This did not feel like a bad reading month even though I finished very few books. Mostly because I am in fact reading regularly and I am also reading fantasy again which is making me very happy indeed.
Books I read in October:
The first book I finished in October was an ARC of How High We Go ind the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (4 out of 5 stars). I enjoyed many things about this – it is basically custom-made for me after all. I loved the changing perspectives as we moved further into the future, I loved revisiting people from earlier chapters as side characters in the later chapters, I enjoyed the weirdness Nagamatsu embraced and how unlikable he lets his characters be – but I did not love this book as a whole the way I wanted (and honestly expected) to. Parts are to do with the prose that did not always work for me, parts are definitely the increasingly bleak outlook of the stories. Overall, I found this slightly uneven but in parts genuinely brilliant. The book comes out in January 2022. I then read The Devil You Know (Mercenary Librarians #2) by Kit Rocha (4 out of 5 stars) which gave me exactly what I needed. I cannot wait for the next book in the series because I just love this world and its focus on community so very much.
Favourite of the Month:
I adored The Devil You Kow and I am very upset I will need to wait until next year to be able t read the next book.
I finished two books, both of which were speculative in nature. One written by a man and one written by two women.
What I should be getting to next:
Apparently not a lot. I am in the middle of enough books to be occupied for the whole month.
I am so stressed. Is anybody surprised? I am not surprised. September is always busy and I am trying to juggle so very many things, professionally, that I am glad for every minute I manage to read for fun.
Books I read in September:
During Rachel’s and my ARC-readathon, I first finished two romance novels instead – because of course I did. If I was good at TBRs, the state of my NetGalley shelf would not necessitate a readathon to catch up. I read I Hate, I Bake, and I Don’t Date by Alina Jacobs (2 out of 5 stars) which was banana-pants but I could not look away. If the central couple had been less awful (especially him, whose name I have forgotten but who is a trash person) I would have rated this higher because I was indeed very entertained. Afterwards, I did what I always do when I read a particularly weird and/or awful romance novel and reached for a favourite romance author. I read Love According to Science by Claire Kingsley (3 out of 5 stars) which was my least favourite in the series so far but still a whole lot of fun. Then I finished the absolute brilliant No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (5 out of 5 stars) which I liked so much that I have written a full review for the first time in half a year. I lso read One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3) by Ilona Andreas (3.5 out of 5 stars) which I obviousy enjoyed – I do not think they even can write a book I won’t like at this point. I then finished the incredible White Magic by Elissa Washuta (5 out of 5 stars) which is just brilliant but in a way that I find difficult to put into words. It’s both a structurally perfect memoir and one that doesn’t pull any punches and I adored it.
I also decided to DNF Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone during our readathon which meant two reviews written in the two weeks, which at this point, I’ll consider a win. I got increasingly more bored with this and put it down 40% in. I do not think this book knows what it wants to be – it’s a thriller without having thriller pacing but with thriller plot beats, it’s a coming of age story without actually dealing with the coming of age, It’s literary fiction but the language felt more self-indulgent than anything else. This just did not work for me at all – and I am very sad because the premise and the promise of a dysfunctional sibling relationship really are brilliant.
Favourite of the Month:
No Gods, No Monsters – which is so far also my favourite book of the year.
I read five books, three of which were written by women, one by a man and one by a husband and wife team.Two books were romance, two can broadly be categorized as speculative, and one essay collection/memoir.
What I should be getting to next:
Whatever I feel like. I won’t try to police my reading at all.
“‘We’re all blind’, he says after swallowing. ‘Take solace in that. Choice comes first. Meaning comes later.”
No Gods, No Monsters – published by Blackstone Publishing, September 7th 2021
One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.
As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.
At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?
I am so very much in love with this book – enough to feel the need to write my first full-length review in half a year. As is often the case when a book is this custom-made for me, I am having problems divorcing my enjoyment from that fact – but I loved it so very much!
