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!)
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!
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.
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.
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!
Trio of Laura Lippman Thrillers:
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