Time travel as a hook

river of no return

 

What’s it about?
The River of No Return is a novel about a lovesick time-traveler. Nick was a minor English lord who went off to fight against the Spanish. Just as he was about to be killed, he leapt forward in time to the present day. He encounters a group of people called The Guild who help people like Nick. He establishes himself as a landlord in Vermont, when the Guild asks him to go back in time to England. He re-falls in love with his neighbor Julia, who, it turns out, may be able to help forestall the end of the world.

Why should you read it?
If it hadn’t been my book for book club this month, I’m not sure I would have. It was a fine book, but nothing to write home about.  It does set up a sequel, so I have my usual issues with it not being a complete story. Otherwise, eh?

Closure

just one year

 

What’s it about?
Just One Year is the sequel to Just One Day. It picks up the story after the boy leaves the girl in Paris (with a good explanation – he’s gone out to get breakfast and is severely beaten by skinheads on the way) from the boy’s point of view. He figures out who he is over the year, looking for her and becoming more responsible and less spoiled.

Why should you read it?
Completion or closure or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know that it’s necessary, and I have issues with the whole we-grow-closer-even-though-we’re-apart theme. But it’s a nice balance to the first book, and the abrupt ending to Just One Day is a bit more satisfying with this half of the story added in.

Real-world adventure

just one day

 

What’s it about?
Just One Day is a young adult novel about – what else – figuring out who you are. Plot-wise, it’s about a sheltered 18-year-old girl who travels to Europe with a tour group, meets a boy, runs off to Paris, and then he disappears on her. But it’s love, true love, and so she pines for him for awhile before getting off her butt and looking for him. It’s about how she grows as a person, figuring out who she wants to be, not just who her parents think she is.

Why should you read it?
It’s cute. I picked it up because I saw a recommendation online talking about what a brave person the main character is. And to a degree that’s true. She’s not running around in a war situation (the go-to male bravery experience), but she is getting out into the world, making decisions for herself, and that can be terrifying at 18/19. Just One Day provides a good template for how to do it responsibly.

A supernatural adventure

the ocean at the end of the lane

 

What’s it about?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a series of unfortunate events wherein a bookish boy ends up having a supernatural adventure. Someone dies, a monster from somewhere that isn’t here comes here and terrorizes our bookish boy. He eventually bests the monster with the help of his friends who have been around since the beginning of the universe. Or so it is implied. It’s also kind of about a sporty father who doesn’t understand his bookish son terribly well and the son’s coming to terms with that.

Why should you read it?
Gaiman writes beautifully and the story is well-told and shorter than I’d expected, honestly. It’s not super-deep or revelatory but it is a lovely little story that makes you care about the characters, with Gaiman’s characteristic oddnesses. It checks all the boxes.

A Modern Superhero

Tigerman

 

What’s it about?
Tigerman is about war and superheroes and what if the Iraq and Afghanistan wars bred a superhero from the British troops? What on earth would he be like? Why would he be created? What does that say about Western society? Plot-wise, there’s a soldier, suffering from PTSD-lite, who’s been stationed on a make-believe island near Yemen that is about to environmentally self-destruct. There’s an attack on a local cafe, and a boy asks the soldier to avenge the cafe owner. How does he do that under the nose of a local UN force, and what are the ramifications?

Why should you read it?
Because Nick Harkaway is a pretty awesome author. He’s got the right amount of swagger and touch for narrating international politics. (John le Carre is, literally, his father. It runs in the family.) His stories are funny and touching and in this book he has a sentence where he uses the f-word as every major part of speech. I laughed out loud a number of times. Recommended.

Unreliable narrator

We Were Liars

 

What’s it about?
We Were Liars is a young adult book in the tradition of I Am the Cheese, where the narrator is as unsure of what’s going on as you are. Cadence comes from an upperclass New England family; they own their own island off Martha’s Vineyard. The family’s grandfather enjoys playing his three daughters off each other, making each of them compete for their slice of the family fortune. Something happens during Cadence’s 15th summer on the island. You’re never sure what exactly because Cadence has no memory of most of the summer. The book stays with Cadence as she recovers from whatever it was that happened.