No Gods, No Monsters is literary fiction maquerading as urban fantasy and if there is anything that is my absolute catnip, it is this. The prose is brilliant, the character work perfect, and the structure made me happy. Turnbull does something so very clever with perspective that it made me giddy with joy – I love a clever play on perspective and here it did not only work stylistically but also made perfect sense in-universe which is something that I assume is very hard to pull off.
At its core, this is a story about bigotry – and while I am not always a fan of using fantastical creatures as a stand in for minority groups, here it worked well because Turnbull also grounds his book in real world oppression. His characters casually but intentionally have diverse backgrounds and gender expressions and sexual orientations and they feel as real as possible. The inciting incident is a case of deadly police brutality that ends up revealing to the world that monsters (and gods?) are real and among us. From this point the story spirals outward and inward, jumping from one storyline to the next in every chapter. I loved this. I loved this all the more because I felt I could trust Turnbull to know where he is going and what he wants to achieve. I did not find this book confusing but I found it challenging – it kept me on my toes and it made sure I was paying attention. I found the way Turnbull pulled of the various narrative strands very impressive, especially the way he made me emotionally invested in all of these (to be fair, quite a few strands are sibling stories and these are often my favourite). And while the book is definitely dark, it is not hopeless and there is a core of community and community action running through this that made the book ultimately an optimistic one.
In short, I adored this, I want more people to read this and most of all I want the second book in the series (even though this one does have a satisfying ending!).
Content warnings: police brutality, bigotry, domestic abuse, drug abuse
I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Somehow the end of the month came suddenly. Where is the time going? I had a pretty decent reading month, courtesy of some much needed rereading of favourites of mine.
Books I read in August:
It took me nearly two weeks to finish my first book of the month. I read Tessa Bailey‘s newest: It Happened One Sommer (3 out of 5 stars) which was fun but not my favourite of hers. For some reason I do not get on as well with her traditionally published books. I appreciated that she switched it around and had her heroine be the one with the commitment problems for once and I adored that the hero just wanted her to see how brilliantly he thinks she is. But other than that, I can hardly remember anything about my reading experience. Then I reread the the first book in the second Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews, Sapphire Flames (5 out of 5 stars) – which I loved as much as the first time I read it. I am still sad that the publication of the third book was postponed until the summer of 2022 though. Then I finally read my ARC of Magma by Þóra Hjörleifsdóttir (4 out of 5 stars) – a quick and intense read chronicling an abusive relationship using short, diary type chapters. It made me a bit too mad for it to be a five star read and I didn’t quite love the ending but it is absolutely well worth the hype, with its perfectly sharp chapters with perfectly sharp prose, and its main character who is difficult: she is lonely and judgemental and even in the midst of her (horrible!) relationship that she knows is horrible cannot admit that her friends might know what they are talking about when they say they are worried. Afterwards, I needed something light and fun – and inhaled the next book in the Hidden Legacy series, Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (which I upgraded to 5 out of 5 this time around). I just love this series and the characters and the family dynamics and this time around, Alessandro’s arc really hit me in the feelings in the best way possible. Afterwards I finished the absolutely incredible Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger (5 out of 5 stars). This is impeccably structured in a way that blew my mind, the self reflection at the core of this made me realize what memoirs can do, the inclusion of art is necessary and so helpful in grounding this, and I just loved this a whole lot, even the more sentimental parts. Then I finished Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (3 out of 5 stars) which I did not love as much as thought I would. Everybody adores these stories, so do take my opinion with a grain of salt. While there were some really interesting sentences and the observations were really sharp, overall the structure of the stories didn’t ever seem to work for me and with short stories, structure is really what makes a story work for me.
I then decided to DNF Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford – the memoir just did not work for me and once I realized I was actively avoiding listening to the audiobook even when I had the time, I decided to call it quits.
Favourite of the Month:
Negative Space. I adored this book beyond measure and want everyone to read it. It is very clever, very beautiful, very honest.
