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?

book review: The Butchers’ Blessing by Ruth Gilligan





THE BUTCHERS’ BLESSING by Ruth Gilligan
★★★★☆
Tin House Books, 2020


Set in 1990s Ireland, The Butchers’ Blessing (originally published as The Butchers in the UK) tells the story of a group that travels through the country, practicing an ancient ritual of cattle slaughter for farmers who still believe in the old customs.  It follows a handful of characters – primarily Úna, the preteen daughter of a Butcher whose life’s aspiration is to follow in her father’s footsteps.  We also follow Grá, Úna’s mother, trapped in an unhappy marriage; Ronan, an ambitious photographer; Fionn, a semi-retired farmer whose wife is dying of cancer, trying to atone for past sins; and Davey, Fionn’s son, a teenage boy who’s immersed in classical studies and dreams of escaping to Dublin.  

Gilligan does an expert job of weaving historical context throughout the narrative.  The novel’s backdrop mainly concerns BSE, also known as mad cow disease, as the crisis kicks off throughout the UK and Ireland.  While Gilligan excellently captures the resulting tension of that social climate, her skill in establishing the setting is right down to the nitty-gritty details; the Spice Girls playing on the radio, The Beauty Queen of Leenane on a the local playhouse, Ballykissangel on tv.  Setting historical fiction in a moment that your readers have lived through is a unique challenge, but Gilligan has a talent for the immersive.  The details of Celtic folklore were also well-woven in; this probably isn’t the Gothic or eerie book you’re expecting from its premise, but the way the folklore was presented as a part of these characters’ daily realities was handled incredibly well.

There were a few things that didn’t work for me – the whole story was framed in a past/present way with the present being narrated by the least interesting character, which unfortunately causes the interludes to lag more than they should.  But on the whole I thought this was a clear-eyed, unsettling, morally ambiguous read that captures this moment in modern Irish history brilliantly. 

wrap up: October 2020

  1. Henry VI Part 2 by William Shakespeare ★★★★☆
  2. This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith ★★★★★ | review to come
  3. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare ★★★★☆ | review to come
  4. The Call by Tanya Barfield ★★★★☆ | mini review
  5. Henry VI Part 3 by William Shakespeare ★★★★★
  6. The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton ★★★★☆ | review
  7. Henry VIII by William Shakespeare ★★☆☆☆ | mini review
  8. Between The World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates ★★★★★ | mini review
  9. Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh ★★☆☆☆ | review to come
  10. Abigail by Magda Szabo ★★★★★ | review to come
  11. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh ★★★★☆ | review to come

OCTOBER TOTAL: 11
YEARLY TOTAL: 97

Favorite: Abigail
Least favorite: Death in Her Hands

Other posts from October:

Life updates:

VOTE IN THE U.S. ELECTION

Currently reading:

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book review: Luster by Raven Leilani





LUSTER by Raven Leilani
★★★☆☆
FSG, 2020


I guess it’s natural to be slightly underwhelmed by a book that’s gotten as much hype as Luster has.  And it absolutely does deserve the hype, in a lot of ways.  Raven Leilani’s voice and writing style are spectacular, and so is her characterization of protagonist Edie.  This is very much a “disaster women” book (i.e., a subgenre of literary fiction about 20-something year-old women having a lot of casual sex and making terrible life decisions) but it’s also its own thing, refreshing both in voice and structure. 

My main issue with this book isn’t even something it did wrong, per se – but about 40% through the book it took a turn that I didn’t want it to take, and we ended up spending the rest of the book in a situation that I found much less interesting than the one that had been presented to us at the beginning.  I didn’t find Rebecca to be a particularly convincing figure and her dynamic with Edie really failed to engage or move me.  Even less interesting to me was Eric, Edie’s love interest, an older, married, white man (Edie is a Black woman, and much younger than Eric – it’s a dynamic that facilitates moments of sharp insight on Leilani’s part but Eric himself is something of a wet blanket).  It’s Edie herself that holds this novel together (she’s a realistic, sympathetic, compelling figure); it’s the circumstances she finds herself in that I felt didn’t ultimately live up to their narrative potential.

I initially gave this 4 stars but I waited a few weeks to write this review and in that time this book has sort of faded in my estimation and I haven’t really thought about it since putting it down, so that’s never an amazing sign.  I think this is a promising debut in a lot of ways and Raven Leilani is absolutely an author I’ll be keeping an eye on, but this didn’t quite do what I wanted it to do for me.

