Ellen enjoys nature essays, grumpy protagonists, books about books, and anything with a speculative bent.
Once again, Egan has written a riveting work of science journalism. "The Devil's Element" is a highly readable primer on phosphorus, its chronic mismanagement, and its role in our current state of environmental crisis. I could not put this book down.
Subtle, stirring prose. This novella treads lightly but leaves a lasting impression. Unequivocally recommended.
A clear-eyed ode to Lovecraft, both critical and affectionate. Great for fans of cosmic horror and all things eldritch!
A deceptively simple story centering around a young girl's summer. Through the child's developing relationship with her foster parents, Keegan explores the many shades of familial loss and love. Keegan's writing is both unpretentious and remarkably tender. This is a book you will cherish reading.
Captivating essays that explore race, gender, sexuality, and--most importantly--sea creatures! Imbler is a talented science writer. They adroitly connect the strangeness of the underwater natural world with the strangeness of the landlubber human one. Highly recommend.
These vignettes hooked me immediately. "Kick the Latch" reads like non-fiction, Scanlan's voice is so convincing and blunt. You'll read this in one go and keep thinking about it for a long time after.
I adored this. "Leech" is atmospheric and rife with troubled, sharply-realized characters. In particular, the narrator (narrators?) is one of the most fascinating voices I've ever come across. As deeply compelling as discomfiting--this debut is a must-read.
A poignant exploration of home, love, and ambition, set against the backdrop of Cultural Revolutionary China. Tang has a keen eye for familial conflict, and portrays regret with particular deftness. This is a beautiful, bittersweet debut. I couldn't put it down.
Peculiar, gentle stories. Though often melancholic, this collection is ultimately--if quietly--uplifting. Read on a slow day, and take your time.
Completely darling. A potato IS a perfect pet, and this IS a perfect book.
An innovative blend of memoir, essay, and experimental prose. Interludes about fish and time and art interweave seamlessly with reflections on identity and personal histories. This book is brilliant. Horn is a force to be reckoned with.
A perfect, pithy read. Montgomery maneuvers deftly between the science and ethics of falconry. Her writing is as astute as it is graceful. I loved every word of this, and deeply, deeply envied her hawkish experiences.
Captivating from beginning to end. This Arthurian retelling features a classically mythical hero--just not your typical knight. Exciting, mysterious, and deeply beautiful.
One of the strangest books I've ever read. Inhabit the minds of storm clouds, mushrooms, witches, ghosts. There is a story here (almost, maybe), but don't focus on that. Read for the surreal prose and the total departure from your usual way of experiencing the world.
This book is brilliant. With jarring insight, Otsuka shows the rituals that comprise a life, and how, as these rituals are changed and lost, so are our relationships with each other and with ourselves. "The Swimmers" reads like an ode--to family, to aging, and to the ordinary. The local pool, an afternoon drive, pink lipstick.
All fun! For fans of Sherlock Holmes who wish the original had a few more hell hounds, vampires, and women.
Biblical Stepford Wives! Valente's prose is skin-crawling--you worry for Sophia the moment she wakes up. But even facing a holier-than-thou HOA and an absent husband, she's always happy. She has to be!
Action! Adventure! The rise and fall of dynasties!! All with a speculative twist. What more could you ask for??
Reading this was like taking an excellent literature course. (Trust me, this is high praise!) Helle provides valuable context for the epic while also taking the time--via his smooth translation and supplementary essays--to celebrate its humor, romance, and poetry.
Spare and impactful. This novella is about complicity--how silence weights on individuals and on communities. Bill Furlong, Keegan's stoic protagonist, is lovely for his ordinariness. His deep empathy and quiet sense of urgency are sure to remain with readers long after they've finished this wintry fable.
I couldn't put this down! With clear prose and accessible explanations, "Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid" delves into the fascinating science of climate change biology. While Hanson doesn't shy away from the very real dangers of the climate crisis, he's never bleak. Rather, he stresses that the myriad responses of different plants and animals (including humans!) are cause for considerable curiosity, and even a bit of optimism. This book is full of love for our rapidly changing planet.
Big-hearted and atmospheric. This slim read covers a lot of ground--what it means to lead a meaningful life in a changed/changing world--but is never heavy-handed. Dex and Mosscap learn (or relearn) to celebrate the simple things. A fuzzy towel, watching stalagmites form, a hot cup of tea.
A mesmerizing mix of biography, memoir, and journalism. David Starr Jordan's obsession with fish--and Lulu Miller's obsession with Jordan--propels a narrative that is as much about what it means to be a fish as it is about what it means to be a person. Miller has a cheeky sense of humor and a keen sense of irony, both of which are well suited--even necessary--for compelling science writing.
