What are your favorite things to read that aren’t books?

I’ve lamented a good deal on this blog about my reading slumps and how I wish I read so much more than I actually do. But it occurred to me recently that I never actually stop reading–I just read different things. When I’m struggling to focus on a book, I often dive headfirst into Twitter, for better or worse.

Another favorite of mine is advice columns: even at my reading slump-iest, I never, ever fall more than a couple days behind on Ask a Manager, Captain Awkward, or Dear Prudence.

I also spend tons and tons and tons of time reading longform articles online, usually ones I’ve found through Twitter or one of the myriad email newsletters I subscribe to. My favorite genre of these are deep-dives into scammers and government and corporate corruption (especially in Silicon Valley), followed closely by celebrity profiles and cultural criticism.

The fashion blogs Tom & Lorenzo and Go Fug Yourself fill up many of my hours, though I rarely if ever pick up an actual print fashion magazine thanks to the mainstream fashion press’s rampant body-shaming.

Finally, while I’m not a fan of audiobooks, I do spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, which I view as a first cousin to reading online content. My ongoing favorites are Stuff You Should Know, Sawbones, My Brother My Brother and Me, the Dear Prudence podcast, the late great Thirst Aid Kit (which I hope shall ride again), and NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. I also love heavily season-based or one-off shows like Dirty John and Slow Burn.

All this got me thinking: why am I so hard on myself for “not reading,” when I’m clearly never “not reading”? (The answer is, of course, perfectionism, generalized anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder! But my point still stands.)

As the internet becomes more and more dominant in our lives, I have to wonder if our ideas about what constitutes “reading” and even what’s reviewed and analyzed on our beloved book blogs and in literary criticism will change, too.

Fanfiction has already crossed over into the mainstream, with Francis Spufford writing a much-anticipated “unauthorized” Narnia novel. (It’s fanfic, dude! You’re just writing fanfic.) Fifty Shades of Grey is part of that same blurring of the lines between “fiction” and “fan,” just a little tawdrier.

So what will it look like when we come to see internet texts–in all their ever-shifting, precarious (look at what happens when beloved outlets like The Toast and The Hairpin go offline) glory–as just as worthy as books?

I feel like print magazines are in a similar nebulous space, and they’re much older than the internet, so maybe there’s no hope for internet words after all. The New Yorker is my favorite magazine (which is why I was so thrilled to be in their letters to the editor section earlier this year, *shameless plug*), and it happens to be one of the snootiest highest-browest literary publications out there. But even then, I never seem to count the time I spend sitting down with an issue of The New Yorker as “reading” in the same way I’d count the time I spend reading a book.

I’m curious what the rest of you think. What do you read when you’re not reading books, and how do you feel about it? For those of you who do read and love audiobooks, do you have trouble convincing yourself that it’s “real reading” (and do you think podcasts count at all)? What words do you weigh as worthier than others?

Let’s chat all about it in the comments!

I’m not reviewing MONDAY’S NOT COMING by Tiffany D. Jackson (but you should read it anyway)

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson is one of the best YA novels I’ve ever read. It’s up there for best novel of all time, too. It’s engrossing, pitch-perfect, and elegantly plotted, and its characters are so real it’s hard to remember that this is fiction, not fact.

Unfortunately, that intensity and reality made this an extremely triggering book for me, and I won’t be doing a normal review of it, even though I loved it.

Here’s the description, from Goodreads:

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?

Triggers in this book include graphic child abuse and general violence, as well as some references to sexual abuse and violence. To a lesser extent this book has triggers for racism and bullying, since a large component of the novel is that the main character, Claudia, who is Black, is not believed by the police or her peers in school.

Obviously, triggers are different for everyone, and sometimes I hesitate to include trigger warnings in my reviews because what throws up red flags for me might be perfectly fine for someone else, and what would bother someone else might not even register for me. But Monday’s Not Coming has so much difficult content that I wanted to give my readers a heads up.

On the brighter side, even if you do find this book traumatic, you might find it cathartic, too. Tiffany D. Jackson is so good at writing about how hard it is to be a teen girl. You can tell how much she cares about teens’ real-life experiences. Many teens have lived through things worse than some adults could ever imagine, and by writing about those things honestly, Tiffany D. Jackson is helping those teens (whether they’re still teens or now-adults, like me) feel seen.

That’s pretty special, especially for the Black girls out there who get much less good representation than white teens and adults like me do.

I really loved this book, despite everything it dredged up for me. As long as it’s safe for you to read, I highly recommend it. ★★★★★

Monday's Not Coming Cover

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

  • publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of HarperCollins)
  • publication date: May 22, 2018
  • length: 448 pages

Books and reviews you might also enjoy:

I purchased my own copy of Monday’s Not Coming and was in no way compensated for this post.

Book Review: INCENDIARY GIRLS by Kodi Scheer

Incendiary Girls is a literary short story collection that stays firmly in the realm of magical realism. Kodi Scheer is excellent at incorporating the magical elements, but despite the magic, Incendiary Girls is boring. Its stories are gruesome and uncomfortable with little emotional payoff; characters are bitter and selfish without having the necessary quality of “interesting.” Some of the imagery comes off as blatantly bigoted, and it’s not clear to me if Kodi Scheer was intending to critique those images or if she’s just blandly perpetuating them.

I don’t mind difficult stories as long as I feel changed at the end, but all I felt at the end of Incendiary Girls was annoyed. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t like this collection at all, and at times I even actively loathed it.

You can read my full review below.

Incendiary Girls Cover
cover description: a white Arabian horse against a stark black background.

Incendiary Girls by Kodi Scheer

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  • publisher: New Harvest (an imprint of Amazon Publishing)
  • publication date: April 2014
  • length: 208 pages

Incendiary Girls is a tight spiral of a short story collection, eleven stories that all circle the same handful of themes and motifs: medicine, death, sex, motherhood, and intercultural and interracial relationships. None of the stories are technically linked, but all contain small nods to the others. All take place in a universe of magical realism: there’s always least one bizarre and impossible element always in play, and it’s always treated with complete seriousness.

It’s an intriguing structure that gives Incendiary Girls a cohesive, distinctive feel. The problem is that the stories themselves don’t work.

I found ten of the eleven stories here to be irredeemably gruesome, tacky, confusing, and often tone-deaf. Body horror abounds: dissection, graphically described tumors, and melting skin are all par for the course. It’s not something I would mind if there were meaning or at least entertainment in all the suffering, but I rarely found it. Character arcs barely budge. The dark humor doesn’t land. It comes off like a stodgy slasher film. (Is there anything worse than a stodgy slasher film?)

More disturbingly, the collection is steeped in creepy racism and other bigotry (in dialogue, first-person monologue, and even third-person narration), and it was unclear to me if Kodi Scheer was deliberately writing about bigots or if she simply didn’t realize it was bigotry at all.

There are are ways to write about racists without a whole story coming off as racist. Scheer just never pulls it off cleanly.

In “Transplant,” a blonde, pale woman gets a heart transplant, and her skin and hair literally get darker and thicker in the aftermath. She suddenly decides to convert to Islam and speculates about whether or not her donor heart came from someone Muslim. Then her body rejects the heart and she goes back to being blonde and sort of atheist. The whole thing is dripping with orientalism, and again, I can’t tell if it’s a critique of orientalism or the real deal. Hmm.

Tied for the two most bafflingly offensive stories were “When a Camel Breaks Your Heart,” about a white American woman dating an Arab Muslim man who’s embarrassed to bring her home–he then literally turns into a camel, whom she sends to a zoo–and “Primal Son,” about a couple struggling to conceive who try to adopt an infant from China and but then miraculously conceive and have a monkey for a baby. They end up moving to Tanzania after. You know, in Africa. Because they’re monkeys now?


I sincerely hope that I’m misreading all of this and that Scheer is actually trying to say something nuanced and complicated. I’m being sincere when I say that is my sincere hope! I’m desperate for more complicated and messy narratives around race and desire, and I absolutely don’t think there’s only one correct way to write about those topics.

But the optics here are…bad. There’s no challenge to characters’ bigotry, no pushback on unsavory ideas. It’s plausibly deniable Schrödinger’s racism that’s even more grating to me than an openly racist narrative would be. It’s all just ambiguous enough to make me feel like I’m overreacting by calling it racist.

But I’m officially going to come down on the side of calling this book racist. If your points about racism are so subtle that a racist reader might still enjoy your story comfortably, then I think you’ve failed both morally and technically as a writer.

I will allow that Scheer has an admirable grip on when to use magical realism: i.e., when real world imagery isn’t as effective at conveying an emotion or experience as magical imagery would be. I liked the use of magic in Incendiary Girls. That’s difficult to do and I admire that. It’s just the how part of using magical realism where I feel she’s slipped.

