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An Amusing State of Cluelessness

An Amusing State of Cluelessness

posted by:
May 19, 2012 - 10:42am

A Surrey State of AffairsShe has a daughter on a reality show called Dungeon.  Her Lithuanian maid just does not understand what it means to properly look after a house.  And for some reason, her match- making skills amongst her fellow church bell ringers do not seem to be working. 

 

So begins A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford.  Constance Harding has lived a perfect sort of sheltered existence as a British housewife in Surrey, but lately modern-day life has not cooperated with her. She is forced to start a blog (suggested by her thoughtful son as an alternative to sharing everything with only him) and give daily updates to the World Wide Web about life as she sees it. 

 

Get ready to relive 2008 day by day!  Constance is a faithful blogger, even when her beloved parrot almost flies away.  She struggles to find the perfect conservative woman for her son, puzzles about why her daughter wasn’t excited about her 19th birthday party (who wouldn’t like a magician or fairy cakes?) and continuously thinks up reasons for her husband’s erratic behavior.  Her interpretation of life and events stays humorous and fresh, and it is all part of the charm of this clueless fifty-something narrator who is about to experience one big dose of reality from the modern world.

 

This amusing book is perfect for a light weekend or vacation read.  It’s entertaining and straightforward.  Fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Winifred Watson will love this delightful story.  

Melanie

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A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope

posted by:
May 18, 2012 - 5:01am

The Testament of Jessie LambBiological terrorism, precarious scientific boundaries, and the personal cost of saving the human race intersect in Jane Rogers' heartfelt dystopian novel, The Testament of Jessie Lamb.  Set in Manchester, England somewhere in the near future, Maternal Death Syndrome is a reality; the ubiquitous rogue virus is killing pregnant women around the world.

 

Trying to be a normal teenager in these times is impossible for 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, whose  "testament" or diary opens the story.  Idealistic, determined and enlightened by her scientist father, Jessie wants only to live on the planet in a less greedy, destructive way.  She and her activist friends ponder whether the virus is really payoff for human-engendered ills, like global warming and the oil shortage.  When she learns from her father that a new vaccine enables young women (called "sleeping beauties") to give birth to healthy children she decides to volunteer. Unfortunately for Jessie, it also means entering into a coma and never waking up, something her father will not allow.

 

Rogers' writing, evocative and straight forward, raises the specters of medical research, self-sacrifice and the fine line between being delusional, a naive martyr, or courageous heroine.  Alternating between her journal entries and events leading up to her decision, Jessie's voice is authentic and poignant. Rogers take the time to develop complicated characters in Jessie and her father.

Long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Rogers' first foray into science fiction recently earned her the UK's Arthur C. Clarke award.  Like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Rogers' work is a compelling read for literary dystopia fans.  Teen fiction readers will also find plenty to like here.

Cynthia

 
 

Edith Wharton Meets Page Six

Edith Wharton Meets Page Six

posted by:
May 15, 2012 - 5:01am

GossipIn Gossip, Beth Gutcheon tackles the wily world of female friendships developed over four decades. The main players meet at Miss Pratt’s School in the 1960s where Lovie Walker is the poor scholarship student from Maine struggling to fit in.  Avis Metcalf is the daughter of distant yet wealthy New York parents, and Dinah Wainwright is loud, proud, and confident.  Lovie remains friendly with both following graduation, but Dinah is resentful of Avis due to a perceived insult.   

 

Lovie is the owner of a swanky dress shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and floats on the edge of the high society circle in which Dinah and Avis are entrenched.   Lovie also embarks on what becomes a decades-long relationship with an older, married man who loves her but refuses to leave his wife.  Dinah and Avis both marry and have children. Dinah's marriage produces two sons but falls apart following her husband’s infidelity while Avis slowly distances herself from her alcoholic husband.  The ladies continue working, lunching, and shopping and deal with the passage of time.  Things come to a head when Dinah’s son (and Lovie’s godson) Nick falls in love with Avis's daughter Grace.  Dinah, still angry at Avis, tries to usurp her role in Grace’s life and put a wedge between mother and daughter. 

 

Lovie serves as an engaging narrator and many of the novel’s most important incidents are revealed to her second-hand.   She hears things through another friend or listens to chatter in a doctor’s office, at a restaurant, and especially in her shop.  This is the gossip of the novel’s title and the gossip that ends up controlling all of these ladies’ lives as confidences are broken or secrets are not shared.  Years pass, complications ensue, and beloved characters die. Gutcheon is an expert at conveying the passage of time and weaving significant cultural events into the fabric of the story while still maintaining her strong characters.   These ladies and their tragedies and triumphs will stay with you long after you finish the last page.    

