Great Reads

Holmes, Hannah. Suburban Safari

 

Science and travel writer Holmes turns her attention to her own backyard in this exploration of the ecosystems all around us everyday. She spends a year investigating every aspect of her own personal suburban ecosystem, from turning over stones to spot the ants all the way to naming and half-way taming a chipmunk. Along the way, she brings in soil scientists, entomologists, and other experts to join her in examining the life under her feet.  Her scientific musings often shade into more philosophical ones as she examines humanity’s place in the ecosystem and the many ways our presence changes—or does not change—the existence of the species living among us.  She also examines the historical and cultural history of the lawn as a feature of the modern landscape and launches some well-aimed environmental-activism volleys. In the end, readers will be left with a whole new appreciation of the great depth and richness of the life that surrounds us every day, but of which most people are barely aware.

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Pratchett, Terry and Stephen Baxter. The Long Earth

 

 

Everyone remembers where they were on Step Day—the day the plans for Stepper devices leaked onto the internet and every child who built one discovered that the Steppers allowed them to travel “sideways” to the next parallel Earth next door. The world changed forever on Step Day, as endless new frontiers opened with the flip of a switch. Joshua Valiente was only 13 on Step Day, but he took to Stepping like a fish to water, experiencing none of the disorientation and nausea that struck almost everyone else. Since then, he has traveled further than anyone else he knows of, and has even discovered that he doesn’t need the Stepper device but can Step on his own. A loner by nature, Joshua is skeptical at first when he is approached by the artificial intelligence named Lobsang who wishes Joshua to travel with him to the farthest reaches of what’s now known as the Long Earth, but in the end the lure of the unknown is too great to resist. As they two travel further and further into the parallel worlds, things become stranger and stranger, and they begin to realize that something out there is threatening the stability of the entire system and only they have the wherewithal to stop it. Meanwhile, back on the “original” Earth, the political and economic system, already destabilized by Stepping, quickly approaches a cataclysmic collapse.

Readers expecting another Discworld will not find that here. While The Long Earth shows flashes of Pratchett’s wit and inventiveness, it is a very different beast altogether, with a much more serious, sci-fi tone. One hopes that future sequels will delve further into the unusual ecosystems of the Long Earth and continue to flesh out the characters of Lobsang and Joshua.

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Dilloway, Margaret. The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

Galilee Garner—Gal for short—is a prickly person at best, and something of a loner.  A biology teacher at a private high school, she is known to students and faculty alike as a hard taskmaster, but one who prides herself on turning out more AP exam high-scorers than anyone else. She lives alone, with only one close friend—her polar opposite, the school’s sensitive and outgoing art teacher.  She’s also in the end stages of kidney failure and must keep to a strict dialysis schedule to survive.  Her one main ambition in life is to breed the next unique, stand-out breed of rose in the greenhouse out back.  Gal’s carefully structured existence is thrown into disarray when her unreliable sister’s teenage daughter Riley arrives unannounced on Gal’s front stoop. At first resistant, Gal begins to soften to her niece and the two—one damaged by years of chronic illness, the other by years of neglect and sporadic affection dished out by a drug-addicted mother—form a tentative bond.  Riley begins to find herself among her fellow students and Gal finds herself reaching out and making new friends herself, something she never expected.

While the rose-related metaphor is the tiniest bit heavy-handed, the story is a touching one as an at first thoroughly unlikeable character begins to develop into a better version of herself and a dysfunctional family comes together with a new understanding of each other’s struggles.

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If you love Downton Abbey, read this!

Can't get enough of Downton Abbey? These novels will keep you satisfied until the next episode:

 

Life Class by Pat Barker

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Losing Julia  by Jonathan Hull

The House of Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Wood, Lucy. Diving Belles and other stories

Whimsical, magical, and full of wonder, Wood’s stories beguile the reader into a version of England’s foggy Cornwall coast in which the unexpected not only can happen but usually does. Characters in these stories live side by side with creatures out of mythology, sometimes becoming those creatures themselves. In the title story, staying husbands have become mermen and their wives must brave the depths to bring them home. In Countless Stones, a young woman helps a former lover as he house-hunts while slowing and inexorably turning to stone. In another stand-out story, Of Mothers and Little People, a daughter discovers that her mother is a fully-formed human being in her own right, with secret joys that daughters seldom imagine in their parents—in this case, a faery lover.

These are truly grown-up fairy tales, with touches of magical realism and outright enchantment never obscuring the very real stories and characters underneath. There are few easy answers or pat morals in these fairy stories.

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