The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2019

Obligatory intro about how I cannot believe the year is halfway over.  Also, you can see my past answers for this tag here: 2017 | 2018

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2019

Hands down, no competition, Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, one of the most informative and engaging pieces of nonfiction I’ve read in years, which masterfully contextualizes the Troubles and fills in so many gaps that Keefe’s primarily American audience is bound to need filling in.  I can’t recommend this highly enough.  Review here.

The only two other books that I can confidently say will make my top 10 of the year so far are Maus by Art Spiegelman and The Fire Starters by Jan Carson.

Question 2 – Your favorite sequel of the year

I’ve only read one sequel in its entirety – The Killer In Me by Olivia Kiernan.  Thankfully I loved it – I thought it was a lot stronger than its predecessor, and even though I’m not wild about police procedurals most of the time I’m really hooked on this series.  Review here.

I’ve also started two others: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang (I’m about 40% through) and Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (around page 120) so the jury’s still out on both of these, but I don’t have any complaints about either so far.

Question 3 – A new release that you haven’t read but really want to

All UK releases, but oh well.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: This is an Iliad retelling that recounts the Trojan War from an all-female perspective: need I say more?

Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson: I believe this is a memoir (essay collection?) about health and the body and feminism, or something like that.  I haven’t heard a single negative thing about it.  This is the only one of these three that I own and I can’t wait to pick it up.

What Red Was by Rosie Price: I mean, I rationally understand that marketing comps aren’t to be taken too seriously, but when a book is pitched as Normal People meets Asking For It… I mean.  I need to read it.

Question 4 – Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea, Valerie by Sara Stridsberg, and The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson will hopefully all be excellent.  More thoughts on why I’m excited for these here.

Question 5 – Your biggest disappointment

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin: I just don’t get this book; I simultaneously don’t get why I didn’t like it more and don’t get the excessive amounts of praise it has received.  Everything about this book seemed like it was going to be right up my alley (Irish! depressing!), so it’s probably my biggest disappointment of the year that I remained so utterly unaffected by it.  Review here.

Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden: Is there anything worse than enjoying a book only for it to be utterly undermined and destroyed by a horrifically bad conclusion?  More on that here in one of my rare spoiler-filled reviews.

The Cassandra by Sharma Shields: You know me – I love a Greek myth retelling and I adore Cassandra, but this was ruined by positively absurd characters and awful plotting.  Review here.

Question 6 – Biggest surprise of the year

Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev: This book seems to be very hit or miss for most people due to Shalmiyev’s slightly unconventional style of prose, but I really got on with it and this remains one of the most heart-wrenching memoirs I’ve read.  Review here.

The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino: A very random title by a debut author that I hadn’t heard anything about – I picked it up on a whim and adored it.  Review here.

Cherry by Nico Walker: it is a rare and talented author that could keep me riveted by the story of a young, remorseless man who joins the army and develops a drug addiction.  Review here.

Question 7 – Favourite new to you or debut author

Mathias Énard: It could just be Charlotte Mandell’s exquisite translation, but Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants probably had the most beautiful writing of anything I’ve read all year.  I just adored everything about that book and cannot wait to read more from Énard.

Robin Hobb: When I started Assassin’s Apprentice I fell instantly in love with Robin Hobb’s prose, and despite that book’s overly slow pace, I got the impression that I had found a new favorite fantasy author.  Royal Assassin has so far been confirming that suspicion!

Colin Barrett: Such a brilliant fresh new voice in Irish fiction that I cannot wait to read more from in the future.  Calm With Horses from his collection Young Skins remains one of the best short stories (novellas?) I’ve ever read.

Question 8 – Your new fictional crush

Pass.

Question 9 – New favourite character

Billy from Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is so my type it’s not even funny.

Tom from A Natural by Ross Raisin is a quiet character who made a huge impression.

Fitz from the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb has been a brilliant protagonist whose journey I’m really enjoying following.

Question 10 – A book that made you cry

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Only one – Maus by Art Spiegelman.  I pretty much don’t cry as a general rule, but my god, this book wrecked me.  Thankfully I was house-sitting while reading this and was alone so I could unashamedly weep through the last 100 pages or so.

