About four years ago, a number of the members of my book club in Boston joined Book of the Month, a subscription service that mails you a newly published book out of five options once a month. I passed on subscribing for two reasons:
- I was able to pick up a number of these titles as read (and unread) castoffs at book club meetings
- I figured a new book would arrive each month and promptly be added to my bookshelves to be read at a later date, which is the outcome for most of the books I’ve purchased over the years.
When I informed my book club of my decision to move to Colorado, a number of the members wished me well and then presented me with a gift certificate to join Book of the Month. They wanted me to have the chance to read all the Book of the Month selections they’d been providing me with over the years as well as the opportunity to still discuss books with them over long distances.
It was a thoughtful, unexpected gift, and I signed up about six months ago when I made the cross-country move. And then I immediately fell into old habits – a book arrived in the middle of the month, I shelved it, and then promptly forgot about it until another book arrived the following month.
I read one of my November selections, Nine Perfect Strangersby Liane Moriarity, three months after it arrived. (I received a bonus credit when I signed up; the site seems to always be running this promotion.) It wasn’t until February that I read my other November selection, Little Fires Everywhereby Celeste Ng, as well as my December pick, The Far Fieldby Madhuri Vijay. Hold habits die hard, I guess.
When my fourth unread selection arrived in mid-March, I decided to pull all my Book of the Month selections off the shelf and make reading them a priority over the next month. I’ve read three of four so far; below are brief thoughts on each one.
‘A Woman Is No Man’ by Etaf Rum. Fiction – print. Harper, 2019. 336 pgs. Purchased.
Rum’s debut novel alternates between Deya, an eighteen-year-old Palestinian-American living in Brooklyn with her grandparents and two younger sisters, and Isra, a new arrival to America following her marriage to a slightly older man named Adam. The narrative of each women is separated by time, but they are tied together through the bonds of blood – Isra is Deya’s mother – and the expectation that they will marry the man of their family’s choosing.
Deya always believed her mother and father died in a car accident, but she begins to question her past and her future when a familiar young woman reaches out to her, promising that Deya has other options outside of marriage. Options that her mother, an uneducated immigrant, never had.
Honest. Raw. Strong. Those are the three adjectives that immediately pop into my head when I think about this book. The mysterious element about Isra’s fate keeps the narrative moving forward, but the real beauty and intrigue is found in the novel’s presentation of the conflict between cultures, religious teachings, and differing expectations of the role of women within immigrant communities.
I was riveted by the story – distressed and angered by the experiences of Deya and Isra and yet aware there are no quick answers or solutions on how to help women whom the West view as oppressed. I hope to see more from this author in the future.
‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams. Fiction – print. Gallery/Scout Press, 2019. 330 pgs. Purchased.
At twenty-five-years-old, Queenie Jenkins is trying to make it as a journalist in London. She longs to write about the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States; as a Jamaican-British woman who experiences racist microaggressions every day, the issue hits home for her. But her white editor shoots her pitch down time and time again, saying that Queenie needs to focus on doing the job she was hired to do.
Queenie’s lack of focus, though, is due to the ambiguous “break” her white boyfriend insisted they take. She’s unsure if they will get back together, unsure if she will be able to find someone else who is attracted to a plus-size, dark-skinned black women in a healthy.
Unfortunately, this uncertainty causes Queenie to make a series of decidedly unhealthy decisions, leading to interactions that show how easily (white) men think they can use and abuse black women and how quickly (white) doctors assume her behavior typically of young, black women.
The title character, Queenie, is a train wreck, and I readily admit that I kept reading because I couldn’t turn away. Her behavior is disturbing and concerning, and I’m not entirely sold on the idea that Carty-Williams needed to write with such a voyeuristic flare to drive home the near constantly racist experiences of young, black women in London.
That said, the ending is superb. Queenie decides to get her sh*t together; more for herself than for her concerned grandmother or friends. Her experiences with therapy are realistic with Carty-Williams showing how therapy is a process rather than quick fix. The novel, thus, ends on a hopeful yet appropriately muted tone.
‘The Night Tiger’ by Yangsze Choo. Fiction – print. Flatiron Books, 2019. 384 pgs. Purchased.
Eleven-year-old Ren has one final task to complete for his now deceased master: find his severed find and bury it with his body. Ren has forty-nine days to fulfill the task, or else his master’s soul will be unable to rest in peace. As Ren tries to locate the finger, he becomes increasingly concerned that his master – new andformer – could be a weretiger, a man who transforms into a tiger in the night.
Unbeknownst to Ren or his master, the finger has made its way into the hands of a young woman named Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker moonlighting as a dancehall girl to help pay for her mother’s Mahjong debts. The finger was left to her by a customer without explanation, and Ji Lin enlists the assistance of her stepbrother, who is working as an orderly at a local hospital, to help her return to finger to its owner.
This novel wasn’t the page turner I expected it to be; the mystery behind the finger and the odd, potentially tiger-like behavior of Ren’s new master fizzled out a third of the way into the novel. Instead, the story meanders slowly through an evocative setting of 1930s Malaysia during colonial rule, dropping the occasional intriguing detail about local folklore or hinting at romantic interest between step-siblings to heighten tension.
These hints didn’t always work; I never quite believed the romance between Ji Lin or her stepbrother, wondering instead if it wasn’t a twisted form of payback for the way their (step)father treated them. My interest in the novel waned as the story progressed and I set it down more than a few times. Yet, the setting making it a hard one to forget for long.
If you’d like to hoard read new releases on a monthly basis with me, you can sign up for Book of the Month here. I receive a free book for each person who signs up using the above link. My groaning bookshelves thank you.
I’m thinking about joining up again. It was decades ago when I first belonged and it seems like the selection is so much better now.
The selection is better than I anticipated, for sure. May was the first month where I didn’t have two books that I wanted to pick.