Wrap Up March 2021

Was this my worst reading month since I started my blog? Absolutely. I could not get myself to read when I found the time to do so and I did not have much time to read to begin with.

Books I read in March:

  1. Real Estate by Deborah Levy: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)

I also DNF-ed two books (Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron and The Conductors by Nicole Glover)- I read so little I really could not make myself continue with books I wasn’t enjoying a lot.

Favourite of the Month:

I guess Real Estate by default. I read the whole Living Autobiography sequence this year and found the experience really rewarding – but haven’t quite yet found the words to talk about the books yet.

Stats(ish):

I read two books, both by women. One non-fiction title and one fiction novel.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should definitely not be getting to anything new but rather work on finally finishing the books I am already reading. This is not my best reading mode – as I have talked about before, four books is my sweet spot.

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Review: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

“I wanted to tell him that in a framework where affection was circumspect, its overt forms were necessarily hostile. Look, I’d say, it’s like English grammar. It doesn’t make sense but it’s too late to change it.”

Exciting Times – published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, April 2020

Ava, newly arrived in Hong Kong from Dublin, spends her days teaching English to rich children.

Julian is a banker. A banker who likes to spend money on Ava, to have sex and discuss fluctuating currencies with her. But when she asks whether he loves her, he cannot say more than ‘I like you a great deal’.

Enter Edith, a lawyer. Refreshingly enthusiastic and unapologetically earnest, Edith takes Ava to the theatre when Julian leaves Hong Kong for work. Quickly, she becomes something Ava looks forward to.

And then Julian writes to tell Ava he is coming back to Hong Kong….

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Great beginning, brilliant ending, kind of terrible middle.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I love books about disaster women and unlike many of my bookish friends do not seem to tire of them at all. There is just something I really appreciate about women writing about women making terrible choices and being honest about that while they are doing it. It’s something I appreciate in memoirs and also in literary fiction. This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist includes quite a few of these disaster women books and I for one am really pleased with that. That said, I did not always love this book.

Told in first person from Ava’s perspective, the tone and voice worked exceedingly well for me in the beginning. Ava is awful, or at least she thinks so and the way in which she treats first Julian, a banker who quickly starts to finance her life, and then Edith a woman she starts a relationship with while omitting the fact that she regularly slept with her “roommate” aka Julian, seems to agree with her. When this book works, it really works for me. Dolan has a brilliant way of writing dialogue and especially the kind of hostile banter between Ava (a self-proclaimed socialist) and Julian (a lot closer to a Tory) was just mesmerizing. They spar and they bicker and they treat each other horribly – but somehow it works. My favourite parts of the book were when Dolan leans into this narrative.

On the other end of the spectrum is Edith – who is by all accounts wonderful and who makes Ava want to be a better person. Their relationship is definitely the more healthy one but I found it boring and I also could not help but brace for the inevitable shoe drop. I do not deal well with lying in books.

I want to briefly touch onto the comparison to Sally Rooney which I do not think does this book all that many favours; while there are similarities, I do think that Exciting Times excels in different areas. It is a lot more overtly political and more successful at that part; Dolan does seem to know a lot about political and economical theory in a way that really worked for me. The asides on language did not work as well for me as they did for other readers but they do add another layer to the class discussion Ava is always having in her head. What this book does not quite as well but I do think on purpose is the secondary characters; Ava is not really all that great at reading other people (or herself for that matter) in a way that fits with her character but made for sometimes flat love interests.

Overall, I did enjoy this and thought parts were absolutely brilliant – I will definitely read whatever Dolan decides to write next. I cannot recommend the audiobook highly enough, it is narrated by the always great Aoife McMahon and gave this book the extra something I needed.

Content warnings: cheating, homophobia

I am not reading the complete longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year but I will attempt to review the books I do get to. I also cannot help myself and will rank the ones I read.

  1. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (review)
  2. Luster by Raven Leilani (review)
  3. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

Piranesi – published by Bloomsbury, September 15th 2020

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Near perfect.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this but talking about why I loved this is proving difficult. Normally, I do care about spoilers at all – but this time I genuinely think not knowing too much helps with appreciating the book, as then the reader’s experience mirrors the main character’s. While the mystery at the heart of this book is not the most important part, I enjoyed being able to guess and look for clues. One of the levels this book works as is as a puzzle box and I had so much fun.

