Everyone remembers where they were on Step Day—the day the plans for Stepper devices leaked onto the internet and every child who built one discovered that the Steppers allowed them to travel “sideways” to the next parallel Earth next door. The world changed forever on Step Day, as endless new frontiers opened with the flip of a switch. Joshua Valiente was only 13 on Step Day, but he took to Stepping like a fish to water, experiencing none of the disorientation and nausea that struck almost everyone else. Since then, he has traveled further than anyone else he knows of, and has even discovered that he doesn’t need the Stepper device but can Step on his own. A loner by nature, Joshua is skeptical at first when he is approached by the artificial intelligence named Lobsang who wishes Joshua to travel with him to the farthest reaches of what’s now known as the Long Earth, but in the end the lure of the unknown is too great to resist. As they two travel further and further into the parallel worlds, things become stranger and stranger, and they begin to realize that something out there is threatening the stability of the entire system and only they have the wherewithal to stop it. Meanwhile, back on the “original” Earth, the political and economic system, already destabilized by Stepping, quickly approaches a cataclysmic collapse.
Readers expecting another Discworld will not find that here. While The Long Earth shows flashes of Pratchett’s wit and inventiveness, it is a very different beast altogether, with a much more serious, sci-fi tone. One hopes that future sequels will delve further into the unusual ecosystems of the Long Earth and continue to flesh out the characters of Lobsang and Joshua.
Galilee Garner—Gal for short—is a prickly person at best, and something of a loner. A biology teacher at a private high school, she is known to students and faculty alike as a hard taskmaster, but one who prides herself on turning out more AP exam high-scorers than anyone else. She lives alone, with only one close friend—her polar opposite, the school’s sensitive and outgoing art teacher. She’s also in the end stages of kidney failure and must keep to a strict dialysis schedule to survive. Her one main ambition in life is to breed the next unique, stand-out breed of rose in the greenhouse out back. Gal’s carefully structured existence is thrown into disarray when her unreliable sister’s teenage daughter Riley arrives unannounced on Gal’s front stoop. At first resistant, Gal begins to soften to her niece and the two—one damaged by years of chronic illness, the other by years of neglect and sporadic affection dished out by a drug-addicted mother—form a tentative bond. Riley begins to find herself among her fellow students and Gal finds herself reaching out and making new friends herself, something she never expected.
While the rose-related metaphor is the tiniest bit heavy-handed, the story is a touching one as an at first thoroughly unlikeable character begins to develop into a better version of herself and a dysfunctional family comes together with a new understanding of each other’s struggles.
Can't get enough of Downton Abbey? These novels will keep you satisfied until the next episode:
Life Class by Pat Barker
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull
The House of Riverton by Kate Morton
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons
The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Whimsical, magical, and full of wonder, Wood’s stories beguile the reader into a version of England’s foggy Cornwall coast in which the unexpected not only can happen but usually does. Characters in these stories live side by side with creatures out of mythology, sometimes becoming those creatures themselves. In the title story, staying husbands have become mermen and their wives must brave the depths to bring them home. In Countless Stones, a young woman helps a former lover as he house-hunts while slowing and inexorably turning to stone. In another stand-out story, Of Mothers and Little People, a daughter discovers that her mother is a fully-formed human being in her own right, with secret joys that daughters seldom imagine in their parents—in this case, a faery lover.
These are truly grown-up fairy tales, with touches of magical realism and outright enchantment never obscuring the very real stories and characters underneath. There are few easy answers or pat morals in these fairy stories.
Isaac Vainio is a librarian and a libriomancer, a special kind of magic-user who has the ability to make objects from books manifest in reality. Removed from field work due to an inability to control his magic under stress, Isaac is working a more mundane job as a librarian in a small-town Michigan public library and doing database duty on the side for his other employers, Die Zwelf Portenaere—the Porters. However, the Porters—a magical organization founded by Johannes Gutenberg to manage libriomancy—are under attack, and Isaac, off-duty or no, is no exception. Narrowly saved from vampires by the intercession of a dryad friend, Isaac soon discovers that all the different species of vampires—all of whom were originally created out of books, in a unique genre twist—have banded together to fight against what they perceive as attacks by the Porters. The few Porters Isaac can reach, however, have no idea what’s going on and Isaac, along with dryad Lena Greenwood and Smudge the fire spider, fling themselves into the investigation, trying to first convince the vampires that the Porters are no threat and second to discover just who the villain actually is and what he’s done with the Porters’ founder, Gutenberg himself.
