Our staff reads and recommends a diverse world of books. Here are some of our recent favorites - not necessarily new books, but ones that grabbed us. And if there's a certain staff member whose selections dovetail with your interests, you can discover more of our staff's individual favorites here.
For children's and teen picks, click here.
For me, a mother with three daughters, the current political climate already feels ominous. Enter Leni Zumas’s book Red Clocks (Little Brown and Company $26), and I’m shivering in my boots. The characters in this book face adversity in ways all too familiar to women: unfulfilling marriages, unwanted pregnancies, the ticking of our biological clocks paired with a desire to have children, the prejudice against alternative forms of medicine. Severely limited by new government regulations, they must contend with their problems using desperate means. The way that Zumas has linked these women is masterful, and her beautiful writing is the garnish. I will forever think about reading this book while on a weekend with high school friends, remembering times when we faced similar problems and obstacles in dealing with them. -Mamie
Brendan Francis Newnam and Rico GaglianoIf you have any interest in living in a kinder and saner world, consider taking the advice presented in this book. Suggesting that many of society's ills stem from people's reluctance to break bread together, Gagliano and Newman (hosts of the excellent podcast, The Dinner Party Download) present a guide to uniting friends and strangers for intelligent discourse in your own dining room. Chock-full of laugh-out-loud wit and sagely wisdom. -Jon
The Cloister is as consuming for its story as it is for the writing. Carroll transports us from the twelfth century, to occupied France, to 1950s New York. In breathtaking prose, Carroll recounts the forbidden love between the philosopher-monk Peter Abelard and his devoted pupil, Heloise. He explains how Abelard's controversial effort to contextualize, if not justify, the Jews persecution of Christ was a source of further outrage among the Catholic hierarchy. Fast forward to occupied France where an esteemed Jewish scholar is denigrated for his efforts, aided only by his daughter Rachel, to revive Abelard's writings. Finally, a young cleric in New York, struggling with his place in the priesthood, wanders into the Cloisters in upper Manhattan. From that point, we are in the circle of history; witnesses to the apparently interminable power of bigotry to thwart reason and tolerance, and the countervailing refusal of the human spirit to give up on the possibility of love, empathy and understanding. I hope that many people will read and share this wonderful book. -Samantha
This gloriously varied, studied collection of essays goes a long way toward introducing Amis as an essayist to a whole new crowd. Taken with Zazie Smith’s contemporaneous Feel Free, one has a delicious selection of great subjects with which to spend a new spring. Capable of both drollery and harsh critique (he’s known for his dryness but is rarely so herein), Amis doles ‘em both out on topics broad as Donald Trump/Iris Murdoch/"Get Shorty"/Philip Larkin/Porno (I’d say his porno essay is every bit the equal of David Foster Wallace’s). In short: pick it up and start reading anywhere. Insight abounds. -Matt
When his family moves from America to Israel, Jonathan embarks on a passionate love affair with his new country. But in the year before he joins the Israeli army he meets Palestinian twins Nimreen and Laith, with whom he forms an intimate bond of love and friendship. The beautifully wrought story of Jonathan’s conflicted beliefs and passions reminds us that the mentality of Us vs Them can only end badly for both. And that a love story isn’t any good unless it breaks your heart. -Tony
I love everything Amy Bloom writes, and White Houses is no exception. This fictional account of the love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock is fascinating. From Hickock’s point of view we learn about her childhood, growing up in near-poverty, to her rise as a journalist during the Roosevelt presidency. After FDR’s death, the two women reunite, and Bloom illuminates their unique companionship. This is an intimate look at this controversial relationship between the two very different women and the period of history in which they experienced it. It is set in the past, but very much a story for the present. -Mamie
This apocalyptic time-travel noir draws from a very deep and dark well. It is brutal, poetic, and very, very exciting. I particularly enjoyed its strong female characters and the “messiness” of time-travel and alternate realities. Highly recommended for mystery and sci-fi fans. This is Sweterlitsch's second novel and he continues to be an author to watch. -Jon
Charming and informative! After 20 years in NYC, Shoba moves her family back to her native India where she befriends her local milk lady. As Shoba becomes increasingly obsessed with cows, milk, and other cow by-products she takes us on a journey of self-discovery and milk-discovery. Most interesting was Shoba's exploration of her own culture. India is a fascinating mix of urban and rural, where generations, technology, and expectations blend together in a different way for each family. Shoba shares her personal and family story. I will never look at a bottle of milk the same way again! -Broche
Two days before Jane McKeene was born, the dead on the battlefields of the Civil War began to walk the earth. Though she was born to plantation owners, Jane’s mixed-race heritage and dark skin means she is now training at combat school to be an Attendant: a zombie-killer whose job it will be to protect the White woman she iscontracted to. But her tempestuous and curious nature embroil Jane and her friends in the politics and treacherous landscape of post-Reconstruction America in this alternate history. Cinder meets The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Pride & Prejudice and Zombies featuring a new kick-ass heroine whose no-nonsenseapproach to life and zombie killing make for inspired storytelling. -Broche
SCYTHE by Neal Shusterman
"Thou shalt kill."
This deliciously dark and inventive new take on dystopian fiction will be impossible for any reader to put down, and absolutely desperate for its sequel.
In a future where mortality is no longer a threat, where people can become young again and be revived from death, humanity requires Scythes, revered and feared, whose sole purpose is to cull the population by taking lives.
Best for ages 14+
This astounding biography not only tells about Leonardo's life, it also lets you follow his thoughts! - And what a wild ride it is! You and Leonardo delve into flying machines, weapons, plants, birds, astronomy, geology, rivers, architecture, city planning, optics, anatomy, etc. Wait till you read about Mona Lisa's smile! In the 1960's medical researchers discovered that Leonardo was right and modern medicine was wrong about how the aortic valve works! Incredible history! -Helen
"A reissue, first published in 1983, this is the surprisingly moving story of an unhappy suburban housewife who harbors, and loves, a six-foot-seven frog-faced creature who has just escaped from a research lab. None other than John Updike had this to say about the novel: “So deft and austere in its prose, so drolly casual in its fantasy, but opening up into a deep female sadness that makes us stare. An impeccable parable, beautifully written from first paragraph to last.” -Tony
This book captures a remarkably innocent time in a remarkably complex America. Tamara Shopsin’s true-life-based novel transported me to a subtly-cultured New York, to a time when not all had been quantified and regimented. The narrative flows around and past simple plotting, rather painting portraits of unusual people of odd moral centering in delightfully short and pithy sentences. I can see how her world was politically shaped in a very organic way, and also shaped by working at her father Kenny’s absurdist restaurant. -Matt
Imagine Snow White, in the Wild West, a mix of White settlers and Native traditions. Now up the ante on the dark fantasy elements in the hands of master storyteller, Valente. The voice of each character – some familiar, some new – shine through the haunting and lyrical narration, the language reminiscent of an oral storytelling tradition. A reimagined classic with a new ending that brings Snow White all the way into the 21st century. --Broche
The book itself is small and brightly colored. On the cover is a popsicle stick with a fragment of frozen purple goodness hanging on. Inside are delightful morsels that are both heart-rending and side-splitting. You'll want to devour them all in one sitting, but try to savor them. Get a little juice on your chin. -- Tony
“Thank you for this rainy day,” is all I could say as I plowed through Jennifer Egan’s new novel, Manhattan Beach (Scribner $28 pub date 10/2/17) . From the first few pages, where Anna Kerrigan goes with her father to meet Dexter Styles for business, I was hooked. With more twists than a mountain road and shocking revelations, the story of the Anna, her father, and Styles sped downhill to an explosive ending. The time period is World War II, but most of the novel takes place state-side where Anna is one of few female divers aiding in the war effort. There’s so much to talk about—Anna’s disabled sister who was such an interesting character, graft and corruption in the thirties and forties, the effect of war on civilians, love, lust…I could go on! Egan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit from the Goon Squad, is one of our most versatile and powerful writers. I predict this one will be a winner too. (Manhattan Beach is the November selection of the Signed First Editions Club.) -Mamie
First in a series, this book kept me on the edge of my seat. It was funny and witty, which aren't always the same thing. It was badass while leaving room for emotions, was detailed without boring me, and Bianca St. Ives was fierce, sexy, smart, and alluring. It has the richest of backstories which is developed slowly over the course of this fast-paced thriller, including a shocking reveal at the end, of course, meaning I am counting down the days until book 2 (sometime in 2018). This is the first Karen Robards I've ever read and I am proud to admit I am a new KR/Bianca St. Ives convert.
I find this series both fascinating and frustrating. Impeccably researched and presenting as true a portrait as possible of what life was like for the very real Kopp sisters in the nineteen-tens, this series brings social issues to the forefront in a way few other mystery series do. The writing is sharp and engaging, but I find myself straining to cast off the sexist yoke placed upon these women even as I turn the pages faster to find out what happens next. -Broche
Evil sorcerers, killer cults, and haunted houses aren't quite so scary to the black families that were made to endure institutional racism in “Jim Crow” era America. This novel follows one such family as they encounter both supernatural and real-life horror, while also delivering an entertaining adventure full of unique and likable characters. -Jon
This is a monumental book! 608 pages of soldiers' stories, generals' denials, and politicians' lies. First Bowden gives Ho Chi Minh's remarkable back story - his time in exile as a pastry chef in New York City, his letters to President Wilson and President Truman that were not read, and finally his rise to power. Then Bowden puts you on the streets of Hue with the soldiers at the front. They drop to the ground - shot in the head, shot in the throat, shot in the back. Bowden dedicates the book to Gene Roberts, the New York Times reporter who sent out an honest, first hand account of the battle. Brutal and heartbreaking history. -Helen
With The Stolen Marriage, Diane Chamberlain has reached a new height in her creative journey. Much of the story is set in Hickory, NC during the mid-1940s. The world is at war; divisions between the races are stark and the polio epidemic is rampant in the U.S. Like many small towns, Hickory was charming but insular and wary of outsiders. Nevertheless, compassion won out as its people helped to build a polio treatment center that accepted victims from near and far. Against a meticulously researched factual backdrop, Diane creates a poignant tale of love and loss that brought me to tears more than once. This is a great book and I could not put it down. -Sam
The kidnapping of Patty Hearst was a cultural touchstone of its era, yet I never felt I truly understood what happened. Toobin's meticulously researched book presents all the facts (and the conflicting stories) in a very easy-to-digest way. Though Toobin seems to have reached his own conclusions about the events of Patty Hearst's kidnapping and life on the lam, it never feels like he is trying to convince you of them. The reader is allowed to decide which side of the argument they fall on. However you interpret the events laid out in this book, it's a very enjoyable read. -Craven
Though by no means professional detectives, Veronica Speedwell, and her partner in crime, Stoker are back in another mystery. An unexpectedly royal familial source asks Veronica to look into the case of a high-society gent who is about to hang for the murder of his mistress. Lots of behind-the-scenes machinations, both helpful and threatening, provide direction and impediments as the lepidopterist and taxidermist use their powers of observation, their fighting skills, and their insatiable curiosity to prove whether this man should swing from the gallows or be rescued from the hangman's noose. - Broche
Hi! It’s the Apocalypse! Yes, the end of the world has finally come after all this time. At long last, Heaven and Hell are preparing for final battle.
That particular bit of news creates a wee problem for a pair of friends who also just so happen to be celestial beings (an angel and a demon) charged with keeping an eye on humanity. The problem? Well, you see, they’re rather fond of Earth and, despite our inherent flaws, they like us as well. Besides, the Apocalypse would just create all sorts of bother that they would rather not have to deal with.
What follows is a comedy of errors as the two combine their efforts to stop things from getting out of hand. Preferably, before afternoon tea if at all possible. Good Omens is delightful read from start to finish!
Maranatha Road is brimming with hushed secrets that will seem familiar if you’ve ever caught wind of the quiet gossip that flows around a small town. Debut author Heather Bell Adams delivers an emotional punch in this moving tale of two strong-on-the-outside-but-tender-within women individually trying to figure out a way forward after tragedy strikes. I fell in love with the deeply-drawn characters and wanted to give their hands a reassuring squeeze. The gorgeous prose and rich description of life in the NC mountains may inspire you to pack your bags for a road trip. -Michelle
Told in vignettes from the perspectives of women who loved a superhero (and lost their lives because of it), The Refrigerator Monologues bring to light the sexism and injustice often portrayed in comic book culture.
Many of the stories are clear homages to popular characters, finally giving them a voice previously stifled by their abruptly ended story lines. The voices were all so unique and stunning, you can barely tell they're written by the same author. -Amber
My weak spots are trains, westerns and mysteries, so I was compelled to pick up The Western Star (Viking $28),
the latest title in the Walt Longmire Mystery
series by Craig Johnson. I flipped through the first few pages and tried to feign disinterest -- as a brooding Western lawman would do -- but I failed spectacularly and found myself riding alongside Walt Longmire, back to his early days as a deputy with the Absaroka County Sheriff's Department. Longmire is transported back to his early law enforcement days by a picture taken then of himself and two dozen sheriffs in front of a locomotive ready to embark on a train journey across Wyoming. His efforts to stay alive then as the adventure unfolded along the rails serves as the backdrop for Longmire's current challenge to confront his darkest enemy. The gun- and book-toting Longmire, and the cast of unique characters on the Western Star were entertaining and intriguing travel companions who kept me guessing as I rode the rails with them for miles through the Wyoming wilderness. -Belinda
Craig Johnson will be at QRB with the book on September 15 at 7:00 p.m.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a cynical and haunting sci-fi noir novel from Tom Sweterlitsch, an emerging giant in the genre. After a random terrorist attack destroys Pittsburgh, a virtual copy is reconstructed and is where Dominic, an insurance investigator and Pittsburgh survivor, spends most of his time mourning his past. A routine cold case becomes an obsession and a hunt for a missing girl becomes a conspiracy. And as everything intertwines, Dominic fights to preserve his memories which are being systematically altered. Interesting topics include tech and privacy and the perversion of American politics. "Look here!" -Jon
Sometimes, after I’ve read a great book by an author, I judge! When I picked up a copy of James McBride’s new collection of stories, Five-Carat Soul, I was prepared to be disappointed. How could he top The Good Lord Bird? Was I ever surprised in the best way possible! These stories have all the magnificent qualities of the National Book Award winning novel: quirky and poignant and hilarious characters amid life in myriad situations, humanity at its most human presented in beautiful writing. A couple of multi-story combinations read like novellas, and satisfied my craving to know more about the most interesting of those characters. McBride has set the bar high once again. -Mamie
A dark and engaging fairy tale set in modern New York. It tells the story of Apollo Kagwa, an African American rare book dealer, as he confronts witches, faceless ghosts, trolls (internet and actual trolls) in order to save his family. Draws heavily from modern anxieties about race, parenting, and technology. Exists somewhere between Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There and Rosemary's Baby.
Daniel Kehlmann's novella You Should Have Left (Pantheon $18) sent shivers down my spine and kept me asking, "Just what is happening here?" A screenwriter tries to break through writer's block during a vacation with his family at a house in the German mountains, but soon finds himself confronting sinister and physics-defying phenomena. I picked this up looking for a quick and entertaining read, but the story grabbed my wits and tossed them into its skewed events--and compelled me to read it again. A deliciously frightening tale. -Belinda
Shadow of the Lions is an engrossing, literary thriller that kept me turning pages late into the night. Matthias Glass is haunted by the look of deep betrayal he saw in his best friend's eyes - that was 10 years ago, right before Fritz Davenport vanished from the Blackburne School campus without a trace.
Since then Matthias has tried to out-run the burden of guilt he felt - and still feels - for Fritz's disappearance by hurling himself into the fast and furious life of a writing sensation. The fame flame died as quickly as it sparked, however, and Matthias returns to Blackburne School to teach, only to get caught up in the past and confront unexpected dangers connected with his friend's disappearance. -Belinda
Thoroughly researched and expertly written, Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns (Vintage $17) is a gracefully crafted testament to the millions of individuals who collectively would become known as the Great Migration. The epic journey spans half a century and encompasses millions who individually made the decision to leave the Jim Crow South for supposed promised lands North and West. Their collective decision changed every facet of American Society: from economics to politics, literature and music, sports and popular culture. Told primarily through the perspectives of three very different individuals, The Warmth of Other Suns is mainly a story of Americans wanting to live out their lives on their own terms, and [spoiler] that's just what they did. -Ceewin
Curtis Dawkins is a flat-out great writer who is also incarcerated for life in a Michigan prison for a drug-related homicide. The stories he tells in The Graybar Hotel are small masterpieces of the daily drama of prison life, reminiscent of John Cheever or Raymond Carver. In deceptively simple sentences, Dawkins pries into the inmates’ complex relationships with each other, their coping mechanisms, and their lives on the outside that brought them to where they have ended up. A transformative reading experience.
I was completely immersed in Estep Nagy's We Shall Not All Sleep, a perfectly constructed novel of two families vacationing on an island in Maine during the Cold War summer of 1964. Nagy contrasts the warm, idyllic, beautifully rendered setting with the chill of manipulations and deceptions both personal and political. The family dynamics could best be summed up by the father, who explains to his young son how important it is to ‘learn when to lie, to whom, and to do it well.’
“Books, for me, are a home. Books don't make a home — they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and space. There is warmth there too — a hearth. I sit down with a book and
I am warm.”
Jeannette Winterson is a master of the written word. Her memoir is devastatingly beautiful, as it explores her childhood adopted by religious zealots, discovering herself and her sexuality, and how literature saved her life. -Amber
In Daniel Wallace's new novel, Extraordinary Adventures, we meet dutiful, unassuming (and lonely) Edsel Bronfman, who is suddenly galvanized into action when he must find a companion in order to be eligible for an all-expenses-paid trip to the beach. Whether you see a bit of yourself in Edsel, or you know someone like him, you'll be routing for him as remarkable events and characters unfold. A funny, perfect read for the summer! -Kent
I knew nothing about Nina Riggs until I saw an essay of hers in The New York Times “Modern Life” column entitled, “When a Couch is More Than a Couch.” When the piece came out, Riggs was dying of cancer at the way-too-young age of 37. The column was lyrical and honest, and I knew that I wanted to read more of her writing when the memoir of her illness, The Bright Hour, came out. The memoir is full of the same honesty and beautiful prose (she was a poet). I read of her physical and emotional pain, and I witnessed the anguish of her husband and two young boys, yet there was nothing maudlin about the way she told her story. A descendent of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Riggs has peppered the chapters with quotes by Emerson and her favorite essayist, the philosopher Michel de Montaigne. Although the story is heartbreaking, I came away from it with a renewed commitment to plucking the day, and great admiration for her willingness to share her story with us. Nina Riggs died on February 26 of this year. -Mamie
If you love golf and relate to the Pinehurst and Southern Pines areas of our state, you will connect with Dodson's latest book. Entertaining and insightful, this is his personal account of his life in pursuit of completing his bucket list including experiences with famous golfers, good friends and other interesting characters. Dodson's storytelling is fascinating. He also addresses the future of golf and where this wonderful game is headed. - Linda
Two thumbs up: In her new novel, the author of the best selling Little Paris Bookshop ventures into the culture and vistas of Brittany. The book centers on Marianne who, after years of a thankless, miserable marriage, has had enough. She makes her way from Paris to the coast with no purpose other than ending her life. In the quaint coastal town of Kerdruc, her suffocated soul collides with her will to live. - Samantha
Another sumptuous tale from the best-selling author of The Little Paris Bookshop. While this tale weaves its way from Germany to France following downtrodden Marianne on her journey of self-discovery, the reader will be enthralled by the luscious language of food and the vivid descriptions of the sea and the countryside, and will revel in the self-fulfillment and true love that Nina George's characters all find. - Broche
This could be the black comedy I've been waiting for all my life! While employing unique strategies to cope with the recent death of his wife, K. becomes quite literal-minded and loses his baloney filter. Through a series of absurd events he becomes the host of a reality TV show in which he confronts people with the truth, with disastrous and hilarious results. Currie walks a tightrope of comedy over a gaping chasm of heartbreak. This is a perfect satire of modern American culture. - Tony
On Mother’s Day, I took some time to rest and read. I was well into the new book by Elizabeth Strout, Anything is Possible, when I came to the story entitled, “Mississippi Mary.” In the way such things happen, this story is about a mother’s love for her daughter. The story was so poignant and moving (well, I do have three daughters!) that at one point I had to stop reading and take time with my thoughts and feelings before I could finish. Anything is Possible, like Strout’s award-winning book, Olive Kitteridge, is an episodic novel—stories about recurring characters. In the new book, the stories revolve around the title character in My Name is Lucy Barton, her family, and her community. Although the mother/daughter story was my favorite, each of the stories in this novel exhibits Strout’s powerful way of getting into the hearts of her characters and of her readers. - Mamie
