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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.
Easy Beauty is a profound meditation on disability, motherhood and identity. Chloe Cooper Jones is insightful, sharp, thoughtful and incredibly honest. She's a keen observer and writes about what it means to be defined as "disabled" - to travel around the world to Italy, Cambodia, attend a Beyonce concert and to be a mother when others view you with an absence and a lack. She invites us into the inner chamber of her heart and recounts her own restlessness as a mother and as a wife. Easy Beauty shows we must choose to love ourselves, our partners and our families every day and lets us know it's ok when some days it's not an easy decision. This memoir shook me to my core - not just because I was forced to confront my own abelism. But also because I felt a kinship. "I lacked the language," she says at one point. When you do not fit the mainstream perceptions of beauty and being (able-bodied, white, straight, cis gender) there is very little room in language to allow yourself to see yourself. Being Asian and Brown, this is a feeling I know too well. There is a likeness I could identify with even though our experiences are so vastly different. Reading this book not only has pushed me to confront the binaries that still exist in my mind, but also a pathway to a new language and new way of being. Easy Beauty is a revelation and everyone should read it.
This Time Tomorrow is a time-traveling novel, filled with 90s nostalgia. As Alice turns 40, she feels like she's sleepwalking through life and finding it hard to come to terms with her dying father who she visits regularly in the hospital. After a night of drinking she accidentally travels back to her 16th birthday and sets off a chain of unforgettable events. There is a lot of heart in this novel and it made mine leap out of my chest. The novels asks, if you could go back in time, where would you go? Who would you want to see? How would you spend your time? Ever since the pandemic started, I’ve imagined what I would do differently if I knew the world was going to shut down. If I had known how I move about the world was going to alter dramatically, what would have been my last act. And well this is a novel for today. A reminder to hold your loved ones close - however you can in an isolated world. Tell your friends you love them. If you have the power and privilege to do so, devote your time to life and living and less to work. This Time Tomorrow is a novel with perspective about perspective. It’s a homage to adolescence and a love letter to the nineties. It’s about familial love, platonic love, romantic love, teenage love and love of oneself. This Time Tomorrow is the ultimate love story. I want more love stories like this. Thank you Emma for your beautiful book!
Woman of Light is EPIC. It's cross-generational, matriarchal, gender non-conforming and is the the American West my heart knows. I was reminded of C. Pam Zhang's How Much of These Hills is Gold while reading it because like Zhang's novel, Woman of Light unearths the forgotten stories of the American West. And as with Sabrina & Corina the female-identifying characters cross age and background and show "women's work" is not a trop but the foundation of community. This novel is ferocious, bold and tender. At the center of the novel is matriarch Marie Josie, Luz a tea leaf reader and her brother Diego a snake charmer who is run out of town by a violent, white mob. It's a novel about family secrets, land, myth and love. It's about our ancesestors and reclaiming our stories. The prose is radiant, the characters are unforgettable. Woman of Light is a remarkable debut novel.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades is a poetic celebration of the working class, immigrant families in Queens. It’s a novel about womanhood, becoming, leaving home and finding home, and female friendship. Brown Girls pays tribute to the beauty, complexity and depth of family, self and identity through a chorus of voices that is innovative and captivating.
With wit and tenderness, Xochitl Gonzalez dissects the thorny crossroads of family, unconditional love, identity and home in her debut novel Olga Dies Dreaming. Gonzalez doesn’t flinch from tackling topics of colonialism, gentrification and capitalism and the ways it marks marginalized communities in unimaginable ways. But she does so with warmth and humor. Olga Dies Dreaming is a remarkable debut novel about loss, love, family, politics and the people and places we call home.
High-Risk Homosexual by Edgar Gomez has my heart! This memoir is hilarious! But it is also a poignant and searing examination of machismo culture in the Latinx community. Gomez dissects the gender dynamics within Latinx families, speaks with honesty and vulnerability about queerness and what it means to flip those power structures that seem difficult to break. Yet he also writes about the joy at the intersections and ultimately this memoir is a celebration of what it means to be gay and Latinx. If you love Samantha Irby, then High-Risk Homosexual is your next read! It’s thoughtful while still making you LOL.
Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh is luminescent. Blending nature writing, memoir and history, Thin Places is a quietly vivid yet disturbing and wondrous book about national, generational and personal trauma. She describes her family’s experience during the height of the Troubles in Ireland and the terror inflicted on her family - one parent was Catholic, the other Protestant. But it’s also a book about healing and how the natural world helped her process grief and loss and reclaim her identity and sense of home.
Red Paint by Sasha LaPointe is a poetic and punk memoir of indigenous inheritance, healing, and resistance. It’s about indigenous history and spiritual practices and the ways indigenous communities must work to survive and thrive in the face of generational violence and legacies of trauma and the pivotal role female-identifying healers play. LaPointe writes about her own journey to reclaim her heritage and what it means to continually resist erasure. In many ways, Red Paint reminded me of Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot and Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. Red Paint is a powerful reminder, this land is stolen land.
Reptile Memoirs by Silje Ulstein and translated by Alison McCullough is a dark, labyrinthine, literary thriller that had me flinching and cringing but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t look away. There is no way to describe this narrative except to say it is highly orchestrated, shape shifting and utterly exceptional. It's a story you'll never forget.
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?
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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.
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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.