May was a really good month for reading. At least for me. I read twelve books and micro-chapbooks. The summer micro-chapbook series is really boosting my numbers! What did you pick up in May, blog readers?
The following reviews will cover what worked well in the books. If you wish to discuss what didn’t work in the books or what you enjoyed about the books, then I’d encourage you to comment on this post.
Without further ado, here are the mini-reviews for this month. (Mild spoilers may follow.)
Brass by Xhenet Aliu is another novel I picked up from the Bellevue Public Library. I found the cover art curious and so I picked up the book and read the synopsis. I put it down at first because I was unsure if I really wanted to try it out. But then I circled back and took it to the checkout counter. I’m glad I took the time to read this one in the end.
Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:
A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams—and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it’s the place they can’t seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she’s pregnant, Elsie can’t help wondering where Bashkim’s heart really lies, and what he’ll do about the wife he left behind.
Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she’s stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie—a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.
Told in equally gripping parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story.
Another audiobook I finished in May is Parasite by Mira Grant (a. k. a. Seanan McGuire). I had a hard time feeling engaged by McGuire’s writing style in Every Heart a Doorway, so I wanted to try a different book by her. While I liked Parasite better, I think I’m too disenchanted at this point to continue the series.
Synopsis from the Hachette Book Group website:
A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.
We owe our good health to a humble parasite — a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system — even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.
But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.
What worked well:
- Grant’s idea of sentient parasites that can heal people by living in their body is bizarre, wild, and extremely imaginative. It’s also a genius twist on a familiar genre, which becomes more apparent as the reader delves farther into the book.
- Grant also approaches animal rights in a way that many other writers do not. Many writers consider animal rights at a distance, their characters narrating what is happening instead of actively engaging with the animals. Grant’s protagonist engages with animals and their rights directly, a truly refreshing approach.
Who should read Parasite:
- Readers who enjoy new approaches to familiar science fiction genres
- Those who enjoy books about human and animal rights
- Fans of Seanan McGuire’s books
- Readers who enjoy books about weird science
I wanted to support the film version of A Wrinkle in Time but felt guilty about not reading the book before the movie released. I watched A Wrinkle in Time in theaters anyway and decided to read the book later on. I ended up downloading the audiobook from my local library. Madeleine L’Engle is an inspiring writer and I’m glad I had the chance to listen to some of her work.
Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:
Madeleine L’Engle’s ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy classic, soon to be a major motion picture. This movie tie-in audiobook includes an introduction read by director Ava DuVernay, a foreword read by the author, and an afterword read by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis.
Meg Murray, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?
In 1962, Madeleine L’Engle debuted her novel A Wrinkle in Time, which would go on to win the 1963 Newbery Medal. Bridging science and fantasy, darkness and light, fear and friendship, the story became a classic of children’s literature and is beloved around the world. Now Disney is taking it to the silver screen! Directed by Ava DuVernay and with an all-star cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and newcomer Storm Reid, the major motion picture brings the world of Wrinkle to life for a new generation of fans.
What worked well:
- A Wrinkle in Time does a nice job of depicting a female protagonist who needs to embrace her truest self—flaws and all—to overcome obstacles in her path. It’s a positive message but, let’s be real, it’s also kind of radical. She’s a young girl who’s not your stereotypical beauty and whose flaws are things like anger and impatience. L’Engle opened a door with this novel for many young girls who badly needed representation in literature.
- L’Engle’s imagination was also a joy to discover. From the “tesseract” device to the villainous “IT” to the vastly different locations, L’Engle creates a complex universe full of life, weird science, and beautiful fantasy.
Who should read A Wrinkle in Time:
- Those who enjoy middle-grade books
- Fans of the science fantasy genre
- Readers who like complex female protagonists
- Those who enjoy books about family and bonds of friendship
When I read that Melanie Finn had a new book coming out, I knew I had to buy it. In the past, when I worked at Tethered by Letters, I read The Gloaming for a review. Back then, I wasn’t familiar with her work. Now I know how much of a genius she is. It was inevitable that I would preorder The Underneath from Two Dollar Radio.
Synopsis from the Two Dollar Radio website:
With the assurance and grace of her acclaimed novel The Gloaming—which earned her comparisons to Patricia Highsmith—Melanie Finn returns with a precisely layered and tense new literary thriller.
The Underneath follows Kay Ward, a former journalist struggling with the constraints of motherhood. Along with her husband and two children, she rents a quaint Vermont farmhouse for the summer. The idea is to disconnect from their work-based lifestyle—that had her doggedly pursuing a genocidal leader of child soldiers known as General Christmas, even through Kay’s pregnancy and the birth of their second child—in an effort to repair their shaky marriage.
It isn’t long before Kay’s husband is called away and she discovers a mysterious crawlspace in the rental with unsettling writing etched into the wall. Alongside some of the house’s other curiosities and local sleuthing, Kay is led to believe that something terrible may have happened to the home’s owners.
Kay’s investigation leads her to a local logger, Ben Comeau, a man beset with his own complicated and violent past. A product of the foster system and life-long resident of the Northeast Kingdom, Ben struggles to overcome his situation, and to help an abused child whose addict mother is too incapacitated to care about the boy’s plight.
The Underneath is an intelligent and considerate exploration of violence—both personal and social—and whether violence may ever be justified.
What worked well:
- There is so much good to say, but let’s start with the obvious one: Finn’s use of violence. Violence may not seem like a good thing—and indeed, it is not—but in the hands of a master prose stylist, there is somewhat of an important subversion that takes place. The Underneath unflinchingly delves headlong into some heartbreaking topics through the characters and their experiences: child soldiers, warmongers, mutilation, drug abuse, self-harm, suicide, sexual abuse, neglect, pedophilia, physical abuse, verbal abuse, animal abuse, destruction of the earth, etc. It’s true that you likely need a strong stomach to read this book. But the things that Finn brings up are important for us to discuss and not to ignore. Finn also shows us how any person—”good” or not—can end up perpetuating violence.
- Like with The Gloaming, Finn’s prose in this book is stellar. From the very first beautiful and compelling line, I was hooked. Finn phrases things in ways that few other writers can or have. To understand what I mean, you should read an excerpt of the novel or just take a leap of faith and buy the book.
Who should read The Underneath:
- Readers who enjoy literary thrillers
- Those who are prepared to read about intense violence
- Fans of The Gloaming
- Readers who enjoy exquisite prose
From Likely Red Press:
*I have strong affiliations to these particular titles and their publishers.