Thursday, February 28, 2013

What I've been reading: February 2013

Is it weird that I consider a month with only five books read to be a slow month?  I don't want to sound like an overachiever, but if I'm trying to read 75 titles in 2013, that's about six books a month.  Ack, it's only February and I'm behind the eight-ball!

Touch & Go, by Lisa Gardner.  I really like Lisa Gardner.  I really, really do.  And every time I think she's outdone herself, she manages to surprise me and takes the next novel even further.  In her latest thriller, a perfect little family is kidnapped, but the ransom demand to investigators seems a long time coming.  Who would kidnap them, and if ransom isn't their angle, what would motivate such a crime?  Investigators are baffled, but kidnapping, it turns out, is only the tip of the iceberg.  So many twists and turns to this plot, I was more than a little impressed.  423 pages

The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan.  You already know what I think about this book.  Loved it!  357 pages

Here I Go Again, by Jen Lancaster.  Lancaster does not fall prey to the sophomore slump with her second work of fiction (she's well-known both for her blog and her series of memoirs, starting with Bitter is the New Black).  Instead, she turns the humor up to eleven in this mash-up (think Heathers meets Back to the Future), in which Lissy Ryder, one-time high school mean-girl, finds out what a bitch karma really is, in the form of her twenty-year reunion.  Those awesome golden days, apparently, were true only for her, and now it's time for her to fix things with her former classmates--big time.  It is rare that a book can make me laugh until I actually have tears streaming down my face, but in this instance, Lancaster really swung for the fences.  Something for everyone, because who can't use a little catharsis when it comes to reliving high school?  308 pages

Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan.  This is my book club's pick for our March meeting, and was a re-read for me, but somehow it's even more eye-opening this time around.   For sixty years, three acres of land in Maine, where the Kelleher family has a summer cottage, has been a retreat, a respite, and a giant bone of contention.  Now, in what may be their final summer on the property, three generations of Kelleher women converge with their own hopes and fears along for the ride.  Family matriarch Alice has more than a few regrets in her past, but one in particular has been a secret from her family for far too long, and the truth will out.  Kelleher-by-marriage Ann Marie is chronically frustrated by her life, and is finding rather unfortunate and somewhat eccentric outlets in the meantime.  Kathleen, the black sheep of Alice's children, has hated the cottage since her adolescence, and returns now against her will.  Finally, thirty-two year old Maggie is trying to find the right time to break the news of her pregnancy to her less-than-perfect boyfriend.   This is a phenomenal family saga, full of hope, sorrow and secrets.  I'm very much looking forward to the discussion on this one!  385 pages

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, by Jennifer Chiaverini.  Chiaverini, who is best known for her Elm Creek Quilts series, takes a departure from her normal series to write a stand-alone historical novel, and I just have to say:  Woman, what took you so long?  While the account of the friendship between First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, a freedwoman, is fictional, the research behind this novel is staggering.  In 1861, Keckley, who had made her reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city's elite, became the personal "modiste" to the First Lady, not only sewing for her but also dressing her for state functions.  It is Keckley's insiders view that is so distinct as readers follow the Lincoln family through the Civil War, culminating in Keckley's support of her friend after the assassination of the President. Told with vivid period detail and well-researched historical accuracy, this is one I highly recommend. 352 pages

February totals:

5 titles
1,825 pages

Year-to-date totals:
11/75 titles = 15%
4,205/35,000 pages = 12%

Looks like I may have to make up some time in March.  I'll be back next week with your first looks at new fiction coming out in April, so in the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Can't keep it to myself: The Painted Girls

It's no secret to my regular readers here that I read a fair amount of historical fiction.  I'm not so picky about subgenre, oddly enough: historical mystery, romance, thriller, family saga--I'll read it all.  Okay, I might pass on the heavy-duty military novels, but otherwise, I'm pretty game.  When it comes to time and place, however, that is when I tend to get a little choosy. Certain places and periods of time just speak to me, whether it be England in the time of the Tudors, Italy during the Renaissance, Japan in the 1800s, they simply call out to me, and I tend to find novels set in these times and places to be particularly fascinating, given the right characters and plot, of course.

Having studied French for a number of years (how useful that is now, who can say) and spent some time there in my younger days, I have a bit of a soft spot for French history and also for French art.  The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan fits the bill on all counts. Three sisters, left with only their drunken laundress mother for support after the death of their father, aim for something better than subsistence in Paris.  The youngest, Charlotte, dreams only of the stage at the Paris Opera, hoping to surpass her older sisters and be a star ballet dancer.  The eldest, Antoinette, has been dismissed by the Opera for a number of reasons and struggles to help support her mother and sisters even as she falls in love with the wrong sort of boy and makes terrible mistakes with her trust.

And then there is the middle sister.  Bookish Marie, in the wake of her father's death, must put aside the education she loves and financially contribute to the household as well.  As a student at the ballet school, Marie catches the eye of Monsieur Edgar Degas, who invites her to pose for him. Marie leaps at the chance to earn some extra money, and ultimately became the subject for one of his few sculptures exhibited during his lifetime, Little Dancer of Fourteen Years.  Marie, otherwise a footnote in Degas' career, flourishes in Buchanan's novel, becoming a deeply complex character motivated by fear, longing, and family devotion.

The Painted Girls was one of those novels I hated to see end, full of hope, struggle and redemption.  The characters were so vividly drawn, the period so beautifully captured, I just adored it.  Very highly recommended.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Three on Thursday: Warm Weather Wishes

I know that spring isn't too far off now, but I'm feeling rather caught in the winter doldrums. The weather is cold and dreary, we're still recuperating from the blizzard last week, and we are all, I think, more than a little tired of snow and winter.  If you're reading along and nodding your head, then keep reading. 

I'm a strong believer in reading as entertainment, especially reading as a form of escape or travel for your mind.  Sure, it's cloudy and chilly outside, but open a book, and you can be anywhere you like.  Recently, talk at the library has been about winter fatigue, so what better way to entertain yourself with than a novel taking place in warmer climes?

 Autobiography of Us, by Aria Beth Sloss.  This one is a bit of a sleeper hit among recent titles here at the library.  The 1960s was a decade caught between repression and rebellion.  In Pasadena, California, friends Rebecca and Alex bond as they dream of lives beyond their mothers' expectations.  Until, that is, the ultimate betrayal comes between them one sultry summer evening before their last year at college.  Beautiful and gripping, sure to warm the soul.

The Summer House, by Marcia Willett.  Part mystery, part family saga.  Matt's mother has always kept his childhood memories in a wooden box.  But why can't he remember the toys or the clothes, and why is his sister Imogen missing from all of the pictures?  Long in love with a cottage on a grand old estate, Summer House, Imogen leaps at the chance to buy it when it comes on the market, but her husband refuses to move.  Imogen is left questioning the life she's built for herself, even as Matt seeks answers to his own existence.  Could the Summer House hold the answers for both of them?  As full of summer at the English seaside as it is overflowing with mystery.

Burnt Mountain, by Anne Rivers Siddons.  As a young tomboy, Thayer found that the place which felt most like home was summer camp.  Friends, first love...  Years later, Thayer's husband is growing distant and Thayer's carefully constructed life begins to crack.  Finally, it's time to look at why those summers away from home were so idyllic, and the secrets Thayer uncovers about herself, her parents, and now her husband are truly startling. 

Do you have a favorite novel with a summer setting?  I'd love to know what it is!

I'm back next week with what I've been reading (and what got me through the blizzard!).  Happy reading!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Reading Ahead, March 2013, part 3

Here's to hoping everyone's finished digging out after the blizzard.  Be safe out there, as visibility around corners coming out of side streets is still iffy in a lot of places, and things ice up fast after dark!  We're back to business here at the library, and we're looking forward to spring!  I'll be back next week with some warm-weather reads to tide you over til we thaw out, but in the meantime, here's the wrap-up of new fiction titles being published next month! 

The Arrangement, by Mary Balogh

Leaving Everything Most Loved, by Jacqueline Winspear

Family Pictures, by Jane Green

The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout

Benediction, by Kent Haruf

The Accursed, by Joyce Carol Oates

Double Feature, by Owen King

The Gate Thief, by Orson Scott Card

Anything striking your fancy?  There are several that I'm looking forward to, the first being The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.  Strout's been a favorite of mine since her first novel, Amy and Isabelle, and  this latest looks like it will not disappoint.  An accident in their youth that kills their father sends Burgess brothers Jim and Bob running from their Maine hometown for the big city as soon as their able, until the sibling left behind, their sister, calls them home to deal with a new family tragedy.  It sounds like what Elizabeth Strout does best, and I can't wait.

Also on my list is Kent Haruf's Benediction, Haruf being another author who won me over with an earlier novel, PlainsongBenediction is set in Holt, Colorado (where both Plainsong and its follow-up, Eventide, were set) and follows a new set of characters, a family in crisis taking comfort where they can even as crucial members remain absent, and the community of friends and neighbors that aids every way they can.  This novel promises to be full of compassion and humanity, and if anyone is equal to the task, it's Kent Haruf.

Finally, I've been looking forward to Owen King's debut novel (after publishing a number of short stories) with a certain degree of eagerness.  King, of course, is the youngest son of Stephen King, and while he is not writing in the horror genre, it should be interesting to see how close to the tree this apple falls.  Interestingly enough, the story is one of a son growing up in the shadow of his father, and his experiences trying to make it in the family business (film) on his own.  Surely one to watch.

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you, and of course, happy reading!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Reading Ahead: March 2013, part 2

 Ah, thriller and suspense novel.  What is it about them that we love so much?  The crazy plot twists?  The sharp wits of the characters?  The element of danger and the relief of escape?  Maybe it's a combination of all of these, and maybe there's something else altogether, but whatever the reason, thrillers are one of the most popular genres among readers these days.  Should you be looking for a pulse-pounding read this spring, look no further.

Six Years, by Harlan Coben

Breaking Point, by C.J. Box

Striker, by Clive Cussler & Justin Scott

Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterman

Ice Cold Kill, by Dana Haynes

The Boyfriend, by Thomas Perry

So, the new Harlan Coben should be a given for most thriller readers--if the one person you loved more than life chose to marry someone else, what do you do with yourself?  For Jack, he spends six years immersed in his career until he runs across the other man's obituary, only to find out that his lost love didn't marry the man after all.  What happened to his love, why don't their mutual friends remember him, and why is it suddenly seeming that he's not who he thought he was?  Seriously, do not miss this one.

If you haven't discovered C.J. Box, I'm going to repeat--you really need to check him out.  This latest book is the most recent in the Joe Pickett series--if you haven't read them before, go back and start with the first novel, Open Season

There's a debut novel on next month's list of thrillers, and I didn't want to let it's presence go unremarked.  Brigid Quinn is not your average protagonist.  She's a fifty-nine year-old retired FBI agent, with a career full of hunting sexual predators behind her.  She's trying to enjoy the retirement that was pushed on her, until a man confesses to the worst unsolved case of her career--the disappearance and presumed murder of her young protegee, Jessica.  Except Brigid's replacement believes the confession is a fake, so what is Brigid to do?  There is an awful lot of buzz about this one, and it's got a priority spot on my to-read list.

See anything that intrigues you?  I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Reading Ahead: March 2013, part 1

It's usually this part of the year that I get a little giddy.  Winter's getting a little boring, I'm a little tired of snow.  And then?  I get to start looking forward to all the great new books being published next month and realize it's almost spring!  Plus, you mystery readers out there have some extra reasons to be giddy about next month.

Death of Yesterday, by M.C. Beaton

The Family Way, by Rhys Bowen

The Sound of Broken Glass, by Deborah Crombie

The Obituary Writer, by Ann Hood

Now, for mystery readers, the first three authors should be ones your recognize, but the fourth may leave you scratching your heads.  Technically, The Obituary Writer (Hood's second novel following 2008's Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine) isn't strictly categorized as a mystery, but it has many of the same elements.  In two different eras, 1919 and 1961, two different women with a surprising connection come to terms with grief, determine what they want out of love and marriage, and struggle to find hope after tragedy.  It's being billed as part literary mystery, part love story, and I, for one, am very intrigued.

I'll be back with next month's thriller novel roll-call.  In the meantime, happy reading!