Archive | January, 2014

2014 is bringing great things!

29 Jan

I had book club last night, and nothing gets me excited about books like book club. Most likely that is because a couple of my book club friends are in the bookstore business and know all of the good book gossip – especially in regards to upcoming titles. So I decided to put a list of the 12 books I am most excited about (from returning authors, no debuts) that come out between now and the first of July.  I’m already counting down the days!

mamba in chinatown julia glass one night in winter ruth reichl tom rachman off course frog music nancy horan all the light china dolls jojo moyes painter

Sorry the last two pictures are wonky – I can never figure out how to get images to share a line!

 

 

 

Here is the list by Release Date:

1. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan – 1/28/14

2. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue – 4/1/14

3. Off Course by Michelle Huneven – 4/1/14 (she wrote Jamesland and Blame, both of which I loved)

4. And the Dark Sacred Night by Julie Glass – 4/4/14

5. The Painter by Peter Heller – 5/6/14 (he wrote Dog Stars, which made my Best of 2012 list)

6. Delicious! by Ruth Reichl – 5/6/14

7. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – 5/6/14

8. One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore – 5/6/14 (his last novel, years ago, was Sashenka – I may be MOST excited about this one!)

9. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman – 5/26/14 (he wrote The Imperfectionists which was on my Best of 2012 list)

10. China Dolls by Lisa See – 6/3/14

11. Mamba in Chinatown by Jean Kwok – 6/24/14 (I LOVED her Girl in Translation)

12. One Plus One by JoJo Moyes – 7/1/2014

 

These are just the first twelve that jumped out at me – I think we are in for a great year of books!

Art & Anger & Ridiculous Obsession

27 Jan

On the tail of three really great reads comes one so-so read. I wanted to love this one so much – usually I can get behind a great unlikeable character. But the narrator of The Woman Upstairs was not only generally disagreeable, she was also whiny and annoying.

woman upstairsThe bare bones of this story: Nora Eldridge is a single, 40-ish grade school teacher. Having given up her pursuit of Art as a career, she feels full of angst and hostility but she puts on a cheerful front. Since the novel is told from her point of view, we get to see all of this hidden anger. She’s angry about the death of her mother (to ALS), she’s angry about the decrepitude of her father, about her dead-ended art, about so many things. Until. The Shadids – a glamorous family from Paris – move to town. The son, Reza, is in her 3rd grade class, the mother is also an artist and the father appears worldly and sophisticated. So she becomes obsessed with all of them. She and the mother, Sirena, agree to share a studio space so immediately Nora has a reason to be around her most afternoons. It’s not quite a romantic obsession that Nora harbors, but allllmost. And then Sirena asks if she will babysit (but in a much nicer way) Reza, and so Nora starts imagining that he is her own son. Of course Skandar, the husband and most likely target of a romantic obsession, gets his share too. I was hoping for a huge pay-off/twist in the end, and while there WAS a twist, it was not the one I wanted (which was for her to go crazy and kill someone). What I did LOVE about it, however, was the art that Nora creates. It sounded brilliant! She creates this teeny dioramas of famous women authors in their homes (usually famous women who were depressed/suicidal/etc, but still). I wished I could’ve seen them in real life. I can across a BuzzFeed article about this woman (Lily Cuyler) who draws famous poets and their homes, and it felt so perfect to be seeing while I was reading The Woman Upstairs. I’m including it below! 3 stars.

1. Emily Dickinson — Amherst, Mass.

Emily Dickinson — Amherst, Mass.

2. Walt Whitman — Camden, N.J.

Walt Whitman — Camden, N.J.

3. T.S. Eliot — St. Louis

T.S. Eliot — St. Louis

4. e.e. cummings — Cambridge, Mass.

e.e. cummings — Cambridge, Mass.

5. Sylvia Plath — London

Sylvia Plath — London

6. Oscar Wilde — London

Oscar Wilde — London

Roaming around in the Dark.

21 Jan

I was going to wait a minute to post about this book, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I literally stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it – I kept thinking “just one more chapter,” “I just want to see what she/he/they does/do next,” “just ten more minutes.” The Deepest Secret took over my night!

deepest secretIt doesn’t officially come out until Feb. 4th, but I figured that’s not TOO far away, and right now there are only 3 holds on it at the JoCo library. Oh my gosh it was good! So, initially the story is about this 14-year-old boy who suffers from something called “XP.” Basically, he is deathly allergic to sunlight. You can only imagine how this affects his suburban family – his mother especially has been consumed with making his life enjoyable but totally sunless. He has an older sister, Melissa, with typical teenage issues/angst, and his father works in a different city during the week, flying home on weekends. Because Ben is cooped up inside everyday all day, he has been sneaking out in the dark of night and sort of spying on his neighbors. I don’t know if you would officially call it “spying,” but he kind of creeps around the neighborhood, visits the neighborhood park, keeps tabs on all of the interesting people who live on his cul-de-sac. AND THEN SOMETHING TRAGIC HAPPENS. I can’t even hint at what, but it was not what I was expecting. Not even at all. When this THING happens, I did a huge double take and I’m sure I gasped out loud. And then all sorts of secrets start coming to the surface. This was such a great neighborhood drama – it reminded me a little bit of Rear Window and a little bit of something else I can’t quite put my finger on. 5 stars, mostly for that “can’t put it down” quality.

Let’s Hear it for the Shakers

19 Jan

Both of the books I read this week/weekend were books I had borrowed from one of my best book friends. They’d been in my stacks for months as advanced copies, and both recently hit the shelves (this means I kept them a little too long and needed to get a-reading). I enjoyed both of them very much.

Visionist

I read The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart a little differently than I read most books. Audible.com was running this great trial membership – where you could get one download free – so I signed up and requested the audio of this novel (to listen to while I walk/scan dead files at work). I still prefer to actually READ rather than listen, but I was happy to have the audio option as the story is sort of tense and I was eager to see/hear what happened. There are three narrators in this story, in alternating chapters: first we meet Polly, living on a farm with her parents and her younger brother Ben. Her father, Silas, is a piece of work. The kind of villain that seems too mean to be real. A real nasty character. And her mother is frustrating in her timidity – always taking the beatings and abuse, and turning a blind eye to the abuse that Polly, her only daughter, was suffering at the hands of Silas in the darkness of night. Early in the novel Polly sets fire to their farm, killing Silas in his sleep. She and her mother and brother flee the scene – and the mother, finally worried about her children, decides to leave them at a nearby Shaker community so that they are protected/hidden from the authorities. Second narrator – a young girl called Sister Charity, who was left on the steps of a Shaker community by her mother when she was but a babe. Raised by maybe the strictest of the Shaker sisters, Sister Agnes, Charity considers herself a true believer (all of her chapters were interesting because I didn’t know a single thing about the Shakers).  Third narrator is a man – Simon Pryor – the fire inspector who examines the remains of Polly’s farmhouse. For some semi-interesting reasons, he becomes completely invested in the case and vows to seek out Polly and her mother, Mae. I really enjoyed it – 4 stars.

kept

 

From the very get-go, this book suckered me in. It opens with a midwife, Elspeth, returning to her isolated farm after six months in the city. When she arrives home, she finds all of her family (husband and four children) murdered. Hiding in the pantry is the only survivor – her son Caleb. Having been in hiding for over a week with little to no food, Caleb is a mess of exhaustion and grief. Hearing someone enter the house, he assumes it to be one of the men who slaughtered his family and fires a shot through the pantry door. After realizing his mistake, and days of nursing his injured mother back to health, the two set off in search of revenge. Initially I thought this was going to be some sort of epic journey in search of the three villains, over the course of which I expected the mother/son duo to bond etc etc. That’s not really how it all went down. There were a bunch of twists and revelations that made this even darker than it promised to be in the first chapter. I really liked it – read it fast – and would recommend it. Especially during winter. 4 stars.

13 Days into 2014

13 Jan

Here are the first four books of 2014. I have a great stack waiting for me, so hopefully there will be some “OH MY GOSH you have to read this” coming. These four were good – some were really pretty good – but I’m hoping that 2014 is full of stupendous novels!

Threads of the HeartThreads of the Heart popped up on my radar thanks to one of Loren’s co-workers, Cristina. It was long – but didn’t feel long. And there were so many wonderfully bizarre parts to it – I really enjoyed it. Basically it is the story of a seamstress named Frasquita Carasco (so skilled with needle and thread that it borders on witchcraft) and her six children. The youngest child, Soledad, is the narrator of the long, winding family history and recounts all of the wacky things that happened to her family in 19th century Spain. My favorite sort of vignette in the family saga was when Frasquita’s blacksmith husband kind of loses his marbles and starts thinking that he is a rooster. The downward spiral into madness starts with him just sitting in the yard with the chickens. Then he moves into the coop. Soon he starts challenging the other rooster to become king of the flock. For two entire years, he lives out in the coop amongst the foul. It was hilarious and heartbreaking and also a little pathetic.  Overall I gave this Spanish saga 4 stars.

SchroderThis novel, Schroder, popped up on a could of “Best of” lists this year. I had checked it out from the library a couple of times, but returned it before reading it. I guess the third time + third renewal is the charm! I really, really enjoyed this novel (and it’d be great for book clubs). Erik Schroder was sort of outcast as a child – he and his very German father immigrated to the US from Germany and were still very much considered outsiders. He tries to recreate his image – complete with a name change (unofficial) – in order to lead a purely American life. So the novel starts with Erik introducing himself to us – he is writing what seems to be a confession of sorts, but initially we’re not quite sure what exactly he is confessing. I just really loved the way the book unraveled. Even though I couldn’t really condone Erik’s behavior (he basically absconded with his daughter in the middle of a nasty divorce), I understood exactly what he was thinking and where it was coming from. I don’t know if I was rooting for him or not (I think not, actually), I needed to know what happened. 4 stars.

Tale for the Time BeingHere is another one that had been on my “To Read” for a long while. And I like lots of things about it – I like the idea of it most of all. IT TOOK ME FOREVER to read though, and I’m not sure why. I think I was working on this book for over a week, which is crazy for me if it’s a book I like. So by the end of the novel I was just a little irritated that it took me so long to get there (and I think that made me like it a little less than I would have otherwise). The chapters in A Tale for the Time Being alternate between Nao, a young Japanese-American whose family had recently returned to Japan, and Ruth, and older Japanese-American writer living in Canada with her eccentric husband. One day on the beach, Ruth finds a diary wrapped in a freezer bags washed up on the shore – Nao’s diary. So Ruth’s chapters deal with her becoming more and more interested in Nao’s story, and Nao’s chapters are diary entries that tell of school bullies, a suicidal father, and a great-grandmother nun. 3 stars.

BrillianceThis one popped up on NPR’s “Book Concierge” and sounded interesting. I check with the library and was number 30, which made me even more curious. I asked for it at about three different bookstores while I was traveling after the 1st of the year, and everyone was out it. Then it became a book I HAD to have. And luckily, Rainy Day Books had it on the shelf! Turns out it’s not really my kind of book, although I flew through it. It’s a fly-through book, a thriller with a unique twist, I guess. Set in the not-so-distant future, one in every 100 children are born with a gift – some sort of genius. Some are able to add incredible equations in their heads, some can read peoples body language to such an extent that they can predict behavior before it occurs. These gifted people are called “Brilliants” or “abnorms” or “twists.” It’s kind of predictable story – the “normal” citizens are worried that the “abnorms” are trying to take over, and this fear is exaggerated by an abnorm terrorist named John Smith. Nick Cooper, our hero, works for a government-funded agency whose goal is to wipe out abnorm crime. He is also an abnorm himself, which sort of complicates his relationship with some of his co-workers. After a bombing in which many citizens are killed, Cooper decides to go undercover to see if he can infiltrate John Smith’s operation. Of course he finds himself second-guessing whose side he’s on – the government’s or the Brilliant’s. 3 stars.