Swamplandia! is a somewhat shabby tourist attraction tucked into the depths of the Everglades. Run by the Bigtree clan, it features alligator wrestling and similar performances. When Hilola Bigtree, the park’s star attraction, dies, it leaves both the park and her family unmoored. The attraction is failing, and Chief Bigtree—never the strongest business man around—leaves on a trip to the mainland to drum up money to purchase a new breed of alligator for the park. This leaves the three Bigtree children, son Kiwi and daughters Osceola and Ava, alone on their island. Kiwi, fancying himself smarter and more capable than his father the Chief, leaves as well, only to end up working a dehumanizing minimum-wage job at World of Darkness, a Hell-themed amusement park and Swamplandia’s mainland competitor. This leaves young Ava alone with her increasingly unstable older sister. Ossie has retreated into old-fashioned Victorian spiritualism and believes herself to be in love with the ghost of an Everglades dredgeman. When Ossie, too, vanishes…heading into the swamp to join her lover in the underworld…Ava takes it upon herself to rescue her from death.
Quirky and fanciful, yet always deeply grounded in believable emotion and realistic motivations, Russell’s imaginative first novel is difficult to categorize but impossible to put down.
With a western flavor, Pickard’s novel starts with the news that a locally infamous convicted killer has been released from prison. The orphan of his alleged victims, Jody, still lives in the town and has grown up in the shadow of her father’s murder and her mother’s disappearance. Pickard takes us back to the time of the murder and as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that more than one person doubts that the truth has ever been told or that justice has been done. Jody wants nothing more than retribution, and in her mind, it’s the lifetime incarceration of the man returning to town. Jody’s powerful family is behind her, but is it strong enough to withstand the truth? With plot twists to keep you guessing, this highly recommended novel is a gripping tale of small-town mystery and revenge.
I'll be the first to admit that we sometimes get a little silly with our themes. Still, we hope you have as much fun with them as we do. This week's challenge is to read a book by an author named Shaun--however you choose to spell it. As always, we've given you some choices to pick from.
Shaun, Shawn, or Sean?
Chercover, Sean. Big City, Bad Blood (MYS)
Connery, Sean. Being a Scot (941.1 C752)
Doolittle, Sean. Safer (F)
Greer, Andrew Sean. The Story of a Marriage (F)
Hutchinson, Shaun David. Deathday Letter (Browsing Teen)
Klomparens, Shawn. Jessica Z (F)
Shiflett, Shawn. Hidden Place (F)
Stewart, Sean. Galveston (F)
When zookeeper Ana Alvarado decided to refocus her career and become a software tester, she knew it would change her life…what she did not know was just how profoundly. Offered a position by start-up Blue Gamma as an “animal trainer” for their new digients (“digital entities” designed to be life-like, lovable pets for online gamers in virtual worlds), she leaps at the opportunity. Her background in animal behavior helps the company find success, creating extremely popular artificial intelligences. Their success spawns competitors in the market who use different “genetic algorithms” and training methods to evolve their own versions of the digients. Unfortunately, these competitors nudge out Blue Gamma and the company folds…but what is to become of those Blue Gamma-style digients already placed with owners, and those still homeless? The creatures are childlike, but still loving and sentient…somewhere between pets and children, but nevertheless wholly unique. Ana adopts her own digient and becomes part of a small, but vibrant and dedicated, community of digient owners fighting for the survival and the rights of their charges. When even the gaming platform for which the digients were originally designed fades into obsolesence, effectively isolating the digients in a tiny pocket universe, Ana and the other digient owners are forced to make some increasingly unpleasant and difficult moral decisions.
Despite its slender size, this novella is filled more tightly with complex abstractions, moral ambiguities, and science fictional ideas than most trilogies can contain. Chiang’s mastery of the short form is evident; while keeping a firm hand on the passage of time he is nevertheless able to pack a lifetime of background, implication, and experience into a small number of pages.
What can you say about a paranormal romance in which the love interest is a fallen angel? Not only is he a fallen angel, but he’s an angel named Patch. It's really difficult to take the character seriously with a name like that. Still, I persevered in reading this recent teen paranormal romance.
Nora is a high school student who is creeped out by her new biology partner (Patch). When it becomes apparent that he knows much more about her than she knows about him, she becomes both curious and frightened. Improbably, the straight-arrow Nora breaks into the student records’ office and looks through Patch’s file to find only blank pages. Things heat up as Patch and another mysterious new student both pursue Nora. There’s a love triangle to keep things interesting and a crazy best friend who helps Nora into plenty of trouble. This series opener is definitely teen fiction and although it holds some appeal for younger readers, it's not likely to be a crossover title. You'll find this novel in our Teen Browsing collection.
