April 2021 Reading Round-Up: Sense of Place

In our second round of micro-reviews, we are thinking about place – not just in terms of physical setting, but also the emotional and imagined places that books allow us to inhabit.

This collection includes poetry set on a rumbling train, a novella about a woman for whom time is as much as a place as the otherworldly rural setting in which she finds herself, and a mystery in which the real horror comes from inhabiting the mind of the troubled narrator. With books set from Cairo to the Oregon coast and everywhere in between, you are sure to find a book in this round-up that speaks to your desire to escape.

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Review: The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions 2020)

Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri

Elena Ferrante’s works examine a person’s interior with a focus on the feminine experience. Her prose captivates readers as she contrasts vivid imagery with womanly milestones and life’s difficulties. Ferrante also brings a true sense of Italian-ness to her work that cannot be overlooked nor removed. Being Italian-American, all these qualities drew me to her newest release, The Lying Life of Adults.

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Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Ray Books 2020)

Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest novel, Mexican Gothic is one feminist horror story you will not want to miss. The reader invests immediately in the heroine of the novel, Noemí. She is a 22-year-old socialite who enjoys her lavish life in Mexico City. Beautiful, well-dressed, and quick-witted, Noemi dreams of becoming an anthropologist. Her parents don’t agree with her lifestyle and wish instead she would focus on settling down and finding a husband, or as se sees it: “…she should never have any fun for the sake of having fun, but only as a way to obtain a husband” (6).

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Review: A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (Ballantine Books 2019)

Reviewed by Amaya Hunsberger 

Vanessa Hua’s debut novel, A River of Stars, follows the path of Scarlett, a pregnant Chinese woman while the child’s father, Boss Yeung, wishes to do business in America. She is sent to Perfume Bay in San Francisco where she and other pregnant Chinese women will deliver their children in secret in order to ensure American citizenship for their babies. The whole operation is run by Mama Fang, a lucrative entrepreneur. After finding out that her unborn child is a girl, she escapes the facility with a teenager named Daisy, and together they make their way to San Francisco’s Chinatown. There, they rely on the generosity of a new community and their own ingenuity in order to survive. 

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Review: Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater by Tade Thompson (Orbit 2018)

Reviewed by Stephanie Chariton

British author and psychiatrist Tade Thompson’s stories and shorts have been critically acclaimed worldwide. His debut novel, Rosewater, won both the Nommo Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the U.K. Originally published in 2016, the Wormwood trilogy’s first installment is a deep dive into a world of aliens, with a beautiful mix of psychic powers, detective work, and sci-fi at its best. 

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Review: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi (Mira Books 2020)

Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri

Historical fiction opens the gateway to a different time and place. The settings themselves make readers long for somewhere they’ve never been. This is the case in Alka Joshi’s debut novel, The Henna Artist.

Set in the 1950s, The Henna Artist transports us back to India a few years after gaining independence from the British. Joshi’s vivid imagery makes India’s past crawl off the page, bringing it to life: “We entered a colonnade flanked by lush gardens. Topiary elephants frolicked on the lawns. Live peacocks pranced around circular fountains. Stone urns sprouted honeysuckle, jasmine and sweet pea” (142). Amidst the color and beauty of historical India, Joshi also gives us a taste of the social, economic, and political climates of the time, shedding light on the difficulties for people of lower castes and women.

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Review: The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir by Wayetu Moore

The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir By Wayetu Moore (Graywolf Press 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

There is a quote by G.K. Chesterton that goes, “Fairy tales are not told to tell children that dragons exist. Children already know the dragons exist. Fairy tales are told to tell that dragons can be killed.” But what happens when the dragons follow a child throughout their life? Such is the case with author Wayetu Moore in her memoir The Dragons, The Giant, The Women.

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Review: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum (HarperCollins 2019)

Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri

A book’s purpose is to inform, whether it paints a view of a fantastical world or provides a reflection of everyday life. Sometimes, these purposes indulge our curiosities naturally and slowly. Other times, the author forces our eyes wide open to take in harsh truths we weren’t prepared to face. Etaf Rum’s debut novel, A Woman Is No Man, displays the traditions, culture, and societal expectations of Arab families, but also shows the painful reality for its woman.

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