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!

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