Great Reads

Feldman, Deborah. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

In this debut memoir, Feldman gives readers a fascinating glimpse into her life growing up in the extremely religious Satmar Hasidic community as well as her eventual escape from that life.  The daughter of a mentally unstable father and gay mother, who also decided to leave the extremely orthodox community as a young woman, Feldman was raised by her grandparents who firmly adhered to the religious and social customs of their culture. As she grew up, she struggled with the increasing expectations of her community to marry while her only real desire was to indulge in English language literature in her home where only Yiddish was allowed. When Feldman is married to a nice Satmar boy, she believes he will be the perfect husband, one that will allow her to explore her interests which most of the community would frown upon. Unexpectedly however, their first year of marriage is a disaster; full of difficulties with their sex life along with crippling anxiety for Feldman.

When Feldman finally becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, she finds the courage to step outside her community for the first time. She aggressively pursues a college education while planning her escape from her disappointing marriage and a community where she no longer belongs.  Intriguing and extremely personal, this memoir explores the striking metamorphosis of young woman.

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Jemisin, N. K. The Killing Moon

The desert city of Gujaareh is a place of peace, dedicated to the dream-goddess Hananja.  Hananja’s peace is kept and maintained by the priests of the Hetawa who heal the sick, give peace and safe passage to the dream-world to the old and dying, and Gather the souls of those judged corrupt. Gatherers gather the mystic dreamblood of those sleeping in Hanaja’s city, and the Sharers use that dreamblood in their magical healing.  Gatherer Ehiru is known as the most gifted Gatherer of his generation, strong and wise and full of faith. But his faith is shaken to the core when a Gathering gone wrong lands him in the middle of a corrupt conspiracy that has wormed through and undermined the entire structure of his society, his religion, and his government. Now he and his apprentice Nijiri must fight to do as their religion demands—the right thing, the peaceful thing—even though it may mean toppling their entire civilization.

A fascinating, non-Western-inspired, and richly detailed setting and culture; engaging, appealing, and realistic characters; and an entirely fresh take on magic and religion elevate this fantasy to the top of its genre. Highly recommended.

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Goolrick, Robert. Heading Out to Wonderful

Goolrick’s second novel (after A Reliable Wife, 2009) is an Appalachian folk ballad given life.  It’s just after WWII and Charlie Beale drives into the small Blue Ridge town of Brownsburg, Virginia, looking for something. A place to call home, a place to put down roots. Brownsburg, where no crime has ever been committed and where the landscape makes Charlie’s heart sing, seems to be the perfect place. He offers his services to the local butcher, Will Haislett, buys up land, and begins to settle in.  But even as he finds his way in the town, he remains an outsider. The locals love him, but do not socialize with him much. And Charlie makes mistakes, too. He visits every church in town before finding a spiritual home in the African-American Episcopal chapel; he buys more land than he truly needs; he begins to feel like a second father to Sam, Will Haislett’s 5-year-old son; and most dangerously, he falls in love with Sylvan Glass, the young beautiful wife of local small-time plutocrat Harrison Glass, who looks at Sylvan more as an investment than a wife. Sylvan is an outsider like Charlie; born in a small backwoods hollow, she nevertheless dreams of Hollywood and dresses and acts like a movie star. As their affair progresses toward the inevitable explosive climax, poor young Sam struggles to understand something far beyond his young experience and is altered irretrievably by what he witnesses.

Told in alternating viewpoints, this is a timeless tale of illicit passion and violence that builds slowly to a haunting climax. Fans of Goolrick’s first novel will not be disappointed.

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Bledsoe, Alex. The Sword-Edged Blonde

Eddie LaCrosse is a self-described “sword jockey,” a private investigator for hire in a world of kings, queens, missing princesses, murder most foul, and magic of all stripes. He’s initially hired to find a missing princess, but along the way finds himself enlisted to solve the case of a particularly heinous murder and prove the Queen accused of the crime innocent. Unfortunately for Eddie, the King who’s hired him is Eddie’s long-lost best friend and part of a past Eddie’s been running from for most of his life. The solution to the mystery, too, lies in a part of Eddie’s past he’d rather forget. But circumstances force him to confront the tragedies he’s been hiding and come to grips with his own guilty conscience.

A spirited blend of sword-and-sorcery fantasy with hard-boiled-noir, The Sword-Edged Blonde is a fast-paced, one-liner-littered delight. It’s only the first in a series featuring the wise cracking sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse, so look out for Burn Me Deadly, the second Eddie adventure.

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Millet, Lydia. How the Dead Dream

Pulitzer finalist Millet begins a loosely connected trilogy with this deliberately paced character study of a novel.  Real estate developer T. has always been obsessed with money; he was the first boy his age to have a bank account and he found creative ways to fill it.  As a young man, he is already a success, building retirement resorts in the desert and vacation resorts on remote islands.  But his entire world is shaken when he first falls in love with a woman and then unexpectedly loses her to a car accident.  Now lost and alone except for his increasingly senile mother, his competent but distant secretary, and his secretary’s brash paraplegic daughter, T. becomes obsessed with things that are lost and things that are last…specifically, on animals close to the brink of extinction. He begins a series of late-night commando break-ins of zoos, trying to be close to the animals so he can attempt to understand how they feel and therefore, how he feels.  When he visits his holdings in South America and attempts to track down the endangered jaguars living on a preserve nearby, his quest comes to a definitive conclusion as he is forced to come face-to-face with his deepest and most bare self.

A lyrical, vivid meditation on self vs world, self vs others, and humanity vs nature, Millet’s novel is involving, disturbing, and insightful.

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