Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What I've been reading: September 2015

Wow, September seemed really fast to me. On one hand, I look back and what I've read, and the book at the beginning of the list seems ages in the past. And on the other hand, I can't believe tomorrow is the last day of the month. Weird. In any case, I've been reading some incredible books this month, and I cannot wait to share.

The Third Wife, by Lisa Jewell. In the early hours of a summer morning, a young woman steps into the path of an oncoming bus, but whether this was a tragic accident or suicide is unclear. At the center of this puzzle is Adrian Wolfe, a successful architect and grief-stricken widower, who, a year after his third wife’s death, begins to investigate the cause. As Adrian looks back on their brief but seemingly happy marriage, disturbing secrets begin to surface. The divorces from his two previous wives had been amicable, or so it seemed; his children, all five of them, were resilient as ever, or so he thought. But something, or someone, must have pushed Maya over the edge. Part mystery, part blended family saga, this was absolutely riveting.

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. I loved this so much that I couldn't keep it to myself. You can read my review here.

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. McLain, author of bestseller The Paris Wife, returns to readers here with the story of another remarkable woman lost in the haze of history, this time Beryl Markham (her memoir, West With the Night, was a major source for McLain's novel), a contemporary of Hemingway and his wives. Markham, famed aviator and renowned racehorse trainer, is the focus of McLain's novel, tracing her early years running wild in the Kenyan countryside, learning the racing trade from her trainer father. Until she is pressured into marrying a neighbor when she is sixteen, owing to her father's financial instability and his decision to sell his training operation and move to Cape Town. This relationship, doomed from the start, is unfortunately only the first in a string of complex and constraining ties in Markham's life, driving her to fast horses, cars, and airplanes as a means of freedom and escape. Bonus, the audiobook is thrillingly read by the extremely talented Katharine McEwan.

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll. It seems like you can't walk two steps without stumbling over a Gone Girl reference these days, and Knoll's novel has not escaped--in this case, I've seen it referred to as Gone Girl meets Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep. However, I have to say that I think that is a very oversimplified description of a novel which is dark, disturbing, and a thoroughly cynical commentary on our modern culture. TifAni FaNelli, at first glance, has everything: a handsome, wealthy financier fiance from an old, blueblood family; an enviable job at a competitive women's fashion magazine; a wardrobe that would make fashionistas weep. But underneath it all is a past that keeps threatening to overwhelm her and drown her chance at happiness. When an opportunity arises for Ani to finally put some of her past demons to rest, her stress levels increase as she's forced to relive some of the worst days of her life. While the novel is compulsively readable, for me it was morbid fascination as the story unfolded. Ani is, like the characters in Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train, not a sympathetic character for the most part. There is only a glimmer of hope that she might be redeemed. But the enthralling maze of secrets still makes for a fascinating read.

The Girl in the Spider's Web, by David Lagercrantz. Lagercrantz is the Swedish journalist and bestselling author who was asked by Steig Larsson's estate to write a follow-up novel to Larsson's Millenium trilogy featuring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. No small order, but he does brilliantly, bringing back our favorite characters in full color in this novel of artificial intelligence and corporate espionage, which are enough to bring an at-loose-ends Blomkvist in. Add wrongs that need righting and Salander is on the case. The plot-lines are beautifully interwoven in this smart thriller, and fans, myself included, can only hope that this won't be the last.

This is How, by Augusten Burroughs. This is not your mother's self-help book, which makes sense coming from unconventional thinker Burroughs (Running With Scissors, etc.). Rather, this collection of essays/chapters challenges how we address our lives and our emotions, including unhappiness, stress, and relationships. Each section tackles a different obstacle: grief, depression, shame, and then unravels some of the conventional wisdom and relentless positivity found in most self-help tomes. Instead, this is a manual for how to pick up, right where you are stuck, and move forward. I found it both reassuring and, in some cases, a little eye-opening.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Meg's Picks: October 2015, part 2

If you're interested in what publishers, librarians and other readers are buzzing about this fall, you need look no further than this list!

The Secret Chord, by Geraldine Brooks. Brooks is a favorite of mine, so I always perk up when the award-winning (March won a Pulitzer for Fiction back in 2005) Australian native has a new book on the horizon. This time, she peels away the myth surrounding King David, tracing the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage. This should be a must, both for fans of Brooks and for fans of historical fiction like The Red Tent

The Clasp, by Sloane Crosley. There's a lot of buzz about Crosley's novel, The Clasp, garnering praise from the likes of David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day), J. Courtney Sullivan (Maine, The Engagements), and Michael Chabon (Telegraph Avenue). Her 2008 collection of essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, was a Thurber Prize finalist, but this is her first novel. When three twenty-something friends reconnect during a college friend's splashy wedding, and learn of a valuable necklace that disappeared during the Nazi occupation of France, setting them on a madcap adventure that ultimately leads them to the estate of Guy de Maupassant, famed author of the short story, "The Necklace." A mix of humor and treasure-hunt, this has made itself a spot on my to-read list this fall.

City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg. New York City, 1976. Meet Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city’s great fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by downtown’s punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter and his idealistic neighbor—and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year’s Eve. The mystery, as it reverberates through families, friendships, and the corridors of power, will open up even the loneliest-seeming corners of the crowded city. And when the blackout of July 13, 1977, plunges this world into darkness, each of these lives will be changed forever.Why should you be interested in this particular debut novel? Well, Knopf paid big bucks for the novel ($2 million is significant for a debut, even with film options and Hallberg's credit as a respected book critic), and Scott Rudin has optioned the film rights. This is one of this fall's biggest books, and I'd have been remiss if I'd left it out of my Picks.

The Early Stories of Truman Capote, by Truman Capote. Recently rediscovered in the archives of the New York Public Library, these short stories provide an unparalleled look at Truman Capote writing in his teens and early twenties, before he penned such classics as Other Voices, Other Rooms, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and In Cold Blood. This collection of more than a dozen pieces showcases the young Capote developing the unique voice and sensibility that would make him one of the twentieth century’s most original writers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Meg's Picks: October 2015, part 1

There are a number of titles coming out next month which may be of particular interest to readers, including a little something for Game of Thrones fans to help tide you over until Winds of Winter is released (when it's done, says Martin), as well as a Vince Flynn novel finished posthumously (Flynn died in June of 2013 after a 3-year battle with cancer) by author Kyle Mills, something new from Prey series author John Sandford, and a new chapter in re-imagined fairy tales from Gregory Maguire.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, by George R.R. Martin. For fans of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin's next installment in the series just cannot come fast enough. But this volume, additional title "being the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire Egg," may help while away the time in between, especially for those into some of the lore and history of Westeros. This volume compiles the first three prequel novellas to A Song of Ice and Fire, which tell the story of a young, na├»ve but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals—in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg—whose true name (hidden from all he and Dunk encounter) is Aegon Targaryen. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lay ahead for these two . . . as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.

The Survivor, by Vince Flynn & Kyle Mills. Chronicling Mitch Rapp's finest battle, picking up right where The Last Man left off, is a race to save America. When Joe “Rick” Rickman, a former golden boy of the CIA, steals a massive amount of the Agency’s most classified documents in an elaborately masterminded betrayal of his country, CIA director Irene Kennedy has no choice but to send her most dangerous weapon after him: elite covert operative Mitch Rapp. Rapp quickly dispatches the traitor, but Rickman proves to be a deadly threat to America even from beyond the grave. Eliminating Rickman didn’t solve all of the CIA’s problems—in fact, mysterious tip-offs are appearing all over the world, linking to the potentially devastating data that Rickman managed to store somewhere only he knew. It’s a deadly race to the finish as both the Pakistanis and the Americans search desperately for Rickman’s accomplices, and for the confidential documents they are slowly leaking to the world. To save his country from being held hostage to a country set on becoming the world’s newest nuclear superpower, Mitch Rapp must outrun, outthink, and outgun his deadliest enemies yet.

