book review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke





PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke
★★★★★
Bloomsbury, 2020


I’ve never read Susanna Clarke’s much-acclaimed debut Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and I don’t always do well with the sort of speculative novel where the reader is thrust into an undefined circumstance and spends the majority of the book waiting for the full picture to cohere. And that is… pretty much exactly what Piranesi is, so, it’s a testament to this book’s brilliance that I loved it despite how ill-suited it is to my personal tastes. So if, like me, you read the first page of Piranesi and groaned because it read like a bunch of gibberish, I’m going to have to implore you to stick with it for a hot second and let it work its magic. (It’s short!)

The thing that quickly won me over is Susanna Clarke’s writing and how beautifully-rendered this imaginative setting is. I think it’s best to go into Piranesi knowing as little as possible, so I won’t really talk about the plot, but suffice to say it’s set in a giant House which is essentially a labyrinth of halls, each lined with hundreds of statues, and in the middle of the House is an ocean. I’m usually not one to relish in descriptive writing but this setting was just so striking, so delightfully offbeat, that I was drawn in pretty effortlessly. As others have said, this book is kind of like a puzzle, but not one that you should race through the book to solve; it’s the sort of reading experience that’s better savored. 

Without saying too much, what hit me the hardest about this book is its depiction of loneliness. It’s ostensibly a cerebral, ethereal, illusory book, but the longer I think about it, the more current and relevant it feels and its inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist makes perfect sense to me. I’m delighted to have read it and it’s a book I know I’m going to want to return to.

book review: The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin






THE ART OF FALLING by Danielle McLaughlin
★★★☆☆
Random House, 2021


I started out loving this but it did eventually start to fall in my estimation. I adored McLaughlin’s writing: it’s clear-eyed and pacy and this is, on the whole, a fairly enjoyable read. I’m also a sucker for anything having to do with art or art history or museums, so I loved the plot thread involving a woman turning up out of nowhere and claiming to have been responsible for a sculpture supposed to have been created by the late, famous artist Robert Locke. 

Where I felt this novel fell short of its potential was in its domestic storyline: it follows art historian Nessa’s failing marriage (her husband has recently cheated on her and they’re trying to get past it for the sake of their teenage daughter), and it also introduces a figure from Nessa’s past who holds a secret about her. For one thing, the two threads (Nessa’s work at the museum and her home life) don’t dovetail in a way that I find satisfying or realistic (Luke’s hyperfixation on the statue was something I found almost absurd in how it was so transparently shoehorned in there). And for another thing, the secret about Nessa’s past revealed something that shone rather a different light on her husband’s cheating, which I felt could have added so much depth and complexity to that dynamic but which instead ended up feeling rather underexplored. 

On the whole this wasn’t bad but I also don’t think it quite showcases what Danielle McLaughlin is capable of.

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

Women’s Prize 2021 Longlist Predictions

I’ve already talked a little bit about how I don’t plan on following the Women’s Prize this year as closely as I usually do… but at this point it’s tradition to make a predictions list and get everything spectacularly wrong, so, let’s do this.

I WILL be updating my Women’s Prize Complete Longlist history post here and its corresponding Google Doc here as soon as the list drops, so you can look forward to that, if that is the sort of thing you look forward to.

As of now, here are my predictions:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Sure! I’ve heard mostly positive things and I’d like the excuse to finally read it. That said, I’d like to read Nella Larsen’s Passing first, which I understanding The Vanishing Act is sort of in conversation with, so I might not get around to reading it before the shortlist drops if it does make the list.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  YES. I loved this book and felt it didn’t get nearly enough attention. I thought it was a great snapshot of the withering effects of the Korean beauty industry on a group of young women.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Hannah loved it and thinks I also would, so yeah, why not.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  This narrowly missed out on being one of my top books of 2020 so yes, absolutely.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  I’m not sure… I did mean to read this ages ago and was looking forward to it but since then my interest has waned a bit. I think I’ve read a few too many lukewarm reviews. I’d still probably give it a shot though.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  I don’t think I’ll read this, at least not right now, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it on there; the consensus seems overwhelmingly positive.

The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  I mean, you know me and Irish lit. I don’t know a whole lot about this one but I’ve heard good things.

Luster by Raven Leilani

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  I was honestly a little underwhelmed by this book, but yeah, if it makes the list I think it will have earned its spot.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  No. I can’t even explain why but I have a deeply intuitive feeling that I won’t get on with this.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  This was my favorite novel of 2020, so yes.

The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  Definitely. Would love the excuse to read this.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  Yes! Haven’t read this yet but Moss is great.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes (winner).

Would I be happy to see it?  I don’t have a horse in this race. I’ve never read Robinson and I do intend to, some day, but also don’t feel an urgent need to do that next month. So if it’s on the list I won’t read it, but I also won’t begrudge the Robinson stans their happiness.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Has the author been longlisted before?  Yes.

Would I be happy to see it?  You literally could not pay me to read this book, so no.

The Yield by Tara June Winch

Has the author been longlisted before?  No.

Would I be happy to see it?  I know almost nothing about this, but it would be nice for at least one Australian novel to make the list.

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Has the author been longlisted before?  No (debut).

Would I be happy to see it?  Also know very little about this one. No strong preference here.


What are you hoping and expecting to see on the list? Comment and let me know!

Favorite Books of 2020

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

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

First, some stats:

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

10. The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

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

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

9. This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith

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

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

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

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

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

7. The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

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

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

1. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

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

Surprise, surprise.

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

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

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


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

Favorite Book Covers of 2020

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

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

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

What was your favorite book cover of 2020?

Anticipated 2021 Releases

As of today, I have read 18/34 of my Anticipated 2020 Releases and I honestly feel pretty good about that! So, onward and upwards – here are some 2021 titles that have caught my eye. Summaries in italics are from Goodreads and all dates are U.S. publication dates unless otherwise indicated.

The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin
January 5, 2021
Random House

Nessa McCormack’s marriage is coming back together again after her husband’s affair. She is excited to be in charge of a retrospective art exhibition for a beloved artist, the renowned late sculptor Robert Locke. But the arrival of two enigmatic outsiders imperils both her personal and professional worlds: A chance encounter with an old friend threatens to expose a betrayal Nessa thought she had long put behind her; and at work, an odd woman comes forward with a mysterious connection to Robert Locke’s life and his most famous work, the Chalk Sculpture.

