Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Something stormy this way comes

I’m writing this post (which will go live on Tuesday, 8/30) before Hurricane Irene does whatever it’s going to do.  So I’m hoping we all get through it safely!  But since I’ve got storms on the brain today (as does every patron coming into the building), I can’t think of anything better to write about than stormy weather books!  If you’re sick of rain, though, come back for Thursday’s post this week—it’ll be all about fiction set in perfect weather!

A Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger.  Subtitled “A True Story of Men Against the Sea”, this well-researched reconstruction of the wreck of a swordfish boat during a fierce storm off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1991 is intensely readable.  Junger captures not only the feel of the search and rescue efforts after the storm, but also the fishing industry and the attitudes of rough Yankee fisherman. 

The Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke.  Part love story to the South and New Orleans, part illustration of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and part thriller, this David Robicheaux mystery is fraught with tension and danger, both from the storm and its aftermath as well as the murder to be solved.  Burke is a two-time Edgar Award winner and critics hailed this as his best book yet—check it out!

The Cypress House, by Michael Koryta.  Set in 1929 in the midst of the Great Depression, the story follows WWI veteran Arlen Wagner as he attempts to keep his many demons at bay with hard work and hard drinking.  When he and a friend, Paul, are traveling by train in Florida, one of Arlen’s demons rears its ugly head, and no one but Paul believes the outrageous things that Arlen is claiming.  They leave the train, hoping to outrun the danger that Arlen dreads, and wind up on the Gulf Coast, in the path of more than one storm.  Gripping, chilling, and deeply satisfying. 

Best to all my readers, hope you had a good book to read during the storm! 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer Reading Series 15: One last walk in the garden

Yes, it’s the last post in our Summer Reading Series for the year.  I’ve got some great recommendations coming up as we head into autumn, so don’t worry!  I thought we’d take one last stroll through the garden before we move on, though.

I don’t have much of a green thumb, but I can manage a little low-maintenance gardening (like a couple of flower boxes).  The truth is, I’d usually rather read than work in the yard!  I do, however, have a great admiration for gardeners both real and fictional.  If you’re looking to savor a last taste of summer, these are great ones to check out.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt.  Ok, so maybe I’m playing fast and loose with the garden theme, but if you never stopped to check this one out, you’re missing out.  Slow, lazy Savannah, GA is the main character in this beautifully readable work of non-fiction.  A true-crime story played out by a cast of delightful eccentrics, this is not one you’re likely to forget.  And Berendt could make you feel the steamy heat of a Georgia summer in the dead of winter.

The Girl in the Garden, by Kamala Nair.  As a young girl, protagonist Rakhee Singh travels with her mother from their Montana home to visit relatives in India for the summer.  During that summer, Rakhee learns a family secret so haunting, it is years before she finally finds her way to confront the secret and the memories of that summer.

The French Gardener, by Sarah Montefiore.  Who doesn’t fantasize about chucking the 9-5 grind and setting up house in the countryside, enjoying a simpler life?  That’s just the fantasy that Londoner Miranda Claybourne sets out to make her reality.  Unfortunately, reality isn’t quite so idyllic, as she deals with unruly children, managing her career and home, all of it largely alone while her husband stays in London for work.  Charismatic Frenchman Jean-Paul shows up to restore the country house’s gardens to their former glory, and proves just the help Miranda needs to sort things out.  If you think you’ve already got the ending figured out, think again—the plot on this one twists and turns like creeper vine!

Slugfest, by Rosemary Harris.  The most recent in Harris’s “A Dirty Business” mystery series ( start with Pushing Up Daisies), takes amateur sleuth and gardening professional Paula Holliday from Springfield, CT to Manhattan for the Big Apple Flower Show.  When an overnight worker at the show turns up dead, Holliday is on the case.  Quirky characters and a great take on the city, this is sure to please mystery readers with even the blackest thumbs.

