Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What I've Been Reading: November 2014

I know we're not quite at the end of the month yet, and this post would normally be up this Thursday. But since I thought many of us (myself included) might be a little preoccupied with family, turkey and gratitude (not necessarily in that order), I'd share what I've been reading a little early this month.

Sometimes, like this month, my reading list makes me laugh. If it looks a little schizophrenic to you, please believe that I've noticed it, too. I really do read a lot of different genres, and some of the titles that run back to back (or in the case of a book and audiobook, concurrently) are very often very different. Sometimes, that's on purpose. It can be really easy to get lost if plots, settings, or characters are similar. So it tends to be easier to, say, read a thriller and listen to a funny memoir on audio in the same day than it would be to read and listen to two different thrillers in the same day. That just happens to be what works for me--your mileage may vary. This is all just the long way of saying, yes, I realize the books I've read this past month are really all over the map, and may look a little odd if you look too hard at the sequence.

The Girl Next Door, by Ruth Rendell. Is it still a mystery if you know who's dead and whodunnit within the first twenty pages of a novel? Rendell manages to make it happen, but I spent a good hundred pages or so trying to puzzle out where the story was going after those first twenty pages. In the summer of 1944, a group of neighborhood children find an earthen tunnel and turn it into their hideout, where they play games and tell stories, until one of the parents forbids them to return. Six decades later, the land is being developed and a tin box is found containing two human hands. The incident draws the surviving members of that group of children back together again, with results that none among them could have expected. Absolutely worth the read, but be patient with it--Rendell really doesn't give away more than she means to, precisely when she means to do it.

The Dinner, by Herman Koch. I'm late to the party on this Dutch novel, which was published here in the US in 2012. It's a slim novel and a fast read, as two couples get together over dinner and must ultimately discuss an incident that will change their lives, and those of their children, forever. It's much too easy to give away spoilers, so I'll say that I found it compelling and thought provoking. This is a great read for folks who like plot twists like those in Defending Jacob or Gone Girl.

Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan. From one dinner to a feast for your funny bone. Gaffigan is best known for his comedy bits devoted to food (Hot Pockets, bacon, etc.). I listened to this one in the car, and never has a traffic jam been so amusing as I sat and was entertained by Gaffigan extolling the possibility of choking on bacon (like being murdered by your lover) and decrying the current American obsession with superfoods like kale (the early morning of food). Very highly recommended.

The Eleventh Victim, by Nancy Grace. Sometimes I encounter a novel which is told by multiple characters, and the result is magic. Sometimes, like The Eleventh Victim, the result is an uneven narrative in which two story lines are extremely compelling and two other seem to have little or no connection to the rest of the novel. After Hailey Dean's fiance is murdered just weeks before their wedding, Hailey fights back the best way she knows how--in court, prosecuting violent criminals and putting away one bad guy after another. This eventually wears her out, and she finally leaves the courtroom for good after being attacked by a man as he's sentenced for eleven heinous murders. She heads to NYC and goes back to her roots, becoming a therapist and trying to move forward in her life. Until that last criminal is released, and begins to stalk her in earnest. The core of the novel is excellent, but with too many distracting sub-plots, it was not without flaws.

Winter Street, by Elin Hilderbrand. I actually haven't read Hilderbrand before, but this little novel somehow found its way onto my request list and it was sweet and light and lovely. There are no surprises in this tale of a disastrous Christmas in one family as each family member comes together to love and support one another in the midst of individual crises. Kelley has just found out that his second wife has been cheating on him, and even after she walks out, he must deal with the reality that the Nantucket inn that he owns and operates is killing him financially. One son must take the ultimate plunge after years of deliberately casual relationships. Another is in Afghanistan. A third is in danger of losing everything after some bad investment decisions. And daughter Ava is so involved in her aloof boyfriend that she can't see love right in front of her. It is the least likely person who manages to save the day. Perfect for cozy holiday reading.

The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison. I love a good twisted thriller, and Harrison's The Silent Wife absolutely fits the bill. Jodi and Todd are in a terribly unstable place in their relationship. After decades together, unmarried but living as man-and-wife, everything is at stake, including their affluent lifestyle. Todd is a serial cheater, and Jodi has perfected denial as an art form. He has supported her, she has meticulously maintained his home and organized his life. When he decides to leave her, she has nothing left to lose and is determined to get the ultimate revenge. The narrative is tight and clean, alternating between Him and Her, as they careen toward the story's climax. I'll refer back to what I said about Koch's The Dinner, above: this would be excellent for readers who also liked Defending Jacob or Gone Girl.

Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. In light of the movie (starring Reese Witherspoon) coming out on December 5, I really wanted to get this off of my bucket list and read. May I just say, wow. In the wake of personal tragedies, at 26 Strayed solo-hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. Over the course of this awe-inspiring journey, Strayed manages to find the one thing she'd lost since losing her mother and her marriage: herself. Told with suspense as well as humor, this story of the terrors and triumphs that occurred along the trail is absolutely riveting. Very highly recommended.

Us, by David Nicholls. I put this on my Picks list for November, and I'm glad to have gotten to this one sooner rather than later. Douglas Petersen is a mild-mannered scientist, a little odd but extremely witty, funny enough to win over beautiful Connie on their second date, and eventually the two marry. Now, twenty-five years and one child (17-year-old Albie) later, Connie announces that she's done with their marriage, that she'll leave after their family tour of Europe over the summer. When Albie leaves for college, Connie's out, too. What follows is Douglas's earnest, witty, and often optimistic narrative of what may be their last summer together as a family, as he tries not only to save his marriage, but also to develop a relationship with the son whose life has always seemed to mystify Douglas. Deeply insightful, wryly amusing, and beautifully rendered. I adored it.

That's 8 titles for November, bringing my 2014 total to 74! I'm just one book away from my 2014 goal of 75 titles for the year. Obviously, I've got this goal in the bag, so now I'm just going to see how far past my original milestone.

Happy Thanksgiving, readers, and Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Three on Thursday: Fiction for Foodies

In these days leading up to a feast of gratitude and goodies, I have another thing to be thankful for: Books! And today, books of the delicious fiction variety. Foodie fiction comes in many varieties, too. There are cozy mysteries full of recipes and/or set in restaurants, coffee shops or catering companies. There are novels which take the reader to exotic locales full of delicious delicacies and vibrant stories. Or coming of age stories that include working in restaurants. Or family dramas featuring many a heartfelt conversation around a kitchen table. Whatever you're tasting, rest assured there is a novel to suit your craving. Here are three in particular that we've found just delicious--I'm sure you'll have room for one or two.

Eat Cake, by Jeanne Ray. This has been a personal favorite since I read it more than ten years ago. Ruth has always found baking cakes to be a source of relief from the stresses of life. And now-as her husband loses his job, her life-of-the-party father arrives for an extended stay (much to the dismay of her mother, who also moved in recently), and her teenage daughter perfects the art of sulking-Ruth is going to have to save the day. Quiet, heart-warming and delectable, this short novel is a perfect little treat, even if you think you don't have a moment to spare.

Chocolat, by Joanne Harris. Many know Chocolat as the Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. But first, it was the tantalizing novel about hedonism, whimsy and chocolate that intoxicated readers. In a tiny French town, where little has changed over the last hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne's uncanny perception of its buyer's private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival. Perfectly indulgent.

Need something a bit more savory? I have to recommend Ruth Reichl's recent Delicious! , which follows young Billie Breslin from her home in California to New York, where she lands an internship at the long-running gourmet magazine, Delicious! What follows is part love-story to the rich and varied food traditions of New York City and part mystery as Billie delves deep into the magazine's hidden archives, hot on the trail of a decades-old connection between a young girl and culinary icon James Beard during the second World War. Fascinating, captivating, and completely delicious, this might just make an ideal respite from your holiday preparations.

I'm back next week to wrap up what I've been reading recently. In the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Meg's Picks: December 2014

I have to say, I love my job. And days like today, I am completely delighted with it. Why? Because I get to share these titles with you, titles which, in some cases, I've been keeping to myself for months, saving them for just this moment. Sharing books I enjoy or books that I think others will enjoy (these often overlap, but not always) is truly one of the greatest joys of being a public librarian. Shall we see what's got me all aflutter? Let's.

The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant. Diamant is perhaps best known for her 1997 breakout novel, The Red Tent. She's been a favorite author of mine every since, so it it with particular relish that I anticipate her newest novel, The Boston Girl. Addie Baum is the Boston girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effects on their three daughters. At 85, Addie is asked about her life by her granddaughter, and the narrative covers Addie's recollections from her childhood, through a disastrous first love affair, and onward, all with Addie's wicked humor and Diamant's poignant attention to historical detail. This will be a must for readers of all stripes. Book clubs in particular will undoubtedly be reading this in the coming years.

The Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion. Simsion's bestselling debut novel, 2013's The Rosie Project, has been a runaway hit with readers everywhere, and a particular favorite of many members of The Trumbull Library's staff, myself included. We recommend it constantly, as it is the quirkiest, most unlikely romantic fiction we've seen in years--funny, sweet without being saccharine, with unique, beautifully rendered characters. This sequel finds the unlikely couple living in New York, and anticipating the arrival of their first child. Don sets about researching fatherhood and child-rearing with his usual methods, and his usual hilariously disastrous results. If it's half as funny and charming as the first book, readers will be in for a treat.

Moriarty, by Anthony Horowitz. Horowitz is an international bestseller, best known for his Alex Rider adventure series. He was sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate in 2011 to write The House of Silk, much to the delight of Holmes fans everywhere. He returns here to explore what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls. With this sudden vacuum in the criminal underworld, there is no shortage of candidates to take his place, one particularly fiendish villain in particular catching the attention of Pinkerton detective Chase and Scotland Yard inspector Jones in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Horowitz has breathed new life into the long-popular series, gaining a whole new generation of Holmes enthusiasts.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reading Ahead: December 2014, part 3

There's something for every reader in December, whether your preference is for a thriller, a suspense novel, or something a little different from a favorite author. What am I talking about? Let's find out.

Saint Odd, by Dean Koontz. Odd Thomas is back where it all started . . . because the time has come to finish it. Since he left his simple life in the small town of Pico Mundo, California, his journey has taken him to places strange and wonderful, mysterious and terrifying. Across the land, in the company of mortals and spirits alike, he has known kindness and cruelty, felt love and loss, saved lives and taken them—as he’s borne witness to humanity’s greatest good and darkest evil. Again and again, he has gone where he must and done what he had to do—for better or worse—with his courage and devotion sorely tested, and his soul forever changed. Every triumph has been hard won. Each sacrifice has taken its toll. Now only the reckoning remains. If you're new to Odd Thomas, I highly recommend starting at the beginning--this series is absolutely riveting, if a little odd.

Tom Clancy’s Full Force And Effect, by Mark Greaney. The challenge facing President Jack Ryan is an old one with a terrifying new twist. The international stalemate with North Korea continues into its seventh decade.  A young, untested dictator is determined to prove his strength by breaking the deadlock. Like his father before him, he hangs his plans on the country’s nuclear ambitions. Until now, that program was impeded by a lack of resources. However, there has been a dramatic change in the nation’s economic fortune. A rich deposit of valuable minerals have been found in the Hermit Kingdom.  Coupled with their nuclear capabilities, the money from this find will make North Korea a dangerous force on the world stage.
There’s just one more step needed to complete this perfect plan…the elimination of the president of the United States.

Dogwood Hill, by Sherryl Woods. When former pro football quarterback Aidan Mitchell comes to Chesapeake Shores to take a high school coaching job, he's embraced by the town—especially the O'Briens. But Aidan has a secret that could alter all their lives. For wounded Liz March, who's trying for a fresh start after a devastating betrayal, taking a chance on Aidan may be more than she can handle. Her heart, however, refuses to listen to her head. But just when forever seems within reach, Aidan's secret threatens to change everything. Woods isn't a reader favorite for nothing. Readers new to her Chesapeake Shores novels might want to start with The Inn at Eagle Point.

Saving Grace, by Jane Green. Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees are Ted’s rages and mood swings, or the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue. Beth can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity.  A different sort of novel by best-selling Green, but I think this risk may pay off with dividends.

I'll be back next week with my picks for December fiction releases. In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Reading Ahead: December 2014, part 2

I hope readers can find some time in their schedules in the post-holiday lull, because there are some great suspense novels headed our way next month. Check it out!

Robert B. Parker’s The Bridge, by Robert Knott. Knott returns with another installment in the best-selling Cole & Hitch series. Territorial Marshals Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are back in Appaloosa, where their work enforcing the law has been exceptionally quiet. All that is about to change. An ominous storm rolls in, and along with it a band of night riders with a devious scheme, who show up at the Rio Blanco camp, where a three-hundred-foot bridge is under construction. The Appaloosa Sheriff and two deputies, first to respond when there's trouble at the bridge, go missing. And that's only the beginning of the troubles set for Cole and Hitch to sort out. Series fans are sure to be pleased with this new novel--Knott does Parker's series proud.

The Assassination Option, by W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV. Second in the Clandestine Operations series following Top Secret, Griffin's new novel follows members of the newly fledged CIA in a war unlike any other, the Cold War. James Cronley's successful first mission garnered lots of attention, some more welcome than others. A promotion is great, but it also puts him under close scrutiny from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The pressure has only just begun to mount as Cronley walks a knife's edge in this spy thriller. Griffin isn't a best-seller for nothing.

Rain on the Dead, by Jack Higgins. Terrorism, revenge and a very old nemesis collide in this new Sean Dillon novel from veteran suspense writer Higgins. On a dark summer night, two Chechen mercenaries emerge from the waters off Nantucket to kill a high-value target, the former president of the United States, Jake Cazalet. Unfortunately for them, Cazalet has guests with him, including black ops specialist Sean Dillon and his colleague, Afghan war hero Captain Sara Gideon. While the Chechens don't survive the night, Dillon is curious as to how they even got onto the island in the first place...and the answers chill him to the bone. An excellent addition to the series.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reading Ahead: December 2014, part 1

It's hard to avoid December. Television commercials are already leaning toward the holiday season. Stores are featuring festive decorations. But there's more to look forward to than tinsel and fruitcake, especially if you're a reader. Publishers save some of their best and brightest offerings for the giving season, so pay close attention--there just may be something coming up that you'd like to gift to yourself. And at the library, it's free!

Die Again, by Tess Gerritsen. Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles series is hugely popular, even generating a television series based on the characters. And fans will be thrilled with this new installment. When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast—right down to the claw marks on the corpse. But only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls. Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he’s ever hunted?

Hush, by Karen Robards. When Riley Cowan finds her estranged husband Jeff dead in his palatial home, she’s sure it’s no coincidence. The police rule it a suicide, but Riley thinks someone’s out for blood—specifically someone Jeff’s father ripped off in one of the biggest financial fraud cases of all time. She suspects that someone is trying to send a message to Jeff’s father: Tell me where the money is, or everyone you care about will die... Robards has quite a following, and with good reason.

Woman with a Gun, by Philip Margolin. Margolin is perhaps best known for his dark and gritty crime novels, but here he takes a different approach in what critics are calling a haunting thriller. When aspiring novelist Stacey Kim first sees the Pulitzer Prize winning photo "Woman With A Gun" in a museum, she is immediately drawn in, wondering about the circumstances surrounding the photo. What she finds out is that the woman, who stands in a wedding dress with a six shooter behind her back as she faces the ocean, was suspected of shooting her husband, though the case was never solved. Stacey digs deeper and soon learns that the only one who may actually know what happened is the reclusive photographer herself, but she isn't talking... Mystery and suspense readers alike will want a copy.