Thursday, May 28, 2015

What I've Been Reading: May 2015

I have to say that even with all of the around-the-house chores that come with springtime, I still managed to read quite a bit this month! In fact, I've been carving out as much time to read as I can, because there have been some good ones lately. So I've been getting up a little earlier and reading while I have my morning cup of coffee. I stay up a little later, "Just to finish this chapter! Okay, maybe one more chapter..." I read on my lunch hour, while I'm waiting for dinner to cook, while I'm in waiting rooms. And I really have to say, I'm not watching much television these days, although I can recommend Netflix's Daredevil series and AMC's Halt and Catch Fire (season 2 starts this Sunday!). All of this to say, really, that there is no secret to finding time to read. It absolutely can be done.

The Liar, by Nora Roberts. Devastated to learn that her unfaithful husband had actually married her using an alias, Shelby returns with her young daughter to her Tennessee hometown and pursues a new relationship before her husband's past poses dangerous threats. I really enjoyed this one, moreso than quite a bit of Roberts's recent work. She excels at creating characters who are delightfully quirky and vibrant, which makes their stories a pleasure to read. If you're looking for an easy beach read with just a little thrill included, I'd recommend picking up this one.

One Night in Winter, by Simon Sebag Montefiore. I had this recommended to me several times recently, and initially I was a little put off--1940s Russia is not my usual historical period of choice, and until I got familiar with the cast of characters and their names, the first couple of chapters were a little confusing. And then? I was captivated. The novel, inspired by historical events, follows the stories of two forbidden, deadly love affairs set in the corridors of one of Moscow's most elite schools, during the end of Stalin's regime. Recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly works by Hilary Mantel or Sebastian Faulks.

Revival, by Stephen King. I am a long-time fan of King's work, and this is no different for me. Half a century ago, preacher Charles Jacobs arrives in a small New England town with his young family, changing both church and town. When tragedy strikes, Jacobs loses his faith in a most public fashion, ending with his banishment by the shocked congregation. All of this we see through the eyes of the youngest Morton child, Jamie. As the years pass, Jamie grows up and moves away, encountering addiction and desperation. In his darkest hour, he encounters Jacobs again. Jacobs helps Jamie, but his aid comes with a price, part of which is that when Jacobs calls for Jamie, Jamie is helpless to resist. Their bond plagues Jamie for decades to come, culminating in what could be the ultimate sacrifice. This is vintage King, compulsively readable, thoughtful, nostalgic, and heavy on the dark foreboding. I deeply enjoyed it, and anticipate re-reading it in the years to come. Also, while I didn't listen to the audiobook version of this, I did see that the audiobook is read by the amazingly talented David Morse, and I think he's a brilliant narrator.

Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry. Set during the turn-of-the-last-century New York City, this debut novel follows the lives of four outsiders as they converge in the wake of the Coney Island fire of 1895. Sylvan, once an orphan himself, finds an abandoned newborn while working as a night soiler. He puts his livelihood in jeopardy in order to find her family. Belle and Odile Church are twins, raised amid the applause at The Church of Marvels, a sideshow on Coney Island run by their mother. In the wake of the tragic fire, however, the Church is gone, their mother is gone, and Belle has disappeared, leaving Odile alone and desperate. And Alphie, a young woman who has overcome a traumatic childhood and found true love, awakens to find herself trapped across the river in Blackwell's Lunatic Asylum. Their secrets and the connections among them become clearer as the story races forward, and I found it absolutely spellbinding. Recommended for fans of Alice Hoffman, in particular.

I Regret Nothing, by Jen Lancaster. Lancaster has made a career out of looking on the snarky side of life in her memoirs, but in recent years, there has been a little less rapier wit and a little more quiet wisdom in her work. I have to say, I am enjoying her evolution as a writer--you may remember my review of 2013's The Tao of Martha, which I also loved. Both of these latest offerings have particularly veered into heartwarming territory. In I Regret Nothing, Lancaster takes stock of her life and decides to make a bucket list, including everything from learning Italian, traveling abroad by herself, and removing the tattoo she got during her sorority one hundred times the cost of putting it on. In an effort to turn a mid-life crisis into a mid-life opportunity, Lancaster recounts her adventures with her trademark hilarity, and more than a few lessons for the rest of us. Witty, wise, and delightful. This would make a great summer read to take with you to the pool, beach or on vacation.

Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, by Amanda Berry & Gina DeJesus. I've had several co-workers recommend this to me, and I was a little wary--this is not my usual reading material. But while what these girls endured as victims of the Cleveland Kidnapper during their years of captivity is harrowing and heartbreaking, the message they send is clear: We survived. We are free. We love life. The book is ultimately very inspiring, and I'd absolutely recommend this to fans of true-crime nonfiction.

A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert. Another recommendation from friends, and one which has been a reader favorite since its publication in 2009. From the First World War to the early days of the new millennium, this novel follows the intricate relationships among mothers and daughters across five generations. The first in this line is a suffragist and Cambridge graduate, Dorothy Townsend, who starved for her cause, a fact that informs and echoes in the lives of her descendants, the narratives of which overlap. Poignant and resonant. I'd recommend this in particular to readers who enjoyed Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.

Love is Red, by Sophie Jaff. I mentioned this novel, first in a trilogy, in my Meg's Picks for May fiction, and I have to tell you, it's even better than I'd imagined. Over the course of a summer, New York City is held captive by a killer of young women, a murderer known in the media as the "Sickle Man." The reader knows just what drives him, though, and he is a monster far removed from ordinary men, working steadily, methodically, toward his ultimate prey. Katherine Emerson, oblivious to the fact that her fate is inextricably tangled with that of the killer, is living a simple life as a temp only to find herself torn between two different men. Both appeal to her in different ways, but how well does she really know either of them? For readers who enjoy fiction by authors like Diana Gabaldon and Deborah Harkness, I really recommend you pick this up. Now.

I'm back next week to start filling you in on the many (many!!) great new books scheduled for publication in July. In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Meg's Picks: June 2015, part 2

I'm so glad you're back for more, because I have more titles to share that just may hit the top of your reading list this summer. Intrigued? Then let me end the suspense--here are the rest of my picks from the June fiction titles.

The Mountain Story, by Lori Lansens. I am a huge fan of Lansens. Do you have a novelist who you wish would write faster/publish more often because you enjoy their books so much, but at the same time you don't want them to publish too often for fear of the books becoming rushed and less special? That is how I feel about Lansens's books. (New to Lori Lansens? I highly recommend The Girls, while you wait for her newest novel.)
Speaking of said latest novel... On the morning of Wolf Truly’s eighteenth birthday, he boards the first cable car to head up the mountains just a few miles from his sun-bleached trailer home in the desert community outside of Palm Springs. Armed with nothing but the clothes on his back, Wolf’s intention that morning was to give up on life—specifically at the mountain site of his best friend’s tragic accident one year ago. But on that shaky ride up the mountain, fate intervenes and Wolf meets three women that will leave an indelible imprint on the rest of his life. Through a series of missteps, the four wind up lost and stranded among the forested cliffs—in sight of the desert city below, but unable to find a way down. As the days pass without rescue, we come to learn how each of them came to be on the mountain that morning. And as their situation shifts from misadventure to nightmare, the lost hikers forge an inextricable bond, pushing themselves, and each other, beyond their limits. For Lansens fans, obviously, but also for those who enjoyed John Krakauer's Into the Wild or Cheryl Strayed's Wild (recently adapted for film starring Reese Witherspoon).

Whispering Shadows, by Jan-Phillip Sendker. I'm a bit late to the game here because, as will happen in publishing, this novel by bestselling author Sendker (The Art of Hearing Heartbeats) was bumped up and instead of being published in June as scheduled, it was actually published in April. Apologies for missing it! This is the first in a new trilogy, following American expat Paul Leibovitz, once an ambitious advisor, dedicated father, and loving husband. But after living for nearly thirty years in Hong Kong, personal tragedy strikes and Paul’s marriage unravels in the fallout. Now Paul is living as a recluse on an outlying island of Hong Kong. When he makes a fleeting connection with Elizabeth, a distressed American woman on the verge of collapse, his life is thrown into turmoil. Less than twenty-four hours later, Elizabeth’s son is found dead in Shenzhen, and Paul, invigorated by a newfound purpose, sets out to investigate the murder on his own. Described as part crime thriller, part love story, I have a feeling book clubs will want to add this to their lists in coming months.

