Review: Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long

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

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

An epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war

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

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

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

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

Find it on Goodreads.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

Content warnings: genocide, gore, loss of loved ones

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

Wrap Up January 2021

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

Books I read in January:

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

Favourite of the Month:

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

Stats(ish):

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

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

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

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

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

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

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

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Depressing, infuriating, relevant, disappointing prose.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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

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

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

Content warnings: depiction of sexism, bullying

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

Published by Scribner, March 1st 2020

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?

Favourite books of 2020

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a New Year’s Eve as good as it could be under the circumstances. Mine was low-key but lovely and I am genuinely excited to live in the new year. I always spend New Year’s Day looking back at my reading and planning ahead. This year I decided to start this with one of my favourite posts to write: My list of favourite books of the year.

I read less in 2020 than I have in the past: usually I easily manage to read 100+ books a year; this year it became clear early on that this wouldn’t happen and I ultimately read 75 books. But I also read some truly amazing books that I want to keep shouting from the rooftops about. Quite a few books on this list can be categorized as “Rachel was right and I should have listened earlier” (if you look at her best of 2019 year list, you’ll see (spoiler alert) quite some overlap).

My list is composed of ten books, 8 of which were written by women, one by a husband and wife team, and one by a man. 5 books are fiction and 5 books non-fiction. The list is embarrasingly white (7 of the ten authors) which is something I want to be more mindful of this coming year.

10) Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
One of the first books I read and one of the very best. I loved this book a whole lot – everything about it just ticked a lot of my boxes. The big draw for me is the way in which Evaristo’s language flows (this will be a running theme here) and the way in which she made me invested into every single character’s story. I would have loved for this to win the Women’s Prize (even if I also really really liked Hamnet) or for this to have won the Booker on its own. (review)

9) Actress by Anne Enright
This was hands down my favourite of the Women’s Prize longlist and a book I would surely not have read if it hadn’t made the list. I thought the prose was beyond excellent, and the winding, narrowing stream-of-consciousness narration a thing of absolute brilliance. I think part of my enjoyment comes down to the audiobook which Enright reads herself, absolutely pitch-perfect. I liked this so much that I want to go back to Enright’s older stuff to see what I missed before. (review)

8) A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott
In this absolutely incredible work of non-fiction, Elliott combines memoir with essay writing, drawing from her own experience and extrapolating to larger societal problems in a way that seems custom-made for me. I thought this was incredible. Heart-breaking. Clever. Impeccably structured.

7) The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
I loved this. So very, very much. It does many things I adore in fiction: old unchronologically from a variety of points of views, featuring difficult characters that I nevertheless rooted for (especially Vincent who I just adored), with hints of the supernatural as manifestation of guilt, scenes that would recontextualize what came before, and above all the author’s incredible way with words. (review)

6) In The Dream House by Carmen Mario Machado
One of the rare books that is as impeccably written as it is emotionally resonant. Machado was already one of the writers I am always most looking forward to reading but this was something else. She chronicles her own abusive relationship while also flexing her impressive writing muscles and the end result is a stunning, perfect book of narrative non-fiction.

5) Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews
I love, love, love this series by Ilona Andrews and this installment was my favourite of the year by the author duo (and I read 9 books written by them). I cannot believe I have to wait until 2022 for the final book in this second trilogy but I am sure the wait will be worth it. I am making my way through their complete backlist (including the novellas) and I am loving pretty much every minute of it. (review)

4) Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson
Incredibly well-written memoir in essays; dealing with female bodies, illness, bodily autonomy, and many things more. The essays hit me right in the feelings and I found them perfectly structured. Everything about this works for me. I listened to the audiobooks which I can whole-heartedly recommend.

3) No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder
One of the final books I finished this year and really one of the very best. It is impeccably researched and absolutely breathtakingly structured. Snyder uses case studies to illustrate her points and to drive home the emotional impact of what she is writing about. She did have to make some decisions regarding what she will focus on and I am not always sure they were necessarily the best (she nearly exlusively focusses on heterosexual relationships) but it did make the book insanely readable. I teared up more than once reading this and I want to put this into everybody’s hands.

2) The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
or, the book that should have won the Women’s Prize but somehow wasn’t even longlisted. This is brilliant. Hands down, perfect. Structured incredibly clever, with wonderful prose, and a narrator that I wanted to shake but also could not help but feel for. I will eventually read everything Levy has ever written, probably starting with her ongoing non-fiction project – this book was just that good.

1 ) Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
I read this book back in February and nothing could top it for the rest of the year. This is narrative non-fiction at its finest. Combining more personal stories with a more general overview of The Troubles, I could not imagine this book being any better. I felt more knowledgable upon finishing it while also thinking this was impeccably written. What an absolutely brilliant piece of narrative non-fiction.

What was your favourite book of the year? Have you read any of these?

Wrap Up December 2020

The year is gone. And I cannot say I am not relieved. This December was different for me than before (I am sure this is the case for many of us!) but also in parts really nice: we had our first Christmas as a three person family! With our very own Christmas tree!

My daughter has not been sleeping well at all, so I have not really been reading all that much but I did read one of my very favourite books of the year, so this is nice. I had lofty ambitions to finish all the books I am currently reading to be able to start the new year with a completely clean slate but alas.

Books I read in December:

  1. Deal With The Devil (Mercenary Librarians #1) by Kit Rocha: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder: 5 out of 5 stars
  3. Sabrina by Nick Drnaso: 3 out of 5 stars

I also DNFed The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes (review) as it just did not work for me and my reading is not great as it is.

Favourite of the Month:

By far my favourite, and indeed one of my very favourite books of the year, was No Visible Bruises. I just want everybody to read this (trigger warnings galore though!).

Stats(ish):

I finished three books, one speculative romance, one non-fiction, and one graphic novel.

Currently Reading:

Have I read my most anticipated releases of 2020?

Every year I round up my reading – amongst other things I look if I have gotten around to the books I was most excited about. To be fair, mostly I only read about half of the books I mentioned in my various lists (you can find my post from last year here)- and let’s see if I even did that this year. I only posted one list of books this year (here) because the second half got away from me.

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey: I did not read this one because the early reviews were kind of atrocious – and especially because Rachel did not like this (review) and we often agree on this kind of book.

The Island Child by Molly Aitken: I also did not get to this one – even though I got an ARC. I was just never in the mood for this. I really should remedy that.

Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch: I read but didn’t love this. This is probably my most disappointing read of the year because I was looking forward to a collection of short stories by one of my favourite authors for a while.

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams: I DNFed this – I just did not get on with this one at all and other reviews (mostly Rachel’s again) convinced me that this would not change.

Daughter from the Dark by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko: I cannot believe I did not get to this yet – I adored the other book by the Dyachenko that was translated into English so much. I really need to by this one soon.

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks: I read and enjoyed this. I don’t think Sparks can even write a short story collection that I would not like.

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Larkwood: I loved this; my favourite epic fantasy novel of the year.

So We Can Glow: Stories by Leesa Cross-Smith: I am upset I did not get to this because I am still convinced I would love it.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin: This is the main victim of my weird reading year. I started this the moment it arrived, having pre-ordered it ages ago, and then somehow did not manage to finish it. I have been reading this for months – something about it hits a bit too close and it is also my least favourite of her books so far. I am determined to finish it before the year ends though!

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby: Loved it, will read everything Samantha Irby ever writes.

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker: Another victim of my only reading e-books; the cover is so stunning I would want to own a paperback copy.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell: I own a copy, but haven’t read this.

I Hold A Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg: Read and loved it. Made me want to read every short story collection Laura van den Berg has ever written.

Most anticipated fiction releases of 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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