Interested to see what I’m recommending next week?  Me too!  See you next Tuesday

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer Reading Series 14: Read-Alikes

When people ask me for a recommendation of what they should read, I usually answer their question with a question.  (I know it’s an annoying habit, but there’s a method to my madness.)

“What was the last book that you read that you really enjoyed?”  Or, “What kind of book are you in the mood for?”  How you answer these questions helps me to narrow down what I would recommend.  And if you haven’t noticed by now, one of my favorite things about being a reader and working in a library is helping fellow readers find books that they’ll love.  So here are some of my top picks if you liked…

The Help, by Kate Stockett.  You’re looking for:  heavier issues, characters that resonate long after you’ve finished, and you’re not scared of page-length.  Have you tried:  John Irving (esp. A Widow for One Year), Jeffrey Eugenides (esp. Middlesex), Wally Lamb (esp. She’s Come Undone) or Alice Hoffman (esp. The River King).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc., by Stieg Larsson.  You’re looking for:  Quirky characters, deeply engrossing plot.  Have you tried:  Jeffrey Deaver (esp. The Empty Chair), Harlan Coben (esp. No Second Chance), Jonathan Nasaw (esp. Twenty Seven Bones) or Philip Margolin (esp. The Undertaker’s Widow).

Room, by Emma Donoghue.  You’re looking for: A unique narrator, a nail-biting plot.  You might like:  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, Bag of Bones by Stephen King, or State of Wonder by Anne Patchett.

Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series.  You’re looking for: Alternate takes on the supernatural, maybe something a little scary, characters you’ll love.  You might like:  The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, The Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, or the Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson.

Looking for a personal recommendation?  Leave a comment below (please be sure to leave me a way to contact you) and I’ll be happy to help!

Thursday’s post this week will be the last of our summer reading series for the year, so we’ll be taking one last stroll through the garden.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Reading Series 13: Reading Ahead

Summer’s not done with us just yet, but fall is right around the corner.  Here are some up-and-coming titles to look forward to—place your holds now!  (A simple click on any of the links below will take you right to our catalog.)


The Litigators, by John Grisham

Double Dexter, by Jeffry P. Lindsay

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides  (I’m so excited for this one!)

The Best of Me, by Nicholas Sparks

Shock Wave, by John Sandford

The Lady of the Rivers, by Philippa Gregory

The Christmas Wedding, by James Patterson and Richard Dilallo

Next up, read-alikes.  We've had some amazing fiction in the last few years--next Tuesday's post will be all about what to read if you're a fan of some of the recent bestsellers. 

As always, if there's anything you'd like suggestions about, or anything you'd like to suggest, please feel free to comment below or email me

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer Reading Series 12: Hidden Gems

I don’t really want to brag here, but librarians often have an inside scoop on authors and titles before they become household names.  Dan Brown?  We were there before The DaVinci Code. The Help?  That was an in-house favorite among our staff before Hollywood got hold of it.  And Room?  Yup, we were recommending it to everyone who came through the doors as soon as we had read it.

So what do we want you to know about that you might not have heard of?

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness.  Our staff has been on pins and needles waiting for the sequel to come out next year since this debut novel hit shelves back in February.  The best description we can come up with is “a cross between Harry Potter, True Blood and The Time Traveler’s Wife”.  When witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers a mysterious ancient manuscript (which supposedly never existed) in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she attracts the attention of 1,500 year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont.  Unfortunately, the event has attracted the attention of less-savory characters, and Diana finds herself in danger, even as she works to discover why the manuscript has resurfaced now, after all these centuries, and what the others want with it.  We can’t recommend this highly enough!

The Maggie O’Dell series, by Alex Kava.  Start with A Perfect Evil, and they just keep getting better.  Follow FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell through murder investigations, tangles with local law enforcement, and her own personal demons through a thriller series that, while a bit on the gory side, will keep you turning pages.  If you’re looking for a new thriller author to try, Alex Kava’s definitely a hidden gem.

The 37th Hour, by Jodi Compton.  Her debut novel, a police procedural, is one that has resonated with me since I read it.  Her other work is definitely worth a read, but this is where I’d start.  Set in Minneapolis, The 37th Hour features Sheriff's Det. Sarah Pribek, who specializes in missing-person cases.  When Sarah suffers the withdrawal of her mentor, the evasion of a suspect, and the disappearance of her husband of two months, she’s left with a narrow window in which to resolve her issues.  In missing-person cases, the first 36 hours are the most crucial, but what happens once that window closes?  Serious crime fiction, seriously amazing.

Our summer reading series has a few weeks left, and I’ve saved some of the best for last.   But don’t worry—the blog will continue regardless of season, so keep checking back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new posts!  Up next: reading ahead—what to look forward to reading this fall.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer Reading Series 11: Book Clubs and Beyond

I’ve been involved in book clubs for over 10 years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two in that time.  There’s more to picking a book than just randomly naming a title.  We consider page length, age and availability of the book, subject matter and overall appeal to the group.  We have the occasional miss, although sometimes a book we didn’t like will spark some great discussion.  But we’ve also had some surprising hits along the way.  If your book club is looking for titles for future meetings, or you’re just looking for a good book, here’s a list to get you started.

Family sagas appeal on many levels.  There are lots of characters and character relationships to discuss.  There are always plenty of skeletons in the closet.  And we often recognize ourselves or our own relatives in these stories.  For family sagas, try:

Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen
Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson
The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wrobelewski

Historical novels can open up a lot of different avenues for discussion.  Not only are there the characters and plotlines to discuss, but also what else was going on in the world at the same time that might have contributed to the plot.  Different social norms can be quite an eye-opener, too. 

The Binding Chair, by Kathryn Harrison
Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani
Daughter of Fortune, by Isabelle Allende
People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

Finally, there are no rules when it comes to great book club reads.  Some of our most surprising, interesting and popular discussions were of books ranging from classics to epics to nonfiction.  If you’re looking to read outside the box a little, you might just be pleasantly surprised. 

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
New York, by Edward Rutherfurd
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Your fellow readers and I would love to know! 
Next time, hidden gems—some of the best books and authors you’ve never heard of.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer Reading Series 10: Fun & Easy Nonfiction

If you haven’t caught on, I’m all about reading for pleasure and entertainment.  And I’ll admit, I read my fair share of fluffy fiction.  Sometimes, though, I find I need to change things up to keep from getting bored, and often that means reading some nonfiction.  That’s not to say that nonfiction can’t be fun, or fluffy for that matter.  Here are a few titles to break up your summer fiction binge without skimping on entertainment value.

The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell.  Call it pop sociology, but The Tipping Point will certainly get your gears turning.  Little changes can have big results: if a small group of people starts to behave differently, the effects ripple outward until a critical mass or “tipping point” is reached, changing the world.  Gladwell explores this theory, likening word-of-mouth spread of information to a virus spreading, and follows the growth of these “epidemics”, labeling three different roles people play in the process.  Enlightening, thought provoking; a fast read for a lazy summer weekend.

Freakonomics, by Stephen D. Levitt.  Mmm, economics.  Makes you think of…what?  Statistics, tweed-clad professors, interest rates?  Levitt breaks out of the norm and brings things much closer to home, deconstructing all sorts of behavior looking for hidden incentives.  Will reading to your child when she’s a baby make her a better student when she’s older?  What are the patterns behind baby-naming trends?  Connections can be made, Levitt believes, if you’re looking at cause and effect from the right angle.  PS—Freakonomics also spent a LOT of time on the NYT bestsellers’ list.  If you’re looking for something to peak your interest, look no further.

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.  If you’d rather your nonfiction read like a novel, check out The Devil in the White City.  Larson infuses drama, action and atmosphere into the unbelievable events surrounding the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.  Just five years after Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London, H.H. Holmes was on a similar rampage in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of his despicable acts occurred during the World’s Fair, exploiting one of Chicago’s finest moments.  The book strikes a balance between detailing the vast preparations of the fair and chronicling Holmes’s movements and deeds at the same time.  An engrossing, chilling read!

Up next, suggestions for book clubs (or solo readers just looking for a great story!).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Reading Series 9: Beat the Heat

Lately, the heat has been tough to beat.  In fact, I’ve spent a lot of downtime in the AC, reading.  But if you’re looking for something to read with a great story and a cool climate, I’ve got some suggestions for you…

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick.  Set in a small town in 1907 Wisconsin, where the winters are harsh enough to drive people mad, Catherine Land arrives in answer to Ralph Truitt’s want-ad for “a reliable wife”.  From the start, there’s something that doesn’t ring true with Catherine’s story, but she’s not the only one with secrets to hide.  A dark psychological tale that builds to an ending you never saw coming. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson.  This novel, the first in Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, was a complete sleeper hit two summers ago.  Yet its appeal hasn’t dropped off in the slightest, perhaps due to the striking originality of its multi-faceted thrilling plotline (which takes place in chilly Sweden), and also perhaps due to the odd pairing of main characters.  Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced financial journalist, accepts help from young, socially awkward and somewhat hostile computer hacker Lisbeth Salander as he tries to redeem himself and rescue his career by helping ailing industrialist Henrik Vanger discover what happened to his long-missing niece before he dies.  Hugely compelling, with characters that stick with you for years afterward.  If you’re a fan of audiobooks, I highly recommend this one and its sequels—they are fantastic.

Northern Lights, by Nora Roberts.  While it’s a few years old, this one is a favorite of mine.  Former Baltimore cop Nate Burke finds himself running from his past and winds up as police chief in Lunacy, Alaska…population 506.  A far cry from the busy city, Lunacy still has its challenges, and when a man who disappeared 16 years ago is found frozen in a remote mountain ice cave, an ice axe in his chest, it’s up to Nate to solve a years-old murder and keep order as locals begin to suspect one another.  Told in Roberts’s signature effortless prose, with a romantic subplot (of course), this is a great one to add to your beach tote.

Next up in our summer reading series, another list of non-fiction favorites.  Stay cool!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Reading Series 8: Classics

Sometimes, I think great books are wasted on the young.  Do you remember having to read classics in school, and thinking they were boring or too much work?  I know I felt that way!  And yet, in recent years, I’ve gone back to some of these books, whether for a book club or just because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  In some cases, there were titles I’d missed altogether.  If you’d like to give classics another chance, I have a list to get you started on the road to classics-aversion recovery!

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.  Sure, you could just watch the movie, but we already know how I feel about that.  Sometimes, reading the book really is worth it.  It won a Pulitzer Prize, has sold over forty million copies worldwide, and librarians across the US voted it the best book of the twentieth century.  Spend a little time with Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch this summer, in the Deep South of the 1930s.  You’ll be glad you did.

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier.  One of the most famous and popular gothic novels of the twentieth century, this classic is full of mystery and secrets, passion and betrayal.  The novel is dark and atmospheric, complex and psychological.  I can’t think of a better way to lose myself on a hot summer afternoon than on the grounds of Manderly, dodging creepy Mrs. Danvers and learning more about the mysterious Rebecca, the first Mrs. DeWinter, who may be dead but whose presence is a powerful force with which to contend. 

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This is perhaps my favorite of all classics.  It is certainly the one I’ve read most often.  The novel is a portrait of Fitzgerald’s America in the 1920s, with self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby embodying the greed, money, power and chances for new beginnings that went along with it.  The writing is spare and precise, the story one of desire and tragedy, and somehow, I still see something new in it each time I read it. 

I hope you’ll consider giving a classic a try this summer—the titles above prove that a classic doesn’t have to have 700 pages or be a chore to read.  Do you have other classics you love?  Share them in the comments!