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.
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.
Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley
This sequel to The Rook was worth the long wait. Britons with supernatural abilities are raised by the Checquy, a secret government agency which investigates crime. The Grafters, the Checquy’s longtime Belgian enemies, are in England for talks. Pawn Felicity is assigned to protect Odette, a young Grafter surgeon, but it’s not an easy job. Plenty of suspense, adventure, and some humor. The title is unclear until the last part of the book; a nice touch. If you’re in the mood for a quirky book with fast pacing and intriguing characters, enjoy!
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
Growing up on a family apple orchard in Wisconsin, Mary Frances Lombard wants everything to stay the same. Her beloved father Jim and his cousin Sherwood will have big arguments twice a year, and their families will never get together at holidays. The scary Aunt May Hill will continue to fix the equipment and the hay will always get stacked in the barn before a storm comes. And most importantly, Mary Frances and her brother William, who loves video games and computers as well as harvesting apples, will run the orchard when they grow up. If her librarian mother makes her go to drama camp, she won’t speak to her, but will participate in the drill cart team. Mary Frances (or Frankie, Francie, Marlene, or M.F.) is quite dramatic enough without going to camp, especially when she competes with cousin Amanda in a geography bee. Readers of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries will enjoy getting to know Mary Frances. I liked getting to know the eccentric members of the Lombard family, but I wanted to read about what happens next for Mary Frances and the orchard. I listened to the audiobook, and enjoyed the different voices Erin Cottrell used for each character.
Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown
A very good choice for vacation reading; I was charmed by this first novel about starting over in Australia. A surprise 50th birthday party ends in disaster for Manhattan novelist Lisa Trumperton. She heads home to Melbourne, Australia, where her sister Maxine and her son Ted live, keeping in touch with her elusive daughter Portia through texts. On a whim, Lisa purchases an old house in the country once owned by her great-grandfather. Landscaper Scott is a big help, and three retired handymen help her gradually fix up the house. But if Lisa can’t finish her books about the Brontë sisters, she’ll have to sell the house. A somewhat dysfunctional but caring family, a local book group that discusses Lisa’s book, and a cat that befriends a cockatoo add to the appeal of the book. I enjoyed watching Lisa deal with the challenges of her new life, such as flood, fire, and an unconventional wedding, with courage and humor.
The author of The Power of Habit struggles with work-life balance and being productive, and found that being busy isn’t the same as being productive. He covers a lot of topics here, most of them illustrated by fascinating true stories: winning at poker, a look inside the writing and re-writing of the movie Frozen, how an airplane accident happened and another one was narrowly avoided, and how an automotive plant became productive and improved quality control partly by empowering their workers. Duhigg talks about motivation, different types of goals, focus, decision-making, how to have better meetings, and much more. The writing is interesting and the stories are terrific. I don’t know that reading this book will make me smarter, faster, or better, but it’s a good place to look for ideas to become more focused and productive.