Thursday, October 30, 2014

What I've Been Reading: October 2014

I have to admit that a lot of what I've read this month has actually happened as audiobooks during my commute. In my defense, baseball playoffs and the World Series plus finishing two quilts in one month has really cut into my reading time--I expect my reading schedule to pick back up shortly, now that Game 7 is behind me and my evenings have freed up a bit! It also goes to show that even ravenous readers like this librarian have a little trouble finding time to read now and then. If you find yourself in that boat more often than not, I've talked about that in this post here. And if you're looking for a little inspiration for something to read, I've got you covered.

 Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty. If you're wondering what your friends and neighbors are reading, this is a very likely candidate, as here at the library it has been hugely popular among library staff and patrons alike. Here Moriarty (The Husband's Secret) introduces us to three very different women, all mothers of children in the same kindergarten class, and the different struggles each goes through even as their friendships strengthen. However, when a tragedy occurs at a school event, readers may be left breathless by what has transpired. A great page-turner, full of vibrant characters and a beautifully paced plot. I'm recommending this to fans of Moriarty's other work, obviously, but also to fans of JoJo Moyes (Me Before You, The Girl You Left Behind).

Under the Skin, by Michel Faber. In honor of Faber's upcoming new novel, The Book of Strange New Things (you might also know him for his excellent 2002 novel The Crimson Petal and the White), I decided to take a bit of a trip back into his work and stumbled across Under the Skin as an audiobook. Now, if the title sounds familiar, it may be because Scarlett Johansson recently starred in the film adaptation. Isserley drives countless hours in the Scottish Highlands scouting for male hitchhikers, the more muscular, the better. She is small and awkward and scarred, totally nonthreatening as she subtly questions her passengers to determine who might miss them if they disappeared. What happens next is both terrifying and intriguing. This is science fiction, technically, but reads more as a thriller. Absolutely haunting, and a terrific reading by Fiona Hardingham. I loved it.

The Ritual, by Adam Nevill. Keeping in theme with the season, I've been reading more than my fair share of horror novels. Here, a group of four men, friends in University and now attempting to keep that friendship alive after growing apart for years, goes on a hiking vacation to the Scandinavian wilderness. Tensions rise early on as the reality of just how different they are becomes more apparent, including the lack of certain members' physical stamina for such a vacation. Tempers flare when the party attempts to take a shortcut and the men become lost. Luke thinks things can't get worse, and then the group discovers an old abandoned cabin full of artifacts that seem to indicate something sinister lurks in the woods. What follows is absolutely harrowing. A little like The Blair Witch Project meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I'd highly recommend it to fans of American Horror Story and of Rob Zombie's horror films.

Festive in Death, by J.D. Robb. The murder of a personal trainer with a penchant for drugging his clients isn't all that's putting a hitch in NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas's holiday spirit. It's hard to get into the seasonal swing when you're hunting for the killer of a very unlikeable fellow. Harder still when you have to do things you dread, like host giant holiday gatherings, direct caterers and decorators, and shop for gifts. On second thought, catching bad guys is pretty appealing for Dallas and her team, after all. Light, easy reading for the season.

You, by Caroline Kepnes. I loved this twisted tale of obsession so much, I couldn't keep it to myself. You can read my full review here.

The Hundred Foot Journey, by Robert C. Morais. Hassan Haji's road from India to Paris is a long and twisting one. His earliest memories are from his family's Mumbai restaurant, full of fragrant steam and delectable meals. When tragedy strikes, however, his father uproots the family and brings them to London, then later to the small town of Lumiere in the French Alps. There, the Hajis open a new restaurant with Hassan running the kitchen and immediate begin to feud with the unhappy proprietress, Chef Mallory, of the renowned classical French restaurant directly across the street. It is only after Chef Mallory tastes Hassan's cooking that she relents, ceasing her protestations against the Haji's and instead offering Hassan an apprenticeship in her restaurant. This novel is so full of love and evocative images, from the exotic markets of Mumbai to the finest restaurants of Paris, that it should be required reading for everyone who considers themselves a foodie. Highly recommended, especially the audiobook.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The story of a writer in post-World War II London who discovers the subject of her next book on the island of Guernsey--a club born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi after members are discovered breaking curfew during the German occupation. The novel is comprised entirely of letters, primarily between the writer, Juliet Ashton, and the members of the Society as they discuss the history of the island, their taste in books, the German occupation, and their lives. Heartfelt, funny and deeply moving. I'm anticipating discussing this with my book club in November.

So for my challenge to read 75 titles in 2014, that's 7 more for a total of 66, leaving me with 9 titles and two months remaining. I've got this, no problem!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Top 10 on Tuesday: Oh, the horror!

This time of year, there's nothing like a good scare. Monster movie marathons abound on television. Hollywood waits until October to release its biggest scary blockbusters. Stores are full of costumes and spooky decorations (scariest part? I saw Christmas decorations in the stores last week. I almost ran screaming from the building.) So why should reading or the library be any different? To this librarian, there's nothing better than a good old-fashioned scare on a dark and stormy October evening.

I'll admit that I'm a bit of a horror genre junkie, and I've written a lot about it over the years. From vampires to monsters to creepy gothic novels to some of the classics, I've talked about the spectrum. But the good news is that there are always more books to talk about, and so I've got some of my all-time favorites to share with you today, across a broad spectrum of the genre, from those that leave you uneasy to those that just might keep you up at night.

1. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. The film adaptation of this scared me so much as a kid, I think I slept with the lights on for a month. It was only in my twenties that I actually went back and read it in an attempt to finally put my fears to rest. It worked, sort of. It's still one of the scariest stories I've ever encountered, both raw and profane. The 11-year-old daughter of a movie actress in 1970's Washington, D.C. becomes possessed by an ancient demon, and it is left to her mother, an elderly exorcist, and a young priest who has lost his faith, to rescue Regan from a fate worse than death after all scientific explanations have been exhausted. This is the ultimate good vs. evil, not for the faint of heart. 

2. American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. In this black satire of the materialistic eighties, a Wall Street yuppie can't get enough of anything, including murder. The book, which was also turned into a cult classic of a film, is a mad slasher of a tale, full of narcissism, greed and violence as  educated and successful Patrick Bateman moves in the society of the young and trendy like a shark, hunting his next victim. Scariest perhaps for the paper-thin veneer of civility that covers Bateman's true murderous tendencies, this novel sends readers down the rabbit-hole into chaos and madness.

3. The Ruins, by Scott Smith. Two American couples, just out of college, enjoy a lazy beach holiday together in Mexico. On an impulse, they go off with newfound friends in search of one of their group--the young German who headed off for the archaeological dig in some remote Mayan ruins in pursuit of a girl. Then the searchers, as they move deeper into the jungle, begin to suspect that there is an "other" among them.

4. John Dies at the End, by David Wong. Part dark comedy, part Lovecraft-ian terror, this might be the story of two Midwestern friends who drink beer and think something horrific is going on in their small town. Or it could be aliens. Or it could be a drug-induced hallucinations. In any case, the narrator claims no responsibility. For those who like a little hilarity to break up their scares.

5. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This dystopian novel, often billed as science fiction, is the scary near-future tale of a world in which a totalitarian Christian theocracy has overthrown the United States government and the first order of business was to remove all women's rights. In this society, almost all women are forbidden to read. The story is presented from the point of view of a woman called Offred, one of a class of individuals kept as concubines ("handmaids") for reproductive purposes by the ruling class in an era of declining births due to sterility from pollution and sexually transmitted diseases. This is guaranteed to make even the most jaded reader uneasy.

6. The Passage, by Justin Cronin. Imagine vampirism as a virus, which infects millions of Americans.  States secede and set up giant walls.  The outside world cuts off the North American continent.  What would human civilization look like after 100 years in a camp of survivors abandoned by the Army? This is a huge book at nearly 800 pages, but I promise that it is not a slow read by any means. I highly recommend this for fans of Walking Dead-like dystopian stories with a broad cast of characters. Bonus points, this is the first in a trilogy, with the third installment tentatively due out next year.

7. We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. This is often described as a psychological study of a novel, but I found it deeply unsettling and nightmarish. Told in a series of missives by Eva to her estranged husband in the wake of the incarceration of their 17-year-old son, Kevin, after Kevin's murderous rampage in school, the novel explores Eva's own feelings about motherhood as well as her observations of her difficult first child over the years. Raw and brutally honest and extremely unnerving.

8. World War Z, by Max Brooks. If you like your horror with a heaping helping of zombies, this is a must-read (especially if you liked the movie, which I thought was pretty good). An account of the decade-long conflict between humankind and hordes of the predatory undead is told from the perspective of dozens of survivors who describe in their own words the epic human battle for survival.

9. Misery, by Stephen King. One of the scariest King novels, in my opinion. Rescued after a car crash by his "Number One Fan", author Paul Sheldon is held captive by and forced to rewrite his most recent novel, yet to be published, to the specifications of crazed fan Annie Wilkes. But even as he mends and writes and plots his escape, Paul has to tread very carefully to try and stay alive, because Annie is lunatic who isn't afraid to hurt the one she loves. If you think you know the whole story because you've seen the movie, you don't know the half of it.

10. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill. This classic ghost story was unfortunately not particularly well done in its film release, but the novel itself is excellent--a chilling tale of a small English town haunted by a menacing specter. Guaranteed to make you jump at every noise in the night.

Want more recommendations? Stop by the library and check out this week's display of horror novels on the main floor, across from the circulation desk!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Can't Keep It To Myself: You

I want to recommend this book to everyone I talk to, because I enjoyed it that much. And yet, I realize that this is not a book for everyone. It is twisted. It is clever. It made me laugh out loud and then a couple of pages later, I was recoiling in horror. The novel is You, by Caroline Kepnes, and I found it as troubling as I found it fascinating.

Love means different things to different people. To narrator Joe Goldberg, it means finding the perfect girl and then finding out everything he can about her. Guinevere Beck, who goes by Beck of course, is that perfect girl, and she just happens to walk into the bookstore where Joe works. She buys the right books, says the right things, and just that quickly, Joe is hooked. Because Beck is beautiful and smart and funny and well-read. And perfect. And of course, with a little work on Joe's part, Beck realizes just how right Joe is for her, too.

What follows is a love story for the ages, one of madness, obsession, passion, desire, and fascination. This is as much a creepy cat-and-mouse thriller as it is literary love story, as told by the most demented, unreliable narrator possible. The more obsessed Joe becomes with his perfect Beck, the more the reader becomes aware that Beck, herself, is so much more deeply flawed than she would have others believe.

This was impossible to put down, one of those delectable books that makes you keep turning pages even as you dread the inevitable end. Kepnes is so good at what she does, so insidiously clever, that by the time I realized that I was rooting for the villain, it was far too late. Fans of classic Stephen King and of Gillian Flynn's work, this one is for you, and you're doing yourself a disservice if you skip it.

Then when you've read it, come to the library and find me. Because you're going to need someone to talk to about it. Believe me, I understand.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Meg's Picks: November 2014

I'm back from vacation and I've been reading up a storm! I've got lots to share and great titles to recommend over the coming weeks. To get us started, I've got a few up-coming titles that I especially want to point out to my fellow readers.

Us, by David Nicholls. Why is this on my radar? Well, several reasons. First, it was long-listed for The Man Booker Prize. Second, Nicholls' 2010 novel, One Day, was enormously popular. And third? The premise has me hooked, knowing as I do how sensitively Nicholls writes about matters of the heart. Douglas Petersen's quiet reserve hides a sly wit that seduces beautiful Connie into a second date...and eventually marriage. Now almost thirty years later, they live in the London suburbs with their moody seventeen-year-old son, Albie. And Connie has decided that she wants a divorce. What follows is Douglas's endearing and achingly optimistic attempt to save his marriage and connect, at long last, with the son who has felt like a stranger in his own house, all over the course of a potentially ill-timed family trip around Europe. I am actually counting the days until this one is released, folks.

Citizens Creek, by Lalita Tademy. Tademy is the bestselling author of Cane River, which was an Oprah Book Club pick in 2001. She has also been quiet for nearly 7 years, since Red River was published in 2007. She returns here with the story of Cow Tom, born into slavery in 1810 Alabama and sold to a Creek Indian chief before his tenth birthday. Cow Tom is gifted with the extraordinary ability to master languages, allowing him to act as a translator for his master and later to be hired out to US military generals, enabling him to earn money and eventually purchase his freedom. But this is also the story of Cow Tom's granddaughter Rose, who becomes the leader of their family in the face of political unrest. There is a lot of buzz about this, so fans of historical novels should especially take note.

Let Me Be Frank With You, by Richard Ford. Ford returns to the world of Frank Bascombe, a character who readers may remember from novels like The Lay of the Land, as well as Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner winning Independence Day. Bascombe is reinvented here, through four interconnecting novellas, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as Frank tries to make sense of a world undone by calamity. Ford is known for his intensely insightful prose, and I don't think readers will be disappointed here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reading Ahead: November 2014, part 4

I realize that there are two kinds of people in this world when it comes to holidays: those who eagerly anticipate, and those who dread. If you're part of the first category, you're in luck, because I have a few holiday-themed novels you might want to add to your reading list to help you get into the spirit of things. If you're part of the latter group, I apologize. Feel free to skip this post and come back next Tuesday.

The Mistletoe Promise, by Richard Paul Evans. Elise Dutton dreads the arrival of another holiday season. Three years earlier, her husband cheated on her with her best friend, resulting in a bitter divorce that left her alone, broken, and distrustful. Then, one November day, a stranger approaches Elise in the mall food court. Though she recognizes the man from her building, Elise has never formally met him. Tired of spending the holidays alone, the man offers her a proposition. He suggests that they pretend to be a couple for the next eight weeks, with a few ground rules, one of which is that the contract is void as of Christmas Day. What Elise never considered was that this might be just what she needed to mend her broken heart, or that she's not the only one with secrets to keep. A love story for the holidays.

A New York Christmas, by Anne Perry. For the first time, Perry's Christmas offering moves to the young metropolis of New York. The year is 1904. Twenty-three-year-old Jemima Pitt, the daughter of Thomas Pitt, head of Britain’s Special Branch, is crossing the Atlantic. She is traveling with an acquaintance, Delphinia Cardew, who is to marry the aristocratic Brent Albright in a high-society New York wedding—a grand affair that will join together two fabulously wealthy families, titans of the international financial world. But Jemima senses a mysterious shadow darkening the occasion. Missing from the festivities is Delphinia’s mother, Maria, who is marked by disgrace. Nearly sixteen years ago, Maria abandoned young Delphinia and disappeared—and now the Albrights refuse to mention her name. But when Harley, the groom’s charismatic brother, asks Jemima to help him search for Maria and forestall the scandal that would surely follow if the prodigal parent turned up at the wedding, she agrees to assist him, never suspecting that she is walking into mortal danger herself. Mystery lovers will appreciate a serious story with a holiday flair.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reading Ahead: November 2104, part 3

I've got lots to share today, and I hope you're ready, because here we go!

Private India: City on Fire, by James Patterson & Ashwin Sanghi. Can't keep up with the sheer number of Patterson titles coming out? Yup, me either. On the off chance that you're caught up and itching for more, Patterson takes his Private series to the elite PI office in India, headed by Santosh Wagh, who investigates a serial killer with a puzzling signature: the killer targets women, and then leaves mysterious tokens with the bodies. An interesting change of scene in the globe-trotting series.

Wicked Ways, by Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush. Two best-selling authors team up here to craft a thriller in which a woman's birthright holds the key to a series of brutal murders. Elizabeth Gaines Ellis is just a normal suburban wife and mother, at least that's what she tells herself. Sure, life isn't perfect. A mean boss. A cheating husband. A traffic cop who seems unduly harsh. She has bones to pick--who doesn't? But she never intended for any of them to wind up dead. No one seems to take her seriously, but the more scared and angry Elizabeth becomes, the higher the body count climbs. Definitely one for fans of either author to check out.

The Girl Next Door, by Ruth Rendell. Rendell has been heralded as one of the greatest novelists of her generation, so if you haven't read her, you might just want to use this as your opportunity to start. Nearing the end of World War II, a group of children in a small neighborhood outside of London find an earthen tunnel that becomes their secret garden, a place to play and trade stories and secrets. At least, until one of the parents finds out and puts a stop to it. Six decades later, beneath a house on the same land, construction workers find a tin box containing two small skeletal hands, one male and one female. Once the discovery becomes national news, the old friends come together once more to recall their days in the tunnel to the investigating detective. Is the truth buried in the memories of this aging group of friends? Fans of mysteries and suspense novels, as well as Rendell's legion of fans, will all want to make sure to pick up a copy.

The Cinderella Murder, by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke. In a first-time collaboration, “Queen of Suspense” Mary Higgins Clark partners with bestselling author Alafair Burke to deliver a brand new suspense series about a television program featuring cold case murders. TV producer Laurie Moran is delighted at the success of the pilot for her reality drama, Under Suspicion, a cold-case series that revisits unsolved crimes by recreating them with those affected. And she has the perfect case lined up to feature in the next episode: the death of a beautiful and multi-talented UCLA student, dubbed The Cinderella Murder. But as Laurie and her crew dig deeper, guaranteed ratings may also spell danger for them. The critics are buzzing about this collaboration, which starts the beginning of a new series for the pair.

The Job: A Fox and O'Hare novel, by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg. The FBI had one demand when they secretly teamed up Special Agent Kate O’Hare with charming con man Nicolas Fox—bring down the world’s most-wanted and untouchable felons. This time it’s the brutal leader of a global drug-smuggling empire.  The FBI doesn’t know what their target looks like, where he is, or how to find him, but Nick Fox has a few tricks up his sleeve to roust this particular Knipschildt chocolate–loving drug lord.

I'm back on Thursday with a few titles to recommend if you're thinking about snow and mistletoe already!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reading Ahead: November 2014, part 2

Something about autumn always pushes me toward reading more thrillers--the darker the better. If you've got a similar yearning, November has new titles you'll look forward to!

Revival, by Stephen King. Over a half century ago, a charismatic preacher arrives in a small New England town. With the help of his wife, Reverend Jacobs transforms the local church. Then tragedy strikes, and in its wake the Reverend denounces his faith and is banished from the shocked town. Years later, one of the town's inhabitants, a man now sober after years struggling with addiction, meets the Reverend again and now the many terrifying meanings of Revival are revealed. This is being touted as a masterwork from King, "in the great American tradition of Frank Norris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe." I'm a fan of King's work anyway, so I'm beyond intrigued about this latest novel.

Blue Labyrinth, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. One of Aloysius Pendergast's most implacable enemies has arrived on his doorstep as a corpse. His death bears all the hallmarks of the perfect murder, save for one enigmatic clue: a piece of turquoise lodged in the dead man's stomach. That single piece of evidence will lead Pendergast from an abandoned mine, to a desolate sea, and then deep into his own family's sinister past. As ancient secrets begin to resurface, Pendergast must escape a subtle killer bent on revenge...

Flesh and Blood, by Patricia Cornwell. In this 22nd Scarpetta novel, the master forensic sleuth finds herself in the unsettling pursuit of a serial sniper who leaves no incriminating evidence except fragments of copper. The shots seem impossible, yet they are so perfect they cause instant death. The victims appear to have had nothing in common, and there is no pattern to indicate where the killer will strike next. First New Jersey, then Massachusetts, and then the murky depths off the coast of South Florida, where Scarpetta investigates a shipwreck, looking for answers that only she can discover and analyze. And it is there that she comes face to face with shocking evidence that implicates her techno genius niece, Lucy, Scarpetta’s own flesh and blood.