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.

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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.

 

I downloaded a bunch of romance novels and I have thoughts

I have been enjoying romance a lot more lately than I have in years and a while ago I downloaded a bunch of very different romance novels off NetGalley to figure out what might work for me. While I did choose the books partly because of their titles (some of that will become clear once you see the actual titles), I did also try to download a variety of typical subgenres to get a better feel for what I might like – and in that sense this was a success. I also read some truly, truly awful books, but I did really enjoy the process. I am at a point in my life where I just want to read whatever strikes my fancy and as it turns out, right now that is very often romance books – there is just something soothing about the genre that works as an antidote to my ridiculous worklife. It is so wonderfully predictive!

I will only be writing the miniest of mini reviews for these books because I don’t have all that much to say about these books individually.

The Bastard by Lisa Renee Jones

43518466This book is absolutely compulsively readable in a way that I found stressful but also entertaining. I bought the second book in the series the second I finished this one but then DNFed this at the half-way point, once I woke from the fugue state the book caused. I do very much not like books that play with consent apparently. The main couple were angsty and horrible to each other and I don’t want to read about this type of relationships when I am supposed to root for them. The book does what it sets out to do but just is not for me whatsoever.

The Sheikh’s Pregnant Lover by Leslie North

44153436I admit it, I only requested this because of the title – and because apparently this is a big subgenre, this “pregnant by a super rich man after a one-night-stand”. This one was hilarious but not on purpose and super did not work for me. I have many thoughts on the fetishization of cultures the author isn’t part of but would like to leave that to other people more qualified to write about this. But god, what a perfect title.

The Playmaker by Cathryn Fox

41561680If somebody had told me I would enjoy a Hockey romance I would not believed it. But I really really enjoyed this. It’s hilarious, the main character has a wonderful best friend, the consent is always explicit, and the writing style is readable. I thought the ending was way over the top but in general I had a lot of fun with this one.

 

Lady No Says Yes by Jess Michaels

42766253I used to read a lot of historical romance when I was a bit younger but haven’t in years. I enjoyed this for what it was but I don’t think I will be making a proper return to the genre. Again, I appreciate the explicitness of the consent and the way in which these two characters communicated. The book is a tad short and as such I didn’t really build any deeper connections to the characters. It is however well-written enough that I am sure my lukewarm reaction has more to do with who I am as a reader than with anything else.

A Son for the Texas Cowboy by Sinclair Jayne

45436223This is one where I can see that it is objectively ok-written but just a subgenre I do not appreciate at all. Apparently cowboys don’t do it for me (I cannot say that I am surprised) and I also did not enjoy that the main character kept her son with her ex a secret from said ex.

 

Distracted by Belinda Wright

45416669I do not like books about people pretending to be something they are not (as a general rule, not only in romance) and given that the main female character lied about her job the moment she met the main male character, this book was never going to impress me much. I did not find it very well-written either and I skimmed a lot of it in the end. The endless descriptions of the main characters’ work days did not help my boredom much.

So, what did I learn about my reading? I need consent to be explicit and cannot deal with characters that are properly awful to each other. I enjoy reading romance more when the main storyline is a SFF one, something I assumed before but now know for certain. I do not want to read about cowboys, but apparently can deal with hockey players as long as the book is well-written enough. I like the men cocky but nice and have no patience when they try to tell the women what to do with their lives. I like romance novels that are funny a lot more than those that are angsty. Apparently I should stay away from books with grumpy looking dudes in suits on the cover but half-naked men are fine. Nobody uses their words and it drives me insane. I am glad I don’t live in a romance novel.

 

Recommendations: fantasy books featuring gods

ww-2019-dragon-banner-all-capsI love books that ruminate on humanity by way of talking about gods. Love, love, love it. So I figured, I should write about my favourite books that deal with this. I am writing this post as part of Wyrd & Wonder – a month-long celebration of the fantastic hosted by imyril @ There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa @ Dear Geek Place and Jorie @ Jorie Loves a Story. You can sign up here!

