The Subsidiary by Matias Celedon

Synopsis:

27774369In the subsidiary offices of a major Latin American corporation, the power suddenly goes out: the lights switch off; the doors lock; the phone lines are cut. The employees are trapped in total darkness with only cryptic, intermittent announcements dispatched over the loud speaker, instructing all personnel to remain at their work stations until further notice.

The Subsidiary is one worker’s testimony to what happens during the days he spends trapped within the building’s walls, told exclusively—and hauntingly—through the stamps he uses to mark corporate documents.

Hand-designed by the author with a stamp set he bought in an bookstore in Santiago, Matías Celedón’s The Subsidiary is both an exquisite object and a chilling avant-garde tale from one of Chile’s rising literary stars.

Review:

A book told with a set of rubber stamps?  I’m there!

Sadly, the book wasn’t quite all… there.

The idea is great.  The alphabet stamps are used in interesting ways to hint at bars, blinds, the tedium that is waiting.  Some pages made me smile at their cleverness.  And it certainly reads quickly, with only one sentence on each page.  At times the writing feels like poetry.

But once you get to the end you’re like… what?  The power is cut, weird stuff happens, the power eventually turns back on.  The end.  There’s dialog and other things that happen in the middle but they’re fleeting and confusing.  I’m not sure what the point was.  Maybe if I knew more about Chile’s history?  Am I missing some huge, overarching metaphor?

It’s like a lost opportunity – the form could lend itself to deep truths and realizations and experiences, but we only skim along on the surface.  Maybe I raised my expectations too high but I was quite disappointed.

I flipped back to the beginning to have another go but the lack of execution still stuck out.  Ah well, I guess it’s not for me.


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Signs of Attraction by Laura Brown

Synopsis:

29863612Do you know what hearing loss sounds like? I do. All my life I’ve tried to be like you. I’ve failed.

So I keep it hidden.

But on the day my world crashed down around me, Reed was there. He showed me just how loud and vibrant silence can be, even when I struggled to understand. He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever known. His soulful eyes and strong hands pulled me in before I knew what was happening. And as I saw those hands sign, felt them sparking on me, I knew: imperfect could be perfect.

Reed makes me feel things I’ve never felt. It’s exciting…and terrifying. Because he sees me like no one else has, and I’m afraid of what he’ll find if he looks too closely.

The only thing that scares me more than being with him? Letting him go.

Review:

I jumped on this book when I heard it was written by an #ownvoices author. People writing about their own experience for the win!

The first half sucked me in and kept me reading late into the night. I loved watching Carli and Reed fall in love – they make an adorable couple. Reed introduces Carli to the Deaf world, something she never encountered as she grew up hard of hearing with hearing aids, and I cheered for them the entire way.

At around the fifty percent mark the story takes a turn that, if this were a fanfic, I’d call hurt/comfort. One of our pair needs some love to get through something awful, and the other person delivers. I was okay with it.

But then the whole conflict blows up. It goes from an ‘us vs them’ mentality to ‘me vs you’ within the couple, as well as ‘me vs myself’. All the information that gets added from that point on is angsty, from family dysfunction to fighting your own demons to anger at people from your past. Seriously, it’s a lot, and a sharp change from the generally amiable first half.

Props to Brown for writing true to her own experience – I would love to see her write more d/Deaf characters, and for there to be more in the genre as a whole. The medical stuff is done better than in many romances so that’s nice, too. I still have a couple of minor quibbles, but that’s the medical interpreter in me talking.

If you love heartrending stories you’ll be at home, but after the awesome beginning there was too much angst for me.


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In Our Own Hands edited by Brian H. Greenwald and Joseph J. Murray

Synopsis:

27837529This collection of new research examines the development of deaf people’s autonomy and citizenship discourses as they sought access to full citizenship rights in local and national settings. Covering the period of 1780–1970, the essays in this collection explore deaf peoples’ claims to autonomy in their personal, religious, social, and organizational lives and make the case that deaf Americans sought to engage, claim, and protect deaf autonomy and citizenship in the face of rising nativism and eugenic currents of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Review:

Author Sara Novic has written some wonderful essays about Deafness, including this one about the history and significance of American Sign Language (ASL). Reading it opened my eyes to a blind spot in my knowledge – Alexander Graham Bell was against Deaf people? There’s a movement called oralism? While I have a grasp of current issues (access to interpreting and captions, the debate over cochlear implants) I had no idea of what Deaf people were facing even fifty years ago. That’s where In Our Own Hands comes in.

