Thursday, June 26, 2014

What I've Been Reading: June 2014

While I really can't believe that June is nearing an end, I can look at my list of books read this past month and feel extremely accomplished! 

Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl.  I loved this one so much, I couldn't keep it to myself.  You can read my full review here.  Bonus--the audiobook is beautifully narrated, so if you're in need of great entertainment during a long drive this summer, I highly recommend it. 

What is Visible, by Kim Elkins.  You can read my rather dorky review here--my history buff side took over, but I really couldn't keep it to myself!  Adored this book, and highly recommend it to readers of both historical fiction and women's fiction. 

The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes.  Moyes made quite a splash with readers with Me Before You (I loved it, my review is here) but she is no one-hit wonder, and The Girl You Left behind is just as compelling and passionate.  During the first World War, Sophie runs her family's business in a small French town overrun with German soldiers, including the Kommandant who is obsessed with the portrait that Sophie's husband painted of her.  The Kommandant wants more than just the portrait, but Sophie is reluctant to part with her one keepsake of her soldier husband, or anything else.  A century later, young widow Liv has possession of the portrait, a honeymoon gift from her own husband and a cherished keepsake.  When its provenance is questioned during a formal inquest, Liv must decide how much she is willing to risk to hang on to what she had.  Beautiful, touching, inspiring.  Moyes does it again.  Note: this would be an excellent pick for book clubs.

That Night, by Chevy Stevens.  Four years after reading it, I'm still haunted by Stevens's debut thriller, Still Missing.  She's still got it, as That Night proves, though I will say it was a bit of a slow start.  Stick with it, though.  Once it picked up a little steam, I absolutely couldn't put it down.  Toni wasn't a perfect kid, but she wasn't capable of murdering her sister.  Neither was her boyfriend.  And yet they both lose over a decade of their lives behind bars after being convicted.  Once out on parole, Toni just wants to keep her head down and stay out of trouble, but her past just won't leave her alone.  Now she must decide once and for all to find out what happened and prove her innocence, or go back inside for another crime she didn't commit.  Nicely done.

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman.  I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman's work.  And I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that this was the first time I'd read Neverwhere.  Richard Mayhew is a hapless Scot in London who has a great job he doesn't much care for and a beautiful fiancee he fears as much as he loves.  One evening, he stops to help an injured stranger, and his life as he's known it ceases to exist as he's propelled into the mysterious world that seethes in the London Below.  Now he must learn how this different part of the city works, even as he helps his new friend, Door, to save this world from utter destruction.  Dark, gritty, and entrancing, there's a reason I love Neil Gaiman's work so much.  Bonus: the author himself narrates the audiobook version and he has a lovely voice, all Earl Grey and velvet.  Perfection.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin.  I love books intended to be read by book-lovers.  I don't just mean readers, although many readers love books.  I mean those of us who read widely and deeply, who have favorite authors and favorite books, who can discourse for hours about what we've read and what we want to read.  This is one such book, as much a love letter to books and reading as it is a novel in itself.  A.J. Fikry had a life he loved until the death of his wife Nicole.  Then he proceeds to mourn his loss, even as he muddles through the running of his tiny island bookstore and tries to drink himself to death.  When an orphaned toddler is left in his care, however, A.J. finds the will to live, and love, again, with miraculous results.  I cannot tell a lie: this one choked me up more than a little toward the end.  Consider yourselves warned.  But I very highly recommend it--this slim novel packs quite a punch.

The Son, by Jo Nesbo.  I've quite enjoyed Nesbo's Harry Hole series, which meant that picking up this stand-alone novel was a no-brainer.  I'm delighted to see it becoming quite popular among patrons, as it really is outstanding.  Sonny Lofthus is a quiet, complacent young man.  He's been incarcerated for a dozen years, nearly half his life, and inmates seek him out for his uncanny ability to soothe--they come to him to confess all manner of things, finding they feel cleansed afterward.  What his fellow inmates don't know is that Sonny has a very serious heroin addiction.  He's also serving time for other people's crimes.  When his past comes calling, however, Sonny is anything but complacent, executing an incredible prison escape to find those who have committed crimes against him and his family.  Except Sonny knows too much, both about the cops and about Oslo's criminal hierarchy, so it's a race to see which side will catch him first.  If you've been pining for something similar to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, there's a reason Nesbo has been called Steig Larsson's rightful successor.  Outstanding.

I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes.  This is another book that I'm really happy to see other readers picking up on, as it is one of the best thrillers I've read in a very long time.  The action pulled me in from the very first sentence, and I could not stand to put it down until I'd finished it.  It starts with the perfect murder: a victim left with no means of identification in a room devoid of evidence.  The detective in charge of the case pulls in Pilgrim, a retired CIA operative who penned the book, literally, on forensics in criminal investigations.  It appears the killer in question has read Pilgrim's book, and so it is up to Pilgrim to hunt the killer down in what turns into an international manhunt that moves across the globe.  Pilgrim is not only the hunter, however.  He is a fascinating protagonist, the adopted son of a wealthy family, a loner adopted by the Division, a top-secret black ops group that has since been disbanded.  This is not my "typical" brand of thriller, but I have never been happy to pick up something outside of my comfort zone.  I urge you to do the same.

So, that's eight books this month, taking me up to a total of 36 for the year.  I'm nearly halfway to my challenge goal of 75 titles read this year, so a couple more months like June and I'll have no trouble hitting my goal. 

I'm back next week to start filling you in on summer blockbusters slated for August release dates, so in the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Can't Keep It To Myself: Delicious!

Having read former New York Times restaurant critic, Ruth Reichl's, non-fiction works (Tender At the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, etc.) previously, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into when I picked up Delicious!, her first foray into fiction.  Initially, the novel is part love letter to the New York food scene, part coming of age story for young Billie Breslin as she moves from California to NYC and snags a coveted position as editor's assistant for a long-standing food magazine, Delicious!.  But then I kept reading, and it became so much more.

When the owner of the parent company of Delicious! decides that, in the economic downturn, the magazine must be closed and the regal old mansion that houses it sold off for profit, the staff are heartbroken.  Billie, who has only been with the company for a year, is kept on in the interim to continue fulfilling the Delicious! guarantee--your money back for any recipe that doesn't come out as intended.  When she unexpectedly finds the key into the long-locked library on the building's fourth floor, Billie never intends to do more than satisfy her curiosity about what lies beyond the locked doors.  What she finds is a small hidden chamber behind a bookcase, once part of the Underground Railroad, and what the chamber houses are decades of filed reader letters.  Including those from one young girl, Lulu Swan, to famous chef James Beard during World War II.  The letters give Billie a whole new insight on her own loves and losses, as well as into history and food. 

This is the kind of multi-layered (but never confusing), satisfying novel that deserves to be savored.  Relished.  Reichl is an extremely talented writer, and where she shines most is in sharing her love for food and her adopted city of New York.  She also provides a fascinating insider's view into both New York's food scene and the inner workings of a food magazine (after leaving the NYTimes, Reichl was Editor in Chief at Gourmet Magazine, which closed in 2009).  Billie, Lulu, and the rest of these characters will linger with me for a long time to come.  Very highly recommended. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Can't Keep It To Myself: What Is Visible

Helen Keller is still a household name, even almost 50 years after her passing.  (Point of interest, Keller's last residence was actually just down the road in Easton, CT.)  What most people today don't realize, however, is that 50 years prior to Helen Keller, there was another child who lost her sight and hearing to scarlet fever, as well as her senses of taste and smell, leaving her with only her sense of touch.  Her name was Laura Bridgman and she was among the most famous women of her time, as the first deafblind child to gain a significant education in the English language after being sent to the Perkins School for the Blind when she was eight years old, nearly six years after losing four of her five senses.  She was also the first case of the use of tactile sign language, which would later be used by Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller.

In Kimberly Elkins beautiful, moving debut, What Is Visible, readers are introduced to this remarkable woman and what her internal life might have been like.  In a time when women had few rights, Laura, who was loved by her mother and disowned by her father (who insisted that she learn to talk and communicate like a "normal" child or not enter his home), was raised at a school which until that time only worked with blind girls.  Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the director of the Perkins School at that time, experimented with ways for Laura to communicate and learn language, publishing his findings in several European medical journals.  An intrigued Charles Dickens made it a point to stop at the Perkins school to meet young Laura during his travels in America in 1842, and wrote extensively about his visit in his American Notes.  As a result, Howe and his young charge both garnered quite a bit of international attention.

What did this mean for Laura?   In addition to her unique set of challenges, she now had fame to contend with, which included a series of appearances in public.  Elkins uses historical records and extrapolates to bring readers a gorgeous novel that is captivating and compelling--Laura is the primary narrator, by turns mischievous, temperamental and witty, but her tale is also told by Dr. Howe, whom Laura loved; his wife, abolitionist, suffragist and poet Julia Ward Howe; Laura's beloved first teacher, Lydia, who married a missionary and ultimately died of syphilis; Annie Sullivan; and even the young Helen Keller herself. 

This novel was so incredibly intoxicating, I finished it inside of 24 hours (yes, I slept).  I cannot keep it to myself, and I absolutely cannot recommend it highly enough.  Outstanding.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Meg's Picks: July 2014, part 2

There are few woes so great in a reader's life as a lack of new books to read.  Thankfully, you've got me to keep your list growing!  Librarian superhero?  Why not?  It worked for Batgirl

The Spark and the Drive, by Wayne Harrison.  Harrison's debut is being heralded as an incredibly powerful coming-of-age tale that weaves the unusual and the familiar.  Justin Bailey is seventeen when he arrives at the shop of legendary muscle car mechanic Nick Campbell.  While Justin has felt himself alone and out of place both in his family and among his classmates, with Nick and his wife Mary, Justin finds a sense of peace and belonging.  When tragedy strikes the couple, however, Justin flounders to keep his new sense of identity even as he struggles to help his friends maintain their livelihood.  Don't understand muscle cars?  Doesn't matter.  Harrison is getting praise from the likes of Richard Russo, Ann Packer and Maggie Shipstead.  More than good enough for me.

The Bone Orchard, by Paul Doiron.  Doiron's Bowditch series has been gaining in popularity, and word on the street is that this may just be his breakout hit.  (If you want to start at the beginning, the first book in the series is The Poacher's Son.)  Here, Mike Bowditch is running from his past, only to find his old mentor is in dire need of his help.  He returns to her aid, but in the process he has to deal with past choices and his looming present.  If you're looking for a series to sink your teeth into, this may be just what you're looking for.

Back Channel, by Stephen L. Carter. Carter first came onto my radar more than a decade ago with his debut, The Emperor of Ocean Park, which was part suspense novel and part family saga about the deadly secrets held by one privileged family.  Carter, who writes non-fiction in addition to fiction, here presents readers with the best of both worlds--a thoroughly researched, suspenseful retelling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the fate of the world rests unexpectedly on the shoulders of one young college student.  Readers of political thrillers, if you want something with a little extra substance, this is for you.

Dear Daughter, by Elizabeth Little.  This is one that I absolutely cannot wait for, being billed as one of the best suspense debuts of the summer.  Former "It" girl, Janie Jenkins is sly, beautiful, and fresh out of prison--10 years earlier, she was incarcerated at the height of her fame for the murder of her socialite mother.  Now, released on a technicality, Janie gives herself a makeover and goes undercover, determined to catch the real killer.  The only problem?  Janie doesn't actually know whether or not she was guilty in the first place.  This should be a real page-turner, and a must-read for fans of S.J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep.   

I've got a title I just can't keep to myself--I'll be back on Thursday to share!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Meg's Picks: July 2014, part 1

One of the questions I get asked the most is: Meg, what are you reading?  And that's very often followed by:  What would you recommend?  Since I always have a list of titles I can't wait to read, and another of books that I think will be quite popular (and might also want to read), I love to share those here.  Here are some of the new titles I'm eying for next month!

The Fortune Hunter, by Daisy Goodwin.  Goodwin earned herself quite a few fans with her 2011 debut, American Heiress, a turn-of-the-last-century novel about a young woman of privilege who finds herself married to the most eligible bachelor in England, only to find her fairy-tale marriage isn't what she dreamed of, at all.  Here, Goodwin returns with another historical novel, this time about the public life and private longings of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known to friends as Sisi, who finds both royal life and her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph unfulfilling.  In her attempt to live a life less royal, however, she finds herself mixed up in a love triangle that could spell disaster for everyone involved.  This sounds gorgeous and decadent.

The Girls from Corona Del Mar, by Rufi Thorpe.  A debut being billed by critics as "astonishing", "fiercely beautiful", and "staggeringly honest", this novel is about the friendships forged in youth, and how those bonds either break or go stronger as they are tested over time by loss, illness, parenthood and distance.  I'm intrigued, and I hope to see my book club reading this one later this year.

The Sweet Spot, by Stephanie Evanovich.  After making a splash last year with her debut, Big Girl Panties, Evanovich returns with a follow-up novel about everyone's favorite couple from the first book: handsome pro-baseball player Chase Walker and his sassy wife, Amanda.  It wasn't exactly love at first sight, and who doesn't like a love story that doesn't have a few bumps in the road?  Perfectly fluffy summer fun.

One Plus One, by Jojo Moyes.  How good is Moyes?  So good that even two years later, her break-out hit, Me Before You, still has a request list!  We just can't keep it on the shelves, it's that good!  So you'll definitely want to get in early for her new novel, an irresistible love story about a single mom of two--a teenage son who's being bullied, and a math-whiz daughter who has the opportunity of a lifetime...that Jess can't afford to pay for.  Cue the least-likely knight in shining armor ever: Ed, the annoying, dweeby tech millionaire whose vacation house Jess happens to clean.  If you've read Moyes before, you've learned to expect the unexpected--I have no doubt this will be the same kind of page-turner. 

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty.  I've been a fan of Aussie author Moriarty since I read The Hypnotist's Love Story a couple of years ago, and readers have been clamoring for her last novel, The Husband's Secret.  So it should come as no surprise that I'm waving the flag for her newest offering, Big Little Lies.  Three women, each at a crossroads.  One trying to be the best parent possible while seething over her ex and his new wife, who have moved into her community.  Another finds herself unwilling to pay the high personal price for a coveted public position.  And a third is new to town, young, and about to mix things up in their small town.  Sometimes, it's the little lies that are the most lethal.  Intrigued?  Me, too!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Reading Ahead: July 2014, part 3

There are so many amazing books coming out in July, I'm absolutely giddy with anticipation.  Now, most of those titles are going to be on my picks list, coming in the next few posts.  But some of them, well, I just can't keep them to myself any longer!

The Book of Life, by Deborah Harkness

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Christopher Bohjalian

Remains of Innocence: A Brady Novel of Suspense, by J.A. Jance

The City, by Dean Koontz

Night Searchers, by Marcia Muller

Does anything catch your eye?  For readers who enjoyed Deborah Harkness's first two installments of her supernatural All Souls trilogy, A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, please make some time for this final book, The Book of Life.  The tale returns to the present as Matthew and Diana travel from Auvergne to Venice and beyond as the chase for Ashmole 782 gains even greater urgency.  From what I've heard through the grapevine, this answers many questions and brings the series to a deeply satisfying close.  I can't wait!

Also, Chris Bohjalian's new novel is a bit of a departure from some of his more recent, historical novels, like The Light in the Ruins and The Sandcastle Girls.  In his latest, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Bohjalian brings his signature delicate narrative touch to an inventive, heartbreaking tale of a teenage runaway in the wake of catastrophe and chaos.  This is not your average beach read, for sure.  Instead, I'd recommend this one for readers who are looking for something a little more substantial and moving to lose themselves in this summer.  Lots to discuss for book clubs, too.

Finally, Dean Koontz's newest novel is receiving huge amounts of critical acclaim already, about a young musical prodigy who grows up in an extraordinary family and then, when he sets out on his own, he encounters a group of dangerous people with disastrous results.  What ensues is a story that covers three years, as our young hero endeavors to find his way in the world again.  Advance praise is calling this a masterwork--I'm intrigued to see if it lives up to the hype!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reading Ahead: July 2014, part 2

Romance readers, rejoice!  July is going to be jam-packed full of new romance titles by big-name authors.  And what a vast array!  Romances with a suspenseful plot, a touch of magic, a western twang or a beach-side feel.  Whatever your preference, we've got a book waiting for you!

Fast Track, by Julie Garwood

For All Time, by Jude Deveraux

A Perfect Life, by Danielle Steel

Texas True, by Janet Dailey

Invincible, by Diane Palmer

Swan Point, by Sherryl Woods

I'm back next week with all manner of mysteries and metaphysics, plus the first installment of my picks for July!