Thursday, February 25, 2016

What I've Been Reading: February 2016

It's hard to believe the end of the month is upon us--I feel like I missed a week in there somewhere! It has not felt like the most accomplished month for me, reading-wise. Some easy reading, a collection of short-stories, a couple of audiobooks--not bad, but you can see why I thought maybe I'd lost a week.

Day Four, by Sarah Lotz. I couldn't keep this one to myself. You can read my review here. I actually did this as an audiobook and thought the reader, Penelope Rawlins, did  an admirable job.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King. I don't often take a chance on a collection of short stories, but when it comes to Stephen King, if I'm in for a penny, I'm in for a pound. I like that in recent collections, he talks a bit about how each story comes to be written--it's less like a magician explaining how the trick is done and more like an alchemist describing the effects of a catalyst, if that makes any sense? In any case, some of these are plain scary (Mile 81), others are creepy as all get out and reminded me of IT (Bad Little Kid), some are metaphysical (Ur), and still others are not immediately horrifying, but creep into your head and stick around, rearing up to be mulled over again and again, reminding me of Dolan's Cadillac from Nightmares & Dreamscapes, which had the same effect on me (Morality, Premium harmony). I'm still most partial to Nightmares & Dreamscapes, of all of King's collections, but this one ranks right up there.

Dance of Death, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Yes, I am still sticking with this duo's Agent Pendergast series, of which this is book 6. Really, every time I think they can't get better (although Still Life with Crows remains my favorite to date), I am captivated all over again. Really, it's the old Twin Peaks/X-Files/Indiana Jones fan in me that finds these so deeply involving--things you can't explain, secret societies, ancient civilizations? Yes please! Here, Pendergast's most dangerous adversary is hard at work, determined to take away everything Pendergast has ever loved, including those he has worked with closely in recent years. And who would know best how to push his buttons than his own flesh and blood? The ultimate challenge has been given: Catch me if you can. I cannot recommend this series enough, it really is one of my favorite things to read right now.

Brotherhood in Death, by J.D. Robb. The extremely prolific Robb (aka Nora Roberts) is at it again. Here, a politician winds up kidnapped, later discovered dead in his grandparents' old home. He also happened to be related to Dr. Charlotte Mira's husband, who was injured during his cousin's kidnapping. So Eve Dallas, homicide detective, is determined to get to the bottom of the case for reasons beyond just the politician's death. When an old friend of Senator Mira is found dead in a similar manner just days later, Dallas has to race against time to uncover the culprits, prevent them from murdering more prominent men, and in the process unearths a decades-old brotherhood that has brought this all to a head. I have to say that I found this one to be particularly unsettling in its subject matter--this one may not be for everyone.

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. This is a re-read--my book club is reading this for our March meeting. You can read my original review here.

Find Her, by Lisa Gardner. Eighth in Gardner's D.D. Warren series, Find Her is the story of Flora Dane, who was abducted and held captive for 472 days. She survived, but has spent the last decade trying to learn how to live in the world again. But Detective D.D. Warren has to wonder if Flora has gone from victim to vigilante when she finds that Flora has confronted three suspected abductors recently. When Flora herself disappears again, Warren must find her, because there is a predator who wants to make sure that Flora never returns.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Can't Keep It To Myself: Day Four, by Sarah Lotz

I realize I haven't done one of these posts in awhile. I read a fair amount, a book or two per week, but often I'll go a long stretch before I stumble upon something that I feel must be shared immediately. And Day Four is one of those books. Now, what I didn't know when I picked this up is that it's actually the second book in a slated trilogy. I'm remedying that now, reading book 1 The Three. The beauty of Day Four, however, was that I had no inkling that it was a sequel until I looked up the author to see if she'd written anything else. To my mind, that is no easy feat to write a trilogy and have each book stand up well independently, without losing something if you haven't read from the beginning.

Cruise liner The Beautiful Dreamer is beginning its journey back to Miami from its Caribbean voyage with hundreds of vacationers aboard when disaster strikes, predictably, on day four, leaving the ship stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. A case of the norovirus begins to run rampant among passengers, supplies begin to run low, and unrest among both passengers and crew begins to simmer. But that's just the beginning. There are rumors running rampant on the ship: there might be a murderer on board, and the lower decks might be haunted. Five days adrift is a long time... I'd recommend this, and its prequel, to fans of The X-Files and of authors like Mark Z Danielewski, Brian Freemantle, or Justin Cronin.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Meg's Picks: March 2016, part 2

I've got thrillers by the dozen coming in at the library these days, but how do you know what's good? How do you choose? Well, luckily you have me to help you out with that. If you're tired of the same old stuff, here are a few new titles that might help shake things up.

The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz. You may be familiar with Lutz's name from her bestselling Spellman novels (The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans, etc.). She's treating readers to something a little different here, a blistering thriller that follows a woman crisscrossing the country  as she creates and sheds identities to try and escape her past, or her pasts. If you're looking for a new thriller that will keep the pages turning and your pulse racing, this is one to add to your list.

Shaker, by Scott Frank. If you're looking for a read that combines humor and thrills, Shaker should be on your list. Roy is a low-key, low-profile kind of guy, the kind of personality that well-suits his job as an "errand runner" for various New York criminals. When a job takes him to LA for a hit, just a week after a massive earthquake has knocked out cell service and buckled freeways city-wide, it goes off without a hitch. Until he realizes he can't remember where he parked his car. And then the stumbles across another crime-in-progress, only to find himself part of a video that goes viral. And then? Then Roy really gets into trouble. Fans of Carl Hiaasen, this is right up your alley. (Note: This novel was originally slated for release in March, but was bumped up and published in late January. So it's available now!)

No One Knows, by J.T. Ellison. Ellison's latest solo venture (she also co-writes with Catherine Coulter) is being likened to recent bestsellers like The Girl on the Train and The Husband's Secret, so get in early on this. The day Aubrey Hamilton’s husband is declared dead by the state of Tennessee should bring closure so she can move on with her life. But Aubrey doesn’t want to move on; she wants Josh back. It’s been five years since he disappeared, since their blissfully happy marriage—they were happy, weren’t they?—screeched to a halt and Aubrey became the prime suspect in his disappearance. Five years of emptiness, solitude, loneliness, questions. Why didn’t Josh show up at his friend’s bachelor party? Was he murdered? Did he run away? And now, all this time later, who is the mysterious yet strangely familiar figure suddenly haunting her new life?

Lie in Plain Sight, by Maggie Barbieri. It's a busy day at the bakery Maeve Conlon owns when she receives a phone call from the high school saying Maeve's employee's daughter, Taylor Dvorak, is ill. Taylor's mom is out on a delivery and Taylor has her own car, so harried Maeve gives the school nurse permission to send Taylor home on her own. But Taylor never makes it: Somewhere between the school and her house, she just vanishes.
Not only does Maeve feel responsible, but she can't shake the feeling that there's more to Taylor's disappearance than meets the eye. So Maeve decides to take matters into her own capable hands. She finds that Farringville has a lot more to hide than most small towns, from the secretive high school girls' soccer coach to Taylor's estranged father and her troubled mother, and she gets to work shining a light on all these mysteries.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Meg's Picks: March 2016, part 1

So, what if you're looking for something a little bit off the beaten path? If you've read everything on the best-sellers list and need something good to sink your teeth into, here are a few titles I'd suggest taking a look at.

Overwatch, by Matthew Betley. Former Marine turned author Betley debuts here with the first in a proposed thriller series featuring former Marine officer Logan West who, after impulsively answering a dead man's ringing phone, triggers a global race against the clock to track down an unknown organization searching for an Iraqi artifact that is central to a planned attack in the Middle East—one that will draw the United States into a major conflict with Iran. Logan is quickly contracted as a “consultant” to assist the FBI as part of a special task force bent on stopping the shadowy operatives, whatever the cost. I'm recommending this especially for fans of authors like Brad Taylor and Terry Hayes

Prefer family dramas over military ops? Try The Nest, by Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney. Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs' joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives. I'm thinking this is going to be one that lots of people are going to be talking about this spring--book clubs, take note.

Historical fiction more to your taste? The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson may be just what you're after. Simonson also wrote Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, an extraordinary tale of finding love in the unlikeliest of places when you least expect it. So it's not unexpected to find her writing a tale of love and war in this new novel, which beings in 1914 at the end of the brief but beautiful East Sussex summer. Hugh Grange is down to visit his aunt and uncle during a break in his medical studies. And Beatrice Nash has been hired for the position of Latin master, where she hopes to support herself after falling upon hard financial times. As the situation in the Balkans becomes steadily more dire and the possibility of war looms large on the horizon, this is the last place either would have expected to find happiness...or love.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Reading Ahead: March 2016, part 4

I know I talk a lot about thrillers and suspense novels around here, but honestly, those seem to be the popular genres du jour, and there are no two ways around it. That said, there are definitely best-sellers on the horizon that don't fall under those categories, so if you're in the market for something else, read on.

Two If By Sea, by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Bestselling author Mitchard (The Breakdown Lane, The Deep End of the Ocean, etc.) brings readers another story guaranteed to hit you right in the feels. After losing everything in the Christmas Eve tsunami in Brisbane, American expat and former police officer Frank Mercy goes out with his volunteer rescue unit and pulls a young boy from a submerged car. Afraid for the boy, Frank sidesteps procedure and brings the boy, Ian, back to the Midwestern horse farm owned and operated by his family, where he seeks to protect the deeply traumatized, gifted boy from a sinister group that will do anything to get him back.

Property of a Noblewoman, by Danielle Steel. The contents of a long-abandoned safe-deposit box in a New York City bank will go up for auction if an heir cannot be found. But if the owner was the woman in the photographs contained in the box, along with jewels and letters, what could have happened to make her leave these things behind without a will? A law clerk and a Christie's art expert are sent to inspect the contents, but find themselves drawn into the mystery behind the owner, one that will lead them all over Europe before they find the truth.

A Few of the Girls, by Maeve Binchy. Binchy, who passed in 2012, has been mourned as one of Ireland's most beloved authors. For readers who would like to revisit some of her narrative magic, this collection of short fiction, spanning her career, might just soothe the soul. They range from those published in magazines, others to be auctioned at charity events, and still others written as gifts for friends.

At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracey Chevalier. Chevalier delves into the story of one American pioneer family and their struggles to get by in the untamed west. In 1838, that means the swamps of northwest Ohio, where the Goodenough family settles in the very spot their wagon became mired in mud. They seek to start an orchard, buying trees from John Appleseed, to stake their claim on the property. The orchard reminds James of his home in Connecticut, but his wife Sarah becomes more enamored of the applejack they produce, seeking to escape from their hardscrabble life. In 1853, it is their youngest child Robert who lights out for the California during the Gold Rush, ultimately working for a naturalist who sends seeds and plants from the New World back to Europe. When Robert's past comes back to haunt him, he has to decide whether to keep running, or go back and face his family once and for all. Chevalier has a great flair for historical fiction, and this title is high on my list of novels to be read this spring.