The Vanishing Man

The Vanishing Man by Charles Finch

I’ve long enjoyed reading and listening to the Charles Lenox Victorian mystery series by Charles Finch, and this prequel is a great entry into the series. Set in London and Kent in 1853, gentleman Charles Lenox, 26, along with his valet Graham, is learning to be a private detective, even though he doesn’t need to charge for his services. His good friend, Lady Jane, lives next door and supports his new endeavor. The Vanishing Man of the title could refer to two mysteries; the theft of a portrait of a former duke and the disappearance of the current Duke of Dorset, whose London mansion is close to Parliament and the Thames River. Lenox is in search of both, and an even more intriguing mystery relating to William Shakespeare. I enjoy the audiobook narration of James Langton, as well as a strong sense of place, very appealing main characters, and a clever plot. Recommended for historical mystery readers and Anglophiles. The first prequel is The Woman in the Water, and the first book in the main series is A Beautiful Blue Death.

Brenda

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Not many finalists for major book awards are described like this: likeable, heartwarming, engaging, inspiring, and thought-provoking. Especially not Hugo Award nominated science fiction novels. Intrigued? How about this proverb from the Exodus fleet, generation starships now permanently orbiting a star: “From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope.” The Exodans have all their basic needs met, and live in hexagonal buildings, neighborhoods and towns, using barter for extras. Included are detailed descriptions of daily life, from the point of view of a parent, a teenager, a stranger, an alien scientist, an archivist, and a caretaker. Tradition is very important to the Exodans, but alien technology may replace some jobs, and a tragedy means that some rituals can’t be followed. The characters are looking for the right job, life/work balance, a lover, or considering moving to a colony planet. Their stories gradually come together making for a compelling, delightful read. The author’s first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, is also an excellent read, but does not need to be read first. Here is the list of other Hugo Award finalists, to be awarded in Dublin in August.
Brenda

Nanaville

Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting by Anna Quindlen

An engaging memoir about becoming a grandmother by the bestselling columnist and novelist. Quindlen, the mother of three, is delighted to welcome her Chinese-American daughter-in-law and then charmed by a grandson. Joyful anecdotes and reflections on her new role and how it differs from parenting make this a perfect gift for new grandparents. This is a charming, heartwarming read.
Brenda

The Fated Sky

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

In this alternate history/science fiction novel, Lady Astronaut Elma York is piloting a shuttle on the Moon, several years after an asteroid strike in 1952 led to an accelerated international race to reach outer space. The sequel to The Calculating Stars, currently a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for best novel, cleverly details daily life on Earth and in space. Elma and her engineer husband Nathaniel have been involved in the space program since the beginning, and have figured out a way to communicate via teletype when Elma is selected for the first voyage to Mars. As a southern Jewish woman, Elma thinks she understands discrimination, but her African American and Asian colleagues set her straight after her efforts to help make things worse. As a mathematician, Elma calculates their ship trajectories (often faster than their mechanical calculator), bakes to relieve stress, and pilots a shuttle to their companion ship after its crew falls ill. While very issue-oriented, this is an enjoyable, absorbing novel. Now I have to re-read the award-winning novelette Lady Astronaut of Mars, which was written first but is set later.

Brenda

April 2019 Book Discussions

The Tuesday Evening Book Group will meet at 7:00 p.m. on April 23 to discuss The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis. This historical novel is set in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in the late 1920s, when it hosted an art school, and in 1974. My earlier review is here.

The Crime Readers will meet at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 18 to discuss Infernal Angels by Loren Estleman. Optional dinner is at 6:00 p.m. The Crime Readers are co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.

Copies of both titles are available now at the Circulation Desk.

Brenda

The Raven Tower

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

This is an impressive first fantasy novel from an award-winning writer of science fiction (Ancillary Justice, etc.). The narration is very unusual, as the narrator is apparently a god, who is telling the story of Eolo, the genderfluid aide to warrior Mawat, who returns from battle to find his father missing and his uncle on the seat of power. Hamlet, anyone? But not really. The narrator is one of many gods, and its story takes place over millennia as well as in the current time. Gods can work together and lend their powers to others, be tricked out of their powers, and face very dire consequences if they lie. They include the Raven, a group of mosquitoes, a large meteorite, and a silent forest. Eolo is both Mawat’s defender and the behind-the-scenes investigator, searching for the truth of the missing ruler and uncovering some secrets of the gods. A challenging but very rewarding read; this seems to be a stand alone fantasy, but the author has written other stories set in Eolo’s world.

Brenda

 

At the Wolf’s Table

At the Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino

Ten women seated around a table, eating delicious food, then spending an hour resting or chatting in a courtyard. Beautifully described, yet not at all a calm scene, as the women are tasting Hitler’s food, which may be poisoned. Rosa Sauer was conscripted after moving in with her husband’s parents in Gross-Partsch, in East Prussia. Rosa, a secretary in Berlin before marrying engineer Gregor, was bombed out of two apartments. Gregor is away at the front, and seems increasingly remote. The women, bussed daily to Hitler’s secret headquarters, occasionally clash but gradually become friendly. Who can you trust? What will you do to survive? The reader doesn’t know the year, or when the war will be over, nor do the women waiting for the men of the village to return from the war. Hard to put down, even before the sense of danger from the food, the guards, and the war intensifies. A compelling, memorable read that’s based on a true story, translated from Italian by Leah Janeczko. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is a readalike.

Brenda