I adored Clarke’s debut Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but I might actually prefer her second novel. The books could not be more different: the former is a sprawling, long, and dense historical novel with Austenesque wit (plus, you know, fairies), the latter is a short, vague, interior novel focused on a very small cast of characters. Written in the form of diary entries, we never leave the main character’s head – and what a wonderful head to be in it was. Piranesi is fascinating: he is kind but set in his ways, he believes the House knows best but is still able to keep looking for answers once he wants them; I do not know that I have read about a character like him often and I adored the fact that before everything, he wants to do what is right.

Pretty much all of this worked for me, from the characters to the peculiar prose to the structure; especially the first half was near perfect for me. I do admit that this just hits a lot of my pleasure buttons and I can see where it might not work for other readers but I am glad that many people are taking a chance on this.

Ultimately, on a metaphor-level I think this is a book about loneliness and about the structures we impose to deal with it. Clarke is chronically ill and you can tell she knows what she is writing about here. For me, this hit particularly hard given the slowly becoming unbearable pandamic and the intrinsic loneliness of new motherhood. I will treasure this book.

Content warnings: murder, cult-like behaviour

I am not reading the complete longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year but I will attempt to review the books I do get to. I also cannot help myself and will rank the ones I read.

  1. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  2. Luster by Raven Leilani (review)
  3. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021: longlist reaction

It is finally here!

I am both excited and not excited. There are many books I am very thrilled to see on the list and quite a few I either hadn’t heard of or have no interest in reading. As I said before, I will not even attempt to read the longlist this year (which is probably a good thing as I am in a very bad reading slump) – but I do hope to get to some of these. I only correctly predicted three books which hopefully means that this will be a lot better than last year.

Here are the books, in alphabetical order by title:

Because of You by Dawn French
I had heard of Dawn French but not of this book but I do like the inclusion. This deals with motherhood and grief and by the looks of it racism.
Will I read this? Probably not. I do not think I am in the right head space to read about still birth.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
This was already shortlisted for the Booker Prize – as such it was already on my radar. I forgot to include this one to my predictions and kicked myself basically the moment I posted them. This also focuses motherhood – but in what sounds a really interesting way.
Will I read this? Maybe – the reviews are all over and I will probably wait until more people in my WP group chat have read it.

Consent by Annabel Lyon
This is one book I have been on the fence whether I want to read it since I first heard about it. I love books about siblings but I do not deal well with unfairness in books and this sounds very unfair. But look at this cover!
Will I read this? I honestly do not know yet.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
I am so excited that the Women’s Prize finally longlisted their first trans woman. This book sounds like it could be incredibly up my alley, with its focus on difficult women, motherhood, and complicated and unconventional relationships.
Will I read this? Yeah, absolutely.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Another one that I nearly predicted and one that I am very excited for. It has been compared to Sally Rooney, who I famously love, and its focus on a difficult woman in a transitional phase of her life is absolutely my catnip. The audiobook narrator is the same as for Conversations With Friends, so I am very pleased.
Will I read this? Definitely.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
Another one that I briefly considered adding to my predictions, this sounds like a quintessential WP book, sprawling narrative, different perspectives, social commentary.
Will I read this? This is another one that features a dead baby, so no, this will not be a book I am going to read. I am very excited for everybody’s reviews though!

Luster by Raven Leilani
This one I correctly predicted! Another book featuring a difficult woman on the crossroad of finding herself, I thought the first half was pitch.perfect and the second half a bit lacklustre. But still, I adored most of the debut and would not have been happy had this not been longlisted.
Will I read this? Review here.

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
This is another one of the books I am thinking of as millenial books on this list. Lockwood’s memoir has been on my TBR for ages and this one, a novel about the internet and being very online, intrigues me to no end. It seems to be a bit of a marmite book and those are always fun to have on longlists.
Will I read this? Yes! The snippets I’ve seen, I adored, and this has the potential to be a favourite for me.

Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
I had heard nothing of this book before its inclusion on the longlist and I always like this! After the death of his wife, a man realises that he maybe did not know her as much as he thought.This seems to be a literary mystery of some kind – and those can be my thing but this sadly doesn’t sound like it.
Will I read this? Probably not. As this is written by an Irish author, I can be sure Rachel will get to it as some point and can then tell me whether I would like this or not.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
YES! I am SO happy! I loved this, I want more people to read this, I adore Clarke’s writing. Normally, I do not care about spoilers but with this one, I do think knowing as little as possible (there is a reason the blurb is this vague) actually works in the book’s favour. I need to finally write my review but, wow, this is so good. I am glad the judges included a book that is at least spec-fic adjacent and what a good one to choose!
Will I read it? Review to come.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
Another one I had only vaguely heard about, this initially did not interest me at all. A historical novel set in the fifties, featuring a possible virgin birth, a woman falling in love with her friend’s husband, and what sounds like interesting mother/daughter relaionships. Very few of my friends have reviewed this yet, so I am interested to hear more.
Will I read this? My first impulse was no, but the more I sit with it, the more intrigued I am.

Summer by Ali Smith
Possibly the biggest suprise for me, as I was under the impression that Smith didn’t want her books to be put forward for prizes anymore. Arguably one of the bigger releases on this list and one that comes with the additional hype of being the final in a quartett of books that has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. I am very glad to see this included because I like when authors are at the top of their game which Smith definitely is.
Will I read this? No. I read and appreciated Autumn but did not enjoy reading it and have thus not kept up with the series.

The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig
I had neither heard of the books nor the author (although a quick Google search reminded me that she signed that obnoxious open letter in support of JK Rowling which makes me unhappy for a variety of reasons) but this does not sound like my type of book at all. I do not often enjoy more crime focused novels and this one sounds too stressful.
Will I read this? No, no chance.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The third book I correctly predicted, as did pretty much everybody I follow. Another book focussing sisters (which I adore!), with a heavy emphasis on commentary on race, this seems to be the one to beat. I have wanted to get to Bennett’s writing for a while, but her debut which is written from the perspective of a chorus of mothers does sound more like my type of thing. I am very pleased to see it on the list though!
Will I read it? I got a copy of this book for Christmas, so yes, I will definitely read this.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
This also nearly made my list but for some reason didn’t. I am very happy to see it included. A book dealing with science and faith and sibling relationships that has been near universally been praised by reviews, this is another favourite to win, I am sure.
Will I read this? I am not sure yet.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
I read Fuller’s sophomore novel a while ago and while I appreciated it, it was not enough of a favourite that I have kept up with her books. That novel also focused siblings (which was my favourite aspect of the book), as does this one. Twins Julius and Jeanie’s lives start to unravel when their mother who they still lived with at 51 dies. I do often love books about siblings but for some reason this one does not particularly speak to me.
Will I read this? Maybe.

When the longlist was announced, my first reaction was excitement. This list seems to be a lot more catered towards my tastes than last year’s longlist was. However, the longer I sit with it, the less enthused I am. For one, with only five books written by authors of colour and the vast majority of authors coming from either the US or the UK, this is not as varied as I would have liked it to be. There are also many books that sound similar in themes – which I hope I will be proven wrong about.

However, even if I complain about books being similar, at least it caters to my taste. I will be reading all the books about difficult women and the internet. As always, I am most excited to see what my bookish community makes of these books. This really is my favourite time in the bookish world.

Wrap Up February 2021

I am trying to finish my PhD thesis this year and recently decided that this means that I will have to try to write something every day. This is going, well, not great, but better than before. But this also means that I do not have as much time for reading. I am still quite pleased with my reading month..

Books I read in February:

  1. Hall of Smoke by H. M Long: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Beautiful Mutants by Deborah Levy: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. The Unwanted Wife by Natasha Anders: 3 out of 5 stars
  4. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: 5 out of 5 stars
  5. Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmermann: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)

Favourite of the Month:

I adored Piranesi. I was fairly sure I would and Clarke delivered. Her prose is as excellent as ever and this tiny book packs such a punch. I loved trying to solve its mystery and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Stats(ish):

I read five books, all of them written by women. I read one non fiction title, one romance, one literary fiction, one fantasy, and one thing I would call literary speculative fiction.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should just finish the books I am currently reading before my squirrel brain is allowed to start anything new again. I am, however, very excited for quite a few March releases, especially The Unbroken by C. L. Clark and Redder Days by Sue Rainsford – I hope this stays this way, so that I can actually read them.

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021: Longlist predictions

It’s my favourite bookish time of the year! I love following the Women’s Prize for Fiction, or rather I love what it does with my bookish corner of the internet. While I will not be reading the longlist this year (after last year’s disaster of a longlist, my will to put myself through another possible Girl is just not there), I am nonetheless very excited to see what makes it. I have actually read more eligible books than last time, so who knows, I might even get to have opinions. I am also hopeful that this panel of judges (especially the brilliant Bernardine Evaristo) will longlist books that are more interesting in structure than what we (mostly) got last year.

Last year I did OK predicting the longlist but also jinxed it when I proclaimed to like books about motherhood – and books about mothers we got. Lets hope that this time I won’t accidentally wish on a monkey’s paw again. Here are my predictions, in no particular order. I have included whether the author was longlisted before or not because longlisted authors are basically a freebie for the publishers to nominate, additionally to the two spots they usually have.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This is the one I am most confident will make the list. It has gotten rave reviews and so much buzz that I cannot imagine the publisher not nominating it.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes, actually. I got a copy of this for Christmas, for whatever reason, so I might even try to pick this up if it ends up longlisted.

Harvest by Georgina Harding

The longlist is usually fairly historical fiction heavy, which this is. It also deals with a war that isn’t WWII, so it would make an interesting addition, I think

Longlisted before: Yes (2012).

Would I be happy to see it: This is not a book I would ever pick up but it sounds like something people who enjoy historical fiction would appreciate, so sure.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

St. John Mandel is at the top of her game here and her particular brand of non-linear storytelling is exciting enough that I think it absolutely merits a place on this list.

Longlisted before: Yes (2015).

Would I be happy to see it: Very much so. I adored this book.

Luster by Raven Leilani

This is one of the buzziest books of the last year and interesting enough in its commentary on loneliness (something that is very relevant to all of us at the moment, I am sure) and race that I would indeed be surprised if it didn’t end up longlisted.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: I thought this was an interesting addition to the difficult women cannon and the first half was near perfect. While I didn’t quite love the way the book developed after that, I still do think it is well worth being longlisted.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

This sounds both timely and readable, a combination the WP has been fond of for a few years now (looking at you, An American Marriage). Traditionally, Indian authors have been often longlisted but haven’t in the last years and I would like for the prize to remedy that.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: This is not a book that particularly appeals to me – but I do think that people who like this kind of politically charged, sprawling narrative this will work really well.

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Sometimes, I see a book and somehow immediately think that it’ll be a contender for the longlist (I spend a lot of time over the year thinking about the Women’s Prize). – this is one of those.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: I would, actually. This has the potential to be really great and I would like to see more reviews to decide if I want to read this.

As You Were by Elaine Feeney

Hailed as the Irish debut of the year, this sounds like it could be an excellent addition to the longlist.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes! Unlikeable female character but make her incurably ill, I love it. I need it. (The Sinéad Gleeson blurb also helps)

Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar

This is a novel about isolation (need I say more?) – something I am sure will be a prominent feature this year, given, well, everything. It is also a novel about finding one’s voice and doing what’s right – and I cannot imagine anything timelier.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes!

The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes

This book has steadily been building hype, with overwhelmingly positive reviews – and with its focus on one family in Ireland during the financial crash, this sounds like a quintessential WP book to me.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Mostly. I am not sure I would love it – but plenty of others will and then I can decide for myself if I want to read it.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

This is so good. Clarke writes with such perfection – and while it is speculative fiction, the speculative elements are slight enough that I think it has a chance making this list. Her debut was longlisted for the Booker after all!

Longlisted before: No. (which is a shame.)

Would I be happy to see it: Yes! Yes! Yes! It is SO GOOD!

The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin

Admittedly, I don’t even know what this is about but I have a gutfeeling of this making the list, so I am including it.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Sure.

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Books about families, spanning generations, are often longlisted for the Women’s Prize. This sounds like the most likely contender for the spot.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: I genuinely do not know. It is not a book that appeals to me, for sure.

Pew by Catherine Lacey

This book is experimental enough while being accessible still, that I could see it making the list. Its commentary on gender was more successful for me than its commentary on race but in general I thought this was mostly well done.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

Before this won the Costa Award, I was sure this would make the longlist, now not as much anymore. It was, however, also longlisted for plenty of other prizes.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: I am always happy when books with a speculative twist make literary prize longlists, this would be no exception.

A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo

Another book dealing with loneliness and Brexit, I think this has an absolute chance of making in the list.

Longlisted before: Yes (2007 – shortlisted even)

Would I be happy to see it: Sure. I have loved Guo’s writing in the past and really should read more of hers.

The Yield by Tara June Winch

This has basically won every Australian book award there is (I don’t actually know if that is way hyperbolic or only little hyperbolic – but it won a lot). Everybody I know who read it, loved it. And I think it is time for an Australian author to be longlisted again.

Longlisted before: No.

Would I be happy to see it: Yes. I even have an unread ARC on my Kindle and would love the extra incentive to read it.

There you have my official 16 predictions. As always, there is the slight chance that they go back to the longlist of 20 books – but I doubt it somehow. I left off some books that nearly made my list: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, Sisters by Daisy Johnson, Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh, and Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. If the list is 20 books strong, these are my additional predictions.

Whch books are you most hoping for? Are you planning on reading the longlist?

Review: Women and Other Monsters – Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmermann

Verdict: Interesting framing, worked best in the more personal moments and less in the more political ones.

Published by Beacon Press, March 9th 2021

Find it on Goodreads.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A fresh cultural analysis of female monsters from Greek mythology, and an invitation for all women to reclaim these stories as inspiration for a more wild, more monstrous version of feminism

The folklore that has shaped our dominant culture teems with frightening female creatures. In our language, in our stories (many written by men), we underline the idea that women who step out of bounds–who are angry or greedy or ambitious, who are overtly sexual or not sexy enough–aren’t just outside the norm. They’re unnatural. Monstrous. But maybe, the traits we’ve been told make us dangerous and undesirable are actually our greatest strengths.

Through fresh analysis of eleven female monsters, including Medusa, the Harpies, the Furies, and the Sphinx, Jess Zimmerman takes us on an illuminating feminist journey through mythology. She guides women (and others) to reexamine their relationships with traits like hunger, anger, ugliness, and ambition, teaching readers to embrace a new image of the female hero: one that looks a lot like a monster, with the agency and power to match.

Often, women try to avoid the feeling of monstrousness, of being grotesquely alien, by tamping down those qualities that we’re told fall outside the bounds of natural femininity. But monsters also get to do what other female characters–damsels, love interests, and even most heroines–do not. Monsters get to be complete, unrestrained, and larger than life. Today, women are becoming increasingly aware of the ways rules and socially constructed expectations have diminished us. After seeing where compliance gets us–harassed, shut out, and ruled by predators–women have never been more ready to become repellent, fearsome, and ravenous.

I don’t really have much to say about this. I did in fact enjoy my time with this and I thought the framework Zimmermann uses – speaking about different female monster from Greek/ Roman mythology and using that as a jumping point to write more generally about sexism – was really well chosen. I just do not think it was as great as it could have been and that is such a shame. This book sits squarely in an intersection of two of my great loves: feminism and mythology. I should have adored this. I think what makes this such a difficult review for me to write is that there is nothing wrong with this book – but I was not the right reader.

I like my non-fiction either highly introspective and navel-gazing, or perfectly structured and researched. This was somehow neither. As such, I vastly prefered the parts where Zimmermann was close to her own life, using mythology to make sense of her experiences. These parts worked extremely well and gave me much to think about. On the other hand, the more general political points did not always convince me, probably because this was not really the focus of the book or because I found them very narrow in their application while Zimmermann made them sound universal. I am, however, not from the US – so your milage may absolutely vary here.

Content warnings: discussions of sexism and racism, (mythical) rape, (mythical) miscarriage, abortion, emotional abuse

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long

“Eang, Eang, The Brave, the Vengeful, the Swift and the Watchful.”

Hall of Smoke – published by Titan Books, January 19th 2021

An epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller, atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.

Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Great world, great main character, interesting mythology – weirdly paced.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Books about gods are my favourite. As such I jumped at the chance to read this – not only does it feature gods, it features gods that walk among their people – and mythology that depends on the country it is told in. I love these kinds of ruminations on the nature of belief and culture.

The book starts with a bang when recently exiled Hessa is the only warrior priestess of Eang – the Goddess of War – to survive a sudden invasion. She was cast out of her order for failing to kill a visitor she had been foretold to kill. Killing him becomes her only focus – in the hopes of earning her Goddess’ forgiveness (a Goddess who is not known for being forgiving). The plot itself did not always grip me as we follow Hessa from one place to another (I am not that into travel fantasy) and I found it weirdly low-stakes given that the literal survival of a country is threatened but what I absolutely adored was the underlying mythology and Hessa herself. The story is told from a very close first person narration, a choice that is unusual for the genre but that worked extremely well as Hessa is our entry point into the world and we learn as she learns. As such I found the worldbuilding well integrated and easy enough to follow. It also helps to show just what a heavy burden is expected of Hessa to carry.

Hessa is a wonderful main character and one of the reasons I was so happy with this book. She is strong and stubborn but ultimately able to adapt to her changed circumstances – and she is warm and caring and absolutely kickass. I love kickass women in my fantasy reading and she definitely delivered.

Content warnings: genocide, gore, loss of loved ones

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.

Wrap Up January 2021

I am determined to have a better reading year than last year and very purposefully chose my books. I finally finished a few books I had been reading way too long and I am now trying to just pick the books I am absolutely feeling like going forward. This worked out well for this month.

Books I read in January:

  1. Open Book by Jessica Simpson: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. Things I Don’t Want To Know by Deborah Levy: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  4. Magic Stars (Kate Daniels #8.5) by Ilona Andrews: 3 out of 5 stars
  5. You Perfect, Broken Thing by C. L. Clark: 4 out of 5 stars
  6. The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin: 3.5 out of 5 stars
  7. Magic Heir (Aurelia Ryder #1) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

My favourite thing I read this month were the first two installments of Deborah Levy’s living autobiography. The last part will be published later this year and I am very excited. While I do not always agree with Levy’s points, her prose is stunning and her structure impeccable. I cannot wait to read more of her backlist while I wait for her next book.

Stats(ish):

I read 8(ish) books this month. Six were written by women and two by an author team. Three books can be categorized as fantasy, three were non-fiction, one was translated fiction, and I also read one short story.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I am very close to finishing A Crooked Tree (started brilliantly, is currently dragging) and Hall of Smoke (great world, great main character, odd pacing). Afterwards I will hopefully start on my March ARCs. I am especially excited for Redder Days by Sue Rainsford and The Unbroken by C. L. Clark. Twitter decided on my next physical book (Piranesi by Susanna Clarke) and I could not be more excited. I also did not read a short story collection this month and need to remedy that as soon as possible.

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy. She is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own. A female preyed upon by male teachers at school. A daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night. A good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. A model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. A wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.

Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely. She ]is depressed. She is mad. She is her own woman. Kim Jiyoung is every woman.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is the life story of one young woman born at the end of the twentieth century raises questions about endemic misogyny and institutional oppression that are relevant to us all..

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Depressing, infuriating, relevant, disappointing prose.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I don’t have all that much to say about this book. I find its impact more interesting than the book itself: this is one of the most successful Korean books of the last decade and reading it became a political statement. The book itself is an unflinching depiction of everyday sexism, many of the scenes will be familiar to most women, and very successful at that. It was just that for me I found the prose distinctly underwhelming. The author chose a matter-of-fact kind of language that, while effective, did not align with my personal taste.

My favourite part was the framing device which I thought was really clever and the final chapter really packed a punch in a way the rest of the book didn’t for me. The first and the last chapter sound like a fairly different book while the middle felt like an endless parade of sexism without much story around it. While this might very well be true to life (and rumours are, the book is at least in part biographical), I did not always enjoy my time with the book.

Ultimately, I think this was let down by its comparison to The Vegetarian which is a way more literary book as opposed to this more matter-of-fact novel and as such something that worked a lot better for my personal taste than this one did. As a companion piece it works well though because it illustrates the points The Vegetarian makes in a more straight-forward manner.

Content warnings: depiction of sexism, bullying

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.

Published by Scribner, March 1st 2020