I LOVED this. Magical! Mysterious! Absolutely heartwarming! This story of genuine (if ghosty) friendship is the perfect book for summer. Like Kazu, once I started reading, I just couldn't stop.
A shady read, by turns sharp, melancholic, and joyful. These vignettes pick at the difficulty of human connection--not always gently, but always genuinely, and with a keen eye for the nuances of familial love. Something to enjoy slowly, preferably on the coast.
I loved this! The oddball narrator might have been irritating if I didn't find her so relatable--her musings/fixations/insights felt like gentle personal attacks, and they often left me snorting out loud. Read, cringe, and carefully consider whether you're a moderate or radical rice cracker company worker. It's important, probably.
A must-read. Skewers the model-minority stereotype and creates space for the anger and trauma resulting from internment. Okada's prose is haunting--perfectly suited to Ichiro's sense of displacement (cultural, physical, moral). Sharp Seattle imagery and a facinating publishing history (look up Shawn Wong at UW!). A vital history lesson, especially in today's climate.
Both frustrating and validating. Cathy Park Hong cuts to the quick of Asian American realities in the US. She is especially sharp when it comes to the space that Asian Americans occupy--or are allowed to occupy--in art, literature, and public discourse. I devoured this book.
A deft and effective satire. Yu's clever spin on which specific "roles" are available to Asian Americans makes for a sharp social commentary. I grinned, grimaced, and just kind of slammed my head against the wall. Read it!!
A pithy, thoughtful, and delightfully droll take on the Crucifixion. I especially liked Jesus's recounting of his favorite miracles (and when good wine ought to be served).
Absolutely darling! Marisol is a kid with a great imagination. While this is fun when she's playing with her best friend, Jada, or naming the various inanimate objects in her life (e.g., the fridge, Buster Keaton), it's NOT so fun when thinking of just how tall Peppina is, and the many ways Marisol could tumble from her branches. Peppina, of course, is the tree in Marisol's backyard. But maybe, maybe, Marisol will be brave and try to climb her. Maybe.
Part "The Crucible," part "Circe," all beautiful, briny atmosphere. The tension in this book builds to a breaking point that is as savage as it is inevitable. Hargrave shows us what women can weather while reminding us witches are made, not born.
Jerkins' exploration of her family's history is captivating, enlightening, and deeply personal. She does not shy away from difficult truths--rather, she takes pains to uncover and interrogate them. This is a powerful contribution to literature on the Great Migration. I highly, highly recommend.
Poignant and absolutely gorgeous. Whether familiar, forgotten, or newly revisted, fairy tales hold a grip on our collective imaginations. For good reason, as this mother and son know well.
Quietly terrifying. I read it all in one go and have felt discomfited ever since. I absolutely encourage you to do the same.
Who knew metafiction could be such a romp! This book is buzzing with celeb gossip and trumpet flower-fueled drug trips—oh, and vicious swarms of yellow jackets. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as our plain bad heroines many mess around with curses, subversive literature, and each other. Clever, creepy, and a whole bunch of fun. “Kind Devil, deliver me,” indeed!
A romance dressed up as a space opera! Mostly silly and always inclusive. (Though do note it's not all domestic bliss--Maxwell does occasionally get serious.) "Star-crossed lovers" for the win!
Charming, celebratory, and absolutely beautiful! Hits home in a wonderful way.
Neither Ebenezer Tweezer nor Bethany are the best sort, but together they might improve...if the Beast doesn't eat one (or both) of them first. I think it's moderately fair to call this book a younger sibling to "Dorian Gray." Cheeky, gross, and a bunch of fun!
I'm baffled. I'm delighted. I'm about to reread. Do not miss this atmospheric mind-trip.
Memoir at its finest. Elliot writes with fierce clarity, keenly addressing love, family, mental health, and how these are affected by intergenerational trauma. An invaluable contribution to North American Indigenous literature, particularly for Elliott's breakdown of how ahistorical nostalgia impacts present-day First Nations and Native American communities and individuals.
Sometimes you become a rabbit. That's all right! It's a lovely way to see the world, as Sato can attest.
It feels a bit trite to call “The Lost Spells” magical, but I was—and am still—genuinely spellbound by this book. Enchantment of this sort is Macfarlane and Morris’s specialty (see, “The Lost Words”). Their nature poems and illustrations are so alive they breathe. They also flutter, caw, and root. Everyone—and this is a book for everyone, no matter your age or opinions on poetry—who reads these spells will find themselves doing the same. This is a good thing. If we learn the spells now, maybe they won’t be lost.
