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”

Romance Mini Reviews: Let’s be Friends with Benefits

That it took me so long to read three books with this particular trope should tell you that it isn’t my favourite. I am not the biggest fan of miscommunication being the main drive for the angst in a romance novel and this trope mostly seems to rely on it. When it is done right it can be super lovely though and these three books I really enjoyed. Also, for the record, I do believe FwB situations can work.

38324363._sy475_Getaway Girl (Girl #1) by Tessa Bailey

Published 2018

It is no secret that I have been enjoying Bailey’s books a whole lot recently – and this one was no exception. Her writing is just so wonderful that I cannot get enough of it. Elijah has been left on the altar and finds solace in an unlikely friendship with his ex-fiancé’s estranged cousin, Addison. They first become friends and then friends with benefits in a way that felt organic. I love how nice they are to each other. This is one of the more angsty books by Bailey but the ending was absolutely worth it. In typical Tessa Bailey fashion, there is a lot of dirty talking but this time Addison gives at least as good as Elijah – and I loved it. I love when women know what they want and mostly just go for it. Addison was absolutely wonderful anyways.

4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: infidelity (in the past)

44663284._sy475_Relationship Material by Jenya Keefe

Published by Riptide Publishing, August 5th 2019

It’s not always possible to meet in the middle.

Registered nurse Evan Doyle doesn’t consider himself fit for more than occasional hookups. He has a good life, but the emotional aftermath of a horrific crime makes him feel too damaged to date. So when his sister’s hot bestie, Malcolm Umbertini, comes on to him, he turns him down flat. Mal is Relationship Material: the kind who thinks in the long term. What would Evan do with a man like that?

As a prosecuting attorney, Mal’s learned how to read people, and he knows there’s more to Evan than meets the eye. Mal has faced his own hardships since his family kicked him out as a teen, and he respects Evan’s courage and emotional resilience. More than that, he wants Evan—in his bed and in his life. But can he weather another rejection?

Both wary, they agree to a no-strings fling. Mal knows that Evan wants things to stay casual, but he’s falling in love a little more with each encounter. With health, happiness, and bruised hearts on the line, Mal and Evan must risk everything for love.

This book is a lot darker than the blurb makes it sound (see my content warning) but I thought it was still very much worth the read. Evan is deeply traumatized by a truly horrific crime (and living under witness protection) and does not feel up to relationships, especially not with somebody who he considers so very much relationship material. Mal on the other hand falls hard for Evan and is willing to take whatever he is willing to offer him. I thought they were lovely together. I love how open and honest they are with each other about boundaries and how accepting of each others’ trauma.

4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: Rape (in the past), assault (in the past), drug abuse (in the past), PTSD, forced prostitution of a minor (in the past), panic attacks, suicide (in the past), self-harm (in the past)

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

40793943._sy475_Three-Way Split by Elia Winters (2019 RITA Award winner)

Published by Entangled, 2018

I have never read a book with a polyamorous love story at the center and when this book won this year’s RITA Award, I figured this was my time to do so. And I am very glad I did. This was absolutely lovely with its focus on informed and enthusiastic consent, with people who actually communicate about what they want (most of the time at least), and a triad I could believe (who amongst us hasn’t wished a love triangle resolved by the involved parties deciding to all date each other). Ben and Michael (owners of a pub) have been roommates and friends with benefits for years when they both start sleeping with Hannah (owner of a sex shop) who has been flirting but not acting on it with Michael for a year. This book is definitely on the explicit end of the romance to erotica spectrum but it worked for me because the relationships felt believable.

4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: biphobia (always challenged), Ben’s ex-wife reacted badly to him coming out.


Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

33590210Verdict: Infuriating but probably intentionally so.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: General Fiction

Published by Algonquin Books, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

I am so very torn on this one. It infuriated me beyond belief – but I think that was intentional. It is super readable and interestingly structured but it is also weirdly unbalanced in the overall experience. I can absolutely see how this book might work for a different reader but for me vast stretches were near unbearable.

This book is, at its core, not so much an exploration of the injustices of the American prison system (the main male character is innocently incarcerated leading to the slow destruction of his marriage) as it is an exploration of marriage and most importantly toxic masculinity. I do appreciate this angle more, as I am interested in relationships and their disintegration. Tayari Jones handles this aspect of her story beautifully, showing us just enough of what makes her couple tick that their inevitable implosion feels organic.

In the context of the prison aspect, I am glad she chose to make Roy this unlikeable because niceness has nothing to do with the rights he should be afforded. I appreciate the message she sends here. When it comes to the relationship angle of this book though, I was clearly from the very beginning, very much on Celestial’s side. While she definitely makes mistakes and has her own flaws, I found Roy near unbearable. He feels entitled to women’s bodies, has a vocal dislike of condoms that he uses to coerce the women he sleeps with to do so without them, has issues with consent in general, and he is overall a horrible person who treats Celestial, even before his imprisonment, more like a trophy than like a wife. I found he had very few redeeming qualities which made me very impatient when everybody in the story kept pressuring Celestial to stay with him.

What worked really well for me was the structure of the book – I did not only enjoy the letters Celestial and Roy exchange in the first half but also how Tayari Jones uses her intimate first person narration to always show new nuances to her characters. I liked how the story is told strictly chronologically while also giving insights into these people by way of well-integrated scenes from the past.

Overall, I can see why the book was this successful but it did not always work for me. I wish Roy had not been quite as awful or that Celestial had kicked him out of her life much sooner. I think Roy’s awfulness detracted from the story as well – because while I spent the majority of the book firmly believing that he was innocent his behaviour towards the end of the book did make me doubt that – and I am fairly certain that was not the point.

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. The Pisces by Melissa Broder (review)
  2. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (review)
  3. Normal People by Sally Rooney (review)
  4. Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  5. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (review)
  6. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  7. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (review)
  8. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (review)
  9. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (review)

Thoughts: The Costa Book Awards reaction 2018

I love book prizes. A lot. And now in the time between the Man Booker and my personal favourite the Women’s Prize for fiction, I thought I might take the time to talk about the Costa Book Awards. While not quite as prestigious as the aforementioned, it is a prize that I personally really enjoy. I enjoy the focus on accessibility and I like the different categories. I also like that it is a UK book prize and only open to authors based in the UK. I just find that this helps to highlight different books.

I am mostly interested in the categories First Novel Award, Novel Award, and the Biography Award. While I am glad the prize has categories for Poetry and Children’s Fiction, those just are genres I don’t read that often. You can find the complete lists, including further information here.

Below are my short, unstructured reactions to the three shortlists.

2018 Costa First Novel Award

  • Natalie Hart – Pieces of Me
  • Elisa Lodato – An Unremarkable Body
  • Stuart Turton – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
  • Anne Youngson – Meet Me at the Museum

I have only read the Stuart Turton (and enjoyed it immensely but it is not without its flaws) and the only one of the other three that I have heard of is the Elisa Lodato – which has a brilliant cover but sounds too depressing for my current mood. Anne Youngson is a Birmingham alumni like me which makes me irrationally happy. I obviously like that there are three women on the list.

2018 Costa Novel Award

  • Pat Barker – The Silence of the Girls
  • Tom Rachman – The Italian Teacher
  • Sally Rooney – Normal People
  • Donal Ryan – From a Low and Quiet Sea

Again, I have only read one of these books, Donal Ryan’s beautiful From a Low and Quiet Sea, but at least this time around I have heard of all the books. I really need to get to the Rooney, the reviews are super positive and she seems to be THE writer to watch.

2018 Biography Award

  • Viv Albertine – To Throw Away Unopened
  • Bart van Es – The Cut Out Girl
  • Raynor Winn – The Salt Path
  • Benjamin Zephaniah – The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah: The Autobiography

Shockingly I have heard of none of those. But I am super intrigued by the Raynor Winn (memoirs about loss are something I appreciate a lot and then coupled with hiking? Count me in) and the Benjamin Zephaniah (also from Birmingham!).

Every time bookish shortlists are announced I realize that I do not know as much about the books coming out as I would like to think. But I do love the process of discouvering new books this way. Have you read or you plan on reading any of these books?

Thoughts: The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist

I love the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I mean, I love book awards in general but this one in particular delights me. I do love fiction written by women, so obviously this is my jam.

As usual, I have some thoughts.

But first, here is the longlist in all its glory:

  1. H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker (William Heinemann)
  2. The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Jonathan Cape)
  3. Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon (The Borough Press)
  4. Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig (Grove Press)
  5. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Corsair)
  6. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker)
  7. Sight by Jessie Greengrass (John Murray)
  8. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins)
  9. When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy (Atlantic)
  10. Elmet by Fiona Mozley (Hodder & Stoughton)
  11. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)
  12. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Tinder Press)
  13. A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (Virago)
  14. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury)
  15. The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal (Viking)
  16. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury Circus)

I will not attempt to read the longlist because a) I am so very bad at TBRs (the fact that I still haven’t read Home Fire or Elmet even though I tried to read the Man Booker longlist is the perfect proof for that) and b) there are a few books I am not so sure about.

I have already read three of the books on this list:

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar and See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt and they have one thing in common: I rated them all two stars. Now, to be fair, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock I struggled with rating and here I can definitely see what makes it a great book for the right person. Which is why I don’t mind it being on the list. The other two (especially Manhattan Beach) I totally disagree with. They cannot possibly be two of the best books written by women this year. While I have seen some rave reviews for See What I Have Done, literally no one I follow thought Manhattan Beach was a masterpiece. And still, here it is. (I do love that literature is this subjective, I just like grumbling.)

I have also DNFed The Ministry of of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. I just could not get into it at all.

A couple of the books I already own:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie  both sound absolutely brilliant and I really should get to them soon now. I own Eleanor Oliphant on audio and loved the narrator’s accent (I do miss Scotland dearly sometimes).

Newly added to my TBR:

H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker, Sight by Jessie Greengrass and When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy. Those sound stunning and I cannot wait to get to them.

As for the rest: I am sure they are all very brilliant books but they just do not speak to me. Especially the Jesmyn Ward book has been praised by pretty much everyone but for some reason I am fairly sure I won’t enjoy it (I might be wrong about that). If it goes on to win, I will reconsider.

Overall, I am super intrigued by the list and the different genres and kinds of books on it. It looks like a good mix of famous authors and new authors, buzzed-about books and books that flew under my radar. Super exciting stuff.

What are your thoughts? Are you planning on reading the longlist? Is there a book on there that I should still consider reading? Is there a book you would have liked to be on the list?