Space Opera by Catherynne Valente
This amusing, engaging science fiction novel was inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest, David Bowie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the author’s Maine Coon cat. Set in the near future, first contact with Earth is made by the appearance of an alien who resembles a flamingo and a fish, and can speak with your grandmother’s voice. The sentience of Earth’s inhabitants is in doubt, and Earth must participate in the upcoming Megagalactic Grand Prix and finish anywhere but last to survive. As Yoko Ono is no longer available, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, a former British glamrock trio, is selected. The two remaining musicians aren’t on speaking terms and have no ideas for a new song. Danesh Jalo (Decibel Jones) parties with the aliens en route to the contest, while Omar Caliskan (Oort St. Ultraviolet) misses his kids and chats with Oö, who resembles a red panda. Fans of Douglas Adams or Connie Willis may enjoy this whimsical, bittersweet, and ultimately hopeful musical extravaganza.
Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist
Artist Zoe makes a long overdue visit to her friend Camille in France, and impulsively decides to hike the Camino de Santiago from central France to the Spanish border. Her budget is small and she is hiking because of a recent death in her family. Martin, a British engineer working in France, decides to test his design for a one-wheeled cart by hiking with it from Cluny to Santiago. Better equipped and organized, Martin often stays in inns and enjoys gourmet meals while Zoe’s budget barely covers hostel dormitories. However, the trail keeps bringing the unlikely pair together, especially when they are both dealing with upsetting news from home. The scenery is dramatic, the other hikers a quirky bunch, and the dialogue is witty and funny. I enjoyed this charming romantic comedy inspired by a three-month hike of the Camino in 2011 by Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion and his wife, writer Anne Buist. Film rights have been sold.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Alexa and Drew meet cute in this contemporary romance, in a stalled hotel elevator in San Francisco. Alexa is on her way to celebrate with a friend and has snacks and wine in her purse. Drew is in San Francisco for the wedding of an ex-girlfriend, and impulsively asks Alexa to be his date and pretend girlfriend. The two hit it off even though Alexa is uncomfortable to be the only black woman at the wedding. They have a fling, and are both surprised when Drew invites Alexa to visit him in Los Angeles, where he’s a pediatric surgeon. Alexa, chief of staff to Berkley’s mayor, is a bit of a workaholic, but enjoys their fling. She’s a little insecure that she’s short and curvy but he clearly finds her attractive, and they enjoy eating doughnuts and burgers together. Drew never introduces her as her girlfriend, and she is reluctant to share why a proposed arts program for delinquent teens is so important to her. The pair spend a lot of time in bed together, but basically close the bedroom door on the reader in this sensual but not at all descriptive romance. An enjoyable debut, sure to be popular.
On Turpentine Lane by Eleanor Lipman
Faith Frankel’s life is rather chaotic. Her boyfriend Stuart proposed with a ring made of red thread and set off to walk cross-country, posting frequent selfies in bars and with former girlfriends. Her father has left her mother and is painting faux Chagalls for bar mitzvahs. Faith is in some trouble at the private school where she works, supported only by coworker Nick Franconi. And the small house she’s impulsively purchased at a bargain price may have more history then she can handle, with one or more suspicious deaths. I enjoyed this frank and funny look at work, love, and family relationships, with great dialogue, appealing characters, and some very funny scenes. Enjoy!
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, this first novel is set during the British heat wave of 1976. One Monday, Mrs. Margaret Creasy goes missing, and Grace Bennett, her 10-year-old neighbor, decides to investigate, along with her friend Tilly. They visit all the neighbors on their street, even Walter Bishop in #11, who has been shunned after being suspected of stealing a baby. Flashbacks to 1967 reveal some of the villagers’ secrets, but don’t solve the mystery. A possible image of Jesus captures the neighborhood’s attention at the peak of the heat wave, and almost everyone, even the new Indian family from Birmingham, gathers in the shade to visit and play canasta. I thought the plot quite clever, with some twists, and I enjoyed the occasional humorous scenes, the refreshingly ordinary girls, and the 1976 English village setting.
Provenance by Ann Leckie
Provenance is about identity, history, value, and connections. While not as stunning as the award-winning Ancillary Justice and its sequels, this is a thoroughly absorbing, enjoyable return to that universe. The people on Hwae highly value vestiges, rare artifacts and collectible documents. Some of them may be forgeries, and others may be stolen. Family is key, with some politicians adopting children to vie for the chance to claim their parent’s position and name. Gender is key here, with e and eir often substituted for he/she and their. Ingray Aughskold has taken a big chance to secure her future by borrowing against her inheritance to rescue Pahlad Budrakim, a thief, from “Compassionate Removal”. The person she finds claims to be Garal Ket, not Pahlad. Ship captain Tic Uisine provides food and some clothing, but is temporarily stuck in port when the alien Geck claim his ship is stolen. Back on Ingray’s planet Hwae, her scheming brother Danach can’t believe Ingray’s been so daring. Soon a visiting diplomat is killed with Ingray, Garal Ket, Danach, and another diplomat present, along with an AI mech. Ingray gets caught up in one crisis after another, most notably when there’s a hostage crisis involving her parent and some children who were visiting the Lareum, a museum containing rare vestiges. Ingray is smarter, braver, and more creative than she realizes, although the reader catches on pretty quickly. Ingray’s friend Taucris, who doesn’t declare her gender and claim her family name until she’s an adult, certainly appreciates Ingray. Identity is also key, with Garal Ket/Pahlad, Gecks and human Gecks, AI mechs with false identities, and orphans having not quite the same status as foster children. Highly recommended for science fiction readers looking for an compelling, fast-paced novel, especially fans of C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
This is an appealing and quirky contemporary novel, set in the San Francisco Bay area, among tech companies and farmers markets. Lois Clary, a recent college graduate from Michigan, is working long hours for a robotics company. Many of her new coworkers don’t eat any more, they just drink nutritional Slurry. Lois starts getting spicy soup and sourdough bread delivered by Mazg baker Beoreg. When Beoreg and his brother leave town they give Lois a crock of sourdough starter and some melancholy Mazg music. Intrigued, she builds an oven in the yard, and bakes unusual but delicious bread. Lois auditions for a spot in a Bay Area farmers market, and is sent to the underground startup the Marrow Fair, where she is challenged to use a robotic arm from her company to help make the bread. The market is predictably weird, but also charming, from a collector of vintage menus to keepers of crickets and goats. The sourdough starter becomes dangerously unstable, and Lois needs advice from the local Lois club and from Beoreg, who shares the folklore of the Mazg people by email. Another Library Reads selection, this is the second novel by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Readalikes include The Rook by Daniel O’Malley and Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink.