Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What I've Been Reading: April 2014

Good Morning, Readers!  Rain or shine, I've spent quite a bit of April with my nose in a book or being entertained during my commute by a great audiobook, and I can't wait to share with you! 

We Are Water, by Wally Lamb.  I've been in love with Wally Lamb's prose since reading She's Come Undone over twenty years ago.  He excels at finding the extraordinary within the mundane, and his portrayals of fully-realized characters, deeply flawed and conflicted, very raw with emotion, are unsurpassed.  In his latest novel, Anna Oh has, after twenty-seven years of marriage and three children with her husband Orion, fallen in love with her wealthy Manhattan art dealer, Viveca and moved out of the family home in Three Rivers, Connecticut.  The narrative rotates among the members of the Oh clan: Anna, newly retired psychologist Orion, philanthropist Ariane, her twin brother and family rebel Andrew, and the youngest, free-spirited Marissa.  Each family member's own experience of the lead-in to Anna and Viveca's wedding is full of emotional turmoil, which Lamb captures beautifully.  This is not an easy read in terms of subject matter, as Lamb touches on incest and molestation, rape and assault, racism and class-ism in the course of the novel.  However, these difficult issues would also make it an excellent choice for book clubs looking for something to spark serious discussion.  I very highly recommend this for readers seeking a weighty, gritty novel.

Monuments Men, by Robert Edsel, with Brett Witter.  While I haven't seen the movie (somehow, I missed it in theaters and it isn't due to be released on DVD until late May), I found myself intrigued by the story and so when I happened across the audiobook earlier this month, I had to snag it.  WWII was the most destructive war in history and caused the greatest dislocation of cultural artifacts. Hundreds of thousands of items remain missing. The main burden fell to a few hundred men and women, curators and archivists, artists and art historians from 13 nations. Their task was to save and preserve what they could of Europe's great art, and they were called the Monuments Men.  Focusing on the organization's role in northwest Europe, the authors describe the Monuments Men from their initial mission to limit combat damage to structures and artifacts to their changed focus of locating missing items. Most had been stolen by the Nazis. In southern Germany alone, over a thousand caches emerged, containing everything from church bells to insect collections. The story is both engaging and inspiring. In the midst of a total war, armies systematically sought to mitigate cultural loss.  I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but this was informative, entertaining and hugely rewarding.  Recommended for art enthusiasts, history buffs, and everyone in between. 

Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue.  The author of the hugely successful Room returns with a novel based on an unsolved murder from 1876 San Francisco.  (Librarian's note: Donoghue released a collection of short stories in 2012 titled Astray, featuring characters who were far from home, drifters, runaways, etc. which were inspired by newspaper articles and stories from the last four centuries.  My guess?  Frog Music began as one of those stories, but flowered into a full-blown novel.)  It is the sultry heat-wave of summer in 1876, and San Francisco is full of dust, fraying tempers, and a wealth of immigrants from all across the globe.  When Jenny Bonnet is shot dead through a railroad saloon window, her friend and survivor of the attack, French burlesque dancer Blanche Buenon, spends the days that follow trying to solve Jenny's murder, and to save her own skin.  The city she wades through is one of arrogant millionaires and the desperately poor, of cold women and jealous men and children wise beyond their years.  Absolutely riveting.  Donoghue is phenomenal, as always.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman.  I loved this books so much, I couldn't keep it to myself.  You can read my review here

Missing You, by Harlan Coben.  Coben is one of my favorite thriller writers right now, and his new novel, Missing You, has just reaffirmed his spot on my list.  Kat Donovan is a cop, like her father before her.  She's also lonely, though she would be loathe to admit it--perhaps that's why she logs onto the dating site account her friend has created for her.  Paging through profiles, she stumbles across a photo that causes the world to fall away.  He's older, sure, but the photo is most certainly that of Jeff, her ex-fiance and a man she hasn't seen or spoken to in eighteen years.  He is the one who got away, but when she contacts him via the website, he doesn't feel at all like the same Jeff she remembers.  It isn't coincidence when the son of another woman from the dating site finds Kat, begging her to look into his mom's disappearance.  And it isn't coincidence when the body count begins to rise in her current investigation.  Coben has an absolute gift for pace and plotting--I devoured this novel in under two days.  Recommended?  Absolutely.

The Collector, by Nora Roberts.  Roberts combines murder, art and romance in her latest.  Lila Emerson is a professional house-sitter with no home to call her own.  When she witnesses what the cops are calling a murder/suicide from the window of her client's apartment, her footloose life of travel and solitude takes a drastic turn.  Artist Ash Archer, the brother of the man supposed to have been the one to murder his girlfriend before taking his own life is convinced the police are mistaken, because he doesn't believe that his carefree brother Oliver was capable of harming himself of anyone else.  He recruits Lila to help him find the truth, and in the dangerous process of uncovering Oliver's secret dealings in the art-collecting underbelly of New York City, the two find themselves powerfully drawn to one another.  Roberts has a deft hand with characters, but I found the subplot in this novel, concerning the rekindling of an old flame between the main characters' respective best friends, more compelling than the main plot.  Still definitely entertaining and one fans will enjoy.

