Favorite Books of 2020

Talk about a weird reading year. I don’t even know what happened. (I mean, I do. A global pandemic happened.)

Even though I read 110 (potentially 111 if I finish my audiobook today) books in 2020, my reading year largely sucked. Usually when I’m writing this list I have to whittle it down from at least 20 books and it’s a rather painstaking process, but this year my list kind of wrote itself. Which is good in the sense that I’m spending much less time on this blog post but also kind of a bummer that I’m not coming away from this hell year with more favorites. But you know what, it’s fine, here at 10 books that are all equally incredible and that I recommend wholeheartedly.

First, some stats:

7 are by women
3 are translated, 2 translated by women
1 is Irish (record low for me!) (though – it’s 2 if you count Maggie O’Farrell)
3 are nonfiction
3 are by authors of color
4 have something to do with Shakespeare, lol

10. The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

“No royal dynasty would ever again hand down the Crown with such security and ease for as many generations as the Plantagenets did between 1189 and 1377.”

This was recommended to me by Brandon Taylor after I asked Twitter for a nonfiction rec about the Medieval English monarchy that wasn’t too heavily academic, and this ended up being exactly what I was looking for. A very unexpected side effect of reading Shakespeare this year is that I fell unbelievably in love with the history plays and I was looking to supplement that reading with some real historical context, and if (god knows why) you’re in a similar boat, I highly recommend The Plantagenets. This is dense reading–not in the sense that it’s laden with academic jargon, indeed it’s written in rather accessible language–but it’s over 500 pages, every one of which is crammed full of indispensable information. So it’s the kind of book you need to take your time with, but it’s also never a chore; if you’re interested in this period of history, this could not be more gripping.

9. This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith

“We make Shakespeare mean what we want him to mean.”

I don’t really listen to podcasts, but my friend Abby suggested I check out Emma Smith’s Approaching Shakespeare podcast so I decided to give it a try and quickly fell in love. Smith is an Oxford lecturer who recorded her lectures and uploaded them to that podcast–in each lecture she examines a different play through a particular question (“why doesn’t Marcus give Lavinia first aid in Titus Andronicus,” for example, or, my favorite: “is Lear a little too sad?”). In This is Shakespeare she turned her lectures into an essay collection, examining 20 plays each through a unique lens, and the result is an utterly invaluable resource for Shakespeare lovers. Smith is an intelligent, incisive writer, and she almost always succeeded in inspiring me to think about the plays from an angle that I hadn’t previously considered. It was a joy reading this and the only downside to it is that she doesn’t have an essay for every single play.

8. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang

“Jiyoung became different people from time to time. Some of them were living, others were dead, all of them women she knew.”

I was curious about this international bestseller when it was first published in English earlier this year, but also, because of the way I’d heard some people talk about it, I expected to be slightly underwhelmed by it. On the contrary, it punched me right in the gut, despite–or indeed because of–how prosaic it is. This book is a story of a woman crumbling under the strain of unrelenting misogyny, and it’s stripped down to its very core. This is not a poetic, flashy, romantic book; it’s perfunctory, it’s candid, and it’s utterly unapologetic. I found it all the more successful for that fact, and it’s really stayed with me.

7. The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

“My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in.  I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down.

I’m a big Donal Ryan fan but for whatever reason I’d never read the book he’s arguably best known for. Thankfully it was worth the wait. Set in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, The Spinning Heart chronicles the impact of the recession on a close-knit rural community. It’s a short novel and it follows too many characters to remember, but its emotional impact is devastating and Ryan’s writing, as always, is lyrical and evocative and just so pleasurable to read. This really cemented Ryan as one of my favorite writers.

6. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

“When I think of my father, I think of my heart breaking in stages. A dull pain, then piercing. Electric. Still, somehow, gradual.”

I listened to half of this book on a flight to Los Angeles (pre-covid, obviously) and it was honestly disappointing that the plane had to land, I was enjoying this book THAT much (and I HATE flying). This essay collection was just… so tender and heartbreaking while also being emotionally fortifying; it tore me apart and then I somehow felt more whole after reading it. This collection’s nonlinear structure was executed impeccably–the final essay ties the whole thing together in ways you weren’t even expecting.

5. Abigail by Magda Szabó
translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix

“Never before had she been in such a strange building, with such a tangled branching-out of corridors.”

I enjoyed Szabó’s The Door last year but Abigail really blew it out of the water. This coming of age novel set in an austere boarding school against the backdrop of World War II is one of the most effective things I’ve ever read about the loss of childhood. At times it’s a funny and playful book–the protagonist, Gina, is headstrong and fiery–and at times it cracks your heart open as Gina’s emerging awareness of the horrors of the world around her begin to creep inside the walls of her horrible academy. As someone who’s read quite a few campus novels, this is unlike any of them, in the best possible way.

4. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

“It is to him she speaks in her disordered mind, not the trees, not the magic cross, not the patterns and markings of lichen, not even to her mother, who died while trying to give birth to a child. Please, she says to him, inside the chamber of her skull, please come back.”

This historical novel pushes William Shakespeare into the background and instead reimagines the lives of those closest to him, namely his wife Agnes and his son Hamnet, who died aged eleven. In Hamnet, O’Farrell examines the relationship between life and art but she does so with such a deft hand that it’s a much gentler, subtler, and more unexpected novel than you might imagine from its premise, but it balances historical detail with innovation in a way that I found absolutely striking, and its treatment of grief is poignant and devastating. This is a beautiful, haunting book, and I’m very glad it won the Women’s Prize.

3. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses

“There are words that are convenient, hygienic. Legal.”

Tender is the Flesh is a bold, grotesque, horrifying piece of work. A dystopian novel which satirizes factory farming to its shocking and inevitable conclusion, it imagines a world where humans eat human meat, and it spares the reader absolutely no details of this new and disturbing reality. This is a hard book to read, but I also found it to be an utterly engrossing examination of the ways we allow our ethics to be shaped by those in positions of power. This book is disgusting and unforgettable.

2. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

“There is exquisite lightness in waking each morning with the knowledge that the worst has already happened.”

Emily St. John Mandel set the bar so high for herself with Station Eleven that I was almost afraid to pick this up, but she knocked it out of the park with The Glass Hotel. On paper, this book doesn’t sound very good at all–most summaries of it mention Wall Street and a Ponzi scheme and that’s when my mind starts to wander–but the sum of this book is greater than its parts. It’s a gorgeous, quietly affecting novel that focuses on the lives of a handful of characters and examines whether our choices make us who we are and whether we can ever outrun our pasts. It’s subtle, nuanced, structurally exciting, and one of the most haunting things I’ve read all year.

1. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme”

Surprise, surprise.

Seeing as he’s, you know… Shakespeare, it feels weird to say that Shakespeare was never really on my radar as a reader. I’d read maybe six or seven of his plays before this year and although I’d actually enjoyed them all, I’d be lying if I said that reading the Complete Works of Shakespeare was ever a goal of mine.

Well, evidently, all that changed this year with an email from my friend Abby in March, inviting a group of friends to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream over Zoom a few weeks after covid hit the U.S. and everyone was feeling frantic and panicked and miserable. Shakespeare has been the biggest solace for me in an otherwise atrocious year–there’s the social element, of course, of using this as an excuse to hang out virtually with some of my closest friends once a week, and there’s the element of performance, of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself in a way that I never thought I would.

But then there’s also the plays themselves–the words and the stories and the characters. In a year where it truly felt like society as we knew it was crumbling around us all, there was something so immeasurably satisfying about reading these words written ca. year 1600, words that have moved and shaped countless people across the centuries, and finding comfort there. Reading through Shakespeare’s works on the one hand served as a project, something to keep my mind occupied away from the horrors and anxieties of 2020, and on the other hand, it was one of the only things this year I found actual, genuine pleasure in. I think Shakespeare and 2020 are always going to be deeply entwined for me in the future, but I also know I discovered something that isn’t just a passing fad for me as a reader. The only thing more exciting than the fact that I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s plays is the promise that I get to do it all over again.


What was your favorite book of 2020? Comment and let me know!

Favorite Book Covers of 2020

This is a sort of fun, meaningless post that I always have a lot of fun with, so let’s do it!

Unlike my best and worst lists, for this post I do like to stick with books that were actually published in 2020. So, here are some of my favorite covers of the year:

  1. It is Wood, It Is Stone by Gabriella Burnham (One World)
  2. No One Asked for This by Cazzie David (Mariner Books)
  3. The Lightness by Emily Temple (William Morrow)
  4. True Love by Sarah Gerard (Harper)
  5. The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (Hub City Press)
  6. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press, UK)
  7. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (William Morrow)
  8. Hysteria by Jessica Gross (Unnamed Press)
  9. The Exhibition of Persephone Q by Jessi Jezewska Stevens (FSG)
  10. The Island Child by Molly Aitken (Canongate, UK)
  11. The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith (Harper)
  12. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (Scribner)
  13. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (Puskin Press, UK)
  14. Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford (Little, Brown, and Co)
  15. Daughter from the Dark by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko (Harper Voyager)
  16. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey (Knopf)
  17. Rest and Be Thankful by Emma Glass (Bloomsbury)
  18. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (Viking, UK)
  19. I Hold a Wolf By the Ears by Laura van den Berg (FSG)
  20. The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao (Atria Books)

What was your favorite book cover of 2020?

Most Disappointing Books of 2020

HERE WE GO.

I feel like this year more than ever I’ve seen so much ‘worst books of the year lists are pointless and mean-spirited’ discourse so friendly reminder that if you don’t like this kind of content you are more than welcome to simply keep scrolling!

But for all my pointless and mean-spirited followers, let’s do this:

8. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey

This book was the disaster women subgenre at its most generic and forgettable. I wish I had more to say about it but I honestly cannot remember this well enough to complain about it, I just remember feeling like I was wasting my time. Isolated things I remember from this book: a pool, sex, Italy, bad writing, California? The end.

7. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This book had a good, important, and topical conceit, and it proceeded to bash the reader over the head with it for 300 pages without the slightest bit of finesse. It’s a perfectly serviceable bookclub book but its literary merit… eludes me (something that would bother me less had it not been longlisted for the Booker). Also, I have never in all my days encountered a child–real or fictional–more annoying than the one in this book, my god.

6. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

This book had all the potential in the world to be a fun, mindless, salacious drama; instead it took itself so seriously despite having nothing of any consequence to say. There is no character development in this novel, no insight, no nuance–AND IT GOES ON FOR OVER 500 PAGES. It’s just one-note characters arguing with each other about their one character flaw and it’s executed with the most embarrassing sincerity that I just have to think about this book and I cringe.

5. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen are two of my favorite books but this is the second year in a row that Moshfegh made it onto my most disappointing list; last year with her collection Homesick for Another World–which at the time led me to conclude that Moshfegh only works for me when she writes novels, but Death in her Hands was a novel and it was a hot mess, so, Moshfegh and I are on rocky footing going forward. The fact that it took me about 5 months to read this under-300 page book should say it all; it’s dull, meandering, repetitive, and not half as insightful or revelatory as it thinks it is. I also found the narrative voice thoroughly unconvincing. Plus this book is so similar to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and it has nothing to recommend itself over Tokarczuk’s, which is a stunning novel.

4. The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

Generic, anemic, and unsatisfying, The Illness Lesson is a book that had lofty ambitions that fell flat on their face. This book was all style and no substance and the style wasn’t even that good to begin with.

3. Girl by Edna O’Brien

I can’t believe the Women’s Prize had enough of a hold over me that I actually read this. What an utter mess. Tone deaf, unfocused, and shoddily constructed. It’s well-researched (though I remain unconvinced that it was appropriate in any way for a white Irish woman to publish a novel like this), but it exposes the horrors experienced by the women abducted by the Boko Haram at the expense of good writing or storytelling or character development or… anything that could have recommended it. Terrible all around.

2. Dominicana by Angie Cruz

In this book–a bizarrely flat and uninspired melodrama–the main character, having just been choked by her husband to the point of losing consciousness, flees, terrified, and runs into her cute brother-in-law. This is the dialogue that follows:

“He pulls out a cigarette from his jacket pocket. You leaving without saying good-bye?

It’s not like you’re ever around, busy with all your girls. I say it in a voice I don’t recognize. Why am I flirting? Now? And with César!”

It’s a no from me.

1. Saltwater by Jessica Andrews

I read this book on January 1, 2020, and in doing so I fear that I cursed us all. Sorry.

I hated this book… so much. The prose was labored, overwrought, and trite; the characters were paper-thin; and the whole novel was disgustingly anti-Irish, despite the narrator having grown up in Donegal. Quoting from my review:

Regarding the narrator’s grandfather’s childhood in Ireland, after establishing that he slept in his aunt’s barn, this paragraph is, quite literally, the only information we receive about that period in his life:

“Auntie Kitty rationed the hot water and made anyone who entered the house throw holy sand over their left shoulder, To Keep Away The Devil. Her husband was in the IRA and they housed radical members of Sinn Féin in their attic.”

Poverty, religious fanaticism, and the IRA – there’s only one stereotype missing here; oh, wait:

“I have noticed that many of the young men in Donegal have shaking hands. […] I ask my mother what it is that makes them shake. ‘It’ll be the drink,’ she says, sagely.”

Anyway if that’s not enough to convince you, the writing was just… so weird, so contrived, so bad, I promise if you open the book to literally any page there will be a passage this awful and perplexing:

“Redness cracking. Fissures forming. You are falling towards us, rich and syrup-soft. Flesh roiling. Bones shifting. Tongues over bellies and fingers in wet places.”


So that’s that! What was your worst book of 2020? I promise I’ll actually start reading your end of year lists this week.

2020 Reading Goals

Let’s start off this post by revisiting my 2019 goals:

  • Read at least 80 books.  Success!  112
  • Request fewer ARCs/read more books I already own.  lol
  • Read at least two books a month from any of these categories: plays, poetry collections, short story collections, nonfiction.  I did ok at this for a while and then eventually fell off the wagon.  But I did succeed in diversifying my reading (I definitely read more nonfiction in particular than ever before) so I’m not going to dwell on the specifics of this one.
  • Read my 2019 backlist TBR.  4.5/12.  Spectacular fail.
  • Read at least 12 classics.  I actually had to go back and count just now, but no, I did not succeed, I only read 7.  That’s especially low for me so I’m not really sure what happened there.  Oh well.

Some brief personal ramblings, if you’re at all curious why my goals went so badly.  If not, definitely skip these paragraphs.  2019 was… an interesting year for me.  Less than two months into the year the company I’d been working for for 5 years went out of business (long story) and I subsequently found myself unemployed for two months, which was awful.  And I almost feel bad about how awful it was for me emotionally, because I had enough savings that I wasn’t even in a position where I had to rush out and find a job the next day, and I know so many people aren’t as fortunate.  But I’d be lying if I pretended that that didn’t hit me very hard.

In April, I found a job which in many ways was my dream job on paper (I work in editorial and foreign rights for a local indie children’s book publisher), and while I do love my job in many ways, it was… a rather rough transition for me.  It’s a very, very, very different environment from anywhere I’ve ever worked before, and it took a pretty serious toll on my mental health.  Suffice to say, for the better part of the year I was suffering from worse depression and anxiety than I have in years.  I managed to read 112 books, which, yes, is a lot!  But it’s also about 20-30 fewer than I’d been managing in previous years, and I wasn’t even reading particularly long or dense books for the most part, so that goes to show that I was just really struggling in the second half of the year.  All this to say, in 2020 I’m going to be kinder to myself with my goals, because I can’t predict how my work/life/sanity balance is going to affect my reading.  I know it seems like I have a lot of goals here, but a lot of them are pretty basic and easily achievable.

(Sorry if that was all very ‘woe is me’ – I hate and struggle with talking about my personal life publicly, but I do feel like I owe it to you guys to sort of let you know where my head is at when it naturally affects my reading and blogging quite a great deal.)

