Best Books of 2017

I had a pretty great reading year, so narrowing this down was kind of torturous, but here we go.  Here are my favorite reads of 2017!  As with my least favorite books list, these are books that I read in 2017 – they were not necessarily published this year.

Honorable mentions: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, Bright Air Black by David Vann, The Absolutist by John Boyne, Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Translations by Brian Friel, An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, King Lear by Shakespeare… it took me a very long time to narrow this list down, as you can see.

2323003010. The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh.  I came very close to not including this, because it’s a play, not a novel, unlike everything else on this list… and yet.  The books I was considering talking about in its stead just didn’t have the same impact on me.  The Pillowman is one of the darkest and most macabre things I’ve ever read, but also one of the most stimulating and fascinating.  A writer, Katurian, living in some kind of totalitarian state, is interrogated about the content of his stories, which bear a striking resemblance to a series of child murders that have occurred recently in this society.  In his typical style of black comedy, McDonagh examines the relationship between those who create art and those who interact with it – what responsibility does an author have over how his work is received?  Grim, devastating, twisted, and mind-blowingly entertaining.

Right at this moment, I don’t care if they kill me. I don’t care. But they’re not going to kill my stories. They’re not going to kill my stories. They’re all I’ve got.

and-then-there-were-none9. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  I couldn’t be happier about discovering Agatha Christie this year – so far I’ve read six of her books and I haven’t given a single one a rating lower than 4 stars.  But the standout for me was actually the first one I read, And Then There Were None, her acclaimed murder mystery set on an island off the English coast.  Ten strangers are invited to a mysterious dinner party on this island, and then one by one, begin to get picked off – and they each believe the murderer is one of their fellow guests.  Rather tragically, I’d already seen the BBC miniseries and knew the twist before I read the book, but I suppose it’s a testament to Christie’s skill that I still loved the novel so much.  It’s delightfully creepy and atmospheric, and even knowing the resolution ahead of time, it still blew me away.

In the midst of life, we are in death.

184985588. Bird Box by Josh Malerman.  This wonderfully creepy book is everything I could have hoped for in a horror novel.  Rather than trying to scare the reader through monsters and gore, Malerman takes a simple premise and taps into a primal fear – that of darkness and the unknown.  In Bird Box, there’s something outside that’s causing civilization to collapse, because when people see it, they lose their minds and commit acts of violence against themselves and against others.  Forced to stay inside in a house full of strangers, twenty-something-year-old pregnant Malorie does whatever she can to survive in this new world, and her story is tragic and harrowing and unexpectedly moving.  This is hands down the best horror novel I’ve read, and one of the scariest.

You can smell it, too. Death. Dying. Decay. The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead.

329685587. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan.  This is a book that crept up on me.  From the very first page I was struck by the mastery of Donal Ryan’s prose, but it wasn’t until I was pretty far into this book that I realized just how strong of an effect it was having on me.  All We Shall Know is a contemporary Irish novel about 33-year-old Melody Shee, who finds herself pregnant by a 17-year-old boy – the novel chronicles Melody’s pregnancy as well as her developing friendship with a young Traveller girl.  Seeking atonement for an event in her past, Melody is one of the best anti-heroines I’ve ever encountered, and one of the characters who’s haunted me the most from any of the books I’ve read this year.  Donal Ryan’s storytelling and insight into human nature is fiercely, unnervingly realistic, and this book is as unsettling as it is beautiful.

I could still fly to London and end this, and come back and say, Yes, Pat, I was lying, and he could persuade himself to believe me, and we could take a weekend break somewhere and be massaged together, and walk along a river hand in hand, and stand beneath a waterfall and feel the spray on our faces and laugh, and think about the cave behind the falling water, cut off from the world, and all the roaring peace to be found there, and have a drink in the bar after dinner, and go to bed, and turn to one another’s flesh for warmth, and find only a hard coldness there, and no accommodation, no forgiveness of sins; and we’d turn away again from one another, and lie apart facing upwards and send words into eternity about babies never born, and needs unmet, and prostitutes and internet sex and terrible unforgivable sins and swirling infinities of blame and hollow retribution, and we could slow to a stop as the sun crept up, and turn from each other in familiar exhaustion, and sleep until checking-out time on pillows wet with tears.

