Favourite books of 2021

This is always one of my favourite blog posts to write and it took me nearly three weeks into the new year to finally have it up. This does not bode well for my blogging year but let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

My reading year went well – quality wise. I only read half as many books as I used to but I got better at picking books I would love rather those I read for hype or fomo reasons, so this was a nice side effect. As a result, I have 10 books to share today; the first threeI rated a high 4.5 stars, the latter seven all got 5 stars. I tried to put them in order of enjoyment but as always this is a snap shot and could have been different on any other day.

10 Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I am a huge fan of Sally Rooney and this book worked for me the same way all her books work for me. I thought it was structurally brilliant with its introspective email chapters and the more aloof third person chapters alternating and give different lenses through which to understand her characters – and her characters are what shine as usual. I didn’t love this as much as Conversations With Friends but more than Normal People I think and I cannot wait to see what she does next, or rather what variation on her theme she dos next.

09 Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
This broke my heart. Here the whole was better than the sum of its parts but even the weaker essays are great. Febos puts herself and the reader through the ringer and her honesty and special attention to themes and repetitions makes this a perfect fi for me. I will be reading as much of her work as possible.

08 Animal Wife Stories by Lara Ehrlich
The only short story collection to make my list but what a brilliant book it is. It reminded me exactly why I love short story collections. It is weird and extremely well written, with a strong theme of feminism and motherhood and the stories are the exact perfect length each time (varying from the very short to the slightly longer than most short stories).


07 Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
This 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. I didn’t quite love this as much as Say Nothing by the same author which took the very top spot of my favourite books on 2020 but it is incredible nonetheless. The Sacklers are indeed the worst and I had a running ranking who was the very worst of them (spoiler alert: it’s Richard).

06 White Magic by Elissa Washuta
This is just brilliant but in a way that I find difficult to put into words, again. It’s both a structurally perfect memoir and one that doesn’t pull any punches and I adored it. Washuta disects her own trauma, both immediate and intergenerational, while writing circularly about a relationship disintegrating. It is very introspective in the best possible way and I love how she focusses herself more than anything else.

05 The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I knew I would enjoy Didion but I loved this even more. The prose is impeccable, the thoughtful use of repetition and returning to earlier themes and ideas is perfect and the emotional punch is harsh – there is a reason she is counted amongst the best stylists. I want to read as many of her books as possible.

04 Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Pretty much all of this worked for me, from the characters to the peculiar prose to the structure; especially the first half was near perfect for me. I do admit that this just hits a lot of my pleasure buttons and I can see where it might not work for other readers but I am glad that many people have taken a chance on this. Ultimately, on a metaphor-level I think this is a book about loneliness and about the structures we impose to deal with it. Clarke is chronically ill and you can tell she knows what she is writing about here. For me, this hit particularly hard given the slowly becoming unbearable pandamic and the intrinsic loneliness of new motherhood. I will treasure this book.

03 Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger
If you pick up any of my non-fiction recommendations from this list, please pick this one. I loved this and I want so many more people to read this. It took Dancyger 10 years to write this book and it shows. It is so good. She achieves a level of reflexivity that is very rare in memoirs and it is structurally so very well done. It also packs an emotional punch while wielding its sentimentality as a weapon and I am just so impressed with this.

02 Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
I have not been able to stop thinking about this book but at the same time I have trouble putting my thoughts and feelins into words. This is brilliant. I knew very little going into this book except that I will read anything Emily St. John Mandel writes and as such the book surprised me again and again. It is losely connected to her most recent two novels, Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, and I love her extended universe so much. She does this better than David Mitchell, whose writing I also adore, and I cannot wait to read whatever comes next. This book is both perfectly structured and compulsively readable, and as always her characterwork is beyond compare. So yes, I loved this.

01 No Gods, No Monster by Cadwell Turnbull
I ADORED this. So much, that I actually wrote a proper review for it. 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.

Most anticipated releases of 2022

Until a few weeks ago, I had very few non-sequel books on this list. This has changed. As a result, writing this post has taken me a lot longer than I anticipated (I am not used to blogging and the time it takes anymore!) – but these posts are always among my favourites to write and read, so here it is, my list of 19 most anticipated releases for 2022, organized by genre and then by publication date (there is no rhyme or reason as to when I chose the UK or the US date – sorry). The covers and blurbs are taken from Goodreads.

This year I have surprisingly few short story collections and non fiction titles on this list. I am sure this will change over the year but for now it is what it is. I am also determined to read more backlist next year, especially when it comes to memoirs (I recently read my first Didion and the sheer quality of her prose and structure made me happy and also angry because it has taken me too long to get to her writing).

Fiction

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (Published by Bloomsbury, January 18th 2022)

Blurb: Follow a cast of intricately linked characters over hundreds of years as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a climate plague
Beginning in 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.
Once unleashed, the Arctic Plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.
From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resiliency of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.

Hi, yes, absolutely custom-made for me, this was more or less the last ARC I requested before I stopped doing that. This is great and I want more people to read this. (review here)

The Devil House by John Darnielle (Published by MCD, January 25th 2022)

Blurb: Gage Chandler is descended from kings. That’s what his mother always told him.
Now, he is a true crime writer, with one grisly success–and movie adaptation–to his name, along with a series of subsequent lesser efforts that have paid the bills but not much more. But now he is being offered the chance for the big break: To move into the house–what the locals call “The Devil House”–in which a briefly notorious pair of murders occurred, apparently the work of disaffected 1980s teens. He begins his research with diligence and enthusiasm, but soon the story leads him into a puzzle he never expected–back into his own work and what it means, back to the very core of what he does and who he is.

I love John Darnielle, mostly his music but I also enjoy his fiction. So, even though this does not necessarily sound like my type of book, I still really want to read it.

Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso (Published by Hogarth, February 8th 2022)

Blurb: The much-anticipated debut novel from the author of 300 Arguments: a shattering account of growing up and out of the suffocating constraints of small-town America.
For Ruthie, the frozen, snow-padded town of Waitsfield, Massachusetts, is all she has ever known. But this is no picturesque New England. Once “home of the bean and the cod, where Lowells speak only to Cabots, and Cabots speak only to God,” by the tail-end of the twentieth century it is an unforgiving place, awash with secrets.
Very Cold People tells Ruthie’s story, through her eyes: from the shame handed down through her immigrant forebears and indomitable mother, to the violences endured by her high school friends, each suffering a fate worse than the last. For Ruthie, Waitsfield is a place to be survived–and a girl like her would be lucky to get out alive.
Part social commentary and part Gothic horror, Very Cold People is an ungilded portrait of girlhood at the crossroads of history and social class. In her eagerly anticipated debut novel, Sarah Manguso has produced a masterwork on how very cold places make for very cold people, and a pitiless look at an all-American whiteness.

I love Sarah Manguso’s non fiction, especially her prose style and I am very hopeful that it’ll translate into brilliant fiction.

None of This is Serious by Catherine Prasifka (Published by Canongate, Aprul 7th 2022)

Blurb: Dublin student life is ending for Sophie and her friends. They’ve got everything figured out, and Sophie feels left behind as they all start to go their separate ways. She’s overshadowed by her best friend Grace. She’s been in love with Finn for as long as she’s known him. And she’s about to meet Rory, who’s suddenly available to her online.
At a party, what was already unstable completely falls apart and Sophie finds herself obsessively scrolling social media, waiting for something (anything) to happen.
None of This Is Serious is about the uncertainty and absurdity of being alive today. It’s about balancing the real world with the online, and the vulnerabilities in yourself, your relationships, your body. At its heart, this is a novel about the friendships strong enough to withstand anything.

This sounds Rooney-esque, I want Rooney-esque.

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (Published by Tin House Books, July 5th 2022)

Blurb: How do the living come back to life? 
Set in a Native community in Maine, Night of the Living Rez is a riveting debut collection about what it means to be Penobscot in the twenty-first century and what it means to live, to survive, and to persevere after tragedy.
In twelve striking, luminescent stories, author Morgan Talty—with searing humor, abiding compassion, and deep insight—breathes life into tales of family and community bonds as they struggle with a painful past and an uncertain future. A boy unearths a jar that holds an old curse, which sets into motion his family’s unraveling; a man, while trying to swindle some pot from a dealer, discovers a friend passed out in the woods, his hair frozen into the snow; a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s projects the past onto her grandson, and thinks he is her dead brother come back to life; and two friends, inspired by Antiques Roadshow, attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs. 
In a collection that examines the consequences and merits of inheritance, Night of the Living Rez is an unforgettable portrayal of a Native community and marks the arrival of a standout talent in contemporary fiction.

For some reason, there are very few short story collections on my radar – but thankfully this one sounds absolutely brilliant.

