Wrap Up: July 2019 or I might have finally read too many romance novels in a row

I did something stupid this month: I got Kindle Unlimited. I felt like a kid in a candy store and kind of went overboard with romance novels (again but this time for less money). I might have finally reached the end of that particular binge though – because many of these books I did not enjoy. And the books I loved this month were in different genres. So I might actually be back with my regularly programmed reporting next month (I keep saying that but it is bound to be true at some point).

Books I read in July:

  1. Mouth to Mouth by Tessa Bailey: 3 out of 5 stars
  2. The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  3. Heat Stroke by Tessa Bailey: 3 out of 5 stars
  4. Behind the Veil by Kathryn Nolan: 3,5 out of 5 stars
  5. The Trouble With Love by Claire Contreras: 3 out of 5 star
  6. Meant to be Kept by Amelia Foster: 2 out of 5 stars
  7. My Life in Shambles by Karina Halle: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. Remedy by Kaylee Ryan: 1 out of 5 stars (review)
  9. Whiskey Chaser (Bootleg Springs #1) by Lucy Score and Claire Kingsley: 4 out of 5 stars (mini-review)
  10. Untouchable by Sam Mariano: 2 out of 5 stars
  11. Catching Him by Aurora Rose Reynolds: 3 out of 5 stars (mini-review)
  12. Awayland by Ramona Ausubel: 3 out of 5 stars (review)
  13. After All by Karina Halle: 4 out of 5 stars
  14. Vera Nabokov by Stacy Schiff: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  15. Sidecar Crush (Bootlegs Springs #2) by Lucy Score and Claire Kingsley: 2 out of 5 stars
  16. Moonshine Kiss (Bootlegs Springs #3) by Lucy Score and Claire Kingsley: 2 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

The Mere Wife, hands down. I just really loved that book.

Continue reading “Wrap Up: July 2019 or I might have finally read too many romance novels in a row”

Review: Awayland by Ramona Ausubel

40778923Verdict: Strong start, disappointing second half.

My rating: 3 out of 5 star

Genre: Fabulist short stories

Published by Riverhead, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

An inventive story collection that spans the globe as it explores love, childhood, and parenthood with an electric mix of humor and emotion.

Acclaimed for the grace, wit, and magic of her novels, Ramona Ausubel introduces us to a geography both fantastic and familiar in eleven new stories, some of them previously published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Elegantly structured, these stories span the globe and beyond, from small-town America and sunny Caribbean islands to the Arctic Ocean and the very gates of Heaven itself. And though some of the stories are steeped in mythology, they remain grounded in universal experiences: loss of identity, leaving home, parenthood, joy, and longing.

Crisscrossing the pages of Awayland are travelers and expats, shadows and ghosts. A girl watches as her homesick mother slowly dissolves into literal mist. The mayor of a small Midwestern town offers a strange prize, for stranger reasons, to the parents of any baby born on Lenin’s birthday. A chef bound for Mars begins an even more treacherous journey much closer to home. And a lonely heart searches for love online–never mind that he’s a Cyclops.

With her signature tenderness, Ramona Ausubel applies a mapmaker’s eye to landscapes both real and imagined, all the while providing a keen guide to the wild, uncharted terrain of the human heart.

I have been super in the mood for short stories and decided to start with a collection I was sure I would enjoy. Ramona Ausubel’s first collection was one of my favourite books of last year – there is just something about her brand of dark and twisted but whimsy and fantastical short stories that really works for me. And for the first three stories, I was in love and sure this would be another 5 star collection – but I didn’t love many of the stories that came after.

When Ausubel’s stories work for me, they are exactly in my sweet spot for short stories: dark and mean and filled with allusions to mythology; stories that deal with motherhood and being a daughter; they are challenging without being inaccessible; lyrical without being overly wordy. My absolute favourite story of this collection was “Fresh Water from the Sea” – both an exploration of the distinct feeling of returning to a country one has emigrated from and an exploration of the complicated relationship between a mother and one of her daughters influenced by this emigration. On the other hand, when they don’t work for me I find them vague and the weirdness off-putting; I also start to stumble over her sentence structure that I loved in other stories. In the story “Club Zeus” all the things I loved about the very first story of the collection (“You Can Find Love Now” about a cyclops setting up a profile on a dating app) – whimsical but dark allusions to mythology – really rubbed me the wrong way. I could just not get on board with the story at all.

Content warning: suicide, death, incest, pedophilia, in one story a woman has this idea of getting a doctor to surgically attach her hand to her husband’s arm and vice versa

Favourite Fiction Books of 2018

I have already talked about my least favourite books and my favourite non-fiction books of the year. Today I can finally talk about the fiction books I loved the most this year. These are books I read this year but not necessarily ones published this year. I have tried putting them in order of preference, but this order might have been a different one had I done it another day.

11) Florida by Lauren Groff

36098092I adore, adore Lauren Groff’s writing and her newest short story collection was one of the best things I read this year. I am slowly making my way through her back catalogue because I love the way she structures her sentences and her stories. These stories center (as the title indicates) on Florida, but more so they center women and their difficult relationships to themselves and their children. Beautifully done. Full review here.

