Lori Roy’s debut novel is creepy from the start. It opens at night on a lonely road full of shadows and tumbleweeds where Celia Scott struggles to follow her husband’s disappearing truck around unfamiliar twists and turns. The plot of the novel is similarly dark and serpentine with a few twists of its own. The Scott family returns to the Midwest from Detroit to find a better life for their children and instead finds themselves mired in domestic violence and haunted by family secrets. Arthur struggles to protect his sister Ruth from her violent, alcoholic husband Ray who becomes even more sinister once he is investigated in connection with a young girl’s disappearance. What’s more, the new charges call to mind the death of another sister, Eve, years before. Many suspect Ray had something to do with Eve’s murder as well.
Although the ending may seem over-the-top to some, this dark, gothic tale of family secrets makes compelling reading. Roy develops interesting characters and keeps the plot moving. Readers will be drawn into the dual mysteries, past and present, that Roy so skillfully creates.
While it can easily be argued that the earliest forms of literature were all what today might be called fantasy –Beowulf, The Odyssey, the epic of Gilgamesh—and that the fantastic was a part of mainstream literature for a long time after—Shakespeare, anyone?—in recent decades fantasy and its younger sibling, science fiction, have been relegated to the fringes—read and loved by many, certainly, but not considered to be literary by the cognoscenti and often dismissed in favor of more realistic works. This, however, is a trend that seems to be reversing itself. The current interest in George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” book series, prompted in part by the popular HBO miniseries based upon the books, is but one example. In addition to the public’s discovery of SF-F authors like Martin, those who have been writing in the genre for many years, there is an emerging trend of literary fiction authors turning to more speculative themes. The success of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and, more recently, Justin Cronin’s The Passage seems to have opened a door for other authors to walk through. A variety of other authors, best known for their previous works of literary fiction, have recent or forthcoming works of science fiction, fantasy, or horror.
Bohjalian, Chris. The Night Strangers
Duncan, Glen. The Last Werewolf
Jordan, Hillary. When She Woke
Koryta, Michael. The Ridge
Perotta, Tom. The Leftovers
Shteyngart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story
Whitehead, Colson. Zone One
Maria Shirakawa has spent her childhood waiting, along with her mother, for her father to obtain a divorce from his first wife. Mother and daughter spent those years living in the seaside inn of Maria’s aunt and uncle, only seeing Maria’s father on the few occasions he was able to get away from his life in the city to visit. Maria grew up alongside her cousin Tsugumi, a young woman with a frail and sickly body but a vibrant and almost malicious spirit. Freed from common behavioral norms by the deep conviction that she could die at any moment, Tsugumi is rude, loud-mouthed, spoiled, and too clever by half. She can also be enchanting and mischievous when the mood strikes her. Maria is always torn between annoyance and admiration for her cousin, who is free to flirt with boys and concoct elaborate pranks and revenge schemes with an ease Maria—who is bound by a determination to be the perfect daughter for her distant father—can only admire and resent by turns. When Maria and her mother are finally able to join Maria’s father in the city and become a true family, she finds that she misses Tsugumi bitterly. When Maria’s aunt and uncle determine to sell the inn and move to another town, Maria heads back to spend one last summer with her infuriating and enchanting cousin.
Deliberately paced, with very little emphasis on plot, Goodbye, Tsugumi is a delicate character study. Some awkwardness in sentence structure can perhaps be blamed on the translation from Japanese. For those readers who enjoy quiet, lyrical works and are willing to forego action for insight.
An unusual horror novel set in the past, in a small mountain town in Idaho, Eutopia is a page turner. Jason Thistledown ends up in the strange town of Elaida, Idaho, after his mom and his town are wiped out by a strange disease. An aunt, whom he didn’t know he had, shows up in the aftermath of this catastrophe to spirit Jason away to Elaida where he falls in love and faces the strange beings who inhabit this corner of the world.
As the secrets of Elaida unfold, the book grabs your attention with twists and turns. The founder of Elaida, as it turns out, is trying to build a Eutopia where workers are treated fairly and everybody is happy and cared for. This attempt to build the perfect world involves eugenics and planned procreation with the strange Mister Juke and his ilk. There are strange mountain folk who have fallen under the spell of Mister Juke and it is up to Jason and the Doctor Andrew Waggoner to save what they can of the town when everyone begins to fall under the spell.
The book is original and very readable. If you like horror novels, this is one you are sure to enjoy.
Author Vanessa Diffenbaugh's debut novel is the story of a foster girl, Victoria, making her way in the world once she is out of the foster care system. The story is about Victoria's relationships -- both when she is a young woman and as a child, and how she communicates with others through the Victorian language of flowers. In Victorian times, different flowers had different meanings, and in fact, the book even includes a glossary of flowers and their meanings.
I have been recommending this book to everyone I know! I could not put it down, and finished it in one day.
The Library will be hosting the author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, on September 7. For more information on this program, click here to visit our Events Calendar.
In addition, noted book discussion leader Judy Levin will be leading a discussion of this title on September 20. For more information on this program, click here to visit our Events Calendar.
In 1165, a letter purportedly written by the Christian priest-king Prester John caught the imagination of medieval Europe. Prester John’s distant kingdom, placed by some in India or “the Orient,” was described in the letter as a place of great wonder, populated by myriad strange and beautiful creatures and cultures. Though Prester John himself was Christian and had converted his subjects, he was ringed on all sides by Muslims and pagans. In Valente’s novel, she takes this medieval wonder-tale as truth, but truth told slant. In 1699, a group of monks lead by Brother Hiob search out the land of Prester John. All they discover is a small group of strange, taciturn people who guard a tree. From this tree, books sprout like fruit and Hiob is allowed to pluck three volumes which, like fruit, decay almost faster than he can read them. One volume is the journal of Prester John himself; the second is the journal of his wife, the beautiful blemmye Hagia—a woman with her face in her torso instead of a head; and the third is the memoir of the elephant-eared panoti once named Imtithal. The stories interweave, revealing that nothing about the truth of Prester John’s fabled kingdom was quite as fabulous as anyone in Europe had imagined.
Compelling, layered, dark, and intense, Valente’s fable captures some of the richness of myth and retains the power of allegory.
All of the stories in this slender collection are set in the same part of West Virginia, high in the Appalachian mountains. Willis, herself a native of the region, brings a decidedly modern, contemporary voice to the genre of small-town Appalachian life. Her stories lack any hint of the saccharine over-sentimentality so common to stories set in this region, being instead focused on the very real problems faced by convincingly textured and flawed characters. Many of the stories feature the same characters at different points in their lives, showing how things have changed—or not—and interweaving the lives of these diverse, three-dimensional people in intricate ways that reward careful reading. Stand-outs include the first story, “Triangulation” and the interlinked duology of tales “Pie Knob” and “On the Road with C.T. Savage.” Highly recommended.
Early proponents of evolution by natural selection were hampered by their inability to provide “transitional” fossils demonstrating the stages of change from one species to another. Darwin theorized that human ancestors would be found in Africa—rightly, as it turned out—but none had yet been discovered. In many other species lineages, similar gaps in the fossil record led to misunderstandings of those species’ histories and the connections between species. Switek ably and clearly traces what I might call “the evolution of evolution” in this popular-science work. Each chapter focuses on a particular type of animal…horses, whales, reptiles, etc…tracing a path from scientists’ early understanding of that species and its place in nature through to our current views, explaining the importance of the transitional fossils that have been discovered while never losing sight of areas in which science’s understanding is still limited.
Written for the layperson, the book nevertheless does not “dumb down” the science, instead laying out the facts clearly and allowing the careful reader to see the connections for him or herself. Fascinating portraits of some of the early naturalists and evolutionary theorists, including Darwin; Cuvier; Lamarck; and Lyell fill out this able survey of the history of evolution and natural science.
On John Perry’s 75th birthday, he did two things: he visited his wife’s grave, and he joined the army. The Colonial Defense Force, to be precise. When humanity reached the stars decades previously, they found that the universe is a very crowded place. Countless other intelligent species fight to colonize the same planets humans want, and some of those species have developed a taste for human flesh along the way. Thus, the Colonial Defense Forces were formed to protect those colonies humans have already secured and to toss the aliens off planets humans want to colonize. The CDF only takes fully mature adults, however, age 75 and up. Everyone assumes they have some secret rejuvenation technology to make the old young again, but no one knows what it is…no one but the CDF soldiers themselves, that is.
John quickly makes friends with a group of the other 75-year-old new recruits and they manage to stay in touch through training and beyond, from battle to battle with strange and diverse alien species. But when John encounters a Special Forces supersoldier who looks exactly like his long-dead wife but has none of her memories, he realizes that there is more to this endless war and to the CDF than he or anyone on Earth ever suspected.
Riffing on such sci-fi classics as Starship Troopers and Time Enough for Love, Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is nevertheless a fully-realized and unique view of humanity’s future among the stars, and was voted one of the Top Ten most influential science fiction books of the last decade by poll respondants on popular speculative fiction blog Tor.com.
Sure, we’ve all heard of chick lit (sometimes called “the pink books.) Generally dealing with the lives of urban women in their 20s and 30s, with a heavy emphasis on fashion, friendships, and relationships, the genre is booming. But have you heard of its male-oriented counterpart, lad lit? Probably not! Books with this label generally focus on the same age group, but with male characters, fewer descriptions of the characters’ shoes, and just as many coming-of-age relationship troubles. So if you can’t stand one more “pink book,” why not take a look at how the other half lives and pick up some lad lit instead?
Chabon, Michael. Wonder Boys
Gayle, Mike. Mr. Commitment
Hornby, Nick. High Fidelity
Lethem, Jonathan You Don’t Love Me Yet
Meno, Joe. Hairstyles of the Damned
Perrotta, Tom. Joe College
Pickett, Rex. Sideways
Tropper, Jonathan. How To Talk to a Widower