HOTT READS: Volume Nine

Ho Ho Ho and Rabbit, Rabbit. It's December 1! Winter is coming! And I don't mean like in Westeros, where it seems like winter has allegedly been coming for six to eight years now, and winter mainly means zombies and murder, I mean winter the season is literally bearing down on us and will be imminently upon us with in weeks, days or even hours. Brace yourselves!

I'm not that fond of winter as a whole. It's cold and it gets dark at like 2 PM and my skin is so dry and the radiator makes so much flipping noise while I'm trying to sleep and all of my tights leave weird marks around my tummy and I'm just not here for it. 

But I will concede that all this chilly darkness does set a pretty good scene for cozying up with a blanket, a cup of tea, and ohh yes, a good book. Nerd hibernation! Hibernerdation? 

Shut it down.

Upon drafting this little ditty I realized that the titles I'd selected fell neatly into categories of sorts, essentially representing my three top genres. NEAT. So for funsies sake, and perhaps easier browsing sake, if you're more into one genre than you are the other, I've paired them up as such.  

I also took this overly styled photograph, because I am nothing if not a brilliant artistic talent. 

hottreads winter good stuff

I know, I know. I should quit my day job and become a photographer. You're far too kind.

Enough rambling, let's get to the books. Read on, readers! 

LITERARY POWERHOUSES

underground railroad commonwealth blog review

AKA: The big books by the big authors, read by all the literati in the know. 

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The best book of 2016 according to all the key cultural players: Oprah, The National Book Foundation, Amazon, and Ol' Hobag.

Honestly, I can't write anything better than what's already been written about this bestselling, heartbreaking, mind-bending masterwork which reimagines the allegorical underground railroad as an actual set of secret subterranean tracks shuttling runaway slaves to freedom, or at least the hope thereof, so I won't even try.

But trust me me when I say: it's worth the hype. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

It's no secret than I'm an Ann P superfan ... remember how I geeked when I met her in Nashville last year? Whelp, my fandom has only continued to grow. This fall I had a chance to see Ann in action while on tour for her new book and it was an absolute treat. The icing on the cake: after waiting on line to have my first edition signed like a regular old reader, rather than trying to pull my industry strings to sneak to the front, she remembered me (!) and wrote a hilarious inscription in my book. Then, a few weeks later, she did something very kind for one of my authors who was in Nashville on her own book tour, and this kindness involved her emailing me personally (ok, on my work email) which led to a days long back and forth convo and basically we are friends now. Well not like, real life friends but at least work friends. Cordial professional acquaintances. 

It's a risk to meet your heroes - what if they turn out to be terrible in person? But oh, what a joy when they turn out to live up to the admiration!  

ANWYWAY, enough about me (just kidding, never enough about me!), let's talk about this book. It's great! Commonwealth follows a sprawling blended family over the course of several decades, from California to Virginia to New York and beyond, through divorce, marriage, re-marriage, re-divorce, death of a child, death of a parent, betrayal, lies, secrets, the works. This all sounds like a lot to put into one novel but if anything, I could have read on for 400 more pages. Ann Patchett is always wonderful at telling just what needs to be told and not a word more, filling out lives and stories with the sparest details, almost creating set pieces within the framework of a novel. 

If you've read any of her non-fiction (and if you haven't, I can't recommend it highly enough, race out right this moment and snag a copy of her essay collection This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage), you'll recognize many beats from Patchett's own life reflected in this novel. It's deeply intimate and personal, which for me made it all the richer to read. And yet, this intimacy does not make it inaccessible, instead allowing a sense of recognition for any of us who has ever balanced a complex family situation.

And I mean, who among us hasn't? 

ESSAY COLLECTIONS BY HILARIOUS LADIES MIXING EMBARRASSING PERSONAL ANECDOTES WITH WISE REFLECTIONS ON THE STRUGGLE THAT IS LIFE AS A HUMAN WOMAN

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AKA: The kind of book I'd write if I ever got my ish together. 

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

Have you ever found yourself sitting around with your girlfriends just chatting about life and love and feminism and wedding dresses and bikini waxing and therapy and ex-boyfriends and current boyfriends and work stress and ambition and pregnancy and Bar Method and shopping and GOOP and thought "this conversation is SO MUCH FUN I wish I could write it all down and put it in a book and put the book in my purse and revisit it whenever I want"? 

Whelp, Jessi Klein went ahead and did that for ya. 

