Category Archives: Book Haul / TBR

wrap-up 12.20 + TBR 1.21

I’m still gathering my stats and drafting my reading year wrap-up post for 2020, but in the meantime here’s a look at how the last month of the year went for me. I started with an impossible goal of catching up on 18 books from various TBRs throughout the year, and as expected, didn’t quite make it, though I’m happy with the progress I made!

This was my final monthly TBR of the year:

I had a great victory in the end, and one frustrating loss; first, with much dogged determination, I did finally finish Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy! I managed to fit both Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror and the Light into my December reading schedule, reading a little bit of the series almost every day of the month. But my other big goal, to complete the BOTM reading challenge, I ended up missing by half of a book- I finished The Hunting Party in the new year. I didn’t realize when I was setting this goal that BOTM was actually sending free candles out as a reward to readers who completed the challenge, but now I know I missed out on that. No big deal really, but all the more irksome for the fact that I had actually read more than 12 BOTM books in 2020 (the only challenge category I missed), they just weren’t counting backlist titles toward the challenge. Fortunately they do seem to be counting backlist books toward the 2021 challenge (having already accepted The Hunting Party for me), and with my goal of catching up on my BOTM stack this year I expect I’ll complete the challenge early this next time around!

Here’s the full rundown on what I finished reading last month:

  1. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara – 5 stars. A captivating and tragic true crime narrative about the Golden State Killer. It’s been a little while since I’ve read true crime but I was quickly swept up in this one, with its careful attention to detail and thoughtful presentation of crimes in a way that doesn’t glorify the criminal. I’m eager to watch the corresponding documentary series.
  2. Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake – 5 stars. Contemporary YA following a teenage twin whose brother has been accused by her friend / his girlfriend of rape. This is one of the most nuanced and deftly delivered YA novels I’ve ever read on this topic, or on any topic, really. It’s a very character-driven story with a heavy focus on trauma and morality, and a great read even as an adult.
  3. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour – 3 stars. A sapphic YA contemporary romance that’s glamorous (set in LA and focused on film-making) and sweet; I can see why readers like Nina LaCour’s writing and stories, and as a teen this might have worked better for me, but this just was not the right fit for me as an adult. I prefer my novels (especially YA) a bit more hard-hitting and gritty rather than escapist and heartwarming. *shrugs*
  4. Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer – 2 stars. This tenth-anniversary gender-swapped edition of Twilight is a total flop. My review turned out as more of a rant, and writing it was the most enjoyment I got out of this whole experience. The main problem is that Meyer changes enough behavioral details along with the character pronouns that she doesn’t escape any of the Twilight sexism she argues that this story is meant to combat.
  5. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – 4 stars. This second volume in Mantel’s acclaimed Cromwell trilogy is a bit shorter than Wolf Hall and more condensed: it follows just a couple of weeks of Cromwell’s life, focusing primarily on one looming event, and this degree of narrowing in really helped boost my enjoyment after a lukewarm response to the more meandering Wolf Hall. Cromwell’s struggles with morality and ambition reach some great levels of tension at last. Series review coming soon.
  6. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison – 4 stars. A horror presented as a mystery, though the driving force of the novel is not any burning question about what happened or who did it or why, but rather a long string of traumas recounted retrospectively along the way. I wasn’t entirely sold on the structure of the book or its ending, but found it a compelling read on the whole with some solid commentary on physical and psychological trauma.
  7. The Deep by Alma Katsu – 3 stars. Marketed as Titanic horror, I found this novel instead more of a YA-friendly historical fiction with mystery and supernatural elements; there’s some light ghost content, social commentary that doesn’t really go anywhere, and a monster presented with none of the lore to anchor her. My preexisting interest in Titanic helped me through; it’s not a bad book, but not dark or sharp either, and in the end I’d recommend it to an altogether different audience than the jacket copy seems to suggest.
  8. A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley – 4 stars. A short story collection that offers a very balanced look at the relationships of Black children and their fathers, and the devastating effects of that relationship being broken. That Black men are so often divided from their families for one reason or another was not an issue very high on my radar but Brinkley examines it with depth and subtlety and the lessons I’ve learned here will stick with me.
  9. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – 5 stars. A beautiful and heartbreaking look at a Ghanaian American family- the father driven back to his home land as a result of racism, the son dead young at the hands of addiction, the mother a victim of deep depression, and the daughter a neuroscientist just trying to make sense of the uncontrolled behaviors of her family and their tragic affects. There’s not a lot of plot to this one, but the narrative voice is exquisite and the protagonist’s interior struggles alone are worth reading for.
  10. Memorial by Bryan Washington – 4 stars. A contemporary novel following the relationship between two gay men and their respective families, as one travels back to Osaka to care for his dying father. This is a quick read highlighting the intersections of culture in modern life and the struggles of marginalized people in America. Washington is fantastic with detail and characterization.
  11. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – 4 stars. The finale to Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy; though this volume looses the close focus I loved in book 2, it keeps the dedicated attention to characterization as it wanders through the last few years of Cromwell’s life. It’s expansive, it’s tense in places, it’s incredibly layered and obviously well-researched, but I still found it hard to stay engaged this long and grew tired of Mantel’s tendency toward repetition. I can see why readers are calling this book a masterpiece, and I do think Mantel’s rendering of this history is worth reading, but I have some conflicted thoughts about the reading experience. Again, series review coming soon.

Not quite the best-case-scenario of 18 books that I was hoping for, but I read over 4,100 words in December, the most I’ve read in any month all year, and I’m really pleased with how much I did get through. The Mirror and the Light alone was 875 pages, and finishing it at last on the 30th was so exciting that I’m completely ready to let the rest go for now. I am using the second half of my 2020 bullet journal for 2021 so I expect I’ll still have those uncompleted TBR books lingering on my radar going forward, and I’d like to finish those last six books in the new year.

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.9

Best of month – Transcendent Kingdom

Owned books read for the first time – 11. No library checkouts or borrowed books or eARCs at all this month. Even so, with Christmas in there, I added more books to my physical TBR than I read (this includes a box set though, and even counting each book in the set individually I really wasn’t too far off!).

Year total – 103. I met my reading goal of 100 books for the year!

Additional posts this month:

And something I want to try this year is combining my wrap-ups and TBRs into a single post each month, so I’ll end here by sharing what’s on the top of my January stack:

  1. Outlawed by Anna North – An LGBTQ+ Western in which a woman who has trouble getting pregnant joins a gang of outcasts who run heists and endeavor to carve a space for those that their society doesn’t accept. I’m aiming to catch up with as many of my BOTM titles as I can in 2021, and part of that goal means keeping up with new books I’m adding to the stack; this is one of BOTM’s January selections.
  2. Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden – “A groundbreaking thriller about a vigilante on a Native American reservation who embarks on a dangerous mission to track down the source of a heroin influx.” A backlist BOTM title to keep the ball rolling, and it’s got winter in the title, so it feels seasonally appropriate. I’ve got a few other winter-y books on hand as well if I can find the time to fit them in!
  3. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu – 2020’s National Book Award winner for fiction, featuring a man who views himself as generically Asian; he’s got a small role in a procedural cop show, but stumbles into his dream of becoming Kung Fu Guy, which changes his perspective. Last January I read 2019’s NBA fiction winner, and it turned out to be one of my favorite reads all year, so I’m hoping for a repeat!
  4. We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper – Nonfiction true crime in which a Harvard student investigates an infamous, silenced murder in the campus’s history. I’ve heard great things, and I want to increase my nonfiction reading this year so I jumped on this one as soon as my library got a copy.
  5. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes – In a Mexican village full of seemingly irredeemable characters, the death of the local Witch sparks an investigation through several narrators all with their own connections to violence. I’ve already started this one, as you may notice with my bookmark in the picture (sorry for the low quality photo by the way, the light was going by the time I took it so it turned out a bit dim and pinkish) and am enjoying it immensely. I want to up my intake of translated fiction this year, and was hoping to start my year off with a bang, which this title seems sure to deliver!

How’s the switch from one year to the next treating you? Any great milestones reached or big plans ahead? What are you reading in the transition? Let me know below!

The Literary Elephant

Anticipated 2021 Releases

It seems every other year I go between having a surplus of goals, plans, and eagerly awaited publications, or wanting to be completely free to go with the flow; 2021 is one of those years I want to take as it comes without a lot of plans steering me in any particular direction. As such, while I m looking forward to 2021 releases I also feel… less committed to them than I have in the past. Nevertheless, I am getting excited about looking forward generally and finding new bookish favorites, so! I will share this list of books that appeal to me even though I have no idea if or when I will get to them; where applicable I’ll link back to the bloggers who’ve put these titles on my radar.

