Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What I've Been Reading: April 2017

I know you probably won't believe this, especially looking at the list below, but I actually do things other than read. I can't necessarily think of just what those things are at present, but I'm pretty sure.

The Wanderers, by Meg Howery. This is one of those instances where readers shouldn't judge a book by its cover--while this is classified as a science fiction title, it is no more sci-fi in its bones than Andy Weir's The Martian was. Where The Martian was really a suspenseful survival story, man against environment, Meg Howery's The Wanderers is a close scrutiny of interpersonal dynamics and personal demons. Helen, Yoshi and Sergei are astronauts, training under 24-hour observation for seventeen months in preparation for the first manned mission to Mars. The stress is unrelenting, yet each of them must be in full control at all times in order to get a green light for the mission to proceed. And in this artificial environment, each must navigate his or her demons, past and present, in this close proximity. This is a tale so insightful and wise, I was sad to see it end. Highly recommended.

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. I don't think I've made it a secret that I am total fangirl when it comes to Neil Gaiman's work (and the American Gods series debuted on Starz on Sunday! And has already been renewed for a second season! #fangirl), so obviously when a new book comes out, I'm there. And since he does the reading for the audiobook version of Norse Mythology, of course that was my preferred format. Gaiman's work is deeply influenced by mythology (see also American Gods, Anansi Boys, Neverwhere, etc.) and here he retells some of the classic Norse myths in such a way that there is a novelistic arc to the stories. These are funny and heartbreaking and lovely tales. Recommended for both Gaiman's fans...and for anyone who enjoyed a good bedtime story as a kid.

Dropped Dead Stitch & Skein of the Crime, by Maggie Sefton. I'm still working along through Sefton's series, though I may be at a good point to take a break from sleuth Kelly Flynn and company. In Dropped Dead Stitch (book seven in the series), Kelly and her friends close ranks after one of their own is attacked. When the attacker turns up dead, Kelly must clear herself and her friend from the list of suspects. In book eight, Skein of the Crime, Kelly comes home one night to find a local girl, high as a kite and unable to speak, in her backyard. She follows up after the girl has received medical treatment, and it seems like she's cleaning herself up...only to be found dead of a supposed overdose a few weeks later. Kelly doesn't buy it for a minute and sets to sleuthing. I enjoyed book seven but found book eight a weak outing, oversimplified and repetitive. Most series have a weak link or two, and it looks like I've found one here. I'm sure I'll come back to them at some point, if only to inspire myself to pick up my knitting!

A Twist of the Knife, by Becky Masterman. I've been a fan of Masterman's Brigid Quinn series since it debuted with Rage Against the Dying back in 2013. Brigid Quinn, ex-FBI, has retired to Tucson with her husband and her dogs. She hasn't been home to Florida in some time, but a combination of her father's poor health and her former partner's plea for help in an appeals case calls her back to her roots. Stick with this one--I found the start a bit slow, but once it picked up, I couldn't bear to put it down, not for a second.

The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler. Simon Watson, reclusive young reference librarian, lives alone in a falling-down house full of the ghosts of his family: his circus mermaid mother who drowned in the ocean behind their house, his father who died from the pain of his grief, his sister Enola who left home six years ago and lives a vagabond's life reading tarot cards for a traveling carnival. Then Simon receives an old book from a mysterious dealer in old tomes, a book full of sketches and business transactions from a traveling show dating back to the late 1700s, with the name of one of Simon's ancestors written in it. Generations of women in Simon's family have drowned, it seems, not just his mother, and always on July 24. Enola is coming home and summer is upon them. The tale shifts between past and present (beautifully, I might add) as Simon frantically works to unravel the curse that has held his family in its grasp for centuries in a desperate attempt to save the last of his family. This was a phenomenal, exquisite read, and I highly recommend it, especially for fans of books like Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale and Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book.

Shadow Man & The Face of Death, by Cody McFadyen. First and second in McFadyen's Smoky Barrett series (which is on extended hiatus, so if you can't handle four books and then a lull, skip it...but I hope you won't, because they're excellent), these novels follow FBI Special Agent Smoky Barrett and her ...unusual... team as they hunt serial killers. In Shadow Man, Barrett is slowly grappling back toward sanity and normalcy after personal tragedy, only to find herself the target of a killer who issues her a personal challenge. Barrett has no choice but to get back to what she does best before a killer, who seems to know her better than she knows herself, snuffs out her team before he comes after her in a grim end-game. In The Face of Death, Barrett and her team at the LA violent crimes unit are drawn into a case where a sixteen year old girl claims that a man she calls "The Stranger" has killed her adoptive family, that he's followed her all her life, killing everyone she loves, but that no one believes her. No one, that is, until she met Smoky. These are break-neck paced reads, both grisly and fascinating. I recommend these to fans of Lisa Gardner and Karin Slaughter.

Backward Glance, by Robyn Carr. This novella by Carr is available in ebook format via the Trumbull Library's access to Overdrive. Leigh hasn't been back to the house she grew up in in nearly five years--the last time she was home, she was trying to plan her next step while her divorce was being finalized, and had a fling that burned hot and then burned out. Now, her mother Jess claims to be ailing and Leigh comes to stay, only to find herself face to face with her old flame. Are they brave enough to try again? Sweet, easy reading.

A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L'Engle. Sequel to L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time (which I read last month), A Wind in the Door finds Meg Murry in a new quandary--her youngest brother, Charles Wallace, is unwell. He's getting beat up at school for being "weird", he's easily tired, and he's hallucinating dragons in the back garden. But what if he's not hallucinating? The books are just as magical to me as an adult as I found them as a kid.

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