Anna: Calling all feminists, outdoorsy people, and true crime readers. I know I’ve already posted about this book several times on the feed, but that’s because you should read it!
Author Kathryn Miles, a hiker and journalist, investigates the 1996 murders of Julianne “Julie” Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans. Julie and Lollie were seasoned hikers who were backpacking along the AT when they were found murdered in their sleeping bags. Miles tells Julie and Lollie’s story and advocates for bringing their killer to justice. First, she has to find him. She also exposes a plethora of corruption in the investigation, from convicting the wrong suspect to outing Julie and Lollie as gay to the world and to their families. And the conclusion that Miles comes to in the end about what really happened is truly haunting.
Miles does a good job of centering this on Julie and Lollie’s story instead of sensationalizing the crime, which can be a big problem in the true crime genre. She also extensively interviewed those close to Julie and Lollie and is dedicated to telling both their stories. By the end, I felt as if I’d lost two close friends.
This book hits close to home in so many ways. Shenandoah is a local national park, where I hike frequently (although I’m nowhere near as outdoorsy as Julie and Lollie were). I’ve never been concerned for my safety there, even when hiking with just one other woman. I don’t think I’ll feel the same way next time I visit.
Julie and Lollie felt safe in the woods. We expect our Natural Parks to be a sanctuary. But the truth is that nowhere is safe, especially for women.
I read some truly great books in April! I don’t have a negative thing to say about any of them.
If I Had Your Face-Follows the interconnected lives of four women. Largely about the impossible beauty standards of women, especially in Korean culture.
Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders– The story of two women and lovers who were murdered and the fight for justice around their deaths. A scary realization that even our national parks aren’t a safe place to be a woman.
Sea of Tranquility – Emily St.John Mandel’s newest book is just as amazing as everyone is saying it is. You won’t know what’s truly going on until the end, and I loved the touch of scifi.
A Far Wilder Magic– Cozy magic with just enough small town politics and romance. My second Alison Saft book of the year. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.
The Push– the best thriller I’ve read this year. This will make you terrified to be a parent.
This is How You Lose the Time War is the most imaginative book I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me why sci-fi is such an amazing genre that I need to explore more. It also has LGBTQ+ rep!
Summary: Red and Blue are change agents who work for rival time traveling agencies–Blue for the Garden, a vast organic consciousness. Red works for the Agency, a Technotopia. While traveling to different “strands” of history and time to change history, they start to write each other letters and slowly fall in love.
The actual rules and word building in This is How You Lose the Time War is super confusing at first and very slowly revealed to the reader. I didn’t know what was going on for a while, but that’s okay. This book is more about the lyrical writing and the vivid, visceral images of time traveling and Red and Blue’s romance that literally stands the test of time. This is ultimately a “star-crossed” lovers narrative, but it’s not tropey at all. This book takes work to get through, but it’s rewarding and worth it.
I also think it’s so cool that this book was co-written! As a writer, I can’t imagine creating such a complex world and story in the first place, but also doing it so seamlessly with another writer.
Assembly is a sharp, vignette-style novella that follows a young, black, and unnamed protagonist who is disillusioned by her life. On the surface, she is living the dream: she’s making good money at her job at a bank, she recently bought her own apartment, and she’s in a relationship. But underneath, she feels like she’s performing in every aspect of her life. She’s also hiding a dark secret.
If you like slow, literary, and character-driven stories with commentary on race, class, and the corporate world, you should think about picking up Assembly. It really feels like the unraveling of life that’s perfect on the surface. In my opinion it was a little too short and I wanted to learn more about the protagonist, but it will make you think about a lot of societal issues and evaluate your own life and choices.
I’d love recommendations for other culturally relevant, slim fiction like this one!
Anna: Fun fact, I took this picture with my husband’s phone because I lost mine playing with my dog in the snow and then found it a week later (and somehow it still works)!
Small Things Like These is a short, satisfying novella about doing the right thing. This was the perfect book to read in the snow- it’s set in the days leading up to Christmas in a small town in Ireland. Bill Furlong is a coal merchant, and he’s hardworking, respected, and essential to the town. He loves his wife and five daughters and is proud of the life he’s built for him. But when delivering coal, he discovers a dark secret hidden in the town’s covenant and his whole worldview is challenged.
This book is about how difficult it can be to make one small decision that you know to be the right one when everyone around you encourages you to ignore it. It’s about the hypocrisy of people who call themselves Christians yet do horrible things, and about the Catholic church’s complete control over a community.
Maybe this book is a little predictable, but it’ll give you exactly what you want from it.
Irene and her best friend, Luce, live in a small town in North Carolina. They work as servers and have been sober for nearly a year. But that night, something happens with Luce’s boyfriend, Wilky, that sends them spiraling back into using. The narrative is structured by a dual timeline, so we get to go back see their entire journey with addiction from the start, including the big breaking point that made them first became sober.
Bewilderness is a dark story about substance abuse, addiction, and the cycles of addiction. On the surface this is an important, cautionary tale: addiction kills. But at its core it’s about the complex friendship between Irene and Luce, and how their relationship changes and is tested over the years. And the writing is beautiful. Bewilderness is perfectly paced, it’s heartbreaking, and I couldn’t put it down. If you liked Marlena by Julie Buntin, I think you should check this one out.
I also learned so much about addiction, the path to sobriety, and just how hard it is to stay clean. I encourage you to check out Karen Tucker’s website and read some of her interviews to learn more.
It’s that time of year again! That time when we start thinking about everything we read in the past year—what we loved, hated, and everything in between. This year, I revolutionized my reading by keeping a reading journal within my bullet journal. I kept notes there on each book I read. I found that this helped me internalize each book, think critically about the plot and writing style, and more clearly remember the books I read throughout the year.
Looking back on my reading in 2021, here’s what I found:
My top genres were mystery and thriller, which I’ve never read much of before this year. Many of my favorite books of the year fall into this genre, including my favorite series of the year, Tana French’s The Dublin Murder Squad and Anthony Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland’s series. In contrast, I also read some really bad thrillers and came to the conclusion I prefer crime/murder mysteries over physiological thrillers. We’ll see if this genre sticks!
I didn’t read much nonfiction at all, coming in with one essay collection, Disability Visibility, and just one memoir, Flesh and Blood by N. West Moss. I love memoirs, especially, so that’s something I want to read more of again in 2022!
Let’s get to the best books I read this year, by genre but in no particular order:
The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
Summary: In a world divided by a coup, climate disaster rages. The Rain Heron follows different characters as they try to survive as well as the appearance of a mythical rain hero.
Summary: Silvie’s dad is an Ancient Britain/Iron Age enthusiast. He forces his family to spend 2 weeks a year living in the woods with an Archeology class and professor. This year, things change.
Favorite Quote: “Without a house, it occurred to me, it is much harder to restrict a women’s movement. Harder for a man to restrain a woman.” – page 59
This coming-of-age novel manages to have a conversation about misogyny and abuse in so little pages.
Content Warnings: Physical & Emotional Abuse
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
Summary: Three sisters grow up on an isolated island with their father and mother. They’ve been told the outside world isn’t safe, and they are made to perform horrible experiments on each other. When men arrive from the outside world, they realize their parents might not be telling the truth.
Summary: This is a fictionalized account of William Shakespeare’s family and the death of his son, Hamnet, during the Black Plague.
Warning: This book will make you cry. I loved the magical element and creative liberties O’Farrell took with Shakespeare’s history.
Content Warnings: Death; Grief
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Summary: Lifelong friends and penpals Eileen and Alice live very different lives. One is a wealthy, successful author post-mental health collapse and the other has been stuck in the same job for years. When they finally decide to visit each other, tensions mount.
Don’t come at me, Sally Rooney haters. No one writes characters, dialogue, and life like Sally Rooney. This is a beautiful novel about mental health, fame, and how friendships change over time.
Thriller & Mystery
The Likeness by Tana French
Summary: When a woman named Lexie is found dead, Detective Cassie Maddox, who looks just like her, goes undercover as Lexie.
This is my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad books so far and has dark academia elements.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Summary: Drawing Master Walter Hartright teaches art at an estate and becomes intrigued by a crime and the mysterious presence of a woman in white.
This massive book is surprisingly readable and reminded me of my love for Victiorian fiction.
Like all Victorian fiction, there are themes of madness, surveillance, and lack of women’s agency in society.
Northern Spy by Flynn Berry
Summary: Tessa’s word unravels when she finds out her sister is a member of the IRA.
This is a twisty novel about family, loyalty, and lies that helped contextualize the conflict in Ireland for me.
The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Summary: Carly drops out of college and travels to the haunted town of Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv 20 years earlier.
There are some really terrifying ghost scenes in this, but this is ultimately one of the most heartwarming thrillers I’ve ever read.
Content Warnings: Sexual abuse
Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Summary: A woman, Cecily, disappears from Branlow Hall and the answer is hidden in a book by the late mystery writer Alan Conway. The family asks his ex-editor, Susan Ryeland, to find Cecily.
This book-within-a-book may be even better than the first book in this series! The plotting and double mystery is so cleverly written.
Yolk by Mary H.W. Choi
Summary: Jayne moves from Texas to New York for college and to flee from her first generation Korean parents. There she reunites with her older sister, June, who reveals she has cancer.
This is one of the most intense and emotional books I’ve ever read. Unlike other tear-jerker YA books that deal with cancer very badly, Yolk treats it with respect.
Content Warnings: Cancer; Eating Disorders
The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney
Summary: Following the death of her best friend, Rose struggles with PTSD. One day, trying to escape her grief, she ends up in a strange town that she can’t leave.
Warning: You won’t have a clue what’s going on for the first 100 pages or so, but this book is so creative, emotional, and interesting that you’ll want to keep reading. It’s all one big metaphor for PTSD.
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
Summary: In a futuristic world destroyed by climate change, Kasey searches for her lost sister, Cee.
This book asks big questions about science and humanity, such as, if we don’t act to save the world now, when will we? And, when will we hold big polluters responsible? But at the center of all this is the complicated relationship between two sisters.
The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold
Summary: A group of kids try to survive a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by flu flies.
I loved everything about this book. It’s about sacrifice, found family, hope, survival, and it had a huge twist that blew my mind.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danworth
Summary: Dual timelines one-hundred years apart follow creepy happenings and strange deaths at The Brookhants School for Girls.
Admittedly this book could have been a lot shorter, but this sapphic mystery includes some of the best characterization I’ve ever read in YA.
The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters
Summary: When Natasha’s sister Rochelle disappears, she turns to the witchy girl, Della, who lives by the woods where she went missing.
Set in rural Tennessee, this is a really atmospheric and original fantasy/mystery with LGBTQ+ rep.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Summary: A fantasy based on Pre-Columbian American mythology.
This is a complex, perfectly paced fantasy that follows multiple characters. One of the biggest problems I usually have with fantasy as an adult is the length, and this book didn’t lag for one second. Black Sun ended on a huge cliffhanger, and I can’t wait for the sequel.
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
Summary: When orphaned siblings Anna, Edmund, and William are forced to leave London during World War II, they make a pact to find a new family in the countryside. Instead, they’re placed with several horrible families. Their only solace: the library .
If you liked: The War that Saved My Life
I binged this cozy middle grade treasure in one sitting. This is a great story about found family, the tenacity of children, and how books can save lives.
Happy reading! I’m excited to see what 2022 brings and hope that everyone has a great year, reading wise and otherwise.
Anna: Happy publication day to The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donahue! Thank you @algonquinbooks for sending me an arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Set in a boarding school in an old Victorian house in Ireland, scholarship student Louisa quickly becomes enamored by classmate Victoria and their charismatic art teacher, Mr. Lavelle. Louisa struggles to fit in with her rich classmates, but as she becomes closer to Victoria and Mr. Lavelle, something even darker is underfoot.
25 years later, an unnamed journalist investigates Louisa’s disappearance. It’s widely accepted that Louisa willingly ran away with Mr. Lavelle, but as the journalist becomes more entangled with the case, it’s clear something much worse happened.
The Temple House Vanishing evokes major My Dark Vanessa and The Likeness vibes. This is a quick, smart, and atmospheric read that explores love, friendship, obsession, race, class, and the ways in which men in positions of power take advantage of young women. I did find the perspective from the journalist a little lacking and would have liked more character development there. We learn little about her own life, besides that she grew up on Louisa’s street and Louisa once babysat her. The only thing we know is that she is a workaholic. I thought something might happen with her intern, who gets a lot of dialogue, but that turns out to be a dead-end in the plot. Then there is also an artistic choice in the epilogue involving a ghost that I found a little strange and a bit cheesy.
But overall, I can’t say no to a spooky boarding school mystery, and this is another one of those.
Anna: If you’re looking for an emotional coming-of-age story I highly recommend Betty. Set in Appalachian Ohio, Betty and her five siblings live with their mother and Cherokee father in a dilapidated house surrounded by racism, poverty, and family secrets. This is also fiercely feminist novel, which I love.
Betty is about sisterly love, nature, and cycles of trauma and abuse in families. When she is eleven, Betty discovers a deadly family secret that shapes the course of her life. Despite the difficult themes, this book is beautifully and lyrically written. Betty’s dad, Landon, and his storytelling the love of nature he encourages in his children are a driving force of the novel. Her mom, on the other hand, is violent and unpredictable, a product of years of being the victim of violence herself.
This is also an own-voices story, as Tiffany McDaniel is the descendants of Cherokee ancestors, and the characters in Betty are fictional accounts of real family members
Trigger warnings for sexual assault, drug and alcohol addiction, and domestic and physical abuse
“They are not ours, the stars/and have never been.”
Anna: Let me just say that when I bought this in the $1 section of Strand, I didn’t know that it was a memoir told through poetry. I am not a huge fan of poetry, but The Terrible blew me away. Most of it is told through narrative style poems, which helped make it less scary for newbies like me. But there were some really beautiful poems in here that were much more experimental in form than I was not expecting to enjoy.
Yrsa grew up with her ultra religious grandparents in Northwest England. We follow Yrsa’s childhood, her troubled relationship with her mother, her love for little brother, and her journey into adulthood and ultimately finding herself as a poet and a person. Be warned–this is extremely dark and in some ways is largely the story of Yrs’s struggle with drug addiction. I could not stop reading and flew through it. I especially loved her relationship with her little brother. My only complaint is that I think the final poem tied everything together a little too nicely.