Thursday, June 30, 2016

What I've Been Reading: June 2016

Well, I think this might have been my most accomplished month of reading since I started tracking these (I've been doing this for five years and 475 posts, if you want to know. Yikes!). At 12 books, I'm actually a little impressed with myself. Yup, I double checked and it's a record. My previous record was 11 books in a month, back in June of 2013. What is it about June? Must be those nice long days and the first heat waves to make me just want to read like crazy! As to what I've been reading? Here we go!

The Secret Lives of Wives, by Iris Krasnow. A rare non-fiction title! It was recommended by a friend, and I snagged the library's audiobook edition (yes, I do count audiobooks--that's a week's worth of commuting right there!). Journalist Krasnow recounts the stories of women who have been married anywhere from fifteen to seventy years, and what their different relationships and experiences have been like. Very insightful and interesting.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin. This is a re-read for me, as I'm planning on re-reading this and the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve, given the recent release of the trilogy's conclusion, The City of Mirrors. In this first installment, the military's decision to weaponize a virus in humans leads to an inevitable security breach, the result of which is devastating to the human population around the globe. Only an extraordinary six-year-old orphan, Amy Bellafonte, can possibly turn the tide. Cronin is truly a gifted writer, and if you're looking for something to really sink your teeth into this summer (sorry, couldn't help myself), I highly recommend these for folks who are fans of shows like The Walking Dead or The Last Ship.

The Homecoming, One Wish, and Wildest Dreams, by Robyn Carr. And with that, I've finished all of the current Thunder Point series novels from Carr. Each is about 350 pages, so they're not tiny, but they are such lovely, easy-reading novels that I've been whipping right through them. If anything, I'd liken her to Nora Roberts--I read both authors because I really enjoy their characters. And in this case, I highly suggest reading the series in order.

The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club and Needles & Pearls, both by Gil McNeil. I know, look at me, all over series all over the place. The first book introduces us to Jo Mackenzie, newly widowed, leaving London with her two boys to try and build a new life in a seaside town where she'll take over her Gran's old knitting shop. It's when she institutes a new "Stich n Bitch" group that she begins to settle in and find her stride in her new life. The second book picks up right where the first leaves off, finding Jo managing single parenthood and business ownership...only to have two very different men complicate her life in very different, wonderful ways. These are warm and witty and delightful, and they make for great summer reading, especially for knitters!

Cemetery Dance, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Don't think for a second that I've forgotten about Agent Pendergast!  Ninth in the Pendergast series, we're back in New York City among familiar faces when tragedy strikes the core group of characters when Bill Smithback and his wife, Nora Kelly are brutally attacked in their apartment. Pendergast, assisted by NYPD detective Vincent D'Agosta, must discover the secrets hidden for more than a century within a cult that seems to thrive right in the very heart of the city, whom they are sure are responsible for the attack, which turns out to be only the first in a series. I never get tired of these!

Virgin River, Shelter Mountain, Whispering Rock, A Virgin River Christmas, all by Robyn Carr. I know, I know. I have a fever and the only cure is more Robyn Carr novels. Hell, I'm reading a Christmas novel in June, for pity's sake! These are the first four novels in Carr's Virgin River series, which takes place in a small rural town in northern California. The series begins with a nurse from L.A. who needs to get away from the city and the sorrow of her life and leaps at the chance to be a midwife and nurse practitioner in the small town of Virgin River. After a rocky start in her new position (a nightmare of a living situation, a crotchety old town doctor who doesn't want anything to do with her), Mel soon finds her groove and settles in, finding love with the retired Marine who runs the local bar and grill. The next two books find two of Jack's fellow former Marines falling in love with strong women. The Christmas novel finds a former Marine who has gone native, living in a rustic mountain cabin outside of Virgin River and becoming a hermit, dragged back into a more social life by the widow of one of his former squadmates. These have been great, easy entertainment at the end of a long day, especially when there is NOTHING on television!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Keeping up with the Joneses: Summer 2016

Ever wonder what your neighbors are reading? Or what the hot book of the moment is turning out to be? What's on everyone's to-read list coming up? Want to be in on the action? Read on--I've got the inside scoop!

Biggest Draw:  Right this very minute, the book with the most holds on it is, not coincidentally, the timely James Patterson/Mark Sullivan novel, The Games. It comes out today, and it's giving readers a taste of Rio during the Olympics just weeks before the actual event itself. Part of Patterson's best-selling Private series, this may draw a whole new readership to Patterson's work. Also available in Large Print.

Runner Up: Here's to Us. It wouldn't be summer without a new Elin Hilderbrand novel, and fans are already delving into this new beach read, featuring three very different women with a single bond--the man to whom they'd each once been married. For years, they've avoided each other at all costs, until tragedy brings them together in a ramshackle Nantucket cottage one fateful summer. Also available in Large Print and Audiobook formats.

Best Beach Read: The most popular among the beach reads right now is the recent release from Mary Kay Andrews titled The Weekenders. Set on Belle Island, North Carolina, this tale of friends with secrets is funny and compelling, guaranteed to keep you entertained on a long summer's day. Snag it in Large Print, or try the Audiobook for a road trip.

Runner Up: Truly Madly Guilty. Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, The Husband's Secret, etc.) here spins a tale of three seemingly happy families, one normal weekend, and the fallout from the choices made during that party. It's not due out until the end of July, but I suggest you reserve your copy now. Also on order in Large Print.

Tried and True: The novel with serious staying power on the best-sellers list right now is Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes. Initially, it was popular in its own right. The recent success of the film adaptation, however, has raised awareness and it's as popular as ever, even now, almost four years after its initial publication! Large Print, Audiobook and MP3 disc editions are also available.

The Dark Horse: There were so many amazing books coming out in May, this one completely slipped off my radar, but I have to recommend Chris Cleave's latest, Everyone Brave is Forgiven. Cleave, best known for Little Bee (2010) and Gold (2012), is absolutely captivating readers with this new novel. Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents.

Go forth and read this summer!!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Meg's Picks: July 2016, part 3

For my final installment this month, I feel as though I've saved the best for last. These are the novels that I not only want to share with you, but that I cannot wait to read, myself. In fact, do not be surprised if you see me reviewing these in the months to come, because all of them are at the very top of my to-read list this summer. 

This Must Be The Place, by Maggie O’Farrell. Maggie O'Farrell wrote an amazing novel back in 2007 called The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which remains on of my favorite reads, full of amazing writing and a story that haunts me to this day. So, naturally, I'm excited about her new novel, which is being billed as a break-out title for her. Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Claudette was once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema before she staged her own disappearance and retreated to blissful seclusion in an Irish farmhouse. But the life Daniel and Claudette have so carefully constructed is about to be disrupted by an unexpected discovery about a woman Daniel lost touch with twenty years ago. This revelation will send him off-course, far away from wife, children, and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

The Last One, by Alexandra Oliva. Oliva's debut novel is getting quite a bit of buzz in the publishing world, so I thought it was only right to pass on this information to you, my fellow readers. It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game. But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she comes to see that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways while they've been away--and her ability to parse the charade will either be her triumph or her undoing. I'm recommending this to readers looking for a suspenseful adventure story to tote along on vacation this summer.

The Devourers, by Indra Das. Finally, for readers like me, who love books by authors like Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood, this debut from Das seems a logical choice for some vacation escapism.
On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins. From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent. I'm more than a little intrigued!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Meg's Picks: July 2016, part 2

I like just about any genre of fiction, at just about any time of year. Really, give me a good story, an engrossing plot, lively characters and I'm content for hours, regardless of season. Here are a couple that are making my list for the summer, though I may not get around to reading them for awhile...

Nine Women, One Dress, by Jane Rosen. Being called "hilarious", "charming" and "an irresistible romp" by critics already, Rosen's new novel is bound to be the ultimate summer beach read. Natalie is a Bloomingdale's salesgirl mooning over her lawyer ex-boyfriend who's engaged to someone else after just two months. Felicia has been quietly in love with her boss for seventeen years and has one night to finally make the feeling mutual. Andie is a private detective who specializes in gathering evidence on cheating husbands—a skill she unfortunately learned from her own life—and lands a case that may restore her faith in true love. For these three women, as well as half a dozen others in sparkling supporting roles—a young model fresh from rural Alabama, a diva Hollywood star making her Broadway debut, an overachieving, unemployed Brown grad who starts faking a fabulous life on social media, to name just a few—everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season, the perfect little black number everyone wants to get their hands on . . .

The Muse, by Jessie Burton. I adored Burton's debut novel, 2014's The Miniaturist (you can read my original review here). Here, the lives of two very different women--Caribbean immigrant Odelle Bastien living in 1960's London and bohemian Olive Schloss in 1930's Spain--are tied together across countries and decades by a powerful mystery, centering around a painting rumored to have been painted by Isaac Robles, a young artist of immense talent and vision whose mysterious death confounded the art world for decades. I'm recommending this, as I did for Burton's debut, to readers who enjoy the work of authors like Tracy Chevalier and Sara Gruen.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Meg's Picks: July 2016, part 1

A little historical fiction can be just the thing on a sultry summer day--traveling to distant times and places from the comfort of your lounge chair, back in time for supper.

The Light of Paris, by Eleanor Brown. A new novel from the author of critically- and reader-acclaimed The Weird Sisters. Madeleine is trapped—by her family's expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters. In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in caf├ęs, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist. Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be. I'm recommending this to fans of authors like Kate Morton and JoJo Moyes.

The House at the Edge of Night, by Catherine Banner. Likened to favorites like Isabel Allende, Jess Walter, and Sara Gruen, Banner's debut adult novel is a sweeping saga, for while it's set on the remote isle of Castellamare, it spans four generations of the Esposito family who run the local cafe, called The House at the Edge of Night. What unfolds is a hundred years of stories of the Esposito family and other islanders, including: a cruel count and his bewitching wife, a priest who loves scandal, a prisoner of war turned poet, an outcast girl who becomes a pillar of strength, a wounded English soldier who emerges from the sea. The people of Castellamare are transformed by two world wars and a great recession, by the threat of fascism and their deep bonds of passion and friendship, and by bitter rivalries and the power of forgiveness. This will be one to be savored.