Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

“Give it time. Nothing you feel is wrong. There will always be a before and an after, and you have to learn to live in the after.” – Rachel Hawkins, Reckless Girls 

Rachel Hawkins is proving she’s a contender among mystery writers with her latest book, Reckless Girls. With this being only her second foray into writing adult fiction (Hawkins had previously written young adult and juvenile fiction), she has crafted a suspenseful psychological mystery that takes place on an island in the middle of nowhere.

Lux McAllister has been drifting for a while. After her mother died, Lux found herself working a job she didn’t particularly like in California. Enter Nico. The minute he walked into the restaurant she was working in, Lux felt he would change her life. Soon enough, the two are living in Hawaii. Nico promised her trips around the world in his boat. Instead the two have been stuck in Hawaii while Nico waits for the money to fix his boat. Nico’s family is rich, so he could ask his dad for the money, but his pride is holding him back. Instead he works at the marina while Lux works as housekeeping at a local resort, hoping to save enough money to fix the boat and sail away.

One day Nico tells Lux that he has met two women who want to hire him to sail them to a remote island in the South Pacific. The best news: they want Lux to come. After they pay to have Nico’s boat, the Susannah, fixed, the four head off to Meroe Island. Their passengers are college best friends Brittany and Amma. They say they want to travel off the beaten path, but something about the two seems off to Lux. After all, why would the chose Meroe Island? The island has a mysterious and deadly history: shipwrecks, cannibalism, and murder have haunted the island for years. It is a gorgeous destination though.

The group descend upon Meroe Island only to discover that there is already another boat anchored just off sandy coast. Living aboard the Azure Sky are Jake and Eliza. They are the golden couple: rich, gorgeous, laidback, and most importantly, their large catamaran has a very well-stocked bar. All six of them immediately click and begin spending their days together exploring the island off grid. Lux finally feels at peace. That peace is shattered when secrets start bubbling to the surface. It appears that people aren’t being as honest as they presented themselves to be. Meroe Island’s exotic locale becomes less and less appealing the longer they stay. When someone turns up dead and another goes missing, emotions run high as they wonder how many will actually leave Meroe alive.

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The Best of Me by David Sedaris

An anthology of David Sedaris’ work, The Best of Me is a great introduction to his style for the new reader, or a type of “greatest hits” album for his longtime fans. It abridges his former books including Me Talk Pretty One Day, Calypso, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, among others. As you read, you move through Sedaris’ whole life up to the present (or just about), laughing all the way.

The effect is interesting because where each of his previous essay collections had individual moods, this book has all of them– just about every conceivable feeling is present. The bittersweet feeling of aging and loss from Calypso is there, alongside the whimsical and sardonic tone of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. His iconic struggle with learning French, full of self-deprecation and humility, is present, as are plenty of childhood reminiscences and portraits of his activities and fixations as a settled, partnered adult (shopping for taxidermy and terrible clothes, living abroad, collecting trash, etc.). This is probably the closest a book can come to a portrait of a life and a representation of a body of work — and, typical of Sedaris, the result is readable, funny, soothing, thought-provoking, and relatable in different ways.

Besides being funny, and easier to carry around than a collection of 5 to 7 individual books, this book is honest, and for me it served as a comforting reminder that no matter how quirky your tastes may be, it’s always possible to craft a life that works for you. For that matter, it’s also good to be reminded that none of us are quite as saintly as we may like to think we are; Sedaris is an expert at giving voice to the less altruistic feelings and motives we all secretly relate to – while not trying to justify them or rally readers behind these feelings. Also interesting is the thread running through several essays about how different it was for Sedaris to grow up as a gay man than it is to be in the LGBTQ community now.

Basically, this book is full of good humor and helpful reminders about the realities of human nature – including not to take yourself too seriously. Highly recommended for those wanting to revisit, or discover, the unique reading experience that is David Sedaris.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

A tea monk and an intelligent robot search for meaning in this brief, optimistic read from the author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Thoughtful and gently paced, it offers a sweet taste of what’s surely a longer journey to come in future books.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers imagines a world in which the type of life we know today has been relegated to the past, a quaint and quirky way of life now mercifully gone. Instead, humans have strictly confined their towns and cities, leaving half their planet as wilderness for nature to run free. Somewhere in that wilderness, however, are some originally man-made creatures: robots who long ago gained sentience and left humanity in order to live freely in nature. Their fate has been unknown, until now. Sibling Dex, a monk (who uses they/them pronouns) from the Meadow Den monastery in a bustling city, has begun craving wide-open spaces and cricket songs. So they leave the city to become a wandering tea monk. Eventually even small towns and villages become too much civilization, and Dex seeks out wilder places, only to come face to face with the robots’ emissary, Mosscap, sent to answer the question: What do humans need?