As Nessa finds the past intruding on the present, she realizes she must decide what is the truth, whether she can continue to live with a lie, and what the consequences might be were she to fully unravel the mysteries in both the life of Robert Locke and her own. In this gripping and wonderfully written debut, Danielle McLaughlin reveals profound truths about love, power, and the secrets that define us.

I’ve never read Danielle McLaughlin but I heard good things about her collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets — plus, you know me, if it’s Irish I’ll read it. I think this sounds great.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss
January 12, 2021
FSG

They rarely speak to each other, but they take notice—watching from the safety of their cabins, peering into the half-lit drizzle of a Scottish summer day, making judgments from what little they know of their temporary neighbors. On the longest day of the year, the hours pass nearly imperceptibly as twelve people go from being strangers to bystanders to allies, their attention forced into action as tragedy sneaks into their lives.

At daylight, a mother races up the mountain, fleeing into her precious dose of solitude. A retired man studies her return as he reminisces about the park’s better days. A young woman wonders about his politics as she sees him head for a drive with his wife, and tries to find a moment away from her attentive boyfriend. A teenage boy escapes the scrutiny of his family, braving the dark waters of the loch in a kayak. This cascade of perspective shows each wrapped up in personal concerns, unknown to each other, as they begin to notice one particular family that doesn’t seem to belong. Tensions rise, until nightfall brings an irrevocable turn.

I was a huge fan of Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall, though that still remains the only thing I’ve read by her. Really looking forward to this, which seems like another short and punchy offering from Moss.

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry
January 12, 2021
Doubleday

With three novels and two short story collections published, Kevin Barry has steadily established his stature as one of the finest writers not just in Ireland but in the English language. All of his prodigious gifts of language, character, and setting in these eleven exquisite stories transport the reader to an Ireland both timeless and recognizably modern. Shot through with dark humor and the uncanny power of the primal and unchanging Irish landscape, the stories in That Old Country Music represent some of the finest fiction being written today.

Night Boat to Tangier is actually the first and only Kevin Barry that I’ve read and I wasn’t a massive fan; still, there was something about his writing that intrigued me and I think a short story collection from him might be the perfect next move for me.

The Divines by Ellie Eaton
January 19, 2021
William Morrow

The girls of St John the Divine, an elite English boarding school, were notorious for flipping their hair, harassing teachers, chasing boys, and chain-smoking cigarettes. They were fiercely loyal, sharp-tongued, and cuttingly humorous in the way that only teenage girls can be. For Josephine, now in her thirties, the years at St John were a lifetime ago. She hasn’t spoken to another Divine in fifteen years, not since the day the school shuttered its doors in disgrace.

Yet now Josephine inexplicably finds herself returning to her old stomping grounds. The visit provokes blurry recollections of those doomed final weeks that rocked the community. Ruminating on the past, Josephine becomes obsessed with her teenage identity and the forgotten girls of her one-time orbit. With each memory that resurfaces, she circles closer to the violent secret at the heart of the school’s scandal. But the more Josephine recalls, the further her life unravels, derailing not just her marriage and career, but her entire sense of self.

Moving between present-day Los Angeles and 1990s Britain, The Divines is a scorching examination of the power of adolescent sexuality, female identity, and the destructive class divide. Exposing the tension between the lives we lead as adults and the experiences that form us, Eaton probes us to consider how our memories as adults compel us to reexamine our pasts.

This is a debut that I think has a lot of potential — I love the sound of the summary.

Cathedral by Ben Hopkins
January 21, 2021
Europa Editions

A thoroughly immersive read and a remarkable feat of imagination, Cathedral tells a sweeping story about obsession, mysticism, art, and earthly desire in gripping prose. It deftly combines historical fiction and a tale of adventure and intrigue.

At the center of this story is the Cathedral. Its design and construction in the 12th and 13th centuries in the town of Hagenburg unites a vast array of unforgettable characters whose fortunes are inseparable from the shifting political factions and economic interests vying for supremacy. Around this narrative center, Ben Hopkins has constructed his own monumental edifice, a novel that is rich with the vicissitudes of mercantilism, politics, religion, and human enterprise.

This is a long one and it has a downright abominable cover but The Pillars of the Earth is one of my favorite books of all time, so how can I resist?

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
February 2, 2021
Scribner

Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.

Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.

I adore Melissa Broder — The Pisces is one of my favorite books of all time. I have slightly more tempered expectations for her newest novel after reading a few reviews but I’m sure I’ll still devour this.

The Project by Courtney Summers
February 2, 2021
Wednesday Books

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to. 

I would not in a hundred years pick this book up for its summary, but Courtney Summers’ Sadie is one of the best YA novels I’ve ever read so my curiosity is really just getting the better of me here.

100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
February 2, 2021
FSG

Transgressive, foulmouthed, and devastatingly funny, Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends is a revelatory spiral into the imperfect lives of queer men desperately fighting–and often losing–the urge to self-sabotage. His characters solicit sex on their lunch breaks, expose themselves to racist neighbors, sleep with their coworker’s husbands, rub Preparation H on their hungover eyes, and, in an uproarious epilogue, take a punk band on a disastrous tour of Europe. They also travel to claim inheritances, push past personal trauma, and cultivate community while living on the margins of a white supremacist, heteronormative society.

Armed with a deadpan wit that finds humor in even the lowest of nadirs, Brontez Purnell–a widely acclaimed underground writer, filmmaker, musician, and performance artist–writes with the peerless zeal, insight, and horniness of a gay punk messiah. From dirty warehouses and gentrified bars in Oakland to desolate farm towns in Alabama, Purnell indexes desire, desperation, race, and loneliness with a startling blend of levity and vulnerability. Together, the slice-of-life tales that writhe within 100 Boyfriends are a singular and uncompromising vision of an unexposed queer underbelly. Holding them together is the vision of an iconoclastic storyteller, as fearless as he is human.

This summary, on the other hand, has my name written all over it. Very excited for this.

