NEBULA NOMINATED NOVELS AT THE FIELD

This week the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have released the names of the books nominated for this year’s Nebula awards.  The awards themselves will be voted on by members of the association and the winners announced in May (watch this space!), but in the meantime, why not take a look at the nominees, many of which are available here at the Field Library, to get an idea of what the best in speculative fiction was this past year?

all-the-birds-in-the-sky

All the Birds in the Sky, by Jane Anders, is a unique take on the end of the world, involving magic and cutting edge science and two people who are fated to be together, whether to save the world or usher in a new dark age.  As you can see from that short description, there’s a lot going on in this book.  Patricia Delfine was six years old when she followed a bird into a magic forest and asked a question of the Great Tree which changed her life forever.  At the same time, when Laurence Armstead was in elementary school, he invented a small device that would allow people to jump two seconds into the future.  The two of them kept running into each other thereafter, as Patricia moved deeper into the study of magic and Laurence became more involved with other scientists and inventors.  Finally they reunited in San Francisco as the world began to fall apart, and they came to realize that something bigger than both of them is drawing them together, but for what purpose?

borderline-cover

Some of us encountered Borderline, by Mishell Baker, as part of last year’s Reading Challenge (specifically, in the category of “read a book with a main character who has a mental illness”), but it’s worth revisiting now that it’s been nominated for a Nebula. Millie, the main character, is paraplegic, and also suffers from borderline personality disorder.  Her life is kind of messed up, so she’s a little surprised when she’s recruited for a top secret agency which works to oversee deals between Hollywood hotshots and the fairy world (what are her qualifications?  What could they possibly want with her, of all people?), but she gamely takes on the task, even when it turns out to be much more complicated and dangerous than she ever could have anticipated.

everfair-cover

I’ve already written about Everfair by Nisi Shawl (https://fieldlibraryadults.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/everfair-the-other-side-of-heart-of-darkness/), so all I’m going to add is that this is an alternate history novel that looks at the European genocide in the Congo in a very different way from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and it’s exciting to see the book being recognized by the Nebula nominating committee.

ninefox-gambit

If you prefer space opera to other kinds of speculative fiction, you’re in luck here, because another of the nominees is Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee, is a book about interstellar war, whose protagonist, Captain Kel Cheris, is given the nearly impossible task of taking back a star fortress recently captured by heretics. More than just her career and reputation are at stake, but the only way she can imagine winning this is by enlisting the help of an undead military genius, Shuos Jedeo, who never lost a battle.  Unfortunately Jedeo also went mad toward the end of his life, resulting in the slaughter of two armies, one of which was the one he was leading, and Cheris has some concerns that she might not be able to trust Jedeo, and that she might be his next victim.

the-obelisk-gate

N. K. Jemisin is no stranger to awards; her last book, The Fifth Season, won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the sequel to that book, The Obelisk Gate, is in the running for a 2017 Nebula award as well.  If you’ve read and enjoyed The Fifth Season, then you’ve probably already got The Obelisk Gate on hold, and if you haven’t, this is a middle book so you would do well to start at the beginning of the series. Basically, the books take place on an earth where apocalyptic near destructions of the planet occur frequently, and there are people who have the power to move the tectonic plates, who are hated and feared by the rest of the population.  The world building has been highly praised, and while it’s a middle book of a trilogy and therefore leaves certain things hanging, it’s still an impressive novel and carries on the amazing story from the first book.

MAGIC OFF THE COAST OF IRELAND: THE STOLEN CHILD

Picture, if you will, a beautiful remote island off the coast of Ireland.  If you look to the east on a good day, you’ll see the coast of Connemara.  If you look to the west, all you’ll see is the vast Atlantic Ocean. The island is isolated from the world, without electricity or running water, and the few people who still live there are very old fashioned, living the way their ancestors did, and believing in many of the things their ancestors did.

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Welcome to the world of The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey.  On St. Brigid’s island, people still believe in fairies, and believe that the fairies take people, give people gifts and curses. Emer, one of the women on the island, has been cursed with a deadly gift by the fairies, and as a result is bitter and suspicious, and afraid that the fairies are going to come and take her son as well.  Her twin sister, Rose, is as beautiful and open as Emer is suspicious and scarred, and they live in a web of interdependency.