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

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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book review: Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yū





TOKYO UENO STATION by Miri Yū
★★★☆☆
Riverhead, 2020


Tokyo Ueno Station is a short, sparse book which follows the life of Kazu, born in 1933, the same year as the Emperor.  Kazu’s life (mostly characterized by tragedy and poverty) is thematically entwined with the Emperor’s through a series of coincidences that tie their families together – and it’s also closely connected to Ueno Park, a historically significant site in Tokyo that Kazu’s spirit now haunts after his death.

This is a mournful, elegant book that ultimately didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  In fact, I’m struggling to write this review because I finished this a few days ago and it’s already slipped from my mind almost entirely.  I don’t know what it was, because I didn’t find a single thing about this book to be overtly objectionable; it just didn’t fully come together for me.  I think the fragmented, vignette-style structure paired with its incredibly short length left me wanting more.

Also – in some ways this comparison seems absurd but I also can’t get it out of my head – this reminded me so much of When All Is Said by Anne Griffin (a book I really didn’t care for), which follows an elderly Irish man looking back on his life and the people who shaped him the most.  In both cases I felt like I was being spoon-fed these tragic stories on a very surface level without organically feeling any of it.  I do think Tokyo Ueno Station is the more accomplished book, but I guess ‘old men mournfully looking back on their sad lives-lit’ is not for me?

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

book review: Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas




CATHERINE HOUSE by Elisabeth Thomas
★★★☆☆
Custom House, May 2020




Whenever I read a book with a suspiciously low Goodreads rating I’m always all the more determined to love it – there’s something kind of fun about being in the minority in really ‘getting’ a book that goes over so many heads.  Sadly not the case here.  While I didn’t find this objectively terrible in any way, neither did I find it particularly special or pleasurable to read.

Following 18-year-old Ines who goes off to an experimental college, Catherine House subverts a lot of campus novel tropes.  Ines isn’t characterized by a passion for academia or a thirst for belonging or a love for her school – she’s socially and academically dispassionate to a fault.  Along with Ines’s lack of drive is a particularly conspicuous lack of atmosphere, and I think the Kazuo Ishiguro and Sarah Waters comparisons do this book a disservice if you go into it expecting a lush, indulgent, immersive setting.

While I did feel that Thomas did a great job of building suspense, to the point where I read this book in two sittings because there was something rather hypnotic about it, I also didn’t particularly care about what I was reading.  There’s a mystery at the heart of the school’s scientific research department, and I’m not sure whether the twist fell flat or whether I just was never invested enough to be moved by it.

Again, I don’t think this was bad or even unsuccessful in what it set out to do, and I can see it working perfectly for a certain type of reader.  Sadly it just wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

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

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

wrap up: August 2020

  1. The Bookwanderers by Anna James ★★★★★ | review to come
  2. Stop Kiss by Diana Son ★★★★☆
  3. Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare ★★★☆☆
  4. Cymbeline by William Shakespeare ★★★★☆
  5. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave ★★★★☆ | review
  6. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani ★★★★☆
  7. Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare ★★☆☆☆
  8. Out by Natsuo Kirino ★★★☆☆ | review

AUGUST TOTAL: 8
YEARLY TOTAL: 72

Favorite: The Bookwanderers
Least favorite: Henry IV Part 2

Other posts from August:

Life updates:

I got an iPhone 11 Pro and the quality of my cat photos has VASTLY IMPROVED. Follow on Twitter for daily cat spam.

Currently reading:

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book review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell | BookBrowse

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HAMNET by Maggie O’Farrell
Tinder Press, 2020
★★★★★

 

William Shakespeare’s name is never used in Hamnet — a conspicuous absence around which Maggie O’Farrell forms her richly imaginative narrative. Instead, the novel tells the story of those closest to Shakespeare: his parents, John and Mary; his wife Agnes; his daughter Susanna; and his twin children Hamnet and Judith. Shakespeare himself features in the narrative, though he is only ever described in relation to those around him, referred to as the Latin tutor, the husband, the father, the son. The result of this narrative decision is twofold: it pushes Shakespeare’s family to the foreground, but it also humanizes Shakespeare himself by reminding the reader that none of his works were created in a vacuum. This is the central conceit around which the novel’s climax is formed, as O’Farrell imagines the potential influence of Hamnet’s death in 1596 on Hamlet, written between 1599 and 1601.

You can read my full review HERE on BookBrowse, and you can read a piece I wrote about the real Anne Hathaway and Hamnet Shakespeare HERE.