Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What I've been reading: February 2012

I think I've finally rediscovered my reading groove!  After January's rather lackluster start to my reading challenges, I hit February with a vengeance and made up for lost time and pages.  I know I've mentioned before that I have a tendency to read across genres without any rhyme or reason, and going back to look at a list of books I've read makes this glaringly obvious.  Whatever works for you, I say.  On to the list!

The Innocent, by Taylor Stevens.  With some series, you can pick up a book mid-series and it stands alone very well, like The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell, which I reviewed earlier this month.  Unfortunately, The Innocent was not one of those books.  There was little recap or introduction of characters, and I kept waiting for clarifications that never came.  The story itself moved right along and was novel and interesting (survivors who escaped a cult go back to infiltrate the compound to rescue a girl kidnapped by the cult members years earlier), but I really spent the whole book going, "Who are these people??"  If I'd started with the first book, The Informationist, I might have been in better shape.  Someday, I'll have to go back and see if that's the case.  My only recommendation on this series is--start at the beginning!  331 pages.

The Thirteen Hallows, by Michael Scott & Colette Freedman.  A great if somewhat grisly kickoff to a modern fantasy series, The Thirteen Hallows follows ordinary bank clerk Sarah Miller from office drone to guardian of a powerful ancient artifact, battling to keep the world as we know it safe from evil.  Add a handsome sidekick, plenty of mystery, adventure and British legends, and an ending perfectly set up for a sequel, it is a great, quick read that feels fresh.  If you're a fan of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, or the Indiana Jones movies, I'd recommend you check this one out.  (Bonus, the audiobook is very well-read.)  349 pages.

Catch Me, by Lisa Gardner.  I may have mentioned that I'm a fan of Gardner's work, and this latest title is no exception.  A young police dispatcher with a troubled, and troubling, past contacts Boston Detective D.D. Warren and asks her to investigate her murder, which she estimates should occur by the week's end, on the anniversary date of the slayings of her two childhood friends, one murdered on the same day each of the past two years.  With the clock ticking, Warren tries to wrap up the two unsolved murders, a second case, a partnership with a rookie sex crimes cop, and a new baby.  The plot is full but fast, and Warren is at her hardest, funniest and most likeable.  That said, Gardner did seem to put a few challenges in her own path on this one, and while she handles them well, they seem more like nods to fans (fans reading this one will know just what I mean, so I won't spoil it) than integral parts of the story.  Still, Gardner retains her place among my favorite suspense authors with this one--very much recommended.  391 pages.

A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin.  I've tried to read this behemoth before, and was not equal to the task.  This time, I had a plan!  And with the second season of Game of Thrones only a month away (April 1!), I wanted to be in fine Westerosian fighting form.  For fans of the series, this installment follows the exploits of Jon Snow, Daenerys Targeryen, and Tyrian Lannister, among others along the same general timeline covered in book 4, A Feast for Crows.  Politics, intrigue, murder, greed, lust--these are the tools one uses when playing a game of thrones.  Now, to wait for book 6--write quickly, Mr. Martin!  1016 pages.

The Chalk Girl, by Carol O'Connell.  I know, I've been talking about this one nonstop for the best part of the last month.  If you missed my review, you can read it here.  373 pages.

Celebrity in Death, by J.D. Robb.  I make no secret that the Eve Dallas series, written pseudonymously by Nora Roberts, is among my favorite guilty pleasures.  Dallas, not normally a party-girl, is managing to have a good time attending a celebrity studded gala celebrating the wrap of a movie, The Icove Agenda, based on one of her famous cases.  It's eerie to see the actress who plays her, and might as well be her twin, but when the actress who plays partner Peabody winds up dead in the pool, Dallas is all business and on the case.  Another fast, funny entry in this futuristic cop series.  389 pages.

The Kitchen Boy, by Robert Alexander.  I got a jump on reading the title for my March book club meeting.  Carefully, deeply researched, this is the story of the last days of the last Russian tsar's family and of their murder, told by an ancient man claiming to have been the kitchen boy in the household.  Alexander has a great grasp of historical context, and gives a somewhat surprising take on the last royal family of Russia.  Highly recommended--can't wait to discuss this one!  229 pages. 

Ok, down to business! 

For February:  3,078 pages, 7 titles read

Total for the year so far:
4,604/50,000 pages = 9% complete
11/50 titles read = 22% complete

And as I'm looking at this, I'm realizing that I doubled the amount of pages compared to the number of titles in my challenge--mathematically challenged, that would be me.  So...in order to make this a real challenge (I'm a glutton for punishment!), I'm going to double the goal of titles read for the year.

The new stat is 11/100 titles read = 11% complete

How are you doing on your challenges?  I'd love to know!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Great reads you might have missed

I was thinking, after posting on Tuesday about a new (to me) author, Carol O'Connell, about how many titles and authors we might miss out on.  Titles you never saw, or forgot to go back and read, series you were saving for someday...I'm guilty of all of these.  The good thing about books (one of many) is that it's never too late to go back and read something you might have missed!  Here are a few you might want to go back and read if you missed them the first time around.

The Dive from Clausen's Pier, by Anne Packer.  Twenty-three year old Carrie Bell has spent her whole life in the same small town in Wisconsin.  Same best friend, same home, same high-school sweetheart.  All that was once comforting and familiar to Carrie are now suffocating, and leaving seems to be her only option.  When boyfriend Mike is in a terrible accident, leaving becomes that much more necessary for Carrie, and that much more unforgivable.  A book of finding oneself despite the odds, told in detailed, rich prose.  If you like this title, consider trying another of Packer's novel's, Songs Without Words.

Abide With Me, by Elizabeth Strout.  Sometimes, everything in life can be changed by a single incident.  For minister Tyler Caskey, family tragedy has shaken him to the core.  His beloved Maine seems foreign, his faith is fundamentally shaken, his child is a stranger.  His congregation and community, once patient and supportive in the early days of Tyler's grief, now have become gossipy and frustrated, questioning Tyler's place among them.  In his darkest hour, Tyler makes a startling discovery that will be the ultimate test for him, and his community.  Told in Strout's quiet, luminous style, this is really one to go back and read.  If you like Strout's style (and I do), I'd also recommend Olive Kitteridge and Amy and Isabelle.

Do you have any favorites that you think other readers might like?  Leave a suggestion in the comments!  I'll be back next Tuesday with a wrap-up of my February reads, and a check-in on my reading challenges.  See you then!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New (to me): Carol O'Connell

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I tend to read a little bit of everything.  In some cases, I come into a series in the middle.  Sometimes, each novel stands alone well enough and gives enough background on characters and relationships well enough that I don't feel lost.  Sometimes, I'm not so lucky. 

In the case of Carol O'Connell's latest Kathleen Mallory mystery, The Chalk Girl, I was very lucky on so many levels.  While catalogued as a mystery, this novel gives a feeling more like a good suspense novel--quirky main characters, great atmosphere, puzzling bits of subtext that has you following and backtracking like you're after a trail of breadcrumbs.  And although a dozen Mallory titles came before it, this novel stands alone beautifully.  So much so, in fact, that I can't wait to go back and start at the beginning of the series, and that's not something that happens very often these days.  Call me a jaded reader, but it's true!

If you're interested in starting at the beginning of the series, the first title is Mallory's Oracle.  But if you want to sneak ahead, or are just looking for a great suspenseful mystery, here's the skinny on The Chalk Girl.  A little girl is found wandering in Central Park, looking for her Uncle Red, who she says turned into a tree.  People are pitying and skeptical, until they realize that the stains on the child's shirt are blood--and they look up to find a man trussed, gagged and hanging from a tree branch.  Mallory, back to work in Special Crimes after several months' leave, finds a kindred spirit in the little girl, a connection between lost, damaged souls.  As Mallory and her squad work to identify Uncle Red, they find themselves caught up in a series of murders that dates back fifteen years, clouded by lies and blackmail and a particular breed of cruelty that only Mallory could identify. 

Why, why did it take me this long to start reading this author?  The good news?  A dozen titles just waiting to be devoured.  Expect to see this series crop up in my reading challenge posts for the next few months!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

One Book, One Town!

The Trumbull Library's third annual One Book, One Town celebration will be kicking off in just a couple of weeks, on March 4th.  The book this year is Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier.  Haven't read it yet?  Stop by the library and pick up a copy!  There are a slew of great programs going on during the month of March that tie in with the Civil War theme, including everything from re-enactments to movies and contests.  Click here for a full list of programs and events--we hope you'll join us!  And check back here during the month of March to get suggestions for Civil War fiction titles to go along with Cold Mountain!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reading for non-readers

Some people are born with a love of books.  I am one of those people.

Some people learn to love reading, usually after they've finished school and are no longer being tested on reading comprehension.  But when in a person's life that happens varies widely by individual.

So, how do you get a reluctant reader interested in reading?

What do they like?  Do they love a particular kind of movie or television series?  Do they have a specific hobby?  There are so many different kinds of fiction out there, with protagonists ranging from quilters to sea-captains, chefs to lawyers.  A Law & Order fan might enjoy novels by John Grisham or Tim Green.  A foodie might enjoy mysteries by Joanne Fluke or a novel like Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray; a wine enthusiast might like The Villa by Nora Roberts or A Good Year by Peter Mayle.  A fan of stand-up comedy might enjoy the Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money, etc.) by Janet Evanovich or a novel by Christopher Moore.

And who says fiction is the only kind of book to read for entertainment?  Rock stars, television and movie actors, and politicians all have memoirs or biographies available on the shelves.  Someone more interested in interior design may prefer to peruse magazines, and superhero movie enthusiasts may prefer graphic novels.  And don't forget about audiobooks--if you're enjoying the story, I still count it as reading!

Lastly, if at first you don't succeed, try and try again.  It may take several different authors or subjects or series to find one that someone likes.  Don't give up!  There is a book out there for everyone--I promise.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reading Ahead: March, part 2

As promised, I'm back with the second part of the list of new titles coming out in March.  Obviously, I can't give you a list of everything being released every month--that's usually a couple hundred titles!  But I do make sure to keep an eye out for titles with wide appeal and/or are good bets for the New York Times Bestsellers list.  Ok, enough with the suspense--on to the list!

Born to Darkness, by Suzanne Brockmann

Force of Nature, by C.J. Box

So Pretty It Hurts, by Kate White

Blue Monday, by Nicci French

Fall From Grace, by Richard North Patterson

Cat’s Claw, by Susan Wittig Albert

Cinnamon Roll Murder, by Joanne Fluke

As a side note, if there's ever anything you'd like the library to consider ordering, go ahead and drop me an email--you can find my address on the sidebar of the blog.  Or, just leave me a comment here!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When is it okay not to finish a book?

Among readers, everything is up for debate.  What genre is the best, what author is underrated or overrated, what is the best book of all time?  All are ultimately a question of personal preference, and one of those hot topics of debate is this:  is it okay not to finish a book, and if so, at what point do you stop?

It's a hard decision, and one that most serious readers don't take lightly.  Some are die-hard finishers, even if they're not enjoying the book, would rather be reading something else, and are struggling through every chapter.  Some people give a book a certain number of pages, from twenty to one hundred, and if they're not enjoying it by the time they've reached that magic number, the put the book aside and move on.

What kind of reader am I?  Honestly, I'm a mix, and I don't read by any real set of rules.  For some books, I make every effort to finish--those are usually for a book club, and with a deadline and discussion counting on whether or not I know what happened at the end, I feel more pressure to finish a book, even if I'm not really loving it.  For other titles, there just comes a stopping point, and I always know when I've hit it.  If I can't finish a book in a week, something's wrong.  If I'm glancing longingly at something else at my bookshelf, and am just not interested in the characters or story of what I'm currently reading, I know it's time to move on.  And for me, that's okay--life is too short to spend it reading books I'm not enjoying, especially since I read primarily for entertainment.  If I'm not entertained, I put it down!

Sometimes, it's the timing, and I'm just not in the mood for whatever it is I've picked up.  One case stands out in particular.  When The Red Tent first came out, and everyone was reading it, I placed a hold on it and took it home to read.  Twice.  I never got past page twenty--I just wasn't in the right frame of mind.  But the third time I brought it home, I read it in a day, and I loved it.  Weird, right?  That one taught me that just because I'm not loving a title right this minute doesn't mean that in a different time and place I won't devour it in a sitting--sometimes, it's me and not the book that's the issue.

What about you?  Do you give a book five pages or fifty to hook you?  Are you a die-hard finisher?  I'd love to know!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reading Ahead: March, part 1

Happy balmy February!  I can hardly think where January went!  And a new month means new titles to start looking forward to.  There are, of course, lots of great titles slated for release in March, so get your reserves in now!

Betrayal, by Danielle Steel

Stay Close, by Harlan Coben

Guilty Wives, by James Patterson and David Ellis

Poison Flower, by Thomas Perry

I'm back next week with more new titles coming in March--see you then!