Thursday, October 29, 2015

What I've Been Reading: October 2015

I have to admit, folks, that although I read six books this month, it feels like I really could have, should have read more. I've been watching a lot of baseball in the evenings this playoff season (Let's Go, Mets!) and learning to knit socks (nearly done with the first pair!), so that's at least 2-3 books worth of time doing other things. But let me share what I did read!

You're Never Weird On the Internet (Almost), by Felicia Day. This memoir by thirty-something self-professed geek, entrepreneur, actor, writer and director Day was amazing in so many ways. From her unusual upbringing (homeschooled before homeschooling was a thing) to her trailblazing career (if it doesn't exist, bulldoze what does exist and build from there), Day embraces her awkwardness and makes it deeply endearing. Readers who are unfamiliar with Day's work should go and check out her series, The Guild, available on Netflix and YouTube--if videogames and awkward social situations aren't your thing, you may also know her as Charlie Bradbury from the hit TV series Supernatural. And if geekery isn't your thing? Well, you're missing out.

The Knitting Circle, by Ann Hood. When Mary Baxter loses her only child, her mother gets her to join a knitting circle, knowing Mary will need something occupy her mind and her hands, to fill her empty hours. As she learns more about knitting, Mary also learns about the stories each of her fellow knitters has to share, the wisdom they can impart. Eventually, it will be Mary's turn to tell her story, and to pass on all she's learned to another new member. It's a lovely novel about friendship, both sad and heartwarming. Perfect if you need something to curl up with on a chilly, rainy weekend.

Devoted in Death, by J.D. Robb. Lieutenant Eve Dallas is on the case when a new killer is on the loose in her city, but what looks like a single person's deadly work may be that of a team, with a long, bloody wake trailing behind them. She and her team at the NYPSD must work quickly if they can save the most recent abductees before they meet their end. Robb (Nora Roberts) always delivers a quick, easy read, and for that, I thank her.

The Girl with all the Gifts, by M.R. Carey. I loved this one so much, I couldn't keep it to myself. It's not to late to pick up a copy, so you can spend your Halloween with the cleverest of zombies for company.

The Courtesan, by Alexandra Curry. China, 1881. Young Jinhua is orphaned and sold to a madame in a brothel by her stepmother. Here she makes a friend in an older servant girl, wise beyond her years, who will be her best and only friend in the difficult years to come. When she is bought, years later, by an emissary of the emperor, Jinhua travels with him to Vienna, where she learns that she has a talent for languages, and where she meets the one true love of her life for a single afternoon. She returns to Peking, disgraced and alone, only to find herself caught up in the Boxer Rebellion as a foreign collaborator. A story of friendships, of women, of East meets West. Enlightening, if not uplifting.

Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter. In this stand-alone from Slaughter, two sisters have been silent in the twenty years following the disappearance of their third, eldest sister. They have grown into very different people--Claire is the trophy wife of a multi-millionaire, Lydia is a single mom struggling to make ends meet and dating an ex-con. But when Claire's husband is brutally murdered, the sisters grudgingly reconnect, forced to confront the question--is this act of violence connected somehow to their sister's disappearance all those years ago? Absolutely riveting--I couldn't put it down.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Top 10 on Tuesday: Keeping Up With the Joneses

Among the questions I get from library patrons on almost a daily basis are: What's good? What are you reading? Any recommendations?

And while I haven't read everything out there, and couldn't even if I wanted to, I do keep tabs on what's popular among my fellow readers, so that I can pass that information along to others. So if you're wondering what the most sought-after books are right this very minute, here's a list of the Top 10.

1) Rogue Lawyer, by John Grisham. This just came out a week ago, and as with all Grisham novels, this is instantly very popular. Sebastian Rudd, street lawyer, is on the right side of the law...mostly. One of a kind, without firm, office, partners or associates, Rudd works out of a bulletproof van and defends the people that other lawyers wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Early reviews have been great, so if you're a fan, place your hold now! Prefer Large Print or audiobook? We have both!