173436. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.  I am in complete and utter awe of this book.  Though it begins as a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, C.S. Lewis instead focuses on the story of one of Psyche’s sisters, Orual, and tells an absolutely heart-wrenching story that meditates on beauty and ugliness, on a woman’s role in society, and on man’s relationship with the gods.  Orual is one of the most complex female characters from anything I’ve ever read, and this book made me realize I’d been severely underestimating C.S. Lewis ever since I disliked Narnia when I was younger.  This book is an absolute masterpiece.  I lost track of the amount of times I had to go back and re-read a passage because I found it so striking.

“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

294410965. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney.  This book in set in modern day Cork, Ireland, and follows five characters – a teenage drug-dealer, his alcoholic father, a notorious gangster, his elderly mother, and a former prostitute taking refuge in religion.  This story is told with biting and irreverent humor, and I found it wickedly entertaining – but more than that, it’s an unflinching and powerful look at crime in contemporary Ireland, and the inter-generational cycle of poverty that drives it.  Despite the pervasive humor, this is a rather bleak and depressing read, culminating in a positively harrowing conclusion for at least one of the characters, but if you can stomach the bleakness and the profanity, this book is so rewarding and thought-provoking.

I hold onto her and tell her I love her and tell her I’ll do anything she wants me to do but beyond my words and her weight in my arms there’s the knowing we fucked this up. There was something beautiful here once.”

9781101906729-us4. Human Acts by Han Kang.  This is the most brutal book I have read, ever.  As in, graphic descriptions of decaying corpses type brutal.  But it’s also one of the most beautiful.  Set in South Korea during the Gwangju Uprising of 1980, Human Acts is told in a series of vignettes that center around a boy, Dong-ho, who is killed in the massacre.  In this novel Han Kang examines the question of whether it’s possible for human beings to live without violence, or whether violence is an inherent part of the human experience (a theme also present on a more microcosmic scale in The Vegetarian).  Human Acts is powerful, thoughtful, and unsparing.  I couldn’t stop thinking about this book for weeks.

Every time I recall the blood that flowed in the small hours of that night – literally flowed, gushing over the stairs in the pitch dark – it strikes me that those deaths did not belong solely to those who died. Rather, they were a substitute for the deaths of others. Many thousands of deaths, many thousands of hearts’ worth of blood.

299837113. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  Set against the backdrop of the Japanese annexation of Korea in the early twentieth century, Pachinko is a multi-generational family saga that follows one family from a small Korean village to Japan.  In their new home, Sunja and her family face systematic discrimination for being Korean – they’re forced to navigate their new life never fully accepted by this society in which they’re made to live.  Not only is Pachinko a gorgeous, immersive, heartbreaking story, it’s also incredibly informative – Min Jin Lee provides an unflinching look at Japanese-Korean relations, and paints a detailed portrait of the Korean immigrant experience.  But history never overpowers the narrative or these brilliant, vibrant characters who take center-stage.  Pachinko is a beautiful novel and a nuanced exploration of national and cultural identity, and even though I read this book in February, I still think about it all the time.

Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.

332532152. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne.  A sweeping epic about the life of a gay man growing up in twentieth century Ireland, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.  Boyne balances humor and gravitas with aplomb – I’ve never read anything else that strikes this balance so masterfully.  The novel follows the life of Cyril, adopted and raised by the wealthy Avery family but constantly reminded by his adoptive parents that he’s not a real Avery, and he happens to be in love with his only friend, Julian.  Cyril is an aggravating yet incredibly well-crafted protagonist – he makes arguably unforgivable mistakes, but never out of malice, only out of a desire to find his place in a society that refuses to accept him.  In this novel Boyne also examines the sociopolitical climate of Dublin in the twentieth century, exploring themes of religion, sexuality, the hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic church, and the way social attitudes change over time.  It’s a stunning and ambitious book, both heartening and heartbreaking.  I sobbed a grand total of three times while reading this, but even though it emotionally wrecked me, I had tears in my eyes from laughter much more often.

Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.

img1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  This book is a masterpiece.  I don’t even know what to say about it that hasn’t already been said – I don’t think I ever even wrote a proper review of this because I just have no idea how.  Set in Salinas Valley, California in the early 20th century, East of Eden follows two families – the Trasks and the Hamiltons, whose intertwining fates reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the story of Cain and Abel.  Spanning across multiple generations, the scope of this novel is huge, but it’s a page-turning story that I found myself incapable of putting down, until I finished all 600 pages in less than a week.  This book is somehow both larger than life and intimately personal – these characters and their fates seem so much bigger than my own reality, but I also saw so many echoes of myself in these pages.  Though it’s undeniably a sad story from start to finish, East of Eden is ultimately about choosing to rise above darkness, and it ends up being an unexpectedly compassionate and hopeful commentary on human nature.  Intelligent, thoughtful, passionate, beautiful, and an absolute masterclass in storytelling.  Read this book.

