Favourite Books of 2019

I had a weird reading year – I mostly read romance novels which while they were just what I needed also don’t tend to stick in my brain for any length of time and I read very few SFF novels which usually comprise the majority of my reading. Thus compilling this list turned out to be a lot more difficult than usual – because I did not read that many absolute stand-outs.

Honorable Mentions:

Baiting the Maid of Honor by Tessa Bailey (my favourite of the many books of hers I read this year), A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride (read with the best reading group), Almost Love by Louise O’Neill (too harrowingly close to my own experiences to be something I enjoyed while reading but too brilliant to ignore), the complete Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh (the stand-out reading experience of my year)

Top 10:

2575054610) Act Like It by Lucy Parker (review)

My absolute favourite romance novel of the year, this combines many things I love in the genre: snarky enemies-to-lovers, fake dating, hilarious banter, wonderful secondary relationships. I have since then read every single book in this series and I will do so until Lucy Parker stops writing them. Did I mention it is set in London’s West End?

40236964._sy475_09) Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

I did not read nearly enough short story collections last year (something I will try to remedy in 2020) but of those ones I read, this was hands-down my favourite. While I normally gravitate towards the more weird end of the spectrum, these hyper-realistic stories focussing on familial relationships worked incredibly well for me.

2977402608) The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (review)

I loved this – even though I rarely think any book needs to be longer than 400 pages, this 800 page tome captured not only my attention but also my heart. This is a love letter to women – in the best possible way in that the women in here are allowed to be flawed and different and absolutely wonderful.

3839105907) The Winter of the Witch (Winternight #3) by Katherine Arden (review)

My love for this series is well-documented and this final installment was no different. There is just something about Arden’s writing that makes me happy – her distinct sentence structure combined with her literary and real world influences make this series just custom-made for me.

44543851._sx318_06) Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (review)

This is such a cleverly constructed memoir that came together with the final essay in a way that I found beyond impressive. While I did not love every single chapter, the overall book is near perfect.

3792049005) Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse (review)

My favourite fantasy book of the year, I loved this enough that I am seriously  considering reading Roanhorse’s middle grade release from the Riordan imprint. I adore this post-apocalyptic urban fantasy grounded in Native American mythology more than I can say. This year will hopefully bring the first book in another UF fantasy series by Roanhorse and maybe if I am very lucky the third part of this series.

4012199304) The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (review)

Hands-down my favourite non-fiction book in a year where I did not read enough non-fiction by a long-shot. This book is impeccably structured and unbelievably needed. Wang’s way of talking about her struggle with Schizoaffective Disorder is brilliant – and I not only felt like I learned a lot, I also really enjoyed my experience listening to this book.

3633213603) The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley (review)

I loved this so. I love her wonderfully flawed and actually quite awful women, I love the way Headley plays with language and perspective, I love the way she modernizes Beowolf and made it feel both modern and universal.

3847022902) The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (review)

This was my favourite from last year’s Women’s Prize shortlist by far and the one book that single-handedly made me excited about the list again after I spent a lot of time being rather underwhelmed. It’s another mythological retelling, this time a lot closer to the original myth but brilliant nonetheless.

3613638601) Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney (review)

No contest. I love this a nearly unhealthy amount. Everything about this book worked for me. I have listened to the audiobook twice this year and I will forever read everything Rooney writes.

 

Best Books of 2019 (at the halfway point)

I wasn’t going to do a post like this because I thought my reading year hadn’t been that great – turns out, I actually read quite a few books I loved and really felt like sharing those. I gave seven books 5 stars so far or 10% of my reading – which is pretty normal for me but still surprised me because my reading year has been feeling distinctly mediocre for some reason. I could only narrow it down to six books for this list though (I would have prefered a list of five but just could not do it). Below are the books in order of when I read them (I couldn’t rank them just yet but will do so when my end of the year wrap ups come around).

36332136The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

I adored this. Everything about this retelling of Beowolf set in suburbia really worked for me. Maria Dahvana Headley has a wonderful way with words, the rhythm of her language enthralled me, her flawed and kind of awful female characters excited me, but it is her play with different perspectives (mixing first person with third person and complimenting this with a chorus-like first person plural) that made this an instant favourite for me. I am nothing if not predictable. (Review)

36136386Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

I am sorry if I have become a Sally Rooney fan blog. But she really is just that brilliant.

