Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What I've been reading: October 2012

October seems to have passed in a mere blink of the eye, and somehow, I don't seem to have read as much as usual. Lots of work, a bit less free time than I'm used to, social obligations...they've all been cutting into my reading time!  Still, there have been some real winners this month, so without further ado, here's my list.

The Keepsake, by Tess Gerritsen.  Gosh, it feels like I read this eons ago!  I'm still working my way through Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles thrillers, and enjoying them greatly.  You'll notice as I get toward the most recent titles, I'm slowing down a bit to savor them.  This one was right up my alley--in a Boston museum's storage, a perfectly preserved mummy is found.  The carbon dating of the wrappings estimates the age at about four thousand years old, but when the body is CAT scanned, a modern bullet is detected in the mummy's leg, making it a murder case for Boston P.D.   What follows is a cat-and-mouse game full of red herrings, and plenty of antiquities talk in between.  Really a stand-out.  349 pages

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout.  I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth Strout's work, and somehow I'd never gotten around to reading Olive Kitteridge before now, for October's book club meeting.  A novel told in stories, each features main character Olive at different points in her life, though often she is a secondary character seen through the eyes of someone else in her small community.  This was a particularly great book for discussion, as there are many connections and echoing themese and elements of foreshadowing to talk about.  And it wouldn't be Strout without some of the most thoughtful, beautifully restrained prose I've ever read.  Highly recommended, both in print and in audio format.  270 pages.

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling.  Rowling's first foray into adult fiction, five years after the close of the Harry Potter series, has come under close scrutiny and has certainly had mixed reviews.  If you've been reading here for awhile, you know that I encourage people to give all books a chance, but not every book is for every reader.  While The Casual Vacancy is billed as a black comedy, it is not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny.  Rather, the humor comes in small, sly, often nasty bursts that took me by surprise more than once.  But dark?  Yes, it is.  Dark and raw and gritty.  I believe Americans in particular have an idyllic view of village life in Britain, and Rowling very calmly turns that view on its head in this calculated tale.  When a well-loved parish councillor dies suddenly, the result is a casual vacancy on the council.  In the weeks that follow, petty squabbles over who should fill this vacancy turn progressively more vile.  An unflinching look at the worst, and best, in people--I loved every minute, but this is not for the faint of heart and most certainly not appropriate for the under-18 crowd.  503 pages.

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom.  Another book club book, as I'm working to prep for November's meeting.  This is a tale with an undertone of menace throughout, of a girl orphaned into indentured servitude on a Virginia plantation, where she is raised in the kitchen house on a large tobacco plantation.  Young Lavinia, by a twist of serendipity, goes to Williamsburg for several years, enjoying an education and society while playing companion to her master's distant family.  When she returns to the plantation years later, it is to find that she is no longer welcomed with open arms by the people who had a hand in raising her, and old villains return to create mayhem and ill will at every turn.  The narrative is taught and it is a compulsive read.  Thoroughly enjoyed and looking forward to discussing this with the group in November.  368 pages.

What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman.  Lippman is a new-to-me author, and this title is a bit older, published in 2007.  A woman heading home after years away is involved in a traffic accident and leaves the scene, injured and dazed.  Detained and hospitalized, she mentions knowledge of a decades-old missing-persons case and Baltimore homicide detective Kevin Infante is brought in to help uncover the details.  I can honestly say that this was riveting and constantly surprising.  I am definitely looking forward to reading more of Lippman's work in the future.  376 pages.

And that's it for the month.  Looking over these titles, I'm foreseeing a lighter, fluffier list for November, like a holiday-inspired palate cleanser.  I've been reading a fair amount of dark, serious fiction lately, and I'm feeling the need for a bit of a break.  Any recommendations for something a little lighter?  I'd love to know--leave me a comment!

For my reading challenge this year:

October totals:
5 titles
1,866 oages

Year-to-date totals:
64/100 titles: 64%
26,250/50,000 pages: 52%

Ah well, I'll keep tracking til the end of the year, but a challenge isn't a challenge unless it's challenging, right? 

I'll be back on Thursday with the list of new fiction titles coming out in (gulp) December!  Happy reading!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Three on Thursday: Gothic Horror

When I say Gothic, what do you immediately think of?  Is it the new connotation of pale youths dressed in black?  Or is your thought more literary, of windswept moorlands and sinister castle turrets and foreshadowing laced with foreboding and dread?  If it's the latter, this is the post for you.  (If it's the former, email me and we can talk about industrial music.  Also, keep reading.  Okay?  Okay.)  Gothic fiction, also often referred to as Gothic horror, is a literary style that incorporates both horror and romance and first came into fashion in the 1760s.  However, the Gothic fiction of the Victorian era tends to be what many people think of when talking about the genre, and this is the perfect time of year to test those waters.  In fact, if you've read Bram Stoker's Dracula, you're already well acquainted.  If you'd like to move beyond Stoker, though, I have three titles to get you started.

The Pit and the Pendulum and Other Stories, by Edgar Allen Poe.  Villainy, death and madness are all themes which make frequent appearances in Poe's works of short fiction, in addition to romance, obsession and longing.   The combination results in a melancholy brand of terror for which Poe, author and literary critic, is best known.  In addition to the title story of this collection, you might also try The Oval Portrait, a slightly lesser-known story of Poe's.  Dark and dreary, perfect for a late October evening.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.  A shrewd tale of moral corruption, The Picture of Dorian Gray caused a scandal when it was originally published in 1890.  Young and handsome, Dorian Gray sells his soul for eternal youth, and while his portrait shows the wear and tear of the dissolute life he chooses to lead, Gray carries on without care.  This remains a relevant cautionary tale even today, and the battle between good and evil still chilling.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  If you've never read this, but think you know how the story goes, then you might want to think again.  It's actually about a London lawyer who investigates strange occurrences and coincidences concerning his old friend Dr. Henry Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde.  Often considered one of the first tales describing split personality disorder, it is also a great tale of the dark and light of human characters as well as simply a fascinating mystery.

I hope you consider picking up one of these, or another in the genre, especially if you're a fan of modern horror or mysteries.  I'll be back next week with a wrap-up of what I've been reading this month, so in the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Top 10 on Tuesday: Monster Mash

You may remember that last October, the blog was filled with all things scary, from bowing to the King of Horror, to vampires, to the supernatural, among others.  Things that go bump in the night, it seems, tend to come and go in popularity, and right now?  Zombies are it.  Here are my top ten picks if you're looking to become acquainted with the genre of the undead.

1) The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman.  If you've been loving on AMC's super-dark series, you owe it to yourself to go back to its roots.  This graphic novel series by creator Kirkman is darkly witty and intense.

2) White Horse, by Alex Adams.  I reviewed this back in the spring when it first came out, and it remains one of my favorites.  If you're looking for a new twist on zombified fiction, this is absolutely one to check out.

3) Gil's All-Fright Diner, by A. Lee Martinez.  Horror fiction tends to be dark, gory and intense, but it doesn't have to be.  Martinez lends a bit of mad-cap humor to a tale of zombies, werewolves and vampires, and the result is a scream.

4) Lords of Salem, by Rob Zombie.  I don't necessarily have an inside scoop on this one, but I am familiar with Zombie's music and movies.  This novel tie-in to his up-coming film about the Lords of Salem, back and out for blood, is sure to be a grisly delight.

5) Zombie, Ohio, by Scott Kenemore.  Is there such a thing as a smart zombie?  College professor Peter Mellor thinks so, after dying in a car wreck and being reborn a brainy and brain-hungry zombie.  Problem is, people keep trying to kill him, again, even as he tries to solve the mysterious circumstances surrounding his accident. 

6) Monster Island, by David Wellington.  First in a trilogy, Monster Island opens a month after a global disaster has rendered Manhattan an island of shambling undead.  When an expedition arrives on the island, the zombies mobilize against the interlopers.  Gruesome and intense.

7) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.  Elizabeth Bennet, zombie hunter!  A killer parody, available both in novel and graphic novel format. 

8) The First Days, by Rhiannon Frater.  First in Frater's As The World Dies series, readers meet Jenni and Katie, two ordinary women, on the morning of the day the world ended.  Thrown together by circumstance, they become a team bent on survival, rescue and escape as the zombie horde swarms in.  Riveting.

9) Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion.  Think zombie novels can't have a little romance?  Think again.  Here, the protagonist doesn't enjoy killing, but loves Frank Sinatra music and riding escalators.  Against the odds, he falls in love...with a human.  Surprisingly moving.

10) Breathers: A Zombie's Lament, by S.G. Browne.  Proof that there is life, and love, after death, this is begins with our undead hero attempting to adjust to his new lot in un-life, and ends in a class-action lawsuit for zombie rights.  By turns gory, sweet and hilarious.

I hope there's a little something in the list for everyone.  If you have a monstrous addition to the list, I'd love to know, just leave me a comment.  I'm back with some gothic classics on Thursday.  In the meantime, happy (scary) reading!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Seasonal reading

Busy days here at the Trumbull Library.  It seems that as the days get shorter, they're packed fuller and fuller.  And yet, there are some moments of downtime, even just a few, when we get to relish the change in the seasons.  Autumn is my favorite season.  I love the cool evenings and brisk mornings, the vibrant foliage, trips to the orchard, Halloween and those perfectly clear days where the sky seems impossibly blue.  In celebration of these changes, here are a few books to help you pause during these busy days and savor the season.

With Halloween just around the corner, it's not too late to add some easy, festive decorations.  Check out Artful Halloween by Susan Wasinger for fast and easy crafts, from super-creepy disembodied hands to DIY garlands with a literary touch, to a variety of ways to spruce up your average pumpkin.  (Also, for year-round crafts that are eco-friendly, try Wasinger's Eco-craft: recycle, recraft, restyle, too.)  Feel like you could use a little inspiration for your jack-o-lantern this year?  The library can help!  For kid-friendly guides, try J. Angelique Johnson's Making a Jack-o'-lantern, step by step or Sarah Schuette's How To Carve Freakishly Cool Pumpkins.  But who says that pumpkin carving is just for kids?  If you're really looking for something out of the ordinary, take a browse through Tom Nardone's Extreme Pumpkins II.  Trust me: Tom Nardone knows extreme pumpkin carving.

What would Halloween be without parties and costumes?  Get great ideas for grownup get-togethers with Adult Halloween Parties by Mary T. McCarthy, with tips for themes, costumes, food and beverages or the Better Homes and Gardens compilation of the Best of Halloween Tricks & Treats.  And for the kids, have a monstrously good time with the help of Chris Kullstroem's Making a Monstrous Halloween and Monster Parties & Games, the latter being particularly useful if you wanted to do a monster-movie tie-in.

Lastly, with pumpkin insinuating itself into all of your daily foods and beverages, why not embrace the season with some comfort cooking and baking.  The Seasonal Baker, by John Barricelli will help you use all those fresh-picked apples from the orchard, and make the most of the plentiful pumpkin with recipes for cakes, pies, quick-breads, tarts and crisps.  Think that your food allergy or sensitivity means that you can't enjoy the bounty of the season?  Think again!  Colette Martin's new book, Learning to Bake Allergen-Free, has recipes to accommodate every dietary need.   Finally, if you're looking for something to warm you up on a chilly day, I have to recommend Rick Rodgers' Autumn Gatherings and Comfort Food.  I love his recipes, and use his Thanksgiving 101 faithfully to help me out every year.  These two seasonal selections provide detailed instructions, thoughtful commentary and a nostalgic feel for simpler times. 

Now get out there and enjoy the season!  I'll be back next week with a little monster mash-up guaranteed to put you in a ghoulish mood!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What to read? Three on Thursday

Such a loaded question, this one.  What to read?  What should I read next?  There are lists upon lists, and hundreds of websites designed to answer just this question.  But then, where does one start with these lists?  Here are some of my favorite lists when I'm looking for a little inspiration...

Modern Library's 100 Best Novels:  Established 95 years ago, Modern Library is an icon for readers.  Their list is actually several lists in one, containing both a list of titles voted on by their board and another by their readers.  They've also included a list of non-fiction, if that's your preference, and included the Radcliffe rival list.  Now, these lists were compiled in 1997-98, but if you're looking for some classics that you've missed, or just a little inspiration or exploration in your reading list, this is a great place to start.  (Note, this is the same list that the New York Times has printed, so why not go direct to the source?)

If you're really looking to broaden your horizons and try some authors you haven't heard of, check in across the pond with The Guardian (UK) list of 1000 books everyone must read.  Divided by genre and including a great assortment of classics, modern classics, and popular titles (everything from Michael Crichton to Voltaire, mind-boggling), this is very comprehensive and really kind of fantastic.  In fact, I'm tempted to make this one a challenge of some sort for myself in the future. 

What I've found is that a lot of the lists out there are kind of highbrow and a little forbidding, with obscure titles or lots of titles that look like something a deep, thoughtful college student might carry around to attract some deep, thoughtful person of the opposite sex, pretending to read said title for fun.  And really, while some of those titles are amazing, I'm not always interested in reading something that's going to be a challenge. 

So my third recommended list is the best-selling titles of all time.  There are actually some surprises on there, and a number of popular fiction titles, too.  Worth a browse through, if only to stop and say, "Really?  Seriously?  THAT?!" a time or two.

Hope you've found a little inspiration, and happy reading!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tuesday Tip

It's been surprising lately how often I'm reminding people to use the library as a resource, mostly via Facebook, of all places.  In the last month, here are a few of the questions/pleas I've gotten:

Q: "There are all these books I want to read but I don't want to pay for them/don't want to wait to have them shipped!" 

A: Call your local library!  Many of the titles will be available already, and those that aren't can be requested for purchase or held for you when they're available.  Best part?  No money needs to change hands unless your books are late, and even then, fines are generally cheaper than just shipping from Amazon or B&N!

Q: "I don't know how to do this!  I have to learn about a new subject, and I'm totally overwhelmed!" 

A: Take a trip to your library.  From books on learning a new craft, to subject matter for classes, to a quick brush-up on old skills, there are tons of resources available at the library.  The bonus here is that you can browse through a number of books in person, and choose just those that will be the most helpful for your particular needs.  Still stumped?  Ask a reference librarian, and they'll help you find just what you're looking for.

Q: "Does anyone know how to X?  Does anyone know where to find Y?" 

A: Who would you trust to answer your questions?  A poll of people you play Farmville with?  Or someone whose job it is, all day every day, to find correct information for people? 

Q: "I Google-d it, but I got 4 billion results!  I have no idea where to start!"

A: As Neil Gaiman once said,  “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.”  

Tuesday's Tip?  If you need information, check in with your library, stop in, email, or call.  We're here to help!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reading Ahead: November 2012, part 2

I can tell you that mystery lovers are a loyal bunch.  They are loyal to their genre and at times nearly rabid about their favorite authors.  Mystery readers in particular will rejoice this November, as some of the biggest names are all publishing around the same time--enjoy! 

The Marseille Caper, by Peter Mayle

The Giving Quilt, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Notorious Nineteen, by Janet Evanovich

Margaret Truman's Experiment in Murder, by Margaret Truman and Donald Bain

Poseidon’s Arrow, by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler

The Buzzard Table, by Margaret Maron

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reading Ahead: November 2012, part 1

Happy October!  I'm on vacation this week, getting some quality reading time in (that's part of the plan, anyway), but I can't leave you high and dry.  I can't believe we're already talking about titles that will be released in November!  Wasn't it just summer?  In any case, some of the biggest names have new titles coming up in time for the holiday season, so I hope you get a chance for some quality reading time of your own this fall.  Here are some books you might consider adding to your list.

The Perfect Hope, by Nora Roberts

The Legend of Broken, by Caleb Carr

The Black Box, by Michael Connelly

The Forgotten, by David Baldacci

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

Merry Christmas, Alex Cross, by James Patterson

Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver

Anything jump out at you?  I've already mentioned that I'm really looking forward to Barbara Kingsolver's new book--it sounds like it's going to be a great one.  Caleb Carr has been rather quiet for awhile, but based on his previous work and some of the advance praise for his new title, The Legen of Broken could be a show-stealer.  Finally, Nora Roberts is still going, stronger than ever, and this most recent trilogy (this is the final installment) has been hugely popular.  Get your name on the list now!

I'll be back with part two of November's list on Thursday, so in the meantime, happy reading!