Recommendations: Realistic Short Story Collections

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.

Wyrd and Wonder: Let’s talk about series (+ favourite completed series)

As a fantasy and romance reader, my reading is often series heavy – and when I enjoy a series this is one of my favourite parts of reading. I love the depth possible when many books are set in the same world, I love how invested I can become in characters when I have multiple books to spend time with them, and I also like being able to be reasonably sure I will love a book.

I have said in the past that I am not good at reading series – this is not actually quite true I have realized over the last few years (and about 20 books in the Psy-Changeling series later). I am admittedly not that great at finishing trilogies but longer series I enjoy I often inhale – especially if they are romance heavy or adjacent.

I have not been able to post as many non-review posts as I would like this last year- and I have especially not been able to shout my love from the rooftops as much (it feels like I read more disappointing books lately than earlier in my blogging journey, although this does not seem to actually have been the case). I am currently writing this series of posts on series (still to come are “Series I Love and Want to Keep Reading”, “Series I Read the First Book of and want to continue on with”, and “Series on my TBR”) in the hopes of bringing more positivity to my blog again. These posts are partly inspired by Caitlin’s brilliant The Great Series Read Project which you should check out if you haven’t done so.

To start that positivity with a bang, here are some of my favourite completed series.

Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews (review and review)
This comes as no news to anybody as this series re-invigorated my love for Urban Fantasy a couple of years ago. I binge-read the first four books in a breathless (and sleepless) rush over the span of less than a week. It took me a bit longer to read the next five and then I still had to wait a few weeks for the publication of the last book. Ilona Andrews takes what is a fairly typical UF premise: loner, detective-type person solves crimes involving magic and/ or creatures, while falling in love with one of the suspects, and makes it incredibly readable. The world-building is inpeccable, Kate Daniels is a perfect main character, the voice is wonderful, and I ship the main couple a little bit too much. I am currently making my way through all the novellas set in this world and then maybe I will re-read the series. It is just that good. (I still do not love the covers.)

Psy-Changeling by Nalini Singh
The first arc of this still ongoing series finished with book 15 (plus novellas) – and what a satisfying first arc this was! You get the feeling that Singh knows exactly where she wants her story to go and the little hints she plants early on for later books is just brilliant. This paranormal romance series is set in the future and features both Psy and shapeshifters. Each book focusses on another couple but the overall story is what keeps me hooked even if I do not love each individual couple. Incredibly, the series does not show any signs of becoming weaker and I do not foresee myself ever disliking any book Singh writes.

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin is my favourite author and this is her masterpiece. She won three consecutive Hugo Awards for these books – and rightfully so. The trilogy is near perfect, the first book especially was something close to otherworldly for me (review here). I do not know if there is another book that is this perfectly suited to my reading tastes. If you have not gotten around to this series, I really cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

While not as perfect as the Broken Earth trilogy, this is also an incredible series. It does something I particularly love in fantasy: feature gods. I don’t think Jemisin quite stuck the landing with this one but the first two books were so great. I especially love how distinctly not-human the gods are and I love how the later books recontextualize what happened before. (review for the first book here)

The Divine Cities Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett

Another series featuring Gods (I love it so!), this is set in a world where after a huge war, some gods are missing and/or dead and everything they have built is still there but malfunctioning without the entities that cancelled out certain natural laws powering them. The first book is a murder mystery kind of character heavy secondary world urban fantasy and absolutely brilliant (review here) – but the two other books in the series are also pretty damn amazing. The books feature some of my favourite characters and some of the imagery will stay with me forever, I am certain.

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

In what should be obvious by now, this is also a series featuring gods. Set in the North of Russia with its seemingly neverending winter, drawing both on fairy tales and real life history, I adored this. I inhaled the first book (review here) and have been a fan of Katherine Arden’s writing ever since. I didn’t quite love the second book but thought the third book really stuck the landing (review here).

What are some of your favourite series? I am particularly always looking for good urban fantasy, preferably written by women and I also am never unhappy to see a heavy romance focus.

