The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2021

As every year, I am surprised that the year is already half way over. I have had a pretty bad reading year so far but not doing this tag felt too sad.

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2021

By far the two best books I read were by authors whose previous books I also five-starred (I am sure there is a lesson here that I will, as always, forget as soon as I post this). Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain is near perfect: its structure is clever, his use of repetition makes it easy to follow without becoming boring, and his research is impeccable. The Sacklers are the worst though – it took me a while to settle on a least favourite Sackler but I think I got there in the end (It’s Richard). Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is just a perfect book, no word is wasted, no idea left unexplored. I so wish for it to win the Women’s Prize.

Continue reading “The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2021”

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2020

I cannot believe the year is halfway over. Being perfectly honest, I haven’t so far had the best of reading years. I was considering not doing this tag for the first time since I have my blog but that felt too sad.

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2020

I am trying to rank all the books I am reading this year (surprisingly hard!) and one of the things that I am struggling with is my top spot. At the moment it is between The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. I cannot yet say which one will ultimately win out but I can say now that both of these books are incredible in their own way.

Continue reading “The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2020”

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortlist reaction and reading plans

I was unsure whether I wanted to write a reaction post at all, given how weirdly over this whole process I am feeling but as I do not know if I can do any proper blog coverage next year (and even next month if I am perfectly honest), I figured I should be getting the most of it now while I still have time for blogging.

First things first, here is the shortlist:

  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell
  • Weather by Jenny Offill

I am actually not mad at this? I got four books right and while I would have loved to see Anne Enright’s wonderful Actress here, I at least got my wish and Girl, Women, Other by Bernardine Evaristo made it. I am officially #TeamEvaristo now. Of the other books, I have read A Thousand Ships and thought it was a lot better than I expected it to be and Weather which I expectedly loved. I am currently in the middle of Hamnet which I am super enjoying and I have read a bit of Dominicana which I am expecting to mostly enjoy but not find very impressive. I am still not going to read The Mirror and the Light because the idea of reading three huge historical fiction novels gives me dread to no end.

None of the books I have read and actively disliked made the list which I am so glad about. I was ready to be disgruntled but now I am mostly relieved that this (imagined!) pressure of reading the longlisted books instead of what I actually want to read (fantasy!) is off my back. I will try to finish the two books I have started before the winner is announced, and given that I have nearly 5 months to accomplish that task, I should be fine. I am a bit worried that by the time the winner announcement comes around, I will have stopped being emotionally involved; which would be a shame! I love the Women’s Prize! On the other hand, I have already started looking at what could be eligible next year and there is every chance that in 2021 we will have an incredibly strong list of contenders. This seems to indicate that I am indeed still absolutely in the Prize’s thrall and shouldn’t worry so much.

I would have loved this list to be a bit more international but I also admit that I thought that the British/ Irish books on the longlist were indeed on average better. I think it will ultimately come down those three authors: Evaristo, Mantel, or O’Farrell. I am ultimately glad that none of the family sagas made the list and that there are a few books I would be happy to see win.

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortish longlist thoughts and shortlist prediction

Today we will find out the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020!

First things first: I absolutely lost steam. I was powering through these books and then I wasn’t. There is no way I will finish the longlist in time for the shortlist announcement and I am very unsure if I will keep up with the project given how very much I am dreading some of the books I do not own yet and how very much I disliked a few of the books I have already read.

Overall thoughts: I find this year’s list distinctly uninspiring. I obviously have a very different taste to the judges – and while that is maybe to be expected, the degree to which I disagree what constitutes Great Fiction made this in many cases a very frustrating journey for me. For the record, what I realized while reading books that did not work for me en masse for this project was that I am looking for the following when it comes to  Literary Fiction: great prose and/or great structure, ideally coupled with interesting characters (but that is not necessary). The books on this year’s longlist are mostly told more conventionally and focus on plot and/or horrible characters. I found many themes of this year’s crop of books repetitive: there are an endless number of family sagas, often focussing on rich white families, a number of war books, many many books featuring horrible parents. Even the books I enjoyed this year are not likely to become all-time favourites of mine, unlike last year where quite a few books are still vividly both in my memory and my feelings.

