Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

Wonderful! I love a good time travel book and this one had me unable to put it down on a rainy Saturday and just keeping on until the end. And then I kept thinking about it afterwards-always a good sign that a book has gotten into my head.

This one had me often making comparisons to The Dream Daughter, since it involved a parent and child and makes the reader wonder just how the author will be able to figure out a satisfying ending.

Kin is a time travel corruption bureau field agent from the future who ends up stranded in 1990s San Francisco. As his brain forces out memories of his old life Kin makes a new one for himself. He has a job in IT, he gets married, he has a daughter. Life is pretty good except for the blinding headaches and dizzy spells he sometimes gets.  And then a man shows up who makes him brain start unlocking memories and the past (future) is told to him. Kin is forced back into the future, away from his family. He is desperate to connect with his daughter, but also he needs to reconnect to his past life, which includes people who care about him who he doesn’t remember.

I loved the future details, the set up of the story, the emotional core, and all the little details that made things from the future and past click. I thought this was great.

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The Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

I absolutely loved this! It’s a prequel to Lilac Girls, which I never did actually read. And having read little about this it wasn’t until I read the Author’s Note at the end that I realized that this was not only a prequel about the generation before the (apparently?) main character of Lilac Girls, but also that these were real people! I thought it was just general historical fiction and had no idea so much of it (people, their homes, their businesses) was actually real.

The setting is World War I and it takes place in America and Russia, as well as Paris. Basically all the Russian history was fascinating and unknown to me. I seem to know much less about WWI than WWII. I loved all the details about the peasants and the aristocrats and the scenery itself (wolves and woods) was fascinating.

The main characters are the two close friends Sofya (Russian) and Eliza (American). Each desperately hopes the other is safe and the p.o.v. switches back and forth between them, as well as another girl, Varinka. Varinka is a Russian peasant who definitely has an atrocious, truly awful, life.  And yet, I disliked her. Much of the Russian conflict had me thinking that both the peasants and the tsar’s regime were acting like savage animals and one was not better than the other. There was some fairly horrifying stuff in here. Of course I loved the resiliency and bravery of Sofya and Eliza as each dealt with the impact of the war in different ways-Sofya was more a matter of actual survival, while Eliza found a way to channel her own sorrows into helping others

A fascinating and riveting read.

Me for You by Lolly Winston

This book should have been nothing but a depressing sad downer of a book–but it wasn’t! It was really quite lovely and wonderful. Yes, it is sad because the book opens with Rudy’s beloved wife unexpectedly dying and then you see his grieving process. But it was lovely because, well, it seemed so real and sweet. I think I especially liked it that Bethany, his wife, was really great for him and that would never change, even as he finds comfort, friendship, and even romance with someone else. I found I really cared for the characters and wished the best for them.

Hits and Misses by Simon Rich

I have an EE (“eagle eye”) for finding misshelved adult books in the children’s section. And thank goodness, because that’s how I found there was this new Simon Rich book!

It was hilarious! As with any collection some stories I liked more than otherse. As with all his collections I just find it absolutely hilarious when he, say, gives a modern style of talking to God, Saint Peter, Jesus’s contemporaries, etc. The foosball story was super funny and I thought the very first story was also great (in part because I was so tickled and surprised by the suprise factor of it.)

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

I love Lisa Jewell books but was somewhat reluctant to read this one. In part because of the description (which I’d read a while ago and thought “if this was written by anyone other than Lisa Jewell I wouldn’t read it.”) Plus my trusted friend said it wasn’t that great, but then clarified that it just wasn’t the level of House We Grew Up In. I was not immediately hooked by this, but after a little while I was and I couldn’t wait to see how it all played out.
Many changing points of view of different characters who all live in the same street of a little town. And most of them seem fairly creepy/voyeuristic/paranoid/unseemly. The main guy who is a headmaster at a school seems to have inappropriate connections with young schoolgirls. Or does he? And why are other women also infatuated with him? Then add in that his son is a total peeping Tom. Or is he truly just fascinated in the goings on of his little town? Then there’s the neighbor who is delusional truly and believes people are out to get her so she constantly watches them and takes pictures and uses binoculars.  And that’s only 3 of them!
I had many theories about how they all connected and really got pretty excited to see how it would all turn out. Oh–and driving this all-the novel opens with a dead body. Much like that Liane Moriarty book a few years ago it’s not immediately clear which character it is. And much like when I read that one, I kept forgetting about that.
I enjoyed this very much-clever and fascinating.

Summer on the River by Marcia Willett

I love Marcia Willett books. All cozy British, sometimes with a bit of family drama or intrigue or secrets but I have to admit…I found this one torturously slow. I also could not relate to at all or care about people who were all agonizing over inheritance laws. Nor did I care about the sudden and intense romantic connection the young woman and married man suddenly had. And oh the agonizing over whether she should be a mistress or not. Bleah. Did not care for this one.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

What a great book to kick off the year! I cannot believe I had not read it before. It was wonderful, 5 stars, and I really enjoyed taking my time reading it because I didn’t want it to end, and I’m still thinking about it a lot.

So, this is a post-apocalyptic novel, one where the apocalyptic event was a pandemic. This particular pandemic was very fast and killed approximately 99% of the population. Here’s the thing I can’t stop thinking about. In the 20 years after the even world there are lots of the usual post apocalyptic things you might expect–no cars, electricity, people have scavenged, formed little towns, there are cuckoo and violent prophets, and the generation that has grown up in that 20 years don’t have any concept of air travel, internet, smart phones, etc. even though the older people do. And what’s kind of crazy is-it’s not like those things ceased to exist. There wasn’t an EMP. It’s just that without people to keep things going, they don’t keep going on their own. Who will run the power station? Of the few people left alive, do any happen to be scientists or robotics engineers or diesel mechanics or oil rig operators or what have you? The human knowledge of the world didn’t exactly go away-it was still in books. But it was no longer applicable. I really can’t stop thinking about that.
What I thought was great about this was the way the story was put together. All starting with an aging actor’s final performance in King Lear. His death curiously ends up bringing together a variety of people in the post apocalyptic world many years later. I liked it that the characters we followed all had some connection to him. Between King Lear and the Traveling Symphony and the Station Eleven comic book, it is nice to see the arts stubbornly sticking around even in humanity’s darkest times.
There were so many parts of this book that I found just deeply sad. They weren’t flashy bits, no dramatic deaths, just all very realistic and intensely sad things to think about. I found myself today thinking that if there was a pandemic I don’t think I want to be the brave survivor-I’d rather be the person who quickly dies in a couple hours.
This was a 5 star book to start the year!