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Booklists Staff Book Reviews

Spooky, Witchy, Thrilling: It’s October!

written by adult services librarian, Leann.

Happy October, Readers! When October rolls around, I love to wrap up in heart warming stories about witches like Practical Magic or The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and bone chilling thrillers like Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway. In this week’s blog post, I’ll highlight five new books that are perfect for the spooky month of October. Enjoy!

Embody Your Magick: A Guided Journal for the Modern Witch by Gabriela Herstik

Witchcraft is, once again, gaining popularity in mainstream culture as a way for all people to find empowerment. Often, modern witchcraft is framed as a way to focus on self-care and self-improvement. In her latest release, self-proclaimed witch and devotee of the Goddess of Love, Gabriela Herstik has created a series of inspirational and creative prompts that will help readers embrace their inner witch. This is a book for anyone interested in what it means to be a modern witch. The book includes journal prompts, meditations, rituals, and more, all in an effort to help readers better connect to the universe and their inner light. 

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is known for her fairytale-esque stories like Uprooted and Spinning Silver, which center on powerful women who, after embracing their own power, thrive in the face of adversity. A Deadly Education promises to deliver on Novik’s legacy of complicated, nuanced, powerful women. The book is about a magic, and deadly, school and at its center is an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic. Fans of The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and any of the popular TV shows about magic schools like Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem will surely find something to delight in with A Deadly Education

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

No punches are pulled in Alyssa Cole’s first foray into thrillers and the results are completely engrossing. The lily-white psychological thriller genre welcomes this book as both intense and jaw dropping in turns of jumps and thrills, but also as a clever and insightful commentary on the very real disruption of swiftly gentrifying neighborhoods. Cole uses the genre to deftly illustrate what being displaced through gentrification feels like and how a system of oppression is truly a monster to those within its grasp. When No One is Watching translates the tone and setting of Hitchcock’s Rear Window into Jordan Peele’s Get Out and leaves us with an unapologetic, terrific thriller. And don’t worry, for those fans of Cole’s romance work, she doesn’t leave you high and dry.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The title doesn’t bury the lede: Mexican Gothic is just that, a gothic supernatural horror set in the hills of Mexico. I hesitate to call the book horror, as it isn’t gory and the vibe is tense and suspenseful more than shocking, but it does have some pretty intense elements and supernatural scenes. The protagonist, a young, smart, glamorous debutante named Noemí travels to the distant countryside after receiving a frantic and cryptic letter from her newly-wed cousin. When she arrives at High Place, a dilapidated old mansion in the hills of a rural town, she finds stories of violence and madness and meets her cousin’s alluring but menacing English husband. The question soon becomes: will Noemí be able to leave High Place? Mexican Gothic is for fans of Daphne Du Maurier’s works like Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel as well as those who loved Get Out or Lovecraft Country

The Library of the Unwritten and The Archive of the Forgotten by A.J. Hackwith

There’s a library, it’s in Hell, and it’s full of books that their authors never finished. Sometimes, characters in those books become restless and escape and the librarian, with the help of a demon and a muse, must track them down. At least, that’s how things work in the first installment of the Hell’s Library’s books, The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith. Saying she is, “Certainly not an ink witch in a hoodie,” Hackwith is a queer writer of fantasy and science fiction and writes sci-fi romance as Ada Harper. In the second installment of Hell’s Library books, released this year, after a war between Heaven and Hell, mysterious and nefarious ink has started to pour out of some of the volumes in Hell’s library and the librarian, demon, muse, and this time also an angel, must investigate. Fans of the TV show or Marvel comic Lucifer, the books and subsequent TV show A Discovery of Witches, and the books The Bear and the Nightingale, and Uprooted will likely enjoy this series. 

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Staff Book Reviews

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

A book review by BPL team member, Leann.

I read Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror and then immediately read So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, because, I guess I don’t want to feel happiness ever again.

