Thursday, April 11, 2019

Recursion by Blake Crouch

From the publisher: Memory makes reality. That’s what NYC cop Barry Sutton is learning, as he investigates a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived. That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face to face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds, but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it. An intricate science-fiction puzzlebox about time, identity, and memory.

Blake Crouch’s Recursion is not a perfect book but it is a highly enjoyable one. It’s a classic time travel story with a twist – if someone goes back in time and changes the timeline, everyone affected by the change remembers their old timeline as well as their new timeline. This causes confusion, paranoia, and an increased suicide rate. The inventor of the technology that allows this to happen is trying to erase it from time, while others want to use it for good to change the past … but unexpected consequences are not predictable.

Recursion has a compelling narrative, and I found it hard to put down. I couldn’t quite follow all the timey-wimey stuff and have no idea whether the science is somewhat real or utterly ridiculous, but the characters are sympathetic enough that I did not worry too much about the timelines. I found the overall resolution predictable but not the steps the author took to get there. (I am confused by the very end – someone read it and tell me what it means!)

Recommended for readers who enjoy contemporary thrillers with a futuristic touch.

Recursion comes out on June 11 and has already been purchased by Netflix for a TV series. It will be available in print and as an ebook at the Galesburg Public Library.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

So literally, two pages into this novel I knew the main character was crazy. Crazy in a terrifying, twisted and sociopathic kind of way. She's the kind of woman you have nightmares about if you're a guy in the dating world. Juliette loves a man named Nate. Nate doesn't love Juliette anymore and asks her to move out of his apartment, probably because he realizes she is insane. Juliette is not taking this well, which is an understatement. This novel is a carefully crafted journey into the frightening world of a person who is truly unhinged, and will not take no for an answer. This is a first novel for Karen Hamilton, and she is a skilled writer with a good sense of humor. Be prepared to read well into the night because this novel is hard to put down. If you like psychological thrillers that scare you because you KNOW women like Juliette exist in the real world, than this novel is for you!

Monday, March 18, 2019

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

From the publisher: On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert. 

When the Emperor Was Divine is the Galesburg Public Library's 2019 NEA Big Read title. It's a short book about a family torn apart by fear and prejudice in the United States during World War II. In spare, lyrical prose the author recounts what it was like for one Japanese family to be forced to dispose of their pets, leave their home, and travel to a crowded camp in another state.

Pick up a free copy of the book at the FREE Big Read Kick-Off Event on March 30 at 2:00 pm at the Orpheum Theatre, where a Japanese drumming group from Chicago will introduce us to taiko drums and drumming. Remaining books will be available at the library after the event, while supplies last. The library has a slate of programs for all ages scheduled for April. Pick up a program brochure at the kick-off or at the library, or visit or the Galesburg Public Library on Facebook.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Save Me from Dangerous Men by S.A. Lelchuk

Bookseller by day, Private Investigator by night, Nikki Griffin is truly All That! In our introduction to Nikki, we find her literally kicking the daylights out of a man she'd been stalking because he needed to learn a lesson. He did indeed learn that lesson. Nikki is not a girl you want to mess with, especially if you are a man who hurts women. She will make you pay for that. She is smart, resourceful, patient, capable and throws one heck of a right hook. She works at her craft, keeps herself in shape and has lots of weapons. Some of which are legal. After being hired for what seemed to be a straightforward job, Nikki realizes that things are not adding up. Her first clue was that people around her investigation were starting to die, which made her wonder who she could trust and who might be trying to kill her. This is the perfect first book for a series, and I for one will be keeping an eye out for the next in line. Nikki Griffin has everything you want in a main character. She's also got a smart mouth on her and is probably a little insane, but she's working that out in therapy. A must read!!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd

A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd is an unusual and fascinating romance novel. It was inspired by the true story of a British sailor marrying a Hawaiian princess in the late 1700s. The author is a descendant of John Harbottle and Papapaunauapu, who had eight children. Ilima Todd grew up on the island of Oahu.

The author weaves together some historical facts that occurred at different times to make the novel tighter and more informative. For example, Captain James Cook is present in the book, but he visited the Pacific islands at a different time than John Harbottle. She also used her imagination to detail the courtship of her ancestors. The novel focuses on two people from two different cultures learning to understand each other.

Although A Song for the Stars is part of Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance series, it is more of a historical novel than a traditional romance. While the couple do end up together, their courtship is an unusual one. Only at the very end does it even become possible for them to marry. Not only must the princess and the sailor learn to work together, so must the Hawaiians and the British. The author uses Hawaiian words to help set the scene, and a helpful glossary is included at the end.

If you enjoy learning about other cultures and watching as two people come to know, respect, and love each other, you may enjoy A Song for the Stars. It will be released in April 2019 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna

From the publisher: When Prosecco‑loving Auntie Poldi retired to Sicily from Germany, she never dreamed her tranquil days would be interrupted by murder. But Sicily had other plans, and Poldi found herself honor‑bound to solve the disappearance of her beloved (and cute) handyman. Now she’s finally ready for some peace and quiet—interrupted by romantic encounters with handsome Chief Inspector Montana, of course—when the water supply to her neighborhood is cut off and a dear friend’s dog is poisoned, telltale signs that a certain familial organization is flexing its muscles. Poldi knows there will be no resolution without her help. She soon finds a body in a vineyard, tangles with the Mafia, and yet again makes herself unpopular in the pursuit of justice. But once wine and murder mix, how could she possibly stay away? 

The Auntie Poldi series appeals to me for a couple of reasons. First off, the story is narrated by her nephew, and as a childless aunt I’m always interested in stories about interesting aunts and their relationships with their nephews and nieces. Secondly, it is set in Italy, which I’ve visited twice and hope to visit again. I haven’t been to Sicily but I really want to go (and probably should have saved this book for that trip, but I couldn’t wait).

The author was born in Munich, Germany to Italian immigrants. It feels like he has done his research or has visited Italy often. I’m sure some of the stuff is stereotypical – there is a lot about the Mafia and organized crime – but I know firsthand some of the stuff is not. The sweetened espresso, the crazy driving. There are a lot of dogs in these books, including a scary pair of German shepherds named Hanz and Franz. The Italian love of dogs also seems very typical. A scene involving Poldi, her sisters, her brother-in-law, and the dog was amusingly madcap, as was a scene in which Poldi, her priest, and her sad Signora friend break into a house to search for a clue to a murder. I enjoyed the many references to the active volcano Mount Etna and its continual smoking.

The nephew is a good narrator but a terrible writer who comes to stay with Poldi and work on his terrible novel. (“Another week at my Auntie Poldi’s was over, and I was feeling proud of myself. That needs saying occasionally. I was in full flow. I was the adjective ace, the metaphor magician, the sorcerer of the subordinate clause, the expresser of emotions, the master of a host of startling but entirely plausible turns of events.” (p. 325 of the advance reader copy) His descriptions of his plot are just as bad and show the startling turns are anything but plausible.) Poldi tells him what happened as she investigates crimes, and he tells us, and they are both unreliable and entertaining.

Auntie Poldi reminds me a bit of the best of M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, although Poldi is more interesting and the plots so far are more original and less formulaic. She is sixty years old and living her best life. Looking forward to a long-running series.

I read an advance reader copy of Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna. It is scheduled to be published in early March 2019 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library. The first book in the series, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, is available now.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver is Naomi Novik's second retelling of a fairy tale. You do not need to read Uprooted before reading Spinning Silver (although I definitely recommend reading Uprooted).

It's hard to put in to words all the things I love about Spinning Silver. This is a slow moving tale with lots of characters. Novik expects you to pay attention; there are many first person narrators and you have to figure out who is speaking - she does not put their names at the start of each transition. The story begins and it builds. It builds and it builds and it builds, and characters are woven into the stories of the other characters and then into the main thread like an elaborate braid.

On  page 1 we are told what the story of Rumpelstiltskin is about: "getting out of paying your debts." I thought about this all through the 465 pages that followed. Although the story is predictable in many ways - it is a fairy tale, after all - I had no idea how things were going to happen or resolve.

Three young women of about the same age but different circumstances anchor the stories. Although each has strengths she does not know yet, the women are not strong at the expensive of male characters being weak. Although I like strong female characters, I get tired of the "girl power" narratives that are dismissive of boys and men that are also good and strong. Spinning Silver is not one of those girl power narratives, although there is a LOT of female power.

Fairy tale characters are often caricatures, but Novik goes to the trouble to give depth to her characters. They grow and change. For example, Wanda is a poor girl with an abusive father and two brothers. Their mother is dead, after giving birth to a number of babies who died. She and the babies are buried beneath the white tree. Wanda does not love her brothers: "Love was buried with my mother. Sergey and Stepon were only more of the babies who made my mother sick." (p. 28) "They had taken her from me, all of them: Sergey and Stepon and the rest of those dead boys in the dirt. They had taken my mother. I had never wanted to share her with them. What right did they have to her?" (p. 31)  But things begin to change when Wanda saves Sergey's life because Stepon loves Sergey, and eventually Wanda does love and respect her brothers.

Although there are marriages in this book, there are way more kinds of love than romantic love. Love of a parent for a child, of a brother for a sister, of a neighbor for a neighbor, of a mistress for a servant, of a parent for someone else's child. Spinning Silver is filled with toil and trials, but also friendship and honor.

There are bad characters in the book, but there are also complex characters. Even the cruel fae king of winter is just trying to save his people. Even the demon-possessed tsar has reasons for being angry and indifferent.

There is a lot about being Jewish in this book, without being anti anything else. Jews are loathed, but people need the moneylender and the banker and the jeweler all the same. And even this old story is told with a hope for change.

Often in fantasy I either don't understand how the magic works or don't find it believable. Novik builds and layers the magic of her world in a way that I totally bought in to. If there were inconsistencies, I didn't notice them.

Wow, I've really said a lot about this book. If you like thoughtful, slow building, engrossing world building and interesting characters, you may enjoy Spinning Silver, and Uprooted as well. The Galesburg Public Library owns Spinning Silver in print and as an ebook.