 

Along comes Brigid, an American, to reclaim the house her deceased uncle left her, but she has other reasons for coming to this remote island: she’s looking for the fabled well of St. Brigid, which has the power to make women fertile and give her the baby she desperately wants.  Just the presence of an outsider changes the delicate balance of the island, and Brigid is more than just an American and an outsider.  She has secrets of her own and when her secrets and those of the other people on the island intertwine, things get out of hand.

 

If you like magical realism, if you’ve read Lisa Carey’s The Mermaids Singing and liked it, if you just want to get lost in a magical place where magic is both beautiful and terrifying, then read The Stolen Child.

GETTING AWAY: NEW FANTASY AT THE FIELD

One of the cool things about speculative fiction (and I include science fiction and fantasy in that term) is the way it brings a new perspective on things that already exist, that we take for granted in our world, and gives us the opportunity to see these aspects of our world anew.  Give yourself a break from the mundane with two new fantasy novels at the Field this February.

gilded-cage-cover

Take the idea of aristocracy and the concentration of wealth and power.  Of course we have all kinds of historical examples of how aristocracy works or doesn’t work, and what happens when power concentrates in fewer hands, but leave it to a fantasy novel to take the idea to the next level.  Gilded Cage, by Vic James, takes us to an alternate England where the aristocrats, ironically known as the Equals, all have magical abilities, and the rest of the population, the commons, serves them.  It’s a requirement: all commoners must spend ten years working for the Equals in one form or another.  Imagine the Victorian aristocrats with magic, and that’s disturbing right off the bat.  But then consider what life would be like for the commoners.  Abi, a young commoner, is working for one of the Equals families, and falls in love with the son of the family. Will she uncover the family’s secrets and gain her freedom, or will she give up the possibility of love?  Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in one of the hellish factories far from his family and home, and falls in with revolutionaries with very different ideas of what “equality” really means, and how to get there.  Is he going to risk his life for the chance to change the world?  Gilded Cage, a debut novel (I will keep mentioning that whenever a book is a debut, for those doing the Reading Challenge this year; eventually there will be a list of suitable debuts), looks at the classic notion of magic and marries it to the classic ideas of a ruling class and lets the sparks fly.

in-calabria-cover

I’ve already written about my love of Peter S. Beagle and his early novel, The Last Unicorn, which is one of my all-time favorite books.  I am delighted to report that he’s just come out with another book, In Calabria, which is also about unicorns, though somewhat different from the unicorn in his other book.  Here we start with a man, Claudio Bianchi, living by himself in the Southern Italian area of Calabria.  An older man, set in his ways and suspicious of outsiders and any kind of change, Claudio is surprised one morning when he looks out his window and sees a pregnant unicorn in his yard. Charmed and perhaps even enchanted, he comes to her aid, and the kindness loosens the floodgates (so to speak), opening up his heart and the poetry he’s writing, but also bringing the world to his gates, as rumors spread that he has unicorns on his property.  First there are the media and the thrill-seekers and trophy hunters, all trying to cash in, and then, in a more sinister way, an organized crime group comes to Claudio’s farm, demanding to buy it and the unicorns on it. Claudio has promised to protect the unicorn and her foal, and he discovers in himself new depths, new strengths, new magic.  You know if it’s written by Peter S. Beagle, it’s going to be beautifully written and moving, and this book is even shorter than his wonderful Summerlong, so you have no excuse for not reading it as soon as you can.

 

ICELANDIC MYSTERIES FOR WINTER 2017

So this winter has, so far, been a little less arctic than some previous ones.  So we’ve had some extraordinarily warm days that feel like May rather than February.  If you’re missing the cold and snow and ice and want to spend some time experiencing the bitter dangers of winter (without having to shovel snow or slip on ice), then we have a couple of new mysteries at the Field which should be just what the doctor ordered.

