When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi: This slim memoir is written by a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in his 30s, while he was in his last year of residency. Although his love of literature and language shines through, I actually found the afterword by his wife to be the best writing in the book. That being said, this is still a moving and contemplative look at death from a man who was clearly both brilliant and a caring doctor. VGR
The Unseen World, by Liz Moore: Ada Sibelius has grown up in her father David’s computer science lab, getting her education from him and his colleagues. When David starts to suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s, Ada discovers his entire past is a mystery, one she struggles to discover for the rest of her childhood and into her adulthood. The book starts out a little slow, but the characters and story really came together once the stage-setting was out of the way. VGR
The Wise Man’s Fear (Audiobook), by Patrick Rothfuss: This was a very long audiobook, but I couldn’t stop listening for days. It was frustrating to reach the end and know that there isn’t even a tentative publication date for the final book in the trilogy. Rothfuss is an incredible writer; even when I’m not crazy about where he’s taking the story, I can’t stop reading (listening). I enjoyed Kvothe finally getting out of the university setting, but it’s hard to believe there’s only one book left in this series, as in the end Kvothe was right back at the university and something like a year had passed. It seemed like there were lots of tangents in this book, but I’m hoping they all come together in the third book. Kvothe can be incredibly annoying at times, and Rothfuss does not know anything about women, but despite all that Kvothe’s story is compelling.
The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff: A WWII novel based on true stories of German circuses hiding and protecting Jews. This novel alternates between two women: Noa, a young Dutch girl who saves a Jewish baby from a train car after her own baby has been taken away from her and her family has cast her out, and Astrid, a Jewish aerialist from a circus family who had been married to a Nazi officer before he disavowed her. Astrid is performing with a circus when Noa and the baby are found in the woods nearby, nearly dead from hunger and cold. Astrid trains Noa to perform on the trapeze with her and her early enmity turns into friendship. Although interesting and well-researched, the book had a ridiculous love story shoehorned in that I thought was unnecessary and distracting. The book would have been much more solid if it had been left out altogether.
The Hating Game, by Sally Thorne: I adored this debut rom-com about two executive assistants at a publishing company who hate each other… or do they? The banter was lovely and the story was perfectly paced. I can’t wait for Thorne’s next book, coming out this summer. VGR
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Screenplay), by J. K. Rowling: I actually didn’t see this movie, so the screenplay was probably more interesting to me than to someone who had seen it. That said, it definitely reads like a movie and not like the Harry Potter books. A fun and fast read set in 1920s New York City.
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers: This is more of a companion Wayfarers novel than a sequel, as it focuses on Lovelace, the AI now housed in a body “kit”, and Pepper, who takes her to live with her and her companion Blue. The story alternates between Lovelace (who renamed herself Sidra), who is struggling with the limitations of a body instead of a ship, and Pepper’s childhood as a clone slave who has escaped from a factory. It’s a quieter, more introspective book than the first one, but just as engrossing and entertaining. VGR
A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline: This book is about Christina Olson, a woman living on a Maine farm who struggles with a degenerative disease that eventually robs her of her ability to walk. For more than twenty years, she had a friendship with the painter Andrew Wyeth, who painted her, her farm, her house, and her brother. Kline has taken the facts and woven a novel around them, so I’m not sure what was actually true and what wasn’t, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a slow novel, but moving and affecting at the same time. Christina is quite unlikeable at times, but you always understand why, and her strength and spirit are indomitable. VGR
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman: This book focuses on Elsa, an aggressively precocious 7-year-old whose best and only friend in the world is her feisty Granny. Granny dies early in the novel, and Elsa is left delivering letters of apology from her grandmother to many different people for many different things. As Elsa learns more about the people who live in her apartment building and finds out they’re all connected, she makes friends and learns to deal with her grief.
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah: Excellent WWII novel set in occupied France focusing on Vianne and Isabelle, sisters who aren’t particularly close. Vianne lives in a country town with her husband and young daughter. Isabelle is a feisty 19-year-old getting kicked out of yet another boarding school, and she is determined to get involved with the resistance. Isabelle plays a key role in getting downed Allied pilots safely out of France by leading them across the Pyrenees. Vianne, meanwhile, has to deal with Nazi officers billeting in her farmhouse, reduced rations, danger to her Jewish friends and neighbors, and then she eventually becomes instrumental in finding safe homes for Jewish children when their parents are deported to concentration camps. VGR
Hunted, by Meagan Spooner: Interesting and well-crafted retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in a version of medieval Russia. The story is thoughtful and brings a fresh interpretation of the classic tale, and I read it in one sitting.
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty: Sci-fi mystery set on a generation ship manned by six clones. The clones awake to find their old bodies bloodily murdered and no memories of the previous 25 years. As they try to figure out what happened, their secrets and past lives are revealed. There’s a little too much going on and the book needed a few more rounds with an editor, but it was still an interesting premise and an entertaining read.
One Perfect Lie, by Lisa Scottoline: Suburban thriller that is very readable but lacks depth. Chris Brennan is applying for a job teaching government at a small-town high school. He looks perfect on paper, but everything about him is a lie. He’s using the job as a way to get close to vulnerable teenagers on the school’s baseball game. And that’s all I’ll say in order to avoid spoilers.
Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel: Terrific sequel to Sleeping Giants. Again told in the form of files and transcripts, Waking Gods sees many new giant robots appear all over the world – and they’re not friendly. The story is taken in unusual directions and I really hope there’s another book after this one. VGR