Audio book: One Last Stop

by Case McQuiston
Read by Natalie Naudus
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including many, many f-bombs. Plus some on-screen sex. It’s in the Romance section of the bookstore.

August can’t settle down. Literally: she’s 23 years old, and she can’t seem to finish college, or find a place where she belongs. She’s transferred to New York City in yet another attempt to get out from underneath her overbearing mother and to find a place where she fits.

Enter a few quirky roommates and August begins to feel at home. And then she meets Jane Soo on the subway: Its love at first sight (kind of), except there’s a hitch: Jane can’t leave the Q Train. And August, who has been trained by her mother to be obsessive about finding people and fixing things, can’t seem to let it go.

It’s not a brilliant novel, but it’s sure a fun one! I liked how McQuiston played with time in this one, and how Jane’s and August’s relationship wasn’t a perfect one. That said, it was a combination of the narrator – she was fabulous – and the secondary characters that kept me listening to this one. I adored all the characters McQuison populated the world with; they were funny, sweet, lovable, and interesting.

It wasn’t my favorite of all time, but it was a good solid romance and it was fun. Perhaps that’s all I can ask for.

News of the World

by Paulette Jiles
First sentence: “Captain Kidd laid out the Boston Morning Journal on the lectern and began to read from the article on the Fifteenth Amendment.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some violence. It’s in the adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Captain Kidd is a veteran of several wars, but, now at 71, he just wanders over north Texas performing readings of newspaper articles from around the world for a dime admission. It’s not a great life, but since his wife died, it’s a decent one. Then at at stop in Wichita Falls, he is paid $50 in gold to deliver a girl — Johanna — who was kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe when she was six. Now, four years later, she is being returned to the family she has left down near San Antonio. He agrees to take her, even though the journey will be dangerous, and they set out. The rest of the story is really just about Kidd and his developing bond with Johanna, through their good times and trials.

I didn’t dislike this one — even though I have an issue with authors who don’t use quotation marks for dialogue — but I din’t love it either. In retrospect, this one may have been better for me on audio, because I wouldn’t’ have been distracted by the form. I did like Kidd’s relationship with Johanna, though there was a part of me that felt like the book had a bit of a white savior complex: sure Johanna was kidnapped (which was wrong) but she had acclimated to her new life with the Kiowa. Why does she need to assimilate with the white people? Was the bits of her life with the Kiowa accurate (probably not)? Why is it important that men rescue a white girl from the “vicious natives”? It just felt a bit off to me, especially since the book was written by a white woman.

So, yeah. It’s not a terrible book, but it’s not a great one either.

Parable of the Talents

by Octavia Butler
First sentence: “They’ll make a god of her.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Parable of the Sower
Content: It’s rough, violence-wise and emotionally. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

This book picks up five years after Parable of the Sower: Acorn is a settled community, not large but flourishing and prosperous. Earthseed is growing as a movement and Oamina and Bankole are expecting a baby. But, in the wider world, the United States has elected a Christian American minister and facist as a president — someone who believes that all vagrants, homeless, and heathens should be “reeducated” and their children taken away and raised by Good Christian families. Once he’s elected, he backs off, but there is a movement –Jarrett’s Crusaders — that takes it upon itself (without consequences) to follow Jarrett’s philosophies. They attack Acorn, take away the children (including Olamina’s 2 month old baby) and enslave the rest of the adults. It’s a pretty horrific section, reminiscent of the Nazi Concentration camps (and made me ashamed to identify as a Christian though I understand these people were Not Really Christian.) Eventually, Olamina escapes and then spends the rest of the book looking for her child and restarting her Earthseed movement.

The most interesting thing about this book was that Olamina’s daughter, Asha Vere (which was the name her – admittedly not great — Christian adoptive parents gave her), narrated it as well. Every chapter began with an Earthseed verse and then some narrative by Asha. At first, this bothered me — Asha blamed her mother for starting Earthseed, not finding her soon enough, and for decisions she made, none of which really sat well with me; her mother did the best she could given the circumstances — but eventually, I came to understand Asha’s resentment, and her bitterness toward her mother. Butler had to create conflict — because novels are not life — and she did that brilliantly by creating a division between mother and daughter (as well as between Olamina and her brother, who embraced Jarrett’s Christian American movement). Butler is an excellent writer and a consummate storyteller, and, much like Handmaid’s Tale, is quite prophetic. She pulled from history and put together a tale that is a warning as much as it is an engrossing story. I did find myself skimming toward the end, when things settle down and Earthseed becomes moderately successfull, eventually sending ships into outer space, but really: this duology deserves the accolades it has gotten.

