Thursday, April 30, 2015

What I've Been Reading: April 2015

I've been reading a little bit of everything this month, from memoirs to dystopian fiction, and lots of good stuff! April started off with a bang, as I read David Vann's latest novel, Aquarium. I loved it so much, in fact, that I couldn't keep it to myself. You can read my full review here.

And then?

They Cage the Animals At Night, by Jennings Michael Burch. This was my book club's selection for our April meeting, and I have to admit, I dawdled with it until the eleventh hour this month, because the subject matter was hard for me. I know kids often read this in middle or high school, though I hadn't, and I'm still just sort of sad about it. Burch's mother attempted to raise him and his five brothers on her own after his father walked out on them, but suffered from several nervous collapses and while recuperating, the boys were split off--some farmed out to other families, others (Jennings included) often wound up in orphanages. The memoir follows Burch's experiences through several of the homes during his childhood, the good and bad, which I found deeply moving. I'm glad I read it, but it was not an easy read for me.

The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman. Longlisted for the Folio Prize as well as the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (alongside Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, which I coincidentally also read this month, reviewed below), The Country of Ice Cream Star is one of the most unique and challenging books I've read in some time. And perhaps the challenge was its uniqueness. It required me to read for general information and feel instead of for detail, because the language (a lexicon established by short generations of children altering the language over eighty years since the collapse of civilization) is so different. But brilliant. Ice Cream Star and her tribe live in an exotically feral Massachusetts, in a world where no one lives past age 21, and the hints of a cure to the ailment of "posies" are only rumor until Ice Cream's older brother, only 18, becomes ill. Ice Cream, with the help of a stranger, leads her tribe of Sengles on a desperate journey in hope of saving her brother's life. This is unlike anything I've ever read, and I highly recommend it to those who aren't afraid of a challenge.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Philipp Sendker. This was another book club selection, this time for May's meeting. I figured this time I would make sure to read it early! When Julia's father, a successful New York lawyer, disappears without a trace, neither Julia nor her mother have a clue as to what happened, until they find an old love letter he wrote to a woman in his native Burma. Determined to find out why her father has abandoned them, Julia heads to Burma seeking answers, only to find a whole history of her father that she never knew existed. A beautiful love story, and one I look forward to discussing with my group.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. This is one of the best novels I've read so far this year (right up there with Aquarium, though very different). Admittedly, I listened to the audiobook, which was also incredible. This is my introduction to St. John Mandel, and I can't wait to go back and read her other work now. It's a National Book Award Finalist and was also nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction , AND the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Oh, and it's being adapted for film. Now, about the story itself. It begins on the cusp of the end of civilization as we know it, and the story follows several characters back and forth through time, between the years before the collapse and then twenty years after the collapse. It is suspenseful and told with a keen eye for detail, full of a terrible beauty while exploring themes of art, fame, and memory. I strongly recommend it, and I know I'll be rereading this in years to come. It's too good not to come back to.

The Thunder of Giants, by Joel Fishbane.  The year is 1937 and Andorra Kelsey - 7'11 and just over 320 pounds - is on her way to Hollywood to become a star. Hoping to escape both poverty and the ghost of her dead husband, she accepts an offer from the wily Rutherford Simone to star in a movie about the life of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess who toured the world in the 19th . Told in parallel, Anna Swan's story unfurls. While Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan is quickly celebrated for her unique size. Drawn to New York, Anna becomes a famed attraction at P.T. Barnum's American Museum even as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Quickly disenchanted with a life of fame, Anna struggles to prove to Gavin - and the world - that she is more than the sum of her measurements. This was inspiring and perfectly balanced. Often, books which are told in parallel stories tend to be stronger in one story-line and weaker in another, but this was not the case. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction. This could also be a great pick for book clubs.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Summer 2015 preview

I've been ordering fiction and mystery titles for this summer since before last Christmas, and let me tell you, that's a really long time to hold back from sharing with my fellow readers! That said, I've now given myself an enough tougher choice: what to share with you in this preview. I'm going with those titles that I am personally most excited about, so your mileage may vary.


Second Life, by S.J. Watson. Watson's first novel, 2011's psychological thriller Before I Go To Sleep, was an international bestseller and award winner. Fans, myself included, have been waiting rather impatiently for more from this gifted author, and will finally be rewarded just in time for summer. Second Life follows a woman who, as she investigates the circumstances surrounding her sister's violent murder, finds herself caught up in a dangerous game with a stranger online that may cause her to lose everything she holds dear. A novel of the dark secrets people keep, Second Life is already a bestseller in the UK. It's already on my list of must-reads this summer.


Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. If you didn't read McLain's novel, The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, then you are absolutely missing out. The good news is that you have time to go back and read that while waiting for her new book, Circling the Sun, to be released at the end of July. Set in 1920's colonial Kenya, this new novel focuses on another strong female character, Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of the classic memoir Out of Africa. The novel is getting lots of advance praise, including love from fellow authors like Jodi Picoult and JoJo Moyes. I'm expecting this to be a hit not just with readers of historical fiction, but also with book clubs. Don't say I didn't warn you.


We Never Asked for Wings, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Diffenbaugh is the author of the 2011 bestselling novel The Language of Flowers, which has been a particular favorite of book clubs for the last few years. For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life. Being billed as a novel of hope and hard choices, this new novel is sure to be a reader favorite.

I'll be back on Thursday to share what I've been reading this month. In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Meg's Picks: May 2015, part 2

I have something for everyone to look forward to this May, whether you're an old-school horror fan, a lover of historical fiction, or on the lookout for the next great new author. (And a little secret? I have SO MUCH to share for June already, I'm not sure I can wait until next month to start sharing! If you want a little sneak preview of some of the fabulous new summer reads, come on back next Tuesday and I'll have a few things to share.) Now, on with today's post!

The Scarlet Gospels, by Clive Barker. The Scarlet Gospels takes readers back many years to the early days of two of Barker's most iconic characters in a battle of good and evil as old as time: The long-beleaguered detective Harry D'Amour, investigator of all supernatural, magical, and malevolent crimes faces off against his formidable, and intensely evil rival, Pinhead, the priest of hell. Barker devotees have been waiting for The Scarlet Gospels with bated breath for years, and it's everything they've begged for and more. Bloody, terrifying, and brilliantly complex, fans and newcomers alike will not be disappointed by the epic, visionary tale that is The Scarlet Gospels. Barker's horror will make your worst nightmares seem like bedtime stories.

Love is Red, by Sophie Jaff. Fans of Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, please pay attention, because Jaff's debut is right up your alley. First in a trilogy, book one introduces readers to Katherine Emerson, a woman born to fulfill a dark prophecy centuries in the making, but she doesn't know it yet. However, one man does: a killer stalking the women of New York City, a monster the media dubs the "Sickle Man" because of the weapon he uses to turn his victims' bodies into canvases for his twisted art. He takes more than just his victims' lives, and each death brings him closer to the one woman he must possess at any cost. Amid the city's escalating hysteria, Katherine is trying to unknot her tangled heart, as two very different men have entered her previously uneventful world and turned it upside down. She finds herself involved in a complicated triangle . . . but how well does she really know either of them?

Told from the alternating viewpoints of Katherine and the Sickle Man, Sophie Jaff's intoxicating narrative will pull you in and hold you close. As the body count rises, Katherine is haunted by harrowing visions that force her to question her sanity. All she wants is to find love. He just wants to find her. This is getting a lot of advance critical praise, so don't be surprised if you hear more about this as the summer goes on.

A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson & Brent K. Ashabranner. Atkinson's gorgeously unique 2013 novel, Life After Life, made a huge impact with readers. Now she's returned with a second installment about the Todd family, billed as a companion novel instead of a sequel, which tells the dramatic story of the 20th Century through Ursula's beloved younger brother Teddy--would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather-as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have. Critics are using words like "heartbreaking," "sublime," and "gorgeous." If it's anything like Life After Life, I can strongly recommend this, even having not yet read it.

Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry. A ravishing first novel, set in vibrant, tumultuous turn-of-the-century New York City, where the lives of four outsiders become entwined, bringing irrevocable change to them all. As these strangers’ lives become increasingly connected, their stories and secrets unfold. Moving from the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular human circus to a brutal, terrifying asylum, Church of Marvels takes readers back to turn-of-the-century New York—a city of hardship and dreams, love and loneliness, hope and danger. In magnetic, luminous prose, Leslie Parry offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past in a narrative of astonishing beauty, full of wondrous enchantments, a marvelous debut that will leave readers breathless. I'm recommending this particularly to readers who enjoyed books like Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris. Harris, author of the incredibly popular Chocolat, among other works, has returned to readers with something completely different. This novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods—retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. A #1 bestseller in the UK, The Gospel of Loki tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself. 
While this may seem to be a reach for Harris, she admits to a lifelong passion for Norse myths. Coupled with the current pop-culture demand for all things Norse, including movies like The Avengers (with a sequel coming to theaters in mid-May) and Thor (and its sequel, Thor: The Dark World), as well as obvious comparisons to authors like Neil Gaiman (particularly American Gods, which is one of my all-time favorite novels. Ever.) and really, I think readers will flock to this. I'm counting myself among them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Meg's Picks: May 2015, part 1

I have to confess: sometimes it's really difficult for me to wait so long to share what I'm looking forward to reading. In many cases, I'm ordering new fiction six months in advance. Which means I'm already ordering holiday books, folks. I know. And I'm sorry.