So without further ado, 2020 reading (and blogging!) goals:

  • Read at least 90 books.  … ok, I was going to go lower, but I couldn’t resist.  I’ve been gradually been increasing my Goodreads goal by 10 each year for many years and I didn’t want to break the pattern.  I know a lot of people feel very restricted by their Goodreads goal, but this is actually one of the goals I care the least about.  If I hit it, great, if I don’t, I’ll change it to a lower number.
  • Read my 2020 backlist TBR.  Again, I don’t particularly care if I succeed at this goal or not, but as of this moment in time, it’s a pile of books I’m really, really excited about.  I also purposefully picked less ‘challenging’ books than the ones I put on my 2019 list, so I think this is more achievable.
  • Read my ARCs ahead of publication date.  At this point it’s an annual tradition to put this on my list and then fail at it.  So.  Whatever.  I’ll give it a go.  The road to hell etc etc.
  • Read the Women’s Prize longlist, and no other literary prize longlists.  I’ve discovered over the years that despite how much I love following literary prizes, I cannot focus my reading around them year-round.  However, I love the Women’s Prize too much to throw in the towel with this annual tradition.  Last year I read through the longlist with a group of friends and we all had such a blast with it that I think we’re all planning on doing it again, and I cannot wait.  If you enjoy my Women’s Prize series of posts every year you can absolutely look forward to that again.
  • Participate in Reading Ireland Month (March) and Women in Translation Month (August) and no other themed reading challenges.  Again, I just can’t focus my reading around community-wide initiatives, no matter how fun or well-intentioned they are.  But despite that, these two have my heart, and I am so looking forward to participating in both.  That said, I don’t plan on reading exclusively Irish lit in March (only because of the Women’s Prize tbh – otherwise I’d love to) or only Women in Translation in August.  I don’t want to restrict myself too much.
  • Unfollow a lot of blogs.  Don’t panic!  If we regularly interact on here, I am not talking about you.  When I first discovered this community, I would follow just about everyone.  I also had a lot more free time back then to read through my WordPress Reader more thoroughly.  I still like to rely on that tool to stay caught up, but nowadays I follow like 600 accounts on here and I find myself scrolling past way more blogs than I actually click on.  This just isn’t a sustainable way for me to stay engaged with the blogs I actually want to engage with.  So I know this seems like a kind of negative resolution, but it’s not, I promise.  This will be a lot better in the long run to focus my blogging interests.  And then, the flip side of this is that once my reader is more manageable, I want to be able to seek out some more bloggers whose reading tastes overlap with mine.
  • Review books immediately after finishing them.  I can’t believe I actually have to write this down as one of my resolutions, because this is something I have never struggled with.  I’ve always written my reviews within an hour of finishing the book.  But unfortunately I’ve been so mentally and emotionally drained lately that I find myself putting it off, and then resenting the process once I do sit down to review.  This just isn’t me.  I need to get back to the basics.

What are your 2020 reading and blogging goals?  Comment and let me know!

Anticipated 2020 Releases

It’s that time of year again!

This is one of my favorite posts to write, and I loved periodically checking back in on my 2019 list throughout the year.  I ended up reading 9/16 of those books (so far) which is actually a higher ratio than I was expecting, but also goes to show that this isn’t a strict TBR, just a list of upcoming releases that excite me at this very moment.  I also have a lot more this year than I did last year, and I’m sure I’m still missing plenty.

Summaries (italicized) are from Goodreads; publication dates are for the U.S. unless otherwise indicated.

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Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey
January 7, 2020
Knopf

“Miranda Popkey’s first novel is about desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt–written in language that sizzles with intelligence and eroticism. The novel is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women–the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage–and careens through twenty years in the life of an unnamed narrator hungry for experience and bent on upending her life. Edgy, wry, shot through with rage and despair, Topics of Conversation introduces an audacious and immensely gifted new novelist.”

I added this to my TBR the minute I saw it compared to Sally Rooney – which, to be fair, I know those comparisons are a dime a dozen, but it seems like there could actually be something to this one.  Stay tuned.

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Long Bright River by Liz Moore
January 7, 2020
Riverhead

“In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.”

I’ve never read Liz Moore but a lot of my friends speak highly of her writing, and setting a thriller against the backdrop of the opioid crisis is a premise that really intrigues me.

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The Teacher by Michael Ben-Naftali
translated by Daniella Zamir
January 21, 2020
Open Letter Books

“No one knew the story of Elsa Weiss. She was a respected English teacher at a Tel Aviv high school, but she remained aloof and never tried to befriend her students. No one ever encountered her outside of school hours. She was a riddle, and yet the students sensed that they were all she had. When Elsa killed herself by jumping off the roof of her apartment building, she remained as unknown as she had been during her life. Thirty years later, the narrator of the novel, one of her students, decides to solve the riddle of Elsa Weiss. Expertly dovetailing explosive historical material with flights of imagination, the novel explores the impact of survivor’s guilt and traces the footprints of a Holocaust survivor who did her utmost to leave no trace.”

I just adore this premise – ever since I read that summary I could not wait to get my hands on this book.

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Abigail by Magda Szabó
translated by Len Rix
January 21, 2020
NYRB Press

Abigail, the story of a headstrong teenager growing up during World War II, is the most beloved of Magda Szabó’s books in her native Hungary. Gina is the only child of a general, a widower who has long been happy to spoil his bright and willful daughter. Gina is devastated when the general tells her that he must go away on a mission and that he will be sending her to boarding school in the country. She is even more aghast at the grim religious institution to which she soon finds herself consigned. She fights with her fellow students, she rebels against her teachers, finds herself completely ostracized, and runs away. Caught and brought back, there is nothing for Gina to do except entrust her fate to the legendary Abigail, as the classical statue of a woman with an urn that stands on the school’s grounds has come to be called. If you’re in trouble, it’s said, leave a message with Abigail and help will be on the way. And for Gina, who is in much deeper trouble than she could possibly suspect, a life-changing adventure is only beginning.”

