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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.
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.
Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part a portrait of the artist as a young Asian woman, Minor Feelings is a startling collection. I underlined whole pages at times. This book articulates an experience I knew but had no words to describe it. There was only one Asian American narrative that was allowed in books and the media, and mine didn’t fit the box. I thought I was crazy. But Cathy Park Hong sees me. She sees us. This is a sobering and powerful collection of what it means to be invisible, a woman, and artist and the model minority myth.
This is not your traditional horror novel. Where the Wild Ladies Are (named after Where the Wild Things are) is a collection of ghost stories that are retellings of Japanese folklore, but told through the bodies of dead women. These ghostly undead are uninhibited in death and can wreak havoc on those around them. Monsters and myth and shapeshifting figures abound. It’s subversive supernatural fiction at its finest! From a child prodigy who can shapeshift into a fox to a woman who’s haunted by her great aunt after a visit from a hair removal clinic only to have her body grow thick, dense hair all over and the man who’s haunted by the disembodied voice of his dead mother. This book is sinister, dark and bizarrely comic. Every story takes an unexpected left turn. Where the Wild Ladies Are is a true gem.
Unworthy Republic by Claudio Saunt argues in-depth how the dispossession, deportation and genocide of Indigenous peoples was not only a capitalistic endeavor but a powerplay for economic development. What’s particularly powerful about this book is the way Saunt sheds light on the crucial role slave owners played in the expulsion of Indigenous peoples from their land demonstrating how Native history and the history of slavery are inextricably intwined. Reading this book reveals how much they don’t tell you in history classes. This book shows the lengths history was scrubbed, rewritten and erased.
Grieving defies genre. It’s memoir, part essay, part poetry, part cultural critique of how systemic violence affects a nation and its people. It’s a meditation on collective and personal grief and how we heal. Written by 2020 MacArthur Fellow Cristina Rivera Garza, this is an urgent work that tells us more about generational trauma than anything I’ve ever read. Rivera Garza peels back unknown places within ourselves in her writing.
Sad Janet is a quiet gem of a novel. Janet works at a dog shelter which is the only place she feels at home - with the dogs who are unwanted, still looking for someone to accept them and love them. You see Janet has depression and her family is constantly trying to "fix" her and help her feel happy when in fact, she likes exactly who she is. I loved this novel precisely because it embraces the fact that you can be depressed or have a mental illness and be whole and content with precisely who you are. There is no "fixing" necessary. Sad Janet is funny and sad and full of heart.
If you love Outlander, Deborah Harkness or V.E. Schwab's The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, then read this book. Tom Hazard has a rare condition. He doesn't age. The aging process is so slow, he's been alive for centuries. The Albatross Society protects people like him and they have one rule: never fall in love. How to Stop Time is full of magic, adventure, history and suspense, the enduring power of love and what it means to truly live.
If I had to describe Milk Fed in a word: it would be luscious. This is the sexiest book about heartbreak, desire and appetites I've ever read. It's wildly hilarious, singluar and erotic - all the things that make up a Melissa Broder novel. When Rachel, a lapsed anorexic Jew meets Miriam and an Orthodox Jewish woman completely unafraid of food and how much of it she consumes, she becomes infatuated. She's mesmerized not just by Miriam but also the space Miriam takes up that is unabashed and unafraid. As their unlikely friendship blossoms, the novel puts their hunger, their appetites, desire and longing - physical, spiritual, emotional and mental - under the microscope. It's a fierce, sexy and original novel about food, body and the gods we keep.
A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraquib is an intimate and stunning meditation on Black performance in America but it's also an affirmation of Blackness and all its beauty, joy and life. Told in a combination of fragments, essays and prose poems, Hanif writes in depth about some pinnacle moments in Black performance history - Whitney Houston's 1988 Grammy Awards, Michael Jackson's death, Dave Chappelle, Soul Train, Aretha Franklin and more while weaving in autobiography, social history and cultural criticism. This book is deep. Some reviews call A Little Devil "provocative" but to me that's simply to signal for the white reader that this book decenters the white gaze of the Black performer. White readers and many non-Black readers assume Black culture and performance is a part of American culture. But A Little Devil in America proves just the opposite, Black culture and performance created American life and culture. Hanif is brilliant and this book is absolute genius.
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. is akin to reading a hymn, a love song and testimony of Biblical proportions. The Prophets is a story like no other because there does not exist a book that tells the queer love story of two enslaved men in the Deep South. The love of Isaiah for Samuel and Samuel for Isaiah is one for the ages. But it is a forbidden love and there is a reckoning. Pain and joy and love vibrate on the page that proves Jones is an extension of the literary lineage Toni Morrison and James Baldwin left behind. To read The Prophets is to be left haunted. To read this novel is to read pure love and experience excellence.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw has me shooketh! The stories connect in the most surprising of ways and carry whole lifetimes within just a few pages. The opening story "Eula" will leave you thirsty. "Peach Cobbler" broke my heart but is followed by "Snowfall" which filled my soul and should be required reading for anyone in a relationship. "How to Make Love to a Physicist" is healing and "Jael" sent chills down my spine. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is about faith and fluidity, mothers and daughters, female love, sexuality and desire. The women are infinitely complex and Philyaw centers their needs with tenderness, depth and warmth. In these stories, straight and queer women looking for love are also looking to be free. It's in the search for freedom that the women on these pages steal away with your own heart. I love this book. I beg of you to read it, and I beg the heavens above to please give Deesha Philyaw an award already for writing this spectacular collection of stories!
Paola Ramos is the voice for the millenial and younger Latinx generation and Finding Latinx proves just that. Ramos understands what so many journalists, publishers and even the public do not understand or see: we are not a monolith. We carry many stories, many beliefs, many identities and many experiences. We are indigenous, Black, Asian, queer and trans. We are more than just an immigration story and we extend and live well beyond our Southern borders. Ramos knows this and allows us to truly tell our stories outside of the white gaze and non-Latinx lens. In Finding Latinx, Ramos writes with candor and empathy the generational and political divides within our community, how Latinos embraced assimilation and how we - LatinX - are starting to move against that. In these stories, we celebrate the depth and bounty of our culture, language and history. This is the book I've needed my whole life.
Memorial by Bryan Washington is the story of two men both grappling with family trauma, identity and the many ways to love and experience love. It is the love story we need now. It's dark and full of heart. The intimacy is awkward but also tender and fragile and true. You will laugh. You will cry. You will experience every range of emotion on a page because that is the art of Bryan Washington. Love is a daily commitment, compromise and struggle and when it's right it's worth it. All that is to say, Memorial is worth your investment. Read this book and you'll discover love and hope in the darkest of corners - something we could all use right now.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia is deep. It's a novel deeply told and deeply felt - slim in size but epic in nature. It is a story of two families - one from Cuba and the other from El Salvador - and the power and weight of womanhood and motherhood and being. It traces the line of trauma, violence and secrets and maps its echoes over generations. But it is also a love story and ode to mothers and daughters and family. The prose is compact and the story swift and I've been sitting thinking of the women on these pages for days. Garcia chooses each word with care and invites readers to thoughtfully regard these women and acknowledge their stories and to never look away.
The Undocumented Americans makes visible the everyday of the undocumented among us. It is an intimate and profound and brutal investigation of what life without papers is like—and it extends well beyond our southern border regions. The undocumented are the responders at Ground Zero who cannot get compensation for their health issues; they are the residents of Flint, Michigan who lack the identification required to access clean water; and there is the author herself. She weaves her personal story throughout the book—her journey from Ecuador to the States at five years old. The stories show the people beyond the stereotypes and behind the reductive label: “undocumented.” This is an urgent read. This book was written for me and my community. So if you're not one of us, this book will make you uncomfortable. And that's exactly why you should read it.
World of Wonders is a glorious book about our war and kinship with nature and the natural world. You'll read this book in one sitting and when you step outside, you'll not the see the world the same again. I find myself savoring the sights and smells of the trees, the sounds of the birds in my neighborhood and marveling at how they live with our concrete and cars and noise. This is a book that leaves you amazed.
Everyone should read White Tears/Brown Scars by Rub Hamad, but it should be mandatory reading for white women everywhere. Equal parts history and memoir, White Tears/Brown Scars is a comprehensive and nuanced analysis of white women's complicity and key role in upholding white supremacy. Hamad names what I and many BIPOC women like me see and feel everyday and describes with painstaking detail the way our bodies - physical, emotional and mental - are oppressed, disregarded and disrespected. Until white women acknowledge their role, their power and privilege in white supremacy there is no moving forward and Hamad makes that very clear in her book. We say again and again "believe women," but it is just as important to "believe BIPOC women." In reading Hamad's words, I felt held and valued and heard.
A spellbinding blend of fiction and memoir Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar is remarkable. Each page cuts like a knife yet the prose is lyrical and the story draws you in like a siren song. Akhtar leaves no stone unturned and chips away at the facade of freedom and opportunity in American, the lacerating truth of the American Dream and his own family history and sense of self. It's a tragicomic, bold and passionate novel that will make your head spin.
To read Yaa Gyasi is something akin to miraculous. And Transcendent Kingdom, her follow-up to Homegoing, is no different. Transcendent Kingdom is resplendent. It has all that we have come to know and expect from Gyasi - a story of complexity and poetry and power. It is a novel about family, motherhood, science, addiction and faith and what happens when we lose it all. But it is also a novel about legacy and how it shapes us and how we reshape it. How can an author tackle so much? Few can, but Gyasi is unlike any author before her and it is doubtful we'll ever see an author like her again.
I HOLD A WOLF BY THE EARS is impeccable. I'm obsessed with the ghosts that inhabit each of these stories. Laura van den Berg captures hauntings and loss in all its physical and psychological manifestations. From the wife who discovers her husband had a brother that mysteriously disappeared only to realize it was far more sinister to the wife who questions her husband's past experiences with women only to be anesthetized by a mysterious sparking drink - each story will astonish you. With these stories van den Berg proves language is limitless and expansive and for whatever reason gives me hope in a world that at present makes me feel hopeless. In reading these stories I suddenly felt full again. I felt whole. I HOLD A WOLF BY THE EARS proves van den Berg is without a doubt a master of the short story.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub is a true gem. If you love your parents, even begrudgingly, you should read this book; and if you're a parent then you should definitely read this book. Emma expertly examines all the minute choices a parent makes that can have profound and lasting effects on their children's lives. And she looks at parents as people - because we forget they are flawed human beings as well. Parents aren't perfect. The consequences of our parents decisions or lack thereof are often unintentional. Emma reminds us parents have histories and pasts and issues and existed far before we entered their lives and most are just doing their best. And that's what the Strick family is doing - their best. It's a novel about family and good intentions and empathy and understanding. And it is Emma's ABSOLUTE best yet! For readers of Ann Patchett, Meg Wolitzer and Jami Attenberg. Run don't walk, to pick up and read this book!
Postcolonial Love Poem is a double-edged sword. It's sensual and passionate, angry and full of pain. It's a historical document of lives, land and communities erased and a celebration of female love, desire and need. What are the limits of language? Natalie Diaz proves there are no limits and bends words, sentences and even punctuation to tell her story. This book has me believing in poetry once again.
Luster by Raven Leilani is steamy and merciless and utterly brilliant. Leilani takes you places most debut authors dare not go. It's shocking in its maturity and honesty and directness of how we talk about sex and race. Luster made me blush. It made me cringe. But most important of all, it said all the things many of us brown and black women know to be true.
In sparse and at times fragmented prose, Jenny Offill captures the anxiety, panic and near-existential dread of our times in her new book Weather. It's near impossible to sum up this book except to say it's about a librarian who's coming to terms not just with her mortality but with that of our planet and doesn't know what that means for herself, her family and her child. How does one parent when the world might collapse? How do you wake up every day knowing the world around you is quietly crumbling at an exponential rate? How does one live in times of crisis? The book doesn't offer any answers. But it raises all the right questions for now.
Harrowing and brilliant, Chelsea Bieker's debut Godshot is a tour de force. Bieker takes you on a brutal path of one young woman's awakening amidst climate disaster and the burgeoning religious cult she's found herself in. It's a novel about becoming, about womanhood and the dangerous inequities between men and women. It's propulsive and dark and funny. If R.O. Kwon's The Incendiaries were to marry Katherine Dunn's classic Geek Love, it would be this book. So drop whatever you're reading and pick up this book!
The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehsis Coates first foray into fiction, is a marvel. It's Underground Railroad meets magical realism. I cannot put this book into words. All I can say, read this book. I implore you to please read this book.
Stay and Fight by Madeline Ffitch is a triumphant debut. Ffitch's prose is sharp and sparse and full of wit. When Helen's boyfriend suddenly leaves her and she's left to navigate her new home in Appalachia she's at a loss - until she meets Karen and Lily who live on the Women's Land Trust and are expecting their first child together. But when their child, a boy, is born a string of events occur that threaten the life they've lived and the land that is their home. Stay and Fight questions everything we know about family, love, land and home and America. Stay and Fight has depths only a few debut authors are able to go. It was an honor to read.
This is the book we need right now. It is smart, dark, witty, subversive and spot on in the way it depicts the complexities of female friendships, trauma, anxiety and mental health, rape culture, the female body, women, and relationships both platonic and romantic. The anger, rage and at times outlandish things some of the characters say reminded me a bit of Fleabag. I seriously love this book and read it in one sitting and bet you'll do the same. Please pick up this book.
"But that afternoon there was an orchestra playing," and so begins Jacqueline Woodson's remarkable new novel. The novel opens mid-thought, right in the middle of the main event - Melody's 16th birthday at her grandparent's home in Brooklyn - an event seeped in history and memory for Melody's parents and grandparents. In the sparest of prose Woodson dissects the insidious ways generational trauma moves through family lines. She unpacks the deep layers of misunderstandings, resentments, sadness, longing, hope, and love that passes almost unawares from one generation to the next to exploit dreams and possibility. Woodson's words are poetry that bring to mind Ocean Vuong and Morgan Parker. But don't be fooled by it's slim size. At 208 pages, RED AT THE BONE will leave you breathless. It's an exceptional novel that is a necessary read for the times we live in.
Téa Obreht's Inland took my breath away. Eerie and atmospheric like an old school Jim Jarmusch film, the novel follows the lives of two very complicated and haunted protagonists in the Arizona Territory in 1893: outcast and orphan Lurie, and Nora a frontierswoman with ghosts of her own. And these characters aren't just metaphorically haunted by their pasts, actual ghosts follow them throughout the story. There is a definite "I see dead people" element that with her capable pen is clever, not overdramatic, and handled with extreme care. In fact, ever since reading this book, I too feel haunted by Lurie and Nora. Their stories seep into your skin. The novel is a beautiful blend of magical realism and classic western. Read this book. Trust me, you must.
If the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were a book, it would be this book. But instead of doctors being able to wipe your mind, it's bookbinders who are able to erase your mind. And those erased memories - a person's most sacred history and past - are transposed within the pages of a book. In The Binding, books are dangerous. Books are secret. But what happens when you discover there is a book about you? That's what happens to Emmett, a farmer whose chosen to be a bookbinder. The Binding is part-mystery, part-fantasy and is absolutely thrilling. Read this book!
Pete Fromm's A Job You Mostly Won't Know How To Do is a tender novel of family, fatherhood and second chances. When Taz's wife Marnie dies during childbirth, Taz is left not only broken-hearted, but left to care for their newborn daughter Midge. Although he feels very much alone, he is not. A host of friends and family come to his side, to help him adjust to fatherhood, single parenthood, and his new life. The prose is direct and honest and hits your gut. A Job You Mostly Won't Know How To Do is a love story supreme: the love of a man for his wife and child, a mother for her daughter, platonic love, new love and the love of a community for their neighbors and for the land they call home.
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton is laugh out loud hilarious and full of joy. If the films Shaun of the Dead and Walking Dead were to have a baby, it would be this book. What happens when zombies take over the world? Well we've already been given the stories of how we humans would react, but what about the animals? What would it mean for the birds and the trees and natural life as we know it? That's what Hollow Kingdom tries to answer. At turns bizarre and brilliant, devastating and brimming with hope, this is a book that questions everything we know about the world, about storytelling and perspective. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's a definite must-read. I absolutely loved this book!
Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum is witty and caustic, revelatory and tragic. The novel is told somewhat in reverse, starting with the main character Bunny, describing life in a psych ward. What ensues is the story of what happened before and an explanation of why she's been committed. Interspersed are bits from her creative writing class at the hospital that are illuminating. Rabbits for Food is whip smart and has plenty of bite. You can't help but laugh at Bunny's dark humor about her situation. But underneath the humor is a great sorrow. Kirshenbaum writes with candor, insight and empathy about the everyday and what's locked in the mind of someone with a mental illness. Bunny reads like a fictional Carrie Fisher - keenly aware of the darkness that looms large in her mind, with an acid tongue but full of heart and undeniably brilliant.