And now, on to the books! (These are US covers and release dates by the way, unless I mess it up, in which case feel free to correct me!)

Lore

Lore by Alexandra Bracken – Jan 5 – YA fantasy

Every seven years, nine Greek gods are rendered mortal and hunted by rival descendants who want to gain the gods’ power and immortality for themselves. Lore’s family fell victim to this punishment, but now she’s teaming up with Castor and Athena against a mutual enemy, hoping to bring the hunt to an end.

Hadeer’s list brought this one to my attention! I’ve fallen away from YA somewhat in recent years but there are still titles that tempt me. Greek myth retellings/expansions are always difficult to resist!

The Prophets

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. – Jan 5 – Historical fiction

Two men enslaved on a Deep South plantation build a refuge and a relationship in the barn where they are tasked with caring for the animals- at least until another slave turns on them to gain favor. The master’s religion calls their love a sin, leaving their lives and the balance of the plantation in jeopardy.

Book of the Month introduced me to this debut. I’m not sure my paraphrased summary is doing it justice, but I’m envisioning this as a commentary on LGBTQ+ persecution compounded by rampant racism and weaponized religion, which sounds like a conversation very worth listening to.

Milk Fed

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder – Feb 2 – Literary fiction

At the urging of her therapist, Rachel embarks on a communication detox from her mother, who instilled in her a strict habit of calorie counting. When the detox begins, Rachel meets an Orthodox Jew at a frozen yogurt shop and the two grow close, into a journey defined by appetites.

I loved Broder’s The Pisces. I hear this one is very different (CW: eating disorders) and have seen a few balanced reviews that have me adjusting expectations somewhat, but I still hope to enjoy Broder’s sophomore novel.

What Big Teeth

What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo – Feb 2 – YA horror

Eleanor returns home to her monstrous family for the first time in years, finally ready to reconcile. But as soon as she starts to settle in and find the acceptance she craved, a strange death brings new chaos, and Eleanor must confront the monster within tyrannical Grandmere- and herself- in order to survive.

I’ve seen this one getting some hype, but it was Kristin’s 2021 YA post that finally put it on my list!

Kink: Stories

Kink: Stories edited by R. O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell – Feb 9 – Short stories

Kink is a dynamic anthology of literary fiction that opens an imaginative door into the world of desire. The stories within this collection portray love, desire, BDSM, and sexual kinks in all their glory with a bold new vision. The collection includes works by renowned fiction writers such as Callum Angus, Alexander Chee, Vanessa Clark, Melissa Febos, Kim Fu, Roxane Gay, Cara Hoffman, Zeyn Joukhadar, Chris Kraus, Carmen Maria Machado, Peter Mountford, Larissa Pham, and Brandon Taylor.”

This collection seems to be on many 2021 lists, and I was initially waiting to see more actual reviews of the collection as a whole as opposed to just anticipatory hype for the premise and author list, but… I’m hyped.

Never Have I Ever

Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap – Feb 9 – Short stories

A debut collection of “spells and stories, urban legends and immigrant tales.” It looks like this one includes horror and fantasy elements.

Story collections often slip by me unnoticed, so thanks to Hannah’s 2021 fiction list for bringing this title to my attention! It looks dark and promising, potentially full of cultural details and magic. Also, I love that cover!

The Sanatorium

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pierce – Feb 18 – Mystery/thriller

In the Swiss Alps, a lavish hotel that was once a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients is now the site of an engagement party from which a woman disappears. Elin encounters a body and the hotel’s dark history, but will she find her brother’s fiancee before it’s too late?

I first saw this title when Naty mentioned getting an ARC, but I’ve seen it on a few other upcoming thriller lists since then as well and there’s just something about an atmospheric, isolated location missing person/murder mystery that always draws me in.

Down Comes the Night

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft – Mar 2 – YA fantasy/romance

Wren’s magic has gotten her into trouble, so she takes the chance to cure a servant at Colwick Hall to redeem herself. Except it turns out that Hal isn’t a servant but a sworn enemy of her kingdom, looking for redemption of his own in the mysterious, monstrous mansion that could ruin them both unless they work together.

Another title I couldn’t resist from Hadeer’s list. Perhaps 2021 will be the year I get back into some exciting YA releases!

In the Quick

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day – Mar 2 – Science fiction

June has a coveted post as an engineer on a space station, but she’s preoccupied by the mystery of a spacecraft her uncle was on board that went missing years ago; the world has all but forgotten it, but June believes the crew is still alive and in need of rescue, and teams up with her uncle’s former protegee to find a solution to the problem of its failed fuel cell- and in the process falls in love.

I found this title in Naty’s list of 2021 releases! It sounds like a sapphic new version ofThe Martian, which I am here for.

Later

Later by Stephen King – Mar 2 – Horror

Jamie is a kid with an unusual ability, though using it comes at a high cost. His understanding of right and wrong is challenged when a detective convinces him to help stop a killer who’s threatened to kill again from beyond the grave.

I’m on a quest to read and review all of King’s fiction. His writing is certainly flawed, but I often like his plots if not always his choice of wording and characterization. I’ve been burned before, but I just keep coming back. I do tend to enjoy when King writes young characters, so I’m hopeful.

Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology

Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman – Mar 9 – Nonfiction (essays?)

Drawing on eleven female monsters from Greek mythology, Zimmerman guides readers through a feminist reassessment of the ancient lore that has shaped our understanding of women who don’t follow the rules; noncompliance may historically be presented as monstrous, but perhaps that isn’t a bad thing- monsters have power, agency, and a freedom from restraint worth celebrating and maybe even emulating.

I found this title in Hannah’s incredible list of upcoming nonfiction releases!

American Betiya

American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar – Mar 9 – YA contemporary romance

Rani is drawn to a boy her mother wouldn’t like, and so she keeps him a secret from her parents. But Oliver has a troubled home life and begins asking of Rani more than she can give; a summer in Pune, India for Rani leads her to a reckoning with herself and her first love.

I swear Hadeer’s anticipated releases list is not exclusively YA-focused, but apparently those are the titles that were calling out to me most. I like YA that’s hard-hitting and/or explores social/cultural issues. Also, I read a book set in Pune for the first time earlier this year and would like to give myself a bit more context for the setting by reading about it again from another writer.

Redder Days

Redder Days by Sue Rainsford – Mar 11 – Dystopian

Set in an abandoned commune, this book follows a pair of twins who keep watch day and night, looking toward an imminent apocalyptic event. The commune’s former leader lives there with them, controlling their daily rituals, but their understanding of the present world is thrown off balance when a former commune inhabitant returns unexpectedly.

I read Rainsford’s Follow Me to Ground earlier this year and quite liked it; I was vaguely aware that she had a new novel coming out soon, but spotting this one on Callum’s list was the reminder I needed!

Lolita in the Afterlife: On Beauty, Risk, and Reckoning with the Most Indelible and Shocking Novel of the Twentieth Century

Lolita in the Afterlife edited by Jenny Minton Quigley – Mar 16 – Essays

“A vibrant collection of sharp and essential modern pieces on the perennially controversial Lolita, by a wide range of celebrated writers, edited by the daughter of Lolita’s original publisher.”

Thanks to Rennie for putting this title on my radar with her list of upcoming nonfiction releases! Lolita is, yes, controversial, but it’s also very memorable and layered and full of calculated horror, all of which I found very effective in the classic. I’m certainly curious to see what others have to say about it in the modern age.

There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura, translated by Polly Barton – Mar 23 – Literary fiction in translation

A woman looking for a job that requires little from her finds herself watching an author on a hidden-camera feed, wondering how she found herself in this situation. A string of “easy” jobs follow as it gradually becomes clear that she is looking for something more meaningful in her search than ease.

If I remember right I think I first saw this book on an excellent post of Fatma’s earlier this year, featuring books translated from Japanese!

The Secret Talker

The Secret Talker by Geling Yan – Mar 30 – Thriller

Hongmei is a perfect wife with a quiet life, but when a stalker begins tormenting her via email, dredging up Hongmei’s dark past in China, her only hope of regaining control of her life is to uncover her stalker’s own secret history, even at the cost of breaking her marriage.

I came across this potential little gem (160 pages!) on Rachel’s anticipated releases list.

Of Women and Salt

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia – Mar 30 – Historical fiction

Jeanette is the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, determined to finally uncover her family’s history; the relationships between Jeanette and her mother and grandmother are complex and full of secrets. Meanwhile, Jeanette is also battling addiction and caring for the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE.

