Monica’s Musings: Vox

Vox by Christina Dalcher

Summary: Not so long ago, women were not considered equal to men. Men had superiority over women and that was final. In this book, Christina Dalcher shows a world that has reverted back to limiting women’s rights and uses “pure” religion as an excuse.

Dr. Jean McClellan, an American linguistic scientist, and mother noticed small shifts happening in the world around her. Little things such as women representation decreasing in the government, the resurgence of the “pure” religion, and the slow chipping away at female freedoms, all contributed to the loss of women’s rights. At the time, she did not realize the extreme impact these changes would have on her life.

All females, including children, are eventually forced to wear a bracelet that counts the number of words that can be said in a day. The limit is set at 100 words per day per girl, and if more are said, a painful shock is delivered. No other forms of communication can be used either because women are denied the ability to read or write. After all, an educated woman is a dangerous woman. Because of this, Jean makes it her mission to get her voice back, even if it means losing everything.

Thoughts: I found this book fascinating and enraging all at once. I would read right before bed, and I would not be able to stop thinking about what a world like this would be like. It was heartbreaking seeing Dr. McClellan’s family dynamic change throughout the story. Her sons became entitled and her daughter became submissive, thanks to the public schooling that enforced the ideas of the new law. This is the kind of book where the pages essentially turn themselves.

“Think about where you’ll be—where your daughters will be—when the courts turn back the clock. Think about words like ‘spousal permission’ and ‘paternal consent.’ Think about waking up one morning and finding you don’t have a voice in anything.”

– Christina Dalcher

What’s Ashley Reading?: Hamnet

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

First line: A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

Summary: In 1580, in England, a young tutor named William Shakespeare meets the daughter of his employers. She is a strange girl who wanders the fields with her falcon on her arm. Against the wishes of their families they marry. Agnes has a reputation as a healer. People flock to her for cures. However, when their son, Hamnet, falls ill to the bubonic plague there is little she can do for the boy. With the heartache and loss Shakespeare writes one of his most epic plays.

My Thoughts: This book was beautifully written. It was almost poetic in its writing and style. I listened to most of this and the reader was so soothing. I think this would be a perfect book for book clubs, fans of historical fiction or literary fiction.

This brings to life a major part of Shakespeare’s life, his family. Very little is written or talked about since his most famous times were in London and on the stage. I loved learning about Agnes (or Anne) and their children. Life was so simple back then but also very tragic as well. I knew very little even though I have read several of his plays and watched many documentaries and movies of his life. The fact that we can still see some of the places he lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon is astounding since over 400 years have passed.

My favorite chapter, and the one that will most likely stick with me, was the one about the flea. O’Farrell spends a whole chapter on the flea that brought the plague to the home of William Shakespeare and eventually killed his only son. It is hard to imagine how something that started thousands of miles away could affect so many. The tale was fascinating. Who would ever consider writing about the flea?! It is genius.

FYI: Winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Xochitl’s Book Thoughts: Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

First line: A convenience store is a world of sounds.

Summary and Thoughts: In Japan, convenience stores are essential to the Japanese lifestyle. They are on every block, sometimes two facing each other. Keiko Furukura sees convenience stores to be a part of her as much as they are a part of Japan. Odd since birth, Keiko has always found trouble fitting in. She took everything literally and always seemed to get in trouble no matter what she did to correct her behavior. At the age of eighteen she started working part-time at a new convenience store in hopes to blend in to normal society. There she learns how to interact with people only as a convenience store worker. It’s also there that she learns to copy the clothing style and mannerisms of her coworkers. Eighteen years later she is still doing her usual routine much to the distaste of those around her, despite her being perfectly happy as a convenience store worker. In fact, she believes she can only live and breathe as a convenience store worker. An opportunity with an ex co-worker means she can finally pretend to please her family and friends’ wishes, but she’s not sure if she’s truly happy about it.

This was a quick read as it was small with only about 170 pages. It was also quick in that I didn’t want to put it down. I found the main character to be hilarious and relatable without her even trying to be. You can tell she is coded as an autistic character with a lot of self-awareness. She knows what it takes to be a normal person in society and that her odd behavior has made those around Keiko want her to be ‘cured’, but she can’t. I got frustrated along with her when some of her attempts where met with criticism. What is she supposed to do when no one is clear with her? This book also helped me understand Japanese cultural norms but also understand why someone like Furukura would be frustrated with what society thinks she should do. It was refreshing to see marriage not be the end or desirable goal. To me, this book was a good way to show that Japan still has some ways to go in terms of understanding and educating themselves about people with autism. For a quick read, I was able to learn so much and be entertained.