In her luminous memoir, The Glass Eye (Tin House, pb 15.95), written following the death of her father, Jeannie Vanasco takes us on a tender journey through her childhood and early adulthood. I was completely immersed in Jeannie's life and her affectionate and vivid portraits of her parents, especially her dad, who was 60 when Jeannie was born and completely devoted to her. Jeannie is a gifted writer with a unique voice and the story of her family's mysteries, including her discovery of a dead half-sister with her same name, and, of course, her father's glass eye, are compelling and haunting. The Glass Eye is reminiscent of other memoirs of grief and madness, but that makes this absorbing book sound darker than it really is. Vanasco's humor and intelligence shine through her journey of loss. -Sarah
What a fascinating, delightful read! The acclaimed writer and renowned conductor taped their conversations about many different musical topics: Glenn Gould's recordings of Brahms; the works of Mahler; how different conductors approach the same piece; Ozawa's decades-long career conducting many of the world's great orchestras. This book will be enjoyed by any every classical music lover -from the layman to the formally trained musician. By the way, it would make a terrific Father's Day gift! - Samantha
The Book of Polly is a delightfully funny, yet poignant exploration of a mother-daughter relationship. Polly is an eccentric, older mother (she becomes pregnant at age 58); her daughter Willow, is an anxious 10 year old. Willow worries her mother will die any moment (!) due to her advanced age and her devoted affection for Virginia Slims. This is “southern quirky” at its best. I loved it. - Abbe
I had the absolute best time with this book! It's a droll, misguidedly 'insider' Rock biography that chronicles the misadventures of The Hollywood Brats (from London, not Hollywood! But brats, to be sure!) on the London scene of the early 70s. The story is great, absolutely; but the amiable yet constant dishing of Andrew Matheson is what puts this over the top. His opinions are so very firm - and his faith in his own success so terribly tragic - that his grudging acceptance of what transpired comes across as pure grace under fire. Seventies London, Glitter Rock, slums, organized crime, true camaraderie, horribly bad timing, sleazy label guys: all present and gleefully, downright mirthfully recounted. Dig it, please. - Matt
Two thumbs up for this one:
This is an eye-opening account of heroic people who refused to give up as Europe fell to the Nazis. They came to Great Britain, calling it "Last Hope Island," to fight until the bitter end. Polish pilots became the most aggressive pilots in the air. When the leader of a French underground spy ring was captured, his young secretary took over. After giving his estate to the Allies to use as a military hospital, a Scottish lord led the soldiers who defused bombs. A fascinating history full of new personal stories from World War II. - Helen
The contributions of smaller Allied nations (such as Norway) are often overlooked in WWII histories. In the starting days of the war, governments and partisans in exile congregated in London. Lynne Olson (Citizens of London) returns to its setting to detail how refugee communities came to England’s aid (among them, Polish and Czech pilots for a decimated RAF) and England to theirs. All didn’t go swimmingly, but all realized that England indeed was their Last Hope Island against Hitler. - Rosemary
Brian Van Reet is the latest in a growing wave of authors who have rendered their experiences serving in Iraq and Afghanistan into powerful and important literature. Told from the perspective of combatants on both sides of the war in Iraq, Van Reet’s beautifully written debut novel is a thrilling page-turner as well as a reminder that for many who fought in these wars, there were no winners and losers. Only losers. - Tony
One of the things I like about Margaret Atwood is that she pulls no punches in her story telling and Oryx and Crake, her 2003 novel, the first in the MaddAddam trilogy, is no exception. In this work of speculative fiction (the author's own designation), Atwood examines many of the issues that trouble world -- genetic engineering, the internet, violence against women, overpopulation to name a few -- in the story of Snowman, a man with a mission sojourning in a post apocalyptic world. Snowman (aka Jimmy in his pre-apocalypse life, the ailing guardian, more or less, of the Crakers, a genetically engineered humanoid species) is nearing starvation and must travel to a now deserted genetic research facility to find supplies. As readers follow Snowman on his quest across a shattered landscape and through his encounters with various genetically altered other animals and a series flashbacks involving his former life with his best friend Glenn, the "mad scientist" who precipitates the apocalypse, and the mysterious and beautiful woman they both love known only as Oryx, they learn of his world as it is and how it came to be. As always, Atwood's writing is crisp and engaging; she creates unforgettable characters in an unforgiving world. - Ken