Books We Loved, Jan. 2019
P. K. Adams, The Greenest Branch (Iron Knight Press, 2018)
Hildegard of Bingen was long one of the forgotten women of history. Consigned from birth to the Catholic Church, she overcame her mentor’s extreme asceticism and defied traditional views of what women could do to emerge as a respected physician and mystic, only to be forgotten until feminist historians rediscovered her in the late twentieth century.
In this well-written debut novel, we meet Hildegard as an inquisitive ten-year-old; witness her shock as she encounters privation, restriction, and prejudice; and follow her as, under the kindly instruction of the infirmarian and a friendship with a fellow oblate that grows as they do until it threatens to become something more intimate than friendship. Over the course of fifteen years, Hildegard slowly discovers what matters to her most and defines her own place in a male-dominated world.
I’m looking forward to The Column of Burning Spices, due February 1, which completes the story. Interview with the author at New Books in Historical Fiction.—CPL
Mosin Hamid, Exit West (Riverhead Books, 2017)
Exit West is a wonderful novel about two young people who fall in love in a presumably Middle Eastern country that is never named but happens to be, like so many Middle Eastern locations in these times, on the verge of collapse. One minute Nadia and Saeed are flirting innocently over coffee, and the next they are dodging bullets and witnessing atrocities to neighbors who have been singled out by militants for reasons that are uncertain. At some point it becomes clear that in order to survive, the young lovers must leave their country, which requires that they pay someone to show them the whereabouts of a “magic door.” Magic doors are on the rise everywhere in this novel, but as collapsing countries are too, they are absolutely necessary. The problem is that once you are a refugee, you are a refugee wherever you go, and as there are no guarantees regarding what country you will wind up in once you pass through one of these portals, you are likely to either find yourself on the run from people who hate refugees or in refugee camps where your basic needs may or may not be met.
Hamid’s writing is fluid and straightforward and works brilliantly alongside the bits of magical realism he injects into his story. And his ending is generous, considering the subject matter, maybe even hopeful.—JS
Nick Spalding, Fat Chance (Lake Union Publishing, 2014)
Zoe and Greg are a contented thirty-something married couple who love nothing more than beer, curry, and nights on the sofa watching TV. So much so that they’re not just curvy or chubby, they are full-on very overweight, in fact they are … fat, which they are perfectly happy with until an unfortunate incident when Greg gets stuck in a garden chair at a friend’s BBQ, and it takes a group effort to release him. The ensuing debacle makes them realize that they are no longer the slinky stunner and hunky rugby player that they were when they met at university, and the realization drives them to more comfort-eating and even more pounds.
Then the local radio station announces a weight-loss competition, with a grand prize of $50,000. Greg and Zoe sign up, and this witty book follows this likable couple’s journey through humiliating public weigh-ins, a fiasco of a fun run, and the competition going viral, with Greg and Zoe attracting hundreds of followers and a stalker.
This is a very funny, good-hearted story that makes the reader really want Greg and Zoe to win the competition!—DAS
Lauren C. Teffeau, Implanted (Angry Robot, 2018)
Emery, Em for short, anticipates a future in which she and, eventually, her parents can escape the lower strata of the domed city of New Worth. Em hopes her career as a data curator will make her parents’ sacrifice worthwhile. They saved their money to buy her an implant, a neurological link to the data network, essential to success in New Worth.
But just as Em is about to move her virtual relationship with a man she knows as Rik to the next level, her life takes a twist. Em secretly pursues and punishes criminals who rip the valuable implants out and resell them. Aventine, a pseudo-government company, wants her to work for them. It promises financial rewards, protection of her secret, and exciting work. There’s only one catch. She will be officially dead.
With her physical appearance altered and a supply of false IDs, Em soon becomes comfortable with her new life at Aventine. But when a data drop turns dangerous and a man gets shot, Em doesn’t know whom to trust anymore. Fast paced, with a touch of romance, this cyberpunk novel explores trust and intimacy in a society based on electronic connections. Interview with the author at New Books in Fantasy.—GM