Fast-paced, funny, unique, intelligent, and entirely engaging, this series opener is an absolute hit. Librarians and booklovers of all stripes will be trying to master libriomancy themselves after a visit to Hines’ world.
Edugyan’s Booker Prize shortlisted novel evokes Berlin and Paris during World War II through the eyes of a rag-tag bunch of jazz musicians looking for their big break. Having achieved some limited notoriety in Berlin during the Weimar era, the Hot-Time Swingers—two black ex-pat Americans, a Jewish pianist, and a couple of Germans, one of whom is black himself—are now struggling to stay alive in a Berlin that has turned against jazz and turned against half-breeds, or mischlings, Jews, and black people of all nationalities. When a jazz singer from America shows up to find them with word that she represents Louis Armstrong, the band thinks their fortunes are made. But first, they have to get from Berlin to Paris—and not all of them are going to make it. Eventually hitting Paris just in time for the Occupation to catch up with them, the group has to keep their heads down even further while at the same time trying to cut a record—the Half-Blood Blues, an anthem rejecting everything Nazis stand for. But it’s only a matter of time before the Boots—the Gestapo—catch up with them.
Cutting between 1940 and 1992, Half-Blood Blues is a story of race, friendship, secrets, and betrayal. Showing a side of World War II not often written about—that is, the story of the other, non-Jewish ethnic groups persecuted by the Reich—it is fascinating and textured.
Nesbo’s flawed but brilliant detective, Harry Hole, faces down Norway’s first known serial killer in this fifth entry in the series. Dubbed “the Snowman,” the serial killer abducts and, presumably, kills women, one per year, taking his victims on the first snowy day of the winter. He’s been operating for years but because there were no bodies found, it took the police far too long to pick up on the pattern. But now, suddenly, the killer has escalated his efforts, leaving one victim’s head perched on top of a snowman and taking several others out of sequence. Now Harry, Oslo’s only detective to have caught a serial killer previously, must escalate his own efforts to not only determine how the killer is picking his victims, but who the killer is…before more women fall prey to the Snowman.
Fast-paced and littered with twists, red-herrings, and thrills, The Snowman is sure to appeal to mystery fans. Despite being book five in the series, a reader with no previous experience of Harry Hole’s misadventures can enjoy this title from the get-go.
Becca is on her way to college in just a few short months, finally escaping the claustrophobia of her small town life in conneticut. But only hours after she graduates and her heart is broken by the boy she loves, a body of an young women is found on a dusty road, disrupting the carefully constructed plans she had. With very little evidence and the body yet to be identified, gossip runs wild and Becca becomes strangely obsessed with finding out why this stranger was killed so brutally.
The story is coupled with glimpses of the the victim, Amelia Anne, and her life before her death: her new-found passion of acting, her boredom with her loyal boyfriend and the hopes she has for a new future. As her story comes closer and closer to the climax, Becca believes she is connecting the pieces of who may have killed Amelia, but sometimes your instincts are not always right. This lyrical mystery has a jaw-dropping ending and should not be missed.
Before reading The Millstone, I spent years wanting to read a Margaret Drabble novel but never got around to it. She is what you would call a serious writer. To quote the LA Times, she is “as meticulous as Jane Austen, and as deadly as Evelyn Waugh.” So I knew The Millstone would be literary and well-written, and it was. But what came as a surprise to me was how easily readable the novel was and how much I was completely drawn into the main character’s life. The novel, one of Drabble’s early works, is set in 1960s London. The narrator is a young woman who has an unplanned pregnancy as a result of a casual love affair. This isn’t your typical unplanned pregnancy story; the narrator is highly educated, independent, and strong. She does not weep for her circumstances nor expects anyone to weep for her. The Millstone was a wonderful read, and I greatly enjoyed the 1960s London setting. I will most definitely be reading more of Drabble’s novels. I hope that you give her a go as well…if you have not done so already. Also--as an aside-- Margaret Drabble is A.S. Byatt’s sister.
If you are looking for a page-turning literary novel that you can read in one day, All Yours, a slim crime novel about a woman’s revenge on her cheating husband, is the book for you. The author, a native Argentinean, tells a gripping tale of domestic conflict and, at the same time, sheds light on Argentina’s class structure and the selfish behaviors of the entitled class. This author’s crime novels are all bestsellers in Latin America...and for good reason! All Yours is a great read.