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  • Writer's pictureKeeley Young

Books I've Eaten This Year

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

Like a puppy eating someone's homework, I nibbled through the pages of a whacky assortment of novels this year, and I thought I'd just ramble through brief reviews of them, sans ratings or scores because figuring things out around numbers is NOT MY FIELD.


Potential spoilers ahead. Sometimes I forget what is a spoiler and what isn't.

You have been warned...


[scroll to the bottom for a complete list of the books]


What You Can See From Here

by Mariana Leky


There is something so fascinating about a novel that is positioned a million miles away from any actual okapis, and yet fantasises so much about them. A weird creature, sort of like a zebra and a giraffe and an antelope, a unicorn of the forest, that spells out an omen for a small village in Germany. So much of this book hinges on the anticipation of death, but without scared fear of it until that very moment. When you face death, when you confront it, then you feel that agony, that restraint from these characters. There is so much that is lost in What You Can See From Here, but it feels not a spoiler to say so. You spend the entirety of the novel in anticipation, contemplating your own notions of ‘omens’ – do you believe in them, do you believe we can predict our suffering or our grief, or if we never truly see anything coming at all, and life is just filled to the brim with strange coincidences? There’s something to how Selma traverses her world that feels almost like tiptoeing, and yet, she is bold and persistent too. Her relationship with her grandmother is beautifully crafted. What You Can See From Here reminds you how unforgiving death can be. I was emotional and my heart ached and I just wanted to be held.



Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

by Robert Kolker


Mental health is such an important focus for me, in terms of understanding my own and understanding how the brain works and understanding the different fabrics of different conditions – such as schizophrenia, for instance. Of the twelve children of Donald and Mimi Galvin, six of them were diagnosed with schizophrenia by the 1970s. Hidden Valley Road chronicles everything of note from the childhoods of the parents right up to how the surviving children are now, alongside discussions of the mental health industry’s continued attempts to understand schizophrenia. You find yourself aching when every form of treatment is described, with the knowledge that these were not merely happening to unknown mentally ill patients, but to these incredibly young Galvin brothers, that would otherwise have no treatment and be left to without care at all. Hidden Valley Road does an exceptional job of telling the life stories of every single Galvin family member, and I found myself wondering how our current-day mental health industry would have fared for them. The twelve children of Don and Mimi, while not all diagnosed with schizophrenia, suffered through mental battles all strikingly unique to their experiences. The question of nature vs nurture was heavily prevalent throughout the book – but it was alarmingly clear, too, that it was not an either/or…the Galvins were born for their suffering, miserably, and the industry was determined to learn something from them to help them, or otherwise it would simply be tossing them aside.



The Edible Woman

by Margaret Atwood


I return to Margaret Atwood, an author whose work I absolutely love, and this time, I read The Edible Woman – the first novel she ever published, back in the 1960s. Marian is rightfully terrified of her engagement to a man she barely knows – and although being with him is of her choice at the time, she feels herself slipping away from all the decisions she made as she lives them out. Marian begins an emotional affair with a truly unusual specimen of a man – Duncan – who reminds her of more of a fragment of a being, rather than an actual flesh-and-blood-man, like her fiancé Peter is. Meanwhile, there’s a truly outstanding subplot about her roommate Ainsley tricking a man into impregnating her, which showcases Ainsley’s completely unhinged mind. Something I have always admired about anything Atwood writes is that her characters are allowed breathing room – constantly they feel alive, leaping from the page, but entirely flawed and emotional and constructed out of rich cake. There’s icing on top, too. Something I loved so much about The Edible Woman was its deconstruction of the idea of engagement, and marriage, and ‘settling down’. Marian was terrified of being Peter’s boring wife. She was terrified of him being her boring husband. She eyed the married women that returned to work in the office she worked in, and she was entirely disgusted in how similar they all seemed to be. The novel is described as being 'protofeminist', having been written prior to second-wave feminism, and every notion of this pours out from the pages. Marian is desperate to exist entirely of her own being, and the idea of losing out on herself hollows her out.