2) After You, by Jojo Moyes. If you read Moyes's bestselling Me Before You, you may have wondered from time to time what ever happened to heroine Louisa Clark. And you wouldn't be alone--according to Moyes, she never intended to write a sequel, until she found herself bombarded by fans of the first book who wanted to know how Louisa made out, and then found herself moved to write this new novel. Here, Louisa is struggling to find her way after losing Will Traynor, only to find new relationships that change her life's trajectory...drastically. Yes, you do need to read Me Before You first! Also available in Large Print or audio formats.

3) A Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman. Hoffman (The Museum of Extraordinary Things, The Dovekeepers, etc.) is always a reader favorite, so it's not surprising that her new novel, based on the life of Rachel Pizzarro, mother of Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. Set in tropical St. Thomas in the early 1800s, this tale of forbidden love, family duty and rebellion is a huge hit. I'm guessing that book clubs will be snapping this up soon, too! Also in Large Print and audio.

4) The Murder House, by James Patterson and David Ellis. No. 7 Ocean Drive is a gorgeous, multimillion-dollar beachfront estate in the Hamptons, but its beautiful gothic exterior hides a horrific past: it was the scene of a series of depraved killings that have never been solved. Neglected, empty, and rumored to be cursed, it's known as the Murder House, and locals keep their distance. It's only after a new murder that the house's past is uncovered by a cop whose career is on the rocks. Large Print and audio also available.

5) Killing Reagan, by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. Bestselling team O'Reilly and Dugard return with a page-turning epic account of the career of President Ronald Reagan that tells the vivid story of his rise to power -- and the forces of evil that conspired to bring him down. Also available in Large Print and audio.

6) The Lake House, by Kate Morton. Morton has charmed and enthralled readers with bestselling titles like The Distant Hours and The Secret Keeper. Here, a tragedy after a party at Alice Edevane's family's estate haunts Alice for decades to come. Years later, a young detective reopens the unsolved case, drawing Alice back into a past she never managed to leave behind. For lovers of historical fiction and mysteries alike. Available in audio format as well.

7) The Survivor, by Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills. Flynn sadly passed away at the age of 47 in 2013, leaving a legion of fans in mourning. Mills has signed on to carry the CIA operative Mitch Rapp novels forward, and this new installment finds Rapp racing to find classified information stolen from the CIA, picking up where Flynn's The Last Man left off. Also available in Large Print.

8) The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. This is still going strong, nine months after publication date! I read it this past spring, and loved it. You can read my original review here. Available in Large Print and audio, if you prefer.

9) My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. This novel was originally published in 2012 and is only recently becoming the sleepiest of sleeper hits! First in a series (The Neapolitan Novels) and translated from the Italian, this novel starts in the 1950s in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples and follows two best friends as they grow up, relying on one another before anyone or anything else. Readers are raving about this, and the other novels in the series, so if you're looking for something a little outside of the usual fare, this might be just the ticket.

10) And finally, if you're wondering if there's something new on the horizon that people are lining up to read? That would be The Promise, by Robert Crais, which was originally slated for publication in 2014 and has been repeatedly pushed back. At long last, it's due to be released on November 10. Latest in the Elvis Cole & Joe Pike series (last seen in 2012's Taken), the duo team up with the heroes of Crais's latest novel, 2013's Suspect, LAPD K-9 Officer Scott James and his German shepherd Maggie. When Elvis Cole is secretly hired to find a grief-stricken mother, he's led to an ordinary house on a rainy night in Echo Park.  Only the house isn't ordinary, and the people hiding inside are a desperate fugitive and a murderous criminal with his own dangerous secrets. Series fans will be delighted after a long wait for this new entry.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Can't Keep It To Myself: The Girl With All the Gifts

It's that time of year when I, for one, like to read something guaranteed to scare me into staying up late with the lights on. If you're like me, you might consider picking up what I've just finished: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. This came out in 2014, and while it was on my radar, it somehow didn't make it into my hands until a friend reminded me of it last month. I'm glad she did, because it is one of the most interesting, yet terrifying novels I've read in recent memory.

