Thursday, May 25, 2017

What I've Been Reading: May 2017

It has been an interesting month for me, book-wise. Several fast-paced thrillers, some dense historical fiction, a dystopian classic, and something a little light and fun to break things up a little.

The Killing Floor & Die Trying, by Lee Child. These are the first two books in Child's long-running and best-selling Jack Reacher series. Hard to believe I'd never read any of them before! But if I'm going to read a series, I've got to start at the beginning, and so I have. In the first title, we meet Jack Reacher who has recently become a civilian after a lifetime in the military, first as an army brat, later as military police. Living off of his savings and traveling the US, he decides to run down an old story about a Georgia musician, only to find himself caught up in a case of mistaken identity that has deadly consequences. In the second, Reacher has ambled along to Chicago and in a moment of good samaritanism, gets himself caught up in the kidnapping of an FBI agent, only to find himself a thousand miles away and at the mercy of a cult leader. These novels are full of plot twists and fraught with tension--great reading.

Villa America, by Liza Klaussman. This was my book club's pick for our May meeting. Klaussmann (who happens to be Herman Melville's great-great-great-granddaughter) won critical acclaim for her 2012 debut, Tigers in Red Weather, a family saga set in the early part of the last century about a moment of possibility buried in lies. Her ambitious second novel, Villa America (2016), follows the story of Sara and Gerald Murphy, American expatriots living on the Riviera with famous figures like F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda, Ernest Hemingway and others. What seems like an opportunity to build their own utopia in the aftermath of World War I slowly dissolves amid scandal, debauchery and personal tragedy. It made for excellent discussion!

The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue. By the bestselling author of Room. Donoghue never writes the same thing twice. What she does, however, is write stories and characters that haunt her readers for years after finishing the last page. I found that to be true of Room, of Frog Music, and of Slammerkin, which I read over fifteen years ago--I can guarantee that The Wonder will be the same for me. Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl. The resulting tale is one of psychology, theology and love. I couldn't help but keep reading to find out what happened!

Deep Storm, by Lincoln Child. Having read most of Lincoln Child's books co-written with Douglas Preston, I decided it was high time I tried some of his solo work. This is the first of his Jeremy Logan series. When an oil rig operator, working on a drilling platform over the Atlantic, makes an unusual observation during routine maintenance, everything changes in an instant. The military descends, scientists set up camp, and the secrets deepen. It is rumored to be the lost city of Atlantis. But could it be something more sinister...and dangerous? This was a great thriller, I'm looking forward to picking up the next in the series.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This is a novel I've meant to re-read for quite some time, having read it in college...a number of years ago. Given the popularity of the series on Hulu (though I haven't seen it yet), it seemed like a good time to reread it. (I should also note that I'm a huge Atwood fan in general--Alias Grace is one of my all-time favorite novels.) What was once the United States  is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population. The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. By turns wry, tender, and despairing, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade. Chilling.

Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead. And now for something completely different. The Van Meters have gathered at their family retreat on the island of Waskeke to celebrate the marriage of daughter Daphne to the impeccably appropriate Greyson Duff. The weekend is full of champagne, salt air and practiced bonhomie, but long-buried discontent and simmering lust stir beneath the surface. When everything that could go wrong seems to do just that, a wedding which should have gone off with military precision threatens to become a spectacle of misbehavior. I found this laugh-out-loud funny and look forward to discussing it with my book club--it's our June selection.

If you're keeping track (and I am, over at, that's 44 books read so far in 2017, and if I keep it up, I may finally make my ultimate goal of 100 books in a year!

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