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Carmen Maria Machado's stories are like nothing I've ever read (although I can say that they put me in an Angela Carter & Kelly Link sort of MOOD, the best sort of mood). These stories are otherwordly and genre-bending, absolutely, but also sexy and visceral and pointed. They don't just let the darkness lurk in the corners, they pull it into the light, see how it feels in the body, open it up to reveal both the violence and tenderness inside. This is a brilliantly crafted collection and will be deeply satisfying for readers interested in the subconscious horrors that are present with us always.
I have a growing list of women whose writing makes me feel vulnerable and introspective and purposeful in the best way, and I was so happy to find Megan Stielstra to add to it. This is a collection of threaded essays exploring family and politics and relationships and work and community and the power of writing, difficult to pin down in its breadth and deeply thoughtful as a whole. Stielstra writes of being a person in the world with such an incredible sense of empathy that, wanting to spend more time with her, I was sorry to see this book end.
I was completely caught off guard by how incredibly gorgeous this novel is. The characters in Good Morning, Midnight could not be facing bleaker circumstances, but Lily Brooks-Dalton tells their stories so masterfully and with so much heart and heartbreak that I found myself thinking about them long after I finished reading. This novel transcends its own story and becomes a beautiful meditation on what life means, in the face of the end of everything, and how the ways in which we show up for ourselves and others might be the point of it all.
To say that I was moved by Sherman Alexie's memoir is a terrible understatement; in fact, there is a pulse in this book that has worked its way into my being and irrevocably changed how I think about my own life. Alexie's kaleidoscopic approach to storytelling is so representative of the feeling of being human, with childhood memory, relationships, love, trauma, and art all moving in and out of focus at once. At the center of You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a deep grieving, for Alexie's mother, for the ways in which parental love is imperfect, for unthinkable personal and cultural traumas. But Alexie's brilliance is in holding multiple truths, that one can experience simultaneously both trauma and hope, grief and humor, violence and love. I, like Alexie, "tend to fall in love with the unnamable," that nebulous complexity at the heart of the human experience that can only be understood by holding on to all of the pieces of your life at once, a practice both beautiful and terrifying. Alexie achieves this exquisitely, and You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is an unforgettable work.
Borne introduces us to Rachel, a scavenger, and Wick, her partner-in-survival and a biotech engineer. Rachel and Wick scrape together a life in a ruined city suffering under the tyranny of a giant bear, a Magician hungry for power, and the shadow of the collapsed Company and its failed biotech experiments. But Rachel changes everything when she brings home Borne. Found on a scavenging trip, Borne is maybe a plant, maybe an animal, but is definitely one of the more interesting characters that I've ever met. As Borne grows, Rachel and Wick are forced to ask deeper questions - of each other, of their world, of power and love and agency and of their own sense of identity. I was struck by the vulnerability carried by these characters against such a bleak world. At its heart, this novel grapples with what, to me, are the most meaningful questions to be explored in fiction: What makes us human? And how do we keep hold of this humanity in a world that tries to take it from us? This book is going to stick with me for a long time.
Where humanity has driven itself to the brink of extinction, Lidia Yuknavitch finds amid the rubble an urgent yearning for hope. Brutality and love, creation and destruction, desolation and the richness of art all move through this novel with a forceful energy, translating the transcendent power of the human experience into something to be felt on a visceral level. Or, as whispered by one of our narrators, "Bodies are miniature renditions of the entire universe...This is what we have always been." The Book of Joan is an unforgettable work ofspeculative fiction.
In The Wanderers, Meg Howrey brilliantly weaves together the vastness of outer space with the intimacy of human nature. Howrey’s characters are artfully drawn—full of strengths and failings, and each yearning for something in their relationships with others. The Mars simulation at the center of the novel represents an exciting new frontier for human beings, but Howrey's astronauts demonstrate that even those driving the larger quest for human greatness are beautifully flawed individuals leading complicated lives. This is a wonderfully introspective novel on the meaning of space exploration and what we learn about ourselves in facing the unknown.
Claire Fuller's storytelling is masterful. I loved Our Endless Numbered Days for how I felt as a reader, that information was being revealed to me so artfully that I immediately wanted to reread the novel to better keep an eye on how it was done. While very different in plot and character, Swimming Lessons is so recognizable as Fuller's work; the story is not driven by the passing of time, but rather by the careful unraveling of insights for the reader. This novel is a beautifully-written literary mystery that dives deep into the complex inner-workings of a family. Memory and the past set the tone of the novel, but I was most affected by the messy yet profound love between the characters.
This book begins with the tale of the Frost demon, told on a cold winter evening by the grandmotherly Dunya. Nothing could better set the tone for this novel, as reading it feels much like settling in for a folktale around a warm fire in the dead of winter. Arden's storytelling is enchanting, full of an old, wild kind of magic raging in the Russian wilderness. Vasya is a fierce protagonist with powerful gifts, and I reveled in seeing her learn to trust herself against the ancient spirits that threaten everything that she holds dear. This is a highly original take on the fairy tale told in a beautiful voice.
This is a fascinating look at how American history can be read through our ghostlore! I came for the spookiness - and there are some great ghosts in here - but Dickey's focus is more on how ghost stories function in our culture. I love how this book is organized (by theme and region), so that a particular story is brought back into context. From this perspective, it seems that the stories we tell ourselves about the dead may say a lot more about us than about historical facts. Bonus points for featuring my favorite spooky place, The Ridges, in Chapter Ten: The Stain.
I adored this book. Willis has much to say about our hyper-connected culture, and her take on telepathy brilliantly comments on the complex ways that social technology affects our relationships. But I couldn't put this book down because Crosstalk is just so much fun - Willis is a master of whip-smart dialogue, and Briddy and her eccentric family made me laugh. It took me by surprise how deeply I came to care for these characters, and I quickly found myself invested in the quirky and heartfelt relationships that develop throughout the novel.
Imaginative and articulate, this collection envisions fascinating technologies and the cultures shaped by them. But what makes these stories remarkable is how they are grounded in a sense of the everyday; each story grows out of the question of what it would really feel like to live in its world. And as in the best speculative fiction, Weinstein's stories are driven by a longing for deeper answers: What defines us as human? I'm haunted by many of these characters and their search for human connection in worlds where technology appears to supersede it, but I'm comforted by the implication that human connection will still be essential. This is an astonishing debut.
This is one of the most unique novels that I've read in a while, and I could not put it down. Jemisin's use of the apocalyptic setting to explore oppression is brilliant. Her world-building is masterful, but most importantly for me as a reader, I came to care deeply for her characters and their places in the world of the novel. Jemisin has said that this was a difficult novel to write given its exploration of racial injustice, but I'm so glad that she stayed with it -- Jemisin has made an important contribution to the world of SFF. **WINNER OF THE 2016 HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL**
This is an extraordinary work of narrative nonfiction. Covering over 80 years of history, Dittrich explores the often dark evolution of neuroscience as it led up to the "birth" of Patient H.M. and the resulting memory research that occurred over the course of his life. But what makes this book remarkable is Dittrich's approach; it is less a straight biography and more a kaleidoscopic investigation for which the reader has been invited along. The role H.M. plays in the history of brain science is fascinating alone, but the dark undercurrent of Dittrich's intertwining family narrative makes this book especially riveting.
"And yet, whatever has been lost in translation in the long journey of my thoughts through the maze of civilization to your mind, I think you do understand me, and you think you do understand me. Our minds managed to touch, if but briefly and imperfectly. Does the thought not make the universe seem just a bit kinder, a bit brighter, a bit warmer and more human? We live for such miracles."
