Great Reads

Koja, Kathe. Under the Poppy

In an unnamed 19thcentury European town teetering on the brink of war, madame Decca and brothel owner Rupert are astonished and not entirely pleased by the sudden reappearance of Istvan—Decca’s brother, Rupert’s estranged lover, and a master puppeteer.  His appearance ignites jealousies old and new, placing Rupert in danger from the attentions of a volatile politician whose advances he’s rejected. At the same time, soldiers are filling the town and the whores and performers…the line between the two is blurred at Under the Poppy…are forced to entertain the rowdy soldiers and their corrupt general in more ways than one, just to survive intact.

Despite the melodrama inherent in the set-up, the storytelling is clear beneath the baroque trappings. Koje’s technique of alternating narration among the characters is effective, revealing secrets bit by bit and uncovering hidden depths. Deliberately paced, the story is nevertheless engrossing. Suggested for fans of “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters. 

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Aaronovitch, Ben. Midnight Riot

Peter Grant is a rookie cop working the streets in London when, while guarding a crime scene, he meets a most unusual witness: a ghost. The ghost describes the crime to Grant in detail and Grant is able to determine that no one but an actual witness would know those details. While waiting out another evening for the ghost to show back up, Grant meets Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale.  Nightingale, though few outside the upper echelons know it, is a wizard working in a special branch designated to investigate crimes of a supernatural order…and he needs an apprentice. Since Grant has already demonstrated a sensitivity to the other world, he’s given the job. Now the rookie cop is also a rookie wizard, bringing his modern scientific outlook into the work. A murderer is stalking the city, killing seemingly at random—but soon, Nightingale and Grant are able to discern the pattern. Meanwhile, Grant has to learn magic, mediate a feud between the warring genius loci of the rivers of London, and try not to make too much of a fool of himself in front of the various women in his life.

Fast-paced, clever, and original, “Midnight Riot” is a promising series start. Sure to be a hit with fans of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series! 

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Teen/Adult Summer Reading Week Five: Run!!!

Still on our zombie theme, of course, we imagine that many of us, when faced with a zombie, might just turn and run.  Of course all you brave zombie hunters will have alternative plans.  Your challenge is to consider your zombie plan while reading one of these or other books with the word "Run" in the title (just in case). 

And don't look back!!!

 

Bloom, Elizabeth. See Isabelle Run (MYS)

Clark, Mary Jane. Nowhere to Run (F)

Frost, Scott. Run the Risk (F)

Garber, Joseph. Vertical Run (F)

Lupica, Mike. Bump and Run (F)

Patterson, James. Run for Your Life (MYS)

Pearson, Ridley. Cut and Run (MYS)

Spindler, Erica. Dead Run (MYS)

 

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Mieville, China. Embassytown

In a future so distant that Earth itself is barely remembered, the universe has been colonized by humans, or Terre.  They have encountered multiple strange alien species, and made peace with most of them. Perhaps no species they have found, however, have been as strange as the Ariekei. The Ariekei, called the “Hosts” by those humans who live on their world in an enclave called Embassytown, have two mouths. Their language, called Language with the capital L, is contingent upon the use of both mouths, and therefore both portions of their minds, at once. They are literally unable to comprehend any language spoken by only one mouth and one mind. The Ambassadors of Embassytown are specially-bred identical clones, called doppels, who are trained from birth to be so empathically linked that they are able to speak Language with the Hosts and be understood as two minds speaking one thought together.

Avice Benner Cho, a young woman raised in Embassytown who became an immerser, or space traveler, never thought she’d return to her childhood home.  But when her husband, a linguist, becomes obsessed with the Ariekei and Language, she finds herself back in Embassytown, traveling in the Ambassadors’ social circles.  But trouble is brewing. One faction of the Ariekei have become obsessed with learning to lie—Language is incapable of encompassing anything other than strict, literal truth. Even abstracts like similes must be performed by actors so that the Ariekei can refer to them. But learning to lie would change the Ariekei and their culture, and not everyone is happy with that idea.  In addition, Bremen, the home nation of the colony Embassytown, has its own plan for wresting political influence away from the doppel Ambassadors.  When the plans of the liar Ariekei and Bremen’s agents collide, only Avice and a small contingent of rebellious Ambassadors and Ariekei can save the colony—and the Ariekei species—from total destruction.

A very slow-starting book, the plot neverthless picks up pace dramatically in the second half.  This title will reward those willing to invest the time to immerse fully in the detailed universe Mieville has created. 

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Umrigar, Thrity. The Weight of Heaven

Each of us copes with loss in a different way. For Frank and Ellie Benton the sorrow is huge, occasioned by the death of their young son, Benny. As their marriage falters in the wake of the tragedy, Frank accepts a job offer in India, hoping that the change of scene will heal them. Once there the two face new challenges as Frank’s company deals with labor unrest, and Frank forms a strong but problematic attachment to Ramesh, his cook’s young son.

Soon Frank and Ellie have become surrogate parents to the boy, offering him everything from help with homework to weekend trips his parents could never afford. While Ellie is uneasy about Frank’s fierce attachment to the boy, she is also reluctant to deprive him of the joy the relationship brings. As Umrigar says, a happy family is but an “earlier heaven.”

As Frank seeks to recreate his earlier fatherhood through Ramesh, the villagers cope with losses of their own. Frank’s company, Herbal Solutions, has blocked their access to the medicinal trees many use to earn their living. And, through her work at a local clinic, Ellie becomes increasingly aware of the hardships these families face.

Umrigar deftly sketches in the characters’ past—their courtship and the tragedy that defines them as a couple—while exploring the personal and political ethics of their current situation. Umrigar’s characters are carefully developed, and they face fascinating moral dilemmas. The paths they take as they negotiate these obstacles keep the plot twisting and turning right up until the final, dark resolution. 

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