Let’s start with the book everyone has been telling you to read since the moment it was off the printing presses in 2018: So You Want to Talk About Race. Oluo’s book is a primer for anyone and everyone who truly wants to do the work of dismantling the racist systems within which we live, work, eat, pray, and love. It reads like a textbook, which I think was the intention, with easily referenced chapter headings like “Why can’t I say the ‘N’ word?” and “Why am I always being told to ‘check my privilege?’” and “I just got called racist, what do I do now?” Oluo lays out in crystal clear language the answer to these questions. She does not mince words. The book is written both to people of color and to white people.

If you are already familiar with phrases like “school to prison pipeline” and are comfortable seeing the words “police” and “brutality” next to each other without huffing defensively, Oluo’s book is an excellent resource for you. Read it, and bone up on your answers so you can get more comfortable talking about race. Follow Oluo’s advice to talk, act, and importantly listen. If, however, you are skeptical about all the hubbub around the incarceration rates of black and brown men, or maybe you think affirmative action is why your kid didn’t get into Yale, or if you like the phrase, “Blue Lives Matter,” I wouldn’t recommend this book to you. Oluo doesn’t build an argument brick by brick, she whacks you over the head with the brick.

Oluo pulls no punches because there’s no time for that: she needs to get to the point and she needs to get there in reasonable word-count. If you’re a reader who’s been looking for that one resource to answer all your questions about why people won’t stop talking about race in America and you’re ready to hear the answers: I definitely recommend this book to you.

For Oluo’s book to work, and specifically for it to work for adults who have already learned so much Bad Information that we have to spend a bunch of time unlearning stuff, you need to have some basic foundational knowledge of systemic racism in America. You need to either be willing to take Oluo at her word when, for example, she cites the damaging and profound impacts of microagressions and/or you must have a pretty good grasp, already, on how racist America truly is. It’s a catch 22: to read this excellent diagnostic on basic American racism, you must already have some understanding of, and belief, in the damning nature of American racism. Otherwise, you’ll probably be in such shocked, mortified, embarrassed, and humiliated defensive disbelief, that you’ll put the book down and say she’s, “overreacting.”

If you’ve been having a frustrating conversation with someone about how American systems are inherently racist from the day they were created and you just want to shove something at that annoying person or link them to an article with all your proof, this book is going to feel very tempting. It does answer all those questions and demolish any arguments that American racism is over, and it does it quickly! With style! Nevertheless, as Oluo herself acknowledges, she’s not here to get into a Twitter feud over the troll-favored “proof.” If you think there’s even a chance, though, that the frustrating person might be willing to think about it further, grab Oluo’s book for yourself.

I encourage everyone to read this book, especially white people. Maybe if we all keep talking about race, more people will be ready for this book.

For more resources about race in America and Black Lives Matter, please visit our website at: https://bexleylibrary.org/black-lives-matter

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Staff Book Reviews

The Glass Hotel

A book review by BPL team member, Beth.

“The building would have been beautiful anywhere, but placed here, it was incongruous, and its incongruity played a part in the enchantment.”

So says one character in describing the distinction and allure of the Hotel Caiette, the titular hotel in Emily St. John Mandel’s newest novel, The Glass Hotel. Accessible only by boat and at the edge of wilderness in an inlet on Vancouver Island in Canada’s British Columbia, the Hotel Caiette offers its guests a temporary respite from the modern world. As the only location in which almost all of the novel’s multiple protagonists cross paths (albeit unknowingly, in some cases), the contrasting of the Hotel’s luxury and the surrounding wilderness offers insight into one of the novel’s ongoing themes: the gap between those at the top and those at the bottom of the economic ladder.  

The novel follows a multitude of characters, across both time and place. Paul is a young man in his early twenties who, after years of struggling with drug addiction, successfully enrolls in the University of Toronto. Following a tragic incident, Paul leaves school after only semester and goes to live with his estranged younger half-sister, Vincent, in Vancouver. Having dropped out of high school, Vincent is struggling to find what she wants to do with her life. This is in December 1999, and these characters, like others throughout the world, imagine whether the end of the millennium will bring with it the end of civilization. Flash forward to 2005, and both Paul and Vincent are working at the Hotel Caiette. Jonathan Alkaitis is a wealthy investor, and owner of the Hotel. On an evening that Jonathan is set to arrive, someone scrawls a disturbing message on the windows of the Hotel. That same evening, a conversation between Vincent and Jonathan leads to an intimate relationship. Not long after, Vincent quits her job and moves with Jonathan to New York City, leaving behind a working life just outside the wilderness, for a life of opulence in a large metropolitan city. 

Vincent, like other characters throughout the novel, illuminates the difference between wealth and want not merely as a difference of station, but a difference of country. Aside from the luxury available to one in the “Kingdom of Money” (as Vincent refers to it), perhaps its most distinguishing feature is the freedom of its citizens, particularly the freedom to never have to think about money. But Vincent and the rest of the world soon learn just how much of a façade the mechanisms creating such wealth are, as the 2008 economic crisis reveals the fraud of financiers like Jonathan. Ponzi schemes, subprime mortgages, and other risky and predatory financial products lead to the most devastating financial crisis since the Great Depression. The household wealth of millions are wiped out overnight, resulting in evictions, foreclosures, and destroying the hopes many had of retirement. 

While readers, for obvious reasons, are reviving Mandel’s 2014 post-apocalyptic Station Eleven, a novel about a worldwide viral pandemic, I’d argue that her newest novel speaks just as well to the times that we are living in. The Glass Hotel is largely a story of who loses most in an economic crisis. To many, the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis will be just as devastating as the virus itself. For the majority of Americans who have no savings, and no accumulated wealth, they again will be hit hardest by the current economic downturn. As in 2008, a crisis whose consequences we’re still dealing with, we again learn that those who have the least, end up being the ones who lose the most. If in times of crisis we continue to fail to address the obscene gap between those on the very top and those at the bottom, more and more people will be forced to live lives, as one character puts it, with “no space for any kind of error or misfortune.”

The Glass Hotel is an evocative and immersive read, one that I would recommend to fans of Mandel’s previous works. Like Station Eleven, the novel is told from multiple perspectives, full of unique and compelling characters; characters whose stories circle around and intersect with others in unexpected ways. It’s a sweeping, atmospheric novel, whose impressions will stick with readers long after they finish reading. Dense with metaphor, symbolism and provocative themes, it would make an excellent selection for a book club.

Click “read more” to see a book discussion guide for The Glass Hotel, which includes spoilers.

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Bexley Writes

Introducing Bexley Writes: “Write Your Story”

This summer, join us for Bexley Writes: an 8-week support and inspiration series to get Bexley patrons imagining—and writing—their stories! 

As part of BPL’s Summer Community Read theme, Imagine Your Story, Bexley Writes will focus on writing personal narratives: the stories of you, your families, and your communities. Whether you’re a first-time writer or a professional, we invite you to join us! 

Stay tuned to the BPL@Home blog and our social media streams for the following posts: 

Mondays: A prompt, to kick-start your writing

Wednesdays: Inspiration and writing tips, to help you find different ways to tell your story

Weekends: Excerpts from participating patrons* 

* To submit your responses to the prompts, email bexleywrites@bexleylibrary.org. While we can only share a few, all submissions will be read with care, and (with writers’ permission) gathered for a community-wide collection. 

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Staff Book Reviews

Boom Town by Sam Anderson

A book review from BPL team member, Jeff.

It feels necessary to start this review with a disclaimer: I have never been to Oklahoma City (OKC), nor do I have any family roots or any ties whatsoever to Oklahoma. I first heard about Boom Town from an interview with the author, Sam Anderson, on Zach Lowe’s basketball podcast, The Lowe Post. (Another disclaimer: you don’t need to be a basketball fan to enjoy this book).

The “boom” in Boom Town takes on a number of roles throughout this book: in one instance, literal sonic booms as a result from supersonic flight. In one of the book’s most entertaining chapters, Anderson describes Operation Bongo. In the 1960s, the U.S. government wanted to test supersonic flights, or more specifically, the effects of repeated sonic booms and the disruptions they cause to human lives. Oklahoma City, with its need for commerce and desire for relevance, happily agreed to become the site for these tests and Operation Bongo was born. The results are equal parts amusing and awful.

The main significance of “boom” in Boom Town, however, is that of boom and bust. It’s the idea of balancing meticulous planning and the love of the process with chasing something glamorous and immediate. This narrative thread ties the book together and is the lens that just about every aspect of OKC history is viewed through. From the chaotic “Land Run” that birthed the city and the tornadoes that threaten to upend its very existence, to Sam Presti, the scrupulous, bespectacled General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who has carefully constructed one of the best franchises in basketball and given the city a much needed source of civic pride.

Oklahoma City is not without its share of tragedies, both self-inflicted and otherwise. It is unfortunately unsurprising to learn of the city’s history of displacing both the Native and Black populations. However, as Anderson points out, OKC tends to cultivate particularly tenacious citizens such as Clara Luper, a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement whose nonviolent sit-in protests led to the desegregation of many OKC establishments. And sadly, the people of Oklahoma City were subjected to the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in U.S. history during the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building.

And yet, the city mourned and rebuilt. Throughout its 100+ year history, Oklahoma City has struggled with its sometimes misguided, perpetually optimistic dream of becoming a first-rate American city. Today, it finally resembles the bustling metropolis so many of its residents fantasized about.

As an outsider to the city, Sam Anderson treats the history of Oklahoma City with curiosity, and depending on the situation, skepticism or reverence. In Boom Town, Anderson has crafted a thoroughly engaging, wide-ranging history of a city that truly encapsulates the breadth of the American experience.

Recommended for fans of U.S. history, basketball, and easily readable non-fiction in general.

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Staff Book Reviews

The Books Getting Me Through Quarantine 

by BPL Team Member Eliza.

As you might guess—given my role as an Adult Services Library Associate at BPL—I love to read. On my last day at the library before our temporary shutdown, I resisted the urge to check out a dozen books because I already had plenty at home: library books, books I own that I haven’t yet read, books that deserve second or third reads. I was set. 

But it turns out that my reading brain during COVID-19 is completely different than my non-pandemic reading brain. I have trouble sustaining attention. Some days, I want to escape into a total fantasy; others, I only want to read about real human experiences. My reading needs vary day by day, and I try to adjust as such. (A brief survey of the books strewn about my apartment shows that I’m a number of pages into eight different books.) 

Rather than recommend one book today, then, I’m sharing the books that are getting me through quarantine, one reading mood at a time. Many are available as eBooks and audiobooks, which you can access through Libby; others, only available in print, will be waiting for you at BPL upon our reopen, just like us.  

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

A super-smart thriller set at an elite high school, Special Topics in Calamity Physics centers around Blue van Meer as she’s pulled into the orbit of the school’s “it” group and their enigmatic film teacher, Hannah Schneider. Blue—the preternaturally intelligent daughter of a widowed political-science professor who’s perhaps too charismatic for his own good—begins to uncover a conspiracy that will change her life forever. 

Similar reads: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas 

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hoang 

Through history, criticism, and her own life as the Korean American daughter of immigrant parents, poet Cathy Park Hoang delivers an incredible essay collection about her experiences navigating the world—among family, friends, art, and politics—as an Asian American woman. Something truly magical happens when poets turn to prose (see How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong); I read Hoang’s collection in a day. 

Similar reads: Go Home! edited by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang, All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung 

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey 

Aerospace leader Prime Space plans to put the first humans on Mars. But first, they need to test humans’ capacity for long-term isolation and separation from their loved ones (hmmm, sound familiar?). They select a perfect crew: Helen Kane, Sergei Kuznetsov, and Yoshihiro Tanaka, all stars in their respective countries’ space programs, and set them up in an incredibly realistic simulation in the Utah wilderness, which they won’t leave for 17 months. Space-opera fans, beware: this novel is much more focused on human relationships—as Prime Space observes the three astronauts, they also observe the astronauts’ family members, each of whom has their own unique struggles.   

Similar reads/listens: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, Severance by Ling Ma, and  The Habitat, a nonfiction podcast from Gimlet Media 

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is one of those modern classics that’s been on my TBR list for years, and during my most difficult reading moments these past few weeks, I’ve found that graphic memoirs and novels are the answer. As millions of readers could have already told me, Satrapi’s coming-of-age story in war-torn Iran (and as a lonely teenage expat in Vienna) is a masterpiece, and even more layered than I could have anticipated. I just learned of her other graphic memoir Embroideries and can’t wait to read it. 

Similar reads: Our Women on the Ground edited by Zahra Hankir, In Pursuit of Disobedient Women by Dionne Searcey, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi 

Temporary by Hilary Leichter 

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I picked up Hilary Leichter’s Temporary, but there’s really no way to prepare yourself. In a parallel world to our own, a young woman who’s made her career as a temp finds increasingly bizarre and absurd assignments—subbing in as a pirate, a barnacle, an assassin’s assistant. It’s delightfully absurd, compulsively readable, and, at its core, a moving commentary on capitalism and the struggle to build a life, as our heroine continues her search for the mythical “steadiness.” 

In lieu of similar reads (because there’s really nothing like Temporary), other must-read books from indie presses: Godshot by Chelsea Bieker, Later by Paul Lisicky, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib 


Digital resources cheat sheet: 

Special Topics in Calamity Physics (eBook and audiobook)

The Secret History (audiobook)

Prep (eBook)

All You Can Ever Know (eBook and audiobook)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (eBook and audiobook)

How We Fight for Our Lives (eBook and audiobook) 

The Wanderers (eBook and audiobook) 

The Dreamers eBook and audiobook) 

Severance (eBook and audiobook) 

Reading Lolita in Tehran (eBook)

Godshot (eBook)

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (eBook)  

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Staff Book Reviews

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

A book review by BPL team member, Leann.

For a long time, I didn’t *get* Anthony Bourdain. I thought he was just one of those machismo-fueled, egomaniacal celebrity chefs, who chose to be mean instead of having a personality. I finally picked up Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and decided that I wasn’t wrong. But, I wasn’t right either. After reading Kitchen Confidential, which is part memoir, part restaurant-world-exposé, I still think Anthony Bourdain was a lot of those things. He was also, however, an incredible writer, a loyal friend, a champion of the underdog, hard-working, cutting, clever, and harshly self-effacing. He wasn’t mean to anyone who didn’t deserve it—at least by his piratical professional kitchen standards—and he definitely had a personality.

As is often the case with memoirs and non-fiction, it’s not so much the topic that is important, but the way in which it’s delivered. It seems unfair that someone should be so gifted: a world-class chef who was able to write both pointedly and poignantly about his halcyon childhood, smoking cigarettes on the beaches in France, while relaying deplorable details about the seedier side of the restaurant business. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain ties his stories together successfully into a narrative package that isn’t so much poetic as it is earnest, insistent, and fun. Between sizzling commentary on dining dummies who order fish specials on Monday and damning indictments of kitchen tools like the garlic press, Bourdain’s passion for food, but also for people, shines through.

It’s Bourdain’s personality, in the end, that will keep you reading. The book was written in 2000, so some of the “culinary underbelly” is now common knowledge, but Bourdain’s trajectory to the top and his frank recounting of his journey there is fascinating even to those with only a mild interest in food or restaurant life. The knowledge of Bourdain’s death by suicide in 2018 throws a lot of Kitchen Confidential, and especially Bourdain’s opinions about himself, into sharp, tragic relief.

It was a special treat to listen to Bourdain narrate Kitchen Confidential on Libby. You can almost hear his spit fly at the mic in disdain when he describes hoity-toity restauranteurs who disrespected his Honduran kitchen staff or the calamity of an incompetent vegetable guy. I recommend Kitchen Confidential to anyone who loves food, restaurants, travel, and for those readers who liked Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler or gritty, darkly funny memoirs. If you like Ruth Reichl, and especially her memoir Save Me the Plums, I would cautiously recommend Kitchen Confidential to you, especially if you’ve been meaning to read Anthony Bourdain. I read the books back-to-back and I’d say they are two sides of the same, extremely well-written, well-fed, coin.

Below are some discussion questions about Kitchen Confidential. Spoilers ahead!

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Staff Book Reviews

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

A book review by BPL team member, Christian.

While going through some literary articles recently, I stumbled upon one by The Japan Times that discusses the idea of the new Japanese literary golden age. This article debates the merits of whether Japan is experiencing a new literary golden age and how Anglo-saxon translations funnel that to a Western audience. While the outcome of a contemporary literary Golden Age for Japan is left open-ended, it is certain that the voices of women authorship has significantly grown. However, an aspect of it, as mentioned previously, is determined by translation. For instance, one of the books shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2020, The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, was initially published in Japan in 1994. A lot of writers that are defining the contemporary Japanese literary landscape have yet to make their impact in the Western world, but with the recent translations of authors such as Hiromi Kawakami, Hiroko Oyamada, Yukiko Motoya, and many more, that is slowly changing.

While virtually unknown to a Western audience, Sayaka Murata has become a well-respected author in her home country, winning multiple literary prizes, including most recently becoming a recipient of the Akutagawa Prize in 2016, as well as selling 600,000 copies for Convenience Store Woman alone. Serving as her first English-translated novel, Convenience Store Woman tells the story of a 36-year old convenience store worker, Keiko Furukura. Having spent 18 years working in a convenience store with no ambitions of pursuing another career or finding any romantic partners, Keiko is viewed as an outsider among her circle of friends, family, and coworkers.

Keiko is an enigmatic person, almost alien-like, as she displays a mimicry of others around her (speaking, dressing, and acting based off her coworkers), living outside the boundaries of social norms, but pretending to others as if she isn’t. In actuality, her view of the world treats the convenience store as the epicenter–all her thoughts, energy, and dreams gravitating to her workplace. She expresses ecstasy from the moment she greets customers in the morning, exclaiming, “I love this moment. It feels like ‘morning’ itself is being loaded into me. The tinkle of the door chime as a customer comes in sounds like church bells to my ears. When I open the door, the brightly lit box awaits me–a dependable, normal world that keeps turning. I have faith in the world inside the light-filled box.” The way she describes and articulates herself comes off as an extraterrestrial expressing thought and desire–something Keiko is almost aware of when she thinks about how she feels in the world outside the convenience store: “The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of.” Keiko’s alienation showcases the inconveniences of social expectations and constructs. Keiko’s only desires are to stick to the routine of the convenience store, as she’s already familiar with it–questioning why anyone thinks it’s strange why she doesn’t move on from that job. Even when she goes through a fraudulent relationship with an ex-coworker, which results in herself being recognized as a normal member of her social circles, she ends up coming to terms with that fact that her place in this world is to serve in a convenience store.The novel is a beautiful exploration of defying normality.

Similar Reads:The Memory Police by Yoko OgawaEvil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura
Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino

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Staff Book Reviews

The Power by Naomi Alderman

A book review by Bexley Public Library team member, Debbie.