I read six books, three of which were written by women, one by a man and two by a husband and wife team. I read two speculative romances, one contemporary romance, a short story collection, one translated novel and one memoir. I rated three books five stars!
As is traditional, Rachel and I have too many ARCs, again – and using the first two weeks in September to try and remedy that, again. The last two times we tried this were fun but not always super productive, but maybe third time’s the charm?! As always, you are very invited to join but it is also really, really low-key, without prompts or reading sprints or even a hashtag.
I have finally stopped requesting ARCs, so nearly all of the ones I have left to read are backlist by now and I would love to be able to finally review a few of those. I would love for my NetGalley ratio to be in the 90s by the time I the two weeks are up but this is probably unlikely – it is at 86% currently and I just calculated it (and unless I did something stupid) I would have to review 11 books to get there. So this is my absolute stretch goal for now.
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (published by Blackstone Publishing, September 7th 2021)
This is incredible so far and I will absolutely keep prioritizing this because I want to be able to shout from the rooftops how much I want everyone to read it. Right now my pitch would be Vita Nostra meets Station Eleven – and if you know me at all, you can guess how giddy this book makes me. It does something very very clever and interesting with perspective, it jumps backwards and forward in time and it is very, very weird. I am in love.
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (published by Orbit, April 8th 2021)
The kind of fast-paced but worldbuilding heavy fantasy that can work brilliantly for me and so far this absolutely does. I enjoy the sprawling narrative and the different POVs and it is making me realize that I haven’t read enough fantasy this year. With around 500 pages this is at the edge of my tolerance, page count wise, but I get the feeling that the book’s world necessitated the length.
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (published by Bloomsbury, January 18th 2022)
This was the last book I requested, even after having decided to not request books anymore, because I am just so excited for it. I mean, look at this first sentence of the blurb and tell me this wasn’t written especially for me: “For fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven, Sequoia Nagamatsu’s debut is a wildly imaginative, genre-bending work spanning generations across the globe as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a devastating plague.” It is set partly in the Arctic Circle (love that!), deals with father-daughter relationships (love this!), told from connected perspectives (love that!), and it was blurbed by Matt Bell who seems to have my exact taste in literature (I really should check his books out finally).
Might still read and review in time for the publication date
On Freedom by Maggie Nelson (published by Jonathan Cape, September 2nd 2021)
Yes, I know this is unlikely but I can still dream. I adore Nelson’s writing and as such was very happy to receive the ARC. I absolutely want to read this – but the footnotes aren’t linked and I always basically have to scroll to the end of the book to get to them. So I might try to read this without reading the footnotes which doesn’t strike me as the best idea.
Dinner Party: A Tragedy by Sarah Gilmartin (published by Pushkin Press, September 16th 2021)
This was blurbed as for fans of Kate Atkinson and Anne Enright – so I took the plunge. This sounds like the kind of book that’ll either blow my mind or be too boring for me to make it through, all depending on the prose style and the structural choices. I am excited though, especially for this part of the blurb: “As the past catches up with the present, Kate learns why, despite everything, we can’t help returning home.”
I really, really suck at reading tbrs, obviously. Even trying to get to ARCs can lead to a reading slump. But for now these are the books that most excite me.
If I even get to a single of these books in addition to the other books I am planning to read, I will count myself very lucky. Some of these have been on my shelf for longer than they should have been, some of those sound so like my kind of book that it’s a shame I haven’t gotten to them, some, like Empire of Sand, are somehow both of these things.
Need to finally decide if I really, actually, really want to read these books
These books’ publication dates came and went a while ago. I have read bits and pieces of most of them and for some reason or other I am never in the mood for any of them when I am looking for something new to read. If you have read any of these, can you help me make up my mind? Otherwise I will try and finally do a “read a chapter” kind of post to decide if I want to keep these books on my TBR.
While this was not my best month ratings wise, I do feel like I am a bit back in the groove of actually choosing to pick up a book rather than mindlessly scroll through social media.
