Books

Fiction writer Iain M. Banks was a great author

Last year, the world of science fiction lost a great author in Iain Banks. Since his literary debut in 1984, Banks had written dozens of fiction books (as Iain Banks) and science fiction books (as Iain M. Banks), crafting characters and worlds that felt lived-in and layered, rather than simply imagined for your benefit as a reader. Profiled below are books that fit into the subgenres of horror, urban fantasy, and space opera, respectively.

— “Wasp Factory” (1984). Banks’ debut novel is undeniably creepy — this is not a “before bed” read or even an “in the house alone” read. The novel’s protagonist, Frank, is a 16-year-old who has defined a series of talismans and rituals, including killing, that allow him to protect the island where he lives and predict the future. The novel is told from Frank’s point of view, and Banks skillfully avoids making a terrifyingly vicious protagonist into a monster. If you enjoyed the first season of HBO’s “True Detective” but didn’t get enough of the creepy Carcosa cult, this book is right up your alley.

— “Transition” (2009). Agents of a shadowy group called The Concern are able to flit between different parallel universes, landing in the bodies of people in those universes (and taking on many of their mannerisms) and using those bodies to effect changes in each world, often through assassination. These changes are meant to be beneficial, but the motives and outcomes of The Concern are murky at best. This book was actually published as contemporary fiction (under Iain Banks) and as science fiction (under Iain M. Banks) in the US, and this would be a good read for anyone who is interested in exploring some of the cool storytelling possibilities of science fiction but doesn’t want to read about aliens with weird names cruising around on spaceships.


‘The Illusionists’ comes up short

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“The Illusionists” by Rosie Thomas, c.2014, Overlook Press $27.95, 480 pages

Now you see it. Now you don’t.

These books got your number!

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Numbers are fascinating! No, really — if you stop and consider some facts about numbers, they can seem like pure magic. This might not be news for all you math-heads out there, but for some of us, it’s a novel idea. Whether you love numbers or you’re anti-arithmetic, you might find these books interesting! Check them out at your local library.

Adam Spencer’s “Book of Numbers: A Bizarre and Hilarious Journey from 1 to 100” is a great trivia book; it gives four or five interesting tidbits about each number. One: how many baths citizens of Kentucky are required by law to take each year. Eighteen: the number of claws on a cat. Twenty-seven: the age at which Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died. Thirty: the number of Lego pieces that exist for every person on the planet. If you like more advanced math, there are also facts like “91 is triangular, square pyramidal and centered hexagonal.” Something for everyone!

What if the one you thought was dead wasn’t?

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“Recognition” by O.H. Bennett, c.2014, Agate, $15, 208 pages.

‘The Skeleton Crew’

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“The Skeleton Crew” by Deborah Halber, c.2014, Simon & Schuster, $25, 240 pages

Kids can explore science in these books

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Preschoolers are naturally curious, and what better way to satisfy their curiosity than through science. Here are some great authors to share for learning more about the natural world:

— Lois Ehlert: Ehlert’s books about the natural world stem from some of her own early experiences with nature growing up in Wisconsin. “Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf,” a story of planting a maple tree, is a perfect example of this. In simple language, Ehlert takes the reader through the entire process of planting a tree from seed to sprout to garden center to hole in the ground to watching the leaves change with the seasons, each scene made to feel familiar through the different objects and textures used in her illustrations. More detailed explanations of the parts of the tree and the steps in planting a tree are provided at the end of the book. Ehlert’s other nature titles include “Snowballs,” “Planting a Rainbow” and “Feathers for Lunch.”

‘Sally Ride’ will take readers to the moon

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“Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space” by Lynn Sherr, c.2014, Simon & Schuster, $28, 376 pages

Summer isn’t over until young adults read these books

You know summertime is going by fast, especially when you see back-to-school ads and merchandise in stores reminding you that summer vacation is almost over. If you haven’t done your summer reading yet, and are looking for some books to read on one of those lazy summer afternoons, let me suggest a few young adult books worth checking out.

“Two Way Street” written by Laren Barnholdt is a predictable teen first romance about two very relatable characters, Jordan and Courtney. In the book, the two have to decide if they can get over their secrets of the past and move on to beginning a new future together. Courtney is not happy about having to drive to college with her ex-boyfriend (Jordan) and decides she will try to ignore him as much as possible on this painful trip. Their relationship is revealed in a storyline that alternates between narrators allowing the reader to see things from both sides and Jordan’s and Courtney’s perspective. This book is hard to put down and has many twists and turns that will keep you captivated to the very end.

Race, culture explored in these library books

Among the many overwhelming changes that swept America in the 1920s, one of the most fruitful and enduring to our culture is the emergence and acceptance of the African American artist, primarily in music and literature.

Focused in a downtown neighborhood of Manhattan, the post-war social climate that cultivated novelty and difference spawned a “Harlem Renaissance” which launched the careers of young writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and boosted the popularity of such Jazz and Blues greats as Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Enthusiasm and support often came from white patrons, who at best financed and encouraged African American arts, but who raised troubling questions about the essentialism of race and its representation.

Quirky ‘Ellen’ worth finding

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“Invisible Ellen” by Shari Shattuck, c.2014, Putnam $26.95, 295 pages

Peek-a-boo.

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