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!
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.
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.
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!
The southwest Florida coast screams weirdness like few other places in America. And here is where Tom Cooper has brought to life a handful of locals, a few rescued immigrants, and an over-the-top crazed assassin who has legitimate business to carry out in the neighborhood. I had to scream at the main character several times before he finally fell in line. Florida Man is an escape, one of the highest and lowest caliber that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in the past year or two. Take a vacation with Florida Man. Lifetime memories pretty much guaranteed.
Hilarious, can't-put-it-down book starring Vern, the last vodka-loving, Netflix-addicted dragon alive, living a pretty comfy life on the Louisiana coast. Think Carl Hiaasen in the bayou sans an environmental twist. Sequel seems like a possibility, and I'm crossing all my fingers.
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.
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.
Psychedelics’ adoption by the counterculture in the 1960s led quite rapidly to complete stoppage and then virtual erasure of what had been a promising field of research in the 1950s-60s on therapeutic uses of psychedelics. Research quietly regained some acceptance in the 1990s, and today there is a surprisingly large field of research on psychedelics in progress, some of which is well along the multi-staged process that precedes FDA testing. Psychedelics are being tested to treat addiction, depression, patients facing death, and other medical issues. It is thrilling to read how psychedelics can change a person’s perception of the world so radically that, for example, they no longer fear death. This is an exceptionally well-written history and thought-provoking review of issues surrounding the resurgence of psychedelics as a potentially valuable medical therapy.
The book begins with a section called Roots containing eight chapters, each devoted to an individual’s or couple’s backstory from 1950s-70s. In the next section, called Trunk, Powers picks up where the individual stories ended and starts weaving them together with a common thread: trees. Powers imparts a great deal of genuinely astonishing and fascinating history and science of trees and forests, seemingly effortlessly providing the reader with a completely new understanding of these usually ignored living beauties (with whom we share 25% of our genes) and their place in the earth’s biome. Sections called Crown and Seed bring us to the current and future state of trees, and humans, on earth. Overstory is both an exciting tale with compelling and moving narratives about people the reader comes to care deeply about and an education about trees as (or more) engaging and informative as the award winning book Hidden Life of Trees. I absolutely love Overstory.
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.
Christie has given the Greenwood reader many opportunities to ponder the role of nature versus nurture in this four-generation saga. A first generation lumber baron in the early 1900s eventually gives rise to a fourth generation forest guide in one of the planet’s last standing old-growth forests in 2034. Most members of this family lead edgy lives in varying degrees of pain and loneliness, and moments of joy are scarce - yet these characters dig hooks in you and press you to read onward. Unresolved relationships and personal journeys, within and across the generations, slowly achieve a measure of closure as the chapters shift almost seamlessly from 2034 to 1908 and back to 2034. The characters will stay with you long after you close the book, and just might keep you thinking about nature versus nurture.
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.
In this tender story, Hamer recounts life after being turned out of his family home before completing school. Wandering comfortably with few to no possessions, he eventually adopts mole catching as a means to support himself and eventually his small family. Living in rhythm with the seasons, his prose and poetry flow straight from the heart in this thoughtful, offbeat tale.
Mythologica is a breathtaking guide to the 50 most important and famous gods/goddesses, mortals and monsters in Greek mythology. Stunning visuals accompany succinct profiles that place each character within the mythological world of the Greeks, and several of the most famous myths are also vividly brought to life. Mythologica is a perfect introduction to Greek mythology, but I think this belongs on every mythology lover’s bookshelf.
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.
Shields’ bewitching and illuminating tale is set at one of the Manhattan Project’s three primary sites: Hanford, WA. In 1944 the urgent call for women workers a few hours south of Mildred’s home gives her the opportunity to escape a domineering and manipulative mother. As an exceptional typist and unusually out-spoken woman, Mildred is hired as secretary for a highly ranked physicist. Mildred loves her job. But aptly called Mad Mildred and other similar names since childhood, Mildred’s uncontrolled visions of the future eventually spill out in her new, crowded surroundings. Powerful and devastating, this story is a stunner.
Following civil wars and epidemics, an older woman lives alone on her father’s homestead between other small, uneasy settlements. She gets by via gardening, bartering with locals, and the occasional bartered service as a scribe for strangers passing through. Pressed into service by a man who she thinks cannot possibly meet her steep barter demands but quickly does so, she is reluctantly forced to leave home to fulfill her end of the bargain. Painful and terrifying trials test her on her travels, but eventually she successfully faces her own demons and more than fulfills the contract. Hagy vividly evokes the gritty, pungent, gory grayness of this ruptured world while she simultaneously conveys in beautiful, aching prose just what is required to survive as a decent human being in a truly brutal world.
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.
This is a romping, sometimes funny spy thriller set during WW2 in Cuba. Blending fact and fiction, it stars Ernest Hemingway as a mostly self-directed U Boat hunter and spy during WW2. Cuba, Hemingway, and the characters Hemingway surrounded himself with all come vividly alive and stay with you long after you have finished the book.
The Gelding has left few people alive after a century of near-zero birth rates. Griz, his parents, and two siblings live on a small Scottish island; the only other folks they know live several islands away. One day a trader stops at Griz’s island. The family guardedly welcomes him to dinner, after which the trader tricks the family into eating drugged sweets. The trader departs at dawn with Griz’s beloved dog Jess and other stolen goods. Griz wakes just in time to see the trader slip out of sight. Without hesitation, Griz grabs their other dog, Jip, and goes after the thief. Griz and Jip have one heart-wrenching adventure after another on their quest to track down the thief, yet the story is told with such piercing self-reflection and urgent purpose that it’s impossible to put down. READ THIS BOOK TODAY!
The stresses of caring for two very young children while working have kept Molly from taking the occasional misinterpreted sound or sight too seriously. But since David was suddenly called out of town for a week, the odd hallucination has transformed into a very real, um, problem. Perfect pacing, exquisite portrayal of the relentless demands of young children balanced by rare moments of perfect joy, coupled with Molly’s wavering interactions with her antagonist make The Need a beguiling read.
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.
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.