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No. of Recommendations: 2
Rather than list the books I've read over the past month, I'll just make a few recommendations. I've now read the first five books in The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells and have found them to be, well, terrific. The story lines mostly follow your basic space opera action plots but watching the evolution of Murderbot is fascinating and flat-out fun... and (often) funny. Her ability to thread together action-packed scenes within an emotionally awakening nonhuman gunslinger is pretty awesome and the first novel, "All Systems Red" (novella, really... these are slim volumes except for "Network Effect"), won the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, and the American Library Association's Alex Award, and was nominated for the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award.

In short, Murderbot is a SecUnit (Security Unit), a hybrid killing machine with some human tissue and DNA, who has secretly hacked the governor module that allows it to be controlled by humans... so it is 'free'. But new to freedom, it doesn't quite know what to do with itself so continues to work as a SecUnit. Fortunately, it soon finds itself working for a survey team, led by Dr. Mensah, who grapples with her own mixed feelings about the part machine, part human nature of their SecUnit. At first, Murderbot protects his humans mostly to conceal that it is a rogue unit, no longer controlled by its corporate owner... but when it is badly injured, the survey team finds out it is autonomous and had previously malfunctioned and murdered 57 people. But by that time Murderbot has saved and protected key members of the survey team, and some of them have developed a cautious symbiotic relationship with Murderbot. Well, there's a lot more to the story, obviously, but in the end Mensah buys Murderbot's contract and she becomes, in its mind, its owner.

As for Gay Gatsby... that's a little flippant. "The Chosen and the Beautiful" by Nghi Vo is a smart, clever, imaginative re-telling of "The Great Gatsby" (now in the public domain, copyright expired) from the point of view of the Jordan Baker character. There's a lot of buzz for this book -- readers claiming this is better than the original -- but, sorry, the writing is not better, the story is not better, the structure of the novel is not better, the dialogue is not better, and the characters are not better rendered. However... Vo brings a new dimension to 'the outsider' theme of "The Great Gatsby" by focusing on, and transforming, the less-central characters, especially Jordan Baker, here a queer Vietnamese adoptee -- although her sexuality seems rather fluid -- who is now the narrator rather than Nick Carraway.

Oh, and there's a substantial fantasy/magic element in this re-telling.

Don't get me wrong: Vo is a talented, imaginative writer and her ability to craft a captivating story of myth and self understanding is impressive, as is her skill at transforming an American classic in a wholly original and decidedly unfamiliar way. But I still prefer Fitzgerald. YMMV.

Finally, I'm reading through the works of one of the odds-on favorites to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Haruki Murakami (who claims he has no interest in the award), first reading "The Strange Library," an odd little dream-like book... what is real, what is not, what does it matter? I suspect most readers will either love or hate Murakami's light diversion. I find I am the oddity, caught somewhere in the middle. I know, an impossible place to be. Through most of "Norwegian Wood," I have to say I do not find it especially enjoyable either.

If you enjoy historical fiction, I can recommend "The Book of Lost Names" by Kristin Harmel or "Band of Sisters" by Lauren Willig, or "The Last Bookshop in London" by Madeline Martin, all easy, rewarding reads.
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