The Romance Garden!

Well, what do you know dear readers?  This is the first Romance Garden post of the year where it is actually garden weather!  We can’t really be sure how long it will last, so we hope you take advantage of the opportunity to sit in the sunshine sometime very soon, and savor a good book–perhaps even one of the following from our romance reading experts?

Joaquin Sorolla, “In the Garden”

Whatever your book of choice, we hope the longer, warmer days offer you the chance to sit back and relax for a little bit!  And now, on to the books…


Bad Bachelor by Stefanie London
Imagine an app that works like Yelp…for men.   Women are encouraged to find and rate their dates in order to help the community at large protect their hearts.  That’s the premise of Stefanie London’s newest series.  But far from being an episode of Black Mirror, this is actually a fun, steamy romance about learning to confront our faults, be honest with each other…and the power of reading, which made it a must read from the get go.

PR hotshot Reed McMahon is a whiz at making anyone look good to the public at large.  But all his talents are useless when he unwittingly becomes the lowest-rated bachelor on the “Bad Bachelor” app…with lengthy reviews about his womanizing, his cold heart, and his utter lack of noble qualities.  Desperate to improve his image (and eager to help out his assistant, who is a devoted library patron), he agrees to take on a pro-bono case and organize a local library’s fundraiser–bringing him face to fact with Darcy Greer.

Having tried and failed to live up to her mother’s expectations, once-engaged and unmarried Darcy Greer is trying to forge her own path in life.  She knows Reid is bad news, personally speaking, as soon as they meet–but the longer she works with him, the more she realizes that he isn’t the guy the Bad Bachelor’s app is making him out to be.  And as they slowly learn to trust each other, she finds herself wondering if she’s not crazy to want to keep him in her life for good.

I really appreciated how this book tackled issues about judgement and honesty right from the get-go.  Reid and Darcy have a fascinating connection that even they don’t understand, and watching them explore all the ways they work (even while they both know they shouldn’t) was really fun.  Although I had some issues with Reid’s uber-childish behavior at times, and there were some technical issues regarding Darcy’s job that I wanted to correct, overall, this was a fun read, and the start to a series worth watching.

Sunflowers are a symbol of peace


A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
If you’re a Free for All reader who regularly follows the Romance Garden, you know that I love the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series by Sarah J Maas. With the end of the last book, “A Court of Wings and Ruin,” Maas easily could have called it quits with a trilogy as many fantasies do, and a part of me feared she just might. But the other day when I walked into the library’s Teen Room, I was thrilled to find Book 4, “A Court of Frost and Starlight,” sitting on the New Books shelf.

Not as long as the first three books in the series, A Court of Frost and Starlight is a transitional book that sets up the story lines that will likely be explored in subsequent books. With preparation for Winter Solstice celebrations as the story setting, we get to know some of the secondary characters like Cassian, Nesta, Elaine, Lucien, and Mor better, and I expect we will see much more of them in coming books. But at the same time, we see plenty of Feyre and Rhysand whose passionate, loving, and fun partnership continues to be one of my romance novel favorites.

Set in post-war Prythian, we also see that Rhysand and Feyre are dealing with unrest in both the Winter Court and in the faerie realms beyond. They take an active role in maintaining peace in their home city and beyond, and at the same time seek to help both their friends and the community members of the realm they rule heal after the tragedies of the war.

As a transitional book, A Court of Frost and Starlight is best read after the first three books in the series. As I mentioned in a previous post, the first book in the series is not as strong as the others, but stick with it because “A Court of Mist and Fury” and “A Court of Wings and Ruin” were two of my favorite reads from last year. I highly recommend you start reading now. Today if possible. Because it looks like lovers of this series have more tales from Prythian to look forward to!
Until next month, dear readers, don’t forget…every mind needs a little dirt in which to grow!

The 2018 Nebula Award Winners!

