Friday, December 21, 2012

Low Pressure by Sandra Brown

It had been a very long time since I had read one of Sandra Brown's novels, and I was pleasantly surprised when I finished this one. Several patrons had recommended Low Pressure to me, and I am so glad that I listened to them. This is a very suspenseful novel, with many twists and turns along the way. It is the story of Bellamy Price, who is thrust into the limelight after writing a fictional account of the murder of her older sister eighteen years earlier. Not just the limelight, but something much darker. Someone obviously is very unhappy that Bellamy wrote this book; possibly unhappy enough to kill her. But who would do such a thing? After all, Bellamy has no memory of her sister's murder. For all she knows, she was nowhere near her sister the night she died. In addition, a man was tried and convicted of the crime, and later was murdered in prison. So case closed, right? Well...maybe not!


Read-alike author: Karen Robards

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Letter  by Marie Tillman

Cover imageThis memoir is Marie's journey to recovery after the death of her husband Pat from friendly fire in Afghanistan.  Pat Tillman made headlines in 2002 when he left the NFL to serve his country as an Army Ranger.  During his first deployment in Iraq he wrote a "just-in-case" letter that she read in April 2004 when he was killed.  Pat encouraged Marie to continue to live, and The Letter shows Marie's efforts to carry out Pat's final wish. Marie provides an intimate picture of Pat, who, while athletic, outspoken and flamboyant, was also intelligent, philosophical and compassionate.  She talks about the investigation into his death and how it was hard for her, a very guarded person, to be in the spotlight.  The memoir was disappointing for me in that it was less spiritual and more psychological.  Marie relies on herself and the wisdom of family and philosophers to get her through the dark times.  She tries to start over by moving to a new city, taking a new job, and engaging in a new relationship.  As she eventually comes to terms with her loss, she returns home and agrees to run the Pat Tillman foundation.


If you want to read more about Pat Tillman, the definitive account is "Where Men Win Glory" by Jon Krakauer.

If You Like Downton Abbey...

Are you anxiously awaiting the start of Downton Abbey, Season 3 on January 6? Here are some readalikes to keep you occupied until then.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

The daughter of a distinguished soldier, Bess Crawford follows in his footsteps and signs up to go overseas as a nurse during the Great War, helping to deal with the many wounded. There, serving on a hospital ship, she makes a promise to a dying young lieutenant to take a message to his brother, Jonathan Graham: "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother′s sake. But it has to be set right." Later, when her ship is sunk by a mine and she′s sidelined by a broken arm, Bess returns home to England, determined to fulfill her promise.

  Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Follows the fates of five interrelated families--American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh--as they move through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage. 

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline. In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they--and Grace--know the truth. In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. 

Howards End by E. M. Forster

The disregard of a dying woman's bequest, a girl's attempt to help an impoverished clerk, and the marriage of an idealist and a materialist — all intersect at an estate called Howards End. The fate of this country home symbolizes the future of England in an exploration of social, economic, and philosophical trends during the post-Victorian era.

Into the Silence by Wade Davis

In a monumental work of history and adventure, ten years in the writing, Wade Davis asks not whether George Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest, but rather why he kept on climbing on that fateful day. His answer lies in a single phrase uttered by one of the survivors as they retreated from the mountain: "The price of life is death." Mallory walked on because for him, as for all of his generation, death was but "a frail barrier that men crossed, smiling and gallant, every day." As climbers they accepted a degree of risk unimaginable before the war. They were not cavalier, but death was no stranger. They had seen so much of it that it had no hold on them. What mattered was how one lived, the moments of being alive.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs isn't just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence--and the patronage of her benevolent employers--she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind. 

The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson

The Perfect Summer chronicles a glorious English summer a century ago when the world was on the cusp of irrevocable change. Through the tight lens of four months, Juliet Nicolson’s rich storytelling gifts rivet us with the sights, colors, and feelings of a bygone era. That summer of 1911 a new king was crowned and the aristocracy was at play, bounding from one house party to the next. But perfection was not for all. Cracks in the social fabric were showing. The country was brought to a standstill by industrial strikes. Temperatures rose steadily to more than 100 degrees; by August deaths from heatstroke were too many for newspapers to report. Drawing on material from intimate and rarely seen sources and narrated through the eyes of a series of exceptional individuals — among them a debutante, a choirboy, a politician, a trade unionist, a butler, and the Queen — The Perfect Summer is a vividly rendered glimpse of the twilight of the Edwardian era. 

