April was an intense month. It's always a strange and transformative month to me, one that starts out feeling a little like winter and ends feeling a little like summer. I spent most of it immersed in a few huge work projects, all of which are supposedly wrapping up within the next week. My artichoke plant is especially excited about the changing weather. I was able to make some time at the end of April for a period of harvest, and May is going to be a month of replenishing the soil and preparing it for summer planting.
I read 10 books in April, not including Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which some of you have been reading with me! All the time I usually like to spend on reading went into work this month, which is a bummer, but the reading I got to do was truly fabulous. Here are the three that caught me the most:
by Rivers Solomon
Vern - seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised - flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.
But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.
To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future - outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.
Solomon's work is always incisive and lush, and Sorrowland is no exception. It's a book that made me want to revisit my own approach to writing and to the world. With prose that feels grounded and organic and an underlying philosophy that feels transcendent, Sorrowland pulls off the seemingly-magical trick of marrying the physical and the metaphysical, the immediate and the universal, the earthly and the cosmic. This is a book that does not flinch away from any aspect of existence; in so doing, it examines and calls into question every assumption I as a reader brought to the story. Dynamic, unsettling, profound.
by Katherine Arden
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
This one is a little misleading, sorry. In April, I found out that The Bear and the Nightingale was actually the first book in a trilogy. I reread it so that I could read the two books that followed it, and I'm so glad I did. All three are incredible and they hang together as a perfect trilogy. The Bear and the Nightingale was a critical and commercial success when it came out, which is why I was surprised I hadn't heard of The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch. The first novel in the series is beautiful: at once cozy, confrontational, and immersive. The sequels follow in the same vein, maintaining an incredibly incisive tension throughout the narrative. Read all three for an incredible journey through brutal choices with impossible solutions. Tense, mythic, personal.
by Kat Leyh
Fresh out of shipwreck wine, three tipsy mermaids decide to magically masquerade as humans and sneak onto land to indulge in much more drinking and a whole lot of fun in the heart of a local seaside tourist trap. But the good times abruptly end the next morning as, through the haze of killer hangovers, the trio realizes they never actually learned how to break the spell, and are now stuck on land for the foreseeable future. Which means everything from: enlisting the aid of their I-know-we-just-met-can-we-crash-with-you bartender friend, struggling to make sense of the world around them, and even trying to get a job with no skill set...all while attempting to somehow return to the sea and making the most of their current situation with tenacity and camaraderie (especially if someone else is buying).
This book is just perfect. It's everything I needed. The story is so much fun, while maintaining a stance of grounded compassion at every turn. It brings kindness and understanding to situations where it would be narratively easy to insert cruelty and conflict. It also approaches very serious issues of identity, loneliness, and despair in ways I've never seen before – with a depth of kindness that doesn't seek to eliminate suffering, but rather to accommodate it. I'm making this book sound extremely serious, so please also know that I laughed out loud at least once every couple of pages – it's funny as hell. Sweet, hilarious, healing.
This post was initially published with incorrect alt-text for the cover of Thirsty Mermaids. It has since been updated. My sincerest apologies!
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