Mike

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Zumas imagines a world very similar to our world, except for a new amendment, called the Personhood Amendment, has been passed. It grants embryos constitutional protection and makes abortion and in-vitro fertilization illegal. We see how this change effects the lives of 4 women in different stages of life, with different struggles. Paralleling these women’s stories is the story of a 19th century female arctic explorer and researcher who made remarkable discoveries for which she never received credit because, being a woman, she was never given a voice. This book is about women’s voices being silenced, but it is also about the ways women express their voices despite being silenced. I think of this as similar to Naomi Alderman’s The Power, but where The Power is more driven by ideas and perspective, Red Clocks is more character driven, focusing on critical moments in the characters’ lives. This was an engaging book which I would recommend. Back to Book Reviews  

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Due to an environmental shift women have developed the ability to transmit electrical currents through their hands. This power gives them the upper hand, so to speak, and the ability to dominate men. Women are no longer susceptible the physical threat men represent. Men become vulnerable, the “weaker sex.” This change affects every aspect of society, and we see how deeply rooted gender structures are in every aspect of life, from the personal to the global. Everything is recast: interpersonal relations, political and economic dominance. Everything flips upside down and we are allowed to watch as the pieces fall. We get to see how men respond to emerging power structures, and how women react to the men’s responses. I love books that shift perspective, force me to rethink and re-examine, and this book accomplished that for me. Back to Book Reviews  

The Insides by Jeremy Bushnell

A psychic joins forces with a hitman named Pig who is working for an underground cult, and they chase a witch-turned-butcher who acquired a magic knife, which happens to be from a different dimension. Magic, Mafia and interdimensionality make this book a fun read and a wild adventure. It is a quirky thriller and may appeal to fans of Stranger Things due to its interdimensional elements. Maybe it is Stranger Things crossed with Enemy of the state, and a dash of Ghost Whisperer tossed in. Or, maybe not exactly that. Back to Book Reviews  

Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

The Syrian civil war invades the calm and familiar lives of a young Syrian girl and her family in this novel. Bombs begin dropping nearby, and troops invade to turn their neighborhood into a battlefield and force them to flee their home. We experience the story from the young girl’s, Nadia’s, perspective as she survives a bomb’s near miss and becomes separated from her family. She must then find a way to survive the dangerous streets, the skirmish’s battlefield, to rejoin her family. While fleeing, she finds a mysterious old man and his donkey who guide her through the rubble and chaos, but as confusion rules the day, she is unsure whether she can completely trust him.  Is he protecting her and leading her to safety or using her as a human shield to protect himself? And how does he seem to know so many people? Nadia’s story brings to life the brutal circumstances from which the stream of Syrian are seeking refuge. Through her eyes we see the devastation and violence, we encounter the confusion of different factions of rebel groups, and, through her flashbacks, we learn about the events leading up to the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War. This is a great novel for anyone looking for a story about the current events in Syria. It is an engrossing read and would appeal to adults as well as children. Back to Book Reviews  

Out in the Open by Jesus Carrasco

A new category of Western should be made called Alternative Western, or Alt-Western. Maybe that category already exists, I’m not sure, but this book could easily fit in at an Alt-Western shindig, along with Sisters Brothers, True Grit, and most of Cormac McCarthy’s work. In my perspective, Alt-Western blends traditional hallmarks of westerns with key features of other genres, such as sci-fi, horror, or magical realism, creating non-traditional westerns, in these examples mostly bizarre, dystopian or absurdist Westerns. Between the characters’ desperate grittiness, the sparse landscape, and dystopian setting this book fits the bill. Many critics have already contrasted the author’s spare, but beautiful descriptions with the harsh post-ecological disaster landscape. The contrast gives the book a simmering tension. However, I noticed that in this dystopian, post-eco-apocalyptic landscape women are nearly non-existent. Is this because this is meant to be a manly book for men? Could it be implying that a dystopian, ecological wasteland is an unavoidable result of masculinity’s impregnable trajectory? Is it because the book focuses on the brutality of men, and the main character coming of age amidst his experience and personal expression of this severe masculinity? At one crucial point, we see his opportunity to embrace masculinity’s cynicism or dredge a new path. Whether the book praises or critiques masculinity is not clear. Either way, it is a gripping read from start to finish, with brutal intensity. Back to Book Reviews  

