Thursday, April 28, 2016

What I've been reading: April 2016

I am still reading! I will say that it's tough to work toward a certain number of titles read in a calendar year if you're reading 800-page behemoths on the regular, though. I'm way behind on my annual challenge of 100 titles read in a calendar year, and I'm blaming Brandon Sanderson. I may take a bit of a break from his excellent Mistborn series just to make up a little ground on my challenge. Here's how I've been doing this month.

What We Find, by Robyn Carr. This came recommended to me by one of my favorite patrons, who has been singing Carr's praises to me for months. When I needed some easy reading, I tried this latest title from the very prolific Carr and was pleasantly surprised. Denver neurosurgeon Maggie Sullivan retreats from her hectic city life after personal tragedy and a wrongful death suit make staying intolerable. For solace, she returns to the home that is her father's family legacy, intending to clear her head and reconnect with her estranged parent. She never bargained for what she would find there, but it may just change everything forever. A gentle read, pretty well-paced, with some great characters. This is very likely the first in a new series, and is full of promise.

The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson. Follow-up novel to Mistborn: The Final Empire, this picks up a year after book one to find Vin and her crew trapped in the fallen empire's capitol city of Luthadel, with the hungry armies of their enemies camped outside the gates. Only through ingenuity, teamwork, and sheer stubborn will can Kelsier's heir lead her band of rebels to a new future--one that will require defeating or outsmarting their foes, one way or another. I'm definitely a fan, and look forward to returning to this series soon.

The Obsession, by Nora Roberts. This is a little dark by Roberts's usual standards. Naomi has had several surnames over the years, having had to change it (and move repeatedly) over the years to stay ahead of the media. The daughter of the country's most notorious serial killer, and the one who as a child rescued her father's last victim and brought his reign of terror to an end, she has been hounded across the country over the years. Now, on the Pacific coast, she has finally decided to stop running, having found a place she means to call home, a place where she can set down some roots. If, that is, her past doesn't catch up with her again. Definitely gripping and a fast read.

A New Hope, by Robyn Carr. Well, I liked her well enough to try another title. This happens to be one from the middle of her Thunder Point series, book 8 to be precise (if you prefer to start at the beginning, book one is The Wanderer--I have plans to go back and read this when I'm on vacation next month, because I'll never learn to do these things in their proper order!). Ginger Dysart is starting over from scratch. Newly single after a short and painful marriage. A new job. New friends. All part of trying to move on after she lost everything. What she didn't count on was Matt Lacoumette, the brother of a friend, coming into the midst of her new structure and turning it all on its head. The very last thing she was looking for was love, but it seems to have found her anyway. I haven't read a lot of contemporary romance in a good long while, and this was quite lovely--definitely recommend starting at the beginning--there is a large cast of secondary characters and while they're fairly easy to sort out, I'd bet it's still easier if you've met them before in earlier novels.

The Buddha In The Attic, by Julie Otsuka. I'm in the middle of this short read right now--it's my book club's pick for our May meeting. For a small book, it is incredibly powerful, and easy to see why it won the PEN/Faulkner award and was a National Book Award finalist. In eight sections, this is the story of a group of Japanese mail-order brides or "picture brides" from the turn of the last century, from their homes in Japan to their new lives in San Francisco, their adjustment to their new culture and raising families, the rejection of their own cultures by their children. Very deeply moving, the writing is spare and luminous.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Meg's Picks: May 2016, part 3

I like to urge people to read a little off the beaten path, as it were. The best-sellers lists are great, but there are so many great reads beyond those 15 big names every week (and let's be honest, some of them have been there a year or even longer. That's awesome for them, but if you're a reader who's choosing what to read from that list, things might seem a little stale from time to time!). And that's why I post my picks every month, of the noteworthy titles that might get a little lost in the shuffle. Here are some of those diamonds in the rough.

The Children, by Ann Leary. I adored Leary's previous novel, 2013's The Good House, stuffed to bursting with small New England town gossip and secrets and very memorable characters. Her new novel, The Children, introduces readers to a different side of New England, this time of a wealthy yet unconventional Connecticut family, as told by Charlotte Maynard, a reclusive 29-year-old who has a secret (and famous) life on the Internet. Every family has its secrets, and it appears that those of the Maynards is about to be revealed in the wake of a patriarch's passing and in the face a son's wedding.

LaRose, by Louise Erdrich. Erdrich's name is one you should have heard before. After all, her last novel, 2012's The Round House won the National Book Award and 2008's The Plague of Doves was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. But if you're unfamiliar, you have time to catch up, or you can dive right into her latest. Here, she brings readers an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, by Phaedra Patrick. Arthur Pepper lives a simple life, eventless since his beloved wife, Miriam, died: same food, same clothes, same daily routine. On the one-year anniversary of her death, something changes. While painfully sorting through her possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he never saw her wear. On the chain are an elephant, a tiger, a book, a heart, a palette, and other charms. Curious, Arthur begins a search for the origin of these trinkets that takes him from New York to London, Paris, and India. Not only is Arthur's life amazingly altered, but he learns much more about Miriam and the choice she made when she married him. This debut novel is generating quite a lot of buzz in addition to favorable comparisons to recent favorites like Nina George's The Little Paris Bookshop (which I loved like no other) and Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye.

June, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. How could Cassie Danvers have been named the sole heir of Hollywood movie idol Jack Montgomery, who says she's his granddaughter? But it turns out that Montgomery once made a film in her grandmother June's hometown, and therein lies a tale of blackmail, murder, betrayal, and heartbreak. Beverly-Whittemore's debut, 2014's Bittersweet, was incredibly well-received. I expect this second offering will be as well.

The Rules of Love & Grammar, by Mary Simses. Like several other authors in this post, Simses's reputation precedes her. In her case, her debut of 2013's The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe has been a huge favorite among my library's readers. In her new novel, she hits close to home, newly jobless, newly single, and suddenly apartmentless, writer Grace Hammond has come unmoored. A grammar whiz who's brilliant at correcting other people's errors, she hasn't yet found quite the right set of rules for fixing her own mistakes.  Desperate to escape the city and her trifecta of problems, Grace hits pause and retreats to her Connecticut hometown. What begins as a short visit with her parents quickly becomes a far more meaningful stay, though, as she discovers that the answers to what her future holds might be found by making peace with-and even embracing-the past.

The Fall of Man in Wilmslow, by David Lagercrantz. This novelist's name may be familiar, as he wrote the follow-up to Stieg Larsson's legendary Lisbeth Salander trio, titled The Girl in the Spider's Web. This departure delves into the death of British mathematician Alan Turing in 1954. Det. Constable Leonard Corell welcomes the assignment of looking into Turing’s apparent suicide as a break from the boredom of working in the quiet backwater of Wilmslow. Corell, who as a boy had a head for numbers, feels a connection with the dead man, a sentiment that deepens when the policeman learns that Turing was arrested for indecency and subject to some horrific treatments intended to “cure” him of his homosexuality. Turing’s experience revives painful memories of Corell’s own boarding school days, even as his investigation attracts the attention of higher-ups who want things handled discreetly. Corell’s identification with Turing threatens his own professional standing when he bridles at speculation at the inquest as to Turing’s motives for committing suicide. Turing has been made a household name after the release of The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch--fans of the movie may want to check out this novel, too.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Meg's Picks: May 2016, part 2

Summer reads mean different things to different people. Maybe you're a die-hard thriller reader, regardless of season. Maybe it's when you take the time to dig into a seriously engrossing novel. Maybe you prefer something a little easier, like a quirky love story or a novel with some wise humor to impart. In all of those cases, you know I've got something to share, just for you.

Mercy, by Daniel Palmer & Michael Palmer. In this new novel, Daniel Palmer carries on his father's bestselling legacy (Michael Palmer, 1942-2013) with a thriller that explores the ethics surrounding euthanasia. Boston doctor Julie Devereux, a divorced mother and the heroine of this second posthumous collaboration (after 2015’s Trauma) is on the verge of marrying the love of her life, Sam Talbot. But everything changes when Sam is left a quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident. Sam’s requests that Julie let him die place her in an especially difficult spot, as she has been a passionate advocate of death with dignity. Tragically, just as Sam begins to be receptive to a support group for the paralyzed, he dies from a heart attack. Baffled by this turn of events, Julie turns sleuth, only to find that something disturbing is going on at her hospital.
The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett. If you're looking for a love story that is anything but ordinary, this is for you. The one thing that’s certain is they met on a Cambridge street by chance and felt a connection that would last a lifetime. But as for what happened next . . . They fell wildly in love, or went their separate ways. They kissed, or they thought better of it. They married soon after, or were together for a few weeks before splitting up. They grew distracted and disappointed with their daily lives together, or found solace together only after hard years spent apart. I'm recommending this for readers who loved books like The Time Traveler's Wife or Life After Life.
Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub. Straub made a splash with 2014's The Vacationers, which seemed to be everyone's summer read of choice that year. Now she's slated to do so again this summer, this time following friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe, who have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. Back in the band's heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adult lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves, and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed. I have a feeling this will be another summer smash--don't miss out!
Heat & Light, by Jennifer Haigh. I have been an admirer of Haigh's work since I read Mrs. Kimble way back in 2003, and so I am always on alert when she publishes a new novel. Here, she returns to the Pennsylvania town at the center of her iconic second novel Baker Towers. Forty years ago, Bakerton coal fueled the country. Then the mines closed, and the town wore away like a bar of soap. Now Bakerton has been granted a surprise third act: it sits squarely atop the Marcellus Shale, a massive deposit of natural gas.
To drill or not to drill? A community both blessed and cursed by its natural resources hangs in the balance. For those seeking a novel of substance this summer.
Britt-Marie Was Here, by Frederik Backman. Backman's A Man Called Ove has developed something of a cult following among readers since its 2014 US publication. So I would feel really remiss if I didn't point out this new novel, about finding love and second chances in the most unlikely places. Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She begins her day at 6 a.m., because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination,bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes. A decision to leave her cheating husband and her old life with him behind forces her to re-evaluate her life, and the infinite possibilities that the future holds. I'm suggesting this for readers who like quirky love stories, like David Nicholls's Us or Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project