Books I read in July:
The first book I finished this month was Neon Gods (Dark Olympus #1) by Katee Robert (2.5 out of 5 stars) – a fake dating retelling of Hades and Persephone which happens to be my exact catnip. But the world building is flimsy at best and the romantic and emotional beats did not always work for me. I also finished Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh (3 out of 5 stars), a short story collection blurbed by and compared to Sally Rooney and Colin Barrett. McHugh’s prose is incredible (a stunning blend of more colloquial Irish English and super interesting descriptions and metaphors) and the way in which he structures his stories impeccable – but this was so very, very bleak, featuring many sad and unlikable characters, many of which where teenaged boys. Afterwards, I went on a bit of a romance kick having recently renewed my Kindle unlimited subscription because it was free for three months. I first read Twisted Love (Twisted #1) by Ana Huang (2 out of 5 stars) which I thought was fun but unfocussed. A jumble of tropes (brother’s best friend, only one bed, grumpy and sunshiny one, I hate everybody except you, morality chain) and sub-genres (small town romance, darkish romance, New Adult) meant that some parts worked better for me than others. I did not expect this to go this dark and I kind of wish it hadn’t. To counteract the darkness of this romance, I went to an author whose work I often enjoy and read Claire Kingsley’s Marrying Mr. Wrong (Dirty Martini Running Club #3) (3.5 out of 5 stars) which was just what I needed. I like how fundamentally kind Kingsley’s characters are and how competent the women are at their jobs. I particularly like the friendship at the heart of this series. Still feeling like this exact kind of romance, I reread Claire Kingsley’s Cocky Roommate (4 out of 5 stars) which is probably my favourite of her books. I then finished my audiobook of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (4 out of 5 stars) – which I found very clever and interesting and heartbreaking. I loved how the murderer is incidental to the story and that Rubenhold does not linger on the gruesome details, choosing rather to tell these women’s lives to the best of her abilities. The prose is effortless but effective, the research is impeccable, and Rubenhold manages to fill the gaps in a way that I found mostly satisfying if sometimes a little bit too convenient. I learned a lot about Victorian London and I really appreciated the structure and the humanity of the venture. I then finally finished an ARC – Pop Songs by Larissa Pham (3.5 out of 5 stars) was a wonderful reading experience for the most part. I found it clever and stimulating (I kept googling all the art and artists she refers to), but sometimes rather sentimental. I enjoyed her musings on art more than I enjoyed her post-mortem of her unsuccessful relationship with the unnamed “you” she kept refering to. I then finally finished Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder (2 out of 5 stars) which took me four months to read because although I liked the world building and the secondary characters – the romance did not work for me at all and Joe was not my favourite. I think if this had gone harder for the fated mates angle with the accompanying compulsion, this could have worked for me better. But most of all, I found this boring which is something I cannot deal with in urban fantasy.
I also finally DNFed a couple of ARCs that I had started ages ago (but never even added to my Goodreads currently reading shelf), both because they were just too dark for me. After the Silence by Louise O’Neill I could not read because it stressed me out very badly. A combination of new motherhood and a pandemic made reading stressful books impossible for me. I felt claustrophobic reading this – from the very first page. O’Neill’s writing had this effect on me before in the only other book of hers I’ve read (Almost Love) but where I loved that one, this time around I could not get myself to read this. I am sure this book will work beautifully for other people who are not as anxious about reading as I am. In the Dark by Loreth Anne White was different to what I anticipated. I expected something less tense and more along the beats of a romantic suspense (heavy on the romance, light on the suspense) but from the 15% I read, this was not the case. I am sure this will work better for people who actually can read thrillers without being stressed out but I am not that reader, especially not anymore.
I also moved the books I hadn’t picked up to my “on hold” shelf to return to them when I am more in the mood for them. This helps me for some reason.