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius." Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh. She is among some very gifted children, but some gifts are more curse than blessing. And sometimes humans are more terrifying than than monsters.

I'm recommending this in particular to fans of shows like Z-Nation or The Walking Dead, and books like World War Z (also a movie with Brad Pitt) and The Strain. I read it in two days, because I couldn't sleep until I found out what happened. Very highly recommended for those who feel the need for a good scare.

In need of another good, scary read? Stop by the library between now and Halloween--we have a large display of horror novels for your terrified pleasure, classics to modern scare-masters. Or check out some of my past lists of creepy recommendations!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Build a Better Book Club: Part 1, Getting Started

Book clubs seem to be a dime a dozen, but what do you do if you want to join one and can't find one? Well, why not start one yourself! I realize that this can seem more than a little intimidating, so I've broken this down into easy steps and will be sharing my tips this autumn in a "Build a Better Book Club" series. I'll cover how to form and start a group in today's post, and future posts will cover organization, how to select titles, how to get the most out of your discussions, and some pointers I've picked up after running a book club here at the Trumbull Library for the last fourteen years.

First, you need to consider some of the framework for this hypothetical group of people. What do you want your book club to be like? There are some which are very strict: everyone must have finished the book in order to attend and discuss, no side conversations during discussions, etc. Others are really just an excuse for a get-together: sharing cocktails, supper, or tea and coffee with friends one evening a month. Some are extremely elaborate, with everyone bringing food inspired by the book--sort of a supper party meets book club. So you can start small and dream big--there's nothing that says you can't tweak the guidelines as time goes on.

Second, you need a group to meet with. Two or three to start is okay, though an ideal size is about 7-10. No more than 12 or so--in my experience, too many people results in lots of side conversations and less actual group discussion, plus there's the issue of where are you going to put all of these people? Think about what you want out of your group when you're considering people to invite. If your goal is a group that meets once a month with members who have finished the book, then friends who don't like to read, or only read a particular genre, may not be the best bet. Starting small also means you have lots of flexibility as to where you meet--four or five can go out to dinner or meet up for coffee or spend an evening in someone's living room without a whole lot of extra planning. So if you and two friends are considering starting a book club, consider asking each of the other two to bring a like-minded friend or coworker to join in the fun, and you'll be up and running in no time.

But Meg, you ask, what if I'm new to a place and I want to join a book club to get to know new people? If your town has a Welcome Wagon program or your neighborhood has an association, check in with those folks, because they're usually in the know about ongoing groups or can put you in touch with someone who does. Check in with your local library, as they may have one (or more) for you to join. Bulletin boards or Facebook pages for local organizations, parents' groups, schools or day care, bookstores and coffee shops may have information about groups looking for members. And if you still come up empty handed? Then start your own, putting fliers or postings in the places I just mentioned, giving a description of what you have in mind for your group.

I'll be back soon with the next installment in the series, where we'll talk about getting your new group up and running, and how to keep it going.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Meg's Picks: November 2015

 Well, there's not a lot on my list of picks for next month, but those that made the list? They're serious business.

American Blood, by Ben Sanders. Sanders is a New Zealand bestseller, and American Blood is his US debut. Marshall Grade, a former NYPD officer now living in the witness protection program in Santa Fe, NM, tries to make amends for wrongs committed during his final undercover assignment by searching for a local woman who has disappeared. That brings him to the attention of the bad guys he was trying to leave behind, including a contract killer called the Dallas Man. Additionally noteworthy is that Warner Bros. has bought the film rights, and Bradley Cooper has signed on to star in the film adaptation. I'd imagine we'll be hearing more from Sanders soon.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories, by Stephen King. A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story. I am a major Stephen King fan, as my readers are well aware, and I adore his short fiction in particular--I have read, and re-read, Nightmares and Dreamscapes in particular--Dolan's Cadillac in particular has left a lasting impact. There's no reason to doubt that his latest collection will have similar impact.

The Muralist, by B.A. Shapiro. If you're unfamiliar with B.A. Shapiro, let me refresh your memory: She wrote 2012's sleeper hit The Art Forger, about a woman who makes a living painting reproductions, only to find herself in over her head when a work she has been contracted to copy turns out to be a forgery itself. Now in this new novel, Shapiro returns to the art world, this time in a woman's search for her great-aunt, a political artist who disappeared 70 years ago. Fans of the first will certainly want to check out this latest.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Reading Ahead: November 2015, part 4

Cool weather and mysteries go together like peas and carrots. Whether your preference is holiday-minded, cozy, or funny, November has a mystery for you.

A Christmas Escape, by Anne Perry. Perry treats readers to the thirteenth in her seasonal series, transporting them to the unconventional setting of the Mediterranean island of Stromboli where they meet lonely Charles Latterly, who hopes the blue skies and warm air will brighten his spirits. Unfortunately, his fellow guests are not as lovely as the scenery. Add the rumblings of a local volcano and a murder, and now Charles must race against the clock to deduce who among his unsavory companions could have committed this heinous crime. For those in need of a quick seasonal escape of their own, I think this would fit the bill quite nicely.

Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum might not be the world’s greatest bounty hunter, but she knows when she’s being played. Ken Globovic (aka Gobbles), hailed as the Supreme Exalted Zookeeper of the animal house known as Zeta fraternity, has been arrested for beating up the dean of students at Kiltman College. Gobbles has missed his court date and gone into hiding. People have seen him on campus, but no one will talk. Things just aren’t adding up, and Stephanie can’t shake the feeling that something funny is going on at the college—and it’s not just Zeta fraternity pranks. As much as people love Gobbles, they hate Doug Linken. When Linken is gunned down in his backyard it’s good riddance, and the list of possible murder suspects is long. The only people who care about finding Linken’s killer are Trenton cop Joe Morelli, who has been assigned the case, security expert Ranger, who was hired to protect Linken, and Stephanie, who has her eye on a cash prize and hopefully has some tricks up her sleeve. Plum novels always bring the laughs, so fans will want to snag a copy to beat the winter blues.
Away in a Manger, by Rhys Bowen. This latest in Bowen's Molly Murphy mystery series finds our sleuth looking forward to the approaching holidays. She has a family of her own now: she and Daniel have a baby son and twelve-year-old Bridie is living with them as their ward. As Molly and the children listen to carolers in the street, they hear a lovely voice, the voice of an angel, and see a beggar girl huddled in a doorway, singing "Away in a Manger." Bridie is touched by the girl's ragged clothes and wants to help her out if they can. They give her a quarter, only to watch a bigger boy take it from her. But Molly discovers the boy is the girl's older brother. They've come from England and their mother has disappeared, and they're living with an aunt who mistreats them terribly. Molly quickly realizes that these children are not the usual city waifs. They are well-spoken and clearly used to better things. So who are they? And what's happened to their mother? As Molly looks for a way to help the children and for the answers to these questions, she gets drawn into an investigation that will take her up to the highest levels of New York society. Guaranteed to be a quick, heart-warming read this season.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Reading Ahead: November 2015, part 3

As the days cool and our thoughts turn to things like warm sweaters, comfort food, and *gulp* holiday shopping, the shelves at the library start to fill with books made for chilly afternoons and a cup of tea. Here are a few to choose from next month.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, by Mitch Albom. Mitch Albom's work takes a small departure from his usual slim volumes of inspirational stories; this latest is over 500 pages, though still full of inspiration. Frankie Presto, the greatest guitar player in history, changes six lives with his talent over the course of his career, which is an amazing tour through the music of the 20th century, winding through genres and decades. At the peak of his popularity, understanding the effect his music is having on people, he disappears for years, his legend growing in his absence. It is only to change that final, sixth person that he returns. A tale of magic, music and history--Albom's fans with adore this.