10) Hidden Legacy Book 2 and 3 by Ilona Andrews

And this is where I cheat a little. I obviously adored reading many of Ilona Andrews’ books this year and this second series written by the duo made me very happy indeed. I adore the worldbuilding and I appreciate the central couple, which all things considered is surprisingly drama free and honest in their interaction.  My series review can be found here.

09) Kate Daniels’ Book 3 and 4 by Ilona Andrews

I adored my whole reading experience of this series, which I read completely this year and couldn’t not put it on my favourites list. I most of all loved books 3 and 4 which I read on two consecutive days, reading way too long into a night (something I don’t really do all that often because I need my sleep to properly function at work). These books are wonderfully plotted with a brilliant world and a relationship at its heart that I rooted for way too much. My two series reviews are here and here.

08) Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

36396289My favourite of the Man Booker longlisted books I read this year, I cannot believe this nearly went under my radar (I blame the cover which I do not like and which everybody else seems to weirdly love). Johnson retells an ancient myth and thoroughly modernizes it. I loved her prose and her play with perspectives (I do love a well-done second person narrative) and thought this was impressively done, even if the ending makes quite a lot of the subtext text and consequently loses some of its magic. My review can be found here.

07) Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

38606192This book made me very, very happy. I love fantasy books inspired by fairy tales and when they are set in the winter, I am in love. I adored this. My review can be found here.

 

 

06) A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

16158505By far the best short story collection I have read this year. And my favourite cover. I love the way Ramona Ausubel’s language flows and how she constructs her beautiful but dark stories. (review here)

 

 

05) Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

38633526I cannot believe I left this book off when I excitedly published this post 20 minutes ago. Because I loved this so! It is so very custom-made for me that I cannot comfortably recommend it because I am so not objective, but believe me when I say it is brilliant and special and so so very worth reading. I am currently mostly positive that the next book will be translated into English as well and I cannot wait to spend more time in this world. My full review is here.

04) Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

35412372One of the first books I finished this year – and what a start that was. Emezi’s debut novel explodes on the page into something stunning and beautiful and very different. Their story is intimate and violent and apparently at least partly autobiographical in the best possible way. My review can be found here.

03) Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

33540347The only comic series I am currently properly following, something about the collaboration between Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda really blows me away. The art is stunning and the story intriguing. It is a bit complicated to follow but all the more rewarding I find. I have heard people saying they cannot stomach the brutality of the story line, but for me it works extraordinarily well – the grimness of the world is juxtaposed with the stunning brilliance of the art. (Review here)

02) There There by Tommy Orange

36356614I adored this book from the very first page. Something about Orange’s prose just clicked with me and I was very impressed with the way he constructs his characters and their voices. I cannot wait to see what he does next. My review can be found here.

01) The Pisces by Melissa Broder

37590570It feels like I just cannot stop talking about this book. Of all the books I have read this year, this one sticks out the most. It might not technically be the best book I read but it is for sure my favourite. I just loved everything about this, but most importantly I found Lucy an incredible protagonist. My full review is here.

What were your favourite books of the year?

Wrap Up: October 2018 or that was a pretty bad reading month.

This was not my best reading month, especially during the last half. I really hope November will be better.

Books I read in October

  1. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Young Skins: Stories by Colin Barrett: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso: 4,5 out of 5 stars
  4. Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1) by Ilona Andrews: 3 out of 5 stars
  5. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson: 4 out of 5 stars
  6. A Guide To Being Born by Ramona Ausubel: 5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

I loved A Guide to Being Born – definitely the best short story collection I have read this year.

I also adored Ongoingness; it’s one of those books that make me want to read every single thing the author has ever written. Continue reading “Wrap Up: October 2018 or that was a pretty bad reading month.”

Review: A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

16158505Verdict: Vicious, weird, wonderful.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Short Stories, Magical Realism

Published by Riverhead, 2013

Find it on Goodreads.

Major new literary talent Ramona Ausubel combines the otherworldly wisdom of her much-loved debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, with the precision of the short-story form. A Guide to Being Born is organized around the stages of life—love, conception, gestation, birth—and the transformations that happen as people experience deeply altering life events, falling in love, becoming parents, looking toward the end of life. In each of these eleven stories Ausubel’s stunning imagination and humor are moving, entertaining, and provocative, leading readers to see the familiar world in a new way.

In “Atria” a pregnant teenager believes she will give birth to any number of strange animals rather than a human baby; in “Catch and Release” a girl discovers the ghost of a Civil War hero living in the woods behind her house; and in “Tributaries” people grow a new arm each time they fall in love. Funny, surprising, and delightfully strange—all the stories have a strong emotional core; Ausubel’s primary concern is always love, in all its manifestations.

I have lamented before how difficult I find reviews for short story collections, even the ones I love. And it is a shame because I want to do this justice: I loved this. Ramona Ausubel has written the best short story collection I have read this year and I want to convince as many people as possible to pick it up.

