Anna: This scratched an itch in my reader brain that hasn’t been scratched in a while—that’s the only way I can really describe it!
Other People’s Clothes follows Zoe, an art student who studies abroad in Berlin for a year to get away from her life in New York. Zoe is dealing with the recent unsolved murder of her best friend, Ivy. In Berlin she meets Hailey, also an art student from her college in New York, and they agree to sublet a famous mystery writer’s apartment. But something isn’t right about the apartment, and the girls think someone may be watching them.
This is literally everything I could want in a book—literary fiction but with mystery and thriller elements. It explores mental health, being a creative person, and the unique experiences (and loneliness) of studying abroad, discovering your sexuality, and generally figuring out yourself in college. But above all, Other People’s Clothes explores the unique relationship between roommates. I don’t think the writing style is for everyone, but it really worked for me. My only critique is that the ending was a bit too long. But I’d rather an ending be too longer rather than too short. All in all, this was a solid debut.
VERDICT: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Someone please recommend me more books in this vein!
Also, my husband and I are moving in just a few short weeks, hence the boxes! My books and bookshelves are in a state of disarray. I’m going to miss the built in bookshelf in this apartment so much…
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!
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.
I didn’t read as much as I normally do this month, but that’s okay! I was busy going to the beach and filling my weekends with other end of summer experiences.
I finally read Hamnet this month, and loved it as much as everyone else did! It’s a lyrical written story about grief and Shakespeare’s (fictionalized) family. This is exactly what I’m looking for in literary fiction- beautiful writing and expertly written characters. Maggie O’Farrell clearly did her research on the Shakespeare family, but she also tells an original story that stands on its own. Hamnet is also the first book that made me cry in years.
I liked the descriptions of food and NYC in Sweetbitter, but overall it was too slow & way overwritten. My favorite thing about this book is what I learned about working in the restaurant/food industry, specifically fine dining. If you can get through Tess’s overly naive and heady descriptions of her life after randomly moving to New York City, you’ll learn about the inner-workings and politics of running a famous restaurant. Seriously, this girl doesn’t know anything about New York City (or life) when she gets there. Yet somehow she’s likable, sexy, and a protegee at her job? What saved this book for me, as someone who lived there for a year and worked in two unforgiving industries (publishing & retail), is the love/hate descriptions of working your butt off living in New York City.
The Perfect Nanny was the most underwhelming thriller I’ve read all year. Translated from French, this book has a lot of half-baked ideas and proclamations about motherhood, race, and class. All these ideas and themes were underdeveloped.
But the biggest problem I had with The Perfect Nanny is that it’s a thriller, and yet there was no surprise or twist. At the very beginning of the book, we learn that a French couple’s nanny, Louise, has killed their two children. Spoiler alert, she did. And there’s no nuance to why she did it. I also didn’t find Louise’s character very believable. There’s not nearly enough to justify her mental breakdown at the end.
I love a good campus novel with a mystery and vapid teenage girls, and The Divines didn’t disappoint. This one has surprisingly low/poor reviews on Goodreads. Maybe people don’t like it because it’s slow-paced and the characters are extremely dislikable. Although that description also fits the much-loved The Secret History by Donna Tartt French, and I thought The Divines was better. What I really liked about this book was how the reader learns about Joe’s experiences and trauma at boarding school affected her adult life. This book also takes an interesting look at how memories can change over years and how people remember the same events differently.
I also read Moonflower Murders (not pictured), the second book in the Susan Ryeland series by Anthony Horowitz, which was just as good as the first! I don’t want to spoil anything from book one, Magpie Murders, but these books have some of the most masterful plotting I’ve ever read. They’re also both murder mysteries within a muder mystery. I really hope there will be a book three!
With August ending, I can’t wait to officially kick off my fall reading in September!
I’ve wanted to read Migrations since before its release. It has great ratings on Goodreads, which proves that you need to take ratings with a grain of salt. I did, however, see a 1 star review from a trusted reviewer. Because of the dystopian aspect, I wanted to read this for myself.
I was disappointed.
The actual style of the writing is the only thing I liked about this book. It’s lyrical yet concise. But there are glaring holes in the world building and the plot. Then there’s the biggest problem-Franny.
Migrations alternates between two timelines: the past and present. In the present, almost all animals have gone extinct in the world. There aren’t many fish left, and people who still fish are hated. Franny worms her way onto a fishing ship to follow the last migration of Arctic Terns. She tells the captain she is an orithinogist, and that she thinks the Arctic terns will lead them to fish. She is right, for the most part, so she stays on the boat.
We are introduced to Franny’s tumultuous childhood in Ireland. Her mom disappeared when she was young, and she lived with her father’s mother in Australia. Back in Ireland, Franny sits in on at University and meets the love of her life- Insta love style. She and Niall marry immediately, but very quickly it’s a struggle for Franny to stay.
Franny is the most unlikable narrator I have ever encountered. There is nothing redeeming about her. She is so chaotic that she’s not even a believable character. And the author’s excuse for her behavior? She’s a “wanderer”. She’s unable to stay in one place. Why? It’s in her blood.
SPOILERS: Franny’s defining character trait is violence. She sleepwalks and attempts to strangle Niall in her sleep. She’s in jail for murder, and it’s unclear if it was on purposeful or not. She also managed to kill two more people over the course of the present narrative. And yet. Franny is a wonderful swimmer and saves multiple people from drowning over the course of the story as well. Her character is completely unpredictable but predisposed to destroy and leave.
In the past, we know that Franny served time in prison. It’s eventually revealed why. She (accidently?) rammed headfirst into another car, killing Niall and the woman in the other car. Franny claims she did it on purpose. Then she reveals that she saw an owl, which distracted her from the road. Franny is an unreliable narrator, so we don’t really know. Which brings me to my next point.
