Thursday, September 27, 2012

What I've been reading: September 2012

 Would someone like to tell me where the heck September's gone??  I feel as though I blinked and it's nearly over.  Tell me I'm not the only one?

In the midst of blinking, though, there have been some great reads over the course of the month.  Here's what I've been reading the last few weeks.

The Bone Garden, by Tess Gerritsen.  This historical/present day mystery stand-alone by suspense writer Gerritsen was really quite stellar.  Split between present-day and 1830s Boston, the tale begins with a centuries-old murder victim being found in a new home-owner's flower bed and ends with a Ripper-esque serial killer being brought to justice in the 1830s.  Gerritsen, best known for her Rizzoli & Isles suspense series, shows off some of her vast wealth of medical knowledge and also delves into Boston's history and the history of modern medicine, including resurrectionists and early theories on germs and epidemics.  A well-crafted page-turner.  370 pages.

Catherine the Great: portrait of a woman, by Robert K. Massie.  If you'll remember, way back at the beginning of the year, I'd put this on my list of things to read this year.  At long last, I got around to it, and I'm so happy I did!  I have a great admiration for non-fiction authors, and biographers especially, who manage to make facts and dates flow into a very readable narrative.  Perhaps it's my love of fiction talking?  In any case, Massie does a masterful job with his biography of one of Russia's most renowned rulers, Empress Catherine the Great.  He uses letters from various contemporaries interwoven into the narrative to great effect, and shows Catherine as both a ruler and an ordinary human being, wishing for love and acceptance in the midst of court intrigue and political conspiracy.  I cannot say enough good things about this one!  625 pages.

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  I've had this one on my "to-read" list for close to a year, and I finally got to this one at long last.  First?  It wasn't what I'd expected.  Told in alternating chapters that span a nine year gap, the narrative is tense and the plot twisted.  An orphan's last chance in foster care before being considered "un-adoptable".  The woman who took her in.  Jumping forward nine years, we see the young woman that orphan has become, and her gift for using flowers in unexpected ways based on the Victorian "language of flowers" taught to her by her last foster mother.  I can't spoil this one for you, but I can say that this was a poignant, enlightening read.  322 pages.

Below Stairs, by Margaret Powell.  I mentioned in a recent post that I've joined the ranks of Downton Abbey fans, and as I'm now waiting for season 3 to air, I took some of my own advice and read the memoir that inspired the series.  You can read my review here.  212 pages.

The Mephisto Club, by Tess Gerritsen.  Rizzoli & Isles make another appearance in my reading list, this time investigating a series of murders with occult overtones that bring them into direct contact with a secret society, the Mephisto Club (short for Mephistopheles, a servant of the Devil in Christopher Marlowe's play, Dr. Faustus).  The club, which investigates instances of evil throughout history, seems to be the killer's target, and by their association, Boston detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles become targets as well.  Gerritsen never disappoints.  355 pages.

 Delusion in Death, by J.D. Robb.  I've been lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Robb's (Nora Roberts) latest Eve Dallas suspense novel, one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  I love these, and I make no apologies.  As ever, this is a fast, easy read with some great plot twists.  On an ordinary afternoon, in an ordinary New York City bar (circa 2060), happy hour goes horribly wrong when in the space of twelve minutes, all of the bar patrons fall victim to a powerful chemical cocktail that causes them to turn on one another in a hallucinating, homicidal rage.  In the horrifying aftermath, Dallas and her team must find out who is behind this attack on ordinary citizens, and stop him before he strikes again.  Gripping.  388 pages.

Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: the fascinating history of everything in your closet, by Tim Gunn.  Ok, also on my list of guilty pleasures?  Project Runway.  I love me some Tim Gunn--he's my favorite.  So when he wrote a new book, of course I snagged it.  What I didn't know about Mr. Gunn is that not only has he worked for Liz Claiborne and with Project Runway, but he was also on the faculty at the Parsons The New School of Design for 25 years.  His experience as a teacher lends great tone to this book, which is a lineage through history of the clothing we wear today, from undergarments to shoes and everything in between.  Extremely entertaining.  312 pages.