We are in the thick of awards season, beloved patrons, and let me tell you, it’s a good season to be a reader.  Last week, the winners of the 52nd Annual Nebula Awards were announced at the annual convention of the  Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)

The Nebula Awards (a picture of one of the awards is on the left) were first awarded in 1966, and have grown in prestige to be recognized as one of the most significant awards for science fiction and fantasy in publishing.  Each year, a novel, novella, novelette, and short story are chosen…and just in case you, too, were wondering what a “novelette’ is, it is defined by SFWA as “a work between 7,500 and 17,500 words”, while a “novella” is between 17,500 and 40,00 words.  Any book written in English and published in the United States is eligible for nomination, and members of SFWA cast their ballots for the favorite books.  This means that, essentially, the awards are chosen by readers and genre devotees, which means that they are not only of high quality in terms of genre and style, but that they are also a darned good read.  As you will see, screenplays are also recognized with the Ray Bradbury Award, and middle grade and young adult fiction is nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Once again, the Nebulas are a bastion of diversity and good storytelling.  As we mention each year, science fiction is a genre that is beautifully suited to questioning our current realities, imagining new ones, and crafting relationships that challenge and confront stereotypes.  Fantasy does this, as well, and you’ll see from the titles listed below, the authors honored at the Nebula Awards are gifted at utilizing and transforming the genres to tell wildly inventive, insightful, haunting and compelling stories that linger long after the final page has turned.

We hope you find some new reading and viewing fodder among the nominees and winners listed below.  For more information and a full list of Nebula winners, visit the SFWA’s website!


WinnerThe Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin 



Winner: Get Out (Written by Jordan Peele)



WinnerThe Art of Starving, Sam J. Miller


Planning for June…

Summer is here, beloved patrons, and we can only hope that you are looking forward to plenty of sunshine-filled adventures, intriguing getaways, and days filled with exploration, learning, and revelations.


And we are here to help!  As always, we have been hard at work thinking of new classes, events, and presentations that will help you learn, grow, and relax a bit.  Some of these are featured below, but you can check out all our sensational plans on our the calendars available on our website.

If you have paid a visit to the Main Library lately, you’ll have noticed that there are some changes afoot.  We are renovating and moving our materials around in the hopes of making the library a better place for you.  As a result, the offering at the Main Library are being kept on the low side for the month in order to make sure that we can complete all the tasks on our ‘to do’ list well–but rest assured, we will be back to our full schedule, and with some shiny new surprises for you at the Main Library very soon!

So please check out all the events we have on offer for you!  You can register for these events on our website, or by calling the Libraries themselves:

Main Library: (978) 531-0100
South Branch: (978) 531-3380
West Branch: (978) 535-3354

And, as always, please let us know what classes and programs you would like to see at the Library.  We are always working to make the Library a place where everyone feels welcome and everyone can enjoy, and your input is a critical part of that process!

At the Main Library:

Wednesday, June 20 & 27, 3:00 – 4:30pm: Intro to Excel 2016 (Two Part Class!)

In this two-week course, we will explore the basic functions of Microsoft Excel 2016.  Topics will include creating workbooks and spreadsheets, entering and arranging data, basic formatting, shortcuts, simple formulas, and if time allows, we will discuss basic tables, charts, and graphs.  Attendees must be comfortable using a computer and a mouse. Prior exposure to Excel is helpful but not required.

Please note: The library has just (5) available laptops with Excel 2016 for attendees, so space is limited.

In the Creativity Lab:

Tuesday, June 19, 6:30pm – 8:30pm: Create Your Own Bumper Sticker

Learn how to use the Creativity Lab’s vinyl cutter to create professional-quality weatherproof bumper stickers that you can design yourself!  Whether you want to write a message, cut a logo, or draw something from scratch, you can make it here.  For ages 9-adult. Space is limited so please register.

At the West Branch:

Wednesday, June 13, 1:00 – 2:00pm: Heritage Films Presents Wagon Trail: Legacy of the Old West

Calling fans of westerns and movie buffs!  Come join us for a 40 minute film presentation by local historian and film maker Dan Tremblay of Heritage Films! This particular film will focus on the Wagon Trails and the Legacy of the Old West.

Also at the West Branch…

Tuesdays, June 19th, June 26th, July 10th and July 17th, 4:00 – 5:00pm: Latin Dance Series with Greg Coles (Four Part Class!)

Greg Coles has years of experience in teaching Latin Dance and will be teaching a basic introduction to different varieties of Latin dance in this course. No prior experience is necessary. Wear comfortable clothing you can move in and comfortable, lightweight shoes.  Signing up for the first class signs you up for the whole series.

This program is generously sponsored by the Friends of the Peabody Institute Library.

At the South Branch:

Wednesday, June 6, 1:00pm – 2:30pm: Learn to Make Natural Deodorant

Are you concerned about using traditional underarm deodorant and antiperspirant? If so, join beautician Linda Sessa in a workshop to learn how to make your own natural deodorant! With ingredients already likely in the kitchen, Linda will walk attendees through the process of making deodorant and you’ll be able to take a small sample home! Come dressed to get messy!   This program is free but space is limited and registration is required.

Five Book Friday!

The world of letters lost an icon this week when author Philip Roth passed away on Tuesday.  Roth has been eulogized, remembered, and discussed this week by literary giants such as Zadie Smith, Elaine Showalter, and Louise Erdich, and while he remains a controversial figure in literature for his portrayal of women and the topics he chose to discuss, there is no doubt that he made his mark in American literature.  A number of outlets have been offered guides for those who are looking to read more of Roth’s work, or to discover him–you can find some excellent ones at Vox, Slateand The New York Times.


And so, in the spirit of great literature, let’s take a look at some of the sensational new books that have ambled onto our shelves this week and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Also, a note: the Library will be closed on Saturday May 26, Sunday May 27 and Monday May 28 in observance of the Memorial Day holiday.  We will resume our regular hours on Tuesday, May 29.  Have a lovely weekend, dear readers, wear sunscreen, and we’ll see you next week!

West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony ExpressOn the eve of the Civil War, three American businessmen launched an audacious plan to create a financial empire by transforming communications across the hostile territory between the nation’s two coasts. In the process, they created one of the most enduring icons of the American West: the Pony Express. Equally an improbable success and a business disaster, the Pony Express came and went in just eighteen months, but not before uniting and captivating a nation on the brink of being torn apart.  Jim DeFelice’s book is the first comprehensive history of the Pony Express, the daring misfits who it employed, and the well-known historical figures who helped establish its legend in American history.  This is a book that history enthusiasts, lovers of westerns, and anyone who likes getting mail will be able to savor.  The Tombstone Epitaph, Arizona’s oldest continually published newspaper, loved this book, and since that august paper focuses on the legacy of the “Old West”, we can only bow to their authority when they call it “Fresh and engaging. … A wild ride. … West Like Lightning is sure to stand amongst the great popular histories of the west.”

The Elizas: Fans of Pretty Little Liars will be delighted to hear that Sara Shepard is making her adult fiction debut with this mutli-layered guessing-game of a thriller.   When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.  Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?  The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.  Here is a perfect summer time thriller for those of you looking for your newest twisty, turny adventure that blends layers of fiction with chilling effect.  Kirkus Reviews loved how Shepard “pays close attention to cinematic details, practically projecting Eliza’s descent into personal nightmare, where she cannot be certain of her own memories, onto a silver screen: Scenes are carefully framed, and a soundtrack even bubbles along…A delicious Southern California noir riddled with muddled identities and family secrets.”

Rough Animals: Rae DelBianco’s newest book is drawing comparisons to both Breaking Bad, for its unflinching view  of the darkest aspects of rural life, and No Country for Old Men for its bleak, yet gripping, road trip–so fans of both, as well as those looking for a fascinating and utterly unique tale…look no further.  Ever since their father’s untimely death five years before, Wyatt Smith and his inseparably close twin sister, Lucy, have scraped by alone on their family’s isolated ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. That is until one morning when, just after spotting one of their steers lying dead in the field.  The shooter: a fever-eyed, fearsome girl-child who breaks loose and heads into the desert. Realizing that the loss of cattle will mean the certain loss of the ranch, Wyatt sets off on an epic twelve-day odyssey to find her, through a nightmarish underworld he only half understands; a world that pitches him not only against the primordial ways of men and the beautiful yet brutally unforgiving landscape, but also against himself.   This novel is earning starred reviews from any number of outlets, including Publisher’s Weekly, who called it “Furious and electric . . . The novel succeeds as a viscerally evoked and sparely plotted fever dream, a bleakly realized odyssey through an American west populated by survivors and failed dreamers.”

The Pisces:   This is a summer for unique novels, dear readers, and Melissa Broder’s novel–part mythology, part romance, part flight-of-fancy, is a perfect example of this delightful, eccentric trend.  Lucy has been writing her dissertation on Sappho for nine years when she and her boyfriend break up in a dramatic flameout. After she bottoms out in Phoenix, her sister in Los Angeles insists Lucy dog-sit for the summer. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube on Venice Beach, but Lucy can find little relief from her anxiety – not in the Greek chorus of women in her love addiction therapy group, not in her frequent Tinder excursions, not even in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection.  Everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer while sitting alone on the beach rocks one night. But when Lucy learns the truth about his identity, their relationship, and Lucy’s understanding of what love should look like, take a very unexpected turn.  Fans of The Shape of Water will gobble up this book, and anyone looking for a quirky, compelling love story should definitely check out this book.  As The Washington Post noted in its review, “For an author who has primarily written poetry and nonfiction, and who is clearly comfortable with a confessional voice, Broder uses the fantastical elements to complicate and deepen her novel. The climactic conclusion works because of its strangeness, because of its imaginative reach and implications.”

Imperial Twilight : The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age: When Britain launched its first war on China in 1839, pushed into hostilities by profiteering drug merchants and free-trade interests, it sealed the fate of what had long been seen as the most prosperous and powerful empire in Asia, if not the world. But internal problems of corruption, popular unrest, and dwindling finances had weakened China far more than was commonly understood, and the war would help set in motion the eventual fall of the Qing dynasty – which, in turn, would lead to the rise of nationalism and communism in the 20th century.  Award-winning historian Stephen Platt sheds new light on the early attempts by Western traders and missionaries to “open” China – traveling mostly in secret beyond Canton, the single port where they were allowed – even as China’s imperial rulers were struggling to manage their country’s decline and Confucian scholars grappled with how to use foreign trade to China’s advantage.  This is a book for anyone who wants to know more about the history of globalization, finances, the drug trade, or imperial history, and is told with such energy and well-researched insight that Booklist gave it a starred review, noting “Platt brings to life the people who drive the story, including the missionaries desperate to learn more about China and its language, the drug smugglers who made so much money they still have name recognition, the officials desperate to handle a growing crisis of widespread opium addiction, and even a pirate queen and Jane Austen’s older brother.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

And the winner of Man Booker International Prize is…

The Free-For-All is delighted to announce that Olga Tokarczuk of Poland, and her translator, Jennifer Croft, have won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for the novel Flights!


Flights is a fascinating, genre-defying set of linked fragments that travel from the 17th century to the present day, connected by themes of travel and human anatomy: A seventeenth-century Dutch anatomist discovers the Achilles tendon by dissecting his own amputated leg. Chopin’s heart is carried back to Warsaw in secret by his adoring sister. A woman must return to her native Poland in order to poison her terminally-ill high-school sweetheart, and a young man slowly descends into madness when his wife and child mysteriously vanish during a vacation and just as suddenly reappear. Through these brilliantly imagined characters and stories, interwoven with haunting, playful, and revelatory meditations, Flights explores what it means to be a traveler, a wanderer, a body in motion not only through space but through time.

