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Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit are the children of the world-famous crooner Mick Riva. However, they may know him best through celebrity magazines. Raised by their mother June, the siblings grow up in Malibu and bond over surfing. Told in two parts, we learn the family's history from the mid-fifties to late seventies and then of the day of the Riva's annual end-of-summer party in 1983. Each chapter reveals a new heartbreak, all leading up to the most explosive party the siblings have ever hosted. Taylor Jenkins Reid sets the scene for family drama and manages to transport you to Malibu's past effortlessly. I was mesmerized by the Rivas, my heart breaking with them at one turn, and laughing out loud at the next, especially at Kit's astute observations. Make an 80's surfing playlist and add this to your summer read pile!
— Jen Steele
This book was one of the most stunning ways to begin 2021. I absolutely love this book. First, this is my only (but surely not the last) experience with Matt Haig’s writing. He crafts his story by masterfully taking the reader by the hand and - quite literally - jumps through time and space of the main character’s life (or, lives). The story is easy and enjoyable to follow. It was definitely a satisfying page turner that remained thought provoking even when I wasn’t reading. Second, I am a nerd for how words are strung together to convey descriptions. For example, when the reader is faced with the physical sensations of how depression grips the main character’s body, it’s some of the most beautiful yet painful sentences I’ve ever read. From what I know about the author, perhaps only someone who has truly experienced the physicality of such low moments could be able to illustrate them so clearly. And, if one can relate to these sensations, it makes the writing all the more powerful. Haig’s descriptiveness allows the reader to share in the lows and highs of every emotion and situation the main character gets into, and it’s part of what makes this novel so great. The reader is placed in her shoes, exploring life with her - if not as her. Lastly, I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in existential questions that deal with the self and introspection or philosophy that deals with solitude and the development of the self. Overall, it’s such an inspiring and refreshing read.
— Rose Camara
Two recent best sellers relied heavily on research pioneered by Suzanne Simard: Richard Power’s Overstory and Peter Wohlleben’s Hidden Life of Trees. Simard’s research proved that clear-cut logging old forests causes virtually irreversible damage to the land. But far more importantly, her research discovered why: the trees live as a community, acting for the good of the forest as a whole. This is accomplished via vast underground networks of roots and mycorrhiza that direct nutrients from healthy to needy trees, send warning signals of coming infestations and disease so trees can prepare defenses, and so much more. Clear-cut the trees, the network dies, and replacement trees won’t grow. Simard pursued her research despite belittlement, false criticism, and even sabotage of her research by a powerful clique of men with vested interests in maintaining existing logging practices in British Columbia. But her research proved popular among fellow academics and students, and eventually became mainstream. Growing up in a multi-generation logging family in British Columbia, Suzanne’s insatiable curiosity started her down this forest road when she was just six years old. I spent several enchanted evenings with Suzanne in beautiful British Columbia as she described her pioneering journey. Thank you for your tenacity Suzanne.
— Kay Wosewick
St. Christopher’s is described as one of University of Cambridge’s smallest colleges, yet it feels filled with beautiful gardens, sunny open spaces, shady nooks, and numerous notable architectural features. At the same time, this small campus curiously holds the surprise of frighteningly dark corners. Some long-time employees here abuse privileges to merely gain private delight, while others win more substantial reward. In the midst of a liberal-leaning town, social disparities are in inverse proportion to the size of St. Christopher’s seemingly cozy setting. Perhaps this feeds the madness that is afoot? That is, the grizzly murders of young maidens. Filled with a cast of iron-strong wills and some perfectly placed, much-appreciated distractions, The Maidens will keep you on the edge of your seat to the end.
— Kay Wosewick
Andy Weir hits his third consecutive homerun, this time out of the ballpark! Hail Mary brilliantly explores two themes: ‘save planet Earth’ and ‘first alien contact.’ Saving the planet entails solving an environmental problem that is entirely new to humans and aliens alike and is a terrific story in itself. But the alien/human encounter (starring Rocky and Grace, respectively) is even more impressive. Neither an aggressive brute nor a spectacularly advanced, intellectual creature, Rocky is much more advanced than humans in some ways, and much less advanced in other ways. Having evolved under very un-Earth-like planetary conditions, Rocky’s physicality and understanding of the universe differs significantly from Grace’s. At the same time, there are enough similarities to enable Rocky and Grace to develop communication, then cooperation, and eventually personal attachment. Relationship building and joint creative problem solving among alien and human are portrayed with great humor and tenderness, and there’s still plenty of ‘sci’ for even the geekiest reader. Hail Mary is a radiant gem.
