Welcome to Kay's Recommendations! Bookselling is Kay’s fourth career but it might have been her first and only career if she roughly followed grade-school aptitude testing that said she should become a librarian. An avid reader, Kay’s go-to is science fiction, but she often dips into off-beat (i.e. dark) fiction, and both fiction and non-fiction about nature, the environment, art, gardening, adventure and unusual minds. Her favorite book changes about every five years; most recently it would have to be The Overstory by Richard Powers.
Check out what Kay has been reading below!
This is a fabulously curated group of stories, all building on current societal, scientific, and technological trends and taking them to believably disturbing outcomes. There is not a single weak story in this collection. Ascension glides so effortlessly you won’t realize you haven’t shifted in your chair for hours. It has tentacles in many genres - adventure, thriller, sci-fi, horror, psychology, philosophy, many sciences - plus fabulously eclectic characters. Stunning.
Harper favors rural areas or small towns, but she likes to change up where in Australia her mysteries take place. Her books are very atmospheric, so I enjoy vicariously experiencing different Australian locales. Exiles is set in wine country, with hills, cliffs, forests, scrublands, lakes and rivers... all handy when it comes to missing people. Kim, a well-known woman, disappears in a crowded festival. None of the exit monitors see her leave. Her baby is found tucked in her buggy at the end of the evening. Where could Kim be? With fresh eyes, a first-time visitor proves to be useful. Jane Harper scores again!
Clean Air’s climate disaster scenario is inventive and frightening, but my favorite aspect is it, in effect, invokes Earth goddess Gaia. Blake takes the story into thriller territory with the first murders since the ‘Turning’ crisis ten years earlier. Clean Air is a wonderful addition to climate change fiction.
On Writing and Failure: Or, on the Peculiar Perseverance Required to Endure the Life of a Writer (Field Notes) (Paperback)
I am not a writer, and after reading Marche’s astonishingly quotable book, I am very grateful I’m not a writer. If you are or want to become a writer, beware: Marche will give you dozens of pithy reasons why you shouldn’t. But if you insist, Marche helpfully describes exactly what it takes to be a writer. This is a tiny gem!
Anyone interested in climate change fiction covering the near future (~now to 2040) won’t find a more informative, deep-dive novel than Deluge. Thrilling, terrifying, maddening, and occasionally hopeful, you won’t be quite the same when you finish the book.
Bromwich has crafted a lovely, quiet, and haunting tale of a woman who escapes a luxurious but miserable life to live alone in a tiny cottage outside a small village. Laura becomes a creature of the forest but still depends on the village for small jobs to buy necessities. The villagers’ trust is necessary to get and retain work and be safe in her isolation. Can Laura throw off her once-lofty status to become a member of a tiny, rough-edged community? Gritty and very satisfying.
Critical Mass is a worthy sequel to Delta-V. No spoilers; I’ll just say that, like the first book, this is packed with new leaps in technology, and you will be cheering on the central characters and their mission.
This complex, masterfully paced thriller is set in New Zealand, where a group of young adults secretly grow food on other people’s land. An American billionaire's arrival wreaks wide-ranging havoc on land and lives alike. Tension builds from the first chapter thanks to rich inner monologues of key characters.
Reid and Lovejoy describe the only realistic path to achieve CO2 reductions sufficient to meet the scientific community's 2030 line-in-the-sand to prevent probable climate catastrophe. A worldwide program is essential to preserve and restore the earth's five megaforests: the Amazon, Congo, New Guinea, North American boreal, and Taiga boreal (mostly Russia). This is not about reforesting; it is about preventing ANY further destruction of intact forests and rehabilitating fragmented areas (basically, road removal). Resources must swiftly be refocused and escalated. This book belongs in the hands of every politician, policy maker, scientist, school teacher, college student, business leader, thought leader, and thinker! In every country! In every corner of every country! The Megaforest Revolution is about to launch!
Wohlleben has taken off his gloves and has named the enemy: foresters, and associated players like government agencies, lumber companies, lobbyists, and the heavy machinery that kills soil for centuries (think of still-visible Roman roads). New, non-green careers for all (OK, that's my personal contribution). Next steps: 1) In unforested areas, plant pioneer species such as birch and aspen, which in time will shade and nurse the beech, oak, maple, etc. that will grow into ancient forests. 2) Leave existing forests to rehabilitate themselves as needed or to manage themselves if intact. 3) Pay forest owners for carbon they sequester; collect carbon tax for tree removal; find replacements for wood-based products. This is the third book “save the forests” book I’ve recently read, but Wohlleben has nailed the solution in just a few strokes. FABULOUS!!!
Kevin is a teen-turning-adult in the 90s, but his journey is classic 1960s/70s: a highly intelligent soul searches for truth and beauty with the aid of various drugs, a deep appreciation of nature and simplicity, openness to spontaneous travel, and strong avoidance of 9-5 jobs. Kevin carelessly becomes a father and husband, and parenthood skyrockets his tendency toward denial. Divorce eventually forces him back home to a 9-5 job. A raucous trip!
Tightly bound Scottish island inhabitants are very unhappy when Maggie McKay returns. She arrived with her mother as a six-year-old decades earlier, convinced she was Andrew MacNeil (reincarnated), and someone named Robert had been murdered. Run off the island then, she's back to find the truth. Twists come as quickly and unexpectedly as the fierce storms that engulf the island.
Mancuso is a plant neurobiologist. He’s incensed that vast quantities of biological breakthroughs are discovered by plant scientists - then animal researchers take over and get all the recognition (e.g., Nobel Prizes). Mancuso finds this especially annoying because animal life is a mere 0.3% of living matter, with plants clocking in at 85% (fungi, micro-organisms fill in the rest). Mancuso cleverly organizes his muses around unusual planting themes (planting music, planting law and order) many of which will have you ROTFL while you learn fascinating, if obscure, chapters in the history of plant science. More Mancuso please
This combination mystery, thriller, sci-fi story is set in a future still reeling from a blinding virus seven years earlier. Almost everyone now sees with a device called a ‘vid.’ A policeman during the blinding, Owens is now a detective. He’s assigned a case where a woman claims a black blur ran up and shot her colleague point-blank. Within days, the detective has two encounters of his own with black blurs and finds himself on the run. This clever story paints a disturbing near-future mixed with the twists and turns of a thriller.
Vita is a middle-aged woman whose life is falling apart at every seam. Vita’s clipped journaling is sprinkled with droll, often self-deprecating observations. I wanted to shake her, scrub away heaps of denial and make her DEAL WITH IT. Then Vita would make me laugh again, and I’d forgive her. Holdstock has an uncanny gift for matching writing style and content, as she also did with in her prior book Here I Am. I can’t wait for Holdstock’s next twist of magic.
Guriel muses about the superior, open-ended experience of browsing, whether it be in bookstores, record shops, or the rare video store. Memories flooded back of visits to favorite shops in distant cities, spending hours lost in stacks or bins, finally leaving with heavy bags to discover daylight had vanished or weather had changed. Unparalleled joy!! On Browsing also speaks to the satisfaction of enjoying these media the old-fashioned way: a book in hand, and music or a movie selected from your own curated library. Come to think of it, it’s time to watch The Shining again…
Mancuso is a plant neurobiologist. He’s incensed that vast quantities of biological breakthroughs are discovered by plant scientists - then animal researchers take over and get all the recognition (e.g., Nobel Prizes). Mancuso finds this especially annoying because animal life is a mere 0.3% of living matter, with plants clocking in at 85% (fungi, micro-organisms fill in the rest). Mancuso cleverly organizes his muses around unusual planting themes (planting music, planting law and order) many of which will have you ROTFL while you learn fascinating, if obscure, chapters in the history of plant science. More Mancuso please!
Lark grows up as climate-driven wars pit gun-toting fanatics intent on complete control against loosely formed bands of resisters. While most of Lark's early life is spent idyllically at a distance, he is finally forced to travel a long distance through war zones. Lark recounts times of bliss and harrowing moments of horror with equally affecting and lovely prose.
This is McIntyre’s fourth book documenting the return of wolves to Yellowstone. Female 06 is unusual from the start: she leaves her natal pack when very young, lives alone for several years, and snubs many suitors. Eventually she chooses brothers 754 and 755 to settle down with, another unusual, yet auspicious, decision. Fierce, fast, fair, and famous, 06 is the epitome of a female alpha wolf. You will fall in love. McIntyre’s series is unparalleled. Why? McIntyre went out every single day for 15 consecutive years to document the wolves. WOW. Just WOW.
If you had any doubts about social media’s predominant role in driving divisiveness and rage in societies worldwide, The Chaos Machine will erase them. Fisher’s many impeccable sources have documented (time after time) how algorithms, especially YouTube’s and Facebook’s, have radicalized hundreds of millions people worldwide. Companies know how to undo some of this, but they won’t because user time - and then revenue - would quickly drop. Frightening.
Gundy’s daring, bold, and brilliant debut will shake you, shock you, make you laugh, maybe make you cry, and keep you riveted to the very last page. It takes place in a once-thriving, now decaying industrial Midwestern town. Most residents are decaying with the town, but Blandine’s internal volcano is about to erupt and shake the town. Stunning.
A small town near the Appalachian Trail attracts curious visitors who hope to solve the mystery of vanished tourists. Three months ago the seventh person in 25 years disappeared without a trace. An almost claustrophobic setting where everyone has secrets helps build tension to the twisty end. What a ride!
Biomimicry is a simple idea: take inspiration from nature to solve human problems. Putting it into action? Well, that’s not so simple. Hamilton describes a baker’s dozen of biomimicry projects, each in a different field of study, each with its unique source of inspiration. Three of the sources are human bones, reptile spit, and pomegranates. Curious? Hamilton’s writing is very accessible, and this book will sate anyone’s curiosity.
The setting is dark: an isolated Scottish island whose residents are deeply haunted by WWII losses. Residents enact a ritual every October 1st to pacify a massive population of crows who terrorize the island for exactly one month. The ritual goes awry this year. Perfectly drawn moments of horror are eventually redeemed by genuine healing of the residents. Your heart will race, it will break, and it will finally rejoice.
This debut will lead you through a gamut of emotions including heartbreak, but you won’t regret, or forget, the time you spend with Marcellus, a Giant Pacific Octopus who lives in an aquarium in a small town. He knows the locals and just met a new resident. He’s pulled many tricks before, but there’s one more trick he must do before he dies, which he knows will be soon. Marcellus narrates some chapters. You will fall in love.
The Displacements is fantastic climate disaster fiction because it intimately portrays how a very well-off family (minus dad) deals with numerous traumas, starting with a last-minute evacuation due to course change of the first-ever category 6 hurricane, Luna. The family drives north with hundreds of thousands other evacuees. They experience the second crisis when they stop for gas and discover mom's purse was left behind - the fault of the young daughter and teenage stepson. No money. No credit cards. No food, fuel, or caffeine. They end up at a FEMA camp, this one a tent city of 10,000 in rural OK. The story reflects the amazing tolerance, flexibility, and resilience of many people.
A video gone viral titled 'Florida Woman' shows Jamie stealing dollar bills off the walls of the bar where she works, turning to find a pelican on fire near the door where it knocked over candles, then frantically charging out the door with the pelican in her arms. Jaime disappears for a couple of days. ‘Florida Woman’ indeed. Jaime gets a deal that sounds better than jail: serving her sentence working, ankle-cuffed, at a macaque sanctuary. There are monkey shenanigans, staff who get weirder by the day, and an end that will plaster a big smile on your face. Wacky fun.
This clever, engaging, and twisty story is set in a gothic storage warehouse in Cambridge, MA. The book opens with news of a serious injury after someone falls down an elevator shaft. The warehouse is fascinating: two people live in their units, another uses it as an office, and a fourth moved the contents of her children's bedrooms there after the father unilaterally sent them to school in Switzerland. The residents' lives are entwined at the time of the accident and become more-so in the aftermath. As with Shapiro’s other books, there is a strong art/artist thread. The setting is picture-perfect for a thrilling story.
This debut short story collection by Penobscot Indian Nation author Morgan Talty is soulful and hypnotic. Storylines of two boys/men alternate and flow elegantly over time. The stories are sticky; after closing the book, scenes continue to snap into focus unexpectedly.
Crouch has outdone himself. Upgrade is masterful story about a tiny group of people illegally testing massive genetic alterations on a few people - without their knowledge. You’ll fly through this book, gaining insight into faults in our thinking, sensing the elation of having a perfect body, and perhaps vicariously feeling the power of thinking deeply about multiple complex subjects at once. The scope and depth of Crouch’s research is the engine that makes Upgrade feel vividly real.
The inspiration for Schulman's novel is a brief but groundbreaking study conducted on dolphins in the summer of 1965. A young woman is hired to feed four 'research' dolphins who live in a lagoon on St. Thomas. Having grown up around pigs and horses (intelligent animals), Cora is naturally curious. Unlike the scientists, she gets in the water, and is immediately struck by a fascinating variety of sounds. The dolphins flee to the farthest corner, so Cora pretends to be busy and ignores them. Perfect! The dolphins soon come to check her out, and so begins their friendship. In a very short time, Cora devises ways to communicate with the dolphins - a gigantic step in animal research at the time. Scientists and journalist from around the world come to St. Thomas, and soon the world knows that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures. Schulman's story is breathtaking, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, and a must-read for animal lovers.
Monsters of the 21st century include technologies containing inherent absurdity, faulty human decision-making, new modes of thrill seeking, new horrors, and more. This collection will tickle, taunt, and haunt you. And perhaps you’ll unknowingly read a sneak preview of YOUR future amongst Fu's clever stories!
I cannot recall reading a book as raw as New Animal. I feel like I stepped out of a shower of BBs only to be wrapped in a towel of coarse sandpaper. Obviously, the writing must be stunning to have such effects. I cannot wait for her next book, Woo Woo.
The Music Game is a delicious sneak peek into a generation (Millennials, of course) that acknowledges few boundaries, alternates between excess and emptiness, repeatedly taste-tests and spits out adulthood, and ebbs and flows within the cacophony that surrounds them. Yeah, a bit scary. But also exciting.
Owen, the boy, and Gail, the bird in Owen's chest, are a remarkably lovable pair. At Owen's mother's behest, they endure isolation until they are fourteen, when all hell breaks loose. Their journey is fraught with more danger than delight, but eventually Owen and Gail find a place to call home. Lund has penned a stunning debut.
Small World is a brilliant tale of 1850s Americans and their descendants in 2019. He follows two Irish twins orphaned on their journey across the Atlantic, an escaped slave, a ‘fresh off-the-boat’ Chinese man who’s landed in unfriendly San Francisco, and two wandering American Indians who joined forces on a whim. Descendants of all are on the same train heading north in Oregon during a snowstorm in 2019. As Evison shifts between characters in the 1850s and 2019, Small World reads like a seamless masterpiece.
Termination Shock is set about two decades out, when climate change is wreaking havoc in nearly all corners of the world. Someone must take action ASAP, right?! Politics are messy, technology is clever, and the characters are an eclectic lot. This is top-notch Stephenson, though he leaves us hanging. Speed it up Neal!!
Partially written as if from the future, Van Voorst imagines a world of vegans who cannot believe humans ever ate meat. The environmental reasons for being vegan are compelling: the use of animal meat, dairy, and eggs are responsible for more greenhouse gases than all modes of transportation combined. These industries also use and pollute more water than any other industry and account for almost one-half of land use. Meat-like vegan foods are rapidly coming on the market and are usually reasonably easy to prepare. Choose two nights a week to eat vegan, and you will, indeed, make an important difference.
It has been well documented that memories change subtly each time we retrieve them. Imagine the complications that arise when scientists think they’ve devised a method to erase painful memories. And then they figure out how to retrieve those erased memories and feel morally obligated to offer everyone the opportunity to regain those memories, including people who pre-chose not to remember having their memory erased. These concepts are brilliantly played out through a handful of characters with very different ‘issues.’ Bravo to Jo Harkin.
A very exclusive, very private lodge in the Colorado Rockies has pristine creeks chockfull of trout, and very wealthy clients. Jack takes a fishing guide job late in the season, replacing someone who left suddenly. Bad vibes hit Jack almost immediately upon arrival, but melt away as he enjoys an exquisitely relaxing day fishing with his charming client. Unfortunately, neither of them can ignore increasingly visible oddities suggesting the lodge is a cover for something else. Something sinister. Both are compelled to discover what's really going on; they do, and it's a nasty surprise. Prepare for lovely highs and grim lows, an increasingly common combination for Peter Heller, one of my favorite authors.
Beware, Hilbig’s gut-wrenching prose may haunt you for days. C. and fellow countrymen living in the German Democratic Republic after WW2 are expected to agreeably do their assigned jobs; after all, only those who experienced the Holocaust have legitimate reason to complain. Assigned to a prestigious factory job requiring almost no real work, C. fails, spectacularly. Demoted to lowly jobs, he finds time to write and publish poetry. C.’s poetry gains international recognition, and he is allowed to spend several years in Berlin and elsewhere doing poetry readings. He often returns the GDR to visit his girlfriend and mother, but whether he’s there or in Germany, he relentlessly tells himself he is worthless. Frequent heavy drinking exacerbates C.’s self-denigration. Eventually facing the choice of life in Berlin with one woman or life in the GDR with another, C. is paralyzed and confused, taking trains from one city to another, and finally in circles. The Interim is a dark novel by a famous German author, perfectly befitting dark times.
A couple generations into the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, could there be anything new to learn after thousands of hours of study? Yes, indeed! Most surprisingly, significant behavioral and personality changes occur over the life of Wolf 302. Happy tears.
This fantastic, genre-bending story includes aliens pretending to be humans running a donut shop, humans making deals with the devil, several LBGQT characters at different stages of self-acceptance, serious foodies, and a crash course in all things violin. Un-put-down-able, loveable, slyly funny, and absolutely unforgettable.
Damnation Spring is a must-read for fans of Overstory. Whereas Overstory speaks of the stunning ecology of old-growth forests and the environmentalists who champion them, Damnation Spring transports you directly into the lives and homes of third and fourth generation loggers and their families - people who rely on old-growth forests to maintain very modest lives in small communities dependent on logging. Damnation Spring thrust me into the shoes of loggers, and I stepped out of those shoes with a big dose of empathy injected into my environmentalism. Davidson has written a gritty, humbling, remarkable first book.
Pollan takes us on three journeys: one with opium, one with caffeine, and one with mescaline. The opium and mescaline journeys are likely new for most readers, but who doesn’t know all about caffeine? YOU, ME and ALMOST EVERYONE ELSE!! Caffeine is by far the most widely used drug in the world (~90% of humans use it), yet few of us think much about it. As he always does so well, let Pollan enlighten you.
This book returns to a small coffee house in Japan where a special chair can take a person back or forward in time for as long as it takes a freshly poured cup of coffee to get cold. While the future cannot be changed, the author crafts very clever stories, all with inspired closure.
This LA-set story will quickly set its claws and pull you through a manic year in the lives of a well-off Mexican American family. Father, mother, and all three daughters have crises that vary from much ado about nothing to much-delayed ados about everything. You will smile gleefully as the family completes the eventful year with stronger bonds than ever.
