The Week in Books #94

10/14 ✅

The week in books! It’s been a few weeks since I posted a round up (I had a baby!) so I’ve got a few to get through in this post. Below I have my last two reads of 2021 and first three of 2022. I’m hoping to read about two books per week again this year, which would get me through all of the books on the stacks pictured at the end of the post and a few more. Last year I managed to read 109! Here we go.

1. All’s Well by Mona Awad. Mona does it again. Bunny was a weird and wonderful ride through a high school theatre group with some bizarre twists and All’s Well was definitely in the same vein. Miranda suffers from chronic pain that everyone thinks is an act, and she’s about to lose her job as a college theatre director for wanting to put on a production of All’s Well That Ends Well that no one wants to do. I’m not familiar with All’s Well or MacBeth (or any Shakespeare, really) but apparently this novel is a retelling of some kind. I recognized the three witches in the three mysterious investors, but couldn’t tell you what else was similar. The writing was very enjoyable and I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen, even if just about all the characters were pretty unlikeable. The only character that I liked, actually, was the ex-con set builder that wore Motörhead shirts and had Kurt Cobain hair. I like the blend of realism and the magical, even if sometimes it’s like what the heck is going on, the ride is fun. Great book!

Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now, she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised and cost her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbethinstead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.

That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.

With prose Margaret Atwood has described as “no punches pulled, no hilarities dodged…genius,” Mona Awad has concocted her most potent, subversive novel yet. All’s Well is a “fabulous novel” (Mary Karr) about a woman at her breaking point and a formidable, piercingly funny indictment of our collective refusal to witness and believe female pain.

Simon and Schuster

2. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Ah, American Dirt. This is a much read and recommended but very controversial book! People have taken issue with Jeanine identifying as white but appropriating the tale of a Mexican mother and her son escaping a Mexican cartel and migrating to America. The Own Voices movement has emphasized stories of this nature being told by the people who have actually experienced them and/or have authority to tell them. Some folks have accused this book of being in brown face, essentially. Oprah does like to pick controversial books for her book club though, remember the James Frey debacle?? All that aside, however, this book was very readable. The pace is fast and I felt it did do a good job of making the reader feel empathy for the migrant experience, even if it was a bit stereotypical.

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy―two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves riding la bestia―trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

Amazon

3. Goldilocks by Laura Lam. I found this randomly at GIRO and loved that it was a feminist sci-fi story from 2020. The story is told from Naomi’s perspective, one of the women aboard the ship headed to Cavendish, a newly discovered planet in the Goldilocks zone. There are many aspects of this story that are very obviously a commentary on our current state of affairs; women have lost access to abortion, the planet is falling apart due to rampant climate change, and a virus is set to destroy 80% of the population. Valerie masterminds an all-female crew to be the first on Cavendish and in position to create a utopia for women and children. Things start to go sideways when secrets are revealed mid-flight to the jump point. I really liked this one, the characters were interesting and I loved that it depicted a dystopian world that was essentially a snapshot of our current world. We have become the dystopian world from science fiction stories! Madness

Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.

It’s humanity’s last hope for survival, and Naomi, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity like this – to step out of Valerie’s shadow and really make a difference.

But when things start going wrong on the ship, Naomi begins to suspect that someone on board is concealing a terrible secret – and realizes time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared . . .

Hachette Book Group

4. Going Bovine by Libba Bray. I have read some books by Libba Bray and enjoyed them, so this has been on my radar for a bit but I didn’t get to it until now. I feel like the synopsis isn’t really that true to the novel, I was surprised by what it was actually about and found it quite depressing by the end. Cameron is diagnosed with Mad Cow Disease (which is fatal) and admitted to hospital where he becomes quite ill. What follows is a wild and comedic adventure with a little person, living lawn gnome and a punky pink-haired angel that sort of rolls on and on in random directions and doesn’t seem to follow any set path. They are in search of Dr. X, someone who can allegedly cure Cameron’s illness and is also keen to destroy the world, which makes it seem like a fantasy genre story with a potentially fun and feel good resolution. What we learn at the end, which is hinted at throughout the novel (and even in the synopsis, though spoiler alert!) however, is that the adventure is all a hallucination Cam experiences on his death bed before he finally dies with his family around him. I was not prepared! I’m not sure how I felt about this in the end, the comedy was pretty corny and even though the whole point of the adventure was to find Dr. X and save the world, there didn’t seem to be much of a climax or explanation for Dr. X’s actions. He’s actually barely even in it. Overall an interesting adventure if you’re into YA comedy/fantasy/sad endings but probably not a book I would recommend to others in general.

Cameron Smith, 16, is slumming through high school, overshadowed by a sister “pre-majoring in perfection,” while working (ineptly) at the Buddha Burger. Then something happens to make him the focus of his family’s attention: he contracts mad cow disease. What takes place after he is hospitalized is either that a gorgeous angel persuades him to search for a cure that will also save the world, or that he has a vivid hallucination brought on by the disease. Either way, what readers have is an absurdist comedy in which Cameron, Gonzo (a neurotic dwarf) and Balder (a Norse god cursed to appear as a yard gnome) go on a quixotic road trip during which they learn about string theory, wormholes and true love en route to Disney World. Bray’s surreal humor may surprise fans of her historical fantasies about Gemma Doyle, as she trains her satirical eye on modern education, American materialism and religious cults (the smoothie-drinking members of the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack ‘N’ Bowl). Offer this to fans of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy seeking more inspired lunacy.

Libbabray.com

5. Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber. This is a quick book from Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber on the topic of sex within the Christian community. I am not religious but found the premise of this very intriguing; Nadia is super inclusive of all types of people including trans, queer, homosexual and gender diverse individuals in her church, which is refreshing on its own, but also disagrees with the way sexual education is handled by the church and feels exploring your sexuality should not be something that is shamed within religious communities. It was interesting to see a viewpoint so different from my own but with so much crossover; I do not agree with all the God talk, but was pleasantly surprised by Nadia’s views on sex, patriarchy, abortion and more. Sometimes it’s nice to read about a topic from another perspective.

Raw, intimate, and timely, Nadia Bolz-Weber’s latest book offers a full-blown overhaul of our harmful and antiquated ideas about sex, gender, and our bodies.

Her: “Why do you think the church has tried for so long to control human sexuality?”

Him: “Maybe the church has always seen sex as its competition.”

Christians are obsessed with sex. But not in a good way. For nearly two thousand years, this obsession has often turned destructive—inflicting pain, suffering, and guilt on countless people of all persuasions and backgrounds. In Shameless, Bolz-Weber calls for a reformation. To make her case, she offers experiences from her own life and stories from her parishoners alongside biblical theology to explore what the church has taught and the harm those teachings have caused. Along the way, she reexamines patriarchy, sex, and power with candor but also with hope, because in her heart she believes the “Gospel is powerful enough, transgressive enough, and beautiful enough to heal not only the ones who have been hurt but also those who have done the hurting.”

This is by far Bolz-Weber’s most personal book yet, revealing intimate and emotional details about her life while offering a reading experience that is as entertaining and affirming as it is intellectually robust and liberating. For anyone who has been harmed by the shaming sexual messages so prevalent in religion, this book is for you.

Nadiabolzweber.com

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