Tuesday, November 9, 2021
A Mother's Tale & Other Stories, by Khanh Ha
Thursday, September 23, 2021
The Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead
Sunday, September 12, 2021
The Fortune Men, by Nadifa Mohamed
"chancer, sometime petty thief... a smooth-talker with an eye for a good game. He is many things, in fact, but he is not a murderer."
Sunday, August 29, 2021
An Island, by Karen Jennings
"... A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper. Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer under colonisers, then fight for independence, only to fall under the rule of a cruel dictator; and he recalls his own part in its history..."
Saturday, August 21, 2021
The Mermaid of Black Conch, by Monique Roffey
"A red-skinned woman, not black, not African. Not yellow, not a Chinee woman, or a woman with golden hair from Amsterdam. Not a blue woman, either, blue like a damn fish. Red. She was a red woman, like an Amerinidian. Or anyway, her top half was red. He had seen her shoulders, her head, her breasts, and her long black hair like ropes, all sea mossy and jook up with anemone and conch shell. A merwoman."
Monday, August 16, 2021
Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Night Theater, by Vikram Paralkar
"pretend that the visitors had been wheeled in on gurneys, with lolling heads and frothing mouths, victims of some mysterious accident. He would just do his job, and let the pieces fall as they would."
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi
"hungry questions bending her into a shape that was starving for answers."
She is desperate, as any loving mother would be, to know how Vivek ended up on her doorstep, naked, covered in blood and missing the silver Ganesh charm he always wore around his neck. What she doesn't understand is that there are no easy answers; the questions surrounding how Vivek died must actually first yield to the questions surrounding how he lived. The story unfolds via three different and interweaving points of view belonging to a third-person narrator, Vivek's cousin Osita who probably knew Vivek better than anyone, and short but powerful interludes from the deceased Vivek speaking from beyond the grave, one of which that cuts straight to the heart of this novel when he says
"I'm not what anyone thinks I am. I never was. I didn't have the mouth to put it into words, to say what was wrong, to change the things I felt I needed to change. And every day it was difficult, walking around and knowing that people saw me one way, knowing that they were wrong, so completely wrong, that the real me was invisible to them. It didn't exist to them."
He ends this brief utterance by asking the question
"If nobody sees you, are you still there?"
Set in the author's home country of Nigeria, the story of Vivek's life and eventual death unfolds like a "stack of photographs." He is loved by all but there are people in his life, including his biological family who mean well, but ultimately fail to understand who he really is. At school he doesn't fit in so is brought back home, he suffers from periodic blackouts, grows his hair long, and nobody knows what's going on with him. His mom believes he's going through a "phase," his aunt believes he can be "cured" by getting his demons exorcised. At one point he finds himself lonely, "drowning" and planning to give up; through all of this and more, however, he remains steadfastly true to himself. A measure of salvation in one form comes as he reconnects with a group of childhood friends, one of whom reaches out to him and offers to listen. This is his "chosen family," children of the Nigerwives, where despite all of the social/cultural forces and standards working against him, he finds a place to belong and a place where he can start to fully bloom -- that is, before his life is tragically cut short, as the dustjacket notes, "in a moment of exhilarating freedom."
Friday, May 14, 2021
The Lost Village, by Camilla Sten
"pleasant, unassuming place, with dainty houses in even rows, a river meandering through the center and a white stuccco church spire that soared up over the rooftops, gleaming in the August sunshine,"
"everything from a gas leak that supposedly caused mass hysteria and delirium, to an ancient Sami curse."
Arriving in the village, Alice and colleagues set up a base camp in the main square, and it isn't long (as the dustjacket cover blurb reveals) until strange things begin happening. One of the group sees a figure in the darkness. Another is badly injured. Alice starts hearing things that shouldn't be there, someone sabotages the equipment, the crew start to disappear. As all of this is going on, Silvertjärn's past is slowly being revealed in chapters labeled "Then."
All of this should have been right up my mystery/supernatural fiction-loving brain, but sadly, for me it wasn't. It wasn't too long in before I decided that what's going on in the present has been the stuff of any number of movies I've seen, so I had more than an inkling of where this all was headed. Honestly, what stopped me from throwing in the towel here was that I needed to know what had happened in 1959. There was no Blair Witch stuff going on here -- the little bit of film Alice had managed to shoot didn't amount to a hill of beans. And the Midsommar connection is absolutely tenuous at best but you have to squint through the 1959 story to find it; as she writes it, it had more of a NXIVM sort of feel. Even there though, my interest started waning, and I was neither thrilled nor disturbed. When the ending arrived, well, let's just say the eyerolls came out in full. I really wish I would give into my instincts and tell you why, but I won't. Let's also just say that it was so over the top as to be completely unbelievable.
Sunday, April 25, 2021
The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner
"Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. Nella's dark world is no place for her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old girl named Eliza Fanning, but their unexpected bond sparks a string of consequences that echoes through the centuries."
"I willed myself to leave all thoughts of home behind: James, the secret I'd uncovered, our unfulfilled desire for a baby. I needed a break from the grief suffocating me, the thorns of fury so sharp and unexpected they took my breath away."
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
The Slaughterman's Daughter, by Yaniv Iczkovits
"A woman went out in the second hour after midnight and has not returned since. All of our efforts to look for her in villages and towns, forests and rivers have failed. Her whereabouts are unknown and there's not a trace of her to be found...She has left her husband, five children, and miserable mother-in-law in despair in their village home."
Monday, February 1, 2021
the book group read (January) ... Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
Friday, January 8, 2021
Dead Girls, by Selma Almada
"a form of nonfiction that combines factual reporting with narrative techniques and stylistic strategies traditionally associated with fiction,"
"Careful, there's laundry hanging up ... as if saying those things were like saying dirty words, or worse, as if they were a source of unimaginable shame."
While Dead Girls focuses on "three small-town girls murdered in the 1980s," their stories are set squarely within the wider context of violence against women as she goes on to offer the names and brief stories of others who had met the same fate at the hands of men, as well as the well-entrenched misogyny and commonplace violence that exists throughout the small towns in Argentina's interior. This is not, as she also reveals, a new phenomenon, citing an account in a book that "catches her eye" about the case of a Polish girl from the 1950s who had the misfortune of having a boyfriend who was a "possessive, jealous and violent man."
In her Epilogue, before listing the names of femicide victims who died over the month's time since the "new year began," the author writes that
"In that time, at least ten women have been killed for being women. I say at least, because these are the names that appeared in the papers, the ones that counted as news"
leaving the reader to wonder about the ones who didn't count as news.
As the back-cover blurb says, what she's written here is a "clear-eyed, multi-faceted account that has global resonance." While I recognize the huge importance of Selva Almada's book, at the same time, it's a very difficult book to read on an emotional level. While reading it, I couldn't help thinking of Fernanda Melchior's Hurricane Season -- in both books the authors offer a look into the economic and social conditions in these small towns that help to feed that violence, but also acknowledge that crimes against women are all too often marginalized by the police or the politicians who have the power to change things but allow these crimes to continue.
It's a tough book, but so worth it, and it's one I can very highly recommend. I can also recommend Charco Press, a small but ultimately awesome publisher.