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Stressed by the war, poet, pacifist, and protestor Siegfried Sassoon is sent to Craiglockhart Hospital, where his views challenge the patriotic vision of Dr. William Rivers, a neurologist assigned to restore the sanity of shell-shocked soldiers.


The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

In 1956, Stevens, a long-serving butler at Darlington Hall, decides to take a motoring trip through the West Country. The six-day excursion becomes a journey into the past of Stevens and England, a past that takes in fascism, two world wars and an unrealised love between the butler and his housekeeper. Ishiguro’s dazzling novel is a sad and humorous love story, a meditation on the condition of modern man, and an elegy for England at a time of acute change.

 To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

In a riveting, suspenseful narrative with haunting echoes for our own time, Adam Hochschild brings it to life as never before. He focuses on the long-ignored moral drama of the war’s critics, alongside its generals and heroes. 

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

A companion book to the popular British series about the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants offers insights into the story and characters and background information on British society in the early years of the twentieth century.


Monday, December 10, 2012

More Baths, Less Talking by Nick Hornby

Cover imageNick Hornby’s MoreBaths, Less Talking: Notes From the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author LockedIn a Battle With Football, Family, and Time Itself is the latest collection of the author’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading ” columns, which appear in the magazine The Believer. The title of the column describes the contents pretty well. Each column starts out with a list of “Books Bought” and “Books Read” by Hornby during that particular month. He then discusses the books he has read and sometimes also covers why he bought certain books on the “Books Bought” list.

I realize that this does not sound all that exciting, but the columns are very entertaining and written more like personal essays than standard book reviews. There are several titles he mentioned that I added to my reading list, but I also enjoyed his writing on the books I’ll likely never read. He discusses Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn and how he is reading the novel with the intention of adapting it for the screen. I enjoyed his discussion of how a book changes when he tries to imagine it on the screen and how certain parts of books easily lend themselves to the screen while others do not. He talks about downloading free copies of several Charles Dickens books and how free electronic versions of out-of-print classics will likely mean that publishers will have less money for living writers. There are plenty of digressions but this is part of the fun of Hornby’s writing.

While he does discuss many new titles, Hornby’s reading also veers into classics, obscure books his friends have recommended to him, and once popular authors now somewhat forgotten. It’s nice to read about books other than ones recently published. At times I wondered if Hornby liked everything he read or was just very wise in choosing what to read. I felt better towards the end of the book when he had some clever criticism of how unrealistic he found the characters in John Updike’s novel Marry Me: A Romance. After all, there is nothing wrong with a more light-hearted approach to book reviews, but it isn’t worth much if the critic likes everything.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Obama's America by Dinesh D'Souza

Cover imageBest-selling author D'Souza has written Obama's America as a companion to his popular documentary film 2016: Obama's America and a followup to his 2010 book The Roots of Obama's Rage.  D'Souza was a White House policy analyst for President Reagan and considers himself the only conservative scholar who truly understands President Obama.  This is because they were both born in the same year and are essentially first-generation Americans who were raised with an identical world view.  That world view is anti-colonialism.  D'Souza explains its precepts and shows how it was the dream Obama inherited from his father.  He interviews Obama's family members from Kenya to learn more about Obama, Sr.  He also  researches Obama's radical mentors to find what he has learned from them.  Most importantly, the book examines each of President Obama's policies from the perspective of anti-colonialism and discusses how they contribute to his goal of transforming America.  Reading this book after the election will give Republicans a sinking feeling, and some Democrats may be hard-pressed to rationalize their mindsets with anti-colonialism.  Anyone who has read the first book and seen the movie will find nothing new here, but those who are new to D'Souzas's theory will come away enlightened.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Best of 2012: Staff Picks

December always brings many "best of" lists. This year, we've put together our own. Here are 15 titles published in 2012 that our staff members really enjoyed. What books were your favorites in 2012?

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall

Mustachioed sleuth Vish Puri tackles his greatest fears in a case involving the poisoning death of the elderly father of a leading Pakistani cricketer, whose demise is linked to the Indian and Pakistani mafias and the violent 1947 partition of India.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.

In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection. The book that Dr. Brown’s many fans have been waiting for, Daring Greatly will spark a new spirit of truth—and trust—in our organizations, families, schools, and communities.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. When a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: his fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student. As the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own-- between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he's tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

On the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick's wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren't his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what really did happen to Nick's beautiful wife?

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media by Brooke Gladstone

The cohost of NPR's "On the Media" narrates, in cartoon form, two millennia of history of the influence of the media on the populace, from newspapers in Caesar's Rome to the penny press of the American Revolution to today.

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch

At some point in nearly every marriage, a wife finds herself asking, What the... is wrong with my husband?! In the author's case, this turns out to be an apt question. Five years after he married Kristen, the love of his life, they learn that he has Asperger Syndrome. The diagnosis explains his ever-growing list of quirks and compulsions, his lifelong propensity to quack and otherwise melt down in social exchanges, and his clinical-strength inflexibility. But it doesn't make him any easier to live with. Determined to change, he sets out to understand Asperger Syndrome and learn to be a better husband, no easy task for a guy whose inability to express himself rivals his two-year-old daughter's, who thinks his responsibility for laundry extends no further than throwing things in (or at) the hamper, and whose autism-spectrum condition makes seeing his wife's point of view a near impossibility. Nevertheless, he devotes himself to improving his marriage with an endearing yet hilarious zeal that involves excessive note-taking, performance reviews, and most of all, this book: a collection of hundreds of maxims and hard-won epiphanies that result from self-reflection both comic and painful. They include "Don't change the radio station when she's singing along," "Apologies do not count when you shout them," and "Be her friend, first and always." Guided by the journal, he transforms himself over the course of two years from the world's most trying husband to the husband who tries the hardest, the husband he'd always meant to be. Filled with humor and surprising wisdom, this book is a candid story of ruthless self-improvement, a unique window into living with an autism-spectrum condition, and proof that a true heart can conquer all.

Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France by Vivian Swift

Road trip: those are still the two most inspiring words to vagabonds and couch potatoes alike; after all, the great American spirit was forged by road trippers from the Pilgrims to Lewis and Clark to the Dharma Bums. Le Road Trip combines the appeal of the iconic American quest with France's irresistible allure, offering readers a totally new perspective of life on the road. Le Road Trip tells the story of one idyllic French honeymoon trip, but it is also a witty handbook of tips and advice on how to thrive as a traveler, a captivating visual record with hundreds of watercolor illustrations, and a chronicle depicting the incomparable charms of being footloose in France.

 Office Girl by Joe Meno

Odile is a lovely twenty-three-year-old art-school dropout, a minor vandal, and a hopeless dreamer. Jack is a twenty-five-year-old shirker who's most happy capturing the endless noises of the city on his out-of-date tape recorder. Together they decide to start their own art movement in defiance of a contemporary culture made dull by both the tedious and the obvious. Set in February 1999, just before the end of one world and the beginning of another, Office girl is the story of two people caught between the uncertainty of their futures and the all-too-brief moments of modern life.

Pinkerton's War by Jay Bonansinga

A heart-pounding historical account of Allan Pinkerton’s role in the Civil War—protector of Abraham Lincoln and mastermind of a controversial network of Union spies.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier by Ree Drummond

I'm Pioneer Woman. And I love to cook. Once upon a time, I fell in love with a cowboy. A strapping, rugged, chaps-wearing cowboy. Then I married him, moved to his ranch, had his babies . . . and wound up loving it. Except the manure. Living in the country for more than fifteen years has taught me a handful of eternal truths: every new day is a blessing, every drop of rain is a gift . . . and "nothing" tastes more delicious than food you cook yourself.

In addition to detailed step-by-step photographs, all the recipes in this book have one other important quality in common: They're guaranteed to make your kids, sweetheart, dinner guests, in-laws, friends, cousins, or resident cowboys smile, sigh, and beg for seconds.  

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There, Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British Army in Egypt, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.Flash forward to the present, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed the “Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss—and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.  

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

After being punished for trying to measure God's greatest gift, Father Time returns to Earth along with a magical hourglass and a mission: a chance to redeem himself by teaching two earthly people the true meaning of time.

 Wild by Cheryl Strayed

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe--and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State--and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than "an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise." But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

 Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and was not expected to survive, goes from being home-schooled to entering fifth grade at a private middle school in Manhattan, which entails enduring the taunting and fear of his classmates as he struggles to be seen as just another student.

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

A budding teen journalist and her enigmatic science teacher separately work to locate and infiltrate a secret society that threatens their elite prep school with a shady tragedy from the past, an event that challenges the student's allegiances.