Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
A beautiful book about isolation and connectedness at what may be the end of the world. Astronomer Augustine, in his seventies, is the last scientist left at an observatory on Ellesemere Island, in the Canadian high arctic. It’s midnight all the time in the Arctic winter, but that also makes for spectacular views of the Northern Lights. After a rumor of war, when the other scientists were evacuated, he finds young Iris hiding in the observatory. Augustine has always put his career first and his relationships with his colleagues and family a distant second, so it’s a big adjustment to relate to the mostly silent girl. Together, they wait for spring and sunrise to arrive, and then journey to a well-stocked camp at Lake Hazen. During the long arctic nights and later the long summer days, Augustine scans the radio bands, looking to connect with someone, anyone else. Eventually he hears the voice of Sully, an astronaut in the spaceship Aether, on the way home from a voyage to Jupiter and its moons. Sully has also put her family second in her quest for the stars, and she and her shipmates are haunted by the continued radio silence from Mission Control. Augustine has two bouts with fever, and suffers from arthritis. He worries about what will happen to Iris, but doesn’t seem that interested in the rest of the world, unlike the crew on Aether, anxious about what they will find as they approach earth, and how to live in a world gone dark and quiet. This is one of those novels likely to stay with the reader well after the book is finished, with vividly drawn settings, complex characters, and thought-provoking scenarios. Readalikes include Station Eleven by Hilary St. John Mandel, and The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, although these two books are very different from each other.
Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found by Rebecca Alexander
In this inspiring memoir, Rebecca Alexander tells her story of life lived to the fullest while simultaneously losing most of her vision and hearing. Rebecca has a vary rare form of Usher’s Syndrome, which was diagnosed when she was a college student. A recent cochlear implant seems to have given her back much of her hearing, but at 37, she has only a narrow field of vision and no idea how long it will last. Nevertheless, she travels, teaches spin classes, dates, plays with her dog, walks around New York City, and works as a psychotherapist. Sarcastic and funny, Rebecca describes her life, with all its calamities and joys, and how she seeks to find her own unique identity, ask for help when needed, be a visible face for people with often invisible disabilities, and enjoy experiences even if they scare her. Since this book was published in 2014, she has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with her sister and stepmother. A remarkable life, well-told. For more about Rebecca, visit her website.
The White Mirror by Elsa Hart
Stranded by snow at the Tibetan manor of Dhosa, former imperial librarian Li Du, storyteller Hamza, and the rest of their caravan learn the stories of Dhosa’s family, meet several other visitors, and visit a nearby temple, where Dhamo, an elderly monk, painted religious art. On the bridge leading to the manor, the caravan discovered Dhamo’s body, a possible suicide, with the image of a white mirror painted on his chest. A tax inspector, a spy, another artist, and a young monk are included in the large cast of characters. A clever puzzle, and the beautiful setting, complete with hot springs, a painted cave, and a stunning view of the Himalayas, will reward patient readers in the sequel to Jade Dragon Mountain.
Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman
Isobel is turning 16 and has to decide if she wants to work for the boss or leave the Territory, a reimagined American West full of magic. She has grown up in a saloon, where the Devil lets you gamble at the tables, but is willing to make a bargain if desired. And the Devil always keeps his word and honors his bargains. Isobel decides to stay, but instead is sent out on the road on horseback with mentor Gabriel to learn the Territory and to become the Devil’s Left Hand, a job that doesn’t come with a manual. Isobel and Gabriel encounter talking animals, a traveling magician, shamans, terrifying supernatural winds, and small towns completely empty of people. Young as she is, Isobel needs to take responsibility and find out what is going on in the Territory. A sequel, The Cold Eye, is being published in January, and I’m intrigued to find out what Isobel will encounter next.
The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
A mixture of science fiction, mystery, and romance, this fast-paced first novel is really hard to put down. Elena, chief engineer on a Central Corps starship, reluctantly goes on shore leave on the planet of Volhynia. Unexpectedly, she connects with Trey, a retired PSI captain who’s now the baker at his sister’s restaurant. The next morning, Elena’s crewmate and former boyfriend, Danny, is found dead outside that restaurant. Trey’s arrested, but Elena can provide an alibi. When that isn’t good enough for the local police chief, she asks her captain Greg Foster for help in solving Danny’s murder. His murder may be connected to a nearby wormhole and a long-lost Central Corps ship. Full of intrigue and adventure, this book is a good read-alike for Lois McMaster Bujold, Ann Leckie, and James S.A. Corey. A second book, Remnants of Trust, will be published in November.
Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders
Kate Saunders, the author of a number of books for children and adults, introduces Victorian widow Laetitia Rodd in her first mystery. After her clergyman husband’s death, Letty moves to an unfashionable part of Hampstead, London where she rents a townhouse from Mrs. Bentley. Letty’s brother Fred, a barrister, pays her to make discreet inquiries for his clients. Letty is sent to the Calderstone estate, Wishtide, as a governess to the young ladies of the house, although she’s really there to investigate the background of Helen Orme, a widow that young Charles Calderstone is determined to marry. Naturally, there is a murder or two, and hints of scandal. Letty, her brother, and Letty’s inquisitive landlady use their skills and contacts to unravel the mystery and save an innocent man from death. Appealing, well-developed characters, clever plotting, and a variety of settings, from drawing rooms to London inns, a prison, and the kitchen of Letty’s home add to the charm of this debut British cozy. I look forward to enjoying more books featuring Mrs. Rodd.
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This is a beautiful book, printed on heavy, smooth paper. Scattered through the book are photographs, maps, newspaper articles, and descriptions of objects in a collection. The rest of this historical novel set in Alaska and Vancouver, Washington is in the form of letters and journal entries, mostly by Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife Sophie. In 1885, Allen is leading an expedition up the Wolverine River into the interior of Alaska, to map and make contact with the Alaska natives. Sophie is waiting for his return in army housing, expecting their first child and learning to photograph birds and develop the pictures. A tale of adventure, hard to explain encounters in the wilderness for Allen, and a tale of waiting, hoping, and learning for Sophie. A remarkable second novel by the author of The Snow Child.