Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.
My wife and I officially closed on our new condo this week! This interminable move is about to officially come to an end. I’m currently on cloud nine. In fact, I’ve been so excited that I’ve found it a little difficult to focus on reading all the books I bring home. 😬 It doesn’t help that our new place is right next door to a massive library, so this problem is likely only going to get worse. Sigh. (Good thing it’s not really a problem, no?)
This week I’ve got a daring historical spy romance, a literary Lizzie Borden story, a Gilded Age sci-fi novel, and a whole lot more in my super-sized bookbag. Let’s dive in!
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
the premise: From Goodreads:
“Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South—to spy for the Union Army.
Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet—risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia.
Two undercover agents who share a common cause—and an undeniable attraction—Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy’s favor. Caught in a tightening web of wartime intrigue, and fighting a fiery and forbidden love, Malcolm and Elle must make their boldest move to preserve the Union at any cost—even if it means losing each other…”
why I’m excited: First of all, Alyssa Cole is a wildly acclaimed author (I already own, and am soon planning to read, A Princess in Theory, a contemporary romance of hers). Second of all, this premise would stand on its own: Civil War spies falling in love while deep undercover and in deadly danger? It doesn’t get more gripping than that.
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
the premise: See What I Have Done tells the story of the infamous Lizzie Borden murders through the eyes of four unreliable narrators: Lizzie herself, her sister Emma, their housemaid Bridget, and a stranger. Emma comforts the distraught Lizzie in the aftermath of the murders of their father and stepmother, but as Lizzie slowly pieces together her fragmented, fateful memories of August 4, 1892, the bonds between the two sisters will be tested.
why I’m excited: I’m curious about this one. Reviews seem to be mixed, I think the premise is a teensy bit overwrought (the memory weirdness and unreliable narrator components in particular), and it doesn’t seem like it follows the historical record very closely. But I enjoy reading about the Lizzie Borden case enough that I decided to brave what could be a big disappointment. I’m hoping it’ll be reminiscent of Alias Grace, the Margaret Atwood novel turned excellent Netflix series about a similar 19th century double murder.
MEM by Bethany C. Morrow
the premise: From Goodreads:
“Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source ― zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept.
And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault.”
why I’m excited: I have to admit that I’m confused by this premise as much as I’m intrigued by it. What’s…the point of having a Mem, exactly? Why is it useful to have an automaton thing relive a singular memory over and over? I’m hoping it’ll be clearer once I start reading. Anyway, Blade Runner meets The Great Gatsby is a cool enough aesthetic to make me forgive this book an awful lot of ills, if there are indeed a lot of ills here.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
the premise: I’m not really sure I know. There’s an awfully long description on Goodreads, a bit longer than I’m willing to copy over here. Let’s go with just this section of it:
“A missing God.
A library with the secrets to the universe.
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.”
And this one, too:
“Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.”
Sounds awesome, no?
why I’m excited: It’s a book about a supernatural library and, it seems, a God who lives in a supernatural library. Hell yeah, I’m excited for this one. This seems a little reminiscent of American Gods, a book I really enjoyed; I’m a sucker for stories about mortals and immortals colliding, and I especially love the ones where the main character is at risk of losing their humanity. I can’t wait to read this.
How to Love a Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs
the premise: From Goodreads:
“Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.
In “Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In “Mash Up Love,” a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother—the prodigal son of the family—stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In “Bad Behavior,” a mother and father leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In “Mermaid River,” a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In “The Ghost of Jia Yi,” a recently murdered international student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in “Shirley from a Small Place,” a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.”
why I’m excited: There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the short story space, and this collection looks like no exception. I’m especially loving short story collections that tackle diasporas: I recently reviewed and loved Useful Phrases for Immigrants by May-Lee Chai and White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar, both of which similarly driven by diasporic experience. A short story collection seems like the perfect format to capture experiences that are so wide-ranging and similar at the same time. I’m looking forward to this.
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
the premise: From Goodreads:
“In a suburb outside Cleveland, a community of Indian Americans has settled into lives that straddle the divide between Eastern and Western cultures. For some, America is a bewildering and alienating place where coworkers can’t pronounce your name but will eagerly repeat the Sanskrit phrases from their yoga class. Harit, a lonely Indian immigrant in his midforties, lives with his mother who can no longer function after the death of Harit’s sister, Swati. In a misguided attempt to keep both himself and his mother sane, Harit has taken to dressing up in a sari every night to pass himself off as his sister. Meanwhile, Ranjana, also an Indian immigrant in her midforties, has just seen her only child, Prashant, off to college. Worried that her husband has begun an affair, she seeks solace by writing paranormal romances in secret. When Harit and Ranjana’s paths cross, they begin a strange yet necessary friendship that brings to light their own passions and fears.”
why I’m excited: This just looks lovely. I love this kind of quiet-with-a-touch-of-humor, grief-stricken family drama (the premise reminds me a little bit of Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng). I’m looking forward to spending an afternoon with this one.
What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!