The Survivors by Jane Harper
February 2, 2021
Flatiron Books

Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences.

The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away… 

I was sort of lukewarm about Harper’s The Dry, but her book summaries always sound like such solid thrillers so I probably won’t be able to resist giving this one a try.

Open Water
February 4, 2021
Viking

Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential debut of recent years.

This sounds gorgeous and I am VERY excited to hopefully pick up my ARC soon.

Kink, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell
February 9, 2021
Simon & Schuster

Kink is a dynamic anthology of literary fiction that opens an imaginative door into the world of desire. The stories within this collection portray love, desire, BDSM, and sexual kinks in all their glory with a bold new vision. The collection includes works by renowned fiction writers such as Callum Angus, Alexander Chee, Vanessa Clark, Melissa Febos, Kim Fu, Roxane Gay, Cara Hoffman, Zeyn Joukhadar, Chris Kraus, Carmen Maria Machado, Peter Mountford, Larissa Pham, and Brandon Taylor, with Garth Greenwell and R.O. Kwon as editors.

I don’t need to say a whole lot since this collection has been everywhere, but yeah, this sounds phenomenal and that list of authors is unreal.

We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman
February 9, 2021
Random House

Not too long ago, Cass was a promising young playwright in New York, hailed as “a fierce new voice” and “queer, feminist, and ready to spill the tea.” But at the height of all this attention, Cass finds herself at the center of a searing public shaming, and flees to Los Angeles to escape — and reinvent herself. There she meets her next-door neighbor Caroline, a magnetic filmmaker on the rise, as well as the pack of teenage girls who hang around her house. They are the subjects of Caroline’s next semi-documentary movie, which follows the girls’ violent fight club, a real-life feminist re-purposing of the classic.

As Cass is drawn into the film’s orbit, she is awed by Caroline’s ambition and confidence. But over time, she becomes increasingly troubled by how deeply Caroline is manipulating the teens in the name of art. When a girl goes missing, Cass must reckon with her own ambitions and ask herself: in the pursuit of fame, how do you know when you’ve gone too far?

I love books set in LA and books about terrible woman and books that chronicle dysfunctional relationships so this seems like it’ll probably be a winner.

Dark Horses by Susan Mihalic
February 16, 2021
Gallery/Scout

Fifteen-year-old equestrian prodigy Roan Montgomery has only ever known two worlds: inside the riding arena, and outside of it. Both, for as long as she can remember, have been ruled by her father, who demands strict obedience in all areas of her life. The warped power dynamic of coach and rider extends far beyond the stables, and Roan’s relationship with her father has long been inappropriate. She has been able to compartmentalize that dark aspect of her life, ruthlessly focusing on her ambitions as a rider heading for the Olympics, just as her father had done. However, her developing relationship with Will Howard, a boy her own age, broadens the scope of her vision.

I’ve been assigned this to review so I’ll be reading it soon — I feel like it could be a huge hit or a huge miss and not much in between so I’m excited to let you guys know what I think!

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
March 2, 2021
Knopf

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

MY FAVORITE AUTHOR HAS A NEW BOOK COMING OUT. IT IS FINALLY HAPPENING. IF THIS IS ANOTHER THE BURIED GIANT SITUATION I WILL NOT BE HAPPY BUT OTHERWISE. I AM OVERJOYED.

An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura
translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
March 2, 2021
Columbia University Press

Minae Mizumura’s An I-Novel is a semi-autobiographical work that takes place over the course of a single day in the 1980s. Minae is a Japanese expatriate graduate student who has lived in the United States for two decades but turned her back on the English language and American culture. After a phone call from her older sister reminds her that it is the twentieth anniversary of their family’s arrival in New York, she spends the day reflecting in solitude and over the phone with her sister about their life in the United States, trying to break the news that she has decided to go back to Japan and become a writer in her mother tongue.

I’ve never read Mizumura but my friend Claire speaks so highly of her I couldn’t resist requesting a copy on Netgalley — this sounds like it could be quietly moving up and up my alley.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
March 2, 2021
Park Row

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

I was on the fence about this one because I don’t always love historical fiction that has a past/present slant, but this also sounds like it could be quite a lot of fun so I’m looking forward to giving it a shot.

Edie Richter is Not Alone by Rebecca Handler
March 9, 2021
Unnamed Press

In Perth, Edie finds herself in a remarkably isolated but verdant corner of the world, but Edie has a secret: she committed an unthinkable act that she can barely admit to herself. In some ways, the landscape mirrors her own complicated inner life, and rather than escaping her past, Edie is increasingly forced to confront what she’s done. Everybody, from the wildlife to her new neighbors, is keen to engage, and Edie does her best to start fresh. But her relationship with her husband is fraying, and the beautiful memories of her father are heartbreaking, and impossible to stop. Something, in the end, has to give.

Since reading Jessica Gross’s brilliant debut Hysteria this year I’ve paid more attention to Unnamed Press, and this title and summary caught my eye.

The Secret Talker by Geling Yan
March 30, 2021
HarperVia

Beautiful, diligent, and passive, Hongmei is the perfect wife to Glen, an intelligent and caring college professor. But her quiet life in Northern California fractures when a mysterious person begins e-mailing her, pulling her into an enthralling and frightening game of cat-and-mouse. Who is stalking her? And how does this mysterious stranger know her deepest, darkest secrets?

As Hongmei is forced to confront her own dark past in China, the façade of her idyllic life is laid bare. Increasingly desperate and self-destructive, her one hope is to turn the tables on her tormentor. Investigating the stalker’s own secret history may irrevocably tear her marriage and her world apart—a risk she must take to regain control of her life.

This is quite a short novel — under 200 pages — and it sounds riveting, really looking forward to this.

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
April 6, 2021
Gallery/Scout

When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.

In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the Northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the water is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.

McMahon is a local author that I’ve enjoyed in the past, I always try to get my hands on her books when she has a new one out. This sounds excellent.

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
April 13, 2021
Doubleday

The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions: Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing Oxycontin, a blockbuster painkiller that was a catalyst for the opioid crisis.

Patrick Radden Keefe writing about the opioid crisis — SAY NO MORE, I AM THERE.