However, what this also means is that by the time the books are finally about to be published, I've got all my ducks in a row, ready to share with you! Ready?

I Take You, by Eliza Kennedy. Kennedy's debut is being heralded as one of the funniest, most clever debut novels since Bridget Jones's Diary, and those are some significant stilettos to fill. I'm going to tell you right now: this will be one of the must-have beach-reads this summer. Lily Wilder has everything. A New York lawyer and bride-to-be, she has a family full of charismatic and loving women, and a total catch of a fiancĂ©. Also? She has no business getting married. Lily’s fiancĂ© Will is a brilliant, handsome archaeologist. Lily is sassy, impulsive, fond of a good drink (or five) and completely incapable of being faithful to just one man.  As the wedding approaches, Lily’s nights—and mornings, and afternoons—of booze, laughter and questionable decisions become a growing reminder that the happiest day of her life might turn out to be her worst mistake yet.

Early Warning, by Jane Smiley. For readers who want something engrossing and entertaining, but more family saga than all-out-drama, Smiley's new novel (continuing the story begun in 2014's very popular Some Luck) may be just what you're looking for. Early Warning opens in 1953 with the Langdon family at a crossroads. Their stalwart patriarch, Walter, who with his wife, Rosanna, sustained their farm for three decades, has suddenly died, leaving their five children, now adults, looking to the future. Only one will remain in Iowa to work the land, while the others scatter to Washington, D.C., California, and everywhere in between. As the country moves out of post–World War II optimism through the darker landscape of the Cold War and the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and ’70s, and then into the unprecedented wealth—for some—of the early 1980s, the Langdon children each follow a different path in a rapidly changing world. If you're adrift in between installments of Jeffrey Archer's family saga The Clifton Chronicles, consider these to help you through.

The Ice Twins, by S.K. Tremayne. Early reviews for this have mentioned both Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) for comparisons, so that should give you some idea about both the plot and the anticipated popularity. A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives. But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity--that she, in fact, is Lydia--their world comes crashing down once again. As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, they are forced to confront what really happened on that fateful day.

Disclaimer, by Renee Knight. A psychological thriller, already an international bestseller, finally comes to the States. Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day she became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew—and that person is dead. Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day . . . even if the shocking truth might destroy her. Thriller readers have a lot to look forward to this summer!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reading Ahead: May 2015, part 4

Beach reads are usually defined as any book (usually fiction) which is engaging and a quick enough read that you can finish most of it before your sunscreen wears off. Beach reading isn't necessarily literature, but it will entertain. With the days getting longer and the temperatures warming up, I don't think it's too soon to start planning my list of beach reads, and the publishers definitely feel the same way! Here are a few on the lighter, fluffier side to consider for your beach reading pleasure this summer.

Double Down, by Fern Michaels. Three connected novellas, The Men of the Sisterhood, are now in print together for the first time, prominently featuring the male characters from Michaels's bestselling Sisterhood series. After years of standing by their women, the Sisterhood’s significant others have also become loyal friends. And now Jack Emery, Nikki’s husband, has enlisted Ted, Joe, Jay, Bert, Dennis, and Abner to form a top-secret organization known as BOLO Consultants. Jack has two missions in mind. The first: offering some behind-the-scenes help to Nikki’s law firm as they take on the all-powerful Andover Pharmaceuticals. Andover’s anti-leukemia drug causes terrible side effects in young patients, but a class-action suit seems doomed to fail. BOLO Consultants have a prescription to cure that. Meanwhile, Virginia’s lieutenant governor has a sideline as a slum landlord, and his impoverished tenants are suffering. But when the Sisterhood and their allies decide to get involved, no one is beyond the reach of true justice… Each novella can easily be finished in an afternoon--perfect beach reading.

