Thursday, August 29, 2013

What I've been reading: August 2013

Summer is coming to a close here, and with it, my summer reading.  As I look back, however, it seems like I didn't read much in the way of "beach books".  If anything, as the summer progressed, my books got thicker and heavier, both in physical weight and subject matter.  I wonder if that means this winter will see me reading lots of light, fluffy books?  I guess we'll find out.  In the meantime, here's what I've been reading as the summer's been winding down.

South of Broad, by Pat Conroy.  Leopold Bloom King is the child of a well-known James Joyce scholar and high school principal(his mother) and a loving, amiable high school science teacher (his father).  In the wake of family tragedy, however, Leo becomes an enigma, and it is only when he becomes part of a tightly-knit group of friends during high school that he begins to find his place in the world.  The story, set in Conroy's beloved South, stretches from the 1960s to the 1980s.  Everyone should read Conroy at least once--his dialogue is so clever and spot-on, and his prose is dreamy and languid as a summer afternoon.  I may have actually stalled finishing this one--I never wanted to stop reading about these characters.  514 pages

Cuckoo's Calling, by J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith.  The setup here, if you have missed it, is that after mixed reviews on The Casual Vacancy (which I loved, incidentally), Rowling decided that her next endeavor would be published under a pseudonym, and depending on the reception by readers and critics, she could determine whether or not she wanted to 'fess up to her authorship.  Cuckoo's Calling has garnered plenty of praise, even more so (of course) since Rowling outed herself.  Underdog, down-on-his-luck private detective and former soldier Cormoran Strike is joined by temp-turned-permanent secretary Robin in the investigation of a model's death, officially ruled a suicide even though the model's brother is sure it was murder.  This is sure to be the first in a series, and to be honest, it feels that way.  The narrative occasionally feels bogged down with the amount of background information included about the main characters, and while I loved the duo of Strike and Robin, the novel felt...overfull.  Still a great outing for Rowling, and I'll be interested to see how the series progresses.  455 pages

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman.  You can read my review here.  181 pages

The Silver Star, by Jeanette Walls.  Bean and Liz might have a flaky mother, but the girls have always had each other.  When their mother takes off to "clear her head" and is gone for weeks, that's nothing new, but when things get extra tough, they scrape together what's left of their money and head East, traveling from California to see their uncle Tinsley at the family home in Virginia.  Bean settles in, but Liz becomes more and more withdrawn, ultimately leaving Bean to fend for herself against the injustices of the adult world.  Walls is an extraordinary storyteller--of her work so far, this is my favorite.  269 pages

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, by Anton Disclafani.  This was one I absolutely devoured--I could not put it down, and finished it in about two days.  Thea Atwell comes to the title's equestrienne boarding school, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in 1930, in the midst of the Great Depression.  Having been cast from her isolated Florida home by circumstances the reader gleans as the book progresses, Thea finds herself alone for the first time in her fifteen years, newly estranged from her family.  Part family drama, part forbidden love story, deeply compelling and compulsively readable.  I look forward to reading more from Ms. Disclafani.  388 pages

August totals:
5 titles
1,807 pages

Year-to-date totals:
60/75 titles = 80%
22,182/35,000 pages = 64%

This page-count goal is really proving to be my challenge this year!  Anyone have any long books they'd recommend?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Can't Keep It to Myself: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I have been pretty vocal about my love for Neil Gaiman, author of novels like American Gods, Neverwhere, Anansi Boys and whose novels have been turned into movies like Coraline and Stardust.  So it shouldn't surprise my blog readers that I am head-over-heels in love with his latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Our unnamed narrator, now middle-aged, goes back to the lane where he grew up, in the wake of heartache.  His old home is gone, but there at the end of the lane is the farm where a childhood friend lived.  He stops in for a visit, and is swamped with memories of a time decades earlier, when his carefree boyhood ended with the entrance of a lodger his family took in, and the dark events that were set in motion upon the man's demise.

This is the ultimate tale of good and evil, full of bittersweet triumph, innocence and friendship, betrayal and guilt.  It is one of the most deeply moving stories I've had the pleasure to enjoy, and as an added bonus, the audiobook is read by the author himself.  Some authors are terrible readers, but Gaiman is about as close to perfection as I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

I absolutely cannot keep this one to myself.  Go listen to it, or read it, or both.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In Memoriam: Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard, author and screenwriter, passed away on August 20th, 2013 at the age of 87, after recently suffering a stroke.  Among his best known works are Get Shorty, Be Cool, Out of Sight, and Rum Punch (which was adapted for the movie Jackie Brown).  His short stories included ones which became films like 3:10 to Yuma and the current FX series Justified.  He will be much missed by readers and movie-goers alike.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reading Ahead: September 2013, part 5

I hope you'll forgive me if I mention things in this post like summer is starting to wind down, autumn is nearly upon us, and that for many of us that means that light beach reads take a back seat to some fiction we can really sink our teeth into.  I realize that it's still August, but Halloween decorations are making an appearance (already, I know, it's kind of crazy) and I'm already seeing a few trees whose leaves are changing. Resistance is futile--might as well lose myself in a book.  Here are a few I'm looking forward to next month.

