Inspired by true events, this novel unfolds like an incredibly deep, nuanced one-act play. Eight women in a Mennonite colony climb up into a hay loft for a secret meeting. For two years, they and other women in the colony believed demons were visiting them in the night to punish them for their sins, but finally discover they’ve actually been drugged and raped by a group of men made up of family members, friends, and acquaintances from their own community. What follows is a series of meetings between the eight women, told through the “minutes” taken by a male member of the community who has his own interesting story. We see the women through his observations and sometimes biases (which is such a fascinating way to tell a story), but every single character is so beautifully fleshed out within just the first ten pages that it genuinely hurt my heart to say goodbye to them at the end of the novel. This is a triumphant, beautiful, tragic tale of people, of women in particular, grappling with human issues, and claiming the power to make decisions about their own lives. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but also undeniably powerful, Women Talking is a quick read, but it’ll stay with you forever. I won’t be letting go of this one for a while.
An assassin who kills for a soulless crime boss, an enigmatic bartender with a big secret, and a snake dancer grappling for control under the guise of naivety all come together to battle against their own fates in pre-World War II Harlem. Johnson’s narration and dialogue land like a jazz brush on a snare drum, with a slick whisper and poetic rhythm. And the characters embody familiar noir tropes as well: the ruthless femme fatale wrestling her past sins, a disillusioned guy who’s struggling with his own morality and humanity… and the story’s atmosphere itself, which is heavy with oppression, menace, and suspicion. Johnson captures the gritty realism and fatalism of the genre; you know their sins will eventually catch up to them, you just don’t know when. Add to it that the U.S. is on the cusp of entering the war, a dark and anxious energy prickling in the air. Even as our main protagonists harbor certain magical abilities that may seem like advantages, the color of their skin serves as a reminder for them (and for us) of the futility of their fight against the powerful scourge of bigotry, specifically white supremacy. This is a rich, intriguing, and powerful work of art.
I went in expecting a blend of mystery and some fantasy and ended up having more fun than I’d bargained for. Bridie Devine is a detective in eighteen-sixties London. She’s every bit the independent and unflappable heroine, barging into rooms where she’s forbidden, too old for marriage at thirty, and she takes absolutely no guff from anyone, including the ghost of an ex-boxer which follows her around while she solves the puzzle of a missing child who has some mysterious properties of her own. Not only does she have this case to tackle, she also has to decipher the riddle of who her new ghost companion was to her when he was living, and why he is haunting her now that he is dead. In the midst of Bridie solving the mystery of both the kidnapped child and that of her own difficult past, we start to question what it means to really be human. If you’re looking for a fun Victorian mystery with a badass detective, unbridled wit, a dash of creature horror, ghosts, and mermaids — even if you’re not looking for all of these things — pick this one up!
An unreliable narrator with the concentration ability of a five-year-old tells the story of the Doe family - the violent and dysfunctional clan that runs the town - with a wicked and sharp combination of humor and insight into human violence. This book is so wild. It twists, turns, spirals, and honestly confuses at times, but its richness will keep you turning the pages. The history of the Does and their town unravels as you read, and when it all comes together... wow. If you can keep all the "J" names straight, it's worthwhile sticking around for the pay-off. What an interesting and unique read!
For those wondering if Atwood’s sequel to her unmatched feminist masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale stacks up… oh yes, it does. While Atwood pulls her readers back into the horrors of Gilead that we were first introduced to in The Handmaid’s Tale, unlike its predecessor that focuses only on Offred’s point of view, The Testaments follows three different points of view of women living inside and outside of Gilead’s borders, fifteen years after Offred’s tale: a teenage girl who’s been raised outside of Gilead in Canada, another teenage girl who was born and grew up under the repressive shroud of Gilead with a Commander and his Wife as her parents, and…one of Gilead’s founding Aunts. Atwood handily maintains two VERY different teenagers’ voices while also conquering the morally grey, manipulative wit of a middle-aged Aunt who helped build Gilead. The Testaments is less focused on the vicious repression and objectification of the women inside of Gilead, tackling instead the extremely difficult question of how people get to the point where they can justify rejecting morality and human decency. Atwood explores the cult mindset, how easy it is to believe in something when that’s all you’ve ever known and how difficult it is to break out of it. It’s a story of heroism showing up where you least expect it, and of real, messy people rising to the occasion.
Nuri, a beekeeper in Aleppo, and his artist wife Afra, have their lives upended by the Syrian war. After Afra is blinded by a bomb dropped in their backyard and their home is destroyed, they escape and begin the incredibly dangerous journey through Turkey and Greece, ending up in England. Lefteri switches back and forth between two timelines– the terrifying and perilous trek from Aleppo to Istanbul and across the sea to Athens, and their uncertain situation once they arrive in England. It is one of the most incredibly beautiful and realistic love stories I’ve ever read, a testament to the power of human connection and shared grief. Nuri and Afra face daily horrors, but the novel lives through the connection between them, and the brief but important bonds they form with fellow refugees from different parts of the world, camp volunteers, and social workers. It’s about finding the bits of light that exist even in the worst darkness, finding hope and courage when the unthinkable happens, and clinging to the familiar in an unknown world. The characters and their stories will continue to take up space in your heart long after this story ends.