Reading this book I constantly felt like I was sitting across from a wise and funny friend over a glass of wine (or 12), nodding along with her stories like "yes, girl, I feel that way too!" Jessi also brings with her a slight wisdom advantage in that she's about ten years older than me, so has a few more years experience in the shitstorm that is Grown Ass Womanhood. She writes about serious personal issues like career, marriage, infertility, and eventually motherhood with such a perfect mix of humor and pathos, a mix I always strive to reach in my writing and in my life. Something about reading this both made me feel like I was doing an OK job at being a lady and has served as an inspiration to me in my own writing, while also just making me actually LOL. I know, that sounds like A LOT of Personal Growth to be gleaned from what is essentially a book of comic essays but the heart wants what the heart wants and mine just wants to read and write funny essays about vaginas. So sue me. 

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

You may recognize Phoebe Robinson as host of the podcasts 2 Dope Queens (with Jessica Williams) and Sooo Many White Guys, both which many people love and I have tried to love, but I am physically incapable of listening to an entire podcast, ever, without getting distracted and walking away. I recognize that what I am hearing is interesting and engaging and potentially even educational but my brain physically can not just sit there and listen to words, no matter what they are, without some kind of visual component.  I don't think I'm an auditory learner? Lucky for me I'm aces at reading and Pheebs' wit and wisdom is as easy on the eyes as it is on the ears.

That made NO sense. Just go with it. 

In You Can't Touch My Hair, Robinson seamlessly melds awkward childhood stories, sexual fantasies about Michael Fassbender, and pointed commentary on life as a Black woman in America, bringing you from "LMAO" to "huh, I never thought of it that way" and back again without missing a beat. I was straight up weeping with laughter on the subway highlighting particularly brilliant turns of phrase like I was cramming for a How To Write Funny Quiz.

Also, something you may not have noticed about me is that I am - spoiler alert - white. Surprise! Earlier this year I made a plan to read only books by women (allowing a loophole for non-white men, solely so I could read Underground Railroad) but realized halfway through the year that I was primarily reading books by straight, white women. So was I really achieving anything by sticking so closely to my own worldview? I pride myself on being a pretty passionate feminist but have had to grapple recently with my own shortcomings, and ask if my feminism really encompasses all women, not just ones who look like me. In the past few months I've made a conscientious effort to seek out writers who bring a different perspective than my own. I'm not saying that reading a book of comic essays by a black woman instead of a book of comic essays by a white woman is exactly undoing years of institutional racism and solving all the problems in the world or anything but I do believe that literature offers a powerful, accessible window into other worlds and a path towards empathy. In these particularly divisive times it feels extra important to broaden our reading lists. For all of us who are thinking, you know, "how did we get here and how can we do better?", reading books by people who don't look or love or pray quite like us is a pretty simple way to push out of our own bubbles. 

I still have a lot of work to do in this arena, and am in the process of putting together a fun reading challenge for myself for 2017, I'll be sure to share - maybe you'll join me! 

And yes, once again that's A LOT of Personal Growth to glean from a book of comic essay but the heart wants what the heart wants and mine just wants funny women to rule the world. 

PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS WITH EERILY SIMILAR TITLES

next door

AKA: The Gone Girl on the Train Next Door

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Anne and Marco seem like a perfect couple - young, attractive, owners of a beautiful old row home and parents to a cute 6 month old baby girl. One night they attend a dinner party next door and leave the baby sleeping in her own crib. They bring the monitor and check on her every 30 minutes but when they return at the end of the night, she is gone. 

NIGHTMARE.

The ensuing investigation stirs up all sorts of secrets and lies hidden beneath the surface of their seemingly tranquil lives and the plot takes more twists and turns than the roads they drive in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. I am usually pretty good at figuring out thriller twists but this one kept me guessing right up until the (deeply satisfying!) end. The prose isn't the fanciest and the dialogue leaves much to be desired but if you're looking for an engrossing, fast-paced thriller, this'll do juuust fine. I couldn't put it down - it's a perfect book for holiday travel or a low key wintery weekend. 

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood

I've had Alex Marwood on my radar for a few years now, after seeing the thriller master himself, Stephen King, recommending her books on twitter. My mother-in-law happened to snag a copy of this one at a library sale and when she asked if I wanted to read it, I basically ripped it from her hands, ran from the room, and buried my face in the pages. 

The Killer Next Door follows a motley crew of flatmates living in a dilapidated old house in a gentrifying neighborhood in London. Everyone in the house has something to hide, be it financial ruin, a criminal past, or a penchant for murdering beautiful women and embalming their corpses. 

You know, average stuff. 

Though the discovery of the titular (hehe, tit) killer next door is the central mystery of the story, I found myself far more engrossed in following the lives of the various roommates, uncovering their little secrets, and watching as they form a tentative bond with one another. This isn't a novel for the faint of heart. Some of the plot twists are quite dark and some scenes are visceral in their brutality (I will never look at a shower drain the same way again) but if you can stomach a little gore, you'll dig this creepy read. 

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And that's that! Bring it on, winter. The temperatures may be getting colder but the reads are as HOTT as always! 

xoxo Liz Ho