Dark Witch, by Nora Roberts.  American Iona Sheehan sells everything she owns and seeks out her Irish roots in County Mayo, in this kick-off to Roberts's newest trilogy.  She's a descendent of the legendary Dark Witch, and seeks out her cousins Connor and Branna after Iona's Nan gives her the full story of her family's legacy.  An ancient evil lurks among the ruins of the old family homestead, and the three have a birthright to vanquish it.  Of course, Iona's untrained in the ways of witchcraft, so she must learn her craft with the help of her cousins.  And she must also earn her keep, working at the stable up the road, only to fall in love with the stable manager.  I have hope for the other two installments--the pacing to this one felt uneven, and the story requires a rather large suspension of disbelief.  Holding judgement on this one.  I thought her recent Boonsboro trilogy was quite a bit stronger, and with a better use of the supernatural/paranormal. 

So that's 7 titles for April, and a total of 20 for the year.  Seventy-five may yet be a challenge, but I'm gaining on it!  If I hit 6-7 titles every month between now and December 31, I've still got it.  Here's to a summer full of reading!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Can't Keep It To Myself: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

This month, it feels like I could write one of these posts for nearly every book I've read so far, each one more extraordinary and engulfing than the last.  I am quite a fan of Alice Hoffman's and have been for many years.  Her prose is so lyrical and evocative, I find it possible to lose myself in her stories completely.  Her latest, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, I am pleased to say, is no different.

Coralie Sardie has been raised among the wonders of her father's Coney Island freakshow.  Indeed, with her own physical anomaly and a little training, she has performed alongside them for years as The Mermaid.  Late at night during one of her long-distance endurance swims in the Hudson River, Coralie happens upon a photographer who is taking photos of moonlit trees.  She is henceforth fascinated with him. 

Photographer Eddie Cohen is a Russian immigrant who has turned his back on his Orthodox community and his family.  He is a finder of lost things, and in the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he is on the case of a missing woman who was neither among the tragedy's dead, nor among the survivor.  It is during his search that he also finds Coralie and the two fall in love, but this is so much more than a love story.  It's a story of belonging and of "other-ness", of secrets and truths, of life in an extraordinary city during a tumultuous time in its history.  It is gloriously moving and I found myself completely captivated. 

Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

And the Award Goes To...

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is the 2014 winner of the Fiction Pulitzer Prize

"Awarded to "The Goldfinch," by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown), a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart." --Pulitzer.org

Also nominated in this category were Philip Meyer's The Son, a sweeping multi-generational novel that illuminates the violence and enterprise of the American West by tracing a Texas family’s passage from lethal frontier perils to immense oil-boom wealth; and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Sacochis, which spans 50 years and three continents as it explores the murky world of American foreign policy in the years prior to 9/11. 

Congratulations to the winner and nominees!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Meg's Picks: May 2014, part 2

After a long, cold winter, I know many of us here in the Northeast are looking forward to warmer temperatures and perhaps a little leisure time.  Here are three of my picks for engrossing reads during the warmup. 

The One & Only, by Emily Giffin.  Giffin is a New York Times bestselling author several times over, which is why readers are very eagerly anticipating her newest novel.  Shea Rigsby loves her hometown, college town Walker, Texas, where life revolves around football.  She loves it so much, in fact, that she stayed there to attend college and went to work for the college after graduation.  Life for Shea is comfortable and familiar, until tragedy strikes their small community.  Suddenly, Shea has to wonder whether the life she has made for herself is enough for her, and whether the people she trusted the most are really deserving of that trust.  A novel of love and loyalty, secrets and fears, treated with Giffin's gentle touch.  I'm expecting this to be a breakout for Giffin, and I'd be surprised if movie rights weren't sold in short order.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, by Beatriz Williams.  Moving back and forth between 1914 Berlin and 1964 Manhattan, this is a tale of two women who defy convention in a bid for personal freedom and fulfillment.  Vivian Schuyler has turned her back on her monied Fifth Avenue family to take a job with the Madison Avenue's sharp and stylish Metropolitan magazine, much to said family's dismay.  Then Vivian receives an overseas package that uncovers a lost chapter of her family's history--an aunt, Violet Grant, who Vivian never knew existed, and whose own story was one of defiance and desperation.  I think this has great potential, both as a beach read of substance and for book clubs.  I'm definitely recommending it to fans of family sagas, like those written by Adriana Trigiani, Elin Hilderbrand and J. Courtney Sullivan.

The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham.  Cunningham is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Virginia Woolf's last days in his Pen/Faulkner Award and Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Hours.  It's November 2004 and Barrett Meeks, having lost love yet again, sees a vision he cannot deny.  He doesn't believe in God, but it seems that religion has found him in his time of need.  His brother, Tyler, is in the process of losing love--his fiancee Beth is facing terminal illness with as much bravery as she can muster.  Tyler, however, finds his solace in a much darker place than his brother Barrett.  Cunningham is known for his subtle prose and his intense empathy for his flawed characters.  This promises to be a beautiful work of prose.

