Thursday, December 29, 2016

What I've Been Reading: December 2016

Well, here we are at the end-of-year roundup, and as I look back at what I've read over this past year, I feel pretty accomplished. While I didn't set a formal goal this year, I have still managed to read 85 books this year, more than any other year since I started tracking back in 2011 (I didn't include all of my re-reads, either). My reading material of choice is still predominantly fiction, and I've recently read fewer thrillers and suspense novels in favor of more contemporary fiction and even cozy mysteries. A patron and I were recently talking about how our reading tastes change, depending on overall mood, personal life, weather, etc. Apparently I'm looking for easy entertainment, and I am completely okay with that--we all read for different reasons.

In any case, here's what I've been reading lately.

Blueberry Muffin Murder & Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, by Joanne Fluke. Books 3 and 4 in Fluke's bestselling Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series. Blueberry Muffin Murder finds Hannah caught up in the whirlwind of Lake Eden's Winter Carnival, with cooking and lifestyle maven Connie Mac rolling into town and taking over everything: the Carnival cake, local shops, even Hannah's own shop kitchen! Then Ms. Mac turns up dead and it seems everyone had a motive, so it's up to Hannah to pitch in and clear her own name as well as those of her friends. In the fourth series installment, Hannah's comfortable life is upended when her beau, town dentist Norman Rhodes, announces that he's bought a house. Friends and family assume that they're engaged...only Norman hasn't popped any questions, and the house purchase is a total surprise to Hannah. Then a body is discovered on the property, and Hannah's back in the thick of another small town murder investigation. These are light and breezy reads, nothing taxing, just what the season seems to require.

Knit One, Kill Two & Needled to Death, by Maggie Sefton. I read these both via the Trumbull Library's access to Overdrive. These are the first and second books in Sefton's Knitting Mysteries, featuring corporate accountant and amateur sleuth Kelly Flynn. In the first, Kelly returns to Colorado in the wake of her beloved aunt's murder, only to find herself caught up in not only the whodunnit of the murder, but also land disputes and a deep secret her aunt had kept hidden for decades. In the second, Kelly, who has chosen to remain in Colorado, agrees to chaperone a group of knitters on an outing to see a local working alpaca farm. Upon arriving at their destination, however, the group finds their hostess dead under mysterious circumstances. Of course Kelly can't help but get involved in solving the case. Again, cozy mysteries make for great, quick reads this time of year.

Between Breaths, by Elizabeth Vargas. This memoir of anxiety and addiction from the famous television news journalist (best known for her work on 20/20, World News Tonight, and ABC news specials) chronicles Vargas's struggle with panic and anxiety attacks from an early age, as well as her later struggles with alcoholism and the strains these secrets placed on her personal life and career. Deeply moving and insightful.

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: the private diary of a Victorian lady, by Kate Summerscale. More non-fiction? In my reading list? I know! Headstrong, high-spirited, and already widowed, Isabella Walker became Mrs. Henry Robinson at age 31 in 1844. Her new husband moved them, by then with two sons, to Edinburgh's elegant society in 1850. But Henry traveled often and was cold and remote when home, leaving Isabella to her fantasies. Isabella chose to record her innermost thoughts and feelings, her frustrations and her infatuations (including that with a married Dr. Edward Lane) in her diary over the course of the years that followed. But when Henry found her journals, aghast at his wife's perceived infidelity, he petitioned for divorce on the grounds of infidelity. The trial became a cause celebre and the diary was read aloud in court, much of it reprinted in the daily papers. Isabella's plight, that of a frustrated wife trapped in a rigid society, reverberates even today. I found it a fascinating read.

The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson. Book three in Sanderson's bestselling and immensely popular Mistborn series (following The Final Empire and The Well of Ascension) follows new Emperor Elend Venture and his wife, the assassin Vin, as they struggle in the wake of being tricked into releasing Ruin while trying to close the Well of Ascension. They must now battle Ruin's Inquisitors, the encroaching lethal mists called the Deepness, and the increasingly heavy falls of black ash that threaten to suffocate their very existence. Sanderson is an absolute master of his craft--I had worried that having taken more than six months off between books in the series that I would be lost, but he is so skillful a writer that I felt caught up almost immediately without feeling buried by a heavy-handed recap.

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell. I've had Rainbow Rowell's work recommended to me repeatedly for the last several years, and now that I've capitulated, I wonder what in the heck took me so long! Simon Snow is officially the worst Chosen One ever. He can't control his magic, meaning that half the time he can't get his wand to work and the other half? Fire everywhere. His girlfriend broke up with him, his mentor is avoiding him, his alleged vampire of a roommate, Baz, never even showed up at the beginning of this, their final year at the Watford School of Magicks. Oh, and there happens to be a magic-eating monster running around, and it happens to be wearing Simon's face. Chatty, hilariously funny, and chock-full of monsters--if you think this sounds like Harry Potter, you're a little bit right and mostly mistaken in the best possible ways.

And that's it for me for 2016. I'll see you in the new year for new books and new recommendations. From all of us here at The Trumbull Library, Happy New Year and Happy Reading.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Meg's Picks: January 2017, part 4

I wasn't kidding when I said that January had lots of great titles to look forward to!

The Fire By Night, by Teresa Messineo. For readers who enjoyed Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, Teresa Messineo's debut should be added to the "must-read" list. American military nurses and best friends Jo and Kay experience World War II in radically different yet equally challenging ways. In the French countryside, after the destruction of her hospital convoy, Jo works to keep her charges alive in a makeshift tent close to enemy lines. Half a world away, Kay finds herself imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp, struggling to survive. How does one live in a world so radically changed? I expect this to be a novel everyone is talking about this winter.

My Husband’s Wife, by Jane Corry. Newly-minted barrister Lily Macdonald is the champion of the underdog, friend the bullied and defender of the accused. But no one is what they appear to be in this debut, Lily included. Lies may start small but they stack up quickly, and everyone has secrets to keep. All of these will out over time, with shattering impact. I'm recommending this for readers who liked The Girl on the Train

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Meg's Picks: January 2017, part 3

Friends may not always be what they seem, and people can be capable of just about anything given the right set of circumstances. All three of today's picks fall into this theme, although with wildly different settings.

The Fifth Letter, by Nicola Moriarty. Not to be confused with fellow Australian author Liane Moriarty, Nicola Moriarty's debut follows a vacationing group of girlfriends, friends since childhood, whose lives have slowly been pulling them further apart. During a wine-fueled, laugh-filled evening, the four women embark on a little game--each will write an anonymous letter, spilling her darkest secret. But the game turns dark--the secrets revealed include substance abuse, a troubled marriage, etc. But it's the late discovery on the last night of their vacation of a partially burned fifth letter which unearths a decades-long, festering grudge. Now that the secret is out, what happens next? I'm recommending this to fans of JoJo Moyes and Liane Moriarty.

The River at Night, by Erica Ferencik. Winifred Allen needs a vacation. Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings. What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: A freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But friend may just turn out to be foe. My thought is that this suspense debut will have readers clamoring for more.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday, by Susan Rivers. Inspired by a true event, Rivers's debut opens as Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, leaving his new bride behind to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away? Recommending this for fans of novels like Kathleen Grissom's The Kitchen House and Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Meg's Picks: January 2017, part 2

Whether your tastes run to suspense, historical fiction, or something a little different guaranteed to hit you right in the feels, I have something for everyone in today's list of picks.

The Dry, by Jane Harper. This debut suspense novel is being billed as big news, with favorable advance reviews from authors like David Baldacci and Robert Crais.After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead. Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

The Wicked City, by Beatriz Williams. Williams (A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant) is developing quite a following among historical fiction fans, and I have a feeling this latest will win her even more devoted readers. When Ella discovers her husband has been hiding a secret life, she flees their SoHo apartment for a studio in a quaint Greenwich Village building, only to find that her new building had a secret past of its own--it used to house one of the city's most notorious speakeasies back in the Roaring Twenties. As she digs deeper into the building's history, Ella uncovers the story of Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a flapper who used to frequent the old speakeasy, only to find evidence that her family tree is tangled with Kelly's own. I'm inclined to recommend this to fans of Kate Morton's novels.

Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson. When Isabelle Poole meets Dr. Preston Grind, she’s fresh out of high school, pregnant with her art teacher's baby, and totally on her own. Izzy knows she can be a good mother but without any money or relatives to help, she’s left searching. Dr. Grind, an awkwardly charming child psychologist, has spent his life studying family, even after tragedy struck his own.  Now, with the help of an eccentric billionaire, he has the chance to create a “perfect little world”—to study what would happen when ten children are raised collectively, without knowing who their biological parents are.  He calls it The Infinite Family Project and he wants Izzy and her son to join. But what starts off full of promise eventually begins to disintegrate, for a variety of reasons. Billed as moving and thought-provoking, I think this would make a fine choice for book clubs.