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

Have you guys read any of these?  And what were your favorite books of 2017?  Please let me know!

25 at 25

Happy birthday to me.  In honor of turning 25 (yikes), I wanted to celebrate the milestone by documenting my top 25 books at this point in my life.  Vaguely in order but also not really.  Also excluding plays, because that would make this far too difficult.

  1. JK Rowling, the Harry Potter series
  2. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
  3. Homer, The Iliad
  4. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
  5. Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
  6. Donna Tartt, The Secret History
  7. W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage
  8. Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You
  9. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
  10. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
  11. John Steinbeck, East of Eden
  12. Kate Chopin, The Awakening
  13. Dante, The Divine Comedy
  14. Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
  15. Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
  16. Hannah Kent, Burial Rites
  17. Vergil, The Aeneid
  18. Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth
  19. Anthony Doerr, All The Light We Cannot See
  20. George Orwell, 1984
  21. Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
  22. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
  23. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
  24. Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
  25. Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

So there you have it.  What are your all-time favorites?  And what must-reads am I missing from my list?  Comment and let me know!  And thanks to everyone who reads my blog.  You guys are awesome and I hope you have a great day.

top 5 female characters from literature

Happy International Women’s Day!  In honor of all the badass ladies out there (and because I apparently don’t read enough fantasy or sci-fi to participate in this week’s Top 5 Wednesday), I decided to make a list of my top 5 favorite female characters from literature.  (Note: this was very difficult and I will probably change my mind in ten minutes, but here we go.)


409207Sansa Stark
(A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin): Sansa is a character who’s incredibly close to my heart (and not only because I once commented on a buzzfeed article defending her and received an absolutely shocking amount of vitriol from the male nerd community who felt I was infringing upon their right to attack a fictional traumatized teenage girl).  I see a lot of myself in Sansa, the good and the bad, the quiet strength and also the overly idealistic tendencies.  What makes Sansa such an important character, I think, is that she’s able to navigate this violent and patriarchal society while also retaining her sense of self: she matures, but she never becomes hardened or loses her kindness, which is all too often represented as a naive quality which needs to be outgrown in order to survive.
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harper-perennial-editionEsther Greenwood (The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath): I only read The Bell Jar a year ago, and was overwhelmed by the extent to which I related to Esther.  I think there’s a lot that every 20-something can relate to, that crushing anxiety that comes with a lack of life direction.  But what’s so important about Esther is that while the bildungsroman genre has traditionally been dominated by the male narrative (The Catcher in the Rye, Of Human Bondage, Huck Finn, etc – all great books, but still), The Bell Jar manages to provide a candid exploration of the female experience of mental illness, sex and sexuality, and navigating new adulthood.  Somewhat a stand-in for Plath herself, and somewhat a stand-in for all young women, Esther remains a seminal character for the influence she’s had on the coming of age narrative.
 .
imgCathy Ames (East of Eden by John Steinbeck): In contrast with characters like Sansa who I admire for their goodness, Cathy is terrible.  But as a character, that’s what makes her so great.  There’s something undeniably compelling about this character who’s described to have been born without a conscience, who murders her parents and shoots her husband without a second thought.  And I don’t even consider either of those spoilers, as they happen so early in the book – there’s still so much more to come.  I can’t think of a character, male or female, who can match Cathy for ruthlessness, and yet, by the end of the novel, I found myself strangely moved and affected by her.  Love her or hate her or love to hate her, she’s utterly unforgettable.
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51-fmbtiw9l-_sx327_bo1204203200_Clytemnestra (classics): Narrowing down my classics lady between Clytemnestra, Helen, and Medea was easily the most time-consuming part of compiling this list. (Honestly, if this list were a bit more truthful, I’d probably have included all three of them, but that would get boring to read.)  I decided to go with Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon and mother of Orestes, famous for murdering her husband after his homecoming from the Trojan War, in order to avenge her daughter who Agamemnon had sacrificed before sailing to Troy.  The exciting thing about Clytemnestra is that in a very patriarchal society, she exists outside traditional gender roles: she rules over Mycenae in Agamemnon’s absence, she speaks in public (a very male-dominated sphere), and she not only orchestrates the plot of her husband’s murder, but she enacts it herself, according to Aeschylus and Euripides.
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594139
Rebecca de Winter (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier): She’s not really even in the book, and yet she’s one of the most famous characters from 20th century literature.  Honestly, what an icon.  Everything we know about Rebecca, the dead wife of Maxim de Winter, is hearsay, as we follow the second Mrs. de Winter trying to navigate her new life at the luxurious but lonely Manderly estate.  Everything our narrator does is compared by the other characters to Rebecca, who begins to take on a mythologized form – but it turns out the real Rebecca was even more fascinating.
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It was hard narrowing down this list!  Who are some of your favorite fictional ladies from literature?

