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!

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