Thursday, March 31, 2016

What I've Been Reading: March 2016

It's that time again! I wish I had more to share this month, but given that a couple of these were in the 500 page range, I hope you'll give me a little leeway. In any case, here they are!

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson. Let me share a secret--I spent most of my teens and early twenties reading fantasy novels almost exclusively (pausing only to read horror novels, actually). Jennifer Roberson, Melanie Rawn, David Eddings, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Herbert, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Pratchett--I read and re-read their works endlessly. But it has been a good long while since I last picked up a fantasy novel that I could lose myself in completely, a world and people both fascinatingly unique and completely familiar. On a hunch, I picked up this novel, first in Sanderson's Mistborn series (the sixth was published just a couple of months ago, and when I saw how popular it was among our readers, I had to investigate further), and was instantly captivated. Vin is an orphan who runs with a crew of low-caste street thieves, the leader of whom keeps her on because he considers her a lucky charm for tricky jobs. When her path intersects that of another crew, this one hellbent on rebellion against the cruel caste system, her whole world is turned upside down. If you're in the market for a fantasy series to sink your teeth into, I highly recommend it.

The Book of the Dead, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child.  Seventh in the Agent Pendergast series written by this duo, The Book of the Dead begins with a mummy's curse in a newly reopened exhibit at the New York Museum of History, and Agent Pendergast is behind bars in a maximum security prison awaiting trial for crimes committed by his psychopathic brother, Diogenes, who then elaborately framed Pendergast before disappearing into the ether. Now Pendergast's friends must do the impossible and break him out of the impenetrable prison so that he can put a stop to his brother's most diabolical plan yet, one that could drive millions mad... I love this series more with every installment, so my apologies in advance if you're getting bored with reading my reviews of them!

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin. This is a scintillating tale of the scandalous, headline-making relationship between Truman Capote and socialite Babe Paley. He is the talk of the town, a genius with a desire to make waves and the personality to make it happen. She is the wife of the NBC president and a maven of fashion and lifestyle among the Manhattan elite. What each of them recognizes in the other is a deep loneliness that never seems to fade unless they are together. But Capote is a teller of tales, even if the tales aren't his to tell, and though he's been embraced by Babe and her circle of swans, he will leave devastation in his wake. Benjamin brings the era and her characters to life in a novel so vivid, I found myself needing to swim back to the surface of reality when I was done reading. Excellent.

The Aviator's Wife, by Melanie Benjamin. Yes, there's a theme here. This is my book club's selection for our April meeting, by sheer coincidence. Shy, awkward Anne Morrow travels to Mexico for the Christmas holiday with her family during her father's ambassadorship. Here she meets famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who sees her as a kindred spirit and fellow adventurer. Though she becomes the first female glider pilot among other personal achievements, Anne is ultimately seen as merely Charles Lindbergh's wife, and the kind of life she used to long for ultimately brings its own brand of heartbreak. By turns melancholy and inspiring, this is a story to break your heart even as it gives you hope. Unforgettable.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A few of my favorite things: March 2016

This is a bit different than my usual "What I've Been Reading" posts, though I'll be sharing those titles I've read in March later this week. There are lots of things I've read and resources I've used that don't make the list, primarily because I haven't read it cover-to-cover, so I don't count them. But if you're a cook, a crafter, a Pinterest junkie, or just a general grazer of ideas and inspiration, here you will find some odds and ends which have caught the fancy of this like-minded individual. (And feel free to follow me on Pinterest for endless boards about books, knitting, recipes, and more.)

In my endeavor to teach myself to knit socks (I've knit 5 pair since October, each one an incredible learning process), Custom Socks: knit to fit your feet by Kate Atherley has been an enormous help to me! Full of information on sizing and construction basics, it also has excellent patterns for beginners and experienced knitters. I liked the library's copy so much, I went out and bought a copy for myself, too.

A book that I've spied waiting to be cataloged here at the library (it should be ready shortly, and I can't wait!) is a new book by Marisa McClellan (author of Food in Jars, based on her very popular blog by the same name) called Naturally Sweet Food in Jars featuring recipes for jams, jellies, conserves and chutneys featuring maple syrup, honey, and other natural sweeteners. My husband does not understand my penchant for canning, but he'll be happy to sample new recipes, anyway!

If you need to get yourself geared up to do a little spring cleaning, all folks can talk about is Marie Kondo's book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, which talks about keeping what you love and letting the rest go. Just what some of us might need to coach us through the spring-cleanup.

Finally, over the past few years, I've been trying to up my gardening game--you see, I was born with two black thumbs, and have had to work very hard to learn how to grow things. Last year was the first year I successfully grew tomato plants! So I'm looking to learn more and try growing some new things, even though we have a few weeks (like, 6) until we're out of the woods on frost warnings. I've had good luck with container gardens, so the new book Container Theme Gardens by Nancy Ondra has been giving me lots of great ideas to try this year.

I'll be back on Thursday with What I've Been Reading, the fiction edition. In the meantime, happy reading!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Meg'g Picks: April 2016, part 3

I'll admit, I'm ready for spring. Between the longer days, warmer weather (yesterday's snow showers notwithstanding!), and the slew of excellent new fiction titles being published, there's so much to look forward to!

Alice & Oliver, by Charles Bock. A few years ago, Bock's debut, Beautiful Children, earned vast critical acclaim and was a New York Times bestseller. It's been a little while since we've seen something from him, so it's no surprise that this new novel, his first after nearly eight years, has critics and publishing gurus talking. Billed as "an unflinching yet deeply humane portrait of a young family’s journey through a medical crisis, laying bare a couple’s love and fears as they fight for everything that’s important to them," Alice & Oliver is, I predict, going to be a novel that every book club is reading this summer.

The Other Widow, by Susan Crawford. You never know what secrets lurk in someone else's marriage, and Crawford's new novel (after The Pocket Wife, 2015) aims to prove just how dark some secrets can be. Joe ended his extramarital affair just moments before his car skids off an icy road and hits a tree in a blinding blizzard. He leaves behind his mistress and his wife, both of whom find themselves in free-fall for reasons both similar and different. And then there's the insurance investigator, who's more than a little suspicious at Joe's untimely death, so soon after buying a very large life-insurance policy. As she digs to find the truth, because she does not believe in coincidence, not in the least, what she uncovers may shock everyone involved. Fans of writers like Sophie Hannah may find this just to their liking.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Meg's Picks: April 2016, part 2

Part of my job, one of the parts that I love best, is to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to publishing industry scuttlebutt. Some of the most popular books in recent years have started as publishing house darlings, so I keep track in order to pass that information on to you, fellow readers. Interested to see what industry aficionados are in love with this spring? Read on!

Now and Again, by Charlotte Rogan. For Maggie Rayburn--wife, mother, and secretary at a munitions plant--life is pleasant, predictable, and, she assumes, secure. When she finds proof of a high-level cover-up on her boss's desk, she impulsively takes it, an act that turns her world, and her worldview, upside down. Propelled by a desire to do good--and also by a newfound taste for excitement--Maggie starts to see injustice everywhere. Soon her bottom drawer is filled with what she calls "evidence," her small town has turned against her, and she must decide how far she will go for the truth.

Before the Wind, by Jim Lynch. Joshua Johannssen has spent all of his life surrounded by sailboats. For Josh and his two siblings, their backyard was the Puget Sound and sailing their DNA. But both his sister and brother fled many years ago: Ruby to Africa and elsewhere to do good works on land, and Bernard to god-knows-where at sea, a fugitive and pirate. Suddenly thirty-one, Josh is pained and confused by whatever the hell went wrong with his volatile family. His parents are barely speaking, his mystified grandfather is drinking harder, and he himself—despite an endless and comic flurry of online dates—hasn’t even come close to finding a girlfriend. But when the Johannssens unexpectedly reunite for the most important race in these waters—all of them together on a classic vessel they made decades ago—they will be carried to destinies both individual and collective, and to a heart-shattering revelation.

Maestra, by L.S. Hilton. Touted as being this year's must-read for fans of books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, Maestra is the story of Judith Rashleigh, who is by day a put-upon assistant at a prestigious London art house, but by night she’s a hostess at one of the capital’s notorious champagne bars. Her work there, however, pales against her activities on nights off. She's learned, you see, that if you need to turn yourself into someone else, loneliness is a good place to start. And she’s been lonely a long time. Expect your friends and neighbors to be talking about this over the summer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Meg's Picks: April 2016, part 1

For some, it's crocus and daffodils, or the blooming of forsythia. For others, it's the lengthening days. For this librarian, though, the surest sign of spring is a cascade of new books that readers will be clamoring for in a matter of moments. If you'd like to get in before the deluge, read on.

Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld. Curtis Sittenfeld is the best-selling author of several much-beloved novels (Prep, American Wife, etc.), so I would feel remiss if I didn't tell you about her newest novel, due out next month. This is a modern re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, but this version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches. With Sittenfeld's signature charming, witty prose, this is sure to be a favorite beach-read this summer.

Glory Over Everything, by Kathleen Grissom. There was a little book back in 2010 that stole the hearts of many a reader: Grissom's debut, The Kitchen House, about a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades leading up to the Civil War, a place where dark secrets loomed. Fans clamored to know what happened next, and Grissom has obliged. In this new novel, Grissom follows the story of Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, whose deadly secret compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad. Fans of the first novel should absolutely be sure to pick this one up.

The Excellent Lombards, by Jane Hamilton. If you're sensing a theme here, there's a reason. Hamilton has written some beautiful, award-winning, critically-acclaimed novels you may have heard of: Disobedience, The Book of Ruth, A Map of the World. Her new novel, a heartfelt coming-of-age story, is truly a gift to readers. Mary Frances "Frankie" Lombard is fiercely in love with her family's sprawling apple orchard and the tangled web of family members who inhabit it. Content to spend her days planning capers with her brother William, competing with her brainy cousin Amanda, and expertly tending the orchard with her father, Frankie desires nothing more than for the rhythm of life to continue undisturbed. But she cannot help being haunted by the historical fact that some family members end up staying on the farm and others must leave. Change is inevitable, and threats of urbanization, disinheritance, and college applications shake the foundation of Frankie's roots. As Frankie is forced to shed her childhood fantasies and face the possibility of losing the idyllic future she had envisioned for her family, she must decide whether loving something means clinging tightly or letting go.