the best and worst of 2016

hey guys!  I’ve decided to kick off the new year (a few weeks late) by getting into the habit of book blogging.  this is a little belated, but I figured a good way to start would be to post a list of my best and worst reads of 2016.  note that these were not necessarily published in 2016, just books I read last year.  so without further ado:

THE TEN BEST:

1. everything i never told you by celeste ng.  an asian-american family crumbles in 1970s ohio after the death of their eldest daughter lydia.  (historical fiction/literary fiction/occasionally shelved as YA.)

everythinginevertoldyou-celesteng

 

there’s something undeniably admirable about a book that can say so much in so few words.  though everything i never told you only adds up to about 200 pages, celeste ng leaves no stone unturned as she deftly examines the racism and sexism of 1970s america in this compelling and heartbreaking story.  i felt so thoroughly immersed in this world and this family that it was difficult to put the book down at the end, and although celeste ng said everything there was to say, i selfishly wanted more.  this is one of those books that i recommend to absolutely everyone – i think around 10 of my goodreads friends have read it and each one has given it 5 stars.  how often does that happen?  this book is really something special and i cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

2. a little life by hanya yanagihara.  a group of friends navigate post-grad life in new york city while they all deal with personal demons… the most depressing thing you will ever read.  (literary fiction.)

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on the other hand, you know how every once in a while you find a book that feels so intimately personal that you almost don’t want to share it with anyone?  that’s this book for me.  I mean, there are enough other reasons for not recommending a little life – massive trigger warnings for rape, childhood sexual assault, suicide, abuse, eating disorders, mental and physical illness… and on top of that, it’s just not for everyone!  even if you can stomach the difficult subject matter, this book really is only for a certain reader.  this is a story about extremes – there’s an almost surrealist fairytale-like quality to the pervasive darkness in this novel and you have to be willing to embrace that.  reading this book is legitimately one of the most intense experiences i went through this year and it ends up being one of those ‘you either love it or hate it’ kind of things, so if you didn’t like it, that’s fine, but i loved it.  every second of it.  even while i was suffering.

3. burial rites by hannah kent.  a woman is accused of murder and sentenced to death in 1800s iceland.  based on the true story of agnes magnusdottir, the last woman to ever receive the death penalty in iceland.  (historical/literary fiction.)

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simultaneously bleak and beautiful, burial rites is a story about losing authority of your own narrative, struggling to endure when your life is out of your hands.  it’s some seriously impressive writing for a debut, and alternates between third person past tense and first person present, a tricky format to pull off, though hannah kent does so effortlessly.  it’s one of the most impressively atmospheric things i’ve ever read – the extreme isolation of rural iceland is almost palpable.  it’s a powerful and lyrical book.  haunting and memorable.

 

 

4. the bell jar by sylvia plath.  plath’s disturbing semi-autobiographical novel about a woman grappling with mental illness.  (classics/literary fiction)

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i know there’s nothing particularly original about being a young woman who identifies with the protagonist of the bell jar but here we are.  i’m just going to leave this quote here, because this passage hit me harder than arguably anything i have ever read:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

5. the vegetarian by han kang (trans. deborah smith).  a south korean woman stops eating meat as a reaction to a violent dream.  (literary fiction.)

the_vegetarian_-_han_kang

this isn’t a book that addresses the moral and ethical implications behind a vegetarian diet (which would have been fine with me – i’ve been a vegetarian for a decade).  instead, han kang takes a metaphorical route, and it’s hard to say what exactly this book is ‘about’.  there are a lot of layers to unravel: gender roles, sexual freedom, mental illness, the restriction of societal expectations, and the underlying question: can the violence inherent to the human experience ever be completely eradicated?  this tiny novel is comprised of three novellas which are told from three different POVs, which makes it easy to read it in one sitting, so while you may not spend too many hours with it, i think it’s impossible to come away from this book without thinking about it for weeks after the fact.  i’ve never read a book like this.  (massive trigger warnings for eating disorders, starvation, gore, violence… and it’s just one of those where you  have to be able to embrace the weirdness.  so it’s not for everyone, but it’s very rewarding for a certain type of reader.)

6. oedipus the king by sophocles (trans. robert fagles).  the king of thebes learns the truth behind a prophecy which proclaimed he would kill his father and marry his mother.  (classics/plays.)

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having already known the story of oedipus i’m not sure what i was expecting, but this play was more intense and devastating than i could have imagined.  i’ve read a lot of greek tragedies this year, and oedipus is the undisputed victor.  fast-paced and tense, this story is an incredibly compelling read, which isn’t even to mention thematic richness: fate vs free will, sight and blindness, conflict between the individual and the state, oedipus’ role as victim or tragic hero, and ultimately, how much of this story was inevitable…?   i was surprised at just how hard-hitting this was.

 

 

7. tender by belinda mckeon.  the story of two friends in 1990s dublin, whose relationship devolves into an unhealthy obsession.  (literary fiction.)

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fragmented dialogue representing a deteriorating mental state is such a hit or miss prose technique but i have never seen it done as well as it is here.  belinda mckeon is a skilled writer who makes you empathize with her characters even when you don’t want to, even when you’re hiding behind your hands cringing, because even when they do terrible things nothing is outside the realm of plausibility, and it’s nothing most people can condemn without being a bit of a hypocrite, because mckeon taps into the raw and ugly side of emotional vulnerability.  tense and frantic and brilliant.

 

8.  the song of achilles by madeline miller.  a modern retelling of the iliad, focusing on the relationship between achilles and patroclus.  (historical fiction/fantasy-mythology.)

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look, i understand why some iliad purists hate this book.  miller certainly takes a lot of liberties with characterizations, and achilles ends up fundamentally more likable than he was ever meant to be.  but despite this, i loved this book.  i can’t help it.  i thought miller’s prose was beautiful and the setting was brilliantly evocative.  this book was both wonderful and devastating escapism.  there’s a lot of hype surrounding this book, so i will just stress that you shouldn’t approach it thinking it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever read.  just enjoy it for what it is, which is a poignant and moving story.

 

9. in cold blood by truman capote.  in a small kansas town in 1959, four members of the clutter family are murdered.  this is capote’s account of the capture and execution of the killers.  (nonfiction/true crime.)

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books 1-8 on this list always had a definite spot, but i vacillated on these last two.  in cold blood nearly didn’t make the cut, but it didn’t feel right to exclude it, as this book probably had one of the biggest impacts on me of anything i’ve read this year.  this book is disturbing.  not in the same way as a story about monsters or zombies – disturbing in that it tells a side of this story that you probably would have been more comfortable not knowing.  while the vivid and occasionally sympathetic lens through which we view the murderers is deeply unsettling, it’s a fascinating psychological study behind what drove this brutal crime.  an absolute must-read for all lovers of classic american lit and true crime books.

 

10.  more happy than not by adam silvera.  eternal sunshine of the spotless mind + gay teenagers set in the bronx in the near future.  (YA.)

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it’s no secret that i tend to dislike YA, and here’s the reason: i find the optimism (for lack of a better word) of the genre frustratingly unrealistic – as the majority of this list should tell you, i tend to veer toward the dark and depressing, and i often find YA a bit too neat and clean.  but, without giving anything away, let me just say, more happy than not is not a happy book.  adam silvera gets his hands dirty with this one, and i ended up feeling more deeply affected than i think i ever have from a contemporary YA novel.

 

 

 

because this list turned out overwhelmingly depressing, shout out to some happier books that almost made the cut: girl waits with gun by amy stewart, the price of salt by patricia highsmith, daddy long legs by jean webster.

THE FIVE WORST:

1. red rising by pierce brown.  in a dystopian future where society is built on an elaborate caste system, katniss everde – i mean, darrow – must compete against tributes from other districts – sorry, must compete against teenagers of the noble elite – in order to ultimately overthrow the corrupt governing system of panem – wait, mars.  (YA sci fi/fantasy.)

51sz0tslgal-_sx330_bo1204203200_while hunger games rip offs are a dime a dozen, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest… if the particular competition we’re entering is ‘hunger games rip offs which are offensively terrible.’  i’ve practically written a novel on this already, so i’ll keep it brief.  women are raped, tortured, and killed on just about every other page in order to further the power struggles of the men.  humankind has literally colonized mars but for some reason i’m supposed to accept that gender politics haven’t matured since the 21st century?  i’m supposed to just accept that for a book published as recently as 2014, we can’t do better than this?  there are only about two female characters with speaking roles, one of whom is killed at the offset to fuel our insufferable protagonist’s manpain, and both of whom are obviously in love with the handsome, unfailingly talented darrow.  (when i say unfailingly talented, i mean, darrow is good at everything.)  and even if we gloss over how offensive this book is, it is terribly written.  it drones on for 400 pages in an insufferable staccato rhythm, all sense of tension obliterated by the author’s insistence on using a deus ex machina twist on about thirty five separate occasions.  bottom line: misogynistic, derivative garbage.  do yourselves a favor and ignore the hype, because i am here to tell you that this drivel would never have been published if the author weren’t a conventionally attractive white guy.

2. the mirror empire by kameron hurley.  um… parallel universes… some kind of blood magic… trees that eat people…???  yeah i’m out i have no idea what this book was about.  (fantasy.)

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listen guys, i tend to consider myself a decently intelligent person.  but i have no idea what in the everloving fuck was going on for the entire 500 pages that i spent with this book.  too many characters, too many locations which weren’t adequately described to the extent that i couldn’t picture anything, not a clear enough sense of which character was in which parallel universe at any given time… this was a super cool premise but the result was a mess.  throw in a brutal matriarchy where women rape their husbands for the hell of it and some of the most juvenile writing i’ve ever encountered, and this book was downright painful to get through.  for some real feminist fantasy, go for the fifth season by n.k. jemisin.

 

3. mischling by affinity konar.   konar puts a literary spin on a holocaust story.  the result is every bit as offensive as you would imagine.  (literary fiction)

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i was so excited to receive an ARC of this book.  i tend to enjoy wwii fiction and i’ve had a morbid interest in jozef mengele since studying him in high school.  but this book was………… a mess.  poorly written, pretentious garbage.  forgive me if i don’t think the holocaust is an appropriate subject for an elaborate mfa-creative-writing exercise.

 

 

 

4. fates and furies by lauren groff. there isn’t much of a plot but there are a truly extraordinary amount of awkward sex scenes and at one point a guy’s stomach is compared to the tautness of creme brûlée.  (literary fiction.)

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one of those books that probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it weren’t for the hype.  but actually… yeah it probably would have bothered me anyway.  i hated – hated – the prose, i found it gaudy and annoyingly overwritten; i hated the two protagonists; i didn’t care about their marriage, i didn’t care about their friends, i didn’t care about any of it.  i don’t DNF books, but if i did, i would have put this down after about ten pages.

 

 

5. the penelopiad by margaret atwood.  tl;dr: the odyssey from penelope’s point of view, and the most misogynistic ‘feminist’ retelling you will ever encounter.  (historical/literary fiction/fantasy-mythology.)

17645i’m a classics/greek lit lover who finds the sexist limitations of classical lit frustrating, so i was thrilled by the premise of this book.  although i may be the only feminist alive who couldn’t stand the handmaid’s tale, i was ready to be wowed by the penelopiad.  no such luck.  the insidious misogyny in this book is downright shocking.  atwood exonerates penelope for her modesty and in the same breath demonizes helen for her supposed narcissism (a character who’s already been wrongfully maligned for her role in the trojan war throughout the centuries – i’d just like to point out that she was taken against her will); atwood also vilifies anticlea, clytemnestra, eurycleia – she constantly tears down other women to absolve penelope, and it’s insulting and exhausting. for a modern adaptation of greek/roman mythology from a female character’s point of view, skip this one and try lavinia by ursula k. leguin or alcestis by katharine beutner.

so, what does everyone think?  agree, disagree?  what are some of your favorites from last year?  feel free to leave a comment and let me know!