Book – Anna Senoz is, somewhat secretly, an ambitious scientist. When she was in college she wanted to change the world, but doesn’t everyone? Since then she’s gone through a lot – a miscarriage, a marriage, a child; several career dead-ends, a revolution, a discovery – and learned a lot, and she still wants to do is her piece of the work. The work, it turns out, is Transferred Y, a discovery about the evolution of human sex chromosomes that might change the world after all.
Life is a quiet, meditative story, part of that peculiar sub-genre of science fiction that is really more about people doing science than about any particular discovery. It is, as Jones has described it, “a fairytale about how change, real change in the world comes about,” through struggles and frustrations and the constant struggle of choosing to do something revolutionary or choosing to continue to feed your family.
It’s also very much a feminist story, in that Anna has to face a lot of issues her male colleagues never consider. Her friend and shadow-self, Ramone Hollyrood, becomes a famous feminist writer; Anna is never a feminist herself, but she wants to be treated as a person, which she finds is nearly impossible sometimes. She’s a tremendously real character, full of flaws and inconsistencies, but after finishing the book I find that I miss spending time with her.
Book- This collection is comprised of fourteen stories revolving around themes of immigration, travel, and drifting throughout North America. As an immigrant herself from the UK to Canada, Donoghue has a particular emotional insight into these topics. Emma Donoghue’s short stories (and, in fact, her novels) often stem from a small historical detail, such as the 1864 murder of a slave master by his slave and mistress, which becomes a fleshed out story, as in “Last Supper at Brown’s” in this collection. Particularly strong stories in Astray include “Man and Boy,” which chronicles the relationship between a zookeeper and his elephant, “The Hunt,” where the topic of war crimes during the Revolutionary War is explored, and, my favorite, “Snowblind,” which details the harsh first winter of two gold mining partners in the 1890s.
The audiobook version of Astray is a real treat, with several different narrators throughout to suit the disparate characters, and a part at the end narrated by Donoghue herself sharing the process by which she developed each story. I found that on audiobook, the stories were a perfect length for a shorter drives so you don’t have to keep jumping in and out of the plot as you would with a novel. These stories will appeal to fans of other historical fiction with keenly observed details, such as The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich.
Book – The first three days of the Beautiful Dreamer‘s cruise are perfectly normal. It’s a budget cruise line, so sure, there are some problems, but nothing to draw anyone’s attention. And then, on the fourth day, things start to go wrong. A usually cantankerous psychic becomes generous and welcoming, even to people who haven’t paid her fees. Security covers up the fact that they’ve found a young woman dead in her cabin; the man who’s killed her tries desperately to pretend that everything is normal. A housekeeper sees a boy who couldn’t possibly be there. A fire breaks out in the engine room, stranding the ship at sea.
And then things get weird.
I absolutely adored Lotz’s debut solo novel, The Three, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised that Day Four was so good, but I was. A good horror novel can be hard to find, but Lotz has a deft touch with atmosphere and she never lets the plot slow down. She doesn’t let you get too attached to the characters, though – which can be a good thing in a story like this, where you almost wish she’d start killing people off just to relieve the tension.
Day Four is technically a sequel to The Three, but the connections are thin; you wouldn’t miss much if you haven’t read the first one. (You should read it anyway, of course, it’s excellent.) If you’re looking for a good, disturbing, plot-driven horror novel, give Day Four a try. But if you’ve got a summer cruise planned… maybe wait until you come home.
Book -If you meet any of the following criteria, The Uncommon Reader may be the book for you:
- You’re a Downton Abbey fan in need of your next Britfix.
- You’re as likely as I am to coo over pictures of Prince George and Princess Charlotte on magazine covers in the supermarket.
- You’d enjoy a novel (a novella, really) that feels a bit like historical fiction, but isn’t.
- Books about the act of reading are your cup of tea, especially ones bursting with wry humor.
- You’re looking for a book the exact right length to consume in one sitting with a handy mug of something warm.
The premise of The Uncommon Reader is unusual but simple: the Queen of England (the current one, Elizabeth II) has a fortuitous encounter with the local bookmobile and, after sixty-odd years of viewing reading as more a duty than a pleasure, unexpectedly finds literature taking over her life. It’s hard to avoid the word ‘charming’ in describing this book, but even harder not to mention ‘funny.’ The Uncommon Reader describes a life that would, for most of us, be unimaginable, yet on the page it’s perfectly imagined. Bennett’s fictionalized portrait of the queen is psychologically astute, believable and real, foreign from everyday experience and not sugar-coated but still sympathetic. In fact, sympathy is a central theme of the book: our growing sympathy for the character we’re reading, even as she, through her own reading, expands her sympathy for everyone else–that is to say, us.
That mirroring between character and audience is not only clever, it’s emotionally satisfying. Reading about personal growth through the act of reading means feeling just plain good about yourself when the story is over–which is the best reason I can think of to give The Uncommon Reader a look.
Book–Mare Barrow lives in a world in which your status in life is determined by the color of blood that flows through your veins. If you have Red blood then you are poor and you are forced to fight the Silver’s battles. If you have Silver blood, it means you were born with different gifts (aka super powers) like telepathy and fire. Mare and her family are Reds and struggle everyday to survive. As all of Mare’s older brothers are sent off to fight, Mare supports her family by stealing from the wealthy.
Everything changes after she accepts a job working at the royal palace. During a major dinner, a freak accident causes Mare to revel powers she did not know she even had, after all Reds do not have powers. The royal court, in order to safe face, take her, claim her as the lost princess, and betroth her to Prince Maven. Mare is unable to do anything if she wishes to keep her family and herself safe. So she does what they ask while learning to master her powers and secretly work with the Scarlet Guard, who are preparing to take down the Silvers.
Red Queen is an amazing ride. There is romance, mystery, adventure, action, powers, and more. The sequel, Glass Sword, just came out and the last book in the series will be out next year! It is a must-read for any lover of young adult literature. You will not regret it.
Book – When I started reading this book, I didn’t know much about it, other than that it had a glow-in-the-dark octopus on the cover. And really, what else do you need to know? The octopus, fortunately, is a character (although he doesn’t glow in the dark) – Katsu, a mechanical octopus made by the titular watchmaker, Mori, a Japanese nobleman who has moved to England to practice the art of making tiny things out of even tinier gears. We meet him through Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist recently recruited by Scotland Yard, who is being used by his superiors to investigate Mori as a suspect behind a high-profile bombing.
This is fantasy only by the thinnest hair, and steampunk only because of the prominence of Mori’s fantastic clockwork creations (and their proximity to Japantown’s fireworks shops). The plot circles around the investigation of the bombing, but Thaniel and Mori’s relationship is the real core of the book, growing slowly through mistrust and uncertainty into a deep, heartfelt connection. I was a little iffy about it for the first few chapters; by the end, I was entirely in love.
Book – Circling the Sun is based on the true life story of Beryl Markham. In the early 1900’s, Beryl, her parents and brother arrive from England to farm 1500 acres of untouched bush in Kenya. Two years later, when Beryl turns five, her mother and brother return to England, unable to handle the primitive conditions. Beryl remains on the farm with her father, running wild in the stable and with the nearby Kipsigis children, particulary her best friend Ruta. As Beryl grows up, she resists conventions and finds herself most comfortable training horses. After a disastrous marriage, she builds a life for herself among the decadent expats living in Kenya. Her circle of friends includes Karen Blixen and Karen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton. (Blixen wrote her memoir Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen). Beryl also discovers the joy of flying, becoming a bush pilot and record-setting aviator. I was inspired by Beryl’s determination to follow her own path, despite many roadblocks and much hardship. Paula McClain also wrote a novel based on Hemingway’s early married life titled The Paris Wife.
Book – Chris Bohjalian pays homage to his Armenian roots in Sandcastle Girls, by telling the story of “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About”. The genocide of over ½ million people by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The account is relayed through Laura Petrosian, the great granddaughter of Elizabeth, an American from Boston and Armen from Armenia. While researching her genealogy for a book, Laura comes across letters and photographs of her great grandparents that help her piece together her family history.
Elizabeth and Armen meet in Aleppo Syria in 1915. Elizabeth, is a nurse recently graduated from college who accompanies her father on a mission to provide humanitarian aid to Armenian Refugees. Armen is an engineer working for the Germans who is desperately looking for his missing wife and baby who were lost during the deportations and mass murders. The two soon become very fond of each other. They are separated when Armen leaves to fight for the British Army. Elizabeth and Armen’s love flourishes in spite of continuing genocide and war, as they write letters to each other.
This is an enduring love story that also gives us heartbreakingly gritty details about the atrocities of the horrific events. It was a bit difficult to get through due to the subject matter, but definitely worthwhile.
Book – After becoming very sick as a child, Cece began to lose her hearing. El Deafo chronicles Cece’s experiences, from going to school, making friends, and using a hearing aid device. El Deafo is the perfect mix of fiction and biography.
Inspired by real life experiences, this is a beautifully illustrated story told in graphic novel form. As someone who really hasn’t read a lot of comic books, I found the artwork to be very refreshing. The characters reminded me of my favorite childhood tv show, Arthur, with their animal likenesses. Each character has rabbit-like features, with a pink triangle nose, and tall ears.
One of my favorite things about this book is Cece’s description of her hearing aid, the Phonic Ear. Young Cece introduces the device as bulky, unattractive, and heavy; it makes her feel awkward and uncomfortable.
In school, her teacher wears a microphone that is connected to the device. With her earpieces Cece is able to hear every word her teacher is says, both in the classroom, and any other place in the building! With her newfound powers of hearing, Cece discovers her inner superhero, El Deafo. I adored the honest and charismatic narration of this little girl, and hope you will too.
Book – The body you are wearing used to be mine. So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her. She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.
The single most important thing in a book written in the first person is that the reader likes the main character, preferably right away. Fortunately, I liked Myfanwy within about a page and a half. She has an entirely reasonable reaction to waking up surrounded by dead bodies without knowing who she is: she checks herself into the most expensive hotel she can find and panics. And then she thinks, I have got to figure out what is going on. And she does.
Myfanwy is that rare character who strikes a perfect balance between perfectly normal and exceptionally capable. The way she handles her job as supernatural administrator is hilarious – lots of “um, sure, okay, let’s move the meeting with my colleague’s second body up by half an hour.” If I have a complaint, it’s that the mystery behind the whole plot of the book is a little slight. There are so many characters coming and going that when the traitor was finally revealed, it took me a few minutes to remember who he was.
This reminded me delightfully of China Miéville’s Kraken and Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series; readers looking for more deeply weird urban fantasy will like those as well. The sequel, Stiletto, is due out in June.