Thursday, November 21, 2013

Can't Keep It To Myself: Songs of Willow Frost

Jamie Ford made a name for himself with his debut novel, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  Some authors experience what's known as the sophomore slump, which finds a lack-luster, rushed, and/or overlooked second novel following a debut which was published to critical acclaim.  This is absolutely not the case for Ford's second venture, Songs of Willow Frost.

What starts as the sad tale of a Chinese American boy who finds himself in a Seattle orphanage after his mother's body is carried away from their apartment becomes so much deeper and more complicated.  William Eng has been in the orphanage for more than half of his life when, on an outing to a movie theater, he catches a glimpse of an actress who so resembles his mother, he is moved to run away from the good sisters who run the orphanage and, accompanied by another runaway, travel to meet the actress, Willow Frost, in a local appearance.  The story then shifts between the Great Depression and the 1920s as readers fall back into the long and complicated past of Willow Frost, a story full of joy and of tragedy, loneliness and good fortune.

I dare not give away anything more, but I can say that I loved Ford's ability to wring every drop of emotion from a scene, each painted deftly but clearly, evoking mood and local color with every word.  Beautiful, heartbreaking, and bittersweet to the very end.  I cannot recommend this enough.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


In honor of writers everywhere, I'd like to give a little shout-out to November, which since 1999 has been National Novel Writing Month.  The annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in just one month's time has had a steadily growing following, hosting upwards of 200,000 registered participants in recent years.  The challenge is for quantity rather than quality, and encourages writers to work their way through the first draft, to be edited or scrapped at the end of their thirty-day challenge, as they see fit. 

The challenge, founded by freelance writer Chris Baty, started with just 21 participants its first year.  In 2000, the month-long challenge was officially moved to November, "to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather."  Baty also wrote a book to help out challenge writers, published in 2004, called No Plot? No Problem!  Though Baty stepped down as Executive Director of the project in 2011 to pursue a full-time writing career, the challenge lives on and is still going strong.

Write on!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reading Ahead: December 2013, part 3

Here we go, folks, the last of the "big news" fiction being published in December.  The list for December, as I've mentioned, is short and sweet, since publishers have caught on that people tend to get really busy during the holiday season and simply can't carve out as much time to curl up with a book.  (Although I can't think of a better time of year, really.  A book, a quilt and a cup of hot tea?  Heaven!  But that might not be feasible for everyone.  I get that.) 

So to wrap up, just a couple of titles to look forward to.

Murder as a Second Language, by Joan Hess.  Hess continues her Claire Malloy mystery series (as opposed to her Maggody Mysteries), following small-town Arkansas bookstore owner Claire as she settles into married life.  Looking to stay busy, Claire tries her hand at volunteering, and promptly finds herself right in the middle of another homicide investigation when one of her ESL students is found murdered.  Critics are saying Hess is really on her game here, and as both series continue to steadily gain popularity, I'd be remiss if I didn't recommend it to the mystery readers out there.

A Christmas Hope, by Anne Perry.  Full of Christmas miracles and brimming with mystery, this tale of one lonely woman's search for meaning in her life is a sure bet for readers looking for a gripping story to go along with their dose of holiday cheer.  Life among the upper echelons of Victorian London society is more lonely than one might think, and for Claudine Burroughs, the holiday season brings nothing but dread at the thought of having to make merry with a cold and ambitious husband and a circle of status-minded friends. When she finds a spark of joy, meeting a young and talented poet at a yuletide gala, it is quickly snuffed when he is accused of murder.  Convinced of his innocence, Claudine finds her cause in proving his accusers wrong.  Perry does what she does best.

I'm back next week to talk about some titles to get you in a holiday frame of mind.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reading Ahead: December 2013, part 2

Suspense and thriller novels continue to abound as this year draws to a close.  Even if December is a somewhat slower month in terms of publication, the bulk of the new bestsellers will be in those genres.  If you're feeling a little out-of-sorts that the titles seem to be dwindling at this time of year, never fear, my fellow readers: publishers have you covered, and then some, come January.  Hang in there--I'll be talking about those in no time!

In the meantime, here are a few suspense and/or thriller novels to tide you over during the holiday season.

