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Books are her best friend and cats her lifelong obsession. She's an Arizona native but considers herself half New Yorker after living in the Big Apple for 10 years. Michelle primarily reads literary fiction and nonfiction (memoirs, essays) and books delving deep into pop culture phenomenons (i.e., The Bachelor) and our cultural consciousness. Books that changed her life include I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez, Motherhood by Sheila Heti, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and There There by Tommy Orange. But she's also a sucker for a good romance and will always recommend anything written by Sarah MacLean, Jasmine Guillory and any story involving Tartan and the Highlands. She loves the Outlander series the way most people love Harry Potter.
All the Water I've Seen Running is a devastating and mesmerizing debut novel. It's been called a story of the American South but it's more universal than that: it's a novel about loss, queerness, family and friendship. When Daniel returns home and reunites with his high school friends after the death of their friend Aubrey, he turns over and over his memories of her, the life they quietly built and must come to terms with who he is and where he's from. It's a novel about race, poverty and class. It's about the secrets we keep and the friendships that get left behind. Like Jacqueline Woodson, this is a big, sweeping, quiet novel that doesn't waste any words. It's story told in full and exacting prose. All the Water I've Seen Running is being touted as a novel for readers of Ocean Vuong and fans of the movie A Big Chill and they aren't wrong.
Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho is a revelation. It's a startling memoir of grief, food, trauma and mental illness and frankly afterwards I was left speechless. Using personal stories, historical context and sociological research, Cho documents her mother's story of war, abandonment, abuse, motherhood, survival and eventual diagnosis with schizophrenia. Tastes Like War is more than a love letter from a daughter to her mother. It's also a testament of female resilience and survival: it's an homage to motherhood, the women who died in the Korean War, the "comfort women" of war, and history's "hysterical women." Cho takes a hard and questioning look at mental health practices and diagnoses and the way women of color are ignored, misdiagnosed and mistreated; and she investigates the way systemic racism, war and social and cultural trauma can cause severe mental health disorders. My mind was blown while reading this book. Tastes Like War is a book that doesn't leave you. Its a book that lingers and marks your heart and I am grateful for it.
Jaime Cortez tells the stories that Steinbeck forgot. Here in Gordo are stories of Latinx migrant workers and farmers, many who are undocumented, but nonetheless work day and night to farm and pick the food we eat. These are the stories of their children with dreams and desires that are constricted by circumstance but no less expansive. There is the main character Gordo, struggling to understand his place in the world as he comes to terms with his own queerness and imposed hetero-masculinity. Fat Cookie, an artist who flees Central Valley and farms with her mother’s boyfriend. There is family drama, drunken brawls and yes dance contests. These stories are filled with grit, tenderness and undeniable humor and begs the question: who belongs in America?
Nightbitch is a feral story of motherhood and its discontents. It's about a woman who puts her art career, creativity and desires on hold to be a stay-at-home mom. One day while taking a break from her toddler son's demands she starts to notice changes happening to her body - patches of hair, sharper canines - an otherworldly transformation that's not only physical but internal as well. Dark desires begin to emerge and what ensues is a brilliant and satirical novel about art, power, motherhood, society and marriage. Nightbitch is unnerving. The hairs on the back of your head will stand up in one moment and you'll howl with laughter the next. I could not walk away from the novel once I started and I doubt you will either. Rachel Yoder has created a fairy tale and psychological horror novel that is thoughtful and leaves you breathless. A must read for all those Carmen Maria Machado fans.
I read Sad Janet in 2020 while sitting in a hotel room in Dallas right as the world was shutting down because of COVID. Reading this book is one of my most vivid memories from last year. It is of course about sadness and the world's infinite craze of trying to make people happy. Janet has depression and those closest to her try to "fix" her medication and other "remedies." But Janet sees nothing wrong in her pessimism and bleak outlook. In fact, much to everyone's dismay, Janet is quite content with herself. While reading this book I was reminded of how the TV show You're the Worst portrayed depression with honesty, empathy and great comedic timing. That's Sad Janet. It's a quiet novel that asks big questions (i.e., what is happiness) while also questioning how and why men try to control female emotions and desires. But in the end it's ultimately a story about self-love, friendship and the many ways we can live and also thrive.
Dog Flowers is a moving and tender portrait of a daughter's unfailing love and duty towards her absent and alcoholic parents. Told through archival photos and research, Danielle Geller mines through the past of her childhood, her sister and her parents to come to understand their family fractures and fault lines. Geller uses her background in archives to write her story and that of her parents with a sense of remove and in doing so writes the many ways we love and caretake for ourselves and those we love - even when maybe the world tells us they don't deserve it. Dog Flowers is a humbling read.
