Monday, December 6, 2021

Best Books of 2021

Next year, I don't think I'll be reading for any awards, so I can say WAY more about literature for young people, but this year I am still in awe of the YA novel Gravity (2020) by Sarah Deming. It was a book I heard about at ALAN back when that was a face-to-face thing, but never actually ran across until later, but it was a stunner.

Actually, most of the protagonists I have been reading about in 2021 have been older...

Over That Hill

I was surprised to find Caroline B. Cooney had some new books out with some very grown-up themes but all her predictable twists and turns. I highly recommend Before She was Helen (2020) by Caroline B. Cooney and The Grandmother Plot (2021) by Caroline B. Cooney was a treat as well.

If you want to push your spunky old ladies a bit further afield, I recommend the always-underestimated Maude who appeared first in An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good (2018) by Helene Tursten and reappears in An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed (2021) by Helene Tursten -- so good that I preordered. Life changing! 

If you are of an anxious bent, The Ditch (2019) by Herman Koch will hit you right in the suspicions. Bonus: great Amsterdam scene-setting. Oh, to travel again!


While it skewed a bit pedestrian,  The Party Upstairs (2021) by Lee Connell has stuck with me all year -- I keep thinking about other people's right to trash coming before my own. Applicable in this pandemic and this economy for sure.

Set in a very James M. Cain-esque midcentury America, More Better Deals (2021) by Joe R. Lansdale is remarkable is scene-setting, brutality, and character development.

As in 2019, I am still all about Louise Candlish -- see The Heights coming out in 2022 -- but I have never seen set-ups quite like The Double Life of Anna Day (2006) by Louise Candlish (totally wild self-recreation in the shadow of the Alhambra) and the bystander-savior falling in love with the possibly homicidal teen mom in The Day You Saved My Life (2013) by Louise Candlish.

Want to know how booksellers make Amazon work for them? Some Books Aren't for Reading (2019) by Howard Marc Chesley gives you some insight, and a little intrigue.


Hungry: A Memoir of Wanting More (2020) by Grace Dent. Dent is one of my absolute favorite writers, and this is about the midlife crunch as much as it is about food and ambition.

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir (2021) by Michelle Zauner. I don't know the band, and don't even really like Korean food, but the author's complicated relationship with her mother is relatable and will make you cry. 

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir (2011) by Sherry Turkle. Turkle herself is an interesting as her theories, especially when she writes about MIT and Seymour Papert.


We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and A Half-Century of Silence (2020) by Becky Cooper More academia, and more stories not ending the way you wanted them to.

For real life and its ghosts, writing doesn't get more vibrant than The Lost Pianos of Siberia (2021) by Sophy Roberts, which weaves music and mystery and geography in a fascinating way.

Again, Hallie Rubenhold manages to address all of this hidden, female history and I especially enjoyed the broadsheet coverage of the trial she includes in The Lady in Red : an Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce (2008) by Hallie Rubenhold.

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted Story of '80s and '80s Horror Fiction (2017) by Grady Hendrix made me want to reach down into the backlist. Frankly. I am looking forward to spending a lot of this holiday break reading some solid old stuff -- I have dipped into Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Stewart, and Dorothy Sayers all recently. Book history for real....

Twelve more years of best books:

Best Books of 2020

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Best Books of 2020

This was a year like no other, and I think my reading reflects that. I spent a lot of time listening to Simon Vance and Hugh Fraser reading, and Victorian true crime pulled me out of the pandemic doldrums temporarily.

Pre-covid Realism

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter (2020) 
No one quite gets the difficulties of contemporary womanhood like O'Porter. This one has some wonderful commentary on beauty standards and relative happiness.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary (2020) 
I bought Everett's debut The Flatshare in February for one of those Buy 2, Get 1s at the Heathrow W.H. Smith (oh, back when we could travel!), but it was this up-ending of millennial and geriatric life where she really hit her stride.

Oh So Mysterious

The Move by Felicity Everett (2020) 
Your husband buys and decorates a lovely remote cottage for you as a form of apology for his indiscretions. But is their rekindled romance and rural idyll as perfect as it seems?

The Guest List by Lucy Foley (2020) 
Foley follows up The Hunting Party with another multi-viewpoint mystery circumscribed by geographical isolation. The remote venue for a wedding party is populated with more enemies than friends.

Shiner by Amy Jo Burns (2020) 
The sophisticated structure of this novel, set among fundamentalists in remote Appalachia, delves itno the life-long friendship and secrets of two women.

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holisinger (2014)
The poet John Gower, bereaved and blind, investigates the murder of a young woman thought to be a spy in Chaucer's London. Wonderful period details, just enough arcane language, and political machinations in a world that overlaps our own more than we might have thought, followed up with The Invention of Fire

The Trouble Makers by Celia Fremlin (1975) 
Fremlin's slice-of-post-war-life about neighborhood gossip is just one of her fabulous novels with a soup├žon of suspense and dash of class-consciousness. 