snowblind

Ragnar Jonasson’s debut mystery*, Snowblind, takes place in a tiny fishing village in northern Iceland, accessible to the mainland only through a tunnel, where young police officer Ari Thor Arason is posted for the first time.  Ari is leaving his girlfriend behind in the city of Reykjavik, but he’s not able to leave behind all of his past, which will come back to haunt him in this seemingly peaceful little town where nobody even locks their doors.  Clearly the town isn’t as innocent and idyllic as it seems, because Ari first finds a woman lying unconscious and bleeding, half naked, in the snow, and shortly thereafter an esteemed local writer falls to his death in the local theater. As an outsider, Ari has no way of knowing who he should trust and it becomes clear to him that the village is full of secrets and lies, and winter is closing in, isolating Ari in this northern nightmare, where the past interferes with the present, and the claustrophobic tension mounts steadily.

the-undesired

For another example of Icelandic noir, try The Undesired, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir.  Back in the 1970’s, a woman named Aldis was working at a juvenile detention center in rural Iceland, a job she hated.  Between the boys being difficult, the unpleasant owners of the facility and the strange noises she kept hearing at night, she was pretty fed up with her job.  And then two of the boys disappeared, never to be found again.  Decades later, Odinn, a single father, is investigating reports of abuse at that same center, and he starts discovering unsettling things about the events of the 1970’s, strange as they were, and he begins to wonder whether there’s a connection between Aldis and her experiences at the center and the death of Odinn’s ex-wife in what was supposed to be an accident, but which might have been something far more sinister.

 

While neither of these books is likely to be endorsed by the Tourism Board of Iceland, if you’re in the mood for cold and creepy and dangerous, give our new Icelandic mysteries a try.

 

*Yes, this qualifies for the debut novel category for the 2017 Reading Challenge, in case you’re working on that.

WYETH’S MODEL: A PIECE OF THE WORLD

Christina Baker Kline is the author of the bestselling and perennial book group favorite, Orphan Train, a book about a survivor of the Orphan Trains of the late 19th and early 20th century and her interaction with a tough young modern woman who’s the product of a similar family background, similarities which the two of them come to discover and appreciate.  To the delight of all her fans, Kline has just published another historical novel, A Piece of the World, which also takes us into a different time and place and the interaction of two fascinating people.

a-piece-of-the-world

If you recognized the picture at the top of this post as Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting, Christina’s World, then you’re well prepared to read this book and discover the background of Christina Olson, the young woman depicted in the painting, her relationship with the artist, and the circumstances which gave rise to the painting.  And if you didn’t recognize the picture, then after reading this book you’ll see it, and the rest of Andrew Wyeth’s work, in a new light.

 

Christina Olson, the protagonist and narrator of this book, was born and grew up on an isolated farm near the small coastal village of Cushing, Maine. Unfortunately for her, not only was her family poor, but she herself suffered from an undiagnosed illness, probably polio, that gradually crippled her, leaving her unable to walk.  She was pulled out of school by her father at a young age, a loss she never entirely recovered from, and put to work on the farm with the rest of her family.  Fiercely independent and proud, preferring to crawl rather than sit in a wheelchair, Christina had a hard life, but there was something about her which won the respect and even the admiration of the painter, Andrew Wyeth, who met her through her neighbors and became close to her and her brother, painting numerous portraits of the house, the land, and Christina herself, culminating in the famous Christina’s World, the creation of which is described lovingly and in detail in the book.

 

Too often we know plenty about the artists who create famous works but little or nothing about the models and real life people who inspired them. A Piece of the World does its part to right that imbalance, with vivid prose and realistic, lovable characters, just what you’d expect from the author of Orphan Train.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT: THE NEXT BOOK CLUB READ

Think about the last ten years of your life, all the things that have changed, all the ways you’ve changed, for the better or for the worse. Now imagine how you would feel if you suddenly woke up tomorrow and forgot everything that happened in those last ten years, if you thought you were the same person, living the same life, you were in 2007 (let’s say).

what-alice-forgot

And there you have the premise of What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, the selection for the Field Notes Book Group for March, to be held Saturday, March 18, from 11:00 to 12:30 at the Field Library Gallery.

