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?

Mini-Reviews: upcoming short story collections (Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz, Kink ed. by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon, and The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes)

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz

Published by Grove Atlantic, February 2nd 2021

This is such a good debut collection of short stories. I especially liked the focus on girlhood and thought Moniz captures that particular time of life incredibly well – with all the inherent darkness a focus on girls can lead to. And dark these stories are – but I did not find them hopeless even if Moniz refuses to give her stories neat endings. I found this impeccably written, the metaphor heavy language a perfect fit for the format, and her characterization incredibly well-done. Some stories veered too much into darkness for me (I did not love “Tongues” and thought “Exotics” wasn’t half as clever as it should have been), but others were near pitch perfect (the collection starts incredibly strong with “Milk Blood Heat” which broke my heart but in a good way; “Thicker Than Water” with its examination of sibling relationships, guilt and grief was my favourite).

Content warning: rape, child sexual abuse, miscarriage, abortion, cannibalism, suicide, suicidal ideation, grief induced hallucinations

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

Kink: Stories ed. by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon

Published by Simon & Schuster, February 9th 2021

The second I heard about this anthology, I knew I needed to read it. The subject matter is right up my alley and the list of contributors is just incredible. The book did not disappoint in the slightest. Of course, when it comes to anthologies there will always be stories that work better for me than others but I genuinely thought all of these stories did something interesting.

The biggest surprise was Trust by Larissa Pham which I found emotionally resonant and super well-written – by an author I had not heard of before and whose other work I cannot wait to check out. Not surprising in the least was that I liked Carmen Maria Machado’s story The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror – because I genuinely do not think she could write a bad story if she tried. That she made me enjoy a historical fiction story speaks for itself. My absolute favourite of the bunch, however, was Brandon Taylor’s Oh, Youth. This story was pitch-perfect and heart-breaking and impeccably paced. It made me even more excited for his upcoming collection if that is at all possible.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warning: death of a loved one, death of a pet, insomnia, suicidal idolation, divorce

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

The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes

Published by Grove Press, January 12th 2021

I did not get on with this. I struggled from the first story on and liked the second even less. Most of the things that didn’t work for me are very much subjective: the stories that I read were all historical fiction with the accompanying trope and style choices and that is a genre I rarely enjoy. I also found the characters deeply unpleasant (and while I often enjoy that in novels, I prefer more readily sympathetic characters in short stories) and the stories felt cynical in a way that I am sure will be perfect for the right reader. There was also something about the sentence structure that made the prose feel more convoluted than I like.

I wish I had liked this more because I do love interconnected short stories, but I am just not in the mind set to be able to force myself to read things that I am only partly enjoying (for what it’s worth, this probably would have been a three star in the end, so it is definitely not a bad book!).

DNF

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

Wrap Up September 2020

I had a fairly good reading month, not as great as August though – which is probably due to my daughter sleeping a lot less and being a lot more active. I am still making my way though my ARC-backlist in the hopes of some day maybe catching up (one can dream).

Books I read in September:

  1. In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado: 5 out of 5 stars
  2. You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South: 2 out of 5 stars (review)
  3. Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford: 3.5 out of 5 stars
  4. Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels #3.5) by Ilona Andrews: 3 out of 5 stars
  5. Machine by Susan Steinberg: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  6. Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein: 3.5 out of 5 stars
  7. The Cool Aunt (Hidden Legacy #5.1) by Ilona Andrews

Favourite of the Month:

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado was every bit as brilliant as I expected it to be. I haven’t written a review yet because I want to pair the review with one for No Visible Bruises, a non fiction book about domestic violence that I am currently reading. That one, however, has the tiniest font and I can only read it during the day time hours (I feel old).

Stats(ish):

I read 7(ish) books this month. Of these books, five were written by women and two were written by a husband and wife team. I read two non fiction books, two literary fiction novels, one short story collection, and two Urban Fantasy books.

Currently Reading:

I am, again, reading too many books at once. Four really is my sweet spot, everything more messes with my reading mojo. I am hoping to finish a few of these books over the next week or so (both the Schwab and the Alam are published in early October and I would love to have my reviews up before that – this is probably too ambitious).

Wrap Up February 2020 or where did the month go?

I had an incredibly bad reading month, quantity wise. For some reason or other, I was not able to just sit down and read. Parts were due to the incredible high workload I have (I need to get SO much done before I go on leave in April), parts were just general none-interest. I did love or really enjoy every book I finished though, so there is that.

Books I read in February:

  1. Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe: 5 out of 5 stars
  3. A Heart of Blood and Ashes (A Gathering of Dragons #1) by Milla Vane: 4 out of 5 stars (mini-review)
  4. How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy: 5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Say Nothing. I cannot recommend this book highly enough – I thought I would like it, I did not realize how very much I would love it. The Man Who Saw Everything was a close second though – I really appreciated this clever, clever, clever book.

Stats(ish):

I read three books written by women and two written by a male authors. Three of the books I read on audio and two as ebooks. I read one literary fiction novel, one short speculative literary fiction novel, one fantasy book with a strong focus on romance, one memoir and one non-fiction title.

Currently Reading:

If I don’t finish The Illness Lesson this weekend, I will call it quits. I think it is partly responsible for my slump – because it is an arc and somewhat lific adjacent, I feel too guilty to start another book before finishing it but I am also really, really not enjoying it. Love her or Lose Her is surprisingly boring for a Tessa Bailey novel but I am determined to stick with it – I do want to know how they resolve their issues. I got sidetracked by Verge’s arrival (and should be finished with it soon), so I have not picked up Orange World in weeks. The two fantasy books are just really long.

Books I should get to soon:

It’s Women’s Prize longlist time! I am so excited and cannot wait to dive into whatever this will bring. Here are some longlist predictions to give an indication what might be to come: Emily’s, Naty’s, Jess’, and my own.

Wrap Up January 2020 or Let’s see if I manage to actually write wrap-up posts consistently this year

My january was both the longest month ever and the shortest. I am apparently back at reading a mix of genres, which is nice – but I also did not read a lot.

Books I read in January:

  1. Headliners (London Celebrities #5) by Lucy Parker: 4 out of 5 stars (review) ARC
  2. Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion #1) by Jessie Mihalik: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: 4.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  5. Dragon Bound (The Elder Races #1) by Thea Harrison: 3.5 out of 5 stars
  6. The Last Smile of Sunder City (Fetch Philipps #1) by Luke Arnold: 3 out of 5 stars (review)

Favourite of the Month:

Girl, Woman, Other for sure. I just loved that book for everything it did.

Stats(ish):

I finished six books with 1700 pages altogether. Of these six books, five were written by women and one by a man (which was my least favourite of the month, make of that what you want). Five books were fiction, one was non-fiction. Three books were romance novels of some kind (one contemporary, one paranormal, one science ficiton).

Currently Reading:

I am in the middle of six books – and two books behind on my reading challenge. This bodes well for the year.

Books I should get to soon:

I already chose my next audiobook (The Man Who Saw Everything) but except for that I am letting my reading go wherever it wants.

Have I read my most anticipated releases of 2019?

Twice a year I post lists of books I am super excited about reading – and I wanted to see whether I have actually read those books and whether I liked them or not. My reading was fairly odd last year, so I am assuming I won’t have done as well as I did in 2018.

For the first half of the year I featured ten books I could not wait to get to.

  1. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang. I LOVED this.
  2. The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. Sadly I could not get into this book. I am fairly sure that had more to do with my wonky reading mood during 2019 and I will try to read this again at some other point because I do love Anders’ writing.
  3. Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev. This seemed custom-made for me but somehow did not quite work for me.
  4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. I hyped this up so much in my head and ended up bouncing off it, hard. I hated the casual violence too much to keep reading it.
  5. Long Live The Tribe Of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden. This is SUCH a good memoir that I cannot recommend highly enough.
  6. Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse. I loved this even more than I loved the first book in the series and will from now on read every adult book Roanhorse publishes. She is just brilliant.
  7. What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About ed. by Michele Filgate. I realized after adding this book to my list that the contributors include men – so I did not get to it yet but I am planning on buying it soon.
  8. The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. The publication date kept being pushed back but I now own this and will hopefully get to it soon.
  9. No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder. I would like to listen to the audiobook of this but haven’t yet found it.
  10. The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang. I tried reading this for months but I was just not in the mental headspace to deal with its relentless bleakness and the brutality of the storyline. I am unsure whether I will ever be back in the reading mood for this.

I only read four of these books and DNFed an additional two. This is depressing.

For the second half of the year I named ten books I was super excited about.

  1. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. I have not gotten around to this book yet but I am still super excited about it.
  2. The Need by Helen Phillips. Again, I did not get to this. I am currently trying not to buy too many books and also maybe a horror novel about pregnancy/ children is not the best idea at the moment. I still want to get to it at some point!
  3. I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi. I sadly did not love this. I found te reading experience difficult even if I can appreciate what Ikpi does on an intellectual level.
  4. Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. I thought this was absolutely brilliant. I listened to the audiobook which is my favourite way of consuming non-fiction.
  5. Shelf Life by Livia Franchini. I read but didn’t love this.
  6. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. I haven’t even bought this one yet. Middle Grade is just never the age range I get excited about.
  7. In the Dream House my Carmen Maria Machado. I am still waiting for the audiobook to make it to Audible Germany. I prefer listening to memoirs on audio.
  8. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones. I can now read this! Once I buy it, that is.
  9. Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Diaz. Another one that I am beyond excited about that I did not even purchase yet.
  10. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I cannot believe I haven’t gotten around to buying this yet.

I only read three of these books and loved only one. This is even more depressing than the first part of this post. I really did not do too brilliantly on this – which was kind of to be expected, given how weird my reading year went. I hope this year will go better, most anticipated releases wise. (you can find my first post for 2019 here)

Most anticipated releases of the second half of 2019

I love compiling these lists because I love getting excited for books. So far this year I haven’t done so great at actually reading my anticipated releases (here are the ones for the first half of the year) but who knows, maybe that’ll change. Spoiler alert: for somebody who has only read like 3 non-fiction titles this year, I sure am looking forward to many memoirs. I really need to get my reading back to normality.

44795725._sy475_Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Bloomsbury, July 9th
Genre: Non-Fiction

Every review of this I have seen has been glowing – and it sounds like it could be just the perfect book for me. I love non-fiction about women.

46374237._sy475_The Need by Helen Phillips

Penguin / Viking, July 16th
Genre: Horror, Fiction

I read Helen Philips’ short story collection Some Possible Solutions a while ago and while I didn’t enjoy every story, those I liked I absolutely loved. I also think her vague and metaphorical style might really work for me in novel form. I also am always interesting in books about motherhood – and one with a horror slant sounds like just the book for me.

40222541I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi

Harper Perennial, August 6th
Genre: Essay Collection

I am mostly excited for this because Akwaeke Emezi loved it – and I figure everything they love, I’ll love. I also really love personal essay collections, I adore the title, and I usually enjoy the non fiction titles I read published by Harper, so this should be right up my alley.

43126457Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Random House, August 6th
Genre: Essay Collection

I love Tolentino’s writing and am super excited about a full length essay collection by her. I cannot see myself not loving this. I also adore the old school hipster style cover more than I am comfortable admitting.

43862291Shelf Life by Livia Franchini

Doubleday, August 23rd
Genre: Fiction

This sounds absolutely excellent and I do adore the cover (always a plus). I love stories about women whose life have exploded around them – and this one seems to be interestingly structured as well.

44032417._sy475_Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Faber&Faber, September 10th
Genre: YA, Fantasy

I know nearly nothing about this book except that for Emezi I am willing to read a YA novel. Their writing is exciting without end and while I am even more excited for their upcoming adult novel, I will be reading this nonetheless. But the cover is killing me (and not in the good way).

42188604In the Dream House my Carmen Maria Machado

Graywolf Press, October 1st
Genre: Memoir

This is the book I am most excited about. I adore Machado’s writing and this memoir sounds incredible (it has been getting a steady number of intriguingly high praise).

43682552How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

Simon and Schuster, October 8th
Genre: Memoir

This is the first book published this year that made me cross with myself for choosing to not read any books written by men. I will be reading this the moment 2020 roles around. I love Jones’ writing and this memoir sounds incredible.

42152409Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Diaz

Algonquin Books, October 29th
Genre: Memoir

This is comped to Myriam Gurba’s Mean and Marie Terese Mailhot’s Heartberries. Both of which I adored.

42730332._sx318_The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Harvill Secker, November 5th
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Like many others, I adore The Night Circus. So when Morgenstern’s new book finally got announced, I like many others, squealed. I cannot wait to read this. But the covers are all truly awful.

What are some of the books you are looking forward to?

Wrap Up: November 2017

I did not have the best reading month. As I have talked about elsewhere I am currently reading too many books I am not excited about and have forbidden myself from starting new books before I finish these. This might not have been the best idea.

Without much further ado, here are the six books I have read in November:

  1. Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. The Uploaded – Ferret Steinmetz: 2 out of 5 stars
  4. The Girl in The Tower – Katherine Arden: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. Under the Pendulum Sun – Jeannette Ng: 3 out of 5 stars
  6. Autumn – Ali Smith: 3 out of 5 stars.

Favourite of the month:

I think I will have to say The Girl in The Tower. I just adore the world Katherine Arden has created so much. I find her voice so impressive and the way she builds her stories on familiar tropes but making them special is just brilliant.

I also really enjoyed Her Body and Other Parties and agree with every praise this wonderful short story collection has gotten. If you like short stories and haven’t picked this up, you really should.

Currently Reading:

Like I said, I am still trying to finish all the books I have started and only then will I allow myself to start something else. I cannot remember the last time I had no book on my currently reading shelf on Goodreads and am kind of looking forward to that and to the feeling that comes with a bit of a clean slate. Wish me luck.

Reading Next:

If I get through the books I am currently reading at some point (I am not that optimistic given my current reading pace) I am giving myself permission to just choose whatever the heck I feel like. No pressure, no fixed TBR, no “I should be reading this”. I want to end the year on a high.

 

Review: Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado

33375622My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date Read: November 4th, 2017

Published by Graywolf Press, October 3rd, 2017

Verdict: Beautifully written, poignant, sad, feminist short stories with a supernatural side.

Find it on Goodreads.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

I was really looking forward to this book ever since I saw a review by Roxane Gay for this; then when I read and loved one of these short stories earlier this year I was even more excited – and I was not disappointed in the least. I absolutely adored these stories and what Carmen Maria Machado has to offer. She writes just the kind of slightly unsettling and very upsetting short stories that I just adore. Her stories are twisted and mean but also beautiful beyond words. They have a core feminist message while also being stylistically awesome and never losing sight of the humanity at the core of them. The stories are highly inventive, can be read both as a social commentary and often as love stories, her characters feel real and her language is precise and wonderful.

As is usually the case I adored some stories more than others but overall this was a very strong collection and I can absolutely understand the praise it has garnered (it has been blurbed by Roxane Gay and Jeff VanderMeer among others).

I loved “The Husband Stitch” (this is the story I had read before), maybe even more so the second time around: this inventive rumination on what secrets women are allowed to keep made me mad and sad at the same time.

In “Inventory” a woman looks back on her past lovers as the world comes to an literal end around her. This story felt very different than the rest of the collection but I loved its wistful melancholy and the bleak surrounding Carmen Maria Machado evoked.

My favourite of the bunch was the novella “Especially Heinous”, written as short blurbs for a TV show (think “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” ) filled with ghosts with bells for eyes and doppelgängers that are eerily similar but very creepy. This story was unsettling and creepy but also packed an immense emotional punch.

PS: This is book is so beautifully produced; the pictures online do not really do it any justice.