The Human Division by John Scalzi
From award-winning science fiction writer John Scalzi, another adventure in space. This book was originally released as a serialized ebook. It’s good to have a Plan B. For Colonial Union administrators, Plan B is the unarmed courier ship Clarke, with Captain Sophia Coloma, Ambassador Abumwe, her assistant Hart Schmidt, and Lt. Harry Wilson, on loan from the Colonial Defense Force. Unknown to the crew of the Clarke, they are sent on diplomatic missions that have not gone well for various reasons, including the disappearance of one of the ships they’re replacing. The division referred to in the title is the disconnect between the humans on Earth, and the humans in the Colonial Union, a collection of human colonies, which has been using the Earth to staff its Colonial Defense Force, whose recruits have a short life expectancy. The Clarke and its crew have various adventures which include Harry and the secretary of state’s daughter, a doctor, skydiving to Earth from a space station that is under attack. It was entertaining to read, and I look forward to the serialized sequel. For more about the book and sequel, visit the publisher’s website. For more about the author, visit his well-known blog.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
This is a supernatural thriller, and quite fun to read. It’s the first in a series about the Checquy, a secret British spy agency staffed with people with a variety of supernatural abilities or unique physical characteristics, along with normal assistants. The opening sets the tone: Myfanwy Thomas (she pronounces it Miffany) finds herself in a park in London, surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves, and with no memory. Her former self has left her a letter, however, giving her two options and a safe hideout. Clearly there is a traitor within the Checquy agency. The reader and Myfanwy learn that she is an executive with a desk job at the agency, but is occasionally called on to oversee the Checquy response to supernatural emergencies, such as a building covered with purple fungus that has swallowed the first team sent to investigate screams from inside. Her normal assistant Ingrid is invaluable as Myfanwy tries to get up to speed on her job while looking for the traitor. Lots of action and suspense, along with humor, plenty of eccentric characters, and unique settings including a boarding school for supernaturally gifted children make for a page-turner. I can’t wait to see what O’Malley, a first novelist from Australia, comes up with next. For more information and a video book trailer, visit his website.
Much Ado about Magic by Shanna Swendson
Texan Katie Chandler is normal. She has no magical talents, but is immune to magic and can see through illusions. She returns to MSI in New York City to work in marketing. MSI is run by Merlin. Yes, that Merlin. Her boyfriend, Owen Chandler, is a sweet, shy, powerful wizard. A rival accuses Owen, who’s adopted, of having evil wizards as parents, and of causing the havoc in Manhattan that he stops. There’s a lot of humor with flying gargoyles, a clumsy fairy, magical illusions and spells, and her department’s constant partying while Katie’s trying to plan a big event in Central Park. Her roommates know her secret, and try to help when Owen and MSI are in trouble. Not your typical urban fantasy, it’s more of a romantic comedy with fantasy elements. This is book five in the series that begins with Enchanted, Inc. Read more about Katie on the author’s website. Book 6 is now available, and we own the whole series in print, and as e-books on Media on Demand.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
I like cookbooks. I select them for the library’s collection, and I also collect them, skim them, look at the photos, flag promising recipes, and bake or cook recipes from each. But I don’t generally read them out loud. Deb Perelman’s entertaining first book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, was meant to be read out loud. She is young, has a tiny New York City kitchen, a husband, and a toddler. She also loves to cook and entertain, and find new dishes at a restaurant and then experiments (or obsesses) with getting them just right in her kitchen. Her wildly popular blog, smittenkitchen.com, is full of recipes and observations on food and life. In the cookbook, the notes for each recipe are often hilarious, and guaranteed to make you hungry. I’ve already tried a few recipes, and my coworkers at the library agree that Deb’s Brownie Roll-Out Cookies are delicious.
The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Sometimes I want something lighter to read, especially when I need an audiobook to listen to when I’m driving. Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s characters are very good company if you want a romance with some comedy. This is a companion book to Call Me Irresistible, and they can be read in any order. Lucy Jorik is the former president’s adopted daughter, and feels the need to live up to that responsibility. When she finds out at the last minute that she just can’t marry her perfect fiance, Ted Bodine, she panicks and runs away in a choir robe and heels. Wedding guest Patrick, who goes by Panda, gives her a ride on his motorcycle, and they end up on a road trip with Lucy in disguise to escape the press. Panda, although he wears offensive t-shirts, is very attractive and Lucy falls for him. Later, Lucy decides to track him down and ends up staying in his summer house on an island in Lake Michigan. She needs to do some writing for a book about her famous mother, but keeps getting sidetracked. We meet Bree, who has just become guardian to 12-year-old Toby, and is learning to keep bees, and local realtor Mike Moody, who Bree tries to avoid. When Panda, a security consultant, is hired by longtime client Temple, he brings the television diva to the island so she can lose weight while avoiding publicity. Lucy and Panda’s bickering, fighting their attraction, is very funny. Bree’s gradual realization that Mike is no longer the annoying boy she remembers is more heartwarming.
Readalikes for this book would include Jennifer Crusie, Janet Evanovich’s romantic comedies, and Elizabeth Adler.