Tokarczuk and Croft, via

In a statement by the Man Booker Prize committee, Lisa Appignanesi, who led the judging panel, said: ‘Our deliberations were hardly easy, since our shortlist was such a strong one. But I’m very pleased to say that we decided on the great Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk as our winner: Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache. In Flights, brilliantly translated by Jennifer Croft, by a series of startling juxtapositions she flies us through a galaxy of departures and arrivals, stories and digressions, all the while exploring matters close to the contemporary and human predicament – where only plastic escapes mortality.’

Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft will share the £50,000 prize.  If you would like to experience the wonder of Flightsand Croft’s incredible translation–come by and talk to our friendly reference staff soon!

Going Off Book…A Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 If/Then…

Following the enormous popular and critical success of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1986 novel), the likelihood that there would be a Season Two was a pretty good one.  Media success doesn’t rest easily.  As a result, the show’s second season (which is currently streaming on Hulu) is running off-book.

It’s a pretty daring prospect, on the whole.  The Handmaid’s Tale is not the first series to run ahead of, or away from, its literary foundations.  The production of Game of Thrones has outpaced George R.R. Martin’s writing, so that the final two seasons have covered material that has not yet been in print….though the books will, hopefully, see the light of day soon.  Fox’s recently cancelled show Lucifer was based on a character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but took on a life of its own very quickly (#SaveLucifer by the way.  It’s an incredible show).  But The Handmaid’s Tale has the daunting task of remaining true to Atwood’s masterpiece, and also advancing the plot enough to give both readers and non-readers a reason to keep watching.

Thus far, they seem to be doing a very good job of it.  Ratings and reviews for the second series have been very good–if acknowledging the fact that the harrowing subject matter and superb acting make each episode uniquely difficult to watch.  The show’s creators are moving backwards and forwards on the timeline, showing June and her comrades in a blighted and besieged Boston, while simultaneously showing us how the world they inhabit came to be, from the creeping authoritarian laws to the gradual acceptance of society to the direction their world was taking.  Rather than striking out into wholly new territory, a great deal of this season seems to be filling in the gaps in Atwood’s novel, showing how such a place came to be–a move that strengthens the foundations of the stories and the series as a whole.


So for those who are watching Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale, those awaiting its arrival on our shelves in DVD form, and those who are looking for even more dystopian fiction featuring women and strong social commentary, here are a few suggestions from us to keep you thinking, reading, and enjoying well into the summer….

The Power: Naomi Alderman’s sensational novel won the 2017 Baileys Prize for Women’s Prize for Fiction, and has been referenced frequently alongside discussions of Margaret Atwood’s work–mostly because it turns the premise of The Handmaid’s Tale upside down.   All at once, in a not-too-distant-future, girls find that with a flick of their fingers they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, four lives are utterly transformed, and  society as a whole begins to rethink the way it has thought and spoken about people since it’s conception.  Like Atwood, Alderman doesn’t pull punches; this book is visceral and gritty at times, but it’s also incredibly funny and snarky.  The correspondence that frame the story itself poke fun at our current gender stereotypes brilliantly, and help readers conceive of a world that it as once so familiar, and at once so utterly, completely different.

Red Clocks: Leni Zumas’ novel was released earlier this year, and was already listed as one of the best books of 2018.  Part mystery, part thriller, and all painfully, beautifully compelling, this book is set in a not-too-distant-American-future, where abortion is once again illegal in America.  In addition, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the “Personhood Amendment” grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo.   Zumas uses this premise to focus in on five very different women in a small Oregon fishing town, and  the effects of these laws, and the culture they promote, on their lives, especially when a reclusive herbalist, or “mender” is arrested, and made the subject of a national show-trial.  Like Atwood’s work, Zumas’ characters are rich and nuanced, and because they both benefit from and are persecuted by the laws of their America, this book becomes a timely and incisive social commentary, as well as a moving and unforgettable story.

