some of my favorite book blogs | part 2

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

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

Now, the list, alphabetically:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ARCs I need to read #4

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

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

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

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

EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDIT: ★★★★☆ | review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Star Read Predictions: Update & Round 3

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

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

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

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

ROUND 3:

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

book review: A Natural by Ross Raisin

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A NATURAL by Ross Raisin
★★★★☆
Random House, 2017

 

The thing that should not be underestimated as you read through my thoughts on A Natural is just how much I hate sports – which probably raises the question of why I decided a book about football/soccer to begin with, to which I can answer: if I had understood the extent to which this book is about football/soccer, I probably would not have picked in up in the first place. Instead I’d seen it billed as a coming-of-age novel about a gay footballer, and I suppose I thought the football/soccer would be mostly backdrop. Reader, it was not backdrop.

There’s a reason this book is 400 pages, and it’s because Ross Raisin details just about every single match, every single inner working of this low-level soccer club, with unerring precision. And for the first half of the book, it was frankly driving me mad. But then in the second half of the novel, when we start to dive into the meat of the story – our protagonist Tom beginning a relationship with the club’s groundskeeper – I found that my frustration with Raisin’s narrative choices was beginning to abate. Yes, I still found the soccer talk endlessly tedious, but the criticisms that I’d had (that soccer was the foreground, Tom’s story was the background, how does this make for a compelling narrative at all, why hadn’t an editor come at this manuscript with a machete) started to mostly* fly out the window, because it’s impossible to deny how well-crafted this book is. It’s a slow burn in every sense of the phrase: it’s a slow-paced story, and (unless you’re riveted by soccer) it withholds its rewards until you get to the end.

*I did have another criticism that never fully faded, though I began to understand it more in the second half: why certain chapters were given to the perspective of a married couple, one of Tom’s fellow footballers, Chris, and his wife Leah. Their story does dovetail with the central narrative and I do understand the decision to include their point of view, but I’m not convinced that we needed as much detail here as we got.

I know I’m doing a pretty poor job of selling this or explaining my 4 star rating (hang in there!), but the thing is, I’m not sure that this is a book I’d widely recommend. It takes patience and perseverance and if I were in the habit of DNFing I probably would have called it quits at the halfway mark. But if this sounds at all like a story you’re willing to commit to, it gets really, really good. Raisin navigates the homophobic world of professional sport with a deft hand, meditating with perception on themes of performative masculinity, shame, and the tension between the inner and outer selves. I think Raisin is a tremendously gifted writer, and the way he renders the relationship between Tom and Liam is so palpably fragile that it’s almost painful to read at times.  So while this book wasn’t perfectly targeted to my preferences as a reader, I do think it’s a gem of a book that I’m glad to have read… and ultimately to have stuck with.


You can pick up a copy of A Natural here on Book Depository.

book review: The Killer In Me by Olivia Kiernan

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THE KILLER IN ME by Olivia Kiernan
(Frankie Sheehan #2)
★★★★☆
Dutton, April 2, 2019
(Too Close To Breathe)

 

Every time I’ve read a thriller recently I’ve been left with the thought ‘do I actually like thrillers or am I just reading these out of habit.’ Well, it turns out I do still like them! I just wish they were all on Olivia Kiernan’s level – her Frankie Sheehan series is shaping up to be one of my favorites… which is odd as I really dislike police procedurals most of the time. So more power to Kiernan for being able to hook me on a formula that I’m not wild about.

And while I enjoyed Kiernan’s debut, Too Close to Breathe, I think its sequel The Killer in Me is superior in just about every way. More intricate plotting, more sophisticated writing, and more of that ‘can’t put it down’ factor. So while it’s always fun to go into a sequel being familiar with the characters, you could easily read The Killer in Me as a standalone. There are five murders at the heart of this novel, though two took place 17 years ago, as Seán Hennessey has just been released from prison where he served a sentence for murdering his parents, though he continues to profess his innocence. But when a series of eerily similar murders begins to occur, naturally Seán is the number one suspect. It’s a great premise, and Kiernan manages to expertly balance her various subplots so that it’s difficult to predict exactly what it’s all building up to.

Incidentally, I did have the exact same complaint about The Killer in Me as I did about Too Close to Breathe, which is that Frankie tends to make leaps the size of the Grand Canyon while doing a psychological profile on the killer(s), which invariably turn out to be accurate. So that’s a bit annoying, but you can’t have everything. All things considered, I think Olivia Kiernan is a brilliant new voice in the Irish crime genre, and if you like your thrillers on the dark and psychologically distressing side, you won’t want to miss this series.

Thanks so much to Dutton for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

You can pick up copies of Too Close to Breathe and The Killer In Me over on Book Depository.

The Highest and Lowest Rated Books on my TBR

This is a premise that’s inspired many a booktube video over the years, but I got the idea to do this post in particular when I was watching Lala’s recent video about reading the highest rated books on her TBR.  After I watched that I decided to go through my own Goodreads TBR and sort it by average ratings, and then I thought it would be fun to make a post to show you guys the results of that search.

Note that I’m only going to include books that were published prior to 2019.  Summaries are from Goodreads.

The 5 Highest

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Becoming by Michelle Obama – 4.67

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.

This one isn’t a huge surprise; I’ve heard that if you love Michelle Obama you’re going to love this book, and if you don’t love Michelle Obama you probably aren’t going to pick it up in the first place.  I was planning on listening to this on audio before realizing the audiobook is 18 hours long (I have audiobook commitment issues), but I do have the hardcover and should probably pick this up at some point.  I will say, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about it for some reason?  I mean, I don’t love political memoirs, so that is probably the reason.  But I do love Michelle Obama, so I do want to read this.  At some point.

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War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad by Christopher Logue – 4.61

Logue’s account of Homer’s Iliad is a radical reimagining and reconfiguration of Homer’s tale of warfare, human folly, and the power of the gods in language and verse that is emphatically modern and “possessed of a very terrible beauty” (Slate). Illness prevented him from bringing his version of the Iliad to completion, but enough survives in notebooks and letters to assemble a compilation that includes the previously published volumes War Music, Kings, The Husbands, All Day Permanent Red, and Cold Calls, along with previously unpublished material, in one final illuminating volume arranged by his friend and fellow poet Christopher Reid. The result, War Music, comes as near as possible to representing the poet’s complete vision and confirms what his admirers have long known: that “Logue’s Homer is likely to endure as one of the great long poems of the twentieth century” (The Times Literary Supplement)

Now this is what we’re talking about: I think this is part translation, part adaptation of Homer’s Iliad, and it sounds very experimental.  This kind of thing is very, very much up my alley.  I also have a copy of this and I really need to make time to read it.

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The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler – 4.58

Now, on the 25th anniversary of that Broadway premiere, Isaac Butler and Dan Kois offer the definitive account of Angels in America in the most fitting way possible: through oral history, nearly 200 voices in vibrant conversation and debate. The intimate storytelling of actors (including Streep, Parker, Jeffrey Wright, and Nathan Lane), directors, producers, and Kushner himself reveals the turmoil of the play’s birth-a hard-won miracle in the face of artistic roadblocks, technical disasters, and disputes both legal and creative. And historians and critics help to situate the play in the arc of American culture, from the staunch activism of the AIDS crisis through civil-rights triumphs to our current era, whose politics are a dark echo of the Reagan ’80s. The World Only Spins Forward is both a rollicking theater saga and an uplifting testament to one of the great works of American art of the past century, from its gritty San Francisco premiere to the starry revival that electrified London in 2017.

I am a massive fan of Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, which I think is one of the best pieces of theatre from the 20th century, so reading about its behind the scenes history sounds like a fun time to me.

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Sons of Achilles by Nabila Lovelace – 4.56

Sons of Achilles questions what it means to be in and of a linage of violence. In this collection, Nabila Lovelace attempts to examine the liminal space between violence and intimacy. From the mythical characters that depict and pass down a progeny of violence through their canonization, to the witnessing of violence, Lovelace interrogates the ways violence enters and inhabits a life.

I don’t remember where I first heard about this poetry collection but I was undoubtedly drawn to it because of the title.  It sounds absolutely brilliant, and I’d like to get my hands on a copy at some point.

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Indecent by Paula Vogel – 4.55

When Sholem Asch wrote God of Vengeance in 1907, he didn’t imagine the height of controversy the play would eventually reach. Performing at first in Yiddish and German, the play’s subject matter wasn’t deemed contentious until it was produced in English, when the American audiences were scandalized by the onstage depiction of an amorous affair between two women. Paula Vogel’s newest work traces the trajectory of the show’s success through its tour in Europe to its abrupt and explosive demise on Broadway in 1923—including the arrest of the entire production’s cast and crew.

I missed the recent Broadway production of this play, sadly, but hopefully I’ll catch it in Boston this April.  I’ve heard that this is absolutely gut-wrenching and I have no doubt that I will love it.

The 5 Lowest

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Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li – 3.10

The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, is not only a beloved go-to setting for hunger pangs and celebrations; it is its own world, inhabited by waiters and kitchen staff who have been fighting, loving, and aging within its walls for decades. When disaster strikes, this working family’s controlled chaos is set loose, forcing each character to confront the conflicts that fast-paced restaurant life has kept at bay. Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their thirty-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children.

Haaa, we meet again.  I already know that I’m going to be reading this in the next couple of months because I’m reading the entire Women’s Prize longlist, and I knew that it had a low average rating, but I don’t think I expected to see it on this list.  But here we are.  I don’t know, you guys, I’ve heard a couple of positive things but the vast majority of reviews that I’ve seen for this book have been lukewarm at best… so we’ll see!

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Come With Me by Helen Schulman – 3.08

Amy Reed works part-time as a PR person for a tech start-up, run by her college roommate’s nineteen-year-old son, in Palo Alto, California. Donny is a baby genius, a junior at Stanford in his spare time. His play for fortune is an algorithm that may allow people access to their “multiverses”—all the planes on which their alternative life choices can be played out simultaneously—to see how the decisions they’ve made have shaped their lives. Donny wants Amy to be his guinea pig. And even as she questions Donny’s theories and motives, Amy finds herself unable to resist the lure of the road(s) not taken. Who would she be if she had made different choices, loved different people? Where would she be now? Amy’s husband, Dan—an unemployed, perhaps unemployable, print journalist—accepts a dare of his own, accompanying a seductive, award-winning photographer named Maryam on a trip to Fukushima, the Japanese city devastated by tsunami and meltdown. Collaborating with Maryam, Dan feels a renewed sense of excitement and possibility he hasn’t felt with his wife in a long time. But when crisis hits at home, the extent of Dan’s betrayal is exposed and, as Amy contemplates alternative lives, the couple must confront whether the distances between them in the here and now are irreconcilable.

I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher, and when I first received it the book had something like a 2.0 rating on Goodreads, which I assumed was down to a couple of negative ARC reviews, but half a year later the rating doesn’t seem to have improved that much.  I may just pass on my copy to someone else.  I honestly can’t even follow what’s going on in this summary, it sounds like there may be too much happening and none of it is sufficiently developed, I’m not sure.

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The Gathering by Anne Enright – 3.06

Anne Enright is a dazzling writer of international stature and one of Ireland’s most singular voices. Now she delivers The Gathering, a moving, evocative portrait of a large Irish family and a shot of fresh blood into the Irish literary tradition, combining the lyricism of the old with the shock of the new. The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him—something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968. As Enright traces the line of betrayal and redemption through three generations her distinctive intelligence twists the world a fraction and gives it back to us in a new and unforgettable light. The Gathering is a daring, witty, and insightful family epic, clarified through Anne Enright’s unblinking eye. It is a novel about love and disappointment, about how memories warp and secrets fester, and how fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

I get the impression that this might be one of those books that people dislike because they go into it expecting a thriller and then it isn’t really a thriller…?  At any rate, it’s Irish, it won the Booker, and I own a copy, so I will definitely be giving this one a try.

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The Shades by Evgenia Citkowitz – 2.98

A year has passed since Catherine and Michael Hall lost their teenage daughter in a car accident, leaving them and their sixteen-year-old son, Rowan, reeling in the aftermath of the tragedy. After Rowan escapes to boarding school, Catherine withdraws from her life as a successful London gallerist to Hamdean, an apartment in a Georgian country manor, where she and Michael had hoped to spend their retirement. When a beguiling young woman, Keira, appears at the house claiming to have once lived there, Catherine is reanimated by the promise of a meaningful connection. However, their relationship soon shifts to one of forbidding uncertainty as the mysteries of the past collide with the truth of the present.

This is partially on my TBR because the cover is a stunner, and partially because I think that summary sounds genius.  The average rating does concern me a little, but I think my curiosity is going to win out with this one.

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Little Constructions by Anna Burns – 2.66

At the centre of Anna Burns’s startling new novel lies the Doe clan, a closely knit family of criminals and victims whose internal conflicts and convoluted relationships propel this simultaneously funny and terrifying story. Bound together by love and loyalty, fear and secrets, the Does and other inhabitants of Tiptoe Floorboard make up an unforgettable cast of characters. In a voice that is by turns chilling and wickedly funny, the narrator documents their struggle to make and maintain connections with each other, and – weaving back and forth in time – examines what transpires when unspeakable realities, long pushed from consciousness, begin to break through.

And, ironically, the book in this entire post that I’m probably the most excited for is the one with the lowest rating.  However, in this case the average rating does not scare me, because I know Anna Burns’ work is not for everyone.  From those who adored Milkman and went back to read her backlist I get the impression that Milkman is probably her most accomplished novel, though No Bones and Little Constructions are still good.  So, I’ll definitely be giving them both a try, and hopefully will be able to contribute to this book’s rating getting a tiny bit higher.


So, that’s that!  Have you guys read any of these books, and if so does your rating fall above or below the average?  Let me know which books I should prioritize off this list!

(NB I’ve scheduled this post and am in New York for another couple of days, so I’ll probably be late in replying to comments.)

Man Booker International 2019 Longlist Reaction

This isn’t going to be as comprehensive of a reaction post as the one I wrote up for the Women’s Prize – while I love following the Man Booker International from a distance, I’m not quite as on top of reading translated fiction as I’d like to be.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise to see that I’d read zero of the thirteen longlisted titles this year when the list was announced last night.  I’d love to change that, but since I’m already reading the Women’s Prize longlist I doubt I’ll be picking any of these books up immediately.  But maybe in a couple of months I can jump on this bandwagon!  I just wanted to give a quick summary of my reactions:

So, I’d already heard of three of the longlisted books: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, and Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli, translated from the French by Sam Taylor.

I own a copy of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (how great is that title) and that book sounds ridiculously up my alley, so even though I still haven’t read Tokarczuk’s International Booker winning Flights, I definitely want to pick this one up soon.  I think I’m going to pass on Mouthful of Birds – I still haven’t read Fever Dream which sounds much more to my taste, and I keep hearing very mixed things about Mouthful of Birds… I’m just not convinced that I would appreciate it.  I haven’t read anything by Mingarelli either but I do own a copy of his novel A Meal in Winter, and I also want to pick up Four Soldiers at some point.

I added these four to my TBR after going through the longlist:

  • Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen: I was getting major Chinese Milkman vibes from this book’s Goodreads summary, and while I’m sure that’s off base, anything described as darkly comedic that explores women’s lives under surveillance is something I need in my life.
  • Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright: I wasn’t initially sold on this one but this excellent post from Books and Bao made me reconsider – I think this could be striking.
  • At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell: I tend to enjoy Korean lit and while I haven’t liked the one book I’ve read translated by Sora Kim-Russell (I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin), I’m inclined to blame that more on the book’s content than the translation.
  • The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg, translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner: I’m vaguely interested in Valerie Solanas though I don’t know much about her – I’m not sure how much this fictionalization will rely on research and how much will be invented, but I think this could be fascinating.

So that leaves everything else.  At a glance none of these books appeals to me, but with a couple I’m definitely willing to be swayed if I start to see some overwhelmingly positive reviews.  Because none of these really falls into a ‘no way in hell am I touching that’ category.  I think they all sound fairly interesting, just some more-so than others.

I didn’t make a predictions post for this prize, but the titles I’m most surprised to not see here are Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Matthias Enard (I have a copy of this one so I was really hoping I could use this as an excuse to pick it up!), Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, Codex 1962 by Sjón, and Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami.  Haven’t read any of them so I have no clue what’s good and what isn’t, but they’ve all been getting a lot of attention.  I’m also sad not to see Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata which I think is a quiet little powerhouse of a novel, but I do understand its omission.

Here’s the full longlist with links to Book Depository if you want to read full summaries:

Jokha Alharthi (Arabic / Omani), Marilyn Booth, Celestial Bodies (Sandstone Press Ltd)
Can Xue (Chinese / Chinese), Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, Love in the New Millennium (Yale University Press)
Annie Ernaux (French / French), Alison L. Strayer, The Years (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Hwang Sok-yong (Korean / Korean), Sora Kim-Russell, At Dusk (Scribe, UK)
Mazen Maarouf (Arabic / Icelandic and Palestinian), Jonathan Wright, Jokes For The Gunmen (Granta, Portobello Books)
Hubert Mingarelli (French / French), Sam Taylor, Four Soldiers (Granta, Portobello Books)
Marion Poschmann (German / German), Jen Calleja, The Pine Islands (Profile Books, Serpent’s Tail)
Samanta Schweblin (Spanish / Argentine and Italian), Megan McDowell, Mouthful Of Birds (Oneworld)
Sara Stridsberg (Swedish / Swedish), Deborah Bragan-Turner, The Faculty Of Dreams (Quercus, MacLehose Press)
Olga Tokarczuk (Polish / Polish), Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Spanish / Colombian), Anne McLean, The Shape Of The Ruins (Quercus, MacLehose Press)
Tommy Wieringa (Dutch / Dutch), Sam Garrett, The Death Of Murat Idrissi (Scribe, UK)
Alia Trabucco Zeran (Spanish / Chilean and Italian), Sophie Hughes, The Remainder (And Other St)

So, needless to say I will not be reading this longlist as my heart belongs to the Women’s Prize (I hate that they overlap!), and this will probably be the only Man Booker International post I’ll make this year.  But I am so looking forward to following everyone else’s coverage and reviews!

What are everyone’s Man Booker International plans?  Any titles you’re looking forward to reading, or have read already?  Which books were you hoping to see longlisted?  Let’s chat!