Favourite of the Month:
I really appreciated The Five’s project with its focus on the victims of Jack the Ripper and their lives and I am very happy to have listened to my friend Jill (the Book Bully on Youtube).
I finished 8 book, 7 of which were written by women and one written by a man. Five books can broadly be categorized as romance, two non fiction, and one short story collection.
What I should be getting to next:
I am mostly feeling like reading non fiction and speculative romance, so this is what I will be picking up I think. Or, I could actually try to read the books I am currently reading and have the lovely feeling of a clean slate.
Two of my pre-ordered books cme out this month: Battle Royal by Lucy Parker and The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha and I am so vey excited for both of them.
I have recommended short story collections before but as I have finally started reading them again, I figured it was time I wrote another post. I don’t think we talk about short stories often enough – a format that can be difficult to get right but when they are good they are often brilliant. Clicking on the covers leads to the books’ Goodreads pages.
Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff
I am in awe of Lauren Groff’s command of language – every single sentence ist perfectly done while not making the writing sound clinical but rather organic and captivating. I also really like the way she structures her stories – they never felt like they were working towards a punchline but rather their endings were perfectly done. Some stories I would have loved to spend more time with but I mean that as a compliment.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
I knew I would enjoy this pretty much from the first page on. Nafissa Thompson-Spires has a wonderful tone and an even better command of her stories. I found the stories uncomfortable and biting and so very very clever. Her characters feel real if often difficult and the situations they find themselves in are frustrating and perfectly rendered.
Some stories feature the same people again, which is something I always enjoy. I do like how this gave the stories more depth without them being incomplete without the added context – this is something that I assume is difficult to achieve but oh so satisfying when it works.
Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
This collection has possibly my all-time favourite cover. I just adore it. And the stories within are as beautiful. Focussing on women and their complicated relationships to each other and to men, this collection blew me away. I never managed to actually write a review (I was newly pregnant when I read this) and I am sad about it because I should have shouted from the rooftops how brilliant I thought this was. I wish more people read this!
I Hold A Wolf By Its Ears by Laura van den Berg
I adored this! These stories were often sad, sometimes creepy, always impeccably structured. Van den Berg tells her stories unchronologically, often circularly, but always in a way that feels very deliberate and I appreciated this. The stories are told with a conscious darkness but never feel hopeless. Van den Berg focusses on characters that seem unmoored but are still anchored by something, often a sibling (I adore this!). Even when the subject matter is dark (and it is!) it never felt gratuitous or unnecessary to me.
Home Remedies by Juliana Xuan Wang
Really really good! These mostly realistic stories worked exceedingly well for me – especially those that were told unchronologically in a way that I have not encountered in short stories before. This way of telling a story is something I particularly enjoy, so I was very pleased when I realized what Wang was doing. Not every story did work for me but enough did that I will be reading whatever she writes next. I also cannot get over the absolutely stunning cover.
How To Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
I enjoyed these stories a lot with their thoughtful explorations on families, focussing on the lives of Laos immigrants and their children. I particularly enjoyed that the parents depicted really do try to do the best for their children even if they sometimes miss the mark or sometimes cannot be the parent they would love to be if they had more time/ money/ knowledge.
Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh
A short story collection blurbed by and compared to Sally Rooney and Colin Barrett. McHugh’s prose is incredible (a stunning blend of more colloquial Irish English and super interesting descriptions and metaphors) and the way in which he structures his stories impeccable – this is a very, very bleak collection, featuring many sad and unlikable characters, that I could nonetheless see working for the right reader perfectly.
I will just have to stop complaining that my reading month was awful. There is no way this state of affairs will change, especially now that I am back at work and really, really need to finish my PhD – as I just accepted a PostDoc job starting in August (I am super excited about the job and think I can do it very well but at some point this next year I will need to have the title for it).
This does mean a couple of things for my blog though: I cannot even attempt to write reviews for everything I read (which I have not been doing for about two years anyways) and this will be the part of my hobbies that is least likely to survive. I will for now change the way I do my wrap ups to include mini impressions of the books I read and hopefully will be able to write at least this post each month.
