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.

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