Tag Archives: fantasy

Reading with the Hoboken Public Library Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club: Revelation Space, Kindred, The Martian Chronicles, When Gravity Fails, and Inferno

7 Jun

The first five months of 2017 have seemed to fly by at rocket speed.  I wanted to take a moment to take a quick look back at the books we have read so far as part of the Hoboken Public Library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group. (Click here to read more about this book club.)  The group meets one Monday each month to discuss a Science Fiction or Fantasy book picked by group members.  Before the book discussion we also typically watch either a film adaptation or a movie in a similar genre to the work being read.  On June 19 at 6 PM we will be discussing the Space Epic Leviathan Awakes by James S. A. Corey.  To join our mailing list email hplwriters AT gmail DOT com.

Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds

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The group started 2017 reading, Welsh author, Alastair Reynold’s Space Opera Revelation Space. Some of the group found it a bit confusing at first how there were several different plots with different characters set during different time periods, in different places. However, all these diverse plots come together in the end for a satisfying read.  Reynolds has a background in astronomy which he used to infuse the novel with realism. I was particularly drawn to his depiction of the one character who was an xenoarchaeologist who was studying an extinct species who had evolved from bird like creatures. Revelation Space answers the question of why humans seem to be alone in the universe. The novel became the first in the Revelation Space series.

Kindred, by Octavia Butler

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For African American History Month, we read Octavia E. Butler’s time travel classic Kindred. In Kindred, Dana, a modern black women in the 1970s who dreams of becoming a writer, is suddenly pulled back in time where she must save from drowning the white child of a plantation owner. She is returned to her own time, but several times is pulled back again each time to save Rufus who she learns is one of her ancestors. Kindred looks at the complex legacy of slavery that continues to be felt in our contemporary world. Many of Butler’s other novels also deal with issues of race and gender in unique and illuminating ways which will appeal to even those who are not traditionally fans of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre.

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

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The Martian Chronicles is one of Ray Bradbury’s most well-known works. Bradbury combined several short stories along with new materials to chronicle the history of Mars from the first exploration by humans. Some of the group would have preferred to see more of the story centered on the original Martian inhabitants of the novel which are inventively described by Bradbury, however, Bradbury’s beautiful writing style was praised. The group felt the book was fast paced though did feel more like a series of short stories that it started as rather than a cohesive novel.

When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger

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Very often cyberpunk novels feel very dated and more reflective of the 1980s than a vision of a future when read today. Effinger’s When Gravity Fails, though published in 1987, the group felt was much more contemporary than other’s in the genre. The novel will appeal to fans of noir mysteries as well as science fiction. When Gravity Fails is set in the Budayeen, a technologically advanced urban ghetto in the Middle East. People can plug in “daddies” to gain new skills like speaking a foreign language and “moddies” to turn themselves into someone else entirely. Many of the characters including the main character’s girlfriend are transgendered. One character has even had surgery to appear as a different race from the one she was born as. This provided interesting topics about identity and responsibility in an increasing technological age. Effinger wrote two other books in the series and started work on his fourth before his death, which a portion of can be read in the short story collection Budayeen Nights.

Inferno, by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

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For May’s discussion, the group read Inferno, a 1976 retelling of Dante’s version from Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven.  In this version a science fiction writer, Allen Carpenter, must make his way through the many circles of Hell as he tries to escape.  Carpenter explores his own beliefs and examines his behavior during his life during his journey.  Along the way he encounters some famous figures from history such as Jesse James, Vlad Tepes, and with some dark humor Kurt Vonnegut’s tomb.  Most of the group found the book to be a quick enjoyable read.  The group had read two of Niven’s science fiction works, Ringworld and Protector previously so it was interesting to see a work of fantasy by him and Pournelle.  A sequel to Inferno, Escape from Hell, was published several decades later in 2009.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

Forty Years of Favorites Part One: My Birthday Retrospective of My Favorite Books

24 Feb

This February I turn forty.  I have had some pretty memorable birthdays, one of my favorites was when I turned 34 and we spent the night in the Hotel de Glace, a hotel made of ice in Quebec; the worst was in first grade when I came down with chicken pox the day of my birthday party.  This year I wanted to take a look back at the 40 books I’ve loved the most over the years, some of them I’ve discussed before, others I haven’t even thought about for a while.  Most are available from the Hoboken Public Library or other BCCLS libraries.  Part One follows my favorites as a child into young adulthood.  Join me on my journey of nostalgia; I’d love to hear in the comments about some of your childhood and teenage faves.

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was my favorite picture book that I’d make my mom read again and again before bed.  I loved imagining a world where food falls from the sky instead of coming from the shelves of a grocery store.  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was named in Top 100 Picture Books of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.  It inspired two sequels and two animated films.

2. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

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I think everyone has a favorite Dr. Seuss story.  As much as I love the cartoon Grinch, I think in book format my number one went to The Lorax.  When I was in high school I took part in the environmental club, which as a part of our activities setup a recycling program for the school.  Looking back The Lorax inspired me and I’m sure many other children to “speak for the trees.”

3. Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-A-Zoo by Mercer Mayer

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An alphabet of kooky monsters greeted me when I visited my grandmother. You can learn more from my incryptid inspired blog post.

4. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

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Make Way for Ducklings, a children’s story book classic, always made me smile. I loved going to the park with my family to feed the ducks and geese stale bread. When I went to graduate school in Boston, I had to stop by the Public Garden and see the bronze statues that were created of the duck family by Nancy Schön.

5. James and the Giant Peach and 6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

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Check Out my review of these and other Dahl Books I wrote in honor of Dahl’s birthday.  I can’t wait until Charlie and the Chocolate Factory makes its Broadway debut this spring!

7. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

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Charlotte’s Web has been adapted as both a cute live action movie and a cartoon, but nothing compares to this bittersweet novel which my mom read to my sister and I about a gentle spider who befriends a young pig. This story taught me about sacrifice, compassion, and how even the smallest life can make a huge difference. In my home we never stepped on spiders, but always released them outdoors.

8. The Secret of the Old Clock (The Nancy Drew Mysteries) by Carolyn Keene

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My mom introduced me to The Secret of the Old Clock, and the rest of the original Nancy Drew series at our local library.  It was one she had loved when she was young.  At least two of our former first ladies, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, were also fans.  It gave me a love of mysteries that continues today.  In the future I plan to do a blog post about all the many TV shows, movies, and book series the original ghostwritten favorites have spawned.

9. Kristy’s Great Idea (The Babysitters Club) by Ann M. Martin

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The elementary school I went to participated in Scholastic Book Clubs where you could order books at a discounted cost and I can still remember waiting excitedly for when one of Ann M. Martin’s The Babysitters Club books would arrive for me. I clearly was not alone since between 1988 and 2000, 213 novels were published in the series (many penned by ghost writers) and had over 176 million copies in print. It was the first children’s series to land on the USA Today bestseller list.  The first in the series, Kristy’s Great Idea, saw a group of four friends forming a club to pool their babysitting talents.  The first books in the series recently got a graphic novel makeover.

10. Hangin’ Out with Cici by Francine Pascal

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Image via Jezebel

Hangin’ Out with Cici was the book I chose for my first book report ever back in fourth grade. I remember enjoying the story about a rebellious teenager who gets sent back in time and becomes friends with her own mom. I didn’t realize until recently it was the first in a trilogy (Victoria Martin) or was made into an after school special titled My Mom was Never a Kid.  Pascal went on to pen the wildly popular Sweet Valley series.

11. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

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I recently wrote about rereading the first three books in the Oz series with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Group at the library, but I was a huge fan of the books when I was younger. I avidly read all of the Oz books written by L. Frank Baum and several by Ruth Plumly Thompson.

12. The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain) and 13. The Illyrian Adventure (Vesper Holly) by Lloyd Alexander

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The Book of Three is the first in the five book high fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydain, follows Taran, an assistant pig-keeper as he matures into the hero he has always dreamed of being.  The second book won a Newbery Honor and the fifth a Newbery Medal.  Disney adapted the first two in the series into the animated film The Black Cauldron, which was notably their first with a PG rating.

The Vesper Holly series was set in the Victorian era and followed the daughter of a missing archaeologist.  Think of the fun of the Indiana Jones movies with a teen girl and you’ll understand why I loved the series.  The original books came out between 1987 and 1990, but I was delighted to learn when writing this that in 2004, Alexander wrote a final novel in the series, The Xanadu Adventure.

14. Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth

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I have only one sister and chose to have only one child myself, but as a kid I was always fascinated by stories about large families. Cheaper by the Dozen, the story of the Gilbreth clan with their 6 boys and 6 girls charmed me. The Gilbreths have a New Jersey connection since they lived in Montclair, NJ in the 1940s.

15. The Australian Wildlife Year by Robert Dolezal

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Image via Amazon

I was not a huge nonfiction book reader when I was kid and most of the time even today I’m more likely to reach for fiction for pleasure reading and use nonfiction books for finding facts, but I loved this book and enjoyed learning about unusual Australian animals. My daydreams of marsupials came true when my parents took me and my sister on a vacation there and I got to cuddle a koala, jump with a kangaroo, and even spot a platypus swimming in a river. The Australian Wildlife Year being from 1989 has been replaced with more up to date resources at BCCLS libraries; you can plan your own Australian dream trip with Frommer’s Easyguide to Australia or Fodor’s Essential Australia, both available from HPL.

16. Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati

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I was a child who always wanted to know why something was the way it was, which was hard on my parents since I was a child in the Pre-Google era. I was given Extraordinary Origins for a gift one year and I loved finding out the origins everything from Barbies to donuts.  You can borrow from BCCLS Panati’s more recent edition The Browser’s Book of Beginnings: Origins of Everything Under, and Including, The Sun published in the late 1990s or the more recently published Mental_Floss Presents In the Beginning: From Big Hair to the Big Bang edited by Mary Carmichael, Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur.

17. Swept Away (The Secret of the Unicorn Queen Series) by Josepha Sherman

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Image via Amazon

I loved the Unicorn Queen series. I think I reread the books in it probably more than any other books when they came out. They revolve around a teenager who is accidentally transported into an alternative universe where fierce female warriors ride unicorns.  Girl power with unicorns, what could be more magical for my tween self.  I’m not sure if they would hold up today if I were to reread them but I loved those books.  They are not available from BCCLS, but if any of our Hoboken patrons are curious to check it out let us know and we will add the ebook version to our ereaders for loan.

18. The Awakening (The Vampire Diaries) and 19. The Initiation (Secret Circle) by L. J. Smith

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The Vampire Diaries was my Twilight so I was pleased to see when it got some love in recent years as a TV show. This was another one that got multiple reads, however, I tried reading one of the new novel’s Smith published more recently and the odd choice of adding a Japanese demon to the vampire stories didn’t work for me. The publisher has since hired other writers to write novels more in keeping with the TV show, but I’d recommend sticking with the original four in the series for the dramatic love triangle between two vampire brother’s and a teen girl.  I also enjoyed her series about teen witches which began with The Initiation and also had a one season run on TV.

20. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

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When I was a senior in high school, I moved on from the Vampire Diaries and fell in love with Anne Rice’s vampires.  Their dark romanticism appealed to my baby bat gothling side.  Although I am less enamored with Rice’s more recent publications, I devoured the first few in her Vampire series and it inspired me to read other classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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