This may be the gentlest book I’ve ever read – tea wagons, herbs, lush forests, biking through the countryside, and much more combine to make a beautifully soothing backdrop for the story. The god Sibling Dex serves is even called the God of Small Comforts. Which is not to say that everything is happiness and sunshine: Dex struggles with feelings of dissatisfaction, and their customers at their tea wagon also have their share of hard problems to bear – issues which neither Dex nor new friend Mosscap can solve, only soothe with a carefully brewed cup of tea. But being soothed, by tea, by nature, or other small comforts, still helps even if the problem remains.

It’s part ecological thought experiment, part philosophical parable, and all-around-healing. If you’re in need of relief or retreat, try this beautiful, meditative book for a breath of fresh air. And then, if you’re like me, wait eagerly for the next installment.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

To be honest, I’m not a big reader of historical fiction. Reading Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, which is set in 1950, was a departure for me, but I was open to it after having read her previous – and in my opinion, profound – book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I was pleased to find the story of Miss Benson an entertaining voyage into friendship, scientific inquiry, grief, post-war trauma, and how far we go to follow our dreams.

Our heroine is Margery Benson, who in 1914 at ten years old fell in love with beetles to help her deal with a personal loss, and became particularly fascinated by the golden beetle of New Caledonia, whose existence has never been proven. However, somewhere along the way she lost hold of her dreams, until she finds herself 46 years old, standing in front of a classroom teaching cookery, confiscating a note that turns out to be a less than flattering caricature of herself. Forced to face the difference between the life she wanted and the life she has, Miss Benson takes a leap of faith and embarks on a self-funded expedition to New Caledonia, determined to find the golden beetle once and for all. But she can’t do it alone. She’ll need an assistant. Enter the perky, flashy, enigmatic, blond-dyed, pink-hat-wearing, deeply unsuitable Enid Pretty, a woman with her own dreams to chase, and who will completely upend Margery Benson’s sense of the world, and herself.

I remain in awe of writers like Joyce who can weave together humor with grief and hardship with friendship to give you an engaging and meaningful tapestry of everyday life. I found this book funny and heartfelt, covering tough topics but not so heavily as to be depressing or off-putting. Also, like in her earlier Harold Fry, Joyce does a good job creating a journey for her characters that is both physical and emotional, and which leaves them forever changed.

This book is recommended for those who like books about female friendship, international travel, and the empowerment of women throughout history.

Get Graphic Series: Audubon: On the Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau

Up next in our Get Graphic Series is a non fiction title by Fabien Grolleau. Audubon: On the Wings of the World, takes the reader on a journey through 19th century rural America. John James Audubon was an ornithologist with a goal to create a pictorial record of the all the birds in North America. Traveling with only his drawing materials, an assistant and a gun, Audubon encounters dangerous animals, wild storms, and some not so friendly people.

Audubon: On the Wings of the World highlights not only the beauty of birds in America, but how Audubon’s life revolves around them. As he travels the US, he meets with prominent scientists in the hopes of publishing his book of bird paintings. But, the scientist believe his paintings are more “artistic” than “scientific”- which is something Audubon does not want to hear. This fuels his desire to prove the scientists wrong. He soon becomes obsessed with painting the animals and begins to disregard his family, friends, and even his health. An unlikely stranger meets with Audubon and pulls him from his fascination, changing the course of his career and life forever.

One of the things I love about nonfiction graphic novels is the chance to learn about something or someone I would have glanced over in the biography section. I wouldn’t have picked up a 300 page biography on John James Audubon, but Audubon: On the Wings of the World was just long enough to give me the facts and keep me engaged. Graphic novels are great starting points if you find yourself interested in a nonfiction topic.