Alice Love (yes, that is her last name, and is one of the only unfortunate details of the book) had a very clear idea of what her life was all about: she had a husband, Nick, whom she adored and who adored her, who was working with her on the endless project of fixing up their home.  She was pregnant and excited about her first child, which she and Nick were convinced was going to be a boy.  She had close friends and a good relationship with her sister, Elizabeth, and if you had asked her, she would have told you she had a good life.

Then one day she finds herself falling off an exercise bike in a gym during a spin class, and when she comes to, she has no idea where she is or what she was doing (she’s pretty sure she’s not the type of person who would EVER go to a gym, let alone do a “spin class,” which she’s never heard of before), but to her surprise and dawning horror, she discovers that it is NOT 1998, it’s 2008, she is NOT pregnant but actually has three children, and, worst of all, she and her adored husband are in the process of a messy divorce.  Not to mention that she seems to have a boyfriend, who’s the principal of her children’s school, and her sister pretty much doesn’t even want to talk to her, and everything she finds out about her current life repels her.

All right, amnesia is a sort of gimmick, probably best suited to soap operas and parodies.  However, Liane Moriarty pulls it off very well, and what ensues is a well-written and compelling mystery of sorts, where the question is not “whodunnit” but “how did I get here and can I get out of this mess?”  For the most part, we’re in Alice’s point of view and discover her past and her present as slowly as she does, but we also have the perspective of Alice’s sister in her ongoing journal to her therapist, and the observations of Alice’s “grandmother” (not by blood but by behavior), Frannie, in a letter to her fiance, which cleverly give hints about the things Alice doesn’t remember.

The book is fun and a quick read, and periodically you think you know where things are going only to have them upended cleverly.  The characters are realistic and, for the most part, likable, and the questions the book raises about forgiving and forgetting, and about what you would do in Alice’s (admittedly unusual) situation will, I believe, lead to a lively discussion.  Come to the Field Library to pick up a copy and then join us on March 18 (coffee and donuts, as always, will be provided).

CIRCUSES, ORPHANS, DIASPORA AND THE HOME FRONT : NEW HISTORICAL FICTION

It’s clearly not true that everything fictional that can be said about the Depression and World War II has been said.  Four new books here at the Field Library take new looks, from different perspectives, at those well-known historical periods and each, in its own way, shows us more of the human side of great historical events.

lonely-hearts-hotel-cover

First, let’s consider life in the Great Depression, in The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. Both a love story and a show-business story, with characters almost fairy-tale like in some respects and Dickensian in others, The Lonely Hearts Hotel stars Pierrot and Rose, two orphans abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in 1910, who discover each other and their talents more or less at the same time.  Pierrot is a piano prodigy, and Rose is a brilliant dancer.  As they perform around the city, falling in love with each other in the process, Pierrot and Rose hatch plans for the greatest circus the world will ever know.  Unfortunately for them, in their teens they’re separated, sent off to work as servants, and to discover the depths of the underworld, where they will do whatever it takes to survive.  When they find each other again (of course they find each other again; what kind of book do you think this is?), they remember and reignite their old dreams of a circus, and when they and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls and other extraordinary performances reach New York City, neither the entertainment world nor the underworld will ever be the same again.  If you loved The Night Circus, then you’ll enjoy The Lonely Hearts Hotel.

we-were-the-lucky-ones

Then let’s turn to a debut novel* that follows the fortunes of a Jewish family during World War II and afterwards. The book is We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter, and it’s based on the true story of her family’s actions and reactions to the Nazi invasion of Poland and subsequent horrors in World War II.  The Kurc family starts out together in the town of Radom in Poland, in spring, 1939, noticing the increasing deprivations Jews were beginning to suffer, aware of the movements of Hitler’s armies and Europe’s response to those moves, but, like most of us, they try to live normal lives in the presence of such disturbing storm clouds, until it becomes impossible for them to do so any longer.  As war comes to Poland and the Nazis take over, the family is scattered, as all of the members try to find their own way to safety in very uncertain times. Some are exiled, to different countries, to different continents, while some try to keep their heads down and work endless hours in ghetto factories.  Others hide in plain sight, disguising themselves as gentiles and living in the midst of their would-be enemies.  None of them knows when or even if he or she will see any of the other members of the family, but all of them, from the jazz clubs of Paris to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro to the farthest reaches of Siberia, will find ways to survive, to persevere and even, in a triumph of the human spirit in the midst of terrible darkness, to find each other again.

the-orphans-tale-cover

In Pam Jenoff’s book, The Orphan’s Tale, the protagonist, Noa, is a 16 year old girl who’s forced to give up her baby when she becomes pregnant by a Nazi soldier, cast out of her home in disgrace and living above a railway station.  One day she sees a boxcar filled with Jewish babies on their way to the concentration camp and, thinking of her own lost child, she takes one of those babies and flees, finding refuge, oddly enough, in a German circus, where she needs to learn how to perform on the flying trapeze in order to fit in.  This brings her first into rivalry with Astrid, the current lead aerialist, and then into a firm bond of friendship with her.  But both women are keeping secrets and in this period secrets are extremely dangerous.  Is their friendship strong enough to protect them from the dangers around them?

chilbury-womens-choir

A small village in England during the war is the scene of Jennifer Ryan’s book, The Chilbury Women’s Choir.  The well-meaning but misguided vicar of the village church decides that in these dangerous times, a church choir is a luxury the village cannot afford. When a new music professor arrives in the village, he gives the women the spark they need to defy the vicar and set up their own choir, the Chilbury Women’s Choir.  The book interweaves the stories of the women, very different in character and circumstances, from the widow with a son at the front to the young Jewish refugee to the midwife trying to outrun her past to the town beauty falling for a rakish artist, allowing their stories (told through letters and diary entries) to join together and strengthen each other as their voices do in their new choir, revealing the powerful lives of the women on the home front in the early stages of a terrible war.

 

*Which qualifies for the Debut Novel category of the 2017 Reading Challenge, for those of us who are working on that, just so you know.

BEFORE THE TEMPEST: MIRANDA AND CALIBAN

If you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, you have a general idea of the plot and the characters: Prospero, the exiled Duke, living on an island with his daughter, Miranda, and served by the spirit Ariel and the monstrous Caliban, until the shipwreck of Prospero’s brother and members of his court, giving Prospero an opportunity for revenge or for reconciliation, and giving Miranda her first exposure to the outside world (it’s Miranda who speaks the line, “O brave new world that has such people in it!” to which her father drily replies, “Tis new to thee”).  Even if you’ve never read the play or seen it performed (and you should; there are many performances on DVD available in the library system), you’re probably somewhat familiar with it, such a part of our culture that it formed the basis for the Science Fiction movie classic, Forbidden Planet.  Recently Margaret Atwood tried her hand at a version of the story, in Hag Seed (discussed here).

miranda-and-caliban-cover

Now Jacqueline Carey, in her new book, Miranda and Caliban, takes another look at The Tempest, but unlike other versions, she focuses her story on Miranda, the innocent daughter of Duke Prospero, and Caliban, the “savage” Prospero uses as servant and slave.  She imagines what it must have been like for Miranda, living on this island with her father since she was three, isolated and lonely, until she meets Caliban, a strange and feral boy, and the only one on the island who’s anywhere near her age.  As Prospero keeps both his daughter and his slave close to him on the island, making sure neither one can escape his presence and his magic, both motherless children, Miranda and Caliban, begin to spend more and more time together, for solace and companionship, and then, as they get older, for more than just companionship.

 

If you know how the play ends, you read the book with an added sense of poignance, because you know Miranda does not end up married to Caliban or even in the same country as Caliban, and he receives no real solace nor happy resolution.  Part of the beauty of Miranda and Caliban is that it allows you to wonder what might have happened if Shakespeare had looked at his characters a little differently,  and given them a little more free will to follow their hearts.

DEATH MAY NOT BE THE END: THE POSSESSIONS

What if it were possible to communicate directly with the dead? This has been a yearning people have had for centuries, which people have tried to meet by seances and mediums.  Now Sarah Flannery Murphy has a different, and fascinating, take on how this might be done in her debut novel*, The Possessions.

the-possessions-cover

In an unnamed city there’s a business called the Elysian Society where, for a price, you can get a “body” to channel your loved one and communicate with you as if your loved one were still there with you.  The “bodies” are people who are able to do this by putting on the clothing and artifacts of the dead and taking a drug called “lotus”, which submerges the owner’s personality and numbs his or her mind so the mind and personality of the deceased person can take over. Naturally, the more you take a drug like that, the worse the effects are on your own personality.

 

Our main character, Eurydice (points to the author for her Greek mythology references), has been a “body” for four years, which is practically a record.  Her ability to survive and even thrive in this business is due to her ability to detach herself completely from what she’s doing. No involvement, no concern about the people she’s interacting with: that’s the way to keep herself safe.

 

Naturally, there comes a time when that doesn’t work.  Eurydice channels Sylvia, who recently died, and she finds herself intrigued with the lives of Sylvia and her widower husband, Patrick. For the first time, she’s breaking her own rules and pursuing Patrick outside the Elysian Society, and channeling Sylvia outside the Society as well. This is dangerous for several reasons: she’s losing her sense of the difference between her thoughts and desires and Sylvia’s, and there are questions about Sylvia’s death which still aren’t resolved, not to mention some secrets Eurydice has been trying to keep about her own past.

 

What happens when you channel the dead and then you can’t let go or they won’t let go of you? Read The Possessions and find out what happened to Sylvia, and what happens to Eurydice and Patrick in the strange world of the Elysian Society.

 

*Yes, that’s right, for those of you doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, this counts as a debut novel!

THINGS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM: NEW MYSTERIES AT THE FIELD

One of the classic lessons of mysteries and thrillers is that you shouldn’t always trust appearances. Things are not always (in fact, very seldom) what they seem, and often characters learn this little truth too late and get into big trouble as a result. We have some new mysteries at the Field which illustrate, in one way or another, the danger of taking things at face value.

 

 

behind-her-eyes-cover

Sarah Pinborough starts us out with her new book, Behind Her Eyes, which is already being described as this year’s version of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.  Our protagonist is Louise, a new secretary to the very successful psychiatrist, David.  Everything in his life seems perfect, including his marriage to Adele, who seems to adore him.  Key word here: seems.  There are a couple of things Louise notices that make her wonder about whether her boss and his wife really have such a perfect life.  Why is he so controlling? Why is she keeping things hidden?  Whatever is going on in that marriage, something is wrong, and Louise can feel it. What she can’t tell, though, is exactly what is wrong, and how far people will go to protect some of those secrets.

the-girl-before-cover

In The Girl Before (and can we please, please stop using “girl” in the title unless the person in question is under 18 years of age?), by J. P. Delaney, Jane Cavendish is looking for a new start after a personal tragedy, and she really wants to get into this beautiful building.  The rental application is kind of intrusive and not like any she’s ever seen before (a question about what personal possessions she absolutely needs and can’t do without?  What kind of question is that?), but the excuse is that the building is wired to anticipate the tenants’ every need and so more information is necessary to set the technology up. She gets an interview with the building’s owner and architect, Edward Monkford, and immediately she’s drawn to him.  Soon after they meet, she’s accepted to move into the building, and soon after that, she and Edward become lovers. Seems perfect, right?  But it turns out there was a previous tenant in this apartment, Emma, who died under suspicious circumstances, and as Jane starts looking into those circumstances, she starts finding creepy parallels between Emma’s life and her own.  Is she also following Emma’s footsteps toward her death? Was Edward somehow involved in Emma’s death?  He claims not, but things are not what they seem.

right-behind-you-cover

Lisa Gardner is no stranger to thrillers, and her latest, Right Behind You, is a perfect example of her mastery of the form, taking us into the intricacies of a warped, dysfunctional family and the after-effects of a horrible childhood.  Eight years ago, Sharlah’s older brother,Telly, killed their drunken, abusive father, beating him to death with a baseball bat. He did it to save the lives of Sharlah and himself, and now Sharlah’s about to be adopted by a retired FBI profiler and his wife, putting all that behind her.  Except that there’s a double murder at a local gas station and the perpetrator is on a shooting spree through the wilds of Oregon.  Sharlah’s parents-to-be are called onto the case, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that the shooter is probably Telly.  Was he a hero or a killer?  Why is he breaking out now, eight years later?  And what does his spree mean for his sister and her newfound family?