Sunday, December 31, 2017

Our Native Bees by Paige Embry

From the publisher: Honey bees get all the press, but the fascinating story of North America’s native bees—an endangered species essential to our ecosystems and food supplies—is just as crucial. Through interviews with farmers, gardeners, scientists, and bee experts, Paige Embry explores the importance of native bees and focuses on why they play a key role in gardening and agriculture. The people and stories are compelling: Embry goes on a bee hunt with the world expert on the likely extinct Franklin’s bumble bee, raises blue orchard bees in her refrigerator, and learns about an organization that turns the out-of-play areas in golf courses into pollinator habitats.

Our Native Bees is a fascinating book about Native American bees. I was afraid Our Native Bees would cover information I already knew, especially when it started off talking about honey bees. However, as the book went on I learned all kinds of interesting stuff about native bees. It's amazing how many varieties there are and how much they accomplish. I am not a scientist, but it seemed very well researched to me.

One of my favorite parts was this quote about honey bees:

Honey bees are the bankers of the bee world, working short hours and taking all the holidays off. If it’s raining, they go home. Too cold? They don’t even leave the hive. [Blue orchard bees] BOBs, on the other hand, start flying as soon as their body temperature warms up to 54 degrees F, so the ambient temperature can be considerably less if it’s a sunny day. Now, bumble bees will fly in bad weather, but their prime season comes later in the year. In early spring with the BOBs first come out, the only bumble bees alive and possibly out gathering are last year’s queens-to-be, and there aren’t going to be enough of them to pollinate an orchard (p. 64 of the advance reader copy)

Highly recommended for those interested in bees, insects, the environment, and wildlife.

I read an advance reader copy of Our Native Bees. I look forward to seeing the actual book and admiring the many bee photos in color instead of black and white.

Our Native Bees will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in February 2018.

You can help pollinators by participating in the citizen science project The Great Sunflower Project: https://www.greatsunflower.org/Pollinator_Plants

Monday, December 25, 2017

The One by John Marrs

Wow. The One by John Marrs was not what I expected and is hard to describe. I thought it might be similar to Crosstalk by Connie Willis, but it is not a romance, or at least, not a traditional romance. It is creepy and thought provoking.

In The One, we meet and follow five people who have been Matched by the newest service. Send in your DNA and it will scientifically Match you with your perfect DNA partner. You only have one Match – and the person may be older than you, or younger, or dead, or they may not have submitted their DNA yet.

What would you do if you were happily married? Would you submit your DNA to see if you married your Match? And if you weren’t, would you leave your spouse? What if you were straight and matched with someone of the same sex? Or gay and matched with someone of the opposite sex?

Although the concept of having only one perfect DNA Match didn’t seem logical to me, I got completely caught up in the stories of the five people we meet who have been Matched. Two are men, three are women, and one is a psychopathic serial killer.

Their stories were not always enjoyable, but I did want to keep reading to find out what would happen next. The stories don’t all have happy endings, and those that do may not be the ones you expect. Although I saw a few plot twists coming, there were a lot that surprised me.

This is not a perfect book; I had to pretend to buy in to some stuff that I didn't find plausible. But if you are looking for a an unusual book about love, matchmaking services, and social media, you might want to read The One.

I read an advance reader copy of The One. It is scheduled to be published in February 2018 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

The Lost Plot is book 4 in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. This series has moments of great fun for lovers of fantasy, libraries, dragons, Fae, and strong female leads.

In Cogman's world, Librarians can work a sort of magic by speaking the Language. They travel into alternate time periods and versions of our world to find rare and alternate copies of books. Irene Winters is a Librarian with a dragon apprentice and a Victorian detective friend. She gets involved in a remarkable amount of intrigue as she goes about her book finding duties.

In The Lost Plot, Irene and her assistant head to Prohibition-era New York and are thrust into the middle of a political fight with dragons, mobsters, and Fae. In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force, fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion, and intrigue is afoot.

The tension between the Fae and the dragons adds some spice, Irene is a resourceful and intelligent lead, and there is a nice balance between character interaction and action. I really enjoyed the 1920s gangster setting of The Lost Plot.

The romantic tension and hints of a love triangle are by far the least interesting aspects of this otherwise fabulous series. I wish the author would drop the romance and concentrate on the fun.

I read an advance reader copy of The Lost Plot. It will be released on January 8, 2018, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it in print and as an ebook. If you want to get started on this fantasy series, The Invisible Library, book 1, is available at the library.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

In The Story of Arthur Truluv, a loner teenager meets an elderly man visiting his wife’s grave and the two bond. We learn about life, love, growing up, growing old, and the meaning of family as their relationship grows and they bring others into their circle.

The story is heart-warming, if extremely predictable and manipulative, and there are some neat turns of phrase. For example, Maddy tells Arthur she feels things from the graves, “Mostly peace. Like … relief. Like, ‘Okay, that’s all, put down your pencils, even if you’re not done.’” (p. 39 of the digital advance reader copy). Another phrase I liked was a thought from Arthur on page 49: "What the kids can't do with those computers! He's seen what look like four-year-olds seated at little computer screens at the library, intent on their business as air traffic controllers." I think this novel will find many readers and will be chosen by many book clubs in the coming year.

Arthur imagines the lives of the people under the graves at the cemetery, and I was not crazy about this thought: “This one was a librarian, the prettiest thing you ever saw in spectacles….Wore her hair up in a bun that always immediately started falling down in a most attractive way.” (p. 35 of the digital advance reader copy). It may be Arthur thinking it, but it is Berg writing it, and I’m disappointed in her for continuing the old librarian stereotype. She surely could have come up with something more original.

If you enjoyed A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and Pixar’s movie Up, you probably will enjoy The Story of Arthur Truluv. It struck me as a merging of the two

I read an advance reader copy of The Story of Arthur Truluv. It was published on November 21 and is available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and as an ebook.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered. Intent on discovering who killed the kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming delivery man he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel discover that the household murder was the tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.

Death Below Stairs is the first book in a mystery series set in Victorian England. Main character Mrs. Kat Holloway is young (29) but already an established and well regarded Cook. Although, like all cooks of her station, she is called Mrs., she is in fact not only single but has a 10-year-old daughter born of a relationship that turned out not to be legitimate. Kat’s main reason for being is providing for her child, who lives with friends.

Being single, however, leaves Kat open to an undefined relationship with the mysterious Daniel McAdam, a master of disguises working as a detective? for the police? Kat doesn’t know and Daniel can’t tell her, but she trusts him all the same.

Death Below Stairs is competently written, with likable characters and room for growth. The characters are very modern in behavior, so this book may not be for those readers who want historically accurate historical fiction and characters who behave true to the times. Kat spends way too much time out of her kitchen – it is hard to imagine her keeping her position no matter how good a cook she is.

The language is very modern. For example, Kat thinks, “I next tackled Mr. Davis; metaphorically, of course.” The author skirted (ha) around two women who dress as men, one clearly a lesbian, but this never becomes important to the plot. One murder was resolved in a very unoriginal way, but the other plot line was interesting.

 All the bits about the food Kat makes and serves did ring true and according to an author note were taken from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton, first published in 1861.

Although billed as a first in a series, I felt I was missing something as I read Death Below Stairs; it turns out there is a long short story/novella that introduced the main character. Unfortunately, A Soupçon of Poison is only available as an ebook and is not available for purchase by libraries.

If you enjoy historical fiction and don’t worry too much about historical accuracy, you may want to read Death Below Stairs. It’s a fun read and the series has a lot of potential.

I read an advance reader copy of Death Below Stairs. It will be published in January 2018 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Artemis by Andy Weir

From the author: Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Artemis is a fun romp from the author of the bestselling novel The Martian. Weir’s book is dedicated to the Apollo astronauts who flew to the moon but didn’t get to land and walk on it, a nice touch.

The world building is good. I totally believed in a city on the moon. There are a number of ambiguous characters, neither good nor bad. The science seemed real enough to this non-scientist. I liked how currency worked on the moon and also how justice for minor infractions was handled by former Canadian Mountie Rudy. I’m not a big map person but the maps at the front of the book helped me visualize the layout of Artemis.

Weir has a way with words: “If my neighborhood were wine, connoisseurs would describe it as ‘shitty, with overtones of failure and poor life decisions.’” (p. 5 of the advance reader copy)

Although I’m sure I didn’t get them all, I enjoyed the references to pop culture (e.g., "Don't get me wrong, this wasn't the farthest I'd been from the Shire or anything....But this was the farthest I'd ever been from safety." (p. 102 of the ARC).

Artemis is not a perfect book. I kept forgetting the narrator was a woman; I don’t think Weir quite nailed a female inner voice. Although I applaud his attempt to add diversity to science fiction, Jazz also didn’t seem credibly Saudi Arabian. She acted and talked like a snarky American. (Although, who knows, maybe we’ll all think and talk like that in the future when we have a city on the moon.)

Jazz is on the run at one point and dresses up like a prostitute, which seemed like a clichéd choice. Also, there is romantic/sexual tension with a number of different men, and yet she is hung up on the gay ex-boyfriend who left her for another man.

The book was slow starting as Weir did his world building but once the action started it really drew me in. The biggest issue for me was probably the amount of science. I totally believed that scientist Mark Watney knew all the stuff he knew in The Martian, but Jazz is a porter and smuggler. Although several characters comment on how she has so much potential and could be doing more with her life, I had a hard time believing she understood all the complicated science that comes in to play by the end.

So, I can’t say Artemis is as good as The Martian, but it’s an enjoyable science fiction read if you think you’d enjoy a story about a slightly implausible adventure that contains a lot of detailed factual information about staying alive in a city on the moon.

I read an advance reader copy of Artemis. It is scheduled to be published in mid-November. It will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print, as an audiobook, and as an ebook. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

Are You Sleeping by Galesburg native Kathleen Barber is a compulsively readable psychological thriller. It started a little slow for me but by chapter 5 I was fully engrossed.

Narrator Josie Buhrman has changed her name and is trying to escape from her family history. Her professor father was murdered 13 years earlier. After the conviction of the teenager next door for the murder, Josie’s mother fled to join a cult and Josie suffered a terrible break with her twin sister.

But Josie can no longer escape because a journalist has brought the crime back into the news. A series of podcasts challenges the guilty verdict, suggests someone else might be to blame, and stirs up family secrets. The podcasts catch the fancy of the public and become a social media sensation. Josie leaves her home in New York to travel to her hometown in Illinois to attend a family funeral and finds herself in the middle of the controversy. Josie’s hometown, Elm Park, is a lot like Galesburg. It’s a small city in the Midwest anchored by a liberal arts college.

Are You Sleeping is not a perfect book but I rate it a solid four stars. I would never have guessed it was Barber’s first book. The narrative flows smoothly and the plot makes you want to keep reading so you can find out what happened. Josie rather foolishly thinks she can keep her past from her partner, to a point that strained credulity for me. However, Barber’s secondary characters are flawed, fleshed out, and believable. Josie's cousin Ellen is particularly both likable and unlikable and convincing. The ending didn’t stun but I was in doubt about who murdered the professor almost until the end.

The title was a good one – it had me singing Frère Jacques in my head, which kept me thinking about and wanting to get back to the book. The plot line about the podcasts and their popularity on social media was extremely believable; it made me wonder about other people whose lives have been damaged by sensational reporting.

Galesburg readers who enjoy psychological thrillers and mysteries will want to get their hands on a copy of Are You Sleeping. The book can be purchased at Stone Alley Books & Collectibles.

 Author Kathleen Barber will be at the Galesburg Public Library on Thursday, September 14 at 7:00 pm to discuss, sell, and sign copies of her book. In addition, the Tuesday/Thursday Book Clubs will discuss Are You Sleeping on Tuesday, September 12 from 1:00-2:00 pm and Thursday, September 14, from 6:00-7:00 pm. All readers are welcome to join either discussion at the library.