Question 11 – A book that made you happy

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps: Though this occasionally touches on heavier subjects, there were so many anecdotes that actually made me laugh out loud.  The story about Busy breaking her leg while moshing to Nirvana at a school dance makes me laugh even thinking about it now.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: To describe this as a romp would be somewhat dismissive of its thematic depth, but my god did I have fun reading this.

Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett: Bizarre and occasionally unsettling, but very hilarious as well.

Question 12 – Your favourite book to movie adaptation that you’ve seen this year

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I haven’t read this book yet, but I absolutely adored the film The Miseducation of Cameron Post.  I don’t usually get on with films aimed at teenagers (which is fine! I can admit when I’m not the target audience!), but I thought this film navigated its horrifying subject matter with the right amount of warmth and seriousness, and I was really moved by Chloë Grace Moretz’s performance.

Question 13 – Favourite book post you’ve done this year

Read More Women: a post I did for International Women’s Day where I talk about several popular male-authored works and suggest female-authored alternatives.

Also, all of my Women’s Prize coverage:

Women’s Prize Longlist Predictions
Women’s Prize Longlist Reaction
Women’s Prize Shortlist Reaction
Women’s Prize Longlist Reflections
Women’s Prize Shortlist Review & Winner Prediction

Question 14 – The most beautiful book you have bought/received this year

Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants by Mathias Énard, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler are all gorgeous.

Question 15 – What are some books you need to read by the end of the year

Everything left on my 2019 Backlist TBR, Five Star Predictions Round 3, and ARCs I need to read #4 posts, among other things.

How’s your reading year been going so far?  Comment and let me know!

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some of my favorite book blogs | part 2

Nearly a year ago I made a post where I listed 10 of my favorite book bloggers – I figured it was time for an update!  All of my recommendations in my last post still stand – all of those blogs are still active and I’d highly recommend checking them out.  But now for some new blood!

Requisite disclaimer about how I follow 500+ blogs on here and this is by no means a comprehensive list – if I follow your blog and regularly interact with you I promise I adore your blog as well and you will probably show up in part 3.  But lists that go much higher than 10 start to get boring so I’m keeping it concise.

Now, the list, alphabetically:

Ally @ Ally Writes Things: I love everything about Ally’s blog: concise reviews, interesting discussion posts (this one about cancel culture is a standout), and an abundance of tags and memes.  I think Ally and I mostly have a pretty similar taste, but even where we don’t overlap I always love reading her thoughts.  She’s also the sweetest person with the cutest horse.

Aurora Librialis: It’s probably no secret that my favorite posts, both to read and write, are book reviews, and most of my favorite blogs are review-heavy.  But I’ve loved Aurora’s blog for ages, and a few months back she mentioned that she doesn’t write book reviews, and I remember thinking ‘wait, you don’t?!  Oh, right, I guess you don’t.’  That’s how thorough her lists and wrap ups are: I never feel like her posts are wanting for anything, either information or analysis.  And her taste is refreshingly diverse: her lists will include everything from the latest YA release to rather dense literary fiction, all in the same post.  I love the range!

Books and Bao: Because there are only so many hours in the day to devote to blogging, as a rule I don’t subscribe to any blogs that aren’t hosted on WordPress since I rely pretty heavily on the WordPress Reader to stay updated.  But I have to make an exception for Will and Jess, the annoyingly cute couple behind Books and Bao: their blog is a hybrid of books and travel and culture – all great things! – and the books they review are refreshingly international.  Their blog has a wealth of info on translated lit, and I would highly recommend checking them out.

Cathy @ 746 Books: If I ever go bankrupt from all the books I buy, I swear Cathy’s blog will singlehandedly be responsible.  As the queen of (Northern) Irish lit around here, Cathy’s reading taste overlaps considerably with my own, but even though I own a truly ridiculous amount of yet unread Irish lit, I’m still learning about new and fascinating titles every time Cathy posts.  But if Irish lit doesn’t interest you, never fear, there’s plenty of other content on Cathy’s blog, the concept of which (realizing she owned 746 unread books and deciding to read them all before expanding her collection) she’s stuck to admirably.  Realizing I hadn’t included in Cathy in my first post (I don’t think I’d followed her at that point, but I think I’ve since made up for lost time!) actually prompted me to write this one.  Follow her!

Laura Frey @ Reading in Bed: Laura’s arguably a bit more active on booktube (which I also love!), but I think she does a really excellent job splitting her content between there and her blog, which is always a joy to read.  Laura mostly reads literary fiction and classics, and in particular has a passion for Canadian lit, which I’m sorry to say I haven’t actually read very much of, so I do love that I can count on Laura to keep me up to date with what’s going on in the world of Canadian publishing.  Plus, you can always count on her to be brutally honest in her assessments, and I mean that as the highest compliment.

Laura Tisdall: I feel like I’ve been following Laura for quite some time but we didn’t really start interacting until recently – and I am so glad for it!  When I started reading Laura’s blog more closely I realized how similar our taste was (both inside and outside of the wonderful world of literary prizes), and as fun as disagreement can be, it’s always nice to talk books with someone who often comes to very similar conclusions about the books you both read.  And aside from all that, she writes some of the most intelligent reviews on this website.

Michael @ Inexhaustible Invitations: Speaking of intelligent reviews, Michael’s tend to be rather brilliant.  He’s another one where we see eye to eye more often than not, but even when we don’t I find his analyses fascinating and astute.  (Plus, I love the sleek black and white aesthetic of his blog – busy headers/backgrounds are a big pet peeve of mine because I am apparently 80 years old.)

Naty @ Naty’s Bookshelf: Naty is one of the sweetest people I have had the pleasure of getting to know through book blogging, and I can’t recommend her blog highly enough.  She reads a pretty big range, everything from literary fiction to YA to SFF, and recently I had the pleasure of chatting with her while we both read through the Women’s Prize longlist.  Even though our assessments didn’t always align (she’s #teamCirce, I’m #teamSilence, somehow our friendship has survived), she always presents her opinions so thoughtfully that it’s a joy to read them.

Rebecca Foster @ Bookish Beck: As an active freelance reviewer, Rebecca writes at the quality you’d expect, covering a refreshingly massive range of literature on her blog.  I’m constantly reading about new releases I haven’t even heard of on Rebecca’s blog, which isn’t always great for my TBR, but I could read her thoughts on books for days, she’s always so smart and perceptive.

Ren @ What’s Nonfiction?: In theory I shouldn’t have a whole lot of bookish common ground with Ren, as she exclusively reads nonfiction and I read about 85% fiction, but some of the most stimulating conversations I’ve had on here have been with her.  The interesting thing about both of our blogs is that I think we value very similar elements in the books we read, even if the books themselves rarely overlap, so if you like my blog but wish I read more nonfiction, or if you’re interested in nonfiction at all, I can’t recommend What’s Nonfiction? highly enough for intelligent, thorough, well-argued reviews.  And that’s not to mention that Ren is a ridiculously kind person who is always up for some thorough discussions in the comments section (my favorite!).

So that’s that – go follow them all, and then let me know who some of your favorite book bloggers are!  Bonus points if anyone can name a brilliant adult/literary fiction blogger I don’t already follow.

ARCs I need to read #4

You can see my first installments of this series here, but this is pretty self-explanatory: I talk about the ARCs I need to read!  As always I’m very behind, so I’m only including the ARCs whose publication dates haven’t come and gone.

42179785We Went to the Woods by Caite Dolan-Leach
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: July 2, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: I absolutely adored Dolan-Leach’s debut Dead Letters which I think suffered from ‘marketed as a thriller when it’s a literary character study’ syndrome, hence the uniform low ratings.  So the similarly low (3.23, yikes) Goodreads rating for her sophomore novel doesn’t really turn me off – I thought Dead Letters had some of the smartest writing I’ve ever read, and I’m eager to read more of her prose.
Goodreads summary: “Certain that society is on the verge of economic and environmental collapse, five disillusioned twenty-somethings make a bold decision: They gather in upstate New York to transform an abandoned farm, once the site of a turn-of-the-century socialist commune, into an idyllic self-sustaining compound called the Homestead.

Louisa spearheads the project, as her wealthy family owns the plot of land. Beau is the second to commit; as mysterious and sexy as he is charismatic, he torments Louisa with his nightly disappearances and his other relationships. Chloe, a dreamy musician, is naturally able to attract anyone to her–which inevitably results in conflict. Jack, the most sensible and cerebral of the group, is the only one with any practical farm experience. Mack, the last to join, believes it’s her calling to write their story–but she is not the most objective narrator, and inevitably complicates their increasingly tangled narrative. Initially exhilarated by restoring the rustic dwellings, planting a garden, and learning the secrets of fermentation, the group is soon divided by slights, intense romantic and sexual relationships, jealousies, and suspicions. And as winter settles in, their experiment begins to feel not only misguided, but deeply isolating and dangerous.”

You can pre-order a copy of We Went to the Woods here on Book Depository.

EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review

40796015Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues-Fowler
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication date: July 16, 2019
Received from: Physical ARC from publisher
Why I requested it: ‘Young woman finding her way in the world’ is a formula that pretty much always works for me – and I believe Rebecca recommended this one!
Goodreads summary: “In Stubborn Archivist, a young British Brazilian woman from South London navigates growing up between two cultures and into a fuller understanding of her body, relying on signposts such as history, family conversation, and the eyes of the women who have shaped her—her mother, grandmother, and aunt. Our stubborn archivist takes us through first love and loss, losing and finding home, trauma and healing, and various awakenings of sexuality and identity. Shot through the novel are the narrator’s trips to Brazil, sometimes alone, often with family, where she accesses a different side of herself—one, she begins to realize, that is as much of who she is as anything else.”

You can pre-order a copy of Stubborn Archivist here on Book Depository.

42850426Valerie (The Faculty of Dreams) by Sara Stridsberg
Publisher: FSG
Publication date: August 6, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: This was longlisted for the Man Booker International, and the impression I’ve gotten from a lot of people is that its exclusion from the shortlist was a snub.  It sounds amazing, plus, that cover!
Goodreads summary: “In April 1988, Valerie Solanas—the writer, radical feminist, and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol—was discovered dead at fifty-two in her hotel room, in a grimy corner of San Francisco, alone, penniless, and surrounded by the typed pages of her last writings.

In Valerie, Sara Stridsberg revisits the hotel room where Solanas died; the courtroom where she was tried and convicted of attempting to murder Andy Warhol; the Georgia wastelands where she spent her childhood, where she was repeatedly raped by her father and beaten by her alcoholic grandfather; and the mental hospitals where she was shut away. Through imagined conversations and monologues, reminiscences and rantings, Stridsberg reconstructs this most intriguing and enigmatic of women, articulating the thoughts and fears that she struggled to express in life and giving a powerful, heartbreaking voice to the writer of the infamous SCUM Manifesto.”

You can pick up a copy of The Faculty of Dreams (UK edition) here on Book Depository.

42201663A Keeper by Graham Norton
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: August 16, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: I don’t even know.  I really didn’t like Norton’s debut Holding.  But you know me, I can’t resist anything Irish, even if it’s a crime novel written by a talk-show host.
Goodreads summary: “When Elizabeth Keane returns to Ireland after her mother’s death, she’s focused only on saying goodbye to that dark and dismal part of her life. Her childhood home is packed solid with useless junk, her mother’s presence already fading. But within this mess, she discovers a small stash of letters—and ultimately, the truth.

Forty years earlier, a young woman stumbles from a remote stone house, the night quiet except for the constant wind that encircles her as she hurries deeper into the darkness away from the cliffs and the sea. She has no sense of where she is going, only that she must keep on. ”

You can pick up a copy of A Keeper (UK edition) here on Book Depository.

42388020Devotion by Madeline Stevens
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: August 13, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: The cover caught my eye and then I liked the sound of the summary.  I actually started reading this one but I’m hesitant to add it to my currently reading shelf because I can’t decide if I want to commit or not right this moment… I think it has potential, though.
Goodreads summary: “Ella is flat broke: wasting away on bodega coffee, barely making rent, seducing the occasional strange man who might buy her dinner. Unexpectedly, an Upper East Side couple named Lonnie and James rescue her from her empty bank account, offering her a job as a nanny and ushering her into their moneyed world. Ella’s days are now spent tending to the baby in their elegant brownstone or on extravagant excursions with the family. Both women are just twenty-six—but unlike Ella, Lonnie has a doting husband and son, unmistakable artistic talent, and old family money.