The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler. Simon Watson lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a travelling carnival and seldom calls. On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon's grandmother. The book tells the story of two doomed lovers who were part of a travelling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes and sketches. He is fascinated, yet as he reads Simon becomes increasingly unnerved. Why do so many women in his family drown on 24th July? And could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in years, risk the same terrible fate? I'm recommending this to fans of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus or Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

The Truth According To Us, by Annie Barrows. Barrows follows up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with a small-town story filled with big characters. In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck's influential father cuts her off and insists she find work with the New Deal program the Federal Writer's Project. Layla is sent to pen the history of a remote mill town in West Virginia and takes up lodging with the unconventional Romeyn family, one of whom is keen to help her uncover buried family and town secrets. Recommended for fans of Barrows's previous novel, as well as for fans of authors like Lee Smith, Rachel Joyce and Gabrielle Zevin.

The Sunken Cathedral, by Kate Walbert. Walbert, National Book Award nominee and author of the critically acclaimed, New York Times best-selling novel A Short History of Women, returns here with a deceptively simple novel in stories, enriched with footnotes. The result is a multidimensional portrait of two 80-something widows in New York's Chelsea neighborhood venturing outside their comfort zone to take an art class. Simone and Marie, both French survivors of WWII, have been friends since meeting as young mothers on a Brooklyn playground. Neighbors, family, art students, and school administrators provide a supporting cast whose hopes and disappointments, routines and crises, pleasures, and fears converge to form an ode to New York City, a riff on aging, and a discourse on living with a vague fear of impending catastrophe.

I'll be back next Thursday to share what I've been reading this month. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday weekend, and happy reading!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meg's Picks: June 2015, part 1

Remember that Summer Preview I gave you a few weeks ago? I have to tell you that it wasn't even a drop in the bucket. And that is great news, because this summer, the library is your proverbial oyster. So here are some of the titles I'm particularly looking forward to next month.

Love May Fail, by Matthew Quick. Quick wrote one of my favorite books of 2014, The Good Luck of Right Now, and you can read my review over here. So naturally I'm intrigued by his latest offering, in which an aspiring feminist and underappreciated housewife, Portia, has a meltdown and sheds her husband and their life in Florida and returns to her childhood home in South Jersey, where she embarks on a journey to save herself by saving someone else, namely a beloved high school teacher who has retired after a terrible accident. Quick excels when it comes to relatable, quirky characters. I'd recommend this to fans of his previous work, as well as to readers who enjoyed off-beat protagonists like Don Tillman in Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project.

Saint Mazie, by Jami Attenberg. Author of the New York Times best-selling The Middlesteins, Attenberg returns with a new work unexpectedly set during Prohibition and inspired by a real-life figure in Joseph Mitchell's indelible Up in the Old Hotel. Grand, bigmouthed, bighearted Mazie Phillips spends her days as proprietress of the Venice, an old-line New York City movie theater, and her nights on the town. Then the Depression hits, and she opens the Venice to anyone in need. I'm recommending this to readers who like historical novels with a correspondence or diary entry format, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  

Second Life, by S.J. Watson. I mentioned this in my Summer Preview post, but there is a lot of excitement about this among library staff, so I'm mentioning it again. Thriller readers, if you missed Watson's first book, Before I Go To Sleep, do yourself a favor and go read it now. The two titles are not connected, so you don't technically have to, but it was a staff favorite a couple of years ago, and should whet your appetite for this newest offering. 

The Unfortunates, by Sophie MacManus. George Somner, a poor little rich boy who has never amounted to anything, is nearing middle age. His mother, the elegant heiress Cecilia ("CeCe") is a fixture in East Coast society who has bailed George out of trouble all his life. Now CeCe has reached her late seventies and is panic-stricken when facing a debilitating disease. She enrolls in a clinical trial for an experimental drug that seems to give her a new lease on life. George has found a wife, Iris, who though lower-middle-class doesn't appear to be a gold digger; she's genuinely fond of her husband. Then George's behavior becomes more erratic. He writes a libretto for an opera, which critics soon savage as a politically incorrect vanity project. Things go rapidly downhill, with subplots involving big pharma, insider trading, and shady real estate deals. For fans of authors like Adriana Trigiani and Penny Vincenzi.
Language Arts, by Stephanie Kallos. Charles Marlow teaches his high school English students that language will expand their worlds. But linguistic precision cannot help him connect with his autistic son, or with his ex-wife, who abandoned their shared life years before, or even with his college-bound daughter who has just flown the nest. He’s at the end of a road he’s traveled on autopilot for years when a series of events forces him to think back on the lifetime of decisions and indecisions that have brought him to this point. With the help of an ambitious art student, an Italian-speaking nun, and the memory of a boy in a white suit who inscribed his childhood with both solace and sorrow, Charles may finally be able to rewrite the script of his life. I'm recommending this in particular to fans of David Nicholls's Us.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Reading Ahead: June 2015, part 4

It has been quite a list, but here we are wrapping up the highlights of June's fiction list. Keep in mind, though, that I've been saving some for my Meg's Picks posts, so tune in next week to see what else I've got to share with you. In the meantime, these beach reads should tide you over.

A New Hope, by Robin Carr. Need a paperback to throw in your bag this summer? Consider Carr's new novel, A New Hope, a story full of inspiration and moving forward. After losing her child, Ginger Dysart was lost in grief. But since moving to Thunder Point, a small town on the Oregon coast, Ginger is finally moving forward. Her job at the flower shop is peaceful and fulfilling, and she's excited to be assisting with the Lacoumette wedding. Her pleasure is spoiled by a moment of embarrassment and poor timing, only to have that inauspicious beginning bloom into what might just be her happy ending.

Summer Secrets, by Jane Green. When a shocking family secret is revealed, twenty-something journalist Cat Coombs finds herself falling into a dark spiral. Wild nights out in London and hangovers the next day become her norm, leading to a terrible mistake one night while visiting family in America, on the island of Nantucket. When she returns home, she confronts the unavoidable reality of her life and knows it's time to grow up. As the years pass, Cat grows into her forties, a struggling single mother, coping with a new-found sobriety and determined to finally make amends. Traveling back to her past, to the family she left behind on Nantucket all those years ago, she may be able to earn their forgiveness, but in doing so she may risk losing the very people she loves the most. Green's latest will be on the bestseller's list this summer, make no mistake.

Kiss Me, by Susan Mallery. Need another paperback romance to peruse poolside? Why not! Part of Mallery's long-running Fool's Gold series, this latest novel After Phoebe Kitzke's kind heart gets her suspended from her job in LA, she swears off doing favors—until her best friend begs for help on the family ranch in Fool's Gold. Unfortunately, sexy cowboy Zane Nicholson isn't exactly thrilled by the city girl's arrival. Thanks to his brother's latest scheme, Zane has been roped into taking tourists on a cattle drive. What Phoebe knows about ranching wouldn't fill his hat, but her laughter is so captivating that even his animals fall for her. One slip of his legendary control leads to a passionate kiss that convinces him she's exactly the kind of woman a single-minded loner needs to avoid. Mallery is popular and prolific, sure to please with some easy reading.

Ever After, by Jude Deveraux.The final installment in Deveraux's Nantucket Brides trilogy (following True Love and For All Time) introduces Hallie Hartley, a young physical therapist who has given up nearly everything—even her love life—for her beautiful blonde stepsister, Shelly. Though Shelly’s acting career has never taken off, she has certainly perfected the crocodile tears to get what she wants—which all too often means Hallie’s boyfriends. When Hallie arrives home early from work one fateful day, she makes two startling discoveries that will turn her life upside down: Not only has a mysterious relative left Hallie a house on Nantucket, but Shelly has been trying to steal it. Desperate to put her troubles behind her, Hallie impulsively flies to Nantucket. New trouble, however, has already settled into Hallie’s guest room in the form of her newest client. Hallie is told that wealthy, young James Taggert has injured his leg in a skiing accident. Assuming that the devastatingly handsome man has led a charmed life, Hallie is surprised by Jamie at every turn throughout his recovery. His attentions draw her out of her shell—but he has a dark secret, and is tormented by nightmares that only her presence can keep at bay. Deveraux has been a bestselling romance novelist for several decades, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. 

Country, by Danielle Steel. Stephanie Adams has stayed in a loveless marriage for years for the sake of her children, until her husband dies suddenly while on a ski trip, and all bets are off. Despite her children’s grief, and her own conflicting emotions and loneliness, Stephanie tries to move on, but struggles to find herself as an independent individual after years of giving up her life for everyone else. A spur-of-the-moment road trip and fork in the road lead her to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and a chance meeting—and her whole life changes forever.

Blueprints, by Barbara Delinsky.  Talented carpenter Caroline MacAfee has always enjoyed hosting the family's home construction TV show Gut It!, so she's crushed when the network wants to replace her with daughter Jamie. Then Jamie's father and his new wife die in a car crash, creating new challenges for both mother and daughter as they struggle with upheavals personally and professionally.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Reading Ahead: June 2015, part 3

The best part of summer, for many readers, is the influx of beachy reads. Family sagas, light contemporary fiction, romances, chick-lit... If any of that (or all of it!) sounds good to you, read on!