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra (Published by Hogarth Press, July 19th 2022)

Blurb: The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself in order to survive, moving from Mussolini’s fascist Italy to 1940s Hollywood–a timeless story of love, sacrifice, and deceit from the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
When we first meet Maria Lagana in 1941, she’s a highly talented but underappreciated scriptwriter at Mercury Pictures, Hollywood’s worst studio that churns out monster movies and cut-rate romances. Maria’s boss has escaped the anti-Semitism of Poland via Brooklyn, and he brings a refugee’s grit and tenacity to the backlots of Los Angeles, imparting valuable lessons about playing around the edges of the law in order to survive to his young apprentice.
Maria herself is no stranger to transgression, however–she arrived in America as a child, after her father was arrested for anti-fascist activity in Rome. While Maria carefully revises scripts in order to evade Hollywood censors, Giuseppe Lagana is in a prison bloc in southern Italy, composing a dictionary that encodes messages to fellow resisters across the globe. When Giuseppe meets Nino and Corrado, a pair of scheming fellow prisoners who have concocted an escape plan that will take them all the way to L.A., he seizes his chance to communicate with his estranged daughter. But when a love triangle develops between the two men and Maria, Giuseppe’s message is compromised, and a series of betrayals culminates in a murder on the backlot of Mercury Pictures–putting Maria and her family in a new kind of danger.
A story sprawled across two tethered worlds, each haunted by its own version of history, Mercury Pictures Presents is an epic novel of transformation, freedom, love, and forgiveness in a time of war and crisis.

Full disclosure, if this was written by any other author, this blurb would not appeal to me. But I adored, five star adored, Marra’s previous two books and had just about given up hope to get a third one. So yes, I shall be reading a historical fiction novel set during WWII.

Speculative Fiction

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd (Published by William Morrow, March 15th 2022)

Blurb:What is the purpose of a map?
Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field, and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.
But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable, and also exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence… because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.
But why?
To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret, and discover the true power that lies in maps…
Perfect for fans of Joe Hill and V.E. Schwab, The Cartographers is an ode to art and science, history and magic—a spectacularly imaginative, modern story about an ancient craft and places still undiscovered.

I adored Shepherd’s debut novel The Book of M, and while this book sounds completely different, I am also very much on board for the premise.

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller (Published by Tor Books, March 22nd 2022)

Blurb: Sara A. Mueller’s The Bone Orchard is a fascinating whodunit set in a lush, gothic world of secrets and magic–where a dying emperor charges his favorite concubine with solving his own murder, and preventing the culprit, which undoubtedly is one of his three terrible sons, from taking control of an empire.
Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.
Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.
Charm is a whore, and a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real.
Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.
But now–Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.
If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil — her freedom. But she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.
Charm must choose. Her dead Emperor’s will or the whispers of her own ghosts. Justice for the empire or her own revenge.

This sounds bonkers and incredible and I cannot wait to see what it is acually about. It is another one I hope will lean into the darkness of the premise.

The City of Dusk (The Dark Gods #1) by Tara Sim (Published by Orbit, March 22nd 2022)

Blurb: Set in a gorgeous world of bone and shadow magic, of vengeful gods and defiant chosen ones, The City of Dusk is the first in a dark epic fantasy trilogy that follows the four heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.
The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the city of dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.
But the gods have withdrawn their favor from the once vibrant and thriving city. And without it, all the realms are dying.
Unwilling to stand by and watch the destruction, the four heirs—Risha, a necromancer struggling to keep the peace; Angelica, an elementalist with her eyes set on the throne; Taesia, a shadow-wielding rogue with rebellion in her heart; and Nik, a soldier who struggles to see the light— will sacrifice everything to save the city.
But their defiance will cost them dearly.

This had me at “vengeful gods”.

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda (Published by HarperVia, April 5th 2022)

Blurb: A young, mixed-race vampire must find a way to balance her deep-seated desire to live amongst humans with her incessant hunger in this stunning debut novel from a writer-to-watch.
Lydia is hungry. She’s always wanted to try Japanese food. Sashimi, ramen, onigiri with sour plum stuffed inside – the food her Japanese father liked to eat. And then there is bubble tea and iced-coffee, ice cream and cake, and foraged herbs and plants, and the vegetables grown by the other young artists at the London studio space she is secretly squatting in. But, Lydia can’t eat any of these things. Her body doesn’t work like those of other people. The only thing she can digest is blood, and it turns out that sourcing fresh pigs’ blood in London – where she is living away from her vampire mother for the first time – is much more difficult than she’d anticipated.
Then there are the humans – the other artists at the studio space, the people at the gallery she interns at, the strange men that follow her after dark, and Ben, a boyish, goofy-grinned artist she is developing feelings for. Lydia knows that they are her natural prey, but she can’t bring herself to feed on them. In her windowless studio, where she paints and studies the work of other artists, binge-watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer and videos of people eating food on YouTube and Instagram, Lydia considers her place in the world. She has many of the things humans wish for – perpetual youth, near-invulnerability, immortality – but she is miserable; she is lonely; and she is hungry – always hungry.
As Lydia develops as a woman and an artist, she will learn that she must reconcile the conflicts within her – between her demon and human sides, her mixed ethnic heritage, and her relationship with food, and, in turn, humans – if she is to find a way to exist in the world. Before any of this, however, she must eat.

This sounds fantastic. Difficult woman but make her a vampire? Yes, please, thank you.

In a Garden Burning Gold by Rory Powers (Published by Del Rey, April 5th 2022)

Blurb: Twins imbued with incredible magic and near-immortality will do anything to keep their family safe—even if it tears the siblings apart—in the first book of a mythic epic fantasy from the New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls.
Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity helping their father rule their small, unstable country, using their control over the seasons, tides, and stars to keep the people in line. For a hundred years, they’ve been each other’s only ally, defending each other and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger.
Now, with an independence movement gaining ground and their father’s rule weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep their family—and their entire world—from crashing down around them. But other nations are jockeying for power, ready to cross and double cross, and if Rhea and Lexos aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other across the battlefield.

Sibling relationships are among my favourite things in fiction. This could be absolutely glorious, especially if it gets as messy as the blurb hints at.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (Published by Knopf, April 19th 2022)

Blurb: The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.
Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.
Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.
When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.
A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

I didn’t even read the blurb before requesting and reading this book – because it is Emily St. John Mandel who by all accounts is incapable of writing a book I do not love. This was every bit as brilliant as I hoped and I am currently mulling over how to review it.

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah (Published by Orbit, May 17th 2022)

Blurb: Neither here nor there, but long ago…
Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.
With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

If this leans into the inherent creepiness of jinns, this could be excellent. I am always here for fairy tale reimagings and I love One Thousand and One Nights – my hopes are high!

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch (Published by Riverhead Books, June 8th 2022)

Blurb: As rising waters–and an encroaching police state–endanger her life and family, a girl with the gifts of a carrier travels through water and time to rescue vulnerable figures from the margins of history
Lidia Yuknavitch has an unmatched gift for capturing stories of people on the margins–vulnerable humans leading lives of challenge and transcendence. Now, Yuknavitch offers an imaginative masterpiece: the story of Laisve, a motherless girl from the late 21st century who is learning her power as a carrier, a person who can harness the power of meaningful objects to carry her through time. Sifting through the detritus of a fallen city known as the Brook, she discovers a talisman that will mysteriously connect her with a series of characters from the past two centuries: a French sculptor; a woman of the American underworld; a dictator’s daughter; an accused murderer; and a squad of laborers at work on a national monument. Through intricately braided storylines, Laisve must dodge enforcement raids and find her way to the present day, and then, finally, to the early days of her imperfect country, to forge a connection that might save their lives–and their shared dream of freedom.
A dazzling novel of body, spirit, and survival, Thrust will leave no reader unchanged.

New, speculative Lidia Yuknavitch? I do not need to know more to know I want to read it.

One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig (Published October 18th 2022)

Blurb: Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder—she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.
But nothing comes for free, especially magic.
When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.
Together they must gather twelve Providence Cards—the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.

This has the potential to be the very perfect book for me. I love the romance aspect and I love the idea of this getting really dark.

There is also a number of sequels that I am very excited for coming out next year: Temple of No God (Hall of Smoke #2) by H. M. Long, The Thousand Eyes (The Serpent Gates #2) by A. K. Larkwood, A Dance of Smoke and Steel (A Gathering of Dragons #3) by Milla Vane, For The Throne (Wilderwood #2) by Hannah Whitten, Storm Echo (Psy-Changeling #21) by Nalini Singh, Dance With the Devil (Mercenary Librarians #3) by Kit Rocha, Ruby Fever (Hidden Legacy #6) by Ilona Andrews (I NEED IT), Blitz (The Checquy Files #3).

Non-Fiction

Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton (Published by Random House March 29th 2022)

Blurb: An acclaimed writer goes searching for the truth about her wildly unconventional Southern family–and finds that our obsession with ancestors opens up new ways of seeing ourselves.
Maud Newton’s ancestors have vexed and fascinated her since she was a girl. Her mother’s father, who came of age in Texas during the Great Depression, was said to have married thirteen times and been shot by one of his wives. Her mother’s grandfather killed a man with a hay hook and died in a mental institution. Mental illness and religious fanaticism percolated through Maud’s maternal lines, to an ancestor accused of being a witch in Puritan-era Massachusetts. Maud’s father, an aerospace engineer turned lawyer, was a book-smart man who extolled the virtues of slavery and obsessed over the “purity” of his family bloodline, which he traced back to the Revolutionary War. He tried in vain to control Maud’s mother, a whirlwind of charisma and passion given to feverish projects: thirty rescue cats, and a church in the family’s living room where she performed exorcisms.
Their divorce, when it came, was a relief. Still, the meeting of her parents’ lines in Maud inspired an anxiety that she could not shake; a fear that she would replicate their damage. She saw similar anxieties in the lives of friends, in the works of writers and artists she admired. As obsessive in her own way as her parents, Maud researched her genealogy—her grandfather’s marriages, the accused witch, her ancestors’ roles in slavery and genocide–and sought family secrets through her DNA. But sunk in census archives and cousin matches, she yearned for deeper truths. Her journey took her into the realms of genetics, epigenetics, and the debates over intergenerational trauma. She mulled modernity’s dismissal of ancestors along with psychoanalytic and spiritual traditions that center them.
Searching, moving, and inspiring, Ancestor Trouble is one writer’s attempt to use genealogy–a once-niche hobby that has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry—to expose the secrets and contradictions of her own ancestors, and to argue for the transformational possibilities that reckoning with our ancest
ors has for all of us.

I’ll be honest, the apparent US American obsession with DNA and DNA-tests confuses me. From an American friend of mine telling me he was descendend from Herman the German (“I’m sure loads of people im Germany think that!” – no, they don’t. I live close to where Herman the German lived and nobody thinks they are related) to the weirdness of gifting each other DNA tests to Christmas, I am baffled. But this sounds fascinating, not least of all because the blurb makes it sound like it could explain the obsession to me.

Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe (Published by Doubleday Books June 28th 2022)

Patrick Radden Keefe has garnered prizes ranging from the National Magazine Award to the Orwell Prize to the National Book Critics Circle Award for his meticulously-reported, hypnotically-engaging work on the many ways people behave badly. ROGUES brings together a dozen of his most celebrated articles from The New Yorker. As Keefe says in his preface “They reflect on some of my abiding preoccupations: crime and corruption, secrets and lies, the permeable membrane separating licit and illicit worlds, the bonds of family, the power of denial.”
Keefe brilliantly explores the intricacies of forging $150,000 vintage wines, examines whether a whistleblower who dared to expose money laundering at a Swiss bank is a hero or a fabulist, spends time in Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain, chronicles the quest to bring down a cheerful international black market arms merchant, and profiles a passionate death penalty attorney who represents the “worst of the worst,” among other bravura works of literary journalism.
The appearance of his byline in The New Yorker is always an event, and collected here for the first time readers can see his work forms an always enthralling but deeply human portrait of criminals and rascals, as well as those who stand up against them.

Patrick Radden Keefe is an absolute master of his craft. Whatever he decides to report on, it will be meticulously researched and readably presented. In both 2020 and 2021, one of his books made my Top 10 of the year, let’s hope the trend continues!

Enjoy me among my ruins by Juniper Fitzgerald (Published by Feminist Press, July 12th 2022)

Blurb: Combining sociological theory, fandom, and memoir, this experimental manifesto rejects dominant narratives about marginalized bodies.
Combining feminist theories, X-Files fandom, and personal memoir, Enjoy Me among My Ruins draws together a kaleidoscopic archive of Juniper Fitzgerald’s experiences as a queer sex-working mother. Plumbing the major events that shaped her life, and interspersing her childhood letters written to cult icon Gillian Anderson, this experimental manifesto contends with dominant narratives placed upon marginalized bodies and ultimately rejects a capitalist system that demands our purity and submission over our survival.

Yes. This sounds great! Also what an incredible cover!

This I Know: A Memoir of Heresy by Jeanna Kadlec (Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Autumn 2022)

This doesn’t even have a blurb (or a cover) yet but even tis short description, taken from the author’s home page makes me excited beyond measure: “My memoir in essays This I Know: A Memoir of Heresy — on getting divorced, coming out, leaving the evangelical church, and talking about life and community after — is forthcoming from HarperCollins in fall 2022.” I love her presence on Twitter (I know how this has turned out in the past, I k n o w) and this has the potential to be breath-taking.

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.)

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?

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2020

I cannot believe the year is halfway over. Being perfectly honest, I haven’t so far had the best of reading years. I was considering not doing this tag for the first time since I have my blog but that felt too sad.

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2020

I am trying to rank all the books I am reading this year (surprisingly hard!) and one of the things that I am struggling with is my top spot. At the moment it is between The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. I cannot yet say which one will ultimately win out but I can say now that both of these books are incredible in their own way.

Continue reading “The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2020”

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.