I've been busy reading even as I anticipate all the new books summer has to offer--I'll be back next week with something I just can't keep to myself.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meg's Picks: May 2014, part 1

 Just when you thought you'd seen all May will have to offer in the way of new titles, I have to tell you that there are more.  And these are titles you should definitely pay a little extra attention to.  Suspsense, thriller and mystery fans?  I'm looking at you.

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, by Tom Rachman.  Rachman garnered lots of praise for his debut novel, The Imperfectionists.  Tooly Zylberberg is the American owner of a Welsh countryside bookshop, living an isolated life full of many books and very few people.  Books are safer; books don't ask uncomfortable questions about a past Tooly would rather not remember.  When a call from an old boyfriend with startling news reaches her, however, Tooly must leave her safe isolation and travel afar to finally uncover the mysteries of her past.  This is being billed as a sure thing for fans of writers like Jennifer Egan, David Eggers and Donna Tartt.  That's enough to pique my interest!

I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes.  If you're looking for a thriller with some heft (both figurative and literal--it's over 600 pages) to keep you occupied this summer, this may be just what you're looking for.  A spy-thriller of the first order, this debut from Hayes follows a twisting plot and one man's race against time and the odds to try and head off a single-minded enemy.  I've seen it described as a combination of Homeland, The Wire and The Bourne Ultimatum.  Given than it has gotten great reviews from authors like Gregg Hurwitz and David Baldacci, I definitely think this is worth a gamble.

The Skin Collector, by Jeffrey Deaver.  Inspired by the killer in The Bone Collector (the first of the Lincoln Rhyme novels), a new killer is on the loose, and it's up to Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs to once again team up with NYPD and race against time to figure out the killer's pattern, who he will attack next and why he tattoos his victims with poisoned ink.  Delighted to see another installment of Rhyme and Sachs together--they are unorthodox and extraordinary.

The Directive, by Matthew Quirk.  Following Quirk's popular debut, The 500, featuring former con artist and Harvard law student Mike Ford, Ford makes his return in this sequel. After escaping the corrupt back rooms of Washington, DC, Mike Ford is again playing a dangerous game--this time the stakes are even higher.  Mike's brother is in over his head in a powerful conspiracy to steal a secret worth billions of dollars from the little-known but unbelievably influential trading desk at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In an effort to help, Mike soon finds himself trapped by the dangerous men in charge--and forced to call on all the skills of his criminal past in order to escape.  If this is half as good as Quirk's first novel, this is absolutely a must-read for suspense fans. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reading Ahead: May 2014, part 4

So I realize I've spent three posts sharing titles of new suspense titles bound to vie for space on the bestsellers list.  But Meg, you ask.  What about the other genres.

No worries.  Neither the publishers nor I have forgotten you.

Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl.  Reichl, well known food critic, food writer and food magazine editor has now turned her sites on fiction.  Here in her debut novel, Reichl explores themes of love and loss, distance and history, and overcoming ones fears (all with a side of divine food descriptions she's so well known for).  Billie has traveled across the country to go it alone in NYC, working for the best-known of food magazines, Delicious!.  But when Delicious! suddenly closes, Billie agrees to stay on alone in the defunct offices to field customer complaints--she has to pay her bills somehow, after all.  But what she finds in the office's library, a cache of letters written during World War II, allows her to learn some very valuable lessons.  I'll go out on a limb here--I've really enjoyed Reichl's memoirs, and anticipate that her transition into fiction will be, well, delicious.

The Heiresses, by Sara Shepard.  Shepard is the best-selling author of the Pretty Little Liars teen series.  She sets her sights on mainstream fiction here with The Heiresses, a novel about a diamond family, the Saybrooks, who seem to have everything and yet are plagued by a series of tragic, mysterious deaths.  This is said to read like a cross between thriller and mystery, as the heiresses to the family fortune seek to uncover the family secrets that may cost them their lives.  Shepard writes a mean tale and has a great grasp of high society--might be a great read for fans of Sophie Kinsella and Adriana Trigiani.

Walking on Water, by Richard Paul Evans.  This is the fifth entry in Evans's bestselling Walk series, following Alan Christofferson's daring cross-country walk from Seattle to Key West.  Yet even as he nears his destination, he is pulled west by a crisis at home.  If you're new to the series, you'll want to start at the beginning with The Walk.

Any one of these would make a great beach book this summer--even if you can't get to it now, go ahead and add it to your list! 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reading Ahead: May 2014, part 3

Did I warn you that there would be many, many suspense/thriller titles being published this month?  I did, right?  Here are the last of the "big" titles in these genres slated for publication in May. 

Ghost Ship, by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown

The Keeper, by John T. Lescroart

Field of Prey, by John Sandford

But there is so much more to come, so I'll be back with even more on Thursday!