Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanorBook- To quote Mr. Elton John, “It’s a little bit funny. This feeling inside…”

The year is 1986, in Omaha, Nebraska. This is a story about two misfit teenagers who were not looking for love, but fell into it together. Eleanor is a frumpy, fiery redhead with a broken family. Park is an  average boy who wears eyeliner, and has a father who oozes masculinity. Eleanor is new in town, and she is forced to sit next to Park on the bus. Park reads comic books and listens to mix tapes to pass the time. Eventually Park notices Eleanor reading the comics with him, and their budding romance (and friendship) begins.

This is not just another sappy young adult romance novel. It deals with issues including, racism, bullying, body image, and domestic violence. Children of the ’80s and early ’90s would enjoy this book for the nostalgic factor alone. If you’re looking for a quick, easy read, but one that will linger on your mind, this one is for you.

The Three by Sarah Lotz

3Book – On one fateful day, four planes fall out of the sky. Among the four crashes there are only three survivors, all of them children. It’s this fact – along with a rambling recording made by one of the passengers in the last moments of her life – that spawn conspiracy theories, widespread paranoia, and eventually a massive doomsday cult with connections in the highest levels of politics. What really happened on Black Friday? And could the doomsayers be right?

The Three is a book inside a book: most of the story is the fictional non-fiction account written by Elspeth, an investigative journalist, of the aftermath of Black Friday and the cults that rose up in its wake. In the end, we switch back to Elspeth’s point of view as she decides to follow up on what happened after the end of her book. I thought that some of the characters’ voices tended to blend together, but the overall pace of the narrative kept pulling me through the book anyway. I stayed up late to finish it, which turned out to be a mistake – this book has one seriously creepy ending.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinchBook – This Pulitzer prize-winning story has been likened to a number of classic coming-of-age tales from Charles Dickens. The central character in this novel, Theodore Decker, loses his mother during a tragedy that he himself survives at a New York art museum. The traumatic event, told from Theodore’s perspective, provides a compelling start for the book.

The audiobook for this title is narrated by David Pittu. His narration is exceptional as his voice conveys the pathos of young Theo and the psychic burden that overlays his life. Theo and his mother had been estranged from his father, and after the events in the museum Theo is housed for a time in a beautiful Manhattan apartment with the wealthy family of a socially-inept schoolmate. His appreciation for the art and antiques in the apartment touches upon on-going themes in the book: the immortality of masterpieces, the messages they convey through the ages, and the profound attachments individuals form with these pieces.

I was especially glad to be listening to the audiobook version of this story when Theo, as a teenager, develops a friendship with Boris, a boy from Ukraine. Both author and narrator played delightfully with the Slavic dialect. Boris is a wonderful character because he brought levity and perspective to the story, and David Pittu’s Boris was very likable.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

ancillaryBook – Breq is only a fragment of what she used to be – quite literally, in this case. Years ago she was Justice of Toren, the artificial intelligence of a starship of the Radch Empire. Back then she had hundreds of bodies, from the starship itself to her many ancillary soldiers, captured human enemies who were joined together as part of her vast intelligence, in the service of a high-status Lieutenant. But Justice of Toren was betrayed, although she isn’t quite sure how, by the many-bodied ruler of the Radch Empire, Anaander Mianaai, and Breq has a plan for revenge.

I picked up Ancillary Justice when it became apparent that it was going to be nominated for every major SF award this year. (Sure enough, it’s already won the Nebula and is on the Hugo ballot.) It deserves it. Breq is an unusual character, but a compelling one, and her world is utterly fascinating. In the scenes from the point of view of many-bodied Justice of Toren, Leckie does a great job of portraying the ship’s simultaneous multiple points of view without getting confusing; likewise the Radch’s complete disregard of gender is an interesting twist on a far-future society. I loved it, and I can’t wait for the sequel, Ancillary Sword, out in October.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

my realBook – Patricia Cowen is confused. “Very confused,” it says on her medical chart most days. She forgets things. But she remembers things, too. She remembers Michael telling her “It’s now or never” and saying “Now” and getting married and having his four children. She remembers Michael telling her “It’s now or never” and saying “Never” and traveling in Florence and raising three children with Bee. She isn’t sure which one of them is right, or if both of them are, but she’s sure it means something.

My Real Children is one of those novels that could only be written by Jo Walton. It’s science fiction insofar as it’s about one woman and two different lives she could have had, both of them in worlds that are not exactly our own. (The split occurs sometime in the early fifties, and history progresses in sometimes surprising ways.) But the real story, the point of the story, is about Patricia – Trish in one lifetime, Pat in the other – and her life and her family. It’s a little bit about might-have-beens, but more about the small choices that you make that make big differences, both to yourself and to other people. I loved it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward

house on bBook – I was looking for a nice light read with a plot and characters that would invite relaxation. I got it in The House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward.

Abby Foster has had a difficult life growing up and her experiences from then have colored her attitudes about the house and history that she’s inherited. She wants nothing to do with a heritage that was denied her and her only goal is to sell and run. In order to sell, she needs to get the house in better shape. In comes Tom Arseneault, the contractor determined to work on the Foster estate. His specialty is restoring old homes and he cannot bear to see a house stripped and sanitized instead of restored.

While bringing this estate back to life, both Tom and Abby deal with their pasts in the hope of enjoying a future together.

A really fun, sweet read with enough twists and misunderstandings to keep it from being sappy, yet not so many that it defeated the purpose of a light, fluffy read. I enjoyed the journey that Abby made and some of the self-realizations were very well written and not once did I roll my eyes (that has often been the case in other books of this weight.) I will definitely revisit this series and look forward to the next one coming out in October.

Burning Your Boats by Angela Carter

burning your boatsBook – 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.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

circleBookThe 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.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

RevisedBook – 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.

An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg

an unfinished lifeBook – 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.