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley
April 20, 2021
Algonquin Books

London has changed a lot over the years. The Soho that Precious and Tabitha live and work in is barely recognisable anymore. And now, the building they call their home is under threat; its billionaire-owner Agatha wants to kick the women out to build expensive restaurants and luxury flats. Men like Robert, who visit the brothel, will have to go elsewhere. The collection of vagabonds and strays in the basement will have to find somewhere else to live. But the women are not going to go quietly. They have plans to make things difficult for Agatha but she isn’t taking no for an answer.

I really loved Mozley’s debut Elmet — it has faded ever so slightly in my estimation in the years since I’ve read it, but I think it was a solidly strong novel and Mozley seems like an author who could do very interesting things.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone
April 20, 2021
Scribner

Cat lives in Los Angeles, about as far away as she can get from her estranged twin sister El and No. 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where they grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to the grand old house, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. No. 36 Westeryk Road is still full of shadowy, hidden corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues all over the house: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

I think this is one Hannah sent to me on one of her Netgalley browses — this sounds like the sort of psychological thriller that I could really enjoy.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami
translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd
April 20, 2021
Europa Editions

Hailed as a bold foray into new literary territory, Kawakami’s novel is told in the voice of a 14-year-old student who subjected to relentless torment for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, the boy chooses to suffer in complete resignation. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate who suffers similar treatment at the hands of her tormentors.

These raw and realistic portrayals of bullying are counterbalanced by textured exposition of the philosophical and religious debates concerning violence to which the weak are subjected.

Unlike the rest of the world I have not yet read Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs (which I do plan on reading!) but I love the sound of this one too.

Leda and the Swan by Anna Caritj
May 4, 2021
Riverhead Books

It’s Halloween night on a pastoral East Coast college campus. Scantily costumed students ride the fine line between adolescence and adulthood as they prepare for a night of drinking and debauchery. Expectations are high as Leda flirts with her thrilling new crush, Ian, and he flirts back. But by the end of the night, things will have taken a turn.

A mysterious young woman in a swan costume speaks with Leda outside a party–and then vanishes. When Leda later wakes up in Ian’s room the next morning, she is unsure exactly what happened between them. Meanwhile, as the campus rouses itself to respond to the young woman’s disappearance, rumors swirl, suspicious facts pile up, and Leda’s obsession with her missing classmate grows. Is it just a coincidence that Ian used to date Charlotte, the missing woman? Is Leda herself in danger? As Leda becomes more and more dangerously consumed with the mystery of Charlotte and questions about Ian, her motivations begin to blur. Is Leda looking for Charlotte, or trying to find herself?

I don’t know much about this one but I love the sound of the summary.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
May 4, 2021
Roaring Book

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars with sci-fi scope, Lost with a satisfying resolution.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

I will be honest with you: whoever on Roaring Book’s marketing or editorial team is responsible for the tagline “LOST with a satisfying resolution” is the reason we’re here right now. But I love the summary as well — I’m a lot pickier about YA than most other things but this might be one of the few I take a chance on next year.

The Rules of Revelation by Lisa McInerney
May 13, 2021
John Murray (UK)

Ireland. Great nationalists, bad mothers and a whole lot of secrets. Ryan Cusack is ready to deliver its soundtrack.

Former sex-worker Georgie wants the truth about Ryan’s past out there but the journalist has her own agenda.

Mel returns from Brexit Britain, ill-equipped to deal with the resurgence of a family scandal.

Karine has always been sure of herself, till a terrible secret tugs the rug from under her.

Maureen has got wind that things are changing, and if anyone’s telling the story she wants to make sure it’s her.

A riotous blast of sex, scandal, obsession, love, feminism, gender, music, class and transgression from an author who is ‘totally and unmistakably the real deal’ (Kevin Barry).

I don’t think we’ll see this published in the U.S. any time soon so I’ll definitely be sourcing a copy from overseas — McInerney is one of my all-time favorite writers and I’ve adored both books so far in her Glorious Heresies trilogy so I cannot wait to get my hands on this.

Madam by Phoebe Wynne
May 18, 2021
St. Martin’s Press

For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. A boarding school for girls, it promises that the young women lucky enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs—not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”

It also doesn’t take long for Rose to suspect that there’s more to the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor—a woman whose ghost lingers everywhere—than anyone is willing to let on. In her search for this mysterious former teacher, Rose instead uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, forcing her to confront the true extent of the school’s nefarious purpose, and her own role in perpetuating it.

Well, this sounds creepy and brilliant.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
May 18, 2021
Tin House Books

At fifty-one years old, twins Jeanie and Julius still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation in the English countryside. The cottage they have shared their entire lives is their only protection against the modernizing world around them. Inside its walls, they make music, and in its garden, they grow everything they need to survive. To an outsider, it looks like poverty; to them, it is home.

But when Dot dies unexpectedly, the world they’ve so carefully created begins to fall apart. The cottage they love, and the security it offered, is taken back by their landlord, exposing the twins to harsh truths and even harsher realities. Seeing a new future, Julius becomes torn between the loyalty he feels towards his sister and his desire for independence, while Jeanie struggles to find work and a home for them both. And just when it seems there might be a way forward, a series of startling secrets from their mother’s past come to the surface, forcing the twins to question who they are, and everything they know of their family’s history.

I really enjoyed another book by Claire Fuller and have been meaning to read more of her backlist, but this sounds promising too.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
June 1, 2021
Atria Books

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

Probably one I don’t need to say a whole lot about since it was a 7-figure deal and has been getting a lot of press, but, that summary sounds VERY up my alley and I will be preordering this for sure.

Daughter of Sparta by Claire Andrews
June 8, 2021
Little, Brown and Co

Seventeen-year-old Daphne has spent her entire life honing her body and mind into that of a warrior, hoping to be accepted by the unyielding people of ancient Sparta. But an unexpected encounter with the goddess Artemis—who holds Daphne’s brother’s fate in her hands—upends the life she’s worked so hard to build. Nine mysterious items have been stolen from Mount Olympus and if Daphne cannot find them, the gods’ waning powers will fade away, the mortal world will descend into chaos, and her brother’s life will be forfeit.

Guided by Artemis’s twin-the handsome and entirely-too-self-assured god Apollo-Daphne’s journey will take her from the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the riddle-spinning Sphinx of Thebes, team her up with mythological legends such as Theseus and Hippolyta of the Amazons, and pit her against the gods themselves.

Claire is a friend of mine but even if she weren’t I’d have this on my TBR. Greek mythology! Daphne! I’m going to pick this up in a couple of weeks and I’m hoping it’ll be riveting escapism.

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor
June 22, 2021
Riverhead

In the series of linked stories at the heart of Filthy Animals, set among young creatives in the American Midwest, a young man treads delicate emotional waters as he navigates a series of sexually fraught encounters with two dancers in an open relationship, forcing him to weigh his vulnerabilities against his loneliness. In other stories, a young woman battles with the cancers draining her body and her family; menacing undercurrents among a group of teenagers explode in violence on a winter night; a little girl tears through a house like a tornado, driving her babysitter to the brink; and couples feel out the jagged edges of connection, comfort, and cruelty.

I still haven’t read Brandon Taylor’s Real Life (I know, I know) but if I’m being honest I’m even more excited for Filthy Animals. I’m basing this assessment off having read ONE short story by him, but I just have a gut feeling that short stories might be the medium where Taylor most excels.

Survive the Night by Riley Sager
July 6, 2021
Dutton Books

It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing—survive the night.

You say Riley Sager, I read it, it’s that simple. One of the most consistently entertaining thriller writers working today.

Nobody, Somebody, Anybody
July 6, 2021
Ecco

Amy Harney has a job as a chambermaid for the summer, but on August 25, she will take the exam to become an EMT (third time’s the charm!) and finally move on with her life. In the meantime, she doesn’t mind scrubbing toilets immaculately clean or tucking the sheet corners just so. In fact, she tells herself that her work is a noble act of service to the rich guests at the yacht club.

Amy’s profound isolation colors everything: her job, her aspirations, even her interactions with the woman at the deli counter. And as the date for the EMT exam comes closer, Amy’s anxiety ratchets up in a way that is both familiar and troubling. In desperation, she concocts a “placebo” program—a self-prescribed regimen for her confidence, devised to trick herself into succeeding.

When her landlord, Gary, starts to invite her over for dinner—to practice his cooking skills as he awaits approval of his Ukrainian fiancé’s visa—Amy makes her first friend since her mother’s passing. Alongside this unexpected connection comes a surge of hopeful obsession that Amy knows she must reckon with before the summer’s end.

I’m a sucker for this type of cover, so that’s what drew me in, but this sounds like a good old fashioned disaster woman book that I’ll adore.

Magma by Thora Hjorleifsdottir
translated by Meg Matich
July 13, 2021
Grove Atlantic

Twenty-year-old Lilja is in love. As a young university student, she is quickly smitten with the intelligent, beautiful young man from school who quotes Derrida and reads Latin and cooks balanced vegetarian meals. Before she even realizes, she’s moved in with him, living in his cramped apartment, surrounded by sour towels and flat Diet Cokes. As the newfound intimacy of sharing a shower and a bed fuels her desire to please her partner, his quiet and pervasive manipulations start to unravel her.

In an era of pornification, his acts of nearly imperceptible abuse continue to mount as their relationship develops. Lilja wants to hold onto him, take care of him and be the perfect lover. But in order to do so, she gradually lets go of her boundaries and concurrently starts to lose her sense of self.

This summary sounds SO up my alley and I hope to pick this up soon!

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro
translated by Frances Riddle
July 13, 2021
Charco Press (UK)

After Rita is found dead in a church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation, Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.

I still haven’t read anything published by Charco Press! But I love the sound of this.

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
July 20, 2021
Doubleday Books

An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later, she steps into the bathroom for a break from her toddler’s demands, only to discover a dense patch of hair on the back of her neck. In the mirror, her canines suddenly look sharper than she remembers. Her husband, who travels for work five days a week, casually dismisses her fears from faraway hotel rooms.

As the mother’s symptoms intensify, and her temptation to give in to her new dog impulses peak, she struggles to keep her alter-canine-identity secret. Seeking a cure at the library, she discovers the mysterious academic tome which becomes her bible, A Field Guide to Magical Women: A Mythical Ethnography, and meets a group of mothers involved in a multilevel-marketing scheme who may also be more than what they seem.

I mean… that summary. Yes.

Horse Girls, edited by Halimah Marcus
August 3, 2021
Harper Perennial

Executive director of Electric Literature and editor-in-chief of Recommended Reading Halimah Marcus’s HORSE GIRLS, an anthology that reclaims the horse girl stereotype through personal stories that explore privilege, ambition, traditionally feminine and unfeminine desires, and wildness, featuring essays by Carmen Maria Machado, Adrienne Celt, Rosebud Ben-Oni, T Kira Madden, Courtney Maum, and Maggie Shipstead, among others, to Sarah Stein at Harper Perennial.

I regret to inform you all that I was a horse girl. Also, Carmen Maria Machado and T Kira Madden???! Say no more.

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
August 3, 2021
Ecco

Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterparties offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family.

A high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner tries to relive his glory days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers attend a wedding afterparty and hatch a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair sparks between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher obsessed with Moby-Dick. And in the sweeping final story, a nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.

Sorry to end on a sad note — Anthony Veasna So passed away this month unexpectedly at the age of 28. Assuming his debut short story collection ends up being published as scheduled, I think it sounds brilliant and I’m looking forward to reading it, though it will be with regret that we won’t get to experience more of his writing.


So, here we are. I doubt I’ll be able to read all of these books next year (I know everyone says this all the time but I actually would like 2021 to be a backlist-heavy year for me), but as of now I’m really looking forward to reading as many off this list as I can.

