TBR: ARCs on my shelves part I (2020)

I have not felt the need to write up a post like this in quite some time – but I have quite a few ARCs now that I am super excited for and want to share that excitement. For many reasons, I am even worse at following TBRs than I used to be but some of these books I am so very much looking forward to that I am hoping to read and review these books before their publication date for a change.

49385085._sy475_The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mantel

Picador, April 30th

Station Eleven by the same author is one of my all-time favourite books, so you can imagine how excited I am that this newest book of hers is getting rave reviews. I need to carve out a day to immerse myself in what is likely to be one of my favourite books of the year.

47545450._sy475_Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

Hamish Hamilton, May 7th

I really enjoy Mackintosh’s debut novel and am currently loving this one – I am about a quarter of the way through. Her prose is even better than in her first novel and I love the way in which she uses dystopian settings to explore human behaviour. People looking for a more classical dystopian novel are bound to be disappointed – but I get the feeling that this is just not the type of writer Mackintosh is.

44778722._sy475_The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey

Grove Atlantic, May 12th

This is a non-fiction book about the author’s struggle with insomnia. I have read the first few pages and it seems like just my type of book. It is just the right mix of personal and experimental that I really appreciate in creative nonfiction.

52272255._sx318_sy475_Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Bloomsbury Publishing, May 14th

A book about a failed PhD student, obsession, and poisonous plants sounds like it could be perfect for me. I am hoping for difficult women and introspective narration.

50186889._sx318_sy475_Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Jonathan Cape, July 2nd

I adored, adored Johnson’s debut and have been looking forward to her next book ever since. Her prose and imagination are just perfect and her brand of magical realism really works for me. I am beyond excited for this one, which focusses two sisters and their complicated relationship.

43301992Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford

Grove Atlantic, July 24th

The cover drew me in and then the blurb featured this brilliant sentence: “Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world—of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados—intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.” – and I could not not request this. I love stories about familial relationships and I am interested in the influence religious devotion can have on those.

51541496._sx318_sy475_Luster by Raven Leilani

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, August 4th

Honestly, this novel about a twenty-something woman getting caught up in a couple’s open marriage sounds like it could be similar to The Pisces, which is always enough to convince me to try a book – I have been chasing that high since reading Broder’s magnificent book about a horrible woman.

48637753._sy475_The Harpy by Megan Hunter

Grove Atlantic, August 11th

Again, a book by an author whose debut I really enjoyed, this also has possibly my favourite cover of the year. The premise of a woman whose husband has cheated on her and in return has agreed to be hurt by her three times sounds incredible – coupled with Hunter’s strong prose, this could be a favourite for me.

Mini-Reviews: Literary Fiction novels about female bodies with fabulist elements

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

45015676._sy475_

Published by Random House UK, February 6th 2020

I was beyond excited for this book – on paper this sounds like my type of book to the extreme. Its central conceit is a fabulist metaphor, it focusses women and their bodies, and the writing is lyrical enough without being flowery. I think this would have worked a lot better for me had it been a short story. As it was, I did not find it weird enough or realistic enough for me to work. I found the characters indistinct and never got a proper impression of the place – something that would have helped ground me in the world Beams builds here. I am (maybe unfairly) blaming this book for my reading slump because I have been reading it for two months, feeling too guilty to pick up another litfic kind of book and dreading having to pick it back up – so yesterday I decided to just not keep doing that. This is not a bad book and I might have actually rated it 3 stars had I kept with it, but it is very much not the book for me. I struggle with historical fiction and really wish this had been weirder.

My rating: DNF

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

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

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Published by Random House UK, March 5th 2020

I adored this – the writing, the storyline, the absolute bonkers weirdness, and most of all the wonderful main character. This book is super weird and the prose is flowery enough to sometimes hide what is going on, to really, really work for me. It is also a deeply disturbing book, both in the central imagery of a ground that needs to be fed and of healers opening up their patients and then putting them into the earth to heal and in the casual horror of the main character’s relationship – a horror that Rainsford does not explicate but makes very very obvious nonetheless.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: body horror, pedophilia

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

Review: And I Do Not Forgive You – Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

45894105Verdict: I still love her.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Short stories

Published by Liveright, February 6th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Exciting fans of such writers as Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and Carmen Maria Machado with prose that shimmers and stings, Amber Sparks holds a singular role in the canon of the weird. Now, she reaches new, uncanny heights with And I Do Not Forgive You. In “Mildly Happy, With Moments of Joy,” a friend is ghosted by a simple text message; in “Everyone’s a Winner at Meadow Park,” a teen precariously coming of age in a trailer park befriends an actual ghost. At once humorous and unapologetically fi erce, these stories shine an interrogating light on the adage that “history likes to lie about women”— as the subjects of “A Short and Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife” and “You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women” (it’s true, you won’t) will attest. Blending fairy tales and myths with apocalyptic technologies, all tethered intricately by shades of rage, And I Do Not Forgive You offers a mosaic of an all-too-real world that fails to listen to its silenced goddesses.

As always, these stories are brilliant. There is just something about the way in which Amber Sparks writes short fiction that hits all the right spots for me. This is the third collection she has written and she still does everything I adore in the format: her stories are weird enough to be exciting and realistic enough to be grounded, she focusses women and their experiences, her sentences are as wonderful as they have always been. Of the three collections, this is the one most grounded in reality – and it works because it is also the most angry collection and anger is needed at the moment (or possibly always, but there is just something about these last few years that particularly make anger feel neccessary). Amber Sparks is angry, viciously so, and I love it. I love what it does to the tone of her stories and to the premises she chooses, but most of all I love how her anger does not mean her stories are any less beautiful, quite the opposite actually.

Sparks’ short stories are on the shorter side, something that I am learning is my personal preference. She tells her stories in vastly different ways but I always find something to adore. Often she hooks me from the very first sentence in a way that I do not encounter very often. I cannot quite put into words what works about her first sentences, but just look at the brilliance of “I’ll bet you think ghosts are so fucking romantic.” or “At the end of the world, you discovered words could change.” or “The queen woke up one morning to te furious sound of the Future invading.” I have said it before and I will say it again, Amber Sparks is my favourite short story author and I eagerly awaited this collection and I will read whatever she chooses to write next – because I can just trust her to wow me.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Liveright. This did not affect my opinions. Quotations are taken from the unfinished copy and might have changed during the final edit.

 

Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

41910151._sy475_Verdict: Great world, mediocre writing.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Published by Orbit, February 6th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential – the cops can never make me talk.
3. I don’t work for humans.

It’s nothing personal – I’m human myself. But after what happened, Humans don’t need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came…
I just want one real case. One chance to do something good.
Because it’s my fault the magic is never coming back.

The Last Smile in Sunder City is a brilliantly voiced fantasy for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Rotherweird or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and the debut novel from actor Luke Arnold – known for his lead role in Black Sails!

I should have loved this. The world Luke Arnold created here (post-magic, well-thought-out, imaginative) is absolutely brilliant. I adore stories that deal with the fall-out of an event that fundamentally alters the laws of the physical world (see N. K. Jemisin’s books and Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Divine Cities trilogy for excellent examples) and this book does this incredibly – on a world-building level. I got the impression that Arnold’s imagination is endless and the way in which he thought out how this sudden disappearence of magic would influence different magical races worked really well for me. I also really like mysteries set in an urban fantasy kind of epic fantasy world. Sunder City is a brilliantly done fantasy city, with flavours of a darker Ankh-Morpork. But there were two big kinds of problems I had with this book – one that I think is a problem with the book itself and one which I have to admit has more to do with my own reading tastes.

First for the more “objective” criticism I had: I found the writing clumsy. This showed itself mostly in a pacing that was, frankly, abysmal. The story moved in fits and bursts to suddenly coming to an absolute standstill, with the backstory and the world-building integrated in heavy, heavy info-dumps. While it did not bother me as much as it could have if the word hadn’t been as fascinating, it led to the book feeling much longer than it actually was. The writing is also clumsy on a sentence-by-sentence level and filled with odd descriptions that took me out of my reading flow (examples: “My boots sucked up mud like hungry dogs in a pit of peanut-butter…”, “Thick smoke tunneled through my nose like an escaped prisoner…” or my personal favourite “The future of […] looked darker than a blackbird’s shadow at midnight”).

But ultimately my main issue with this book came down to the main character: Fetch Philipps is everything that annoys me with male protagonists in noir type stories. He is a guilt-ridden, alcoholic, direction-less, and unpleasant private investigator who is not snarky or intelligent enough to be interesting. He is also weirdly indistinct as a main character – he reads super young in the flashbacks and middle aged in present time, he reacts more to what is going on than being a more active player, his motivations are deeply selfish until they suddenly aren’t, and his narration never became a distinct voice for me (and additionally, I found it fairly male gaze-y). I admit that this has a lot more to do with my own reading tastes but he really did rub me the wrong way. He is also, and this is a petty issue, disgusting – there were a few scenes where he behaves in a weirdly disgusting way in order to intimidate (?) people (like when he downs the drink the bartender he is questioning spit in or when he drinks from an open bottle although other people informed him there were flies swimming in there).

Content warning: trauma, loss of a loved one, alcoholism, substance abuse

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

 

 

Review: Shelf Life by Lidia Franchini

43862291Verdict: Dark, brilliant, creepy, way too many dream sequences.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary fiction

Published by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, August 29th 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

Ruth is thirty years old. She works as a nurse in a care home and her fiancé has just broken up with her. The only thing she has left of him is their shopping list for the upcoming week.

And so she uses that list to tell her story. Starting with six eggs, and working through spaghetti and strawberries, and apples and tea bags, Ruth discovers that her identity has been crafted from the people she serves; her patients, her friends, and, most of all, her partner of ten years. Without him, she needs to find out – with conditioner and single cream and a lot of sugar – who she is when she stands alone.

I don’t know if I have read a book lately with a blurb this accurate that nonetheless completely failed to give an indication what the book will be like. On the surface it’s correct; yes Ruth has just been left by her boyfriend of ten years and has to navigate her life and yes the story is told by way of the shopping list he left behind – but it also something else entirely. Told in varies formats (stream-of-consciousness in the present, a series of text messages in the past, mixing more straight forward narrations with vague ones) and from different perspectives (mainly Ruth’s perspective in first person, but also parts narrated from Neil’s perspectives, parts in second person, parts in first person plural), this book is a portrait of a woman who was very much broken before she met the awful man and became more so during the course of a fairly horrible relationship.

When the book worked, it really worked for me – but there were just so many parts I could not properly get on board with, starting with the endless accounts of weird dreams Ruth and Neil had. I am unsure I grasped what the narrative purpose of those were and I found them relentlessly boring and confusing. While I appreciated the mixed-media approach, I didn’t love reading text messages that just never ended.

I really liked the framing of the story and I thought Franchini did something very clever: in the first chapter, when Neil breaks up with Ruth I couldn’t help but think that was the right choice because she seemed fairly awful. And then Franchini goes back and recontextualizes the scene in a way that made my heart hurt. Neil is, for all intents and purposes, really really awful. He is not only a cheater but also a stalker, he made Ruth into the person he wanted her to be and then punishes her for it, and his thoughts on women are unkind and horrifying (at some point he says this about his girlfriend of ten years: “The fact of her aging makes me uneasy.”). While I found his characterization believable and him endlessly fascinating, spending time in his head was very much not fun. Ruth on the other hand was just the kind of difficult to root for woman I adore in my fiction. Overall, I found this book impeccably structured and impressively constructed  – but often difficult to stick with due to its deliberate darkness.

Content warning: stalking, grooming, eating disorders, disordered eating, cheating, emotional abuse, bullying, assault, sexual harrassment

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Transworld Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Trick Mirror – Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

44282599._sy475_Verdict: Sharp, rambling, wonderful.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Essay collection

Published by Fourth Estate, August 6th 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

We are living in the era of the self, in an era of malleable truth and widespread personal and political delusion. In these nine interlinked essays, Jia Tolentino, the New Yorker’s brightest young talent, explores her own coming of age in this warped and confusing landscape.

