What if you had never noticed the small things in life? Having lived a privileged life defined by ceremonies and duties, would you have had the time to notice the subtle changes in behavior of the people around you when upset, worried, or flustered? And what would make you start noticing? This is the premise for the brilliantly witty audiobook The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett.
In this audiobook, richly-narrated by the author, the Queen, having never read for pleasure, stumbles upon a bookmobile outside the gates of Buckingham Palace and feels duty bound to check out a book. While she dutifully finishes the first book she checks out, she feels duty bound once again to check out a second book, which is the one that captures her attention and leads to her rabid consumption of books. Helping the Queen on this journey is Norman, a kitchen boy in the palace, who is promoted to page after his encounter with the Queen in the bookmobile. With Norman as her accomplice, the Queen is introduced to an array of authors and begins to see the world through other people’s eyes.
The year is 1912, and the Torrington family is caught on the cusp between a graceful if dying and class-conscious era and the fast-paced, more egalitarian and sometimes brutishness of the coming modern world. And for all that it is Emerald Torrington’s birthday on her family’s grand English estate, she was finding it terribly soothing that morning to pull uselessly at weeds and try to not cry, grown-up and beautiful young woman as she was. There would be a party in the evening—chocolate cake with green spun-sugar roses in her honor—and it would be the carefully-planned, best effort her lovely mother and their devoted housekeeper could put together, for all that her world—and everyone’s—seems to be ending. And then The Uninvited Guests show up.
The Sirens of Titan might be one of Kurt Vonnegut’s lesser-known novels, but it deserves just as much praise and attention as Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut’s tendency to combine satire and existential inquiry gives Sirens an invigorating edge. It is an inventive drama, one that successfully incorporates space travel, dark humor, apathetic deities, and bleak ruminations on the futility of human progress.
Oh, John Scalzi, how I love you (~swoons~). Your likeable characters, intricate but uncomplicated plots, your passion for science fiction. . . you COMPLETE me. And your latest offering, Redshirts, does not disappoint. I knew the moment I read the title oh, so many months ago, that the Trekkie in me would melt at the book's first words. I was not mistaken.
Growing up in a military family, Star Trek's flaws were constantly pointed out to me. That preposterous notion that the entire senior staff would be sent time and again on dangerous missions with no one with any real command experience left in charge. I didn't care. Star Trek was cool, like bow ties, fezes, and Stetsons. But I'm ashamed to say I never did notice the disturbingly high mortality rate of the red-shirted junior officer on away missions. It wasn't until years later that I heard the term "redshirt" that it occurred to me, oh yeah, those guys were always toast, weren't they? Still, I never really gave them much thought, save for when I heard someone use the term I could go "Hey, I understood that reference! Yeah, those guys died, like, A LOT, didn't they?"
As with my review of Altered Carbon, I've arrived at the Starslip webcomic party a little late, as in, the seven-year series is finished. However, that might add a welcome bittersweet flavor to each strip I read as I come closer and closer to the end. I have fallen head-over-heels in love with all of author Kris Straub’s characters, his artistic style, and his off-kilter sense of humor as he simultaneously pays homage to and lampoons the best and worst traits of sci-fi soap operas. With every click of the forward-pointing arrow I know I am coming to the close of an incredible story, but, like with any good book, I can't stop!
This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids. You can browse the book matches here.
The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Banks: "Follows the life lessons of Jane, from defiant teenager to reluctant career girl, as she makes her way through love, sex, relationships, and workplace perils, prompted by dubious advice from a pop-psych guide to life."
If you liked The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, you may like these titles:
Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott
"A teenage girl, raised on the east end of Long Island among the country estates of the rich, reflects on her understanding of human nature during a seemingly idyllic summer spent with her eight-year-old cousin Daisy."
For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani
"Unable to find a husband despite the efforts of friends, fortune-tellers, and matchmakers, thirty-three year old Anju, confronted by her family's shame, obtains their permission to leave Bombay to look for a husband in the United States."
No one can see women of a certain age. We--I am of a certain age--are nothing but the ghosts of our former selves. We have a contentious relationship with mirrors just like Snow White’s stepmother. We fight aging with Botox, HRT, calcium, and even anti-depressants. Clover Hobart in Calling Invisible Women has contemplated figurative invisibility, but one fall day she becomes literally invisible.
After thinking she has had a breakdown or a stroke, Clover becomes proactive and explores the possibilities of invisibility. This novel has laugh-out-loud moments, is well-plotted, has great characters, and has thoughtful ideas about women and aging.
I loved my Southern Mama and my Southern Grandma, so when I found Suck in Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On! I knew that I would love it, too. It is chock full of wisdom from mothers across the South--plus a running commentary by the author which is hysterical!
There are such wonderful pearls of wisdom as:
"My mom’s advice on raising children: ‘If it washes off or grows out, it doesn’t hurt anyone. Don’t worry about it!’”
“Mama said, ‘Just because it fits doesn’t mean you oughta wear it.’”
“My mama told me ladies never answered the door barefoot!”
“My grandmother advised me to marry a man my age or a little younger, ‘because they don’t improve with age.’ I now know what she meant.’”
This book has a brilliant title: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. The oxymoron continues in the characters, the plot and the language—its poetic style contrasts with the violence of the Old West. It’s a Western but with twists on the genre; the novel has brutality mixed with moments of sweetness and humor.
The main characters are killers with bruised pasts: Charlie Sisters is the epitome of Old West: brutal, money-hungry and cold; Eli Sisters, the narrator of the tale, loves to give away his money, has a soft heart for barmaids, and is questioning his profession and his future. Eli loves his poor excuse for a horse, Tub, and embraces dental hygiene!
Shambling Towards Hiroshima is a brisk and inventive novel that incorporates elements of science fiction, humor, historical fiction, and moody introspection. James Morrow utilizes these disparate narrative modes in order to portray the life story of a B-movie actor named Syms Thorley. Thorley has spent most of his screen time bringing monsters to life. His devoted fans fondly remember him as “Kha-Ton-Ra the living mummy, Corpuscula the alchemical creature, and Gorgantis, King of the Lizards.” However, no one suspects that Gorgantis, a grotesque fire- breathing lizard, originated as a top secret military project designed to swiftly end World War II.