Thursday, June 25, 2015

Beach Reading 2015: Where to start?

Beach reading means different things to different readers. For one thing, no beach required! You can enjoy beach reads by the pool, in the park, in the backyard, or enjoying some air-conditioning at home. What beach reading means to most readers is simply easy, entertaining, enjoyable reading. Reading for fun. In my experience, there are lots of people who tend not to read much during the rest of the year, but once the warmer weather hits, they try to catch up on as much reading as they can before the weather turns cool. If you're looking for a place to get started with some recommendations on what to bring along with you this summer, let me help you out!

If you're looking for a "traditional" beach read (light, fluffy, easy to finish in a few days or so): try authors like Beth Harbison (When in Doubt, Add Butter is a personal favorite), Jen Lancaster (she writes both fiction and wise-cracking memoirs, like Bitter is the New Black), or Meg Cabot (who also writes young adult novels, but has two very popular adult series: Queen of Babble and the Heather Wells Mysteries).

If you're interested in something that's less light and fluffy but just as engaging: consider authors like Jane Green, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Kristin Hannah, or Adriana Trigiani (I'm a particular fan of Lucia, Lucia--delightful and easy to read in a weekend or less!).

If you want all things summer: Nancy Thayer, Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Alice Monroe are some of the top authors of summer.

If you'd like something that the family can read together (especially as an audiobook on a long car trip?): try the Harry Potter series (the narrator for the audiobooks, Jim Dale, won awards for his work on the series), A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (audiobooks narrated by the talented Tim Curry), or even an accessible classic like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Finally, if you're looking to catch up on some of the most popular books since last summer: if you're not intimidated by page-length (in which case, I like the cut of your jib), try The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Interested in something absorbing but a little off the beaten path? Try Andy Weir's The Martian or Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. Missed out on everything your friends were reading? Consider The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (adored this one), or Paula Hawkins's Girl on the Train.

Prefer historical fiction, romance, thrillers or mysteries? Would you rather settle in with some non-fiction or a biography? Not to fear--I have beach reading suggestions for genre readers coming up over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

July 2015 Preview: Go Set A Watchman, by Harper Lee

Harper Lee's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), was the sole publication by the author for more than a half-century. It was a bestseller, won critical acclaim, was voted best novel of the century in 1999 in a Library Journal poll, and an estimated 30 million copies are in print. Over the years, the shy author has received numerous honorary degrees, though she has declined to attend in every instance. She has also, in almost every case, avoided any interaction with reporters and would-be biographers, stonewalling against queries whether she was still writing and whether she intended to publish a second novel--in fact, she has long vowed that she would not publish again. Lee has been quite a recluse, in fact, spending decades sequestered in her small Alabama hometown protected by friends as well as her older sister Alice, a lawyer who practiced into her 90s and who passed away in 2014. Lee also suffered a stroke in 2007, leaving her nearly blind and deaf.

So the announcement of the first Harper Lee novel in fifty-five years, Go Set A Watchman, reportedly written prior to To Kill a Mockingbird and rejected for publication then ignored for 60 years,  has been met with equal parts awe and skepticism. Awe, because a second novel from Lee is a gift that readers had long since stopped even daring to dream of. And skepticism, because it has only been since the passing of her sister Alice that Harper Lee has apparently considered publishing this second book, reportedly a prequel to Mockingbird. Lee's new attorney, Tonja Carter, reportedly found the manuscript and broached the subject of publication with Lee, who in light of her declining health decided it was time to publish. This story is supported by Lee's international rights agent, Andrew Nurnberg. There are a number of articles which have been published on the topic for those who are interested to see what all the kerfuffle is about.

As for me? I'd recently read Marja Mills's The Mockingbird Next Door (2014), which recounts the journalist's personal friendship with Lee and her sister Alice, which developed while Mills was living nextdoor to the Lee sisters in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama. A great part of what the Lee sisters shared with Mills was the circumstances surrounding Lee's decision never to publish again after Mockingbird. While I cannot deny my own personal curiosity regarding the new book, I cannot quiet my unease that in some way this publication does Lee herself a disservice. Each reader will have to judge for him- or herself. Street date for the novel is July 14, 2015.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Meg's Picks: July 2015, part 2

I've been here at the Trumbull Library for over thirteen years, but I've been a reader all my life. So it's natural for me to make lists of what I want to read, and to talk books all day long. Want to know what's on my list of new fiction to read this summer? Here's a peek.

