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!

The Literary Fiction Book Tag

This tag was created by Jasmine over at Jasmine’s Reads on booktube.  I was NOT tagged for this by Claire from Claire Reads Books but we have since decided to advocate in favor of booktube/book blogging cross-pollination so I am doing this tag as a self-proclaimed ambassador of booktuber/book blogger relations.  Also I like literary fiction, as you may have noticed.

1. How do you define literary fiction?

Claire had a really good answer for this so I highly recommend watching her video, but I’ll try to come up with something.

I basically think of literary fiction as fiction that’s particularly concerned with style, structure, and quality of prose. That’s not to say that literary fiction has ‘good writing’ and genre fiction doesn’t (because first of all, ‘good writing’ is way too subjective to be a real standard, and second of all, that statement would be blatantly untrue), but in genre fiction, I see the prose more as a vehicle to move the story forward, and in literary fiction, I think the writing and stylistic choices dovetail more with the author’s thematic intentions. I also think an interest in social commentary is a common feature.

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study

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Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Since Claire already talked about The Idiot by Elif Batuman (my go-to answer for any question like this) I will instead go with Conversations With Friends.  What I think Sally Rooney does so well is balance characters’ inner lives and interpersonal lives, and while I think she did that splendidly with Connell and Marianne in Normal People, I think it’s Conversations With Friends where her prowess at characterization is most prominent.  Each of the characters in this book are frustrating, complex, contradictory, and layered, none more-so than the protagonist, Frances, one of the most vivid characters I’ve ever encountered.

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing

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A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

I just finished reading this the other day so it’s the one that’s on my mind the most at the moment (and Jasmine also used this in her tag), but it’s honestly the perfect answer.  Eimear McBride has a striking prose style that can probably best be categorized as stream of consciousness, but it’s not the kind of rambling Joycean stream of consciousness that a lot of us think of when we heard the term.  Instead, sentences are abrupt, terse – thoughts begin and then cut themselves off and trip over one another.  It takes some getting used to, but once you warm up to the style McBride’s skill is undeniable.  She writes with similar prose in her sophomore novel, The Lesser Bohemians, which I actually read first, though I do consider A Girl if a Half-formed Thing superior in just about every way.

“I love the. Something of all it. Feeling ruined. Fucking. Off. I’m ready. Ready ready. To be this other other. To fill out the corners of this person who doesn’t sit in the photos on the mantel next to you.”

– Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure

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How to be Both by Ali Smith

It’s an obvious answer, but I’m going with it.  How to be Both is noteworthy for the fact that it’s a novel comprised of two different halves: one story is about a girl, George, living in contemporary London, and the other is about a painter, Francescho, in Renaissance Italy.  50% of the editions printed begin with George’s half, the other 50% begin with Francescho’s.  But rather than being two disparate short stories connected in a single binding, How to be Both is very much a novel, one whose meaning shifts ever so slightly depending on which section you get first.  It sounds like a gimmick, but it’s done brilliantly.

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes

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Milkman by Anna Burns

Set in 1970s Belfast, Milkman is a novel about the Troubles, which captures the atmosphere of social unrest with unerring precision.  Anna Burns perfectly brings to life this community characterized by paranoia and terror and distrust, and ties into that a searing commentary on what it’s like to live under surveillance as a young woman.  It’s both a universal portrait of femininity in times of crisis, and distinctly Northern Irish in its portrayal of the Troubles, tackling social themes on both micro and macro levels.

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I could actually use this book as an answer to every single one of these questions, but I have to put it here, because I have never read another book that offers more of an unapologetic examination of what it means to be human.  It’s hard to talk about this novel’s plot as there’s a twist partway through that reframes the entire narrative and I think it’s best to go into it not knowing what that twist is, but, this is my favorite book, so I don’t know how to give praise much higher than that.

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel

I’m going to name a couple:

Literary thriller: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Literary sci-fi: Kindred by Octavia Butler
Literary historical fiction: Human Acts by Han Kang
Literary erotica: The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Drive Your Plow: technically a murder mystery about a woman living in the Polish wilderness whose neighbors keep mysteriously dying, but it’s literary for the attention paid to the slightly offbeat prose style, and the fact that the narrative is less concerned with the murders themselves than their social implications.

Kindred: sci-fi because it’s about time travel, literary because the time travel is just a vehicle used to explore social themes of Civil War era slavery in the US.

Human Acts: about the Gwangju Uprising in 1980 Korea; literary for the prose style and unconventional format.

The Pisces: a woman has sex with a merman — but it’s literary for its highly intelligent commentary on love, loss, loneliness, desire, mental health, and femininity.

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

Given how much I adored The Pisces, I could definitely go for some more literary romance/erotica.  But honestly, I read across all genres, so seeing ‘literary’ attached to anything is a big selling point for me.

In an effort to further my booktube/book blog cross-pollination agenda, I will be tagging a bunch of people.  But feel free to skip it, obviously, and feel free to do it if I didn’t tag you!

Tagging:

Callum | Hannah | Sarah | Naty | EmilyLou
Karissa | Elise | Laura Frey | Laura Tisdall

book review: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

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THE ISLAND OF SEA WOMEN by Lisa See
★★★☆
Scribner, March 2019

 

It took me over three months to finish this book, and it wasn’t for a lack of interest in the author; this was my seventh Lisa See novel and interestingly, not even my least favorite. I wouldn’t say there’s anything ostensibly wrong with this book, and it’s not exactly a radical departure from the rest of See’s historical fiction: it follows a friendship between two women against the backdrop of a turbulent period in East Asian history (though here the setting is the Korean Jeju Island instead of See’s usual China).

But despite the tried and true blueprint whose familiarity should have been comforting, I really struggled to get invested in The Island of Sea Women. I think my main issue was with the protagonist, Young-sook (whose name I just had to look up even though I finished this book only two days ago, so that’s never a good sign). Young-sook and her best friend Mi-ja are haenyeo – female divers – and See’s exploration of this culture is as thorough as ever. However, Young-sook herself makes no particular impression, and I think it’s mostly down to how anemically drawn her character is: she’s a model haenyeo, so she loves being a haenyeo; she’s meant to desire marriage and children, so she desires marriage and children; she’s meant to honor her family, so she honors her family. She’s a collection of cultural values rather than a distinct person – a pitfall that I think See gracefully avoids with the protagonists of each of her other novels that I’ve read. I don’t ordinarily feel that she needs to sacrifice character development to establish historical context, but sadly I did here.

About 60% through the book, during a scene of a horrifying and brutal massacre, See’s decision to tell this story through Young-sook’s eyes finally, finally made narrative sense to me, but up until that point, I had been wondering why the focus hadn’t been on Mi-ja – an infinitely more interesting character for the ways in which she didn’t fit as neatly into the society in which she was raised. Their friendship is competently portrayed, but it’s missing a spark for me that I felt in so many of her other books, notably Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls.

And I think that’s the word I keep coming back to when I think about this book: it’s competent. It’s a great crash course in Jeju history for those of us who weren’t already familiar with the island. It’s an occasionally heart-wrenching story about loss and the inability to forgive. It’s just not spectacular, and it never quite gains the momentum needed for the most brutal scene to make as much of an impact as it should have.

All said, I liked this book but I didn’t love it, but I undoubtedly should have pushed myself through the rocky beginning rather than dragging this reading experience out for three months; and everyone else seems to adore it, so I’d encourage you to give it a shot if it interests you. But if you’re looking for somewhere to start with Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls remain my go-to recommendations.

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


You can pick up a copy of The Island of Sea Women here on Book Depository.

wrap up: June 2019

I feel like I blinked and the second half of June was over so I’m kind of scrambling to get this wrap up together, but… thankfully I didn’t read very much?

 

  1. The Fire Starters by Jan Carson ★★★★★ | review
  2. Devotion by Madeline Stevens ★★★★☆ | review
  3. We Went to the Woods by Caite Dolan-Leach ★★★★☆ | review
  4. Human Chain by Seamus Heaney ★★★★★ | review
  5. Country by Michael Hughes ★★★★☆ | review
  6. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See ★★★☆☆ | review
  7. Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson ★★★★★ | review to come

Favorite & Honorable mention in no particular order: The Fire Starters by Jan Carson & Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson
Least favorite: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See – but 3 stars isn’t bad!

JUNE TOTAL: 7
YEARLY TOTAL: 63

Also, I’m not going to make a whole post about this but since we’re halfway through the year, here are my top 5 books I’ve read so far in 2019:

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*Not pictured: Maus by Art Spiegelman.

Other posts from this month:

Life updates:

Nothing much – I’ve fallen behind on blogging again and particularly replying to comments and reading other people’s posts, but thankfully I have a whole week off work so I’m hoping to catch up soon!

 

Currently reading: The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story edited by Anne Enright, The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (audiobook narrated by Colin Farrell), and Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb.

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

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

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!

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.

EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review

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!