I came across this title in Kristin’s list of anticipated 2021 adult releases. I’m interested in reading more immigrant stories, and the focus on addiction particularly caught my interest after reading Gyasi’s thoughtful Transcendent Kingdom earlier this month (review pending).

Bullet Train

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka, translated by Sam Malissa – Apr 1 – Thriller

“Five killers find themselves on a bullet train from Tokyo competing for a suitcase full of money. Who will make it to the last station?”

This enticing translated title came to my list from Diana’s post of five anticipated 2021 releases.

You Love Me (You, #3)

You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes – Apr 6 – Horror/thriller

In this third installment of Kepnes’s Joe Goldberg (You) series, Joe is done with cities; he’s settled in on an island in the Pacific Northwest, working at a local library. He wants to start a family. There’s just one problem- the librarian he wants to coax into his happily ever after is already a mother with her own life… how long will Joe’s patience last?

I’ve been highly entertained and horrified by the previous books in this series, and though the second book did not impress me as much on the whole as the first, it ended on a dramatic moment and I have been DYING to see the resolution.

Pride and Premeditation (Jane Austen Murder Mystery, #1)

Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price – Apr 6 – YA historical mystery/romance

Aspiring teen lawyer Lizzie sets out to solve the mystery of a scandalous murder, in which she believes the authorities have arrested the wrong person. As Lizzie realizes how dangerous her hunt for the truth may be, she also develops increasingly complicated feelings for the interfering Mr. Darcy, young heir to the Pemberley Associates firm.

Kristin’s 2021 YA list strikes again! Who doesn’t love a good retelling? And how does one resist a classic romance turned murder mystery??

The Helm of Midnight (The Five Penalties, #1)

The Helm of Midnight by Marnina J. Lostetter – Apr 13 – Fantasy

A group of thieves have stolen a death mask imbued with the spirit of a terrifying serial killer, who seems to be killing again from beyond the grave. The new deaths, however, seem to follow a new pattern which demands an answer to a sinister question.

Thanks go to Hannah’s list of 2021 SFF releases for bringing this impressively dark title to my attention!

People We Meet on Vacation

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry – May 11 – Romance

Poppy and Alex have almost nothing in common, but shared a car ride once in college and thus became the kind of loyal friends who meet every summer for a glorious week of vacation. Except on their last trip, something ruinous happened to their relationship; after an unhappy two years, they’ve finally agreed to try again, but it will mean acknowledging the one big truth standing quietly between them.

I knew Henry had another book coming up but it had fallen off my radar tbh- shout out to Marija for reminding me of the title and release date with her extensive anticipated releases list! I enjoyed Beach Read and A Million Junes by the same author so I’m on board for her new release as well, even though this premise doesn’t grab me quite as much as her others have.

Madam

Madam by Phoebe Wynne – May 18 – Gothic mystery

Rose is the new head of the Classics department at an elite girls’ boarding school propped amid Scottish cliffs. It’s a prestigious place, but for Rose the shine soon wears off as her predecessor haunts the halls and she begins to discover the school’s secret purpose- and her own role in it.

This title has really been making the rounds, and it almost sounds too good to pull off, but obviously I’m hoping it’ll be a hit!

Mister Impossible (Dreamer Trilogy, #2)

Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater – May 18 – YA Fantasy

In this sequel to Call Down the Hawk, Ronan and his new friends are working hard to make dreamers (people who can bring things back from the dream world into waking life) more powerful, all while they are pursued by a team of assassins who believe the dreamers will bring about the end of the world.

It’s not my favorite series or anything and I loathe the title, but… I’m invested.

The Lights of Prague

The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis – May 18 – Historical fantasy

Unknown to the citizens of gaslight-era Prague, the lamplighters keep the monsters of the city at bay; Domek, one of the hunters, befriends a secretive widow, endures a haunting, and faces a dangerous will-‘o-the-wisp, all while battling the vampiric creatures who conspire to terrorize the daylight world.

Another exciting title I found on Hadeer’s list of 2021 releases! Vampires, Prague, the gaslight-era… I’m pretty sure this is going to slap.

The Other Black Girl

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris – June 1 – Mystery/thriller

Nella is an editorial assistant getting her start in publishing. It’s a very white community, and she’s tired of being the only Black woman in her workplace. But when Hazel shows up in the next cubicle, the relief of having another Black woman around is short lived; soon Hazel is the office darling and Nella is receiving threatening notes- and there may be more than a career at stake.

I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz around this one, and it sounds great. Thrillers are always fun, but it looks like this one’s going to stand out for its meaningful social commentary on race and office politics as well as its plot!

The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo – June 1 – Historical fantasy

“Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.”

I think I have Hadeer to thank again for first introducing me to this book, but I’ve seen it on several more lists in the meantime as well, and for good reason, it seems! This looks like a magical retelling of The Great Gatsby in which Jordan Baker is an immigrant magician… just sign me up immediately.

One Last Stop

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston – June 1 – Romance

August doesn’t believe in magic and cinematic love stories, and she can’t imagine her move to cramped, busy NYC changing her mind- but the drudgery of her subway commute is interrupted when she meets Jane. Complicating August’s subway crush though, is the fact that Jane seems to have skipped out of her own time, the 1970’s, and she needs a little help getting unstuck.

I’ve been looking forward to McQuiston’s next release since loving Red, White and Royal Blue earlier this year!

The Natural Mother of the Child

The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcom Belc – June 15 – Memoir

Giving birth to his son helped clarify Belc’s gender identity, though the legal documents of his son’s adoption list Belc as the ‘natural mother of the child;’ Belc is a nonbinary transmasculine parent reflecting here on the interplay between parenthood and gender.

I came across this very appealing piece of nonfiction on Callum’s list. It looks like just the sort of challenging and thoughtful work to break me out of my motherhood narrative funk, with style.

Filthy Animals: Stories

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor – June 22 – Short stories

“A young man treads delicate emotional waters as he navigates a series of sexually fraught encounters with two dancers in an open relationship, forcing him to weigh his vulnerabilities against his loneliness. In other stories, a young woman battles with the cancers draining her body and her family; menacing undercurrents among a group of teenagers explode in violence on a winter night; a little girl tears through a house like a tornado, driving her babysitter to the brink; and couples feel out the jagged edges of connection, comfort, and cruelty” in this series of linked stories set in the Midwest.

I loved Taylor’s Real Life earlier this year and have been highly anticipating his next release; this collection will be a must-read for me!

[No cover yet]

Dear Senthuran: A Black spirit memoir by Akwaeke Emezi – June 29 – Memoir

The author uses letters addressed to friends and family (biological and chosen) to describe a life outside the boundaries of social expectations. This is their story of building a future in the face of chronic pain and embodiment as a nonhuman, among other challenges.

I keep an eye out for new Emezi releases, as they’re fast becoming a favorite author for me. I’ve loved all of their books so far (most recently, The Death of Vivek Oji)- each shares some similarity in theme, though they’re also very different stories; I’m excited to see what new layers this book will explore.

Survive the Night

Survive the Night by Riley Sager – July 6 – Thriller

It’s 1991, and college student Charlie is catching a ride to Ohio after the death of her best friend at the hands of the Campus Killer. She doesn’t know the driver- she met Josh at the campus ride board; as the road spins away behind them she becomes increasingly suspicious that Josh may actually be the Campus Killer- or is she just paranoid after too many horror films?

I’ve read all of Sager’s thrillers as they’ve come out, and they’re always entertaining even though I seem to be in an alternating hit-and-miss trend with his work. If the pattern continues (Home Before Dark was a miss for me), this next release should be a hit again, and the synopsis does sound promising!

Magma

Magma by Thora Hjortleifsdottir – July 13 – Literary fiction in translation

Lilja is in love- she’s twenty years old and has met a brilliant young man at school, whom she promptly moves in with. But as she tries to please him, what begin as nearly imperceptible abuses lead to Lilja letting go of her boundaries and losing her sense of self.

This sounds like an incredible portrayal of violence and toxicity rooted in romance; it found its way to my list from Rachel’s!

[No cover yet]

The World Ends Here by Rory Power – July – YA/?

There’s no synopsis for this book yet; I liked Power’s Wilder Girls but was never sufficiently excited enough about her 2020 release to pick it up. I think 2021 will be the year I’m ready to try more of her work! I like the sound of the title so I’m looking forward to seeing what this book will be.

All's Well

All’s Well by Mona Awad – Aug 3 – Horror

Miranda is plagued by chronic pain after an incident with a Shakespeare play (All’s Well that Ends Well, of course) that cost her her acting career and marriage. Now that she’s a college theater director the same play threatens to take what little she’s got left, as her students rebel in favor of Macbeth. But a trio of mysterious benefactors are waiting in the wings to deliver justice to Miranda at last.