The Japanese Lover, by Isabelle Allende. For readers who enjoy a sweeping epic saga with a good love story, Allende's new novel should not be missed. As the Nazis advance on Poland in 1939, Alma Belasco's parents send her away to live with relatives in San Francisco. There, she falls in love with the family's Japanese gardner, only to have him torn from her as he, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, is imprisoned in an internment camp. Throughout the years, they are reunited again and again, but their love remains a secret, one only told as Alma nears the end of her days. Allende (The House of the Spirits, Daughter of Fortune, etc.) is known for her vivid storytelling--this is high on my list of things to read this winter.

The Mistletoe Inn, by Richard Paul Evans. This, the second in Evans's Mistletoe series (following 2014's The Mistletoe Promise), is a lesson in living up to potential and learning to live and love fearlessly. Kimberly Rossetti, at 32, has a long road of heartbreak behind her, and cannot face the prospect of being alone for the holidays. Instead, she signs up for a writer's retreat in Burlington, VT, a conference which features a lecture by the author who made Kimberly want to write in the first place. It's there, exploring her craft, that she opens up about her past to another attendee, only to find he has a dark past of his own, and he's not quite so willing to share. Fans will not be able to pass this up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reading Ahead: November 2015, part 2

This is the time of year where you just might start thinking about gift giving. Readers, don't forget to give yourself a gift, too, like one of the titles below. Plus, if you get it from the library, it's FREE!

Cross Justice, by James Patterson. When his cousin is accused of a heinous crime, Alex Cross returns to his North Carolina hometown for the first time in over three decades. As he tries to prove his cousin's innocence in a town where everyone seems to be on the take, Cross unearths a family secret that forces him to question everything he's ever known. Chasing a ghost he believed was long dead, Cross gets pulled into a case that has local cops scratching their heads and needing his help: a grisly string of socialite murders. Now he's hot on the trail of both a brutal killer, and the truth about his own past--and the answers he finds might be fatal.

The Pharaoh’s Secret, by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown. In Cussler's new NUMA Files book, Kurt and Joe tangle with the most determined enemy they’ve ever encountered when a ruthless powerbroker schemes to build a new Egyptian empire as glorious as those of the Pharaohs. Part of his plan rests on the manipulation of a newly discovered aquifer beneath the Sahara, but an even more devastating weapon at his disposal may threaten the entire world: a plant extract known as the black mist, discovered in the City of the Dead and rumored to have the power to take life from the living and restore it to the dead.

The Golem of Paris, by Jonathan Kellerman & Jesse Kellerman. Father and son team up again (following The Golem of Hollywood, 2014), picking up more than a year since LAPD detective Jacob Lev learned the remarkable truth about his family, and he’s not coping well. He’s back to drinking, he’s not talking to his father, the LAPD Special Projects Department continues to shadow him, and the memory of a woman named Mai haunts him day and night. And while Jacob has tried to build a bridge to his mother, she remains a stranger to him, imprisoned inside her own tattered mind. Then he comes across the file for a gruesome unsolved murder that brings the two halves of his life into startling collision.

All Dressed in White, by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke. Five years ago Amanda Pierce was excitedly preparing to marry her college sweetheart in a lavish ceremony at The Grand Victoria Hotel in Palm Beach. Then, with their guests and families on site, Amanda disappeared. In present-day New York City, Laurie Moran realizes a missing bride is the perfect cold case for her investigative television series, Under Suspicion. She and her team set out to recreate the night of the disappearance at the Florida resort with Amanda’s friends and family in attendance, hoping to shed new light on the mystery as the series has done in past episodes. With a jealous sister, playboy groomsmen, Amanda’s former fiancĂ© now married to a bridesmaid, and rumors about the “beloved” bride herself, Laurie and Under Suspicion host Alex Buckley quickly realize everyone has a theory about why Amanda vanished into thin air.