I’m having a go at Cathy’s (746 Books) 20 Books of Summer challenge for the third year running! Last year, I managed to read and review nineteen books, so I’m really hoping to complete the challenge this year. In 2019, it runs from 3rd June to 3rd September.
My Twenty Books
Each with a one-line plot summary, then a one-line summary of why I’ve chosen it.
- A People’s Future of the United States: Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams ed.
- The Island of Sea Women: Lisa See
- Exhalation: Ted Chiang
- The Unpassing: Chia-Chia Lin
These first four books were in my most anticipated reads of 2019, so I’ve written more about why I’m looking forward to each of them in that post.
- Self Portrait With Boy: Rachel Lyon. I was fortunate enough to win this in a giveaway from Rachel at pace, amore, libri. This debut is ‘about an ambitious young artist whose accidental photograph of a boy falling to his death could jumpstart her career, but devastate her most intimate friendship.’ [publisher’s website] Rachel (the blogger, not the author!) and I seem to have eerily similar taste in novels, and I like books about visual artists, so this sounded right up my street.
- The Chalk Artist: Allegra Goodman. I recently highlighted this as one of the books I think will be a 4.5-star read for me, because of this blurb: ‘In exquisite detail, Goodman explores what happens when an alternate reality takes over one boy’s life, and the forces at work behind his obsession: the all-encompassing gaming realm that becomes more authentic than his real world.’ [Amazon] I’m interested in all novels that interact with imaginary, role-playing or computer games, and I admire Goodman’s writing, if not necessarily her plotting.
- Friday Black: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. This debut collection of short stories ‘tackles urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explores the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world.’ [publisher’s website] However, what really drew me in is the promise of stories that engage with virtual reality (see above) and the comparison with Black Mirror.
- Pulp: Robin Talley. I find it hard to imagine how I could not like this YA novel, which ‘explores first loves and first heartbreaks as queer girls, both today and in 1955’ [author’s website] Its dual narratives follow a lesbian pulp fiction writer in the 1950s and a young lesbian writing her high school senior project on these novels in the present day, hence combining my loves of female same-sex romance and intertextuality in one package.
- The Untelling: Tayari Jones. ‘When nine-year-old Ariadne Jackson loses her father and baby sister in an auto accident, her life in a black middle-class Atlanta neighborhood changes forever.’ [author’s website] Many found Jones’s best-known and most recent novel, An American Marriage (which I read for 20 Books of Summer last year!), to be too straightforward, but I thought her debut, Leaving Atlanta, paired her effortless writing with more complex issues, so I’m checking out her backlist.
- Winter Sisters: Robin Oliveira. ‘New York, 1879. After an epic snow storm ravages the city of Albany, Dr. Mary Sutter, a former Civil War surgeon, begins a search for two little girls, the daughters of close friends killed by the storm who have vanished without a trace.’ [Google Books] I very much enjoyed this book’s prequel, My Name Is Mary Sutter, which I heard about through Claire’s blog, and this sequel has an even more attractive premise (and cover!).
- Free Food for Millionaires: Min Jin Lee. ‘The daughter of Korean immigrants, Casey Han has refined diction, a closeted passion for reading the Bible, a popular white boyfriend, and a magna cum laude degree in economics from Princeton, but no job and an addiction to the things she cannot afford in the glittering world of Manhattan.’ [Goodreads] I very much enjoyed Lee’s second novel, Pachinko, which I read for book club, and I’m also intrigued by the lengthy writing process that lay behind this one, which Lee writes about in her new introduction.
- All Is Song: Samantha Harvey. ‘An evocative tale of two brothers that resists the easy and the obvious’ [Guardian], Harvey’s second novel sounds more akin to her Dear Thief than to her more recent, late medieval historical novel, The Western Wind. I loved both, and Harvey’s writing is so good that I almost don’t care what she’s writing about, so I have high hopes for this.
- The Echo Maker: Richard Powers. I also picked this as one of the novels I think I’ll give a 4.5 star rating, after being so impressed by Powers’ The Overstory. ‘On a winter night, Mark Schluter’s truck turns over in a near-fatal accident. His sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to look after him. But when he finally awakes from his coma, Mark believes that Karin – who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister – is really an identical impostor.’ [Amazon]
- Happiness: Aminatta Forna. I’ve been a fan of Forna’s novels for a while, including The Hired Man and The Memory of Love, and I’m impressed by her range as a novelist. Her latest, set in London, focuses on ‘Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist, and Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes’, whose lives collide on Waterloo Bridge [author’s website].
- Queenie: Candice Carty-Williams. ‘Caught between the Jamaican British family who don’t seem to understand her, a job that’s not all it promised and a man she just can’t get over, Queenie Jenkins’ life seems to be steadily spiralling out of control’ [Waterstones]. This debut has had a LOT of buzz, but it sounds like something I’d really enjoy, and I like the idea of telling the disaffected millennial zeitgeisty story from the point of view of a black woman.
- The Good Immigrant USA: Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman ed. ‘An urgent collection of essays by first- and second-generation immigrants, exploring what it’s like to be othered in an increasingly divided America’ [Amazon UK]. I loved most of the essays in Shukla’s previous edited collection, The Good Immigrant, particularly those which explored ethnic identities that don’t get a lot of air-time, such as British Chinese, and I’m keen to read the American version.
- Fruit of the Drunken Tree: Ingrid Rojas Contreras. ‘In the vein of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a mesmerizing debut set against the backdrop of the devastating violence of 1990s Colombia about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike up an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both.’[Goodreads] I was searching for Colombian fiction by Colombian writers for a gift for a friend who’s currently travelling in Colombia, and Rebecca suggested this debut; after loving Julianne Pachico’s The Lucky Ones, I’m keen to read this myself.
- Chemistry: Weike Wang. ‘A luminous, funny and charming novel… about a young Chinese-American scientist who must recalibrate her life when her academic career goes off-track’. [Google Books] I’m intrigued by this take on academic burnout and mental health issues.
- Memories of the Future: Siri Hustvedt. ‘Fresh from Minnesota and hungry for all New York has to offer, twenty-three-year-old S.H. embarks on a year that proves both exhilarating and frightening – from bruising encounters with men to the increasingly ominous monologues of the woman next door.’ [publisher’s website] Hustvedt’s What I Loved made a big impact on me when I read it in my first year of university, and the structure of this novel sounds reminiscent of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, which I also read that year.
- Starling Days: Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. ‘A beautifully weird portrayal of being alone together, millennial ennui, bisexuality and hybrid identity. It captures the brilliance and isolation of big cities as well as the struggle and strength to keep on going.’ [Fantastic Fiction] I loved Buchanan’s debut, Harmless Like You, and was excited to get a proof copy of this one.
Tommy Orange’s There There, about a community of Native Americans living in California, and Anuradha Bhagwati’s Unbecoming, about her experience as a bisexual woman of colour in the US Marines, are both only reserve options because it would be difficult/expensive for me to get hold of them at the moment. I’m still very keen to read both of these, and like to have reserve options in case I completely go off the idea of any of the books above and/or cannot source them.
Are you taking part in 20 Books of Summer this year? Have you read any of these?