Wicked Charms, by Janet Evanovich & Phoef Sutton. Evanovich and co-author Sutton are back just in time for summer with a new Lizzy and Diesel novel (following Wicked Appetite and Wicked Business). For those new to the series, it's classicly funny Evanovich, but with a supernatural twist, featuring treasure-hunting partners Lizzy Tucker and Diesel (a character from Evanovich's between-the-numbers Stephanie Plum books). While Lizzy would just like to live a quiet, semi-normal life, Diesel is all about the hunt. And this particular hunt, for the Stone of Avarice, is going to require a genuine treasure map and a ship worthy of sailing the seven seas . . . or at least getting them from Salem Harbor to Maine. Greed is eternal and insatiable, and Lizzy and Diesel aren’t the only ones searching for the lost pirate’s chest; Wulf, Diesel's charming, treasure-hunting cousin is also after the bounty...and Lizzy. If you're looking for fun and adventure, this is the ticket.

Killing Monica, by Candace Bushnell. Readers may be familiar with Bushnell from some of her other work: 4 Blondes, Lipstick Jungle, oh, and she also helped create the iconic HBO series Sex and the City. And it's premise starts out sounding more than a little familiar. Pandy "PJ" Wallis is a renowned writer whose novels about a young woman making her way in Manhattan have spawned a series of blockbuster films. After the success of the Monica books and movies, Pandy wants to attempt something different: a historical novel based on her ancestor Lady Wallis. But Pandy's publishers and audience only want her to keep cranking out more Monica-as does her greedy husband, Jonny, who's gone deeply in debt to finance his new restaurant in Las Vegas. When her marriage crumbles and the boathouse of her family home in Connecticut goes up in flames, Pandy suddenly realizes she has an opportunity to reinvent herself. But to do so, she will have to reconcile with her ex-best friend and former partner in crime, SondraBeth Schnowzer, who plays Monica on the big screen-and who may have her own reasons to derail Pandy's startling change of plan. This is pleasure reading at it's most decadent, perfect for vacation reading this summer.

A Perfect Heritage, by Penny Vincenzi. The House of Farrell - home of The Cream, an iconic face product that has seen women flocking to its bijoux flagship store in the Berkeley Arcade since 1953. At Farrell, you can rely on the personal touch. The legendary Athina Farrell remains the company's figurehead and in her kingdom at the Berkeley Arcade, Florence Hamilton plies their cosmetics with the utmost discretion. She is sales advisor - and holder of secrets - extraordinaire. But of course the world of cosmetics is changing and the once glorious House of Farrell is now in decline, its customers tempted away by more fashionable brands. Enter Bianca Bailey, formidable business woman, mother of three, and someone who always gets her way. Athina and Bianca lock horns over the future of The House of Farrell, but the company's dark past may get in the way any possible future.

The Rumor, by Elin Hilderbrand. Nantucket writer Madeline King couldn't have picked a worse time to have writer's block. Her deadline is looming, her bills are piling up, and inspiration is in short supply. Madeline's best friend Grace, is hard at work transforming her garden into the envy of the island with the help of a ruggedly handsome landscape architect. Before she realizes it, Grace is on the verge of a decision that will irrevocably change her life. Could Grace's crisis be Madeline's salvation? As the gossip escalates, and the summer's explosive events come to a head, Grace and Madeline try desperately to set the record straight--but the truth might be even worse than rumor has it.

In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume.Yes, you are reading that right. Judy Blume has returned to adult readers for the first time in nearly two decades (Summer Sisters, 1998). In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on. I have very high hopes for this one.

All the Single Ladies, by Dorothea Benton Frank. Through their shared loss of a dear friend, three women forge a deep friendship, asking critical questions. Who was their friend and what did her life mean? Are they living the lives they imagined for themselves? Will they ever be able to afford to retire? How will they maximize their happiness? Security? Health? And ultimately, their own legacies? A plan is conceived and unfurls with each turn of the tide during one sweltering summer on the Isle of Palms. Frank's novels are filled with friends, laughter, and triumph, making them great and uplifting books for easy summer reading.

I'm back Thursday with more great beachy reads to look forward to (no beach required). In the meantime, happy reading!