Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What I've Been Reading: September 2014

Hard to believe that September is drawing to a close! I've gotten a lot of reading done this month, and I can't wait to share my reviews with you!

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. I couldn't keep it to myself, I loved this book so much. Poignant, beautifully detailed, heart-wrenching. Superb. You can read my full review here.

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. If you're wondering what your neighbors are reading, I can tell you that this might be it--it has been hugely popular among the library's readers since it debuted at the beginning of the summer. The Posts put the fun in dysfunctional, for sure. Franny and Jim are seething in the wake of his marital indiscretion, which also resulted in his forced early retirement. But they're determined to make the best of a two-week trip to Mallorca with their children and a couple of family friends. However, everyone has brought emotional baggage with them and the forced confinement in their villa brings things to a boiling point in no time. While the ending fell a little flat for me (I almost wanted another hundred pages to dig a little deeper, as everything felt wrapped up a little too hastily), this was a fast, compulsive read. Straub's got talent, so I'm hoping her future novels are even better.

The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. But for the last fifty years, the novel's celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee, known by her friends as Nelle, has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door for Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills, who in 2004 moved into the house next door, spending the next eighteen months sharing meals and conversations with the Lee sisters and their close friends. This is part journalist memoir, part revelation as Nelle Harper Lee finally took the opportunity to set the record straight after decades of conjecture. Very much a book for readers and book-lovers, as well as fans of Lee's one and only novel.

The Girls of August, by Anne Rivers Siddons. Originally slated for publication last year, readers have finally gotten their hands on the new Siddons novel. Having enjoyed some of her other work (Burnt Mountain, etc.), and then having to wait an extra year to get a new book, to say my hopes were high might be an understatement. And sadly, this was not what I'd hoped for. For years, four friends would get together for a week in August. And when one of them dies in a terrible accident, the tradition lapses for several years, until the remaining three decide to rekindle the beach house vacation one August, bringing their friend's replacement, the ditzy 20-something named Baby that their friend's husband has married. In the process of their get-away, the old friends deal with illness, divorce, infertility, and teach their youngest member a few things about friendship, even as she has her own lessons to teach them. And while the premise had some promise, it is so unlike anything from Siddons that I've ever encountered, I'm still left a little baffled and more than a little disappointed. Normally, I consider Siddons to have some great gothic appeal, full of nuance and subtle foreshadowing. This was clunky and cumbersome, the foreshadowing repetitive and obvious, and the overall execution was weak. I can normally find some good things to say about a mediocre book, but this one has left me speechless.

Neverhome, by Laird Hunt. What makes a woman leave behind her home, and her husband, in order to disguise herself as a man and fight in the War Between The States? Hunt's novel, told by our protagonist, Ash Thompson, wends its way through battle, capture, escape, injury and madness to answer these questions. I don't want to give much away, as part of the glory of this slim novel is unraveling the mysteries behind Ash's flight from her past, and her slow but inevitable return to confront it. But this is a unique tale, quietly powerful and beautifully researched.

Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach. I stumbled across this while I was compiling one of the reading lists I've put together for October. I was intrigued because it originally started as a reddit post, as a series of interconnected short stories. Since then, it has been illustrated, turned into audio recordings, and adapted into a series of short films. And, finally, revised and expanded into a novel. I actually bought a personal copy, I was so intrigued. What makes this so intriguing, and scary? Well, how well do you remember your childhood? I mean, really remember? What would happen if a series of events in your childhood, which you never associated with one another, were actually all connected? What if your parents hid those connections from you, and that it is only as an adult that you finally can ask the questions they hoped you'd never ask? This is quite possibly one of the most tautly suspenseful tales I've read in recent years, short, spare, and awash with a constant, looming sense of dread. If you can track down a copy, do.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Yes, since the movie is coming out later this week and because my book club is reading it for their October meeting, I re-read this one. You can read my original review here. I will say that this is a book I really enjoyed re-reading. This is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book, and I'm intrigued to see how it will translate into film. I liked combing through this for clues the second time, things that I missed the first time around. The characters are just as unlikeable to me as the first time around, but I still like that inevitable train-wreck-feeling of their story and found myself unable to look away. I'm anxious to see how my fellow book club members feel about it!

The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum. This was another title I came across during my search for great horror novels. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but I was able to obtain a copy through Interlibrary Loan. Loosely based on actual events, this novel is set in shady, quiet suburbia, at the end of a dead-end street, where two teenage sisters are held captive by their sadistic aunt who is descending into madness and her three sons, equally depraved. Only a single troubled boy with a very adult decision to make stands between the sisters and their ultimate fate. The novel is graphic, disturbing, and absolutely terrifying. It's not a book I can actually recommend, but fans of the horror genre with very strong stomachs might consider adding it to their reading list when they want to sleep with the light on for a week straight.

Ok, so that's 8 titles for the month of September, and that makes 59 titles for the year. I have just 3 more months and 16 titles left to hit my goal of 75 books in a calendar year. If I can keep up my current pace, I'll have this in the bag! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Three on Thursday: The Book Was Better, Fall 2014 edition

Great books often make for great films, and Hollywood is banking on it this fall! If you're the type who prefers to read the book first, I'm here to help you get a jump on the fall's film adaptations.

Given that we're a few short weeks away from the the October 3 release of the film adaptation (starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris) of Gillian Flynn's bestseller, Gone Girl, we at the library are seeing a resurgence of popularity for the title. Lots of people like to read the book before seeing the movie, which in this case is an added bonus: Flynn wrote the screenplay and changed the ending in the movie, so even readers of the book will be surprised. Want my full review? You can check that out here. And if you're looking for more like Gone Girl, stop in the Main Library during the beginning of October--we'll have a display of read-alikes for you!

Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson. I know I've recommended this one before, and I just can't stop. And now we have the movie to look forward to, opening on Halloween and starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, and Mark Strong. Kidman plays an amnesiac who, in an effort to reconstruct her past, keeps a journal and makes an entry every evening about what she's learned about her past that day. It's only as she reads back over past entries that she begins to discover that her story has inconsistencies from day to day, and that her husband may not be as trustworthy as she'd first believed. I hope they do this film justice, because the book remains one of my favorites.

Feeling more in need of a comedy than a thriller? Justin Bateman and Tina Fey star in the movie adaptation of This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper, which opened last week. Judd, played by Bateman, is having a terrible few weeks. His father has died, and he's also found out that his wife is having an affair with his boss, a fact which has recently become painfully public. Now he's spending a week sitting shiva with his dysfunctional family, dealing with old grudges.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sticking it to The Man: Banned Books Week, 2014

Banned Books Week started this past Sunday, September 21, as librarians, journalists, readers and educators across America celebrate the freedom to read. 

From the American Library Association website (ala.org):

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. Check out the frequently challenged books section to explore the issues and controversies around book challenges and book banning. The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.

Check out the link above for a list of some of the most frequently challenged titles in the US over the years, or stop in to the library and check out our display of titles which have been banned or challenged--I promise, we will let you take them out!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Can't Keep It To Myself: All The Light We Cannot See

With so many novels over the last few years which have been set during the Second World War, sometimes it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Granted, if it's a particular era of interest to you, there are lots of great novels to read. But if you're looking for just the best of the best, it can be a little trickier to navigate. That's why I'm sharing this particular novel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, as I personally found it to be one of the most beautifully written and deeply affecting historical novels set in that period.

Half of the novel is Marie Laure's story. A young French girl who went blind at the age of six, cared for by her locksmith father in Paris. He builds her ingenious scale models of their neighborhood, helping her to find her way around and become more autonomous. Then the Germans take occupation of the city, and Marie Laure travels with her father to the small seaside town of Saint-Malo. Here they stay with her father's half-crazy uncle and the uncle's housekeeper, hiding something which may either have no value at all or be worth more than all of Saint-Malo combined. The other half of the novel (it is told in alternating chapters) is a world away: Werner and his sister Jutta are German orphans, poor and forgotten, until Werner begins to attract attention for his extraordinary ability to build and fix radios, a talent which ultimately wins him a scholarship at a brutal, elite military academy. It is here that he becomes one of the most specialized trackers of the Resistance. It is in this capacity that Werner begins to travel, first to Russia, then later to Saint-Malo, where his path converges with that of Marie Laure.

In my experience, there is a fine line between descriptions so perfectly detailed that the reader finds herself transported, and monotony--in this case, the former is most definitely true. When writing about Marie Laure, Doerr is infinitely careful to only describe what she might hear or taste or smell or touch, unless another character is describing it to her. But in limiting himself to what he can express to readers, he creates such a tactile experience, including descriptions of how sand feels or what an airplane sounds like as it passes overhead which take the reader aback with their freshness and distinction. And in the episodes which follow Werner through the heart of the Hitler Youth, it is through the eyes of one who absorbs knowledge and is constantly calculating, aware of how tenuous his survival is. This is, most assuredly, a book which will leave lasting impressions on every one of its readers. Most assuredly recommended.

Also available in large print and audio.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Meg's Picks: October 2014

Small but mighty is the name of the game when it comes to my list of picks for October. My list of things to read grows longer by the minute, it seems, but these are three titles I am particularly interested in getting my hands on next month.

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michael Faber. This author's name might sound familiar--he wrote 2002's extremely popular historical novel The Crimson Petal and the White (which was also made into an excellent BBC miniseries in 2011). And Faber is not one to rest on his laurels: his latest novel is actually being called his "second masterpiece" and "genre-defying". So, fellow readers, pay attention. Peter is a man devoted to his faith, and he has been called to participate in a mission of a lifetime, one which will take him galaxies away from his beloved wife, Bea. He explores a new environment, comes into contact with a seemingly friendly native population which is suffering from a dangerous disease--they are eager for Peter's teachings and call his Bible their "book of strange new things." Yet Peter is disturbed when Bea's letters from home become increasingly frantic, describing natural disasters, crumbling governments, chaos. Now he is torn between his work and mission, and there are no easy answers. I find Faber's writing style mesmerizing, so I am definitely intrigued by his new novel.

Ruth’s Journey, by Donald McCaig. McCaig (Rhett Butler's People) returns to the characters of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, this time with the first-ever prequel to one of the most beloved, bestselling American novels in history. Here, readers get the story of Ruth, known to Scarlett as Mammy, from her childhood as a slave girl to the outbreak of the Civil War. McCaig has been authorized by Mitchell's estate to write this work, particularly because of his attention to detail and his loyalty to the original novel and its characters. For fans of Gone With the Wind, Rhett Butler's People, The House Girl, The Kitchen House, and others in the genre, this is a must-read.

A Vision of Fire, by Gillian Anderson & Jeff Rovin. A first sci-fi thriller novel from the iconic X-Files actress and best-selling author Rovin. Renowned child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara is a single mom trying to juggle her job, her son, and a lackluster dating life. Her world is suddenly upturned when Maanik, the daughter of India’s ambassador to the United Nations, starts speaking in tongues and having violent visions. But this is far from an isolated incident. In Haiti, a student claws at her throat, drowning on dry land. In Iran, a boy suddenly and inexplicably sets himself on fire. Caitlin must race across the globe to uncover the mystical links among these seemingly unrelated incidents in order to save her patient—and perhaps the world. I'm particularly recommending this to fans of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reading Ahead: October 2014, part 4

Mornings are cooler and the leaves around here are just starting to change. Autumn seems to be coming just a little bit early this year, but if you're already looking forward to some cozy evenings curled up with a book (or maybe even thinking ahead for a little holiday-inspired reading?), then here are a few ideas for your reading list.

Mr. Miracle, by Debbie Macomber. Macomber has rightfully earned a reputation as an author who can make any story heartwarming, so this holiday novel should be no different. When Addie Folsom returns home to Tacoma, Washington for the holidays, it's with the plan of staying on and attending community college. She doesn't know that her guardian angel is working overtime to help her get her life back on track. And she certainly never anticipated finding love right next door. Readers looking for something gently funny and cozy this season should check this one out. Also available in Large Print.

Winter Street, by Elin Hilderbrand. Hilderbrand is perhaps best known for her summer books, full of heart and beaches and families coming together. This, her first Christmas book, finds many of the same elements, minus the summer. Kelley Quinn is the owner of Nantucket's Winter Street Inn and the proud father of four, all of them grown and living in varying states of disarray. As Christmas approaches, Kelley is looking forward to getting the family together for some quality time at the inn. But the best laid plans dissolve into chaos as the youngest, Bart, has joined the Marines and has been shipped out to Afghanistan, the three elder siblings are each caught up in their own personal dramas, and Kelley catches his second wife kissing someone else. The only one who can save the dysfunctional family's Christmas may just be the least likely candidate. For everyone whose family makes them crazy around the holidays, this should be a must-read.

Some Luck, by Jane Smiley. Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley (A Thousand Acres) is back with her first adult novel since 2010, following a remarkable family over the course of three transformative decades in America, each chapter covering a single year, starting in 1920 as Walter Langdon is returning to his family in Iowa after serving in World War I. As time moves forward, the Langdon children grow up and move away from home, start families of their own. This is the first part of a proposed trilogy, an epic family drama that Jeffrey Archer or Ken Follett fans may want to check out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reading Ahead: October 2014, part 3

 I know some of you have been patiently waiting through the suspense and thriller titles set for release next month, hoping that eventually I'd get around to something a little lighter and/or gentler. Never fear. No matter what your genre of choice is, I've got a little something for each of you.

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult. Since her debut novel (Songs of the Humpback Whale) twenty-two years ago, Picoult has earned a reputation as an author who creates stories that resonate with readers, complete with page-turning plots and complex characters. So fans rejoice, because her new novel is being heralded as her best yet. Jenna Metcalf has been searching for her mother, Alice, since Alice disappeared ten years ago in the wake of a tragic accident. Unable to accept that she was abandoned, Jenna pores over her mother's old journals and searches online, hoping to stumble upon a clue. Jenna teams up with a jaded private detective and a psychic with a knack for finding missing persons. As the trio asks hard questions, however, they must also accept hard answers. Expect this to be what your friends, book clubs and neighbors are reading this fall.

Ship of Brides, by Jojo Moyes. Moyes fans are getting inundated with titles this year, both new releases and new-to-the-US-market releases, Ship of Brides being one of the latter (originally published in the UK in 2005). In post WWII Sydney, Australia, four young women join over 650 other war brides for the extraordinary voyage to England aboard the HMS Victoria, which also happens to be carrying military arms and aircraft...and over a thousand naval officers. Despite strict regulations for all of the ship's passengers, however, the men and war brides will find their lives intertwined. I would especially recommend this to fans of Moyes's The Girl You Left Behind.

Pegasus, by Danielle Steel. Nicolas von Bingen and Alex von Hemmerle, titled members of the German aristocracy, have been best friends since childhood. Both widowers, they are raising their respective children on Bavarian estates which have been in their families for generations. It is a sudden twist of fate that sends Nicolas and his sons fleeing to America to start a new life, Alex's daughter finding refuge in England, and Alex himself faced with unbearable choices. Steel may find herself adding to her legions of fans with this latest title.

Shopaholic to the Stars, by Sophie Kinsella. Kinsella returns to her beloved Shopaholic series with Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) newly arrived in Hollywood and starry-eyed. She and her two-year-old daughter, Minnie, have relocated to L.A. to join Becky’s husband, Luke, who is there to handle PR for famous actress Sage Seymour. Becky suddenly has everything she's ever wanted: red carpet premiers, velvet ropes, A-list clients... But does it actually make her happy? Fans of the series will be delighted with the return of Becky and all of her antics.