When the Moon is Low, by Nadia Hashimi. Mahmoud's passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she's ever known. But their happy, middle-class world—a life of education, work, and comfort—implodes when their country is engulfed in war, and the Taliban rises to power. This is Hashimi's second novel, following 2014's The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, which was a reader favorite. As with the previous novel, I'm recommending this to book clubs and readers who enjoyed books by Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, etc.), Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, etc.), and Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake, etc.).

Bradstreet Gate, by Robin Kirman. Georgia, Charlie and Alice each arrive at Harvard with hopeful visions of what the future will hold. But when, just before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus, they find themselves facing a cruel and unanticipated new reality. Moreover, a charismatic professor who has loomed large in their lives is suspected of the crime. Though his guilt or innocence remains uncertain, the unsettling questions raised by the case force the three friends to take a deeper look at their tangled relationship. Their bond has been defined by the secrets they’ve kept from one another—Charlie’s love and Alice’s envy, Georgia’s mysterious affair—and over the course of the next decade, as they grapple with the challenges of adulthood and witness the unraveling of a teacher's once-charmed life, they must reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of answers and the chance to be forgiven. Critics are drawing comparisons to beloved authors like Meg Wolitzer (The Uncoupling, The Interestings), Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch) and Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex). All of which is more than enough to have this particular novel at the top of my to-read list this summer.

The Secrets She Keeps, by Deb Caletti. When Callie McBride finds a woman’s phone number written on a scrap of paper her husband has thrown away, she thinks that her marriage is over. Callie flees to Nevada and her Aunt Nash’s Tamarosa Ranch, where she’s shocked to see that the place of so many happy childhood memories is in disrepair. Worse, Aunt Nash is acting bizarrely—hoarding stacks of old photographs, burying a book in the yard, and railing against Kit Covey, a handsome government park ranger who piques Callie’s interest. But Aunt Nash may prove to be saner than she seems once Callie pulls back the curtain on Tamarosa’s heyday—the 1940s and ’50s, when high-society and Hollywood women ventured to the ranch for quickie divorces and found a unique sisterhood—and uncovers a secret promise Nash made to her true love. Fans of authors like Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, The Husband's Secret) and Kristin Hannah (The Nightingale, On Mystic Lake) really should be reading Caletti, too.

Pretty Is, by Maggie Mitchell. The summer precocious Lois and pretty Carly May were twelve years old, they were kidnapped, driven across the country, and held in a cabin in the woods for two months by a charismatic stranger. Nearly twenty years later, Lois has become a professor, teaching British literature at a small college in upstate New York, and Carly May is an actress in Los Angeles, drinking too much and struggling to revive her career. When a movie with a shockingly familiar plot draws the two women together once more, they must face the public exposure of their secret history and confront the dark longings and unspeakable truths that haunt them still. If you think you know what's going to happen, count on this debut fiction to turn your expectations on their head. I'm thinking this is a sure thing if you're a reader of authors like Tana French, Chevy Stevens and Becky Masterman. If this is a sleeper hit this summer, I won't say I told you so.

There's a special edition of Meg's Picks coming next Tuesday, so I'll see you then!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Meg's Picks: July 2015, part 1

It never ceases to amaze me how many great titles there are that may not, for whatever reason, get quite the amount of attention (at least initially) that they really deserve. That is, in part, what I reserve for these posts. The books you might miss, the debuts that don't necessarily get a ton of media push, or titles that I know readers will be interested in that deserve some special attention. This July? Has a ton that I can't wait to share!

Signal, by Patrick Lee. Lee's 2014 debut, Runner, first in the Sam Dryden series, was a sleeper hit with readers. I want to make sure that no one misses out on this sequel, in which the ex-Special Forces operative receives a desperate phone call from Claire Dunham, an old friend working as an internal security chief at Bayliss Labs. A spin-off from a big defense contractor, Bayliss works on bleeding-edge technology. But what researchers have stumbled upon goes beyond the edge of technology, and into the future, literally. Working with neutrino particles that not only move faster than light but also move against the direction of time, scientists have built a machine that uses radio waves to transmit events that happen ten and a half hours into the future. After the lab is destroyed in suspicious chemical fire, Claire and Sam race to prevent further disasters predicted by another (hidden) machine. It looks like another country may have discovered the same technology and begun to use it against the United States. I'm absolutely recommending this to fans of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. 

The Captive Condition, by Kevin Keating. There is a lot of buzz about this in the publishing world, and I'd be absolutely remiss if I didn't share with you. A Catholic school preppy enrolls in a seemingly idyllic Midwestern university that is anything but. Academic troubles doom him; his pompous mentor snubs him; and he comes to work for a medium-level criminal known as the Gonk, at the power plant, aka the Bloated Tick. Then, the mentor's mistress drowns drug-addled in her pool, her creepily prescient twins come to live with the mentor, trash his house and then freeze to death in a barn, after which their ghosts doom their seaman father to freezing. Then the Gonk takes revenge on his ex and her new love, who becomes the first of two in this book to be buried alive. The preppy takes revenge on the mentor, but only after all the other Tick workers die at sea. And then? Things get really interesting. A natural pick for mystery and horror fans alike. 

The Swede, by Robert Karjel. There is so much about this book that I want to tell you, for so many reasons! First, synopsis: Early in Karjel's English-language debut, a superior thriller set mostly in 2008, Ernst Grip, a member of Sweden's security police, joins forces with FBI officer Shauna Friedman in New York City. The pair fly to Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean, where Grip's job is to interview a prisoner, another Swede, who has been tortured for years. Meanwhile, in a subplot set in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand, a survivor of the disaster known only as N. travels to an isolated beach community where he befriends several other survivors; they fall under the influence of a mysterious American, Bill Adderloy, who persuades them to commit a highly complicated crime that's to take place in Topeka, Kans. Grip strives to ferret out the details of the impending crime and N.'s part in it. Descriptions from reviewers have likened it to a combination of John leCarre + Homeland. Also, Twentieth Century Fox has reportedly bought the rights for a drama series to be produced in collaboration with Yellow Bird Entertainment, also responsible for the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, so fellow Swede Steig Larsson's name has also been mentioned in connection.  For fans of Jo Nesbo (The Son) and Terry Hayes (I Am Pilgrim), this debut by Karjel is a natural choice.

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. I mentioned this novel in my summer preview post a few months ago, but this absolutely requires another mention (and after I've read it, you'll read about it again--just a warning). 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 has received 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.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal. A young girl navigates a tumultuous childhood to become one of the top chefs in the country in this delicious debut from Stradal. Eva Thorvald is just a baby when her mother leaves and her father dies. Despite never really knowing her chef father and sommelier mother, Eva finds out that cooking is in her blood. In elementary school, she grows hot peppers in her closet. In high school, she gets an internship at the nicest restaurant in town. Eventually, she grows into one of the most respected, most adventurous chefs in the country, running an ultrahip pop-up supper club with a yearslong waiting list. Although Eva's tale is interesting enough on its own, the true excitement comes from Stradal's decision to tell it in interconnected stories from different points of view. The reader sees Eva through the eyes of her father, her boyfriend, a rival, a cousin, and more. Piecing together Eva's life from these patchwork stories fleshes out her world and makes the ending feel especially rewarding. Delightful details, like a fiercely competitive county-fair bake-off with a category just for bars, inject the book with some Midwestern realness. Food and family intertwine in this promising debut that features triumph, heartbreak, and recipes. I'm recommending this to foodies everywhere.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Reading Ahead: July 2015, part 4

It wouldn't be summer without publishers making sure we had lots of easy, beachy reads available! Here are some of the July highlights.

If I Could Turn Back Time, by Beth Harbison. Everyone has thought, at one time or another, "If only I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I'd do things so differently."

Thirty-seven year old Ramie Phillips has led a very successful life. She made her fortune and now she hob nobs with the very rich and occasionally the semi-famous, and she enjoys luxuries she only dreamed of as a middle-class kid growing up in Potomac, Maryland. But despite it all, she can't ignore the fact that she isn't necessarily happy. In fact, lately Ramie has begun to feel more than a little empty.
On a boat with friends off the Florida coast, she tries to fight her feelings of discontent with steel will and hard liquor. No one even notices as she gets up and goes to the diving board and dives off...
Ramie finds herself back on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, with a second chance to see the people she's lost and change the choices she regrets. How did she get back here? Has she gone off the deep end? Is she really back in time? Above all, she'll have to answer the question that no one else can: What it is that she really wants from the past, and for her future?

Royal Wedding, by Meg Cabot. A generation has grown up with Cabot's Princess Diaries series, and now she has brought the series up to date with its first adult installment.

For Princess Mia, the past five years since college graduation have been a whirlwind of activity, what with living in New York City, running her new teen community center, being madly in love, and attending royal engagements. And speaking of engagements. Mia’s gorgeous longtime boyfriend Michael managed to clear both their schedules just long enough for an exotic (and very private) Caribbean island interlude where he popped the question! Of course Mia didn’t need to consult her diary to know that her answer was a royal oui.
But now Mia has a scandal of majestic proportions to contend with: Her grandmother’s leaked “fake” wedding plans to the press that could cause even normally calm Michael to become a runaway groom. Worse, a scheming politico is trying to force Mia’s father from the throne, all because of a royal secret that could leave Genovia without a monarch.  Can Mia prove to everyone—especially herself—that she’s not only ready to wed, but ready to rule as well?

A Paris Affair, by Tatiana de Rosnay. De Rosnay, best known for her international bestseller Sarah's Key, returns here with a collection of short fiction, each a perfect length to while away a sultry summer afternoon. Does a fruit taste its sweetest when it is forbidden? Is that which is prohibited always the most pleasurable? In this passionate and perceptive collection, Tatiana de Rosnay paints a portrait of the most forbidden of loves, in many different shades--sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, sometimes heartfelt, always with a dry wit and an unflinching authenticity.

The Woman Who Stole My Life, by Marian Keyes. In her own words, Stella Sweeney is just “an ordinary woman living an ordinary life with her husband and two teenage kids,” working for her sister in their neighborhood beauty salon. Until one day she is struck by a serious illness, landing her in the hospital for months After recovering, Stella finds out that her neurologist, Dr. Mannix Taylor, has compiled and self-published a memoir about her illness. Her discovery comes when she spots a photo of the finished copy in an American tabloid—and it’s in the hands of the vice president’s wife! As her relationship with Dr. Taylor gets more complicated, Stella struggles to figure out who she was before her illness, who she is now, and who she wants to be while relocating to New York City to pursue a career as a newly minted self-help memoirist. Keyes is one of the most reliably amazing authors in her genre, and this is a very obvious choice for folks looking for some engrossing, but easy, summer reading.

How to be a Grown Up, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Readers may remember this dynamic duo as the authors behind best-sellers like The Nanny Diaries and Citizen Girl. They've returned with a timely novel about a forty-something wife and mother thrust back into the workforce, where she finds herself at the mercy of a boss half her age. Rory McGovern is entering the ostensible prime of her life when her husband, Blake, loses his dream job and announces he feels like “taking a break” from being a husband and father. Rory was already spread thin and now, without warning, she is single-parenting two kids, juggling their science projects, flu season, and pajama days, while coming to terms with her disintegrating marriage. And without Blake, her only hope is to accept a full-time position working for two full-time twenty-somethings. Can Rory learn to decipher her bosses’ lingo, texts that read like license plates, and arbitrary mandates? And is there any hope of saving her marriage? With her family hanging by a thread, Rory must adapt to this hyper-digitized, over-glamorized, narcissistic world of millennials…whatever it takes.

Have a great weekend, readers! I'm back next week with my picks for some extraordinary fiction just off the beaten path that I'm looking forward to next month.