Stories Of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

stories of your lifeBook – I don’t make a lot of universal recommendations, but I’ll make one now: if you like science fiction, read Ted Chiang. Short stories can be a difficult form for SF, because SF is all about ideas, and how many ideas can you cram into ten pages? The answer appears to be a lot, if you’re good enough. And Chiang is really good. In twenty-four years he’s produced only fourteen stories, but each one of those is a polished gem.

“Tower of Babylon” follows one man’s ascent through the celestial spheres and into heaven. The multiple-award-winning “Hell is the Absence of God” describes a universe where miracles, angelic visitations, and proof of hell are daily occurrences. “Seventy-Two Letters” combines science, biology, and the legend of the golem in unexpected ways. Each single story is incredible, and incredibly different from the others. And lucky for us, Chiang has continued writing since the publication of his only collection to date. The Lifecycle of Software Objects won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2010, and his latest story, “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling,” is available online from Subterranean Press.

 

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

newlywedsBook – Can marriage work for a modern day mail order bride and her suitor?  Read The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger to find out.  Twenty-four-year-old Amina from Bangladesh meets 34-year-old George from Rochester, New York via the internet on the website AsianEuro.com. They had never met in person, but only received photos of each other as attachments in email. Despite obvious differences in nationality, culture and religious upbringing they decide to marry. When Amina arrives in 2005, she experiences true culture shock, but slowly assimilates. Within three years she has her green card, is married to George, and is taking college courses while working at Starbucks. However, there are problems. Amina returns to Bangladesh to bring her parents to the U.S., but a problem with her father’s visa delays her return. Will absence between Amina and George make their hearts grow fonder? This is a moving story of love, kindness, acceptance and cross-cultural differences with just the right amount of humor to make it an enjoyable read.

 

Wasteland by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten

wasteland coverGraphic NovelWasteland is the kind of story that drops you into a new world and expects you to just get to swimming in it. Or walking, as the case may be – and there’s a lot of walking in Wasteland. Michael and Abi are on a quest, after all, to find the mythical land of A-Ree-Yass-I, which legend says was the origin of the poisoned world they now live in. Michael is a scavenger who’s been wandering this desert world for longer than he can remember. When he saves her town from raiding sand eaters, healer Abi decides to trust him, and to join him on his journey.

A lot of the enjoyment of this series is piecing together the history of the Big Wet and the world it destroyed. The comic is advertised as “Post-Apocalyptic America,” but the characters have forgotten so much of their history that as a reader, you know just a little bit more about their world than they do. Fans of dystopias and political science fiction will find a lot to enjoy in Wasteland. (For a really immersive experience, read each volume while listening to the accompanying soundtrack!)

 

Dancing Dogs: Stories by Jon Katz

dancing dogsBook – Ok, so it was the adorable dog on the cover that made me give this book of short stories about human-animal relationships a look. Katz effectively pulls on animal-lover’s heartstrings with these tales portraying the impact four-legged creatures make upon their care-takers lives. Yet, the most thought-provoking stories are from the perspective of the animal. One story, which relates the day of a dog at home while his owner is away, reminds  me of what I have often been told when over-personifying my dog, that animals see things differently and that their behaviors should not be interpreted as human. Dancing Dogs: Stories also explores a multitude of ways strongly attached individuals interact with their animals and appreciate their unique needs and talents. For example, Katz currently resides on a farm, and a number of his stories chronicle the unique world of “working dogs” and the bonds that are formed as owners train and work with their dogs.

The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese by Brian J. O’Connor

1000Book – Personal finance Editor and syndicated “Funny Money” Detroit News columnist O’Connor moved to Detroit with his family shortly before the Great Recession of 2007. As his personal financial situation declines, he is looking for ways to save more, invest more and spend less. He makes a mission to cut his family’s expenditures by $1,000 a month over the course of ten weeks, and record their progress in a series of newspaper columns. He sets up ten categories to target for savings, such as transportation, groceries, entertainment and groceries. Devoting a chapter to each category, he discusses ways to free up cash, make ends meet and “pinch pennies so hard that Lincoln gets a headache.” I liked his approach, although I found his humor a bit monotonous. I didn’t find many new specific ideas, but was intrigued by the idea of setting a specific family budget challenge and methodically working through categories to explore possible savings.

Provence 1970 by Luke Barr

provenceBook – This book, which is drawn from the letters and diaries of twentieth century gourmet personalities, may have you raiding your fridge as you read, due to the mouth-watering descriptions of tasty meals throughout. These personalities include writers as well as chefs such as Julia Child, Richard Olney, and James Beard. However, the focal point of this text is the food writer M.F.K. Fisher, whose revealing journals inspired her great-nephew, an editor of Travel & Leisure, to author this book. His narrative focuses on a wintry period in 1970 when his great-aunt, a columnist for the New Yorker, was traveling in France, meeting up with her fellow food connoisseurs for communal dinners in Provence, and searching for nostalgic French cuisine on her own. Intimate and not always charitable thoughts of how these characters truly viewed each other are revealed, based upon a wealth of their correspondence. The author points to this time as a turning-point, when the titans of American tastes began to question the romanticized ideal of the superiority of French cuisine.

The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian

Jack Aubrey SeriesBook – Although I’ll read just about anything, I primarily consider myself a science fiction fan. I love the experience of exploring new worlds full of strange and unfamiliar things, people, and attitudes. Patrick O’Brien’s excellent series of Napoleonic War naval adventures scratches the same itch for me. There’s the technology, certainly – antiquated rather than futuristic, but the attention to detail is the same, and just like you don’t need to know how faster-than-light travel works in order to enjoy a science fiction story, neither do you need to understand the finer points of sailing against the wind in order to follow one of Aubrey’s fantastic chases. But there’s also the characters, a tightly-knit cast, constantly changing, of people facing physical and emotional danger of all description. The characters are what keeps me coming back to this series, again and again. (Well, and the sloth.)

The series really acts as one long book, telling the story of Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin’s friendship, from the time they meet at a concert in 1800, through a final, unfinished novel set after the Battle of Waterloo. But although the series is best appreciated in sequential order, I do sometimes recommend that for a first attempt, the reader starts with something other than the first book – Post Captain, perhaps, or The Fortune of War (one of my favorites, set during the War of 1812), or even Far Side of the World, as I did when the movie came out and I didn’t know any better. You can always go back and start over again at the beginning, and if you fall in love with the characters, you’ll probably want to anyway.

Instructions for a Heat Wave by Maggie O’Farrell

instructions for heatwaveBook – Meet the Riordans. Gretta, a devout Irish Catholic, discovers her husband has gone missing during a crippling heat wave in 1976 England. Her three adult children gather together for the first time in years to help search for their father. Monica, the oldest daughter, is her mother’s rock and seems to have a well-ordered life. But her partner’s daughters despise her and she hides secrets that she has never faced. Her brother, Michael Francis, feels guilt over a past indiscretion and wonders if his wife, newly enrolled in community college, is having an affair. The youngest sibling, Aoife, has always had issues. She was a screaming infant and an unruly child, until finally, as an adult, she escapes to America and reinvents herself. The disappearance of their father is the catalyst that brings everyone together, and in the search for him, they discover and are forced to address the secrets and misunderstandings that have wedged between them. I listened to the audiobook of this title and was absorbed in the story and the narration by John Lee.

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

stella bainBook – This novel begins with a compelling mystery as the main character awakens in a field hospital in Marne, France during World War I, not knowing her name or anything about herself beyond what is evident from her British nursing uniform and her American accent. This beautifully written historical fiction has the reader rooting for the courageous nurse as she forges on with nursing the wounded, pursuing threads of her identity, and ultimately facing a court trial. The audiobook is narrated by Hope Davis, and her pleasant, soothing voice matches Shreve’s spare, graceful presentation of a tragic yet intriguing story revolving around the development of psychotherapy for victims of shocking events. The courage, generosity, and intellect of individuals who aid the victims of war and prejudice are highlighted in the telling of “Stella Bain’s” story. The historical setting also provides a nostalgic backdrop for a love story that develops sweetly during this hopeful tale of rebuilding. If you enjoy this book, the library collections contain numerous novels by this award-winning author.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

replacementBook – Mackie Doyle is different. Then again, so is Gentry, the decaying steel town he lives in. Things are pretty good there, except when they aren’t, but mostly it’s a town where people have an unnatural ability to pretend that everything is OK. People pretend they don’t notice that Mackie is weird, and they pretend not to care when their children go missing on a startlingly regular schedule. Things start to change when Tate, a girl at Mackie’s school, loses her little sister, and refuses to pretend that it’s all OK.

I really enjoyed this dark and creepy YA interpretation of the myth of the changeling, babies stolen away by the faeries with alien children left in their place. Mackie is a wonderfully relatable character, a boy who knows he’s strange but doesn’t know how normal he is at the same time, and Tate is a fierce companion. Recommended for fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Holly Black.