Sunday, October 2, 2016

October Books

The Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
If you like exciting page-turning plots, rich and complex characters, and a fantasy setting rife with history, magic, and criminals, then this series is for you.  The finale to last year's huge hit Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo continues her Grisha series with great success.  The story begins where Crows leaves off - the gang of six has just pulled off the greatest heist ever, kidnapping the only chemist in the world who knows the secret of jurda parem, the drug that gives the magical Grisha unprecedented power, as well as an insatiable craving for more of the drug.  This time around, Kaz and his compadres must save the city of Ketterdam and their own hides before the bad guys get their hands on the recipe and destroy the world. Except now his members have a few different obstacles to overcome; the Grisha witch can no longer stop hearts, but she can wake the dead; the compulsive gambler has to explain to his father how he literally bet the family farm; the Fjerdian strongman who was raised to hate the Grisha has now fallen in love with one; and the Wraith, who can climb anything imaginable and appear like smoke, has an assassin on her tail. Think Ocean's Eleven meets Game of Thrones; criminals who have the power to make you root them on, relationships that are romantic, complex, and occasionally hilarious, and an ending that will have you on the edge of your seat. If you're the person who says "I don't read fantasy," this series is guaranteed to make you change your me.

Some Writer by Melissa Sweet (Published October 2016)
If you ever read Charlotte's Web, you'll remember Charlotte's famous sayings, woven into her web, to try and save her friend Wilbur from the butcher's knife.  In Melissa Sweet's appropriately named book, she pens a tribute to the creator of some of our favorite childhood characters, as well as the most beautiful essayists of the 20th century, E.B. White.  In this lovely amalgamation of literature (a mix of hand-drawn illustrations, copies of White's own handwriting, photographs, etc.), Sweet shares the life of a beloved author.  I admit to goosebumps as I read how Stuart Little was born, as well as the critical reviews, and when White and his wife buy a farm up in Maine, and fill it with geese, sheep, and yes, pigs, it is obvious how Wilbur, Charlotte, and little Fern came to life.  My favorite, Louis from Trumpet of the Swan,  gets his just due as well.  Admittedly, these three books were truly part of the fabric of my childhood, as they were to my own two daughters.  Thus, this book enchanted me - all I need are some elementary age children for an audience and life would be perfect:)

Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell
Hmmm...a Western...not the normal genre I gravitate towards, but there's always a first time.  It helped that the author is one of my favorites and she is coming to Village Books in November to talk about her books.  Her first novel, The Sparrow, was my first foray into sci-fi, and it is honestly one of my more memorable reads, with threads of the Jesuit religion drawing the story together, and a shocking ending that one never forgets.  After a sequel to this book, Russell changed direction and wrote a WWII novel, set within the Italian resistance, called Thread of Grace.  Next up, another shift  in Dreamers of the Day, as the world powers slice and dice the Middle East up to their own desires.  Then, Russell moves back in time to the iconic Wild Wild West with her companion books about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.  While it is not necessary to read one to understand and enjoy the other, I found that reading Doc definitely added to my depth of knowledge once I started into Epitaph.  (Note on the title:  love the nod to the name of the setting, Tombstone:)  John Henry Holliday, dentist not medical doctor, began life as a petted son of aristocratic southern planters, but his life turns West after a tuberculosis diagnosis.  In Doc, we see Holliday's complicated life of gambling, drinking, womanizing, as well as his relationship with the Earp brothers.  Epitaph unwinds the long, slow march towards the famous shootout at the O.K. corral.  Admittedly, I am a huge historical trivia buff, and I found much of this narrative utterly fascinating.  Mary Doria Russell is an expert at getting inside a character's head, walking us around to see every facet, and showing us 'heroes' with clay feet and 'bad guys' with redemptive qualities.  I highly recommend both books, as well as her talk at Village Books on November 2.

The Lost Girls by Heather Young
Written by a debut author, garnering tons of good reviews, this is a 'thriller' with some gothic tidbits thrown in, as well as a mystery with threads of domestic violence and abusive parental relationships.  Yep, it pretty much has it all.  The story is told by two narrators:  Lucy, an old woman who lives alone out at her family lake house in Minnesota, who is telling the story of their family's last summer together; and Justine, Lucy's great-niece, who inherits the house after Lucy's death and travels here to escape an abusive relationship. Back in the 1930's, the youngest child in the family, Emily, disappeared on the last day of summer.  This destroyed the family in so many ways, and forced Lucy and her sister Lilith to live forever at the lake house.  Upon Justine's return, decades letter, the mystery unspools itself, and introduces two suspicious brothers next door, a stalker boyfriend, and two unhappy little girls.  This is a good 'first novel' that will keep you turning pages.

Mischling by Affinity Konar
I am admittedly torn by this book.  On one hand, it is incredibly well-written for a debut writer, reminiscent of a Toni Morrison with beautiful words, sentences, and imagery that paints a beautiful, yet often disturbing picture.  Yet, the story feels disconnected and fragmented, needing more connections between story lines.  It is, however, an unforgettable book. It begins in 1945 when two identical twins travel in a cattle car with their mother and grandfather, arriving in Auschwitz, only to be chosen immediately by Josef Mengele to reside in his 'Zoo,'  Here, the girls are subjected to the most horrible experiments, and are witness and victim to extreme physical and emotional abuse.  Told through the eyes of each girl, Pearl and Stasha each have their own memories they are in charge of keeping.  Thus, when Pearl disappears, Stasha is left bereft.  Because of its tragic story line, writing style, and questions, I do think it would be a challenging book club book to discuss.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Chosen for Book of the Month club in September and earning rave reviews on GoodReads, I am baffled, flummoxed, puzzled, disappointed, you name it.  This book was arguably just plain terrible; paper-thin characters who spoke and acted in ways that demanded slapping, thin plot line with incredibly predictable 'twists,' and such bad writing that I honestly think my dog Enzo could have done better.  Blech blech blech!

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