I do want to say straight up – this is an academic work. The chapters are written by different people and pull from research, doctoral papers, and lots of other things that add up to pages and pages of end notes. Some authors write engrossing narratives while others are more on the dry side. So this is a book to get your learning on.

And boy, did I learn. In the 1800s deaf people were referred to as “The Deaf and Dumb” which made no sense to me until I read this snippet from a 1845 article:

The truth is, monkies [sic], and the lower animals, do not talk, because they have nothing to say. The tongue is moved by the mind, but where there is no intellect, there is no thought; and where there is no thought, there is no need of any language…

So in their minds the deaf didn’t speak because they were too dumb to need language. Cue jaw drop.

And that’s just the beginning. There are essays about Deaf citizenship, Deaf education, how Deaf organizations formed and changed over time, and just how awful Bell was. Many come back to the ideas of agency, paternalism, and oralism (the belief that spoken language is inherently better than sign language).

I especially like the intersectionality many of the essays cover. One chapter is about Black ASL, another touches on Deaf religious history in the American South, yet another looks at Deaf societies and associations in Australia. The editors have made an effort to shed light on subjects that are less known and I appreciate it.

While In Our Own Hands is not for the casual reader it’s a valuable look at Deaf history and activism that helped me fill a gaping hole in my knowledge. Looking back I should have given myself permission to skim the chapters that were super dry or covered topics that interested me less, but all in all the read was worth it.

Thanks to Gallaudet University Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Who Will Catch Us As We Fall by Iman Verjee

Synopsis:

28593038Haunted by a past that has kept her from Nairobi for over three years, Leena returns home to discover her family unchanged: her father is still a staunch patriot dreaming of a better country; her mother is still an arch traditionalist, unwilling or unable to let go of the past; and her brother, always the rebellious one, spends his days provoking the establishment as a political activist. When Leena meets a local Kikuyu artist whose past is linked to her own, the two begin a secret affair—one that forces Leena to again question her place in a country she once called home.

Interlinked with Leena’s story is that of Jeffery: a corrupt policeman burdened with his own angers and regrets, and whose questionable actions have unexpected and catastrophic consequences for those closest to him. Spanning a period of 12 years, Who Will Catch Us As We Fall is a gripping and epic story of love, loss and identity in contemporary Kenya.

Review:

I knew Kenya is a land of 40+ tribes, but I didn’t know about the East Asian population there.  It’s fascinating following Leena and her family as they grapple with being a brown “them” in a country of predominantly black “us”es.

Verjee explains many things from culture to politics, which I’m grateful for.  The details may not come right away, but that helps her stay out of info dump territory.  Still, the first third… almost half of the novel is set up.  It’s well done – we’re introduced to characters and their relationships through interesting stories and memories alongside their current life.  You see why they grew into the people they now are.

Which is good.  But it does take a while for the story to get going, and I found it easy to put down and forget for days at a time. The characters ended up drawing me back in, with events that could almost stand alone as short stories if it weren’t for the deep history adding layers.

The entire picture presented – of Kenya, of day to day life – is nuanced.  There’s differences between generations, between racial groups, between social classes, between those who want to improve society and those content to make do with the status quo.  There are tough moral decisions where “right” choices exist, but sometimes the cost of making it isn’t worth it.  Or comes back to bite you in the end.

Characterization is the strongest part of the book.  You get why everyone acts the way they do and even minor characters are fully fleshed out.  Here’s how we’re introduced to the leader of the student union:

Steven Kimani was a small man with light skin and pleasant features.  The broadness of his shoulders was exactly matched by the distance kept between his two feet, so that he looked like a tricky boxer readying himself for a fight.

He organizes demonstrations and from those two sentences alone you can get a feel for how they end up.

I’m really glad I read Who Will Catch Us As We Fall. I love traveling places via reading and I now have a feel for some of the issues Kenyans face on both a large and small scale.  A hearty recommend to anyone who would like to learn more about this part of the world, especially if you like deep, nuanced characters.

Thanks to Oneworld and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Protege by Lydia Michaels

Synopsis:

29439866For too long, French teacher Collette Banks has locked her deepest desires away in the darkest corners of her mind. But now, she’s taking matters into her own hands by applying to a secret and exclusive society devoted to matching people with their ideal partner—or partners…

Founder Jude Duval has set up strict rules for admitting people into his world. But when he interviews Collette, he finds himself breaking protocol. Her innocence disarms him. Her willingness to explore her own sensuality delights him. And her spirit challenges him—enough to take her on as his own protégé .

What starts out as Collette’s erotic awakening will draw them both in deeper than either of them could have ever imagined…

Review:

This is not your usual BDSM erotica.  Many novels concentrate on bondage and submission but Protege takes a more psychological tact with an emphasis on discipline.

Continue reading “Protege by Lydia Michaels”

This Explains Everything edited by John Brockman

Synopsis:

15818399In This Explains Everything, John Brockman, founder and publisher of Edge.org, asked experts in numerous fields and disciplines to come up with their favorite explanations for everyday occurrences. Why do we recognize patterns? Is there such a thing as positive stress? Are we genetically programmed to be in conflict with each other? Those are just some of the 150 questions that the world’s best scientific minds answer with elegant simplicity.

With contributions from Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Nassim Taleb, Brian Eno, Steven Pinker, and more, everything is explained in fun, uncomplicated terms that make the most complex concepts easy to comprehend.

Review:

This book of collected essays asks the question, “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” Many people, from Richard Dawkins to Brian Eno to professors you’ve never heard of (and are amazingly cool) contribute their ideas and theories.

The essays are lovingly ordered so that you flow from biology to physics to neuroscience to psychology in a way that never feels forced or jarring. One writer will expound about, say, the Pigeonhole Theory and the next will use it as a jumping off point for a completely different explanation.

With 150 different contributors there’s bound to be dull bits, uneven spots, and a few oddities. Overall, however, the writing quality is high and the content gave me a lot to think about. This is a book to read slowly, maybe five essays a day, so you can ruminate over each idea. A few of my favorite essays are:

Group Polarization by David G. Myers
Dirt is Matter Out of Place by Christine Finn (the title gives it away, but hey)
How Do You Get from a Lobster to a Cat? by John McWhorter
Lemons are Fast by Barry C. Smith
Why We Feel Pressed for Time by Elizabeth Dunn

After reading this book I have a healthy store of dinner party chatter and my mind has been opened. If you like a particular writer you can pick up other work they’ve done, as many are published authors. Even if you don’t you’ll enjoy the feeling of your mind being tickled by the interesting, elegant theories.


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The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane

Translated by David Brookshaw

Synopsis:

26894137After twenty years of marriage, Rami discovers that her husband has been living a double–or rather, a quintuple–life. Tony, a senior police officer in Maputo, has apparently been supporting four other families for many years. Rami remains calm in the face of her husband’s duplicity and plots to make an honest man out of him. After Tony is forced to marry the four other women–as well as an additional lover–according to polygamist custom, the rival lovers join together to declare their voices and demand their rights. In this brilliantly funny and feverishly scathing critique, a major work from Mozambique’s first published female novelist, Paulina Chiziane explores her country’s traditional culture, its values and hypocrisy, and the subjection of women the world over.

Review:

I love fiction that takes me to a place I don’t know and drops me into the thick of things, and The First Wife is a delicious example.

In this book Mozambique’s first published female novelist (you read that right) weaves the story of Rami, wife to Tony and mother to several children.  She thinks she is Tony’s only wife until she discovers a second, who points to a third, all the way down to his fifth and most recent acquisition.  The book follows Rami as she comes to terms with this and brazenly fights for what she wants.

As heavy as it sounds the story is actually light and even comical in places.  At turns in the story I was left laughing while going, “What?!  Really?”

“You modern women are in the habit of feeding men any old way… don’t give them potatoes that have been cooked the previous day, because this swells men’s testicles…”

Over the next few pages reality sets in – yes.  Really.

“Never eat a fish head, or that of a cow or of a goat, because that is man’s food.  The head of an animal represents the head of the family.  The head of the family is the man.”

“In the father’s absence, the eldest male child takes command of the family, even if he’s a baby, he’s leader, he’s the head of the family by substitution.”

In this way the social structure and customs of Mozambique become clear.  We learn the cultural differences between the North and the South, the lives women are expected to lead, how the Portuguese and Christianity changed norms for better and worse.  There’s explanations but it never feels like a textbook, and as a result the lessons are more powerful.

Chiziane’s prose is fresh, flowing in rhythms that delight.  She’s also unabashedly feminist, questioning the system and its logic at every turn.  Rami fights against the customs, doing everything she can to secure the best life for herself and the other wives.  I found myself cheering for her, getting giddy when a bit of revenge hit its mark.  I also wallowed with her in despair, shaking a mental fist at the injustices of the world.

The First Wife isn’t an easy read but I’m so glad I tackled it.  It opened my eyes to part of the world I knew nothing about and taught me things in the close, personal way that fiction can.

Thanks to Archipelago and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Burning Moon by Jo Watson

Synopsis:

23268661WARNING: Being left at the altar in front of 500 wedding guests may lead to irrational behavior, causing you to go on your honeymoon alone. Other side- effects may include very bad hair, getting arrested, setting yourself on fire, landing up on a “Missing Poster” with the same bad hair and unexpectedly falling in love.

Review:

I was curious to see what a category new adult would look like, but instead I got a Wattpad new adult story. Not necessarily bad, just not what I was expecting.

The good:

  • The first half reads like a wacky romcom – she ends up on a plane in her bunny slippers! A dress catches fire, requiring immediate dousing! It never made me laugh out loud but it is amusing.
  • I like that the locales are out of the ordinary, with the hero and heroine being from South Africa and travel to Thailand.
  • The stuff you expect in a new adult is here (23 year old heroine, the emotional trauma of being left at the altar, the theme of finding yourself) with a Harlequin Presents twist (hero has mad money, exotic destination).

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • The book is told from a close first person perspective… if that’s not a thing I’m making it one now. We are in Lilly’s head complete with jokes and asides and emotional outbursts. I thought it was tolerable, but your mileage may vary.

The not-so-good:

  • You can tell that this novel was originally told serially – there’s a mental jump between every chapter that can be jarring. It works great when you’re waiting days or a week between installments but squished together in a novel it felt more obvious.
  • The comedy is situational slapstick and disappears as the novel moves on, with no banter or anything to replace it.
  • Suspensions of disbelief are required now and then.
  • Not as much or as explicit sex as I’ve come to expect with new adult. The narrative hovered on the surface or faded to black. And there was no talk of protection, grah.
  • And of course, we have a couple of misunderstandings. Not huge or awful but still.

While Burning Moon was a quick and at times amusing read it didn’t quite do it for me.

I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back by Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster

Synopsis:

18668201Ben, a sports analytics wizard, loves baseball. Eric, his best friend, hates it. But when Ben writes an algorithm for the optimal baseball road trip, an impossible dream of every pitch of 30 games in 30 stadiums in 30 days, who will he call on to take shifts behind the wheel, especially when those shifts will include nineteen hours straight from Phoenix to Kansas City? Eric, of course. Will Eric regret it? You might ask, Are Dodger Dogs the same thing as Fenway Franks? As Ben and Eric can now attest, most definitely.

On June 1, 2013, Ben and Eric set out to see America through the bleachers and concession stands of America’s favorite pastime. Along the way, human error and Mother Nature throw their mathematically optimized schedule a few curveballs. A mix-up in Denver turns a planned day off in Las Vegas into a twenty-hour drive. And a summer storm of biblical proportions threatens to make the whole thing logistically impossible, and that’s if they don’t kill each other first.

Review:

A fun look at doing the impossible – seeing a game in each of the 30 major league baseball parks in 30 days.

Like: Ben and Eric own who they are: white guys who just graduated from Harvard with a once in a lifetime shot to do something this crazy. They got a lot of help along the way and everyone is appreciated and thanked in the afterward, down to the police departments that wrote them tickets.

Interesting: I’m not sure what to call this voice… they use “we” but never “I”. It’s Ben thought this and Eric said that. It took a few pages to fall into the groove but I think it was the best way to handle the narrative.

Meh: While most of the numbers and itineraries are neat it did bog down in a couple of places. If you’re a baseball person and therefore have a high tolerance for crazy stats you won’t even notice.

Like: The prose isn’t literary by any stretch, but it’s readable and interesting. It also strikes me as fair and honest, as Ben and Eric are pretty good at pointing out each other’s faults and graceful enough to accept their own (sometimes).

Don’t Like: This feels like it was written right after the trip, before they completely processed all of their experiences. While there are insights, they were pointed out by Eric’s mom and rehashed in the last couple of chapters. I would have loved to see another chapter about life after the trip and how it changed them (or didn’t).

If you’re into baseball or road trips or books that follow crazy self-imposed journeys you’ll enjoy I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back.