Thursday, August 27, 2015

What I've Been Reading: August 2015

I'm blaming the fact that there are 5 more days in the month for the fact that I've only (I know, only) read 5 books this month. But they have, in several cases, been huge! What do I mean? Read on.

Dune, by Frank Herbert. I'm not normally a science fiction reader. Except that in the last year or so, I've read quite a bit of science fiction (The Martian, Ready Player One, Armada)--and really enjoyed it! So maybe I'm a sci-fi reader after all? In any case, somehow I never got around to reading Herbert's classic Dune until this past month. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad'Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family--and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream. Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction. The audiobook also won an Audie for its full cast recording. I would absolutely recommend this to readers who are intimidated by the idea of science fiction--I really found this quite accessible. (Even if it is over 500 pages!)

The Best of Enemies, by Jen Lancaster. What can I say? I read a wide variety of genres. Jack and Kitty have been at war since a college misunderstanding-gone-nuclear left them with a single thing in common--a mutual best friend, Sarahbeth Chandler. Jack is a journalist, spending months at a time in war-torn countries, writing about falling nations and rising despots, with no place to call home. Kitty is a SAHM and lifestyle blogger whose biggest battles seem to be fought at PTA meetings. The two haven't spoken in years, until crisis befalls Sarahbeth and within hours, Jack and Kitty are on a roadtrip to solve a mystery and save their friend, with typical Lancaster-ian hilarity. Light, breezy and fun, but with a good heart--if you need one last easy read this summer, make it this one.

Broken Promise, by Linwood Barclay. If you haven't read Linwood Barclay (a Connecticut native), you should start. But if you start, I might not start with this one, only because you'll miss out on some great backstory. Promise Falls, NY is a small town in a slump. The local paper has closed, as has the local amusement park. Times are hard. And dark things are happening. David Harwood (seen previously in Never Look Away), recently returned to his hometown of Promise Falls after nearly a decade away, is almost immediately caught up in a family crisis that is tied to several powerful figures in the community. The ending leaves several threads hanging, meaning a direct sequel should be on the horizon for readers.

Armada, by Ernest Cline. As you know, I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline last month. Just in time to turn around and read his new book, Armada, this month! (FYI, both will be turned into films in the next two years or so, and Steven Spielberg has signed on to direct Ready Player One, so these could be amazing. Cline also has screenwriting chops, have written 2009's Fanboys, starring Seth Rogan, Kristin Bell and Jay Baruchel, among others.) In any case, Armada is the story of one high school senior, Zack Lightman, whose father died in a freak accident when he was a baby. Raised by his mother, Zack is still fascinated by the boxes of video games, movies, mixtapes and notebooks left behind by his father, forming his loves of old science fiction movies and classic rock. He's also an elite player of a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada, which turns out to have been a training course for when the aliens attack. And that day happens to be today. While not as strong as Ready Player One, in my opinion, Armada is still full of ordinary-guy-turned-hero moments and lots of 80s culture references. It just felt like parts of it were missing. It's not a bad way to pass some time, but it doesn't have either the compulsive readability nor the re-read potential of Cline's debut.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: four women undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott. Okay, I admit, my reading list looks a little...scattered this month. But I've been meaning to get around to this title for months.
Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.
After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives. Abbott's work has an entertaining narrative, making it an easy, enjoyable read--I'd recommend it not just to history buffs but also fans of historical fiction.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Meg's Picks: September 2015, part 2

I try to keep an eye out for books that I think everyone will be talking about in the near future. Here are the rest of my predictions from September's book releases.

Purity, by Jonathan Franzen. Franzen made lots of waves back in 2001 with his novel, The Corrections--Oprah chose it as one of her book club selections, and Franzen declined to appear on her show. What cheek! Of course, then everyone had to read his novel, so he made out okay after all, and continued to do so with 2010's Freedom. So I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this latest book, in which Purity (Pip) Tyler struggles with identity issues and student debt. As the daughter of a mother who hides her mysterious past, Pip seeks to solve her problems and create her own identity by taking an internship with an illicit activist group, only to fall in love with the group's charismatic fugitive leader. A bit different than Franzen's previous work, but still steeped in family dynamics.

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. Groff is the bestselling author of two previous novels, The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. In her new novel, readers meet Lotto and Mathilde at 22, deliriously in love, creative partners, life partners. Ten years later, still together and still in love, they have distinctly different perspectives of their relationship, which only continues to flourish because each keeps secrets from the other. This is getting a huge amount of buzz among early reviews, and I would expect this to be a sleeper hit this fall. Mark my words.

The Killing Lessons, by Saul Black. Black, aka Glen Duncan (The Last Werewolf, etc.), brings readers a taut psychological thriller that is sure to win fans. When the two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper's isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it's the end of everything. For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it's just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done. For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of victims--women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them--has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she's losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens. But the murders at the Cooper farmhouse didn't quite go according to plan. Rowena's ten-year-old daughter, Nell, survived, and she now holds the key to the killings. Thriller fans looking for a new author need look no further.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Three on Thursday: One Last Round of Beach Reads

I know, I know. And I'm sorry. But the reality is that summer is winding down, the kids head back to school soon, and we have a rainy weekend ahead of us. However! There is time to get just a little more reading-for-fun packed in before school-year routines start up again. Here are my top picks from this summer.

If you need something that moves super-quickly, try:  Elin Hilderbrand. Seriously. The entire shelf of Hilderbrand books (including last year's Christmas book, Winter Street, by the way) has been empty all summer because she's just so popular. She's nothing if not prolific, so check out her latest, The Rumor, and get in early for her next Christmas title (I'm sorry, I'm sorry!) Winter Stroll, which is due out in a couple of months.

If you prefer historical fiction, try:  At The Water's Edge by Sara Gruen. She also wrote the best-seller Water For Elephants. When her brother and his friend try to find the Loch Ness monster in order to get back into her father's good graces, Maddie finds herself left alone in Word War II-era Scotland, with unexpected results. Or try one of my favorites, which is also scheduled to be Trumbull's One Book, One Town selection for 2016, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. You can read my original review here.

Nonfiction reader? Try one of these: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough or Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. Both have been on the New York Times Bestseller List this summer, and both are hugely popular among our patrons!

Want a personal recommendation? Stop by, call me at the library, or drop me an email!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Meg's Picks: September 2015, part 1

Some months, my list of fiction picks is super long. September is not one of those months. However, those titles that have made the list are there for some especially amazing reasons. Read on...

The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David  Lagercrantz. Does that title seem familiar? It should. It has been five long years since Steig Larsson's third book in the Lisbeth Salander/Millennium series, The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest, was published in the US (the most sold book in the US in 2010, if you're interested). Larsson's trilogy was published posthumously, after the author died in 2004 at age 50, and fans have spent the last five years bemoaning the fact that there would never be another. I was one of those fans. So I am filled with hope and just a little excitement (okay, fine, a lot of excitement) with the news that Steig Larsson's estate contracted Swedish bestselling author and journalist David Lagercrantz to write a stand-alone sequel to the trilogy (no one has said whether there might be additional titles in the future). 

So now Lisbeth Salander, the genius hacker with the dragon tattoo, and Daniel Blomkvist, crusading journalist who champions the truth even to his own personal detriment, are together again. Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female superhacker—a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering. Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Salander for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. The secret they are both chasing is at the center of a tangled web of spies, cybercriminals, and governments around the world, and someone is prepared to kill to protect it... I have goosebumps.

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood. This is Atwood's first stand-alone novel since 2000's The Blind Assassin (which won the Man Booker Prize, FYI). Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes. What starts out as no great sacrifice slowly becomes more chilling, and dangerous. I've been an Atwood fan for years, and this is classic.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Reading Ahead: September 2015, part 4

It feels like summer is zipping by in a blink! For those who love the cooler temps of autumn, perhaps a mystery and a cup of tea will be in your future soon? If so, here are a few to look forward to.

Corridors of the Night, by Anne Perry. Twenty-first in Perry's highly popular William Monk mystery series, Corridors of the Night finds Monk, now commander of the Thames River Police, and his wife Hester doing battle with two scientists whose obsession with healing has turned to homicide. The monomaniacal Rand brothers—Magnus, a cunning doctor, and Hamilton, a genius chemist—are ruthless in their pursuit of a cure for what was then known as the fatal “white-blood disease.” In London’s Royal Naval Hospital annex, Hester is tending one of the brothers’ dying patients—wealthy Bryson Radnor—when she stumbles upon three weak, terrified young children, and learns to her horror that they’ve been secretly purchased and imprisoned by the Rands for experimental purposes. But the Rand brothers are too close to a miracle cure to allow their experiments to be exposed. Before Hester can reveal the truth, she too becomes a prisoner. As Monk and his faithful friends scour London’s grimy streets and the beautiful English countryside searching for her, Hester’s time, as well as the children’s, is quickly draining away. This long-running series always hits the best-sellers list for a reason.

