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!
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.
This debut sci-fi novel is as tightly wound and perfectly paced as a Kafka novel. Kudos to Julia von Lucadou!
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.
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.
Thank you Jenny (yes, her readers are on a first name basis, so there; read Broken and you can be too!), you have given me at least a couple months’ worth of ab muscle workouts. I’m certain my neighbors secretly wanted in on whatever was happening in my condo the past two nights as I doubled over from long and very loud bouts of laughter, snorts, and whoops. Jenny shares dark times too, including an extended new low, a new treatment with uncertain longevity, and endless battles with a barbarous medical insurance system. But she always delivers the reader back to hilarity. Off with the sun lamp - there’s a fabulous new Jenny Lawson book to devour!!!
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.
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.
Beaukes has crafted an all-too-believable scenario where 99% of males have died of a pandemic of prostate cancer by 2023. After her husband dies, Cole learns that the government wants all males under lock and key, so Cole and her son ‘Mila’ (formerly Miles) are on the run from California to Florida, where they hope to catch a ship back to their home in South Africa. Can Mila carry off being an 11-year-old girl? Will they arrive in time? Will Cole’s sister help or hinder them? This thrilling book has some wonderful twists and turns.
This inventive novel is stuffed full of attitude and characters that leap off the page. Three advanced alien civilizations set up a trading station near Saturn where they purchase raw materials mined in the solar system and sell technologically “safe” trinkets to humans. The station is run by human-like positronic robots, each with its own peculiar interests and matching, often colorful, personality. One day three criminals gain entry to the solar system and wreak havoc on the trading station. Robot Raymond (after Chandler) is assigned to track down the criminals, accompanied by a station prisoner who has psi abilities similar to one of the criminals they are pursuing. A wild chase ensues, chock-full of clever twists and turns. Bonus at the end: I guarantee you’ll close the book with a great big smile on your face.
Klass’s background writing for Hollywood may explain the rich intensity of Out of Time, where even minor characters come to life. This can’t-put-down story pits a brilliant eco-terrorist (known as Green Man) against an equally brilliant, outside-the-box thinker (Tom) who just joined the FBI’s Green Man Task Force. Tom rapidly earns the trust of the task force leader and is given a long leash to lead his own investigation. His personally developed profile of Green Man (radically different the FBI’s official Unabomber-like profile) effectively directs his investigation of and search for Green Man. Klass digs into long-standing, divisive ethical issues with the environmental movement at both the organizational and individual level, but especially among the key characters. This is a timely, super-exciting story—one that surely could be made into a fantastic movie with little editing.
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.
Two men and three women meet the odd criteria set for the ‘Chosen Ones.’ They will save the world from the ‘Dark One’ - whether they want to or not. Years after successfully completing their assignment, three of them are hijacked to a parallel universe to repeat their performance. They are not very happy. Roth’s world building is exquisite, as is her construction of parallel universe mechanics. And did I mention the maddening, flawed, and entertaining characters? Roth’s first adult sci-fi is a resounding triumph! I'm ready for more.
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.
O’Connell is the parent of two young children who, as someone very concerned with climate change and other possible triggers of the apocalypse, is wondering if he made a mistake bringing kids into the world. In an attempt to answer to that question, he goes on what he calls “a pilgrimage through the apocalypse,” which includes watching countless YouTube videos about the many possible causes of collapse, visiting an old army site where a man is selling 575 decommissioned weapons storage facilities as bunkers for survivalists, going to a convention about colonizing Mars, visiting New Zealand where some ultra-wealthy US citizens have purchased large tracks of land as bug-out places, and finally touring Chernobyl to see what a post-apocalyptic world might look like. O’Connell offers critically insightful views throughout the book on both causes of and solutions to the apocalypse, but his net take-away from this journey is well-earned, thoughtful, and just maybe the only rational answer to be had: BE IN THE MOMENT. If you have a better solution, please share it!
A highly intelligent six-year-old who has difficulty communicating tries repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to tell a dullard, dismissive teacher that his mother is dead. Desperate to be heard, Frankie sneaks onto a cruise ship that he thinks will take him to his travelling father. Oops, wrong ship. This big-hearted tale is about finding a kindred soul or two in a world where so few people seem capable of listening. Like me, you might find your own attentiveness enhanced by this moving story.
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).
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.
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.