As always, it was a joy to be reading this with my Women’s Prize group: Callum, Rachel, Naty, Marija, Emily (Sarah looked at the longlist and cleverly noped out right then and there). They even made the horrible experience that was reading Girl bearable because we were all in accord here. In general, we did struggle with this list a lot more than last year: of the 16 books, 6 have gotten an average rating of 3-stars or lower from us collectively, with one getting the frankly impressive low rating of 1.2 stars.

Of the books I have read so far, this is my current ranking:

  1. Actress by Anne Enright (review): 5 out of 5 stars
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (review): 4.5 out of 5 stars
  3. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (currently reading)
  4. Weather by Jenny Offill (review): 4 out of 5 stars
  5. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (review): 3.5 out of 5 stars
  6. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (review): 3 out of 5 stars
  7. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo (DNF)
  8. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie (review): 2 out of 5 stars
  9. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (review): 1.5 out of 5 stars
  10. Girl by Edna O’Brien (review): 1 out of 5 stars

Not planning on reading: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

I have read the first few pages of Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and did not love it (I am not very happy with its glib tone and then sudden introduction of miscarriage – but I am willing to at some point keep reading and see if that changes), and the same is true for Dominicana by Angie Cruz, which I did not hate but I cannot see giving more than 3 stars to. I do already own a copy of Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara, so chances are I will get to it eventually.

Prediction for the shortlist:

I don’t even have properly have a wish list this year – and most weirdly, I am actively rooting for the “big name”-authors on the list which is unusual for me because I do really love a well-excecuted debut novel.

45993330Actress by Anne Enright

My favourite of the books I have read, I thought this book handled this year’s unofficial theme of motherhood the best. The narrator’s warmth towards her mother while not being blind to her weaknesses was wonderful to read. Anne Enright’s prose is excellent and the book’s nonlinear stream-of-consciousness structure worked brilliantly, especially in the impeccably narrated audiobook.

45992717The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Maybe it is odd that I am including a book I have no interest in reading but by all accounts does Mantel achieve what she set out to do here. Her books seem to work brilliantly for people who enjoy this kind of character-focused and impeccably researched historical fiction and the reviews for this have been mostly favourable. As I have said before, I do love when authors are at the top of their games.

41081373._sy475_Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

The only book I had read before the longlist announcement, this is a masterpiece that should have won the Booker Prize on its own. Evaristo’s essemble cast is masterful, her prose stunning, and this book has stayed with me since I read it. Evaristo has a lot of warmth for her characters, even those who make stupid decisions. This does feature some less-than-amazing mother figures, so there’s that (it really becomes an overwhelming theme on this longlist!).

I would be very happy if this ultimately won.

43890641._sy475_Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

While I am not done with the book yet, I am enjoying it a whole lot. Again, I love O’Farrell’s prose (it really often comes down to this for me apparently) and the structure works. I find the way in which she sets out to tell this story masterful and I am enjoying how on the periphery Shakespeare is for many of the scenes. It does feature a horrible mother figure, but at least we are not supposed to empathize (I don’t think).

49085800._sy475_Weather by Jenny Offill

I enjoyed this a whole lot – but I do like this kind of navel-gazy, stylized writing, even if I usually encounter it more in non-fiction than in fiction. The pervasive dread of this book becomes ever more timely, especially since whatever hell we landed in right now. I thought it was cleverly done and stripped down just enough to be perfectly, bite-sized, brilliantly done.

41439813._sy475_How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

While I have not read this book and honestly do not know if I will if it doesn’t end up being shortlisted, this seems a likely contender. Of the war novels this seems to be the more successful one and the one that tackles trauma in the most nuanced way. (aside: if Girl makes the shortlist I will riot.) It would also stop the shortlist from being frighteningly UK and US centric.

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Longlist Reaction

It’s finally here!

I have waited for this day for literal months and I am so glad the longlist is finally here and we can all start reading and discussing it. My predictions were actually ok this time around: I correctly guessed six and had two more on my maybe pile that made the list, so I am feeling sufficiently smug. It also seems to be a longlist not many people have read many books of yet, so that is exciting! I have only read one book so far and have to admit that quite a few are not books I was particularly thrilled about before their inclusion – but maybe this means I will find many gems I might otherwise have missed. Continue reading “Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Longlist Reaction”

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Longlist predictions

It’s my favourite bookish time of the year! I have been looking forward to Women’s Prize season pretty much since last summer – and I have, again, spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the possible longlist. Last year, I correctly predicted two books on the longlist, so it can probably only get better from here.

