Klara, who narrates this introspective story set in the near future, is an Artificial Friend, designed to be an empathetic companion for a human child or teen. The beginning chapters relate her experience in a city department store, where she and other AFs wait to be chosen and long for their time in the front window, where they can soak up the sun’s rays and see the activity on the street. Happily, young teen Josie and her mother take Klara home to their house in the country. Josie has a friend, Rick, who lives nearby, but only sees other teens at scheduled parties. Everyone has remote instruction, on their tablets. Josie isn’t well, and Klara hopes that the rays of the sun will help heal her. Housekeeper Melania isn’t very welcoming to Klara, but they share responsibility for looking after Josie.
Many people are now unemployed, having lost their jobs to robots. And there is visible smog, which upsets Klara, who reasonably supposes the pollution is affecting Josie’s health. Klara sees the world differently, in a series of boxes, and her speech is very formal, deliberately machine-like. But in the end, Klara has a bigger heart than some of the humans she comes to admire and will do almost anything to help Josie grow and thrive. Described as literary science fiction, this is another thought-provoking novel by the Nobel award-winning author of The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and The Buried Giant.
Laurie has always admired her Great Aunt Dot, a world traveler who lived to be 93. Her home in Calcasset, Maine, was a quiet refuge for Laurie as she was a middle child with four brothers. In Calcasset to sort through Dot’s belongings, Laurie is having a mid-life crisis as she turns 40. Her best friend June is happily married with three kids, but Laurie has always enjoyed living alone. She has just canceled her upcoming wedding, but is still looking forward to returning to Seattle, where her house and garden are designed just how she likes it. Laurie’s former boyfriend Nick is now the director of the Calcasset Library, and sparks fly when they spend time together, but Nick has never wanted to leave small town Maine.
A very enjoyable part of this book is the adventure of a carved and painted wood duck Aunt Dot kept in a cedar chest. Is it valuable? Apparently not, or has Laurie been scammed by a con man? Nick helps with research and Laurie’s brother Ryan, an actor, helps in the quest to get the duck back. Laurie finally is able to decide what she really wants in this engaging read.
Set in the same town as Holmes’ debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over, this is not a sequel. Readalikes include novels by Jennifer Crusie, Mary Kay Andrews, Abbi Waxman, and Beth O’Leary.
Oakland private investigator Ivy Gamble is mugged on her way to work, and shortly afterwards a stranger appears in her locked office. Ivy is asked to investigate a suspicious, gruesome death at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Ivy doesn’t usually investigate possible murders, but the retainer offered is large, and she will have the chance to reconnect with her estranged twin sister Tabitha, a teacher at the school. Ivy has 14 years of experience as a PI, but feels ordinary compared to her brilliant, magical sister.
At Osthorne, Ivy wonders if it’s wrong to let staff and students think she also has magical powers. What if she dates one of the teachers? Does she want a relationship with her sister, and can she be trusted? Darkly humorous, this compelling read skillfully combines mystery, fantasy, and relationship fiction. Readalikes include Book of Night by Holly Black, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, and A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik.
Ward Bennett spent the summer of 1938 working on a dude ranch near Reno, Nevada. The Flying Leap catered to wealthy women who spent six weeks living there, then got a no-fuss divorce in Reno. Handsome cowboys Ward and Sam chauffeured the ladies to and from Reno, served meals, took care of the horses, and guided the ladies on trail rides. Max and Margaret hired the men for their good manners and their looks. When Emily drove cross-country to Reno and Nina flew her plane there, the folks at the Flying Leap know they’re in for an eventful summer. Both amusing and dramatic, this character-focused historical novel was inspired by both of the author’s parents, and is an engaging and memorable read.
Please join the Tuesday Evening Book Group at 7 pm on May 24 for our in-person discussion of Apples Never Fall, by Liane Moriarty, a contemporary novel about a recently retired couple and their four children, and what happens after someone goes missing. See my earlier review here. Copies of the book are available for check out at the Circulation Desk. eBook and eAudiobook copies are available at Media on Demand/Libby and at eRead Illinois. Please register online or at the Computer Help Desk. Hope to see you here!
Molly Gray enjoys cleaning, especially returning hotel rooms to a state of perfection. Mostly she enjoys her work as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel, in an unnamed city. While many of the guest treat Molly as though she’s invisible, other guests, such as wealthy businessman Charles Black, verge on rudeness. Molly is very naïve and socially awkward, but has a few people she trusts and counts as friends at the hotel, including a bartender and Giselle, Charles Black’s second wife.
Lately Molly has been struggling to pay her rent, since the death of her beloved grandmother, so her supervisor’s habit of swiping Molly’s tips is doubly frustrating. When Molly discovers a body in a hotel suite, she becomes a person of interest. With the help of some unexpected friends, as well as remembering her Gran’s wise advice, Molly gets ready to testify in court.
Readers will worry about and cheer for Molly in this heartwarming debut with several clever plot twists. This is not a gentle read, though it’s low in violence. Suggested for readers who like eccentric yet charming characters, with a theme of found family. Readalikes include Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little, How Lucky by Will Leitch, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
Kate has a dull entry level job at Sotheby’s auction house in London, appropriate for her university degree, but not very fulfilling. It isn’t going well, and Kate impulsively starts a dog-walking business. Her mother is upset, but partner Finlay, though not a dog lover, is supportive. In 2006, dog walking hasn’t yet caught on in London as it has in American cities, so Kate starts small. She quickly learns that the hardest part of the job is working with the dogs’ owners. Gradually Kate needs to hire other dog walkers, and meets rival Agnes. Each chapter is focused on a particular dog, their owners, and the neighborhood where they live. Even readers who prefer cats may enjoy this charming memoir, a coming-of-age tale with lots of heart and humor. The quirky personalities of the dogs are lovingly described, as Kate shares her successes and failures in business, and life. Muddy, messy, and joyful, this is an uplifting read.
Having briefly traveled to the future with In Five Years, Serle here gives Katy Silver a glimpse into the past, during a vacation to gorgeous Positano, Italy. Katy is mourning the recent death of her mother, Carol, and takes the trip they had planned together, leaving her father and husband Eric behind. At almost 30, Katy’s re-evaluating her life and her marriage, ignoring often cited advice to not make big decisions while grieving. Part of the book is a perfect beach read; armchair travel on the Amalfi Coast with amazing food and views. Katy is staying at family-owned Hotel Poseidon, which has very kind and helpful hotel staff. Adam, a fellow hotel guest, is clearly interested in a fling with Katy, and they enjoy meals and sightseeing together. The book takes an interesting turn when Katy meets 30-year-old Carol, who is happy to befriend her. Katy instantly recognizes Carol from early photos of her mother, yet never questions her presence, or why she has trouble connecting with Eric from her cell phone. A mix of grief, travel, and a little romance makes for a hard to put down weekend read.
I just finished reading First Steps: How Walking Upright Made Us Human by Jeremy DeSilva, and I was reflecting on how much I enjoy reading popular science books. I may only read a few each year, and I read them much more slowly than fiction, but I like learning about something new to me and appreciate the fine writing by a scientist or journalist who has really delved into a topic and is enthusiastic to share some of what they’ve learned with non-scientists. Other books I read this year include Kindred by Rebecca Wragg Sykes and The Arbornaut by Meg Lowman. Here is a list of recent popular science books in the library’s collection, along with a few about to be published. The variety of topics covered is remarkable, and I hope to enjoy more of these titles soon. Happy reading!
Recent Popular Science Books
Biberdorf, Kate. It’s Elemental: The Hidden Chemistry in Everything
Black, Riley. The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World
Bryson, Bill. The Body: A Guide for Occupants
DeSilva, Jeremy. First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human
Dettmer, Philipp. Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive
Ellenberg, Jordan. Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else
Everts, Sarah. The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration
Frank, Adam. Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth
Kaku, Michio. The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything
Knoll, Andrew. A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters
Kolbert, Elizabeth. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future
Levesque, Emily. The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers
Lowman, Margaret. The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us
Macfarlane, Robert. Underland: A Deep Time Journey
Nestor, James. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
Panciroli, Elsa. Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution
Phoenix, Jess. Ms. Adventure: My Wild Explorations in Science, Lava, and Life
Prescod-Weinstein, Chanda. The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime and Dreams Deferred
Raff, Jennifer. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas
Raven, Catherine. Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship
Roach, Mary: Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
Scales, Helen. The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majest Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean and the Looming Threat That Imperils It
Seager, Sara. The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir
Sheldrake, Merlin. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures
Simard, Suzanne. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest
Widder, Edith. Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea
Wohlleben, Peter. The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature
Wragg Sykes, Rebecca. Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art
Zimmer, Carl. Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive
Elizabeth Zott, a chemist in the 1950s and early 1960s, struggles against rampant sexism with men who think women can’t be intelligent. At the Hastings Institute in southern California, Elizabeth meets another brilliant chemist, Calvin Evans, who also enjoys rowing. When a female coworker spreads gossip that costs Elizabeth her job, Elizabeth turns her kitchen into a chemistry lab while raising her young daughter with the help of neighbor Harriet and a loyal, intelligent dog until she unexpectedly lands a job in daytime television. Walter Pine, a fellow single parent, hires Elizabeth to host Supper at Six, where she combines cooking and chemistry while also affirming women, and becomes a surprise hit. This engaging debut, the top Library Reads pick for April, will appeal to readers who enjoy strong female characters who overcome major obstacles. Readalikes include Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen, The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.