Provenance by Ann Leckie
Provenance is about identity, history, value, and connections. While not as stunning as the award-winning Ancillary Justice and its sequels, this is a thoroughly absorbing, enjoyable return to that universe. The people on Hwae highly value vestiges, rare artifacts and collectible documents. Some of them may be forgeries, and others may be stolen. Family is key, with some politicians adopting children to vie for the chance to claim their parent’s position and name. Gender is key here, with e and eir often substituted for he/she and their. Ingray Aughskold has taken a big chance to secure her future by borrowing against her inheritance to rescue Pahlad Budrakim, a thief, from “Compassionate Removal”. The person she finds claims to be Garal Ket, not Pahlad. Ship captain Tic Uisine provides food and some clothing, but is temporarily stuck in port when the alien Geck claim his ship is stolen. Back on Ingray’s planet Hwae, her scheming brother Danach can’t believe Ingray’s been so daring. Soon a visiting diplomat is killed with Ingray, Garal Ket, Danach, and another diplomat present, along with an AI mech. Ingray gets caught up in one crisis after another, most notably when there’s a hostage crisis involving her parent and some children who were visiting the Lareum, a museum containing rare vestiges. Ingray is smarter, braver, and more creative than she realizes, although the reader catches on pretty quickly. Ingray’s friend Taucris, who doesn’t declare her gender and claim her family name until she’s an adult, certainly appreciates Ingray. Identity is also key, with Garal Ket/Pahlad, Gecks and human Gecks, AI mechs with false identities, and orphans having not quite the same status as foster children. Highly recommended for science fiction readers looking for an compelling, fast-paced novel, especially fans of C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
Bookended by 1909 and 1962 world fairs in Seattle, biracial Chinese American Ernest Young tells the story of his coming of age in Seattle with his two friends, Fahn and Maisie. Ernest’s wife has been having memory issues, which may be improving. The trick is that we don’t know whether he married Fahn or Maisie, as his wife is called Gracie. Ernest’s mother was desperately poor, and arranged for him to take a freighter to America. After time at an orphanage and a boarding school, Ernest is to be raffled off at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle. Unexpectedly, he becomes the houseboy and later chauffer to Madame Flora, who runs an upscale house in Seattle’s red light district, where he meets her daughter Maisie and kitchen maid Fahn. I really enjoyed Ford’s first book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but I didn’t like this story or setting as well, even though the writing and characterization are excellent. Ernest is a very appealing character, more so than either Maisie or Fahn. The 1909 fair is more vividly described than the Century 21 Expo in 1962. I think Ford is an excellent writer, but I hope he picks a happier setting for his next book.
Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure across 21 Countries by Marianne Bohr
Marianne and her husband Joe are preparing to do what many dream about but few accomplish: take a year to explore Europe. They are turning 55, and their children, Chris and Caroline, have finished college. They sell their Maryland house after a year, and camp out with friends until it’s time to give notice at work, get their long-term French visas, and head for a studio apartment in Paris. Marianne loves all things French and is changing careers to become a French teacher, so Paris is where they start and end their year abroad, with a week in the middle to run the Paris Marathon. Joe, a marine engineer, doesn’t speak much French, but loves history and is willing to drive rental cars as needed. They run, hike, and canoe because they enjoy being active, but also to indulge their love of food and wine. I like Marianne’s writing style, sketching the places they visit in a few sentences, focusing on the people they encounter as well as the scenery. It’s easier to share what they didn’t enjoy in their whole year of travel: a lonely town in France, the markets in Morocco, and train stations in Austria. Otherwise, they find kind, helpful people wherever they go, along with wonderful food. They mix budget accommodations and picnic food with the occasional splurge, and get very tired of their limited wardrobe. Highlights include skiing with their children in Italy’s Dolomites, and hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc with a guide and other travelers. Greece wins the award for friendliest country. In the end, Marianne’s favorite country is still France, although Joe likes the food in Italy best. A very enjoyable travel memoir.
Kazuo Ishiguro, 63, has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, an award that is for an author’s whole body of work. He is a British writer who was born in Japan. His novels include Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and A Pale View of Hills. Here is my review for his latest novel, The Buried Giant. Recent winners include Bob Dylan (a controversial selection), Svetlana Alexievich, Patrick Modiano, and Alice Munro.