— Kay Wosewick
Did you like Mark Watney? Then, you will absolutely love Ryland Grace. Who is he? Waking up in a strange environment, Ryland can remember little about his life other than his name. He’s in a bed with tubes running into pretty much every bodily opening he has, and the other two other beds have dead people in them. In short order, he figures out that he is humanity’s last hope to save Earth. The writing is funny and pitch perfect, the science is wildly creative and carefully explained. This is the book I was not expecting to be blown away, by and I loved every second of it.
— Jason Kennedy
I knew after reading an advance copy of Project Hail Mary on January 10th that I’d found one of my Top 5 Books of 2021. Turn off your phone because you don’t want to talk to anyone until you reach the last page in this thrill ride of a novel. When the scientific world heartily rejected his theory on the possibility of life evolving without water, microbiologist Ryland Grace retreated in disgrace to life as a middle school science teacher. As it turned out, he likes teaching kids, and he’s good at it, but just as quickly as he was banished, Ryland is yanked back from obscurity to become earth’s one hope for survival. The beginning finds Ryland waking from a coma without the slightest idea of his name or where he might be. Slowly, he becomes more aware, and he's startled to find himself alone on a spaceship, eons from earth, most likely on an important mission, but without a clue where he’s headed or why. Fascinating doesn’t begin to describe the story from that point, and the plot combines chemistry and math with humor and compassion. I loved Ryland’s creativity, and he’s a problem-solving genius, but the connections he makes in space give this outstanding novel its delightful punch of emotional depth.
— Jenny Chou
LGBTQ advice columnist John Paul Brammer delivers an earnest and quick-witted memoir with stories about his life, from growing up in rural Oklahoma and being bullied in middle school to moving to New York City and finding his voice. ¡Hola Papi! has that fresh memoir experience where each chapter is a response to a reader's question. Reading this was like being invited in and staying a while; there was a connectedness I felt while reading about JP’s experiences, whether it was being able to relate to growing up mixed race and not speaking Spanish or commiserating with him as meets “the one.” Do yourself a favor and luxuriate in the warmth of each chapter.
— Jen Steele
Each chapter of ¡Hola Papi! begins with John Paul (JP) asking an important question, followed by a story that describes his personal path to an answer. This is fitting given that JP stumbled into writing an advice column, and quickly surprised himself by giving solid advice drawn from years of irrepressible self-examination. Growing up in small-town Oklahoma at the bottom of the pecking order gave him empathy for outsiders. High school in a larger town proved he could build his identity from inside-out instead, instead of having it defined from outside-in. In college he stumbled through awkward and uncomfortable gay experiences before finding successful ways to move easily through the gay world. JP found a large, needy audience ready to gobble up his advice on such issues. Alas, PJ’s memoir also depicts a society that still contains a staunchly anti-LGBTQ faction. While there is progress, the US sadly has a long way to go to achieve full acceptance and integration of LGBTQ individuals.
— Kay Wosewick
John Paul Brammer's voice is everything I've been looking for in the many essay collections I've picked up in the last couple of years. Simply put, Brammer's voice is fantastic. He is self-aware in a rare way that allows for the wittiest and most truthful of observations on life, relationships, one's own history, and the world, without crossing into the self-indulgent or self-deprecating. Although, I think he'd say I was giving him too much credit (but I'd wholeheartedly disagree). The essays in ¡Hola Papi! come together to compose a glimpse into the many different phases of Brammer's life, stitching together his coming of age as a gay Mexican boy growing up in rural Oklahoma to the many triumphs and tribulations of life as a gay man across the country and world. As a reader I felt like I was growing up alongside Brammer as he came to reckon with his self, his identities, his past, and his own actions. His own acceptance of the many parts of himself, the many experiences that culminate to make him who he is today, gives me hope and faith. I had to keep sticky notes next to me while I was reading, something I rarely do, to make sure I was saving passages to come back to. Passages that so concisely put into words things I've felt and thought, but so much more beautifully than I could have imagined saying myself. And passages that will stick with me and encourage me to grow. And what marks a better read that something that fundamentally changes the way you think, makes you want to grow, and excites you to see how you too will change and develop in the years to come?
— Parker Jensen
In some ways it has a classic western feel: the tough towns always primed for violence, death in an instant, or more slowly if water isn't found soon, the clanging of rail spikes as the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific hammer toward their convergence. In other ways it surprises: the "miracles" revealed by the Ringmaster of a traveling magic show, the wisdom of a prophet with no memory who knows what's on the horizon, the truly amazing quality of the writing. Ming Tsu is a Chinese American orphan, raised by the white killer-for-hire who trained him. "For a long time it had ceased to trouble him to kill." He married a white woman after her father laughed at his proposal and was beaten for it, then convicted of miscegenation and sentenced to work the railroad line. Now he's got scores to settle and a wife to find, even though a judge ruled they were never married. He's wanted, but whites likely wouldn't know he's coming except that he's "bigger than them Chinese normally is." Oh, he's coming, and just pray he’s not coming for you! The novel has a mysterious air about the fleeting aspects of memory, what we try to hang on to and what we try to get back. These characters often frightened me and always filled me with wonder. Remarkable!
— Tim McCarthy
Americans' typical diet today emerged largely from trends that started taking root in the 1950s: consumer demand for convenience, product uniformity, constant availability, getting a deal, having variety, and getting immediate satisfaction; advertising helped form these 'needs.' The trends have only strengthened over time. A typical meal today consists of fast foods or highly processed convenience foods thrown together at home. Not healthy for us, not healthy for the planet. Waters proposes moving toward radically more biodiversity of fresh foods sourced seasonally from a growing base of local farmers, accompanied by simple food preparation at home. Roughly 7,000 programs worldwide are engaging in a version of this process today. Waters suggests that getting local farmers and schools to collaborate would be an effective kick-start for the movement. A boost for local commerce and consumers, environmentally regenerative, healthy, and yummy: what's not to like?
— Kay Wosewick
Morningside Heights chronicles a family’s attempt to make their life work through an unexpected curveball. There is real love between the parents, Spence and Pru, and their child Sarah, and even for Arlo, Spence’s child from a previous, short-lived marriage. When Spence is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, everyone’s life is turned upside down. While this story centers around Spence’s decline, it really is Pru who shines. She loves her husband, though she never conceived of becoming a caregiver and slowly dissolves into his disease. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting all at once. A great testament that life continues to evolve and rebuild in the face of adversity.
— Jason Kennedy
Christopher Buehlman hasn’t just written a really good epic fantasy; he has taken the reader and dunked them into a world full of joy, wonder, heartbreak, foulness, horror, and hope. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. The prose! And the dialogue was so perfect, I was laughing out loud from the snark that Kinch Na Shannack narrated his story with, and I was cringing from vicious, nasty goblin attacks or towering giants tossing trees. Kinch owes the Takers Guild for his education, and when they tell him to accompany a knight on her quest, he has no other option – he must go. Know that there is so much to this book; Buehlman will take you down crazy paths that will delight and fright, but I will not say any more about the surprises that are in the book. Go read it now!
— Jason Kennedy
A cut above most other fantasy books, The Blacktongue Thief is a masterclass in world building, storytelling, and humor. I can whole-heartedly say that I could spend the next two hours telling you everything I loved about this book, and it still wouldn't be enough to show you how amazing this book really is. The best thing about it? It's the start of a series! We get MORE of this! Thank Fothannon Foxfoot for that.
— Ogi Ubiparipovic
K is fascinated about coincidences and random facts that continually pop up. Enter Rabbits—a game you only know you are playing when you are already neck deep into it. K meets the legendary, Alan Scarpio, who is reported to have won the sixth iteration of the game. Why? He tells K the game is broken and needs to be fixed before the next iteration starts or there could be deadly consequences. Before more can be discussed, Alan ends up missing and K starts finding clues everywhere. When the game begins, people start disappearing and dying all over the world. The world, the human civilization depends on this game even though nobody knows who started it or how old it really is. A brilliant idea that kept me plowing through the book looking for clues trying to see how or if K could save the world. So many twists and mind games going on in this one, I feel like the Terry Miles really can surprise everyone who reads this.
— Jason Kennedy