The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Book – An undeniably alien communication is received on Earth. While governments bicker and argue about what to do next, the Jesuits quietly fund their own miniature space program, designed to send one small group of scientists and missionaries to the signal’s source, to see what they can find. It goes…about as well as first contacts with Jesuit missionaries traditionally goes: fine, until it isn’t, and then it’s horrible.

This is the story of Father Emilio Sandoz, priest and scientist, heretic and – perhaps – saint, who went to another world to meet the people there and suffered terribly for his mistakes. The story is told largely in flashback, as Sandoz is interviewed by the Vatican to determine exactly what went wrong with the mission and who is to blame. So even though large portions of the book are really very happy and cheerful, there’s an ominous cloud hanging over the whole as we wait to find out just what went so terribly wrong. It’s also a story about good intentions: how much having them can and can’t make a difference, and how we apportion blame for things we wish had never happened.

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

Book – What do a PhD candidate and a gang leader have in common? They both have a vested interest in the life of gang members and their actions. Sudhir was a graduate student at the University of Chicago during the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. In Gang Leader for a Day Sudhir befriends J.T., the leader of the Black Kings, a gang on the Southside of Chicago. The two have a chance encounter when Sudhir is trying to get surveys filled out by tenants at a Chicago projects high-rise. This meeting will lead them to develop an interesting relationship that will span over 10 years.

J.T. shows Sudhir what it takes to lead a gang and how the gang operates. Sudhir learns that gangs are structured and operate very similar to most corporations. The major difference being the products (drugs), and employee discipline delivered when gang members do not meet organization expectations, which comes in the form of violence.

Sudhir broke the mold for sociological studies when he performed this research. Normally sociologists use surveys to collect data on why subjects feel the way they do. Sudhir decided to immerse himself in gang culture in order to find out what gang life was like, how the community dealt with the gang, and why J.T. returned to the gang life after having attended college and a job at a downtown business. Sudhir also develops relationships with several community members and leaders allowing Sudhir to obtain a better understanding of life in the projects of Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes.

I listened to the audiobook and would like to recommend it for those trying audiobooks for the first time. The reader had a voice that made me want to listen and kept a good pace. Audiobooks can be tricky because many factors will affect the listener’s experience. Readers with interest in true crime, gang culture, and sociological studies will enjoy this book.

Sickened: the memoir of a Munchausen by proxy childhood by Julie Gregory

Book– Munchausen by proxy is a rare form of child abuse characterized by faking or exaggerating symptoms of illness in a child, usually to gain attention from the medical community.  Gregory recounts a harrowing childhood spent in hospital rooms, performing illness (or actually being made ill) to satisfy her mother’s craving for attention. Her mother alternates between deliberately starving and abusing her, turning the rest of the family against her, including her helpless father, and cossetting her with attention. Gregory focuses on the strategies she used to survive, such as stealing food from other students’ lunches and from convenience stores.

The writing is at its best when Gregory is understating her situation; like most works of this kind, overly dramatic language can often actually take away from the impact of the story. She includes scans of her own medical records from the time and it is chilling to see how willing some doctors were to believe her mother’s stories. While Gregory obviously escapes her mother’s orbit, as of Gregory’s memoir, there are still children in Gregory’s mother’s care.

Sickened will appeal to fans of memoirs chronicling mental illness, complicated family relationships, and difficult upbringings.

Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt

518llbMNNIL._SY344_Book – Never mind The Force Awakens and its record-busting box-office numbers.  If geek has really become chic, as popular wisdom would have us believe, then there is no surer sign of the fact than the existence of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths.  Hold your head high and read it with pride, fellow liberated nerds of Warrenville, in the sure and certain knowledge, as author Ryan Britt puts it, that the geek has inherited the earth.

In a series of humorous essays, each just the right length for a bite-sized lunchtime or before-bed treat, Britt shares his love of all things geek, from space operas to hobbits to superheroes.  As a devotee of genre fiction in all its types and kinds–an unabashed geek, in short–I found a great deal of enjoyment in the familiarity of Britt’s experiences and fannish devotions (I love Jeremy Brett’s Holmes too, Mr. Britt, and I was right there with you on the weekly dose of delicious-but-depressing Battlestar blues!).  Even if your speculative fiction experience begins and ends with Star Wars or The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, however, I think there’s a lot of interest to be found here.  Some of the most fascinating essays to me were those that covered ground I wasn’t so familiar with, like “Wearing Dracula’s Pants”, about the history of vampire stories in print and on-screen.  Other essays focus on Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Back to the Future, Tolkien, movie music, and, yes, Star Wars, among many other things.  It’s a playful, cheeky, joyous celebration of how and why we love the stories that have become our century’s particular mythology, and a massively fun ride from the first page to the last.

Novels In Verse: The Forgotten Genre

Book – The genre of novels in verse often gets swept under the rug, lost in the muddle of YA fiction.  As opposed to the narrative style of most YA novels (words organized in sentences and paragraphs), verse novels tell stories in the form of free verse poetry.  Aside from their unique formatting, novels in verse excel at covering difficult topics and creating emotionally charged stories.


Here are a few examples of novels in verse, in a variety of themes:

Substance Abuse: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins challenges taboo subjects such as drug addiction, abuse, sex, and suicide in her novels. In her first verse novel, titled Crank, Hopkins addresses drug addiction through the experiences of the main character, Kristina, otherwise known as Bree. Hopkins bases the story off of her own experience with her daughter’s addiction.  The strength in this novel is the connection the author has to the subject matter.

Historical Fiction: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

This story follows fourteen year old Billie Joe and her experiences during the dust bowl of the Great Depression.  Billie Joe’s narration is a diary of daily life on her family’s farm where she lives with her Daddy and Ma.  Emotionally charged, this story provides insight into the lives of those living through the dust bowl, while the free verse form helps readers connect to the characters more fully.


Other verse novels at the Warrenville Library include: Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas, A Girl Named Mister by Nick Grimes, May B: A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose,
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham, and Sold by Patricia McCormick

 

7th Sigma by Steven Gould

7th sigmaBook – I had so much fun with 7th Sigma. I love crossover genres, books that combine a little bit of everything to get something new, and I think this might be one of the most ambitious I’ve ever seen – science-fictional post-apocalyptic Western spy-fi. Wait, that doesn’t get the aikido in there. And the characters are great. Kimble starts out as a street kid who gets pretty much adopted by Ruth, a divorced aikido master who’s heading out to start a new dojo in the territory. This is definitely Kimble’s story – by the end of the book he’ll be heading off to college – but I loved Ruth from the moment she walked into town. She’s determined to make for herself the kind of life she wants, and she isn’t going to let anything get in her way. I admire that.

I think my favorite part was the serial nature of the story; aside from the last two adventures, each of the chapters is pretty much self-contained.  It gave the book the feel of an old Western TV show. Heck, I’d love to see this universe as a TV show. SyFy, I’m looking at you.

Renovation by Lane Robins

renovationBook – Sometimes a psychic gift can feel more like a psychic curse. Ever since a near-death experience in his teens, JK Lassiter has been able to read the memories of the people or places that he touches with his hands, sometimes so viscerally that the memories cause him psychotic episodes. Because of this, his parents shut him away from the world. When the book begins, however, JK’s brother has been recently freed JK from their well-intended imprisonment and has helped him land a construction job flipping houses. His first house is in a close-knit neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, where the prior owners have skipped town under mysterious circumstances. Though JK gets a seriously bad vibe from the house, he is determined to see the job through and grab his chance at a normal life. Despite having to wear gloves and keep some distance from people, JK tries to fit in, flirting with the sexy man next door, Nick Collier, and making friends in the neighborhood.

Things turn sour, though, when his desire for the truth and psychic abilities reveal bodies, animal and human, in the backyard of the house. Each of his new friends and neighbors, he begins to discover, has ample motive for the crime. To discover the culprit and to clear Nick and his friends, JK tries to harness his psychic ability that has to this point caused him only anguish.

Renovation will appeal to fans of both romances and mysteries, especially fans of closed-room mysteries. I found that the culprit was fairly easy to suss out early on, but watching JK figure it out was still a pleasure. This one feels like the start of a series, so if you liked it, keep your eyes out for another one.

Madam Secretary (2014)

madam-secretary-first-season.31873TV Series – I am hooked on political TV series such as The West Wing, House of Cards, and Scandal.  Therefore, I was thrilled when Madam Secretary came out starring Tea Leoni.  Elizabeth McCord is suddenly asked to serve as Secretary of State, when the current one is killed in a plane crash.  She has a unique relationship with the President of the United States, since he recruited her right out of college for the CIA.  Years later she left the CIA, because she morally disagreed with some of their interrogation tactics. In her new position as Secretary of State she is a fish out of water, since she is not a politician, nor does she have political aspirations and she is very sympathetic. Upon taking Office she inherits most of her own staff and needless to say, there is a big adjustment for all.  The only one she hired on her own is Blake, her office assistant, who is fiercely loyal to Elizabeth. She even butts heads with some of the White House staff, especially the President’s Chief of Staff.

Her former assignments with the CIA have given Elizabeth the national and international experience essential to the Office. Her husband, Henry, a religious scholar is not threatened by her job and power and he is able to offer insight of world politics, since many conflicts have religious roots. She also has 3 children who she involved in the decision making on whether she should take the job.

One of the creators of this show is Morgan Freeman who found it interesting that the 3 former Secretaries of State were all women, though he made it very clear that Elizabeth McCord is no Hillary Clinton. This is a very interesting show that gives viewers insight into the daily life of the Secretary of State and gives us an intelligent character that works hard to balance her job, family, and morals.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Book –Set in 1964, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards easily connects to our modern world.  On a stormy Winter’s night, Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver his own twins.  The first one comes easily, a perfect baby boy.  But the twin, his daughter is different; the doctor immediately sees that she has Down’s Syndrome.  Before his wife can notice, he hands the baby girl off to his nurse, instructing her to take the child and leave her at an institution.  He then tells his wife that her daughter was a stillborn, in his mind saving her and himself from the anguish of raising a child with disabilities.

But the nurse, Caroline, can’t bear to leave the baby, and decides to run away and raise the child as her own.  Though separated by distance and lies, the lives of the infant twins and their families are forever intertwined.

In a new city, Caroline raises Phoebe in a happy and loving household.  Meanwhile, the doctor is faced with his wife’s grief over the loss of her infant daughter.  In her mourning, their son Paul grows up in a distant family full of regret and anguish.  His mother is never able to console her heartache, carrying her grief throughout her life.

Kim weaves a story that is powerfully real, illuminating the loss of a child with the gift of a new life.  In our modern world, the doctor would have been able to foresee his daughter’s disability in the womb.  Would he and his wife have terminated the pregnancy, knowing the difficulties they might face? With such high awareness of disabilities like Down’s Syndrome in today’s society, there is so much support available for parents and families.  It’s interesting to wonder what might have been, if these fictional characters represented real people living in the 21st century.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book – Cath is a huge Simon Snow fan. Book releases, movie premiers, dressing up, and writing fan fiction have consumed her life and that of her twin sister Wren. But now Cath and Wren are starting their first year of college and Wren no longer seems to care about Simon Snow. But Cath cannot let go. Simon Snow helped her cope with her mother leaving and her father’s illness. And there is no way she can give up on her fan fiction, Carry On Simon, not when thousands of people are expecting her weekly updates. But navigating college is stressful, especially when making new friends is not your strong suit, and Cath’s upper level Writing class does not leave a lot of time for extra writing projects. Add cute (but confusing) boys to the mix and Cath’s freshman year becomes a lot more complicated than she wished.

Fangirl tells the relatable story of a young college freshman who would rather stay in her room and write fan fiction than interact with anybody. It’s about breaking out of your comfort zone in order to make new friends, have adventures, and start relationships. If you love writing and cute love stories Fangirl is a great book to read.