The Week in Books #41

Another week, another stack! Let’s get right to it.

1. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. To be honest, I hated the first 60 pages of this. I had just finished The Conjoined and felt like I needed something with a little less disturbing content as a palette cleanser, and the first chapter of Mars Room seemed to be filled with violent anecdotes (mostly told via dialogue from one character to another) for no real reason… I was also a wee bit confused about the introduction of Conan, a trans character that I thought the narrator was deliberately misgendering, but it all made sense once I got more into the story. In the end I stuck it out and wound up really enjoying The Mars Room. It was actually a really well researched look into the US prison system and how gender, race and class affect incarcerated individuals. Good read!

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall, named after a German actress, is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: her young son, Jackson, and the San Francisco of her youth. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, portrayed with great humor and precision.

Indigo Books

2. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. I enjoyed The Girl on the Train so when I saw a copy of this at VV I thought I would give it a try. I wasn’t expecting it to be so witchy! I don’t read a lot of thriller/mystery novels, but I liked this one. The pacing was good and the characters were all connected in intriguing ways. A good quick read with just the right amount of spook factor.

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

3. Milkman by Anna Burns. Whooo wee, this was a trip. The writing style is very distinctive; it’s a stream of consciousness narrative from the mind of an 18 year old girl who doesn’t use names for people or places and goes off on a lot of little tangents. We don’t even know her name, she is known as ‘middle sister’. Other characters include maybe-boyfriend, tablets girl, Milkman, the real milkman, and wee sisters (one name referencing her three youngest sisters as a single unit). It’s set during the troubles in Ireland in the 1970’s, and to make sense of what was going on I had to get a lot of info from my British husband who knows a lot more about Ireland than I do (his Mom was Irish). Once I knew what a renouncer was (someone renouncing British rule), what the troubles were about (the push for a unified and independent Ireland), and had a better grip on the relationship between Northern and Southern Ireland (Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom, the South being independent) and ALSO the religious struggles involved (Catholics vs Protestants) it was a lot easier to digest. This book is really brilliant. It reads like a dystopian world with covert camera surveillance of citizens, political deaths being the norm, car bombings and weapons stashed around town, hospitals being a place no one wanted to go to in emergency because police try to turn patients into informants on renouncers, etc etc… except that’s what it was actually like in Ireland at the time. It was also unexpectedly very funny. If you can make it through the super dense, super long paragraphs and even longer chapters I promise it is worth it.

Winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

In an unnamed city, middle sister stands out for the wrong reasons. She reads while walking, for one. And she has been taking French night classes downtown. So when a local paramilitary known as the milkman begins pursuing her, she suddenly becomes “interesting,” the last thing she ever wanted to be.

Despite middle sister’s attempts to avoid him – and to keep her mother from finding out about her maybe-boyfriend – rumors spread and the threat of violence lingers. Milkman is a story of the way inaction can have enormous repercussions, in a time when the wrong flag, wrong religion, or even a sunset can be subversive. Told with ferocious energy and sly, wicked humor, Milkman establishes Anna Burns as one of the most consequential voices of our day.

4. The Bone Mother by David Demchuck. I grabbed this at the local book sale a while back because the cover was cool and the blurb on the back spoke to me. Unfortunately I didn’t connect with the writing style of this collection of horror folktales. The stories were all very short, some just a few pages, and I felt they could have been fleshed out way more to make them more interesting and engaging. The write up makes it sound really creepy and cool but there was not enough development for me to really get into it.

Three neighboring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.

The Rusalka, the beautiful, vengeful water spirit who lives in lakes and ponds and lures men and children to their deaths. The Vovkulaka, who changes from her human form into that of a wolf and hides with her kind deep in the densest forests. The Strigoi, a revenant who feasts on blood and twists the minds of those who love, serve, and shelter him. The Drevniye, an apparition that impersonates its victim and draws him into a web of evil in order to free itself. And the Bone Mother, a skeletal crone with iron teeth who lurks in her house in the heart of the woods, and cooks and eats those who fail her vexing challenges.

Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.

Google Books

5. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. This was a wonderful little novel. I loved Brown Girl Dreaming, and loved this one even more. It’s a quick read with short chapters and lots of white space on the pages (the opposite of Milkman!) but is still very engaging and emotional. Excuse me while I stockpile everything else she has ever written.

An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Indigo Books

Is anyone else using Goodreads? I originally set my 2020 challenge to 24 books figuring I could read two books per month, but I reached that goal easily a few months ago so I upped the goal to 50 books. I’m now on my 48th book and it’s mid-September so I’m thinking I’ll be able to reach this goal and surpass it. Did anyone else set a reading goal for this year? All this quarantining has made it the perfect year for reading!

I got quite a few new books this week thanks to a trip to value village and a second hand book shop in downtown Nanaimo, and some middle of the night insomnia shopping on Indigo. Titles I found used: I, Bificus by Bif Naked, Cockroach by Rawi Hage, Hello I Want To Die Please Fix Me by Anna Mehler Paperny, The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Medicine River by Thomas King, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin, and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel.

New Indigo titles I ordered: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward, An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, Girls Burn Brighter by Shoba Rao, Five Little Indians by Michelle Good, The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel, and Indians on Vacation by Thomas King.

New stack!

With my current stack now completed it’s time to set a new one up, and here it is! I’m hoping to knock this one out before the end of the year and possibly add one more as I still have a ton of great books on my TBR pile. Currently part way through Children of Virtue and Vengeance, the sequel to Children of Blood and Bone, and it is giving me Harry Potter level vibes. Definitely recommend this series if you are looking for a magical YA series that doesn’t support Rowling and her recent transphobia. Whoop whoop!

See you next week!

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