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Since this board will soon vanish, I thought I'd provide some brief reviews of recent reads. Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelAn interesting examination of the consequences of an out of control severe acute respiratory syndrome pandemic that decimates human life on Earth. Moving back and forth through time, from the rapid spread if the disease to years later, Mandel delivers a compelling cast of characters managing to stay alive in impossible circumstances. Although not exactly a dynamic page-turner, the reader is drawn into and through this rather haunting novel. Now a limited series (Netflix?)Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John MandelEdwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when his family exiles him to the Canadian wilderness where he hears sounds that have traveled to him from the future and which impact his life and sanity. Spanning several centuries, Mandel weaves together interesting characters, metaphysics, time travel, pandemics, humanity, loneliness, love, and eccentric philosophical theories such as all life as a simulation. In the Field by Rachel PastanPastan's Kate Croft is a fascinating and infuriating character... filled with passionate determination, keen intelligence, and unconventional imagination. She is usually the smartest person in the room but often dismissed because she's a woman studying in the field of science in the 1920s. A character flaw -- or is it a positive distinguishing feature? -- is her belief that 'fairness' will be the reward for being right. Repeatedly, Kate confronts the men who did not have the intelligence and imagination to overcome the next hurdle in their work, taking her ideas and analyses and convincing themselves they were theirs and theirs alone, neglecting to share credit with her or to even cite her contributions.As a reader, it can be frustrating to watch Kate make the same 'mistakes' again and again; but it is her nature, and she is a wonderful character to watch over the decades of this outstanding novel.The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R King Generally, a clever idea and a well-crafted Sherlockian mystery. In this, the first adventure in the series, young Mary Russell is clever and charming, becoming even more so as she becomes a woman. Russell becomes quite the protégé, then partner, of the retired Homes and the reader to certain to be keen for more adventures from this odd couple.Home by Toni MorrisonToni Morrison is a gifted, graceful writer. Her subject matter is always challenging but walking alongside her is always revelatory and rewarding.How Do You Live? by Genzaburo YoshinoHayao Miyazaki has called it his favorite childhood book and has announced his plans to use the novel as basis for his final film... therefore prompting this new English translation (with an introduction by Neil Gaiman) and interest in the work. Basically, this novel is a clever exploration of the philosophy of how one moves through life, what is important and what is essential... what we know and what we seek to learn... and how we relate to and care for one another. Simple, beautiful and deeply thoughtful. Ain't Burned All the Bright by Jason ReynoldsAn interwoven examination in pictures and words of life in America in a Black family navigating COVID-19 and police violence in the Black community. Well told, well drawn. Written for middle schoolers.Time Is a Mother by Ocean VuongMemorable, evocative poems on racism, addiction, families, war, and death.In the Quick by Kate Hope DayI found the novel interesting, the central character, June, well written, and her journey engaging, if not gripping... reviewers have suggested that the novel has “echoes of Station Eleven, The Martian, and, yes, Jane Eyre” but that seems to be more than a bit of a stretch.Red Knife by William Kent Krueger (#8 in the Cork O'Connor series)A solid Cork O'Connor novel that is likely to trigger individuals who are unable to objectively examine difficult issues, including abortion and gun violence. O'Connor continues to evolve as a character in a series that is among the best of the mystery genre, one of the few to feature Native Americans. Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger (#7 in the Cork O'Connor series)A nice improvement from a rather weak "Copper River," here we get the backstory of Cork's friend and mentor, Henry Meloux. And although the early years of Henry have their shortcomings, the adventure is solid and the characters are well established and revealed. Still, one aspects of these novels is disappointing: the female characters tend to be poor decisionmakers... more so than the men who tend to be depicted as strong, capable, and clever.Copper River by William Kent Krueger (#6 in the Cork O'Connor series)Reading this series in order, this is the first novel that has disappointed me; the book is a mess. First, Cork has abandoned his wife and family thinking they will be protected if he's gone... but then he calls them, making it easy for the bad guys to know exactly where they are while he's away. Former FBI agent and current trouble-solver for hire, Dina, comes to Cork's rescue (even though he's treated her poorly). Three extremely obnoxious children make appearances -- two, Ren and Charlie, throughout the book -- and it is impossible not to dislike them. Plus, they are poorly written. And Cork's wife, Jo, who is supposedly smart, strong, and independent makes some really stupid decisions in this novel. Hopefully, Krueger gets back on track in the next novel but this was a definite miss for me.Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger (#5 in the Cork O'Connor series)Cork O'Connor is back in the saddle again as sheriff of Tamarack County and right away someone if gunning for him. As always, Krueger does a fine job is crafting his story is this series that's a little bit of Joe Pickett and a tine bit of Jack Reacher. Cork's family always has a major role is the Cork O'Connor books and there's frequently some doubts about the marital fidelity of both Cork and his wife, Jo (which stems from their separation in the first novel in the series). Sufficient twists and turns here keep reader interest and though some have complained that the mystery is not solved in the end and continues into the next book in the series, that won't be a problem for fans of the series. Blood Hollow by William Kent Krueger (#4 in the Cork O'Connor series)Cork O’Connor finds himself unraveling the mystery of a missing high school student, months later found dead in the snow on a hillside four months after her disappearance on New Year’s Eve. When Solemn Winter Moon is arrested for her murder, Cork becomes convinced that Solemn is innocent but Solemn makes Cork's job of proving it more difficult by going into hiding.There are plenty of twists, turns, and dead ends here -- along with visions of Jesus, a religious statue weeping bloody tears, and a miracle of thousands rose petals -- the good guys and the bad guys are all made of flesh and blood.Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger (#3 in the Cork O'Connor series)As Cork O'Connor continues to rebuild his life and repair his marriage, he's drawn into a conflict between the Anishinaabe tribe and wealthy industrialist Karl Lindstrom’s lumber mill over old growth forest, a stand of ancient trees many Anishinaabe consider sacred, some see as a source of reliable employment, and town folk who see them as a source of commerce. The novel meets the usual high stands of the series, a compelling page turner with a wide range of flawed, interesting characters, mysteries that twist and turn like the nearby rivers, and suspense that builds to the end. Readers likely will discern some of the bad guys a little too soon and the good guys are always a little more capable than they might be in real life, but these small flaws do not distract from the generally fine story telling.The Diamond Eye by Kate QuinnA bit of a slower read that I would have preferred but gained speed and interest near the end of the novel. Mila Pavlichenko is more emotional than I would have preferred and exhibited much to quick a temper than would have been expected for a sniper used to spending hours quietly waiting in stillness for an opportunity to take a kill shot. But then, she's young. Her husband was a bit of a problematic character as well, so strikingly obnoxious and evil. Add in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and it's difficult to build and emotional connection with Russians... even though Mila's origin story begins in Kiev, now Kyiv. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah PennerThis is a solid book, an interesting bit of marginally historically-based fiction that has, at its core, female empowerment. Here is a woman, Caroline Parcewell, who reassesses her life through connections with women and a young girl in difficult circumstances in the 1790s. All in all, a clever puzzle of a book that, despite some of the darker subject matter, is surprisingly restorative.Dark Horse by Gregg Andrew Hurwitz (#7 in the Orphan X series)What an odd and interesting character is Evan Smoak... part Jack Reacher, part Adrian Monk, part Murderbot (Smoak has OCD which reads more like Asperger's). For those readers who enjoy their thrillers a bit grittier, littered with dead bodies, Dark Horse is a solid choice. Shadows Reel by CJ Box (#22 in the Joe Pickett series)Having read all of the Joe Pickett novels, I have to say this one was a little light... a bit of a disappointment. The Joe and Nate work well as a team -- they balance one another -- but separated, their stories felt a bit thin.The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan SlocumbRay McMillian, a violin prodigy, faces repeated discrimination as a young Black man in the world of classical music, a world that mostly excludes or marginalizes people of color. Some readers may become frustrated by the repetition of discrimination that Ray faces but I suspect Slocumb is making the point that people of color find themselves locked in a vicious circle of discrimination that is endlessly frustrating, frightening, and exhausting. Dead Center (The Rookie Club #1) by Danielle GirardConceptually, I liked this novel -- mostly strong women working together toward a common goal -- but it was not without its issues, particularly Jamie Vail's relationship with her brother and his own rape as a child, trauma that has left him broken and alcoholic. And Jamie, perhaps because of her own life traumas, makes some poor decisions, some necessary to move the novel along. The Rose Code by Kate QuinnThe Rose Code is an interesting historical mystery, a well told WWII spy thriller that, mostly, is compelling. A little slow to begin, once the three principles -- Osla, Mab, and Beth -- are introduced to the reader and to each other, their individual stories flow naturally and cleverly, each young woman's past is revealed, examined, and woven into each other's lives. Our Country Friends by Gary ShteyngartThis full-on Chekhovian pandemic novel brings a handful of friends to the upstate New York compound of a Russian-born novelist and his Russian-born psychiatrist wife just as COVID-19 is sweeping through New York City. Quite funny at times, this tragicomedy about love, friendship, family, and betrayal is a slow walk through our troubling times.When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo (#2 in The Singing Hills Cycle)The second novella in The Singing Hills Cycle is a better read and an interesting exploration of how history is recorded, how events are 'altered' over time and distance, and how difficult it sometimes is to separate fact from fiction. Nicely done.The Empress of Salt and Fortune (#1 in The Singing Hills Cycle)Quite an impressive debut, "The Empress of Salt and Fortune" is the first novella of The Singing Hills Cycle and unfolds the life of Rabbit, a handmaiden, and her journey through life, told to the cleric Chih. A beautifully told tale, sharply polished, elegant, of a world that seems distant, foreign, and ancient but also remarkably modern, fresh, and pertinent.The Science of Breakable Things by Tae KellerA mostly well-written and much needed book about how families deal with clinical depression. Seventh-grader Natalie struggles to understand what has happened to her mother, why she has stopped caring about her and why she cannot seem to get out of bed. Unable to find answers, Natalie approaches the problem as if it were a science project, getting a little help along the way from her closest friends. The Science of Breakable Things, written for grades 4-6, explores the fragility of people, families, and friendships, and in the end delivers notes of hopefulness and healing. The Three-Body Problem (#1 in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series)Well, this novel certainly takes its own sweet time with its plot line and does not get interesting until about three-quarters of the way through. Even then, the revelation is similar to one every kindergartener has when contemplating ants. In short, I was unimpressed and disappointed in "The Three-Body Problem" which is well-regarded and enormously popular. So others, evidently, disagree with me.Wayward by Dana SpiottaSamantha Raymond is a woman who finds her life falling apart, her body aging, and her circumstances changing in the same way that the nation's politics, policing, social order, and climate are unraveling. Well written, interesting characters fill the pages, each grappling with a personal challenge that expands into a meditation on life. "Wayward" is a novel about women and the patriarchal weight they bear at every age, as well as an honest and engaging reflection on America, perhaps too honest and raw a representation of the troubled times for some readers to bear... or reward with the praise it deserves.The Maid by Nita ProseTwenty-five-year-old Molly, Molly the Maid, has lived with her grandmother her entire life but after her grandmother passes away, Molly, neurodivergent, is navigating life on her own. In a mash-up of 'Columbo,' 'Monk,' and 'Clue,' with a touch of 'A Confederacy of Dunces,' this unusual murder mystery is a quirky page-turner... the reader anxious to see how Molly's life unfolds and how her predicament untangles.
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