From the rise of the internet to her own appearance on an early reality TV show; from her experiences of ecstasy – both religious and chemical – to her uneasy engagement with our culture’s endless drive towards ‘self-optimisation’; from the phenomenon of the successful American scammer to her generation’s obsession with extravagant weddings, Jia Tolentino writes with style, humour and a fierce clarity about these strangest of times.

Following in the footsteps of American luminaries such as Susan Sontag, Joan Didion and Rebecca Solnit, yet with a voice and vision all her own, Jia Tolentino writes with a rare gift for elucidating nuance and complexity, coupled with a disarming warmth. This debut collection of her essays announces her exactly the sort of voice we need to hear from right now – and for many years to come.

This is an incredibly strong essay collection, brought down by a first essay that did not work for me and made picking this back up difficult for me. But once I finished that first essay, Jia Tolentino gives the reader an incredibly well-structured and presented collection. I know why this was one of my most anticipated reads for this year.

Jia Tolentino writes about many different things but always through a lense of feminism and internet culture – something I particularly adore as a feminist who is very much online. Her essays have a rambling quality that worked exceedingly well for me because I could trust her to pull her different strands of argument back together by the end of each essay. She combines the personal with the political, always underpinning her arguments with quotes and statistics in a highly effective way. This is the type of essay collection I adore.

My absolute favourite essay of this collection is about ecstacy – both the drug and the concept in religion. Tolentino reflects on her own religious upbringing, her relationship to drugs, her discovery of Houston’s hip hop scene, and her experience with god in a way that should not work for me (I am not particularly interested in any of these topics on their own) but that was just incredible. If you are only going to read one essay from this collection, make sure it is this one.

Content warning: discussions of rape culture and rape, bigotry, misogyny, racism.

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

TBR: ARCs on my shelves part I (2019)

I cannot believe the year is nearly half-way over and I haven’t talked about the unread ARCs on my virtual shelves even once. I have been a pretty awful blogger this year – I don’t have all that much time for it and I have also not been feeling like reading books I should be reading. My reading has been overwhelmingly done by whim (except for the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist) and as such I have fallen off the ARC-waggon a bit. I have so many overdue ARCs that I am feeling guilty about – but I also recently acquired a few more that are either not much overdue yet or in a few cases aren’t published yet. I am hoping that putting these on my blog will lead to me actually reading them soonish.

40947778The Outside by Ada Hoffmann

Publication Date: June 11th, 2019

Publisher: Angry Robot

Blurb (from Goodreads): The Pride of Jai was supposed to be humanity’s greatest accomplishment—a space station made entirely by humans and their primitive computers, without “divine” cyber-technology provided by the sentient quantum supercomputers worshipped as Gods. And it was supposed to be a personal triumph for its young lead scientist, physicist Yasira Shien, whose innovative mathematics was key to the reactor powering it.

But something goes wrong in Yasira’s reactor, leading to an unexplained singularity that destroys The Pride of Jai and most of the people on it—and placing Yasira in the sights of angry Angels, the cyborg servants of the Gods.

According to the angels, Yasira’s reactor malfunction was the latest in a rising tide of disasters, intentionally caused to exploit vulnerabilities in the very pattern of spacetime and usher in horrific beings from beyond reality itself. They believe that the woman behind the disasters is Yasira’s long-vanished mentor, Dr Evianna Talirr—and they believe that Yasira, Dr Talirr’s favorite student, is the only one who can help them find her.

Spirited off to the edge of the galaxy and with her whole planet’s fate, and more, hanging in the balance, Yasira must decide who to trust: the ruthless angels she was always taught to obey without question—or the heretic scientist whose plans could change everything she knows to be true about reality.

Why I requested it: This just sounds awesome. I do love books about gods and AI gods seem like the logical sci-fi equivalent. Continue reading “TBR: ARCs on my shelves part I (2019)”