Equal parts political commentary, literary criticism, and love letter to the desert. Ehrenreich explores how storytelling intersects with the climate crisis, social upheaval, and the passage of time. Lyrical, at times humorous, and deeply appreciative of things natural and ephemeral.
This adorable cover belies a deeply disturbing book. "Earthlings" appalled, confounded, and amazed me. I don't know that this is a recommendation so much as an exclamation. Brace yourself and read on?
El might be evil incarnate, but she's doing her darnedest not to be. This is a considerable challenge at a kill-or-be-killed wizarding boarding school. Tag along as El resists burning her wonderfully awful (or awfully wonderful) classmates to a crisp!
MacDonald is back! And she's discussing more than birds this time. While I didn't find all of her climate change-oriented essays necessarily revelatory, as always, her nature writing is exquisite. I especially appreciated the English context of her musings. This is an eloquent expression of awe and concern for the world around us.
Fans of the King Arthur legends, rejoice/beware! "Legendborn" turns these classic stories on their head. Take my advice: DON'T mess with Bree. But do read about her! She might be a bit reticent at first, but goodness, has she got a story to tell.
This book continued to haunt me weeks after I finished it, like some dark, lyrical cloud. Hurricane Season exists sharply in the present (the ways in which violence affects every sense; this prose will make you squirm) but is simultaneously outside of time, folkloric. Melchor’s writing is devastating and propulsive. As much as I sometimes wanted to, I could not put Hurricane Season down.
The sort of book in which each word is sharp and deliberate. I can't say much more than that--Mailhot speaks for herself better than anyone else ever could.
Ogawa grabs your gut and twists. "The Memory Police" is permeated with a sharp and constant sense of loss. At once quick-paced and ruminative, this book is a poignant reflection on individual and collective memory, and how these shape our senses of self, unique and shared.
A powerful reimagining of a classic Greek myth, Miller's smooth prose and obvious expertise in/love of Classical literature is on full display, as is her commitment to examining the treatment of women in these much-loved works. "Circe" tackles feminism, self-love, and what it means to be human.
Absolutely delightful! I love a no-nonsense career woman, especially when she’s thrown into a highly nonsensical mess. Evil monks, gentle ghouls, socially-awkward vampires, and a rather eldritch antagonist—Dr. Greta Helsing has a not inconsiderable list of things to deal with. She’ll let you come along for the ride, but keep in mind the state of her jalopy.
I read all in one go! This book had my heart racing from start to finish. Features alternating perspectives between resourceful and genuine young women. A timely narrative on race and protest, both in broader society and between/within individuals--AND a guaranteed read to raise your blood pressure!
An absolute favorite! I grew up on these stories--how great to have them all in one book! Memorable, silly, and packed with charming illustrations. Get it! Love it! Tell me which story you enjoyed most (and why it's "The Rolling Mochi Cakes")!
A fascinating exploration—as well as expiation, renunciation, and celebration—of the genres of biography and memoir through the lens of author-as-subject and subject-as-author. Shapland gives McCullers much-needed room to breathe and be while ruminating on the status of lesbians and their relationships within and without the literary world.
Short and not at all sweet, Oyamada delves into Kafkaesque themes via clean, bristling prose. If you’re itching to get back into the office (circa COVID-19), The Factory will make you think twice. You may also find yourself watching the cormorants along the canal more closely.
This is a magical book. Miyazawa (1896-1933) writes meandering fables that draw from traditional Japanese folklore while alluding to the challenges of a changing Japan. The moral lessons in these stories are not always clear--often it is Miyazawa's surreal voice, thoughtfuly retained by Bester, that leaves the most lasting impression. This is a book guaranteed to make you marvel at quiet things: a red blanket, telephone poles, a birch tree. Something to read slowly and revisit.
"There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity" (pg. 290).
Stevenson's smooth and insightful prose makes an incredibly difficult subject highly readable. This book isn't just about criminal justice; it's about being a compassionate member of our complex and troubled US society.
One of my favorite books of 2019. A beautiful and mysterious narrative voice. Moore covers witchcraft, colonialism, slavery, and nation-building through the eyes of deeply isolated, ultimately powerful characters. This book is at once wide-reaching, far-seeing, and heart-wrenchingly intimate.
Beautiful, odd, and deeply compelling. If you're looking for a thoughtful mystery for an animal lover, this is it. Forceful commentary on what it's like to be a woman, an elder, and--delightfully--an astrologer in an environment where these roles are discounted if not openly disparaged. Plus, the narrator's a kick!
A true romp! Action! Adventure! Space! Necromancy! Childhood acrimony turning into something more?? Gideon is a foul-mouthed, badass softie--a wise-cracking heroine who drags the reader along a wild ride. Read it, love it, wait for book two!