Review: Deborah Levy’s Living Autobiography

I adore Deborah Levy’s writing and am trying to read all her published fiction and non-fiction books this year. I started my journey with the audiobooks for the first two books in her Living Autobiography and then read an ARC of the third and for now final book in the sequence. First things first: I adored this experience. I rarely manage to read books in any kind of series this close to each other and here it really worked rather well. Levy writes her non-fiction in much the same way she constructs her novels: perfectly structured, looping back and forth, with sentences so sharp they could cut.

Things I Don’t Want to Know (published March 2013)

The first book in the trilogy focusses on Levy as a writer and how her life experiences influence the way she writes and thinks. I thought the second essay, on her childhood in Apartheid South Africa was pitch-perfect. Her prose is excellent and her structure great as always – even if I do not always agree with the more political points Levy makes. She is very much a second-wave feminist and you can tell.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Cost of Living (published April 2018)

Impeccably structured, heart-breaking and still somehow optimistic, with prose as sharp as ever. I love Levy’s writing. I liked the essays closer to her life more than the ones that tried to draw on wider societal themes but the ending did nearly make me give this five stars. The impressive way she draws back to what she said before and the way in which she constructed this memoir like one of her fiction novels might still make me change my mind. Near perfect.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Real Estate (published by Hamish Hamilton, May 13th 2021)

Organized around musings on Levy’s dream house and what she would like it to be like, this concluding volume draws onto themes explored in the previous books and works as a conclusion in a way that I found highly, highly satisfying. There are few writers whose prose and narrative structure mean that I will read whatever they put out and will enjoy myself even if I do not always agree with their political points. Levy is this good.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I loved this. I am kind of wistful having now completed all three and I am somehow hoping against hope that Levy decides to keep writing these sharp, wonderful books. Thankfully Levy has an extensive backlist that I can still jump into, probably in publication order now that I finished all her non-fiction.

May 2021 TBR: It’s Wyrd and Wonder!

IMAGE CREDITS: images by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

May is Wyrd and Wonder month – and I have at least tried to participate for the last three years and I am very excited to be part of it again. Wyrd and Wonder is a month long fantasy readathon hosted by Lisa of Dear Geek Place, imyril of There’s Always Room for One More, and Jorie of Jorie Loves a Story. I particularly like the sense of community this event gives me and that I find new people to follow every year.

I am famously not great at following TBRs and my mood reading often leads me down different paths than I anticipated but I am very excited about fantasy at the moment and hope this’ll keep for this month at least. I have some super exciting books I could potentially read and I genuinely hope to be more active this year. My daughter will maybe start day care soon (depending on how the covid cases in my hometown develop), so I might be able to sit down and blog at least a few times this month. I might also be able to read an actual physical book with pages and everything.

I am currently in the middle of three fantasy books which I am going to prioritize. I am enjoying all three of them but especially For The Wolf which is just as good as the blurb made it sound and at the moment on track to be a five star read for me. Dead Witch Walking is fun and the first in a long series – and I would love to get stuck in a longer series again, filling the Kate Daniels and Psy-Changeling shaped holes in my heart. Big Bad Wolf is a lot darker than I anticipated but I am loving the world building if sadly not the romance.

Below is an additional list of books I am excited about that I could potentially read this month. Looking at these books makes me wonder why I ever read anything else but fantasy. I will probably prioritize The Bone Shard Daughther by Andrea Stewart as it is the group read and Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – have no excuse to not have already read that and I am certain I will adore it.

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021: Shortlist reaction

The shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was just announced and I briefly wanted to share my thoughts. I haven’t read all that many books of the longlist (worst reading slump plus a lot less time) but I still love following along. I correctly guessed four out of the six shortlisted books, so I am pleased with that:

Here are the six shortlisted books:

I am particularly excited to see Piranesi by Susanna Clarke on this list which I thought was excellent and timely in its depiction of loneliness. I am also happy to see both The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi on the list, as I have heard good things about both of them. I am planning on at least trying to read those two. I am currently in the middle of No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood which I expected to love but am not enjoying at all so far. I have no interest in reading How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones although I have heard good things – but it is also apparently bleak and I cannot deal with bleak in my fiction right now. I am not sure if I will read Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller which I expected to see on the list – the reviews have been mixed and I enjoyed but didn’t love her earlier book Swimming Lessons.

Overall, I am happy with the shortlist. I would have loved to see Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters of the shortlist – I find its discussion on motherhood nuanced and very very resonating. I am also sad that Luster isn’t the book of the crop of “disaster women” books that made the list but I also did not think it was as strong as it could have been. But I feel that this year’s longlist was overall very strong and it must have been near impossible to narrow it down to six books. The resulting shortlist is varied in style and genre (or at least as varied in genre as literary fiction prizes get) and author identity. I would bet that either Transcendent Kingdom or The Vanishing Half will win but for myself, I am definitely #TeamPiranesi.

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.

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?

2020 in review: looking back and low-key reading resolutions

I don’t think I need to reiterate again that 2020 was, to say the least, weird. I have made that point in several of my latest posts and I think I should just get on with it. First though, I want to look back at my reading in 2020.

I read fewer books than in other years: Goodreads says 75 but if we’re being honest it’s more like 73. Of those books 56 were written by women, 6 by men, one by a non-binary person, and ten by more than one author of different genders. This tells me a few things, for one that my year of reading only women and non-binary authors was as easy as it was because my reading in general is dominated by female authors. It also tells me that I really should make more of an effort to read books by agender or non-binary authors.

The statistic I am most unhappy with is that only about a third of the books I read were written by a non-white author and this really is something that needs to change going forward.

Genre-wise, my reading was pretty much how I expect it to be: the biggest chunk with 29% is fiction (here I lumped in everything without speculative elements), 26% was what I call speculative romance (everything from Urban Fantasy with heavy romance elements to Paranormal Romance to Fantasy or Sci-Fi Romance), 18% non-fiction, 14% short stories, 5% Romance and 5% Fantasy, and one book each of horror and graphic novel. I am more or less happy with this as I like my reading to be fairly broad.

Looking at my ranked books, one thing became obvious pretty quickly: I am better at choosing book for myself when I don’t read them based on them being on a list or so hyped that I request an ARC for books I might otherwise not read. So, going forward I will try to make an effort to read more books that I choose just by whim and those by authors that I have enjoyed in the past. I know that there is no way I will stop reading review copies and being swept up in the hype but ideally, about half the books I read should not fall in that category. I will also not try to read the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist again because, wow, did I hate some of those books this year (and ultimately didn’t even read everything because I was so displeased with the list).

I did not plan on making proper resolutions as I am utterly unsure how 2021 will go – I am going back to work in June and I am really not certain I will manage to read as much as I would like then (what happens with this blog then is also up in the air). I set my reading goal on Goodreads to an all-time low 52; anything less would make me very unhappy. I want to make sure that what I read is mostly great. Which is why I will aim for one short story collection a month, for about a third of my reading being non-fiction again (because I more often than not adore the ones I get to), and I want to try and finally go back and read the backlist of those authors I want to read everything of. First of I am going to try and read a few of Deborah Levy’s older books, that she has written fiction as well as short stories and non-fiction is perfect for my goals.

But even if I have lofty plans now, most importantly for me, I need to allow myself to let my reading go where it wants to go because I do have the time any more to read books I am not excited for. Which is why I am stopping with those three reading plans and not adding any other (read more series! finish more series! read more high fantasy!).

2020 in review: all the books I read, ranked.

This year I decided I wanted to rank all the books I read for the first time this year. This took a lot longer than I thought and then writing this post was a whole other thing as well. It has shown me, however, that I did not have a reading year as bad as I thought it was, I liked way more books than I did not like. This ranking is not an exact science because my ratings are not exact. I tinkered with this over months and always found something to change. But I had fun doing it and hopefully this will be at least slightly interesting for somebody else. Below are the books I read for the first time this year, from least favourite to most favourite. From 2.5 stars and above are books I am glad to have read, everything else I should maybe have DNFed (that I didn’t is due to them either being ARCs or books I read as part of the Women’s Prize longlist). I will talk about my general stats and thoughts on this year in another post because this ranking has given me some insight into my reading that is giving me pause.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

70          Girl by Edna O’Brien

69          Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

68          The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

67          Daddy: Stories by Emma Cline

66          Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie

Rating: 2 out of 5.

65          The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey

64          You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

63          The Dom Who Loved Me by Lexi Blake

62          Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

61          By A Thread by Lucy Score

Rating: 3 out of 5.

60          The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

59          All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

58          Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

57          The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley

56          The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

55          Magic Mourns by Ilona Andrews

54          Black Light by Kimberley King Parsons

53          Archangel’s Shadows by Nalini Singh

52          Archangel’s Legion by Nalini Singh

51          Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

50          Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

49          Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch

48          Dragon Bound by  Thea Harrison

47          Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

46          Pew by Catherine Lacey

45          Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

44          Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

43         The Harpy by Megan Hunter

42          A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

41          The Cool Aunt by Ilona Andrews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

40          The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

39          Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein

38          Magic Gifts by Ilona Andrews

37          Archangel’s Enigma by Nalini Singh

36          Alpha Night by Nalini Singh

35          Luster by Raven Leilani

34          Archangel’s Heart by Nalini Singh

33          Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

32          Headliners by Lucy Parker

31          Home Remedies by Juliana Xuan Wang

30          Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford

29          Kink: Stories ed. by Garth Greenwell & R. O. Kwon

28          How To Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

27          Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz

26          A Touch of Stone and Snow by Milla Vane

25          Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

24          Weather by Jenny Offil

23          The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso

22          Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

21          Sisters by Daisy Johnson

20          Machine by  Susan Steinberg

19          Deal With The Devil  by Kit Rocha

18          I Hold A Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg

17          How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

16          Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

15          Archangel’s Viper by Nalini Singh

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

14          Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

13          Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

12          A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane

11          The Unspoken Name by A. K. Lardwood

10          Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

9             Actress by Anne Enright

8             A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott

Rating: 5 out of 5.

7             The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

6             In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

5             Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

4             Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson

3             No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder

2             The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy

1             Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

2020 releases that I really should have gotten to

I am sure I am not the only one who had a weird year. My reading certainly mirrored that. I read less books (between living in a literal global pandemic and having a child, my focus just wasn’t there) and I also read nearly exclusively on my kindle – which means that I did not get to the books I pre-ordered. When I wrote my wrap-up post for my most anticipated 2020 releases it became obvious just how many books I did not get to, added to this are the books that came out during the second half of the year that I really wanted to read but didn’t. I am limiting myself here to books I already own (or nearly own) as I do want to try and actually get to these soon rather than buying even more books that I then not read.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Maybe the one I am most upset at myself for not reading – I am sure I will love this once I finally get to it. Everything about this Booker shortlisted book appeals to me, people whose taste aligns with my adored this, and what I have read of Taylor’s writing, I loved.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Mitchell is one of my very favourite authors whose books I have been rationing to not be without any to read, so obviously I pre-ordered it even thought that meant getting the weird huge paperback size that UK publishing insists on. Its huge size is also the reason I didn’t read this – I rarely have two hands free long enough to pick up a book.

Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Another of my favourite writers, my most anticipated release of the second half of the year, another huge book that I somehow did not pick up. I love Roanhorse’s writing and I am very excited to see what she does in a mor epic fantasy setting.

The Death of Vivik Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
I adored Emezi’s debut and was over the moon when I managed to snag a Netgalley ARC for this – and then somehow didn’t get to it. I am slightly mad at myself for not reading this yet (the reviews I’ve seen from people I trust are all very positive) and want to remedy this as soon as possible.

Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang
My colleagues got me a copy of this book when I went on maternity leave and I have been excited about it since – but I rarely read hardback books as I said, so I haven’t been able to pick this up. It sounds absolutely incredible though and I want to prioritize it sooner rather than later.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
I adored Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and had been waiting for another novel by Susanna Clarke for what feels like ages – and then never got around to buying this. My brother got me this for Christmas (I think, we haven’t actually seen each other since) and I am very excited. Everybody seems to really love this and I am hoping I will too.

Have you read any of these books and want to shout at me for not getting to them yet? Do you have any 2020 releases you cannot believe you haven’t gotten to?