Fear Stalks the Village by Ethel Lina White (1942) 
White wrote The Lady Vanishes, but this novella is wonderfully social and claustrophobic. She is especially good at ambiguity. 

Stranger than Fiction

The Ripper story is one you think you know, but Rubenhold asserts that the "canonical victims" might not be prostitutes. This delves into each of these women's backstories, showcasing the range of female experience, dependence upon men for support and the range of social services available for the unhoused and destitute. 

An Alabama woman marries an Englishman, and her beauty secrets could be blamed for the arsenical poisoning of her older, hypochondriac husband. Lots about crime and punishment in Victorian England, and the dialogue between cotton production state-side and the weaving trades of the Midlands. 

I had long been a fan of Dr. Whitcher, but this is great exploration of the social shifts which led to more modern divorce laws in the U.K. and female desire. I really cannot wait for The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story.

Scholarship is pushing me towards an interest in the long eighteenth century, and this is a fascinating social history, literacy in particular, with all sorts of nuances I never knew.

Early on, I read this historical account, offering near-perfect contextualization for our current crisis. Includes so many parallels with the current viral spread, with its conclusion offering a glimmer or two of something like hope.

Mr. X and Mr. Y by Donald Brown (2016)
True crime, self-published by newspaperman who covered this East Alabama case as a cub reporter in 1959. It is a fascinating story of a young farm woman pushed to the brink.

We don't hear enough about life in sheltered housing, and this fascinating account of like in a Dutch old-people's home is terrifically funny. There is a sequel, On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old

SO MUCH nonfiction. SO MANY mysteries. SO MUCH time to read. I am counting my blessings!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Best Books of 2019

Another year, another handful of fabulous reads...I will be posting some of my favorite children's books SOON... 


Those people by Louise Candlish (2019)

I love a thriller, and this one about some undesirable neighbors with unreliable narrators and multiple points of view has me hooked. I’ve read a LOT of Candlish since this one.

Three things about Elsie by Joanna Cannon (2018)

Not enough stories deal with the difficulties of aging, and this one has some fabulous wrinkles.

The mother-in-law by Sally Hepworth (2019)

Another thriller, this one a very interesting exploration from two very distinct points of view.

The other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson (2019)

There is something eerie about a look-alike assuming another identity, and this one, set among the idle not-rich, strikes a very contemporary cord.

The knowledge by Martha Grimes (2018)

The mythology of London’s black cabs underpins this solid Anglophile mystery.

My sister the serial killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2019)

It is so refreshing to read something from another part of the world, and this Nigerian thriller is funny and complex.

Realistic fiction

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (2019)

An amazing, nuanced look at youth and mental illness in modern, multicultural London.

Fleishman is in trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (2019)

Plumbs midlife malaise has many deft touches that elevate it, a la Philip Roth.

There was an old woman by Hallie Ephron (2014)

Both contemporary and historical, this look at gentrification, addiction, and adulthood stuck with me.

Brit lit

Nothing to report (1940) and Somewhere in England (1943) by Carola Oman

I often think I would love to search for backlist titles for ebook editions: isn’t that the promise of the long tail? Dean Street Press has done a terrific job with recovering this pair of provincial English wartime accounts.


Thick and other essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom (2019)

Another excellent piece of biographically informed nonfiction, which I have turned back to and recommended again and again.

Because Internet: understanding how language is changing By Gretchen McCulloch (2019)

Linguistic ticks to re-framing communications, the network has changes how and why we communicate.

How to do nothing: resisting the attention economy by Jenny Odell (2019)

Artist Odell calls for a return to time unplugged for an authentic life and urges connection with the natural world.

From Goodwill to grunge: a history of secondhand styles and alternative economies by Jennifer Le Zotte (2017)

When I heard about this at SHARP, I downloaded it immediately and devoured it. For anyone obsessed with vintage things, this is a must-read.

How to own the room: women and the art of brilliant speaking by Viv Groskop (2018)

Call it a public speaking guide, but it is also a manifesto about power and the public.

Strangely, this list is ALL WOMEN. Hmmm.


Best Books of 2018

Best Books of 2017

Best Books of 2016

Best Books of 2015

Best Books of 2014

Best Books of 2013

Best Books of 2012

Best Books of 2011

Best Books of 2010

Best Books of 2009

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Fleishman, the Performative Middlebrow and Legible Clothing

I saw this tweet just after I'd started the book

and then I saw the Susan Hill comment after

so I'm not the only one that can't stop thinking about this book.

One of my favorites bits in the novel are the legible tank tops that Rachel and her cohort wear.
Brodesser-Akner has her finger on the pulse with these:
  • Spiritual gangster
  • But first, coffee
  • Brunch so hard
  • Ride or die
  • Lipstick and lunges
  • Any yoga I do is hot yoga
  • Nevertheless, she perspired
  • Run the world
  • Nah 'ma stay in bed
I have been fascinated by slogan-ed clothes for a while. They are an aggressive form of signaling. Virtue-signaling, too, because they are on tank tops teamed with yoga tights. The choice to wear such little clothing in public, yet having it speak so assertively intrigues me. These are texts, right?