This is a perfect book to take our minds off COVID. A parallel earth was 'discovered' in the 1950s when nuclear testing was rampant. Numerous crossover locations were created around the world to 'manage' and research the very different earth. Innovative science, multitudes of terrifying creatures, brilliant and funny good guys, and one great, big asshole make for a fantastic day reading of on the sofa.
The young men in these related short stories leave their small village with plans to build exciting new lives in the big city of Beijing. Without college degrees, the jobs they find are meaningless, dead-end, and poorly paid. Zechen’s vibrant writing made me feel their boredom, stress, listless fun, and their shock when an occasional event or situation sends someone back home while the others double-down to stay. A couple stories feel unique to China, but most have universal themes that could take place nearly anywhere.
Meg Lowman is a scientific powerhouse and innovator. She is a pioneer in researching the top of forests where there is a great diversity of life that has barely begun to be recognized. Many natural areas around the world have followed Lowman’s lead and have built systems to convey visitors to treetops to observe entirely new habitats. Lowman’s leadership and creativity have led to significant leaps in understanding this previously overlooked habitat, which she calls the Eighth Continent. Lowman’s introduction to this overlooked habitat is fascinating.
The Good Garden: How to Nurture Pollinators, Soil, Native Wildlife, and Healthy Food—All in Your Own Backyard (Paperback)
The Good Garden is an excellent primer for making gardens more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Topics include soil improvement, food gardening, managing weeds and pests, enticing pollinators, butterflies and wildlife, composting, and many details most gardening books leave out, such as mulching, watering, companion planting, tools, and much more. Highly recommended!
I love Kitamura’s writing. She writes quietly about powerful people and intense situations. Intimacies portrays an employee at The Hague who is translating for an African dictator accused of atrocities. The dictator seems to have taken a liking to his translator. Meanwhile, the translator’s relationships with both her best friend and her boyfriend run afoul. Even drastic situations come off almost gently through Kitamura’s unique voice. You’ll barely know you’ve been punched!
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.
Libby - the 15-year-old narrator of A Crooked Tree - and her four siblings are wound up as they head home in the family station wagon after the last day of school for summer. Ellen, 12, is really annoying her mother, who suddenly pulls over and orders Ellen to get out of the car and walk home, a roughly 6-mile hike in rural Pennsylvania. The tone for the entire summer has just been set. Trauma, revenge, sibling rivalry, absentee parenting, affairs, class differences, friendship grievances, betrayals, plus an older neighbor's unwanted intrusion into the young narrator’s life, all propel the story forward at breakneck speed. Poor decisions, made one atop another, feed the reader’s anticipation of inevitable disaster. Set in the 1970s, this coming-of-age story boldly takes on societal issues that still resonate today. Mannion’s first novel is incisive, riveting and impossible to put down.
Totally LA, this dark comedy stars a second-class private detective who, despite his better judgment, takes on a sensitive assignment. Doll (yes, his name) can’t help but trip over his own feet and open his mouth exactly when it should be kept shut. But he has a good heart, (mostly) wants to do the right thing, and is likeable despite his many flaws. The story is tight and fast. This is my first Jonathan Ames book, but it definitely won't be my last. Thanks to Chris for sharing!
Cat has been summoned to Edinburgh by her mirror twin’s husband Ross, who tells her El is missing and assumed dead. The twins haven’t spoken since Cat left for California ten years ago; still, Cat doesn’t believe El is dead because she doesn’t feel it. El and Ross live in the house the twins grew up in, shockingly restored and refurnished to replicate the house as it was when they were children. Long-buried memories flood Cat when she arrives. The next day, Cat receives the first of many texts from ‘johnsmith,’ which give clues to a treasure hunt, a game right out of the twin’s childhood. The clues lead Cat to pages from El’s diary, which further awaken Cat’s memories of the fantasy world she and El had lived in, with pirates, cruel tooth fairies, nasty clowns, and more. The treasure hunts and memories alternate with uneasy interactions with Ross, detectives, and local folks. This thriller is a marvelous combination of complex and fascinating stories from the past and present, brilliantly drawn characters, terrific twists and turns, and an end that knocked off my shoes.
O’Donnell’s Victorian London is filled with grit, gore, lace, and grace, and enough humor and heart to soften the city’s sharp edges just as they begin to hurt. Young Bliss is urgently called to London by his only relative, an uncle who remains distant even while he supports Bliss’s Cambridge education. Bliss arrives at his uncle’s doorstep late the next evening, only to discover his uncle missing. Addled by worry, hunger and no sleep, Bliss finds himself employed the next morning by a brilliant but peculiar Scotland Yard detective who is investigating mysterious deaths of young women. A great variety of characters are pulled into the mystery as it threads its way through central London and eventually to a rural England ‘estate.’ This is an absolutely beguiling, visually rich mystery. More Paraic O’Donnell please!!!
Bewilderment belongs in the hands, head, and heart of every reader. The story is as timely, as wise, and as profound as Power’s Overstory, but Bewilderment is far more tightly packed and decidedly darker. You’ll be pulled into stunningly beautiful as well as haunting applications of cutting edge technologies. You’ll feel the joys and the terrors of parenthood’s rollercoaster. You may or may not anticipate the collapse of the wall of denial, but you’ll surely suffer its soul-crushing aftermath. Richard Powers, you broke my heart. And you will again and again as this book becomes worn from rereading.
Harper leaves the Australian mainland for Tasmania in her fourth book. The island’s sinister-sounding name provides a perfect base for Harper to ramp up creepiness when a mainland girl working off-season on an art project is found dead on the beach in a small, seasonal resort town on the coast. Similarities with a young girl’s death twelve years earlier start tongues wagging and suspicion heading off in a few directions. Frankly, I wasn’t ready to leave the island when the book ended with a very clever twist. As an enthusiastic fan of four out of four books, I can easily envision Jane Harper taking up more and more room on my library shelves.
The borders in the slums of a large Indian city are porous enough to entangle the lives of three people of different social standing. Each dreams of a different life. Two have the chance to fulfill their dreams if they toss the third to the wolves. Majumdar has set a morality play in a location where morality is a costly luxury. This tender—and brutal—tale will scorch your heart and raise your empathy.
Millet gathers a large group of old friends and their children for an extended summer vacation in a ginormous rented house. The children, largely teens, are more or less forgotten by their drunken, self-absorbed parents. The kids, embarrassed - even horrified - by their parents’ behaviors, actively disown them and take charge of their own vacation. A gigantic, climate-change-driven storm takes them all by surprise, causes significant destruction, and widens the wedge between adults and kids. Without giving away more of the story, Millet suggests the younger generation has the drive, but perhaps not all the tools, to save themselves, and even their disdained parents. Millet has penned a thoughtful, appropriately angsty, and definitely possible tale set in the not-very-distant future.
This utterly heart-warming story allows you to vicariously join four of the primary wolf packs formed during the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone starting in 1994. The stories of original alpha males and females and their offspring are stunning in their detail. Without anthropomorphizing, McIntyre observes markedly unique personalities, a genuinely amazing variety of games that teach life-long skills and build bonds among individuals both young and old, fascinating family dynamics, and fierce loyalty and bravery on the hunt and against threats from outside such as grizzlies and other wolf packs. This is the loveliest and most vibrant wild animal story I’ve ever read.
I was skeptical that McIntyre could write a second book as beguiling and insightful as his first about the wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone. Wow, was I wrong. This book is equally captivating as The Rise of Wolf 8 (which you must read before 21).
Overstory will challenge if not entirely change the way you view trees—and perhaps all plant life. Powers does this seamlessly while telling wonderful stories of eight very different individuals/couples whose lives eventually merge around the subject of trees. Brilliant and uplifting. My favorite book of 2018.
