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  • My Favorite Reads of 2018

    I read 140 books in 2018! But these are my favorite.  Not all of these were published in 2018, but here they are, vaguely listed by genre: 

    SHORT FICTION:

    FRIDAY BLACK by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

    A piercingly raw debut story collection from a young writer with an explosive voice; a treacherously surreal, and, at times, heartbreakingly satirical look at what it’s like to be young and black in America.

    From the start of this extraordinary debut, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day in this country.

    These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In “The Finkelstein Five,” Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unforgettable reckoning of the brutal prejudice of our justice system. In “Zimmer Land,” we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of racism as sport. And “Friday Black” and “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” show the horrors of consumerism and the toll it takes on us all.

    Entirely fresh in its style and perspective, and sure to appeal to fans of Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, and George Saunders, Friday Black confronts readers with a complicated, insistent, wrenching chorus of emotions, the final note of which, remarkably, is hope.

    FLORIDA by Lauren Groff

    In her thrilling new book, Lauren Groff brings the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother. 

    The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement.

    FICTION: 

    RED CLOCKS by Leni Zumas

    Five women. One question. What is a woman for?

    In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

    Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro's best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling herbalist, or "mender," who brings all their fates together when she's arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

    RED CLOCKS is at once a riveting drama, whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. In the vein of Margaret Atwood and Eileen Myles, Leni Zumas fearlessly explores the contours of female experience, evoking THE HANDMAID'S TALE for a new millennium. This is a story of resilience, transformation, and hope in tumultuous-even frightening-times.

    (Read alike: The Handmaid's Tale)

    SENLIN ASCENDS by Josiah Bancroft


    The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of luxury and menace, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.
    Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.
    Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he'll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the illusions of the Tower. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.
    This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.
    (Read alike: Candide) 
    THE FRIEND by Sigrid Nunez

      


    A moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between a woman and her dog.


    When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building.

    While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog's care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unraveling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them.

    Elegiac and searching, The Friend is both a meditation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion.

    WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson

     

    Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiousity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

    THE PISCES by Melissa Broder

    Lucy has been writing her dissertation on Sappho for nine years when she and her boyfriend break up in a dramatic flameout. After she bottoms out in Phoenix, her sister in Los Angeles insists Lucy dog-sit for the summer. Annika's home is a gorgeous glass cube on Venice Beach, but Lucy can find little relief from her anxiety — not in the Greek chorus of women in her love addiction therapy group, not in her frequent Tinder excursions, not even in Dominic the foxhound's easy affection. 
     
    Everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer while sitting alone on the beach rocks one night. But when Lucy learns the truth about his identity, their relationship, and Lucy’s understanding of what love should look like, take a very unexpected turn. A masterful blend of vivid realism and giddy fantasy, pairing hilarious frankness with pulse-racing eroticism, THE PISCES is a story about falling in obsessive love with a merman: a figure of Sirenic fantasy whose very existence pushes Lucy to question everything she thought she knew about love, lust, and meaning in the one life we have.

    LITTLE by Edward Carey

     

      

    The wry, macabre, unforgettable tale of an ambitious orphan in Revolutionary Paris, befriended by royalty and radicals, who transforms herself into the legendary Madame Tussaud. 

    In 1761, a tiny, odd-looking girl named Marie is born in a village in Switzerland. After the death of her parents, she is apprenticed to an eccentric wax sculptor and whisked off to the seamy streets of Paris, where they meet a domineering widow and her quiet, pale son. Together, they convert an abandoned monkey house into an exhibition hall for wax heads, and the spectacle becomes a sensation. As word of her artistic talent spreads, Marie is called to Versailles, where she tutors a princess and saves Marie Antoinette in childbirth. But outside the palace walls, Paris is roiling: The revolutionary mob is demanding heads, and . . . at the wax museum, heads are what they do.

    In the tradition of Gregory Maguire's Wicked and Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, Edward Carey's Little is a darkly endearing cavalcade of a novel--a story of art, class, determination, and how we hold on to what we love.

    A LADDER TO THE SKY by John Boyne

    Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for fame. The one thing he doesn’t have is talent – but he’s not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don’t need to be his own. 
     
    Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful – but desperately lonely – older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice’s first novel. 

    Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall…
     
    Sweeping across the late twentieth century, A Ladder to the Sky is a fascinating portrait of a relentlessly immoral man, a tour de force of storytelling, and the next great novel from an acclaimed literary virtuoso.

    THE GREAT BELIEVERS by Rebecca Makkai

     

    A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, by the acclaimed author Rebecca Makkai

    In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico's funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico's little sister.

    Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

    THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin

    If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

    It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

    The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

    A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

    AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones

    Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
     
    This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forwardwith hope and paininto the future.

    ESSAY

    BLUETS by Maggie Nelson

    Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color . . .

    A lyrical, philosophical, and often explicit exploration of personal suffering and the limitations of vision and love, as refracted through the color blue. With Bluets, Maggie Nelson has entered the pantheon of brilliant lyric essayists.

    FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dorey Stein

     

    In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein is working five part-time jobs and just scraping by when a posting on Craigslist lands her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate D.C. outsider, she joins the elite team who accompany the president wherever he goes, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forges friendships with a dynamic group of fellow travelers—young men and women who, like her, leave their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president.

    As she learns to navigate White House protocols and more than once runs afoul of the hierarchy, Beck becomes romantically entangled with a consummate D.C. insider, and suddenly the political becomes all too personal.

    Against the backdrop of glamour, drama, and intrigue, this is the story of a young woman making unlikely friendships, getting her heart broken, learning what truly matters, and, in the process, discovering her voice.

    BAD BLOOD by John Carreyrou

    In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup "unicorn" promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes's worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn't work.

    A riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.

    Here's to all the books we get to read in 2019! 

    (copy provided by Amazon) 

  • Weird and Wonderful Books

    I’m a huge fan of off-beat, strange books, so I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites. We can all jump down the rabbit hole together.

    Ex Utero by Laurie Foos 

    A woman realizes she has lost her uterus at the mall. I hate it when that happens.

    The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

    A librarian falls in love with the tallest boy in the world. He keeps growing and so does their love for one another.

    Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

    A salesman come up with a concept to curb sexual harassment and promote productivity in the workplace. It’s very naughty. And very weird.

    Treasure Island!!! By Sara Levine

    A down-on-her-luck woman who works at a pet library reads Treasure Island and vows to live life by its principals. Why aren’t pet libraries a real thing?

    Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kristen Bakis

    Frankendogs roam New York after being genetically engineered to have human voices and human hands and walk upright.

    Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka 

    Gregor Samsa wakes up to find he’s a cockroach. It could happen to the best of us.

    Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

    Taking its cue from Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a young Nigerian man wakes up to find that he is now a white man (all of him save for his heiney) and he navigates his job interview and the city of Laos, with his newfound white privilege. 

    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

    The Binewskis really want to raise their own brood of human oddities and do so by inducing birth defects in their kids. When their act grows they decide to take it one the road.

    River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

    An alternate history where feral hippos have overrun a bayou in 1890’s American, only the motley crew of the world’s best hippo wranglers can round them up and take their revenge. 

    Reading and feeling weird have never felt so good.

  • Books I've read: September - December 2017

    Here are all the books I've read since September. It was an especially productive December...12 books read! I just set my reading goal at Goodreads to 130 books for 2018. I was going to stop at 100 - that seemed like a nice, even number, but my 8-year-old was in the room egging me on to write 130.

    What's your reading goal for the year? Click here for some ways to get more reading in your life!

    And check out my Goodreads Page (just search for Jennifer Caloyeras) to see my reading updates or be my Goodreads friend. 

  • 8 Ways to Read More in 2018

    I read. A lot. I tend to go through two to five books a week. Alas, reading is not my full-time job, but I’m here to tell you that you could be reading more, if you want. Here’s how:

     

    1. Bring a book: I take a book with me everywhere I go because I find I’m always waiting: in line at the supermarket, at the doctor’s office, in the carpool line. The waiting is intolerable. Reading makes waiting better.

     

    1. Read more than one book at a time: This strategy can feel a bit frenetic to some, but here’s my reasoning: reading multiple books lets you read what you feel like reading in a given moment. If you start a serious historical tome, later in the day, you may be in the mood for a romance novel. Reading more than one book at a time lets you pick up the book that you feel like reading, not the one that you feel obligated to read.

     

    1. Listen to your books: I recently learned about Overdrive and boy, has it changed my life. With Overdrive, you can check out audiobooks for free using your library card. I can listen to a book I am currently reading so that when I’m in the car (and I log a lot of hours in the car in Los Angeles) I can pick up where I left off. Or, I can be listening to a completely different book in the car (see rule number 2.)

     

    1. Keep to-be-read lists: I currently have 243 books on my to-be-read list on Goodreads and I’m always ordering books from the library that are at the top of this list. By having something exciting in my reading future, I am motivated to get to that next book.

     

    1. Skip the television: Just think of all the hours you can devote to reading if you cut out television watching! If you must watch, then use the commercials as a timed reading break.

     

    1. Read in the bathroom: There are many places to read in a bathroom: relaxing in the tub (it’s a great place for an audio book as well!) or sitting on the commode, depending on how efficient you are.

     

    1. Have kids? Have a kindle: The kindle paperwhite has added at least thirty minutes to my reading repertoire each night. Why? Because my kids like me to lie with them at night to help them fall asleep. I read in the dark as they drift off to sleep. Everybody wins.

     

    1. Reading while eating: Zen foodies say this is a no-no, but if I’m home alone for a meal, I read. A book makes a wonderful date.

     

    So there you have it. How do you make time for more reading in your life?

     

  • Heavy Feather Review Interview

    It's beginning to feel a lot like the holidays around here! We spent the weekend decorating the tree (I'll post a photo soon.) We braved the Los Angeles fires (they were pretty close this time - less than two miles away.) And now, in order to feel like the holidays, it just needs to cool down. It's still in the 80's around here - not conducive to getting all bundled up and cracking open a good book. But I have been doing a ton of reading. Following my Intagram account @jennifercaloyeras to see what I've been reading.

    Thanks to Heavy Feather Review for the recent author interview! 

    To read the full interview, click here. 

  • Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles

    I had a blast conducting a three-hour workshop on revision for the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles! 

    If you write for children or young adults, check out their amazing organization and see how you can become more involved. They offer workshops, mini-class sessions and serve as a great way to network with other writers.