Niall, Franny’s husband, is seemingly okay with the fact that Franny will just leave him when she feels she has to. By the end, we are made to understand their relationship is like this-Franny is a wild thing, possibly a bird, possibly something else. She is untamed. Niall is a scientist and by trapping Franny, he’s able to study her closely. But Franny, being a wild thing, kills him in the end.
Franny succeeds(?) in following the birds to their last migration. destroying everything else around her in the process. She plans to spread Niall’s ashes into the sea there. She also plans on killing herself. She spreads the ashes, and then submerges herself, fully intending to end it. But she doesn’t. The book ends with her being released from prison for the second time of her life. Her dad, who has never been part of her life and who is a convicted killer herself, is waiting to pick her up. They drive off together.
Then there’s the complete and utter lack of worldbuilding. This is apparently set in the not-so-far future in which climate change and human behavior has made most animals in the world extinct. For some reason, fishermen have received the bulk of the blame for this act (maybe because there are still some fish in the ocean? It’s not very well explained). This could have been such a rich world and the extinction of the animals could have added another layer to Franny’s story. Instead, the state of the world is barely acknowledged throughout the story.
Overall: With more developed worldbuilding, maybe I could have forgiven some of Franny’s erratic behavior in this book. Or maybe not. Either way, I don’t recommend reading this. Migration’s book description first reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni. After reading Migrations, they can’t be compared. Save yourself the pain and read the Lightkeepers instead.
Anna: Thank you to Algonquin Books for sending me a copy of this lovely book! His Only Wife is a smart simply written and beautiful story about a modern woman finding her voice under complicated circumstances.
When Afi’s family arranges a marriage for her with one of the richest and sought after men in Ghana, she is excited and nervous. She finds it a bit strange that her new husband, Eli, doesn’t come to the wedding, but she’s told not to worry about it. From there, Afi moves from her small village, where she shared a tiny room with her mother, into a fancy apartment in the city. Weeks pass, and she’s yet to meet her husband. Slowly, Afi learns more about her husband and the other woman he is hiding. As she becomes accustomed to her new luxurious life, she also becomes obsessed with securing her position as Eli’s only wife.
I loved the simple and straightforward way this is written. There are complicated relationships between the characters, made even more dynamic by cultural expectations and traditions. When she first marries Eil, Afi is completely subservient to society’s expectations and worries about her cooking, cleaning, and pleasing her husband. But as the story goes on, she starts to question everything she knows about being a woman.
Spoiler: The only complaint I have is that everything regarding Afi’s career as a seamstress comes very easy for her, almost too easy for here. There are no obstacles in the plot in regards to her career, and by the end of the novel she has become a renowned designer in a matter of months. Unrealistic? I think so.
Otherwise, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Ghana, and I enjoyed the rich descriptions of the customs, culture, and the food. I look forward to reading more by Peace Adzo Medie in the future!
Anna: It’s the end of September! The leaves are officially starting to change, and it was cool enough today to break out my boots! It’s supposed to be 90 degrees on Wednesday, but I’m still embracing fall to its fullest! Here’s what I read this month:
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Bloomland by John Enlehardt
California by Edan Lepucki
Eden by Andrea Kleine
The take away from this month’s wrap up is that if you haven’t read The Glass Castle, you need to. There will be a review coming soon! What did you read this month?
Anna: Happy Independence Day! Here’s a recent read, The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close. A young couple, Matt and Beth, move to DC so that Matt can pursue his dream to work in politics. This book is at its core about the complexity of hope and good and greed and corruption in American government. It’s also about how friendships change over time. I found The Hopefuls character-driven and an interesting insight into a world I don’t know much about, even though I live in the Metro DC area.
VERDICT: 4 books
I’ve spent the day off binging the new Stranger Things, I went to a brewery, and we’re going to watch fireworks tonight if it’s not rained out. I hope you’re enjoying your fourth!
Anna: I’m excited to share my April wrap up! This month included not one, but TWO five star books for me! Im currently finishing up three books that didn’t make it into this wrap up (classic). I’m also still loving memoir and middle grade!
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: 4 books
George by Alex Gino: 3.5 books
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart: 5 books
Normal People by Sally Rooney: 5 books
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: 3 books
Today I’m introducing a new favorite book! Check out my full spoiler-free review on our blog (link in bio!) My mom read this years ago and tried to get me to read it at the beach, but The Goldfinch is so incredibly detail-heavy that I couldn’t get into it. After reading The Secret History last year, I decided to give The Goldfinch another try.
I’m glad I did! This book is quite a feat to get through, but it’s worth the journey a hundred times over (and it made me miss New York so much!) If you like long and sweeping coming-of-age stories, this is the book for you. Like The Secret History, The Goldfinch is especially drug-heavy and most certainly not any easy read. I knew vaguely it was about art history when I started, but I never imagined the twists and turns this would take, or the impression it would leave!
What I love most about The Goldfinch is our protagonist, Theodore (Theo) Decker. Struck by tragedy in the first chapter (and then again, and again) some would say that he has an incredibly unlucky life. He makes someone bad choices that oftentimes you want to hit him over the head and scream, “What are you doing?” It’s his own difficult life and the messy relationships with the other characters–especially Boris, Pippa, Hobie, and even Popper–that give this book such a spark of life. When it was over, I’d spent so much time getting to know the characters that I didn’t want it to end!
The Goldfinch explores fate, grief and loss, the complexities of friendship, loyalty, and morality, the price of freedom, and the importance of fine art and historical objects of meaning. By the end I felt exhausted, but in the best way.
However, this book is A BRICK, which is why I found it easier to listen to on audio. The narrator did an incredible job making each character sound unique. I never would have been able to imagine Boris’s accent if I’d read this on my own.