The book begins as a warm story of two college buddies on a wilderness trip in northern Canada. A distant wildfire and encounters with two other twosomes quickly move the story into thriller territory. Tender highs and grim lows make for another can’t-put-it-down book by Peter Heller.
Research on medical usage of psychedelics has re-emerged recently following a long hiatus. Perhaps most striking, terminally ill patients afraid of dying often become completely unafraid of death after a well-controlled session using psychedelics. No other class of drugs has shown the ability to change someone’s mind so definitively.
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.
Eggers’ spare prose is so sharp, taut and vivid in The Parade that I’m nearly certain it burned a long series of permanent afterimages in me. Check back in ten years or so for proof.
Crouch’s new sci-fi/thriller is a gem. Led by a neuroscientist with single-minded focus, researchers are learning to capture and replay memories. In the process, they have stumbled on a way to travel in time, with unfortunate repercussions. The future becomes more scrambled even as attempts are made to fix it. As un-put-down-able as Dark Matter, Crouch has concocted a hugely entertaining, mind-bending approach to time travel.
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.
Imagine living your adult life never knowing how old you’ll be when you wake up on your next birthday. This is Oona’s life, starting with what should be her 19th birthday, when she wakes up 51 years old. Before the book ends, she flips through seven more birthdays, ranging from 19 to 53. Oona’s reactions to this craziness, such as attempts to adjust her fate and to right past wrongs, feel surprisingly believable. This is a unique, fun, and thought-provoking book.
How is genetic engineering used today? How sophisticated and available is it? Read and find out. But given the rate of development is this field (which is about to outpace exponential change), today’s use is child’s play when compared to how and who will be using genetic engineering tools in the not-very-distant future - unless substantial guidelines are agreed upon and put in place. Worldwide. Today. The variety and scale of the implications, and their potential effect on our future, are portentous. Read - or don’t read - at your own risk.
This is fabulous fiction for art lovers. Set in Boston years after the Isabella Gardner Museum heist, a stolen Degas is delivered to a very talented but struggling artist who is asked to reproduce the painting in exchange for a desperately needed gallery show. She has the technical training and the talent to pull it off. Interesting facets of the art world are showcased in this page-turner.
The author, a renowned quantitative futurist, seems uniquely qualified to pen three wide-ranging and believable scenarios about what our world might look like in the next ten to fifty years given where the nine companies that essentially control artificial intelligence development are directing their efforts today. Six of the companies are American and three are Chinese. The involvement - or lack of involvement - of American and Chinese political leadership very significantly affects the scenarios’ outcomes. We have but a handful of years to shift the balance in our favor.
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.
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.
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!!!
Some teens have such aversion to their untenable living situation, whether it is with parents, foster homes, other relatives, etc., that running away becomes their only achievable option. With no place of safety to turn to, they become homeless. This book is about a small come-and-go group of runaway teens that sleep in Golden Gate Park and spend most days in the Haight/Ashbury neighborhood, panhandling, goofing around, avoiding the police, getting high or drunk. Seligman paints a vivid picture of the teens’ living conditions (utterly horrible); the incredible range of people they regularly encounter (including police, local businesses and tourists, ranging from very helpful to very nasty – gangs, hopeful saviors, and the like); plus the always-present possibility of an unexpected event that turns their life upside down in mere moments. The kids’ vulnerability resides on nearly every page. Although At the Edge of the Haight is fiction, much of it feels like a series of live reports compiled over time about a tiny group of invisible people. Thank you, Katherine Seligman, for giving this (probably growing) group of kids a voice.
Featherhood begins with a tone akin to feather-lightness as Charlie gently nurses a baby magpie found floundering in the gutter. But lightness soon alternates with darkness as Charlie’s impending marriage and pressure to become a parent sweep open many long-suppressed issues linked to his father’s desertion when Charlie was a mere six months old. Though they haven’t lived far apart, his father, Heathcote, has consistently snubbed his son’s attempts to establish a relationship; even sharing the same uncommon ground – he once raised a jackdaw, another crow-family bird – doesn’t move Heathcote to open up. Charlie becomes increasingly unhinged as he finally meets two older step-sisters, as his father becomes gravely ill, as he struggles to determine the best life for Benzene (the magpie), and as his own fatherhood looms. Charlie Gilmour’s vulnerable heart and soul are laid bare in this beautifully written memoir, generously sprinkled with funny-to-endearing-to-profound experiences with Benzene. I fell in love with both.
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.
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.