If birds are your thing, this is your book. Our feathery friends have always had something to teach us—now more than ever we can appreciate their resilience as well as their vulnerability. The eloquent admiration of naturalists, ornithologists, and poets has me reaching for my binoculars; take a page from their (this) book, go outside, and look up.
A careful and incisive chronology of the rollback of policies intended to bring about greater racial equality. Anderson clearly illustrates a pattern of knee-jerk racism and the enduring consequences this has had for American society
I'll admit to loving most bird books, but I especially love THIS bird book. MacDonald is one of my favorite nature essayists, especially for how she acknowledges, appreciates, and then blurs the lines that separate humans from animals.
A bitter, briny, bite-sized bit of madness. I desperately want to know what goes on in Moshfegh's head, but I'm also inclined to avoid her and McGlue at all costs.
A peculiar and memorable book. Keiko tests the limits of conformity and nonconformity, frequently to the discomfort of those around her. Her approach to the world demands you reevaluate yours.
Warrior mice! Evil rats! Epic battles, legendary heroes, and a mystery from days long gone by. Read for adventure, coming of age, and for all the wonderful books that follow. Oh! and the BEST food writing!
This book is definitely epic! Genie Lo--an authentic, exasperated, Chinese American teenager--tackles everything from SATs to demons to legendary heroes and gods. Fans of the ancient "Journey to the West" will get a kick out of this modern adaptation/twist--a journey to the West Coast, specifically San Francisco!
If you're feeling bummed out abou the state of the world, take a page out of this girl's book! She's got some great ideas about the future--she's just the sort of thinker we need right now! (Especially if you're thinking about how you'd like your eggs for dinner.)
Meandering plot and prose that captures the odd, frustrating, and episodic nature of day-to-day life. While realistic, this story is persistently charming and ultimately gentle. "Nakano Thrift Shop" is chock full of peculiar failures, triumphs, and people--pay them a visit, "you know what I mean?"
This portrait of Patroclus (Pa-tro-clus) and Achilles' relationship is carefully and lovingly rendered. Each character is given room to be flawed and to grow. As always, Miller's deep knowledge of the Classics shines through. A heartbreaking and heartwarming read.
This charming book is as cozy as Maud and Grand-Maud's matching flannel nightgowns. If we can't have our own visits with Grand-Maud, we can make do enjoying Maud's.
A delightful story about chance encounters, friendship, and appreciating the time we (us and unicorns, obviously) have together. Features rolling hills, blustery weather, and unicorns that are sweet (but not overly so).
This book has everything I love: Badgers, boats, and an old grump who sets out on a seafaring adventure! Chase that horizon, Badger!
Featuring librarian/spy Irene, a steamy-punky London, unruly magic, and a powerful, interdimensional library. This book is pure page-turning fun. If you've ever needed affirmation that reading opens doors to new worlds, this is it. Plus, it's the first in an ongoing series, so the bookish excitement continues!
A frosty, surreal fairytale. Morally grey characters, Russian folklore, and prose lovely enough to give you chills. Perfect for cozying up in the winter and cooling off in the summer.
Walker is great at explaining everything I'm doing wrong.
Gritty and exciting, N.K. Jemisin doesn't pull any punches. I was absolutely captivated by the messy relationships people have with the land they inhabit and manipulate (often to terrifying ends). Fantasy that turns genre-typical tropes on their heads. If you're like me, you'll immediately buy the rest of the series!
From the author of "Mexican Gothic"! A jazz-age adventure drawing from Mexican folklore. Quick-paced and pretty fun/light, especially for a story featuring a god (gods??) of death.
A truly peculiar collection. These stories are indifferent to your enjoyment of them--though you WILL enjoy them, disconcerting twists and all. Some turns of phrase were so surprising and delightful I went so far as to dog-ear, and I'm not the least bit ashamed.
Local author! Charming anecdotes! Musical history! What more could you ask for?? This book gave me a new appreciation for what I'd considered a "pest" bird. Hurrah!
A young boy goes to school by boat! He's independent and eager to learn--and he's got things to teach us about his commute! Illustrations are bright, beautiful, and full of movement.
Problem-solving siblings, fantastic facial expressions, and a snack-littered adventure--this story is a delight! See if YOU can find Halmoni first!
This one really hit me. A little melancholic, a little hopeful, very lovely.
Just SO, SO cool!! If intricate linework is your thing, this is your picture book.
Something's wrong. But this little bear just cannot figure out what, and goodness, is the suspense getting to him. Features copious anxious babble, best friends, and some wonderfully wide-eyed blank stares. This book had the whole staff giggling!
Beautiful and informative! If "The Hidden Life of Trees" were a picture book.