Saturn Run, by John Sandford & Ctein. Fans of Andy Weir's The Martian (I include myself in this category--ps, the film adaptation directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon comes to theaters in October) will want to check out this new collaborative novel from Sandford (author of the long-running Prey series) and Ctein (photo-artist and science fiction aficionado). The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do. A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out. The race is on, and an remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. This is absolutely on my to-read list this fall!

After Alice, by Gregory Maguire. Maguire, known for modern classics like the best-selling Wicked, now publishes a twist on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's classic.When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance? In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Can't Keep It To Myself: The Little Paris Bookshop

At a glance, Nina George's The Little Paris Bookshop may seem innocuous enough. In fact, if you were just judging it by its title and cover (and you'd never do that, would you? I know I wouldn't.), you might think it's just a sweet, bookish love story. And you'd be right. But you'd also be wrong.

I'm going to go ahead and say that this novel was one of the most emotionally resonant books I've read in quite some time. Nina George has a way of turning a phrase that can take your breath away, leaving you sitting quietly stunned and thinking, "That's me. How does she know that part of me? I never had words for that before, and she knows it perfectly." And while your mileage may vary, I was up until the wee hours finishing the second half of the book in a single sitting, and tears ran down my face for a good portion of those pages.

Monsieur Perdu (direct translation: Mr. Lost) had his heart broken two decades ago, when his lover left him forever, leaving him only with a single letter that he cannot bear to read. Instead, he puts the letter in a table drawer and seals the room that the table is in, then tries to go about his business of selling books aboard his floating Literary Apothecary barge/bookshop. Monsieur Perdu has a gift for prescribing the very book to soothe what emotionally ails his customers, but he has not been able to do this for himself, save for a novel written by an anonymous author which has been his lifeline for twenty years.

Every day is the same for Monsieur Perdu, until a woman, left by her husband and adrift in misery, moves in across the hall from him. She hasn't a single stick of furniture, and so he loans her his table, and she finds the letter he has been unable to read. Upon receiving this letter back, Perdu is finally moved to action for the first time in years, leaving Paris on a mission to finally put to rest his years of misery. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, among others, Perdu travels France's waterways, using books in trade, learning about life outside of his city, and ultimately confronting the ghosts he had avoided for so long. This is a must for romantics, for readers and lovers of books. Let yourself be swept up by it--you'll be the better for it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reading Ahead: October 2015, part 5

Alternate Title: This had to happen eventually.

I've been ordering holiday fiction for months now. Since May, actually. So while I know you're not quite ready for this yet, I'm sharing anyway. If you can't bear it yet, bookmark the page and come back in a month. Deal?

Christmas Bells, by Jennifer Chiaverini. Inspired by the classic poem "Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Chiaverini's new novel alternates between 1860 and present-day Boston. In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow’s classic Revolutionary War poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was less than a month hence, and the country’s grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed. 
In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia’s music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children’s choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss.

Winter Stroll, by Elin Hilderbrand. After the queen of summer struck gold with her first Christmas novel, Winter Street, last year, it seems only logical that she'd treat readers to a second holiday with the Quinn family on Nantucket in this sequel. Christmas on Nantucket finds Winter Street Inn owner Kelley Quinn and his family busily preparing for the holiday season. Though the year has brought tragedy, the Quinns have much to celebrate: Kelley has reunited with his first wife Margaret, Kevin and Isabelle have a new baby; and Ava is finally dating a nice guy.

