Monday, April 16, 2018

TLA Lariat List: Here We Go Again...

I'm heading into the heavy reading season for the next Texas Library Association Lariat List, and I won't be able to review many books for a while.  I'm Vice-Chair this year, and the committee, made up of 9 librarians across the Big State of Texas, will be reading up to 72 adult fiction titles over the next 6 months to come up with the top 25 books published in 2017 and 2018 that are a "pleasure to read."

Read more about the Lariat List here:

The books I nominated that made the most recent List are:

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall

The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson

The Dry by Jane Harper

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Flying at Night ~ Rebecca L. Brown (Published April 10, 2018)

Flying at Night by [Brown, Rebecca L.]
Brown, Rebecca L. 2018. Flying at Night. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group.
ISBN: 978-0399585999. $26.00 USD.

Rebecca L Brown's debut, Flying at Night, is one of my favorite books so far this year.  It took me a bit to get through it because I had to stop and ponder some things while reading.  The author has given amazing voices to the three main characters: Piper, her autistic son, Fred, and her father, Lance.  I felt like I knew each of these characters intimately by the time I was finished, and was fully invested in their lives and the outcomes of their situations.

Piper is an artist who has chosen to stay home with her son, Fred, who is showing signs of being on the autism scale.  She is very much in denial about it.  Fred's voice in his entries in the book are written in such a way that the reader knows he has some kind of disorder, but they are so funny and wise and filled with his personality that one cannot help but love this character and hope for the best for him.  Piper's husband, Isaac, is a lawyer for The Innocence Project and is away from home a lot working, so Piper feels like she is handling Fred's challenges as if she were a single parent.

In the midst of her issues with Fred, Piper's father suffers a heart attack while playing squash, and is without oxygen for so long that no one thinks he will recover.  Lance was a pilot nick-named "The Silver Eagle," and though charming, he had a huge ego. We come to understand through his voice and Piper's descriptions, however, that Lance was a terrible father and husband, emotionally and verbally abusive.  No one is really all that interested in him surviving; but miraculously he does, and this has far reaching consequences for all of the family: for "The Silver Eagle" is a completely different man than he was before.

The beauty of this book is seeing how all of the characters handle the challenges that come their way, and getting into their hearts and minds in the chapters written from their points of view. All the characters in the book have opportunities for redemption in some way or another, and upon turning the last page, I just signed with pleasure. My heart was aching, but my soul was at peace.

This is a wonderful debut, and I highly recommend it. 5 stars!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Anti-Heroines Rock!!

I’ve read several books lately that have what I would classify as anti-heroines as protagonists. Anti-heroes have been around a long time in literature (the word was coined as early as the 1700s), and can be defined as central characters who lack conventional heroic attributes. Anti-heroes in novels usually have dark traits often associated with villains, such as amorality, violent tendencies and traits that blur the moral line between a protagonist and antagonist ( Anti-heroines seem to be becoming more prominent in novels lately.

The most famous anti-heroine in recent memory is Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series (which starts with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). She’s mysterious, anti-social, violent at times and is morally ambivalent. She’s one of the most unusual female characters to come along and the series took the world by storm.

I've enjoyed three novels which have characters with anti-heroine attributes, so I thought I'd combine these books in one post.  I’ll be writing about Nola Brown in Brad Meltzer’s The Escape Artist, Alice Vega in Louisa Luna’s Two Girls Down, and Amanda Pharrell in Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake.

Meltzer, Brad. 2018. The Escape Artist. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group. ISBN: 978-1538746783. $28.00 USD.

I had not read anything by Brad Meltzer before The Escape Artist, though he is a popular author with my library patrons. And I must say that I'm now a fan!  I had been seeing some buzz about one of the characters in his book (‘who is Nola Brown”), and  the plot sounded interesting. I am grateful to Grand Central Publishing for allowing me to read the novel before it was published.

Who is Nola Brown?  She is a mystery, she’s in trouble and she’s supposed to be dead.  In The Escape Artist, the main character is Jim "Zig" Zigarowski who works for the Army restoring the bodies fallen soldiers before burial. (This is a real job, and the author did a lot of research about this noble profession before writing the book). Jim is told that there has been a plane crash, and there are military bodies arriving who will need his special skills.  One of the bodies turns out to be someone he knew many years ago who helped his daughter in a bad situation.  But Jim know something about Nola, and soon he realizes the body on his table is not actually her. His connection to Nola Brown causes him to investigate what actually happened to her, and that’s the basic plot of the book.

The character of Nola Brown is an anti-heroine because she doesn’t feel much for people, and frequently manipulates those around her to get what she wants. She also has lethal skills courtesy of the military and doesn’t seem to feel any remorse for her violent actions. She’s a sympathetic character in a lot of ways because the author gives us alternating chapters describing her horrific childhood. But she cannot be trusted, and puts people in harm’s way to achieve her goals. In the book, Jim keeps trying to help her, but gets in dangerous situations because of it. We are not sure Nola really cares about him at all, in spite of all the ways he tries to help her. Nola Brown is definitely one of the more interesting characters I’ve encountered recently, and the book tells a great story.

Luna, Louisa. 2018. Two Girls Down. New York, NY: Knopf/Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House. ISBN  978-038554249. $25.95 USD.

I also was able to read Two Girls Down pre-publication courtesy of Knopf/Doubleday and it's appreciated. In this novel, we are introduced to another anti-heroine, Alice Vega, an enigmatic bounty hunter who is hired by a family to find two missing girls. Alice has a reputation for being able to find missing children, but the reader is given very little information about her background.  She’s tough, anti-social, and needs very little sleep, but she manages to always get the job done. The police department in the town where the girls went missing is stretched thin by budget cuts, so Alice recruits a disgraced former cop named Max Caplan to help her. Their relationship is initially antagonistic, but they learn to respect each other and work toward a common goal.  This book is an excellent read, character driven and propulsive, like the best thrillers. It’s not graphically violent, but the language is pretty rough, which is the only negative thing I have to say about this excellent debut.

Fox, Candice. 2018. Crimson Lake. New York, NY: Forge, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. ISBN: 978-0765398482. $25.99 USD.

Finally, another book with an interesting anti-heroine is Crimson Lake by Candice Fox.  I was able to read this one courtesy of Forge Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers.  I have read some excellent novels written by Australian authors lately, including The Dry and Force of Nature by Jane Harper.  Candice Fox is another Australian author, based in Sydney, and she has partnered with James Patterson in the U.S. in writing several books, including the recent Fifty, Fifty. 

In Crimson Lake, the main character is Ted Conkaffey who was accused, but not convicted, of killing a teenage girl.  His life is in shambles, and he’s hiding out in a small town trying to get his life back together. When his parole officer sets him up with a job assisting a private investigator, we meet the final anti-heroine covered in this post: Amanda Pharrell, who did time for murdering a friend when they were teenagers. But all is not what it seems, as happens in the best novels! As you can imagine, Amanda is fairly damaged from what happened to her as a teen: she doesn’t trust people, has few people skills and doesn’t seem to care much about anything.  But she’s good at her job. And when she and Ted are hired to find out what happened to a local celebrity, they have to find a way to work together in spite of their traumatic histories.

These three novels contain great examples of the anti-heroine character, adding depth and emotional heft to the stories contained therein.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The House of Broken Angels ~ Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken Angels by [Urrea, Luis Alberto]
Urrea, Luis Alberto. 2018. The House of Broken Angels. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. ISBN: 978-0316154888. $27.00 USD.

After seeing all the buzz and great reviews for this novel, I eagerly started it one weekend, and pretty much read it in one sitting.  It addresses so many important themes: families (and dysfunction therein), forgiveness, redemption and above all, love.

The day before Big Angel de la Cruz has his 70th birthday celebration, probably his last one, his mother passes away, and all the family who were coming in for the party attend the funeral first instead.  That is the set up for the novel;  but it is written in a non-linear manner - it takes the reader into the past to tell the stories of all the people who populate this big-hearted story.  We learn about Big Angel’s extended family: his father Don Antonio, who was a policeman in Mexico and abandoned the family for a white woman, leaving his wife and three children to suffer severe poverty; his brother Cesar, and sister Mary Luisa, who have their own back stories often hilariously told; his wife Perla and her two sisters Lupita and Gloriosa (ah, Gloriosa!); his children Lolo and Minnie, and most of all, his half-brother, Gabriel (aka "Little Angel"), born to Don Antonio and his American wife, Betty, through whom we witness many of of the events of the book.

There are a lot of characters in this book with formal names, nick-names and interesting connections, and I found it was helpful to create a family tree as I was reading. There are also a lot of Spanish words, and I had Google translate open most of the time I was reading, but it did not inhibit my enjoyment of the book.

The House of Broken Angels is an epic, raucous, often hilarious story that I just completely fell into.    We see the Mexican American de la Cruz family in all its amazing messiness, the good and the bad, but most of all, the love.  The quote from the book that keeps resonating with me is spoken by Big Angel near his death: “All we do, mija, is love.  Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders, not death.”

This novel expresses “inexplicable days of grace” in so many ways, and it will stay with me a long time.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lake Silence ~ Anne Bishop

Bishop, Anne. 2018. Lake Silence. New York, NY: Ace Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. ISBN: 978-0399587245. $27.00 USD.

What a joy to be able to escape into another novel by Anne Bishop set in the world of The Others, one of my favorite series of all time!  Once I started reading Lake Silence, I had a hard time stopping and doing the things I should have been doing at work and home.

In this book, we are introduced to a new location and new characters, but the rest of the world-building coincides with Bishop's The Others series (which begins with Written in Red). In this unique world, Namid created earth natives first, and humans later.  Some of the earth natives, also known as “terre indigene,” have learned to shift into human form, and enjoy the innovations developed by humans.  Overall, however, the earth natives are suspicious of humans and view them as edible prey.

In Lake Silence, the main character is a recently divorced human woman named Vickie DeVine who has been brow-beaten very badly by her ex-husband and his wandering "Vigorous Appendage" (so funny)!!  As part of her divorce she received some property in an earth native settlement that is recovering from a "great predation," when the Elder earth natives got really angry with the humans and wiped many of them from the face of the earth.  Vickie has a tenant named Aggie, who is a member of the Crowgard (crows who can shift into human form), but Vickie doesn't realize that until she discovers Aggie heating up a human eyeball in the microwave for a snack!

From there, a murder mystery is introduced, as well as some really bad villains, interesting interactions between the humans in the settlement and the earth natives, and some quite humorous situations as well. (Oh, and there’s something living in the local lake near Vickie's property that is curious, dangerous and extremely vengeful).

Overall, Lake Silence was an enjoyable read and a lot of fun.  I only wish I could have savored this book more instead of rushing through to finish it, staying up way too late! You will get the most enjoyment from this book if you start at the beginning of the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Ace Books for sharing an early copy with me. Always, always appreciated!!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Queen of Hearts ~ Kimmery Martin

Martin, Kimmery. 2018. The Queen of Hearts. New York, NY: Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. ISBN:  978-0399585050. $26.00 USD.

They say you should write what you know, and debut author Dr. Kimmery Martin has done that - in spades!  She has crafted a wonderful debut, full of engaging characters, realistic dialogue, and a hint of mystery - plus descriptions of the practice of medicine that are illuminating and informative.

Zadie and Emma have been close friends since they met in medical school, bonding over the extreme stress and hardship that such an endeavor entails. Now successful doctors with busy lives, their friendship is tested by the return of a colleague and the memories of an event that had significant ramifications for all three of them.

The Queen of Hearts is a story of friendship and families, secrets and redemption.  I eagerly turned the pages to get to the end, and after reading the author's note, I sighed with the best kind of contented pleasure I get from reading a great book.  It is hard to believe this is the writing of a debut author!  Very well done!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Dreaming in Chocolate ~ Susan Bishop Crispell

Dreaming in Chocolate: A Novel by [Crispell, Susan Bishop]
Crispell, Susan Bishop. 2018. Dreaming in Chocolate. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, and imprint of Macmillan Publishers. ISBN: 978-1250089076. $15.99 USD.

I've always loved the Magical Realism genre (except for the first one: One Hundred Years of Solitude, I'm ashamed to admit)!  I think it goes back to my adolescence when I wished for the ability to change things about my life. I discovered contemporary Magical Realism with Sarah Addison Allen and have read many other authors and their interpretation of the genre, with pleasure.

Dreaming in Chocolate by Susan Bishop Crispell was an enjoyable read, and made me really hungry at the same time!  Penelope Dalton runs a hot chocolate cafe with her mother in a small town named Malarkey (what a name)!  In the cafe there is an apothecary table that magically provides recipes for various needs of the community.  Hot chocolate to see the future, chocolates to dream of your soul mate, and more. Penelope has given up believing in magic because the "soul mate" she saw in her dream at 18 turned her down and left her pregnant.  In addition, her daughter Ella is dying from a neurological ailment that no amount of wishes will cure. So, she vows to give her daughter the best few months that she has left, not knowing that her daughter is attempting some magic of her own.  When Penelope's soul mate returns to town, not knowing he has a daughter, Penelope tries to close her heart the best she can. But the magic isn't done with her yet.

The book has a lot going for it, and is heartwarming in a way that covers all the bases for domestic fiction.  If you like your romance a little magical, this book is for you!

Happy Reading!

P.S. This author's 2016 debut, The Secret Ingredient of Wishes, was also a great read!

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes: A Novel by [Crispell, Susan Bishop]