May Releases: Barrera, Cornwell, Jones, Ruhl

Greetings from the English Channel! I’m putting this quick post together on an outdoor deck as we leave Plymouth harbour on the ferry to Spain. I’ve taken a seasickness pill and am wearing acupressure bracelets, and so far I’m feeling pretty well here taking in a sea breeze; fingers crossed that it will continue to be a smooth voyage.

Have a look at all the lovely May releases above. How I wish that I’d had a chance to read some of them this month! Alas, things have been so busy with our move that I have only cracked one open so far (the Shipstead), but I’m looking forward to reading the rest soon after we get back. For now, I’ll give snippets of early reviews I’ve published elsewhere: two memoirs of pregnancy and early motherhood (the one focusing on postnatal depression), a varied short story collection, and an accessible volume of poetry written during Covid lockdowns.


Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes by Jazmina Barrera

(Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney)

In a fragmentary work of autobiography and cultural commentary, the Mexican author investigates pregnancy as both physical reality and liminal state. The linea nigra is a stripe of dark hair down a pregnant woman’s belly. It’s a potent metaphor for the author’s matriarchal line: her grandmother was a doula; her mother is a painter. In short passages that dart between topics, Barrera muses on motherhood, monitors her health, and recounts her dreams. Her son, Silvestre, is born halfway through the book. She gives impressionistic memories of the delivery and chronicles her attempts to write while someone else watches the baby. This is both diary and philosophical appeal—for pregnancy and motherhood to become subjects for serious literature. (See my full review for Foreword.)


Birth Notes: A Memoir of Recovery by Jessica Cornwell

It so happens that May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Cornwell comes from a deeply literary family; the late John le Carré was her grandfather. Her memoir shimmers with visceral memories of delivering her twin sons in 2018 and the postnatal depression and infections that followed. The details, precise and haunting, twine around a historical collage of words from other writers on motherhood and mental illness, ranging from Margery Kempe to Natalia Ginzburg. Childbirth caused other traumatic experiences from her past to resurface. How to cope? For Cornwell, therapy and writing went hand in hand. This is vivid and resolute, and perfect for readers of Catherine Cho, Sinéad Gleeson and Maggie O’Farrell. (See my full review for Shiny New Books.)

With thanks to Virago for the proof copy for review.


Antipodes: Stories by Holly Goddard Jones

Jones’s fourth work of fiction contains 11 riveting stories of contemporary life in the American South and Midwest. Some have pandemic settings and others are gently magical; all are true to the anxieties of modern careers, marriage and parenthood. In the title story, the narrator, a harried mother and business school student in Kentucky, seeks to balance the opposing forces of her life and wonders what she might have to sacrifice. The ending elicits a gasp, as does the audacious inconclusiveness of “Exhaust,” a tense tale of a quarreling couple driving through a blizzard. Worry over environmental crises fuels “Ark,” about a pyramid scheme for doomsday preppers. Fans of Nickolas Butler and Lorrie Moore will find much to admire. (Read via Edelweiss. See my full review for Shelf Awareness.)


Love Poems in Quarantine by Sarah Ruhl

Having read Ruhl’s memoir Smile, I recognized the contours of her life and the members of her family. In early poems, cooking and laundry recur, everyday duties that mark time as she tries to write and supervises virtual learning for three children. “Let this all be poetry,” she incants. Part Two contains poems written after George Floyd’s murder, the structure mimicking how abrupt the change in focus was for a nation. Part Three moves into haiku and tanka, culminating in a series of poems reflecting on the seasons. Like Margaret Atwood’s Dearly, I would recommend this even to people who think they don’t like poetry. A welcome addition to the body of Covid-19 literature. (Read via Edelweiss. See my full review on Goodreads.)


Two favourite poems:



To love a house

not because it’s perfect but because it shelters you


To love a body

not because it’s perfect but because it shelters you


“Quarantine in August, the overripe month”


I’m tired of summer. I crave fall. Luckily fall comes after summer.

And if I get tired of it all, winter will come, then spring.


Have you read anything from my tempting stack?

What other May releases can you recommend?

20 responses

  1. Glad to hear the seasickness hasn’t been too bad! I’m really keen to read Emilie and Pine. Enjoy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved her essay collection but have no idea what to expect from her fiction. I plan on starting the novel tonight. We shall see!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed The Swimmers and looking forward to the Pine. Fingers crossed the anti-seasickness precautions worked through the voyage. Have a lovely holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was absolutely fine! I attribute it partly to the acupressure bands and partly to the lucky fact of the sea being pretty much flat calm both ways.

      I’m going to start both of those books this evening. Very much looking forward to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m reading True Biz right now and am enjoying it! I’ll be interested to hear your take.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Her previous novel, Girl at War, is one of my all-time favorite debuts. I’m expecting this to be very different, but I hope an equally valuable window onto experiences all new to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I’ll have to go back to read Girl at War. Very impressed with her!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Bon voyage!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Paul! We had a great trip and I really enjoyed A Parrot in the Pepper Tree.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad to hear that on both counts


  5. I’ve got the Myers – can’t resist a book about crop circles. Have a super holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I only vaguely knew it was about crop circles! I remember reading the description and thinking it sounded like an updated A Month in the Country. I’ll start it tonight and hope to review it for Shiny ASAP.


  6. Haven’t read any but I hear True Biz and Secret Lives of Church Ladies are both good. Enjoy your holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard good things about both, especially Church Ladies — I think I’ll start that one tonight.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The only one I’ve read is True Biz, which I found a bit disappointing, although very educational about Deaf culture. Hope the ferry trip was OK!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, that’s always a worry about didactic fiction. I hope I’ll have a better experience.

      After all my fretting, the ferry rides were a doddle!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. After eading your post I went to Goodreads to add the book by Jessica Cornwell. Weird that it came up as Birth notes. A memoir of hysteria instead of A memoir of recovery. I guess yours is the UK title? They do convey totally different feelings though…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perhaps I flatter myself, but I think I might have something to do with the change. I read the book back in February and gave the publisher early feedback, including on the subtitle (though I suggested “A Memoir of Trauma and Recovery”)–hysteria definitely seemed to have the wrong connotations. I’ll correct the final title on Goodreads.


  9. I look forward to hearing what you think of True Biz, too. I was keen on the Myers but I read a review in the Guardian today and it sounds a bit … visceral? for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know that adjective would apply to some of his earlier fiction, though The Offing is lovely — I’m expecting it to be more like the latter.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: