Best New E-Books and E-Audiobooks at the Library: August 23, 2021

  • Beyond the Mapped Stars by Rosalyn Eves (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card; young adult fiction): Elizabeth Bertelsen’s life is not sheltered–far from it, in fact. Growing up Mormon during the late 1870s means she is close to the land, to matters of life and death and to the complex dynamics of a polygamous household. But Elizabeth has quite literally set her sights on the stars; she hopes to become an astronomer at a time when women studying science is tantamount to witchcraft. Rosalyn Eves’ Beyond the Mapped Stars blends fiction and fact to create an adventure that doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. It all hinges on a solar eclipse, the first that the Western states will experience in almost a hundred years. When Elizabeth finds herself close to the path of totality (the area on Earth where the moon will completely block the sun), she’s willing to make major sacrifices to be there to witness it. Chapters count down the days and then the hours to the eclipse, which keeps a sense of urgency bubbling as Elizabeth makes new friends and begins a tentative romance. A brother and sister whom she meets after a train robbery offer support as well as a chance for reflection; some of Elizabeth’s assumptions about them are based on the color of their skin, and she’s surprised to learn that their family makes assumptions about Mormons in a similar fashion. Beyond the Mapped Stars offers a portrait of a diverse American West that’s filled with promise, but it does so with honesty about where and from whom much of that promise was stolen. If that seems like a modern flourish, Eves makes a strong case for its basis in historical fact in her author’s note, while also revealing a deeply personal dimension to the story. The whole novel takes place amid a six-week journey by train, carriage and on horseback, during which Elizabeth finds her courage, makes mistakes and learns from them. It’s a thrill to travel alongside her. Faith, family, race and gender are the earthly concerns that draw her down from the clouds, but as Eves expertly incorporates them into Elizabeth’s life-changing summer, Beyond the Mapped Stars takes flight and soars.
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card; essays): Based on John Green’s podcast of the same name, The Anthropocene Reviewed (10 hours) is a collection of essays structured as reviews of the human experience. Known for such young adult novels as The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down, this is Green’s first nonfiction book for adults but hopefully not his last. From sublime sunsets to the unbearable feeling of mortification to odd fascinations like the Hall of Presidents and Piggly Wiggly, he makes even the most obscure topics compelling. With storytelling skills from years as a podcaster and YouTuber, Green makes for a fantastic narrator. This is a truly gratifying listening experience; only the audiobook edition offers the opportunity to be part of a melancholy World War I singalong. No matter how you know of Green, whether from his previous books, podcast, vlogs or as a YouTube world history teacher, you’ll find something to enjoy in this audiobook.
  • Yearbook by Seth Rogen (e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card; humor): In Seth Rogen’s Yearbook (6 hours), the Canadian writer, movie star and ceramicist tells stories only he could tell from a uniquely lived life. As a comedian and co-writer of such films as Superbad and Pineapple Express, it should come as no surprise that Rogen is a fantastic storyteller. Just how many teenagers get laughs performing stand-up at clubs that they’re too young to enter? In this book he discusses his grandparents, Judaism, summer camp, struggling in Los Angeles and–again, this should come as no surprise–drugs. There’s no shortage of bizarro Hollywood stories, but he shares them in a relatable way, in which he’s on our side, experiencing the absurdity of informing Nicolas Cage that he can’t do that iffy island accent in his film or being invited into Kanye West’s van to listen to his new album. This audiobook is a blast, with a long list of guest appearances including Rogen’s parents, Dan Aykroyd, Tommy Chong, Sacha Baron Cohen, Snoop Dogg, Michel Gondry, Billy Idol and Jason Segel.
  • More Than I Love My Life by David Grossman and Jessica Cohen (e-book available on the Libby app with your library card; family drama): Award-winning Israeli writer David Grossman’s More Than I Love My Life is a complex novel about the secrets that scar three generations of women for a lifetime. Upon her 90th birthday, family matriarch Vera Novak reunites with her daughter, Nina, after five years of separation. Both Vera and Nina have committed the almost unpardonable act of abandoning young daughters–Vera when Nina was 6, and Nina when her own daughter, Gili, was even younger. The circumstances surrounding Vera’s and Nina’s departures are complex, slowly revealed and come to dominate all three women’s emotional lives. When Nina, who has spent several years on a tiny island between Lapland and the North Pole, announces that she’s in the early stages of dementia, she asks Gili, a writer and filmmaker now approaching her 40s, and Gili’s father, Rafael, formerly a film director himself, to record Vera’s story. The novel reaches its climax when the foursome journeys to the island of Goli Otok, off the coast of Croatia, once home to a notorious labor camp and reeducation center for opponents of the Tito regime in the former Yugoslavia. Vera was sent there after the death of her husband under circumstances she’s withheld from Nina all her life. In harrowing passages that alternate with the present action, Vera recalls two months of her nearly three-year imprisonment when she was marched daily to a cliff top and forced to stand in the blazing sun, her only companion a sapling she shaded with her body. Vera, Nina and Gili are memorable characters, each suffering in different but equally profound ways. Grossman effectively inhabits the consciousnesses of these women and doesn’t spare the reader any of their considerable emotional pain. He’s a sympathetic if unfailingly honest chronicler of their anguish. A reader doesn’t have to identify with the particulars of the women’s stories to appreciate how the consequences of fateful choices can reverberate down through the generations.

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