Ella is mesmerized by Lonnie’s girlish affection and disregard for the normal boundaries of friendship and marriage. Convinced there must be a secret behind Lonnie’s seemingly effortless life, Ella begins sifting through her belongings, meticulously cataloguing lipstick tubes and baby teeth and scraps of writing. All the while, Ella’s resentment grows, but so does an inexplicable and dizzying attraction. Soon she will be immersed so deeply in her cravings—for Lonnie’s lifestyle, her attention, her lovers—that she may never come up for air.”

You can pre-order a copy of Devotion here on Book Depository.

EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review

43208989The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: September 3, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: My ‘similar to Burial Rites‘ alarm started blaring when I read this summary and I can’t resist anything that may be even the slightest bit similar to that book.  I love Iceland as a setting and I love literary mysteries, so I have really high hopes for this.
Goodreads summary: “Rósa has always dreamed of living a simple life alongside her Mamma in their remote village in Iceland, where she prays to the Christian God aloud during the day, whispering enchantments to the old gods alone at night. But after her father dies abruptly and her Mamma becomes ill, Rósa marries herself off to a visiting trader in exchange for a dowry, despite rumors of mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death.

Rósa follows her new husband, Jón, across the treacherous countryside to his remote home near the sea. There Jón works the field during the day, expecting Rósa to maintain their house in his absence with the deference of a good Christian wife. What Rósa did not anticipate was the fierce loneliness she would feel in her new home, where Jón forbids her from interacting with the locals in the nearby settlement and barely speaks to her himself.

Seclusion from the outside world isn’t the only troubling aspect of her new life—Rósa is also forbidden from going into Jón’s. When Rósa begins to hear strange noises from upstairs, she turns to the local woman in an attempt to find solace. But the villager’s words are even more troubling—confirming many of the rumors about Jón’s first wife, Anna, including that he buried her body alone in the middle of the night.”

You can pick up a copy of The Glass Woman (UK edition) here on Book Depository.

42036538Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: September 10, 2019
Received from: A friend.
Why I requested it: ………… I don’t know guys, I’m nervous about this one, but my friend told me to read it and I am obedient.
Goodreads summary: “Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.”

You can pre-order a copy of Gideon the Ninth here on Book Depository.

42980951The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: December 3, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: Iceland!  Mysterious death!  I have predictable tastes!  I hadn’t known when I requested this that Olafsson is a businessman responsible for creating PlayStation – I tend to be wary when celebrities try their hand at novel writing (even though there are two examples of that in this list, shh), but I don’t know, I still hope it’ll be an entertaining read.
Goodreads summary: “Author of RESTORATION and ONE STATION AWAY Olaf Olafsson’s THE SACRAMENT, the story of a nun sent to investigate explosive allegations of misconduct at a Catholic school in Iceland, the mysterious death of the headmaster that takes place during her time there, and her return to the scene of the crime two decades later, a trip that brings the past back in surprising ways, revealing the faulty nature of memory and threatening to expose long-buried secrets.”

You can pre-order a copy of The Sacrament here on Book Depository.

So, that’s that!  Have you guys read any of these?  And which ARCs do you have that you’re most looking forward to?  Comment and let me know!

wrap up: May 2019

Happy Colin Farrell’s Birthday, everyone!  Another month, another reading wrap up:

  1. Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong ★★★★★ | review
  2. Good And Mad by Rebecca Traister ★★★★★ | review
  3. A Natural by Ross Raisin ★★★★☆ | review
  4. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott ★★☆☆☆ | review
  5. So Sad Today by Melissa Broder ★★★★☆ | review
  6. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong ★★★★★ | review to come
  7. Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton ★★☆☆☆ | review
  8. Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard ★★★★★ | review
  9. Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu ★★★☆☆ | mini review (read for work)
  10. The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman ★★★☆☆ | mini review (read for work)
  11. Forest Bathing by Qing Li ★★★☆☆ | no review (read for work)

Favorite: Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard
Honorable mention: Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister
Least favorite: Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

MAY TOTAL: 11
YEARLY TOTAL: 56

Other posts from this month:

Life updates:

I’m still settling into the new job and trying to find the optimal work/life/blogging balance, so again, apologies for falling behind on here, but I’m working on it!  Not having as much free time has also forced me to think about my blog content and the kind of posts I want to be writing, other than my book reviews which will always be my staple, so ironically enough I’m actually more inspired than ever regarding my blog content, I just need to carve out the time to sit down and write.

The reason my On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous review is being held up is that it’s actually a commissioned review, my very first!  You’ll be able to read my piece in mid-June, so apologies for the wait to everyone who’s been asking for my thoughts on that book.  Spoiler alert: it was good!

Also, this probably won’t be of any interest to anyone but oh well: after two straight months of car troubles, I am very excited to announce that this afternoon I am picking up my brand new car.  This is the first new car I’ve ever bought and excited is honestly an understatement.  I feel like I haven’t gone a single month without some car problem or other in the last decade, so I’m very excited to have a clean slate on the car-repair front.

Currently reading: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (lol, I’m working on it), The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story edited by Anne Enright, The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang (it’s good!), The Fire Starters by Jan Carson (it’s marvelous!).

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

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

Women’s Prize 2019 Shortlist Review & Winner Prediction

Alright friends, it’s almost that time of year… the 2019 Women’s Prize winner will be announced on June 5, which is a week from today, so it’s time for my shortlist review.

Round up of my Women’s Prize coverage thus far:

Shortlist ranked from what I’d least to most like to see win:

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6. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Does it deserve to win?  No.  This is a hard-hitting yet woefully underdeveloped book whose impact is neutered by its unwieldy pace and execution. It has some great ideas and occasional moments of brilliance, but I’d solidly rank it in last place on this list while evaluating what each of these books is trying to achieve, and whether or not they succeed.
Will it win?  Probably not, and I blame the Oprah sticker.  How commercial is too commercial to win a literary prize?  I’d guess that this level of commercial is where the line is drawn. But who knows.

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5. Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Does it deserve to win?  No.  This is one of those books that I really enjoyed and appreciated while I was reading it, but, I’ll be honest: it’s ended up being one of the most forgettable things I’ve read all year.
Will it win?  No. I just don’t think this book makes enough of an impact.

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4. Circe by Madeline Miller

Does it deserve to win?  Who knows.  If you ask me, no; if you ask most other people who’ve read it, yes.  This book fell short for me but I understand its merits.
Will it win?  It certainly might. It’s an undeniable feminist achievement, and Miller would be the first author to win the Women’s Prize twice, which would be noteworthy.

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3. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Does it deserve to win?  Good question. This is an incredibly short book, and while it achieves a lot in its short word count it also leaves the reader wanting a bit more.
Will it win?  I think it has a very good chance.  It’s stylish, topical, and more ‘fresh’ than any of the other frontrunners on this list: An American Marriage has Oprah, Milkman has the Booker, Circe has worldwide bestselling acclaim, My Sister has room to make a splash right here.

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2. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Does it deserve to win? See, this is tricky. Where I thinks this excels as a Greek mythology retelling, it arguably fails as a feminist retelling, which, no, isn’t a Women’s Prize winner requirement, but it’s hard not to judge women-centric Greek myth retellings through an explicitly feminist lens when you have a prize specifically for books by women.  The bottom line here is Achilles: while I understood and respected the inclusion of his POV and its necessity to the story Barker was telling, many, many readers have taken issue with the few chapters we see through his eyes, ultimately arguing ‘if this book is about reclaiming women’s voices, why are we hearing from a man at all.’  I think ‘reclaiming women’s voices’ is a bit of a simplification of what Barker was trying to achieve in this retelling, and a simplification of how deeply entwined Briseis’s story is with Achilles’s, but I do understand the criticism and I think it’s what may ultimately hinder this one from taking home the prize.
Will it win?  But, I do think it’s a possibility.  Pat Barker has had an illustrious career and won the Man Booker in the past, but has never won the Women’s Prize.

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1. Milkman by Anna Burns

Does it deserve to win?  Yes, yes, unequivocally, yes.  This is one of the strongest books to come out of 2018, one of the most daring and fiercely original books we’ve seen in years, and it deserves all of the accolades.
Will it win?  … I don’t know.  If it weren’t for its Booker win, this would be a no-brainer, but a book has never in the past won both the Booker and the Women’s Prize.  It would be a historic first, but would the Women’s Prize judges just feel like they’re piggybacking off its recent success?

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Winner prediction: My Sister, The Serial Killer. I think it’s a strong candidate that examines themes that the prize has always valued – the delicate line between upholding and subverting gender roles, primarily – and it’s arguably the most original choice on this not terribly original list.

Which book would you guys like to see win, and which do you think will take home the prize? Comment and let me know!

Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist Reflections

I was hoping to finish the longlist and get this post up before the shortlist announcement, but that didn’t end up being in the cards, so here we are – hopefully better late than never?

Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist 2019, photographed by Sam Hol
Photo from Women’s Prize website.

If you missed my shortlist reaction post (spoiler alert: I’m not happy) you can check that out here.  But if you’d like to hear some more in depth thoughts on the longlist, read on…

So I finally finished reading the longlist this week, and here’s my star rating breakdown for the entire list, with links to my reviews:

★★★★★ (6)

Milkman
Ghost Wall
The Pisces
Normal People
The Silence of the Girls
Freshwater

★★★★☆ (2)

My Sister the Serial Killer
Ordinary People

★★★☆☆ (4)

Lost Children Archive
Bottled Goods
Circe
An American Marriage

★★☆☆☆ (4)

Remembered
Swan Song
Praise Song for the Butterflies
Number One Chinese Restaurant

Average star rating: 3.63 

This really was a list of halves for me: half of the list I really enjoyed, half I felt strongly ‘meh’ about.  Half I read before the longlist announcement, half I read after.  And I think that’s why I’m feeling largely underwhelmed: not only was the half of the list that I read before the longlist announcement far superior in mind (you can see that breakdown here), but even though I enjoyed so many of these books individually, a solid half of the list felt a bit like a waste of my time.  And naturally I didn’t expect to love everything, that’s just statistically impossible, but I did hope to find a few gems that I wouldn’t have picked up in a hundred years if it weren’t for reading this list.

Because that’s the thing – the books I expected to like, I ended up liking (with a couple of exceptions – looking at you, Remembered).  The books I expected to dislike, I ended up disliking.  Nothing really challenged me or took me outside my comfort zone only to reward me for my efforts, which tends to be my favorite kind of bookish discovery while reading prize lists.  So I think that’s ultimately what I feel like I’m missing; that one book that made this self-imposed project worth the effort.  Because all of those books in my 5 star category I had already read before this list was announced.

So, I don’t know.  Am I disappointed that I read the longlist?  Not particularly, especially as I had a very fun Women’s Prize group chat that gave me some interesting discussion fodder as well as a place to air my grievances when it was taking me 2 months to get through Swan Song.  But was I hoping to get something more from this whole endeavor?  Sadly, yes.

But the other thing I wanted to talk about was the actual content of the longlist.  As a lot of people have pointed out, one of the noteworthy things about this list is how many of the books have a ‘partner,’ so let’s run through that:

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Circe & The Silence of the Girls: very literal Greek mythology retellings that take a traditionally male dominated story and reframe it through a feminist lens.

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Circe & The Silence of the Girls & Swan Song: feminist retellings in a broader sense, reclaiming women’s voices.

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Milkman & Bottled Goods: women under surveillance living under strict governmental regimes.

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Remembered & Praise Song for the Butterflies: slavery and rape in historical fiction that are underscored by a note of resilience.

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An American Marriage & Ordinary People & Normal People: relationships crumbling under the strain of contemporary life and the inability to communicate with one’s partner.

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The Pisces & Freshwater: incisive commentary on womanhood and a revitalization of their respective genres (romance and bildungsroman) by introducing a theme of magic.

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Lost Children Archive & Ghost Wall: children and parents, the relationship between the individual and society, commentary on how the past has shaped the present.

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Ghost Wall & My Sister, The Serial Killer: short and punchy novellas with commentary on gender roles.

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Number One Chinese Restaurant & Remembered: family sagas.

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Circe, The Silence of the Girls, Freshwater, Remembered, Praise Song for the Butterflies, An American Marriage: Books about Big Issues: rape, slavery, immigration, incarceration, etc.

The reason I’m bringing up the content and all the overlap is because I’m always curious about what exactly goes into the decision to put a book on a longlist: how much are these books being evaluated in isolation, and how much are they being judged collectively?  Because it seems significant that with a few exceptions, these books only have one lone thematic partner: was Washington Black left off because they felt they’d already ticked the slavery box; was Everything Under left off because they felt they couldn’t have three watery magical realism books?  Was Severance left off because futuristic zombie dystopia would have been too much of an oddball compared to the rest?

After reading all of these books, I’m left with the impression that this year’s longlist feels a bit too curated.  I feel like the judges had certain salient themes in mind that they wanted to see represented on the list, and weren’t willing to stretch too far outside those parameters.  Of course, this could all be coincidental, maybe the judges truly believe that these 16 books are the ‘best’ books by women published in the last year.  I just… find that doubtful.

I think the bottom line is that when I saw the shortlist, I saw a few daring choices on there – Freshwater, The Pisces, Bottled Goods – and erroneously concluded that it was going to be a daring list, which I think is partially why I’m disappointed that it ended up feeling so safe.  ‘Safe’ is a word I kept coming back to while talking about the shortlist, but after finally finishing the longlist, it seems relevant here too.

So that’s it from me – please do let me know your thoughts on the longlist, shortlist, or any and all things Women’s Prize.  I’ll post my winner prediction closer to the winner announcement!

5 Star Read Predictions: Update & Round 3

A full YEAR AGO I posted round 2 of my 5 star read predictions, so I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember me making this post, but basically: the idea is to choose five books that you imagine you’ll rate 5 stars, and after you’ve read them you come back and let everyone know how you did.  Clearly it took me a while to read these five books, but we got there in the end:

How to be Both by Ali Smith ★★★★☆ | review
A Natural by Ross Raisin ★★★★☆ | review
The Quiet American by Graham Greene ★★★★☆ | review
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid ★★★★★ | review
I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin ★★☆☆☆ | review

Technically only 1/5, so… not my best work, but I did solidly enjoy 4/5 of these books.  How to be Both was a brilliant introduction to Ali Smith for me that was held back from its well-earned 5 stars only because of a nagging pedestrian complaint about the (intentionally) weird portrayal of Renaissance Italy that irritated me too much as someone with a degree in Italian studies, but anyway, make no mistake, this book is genius; A Natural was a kind of mixed bag that I ultimately really appreciated, and The Quiet American was a ridiculously good modern classic about love and war.  The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is just as good as everyone says, thankfully, since I only added that one to my 5-star predictions due to word of mouth praise, as the summary hadn’t really appealed to me.  Sadly I’ll Be Right There was a bit of a dud for me, taking a subject that could have easily been poignant and muting its impact with dull storytelling.

So, the reason I’m doing this challenge again, despite how long it took last time, is that I have been having a ridiculously uninspired reading year.  And I’m not even stingy with my 5 stars – I know some people reserve those for life-changing books, but I tend to give out 5 stars quite liberally, so the fact that I’ve barely given anything (fictional) 5 stars all year is a little disheartening.  So, I need to really hone in on books that I’m sure I’m going to love.

ROUND 3:

 

 

Country by Michael Hughes: An Iliad retelling set in Northern Ireland????  I mean…. if I don’t love this book I won’t even know who I am anymore.

The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor: I just LOVE the summary of this one: “The Gault family leads a life of privilege in early 1920s Ireland, but the threat of arson leads nine-year-old Lucy’s parents to leave Ireland for England, her mother’s home. Lucy cannot bear the thought of leaving Lahardane, their country house with its beautiful land and nearby beach, and a dog she has befriended. On the day before they are due to leave, Lucy runs away, hoping to convince her parents to stay, but instead she sets off a series of tragic misunderstandings that affect all of the inhabitants of Lahardane and the perpetrators of the failed arson attack for the rest of their lives.”  Yes yes yes.

The Door by Magda Szabo: This is a translated modern classic that I think has to do with friendship between two women?  And one is the other’s housekeeper?  Maybe?  I don’t know, but I saw this NYRB edition with an introduction by Ali Smith at my bookstore and I had to grab it.  I just have a gut feeling I’ll like this.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë: Claire said I will probably love this and I trust her.  It was already high on my TBR – I’m a big Jane Eyre fan and Villette seems like it’s going to be somehow less accessible but more interesting?  I’m very excited about this at any rate.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen: Another one that I know very little about – I think it has something to do with sex trafficking, and… female friendship, again?  I’m not sure.  This one is another gut feeling that I feel like I need to pursue.

I’m challenging Hannah, Naty, and Sarah to take part in this challenge, though you are welcome to pass of course, and anyone else who thinks this will be fun.  And if you’re not doing this challenge, let me know in the comments which book you haven’t read yet that you’re convinced will be 5 stars for you!