Maddaddam, by Margaret Eleanor Atwood.  This is the conclusion of Atwoods speculative fiction trilogy, which began with Oryx & Crake and continued with The Year of the Flood.  The series has been described as highly inventive, dramatic, and a perfect combination of humor, romance and adventure.  Atwood is a superb storyteller--if you haven't read her before and are looking something a little outside of mainstream fiction, this would be a great series to add to your reading list.

Someone, by Alice McDermott. McDermott, a National Book Award winner, is a lyrical wordsmith, and I have been eagerly awaiting her return to fiction, as it's been seven years since the publication of After This.  Someone is the ordinary life of an ordinary woman, caught in snippets and snatches, stitched together in McDermott's deft prose.  From first heartbreak to the lives of her children, a life as it is lived, both simple and remarkable.  For those looking for a thoughtful read.

Evil Eye, by Joyce Carol Oates.  In this collection of four novellas, Oates explores chilling tales of love gone horribly wrong.  In the title story, the young fourth wife of a prominent intellectual begins to lose touch with her sanity after a late-night visit from her husband's brazen first wife.  Oates does psychological fiction extremely well--this one might keep you up at night, for a variety of reasons.

You know I've been reading some incredible books I just can't keep to myself--I'll be back with one of those titles on Thursday!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reading Ahead: September 2103, part 4

As promised, autumn is bringing about the publication of more mysteries.  Rejoice, mystery readers!  Perhaps it's the impending cool nights, crisp mornings, and the return of pumpkin-flavored everything that makes readers want to curl up with a mystery novel?  Whatever it is, mysteries seem to be one of the major flavors of fall!

Dick Francis’s Refusal, by Felix Francis

Second Watch, by J.A. Jance

I'll be back next week to wrap up our list next week.  In the meantime, have a great weekend, and happy reading!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reading Ahead: September 2013, part 3

It looks like 2013's summer of the thriller is finally starting to wind down.  Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of thrillers being published (see below for some of what September has to offer, as well as some titles in this post).  However, it finally is starting to feel like less of a deluge than in recent months.  But if you're all-thrillers all the time, here's a heaping helping of what you get to look forward to next month.

The Mayan Secrets, by Clive Cussler & Thomas Perry

Thankless in Death, by J.D. Robb

The Final Cut, by Catherine Coulter

Deadly Heat, by Richard Castle

Deceived, by Randy Wayne White

To make up for the slight decline in thrillers, however, publishers have some great new mysteries in store--I'll be back with that list on Thursday!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reading Ahead: September 2013, part 2

I've mentioned before that when I'm ordering fiction titles for The Trumbull Library System, I keep a running list of not only books I'm going to want to let readers know about via the blog, but also titles that I think will be of particular interest, even if their authors are lesser- or unknown.  September has several such titles, and I think you'll want to take notes.

Help for the Haunted, by John Searles.  Searles is a two-time bestselling author (Boy Still Missing, 2001 & Strange But True, 2004) as well as a book critic with appearances on NBC's Today Show, CBS's The Early Show and CNN to discuss his favorite book selections.  It has been much too long since his last novel, in this reader's opinion, and fans of psychological thrillers should absolutely be looking to get their hands on a copy of his newest novel upon release in mid-September.  Following the secretive, tragic and unforgettable story of one unusual family, Help for the Haunted has been likened to greats like Stephen King and John Irving.  Definitely one to watch.

Songs of Willow Frost, by Jamie Ford.  Jamie Ford is another novelist that I'm hoping readers will remember--if not his name, then perhaps the title of his debut novel, 2009's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which spent two years on the bestseller's list.  This latest novel shifts between the Great Depression and the 1920s, following the story of orphaned William Eng and his unlikely connection to film star Willow Frost.  Deep and emotional, this is sure to be a hit among the book club set.

The Wrong Girl, by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Second in the Jane Ryland series after 2012's The Other Woman, award-winning mystery writer Ryan returns to Boston where newspaper reporter Jane Ryland is tipped off that a respected adoption agency may be hiding a terrible secret.  At the same time, detective Jake Brogan is following the trail of a killer and potential baby-snatcher, who might be tied to the same adoption agency.  My advice?  Get in on this series now and be ahead of the curve.

I'll be back next week with more September titles to watch--in the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reading Ahead: September 2013, part 1

The New York Times bestseller's list, which has been ongoing since 1942 (that's 71 years and counting, if you're keeping score) has long been considered the preeminent list of best-selling books in the United States.  A mere fifteen slots for the best-selling in hardcover fiction, though if you read further, they'll also give you the following ten "runners up".  Now, I'm no psychic, and I have no "insider knowledge" of the publishing industry, but I have been doing this shtick for a number of years, and here are my best bets for fiction titles that are the surest of sure things for the bestsellers lists in September.*  In no particular order:

The Longest Ride, by Nicholas Sparks

Gone, by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

Never Go Back, by Lee Child

W is for Wasted, by Sue Grafton

Deadline, by Sandra Brown

The Quest, by Nelson Demille

*Yes, there will certainly be others, but these are the absolute guarantees and likely candidates for a top-spot on the list, to boot.