Books I read in June:
I began the month strong by finishing the absolutely incredible Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (5 out of 5 stars): an impeccable researched and structured deep dive into the Sackler family (of OxyContin “fame) – my main takeaway is, as usual, capitalism is the worst and regulation is indeed not the enemy. The audiobook is read by the author himself which is always something I adore. Afterwards I listened to my chaotic buddy read: Brood by Jackie Polzin (4.5 out of 5 stars) – which has stuck and grown on me. It is a surprisingly gruesome story about a griefing woman and her chicken – and I loved her so much. She is prickly and sad and so sure of some things (and probably very wrong about them!) while being very anxious and unsure about other things. She is a near perfect character. Afterwards I fell even deeper into my reading slump, as I went back to work and got just hammered with things to do. Thankfully, I still have some Ilona Andrews’ books to read, which is what I did. I inhaled the first two books in their Innkepper Chronicles Clean Sweep (4 out of 5 stars) and Sweep in Peace (3.5 out of 5 stars) – they are just my “break in case of reading slump” authors. At least once a year they manage to ignite my love for reading anew. This is technically the third series of theirs that I am reading and while it is not my favourite, it has all the things I love about their work: great world building, brilliant characters with wonderful interactions, main characters that are just my kind of overly powerful women – and an emotional core that hits me as a surprise again and again. I also finally DNFed A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion which had been sitting at 62% read on my Kindle for six months. This is not a bad book by any means but I found it unfocussed and for me at least the mix between coming-of-age and thriller did not work. I thought the coming-of-age elements, even if they followed expected story beats (the skinny dipping scene, the awkward first kiss, the falling out with friends, the fights with sisters), worked beautifully due to how expertly the main character is drawn. The thriller-y elements on the other hand did neither work for me nor kept me interested enough to keep reading.
Favourite of the Month:
Empire of Pain was as brilliant as I expected it to be.
I finished four books, three written by women and one by a man. One book was non fiction, one fiction and two can broadly be categorized as Urban Fantasy (albeit with scifi explanations).
What I should be getting to next:
I should be trying to finally finish some of the books I have been reading for literal months – and stop adding more and more books to my currently reading shelf. 10 books is just ridiculous!
As every year, I am surprised that the year is already half way over. I have had a pretty bad reading year so far but not doing this tag felt too sad.
Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2021
By far the two best books I read were by authors whose previous books I also five-starred (I am sure there is a lesson here that I will, as always, forget as soon as I post this). Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain is near perfect: its structure is clever, his use of repetition makes it easy to follow without becoming boring, and his research is impeccable. The Sacklers are the worst though – it took me a while to settle on a least favourite Sackler but I think I got there in the end (It’s Richard). Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is just a perfect book, no word is wasted, no idea left unexplored. I so wish for it to win the Women’s Prize.
I had such hopes for this month – but my reading was erratic at best and I have not finished a single fantasy book – even though I planned to prioritize them.
Books I read in May:
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: 4 out of 5 stars
Favourite of the Month:
The best book I finished was definitely Detransition, Baby – I adored many things about it and I am a bit miffed that it didn’t make the Women’s Prize shortlist. I loved its exploration of gender and motherhood, Reese is such a wonderfully realized character that made my heart hurt – it is not perfectly structured and sometimes a bit too sprawling for me, but what an excellent, excellent cast of characters.
I finished three books, all of them fiction written by women.
What I should be getting to next:
I do not even know how to get my reading mojo back – and I will be going back to work in two weeks and my tiny reading time will probably disappear completely. The only thing I reliably get to is audiobook listening, so I will probably be switching near completely to that format.
One thing I do know, however, and that is that I will be reading Brood by Jackie Polzin with the possibly most chaotic group chat I will ever be part of. I am excited! (and the audiobook is only about 5 hours long, so I should manage to actually read the book in June.)