I am attempting to read the longlist (something I did not completely manage last year) with my wonderful group chat (of those lovely people, Emily is the only one to have posted a prediction post already). I do hope to have better luck than last year where I did not love nearly as many of the longlisted books as I hoped (and where my two favourite books were ones I had read before). But even if I end up hating most books, I am still beyond thrilled to be doing this again. This time I am aiming to finish the longlist before the short list is announced; I’ll be on leave from work from the middle of April onwards and I have the week of the longlist announcement off, so chances are actually decent that I manage this (she says, having finished two books in February so far). Continue reading “Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Longlist predictions”

Recommendations: Books told (at least in parts) from a you-perspective

I realized a few months ago, that I often discuss the narrative style in my reviews – and that I have distinct preferences when it comes to it. One thing I adore above most other things is a well-done second person singular narration. When this (difficult) voice is done well, I am very likely to have found a new favourite book. This is, however, not something I encounter very often in literature, so I wanted to recommend the books I have read in this style and hope to get recommendations in return (mostly this if I am being honest).

36396289Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

My favourite of last year’s Booker longlist (I didn’t read super many of the books to be fair), I adored pretty much everything about this book. Johnson’s writing is incredible and especially the parts written in second person broke my heart and made me want to read everything she ever writes. This is a myth retelling that maybe works best if you don’t know what myth it retells, although knowing did not stop me from loving it. It is dark and twisted and absolutely stunningly written. My full review is here.

39689872._sx318_A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

This book is what prompted this post. I thought everything about this book was incredible (even if I didn’t always enjoy my reading experience because it is endlessly bleak and triggering) – but what made my heart hurt the most was the fact that the narrative is addressed to her brother. I adore sibling relationships in books and one this central and tragic was bound to work for me. If you can stomach the subject matter, this is absolutely worth reading (you don’t have to take only my word for it – so far everybody I buddy read this with gave it 4 stars or more). My full review is here.

19161852The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

It wouldn’t be a recommendation post if I didn’t manage to fit at least one books written by Jemisin in. She just is my all-time favourite author. I thought this book and the whole trilogy in fact in an absolute masterpiece. It will be difficult to ever top my reading experience. The second person narration is pitch perfect and Jemisin manages to skillfully pull the rug under me more times than I thought possible. Once everything slots into place it becomes obvious just how damn well this series is constructed. My review is here.

13611052The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I vividly remember my reading experience for this one. I found the atmosphere beyond all-encompassing and the imagination behind this incredible. I am unsure whether I wouldlove it as much now as I did when I read it more than seven years ago, but it has stuck with me. The first chapter already indicated how much I would adore it and the second person narration is a big part of the appeal.

 

Do you like second person narration? What is your favourite book featuring it? I need more!

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019: Shortlist Thoughts and Winner Predictions

I still haven’t read all the books on the longlist nor the shortlist for that matter (yes, I got sidetracked by fantasy and romance novels) but I read enough of all the books to have opinions. I really enjoyed my journey through the longlist, mostly because I read it with some super wonderful people, and I do plan on doing this again. It is so much fun feeling connected to the blogging community! And our group chat is a thing of beauty. I will still be posting three reviews and I imagine I will have thoughts on the winner come tomorrow, so this isn’t quite the end of my coverage but it feels a bit like it.

I will keep my thoughts on the longlist for when I finish reading it so for now I will concentrate on the six books on the shortlist in order of preference. Overall I find the shortlist underwhelming. The judges have picked mostly traditionally told books instead of the more experimental ones (and there weren’t many to begin with on the longlist) and I personally adore interesting narrative structures more than anything.

6) Ordinary People by Diana Evans

35277858I do not get on with the book so far. The writing style is absolutely not for me and I am not sure yet whether I’ll finish it at all. I find this one does what many of the books I disliked on the longlist did: it gets bogged down in unnecessary detail. I know this is a me thing but it is driving me a little bit up the walls. I would be very surprised if it won.