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle
Sometimes I just want a light, fun book to read. That description perfectly fits Peter Mayle’s books. How about a luxurious working vacation in the south of France? American sleuth Sam Levitt and his girlfriend Elena are off to Marseille so that Sam can help wealthy Francis Reboul win a waterfront development contract. Readers of The Vintage Caper may remember that Reboul was Levitt’s quarry in a wine theft case, but he isn’t the type to hold a grudge. British rival Lord Wapping will stop at nothing to win the contest, while the other developer is Parisian, and not likely to win many votes in Marseille. Much sightseeing, fine wines, and gourmet dining are enjoyed by Sam and Elena until Lord Wapping’s thugs resort to kidnapping. This is a very breezy and relaxed caper, and enjoyable to read.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
I really enjoyed reading this book (partly in print and partly on cd), and didn’t want it to end. This is the first book in Bujold’s science fiction series to feature Ivan Vorpatril, and is an excellent introduction to her writing. Adventure, humor, and romance are the main characteristics, along with memorable characters; the science fiction aspect is less emphasized, except for the setting.
Ivan is the cousin of the short, over-achieving Miles Vorkosigan, who has involved Ivan in several of his adventures, to Ivan’s regret. They are both cousins of Gregor Vorbarra, emperor of the planets Barrayar, Komarr, and Sergyar. Working as an admiral’s aide on Komarr, Ivan is approached by undercover agent Byerly Vorrutyer and asked to befriend a young woman who may be in danger. Tej Arqua resists Ivan’s flirting so he follow her home, where he is stunned by Tej’s sister Rish. After some complicated adventures, Ivan discovers that he’ll go to great lengths to protect Tej, and they end up back on Barrayar together, where their families have varying reactions to their relationship, and the Arqua family arrives to search for buried treasure, resulting in an underground search is both dangerous and funny. Komarr would be a good introduction to Miles Vorkosigan, while A Civil Campaign is a humorous look at Miles and Ivan.
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett is best known for his humorous fantasy series set in the Discworld. Some of them, with young witch Tiffany Aching and the tiny gnomes known as the MacFeegles are written for teens, as is Dodger, but this book is set in Victorian era London. Dodger, 17, is a tosher who scavenges for coins and other lost treasures in London’s sewers. One night he hears a scream and climbs out of the sewer to rescue a young women from thugs. Newspaperman Charlie Dickens is next on the scene, along with another gentleman and they take Simplicity and Dodger to a safe house. Dodger is smitten, and agrees to look for the thugs. Dodger’s landlord, an elderly Jewish jeweler, takes him to get a suit and recommends a shave. Of course, the barber is the murderous Sweeney Todd, who is caught by Dodger, who later interrupts a robbery at Dickens’ newspaper. The plot just gets more complicated from there, with Dodger and Simplicity having numerous adventures, but it’s definitely fun going along for the ride and enjoying glimpses of life in London from all angles. Even the bits in London’s sewers make for fascinating reading. Funny in parts, sad in others, well worth a look for readers of historical fiction or humor.
Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs
Writer A. J. Jacobs is always ready for self-improvement. He read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and spent a year trying to follow every rule in the Bible, resulting in the books The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically. A case of pneumonia has A.J. ready to listen to his wife’s pleas for him to shape up, especially as he gets winded while playing with their three young sons. So, at 41, he consults numerous health experts as well as his hippy aunt Marti. A. J. spends more than two years on his project to become healthier, and we follow along as he tries all kinds of exercise programs, including playing cave man in Central Park and literally running to do his errands. He explores many different diets, looks at noise pollution, the dangers of sitting all day, and tries to avoid toxic chemicals, all the while chipping away at a very long list of health related goals. Becoming an Okinawan woman seems impossible, but how about the fact that Academy Award winners live three years longer on average than non-Oscar winners? Always interesting and frequently funny, A.J. comes away from his quest with some very sensible suggestions on how to get healthier.
The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson
This is not the usual lengthy fantasy novel readers have come to expect from Brandon Sanderson. It’s much shorter, faster-paced, and has more humor. The Alloy of Law is as much a western as a fantasy novel. While part of his Mistborn series, it’s set 300 years later, with all new characters. Waxillium and Wayne fight crime in the Roughs, aided by their magical allomantic and feruchemical powers. Wayne can create a slow time bubble and heals well, while Wax can push on steel and make himself lighter or heavier, moving like a superhero. After a tragedy, Wax must move to the family mansion in the city of Elendel, become Lord Waxillium Ladrian, and take over the family business. He also needs to start a family, and meets with Lady Steris and her father, Lord Harms, to discuss a proposal for courtship and possible marriage. Their first date, where they are joined by Steris’ cousin Marasi, a student of criminal justice, is at a wedding banquet. Their waiter turns out to be Wayne, a master of disguise. When thieves break into the banquet hall, open fire, and kidnap a lady, Wax and Wayne are back in the crime-fighting business, aided by Marasi. Recent mysterious railcar thefts and kidnapping of ladies with allomantic or feruchemical powers are probably connected, and they suspect their former colleague Miles, who is practically impossible to kill, of turning villain.
A fun read, and a nice change of pace. I read the book, but the audio version is also getting great reviews.