I had great fun with Awad’s Bunny and am curious to see what else the author can do. I’m very much drawn to the prospect of chronic/invisible pain commentary.

If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be, #1)

If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphey – Aug 3 – Romance

Cindy’s just gotten a degree in shoe design and is working for her stepmother on the production end of a popular reality TV show to get started. But when a spot on the show desperately needs filling and Cindy steps in, she quickly becomes a body positivity icon, as the only plus size woman in the reality dating competition. She only wanted a start in the fashion world, but there may be love and inspiration to find along the way as well.

I’ve not yet read One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London and I still am not a fan of reality dating competitions, but the premise appeals! I can’t explain my interest, but there it is. Also, I loved Julie Murphey’s Dumplin. Thanks to Kristin’s list of 2021 romance releases for putting this one on my radar!

The Heart Principle (The Kiss Quotient, #3)

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang – Aug 17 – Romance

Quan isn’t known for making a good impression, but now that he’s a CEO he’s been getting plenty of attention. He’s got his eye on a woman who turned him down long ago, but she’s otherwise attached now, and her sister Anna has her eye on Quan. Anna’s put a lot of effort into overcoming her anxiety and OCD, but it’s still a challenge admitting her crush; can she do it to keep Quan from ruining her sister’s engagement?

I always enjoy Hoang’s characters and romances even though the premises sometimes require a suspension of disbelief. But I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since reading The Bride Test and am happy to see the end of the wait is in sight at last.

A Slow Fire Burning

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins – Aug 31 – Mystery/thriller

A likely suspect is found after a brutal murder on a London canal boat, but complications arise. “No tragedy happens in isolation,” Hawkins explains; an accident or an occasion of misplaced trust can result in consequences far down the line, and these events can shape who a person becomes.

The Girl on the Train may not seem especially impressive by thriller standards today, but when it was new it was the second thriller I ever read, and at the time I loved it. I enjoyed Into the Water to a lesser extent, but am nevertheless very curious to see what Hawkins is doing next.

And to cap off my list, I’d like to include a few imminent releases that I have more certainty about reading, as I already have copies available or on their way; these are books that weren’t really on my radar until I suddenly had the chance to read them, so I haven’t quite been anticipating them in the same way but I do want to acknowledge them as 2021 releases that I’m looking forward to:

Outlawed

Outlawed by Anna North – Jan 5 – Historical western

A year after her wedding with no pregnancy in sight, in a town that hangs barren women as witches, Ada joins a band of outlaws. The Hole in the Wall Gang runs dangerous heists in the name of creating safe havens for outcasts and building a new future for all.

I’ll talk more about Book of the Month in my year wrap-up, but for now I’ll say that I’ve been LOVING the increased diversity and variety in their offered titles over the last six months, and January seems to be off to a phenomenal start for the subscription service as well. (If you’re in the US and interested in joining, you can use this link to get a first month discount, and at no cost to you it will put a credit in my account, too!) I’m not generally big on Westerns, but this feminist LGBTQ+ take on the genre seems like a fun ride that’ll help boost me out of my comfort zone a little while also keeping me fully entertained.

Aftershocks

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu – Jan 12 – Memoir

A coming-of-age story about a woman who grew up all over the world, motherless from the age of two, adrift amid a wash of cultures. Owusu explores identity in the wake of emotional trauma and competing personas.

I’m looking to increase my nonfiction reading in 2021, and I’m always interested in reading about cultures and identity, so I was thrilled to see this title offered as an extra through BOTM for January and happily added it to my box.

The Removed

The Removed by Brandon Hobson – Feb 2 – Contemporary fiction

Maria is trying to hold her family together as grief for her son- who was killed in a police shooting- lingers years after his death. A bonfire in remembrance of him and the Cherokee National Holiday marks a turning point, as Maria and her husband foster a child who affects them and their surviving children in strange ways; the line between life and the spirit world begins to blur.

Another January BOTM selection, this one drawing on Cherokee folklore. Over the last few years I’ve been trying to diversify my reading more and more, but one area I’ve failed in this endeavor is reading from and about Indigenous peoples, so I’m excited to see BOTM introducing me to such a great-sounding title that’ll help me start out the new year on the right foot.

The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey – Feb 16 – Science fiction/thriller

“Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband. Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.”

I got an eARC for this title from Netgalley that I need to read soon; I’ve been wanting to try some of Gailey’s work for a while but I’m new to Netgalley so I thought I’d take a chance, and apparently it was meant to be that I should start here. It sounds like great starting point, tbh, bring on the clones!

WE’VE REACHED THE END! This has been a much larger endeavor than I was imagining, but it did help boost my excitement for the year’s upcoming books, so we’ll call it a win. Let me know if anything here catches your eye, or what your most anticipated release for 2021 is!

The Literary Elephant

TBR 12.20

My last monthly 5-book TBR of the year! To be honest I considered not setting a fresh TBR this month because what I really want to do is catch up on the books from previous monthly TBRs before the end of the year, and I’m going to be cutting it very close. But I do have just enough additional things to wrap up to make a new TBR seem reasonable, so I’m adding five more books to my plate here and hoping for the best.

My December TBR:

  1. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel. I must finish Mantel’s historical fiction Cromwell trilogy this year. I’m enjoying it, but also I want to leave it in 2020. I read the first book, Wolf Hall, back in May, and the second book, Bring Up the Bodies, is a monthly TBR book from June that I neglected and am reading now. So it makes sense to add the final book here, I think, since I am planning to read it anyway in order to FINALLY wrap up completely with my 2020 Women’s Prize and Booker Prize reading. This is a long one, but I’m ready.
  2. Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer. This is the gender-swapped version of Twilight that was published for the tenth anniversary of Twilight. I was uninterested at the time, but found a lot of amusement with Midnight Sun earlier this year and my curiosity got the better of me. I’ve already read about a third of this book, which is why it’s on this list- I want to empty my currently reading shelf before the new year. I expect this is going to end with a fun rant review as I’ve already jotted down a long list of complaints, and I’m getting a good laugh out of it, at least.
  3. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. This is arbitrary, but BOTM started their own reading challenge this year, with three prompts- you get a badge each for reading 3 debuts, 5 genres, and 12 total books. I’ve got the debut and genre badges already but need 3 more books, because frustratingly only BOTM books from 2020 count toward this challenge, and not any of their backlist titles. So I’m aiming to read 3 more; Gyasi’s Homegoing is one of my all-time favorite books and Transcendent Kingdom was on my most-anticipated list this year, so it’ll tick two boxes and I’m just really looking forward to it. All I recall of the plot is that it’s a family story focused on Ghanian immigrants. It’s Gyasi, I don’t need to know more.
  4. Memorial by Bryan Washington. Another 2020 BOTM title for the reading challenge. I read and quite liked Washington’s short story collection Lot earlier this year and have been hearing great things about his debut novel. If I remember correctly this book features a m/m relationship in Houston; one of the characters is Japanese American and one is Black, and again, there’s a focus on family and identity.
  5. The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. The last book I need for my BOTM challenge. This is a thriller set in the days between Christmas and New Year’s, so I’m planning to read it in that time. I believe it’s a sort of closed-room mystery where someone dies and the rest are trapped together knowing the killer is among them. It’ll be nice to pick up something appropriately seasonal.

I am reserving the right (for the first time all year) to change some of these titles at any point during the month and still count them toward this TBR- mainly the BOTM titles. If I’m really down to the wire I have a couple of even shorter BOTM books I might substitute, and as long as I read any three BOTM books I’m calling it good. But never fear, I’m going to make a serious effort to catch up on my BOTM backlog next year (2021 goals post coming soon!), so if you’re looking forward to my thoughts on any of these in particular and I don’t get around to them before the end of the month, you shouldn’t have long to wait.

Usually at this point I segue into new releases for the month that are on my radar, but I actually only have one for December: Drink?: The New Science of Alcohol and Health by David J. Nutt, and I think the title of this non-fiction piece says it all, so I’ll leave off there.

Instead, I’m going to do a quick walk-through of my outstanding TBR titles in case you’re curious about what I’m aiming to read this month (and to help hold myself accountable). In addition to my December TBR above, I have these books left from earlier in the year:

  • The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (April)
  • Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (May) – currently reading
  • The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (May)
  • A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley (July)
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Edo-Lodge (July)
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (August)
  • Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (September)
  • Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (September) – just started
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (September)
  • The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson (October)
  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (October)
  • The Deep by Alma Katsu (October)
  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (October) – just finished!