Fall is book award season. On October 17, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced. These books are on the shortlist:
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Elmet by Fiona Mozley Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Autumn by Ali Smith
On November 15, the spotlight will be on the National Book Awards. Here is the Fiction short list:
Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The Non-Fiction short list for the National Book Awards is:
Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald
The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean
The American Library Association Carnegie Medals were established in 2012. Last year the awards went to Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and Evicted by Matthew Desmond. The long list is here, the short list will be announced on October 25.
There is a wide variety of book awards. Another major literary award is the Pulitzer Prize. Awards for mysteries include the Agatha, the Anthony, and the Edgar. The Anthony Awards will be announced at Bouchercon on October 15. Science fiction & fantasy books get Hugo, Locus, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. The Hugos were presented in August at WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland. Cookbooks, horror novels, thrillers, romance novels, and audiobooks all have their awards. It can be fun to look at the award winners and finalists to get reading suggestions or ideas for your book group. For more lists, check out the Notable Books lists from the New York Times and the American Library Association. I read some award winners, usually to see if my book groups would enjoy them, but I only read a few award winners.
Please read whatever appeals to you, right now. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, I have a book display of cat and dog mysteries, as well as a display with zombie books. For more popular titles, check out American Library Association’s Reading List, Library Reads, or ask your friendly readers advisory librarian or bookseller.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
This is an appealing and quirky contemporary novel, set in the San Francisco Bay area, among tech companies and farmers markets. Lois Clary, a recent college graduate from Michigan, is working long hours for a robotics company. Many of her new coworkers don’t eat any more, they just drink nutritional Slurry. Lois starts getting spicy soup and sourdough bread delivered by Mazg baker Beoreg. When Beoreg and his brother leave town they give Lois a crock of sourdough starter and some melancholy Mazg music. Intrigued, she builds an oven in the yard, and bakes unusual but delicious bread. Lois auditions for a spot in a Bay Area farmers market, and is sent to the underground startup the Marrow Fair, where she is challenged to use a robotic arm from her company to help make the bread. The market is predictably weird, but also charming, from a collector of vintage menus to keepers of crickets and goats. The sourdough starter becomes dangerously unstable, and Lois needs advice from the local Lois club and from Beoreg, who shares the folklore of the Mazg people by email. Another Library Reads selection, this is the second novel by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Readalikes include The Rook by Daniel O’Malley and Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink.
Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly
Would you like to spend a year in space? That was the challenge faced by Scott Kelly, an astronaut since 1996. How would his absence affect his relationship with his two daughters, and his longtime partner, Amiko? What would happen to his health, especially his vision? Scott finds out, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, as they spend 340 days on the International Space Station in 2015 and 2016. Scott thought school was boring until he read Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff as a teenager. An EMT, he later attended SUNY Maritime College, then became a Navy pilot, learning to land on aircraft carriers. Scott and his identical twin brother Mark were selected to the astronaut corps on the same day, and they agree to a twin study comparing their health during Scott’s year in space. Though the reader knows he returns safely to Earth, Scott still makes parts of his memoir suspenseful. In 2015, three supply missions to the International Space Station failed, and there were some issues with station rendezvous and docking. Scott also made an emergency spacewalk. Over the year in space, he had twelve crewmates. I was interested to learn that the Russian cosmonauts stay on their side of the station most of the time, hosting the others for Friday dinners and other celebrations. Scott keeps very busy repairing equipment, conducting science experiments, exercising, welcoming new crew members, taking photos, monitoring his health, and being interviewed, rarely getting time to relax and read his copy of Endurance, about Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. In November, public television will air a documentary about his journey, “Beyond a Year in Space”. What Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail learned and experienced during their year in space may help in planning for future voyages to Mars. This memoir is entertaining and compelling reading.
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve
In 1947, Grace Holland has two children and an unhappy marriage. Gene brings her a wringer washing machine as an apology, but discourages Grace from visiting his mother when she is taken ill. Later, Grace learns that Gene’s mother has a washer and dryer, along with a large jewelry collection and expensive clothes. Grace has her young children, her lively friend Rosie, and walks on the Maine shore. Grace’s mother expects her to make the best of things, which another pregnancy does not help. Fires break out all along the coast, and Grace is saved only by her daughter coughing in the night and her own quick thinking. Gene is away fighting the fires, and the family finds shelter at his mother’s house, which is being occupied by a gifted pianist. The night of the fire is vividly described, as is Grace’s new job at a doctor’s office. Her husband and mother-in-law are sketchily drawn, and some plot twists are rather melodramatic. The reader is meant to worry about Grace’s safety, but we know that the newly self-reliant Grace will dare to do the right thing for her children. Excellent period details and plenty of action make for a fast-paced, compelling read.