Born into the lowest caste of her hive’s hierarchy, Flora 717 is destined to be a sanitation worker for her entire life, mindlessly tending to the dirty work assigned to her by the hive’s higher-ups. Everything in the hive is done to serve the queen, who is immortal and loves all of her children. Accept. Obey. Serve. Those are the mandates Flora must religiously follow.
It’s a fraught time for the hive; a strange sickness keeps appearing, and any bee determined to be unhealthy or useless is immediately put to death. This potentially spells danger for Flora: she’s certainly ugly like the other sanitation workers, but she looks different from everyone else. And there’s something even more dangerous about her: unlike the other sanitation workers, who cannot speak and mostly spend their lives with their minds dulled, Flora has the ability to speak and think for herself. She can also has the ability to produce Flow, the royal jelly used to feed babies in the nursery. It’s unheard of for a lowly sanitation worker.
Because of her unique abilities, The Sages (the hive’s high priestesses) allow Flora to move up in the ranks and work in the nursery. Later, because of her strength and intellect, she’s allowed to become a forager and leave the hive to collect pollen. As many bees never even see the outside of the hive in their lifetime, Flora’s experiences are unheard of. Yet since she’s so different, a lot of eyes are also on her and she must tread lightly; she harbors a secret that would mean certain death if discovered.
Confession: Up until now, I had never read a full-length vampire novel. I do, however, love a good vampire story. This summer, when I went to Europe, I was even going to make a trip out to Čachtice, Slovakia, where the ruins of the alleged real Dracula’s castle remain (FYI: Dracula was actually a sadistic woman/serial killer of noble blood who brutally tortured her servants before killing them). Unfortunately, my sprained ankles killed my plans for that hike, but I’ve remained in a Dracula mood ever since. Rather than read Bram Stoker’s classic in print, I listened to it all throughout October. There’s a full-cast production of the novel on Audible featuring Tim Curry(!) and Alan Cumming(!).
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect going into this. My primary experience with pop-culture Dracula is the whole, “I vant to suck your blood,” thing. Stoker’s Dracula isn’t quite so open about it; nowhere in the book does that line appear. Instead, the book is told from different characters’ documents, letters, and diary entries (my heart sank over this at first — y’all know how I feel about epistolary novels — but it gets good fast, so I stopped caring). It begins with Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, who is sent to Transylvania to finalize the purchase of a home in London for a mysterious elderly man named Count Dracula. Despite all of the red flags of the townspeople who try to warn him away from going anywhere near Dracula’s castle, Jonathan proceeds as scheduled and soon finds himself a prisoner on the terrifying property.
Up until now, I was one of the few bookish people on earth who had never read anything by Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor & Park and Fangirl have been on my to-read lists for what feels like an eternity. Then during Armchair BEA, I was fortunate enough to win the audiobook version of Rowell’s newest novel, Landline, narrated by Rebecca Lowman. Sorry Eleanor & Park and Fangirl…you’ve been bumped yet again!
Unlike those other two novels, Landline skews towards more adult territory. The narrator is Georgie McCool (that is her real name), a woman on the brink of professional success. She and her best friend Seth have finally sold their idea for a television show, but the network wants the pilot and first few scripts right after Christmas. This means that she won’t be able travel to Omaha as planned with her husband and two young daughters to visit her mother-in-law. For her husband, Neal, it’s the last straw. Their marriage has been on shakier ground than Georgie realized, and Neal takes the girls to his mother’s house for the holidays without Georgie.
It’s a terrible wake-up call to Georgie. Without her family around, she can’t seem to function. She finds herself going more and more to her mother’s house, sleeping in her old bedroom and dragging herself to work. While she’s there, constantly trying to get a hold of Neal, she discovers a secret about her old landline phone: it magically allows her to call back in time and talk to the Neal she dated in college.
Earlier this year, I finally caved and signed up for Audible. I’d been eyeing the Claire Dane’s narration of The Handmaid’s Tale since before it was even available for purchase, and I was putting off reading anything by Margaret Atwood until I finally read what’s probably her most famous title. Well. It took me long enough, but I finally got my my introduction to Atwood/Claire Dane’s narration.
The book is set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead — America in the near future — where all of the former government officials have been killed off and a new totalitarian government has taken over. Women, once free to work and do as they pleased, are now living in a twisted theocracy. They all have roles in society, and the handmaid’s role, one of “honor” in this new world, is to breed. Offred — literally, “of Fred,” Fred being the commander she’s been assigned to for now — has lost her mother, husband, and child in the regime change. Her carefree friend from college tried to rebel against the new world order, and Offred has a sickening idea of what became of her and others who can’t or won’t follow orders.
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
Publisher/Year: Knopf, 2013
Narrator: Robin Miles
Length: 7 hrs, 3 minutes
What it is: Claire Limyé Lanmé (Claire of the Sea Light) Faustin is a little girl growing up in the fictional fishing village of Ville Rose, Haiti. Her mother died in childbirth, and on Claire’s seventh birthday, her father, Nozias, decides to give her to a local shopkeeper so that she can have a better life. The book all takes place on this one day that the shopkeeper comes for her, though it dips into the past as it highlights the lives of several of the villagers.
Why I listened to it: I just wanted to (Danticat has long been on my to-read list), and the cover called out to me. It’s pretty.
What I thought: This is not your traditional novel; the book is more like a series of related vignettes that have been strung together. The book begins and ends with Claire, but the chapters in between are told from the perspective of people only tangentially linked to Claire’s life. It was a little confusing at first, especially since I was listening on audiobook. I sometimes wasn’t sure if the book had skipped a few chapters; that’s how different the plot could be from one moment to the next. At first, I went, “Hey, what happened to Claire?” Danticat gets you emotionally attached to her, only to set her aside for most of the book in order to focus on a handful of other characters’ lives. But it works. In the end, you only have glimpses of lot of different characters, but you feel for all of them. It’s a slim novel that leaves you wanting more, and yet it’s perfect the way it is.
Asunder by Chloe Aridjis
Publisher/Year: Mariner Books, 2013
What it is: Marie works as a guard at the National Gallery in London. She enjoys the silent atmosphere and the responsibility of watching over the artwork. Doing so keeps up part of her great-grandfather’s legacy: he was the guard on duty when a suffragette sliced apart a famous painting at the beginning of World War I; he fell and wasn’t able to stop her. But after nine years of working at the National Gallery, Marie is also stuck in a rut.
Why I read it: I enjoyed Aridjis’s debut novel, Book of Clouds.
What I thought: Like her first book, Asunder is oftentimes more atmosphere than plot. Large chunks go by where not much happens other than Marie’s meandering observations of the world. She does artwork with eggshells (symbolism). She observes people walking by (symbolism), especially at the museum. A class comes in, and the professor process to teach her students about craquelure, the natural and unavoidable cracking of paint on a canvas as time goes by (this was actually one of my favorite passages in the book). Anyway, cracks on a canvas. More symbolism. Obviously, something is happening with Marie. But, in keeping with the subdued and introspective nature of Aridjis’s writing, there are no mind-blowing, thrilling plot twists. If you need action in your books, this definitely isn’t the book for you. Personally, I find Aridjis’s works to be vaguely weird, philosophical, and slow. I liked it.