Today is my birthday! So to celebrate I decided to publish the post that I typically start writing on January every year – my favorite reads! I’ve played around with all the kinds of lists I could write (very long post with a top 3 for each genre/category? Short post with top 5 overall? Only 2022 releases? Best 22 books?) but ended up to keep it simple and just list all the books that truly, truly shone to me. So now we have like 25+ books, a mix of fiction, non-fiction, titles in English and in Portuguese.All brilliant.
Quarto de Despejo by Carolina Maria de Jesus
This is the diary of Carolina, who lived in the favela for a long time and described her experience with a cool, detatched, but heartbreaking writing style that turned such a sad topic into something not entirely bleak to read – it’s even poetic here and there (but not in a romanticized kind of way). I loved this. It’s also translated into English as Child of the Dark.
Torto Arado Itamar by Vieira Junior
Oh if you love this kind of lyrical, a bit magical heartbreak of story, you will love this. Torto Arado is truly a gem in Brazilian literature and I can easily recommend it for fans of family epics (although this is a slim book) and literary fiction. I believe it’s available in English as Crooked Plow even though it doesn’t show in Goodreads, it comes out on 2023.
The It Girl by Ruth Ware
I believe this was my second Ruth Ware book – the first one I DNF-ed because I was bored out of my mind, but this one! This one I devoured. It’s a mystery rather than a thriller, so a slow-paced story and it was so addictive, with its dark academia atmosphere, tight-knit friend group with a secret, a possible wrongful murder… really it just worked for me.
Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer
Oh, I loved this. If you want to be completely devastated, pick this up. It tells the story of a woman, but it’s also told through the eyes (?) of an illness growing inside her. The audiobook was fantastic, the writing so lyrical, it broke my heart.
Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur
Oh god, what a unique short story collection! I can barely describe it properly, but suffices to say, if you’re looking for a good dark, horror story collection and are okay with some gore and some disgusting stuff happening, then you’ll love this. The first story really challenged me (if you know, you know) but it was nevertheless fantastic and got me thinking about its themes for a long time.
Reputation by Sarah Vaughan
Oh this book is going to make you so angry, but in a good way. If you’re looking for a thriller that will do more than just the usual formulaic story, that makes the reader really think and is sometimes a bit difficult to read – oh this is a great one. Reputation tells the story of a politician who is caught in a scandal when the body of a journalist shows up in her house and she’s suspected of killing him.
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga
This slim gem of a novel made my heart break. It takes place after the Arab Spring and centers around the doomed romance between an Egyptian-American expat and a local photographer whose life is taking a dark turn. It explores so many interesting themes, like the romanticizing of a country, class disparity, the power of storytelling… it was fantastic.
Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy
This reads like a Stephen King horror with an middle aged lady (who might be housing the spirit of a serial killer) as the protagonist and I had a fantastic time with it! It felt like a very classic horror, with all the bloodbath one could wish for.
Sea of Tranquility Emily St. John Mandel
Oh my god this was amazing. Pick it up if you love literary fiction, not if you’re a sci-fi fan – really, this is very focused on characters and with St. John Mandel’s impeccable, clever writing, but the science fiction aspect of it might not be quite enough to convince sci-fi fans. I am not sure how to describe it, really – it takes place in several points in time, as we spend time with different characters, all of which experience an anomaly in time as space.
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
This one I highly recommend for fans of mysteries, especially if you’re into true crime as well. It tells the story of a serial killer, but through the eyes of three women: his mother, a policewoman and the sister of one of his victims. It was such a great book, so very nuanced and asking questions about justice, redemption and our society’s obsession with true crime and a serial killer’s psyche.
Vladimir by Julia May Jonas
This book was completely bonkers. It tells the story of a woman whose husband is being investigated for his inappropriate relationship with students while she becomes obsessed with a new, handsome professor. It took me for a wild ride and I really enjoyed the dark, unflinching themes of this book.
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins
I’m not the hugest fan of Paula Hawkins, but I devoured this! It is a slow-paced mystery about a man who’s found murdered in a houseboat, and three women who are suspected of having something to do with it. The story was wild, taking unexpected turns and I loved every minute of it.
The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper
This is a historical fiction set in Pompeii a few years before the volcano exploded. It tells the story of a group of women who are forced into prostitution, and their brutal lives – but what really charmed me about this novel was the clever main character, who will do anything to be freed. Fate takes wild turns at times, and the ending left me breathless.