Who knows where the zombies will come from. Are they from Earth or somewhere else? This week's challenge is to read a science fiction book. We're giving you a few recommendations to get you started.
Keep your eye on the sky...they're coming!
Calder, Richard. The Twist (SF)
Flynn, Michael. Eifelheim (SF)
Mandery, Evan. First contact, or, It's later than you think (F)
Meyer, Stephenie. The Host (SF)
Niven, Larry. Footfall (SF)
Sagan, Carl. Contact (SF)
Sigler, Scott. Contagious (SF)
Silverberg, Robert. The Alien Years (SF)
It’s the rare book that can consider weighty themes without a bleak tone and plot. As readers we’re often forced to choose between literary fiction that borders on the morose and lighter fare that can feel like a waste of time. Not so with Siri Hustvedt’s new novel, Summer without Men. Hustvedt manages to examine everything from adolescent bullying to the potential grief and loneliness of old age in a charming novel that never seems depressing thanks to the wry humor of the first person narrator, Mia.
Newly separated after nearly thirty years of marriage and fresh from a brief stint in a psychiatric hospital, Mia returns to her hometown where she balances an intense introspection about her past (and life in general )with an interest in an array of women, including her young poetry students, a troubled neighbor, and her mother’s elderly friends. Mia’s compassion for these women allows her to revisit the various stages of her own life while directly addressing the reader and offering numerous asides and literary quotes and allusions regarding love and loss. Throughout Mia’s sense of humor charms the reader. She shares fantasies of releasing the rats in her husband’s lab and refers to his new girlfriend as “the Pause” and “unnamed French love object.”
Summer without Men is a quick, quirky read served up by one of the more engaging narrators in recent memory.
With a few notable exceptions (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Bill Bryson), I believe authors should not attempt to narrate their own audio books. I mention this because I recently listened to Sarah Vowell’s latest book, Unfamiliar Fishes. While the content of the book was interesting enough, I became really irritated by the author’s reading of it by disk 2. This did not bode well for a favorable review.
Fortunately, I stuck with it and learned a few more things about the history of Hawaii, about its unification, its natives, its first contacts with adventurers and missionaries, and its melting-pot growing pains. Vowell is witty, as always, and doesn’t hesitate to include her personal and political viewpoints along the way. Recommended for fans of Vowell, those curious about Hawaiian history, or those in the mood for a serendipitous jaunt through an unfamiliar place.
Natalia Stefanovi, a young doctor living in a contemporary unnamed Balkan country, is preparing, along with her best friend, for a goodwill mission across a border which has not always been a border. Right before they leave, however, she receives the news that her beloved grandfather has died. No one else but she knew that he was ill, so the death itself does not surprise her. What is a shock, however, is that he died in a small town on the other side of the border, having told Natalia’s grandmother that he was on his way to visit Natalia. But Natalia knows nothing of this. Having arrived in the town where she will be vaccinating war orphans, Natalia finds herself distracted from her work by memories of her grandfather and the puzzling question of just what he was doing so far from home. Her thoughts circle around and around, always coming back to two stories her grandfather always told her when she was a child…the story of Gavran Gaile, the deathless man who collected the souls of the dying, and the deaf-mute woman known as the tiger’s wife.
The story circles through time, visiting Natalia’s childhood, her grandfather’s childhood, and times even earlier than that, building a portrait of a country divided by ethnicity, religion, and superstition as much as by politics and bloodshed. The seeming fairy tales of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife hold surprising kernels of truth and reality. Vibrant, lyrical, and compelling.
It has to start somewhere. For week one, we challenge you to read the first book in a series. We're giving you some suggestions just for fun, and as always, you're welcome to choose any book of 100 pages or more from our collection to read or listen to to fulfill your summer reading goal.
Chiaverini, Jennifer. Quilter’s Apprentice (Elm Creek Quilts) (F)
Fforde, Jasper. Eyre Affair (Thursday Next series) (MYS)
Harris, Charlaine. Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse series) (MYS)
King, Stephen.Gunslinger (Dark Tower series) (F)
Kinsella, Sophie. Confessions of a Shopaholic(Shopaholic series) (F)
Le Carré, John. Call for the Dead (George Smiley series) (F)
Mankell, Henning. Faceless Killers(Kurt Wallander series) MYS
Silva, Daniel. Kill Artist (Gabriel Allon series) (F)
To sign up and participate online, follow this link: tinyurl.com/readforyourlife