Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Hope is a Norwegian American from Minnesota, daughter of a community college science teacher, who was expected to major in English at the University of Minnesota, but found her calling instead in science. She has been a scientist for over 20 years, and along with her lab manager Bill, has built and run laboratories in Georgia, Maryland, and Hawaii, as well as done fieldwork in Ireland, Norway, and many other places. Her field is geobiology, which seems to be a blend of geology, botany, and the environment. Her passion is for plants and trees, and her story is framed with descriptions of the life cycle of different kinds of plants. The themes of her story are cold, night, silence, sleeplessness, the joy of discovery, and the rewards of persistence and asking questions. Bill is a delightfully quirky, sarcastic character, and I’m glad to know they still work together. Hope struggles as a young woman in a sexist environment, and as one with a bipolar disorder. There is actually plenty of humor here, along with the evident joy she feels in a scientific life of research, discovery, and teaching. Her difficult journey to motherhood is also shared. I was fascinated by Hope’s well-publicized memoir, and found it a very quick and satisfying read.
I enjoy re-reading books occasionally, and sometimes I find books I haven’t read by favorite authors. All of these books were published between 1951 and 1960.
One of my favorite books to re-read is Trustee from the Toolroom, by Nevil Shute. Keith Stewart is an ordinary man in Ealing, England, who becomes trustee of his young niece along with his wife, and tries to find a way to get to the South Pacific to recover her inheritance. He is an engineer who makes mechanical models, and writes about them for The Miniature Mechanic, along with answering dozens of letters from readers working on the models. These readers later help him get to Tahiti and back home again, via the Pacific Northwest.
I also read The Far Country, by Nevil Shute, set mainly in Australia. Post World War II conditions in England were still bad, with some rationing still in place until 1954. Jennifer Morton gets an unexpected gift from her late grandmother, and visits her cousin’s ranch in Victoria, Australia, where she meets a Czech doctor working as a lumberjack. Beautiful scenery, appealing characters, and a good look at the differences between life in England and in northeast Australia around 1950. Nevil Shute’s novels are known for their excellent storytelling, with mostly appealing characters, usually ordinary people in extraordinary situations or settings. These aren’t necessarily gentle reads, as he is best known for the post-apocalyptic On the Beach, and the World War II novel, A Town Like Alice.
I listened to two Regency romance novels by Georgette Heyer: Venetia, and The Quiet Gentleman. Her books are known for mild romance and witty dialogue, along with some humor. They are also excellent as audiobooks. Since they’re set in the early 1800s, they don’t feel at all dated. The library has a large collection of both authors’ books, as they are frequently reprinted. If you’re looking for a change of pace for your summer reading, browse and enjoy.
The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy
This novel shifts back and forth in time, from a contemporary couple struggling with infertility who move into an old house in a small suburb of Washington, D.C., to 1859 and the Civil War years, featuring Sarah Brown, one of abolitionist John Brown’s daughters. The house connects the two stories, along with a doll and the Underground Railroad. I thought the part of the book about Sarah was a much stronger story, although she lived through some tragic times. Sarah had a fascinating life, well-researched by the author. The modern-day couple, Eden and Jack, aren’t as appealing, although their quirky neighbors and scenes of small-town life are enjoyable. Recommended for anyone who enjoys Civil War era fiction.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
I just loved this book, published in 2014, and am disappointed that there’s not a sequel yet. Fantasy, but no magic. Elves and goblins, but not like in Tolkien. Maia, 18, suddenly becomes emperor when his elvish father and half-brothers are killed in an airship accident. Raised in exile, with a cruel cousin appointed as his guardian after his mother’s death, Maia slowly finds his way through the maze of rituals, government officials, and his numerous staff in the capital, learning his duties and trying to decide who he can trust. Never alone, but often lonely, Maia is an appealing character, and the reader learns about the complex society through his eyes. There is a kidnapping, an attempted assassination, funerals for his family and the airship’s crew, visiting dignitaries, and the question of choosing his wife.
These are a few of the advance reading copies I brought back from BookExpo America in Chicago last month, and shared with my book discussion groups. A few books will be prizes in the children’s summer reading program. I met several authors, got a preview of big books for fall, and attended two programs. Some of the authors I talked with include Brandon Mull, Candice Millard, Robert Hicks, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I enjoyed a panel discussion of What’s New in Young Adult, moderated by author Veronica Roth. Five authors of teen fiction, Lauren Oliver, Alyson Noel, Kendare Blake, and Melissa de la Cruz, along with Roth, talked about the writing process, what inspires and challenges them, and how their new books are going to be a little different. Veronica Roth, who I didn’t expect to be funny, is coming out with a science fiction book next January, Carve the Mark.
After meeting more authors, it was time for Book Group Speed Dating, sponsored by ReadingGroupGuides.com. I was assigned a round table, with dozens of advance reading copies on the table. Several publishers’ reps took turns spending 5-10 minutes telling the people at my table about their new and forthcoming books that they think will be great for book discussion groups. Afterwards, we could take the books that interested us, which I later shared with the library’s book groups. I have a lengthy handout listing all of the books, and several ideas for future book discussion titles. One expected highlight of my day at McCormick Place: I got to meet Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi, who was signing posters for a forthcoming children’s book.
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
The Invisible Library has a huge collection of rare books. Irene, the daughter of two librarians, is a junior librarian assigned to retrieve a unique version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from an alternate version of London, along with her new apprentice, Kai. The London they’re visiting has magic, vampires, and steampunk elements. Unfortunately, the book has been stolen, and they need help from a handsome Londoner. Murder and mayhem ensue. The pacing is fast, there is humor and intrigue, an unexpected dragon, and possibly a romance in the sequel if Irene can get back to this London and keep the library’s big secrets. A fun fantasy adventure, with a sequel, The Masked City, being published in September. For readers of Diana Wynne Jones, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Patricia Wrede. This first novel is a June Library Reads selection.
Connected with our adult summer reading program, Exercise Your Mind, Read! we have some suggestions for what to read this summer. In the library this month, you will find a book display full of Real Life Adventure books, and a booklist to take. Several of the books on the list have been reviewed on this blog, as I enjoy reading them from time to time. What is real life adventure? Typically, these books are memoirs of an individual or group on an adventure, usually traveling somewhere exotic, where hardships are likely, such as mountain climbing, rowing across the ocean, or volunteering around the globe, or where survival is uncertain, such as a plane crash in the 1940s in New Guinea. If you’re looking for something refreshingly different, my lengthy booklist follows.
551.21 Dvo Dvorak, John. The Last Volcano: A Man, a Romance, and the Quest to Understand Nature’s Most Magnificent Fury, 2015.
551.566 Bog Bogard, Paul. The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, 2013.
597.33 Cas Casey, Susan. The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival among America’s Great White Sharks, 2005.
623.88 Gre Greenlaw, Linda. Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea, 2010.
629.45 Jon Jones, Chris. Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space, 2007.
629.45 Nel Nelson, Craig. Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, 2009.
636.7 Rya Ryan, Tom. Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship, 2011.
796.522 Sim. Simpson, Joe. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, 2004.
796.522 Vie Viesturs, Ed. No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks, 2006.
796.525 Tab Tabor, James. Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, 2010.
796.64 Ben Benson, Brian. Going Somewhere: A Bicycle Journey across America, 2014.
797.123 Bro Brown, Daniel. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, 2013.
797.123 Rac Rackley, Adam. Salt, Sweat, Tears: The Men Who Rowed the Ocean, 2014.
797.32 Dix Dixon, Chris. Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth, 2011.
910.4 Fer Fermor, Patrick Leigh. The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, 2014.
910.4 Fri Friedman, Rachel. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure, 2011.
910.4 Mal Malusa, Jim. Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents, 2008.
910.4 Mar Marquis, Sarah. Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot, 2016.
910.4 Mar Marshall, John. Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, 2015.
910.4 Pod Podell, Albert. Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth, 2015.
910.41 Goo Goodman, Matthew. Eighty Days: Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, 2013.
910.41 Wig Wigge, Michael. How to Travel the World for Free: One Man, 150 Days, Eleven Countries, No Money! 2013.
910.452 Sid Sides, Hampton. In the Kingdom of the Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, 2014.
910.45 Kur Kurson, Robert. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship, 2015.
910.9 Eva Evans, James. Tudor Adventurers: An Arctic Voyage of Discovery: The Hunt for the Northeast Passage, 2014.
916.2 Mah Mahoney, Rosemary. Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, 2007.
916.3 Sha Shah, Tahir. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, 2003.
916.48 Kin King, Dean. Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival, 2004.
916.751 Tay Tayler, Jeffery. Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness, 2000.
917.3 Web Weber, Bruce. Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, etc., and a Bike Ride Across America, 2014.
917.4 Mil Miller, David. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, 2011.
917.4 Sil Silva Cruzatt, Judith. The Voyage of Yankee Lady: Circumnavigating New England on a Sailboat, 2013.
917.4 Stu Stutzman, Paul. Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Feedom on the Appalachian Trail, 2012.
917.79 Sto Storey, Gail Donohue. I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, 2014.
917.9 Tow Townsend, Chris. Rattlesnakes and Bald Eages: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, 2014.
917.94 Alt Alt, Jeff. Four Boots, One Journey: A Story of Survival, Awareness, and Rejuvenation on the John Muir Trail, 2014.
917.94 Rob Roberts, Suzanne. Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail, 2012.
918.11 Mil Millard, Candice. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, 2005.
919.4 Hil Hill, Geoff. Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph, 2010.
919.89 Ast Aston, Felicity. Alone in Antarctica: The First Woman to Ski Solo Across the Southern Ice, 2014.
919.89 Fra Francis, Gavin. Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins, 2013.
919.89 Rob Roberts, David. Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration, 2013.
932 Rya Ryan, Donald. Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist, 2010.
940.544 Zuc Zuckoff, Mitchell. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II, 2013.
940.54497 Mur Murphy, Brian. 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness, 2015.
940.5451 Kur Kurson, Robert. Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II, 2004.
940.54725 Hil Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, 2010.
940.548 Zuc Zuckoff, Mitchell. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, 2011.
972.81 Car Carlsen, William. Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya, 2016.
973.93 Cap Caputo, Philip. The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean, 2013.
978 Buc Buck, Rinker. The Oregon Trail: A New Journey, 2015.
978.02 Sta Stark, Peter. Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: a Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, 2014.
979.82 Sch Schooler, Lynn. Walking Home: A Traveler in the Alaskan Wilderness, a Journey into the Human Heart, 2010.
985 37 Ada Adams, Mark. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, 2011.
BIO Grylls Grylls, Bear. Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography, 2012.
BIO Strayed Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, 2012.