Most anticipated fiction releases of 2021

For my final post about my most anticipated releases of 2021 I will be rounding up books that interest me that can be categorized as either fiction, literary fiction, or short stories. I lumped these genres together because I did not find enough literary fiction releases I am excited about to merit a seperate post and short story collections usually do not get as much buzz – the combination is a bit clumsy because my taste in short stories skews towards the at least slightly speculative. You can find my round-ups of SFF releases here and of non-fiction releases here. I organized the books below by publication date and clicking on the covers will lead to the books’ Goodreads pages.

A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion (published by Faber & Faber, January 28th 2021)
The blurb sounds like the book is a thriller but it isn’t and I am intrigued to no end: “When their mother pulls on to the verge and tells Ellen to ‘Get Out’, they all know that is what she is going to do. What none of them know as they drive off leaving their twelve-year-old sister on the side of the road five miles from home, with the dark closing in around her, is what will happen next.” I have an e-ARC for this and hope to be able to get to before the year ends.

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz (published by Grove Press, February 2nd)
This is such a great short story collection that I have already read and reviewed here. These dark but never hopeless stories focus girlhood with all its edges and are impeccably structured with incredible prose. I really hope this will find many readers. Lauren Groff blurbed it and agrees with me, for whatever this is worth to you.

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (published by Bloomsbury, February 2nd 2021)
I was so excited for this, I requested an ARC both from the US and the UK publisher and for some reason got both. Broder’s debut novel is one of my all-time favourite books and even if I didn’t love this one quite as much, her writing is as sharp as ever, her characterisation is still so real it hurts and the has cemented her place on my list of favourite authors.

Kink ed. by R. O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell (published by Simon Schuster, February 9th 2021)
The list of contributors reads like a who is who of a certain kind of literary fiction writer (one that I happen to adore), featuring short stories by Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, Brandon Taylor (my favourite story on the bunch!), Alexander Chee, and many more. The anthology is as good as I hoped it would be – my review can be found here.

Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap (published by Small Beer Press, February 9th 2021)
This collection sounds incredible: dealing with myths and urban legends and being an immigrant. I have also recently read a bit of what Yap said about the process of writing this, of deciding not to write for the white gaze, and I am extremely looking forward to this. It’s possible that this will be too scary for me but I am willing to try anyways.

Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh (published by Berkley, February 23rd 2021)
I will read whatever Nalini Singh publishes next. I just love what she does, so much that I will even read every thriller-type book she writes. I don’t even really know what this is about, except that bones have been found ten years after everybody thought a woman left her rich husband and now her son starts investigating.

Redder Days by Sue Rainsford (published by Transworld Publishers, March 4th 2021)
I really enjoyed Rainsford’s earlier novel (review here) and jumped on the opportunity to receive an ARC of this book which I accepted without reading what the book is about. I adore her prose and her combination of the weird and horrific with the mundane. That this book features twins (I love stories about siblings) makes me even more excited.

Eat The Mouth That Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza (published by City Lights Books, March 23rd 2021)
Myriam Gurba blurbed this – so I am interested. This part of the description particularly appeals to me: “In gritty, sometimes fantastical stories about Latinx life, women challenge feminine stereotypes and make sense of fractured family histories.” I also do not read enough book published by smaller presses and hope to remedy that.

The Rock Eaters: Stories by Brenda Peynado (published by Penguin Books, May 11th 2021)
This collection of short stories has been compared to Kelly Link and Carmen Maria Machado, and to be honest, I didn’t need to know more to decide I wanted to read it. I like short stories that combine elements of speculative genres with literary fiction and this one sounds like it will deliver on that.

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor (published by Riverhead, June 22nd 2021)
Hands down my most anticipated book on this list. I (shamefully) still haven’t gotten around to his Booker shortlisted Real Life but I am actually more excited for his debut collection of short stories. His story in Kink was by far my favourite and I cannot wait to read more of his stuff.

Objects of Desire: Stories by Clare Sestanovich (published by Knopf, June 29th 2021)
I am always looking for short story collections to read – as such when Brandon Taylor enthusiastically reommended this on Twitter that was enough for me to add this to my TBR. This part of the blurb made this a highly anticipated release: “In these stories, thrilling desire and melancholic yearning animate women’s lives–from the brink of adulthood, to the labyrinthine path between twenty and thirty, to middle age, when certain possibilities quietly elapse.”

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder (published by Harvill Secker, July 1st 2021)
The description of this book about a new mother who thinks she is becoming a dog and developing dog-like impulses sounds like it could be the very best thing to come out next year. If the writing is as sharp as the blurb makes me hope, this could very well be my favourite thing I read next year. I combines many things I am interested in: disaster women, early motherhood, surrealism. I hope it’s as good as I hope it is!

Magma by Þóra Hjörleifsdóttir tr. by Meg Matich (published by Grove Atlantic, July 13th 2021)
I often appreciate books about women in their early twenties who are in difficult/ abusive relationships, the cover is absolutely brilliant, and Rachel made me request this on NetGalley. I always want to read more books in translation so this seems an obvious choice.

Appleseed by Matt Bell (published by Custom House, July 13th 2021)
Matt Bell blurbs all my favourite short story collections – yet I have not read any of his books. I really want to remedy that and why not go with his newest book first. This seems to be a climate chance novel with dual time-lines (past and future), combining speculative elements with thruiller tropes – and I am here for it. (I am also now wondering if this book would have better fit with my SFF list but I am expecting more of a litfic slant here.)

Matrix by Lauren Groff (published by Riverhead, September 2021)
I love Lauren Groff’s writing and want to have one day read everything she has ever written. I have two books of her backlist left to read and I am even willing to read a book about nuns during the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine if she is the one writing it. There is something about the way her sentences flow that works extremely well for me. (no cover yet, so Goodreads link here.)

Mini-Reviews: upcoming short story collections (Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz, Kink ed. by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon, and The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes)

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz

Published by Grove Atlantic, February 2nd 2021

This is such a good debut collection of short stories. I especially liked the focus on girlhood and thought Moniz captures that particular time of life incredibly well – with all the inherent darkness a focus on girls can lead to. And dark these stories are – but I did not find them hopeless even if Moniz refuses to give her stories neat endings. I found this impeccably written, the metaphor heavy language a perfect fit for the format, and her characterization incredibly well-done. Some stories veered too much into darkness for me (I did not love “Tongues” and thought “Exotics” wasn’t half as clever as it should have been), but others were near pitch perfect (the collection starts incredibly strong with “Milk Blood Heat” which broke my heart but in a good way; “Thicker Than Water” with its examination of sibling relationships, guilt and grief was my favourite).

Content warning: rape, child sexual abuse, miscarriage, abortion, cannibalism, suicide, suicidal ideation, grief induced hallucinations

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

Kink: Stories ed. by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon

Published by Simon & Schuster, February 9th 2021

The second I heard about this anthology, I knew I needed to read it. The subject matter is right up my alley and the list of contributors is just incredible. The book did not disappoint in the slightest. Of course, when it comes to anthologies there will always be stories that work better for me than others but I genuinely thought all of these stories did something interesting.

The biggest surprise was Trust by Larissa Pham which I found emotionally resonant and super well-written – by an author I had not heard of before and whose other work I cannot wait to check out. Not surprising in the least was that I liked Carmen Maria Machado’s story The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror – because I genuinely do not think she could write a bad story if she tried. That she made me enjoy a historical fiction story speaks for itself. My absolute favourite of the bunch, however, was Brandon Taylor’s Oh, Youth. This story was pitch-perfect and heart-breaking and impeccably paced. It made me even more excited for his upcoming collection if that is at all possible.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warning: death of a loved one, death of a pet, insomnia, suicidal idolation, divorce

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

The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes

Published by Grove Press, January 12th 2021

I did not get on with this. I struggled from the first story on and liked the second even less. Most of the things that didn’t work for me are very much subjective: the stories that I read were all historical fiction with the accompanying trope and style choices and that is a genre I rarely enjoy. I also found the characters deeply unpleasant (and while I often enjoy that in novels, I prefer more readily sympathetic characters in short stories) and the stories felt cynical in a way that I am sure will be perfect for the right reader. There was also something about the sentence structure that made the prose feel more convoluted than I like.

