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Sci Fi and Fantasy Series Starters
Looking for a new world to get into? Here are a few first books in some great series not of this world!
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin – One of the most acclaimed pieces of sci-fi to come out of China, The Three Body Problem offers a fresh spin on the genre. Jumping between the modern age and the 1970s in the heart of the Great Leap Forward in China, the main character Ye Wenjie misuses a secret military project to communicate with our closest neighbors in space, who view us as nothing more than a pest in the way of saving their own civilization. While the trilogy has been complete in Chinese for several years, the translation of the final book in the series Death’s End is due later this year. Highly recommended for its unique perspective, terrifying premise about life in the universe, and use of real science. Translated from Mandarin.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey – A space opera in the truest sense. Leviathan Wakes reads like a well paced movie. Humans have colonized the solar system, but our problems are not gone. Earth and Mars are locked in a Cold War-esque rivalry, “belters” born in space are viewed as uncivilized, barely human, and corporate greed may have unleashed a 4 billion year old weapon designed to wipe out humanity. The series has become a Sci-Fi channel series The Expanse, and the story is ongoing with 4 sequels in print and one due this year.
Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky – A terrifying post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure in the metro tunnels of Moscow. Stations become distinct political entities as the survivors fight with each other over the dwindling resources, and rangers venture to the surface to find it an uninhabitable wasteland full of inhuman monsters. But are the monsters really an enemy? Or are the inhabitants of the Metro the real danger? Metro 2033 has spawned two official sequels (Metro 2034, Metro 2035) and a best selling video-game franchise. Translated from Russian.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu – Described as Game of Thrones in a fantasy “silkpunk” setting, Liu’s book is a journey into a refreshingly unique fantasy world based on medieval China. The Grace of Kings is emotional, exciting and a breath of fresh air in a genre that is stale in it’s diversity of setting and character. This is a remarkable debut from an author who previously had only done short fiction and translations. The series continues later this year with The Wall of Storms.
Lewis Parsons is a librarian in Research and Information Services at the Sawyer Free Library.
Last year was the rebirth of Books & Brews, a popular book group here at the Sawyer Free Library. When I decided to take over the group, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I wanted to pick interesting, thought provoking books that would both entertain and offer great discussion. Here are a few books we read over the last year that proved to be undisputed hits and great picks for anyone interested in starting a book group.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire – When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.
All Souls: A Family Story From Southie by Patrick Michael MacDonald – Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up in “the best place in the world”– the Old Colony projects of South Boston–where 85% of the residents collect welfare in an area with the highest concentration of impoverished whites in the U.S. In All Souls, MacDonald takes us deep into the secret heart of Southie. With radiant insight, he opens up a contradictory world, where residents are besieged by gangs and crime but refuse to admit any problems, remaining fiercely loyal to their community. MacDonald also introduces us to the unforgettable people who inhabit this proud neighborhood.
The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian – In this novel, nothing is what it at first seems. Not the bucolic Vermont back roads college sophomore Laurel Estabrook likes to bike. Not the savage assault she suffers toward the end of one of her rides. And certainly not Bobbie Crocker, the elderly man with a history of mental illness whom Laurel comes to know through her work at a Burlington homeless shelter in the years subsequent to the attack. In a narrative of dazzling invention, literary ingenuity, and psychological complexity, Bohjalian engages issues of homelessness and mental illness by evoking the humanity that inhabits the core of both. At the same time, his tale is fast-paced and riveting. The Double Bind combines the suspense of a thriller with the emotional depths of the most intimate drama. The breathtaking surprises of its final pages will leave readers stunned, overwhelmed by the poignancy of life’s fleeting truths, as caught in Bobbie Crocker’s photographs and in Laurel Estabrook’s painful pursuit of Bobbie’s past — and her own.
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb – In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years. Meet Dolores Price. She’s 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she’s determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before she really goes under.
Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in Reference Services.
You don’t have to know everything about writing and fiction and novels in order to begin your first novel. That’s true whether you’re writing or editing. But you do need to know something. A lot of somethings. There are many ways to mess up stories, so many pitfalls for the writer who is ignorant of craft and lacks both skills and experience. But no writer needs to remain ignorant, not today. Not when so many resources are available. Here are a few titles that have been fairly universally recognized as helpful to those hoping to learn the writing craft.
Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster – Forster (A Passage to India) delivered a series of lectures on the art of the novel at the University of Cambridge. Although this book was written in 1956, Forster’s writing on character development, plot elements and story remain relevant today. He reduces the novel to its essential elements and provides a plainspoken approach helpful to both beginning and mature writers.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott – With characteristic honesty and humor, Ms. Lamott (Small Victories) encourages writers to write authentically, to manage their progress incrementally, to use all their life experiences to inform their art, and much more. Her helpful advice is demonstrated by a story she tells about the book’s title. “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” This has become a bit of a mantra in my own home as Lamott is one of our family favorites.
On Writing by Stephen King – Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. King describes how the writing life coexists with the everyday by grounding his advice in his vivid memories from childhood all the way through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999. King believes the link between writing and living spurred his recovery. A tale well told.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King – Browne and King are professional editors who share the techniques they use to edit manuscripts. They write knowledgeably about the elements of dialog, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques and take their readers through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect a manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.
On Writing Well: the Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser – This title has become a classic textbook for learning the writing craft. On Writing Well has sold more than a million copies for good reason. Zinsser’s advice is sound, well-tested and applicable to many forms of writing.
Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud – McCloud analyzes the art form itself, detailing how to achieve emotional effects and tell stories in visual styles. He explores the creation of comics, from the broadest principles to the sharpest details (like how to accentuate a character’s facial muscles in order to form the emotion of disgust rather than the emotion of surprise.) He does all with a cartoon narrator mixing fun and serious instruction. This work is a wonderful view into how to master the human condition through word and image in a brilliantly minimalistic way. Comic book devotees as well as the most uninitiated will marvel at this journey into a once–underappreciated art form.
Beth Pocock is a Assistant Director at the Sawyer Free Library.
Recently I discovered a classic children’s book that somehow I had never read (or didn’t remember reading!) I found myself enchanted and thoroughly entertained. While children may get enjoyment from stories, sometimes adult sensibilities can get even more. Children’s literature can have surprising depth and resonance. Whether rereading a book from childhood or discovering a title for the first time, you can find new literary adventures in children’s stories.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – This is a tale of being lost, then found; of not belonging and then finding your place in the world. Mary Lennox, a spoilt child of wealthy, neglectful British parents in India, is suddenly orphaned and sent to live in England with an uncle she has never met. Left to her own devices she discovers an overgrown garden, locked up due to being the scene of her aunt’s death. She also discovers her cousin Colin, who has a phantom illness and just as bad of a temperament as Mary. With the help of the kind natured boy Dickon, Mary revives the garden and Colin’s health. The destructiveness of self-indulgence and the restorative powers of nature are at the center of the novel.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – The magical world that Rowling has constructed is complete and complex, allowing readers to fully immerse themselves. The series starts out rather simply, but as the books progress through the adolescence of Harry, it becomes darker, more complicated and more violent. Rowling allows all her characters to have flaws and redeeming features (except for the purely evil Voldemort). Mature themes – fascism, racism, failure of bureaucracy, self-sacrifice, and the need for the sense of belonging — are all intertwined in the fiction. The story arc is carried throughout the seven novels, giving a satisfying literary journey.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – Animals that talk usually are cute, but White doesn’t try to hide the animals’ natural tendencies or the reality of farm life with treacle. Charlotte’s Web opens with eight year old Fern Arable convincing her farmer father not to commit the “injustice” of summarily slaughtering the runt of the litter, but letting Fern raise the piglet. She names him Wilbur, and after nursing him and playing with him, is made to sell the pig to her uncle. It is in the Zuckerman’s barn that we meet the all the animals who quickly inform Wilbur of his fate of eventually being slaughtered. But the practical, kindly and smart spider Charlotte, who is Wilbur’s friend, cleverly finds a way to save him. The animals are the center of attention in the novel, with the humans mostly there to manipulate. Even Fern, who initially witnesses the animal conversations (much to her mother’s consternation), fades from the barn as her attention turns to more human concerns. The story is more charming for reveling in the earthy world of the barn and the lives of the farm animals.
The Giver by Lois Lowry – Dystopia has been a hot topic for children’s literature recently, but The Giver was published over twenty years ago, the first in a quartet. Jonas lives in a colorless, emotionally muted Community that has chosen Sameness to frame their safe, but shallow lives. They are able to keep their lives very balanced by a strict set of rules, and having one person the keeper of all memories — both joyful, like sunshine and family love, and painful, like sunburn and warfare. Jonas is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory. But as Jonas experiences the expansion of his emotional life, he and the Giver question the basic structure of the Community. The novel examines the large issues of whether good can exist without evil, if safety and stability is bought at the cost of emotional depth, what is a community without a shared past.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo – Opal Buloni is a lonely 10 year old girl —- lonely because her loving but distracted preacher father has recently moved her to a small Florida town, but her deeper loneliness has to do with the abandonment by her mother years before. Her adoption of a stray dog, named Winn-Dixie after the supermarket she finds him in, changes her life. Through her dog she finds her circle of friends expanding. More importantly, she begins to understand that there are all kinds of loneliness in the world and that reaching out to others eases that pain. DiCamillo softly weaves a southern charmer of a story, with interesting characters and a subtle message.
Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.
Last winter was rather challenging, and I am apprehensive about how much snow we will get this year. I thought if I embrace snow, maybe it will help me brace for it! Bring it on! Ugh.
Know Your Beholder by Adam Rapp – I read this last March. The first paragraph describes Francis Falbo looking out his window and seeing people on the city street making their way on skis. This was very similar to what I was looking at! The entire story takes place during a snowy winter in Pollard Illinois. It is about Francis, who is a landlord in a house full of eccentrics, he being one of them.
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia – A snowstorm leaves high school music festival members stranded at high school music festival in an old hotel in upstate New York, that happened to be the locaton of a murder/suicide exactly 15 years ago. This book is a quirky mix of Glee, The Shining and an Agatha Christie story.
Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards – This novel starts out with twins being delivered by their father during a snowstorm. Much later, a long-buried secret comes to light. It is an astonishing tale of redemptive love.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton – The narrator of the story finds Mr. Frome an intriguing mystery. He ultimately finds himself in the position of staying overnight at Frome’s house in order to escape a winter storm, and from there he observes Frome and his private circumstances, which he shares and which triggers other people in town to be more forthcoming with their own knowledge and impressions.
Snow Falling on Cedars by Dave Guterson – This novel goes between before and after WWII. In 1954, A fisherman dies in a close-knit community in the Puget Sound region and a Japanese man is accused of the crime. There is still anti-Japanese sentiments in the country at this time.
A murder trial is held during a snowstorm that grips the entire island of Puget Sound. The American newspaper reporter covering the trial was as a young man, in love with a Japanese woman, the defendant’s wife. The reporter and the accused man’s Japanese wife were high school sweethearts that faced opposition to their relationship by both sides of their families. There are more twists and flashbacks that show the complications and
Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.