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

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

Grace After Henry

Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall

Grace and Henry are buying a house together in Dublin when Henry is killed in an accident. Grace eventually moves into their new home, goes back to work at a café and spends time with the three wise men at Glasnevin Cemetery, widowers who tell jokes and garden. Poignant and moving, this novel also has a lot of comic relief and a strong sense of place. Grace spends time walking through Phoenix Park remembering Henry, and plays television bingo with her new neighbor Betty. When a man comes to repair her boiler, Grace is stunned to meet Henry’s double. Andy turns out to be Henry’s twin brother, adopted and raised in Australia, in Ireland looking for information on his birth mother. Andy wonders what his life would have been like growing up in Ireland, while Grace gets to tell Andy funny memories about Henry. Grace is reluctant to tell her parents or best friend Aoife about Andy, even though she shares other news. While it deals with grief, this novel is also an enjoyable page-turner, and is a good readalike for The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman.
Brenda

Eight Flavors

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman

Food historian Sarah Lohman teaches, recreates historical meals, and researches American food. She covers eight flavors that highlight the history of American cuisine, omitting the too-popular coffee and chocolate. While I would have been more enthusiastic about a chapter on chocolate than one on MSG, the chapters on each flavor are interesting reading. Foodies and American history buffs are sure to enjoy reading about black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate, sriracha and current food trends. Each chapter has a personal anecdote, most cover a historical figure, a few recipes and descriptions of her travels to restaurants, food trucks, festivals, museums, archives, plantations, farms, or factories to learn more about the flavor. Immigrants played significant roles in the introduction and widespread use of various ingredients, such as soy sauce, garlic, and sriracha sauce. This book was published in December, 2016, so I was interested to read the chapter on current food trends. The predictions that pumpkin spice and matcha or green tea flavoring would be popular are pretty accurate, although other recent trends might have surprised her, such as chocolate hummus.
Happy reading, and let me know if you try any of the recipes, such as black pepper-chocolate ganache or carrot cake with garlic.

Brenda