Thursday, March 29, 2012

What I've been reading: March 2012

It seems like there's a cycle to my reading.  I'm either reading a ton, or almost nothing.  March has felt particularly light, but let's break it down anyway, shall we?

In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson.  I originally gave my recommendation on this title way back in September--if enough people are raving about a title, I always pass that information along, even if it takes me a little while to get around to reading it!  Larson, also known for The Devil in the White City, does not at all disappoint.  You can find my original review here.  448 pages.

They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris.  More non-fiction.  Surprised?  I have to admit, I kind of am, too.  This one came as a recommendation from a friend.  Harris is perhaps best known, if not infamous, for killing her lover, Dr. Herman Tarnower in 1980.  Harris claimed it was an accident, as she'd intended to kill herself to escape her debilitating depression and not to harm Tarnower.  You can read more about her story here.   In this memoir, she talks about the Bedford Correctional Facility where she was housed after her conviction, about its history and inmates.  Thought provoking, with a keen sense of character when describing inmates and the institution alike.  276 pages.

Never Look Away, by Linwood Barclay.  If you missed my review earlier this month, you can find it here.  Short answer?  I loved it!  415 pages.

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James.  I'm working to get paper copies of this one, and its sequels, for the library, but I admit to buying this one for my Kindle to see what all the hype was about.  Well, this review is a mixed one.  While the plot is somewhat infectious, I found the writing style somewhat jarring and some of the language repetitive.  Also, this is NOT a book for the faint of heart--it is descriptive and a little eye-opening, even for the more jaded reader.  (Smutty, is what I'm saying, folks.  In a good way, but yes, smutty.)  The plot breaks down as naive girl meets dark, brooding man, and becomes infatuated.  Man warns her off, girl becomes even more smitten, man relents, fireworks ensue.  I'm currently undecided as to whether I'll read the two sequels.  In the meantime, it's a fun diversion (I will say that it was a great distraction from the root canal I had last week...), but don't come to it with expectations of great literature.  528 pages.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards.  This was a re-read for me, for my book club's April meeting.  If you missed this one, you're really missing out.  It is both sweet and heartbreaking, full of the decisions we make to save the ones we love from pain, whether for good or ill.  In the midst of a 1964 blizzard, a young doctor is forced to deliver his own twins.  The firstborn, a boy, is perfect, but he can tell immediately that the girl has Down's syndrome.  Thinking to save his wife the pain of raising the girl, he asks the attending nurse to take the child to an institution and never reveal the secret.  Instead, the nurse leaves with the child, and raises the girl as her own.  The two families, affected deeply by that split-second decision on a winter's night, remain ignorant of one another for many years, until at long last, secrets come spilling forth.  Really a stellar family drama.  401 pages.

And for the final tallies...

For March:  2,068 pages, 5 titles.

For the year to date:
6,672/50,000 pages = 13%
16/100 titles read = 16%

Hoping April is a bit more impressive!

Are you challenging yourself along with me?  I'd love to know how you're doing!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New (to me): Linwood Barclay

I know, I know.  You're probably rolling your eyes at me right now, either because I get this excited to share these things with my fellow reading enthusiasts, or because you think that after working in libraries for nearly twelve years that there would be nothing new to me anymore.  The fact is no one, and I mean no one, ever feels as though they have enough time to read everything that they want to read, myself included.  And I'm constantly keeping my ear to the ground for recommendations from patrons and staff alike.

So, when I started to hear lots of great buzz about Linwood Barclay's latest novel, The Accident, I put it on my list of things I want to read.  If you have a list like this, then you know how long those get, and fast.  Then, when I was perusing Overdrive to find something to download onto my Kindle Fire (I make no apologies!), I came across Barclay's previous novel, 2010's Never Look Away.

Wow.  The novel's cover has a blurb from Stephen King saying the book was "the best thriller [he had] read in five years."  Obviously, I had to grab it.  And then?  I could.  Not.  Stop.  Reading.  Early for an appointment?  No problem!  Way past my bedtime?  Just one more chapter!  Ten minutes before dinner's done?  Read!