An Unkindness of Ghosts: In addition to drawing comparisons to Margaret Atwood, Rivers Solomon has also been compared to Octavia Butler for the way they use the science fiction genre to interrogate issues of race and power in our present day.  An orphan , Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. In order to keep the peace as they know it, the overseers on the ship have imposed harsh and degrading regulations over the darker-skinner sharecroppers onboard, as well as those of different religions and social class.  Aster is a character who needs answers; on a personal level, she is determined to find out what happened to her mother.  But the more she investigates, the more she is determined to find out who is really in charge of the ship that is her world–and to challenge the system that has harmed her and so many others.  Solomon uses their premise to interrogate not only gender and racial issues, but also sexuality, class, and the ways in which power and the police state can corrupt and harm all those involved in it.  This book adds a great deal of dimension to the social commentary that Margaret Atwood provided in her book, while also being a fascinating and deeply imaginative science fiction book that will hold enormous appeal for readers across genres.

The Witchfinder’s Sister: Beth Underdown’s novel is, on the surface, a richly-detailed work of historical fiction.  However, Underdown uses her historical premise to ask a lot of questions that are as significant to the present as they are to the world of her characters.  The year is 1645, and Alice Hopkins, a pregnant widow, has returned to the small English town in which she grew up.  Without prospects, and unfamiliar with the town after a five-year absence, Alice is forced to live with her brother, who has become a rich and influential man–and a feared hunter of alleged witches.  Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene—and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul.  We have been subjected to a lot of talk about witch hunts lately, but Underdown’s novel delves deeply into what such a practice really is–and the irrevocable damage it causes on all those involved.  Like Atwood’s book, this book deals with the persecution of women in a patriarchal society, but adds an element of mystery and rich historical detail to her fascinating and original novel.

Eat all the food and avoid the ghosts….A Pac-Man themed If/Then

Today, we bring you a blast from our past: a post that ran on this day in 2015, celebrating the birthday of Pac-Man, and offering you some books to read to celebrate!  We hope you enjoy!


Though there appears to be a bit of debate on the actual birthday of the classic video game, Pac-Man (Google says May 21, Wikipedia says May 22), we here at the library will be celebrating it on May 21, mostly because it is my mom’s birthday, as well, and she is the reigning champion of Pac-Man, at least in our family.  (Happy Birthday, Momma!)


Pac-Man was one of the most popular arcade games of the 1980’s, having amassed some $2.5 billion in quarters alone by the late 1990’s.  It remains one of the most well-recognized brands in the world, and has a place both in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  Not bad for a game inspired by a pizza dinner.  Developer Toru Iwatani stated in interviews that he designed the classic little yellow hero of Pac-Man after being inspired by a pizza that was missing a slice.  The name of the game is actually a riff on a Japanese slang phrase, ‘paku-paku’, which is meant to imitate the sound of lips smacking.

The fuzzy little monsters (or ‘ghosts’, to purists) who wander the mazes of the game were each designed with their own unique personalities and habits, which was intended to make game-play a little more entertaining.  Though US arcade machines give their names as ‘Blinky’, ‘Pinky, ‘Inky’, and ‘Clyde’, (for the Red, Pink, Blue, and Orange fuzzies respectively), Iwatani’s original names for them were (as translated from Japanese) ‘Chaser’, ‘Ambusher’, ‘Fickle’, and ‘Stupid’….Poor little Orange Guy…..

ghosts Pac-man

And, just to make sure you got your full dose of random trivia facts for the day, the first person to achieve the maximum possible score on Pac-Man was Billy Mitchell, of Hollywood, Florida, on July 3, 1990, after a play time of approximately six hours.

