Thursday, March 28, 2013

What I've been reading: March 2013

I know we haven't quite reached the month's end, but I think this is the bulk of what will be finished by the time April 1 rolls around.  It was a fairly productive month, reading-wise, but let's see how this challenge is coming along, shall we?

The House Girl, by Tara Conklin.  I cannot tell a lie--this novel was a bit of a fight for me to get into.  The narrative alternates between present day with Lina Sparrow, young NYC attorney, and that of house slave Josephine Bell in the pre-Civil War South.  I found the narrative switches to be jarring and uneven--I wished that the segments had been longer with fewer switches, as I felt like the stories were somewhat disjointed.  I stuck with it, and it smoothed out (or I adjusted, maybe some of both) about halfway through.  The link between the two stories?  Lina is working to find an appropriate plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking compensation for families of slaves.  Josephine's owner, it turns out, took credit for artwork done by Josephine before her escape.  Not my favorite, but not bad.  370 pages

Burnt Mountain, by Anne Rivers Siddons.  I talked about Burnt Mountain a bit last month in this post.  All families have their secrets, but in the case of Thayer Wentworth, the secrets her family keeps from her change the course of her life, and not for the better.  When she finally begins to unravel what's been kept under wraps for so many years, the life she has so carefully constructed for herself in the wake of teenage heartbreak begins to fall apart.  Deeply moving and absolutely riveting. 325 pages.

Calculated in Death, by J.D. Robb.  As always, a little fluffy reading can't hurt.  I will say that maybe it was just me, but I missed a major plot point--that's what I get for reading in the doctor's office with lots of distractions.  I wound up having to go back and re-read a bit to pick up what I'd missed.  This series never fails to be fun and funny, though (odd to say for a futuristic suspense novel?), as with this installment--Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the NYPSD catches the case of an accountant who, it appears, was the victim of a mugging gone wrong.  All is not as it appears, however, and Dallas (along with trusty sidekick Detective Peabody) digs deeper into the world of high finance.  When in doubt, follow the money, which in this case leads to a trio of killers.  A must if you're in the market for something a little lighter.  386 pages

New Rules of Lifting for Women, by Lou Schuler, Cassandra Forsythe & Alwyn Cosgrove.  I borrowed this through Interlibrary Loan, and found it to be extremely enlightening.  Weights do NOT make women bulky, and are beneficial for all sorts of reasons, especially for women.  Great reading for those who are sick of the treadmill and looking to switch up their workouts.  272 pages

Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes.  You can read my review here.  369 pages

Six Years, by Harlan Coben.  My review is here.  351 pages

The Bedlam Detective, by Stephen Gallagher.  Sebastian Becker, former policeman and  Pinkerton agent turned investigator for London's notorious Bethlehem Hospital (also known as Bedlam), has been sent to interview Sir Owain Lancaster at his country estate.  After a failed scientific expedition which resulted in the loss of his family and colleagues, Sir Owain claims that not only were large mysterious beasts responsible for these deaths, but that they have followed him home and are now responsible for the deaths of two local girls.  Yet some monsters simply hide in plain sight, as Becker soon discovers.  Absolutely brilliant, I can't wait for the next in the series.  306 pages

Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier.  On the reading list for April's book club meeting, I decided to read it a little on the earlier side.  Mary Anning, poor and uneducated, lives near the English coast and is in possession of a rare gift--she can spot fossils that others cannot see.  When she discovers an unusual fossilized skeleton near her home, it throws her community into chaos even as it sets the scientific world alight.  As cruel as the elements and her neighbors can be, Mary finds hope and friendship with two very unlikely people.  I love a historical novel that also teaches me something new, and this one fit the bill.  Chevalier is really quite a remarkable creature, herself.  312 pages

March totals:
8 titles
2,691 pages

Year-to-date totals:
19/75 titles = 25%
6,896/35,000 pages = 20%

Not bad!  I'm right on target for my titles goal, and if I pick up a few more that are 400+ pages in the coming months, I should be able to meet my pages goal, too.  Here's to hoping, and of course, happy reading. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Can't keep it to myself: Six Years, by Harlan Coben

Periodically, I revisit authors I haven't read in awhile, just to re-test the waters.  Sometimes I stopped reading because they started a new series that I wasn't very interested in, sometimes it was because their style changed, or in other cases, because their style hadn't changed and I had gotten bored.  In Harlan Coben's case, I just wasn't a fan of his Micky Bolitar novels, so I was giving him a miss for the last few years.  When I read the reviews for his new novel (a non-Bolitar novel, by the way), Six Years, I was intrigued and placed a hold.

