Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen is a wintery noir set in an anonymous town, and follows Eileen Dunlop and her miserable existence. If you are familiar with Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, you will appreciate the tonal and characteristic similarities of Eileen. This author does not write likable characters, but rather ones that are deeply flawed, often disturbed, and always challenge the reader’s tolerance for abnormality.

It’s Christmas time in X-Ville, the anonymous city in which Eileen spends her dreary days, but that does little to lift the darkness shrouding her life. Eileen is stuck, and is only coaxed along by bottles of gin shared in the kitchen with her drunk, nasty father and the prospect of escaping X-Ville. Beyond her job as a secretary at the boy’s prison, she has and is nothing–except for the proud new owner of her father’s gun.

That is until the synthetically joyous Rebecca Saint John takes a counseling position at the prison. Rebecca is clean, polished, and poised–a stark difference from the quietly unsettled and perverted Eileen. Rebecca unearths something inside her: Attraction? Maybe. Infatuation? Undoubtedly. The events after Rebecca descends upon Eileen’s life are catastrophic, though eventually lead to Eileen’s permanent release from the psychological grip X-Ville has on her mind and body. 

Moshfegh is truly a literary master. Her ability to create a character wrought with flaws and failings and still make her readers feel a twinge of empathy for them is incredible. Eileen is more than just an eerie story: It’s a portrait of how poisonous loneliness can be and how it can warp our realities. A refreshingly strange, and sometimes uncomfortable read. I’m looking forward to reading more from Moshfegh.

The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister

“Women can do far more than the narrow lens of society deems fitting. I suspect there is nothing, literally nothing, of which women are not capable.”
― Greer Macallister, The Arctic Fury

Greer Macallister is an author who frequently pops up in review journals, but admittedly an author that I have never read. When I saw her latest book, The Arctic Fury, on the shelves, I decided to give it a try. The premise was fascinating: a group of women explorers heads to the Arctic in search of missing men. Yes please.

1855 – Lady Jane Franklin is gathering women to travel to the Arctic to find the ships of her husband’s lost expedition. Virginia Reeve has been summoned by her with the enticing offer to lead these dozen women. Every other expedition she has sent has failed. At her wit’s end, Lady Franklin has decided to send all women and to let the women, specifically Virginia, make all the decisions. The catch: if the women fail, she will deny any knowledge of said expedition. If they succeed, she will pay handsomely. The women just need to bring back Lady Franklin’s husband if alive, and if not, they should bring back word of what they have discovered.

Virginia Reeve believes she knows why she has chosen, all thanks to an article written by a woman journalist. She has led over 400 people to safety across the west, but this voyage will be her first trip to the Arctic. All preparations for the journey have been made by/through Lady Franklin’s envoy, Brooks. Virginia is allowed to select a handful of women to round out the crew selected by Lady Franklin herself. When the women meet up to start their expedition, none of them have any idea what awaits them on the ice.

This story is told through flashbacks. In present, Virginia is on trial for one count of kidnapping and murder. Through flashbacks, readers learn more about the women’s perilous trek north, what led Virginia to lead this mission, as well as a look into various expedition members’ backgrounds. I found some of the sections to be dull, while others had me on edge wondering what would happen next. Overall, I enjoyed this book and can’t wait to see what the author writes next.

This book is also available in the following format:

The Highwomen, feat. Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby, and Amanda Shires

My journey to rediscover country music continues! A modern country sound that honors the roots of the genre, The Highwomen is a unique gift to today’s country music. If you like or have liked country music but are looking for something fresh – or you prefer Outlaw Country to Bro Country or Boyfriend Country – this might be a good album for you.

Now, if you’re a longtime country fan, you’ve probably already guessed that this group was inspired by the legendary Highwaymen, composed of Outlaw Country Superstars – Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. The idea was Amanda Shires’, who wanted to bring together a female supergroup partly to combat the low representation of women’s voices in country music radio and festivals. She connected then with Brandi Carlile  and Maren Morris, originally intending to leave the fourth spot open for guest collaborators. When the group debuted in 2019, at Loretta Lynn’s 87th birthday concert, Natalie Hemby was officially announced as the fourth member. The album came out later the same year.