And that wraps up another month, bringing me closer to the end of this year's reading challenge.  Here are the totals:

September totals:
7 titles
2,584 pages

2012 totals:
59/100 titles = 59%
24,384/50,000 pages = 49%

It's not over til it's over, so check back in with me next month!  In the meantime, I'll have lists of new fiction titles coming out in November for you next week.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What I was reading, August 2012

Finally, a little catch-up.  August was a great month for reading, at least for me.  Lots of titles, some great reads by favorite authors, and some new authors as well. Ready?  Here we go.

You Don't Want to Know, by Lisa Jackson.  I wish I had lots of good things to say about this one, but Jackson's latest effort is not my favorite.  The book was too long, there were a plethora of red herrings, and the plot twists were more like kinks in a hose, clunky and breaking the flow of the story.  After Ava's toddler goes missing, she spends the next two years in and out of Seattle mental institutions.  When she finally returns to her family's estate, it's to a loveless marriage, strained friendships, and the conviction that her son is still alive.  Fighting people who doubt her sanity, detectives who don't take her seriously, and her own demons, she struggles to prove herself once and for all.  Ultimately, what seems like a great premise just didn't live up to its potential for this reader.  416 pages.

Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness.  The second book in Harkness's All Souls trilogy, which started with A Discovery of Witches, was released this past July and was very much anticipated by library staff and patrons alike.  In my opinion, it did not disappoint.  When novice witch Diana and her vampire mate Matthew step back in time to avoid their enemies, they step into Elizabethan England during a time of religious unrest, witch hunts, and the beginnings of the scientific revolution.  If you've been reading here for awhile, you know that Tudor England is a passion of mine, and in this regard, the novel extremely loyal to fact while still remaining a work of fiction.  People, places, and social customs are all pitch-perfect.  I don't want to give much away, but if you've read the first book, you really owe it to yourself to read this, too.  And if you haven't?  What are you waiting for!?  584 pages.

The Sinner, by Tess Gerritsen.  I'm still enjoying going back and reading Tess Gerritsen books I'd never read, and this, the third in the Rizzoli & Isles series, is no different.  When the team arrives at chapel of Our Lady of Divine Light on a bitterly cold night, they find the bodies of two nuns, one dead and the other critically wounded, victims of a brutal attack that seems to have no motive.  Then Dr. Isles discovers that the young deceased nun had been recently pregnant, and before they can find out more, yet another body is found that seems to be related to the chapel attack.  Together the team unfolds a nightmare that crosses the globe, complete with corporate intrigue and hired assassins.  Truly, this one was a nail-biter.  355 pages.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.  Ah, Gone Girl.  Readers either love it or hate it.  My recent review of it revealed a very marked division on the title--there is not much gray area to be had.  Personally?  I loved it--I found it gripping and well-told with a number of plot twists I really never saw coming.  I admire authors who can surprise me again and again, and Flynn most certainly did.  419 pages.

The Hypnotist's Love Story, by Liane Moriarty.  From the Australian author of What Alice Forgot, this newest work is a unique twist on the classic love story.  Ellen O'Farrell, a hypnotist who helps clients overcome addictive behaviors, phobias and confidence issues, falls in love with Patrick, a landscape architect, and right away, there are complications.  He's a widower with a young son, and Ellen has no experience with children.  Oh, and he's being stalked by his ex-girlfriend, Saskia.  Told in alternating parts by Ellen and Saskia, we finally get to understand what drives Saskia's urge to stalk as well as Ellen's drive to make the relationship work despite Saskia's constant interference.  Warm, humorous, compassionate, and surprising.  Loved it.  416 pages.

Body Double, by Tess Gerritsen.  Book 4 of the Rizzoli & Isles series.  When Dr. Maura Isles returns home from a medical conference, she finds police cars outside of her home and her colleagues all look like they've seen a ghost.  The victim in the car parked on her street, you see, looks just like her.  What follows is a cat-and-mouse game in which Dr. Isles must not only confront her own past, but must also battle wits with a serial killer.  Told in Gerritsen's signature taut style.  Of course, I loved it.  352 pages.

