The Pulitzer Prize winning author of All The Light We Cannot See has written another masterpiece. Set in an astonishing variety of settings and time periods, with a story within the larger story to keep the reader enchanted. In a modern day public library in Idaho, Zeno, a Korean War veteran, is helping several children produce a play he translated from the Greek. Young seamstress Anna and Omeir and his oxen are caught up in a siege of Constantinople in 1453. In the future, teenager Konstance is living on a spaceship bound for planet Beta Oph2. Doerr excels at storytelling, plot, and characters, although this is not a happy, upbeat story. Somehow, the storylines converge with the theme of the importance of story to inspire, cheer, and remember. Readalike authors include Elsa Hart, David Mitchell, Natasha Pulley, and Neal Stephenson.
Grace Porter celebrates earning her Ph.D. in astronomy with a short vacation in Las Vegas with friends Agnes and Ximena. She wakes up the last morning with a hangover, a wedding ring, and a picture of Yuki Yamamoto, who hosts a late night radio show in New York City. Back in Portland, Grace tries to live up to the expectations of her father, Colonel Porter. Biracial and queer, Grace is struggling to land an astronomy job, which she somehow thought would be easy. Grace is used to working hard and living up to her father’s expectations. Her response is to flee, visiting Yuki and her roommates in NYC, then her mother at the family orange grove in Florida. Essentially ghosting her friends for long stretches, they are still there when she needs them. I would have liked more about Grace’s astronomy studies; with perhaps a cool field trip to an observatory in Hawaii or Chile. But Grace’s story is much more about an identity crisis, her relationships with her friends, Yuki, and her parents, and learning to accept her own imperfections and uncertainties. Grace and Yuki are memorable characters, and this is an appealing and compelling read.
This is an enjoyable coming of age story set in an alternate American future, in which George Washington was crowned king. In this sequel to American Royals, Beatrice is now America’s first queen, and is feeling burdened with her new responsibilities, especially the expectation that she will marry a nobleman. Her fun-loving sister Samantha is now the heir, and has her own romantic problems, as does her friend Nina, along with Nina’s rival, Daphne. There is more pomp and circumstance than glitz and glamor in this second book. The main characters are appealing and I didn’t predict the ending. While the author could write another American Royals book, none is currently planned. Perfect for royal watchers looking for an entertaining read.
A road trip with nine other Los Angeles area families to visit East Coast colleges could be a perfect chance for mother-daughter bonding for Jessica and Emily. Busy lawyer Jessica spends so much time taking calls and texts for work that she misses a whole day of the tour. 16-year-old Emily is worried about a scandal at her private high school, and has no clue where she’d like to attend college or what she wants to study. A couple of joint sessions with a college counselor might have made the whole trip unnecessary, but then the reader would miss out on a very funny and heartwarming mother-daughter relationship. Emily is the most interesting character, but visits with her mother’s college friends reveal more of Jessica’s personality. There’s also cute, geeky Will and his attractive father to make their free time in Philadelphia, New York City, and Rhinebeck, New York even more appealing. This witty novel is sure to appeal to readers of Waxman’s novels The Garden of Small Beginnings and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.
Readers of Turner’s historical novels These Is My Words and Sarah’s Quilt will be eager to read about Sarah’s niece, Mary Pearl Prine. Mary is 17 in 1907 and lives on her family’s pecan farm in Arizona Territory. She loves to read and draw, and is invited to study art at Wheaton College in Illinois. May’s mother would rather see her get married, and Mary does have a likely suitor. Family life on the frontier contrasts strongly with life at Wheaton College, where society girls care more about parties and dresses than studying. Mary, with her horse and pistol, doesn’t exactly fit in. She discovers a talent for photography, and a photograph of lightning becomes especially valuable to her family. A personal crisis sends Mary home straight into a ranger war, with her younger brothers in grave danger. Full of drama and adventure, Mary’s coming-of-age story is a memorable, compelling read.
This is a compelling memoir of a young black woman learning to advocate for her needs as she grows up. Haben is the daughter of Eritrean immigrants, where her grandmother still lives. She was born deafblind, with some vision and hearing, but both are getting worse. She frequently felt left out in group settings, and learning to connect well with others is a challenge she took on. With occasional humor, Haben’s triumphs and setbacks include sliding down an Alaskan glacier, struggling to train with seeing-eye dog Maxine, learning to dance, and finding out what food was being served in her college cafeteria. Her parents’ protectiveness, while understandable, occasionally felt stifling, especially when she wanted to travel with a student group. At Harvard Haben uses a text-to-braille system and becomes an accomplished public speaker and advocate for disability rights. Clearly and elegantly written, this refreshing and uplifting memoir is highly recommended.
Most people in this future utopian society are content, but are their lives still meaningful? Death and old age are now reversible conditions, except for those gleaned by an order of scythes. Feared and celebrated, scythes can grant a year of immunity. Teens Citra and Rowan are selected to be apprentices to Scythe Faraday, but only one will be chosen to be a scythe. This is a unique, astounding blend of philosophy and high-octane adventure. First in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, this book is deservedly popular with teens and adults. The sequels are Thunderhead and The Toll.
Ileth, 14, camps out on the doorstep of the Serpentine, persisting in her request to be a novice. Ileth is stubborn, resourceful, loyal, often in trouble, and content with very little. Orphaned Ileth, who stutters, met a dragon and his rider when she was 7 and dreamed of a different life. Finally, Ileth takes the novice oath and gets the worst job, cleaning fish for the dragons. Later she learns to dance for the dragons, and gets some unexpected flight time. In her world, there seems to be no magic other than the flying dragons, who can be noble, greedy, or grouchy, and are not always loyal. She reminds me of Keladry in First Test, by Tamora Pierce, who wants to be only the second lady knight in Tortall, or Keevan in “The Smallest Dragonboy” in A Gift of Dragons by Anne McCaffrey, who can only dream of being a dragonrider. I was fascinated to learn that the author studied ballet in doing research for this book, and why he chose to give Ileth a stutter. I look forward to finding out what’s next for Ileth in the hoped for sequel in the Dragoneer Academy series, which is off to a memorable start in this compelling read.
The author of Ordinary Grace sets this adventure novel with echoes of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey in 1932 Minnesota and Missouri. Four kids head south in a canoe, fleeing loss and harsh treatment at the Lincoln Indian Training School. Odie and his older brother Albert are orphans heading to a barely remembered aunt in St. Louis, while young Emmy clings to Sioux teen Mose after she’s lost everything in a tornado. Mose is mute, and the group share an often secret sign language. They meet a healer with a revival tent show, a madam, traveling families and vagabonds, and find temporary haven in a soup kitchen and friendship in a Hoover town. Odie is a storyteller, Albert can fix most mechanical equipment, Mose goes on a vision quest, and young Emmy reminds an eccentric farmer of his missing daughter. Poignant and lyrically written, this story of an unlikely family on an epic journey has moments of conflict balanced with simple joys, unpredictable adventures, and the possibility of danger around every river bend. This remarkable character-driven novel is a compelling read.
What does it mean to start over at age twelve, having lost everything important, but suddenly famous? Eddie Adler is flying from New York City to Los Angeles with his older brother Jordan and his parents. His mother is in first class, working on a television script. Their flight is doomed, and Eddie will be the only survivor. The stories of several passengers and a flight attendant alternate with Eddie’s recovery. Eddie, now Edward, struggles with the burden of being the sole survivor. He lives with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey and is befriended by next-door neighbor Shay. What finally gives Edward a purpose is a cache of letters Shay and Edward find hidden in the garage, written to him by the families and friends of the other passengers. Although it’s hard to put down, this is not a thriller but rather a moving and melancholy coming-of-age story written with compassion, insight, and a glimmer of hope.