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
Fonda Lee ruined me with this book. This is, and will probably always be, one of my favorite fantasies of all time. The scheming, the magic system, the relationships, the twists and the many times it shocked me – I loved this so much! I don’t want to talk too much about this story because Jade Legacy is the third book of a series but I have talked about the series before: Review: Jade City, by Fonda Lee, Review: Jade War (The Green Bone Saga #2), by Fonda Lee.
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
I love Patricia Highsmith’s writing so much. She does psychological, noir thrillers like no one else – Strangers on a Train is a classic about two men who meet accidentally in a train and one of them tries to convince the other to commit the perfect crime. It had me hooked the entire time.
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
This was the year when I fell in love with classics again. I remember enjoying Rebecca but I loved My Cousin Rachel. Such a clever story, so atmospheric and mysterious. It’s about a young man whose cousin dies and leaves him everything – strangely leaving nothing for his new wife, Rachel. When she shows up at his door, he feels immediately intrigued by her, even though she might have had something to do with the death of his cousin.
Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
This was a bit of a surprise for me – I had Under the Net on my list for years already, because I was curious about Iris Murdoch’s work, but I had no real expectations. But this was very entertaining, wonderfully written, a fun mix of an irreperable but loveable main character and a bit of philosophizing. I really enjoyed this.
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
This was a big project for me this year, and it look me long time to read this classic of feminist literature – despite it obviously being outdated, I had a wonderful time reading this. I recognized lots of the questions I struggled with as a young woman, and she has such a wonderful way to precisely express her thoughts, and a lot of times I felt like she was talking about things I knew but could not find the words for. I definitely need to re-read this.
How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing by K.C. Davis
This is the gentlest, kindest book I’ve ever read. It’s no secret that I’ve suffered from depression that leaves me completely useless for long stretches of time, and doing chores is very, very difficult in those times.So I intend on using the strategies on this book a lot.
Vilette by Charlotte Brontë
I am a total Brontë fan, I just love the dramatic, romantic, Gothic novels. They are always problematic in such a delicious way – and Vilette was the same! It felt like a more mature novel than Jane Eyre, and I liked the writing better, really.
Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet
This book reminded me a bit of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood in tone (which I’m currently reading and loving), and also a bit of the Iris Murdoch style, which I loved. This was a fun read that had a definitely “oldey” feel to it, taking place mostly in the 60s and adding some philosophy on the “self” and brilliantly vivid characters. Quite a different tone from His Bloody Project (far less gory) but this is probably solidifying Graeme Macrae Burnet as one of my auto-buy authors.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
This was a re-read for me and I was so glad to love it again! As just said, I love the Brontë problematic, Gothic dramas and it’s a pity Emily didn’t publish more books.
Strangers I Know by Claudia Durastanti
I read the Brazilian translation of this gorgeous novel. It tells the story of a couple, both deaf, falling in love, marrying and eventually separating. Their daughter tells the story, herself having moved form Italy to the US. This is a book about language, belonging and forever feeling like a stranger/foreigner. I can’t believe this didn’t get more hype when it came out in English this year, it’s such a gorgeous non-fiction.
Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis
Also a re-read for me. This is a classic of Brazilian literature and there is so much more to it than the main mystery of whether Capitu cheated or not. This is a fascinating story of entitlement, paranoia, and in my opinion, of the limits of women’s options in those times, their lives decided by men and their moods. In English, it is also called Dom Casmurro, in case you are interested.
Olhos d’água by Conceição Evaristo
Oh god, this was a punch to the stomach of a book. It’s a gorgeous Brazilian collection of stories which puts in focus the experiences of the Afro-Brazilian population. It’s wonderful, raw, powerful, the characters so vivid they almost come out of the page. One story in particular almost brought me to tears – and I don’t easily cry. I don’t think this has a translation yet.
Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
This was such a strange little collection of stories that I was surprised to find myself falling in love with. They’re about belonging (or rather, not belonging) and it has a delicious mix of science fiction, dystopia and literary that just works.
Nightshift by Kiare Ladner
Another one perfect for those looking to be traumatized and depressed forever, but it’s totally worth it because it’s such a great book. This is the story of a woman who becomes obsessed with her coworker and decides to change to the Night Shift so as to stay close to her. I loved this but I have to say, it’s full of triggers and very, very difficult to read at times.