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.

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