Summertime and the reading is easy! Hopefully, you’ve managed to get in some beach or hammock reading.
This month, the GeekMoms have read Sherlock Holmes mysteries, anthologies featuring the wonder of discovery, young adult fiction, the latest from Barbara Kingsolver, a little classic Heinlein and a book about—of all things—fonts.
Fran is reading Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code. She’s loving the stories behind the decryption of the ancient Linear B texts, as well as the lives of individuals like Alice Kober, who helped break the code.
She recently finished Yoon Ha Lee’s amazingly beautiful collection of science fiction short stories, Conservation of Shadows. Drawing on mythology, mathematics, computer science, Korean history, space warfare, and themes of revenge and moral dilemma, the stories in the collection are carefully folded so as to seem tiny at first—and imbued with enormous ramifications later. Fran has just started Bee Ridgeway’s time travel adventure romance, The River of No Return.
Lisa Kay Tate recently picked up The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams as part of her summer reading escape. This 2009 compilation of 28 stories featuring the most celebrated sleuth in literature—as well as in movies and television—takes Holmes and his ever-present companion Dr. Watson on adventures with a macabre or supernatural edge.
Like recent collections featuring Holmes, the book is a literary who’s who of suspense, horror, fiction, and fantasy authors. In addition to Adams’s being called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes and Noble booksellers, these improbable adventures feature some impressive contributors: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Anne Perry, and Anthony Burgess, to name a few.
Lisa finds such compilations some of the best choices for casual reading, as these tales can be read in any order or one at a time between other reading list books. She has found this particular fast-paced and intelligently written volume hard to put down, if the first few stories are any indication of what lies ahead. However, whether or not the remainder of these tales, like the classic stories of the sleuth they celebrate, live up to the book’s strong start remains a mystery until the last tale is devoured by the reader.
Laura is escaping into fiction lately. She couldn’t put down Barbara Kingsolver’s newest book, Flight Behavior. In it, characters named for an Italian sculptor and an ancient Roman poet connect in a backwards town over the fate of migrating butterflies. The details in the science and the characters are exacting. This is a good book to read outside.
Laura is also marveling over Jewelweed by David Rhodes. It’s told from many viewpoints—a precocious child, a wary young mother, an ex-con, a long-distance trucker, and many more. Each character reveals him or herself in quietly brilliant observations about everything from philosophy to sex.
Sophie has just finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s the story of Auggie, a boy born with an awful facial disfigurement just starting middle school after having been homeschooled his entire life. The book follows his first year at middle school from different perspectives: Auggie himself, his older sister, and other children at the school, showing the different ways in which they see Auggie and the world. It’s a book she never would have picked up herself, she is glad joining a book club has pushed her to explore different genres.
Karen Burnham is currently reading One Small Step, an all-Australian woman anthology on the theme of discovery. Edited by the most excellent Tehani Wessely, this book contains multitudes. It may look like an anthology of wall-to-wall space exploration, but these stories are as much about personal discovery as outward exploration (although there’s plenty of that as well).
Karen loves the opening story, Grass by Michelle Marquardt, featuring a young girl who is part of a colony trying to carve out a living on an interestingly hostile planet. There are aliens and alienated family. It is immediately followed up by the deeply creepy fantasy, Of Blood and Incantation by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, which provides different views on motherhood through three main characters. Definitely worth checking out.
Karen also recently read a debut novel by Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. Samatar has previously published accomplished poetry, and her poetic prose shines through in this fantasy story. The story is told by a young man as he leaves his native island to head for the big city, Olondria, and the adventures he finds there. Obviously that’s a much, much too simple synopsis, but to fully summarize it would take almost as long as the book itself. There are ghosts, festivals, battles, cults, and politics. Recommended for fantasy fans who love beautiful language and an immersive reading experience.
Rebecca Angel is reading Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. While visiting a friend last weekend, she pulled out the book and was asked, “Why are you reading a book about fonts?” She answered, “Because I find them beautiful and interesting.” And then there was a twenty minute discussion about comic sans, which another person in the room was using as the font on her college bio exams and which Rebecca did not think was an appropriate use. Lots of opinions. You care more than you know; check out the book!
Kate Hannigan just finished The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer as her own daughter headed off to a summer arts camp. Wolitzer asks big questions in this story about six friends who get to know each other at a summer performing arts camp. Nixon is in the White House, and these precocious teenage observers are blooming with talent and potential. Wolitzer takes readers through the decades of their lives, as some sustain the promise they showed at 15 and others lose the spark of creativity that made them so interesting. And while Wolitzer explores envy, creativity, and authenticity, she’s at her finest when she writes about the very human moments of living. Kate especially loved the way her main character, Jules, writhes with jealousy when she has to read the annual Christmas cards from her best friends and witness more of their successes. It’s a story that lingers, forcing a consideration of what defines a successful life.
Though it came highly recommended, Kris was a bit skeptical about Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue—could a story about a woman held captive for years with her young son be anything but depressing? Turns out, yes.
The author captures the perspective of five-year-old Jack beautifully and adeptly expresses the intense attachment between Ma and Jack. I was particularly impressed with Ma’s creativity in entertaining young Jack while in captivity. Kris also sped through Ashfall and Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin, the first two books in a planned trilogy for young adults. Set during the months following an eruption of a supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park, the apocalyptic novels feature a cast of characters struggling to survive in an ash-choked, snowy landscape. As food dwindles, the daily battle between life and death breeds government corruption, gang wars, and even love.
If you are delighted by robots, forest elves, trickster gods, and delicious family secrets, all set in a spooky english boarding school setting, Melody thinks you will love Gunnerkrigg Court. This mysterious and charming ongoing story by Tom Siddell is a young adult, female-driven tale available as either a webcomic or bound in graphic novel form. There are currently four of the graphic novel volumes, each featuring colorful art and self-contained but connected chapters.
The story follows each year the students and friends, Annie and Kat, attending Gunnerkrigg Court. Melody was given a copy of volume one in 2009, and has been in love with this so-called “Harry Potter for girls” world ever since. Right now, she is reading the second graphic novel collection, Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 2: Research. She is about halfway through and already there have been ghost attacks, secret tombs, and a mystery that ties the court to Annie’s past. Melody even purchased several copies of these graphic novels and gave them to friends who have teenage daughters; all reported back on how much they loved it and devoured everything online and otherwise from this world.
Ariane has finally gotten around to reading a Robert A. Heinlein novel! She briefly started reading the paperback The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress a while ago and loved the intro, but she ultimately couldn’t go on due to her capricious preference for ebooks. “Real” books just don’t have the convenience and transportability of their digital counterparts, you know? She waited and waited for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress to come out digitally, but decided she might as well try a different Heinlein novel already available in the Kindle store in the meantime. She somewhat randomly picked Have Space Suit, Will Travel, which turned out to be a surprisingly fun and easy read.
Considering its status as a popular science fiction classic, she was expecting something a little harder to swallow. The story follows the smart and space-obsessed teenager Kip Russell as he dedicates all of his talent and energy trying to score a trip to the colonized station on the moon. He gets more space than he ever could have wished for when he finds himself kidnapped by aliens and forms an unlikely partnership for survival with a young but witty girl. You can officially color Ariane a Heinlein fan; she has since moved on to reading another Heinlein classic, Stranger in a Strange Land. The latter is proving to be quite a bit more challenging and philosophical.
Jackie just finished The Unwanteds, the first book in Lisa McCann’s middle grade series about a future society that tries to kill off all of its creatives. Thirteen-year-old twins, Aaron and Alex Stowe, are separated when Aaron is chosen to attend the land of Quill’s elite military university and Alex is sentenced to the “death farm.” But Alex finds an entirely new future for himself. Great start to a series.
Jackie just started the audio book for Laurie R. King’s Justice Hall, the sixth book in the Mary Russell series. She is obsessed with the Mary Russell novels of life with Sherlock Holmes, which are so beautifully detailed and sharp they feel like the perfect cup of tea on a crisp English day.
Disclaimer: Some books included in this list may have been provided by the publisher for review purposes.