Monday, August 31, 2020

Review: Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't expect to enjoy this book quite so much but the writing is exceptional, and the characters are very individual and believable. I'll forgive the author the one overly convenient plot point that I don't think she needed to make it all work, but it does add some complexities to how characters relate to one another.

This is one of the debut novels on the Booker longlist. So far, I'd give it a yes for the shortlist, but I've only read three - the other two would be a yes (Real Life by Brandon Taylor) and a no (Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler)- The New Wilderness will be up next.

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Review: The Inheritance

The Inheritance The Inheritance by Sahar Khalifeh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book I've owned for years and finally pulled it out to read for my Middle East 2020 challenge and Women in Translation Month. The author is a Palestinian, born in Nablus in 1941. Her novels often feature women living in Palestine, and this is no different, but all the characters are surrounding the event of an inheritance. The inheritance alongside the first Gulf War leads siblings to return home from the places they were working (several of the women in the family had relocated to make money for the men in their family!) - Kuwait, Istanbul, Frankfurt - and are dealing with complicated situations and feelings that have to do with loss of home, confusion of identity, difficulty of movement, etc.

I will admit I had to really hunker down to get through the book. The text on the page is tiny and the transition is fairly clunky. I did get more into the story in the last half, when a second wife's adult sons kidnap her to bully her out of her rightful inheritance. Phew! I have another book by this author on my shelves, Wild Thorns, and I understand this is better known. I will likely read it before the end of the year.

"[Kamal] had dreamed of returning home at this time and this age, to devote himself to a new project, a new passion, something that would make up for the past and for life in a desolate land. In Germany he had felt that he was living a superficial, rootless life, but now, after discovering the state of his homeland, he felt like an orphan."

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Friday, August 28, 2020

Review: The Discomfort of Evening: A Novel

The Discomfort of Evening: A Novel The Discomfort of Evening: A Novel by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book won the International Booker Prize a day ago or so and at that point I was at the halfway point. It is about Jas, a girl of around 10, trying to make sense of the world around her after the death of her brother. It takes place in the rural Netherlands, where her family runs a farm with cows. The voice of Jas is vibrant, combining the limited understanding of that age with what she can observe and with what she's understood from what others have taught her - religion, science, manners, etc. Along with her siblings, their understanding of the world almost creates its own mythology.

Her parents check out in their grief, and she has to navigate quite a bit on her own, arguably to the point of neglect. She struggles with digestion, safety, and hygiene, and she's never going to take off her coat.

I don't think this book will be for everyone. Topics that may be troubling include sexual exploration/abuse (the line is a bit blurry I must say, at least from Jas's perspective), animal cruelty and animal death, death of a child, suicidal ideation, and, well, poo. There is a lot about bodily functions here, so much that I started wondering if I was supposed to insert Freud into my understanding here. I didn't but ...

I kept thinking back to a book I read a couple of years ago - Kassandra and the Wolf by Margarita Karapanou, with the unforgettable voice of a young child and her Frank somewhat disturbing world viewpoint. I think readers that like one will like the other.

I haven't read more than one other International Booker Prize shortlist title, but I would have chosen this book over that one. I'd like to eventually read all of them, but I still have my eye on some of the long list titles.

I read this interesting article on the author around the time the book was nominated for the International Booker.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: Breasts and Eggs

Breasts and Eggs Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, published in Japan in 2008 and published translated into English in May 2020, is a good reminder of the danger of a single story. A profile of the article in The Guardian five days ago quotes the author as saying, "Japan’s literary universe is still odd, cute and a bit mysterious...But we’re not like that at all. I don’t want to write books that perpetuate that image. I want to write about real people.”

The real people in this book are women - single women - dealing with the realities of a society that is so often blind to what it takes to survive on your own, particularly as you age. As you might imagine from the title, the female body, childbirth, motherhood, and mother-daughter relationships are all major themes. Their lives aren't quirky or flashy, just normal working lives.

The author comes from this kind of background. The other element I'm interested in from my reading is the Osaka dialect which she tried to communicate in writing (which is difficult in logographic kanji, hopefully I'm referring to it properly.) The translators have written about this challenge and my book club should have fun discussing it tomorrow, but I think it comes across best when the characters have been drinking.

This is another book for Women in Translation Month and I think the translation is thoughtful, however I found it ironic that both translators would be male for this very female-centric book. It makes me wonder if there is anything they missed - the author feels it is problematic when men impose legislation without including women without being able to share their experiences - in the same vein why not use a female translator? That really stood out.

I feel I enjoyed reading about and around this book more than the book itself, but I can see what she is trying to do and look forward to what she does next.