What are your most anticipated books of 2021? Comment and let me know!

book review: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh




Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
★★★★☆
originally published in 1945

I’m rarely at a loss for words but Brideshead Revisited has thoroughly stumped me.  I cannot put my finger on how I feel about this book.  It took me the better part of half a year to read, so… that is certainly a point against it – but I also found it remarkable?  I think it’s worth noting that my expectations going into this book were all wrong; I neither expected nor needed this to be an explicit romance between Charles and Sebastian, but I did expect Charles’ and Sebastian’s relationship (in whatever form) to provide this novel’s framework, and I couldn’t help but to find it occasionally aimless as a result – though that isn’t really a fair criticism.  I also felt a bit “right book, wrong time” syndrome-y about this; I didn’t feel like I was in the right headspace to engage with it exactly the way it deserved (notably on a theological level).  But that said, I did find it worthwhile and certain passages quite arresting.  I think this book captures the feeling of nostalgia in a poignant and special way – it left me aching for a time that I never lived through.  I’m definitely going to want to revisit this one day when I can give it the attention it deserves.


VOTE IN THE U.S. ELECTION.

wrap up: September 2020

  1. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare ★★★★☆
  2. Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris ★★★★★
  3. They Never Learn by Layne Fargo ★★★★★ | review
  4. The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare ★★★★☆
  5. Antony & Cleopatra by William Shakespeare ★★★★★
  6. The Year of Lear by James Shapiro ★★★★☆
  7. Henry VI Part 1 by William Shakespeare ★★★★☆
  8. Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas ★★★☆☆ | review
  9. The Lost Village by Camilla Sten ★★★☆☆ | review
  10. The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher ★★★★☆
  11. The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare ★★★☆☆
  12. Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yu ★★★☆☆ | review
  13. Luster by Raven Leilani ★★★★☆ | review
  14. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo ★★★☆☆

SEPTEMBER TOTAL: 14
YEARLY TOTAL: 86

Favorite: Antony & Cleopatra
Least favorite: Catherine House

Other posts from September:

I managed to read 4 books for my and Hannah’s readathon: Catherine House, Tokyo Ueno Station, Luster, and The Lost Village. Of course, since then I’ve also acquired (checks notes) 5 more ARCs from Netgalley, so it does feel a bit like I’m running on a hamster wheel here.

Life updates:

Pass.

Currently reading:

I am so sick of myself. If I don’t finish Death in Her Hands and Brideshead Revisited in October I am throwing them into the ocean.

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Women in Translation Recommendations

As I mentioned in this post, the lovely Jennifer asked you guys to submit Women in Translation recommendations, which we’ve compiled into this post here. We got some really incredible submissions – so enjoy, and read Women in Translation year round! 🙂


Robert Pisani, Malta (The Bobsphere

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugrešić (translated from Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth)

If one looks up a definition of a museum, one will get an explanation on the lines of a building containing artifacts of importance. However technically, going by that definition, every dwelling is a museum of sorts. In The Museum of Unconditional Surrender Ugrešić takes this concept to interesting territories. 

Throughout the novel we readers are presented with pictures and artifacts while the narrator of the book explains their significance to her own personal history , these memories and objects range between quirky to bleak. By the end of the book the reader learns how a personal history, encapsulated in objects, has a way of contributing to events in world history.  I’m a fan of playful narratives and this does not disappoint.


Rachel Matthews, Nottingham, England

Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich (translated from Russian by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait) 

In Chernobyl Prayer, Svetlana Alexievich manages to create beauty out of devastation. She brings together a series of monologues from the people of Chernobyl affected by the 1986 nuclear power plant accident. The choices she makes in how the monologues are structured elevate this from being a simple record of events to something closer to poetry with themes of hope, duty and uncertainty running throughout. The reference to prayer in the book’s title is fitting as those sharing their stories do so without confirmation they will be read, some will die before the book is even published, but they speak anyway in hopes that their sacrifice will not be forgotten. Alexievich has immortalised their words in this wonderful book and it was a truly humbling experience to read.


Kate Carberry

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez (translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell)

Mariana Enriquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire is a beautiful and chilling short story collection which most definitely warrants a read. Under the shadow of Argentina’s former dictatorship, characters must undergo constant challenges to their values and must negotiate between their morals and their survival. The horror in these stories succeeds because it strikes a balance between the violence visited upon the characters’ bodies and the psychological terror that comes with self-knowledge and experience.


Areeb Ahmad, New Delhi, India (Bankrupt Bookworm)

Father Maybe an Elephant, and Mother Only a Small Basket, But… by Gogu Shyamala (translated from Telugu by Various)

Shyamala’s stories, written in Telugu which is a prominent Indian regional language, are cut from the fabric of her own life and seek to depict the complexity of Dalit experiences. Even though each story has a different translator, overall it’s a translation that mimics and retains the unique flavours of Shyamala’s Telugu, quite distinct from the more standardized version. These stories deal with serious themes like discrimination, caste violence, and emancipation, yet are never pedagogic or heavy-handed. The prose is simple but sensuous, especially in its lush descriptions of nature. Published by an indie press that prides itself on its anti-caste focus, this collection creates marvels out of the mundane, distils the essence of life, and leaves a bit of itself inside the reader.

Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi (translated from Bengali by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak)

Mahasweta Devi focused on women’s lives in her writing and explored how a female subaltern is doubly marginalized, first for being female and second for being subaltern (here meaning belonging to a lower caste or class). This micro-collection of three stories centres around the image of breasts to highlight the callous oppression and gross objectification of women through their bodies. During any conflict or war, a woman’s body becomes the primary target of an attack as she is seen as a receptacle of honour and shame by a patriarchal society. Devi explodes this extremely twisted notion in these three stories and shows how a body, especially the female body, can become a site of exertion of authoritarian power as well as of gendered resistance against that power.


Emma Wilson, Canberra, Australia 

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated from German by Susan Bernofsky)

In this slim and eerie novel, Erpenbeck tracks the fortunes of one lakeside house in Brandenburg. At first I couldn’t be fully immersed because of how removed the perspective seemed, as the different inhabitants over the course of a century come in and out of focus. But in the end I think that’s the book’s strength: its wider view of a century of massive change for Germany. I loved the idea that places are haunted by disappearances, dispossessions, and repossessions, and how the house itself remains both stoic and affected throughout.


