Thursday, February 26, 2015

Meg's Picks: March 2015, part 2

I'll be back next week to catch up on what I've been reading (hint: it's not much!), but in the meantime, here's the last of my picks for titles you may want to put on your to-read list next month.

The Precious One, by Maria de los Santos. Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family (including daughter Taisy) for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter, Willow, only once. Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister—a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir? For fans of fiction that deals with family secrets, this should be a sure thing.

The Lost Boys Symphony, by Mark Ferguson. After Henry's girlfriend Val leaves him and transfers to another school, his grief begins to manifest itself in bizarre and horrifying ways. Either he's hallucinating, or the strength of his heartbreak over Val has unhinged reality itself. After weeks of sleepless nights and sick delusions, Henry decides to run away. If he can only find Val, he thinks, everything will make sense again. So he leaves his mother's home in the suburbs and marches toward the city and the woman who he thinks will save him. Once on the George Washington Bridge, however, a powerful hallucination knocks him out cold. When he awakens, he finds himself kidnapped by two strangers--one old, one middle-aged--who claim to be future versions of Henry himself. Val is the love of your life, they tell him. We've lost her, but you don't have to. This is generating a lot of buzz among critics, who are calling it genre-bending and beautiful. I'm recommending this to readers who loved The Time Traveler's Wife.

Heartbreak Hotel, by Deborah Moggach. In possession of a run-down bed and breakfast that leans more toward the shabby than the chic and is, quite literally, miles from nowhere, retired actor Buffy realizes that he needs to fill the beds—and fast. Otherwise, his vision of the pastoral countryside will go up in smoke.
Enter a motley collection of guests: Harold, whose wife has run off with a younger woman; Amy, who’s been unexpectedly dumped by her (not-so) nebbishy boyfriend and Andy, the hypochondriac postman whose girlfriend is much too much for him to handle. But under Buffy’s watchful eye, this disparate group of strangers finds that they have more in common than perhaps they first thought. A charming romantic comedy, a bit off the beaten path.

At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen. Gruen should be a familiar name to readers, as she has made a lasting impression with Water for Elephants. Here, she returns to gift readers with another historical period piece, this time following a young wife, Maddie Hyde, who tags along with her disgraced husband Ellis and Ellis's best friend Hank as they travel from New York to Scotland, leaving behind her sheltered world for the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. Yet even as the men leave Maddie behind in the drafty inn with the contemptuous locals (the men seeking fame by hunting down the Loch Ness monster), Maddie finds herself warming both the to the landscape and to the villagers. A novel of the beauty of new possibilities, At Water's Edge is getting lots of praise, both from critics and other authors, like Jodi Picoult (My Sister's Keeper), Katherine Stockett (The Help), and Kristin Hannah (The Nightingale).

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Meg's Picks: March 2015, part 1

Interested in something a little off the mainstream? Nothing against the standard bestsellers, because I read those, too, but sometimes I want something a little...different. Something to surprise me. If you're of a like mind, I've got some suggestions for what to read next month.

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro's name should be familiar, since his novel The Remains of the Day was a Booker Prize-winner (and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film, as well). He has returned here with his first novel in a decade to tell a tale of love, vengeance and war. The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, decide that now is the time, finally, for them to set off across this troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they have not seen for years, the son they can scarcely remember. They know they will face many hazards—some strange and otherworldly—but they cannot foresee how their journey will reveal to them the dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Nor can they foresee that they will be joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight—each of them, like Axl and Beatrice, lost in some way to his own past, but drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life’s memories. Ishiguro's work is luminous and breath-taking--this is one I'm looking forward to.

The Fifth Gospel, by Ian Caldwell. Caldwell (The Rule of Four) also returns to readers after a decade away with a literary thriller that is getting rave reviews from David Baldacci, Lev Grossman, Nelson Demille and others.  In 2004, as Pope John Paul II’s reign enters its twilight, a mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. A week before it is scheduled to open, its curator is murdered at a clandestine meeting on the outskirts of Rome. That same night, a violent break-in rocks the home of the curator’s research partner, Father Alex Andreou, a Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican with his five-year-old son. When the papal police fail to identify a suspect in either crime, Father Alex, desperate to keep his family safe, undertakes his own investigation. To find the killer he must reconstruct the dead curator’s secret: what the four Christian gospels—and a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel known as the Diatessaron—reveal about the Church’s most controversial holy relic. But just as he begins to understand the truth about his friend’s death and its consequences for the future of the world’s two largest Christian Churches, Father Alex finds himself hunted down by someone with a vested stake in the exhibit—someone he must outwit to survive. It's being described as "brilliant", "extraordinary" and "captivating".

Dark Rooms, by Lili Anolik. This debut novel came up on my radar when I heard it being described as "The Secret History meets Sharp Objects". Death sets the plot in motion: the murder of Nica Baker, beautiful, wild, enigmatic, and only sixteen. The crime is solved, and quickly—a lonely classmate, unrequited love, a suicide note confession—but memory and instinct won’t allow Nica’s older sister, Grace, to accept the case as closed. Dropping out of college and living at home, working at the moneyed and progressive private high school in Hartford, Connecticut, from which she recently graduated, Grace becomes increasingly obsessed with identifying and punishing the real killer. Something tells me this may be one of the novels everyone will be talking about this spring/summer.

Aquarium, by David Vann. Twelve year old Caitlin lives alone with her mother—a docker at the local container port—in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamored of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequence. Vann is being called one of the best American writers of our time--I'm going back and catching up on some of his other work while I wait for Aquarium to be published.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reading Ahead: March 2015, part 4

February is a short month, and there are SO many great titles being released in March, I'm actually running out of time to share them all with you! Get your lists ready!

The Cavendon Women, by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Cavendon Women, the stunning sequel to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Cavendon Hall follows the Inghams’ and the Swanns’ journey from a family weekend in the summer of 1926 through to the devastation of the Wall Street crash of 1929.  It all begins on a summer weekend in July of 1926 when, for the first time in years, the earl has planned a family weekend.  As the family members come together, secrets, problems, joys, and sorrows are revealed.  As old enemies come out of the shadows and the Swanns’ loyalty to the Ingham gets tested in ways none of them could have predicted, it’s up to the Cavendon women to band together and bring their family into a new decade, and a new way of life.

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, by Jennifer Chiaverini. The prolific Chiaverini made her debut into historical fiction two years ago with Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, with great success. She now turns her attention to another first lady, Julia Grant, wife to Ulysses S. Grant. In 1844, Missouri belle Julia Dent met dazzling horseman Lieutenant Ulysses S Grant. Four years passed before their parents permitted them to wed, and the groom’s abolitionist family refused to attend the ceremony. Since childhood, Julia owned as a slave another Julia, known as Jule. Jule guarded her mistress’s closely held twin secrets: She had perilously poor vision but was gifted with prophetic sight. So it was that Jule became Julia’s eyes to the world. The first novel to chronicle this unique relationship between these two women, this is sure to become a favorite among book clubs and historical fiction fans alike.

Sisters of Shiloh, by Kathy Hepinstall and Becky Hepinstall Hilliker. Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.  Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him. This is absolutely on my list, and I'm also recommending it to folks who liked Neverhome or Cold Mountain.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reading Ahead: March 2015, part 3

 Need a little mystery in your life? The library can help!

Cold Betrayal, by J.A. Jance. This most recent entry in Jance's Ali Reynolds series finds Reynolds’s longtime friend and Taser-carrying nun, Sister Anselm, rushing to the bedside of a young pregnant woman hospitalized for severe injuries after she was hit by a car on a deserted Arizona highway. The girl had been running away from The Family, a polygamous cult with no patience for those who try to leave its ranks. Something about her strikes a chord in Sister Anselm, reminding her of a case she worked years before when another young girl wasn’t so lucky. Now it's up to Ali and Sister Anselm to uncover secrets that The Family has kept hidden for far too long, before someone else gets hurt...or worse. Jance's fans are legion, and this is sure to draw even more readers. New to the series? Start with Edge of Evil.

Endangered, by C.J. Box. Speaking of authors with legions of devoted fans, C.J. Box has made quite a name for himself in recent years. In this new novel featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, Pickett's eighteen-year-old ward, April, is missing, giving Joe one more reason to hate rodeo champion Dallas Cates, since Cates was the one April ran away with. Then a girl's body is found in a ditch, clinging to life. It's April, and she may not recover, but Cates swears to his innocence. Pickett has to get to the bottom of this, even if it kills him...and it just might. This is the sixteenth in the series--readers wanting to catch up may want to start at the beginning with Open Season.

The Edge of Dreams, by Rhys Bowen. Fourteenth in Bowen's long-running and very popular Molly Murphy series, The Edge of Dreams begins with Molly Murphy Sullivan's husband Daniel, a captain in the New York police force, chasing a murderer whose victims have nothing in common. Nothing other than the taunting notes delivered to Daniel after each murder, that is. When Molly and the couple's young son, Liam, survive a terrible train crash, Daniel receives another note, leading the couple to believe that Molly may have been the killer's target.

Inspector of the Dead, by David Morrell. The year is 1855. The Crimean War is raging. The incompetence of British commanders causes the fall of the English government. The Empire teeters. Amid this crisis comes opium-eater Thomas De Quincey, one of the most notorious and brilliant personalities of Victorian England. Along with his irrepressible daughter, Emily, and their Scotland Yard companions, Ryan and Becker, De Quincey finds himself confronted by an adversary who threatens the heart of the nation. This killer targets members of the upper echelons of British society, leaving with each corpse the name of someone who previously attempted to kill Queen Victoria. The evidence indicates that the ultimate victim will be Victoria herself.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reading Ahead: March 2015, part 2

Need a suggestion for a(nother) new thriller? Having trouble keeping track of James Patterson's rapid-fire publication schedule? No problem! I've got you covered.

The Assassin, by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. Latest in Cussler's best-selling Isaac Bell series, The Assassin finds Bell, a Van Dorn private detective, working to land a case investigating the Rockefeller Standard Oil monopoly, only to have a sniper set to work picking off potential witnesses, one after another. Bell must turn his attention to tracking this phantom-like assassin, trying to put an end to his reign of murder and destruction once and for all, even as his quarry leads him on a wild chase all over the United States and Russia. New to this series? Start with 2007's The Chase.

Life or Death, by Michael Robotham. Audie Palmer has spent ten years in a Texas prison after pleading guilty to a robbery in which four people died and seven million dollars went missing. During that time he has suffered repeated beatings, stabbings and threats by inmates and guards, all desperate to answer the same question: where's the money? Now, on the day before Audie is due to be released, he suddenly vanishes.  The police, FBI, gangsters and other powerful figures, everyone is trying to find him. But Audie isn't running to save his own life. Instead, he's trying to save someone else's. Robotham is kind of amazing (I've been a fan since reading Lost in 2006), so I highly recommend him, especially to fans of psychological thrillers.

NYPD Red 3, by James Patterson and Marshall Karp. NYPD Red is the elite, highly trained task force assigned to protect the rich, the famous, and the connected. And Detective Zach Jordan and his partner Kylie MacDonald-the woman who broke his heart at the police academy-are the best of the best, brilliant and tireless investigators who will stop at nothing to deliver justice. Zach and Kylie's New Year's celebrations are cut short when they're called to the home of billionaire businessman Hunter Alden, Jr. after he makes a grisly discovery in his townhouse garage. When Alden's teenage son goes missing soon afterwards, and his father seems oddly reluctant to find him, Zach and Kylie find themselves in the middle of a chilling conspiracy that threatens everyone in its wake-especially their city's most powerful citizens.