I am extremely glad I did.

Jake Fisher fell in love one summer.  He was finishing his doctoral thesis at a writers' retreat.  She, Natalie Avery, was an artist at a neighboring retreat.  The summer was magic, and Jake intended to spend the rest of his life with Natalie.  Until she broke it off and invited Jake to her another man.  Jake attended the wedding, heartbroken, and made Natalie a promise that he would leave the newlyweds alone.

In the ensuing six years, Jake throws himself into his work as a political science professor.  Until he runs across an obituary and recognizes the man in the photo as Todd, Natalie's husband.  On an impulse, Jake travels to attend the funeral, only to see that Todd's surviving family does not include Natalie.  Confused and increasingly frustrated (and more than a little scared), Jake backtracks and tries all avenues to find Natalie, only to be stonewalled--former friends claim not to know what he's talking about, authorities say that even the retreats never existed.  Who was Natalie?  Did she even exist?  Have the last six years of Jake's life all been built on a lie?  And why are people trying at all costs to intercept his efforts?

Coben really outdoes himself with the rapidly escalating suspense in this one--it is compulsively readable.  Very tense, very well plotted--I loved every second.

I'll be back on Thursday with a wrap-up of what else I've been reading this month.  Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Three on Thursday: Need a laugh?

Punxsutawney Phil is fired.  Yesterday was the first day of spring, and today's forecast has flurries involved.  Spring?  Sure.  Whatever you say.  While I've been longing for hot weather to complain about (just for a change of subject), and have been reading about hot summers in the south to try and get me through these last winter doldrums, sometimes I also need something a bit more amusing to lift my mood.  If you're in the same boat these days, here are three to try.

Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen.  This was my first introduction to Hiaasen's wild sense of humor, and I still have a very fond place in my heart for it.  Millionaire and fanatical eco-terrorist Twilly Spree snaps one day when witnessing a careless litterbug throwing trash out of a car window.  Spree decides to begin a sabotage campaign in retaliation, only to find that the litterbug, Palmer Stoat, is also a political fixer of the shadiest order and Spree has just met his match.  Hiaasen excels at madcap humor and sharply witty dialog, crafting the perfect tale to distract you from next week's forecast. 

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, by Beth Hoffman.  Perhaps the most accurate description of this novel is also the most popular, that of Steel Magnolias meets The Help.  For CeeCee Honeycutt, age 12, life doesn't conform to many norms.  For example, she is the caretaker of her mother, Camille, a pretty but unstable former beauty queen.  When Camille suddenly dies, CeeCee is swept away by her Great Aunt Tootie and taken to the story-book city of Savannah.  Great Aunt Tootie and her friends take care to teach CeeCee a number of life's lessons, not the least among them being that friends help one another in times of need.  Laugh-out-loud funny and extremely touching.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple.   Bernadette has been many things to many people.  Fearless architect, social disgrace, opinionated wife, best friend and mom.  She is hilarious, volatile, troubled and increasingly agoraphobic, all at the same time.  So when she disappears just before the family is supposed to go on a trip, daughter Bee is the one to piece together all the fragments left behind in order to find her mother.  Unique, witty, and very imaginative. 

I'll be back with some more recommended reading next week, as well as what I've been reading this month.  Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Can't keep it to myself: Me Before You

Jojo Moyes made a bit of a splash a couple of years ago with The Last Letter from Your Lover, about a woman who, after a car accident, suffers amnesia about the day she was going to leave her husband for a mysterious lover.  With Me Before You, she has made an even bigger splash, and one every bit as deserving.

I finished this novel a few weeks ago, and I honestly had to give myself a few weeks before I trusted myself to write about it.  You can tell from the blog just how much reading I do, so please trust me when I say that I found this novel to be possibly one of the most moving works of fiction I have ever read.  I laughed, I cried, I couldn't wait to find out what happened next, I never wanted to reach the last page.

When Louisa Clark meets Will Traynor, she is completely ordinary--a long-term relationship with her boyfriend, a cramped family life, and is making her way through some awful dead-end jobs after the cafe she worked in closed.  Lou has hardly traveled further than the end of her road.  Will, her new employer, used to spend his days dashing between running a successful business, dating a gorgeous woman, and traveling the world to sky-dive and snorkel.  Until, that is, an accident leaves him permanently in a wheel chair, moody, depressed and closed off from the world. 

I don't want to spoil a single thing for you, but in this novel of hope, love, happiness and heartbreak, Moyes totally swept me up in the stories of these two characters.  I highly recommend you let her do the same to you.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reading Ahead: April 2013, part 4

If you thought all of the "good stuff" was already covered in parts 1-3 of the April list, I hate to break it to you--you're going to have to make room on your to-read list for a few more titles.  Don't believe me?  Read on...

The Mystery Woman, by Amanda Quick

Taking Eve, by Iris Johansen

Sleight of Hand, by Phillip Margolin

Midnight at Marble Arch, by Anne Perry

Unintended Consequences, by Stuart Woods

Daddy’s Gone a Hunting, by Mary Higgins Clark

Best Kept Secret, by Jeffrey Archer*

So that completes the list of April new releases.    Now I want to know: what's topping your list?  Let me know in the comments!

*The much anticipated third in the series--if you're new to it, start with Only Time Will Tell.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reading Ahead: April 2013, part 3

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm still missing that "spring forward" hour in the mornings!  Coffee, it seems, is no match for my internal clock, which says that the new 6am is a terrible idea!  All sleepiness aside, however, I'm still very much looking forward to some great new fiction to perk me up.

Whiskey Beach, by Nora Roberts

Don’t Go, by Lisa Scottoline

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

Maya’s Notebook, by Isabel Allende

12th of Never, by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro

Fly Away, by Kristin Hannah

Now, what catches your eye?  There are several, certainly, which are obvious choices.  For me, that definitely includes Nora Roberts.  Whiskey Beach provides readers with everything they look forward to in a Nora Roberts novel: detailed character back-story, fast pacing, smart dialogue, a great love story.  After public scandal, Eli Landon returns to the old family home at Whiskey Beach to hide and to heal. Abra Walsh, local housekeeper and a fixture in the beach community, helps Eli regain control of his life.  Yet even as they find more than they were looking for with one another, they also become trapped in a centuries-old net of lies and deceit that may destroy them both.  I'm looking forward to a rainy weekend to devour this one!

Wondering about the title of Joe Hill's latest darkly comic novel?  NOS4A2 is the vanity plate on the 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith belonging to main character Charles Talent Manx, a very bad guy.  One of the few to ever escape Manx's clutches was Victoria McQueen, who has spent the years since that escape growing up and trying to put the past behind her.  Manx, however, has never forgotten, and now he's on the road again, this time looking for Victoria's own son.  This looks like a good vs. evil battle for the ages, and I'm absolutely itching to get my hands on a copy!

I'll be back on Thursday to wrap up the list, so in the meantime, happy reading.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reading Ahead: April 2013, part 2

As promised, I'm back with more April titles worthy of note!

Secrets from the Past, by Barbara Taylor Bradford

A Perfect Proposal, by Katie Fforde

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

The Edge of the Earth, by Christina Schwarz

If there's one you might want to pause and consider, it's Christina Schwarz's latest after a very long hiatus.  She is likely best known for her first novel, Drowning Ruth, which was published in 2000 to great accolades--it was a New York Times bestseller and was chosen for Oprah's Book Club.  This latest, about a woman who, at the turn of the last century, leaves behind the ordinary comforts of her old life for the extraordinary adventures awaiting her with an enigmatic and ambitious new man, is being heralded as beautiful, haunting, and fast-paced.  I, for one, cannot wait.

And if spring puts you in the mood for love, your bases are covered.  Whether you're looking for romance with a thriller bent (Secrets from the Past), a romantic comedy to savor (A Perfect Proposal), or a historical romance with a literary bent (Something to Remember You By), we've got you covered.  Honestly, I'm a bit torn on what I want to read first.  Wilder's latest, set during WWII, is full of deceit and espionage--when I call it a historical romance, please consider it the anti-bodice-ripper, okay?  And I also really am intrigued by Atkinson's latest, Life After Life, which is being billed as witty and wildly inventive, about a girl who is born, and dies, and yet lives on.  

Lots to look forward to, and we're only halfway through the list!  See you next week with more great up-and-coming titles.  Happy Reading!