Thursday, January 29, 2015

Meg's Picks: February 2015, part 3

Feeling the need for something a little off the beaten path for your reading pleasure? I've got several suggestions, all being released in February!

The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman.The title may make you giggle, but this dystopian thriller is getting some serious buzz from critics. In the ruins of a future America, fifteen-year-old Ice Cream Star and her nomadic tribe live off of the detritus of a crumbled civilization. Theirs is a world of children; before reaching the age of twenty, they all die of a mysterious disease they call Posies—a plague that has killed for generations. There is no medicine, no treatment; only the mysterious rumor of a cure. When her brother begins showing signs of the disease, Ice Cream Star sets off on a bold journey to find this cure. Led by a stranger, a captured prisoner named Pasha who becomes her devoted protector and friend, Ice Cream Star plunges into the unknown, risking her freedom and ultimately her life. Newman is an unconventional talent, and given that people are already likening this literary epic to novels like Cloud Atlas, The Passage (which I absolutely adored) as well as other dystopian winners like the Hunger Games, I would say that I won't be at all surprised to see this as a film adaptation in movie theaters within the next few years. It is absolutely on my to-read list this spring.

The Secrets of Midwives, by Sally Hepworth. Australian author Hepworth's US fiction debut is getting lots of great reviews, and from authors beloved by readers (like Liane Moriarty, Emily Giffin and Christina Baker Kline, just to name a few), so I had to share with my fellow readers. Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. The more Grace prods, the tighter Neva holds to her story, and the more the lifelong differences between private, quiet Neva and open, gregarious Grace strain their relationship. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back sixty years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—one which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. As Neva’s pregnancy progresses and speculation makes it harder and harder to conceal the truth, Floss wonders if hiding her own truth is ultimately more harmful than telling it. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden? I have a feeling that book clubs are going to be reading this for years to come.

Holy Cow, by David Duchovny. Former X-Files actor Duchovny was not going to be left out after his former co-star Gillian Anderson published her first novel, A Vision of Fire, last year. His fiction debut, Holy Cow, is a humorous, globe-trotting adventure with a four-legged heroine that readers won't soon forget. Elsie Bovary is a cow, and a pretty happy one at that—her long, lazy days are spent eating, napping, and chatting with her best friend, Mallory. One night, Elsie and Mallory sneak out of their pasture; but while Mallory is interested in flirting with the neighboring bulls, Elsie finds herself drawn to the farmhouse. Through the window, she sees the farmer’s family gathered around a bright Box God—and what the Box God reveals about something called an “industrial meat farm” shakes Elsie’s understanding of her world to its core. There’s only one solution: escape to a better, safer world, accompanied by a motley crew of other farm animals. Funny, charismatic, and cautionary, this is definitely not your usual fiction, but it may be just what you need during the winter doldrums.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Meg's Picks: February 2015, part 2

Did I mention that there are lots of great new books coming out next month? I hope I did, but if I haven't, let me be clear: there are LOTS of great new books coming out next month. If you're interested in moving beyond the sure-bet bestsellers, here are a few more for you to consider.

Mr. MAC and Me, by Esther Freud. Note: This title actually got a last-minute publishing date bump and will be available on January 27, 2015. Life is quiet on the Suffolk coast in 1914 for local publican's son Thomas Maggs and his family, until the arrival of Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, known as Mac by the locals. Wearing a black cape and puffing on a pipe, Mac seems to young Thomas to be the spitting image of a detective, just like Sherlock Holmes. Mac, along with his artist wife, are sources of wonder to Thomas, until war with Germany is declared, and suddenly everything is turned upside down. The summer guests flee the sleepy coast and are replaced by soldiers. And the unlikely friendship between Thomas and Mac is tested, as suspicion surrounding the Scottish outsider grows. Critics have been giving this quite a bit of love, so if you're in the market for something quietly detailed, this could be just what you're looking for.

A Touch of Stardust, by Kate Alcott. Alcott made a big impression with readers with her 2012 debut, The Dressmaker, about a seamstress and ladies maid who survives the sinking of the Titanic. Alcott has now turned her sights on another event of historical significance, this time taking readers behind the scenes of the filming of Gone With the Wind, specifically the romance between dashing leading man Clark Gable and free-spirited actress Carole Lombard. The production was already besieged by scandal as the producer burned through writers, directors and money trying to get the film made, and the last thing the studio wanted the press to get wind of was an affair involving the still-technically-married Gable. This should appeal to fans of the film, of historical fiction, and to film fanatics in general.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Meg's Picks: February 2015, part 1

Some months are more spectacular than others when it comes to fiction releases that make me sit up and take notice. This February is definitely going to be spectacular in that regard! Here are a couple of examples (and stay tuned for next week's posts, because there are more where these came from!).

The Swimmer, by Joakim Zander. Klara Walldéen was raised by her grandparents on a remote archipelago in the Baltic Sea, learning to fish and hunt and sail a boat through a storm. Now, as an EU Parliament aide in Brussels, she is learning how to navigate the treacherous currents of international politics: the lines between friend and enemy, truth and lies. But Klara has accidentally seen something she shouldn’t have: a laptop containing information so sensitive that someone will kill to keep hidden. Suddenly, she is thrown into a terrifying chase across Europe, with no idea who is hunting her or why.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, an old spy hides from his past. Once, he was a man of action, an operative so dedicated that he abandoned his infant daughter to keep his cover. Now, he is the only man who can save Klara . . . and she is the only woman who can allow him to lay old ghosts to rest. Because in the end, you cannot hide who you are. Critics are already raving about this international thriller, praising everything from its perfect pacing to its dazzling character portraits--more than one has been astounded that this is indeed a first novel. High praise indeed--thriller readers should definitely add this to their to-read list!

The Forgotten Girls, by Sara Blaedel. Sara Blaedel is referred to as the "Queen of Crime" in her native Denmark, so American readers can now rejoice that she's bringing her work to the US.

The body of an unidentified woman was discovered in a local forest. A large, unique scar on one side of her face should have made the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. As the new commander of the Missing Persons Department, Louise risks involving the media by releasing a photo of the victim, hoping to find someone who knew her.
Louise's gamble pays off: an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago. Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a "forgotten girl." But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates more than thirty years ago. Now Louise is left with more questions than answers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reading Ahead: February 2015, part 5

One of the best parts of the cold weather (I'm trying for some silver lining here, folks. Work with me!) is that it lends the perfect excuse to curling up on the couch with a great book for some easy reading. If that sounds good to you, here are a few up-and-coming easy-reading titles you may want to line up for a weekend avoiding the cold weather.

Prodigal Son, by Danielle Steel.  Twin boys grow up in the same family, in the same town. Dramatically different, they become bitter enemies, even as children. One good, one bad. One leaves his peaceful hometown, but when all else fails, the prodigal son returns, twenty years later. The reunion of brothers, sweet and healing at first, exposes shattering revelations of good and evil. A suspenseful story of suspicion, betrayal, and a life-and-death struggle for survival as the question arises again and again, which twin is good and which is evil?

Obsession in Death, by J.D. Robb. Eve Dallas has solved a lot of high-profile murders for the NYPSD and gotten a lot of media coverage. She, and her billionaire husband, Roarke, are getting accustomed to being objects of attention, gossip, and speculation.  But now Eve has become the object of one person’s obsession. Someone who finds her extraordinary and thinks about her every hour of every day. Who believes the two of them have a special relationship. Who would kill for her, again and again… Fans are already lining up for this new title, so put your requests in now!

Double Fudge Brownie Murder, by Joanne Fluke. Life in tiny Lake Eden, Minnesota, is usually pleasantly uneventful. Lately, though, it seems everyone has more than their fair share of drama--especially the Swensen family. With so much on her plate, Hannah Swensen can hardly find the time to think about her bakery--let alone the town's most recent murder. Nervous about the upcoming trial for her involvement in a tragic accident, Hannah is eager to clear her name once and for all, but her troubles only double when she finds the judge bludgeoned to death with his own gavel--and she is the number one suspect. Cozy mystery fans, if you're not reading this series, I highly recommend you start! If you're new to the Hannah Swensen series, start with The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reading Ahead: February 2015, part 4

I get asked, often, for recommendations of books that would generate great discussions for book clubs. The three following titles? I think they'd each fit the bill quite nicely, for different reasons. I'm actually going to suggest several to my book club when it's time to choose titles again!

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. Hannah's new novel takes readers to France in 1939, as Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he leaves for the Front. She can't believe that the Nazis will invade France, but she is very, very wrong, as her home is requisitioned, forcing her to choose to live with the enemy, or find herself and her daughters on the street. Meanwhile, Vianne's younger sister, Isabelle, joins the Resistance in Paris after a heartbreaking betrayal. A novel of resilience, survival, love and freedom in the midst of chaos. Hannah is a reader favorite, and I think this may find her an even wider audience. Fans of Jojo Moyes's The Girl You Left Behind or Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key should make a point to pick this one up.

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor. Reviewers are raving, calling the novel "flawless", "stunning" and "luminous".

Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby. Set in 1960's London, Funny Girl is a lively account of the adventures of the intrepid young Sophie Straw as she navigates her transformation from provincial ingénue to television starlet amid a constellation of delightful characters. Insightful and humorous, Nick Hornby's latest does what he does best: endears us to a cast of characters who are funny if flawed, and forces us to examine ourselves in the process.