Dance of the Bones, by J.A. Jance. J. P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker, two of New York Times bestselling author J. A. Jance’s most acclaimed series characters, join forces for the first time in one of the most suspenseful works of her career. Years ago, Amos Warren, a prospector, was gunned down out in the desert and Sheriff Brandon Walker made the arrest in the case. Now, the retired Walker is called in when the alleged killer, John Lassiter, refuses to accept a plea deal that would release him from prison with time served. Lassiter wants Brandon and The Last Chance to find Amos's "real" killer and clear his name.

Sixteen hundred miles to the north in Seattle, J.P. Beaumont is at loose ends after the Special Homicide Investigation Team, affectionately known as S.H.I.T., has been unexpectedly and completely disbanded. When Brandon discovers that there are links between Lassiter’s case and an unsolved case in Seattle, he comes to Beau for help. Those two cases suddenly become hot when two young boys from the reservation, one of them with close ties to the Walker family, go missing. Can two seasoned cops, working together, decipher the missing pieces in time to keep them alive?

Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz. Horowitz incorporates original, never-before-published material from 007 creator Ian Fleming as he returns James Bond to his 1950s heyday, with all the hallmarks of an original Fleming adventure and features welcome familiar faces, including M and Miss Moneypenny. Bond has just returned victorious from his showdown with Auric Goldfinger in Fort Knox. By his side is the glamorous and streetwise Pussy Galore, who played no small part in his success. As they settle down in London, the odds of Galore taming the debonair bachelor seem slim—but she herself is a creature not so easily caught.

Meanwhile, the struggle for superiority between the Soviet Union and the West is escalating. In an attempt to demonstrate Soviet strength, SMERSH plans to sabotage an international Grand Prix in the hot zone of West Germany. At the Nürburgring Racing Circuit, Bond must play a high-speed game of cat and mouse to stop them, but when he observes a secretive meeting between SMERSH's driver and a notorious Korean millionaire, it becomes clear that this is just the infamous organization's opening move. Horowitz has done remarkable things with Sherlock Holmes cannon in recent years (The House of Silk, Moriarty), so there's no reason to doubt he'd do the same with Bond.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Reading Ahead: September 2015, part 3

Just because school will be in session in September does not mean that you won't still need some beachy-feeling reads on hand for a long, lazy warm weekend afternoon. If thrillers aren't your thing, here are a few September titles that might be more to your taste.

Undercover, by Danielle Steel. A bit darker than her normal fare, Steel's newest follows undercover DEA agent Marshall Everett as he returns to the US after years abroad cost him everything. Then on temporary assignment with the Secret Service, Everett's course is changed forever in one act of heroism. A year later, he is in Paris, where he meets Ariana Gregory, a young woman running from demons of her own past. It is this unlikely pairing that may save each of them from themselves, and the pasts that haunt them, by giving them something to live for.

After You, by JoJo Moyes. Moyes says that she intended for the best-seller that put her on the map, Me Before You, to be a single stand-alone title. Yet fans found quirky heroine Louisa Clark so endearing, they clamored to find out whatever happened to her after the events of the first novel. Moyes became inspired by the fans, and this novel is the result. Struggling in the aftermath of her six months caring for Will Traynor, Louisa is involved in an accident which brings her back home to recover, making her feel as though she's right back where she started. Even as her body heals, Lou realizes she needs to find a way to move forward, which is how she finds herself in a church basement at a Moving On support group. It's also how she finds paramedic Sam Fielding, a man whose life-and-death career may just mean he can understand what Lou has been through. I enjoyed the first book, and have high hopes for the second.

Come Rain or Come Shine, by Jan Karon. Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls. Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple. So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band, gratis. And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends. In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited—because you’re family.

Willow Brook Road, by Sherryl Woods. Spirited, spontaneous Carrie Winters has grown up under the watchful eyes of not only her grandfather Mick O'Brien, but the entire town of Chesapeake Shores. Now that she's home from Europe, a glamorous fashion career behind her and her heart broken, there seem to be far too many people watching to see if she'll live up to the expectations her family has for her. As if that weren't enough pressure, Carrie finds herself drawn to sexy, grief-stricken Sam Winslow, who is yearning for someone to help him raise the nephew who's unexpectedly come into his life after a tragedy. With her own life in turmoil, is Carrie really ready to take on a new career and a new man? Or is Sam exactly what she needs to create the strong, loving family she's always wanted?