What to Read While Listening to Folklore

From lazy afternoons to dreamy nostalgia to haunted houses, I’m in love with Taylor Swift’s Folklore. I know there’s a lot of hype around Taylor Swift releases, regardless of the buildup schedule, but I love this TSwift. Here are some reads that popped into my head while listening to this album on repeat.

TheEssexSerpeant


The Essex Serpent
by Sarah Perry

Okay, this one is more just a vibe thing. Also, the novel center around a monster that may or may not be real but the IDEA of the monster is really the point. And it feels like Middlemarch. And that just feels right here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MexicanGothic

 


Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Listen, we know I love this book. And ghosts are more than just ghosts for Swift and Moreno-Garcia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RealLife

 

 


Real Life
by Brandon Taylor

Okay, while there are lots of illusions and references in this album, it is also a lot of quiet deep moments. Feelings that overflow. If there’s a novel of 2020 so far that’s gonna make me sit in some feelings to unpack it’s Real Life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WeAreOkay

 

 


We are Okay
by Nina LaCour

This novel lives within the world of memory and moving on and feels right for the more nostalgic moments of this album that still are forced to look forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if you haven’t checked out the list of track-by-track romances I put together at the Booklist Reader for Lover, check that out too! 

And, while we’re here, leave your favorite Folklore tracks so far. I really love this whole album, but I do find myself listening to “august” on repeat.

The Betrothed

TheBetrothed

by Kiera Cass

2/5 stars

When we meet Hollis she has already caught the eye of the king, an eye that before now ahas been known to wander the court. So, Hollis has no expectations beyond enjoying her time as favorite. But,  it soon becomes evident the king has plans to rise her higher. With an imminent arrival of a rival king, Hollis is moved into the Queen’s suites and her ascension to the throne becomes a fact taken for granted. Soon she is balancing her existing friendships, politics, and the King’s affections. But she also catches her eye wandering to the oldest son of a family from the neighboring kingdom that has recently taken refuge in the castle.

I probably didn’t go into this completely fair. I didn’t find the Selection series to be good, but they were at least entertaining.  I did not enjoy the Siren. Still, Cass plays into a very specific brand of ballgown fantasy that can be appealing, especially to teens. And while I don’t personally her writing is particularly good, it is easy and readable, which I do think serves her audience.

Overall, this has thin characters, world building, and plotting with no real romance.

Hollis’ main character trait seems to be that at the beginning of the book she got in a play fight and fell out of a boat. (See, she’s quirky and carefree.) From there it’s that she makes the King, Jameson, smile. Everything else we know about her is from comparisons to her best friend. So, she’s not shrouded in a. family scandal and apparently not particularly studious? And it seems Cass wants us to be able to see her grow into herself and find her voice and assert herself. But she’s never particularly interesting. And in finding her voice, she still doesn’t have a whole lot to say.

This wasn’t a romance. There is a love triangle if you squint. Or if you take that Hollis has two boys she picks between. But she doesn’t really have a relationship with either. I hesitate to call her relationship with Silas insta-love, because they really have no chemistry. There’s no development of that relationship. All declarations of feeling in either relationship are overly flowery and seemingly untied to any actual emotion.  So, if you’re going in to this for the romance angle, know that going in. Rather, Cass seems to be using these relationship to try and position Hollis into having a personality. I don’t think it works.

Also, a slur, g**** was used twice, the first time when referring to a group of murderers that might be attached to the king of a neighboring kingdom, and why? Why was this very specific cultural slur needed in these two vague made-up kingdoms when we don’t have a sense of the larger world…or even if Cass didn’t know it was a slur, it should have been caught by the publisher. It serves no purpose and really took me out of the narrative. Especially as everything else was so vague, to have this be a thing that was specific? No thanks.

I will be honest. I will probably read the next book to see where this goes because I’m interested in what Cass’ vision for this is. But they’re also quick reads. I wish I could have enjoyed this more. At least the Selection had a fun kind of camp to it.

Some Recommendations 7/16/2020

Hey all,

Sorry I’ve been away for a bit again. I’ve been having trouble focusing for longer, more thought out reviews. I’m hoping to get back in the swing soon. For the meantime, I’m putting below some of the books I’ve been reading recently that I really loved, with Bookshop affiliate links. This is just a fraction really.

AnUnkindnessofGhosts
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon: Listen, I’ve had this on my TBR since it came out. Don’t be like me and continue to put off reading it because you don’t know if you’re in the mood for space. It’s so good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DaringandtheDuke
Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean: We’re at the end of another Sarah MacLean series and she successfully turned a very villain-y villain into the hero this go around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'll Be the One
I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee: The copy pitches this for fans of Julie Murphy and Jenny Han. It’s got K-pop and swoon-worthy romance. It was fun and it made me smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KimJiyoung
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo: Based on articles I’ve read this has been credited with spurring conversations about feminism in South Korea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MexicanGothic
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: This has been one of my most anticipated of the year. It did not disappoint. Everything I love about gothic literature heightened by the themes explored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TheVotingBooth


The Voting Booth
by Brandy Colbert: Listen, with the election coming up there has been a lot of politically-themed books coming out this year. At least 2 have been pretty controversial. This is not one of them. This has all the makings of a classic YA meet cute while also exploring important topics related to voting. And there’s an instagram famous cat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TheYearoftheWitching
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson: Hands down one of my favorites of the year so far. It has so many things I love–vaguely puritanically coded cult-like community, ominous woods, menacing witches, sexual tension. This comes out July 21. Just buy it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What have you been loving lately?

 

Real Men Knit

RealMenKnit

by Kwana Jackson

3/5 stars

Blurb from publisher:

When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem.

Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.

Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit.

This was cute no doubt about it, but I couldn’t help thinking it held back a little. It set up a lot of emotional depth but shied away from full exploring the messiness of that depth.

I saw a friend (@balletbookworm on insta) frame this as a pacing issue, and think that may pin down that feeling structurally. We just don’t spend enough time actually seeing the characters deal with the interesting emotional journeys that have been established for them–Kerry’s attempts to determine what the right next step is based on what she wants not what other people expect, Jesse dealing with his feelings of failure and how that has him trapped in ways that aren’t emotionally fulfilling for him. I think it’s because I did care about them and their journeys that I wanted more for them in that resolution. There is also a fair amount of lack of communication going on for these characters who have know each other forever in a way that could flip toward the frustrating.

For much of the book it feels like we focus more on the conflict within the Strong brothers, without that conflict ever coming to a head. For all the arguing these brothers do, they never lay everything out plain, though it is wonderful getting to watch the moments where they support each other unconditionally. It just seemed like there were a lot of things left unsaid that were never worked through.

This was the same with Kerry and Jesse’s relationship. So much left unsaid was in the way of their getting together, and then it never really felt like it was adequately dealt with. We got so little of them together, and didn’t really get to see that growth. This is where I think the pacing comes into play because I don’t think so much time needed to be spent on them fighting their attraction to each other when there were so many other factors at play in the relationship emotionally.

But there was so much I was utterly charmed by. The brothers. The regulars at the hop. A scene where Kerry was mentally working through some stuff in the shower and there’s an explosion and things start to flood (listen, I don’t know why this bit worked so well for me–maybe because it sounds like my absolute nightmare).

I do hope we get to visit the Strong brothers again.

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Felix Ever After

FelixEverAFter

by Kacen Callender

5/5 stars

“You don’t get to use my pain to make your point.”

Blurb from publisher:

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve. 

I am the first to admit that mistaken identities, especially of the catfishing variety, can make me uncomfortable. But I adored how it was handled here. This story lets teens be messy and figure things out. Some react well when they mess up and learn and grow. Others don’t. And that’s, unfortunately, realistic too.

This book has been getting all the buzz, and then it blew all the buzz out of the water by being even better than I expected. This is one of the best YA contemporaries I have read in a while. I absolutely adored it. Callender explores questions of identity with nuance and compassion.

One thing that really stood out to me here–especially within the YA market–was its exploration of the many forms transphobia can take. We of course get the more traditional villain who will out someone publicly and then harass via social media. But we must also contend with a TERF within a liberal, queer group of young friends. And the emotional impact of both is felt in the story very deeply, especially the shame and silence around someone within your social circle behaving in this way. I think Felix’s instincts to internalize a lot of this, to not cause waves in the friend group, is realistic for a lot of teens. I also think its important that it normalizes continuing to refine your identity.

I also just loved the friendships–between Felix and Ezra. But also between Felix and Leah. It shows how friendships and relationships can morph and change, especially within high school, in a realistic way.

I have avoided going off in response on a particular bad review I’ve seen posted, and don’t want to give it more attention, but would like to address a couple of the points it raises as critiques here because I think they are problematic in evaluation of this story in particular.

