Thursday, July 2, 2015

What I've Been Reading: June 2015

Wow, it feels like June started with a bang and ended with a whimper, as I look back over what I've read this past month. It started strong, and then suddenly I was at the end of the month and it felt like I hadn't read much at all. Oh well. There's always next month!

Little Beach Street Bakery, by Jenny Colgan. I've mentioned Jenny Colgan before--I really enjoy her books (Sweetshop of Dreams, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, etc.). They're sweet, light, funny stories about women finding their way through the unexpected and making the best of dubious circumstances. This latest is just as lovely. In the wake of heartbreak, Polly finds herself both jobless and homeless. She cannot fathom imposing on friends or her mum, she can't find a job in her field in the city, and she can't afford to stay where she is. What she finds is an abandoned shop with a small flat above it in a sleepy, seaside resort town. As a distraction, Polly begins making bread, which immediately wins over most of her neighbors--the only bakery in town ships in its limited variety, and is not particularly popular. That's just the beginning of Polly's life transformation in her new home. I adore Colgan's relatable characters and thoughtful stories--her novels are perfect for beach reading.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes, by Stephen King. Here we find a rarity in my reading list--a re-read. In fact, I think this might be the third or even fourth time I've re-read this collection of short stories and essays. In truth, it's a re-listen. The audiobook has some incredible readers, like Tim Curry, Rob Lowe, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Bates, Matthew Broderick, Gary Sinise, and the author himself, just to name a few. One of my very favorites is the first story, Dolan's Cadillac, brilliantly read by Rob Lowe. Another is a non-fiction piece originally written by King for the New Yorker, called Head Down, about the Bangor West Little League team (King's son Owen was on the team, as was the eventual MLB pitcher, Matt Kinney) which won the Maine State Little League Championships and went on to play in the Eastern Regional Championships, only to be beaten in the second round. There is a story for every reader in this collection, and it remains a favorite of mine.

The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton. On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.
But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways. It is through the artisan's uncanny gifts that Nella begins to unravel the tangled web of secrets closely kept by her new family, and some secrets would be better left uncovered. Beautifully detailed, deeply engrossing--this is a must for readers who enjoy Tracy Chevalier, Emma Donoghue, or Sarah Dunant

Second Life, by S.J. Watson. Watson's 2011 novel, Before I Go To Sleep (now a film starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth) was a favorite among library staff and patrons, leaving readers eager for more. Four long years later, Watson returned with his sophomore effort, and readers are devouring it. I managed to snag a copy for myself and read it in a weekend. When Julia learns that her wayward younger sister has been murdered, she must figure out why--but to do this, she must first piece together her sister's life, which is foreign to Julia. What she never expected was to fall down the rabbit hole of an online dating site her sister frequented, or to meet someone to whom she is immediately attracted, or to jeopardize her marriage and family in order to pursue this new attraction. In the process of unraveling her sister's secret life, Julia may just lose everything she holds dear. This is a page-turner right up to the very end, full of the twists and turns that made Watson's first book such a hit. Definitely something suspense readers should pick up this summer.

Finders Keepers, by Stephen King. Sequel to King's 2014 novel, Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers starts out decades earlier, as three men rob and kill a reclusive author who has not published in more than twenty years, despite the author's trilogy of Jimmy Gold novels being considered modern classics. What only one of the thieves, Morris, realizes is that the author's safe holds not just cash and notebooks, but notebooks containing unpublished stories and novels featuring the iconic Jimmy Gold. Notebooks which would be worth millions. Morris takes out his competition for the score, stashes it, and is promptly imprisoned for unrelated crimes. Fast forward thirty-five years, and Morris is out of prison at long last, only to find that someone has made off with the cash and the notebooks in his absence. He'll find them, and he'll make them pay. Nothing will stop him until he has his revenge. It'll be up to the unlikely trio of heroes from the first novel, Holly, Jerome and Bill to help the target of Morris's deadly vengeance. This series reads like traditional thrillers so far, so if you think King's work is too scary for you, you might give these a try. I read this in a day and a half; I couldn't help myself.

The Engagements, by J. Courtney Sullivan. Sullivan, bestselling author of 2011's Maine, returned in 2013 with The Engagements (People Magazine voted it one of the Top 10 books of the year), a novel told in alternating stories about four couples linked over several decades by a single diamond ring, and the woman who launched the most famous diamond campaign in the world. Frances Gerety, the real pioneering ad woman who coined the famous slogan “A Diamond is Forever” for De Beers in 1947, which has since been called the best advertising slogan of the 20th century. Interestingly enough, Gerety herself never married. Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years, but their son’s messy divorce has put them at rare odds; James, a beleaguered paramedic, has spent most of his marriage haunted by his wife’s family’s expectations; Delphine has thrown caution to the wind and left a peaceful French life for an exciting but rocky romance in America; and Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. As the stories connect to each other and to Frances’s legacy in surprising ways, The Engagements explores the complicated ins and outs of relationships, then, now, and forever. This is my book club's selection for our July meeting, and it has been a delightful and absorbing read. This would definitely make a great book to throw in your beach or vacation bag.

Have a happy and safe holiday weekend, and I'll be back next week to share some of the books that publishers have saved for your August enjoyment.

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