What I really liked about this album was the stories that it told, stories that I haven’t heard a lot in my country listening. Now, I like a good “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” song as much as anybody else (Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood, anyone?) but it sure seems like a lot of what makes country music (or most music, honestly) popular is the same story – boy meets girl (Hurt Somebody by Dierks Bentley), boy chases girl (She’s a Girl Ain’t She by Rodney Atkins), the bliss of love (Heaven by Kane Brown), boy wrongs girl or vice versa (Jolene by Dolly Parton, I Hope It Rains by Jana Kramer), messy heartache ensues (Burning House by Cam), both move on (Red High Heels by Kellie Pickler, Bartender by Lady A). And if it’s not that story, it’s the Living In The Country is a Real Good Time story (Where I Come From by Montgomery Gentry, Mud on the Tires by Brad Paisley, Meanwhile Back at Mama’s by Tim McGraw, etc. etc.). Both are good, but repetitive after a while.

The Highwomen sing a new slate of relatable messages – in this album we hear the voices of women wronged by history/society (Highwomen), the struggles and joys of being women (Old Soul, Redesigning Women), a daughter facing the death of her father (Cocktail and a Song), various reasons not to be a mother (My Name Can’t Be Mama), an homage to suburban moms (My Only Child) and, my personal favorite, Heaven is a Honkytonk, which is a very Willie-Nelson-esque homage to country music legends who have passed on. And of course, thrown in are a few romantic journeys including post-breakup Don’t Call Me and the both relatable and subversive If She Ever Leaves Me. The latter is particularly a gem, because it portrays love between women in a positive and unexpected way.

If you missed this album when it first came out and love a modern twist on classic genres, get your country on with The Highwomen.

When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal

“This happens all the time. Anyone who has lost somebody they love has experienced it—the head in the crowd on a busy street, the person at the grocery store who moves just like her. The rush to catch up, so relieved that she is actually still alive . . . Only to be crushed when the imposter turns around and the face is wrong. The eyes. The lips.”
― Barbara O’Neal, When We Believed in Mermaids

When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal is the story of a family ripped apart by tragedy and how the ones left behind try to pick up the shattered pieces.

The Bianci women are the only ones left. Josie, the older sister, was killed fifteen years ago during a terrorist attack while on a train overseas. Her younger sister Kit works as an ER doctor in Santa Cruz. She was left to help their mother as the two worked through their grief. Kit’s steady life comes to a crashing halt when she sees Josie on the TV news during a broadcast from New Zealand. Her mother saw Josie too. Doubt comes creeping in. In the background of television news coverage of a club fire in Auckland, the two saw a woman walking through smoke who bears an uncanny resemblance to Josie. It has to be her.

Kit is slammed by a flood of emotions: anger, grief, and loss. How could Josie lie to them for the past fifteen years? How could she abandon them? She let them believe she was dead. Kit has to find Josie and get answers. She has to go to Auckland.

After landing in New Zealand, Kit is unsure where to start. Once she is in the country where she thinks Josie is, she isn’t even sure if she really wants to search for her. As she begins the physical process of looking for Josie, Kit allows herself to fall into past memories. Josie and Kit’s childhood was far from idyllic, but there were some good parts: days (and nights) spent on the beach and a lost teenage boy who showed up one day and then never left. Among the good lie the bad: multiple tragedies and traumas that scarred the girls and left their family in ruins. Each family member carries their own baggage, their own secrets from long ago that they have carried for years.

Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

Domestic fiction is one of my favorite subgenres, especially novels that are set in situations that are different than my normal life. Domestic fiction is usually written by, for, and about women. It is also usually told through multiple viewpoints. My latest read fits all the above criteria!

Dava Shastri’s Last Day tells the story of Dava Shastri and her family. Dava Shastri is one of the world’s wealthiest women. Devastated by a brain cancer diagnosis at the age of seventy, Dava is determined to approach her death like she approaches everything else in her life – with planning and determination.

Dava’s reputation has always been important to her. She wants her name to live on for generations. Both her public and private legacies are of utmost importance, but her family members don’t feel quite as strong about keeping the Shastri name alive.

Dava summons her four adult children, their spouses, and children to her private island where she tells them her news. In addition to having a terminal illness, Dava has also arranged for the news of her death to be released early, so that she can read the obituaries and articles written about her before she dies. Since she spent her life dedicated to the arts and to the empowerment of women, Dava expected that the articles written after her death would focus on those topics. Instead she finds the articles to be significantly more scandalous, focusing on two secrets that have the power to destroy her life, secrets she hoped would stay buried forever.

Now that her secrets are published, her children know and the fallout is not great. Dava must use what little time she has left to come to terms with the life she has lived and the various decisions that have led her to this point.  Most importantly she must use that time to talk it out with her family and make peace with their past, present, and future.

This book is also available in the following format:

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

In November every year, I try to read as many mysteries as I can. This November, I decided to focus on cozy mysteries partly because Checked In: A Davenport Library Podcast, hosted by three DPL librarians, will be talking about cozy mysteries, amongst other things, in our November episode. (You should check it out to hear myself and two other librarians talk about all things library). Cozy mysteries are considered the gentle reads of the mystery genre. They generally avoid graphic violence, sexual content, and profanity, but feature instead unlikely detectives. Right up my alley!

On my quest to read more cozy mysteries, I discovered Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. This book is the first in a brand new series called Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery. (The second title Homicide and Halo-Halo is set to come out in February 2022.)This culturally diverse title is full of sharp humor and delicious food. The author even includes a list of recipes at the end of the novel. The end of this book clearly sets you up for a sequel. You even get to read a snippet of the next book in the series.

Lila Macapagal has moved back home. This was not what she wanted to do, but after a nasty breakup and not having completed college, Lila doesn’t really have any other options. Now living back home with her grandmother and aunt, Lila must figure out ways to help save her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant. In addition to that huge task, Lila is also dealing with her big group of matchmaking aunties/godmothers who want her to settle down and be happy. They love her, but that love is tinged with judgment.

Lil’s ex-boyfriend also keeps popping up in her life too. He is a food critic that has been targeting all the local restaurants for the last couple years and is destroying businesses through his reviews. He has become increasingly nasty and has set his sights on Tita Rosie’s restaurant. While eating one day at the restaurant, he drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila. The aftermath of that has drastic consequences for the family. The local police treat Lila like she is their only suspect, their landlord wants to use the death as an excuse to kick the family out of the restaurant, and Lila’s best friend has started acting weird. Refusing to let her family be persecuted for something that they didn’t do, Lila decides to start investigating herself with the help of her family and friends. What she discovers is more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones is Namina Forna’s debut young adult novel and the first in her new West-African inspired fantasy series entitled Deathless. As someone who loves elegantly crafted epic fantasy worlds, The Gilded Ones did not disappoint!

Deka is a mix of emotions. As a sixteen-year old, she is now eligible for the blood ceremony that will determine whether or not she will become a member of her village. This ceremony fills her with both fear and anticipation because if her blood runs gold, she will be forced out. Gold blood means that you are impure and the consequences of that are worse than death.

The day of the ceremony arrives. When it is Deka’s turn, she is stunned to see that her blood runs gold. Deemed impure, Deka’s life is effectively over. A mysterious woman shows up in her village offering Deka a choice: stay in her village and succumb to her fate or leave and fight in an army of girls just like her. These girls are called alaki. They are near immortals who have a myriad of rare gifts. The only ones who can stop the biggest threat to the empire.

Deka decides to leave the village and travel with this mystery woman to the capital to begin her training. The minute she reaches the walled city, Deka realizes that not everything is as simple as it’s made out to be. Nobody is quite who they say they are, including Deja herself.

 

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Not every book has a happy ending: A Burning by Megha Majumdar is one of those books. Going into Majumdar’s debut with your eyes wide open will allow you to fully appreciate the beautiful story she has weaved. A Burning is the story of three people who desperately want more: power, opportunity, class, love. It’s a novel of fate, the juxtaposition of betrayal and love, of innocence and guilt, and how the truth may be twisted by the media into a falsehood that others believe to be true.

Terrorists have attacked Jivan’s hometown. This attack on a train has left 104 people dead and the nation is clamoring for someone to be held responsible. Jivan is a bright young woman, trying to get out of poverty and the slums. After making a careless comment on Facebook, Jivan is wrongly accused of planning the attack and is hauled into the police station.

PT Sir is a gym teacher from Jivan’s former school. He used to care highly for Jivan until she disappeared from school one day and never came back. He can’t understand why she could be so ungrateful and why she never thanked him for all he did for her. One day, PT Sir discovers a rally in a field for the right-wing political party. He becomes enraptured with what they have to say. He decides that the only way to improve his circumstances is to become a part of that party’s power. PT Sir soon finds that the price of his ascent is Jivan taking the fall.

Lovely is an outcast. She has dealt with hatred and disgust from the public her entire life, but that hasn’t stopped her from dreaming big. She wants fame, she wants glory, but most of all she wants to be the leading lady in a movie. Society isn’t quite so sure that she is what they want. Lovely also holds Jivan’s alibi and freedom in her hands. By speaking up and setting Jivan free, Lovely will have to say goodbye to everything that she desires and holds close.

The fates of these three people are so closely woven together that their slightest action ripples consequences to the others. It’s a short read, but its shortness packs a lot of complexness.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The concepts of multiple lives and alternate universes make up the bulk of Matt Haig’s newest book, The Midnight Library. Given the current state of the world, I found the concept of an alternate universe to be refreshing even though I’m still not certain if that is something that I would want. Haig does an excellent job of discussing the morality of switching universes versus keeping your root life, a philosophical conundrum that most people do not think about on a daily basis.

Nora Seed wants to die. That is how this novel begins. Nothing in her life is going her way. She has lost her job, her pet, her best friend, and her brother. Her existing relationships are on the verge of disaster and Nora is struggling to find the will to live. She doesn’t see the point in living anymore and decides to kill herself.

Then she wakes up. Instead of ending up in an afterlife, Nora finds herself in a middle ground: a library. In fact, she is in the Midnight Library. Walking inside, Nora discovers that the library is full to the brim with books and the dutiful librarian in charge is the librarian from her early school days, Mrs. Elm. Confused and unsure what to do next. Nora turns to Mrs. Elm for help. Mrs. Elm explains to Nora that in fact this library is where people go when they are stuck between life and death. The library appears to people in many different ways, but the contents stay the same: every book that Nora sees is a different version of her own life, including her original life aka her root life. The millions of decisions that Nora choose during her life, and the subsequent decisions she said no to, all live within this library. Most importantly, Nora has the ability to choose to live any life that she wants to now, with restrictions and strings attached of course.

Overwhelmed with this knowledge, Nora has no idea where to begin. She is wracked with regret about what happened, and didn’t happen, in her root life. Mrs. Elm suggests she learn more about her regrets, sending Nora down a journey of self-discovery through a multitude of parallel universes that all have the power to change Nora’s perspective of her root life. As Nora tries on life and life, she slowly realizes that she’s never truly happy in any of these alternate lives either. This causes her to panic and wonder if she will be stuck in the Midnight Library forever. Nora must decide what she truly wants out of life and try to overcome the crushing regret that threatens to destroy her. As Nora goes on this journey, Mrs. Elm is right by her side, guiding her to what she truly desires even if Nora has no idea what that is.

If you’re looking for an escape, I recommend this book. If you’re looking to read about life struggles, alternate histories, parallel universes, or if you just want to pick up book about someone who is struggling to find their way like most of us are, this book is for you. It turned out in a way that I wasn’t expecting and I can’t wait to talk about it with you.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club – ‘The Mothers’ on September 2nd

On Wednesday, September 2nd at 2pm, Virtual Book Club will be discussing The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Join in and talk about a popular book with one of our librarians. We are using GoTo Meeting which will allow patrons to video chat with the librarian about the book! Information about how to join is listed below.

Want to learn more about The Mothers? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance–and the subsequent cover-up–will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently?

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club
Wed, Sep 2, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
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Access Code: 274-890-269

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