Archive for February, 2020

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

February 25, 2020


This collection of sci-fi short stories was just breathtaking. From the beginning of the universe to today’s rise of Artificial Intelligence, the short and not-so-short stories explore daily but complex concepts we are all confronted to.

What is free will? Does it really exist? Will AI eventually overtake and manipulate us the way we have each others for so long? Through a cast of thoughtful and empathetic characters, you will find these existential and philosophical questions dealt with with positivity, compassion and beauty.

The audible version kept me totally captivated through the different voices in the book.

Check it out on Libby:

Exhalation - ebook

Woven in Moonlight, by Isabel Ibañez

February 21, 2020


Social upheaval, political unrest, colonialism, revenge and subterfuge, and ultimately, redemption, all set in the fantastical world of Inkasisa (loosely based on Bolivia and its history). Our hero, Ximena, is the Condesa’s decoy, and her one job is to protect the true Condesa of the Illustrians at any cost. When Atoc, the king of the Llacsans, comes with a “peace” offering in the form of a marriage proposal to the Condesa, it must be Ximena who crosses enemy lines to fulfill this duty. It doesn’t hurt that she’ll be able to search for the enchanted stone that can help them finally win the war, retake their city, and reach peace at last.

But, the longer Ximena stays with the Llacsans, the more she is challenged to question stereotypes. The violence and abuse of the king is easy to hate, but the kindness she receives from her guards and helpers confuses her. Not wanting to be disloyal to the true Condesa, but wanting to remain true to her budding beliefs, Ximena finds herself confronted with impossible choices.

I loved how the magic felt so organic to the story–Ximena’s talent is weaving, but it is made more beautiful (and powerful, and useful!) by her magic. And her weaving is so central to the story, that the way it changes and grows feels earned and satisfying. The relationships felt strong and the frequent conflicts were familiar, though heightened. The descriptions of the foods were absolutely mouthwatering!

Highly, highly recommend this awesome YA for fans of fantasy, strong female heroes, and action/adventure.

Check it out through ILL!

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The Institute, by Stephen King

February 20, 2020

[Lesley] I’m a Stephen King fan from way back. Lost sleep over ‘Salems Lot and have never forgotten the car and the music in Christine. The Dark Tower series remains one of the best dystopian epics I’ve ever read. Still, there have been lots of books in between that I just didn’t really like. Either they felt re-heated or gratuitously gory or just too weird even for me. The Institute brought me right back into the King fold.

The Stephen King books that I have liked most have at the heart of their creepiness a true darkness that is more frightening than any monster or supernatural phenomenon. I won’t say that it is human darkness (but it is human darkness).

The Institute is speculative/science fiction that could be happening right now, somewhere in this country. Kids being used for their “special” abilities, kids being experimented on to enhance those abilities, secret agencies operating beneath the radar of everyday life. Stranger Things (the series) starts with this idea as do many other stories.

We begin with the kidnapping of Luke Ellis and the murder of his parents. He wakes up at “The Institute,” a mysterious and sinister place where kids have access to 24/7 meals, and cigarettes but they need “tokens” to buy junk food or alcohol. The other kids tell Luke about how to get tokens (don’t put up a fight), what experiments to expect, and which of the staff are the most dangerous. If only these things were kids exaggerating to frighten the new one but, of course, it is even worse than he could have believed.

Why is this happening? Where do the kids go when they disappear from the Front Half? The kids can’t give much thought to these questions in between extreme and violent tests, drugs, and emotional abuse. No one has ever escaped from The Institute but Luke isn’t just anyone. Mrs. Sigsby and the staff are only looking for powers they can use; they don’t see Luke’s exceptional intelligence or his strength. There is much hidden behind The Institute’s mission and their reach is wide.

Suspense! Evil! Danger! And reality ever worse than whatever we could imagine. Gotta love Stephen King.

The Institute - ebook

The Institute can be found on Libby/Overdrive.