The House in the Cerulean Sea

By TJ Klune


Look, I won’t pretend I didn’t devour this book. With such a beautiful gay love story threading through this tale of an orphanage off the coast being reviewed by Linus Baker, it gave me strong Miss Peregrine’s vibes, but without a rough film version clouding my head. The House in the Cerulean Sea plays off established tropes early – magical orphanages, the spawn of the devil, humans fearing magic-users – but what it accomplishes with these tropes is something entirely magical and just a wildly fun ride. And you get to watch an ordinary human fall in love with the beautiful specimen known as Arthur, who has my entire heart to this day. The love story that unfolds is queer and comfortable, and refreshingly features two older men. Linus begins to form bonds with the at first glance strange children that inhabit the orphanage – including a wyvern that loves collecting things, I absolutely love him. The House in the Cerulean Sea plays out fairly according to trope, but there are some exceptions, and I think truthfully such an important thing to me is to see queer love in more media, so I will gladly accept the healthy and warm romance between Linus and Arthur, because nothing frankly stupid drives a wedge between them. I need an adaption, whether it film or television, purely to see them making eyes at each other while the children cause all the chaos in the world from the protection of their humble little isle.



Lovecraft Country

by Matt Ruff


I think an interesting part of reading this book was having done so after watching the TV show – they are vastly different and noticing how strikingly dissimilar the plotlines are was an interesting study in how something is molded over time and for a different audience, truly. There’s much to be said about a white author writing a novel about the experiences of black people, too, but as a white person myself, not so much something I can grapple with fully, commenting on. There is a lot of discussion I’ve read, getting myself educated outside of the television show and the novel, so this quick lil review is a focus on the storytelling and what the novel presented to me. The novel, much like the series, is split up into eight different stories, different narratives tied together by a series of central characters. Set in the 1960s, the novel examines the racism of the era, whilst entangling with HP Lovecraft themes and ideas. It’s understandable in a lot of ways why things were adapted differently in the TV show – certain ideas fall flat or feel too grossly tied to the notion of “black pain” – which, again, should not be handled by a white man. But through reading Lovecraft Country I suppose I could come to terms properly with what was handled well, and what wasn’t, and move forward with a clearer conscience on reading more fiction by black authors that gave them the proper platform, if they chose to discuss their history. It’s not something a white person should do, no matter their intentions – it feels odd discussing it, and I’m sure Matt Ruff did plenty of research, too, but it does indeed feel strange seeing the most successful novel of a white man to be a novel very specifically in the voice of black people.



A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing

by Jessie Tu


Let me preface this by saying that if you can’t stand an erotic scene, don’t come two feet of this book. When you google A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, the description says “Jena Lin plays the violin…” but it truthfully should come out of the gate with “Jena Lin fucks” because the amount of smut it felt like I read while flipping the pages through this novel…if I wasn’t gay before this, then I definitely am now. Jena is attempting to reclaim the success of her childhood career as a violinist, all the while having sex with quite a number of men, including a passionate and aggressive affair with a man in his 40s named Mark. Jena is unashamedly horny. She is attracted to a lot of men and isn’t afraid of fantasising about them, or kissing them, or luring them into bed. In some senses, she is a siren that plays the violin instead of sings, not that she wanted to play for many of the men she slept with, if at all. And truly, all of this is high praise for the novel – Jena Lin felt complex and alive, and I felt like I was invading her brain. There were moments I felt nauseous from what Jena thought of, let alone what she experienced. She truly let that void of discomfort eat her alive. But not before a man ate her out first.


As a side note, I learnt so much about how to play the violin from A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing. Obviously, it won’t do much for me, I have no desire to play the violin and I’d probably be terrible at it, but I think, truly, it taught me how beautifully written the description of an instrument being played could be, and also gained me some knowledge in the workings of an orchestra. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing is so much more than just a girl having steamy sex to forget about her depression.



Set My Heart to Five

by Simon Stephenson


The moon has been incinerated and you’d probably be able to guess who did it. Set in the future, in 2054, Set My Heart to Five is the story of a robot dentist and his grand scheme to run away to Los Angeles and write a screenplay where the robot is the hero. Where the robot saves the girl-robot. This book is beautifully optimistic and quirky as all hell, with graphs thrown in here and there. Jared evolves over the course of the novel, becoming a robot with feelings, a robot that doesn’t abide by the nature rule entrusted to robots – that they should follow the instructions given to them by humans, or else be reset. Set My Heart to Five switches gear constantly, giving you prose, script formats, graphs – as I said – and truly makes Jared stand out as the protagonist. He’s uniquely robotic, and yet uniquely quirky, too. You are posed the question – can a robot have feelings? And you, of course, cannot hesitate but to scream out a big, fat, juicy YES by the end of the novel. Jared has more emotions than some human beings I know. I’d absolutely love to be his friend. We could go to film screenings together, and I think he’d have better opinions than some people on the internet do. This is my public service announcement that I would happily accept a robot best friend, even with the implications that someone could have programmed it to love me. Seems like robots like Jared are far more emotionally understanding than some of the people in this universe…and if I only have to wait until 2054 for someone like Jared to walk into my life and be my best bud, then maybe the wait is worth it.


