When Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man was shown as an option for the February Book of the Month, I didn’t hesitate to select it. The description of her debut novel ticked a lot of boxes for me. Rum takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America and leaves us gasping for air.
The novel is the story of three generations of Palestinian women — Deya, who is 18 and begrudgingly beginning to look for suitors; her mother, Isra, who desperately wants to find love, ultimately leaving her family in Palestine to marry a man living in Brooklyn; and Fareeda, Isra’s mother-in-law, who pressures Isra to bear sons and Deya to find a husband, even though both women want more for their lives than what is traditionally expected of them.
Joanne Ramos’ novel The Farm comes out on May 7, and I’m so excited that I was able to get an advance readers’ copy from NetGalley. Golden Oaks Farm, or the titular “Farm,” is a blissful paradise where women live during pregnancy to ensure they they deliver the healthiest baby in the safest environment. For nine months, the women are pampered with spa treatments, custom menus, and the best medical care. But these women are not allowed to leave the grounds, and they not even allows to keep the babies they carry.
These women are “hosts,” chosen and paid for by super-wealthy patrons who can’t or won’t have their babies themselves. For the hosts — mostly immigrants, becoming a surrogate opens up a world of possibility, but it’s not always an easy choice. Jane, a Filipina host, makes the decision to be able to better support her family, a daughter of her own and an elderly cousin, Ate. But it also means she will be leaving her newborn behind so she can bring someone else’s into the world.
When Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing was selected for Reese Withersoon’s book club, it became an instant must-read. Equal parts coming-of-age story, mystery, legal drama and love story, I can see why! I came by it through my first HealthTea Book Crate, in which I received a signed copy, and I was excited that it was selected as one of my recent book club reads.
Kya Clark lives in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, and has watched her family leave her one-by-one, until — at the age of 10 — she is left quite alone. As she grows up, Kya chooses to stay close to home, preferring to get her supplies from a small store on the docks, where she can also fill up her boat with gas, rather than venturing into town. This fierce independence earns her the nickname Marsh Girl.
Whereas years past have seemed to be filled with WWII-centric historical fiction, I don’t think I’ve read a single book about it this year — until The Alice Network. Kate Quinn’s novel was a recent book club selection, and I was excited about it because I also happened to have a newly-purchased used copy at home. Unfortunately, I waited too long to start the 500-page monster and was still 100 pages short when it came time for our book club meeting. Still, despite some spoilers during our discussion, I couldn’t wait to finish the story. (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here!)
The Alice Network follows two storylines — one during WWI (the mid- to late-1910s) and the other just after WWII ends. Both feature uncertain women who find themselves, their strength and their courage over the course of the story. Eve Gardiner is a stuttering typist when she’s recruited to become a spy, part of the so-called “Alice Network,” and go undercover as a waitress in German-occupied France. Charlotte St. Clair, more often called Charlie, is an American who travels to Europe after WWII to take care of a “problem” and find her missing cousin.
My book club recently selected Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a book that was selected in one of my other book clubs last year. It’s a book that’s gotten a lot of attention and praise since its release, and though it has an appealing premise, I’ve not felt compelled to read it — until now. I didn’t read it last time, but I knew I couldn’t neglect it again. I dove right in and didn’t look back.
Gyasi’s sweeping novel is about two half-sisters separated at birth and their descendants. Effia and Esi are born in different villages in eighteenth century Ghana. They share the same mother but have different fathers and very different upbringings. Effia marries an Englishman and lives her life in a castle on the African country’s coast. Esi, however, is sold into slavery, passing through the castle’s dungeons on her way to America. Each chapter following their own focuses on an immediate descendent for generation after generation.
Lisa See’s historical fiction novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a family saga that begins in a remote mountain village in China in the late 1980s. Life there revolves around tradition and tea farming, until a stranger arrives, bringing a glimpse into the modern world — and a proposal that will transform all of their lives.
Interspersed with Li-Yan’s story, as she struggles against the traditions of her village and family but fully embraces the rituals and importance of tea in their culture, is the story of a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, searching for a key to her past. The story is full of heart, and the plot full of coincidence. Some of the village’s traditions were a bit hard to stomach, but I think Li-Yan’s personal rebellion against them made her more relatable, at least to me.
I absolutely loved Andy Weir’s The Martian. When I read it, I recommended it to anyone and everyone, and now that I blog, I’ve even included it on a few bookish lists (here and here). So, I was more than a little hesitant to pick up his second novel – hello, high expectations! – and managed to avoid it for about six months. That is, until Artemis was selected as our next read for one of my book clubs. I had no choice but to take the leap.
In Artemis, which is the only city on the moon in the 2080s, our main character Jasmine, or “Jazz,” is a porter who smuggles on the side to make extra income. When a regular client brings her an offer with a payday too good to pass up, Jazz’s life takes a dangerous turn.
I got the opportunity to read Annie Harnett’s novel Rabbit Cake recently when it was selected for my office’s Diversity Book Club, but it first grabbed my attention when it was recommended on a podcast as a book pairing for the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Though nothing alike in tone or subject matter, I see the similarities in the wizened child narrators – Scout, in TKAM of course, and in this contemporary novel, 11-year-old animal-loving Elvis.
I found Annie’s story to be quirky but heartwarming. Elvis is a smart, curious little girl who wormed its way into my heart. We meet her shortly after the sudden death of her mother, who drowned in a sleepwalking accident. Scientifically-minded, Elvis decides to follow a mourning chart that is meant to help her know how long to grieve. For an 11-year-old, she is doing her best, but the rest of her family isn’t exactly thriving. Her older sister is also affected by sleepwalking and her father deals with his grief by buying a parrot and wearing his late wife’s lipstick and bathrobe.
I read somewhere once that Bel Canto is the book you should start with if you want to give Ann Patchett a try. As a result, it’s been on my TBR and my bookshelf for a while now. You may recall that I actually read her newest novel Commonwealth first, but this is the novel that caused me to truly fall in love with Ann Patchett’s writing and storytelling.
At first glance, this wouldn’t seem like a novel I would enjoy. Not much happens by way of plot – in the beginning, a group of rebels interrupt a birthday celebration in order to capture the unknown South American country’s president and take on a whole mansion-full of hostages. That is sort of where the plot gets stuck, until the very end. The real story is in the growth of the characters – all of them so rich and well-developed. The setting, too, is unique, and it’s one that really lets the characters come to life, almost unexpectedly.
Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel Tell the Wolves I’m Home tells a story about life and death, forbidden relationships, and how family is always more complicated than it seems. I selected it as my book featuring a character with a debilitating illness for the Book Challenge by Erin and was excited when it was chosen as a recent book club selection as well.
It’s 1987, and fourteen-year-old June has just lost her Uncle Finn to AIDS. He was her confidant and her best friend and she struggles to deal with his untimely disappearance from her life. She no longer has any reason to visit his eclectic New York City apartment every Sunday, where he was working to complete a portrait of her and her sister Greta. Visiting the Cloisters, a favorite pastime of theirs, will never be the same.Continue Reading