The City & The City by China Miéville

Book – Tyador Bocity & cityrlú is a detective in Beszel, charged with investigating the murder of an unidentified woman found in one of their slums. His case would be much simpler if he did not believe she was murdered in Ul Quoma, the neighboring city and other half of Beszel, a city which intertwines with his own but whose borders are strictly policed by a shadowy force known as Breach. To unwind the mystery, he must travel across and between these borders, but carefully, because the murderers appear to be extremely powerful – and Breach is always watching.

Miéville’s books always revolve around cities, from the fantastical cities of Bas-Lag to a mystical London, but Beszel and Ul Quoma are perhaps the strangest yet, although there is almost fantastical about them, strictly speaking. This book also features two of the greatest chase scenes I’ve ever read, enabled by the cities’ particularly peculiar geography.

The Spellman novels by Lisa Lutz

spellmanBook – The Spellmans are a madcap, zany family and a lot of fun to spend some pages with. Mom and Dad are the owners and directors of Spellman Investigations and employ their daughter, Izzy, as a detective. The problem is that Izzy is a bit of a rebel and not good at following rules or, in some cases, even the law. Not only do the Spellmans investigate their cases, but they usually have some hidden agendas within their agency and much of their time is devoted to discovering and exposing their own family’s secrets. Izzy’s seemingly perfect lawyer brother is often enlisted for help and her precocious younger sister Rae infiltrates the best-laid plans. Izzy narrates the books and provides footnotes at the bottom of the pages to offer further explanations regarding her family’s background, her romantic foibles and other items of interest. The series kicks off with The Spellman Files and the sixth Spellman novel was published earlier this year.    

The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein

Book – This Fallback Plan creatively depicts the relatable growing pains and ennui of a recent Northwestern graduate living with her parents during a hot summer month in Lombard, Illinois. This novel, published in 2012, possesses the current voice of youth that is reminiscent of the writing in the television series Girls. The main character is struggling after a difficult final semester at school, yet her tone is light and her glib descriptions of her daily undertakings are fresh and amusing. Because the setting of the book is mainly within Lombard, I found the character’s humorous viewpoint on local area events and establishments to be especially enjoyable. The text contains discerning descriptions of the rituals of family life from the perspective of a twenty year old. More than that, the novel addresses the challenges impacting new as well as established families. Stein realistically captures the trials an individual faces with each identity adopted during the stages of life. I first became aware of this book upon viewing a telecast of a reading by the author at the College of DuPage. Here is a link to a video of Leigh Stein reading selections from her work at the college.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

wildBookWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is an inspirational and candidly honest memoir by Cheryl Strayed.  At the age of 26, feeling that she no longer had anything to lose, Strayed makes an impulsive decision to hike 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail; her ultimate goal is to reach the Bridge of the Gods spanning the Columbia River at the Washington-Oregon border. Totally inexperienced and naïve she embarks solo on a journey that begins in the Mojave Desert and takes her through California, Oregon, and Washington State.  I was perfectly content being an armchair traveler as the author encountered black bears, rattlesnakes, temperature extremes, inadequate boots that rubbed blisters on her heels and made her toe nails fall off and clothing that failed to keep her cool in scorching heat or warm in the bitter cold while hauling all her possessions in a ridiculously heavy backpack appropriately named Monster. She was lonely, vulnerable, and woefully inexperienced. Many times she went hungry and unshowered due to her lack of planning and funds. At other times, I wished that I could hike along with Strayed taking in the beauty of the trail, feeling a great sense of accomplishment with every mile hiked and enjoying the interactions when meeting up with other hikers and experiencing the kindnesses and friendships that she made along the way.  I cheered as she became stronger, smarter and began to heal.  The book also recounts her disappointments and mistakes including drug use and sexual promiscuity that ultimately led to her escape to the trail. “I was crying over all of it,” she writes, “over the sick mire I’d made of my life since my mother died; over the stupid existence that had become my own. I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly.” This is a lovely story of both physical and spiritual endurance and realization.