Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I've Been Reading: August 2014

August seemed to just fly right by this year, a cooler, gentler August than what we're used to in this neck of the woods. But readers will tell you that there's no bad weather for reading, and I am doing my best to prove that rule this year. I've been reading, and listening, to a little bit of everything this past month and I can't wait to share!

Jim Henson: A Biography, by Brian Jay Jones. A comprehensive biography of the gentle dreamer and creative genius Jim Henson. From Sam & Friends to Sesame Street, the Muppet Show and movies, Fraggles and story-telling, it is a compilation of imagination and nostalgia for someone like me, who grew up with the Muppets as an integral part of my childhood. The work was made possible by the immense generosity and candor of Henson's friends and family, giving a full portrait of the man as more than puppeteer, but also as son, father, husband, and friend. I savored this book, finding it touching and enlightening.

Cop Town, by Karin Slaughter. It's Atlanta in 1974, and Kate Murphy's first day on the police force. Everything is wrong, from her enormous uniform, to her lack of preparation for the job despite her time in the police academy, to her presence as a woman on a force made up mostly of resentful males, to the fact that a cop killer is on the loose and the city, already seething with racial and class tensions, is now on the point of all-out war. Over the course of three days, Murphy will earn her stripes even as she tries to elude the cop killer, who seems to have set his sites on her. This stand-alone novel from Slaughter is raw, compulsively readable, and so tightly plotted, it was all I could do to put it down long enough to do things like sleep and work. Very highly recommended to fans of suspense and crime novels.

The Book of Life, by Deborah Harkness. The final installment in Harkness's All Souls Trilogy (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night) is all fans of the series could have hoped it would be, complete with the wry wit, deft details and fast pacing that made the first book a darling among my library's staff two years ago. Here, Diana and Matthew are back in the present and are seeking, with the help of their tight group of family and friends, to outwit the rogue vampire who has been hunting them across time and place and end his threat against all they hold dear once and for all. Absolutely stunning--one that I both couldn't read fast enough and never wanted to end.

One Kick, by Chelsea Cain. First in a new series by Cain, and my introduction to her. Kick Lannigan has gone by many names over the years, all given to her by someone else: her parents, her abductor. But Kick is her name of choice, and she has, in the years since her rescue from her captor, honed the skills she learned in her years as captive: she can pick any lock, shoot any gun, has studied martial arts, and searches for missing children in her free time. It is when Bishop, he of the shrouded past and fast cars, shows up and insists she help him track the victim of a predator that Kick must face her own past again, if only to find her way forward. Compulsively readable, with a heroine as endearing as she is damaged. I am eagerly anticipating the next in the series.

State of Wonder, by Anne Patchett. I re-read this in preparation for my September book club meeting. When pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh is sent to the Amazon for work, it is for several reasons.  First, she is to collect the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under mysterious circumstances.  She must also locate another colleague studying the fertility of a local tribe, as their women often bear children well into middle age.  It is this second colleague, Dr. Swenson, who was once Marina’s mentor, that troubles Marina the most, as their past together is something she has tried to leave behind her.  Deeply atmospheric, emotional and detailed, this is Patchett at her finest, very much worth the re-read.

The Arsonist, by Sue Miller. Frankie is in her mid-thirties and adrift. After fifteen years of aid-work in East Africa, she has burnt out, returning to the States for an extended, perhaps permanent, break. She spends the summer with her aging parents in what had been their summer home, where they now reside permanently. On her first night back, an unoccupied summer house burns. Then another. And another. Always the homes of summer people. The small New Hampshire town, where no one has ever bothered to lock their doors, now begins to crumble under the suspicion and fear. A novel of family and community, of trust and fear and love, told in Miller's quiet, measured style. I'm a fan, as always.

Queen of Sorcery, by David Eddings. To quote the lads of Monty Python, "And now, for something completely different." Second in a series I originally read about twenty years ago, this follows the sorcerer Belgarath, his daughter the sorceress Polgara, and their motley crew of princes, thieves and adventurers as they pursue the legendary Orb in order to keep it from falling into the hands of those who serve the sleeping god of darkness, Torak. And in the midst of this adventure, young Garion begins to face his own role in their epic quest, prompting him to ask, as all adolescents will: Why me? Just as funny and entertaining as when I first read it.

That's 7 titles for this month, and my total for 2014 is now up to 51! This year is going to be a race to the finish, but I'm determined to hit my goal of 75 titles by the end of the calendar year.

I'm back next week with some titles you can look forward to come *gulp* October. In the meantime, have a safe Labor Day weekend, and happy reading!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Meg's Picks: September 2014

I've been hard at work these last few months, keeping my ear to the ground and taking note of what new releases have been generating the most in-house buzz, just so that I can share them with you! If you want to know ahead of time what people will be reading and talking about in the next few months, this is a great place to start!

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell. Mitchell, best known for his ambitious novel Cloud Atlas, has returned with what critics are calling this new book a "genre-warping, time-tripping, metaphysical thriller" and "a stunning work of invention, incident and character." When fifteen-year-old Holly Skye leaves her home in North Kent after a fight with her mother, it is to fall into a life she'd never expected. Mitchell then takes readers through Holly's life through a series of interconnected stories, each told by someone in Holly's new life. This has already been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, so readers, take note.

Neverhome, by Laird Hunt. Ash Thompson doesn't really exist. It's a name she uses now that she is disguised as a Union soldier in the Civil War, having left her husband and their farm behind. Part historical fiction, part mystery, Hunt's novel explores what war might have been like for the adventurous women who chose to go and fight instead of staying behind. I am hugely intrigued, and if the advance praise is any indication, I don't think I'll be remotely disappointed.

The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery, by Sophie Hannah. Agatha Christie's first novel was published in 1920, and in the last 94 years, over two billion copies of her books have been sold world-wide. So it's no surprise that the guardians of her legacy made absolutely sure they had the right author for the job of carrying on her work--by all accounts, Hannah does great credit to Christie's legacy with this new Poirot mystery, set in 1920s London. Fans and critics alike have given rave reviews, calling it "charming", "ingenious", "utterly engaging", and full of "excruciatingly precise clues".

The Drop, by Dennis Lehane. Based on Lehane's screenplay for the new film The Drop (starring Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace), The Drop returns to the streets of Lehane's bestselling Mystic River and follows a former criminal whose attempts to build a new life for himself fall apart when he becomes mixed up in a robbery gone wrong. Lehane is a great suspense writer--genre fans should make it a point to pick this one up, along with Mystic River if they've missed it.

I can't believe it's almost September, and that I'll be back on Thursday sharing what I've been reading this month. In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Reading Ahead: September 2014, part 5

September seems to be overflowing with great reading material (and I haven't even gotten to my list of picks!), so if you're at a loss for something to read, there's hope just a few short weeks away. (Sorry, I know, but librarians are always looking at least a few weeks ahead. I can't help it.) Here are a few contemporary titles to tempt you.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, by Margaret Atwood. Atwood has been a favorite of mine for many years, and she hasn't disappointed me yet. And since reviewers are calling this "vintage Atwood...think Alias Grace", I'm more than a little intrigued. Short stories are also perfect for this time of year--there's something delicious in the accomplishment of reading a story in a single evening. This collection, her first in nearly a decade, is full of acute psychological insight and turbulent interpersonal relationships. I'm definitely looking forward to this one.

The Children Act, by Ian McEwan. Fiona is a High Court judge presiding over family court in London, well-versed in her particular field of law. Professionally, she is hard-working, brilliant and successful, but personally, she is unraveling as her marriage crumbles. A particularly complicated case involving the welfare of a teenager whose family's religious beliefs conflict with his medical needs gives Fiona a way to lose herself in her work, but only for so long. I'm a fan of McEwan's writing style--there's a reason he's won so many awards--so this will likely be on my to-read list in the future.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, by Jan Karon. Karon's Mitford novels have been a mainstay for readers for decades. Now she brings readers a new tale in Mitford, as Father Timothy returns from his long post-retirement travels and finds himself at a loss for how he fits into the fabric of his community. Indeed, he finds Mitford has changed while he was away and must wonder: does the Mitford he remembers still exist? Does it still take care of its own? Fans will definitely need to pick this up.

I'll be back next week with a list of my picks for September releases, as well as catching up with what I've been reading. Enjoy a book this weekend!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reading Ahead: September 2014, part 4

Historical fiction fans, rejoice! September is teeming with great new titles for you, across a variety of time periods and locales.  Take a look.

Edge of Eternity, by Ken Follett. Follett is back with the final installment of his Century trilogy (the first two being Fall of Giants and  Winter of the World). Here, readers pick up with the five intertwined families (American, German, Russian, English and Welsh) through the tumultuous period between the 1960s through the 1980s, including assassinations, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile crisis, and more. Follett is a master of the epic saga--fans of Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Chronicles (Only Time Will Tell, etc.) might do well to check this out.

The King’s Curse, by Philippa Gregory. Following the long line of Cousins' War novels that have come before (starting with The White Princess), The King's Curse follows the rapid rise to power of Henry VIII in Tudor England, told from the unique perspective of lady in waiting Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (the White Princess). Initially part of the court of Henry's older brother, Prince Arthur and his wife, Katherine of Aragon, Margaret finds herself staying with Katherine through the death of Arthur and Katherine's subsequent marriage to Henry. It is when Anne Boleyn comes into the picture that Margaret finds her loyalty tested--does she stay by the side of her disgraced queen, or support her tyrannical king? Gregory is at her best, in my opinion, when she considers familiar events through less familiar characters. If that holds true, this should be excellent.

Blood on the Water, by Anne Perry. In her twentieth William Monk mystery, Perry's detective, now Commander of the River Police, moves between the grand Mayfair mansions of London and the teeming shores of the Thames, where Monk finds himself witness to the explosion of the pleasure boat Princess Mary, resulting in the deaths of nearly two hundred revelers. The tragedy is no accident, and it is up to Commander Monk to unravel the motive and find the culprit, before Monk himself becomes a target. 

An Italian Wife, by Ann Hood. Hood has a beautiful way of writing about ordinary people in such a way as the reader finds them extraordinary, and has built herself quite a fan base as a result. This latest is a compilation of vignettes more than a novel, which follow Italian immigrant Josephine Rimaldi throughout the long century of her life, seeing her joy and sorrows, watching her family grow and flourish. Fans of Hood's other work (The Red Thread, The Obituary Writer) will definitely not want to miss this.

September has lots more to offer readers, so I'll be back on Thursday to wrap up the Reading Ahead posts for the month. In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reading Ahead: September 2014, part 3

Rounding up the last of the big suspense titles for September--but there's also a bunch of great new historical, mystery and contemporary fiction coming, so stay tuned for future posts!

The Perfect Witness, by Iris Johansen. Johansen takes a break from her Eve Duncan series and brings readers a new heroine. Teresa Casali has a unique gift, one that has prompted her to flee her old life and develop a new cover and a new life. She spends years under an assumed name in Witness Protection...until her past catches up with her. For those who like a little metaphysics to go with their suspense.

Festive in Death, by J.D. Robb. Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb, picks up her bestselling Eve Dallas series as 2061 approaches and Eve finds herself dealing with both homicide and the holidays. The series is great fun--if you're new to it, I do recommend starting at the beginning with book 1, Naked in Death.

Haunted, by Kay Hooper.  Hooper is back with a new Bishop novel, finding a team of unlikely allies trying to solve a paranormal disturbance and murder in small-town Georgia. The series is growing steadily in popularity, and tends to come in inter-connected trilogies.  If you want to get a little caught up but don't want to start all the way at the beginning, try the first book in the most recent trilogy, Haven.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Reading Ahead: September 2014, part 2

If you thought that this summer had offered all the suspense and thrillers you could want, you'd be wrong--September is brimming with new these!

Burn, by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

Golem of Hollywood, by Jonathan Kellerman & Jesse Kellerman

The Secret Place, by Tana French