The Alpine Zen by Mary Daheim (Ballantine Books, 2015)
This summer when the libraries were closed, I bought the remaining books in some paperback fiction series I’d always meant to finish, including Mary Daheim’s Emma Lord mysteries series. If you’re familiar with the series you’ll know that each one is titled The Alpine (something), where each something begins with the next letter of the alphabet. The Alpine reference is to the mountains of western Washington state, which I lived near when I first started reading the books. So I bought The Alpine Winter, The Alpine Xanadu, The Alpine Yeoman, and The Alpine Zen (from the bookshop.org website of course). It was quite a lifetime accomplishment for Daheim to write a book for every letter of the alphabet. Other than Emma finally marrying Milo there are no big surprises, but Daheim brings the series to a satisfying conclusion. What series should I complete next?
Filed under Fiction, Mystery
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit Books/Hachette Book Group, 2020)
Woohoo, my 300th post! Now out in hardback and on the new books shelf of your local library is another great book by Kim Stanley Robinson, one of my favorite authors. In this one the video camera zooms out a bit from the “Science in the Capital” series, to imagine how the world might deal with climate change in the coming decades. The main character is an Irish woman who moves to Zurich, Switzerland to run a new United Nations agency created in 2024 called the Ministry for the Future. She is tasked to represent future generations and ends up coming up with some ambitious projects that do make a difference. But the book doesn’t shy away from illustrating the devastating impacts of climate change, focusing on a few people such as young American man who survived a deadly heat wave in India. Robinson assumes the the U.S. will not be a leader in saving the world, instead highlighting India, China, and Europe. Some parts of this novel are hard to follow because the “first person” changes frequently without identification, and references to Swiss and Indian locations assume reader knowledge of whether they are cities, streets, rivers, or mountains.
The Big Door Prize: A Novel by M.O. Walsh (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020)
This is an enjoyable novel about ordinary people in a small town in Louisiana, present day. Then someone puts a machine in the grocery store which purports to analyze your DNA and tell you who or what you were “meant to be” if you had achieved your true potential. Naturally this makes things a little more interesting, as people find out what their “potential life station” supposedly is. Also many of the chapter titles are lines from John Prine songs, which seems very appropriate – when you finish it you realize that the whole book is basically an ode to the late John Prine.
Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J, Trump by Michael Cohen (Skyhorse Publishing, 2020)
Knowing I wanted to read this book, my brother pre-ordered it as a birthday gift so Amazon delivered me a copy the day it came out. But it almost didn’t get published. President Trump tried to prevent Michael Cohen from finishing this tell-all book about him by trying to send him back to prison (after he had been paroled for medical reasons). But his first amendment rights were upheld and the book came out. In it Cohen provides a lot of disturbing insight into President Trump’s personality which matches what others have said about him. Cohen is pretty hard on himself too. The problem is that having admitted to telling so many lies, there’s no way to tell if the book is just more lies or if Cohen is telling the truth this time.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018)
I put this book on hold at my local library last winter; last week my library finally reopened and it came in. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. It is full of vivid scientific descriptions of nature in the marsh country and estuaries of the North Carolina coast, but it’s also a novel with a suspenseful plot. In fact it’s really a murder mystery, in part anyway. The main character is a woman whose family abandoned her at age 6. She grew up mostly alone in a shack in the wetlands, yet she became an accomplished naturalist and illustrator.
Master of Crows: A Novel by Grace Draven (Grace Draven, 2013).
This fantasy novel is well-written and suspenseful, but very dark. The idea of an “evil god” seems contradictory to me. A god that wants to possess a magician and take over the world makes a substantial adversary. But the magician, and the woman magician he falls in love with, are pretty powerful themselves and win in the end. I prefer lighter stuff (in both senses of the world) but if you loved Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and other similar books you’ll like this one.
Buy in online: https://bookshop.org/books/master-of-crows/9781500369484
A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel by Guarav Suri & Hartosh Singh Bal (Princeton University Press, 2007)
This is in fact a mathematical novel – the best one I’ve ever read (and the only one). If you studied mathematics in college, whether as a math major, physics major, or engineer, it will bring back many memories – hopefully good ones. There is plenty of mathematics in the book, but it’s all presented as an enjoyable intellectual exercise, not as work. The main characters are a group of college students and their mathematics professor. One student wants to find out why his grandfather was briefly in jail when he was in his twenties. It turns out that his grandfather (also a mathematician) violated a local blasphemy law by speaking out against Christianity. He digs up the transcripts of the grandfather’s time in jail, in which he debates the judge in his case about faith, certainty, and how a worldview can be built up from starting axioms. If you have the patience to follow it through, the results of this fictional philosophical journey are very rewarding.
Buy it from a local bookstore on bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/a-certain-ambiguity-a-mathematical-novel-revised/9780691146010
Winds of Fate by Mercedes Lackey (DAW Books, 1991)
After three months with no access to libraries, I ordered a box of books from bookshop.org so I would have new books to read. I thought that meant I could read all three books in The Mage Winds series in order – and I discovered that there were ten previous books in the series. With a new fantasy series there is always so much to understand about the world it takes place in. That’s certainly the case with Winds of Fate which introduces multiple human species and sentient animal species, diverse lands, and powerful magic. The situation the main characters face is terrifyingly evil and doesn’t resolve at the end. Stay tuned for my report on the second and third books, if I have the stomach to read them.
Buy it online: https://bookshop.org/books/winds-of-fate-9781501231094/9780886775162
The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment by Maya K. van Rossum (Disruption Books, 2017)
Maya van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper: the director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental organization formed to protect the Delaware River (which runs between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and into Delaware where it empties into the Delaware Bay). In this book van Rossum tells many heartbreaking stories of illness, death, and loss of homes and property caused by chemical waste and clearcutting in a variety of industrial operations such as fracking. But the good news is that the Delaware Riverkeeper Network won a legal battle in 2013 that upheld Pennsylvania’s constitutional language ensuring state residents the right to a healthy environment. Inspired by this victory, van Rossum launched a movement (forthegenerations.org) to push for a Green Amendment, guaranteeing the right to clean and healthy water, air, and land, in every state’s constitution. States have different processes for amending their constitutions, but legislation has been introduced in New Jersey and New York. This is an eye-opening book and a hopeful look at a movement to keep an eye on – or join!
This book is not available on bookshop.org, but you can buy it on Amazon. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.