But when Kelley's estranged wife Mitzi shows up on the island, along with Kevin's devious ex-wife Norah and a dangerously irresistible old fling of Ava's, the Inn is suddenly overrun with romantic feuds, not to mention guests. With jealousy, passion, and eggnog consumption at an all-time high, it's going to take a whole lot more than a Christmas miracle to get the Quinns--and the Inn--through the holidays intact. The library has a bunch of copies on order, and holds have been stacking up all summer. Get in on the action soon, as this hits the shelves October 13.

Dashing Through the Snow, by Debbie Macomber. Ashley Davison, a graduate student in California, desperately wants to spend the holidays with her family in Seattle. Dashiell Sutherland, a former army intelligence officer, has a job interview in Seattle and must arrive by December 23. Though frantic to book a last-minute flight out of San Francisco, both are out of luck: Every flight is full, and there’s only one rental car available. Ashley and Dash reluctantly decide to share the car, but neither anticipates the wild ride ahead.

At first they drive in silence, but forced into close quarters Ashley and Dash can’t help but open up. Not only do they find they have a lot in common, but there’s even a spark of romance in the air. Their feelings catch them off guard—never before has either been so excited about a first meeting. Though Ashley and Dash may never reach Seattle in time for Christmas, the season is still full of surprises—and their greatest wishes may yet come true.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Reading Ahead: October 2015, part 4

October is a huge month for book publishers, as we near cooler temperatures, which spurs readers to buy for themselves and others! October also means a surge of new mysteries being published, without fail. Here are a few that you just may want to curl up with next month.

Pretending to Dance, by Diane Chamberlain. Molly Arnette is very good at keeping secrets. She and her husband live in San Diego, where they hope to soon adopt a baby. But the process terrifies her. As the questions and background checks come one after another, Molly worries that the truth she's kept hidden about her North Carolina childhood will rise to the surface and destroy not only her chance at adoption, but her marriage as well. She ran away from her family twenty years ago after a shocking event left her devastated and distrustful of those she loved. Now, as she tries to find a way to make peace with her past and embrace a future filled with promise, she discovers that even she doesn't know the truth of what happened in her family of pretenders. I have a feeling that this novel will win Chamberlain a lot of new fans.

Banquet of Consequences, by Elizabeth George. George's Inspector Lynley series is hugely popular, and I expect this latest entry will be no different. The suicide of William Goldacre is devastating to those left behind. But what was the cause of his tragedy and how far might the consequences reach? Is there a link between the young man's leap from a Dorset cliff and a horrific poisoning in Cambridge? After various career-threatening issues with her department at Scotland Yard, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is desperate to redeem herself. So when a past encounter with a bestselling feminist writer and her pushy personal assistant gives her a connection to the Cambridge murder, Barbara begs Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley to let her pursue the crime.

Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith. J.K. Rowling reinvented herself as an adult mystery author several years ago, after decades of success with the Harry Potter series. Here writing her third Cormoran Strike mystery (after The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm) under her Galbraith pen name, Rowling begins with a mysterious package delivered to Robin Ellacott, who is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible--and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

The Theory of Death, by Faye Kellerman. Former LAPD lieutenant Peter Decker is relishing the quiet and slow pace of his new job with the Greenbury police department. The work is low stress and engaging, and it’s been almost a year since the last murder in this sleepy upstate New York town. Then the body of a nude man is found deep within the woods, shattering Decker’s peace. The death appears to be a suicide—a single shot to the head, the gun by his side. But until the coroner’s ruling, the scene must be treated as a suspicious crime. Without any personal effects near the body, Decker must dig to uncover his identity, a task made difficult by the department’s tight budget and limited personnel. Luckily, Decker gets some unexpected help when his friend and former Greenbury colleague Tyler McAdams calls, looking for a quiet place to study for his law finals. The investigation takes Decker and McAdams to Kneed Loft College, where they must penetrate the indecipherable upper echelons of mathematics and mathematical prodigies. Beneath the school’s rarified atmosphere they discover a sphere of scheming academics, hidden cyphers—and most dangerous of all—a realm of underworld crime that transforms harmless nerds into cold, calculating evil geniuses.