Audio book: The Bad Muslim Discount

by Syed M. Masood
Read by: Pej Vahdat & Hend Ayoub
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There was some swearing and references to sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Anvar Faris was a child in Karachi, Pakistan, but when unrest started to affect his city, his parents decided to immigrate to the US. They landed in the San Francisco area, where Anvar met the love of his life (Zuha, at least I’m hoping I spelled that right), and realized that no matter how much his mother tried, he was not going to be the kind of Muslim that she wanted him to be.

Safwa grew up in war-torn Baghdad, with a conservative father who was taken and tortured by the US soldiers. She fled, leaving her ailing brother to die alone, something her father could not forgive. They ended up in Afghanistan, where they meet a opportunistic young man who gets Safwa and her father passports to Mexico, and from there they come to the US, ending up in San Francsico.

This book is less about the plot — though there is some tension between Safwa and her father and the young man (whose name I don’t think I could spell, having only heard the audio) and Anvar and Zuha help, in the end. It’s much more an exploration of how people live their religion (or don’t) and the reasons behind what they do and why the do it. Safwa’s father is strict and abusive, but how much of that is his beliefs and how much of that is the abuse he suffered at the hands of the US? The young man is angry and manipulative, and how much of that is his religion, or is it the circumstances of growing up in war-torn Afghanistan? Anvar is lax in his religion, but how much of that is laziness and how much of that is a serious questioning of religion His other brother is strictly faithful, but how much of that is because he believes and how much of that is putting on appearances? It’s an interesting exploration.

It’s also a good look at the variety that Islam has. I think too often, especially here in the US, we tend to paint Muslims as all one thing, when in reality (um, much like every other religion) there is a spectrum.

At any rate, the writing is good, and the narration was thoroughly enjoyable. I liked this one a lot.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

by Douglas Adams
First sentence: “This time there would be no witnesses.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! (though it may not be in print anymore?)
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It would be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section if we had it at the bookstore.

Dougas Adams, I have decided, does not really do plot. I mean, really: what Is the plot of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the the Galaxy? Right? So, to say that Dirk Gently doesn’t have much of a plot, but rather Stuff Happens is pretty on par for Adams. It’s Enjoyable Stuff. Sometimes it’s even Funny Stuff. But it’s not Plot.

There are characters — Richard McDuff (who is our Arthur Dent in this book), Dirk Gently (the holistic detective who specializes in believing the impossible), Reg (the forgetful old Cambridge professor with a Secret), Gordon Way (who really just is the reason to try and have a Plot), and his sister Susan (and the girlfriend of Richard, who really doesn’t do anything). There’s an Electric Monk, too. But he’s not really of much importance.

I spent the book thinking — now that I’ve read a lot more Pratchett than when I first read Adams — that Pratchett does what Adams was trying to do — societal satire with witty observations and quirky characters — but a whole lot better. For one thing, Pratchett’s books have a Plot. But, in talking to Russell, he pointed out that it’s probably because Adams was a radio guy. He came up with Sketches (how influenced was he by Monty Python?), and maybe there was an over-arching story, but what he really wanted was a clever idea and a punchline. Which is what this book is. A clever idea — of the Holistic Detective Agency that investigates, well, Weird Phenomena — and a bunch of sketches that were sometimes funny.

Still. It’s not a bad way to pass some time.

Parable of the Sower

by Octavia E. Butler
First sentence: “I had my recurring dream last night.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence, some frank talk about sex and rape, and some mild swearing (with one or two f-bombs). It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

It’s 2024 and the world has gone to hell. Climate change, drugs gone rampant, violence due to poverty and desperation, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives with her father, step-mother and three-half brothers in a walled and gated community that isn’t rich, but is surviving pretty well. Lauren’s biggest obstacle is her hyperempathy — a condition that allows her to feel and experience another’s pain if she sees it — which makes her extremely vulnerable. And then, as the years and book goes one, things get worse. Lauren finds herself in the open, trying to survive the growing chaos, and finds, among other things, a birth a of a new faith.

I remember reading an Octavia Butler ages and ages ago, or at least trying it. I wasn’t successful. I’m not sure which one it was, but it just didn’t connect with it. But this one? Maybe it was the time — it begins basically in our present — and my awareness of our current political situation, but this felt not just like fiction, but, well, prophecy. It’s less about the characters, though I did care about them and what happened to them, and more about the way the characters interact with the world. It’s a survivalist tale, it’s a dystopian — though it’s in the early stages of being a dystopian — it’s a book about trusting each other and yet not making oneself vulnerable. It was disturbing, thought-provoking, harsh, brutal, and very very hard to put down. I went out and picked up the sequel because I need to now how this story ends.

I’m so very glad I read it.

People We Meet on Vacation

by Emily Henry
First sentence: “On vacation, you can be anyone you want.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: May 11, 2021
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There are a dozen or so f-bombs and some tasteful on-screen sex. It will be in the Romance section of the bookstore.

