The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper (Harper Collins, 2007)
This is a very imaginative science fiction book with undercurrents of strong environmentalism and feminism. By splitting her main character into seven people, she tells the tale of life on seven different planets, and brings them all back together in the end. She makes her negative view of humanity pretty clear, but also finds a way to fix us. I have never read anything by Tepper before but she came highly recommended. I found her to be a very thought-provoking writer.
In the most recent volume in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, a few surprising things happen. Without them there wouldn’t be much plot, so I won’t spoil it by saying what the surprising events are. Mma Ramotswe and Mma Matutsi carry on with their usual tenacity and goodness, and it all turns out well in the end. This is one of the better books in the series, although they all have their charms.
Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot (William Morrow, 2013)
I was disappointed by this novel. I think it was a mistake on the author’s part to base her story on well-known historical figures, because it limited the actions that characters could take. Not only did we know how the American Revolution was going to turn out, we knew that the mother of Benjamin Franklin’s “bastard” was never going to live happily ever after with Franklin. This didn’t leave a lot of room for suspense, and the writing was not good enough to make up for the preordained plot. I also think Cabot should have told the story solely from the point of view of William Franklin. It was as if the main character, William, wasn’t interesting or important enough to focus on exclusively. Benjamin Franklin apparently has a tendency to hog everyone’s attention, both in his time and in ours.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)
This is a very enjoyable, clever book that is hard to categorize. On the one hand it is the story of a twenty-something man living in San Francisco, with his iPhone and MacBook, web design skills and wealthy friends. But is also the story of aged bibliophiles and booksellers, printers and typeface experts, embroiled in a DaVinci Code style mystery. The best part is that the protagonist maintains his healthy skepticism and sense of humor, while in the end solving the puzzle that had eluded generations. Unlike many novels today, this one has an upbeat, optimistic tone without being frivolous. It celebrates modern technology while valuing friendship and enduring knowledge and skills.