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!
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!
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.
Moreno-Garcia imagines a somewhat kinder Island of Dr. Moreau set in 19th century Yucatán. A wealthy Mexican landowner finances an estate, labs, and materials for Dr. Moreau, whose job is to create hybrid human/animals to replace unruly Mayan laborers. Twenty years later, Dr. Moreau has two modestly successful hybrids who are his daughter’s playmates and best friends; all other hybrids are seriously defective and unable to work. Moreau’s financer loses his patience just as Carlota turns 18, throwing everyone on the estate into jeopardy. This fascinating, fast paced, genre-defying novel will appeal to readers of thrillers, horror, gothic fiction, romance, and even sci-fi.
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.
Zamalin's pocket-sized handbook is well-timed. Twenty strategies that have been successfully used to shift political and social tides - mostly in the United States during the past two centuries - are succinctly described. Zamalin also relates each to recent events, making it easy to understand their relevance today. I closed the book grieving that I did not adequately take advantage of strategy #3, 'Take Back the Streets,' when the Black Lives Matter protests were underway in 2020. No more excuses.
Newman's debut will convince you - if you didn't already know - that Alaskans are, ah, 'different' from people in the 'lower 48.' Does the landscape birth and magnify angst, twisted wit, and weirdness? Whatever the case, Newman's characters embody these traits, and the result is a spectacular collection of stories that alternately daze, dazzle, and dumbfound. I look forward to Newman's next work.
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.
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.
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.
The High House is poised at the edge of a seasonal resort town, where its residents are little affected by worldly issues nine months of the year. Declining seasonal visitors hint at problems in the cities, but folks in High House ignore signs of climate change until their town is empty and finally hit by devastating storms. This intimate, quiet portrayal of self-reliant folks in denial until the sea knocks on their front door may be a quiet warning to all of us.
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.
Lucy Ellmann’s witty, snap-crackle-pop essays drew gales of laughter (and a few tears) from me. Every essay is a singular joy. The title essay is a grand THING. The second essay worthily challenges eyeballs by employing a very clever form. The last two essays close with somber notes mixed with their humor. Ellmann uses a sharp knife to cut through society’s apparently ironclad skin to reveal a maelstrom rumbling inside: near-universal control subversively sustained by men, but with signs of tottering, and deeply buried denial maintained by women, perhaps on the verge of surfacing. WAKE UP WOMEN! Bonus: sketches accompany each essay to further enlighten and amuse.
Almada’s novels set a quick hook that keeps you reading until the story is finished, and her books’ brevity make that achievable in a day. Set in a small town in Argentina, two families’ lives are irrevocably at odds. Clever storytelling slowly reveals the paths of two generations and their inevitable outcomes. A classic theme presented in lovely prose.
A brutalized boy from a dirt-poor family escapes to Minsk, Belarus in the 1930s, which is filled with Stalin’s watchdogs. Eventually, the boy gains low-level employment with them. Decades later, he is linked to mass graves that have just been uncovered outside Minsk. Lawyers build a case to end his comfortable life in Canada and send the now very old man back to Belarus. McCormack skillfully presents the story in grey moral tones that resist easy answers.
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.
An aging Russian emigre writer facing the collapse of his career gathers a few friends to ride-out COVID in his Hudson Valley estate, complete with cabins for his guests. The story is generously sprinkled with farce and self-absorption, heady, funny, and occasionally cruel mealtime conversations, both self-inflicted and other-inflicted pain, and yes, joy. Gorgeous writing will leave images of Our Country Friends dancing in your head for days.
Ai Weiwei’s only known artistic influences as a young child living in labor camps were hearing bits of his father’s poetry and pouring over his father’s art books while his father worked nearby. Ai Qing was released from labor camps after Mao died, just as Ai Weiwei was old enough to attend junior high school. He enrolled in numerous art schools and art programs abroad throughout his young adult years, only to drop out soon after starting. His early artistic output thus appears to be mostly self-directed, often evolving dramatically with little apparent reason. When he returned to China, ancient, odd artifacts captured his attention, but it wasn’t long before his art became almost completely politically driven. Since he and his father rarely spoke, Ai Weiwei’s fierce morality seems largely based on observation of his father. Ai Weiwei’s autonomy, brilliance and passion shine throughout his memoir, with minimal presence of ego. Beloved worldwide, this book convincingly depicts how he earned this lofty status.
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.
Twins Inti and Aggie are very different, yet they are inseparable. McConaghy’s themes of nature versus nurture as well trauma’s varied legacy apply to the twins as well as to many people they come to know well. Much of the story takes place in Scotland’s wildest lands, where Inti is leading the reintroduction of wolves, much to the consternation of local sheep farmers. Hefty doses of conflict of may raise your blood pressure, but in the end, McConaghy will win your heart. This is a wonderful book.
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.
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.
Dave has sustained significant psychological damage from three tours in Iraq. When his wife dies in a car accident, he has few options to support himself and a seven-year-old daughter. Unable to retain a job and about to lose his home, Dave decides to apply the many outdoor skills he learned, and loved, as a child. He and Bella move to a cave in the North Cascades wilderness. Life goes reasonably well until winter approaches, when family and individual rights are pitted against society’s expectations and laws. I closed the book with a deeper understanding of people who live at the very edges of society, where life is fragile because so few viable options exist. This is a wonderful adventure story spiked with relevant social issues.
Who can resist the fraught relationships and guaranteed misbehaviors at a run-down Catholic all-girls boarding school that houses a handful of ‘scholarship’ students amongst a wealthy group of goodie-goodie students bent on making those few other girls uncomfortable? Add one well-off eccentric girl who befriends one of the scholarship girls plus one handsome, charismatic male art teacher who isn’t afraid of pushing boundaries, and you have the ingredients for an entertaining evening or two trying to solve a mystery presented early in the story. I confess I failed to solve the mystery but enjoyed trip.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Most pandemic novels track the pandemic’s spread and focus on the accompanying horror. Shepard’s novel is different. Phase Six focuses on two young and inexperienced women the CDC sends to Greenland to assess the seriousness of a small outbreak. The outbreak rapidly becomes a worldwide pandemic, and the women are tasked to study the pathogen. In virtually constant contact, the women come to care for each other deeply, share personal secrets and battle stories, and build on each other’s theories about the pandemic’s unusual patterns. These conversations lead them to release the first plausible model of the pathogen’s mechanics, including how it spreads - a prerequisite to halting it. In Jim Shepard’s nuanced story, the two women are the heroes, not the pathogen.
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.
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.
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.
This debut sci-fi novel is as tightly wound and perfectly paced as a Kafka novel. Kudos to Julia von Lucadou!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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!