I know that I keep talking about The Storygraph lately, but I just love the direction that it is going. If you have no idea what The Storygraph, here is a post where I talk about it in greater detail. One of the best features of the platform is the “ordered for you” survey. All you have to do is answer a few questions about your taste in books, and all of the books in the website database will be ordered with the book that best suits your reading tastes on the top and the book that least hsuits your reading tastes on the bottom. I thought it would be fun to share the first ten books in my ordered list! My plan is to read some, or maybe even all, of these books and update you on my thoughts and how well the “ordered for you” feature worked for me.
*I also want to note that The Storygraph is run by two people, and the creator herself is the sole web developer. She is working hard to get caught up with Goodreads imports and the “ordered for you” survey results, so please be patient. The platform went from 1000 used to 20,000 in one week, which is incredible but I am sure she is extremely overwhelmed.*
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel “Seating Arrangements,” winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the passionate, political world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.
“Astonish Me” is the irresistible story of Joan, a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United States. While Arslan’s career takes off in New York, Joan’s slowly declines, ending when she becomes pregnant and decides to marry her longtime admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass, Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself. But when Harry’s success brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and present.
In graceful, inimitable prose, Shipstead draws us into an extraordinary world, and the lives of her vivid and tempestuous characters. Filled with intrigue, brilliant satire, and emotional nuance, “Astonish Me” is a superlative follow-up to Shipstead’s superb debut.
It is very interesting to me that this is the book that best fits my reading preferences, as it is one I have never heard of before. In the survey, I mentioned that I love books that focus on art, dance, and/or music, so I think that is where this recommendation is coming from. I am fascinated by the ballet world, and I love that this book follows two generations of ballet dancers. Astonish Me also appears to be character-driven, which is what I am most drawn to. I will certainly be tracking down a copy and reading it ASAP!
Little Gods by Meng Jin
Combining the emotional resonance of Home Fire with the ambition and innovation of Asymmetry, a lyrical and thought-provoking debut novel that explores the complex web of grief, memory, time, physics, history, and selfhood in the immigrant experience, and the complicated bond between daughters and mothers.
On the night of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, a woman gives birth in a Beijing hospital alone. Thus begins the unraveling of Su Lan, a brilliant physicist who until this moment has successfully erased her past, fighting what she calls the mind’s arrow of time.
When Su Lan dies unexpectedly seventeen years later, it is her daughter Liya who inherits the silences and contradictions of her life. Liya, who grew up in America, takes her mother’s ashes to China—to her, an unknown country. In a territory inhabited by the ghosts of the living and the dead, Liya’s memories are joined by those of two others: Zhu Wen, the woman last to know Su Lan before she left China, and Yongzong, the father Liya has never known. In this way a portrait of Su Lan emerges: an ambitious scientist, an ambivalent mother, and a woman whose relationship to her own past shapes and ultimately unmakes Liya’s own sense of displacement.
A story of migrations literal and emotional, spanning time, space and class, Little Gods is a sharp yet expansive exploration of the aftermath of unfulfilled dreams, an immigrant story in negative that grapples with our tenuous connections to memory, history, and self.
Wow. Another new one for me, but that synopsis has sold me on it! Little Gods sounds exactly like the kind of literary fiction that I am drawn to. It appears to be powerful, challenging, and emotional. This book has mixed reviews, but I often find that I prefer books like that, especially when they are literary fiction. I want a book like this to challenge me, and I don’t think that I necessary need to get every aspect of a story to appreciate it. I am so looking forward to this!
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
In this literary masterwork, Louise Erdrich, the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture.
North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.
The youngest child of his friend and neighbor, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.
LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister,” Maggie, welcomes him as a coconspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal.
But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.
Inspiring and affecting, LaRose is a powerful exploration of loss, justice, and the reparation of the human heart, and an unforgettable, dazzling tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished literary masters.
What is happening?! Another book I have never heard of! I have heard great things about Louise Erdrich’s novels, but I have yet to read anything by her. I know that she has quite an extensive backlist, and I guess I now know which book to start with. LaRose sounds like is it going to be devastating, so I will have to emotionally prepare myself before picking it up, but I have read a few reviews and I have this feeling that there is the potential for this book to become a new favourite.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.
So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
I have actually had Pachinko on my shelves for a while now, and I just know that I am going to love it. I have no idea why I haven’t read this book already! I am drawn to books that are multi-generational family sagas. This story unfolds over the course of 50 years, and I am always fascinated by stories that focus on how the decisions of one generation have an impact on future generations. Pachinko is on the top of my list to read this summer, and this is a perfect recommendation for me!
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
From Berlin to Paris. Two friends. One Betrayal. The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, travels to Berlin, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. Sid Griffiths, leads the reader through a fascinating, little-known world, and into the heart of his own guilty conscience. .
In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong. This novel is an entrancing, electric story about jazz, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art
Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues took the literary world by storm when it was first published, captivating readers and reviewers with its audacity, power, and sheer brilliance. The novel won or was nominated for every literary prize in Canada-and many international ones, too, including the prestigious Man Booker Prize-and was hailed as one of the best books of the year by Oprah, the Globe and Mail, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Vancouver Sun, and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice.
Esi Edugyan’s latest release, Washington Black, is high on my TBR and I have had the copy sitting on my shelves unread for far too long. I have to admit that I have never looked into her backlist, and despite Half Blood Blues winning the Giller Prize here in Canada, it somehow slipped by me. I love that jazz and the cabaret scene is at the heart of this story! Also, this line in the synopsis “In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you” really caught my attention. Edugyan is a Canadian, which is a bonus as I have been trying to read more books written by Canadians.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel.
Another Canadian author! I have been meaning to read Michael Ondaatje’s books for ages. I actually own The English Patient and will read it one of these days. I remember when Warlight was nominated for The Booker Prize a couple years ago, and I was curious about it. I was initially surprised to see this book at the top of my list, but the more reviews I read, the more I understand why Warlight would be recommended to me. I love books that focus on sibling relationships, and I also enjoy when the narrator is reflecting on their childhood when they are now an adult. Looking forward to this one!
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Holmes, part Maori, part European, an artist estranged from her art, a woman in exile from her family. One night her solitude is disrupted by a visitor—a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon’s feral charm, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality. Out of this unorthodox trinity Keri Hulme has created what is at once a mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where Maori and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge. Winner of both a Booker Prize and Pegasus Prize for Literature, The Bone People is a work of unfettered wordplay and mesmerizing emotional complexity.
I don’t know that I have ever read a book set in New Zealand, so this recommendation is exciting for me! Something else I love about this recommendation is that The Bone People was first published in 1986. It is nice to receive suggestions that are not newer release, even though it may be more challenging for me to track down a copy. From the reviews, I have gathered that The Bone People is told in a unique way, so I am intrigued!
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel, and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967. Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children. When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home, their land, and their story as they know it, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities. Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that challenges and humanizes an age-old conflict we might think we understand—one that asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.
I am so glad that The Storygraph reminded me of Salt Houses. I remember adding it to my TBR when it first came out, but I have since forgotten about it. Salt Houses is another historical, emotional, family saga- The Storygraph obviously gets me! I have to admit that I know next to nothing about the Six-Day War or of Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in the 90s, so I look forward to reading more about these events and the impact that they had.
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
A Zambian debut novel that follows three generations of three families, telling the story of a nation, and of the grand sweep of time
On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the story of a small African nation, told by a swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis.
In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.
From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this novel sweeps over the years and the globe.
Are we sensing a theme here? Another multi-generational family saga! The Old Drift is a relatively new release, and this is the first I am hearing of it. It is almost 600 pages, which is intimidating, but it sounds like something I will absolutely love. The prose is said to be very lyrical, which is something that I love if it is done well. Also, there are mosquitoes that have a narrative voice in The Old Drift- does that not sound incredible?!
The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich
Having survived World War I, Fidelis Waldvogel returns to his quiet German village and marries the pregnant widow of his best friend, killed in action. With a suitcase full of sausages and a master butcher’s precious knife set, Fidelis sets out for America. In Argus, North Dakota, he builds a business, a home for his family—which includes Eva and four sons—and a singing club consisting of the best voices in town. When the Old World meets the New—in the person of Delphine Watzka—the great adventure of Fidelis’s life begins. Delphine meets Eva and is enchanted. She meets Fidelis, and the ground trembles. These momentous encounters will determine the course of Delphine’s life, and the trajectory of this brilliant novel.
I think that is it so interesting that two of Erdrich’s novels made my top ten! I guess that she is destined to become one of my favourite authors. I am kicking myself for never reading her books before now. From what I can tell, The Master Butchers Singing Club appears to be her highest rated novel. The synopsis is quite vague, but I am certainly intrigued!
I would love to know if you have read any of these books, and what you thought of them! Also, if you joined The Storygraph, please share your top ten books according to the “ordered for you” feature. I am so curious!