I don’t think I need to talk about this book anymore. I have been shouting its praise from the rooftops for months and I recently finished my reread of it. Everything about this works for me. (Review)

38470229The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

This was my favourite of the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted books – and I was just so very pleased to have finally loved a book (I was a bit of the grinch of our Women’s Prize group chat and I love loving books much more than snarking about them). Parker’s retelling of the Illiad from Briseis’ perspective broke my heart and excited me. I found Briseis’ endlessly fascinating and loved how Barker constructed a character that was allowed to be flawed and surprising while remaining true to the heart of the myth. Her take on Achilles also really worked for me. (Review)

29774026The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I loved Shannon’s female centric take on a classic epic fantasy novel. I am usually of the opinion that no book needs to be longer than 400 pages but I was hooked for all 800 pages of this. Shannon carefully puts her pieces into place and builds towards a wonderful whole; her characters are wonderful: all are flawed, some are better humans than others, all are compelling. In books with many perspectives there are usually a few that don’t work as well for me but here I wanted to spend time with every single one on them and needed to know what happens next. (Review)

37920490Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

The first book in the series reignited my love for urban fantasy – and the sequel was even more incredible. I just love Roanhorse’s worldbuilding, and her prickly main character, and her language, and her imagination, and basically everything about this. I did the thing again, where I read the book as soon as it came out and now I have to wait for who knows how long until I can read the next book in the series. (Review)

38391059The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

I love this series with all my heart – and I have a particular soft spot for it because it is the first series where I got all books as review copies while they were coming out. Katherine Arden has a very particular style of sentence structure that just makes me happy; it is recognizably hers while mirroring traditional fairy tales in the best possible way. I cannot wait for her next adult series – I will be reading whatever she decides to do next.

What was your favourite of the year so far?

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019: Shortlist Thoughts and Winner Predictions

I still haven’t read all the books on the longlist nor the shortlist for that matter (yes, I got sidetracked by fantasy and romance novels) but I read enough of all the books to have opinions. I really enjoyed my journey through the longlist, mostly because I read it with some super wonderful people, and I do plan on doing this again. It is so much fun feeling connected to the blogging community! And our group chat is a thing of beauty. I will still be posting three reviews and I imagine I will have thoughts on the winner come tomorrow, so this isn’t quite the end of my coverage but it feels a bit like it.

I will keep my thoughts on the longlist for when I finish reading it so for now I will concentrate on the six books on the shortlist in order of preference. Overall I find the shortlist underwhelming. The judges have picked mostly traditionally told books instead of the more experimental ones (and there weren’t many to begin with on the longlist) and I personally adore interesting narrative structures more than anything.

6) Ordinary People by Diana Evans

35277858I do not get on with the book so far. The writing style is absolutely not for me and I am not sure yet whether I’ll finish it at all. I find this one does what many of the books I disliked on the longlist did: it gets bogged down in unnecessary detail. I know this is a me thing but it is driving me a little bit up the walls. I would be very surprised if it won.

 

5) An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

33590210Many people love this book but I am not one of those people. I found Jones’ depiction of toxic masculinity convincing – but so very infuriating. I am not sure the book accomplishes what it sets out to do: the deeply problematic behaviour of the main character made me doubt his innocence in a way that undermined the more political points. I do not want this to win but would not be surprised. This book has clearly spoken to many people.

4) Circe my Madeline Miller

37134404I want to love this book. I love Millers writing on a sentence-by-sentence level and I agree with her political points but the book is killing me. I find her narrative style patronizing, she does not seem to trust her readers to understand subtext, and everything is spelled out. There are glimpses of brilliance (Medea!) but overall, I find Circe’s story dull and overshadowed by the men in her life – which seems to be the exact opposite of what Miller set out to do. But still, what pretty sentences. This does have a pretty good chance of winning and I wouldn’t pull my hair out if it did. Also, nearly everybody loves this, so I am probably just the wrong reader.

3) My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

38819868I enjoyed this book a lot while reading it and I think it is a lot deeper than people give it credit for. But there is no way in hell this is the best book written by a woman or a non-binary author in the last year (that is obviously The Pisces but I am not still bitter about that). I loved the way the language flowed and I am always a fan of sibling relationships. If this won I wouldn’t be upset but I am not rooting for it. It does seem to be a lot of people’s prediction for the winner though, so colour me intrigued.

2) Milkman by Anna Burns

36047860This book has grown on me. While I found it brilliant from the beginning, I also struggled with my reading experience. But, god, what brilliance. This book is narratively the most interesting and accomplished book on the shortlist and it is the one I want to win even if it isn’t my personal favourite. There is just something mesmerizing about this book and I want Burns to have both the Booker and the Women’s Prize. Because this might actually be the best book written by a woman this last year (kidding, that is still The Pisces).

1) The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

38470229I loved, loved, loved this book. It was near perfect for me and seems practically custom-made. I love the way Barker tells her story and I find her characters endlessly compelling (they are the only really compelling characters on a shortlist filled with books whose characters did not work for me). I find her book very clever in its deliberate play with expectations (Achilles in humanized but not through his love to Patrocles but rather his difficult relationship with his parents; Briseis struggles more with her lack of agency than with the rest of her situation) and I am so very happy to love at least one book on the shortlist.

Which book are you rooting for? Is the book you’re rooting for the book you think will win? It doesn’t seem like there is a clear front runner, so I cannot wait for tomorrow.

Now I nearly forgot: I am predicting Milkman.

Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

38470229Verdict: Incredible.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction, myth retelling

Published by Penguin Audio, 2018.

Find it on Goodreads.

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war–the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead–all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives–and it is nothing short of magnificent.

I am in love. Nearly everything about this book worked for me. While I do think that parts of that are due to the fact that it hits a lot of sweet spots of mine, I also think it really is an incredible achievement. I adore the story of the Trojan War though – so this was probably always going to work for me.

Pat Barker sets out to give a voice to Briseis, whose importance in the Trojan War cannot be overstated but who remains mostly voiceless in the Iliad. Briseis narrates the vast majority of the book and I found her voice compelling and incredibly well realized. The audiobook narrator (Kristin Atherton) was pitch-perfect in a way that wonderfully added to my listening experience.

Perhaps my favourite part of this book I adore for many reasons is Barker’s treatment of agency here. Agency and fate are at the heart of the original myth and I think this is really where her retelling shines. Obviously, Briseis’ agency is taken away and it is the thing she suffers most from. So much that the rapes and the humiliation and all the other horrible things happening to her seem to not even register for her (which I find very interesting as a narrative choice!). But even Achilles has very little agency in the grand scheme of things (an idea that Barker very heavily leans into and that I found very interesting). And when he does have choices he consistently does the wrong thing – until his agency is taken away again.

Briseis is a wonderfully realized character: I adore that Barker allows our first glimpse of her to be an ambivalent one, she has unkind thoughts and seems fairly self-involved while also trying to be a good person and loving her brothers. I find that a lot more interesting than perfect characters. Still, overall Briseis shows kindness and strength in the way she deals with her experience and her relationships to the other women in the Greek camp are beautifully done. Briseis’ part is told in first person and as such we follow her intimately in a way that Achilles’ third person narration does not achieve (a brilliant narrative decision). I appreciated this choice a lot: in a way Achilles is the one who remains voiceless and whose more humanizing behaviour is forgotten and only his awfulness is remembered (in this fictional universe where the Iliad is a historical text).

In short, I loved this. A lot. I find it a super interesting text in the way it deals with feminist issues in a way that more closely mirrors traditional myths and I adore that Barker lets the main characters behave in way that is maybe more unconventional for the modern reader but that makes perfect sense in the (pseudo-) historical context.

Content warning: rape, death, mutilation, physical abuse, slavery

 

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. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  4. Normal People by Sally Rooney (review)
  5. Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  6. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (review)
  7. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (review)
  8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (review)
  9. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (review)
  10. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (DNF)
  11. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (review)
  12. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (review)
  13. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (review)

Wrap Up: May 2019 or this was Wyrd and Wonder

First things first, as a housekeeping note: I’ll be trying to include trigger warnings in my reviews from now on. (I read two books at the same time that really knocked me sideways and while I know this is a weirdly self-involved reason to start including trigger warnings, it has given me the incentive to finally take the plunge, something I have thought about doing for a while) If I get anything wrong or forget to include something, please let me know.

Except for this unfortunate being knocked sideways and the resulting abandonment of any book even remotely challenging (and the resulting binge-reading of romance novels which soothed me), I had a pretty damn brilliant reading month. I rated three books five stars! That never happens!

I had so much fun with Wyrd and Wonder – a month-long celebration of the fantastic hosted by imyril @ There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa @ Dear Geek Place and Jorie @ Jorie Loves a Story, even if I didn’t end up posting a whole lot but I am so glad to have participated. Thank you so much for hosting and for the fun and the new people I followed!

Books I read in May:

  1. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity #1) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs: 3 out of 5 stars
  5. Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2) by Patricia Briggs: 3 out of 5 stars
  6. Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4) by Patricia Briggs: 2,5 out of 5 stars
  7. Act Like It (London Celebrities #1) by Lucy Parker: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2) by Lucy Parker: 4 out of 5 stars
  9. Making Up (London Celebrities #3) by Lucy Parker: 3,5 out of 5 stars
  10. Disorderly Conduct (The Academy #1) by Tessa Bailey: 3 out of 5 stars
  11. Disturbing His Peace (The Academy #3) by Tessa Bailey: 4 out of 5 stars
  12. Indecent Exposure (The Academy #2) by Tessa Bailey: 4 out of 5 stars
  13. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  14. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: 5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Continue reading “Wrap Up: May 2019 or this was Wyrd and Wonder”

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019: Shortlist reaction

Yesterday at midnight UK time, the shortlist for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced – and I am glad I did not stay up until then because then I would be disappointed and tired today as opposed to just disappointed. I am obviously still making my way through the longlist but I do have thoughts. Even if I haven’t loved many of the books that were longlisted (as of writing this I have finished 10 books on the list and am in the middle of two others), I did think the overall list was exciting and varied. The shortlist? Not so much.

But first things first, here is the shortlist:

  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  • Ordinary People by Diana Evans
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (review)
  • Circe by Madeline Miller

Of these six, I have only read two so far (Milkman and An American Marriage), but I am more than halfway through My Sister, the Serial Killer. Even if I didn’t always love Milkman, I can absolutely see its brilliance and the inclusion on the shortlist makes sense. I struggled more with An American Marriage and would not have been sad to not see it advance further. My Sister, the Serial Killer I am really enjoying but not as much as some other books on the longlist. The three other books on the shortlist are all books I am really looking forward to reading, so there is that. I did not think both feminist myth retellings (Circe and The Silence of the Girls) would make it but I am intrigued enough by both of them to be ok with the fact. I am also a bit baffled that both Ordinary People and An American Marriage made the list; these books seem to be similar in theme and I would have wished a totally different book had made it.

I find the shortlist strangely underwhelming; maybe because there are two obvious pairs and another book that is enjoyable but not blowing me away. I cannot believe my three five star reads did not make the list at all. The book I am missing most on the shortlist is Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (review), which I found brilliant and original and just in a whole different league than most other books. My heart obviously beats for The Pisces (review), but I never genuinely thought it would make the shortlist. It is still the winner of my heart. But even so, I do wish it had made the list because at least this one was polarizing and it does something very interesting with its subject matter. While I adored Normal People (review), I think it is Conversations With Friends (review) that should have seen Sally Rooney nominated as it is the stronger book. But if I cannot have this, I would have at least liked to see her get shortlisted.

As of the moment, I am weirdly enough most excited to see Milkman on the list. It is such an obvious masterpiece that I cannot begrudge it all the praise it gets. It has also grown on me a lot since finishing it, enough that I might still change my rating.

I will now spend the next few weeks finishing up the longlist, I am so close I can almost imagine myself getting to the end. The only good thing about this list might be that three  and a half of the six books I haven’t read are on it, which makes picking them up a lot easier. Plus, I think I might finally give myself permission to DNF Lost Children Archive – a book that I just very much dread having to pick up again.

What are your thoughts? Are you as baffled as I am? Did your favourite make the list?

 

Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist: Reaction

The longlist is finally here! I am beyond excited and a bit baffled because of the depth excitement. I stayed up yesterday to hear the announcement the moment it went live, something I have never done for a longlist announcement.

My longlist predictions were so wrong, it’s not even funny; I only correctly predicted two books. Of the 16 books on the longlist I have read three, am currently reading one, and three I had never heard of before yesterday. This means that I have an awful lot of reading to do (according to the Goodreads page counts it’s 4023 pages). I will really try to read the longlist but I will definitely DNF the books that don’t work for me.

Without much further ado, here is the longlist in all its glory:

The Silence of the Girls Pat Barker
Remembered Yvonne Battle-Felton
My Sister, the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Pisces Melissa Broder
Milkman Anna Burns
Freshwater Akwaeke Emezi
Ordinary People Diana Evans
Swan Song Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
An American Marriage Tayari Jones
Number One Chinese Restaurant Lillian Li
Bottled Goods Sophie van Llewyn
Lost Children Archive Valeria Luiselli
Praise Song for the Butterflies Bernice L. McFadden
Circe Madeline Miller
Ghost Wall Sarah Moss
Normal People by Sally Rooney

My thoughts:

Read: I am beyond thrilled The Pisces by Melissa Broder made the list; it was by far my favourite book of last year and I want more people to read it. In case you need convincing, here is my gushing review for it. I am also happy to see Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi on the list, which I also adored (my review). I was a bit worried that Emezi wouldn’t want to be included as they are non-binary but they are pleased so I am pleased. I am keeping my fingers crossed that people will try to make an effort to use the correct pronouns though (the first glimpse on twitter makes that seem unlikely). The only other book I have read is Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, where I seem to be the only person online to not have enjoyed it all that much (my review) – but others really do, so I am glad for its inclusion.

Currently reading: I have started Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli a while ago and really enjoyed the first few pages but found the prose very wordy – I am excited to see it on the list though because that means there is at least one book I don’t need to hunt down.

Well pleased: I am super excited to get to Normal People by Sally Rooney; I finished Conversations With Friends yesterday and I am so very much in love with it that I will read everything Rooney ever publishes (I spent yesterday periodically exclaiming “What a book!”) – and Normal People sounds brilliant. I am also happy to see both Circe by Madeline Miller and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker on the list; I adore feminist myth retellings and I have heard great things about both books. I did not think both would make it but I am glad for it. I am also really excited to have an excuse to finally take the plunge and read Milkman by Anna Burns, a book that scares me but also sounds really great. I opted for the audiobook version of this as I have heard listening to the prose makes the book more accessible. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is another one of the books I did want to read at some point anyways and this is a welcome excuse to prioritize it.

Cautiously optimistic: I requested a review copy of Ordinary People by Diana Evans last year and didn’t get approved but it does sound like a book I could really enjoy. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott isn’t quite a book I would have picked up on my own but I have heard great things about it. I am not good with books that deal with injustice, but again I have heard brilliant things about An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, so hopefully I will enjoyed it. I hadn’t heard of Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn but it is a short book that actually sounds like it could be my cup of tea.

Slightly pessimistic: While Number One Chinese Restaurant Lillian Li sounds interesting, I have read rather negative reviews of it – however, sometimes my taste is different to Goodreads’ average and I might enjoy this more (after all, The Pisces has a dreadfully low rating as well and that book is perfection). Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton could be great but it is also really outside my wheelhouse.

Really dreading: Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden does not sound like my type of book at all – and the blurb includes this: “educational, eye-opening account of the practice of ritual servitude in West Africa.” and I do not really appreciate books that are meant to be educational. I am hoping to be proved wrong.

Overall I am mostly pleased (The Pisces!!!) but also sad for a few notable exclusions. I was really hoping for both My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and Motherhood by Sheila Heti because I really, really want to read these books. I was also hoping for Women Talking by Miriam Toews because it sounds intriguing but I don’t know whether I’ll get to it without the added push. I also thought there would be more overlap with the Man Booker longlist and would have really liked The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh and Everything Under by Daisy Johnson to get a shout out because I really liked both books and think the authors are awesome.

What are your thoughts? Are you still planning on reading the longlist?