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 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. 

breaking wild les becquets book review hottreads

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.

shipping news hottreads

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 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?

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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!

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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! 

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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. 

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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? 

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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