Olga Dies Dreaming is set in New York in 2017 and follows the lives of Puerto Rican siblings Olga and Prieto. Their mother left to fight for justice almost 30 years ago, leaving her young family to be raised by their grandmother. Olga now runs a successful wedding planning business for the ultra-rich and her brother is a Senator, but they both still wear the scars of their mother’s rejection. When Hurricane Maria devastates their homeland, it makes both siblings reassess their goals and identities.
Funny, romantic and political, this book contrives to educate and entertain in equal measure. It is hard to classify Gonzalez’s debut novel, but it would be just as good to read on a beach as to discuss in a book club.
This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan
Tabitha Carvan was about to hit 40 with two young children and a loving relationship, when she realised that her life was unfulfilled. The size and shape of that hole could only be plugged by Benedict Cumberbatch, the unusually attractive actor of Sherlock fame. Her book takes a deep dive into obsession and she interviews ‘Cumberbitches’ (her word!) and fanfiction writers around the world – because it turns out she is not alone. But why do so many people get Cumberbatched in mid-life? Why do women’s interests and pleasures get shut down after adolescence? How can we reclaim joy in our lives on our own terms? Carvan investigates these issues in this clever intersection between pop culture, memoir and psychology that also happens to be very, very funny.
Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari
Stolen Focus couldn’t be more timely. That sentiment is bandied around to the point of cliché but even the most focused are noticing their attention lagging these days. Johann Hari sifts through every possible reason why this is happening, and it’s not what you think – thank you, Twitter. Stolen Focus is not a self help book, though it is filled with practical ways to tackle the distracted mind (good news, reading before bed gets a big tick).
Johann addresses consumption, addiction, exhaustion and the confinement of gen alpha then thoughtfully concludes with a lofty idea – The Attention Rebellion. Let’s all join!
It’s only March, but Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades is a strong contender for my favourite book of 2022. Unusually narrated in a plural first person voice, it covers the entire lifetimes of girls from Queens, New York. The girls have varied cultural backgrounds, but are unified by their experience of America as the Brown-skinned children of immigrants. With each chapter Brown Girls forms more intricate branches, following the respective consequences of each of the possible choices these women can make regarding art, education, love, and parenthood. Despite the scope of what it covers, Palasi Andreades pinpoints precise sensory images of womanhood, which include everything from girls at the local mall, to middle-aged woman returning to familiar, yet gentrified, streets.
Brown Girls prompted me to reflect deeply on how the world shapes us, and the fraught quest to live authentically. Palasi Andreades handles her characters with grace, capturing their beauty through the highs and lows. The skilful structure of this debut novel has me eagerly awaiting her further work.
To The Sea, by Nikki Crutchley
To the Sea is a compelling suspense thriller, equally as beautiful and deadly as an ocean storm. To 18-year-old Ana, the secluded confinements of the Iluka pine plantation is the only thing she’s known for her whole life. She never interacts with anyone but her family, and rarely leaves the boundaries of the plantation. She is blissfully oblivious to the deep and twisted secrets of her family history- a history filled with murder and bloodshed. Ana’s family have a strong connection to the ocean beyond the cliffs on Iluka, and believe that they must prove their connection with regular offerings. Among her family members, these offerings are completely normal but with the help of a stranger, Ana starts to unfold the truth. Eventually she is forced to make a choice; ‘to protect everything and everyone she holds dear or to tell the truth and destroy it all.’
To the Sea will have you frantically scrambling to read the next page and leave you thinking for days after you’ve finished reading it.