Illustrations are key for nonfiction graphic novels. Some might find nonfiction “boring,” but the illustrations create a fun environment for the facts to live. Audubon: On the Wings of the World has wonderful illustrations of not only the story, but of the birds Audubon loved.

If you want to learn more about John James Audubon, give this graphic novel a try!

 

 

Take a Road Trip this Summer!

When I was growing up my family would take a vacation every August, visiting National Parks and historic sites. Road tripping is a great way to see and appreciate this country, its beauty and diversity. I have lots great memories of these trips and feel fortunate to have seen and traveled across so much of the United States and Canada.

As we (cautiously) come out of quarantine, you may be feeling the itch to travel again, but still not sure about flying yet. Why not take a road trip? These books will show you the way.

The Road Trip Survival Guide by Rob Taylor. This handy little book has all the essential information – planning, packing, food (there’s nothing quite like road trip snacks!) and safety with lots of practical tips. It’s filled with ideas such as figuring out how many days to take (always schedule some wiggle room), coming up with a theme for your trip – for instance, follow a Historic Trail such as Lewis and Clark or the US Civil Rights trails or go looking for Epic Tallest Trees (Washington, Oregon, California), recipes for snacks and ideas meals, and how to handle the inevitable problems (no vacation is without at least one!)

The second half of this book has several suggested itineraries which you can either follow or use as a jumping off point. There are ten for the United States, five for Canada and three for Mexico. They cover everything from rural to city, east coast to west. The emphasis is on exploring the outdoors and smaller cities and places that are a little off the beaten path. All of them are family friendly with recommendations for economical food (visit local supermarkets for snacks and lunches) and lodging (stay in smaller towns when possible) If you were hesitant about hitting the road, this book will get you out there with confidence!

If you’re stumped for where to go and what to do, check out Travel North America (and Avoid Being a Tourist) by Jeralyn Gerba and Pavia Rosati. This book is chock full of fun and off-beat travel ideas. The emphasis is on low-impact travel, slowing down and giving back. There’s a chapter on spas and retreats (“the woo-woo ways”), another on choosing a destination by season (wildflowers in spring, the Northern Lights in winter), several road trip itineraries based on a theme (American southwest for art pilgrims), exploring lesser known gems of several cities and practical ideas for traveling with others (“how to travel in a group – without being a jerk”), not just with kids but with elderly members of the family as well.  In addition, this book is loaded with great photos – you’ll be dreaming of and planning several trips in no time!

 

 

Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell

According to a few online sources I found, June is National Iced Tea Month in the United States (International Tea Day is April 21). In honor of this observance, I’d like to tell you about a nonfiction book I read recently which is (somewhat) related– Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell.

Published in 2019, Infused is Lovell’s memoir / travel diary about the global tea industry, highlighting all the places, people, and methods which help to create the amazing teas we (or I, anyway) drink every day. Lovell, also known as “The Rare Tea Lady”, includes recipes and photography to help capture the wonder of tea growing, processing, and of course tea drinking. She starts with her early journeys into China, mixed with meditations on why tea is so meaningful in her everyday life, and also mentions tidbits of tea’s history as a global product. Gradually she traces her growth into The Tea Lady, taking the reader on breathtaking journeys into the hidden places we’ve probably never been in countries like China, Russia, and even the UK.

I’m not a connoisseur by any means, with only a vague sense of ‘that tastes good’ (or not), but I found this book compelling for the care and detail that Lovell put into it. It’s fascinating to meet individual growers and chefs that make the creation of tea their life’s work, especially those that are carrying on deeply rooted local traditions. Lovell also makes a good case for choosing quality, loose-leaf tea over industrially-produced string-and-bag products, though of course the transition is easier said than done (and she can come across as snobbish on this point). Moreover, the writing style is readable, engaging, and thorough, with a restful, poetic level of description. The author’s love for tea and a strong sense of wonder shine through on every page.

For better or worse, I probably won’t change my tea habits too much going forward, but I definitely came away feeling enriched. Tea lovers, history buffs, travel enthusiasts, and devotees of whole, natural food products should try this book.

Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza

Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher have co-written a young adult novel called Sanctuary . This book takes place in a near future where a family struggles to find help and hope under a xenophobic government.

In 2032, all citizens living in America are chipped. The government is able to track your every movement with mandatory checkpoints everywhere from grocery stores to buses to schools. The chips control your life. If you’re an undocumented immigrant, life is a daily struggle. Sure, counterfeit chips exist, but there is always a risk that they will malfunction giving away your location and bringing Deportation Forces running to rip you away from your family.

Sixteen-year old Vali and her family have managed to create a happy life together until the day it all explodes around them. Her mother’s chip has started malfunctioning and they know it’s only a matter of time before the Deportation Forces take her away. With increasing raids, they are forced to flee.

On the run across the county, Vali, her younger brother, and her mother are desperate to make it to her tía Luna’s in California. California has made itself a sanctuary state, much to the anger of the current administration who is in the process of walling off that state from the rest of the country. When their mother is detained, Vali and Ernie are left on their own to travel across the entire United States on the hope that someone will be waiting on the other end to save them. With Deportation Forces closing in around them again, Vali will do anything to make sure they find their mom and make it to sanctuary.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Some of my favorite books to read when I’m searching for hope, yearning for positive thoughts, and trying to find a purpose are young adult books. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo was my latest young adult read that gave me a glimpse into another life. This book focuses on family, friends, love, and the struggle to figure out your future.

Emoni Santiago is a teen mom. Pregnant with her daughter during her freshman year of high school, Emoni works hard to overcome the judgment she faces from strangers and her fellow students. Knowing that she has to provide for Emma, Emoni does whatever needs to be done to help support her daughter and her abuela. Her life is stressful, but Emoni is grateful for what she has.

When she needs a break, Emoni heads to the kitchen and whips up some magic. She is able to look at ingredients and know what will fit well together. Whenever she shares her food with others, Emoni knows that it makes them think of memories, of home, of long-lost family and friends. As much as she would love to become a professional chef, Emoni knows that her family must come first. Now a senior in high school, she is struggling to figure out what to do with her future. Her counselor, friends, and family have all been asking what she wants to do.

Hoping to push her in the right direction, her counselor tells her she should take the new Culinary Arts class. Emoni is beyond excited. Once she starts cooking in that class, she lets her talent free and has to deal with the consequences. Her dreams of working as a chef are so close she can almost taste it.

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After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

I picked up this book to read because the cover was relaxing and the lines swirling over it looked like map lines. It turns out that I was right! Those are map lines after all and they turn out to be a key element in this book.

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag is set over a hundred years into a dystopian future where rising flood waters have crept up and overtaken the continents. This slow rise of water has obliterated and destroyed the mountaintops and known landscape and has, as a result, left in its place deep wide expanses of open water.

Myra is angry. Why is she angry? Her husband Jacob abandoned her while she was pregnant with their daughter Pearl. To top it off, he took their oldest daughter Row with him when he took off. Myra and Pearl are travelling from island to island on Bird, the boat that Myra’s grandfather made in the attic of their house before he died. Surviving by fishing and trading at the islands they visit, Myra is constantly on the lookout for any information about Row and Jacob.

Their life may be tranquil and at an even keel, but Myra knows that this peace can be interrupted at a moment’s notice. A bad wave, an interaction with violent people and breeding ships, or a fish shortage could all spell disaster for the pair. While stopped at an island to trade, Myra learns that Row may in fact still be alive. This chance encounter leads her to pack up Pearl, search for help, and start the dangerous journey to The Valley. Far up north, the trek to The Valley will be full of breeding ships and savage people looking to steal anything they can and willing to take over any unsuspecting ships. Add in the fact that The Valley might be going through an epidemic and Myra needs to get there as soon as she can to save Row.

On their way to The Valley, Myra and Pearl are hit with obstruction after obstruction with death and strangers littering their path. They eventually end up on board the boat, Sedna. This boat couldn’t be more different than Bird: Sedna has a fully able crew and seemingly all the supplies they could ever need (food, ammo, weapons, building/boat materials). Myra slowly discovers that in order to make it to Row and rescue her, she will have to betray and deceive everyone around her. Is Myra willing to sacrifice Pearl in order to save Row? Is Row even there? Could this all be for nothing? Myra has to decide what she’s willing to do to find out the truth.

This book is also available in the following format: