In The Martian by Andy Weir, the action is cranked all the way up to 11, which is an impressive feat for a story that unfolds over the course of a year and a half. Set in the not-too-distant future, this is the story of NASA’s third mission to Mars. A type of routine has set in with these missions to the Red Planet until a freak sandstorm causes NASA to abort the mission and evacuate the planet. As the astronauts prepare to leave the surface, one is struck and thought to be dead, so he is left behind by his crewmates. Knocked unconscious, Mark Watley awakes to find himself in a damaged spacesuit, alone, with no communications and no way to get off the planet. Smart, sarcastic, hard-working, imaginative and more than a little nerdy, Watley is the perfect hero. Left alone with limited supplies, Watley has to find a way to survive and meet his basic needs. Just as he starts to accomplish this, NASA realizes their mistake. As the world turns its attention to the drama unfolding across a sea of stars, Watley is forced to parry every challenge thrown at him by a harsh, unforgiving environment.
The Martian, with its roots in current space history, it is more a work of science “fact-ion” than science fiction. This debut novel by a promising new voice is a celebration of the esprit de corps and professionalism of NASA, as well as a celebration of the human spirit. Weir speaks to the basic human need to risk any danger, no matter the cost, to save another human in distress. The Martian will leave you breathless on its way to a fist-pumping-in-the-air conclusion, perfect for anyone who loved Apollo 13 or Gravity as well as readers of Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars.
Fans of mystery writer Maggie Barbieri and her Murder 101 series, rejoice! Her newest mystery, Once Upon a Lie, introduces us to her new series featuring protagonist and baker extraordinaire, Maeve Conlon. Readers will empathize with the family challenges that comprise her waking hours. She has two teenage daughters, one completely wild and the other fixated on achieving in school as her ticket out of their small town, an ex-husband who left her for one of her close “friends” and a cancer surviving best friend/employee with love-life issues. Add to this her dear father, a retired cop with Alzheimer’s who resides locally in a nursing home – except for when he manages to escape confinement to take walks along the river. She finds solace in the Comfort Zone, the bakery she owns and loves but which barely provides enough income to pay the bills. Maeve is a kind and compassionate person who tries her best to care for her family but constantly fears that she isn’t doing enough.
The story begins with the murder of Maeve’s cousin Sean, who is found in his car with his pants unzipped and a bullet in his head. Despite being raised in a close-knit Irish family where everyone lives within a block from each other, she feels very little sorrow at his death. She remembers him as a bully who tormented her as a child and only attends his funeral services out of family duty. She doesn’t give his death a second thought until investigating officers start to focus on her father as their main suspect. Unable to understand how the police could seriously believe an old man with dementia could be responsible she is determined to help prove his innocence. Unfortunately, circumstances are such that he could have had the opportunity, and Maeve begins to wonder if her father could be exaggerating the degree of his confusion.
The mystery of the killer’s identity will have readers guessing until the very last page. This novel explores family dynamics and how far a person would go to protect the people they care about. Maeve is a complex character that readers will find captivating, and will make them wish they could stop by her shop for a cup of coffee and a pastry.
Lives will never be the same again in Rachel Joyce’s Perfect when, in the summer of 1972, two 11-year-old boys convince themselves that the British government is adding two seconds to that year. Byron, a heartfelt husky lad, admires his lone friend, James, for his intelligence and diligent approach to life. When James informs him of this addition to time, Byron has no reason to doubt him.
However, when Byron witnesses a shocking incident within these extra seconds, the repercussions prove costly for everyone surrounding him, especially his captivating mother, Diana. Although she delights in nature, theater and small kindnesses, Byron’s thoughtful observations detect a deeper sadness under his mother’s delicate repose. Her husband expects her to dress in the refined styles of the ‘50s and lavishes gifts upon her, like a brand new Jaguar, for the sole purpose of instilling envy in the community.
Fast-forward two decades and we encounter Jim, a man living in a dilapidated trailer who is plagued by obsessive compulsive tendencies. Although he is well-meaning, his stuttering and fear of disasters keep him from developing any real relationships with others. As these alternating stories escalate, the two seconds become more mysterious and questionable, yet are vital to these seemingly unrelated plots in this latest work by the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
The Today Show reinstated its book club in 2013, and the first two selections went on to be bestsellers. The newest selection is Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan, a fascinating portrayal of the unknown woman behind a famous man. In her new novel, Horan reimagines the lives of author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Although most of us are familiar with Stevenson’s work, few people know about the smart, independent woman who was his wife.
Fanny decides to leave her husband and her life in San Francisco behind to start over. Along with her three children, she travels to Belgium planning to study art. After a tragedy occurs during her travels, Fanny goes to an artists’ retreat in France where she meets Louis, a Scottish man 10 years her junior. Louis is captivated by the beautiful, opinionated and brash American woman. Although she is initially resistant to her suitor, eventually Louis wins her over, and their tumultuous love affair begins. The story takes them across Europe and America and through the South Pacific.
Many readers will remember Horan’s wildly popular first novel Loving Frank, which was the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Horan says that she is led to these women by first becoming fascinated by the men’s lives. She shares more about what inspires her to write about the lives of these fascinating women in this video.
When Piper enlisted a local chef to do a cooking demonstration at the grand opening of her spice shop, she had no idea the troubles it would stir up. Chef Barrone and Piper have difficulty seeing eye-to-eye, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t horrified to find him dead the morning of his big demo. Unfortunately for Piper, all the evidence points to her as the murderer and in a small, gossip-ridden town, this can make all the difference to a new business owner.
As a recent divorcee, Piper is trying to find her livelihood through her spice shop, but what should be an exciting time is marred by the town’s suspicions of her murdering Barrone. This, mixed with the fact that she is trying to maintain a relationship with her daughter while beginning to date, is a recipe for pandemonium.
In order to clear her good name and get back to her normal life, Piper enlists the help of her best friend, Reba Mae, to unofficially aid the new chief of police in the murder investigation. Their hapless efforts turn out to be more like Lucy and Ethel than Cagney and Lacey.
Gail Oust creates a cozy mystery in Rosemary and Crime. She combines a dollop of mystery with a dash of southern living and a sprinkle of romance for a recipe that is sure to please those who like a nice light mystery. For those readers who have a taste for Oust, be sure to check out the Bunco Babes mysteries.
Lene Kaaberbøl’s Death of a Nightingale begins with Olga and Oxana, two sisters growing up in the Ukraine during the time when Stalin was considered their uncle, whether they liked it or not. During that time, it was hard to tell what was right and what was wrong because regardless of what one did, there was someone who said it was wrong. Olga and Oxana‘s family did what it had to do to get by during famine, but it’s not until years later that the reader sees the ripples of the sisters’ actions.
In the current day, Nina, a Danish nurse with the Red Cross, has taken charge of looking after the asthmatic daughter of Natasha, a woman who was convicted of attempting to kill her abusive fiancé. When Nina agreed to take extra care of this young girl, she didn’t realize protecting her from harm could include keeping her safe from people trying to kill or kidnap her. She becomes entangled in a situation far more dangerous than she could have imagined.
The timing coincides with Natasha’s escape from custody as she sets off to find her daughter and right the wrongs of her past. It is after Natasha’s escape that her ex-fiancé is found tortured and killed in a similar fashion to her ex-husband’s. Although police suspect Natasha, Nina has suspicions that something more is going on. Now she becomes ensnared with keeping Katerina safe at all costs, even if that means saving her from her own mother.
It’s not until the end of this roller coaster of a novel that the reader sees how Olga and Oxana’s past actions have created this tense situation. Though this novel can be read as a stand-alone book, it’s the third in the Nina Borg series. Those who enjoy Nordic crime novels such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are sure to find edge-of-your-seat satisfaction with this series as well.
Mark your calendars for an exciting literary event! Author April Smith will visit the Perry Hall Branch at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9 to talk about her new novel, A Star for Mrs. Blake.
In 1929, Congress passed the Pilgrimage Bill, a piece of legislation that allocated $5 million to help mothers and widows of fallen World War I soldiers travel to France to visit their graves. During the project, 6,693 women made the journey to their loved ones’ graves. Cora Blake is a single mother whose 16-year-old son lied about his age to enlist in the Army near the end of the war. He was killed in action, and she made the difficult decision to have him buried in France. In 1931, Cora is invited to travel to France with a group of American Gold Star Mothers to visit her son’s grave. Although the mothers come from very different backgrounds, they share the common link of their lost sons. The novel follows Cora and her group on their remarkable journey, which changes their lives in surprising and indelible ways.
This beautiful story would be an excellent choice for book clubs. Smith brings this little-known piece of American history to light with warmth and sensitivity. The novel, which is a departure from Smith’s Ana Grey mystery series, is getting a lot of national media attention, and BCPL is delighted to offer our customers this opportunity to meet Smith and learn more about this fascinating story.
Betty Dean is 10 when she moves to the island of Guernsey to live with Arlette, her mother’s boyfriend’s mother in Lisa Jewell’s Before I Met You. Arlette is in her mid-80s, but still independent, stylish and intimidating. Despite the decades that separate the elderly spitfire and the little girl, they become fast friends. When Arlette’s health deteriorates, it is Betty who remains with her, providing loving care while forgoing college, boyfriends and jobs. Following Arlette’s death, Betty is provided with a small amount of money, a fabulous collection of vintage clothes and a chance to finally start living. A bequest to an unknown and unfound woman named Clara Pickle leaves the family puzzled and Betty determined to track her down. Betty quickly moves to SoHo determined to find the mysterious Ms. Pickle and kick start her life in the process.
In searching for Clara, Betty also uncovers truths about Arlette and herself. Jewell simultaneously shares the stories of two young women coming of age in two very different Londons. Arlette is a beautiful and charismatic shop girl in a post-World War I London awash with artists and free thinkers. She is swept up in the bohemian movement and her friends include an impoverished artist and a jazz musician. In Betty’s London, it is 1995 where jobs are scarce and rent is high. She secures employment at Wendy’s and also becomes nanny to the children of notorious rocker Dom Jones. Both young women are balancing independence and good times with work, others’ expectations and romantic entanglements.
As the story glides between the two women, readers will be absorbed by the intrigue of Clara Pickle and embrace the fun and feisty Arlette and Betty. Jewell masterfully paints the portraits of two appealing young women struggling with genuine problems that transcend time. Forbidden romance, family dynamics and finding one’s self are at the core of this engaging and unforgettable novel of two inspirational women connected by fate.
Nora de Jong is a successful brain surgeon and single mother of a beautiful 6-month-old girl. She lives a quiet and happy life in Texas where she shares a home with her widowed mother. Upon returning from work one afternoon she is horrified to discover that her mother has been murdered and her daughter stolen. Frantic to discover a clue to explain this tragedy and locate her baby, she unearths a small box which has been hidden in the attic. The contents are unfathomable, indicating that her mother was a member of the Nazi party in Holland during World War II and that her father had been wanted for murder. Nora is convinced that the answers to who took her daughter are tied to her parents’ past. The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten is an intense, fast-paced novel combined with an intriguing work of historical fiction. Through journal entries and recounted memories, the reader is transported to Nazi-occupied Holland. The insidious isolation of the Jews and the heroic actions taken by the members of the Dutch resistance come to life through the author’s insightful writing.
Ms. Van Heugten’s fascination with this time period started close to home. Both of her parents grew up in Holland during the occupation and were members of the resistance. Typical of that generation, they were hesitant to describe their experiences; however, their activities inspired the author to learn more. She spent time in Amsterdam researching at the Dutch War Institute where she was immersed in the daily life and hardships of the war, as told through letters and diaries. The end result is The Tulip Eaters, a thoroughly investigated, action-packed adventure.
In 1600’s England, politics and religion are inextricably intertwined. Times are dark and violent, and morality is judged by all. Those who defy the church or the government are branded as witches and killed. Many flee into the darkness to await better times, but one woman dares to remain in the light. Her story drives The Daylight Gate, the new novella by award-winning author Jeanette Winterson.
Alice Nutter is a youthful, strong and well-respected woman. She believes her wealth allows her freedom to live as she pleases, making friends and allies without political or moral consequences. Her choices are not beyond the notice of local officials, however, and they quietly start rumors about her competence. These rumors eventually force her to reveal her secrets and unleash her powers on those who would destroy her. Winterson is an intelligent storyteller, and her spare prose moves the story along at lightning speed. Graphic and violent, The Daylight Gate is a quick dip into a nightmare that just might keep you awake at night.