This leaves me with 17 books to finish between today and the end of December, which is basically double what I’ve been averaging per month this year. It seems unlikely I’ll finish everything but I’m going to get as close as I can, and I do think December could be my best reading month of the year, especially since the usual family gatherings are not happening due to the pandemic. Plus YA reads fast for me, as do mystery/thrillers and short story collections, and I am currently reading three books. It’s the Mantel books giving me pause, but I am underway there.

If you’ve read any of these books or are just curious to see my thoughts on anything from my December TBR or TBR catch-up list, let me know in the comments below! I think I’m going to try to push through some of the quickest reads this next week, but I could use some help deciding what to prioritize afterward in case I really can’t finish it all.

Feel free to place bets on my progress lol, the race has begun!

The Literary Elephant

TBR 11.20

This is a little late and I’m already underway with these books, but I like to share my list to help hold myself accountable, and this is a great place to talk about new releases on my radar as well. Since I was too busy to post last month’s TBR at all, I’ll include new releases from both October and November that I have my eye on- thanks to the slump that plagued me this summer/fall I haven’t been adding as many books to my TBR as usual, so even doubling up it’ll be fairly short.

First up, my monthly 5-book TBR for November:

  1. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi. My last outstanding title from the Booker shortlist. I wasn’t sure about reading this one because my interest was low and I had to buy a copy to be able to read it, but the completionist in me couldn’t let the shortlist stand at 5/6 titles read. This one’s about an Indian woman whose mother is losing her memory and requires increasing care. Their relationship has always been complicated, and the forced proximity makes it moreso.
  2. The Fire Starters by Jan Carson. This is an Irish magical realism story set in Belfast in the aftermath of the Troubles. The narration alternates between two fathers, one with a newborn whose mother is a siren, and the other believing his adult son is responsible for the Tall Fires plaguing the city and promoting unrest. It’s a beautifully told story from our alternate Women’s Prize list.
  3. Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward. A Booker longlist title. I’m very near the end of the portion of the list that I’ve decided to read; this will likely be the last one I’ll complete before the winner announcement. I’ll post some overall thoughts on the long and short lists, and then I WILL read the Mantel finale and round out my thoughts as they relate to both the Booker and Women’s Prize. But before then, I’ll read and review this collection of stories that begins with a woman who’s convinced an ant has crawled into her eye and is stuck there.
  4. The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper. We’re in Nonfiction November. I’m juggling a number of projects that I’ve more or less put on hold in the last few months, so I won’t be dedicating myself solely to nonfiction, but I’ve got a few titles down from the shelf. Starting with this memoir of an African American emergency room physician who shares the story of the obstacles she faced in settling into her career, and herself along the way. It’s been likened to a nonfic Grey’s Anatomy, which sounds too good to pass up.
  5. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. This is one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and despite having a copy on hand for months I STILL haven’t picked it up. I keep reading lovely reviews, and it’s short, and it’s right here within reach. I don’t want to put it off any longer. It’s the story of the death of a Nigerian man, told backwards, and that’s all I know of the plot. I’ve loved Emezi’s writing and ideas in both of their previous books, Freshwater and Pet, so I’m confident about this newest offering.

Since we’re already a third of the way into the month, I am actually already finished with two of these books (Burnt Sugar and The Fire Starters) and am picking up a third (Love and Other Thought Experiments) tonight. My goal is to finish this list promptly and move on to some outstanding TBR books from previous months, starting with nonfiction titles to fit the month. I’m also in the middle of a spontaneous Sarah Dessen reread, but as long as I can hold any more potential slumpage at bay I won’t be focusing on this too much because I have more pressing goals to wrap up before the end of the year. Additionally, I’m nearing the end of the alternate Women’s Prize list, and will be finishing the two titles I have left as my library holds come in. So, a busy month!

And, as promised, the October and November releases that are on my radar:

  • Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. A Japanese story with horror and fabulist elements. A woman with an asexual husband pretends normality, planning to reunite with a cousin from her childhood who made a promise of survival with her. Out Oct 6th
  • The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V. E. Schwab. Historical fantasy about a girl who makes a deal with the devil to live forever, at the cost of no one being forgotten by everyone- until, hundreds of years later, she meets a boy who remembers her name. Out Oct 6th
  • Memorial by Bryan Washington. Lgbtq+ literary romance featuring two male roommates in Houston- one a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant, the other a Black day care teacher, both sorting out family and internal conflicts with the power to make or break them. Out Oct 27th
  • White Ivy by Susie Yang. Contemporary with a mystery element in which a girl from an immigrant family is sent from the US to China when her mother discovers her habit of thieving; years later she reunites with a boy who’d caught her eye as a teen, just in time for someone from her past to threaten the stability she’s worked so hard for. Out Nov 3rd
  • The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans. Short stories whose characters speak to issues of race, culture, and (American) history. Out Nov 10th
  • Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline. Sci-fi sequel. Days after completing the world’s most intense virtual contest, Wade Watts discovers a huge technological advancement and a final clue from the creator of the digital Oasis, which sparks a new quest. (I enjoyed Ready Player One several years back, but my interest has cooled considerably so at this point I’m watching for reader opinions and undecided on whether I’m curious enough to pick this up myself.) Out Nov 24th

That’s my overview for November! I’ve started turning an eye toward finishing things that I want to wrap up before the end of the year, so I doubt I’ll be picking up (m)any new releases (even though I’ve already grabbed copies of two titles from my new release list here….) or going off on any surprise reading and posting tangents that I haven’t mentioned already. I feel like I’ve really got my reading and reviewing mojo back, so I’m hoping for a strong end to the year in these last two months. Wishing you all some great reading and good luck on any eleventh-hour goal-finishing, as well! 🙂

The Literary Elephant

TBR 9.20

Fortuitously, talking about my slump in my August wrap-up seems to have helped a bit in motivating me to pull out of it. Thank you all for the lovely and helpful comments on that post- engaging here again is already bringing some of the excitement back to reading and blogging for me. So here’s a slow start back into my list of pending posts, with my September TBR; up next, I think I’ll dabble in some blog hopping! I might even go crazy and read something this evening! 🙂

But before I get there, here’s a look at what I’m hoping will help with my awkward slump situation:

  1. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. I might as well say right off that my Spotlight post for September will feature YA books (a category, rather than a genre). YA books are typically faster reads for me, so I think leaning into some Spotlight post prep will be doubly beneficial- quick reads are great for slumps. Even better, this one’s told in verse and has a low words per page ratio, which should really help someone (me) who’s struggling to turn pages. This will be my first Acevedo book, and all I know going in is that it follows a teenage slam poet.
  2. Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake. Another YA, this one is on my 20 in ’20 list and is also an LGBTQ+ story (I was sad not to find time to read it in June, but September’s a good a time as any!). It follows a set of twins, one of whom is accused of raping the other’s friend. I believe it’s a story of identity and self-discovery, of family and morality.
  3. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour. Another YA, another LGBTQ+ story. This one was gifted to me earlier this year by a friend who loved it, and I often agree with her bookish opinions so I have high hopes for this sapphic romace.
  4. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. The other YA title from my 20 in ’20 list. I have reservations about starting another fantasy series before I get around to finishing others I’ve already started (why is The Empire of Gold still so expensive???), and especially when I only have one of the books on hand. But high fantasy is also good for slumps and I’m mood reading these days so it’s good to have something less contemporary on the list. I think this is a romance-based fantasy, in a Roman-inspired world.
  5. The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff. For a change of pace, here’s an adult nonfiction about a fairly recent piece of history. I was lucky enough to visit the One World Trade Center and the 9/11 memorial and memorial museum in New York earlier this year before the lockdowns, so this feels like the right time to get to this book.

And that’s my list. This seems like a good plan, theoretically, but I’ll be honest and say I have no idea whether this is what my wrap-up at the end of the month will look like. I also have a few Booker Prize nominees checked out from the library that I’m *trying* to carry on with, but at this point I think I just need to go where my mood takes me if I want to be able to finish anything. I should have plenty of reading time this month, though I may have less time for blogging toward the end of September. We shall see. In any case, I am still hoping to finish ALL of the books I’ve assigned myself in these monthly 5-book TBRs before the end of the year, so it’s likely you’ll be seeing reviews for these titles from me at some point even if I don’t manage them all this month. Rest assured, adult lit readers, I won’t post entirely YA content this month even if my reading skews that way. I’ve got a few adult reviews to catch up on as well, and more Booker content on the way.