Though it received something of a lukewarm reception in Japan, the game was a smash-hit in the United States, and retains its popularity in to this day.  In fact, in the trailer for the upcoming film Pixel, you’ll see a big, lovely little paku-paku making his way through the city.  Additionally, following this link will take you to the Google Doodle honoring Pac-Man‘s 30th birthday, where you can actually play the game (which is where my Mom hones her formidable skills).

So, without further ado….If you like Pac-Man (or video games in general), Then be sure to check out:

3081149Ready Player One: Though set in a bleak not-too-distant future, Ernest Clive’s smash-hit novel is a sweet, nostalgic love song to the 80’s, particularly its video games.  Hero Wade Watts escapes his impoverished, despondent world by disappearing inside OASIS,  a virtual reality universe where people meet, learn, earn money, and remain constantly on the hunt for the elusive fortune supposedly hidden within the game by James Halliday for those clever enough to find the keys.  An exciting, romantic, and utterly original book, even though who aren’t old enough to remember the legwarmers and teased hair of the 80’s will still have heaps of fun reading this book.  Fans also might be interested to know that Steven Spielberg (who is mentioned in the book) is planning to bring Ready Player One to the big screen soon.

Reamde: 3103751Neil Stephenson’s first book after an eight year hiatus was well worth the worth for fans of his edgy, genre-bending stories.  In this story, aging, reclusive billionaire Richard Forthrast has apparently created a virtual paradise inside the world of his cyberworld, known as T’Rain.  But when a fortune hunter accidentally triggers a war inside the system, the lines between reality fantasy blur–with frighteningly real consequences.  The beauty of Stephenson’s work is that it is accessible even to those among us who aren’t as familiar with computers or with role-playing games.  Instead, he deals with issues of identity and power that take this book from a cyber-thriller into something much grander and complex.

2389580Only You Can Save Mankind: Because no book list should be complete without a little Terry Pratchett thrown in.  This debut of his Johnny Maxwell trilogy is a sensational adventure story for kids, but Pratchett’s arch humor and wonderful insight make this a fun read for adults, as well.  When young Johnny Maxwell receives a pirate copy of a strange computer game from his friend Warbler, he thinks it’s only a bit of fun–until the games characters surrender to Johnny, making him the ruler of their cyber realm.  It might seem like a mere flight of fancy, until Johnny realizes that every other copy of the game is changing based on his own actions.  Pratchett contrasts the fantastic world of “Only You Can Save Mankind” with the coverage of the First Gulf War on Johnny’s TV, adding a fascinating comparison to the battles on the computer screen.

2029633Tron: Another in our line-up of 1980’s tributes.  Tron was first inspired by director Steven Lisberger’s love of the game Pong, and was originally intended to be an animated film.  Eventually, however, it turned into a ground-breaking live-action/computer-animation blend film about a computer programmer who is transported into his computer’s mainframe and must not only find his way out, but destroy his nemesis back in the real world at the same time.  Though it received only moderate box office success, the original Tron became a classic for its innovative production values, and also because all the youngin’s who learned about it through the Disney sequel seem to think the 80’s were delightful and quaint.  Those of us who harbor an ongoing horror of blue-eyeshadow and Aqua-net hairspray may beg to differ…

3198101Death Match: This is a bit of a long-shot, but since computers feature so prominently in this book, and because it’s received pretty high reviews from the library staff, we’re including this one here.  Though perhaps better known for his collaborations with Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child is quite an author in his own right, and this thriller in particular is an excellent example.  The tech-saavy match-making company knwon as Eden has built its reputation on bringing finding each person’s perfect match–and, in rare occasions, their computer programs locate two people who are 100% compatible.  But when these ‘supercouples’ begin dying in what looks to be double suicides, Eden’s founder realizes that more than his company’s reputation is at risk.  Though its pace is lightning-quick and the twists and turns are plentiful, Child also manages to weave in some pretty interesting ideas about the nature of human intellect and emotions, and the power we give to the machines we create.

We hope you enjoy this week’s IF/THEN selection.  Please let us know if there are other books you would recommend, too!