Book – Short stories are funny things. They’re short, of course, which means you don’t spend very much time with them, but somehow they can pack even more emotional punch than a novel. Some writers can write beautiful novels and their short stories fall flat; some writers write incredible short stories but their novels meander strangely. For my part, I think of Angela Carter as the second type: her novels are deeply weird in a way I don’t enjoy, but her short stories are incredibly powerful.
This is an omnibus collection of Carter’s work, so there’s a lot of variety here. Some of my favorite stories are “The Fall River Axe Murders,” a narrative about Lizzie Borden; “The Bloody Chamber,” a retelling of the Bluebeard fairy tale; and “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” a story Carter wrote after someone argued that the only thing a story needed was for something to happen. (Nothing actually happens in “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” but it’s a moving story nonetheless.)
This is a big collection, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to read it all at once anyway – there’s too much going on. But if you’re looking for a little flicker of something brilliant, this is a good book to dip into.
Book – The Circle chronicles the experiences of Mae, who with the help of a friend has landed her dream job at the nation’s premier Internet corporation, the Circle. This company is the descendant of companies such as Google and Facebook, and descriptions of the well-appointed corporate campus resemble the Silicon Valley workplaces glorified in movies such as The Internship. Mae’s story is engaging as she revels in the luxury and convenience of her modern workplace, and endeavors to move up in the literal ranking system of the company. Her character brings to mind recent college graduates who have faced a grim employment landscape, therefore her motivations are understandable and her successes are satisfying.
The Circle takes care of their employees’ every need, physical, intellectual, and social, asking only that employees immerse themselves in the campus culture and share feedback on all their experiences. “Sharing is Caring” is a corporate mantra that Mae herself helps to develop, one that evolves over the course of this cautionary tale. What is especially chilling about this cleverly subtle satire of modern Internet culture is that the technology and worldview described are only steps away from where current trends are steering us.
Book – Ben Benjamin is in a low place – he’s lost his job, his home and his family. Hoping to start a new career, he enrolls in a night class called the “Fundamentals of Caregiving.” Upon receiving his certificate, he begins to care for his first patient, nineteen-year-old Trevor. Trevor has Duchenne muscular atrophy and requires an extensive amount of assistance from his mother, Elsa, and Ben. Trevor’s father, Bob, has awkwardly been trying to mend the rift he created with Trevor when he abandoned the family years earlier. Although Trevor and his mother have been rebuffing his attempts for years, when Bob is in a car accident, Trevor initiates the idea of a 600 mile road trip to visit him in Utah. When Ben and Trevor set off on their adventure, they have no idea about the people they’ll meet and the shift their lives will take on their journey.
While Ben struggles to keep a professional, emotional distance from Trevor, he also struggles with his own emotions in dealing with his tragic past. What keeps this book from becoming overly maudlin is the humor. The characters are quirky, and Evison highlights the absurd amidst the difficult situations in their lives. This book was an off-beat, surprising ride through the lives of Ben and Trevor.
Book – An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg is the story of Jean Gillkyson, a young widow with a precocious nine year old daughter named Griff. Griff has made her mother promise that the next time Roy beats Jean up they will leave him. Jean keeps her promise and Griff is thrilled by the prospect of them starting a new life and going on an adventure. Having no money and no place to go Jean decides to seek refuge with her father-in-law, Einar, an old rancher in Wyoming whom she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Griff loves ranch life, the log house, and immediately makes friend with Einar’s Vietnam buddy Mitch, but will she be able to win the heart of her grandfather? Will Einar and Jean ever be able to move on and overcome the guilt that they both feel and learn to forgive and accept one another as family? Beautifully written and full of emotion this story is about healing and the hope that Griff will finally have a real home and stable family. The movie version of An Unfinished Life is very well done and shows the beauty of Wyoming. It stars Robert Redford as Einar and Jennifer Lopez as Jean.
Book – What would happen if, one day, all the humans on Earth simply vanished? What would happen to the planet, and what would happen to all the stuff we left behind? As a practical question, it’s not a terribly important scenario. All humans on Earth are unlikely to vanish all at the same time. But as an exercise in understanding the processes of the natural world and the durability of human creation, it’s completely enthralling. Be amazed at how quickly New York City would crumble into dust! Be horrified at just how long the Gulf of Mexico would burn if a spark hit an oil rig in just the wrong way! And be utterly humbled by the idea of a world without humanity in it at all.
I first picked this up to research a post-apocalyptic story I wanted to write. I was not disappointed – there’s enough material here to fuel hundreds of post-apocalyptic stories, no zombies required. At seven years old and counting, some of the science is probably getting dated, but it’s still a great read. For advice on avoiding an end-of-the-world scenario, try Scatter, Adapt and Remember by Annalee Newitz, or, for a larger-scale apocalypse, The Life and Death of Planet Earth by Donald Brownlee.
Book – Maia may have been an emperor’s son, but he never expected to amount to anything. His older brother was the heir, after all, and Maia had been exiled from court when his mother died, so the chances of Maia ever leaving the backwater estate he’s grown up in are small. But when the Emperor – along with all of his other heirs – die in an airship crash, Maia is the only one left, and he will have to learn everything there is to know about the court before he suffers the same fate as his father.
Katherine Addison is the new pen-name of Sarah Monette, who I’ve already written about as one of my favorite authors. With The Goblin Emperor she switches gears from the dark, emotionally fraught stories she’s known for to a more optimistic mood. Maia has a hard life, but he does well in it, gaining confidence by leaps and bounds as the story progresses. This is a coming-of-age story that starts where most leave off (usually becoming Emperor is the reward at the end of the quest) and it’s an extremely satisfying one. I’m happy to call this already one of the best fantasy books of the year.
Book – Our Summer Reading Program begins June 1st. The theme is “Paws to Read”, which means that we will be highlighting and displaying animal themed books. We will be featuring animals not only with paws, but also fins, talons, hooves, etc. One of my favorite animal stories that I would like to share is Grayson by Lynne Cox. It’s a heart-warming quick read that will appeal to adults, teens, and even non-animal lovers. Cox recounts her magical encounter with a baby whale that had become separated from its mother one March morning off the Southern California when she was only 17 years old and training for long distance swimming. In essence, the baby views Cox as his mother and she is determined to re-unite the whale with his real mother. She and the mammal form a very special bond and the narrative not only describes the expanse of the ocean and the exotic underwater life it holds, but it is also a spiritual reflection. The optimistic and courageous swimmer is almost hyper thermic – the water is only 55 degrees – and both Cox and the calf keep searching despite dehydration, hunger, and fatigue.
Book – A Discovery of Witches begins in the heart of academia in Oxford’s Bodleian library, where a bright young scholar, Diana, is researching centuries-old manuscripts for a presentation on the origins of science. The author’s detailed descriptions of the atmospheric library and Oxford’s history laden campus set a very pleasant tone for this story of romance, magic, history, and suspense. Diana has suppressed all connections to her family’s involvement with magic and is therefore taken by surprise when her contact with an enchanted manuscript on alchemy in the Bodleian library attracts the unwanted attention of a diverse supernatural community. This community includes another professor, a vampire studying genetics, named Matthew. A tentative courtship between Diana and Matthew includes yoga classes, carefully planned meals, scholarly conversation, and the finest wines. The realistic details of these romantic engagements obviously draw deeply from the life of author Deborah Harkness, who is a history professor, recipient of numerous fellowships, and an award-winning wine blogger. Whether Matthew is trustworthy, or actually one of the numerous entities jeopardizing Diana, is a mystery to be revealed. The second book in the series, Shadow of Night, is even more a work of historical fiction, and reveals the author’s knowledge of Elizabethan England.
Book – Ruth is a writer in a rut. That is until she finds a Hello Kitty lunch box, wrapped carefully in plastic bags off the coast of British Colombia, thought to have been carried across the Pacific Ocean after the 2011 tsunami. Inside are letters, a decorative wrist watch, and a diary of a teenage girl named Nao.
Nao lives in Japan, and after years of bullying and not being accepted, she has decided to kill herself. But not before she tells the story of her great grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist nun who is over 100 years old.
Ruth’s life becomes engulfed with Naos. Questions arise: Is Nao still alive? Is Jiko still alive? Can Ruth do anything to help Nao and her family?
This novel allows the audience to read Nao’s journal with Ruth. We solve mysteries and gain new information together, which makes for a rather exciting read. A Tale for the Time Being has been nominated for various prizes and awards, and also won the LA Times Book Award for best fiction of 2013.
Book – Joan has been studying ballet since she was a young girl. Her best friend in high school, Jacob Bintz, is in love with her, but Joan is intent on following her dreams of a dance career. She travels to Paris and becomes entranced with a Russian dancer named Arslan Rusakov when he performs during a rehearsal. They have a brief, intense affair and Joan evaluates her life and ambitions. As the story moves ahead, Joan’s future becomes entangled with her past in surprising ways. We get to know Joan’s family and friends and witness the complicated way relationships evolve and shift during their lives. I enjoyed this story as I learned more about the demands of ballet, the choices that performers may face and the way that talent can emerge and impact lives.