The premise is this: When David Harwood's wife, who has been acting strangely for the last few weeks, suddenly disappears during a family outing, suspicion immediately falls on David.  David, worried Jan has harmed herself, uses his skills as a journalist to try and pin down leads as to what may have happened to her.  In the process, he stumbles over an interesting tidbit--Jan's birth certificate belongs to a little girl who died more than two decades ago in a terrible accident.  So who is Jan, really?  What prompted her strange behavior?  Can David get to the bottom of it before the police decide to arrest him?  And does any of this have to do with the prison privatization story that David has been working on for the paper? 

Nerve-wracking, sinister, with so many great plot twists that left me just giddy, this is suspense at its best.  The style reminds me a bit of Harlan Coben's, so if you're a fan of Coben's work, definitely try Barclay.  Now I get to go back and read more of his work, too!

What about you?  Read anything amazing lately?  I'd love to know!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Early Spring Fever

If you haven't been outside in the last few weeks, you've been missing out on one of the warmest Marches on record.  And not just warm.  The afternoons, in particular, have been gorgeous.  Sunny, cloudless, just breezy enough to keep things comfortable. 

It has been giving everyone I come into contact with a wild case of spring fever.  From early gardening to kids playing outside to some brave souls even going to the beach to walk, people are taking advantage of this early warm streak.  Personally?  I like to go out on the deck in the evenings after work and enjoy the light as long as it'll stick around, book in hand.  So, if you're feeling the need for some spring reads, here are my picks.

If you like family sagas, try The Bird Sisters, by Rebecca Rasmussen.  Elderly sisters Twiss and Milly live alone in the house in which they grew up, tending injured birds and losing themselves in memories.  For Milly, in particular, the memories turn to dreaming of what might have been, before an accident change the course of the sisters' lives.  Poignant and brimming the love and sacrifice that comes with sisterhood, this novel is full of surprises. 

If you're more in the mood for a suspense novel, I have an unusual one for you.  The Book of Lost Fragrances, by M.J. Rose.  When the heiress to a faltering French perfume company with a long history inherits the company, she is plunged back into a world she left behind nearly fifteen years ago.  Her brother, also an inheritor, hints that he has an earth-shattering discovery that will fix the company's financial woes, and then disappears.  It's up to Jac L'Etoile, reluctant heiress and unlikely sleuth, to uncover both what has happened to her brother, and what secret he was keeping.  Full of history and intrigue, this is a beautifully detailed and haunting work of suspense.  Note, if you enjoy Rose's writing, I highly recommend her other work, too!

So, what are you reading these days?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Civil War, in non-fiction

As you know, March is One Book, One Town month here at the Trumbull Library, and since this year's book is Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, I thought I'd share some other titles in case you'd like to do some additional reading about the American Civil War.  If you're looking for a list of suggested fiction titles, you can check out my post here.  Today, it's all about non-fiction.

If you're interested in the Civil War from the points of view of the people who lived it, I cannot recommend highly enough The Civil War: the first year told by those who lived it, eds. Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears, Aaron Sheehan Dean, and the second book in the series which was published this year, The Civil War: the second year told by those who lived it, ed. Stephen W. Sears.  These books are compilations of letters, diaries, military reports, speeches, articles, poems, songs, etc. at the time, and are absolutely fascinating, especially for American history junkies.  As a side note, Sears has written several other titles about the Civil War, including several dedicated to individual battles.

If you're looking to keep up with what everyone else is reading, Bill O'Reilly's best-seller Killing Lincoln: the shocking assassination that changed America forever gives a great historical narrative about the events surrounding Lincoln's assassination and how this impacted not only the Civil War and the Union, but the continued impact the event has had.  Bonus?  It reads much like a thriller, meaning that it's no chore for even the casually interested to get into and read with gusto.

Finally, if you're just looking for some basic information to flesh out what you remember from high school, pick up The Civil War: a concise history by Louis P. Masur.  A great, readable overview, Masur's history covers events and causes leading up to the start of the war, the progression year by year,  and finally the devastating effects in the aftermath.

Obviously, this barely scratches the surface, as dozens of books on the subject are published every year.  But if you're looking to start somewhere, these are great ways to get your feet wet, so to speak.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Civil War, in fiction

Do you remember last month when I mentioned that March is Trumbull Library's third annual One Book, One Town celebration?  Hundreds of residents reading Charles Frazier's novel, Cold Mountain, and getting together for lectures, movie nights, book discussions, a Civil War reenactment...  You can check out the jam-packed schedule here

If you've already read Cold Mountain, though, and were looking for some additional fiction titles set during the Civil War, you know I've got you covered!  Here are a few that I recommend highly.

My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira.  A woman heads to Washington, D.C. during the Civil War to tend the wounded and further her dream of becoming a surgeon, against the wishes of her family.  Intriguing, with well-drawn characters.

March, by Geraldine Brooks.  Brooks plucks the much-absent father from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and follows him as he leaves his family behind to aid the Union cause.  Poignant and lyrically told.

Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara.  Did you ever see the movie Gettysburg?  That was adapted from this novel, considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written about the Civil War.  If you're a history buff, you owe it to yourself to read this one.

Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks.  This is a deft re-creation of the political and social unrest during the years leading up to the Civil War, as slavery tore the country apart.  Banks manages to touch on upheavals great and small, from violent battle to scenes of domestic life.  Unforgettable.

Enemy Women, by Paulette Jiles.  Though her Missouri plantation family has vowed neutrality, the War between the States proves devastating to Adair Colley and her family.  She and her sisters are forced to flee, and when they're betrayed by a fellow traveler, Adair finds herself caged in a filthy prison alongside hundreds of others.  Can Adair ever win free and get home again?  Will home even still be there?  A tense narrative, beautifully detailed. 

Widow of the South, by Robert Hicks.  Carrie McGavock's home is commandeered as a field hospital in the days before the battle in Franklin, Tennessee, where nine thousand men would lose their lives.  Troubled by her own private losses before this, the battle serves to help shake her out of her torpor, leading her and her husband to ultimately bury nearly fifteen hundred Confederate soldiers on their own property.  Based on a true story, told by a master.

Not a fiction reader but still want to read more about the Civil War?  I'll be back on Thursday with some recommended non-fiction titles for you!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reading Ahead: April, part 3

I know, I'm sorry I had to keep you in suspense for these last titles, but somehow it doesn't seem fair to just throw twenty titles at you in a big lump every month.  So, we do this in installments (find Part 1 here and Part 2 here), because sometimes it's nice to savor the good stuff.  And I saved some really good ones for this post!

Gypped, by Carol Higgins Clark

More Than You Know, by Penny Vincenzi

Afraid to Die, by Lisa Jackson

Unnatural Acts, by Stuart Woods

So much good stuff, I can hardly wait!  Until next time, happy reading!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reading Ahead: April, part 2

As promised, I'm back with a metric ton of new titles for you to look forward to reading this spring!  Missed part 1 of the list?  Check back here
I know I keep saying this, but there are just so many cool titles coming out, I keep wanting to clear the decks in preparation of a reading extravaganza!  I fully realize that this makes me sound like a complete book nerd, but really, if you're reading this blog, you already know this.  Yes?  Right.  On to the list...

Calico Joe, by John Grisham

Dorchester Terrace, by Anne Perry

The Witness, by Nora Roberts

The Innocent, by David Baldacci

Letter from a Stranger, by Barbara Taylor Bradford

I've got my name down for The Witness, of course, but I'm also eying the new Anne Perry, since it feels like I haven't read a Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novel in quite awhile.  What about you?  Anything on this list that strikes your fancy?  Feel free to share it in the comments!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reading Ahead: April, part 1

Given the weather the last few days, it's hard to believe that spring is just around the corner.  But the library is always keeping an eye on what's on the horizon, and that means we've got bunches of new titles scheduled to arrive in just a few short weeks.  Here's part one of that list.

Chasing Midnight, by Randy Wayne White

The Thief, by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott

The Lost Years, by Mary Higgins Clark

Come Home, by Lisa Scottoline

Capitol Murder, by Phillip Margolin

What Doesn’t Kill You, by Iris Johansen

I'll be back next Tuesday with more April titles on their way!