  1. Characters don’t always have to be likable for their stories to be worthy. Narratives need conflict. Characters will either learn and grow from this or not. You don’t have to like the character. Personally, I think Felix is a bean doing his best and is willing to own up to his bad behavior. I’m not expecting a teen to always get it right. And I’d rather current teens see good examples of how to best move forward when you don’t get it right. I can struggle with this likability idea in narratives as well, and I do get it. But based on the rest of this reader’s review, I think there’s something else underlying their response to Felix in particular that is problematic.
  2. If you are reading a story about a trans teen and, or any trans character, and are centering the feelings of that character’s parents over the trans character, that is not okay.
  3. Tied somewhat in with the previous, the review tries to indicate the book lacks closure. Rather, the book did not provide the closure that reader desired. The book does provide closure of the storyline they are critiquing. They just don’t like the way it ended. I was satisfied with the way this storyline resolved. Additionally, I would argue no narrative owes us definitive closure.

Anyway, it’s still Pride, you should definitely read this book. Pride over by the time you’re reading this? Good news. You can still read this book.

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So We Can Glow

SoWeCanGlow

by Leesa Cross-Smith

5/5 stars

You just had to let the things in your heart get real dark first.

These stories do such an excellent job at establishing mood. There is such a beautiful longing to this collection and the way these stories weave in and out of each other. They are often short, because they encapsulate a particular mood or moment. While I usually like my short stories weird and supernatural, there was an emotional rawness here that I undeniably connected to. I loved how some stories connect back in on each other. But what really struct me was how Cross-Smith writes about different angles of womanhood with compassion and depth.

fullsizeoutput_6b2

There are 42 stories in this collection, which, admittedly, is a lot. One of my favorites was “Girlheart Cake with Glitter Frosting.” This was not a traditional short-story narrative and without an English degree or study of the short story form, I’m not really sure I have the vocabulary to talk about how it works structurally. But I do know that as a reader I had an emotional reaction. It was nostalgia. It was an ache and wistfulness. And I found myself physically just bringing the page closer and closer to my face.

My main critique would be, I’m not completely sold on the cover. I’m not sure it really embodies the feeling I get from these stories, nor does it particularly draw me in as a buyer (I did buy a print copy though).

I have started to see this title gain some more attention recently, but I have not seen it get nearly enough attention since I discovered it on the Millions first half of 2020 preview, so  definitely show it show some love (Like with sales or library requests)

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Riot Baby

RiotBaby

by Tochi Onyebuchi

4/5 stars

Listen, I don’t have an insightful analysis of this one. Onyebuchi’s mind is so much better than my own. This book is doing so much, in the best possible way, and I don’t have the right words to talk about how the structure and inventiveness of this work. Occasionally, the time jumps moved faster than my brain and I had to catch up with the narrative. But, I was also reading this during a tumultuous and emotional week. This book spoke to that time, but my brain was not at its best. Onyebuchi makes masterful use of the space he’s utilizing and trusts his reader to keep up.

What I do have words to say are: you should read this book. It does cool things and has a lot to say. I also loved the ways magic or power or the supernatural, or whatever you want to call it, are used. My copy of War Girls has definitely just moved up in my pile.

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Friday Black

FridayBlack

by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

4/5 stars

“Even the apocalypse isn’t the end. That, you could only know when you’re standing before a light so bright it obliterates you. And if you are alone, posed like a dancer, when it comes, you feel silly and scared. And if you are with your family, or anyone at all, when it comes, you feel silly and scared, but at least not alone.”

I bought this during indie bookstore day 2019. I’ve had it in reserve for the day that I needed a collection of hyped, weird short stories.  Something I could just spend the afternoon with. I needed that this weekend. And it absolutely lives up to the hype. It’s also one of the prettiest paperbacks I own–deckled edges, deep French flaps, design on the inside cover. As a physical object it’s great. It’s a good thing the insides match.

The first story, “the Finkelstein 5” hits especially close right now. It centers around a case where a white man brutally murders five Black children and gets off on a self-defense plea. I wish the extremes the story is pushed to in order to make its point felt like extremes. If, in this current political moment, you read no other story from this collection, read “the Finkelstein 5.” Say their names.

But, I really hope you will read more of this collection. Like the eponymous “Friday Black”– a zombie-esque story following a retail worker on Black Friday. There were actually a couple of stories born of retail life, and I loved all of them. The weird and extreme are expertly crafted here in order to make bigger points. If you, like me, like your short stories a little weird, this is for you. If you like your stories to have a message beyond telling a succinct, satisfying story (No judgement on that either! Sometimes that is exactly what we need as a reader and the craft of the short story is hard so a succinct, satisfying short story is a feat in and of itself), this is for you.

**CW/Potential spoiler**
There was one story that featured personified aborted fetuses. If you think this may be upsetting to you, best to skip “Lark Street.” Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of these stories do contain violence. But they also actively explore the violence of the Black male experience
**CW/Potential spoiler over**

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