Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What I've Been Reading: November 2016

I've been reading a bit of everything this month, from the very light and fluffy to the deep and introspective, from psychological thrillers to historical fiction and just about everything in between.

The Island House, by Nancy Thayer. I had never read a book by Nancy Thayer before, but the summer crowds seem to love her, so I gave her a shot. Maybe it was the audiobook presentation, or maybe it was that I was listening to it in November, but I have a confession to make: I couldn't wait for it to be over. From reviews I've read (note to self: read a few of those reviews before selecting a title at random from a new-to-me author), this is not a fan favorite, either. The Vickery family and their children's friends gather in the family's Nantucket house every summer for more than a decade. This particular summer all of the children and the "summer children" are all over 21 and the winds of change are blowing for each of them. Some find love, some find peace, others find purpose and a need to move on. This could have used some heavy editing to pare down on repetition and some superfluous characters and subplots that went nowhere. I think I'll read a few more reviews before I try another of her books, but I'd have to recommend skipping this one.

Mischling, by Affinity Konar. A set of identical twin girls arrives in Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather in 1944 and are immediately whisked away to become part of the experimental population known as Mengele's Zoo. Here, they rely on their identical natures and they split responsibilities. Pearl is responsible for the sad, the good, and the past, while Stasha keeps the funny, the future, and the bad. That winter, Pearl disappears, and Stasha keeps hope that she will find Pearl alive--it becomes her sole mission after liberation. Bittersweet, touching, and deeply affecting, I'd recommend this for fans of books like All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, and Lilac Girls.

A Good Yarn, by Debbie Macomber. Second in Macomber's popular Blossom Street series, following The Shop on Blossom Street, A Good Yarn picks up with Lydia Hoffman in her yarn shop a year after the first book began. Lydia loves her shop, her boyfriend, and her life--as is the case in life, when everything seems to be perfect, something is bound to unravel. Her boyfriend's ex-wife (and mother of his son) pushes to be more of a fixture in the life he has been making with Lydia, and Lydia has to walk away to save herself. But she finds solace in teaching her newest group of knitting students, and their stories unfold to mesh with Lydia's over the course of the novel. Similar to the first book, but in a comforting way.

The Next, by Stephanie Gangi. Joanna lives and loves with everything she's got. But when her health takes a turn and the love of her life abandons her in her final decline only to take up immediately with another woman, she is determined to get even. Death? Death is not going to stop her. If anything, it's the perfect medium for her vengeful masterpiece--making Ned pay so that she can move on. A novel of life, death, revenge and peace that is so sharp and thought-provoking, it really gives a reader pause. Unlike anything else I've read, but I would definitely recommend it to readers who liked Caroline Kepnes's You.

The Muse, by Jessie Burton. I adored Burton's debut novel, The Miniaturist (you can read my full review here), so I was eager to see what her follow-up would be like. What I found was a book that had all of the poignant detail and elegant style of the first novel, with a story that was unique and captivating. Alternating between the story of Caribbean immigrant Odelle Bastien in 1967 East London and that of English heiress Olive Schloss in 1930's Spain, Burton weaves an intricate web of connection between the two women in a tale of deception, art, and ambition that I found completely spellbinding. I highly recommend both of Burton's novels.

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood. I've been in love with Margaret Atwood's work since reading Alias Grace back in the 1990's. Here, in the wake of a national economic bust, young marrieds Stan and Charmaine find themselves unemployed and homeless, living in a third-hand Honda and subsisting on whatever odd jobs they can find. Desperate, they cannot believe their luck when they are offered a place in the Consilience gated community, where they will be offered jobs and a comfortable home...six months out of the year. On the alternating months, however, they'll be inmates in a prison complex. But how bad could that be, if they're guaranteed a home and a living wage the rest of the time? The truth is even more grim than what you're thinking. Atwood has a deft hand with dialog and keeps the shifting narration between Stan and Charmaine clear and perfectly paced. She is a master of her craft.

Strawberry Shortcake Murder, by Joanne Fluke. And who doesn't like some light and fluffy murder, complete with recipes? Second in Fluke's long-running Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series (following Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder), this installment finds Hannah on call when a friend discovers her husband murdered in her garage. Danielle has motive, but maintains her innocence, which leaves cookie baker and amateur sleuth Hannah on the case to clear Danielle's name. As sweet and easy as you can make a mystery, this was just what I wanted to read after the holiday.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Three on Thursday: Cookbooks!

With the holidays looming, some folks feel that they need something fresh and new to offer alongside the tried-and-true recipes they traditionally serve. If you're looking for a little inspiration this holiday season, take a look at some of our new cookbooks!

Too many apples piling up after a trip to the local orchard? Check out The Fly Creek Cider Mill Cookbook by Brenda and Bill Michaels, offering over 100 recipes, all featuring apples. Part ode to the generations of Michaels who have owned and operated the cider mill and orchard, part homage to the versatile seasonal fruit, this should provide inspiration and some cozy reading to cooks and bakers. In a similar vein, you might also want to check out The New England Orchard Cookbook by Linda Beaulieu, which features recipes from iconic orchards all over New England. Moving beyond just apples, this also covers peaches, pears, berries and more, along with providing gorgeous photographs both of the orchards and the recipes. (Also, if you're looking for a hidden gem of an orchard and cider mill around here, I highly recommend Beardsley's Cider Mill and Orchard in Shelton!)

Envious of all the relaxed entertaining you see on television and social media? Embrace it for yourself with established cookbook author Nancy Silverton's Mozza At Home, which is chock full of easy recipes to help you spend more time out mingling with guests instead of cloistered in the kitchen. And if you're looking to up your game in the entertaining department, consider the new cookbook/lifestyle guide from the author of the bestselling Dinner: A Love Story, Jenny Rosenstrach's How To Celebrate Everything. Over a hundred recipes are paired with inspiring ideas on how to turn special occasions into cherished traditions.

Finally, if you're wondering what the most popular cookbook is right now? Ina Garten's Cooking for Jeffrey is what fans, foodies and cooks are talking about right now. Filled with recipes requested most frequently by the Barefoot Contessa's spouse and his friends, this is part cookbook and part love story in food. 

Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving. I'll rejoin you with what I've been reading after the holiday!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Meg's Pick: December 2016

Fun, light, easy reading can be just the ticket when you need to unwind. If you're finding your holidays a little (or a lot) on the stressful side, this is my pick for a little down-time next month.

Small Admissions, by Amy Poeppel. For fans of The Nanny Diaries or Sophie Kinsella, Poeppel's debut has gotten great reviews--critics have been calling it a smart, laugh-out-loud page-turner. Despite her innate ambition and Summa Cum Laude smarts, Kate Pearson has turned into a major slacker. After being unceremoniously dumped by her handsome French boyfriend, Kate ditches her grad-school plans in favor of binge-watching Sex and the City on her couch, only leaving her apartment for her dog-walking gigs.When she miraculously manages to land a job in the admissions department at the prestigious Hudson Day School, Kate finds herself in the thick of admissions season, which her new co-workers refer to as "the dark time." As the process revs up, Kate meets smart kids who are unlikable, likeable kids who aren’t very smart, and Park Avenue parents who refuse to take no for an answer...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Reading Ahead: December 2016, part 3

Winter is coming. Is your reading list prepared?

Curtain of Death, by W.E.B. Griffin & William E. Butterworth IV. New in this father-son team's Clandestine Operations series, Curtain of Death delves deeper into the espionage of the Cold War and the infancy of the CIA. January 1946: Two WACs leave an officers’ club in Munich, and four Soviet NKGB agents kidnap them at knifepoint in the parking lot and shove them in the back of an ambulance. That is the agents’ first mistake, and their last. One of the WACs, a blond woman improbably named Claudette Colbert, works for the new Directorate of Central Intelligence, and three of the men end up dead and the fourth wounded.
The “incident,” however, will send shock waves rippling up and down the line and have major repercussions not only for her, but for her boss, James Cronley, Chief DCI-Europe, and for everybody involved in their still-evolving enterprise.

Tom Clancy True Force and Allegiance, by Mark Greaney. A flurry of deadly events involving American military and intelligence personnel erupts around the globe, and it gradually becomes clear that there has been some kind of massive information breach and that a wide array of America’s most dangerous enemies have made a weapon of the stolen data. With U.S. intelligence agencies potentially compromised, it’s up to John Clark and the rest of The Campus to track the leak to its source. Their investigation uncovers an unholy threat that has wormed its way into the heart of our nation. A danger that has set a clock ticking and can be stopped by only one man...President Jack Ryan.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Reading Ahead: December 2016, part 2

Already feeling the need for a holiday escape? I am! Here are a couple of titles to consider escaping with.

Expecting To Die, by Lisa Jackson. Some places earn their bad reputation through tall tales or chance. Grizzly Falls is different. Here, killers aren’t just the stuff of legends and campfire lore. Someone is in the nighttime shadows, watching the local teens play around in the moonlit woods. Waiting for the right moment, the right victim. Detective Regan Pescoli, distracted by family matters, is not on her A-game to outwit a serial killer, but that's just what she and her partner, Selena Alvarez, must do. But dissecting fact from fiction is easier said than done, even as the death toll steadily rises. Sometime a great thriller is just what you need to lose yourself for a few hours--this might be just what you need!

Island of Glass, by Nora Roberts. This final installment of The Guardians trilogy (following Stars of Fortune and Bay of Sighs) finds the six Guardians hunting the Star of Ice in Ireland, where Doyle must face his tragic past. Three centuries ago, he closed off his heart, yet his warrior spirit is still drawn to the wild. And there’s no one more familiar with the wild than Riley—and the wolf within her... Roberts mixes love, legend and fantasy in this latest series, and fans are devouring them!