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Maybe it’s the boost of energy that comes along with Spring, but I’ve really been on a reading kick lately. That probably sounds silly coming from a librarian, but most of us wax and wane in our hobbies. I’ve also found myself reading a few things I wouldn’t normally pick up. And since all of these books have been so entertaining, I decided to share several short reviews covering a range of recent additions to the Library’s collection.

futureFuture Home of the Living God by Louise Erdich — Set in the not too distant future, or maybe just an alternative present, Erdich explores what might happen in a world where humans seem to be devolving. Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a Native American who has been adopted by a white family. And she has a secret: she’s pregnant. In an increasingly dystopian world, can she ensure the safety of herself, her child, and her families? I spent a lot of time frightened for Cedar and she journeys between worlds, both literal and spiritual. Erdich’s story is firmly within the realm of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The One by John Marrs — What if, with a simple DNA sample, you could find your genetic soulmate? The one for whom you are literally perfect? In THE ONE, Marrs explores what might happen if this were possible. Six stories unfold as people learn the identities of their perfect genetic matches. Ranging from your everyday businessman to a serial killer, these characters discover that love is complex and can lead to results no one could expect. Though, I did find a couple of the plot points predictable, it was certainly a fun read. Fans of “Black Mirror” will likely enjoy this sordid set of tales.

fridgeThe Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente — In the world of comic books, there is a term for a select group of characters: Women in Refrigerators. This refers to the disproportionate amount of female characters that are killed in the name of furthering storylines. Valente tells the stories of a series of women characters — no one directly from comics, but recognizable if you’re familiar with many of the big name series — who have been written out of the comics world and spend their time in the afterworld. The characters cover the gamut of emotions associated with such deaths, but also speak to the strength of female friendships. A quick read for anyone who wants a different perspective on the world of comics.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas — In Zumas’ story, only married, heterosexual couples can adopt children. Abortion is flat out illegal. And in this world, women are dealing with what these regulations mean for their everyday lives. Each woman copes in her own way, with longing, fear, or even rebellion. These characters are very real, and likely will remind you of someone you know. And some women, like a fictional explorer named Eivør Minervudottir, are out of place in their own time. This is another work that is spiritually and topically akin to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

mojo.jpgTotal Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy — Let’s be honest: I’m a crazy cat lady. I grew up a dog person, but years ago, my husband introduced me to cats and it’s been all downhill from there. Like any responsible pet owner, I want to make sure my cats are living their best lives. And that means Jackson Galaxy. He’s pretty much the go-to guy for cat people. And TOTAL CAT MOJO is a wonderful resource for all stages of a cat’s life. Plus, he gives great advice for troubleshooting common cat problems like litter box struggles, dealing with stressed kitties, and introducing new family members – from feline to human.

Though there are some common themes in these books, I think they’ll speak to a variety of readers. We add hundreds of items every month; be sure to explore the new books and to find something that appeals to you!

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SWFCPV If you’re a nerd, there are pretty much two factions: Star Trek and Star Wars. I grew up on Star Trek. Sure, I watched Star Wars, but I was way more into Picard than Luke. However, I married into a Star Wars family. To keep up with family debates, I’ve had to do a little research into the Star Wars universe. When STAR WARS : FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW came across my desk, I knew I’d have to give it a look.

“Star Wars : From a Certain Point of View” is a collection of short stories from a variety of big name authors like Meg Cabot, Christie Golden, and Paul S. Kemp, along with a story from W

il Wheaton (who I know as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek). Each story is based on the Star Wars universe. In particular, this collection bridges the gap between the events of “Rogue One” and “A New Hope.” However, none of the stories focuses on the traditional heroes of the saga. Instead, we get the viewpoints of characters like a stormtrooper, Grand Moff Tarkin, and even the monster from the Death Star trash compactor.

Each story offers a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes events of the original trilogy. These aren’t just filler stories, either. The authors involved have taken care to delve deeply into the characters and show the emotional background to some of the events from the series. Since it would take a few more words than I have here to review all 35 stories, I’ll share my thoughts on a few from the collection.

