HOTTREADS: Volume Twelve

Hi and how are ya?! I had a lofty goal to blog once a week this year but apparently once a month is more my speed. Oops? I'd love to say I've been off somewhere exotic, but in reality I've been drowning in work, dealing with a frustrating knee injury (long story!), jetting off to Chicago for my brother's wedding, subsequently recovering for 2-6 weeks post my brother's wedding (how long do hangovers usually last? Asking for a friend!), etc. Normal things! I feel like I have one million ideas to write about, my brain is constantly tumbling over thoughts, but whenever I get a spare moment to sit at my computer, they fly away. 

I'll capture them someday. Until then you can sit with growing anticipation for what brilliance I shall deliver.

Ok fine, I won't leave you totally hanging. Amid the working and the physical therapy and the peeing in an alleyway in downtown Chicago in a bridesmaid dress (oh like you've never peed in a city alley before), I have managed to find some time to sneak in a book or two. Or four, if I'm being entirely upfront here. 

So, without further ado: here are the four books I read in March of 2017. And YES I KNOW it is now essentially May 2017 so I'm falling wildly behind but did I not just list enough excuses for you?

My dog ate my blog. It wasn't my fault! 

just mercy hottreads hottsauce book blogger

JUST MERCY: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

First up, my March Nonfiction Challenge pick!

I know the term "must-read" gets tossed around pretty fast and loose by certain book publicists (ahem), diluting the meaning, but this one is the real deal! So just in case "must read" isn't powerful enough for ya, I took to the interwebs to come up with a few synonyms c/o thesaurus.com: obligatory, compulsory, binding, required, requisite, necessary, essential, imperative. 

JUST MERCY is all of those things and a page turner to boot! 

Bryan Stevenson is legit an American hero. After working with death row inmates in law school, Stevenson co-founded the Equal Justice Initiative, fully dedicating his life's work to defending and fighting for wrongfully incarcerated, especially those sent to death row and young children convicted to gruesome life sentences. The narrative arc of the story is one of his first, and most famous cases, representing Walter McMillian, a man sent to death row for a crime he didn't commit. Interwoven with the McMillan case are absolutely harrowing statistics and stories about other clients of the EJI, about kids as young as 12 sentenced to life in solitary confinement for minor infractions, about men wrongfully sent to death row, about people usually too poor, too powerless, and yes, too black, to fight the system that's supposed to protect them. This book is timely and timeless at once and feels especially vital in light of the rush of executions set to roll out in the next few weeks in Arkansas. 

The stories he tells are crushing, and yet it's not all bleak, as Stevenson and the people who work with him and in support of him in the EJI are some of the most inspiring, moving, compassionate souls. It's horrific to think of the way that this country treats criminals and continues to perpetuate a mindset of white superiority and yet, knowing that there are people like Bryan Stevenson out there gives me a glimmer of hope. I know several friends - one a badass lady judge from my hometown, another an eager young law student - who consider him a hero and it excites me to think of other brilliant legal minds following in his footsteps moves me to the core.

And just a final note here, in case I haven't heard sold this enough, we all know nearly every book makes me cry at one point or another,  but this one made me cry literally every time I opened it so we're talking about a real winner here. 

Recommended For: Uh, everyone. What part of "obligatory, compulsory, binding, required, requisite, necessary, esssential, imperative" is unclear? 

the hate u give angie thomas book blogger hottreads

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

I love this book so much you guys. So much. Technically a Young Adult novel, The Hate U Give (title pulled from a Tupac song) is the story of 16-year-old Starr who lives in a predominantly black inner-city neighborhood and goes to school at a preppy, predominantly white private school in the 'burbs, making her an expert in the art of code switching. One night she's the only witness as her childhood best friend is killed at the hands of a white police officer and she has to make serious choices and confront harsh realities that threaten to shatter the delicate balance she's created in her worlds. 

I don't usually like YA books because I'm an old curmudgeon but every now and again one comes along that I truly think transcends age genres. Starr and her friends and family are - for the most part - fully realized and complex and Thomas does an exceptional job at portraying a teen world that is nuanced and full. For Starr, and most teens in real life, I think (IDK it's been a while since I was a youth), boys and friends and math tests take equal billing in her mind alongside race relations and family strain and money concerns. That said, though the teen themes are universal, Angie Thomas does not whitewash (literally or figuratively!) her heroine, exploring fears and hopes unique to the experience of young Black women, who rarely get to be the stars of blockbuster films or bestselling novels. More of this, entertainment and publishing execs! 

Also it's just a good read. Starr is hilarious, the dialogue is flawless, the plot is propulsive, the pop-culture references are spot-on, there's just enough teen romance to make you swoon, but not so much you have to roll your old lady eyes (you're 16,  you're going to break up, get over it!), there's family drama, prom, cliquey girl groups, the works. 

Also, this book did not make me cry on the subway but DID make me cry on an Amtrak train which is maybe even more powerful? Amtraks are so fancy, who could cry on such a luxurious chariot? 

Recommended for: Adult YA fans, parents and/or teachers of teens - I think this would be SUCH a good book to read alongside your t(w)een to help guide a discussion on race and activism, sneakerheads. 

all grown up hottsauce hottreads book blogger jami attenberg

ALL GROWN UP by Jami Attenberg

Remember my ill-fated charity mingle from earlier this year? Of course you do, how could you forget! Well, my night didn't end when I slunk out the door of the fancy party and by slunk I mean tried to open the door myself, was startled when instead it was opened by a butler standing on the patio outside and suuuuper cooly remarked to him "Oh wow, I usually open my own doors, this is the fanciest place I've ever been."

VERY.

SMOOTH.

MOVES.

LIZ. 

Anyhoodle I had initially thought the party was much later than it actually was, and Brian had made plans to host a poker night at our house, so I told him I'd make myself scarce so they could really bro out. I'd made plans to have dinner with a friend after the party, but she got held up at work so I figured if I could take myself to a cocktail mingle, I could certainly take myself out for a bite and a drink.

Also, like, how could the night get any worse?

By the grace of all that is holy, the remainder of the evening was a pure delight and I did not make any more scenes. Miracles happen! Instead, I cozied up at the bar at June, a chic little place in Cobble Hill, and ordered a glass of wine and a fancy Brussels sprout dish featuring "Parmesan whip" which turned out to be like, a cloud of Parmesan cheese and butter of some kind? I don't know, but it was magical and delicious, my mouth is watering thinking about it again. And the crown jewel atop this lovely dinner was my companion, Jami Attenberg's charming yet maddening new novel. 

All Grown Up is structurally interesting, reading almost like a linked connection of short stories rather than a full novel, all building together to tell the life of a rather ordinary woman, Andrea, and through her story, explore family, addiction, sex, romance, ambition, art, the changing landscape of Brooklyn neighborhoods, friendship. It's slim, easy to read, and I found it wholly affecting.

My friend Angie is very smart and cool and runs a fantastic podcast called the Lit Up Show, which I also cannot recommend enough. She had Jami on the show a few months back and wrote what I thought to be the most accurate and selling description of what make this book resonant: "If you've ever been single, infatuated, partnered up, in a weird, not-right relationship (this excludes no one)... if you love your mom so hard and in the same moment think she might be killing you with her emotions, this fantastic novel is for you."

Yes! This book also reminded me a great deal of one of my all-time favorites, The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Banks. So a real winner here, folks. 

And did I cry in public? 3 for 3 baby. 

Recommended for: um, what Angie said! 

dear ijeawele, chimamanda ngozi adichie, hottreads book blogger

DEAR IJEAWELE or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Closing on a slim little volume from one of my favorite writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who I had the opportunity to see give a talk a few weeks ago. It was an incredibly invigorating discussion on gender, race, pop culture, and literature and Chimamanda and I became instant besties, here is a picture of our budding friendship.

liz and chimamanda bff

BFF. It's so fun how we're like this classic odd couple, you know? One of us is glamorous and brilliant and the other hasn't washed her hair in four days. And you can barely even tell from this picture which is which! 

This book is a reprint of a letter she wrote to a friend, at the birth of her first child, after being asked for advice on raising feminists. Adichie admits she's not an expert on feminism or parenting, but still overs 15 ideas: teach them that gender roles are irrelevant, encourage them to read, teach girls not to worry so much about likeability. Her ideas aren't flawless, I'm sure, but I think she's starting interesting conversations about gender and feminism and as I look ahead to raising children of my own (like, far ahead, as previously stated, I just drank 5078 beers at my brother's wedding, don't get any fun ideas, close-readers in the crowd)  I am a sponge for ideas on presenting teaching feminism to kids of both genders. I'm grateful to have this book in my life! 

Recommended for: parents of young children (would make an aces baby shower gift!); Chimamanda superfans; a passive-aggressive gift for a friend who thinks feminism doesn't apply to her life.

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And that'll be that! I have to admit in advance that there will be no Nonfiction Challenge Hott Read for April because someoneeee who shall not be named can't find her copy of  The New Jim Crow  and also decided that amid her busy schedule she needed to give herself a slight break on the heavy reading and just pick up a fun book or to and she's of course feeling guilty about failing the challenge but also, deep down, knows she made up the challenge and nobody cares so it's all fine, but she will continue to feel guilty nonetheless, because that is who she is.

She's fun.

Ok the end, have a GREAT final week of April and I promise to be back with more enthralling content lickity split. Or not. Who ever knows what I'll do!

Smooch,

Liz Ho 

 

HOTTREADS: Volume Eleven

Happy Pi Day! I am here to regale you with my thoughts on February's Nonfiction Challenge #Hottread, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.

warmth of other suns, hottread, book review

I'm clearly behind in life as we're already racing through March but it's frickin' snowing in NYC today so honestly, what are months and seasons anyway, except constructs of humanity created in a vain attempt to control the whims of Mother Earth?

time is a flat circle

Is your mind blown? I thought so. 

Ok, back to February we go! First thing's first, this book is very, very, very long. I'm not saying this to discourage you from reading - oh no - but rather giving you a warning up front to allow yourself some time to tackle it, perhaps alongside a reading group with whom you can discuss all you're learning. Don't be like me, basically, foolishly assigning yourself to read the longest book in the shortest month and then panicking when it takes you longer than you thought to finish because you told the internet you'd read it in February and god forbid you let down the internet!!! Don't worry, I saved myself from the brink of meltdown when I remembered this is a one woman book club and literally no one cares.  And, luckily for my pride and the consistency of this book-a-month thing, I managed to finish this baby the night of February 28th, with not a moment to spare. 

Phew.

Ok wow I'm really doing a great job of selling this book, huh? 

THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS tells the epic but largely untold story of The Great Migration, the mass exodus of Black Americans from the south to the North, Midwest, and West in the first half of the 20th Century. It was a movement with no defined beginning and no real leader which would completely change the American demographic fabric. Until 1910, more than 90% of Black Americans lived in the South, and most of them in rural areas, and by the 1970's, just under 50% of Black Americans lived in the North, West, and Northwest, with the majority in all regions living in urban areas. This mass migration of Black Americans led to the cities we recognize today - and read about last month in Evicted - ushering in the era of white flight, urban segregation, and broad racially based injustice in housing, education, and employment. 

Wilkerson follows the stories of three everyday Americans: Ida Mae Gladney, a sharecropper's wife who moves from Mississippi to Chicago with her young family; Robert Pershing Foster, a brilliant doctor with big ideas and an ego to match who chases his dreams to Los Angeles; and George Starling, whose rabble-rousing and attempts at unionizing under violent Jim Crow rule in central Florida send him fleeing to New York City for better opportunities, and to not get his ass locked up or much, much worse.  She weaves the life stories of these three, from childhood until very old age, exploring their lives in the South, their motivations for moving, and the lives they built in their new homes. Interspersed with their stories she tells the broader tale of the Great Migration, full of facts, figures, and anecdotes. The main story lines help to give a propulsive, central plot, but this is not a book you can just race through, every page is dense with information. 

I'll admit, I did find this a challenge for me, this isn't a book you can flip through easily on the subway, while trying to balance a coffee and hold onto the pole at the same time. But, again, again, I feel I'm not being a very compelling book reviewer here - I'm just keeping it real about my own shortcomings. I'm very glad I read this book and, if anything, think I did myself a bit of a disservice by trying to cram it into a challenge rather than take my time and absorb the information. I would highly recommend everyone read this and do suggest, as I said up top, bringing in a group to dive into discussion. And invite me? I HAVE A MILLION THOUGHTS. 

Two main takeaways that have lingered with me in the  few weeks since I've read: 

1) Why didn't I know about like, any of this? Granted, it's been a minute since I sat in a high school or college US History class but I don't recall The Great Migration ever being taught. We spent weeks on things like the Gold Rush and the Oregon Trail - white people boldly going where no white people have gone before! - but The Great Migration would have been a footnote, at best, though it did as much to shape the country we live in today. And it's got me thinking about the lens through which history (and let's be real, everything) is taught, and that lens is for sure white, and probably also straight, male, and Christian. Black History - along with Women's History, LGBT+ History, Native History, etc - is always kind of taught as a sidebar, like, here's Real America, kids, and then over here are some other stories. If you're only ever reading books by and about white men, except for a special Black History Month dip into the works of Langston Hughes, or a permission-slip needed, one-day-only lesson on the Stonewall Riots, it is hard, even for the most well-intentioned PBS watchers among us (ahem!) not to subconsciously absorb the narrative of certain people being inherently other.

And by other, I mean lesser

And again, it's been a while since I was in school and I don't know jack about teaching or textbooks but I feel like there's gotta be a better way. Maybe some teachers in the crowd with insights? I'd (TRULY!!) love to discuss and learn more. 

2) Speaking of other people's history, goddamn if Americans ever learn from the past. This book is, of course, chockablock full of anecdotes of immigration and migration, of folks refusing to accept newcomers to their cities, even when recently newcomers themselves. This rejection is especially aimed at those who don't look quite like them, and always, ALWAYS, entirely out of self-interest and fear.

Sound familiar??

There was one story that really crystallized things for me, a brief interlude into the 1800's to touch on the Civil War Draft Riots in NYC in 1863, when a war draft led to five days of violence by Irish immigrants against Blacks living in their city. Wilkerson writes: "Anger rose among Irish working-class men, in particular, who couldn't afford to buy their way out of a war they felt they had not stake in.  They saw it as risking their lives to defend southern slaves, who would, in their minds, come north and only become competition for them." 

Wait, when was that again? 200 years ago? Or last week?

In the past few months, as we talk about refugee crises and border walls, and America turns in on herself, as we debate which lives matter, and how much, I often hear people, usually of the privileged idealist liberal bent, righteously arguing that Trumpian white nationalism doesn't represent "true American values." Unforrrrrrtchhhhhh it kinda does. Those certainly aren't my values, and they may not be yours, but America, for all of her great melting pot rhetoric, does not have the most flawless track record for inclusion. In fact, if there is one trend we see repeating itself over, and over, and over again it is the vilifying and suppression of those we view as other. 

How quickly we forget. How easy it is to lean into our fear. 

It would be nice to think that we've come a long way since 1863, when these scared Irishmen rioted, or 1953, when Robert Pershing Foster arrived in LA and wasn't allowed to practice medicine on white people buuuutttt...have we? IDK, dudes. IDK. 

ANYWAY clearly this book has resonated with me in a major way and I'd encourage you to give it a read, too. I know I made it sound pretty dense and intense and it definitely is both of those things, but it's also incredibly readable and compelling and even moving. I fell so in love with the three people she profiles, and this is going to sound corny, but felt like, honored to get to hear their stories. At the end of the day, these were just straight up regular people - they weren't celebrities or headliners, they were unremarkable, but sharing their stories was a remarkable act. Another key trait of history lessons is that we tend to focus on only the big players, the game changers. And those people are important, obviously, but there's so much to be learned from the lives of everyday people, too. And I'm so grateful for the opportunity to learn from Isabel Wilkerson and from these three remarkably unremarkable stories. 

THE END! Two thumbs way up, would recommend. Have you read it? What did you think? 

As a reminder, 2017 Reading Challenge here & up next: JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson. Double dog dare you to join me! 

xoxo Liz Ho 

 

HOTTREADS: Volume Ten

Goooood morning and happy Monday! Ok the most moronic of oxymorons but I am nothing if not an eternal Pollyanna so let's try to start this week off on the right foot, shall we?

Did y'all watch The Big Game last night? What a sporting event! I thought I was just going to binge on dip and then go to bed early, but found myself totally sucked into the game. That upset! I wanted the Falcons to win, mostly because Tom Brady seems like a giant douche and I really love Donald Glover, and his TV show Atlanta, so I guess I'm like, sort of sad in this moment, but I guarantee you I will forget this game ever happened by Wednesday afternoon at the very latest.

So don't cry for me, Argentina, I'll be fine. 

But I'm getting distracted. I didn't come here to talk about sports, I came to talk about books, duh. We're on month into 2017 and thus, one month into my grand Nonfiction Reading Challenge. And what a MONTH! I am so excited to share my first book pick with you - a truly unforgettable, brilliant read - along with a few other recent faves to help you stock up for those six more weeks of winter that Ol' Punxutawney Phil has bestowed upon us.

Also, I dragged my colleague away from her desk on Friday afternoon and made her me my personal pan Annie Liebovitz in an attempt to get a super cute photo of me with my books andddd this is the best I could muster:

hottreads, hottsauce, january reading challenge, book blogger

Karlie Kloss, you're on notice.

Ok, let's gooo! 

evicted matthew desmond hottread book blog

 

EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

I'll ramble endlessly in just a mo, but if you don't have the time for that, here's the takeaway: this book is outstanding, urgent, harrowing, illuminating, compelling, insert more positive adjectives here, and I urge everyone to read it. 

Evicted falls into a genre officially called ethnography, but I like to call it "documentary nonfiction." You know when you're watching a phenomenal documentary and it's so good, you forget it's real life? I guess the simpler way to express this would be to say the book reads like a novel, but that feels like it negates the writing, somehow, so I spice it up.

Just get to the point, Liz!

To write Evicted, MacArthur Genius and Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond embedded himself in two of Milwaukee's poorest neighborhoods for two years, in 2008-09, at the peak of the financial crisis to study first-hand the rising eviction rates incurred by the renting poor. He divvied his time between the predominantly black, "inner-city" North Side and a predomimnantly white trailer park community on the city's South Side. 

His story follows an array of tenants - a single mom, a former nurse consumed by a debilitating heroin addiction, a man with no legs trying to keep his two sons (and the rest of the neighborhood boys) out of trouble, a family of eight crammed into a tiny one bedroom apartment - and two landlords, Sharenna, a self-made inner-city entrepreneur and Tobin, who manages the mobile park.  Though wildly diverse in their personal struggles, all of the tenants share the same debilitating poverty, hanging on by a thread. Across America, rents are arbitrarily decided upon by private landlords and are not priced proportionally to income, so the renting poor, many unemployed or at most, underemployed, are forced to pay 60-80% of their wages to rent, leaving very little for things like clothes, food, even basic utilities. Falling behind on rent can lead to eviction, pulling apart families, sending families into a cycle of homelessness and instability that is difficult to break.

Desmond argues that housing insecurity is the linchpin of this cycle. When a person does not have stable housing, everything else is affected - their ability to hold down a job, to send their kids to a good school, to feed themselves, to build self worth. Desmond does offer some ideas on how we might address this issue via housing vouchers, income-based rents, and other initiatives, but admits it is not an easy solve and he doesn't have all the answers. Instead, he hopes these stories will  bring this issue out of the shadows and encourage everyone to make housing stability a national priority.

It feels funny to say that I enjoyed reading this book - can one really enjoy reading true stories of other people struggling so viscerally - and yet, I loved this book. Desmond's writing is brilliant, portraying these people with such nuance in all of their flawed, broken, striving, beautiful truth. Their stories lingered with me each time I closed the pages, it was one of those books I'd read while walking down the sidewalk, immediately upon walking in the door, late into the evening. I still can't get it out of my head. I've begun to study NYC rental and eviction regulations (it's all so over MY head, and I have a college education and endless free time, and access to the internet and other resources to get help, I can't even imagine how confusing it must be for people who don't have the same privileges I've been so luckily granted in life) and am going to begin volunteering with a local organization here in Brooklyn that helps with eviction prevention, alongside a number of other really outstanding initiatives. 

And this is only book one of (at least) twelve in my 2017 social justice nonfiction challenge! If I keep up at this rate, I'll be like, Mother Teresa by December. Again, it sounds kind of funny to say, but I am so excited to keep going in this challenge, I feel like I've already learned so much. 

Recommended for: Everyone. I truly can't recommend this book strongly enough.

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Editor's Note: For bookkeeping purposes (like, literally and organizationally), I've started a landing page under the HottReads tab for the 2017 Reading Challenge here, where I'll be building my list and updating with reviews each month. I'd LOVE for you to join me in any / all of the books! 

Next up: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I'd initially had The New Jim Crow planned for February, but decided I wanted to swap in this one, which looks at the great migration of Black Americans from the south to northern cities in the early to mid-20th century. I thought this would give an enlightening historical context to some of the other titles on my list - including Evicted and New Jim Crow - so figured I'd move it up on the list. 

~~

Now movin' it and shakin' it to a few other favorite recent reads. 

I let you go clare mackintosh book blog hottread

 

I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh

YOU GUYS. As we all know, I read basically every buzzy psychological thriller that enters the marketplace and though I usually enjoy the reading experience, when it comes to the thrills and chills, I'm often let down. Especially when the marketing materials (ugh, publishing people, am I right, folks?) promise a big twist. "You will be shocked!" blares a cover blurb. "A twist of epic proportions!"

I gotta say, I'm rarely shocked. I'm often kind of surprised, like "huh, I didn't suspect him to be the bad guy" or creeped out or maybe breathlessly racing to find out what's what, so I'm not saying I don't enjoy these other reads, because clearly I do, but it is a raaaare book that has me gasping in disbelief. I think the last one was probably Gone Girl and if my math is correct I've read close to 760 thrillers since then, give or take. Well Clare Mackintosh ya done gone and did it, girl. I was instantly pulled into to this story which follows several lives unraveled after a young boy is killed in a hit and run and true to the press materials, there was an actual twist so shocking I yelled "OH MY GOD!" and Brian came running from the other room to see what was the matter. 

I don't want to spoil anything so I'm going to zip it here, if you are a thriller fan, grab this one posthaste and email me the second you're done so we can talk about it - lizhottsauce@gmail.com. KEWL. 

Recommended for: Fans of twisty thrillers like Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, Woman in Cabin 10, thriller aficionados who swear they can not be tricked, anyone looking for a fun and absorbing read to devour over a weekend or travel. 

Under the Harrow, flynn barry, book blog, hottreads

UNDER THE HARROW by Flynn Barry

Oh look, another thriller by a British lady writer! What a fresh idea. I feel confident recommending both of these to you in the same post, as I feel equally enthusiastic and they're just different enough. Where I Let You Go is twisty and shocking, Under the Harrow is spare, tense, unnerving in its brilliant portrayal of a woman on the edge.  

Nora travels from London to a small country town a few hours north, to visit her sister, Rachel, and instead finds her brutally murdered in her home. In shock, Nora is unable to return to her old life and finds herself haunting the small town Rachel lived in, slowly unraveling as she obsessively tries to solve the crime, all the while haunted herself by a violent crime that happened to Rachel years in the past. What she uncovers reveals she may not have known her sister as well as she thought - or that we might not know Nora as much as initially let on. As she falls deeper into the investigation, her motives become blurred, her sanity hazy. This again falls into that broad unreliable narrator genre but to me is one of the smartest and darkest I've read in a while. Nora's descent into obsession is chilling, I found myself at once fearing for her and just fearing her. 

Bonus: this book is a slim one, at just 24 pages. The story is suspenseful enough to keep you moving no matter what, but amid piles of door stoppers it can be a real treat to read a book that tells just what it needs to and not a page more. 

Recommended for: fans of smart literary suspense who are as intrigued by the inner workings of the human psyche as they are about solving a whodunit, people with sisters or close best friends who think they know everything their is to know about that other person, readers with excellent nightlights because you will not be able to put this one down. 

when breath becomes air, paul kalanithi, hottreads

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi

So when I first sat down to draft this I put little one sentence descriptors of each book and the one for When Breath Becomes Air = "Dis Book So Sad."

I mean, that baaaaiscally sums it up!

But, of course, it's so much more.

Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a rising neurosurgical star in his 30's when he was diagnosed with a rare, terminal cancer. Facing the inevitable end of his young life, he began to write, telling a story that is as much a memoir of a brilliant medical life cut short, as it is a literary, lyrical meditation on mortality and morality. Paul lost his battle to cancer before finishing the book, so his widow Lucy wraps it up with a heartbreaking and intimate epilogue, reflecting on the life of her partner, and sharing the deep, raw grief she now experiences.

I had read a lot about this book when it came out last January, including this stunning essay by Lucy in the New York Times, but finding myself unable to read so much as a review without sobbing, I knew I needed to save to read until I was ready. Finally, cozied up over the holidays, I pulled from the shelf, grabbed my tissues, and dug in. And I'm so glad I did. 

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone, even if you don't consider yourself a fan of medical writing or spiritual meditations. Neither of those genres are my usual jam, but perhaps they should be, this pushed me beyond my comfort zone, both in considering ideological concepts of mortality, belief, and ambition, and in grappling with the devastating reality that his story could happen to any of us. It was hard not to think of Brian when reading Lucy's reflections on Paul.

Recommended for: uh, see above, anyone! Just be sure you have a hanky or twelve nearby. 

And that'll be that, folks. What are you reading lately? Wishing you a beautiful week to come and happy reading! 

xoxo Liz Hott 

The Year in Reading: 2016

2016 was a year for the books. Both in the sense of the popular idiom, roughly translating to "holy sh*t, did that just happen?" (I trust I needn't elaborate, you lived through it too) and in the sense of actual books. You know, literature! I used to be quite good about keeping detailed reading lists, but fell out of the habit sometime along the way. I picked it back up at the start of this past year (recording in my 5 Year Journal, about which I ought to elaborate another time) and now as we kickstart 2017, I'm looking back on my year in reading.

In 2016 I completed 55 books. More than one per week on average, bah-booh-yah! 12 of these were books I "had" to read for work, which sounds like a lot until you realize we publish 30+ titles a year. In 2017, I will do better. Of the books I read for funsies, 4 were by men and the remaining 39 by women. I realize midway through the year that I was inadvertently favoring the  ladies, and decided to lean into the trend. Only three were non-fiction and all of them in the memoir/personal essay genre. A whopping 12 were psychological thrillers, the rest a pretty even mix of historical and "literary" fiction, with a handful of short story collections sprinkled on top. 14 of the overall total were written by non-white authors, which leaves the balance of 41 books by white writers, eek. Looking at my list, it appears that many of the books by nonwhite authors I read were published by my imprint, which makes me proud to work for a publisher that values diverse voices, but does encourage me to look deeper when considering  the writers I'm consuming in my free time. Thinking about it now, white women (esp British) women seem to be dominating the psychological thriller genre. I wonder what's up with that?!  

2016 was also a year of unfinished books. I used to be of the philosophy that you should never quit on a book, no matter what, but ride it through to the end. A year or two I abandoned that ideology and in the process, many novels that just weren’t quite for me for whatever reason. I still can't help but feel frustrated by time "lost" reading a book, only to not make it to the end, but I guess them's the breaks. I carted Zadie Smith’s newest in my bag for weeks before conceding defeat (beautiful writing, but we all know I need a fast-paced plot!),  and seem to have come down with the only case of curable Ferrante Fever. The flame burned hot through all of book two, The Story of a New Name, but cooled reading the third, which I finally tossed aside ¾ through. Am I the only Ferrante Failure?? I’ve also taken to the habit of keeping inspirational or self-help type books by my nightstand, tucking into a few chapters before bed, but never really finishing any. I’ve been working through Pema Chodron’s Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times for the past few weeks (since November 9 obv) and savoring essays from Mary Oliver’s Upstream, too.

As people say about their pets or children, and I often say about sandwiches, it is hard to pick one favorite. But a few did stand out, like the bulging Italian hoagie from Faicco’s in the West Village or the gooey, savory breakfast sandwich at Deli Board in San Francisco.

Mmm. Cheesy.

Oh wait, right, this is the Year in Reading, not the Year in Eating. A few books did stand out, too! A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara remains a singular reading experience, impossible to fit into simplistic like or dislike columns. It was the very first book I read in 2016 and still it haunts me. As I recently wrote, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad blew me away, easily living up to the great hype. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett felt familiar and comforting, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi made me weep and weep and weep. American Housewife by Helen Ellis also made me weep, but with laughter. This slim little collection of stories still stands out as one of my most enjoyable reading experiences of 2016 and I’ve re-read many of the stories over and again throughout the year. My two favorite thrillers were actually the last two books I read this December, I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and Under the Harrow by Flynn Barry. Full reports to come on both!

But possibly my favorite book of 2016, were I to have to pick just one, is not a new release at all, but an old, yet eerily prescient novel, The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood. Working in publishing there seem to be these classics that everyone has read and this one is pretty much the bible for literary feminists. I’d never read it and was feeling quite shameful about that fact. Finally visiting Bookshop Santa Cruz on vacation I scooped up a paperback copy and devoured it, dog earing page after page, propelled by the suspenseful plot, horrified by the connections between Atwood’s fictional dystopia and the events unfolding around me in real life.  I realized that perhaps I’d yet to read it because I needed it now, this story came to me at just the perfect moment in time. If you’ve not yet read it oh, do it. And also after confessing to a few literary friends, who revealed that they too hadn't read it yet, I now know for a fact that many of you probably haven’t either and that’s totally OK! We really ought not to feel so shameful about books we have yet to read - so many books, so little time, etc. Another goal for next year! Not to read more old books, but you know, to stop assigning pass/fail grades to every decision I make. In literature as in all life!

And in 2016 I read the internet. More than any year before, I felt like a rabid consumer of all the web had to offer, highbrow and oh so low. If there was an article “How Hillary Lost” or “What The Fuck Do We Do Now?” oh, you know I read it. I read on Bernie Bros, on Standing Rock,  anything with bylines by Alexandra Petri or Anne Helen Petersen. I read on super foods, core strength, Aleppo, Lemonade, fertility, cropped jeans, Drake, Flint, gut microbes, Kimye, Zika, gun control, Black Lives Matter, bullet journaling, empathy, apathy, sinusitus, manicure trends, national parks, immunity, “silent majorities,” hair volumizers, succulent gardens, Brangelina. At times my mind felt overstuffed with random knowledge, unsure of how to process, prioritize, understand.

And I read countless, endless, mostly pointless Facebook status updates and Instagram captions, scrolling, scrolling, aimlessly scrolling, often while also eating, watching TV, or yes, even on the john, seemingly unable to just allow my brain to do one thing at a time, to take a single second from endless stimuli. This is one of my main “reading” goals for the year ahead. Less mindless scrolling, more intentional consumption. I realized I may have reached a breaking point when several times in a row Brian came upon me face pressed to phone and asked “whatcha looking at?”, and my response was “Oh, some random person on Instagram.” Unnecessary! The internet can be a big and beautiful space and falling into a Kinfolk prairie mama Instagram k-hole can be a fun way to pass a few idle minutes but so can ripping tequila shots and maybe both activities ought to be limited to special occasions only.

So that’s Year in Reading: 2016...what do I hope 2017 will bring? Why don’t we make a list!

  1. Less aimless, pointless scrolling.

  2. More non-white authors + intentional focus on other areas of diversity - gender, sexuality, physical ability, etc. Essentially, who is being overlooked in publishing and how can I do a better job of acknowledging that imbalance? 

  3. Read more books for work. I have a habit of only reading the books I’m immediately assigned to, plus any fun and sexy fiction we publish, ignoring a lot of the really interesting nonfiction we put out (...more on this in a second). Even if I don’t read every word, I want to at least dip into every book on our 2017 list and better support my colleagues and the authors we represent.

  4. NONFICTION! This is my biggie. I realized that I essentially never, ever read nonfiction, and when I do, it’s probably a funny feminist memoir. And there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it’s an area that gives me room for growth. I do think there is a lot to learn about the world from fiction, but as I enter a  period of political uncertainty, with a personal goal towards becoming a better global citizen, it might be time to break out the big guns. There’s so much incredible, investigative nonfiction work that may help me to reframe how I see the world and my place in it. In 2017 I plan to read one work of nonfiction on a social justice or sociology subject each month. Let’s make a list within this list!!!

    1. January is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, a book my very brilliant friend Katie has been telling me to read for a literal year.

    2. In February I’ll tackle The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, another one of those seminal works of woke literature that I’ve been pretending to read but oops, never have.

    3. March - December: HELP A SISTER OUT?! I have a list going here, but would loooove to hear suggestions from y’all.

I also just purchased The Fire Next Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward with essays by a lot of other exceptional black writers, and plan to make this my in-between book, dipping into essays on subway rides, or whenever I’m in between books and can’t seem to commit to starting anything big and new. It’s usually in this window that I reach for thrillers or lighter fare and that’s all well and good and you KNOW I’m going to still go all in on those genres, but it wouldn’t hurt to push beyond that too.

2016 a year in reading

I picked up these three books at Barnes & Noble yesterday (I was too hungover to walk the four extra blocks to the local indie, so sue me) (crushing 2017 so far!!), the guy behind the counter rang me up, gave the books a once-over, and said “well that’s a fiery start to the new year!”

Oh, indeed.

What will you be reading in 2017??? Aside from Hottsauce Blog Dot Com, obviously. And what was your fave in 2016? My TBR is ever growing and I'm all ears (err...eyes?) for your suggestions! 

Wishing you a HOTT and spicy 2017, my friends!  

xo Liz

HOTT READS: Volume Seven [Summer Reads Special Edition]

Friends, hello! Grab your SPF, summer is upon us! And you know what that means: Beach Reads Season!  Summer can be a confusing time for the discerning reader, as buzzy new novels are as plentiful as garden zucchinis.

What a terrible metaphor!

What I mean to say is this, dear discerning reader: do not fear finding yourself stranded in the sand with nothing good to read because I've got you. Here are my deep thoughts on  four of this season's HOTTest new releases, perfect for all of your summer reading needs. (See what I did there?) (Just spelled the word correctly but with some fun capitalization?) (That's called poetic license, my friends.) 

Stop rambling and get to the books? You got it, dudes! 

hottreads summer reads book blogger best of summer 2016

As always you can check the HottReads tab above or #hottreads on the 'gram for all of your burning literary queries. 

Now let's do this. 

THE ASSISTANTS hottreads book blogger book review camille perri

 

THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri

Tina Fontana is an executive assistant to a hotshot investment banker, helping facilitate his baller life as she lives paycheck to paycheck, drowning in student loans.

(Sound familiar? OOF.)

One afternoon Tina receives a corporate check with the comma mistakenly in the wrong place (still pennies to her multi-billion dollar company) and decides to keep it to pay off her crippling debt. Soon she finds herself the Robin Hood of student loans, embezzling from the company to help her fellow plebes pay their bills. Hijinks ensue.

The Assistants is snappy and charming, Tina and her cohorts are funny and fully realized and it's just the David and Goliath story we need in this era of massive wealth disparity and student debt. A societal take down wrapped up in a sassy, satirical, fun-as-heck bow. 

Recommended for: anyone who started from the bottom (now they here); anyone with student loans (what up, my peoples!); fans of what we might call "elevated chick-lit" 

Your Summer Reading Scene:  On a summer Friday, savoring a few delicious hours outside of the corporate grind. 

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ELIGIBLE by Curtis Sittenfeld

I have a confession to make. I have only read half of a Jane Austen book. Like, ever. In 6th grade I famously set out to read Pride and Prejudice for a book report but found it utterly boring and a little advanced for a 12-year-old, even one with a high school reading level (brag). Luckily PBS came to the rescue with a perfectly timed P&P episode of my very favorite show Wishbone. I did an entire Jane Austen book report based off of an afternoon TV special starring a Jack Russell terrier as Mr. Darcy.  I got an A. Andddd never revisited the Austen well again. Whoops. As a professional bibliophile that's got to be some kind of mortal sin. But here we are. Promise never to tell? 

Lucky for my cheaty-cheatster self, Curtis Sittenfeld, one of my favorite authors whose books I have actually read, is here with modernization of Pride and Prejudice to help me keep my streak alive, to keep reading Jane Austen without, you know, actually reading Jane Austen. 

Eligible takes the famous tale and sets it in the present day, in the greatest place on earth: Cincinnati, Ohio. Her Elizabeth Bennett is Lizzy, a 39-year-old, unmarried NYC magazine writer with four increasingly silly sisters, all still single, much to the chagrin of their old-fashioned, social striving parents. Home in Cincinnati one long, hot summer she meets snobbish yet roguishly handsome ER surgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy and the two instantly butt heads. But could their animosity actually be - swoon! - love in disguise?!

If you've read Pride & Prejudice (or Helen Fielding's masterpiece of an homage, Bridget Jones Diary) you know what happens. Lizzy somehow falls in love with Darcy, despite the fact that Darcy is a dog and they live happily ever after. At least that's how it went down in Wishbone. 

Jane Austen aficionado or not, there will be very few plot surprises in this novel but it's a fun and sexy ride all the same. I was reading at a bar one night while waiting for a friend to join me and was genuinely hoping she would stand me up so I could sit and read all night, I was that hooked. The romantic tension is A+, the dialogue is witty, the characters loveable, the hunks hunky and no star shines brighter than the great city of Cincinnati. 

Recommended for: fans of Jane Austen, Curtis Sittenfeld, Bridget Jones, and/or Wishbone; kooks who remain oddly obsessed with the city of Cincinnati; hopeless romantics; readers with lots of sisters; unmarried 30-somethings whose parents won't just lay off already, Mommm

Your Summer Reading Scene:  en-route to your family reunion, the Bennetts will make you treasure your own clan, no matter how nutty they may be. 

sweetbitter stephanie danler book review hottreads

SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler

I have to be honest right upfront and admit that I approached this novel with a Costco-sized bag of chips on my shoulder. Stephanie Danler is gorgeous and blonde and got a sizeable book deal and her novel has scooped up every coveted publicity hit from The Skimm to a Wall Street Journal profile to a flat-out rave from the New York Times.  I was (am) personally and professionally jealous and thus was prepared to fully despise her novel and damn it, y'all. I liked it.

Don't you just hate the taste of crow? 

Sweetbitter unfolds over the course of one year, following 22-year-old Tess, a new college graduate who arrives in New York with little more than some hope and a backpack, an age old tale but one well told. Tess lands a coveted position on the waitstaff at a hip Union Square cafe and is drawn into the tumultuous restaurant world full of ambition and lust and late nights, with plenty of booze and drugs. This novel is sensuous. And I don't mean that in a pervy way (though sex is definitely an element) but in the literal definition. Danler's writing draws on all of the senses as she evokes the din of the bustling restaurant, the scent of a just-shucked oyster, the taste of wine, of whiskey, of exotic black tea, the oppressive heat of New York City in July and the bitter January chill, the cocaine drip down the back of the throat. (I mean, I have never done cocaine, obviously, but in reading I though maybe I have?! It felt so real!) The plot instantly hooks and I was hugely impressed by the ending - I won't spoil it, but if you do read, let's chat!

What ultimately captured me, and sticks with me still is how she evokes the absolute chaos of life in New York City. I underlined the quote below in my copy and it's lingered with me since I finished: 

"As I contemplated the skyline this double feeling came to me as one thought, pressing in from either side of the bridge, impossible for me to settle or process: It is ludicrous for anyone to live here and I can never leave."

I've been here for nine years and I still feel like that every single day

Recommended for: anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant industry; anyone who moved to a strange, scary city nearly a decade ago and still finds themself in awe that this is their real life; jealous haters who need to be taken down a peg; foodies 

Your Summer Reading Scene: on a patio al fresco alongside a crisp glass of sancerre and a dozen briny oysters. 

the girls emma cline hottreads book blogger book review

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline

Another splashy debut, this from a 23-year-old wunderkind.  Loosely inspired by the women of the Manson Family, The Girls is set in the famed Summer of '69 in Northern California. Evie Boyd is 14 and lonely, ignored by her recently separated parents, hovering in that murky danger zone between childhood and adulthood. She becomes enraptured by a group of seductive older girls who are part of a cultish group living on the outskirts of town, led by the charismatic Russell.  We know that the other girls' story will end with great violence, an act in which Evie will have no part, leaving her at once involved and innocent, a barely-known footnote in a legendary story. Though the criminal cult backstory is the obvious hook (got me and got me good), The Girls is ultimately not about  murder or Manson but about yes, girls. Their relationships to the men in their lives, their bodies, the world around them, and particularly to one another.  Emma Cline so painfully and vividly captures the tiniest minutia of being a young girl, all the boredom and frustration and hormones and insecurity and longing and curiosity and guilt and sadness and wonder. 

I just finished this book yesterday and I already want to dive back in.

Recommended for: readers who don't mind a lingering haunt of darkness; anyone who has ever fallen into an internet rabbithole reading about cults (haiii); GIRLS

Your Summer Reading Scene: in a comfy deck chair with a stash of drinks and snacks handy so you don't even have to think about moving until you're finished. 

And there you have it, friends. These should keep you busy until at least July. Happy reading and happy summering. And seriously please do remember to wear sunblock!! 

xoxo Liz Ho

HOTT READS: Volume Six

hottreads version 6 bookblogger books lit

Hello and happy spring! One of the worst things (among a large amount of worsts) about adulthood is that real life doesn't come with a spring break. But fancy high schools do! You might consider teaching as a career option if you want to make the most of your March. OR go a step better and marry a teacher, so you can reap all the benefits without, you know, having to be responsible for the futures of a bunch of hormonal youths. Bri-guy always gets off the last two weeks of March and we try to sneak in a little (or huge!) getaway every year to take advantage. This year, the Hotts are headed to Charleston, SC for a few days and I can't WAIT. We jet out tomorrow AM and we're going to eat so much food. We have a pretty solid list of reccos, but if you have any to share, hit me. I'll find the room. 

We're starting the trip with a few days downtown with another couple, our first couples' getaway! So adult! Don't worry, somebodyyy already had to go and make it weird by saying "just confirming, this isn't turning into some kind of swinger thing, right?" 

I'll bet you could never in a million years guess who that somebodyyy was??

We're then going out to my Aunt's house at the beach just outside of the city. We got lucky this year that Brian's break just so happens to straddle Easter, one whole side of my family is flying down the spend the holiday together (including my BFFFF), so we're getting the best of everything: friends, family and fried chicken. It's fixing to be a pretty perfect getaway.

Of course, what would a vacation be without books?! Literally nothing! Why even live. I'm planning to use this opportunity to catch up on some Pat Conroy, who just passed away. I've only read one of his novels, South of Broad (recommended) but just picked up The Prince of Tides, now seems like the right moment. 

As for YOU my friend! Even if you can't physically get a spring break, you can always go on an adventure of literature!!! 

Yes that isthe cheesiest thing I've ever said, thanks for noticing!. 

For real, tho. Take a look, it's in a book and here are a few I recently read and loved and hope you will too. As always, all book reccos are stored under the hottreads tab riiiiight up there. This list is long, I've been on a tear, so I'll do all I can to keep it brief. (LOL, sure.)

I'm glad about you, theresa book review hottreads litblog

I'm Glad About You by Theresa Rebeck

A completely charming, relatable, grown-up love story between Allison, an aspiring actress living in NYC and Kyle, her long-term love who she left behind in Cincinnati. The novel unfolds over a number of years, as their paths cross and diverge, as Allison's star begins to rise and Kyle's complex Catholic faith keeps him rooted in Ohio, not always to his pleasure. It's smart, sexy, sophisticated and hard to put down.

Elisabeth Egan, a writer I admire, hit the nail on the head in her review for the New York Times Book Review, praising: "Theresa Rebeck’s tale of two star-crossed Midwesterners passed my screen test with flying colors. You know the one — you have a little pocket of time (15 minutes in the eye doctor’s waiting room, three minutes while waiting for the coffee to perk), and you have a choice: You can check your phone or dip into a book. When you pick the book, you know you’re reading a winner." 

I don't think I realized that was my test, too, until she put it into words and this novel absolutely hits the spot. I read it on a trip to Philly to visit my sister, devouring the first half on the way down, and found myself actually looking forward to getting back on a bus - A BUS - to return home, because it meant I could dive back into I'm Glad About You. 

Two thumbs, way up.

Recommended for: People who miss that show Smash (Rebek was the creator!), rom-com aficionados, anyone (else!) who is randomly obsessed with Cincinnati, lapsed Catholics, Midwesterners. 

the nest cynthia sweeny book review litblog hottreads

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeny

The Nest (fresh on stands today!) is one of the buzziest books of the season and meets the hype. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, it's the story of four adult siblings on the cusp of earning a generous inheritance until the eldest brother, Leo, finds himself in a hot-hot mess that even he, generally charmed, can't pull them out of. The author is fascinating, this is her first novel, at 55! Her maturity comes through in her writing - the characters are real, their struggles feel earned and she beautifully conveys the delicate balance of family : obligation, guilt, loyalty and alternately loving and deeply loathing someone at the same time. I adored!

This book weirdly reminded me of that Netflix show Bloodline, with Coach Taylor, a show I thought was kind of horrible but did involve complicated sibling bonds. Also murder. This has no murder and is not horrible, but there is never a wrong time or place to fantasize about Coach Taylor, friends. NEVER. 

Recommended for: Fans of Jonathan Tropper & Meg Wolitzer, people who watched that Netflix show Bloodline, with Coach Taylor, and thought: "I wish this was better and funnier and had less murder!", anyone with many siblings or a complex family sitch, trendies who like to be in the know on the latest & hottest releases. 

american housewife book review litblog hottreads helen ellis

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

I don't know what to say about this slim, riotous, deranged little story collection except to say that Helen Ellis is my goddess. Move it or lose it, Beyonce. There is a new kween in town. 

Ellis herself is also utterly fascinating (read this or this or follow her on twitter if you don't believe me!) Like many writers, she landed in NYC at 22 with a suitcase and a dream, published her first novel to mild success, got married, and didn't publish again for years, instead leapt headfirst into the role of Upper East Side Housewife...and national poker champion. 

The stories in American Housewife are darkly funny, oft satirical glimpses into the inner anxieties of the modern woman, packed with a zany brand of retro feminism and oft informed by Ellis's own experiences. We've got murdered doormen and beauty queens and reality TV and failed novels and nefarious book clubs and oh my stars, y'all (I can say that here, the author's orig from Alabama and brings a hefty dose of Southern charm...and barbs) I adore this book. I want to read it over and over and over and savor it forever.

Like all of my favorite books, American Housewife made me cry on the subway. Except this time, I was crying with laughter, not sadness. Perhaps the ultimate proof of a winner?

Recommended for: all mah ladies who like their humor prickly, their wine chilled, their bras expertly fitted and thier wainscoting installed just so. Avid readers of anything in the realm of The Toast or The Awl or McSweeney's or Shouts and Murmurs. People who want to be my best friend. 

salt to the sea ruta book review litblog hottreads YA

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Veering very far in another direction, Salt to the Sea is a YA novel about WWII so it did make me cry on the subway, but for the other, standard reason. The lives of four young people converge in East Prussia in an imagining of the true story of the doomed ship Wilhelm Gustloff, which was meant to carry refugees to safety but instead sunk, becoming the largest maritime disaster in history, the details of which are sadly known by very few. Sepetys, who also wrote the wonderful novel Between Shades of Grey (and has a hilarious story about being mistaken for EL James on an airplane), is of Lithuanian descent and lost many family members during WWII. In both books, she shares stories that are not covered in traditional history classes, beyond Germany and Poland (which are, to be true, horrible in their own right!). 

I'm generally not a YA reader and there are some tropes of the genre present which I personally don't love (I'm such a cranky old crone, I roll my eyes at teen romances. Is that terrible of me?), but don't let that keep you away. Her writing is vivid, plotting is suspenseful and the depth of her characters goes beyond what you'd expect to be aimed at teenagers. She doesn't dumb down the realities of the situation for a younger crowd and knowing the inevitable ending - that all of these people you're travelling along with are going to end up on a sinking ship - adds a heartbreaking intensity to the book. 

The novel left me in tears, thinking of the fictional characters but also the real people they represent and all of the horror stories of war that go unremembered. LIFE IS SAD GUYS. 

Recommended for: adult fans of YA (no shame!), high school teachers or parents' of teens to share with the youths in their lives, fans of The Book Thief, The Nightingale and other WWII literature, people ready to weep. 

perfect days montes raphael book review hottreads translation litblog

Perfect Days by Raphael Montes

Switching tacks again, this slim novel in translation by a young Brazilian writer is CREEPY, caps intentional. The protagonist, I suppose we might call him that, Teo, is a medical student and oh, an anti-social psychopath. He meets Clarice, an aspiring screenwriter working on a film about a road trip across Brazil and proceeds to kidnap her and take her along the course of the trip in her script...as you do. 

Montes sets the eerie tone from the beginning and slowly escalating the stakes and the twists until a point of no return. There is one moment that haunted me, literally, keeping me awake all night and still makes my skin crawl when I think about it. 

Ultimately the creepiest thing about this novel - like reading any great psychological thriller with the bad guy at the center - is how you find yourself unintentionally stepping into the shoes of Teo. Not necessarily rooting for him, per se, but  seeing into his mind, nodding along at his decisions, waiting for his rationale to his behaviors. He gets under your skin in a way that's so bad, it's  good.

Perhaps the scariest plot twist in the novel is the final line in the author bio that reads "Montes was born in 1990...". KEWL. 1990! That's the thing about hot young writers. We get older, they stay the same age. 

Recommended for: people with a high threshold for horror, anyone who doesn't need sleep at night, psychopaths, Brazilians. 

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Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets

I absolutely devoured this book during Winter Storm Jonas Brothers back in January (#neverforget). Set in the Colorado wilderness, Breaking Wild alternates between two female narrators: Amy Raye, a hunter who goes missing while out trailing an elk, and Pru, a park ranger who refuses to believe that Amy Raye can't - or doesn't want to - be found. The novel spins out like a great thriller as it digs deeper into the psychology of these two very complex women. I initially deemed this a "modern, feminist Hatchet" and I stand by that judgement. 

I LOVE reading about women found outside of traditional "feminine spheres" (duh) and Amy Raye and Pru bring that in spades, their version of "having it all" involves slaughtering an elk in a blizzard while also balancing family and love. Les Becquets has a deep appreciation for the power of nature and her reverence brings the book beyond an adventure narrative. I highly suggest listening to this tremendous NPR interview, which gave me some insight onto what it's like to be a woman hunter, to understand why a person could love animals and yet desire to kill them, to see how cleansing the great outdoors can be. 

Recommended for: badass feminist ladies, anyone who loves the great outdoors, hunters, people who think hunting is weird but want to understand it a little better, anyone who loves a great tale of adventure and wilderness, Gary Paulson fans all grown up. 

***

And there you have it, friends! That should keep you occupied at least until beach reads season. Happy spring, beloveds, and happy reading!

xoxo Liz Hott 

HOTT READS: Volume Five

hottreads volume 5

New Year, New Reads! Did anyone get any exciting books for Christmas? Or better yet, bookstore gift cards for which they’re seeking recommendations?? I am at your service.  My first answer is, as always, anything from this fine imprint, because mama’s gotta pay the bills, but since you totally already knew that and read everything on our list anyway (right? just say right), here are a few books I’ve recently read and - with one very complex exception - loved.

Once again it’s a total hodgepodge, so hopefully something for everyone! We’ve got a big novel whose length is matched only by its hype, a series of sexy historical romances, a sweetly poignant tale with a risky narrative structure, a delightful rom-com and an oldie but goodie classic of a novel that completly defies classification.

Let’s go!

a little life hottreads

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Kicking off with my most recent read and oof, I hardly know where to begin with this one! For the NYC literary community (which is to say my community, a group I alternately love and loathe, depending on the mood) this book was impossible to miss last year, one of the most widely read and also most divisive new releases. Some people heralded it as a masterpiece, others found it overwrought and overhyped, but whichever side you came down on, it was a book that demanded discussion.  I was on the fence for nearly a year. First of all, it’s a physical undertaking, a nearly 800 page hardcover doorstopper. Second of all, I had heard it was bleak with a capital B and as a rule, I don’t like bleak fiction. Life is too short to get depressed on purpose! I resisted as long as I could, but alas I could bear the literary FOMO, no mo’ and on New Year’s Day I gave in.

What followed was a complete and total literary immersion unlike anything I’ve experienced since… I honestly can’t even tell you when. I ate, drank, slept, dreamt this book. Every night I would race home from work and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and every morning I’d race back into the office where I’d spend the day dissecting what I’d just read with various colleagues who’d also been trapped under Yanagihara’s spell. It was a roller coaster ride. Some things I loved, others I hated. At times I wanted to throw the book out the window. More than once I literally screamed out loud “are you fucking kidding me with this???”. I spent an entire Saturday morning sitting on cross-legged on the couch, moving only for emergency pees, having Brian refill my water glass, bring me tissues when my tears became too much to handle. I finally finished a week ago and haven’t shaken it since.

A Little Life is ostensibly the story of four friends, beginning on the cusp of adulthood as they all seek their fortunes in New York City and ending years down the road, as their lives have taken many twists and turns. But really it’s the story of one of the friends, Jude, who bears the literal and figurative scars of a childhood screwed up beyond imagination, and the lives that orbit around him. It’s impossible to go into much more summary without giving anything away but I will say that IS bleak (his life is essentially an endless series of Criminal Minds episodes, with him as the victim) (I seriously wonder how the author came up with some of the plots and how she sleeps at night) but also quite beautiful at times. The structure can at times feel aimless, like a bunch of stories half related, half diverging off into their own world. It’s way too long. The last 150 pages are some of the most emotionally manipulative nonsense I’ve ever read. But the first 300 are some of the most magical. Though it can be, at times heavy handed, she asks huge questions that I might not otherwise consider, about friendship vs romantic love, about identity, about family, and forgiveness and end of life autonomy and whether or not one can really ever overcome their past.

It was all so big and tragic and itense and all consuming, it's hard to come down on the side of like or loathe. I don't know that there's a single word in the English language to fully encompass all the feels that this book made me feel.

I will say I’m glad I read it.

To that end, can I recommend it? I don’t know! I think if you are someone who likes to be in the know and read the buzziest books and think deep thoughts and can stand a LOT of dark, troubling, torturous stuff and are ready to feel yourself completely overtaken by a book to the point that it is all you can think about and you can barely breathe til you finish it and even then you can’t quite kick it out of your mind then yes, go for it. But otherwise, nah. Life is really short and there are a lot of books to read and buzzy does not always equal brilliant - AND this book truly is not for everyone - so if you’re not feeling the pull, don’t read it just so you can fit in with the hip literary kidz.

Recommended for: See above! If you do decide to dig in, promise me you’ll email me the moment you finish???

rosie project hottreads

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This book has been on my radar for years, but somehow just never made it to the top of the TBR. Then this fall, I was doing a bunch of travel for work and asked a pal to recommend something charming and quick that would keep me hooked on long plane rides but not take up too much of my sleepy brain. The Rosie Project was just the ticket!

Like the best of all rom-coms, two opposites are brought together despite the odds - he’s a fastidious professor who is, as they say “on the spectrum,” and she’s a loosey-goose, cigarette smoking bartender with daddy issues. It’s not a spoiler to say the end up falling in love (duh!). Simsion brings huge heart to the characters and save a few quibbles I had with the end, their hurdles feel real and earned, rather than goofy hijinks cooked up to keep the plot moving ahead.

I ended up devouring in one sitting on the very first leg of my week long cross-country book tour, flying from NYC to Portland. Admittedly, ‘twas a forced sitting as I was in a window seat and the two people to my outside were ASLEEP and we were nary halfway through our six hour flight and oh my lanta I had to pee SO BAD but I couldn’t wake them up because that would be weird so thank god I had this delicious novel to distract me , but I swear I would have loved it all the same had I not been trapped.

Swear!

Recommended for: rom-com aficionados, those intrigued by the myriad ways in which a human mind works, suckers for a happy ending, people who would risk peeing themselves just a little bit rather than awkwardly interacting with strangers sleeping beside them on an airplane.

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The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx is a legend who I’ve never gotten around to reading for one reason or another (so many legends! So little time!) but have always wanted to. The Shipping News is among a small handful of novels which have won both the National Book Award AND the Pulitzer Prize and how do you say no to that? I was in Chicago this summer visiting my bestie and spotted an old used, paperback edition at the utopian dream Myopic Books and knew it was to be mine.

The issue with me naming this a HottRead is I fear I’m batting way out of my league, I’m not sure I possess the vocabulary, the technical prowess, to properly review a book such as this. Her prose is dark and funny and strange and sad and beautiful and wholly unlike anything I’ve read before. By no means is it an easy read, nor is it a particularly exciting one (very little happens by way of plot, now that I’m thinking about it) but oh, it’s an absolute treasure of a book. It’s the story of Quoyle, a man with a bad chin and worse luck who finds himself widowed at 36 when his - I’m just going to say it, complete hot mess hussy of a wife - dies, leaving him to raise their two young daughters. He and the girls retreat to his family’s ancestral home on the brutal coast of Newfoundland where they live in a ramshackle house by the sea with his maiden Aunt (always just referred to as “The Aunt”). Quoyle gets a job on the local paper and wild and wooly cast of locals help him to learn the nature of home, family and love.

It’s one of those stories where you feel like you could just burrow into the pages and live there forever. The townspeople are so real with their quirky local dialect and odd traditions and fish stews and Proulx masterfully writes about nature and landscape, you can practically feel the icy winds blowing off the sea.

I adored this book and can see why Proulx is so revered.

Recommended for: anyone who’s ever been like “oh yeah! Annie Proulx, I heard she’s amazing” but weirdly never read a lick of her work, Pulitzer Prize die-hards, readers with plenty o’time on their hands (it’s not an easy read!), Canadians.

fishbowl hottreads

Fishbowl by Bradley Somer

I’ve spoken here about my pal Niki who works at Parnassus Books, a most glorious independent book retailer in Nashville, TN. She was up in New York like, spring 2015 and we went out for a long “work lunch” where we mostly gossiped about boys and mutual acquaintances but also books, of course, and she was going on and on about this new novel she’d just read called Fishbowl. I made her a promise that when I visited Nashville in the fall, I’d buy a hardcover from her at Parnassus.

So I did.

And it was a delight! The central conceit admittedly sounds bonkers: a goldfish named Ian falls from the top floor of a high rise apartment building and as he falls he glimpses into the private lives of the building's residents and therein lies our tale. I was skeptical, so I understand if you are, but trust me, it works.

Do you ever find yourself walking past an apartment building and peering up at the windows, thinking “I wonder who lives there. I wonder what they do? What they eat? How they spend their time?” And then your husband is like “OH MY GOD, are you seriously pressing your face agains that stranger's living room window?? Be cool before someone calls the cops!”

No, just me? I KNOW it’s not just me and that’s why you will love this book. It’s a glimpse into the ordinary and extraordinary everyday lives of a diverse cast of humanity brought together by the simple happenstance of a street address. It’s funny, sweet, and deeply, deeply human. You’ll never peer into an apartment window the same way again.

Recommended for: peeping Toms, goldfish owners, anyone who remembers obsessing over The Westing Game in their youth, apartment dwellers, most anyone.

beatriz williams hottreads

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Tiny Little Thing & Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

I'll end today's reviews with a roundup of what a more pretentious individual might call “guilty pleasures” but I call just “pleasures” because I refuse to feel bad about my entertainment. I have enough guilt about everything else in my life! And if reading frothy, sensual, suspenseful romances with kicky heroines and gorgeous seaside settings and mysterious, dashing suitors and genuinely hot sex scenes and occasional Nazis and lots of intrigue and sibling rivalry and surprisingly deep looks into the private lives of bold bitches throughout history is wrong than oh, I don’t want to be right.

These three are a loosely connected trilogy about three sisters: Vivian, Christina (aka Tiny) and Pepper Schuyler. I’ve listed them in order of publication but really, you could read mixed up however you like. In order of my favorites I’d say Infinite Sea, Violet Grant then Tiny but really that's just picking hairs they’re all divine. Each novel weaves two storylines - present (well, 1960’s) and past, in two of the books telling the story of an intriguing older woman with whom one of the Schuyler sisters becomes entangled, and in the third, flashbacks to one of the gal’s own lives a few years earlier. Williams pulls off a very rare feat of keeping both storylines equally engaging. I don’t know about you, but I often find that when I’m reading a novel with alternating perspectives, I’m 100% hooked on one and meh, at best, on the other and end up skipping through most of the boring half just to get to the good one.  Not here! Every thread is as engaging as its partner.

I get that romance is not everyone’s cup of tea - it’s rarely mine, to be honest - but these are far more than grocery store bodice rippers. I’d maybe dub them fluffy feminist historical fiction. Smart beach reads. Delicious escapism! The writing is strong, the plots are stellar, and these are the kinds of books that are just a joy to get lost in. I loved them. LOVED.

Recommended for: reluctant romance fans, readers of women’s fiction, anyone looking for a delicious escape, essentially anyone who likes anything in the long list of tropes I rolled out in the first paragraph.

~~~ 

And there you have it! Your next hot(t) read.

I’d love to hear suggestions from YOU!! I showed you mine - now you show me yours!

I honestly have no clue what I’ll pick up next...I might finish up the Neapolitan Novels (talk about literary FOMO!) or I’d love a really fast-paced, engaging thriller to kind of dissolve my brain into after all the intensity of A Little Life

Happy reading, friends! 

xx Liz Hott

 

 

 

HOTT READS: Volume Four

Good day, fine friends! What are you reading right now? Well, right now you're reading this blog, obviously, I can see that but, you know, what books are you reading for funsies?? And don't tell me "oh, I never read" because OY that hurts my heart...I don't wanna know!

After my wild summer kick of fun reads I got a little side-tracked with work stuff (I know I'm not allowed to recommend books we publish, well only according to me, I totally could I guess, but that would be a little cheaty, so I'll stick to my morals but just lightly mention that our upcoming list is gooooooooooooooooooood and you should follow us on social media and stuff) (parentheticals + run-ons 4eva!), but I did manage to sneak in a few pleasure reads. Upon reflection, I realized my favorite recent books covered some pretty vast territory, so now I'm here with a little something for everyone!

Depressing but enlightening narrative nonfiction? Check! Quirky literary novel? Check! Vivid debut short story collection? Check! Twisty female-led psychological thriller? Check times THREE!

So basically if you like any of those things, do read on, there may just be something here for you! As always, all of my book reccos are stored at the Hott Reads tab above. (Insert that pointy up finger emoji riiiiight here!) 

short tragic life of robert peace hottreads

The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

GD it, guys. I had this VERY long and hopefully thoughtful review for this book and just as I went to post I somehow deleted it. Good at reading, bad at technology! Anyway, what I had to say was as follows:

This book is amazing. 

I'd had it hanging out in my old brain library, to quote my dumb self from my last book roundup, and  after my sweet friend Kate (who ok yes, is his publicist, but biased publicists are good people too!!) spent a full happy hour raving over it, I decided it was time to pull it off the shelf. 

My hesitation in reading in the first place is this book is really effing sad. Hobbs tells the true story of his college roommate, a brilliant young man who left a blighted neighborhood in Newark to go to Yale, only to return and be murdered in a possibly drug related, and as yet unsolved, crime by the age of 30. What seems like it could be a trite story of potential squandered is in fact a deeply nuanced, incredibly heartbreaking portrait of a young man pulled between two vastly different worlds and the societal, family, economic and personal pressures that kept him from fully inhabiting either. 

This book broke my heart into a million pieces, but I also think everyone should read it. As Kate wrote to me in an email after I finished it "It just reminds you, every time you read a story about an "issue," and there's an example of a family or an individual or a community--those are real actual people, who are flawed and complex and all loved." 

And yes, yes. That's what I took from this book and what I'd hope anyone might. It's simple sometimes, especially if you come from a place of privilege like I do, and I'd imagine many of you do, let's all be real about it, to paint things as black and white, to say this kid had it all and he blew it, to feel frustrated by the seemingly endless cycles of poverty, violence and addiction that trap so many young people (especially men of color) in this country, to see people as either victims or heroes, nothing in between. But Rob's story, beautifully told by Hobbs, reminds you that every person you encounter or read about is fighting their own, unique battle and we'd do well to listen and learn from their stories.

My original review was a lot less rambly but what I mean to say is that this book is great and I hope you'll read it. I'd love to discuss!

Recommended for: EVERYONE, duh! 

family fang hottreads


The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

I picked this up at the delightful Kramerbooks & Afterwords in DC's DuPont Circle neighborhood. My favorite thing to do on vacation is to buy a new book from the indie bookstore wherever I'm visiting. Sometimes I try for a local writer, other times just something I've been meaning to read. (And sometimes, like when we went to Powell's, I buy eight books...oops.) 

The Family Fang is a fucking delight. So the Fang Family: Bizzarro performance artist parents + their two children Buster and Annie, who they used throughout their childhood (often without telling them) as extras or accessories in their weird public art spectacles. Now adults and facing individual meltdowns, Buster & Annie return to their parents' home in Tennessee and, well, hijinks ensue. Sad ones and lovely ones and some just funny-funny ones. The "messed up family reunites under one roof again!" is a genre literally as old as time (see also: The Prodigal Son) but when done right, it's one of my favorites and here it's done very, very right. 

This book made me think of the Spellman Series by Lisa Lutz, which I adore, about a wacky family of private eyes and also of my friend whose parents ran a popular theater and who said she sometimes felt like the theater was her demanding sibling. It's about art and growing up with kind of quirky parents but also about the limits of familial love and responsibility. It's one of those books where you come for the kooky cast of characters, stay for the great plot and then, when you finish, realize "oh wait, that was actually really deep!"

Aka two thumbs, way up.

Recommended for: people with kooky parents, performance artists, fans of the dysfunctional family dramedy genre and/or sort of screwball weird comedies. Think Jonathan Tropper + Wes Anderson + George Saunders. So, like, all your faves. 

night at the fiestas hottreads

Night at the Fiestas: Stories by Kirsten Valdez Quade

I first encountered Kirsten Valdez Quade at a book reading in NYC last fall. She was named one of the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 Writers and was doing a panel reading at this fun party, hosted by Questlove. 

His involvement is irrelevant to this review, I just wanted to brag. 

Jealous???

I instantly was fascinated by her because I thought she was really pretty and also that she looked alarmingly like this girl who I went to college with and have LITERALLY never met, ever for one second, but have stalked on facebook since 2006 because I am basically a criminal. To be fair, my friends started it and they still stalk her too, so I'm not alone...OK maybe that makes it worse... and we do it because she seems great, not out of any malice or anything but yeahhhhhhhhh we're REALLY creepy.

People always ask me for book recommendations and now I'm just going to say "Find a writer who looks just like your favorite person to stalk on the internet and then buy and read their book." Easy, done and done.

Nope, go to jail, Liz. GO TO JAIL.

ANYWAY, Kirsten turned out to be much more than a pretty doppelganger of my social media victim, she's a brilliant writer, too. So basically, she's perfect and we all hate her guts. Her work has been published all over the place and Night at the Fiestas, her first collection of stories, is remarkable. These stories primarily set in New Mexico or elsewhere in the American Southwest are vivid and arresting. She can spin full worlds in just a few pages. The landscape drastically informs the stories, with a hint of violence, of stark desolation haunting each tale. She's also brilliantly able to inhabit a world of voices and perspectives - a pregnant teenager working in a Catholic rectory, a middle-aged artist obsessed with her housekeeper, a deadbeat dad flailing hopelessly to connect with his troubled teenaged daughter. Her stories are connected by threads of faith, of family secrets, of a search for forgiveness.

I heard Kirsten read again at the Brooklyn Book Festival a few weeks ago and was once again moved by her writing and her thoughtful commentary. She said she's working on a novel and I'm incredibly excited to see what lies ahead for her. 

I'm also going to keep stalking that girl on facebook no matter how much you judge me so, sorry, not sorry, bye. 

Recommended for: anyone from the American Southwest, fans of Flannery O'Connor or, more recently, Claire Vaye Watkins, short story geeks, anyone looking for a collection they can dip in and out of - I like to keep a book of stories by my bed and read one at night when I'm not in the midst of a novel, or in my purse for commutes! 

Laura Lippman reviews hottreads

Trio of Laura Lippman Thrillers:

I'd Know You AnywhereAfter I'm Gone & What The Dead Know

I don't know if I could pick a favorite genre of book, that would be like picking a favorite child or favorite Beyonce song, impossible! But I do find, time and time again, when I'm looking to read for pure fun and entertainment, I crave smart, twisty psychological thrillers...bonus if they have a female lead...double bonus if they have a female author. 

So it's a huge surprise I'd never read Laura Lippman until just a few weeks ago! She'd been sort of on my radar but not in a major way. Then Mindy Kaling recommended one of her titles on instagram and I instantly purchased it on my kindle and proceeded to rip through it and subsequently devour two more of her novels in less than a week. 

She's best known for her Tess Monaghan detective series (set in Baltimore! Where I went to school! And she's married to David Simon! Really how have I been missing this?), but especially praised for her standalone novels, and I read three of those. I'm not going to bother going into synopsis of these, basically if you like the kind of books I said above, you should super dig these and if not, you won't. But ranked in order of fave to not as fave:

What the Dead Know (this is Mindy's fave too!) (How many times can I say "fave" in a row???)

After I'm Gone

I'd Know You Anywhere

So there ya go, thriller fans. DO IT!!! I'm planning to load up my kindle with a few more of her books for my upcoming travel. And on that front, Rachel, a blogger I really like with super smart literary taste, also did a great round-up of mysteries recently, which I have bookmarked. Def check this out, fellow thriller fans - and read the comments too. Lotsa goodness. 

Recommended for: Folks from Bawlmer, people planning to vote for Martin O'Malley (LOL JK is anyone?) (he's SO HOT THO!), smart ladies who like smart ladies writing suspensefully about smart (or psycho) ladies. 

And there you have it! All the reads that are fit to be hott. As I mentioned, I have a TON of travel coming up and like, ideally I'll use flight time to catch up on work and stuff but let's be REAL a girl's gotta have some fun. So tell me: what should I read?! I've got my eyes on The Good Girl by Mary Kubika and Liar, Temptress, Soldier Spy (or, as I just typed into the Google when I forgot the title "that book about 4 women in the war") and I maaaay read Bonfire of the Vanities because I never have and people love it. 

Have you read any of these? Worth it? What else should I try? As always I'm ALL ears. Well, eyes...you know, for reading and stuff. 

Happy reading, chickies!

xoxo Liz Hott 

HOTT READS: Volume Three

Summer is here and you know what that means...bug bites! Alll over mah legs. Heavens to Bets, the itching! As always, I've been exploring dubious home remedies, most notable in this instance: basil and apple cider vinegar. My ankles smell like Italian salad dressing. Delicious! 

And so, so itchyyyyy. 

Sidetracked, as always, that is actually not even remotely what I came here to write. What I meant to say was this: summer is here and you know what that means...summer reads! Which really actually isn't that different than any other time of the year for me,  I've always got my nose buried in a book (hence my excellent grammar skillz) and I think you should too! But in the lucky event you find yourself with some extra bookworm time, posted up on a picnic blanket or beach chair in the coming weeks, might I suggest a few titles I've recently read and loved?

summer reads books reading lit hottreads review

As always, you can find all of my books picks under the Hott Reads tab above. Fire up that Kindle, chickies. I have great taste!

tell the wolves I'm home hottreads hott reads

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

This book has been on my to read list for quite some time, since December of I THINK it was 2012, maybe or 2013? I was at a Christmas party hosted by one of my publishing friends (hay, Maria!) and struck up a conversation with one of her colleagues, who was raving about this book she was excited to be working on called Tell the Wolves I'm Home. She was SO compelling, I instantly stored it away in my brain library. This was a VERY memorable party because later, SEVERAL people told me I looked like Julianne Moore. And this wasn't even during my (ill advised) redhead phase! Just my hot face I guess! I mean they were all certainly blasted and it was kind of a dark room and maybe most of them were legally blind or someting but still! Sometimes when I'm feeling ug or gross I recall that memory and am like "buck up. You may currently be pale with bags under your eyes and eleven zits but one time several people told you you looked like Julianne Moore so you can't be that gross." 

I wish I was joking but I 100% for serious do this. 

Anyway, I am supposed to be recommending this novel, not writing a new one about my boring life / beautiful porcelain Academy Award nominated face. 

I kept this book lingering on my brain shelf for many a year and kept seeing it pop up on other people's lists and then the other week my girl Niki, who is very cool (she is actual real life friends with ANN PATCHETT) (and also a wonderful and interesting person aside from that celeb status) insisted it was a must read, so read it I did. 

And it was great! Super sweet, sad, lovely story about 14-year-old June Elbus, mourning the death of her beloved uncle Finn, a renowned painter who succumbed to AIDS.  After his funeral, she is contacted by a stranger with a connection to Finn and the tentative bond they form helps them both to grow and cope with the loss that lingers at the center of their friendship. This novel is one big love story, really, exploring many different kinds of love: romantic, yes, but also between parents and children, between siblings, for oneself, and the most painful love of all, the unrequited kind. 

Recommended for: Julianne Moore lookalikes, Julianne Moore, fans of family stories and coming of age tales, readers with sibling rivalries or sad family secrets - you might see yourself in these pages! 

euphoria lily king review hottreads hott reads

Euphoria by Lily King

Another book that had been vaguely shelved in my brain library (I don't know why I keep suddenly using this dumb analogy), after seeing it on essentially every single Best of 2014 list but somehow I never managed to absorb any details about it except it was well reviewed and had A+++++++ jacket art. Then Kelsey included in her monthly book roundup, noting it was "sooooo much racier than I expected" and I was all, SOLD! It turns out I'm kind of a perv. But a literary one so it's all good. 

Euphoria is so much more than just a sexy read, though. It's one of the best books I've read in years - one of those novels you tear through while simultaneously feeling like you're learning something. The holy grail of fiction, really. Loosely based on the history of real life BAMF Margaret Mead, Euphoria is the story of three anthropologists studying New Zealand tribes in the 1930's. It's a sexy love triangle and a passionate exploration of the quest for knowledge and a bit of a thriller and a brilliant, impossible to put down heart-stopper of a novel. I couldn't recommend higher. I kept racing forward to get to the end, only to pause and flip back to re-read sentences, scenes, so beautiful and lively they lept off the page. 

Get thy to a bookstore, and quick.

Recommended for: pervs, anthropology buffs, ERRRRBODAY. For real, this book is gr8. Just do it. 

burial rites review hottreads hott reads

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

This is another that had been catching dust in my brain library and when I spotted it among the stacks at Myopic Books, the most delicious used bookstore in Chicago, I knew it must be mine. This is yet another tale inspired by a real life lady (one of my fave genres, I guess!), but trading the steamy jungles of New Zealand for the stark, barren hills of Iceland. Set in 1829, Burial Rites is inspired by the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be publicly beheaded in Iceland. 

Accused in the brutal murder of two men, Agnes is sent to an isolated farm in the Northern reaches of Iceland to await her sentence. She begins a tentative understanding with a priest sent to council her and with the farmer's wife and daughters. 

Kent (who is like 12) (ok 27) keeps everything balancing on a precarious edge, weaving in Agnes's experiences on the farm with her history as told by those who knew her as well as her own memories. She's the ultimate unreliable narrator - at once sympathetic (or sometimes pathetic), and mysterious, always watchful and seeing more than she might reveal. Is she to be trusted? Can her new allies help her change her fate? 

Iceland was already high on my travel list and now it's been bumped up a notch or 17. The farm land and rocky coastline, harsh winters and bright, endless nights were so vividly spun, I felt like I was there. It was also a fascinating look at the intricate caste system of the country in the 19th century - I have never for one single second thought about the history of Iceland and now I am dying to know more. (I also recently discovered Kristina's wonderful blog, which you should all check out, and her Iceland travellouge certainly added some fuel to this wanderlust fire.) 

I've now promised to lend this book to no fewer than four people so if you'd like to get on the list, DO let me know. I can't guarantee you'll receive it in any timely fashion but can guarantee you'll devour whenever you do. 

Recommended for: fans of the unreliable narrator, anyone who has been to Iceland, anyone who wants to go to Iceland, people sweating their faces off during this week's heat wave and looking for some literary escapism to the icy north. Probably not recommended for convicted murders awaiting their executions...might be a little too close to home, you know? 

movie star by lizzie pepper hottreads hott reads books book review

Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper: A Novel by Hilary Liftin

Confusing title, I know, but stick with me. Apparently fictionalized versions of ripped-from-the-headlines celebrity gossip is my new jimmity jam - first The Royal We, now Lizzie P! Movie Star is inspired by an unnamed couple - ahem...she got famous playing the girl next door on a hit teen TV show (I don't wanna wait!), he is a megamegamega movie star deeply entrenched in a creepy, cult-like religious group. 

ANY GUESSES????!!!! 

I'll never tell.

Again, this book will appeal to a pretty specific set of readers - Royal We fans + maybe a few extras who dig Hollywood more than Windsor Palace - and to those people I say: you'll love this! 

Hilary Liftin is pretty well set to tell the tale, too. In her career as a ghostwriter she's written books for/with people like Miley Cyrus, Tatum O'Neal and Tori Spelling. And you thought Miley wrote her own memoir?! Bless your heart. 

Recommended for: I've said it once, I'll say it again: you know exaaaactly who you are.

And there you have it kids. Some hot hot HOTT reads for your literary pleasure. Now if you'll excuse me I have to go pour some more vinegar on my feet + dig back into my current read, The Short, Tragic Life of Robert Peace. Has anyone read?! Entertainment Weekly says it is "a haunting American tragedy for our times" and Grantland writes: "I can hardly think of a book that seems more necessary, relevant and urgent." Powerful words! Why don't you grab a copy and join me? We'll make a book club!

Happy reading & hopefully not itching,

Liz Hott 

HOTT READS: Volume Two

Guys, I don't know about you but I have been on a kick with the literature lately! One of the great things about my job is that I get to read books for a living. Dreamy. And yet, I'll often find myself drawing a blank when people ask if I've read anything good lately - either I've been reading books for work I might not necessarily pick up for funsies or I'm reading so far ahead my answer is all "yes! This amazing book but it doesn't come out for three years but it's gonna be hayuuuge so...stay tuned!" and that always feels vaguely pretentious and doesn't really help anyone in the here and now, does it?

But luckily for all of y'all I have apparently been neglecting my job bigtime lately and am SUPER behind in work reading but absolutely ripping through non required reading in all my spare time. 

Whoops? 

I mean, at least I'm still reading. I'm keeping those brain muscles fresh! Contributing to the greater literary conversation. Employee of the year! 

Ok enough rambling, without further ado, herewith are some #hottreads I've been digging.  As always, you can find all of my recommendations at the HottReads tab above and I'd LOVE to hear what you've been reading lately! Clearly I'm on a real bookish binge so hit me with that good stuff. 

celeste yay

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I actually read this a while back, but it just came out in paperback so it's fresh on my mind. Plus it's one of my favorite novels in ages! 

15-year-old Lydia, the favored daughter of a Chinese American family living in a small Ohio university town in the 1970's is found dead in the town lake and Ng brings their story back and forth in time, exploring how they cope with this loss and the layers of family history that formed who they are today. It's a bit of a literary thriller in that way - how did Lydia end up in that lake? Is someone to blame? - but more it is a deeply intimate look at the inner workings of an ordinary family navigating extraordinary sorrow. 

This phrase is bandied about pretty fast and loose but I, for real, could not put this book down. So much so that, my nose buried in the pages, I ended up getting on the wrong train home from work one day, finding myself deep in a different portion of Brooklyn, miles away from home. Not in the mood to re-try public transit, I got a cab and finished the novel by the faint glow of the Taxi TV, weeping in the backseat the whole ride home.

And, for what it's worth, and to me it's worth quite a bit, I've met Celeste Ng and she's just the loveliest, most gracious, wonderful person. 

Buy this book! Just do it as a favor to your old pal Liz! 

Recommended for: fans of The Lovely Bones, people who love a good cry (in the back of a taxi or elsewhere), anyone and everyone 

naming these real weird because I don't know SEO

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

Part love story, part war novel, part rumination on the addictive thrall of danger, The Lotus Eaters follows three photographers based in Saigon during the Vietnam war: Helen, a rookie struggling to prove her worth as a woman in a "mans world," and the two men she's torn between, hotshot American Sam Darrow and his Vietnamese assistant Linh. 

Upon typing out that extremely general plot synopsis, this sounds very Lifetime Original Movie and it could easily veer in that direction,but Soli draws her characters (especially Helen!) so vividly and honestly, elevating the love triangle above a cheesy trope. This book is sad, sexy and suspenseful, pulsing with the wild energy of Vietnam, the horror of war and the seductive power of ambition.  

And while The Lotus Eaters certainly had special meaning for me reading it having literally just stood in many of the spaces Soli writes about, you definitely don't need to have been to 'Nam to be drawn right in.  

Recommended for: photography geeks, people who are depressed my honeymoon recaps are nearly completed, anyone who has been or plans to visit Vietnam 

lynsey.jpg

It's What I Do by Lynsey Addario

Reading The Lotus Eaters had me suddenly obsessed with stories of photojournalists, especially female photojournalists and I remembered: aha! This memoir had been sitting on my bookshelf at work for months. Surely you saw one of the zillions of reviews, features and interviews surrounding this book's release earlier this year, 'twas unmissable.

(Note: saying a book's release is "unmissable" is pretty much the highest compliment one can grant a publicist so a huge hat tip to Lynsey's team. Clapping emoji!!)

Basically Lynsey Addariois a certified badass, fullstop. She has photographed some of the most dangerous places in the world, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, The Sudan, often the only woman in the field. Her unique perspective allowed her to get intimately close to women and families in that area and her photography is extraordinary. And she's such a brilliant writer, too. You understand, deeply, why she is so impassioned about telling these stories, why she can't pull herself away from the work even after being kidnapped and seeing colleagues die in the field. 

And talk about having it all - as a woman, she faces both frightening sexual harassment as well as the sort of low level daily sexism that women face every. single. day. She gets double the judgement her male colleagues get over her choices to postpone marriage and parenthood to follow her career, and triple that scrutiny when she does decide to become a mother and try to balance the dangerous job with motherhood. It's fine for a father to leave his wife and kids at home to chase a story but a mother do the same? Oh, the humanity! 

Though I remain convinced that war journalism is not a career I'm cut out for, I understand entirely why Lynsey and others in her field feel called to do the work. And I do believe it is a true calling. Brave and necessary work! 

Recommended for: people who just finished The Lotus Eaters and are now obsessed with female photojournalists, actual female photojournalists, badass ladies across the globe, snoots who like reading books before they become films so they can act all superior to their friends in the movie theater (Jennifer Lawrence is slated star in the movie version soon!) 

Royal We hottsauce book review

The Royal We by Jessica Morgan & Heather Cocks

Switching a full 180 from The Sudan to Kensington Palace, this is basically Will and Kate fan fiction as penned by two of the funniest lady writers out there. 

Obviously this is going to speak to a pretty specific set of readers, so to you I say: it's even better than you think it will be!!! It's smart, well plotted, emotionally compelling, witty, wonderfully populated with relatable characters, just a pure delight.

A DELIGHT!!!

Recommended for: you know exaaaaaactly who you are. 

Americanah and SEO and hottreads and yay

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Speaking of badass ladies, Chimamanda is a boss. If you've yet to watch her TEDX Talk "We Should All Be Feminists," might I suggest hopping to like, right now? Here, I'll make it easy for you: 

PREACH!!

Can white people say "preach?"

That segues nicely into my recommendation for Americanah, as it is a novel that is very much about race. Through the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, high school sweethearts who grew up in Nigeria's middle class before immigrating to America (Ifemelu, on a scholarship) and England (Obinze, illegally), Adichie explores the myriad ways we talk about (or, quite often don't talk about) race in the 21st Century. She made me think and sometimes cringe and often laugh out loud. 

Because, oh yeah, life lessons aside: this is a hell of a book. Jumping back and forth in time, from Philadelphia to Lagos to London to Newark and back, she follows Ifemelu and Obinze as they fall in love, fall apart, grow up and grow into themselves. All of the characters, main and tertiary, are portrayed so wholly you can instantly picture exactly who they are and how they talk and what makes them tick.

And! For the second time this post, a book turned my commute into a whole thingggg! And it's a really log weird story and now I'm going to tell you all about it! 

So. I was riding home from happy hour one Friday evening, about halfway through Americanah when the man next to me turned to me and asked "do you like that book?"

I lept for glee (internally. I wasn't about to actually get up from my coveted subway seat. I ain't no dummy). As we all know, I ALWAYS hope/assume that people are paying tons of attention to me and then get super-duper sad when it turns out that oh hey, they're not. But this guy WAS!!! 

Doubling the fun, he was a middle aged black gentleman. 

I happened to be reading this particular novel during the uprising in Baltimore a few weeks back, so between that whole mess and the book, I was very finely attuned to discussions on how to sensitively and compassionately talk about race. The three top tips I'd gleaned were to 1. LISTEN, 2. Ask polite questions to anything you don't understand, and 3. Not try to one-up or insert your own experiences into anyone else's personal story. You may have been a victim of hardship or racism or any number of things, but they have no bearing on another person's unique experience.

Those are, honestly, just pretty solid rules for living life as an empathetic human person. 

ANYWAY long story so long and borderline preachy, here I was, a brain full of white guilt and current events, being asked by an older black man to comment on a book about race. OH HAYL YES. It was my moment to shine. Liberal white people dream of nothing more than opportunities to show off just how open-minded we are. 

"How do I like the book?" I turned to him. "I LOVE it." 

He looked at me, made a face and snorted "hated it."

I started to sweat. Was this book actually garbage? Am I just a yuppie white girl trying to make myself feel OK about my privilege by reading books about the immigrant experience? Remembering the advice I'd acquired from the 9,407 consecutive Slate articles I"d read that week, I powered on.

"Why did you hate it?" I asked politely. "I think she's a wonderful writer."

"I thought she was smug," he replied. "The main character was smug. And I think the writer is smug."

At this moment I instantly forgot everything I had learned and flew into a defensive tailspin, 1. Not listening to him and 2. not asking him any more questions because, frankly, I didn't feel like hearing his answers and 3. worst of all, taking his experiences and making them allllll mine.

"OH you just called a woman SMUG?! I bet if this book was written by a man you'd appreciate it. Why must the main character be likeable? Is it just because she's female??!!" 

Etcetera. 

The man went on to stand by his assertion that the book was crap, before launching into an impassioned sales pitch about a book he DID enjoy: his own.

Turns out he was carting around a briefcase full of bound excerpts from his self-published copies of his memoir. He gave me one. If I wanted the rest, I could buy it online. 

Cool beans!

So lesson 4, I guess, is that, quite often, no matter what race or creed or gender, people juuust want to talk about themselves.

I mean, I know I do.

So in the time I just told you that story you could basically read a novel written by a member of every race on the planet earth. 

Moral of it all is that this is a VERY good book and I think you should super read it. And yes, duh, I'm a yuppie white girl trying to make myself feel OK about my privilege but also I wholeheartedly believe that we ALL should be reading a LOT LOT LOT more stories written by and about people outside of our own demographic circle, in just one tiny step towards better understanding one another as members of the same human race...while still having lots o' fun reading excellent literature. 

 I bet ya'll didn't think I could get that deep, didja?! Well I can, so there ya go. Americanah

Recommended for: human beings, yuppie white people hoping to get into uncomfortable arguments about race and gender on the subway, people trying to sell their self-published memoirs, fans of "immigrant literature" (see also: Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amy Tan...just to name a few!) 

I think that's just about enough books and ranting to keep you occupied for a few weeks. I, however, am about to find myself at the last page of my current novel so someone save me before I find myself doing the responsible thing and being good at my job again  - tell me quick: what should I read next?!?!

And you BETTAH not suggest that train guy's memoir. Or your own!

Yours in love and literature,

Liz Hott 

 

 

HOTT READS: Volume One

Occasional updates on what I've been reading. I'll never review books I absolutely disliked, as that's a waste of all of our time, and won't review any books published by my imprint, though I will recommend books published by my parent company

You can also keep up with my recommendations on instagram (@lizho914) under the hashtag #hottreads 

I'd love to hear what YOU are reading, too! Comment below or email me lizhottsauce@gmail.com. 

Outlander

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon 

The first in a series of I believe eight 800+ page historical novels, Outlander will appeal to a very specific set. As my personal heroine Emily Nussbam wrote in her review of the TV adaptation: "We all have our demographic kinks, but if you take a brazen brunette from the nineteen-forties, send her back in time to eighteenth-century Scotland, dress her in corsets and furs, and leave her torn between her twentieth-century husband (a witty, ardent scholar) and her eighteenth-century crush, Jamie (a well-built redhead who is capable of “gentling” horses), well, welcome to my TiVo’s Season Passes." You and me both, Em. 

If any of that sounds appealing to you, and you have several hours/days to burn reading and the patience to push through a lot of complex Scottish history, this is the book for you. I must admit, I found the second half to be a bit plot heavy and hard to follow but the first half, exploring the relationship between Claire and Jamie is basically perfection. 

Bonus: the sex in this book is legitimately h-o-t-t hott. I read it on the way back from Halong Bay and almost had to make the driver pull over and drop me and Brian in a rice paddy for some alone time.  Fans of 50 Shades (ugh), consider this upgrade - the female lead is a complex human adult woman with a mind of her own, not a complete drip with a creepy inner monologue and has some (imagine this!) actual agency over her sexuality, but her hunky hunk is no less powerful and manly for it. There's even some rough stuff! Feminism and flogging. Win-win. 

Recommended for: Scotland fans. Lovers of historical fiction. Sex maniacs. People with lots of time on their hands. 

Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman

A young, newly-married couple live on an isolated island off the coast of Australia where they man the lighthouse. A boat washes ashore with a dead man and a living baby. They make the rash decision not to report the boat, to keep the child as their own. When they return to the island on leave years later, they are forced to deal with the ramifications of their decision.

I grabbed this book as an impulse at B&N having heard good things from previous readers, but remained a little skeptical it might be a bit of a cliched, soft read. Whatever, I'm a snob. Happily I was proven wrong, as I often am when I get uppity and was amazed by how much I loved the book and how much it made me think - about responsibility, truth, motherhood, the thin line between right and wrong. I also found myself fascinated by the lives of lighthouse keepers and the science of the lights. 

This would be a perfect book club book, so much to dig into! I'd also love to hear how parents found the book, I can only imagine the moral questions raised by the couple's decision to parent this lost child would be much more harrowing to someone with a child of their own. 

Recommended for: Fans of historical fiction. Lovers of a good cry. Moms. People whose taste aligns with the Oprah's Book Club (and, despite my tendency towards snobbishness, I mean that as a good thing, I fall in that camp!) 

Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

This blurs the "no books I work on" line ever so slightly as we're publishing Lauren's new novel in September (and holy CATS is it good!) but we didn't publish this one and she's one of my favorite writers so I say it's legit. 

Smart former goody-two-shoes Willie Upton returns to her childhood home in a small town in upstate New York in disgrace and running away from...something. Basically, girl's a mess. On the day she returns home, a strange creature is found floating in the lake in the middle of town. The rest of the novel is funny and sad and weird and brilliantly written, weaving Willie's summer in Templeton with the history of her ancestors, the founding family of the town. 

If sexy historical fiction is one of my demographic kinks, tales of kicky young women outrunning their mistakes and dysfunctional families and small towns with secrets are three more. Add truly top-notch writing and you've got yourself a winner. I lost myself in Templeton with Willie and was so sad when the book came to a close.

Recommended for: People looking for a mix of literary prowess and accessible storytelling. Anyone from Cooperstown, NY (on which the town of Templeton is based!). Everyone who is cool and wants to read a kickass novel!

The Fever

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott has long been on my to-read list and hot damn, why did I wait this long. Set in a grey, small New England town, The Fever almost reads like The Crucible set in a modern high school. At the center of the book is a family: the father a high school teacher and his two HS age kids. When girls in the school suddenly become afflicted with strange illnesses - seizures, hallucinations, spells of hysteria - the town becomes a hotbed of paranoia, blame and anxiety. 

Abbott masterfully embodies both the teenage and adult minds and tells a story that is really about a community and about fear: of hormones, of viruses, of teenage (female, mind you) sexuality. Compulsively readable, the kind of book you devour for the plot and then realize, oh that was more than just a thriller

Recommended for: People who love high school coming of age stories. Thriller fans. Actual teenage witches. Parents whose kids are no longer teenagers and won't stress out about what they're up to with their friends all the time (nothing great!) 

Reconstructing Amelia

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

This book has been on the top of my to-read list since getting a lot of buzz as "the next Gone Girl" (a mantle thrown on every female penned psychological thriller since GG hit shelves) last summer and I finally put it on my kindle. It was...good. I didn't find it as intense as Gone Girl or any of Gillian Flynn's novels (all of which I adore) or some other psychological thrillers currently on the market, but I did find myself unable to put it down, plopping right into a chair to keep reading after work, instead of turning on the TV, which is always the sign of a compelling read.

Kate is a single mom with a powerful law career, whose life is thrown into tragedy when her teenage daughter Amelia jumps to her death from the roof of her tony Brooklyn private school. Or, did she really jump? The story goes back and forth between Kate in real time and Amelia in the months leading to her death, as Kate tries to solve what really happened to her daughter. I guessed some of the plot twists but was genuinely surprised by others. Again, the most horrifying parts of this novel, much like The Fever, were the manipulations and insecurities of teenage girls and the shenanigans that rich high school kids are getting themselves into. My kids are living in a damn bubble, mark my words! 

On that note, the author lives in and set her novel in my exact neighborhood and I SWEAR based the school (which I keep spelling shool, no "c' maybe I need to go back to shool??) where Brian teaches. I tried to look it up but found no proof. But so many of the locations and characters were so true to my life, I think that may have added to my enjoyment. 

Overall I'd say not the best thriller ever but definitely a fast, compelling, twisty-turny read.

Recommended for: People still mourning the end of Gossip Girl. Fans of psychological thrillers.  People on the hunt for "the next Gone Girl." Park Slope residents. Parents whose kids are really, really, really far out of high school like maybe they're 80 or 90 and they don't have to worry about what their also super old children are up to with their friends. High school kids are NUTS guys! Nuts.

(Or maybe it's just boring to write books about well behaved / adjusted nerds who get straight A's and tell their moms everything and don't even get to second base before graduation? Maybe that!)

But I digress. There you have it folks. Some hott-hott-hott reads for your enjoyment. I'd love to hear, what are YOU reading these days?? I'm all ears.

And eyes.

For the pages. Of the books. You get it.  

xoxo Liz Ho