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Kailey Brennan's Favorite books from last year

2018 was a great reading year for me! While I read a lot of memoirs and poetry, fiction definitely dominates my top 7 picks for last year.

Here are the books that I couldn’t put down, the books I learned from, and that I recommended to everyone.

Severance by Ling Ma

An offbeat office novel turns apocalyptic satire as a young woman transforms from orphan to worker bee to survivor. This novel took me by surprise. Candace Chen’s contemporary views on the routine life of our current society, made for a relatable and funny read as she navigates through an abandoned city looking for purpose and meaning. This book is about survival, connection and missed opportunities. I couldn’t put it down.

Buy it here.


Cherry by Nico Walker

I will admit that the cover art got me to pick this book up. This debut novel is all about war, bank robberies, and heroin. Walker, who wrote the entire book while incarcerated, creates a semi-autobiographical depiction of life in the U.S. military, as a medic in the Iraq war. After seeing such horror, he turns to drugs when he returns home to cope with his PTSD. This novel was uniquely written, in a kind of casual yet vibrant voice. Funny and tragic, I highly recommend reading this one.

Buy it here.


The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Mary Karr is the queen of memoir. I found this book so helpful and inspiring, as a writer, and I encourage anyone, no matter what genre you write, to pick this book up immediately. As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past.

Buy it here.


Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson

I love a good personal essay collection and Hodson’s was my favorite of 2018. Framed around asking the question “How much can a body endure?” Hodson answers with a resounding "almost everything." We learn of her life growing up in Arizona as she keeps us in suspense by leaving out details as she exposes herself, yet holds back. This collection has inspired me as a writer and I can’t wait to read more from her.

Buy it here.


Marlena by Julie Buntin

Coming-of-age stories are my absolute favorite. I devoured Marlena in just a few days, seduced by Buntin’s rich prose and beautiful use of setting. Marlena tells the story of 15-year-old Cat, lonely and confused as she moves into her new neighborhood in rural Michigan. There she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena, and the novel unfolds. I can’t say enough about the authenticity of this story of girlhood.

Buy it here.

Read full review here.


There, There by Tommy Orange

There There is a multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. I loved learning more about Native culture through the eyes of so many different characters, all experiencing loss and heartache in their own way. This novel is truly beautiful and a must read for everyone.

Buy it here.


The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina

Apekina’s debut novel is a story of family, obsession, and what we put ourselves through for our art. After their mother’s suicide attempt, 16-year-old Edie and 14-year-old Mae are forced to leave their Louisiana home to live with their estranged father, Dennis, a former civil rights activist and literary figure on the other side of success, in New York City. Told from multiple perspectives, this book grabbed me and did not let go.

Buy it here.


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