As has become tradition, I’ll include here the new September releases that are on my radar as well. I may or may not get to any of these within the month, but I will be looking out for posts and reviews because I’m excited about these!

  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. Contemporary fiction following a Ghanian family in Alabama. Our narrator is a scientist looking to rationalize the suffering she sees around herself. Out Sep 1st
  • Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi. YA contemporary fiction told in verse, in which a teenage artist is wrongly incarcerated for a crime in his neighborhood. Out Sep 1st
  • One By One by Ruth Ware. Adult thriller set at a snowed-in ski resort. Eight coworkers on a retreat gone wrong find themselves fighting for survival… from the elements, and perhaps from each other. Out Sep 8th
  • Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen. Adult nonfiction/memoir about one woman’s experience as an indigenous American, told through essays on her encounters with gun violence. Out Sep 8th.

It’s a shorter list this month, but hopefully that’ll make it feel more manageable. I already have a copy of Transcendent Kingdom thanks to Book of the Month; I’m very excited for this one after loving Gyasi’s Homegoing a few years ago (and the first BOTM copy I’ve ever seen with a special effect in the cover design- gold foil! I hope this is the start of a trend!)

Have you read any of these books, or recognize them from your own lists? Let me know in the comments!

The Literary Elephant

TBR 8.20

I have SO MANY reading ambitions for August that I’ll never fulfill them all, but I’m excited to dive in and sample a bit of everything! I’m trying to stick to a 5-book TBR system this year so I’ll start there and use this month’s 5 book plan to talk about  my reading goals for the month.

The list:

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I have been slacking on nonfiction this year, and didn’t do as much racism reading as I’d meant to last month, so I want to make sure I’m still prioritizing reads that’ll help further my education and support Black authors. I did read Coates’s The Water Dancer in July with mixed results, but I have a feeling I’ll get on better with this nonfiction memoir written from a Black man to his son.
  2. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is a previous women’s prize winner that I want to read before the “winner of winners” vote in November. I’ve made zero progress on this list over the summer and have a few winners on hand that I’d like to get through before the vote, so this is a nudge to get me started. It’s a book about “Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s, and the chilling violence that followed.”
  3. Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica, translated by Sarah Moses. This is a Spanish dystopia in which animals have become too dangerous to eat, leading to the selective farming of humans for food. August is Women in Translation month so I want to read a few translated novels by women before it’s over! I have at least 4 unread titles on my shelf and an additional list I’d love to check out at the library, so if all goes well Tender is the Flesh should just be the beginning.
  4. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I’ve seen a wide variety of both positive and negative reviews, and I’m now jumping in to see what the fuss is all about for myself. This is a 2020 Booker Prize nominee about performative allyship when a Black babysitter is accused of kidnapping a white child. I’ve got a library checkout on hand and am starting this one today!
  5. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste. Another 2020 Booker nominee, and another library checkout. This one is nearly 500 pages, and is mainly going on this list so I don’t get distracted and neglect to pick it up because of its size. It’s a historical fiction account of Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in the lead-up to WWII.

tbr8.20

I AM going to finish reading my entire 5-book TBR this month, I swear. Maybe. Hopefully. That is the goal, anyway. It will be difficult to balance all of my goals- WIT reading, Booker nominees, my Black-authored summer challenge TBR, previous Women’s Prize winners, keeping up with new releases, and catching up on previous lists I’ve assigned myself and not finished yet. Oh, and I’ve gotten GREAT books from BOTM the last two months that I reeeeeally want to get to soon! (BOTM does in fact seem to be stepping up their game, after concerns discussed in this post! I’ve gotten The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, Luster by Raven Leilani, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett, Notes on a Silencing by Lucy Crawford, and The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper from them in July and August. I’ve not read a single one yet but I’m dying to read them all. Here’s a link where you can subscribe if you’re interested in the service and have a US mailing address- you’ll get a discount and I’ll get a credit!)

So there’s no way I’m going to get through all of these priorities in one month. I have to just acknowledge that up front. Hopefully I’ve curated my 5-book TBR well enough to check off some books from each category without losing track of any goals- and anything I don’t get to this month, I’ll still be picking up later. I’ll try to focus first on WIT and Booker books because the conversation around those categories is going on now and I want to take part! I’m very eager to read posts featuring WIT and Booker books this month as well.

 

I am on a book buy ban right now (with a few exceptions because I can’t follow rules apparently), but there are some exciting new releases on my radar that I’d love to see reviews for and pick up myself when I can:

  • Luster by Ravel Leilani. Literary fiction in which a twenty-something Black woman tries to find where she fits as an artist and learn how to believe in herself, while also getting tangled up with a man in an open marriage, befriending his wife and adopted daughter. Out Aug 4th
  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. Literary fiction set in Nigeria, featuring the death of a man who lived a short and complicated life, focusing on his relationships with family and friends. Out Aug 4th
  • Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. A young woman with a life full of losses and secrets tracks the final migration of a flock of arctic terns as the wilds of the world and the creatures that need them to survive dwindle. Out Aug 4th.
  • Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer. The long-awated YA fantasy/romance retelling of Twilight from Edward’s perspective. (I am SO CURIOUS to see how this will be received.) Out Aug 4th
  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook. Dystopian Booker nominee in which a woman and her daughter volunteer to live in the last remaining strip of natural land in an experiment to determine whether humans can coexist peacefully with nature. Out Aug 11th
  • Betty by Tiffany McDaniel. (I accidentally jumped the gun with this one last month, but it’s still upcoming so I’m sharing it again!) Betty is part of a mixed-race (Cherokee and white) family with eight children and some deep dark secrets; she lives with poverty and violence, but also has a fierce imagination that provides a means for escape. Out Aug 18th
  • Ordinary Hazards by Anna Bruno. I received an ARC from The Library Hotel earlier this year! This contemporary novel follows a woman “grappling with grief, loss, and the burden of inheritance” as it explores how small decisions can have the biggest consequences. Out Aug 18th
  • Sisters by Daisy Johnson. After a case of school bullying, two close sisters move with their mother to an isolated new/old home, where the bond between them changes in unexpected ways and is tested by a string of shocking events. Out Aug 25th
  • Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa. A woman born to Palestinian refugees becomes a refugee herself when the US invades Iraq; eventually she finds her way to a home in Palestine, where the life she wanted for herself is realized under Israeli occupation. Out Aug 25th

 

Recognize any titles from your own lists, or see anything new that catches your eye? Let me know in the comments!

 

The Literary Elephant

TBR 7.20

Black lives matter! If you haven’t yet, check out this post where I’ve rounded up and explained a number of ways to help the movement, or just go straight here to do your part.

 

I have two main reading goals for July: to continue reading and reviewing books by Black authors, and to catch up on some of my previous TBRs and book lists that I’ve fallen behind on. A lot of those list books are white, so my aim is to alternate between reading those books and reading the books by Black authors that I pulled from my shelf last month or have purchased since. Because I set a rule for myself this year not to repeat TBR books, my July TBR is instead going to focus on the Black-authored half of my planned reading.

Here’s the list:

  1. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is magical realism historical fiction that I’m hoping I’ll love as much as Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I’ve been meaning to read Coates’ work for years; I’m actually more interested in his nonfiction and I have Between The World and Me on order to arrive in July, but since I already own this fiction title I want to cross it off my list first.
  2. Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown. I believe this one’s either a YA urban fantasy or magical realism novel (I think I’ll have to read it to see which way I lean on categorization). I’ve been seeing rave reviews for it and have been missing YA content in my reading this year! I had such a good time with my last book for younger readers, Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet, that I’m eager to check out another.
  3. A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley. A short story collection written by an Iowa Writer’s Workshop grad who taught one of my undergrad classes. There are so many reasons I want to read this one, not the least of which is that I had a goal to pick up more short story collections this year! I have a buddy read for a white-authored collection in the works as well, so this one will provide balance.
  4. How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Another of my goals for this year was to read more non-fiction, which I’ve been utterly failing at. Wanting to educate myself on modern racism seems like a great way to increase my non-fiction reading, as with this book which I believe is part memoir, part antiracism guidebook. I’ve ordered a handful of non-fiction books on racism, but since there was such a surge in demand for them they haven’t all shipped yet, much less arrived. So I’ll be starting here. I’ve actually read a few pages already and am looking forward to finishing the rest!
  5. Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Another non-fiction book about racism, though this one’s UK based. I want to start with something a little more applicable to the US since that’s where I’m at, but I also want to make sure I’m branching out and taking a broader world view. This seemed like a good place to start to achieve that goal, and I’m sure some of it will echo what’s going on closer to (my) home as well.

TBR7.20

June has been an excellent reading month for me, mostly (wrap-up coming soon!), so it feels plausible right now that I could expect to read all 5 of these AND make a dent in previous TBR books that have fallen by the wayside. But if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that anything can happen and plans may change in an instant, so we’ll see how this goes. Because I’m aiming to make every other read a Black-authored book in July, those should make up 50% of my reading no matter how far through the lists I get.

 

Before I close, here are the new releases coming out in July that I’ve got my eye on:

  • Mother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman. Adult mystery in which a woman steps off a bus in Philadelphia with no ID and no memory of who she is or how she got there. An exploration of the self and the obligations of womanhood.  (This is actually my current read, I was lucky enough to snag an ARC from The Library Hotel earlier this year!) Out July 7th
  • Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron. YA LGBTQ+ fantasy Cinderella retelling in which girls attend a ball where they are either chosen as wives or never heard from again- at least, until two best friends who’d rather marry each other decide to topple the king’s regime. Out July 7th
  • The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper. Memoir of healing the self by healing others, following an African American woman’s experience as an emergency room physician, a profession predominantly comprised of white men. (I was thrilled that BOTM was able to put this on my radar for July! Since I talked extensively about the current BOTM situation here, a little update: it looks like half of the authors featured in their July line-up (5 books, one co-authored) are by POC. That’s a step up for BOTM, although I wouldn’t have minded the predictable white-authored thriller and romance selections to be… something else. Still, I’m sure they select their books months in advance and I think a 50% turn-out for non-white authors shows that they made some quick and meaningful changes in the wake of controversy earlier in June. To be honest I think the next few months will be more telling as to their overall efforts. I’m cautiously hopeful, based on July!) Out July 7th
  • Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford. Memoir of a woman who reports in adulthood her story of sexual abuse in a private school at age 15; the focus is on the ways that the school, police, and other authority figures actively worked against her case when she was a minor, to protect the school’s reputation. Out July 7th
  • Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power. This one’s a YA horror in which a teen girl goes searching for her family history and is shocked by what she finds. Out July 7th
  • Betty by TIffany McDaniel. Betty is part of a mixed-race (Cherokee and white) family with eight children and some deep dark secrets; she lives with poverty and violence, but also has a fierce imagination that provides a means for escape. Out July 14th

Any new releases I’m missing that are on your can’t-wait-for-it list? 🙂

 

The Literary Elephant

TBR 6.20

This is going to be a bit longer than usual, because I need to add a section of books I highly recommend and/or need to read, in honor of the Black Lives Matter protests happening in the US (and beyond) this week. I’m going to start with my regular 5-book TBR for June, then follow up with the new releases I’ve got my eye on this month, and end strong on the Black lit I’m challenging myself to read this summer.

To start off, my June TBR:

  1. My Dark Vanessa by Elizabeth Russell. I was hoping to hit the blogger-built alternate Women’s Prize list hard this month, which includes this book. It’s a 2020 release I was highly anticipating and bought soon after its publication. This is the story of a woman looking back on relationship she had as a minor with an older teacher at her high school, reevaluating whether she believes it to have been sexual abuse and why or why not.
  2. The Body Lies by Jo Baker. Another title from our alternate Women’s Prize list that I have on hand, have been eager to read, and would love to pick up as soon as possible. It follows a writer with a student who has written her into his book- and given her a “horrifying fate.”
  3. Supper Club by Lara Williams. An alternate Women’s Prize book that no one from the group has read yet! It’s about a secret society of women who seek to reclaim their physical space by feasting, unrestrained. I’ve had a physical copy sitting around for months and need to pick it up.
  4. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. One of my 20 in ’20 books. I read Machado’s memoir In the Dream House back in March and really liked it. I’ve had her short story collection unread on my shelf for far too long, and having just finished another short story collection in May I think the time is ripe to work through another one. Thanks to In the Dream House I also know that Machado is an LGTBQ+ author, and with June being Pride month I am hoping this can be a sort of springboard to picking up more LGBTQ+ work/content throughout the month.
  5. Four Past Midnight by Stephen King. I know this is hardly the time to be reading from old straight white dudes with a lot of blatant prejudice in their writing, but I’ve had this one lined up as a buddy read for a while. It’s a collection of four novellas, and I expect I’ll be reading one per week throughout the month. I’m working on a slow read-through of all of King’s books, not becauase I particularly like him but as a sort of reading experiment, to eventually compare a prolific author’s work over the course of several decades. I’ve got a great post in mind to cover Stephen King, but I’ve got plenty of reading still to do before I get there, and this one’s next on my list.

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To be honest, I set this list a couple of weeks ago already and in light of recent events my focus has shifted; I don’t at present expect to read all of these in June, but I’m hoping to catch up on all of my 5-book TBRs before the end of the year so I’ll keep this list and get to what I can when I can.

Next up:

Without my regular library visits, my new release reading has majorly suffered these past couple of months, but there are quite a few new books I’m looking forward to among June’s publications! I can’t guarantee I’ll get to any/all of these within the month, but I am looking forward to reading them eventually and want to acknowledge what I’ve got my eye on.

  • A Burning by Megha Majumdar. Literary fiction set in India, following three characters who become involved (intentionally or otherwise) in rising political extremism. Out May 2nd
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. Literary fiction in which a woman leaves Ireland for Hong Kong where she becomes entangled in two complicated relationships- one with a man, and one with a woman- that eventually force her to make a difficult choice. Out June 2nd
  • The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett. Historical fiction featuring twin sisters who grew up in a small southern black community but lead entirely different lives as adults- one returning to her hometown to raise her black daughter, the other passing as white and burying her past. Out June 2nd
  • My Calamity Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. YA fantasy retelling of a historical girl trying to become a legend in the Wild West. 3rd in a series of companion novels. Out June 2nd
  • Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier. Literary fiction coming of age story about a pregnant teen pizza delivery girl obsessed with a single mother on her delivery roster. Out June 9th
  • Stranger Planet by Nathan W Pyle. Humorous/satirical comic collection in which alien “beings” narrate relatable experiences echoing the ironies and nuances of human life. 2nd volume in set, though these don’t need to be read in order. Out June 16th
  • The Lightness by Emily Temple. Literary fiction that takes place at a summer camp for troubled teens, where our young MC falls in with a trio of girls determined to achieve enlightenment and master levitation before the summer’s gone. Out June 16th
  • The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty. Adult fantasy honoring aspects of Middle East culture, in which a handful of young men and women each work with whatever powers they possess to bring their chaotic magical city into an era of peace. 3rd in a trilogy. Out June 30th
  • Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh. Dystopian fiction in which young women receive a ticket to their adult lives- either into marriage and motherhood, or a career and personal freedom; the story follows a woman who questions the fate her ticket has dictated. Out June 30th
  • Home Before Dark by Riley Sager. Mystery/thriller featuring a woman who returns to the house featured in her father’s horror memoir, to discover whether the place is truly haunted and if so by what/whom. Out June 30th
  • Thin Girls by Diana Clarke. Literary fiction following twin sisters with a close bond that’s both supportive and destructive; through their relationship the novel examines body image, queerness, diet culture and more. Out June 30th

 

And now. I’m putting this at the end of the post not because it’s the least important to me, but because I’ve always been a big believer in the prospect that your ending is more important- and speaks louder- than your beginning. I am appalled at the blatant racism on display in the US right now and the treatment that protestors are receiving. So I’m taking this opportunity to do everything I can to support those in need, which includes furthering my own education on the subject of racism, celebrating and promoting Black voices (particularly through reading and reviewing here, as this is a book account), and encouraging others to do what they can as well. (Sign petitions! Donate! Amplify Black voices!) To this end, I’ve recently purchased some books by Black authors that I fully intend to read this summer:

I’m also aiming to pick up this summer some (or preferably all) of the Black-authored books that are already on my shelves:

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And in case you also find yourself looking back at your reading year so far and finding Black voices lacking there, I want to recommend a few other books that I’ve already read and really liked. These are books I highly recommend checking out sooner rather than later, if you haven’t gotten to them yet! These are primarily fiction; non-fiction by Black authors is an area I still need to work on. Some of the titles I wanted to buy this week have been harder to get ahold of (which is great! It means this is a topic people are focused heavily on right now!) so I’m hoping to pick up more later on as well. But for now, here are a few suggestions that I’ve read and appreciated, and hope you have or will as well:

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It’s vital (especially for those of us who are not Black) to read the non-fiction and racism-centered fiction first in order to understand as best we can the scope of what is wrong and what we can do to change the status quo. But I think there’s more to Black Lives Matter than recognizing that racism is happening, and celebrating Black authors who write “less serious” genres are also an important way of showing support because it helps show that we’re interested in Black stories for more than our own education on racism. We want Black authors to be free to create whatever art is in their hearts, and only reading non-fiction about racism fails to support that desire. Reading fiction is a necessary step in making sure non-white authors will get the same opportunities to write about whatever they want to write about, which is a freedom that’s been too limited to white writers for too long.

In sum, I’ll be making time to read, review, and recommend books by Black authors this month, alongside and in place of some of my other readings.  I’m postponing my May wrap-up and other scheduled reviews temporarily because I just don’t have the time and attention to spend on those posts at present.

Feel free to drop any Black author recommendations below!

 

The Literary Elephant

TBR 5.20

Every month for 2020, I’m setting a TBR with five of the books I expect to read (and love!) throughout the month. I won’t mention extras even though I may expect to pick up other things, and at the end of the month, finished or not, each of the five are barred from future 2020 TBR appearances. This is how I’ll give some structure to my reading schedule without overcommitting!

I’ve gone 3 for 5 the last two months, though I’ve since caught up on one of my March books. Even though this hasn’t been a perfect success every month, I still enjoy having a little concrete list to choose from and help keep me focused on various reading goals. Hopefully this month I’ll be able to complete my list again!

The lineup for May:

  1. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. Since the Women’s Prize longlist announcement, I’ve fallen behind on some of my reading plans for the year, so I’m making a return to my 20 in ’20 list with this fantasy that’s been on my shelf unread for at least 5 years. All I know going in is that there’s a group of captives/rescues studying in a magical library under a man they call Father who might actually be God. I’m aiming to make Fantasy the subject of my genre spotlight post this month, so this should help put me in the mindset!
  2. Bunny by Mona Awad. This is a title from the list of books I should have read in 2019, and one of the titles on our blogger-edition Women’s Prize! I’m one of the last to start reading our alternate books, thanks to Wolf Hall and this slump I’ve been in for two weeks now, but this sounds like the perfect sort of story to get me back up to pace. It’s a New England-set horror about a cult-ish MFA program and seems to be best categorized as “weird af.” I can’t wait.
  3. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I’ve decided to space out my Cromwell trilogy reading as a result of Wolf Hall taking me so long- I know my current slump is a product of a lot of factors not including disliking the trilogy, but spending so much time on Wolf Hall is becoming frustrating despite generally enjoying the detailed and immersive experience. I’ll need this TBR nudge to keep me moving through Cromwell’s fictionalized misadventures, though I don’t expect to struggle so much with the last two books.
  4. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. Another fantasy to prep for my spotlight post, another book from our alternate WP longlist, and now a title to cross off my BOTM list as well. I’ve loved Bardugo’s writing and stories in the past and have been very curious about this one- Sarah’s recent review made this look even more promising! It’s about secret societies on the Yale campus, which sounds excellent.
  5. Beach Read by Emily Henry. A BOTM title for me, a new release I’ve been looking forward to, and just something lighter and quicker to get me back into reading. I think I’ll pick this up very soon, especially after seeing several promising reviews for it: Naty’s and Karissa’s posts on it have been in my feed lately! This is a romance novel featuring two writers who disagree on books- or maybe their opinions aren’t so opposite after all.

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I’ve been taking it easy so far this month, and am hoping that the switch away from the Women’s Prize and back into fun reading will be just what I need to start tackling new reading projects and old ones that have been on hold, without feeling the self-imposed pressure of a full reading schedule. I’ll hold off on mentioning other specific titles I hope to get to this month to keep from being disappointed when inevitably something I’ve named publicly doesn’t pan out, but I DO want to mention that I’m participating in Melanie’s Flannery O’Connor short story read-along! It’s not in my official TBR because I’m not sure that I’ll manage to keep up with every story every day, but it’s very casual and should lead to some fun discussions. So if like me you’ve had a copy of this collection gathering dust for a while and want to check it off your list once and for all, this is a great chance to join in, and there’s still plenty of time to get started!

 

And even though I’m so behind on new releases I wanted to check out this year, here’s the list of May publications I’ll be keeping an eye out for!

  • Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride. Literary fiction about a woman who stays in many hotel rooms, recounting past experiences and pondering what it would mean to go home. Out May 5th
  • Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Science fiction featuring stuffed animals that double as surveillance devices; willing participants can choose to be followed or to follow someone else’s life. Out May 5th
  • Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas. Gothic mystery in which students at an exclusive boarding school receive a free education with promising futures in exchange for completely leaving behind the outside world for three years. For more info, Laura just posted a positive review that upped my excitement! Out My 12th
  • Grown Ups by Emma Jane Unsworth. Contemporary fiction about a thirty-something millennial woman still struggling to figure out life as an adult amid a breakup… or perhaps a breakdown. Out May 12th
  • Beach Read by Emily Henry. Adult romance between a romance and lit fic writer sharing a summer-long challenge. Already mentioned above- I got an early copy thanks to BOTM, but I’m still stoked for the official release and seeing everyone’s reviews! Out May 19th
  • All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad. Contemporary fiction with an lgbtq+ focus in which a young woman’s dead mother leaves behind letters to men her family doesn’t know, revealing a hidden life separate from her marriage. Out May 26th

 

Any titles you’ve read or recognize from your own TBR lists? Let me know in the comments!

 

The Literary Elephant

TBR 4.20

New month, new books! My March TBR may not have gone so well, but I’m back for a fresh attempt.

Every month for 2020, I’ll be setting a TBR with five of the books I expect to read (and love!) throughout the month. I won’t mention extras even though I may expect to pick up other things, and at the end of the month, finished or not, each of the five are barred from future 2020 TBR appearances.

Here’s what I’ve got lined up for April:

  1. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara. A Women’s Prize longlister, and my last library book  until things reopen. Since this post is a little late I’ve actually started reading this one already and expect to finish soon- I’m quite enjoying it so far! It’s about a group of children investigating a friend’s disappearance in India.
  2. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. A recent release, my first O’Farrell book, and another Women’s Prize longlister. This one features the death of Shakespeare’s son and the play he wrote soon after, titled after the same child. I believe the book focuses on the grief of the entire family.
  3. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee. Another Women’s Prize longlister. I am planning to read as much of the longlist as possible before the shortlist announcement on the 22nd, so this will be dominating my reading life for a while longer. This book is a Singapore-set dual-narrative novel about WWII and the traumatic aftermath of some of the events of that time.
  4. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. This is a new release that came out at the end of March, and one I’ve been highly anticipating. I don’t know much about it but I think I’m going to love it- that’s one of the criteria I use to put these TBRs together; I wanted to read more high-rating books this year so I try to fill these monthly TBRs with titles I hope will be 4 or 5 star reads for me!
  5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This is the first book in Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell historical fiction series. The third book has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize. It’s the longlister I’m least certain about finishing on time for the shortlist announcement, but I’m hoping that even if I don’t quite make that cut-off I’ll still finish the trilogy in April. I’m including the first book here as an extra nudge to get started!

tbr4.20

Clearly it’s a Women’s Prize-heavy list, but after partially failing my TBR in March I think this is the surest way to stay on top of things. I hope to pick up more of my 2020 reading goals again in May, including my 20 in ’20 list, 2019 releases I missed, and new releases I’m highly anticipating. But for now, these are some of the books I’m most excited to read in April! Hopefully this will only be the beginning.

 

And even though I don’t think I’ll have time to pick any of these up this month (I still need to catch up on March’s new books!), here is the list of new releases for April that I’ve got my eye on. I’ll be watching for reviews on these throughout the month to help me decide what to prioritize.

  • Sin Eater by Megan Campisi. Historical fiction about an orphaned girl tasked with listening to the confessions of the dying, eating foods that symbolize their sins, and thus granting them access to heaven. Out Apr 7th
  • The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni. A horror/gothic novel featuring a woman who (to her surprise) inherits wealth and a castle in Italy. When she goes to check it out she learns that she’s inherited some dark family secrets as well. Out Apr 7th
  • Notes From an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back by Mark O’Connell. Nonfiction that tells the tale of one man’s quest around the world to see how people from different places and cultures are preparing for what many see as a grim future for planet Earth. Out Apr 14th
  • You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce. A thriller in which a possibly dead novelist leaves behind a manuscript revealing the literal skeletons buried in her past. Out Apr 21st
  • Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh. A literary mystery about an elderly woman who discovers a note in the woods mentioning a dead body- leaving her to question everything about her new home.

 

Tell me about something you’re reading in April! Are you following the Women’s Prize or picking up any anticipated releases?

 

The Literary Elephant