Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer Reading Series 7: Another Time, Another Place

One of my favorite genres to read is historical fiction.  (I have a lot of favorites, what can I say?)  So many settings, so many stories, and if you learn a little something along the way, that’s a bonus!  Lots of people have read, say, The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory or Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  (But if you haven’t, those are both excellent places to start!)  The places you can travel are limited only by the globe, but today’s list is all about British history.  The titles I recommend most often are:

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks.    When the plague makes its way from 17th century London to a small Derbyshire village, the villagers struggle with the choice of staying and trying to maintain life as they know it, or fleeing into the countryside as the lord of the manor and his family have done.  The rector argues for them to stay and isolate themselves from the neighboring villages to contain the contagion.  Cut off from the outside world, then, those who remain must try to maintain their humanity despite the fear and death that lurks in every corner.  Heavier than your normal beach book, but beautifully told and with a surprising amount of heart, I highly recommend this one.

The Lady Elizabeth, by Alison Weir.  For those looking for more fiction about the Tudors, Alison Weir is at the top of the list.  A biographer of Tudor England by trade, Weir takes all of that research to create a rich and vibrant backdrop to her fictional tales.  If you’ve ever wondered about what Elizabeth I was like before she became queen, this is a great novel.  From her childhood to her coronation, spanning the last years of Henry VIII’s reign as well as those of her younger brother Edward VI and her older sister Mary, Weir’s Elizabeth is brilliant, opinionated, and heartbreakingly human.  Can’t get enough of the Tudors?  Try Weir’s other work, including her novel The Innocent Traitor about Lady Jane Gray, or consider one of her biographies, like The Children of Henry VIII to learn more about Elizabeth and her half-siblings.

Mistress of the Art of Death, by Ariana Franklin.  In medieval Cambridge, four children have been murdered.  The Catholics blame the Jews, who are then placed under the protection of King Henry II.  Desperate for a resolution, the king sends abroad for someone to perform a scientific inquest into the murders.  The investigator sent is Italian physician and coroner Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno, who must keep her true identity a secret in Cambridge to preserve her safety.  Part forensic thriller, part murder mystery, part historical novel and completely engrossing, this is a great read on all fronts.  The best news?  It’s the start of a series—continue on with The Serpent’s Tale.

Have a particular era or country you’d like more suggestions for?  Leave me your suggestion in the comments!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer Reading Series 6: Reading Ahead!

Have you ever stumbled across a title from a favorite author only to realize it has been out for a few months and, somehow, you’d missed it?  I’m hoping to make Reading Ahead a regular part of our posts here at Trumbull Is Reading, to help you keep current on some of the big titles coming soon to the library.


The Sixes, by Kate White

Back of Beyond, by C.J. Box

The Ideal Man, by Julie Garwood


Son of Stone, by Stuart Woods

The Race, by Clive Cussler

Prey, by Linda Howard

Lethal, by Sandra Brown

The Affair, by Lee Child

New York to Dallas, by J.D. Robb

Any other upcoming titles you know of that you’re excited about?  Let us know in the comments! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Reading Series 5: Mysteries

If you just read the title of the post and thought, “I don’t read mysteries, this post isn’t for me,” I’m going to ask you to stick with me for a moment.  See, I don’t consider myself a mystery reader, either.  Mystery readers, to me, are like any genre-only readers—they’ve found a type of book that they really love, and that genre makes up the bulk of what they read.  Then there are the rest of us, who love to read and sometimes read mysteries.  I definitely fall into the latter category, and maybe you do, too.  The trick is finding a style of mystery that suits you, and there are bunches to choose from.  Here are a few of my top picks:

For cozy* mystery readers:

The China Bayles series by Susan Wittig Albert.  Lawyer turned herb-shop-owner, China Bayles is one witty, brilliant, small-town Texan super-sleuth.  Each novel is complete with recipes, herb lore, and small town charm.  A wacky cast of characters makes for an extra-entertaining read.  My advice is to start at the beginning with Thyme of Death.  You might also try the Hannah Swenson mysteries by Joann Fluke (starting with Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder) or the antique-themed Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries by Barbara Allan(starting with Antiques Roadkill).

For detective mystery readers:

Try sleeper hit The Snowman, by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo.  Oslo Detective Harry Hole is incredibly qualified but troubled by a number of personal demons.  Given a new partner and a rapidly developing string of murders hinting at a serial killer on the loose, Harry must struggle through his issues and catch the killer before he strikes again.  Nesbo is being called the heir apparent to Stieg Larsson—this is definitely one to check out.  Other detective series I recommend: The Nic Costa Italian police series by David Hewson  (start with Season for the Dead) and Jeffery Deaver’s criminologist Lincoln Rhyme series (start with The Coffin Dancer).

Finally, for those who prefer historical mysteries:

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Anne Perry here.  Both her William Monk (The Face of a Stranger, etc.) and Charlotte and Thomas Pitt (The Cater Street Hangman) are marvels of Victorian English history and mystery combined.  You might also try Jules Verne circa 1889 in Carol McCleary’s Illusion of Murder.  Or consider Renaissance Italy among the murderous Borgias in Sara Poole’s Poison.

Have a favorite that’s not on the list?  Leave a comment below and tell us!

Next time on our Summer Reading Series:  Reading Ahead!  What’s coming soon from your favorite authors?  I’ve got it for you!

*What makes a mystery “cozy”?  The crime-solver in a cozy mystery is usually (but not always!) a woman who is an amateur sleuth. Almost always, she has a college degree, whether she is using it or not. Her education and life’s experiences have provided her with certain skills that she will utilize in order to solve all the crimes that are “thrown her way.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Reading Series 4: What about non fiction for summer reading?

I’ll admit it, I read a LOT of fiction and since I read so much of it, it tends to be what I recommend most often.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t give non fiction some love, and if you’re a non-fiction reader looking for some great titles for summer, this list is for you.  Today, the list is travel themed, but not to worry, I have more non-fiction lists coming soon!

Is the heat killing you?  Cool off with Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier.  Not just the desolate, frigid wasteland that makes up one-seventh of the world’s land mass, Frazier’s Siberia brims with Mongols, half-crazed Orthodox archpriests, tea caravans, German scientists, American prospectors, intrepid English nurses, and prisoners and exiles of every description.  Going far beyond travelogue, this is also an account of Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, and Frazier’s personal (and often humorous) reflection on all things Russia.  (Need more great reads to help you cool off?  Try Ice Bound by Jerri Nielsen, or The Only Kayak by Kim Heacox.)

An oldie but a goodie, Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun is one of my favorites.  Part homage to Tuscany and its people, part delicious ode to the local cuisine, Mayes writes of the home she bought and restored, her summers and holidays spent basking in Tuscan culture, and every paragraph waxes poetic at the everyday delights she experiences there.  The perfect escape on a summer afternoon.  (Don’t want to leave Tuscany after you’ve finished the book?  Try Bella Tuscany, also by Mayes.)

Finally, a little closer to home, I’m a Stranger Here Myselfby Bill Bryson.  Well-known travel writer Bryson is more introspective here than in previous books, though no less entertaining, when after two decades in England, he’s relocated to New Hampshire.  Stepping back into the American mainstream after twenty years abroad, Bryson has both a critical eye and a nostalgic heart as he writes about everything from the sweetness of small-town America to the strangeness of activist groups.  The collection of essays, originally written as columns for London’s Night & Day magazine, is one to be leisurely enjoyed and savored.  (Want to know more about Bryson’s travels?  Try A Walk in the Woods.)

Next up in our Summer Reading Series, Mysteries.  Think you’re not a mystery reader?  Think again!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Reading Series, Part 3: “The Book Was Better…”

Don’t you hate it when people say that?  You’ve seen the movie, you loved it, and whoever has read it inevitably tells you that the movie got X, Y, and Z wrong, and how the book was so much better.  Annoying, right?  Sometimes, though, it’s worth going back and reading the book, just to see what all the fuss is about.  Trust me on this one.

This spring we saw Water for Elephants be released in theaters to rave reviews.  What some movie-goers might not realize, however, is that the book (by Sara Gruen) on which the movie was based has been a book discussion darling since its release in 2006.  And if you missed Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson on the big screen, you might consider grabbing the book this summer to tide you over until the DVD release later this year.  The premise?  In Depression-era America, a veterinary student abandons his schooling after the death of both his parents, and joins a second-rate traveling circus as their vet.  Poignant and beautifully written, this is a great addition to your stack of summer books.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding The Help, which is coming to theaters in August, and a lot of that stems from the huge love both readers and critics have had for this first novel from Kathryn Stockett since its debut in 2009.  Here at the library, it has been a favorite of patrons and staff alike, well-loved and highly recommended by all.  Stockett chose to make her characters intensely three-dimensional, resulting in readers cheering their favorites and hissing at their foes through to the very end.  The story covers the vast differences among household members in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, the heart of the South and the middle of the American Civil Rights movement.  Rife with the ironies and hypocrisies that defined the era, the story follows a myriad of characters through struggle and triumph.  I also highly recommend listening to the audiobook, if it’s a format you like—the performance is absolutely riveting.  High praise?  You decide! 

Finally, while not a theatrical release, HBO’s Game of Thrones just closed its first season a few weeks ago, and fans are beyond excited that HBO has picked the show up for a second season, slated to run next spring.  Many fans are using the time between seasons to read ahead in this series, A Song of Ice and Fire, by author George R.R. Martin.  Season 1 stuck very closely to the first book in the series, titled A Game of Thrones, and fans can only hope that the series will continue to do so in seasons to come.  Book 5, A Dance with Dragons, comes out today (July 12), so there’s plenty of reading ahead to be had.  For those not familiar, Martin’s series is reminiscent of England during the War of the Roses, with the houses of Stark and Lannister standing in for the Yorks and Lancasters.  While the struggle between these two families for the Iron Throne is the main story, we also follow stories at the great wall in the north (beyond which lies magic and danger that grows stronger with the coming of a years-long winter) as well as a dragon princess across the sea who leads a tribe of nomads and dreams of reclaiming the Iron Throne for herself.  Engrossing and epic, this is a great series to lose yourself in for the summer!  (Also watch for season 1 on DVD, to be released this winter.)

Next in our Summer Reading Series:  But Megan, what about those of us who don’t read fiction??  Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Reading Series, Part 2: Suspense & Thrillers!

As promised, the Summer Reading Series continues with a different kind of beach read entirely—the thriller.  For those of us who are desperately missing our favorite crime-genre TV shows during the summer doldrums (CSI, Bones, Law & Order…  Can’t be just me, right?), and are sick of reruns, sometimes a summer spent enjoying books in the same genre is just what you need to get you through.  Here are some of my favorites to get you started.

Shadow Man, by Cody McFadyen.  This is the start of McFadyen’s series featuring FBI agent Smoky Barrett.  As main characters go, Smoky is among the more complicated and haunted.  After personal tragedies and an attempt on her life, Smoky is resilient, stubborn and loyal, but also vulnerable and flawed.  Along with her team of agents, both amusing and sinister, Smoky spends this first book (of four, as of summer 2011) in pursuit of madman Jack Jr., who believes himself to be a direct descendant of Jack the Ripper, and sends proof of his violent deeds as a taunt to Smoky’s team.  Extremely fast-paced, creepy as all get out, you’ll be rooting for Smoky and her team all the way.  Like it?  Continue the series with the second book, The Face of Death.

Never Knowing, by Chevy Stevens.  Stevens is a newer author, and Never Knowing is only her second novel, but she has already made a major mark with readers as an author who can grip a reader from the first sentence, and who won’t let go, even after the last page.  In Never Knowing, Sarah has always wondered about her birth parents.  As an adult, she finds her birth mother after months of research, only to be met with disappointment and horror; her birth mother was the only victim to escape a serial killer who has been hunting women every summer for decades.  And what’s worse than knowing about her father…is that now he knows about Sarah.  Guaranteed to give you goosebumps on the hottest summer day.  Like it?  Try Stevens’s first novel, Still Missing.

And finally, one of my favorite suspense authors, Lisa Gardner.  Start with Alone, in which we meet Massachusetts police sniper Bobby Dodge.  Twenty five years after suffering abduction and captivity by a madman, Catherine Gagnon is now fighting to keep her son, Nathan.  On a cold November evening, Bobby Dodge shoots Catherine’s husband, Jimmy, after Catherine’s 911 call that Jimmy was attempting to harm Nathan.  Doubts arise quickly after the shooting.  Did Catherine engineer her husband’s death?  Did Bobby fall under her spell?  The plot twists and turns, and will leave readers guessing to the very end.  Like it?  Follow up with the second novel following Bobby Dodge, Hide.

Next up in our Summer Reading Series: Movie Tie-Ins from the Summer Blockbusters.  Great for movie buffs and book-lovers alike!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Reading Series, Part 1: Beach Reads

One of the things I’m asked most often in the summer, by both friends and by library patrons, is: “I need something to read.  What do you recommend?” 

Summer means different things to different people.  For some, it’s travel.  For others, it’s all about the beach, or taking the kids to the pool.  And in many cases, these summer activities seem to go hand in hand with books.  Don’t believe me?  What do you do on the plane, or in the airport, or on a day when your beach plans are rained out?  How do you fill the hours poolside while your kids are frolicking in the water? 

So, what do I suggest?  That depends on what you’re in the mood for.  I’m kicking off the Summer Reading series with the ultimate: Beach Reads.  I usually define these as fiction, fairly light reading, with enough story and great characters to move along quickly.  Nothing too taxing, nothing too serious, just relaxation and entertainment.  Topping my list this summer are:

Beginner’s Greek, by James Collins.  Deeply romantic at heart, Peter Russell has always believed that he’ll meet the girl of his dreams when she sits next to him on an airplane.  When he meets pretty, intellectual Holly Taylor on a flight, he falls madly in love and asks for her number.  Later that night at his hotel, he realizes that the page from his book with her number on it is gone.  What follows is a laugh-out-loud comedy of errors with an oddball cast of characters.

If You Were Here, by Jen Lancaster.  Best known for her side-splittingly funny memoirs (Bitter is the New Black, etc.), Lancaster turns her sights on fiction with equally hilarious results.  Amish-zombie series novelist Mia, finds the house of her dreams…the Jake Ryan house used in the filming of John Hughes’s “Pretty in Pink”.  Fighting book deadlines, a DIY-deficient husband, crazy new neighbors, and a fixer-upper from hell, Mia has hysterical meltdowns and major triumphs.  Funny, fast, and fabulous.

Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan.  Three generations of Kelleher women find themselves back at their family summerhouse in Maine, each facing her own secrets and challenges.  Heartache, healing, and most of all, hope.  A gorgeous family saga, and total sleeper hit!

And finally, my personal favorite…

Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver.  A somewhat lesser known title than Kingsolver’s breakaway hit, The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer follows several characters through one steamy, voluptuous summer in an isolated pocket of southern Appalachia.  This one?  I like even better as an audiobook—great for a car trip to your summer vacation destination!

(Click any of the links above to take you straight to the Trumbull Library catalog, where you can check title availability and place a hold.)

Next in our Summer Reading Series—thrillers!  New, spine-tingling titles guaranteed to give you chills, even on the hottest summer day!