Click here for books by Stephen King in the library’s collections.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

February 19, 2020


This is Alex Michaelides first novel and hopefully will not be his last. It’s a murder mystery, told from the point of view of a psychotherapist who switches jobs so he can try to help Alicia, the Silent Patient of the title. Alicia is accused of shooting her husband in the face 6 years ago and hasn’t spoken since. I thought I had this story figured out many times…and in the end it offered a surprise ending that is clever and believable.

The Silent Patient can be found on Libby/Overdrive.

The Silent Patient - ebook

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

February 17, 2020


While the format of interconnected short stories can be challenging for me, there are some that I’ve loved, such as Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and There, There by Tommy Orange. To me, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, is one of the best examples of this format.

The book focuses on the lives of 12 black women in England, all of different ages, economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, careers, interests.  The stories pass from one character to another almost like a game of tag, where suddenly a peripheral background character from one person’s story becomes “it”, and is brought to life with their own complicated, rich history. The book is a study in empathy, and the assumptions we make about people that are almost always wrong. A beautifully written book, that definitely deserved its 2019 Booker Prize win.

Read now on Hoopla!

The Grammarians by Catherine Schine & Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

February 6, 2020


Reading these two books back to back was so interesting. They both pack interesting and important social commentary into very readable, enjoyable books.

The Grammarians focuses on the deep, fraught relationship between identical twins Laurel and Daphne, who are obsessed with language, which both unites and separates them from each other and those around them. The twins are interesting and flawed characters who can be hard to empathize with. While their love of language, especially as young children, is endearing and unusual, it is also a way in which their social biases are revealed. Daphne, who writes a column about language, has a rigid, elitist take on “proper” language, as well as a condescending view of Laurel’s teaching job and her desire to stay at home with her daughter. Laurel, insecure in her desire to be a stay at home mother, ends up arguing that it is because she doesn’t want her daughter learning to speak with an accent from a nanny. This social commentary is interwoven into the larger struggle of identity for Daphne and Laurel, as women in the New York writing scene in the 1970s and 80s, as educated white women from a privileged background, as mothers and daughters, and ultimately, as twins. The twins’ parents and spouses, perhaps the most sympathetic characters, love them, but are shut out of understanding the experience of being a twin. Ultimately the struggle of identity in the context of being a twin was the most compelling part of the book for me (full disclosure, my Dad is an identical twin so it’s always been something I’ve thought about).

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is similar in that it works both as a fast-paced, engaging read, and a deeper reflection on identity, and gender, class and racial bias. The main character, Emira, is by far the most interesting and sympathetic character in the book. She is a 25 year old African American woman trying to make ends meet as a babysitter with a part time transcription job, worrying about turning 26 when she will be kicked off her parents’ health insurance. Her friends seem to be passing her by economically and professionally, and she hasn’t quite figured out what she wants to do with her life. Alix, the white 30-something writer Emira works for, is a complicated character. While on the surface we seem to have reasons to sympathize with Alix, given her lonely and complicated upbringing, a humiliating breakup, and indifferent parents, the adult version of herself that she constructs, and the stories she tells herself about her life, reveal some very troubling motivations. She is painfully self-absorbed, quite manipulative, and her obsession with needing Emira to like her and be her friend has little to do with Emira herself. Additionally Kelly, Emira’s white boyfriend, who seems on the surface to be a good guy, has a condescending view of Emira’s work in child-care, a lack of self-awareness about his own class privilege, and there is some question about his motivation for dating Emira. A videotaped incident of Emira getting questioned by a security guard at an upscale supermarket while babysitting Briar is the catalyst for much of the plot of the book, particularly Alix and Kelly’s storylines, although, revealingly, neither of them seem to be focused on how Emira was affected, or how she wants it to be handled. While the drama of Alix and her life, as well as her backstory with Kelly, swirl around the book, often dominating the plot, the heart of the story is Emira, and the book always comes back to her, and to maybe the most important relationship in the book –the one between Emira and Briar, the funny 3 year old Emira adores.

These were two books definitely worth reading.

Such a Fun Age and The Grammarians be found on Libby/Overdrive.