Why should you read it?
I liked the feeling of suspense that We Were Liars used to show how uneasy everyone was and how truly messed up Cadence is. Cadence and the mystery are appropriately enigmatic. And you end up both sympathizing with the family and appalled by them. It was a quick read (which was good, given how quickly I needed to return the book to the library). Overall, I recommend it.

We’re doomed.

The Sixth Extinction

 

What’s it about?
The Sixth Extinction is about evolution and extinction. It has a good overview of the history of both evolution and extinction – people didn’t believe that animals could go extinct before the French Revolution. There’s a history of the other five major extinction events in the earth’s past, even though we don’t know much about them – other than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. She then looks at the current rates of extinction, which are much closer to the rates during the other major extinction events rather than the typical background rate. There’s also a small, amusing bit about how rats are going to take over the world if humans die.

Why should you read it?
The world is getting warmer because there are higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So what? Well, The Sixth Extinction answers that question. The oceans acidify. Many – possibly most – animals won’t be able to live. Animals and plants will need to shift where they live and grow, but because people have taken up so much of the land, it’s hard for them to find new places to be. She does a great job of both showing how awesome the world is and making you despair over its future.

Girl Power!

Not That Kind of Girl

 

What’s it about?
Not That Kind of Girl is about Lena Dunham’s life. I’d say it was a memoir, but it wasn’t. It was a series of essays, grouped by themes like “Love & Sex” or “Work.” She’s entertaining and kind of messed up in a punk-ish way. But she’s also clearly got a serious work ethic, and I suspect is less messed up than she portrays herself as.

Why should you read it?
Maybe if I watched Girls I’d’ve like it more. Not That Kind of Girl is a fine book, it just didn’t grab me in the way I thought it would. I like that it’s supportive of women and girl culture. I like that she shows herself and her flaws and that that’s ok. I like that she is ambitious as hell. I hate that she feels the need to downplay that ambition. But I don’t identify with her – that’s what I was missing. I’m not as punk or trendy or young, and I didn’t grow up with hippy parents in NYC. But I do think that Lena Dunham is a pretty good role model, and I’m happy she’s out there for people to look up to.

It’s a fantasy book. Don’t tell.

The Bone Clocks

 

What’s it about?
The Bone Clocks is about Holly, a girl who runs away from home when she’s fifteen. She’s gone for a weekend, but in that weekend her life changes. At the end of the book, she’s raising a granddaughter on the west coast of Ireland as civilization falls. She plays lots of roles and has lots of jobs in the interim, but she keeps running into a person named Marinus. There are fantasy elements in the book, and the story isn’t always told from Holly’s point of view. In some ways, it’s about ensuring that life goes on as the world falls apart.

Why should you read it?
Aside from the fact that it was long-listed for a Booker Prize (if you’re into that sort of thing)? It’s a compelling story. So often highbrow books are experiments in style or something else that makes them hard to read. The Bone Clocks isn’t that book. It’s a solid, well-told story about a woman navigating her family and her life in a fantasy setting. I’m happy this one hasn’t been shunted off in genre land and is getting the attention it deserves.

Outrunning the Blerch

The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances

 

What’s it about?
If you read The Oatmeal, you know that he is funny and likes to explain things. The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances is an expansion on his strip of the same name. It’s about how out of shape he used to be, stories about particular runs he’s taken, and, of course, the Blerch. The Blerch is the embodiment of the little voice inside you that tells you to be lazy. To not try. To not go for that run because that would be hard and wouldn’t you rather sit on the couch? His goal is to outrun the Blerch.

Why should you read it?
Well, because it’s funny. Because you enjoy running. Because the Blerch is a great embodiment of all the times the voice in your head has said “why not watch one more television show?” or “why not put off cleaning your house?” It applies to everything, not just running. It’s just that with running, you can actually, physically, try to get away from it. It is either a motivating book, or just a funny one. Either way, you get to decide.