Matrix by Lauren Groff is a triumph! Set in medieval Europe, Matrix is a story about mysticism and nuns. When 17-year-old Marie de France is deemed too masculine for marriage she's sent off to a starving abbey. Little did they know how she would transform the abbey, the women and history itself. On Twitter Groff said the story was inspired after "a talk on medieval liturgy by nuns, and my brain exploded into rainbows.” Well after reading this book, my brain exploded with rainbows too. Matrix writes about faith, church, sexuality, desire and power through a feminist lens. The novel begs the question of what does church and its tenets look like without men? What is sexuality and gender and desire when not controlled by patriarchy? This is a historical novel, a philosophical novel, a feminist text but more imporantly a remarkable read. A day hasn't gone by that I haven't marveled at the nuns who occupy this story and now my heart. Matrix is Groff's best book yet!
I've been obsessed with Dolly Alderton ever since she was the dating columnist (2015-2017) for UK's The Sunday Times. I was an avid listener to The High Low podcast (if you haven't heard of it before I beg you to take a listen) and I read her Dear Dolly column in The Sunday Times religiously. Needless to say, I'm a fan. But I didn't think it was possible to love her anymore than I already do until I read Ghosts. The novel is about the perennially single Nina who meets the seemingly perfect man, Max, on a dating app who disappears after he says "I love you." In the midst of it all is her father's failing health with dementia, her mother's inability to cope and a crumbling friendship. Ghosts is sharp, witty, insightful and incredibly tender. Alderton is a keen observer of human behavior similar to Sally Rooney, except you'll laugh more, smirk while reading and feel relieved you're not alone. This book will break and mend your heart simultaneously. But then again, that is the nature of love. Ghosts is a novel that dares to show how we love and the lengths we go to hold onto it.
Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Olivia is the ultimate pop-rock opera. It's a poetry collection, a memoir, and a song crafted as one. This is a book that cannot be categorized and any description is insufficient. But suffice it to say it's a book in verse about a poet who resurrects Selena from the dead. It's a zombie-horror-fantasy wet dream and let me tell you I am here for it! Each page reverberates with desire, grief and longing. There is a grotesque love affair unfolding on the page between the cast, Melissa, Selena and Yolanda that is awkward and unholy and ugly and full of tenderness and heart. Dreaming of You is a love story and a tribute to everyone who identifies as a woman. It's a book that redefines narrative, myth and magic and I will forever be haunted by Melissa's creation.
Hola Papi by John Paul Brammer is the Dear Abby book queer, Latinx, Midwestern folx, moms, and abolitionists alike have always wanted but didn't know they needed. This book is hilarious! But it's also tender and kind. This collection of essays is about becoming, acceptance, love and self-love, family, desire, and sex but most importantly about opening your heart to others and to yourself.
Eat the Mouth That Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza is ferocious, gothic, utterly fantastic and unabashadly Chicanx. The short stories in this collection are grotesque, heartbreaking, bizarre, beautiful and full of wonder. Fathers are often absent and Mothers - their grief, pain and fortitude - are the foundation of many of these stories with the children being the harbinger of change, hope and destruction. The stories will slice you in two. The prose in this collection feels so terrifically tight that reading these stories feels like an unraveling. If you read The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, then I strongly suggest you read this magnificient book.
Most great novels usually start off with a great first sentence. INFINITE COUNTRY begins with "It was her idea to tie up the nun." Told primarily from the viewpoint of Talia, the story begins with Talia arrested in Colombia and sent to a Catholic detention center right before she was supposed to leave her father behind and join her mother and siblings in NJ. As her story unfolds, you get the story of her parents, their romance, migration to the US, her father's deportation and the family's struggle to reunite. The narrator says, "People say drugs and alcohol are the greatest and most persuasive narcotics—the elements most likely to ruin a life. They're wrong. It's love." This is a novel about a dream deferred. It's about hope, heartbreak and everything in-between. But ultimately this is a love story.
Historical fiction, mystery and myth are packed into Crossings by Alex Landragin - a whirlwind debut novel reminiscent of Cloud Atlas, Life After Life and even The Time Traveler’s Wife. This is a novel that should not be passed up! The preface to the novel begins, “I didn’t write this book. I stole it” and thus begins the story of three manuscripts delivered to the narrator for bookbinding. How the stories connect is revealed whether the novel is read sequentially or in the “Baroness sequence” - a sequence outlined in the beginning of the book that is reminiscent of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel. It’s a story within the story within the story. It’s a novel that contains multitudes and it’s why I love it so much! I was taken across time and history in the most magical way.