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Reading Envy 198: Mood Reading with Robin Gustafson

Jenny hosts a new guest in the Reading Envy Pub and we chat mood reading, new releases, the line between gothic and horror, and more. Robin talks about a book club she's been in that's older than a typical college student, and because we are both academic librarians facing reopening in a pandemic, we talk a little baseball. If you aren't interested or just can't with COVID-19 in your podcasts, skip from 2:15-7:00.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 198: Mood Reading

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Books discussed:

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Fair Play by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adriane Tomine
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri

Other mentions:

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
The Book Cougars
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Beverly Cleary
Judy Blume
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
Mexican Gothic playlist
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust
The Complete Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Slade House by David Mitchell
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence
Video of Klovharun
TOVE (film trailer, 2020)
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Letters from Tove by Tove Jansson
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels
The Mussel Feast by Brigit Vanderbeke
Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

Related episodes:

Episode 185 - The Loyal Swineherd (Odyssey readalong)
Episode 194
- Squirreling Books Away with Andrew
Episode 197
- Surly Magnificence with Lauren

Stalk us online:

Robin at Goodreads
Robin on Twitter

Robin is @robinlgustafson on Instagram
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Review: The Piano Student

The Piano Student The Piano Student by Lea Singer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author of this book took a few letters between esteemed pianist Vladimir Horowitz and his student, Nico Kaufmann, and turned them into a novel about their relationship in the 1930s. According to other sources like Horowitz, Horowitz adamantly denied he was gay, and this book suggests several reasons for that claim. He was living in Germany in the 1930s but saw the writing on the wall and relocated to Switzerland, and according to Singer many known homosexual musicians got married in a hurry to deny such accusations. Horowitz, referred to in the novel as Volodya, marries Wanda, who is the daughter of Toscanini. This is during one of the periods in time where Volodya stopped performing in public.

I love Horowitz and when I was studying the piano music of Chopin, Scriabin, Beethoven and Brahms in college, I listened to him frequently for tone and interpretation. He's really quite amazing and also unpredictable. The publisher of this book has actually put together two playlists of the pieces mentioned, and really how could you ever read this book without listening to the music, it's so essential to the story. (It's available in Spotify and YouTube.) From a musical interactivity standpoint, I give this book all the stars.

But I found some of the authorial decisions confusing and it made for a difficult reading experience. The entire story is told by Kaufmann as an older man to a random guy he meets in a bar, who up until that moment was going to commit suicide. I never understood why he was in the story at all. But it removes the story itself and turns it into an info dump, a narrated road trip, a slide show. The moments where Kaufmann and Horowitz are described in the room together have great energy, and the mention of confrontations with WANDA are exhilarating, but the majority of the novel is a summary of those moments. The dialogue is unmarked which gets very confusing, and I couldn't always tell if the words were coming from the two talking about the previous events or the people within those events.

It's clear the author is a historian and did a lot of research; I would have like to know more about that research, including which parts of the story are factual and which are manufactured to make it a good story. Am I encountering historical characters or a novelization of a romance that someone wished for? We can't know everything for sure but what DO we really know? Are the letters mentioned transcriptions of the actual letters or imagined versions? I just don't think that calling something a novel gives the author an excuse not to more clearly delineate fact vs. fiction when it's about someone who lived until 1989. You can read a shortened version of his amazing life in his obituary in the New York Times.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss; it comes out October 6, 2020. I recommend it for anyone but especially those of you who like novels with music themes, you know who you are.

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Sunday, August 16, 2020

Review: How to Fly

How to Fly How to Fly by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't know Barbara Kingsolver wrote poetry, but I really enjoyed this collection. I'd put it up there with Mary Oliver in thematic material and think the same readers would like both. (That's high praise, I love Mary Oliver!) - nature, aging, death & dying as part of life, wisdom etc.

My favorites (linking to them online if I can find them)
How to Drink Water When There is Wine
How to Have a Child
How to Survive This (published in the NYT during high pandemic numbers in NYC)
How to Do Absolutely Nothing
How to Be Married
My Mother's Last Forty Minutes
"...Here begins my life as no one's bad daughter..."
Forests of Antarctica
"...You are the world that stirs. This is the world that waits."

I had a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss. It comes out in September but I was worrying about my eARC expiring before I had a chance to review it so here we are.

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Review: What Happens at Night

What Happens at Night What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When we were looking for our first home, I read House of Leaves and had crazy dreams. It might be that the week of an adoption home study is not the week to read this novel - or the most perfect week! "The man" and "The woman" are in an unnamed Northern or is it Eastern European country to bring home the baby they are adopting. The journey has been long and once they arrive, nothing seems right and things get stranger and stranger....

I spent some of my reading experience as investigator, where are they? Some clues had me convinced of Finland or Estonia. Someplace with washed up circus performers, lichen schnapps, endless course meals, and shady businessmen. Other times I was reading like mad to see what would happen next. Some bits made me laugh and at one point I called the book wackadoodle, and it is, but it's also sometimes poignant or beautiful or dreamlike.

This is the first book I've read from this author but I've had an earlier work on my TBR for a long time. I'll be checking it out sooner now!

This came out August 4 from Catapult and they did send me a copy ahead of time.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Review: The Memory Police

The Memory Police The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is on the shortlist for the International Booker Prize. The original novel was published in Japanese in 1994, so I struggled a bit with the idea that all the more contemporary novels were overlooked for this, but I can see that it is pretty standout.

On the Booker page for this novel the translator talks about the resonance of this book specifically in America specifically this year, with a government leaning closer and closer to dictatorship and asking it's citizens to believe things that "simply aren't true." I can see that. Still, the book has a surreal quality that allows the people on the island to just let things happen to them and that in itself is a puzzle - and how does the government make it happen? I can see them using their power to make people go along with something but even a dog wakes up to a leg that disappeared.... (I understand it is allegory, metaphor, fable but still these things are not explained.) I also was not sure why the unnamed narrator builds a place to hide her editor, one person who doesn't forget when he is supposed to. All along she is writing a novel along similar themes but the disappearance of things causes major problems as you can imagine.

This is also a read for Women in Translation Month. I imagine this was a challenge because the language is floaty and so much is passive...

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Reading Envy 197: Surly Magnificence

Lauren is back and fresh from June's Read Caribbean challenge and July's Sci-Fi July. We also talk summer reading, Women in Translation Month, and colonization.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 197: Surly Magnificence

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
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Books discussed:

Dancing in the Baron's Shadow by Fabienne Josaphat
That We May Live edited by various
Soviet Milk by Norah Ikstena
Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell
The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

Other mentions:

Contribute to the 200th episode (words, not money)
Chef by Jaspreet Sing
The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
by Arundhati Roy
Hadriana in All My Dreams by Rene Depestre
Everything is Wonderful: Memories of a Collective Farm in Estonia by Sigrid Rausing
Secondhand Time
by Svetlana Alexievich
Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French
Justine by Lawrence Durrell
Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell
Clea by Lawrence Durrell
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
The Durrells in Corfu (tv show)
Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman
Wayfarers by Becky Chambers
Dawn by Octavia Butler
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Related episodes:

Episode 097 - Blank Spaces with Lauren Weinhold
Episode 123 - Godlets and Forests with Lauren Weinhold
Episode 133 - To Understand the World with Lauren Weinhold
Episode 138 - Shared Landscape with Lauren Weinhold 
Episode 147 - Bonus Poetry Recommendations with Lauren
Episode 161 - Women in Translation Month Recommendations with Lauren
Episode 163 - Fainting Goats with Lauren

Stalk us online:

Lauren at Goodreads
Lauren is @end.notes on Instagram
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Review: What's Left of Me Is Yours

What's Left of Me Is Yours What's Left of Me Is Yours by Stephanie Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man hires a firm to seduce his wife so he has grounds for divorcing her, and she is found murdered by her father. The novel moves back and forth in time between the wife and her daughter as an adult, looking into more of the situation surrounding her mother's death. This is based on a real story coming out of Japan and the author took the idea and ran with it. It's a small thing but I also really loved how she writes the surroundings of each scene - it never bogged down the narrative but I always had a clear picture in my mind of the scene in ways I don't usually have.

The author thanks Louise Doughty in the afterword and I feel like if you have read Doughty you will like this has a feeling of being a thriller but isn't really a thriller, crime elements without being a crime novel.

I had a copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss but it's been out since June 23.

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Review: Stephen Florida

Stephen Florida Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book stayed with me so powerfully after I read it in December 2017 that I decided to make it the required book club experience for the Summer Reading class I've been teaching. I originally listened to the audio but read through Kindle Prime this time around. I should have given it five stars last time so I am doing so this time - I actually don't think it's a perfect book but the amount I thought about it after finishing it, the characters and some of the discussion points - make me want to rate it as highly as possible. This is not a book I would have been drawn to but there is something about it that is really special.

Stephen is a college wrestler with single-minded focus on his goals, but you can't be sure if his version of reality is sound, and the reader has a lot of work to do. He's also not likeable per se but so perfectly rendered that I continue to think about him, wondering what happened to him after college, etc. Cover art uses a work by George Boorujy, and it is a standout book cover.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Review: The Mussel Feast

The Mussel Feast The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the publisher blurb:
A mother and her two teenage children sit at the dinner table. In the middle stands a large pot of cooked mussels. Why has the father not returned home? As the evening wears on, we glimpse the issues that are tearing this family apart.

'I wrote this book in August 1989, just before the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I wanted to understand how revolutions start. It seemed logical to use the figure of a tyrannical father and turn the story into a German family saga.' Birgit Vanderbeke

Peirene intentionally publishes shorter, read in one sitting, translated works - it would have been hard to take much more of this one in the sense that you really get a sense of the dictator father and how his behavior has controlled the family. It is told from the perspective of the oldest daughter, and at least in the ebook there are no chapter or paragraph breaks. It's like being in the family yourself, oppressed with no end in sight.

I know it's supposed to be a metaphor for East Berlin and the wall coming down or something like this but it's also an uncomfortably accurate depiction of how one tyrannical person can limit the lives of the people he controls (okay, I see it now, this is also what happens in oppressive regimes, got it.)

The novel starts with the mother cleaning mussels for her husband's homecoming - he expects meals to be a certain way and she complies, even though as she has said on multiple occasions, she does not herself care for mussels. Everything must be done his way.

Another point in the novel, it says "...Music, my father said, was pure excess and would never get any engine started. He said this because ever since their escape to the West my mother’s violin had lain in their bedroom wardrobe, and only occasionally." He also refuses to go to the mountains for vacation, criticizes her appearance and wardrobe, and won't let the narrator play the piano.

I loved the ending, and will look for more from this press. I was happy to read this from the books I already had for Women in Translation month; this is translated from the German.

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Monday, August 3, 2020

Review: Utopia Avenue

Utopia Avenue Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fan of David Mitchell (I couldn't fit all the books into the picture) and this novel was highly anticipated, *and* I love novels with a music theme. This novel is about a band in 1960s UK, and the chapters move between their perspectives as new songs are written and recorded (the sections of the book are grouped by sides.) There are a lot of connections to his other works, because everything is all part of one übernovel - those parts were very fun to discover but I won't spoil them here. My only sadness is that it is over....

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Saturday, August 1, 2020

Books Read July 2020: 165-193

In July, I still had no physical library access, so I read books I had access to at home. Thankfully that includes a lot of digital content, from ARCs to library eBooks. It also includes more books from my shelves, huzzah! I'm still not consuming audio except a sprinkling of podcasts here and there. This month's ReadtheWorld challenge was for Eastern Europe, and I learned I may not exactly understand the political history of Moldova. When I tackle Eastern Europe more deeply next year, I hope to untangle some of that confusion. For now it's on to August, which is Women in Translation month!

Pictured: July's 5-star reads

165. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
166. The Lightness by Emily Temple ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
167. Broken Harbor by Tana French ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
168. Eat Joy by Natalie Garrett, ed. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
169. Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
170. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
171. That We May Live by Various, translated by Various ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
172. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (print galley; my review)
173. Girl Gone Viral by  Alisha Rai  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Libby eBook; my review)
174. Sorcery & Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
175. Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
176. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated by Geoffrey Trousselot ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
177. In an Absent Dream by  Seanan McGuire ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Libby eBook; my review)
178. The Dreaming, Vol. 1 by Simon Spurrier, Dan Watters, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard; illustrated by Bilquis Evely, Abigail Larson, Domo Stanton, Tom Fowler ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
179. The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov, translated by Ross Ufberg ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
180. Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
181. Monogamy by Sue Miller  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
182. My Grandmother's Hands by Resmaa Menakem ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
183. Invisible Kingdom, Vol. 1 by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Christian Ward ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
184. Mother of All Pigs by Malu Halasa ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
185. Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
186. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (print galley; my review)
187. We Had No Rules by Corinne Manning ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from publisher; my review)
188. Amora by Natalia Borges Polesso, translated by Julia Sanches ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (print galley; my review)
189. Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
190. The Umbrella Academy, Vol 2: Dallas by Gerard Way, illustrated by Gabriel Bá ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
191. A Love Story for Bewildered Girls by Emma Morgan ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (print galley; my review)
192. Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Ingvild Burkey ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Libby eBook; my review)
193. My Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog by Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, translated by Megan McDowell ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (print galley; my review)

Still reading at the end of July:
Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes
Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Total Books Read: 29
5-star reads: 7

Audiobook: 0
eBook: 18
Print: 11

Library: 9
Personal: 6 (subscription: 1)
Review: 14

Comics: 3
Crime: 1
Memoir: 2
Non-fiction: 4
Sci-fi/fantasy: 7
Translated: 5
YA/children: 3

Around the World: 11
Middle East 2020: 4
Read the World: 1
Sci-Fi July: 3.5