Beach Town, by Mary Kay Andrews. Greer Hennessy is a struggling movie location scout. Her last location shoot ended in disaster when a film crew destroyed property on an avocado grove. And Greer ended up with the blame. Now Greer has been given one more chance--a shot at finding the perfect undiscovered beach town for a big budget movie. She zeroes in on a sleepy Florida panhandle town. There's one motel, a marina, a long stretch of pristine beach and an old fishing pier with a community casino--which will be perfect for the film's climax--when the bad guys blow it up in an all-out assault on the townspeople. The only thing standing in her way is the town's environmentally-conscious mayor. What could possibly go wrong? Andrews is known for witty dialogue and charming characters, making this a great choice for easy reading this summer.

The Guest Cottage, by Nancy Thayer. Best-laid plans run awry when sensible single-mom Sophie and grieving widower Trevor realize they’ve mistakenly rented the same Nantucket beach house. Still, determined to make this a summer their kids will always remember, the two agree to share the house. But as the summer unfolds and the families grow close, Sophie and Trevor must ask themselves if the guest cottage is all they want to share. Nothing like a heart-warming romance, and Thayer is known for them.

I'm back next week with some special picks for May fiction titles. Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Can't Keep It To Myself: Aquarium, by David Vann

I realize it's been awhile since I've posted about a book that I want to share with everyone I know, but this one? I honestly can't stop thinking about it, nearly a week after finishing it.

The novel in question, of course, is David Vann's latest, Aquarium. In it, twelve-year-old Caitlin lives in subsidized housing in Seattle with her mother, who works as a docker at the local container port. Each day after school, Caitlin goes to the aquarium while she's waiting for her mother to come and pick her up, spending hours in the dim rooms watching the fish swim by in light of their tanks. When she befriends an old man who is also a regular aquarium visitor, Caitlin also uncovers a long-buried family secret which transforms her once-blissful relationship with her mother into an ordeal of nightmarish proportions. Ultimately, it is a beautifully written novel of family, of the power of love and forgiveness, of redemption, and of the heartache people cause one another. I found it absolutely enthralling and I could not put it down. A word of caution: this is not a novel for the faint of heart. However, I found it to be absolutely worth the emotional journey.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Reading Ahead: May 2015, part 3

Need a break from thrillers and suspense novels? How about a cozy mystery? Or a romance novel? Whatever your genre of choice, I promise that we can help you out. Here are a few titles to look forward to next month!

The Body in the Birches, by Katherine Hall Page. Page returns with a new Faith Fairchild mystery (twenty-third in this long-running series, a favorite among fans). The Fourth of July is one of the hottest on record and even the breeze off Penobscot Bay can’t seem to cool things down for Faith Fairchild and the rest of the folks on Sanpere Island. But the fireworks are just beginning. After the celebrations are over, Faith discovers a body in the woods near The Birches, an early twentieth-century “cottage.” It's up to caterer (and amateur sleuth) Faith to uncover the killer before he strikes again, and possibly too close to home. New to the series? Start at the beginning with book one, The Body in the Belfry.

Ming Tea Murder, by Laura Childs. Sixteenth in Childs's much beloved Tea Shop Mysteries series, Ming Tea Murder begins as a black tie event to celebrate the reconstruction of an antique Chinese teahouse suddenly spirals into murder. Who is this killer with a taste for blood and impeccable taste in Chinese art? Can Theodosia find him before she becomes a target, too?

Texas Tough, by Janet Dailey. He's the quiet horse whisperer whose touch still haunts her dreams—and is everything wealthy Lauren Prescott is not. She can think of a million reasons why she should never ever fall into Sky Fletcher's sure embrace again. Until she clashes head-on with the dangerous complications of her privileged life and needs his protection. She's the heiress Sky can't get out of his heart, no matter how much he tries. And being the secret third Tyler son doesn't change a thing. All he wants from his two brothers is help uncovering a dangerous conspiracy threatening his land, their ranch, and the spirited beauty he never should have touched.

The Marriage Season, by Linda Lael Miller. Third in the Brides of Bliss County series (following The Marriage Pact and The Marriage Charm), The Marriage Season rejoins best friends Hadleigh, Melody and Bex after the three of them entered into a marriage pact, and two of them have found (and married) the men of their hearts. But Bex doesn't think she'll be as fortunate as the others. Her own first love died years ago in a faraway war, and Bex has lost hope for a happy marriage of her own. She concentrates on her business, a successful chain of fitness clubs, instead. Then, when single father Tate Calder comes to Mustang Creek with his two sons in tow, who befriend Bex's eight-year-old nephew, she and the handsome, aloof newcomer are constantly thrown together. But is the marriage season over? Or can a man with doubts about love be the right husband for a woman who wants it all?