Being that we have reached the halfway mark of the year, I figured I ought do a quick roundup of my favorite reads of the year. This list won’t be all literary fiction, of course (I’m not that much of a snob!) and it won’t include many of the year’s breakouts (I haven’t read them yet!) But it will be an honest and true account of what I consider to be the high points of my reading life in 2017:
- The Leavers – Lisa Ko’s The Leavers is breathtaking look at immigration and intercultural adoption. Polly’s a character you can’t help but feel both intense anger and intense sadness for. Her decisions cause a spiderweb of strife and pain for her son Deming, but are made in truly impossible times. As he grows up, Deming’s caught between the life he’s living with his adoptive parents and the life he ought to be living his mom. The Leavers is heartbreaking in both the worst and best of ways.
- The Animators – Kayla Rae Whitaker has established herself as a major young talent with her debut novel, The Animators. This story of two best friends, Sharon and Mel, who work as an animation duo, chronicles their personal and professional struggles at dawn of a new phase in their careers. The novel journeys through their pasts and how those pasts inform their current selves and their futures. The relationship between Mel and Sharon is one of my favorite recent depictions of female friendship – full, loving and prickly as hell. And Sharon’s rural background makes me recall my own. I selected this book sort of blindly via Book of the Month Club, and it’s absolutely my favorite Book of the Month Club selection.
- A Passage to India – A Passage to India was my introduction to E.M. Forrester’s elegant and sumptuous prose. How I never read Forrester before is completely beyond me and I’m terribly upset with myself for not reading this amazing novel until I was 30 years old. Forrester’s tale of cultural conflict and misunderstandings between the colonizing English and the India and Indians they colonize is ridiculously lyrical, beautiful and a genuine pleasure to read.
- #famous – I’ve actually reviewed Jilly’s YA novel here. #famous isn’t perfect and this isn’t the sort of work filled with beautiful prose or deep thoughts. But it’s genuinely a fun, adorable read. The characters feel like the teenagers that they are actually meant to be and not some adult’s vague memory of adolescence. The dialogue was snappy and delightful and quite frankly, I need to see this on the big screen.
- Attachments – This, I’ve always reviewed here. I love this book without any sort of hesitation. The plot circles around an IT guy, Lincoln, who falls in love with a woman, Beth, while he reads through the emails she exchanges at work with her best friend, Jen. It’s essentially a ridiculous screwball comedy in book form and how can that not be adored? Attachments leans into the ridiculousness of its premise which is what makes it so enjoyable to read. And again, Beth and Jen’s friendship is fantastic – it’s supportive and loving and not full of backstabbing bull. For me, this was a perfect read to chase a few blues away.
- Freddy and Fredericka – I actually bought Freddy and Fredericka at a used bookstore on a whim and 90% due to the cover. Mark Helprin’s satire of the British royal family (Freddy and Fredericka are a not-even-thinly veiled version of Charles and Diana) is a magnificently fanciful fairy tale farce and it is amazing. Essentially, after a series of embarrassing events, Freddy and Fredericka get carted out to America to prove themselves worthy of the throne. This book is dense, but it’s also hilarious. In some respects, the density is part of the reason I’m so fond of it – yes, it gets off to a slow start, but I found it to be like a marathon – it’s just the sort of book to be savored and read thoughtfully, rather than devoured in haste. It’s sympathetic and mocking of its protagonists and reminds you of their inherent goodness despite the situations of their lives and situations in which they find themselves. Fredericka in particular really comes into her own in the second half of the novel. The novel is both irreverent and down to earth and it’s just honestly, earnestly good.
- The Muse – Some people haven’t felt as kindly towards Jessie Burton’s follow up to The Miniaturist but I really enjoyed The Muse. Burton is amazingly skilled at evoking the feeling of a bygone era and in The Muse, she manages to make both 1960s London and the Spanish Civil War come a life. Not only this, she tackles the tricky work of writing a black woman’s life in 1960s London. I have to love her for writing an experience that is very much not her own and for doing it so very well. Jessie Burton is basically my Literary Girl Crush.
- Moonglow – I’ve loved Michael for a very long time now. At least, it feels like a long time. I read Wonder Boys back in 2000 and I fell in love with his brain then. Whenever I read Chabon, I always feel like his characters are sitting back and regaling me with their tales. Moonglow is no different. Of course, Moonglow is a sort of a retelling his what his grandfather told him during his last weeks of life – a deathbed confession sorts. But early on, Chabon notes that part of this is fictionalized and the dreamy, sprawling feel makes it somewhat difficult to really get a handle on what parts are completely un-embellished. And yet, that is one of the things I liked best about Moonglow. The Goodreads blurb describes it as a “work of fiction non fiction”; an “autobiography in a novel described as a memoir” – this is entirely accurate and entirely wonderful.
- Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
- American Street by Ibi Zoboi
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
- The Secret Place by Tana French
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Ibi Zoboi’s American Street is very nearly exactly what a YA novel should be.
The protaganist, Fabiola Toussaint, boards a plane from Haiti to the US along with her mother, planning to move to Detroit to live with family members. During a routine security check while changing planes in New York, Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration officials and Fabiola’s left to go on to Detroit alone. There, Fabiola’s left to navigate her American cousins, a romance and her attempts to secure her mother’s release.
I have no experience as an immigrant – while I did complete a Study Abroad during college, I have lived my life as a citizen and resident of the country of my birth. I can’t speak – at all – to how real to life Fabiola’s experiences actually are. But I can say that the book felt so real to me – I felt as though the events could actually happen.
A while back, I read Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star.
By “a while back”, I mean I finished it in the first few days of January.
It’s been a while.
I enjoyed Yoon’s debut Everything, Everything – it was a bit too sweet and a bit too syrupy and so not me, but eh, I loved it anyway. Everyone needs the literary equivalent of a diabetic coma every now and again, right? Well, Everything, Everything was mine. When I read that Nicola Yoon was releasing a new novel dealing with immigration, I was pretty sure that it’d be up my alley. When The Sun is Also a Star turned out to be one of Book of the Month Club’s picks, I thought it was simply kismet and made it my selection.
To my sadness and frustration, I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped.
Yoon is a competent, strong writer and she’s got great ideas and knows how to carry them out – I didn’t feel as though the novel were half-baked or un-done in some strange fashion.
About 3 months ago, I was lucky enough to be approved for several YA ARCs. While I’ve read several of them, I’ve been incredibly remiss in actually getting down what I think about the lovely books publishers have allowed me to read.
First, I started with Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited.
I was pretty darn excited about this as I’d read her debut, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda on a whim last year and loved it. Albertalli’s prose is nothing particularly special – it’s somewhere above workman but below beauty. It’s strong and sufficient enough for the tales she spins. For me, what made ‘Simon’ such an unrestrained joy to experience was the protagonist, Simon. I found him delightful and just the sort of person my younger self would have wanted to be friends with in high school. Sadly, I didn’t feel this way about Molly in The Upside of Unrequited. I’m not sure if I can explain it well enough – but I never really felt drawn into Molly – or for that matter, her friends or her family. They were well drawn, funny but still, I didn’t feel a spark there. I didn’t feel as riveted by Molly’s drama. It’s not to say that the book isn’t a worthwhile read, because it is! Albertalli is just as amusing and wry as she is in her debut and her commitment to diversity is just as wonderful – it never feels false or unearned, or as though she’s doing it simply to make a point. The characters who populate this book feel like the world in which we live. It’s simply that I cared for them and their situations less than I cared for those of Simon’s world. It’s a 3 star book for me. Continue reading
Sometimes, a novel will surprise you. That in and of itself isn’t really a surprise. What is a surprise is how the novel surprises you. Do you hate it when you thought you’d love it? Was it not as wonderful as you heard? Or was it better than your friends told you it was?
And, sometimes, the surprise is that it’s so much more than you ever anticipated.
When I requested an ARC of Miranda Emerson’s Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars, about 85% of the thought process that went into that decision was based on the over. I mean, look at it – it’s lovely!
The other 15% percent was the synopsis – it seemed like it’d be a fun romp. I only expected what I was promised – a group of people, lead by the titular Anna Treadway traipsing around London, investigating the disappearance of an actress, Iolanthe Green, who may or may not wish to be found. What I found within the pages was much more than this.
I recently read Natasha Lester’s A Kiss for Mr. Fitzgerald and I thought it was a pretty is fun, frothy ride. Yes, it so very, very soap opera-ish, but damn if it wasn’t a great soap opera.
I feel glad, I guess to have read A Kiss for Mr. Fitzgerald as it brought me some fun when I needed it. This was a easy, breezy read that I still found pretty engaging despite the genre not really being my speed.
This book is, I think, marketed as Historical Fiction, but in my opinion, it doesn’t really fit that into that genre nicely. When I think of historical fiction, I think of works where the setting completely informs everything about the world and story – the language, the plot, the characterization, the very fiber of the threats of the story. The book is seeped in its time and can’t truly be separated from it. It’s not possible to have that book without that time. Continue reading
AKA: I’ve Made a Huge Mistake
There is often much handwringing regarding adults reading YA novels. As someone who reads YA for kicks but who mostly reads classics and literary fiction, I can understand both sides.
There is interesting, clever and fairly well done YA. There’s also a lot of terrible YA. I do think, in general that people ought to read what they like as there’s far too little reading going on in general. YA is fun and can serve as a pretty nice getaway from some heavier adult literature. But I also don’t think that it’s best to just limit yourself to YA as an adult. There’s a lot of nuance in adult literature (in general) that is absent in YA (in general). But mostly, I fall back to “Read what you want, guys!”
Admittedly, YA isn’t a large part of my reading life. It’s there, I don’t knock it as a whole and if something looks interesting, I’m gonna read it. I’ve finished reading 56 books this year and 7 (or 8, depending on if you classify The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night as YA (some do, some don’t) are YA. That’s not exactly a large percentage. It’s simply easier for me to find more adult literature that makes me excited to read. But obviously, I’m not against reading YA. If it looks good and intrigues me, I’m gonna read it.
Based on the hype machine that is the internet, I decided to follow up Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh with a current YA favorite, Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen.
This was a gigantic mistake on my part.
Red Queen is a thoroughly unremarkable novel where the only thing of note about it is how it came to be and the fact that it’s a fantastic illustration of why people think YA novels are beneath adult reading. Continue reading