“The Bucket” by Christie Golden — TK-4601 is a young Stormtrooper who has been given an amazing opportunity: capture the rebel Princess Leia Organa. He is full of excitement at the prospect of helping crush the Rebellion. But when he does encounter her, it will change him forever. As a huge Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia fan, I loved this story for the way Golden describes Leia through the eyes of an enemy. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Those who underestimate Leia soon regret it, a fact not lost on TK-4601.

“Stories in the

 Sand” by Griffin McElroy — The Jawa are a species that lives their lives scouring the des

erts of Tatooine for anything they can sell. Jot is a Jawa who doesn’t quite fit in. Smaller but smarter than his peers, he discovers a secret compartment that lets him scavenge videos from the droids he scraps. But one day, he discovers a video stored in a blue and white droid. A video of a young woman in white asking for help. Will Jot erase the video and sell the droid? Or will he help set into motion the entire plot of the movies we love so much? McElroy does a great job of exploring a species that initially seems to have very little depth. He also reminds us that even the smallest of us can make a big difference.

“Laina” by Wil Wheaton — Ryland, a member of the Rebel Alliance, must say goodbye to his infant daughter. He’s about to go on a dangerous mission and needs to know Laina will be safe. She will go to live with her aunts. Fair warning, this is a heart-wrenching story. Wheaton examines why a single father would risk everything and join what might seem like a lost cause. What could bring him to risk his life? A fair amount of revenge and a dash of hope.

I should end this by noting that I’m a fan of the new Star Wars movies. I find they fill me with a sense of hope. And that’s a word I associate this collection. These are stories of the everyday person (or Jawa or droid). I think I “get” my in-laws love of Star Wars. Much like my love of Star Trek, it’s about heroes and hope. And these stories remind us that it’s not just the Skywalker family who can make a difference: it’s all of us.

bestdayWhile I was reading BEST DAY EVER by KAIRA ROUDA, I made a Facebook post that said “Only 50 pages in and I want to strangle the narrator.” A friend advised that I was “allowed to put it down” and I realized I couldn’t. Just like when I tackled Flynn’s GONE GIRL, I knew I was going to have to finish this book. I needed to know what happens to the characters. I needed to know that Paul Strom was going to be punished for being truly awful.

Everything about Paul is perfect. He has the perfect life: a high-powered job, a beautiful stay-at-home wife, Mia, and two young sons. And he has planned the perfect weekend getaway with Mia at their second home in an exclusive gated community. He even assembled the perfect playlist as the soundtrack the their weekend. (Paul is prone to repetition; maybe it affected me a little.) But if everything is so wonderful, then why does Mia seem so unhappy? Why are Paul’s thoughts so dark? What are they both hiding?

As the day’s events intensify, Mia seems to know more about Paul’s darker half than he realizes. She asks questions about his work life that make him incredibly nervous. Of course, he thinks he’s too smart to be found out. She’s just a silly housewife, no threat to him whatsoever. But Paul’s overconfidence may end up being his downfall.

Written primarily from Paul’s perspective, this book is very character-driven. He is an intense, brooding, and flawed person. In many ways, he reminded me of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Is Paul a psychopath or just creepy and controlling? Or both? Or is he just an exaggerated character who is created to tell a story?

I think that Paul, while perhaps a bit embellished, is a very realistic character. He’s overly concerned with status and brand (he mentions a least a dozen times that he drives a Ford Flex). Maintaining a picture-perfect life is what he strives for. And maybe that’s what felt over the top about him. If he’s a psychopath, would he care about creating an illusion? Or would he just try not to get discovered? Regardless of these nitpicks, the story is both disturbing and compelling.

Even though I was angry at the narrator, I think that’s the mark of a successful book. Rouda managed to evoke incredibly strong emotions from me. I was filled with disgust for Paul. I rooted for Mia to confront her controlling husband. I wanted answers to all the questions brought up by Paul’s unsettling internal monologue. For the most part, I got those answers. But can you really trust the answers of someone as suspicious as Paul?

Sometimes, it’s fun to explore the scary things in the world. I think I prefer the more impossible side of scary, though. Give me vampires, werewolves, and Ancient Ones any day. Knowing that there are really people like Paul out there made Rouda’s book more unsettling for me. But, if you don’t mind getting inside the head of someone who is, frankly, unlikeable and unreliable, then BEST DAY EVER might be for you.

 

epiphanyTattoos most often have a personal meaning for their recipients. Hours of thought and planning are invested before needle takes to skin. But, in the world of THE EPIPHANY MACHINE by DAVID BURR GERRARD, those who receive tattoos from the mystical machine have only one choice: whether or not to stick their arm into the jaw of the beast-like device.

For me, The Epiphany Machine is not an easy book to write a review of. Mostly, the book follows Venter Lowood from high school through college. His parents were among the first of those to use the mysterious epiphany machine. The tattoo his mother received seemingly foretold her abandoning her family. And Venter’s father’s tattoo may have contributed to his lackluster parenting. Naturally, Venter has been told to avoid the machine. We can all imagine what happens next.

One of the first rules of using the epiphany machine is: “The epiphany machine will not discover anything about you that you do not, in some way, already know.” Venter’s tattoo reads DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS. While this doesn’t surprise him, he alternates, for the rest of his life, between trying to defy and follow his tattoo’s words. And this is maybe the most frustrating thing about him. I spend a fair amount of time thinking of Holden Caulfield, one of my least favorite literary characters. I have to give David Burr Gerrard credit for writing a character that evoked an emotional response, even if it was frustration.

So, what is the epiphany machine? Who created it? How does it work? What powers the machine? No one knows. But the machine’s owner, Adam Lyons, begins operating it in his New York City apartment in the 1960s. The tattoos are brief and seem to reveal a truth about each person. These truths are somewhat uncomfortable, but at the same time, offer enlightenment. Before long, even John Lennon shows up at Lyons’ apartment, puts his arm into the machine, and receives a mystical tattoo. Generations use the machine with no major incident. After 9/11, the machine takes on a more sinister connotation.

Venter’s best friend, Ismail, is Muslim and has a tattoo that reads WANTS TO BLOW THINGS UP. Unfortunately, one of the pilots who hijacked a plane on 9/11 had the same tattoo. Soon, Venter comes back to his dorm to discover government agents want information. Stuck with an impossible choice — and DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS — Venter turns his friend. From there, Venter’s life bounces from one bad decision to the next.

The Epiphany Machine is, at its core, a book about choices and how we deal with them. Should we use the machine or not? Once the tattoo is there, how much weight should you give it? Should you work to change yourself, or is there some core part of our personality that cannot be changed? Though Gerrard can’t answer those questions, he does set up a story that invites readers to explore them on our own.

Did you know that our staff write book reviews every week?

We choose a wide variety of materials offered by the library and give you our thoughts on them. The reviews are published in the Sunday edition of the Joplin Globe, but are also available on our blog at https://jplbookreviews.wordpress.com!

indexGenerally speaking, I don’t read books that have to do with nature. I’m not a person who’s interested in mountain climbing or caving. So why I picked up THE WHITE ROAD by Sarah Lotz is still a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe something in the description made me think of one of my favorite horror movies, THE DESCENT. Maybe I just wanted to try something different. No matter what the reason, I’m glad I gave this one a chance.

Simon Newman and his friend Thierry run a struggling website. On the hunt for content that will bring in new readers, Thierry discovers the story of Cwm Pot. While exploring a system of caves in Cwm Pot, three men died. Their bodies were unable to be recovered due to the difficulty of the cave. Thierry and Simon decide that Simon will explore the cave to get footage of the dead men.

Simon finds a guide to lead him through the caves, he assumes everything will go well. But Simon and his guide Ed wind up trapped during a flash flood. The guide attacks Simon and dies in the resulting struggle. On his own in unfamiliar territory, Simon must decide whether he will wait for potential rescue or try to find his way out. Unable to stand the thought of being trapped with four dead men, Simon stumbles his way to rescue.

Of course, Simon’s footage goes viral. He and Thierry are on the verge of being rich, which means they need more content for their site. Thierry comes up with the idea of sending Simon to Mt. Everest to capture footage of the dead climbers at the summit. Eager for money, Simon agrees to go.

This half of the book is told from the viewpoints of Simon and a climber named Juliet. Juliet was a climber who was attempting to climb Mt. Everest with her partner Walter. Walter dies during the climb, leaving Juliet alone. She begins to see something along the way. A phantom climber that haunts her day and night. What – or who – is this entity?

Simon climbs ever closer to the summit, befriending his fellow climbers. As they get closer to the summit, he discovers that one of the other climbers, Mark, is actually the son of the lost Juliet. Mark wants to climb only to find his mother’s body. Simon is conflicted. Does he want footage for the site or to respect the journey of his new friend?

At the summit, Simon loses his grasp on reality and removes his glove. Because of the extreme environment, his hand is frozen. The guide who was leading him to the summit rescues Simon, but Mark is lost. Simon loses part of his hand to frostbite. But the footage of the climb skyrockets the website’s popularity. Despite this, Simon sinks into a deep depression and is haunted by the ghost of Ed. Discussing too much more of the plot would spoil the ending, but I will say that Simon goes on a quest to both rid himself of Ed and discover what haunted Juliet on Everest.

 More than anything, Lotz’s writing captures the extremes of the environments she writes about. The crushing depths of the cave and numbing cold of Everest are described so well that reading them was uncomfortable. The description of going through the tight spaces of Cwm Pot made me pretty sure I don’t ever want to go caving. This wasn’t quite the horror story I thought it would be, but if you’re looking for a different take on both scary situations and nature writing, THE WHITE ROAD is worth your while.

joanWhen I read the description for THE BOOK OF JOAN, I thought, “oh, interesting, a science fiction retelling of Joan of Arc.” But that’s maybe the most basic a description that could possibly be attributed to Yuknavitch’s book. Not to be trite, but this story is about the nature of humanity and love, and whether those two concepts can ever really coexist.

Humanity has nearly come to an end. Aboard the space station CIEL, the remainders of Earth’s population work to find a way to survive. As they’ve been exposed to radiation from the atmosphere, humans are pale and hairless. Standard interpretations of sex and gender have become irrelevant. They can no longer reproduce. For means of entertainment, they turn to extreme body modification, aka “grafts”.

Grafts come in different types, including elaborate skin grafts that replicate 17th century French powdered wigs. The higher one’s status, the more extreme the graft. Different artists on CIEL create these grafts. Christine is one of these artists and specializes in branding stories into skin. On her body, she has branded the story of Joan.

Joan is a rebel who fights against the leader of CIEL, Jean de Men. Joan’s story, as you can imagine, mirrors the life of Joan of Arc. As a little girl, Joan has a strange encounter where she more or less connects spiritually to a tree. From this encounter, she receives a glowing light on her right temple. This light defies all explanation; no doctor can discover where it originates. But it connects Joan to the Earth and grants her power over nature.

On CIEL, the official story is that Joan was burned at the stake for being an eco-terrorist. (In this future world, even executions are theatrical events.) But Christine discovers that Joan escaped and lives on the wasteland of Earth below. Both Joan and Christine fight against the sadistic Jean de Men, but in different ways. As the stories of Christine and Joan spiral together, the book comes to a dramatic, though not uplifting end.

More than anything, THE BOOK OF JOAN is a piece of feminist science fiction. Yuknavitch deals with bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, and gender expression in what I would describe as lurid detail. I have to admit, this is not a book I’d recommend to everyone. It’s definitely a book for readers who don’t mind a bit of the grotesque. There are scenes that vividly describe torture of various kinds, including human experimentation. Yuknavitch pulls no punches. But if you’re brave enough to give it a chance, THE BOOK OF JOAN will provide you with a lot to think about.