 

5) An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

33590210Many people love this book but I am not one of those people. I found Jones’ depiction of toxic masculinity convincing – but so very infuriating. I am not sure the book accomplishes what it sets out to do: the deeply problematic behaviour of the main character made me doubt his innocence in a way that undermined the more political points. I do not want this to win but would not be surprised. This book has clearly spoken to many people.

4) Circe my Madeline Miller

37134404I want to love this book. I love Millers writing on a sentence-by-sentence level and I agree with her political points but the book is killing me. I find her narrative style patronizing, she does not seem to trust her readers to understand subtext, and everything is spelled out. There are glimpses of brilliance (Medea!) but overall, I find Circe’s story dull and overshadowed by the men in her life – which seems to be the exact opposite of what Miller set out to do. But still, what pretty sentences. This does have a pretty good chance of winning and I wouldn’t pull my hair out if it did. Also, nearly everybody loves this, so I am probably just the wrong reader.

3) My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

38819868I enjoyed this book a lot while reading it and I think it is a lot deeper than people give it credit for. But there is no way in hell this is the best book written by a woman or a non-binary author in the last year (that is obviously The Pisces but I am not still bitter about that). I loved the way the language flowed and I am always a fan of sibling relationships. If this won I wouldn’t be upset but I am not rooting for it. It does seem to be a lot of people’s prediction for the winner though, so colour me intrigued.

2) Milkman by Anna Burns

36047860This book has grown on me. While I found it brilliant from the beginning, I also struggled with my reading experience. But, god, what brilliance. This book is narratively the most interesting and accomplished book on the shortlist and it is the one I want to win even if it isn’t my personal favourite. There is just something mesmerizing about this book and I want Burns to have both the Booker and the Women’s Prize. Because this might actually be the best book written by a woman this last year (kidding, that is still The Pisces).

1) The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

38470229I loved, loved, loved this book. It was near perfect for me and seems practically custom-made. I love the way Barker tells her story and I find her characters endlessly compelling (they are the only really compelling characters on a shortlist filled with books whose characters did not work for me). I find her book very clever in its deliberate play with expectations (Achilles in humanized but not through his love to Patrocles but rather his difficult relationship with his parents; Briseis struggles more with her lack of agency than with the rest of her situation) and I am so very happy to love at least one book on the shortlist.

Which book are you rooting for? Is the book you’re rooting for the book you think will win? It doesn’t seem like there is a clear front runner, so I cannot wait for tomorrow.

Now I nearly forgot: I am predicting Milkman.

Tag: 5 Star Predictions Round 2ish

I know I have done this before – and then promptly never read the books I listed, so we’re all just going to pretend I am doing this for the first time. I was tagged by Rachel and I think it might be a good opportunity to get excited about some of these million unread books on my shelves because so far this year, my reading has been overwhelmingly digital (ebooks and audiobooks) and I want to get my physical TBR down to a manageable size (she says, while buying new books all the time).

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

36332136I recently read and LOVED The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and wanted another myth retelling. I needed a new audiobook for my walk to work and this one has intrigued me since it came out. I haven’t read Beowolf and in fact I know next to nothing about the plot but I am super excited about this one. It sounds absolutely brilliant and like something I could really adore.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

36510722I adore Moreno-Garcia’s writing, without ever having read one of her novels. Her short stories are consistently the best thing in the anthologies I read and I really need to get to her stuff. I was lucky enough to receive a NetGalley-ARC for this and I could not be more thrilled. There is something about her imagination and her imagery that just speaks to me and I hope to adore her novels as much as her shorter works.

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramovic

34511802I adore Abramovic’s art and I hope that will translate into loving her memoir. I haven’t been reading enough non-fiction these last few months and it shows – I do miss it and need to get back into the groove. This one seems like an obvious choice.

 

 

When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy

38821165Everything I hear about this book makes me more excited and simultaneously more scared to read it. I am sure I will love it but I am also sure it will be harrowing. So part of me including this is to finally push myself to read this. I read the first page a while ago and really meshed with the writing style.

 

Monstress Vol. 3 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

41952016I don’t know why I haven’t read this already. I gave the other two volumes already published five stars – I adore everything from the seriously stunning art, to the female centric narration, to the darkness underneath the beauty. I cannot see myself not loving this.