Letter from the Editor:
Spring is upon us, and I hope you’ve been reading some lovely books lately! I had a month full of good reads, and as always I’m happy to share my thoughts with you. In this issue of Bookish Brains, I’ve included book reviews for No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, and How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House by Cherie Jones. Plus, I give a sneak peek at my May TBR and shout out a few upcoming book releases!
During April, I also received some exciting news: I was accepted into a Master’s program for Library and Information Science! Last week I registered for classes, so this fall I will be attending school again. Through this experience, I’m seeking a career in the library systems, and I couldn’t be more excited. When I was a teenager, I worked for a couple years at a shelver at my local library and loved it. So it’s been a rewarding month and I feel grateful for this opportunity.
Wishing you a beautiful, blooming May! Please leave a comment and let me know what your favorite read from April was; I would love to hear about it.
Interestingly, I’m not really reading anything right now! I’m about 15 pages into Just Kids by Patti Smith, but I don’t expect to finish it this month and I don’t want to push myself to complete it when I’ve got a number of other things I’m working on right now. I had wanted to read that and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison in April, but they both got pushed back because a few library books came in for me which had more pressing due dates and I own those two books. Right now I’m taking a few days off from reading to wrap up April and prepare for a busy May!
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
- Adult romance
- Published 2021
- 375 pages
Check out my full blog post on Eve Brown and her sisters here!
Also: check out my reading vlog about this book!
No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
- Literary fiction
- Published 2021
- 210 pages
Recently released and announced as a shortlister for the Women’s Prize for Fiction Award, this novel is split into two parts which contrast each other. Lockwood’s fragmented writing style contemplates the internet and meme culture, alluding to popular media and online trends without necessarily condemning them, but rather meditating on our relationships and mutating senses of humor. It contains a lot of subtext, and it will speak mostly to niche readers. The second part switches focus, and because I don’t want to taint any of the surprise for you, I’ll refrain from elaborating. All I’ll say is this–I enjoyed the second part more than the first, and it evoked several tears.
Although the first and second parts feel rather disconnected from each other, I believe the author’s intention was to illustrate the way our relationship to the internet can change when our priorities are called into question due to tragic events. The second part redeemed the book for me, but I don’t know if it would have been as strong if it weren’t for what the first part set up. One tricky element of this story is that none of the characters have names–so while the narrator’s voice “feels” like first person, it’s actually told in third person, referring to the protagonist as “she.” This can get confusing at times because the protagonist’s pronouns often blend with her sister’s pronouns, but while I was occasionally confused by this stylistic choice, I can understand the author’s decision to keep all characters’ names obscured. Because at the end of the novel, it does seem rather like this is auto-fiction.
I’m glad this was a short little book and while it didn’t necessarily change my life (and not all fiction must do so in order to be enjoyable to me), I did like it! It has a similar authorial vibe to Motherhood by Sheila Heti (a book I read in March), so readers of experimental and fragmented fiction will likely also enjoy this!
Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins
- Magical realism / Fiction
- Published 2021
- 339 pages
Check out the book review I posted this month here. Contains no spoilers!
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
- Literary fiction / Magical realism
- Published 2018
- 240 pages
Having first read and enjoyed The Death of Vivek Oji, I was interested to read Emezi’s previous novel, Freshwater. Essentially, this book follows a young woman known as Ada who has multiple spirits living within her. Between growing up in Nigeria and living in the United States as a young adult, the supernatural entities occupying her body affect her life and form relationships in various ways. The writing is incredibly visceral and the story layered and dark.
This is a very impressive novel and I’ve seen Akwaeke Emezi tweet about their Dissociative Identity Disorder, which makes me wonder if this is perhaps a work of auto-fiction. Either way, the way Emezi crafts the spirits’ existences within the text is chilling and gritty. And I loved it.
If you are triggered by self-harm, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, or sexual assault, this book may be intense for you, so please take care.
For fans of literary fiction, I highly recommend Freshwater. It’s somewhat of a trip and feels like a descent into madness, but it’s also somehow twistedly glorious.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
- Historical fiction
- Published 2019
- 371 pages
One London morning in 1826, Frannie is awoken with blood on her hands and to the discovery her employers scientist George Benham and his wife Marguerite are dead. Seemingly guilty beyond doubt, Frannie is put on trial–yet she swears she cannot recall what happened the night before. While awaiting her trial in her holding cell, Frannie begins writing her life’s story, seeking to jog her memory and explain how she arrived to this point in her life. Frannie’s childhood begins on a plantation in Jamaica, where she worked for a man named Langton who had a particular interest in scientifically examining humans… Which ultimately led Frannie to working for the Benhams, and her forbidden romance to a certain woman.
