Thursday, June 28, 2012

What I've been reading: June 2012

Hope you've taken advantage of the weather, both good and bad, to enjoy some reading time.  With television mostly given over to baseball and reruns, most of my evenings are spent with a book in hand, at least for an hour or so.  Which means I've gotten quite a bit of reading done, including some non-fiction that made its way onto my reading list.  Speaking of lists, let's get to it.

The Perfect Husband, by Lisa Gardner.  I decided to take some time and go back to the beginnings of some series that I started reading in the middle.  For Lisa Gardner, that meant going back to the first in the Quincy/Rainie series, The Perfect Husband.  Tess thought that Jim Beckett would be her fairy-tale prince, and save her from her evil father.  Instead, she finds that she's married a monster.  Stashing her child in a safe place, knowing Jim will find her, Tess decides to fight back, and finds a burned-out ex-marine to help her learn to protect herself.  A super-fast thriller, if you didn't start the series at the beginning, I highly recommend you go back.  402 pages.

The American Way of Eating, by Tracie McMillan.  McMillan, a journalist by trade, decided to undertake a project to examine "What if you can't afford to pay for nine dollar tomatoes?"  As the debate over America's food was unfolding, she wondered if paying more, paying "true food costs" was really the answer.  She spent time undercover as a worker in California fields, Detroit Wal-Mart, and NYC Applebee's, trying to get to the heart of America's meals even as she tries to support herself and eat on her meager wages.  Really eye-opening.  319 pages.

House Rules, by Jodi Picoult.  This was my book club's pick for the June meeting, and I wasn't really looking forward to it.  I haven't read much of Picoult's work over the last few years, finding it to often be over-long and draggy.  I have mixed feelings about this one.  It was a faster read than I'd anticipated, but it felt preachy and repetitive.  Still, in a world where awareness of autism is steadily growing, I did find much of it eye-opening.  Just a word to the wise--fiction is still fiction, and Picoult's use of facts is pretty fast and loose in this work.  Jacob has Asperger's syndrome, and his mother has worked tirelessly to help him learn to mainstream.  But when a murder sets their small town on edge, do Jacob's quirks make him guilty, or just Jacob?  Interesting, but not highly recommended.  532 pages.

Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler.  Since I'd been late reading June's title, I decided to get a jump on my book club's selection for July.  Delia Grinstead has a husband, three nearly-grown children, and a job running the office for her husband's medical practice.  Yet she feels unnecessary, removed, and isolated: her children don't index her presence, her husband changes her childhood home without consulting her, and her sisters are convinced that Delia, the youngest, has it all.  So Delia knows exactly why she walks off during their beach vacation, even if no one else can say why.  And so begins her new life, unexpected and uplifting.  Hugely enjoyable.  325 pages.

Eat & Run, by Scott Jurek, with Steve Friedman.  I'm not a runner, but I have friends who run, and there's something fascinating in particular about ultra-runners, those who competitively run distances longer than the 26.2 miles of marathons.  Scott Jurek is one such ultra-runner, and here he talks about how he became such an athelete, the art and science of ultra-running, and the vegan diet he has found to be the key to his success.  Told by race event, with lots of flashbacks, I found the non-sequential chapters a little confusing.  Still, very interesting and deeply thoughtful.  260 pages

True Sisters, by Sandra Dallas. Based on the true story of the hardships suffered by a group of Mormons traveling on foot and pushing handcarts from Iowa City to Salt Lake City in 1856.  The Martin Handcart Company is the last to leave that year, following three other groups who left earlier and completed the 1,300 mile trip to Zion successfully.  For this last group, the weather is not in their favor and their brothers and sisters in Utah believe they're wintering over in Iowa City, so there are no supplies waiting for them along the way.  Told alternately through the personal struggles of four women from the British Isles, who survive hardship due to friendship, the journey is heartbreaking and inspiring.  341 pages.

Heading Out to Wonderful, by Robert Goolrick.  I loved Goolrick's first effort, A Reliable Wife, and came to his latest novel hopeful and eager, reading as fast as I could.  I was left haunted, mulling over the story, feeling the need to re-read after I'd finished it, now that I knew what I knew.  It's 1948 in a sleepy Virginia village, and Charlie Beale, recently back from the war in Europe, is a stranger in town with just his truck and two suitcases.  One suitcase contains all of his worldly possessions, including a fine set of German-made butcher's knives.  The other contains cash, and lots of it.  Charlie becomes part of the small community, well-liked and then well-loved.  But a town full of secrets is a dangerous place, no matter how small and sleepy, and the narrative is fraught with tension.  I won't ruin the ending, but I will say that this is one that will stick with me for a long time to come.  296 pages.

Equal of the Sun, by Anita Amirrezvani.  It's pure happenstance that I came to Equal of the Sun the same way I came to Heading Out to Wonderful, having loved Amirrezvani's earlier work, The Blood of Flowers and eager to see how the second novel held up.  Women of the sixteenth century helped shape history with their leadership: Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, etc.  Amirrezvani tells the story of one such woman, Iran's Princes Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi, starting in the year 1576, when the Shah dies suddenly without having named an heir.  Pari was the Shah's daughter and protegee, and uses her knowledge of the inner workings of state to steer the realm back to order with the help of her loyal adviser, Javaher.  Rich, chaotic, and ruthless, the story is absolutely captivating.  Amirrezvani is an amazing talent.  431 pages.

Okay, I'm at the midpoint of my challenge, let's see where I'm at.

For June: 8 titles, 2906 pages

For the year to date:

15,829/50,000 pages = 32%
38/100 titles = 38%

I'm thinking it's going to take a miracle to reach my goals this year, but we'll see how this goes.

I'll be back next week to start sharing the up-and-coming best-sellers being released in August!  In the meantime, stay cool and happy reading!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ten on Tuesday: Making the most of your summer reading time

Have you ever found yourself coming to the first week in September and wondering "Where the heck did my summer go?!  I didn't get to do half of what I wanted!"  You're definitely not alone.  And if you are going into this summer vowing that it will be different this time, with grand plans of how much you want to do (and how many books you'd like to have read by summer's end), I've got some hints that just might help you out.

1) Stop over-planning.  This is the big one.  If you're finding that you have some errand or appointment scheduled every single day during the week, you're forgetting one important one: YOU.  Everyone deserves downtime, even if that's just a half-hour in the evenings, better still if you can get a whole lazy summer afternoon.  This is the perfect time to find a quiet, comfy place to cool off, unwind, and read.

2) Skip the television.  Summer TV is awful, full of repeats.  If you're not a baseball fan, there's not much else going on.  (I give you a pass on the Olympics, though.)  And if you only turn on the set out of habit or for background noise, be aware of that and turn it off.  Make better use of that time.  Better yet, if you have kids, it sets a great example for them to get their summer reading done, too.

3) Bring your book along.  It's difficult to read if your book is home on the kitchen table, and you're at the beach or pool, right? 

4) Have a wish-list.  If you don't have a list of books you'd like to read, start making one.  This isn't homework, but as friends mention books they loved, or you see that your favorite author has a new book coming out (I post lists of up-and-coming bestsellers a month before their release date to make it easier for you!), add it to the list.  When you're ready for your next book or bored with what you're reading currently (hey, it happens), that list will come in very handy!  Which leads to...

5) If you're bored with what you're reading, find something else to read.  I promise, neither the book police nor your high school English teacher will come to yell at you and force you to finish what you're reading.  Life's too short to force yourself to read something you're not enjoying.  Please note, the same goes for your kids--there will be something out there that they want to read.  Even if you don't necessarily think graphic novels, video game magazines, or horror novels are what they "should" be reading, if they're happy reading them, let the kids read!!

6) Actually, don't worry about what people think about what you're reading, either.  If you're enjoying Fifty Shades of Grey, go for it.  Read what you want to read, not what you think will impress someone else.  That said...

7) Challenge yourself a little from time to time.  If your reading wish-list has things like The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird on it, your summer vacation might just be the time to dive right in. 

8) Traveling?  Try an audiobook to kill time on the plane or in the car.  Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events or J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels are great choices to get the whole family listening. 

9) Set realistic (but specific) goals.  If you're hoping to read a lot this summer, that's great!  But don't set yourself up for something crazy like 50 books read by September 1.  That might be difficult even if you're a speed-reader.  Instead, try for something like a book every week or two over the course of the summer, which if you use some of the other tips on this list should be pretty easy to achieve.

10) Finally, enjoy yourself.  Summer reading should be about relaxation, entertainment, and enjoyment. 

See you Thursday for my June Reading Challenge wrap-up.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Threes on Thursday: Suspense in the Summer

Some people prefer fluffy, light fiction for their beach reading.  Others prefer some chilling thrillers to keep them cool when the weather gets hot.  If you're among the latter (and boy is the Northeast getting some heat these last few days!), I've got a list of suspenseful thrillers by bestselling authors coming out this summer that you really ought to check out.


The Risk Agent, by Ridley Pearson
The Third Gate, by Lincoln Child
Heartbroken, by Lisa Unger


Night Watch, by Linda Fairstein
Fallen Angel, by Daniel Silva
Broken Harbor, by Tana French


Bones are Forever, by Kathy Reichs
Last to Die: A Rizzoli & Isles novel, by Tess Gerritsen
You Don't Want to Know, by Lisa Jackson

I'm back next week to talk about what I've been reading this month, and some suggestions on how to make the most of your reading time this summer.  In the meantime, stay cool!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Getting Ready for Summer

And you know what summer means?  Beach reads!  I've got some of this summer's top titles to accompany you to the beach or pool for a little easy reading.  If you're looking for something else (thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction, etc.) this summer, check out last year's Summer Reading Series; you can find July's posts here and August's here.  There's something there for everyone.  And don't worry--I'll be kicking off a new series this summer in just a few short weeks.

In the meantime, here's a little something to get you started.

Summerland, by Elin Hilderbrand

Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead

Beach Colors, by Shelley Noble

Summer Breeze, by Nancy Thayer

One Good Friend Deserves Another, by Lisa Verge Higgins

The Cottage at Glass Beach, by Heather Barbieri

Saving Ruth, by Zoe Fishman

Happy reading!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's a shame about Ray

On June 5, 2012, the world said goodbye to Ray Bradbury, who died at the age of 91.  Bradbury was an innovator, a man who changed American fiction writing (and reading) forever as one of the preeminent writers of speculative fiction in the 20th century.  He is best remembered for Fahrenheit 451, as well as his horror and science fiction stories collected in The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles.  Bradbury was a fascinating man, a gifted writer, and will be much missed by readers and writers everywhere.

To learn more about the man behind the fiction, check out The Bradbury Chronicles, by Sam Weller.  And for a complete listing of Ray Bradbury's works, check his official website.  Rest in peace, sir.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reading Ahead: July 2012, part three

 Here we are at the end of the list of popular new titles being released in July.  You can find parts one and two in their respective links.  Do you have your favorites picked out yet?  You might want to make a little room for a few more--forget Jell-o, there's always room for another book.

Odd Apocalypse, by Dean Koontz

Judgment Call, by J.A. Jance

Night Watch, by Linda Fairstein

Leader of the Pack, by David Rosenfelt

Earth Unaware, by Orson Scott Card

The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian

Die A Stranger, by Steve Hamilton

Haven, by Kay Hooper

Quite a lot to choose from!  I'm always interested when Orson Scott Card publishes something new, ever since reading Ender's Game so many years ago.  He can usually be depended on to produce some great science fiction, even for those who are new to the genre.  

I was also an early fan of Chris Bohjalian's work, including The Buffalo Soldier and Midwives, but I haven't found his recent novels to be quite as engrossing.  Still, I'm always hopeful, so I'll definitely be looking forward to The Sandcastle Girls.  The premise, that of the plight of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during WWI, is unusual enough to pique my interest.  I'll report back!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reading Ahead: July 2012, Part 2

If you missed part one of July's list of up-and-coming fiction releases, scroll on down and peruse Tuesday's post.  I'll wait here.

Done?  Excellent.  Let's move on to part two, shall we?

Close Your Eyes, by Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen

Creole Belle, by James Lee Burke

Fallen Angel, by Daniel Silva

The Next Best Thing, by Jennifer Weiner

The Great Escape, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

15 Seconds, by Andrew Gross

Gold, by Chris Cleave

The Nightmare, by Lars Kepler

I know a few of you are looking at the second half of this list and going, "Meg, who are these people and why are they on your list?"  Lemme 'splain.  

If you're not familiar with Andrew Gross, he is one of the co-writers who worked with James Patterson, most notably on Judge & Jury and Lifeguard.  Gross himself has been publishing solo for about five years now, and if you missed last year's Eyes Wide Open, you are really missing out.  15 Seconds is definitely highly anticipated.

If Chris Cleave isn't ringing bells for you, perhaps you remember the his 2009 bestseller, Little Bee.  This summer's Gold is particularly timely, as it is set in the 2012 Olympic Summer Games.  I really, really don't have enough ways to say that I am looking forward to this book.  Is it on your list, too?

Finally, The Nightmare, by Lars Kepler.  Kepler, a Swede, is one of the best thriller writers you aren't reading.  I'd actually go so far as to put him up with other popular imports like Jo Nesbo and  Stieg Larsson.  Last year's The Hypnotist was a total sleeper hit, and if you are looking for an engrossing thriller, all my money's on Kepler this summer.

Happy reading!  I'm back with the final installment of July's new titles next Tuesday!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Reading Ahead: July 2012, part 1

Publishers are wise to the ways of readers: they know that we tend to read more in the summer, and they plan releases by our favorite authors accordingly.  Here are some of the titles you can look forward to seeing on the shelves in July.

I, Michael Bennett, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness

Friends Forever, by Danielle Steel

Broken Harbor, by Tana French

Fireproof, by Alex Kava

Backfire, by Catherine Coulter

Criminal, by Karin Slaughter

The After Wife, by Gigi Levangie Grazer

Where We Belong, by Emily Giffin

Now, of course, come the decisions.  What do you want to read?  If you're looking for something a little lighter to bring to the beach, I'd suggest the new Emily Giffin, Where We Belong.  Secret pasts, reconnecting with family and old flames, the threat of a carefully built life tumbling to pieces--juicy and engrossing!  

If you're more in the mood for a thriller to keep you engrossed while your kids are splashing in the pool for endless hours, or to keep you entertained on a sultry summer afternoon, I'd recommend Criminal, by Karin Slaughter.  Murder, secrets that span generations, loyalty put to the ultimate test.  Yes, please!

Finally, you know what I'm eager to get my hands on, since I've been mentioning it for nearly a year, right?  That would be Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness, sequel to last year's library staff favorite, A Discovery of Witches.  If you're open to a little paranormal with your romance, and a little fantasy with your history, I highly recommend this duo!

I'll be back Thursday with the second installment of your summer reading list!