Eric Karl Anderson, London, England (Lonesome Reader)

Love by Hanne Ørstavik (translated from Norwegian by Martin Aitken)

Full review here

There’s an aching feeling of loneliness as well as a foreboding sense of danger throughout Hanne Ørstavik’s short, razor-sharp novel Love. The story concerns Vibeke and her adolescent son Jon who have recently moved to a small town in the north of Norway. Jon is about to turn nine years old, but rather than prepare to celebrate they embark on independent journeys deep into the night meeting strangers and travelling through the freezing near-empty landscape. The narrative continuously switches focus between the mother and son’s points of view without any line breaks or indications that it’s changing. This produces the curious effect of a synchronicity and connection between the two, but, as the novel continues, it becomes apparent there’s a dangerous disconnect between them. Although there’s little plot, a quiet tension hums throughout each section making this a deeply meditative, haunting and curiously mesmerising novel which captures an eerie sense of estrangement from the people we’re supposed to be closest to. 

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated from Latvian by Margita Gailitis)

Full review here

Soviet Milk alternates between the perspectives of an unnamed mother and daughter over a number of years from 1969 to 1989. They have a tumultuous relationship with each other and both struggle to find their place in society because this was a period of time when Latvia was still under Soviet rule. The mother is a skilled doctor specializing in female fertility, but finds life in the communist system stiflingly oppressive. Equally the daughter struggles to grow and nurture her developing intellect in such a regimental system. This is a moving and deeply poignant story of an unconventional mother-daughter relationship and a country undergoing radical social change as Latvia regains its independence. It illuminates the distinct personalities of certain characters in how the weight of history impacts them, but also shows a cumulative sense of national identity.


Elena Faverio, Smithtown, New York, United States (Elena Faverio

Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya (translated from Japanese by a few different companies and a lot of hardworking fans!)

Fruits Basket is about a young orphan, Tohru Honda, who gets involved with the mysterious Soma family who are suffering under an ancient family curse. Whenever one of the family members is ill, stressed, or embraced by a member of the opposite sex, they transform into one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. This was the first ever manga I read (way back in 2007) and it has recently come back into mainstream popularity with a reanimation of the 26-episode anime series (it was first animated in 2001)! It is one of the most popular Japanese manga of all time, with over 18 million copies sold. Fruits Basket is light-hearted, tender, heart-wrenching, and funny in turns–and it’s a great read for young and mature readers alike!


Kamil Lopuch, Warsaw, Poland (What Kamil Reads)

Shielding the Flame by Hanna Krall (translated from Polish by Joanna Stasinska & Lawrence Weschler)

Shielding the Flame if translated word for word from Polish would be titled “To make it before God,” which doesn’t sound as smooth as the former, but illustrates more clearly the doomed fight Krall’s reportage describes.

In the seventies of the last century, Hanna Krall published a series of interviews with Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Edelman, a man reluctant to talk about the past in a myths-creating manner, in Krall’s reportage, commemorates the ghetto’s insurgents, but he also exposes everyday life during the most dehumanising circumstances.

Those who have never read Holocaust literature, fiction or non-fiction, need to brace themselves for the inhumane imagery of that period. Additionally, this set of interviews alternates between the Ghetto Uprising and the post-war life of Edelman, who became a well-known cardiac surgeon, which might make it a bit harder to follow. However, even though it’s a gut-wrenching read, it is gripping and extremely current too, due to its overarching humanism.


Marek Veselý, Czech Republic

Purge by Sofi Oksanen (translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers)

This book was intense but so good! Aliide is an old woman living alone in Estonia when a Russian girl named Zara shows up on her door, running from some kind of trauma. You learn about both their (very traumatic) backstories, but probably the most memorable thing is the atmosphere. There’s resentment and unspoken pain behind every interaction. And the more you learn about both (especially Aliide) the more sympathies change. Not a book for the faint of heart but definitely well-written and impactful.


Emily Polson, Brooklyn, New York, United States (@emilycpolson)

La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono (translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel)

Set in Central Africa, this coming-of-age novella follows the orphan Okomo whose grandmother has warned her away from befriending a group of young women she considers “indecent and mysterious.” Naturally, Okomo begins spending time with them. When she finds herself falling in love with their leader, she has to decide whether to follow the strict conventions of her Fang culture or rebel and become an outcast alongside her gay uncle. La Bastarda subverts all kinds of cultural norms and western ideas about queer love, community, and identity, which scholar Abosede George does an excellent job of contextualizing in the afterword. It’s also worth noting that this is the first novel by a woman from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English, making it a landmark addition to the canon of translated literature.

Vagabonds by by Hao Jingfang (translated from Chinese by Ken Liu)

Set in the year 2196, Vagabonds follows a group of young delegates returning to Mars after a five-year cultural exchange on Earth. Mars won the war for independence a hundred years prior, but now escalating tensions between the two planets threaten the peace. After her return, Luoying, a Martian dancer, struggles to reintegrate to her homeland’s collectivistic society after experiencing the independence and creative freedom of life on capitalist Earth. Meanwhile, Eko, a documentary filmmaker from Earth, experiences opposing internal conflicts over his surprising appreciation for Martian society, with its open access to information and non-existent intellectual property laws. The two are vagabonds, stuck between cultures, never to be fully at home again on either planet. It’s easy to think of Mars as representative of China and Earth as Western society, but this meandering, philosophical novel cracks open readers’ assumptions and veers away from simple metaphors. It’s a lengthy tome, but well worth the investment.


Sabrina Unrein, Colorado, United States (bookish sabrina)

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri (translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles)

Tokyo Ueno Station paints a picture of life in modern-day Tokyo as if observed from a crowded train platform. You may only catch snippets of conversation, the call of a bird as it passes overhead, or a glimpse of an umbrella dripping with rain. These observations are woven together with reflections and ruminations of an unhoused man who later becomes a ghost. Both in life and death, he occupies a park near the Ueno train station and reflects on his life and his surroundings. There is so much to consider in this novel about Japanese history, our legacies, death, and how we treat one another. I really loved it for its brevity and thematic complexity, although its style may deter some readers.

Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica (translated from Spanish by Sarah Moses)

This is a novel about a near-future in which people begin breeding and raising humans for consumption. The normalization of cannibalism is blurred and ambiguated through carefully controlled language and a redefinition of what it means to be a person. What makes this novel great is how it goes beyond its premise to examine the power of language, the danger of individualism, and the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want. I don’t consider myself to be a squeamish person, but this novel had my stomach fluctuating between queasy churning and a knotted pit of dread. Tender is the Flesh is a visceral, often unpleasant read that will not appeal to everyone, but I found it quite impactful. I was also grateful that it was relatively short, as I do not know if my constitution could have handled much more body horror.


Laura Frey, Edmonton, Canada (Reading in Bed)

The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart (translated from the French by Barbara Bray)

This novel is about the end of slavery on the Caribeean island Guadaloupe and the end of a family line, Télumée being the last of a long line of mothers and daughters. But of course it’s not really the end; the effects of slavery are ongoing, and Télumée is such a vivid, arresting presence that it’s impossible to believe she’ll leave no trace. You may have gathered that this is not a light novel, but the writing and the translation is light, as in airy, and dreamlike. The prose is so effortless and perfect, it’s easy to forget this is a translation, but it’ll also make you want to read in the original French, if you can. 

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre)

The International Booker Prize isn’t always the most accessible place to start diving into translations. They tend to favour the experimental. This 2020 shortlister probably qualifies, but it’s actually accessible at many levels. Are you familiar with the foundational Argentinian epic poem El Gaucho Martín Fierro? Perfect, this is a satire and you’ll love it. Not so much? That’s fine too, you can relax and enjoyr a drug-fueled romp across the pampas, or get serious and appreciate the sharp post-colonial and feminist critique. Oh, and if you need a 19th century lesbian romance to hold you over till Ammonite is released, China Iron‘s got you covered.


Nicola Balkind, California, United States (robotnic / instagram.com/robotnic)

Four by Four by Sara Mesa (Translated from Spanish by Katie Whittemore)

Insular communities are an excellent setting for gothic stories, and Four by Four is no exception. Set at Wybrany College –– only allegedly established in 1943 –– is an “elite alternative to the orphanages and shelters of the day,” where the wealthy keep their kids away from the rapidly depopulating city of Vado. The “Specials”, those on scholarship, become pets to the elite students; students pets to the masters; and on it goes. Through its short chapters, erratic timeline, and two-part narration the school’s web of exploitation is gradually weaved. Just try to find your footing in this unsettling milieu. 

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney)

Valeria Luiselli’s irreverent second novel in Spanish was written in collaboration with workers at a Jumex factory in Ecatepec. The workers would listen to chapters as they worked, discuss them, and return the recordings of their discussions back to the author. The story follows Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez, an auctioneer in Mexico City. His wares? The teeth of notorious and infamous people from Petrarch to Marilyn Monroe. Highway is endearingly eccentric and charming company on this hilarious, madcap journey on which his only aim is to impress his son.


Cara O’Sullivan 

After the Wall by Jana Hensel (translated from German by Jefferson Chase)

This is a memoir about growing up in East Germany, and what it’s like to have childhood experiences that don’t exist anymore. My favorite element is the contrast of generations; older East Germans find it harder to adapt to the change, but younger Germans can’t completely understand what it was like to grow up in a divided country with such different experiences on either side of the wall. Hensel writes in a collective voice to show that she’s speaking for her cohort who have one foot in the past and another in the present. Really recommend this!


Isy Abraham-Raveson, Philadelphia, United States

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lingren (translated from Swedish by Florence Lamborn) 

Pippi Longstocking is a joyful story of an unconventional, super-strong girl teaching others the importance of breaking conventions and being oneself. Pippi is wonderfully imperfect. She can be self-centered and is easily annoyed, but also hates injustice and always stands up to bullies, whether they are little boys or police officers. Unfortunately, the book is not free of racism–Pippi is full of strange tales of racialized others from her worldly travels. If sharing this book with children, it would certainly require a discussion about prejudice. But overall, Pippi is a role model for all of us, embodying courage, strength, independence, playfulness, and the power of eccentricity.


Matthew Sciarappa, New York, United States (Matthew Sciarappa)

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous (translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette) 

The Frightened Ones explores the psychological traumas of living under dictatorship in present-day Syria through an intimate look into the pressure-cooked minds of two women. It is an emulsion of reality and memory, blurring storytelling boundaries between an in-person narrator and one in a manuscript. The effect creates a sort of meta-autofiction, where truth is overrun by fear and we as readers are left questioning what is commentary, biography, or fiction. The complexity of Wannous’ text softens its focus, making it hard to describe, but its propulsive pace and meticulous sense of atmosphere make it worth the effort. Ultimately, The Frightened Ones reads less like a novel and more like an experience.


Jennifer Helinek, New York, United States (Insert Literary Pun Here)

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (translated from Russian by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers)

Gessen and Summers collected various stories from this renowned author and placed them into four categories: Songs of the Eastern Slavs, Allegories, Requiems, and Fairy Tales. But they all share dark, fable-esque perspectives on jealousy, repression, and revenge. I realized while reading this that I’d come to expect a certain interiority from short stories in general, and a focus on minute personal psychology. But Petrushevskaya’s stories are externalized; the outside world is treated as a nightmarish reflection on the grimness inside. There’s a sense that we’ve made the world in our image, and that the result is not pretty. This then raises the question of how you cope if what’s inside you doesn’t match the stories the world is feeding you, forcing characters to create or to find their own worlds. It’s fabulous in all senses of the word, and whether or not you speak Russian, I encourage you to look up some video interviews with this author, if only to appreciate her enviable hat collection.

Hannah and I have too many ARCs: an emergency readathon – 2020 edition

Last year around this time Hannah and I created a 2-person readathon to tackle some of our ARCs, and we are going to do the same this year, for the last two weeks of September.

I say it’s a 2-person readathon just because we are not planning on doing prompts or hashtags or anything that would accompany an Official readathon, but if you want to join us, by all means do! The only prompt is to read your ARCs.

I’m not going to do a set TBR because I know I won’t follow it, so I’m just going to show you all of my possibilities.

So without further ado… my ARCs. These are only the ones I’ve acquired since this time last year but I think this is more than enough to choose from.

So… what should I read?! Help!

EDIT: I’ll update this as I go.

READ:

Catherine House ★★★☆☆ | review
The Lost Village ★★★☆☆ | review