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

It turns out, this is not a cookbook, nor is it really about food. It is, however, a riveting story. It is the age-old story of a crack addict mother and her handless son, separated from each other, trying to find each other again. The mother works on a farm called Delicious Foods (hence the title). Her labor pays for the crack her employer provides her, to which she is addicted. Her son, we discover very early on, has tragically had his hands cut off in an unknown event related to the Delicious Foods farm his mother works on. He wants to return to the farm and find his mother, but is it to rescue her or does he blame her for his injuries and want revenge? We slowly learn the back story leading up to the starting predicament, mother working at a crack house and son’s injury, as we follow the story. Did I mention that part of this story is narrated by crack cocaine? That in itself gives the book a dark, yet alluring feel from the start. I found it hard to pull myself away from the story and certainly recommend it for someone looking for an unusual, addicting and darkly humorous novel. Back to Book Reviews  

The Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso

This book had moments of clarity, or maybe I had moments of clarity while reading it, it was hard to tell. Most of it felt like slogging through a murky swamp, but not in a bad way. Swamps can be interesting. It took some time for me to follow the story with regular shifts in narrator, point of view, voice and even plot. Was I mistaken, or did characters’ names even change and were they in two places at once? A few tangents appear in the text that seemed hardly relevant, but ultimately set the backstory for the characters involved as well as the circumstances within which Don Jeronimo, the head of an aristocratic house, yearns to have an heir to his estate. Around page 200 the story seemed to stabilize and focus on the birth of his heir and his life growing up as a “monster” closed off in a rural estate surrounded by other “monsters.” I thought the novel would continue down this storyline, but twenty pages later it became clear I was back in the swamp. While a large house full of monstrous people can be quite a spectacle, wading through the swamp is sometimes preferable. Every time I thought I was getting a grasp on the story, something would change and make me question if I knew what was really happening. You might say this is a book you experience more than comprehend, which is often what great art is like. The writing itself was beautiful and fairly easy to follow, but any bigger picture of what was happening was always fleeting. In some ways, maybe this is truly representative of life, or at least life in the politically

El Deafo by CeCe Bell

This was a fantastic read. I read it to my second-grader, who thoroughly enjoyed it and said it was a very  meaningful book. The author does a great job of showing the different challenges, embarrassments, and awkward moments she had growing up with hearing loss. She uses various large, bulky awkward equipment to help her hearing, but nothing compensates for her loss of hearing. She describes her struggle through awkwardness that creates moments of heartbreak and hilarity. Any child struggling with an issue that makes him or her feel different would probably identify with the character in this book. Back to Book Reviews  

The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Are you ever sitting at your desk at work and wish you could just disappear for a little while? Not that I do, I love my job, but some of you might. That is essentially what the main character in this book does. He comes across a secret room in his office, somewhat how Harry Potter might, that no one else in the office seems to know about. In this secret room, he has found a reprieve from his cubicle world, but something about it does not seem quite right. Everyone begins treating him differently and he cannot quite understand why. This book questions perception, reality, and experience. It gives us the opportunity to flip back and forth in perspectives, between the narrator’s perspective and that of his officemates. Back to Book Reviews  

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

How can you not think of Kafka’s The Castle while reading this book? The characters Wait endlessly in a line that snakes through the city but seems to never move due to authoritarian bureaucracy. They live their lives as best they can while maintaining their places in line, waiting for the office to finally open. While in line they are subject to the Authority’s reinterpretation of events and facts and twisting of reality into one favorable to the Authority. One citizen is waiting in the queue to obtain a permit required for him to have surgery to remove a bullet lodged in his pelvis during the obscure event called the Disgraceful Events. I’ll repeat that, he needs to get a permit to have surgery performed on him to remove a bullet from his pelvis. This is a story of bureaucracy and authoritarianism taken to an absurd level. A fascinating portrayal of unchecked authoritarianism. Back to Book Reviews