I first encountered Magda Szabó when I finally read The Door earlier this year, which I thought was brilliant, so I’m eager to read more of her work.  This seems like a good place to start.

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Pine by Francine Toon
January 23, 2020
Doubleday

“They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men. Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone. In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago. Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust. In spare, haunting prose, Francine Toon creates an unshakeable atmosphere of desolation and dread. In a place that feels like the end of the world, she unites the gloom of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.”

Atmospheric horror is one of my favorite things to read, so this sounds like it could be a perfect fit for my tastes.

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
January 28, 2020
William Morrow

“2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.”

This sounds like it’s going to be all kinds of twisted and uncomfortable, and I cannot wait.

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The Truants by Kate Weinberg
January 28, 2020
G.P. Putnam’s Sons

“Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat grey skies of East Anglia for one reason: To be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess’s thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna’s thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly-knit group of rule-breakers–Alec, a courageous South African journalist with a nihilistic streak; Georgie, a seductive, pill-popping aristocrat; and Nick, a handsome geologist with layers of his own.

But when tragedy strikes the group, Jess turns to Lorna. Together, the two seek refuge on a remote Italian island, where Jess tastes the life she’s long dreamed of–and uncovers a shocking secret that will challenge everything she’s learned.”

The Goodreads blurb begins with ‘perfect for lovers of Agatha Christie and The Secret History‘ – sold.

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The Island Child by Molly Aitken
January 30, 2020
Canongate (UK)

“Twenty years ago, Oona left the island of Inis for the very first time. A wind-blasted rock of fishing boats and sheep’s wool, where the only book was the Bible and girls stayed in their homes until mothers themselves, the island was a gift for some, a prison for others. Oona was barely more than a girl, but promised herself she would leave the tall tales behind and never return.

The Island Child tells two stories: of the child who grew up watching births and betrayals, storms and secrets, and of the adult Oona, desperate to find a second chance, only to discover she can never completely escape. As the strands of Oona’s life come together, in blood and marriage and motherhood, she must accept the price we pay when we love what is never truly ours . . .”

The only time I get excited at the prospect of reading magical realism is when Irish folklore is involved.  I think this could be a gorgeous book.  Plus, that cover!

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The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
February 6, 2020
Doubleday

“A mysterious flock of red birds has descended over Birch Hill. Recently reinvented, it is now home to an elite and progressive school designed to shape the minds of young women. But Eliza Bell – the most inscrutable and defiant of the students – has been overwhelmed by an inexplicable illness.

One by one, the other girls begin to experience the same peculiar symptoms: rashes, fits, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. Soon Caroline – the only woman teaching – begins to suffer too. She tries desperately to hide her symptoms but, with the birds behaving strangely and the girls’ condition worsening, the powers-that-be turn to a sinister physician with grave and dubious methods.

Caroline alone can speak on behalf of the students, but only if she summons the confidence to question everything she’s ever learnt. Does she have the strength to confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world and protect the young women in her care?”

It’s hard to say what exactly appeals to me about this blurb when, generally speaking, I have major ‘feminist dystopia’ burnout; but I think this sounds unique enough that it could be very striking.

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Daughter from the Dark by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
translated by Julia Meitov Hersey
February 11, 2020
Harper Voyager

“Late one night, fate brings together DJ Aspirin and ten-year-old Alyona. After he tries to save her from imminent danger, she ends up at his apartment. But in the morning sinister doubts set in. Who is Alyona? A young con artist? A plant for a nefarious blackmailer? Or perhaps a long-lost daughter Aspirin never knew existed? Whoever this mysterious girl is, she now refuses to leave.

A game of cat-and-mouse has begun.

Claiming that she is a musical prodigy, Alyona insists she must play a complicated violin piece to find her brother. Confused and wary, Aspirin knows one thing: he wants her out of his apartment and his life. Yet every attempt to get rid of her is thwarted by an unusual protector: her plush teddy bear that may just transform into a fearsome monster.

Alyona tells Aspirin that if he would just allow her do her work, she’ll leave him—and this world. He can then return to the shallow life he led before her. But as outside forces begin to coalesce, threatening to finally separate them, Aspirin makes a startling discovery about himself and this ethereal, eerie child.”

Vita Nostra was one of my most pleasant reading surprises of 2018, so at this point I will read anything that the Dyachenkos and Julia Hersey publish.

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Weather by Jenny Offill
February 11, 2020
Knopf

“Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She’s become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience–but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in–funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.”

I actually wasn’t interested in this book at all based on the summary, but then I read this tweet and I was instantly sold.  This sounds like it could be exactly my type of humor.

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The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall
February 12, 2020
Dzanc Books

“Haunted by the loss of her parents and twin sister at sea, Henna cloisters herself in a Northeastern village where the snow never stops. When she discovers the body of a young woman at the edge of the forest, she’s plunged into the mystery of a centuries-old letter regarding one of the most famous stories of Arctic exploration—the Franklin expedition, which disappeared into the ice in 1845.

At the center of the mystery is Franklin’s wife, the indomitable Lady Jane. Henna’s investigation draws her into a gothic landscape of locked towers, dream-like nights of snow and ice, and a crumbling mansion rife with hidden passageways and carrion birds. But it soon becomes clear that someone is watching her—someone who is determined to prevent the truth from coming out.”

The publisher reached out to me about reviewing this book, and I accepted partially because I can’t resist a neo-gothic murder mystery, and partially because I have a friend who is obsessed with the Franklin Expedition so I figured I’d start here and see what all the fuss is about.

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The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld
February 13, 2020
Jonathan Cape (UK)

“In 1720s Scotland, a priest and his son get lost in the forest, transporting a witch to the coast to stop her from being killed by the village.

In the sad, slow years after the Second World War, Ruth finds herself the replacement wife to a recent widower and stepmother to his two young boys, installed in a huge house by the sea and haunted by those who have come before.

Fifty years later, Viv is cataloguing the valuables left in her dead grandmother’s seaside home, when she uncovers long-held secrets of the great house.

Three women, hundreds of years apart, slip into each other’s lives in a novel of darkness, violence and madness.”

I’ve only read one Evie Wyld – All the Birds, Singing – and had something of a mixed experience with it, but I loved Wyld’s prose and I love the sound of this book.

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Real Life by Brandon Taylor
February 18, 2020
Riverhead

“A novel of rare emotional power that excavates the social intricacies of a late-summer weekend–and a lifetime of buried pain. Almost everything about Wallace, an introverted African-American transplant from Alabama, is at odds with the lakeside Midwestern university town where he is working toward a biochem degree. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends–some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with a young straight man, conspire to fracture his defenses, while revealing hidden currents of resentment and desire that threaten the equilibrium of their community.”

Brandon Taylor is great on Twitter, and I loved his short story Anne of Cleves, so I’m really looking forward to his debut novel.

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The Exhibition of Persephone Q by Jessi Jezewska Stevens
March 3, 2020
FSG

“Percy is pregnant. She hasn’t told a soul. Probably she should tell her husband–certainly she means to–but one night she wakes up to find she no longer recognizes him. Now, instead of sleeping, Percy is spending her nights taking walks through her neighborhood, all the while fretting over her marriage, her impending motherhood, and the sinister ways the city is changing.

Amid this alienation–from her husband, home, and rapidly changing body–a package arrives. In it: an exhibition catalog for a photography show. The photographs consist of a series of digitally manipulated images of a woman lying on a bed in a red room. It takes a moment for even Percy to notice that the woman is herself . . . but no one else sees the resemblance.”

I think I am either going to love this book or loathe it, and I don’t see myself falling anywhere in between those two extremes.  It appears to have so much that I love – feminism, art, commentary on the female body – but it’s also about pregnancy, which we all know is not exactly my favorite thing to read about.  So, I don’t know, but I’m going to be optimistic and say that I am really looking forward to this.

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The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
March 24, 2020
Knopf

“Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass-and-cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half brother, Paul, scrawls a note on a windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company named Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.”

Station Eleven is one of my very favorite books, and I am up for reading anything by Emily St. John Mandel.  I have a couple of her backlist titles on my shelf that I should get to, but I know I won’t be able to resist picking this one up when it comes out.

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The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith
March 24, 2020
Harper

“Spanning two thousand years, The Everlasting follows four characters whose struggles resonate across the centuries: an early Christian child martyr; a medieval monk on crypt duty in a church; a Medici princess of Moorish descent; and a contemporary field biologist conducting an illicit affair.

Outsiders to a city layered and dense with history, this quartet separated by time grapple with the physicality of bodies, the necessity for sacrifice, and the power of love to sustain and challenge faith. Their small rebellions are witnessed and provoked by an omniscient, time-traveling Satan who, though incorporeal, nonetheless suffers from a heart in search of repair.

As their dramas unfold amid the brick, marble, and ghosts of Rome, they each must decide what it means to be good. Twelve-year old Prisca defiles the scrolls of her father’s library. Felix, a holy man, watches his friend’s body decay and is reminded of the first boy he loved passionately. Giulia de’ Medici, a beauty with dark skin and limitless wealth, wants to deliver herself from her unborn child. Tom, an American biologist studying the lives of the smallest creatures, cannot pinpoint when his own marriage began to die. As each of these conflicted people struggles with forces they cannot control, their circumstances raise a profound and timeless question at the heart of faith: What is our duty to each other, and what will God forgive?”

This summary sounds absolutely bonkers and I could not be more excited for this book.  This sounds like exactly the style of weird that works for me.  Plus, anything set in Italy is an automatic win.

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Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
March 31, 2020
Tinder Press

“Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.”

(This is not the final cover, as evidenced by the extra ‘R’ in her last name.)  I’ve never read any of Maggie O’Farrell’s fiction, but I loved I Am, I Am, I Am and have been meaning to dive into her backlist.  But before I do that, I think I’m going to be distracted by her newest release, which sounds amazing.  (Plus it’s published on my birthday, so clearly it’s meant to be.)

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Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
March 31, 2020
Doubleday

“Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name.

It is 1936 and Nancy Wake is an intrepid Australian expat living in Paris who has bluffed her way into a reporting job for Hearst newspaper. She is fighting to cover the disturbing reports of violence coming out of Vienna and Berlin when she meets the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. No sooner does Henri sweep Nancy off her feet and convince her to become Mrs. Fiocca than the Germans invade France and she takes yet another name: a code name.”