In “Primal Son,” for example, I’m not objecting wholesale to an allegory for infertility in which a woman gives birth to a monkey. I’m objecting to the total obliviousness involved in having a white-seeming couple give birth to a monkey and then slowly turn into monkeys themselves, culminating in them moving to Africa.

In the story “Ex-Utero,” which takes place in a hospital, a man with congenital adrenal hyperplasia–a very real intersex condition–discovers that he’s pregnant and begs for an emergency abortion. This is juxtaposed with rolling power blackouts and treated as a sign of the end of the world.

I don’t inherently object to a magical realist story about a “pregnant man”; I do object to a story that dehumanizes a character with a real life condition, treating him more like a freak show cadaver than a person. He’s not even a main character with agency or an inner life–the protagonist of “Ex-Utero” is instead a competitive, striving female doctor doing her residency, who delights in watching the man be cut open for the abortion.

Compounding the moral muddiness, a lot of the writing in Incendiary Girls is simply not good. Clichés abound. Dialogue thuds. Cheap twist endings come out of nowhere. There are a few beautiful sentences and emotional revelations here, but they’re buried by the crud.

The one story in Incendiary Girls that did fully work for me was called “No Monsters Here.” It’s about a woman with OCD who’s raising her daughter alone while her husband is working as a medic in the Middle East. She slowly discovers his body parts lying around the house and desperately tries to hide them in a linen closet so she doesn’t disturb her daughter; she realizes her husband must be missing or dead, and frantically tries to come to terms with that fact.

“No Monsters Here” is an urgent, palpable, desperate-feeling story about mental illness, loss, motherhood, and legacy. The imagery of the body parts fit the subject material perfectly. It didn’t wander off on strange and offensive tangents. It was well-written and haunting and I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, it made up only one-eleventh of this book. ★☆

I purchased my own copy of Incendiary Girls and was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 5.10.19


Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

I didn’t think I’d get a chance to write a Friday Bookbag at all this week, after spending all day Wednesday and yesterday packing, and all of this morning (and most of the afternoon) moving stuff into our new place. Luckily everything went way faster than I thought it would. I’m unbelievably sore and tired, and more than a little cranky, but we’re in! I’ve got internet, a comfy couch, snacks, and my laptop. That’s all this blogger really needs.

Let’s dive in!

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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A Tale for the Time Being cover
cover description: The cover is made up of horizontal stripes with different images, including a forest, a book, waves, and what looks like the face of a child or a doll.

the premise: From Goodreads:

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. 

why I’m excited: I first picked this up at the library a year or so ago, but never got around to reading it, so this week I snapped it up while its e-book version was on sale for $1.99 (as of this writing, it’s still on sale at Amazon). The premise of this novel reminds me a bit of Life of Pi by Yann Martel: the novelist-named-Ruth part is meta, and Nao’s life sounds like a sort of coming-of-age story smashed together with a disaster story. This sounds lovely and unusual and sad. I can’t wait.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

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I Believe in a Thing Called Love Cover
cover description: A Korean American teen girl is smiling. To her right, a teen boy stands mostly out of the frame. The image is black and white with pink and yellow accents.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.”

why I’m excited: I’ve been loving romances and romantic comedies lately, so I thought I’d give a YA one a spin. This got great reviews when it came out in 2017, and that cover is too darn cute!

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

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Everything Here is Beautiful Cover
cover description: The lower half of a woman’s face is visible. She looks serious. The rest of the cover is made up of multicolored silhouettes of butterflies.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth. 

Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them?”

why I’m excited: I don’t normally pay a ton of attention to author blurbs–I like to read reviews instead–but a glowing recommendation from Celeste Ng did sell me on this one. (Ng wrote Little Fires Everywhere, one of my favorite books of recent years.) This looks like a sensitive, complex, and loving portrait of mental illness and the ways it can strain already-complicated family relationships. This is something Celeste Ng is also really good at, hence why I gave her blurb so much weight! I’m really looking forward to reading this.

What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

Book Review: THE KISS QUOTIENT by Helen Hoang

What is it about fictional faked or arranged relationships that’s so darn charming? Is it the forbidden-ness of the feelings that inevitably pop up? The unbearable sexiness of the fake-but-not-fake kisses–and more? Whatever the root of that charm is, The Kiss Quotient has it in spades. Stella is autistic and a gifted econometrist. She’s not really interested in dating and sex, but decides she might like those things more if she were better at them–so she hires tortured, smoking hot professional escort Michael to teach her. They start falling for each other during their sexy “lessons,” but Stella’s fear of not being enough and Michael’s tragic past threaten to keep them apart.

