Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund

Academy 7Academy 7 is a futuristic science fiction novel centering on the interconnected lives of Aerin Renning and Dane Madousin.  Aerin opens up the novel by surviving an escape from a planet where she has been enslaved for the past 7 years.  Dane first appears by diving in to save a life from a forest fire in an unauthorized spacecraft, ending up in jail for a few hours until a good old friend of the family comes to bail him out.  As the story moves forward, the two find themselves in a school for the most gifted called Academy 7.  They maintain the top two marks: one a general’s son, the other an illegal immigrant to the Alliance.

The Alliance was formed to protect the peace among the planets following the rapid expansion of intergalactic travel and colonization.  There is another organization called the Trade Union.  The Trade Union is negotiating with the Alliance, fighting this large organized body of government; similar to labor unions formed in most occupations to fight for equal rights for the workers.  They view the rights of each planet as being neglected.

This novel does not center so much on the developing romance between the two characters, which is refreshing in itself.  It is more focused on uncovering the mysteries between Aerin and Dane, relating to their parents and their government’s secrets.  The novel is directed at young adult readers, but anyone who enjoys a peek into intergalactic development may find this interesting.  It is a short but interesting read that may lack in some areas, but packs a punch with the plot itself.

Lift off, readers!

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

This biographical novel tells the story of Mileva “Mitza” Maric, Albert Einstein’s firstother einstein wife.  She was brilliant enough to earn admission in 1896 to the physics program at Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, where she was the only woman in her class and a classmate of Einstein’s.  She made friends with three young women who were students in other programs at the school.  They made a pact to remain single and devote themselves to their professions, since it was then very rare for a woman to combine marriage and family with a career.  This pact fell apart when Mitza married Einstein.

She dreamed of a marriage between equals who would work together on their scientific studies.  At times, she felt that she had achieved this dream, but eventually she came to feel more like Einstein’s servant than his wife.

I’ve never studied physics but did not find scientific knowledge necessary to enjoy reading about Mitza’s life.

Is the story true?  While the author read many books on her subject and drew on letters between Einstein and Mitza, as well as on Mitza’s letters to her friend Helene, she learned that two major areas of Mitza’s life remain mysteries.  Scientists do not agree on the role that Mitza, as Einstein’s wife and as a fellow physicist, probably played in his discoveries, and history does not record the fate of the oldest Einstein child, Lieserl.  In these parts of the story, the author had to decide what story line to take.

The Other Einstein introduces this little-known woman to modern readers.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

The Unsettlers : in search of the good life in today’s America by Mark Sundeen

UnsettlersWe’ve all heard about eating organically, as “organic” foods and products proliferate in most grocery stores nowadays.  But, is eating organically eating ethically?  Particularly if certain organic products are shipped here from Chile and other parts beyond, then how is consuming them an ethical act, considering the fossil fuels required to get them to our tables?

The Unsettlers raises the questions of food ethics as it focuses on three couples who have made it their collective callings to not only grow their own food and sell the surplus, but to live without much of the big box store “conveniences” that modern living entails, even if they have access to such conveniences.

The first couple has created an intentional community in northeastern Missouri.  Their way of life is perhaps the most extreme covered in the book.  Ethan and Sarah completely reject use of automobiles and electricity; those wishing to visit or intern at their farm find out about it via word of mouth rather than electronic media.

Olivia and Greg are an interracial couple; both grew up in the Detroit area but from completely contrasting backgrounds.  They came together sharing a love for gardening and a strong determination to create a future for their crumbling crime-ridden city – a future that includes better food options for inner-city residents and a stronger sense of community.

Steve and Luci are the oldest couple; they have done the “back to the land” lifestyle longer than most.  They have weathered the changes of perception towards natural and organically grown foods, for better and worse – better in that more people are eating said foods, and worse, as organic products become just that – products of huge corporations that are anathema to what these folks have believed in and worked for, for over thirty years.

The couples highlighted in The Unsettlers have their preachy moments, but much of what they expound upon makes sense.  The collective beliefs – eating locally, investing in the immediate community, and using less or no fossil fuels – make much more sense than continuing to support the conglomerates labeling everything “organic” in an attempt to get rich off the feel-good moment, while polluting the world to get it into our grocery stores.

The book will definitely have you considering what you eat, and how you acquire it.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy by Jean Kennedy Smith

If John Kennedy were still alive, he would now be a hundred years old.  This milestonenine of us led me to think about reading a book about him, but I wasn’t in the mood for a serious volume about his presidency or a sad description of his assassination.  This book about the childhood of the nine Kennedy children, Joe, John, Rosemary, Kathleen (nicknamed Kick), Eunice, Pat, Bobby, Jean, and Ted, takes us back to a happy, innocent time in their lives.

This was a family oriented household, with no adult dinner parties – dinner was a special time for the parents and children to gather for conversation, including discussions of political issues.  At their summer home in Hyannis Port, the brothers and sisters enjoyed swimming, sailing, touch football, biking, and other sports.  Their parents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy, made time to be with each child individually and encouraged each child to develop individual interests and talents, which might involve taking classes or teaching skills to one another.

Despite the Kennedy family’s great wealth, Joseph and Rose told their children that their ancestors had struggled financially and that they must never take anything for granted.  Each child helped with household chores, and some had summer jobs or did volunteer work.  Gifts – not extravagant ones, either – were only for birthdays and Christmas. Clothes and toys were, if possible, mended rather than replaced.  Long distance telephone calls were expensive and were, therefore, brief.

Reading about the lives of these children made great summer reading!

Jean Kennedy Smith is the eighth of the nine children.  She served as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and also founded VSA, an international organization providing arts and education for people with disabilities.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

flawedYou may be familiar with Cecelia Ahern as a fiction and romance author with novels such as P.S. I Love You and The Time of My Life.  This is Ahern’s first swing at writing Young Adult novels.  In Flawed, Celestine North has a perfect life.  She is in love with the perfect boy who has a powerful father in a society where perfection is mandatory.  For those who have not been perfect, they are branded with a red F for Flawed for everyone to see.

When Celestine takes a risk and helps an older gentleman who is Flawed, she is suddenly in court facing her boyfriend’s father to see if she will be a Flawed citizen.  However, Mr. Craven has different plans when Celestine will not apologize for helping a Flawed man when he was dying.  Celestine’s world is turned upside down when she suddenly becomes a Flawed, has to have a handler, cannot eat any lavish food, and her loving boyfriend suddenly wants no part of her.  But Celestine has a secret that only few know. Can one Flawed change the whole system?

If you are a fan of The Hunger Games or Divergent, this might be the perfect read for you.  The second book in the duology, Perfect, is also available.

(Michelle Colbert, McGirt-Horton Branch Library)

The Revenant by Michael Punke

While working as a trapper and guide for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1823,revenant frontiersman Hugh Glass is savagely mauled by a bear during a routine scouting mission for food.  Captain Henry, leader of the ill-fated expedition, reluctantly decides to leave the mortally wounded Glass behind in the care of two other trappers, John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, promising extra wages to them both if they will give Glass a proper burial after he inevitably dies.  Glass, however, stubbornly clings to life, much to the chagrin of the unscrupulous fugitive Fitzgerald who covets Glass’s possessions – particularly his Anstadt rifle – and is eager to catch up with the departed expedition.

When a hostile Native American tribe is spotted near the clearing where they are tending Glass, Fitzgerald seizes the opportunity to legitimately flee, convincing a hesitant Bridger that they must not only abandon Glass, but take all of his belongings with them as well if they hope to survive.  Glass helplessly witnesses this act of treachery and vows to take revenge on the pair, even though doing so requires him to not only recover from his wounds, but to somehow survive in the wilderness without flint, a knife, or his beloved rifle, and crawl hundreds of miles through only partially mapped territory.  Having already endured captivity on a pirate ship and a stint living among the Pawnee tribe, Glass is up for the challenge.