I wish I had liked this more because I do love interconnected short stories, but I am just not in the mind set to be able to force myself to read things that I am only partly enjoying (for what it’s worth, this probably would have been a three star in the end, so it is definitely not a bad book!).

DNF

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

Most anticipated non-fiction releases of 2021

I love thinking about all the great books that will come out in an upcoming year. I am not always that great at following through and actually reading the books but writing these posts is always a favourite part of my blogging year. I have already talked about my most anticipated SFF releases of 2021 here, today I want to highlight some of the amazing sounding non-fiction titles I am excited about (although I should probably just call it as it is: my most anticipated memoirs with the odd essay collection thrown in). Clicking on the covers will lead to the books’ Goodreads pages because I am not good at giving summaries.

As You Were by David Tromblay (published by Dzanc Books, February 16th 2021)
I am already reading this and it’s as brilliant as I hoped but also as gruesome as I figured it would be. Tromblay talks about intergenerational trauma, PTSD, abuse, and growing up Native. It is written in second person, addressing himself, in a way that seems custom-made for me to love.

Women and Other Monsters: Bulding a New Mythology by Jess Zimmermann (published by Beacon Press, March 9th 2021)
A book combining Greek mythology, female monsters/ villains, and feminism?! Sign me right up! I have an e-ARC of this book and I am very excited to get to this. I haven’t read Zimmermann’s writing before but couldn’t just not grab this when I had the chance. This sounds RIGHT up my alley.

Girlhood by Melissa Febos (published by Bloomsbury, March 30th 2021)
I have wanted to get to Febos’ writing for ages and somehow never do read her. I am determined to change that in 2021 – and this collection of essays, combining theory and memoir (my favourite kind of non-fiction writing) sounds incredible. It has also been compared to The Argonauts, a book I really enjoyed.

Broken by Jenny Lawson (published by Henry Holt, April 6th 2021)
I enjoyed the previous two memoirs by Jenny Lawson and cannot imagine this one being much different. I like her tone and her unflinching honesty regarding her mental illness while remaining funny. Here she chronicles her experience with an experimental treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation, and I am very interested in this angle.

White Magic by Elissa Washuta (published by Tin House Books, April 27th 2021)
Another memoir-in-essays about growing up, about addiction, and about mental health, this one connects these musings to cultural beliefs and, yes, white magic to explore “questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.” This sounds incredible and Washuta is brilliant on twitter.

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger (published by Santa Fe Writers’ Project, May 1st 2021)
Somebody on Twitter said that this is already their favourite book of 2021, I cannot remember who but it instantly made me add this to my TBR. I am particularly interested in this angle of the book: “But what happens when a journalist interrogates her own rosy memories to reveal the instability around the edges?” What I’ve read of Dancyger’s writing so far, I enjoyed, so I will probably love this.

Well, This Is Exhausting by Sophia Benoit (published by Gallery Books, July 13th 2021)
I adore Benoit on Twitter and really enjoy her advice column (I love a good advice column). I also particularly like memoirs-in-essays, so I have high hopes for this. Especially because I already like Benoit’s way of talking and thinking about feminism. I also expect this to be funny and I could do with more funny books. The brilliant cover doesn’t hurt either.

Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders (published by tordotcom, August 17th 2021)
I adore Charlie Jane Anders – which is basically the only reason I am interested in a book about writing. Anders wrote this book during the lockdown and as such it might really help me deal with the way our lives have all been drastically altered. Her writing is usually optimistic which is something I really need right now.

In Open Country by Rahawa Haile (published by Harper, February 2nd 2021 or maybe September 21st 2021 or maybe January 11th 2022)
This sounds incredible: Haile hiked the Appalachian Trail as a Black woman and I am here for a memoir exploring that. I love a well-done travel memoir, especially if it includes hiking. I really hope the book publishes next year but I am finding many different publication dates, no final cover, and no final description. Still, I am stoked for this. (Goodreads page here)

What are your most anticipated non-fiction releases of the year? I am particularly interested in titles in genres other than memoir.

Most anticipated SFF releases of 2021

I love December in the bookish world – everybody is talking about their favourite books (I am still hoping for a few amazing books, so I will post in January) and about the books they are most looking forward to. The last few years I tried to write about my most anticipated books twice a year (for the first and the second half of the year) but as I am back at work from June on (then obviously with a child), I am unsure whether I will manage (I did not this year). Thus I decided to post more than one list now and include books for the whole of 2021. First up are the books I am currently aware of and excited for that can be categorized as SFF (the spectrum runs more from fantasy to speculative romance, rather than proper science fiction). I organized them by publication date; clicking on the covers will lead you to the books’ Goodreads pages.

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder #1) by Ilona Andrews (published by NYLA, January 12th 2021)
A new book in the Kate Daniels world? Sold. I don’t know much more but already preordered it. I will eventually read everything Ilona Andrews’ have ever written but the Kate Daniels series has my favourite worldbuilding.

Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long (published by Titan Books, January 19th 2021)
I only read as far as the first half sentence of the blurb before requesting this book on NetGalley: “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.” I love books featuring gods (see my recommendation post here), which will be completely obvious by the end of this post. Early reviews are favourable and I hope to agree. I do not read enough epic fantasy given how often I adore it.

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost #1) by C. L. Clark (published by Orbit, March 23rd 2021)
What first piqued my interest is the, frankly, disgustingly perfect cover – I mean, just look at that perfection. I also enjoy the author’s presence on twitter and I am always up for kickass women in my fantasy. And two morally grey women fighting and possibly falling in love? Sign me right up.

The Helm of Midnight (The Five Penalties #1) by Marina J. Lostetter (published by Tor Books, April 13th 2021)
I happen to really like books that combine more than one genre – when it comes with speculative elements, especially when it’s done in an epic fantasy kind of world, especially so. Thus my interest was already piqued when I realized this was serial killer novel fantasy. That the cover is beautiful didn’t hurt either. I am very excited for the magical homicidal death mask angle and the hints of a plotline and mythology.

Son of the Storm (The Nameless Republic #1) by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (published by Orbit, May 11th 2021)
I adore fantasy novels that explore the idea that mythologies might have been passed on wrong – and the idea of an island nation that other places insist does not exist with magic of its own sounds like absolute catnip to me. Add shape-shifters and forbidden magic and I am all in. For some reason I never got around to Okungbowa’s debut even though it features gods, so if I like this one, I’ll surely go back and remedy that.

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley (published by Bloomsbury, May 25th 2021)
To be totally honest, I requested an ARC of this mostly because it was compared to David Mitchell and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Like I said, I like genre-bending books and I am always looking for something like Mitchell’s writing. This is apparently an alternative history, science-fiction, time-travel kind of book – this will either work brilliantly for me or not at all. I am excited.

A Dance of Smoke and Steel (A Gathering of Dragons #3) by Milla Vane (published by Berkley, June 8th 2021)
I loved both books in the series so far (I haven’t yet read the novella because I am pacing myself). This is the dark and gritty fantasy romance of my heart. I thought the romance worked better in the first book but the world got way more exciting in the second part. Again, this features actual gods, mythology that differs depending on who is telling it, and kickass women – this series is basically custom-made for me. This might be the last book in the series but I am kind of hoping not because there is so much world yet left unexplored.

For the Wolf by Hannah F. Whitten (published by Orbit Books, June 15th 2021)
I am easily swayed by comp titles, it seems. This one has been compared to Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale, both of which I adored, so this seems like it will be right up my alley. Fairytale re-tellings can be brilliant if they are done right – this seems to be a spin on Red Riding Hood and the wolf is not a monster but a man. Sign me right up, this sounds wonderful.

She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Shelley Parker-Chan (published by Tor Books, July 20th 2021)
Speaking of re-tellings, this is based on Mulan which on its own would have been interesting but the setting during the Ming dynasty intrigues me to no end. I will have to see how I get on with the “pretending to be her own brother” part of the plot, as lying often makes me anxious but everything else sounds just too amazing.

Last Guard (Psy-Changeling Trinity #5) by Nalini Singh (published by Berkley, July 20th 2021)
I cannot wait for this. I loved the first arc of this long-running series and I am excited to see where Nalini Singh takes her story next. I can always trust in her ability to spin stories I enjoy and her worldbuilding is impeccable. I should also be up to date with her other series (Guild Hunter) come next year, so I am also excited for the next book there.

The Thousand Eyes (The Serpent Gates #2) by A. K. Larkwood (published by Tor Books, August 24th 2021)
I am SO excited for this. I adored the first book in the series (review) and loved where it left off. I love the way Larkwood blends fantasy with science fiction, I obviously adore the way she employs mythology, I thought the first book was perfectly plotted, and I just think this could be absolutely perfect. (No cover yet; link to Goodreads here.)

Which SFF books are you most excited for?

Review: Pew by Catherine Lacey

“I nodded, but I was still thinking about Nelson’s dream, and wondering why it was that anyone believed the human body needed to be any particular way, or what was so important about the human body. Was it possible for a human’s mind and memory and ideas to live inside the body of a horse, and if it was, did that make being a human or a horse? What difference did it make, one life or another.”

Pew – published by Granta Publications, May 14th 2020

Fleeing a past they can no longer remember, Pew wakes on a church bench, surrounded by curious strangers.

Pew doesn’t have a name, they’ve forgotten it. Pew doesn’t know if they’re a girl or a boy, a child or an almost-adult. Is Pew an orphan, or something worse? And what terrible trouble are they running from?

Pew won’t speak, but the men and women of this small, god-fearing town are full of questions. As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s silence.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Allusion-rich prose and vague story that I adored until I didn’t.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

For the first half – I was in love. I adored the prose and thought the structure of the book worked wonderfully to invoke a sense of mounting dread. Catherine Lacey constructs a story that feels more like an extended fable than like a novel – in the best possible way. The story begins when a person is found sleeping in a church’s pew. The people in this small town take them in but as the person is not speaking (and nobody seems to be able to agree what they look like, how old they, what gender they are), it does not take very long for the others to turn on them. The book is infused with a growing sense of dread, as Pew (as they are called by the people who took them in) meets different people who all start telling them their darkest secrets, filling the silence the only way they know how. In the background are preparations for an ominous festival, the purpose of which remains cloaked in secrecy for Pew.

The first few chapters really worked for me, I thought the introductions of the different people and their backstories were intriguing, the prose was incredible, and Pew a sympathetic main character that I could not help but deeply root for. I also appreciated how the people were more archetypes than proper characters (unlike Pew who feels real if vague). I thought this worked really well for the fable-like mood. As this pattern kept repeating (Pew is sent to some person, that person assumes to have knowledge of Pew and then starts telling Pew their story), the sense of dread kept ratchetting up. However, as soon as Lacey started showing her hands and actually filling in the blanks a bit, the story lost its appeal to me.

Additionally, I thought the commentary on gender worked a lot better and was smoother integrated than the commentary on race where the fable-like prose felt ill-fitted. I think, ultimately, the prose was not quite strong enough for me to distract from the problems I had with the book. But when it worked for me, it worked so brilliantly that I am very glad to have read this.

Content warnings: Racism, description of lynchings, police corruption, religious fundamentalism, trans racial adoption

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 November 2020

The first half of this reading month was rough – I only finished one book in the first two weeks and really, really hated it. Afterwards I tried to give myself leeway to just read whatever I want – but a rising number of Covid 19 cases made reading not as easy as it sometimes it. Thankfully the last few days of the month I kind of got back into reading. Lets hope this will keep up in December.

Books I read in October:

  1. Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam: 1.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. A Touch of Snow and Stone (A Gathering of Dragons #2): 4 out of 5 stars
  3. Kink: Stories edited by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon: 4 out of 5 stars
  4. A Mind Spread out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  5. Pew by Catherine Lacey: 3.5 out of 5 stars
  6. Archangel’s Viper (Guild Hunter #10) by Nalini Singh: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I also DNFed Naked in Death (In Death #1) by J. D. Robb which was fine but not my kind of book.

Favourite of the Month:

I absolutely adored A Mind Spread out on the Ground – I was sure I would and it exceeded my high expectations.

Stats(ish):

I finished six book, four of which were written by women, one by a man, and the last one was an anthology by various authors. Two books were speculative romance, one was a horror/ satire hybrid, one literary fiction, one an essay collection, and finally one short story anthology.

Currently Reading:

Review: Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam

“Three flamingos lifted out off the pool’s surface with a masculine flaunting of wings. Any flamingo, seeing this, would have wanted to incubate their issue. These were flamingos, the best of flamingos, hale and powerful. They rose into the air, a simple trick, and above the trees. The flamingos on the grass followed, seven human-sized pink birds, twisty and strange, ascending into the Long Island night, beautiful and terrifying in equal measures.”

Leave The World Behind – published by Bloomsbury Publishing, October 6th 2020

A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Very much not for me.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Sometimes I am so in the minority with a book that I am starting to question whether I read the same book as everybody else. This is one of those cases (partly at least, because an abundance of DNF-reviews agrees with me). I did not get on with this. Maybe I should have called it quits when at 15% in, Alam had managed to reference the genitalia of three of the four family members. Snark aside, I was very much the wrong reader for this – where other people read scenes as tense, I found them satirical – and I do not particularly like satire. I found the tone impossible to pin down and as such the reading experience was more frustrating than anything else. Additionally, there were mainly three things that did not work for me: uneven perspective, disdainful characterisation, and a lack of trust in the reader’s intelligence.

Alam chose a omniscient narrator for his story, flitting between his characters’ heads, often within the same paragraph. While this might have worked had the tone been different, here I found this led to a lack of tension and an immense amount of frustration on my end because he chose to keep things artificially hidden from the reader. I would have prefered the narration to be either closer to the two couples or further away, as it was, the sprinkled-in sentences about the outside world took the little bit of tension I felt completely away.

I do not mind unlikable characters (at all, especially when they are women) but I need to feel like the author cares for their characters. Here I felt like I could basically see Alam sneering at his characters and I found that approach unkind – and again leading to my lack of interest in what was going on. He is also weirdly focussed on genitalia in a way that I found frankly baffling – I do not know what purpose the masturbation and sex scenes played for the story and I would have rather not spent this much time reading about a teenager’s penis.

It felt like Alam did not trust his readers to understand subtext or character development. Everything is spelt out, excrutiatingly. So much that I started to wonder if something really obvious was flying over my head. By the time I finished this book, all goodwill I had towards this book based on the incredible premise was lost.

Content warnings: depiction of racism, vomit, loss of teeth, disease on unknown origin, alcohol abuse, spiders

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.

Review: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

“Why did it feel so much safer to be wanted or needed than to be the one who wanted or needed?

I was terrified of being rejected. I didn’t want to be a loser. That was the word that came into my head whenever I ran the risk of caring about someone: loser. I couldn’t remember my mother ever saying it to me. It was something I must have come up with all by myself.”

Milk Fed – Published by Scribner, February 2nd, 2021

Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.

Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.

Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy, Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we as humans can compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed, from one of our major writers on the psyche—both sacred and profane.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Sharp prose, brilliant characterization, very very awkward.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This hurts a bit. I was so very sure I would love this (The Pisces is one of my all-time favourite books and I had been anticipating Broder’s second novel for what felt like ages) and while Broder’s writing is as sharp as ever and there is much to love, ultimately this did not always work for me. Where Lucy (the main character in The Pisces) is deeply unpleasant and unhappy but so witty and sharp that I could not help but root for her, here the main character, Rachel, is also prickly but before anything else deeply, deeply unhappy. She looks for acceptance in all the wrong places, trying to be somebody she is not in the hopes of finally finding somebody who unconditionally (or even conditionally) loves her.

For me, Broder’s biggest strength lies in drawing these women that feel real, with internal voices that are consistent and believable. Rachel feels like a complete person – and I felt for her. Her every moment is taken over by her eating disorder, her calorie counting, and her obsessive tendencies – and her aforementioned need to be loved by somebody. Her inner monologue is claustrophobic to the extreme, especially in the very first chapter when she outlines her daily routine. Rachel is without a plan for her life, except to stay as thin as humanly possible by any means necessary, and when she latches on to Miriam, an orthodox Jewish woman who works in the frozen joghurt shop Rachel frequents, the crush quickly becomes unhealthy and obsessive as well. The book was hard on my second hand embarassment and took me a lot longer to finish than it might have otherwise taken me.

All these are not objective criticisms of this book but rather reasons why I did not always enjoy my time with it. Ultimately, this is good and it seems unfair to measure any book against Broder’s debut which kickstarted my love affair with books about disaster women, but I could not help doing so and thus couldn’t love it the way I wanted to love it.

Content warnings: disordered eating, calorie counting, vomit, binge eating, homophobia, self harm, addiction, suicidal ideation, parental abuse

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

Wrap Up October 2020

I jinxed it. I had such good readings months and started to feel complacent. This was not a good reading month at all for me.

Books I read in October:

  1. Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab: 3 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels #5.5) by Ilona Andrews: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey: 2 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Magic Gifts (Kate Daniels #5.4) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz: 4 out of 5 stars
  6. Milk Fed by Melissa Broder: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

None of the books I read this month worked perfectly for me, even the four star reads were low four star reads. But I did enjoy spending time in the Kate Daniels’ universe again and am considering rereading the full-length novels soon.

Stats(ish):

I finished six books, of these books four were written by women and two by a husband and wife team. I finished one short story collection, one non-fiction book, one literary fiction novel, and three books that are broadly speculative in nature with a romantic focus.

Currently Reading:

Reading more books by Indigenous authors – a sort of TBR

November is Native American Heritage Month in the US – and one of the things I planned on doing this year was to read more books by Indigenous authors. Both because they are underrepresented in publishing and also because so far I have not read one book by a Native author I did not like. So this seems like the perfect opportunity to get to a few more books before the year’s end.

I sat with the idea to do something for Native American Heritage Menth for quite some time and thought long and hard whether I really wanted to do a proper TBR post for this vague idea I have. On the one hand, TBR posts are fun! I like putting them together and this seems like a good way to shine some light on what I am planning. On the other hand, I seriously suck at following TBRs – and if I don’t have some follow through here, this will look (and honestly be) performative and also fairly problematic. So finally I decided on this: here is a list of books on my radar written by Indigenous authors and I hope to get to at least three of those over the month of November.

I already own two of the three books I want to read in November.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
This is one of my most anticipated books of the year and I am glad I finally have a copy in my hands. I need to finish one of the other physical books I am currently reading and then will dive into this. I am very excited for Roanhorse’s take on epic fantasy; her post-apocalyptic series is a favourite of mine. I have heard incredible things so far.

As You Were by David Tromblay (published February 21st, 2021)
I was contacted by the publisher (Dzanc Books) if I was interested in reviewing this. This is a memoir and sounds absolutely harrowing but also really interesting. Tromblay writes about his difficult childhood, intergenerational trauma, and identity; all things I am interested in. Tromblay names Lidia Yuknavitch as an influence which is always a plus for me.

I also want to get to one of these three non-fiction titles (I mean, it is also Non-Fiction November), probably on audiobook.

Abandon Me: Memoirs by Melissa Febos
I have wanted to read this book since it came out in 2017 – everything about this sounds like my kind of book. It apparently focusses identity and love, Febos was partly raised by a sea captain, the language is described as visceral, and the blurb promises thatg she mixes the personal with the theoretical which is my favourite kind of non-fiction writing.

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
This has also been on my TBR for what feels like forever. I found this on one of those “best memoirs”-type lists and the audiobook especially sounds really good as it features poetry and music.


A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott
I have heard nothing but brilliant things about this memoir dealing with intergenerational trauma, legacy, and addiction. The reviews I have seen are overwhelmingly positive and especially the audiobook has gotten a lot of praise.

Finally there are two books that sounds super intriguing but might be too scary for me.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones and Empire of the Wild by Cherie Dimaline both sound INCREDIBLE. But I scare easily and I recently gravitate more towards books that do not stress me out too badly.

Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts? Are there other books you think should be on my radar? I am particularly interested in speculative works written by Indigenous authors.

PS: There is also a Readathon that takes place in November focussing on Indigenous authors. I am never good at actually participating but thought I should shout it out for others anyways. You can find information and reading prompts on their twitter account.