The Prince of Risk, by Christopher Reich

Innocence, by Dean Koontz

Hunted, by Karen Robards

I'll be back on Thursday with the last of the December up-and-coming bestsellers.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Reading Ahead: December 2013, part 1

I hate to be the bearer of tidings of great joy, but yes, I'm going to talk about December.  The good news, if there is some, is that I waited two extra days to do this post.  The bad news is, I'm still going to talk about December.  The better news?  At least I'm only talking about books!  (As opposed to shopping, wrapping, traveling, decorating, cleaning, hosting, cooking, organizing, and being nice to your relatives.  See!  Aren't you glad I'm not talking about any of that?  Me, too!)

However, since December tends to be a rather busy season for many, publishers have wised up a bit and aren't pummeling readers with a deluge of new books.  Instead, it seems they've saved just enough of the heavy-hitters to make sure there's a gift out there for every reader on your list.  Ready to get started?  Me, too!

Hazardous Duty, by WEB Griffin & William E. Butterworth IV

The Death Trade, by Jack Higgins

Command Authority, by Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney

The Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connelly

Each of these is worthy of note in its own way, but the two in particular I would like to draw attention to are the last two titles in my little list.  Command Authority is the late Tom Clancy's final novel, and one that features hero Jack Ryan as President of the United States--if you've been a Clancy fan, you do not want to let this one pass you by.  Second is the new offering by Michael Connelly, The Gods of Guilt.  Connelly's appeal is wide and his following growing exponentially with each new book.  I expect more of the same results with this new novel, in which defense attorney Mickey Haller returns to right wrongs and confront ghosts from his dark and haunted past.  I guarantee the suspense-reader on your list will want to unwrap this one!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ten on Tuesday: What Trumbull is Reading, Fall 2013 edition

Ever wonder what your friends and neighbors are reading, but didn't feel comfortable asking?  Well, I'm not going to name names, but I can tell you what we at the Trumbull Library are seeing patrons requesting and checking out the most.  Want to take a peek at the top ten? 

10. What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty.  If you skimmed to the bottom of the list already (I know you did, it's okay.  It'll be our little secret.), you'll see that this is one of two entries from Australian phenom Moriarty.  Given the huge popularity of her new novel, The Husband's Secret, it's no wonder some of her previous work is getting some much-deserved love (I also have to recommend The Hypnotist's Love Story, reviewed here).  Alice is 29, in love with her husband and pregnant with their first child.  At least, that's what she remembers when she wakes up on the floor of a gym, only to find out she's missing the last ten years of her memory.  In this new, awful reality, she's the 39-year-old mother of three, in the process of getting divorced.  Now all she wants is to figure out how she got here!

9. The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida. A memoir by a very smart, charming, and self-aware thirteen-year-old boy with autism, which gives an unprecedented glimpse into the perceptions and responses of an autistic mind.  Naoki's story is utterly remarkable, and will stick with readers for years to come.

8. Sycamore Row, by John Grisham. A sequel to Grisham's first novel, 1989's A Time To Kill.  Ford County is once again forced to face its long and tortured history.
7. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai.  When the Taliban took over the Swat Valley in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced.  The fifteen-year-old girl continued to attend school, which had been forbidden to girls, and was shot in the head while riding home on the school bus.  From her courage, to her fight to recover when few thought she would survive, Malala has now become an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

6. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes.  Moyes's bestseller is still going strong.  You can read my review here.  Already read this and yearning for more Moyes?  Her new book, The Girl You Left Behind, has just come out and is also extremely popular.  Check it out!

5. Identical, by Scott Turow.  I'm so glad to see Scott Turow on this list--I have to say I find him to be one of the suspense authors who rarely gets anywhere near the praise he deserves.  In his latest outing, a mayoral candidate's identical twin brother is released from prison 25 years after pleading guilty to the murder of his girlfriend.  However, the case is being reopened by a PI and an ex-FBI agent, and it seems as though perhaps the man who served time was innocent all along. 

4. October List, by Jeffery Deaver. Trying something new can go one of two ways.  Try Deaver's latest thriller, told in reverse over a three day period.  It's being called both clever and demanding, as readers must backtrack and reevaluate the case based on shifting information.  This is a love-or-hate book, but I think the concept is brilliant.

3. Killing Jesus: a history, by Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard. In the tradition of the duo's previous two titles, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, they return with Killing Jesus, detailing the events leading up to his death.

2. Cuckoo's Calling, by J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith).  This continues to be extremely popular among your neighboring readers.  You can read what I thought about it here

1. The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty.  Moriarty is, as I've mentioned, extremely popular right now, and her latest book is a runaway hit.  It is currently the single most requested book at the library right now, and we've bought more copies to keep up with demand!  Get your name on the list today!