1. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness: Connor is visited by a monster—not the one he’s been seeing every night in his dreams, but one with an unnerving promise to tell him stories and extract “the truth.” Connor’s life has been turned upside down ever since his mother’s cancer diagnosis. Does the monster bring further chaos or absolution?
The idea for this book actually belonged to Siobhan Dowd, who was fighting her own terminal cancer diagnosis at the time and was unable to execute it before she died. Illustrated like a children’s book but with adult themes, the story is heartbreaking to begin with, but in the context of its original author, becomes a sledgehammer.
2. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman: This international bestseller describes how our brains work by breaking things down into two systems: the automatic System 1 and the analytical System 2. As it turns out, System 1 is kind of a jerk who constantly makes bad choices and System 2 is skillful but lazy—you really have to give System 2 a kick in the pants to get it moving. I don’t think learning any of this has fixed my bad mental habits. I now know that when Neiman Marcus sends me sales e-mails with original prices included, they’re exploiting my anchoring bias, but I’m probably still buying the sweater. Still, it was interesting getting a glimpse inside my own head to see how things are wired.
3. The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Mara: I am such an Anthony Mara fan girl. I don’t know how many people I’ve pushed copies of his debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, onto, and only he could make me love a collection of short stories—my least favorite form of writing—this much. Here all of the stories are set in Russia and its former satellites across a period of fifty years. While we only see a small vignette from each character, their lives are all affected by the choices of the first narrator and each other. Russians have a very black sense of humor, which I happen to love, and Mara nails it. Highly recommend this one.
4. The Discreet Hero, by Mario Vargas Llosa: Last year I promised myself I’d read more books originally published outside the United States, and I think I’ve done okay with that goal. I hit authors in Australia, Kenya, Russia, England, Ireland and Iran not counting American-published books set in the (former) Belgian Congo, Scotland, England, Panama, Lithuania, Mallorca, Holland, Afghanistan, Aruba, Scandinavia and Germany. For all of that, though, this was my first South American effort.
A small businessman refuses to give in to threats of extortion in a remote Peruvian city. A large businessman plots a way to get back at the sons who want him dead. Although they never speak, their paths intersect in a way that asks how we define a hero.
5. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford: Henry is a 12-year-old boy living in 1940s San Francisco with his Chinese-born parents. With the United States at war with Japan, Henry wears a button every day that states “I am Chinese” to insulate himself from the suspicion and discrimination of his neighbors. When he meets Keiko, a Japanese girl at his otherwise all-white school, they become fast friends despite Henry’s father’s hatred of all things Japanese. Then Keiko’s family is sent to an internment camp and Henry is left questioning family, country and self.
This was a timely read, given the debate raging nationally right now. Thanks to my Aunt Debbie for the recommendation.
6. Paradise and Power, by Robert Kagan: This book—at about 150 pages, really more of an extended essay—on the relative positions and responses by the United States and Europe to the threat of terrorism is fantastic. It’s concise, it’s not preachy and it provides a lot of great context for why we often find ourselves at ideological loggerheads with the continent with which we otherwise have so much in common. Originally written in 2004, the book was updated a few years ago but is still missing anything to do with ISIS. Even with that caveat, this is definitely worth a read if you want to genuinely understand the social and political context of the various Western powers in the fight on terror.
7. The Big, Bad Book of Bill Murray by Robert Schnakenburg: This encyclopedia-style “reference guide” covers most of what you could ever want to know about Bill Murray, assuming you only want to hear the quirky, flattering parts. It was a little too glowing for me, not because I need lots of dirty details but because no one is this perfect, and it’s kind of flat to present them that way. I did learn that I was born on the exact day (June 7th, 1984) Ghostbusters was released.
And the best thing I read this month…
8. The Illuminae Files _01 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: Here is a recipe for a book I’ll love: 1) be funny, 2) use a found documents format, 3) don’t be science fiction. This hit two out of three, and I didn’t even mind that almost the whole thing took place on spaceships.
Kady broke up with Ezra right before their planet—an insignificant little outpost—was attacked as part of a war between two mega-corporations. As two of only a small group of survivors, they are loaded onto separate crafts traveling together to try and escape the pursing warship.
Kady uses her hacking skills to try and uncover what the ship leaders aren’t telling them—about the attack, about the pursuit and why one ship’s artificial intelligence system can no longer be trusted. Meanwhile, on Ezra’s craft, a strange and dangerous virus breaks out. Communicating between the ships through illicit IMs, Kady races to find the truth while Ezra battles to stay alive.
Just searching for an image to use for this book made me want to read it again. You've got to pick this one up.