This collection is pretty much custom-made for me: it combines lyrical language and stark imagery with themes of family, lost and found; the stories are weird and poetic and in parts disturbing, but they are also so very beautiful and profound. The stories center families in such a wonderful way while also being incredibly unique, I am just so in awe.

My favourite stories (in a collection where there was not a single story that I did not enjoy) were the very first story, “Safe Passage” about the end of a life which I found heartbreaking and heartwarming (First sentences: “The grandmothers – dozens of them – find themselves at sea. They do not know how they got there.”), and “The Ages” about young love which I found incredibly moving (First sentences: “When the girl and the boy moved in together, they had sex in the bed and everyone could probably hear it. Houses were pretty close together and there were a lot of open windows.”). But like I said, the stories are all very strong and if you can stomach a little weirdness (well, ok, a lot of weirdness) I would absolutely recommend these stories.

Recommendations: Short Story Collections

I love short stories. I only started properly reading them a few years ago but I have developed such an appreciation for the format. When a short story is done right, it can pack an unbelievable punch.

16158505I am currently reading A Guide To Being Born by Ramona Asubel, a rather brilliant collection, with twisty, dark, wonderful, magical stories (I understand why Jen Campbell names this as one of her favourites) and the reading experience got me thinking about what I like in the collections I adore. I gravitate towards short stories with a bit of a magical twist – I find these stories to be super mesmerizing. I also appreciate more realistic stories but here I often find that these collections are overall rather bleak which can get too much for me.

Here are some of my favourite short story collections, in case you are (like me) always looking for more collections to read.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

28818921Nobody is surprised to see this collection of this list: I adored every second of it. I am in general a huge fan of Roxane Gay’s writing and these stories are a perfect example for her prose and her characterization, which I am just in awe of. The stories are well-plotted and purposefully structured. You can find my review here.

 

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

29236311One of my all-time favourite books, everything about this spoke to me. Marra tells an overarching story in wonderfully structured short stories. His command of language is impressive, his way of characterising people with a sentence and a half something that I find fascinating, and his sense for pacing and plotting is absolutely on display here. Be warned though, the book and its subject matter is bleak (it is after all set in Chechnya and unblinking in its depiction of war and atrocities), but Marra infuses it with just enough hope to be a stunning ode human connection. I cannot wait for his next book.

The Brink by Austin Bunn

22693283I loved this (and its perfect cover!). The stories all deal with some sort of Brink – often the end of the world as we know it. I adored the vagueness of the stories and the punch they had. Bunn is a another of those authors whose next work I am eagerly awaiting. You can find my review here.

 

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

32874103Another set of interconnected short stories where I found the whole even greater than the sum of its parts. Strout shows great tenderness for her characters while being unflinching in her portrayal of their short comings. Her stories are wonderfully structured and impeccably paced. She excels especially in depicting families in all their dysfunctional glory. I adored this. My review is here.

Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

33570520These stories are peculiar. They feature anthropomorphic animals (amongst other things) and revel in their weirdness. But for me, these stories worked exceedingly well and I had a blast with this collection. There is just something poetic and lyrical in the way Loory’s language flows and his imagination is glorious. My review can be found here.

 

The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks

25622828These stories just combine everything I adore in short fiction: they are magical and weird, wonderfully written, and often feature sibling relationships (I adore that). Her language flows wonderfully and every story in this collection is strong on its own. My review can be found here. (Sparks is apparently working on a new collection, an angry, feminist collection, which I cannot wait for.)

Do you read short stories at all? What are your favourite collections?

October 2018 Book Haul: Or, I am not reading, so let’s buy more books.

I am currently not really reading. Work is still crazy and I come home feeling absolutely knackered, so I have not finished a single book in nearly two weeks. So I did the sensible thing and bought more books. I bought a mix of mostly short stories and non-fiction in the hope of one of these getting me excited enough.

Here are the books I bought, in no particular order:

Black Wave by Michelle Tea

32800012Blurb: It’s 1999 in San Francisco, and as shockwaves of gentrification sweep through Michelle’s formerly scruffy neighborhood, money troubles, drug-fueled mishaps, and a string of disastrous affairs send her into a tailspin. Desperate to save herself, Michelle sets out to seek a fresh start in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, climate-related disruptions and a string of extinctions are the background noise of impending doom. One day, Michelle wakes up to an official announcement: the world will be ending in exactly one year. Daily life in Los Angeles quickly becomes intensely surreal.

Humans begin to collectively dream of the lives and loves they would have had, if not for the end of the world, and the lines between fantasy and reality become increasingly blurred. As the planet nears its expiration date, Michelle holes up in an abandoned bookstore and calmly begins to write—convinced she’s finally stumbled upon the elusive “universal story”—a novel about a struggling writer facing the end of the world.

Funny, gritty, improbable, and endearing, Black Wave muses on the hallucinatory confusions of addiction, the hope and despair of a barely published writer, notions of destiny, and the porous boundaries between memoir and fiction.

Why I bought it: It sounds like such a brilliant book that is so up my alley I am bemused that I haven’t bought it earlier. Also, Maggie Nelson blurbed it. Continue reading “October 2018 Book Haul: Or, I am not reading, so let’s buy more books.”