The Kiss Quotient is fun, funny, adorable, and most importantly, extremely scorchingly sexy. Like…maybe don’t read it in public levels of sexy. It’s a little rough in places–in particular, I think its happily-ever-after wraps up way too fast–but its contagious charm and the awesome chemistry between the two leads more than make up for the few flaws. This is a fantastic romance.

You can read my full review below.

The Kiss Quotient Cover.jpg

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

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  • publisher: Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
  • publication date: June 5, 2018
  • length: 336 pages

Was Philip right? Did she dislike sex because she was bad at it? Would practice really make perfect? What a beguiling concept. Maybe sex was just another interpersonal thing she needed to exert extra efforts on–like casual conversation, eye contact, and etiquette.

But how exactly did you practice sex?

–from The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

If you’re blunt, anxious, shy, particular, and/or easily overwhelmed–whether or not you have an autism diagnosis–you’re going to find a lot to love in The Kiss Quotient’s protagonist, Stella Lane.

Stella is a competent, happy 30-something whose life is going swimmingly. She doesn’t need to be fixed and she definitely doesn’t need pity. She’s autistic and thriving, and very good at dealing with the challenges of living in a mostly-allistic world.

There’s just one thing missing: Stella has never really enjoyed dating, kissing, or sex, and she wonders if there’s some way to fix that. Maybe she just needs practice. Luckily, she has plenty of money to hire a male escort to teach her.

That escort is Michael, a secretive, movie-star-levels-of-hot Vietnamese-Swedish guy who practices kendo and dreams of starting his own fashion line. He hates escorting. It’s nothing but a way to turn the good looks he hates into a way to pay for his mother’s expensive medical care.

Until he meets Stella. That’s when Michael starts to actually enjoy sex. He agrees to keep seeing Stella until she’s an expert at sex and relationships. Then they’ll each move on, no strings attached…

Except that’s not how it works out! Of course that’s not how it works out. They develop feeeeeeelings! (And have amazing sex along the way.)

What I loved the most about The Kiss Quotient was its sexiness. It would have been very easy for a romance with an autistic protagonist to be overly chaste and sweet. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with chaste and sweet–it’s just that almost all pop culture about autistic people tends to treat them as childlike and childish, when that’s very much not the case for many autistic adults. I was glad it broke out of that box.

Instead, The Kiss Quotient uses Stella’s particular way of looking at the world to add sexy fuel to the fire. She’s hypersensitive to Michael’s scent, skin-on-skin sensations, and to the taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream shared through a kiss. Loud music at a club stresses her out, but she loves the piano, so she and Michael bond over a Heart and Soul duet. Stella is very particular about comfortable clothes, so Michael introduces her to yoga pants that make her butt look good, and he even sews her a soft new evening dress.

Each of those sensual and tender moments ratchets up the stakes–and the heat. Every single sex scene in The Kiss Quotient easily ranks as one of the best I’ve ever read. Easily. I won’t go into NSFW detail, but if you like steamy romance, you’ll love this.

I’m not autistic, but I do have OCD, and the way it manifests for me means I have a few of the classic characteristics of autism: hypersensitivity, social anxiety, and obsessive thinking in particular. Stella’s way of looking at the world was similar to mine in a way I hardly ever get to read about, and it made me feel seen and cherished as a romance reader.

In addition to Stella’s autism, Michael’s Vietnamese family is also a welcome addition to the romance formula. Michael feels a mixture of protectiveness and pride towards his family–he’s in a similar situation to Carlos in The Proposal to Jasmine Guillory–and like Carlos, he needs to learn to trust that they can take care of themselves, just like he needs to learn to trust his own feelings towards Stella.

The Vietnamese cultural elements of the novel don’t just feel like window-dressing. It’s not just about food, or clothes, or other details that are easy to “research” on Wikipedia. The Kiss Quotient uses Michael’s Vietnamese-ness more to talk about what it means to be part of a big immigrant family, and the benefits and pressures that can come with that. It forwards Michael’s character development in a fascinating way.

In this review so far I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the characters and not a whole lot talking about the writing, and I think that’s because Helen Hoang’s writing style in The Kiss Quotient is very basic. She captures sensory details eloquently, but the dialogue isn’t really anything special. The internal monologues are a little clunky, and the way the novel wraps up happens so quickly and matter-of-factly that I felt a tiny bit cheated. I wanted to roll around in the happily-ever-after, not move briskly on to the brief epilogue.

But those are truly minor quibbles in comparison to all the great stuff Hoang accomplishes here. I will absolutely be reading whatever she does next. (Her next novel, The Bride Testis linked to The Kiss Quotient through a supporting character, and I can’t wait to read it.)

If you’re looking for a romance that runs deep emotionally but is also fun, flirty, and sexy on the surface, it would be hard to do better than The Kiss Quotient. This book rocked. ★★☆

Books and reviews you might also enjoy:

I purchased my own copy of The Kiss Quotient and was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 5.3.19


Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

My wife and I officially closed on our new condo this week! This interminable move is about to officially come to an end. I’m currently on cloud nine. In fact, I’ve been so excited that I’ve found it a little difficult to focus on reading all the books I bring home. 😬 It doesn’t help that our new place is right next door to a massive library, so this problem is likely only going to get worse. Sigh. (Good thing it’s not really a problem, no?)

This week I’ve got a daring historical spy romance, a literary Lizzie Borden story, a Gilded Age sci-fi novel, and a whole lot more in my super-sized bookbag. Let’s dive in!

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

An Extraordinary Union
cover description: a Black woman wearing a white Civil War era dress stands in a doorway and looks back over her shoulder with an anxious expression.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South—to spy for the Union Army.

Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet—risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia.

Two undercover agents who share a common cause—and an undeniable attraction—Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy’s favor. Caught in a tightening web of wartime intrigue, and fighting a fiery and forbidden love, Malcolm and Elle must make their boldest move to preserve the Union at any cost—even if it means losing each other…”

why I’m excited: First of all, Alyssa Cole is a wildly acclaimed author (I already own, and am soon planning to read, A Princess in Theory, a contemporary romance of hers). Second of all, this premise would stand on its own: Civil War spies falling in love while deep undercover and in deadly danger? It doesn’t get more gripping than that.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

See What I Have Done Cover
cover description: A pigeon’s head seems to melt into a blue blob of dripping paint on a cream-colored background.

the premise: See What I Have Done tells the story of the infamous Lizzie Borden murders through the eyes of four unreliable narrators: Lizzie herself, her sister Emma, their housemaid Bridget, and a stranger. Emma comforts the distraught Lizzie in the aftermath of the murders of their father and stepmother, but as Lizzie slowly pieces together her fragmented, fateful memories of August 4, 1892, the bonds between the two sisters will be tested.

why I’m excited: I’m curious about this one. Reviews seem to be mixed, I think the premise is a teensy bit overwrought (the memory weirdness and unreliable narrator components in particular), and it doesn’t seem like it follows the historical record very closely. But I enjoy reading about the Lizzie Borden case enough that I decided to brave what could be a big disappointment. I’m hoping it’ll be reminiscent of Alias Grace, the Margaret Atwood novel turned excellent Netflix series about a similar 19th century double murder.

MEM by Bethany C. Morrow

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Mem Paperback Cover
cover description: Two faces that share one neck and upper body are silhouetted against a red background.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source ― zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept. 

And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault.”

why I’m excited: I have to admit that I’m confused by this premise as much as I’m intrigued by it. What’s…the point of having a Mem, exactly? Why is it useful to have an automaton thing relive a singular memory over and over? I’m hoping it’ll be clearer once I start reading. Anyway, Blade Runner meets The Great Gatsby is a cool enough aesthetic to make me forgive this book an awful lot of ills, if there are indeed a lot of ills here.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

The Library at Mount Char Cover
cover description: The sun sets behind a dark house with lit windows. The house is visible through a hole burnt in book pages.

the premise: I’m not really sure I know. There’s an awfully long description on Goodreads, a bit longer than I’m willing to copy over here. Let’s go with just this section of it:

“A missing God.
A library with the secrets to the universe. 
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.”

And this one, too:

“Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.”

Sounds awesome, no?

why I’m excited: It’s a book about a supernatural library and, it seems, a God who lives in a supernatural library. Hell yeah, I’m excited for this one. This seems a little reminiscent of American Gods, a book I really enjoyed; I’m a sucker for stories about mortals and immortals colliding, and I especially love the ones where the main character is at risk of losing their humanity. I can’t wait to read this.

How to Love a Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs

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How to Love a Jamaican Cover
cover description: stylized, painted vines burst with orange fruit and purple flowers against a bright yellow background.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

In “Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In “Mash Up Love,” a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother—the prodigal son of the family—stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In “Bad Behavior,” a mother and father leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In “Mermaid River,” a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In “The Ghost of Jia Yi,” a recently murdered international student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in “Shirley from a Small Place,” a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.”

why I’m excited: There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the short story space, and this collection looks like no exception. I’m especially loving short story collections that tackle diasporas: I recently reviewed and loved Useful Phrases for Immigrants by May-Lee Chai and White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar, both of which similarly driven by diasporic experience. A short story collection seems like the perfect format to capture experiences that are so wide-ranging and similar at the same time. I’m looking forward to this.

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

No One Can Pronounce My Name Cover
cover description: a drab blue and white striped tie hangs like a necklace over a bright pink and gold sari background.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“In a suburb outside Cleveland, a community of Indian Americans has settled into lives that straddle the divide between Eastern and Western cultures. For some, America is a bewildering and alienating place where coworkers can’t pronounce your name but will eagerly repeat the Sanskrit phrases from their yoga class. Harit, a lonely Indian immigrant in his midforties, lives with his mother who can no longer function after the death of Harit’s sister, Swati. In a misguided attempt to keep both himself and his mother sane, Harit has taken to dressing up in a sari every night to pass himself off as his sister. Meanwhile, Ranjana, also an Indian immigrant in her midforties, has just seen her only child, Prashant, off to college. Worried that her husband has begun an affair, she seeks solace by writing paranormal romances in secret. When Harit and Ranjana’s paths cross, they begin a strange yet necessary friendship that brings to light their own passions and fears.”

why I’m excited: This just looks lovely. I love this kind of quiet-with-a-touch-of-humor, grief-stricken family drama (the premise reminds me a little bit of Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng). I’m looking forward to spending an afternoon with this one.

What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

10 things moving will make you realize about your books (a story in 10 gifs)

celebration close up decoration design
Image description: A red heart ornament tied to packing paper and string. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. You’re never going to read that one. Really. Let it go.

Queen Elsa Frozen Gif 1
image description: Elsa from Frozen singing “Let It Go.”

2. You’re never going to re-read this one. It’s dead weight. Let it goooo.

Queen Elsa Frozen Gif
image description: Elsa from Frozen, still singing the catchiest song in the world.

3. You’re never going to re-read this one either…but you loved it so much the first time that it’s unimaginably precious anyway. Into the box it goes.

Gollum Gif
image description: Gollum hissing about his precious.

4. Hardcovers are so heavy. Stop buying hardcovers.

Mr. Potato Head Gif
image description: Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story’s arms fall off as he struggles to lift Tinker Toy dumbbell.

5. But this hardcover is so pretty…

Beauty and the Beast Gif
image description: Belle from Beauty and the Beast hugs a book

6. You forgot you had this one. You remember reading it. You remember that salsa stain and each individual dog-ear. It’s like running into somebody you used to know, the person who makes you realize now just how much you’ve changed. Usually for the better, but maybe a little bit for the worse? You lie on the floor and think about life and death and stuff for awhile.

Scott Pilgrim Gif
image description: Scott Pilgrim tells Ramona Flowers that he’s going to leave her alone forever now.

7. You forgot you had this one, too. You’ve never read it. It was a gift from someone close, someone who’s gone now, someone who shared your love of reading. You love it, but you know you’re never going to read it. You gently place it in the get-rid-of box, trusting that your memory of that kind and thoughtful gift is enough.

Coco Gif.gif
image description: Miguel from Coco plays “Remember Me” on the guitar in a room full of lit candles.

8. Or you keep it, even though you’ll never read it. After all, you’ve packed up far less worthy mementos today.

Peggy Mad Men Gif
Image description: Peggy from Mad Men walks down an office hallway carrying a heavy box and looking badass.

9. The dust and wear on all of these is gnarly. Jesus. You should take better care of your books.

Cat on Bookshelf
image description: A cat climbs on the top shelf of a bookshelf, pulling a bunch of books to the floor before falling off.

But seriously–you’re never going to take better care of your books. It’s okay! They’ll probably outlive you anyway. (And you find that thought strangely comforting.)

Belle Opening Scene Gif
image description: Belle from Beauty and the Beast swings from a bookshelf ladder in the opening scene of the movie.