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  • Writer's pictureKeeley Young

21 Books of 2023

Last year I posted mini-reviews for every single novel I read over the course of the year, but this time around I decided to be a little more the extent that twenty-one is a rather precise number, instead of say, twenty, or twenty-five. Read on and you will understand why I had to ruin the organised simplicity of twenty novels...

These twenty-one books were either incredible highlights for the year or something interesting for a change. My favourite read of the year should be abundantly clear...but I didn't feel any need to talk about my least favourite.

so, without further ado.....


The Bad Beginning

            by Lemony Snicket


What better way to kick off the new year than with a book titled The Bad Beginning that promises no happy endings and just general discomfort for its protagonists? The first in the A Series of Unfortunate Events series, this book was such a comfort to read – I knew the events of it, from watching the tv series and adoring it, but I thought finally I’d start reading the books. The series follows the Baudelaire children, who become orphans when their parents die in the fire that burns their beautiful house to the ground. Unfortunately the children don’t really have like, a grandmother or an uncle to go live with, and thus The Bad Beginning kicks things off with them moving into the dilapidated hovel that is Count Olaf’s home – the Count himself very likely not their cousin of any sort, at least not a cherished one. Determined to get their money, he will do whatever he can to scheme it from the children. The Bad Beginning was a very quick read, not only in length but in enjoyability too – it’s light but miserable and toxic, too, with Count Olaf such a gross horrid man. The book brought out my inner child again – I love a campy, bold villain, and there’s something about how books written for younger audiences just bring out the fun of misery, if that makes any sense. The Baudelaire orphans struggle throughout the entire novel, dealing with grief, torment, abuse, and devious plots – but they keep their heads up, and you remember this is a work of fiction, and seeing the Baudelaires find even the smallest droplet of hope is enough to propel you to read more.


Peril at End House

            by Agatha Christie


I am certain Poirot would have loved a holiday, but in Peril at End House, his lovely sabbatical with Captain Hastings – who he’s apparently not gay for??? – is cut short when a young woman confesses she believes someone is attempting to murder her. Poirot and Hastings witness a near-escape, as a bullet almost pierces flesh, and now the question lies in who would gain from the death of the Mademoiselle Nick Buckley. Agatha Christie, as expected of her, delivers a tense and suspension-building tale – you truly are on the edge of your seat, wondering what ties will be revealed, wondering what the next attempt on Nick’s life will be, and what clues might indicate who is responsible – and very much in this case, why? You quickly learn there is not much on paper to gain from killing the young woman – but is there more to the story, is there something Poirot has yet been able to see? I will admit, having never encountered Hastings before, I was somewhat hopeful Agatha Christie was incredibly progressive in giving Poirot a gay love interest – but alas, Hastings mentions being married to a woman, who apparently has no qualms about him going off on holidays and assisting in solving crime, which is truly a marriage I can get behind. Although, perhaps next time Hasting can bring her along for another witness to all the mayhem, because as scandalous as crime can be, Agatha Christie always makes it look devilishly well-crafted and glamourous, almost. Poirot continues to tout himself as an exceptionally brilliant detective that even someone seeming to not know his name warrants a little back and forth, and we love that for him. When you know your worth, you know you’re worth – and I hope I never lose my love for Agatha Christie.

I Shot the Devil

            by Ruth McIver


On Halloween night in 1994, five teenagers went into the woods, but only three came out alive. That’s the basis of I Shot the Devil – the Southport Three became local legend when they walked out of the woods with the deaths of Andre Villiers and Ricky Hernandez – known as Ricky Hell to his peers – looming over them. Many theories spread about who was responsible for the deaths of these two teenagers – and the media seemed to like the idea of Satanism playing a crucial part in what they labelled as the human sacrifice of Andre, a 6’3 white-blonde teenager that had been questioned by police at one point for the disappearance of a little girl, Cathy Carver. The past resurfaces when Erin – who had been in school with those five teenagers, friends with most of them, and dating one of them – is called upon by the editor for the magazine she works for to write a piece uncovering the truth about all that went down in 1994. Is she prepared for what she will find digging up those haunted memories – and trust when I say that the 90s were a turbulent time for Erin Sloane, the daughter of a police officer, the girlfriend of the abusive Danny Quinlan-Walsh, who later served time for his involvement in the murder of Andre Villiers. I Shot the Devil introduces many intersections to the story Erin is unravelling about the past – her past, too – but I was left with a couple sour tastes in my mouth by the conclusion. Sour tastes I can overlook, I am sure – but for a genre I don’t read too often, at least from contemporary authors, there were certain choices in I Shot the Devil that stood out to me. Discussing these would be too spoilerish, unfortunately – so I advise, more so, that you read this novel on your own, if you’re a fan of true crime style fiction. The prose is well-written, and it was certainly not a slog to get through, so I enjoyed myself. I suppose it is a matter of how different authors approach things – maybe there were things I would have done differently, but that is neither here nor there.


Klara and the Sun

            by Kazuo Ishiguro


Klara is an AF. Artificial Friend. For a time, she spends her days idly waiting in the store with Manager, who helps present her to potential new friends, families, and homes. Klara is sharply intrigued by what the world has to offer her – the passers-by that make brief glances, that cross the street, that reunite with one another, and the taxicabs, and the Sun and its beaming light. See, Klara believes in the power of the Sun, and throughout the novel you come to understand just how pertinent to love the Sun’s shine is to Klara. In Klara and the Sun, the unique perspective of an artificial intelligence positions the humans as the sort of unknown entities Klara is constantly growing to understand – their interactions begin to make more and more sense to her as she continues to observe them, and there is a lot of heart in spending time inside Klara’s mind, as she integrates herself in Josie’s life. Josie, a fourteen-year-old girl, is sick – but as far as Klara is concerned, there is always the sure chance at survival, especially when the Sun is involved. Klara and the Sun examines a version of the future, humans paired alongside their supportive AFs, that consistently reminds you of how human a human can be – and how, as technology continues to play an important role in the development of society, we will continue to find ways to process our emotions through technology. Klara is just as passionate as a human could be…and yet she’s machine, and always will be. Ishiguro has a new fan. I’m eager to read more of his work now.


            by Toni Morrison


I am officially in adoration of Toni Morrison. Her prose is both gorgeous and haunting, and the characters created in Sula are complex, interesting, and there’s no way you cannot possibly be fascinated by one-legged Eva, who will never tell you what she did to her leg and whether that was how she managed to make any of her money. The titular Sula begins the novel as a young girl, best friends with Nel, and the novel is truly a story of how people grow differently, and become different, and how change can be both celebrated and defaced. It is both easy and complicated to describe how Nel and Sula grow into women – a vague summary is that Nel marries and becomes like many of the other black women in the Bottom, and Sula flees town and is not seen in Medallion for ten years until she returns, draped in elegant fashion and talking of the many men she went from place to place with, but the weight of action and the past nestles itself on both of their shoulders. Toni Morrison crafts not only a narrative of how life can change two women, but also paints a broader picture of a struggling black community in America in the early 1900s. Nicknamed Bottom for its apparent “rich and fertile soil”, a cruel joke from a slaveowner offering the hills to a freed slave who asked for land, the town in the hills had worse problems than Sula Peace – racism, poverty, weather, sexism, etc. – but there is reason to why Morrison named the novel around the character of Sula. I just can’t really spoil crucial moments of the plot, so instead, why don’t you read Sula by Toni Morrison?


Before Your Memory Fades

            by Toshikazu Kawaguchi


Café Donna Donna operates much like its Tokyo counterpart, Café Funiculi Funicula – in a certain seat in the café, customers can travel in time, forward or back, to visit a loved one, confess feelings, find out the truth, or settle their worries of committing suicide. The extensive, important rule set returns for the third book in the series, which sees Nagare, Kazu and Kazu’s daughter, Sachi, pack up and take over the Café Donna Donna while Nagare’s mother travels America helping a son find his missing father, and other things, too, because frankly you could write an entire other book just on the adventure of Yukari in America. Much like the prior novels, Before Your Memory Fades is split into four parts, as four differing stories unfold surrounding the idea of getting one chance to time travel, when the old fancy gentleman exits his chair at a random hour of the day and go to the toilet, despite being a ghost that doesn’t need to pee. Before Your Memory Fades continues to explore themes the series crafts its thesis around – how do we process grief, how do we move on after the loss of a loved one, what would speaking to a loved one after they have passed – or gone to America for surgery – accomplish, and would we find what we were looking for, or would we be surprised by it? There is something so profound in experiencing these individual life stories of how these characters figure out how to continue living their lives – and the supporting players make you feel like you are sitting at the counter, drinking an ice-cream soda and overhearing the latest gossip, or thinking about your own response to one of the hundred questions about moral dilemmas on your last day on earth. As usual, the novel left me grateful these characters were given the opportunity to travel through time…but I might forever be anxious I would waste my one chance.


The Reptile Room

            by Lemony Snicket


We return to the Baudelaire orphans, and I am afraid to say the book I read was not a happy ending for the children. The second in the A Series of Unfortunate Events series, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny move in with their eccentric uncle Monty – but for the life of me I can’t remember if he was actually their uncle or a second cousin, no matter, he was the relative the orphans were meant to live with after the unfortunate deaths of the Baudelaire parents at the opening of the first novel. Uncle Montgomery Montgomery (yes, that’s his real name, yes, he was bullied for it) is a herpetologist – he studies reptiles and amphibians and is in the midst of planning an expedition to Peru to study the local fauna. What follows are the unfortunate events once Count Olaf gets involved. These books are such easy, fun reads, I get through them pretty quickly, but I’m enjoying staggering them. I could so simply buy them all now and burn through them, one a week, but they’re a sort of palate cleanser for everything else I read. And it's interesting seeing the changes that were made for the television series, the extra storylines that were linked in for the overall arc that was established about the VFD. The Reptile Room reinvigorated my love of reptiles, not that that love needed to be woken up at all, I’m always at the zoo staring at reptiles, but…be warned, this is not a book about reptiles and happy endings.


The Mysterious Affair at Styles

            by Agatha Christie


The first novel Agatha Christie released featuring the character of Hercule Poirot was this very novel – The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduces us too to the perspective of Arthur Hastings. Hastings finds himself in the home of an old friend – John Cavendish – and his stepmother, the wealthy Emily Inglethorp, who once assisted the Belgian refugee, Hercule Poirot himself. When Mrs Inglethorp is found dead in her bed, presumably poisoned, Agatha Christie gets to work – it is so clear that she was poised for a successful career here, these humble beginnings of not only an iconic author, but an iconic character in Poirot. Christie spins the tale of intrigue and false clues so devilishly well – I would pick up on something, follow my nose to it, convinced it was crucial to the reveal of just who murdered the woman, and then…the scent would change entirely, and I would be disorientated for a moment, before I found another lead. Everyone in this lavish mansion is suspicious and a potential suspect, and you genuinely consider everyone, except Hastings, of course, and you figure it would pretty wild if Poirot was a murderer in his very first novel appearance. From now on, I’ll be reading in order of release, so next time…I think someone get murdered on a golf course? As long as Agatha Christie doesn’t spend page after page describing the sport of golf, let us see just what creation she masterminds in The Murder on the Links (sometime this year…)


The Oracle of Maracoor

            by Gregory Maguire


I near lost my mind when I was wandering the aisles of the bookstore and I saw this beauty was out. The Oracle of Maracoor is a direct sequel to a novel I read last year, The Brides of Maracoor, and the sixth book in a broader series, technically. You might know it…the Wicked Years books, which spawned the incredibly successful musical Wicked (I’ll try not to geek too much over the two films we’re getting in the next few years). The Oracle of Maracoor picks up right where the last left off, but in the name of not spoiling everything…this book follows Rain, granddaughter of Elphaba, as she journeys further inland, in search of her memories, in search of the titular oracle, and in search of answers. The novel maintains the dual plotlines that began in the first of the Another Day series: in part, it is the continuation of Rain’s story, but it also balances Lucikles’ journey inland, too, as he reunites with his family at his mother-in-law’s farmstead. I find it amusing that with both novels I initially cared little for Lucikles and his family. My focus, my adoration, is for Rain and the ragtag crew that journeys with her, but I think both novels eventually drew some interest from me for the ordinary man, his ordinary children, and his ordinary problems. Which is not to say Lucikles is a boring everyman who works in an office and comes home to a home-cooked meal and love, but when he is the in-between story while a green girlie bickers with a talking Goose and some flying monkeys…I think it is fair to suggest Lucikles is a character that becomes more interesting over time, shaped by the world around him. The Oracle of Maracoor kept my attention as every other novel in the Oz-centric series has done. In a time where the very first novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch, might be getting more attention in the film adaptions of the musical, given they need to stretch out the plot across two films…I couldn’t be happier. Simply couldn’t be happier. Gregory Maguire fuels my love for Oz even further, even while his characters are traipsing around a world that is more reminiscent of ancient Greece. Maybe the continued releases of the Another Day series can bring in more fans to the original series of novels…



            by Susanna Clarke


As we come to the end of the year, there is one novel I can with ease label as my favourite read of 2023. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke kept me rapt, engaged, thrilled, and fulfilled all my dreams of what I wanted from it. Which might just sound like overdramatic praise, but I was obsessed with this book the entire time I was reading it. The novel is a complicated one to explain, though. Piranesi lives in a sprawling House that is more intrinsically a labyrinth of rooms and halls, splayed out over three floors. The House is The World, a place he does not leave, not even once. There is such a sense of wonder and exploration in how Piranesi views the world, which is more expansive than we first realise, as he describes the ornate details of this place he inhabits. There are gorgeous, sculpted figures that tower above him, there are other creatures that inhabit this House, too, and there are clues that there is something more to this life of his that he cannot understand. Piranesi is a novel that needs to be experienced: I think I would be more successful in just typing out what appears in the blurb for the novel and let that speak for itself. I do like one sentence of it…the Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite. There is something to how little this sentence reveals of the novel, and yet, it poses an interesting thought on what to expect from this so-called House that Piranesi inhabits. The capitalisation, for one, isn’t ordinary in how we would usually write something like that. I’m starting to analyse a string of words on the back of a book too much, so I will stop myself, but I do think the vagueness of how this novel was promoted to me helped create a certain atmosphere. Piranesi is as much an unravelling mystery as it is an exploration of how vast an imagination can be. Clarke impressed me, severely. And not just because I reached the A Note On the Type and realised the entire novel had been in my favourite typeface, Perpetua. [I know, I’m a true nerd for having a favourite typeface, but you would too if you were a writer and wanted the text you typed up in a Word document to look beautiful 24/7.] If there is one novel I can implore you to read, it would be Piranesi. Open your imagination and let the journey overtake you.


The Rome Zoo

            by Pascal Janovjak

Never has a novel so successfully convinced me I want to travel to Rome and visit the zoo there. The Rome Zoo by Pascal Janovjak, which was translated to English from Italian, tells a series of stories set in the titular zoological gardens. There is such a succinctness to the way these stories are told that I was certain one of the elements of this novel was real, and it broke my heart reading it, and then broke it again finding out later that Janovjak had completely fabricated that part of the history of the Bioparco di Roma. The Rome Zoo takes you on quite the discovery tour of a zoo that does in fact exist—the history is laid out to you bare, but fictional characters are at the heart of it, and architect Chahine and the recently-hired zoo PR head Giovanna are the reader’s ticket of entry. As someone who is intrinsically passionate about the survival of zoos as a method of conservation and education, something about the nature of this novel made it all the more compelling. You weren’t simply wandering the grounds of the Bioparco di Roma, you were swept up by its history, and you experienced what the zoo meant to different people. And The Rome Zoo does do a lot of sweeping—the novel switches focus between Chahine, Giovanna, and an encompassing history, and the chapters are short and swift. But I felt like I spent days and weeks with the titular zoo, understanding it, and more importantly, understanding how it thrives off the human love that pours into it.

The Lathe of Heaven

            by Ursula K. Le Guin


If you had the ability to alter reality by dreaming things up, how would you feel about it? Would you force yourself to slumber whenever you could, regardless of the consequences? Or would you keep yourself awake for hours on end with an ongoing coffee addiction to keep the present unchanged? This dilemma is a permanent fixation for George Orr, who visits psychiatrist William Haber to seek out some sort of assistance to escape his world-altering dream sequences. People have a habit of weaponizing each other, though. Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel weaves a science fiction landscape with an interesting discussion on the science of sleep, which I didn’t necessarily expect when I first turned the page. George Orr is frightened by the possibilities of what his mind can do while he slumbers, and yet here is a man of science and the mind twisting the key to expose just what he can accomplish with a test subject of unmistakable power. Le Guin is a master of science fiction, and watching the cogs turn throughout the course of The Lathe of Heaven is truly fascinating stuff. There are passages that go on and on about how dreaming works, which I found interesting in the sense that of course someone like Haber would understand completely what he is talking about. So, of course, he knows how to weaponise it. The Lathe of Heaven understands science fiction—it is both brilliantly smart and sophisticated but acknowledges the fiction of it all. Le Guin runs amok in a world that can shift overnight. There is so much giddy joy, and there is so much tension and stress.


            by Toni Morrison


Love is in many ways a discussion of how a man can have a profound impact on the lives of a whole range of people around him. In this case, the man is Bill Cosey. Bill owned a hotel in a coastal town, but now many, many years after his death, the hotel is derelict and the women he impacted are reflecting. His widow, Heed Cosey, and his granddaughter, Christine, absolutely loathe one another, but there is more to their history than meets the eye…uncovering the intricate stories of Love showcases, at least to me, that Toni Morrison is a brilliant storyteller. Her prose is once again shockingly beautiful, and haunting, and her characters leap off the page while they try not to strangle one another. But there is a subtlety to the underpinning connections each character has to Bill Cosey. Heed and Christine’s discontent, as they continue to live together in the Cosey house, is more complicated than ‘oh these women hate each other’s guts’. Morrison is no stranger to complex characters, and she weaves across the history of not only these women, but others too, including Junior, a young girl who becomes a sort of handmaiden to the elderly Heed. Junior’s connection to everything begins to unravel as she spends more and more time trying to understand the tapestry of the Cosey’s. Morrison’s novels have a habit of leaving me stunned and thought-provoked, stumbling through what I’d just read trying to process everything. Love is definitely not an exception. It is a novel I one day plan on rereading, to continue to piece together everything, and explore anew the layers Morrison has injected into every little tie into Bill Cosey’s life. Pay attention…love is never straightforward. Neither is Love (because the plot jumps around in time a lot, which isn’t a complaint from me at all.)

Women Talking

            by Miriam Toews

Miriam Toews’ Women Talking is a claustrophobic piece of stellar literature. I’ve struggled to figure out how to approach talking about this without gushing too much. Toews takes a real-world event—the women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia being raped in their sleep by a group of the town’s men—and does what she describes as a “reaction through fiction”. The events of the novel take place over a forty-eight-hour period, and the women (and August, the novel’s narrator and note-taker) spend the majority of this time in one of the barns, talking. It is an interesting choice for Toews to tell the story through the eyes of a male character, as he writes out the minutes of the meetings. For many of the women in this community of Mennonites, men have violated them without even a chance to fight back. Their quiet comfort about having August in the room speaks multitudes—these women are not anti-men, questioning whether they should abandon the concept of being around men entirely. They are questioning specifically the men that wronged them, and the men that are off bailing their rapists out. Toews manages to tell a devastating fiction-and-fact story while allowing moments of subtle humour and joy between these women, showcasing that grief and trauma does not strip away completely the ability for a person to experience a range of emotions. The decision over whether to abandon their community is not merely a list of pros and cons for these women. Women Talking was adapted into a film in 2022, and Sarah Polley won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, rightfully so. Her vision for the novel on the screen made me love the novel more, and both, in my humble opinion, are required viewings for some list of mine about understanding the reasons I love these art forms, literature and film.

Howl’s Moving Castle

            by Diana Wynne Jones


I’m sure there are plenty of people in the world that don’t know that Studio Ghibli’s popular film Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones. The novel follows very much the same premise—young woman Sophie is cursed to become an old woman and finds herself living in the castle on legs as a maid. She attempts to break down the barrier that stands between her and the gristly, shadowy Howl, a magician of sorts that sells tinctures to various regions of the world through a magical door in the kitchen. Howl’s Moving Castle expands and shifts, differing in many ways to the film, which I rewatched not long after finishing the novel. For one, I think Sophie is a more fleshed out character in the novel. Her backstory is expanded—the novel allows a much richer Sophie-without-Howl to be explored. I think the two pair well with each other, the novel and the film. Different creatives explore a story down different paths, as much as the overall thread of things is very familiar and similar. There is whimsy in the novel as much as there is whimsy in the film. I think the beautiful thing about art existing in different forms will always be how you can experience a story differently. The novel naturally challenges the reader to envision the world for themselves, piece together everything in their head and have their own interpretation of Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, Michael, and the various other characters that inhabit the world. The film offers a visual spectacle of the world, the characters, and every little detail. The two offerings of this story are distinctly different, but still tell the same story—Sophie, once young now cursed old, wants to figure out how to reverse the curse. In making attempts to befriend the terrifying wizard who lives in a moving castle, she learns he might not be so terrifying as he appears.



            by Natasha Brown


The prose of Assembly is gorgeous, for one. This compact debut from Brown fascinated me immensely—the story follows a black woman as she organises herself around an upcoming weekend with her white partner’s family, an earned promotion, and a cancer diagnosis. Natasha Brown’s storytelling is electric and I do feel like sometimes you read an emerging author’s work and know that you will do your very best to follow their career. I am such a sucker for unique structures, or lack thereof, in writing. When an author really explores the way you can tell a story without purely situating us inside a character’s head and just following them in every little daily activity they get up to. Brown is specific and concise in a way that settles you into the discomfort this character is feeling, while also remembering to only tease out the story in crumbs. It is like examining a framed portrait inch by inch, admiring the handiwork, and I will continue to gush over Assembly when the opportunity arises.

The Days of Abandonment

            by Elena Ferrante


The Days of Abandonment is a claustrophobic mental breakdown of a novel as Olga becomes unpinned at her sudden separation from her husband. He abandons her, and it doesn’t feel entirely overdramatic to say so. Olga’s ex-husband is a ghost of a figure throughout the novel, haunting her memories, keeping clear of her in the present. When she sees him on the street with another woman—a younger woman, to note—Olga unashamedly reacts. The Days of Abandonment is such a gorgeous-written expression of what happens when a heart is broken, almost beyond repair, and Ferrante’s voice comes through strikingly clear even despite the translation from Italian. There are plenty of moments in this novel where you feel trapped underneath the weight of Olga’s emotions, trapped in that apartment with her as she attempts to care for her ill children, her sick dog, and the giant hole eating away at her insides. Olga has a complicated relationship with one of her neighbours, and you can genuinely never tell if she is growing comfortable around him, or absolutely hates his guts and wants to sneak into his apartment and poison all of his food. There is an Italian adaption of The Days of Abandonment that released in 2005 and, while it understandably cuts various scenes from the novel for run-time, it is still a fascinating further view of the themes and contexts of the novel. Heartbreak can be entirely demoralizing, and Olga is left without even much of an explanation. There is no real wonder why she reacts so strongly to her abandonment—her husband has found someone new to love, and she is left with the burdens.

A Complicated Kindness

            by Miriam Toews


After reading Women Talking earlier in the year, I knew I wanted to read more from Miriam Toews. So I picked up A Complicated Kindness, which similarly follows Mennonite characters. Nomi is a teenage girl who has spent her life so far growing up amongst the Mennonite colony, although over the course of the novel you come to understand quite strongly how much she opposes and wishes desperately to flee and live someplace more thrilling, like New York City. The novel is positioned some time after both her sister and mother have abandoned the family and left East Village, Manitoba, but across weaving timelines throughout the novel we begin to understand why they left. Nomi’s journey in A Complicated Kindness can oftentimes feel gradual and eventual. She spends afternoons with her boyfriend Travis, torn between thinking she loves him and thinking he’s ready to abandon her on a whim. She tries to keep her father from being wholly depressed over his wife and daughter completely abandoning him. She tries to understand why she is where she is, and how to propel herself out of town, and why it is so much more complex than getting on a bus and fleeing. Especially considering the bus station is boarded up and no buses visit East Village anymore. A Complicated Kindness is a story of a teenage girl. A coming-of-age story, if you will. You become so centred in Nomi’s mind that you want to see where she roams, and where she goes. Which feels too uncomplicated for Nomi, but she also does at various points in the novel simply wander through town. There isn’t an awful lot to do in East Village, Manitoba, but Nomi underpins both her unsettled loss of two family members, and her desire to change her life through so much of what she does do within the Mennonite community. Toews’ prose is always so inviting and fascinating, as she paints a vivid picture of who Nomi Nickel is. Women Talking and A Complicated Kindness explore such different themes, but both novels expose you to how Mennonite colonies are structured, and how they impact upon their members. As someone who is far from religious, it is interesting to read about how terribly restricting a religious community can be.


Pandora’s Jar // Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth

            by Natalie Haynes

I’ve sandwiched Pandora’s Jar and Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth, both written by Natalie Haynes, together for the similarities they share, and their shared impact on my obsession with Greek mythology and literature. The former, Pandora’s Jar, centres on ten women, or groups of women, that feature prominently in Greek literature across history, such as Medea, Clytemnestra, and the Amazons. Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth focuses on eight Greek goddesses, or groups of goddesses, such as Athene, Demeter, and the Furies. Haynes’ storytelling in a non-fiction sense retells the stories of the women across these two books beautifully—it is always abundantly clear that Haynes has an immense fascination towards these women and wants their stories to be told across a spectrum, not just from one point of view. She cites pottery work, paintings, plays, stories, and many other forms of art, all the while compositing these figures of Greek past into how they can be seen within modern-day artwork. There is a deep acknowledgement in these two books of the continuing relevance of women like Medea, and Artemis, and Pandora, and Haynes kept me rapt from start to finish. These are the perfect thing to read if you want absolutely every crumb about Hestia, for example, possible. I would certainly recommend them.

Sorry Not Sorry

            by Naya Rivera


The passing of Naya Rivera, who I have loved ever since I was introduced to her character Santana Lopez on Glee, was an emotional time for me. Yes, despite not knowing her personally, I think inherently Santana played a big role in coming to terms with my sexuality, even as a gay teenager at the time. Inherently, then, I grew quite fond of Naya as an actress. I still get teary thinking about how the world keeps spinning and she’s not in it, and never more so than while I read her autobiographical memoir Sorry Not Sorry. The book chronicles everything from her child acting days to her relationship history, to her complete adoration of her mum, and of course, the Glee days. Naya Rivera’s prose style is so conversational and relaxed—it feels like a genuine conversation she is having with you, about the trials and tribulations of her life, and lessons learned. There is so much about a person you cannot possibly learn from the character they portray on TV, even if micro-doses of Naya were injected in Santana over the course of the series. Often enough, though, I found myself reflecting on how this memoir is the only definite curtain-tug we have for her life. There won’t be another one, or a biopic sometime in the future, unless someone just adapts Sorry Not Sorry for profit (please, I hope not). This year for Snixmas—which is essentially Naya’s version of Christmas, or I suppose, her alter-ego Snix’s—one of Naya’s unreleased songs was released with backing vocals by various Glee cast members. I was hastily in love with the song, Prayer for the Broken, upon its release, but having read Naya’s memoir there are suddenly so many more layers to it than I could have realised. Hearing Naya tell her story in Sorry Not Sorry makes me admire her even more than I had. I know plenty of people struggle to rewatch Glee for multiple reasons. This includes the emotional toil of seeing Naya and Cory Monteith—who portrayed Finn Hudson on the show until his death in 2013—but for me, the weight of losing them both does not outweigh my appreciation for what they gave us in Glee. Sorry Not Sorry is another piece of Naya Rivera I am going to fiercely love moving forward.



The 21 Novels Mentioned Above:

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

I Shot the Devil by Ruth McIver

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Sula by Toni Morrison

Before Your Memory Fades by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Oracle of Maracoor by Gregory Maguire

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

The Rome Zoo by Pascal Janovjak

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Love by Toni Morrison

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

The Days of Abandonment by Elene Ferrante

Assembly by Natasha Brown

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Pandora's Jar//Divine Might by Natalie Haynes

Sorry Not Sorry by Naya Rivera

Other reads this year include:

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (which I also loved)

The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, and The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket (these books are insanely easy to read, because I'm definitely no longer the target audience, but it's fun to be a child again sometimes)

The Murder on the Links, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (she had such an insane talent for murder mysteries, I am blown away every time)

plus, I reread Wicked by Gregory Maguire (because I love it)

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