The funniest, certainly most self-deprecating physicist of the 20th century is also one of it’s most brilliant. I’m a physics flunky (well, the truth is I never even tried), but I had a blast reading about one it’s most renowned characters. Impress your friends at parties by regaling them with Feynman tales.
The Bear is a stunningly quiet, simple, and perfect book, reading as if it were effortlessly written on one singularly beautiful day. As I closed the book, I was enveloped in a deep, serene silence, something I rarely experience in this hectic, cacophonous world. The Bear will join a handful of books on my night table, each of which uniquely evoke a certain mindset I occasionally crave. Such is the power of this little book.
This was a charming and disarming book, perfect in its written simplicity and perfect in the power of its messages. We all wonder about alternative paths in our lives. In a very simple setting - a tiny coffeehouse - four people travel in time (three backward, one forward) and gain wisdom from a very brief encounter with important people from their lives. They don't necessarily get what they want; they get what they need. Kawaguchi’s book is inventive, a joy to read that is packed with the punch of a much longer book.
This astonishing story collection stars protagonists with special gifts such as telepathy, time travel, and traversing parallel worlds. A few other stories employ fantastic futuristic technologies to great effect. Butner stretched my brain this way and that and quite possibly reactivated some long-unused circuits. I see a second reading in my not-too-distant future.
Cargill’s Sea of Rust was the first book I read where I genuinely cared about an AI character. Cargill has done it again! Day Zero takes place over about the first 24 hours of war between humans and AIs. All AIs are loaded with Azimov's Three Rules of Robotics, but in the early hours of the war, many received a download disabling the kill switch if they disobeyed any of the laws. Of course, the question that arises is, without the kill switch, will AIs - especially those working and living in homes with humans, such as nannies and domestics - turn against humans or not? Day Zero is a dynamite, read-in-one-sitting book!
Colfer mixes poverty, mystery, crime, hilarity, and heart in this one-of-a-kind book set in the Louisiana bayou. Don’t let Vern, the Netflix addicted, vodka drinking, dragon keep you from reading this gem that’s mostly a tale about good versus evil. I promise you’ll close this book with a smile.
Two very different families reluctantly agree to temporarily share a remote Long Island house owned by one of the families. Over the course of three days, all six individuals encounter odd phenomena, usually while alone. Eventually, they all are well-aware that something strange is happening, but no one can articulate what it is. Rumaan's portrayal of a world suddenly turned upside down, and his characters' unfolding reactions to it, are unsettlingly credible.
Heads up psychological thriller fans, there’s a new name in town: Alex Michaelides, who clearly commands an intimate understanding of tortured souls. Artist Alicia kills her famous photographer husband Gabriel then refuses to speak. Six years later, Alicia still hasn’t spoken a word at The Grove, a psychiatric care facility. A new psychoanalyst joins the team, specifically to treat Alicia. His use of disallowed psychoanalytic practices sends him down a dark road that slowly peels back Alicia’s story, ultimately much to someone’s surprise. The reader is deliciously spun around and around in this perfectly paced thriller.
An amazing stroke of good luck followed by years of miscues - often attributable to procrastination - mess with Reed's life on the west coast of Florida, where he runs a barely surviving jungle tour and a small hotel. Add odd locals, a few rescued migrants, and an over-the-top crazed assassin, and you get a story filled with adventure, a touch of madness, and some very endearing moments. Take an unforgettable, vicarious vacation in Florida with Reed, aka Florida Man. Lifetime memories pretty much guaranteed.
Blaise’s stories are largely about how people adjust—or don’t—to being uprooted. Does one ever completely adapt, whether it be to a new school, neighborhood, city, state, country, continent, or a new language? Are adjustments immediate, delayed, or never made? Or a mix of the three? The stories are raw, sometimes brutal, and sometimes tender; but net, there always seems to be a disturbance in “The Force.” (Forgive my Stars Wars reference, but it feels right.)