can pick something else – this is meant to be fun.)


  • Fill out this rafflecopter form
  • Must be 18 or older to enter or be able to provide parental permission
  • Giveaway is open internationally as long as Book Depository ships to you
  • Ends May 10, 2019 at 12:00 am EST
  • There will be TWO winners
  • If you leave a comment on this post, let me know which book you’d like!  You can change your mind later.  I’d just like to gauge interest.
  • Here are my relevant links: @ Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram
  • This giveaway is not affiliated with any of the authors or publishers listed above

Good luck!  And thanks again for all of the support.  Like I said, numbers aren’t everything, but all of the brilliant people I’ve met and conversations I’ve had on here over the past few years have meant the world.


giveaway win.png

Winners have been contacted – congrats to Laura and Shaz, and thanks to everyone who entered!

book review: Maus by Art Spiegelman


MAUS Volumes #1-2 by Art Spiegelman
Pantheon, 1996
originally published in 1986

I feel like anything I could say about this book is going to sound woefully inadequate, but I guess I’ll give it a shot anyway. Maus had obviously been on my radar for ages as a critical piece of Holocaust literature as well as being the only graphic novel to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, so I was certainly expecting it to be good, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how utterly harrowing of a read this ended up being. And again, yes, I did know that its subject matter was the Holocaust, but I also knew that Spiegelman made the famous stylistic decision to depict Jews as mice and Nazis as cats in this book, so I guess I was expecting something altogether more abstract? Instead it’s a rather literal depiction of Spiegelman’s father’s experiences throughout WWII, culminating in his release from Auschwitz in 1945.

There’s also an added dimension where Spiegelman chooses to depict the scenes in which he interviewed his father and came to hear these stories. In this present-day timeline we learn about Spiegelman’s complex relationship with his father, and all the tension and resentment that’s built up between them through the years, often due to the fact that his father’s life was shaped so significantly by this atrocious thing that Spiegelman struggles to make sense of, as he was born after the end of the war. Spiegelman also lost his mother to suicide decades earlier, a tragic event from which his father had never fully recovered, though he did go on to remarry. In one particularly devastating panel, Spiegelman laments to his wife that he wishes he could have been in Auschwitz with his parents so he could understand what they had to go through, so he could bridge that gap between generations. That’s this book in a nutshell: raw, unfiltered, uncompromising. It takes a strong stomach to get through this, and I think I spent the better part of it in tears, but if you’re able to read this, I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is the best graphic novel I’ve read, the best piece of Holocaust literature that I’ve read, and strangely enough, the best love story that I’ve read. The final panel shattered me.

You can pick up a copy of Maus here on Book Depository.
(Volume 1 | Volume 2)


book review: Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (spoilers)



Akashic Books, 2018


The ending rarely makes or breaks a book for me. Obviously I’d prefer my endings on the satisfying and hard-hitting side, but if a book is strong enough, I’m not usually going to fault it for a slightly lackluster conclusion. This is why I rarely write reviews with spoiler tags – I don’t have any problem talking about a book in general terms of what worked for me and what didn’t.

Praise Song for the Butterflies is the exception. Because for the most part, I really, really enjoyed this book. The characters were on the thin side and their motivations were at times difficult to discern, but that was my only note in what was otherwise proving to be a captivating story… maybe a bit simply told, but if anything, I thought McFadden’s pared down prose style suited this story which could have easily veered into melodrama with overly flowery writing. And it certainly was every bit as horrifying as it’s meant to be, but I couldn’t bring myself to look away – granted, it’s short, but I still read the whole thing in two sittings. So all things considered, it was going well.

And then it ended. [SPOILERS] The problem isn’t just the abysmal final scene, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The bigger problem is that what was shaping up to be a moving story of resilience very, very quickly devolved into a narrative about how a traumatized woman finds healing in a man; how having a pleasurable romantic and sexual relationship is the pinnacle of what humankind can achieve. And I get it, I understand that love is validating and even curative at times, I understand that it can be cathartic to read about characters who have suffered finding happiness, but what I don’t understand is the drastic shift from harrowing survival story to soppy, sensationalist drivel. And what I also don’t understand is how anyone could read this utterly vile ”romantic” declaration and find it moving or poignant or comforting or any of the things it’s supposed to be:

“But if that is the road God had you travel in order for our paths to cross, then we have no choice but to accept the purpose it has served and be grateful for it.”

So let me get this straight: Abeo is raped from ages 11 to 21, she gives birth to a child, she watches the child drown, and is so traumatized that she becomes catatonic for months even after she’s rescued… but wait, she finds a guy who doesn’t see her as damaged goods and suddenly she’s supposed to be grateful?! Again, I understand the intent here. But my god did this ever fail in execution.

And then we get to the final scene, the one that completely undoes the entire premise that ensnared the reader to begin with. Because in the prologue, Abeo kills the man who raped and tormented her; it’s a bold, shocking scene, and even knowing that event was coming added a layer of suspense and intrigue to the entire reading experience. But then it turns out to be — wait for it — a dream. And — wait for it — because she was able to kill this man in her dream, she can finally be at peace. Fin. What an utter cop-out. This book could have been an exploration of the lasting impact of trauma, it could have given its heroine a compassionate ending without compromising its exposition, but because of the last few chapters, a solidly captivating and eye-opening novel became a trite and forgettable one. Failing to live up to potential lends itself to a particularly potent kind of disappointment.[/SPOILERS]

You can pick up a copy of Praise Song for the Butterflies here on Book Depository.

book review: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli



Knopf, 2019


I think the books that fall into the ‘admired it, didn’t like it’ camp are some of the hardest to review, and that’s exactly how I felt about Lost Children Archive. I think this is objectively a very good book. Valeria Luiselli sets out to do something incredibly ambitious, mixing media forms and offering a wealth of commentary on migration and displacement. But all that said, it left me feeling rather uninspired.

This book and its main narrator are unapologetically aloof, and I think that was the main problem for me. Luiselli leans heavily on intertextuality to spin this story, and I was reminded of two other books I’ve read recently: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez and Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li. Incidentally, the female narrators in all three of these novels are nameless, and all three of their narratives are mired in literary references. But I felt like Nunez’s and Li’s narrators were using these references to cultivate a sense of self – I felt like I was gaining an understanding of who they were through this technique. In contrast, I never got a sense of who the narrator of Lost Children Archive was supposed to be – the intertextuality here read as generic and often soulless intellectualism. And it’s frustrating because at one point the narrator says “reading others’ words, inhabiting their minds for a while, has always been an entry point to my own thoughts,” which really resonated with me as a reader, but I ultimately found her own thoughts to pale next to those of the authors she quoted.

But none of this is to say that Luiselli isn’t a good writer. Her prose is incredibly well-crafted, and it’s hard not to admire her technical skill. And thematically, this book is quite the feat: Luiselli examines the U.S.’s current border crisis through the eyes of a family taking a cross-country road trip, whose marriage is disintegrating due to the husband and wife engaging in two passion projects whose ideologies and practicalities conflict.

About three-quarters of the way through the novel, the perspective shifts to the narrator’s son, and while I preferred this section (as this is where the plot actually started advancing), I wasn’t convinced by his mature narrative voice, and at this point the weird mythologizing of the ‘lost children’ started grating. This is largely a narrative about voicelessness, which doesn’t attempt to give voice to the migrant children as much as highlight their absence in the narrative, and while I respected what Luiselli was trying to do, it fell a bit flat for me.

So ultimately, a mixed bag. I’m glad I read this, I think it deserves to be longlisted for the Women’s Prize and I won’t be upset when it probably makes the shortlist, but while I admired it and found it punctuated by moments of utter brilliance, on the whole it was a bit of a chore to get through.

You can pick up a copy of Lost Children Archive here on Book Depository.

book review: Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li



Random House, February 2019


Where Reasons End is an imagined conversation between a mother and the son she lost to suicide. The unnamed narrator (modeled after Li herself whose 16-year-old son died by suicide in 2017) is a writer, who deals with her loss by writing out a series of dialogues with her son Nikolai – not his real name, but as good as any.

This entire book is essentially an exercise in whether or not it’s possible to take linguistic ownership over one’s grief. The narrator and her son engage in a series of verbal sparring matches, challenging aphorisms and the kind of common language that surrounds mourning. But as well as bemoaning the limitations of language, the narrator also celebrates what words are capable of. “Words fall short, yes, but sometimes their shadows can reach the unspeakable.” The narrator doesn’t attempt to reckon with the question of why this tragedy occurred, and she isn’t interested in eulogizing her son in these pages; instead it’s a candid attempt to come to terms with her loss without losing her identity as a writer and a mother.

“I was a generic parent grieving a generic child lost to an inexplicable tragedy. Already there were three clichés. I could wage my personal war against each one of them. Grieve from Latin gravare, to burden, and gravis, grave, heavy. What kind of mother would consider it a burden to live in a vacancy left behind by a child? Explicate from Latin ex (out) + plicare (fold), to unfold. But calling Nikolai’s actions inexplicable was like calling a migrant bird on a new continent lost. Who can say that the vagrant doesn’t have a reason to change the course of its flight. Nothing inexplicable for me, only I didn’t want to explain: A mother’s job is to enfold not to unfold. Tragedy now that is an inexplicable word. What was a goat song, after all, which is what tragedy seemed to mean originally?”

Where Reasons End simply would not work if Yiyun Li didn’t have the superb command of language that she does. For whatever reason, this is the passage that I kept coming back to: “How do you compare sadness that takes over like an erupted volcano to sadness that stays inside one, still as a stillborn baby? People talk about grief coming and going like waves, but I am not a breakwater, I am not a boat, I am not a statue left on a rocky shore, tested for its endurance.” But this is the kind of book where you could highlight the entire thing if you’re looking for sharp and incisive yet sparse prose.

I will say: this requires a certain amount of mental and emotional investment from the reader; you need to meet Li halfway and you need to want to engage with what you’re reading. I don’t think I was in the perfect headspace for this novel, hence the 4 stars rather than 5, but it’s undeniably brilliant and it’s a book that I can see myself revisiting some day.

You can pick up a copy of Where Reasons End here on Book Depository.

book review: Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li



Henry Holt, 2018


Everything about Number One Chinese Restaurant is just aggressively mediocre. I say ‘aggressively’ because you’re confronted with this mediocrity on practically every page; the prose is simultaneously lifeless and overwritten, the characters are poorly drawn caricatures, the plot meanders, and this book just never manages to hit any of the emotional beats that it strives for. It’s basically an emotionally hollow melodrama.

Not to fully absolve Lillian Li of all of these issues, but I do believe that a lot of this could have been solved with tighter editing. Because what works about this book are its bare bones: a dysfunctional Chinese-American family struggles to run a Chinese restaurant, with inter-generational tension providing the main conflict: how does one balance a family legacy with their own plans for the future? It’s a great concept, and I wanted to root for this book; I wanted to root for the Han family, but it all just fails in execution.

Certain plot threads are examined and re-examined through different perspectives ad nauseum; others are abandoned after a brief mention. This book is over-saturated with details, but it doesn’t pause to imbue key moments with any kind of emotional weight. When Jimmy Han’s family’s restaurant is set on fire, we learn the particulars of the fire-setting from about four different perspectives, but what about the aftermath? Jimmy, relying on insurance money to come through, quickly starts a new restaurant and hires staff and creates a new menu and this all happens off the page, we get from point A to point B so easily that it’s a wonder we should care at all, with characters overcoming obstacles this easily.

This could have been good but it just wasn’t. I’d gladly read more from Lillian Li in the future, as this was a debut and it wasn’t so abysmal that I’ll completely write off her potential, but as a Women’s Prize read it sadly felt like a waste of time.

You can pick up a copy of Number One Chinese Restaurant here on Book Depository.