This novel was delightfully unexpectedly gripping, and while the novel is steeped in tragedy, Frannie’s voice is a shining light. I loved her narration and her complex humanity, as well as Collins’ vivid descriptions of the setting which felt so richly gothic. The sapphic romance was a highlight for me in this historical fiction novel, and I was so invested in Frannie’s fate. On the last page, I shed a single tear. Arguably, I could have sobbed if the ending was a smidge more powerful, but ultimately, I’m not complaining. It was a really compelling narration and the foreshadowing throughout was well done and engaging! Highly recommend this!
Also: check out my reading vlog about this book!
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
- Historical fiction
- Published 2021
- 276 pages
Another Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlister!! The writing and the story is exquisite. This novel takes place on Baxter’s Beach in Barbados during the 1970’s and 1980’s. It begins with a cautionary anecdote told to Lala by her grandmother: how the one-armed sister lost her arm by allowing her curiosity to lead her into the tunnels. Lala writes this story off though, and after Lala unexpectedly goes into labor one night, we learn about her husband Adan, the Whalens who are vacationing on Baxter’s Beach, and a list of characters whose lives become tangled together over the course of this late summer.
I love how the author interwove the local dialect with her lyrical prose and thoroughly fleshed out the characters in each chapter. The timeline occasionally shifts to offer a flashback, and I appreciate that many of the chapters include dates and the specific character the chapter is focused on. The ending leaves the reader a little wanting of a more conclusive finale–peace of mind that the characters will be all right–but it is certainly a realistic and gritty epilogue to an emotionally heavy and honest story.
While I was incredibly impressed by this book, I will say that it is very difficult to read. So many traumatic events occur, especially to the women in the story. I spent a few weeks reading this because I became very affected by the sexual trauma and physical abuse of the characters, so while I really do want to recommend this book to others, I feel like I need to qualify that it is an emotionally challenging book to read about. It is a book that demands the reader’s full presence, which can be hard for especially empathetic individuals.
Though, the more I contemplate the hardships the women in this book experience, the more I realize that this book really demonstrates their resilience. Metaphorically speaking, the one-armed sister may struggle to sweep her house, but she will figure out a way to clean her floors because she must. We wish the characters were given a better chance in life, but at the same time, we admire them for how they are able to endure against all odds.
If you feel like you can handle heavy topics such as sexual and physical violence, then I think this is really phenomenal story. It’s a complex character study which takes place on a seemingly pleasant and escapist location which is actually riddled with poverty and misfortune. Moreover, it showcases the toxicity of patriarchal rule and generational suffering, how we can only do so much for ourselves when we are born into systems determined to keep us all in our place.
I’m very excited for the books I’m reading in May! I had a small stack of books I had planned to read, but then I saw that Cindy (withcindy on YouTube) announced the Asian Readathon, and so I instantly went onto my library’s website and put a bunch of books on hold! I’ve really been on a historical fiction kick lately, but I’m also trying to read some more lighthearted stories. These are a few of the books I came up with:
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of emotionally heavy books, so in an effort to restore some balance, I’m planning on reading this graphic novel! It’s about a young witch named Nova who works at her grandmother’s store lending spellbooks to patrons. I’ve been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli movies lately, and I think that this comic may have a similar magical and wholesome mood! Plus, I believe there is LGBT representation… Can’t wait to pick this one up from the library!
This will probably be my first read in May!
Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
This story begins in 1948 in Kyoto, Japan with Nori, who is the child of a Japanese aristocrat and an African American GI. She is left to her grandparents to raise her, and she is taught to be obedient, silent. When she connects with her half-brother, she learns to assert herself more and ask questions about who she comes from. Apparently this novel spans multiple decades and continents, and I expect the story to be exquisite and the writing to be top tier!
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
The Mountains Sing is another historical fiction novel, and this one follows the Tran family. In its Goodreads summary, it is likened to Homegoing and Pachinko, so I expect it to follow multiple generations and perhaps be anchored during the Viet Nam War while exploring the lives of ancestors before? I don’t know, that’s what I’m gathering from the summary! But I’m very excited to read this, especially because it appears the author is a poet and this is her first novel written in English!
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
Summary from Goodreads: Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay. Determined to find her, Cee devotes her days to building a boat from junk parts scavenged inland, doing everything in her power to survive until the day she gets off the island and reunites with her sister.
In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara is also living a life of isolation. The eco-city she calls home is one of eight levitating around the world, built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.
Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But as the public decries her stance, she starts to second guess herself and decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.
- Genre: Young Adult Science fiction
- Release date: May 4, 2021
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Summary from Goodreads: For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.
But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.
Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.
- Genre: Adult romance
- Release date: June 1, 2021
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Summary from Goodreads: As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.
When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.
In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?
Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.
- Genre: Mythology / Fantasy
- Release date: May 4, 2021
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you have an awesome May!
To read previous issues of Bookish Brains from Slanted Spines, click here.