Vanish, by Tess Gerritsen.  And straight into book 5.  Detective Jane Rizzoli finds herself in a situation she never thought possible.  Not only is she married, pregnant and in labor, but she's also a hostage in the hospital, held by a patient who mere hours earlier had been mistaken for dead and awakened in the morgue.  Now Jane makes it her mission to find out who wants this woman dead, and what makes her so desperate to escape the hospital.  Gerritsen does it again--this was excellent.  336 pages.

12.21, by Dustin Thomason.  If you believe that the Mayans predicted the end of the world, then the date in the title is rather significant.  Thomas queries...What if it really is the dawning of a new age?  An ancient artifact carries a mysterious curse, and those exposed to it become ill.  As the plague spreads and the CDC fights to lock down quarantine, it's up to a historian and a rogue CDC doctor to race against the clock to find a cure.  Part Indiana Jones looking for a lost city, part historical mystery, and full of intrigue and deception, this was a unique thriller that I really enjoyed.  If I had to name one flaw, it was that parts of the story felt a little rushed, and I wished occasionally for a little more detail.  Overall, Thomason has promise.  323 pages.

August totals:
3,201 pages
8 titles

2012 totals:
21,764/50,000 pages = 44%
52/100 titles = 52%

Not sure I'm going to make my challenge goals this year, but it's already giving me motivation for next year's challenge!  Are you challenging yourself to read more this year?  I'd love to know how you're doing.

I'll be back on Thursday with what I've been reading in September, and then I'm caught up!  Happy reading!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Downton Abbey Phenomenon

Who would have expected the recent success of UK series Downton Abbey, airing here in the States on PBS?  With a distinct Upstairs, Downstairs feel thanks to writer Julian Fellowes, a phenomenal cast including greats like Maggie Smith, and a unique take on pre-WWI England, it surpassed many expectations to become a television phenomenon its first season.  Both the first and second seasons are now available on DVD, but the new season doesn't air in the US until January 2013.  So what are fans to do during the grueling wait?  Well, if you're interested in delving into a bit more of the history of the series, I can certainly help you out.

First, there's Below Stairs: the classic kitchen maid's memoir that inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey", by Margaret Powell.  It is, quite literally, a behind the scenes view of one of the great houses of England in the early part of last century, from the drudgery of blacking stoves in the pre-dawn chill to romps with errand boys to the heartbreak bound to occur when a wandering eye led to a cross-class tryst.  Absolutely fascinating.

Then, from the other side of the coin, there's Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: the private diary of a Victorian Lady, by Kate Summerscale.  If you think that ladies had an easier time than their female servants, you would be only partially correct.  Isabella Walker, a widow at 31 in 1844, was left with nothing--her husband's son from a previous marriage inherited everything.  Her second husband, Henry Robinson, moved his family to Edinburgh in 1850, traveling frequently for business.  When he was home, he was cold and remote.  Isabella, left to her own imaginative devices, recorded her fantasies in a private diary, most often starring an upstanding, and married, Dr. Edward Lane.  In 1858, her husband, chancing upon this book and appalled at his wife's perceived infidelity, petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of adultery.  And of course, her diary was read during the court, making the trial international news and ruining Isabella's reputation permanently.  Extremely eye-opening and riveting.

I'm back next week to start wrapping up what I've read the last two months.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On Re-Reading, part 1

Re-reading, like reading, is personal.  Some engage in it occasionally, others never, others often.  A much-loved character pulls us back to visit again and again.  A brushing-up before a new installment to a series is published, perhaps.  Maybe a title you haven't read in years but pick back up for a book club or to read along with friends and family.  The reasons are as varied as the readers and the books themselves.  My own choices are varied, too, as are the formats in which I choose to re-read (or re-listen) them. So what does this librarian pick up more than once?

Bag of Bones, by Stephen King.  I talk about Mr. King's work a lot here, and I've read just about all of it.  Yet it's this one, part ghost story, part love story, that I come back to over and over.  I also prefer to listen to it in audio format, as Stephen King does a phenomenal job narrating--I think it takes a lot of exposure and a keen ear to get the Boston and Maine accents just right, and he does a fine job, in my opinion.   For me, the pleasure is in the journey here, creepy details, longing, ominous foreshadowing, and characters that wind up etched in your brain. You can read my full review here.  Also, if you have read it and liked it, do yourself a favor and skip the A&E miniseries.

Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver.  Some authors are great narrators for their own work, others are not (I'm looking at you, Anne Rice).  Kingsolver, like Stephen King, is one of the former and my preference is to listen to this book when possible.  Sweet and leisurely, full of loss and hope during one voluptuous summer in an isolated part of Appalachia--a specialty of Kingsolver's.  Somehow, I always pick up new details with each reading of this book, and her imagery is so clear, I can see much of it very clearly even now, more than a year since my last reading.

Both of these novels also take place during slow, hot summers, so if you're looking to recapture some of that golden glow even as we head into autumn, stop by and pick up a copy!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reading Ahead: October 2012, part 3

And last but not least, the wrap-up to our chock-full list of new titles being published in October.  I hope you saved a little room on your dance-card, because there's so much more.  Don't believe me?  Read on!

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

A Christmas Garland, by Anne Perry

Angels at the Table, by Debbie Macomber

Iced, by Karen Marie Moning

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

The Lawgiver, by Herman Wouk

NYPD Red, by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

A Dangerous Inheritance, by Alison Weir

Say You’re Sorry, by Michael Robotham

Goldberg Variations, by Susan Isaacs

Where to start?  If you're looking to start getting into the holiday spirit on the early side, definitely snap up Anne Perry's A Christmas Garland or Debbie Macomber's Angels at the Table.  If you're looking for something creepy to go with the changing seasons, you might consider Justin Cronin's second installment in his trilogy, following The Passage.  Finally, if you're a history buff, I cannot recommend Alison Weir enough!

See you next week, and until then, happy reading!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reading Ahead: October 2012, part 2

Ready for round two?  Here we go!

Finding Casey, Jo-Ann Mapson

Phantom, by Jo Nesbo

A Winter Dream, by Richard Paul Evans

Astray: Stories, by Emma Donoghue

The Last Man, by Vince Flynn

Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe

The Panther, by Nelson DeMille

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane

So many things I want to read!  A new release by Jo Nesbo is always welcome--I know I've said this before, but if you liked Steig Larsson's trio of "The Girl Who" thrillers, you really owe it to yourself to try Jo Nesbo.  Really.  I've also mentioned that I'm extremely interested to read Emma Donoghue's collection of stories, as I am a huge fan of her last book, Room.  Thriller fans have totally lucked out with new titles by Dennis Lehane, Nelson Demille AND Vince Flynn all in the same month. Clear your schedules for some great reading!  And keep an extra space free, because I'm back on Thursday with the final installment of our list.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Reading Ahead: October 2012, part 1

Did you think I'd forgotten you?  Au contrair!  Technical hiccups caused a few delays in posting, but all that should be sorted out now, thankfully.  Did you enjoy your holiday weekend?  Got one last gasp of summer in?  I hope so, because today, I'm starting to post titles that will be published in October.  I promise, it's full of all sorts of goodies, so see it as a harbinger of great things to come.  Like pumpkin spice lattes, hoodies, blanket weather, taking out the air conditioners, and trips to the orchard.  See?  All good things! Here are a few more good things to add to your list.  (Does that sound a little too Martha Stewart?  My apologies.  Carry on.)

The Racketeer, by John Grisham

The Bone Bed, by Patricia Cornwell

Sleep No More, by Iris Johansen

Mad River, by John Sandford

Dick Francis’s Bloodline, by Felix Francis

Peaches for Father Francis, by Joanne Harris

Sins of the Mother, by Danielle Steel

I'll be back next week with more up-and-coming bestsellers.  And since I know you can't wait to hear about what I read in August, I'll post that later this month.  Thanks for sticking with me!