Some of the most thought-provoking and compelling science fiction asks the question ‘What would happen if?’  In Naomi Alderman’s The Power across the world young women (and only women) start manifesting a mysterious ability to give electrical shocks – anywhere from light shocks to killing bolts.  The Power is a smart, fascinating look about how the world would change if the power balance literally changed overnight. The novel follows four characters as they discover their power and then navigate the changing world.  Roxy, a tough London girl, shocks and kills a man attacking her mother, Allie, a young woman living in an abusive foster home, shocks and kills her abusive foster father. A politician, Margot Cleary, has her power woken up by her daughter, Jocelyn and Tunde Edo is a young man who is the first to document the ‘Power’ phenomenon.  But as women come into their power those who have been running the world feel more threatened.

The Power is not only a book that will make you re-examine the world you know but it is also a thrilling, fast-paced novel with great characters.  I found the book to be both a gripping science fiction novel and a profound look at the nature of power and society that I’m still thinking about.

A warning to readers – The Power is well worth reading BUT is not a utopian book and has some very disturbing depictions of war and atrocities.

For bookclubs:

Debbie found Book Club questions from the great folks at Litlovers: https://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/fiction/11206-power-alderman?start=3

The Power is also in the works to be a show on Amazon Originals!

Categories
Staff Book Reviews

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel

A book review & accompanying Book Club Discussion Guide by BPL team member, Beth.

(Content Warning: The review discusses abuse of a teenager by an adult.)

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is a literary fiction novel about a teenage girl and her relationship with her forty-two-year-old high school English teacher. Vanessa Wye is the protagonist and the narrator, and the novel jumps between her memories of high school, her college years, and the present. In the present, another survivor of the same teacher’s abuse writes of her own experience in a social media post that goes viral. A journalist is writing an article about this woman’s story and how the school enabled the predatory behavior. Vanessa is being pursued by both to come forward and share her own story. While Vanessa wants to take no part in the article for the sake of her own privacy, she also is adamant that she was not abused: she was a consenting party in the relationship, and her so-called abuser, Jacob Strane, actually loved and cared for her.

This is perhaps the novel’s greatest strength: its ability to expose the psychological tension Vanessa faces as she relives and reevaluates her relationship with Strane. The novel expertly depicts Vanessa as a teenage girl, as she struggles to deal with her conflicting emotions towards Strane and their relationship. As readers and third-parties to the relationship, we can clearly see the abusive and predatory behavior. But by witnessing the situation from Vanessa’s perspective, we also learn how Strane groomed Vanessa to see the relationship as one grounded in love and concern. Even as an adult looking back, Vanessa struggles to see the abuse for what it was.

So while the novel’s exploration into Vanessa’s psyche is its greatest strength, it is also its most important cultural contribution. In extensive and disturbing detail, the novel reveals how an abuser picks and manipulates a victim. Vanessa knows that children get abused by adults, but we see the process Strane uses to convince her that he didn’t choose her, how he convinces her that she was the one who initiated the relationship and manipulates her to believe that she is the one who has all of the power. Using her loneliness and vulnerability against her, he is able to convince her that she is the exception to the rule of adult-child relationships: it is not abuse, it is love. And in this exploration, the novel reveals to its readers why so many victims of abuse do not come forward: they’ve been manipulated to believe they’re not being abused at all.

While the novel does have some weaknesses (it could have been edited down to a shorter length, most of the other characters aside from Vanessa and Strane aren’t developed to the degree that they could or should be), overall I would recommend the book. The book is difficult and disturbing to read, but it has a lot of cultural import. It is controversial, and some may find the depictions of the sexual elements of the abuse gratuitous. However, because the book is thought-provoking, it would make a great choice for a book club discussion (with sufficient content warnings to discussion members ahead of time). It stimulates a lot of discussion and debate; albeit around a difficult and sensitive topic. Though, as is often the case, these sorts of debates and discussions tend to be the ones we most need to have.

Book Club Discussion Guide (SPOILERS)

Click the button below to continue reading and see the book club discussion guide: