Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What I've Been Reading: March 2015

Here we are at the end of March, and folks, it's fairly slim pickings. Two of my four titles for the month (yes, only four. Even super-readers have slumps.) were fairly high page-count, and two of them begged to be savored instead of devoured, but in the end, here are my four reads for the month of March.

Crash & Burn, by Lisa Gardner. In this rather creepy suspense novel from Gardner, Nicole Frank crawls free of the wreckage of her crashed SUV, only to find that she has gaping holes in her memory. When her husband tries to help her remember upon arriving at the hospital, Nicole begins to doubt everything he says in addition to the odds and ends she thinks she remembers. It falls to Boston PD Sergeant Wyatt Foster to help Nicole piece the story together, even as he helps her search for a missing girl who may not even exist. While this book was a bit of a slow start, once I got about a third of the way in, the plot took off like a shot and all I could do was hang on to the very twisted ending. I'm a fan.

Caribou Island, by David Vann. I recently came across a review of David Vann's new book (Aquarium, which was released earlier this month) which lauded the author as one of the greatest American novelists of our time. I was admittedly intrigued, because that's a lot to live up to. I picked up Vann's 2012 debut novel, Caribou Island, on audiobook and immediately fell down the rabbit hole. Set in the wilds of Alaska, this is the story of a family pulled apart by rage and regret. Gary feels consistently frustrated and thwarted, mourning thirty years of a life he thought would be different. His wife, Irene, does her best to go along with Gary's latest great project, a cabin built on Caribou Island; dissent only provokes arguments. She can feel Gary pulling away, and even as she tries to keep their family together, her own body begins to betray her with a headache that has no medical cause and that will not respond to medication. Their devoted adult daughter, Rhoda, attempts to maintain the peace, anxious at the increasing strain between her parents and equally worried about the state of her relationship with her fiance, Jim. The book builds to an almost unbearable tension, beautifully written and paced. I am looking forward to more great things from Vann.

The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy. Since discovering my love of Conroy's slow, deliberate prose when reading Beach Music a number of years ago, I have made an effort to pace myself with the reading of his work. Since he typically only publishes perhaps two or three times each decade, it has been a challenge for me to be moderate. So I have been reading The Prince of Tides, and savoring it, making it last. I admit I've never seen the movie, so I have come to the novel unspoiled by expectations. This is the story of Tom Wingo and his gifted, troubled twin sister Savannah, spanning decades as they each try in their own way to come to terms with their darkly secretive and extraordinary family legacy. I could talk about my love of Conroy for hours. Note: The audiobook version was read by the late, great Frank Muller. Conroy later said that he was grateful to Muller, because the reading of the novel gave him, Conroy, a version of the book he didn't know had existed.

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. I have to thank my friend Wendy for encouraging me to read this, as she knew I was in a bit of a reading dry spell. I think the spell might be broken. At least, I hope so. And it would be in part because of this deeply emotional novel, set in France during the Nazi occupation during World War II. Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, have never been close. Vianne, 10 years Isabelle's senior, enjoys her small, simple life in the Loire Valley. She has a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, and a job teaching at the village school. Isabelle cannot accept what is expected of her--she has been expelled from a number of boarding schools, and now at nearly nineteen, she returns to their emotionally distant father in Paris, only to be shunted off to live with Vianne. As France falls to the German occupation and soldiers are billeted with the sisters, Isabelle finds herself drawn into the French resistance movement, driving another wedge between the sisters. This is a deeply moving story of family ties during a time of crisis, and I thought it was excellent.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Keeping up with the Jones's, Spring 2015 Edition

Obviously, after 350-something posts here in the last four years, I love to talk about books. And the question I get asked most, in various ways is: "What is everyone reading right now? What's the hot new book? What are you reading right now?" So I figure I can help you out on this score, if you're curious about what your friends and neighbors are reading right now (or about to get their hands on!)--and here's a surprise--some of it isn't just what's on the New York Times' Bestsellers List. Here are the big ten right this very minute.

1. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. This year's Gone Girl. After witnessing something shocking, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

2. Mightier Than the Sword, by Jeffrey Archer.  Book five of Archer's hugely popular Clifton Chronicles. Yes, you really should read them in order. Start with Only Time Will Tell.

3. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. An epic love story and family drama set at the dawn of World War II. This is what I am reading right now, at the urging of a friend and fellow book-lover, and I'm so glad I listened to her! You can catch my full review next week in my March recap.

4. A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler. A novel that takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.

5. Every Fifteen Minutes, by Lisa Scottoline. Want to get ahead of the curve? Place your hold now!  It'll be out in just a couple of weeks, and the anticipation among suspense readers is intense! Want to know more about it? Check out my preview here.

6. Memory Man, by David Baldacci. Here's another chance to get in ahead of the pack. Bestseller Baldacci's latest is slated for a mid-April release, and you do not want to get left behind!

7. Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant. Diamant (The Red Tent) is a major favorite among readers, and this latest is continuing to please, following the life of a girl, Addie Baum, born in 1900 Boston to immigrant parents who were very unprepared for the New World.

8. Private Vegas, by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro. Patterson (with some help) publishes nearly every month lately, to keep up with voracious reader demands. This is the eighth in the Private series, here concentrating on the hunt for two criminals through the city of sin.

9. Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. Still Alice has been a reader favorite since it's publication in 2009, but last year's Oscar-winning film adaptation starring Julianne Moore has caused a resurgence in popularity. A Harvard professor realizes that the increasing confused thinking is something more than just stress.

10. Crash & Burn, by Lisa Gardner. A great entry in Gardner's newest series featuring private investigator Tessa Leoni (first seen in Love You More, 2011). I read this earlier this month and while it's a slower start, by the midway point, all readers can do is hang on for the ride to the finish.

I'm back next week to share what I've been reading!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Meg's Picks: April 2015, part 2

More? Of course I have more recommendations for you! I can promise you now--I will always have books to share. And here are a couple more that I'm especially looking forward to next month...and why!

The Children’s Crusade, by Anne Packer

What it is: Four adult siblings take turns telling the story of their family: their parents, their home, their childhoods, their current family struggles. Does one's childhood determine one's future?

Why I want to read it: Packer wrote an amazing novel a few years back called The Dive From Clausen's Pier. I fell in love with her writing then--The New Yorker describes it as a "naturalist’s vigilance for detail, so that her characters seem observed rather than invented." I wholeheartedly agree, and can't wait to read this new book.

Where They Found Her, by Kimberly McCreight

What it is: A novel that seeks to untangle the truths behind tragedy, three women tell the story of a devastating discovery in an idyllic suburban town.

Why I want to read it: This is a follow-up to McCreight's bestselling 2013 novel, Reconstructing Amelia, and more than one critic has likened McCreight's subject matter and style to that of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Meg's Picks: April 2015, part 1

I've been reading through hundreds of book reviews and picking the best of the best...so you don't have to! Here are a few titles I'm looking forward to next month, and why I can't wait to read them!

The Blondes, by Emily Schultz

What it is: a hilarious and whipsmart novel where an epidemic of a rabies-like disease is carried only by blonde women, all of whom must go to great lengths to conceal their blondness.

Why I want to read it: This is being billed as a genre-defying novel, a mix of satire, thriller, and serious literature. It is also being compared to works like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, as well as getting nods from the likes of Stephen King, Helene Wecker, and Emily St. John Mandel.

A Slant of Light, by Jeffrey Lent

What it is: A double murder in a small rural western New York town after the end of the Civil War affects the entire community in this novel about love, loss and revenge.

Why I want to read it: Lent won me over more than fifteen years ago with his debut novel, In the Fall. I find his prose profoundly moving.

Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova

What it is: A cop, husband and father initially attributes his uncharacteristic outbursts, involuntary movements and confused thinking to stress, but a visit to a neurologist changes his life and the lives of his family forever.

Why I want to read it: Novelist and neuroscientist Genova does an amazing job weaving fiction and science in a way that makes it readable and accessible. Readers may be familiar with another of Genova's novels, Still Alice, recently made into an Oscar-winning film featuring Julianne Moore. This will likely be a title that your neighbors and book clubs will be talking about in the near future.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Reading Ahead: April 2015, part 4

Need a little easy reading to enjoy during these lengthening, warming spring days? I know I do! Here are a few to choose from, new next month!

The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg. Berg steps a bit outside of her normal genre here and presents readers with a historical novel, based the life of nineteenth-century writer George Sand, specifically her time spent in Paris. Aurore Dupin leaves her husband and their loveless marriage behind with the French countryside and sets out for Paris, intending to become a writer. In the interest of re-invention, she gives herself a new name, too: George Sand. These are but a few instances of what will be known as a most unconventional and downright scandalous life led by Sand, contemporary of writers like Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert. And even as Sand finds fame and fortune, she still must overcome heartbreak, prejudice, failure and loss. Fans of historical novels like those of Nancy Horan will absolutely want to check this out.

The Liar, by Nora Roberts. Shelby Foxworth lost her husband. Then she lost her illusions. The man who took her from Tennessee to an exclusive Philadelphia suburb left her in crippling debt. He was an adulterer and a liar, and when Shelby tracks down his safe-deposit box, she finds multiple IDs. The man she loved wasn’t just dead. He never really existed. Shelby takes her three-year-old daughter and heads south to seek comfort in her hometown, where she meets someone new: Griff Lott, a successful contractor. But her husband had secrets she has yet to discover. Even in this small town, surrounded by loved ones, danger is closer than she knows—and threatens Griff, as well.

Garden of Lies, by Amanda Quick. A new novel from Quick finds murder and intrigue in Victorian London. The Kern Secretarial Agency provides reliable professional services to its wealthy clientele, and Anne Clifton was one of the finest women in Ursula Kern’s employ. But Miss Clifton has met an untimely end—and Ursula is convinced it was not due to natural causes. Archaeologist and adventurer Slater Roxton thinks Mrs. Kern is off her head to meddle in such dangerous business. If this mysterious widowed beauty insists on stirring the pot, Slater intends to remain close by as they venture into the dark side of polite society. Together they must reveal the identity of a killer—and to achieve their goal they may need to reveal their deepest secrets to each other as well.

I'll be back on Thursday with some of my picks for what else you might be interested in reading next month. In the meantime, Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Reading Ahead: April 2015, part 3

Okay, so the last two posts were chock-full of thriller and suspense titles. But what if you're not a thriller/suspense reader? Or what if you'd just like something a little different, a little change of pace? Not to worry! The library has you covered there, too! Take a look...

God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison. At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

Emma: a modern retelling, by Alexander McCall-Smith. McCall-Smith has been delighting readers with his charming and funny No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels, among other titles. Now he turns his cozy, old-fashioned sensibilities onto a modern retelling of Jane Austen's meddlesome heroine. The summer after university, Emma Woodhouse returns home to the village of Highbury to prepare for the launch of her interior design business. As she cultivates grand plans for the future, she re-enters the household of her hypochondriac father. Emma also befriends Harriet Smith, the na├»ve but charming young teacher’s assistant. Harriet is Emma’s inspiration to do the two things she does best: offer guidance to those less wise in the ways of the world and put her matchmaking skills to good use. Happily, this summer presents abundant opportunities for her to do just that, as many friends, both old and new, are drawn into the sphere of Emma’s occasionally injudicious counsel. Entertaining and timeless, this might be one to put on your list of beach-reads, if you can't find the time just now.

Last One Home, by Debbie Macomber. A new stand-alone novel from Macomber, who is best known for her Blossom Street and Cedar Grove series, follows three sisters as they learn the value of each other, the power of forgiveness, and the gift of second chances. Growing up, Cassie Carter and her sisters, Karen and Nichole, were incredibly close—until one fateful event drove them apart. After high school, Cassie ran away from home to marry the wrong man, throwing away a college scholarship and breaking her parents’ hearts. To make matters worse, Cassie had always been their father’s favorite—a sentiment that weighed heavily on her sisters and made Cassie’s actions even harder to bear. Now after more than a decade, Cassie is back, accompanied by her daughter, to try and fix the one thing she's never been able to repair: her relationship with her sisters. Macomber fans have been lining up for this one, and can rejoice! In the fluidity of the publishing world, the date was bumped up for this title, and it was released this past Tuesday! Surprise!

Miracle at Augusta, by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge. A year ago, Travis McKinley, an unknown golfing amateur, shocked the world by winning the PGA Senior Open at Pebble Beach. Now he's famous, he makes his living playing the game he loves, and everything should be perfect. Still Travis can't shake the feeling that he's a fraud, an imposter who doesn't deserve his success - and after a series of disappointments and, to be honest, personal screw-ups, he might just prove himself right. A shot at redemption arrives in an unexpected form: a teenage outcast with troubles of his own - and a natural golf swing. As this unlikely duo sets out to achieve the impossible on the world's most revered golf course, Travis is about to learn that sometimes the greatest miracles of all take place when no one is watching.