7 books on my autumn 2022 TBR

Bliss Montage
by Ling Ma

Genre: literary fiction

‘A new creation by the author of Severance, the stories in Bliss Montage crash through our carefully built mirages… What happens when fantasy tears through the screen of the everyday to wake us up? Could that waking be our end?’

The Family Remains
by Lisa Jewell

Genre: psychological thriller

‘From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell comes an intricate and affecting novel about twisted marriages, fractured families, and deadly obsessions in this standalone sequel to The Family Upstairs.’

We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies
by Tsering Yangzom Lama

Genre: historical fiction

‘For readers of Pachinko and We Need New Names, a compelling and profound debut novel about a Tibetan family’s journey through exile.’

I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories
by Bo-Young Kim

Genre: speculative fiction

‘In this mind-expanding work of speculative fiction, available in English for the first time, one of South Korea’s most treasured writers explores the driving forces of humanity—love, hope, creation, destruction, and the very meaning of existence—in two pairs of thematically interconnected stories.’

Sea of Tranquility
by Emily St. John Mandel

Genre: speculative/literary fiction

‘…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.’

A Lie Someone Told You about Yourself
by Peter Ho Davies

Genre: literary fiction

‘This spare, graceful narrative chronicles the flux of parenthood, marriage, and the day-to-day practice of loving someone. As challenging as it is vulnerable, as furious as it is tender, as touching as it is darkly comic… an unprecedented depiction of fatherhood.’

My Body
by Emily Ratajkowski

Genre: memoir

‘A deeply honest investigation of what it means to be a woman and a commodity from Emily Ratajkowski, the archetypal, multi-hyphenate celebrity of our time.’

I’m stopping at 7 as that is already very ambitious! What’s on your TBR for these coming months?

Descriptions taken from Goodreads. Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Some recent posts

Book review: sharp social commentary on a city in flux – Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley ★★★★

Mozley’s London is sprawling, humming, in constant flux – and home to a cast list of of down-and-out addicts, property developers, villainous heiresses, aspiring actors, ex-hitmen…It’s a melting pot in the true sense of the word. And the focus around which this multi-layered plot spins is one crumbling townhouse in Soho, on the cusp of being snatched up into rampant capitalist clutches and converted into luxury flats and whatever else: a ‘blank slate’ for the centuries-old building.

The townhouse is home to a brothel, and the sex workers won’t go quietly. Precious and Tabitha have been there for decades, and it provides a safe space for them to work – a far cry from the horror stories of the girls on the streets. They’re drawn with compassion and insight, and were my favourite characters in this populous novel. They’re entangled with many other individuals – by way of geographical proximity or chance or both – but the nemesis here is the cool and calculating Agatha, daughter of a long-deceased billionaire gangster who is set to inherit his vast property fortune, much of which is in Soho. And she’s willing to do so through legal and not-so-legal means (without getting her own hands dirty, of course).

And while property is the hottest commodity, London itself exists as a Dickensian-esque character in its own right, a place where ‘night… is brighter than the day. The spread of muddy phosphor illuminates dark corners. The emphasis of shapes that sunshine melts. The drawn, bending, sonorous beams of buses loping from stop to stop.’ Where history is layered upon history, a place simultaneously ancient and modern. Having spent several very happy years in London, I loved the way Mozley captures the spirit of city, the rich tapestry of metropolitan life in all its grubbiness and glory.

‘The stone came. Bricks and mortar replaced trees; people replaced deer; sticky gray grime replaced sticky brown dirt. Paths carved by the tread of animals were set in stone, widened, edged with walls and gates. Mansions were built for high society. There was dancing, gambling, sex. Music was played and plays were staged. Bargains were struck, sedition was plotted, betrayals were planned, secrets were kept.’

It might hit you over the head with its social commentary, but you can’t really argue with it. While I would have loved for a bit more depth to some of the characters (though I do doubt there are many redeeming qualities in Agatha, she was quite the cartoonish villain), the astute way Mozley writes character made each person feel distinct, even in a long and sometimes unwieldy cast list. There’s a lot to unpack here – gentrification being the obvious, but also autonomy and identity and class, and how to survive (and thrive) in a city where unfettered capitalism is pushing the marginalised even further to the margins.

The short chapters propel you through the plot and the prose is rich while still being accessible. It’s hugely entertaining and also sharp, witty, and very readable.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book review: desire and danger in razor-sharp campus novel Vladimir by Julia May Jonas ★★★★

You may also know this book by this very sultry cover.

This is a blistering, subversive, unputdownable read. Which really, you should be able to tell from the cover with the half-naked man.