Rest in peace to New Zealand, though. You were beautiful while you existed.



The Brides of Maracoor

by Gregory Maguire


The Brides of Maracoor almost made me pass out when I stumbled upon it in the bookstore. It reunites me, specifically, with Rain, the granddaughter of Elphaba Thropp from the Wicked novel – you might know the musical of the same name, or you might live under a rock, either is understandable. I know The Wicked Years novels are divisive among fans of the musical, but I’m an unashamed fan of the books, and I have such a gargantuan love for Oz and any piece of media surrounding it.


The Brides of Maracoor is the first in a spun-off series, following Rain as she ventures off from Oz and finds herself in a very Grecian-and-Roman land, but in particular, on the tiny isle of Maracoor Spot, which is home to the aforementioned brides. With a spot of amnesia, Rain, alongside Iskinaary the Goose [capital G here, for Iskinaary speaks, and speaks well], comes to terms with their stumbled-upon life on the tiny isle. But their arrival sets mounting pressures on the brides of Maracoor Spot, with an elderly bride near passing the reigns of her leadership, and the youngest of the brides – child Cossy – entirely conflicted on how life ought to be on the island. Everything truly fascinating about The Brides of Maracoor is string-tied to the titular characters, and of course Rain’s arrival – I found myself losing focus when it first introduced Lucikles, and subsequent chapters focused on him seemed to make me yearn for the return to all discussion of the women. Without giving too much away, The Brides of Maracoor is a compelling case as to why Rain should find herself outside of Oz entirely, although I anticipate with increasing passion for not merely the complete return of her memories, but her feet back upon that hallowed soil once more. I miss Maguire’s gorgeous recreation of Oz, but I am fascinated by this other land that he is crafting.



The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

by Taylor Jenkins Reid


From seven brides…to seven husbands. I binged through this book in about three or four days, largely because I had the time to obsess over it. I don’t typically buy into the hype around books, or I find them too generic when I start to read them, but the feelings were incredibly different for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. The storytelling is rich and Old Hollywood glamourous and yet the nuances of the topics it does cover are handled with the right sort of caution for the genre. Old Hollywood deconstructions fascinate me, in the sense that there are so many dark, miserable sides to what was published in the papers, or projected out onto the film screens. But all that darkness, and those disturbing vignettes, should be discussed not solely from a modern standpoint, but from the position of the era too. It was almost impossible for anyone not straight, white and male to be freely themselves – and Jenkins Reid allows an underpinning of that to envelop her novel, without it coming across as too overpoweringly a “feminist” or a “political” novel. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo handles its themes with the same amount of grace that its titular icon, Evelyn Hugo, exudes – while also maintaining the thrill of gossip, drama, and seven very fascinating husbands, that all play such an important part in sculpting the true love story of the novel.



Being Dead

by Jim Crace


If you ever had a craving for a novel that describes in depth the processes that occur when two bodies start to decompose on the shoreline, look no further than Crace’s Being Dead. Everything is given the time of day – from the murder, to the lumped corpses still clinging naked to one another, to the critters and worms crawling up to feast on their rotting flesh. What I found fascinating was not only how microscopic the focus on the physical body was, but how everything related to this specific death was considered and explored. Crace left no stone unturned, rifling through the physical, and the eerie emptiness of Celice and Joseph’s daughter returning home, at first unsure of what happened to them, and then slowly uncovering their fate. Crace rewinds time to when Celice and Joseph first met, two excited scientists flirting with each other with insects and the ocean and their bare-naked bodies. The novel so overwhelmingly completes this tale of life coming to an end you feel as though you’re overstepping in such a gruesome yet mournful period for those left alive to bear witness to it – but Being Dead reminds you that while death is inevitable, there are many facets to the cruel mistress.



The Lost Daughter

by Elena Ferrante


I watched the film first, so naturally I spent the entirety of The Lost Daughter with Olivia Colman dancing round my head, suffering through the trauma of her decisions and experiencing a rather odd vacation. The Lost Daughter is such a tight, internal book that centres on Leda, a mother of two daughters that she walked out on when they were very little, to experience life for herself without being tied to the label of mother, and wife. At some point, she returned to her children, but the effects of leaving them linger on her subconscious – and now, years later, with both of her children in their twenties, Leda cannot distance herself from how she has viewed motherhood over the course of her life. On her coastal vacation, something sparks within her, and Leda snatches up the plastic doll a little girl had misplaced. She had become so enamoured, strangely, with a younger mother, Nina, and her daughter – the owner of the doll – and she inserts herself in their life, pretending she knows nothing of the whereabouts of the doll, while hoping to be a comfort to Nina. The fractals of Leda’s own motherhood reverberate into the present – Leda is a complicated, messy woman, and seems to irritate many of the other vacationers – but Ferrante’s self-indulgent prose blurs the lines. A pinecone collides with Leda’s back, and she struggles to decide if it was mere coincidence of walking beneath the pines or if the Italians at the beach hate her that furiously. The Lost Daughter squares you very comfortably and uncomfortably inside Leda’s mind, and you just need to make the decision of whether or not you want to stick around. The novella is a quick read, given its length, but Leda rarely gives you a chance to rest – this is one vacation where you’re the one causing the chaos, through Leda’s lens, but it gave me such an appreciation for Ferrante’s prose and voice as an author, so I’m definitely excited to check out more of her work.



The Library of the Dead

by T. L. Huchu


I think I’ll begin by saying how refreshing it was to have a black, female character at the forefront of a fantasy novel. Ropa is a brazen teenage ghost talker in Edinburgh of the future, communicating with the deceased, offering them their chances to deliver messages to the still alive…until she begins to uncover a mystery that is rapidly aging the children that go missing. The titular library almost gets her hanged for trespassing but comes to be of help in expanding her knowledge of the magical current that runs through her veins. Ropa’s family – her grandmother and her little sister, Izwi – mean so much to her, and their bond is such a touching part of The Library of the Dead. In some respects, the novel reminds me of a Scooby-Doo story – Ropa lands herself in trouble by means of constantly wanting to uncover the truth, there’s some sinister characters that chase her round the city, and as you near the ultimate climax, there is a reveal – you find out exactly who has been responsible all along. The book is the first in a series, so expect more to come from Huchu, who crafts characters that are fun, charming, and kooky – and special little shout out to Priya, who is truly badass wheelchair-user representation. The Library of the Dead was a pleasure to read, with how much Ropa is seemingly disgusted by the world around her and yet is still fascinated too, and I’m sure I’ll read Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments sometime in the future…



Star Mother

by Charlie N. Holmberg


Imagine a world in which you could be impregnated by a humanoid The Sun to become the mother of a newborn star. This is the world of Star Mother, and yes, a young woman in a small town on the face of Mother Earth is plucked up one day after lengthy discussions about which woman in town it should be to be the womb of a new glowing-orb baby. Ceris is one in an extraordinary line of women that fostered stars in the night sky – but she is the first to survive the birth. In newfound power – the Sun has never witnessed a woman to survive the truly torturous childbirth that would ensue when popping out A STAR – Ceris is determined to return to her family…except it’s been seven hundred odd years and her descendants no longer live in her hometown of Endwever. I think it would be the wrong branding to classify Star Mother as a tale of girlbossing, but Ceris is a determined, spritely, self-assured woman with such intense and impassioned maternal instincts for her star in the sky – her forward propel in the search of her distant future-family, alongside a shapeshifter named Ristriel, never quite feels like it slows, despite dead ends, an ongoing raging war in the skies, and The Sun keeping tabs on Ceris like an overly-attached ex-boyfriend. What I loved so much about Star Mother was the worldbuilding – Holmberg creates a universe that feels inherently inviting to the reader, whilst giving that warm feeling of home in the little notes of how the world is inspired by our own. I don’t know if I ever got adjusted to how The Sun was referred to with capital-letter pronouns and tooted as this dazzlingly handsome sculpted man too busy to be all-knowing in the unending combat against The Moon. If you were searching out for something fantasy to read, with a truly strange love triangle, you’ve found Star Mother. Holmberg writes Ceris boldly and full of heart – a woman who was barely an adult and is now adjusting all the same to being a mother to a child she cannot hold. You yearn for them to be reunited and to never be apart again.



The Keepers

by Al Campbell


As an Australian author – and a Brisbane one myself too – Al Campbell’s debut novel, The Keepers, felt familiar in a lot of senses. There were places I’ve been, places I’m so familiar with, and sentiments of living in this part of the world that flushed like an undercurrent while I read. The Keepers centres of Jay, the mother of two autistic teenage boys, but Frank and Teddy couldn’t be more opposite to each other. I found the instinct crawl in of wanting to protect non-verbal Teddy, who throughout the novel becomes sick and is oftentimes ignored substantially by the doctors, who claim his fever will just ‘disappear’. Frank is loudly true to himself and a misunderstood artist. But the painful core of the novel is Jay’s struggle to balance being a full-time carer to her kids in a world that won’t support her – painfully true to disability support of today’s world – and the trauma of her own past, from a mother than tormented her incessantly, to the birth of a twisted imaginary friend of sorts, named Keep, that has haunted her since she was very little. The Keepers is uncomfortable and isolating, and yet, in moments that remind you of the love a mother can have for her children, Jay’s determination for her children is paramount. Enough to forget for a moment that the father of these children, an almost-out-of-the-picture northern European man named Jerrik, is so reminiscent of many, many parents to autistic children. Campbell expresses her anger and passion brilliantly, but the book is not always the easiest of reads.



My Best Friend’s Exorcism

by Grady Hendrix


By the power vested in me by E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, I banish the demon from within you – is not the worst description of how deeply invested Abby is in freeing her best friend and potential lesbian crush, Gretchen, from the grasp of demonic possession. Said possession takes place in the 80s, when Abby and Gretchen, along with friends Margaret and Glee, were teenagers navigating boys, makeup, acid, and eating disorders. When Gretchen disappears, naked from skinny dipping, drugs in her system, the other girls are unsure what is to be believed and what was a hallucination – until she starts vomiting all over her friends, and sabotaging their lives, and drawing in every species of bird within a certain radius. A hunky, built-like-a-brick-house exorcist of sorts is certain of it – Gretchen is possessed by a demon. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is quirky as hell, a trip and a half as Abby’s life is upended by whatever torturous creature inhabits Gretchen’s body. Hendrix writes like he is suddenly a teenage girl in the 80s – Abby is cringe yet loveable, awkward yet unashamed, and the novel never raises the stakes to such an extreme. The most terrifying thing for Abby is for her own life to be ruined, and to lose her I-love-you-dearly-but-not-queerly best friend, Gretchen. I had an absolute blast. The prose is fun, and campy, and sometimes miserable and self-deprecating, as any teenager is, and should be when their best friend buys them for problematic Slave-and-Owner Day at the school. I think something was lost in adapting the novel, however – a film version came out in late September on Amazon Prime, and much of my excitement was lost on some of the very blunt, dull changes that were made – including one change that stripped away a lot of the grey-area of the novel. It’s difficult to contain novels to the film format – you sacrifice scenes that may seem less important, or scenes that seem to require too much establishment, and parts of what I loved about the novel so much are lost amidst the changes. There’s strength in being able to adapt something and make the necessary changes to revise it for the screen – but I think My Best Friend’s Exorcism owes so much of its quirky brilliance to Hendrix’s prose and the written format of a novel that it was difficult to expect everything would translate with the ease and grace of a white swan (ballerina). My recommendation is very strongly of the novel – it’s a hell of a time, I was hooked, and you will be too, unless you really cannot stand a girl that was once absolutely obsessed with ET enough to have a birthday party themed all around the adorable little bugger.



Five Little Pigs

by Agatha Christie


Strangely, I had never read an Agatha Christie novel before. I thought I would start here, with Five Little Pigs, solely because the idea intrigued me – Hercule Poirot revisits a murder of an artist that was blamed on his wife, who died in prison after being convicted. The daughter of the aforementioned couple is determined not to believe the judgement – and there are five little suspects that could have been responsible but would have hidden their guilt well. Poirot tracks down each suspect and has them write out their side of events in and around the window of the murder – and you wonder what little inconsistency or flaw in a story will give Poirot the light-bulb moment to uncover the truth and deliver a truly marvelous reveal at the closing of the book. Agatha Christie proves herself in surprising you – and I think saying that does not spoil a single thing. Every suspect at one point seems suspicious. Including, of course, the convicted – the deceased wife of Amyas Crale, Caroline Crale. Five Little Pigs made me almost rush out to buy all the Agatha Christie books I could find. One could say I am most certainly hooked.



Lady Oracle

by Margaret Atwood


A romance novelist decides to fake her own death and flee to a place she once vacationed with her husband. Slowly, I am reading through all of Margaret Atwood’s works, and this time I read Lady Oracle, a strange, anxious tale about Joan Foster, a woman who made her success under a pen name, has a series of love affairs with some very unique men, and lies a very many times to keep herself from toppling over the edge. I will forever and always praise Atwood’s brilliant, poetic prose – the imagery is vivid, the characters are flesh and blood on the page, and your feelings about Joan are diluted by the misery of her childhood, the indulgence of her young adulthood, and the selfish beauty of every action she takes when she begins to believe her life is falling apart, or simply becoming boring. Lady Oracle deals with the fear of the unknown in many tangents – Joan’s grim, ethereal poetry collection that she pieced together from convening with spirits in front of a candle and a mirror is only part in her constant fleeing from things. But I think it is important to note that Joan isn’t so much a coward as she is a particular type of opportunist leveraging the parts of her life that are beginning to confront her. If you’re a fan of romance novels, Atwood takes a crack at writing one within the pages of Lady Oracle – it’s the latest manuscript from Joan, and the tropes, the bells and the whistles position you away from Joan’s own life only long enough to see the connections that do linger between the lived-in story and the words Joan plans on making bank off in her disguise. While not my favourite Atwood novel, I enjoyed Lady Oracle – at some point I’ll have to figure out my ranking of her novels, and while perhaps this one will sit somewhere in the middle to bottom, it isn’t because I didn’t enjoy the novel – it’s difficult for me to dislike something Margaret Atwood has written. Lady Oracle has taught me a few things nevertheless – if you’re pretending to be dead, don’t run off to the exact apartment you stayed in when you were pretending to be alive; and if you find yourself a character in a Margaret Atwood novel, have an affair with a bit of an atypical man for some excitement.



The Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller


This one was recommended to me A LOT. I think, potentially, how hyped it was turned me away from it somewhat. I was bored through a chunk of it, not to say the prose was horrific – although I found myself uncomfortable with any erotic-adjacent scene, I think maybe those just aren’t Miller’s strong suit. If war-oriented novels with queer characters are your holy grail, The Song of Achilles is perfect for you – and as the novel weaved towards its conclusion, I fell more in love with how the story was told and the central characters. But feelings of disappointment still remained, unfortunately – and I think this, for me, is a perfect example of how certain novels are clutched so tightly by an audience that the assumption is quickly ‘oh you will love this, you will read it effortlessly’. The Song of Achilles was by no means a book I couldn’t enjoy – the love story between Patroclus and Achilles is gorgeous and strained, and Greek mythology and legends are a fascinating study to me. But I was convinced from all these overwhelmingly positive reviews that I would crave every page. I did not. But that’s okay, in the end. There are plenty of novels that I loved that have moments of weakness, of flaw. I still enjoyed The Song of Achilles, but it’s forever important to engage your own opinion on something, rather than assume your opinion will match with the great spans of social media and your friend’s opinions.



Class Trip

by Emmanuel Carrère


The catastrophic imagination of a boy named Nicolas explodes out his head on a class ski trip as disappearance after disappearance – his bag, his father, a child from a village – makes him assume the worst of everything. Truly, it was like looking in a mirror sometimes in this book. He forgets to take his bag, with all his clothes, his toothbrush, his safe, out of the trunk of the car, and his father drives off and IS NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN. Understandably, Nicolas assumes his father careened off the road and is slowly bleeding to death, which is a feeling I’m all too familiar with. Growing up with anxiety – a lot of it – you connect with the sorts of characters that assume the darkest possible timeline. Nicolas doesn’t limit this to how events affect him alone, stretching out his imagination to collide on other people’s lives – other kids, in particular, predicting how their lives could be more torturous than his is. You spend the time in this short little novel holed up inside Nicolas’ brain right beside him, jealous of the moments he’s drinking something hot, or listening to music in the car with Patrick, one of the supervisors and a skiing instructor. The blurb on the back of the book suggests that Nicolas sets out to search for clues, play detective, but I think the subtlety of his movements throughout Class Trip are what give him answers and close him in on that truth lingering over the novel.



Beloved

by Toni Morrison


I’ve struggled on where to begin with Beloved, which on the surface presents such an agonising depiction of the grief from the loss of a child but under the surface touches on so much pain and trauma that, as a white person, I couldn’t even begin to unpack. I felt like I spent a novel watching Denver mature into a smart, compassionate woman, amidst the gushing floodgates parting for her mother, Sethe – and for that, I’m grateful, in a sense, because I didn’t want my takeaway from Beloved to be only harboured to all the feelings I had for the “titular character”. Beloved, as a strange sort of resurrected entity, the grown-up version of Sethe’s deceased daughter, is a character of confrontation and haunts 124 Bluestone Road in her many forms – at first, of course, as the lingering spirit shaking round the house like her rattle. Toni Morrison’s prose is gorgeous, and harrowing, and makes me ache as a fellow writer for how effortless her characterisation feels, and how she manages to weave between characters’ perspectives, while driving forward the plot – to be perfectly honest, I could sit here all day talking about how I marvelled at the prose the entirety of the way through. Beloved makes you ache from all it encompasses – slavery, racism, grief, pain, every attempt to make a new start on life – but Toni Morrison is a voice that won’t be forgotten, and with how slow the world seems to be changing on topics such as a racism, Beloved paints such a compassionate image of Sethe, Denver, Paul D, Baby Suggs, Stamp Paid, and so many other characters, too. Beloved is a study in the perseverance and the love of its characters, and there’s no denying a mother the chance to embrace her daughter once more…even if there must be darkness to her daughter’s sudden resurrection all these years later.



Death in the Clouds

by Agatha Christie


I returned once more to my main private investigator man, Hercule Poirot. Starting to really find comfort in his French-speaking, moustachioed embrace. This time, a murderer strikes in the skies – a moneylender from France, Madame Giselle, is discovered to be dead when the plane lands, and someone on board is to blame! There is quite the assortment of suspects – and Poirot himself is almost convicted of the crime by a very easily-swayed jury! Naturally the murderer would hide a weapon down the gaps in their chair! Once Poirot is ruled out, the carriage is to be questioned – was it one of the stewards, was it the doctor, was it the murder mystery novelist, was it the suspicious Lady Horbury that may or may not be indebted to Madame Giselle? Once more Agatha Christie nails her brand of mystery, keeping you on your toes…I spent almost the entirety of the novel waiting for her to address something, half-convinced it was incredibly important to the reveal of whodunnit it…and I’ll leave it to you to figure out what I waited with bated breath for, and whether Agatha Christie managed to fool you, too. Poirot is one crafty, intelligent man – don’t doubt that he will solve the mystery and expose clues that were staring you right in the face. Death in the Clouds was such a fun, jovial experience – and by the end of the novel, those chapters you thought random and taking away from solving the mystery suddenly make all the more sense.



Persuasion

by Jane Austen


Sometimes someone recommends you read a Jane Austen novel, finally, and you give it your best go. I’ll admit I found the first little section boring, when the focus wasn’t on Anne Elliot. Far too much discussion about an old man stressing over letting his mansion to the right tenant and insulting the daughters that aren’t Elizabeth. But when everything properly shifted over to our Anne, I admit I found myself intrigued by the dragged-out tension between her and Captain Wentworth – who I can’t stop referring to as Kelley Wentworth, from Survivor. Once upon a time, they had been almost-engaged-to-marry, but her family had not approved of him, and she did not have the voice back then to tell them to f-off. Eight or so years on, Anne is a middle-aged lady! Just kidding, she’s in her late twenties, but Jane Austen comes from a time where people called you madame once you hit the big 3-0. The prose of Persuasion is incredibly indicative of its time – Jane oftentimes spends half a page explaining a very specific part of one’s character, or a character will not say another word on the topic ! and then ramble for another two pages about the ins and outs of the little gossips of the town [frankly, I adored when Mary, Anne’s sister, said she was so ill she could not speak – and then did not shut up for quite some time. Mary is an old-timey girlboss that complains very frequently, and I was obsessed with how frustrating she constantly was. Brilliant foil to every single plan every character made.] I got distracted, though. Jane Austen’s prose is not always for the faint of heart, but when she strikes the harp perfectly – say, in a letter Wentworth writes to Anne – you absolutely melt. Because Jane was not merely writing a novel, she wanted that heart of romance, and intrigue, and Louisa Musgrove, who took a tumble down a small flight of stairs and was ill for a month. Will I read more Austen? I am unsure, certainly not right this very instance. But I have more of an appreciation for her now, at least.



Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café

by Toshikazu Kawaguchi


Tales from the Café is the sequel to Before the Café Gets Cold – both are novels in four parts that centre on someone venturing into the past to visit someone with the help of a charming Japanese café and its staff. Yet the two novels uncover their own secrets, their own stories entirely, while of course still carrying the ongoing lives of the staff, namely Nagare and the waitress who pours the coffee, Kazu. The coffee in question is important – it is amongst one of many very important rules in time travelling, that Kawaguchi outlines frequently for the reader. Think of it as tight tradition. In order to return to the past, or venture to the future – which happens in this book – there are no stones left unturned. There’s something strangely comforting in watching four stories unfold of people wishing to visit different times to their present – and of course, following the rules, they can only wish to visit the very café, which presents its own challenges. Tales of the Café challenged a rule it had set this time around by asking, if you propositioned someone to visit the Café Funiculi Funicula on a certain date in the future, could you travel in time to meet them? Would they be waiting for you then? This novel from Kawaguchi handled the grief of death beautifully – many of the characters returned to the past to visit someone that had passed away, eager to express something they had never had the chance to do. For this form of time travel cannot change the past, and everyone is warned of this – so, I think, what Tales from the Café handles so elegantly is the heart-warming – and sometimes heartbreaking – closure that can come from that one chance to travel through time. We aren’t guaranteed closure at all – people are lost, people are grieved, we lose those we hold dearest without a chance to say a proper goodbye sometimes. But in a quaint little café in Japan, some people receive such a chance – just don’t break a single rule, or else.



Horrorstör

by Grady Hendrix


We’re back with another Grady Hendrix novel, mainly because this one was recommended to me very strongly. I completely understand why. It’s a horror thriller set in a knock-off IKEA that Amy, the central character, openly discusses is so cheaply fabricating its success off the same business model, only with much less sturdy materials. As the story unfolds, you realise ORSK is a chilling location for the paranormal ghosts of Horrorstör. Ghosts come in many different forms, and the novel toys with the idea of people being haunted – both, of course, by actual old-time ghosts, but also by their circumstances, by their pasts, and by the demons of working in retail, let’s be real. Amy is struggling – she is behind on rent, she doesn’t feel like there is much purpose in her life, and she is convinced Basil, the second-in-charge is just waiting for the moment he can fire her. But when he proposes that she and Ruth-Ann spend the night at ORSK with him to catch the culprit responsible for all the damage, all the broken and soiled furniture they find in the morning, the true fun begins…and so does the nightmare. There’s not a whole lot I want to say about this novel without spoiling, so I find a very succinct review will do it justice – if you were curious how a supernatural horror could be done in an IKEA lookalike, look no further than Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. The novel is presented as if it is an ORSK catalogue, and I am obsessed. It’s a complete experience. The novel can be presented no other way, I refuse to hear it. Grady Hendrix continues to impress me.



She Memes Well

by Quinta Brunson


I’m starting a new trend with myself where I read a memoir/autobiography every December, to honour all the women who buy their husbands the latest sportsperson’s biography as a gesture to get their reading around Christmas time. But also I really wanted to read Quinta Brunson’s book – you may know Quinta from Abbott Elementary, a show she created, writes for, and stars in as Janine Teagues. Or the first season of my favourite sketch comedy show, A Black Lady Sketch Show. Or the He Got Money videos. A woman of many hilarious talents, her memoir She Memes Well beautifully blends discussing her upbringing, her career from its humble beginnings through her Buzzfeed days to gaining traction and fame as a comedian, but also discusses incredibly important topics, too. Quinta begins a segment talking about how the pandemic presented a boredom she was endlessly curing with Mario Party, but sharply shifts to discussing the Black Lives Movement’s surge in discussion following the death of George Floyd in such a way that is both profound and also very personal. I learnt so much about Quinta from reading She Memes Well, and at first the title may startle you into thinking the novel will be unserious, but the underlying meaning is there – Quinta Brunson means well, in sparking discussion and change in the community, and comedy may be her greatest strength, but there is power too in how she paves through her life, never coming across as fame-seeking. For Quinta, I felt so much passion in seeking out change and in protecting her family, and her friends, and the Black community. I don’t read memoirs or autobiographies too often – I prefer fiction, where I can escape from fact – but I thoroughly enjoyed Quinta’s She Memes Well, because it achieved what I always seek out if I am in search of learning about someone’s life – there was comfort in being an audience for someone’s journey, without it feeling smug or a sob story, if you will. Quinta recognises her journey is her own, and isn’t a story that needs to be exploited – she’s constantly reflecting on her choices in life, and on the industry itself, hoping social media dies out soon enough. Even though she knows social media helped her find that early success, posting videos about a girl who’s never been on a nice date before. You may not know Quinta Brunson at all, but I would recommend She Memes Well so strongly. You know the People Be Gay meme? That’s Quinta Brunson. Enough said.



so that was the year for me, in books.


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The Books I've Eaten This Year, a complete list


What You Can See From Here by Mariana Leky

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson

The Brides of Maracoor by Gregory Maguire

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Being Dead by Jim Crace

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu

Star Mother by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Keepers by Al Campbell

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Class Trip by Emmanuel Carrere

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

She Memes Well by Quinta Brunson


[not included are short story anthologies, such as Women I Know by Katerina Gibson, that I adored but had no idea how to discuss in such a small paragraph. Some of the short stories deserved paragraphs all to themselves. So, I stuck to novels, anything that presented as a complete connected story overall.]

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