FYI: Main character has violent intrusive thoughts.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Death In Her Hands

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

First line: Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.

Summary: Vesta, a seventy-two year old lady, is walking her dog through the woods when she finds a note about Magda. She is dead. But there is no body. Vesta is intrigued by the note. She is sure that she is smart enough to figure out who killed Magda.

My Thoughts: I immediately wanted to read this with the description and the cover. It seemed like something I would absolutely love. As soon as I started it I was confused and wasn’t sure how to feel. It was just intriguing enough to keep reading but I never knew what was truly going on.

Vesta is a solitary old woman who decides to solve a mystery. She knows no one in the area so she just makes up names and characteristics of the suspects. Everything plays out in her head. And over time things start to change. Her remembrances change. Her views on reality change. I just do not know what I just read. It did keep me reading until the end but I was disappointed in its ending.

FYI: It was a 3 star book until the ending.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Playing Nice

Playing Nice by J. P. Delaney

First line: It was just an ordinary day.

Summary: Pete is a stay-at-home dad while his partner, Maddie, works. One day after arriving home from dropping his son, Theo, off at the daycare he gets a visit from a man who tells him that Theo is his son. It is a lot to take in. Miles tells him that there was a mix-up at the NICU when Theo was born. It seems that Pete and Maddie’s son was switched with Miles’ son. They have each been raising the others’ child for the last two years.

As the couples meet and discuss the situation they feel like they got lucky that each is so amendable. They are getting along well and working out the details. But can they trust this other couple with their son? As time goes by they see that things going on in the Lambert’s house is not as they seem.

My Thoughts: I think this is Delaney’s best book so far! It was really fast and had a good story. It’s terrifying but a real worry that sometimes mistakes like this may happen. With understaffed hospitals and so many children to be taken care of, it could easily happen.

I knew from the beginning when everything was going so well that there was going to be a lot of drama hitting Pete and Maddie soon! It kept me guessing and shaking my head as more craziness continued to appear. I was so shocked with the way every little interaction was spun and twisted to fit the needs of the Lamberts.

And I loved the ending. It wasn’t exactly mind-blowing but it was satisfactory and gave perfect closure. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a book they can easily finish in a weekend. It is easy to lose yourself in the drama and need to find out what happens next.

FYI: Check out J.P. Delaney’s other books for more great reads!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

First line: “There are places you can go,” Ariana tells him, “and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen.”

Summary: A Second Civil War was fought over the rights of reproduction. Under the new Bills of Life children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can be unwound which means their organs will be harvested and given to patients who need new parts. Every part of the Unwind will be used so technically they are still “alive” but just in another form.

Connor has been trouble for his parents for years but he never thought that they would actually choose to unwind him. Risa is a ward of the state. She lived her whole life in a state home learning how to play classical piano but when it comes time to test her she does not measure up to the set standards. Lev was raised knowing he was born to be an Unwind. He is called a tithe. But on one fateful day these three get thrown together and their lives will change forever!

My Thoughts: I absolutely love everything that Neal Shusterman has written (at the last the ones I’ve read so far)! He is a genius. He writes books that really make a person think. It is great that there are books like this and his other series, Scythe, for kids to read. The stories deal with tough topics and decisions. And the worlds he builds are just unreal. I am blown away by his story telling and his plots.

It is easy to get caught up in the story. I was listening to this as I took a trip to Kansas City and one of the discs had trouble loading and I was yelling at it to start working. I needed to know what happened! Luckily it started playing.

Each of the characters is unique and have difficult stories to tell. Shusterman brings in minor characters that give even more insight into life in the days of Unwinds and the recipients of the organs. And at one point we get to experience the consciousness of an Unwind while he is being unwound. It was disturbing.

I cannot wait to start the next book and see how the story continues. It is scary, realistic and very thought provoking. I highly recommend this.

FYI: It does have some graphic moments and can be a little disturbing for some people.