In a liberal arts college in upstate New York, our narrator – an English professor in her fifties – has fallen madly in lust with Vladimir, a fellow faculty member in his forties. At the same time, her husband John is facing suspension over a series of allegations of sexual impropriety – he had multiple affairs with students in the past (and a tacit understanding with his wife: ‘When I suggested the availability of freedom he didn’t need much encouragement—he is still a cad, I like cads, and he is one.’)

The students aren’t happy with her for standing by her man. They plead with her to feel empowered enough to leave him, they sign petitions. Their discontent threatens her own position with the department. She finds this all rather tiresome. Her concerns are her husband (who mildly infuriates her most of the time), her daughter (an only child) who has problems of her own, her desire to write something of value. And her infatuation with Vladimir.

Jonas flips the male gaze on its head as we see Vladimir through – and only through – the eyes of the narrator. She describes him in uncomfortable detail, eating him up. Her obsession with him fuels her ability to write, and she writes in frenzies.

I loved how the characters explored the nature of art – writing in particular – a writer writing about writers talking about writing is one of my favourite things.

‘We talked about the rise of autofiction, and how most of the creative-writing students at the college did not even want to write fiction, but creative nonfiction instead, and primarily autofiction and memoir. I said it was because they were so obsessed with themselves they couldn’t imagine existing outside of their viewpoint. John said it came from an anxiety about representing identities and experiences other than their own. Vlad posited it was because they had grown up online, representing themselves via avatars, building brands and presences and constructions of selves before they even knew that’s what they were doing.’

It was hard to agree with the narrator on her views of her husband’s transgressions, but it was easy to like her in a perverse way, to be swept up in her razor-sharp and nuanced view of the world and rich inner life. We rarely see fifty-something women in literature with unapologetic desires.

THEN… there’s a jaw-dropping moment two thirds in when the stakes all get ratcheted up a notch. I’ll leave it there so as not to give any spoilers – but this was such a seductive, wry, complex novel that resists easy categorization – if that sounds like your cup of tea, go get it on your TBR.

4.25*

Mid year book freakout 2022

The Mid-Year Book Freakout – 2022 edition

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2022

This is a tough one, but the one that made the biggest impression on me is Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go In The Dark.

2. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

Love Marriage by Monica Ali

3. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng, publishing in October this year.

5. Biggest disappointment

The It Girl by Ruth Ware.

6. Biggest surprise

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

7. Favourite new author (debut or new to you)

Sara Novic, author of True Biz.

8. Newest fictional crush

I’ll have to pass on this one this year!

9. Newest favourite character

Kate Burns, aka Lady Lane, in Diana Clarke’s The Hop.

10. Book that made you cry

Girl A by Abigail Dean

11. Book that made you happy

Fight Night by Miriam Toewes

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

The Republic of False Truths by Alaa Al Aswany

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

  • All the Things We Don’t Talk About by Amy Feltman
  • My Body by Emily Ratajkowski
  • Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

P.S. How cute is my new mug? Check out FableBound on Etsy for lots of bookish gifts.

the it girl by ruth ware - book review

Murder mystery in Oxford’s hallowed halls: The It Girl by Ruth Ware ★★★

I was very excited to receive an advanced copy of The It Girl. Ruth Ware is an auto-read author for me, and this one has dark academic vibes that I couldn’t wait to dive into.

It’s the late noughties and Hannah has just started at Oxford University. Bookish and shy, she initially feels out of place amidst her polished and wealthy classmates, but soon falls in love with Oxford and the allure of all that prestige and history. This is a place, she is sure, where she will be happy.

‘With the sun shining and puffs of white autumnal clouds in the sky, the view had an almost unreal beauty and Hannah had the strangest feeling that she had stepped inside he pages of one of the books in her suitcase – Brideshead Revisited, maybe. Gaudy Night. His Dark Materials. A storybook world.’

Her roommate, April, is dazzling: beautiful, rich, charming. She’s also smart – she’s earned her place at Oxford. And she’s vicious too, at times, with a dark sense of humour. But despite their differences, she and Hannah become firm and fast friends. And then – no spoiler, it’s in the blurb – April is murdered.

Ten years later, Hannah is married, pregnant, living in Edinburgh, working in a bookshop, and has tried to leave the trauma of her best friend’s murder in the past. Her evidence alone convicted the prime suspect – but a journalist has just come forward with intel that might lead to someone else – someone who was never investigated. The thought that Hannah might have convicted an innocent man – who has recently died in prison – torments her, and she sets about on a quest for the real truth of what happened that terrible night.

‘She is there too. Hannah. Not the Hannah of now, but the Hannah of then. The Hannah of before. Young, happy, full of hope and promise, and so unbearably, unutterably innocent of all the horror that life could hold.’

For the first half, I was hooked. We had Ruth Ware’s trademark evocative descriptions, the heady friendships of teenage girls, a sprinkling of 00s pop culture – all set within the beautiful, austere world of Oxford.

This thriller switches between past and present, although only for the first half of the book. And it was towards the second half that the story began to lose steam for me. The pace slows to a trickle and the suspense is totally lost as nothing much happens for quite a chunk of time. I also didn’t feel invested enough in the other characters to really interrogate who might have been the culprit. Had we spent more time with them in 2010 then I would have felt a greater sense of buy-in. The flashes we get of these characters do give a sense of who they are, but I was left wanting more.

The ending does pick up pace-wise as Hannah approaches the truth, and there are a few thrilling, cinematic moments, but by that point I wasn’t as interested in the idea as a whole and so I don’t feel that the narrative fully redeemed itself.

I wanted to love this, I really did! But it just didn’t end up being for me.

With thanks to the publisher for the advanced copy. The It Girl will be published on July 12th 2022 by Gallery/Scout Press.

Happy Publication Day | The Hop by Diana Clarke

Diana Clarke’s second novel, The Hop, publishes today! Here are 5 reasons I loved it:

  • Electric cast of three-dimensional characters
  • Refreshing and empowering perspective on the sex work industry
  • Documentary-like writing style in first-person vignettes
  • Touches on difficult topics without being harrowing
  • Propulsive and compelling storyline with whip-smart commentary on contemporary culture

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, check out the links below!

10 books with fruit on the cover

Inspired by the recent Top Ten Tuesday prompt of ‘Books with —- on the cover’, I decided to try this one out…

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Devotion by Madeline Stevens

New Animal by Ella Baxter

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Putney by Sofka Zinovieff

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Things We Say In The Dark by Kirsty Logan

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (sorry, I had to)

Final scores:

Apples: 1
Oranges: 3
Strawberries: 2
Peaches: 2
Pomegranates: 1

Can anyone identify the fruit on the cover of ‘New Animal’? Maybe I need to be more adventurous.

5 dystopian fiction reads for AAPI heritage month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. I’m going to be doing a mini-series on books I’ve loved by AAPI authors in different genres – last time it was lit fic, today it’s dystopian fiction…

How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

I picked this book because of that beautiful cover and title, and this is a case of judging a book by its exterior completely paying off. If you’re mentally prepared for a (fictional) pandemic read, and aren’t opposed to a dose of sci-fi, give it a go.

The School for Good Mothers by Jassmine Chan

I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this chilling novel about a woman who makes a mistake and risks losing her daughter forever. It feels very prescient today as I write this the morning before heading to the national march in support of a woman’s right to choose.

Severance by Ling Ma

I still think about this book at least once a week. It’s a blistering satire on the millennial workplace and our late-capitalist malaise as a pandemic turns 99% of the population into zombies. One of the best books I’ve read in years.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

I know this book is polarizing, but the GR description is just so compelling I think I’ll have to find out for myself: Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation… But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

The Resisters by Gish Jen

I haven’t read this one yet, so here’s a snip from the back cover copy: An astonishing story of an America that seems only too possible, and of a family struggling to maintain its humanity in circumstances that threaten their every value—even their very existence.

Do you have anything you’d add to this list? Let me know!

5 literary fiction reads for AAPI heritage month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. I’m going to be doing a mini-series on books I’ve loved by AAPI authors in different genres, and coming up first are my favourite lit fic reads – to be enjoyed any time of the year!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Read if you like: short, lyrical novels about growing up and discovering your sexuality, navigating the immigrant experience, the trauma of war, the power of storytelling and survival, and the occasional inscrutable metaphor.

Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades

Read if you like: books set in New York that celebrate girlhood in its many forms, the trope of being a ‘good immigrant daughter’, stylistically bold writing, and something you can read in half an afternoon.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Read if you like: having your heart torn into a thousand pieces.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Read if you like: slow burn novels about family dynamics, the unease of unbelonging, quiet and sad prose, and the ripple effects of trauma.

All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

I haven’t yet started this, so this is from Goodreads: All the Lovers in the Night is acute and insightful, entertaining and engaging; it will make readers laugh, and it will make them cry, but it will also remind them, as only the best books do, that sometimes the pain is worth it.

Do you have anything you’d add to this list? Let me know!

I’ll be continuing this miniseries with a post spotlighting dystopian fiction by AAPI authors later this month.