The Inheritance trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

It is no secret that I adore N. K. Jemisin’s writing – and her lesser known trilogy is no exception to this. Set in a world where after a war between the gods some of those gods are enslaved by humans and one is revered, her world building is as impeccable as ever and her characters are brilliant. Some of the main characters gods, some aren’t, all are compelling. She does not shy away from how otherworldly and often awful beings with near endless power could be and the books are better for it.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

4407

This is my favourite of Neil Gaiman’s books (although the Sandman graphic novels are a close second); I love everything about its sprawling plot and its integration of countless belief-systems. Shadow Moon is a brilliant main character to anchor the story and his acceptance of the strangeness around him worked exceedingly well for me.

 

The Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett

This series is set in a world formerly ruled by Divinities and their whims – where even the laws of nature have been bent. Bulikov is far from its former glory as the centre of the world and the seat of the Gods – most of it was destroyed together with its Gods. It is now ruled by the very people it used to enslave.

I adored the mythology Bennet sets up here: what happens to all the things created by gods if they die? Especially when they ignored all natural laws to create those things? I find his world very well thought out and mesmerizing in its implications. Just thinking about these books make me giddy. I didn’t quite love the first book in his current trilogy but the ending made me VERY excited to see where the story goes next.

The Library of Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

26892110This stand-alone is a lot darker than most books I usually read, but with impeccable world-building and enough of a sense of the bizarre to be just my type of book. I adored how cleverly Hawkins sets up his readers and at least for me caught me totally unawares by the ending. I didn’t whole-heartedly love it – but I will still read anything he published next, if he ever does so, that is.

 

The Sixth World by Rebecca Roanhorse

I think I have been sufficently gushing about this series as of late – but I cannot help it, it is just perfect for the type of reader I am. I am very excited to see where it goes next and I love the glimpses of what I am assuming will be major themes going forward: the idea of agency in a world ruled by the whims of gods. That is just catnip for me.

I need to read more books like these; do you have any recommendations for me?

 

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019: Shortlist reaction

Yesterday at midnight UK time, the shortlist for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced – and I am glad I did not stay up until then because then I would be disappointed and tired today as opposed to just disappointed. I am obviously still making my way through the longlist but I do have thoughts. Even if I haven’t loved many of the books that were longlisted (as of writing this I have finished 10 books on the list and am in the middle of two others), I did think the overall list was exciting and varied. The shortlist? Not so much.

But first things first, here is the shortlist:

  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  • Ordinary People by Diana Evans
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (review)
  • Circe by Madeline Miller

Of these six, I have only read two so far (Milkman and An American Marriage), but I am more than halfway through My Sister, the Serial Killer. Even if I didn’t always love Milkman, I can absolutely see its brilliance and the inclusion on the shortlist makes sense. I struggled more with An American Marriage and would not have been sad to not see it advance further. My Sister, the Serial Killer I am really enjoying but not as much as some other books on the longlist. The three other books on the shortlist are all books I am really looking forward to reading, so there is that. I did not think both feminist myth retellings (Circe and The Silence of the Girls) would make it but I am intrigued enough by both of them to be ok with the fact. I am also a bit baffled that both Ordinary People and An American Marriage made the list; these books seem to be similar in theme and I would have wished a totally different book had made it.

I find the shortlist strangely underwhelming; maybe because there are two obvious pairs and another book that is enjoyable but not blowing me away. I cannot believe my three five star reads did not make the list at all. The book I am missing most on the shortlist is Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (review), which I found brilliant and original and just in a whole different league than most other books. My heart obviously beats for The Pisces (review), but I never genuinely thought it would make the shortlist. It is still the winner of my heart. But even so, I do wish it had made the list because at least this one was polarizing and it does something very interesting with its subject matter. While I adored Normal People (review), I think it is Conversations With Friends (review) that should have seen Sally Rooney nominated as it is the stronger book. But if I cannot have this, I would have at least liked to see her get shortlisted.