This is one of the best short story collections that I have ever read. Every story is meaningful, and Liu uses science fiction and fantasy elements in such thought-provoking ways. I believe that science fiction has some of the highest potential for critical themes of any literary genre, and this collection is my new favorite evidence for this. For short story lovers, sci fi readers, and anyone who loves thought-provoking fiction. -k
I've been on the hunt for some great new fantasy, and this book was everything that I needed. Parallel Londons exist within the world of this novel, each with its own complicated relationship with magic. Kell is one of the last magicians able to travel between the Londons and has a dangerous interest in smuggling magical objects. Delilah is a young woman surviving as a criminal in Grey London who gets drawn into Kell's quest to repair that damage he has caused. But don't call her a sidekick - she has motivations of her own. I loved the characters in this smart fantasy, and I can't wait to read A Gathering of Shadows. -K
I've been eagerly awaiting Brian Selznick's next book for four years, and The Marvels does not disappoint! Once again, Selznick uses his unique style of mixing text and images to tell his story. The images chronicle the family history of the Marvels over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, a legacy filled with adventure and the force of fate. The text follows the story of Joseph, a schoolboy living in 1990s England who runs away to find a mysterious relative. I loved unraveling how these two stories are connected across time. This beautiful book is a great read for those familiar with Selznick's work and new readers alike. -k
Once on a school field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art, I saw an eery photograph of a young girl that I couldn't get out of my head. Without the title or the name of the photographer, it took another chance encounter years later for me to discover that it was Sally Mann. I can't think of a better way to describe Mann's work than to say that each of her images is powerful enough to haunt you for years. In Hold Still, Mann begins with the idea of a "meuse": the nest-like imprint created when an animal beds down in long grass. With dramatic family history, a deep connection with her Southern heritage, and, of course, photographs, Mann explores the imprint that has both influenced and been created around her life as an artist and human. Reading this memoir is like listening to a wild relative recount all of the stories of her amazing life, only that relative also happens to be one of America's most renowned (and controversial!) photographers. I loved every page of it. - K
What I loved about this memoir is how Macdonald builds her story through several moving parts: a close reading of T.H. White's The Goshawk, childhood memories of her father and her love of White's book, and how these two converge to shape the present as she grieves her father and trains her own goshawk, Mabel. A poet, historian, and passionate falconer, Macdonald writes of her experience in such a satisfying way - I could relate to both her grief and her yearning to understand the meaning behind her own story. -K
All I can say about this novel is that it is pure emotion on paper. On the surface, A Little Life follows the lives of four close college friends as they grow into adulthood. It is impossible to reduce this novel to a plotline, though - the experience of the novel takes precedence over the story itself. For me, this book is about the power of the past and of human relationships, and is ultimately an exploration of the deep struggle of being a human being. Equal parts beautiful and heartwrenching, this is one of the most extraordinary books that I have ever read. -K
It's rare to read a novel that makes me feel like the author is literally inventing a new way to tell a story. Brian Selznick doesn't just pair illustrations with text, but rather seamlessly moves between text and illustration, using pictures to tell entire sections of the story. The Invention of Hugo Cabret follows an orphan boy living in a train station in Paris, alternating between words and images. Selznick's Wonderstruck tells the story of Ben and Rose, two characters living 50 years apart whose lives intersect in amazing ways. Ben's story is told through text, while Rose's storyline is entirely illustrated. These are beautiful books that push the boundaries of storytelling! -K
Gaiman's collections of shorter works are such a treat for me because I get to see what he fills his time with outside of his more well-known projects. Gaiman is present in many spheres, and this collection is certainly representative of that. Trigger Warning contains a few of Gaiman's many side projects - a Sherlock Holmes tale, a Doctor Who story, a series inspired by a Twitter poll, and an ode to Ray Bradbury all number among my new favorite works of his. A must-read for Gaiman fans! -K
This novel is Gaiman at his most distilled - a fantastical and at times terrifying world exists alongside our own, and storytelling and myth prove to be the most powerful tools against everything that threatens Ocean's young narrator. Ocean taps into the deep emotional space of memory and myth and is ultimately a beautiful, edgy fairy tale about being a human being. Also, I dare you to not fall in love with the Hempstock women! -K
Originally published as a weekly series in the San Francisco Chronicle, All Over Coffee pairs beautifully drawn cityscapes with poetic musings delivered at the pace of a comic strip. Madonna's words read like overheard conversations somehow meant for the listener, seemingly mundane but also perfectly timed and deeply meaningful. Coupled with Madonna's unique drawings, All Over Coffee's panels feel like a series of beautifully composed moments that, as a collection, somehow convey the deep hum of an urban environment as people go about their lives alongside one another. -K
David Mitchell takes on the haunted house story? I'm in. This novel is all dreary skies and spooky alleys and that creepy house that you just know has seen some sinister things. This novel reads well as a spooky standalone, although fans will certainly spot glimmering threads from other Mitchell stories. Between the fascinating cast of narrators and the mystery behind what happens in Slade House, I devoured his book. -k
Told through a series of near-death experiences, I Am, I Am, I Am breaks from a chronological narrative to mimic memory itself, each chapter rising to the surface before becoming sensory and deeply visceral. While the subtitle suggests a preoccupation with death, O'Farrell's title & epigraph (a line from The Bell Jar) reveal the memoir's true heart: an unconventional and revelatory delve into what it means to be alive. As O'Farrell revisits each of the times when her life nearly ended but didn't, I was left considering all of the other everyday moments in between, and how thinking of life in such impermanent terms changes their hue. Yet, written as guidance to a daughter living with a life-threatening illness, O'Farrell's memoir isn't only asking us to appreciate life, but also to see that life will hurt, for all of us. Nevertheless, being truly alive means taking big, gulping breaths of it anyway.