Lilith’s Brood – Octavia E. Butler

Lilith_s Brood - Octavia E. ButlerThis is a trilogy, comprised of Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago. Earth has had an apocalyptic world war, and the few remaining humans have been “rescued” by aliens and kept in stasis for hundreds of years. What follows is a brilliant description of the human instinct for violence, and the complexity of feelings when humans encounter the aliens for the first time. Lilith is utilized to choose humans to be re-animated, and so there is the strong psychology of humans learning about aliens and distrusting Lilith’s role. The aliens have breath-taking powers or healing, aka resurrection, but have their own agenda. The human-alien relationships are an imaginative form of symbiosis with genetic sharing in offspring. Thus there is yet another interesting new relationships, that of parents and offspring. Butler wrote these books almost 30 years ago, so she anticipated and described genetic engineering very accurately. She also wrote the great Kindred which is in the archives of this blog. Thanks Amy, for sharing this imaginative and compelling book.

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Burial Rites - Hannah KentA young Australian woman was on a Rotary Exchange to Iceland, where she discovered a story of Agnes who was beheaded in 1828 for alleged murders. This was the last execution in Iceland. The story is all context, life in Iceland in the early 19th century and the place of an independent woman, with issues of poverty and religion. HK was a participant in a Vancouver Word Fest session on archival research about 2 1/2 years ago that I attended. She talked about the issue of cultural appropriation, for example. This is an excellent debut novel, and my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I read this book in Iceland!

The Road To Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson

The Road To Little Dribbling - Bill BrysonThis is a sequel of sorts to Bryson’s brilliant book about Great Britain, Notes From A Small Island. Twenty years after Notes was published, Bryson again travels over much of England and Wales to the northern tip of Scotland, often walking. His observations range from self-deprecating comedy to insightful and informative commentary. Bryson loves the sublime countryside so even his complaining is good-natured. This is a charming book.

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest - Cynthia D_Aprix SweeneyThis is an entertaining story about a dysfunctional family, the Plumb siblings (Johnathan Franzen territory). The core character is the oldest, Leo, a prodigal brother who is charming but dishonest and deceitful. The plot has a number of surprising turns to make this a very enjoyable read. Leo’s siblings are variably desperate and entitled and conniving. This is another amazing first novel that is highly recommended.

May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Homes

May We Be Forgiven - A.M. HomesHarold has a younger brother, George, who has exhibited psychopathic tendencies his whole life. When George commits an unspeakable act of violence, Harold is thrust into being responsible for George’s two children, a responsibility for which he is woefully unprepared. Initially Harold is very annoying because of poor impulse control resulting in very bad decisions, especially with his relationships with women. However, he slowly grows into his role of protector and confidant. The setting is NY with an interesting excursion into South Africa. This is a very good book about how complex behaviours can evolve. A sub-plot about Richard Nixon is totally entertaining.

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

Ruby - Cynthia BondThis is a tough read because of disturbing content. Set in an all-Black community in East Texas in the 1950-70s, there is blatant racism, violence and tremendous cruelty. Well-written but be warned … This doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation but in this new era of increasing intolerance, it is worthwhile, I think, to try and learn from historical precedent and ask the question: are we really moving forward?

The Geography of Genius – Eric Weiner

The Geography of Genius - Eric WeinerWeiner previously wrote the very entertaining Geography of Bliss where he related happiness to geographical places: Bhutan = very happy; Moldava = very unhappy. In this book he examines places notable for genius (aka creativity). Some are predictable (Ancient Athens, Florence at the time of Leonardo and Michelangelo, present day Silicon Valley) but some are surprising (Edinburgh, Calcutta). Part of his thesis is that genius is urban and dependent on lively conversations – the importance of formal discussion groups or informal discussions at coffee shops or even pubs (The Inklings discussing writing in an Oxford pub). Therefore, environment is key and genetics plays a minor part. Of course he is selective in presenting studies that support a subjective point of view. Nevertheless, the book is entertaining with much self-deprecating humour. Thanks Mary for this recommendation.