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.
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
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, 2015)
This novel fleshes out the stories of the Old Testament about David, king of Israel. Brooks does a good job of showing all sides (good and bad) of David’s character, from the point of view of his prophet Nathan. Women are not neglected in this tale. Although overall they are treated very badly by the male characters, their stories are told as fully human beings living in a time when they are not respected. Unfortunately (male or female) in this book everyone’s life is full of violence, blood, and death, which is (as far as we know) how things really were. It’s hard to believe that the psalms that we still sing today came from this man, out of this time period.
The Comet Seekers: a novel by Helen Sedgwick (Harper-Collins, 2016)
Welcome to year 5 of my book blog! I will continue to post less often, but be patient and you will be rewarded.
There is more fiction about scientists than you might expect. Often in these novels, including this one, they are pulled one way by love and the other way by their passion to discover new knowledge about the universe, although I’m not sure that’s such a big problem in real life. This book is unusual in that ghosts play a major role in the plot, despite the scientific bent of the real characters. It takes place in France, Ireland, and (briefly) Antarctica; and comets are of course the plot device everything orbits around. Pay attention to the chapter titles, which indicate a year and a real comet that was visible that year. You’ll know this is a literary novel because of the way that the plot starts at the end and jumps around all over time before returning to the present. Nevertheless the story is told coherently, poetically, and with several hard blows to the gut of the reader before it ends.
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen (Random House, 2016)
Every so often I read one of Quindlen’s new books, and they’re always pretty good. My only complaint is that they describe the characters’ lives so realistically that they’re not very good as escapism. This one, for example takes place in rural Pennsylvania and features a girl who’s good at science and eventually becomes a doctor. The major side plot interwoven around her late 20th century life involves the dam that the federal government wants to expand, which will flood her family’s farm and force them to relocate. This aspect of the book is similar to another novel I read in which residents dealt with fracking in rural Pennsylvania. Although Quindlen does a good job of describing life in Pennsylvania, she can’t have spent much time there because she never mentions Wawa, the iconic convenience store.
Here comes the sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright Publishing, 2016)
This novel illustrates the danger of judging books by their covers. The cover of this book was yellow and orange, very cheerful, talking about the sun coming, etc. The actual book was one of the most depressing novels I’ve ever read. I feel like I need a shower to get clean again after reading it. All three of the main characters were basically terrible women with no redeeming qualities, except maybe for the youngest girl. But the author doesn’t even tell us how her life turns out, instead focusing on the other two sickos. it’s not just that this is the story of a very impoverished Jamaica family – if they were just poor and disadvantaged, the reader could feel some sympathy. No, these are women who make their living as prostitutes, treat their children like dirt, sell them into sexual slavery and rape, and constantly tell them they are worthless because of the color of their skin. The author should not be allowed to make any money for writing this trash.