So, I am typically not into this style of WWII historical fiction.  However, I had to do a lot of research on Noor Inayat Khan this year for my job, which naturally led me to quite a lot of research about Nancy Wake.  So when I saw this summary, I couldn’t resist.  Nancy Wake is incredible and I cannot wait to see what Ariel Lawhon makes of her story.

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Photograph: Jess Lowe/AFP/Getty Images

Lost, Found, Remembered by Lyra McKee
April 2, 2020
Faber & Faber (UK) – cover TK

“When the Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee was murdered in Derry in April 2019 aged just 29, she was survived by her articles that had been read and loved by thousands worldwide.

This memorial anthology will weave together the pieces that defined her reputation as one of the most important and formidable investigative journalists of her generation. It showcases the expansive breadth of McKee’s voice by bringing together unpublished material alongside both her celebrated and lesser-known articles.

Released in time for the anniversary of her death, it reveals the sheer scope of McKee’s intellectual, political, and radically humane engagement with the world – and lets her spirit live on in her own words.”

The murder of Lyra McKee earlier this year was more devastating than I have words for, and I am so appreciative that Faber is putting together this anthology of her work.  I imagine that in addition to an incisive commentary on the current sociopolitical state of Northern Ireland, it will touch on what it was like for McKee growing up gay in Belfast, the subject of her letter to her 14 year old self that went viral.

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Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
translated by Jamie Chang
April 14, 2020
Liveright

“In a small, tidy apartment on the outskirts of the frenzied metropolis of Seoul, Kim Jiyoung—a millennial “everywoman”—spends her days caring for her infant daughter. Her husband, however, worries over a strange symptom that has recently appeared: Jiyoung has begun to impersonate the voices of other women—dead and alive, both known and unknown to her. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that very person. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, Jiyoung’s concerned husband sends her to a psychiatrist, who listens to her narrate her own life story—from her birth to a family who expected a son, to elementary school teachers who policed girls’ outfits, to male coworkers who installed hidden cameras in women’s restrooms and posted the photos online. But can her doctor cure her, or even discover what truly ails her? Rendered in eerie prose, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 announces the arrival of a major international writer.”

Another one that I think will be hit or miss for me, depending on how big of a thematic focus motherhood receives.  But the subgenre of ‘millennial women having mental breakdowns’ almost always works for me, so I think there’s a good chance I’ll like it.

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Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong
translated by Natascha Bruce
March 10, 2020
Two Lines Press

“By an author described by critics as “the most accomplished Malaysian writer, full stop,” Lake Like a Mirror is a scintillating exploration of the lives of women buffeted by powers beyond their control. Squeezing themselves between the gaps of rabid urbanization, patriarchal structures and a theocratic government, these women find their lives twisted in disturbing ways. By an author described by critics as “the most accomplished Malaysian writer, full stop,” Lake Like a Mirror is a scintillating exploration of the lives of women buffeted by powers beyond their control. Squeezing themselves between the gaps of rabid urbanization, patriarchal structures and a theocratic government, these women find their lives twisted in disturbing ways.

This was first put on my radar by the publisher after I asked on Twitter for Malaysian lit recommendations, and it sounds like it could be incredible.

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Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
April 21, 2020
Penguin Press

“While on her normal daily walk with her dog in the nearby forest woods, our protagonist comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with a frame of stones. Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to this area, having moved here from her longtime home after the death of her husband, and she knows very few people. And she’s a little shaky even on her best days. Her brooding about this note quickly grows into a full-blown obsession, and she begins to devote herself to exploring the possibilities of her conjectures about who this woman was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and with mounting excitement and dread, the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But as we follow her in her investigation, strange dissonances start to accrue, and our faith in her grip on reality weakens, until finally, just as she seems to be facing some of the darkness in her own past with her late husband, we are forced to face the prospect that there is either a more innocent explanation for all this or a much more sinister one—one that strikes closer to home.”

New Ottessa Moshfegh, need I say more?!  My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen are two of my favorite books from recent years, and this one sounds even more up my alley than both of those did.

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If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
April 21, 2020
Ballantine Books

“Kyuri is a heartbreakingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client may come to threaten her livelihood.

Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies.

Down the hall in their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist for whom two preoccupations sustain her: obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that is commonplace.

And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy.

Together, their stories tell a gripping tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.”

It sounds like there’s a lot going on here, and almost all of it appeals to me.

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What’s Left of Me is Yours by Stephanie Scott
April 21, 2020
Doubleday

“In Japan, a covert industry has grown up around the “wakaresaseya” (literally “breaker-upper”), a person hired by one spouse to seduce the other in order to gain the advantage in divorce proceedings. When Satō hires Kaitarō, a wakaresaseya agent, to have an affair with his wife, Rina, he assumes it will be an easy case. But Satō has never truly understood Rina or her desires and Kaitarō’s job is to do exactly that–until he does it too well. While Rina remains ignorant of the circumstances that brought them together, she and Kaitarō fall in a desperate, singular love, setting in motion a series of violent acts that will forever haunt her daughter’s life.”

I think this was pitched as a ‘for fans of Everything I Never Told You‘ situation, and that’s a comp that always gets me; but at the same time, this sounds unlike anything I’ve read before.

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Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
April 28, 2020
William Morrow

“When university student Ludwik meets Janusz at a summer agricultural camp, he is fascinated yet wary of this handsome, carefree stranger. But a chance meeting by the river soon becomes an intense, exhilarating, and all-consuming affair. After their camp duties are fulfilled, the pair spend a dreamlike few weeks camping in the countryside, bonding over an illicit copy of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Inhabiting a beautiful natural world removed from society and its constraints, Ludwik and Janusz fall deeply in love. But in their repressive communist and Catholic society, the passion they share is utterly unthinkable.

Once they return to Warsaw, the charismatic Janusz quickly rises in the political ranks of the party and is rewarded with a highly-coveted position in the ministry. Ludwik is drawn toward impulsive acts of protest, unable to ignore rising food prices and the stark economic disparity around them. Their secret love and personal and political differences slowly begin to tear them apart as both men struggle to survive in a regime on the brink of collapse.”

Everything about this sounds heart-rending.  Sign me up.

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Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
May 5, 2020
FSG (no cover announced yet – using UK cover)

“At the mid-point of her life a woman enters an Avignon hotel room. She’s been here once before – but while the room hasn’t changed, she is a different person now.

Forever caught between check-in and check-out, she will go on to occupy other hotel rooms, from Prague to Oslo, Auckland to Austin, each as anonymous as the last, but bound by rules of her choosing. There, amid the detritus of her travels, the matchbooks, cigarettes, keys and room-service wine, she will negotiate with memory, with the men she sometimes meets, and with what it might mean to return home.”

Eimear McBride is one of my favorite writers, but apparently she eschews her signature fragmentary style in her newest book in favor of actually writing in normal sentences, which is something that greatly intrigues me.

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Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah
translated by Deborah Smith
May 5, 2020
The Overlook Press

“A startling and boundary-pushing novel, Untold Night and Day tells the story of a young woman’s journey through Seoul over the course of a night and a day. It’s 28-year-old Ayami’s final day at her box-office job in Seoul’s audio theater. Her night is spent walking the sweltering streets of the city with her former boss in search of Yeoni, their missing elderly friend, and her day is spent looking after a mysterious, visiting poet. Their conversations take in art, love, food, and the inaccessible country to the north.
 
Almost immediately, in the heat of Seoul at the height of the summer, order gives way to chaos as the edges of reality start to fray, with Ayami becoming an unwitting escort into a fever-dream of increasingly tangled threads, all the while images of the characters’ overlapping realities repeat, collide, change, and reassert themselves in this masterful work that upends the very structure of fiction and narrative storytelling and burns itself upon the soul of the reader.”

I haven’t read Bae Suah yet, but Deborah Smith, say no more.

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Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh
May 7, 2020
Penguin

“Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you children. A blue ticket grants you freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And, once you’ve taken your ticket, there is no going back.

But what if the life you’re given is the wrong one?

Blue Ticket is a devastating enquiry into free will and the fraught space of motherhood. Bold and chilling, it pushes beneath the skin of female identity and patriarchal violence, to the point where human longing meets our animal bodies.”

I feel like The poor Water Cure couldn’t catch a break there for a while in the book community, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it, and Mackintosh’s second novel sounds like it could be even better.

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Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
May 12, 2020
Custom House (UK)

“Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines Murillo, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. Even the school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves within the formidable iron gates of Catherine. For Ines, it is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had. But the House’s strange protocols soon make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when tragedy strikes, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda within the secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.”

I mean… this kind of sounds like it could be the perfect book.

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Sisters by Daisy Johnson
June 4, 2020
Jonathan Cape (UK)

“After a serious case of school bullying becomes too much to bear, sisters July and September move across the country with their mother to a long-abandoned family home.

In their new and unsettling surroundings, July finds that the deep bond she has always had with September – a closeness that not even their mother is allowed to penetrate – is starting to change in ways she cannot entirely understand.

Inside the house the tension among the three women builds, while outside the sisters meet a boy who tests the limits of their shared experiences.”

I had something of a mixed experience with Everything Under – I was adoring it, ready to give it 5 stars, and then toward the end an extremely literal manifestation of a magical realism subplot kind of ruined things for me.  That said, I loved Johnson’s writing, and I love the sound of her new book, so, count me in.  Fingers crossed for less magical realism.

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Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
July 7, 2020
Dutton Books

“In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.”

I haven’t even read this summary yet, but I am all aboard the Riley Sager hype train.  The Last Time I Lied didn’t entirely work for me, but Final Girls and Lock Every Door are two of my all-time favorite thrillers, so at this point I’ll read anything that Sager writes.

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Luster by Raven Leilani
August 4, 2020
FSG

“Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She’s also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric’s family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.”

I love the sound of this – I don’t know what it is about books about young women exploring unhealthy sexual arrangements that appeals to me so much, but here we are.

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Hysteria by Jessica Gross
August 18, 2020
Unnamed Press

“In HYSTERIA, we meet a young woman an hour into yet another alcohol-fueled, masochistic, sexual bender at her local bar. There is a new bartender working this time, one she hasn’t seen before, and who can properly make a drink. He looks familiar, and as she is consumed by shame from her behavior the previous week— hooking up with her parents’ colleague and her roommate’s brother— she also becomes convinced that her Brooklyn bartender is actually Sigmund Freud. They embark on a relationship, and she is forced to confront her past through the prism of their complex, revealing, and sometimes shocking meetings.

With the help of Freud—or whoever he is—she begins to untangle her Oedipal leanings, her upbringing, and her desires. Jessica Gross’s debut is unflinchingly perceptive and honest, darkly funny, and unafraid of mining the deepest fears of contemporary lives.”

This sounds utterly unique and I am obsessed with that cover.


So, there we have it, at this point, these are my most anticipated books of 2020!  Are you looking forward to any of these?  Which other 2020 releases have caught your eye?  Comment and let me know!