When Poppy met Alex their freshman year of college they immediately decided they were not for each other. She was loud, dressing in vintage clothing, and loved to travel and experience things. He was quiet and studious, preferring khakis and to stay at home in their Midwest hometown. So, it was incredibly unlikely that they would become friends.

But become friends they did. And one of the things they looked forward to? Their annual Summer Trip: Poppy picked the destination and made the plans, usually cheap and haphazard, and they went and had a great time.

Fast forward ten years, and Poppy and Alex have had a falling out. They haven’t talked or texted or gone on their vacation for two years, and when Poppy’s friend asks her when the last time she was truly happy, she immediately knows: the last time she was with Alex. So, she takes a risk and asks him to go on one of their old vacations again. Miraculously, he agrees.

The thing is, they’ve got a week to figure out what went wrong in their relationship. And how to get it back again.

I plowed through this book, not wanting to put it down. Not only does Henry give us a sweet friendship-turned-romance (and the payoff is SO worth it!), she gives us a bunch of little travel vignettes. I adored reading about the places that Alex and Poppy went and loved their experiences there. It’s not wholly a travel book: Poppy and Alex have an arc, and Henry deftly fills us in on not just their history but their pasts apart from each other as well. It was all deftly packaged within the framework of their trips.

No, it’s not earth-shattering, or life-changing. But it was fun. A LOT of fun. And right now, I’ll take that.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “‘Oh dear,’ Linus Baker said, wiping sweat from his brow.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are several mild swear words and some illusions to abuse. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section but I’d give it to any kid who doesn’t mind reading about a couple of 40-something men.

Sometimes, you hear about a book for a while before it really seeps into your head that you ought to read it. This was one of those books. I’d seen it around the store — maybe not in hardcover, but definitely in paperback in December. I have to admit it was the cover that first drew me in (well, that and hearing about it on bookish Instagram) but eventually I heard about it enough that I picked it up on a whim. (Read: I needed to shelf a couple of books and there wasn’t enough space, so I bought this one to make space. Bookseller side effects,)

The plot isn’t really what the book’s about: Linus Baker, a case worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, spends his days observing the orphanages that DICOMY has set up to take care of, well, magical youth. He observes the conditions these children are in, and makes his objective recommendations. And then he gets assigned an orphanage with highly classified children out in the middle of nowhere (on an island in the sea, actually). And once Linus has meet Arthur Parnassus, the headmaster, and his six wars, his life will never be the same.

This has all the charm of a Pratchett novel with a heavy Arthur Dent-ish vibe. It was so so so delightful, Watching Linus come out of his shell.. The children. Oh, the children. Silly, hilarious sentences, but with the underlying point: we are all children, we should all be valued for what we are rather than what society wants to see us. It’s got deep themes, but at its heart, this is a deeply, wonderfully, happy, joyful book.

And I am so so glad I finally read it.

Black Buck

by Mateo Askaripour
First sentence: “The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Darren is an aimless 22-year-old who has been working his way up the ranks at Starbucks instead of college and a more traditional route. Then one day he does a hard sales pitch on a regular customer and finds himself working for Sumwun, a tech startup. It’s an all-white, elite work environment (Darren is neither of those things) and Darren finds himself being subject to some pretty intense and racist stuff.

And honestly? That’s as far as I made it. I should have known it wouldn’t agree with me when it was being billed as satire. It’s skewering white business practices, and I get it, but satire and I don’t get along. We just don’t. I’ve tried books that are supposed to be funny pokes at things, and I just don’t “get” it. This is why I say this one isn’t for me, and I abandoned it halfway through. Life is too short to read books you just don’t like, even if they’re for book club.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It just wasn’t for me.

Shipped

by Angie Hockman
First sentence: “Every time I collect my mail from the paint-spattered box in the lobby and see my name printed over and over in bold black ink, I’m reminded that I’m named after a rock star.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some off-screen sex. It’s in the Romance section of the bookstore.

Henley Evans has big goals for her life: work really really hard, progress in her job as marketing manager at a small cruise line, and suriving her work nemesis, Graeme Crawford-Collins (who was, disappointingly, not British. I think with a name like that, you need to be British). When both Henley and Graeme are up for the same promotion, and then sent on a cruise to the Galápagos islands, Henley is sure it’s going to be the worst vacation ever. But things don’t always go as expected, and not everything (and everyone) is what it seems.

I had been reading a few heavy-ish books, and I needed a light, silly, palate-cleanser, and this hit the spot perfectly. It’s a perfect rom-com, following all the familiar beats, with a side trip to the Galápagos islands put in. I enjoyed Henley’s girl crew, including her sister Walsh, and I liked the push-pull between Henley and Graeme. It’s not deep, but it was a lot of fun. Which is exactly what I needed right now.