Michael Punke’s The Revenant, based on the true story of historical figure Hugh Glass, is subtitled “A Novel of Revenge”, but it would be more accurate to describe it as a novel of survival.  Page after page, Punke’s lean, sinewy prose details the bloodthirsty determination of various characters and the nascent industries which employ them to survive in hostile times, with “endurance” emerging as the book’s true theme.  Punke’s sparse style allows the story to almost tell itself, and his descriptions of the 19th century American wilderness are a joy to read.  The action sequences are appropriately tense and engaging, while the infamous bear attack stands out as a gory highlight.

Problems only really arise when Punke attempts to set the historical stage in too-broad strokes (the quick history of the fur trade on page 38, for example, reads like a quote from a Wikipedia article), or decides to invent characters simply to pad out the story.  The group of French companions (especially the two brothers) whom Glass is paired with in Part 2 of the book are stereotypes lifted out of any action/war film from the last ten years and wholly remove the reader from the reality the author has worked so hard to create.  The ending is also problematic, but some readers might actually savor its absence of dramatic closure.

Overall, The Revenant is recommended reading.  And for those interested in a version of Glass’s story re-purposed as an epic tale of vengeance, seek out Alejandro González  Iñárritu’s bloody and absolutely gorgeous filmed adaptation of The Revenant, which takes generous liberties with its source material.

(Chris Fox, Central Library)

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

head full of ghostsAt the age of fourteen, Marjorie Barrett undergoes a harrowing descent into acute mental illness, witnessed with horror and confusion by her eight-year-old sister Meredith, with whom she is extremely close.  While Marjorie’s mother believes that her daughter’s problems are ultimately psychological in nature and therefore medically treatable, her father – who has increasingly turned to religion to make sense of the world after being laid off from his long-time job – becomes convinced Marjorie is possessed by a demonic entity and enlists the aid of a priest, Father Wanderly.  The involvement of the priest, coupled with the possibility of a real-life exorcism being performed on an American teenager, excites the predatory interest of the producers of a reality TV program.  While being the subjects of a TV show helps the Barretts out financially, the constant presence of the camera crew exacerbates the friction and discord already present in the family.  The resulting TV show, entitled “The Possession”, lasts just six episodes before being cancelled due to a tragedy which occurs during the performance of the exorcism, but the end of the show doesn’t spell the end of the horror for the Barrett family.  Thirteen years later, a now twenty-three-year-old Meredith Barrett agrees to meet with an established writer and tell the truth about what really happened to her family before, during, and after “The Possession”.

In A Head Full of Ghosts, author Paul Tremblay is less concerned with possession as a possibly real supernatural event than he is with the idea that we can never “possess” the truth about our pasts and ourselves free from the influence of the ready-made cultural narratives that surround us.  The scripted aspect of supposedly spontaneous reality TV lends itself as a metaphor quite easily, but Tremblay also dramatizes the notion of possession-by-prior-spirits in the body of the text itself.  References to earlier books and films make frequent “ghost” appearances in the novel, and the author uses the literary device of an internet blog in certain chapters to introduce the figure of a close reader who will notice and point out these subtle allusions in case an ordinary reader were to miss them.  As the overtures to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Vladimir Nabokov’s deception-fueled Despair, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (among others) in these sections attest, it is the reliability of the narrator and the truth of the tales being told that are ultimately at stake here.  A twist at the end of the novel, a veritable “turn of the screw”, casts even more doubt on the veracity of the events that Meredith, our guide, has been relating to us.

Be warned – there are some genuinely creepy moments in the story, but Tremblay is careful to maintain a steady amount of ambiguity, leaving the reader to decide how to interpret the information presented by the narrator.  Tremblay’s exploration of the subjectivity of truth is a particular strength of the book, but readers are free to enjoy it on any of its multiple, unsettling levels.

(Chris Fox, Central Library)