Wrap Up September 2021

I am so stressed. Is anybody surprised? I am not surprised. September is always busy and I am trying to juggle so very many things, professionally, that I am glad for every minute I manage to read for fun.

Books I read in September:

During Rachel’s and my ARC-readathon, I first finished two romance novels instead – because of course I did. If I was good at TBRs, the state of my NetGalley shelf would not necessitate a readathon to catch up. I read I Hate, I Bake, and I Don’t Date by Alina Jacobs (2 out of 5 stars) which was banana-pants but I could not look away. If the central couple had been less awful (especially him, whose name I have forgotten but who is a trash person) I would have rated this higher because I was indeed very entertained. Afterwards, I did what I always do when I read a particularly weird and/or awful romance novel and reached for a favourite romance author. I read Love According to Science by Claire Kingsley (3 out of 5 stars) which was my least favourite in the series so far but still a whole lot of fun. Then I finished the absolute brilliant No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (5 out of 5 stars) which I liked so much that I have written a full review for the first time in half a year. I lso read One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3) by Ilona Andreas (3.5 out of 5 stars) which I obviousy enjoyed – I do not think they even can write a book I won’t like at this point. I then finished the incredible White Magic by Elissa Washuta (5 out of 5 stars) which is just brilliant but in a way that I find difficult to put into words. It’s both a structurally perfect memoir and one that doesn’t pull any punches and I adored it.

I also decided to DNF Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone during our readathon which meant two reviews written in the two weeks, which at this point, I’ll consider a win. I got increasingly more bored with this and put it down 40% in. I do not think this book knows what it wants to be – it’s a thriller without having thriller pacing but with thriller plot beats, it’s a coming of age story without actually dealing with the coming of age, It’s literary fiction but the language felt more self-indulgent than anything else. This just did not work for me at all – and I am very sad because the premise and the promise of a dysfunctional sibling relationship really are brilliant.

Favourite of the Month:

No Gods, No Monsters – which is so far also my favourite book of the year.

Stats(ish):

I read five books, three of which were written by women, one by a man and one by a husband and wife team.Two books were romance, two can broadly be categorized as speculative, and one essay collection/memoir.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

Whatever I feel like. I won’t try to police my reading at all.

Review: No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

“‘We’re all blind’, he says after swallowing. ‘Take solace in that. Choice comes first. Meaning comes later.”

No Gods, No Monsters – published by Blackstone Publishing, September 7th 2021

One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?

The world will soon find out.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: My favourite book of the year.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I am so very much in love with this book – enough to feel the need to write my first full-length review in half a year. As is often the case when a book is this custom-made for me, I am having problems divorcing my enjoyment from that fact – but I loved it so very much!

No Gods, No Monsters is literary fiction maquerading as urban fantasy and if there is anything that is my absolute catnip, it is this. The prose is brilliant, the character work perfect, and the structure made me happy. Turnbull does something so very clever with perspective that it made me giddy with joy – I love a clever play on perspective and here it did not only work stylistically but also made perfect sense in-universe which is something that I assume is very hard to pull off.

At its core, this is a story about bigotry – and while I am not always a fan of using fantastical creatures as a stand in for minority groups, here it worked well because Turnbull also grounds his book in real world oppression. His characters casually but intentionally have diverse backgrounds and gender expressions and sexual orientations and they feel as real as possible. The inciting incident is a case of deadly police brutality that ends up revealing to the world that monsters (and gods?) are real and among us. From this point the story spirals outward and inward, jumping from one storyline to the next in every chapter. I loved this. I loved this all the more because I felt I could trust Turnbull to know where he is going and what he wants to achieve. I did not find this book confusing but I found it challenging – it kept me on my toes and it made sure I was paying attention. I found the way Turnbull pulled of the various narrative strands very impressive, especially the way he made me emotionally invested in all of these (to be fair, quite a few strands are sibling stories and these are often my favourite). And while the book is definitely dark, it is not hopeless and there is a core of community and community action running through this that made the book ultimately an optimistic one.

In short, I adored this, I want more people to read this and most of all I want the second book in the series (even though this one does have a satisfying ending!).

Content warnings: police brutality, bigotry, domestic abuse, drug abuse

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

Wrap Up August 2021

Somehow the end of the month came suddenly. Where is the time going? I had a pretty decent reading month, courtesy of some much needed rereading of favourites of mine.

Books I read in August:

It took me nearly two weeks to finish my first book of the month. I read Tessa Bailey‘s newest: It Happened One Sommer (3 out of 5 stars) which was fun but not my favourite of hers. For some reason I do not get on as well with her traditionally published books. I appreciated that she switched it around and had her heroine be the one with the commitment problems for once and I adored that the hero just wanted her to see how brilliantly he thinks she is. But other than that, I can hardly remember anything about my reading experience. Then I reread the the first book in the second Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews, Sapphire Flames (5 out of 5 stars) – which I loved as much as the first time I read it. I am still sad that the publication of the third book was postponed until the summer of 2022 though. Then I finally read my ARC of Magma by Þóra Hjörleifsdóttir (4 out of 5 stars) – a quick and intense read chronicling an abusive relationship using short, diary type chapters. It made me a bit too mad for it to be a five star read and I didn’t quite love the ending but it is absolutely well worth the hype, with its perfectly sharp chapters with perfectly sharp prose, and its main character who is difficult: she is lonely and judgemental and even in the midst of her (horrible!) relationship that she knows is horrible cannot admit that her friends might know what they are talking about when they say they are worried. Afterwards, I needed something light and fun – and inhaled the next book in the Hidden Legacy series, Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (which I upgraded to 5 out of 5 this time around). I just love this series and the characters and the family dynamics and this time around, Alessandro’s arc really hit me in the feelings in the best way possible. Afterwards I finished the absolutely incredible Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger (5 out of 5 stars). This is impeccably structured in a way that blew my mind, the self reflection at the core of this made me realize what memoirs can do, the inclusion of art is necessary and so helpful in grounding this, and I just loved this a whole lot, even the more sentimental parts. Then I finished Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (3 out of 5 stars) which I did not love as much as thought I would. Everybody adores these stories, so do take my opinion with a grain of salt. While there were some really interesting sentences and the observations were really sharp, overall the structure of the stories didn’t ever seem to work for me and with short stories, structure is really what makes a story work for me.

I then decided to DNF Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford – the memoir just did not work for me and once I realized I was actively avoiding listening to the audiobook even when I had the time, I decided to call it quits.

Favourite of the Month:

Negative Space. I adored this book beyond measure and want everyone to read it. It is very clever, very beautiful, very honest.

Stats(ish):

I read six books, three of which were written by women, one by a man and two by a husband and wife team. I read two speculative romances, one contemporary romance, a short story collection, one translated novel and one memoir. I rated three books five stars!

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

For the next two weeks I will be focussing on my ARCs for Rachel and my #ArcsOfShame readathon. Wish me luck!

Wrap Up July 2021

I am back on track for my reading goal!

While this was not my best month ratings wise, I do feel like I am a bit back in the groove of actually choosing to pick up a book rather than mindlessly scroll through social media.

Books I read in July:

The first book I finished this month was Neon Gods (Dark Olympus #1) by Katee Robert (2.5 out of 5 stars) – a fake dating retelling of Hades and Persephone which happens to be my exact catnip. But the world building is flimsy at best and the romantic and emotional beats did not always work for me. I also finished Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh (3 out of 5 stars), a short story collection blurbed by and compared to Sally Rooney and Colin Barrett. McHugh’s prose is incredible (a stunning blend of more colloquial Irish English and super interesting descriptions and metaphors) and the way in which he structures his stories impeccable – but this was so very, very bleak, featuring many sad and unlikable characters, many of which where teenaged boys. Afterwards, I went on a bit of a romance kick having recently renewed my Kindle unlimited subscription because it was free for three months. I first read Twisted Love (Twisted #1) by Ana Huang (2 out of 5 stars) which I thought was fun but unfocussed. A jumble of tropes (brother’s best friend, only one bed, grumpy and sunshiny one, I hate everybody except you, morality chain) and sub-genres (small town romance, darkish romance, New Adult) meant that some parts worked better for me than others. I did not expect this to go this dark and I kind of wish it hadn’t. To counteract the darkness of this romance, I went to an author whose work I often enjoy and read Claire Kingsley’s Marrying Mr. Wrong (Dirty Martini Running Club #3) (3.5 out of 5 stars) which was just what I needed. I like how fundamentally kind Kingsley’s characters are and how competent the women are at their jobs. I particularly like the friendship at the heart of this series. Still feeling like this exact kind of romance, I reread Claire Kingsley’s Cocky Roommate (4 out of 5 stars) which is probably my favourite of her books. I then finished my audiobook of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (4 out of 5 stars) – which I found very clever and interesting and heartbreaking. I loved how the murderer is incidental to the story and that Rubenhold does not linger on the gruesome details, choosing rather to tell these women’s lives to the best of her abilities. The prose is effortless but effective, the research is impeccable, and Rubenhold manages to fill the gaps in a way that I found mostly satisfying if sometimes a little bit too convenient. I learned a lot about Victorian London and I really appreciated the structure and the humanity of the venture. I then finally finished an ARC – Pop Songs by Larissa Pham (3.5 out of 5 stars) was a wonderful reading experience for the most part. I found it clever and stimulating (I kept googling all the art and artists she refers to), but sometimes rather sentimental. I enjoyed her musings on art more than I enjoyed her post-mortem of her unsuccessful relationship with the unnamed “you” she kept refering to. I then finally finished Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder (2 out of 5 stars) which took me four months to read because although I liked the world building and the secondary characters – the romance did not work for me at all and Joe was not my favourite. I think if this had gone harder for the fated mates angle with the accompanying compulsion, this could have worked for me better. But most of all, I found this boring which is something I cannot deal with in urban fantasy.

I also finally DNFed a couple of ARCs that I had started ages ago (but never even added to my Goodreads currently reading shelf), both because they were just too dark for me. After the Silence by Louise O’Neill I could not read because it stressed me out very badly. A combination of new motherhood and a pandemic made reading stressful books impossible for me. I felt claustrophobic reading this – from the very first page. O’Neill’s writing had this effect on me before in the only other book of hers I’ve read (Almost Love) but where I loved that one, this time around I could not get myself to read this. I am sure this book will work beautifully for other people who are not as anxious about reading as I am. In the Dark by Loreth Anne White was different to what I anticipated. I expected something less tense and more along the beats of a romantic suspense (heavy on the romance, light on the suspense) but from the 15% I read, this was not the case. I am sure this will work better for people who actually can read thrillers without being stressed out but I am not that reader, especially not anymore.

I also moved the books I hadn’t picked up to my “on hold” shelf to return to them when I am more in the mood for them. This helps me for some reason.

Favourite of the Month:

I really appreciated The Five’s project with its focus on the victims of Jack the Ripper and their lives and I am very happy to have listened to my friend Jill (the Book Bully on Youtube).

Stats(ish):

I finished 8 book, 7 of which were written by women and one written by a man. Five books can broadly be categorized as romance, two non fiction, and one short story collection.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I am mostly feeling like reading non fiction and speculative romance, so this is what I will be picking up I think. Or, I could actually try to read the books I am currently reading and have the lovely feeling of a clean slate.

Two of my pre-ordered books cme out this month: Battle Royal by Lucy Parker and The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha and I am so vey excited for both of them.

Wrap Up June 2021

I will just have to stop complaining that my reading month was awful. There is no way this state of affairs will change, especially now that I am back at work and really, really need to finish my PhD – as I just accepted a PostDoc job starting in August (I am super excited about the job and think I can do it very well but at some point this next year I will need to have the title for it).

This does mean a couple of things for my blog though: I cannot even attempt to write reviews for everything I read (which I have not been doing for about two years anyways) and this will be the part of my hobbies that is least likely to survive. I will for now change the way I do my wrap ups to include mini impressions of the books I read and hopefully will be able to write at least this post each month.

Books I read in June:

I began the month strong by finishing the absolutely incredible Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (5 out of 5 stars): an impeccable researched and structured deep dive into the Sackler family (of OxyContin “fame) – my main takeaway is, as usual, capitalism is the worst and regulation is indeed not the enemy. The audiobook is read by the author himself which is always something I adore. Afterwards I listened to my chaotic buddy read: Brood by Jackie Polzin (4.5 out of 5 stars) – which has stuck and grown on me. It is a surprisingly gruesome story about a griefing woman and her chicken – and I loved her so much. She is prickly and sad and so sure of some things (and probably very wrong about them!) while being very anxious and unsure about other things. She is a near perfect character. Afterwards I fell even deeper into my reading slump, as I went back to work and got just hammered with things to do. Thankfully, I still have some Ilona Andrews’ books to read, which is what I did. I inhaled the first two books in their Innkepper Chronicles Clean Sweep (4 out of 5 stars) and Sweep in Peace (3.5 out of 5 stars) – they are just my “break in case of reading slump” authors. At least once a year they manage to ignite my love for reading anew. This is technically the third series of theirs that I am reading and while it is not my favourite, it has all the things I love about their work: great world building, brilliant characters with wonderful interactions, main characters that are just my kind of overly powerful women – and an emotional core that hits me as a surprise again and again. I also finally DNFed A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion which had been sitting at 62% read on my Kindle for six months. This is not a bad book by any means but I found it unfocussed and for me at least the mix between coming-of-age and thriller did not work. I thought the coming-of-age elements, even if they followed expected story beats (the skinny dipping scene, the awkward first kiss, the falling out with friends, the fights with sisters), worked beautifully due to how expertly the main character is drawn. The thriller-y elements on the other hand did neither work for me nor kept me interested enough to keep reading.

Favourite of the Month:

Empire of Pain was as brilliant as I expected it to be.

Stats(ish):

I finished four books, three written by women and one by a man. One book was non fiction, one fiction and two can broadly be categorized as Urban Fantasy (albeit with scifi explanations).

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should be trying to finally finish some of the books I have been reading for literal months – and stop adding more and more books to my currently reading shelf. 10 books is just ridiculous!

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2021

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

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

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

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

Wrap Up May 2021

I had such hopes for this month – but my reading was erratic at best and I have not finished a single fantasy book – even though I planned to prioritize them.

Books I read in May:

  1. No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: 2.5 out of 5 stars
  2. Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: 4 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

The best book I finished was definitely Detransition, Baby – I adored many things about it and I am a bit miffed that it didn’t make the Women’s Prize shortlist. I loved its exploration of gender and motherhood, Reese is such a wonderfully realized character that made my heart hurt – it is not perfectly structured and sometimes a bit too sprawling for me, but what an excellent, excellent cast of characters.

Stats(ish):

I finished three books, all of them fiction written by women.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I do not even know how to get my reading mojo back – and I will be going back to work in two weeks and my tiny reading time will probably disappear completely. The only thing I reliably get to is audiobook listening, so I will probably be switching near completely to that format.

One thing I do know, however, and that is that I will be reading Brood by Jackie Polzin with the possibly most chaotic group chat I will ever be part of. I am excited! (and the audiobook is only about 5 hours long, so I should manage to actually read the book in June.)

Wrap Up April 2021

Apparently I will now forever only finish two books a month. I exaggerate but it does feel this way.

Books I read in April:

  1. Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  2. Eat The Mouth That Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza: 4 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Before the Twitter Thing, I would probably have said Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing – but that was a very unpleasant experience and I cannot divorce my feelings from that. I thought Eat The Mouth that Feeds You was an excellent collection, let down by a couple of stories that didn’t work for me.

Stats(ish):

I read two books, both by women. One non-fiction title and short story collection.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should focus on the books I am already reading an try to finally finish one of the eleven (!) books I am in the middle of. May is Wyrd and Wonder though and I am planning on prioritizing fantasy accordingly. I also hope to make some progress in the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted books I am planning on reading. Let’s hope my reading pace picks up!

Wrap Up March 2021

Was this my worst reading month since I started my blog? Absolutely. I could not get myself to read when I found the time to do so and I did not have much time to read to begin with.

Books I read in March:

  1. Real Estate by Deborah Levy: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)

I also DNF-ed two books (Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron and The Conductors by Nicole Glover)- I read so little I really could not make myself continue with books I wasn’t enjoying a lot.

Favourite of the Month:

I guess Real Estate by default. I read the whole Living Autobiography sequence this year and found the experience really rewarding – but haven’t quite yet found the words to talk about the books yet.

Stats(ish):

I read two books, both by women. One non-fiction title and one fiction novel.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should definitely not be getting to anything new but rather work on finally finishing the books I am already reading. This is not my best reading mode – as I have talked about before, four books is my sweet spot.

Review: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

“I wanted to tell him that in a framework where affection was circumspect, its overt forms were necessarily hostile. Look, I’d say, it’s like English grammar. It doesn’t make sense but it’s too late to change it.”

Exciting Times – published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, April 2020

Ava, newly arrived in Hong Kong from Dublin, spends her days teaching English to rich children.

Julian is a banker. A banker who likes to spend money on Ava, to have sex and discuss fluctuating currencies with her. But when she asks whether he loves her, he cannot say more than ‘I like you a great deal’.

Enter Edith, a lawyer. Refreshingly enthusiastic and unapologetically earnest, Edith takes Ava to the theatre when Julian leaves Hong Kong for work. Quickly, she becomes something Ava looks forward to.

And then Julian writes to tell Ava he is coming back to Hong Kong….

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Great beginning, brilliant ending, kind of terrible middle.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I love books about disaster women and unlike many of my bookish friends do not seem to tire of them at all. There is just something I really appreciate about women writing about women making terrible choices and being honest about that while they are doing it. It’s something I appreciate in memoirs and also in literary fiction. This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist includes quite a few of these disaster women books and I for one am really pleased with that. That said, I did not always love this book.

Told in first person from Ava’s perspective, the tone and voice worked exceedingly well for me in the beginning. Ava is awful, or at least she thinks so and the way in which she treats first Julian, a banker who quickly starts to finance her life, and then Edith a woman she starts a relationship with while omitting the fact that she regularly slept with her “roommate” aka Julian, seems to agree with her. When this book works, it really works for me. Dolan has a brilliant way of writing dialogue and especially the kind of hostile banter between Ava (a self-proclaimed socialist) and Julian (a lot closer to a Tory) was just mesmerizing. They spar and they bicker and they treat each other horribly – but somehow it works. My favourite parts of the book were when Dolan leans into this narrative.

On the other end of the spectrum is Edith – who is by all accounts wonderful and who makes Ava want to be a better person. Their relationship is definitely the more healthy one but I found it boring and I also could not help but brace for the inevitable shoe drop. I do not deal well with lying in books.

I want to briefly touch onto the comparison to Sally Rooney which I do not think does this book all that many favours; while there are similarities, I do think that Exciting Times excels in different areas. It is a lot more overtly political and more successful at that part; Dolan does seem to know a lot about political and economical theory in a way that really worked for me. The asides on language did not work as well for me as they did for other readers but they do add another layer to the class discussion Ava is always having in her head. What this book does not quite as well but I do think on purpose is the secondary characters; Ava is not really all that great at reading other people (or herself for that matter) in a way that fits with her character but made for sometimes flat love interests.

Overall, I did enjoy this and thought parts were absolutely brilliant – I will definitely read whatever Dolan decides to write next. I cannot recommend the audiobook highly enough, it is narrated by the always great Aoife McMahon and gave this book the extra something I needed.

Content warnings: cheating, homophobia

I am not reading the complete longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year but I will attempt to review the books I do get to. I also cannot help myself and will rank the ones I read.

  1. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (review)
  2. Luster by Raven Leilani (review)
  3. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan