The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017)
I have no idea where Anita Shreve came up with the title, other than the fact that a huge wildfire is a major part of the plot. The main character saves her two young children from the fire that decimates her Maine town in the mid-1940s, but it leaves her with a bitter and disabled husband and some decisions to make. I associate wildfires with the West, but I suppose Maine was, and is, a heavily wooded rural state. This novel was an interesting “period piece” about post-war America, with plenty of descriptions of typical clothes and furnishings of the period. Apparently you could get a 3-course lunch for 25 cents, for instance. It was a mildly interesting story but not really anything special.
Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, & Lore edited by Paula Guran (Prime Books, 2017)
This collection of 24 short stories is all about librarians and libraries, as the title says. Many of these stories could be described as science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and several are post-apocalyptic. Others are completely different. I didn’t like all of the stories, but there is something for every taste. Librarians are portrayed positively and with a modern adult perspective (there is sex and romance of both straight and LGBTQ persuasions). Books are highly valued in every story. Libraries are portrayed primarily as a place to keep books safe, though they have many other roles in the twenty-first century. This collection reminded me of my roots as a person who became a librarian because I love books and reading.
Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon (Delacorte Books, 2017)
This new book by the author of the best-selling (and my personal favorite) Outlander series is not a full-length novel, but instead a collection of seven novellas. That’s what the “seven stones” refers to, and the “stand or fall” part, according to Gabaldon, refers to “people’s responses to grief and adversity.” Each novella tells a story that takes place in the universe of the series, with characters from the series. Most involve secondary characters (although several are about Lord John) and flesh out a situation referred to only briefly in the novels, for example, how Joan (Claire’s step-daughter) came to be a nun. Diana Gabaldon’s writing style makes all of the stories worth reading; readers will finish each one satisfied that a loose end has been tied up. I recommend this new book for all Outlander fans, although it will mean more to you if you’ve read the whole series and not just watched the tv show.
The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard (Penguin Books, 2017)
Although this book sounds like it might be science fiction from the title, it isn’t really. It’s just that a small piece of alternative history involving a tattoo machine that puts “epiphanies” onto people’s forearms has been inserted into ordinary 21st century New York City life. These messages are chosen by the machine, or possibly the machine’s operator, it’s not clear; not by the person who asks for a tattoo. The messages declare in a sentence or phrase some fundamental truth about the person’s character.
The protagonist of this novel is a man whose whole life revolves around the stories of people who get these tattoos (his parents, to start with) and what happens to them as a result. Said main character is basically a lazy person who spends most of his time thinking about or having sex, so writing about the epiphany machine (in a story-within-the story) is a great excuse for not accomplishing anything with his life. If you’re like me and instinctively dislike people like that, you will probably not enjoy this book. I didn’t. Your mileage may differ.
I found you: a novel by Lisa Jewell (Atria Books, 2017)
This seemingly ordinary novel about a single mom somewhere in England (I don’t know English geography very well) sort of turns into a murder mystery when we’re not looking. A man shows up in a beach town without his memory and the single mom takes him in (knowing this is probably a stupid move). Meanwhile other pieces of the story are narrated as seemingly separate stories about a young foreign bride and a family with two teenagers, which eventually all come together. This is a well-written novel which keeps the reader wondering what will happen next, without so much graphic violence that you can’t sleep until you’re done. The character development is also very good, and the descriptions of life in England are a change of pace for American readers. I will probably seek out other books by Lisa Jewell.
Filed under Fiction, Mystery
Media, Millennials, and Politics: The Coming of Age of the Next Political Generation by Alison N. Novak (Lexington Books, 2016)
This is an academic book written by a professor of communications at the university where I work, so most of you who follow my blog probably won’t have easy access to it. Nevertheless it was an interesting and well-written book that I learned a lot from. As the parent of two Millennials (adults under 35), I have been hearing lately about the concept of “millennial bashing” by the media. This book provides proof that it’s real. Dr. Novak collected and analyzed two datasets about media coverage of Millennials and politics: one included 50 randomly selected episodes of 6 cable tv news programs surrounding the 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections, and the other asked a cohort of actual Millennials to write journal entries after a weekly reading of the most popular articles on NewsWhip, an online news aggregator. Her analysis shows that despite turnout levels that likely swayed the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections, Millennials as a group were consistently ignored, denigrated, and even vilified by large segments of the media. I was appalled to learn that the conservative news media actually accused Millennials of voting for Obama solely because he promised them “gifts” like free contraception and better student loan policies. Not surprisingly, Millennials in return showed little trust of media (even online media) as a source of political information.
All our wrong todays by Elan Mastai (Dutton Books, 2017)
So, this is another sci-fi book about time travel and all the ways it can go wrong. This is a slightly different take on it, where the main character comes from a 2016 in an alternate timeline which is a high-tech utopian version of today. It’s a lot like the future in the movie Tomorrowland – a future based on the 1964 World’s Fair. Of course, he screws things up and ends up in our world instead. Oddly he likes it better. Anyway, it’s an interesting (and fairly long) novel; if you like science fiction you’ll probably enjoy it.