As of the moment, I am weirdly enough most excited to see Milkman on the list. It is such an obvious masterpiece that I cannot begrudge it all the praise it gets. It has also grown on me a lot since finishing it, enough that I might still change my rating.

I will now spend the next few weeks finishing up the longlist, I am so close I can almost imagine myself getting to the end. The only good thing about this list might be that three  and a half of the six books I haven’t read are on it, which makes picking them up a lot easier. Plus, I think I might finally give myself permission to DNF Lost Children Archive – a book that I just very much dread having to pick up again.

What are your thoughts? Are you as baffled as I am? Did your favourite make the list?

 

Thoughts: 2019 Hugo Award nominees

I know I have been all about the Women’s Prize for Fiction lately, but my first love is SFF – so I am always ridiculously excited when the Hugo Award nominations are announced and this year was no exception. While I have not been reading all that much hard SFF in these last few months (I am loving my romance spec-fic too much), I have heard of the vast majority of the fiction nominees (and many of the other nominees as well) and I am very excited for this year’s list!

You can find the complete list of nominees here. I do have some thoughts on some of the categories and felt the need to share them, if only to give a counterweight to the heavy lit-fic slant my blog had in March (and because I love talking about book prizes).

Best Novel

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

Of these six books, I have read two (I loved both Spinning Silver (review) and Trail of Lightning (review)). I already own Record of a Spaceborn Few (I am a big fan of Becky Chamber’s brand of optimistic scifi and had this book preordered since forever but had to wait until the edition matched the other two books in the series). I have been itching to buy Space Opera because how can I not? A literal space opera? Inspired by my favourite event of the year – the Eurovision Song Contest? Literally everything about this sounds amazing. While I adore Mary Robinette Kowal’s online presence and have heard great things about the book, The Calculating Stars does not speak to me. And Yoon Ha Lee’s writing just scares me. Hard SciFi just is not my idea of a great time.

Best Novella

Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)
The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press / JABberwocky Literary Agency)

All I wanted to say is that tor.com really is crushing this category. I learned last year that novellas don’t really work for me – but this list seems stellar.

Best Graphic Story

Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami Kivelä, colours by Jason Wordie, letters by Jim Campbell (BOOM! Studios)
Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and Aaron Covington, art by André Lima Araújo, Mario Del Pennino and Tana Ford (Marvel)
Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden (First Second)
Paper Girls, Volume 4, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher (Image Comics)
Saga, Volume 9, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Monstress!! I haven’t read this volume yet but adored the first two and I am very excited to see it on this list. Everything about this series excites me. I haven’t really been reading any graphic novels lately but Monstress is a literal masterpiece.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Katherine Arden (2nd year of eligibility)
S.A. Chakraborty (2nd year of eligibility)
R.F. Kuang (1st year of eligibility)
Jeannette Ng (2nd year of eligibility)
Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2nd year of eligibility)
Rivers Solomon (2nd year of eligibility) 

I am super excited for this list. Katherine Arden obviously has my heart and R. F. Kuang is such an exciting author. I am also really happy to see Jeannette Ng on here, while I didn’t absolutely adore her book The Pendulum Sun her online presence is so very brilliant. And I have not been able to stop thinking about The Pendulum Sun either, so I cannot wait for her next book, whenever that might come out.

So overall I am mostly pleased. I don’t see myself attempting to read a large chunk of the many many nominated books or authors but I cannot wait to see who will win.

Are you pleased with the nominations? Are you planning on reading any of the categories in full? Is there any one book in particular that I should get to?

Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist: Reaction

The longlist is finally here! I am beyond excited and a bit baffled because of the depth excitement. I stayed up yesterday to hear the announcement the moment it went live, something I have never done for a longlist announcement.

My longlist predictions were so wrong, it’s not even funny; I only correctly predicted two books. Of the 16 books on the longlist I have read three, am currently reading one, and three I had never heard of before yesterday. This means that I have an awful lot of reading to do (according to the Goodreads page counts it’s 4023 pages). I will really try to read the longlist but I will definitely DNF the books that don’t work for me.

Without much further ado, here is the longlist in all its glory:

The Silence of the Girls Pat Barker
Remembered Yvonne Battle-Felton
My Sister, the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Pisces Melissa Broder
Milkman Anna Burns
Freshwater Akwaeke Emezi
Ordinary People Diana Evans
Swan Song Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
An American Marriage Tayari Jones
Number One Chinese Restaurant Lillian Li
Bottled Goods Sophie van Llewyn
Lost Children Archive Valeria Luiselli
Praise Song for the Butterflies Bernice L. McFadden
Circe Madeline Miller
Ghost Wall Sarah Moss
Normal People by Sally Rooney

My thoughts:

Read: I am beyond thrilled The Pisces by Melissa Broder made the list; it was by far my favourite book of last year and I want more people to read it. In case you need convincing, here is my gushing review for it. I am also happy to see Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi on the list, which I also adored (my review). I was a bit worried that Emezi wouldn’t want to be included as they are non-binary but they are pleased so I am pleased. I am keeping my fingers crossed that people will try to make an effort to use the correct pronouns though (the first glimpse on twitter makes that seem unlikely). The only other book I have read is Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, where I seem to be the only person online to not have enjoyed it all that much (my review) – but others really do, so I am glad for its inclusion.

Currently reading: I have started Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli a while ago and really enjoyed the first few pages but found the prose very wordy – I am excited to see it on the list though because that means there is at least one book I don’t need to hunt down.

Well pleased: I am super excited to get to Normal People by Sally Rooney; I finished Conversations With Friends yesterday and I am so very much in love with it that I will read everything Rooney ever publishes (I spent yesterday periodically exclaiming “What a book!”) – and Normal People sounds brilliant. I am also happy to see both Circe by Madeline Miller and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker on the list; I adore feminist myth retellings and I have heard great things about both books. I did not think both would make it but I am glad for it. I am also really excited to have an excuse to finally take the plunge and read Milkman by Anna Burns, a book that scares me but also sounds really great. I opted for the audiobook version of this as I have heard listening to the prose makes the book more accessible. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is another one of the books I did want to read at some point anyways and this is a welcome excuse to prioritize it.

Cautiously optimistic: I requested a review copy of Ordinary People by Diana Evans last year and didn’t get approved but it does sound like a book I could really enjoy. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott isn’t quite a book I would have picked up on my own but I have heard great things about it. I am not good with books that deal with injustice, but again I have heard brilliant things about An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, so hopefully I will enjoyed it. I hadn’t heard of Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn but it is a short book that actually sounds like it could be my cup of tea.

Slightly pessimistic: While Number One Chinese Restaurant Lillian Li sounds interesting, I have read rather negative reviews of it – however, sometimes my taste is different to Goodreads’ average and I might enjoy this more (after all, The Pisces has a dreadfully low rating as well and that book is perfection). Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton could be great but it is also really outside my wheelhouse.

Really dreading: Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden does not sound like my type of book at all – and the blurb includes this: “educational, eye-opening account of the practice of ritual servitude in West Africa.” and I do not really appreciate books that are meant to be educational. I am hoping to be proved wrong.

Overall I am mostly pleased (The Pisces!!!) but also sad for a few notable exclusions. I was really hoping for both My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and Motherhood by Sheila Heti because I really, really want to read these books. I was also hoping for Women Talking by Miriam Toews because it sounds intriguing but I don’t know whether I’ll get to it without the added push. I also thought there would be more overlap with the Man Booker longlist and would have really liked The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh and Everything Under by Daisy Johnson to get a shout out because I really liked both books and think the authors are awesome.

What are your thoughts? Are you still planning on reading the longlist?