Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top 10 on Tuesday: Books I'm thankful for

Hope everyone's holiday was full of good things of all varieties!  I'm not done being thankful, though, so I thought I'd share a list of (some of) the books I am most thankful for.

Hard Times, by Charles Dickens.  I read this in college, and was astounded at my love of and enjoyment in reading a classic.  A valuable lesson.

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood.  I also read this in college, in a modern Canadian literature course.  Thank you, Dr. Thacker, for showing me that you can have intense, deep discussion about modern authors, too.  (This lesson has served me very well in the last 10 years of book club reading!)

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.  My mind was blown the first time I read this book--Gaiman is a master of thinking outside of a box most of us never knew existed.  (Bonus: this title is being optioned by HBO to turn into a series sometime in 2013.  So excited!)

The Stand, by Stephen King.  One of two books I brought with me during a summer in France.  Little did I know I'd wind up reading it twice!  (Long story.  I'd have been lost without it, though.)

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.  I read a lot during my college years, most of it for my classes.  This title came to me in paperback form on a holiday break, a gift from a friend's dad.  It solidified my love of historical fiction, and reminded me why I love to read for entertainment.

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.  A childhood favorite, this was one of the first "big" books that I read to myself.  I love it as much as an adult as I did as a kid.

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks and The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.  Books both, in part, about book lovers.  Both should be required reading by anyone who considers him/herself to be a bibliophile; these felt like epiphanies for this reader.  (Both are also quite excellent in audio format, too.)

How to Eat, by Nigella Lawson.  I admit, I love the Domestic Goddess, and have been watching her since her Nigella Bites first aired on E! here in the US about ten years ago.  This is my ultimate go-to cookbook for basics, and she has never let me down yet. 

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  Of all the things to be said (and I've said them here and in the library, at length) about this, I am most thankful for Stockett's ability to move me, even when I knew what was going to happen.  That's a gift.

What books are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reading ahead: Special edition

Sometimes, publishers make last minute decisions and push publication dates back, which is frustrating.  But then, sometimes, they bump those dates up, and that is a wonderful thing!  Here are a few books coming out next month that are happy surprises!

D.C. Dead, by Stuart Woods

Down the Darkest Road, by Tami Hoag

Death Benefit, by Robin Cook

Have a safe and happy holiday, and I'll be back with new recommendations next week!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A bit of history

It's no secret that I love historical fiction.  I'm not even terribly picky about when or where it's set, as long as the story is good.  Here are a few of the hidden gems I want to share with you...

If you like novels set in Russia, or are a fan of espionage thrillers, try Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith.  This is part homage to Mother Russia in the early part of last century, and part spine-tingling suspense novel.  In Stalin-era Russia, the workers are provided for in a society meant to be free of crime and fear.  Yet there is fear of the State, and MGB agent Leo Demidov is among the best and brightest in the State Security Force, protecting the system from the citizens.  When he is arrested, interrogated, and renounced by the State, he loses everything he has ever known, but must work under the radar in order to solve a string of murders occurring in the "crime-free" State.  I could not put this one down.

If you're an Anglophile, love English Tudor history, or are looking for something to match The Other Boleyn Girl, try Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell.  What was the infamous Anne Boleyn like as a child?  When her father is assigned a position spying at the French Court, the Boleyn family, including young Anne, accompanies him.  Coming of age in a powerful court rife with intrigue, deception, power and dangerous liaisons, Anne learns feminine wiles she will use to her own downfall later in life.  A beautifully researched, riveting piece of historical fiction.

What are some of your favorite historical novels?  I'd love to know!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cooking inspiration

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm having a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it's mid-November already and that next week is Thanksgiving.  Really?  How did this happen?  If you're new to hosting the holidays this year, looking for a little help to get you through, or you're just hoping for a little inspiration, these new cookbooks might be just what you need.

All About Roasting: a new approach to a classic art, by Molly Stevens.  Divided into segments by food type (chicken & poultry, fish & shellfish, vegetables, etc.), All About Roasting is filled with delicious photos and detailed recipes guaranteed to make your mouth water.  Not only does Stevens tell you how to make these gorgeous dishes, she also gives readers the reasoning behind why a recipe might call for low heat instead of high, giving insight into how the recipes were developed.  Interesting, informative, and inspiring!

Connecticut Farmer & Feast: harvesting local bounty, by Emily Brooks.  If you're into eating local, this is the cookbook for you.  Read up on sustainable agriculture, discover community supported farms right in your neighborhood, and get great recipes included with each farm's story.  If this doesn't make you want to get in the kitchen and try something new and delicious, I'm not sure what will.

And if you've been asked to bring a contribution to the feast, you can't go wrong with the new Good Housekeeping The Great Potluck Cookbook.  Full of great starters, sides, casseroles and desserts, this is a huge help to anyone stuck with "what to bring"-itis.  It's divided up by occasions, like Superbowl Shindig or Family Reunion picnic, but there's no reason you couldn't use any of these recipes anytime at all.  And there's certainly no time like the present!

Happy cooking, and I'll see everyone here on Thursday for a little escapist reading!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Best books of 2011?

On Tuesday, Amazon.com released its top picks for the best 100 books of 2011.  Does anyone else think that early November might be a wee bit early for releasing a list like this?  I mean, we've got nearly two months before the end of the year--so many books are slated for release between now and then!  Ah well, what can you do? 

What did I do?  I took a browse through the titles, of course!  I had to see what made their list, and of those, what I'd read or is on my "to read" list.  Color me delighted to see some of my recent favorites on their roster, including Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson; Bossypants by Tina Fey; Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (I was inspired to pick this up upon seeing Anthony Bourdain's endorsement of it).  I was also happy to see Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks made the list--I loved it, and am an avid reader of Brooks' work.  And it was no surprise at all to see Ann Patchett's State of Wonder make the list.

And on my list of things to read?  Recent release Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie has generated some great buzz and is currently sitting on the corner of my desk (waiting for me to power my way through the new Stephen King, 11/22/63, which is no hardship--I want to drop everything else in my life and just read this to completion.  It is also on the list!).  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is becoming a favorite among the library staff, and has been pressed on me by several of them--I'll read it if I know what's good for me!  Alice Hoffman's newest, The Dovekeepers, is also on my radar--these are the days that I want to either add more hours, or quit sleeping, as there is so much to read and never enough hours to read it all (even with the help of audiobooks in the car!). 

What have you read from the list?  And what's there that you're hoping to read soon?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Finding more time

One of the laments I hear most often as a librarian is that people can't find the time to read.  And as a librarian, avid reader and lover of books, I can't think of anything sadder than a life without time to read.  Admittedly, I'm a fairly speedy reader, as you have seen from my lists of what I manage to read in the average month.  However, I'm not beyond taking a little help when and where I can to get my fix, and one of the ways I find more time to read is listening to audiobooks in the car.

Ok, I know, some people consider this cheating and tell me it doesn't count as "really reading."  And in a manner of speaking, they're right.  I'm not sitting with a physical book open in front of me, visually taking in text.  Then again, when I was little, my mom read to me all the time before I learned to read, and many of those stories still hold a special place in my heart even these many years later.  Sometimes, it's not about the format, but rather the impact of a story that makes all the difference.  To me, as long as I'm absorbing the story, I don't necessarily care how I'm getting it.

Now, think about how much time you spend in the car.  Personally, I have an hour round trip commute to work every day (longer if the traffic is bad), and I find it to be the perfect way to make the time pass quickly.  I would say I average two full-length (10+ disc/350 page) books a month this way.  That's twenty-four books a year, just during the drive between home and the library!

For those who say that they have tried audiobooks and don't like them, I would say, did you try a single book and decide you don't like any books?  Audiobooks aren't just about the content, of course--you also have the added element of the reader and how they read the story.  It's possible you've just tried one where you weren't happy with the reader's voice--it happens to me, too!  Actually, some of my favorite audiobooks have been ones read by their very distinct-voiced authors, like Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver and Bag of Bones by Stephen King--their loyalty to the accents of their characters adds great depth to the story.

If you find that you're too distracted by audiobooks while you drive, consider using them in other ways.  Do you knit or craft in the evenings in front of a tv you ignore?  Try listening to an audiobook while your hands are busy.  Do you go out for a walk during the day?  An audiobook can be a great companion.  They also make great distractions while doing mundane tasks like folding laundry, ironing, wrapping holiday presents, cleaning, etc.  You can also find downloadable audiobooks through our website using Overdrive (for Trumbull residents--other patrons should contact their individual libraries about availability) and IConn (for CT residents with a valid library card), perfect for your mp3 player or computer.

If you're new to audiobooks, or are inspired to give them another try, here are a few I recommend highly:

The Help, by Katheryn Stockett.  Read in parts by four different narrators, this is so moving and engrossing, I've recommended it to everyone I know, and lots of people I don't!

The Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale.  Dale, who has won a number of awards for his narrations as well as his work on stage, is absolutely phenomenal in his voicing of Rowling's myriad of characters in this series.  These are particularly great for longer rides with kids--give them a try on your next vacation!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson.  If you started the book and had trouble with all of the Swedish names and locations, the audio versions may be of great help to you.  Getting the pronunciations helped me keep places and characters straight, even as the plot twisted and turned!

Happy listening!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What I've been reading

In the face of shorter days (and a new round of power outages...), I've been reading up a storm.  So I thought I'd share what I've been reading lately.


A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin.  This is the fifth, and most recent, book in Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  It is a LONG one, too, at just over one thousand pages.  I have to 'fess up here, though.  I didn't finish it.  With so much demand on the title by other readers, I returned my copy after reading only two hundred pages or so.  Don't get me wrong--it's amazing.  I just couldn't read it fast enough!  I'm saving it for my next vacation, though!

Black and White, by Dani Shapiro.  My book club here at the library discussed this book for their October meeting, so while this might not have been one that I would ordinarily pick to read (the subject matter is a little uncomfortable, about parenting and boundaries, among other themes), it made for a fairly quick read and a fabulous book club discussion!

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett.  You know I've already talked about how eager I was to get my hands on this one, and it didn't disappoint.  Not even a tiny bit.  Patchett is a favorite of mine, and I found this to be so character-driven, I thought about it for days after I finished the book.  Really, really stellar--one of the best books I've read in a long time.

Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson.  This is another I've been talking about for awhile, and again, it lived up to expectations and then some.  A psychological thriller of the highest order, the plot on this one keeps you guessing right up to the end.  I loved it.


The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.  This was another book club read, and I lucked out and listened to it on audio during my commute for a week.  I had been looking forward to this for some time, and enjoyed every second of it.  It's what I would call a literary thriller--very referential to Victorian literature, and ultimately, quite timeless.  The narration on the audio version was superb, and I can't recommend it highly enough, and I'm looking forward to the discussion it generates at next week's book club meeting.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson.  You had to know that with all of the horror recommendations I was handing out last month, I'd have to dip into that candy jar, too.  This was a re-read for me, but I originally read it in college, so it's been awhile.  It was just as good and as twisted as I remembered.

New York to Dallas, by J.D. Robb.  If you haven't read Nora Roberts' Eve Dallas series, written under the pen name of J.D. Robb, you don't know what you're missing.  The series, set in the late 2050's, follows New York detective Eve Dallas as she solves murders, kicks ass, and takes name.  A little romance, a lot of humor, these are fast reads that I find to be great breaks between more serious reads.  If you like Roberts' regular fiction, you might give this series a try.

Seriously, I'm Kidding, by Ellen DeGeneres.  I find Ellen hysterical--I've been a fan of her stand-up comedy for years.  This slim book reads just like a stand-up routine--I spent an evening laughing out loud as I read.  If you're a fan of her humor, go snag this one.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides.  This is another release I'd really been looking forward to, as I'm a huge fan of Eugenides other work.  However, with the bar set so high, I think I set myself up for disappointment.  Don't get me wrong, it's excellent.  But if you go into it expecting it to be on par with Middlesex (which won the Pulitzer in 2003), you might find yourself a bit let down.  Sadly, I did.

Snuff, by Terry Pratchett.  Blame it on the shortening days, but I seem to be gravitating toward humor lately.  Pratchett, one of England's most beloved authors (he's a knight, by the way), writes a very accessible brand of fantasy full of wry humor and utter absurdity.  Personally, I adore his work.  This latest entry in the Discworld novels following Commander Samuel Vimes didn't disappoint in the slightest. 

What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reading Ahead: December releases

Just in time for the holiday seasons, some of your favorite bestselling authors have new books hitting the stores!  You know you can trust me to make sure you're up-to-date, so here's the list of titles being published next month.

Micro, by Michael Crichton & Richard Preston

Red Mist, by Patricia Cornwell

Sleepwalker, by Karen Robards

77 Shadow Street, by Dean Koontz

Soft Target, by Stephen Hunter

Vigilante, by Stephen Cannell  (This is the last novel of Cannell's, who passed away in 2010.)

I'll be back on Thursday to share what I've been reading lately!