Five new releases for your TBR
Prize lists galore and what to read in honor of the Oscars
We’ve all been feeling significantly better this week, which meant more time for reading. I have a lot of books to cover today, so let’s get right to it!
This week in books.
This week I read…
Western Lane by Chetna Maroo. I finished this debut novella last week, but wanted to make sure I shared more here because it’s a bit under-the-radar. Western Lane is a beautifully written and desperately sad coming-of-age story following eleven-year-old Gopi after the death of her mother. As a way to keep his three daughters focused and grounded, Gopi’s father decides they will all all become serious competitive squash players and their days begin to revolve around the racquet club, Western Lane. This is a book about sisterhood and daughterhood, about being part of an immigrant community and the expectations all those identities come with. This wasn’t a perfect book (the narrative voice struck me as untrue to that of a child), but the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve come to appreciate this book. If you loved Stealing by Margaret Verble or Mother in the Dark by Kayla Mauiri, you might be interested in trying Western Lane. Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm
How to Think Like a Woman: Four Women Philosophers Who Taught Me How to Love the Life of the Mind by Regan Penaluna (out 3/14). This book has a seriously terrific and terrifying cover and when I saw it show up as a Libro.fm advanced listening copy, I was immediately compelled to download it. The book is part memoir, part history lesson, part philosophical treatise—all built around the fact that women philosophers have been and continue to be ignored. I enjoyed learning more about the four philosophers Penaluna focuses on as well as her own experience in the academic world of philosophy. I’ve thought a lot about the way the male experience is universalized in literature, but I hadn’t considered the way that’s true in philosophy as well, even though I minored in the subject in college. I wish the book would have gone a little bit deeper into some of the topics it touches on like intersectional elements at play within the world of philosophy and the role of motherhood for feminist philosophers, but I’m very glad this book is out and getting attention. It’s made me eager to pick up more philosophy by women, and that, I think, is the real point. This was also excellent on audio though I did also purchase a hard copy for the striking cover and to reference back to it. Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm (on preorder sale for $5!)
Immortality by Dana Schwartz. I have been reading a lot of serious literary fiction lately, and I was in need of a delicious break. Thankfully Schwartz’s sequel to Anatomy was exactly what I needed. It’s hard to review this sequel without giving away the ending of Anatomy, so I’ll just say that it picks up right where Anatomy leaves off and ultimately answers all of the burning questions the first book leaves you with. I loved that Immortality includes lots of real life historical figures. Schwartz is an expert on royalty and all things historical gossip, and I loved seeing that expertise make its way into this book. I was a bit frustrated by the inclusion of a love triangle—but I reminded myself that I am not necessarily the target audience here and so I let that slide. I did love that it felt like this book righted a wrong from one of my favorite childhood books—but I can’t say what without completely spoiling this for you! Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm
The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (out 3/14). Literary historical fiction seems to be having a moment (again?) and The Dance Tree fits right into that trend. Set in early 1500s Strasbourg, the book is told from the perspective of Lisbet—a woman who has suffered tremendous grief through multiple pregnancy losses and is experiencing the hope and fear that comes with another pregnancy. She tends bees yearns for a living child, and keeps the memory of her lost children by hanging ribbons on the dance tree in the forest behind her farm. When her husband’s sister returns from her seven year penance at a far-off abbey and her husband is called away to fight for their family’s right to their property, everything in Lisbet’s life begins to subtly shift. At the same time, a dancing epidemic (based on a true historical event!) begins in the nearby town, causing a stir among women far and wide. I loved the premise of this book, and I really enjoyed the historical details juxtaposed against characters who felt timeless and vibrant. It did, however, veer into what I’ve begun to think of as historical fiction clichés and some of the plot points felt rather trite. The writing is lovely though, and I would still recommend this to readers who loved Matrix by Lauren Groff and The Familiars by Stacey Halls. Don’t skip the afterword if you do read it! Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton. After finishing The Luminaries I was even more excited to read Catton’s newest—but I was also a little apprehensive. How do you follow up a book like The Luminaries, which is such a feat of structure and storytelling? I think Birnam Wood was both an excellent follow-up—and a smart one. It’s a lot more straightforward in its storytelling and the plot and setting are wildly different. At the same time, it has many of the elements I loved about The Luminaries—a slow burn, an intricate structure, exceptional dialogue, astute human observations, and a mystery. This story follows Mira, Shelley, and Tony who are all members of a guerrilla gardening collective called Birnam Wood. Mira makes a wild plan to advance their agenda and this brings the collective into contact with a newly appointed conservationist knight and an eccentric American billionaire. This book slowly builds to a more more dramatic and plotty third act, but I loved the first two-thirds even more. The way Catton is exploring ideas through her characters is insightful and, at times, really funny. I’ve seen a few readers criticize this book as too wordy, to which I respond, YES! Catton knows her way around a sentence and she crafts the most exquisite intricate sentences I’ve read in a long time. I miss this type of book—the kind where a writer just nails an observation in the most precise and delicious prose. I can understand this not being everyone’s cup of tea but I will read anything Eleanor Catton deigns to give us. Amazon | Bookshop
Now I’m reading…
I’m a little overwhelmed by new releases at the moment…help me decide what to prioritize!
If you are an international reader or just prefer UK covers, you can also order books through my Blackwell’s affiliate page!
Links I love.
It was a big week for literary awards: the Aspen Words finalists, Women’s Prize longlist, and inaugural Carol Shields Prize longlist were all announced. I’m particularly excited about the Carol Shields list, which features an eclectic batch of books and a $150,000 prize!!
Here are six new books to read this week.
I really appreciated reading this wonderful review of a book that didn’t work for me, even though I knew it was good.
Bees featured heavily in one of my recent reads so it was fun to see this list of bee-centered fiction on Electric Literature.
This week in views, listens, eats, and moments of joy.
My mom is the queen of gifting practical items you’d never buy for yourself but come to rely on. Recently, she gave us a stack of pre-cut parchment paper, and it is a game changer.
Speaking of great gifts, this Yeti tumbler was the favor at my sister-in-law’s bachelorette party. Recently I’ve started using it for my coffee every morning—even when I’m not leaving the house. Sipping hot coffee all morning helps me feel cheerier as I start my day.
Both of the Ezra Klein episodes this week were fantastic.
Lou’s sense of humor is starting to emerge and I’m loving it. Currently she likes to take bites of her favorite foods and pronounce them “yucky!” with a huge grin on her face.
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