Maureen

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Three Wise Men?

Three Wise Men?

posted by:
May 14, 2012 - 9:05am

Unholy NightMost people know the biblical tale of the birth of Jesus, including the visitation of the baby by three wise men.  Very little is known about these men, not even their names.  Seth Grahame-Smith has taken these undeveloped characters and given them life in Unholy Night.  Warning: history is toyed with and turned upside-down by Grahame-Smith’s wickedly twisted mind.  This is not your typical bible story. 

 

The leader of the trio is Balthazar, an infamous thief and murderer, who finds himself in King Herod’s dungeon with two other criminals awaiting execution.  The three men execute a daring escape disguised as holy men, and as they run for their lives they encounter a young couple with a newborn baby in a stable in Bethlehem.   Soon discovering that they share a mutual enemy in Herod, an unlikely pact is formed and the group sets off across the desert toward Egypt.  Along the way they meet Roman soldiers and zombies, magic and miracles, friends and betrayers.   Other historical figures surface throughout, such as John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate, but it is on Balthazar and his hidden past that the story focuses.

 

Grahame-Smith is the best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and both the novel and the screenplay Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  He has also written Tim Burton’s new film Dark Shadows.  The audiobook version is masterfully read by Peter Berkrot, winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award.   

Sam

 
 

May Lead to Whiplash

May Lead to Whiplash

posted by:
May 11, 2012 - 3:01am

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay should come with the warning label, “May lead to whiplash.” With Landay at the wheel, readers of this terrific new legal thriller should prepare for breathtaking turns and shocking twists. In less sure hands, a story with this many surprises could easily fall apart. Landay is a master storyteller and is able to balance all of the twists while maintaining taut, suspenseful pacing.

 

It would be a shame to reveal too much of the story. The bare bones: Andy Barber is a successful, respected prosecuting attorney. He lives with his wife and son in an affluent Boston suburb. A 14-year-old boy is discovered in a local park; he has been fatally stabbed. Andy takes on the case, only to be blindsided when his son, Jacob is accused of the murder. Landay has an uncanny ability to elicit empathy for Andy and his family. The Barbers could easily be people we know. They could be our neighbors. They could be us.

 

Defending Jacob is not Landay’s first book but it is his first major blockbuster title, landing on many bestseller lists. Landay’s other titles include The Strangler and Mission Flats, which won the Dagger Award for best debut crime novel. Before trying his hand at writing novels, Landay was a district attorney. His legal experience shows in Defending Jacob. He portrays legal maneuvers and courtroom scenes like only an insider could.

 

Beyond its strength as a legal thriller, Defending Jacob is also a deeply touching portrait of parenting, married life and unconditional love. Landay forces us to consider how we might react if we were faced the truly unspeakable. Try the audiobook version, a truly excellent narration performed by Grover Gardner.

Zeke

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The Dance of the Two Sisters

The Dance of the Two Sisters

posted by:
May 11, 2012 - 1:01am

The Cranes DanceCranes really do dance.  But instead of the bird kingdom, The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey explores the world of professional ballet and the relationship between Kate and Gwen Crane, two dancers who are also sisters.  They have always had a “professional” rivalry – Kate more lively and dramatic, Gwen stronger on technique.  When Gwen suffers a nervous breakdown, Kate scrambles to keep her own life on track and also to figure out where her sister’s life derailed.   As the past unfolds, it becomes clear that the sisters’ story is also a “dance”: Kate tried to ignore the signs that all was not well, even as Gwen’s idiosyncrasies became more disturbing. 

 

Why is this book intriguing?  It’s straightforward but well written.  Howrey, herself a professional dancer, adds plenty of details to the practical life situation of a dancer trying to make it to the top in New York City.  Dancers crammed into studio apartments, putting themselves through punishing classes and instructors, constantly scoping out the competition in other students…it’s a tough existence.  Yet even knowing more about the harsh realities of the ballet world and how slight the chance is of having a successful career, for dance lovers it still seems…magical.  There’s still that pull. 

 

Also keeping the reader engaged is Kate’s narrative.  It is at times sarcastic, even abrasive, but also funny.   As an added bonus, several ballet plots are outlined (complete with dry humor) and wrapped into the story.  As the book evolves, Kate comes to her own understanding about the relationship between herself, her sister and her profession.   For fans of the film Black Swan, here’s a story with psychological depth and a slightly more hopeful ending. 

Melanie

 
 

The Next Jason Bourne

The Next Jason Bourne

posted by:
May 8, 2012 - 12:30pm

The ExpatsMove over Jason Bourne--there’s a hot new spy in town!  Praised by Patricia Cornwell and John Grisham among others, The Expats by Chris Pavone is this spring’s hottest debut spy thriller.  As this fast-paced story unravels secret after secret, readers are taken along on an exhilarating ride through Europe.

 

Kate Moore has always kept her CIA career from her husband Dexter.  When Dexter is offered a lucrative new job, Kate quits the CIA and the family moves to Luxembourg.  As Kate settles into her new life as an expat housewife, Dexter begins to change.  He becomes withdrawn and evasive.  When they meet a new couple, Julia and Bill Maclean, Kate begins to think that everything isn’t as it seems.  Is her old life catching up with her?  She begins to look behind the façade of her new life and finds that things are not what they seem to be, especially at home. 

 

Pavone wrote The Expats after his family moved to Luxembourg for his wife’s work.  He gave up his job as a book editor and ghostwriter and spent his time exploring, caring for their two sons, and writing a blog (http://www.chrispavone.blogspot.com/) about his life as a househusband in Luxembourg. That blog eventually evolved into a novel, but he thought it was too boring.  His solution: add a spy or two! The movie rights to The Expats sold soon after Pavone got his book deal, so a film version may be in the works.  Is Kate Moore the next Jason Bourne?  Try this thriller and judge for yourself.

Beth

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A Grown-up Ghost Story

A Grown-up Ghost Story

posted by:
May 7, 2012 - 1:00am

The Haunting of Maddy ClareSometimes, nothing beats a good spooky story; the kind of tale that might make you turn the light on in a dark hallway before you go upstairs, or maybe double check that your doors are locked before you head off to bed. Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare is a ghost story with a romantic twist. Struggling to make ends meet, quiet Sarah Piper accepts an unusual assignment through her temp agency in post WWI London. Her job? Assist war-scarred ghost hunters Alistair Gellis and sidekick Matthew Ryder who are investigating the spirit of a servant girl who committed suicide in a countryside barn.  It just so happens that this particular spirit despises men, necessitating Sarah’s involvement in both communicating with Maddy Clare and solving the mystery of her death.

 

St. James’ writing style is lovely in this, her debut novel, and her choice of words and phrasing easily evoke the early twentieth century as narrated by Sarah.  The author is as skilled in describing rural England or some stylish period women’s wear as she is relaying the frightening atmosphere in the haunted barn or the suspicion of the chilly villagers. Unlike last summer’s supernatural-themed hit, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, this story is often creepy and sinister and has more in common with 2009’s Booker shortlisted The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  A page-turner to the end, pick up The Haunting of Maddy Clare knowing this one will be difficult to put down.

Lori

 
 

J. K. Rowling’s Next Big Project

J. K. Rowling’s Next Big Project

posted by:
May 4, 2012 - 4:01am

The Casual VacancyJ. K. Rowling and her publisher Little, Brown, and Company have announced that they will publish The Casual Vacancy, her first novel for adults, on September 27, 2012.  With Rowling’s legion of fans, this novel is sure to be an instant bestseller.

 

The Casual Vacancy will be a very different novel from Rowling’s successful Harry Potter series.  Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly, leaving his seat on the Pagford parish council open.  The election to fill his vacancy causes an all-out war that tears apart the quiet English town.   This thought-provoking dark comedy will surprise readers. This is Rowling’s first novel published since her worldwide bestselling Harry Potter series, which have sold 450 million copies and have been translated into 74 languages.  The books became a worldwide phenomenon with children and adults alike.   The series was also adapted into an extremely popular film franchise.  As Harry Potter’s popularity grew, the phenomenon branched out into merchandising and even a Harry Potter theme park in Orlando called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

 

Rowling has also announced that she has be working with Sony to launch Pottermore, a website dedicated to giving fans an interactive Harry Potter experience.  Pottermore will include exclusive content about the world of Harry Potter that fans won’t be able to access anywhere else.  To find out more about Pottermore, go to http://www.pottermore.com/.  The Harry Potter series is now available in e-book format through BCPL.   

Beth

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Cozies and Kitties

Cozies and Kitties

posted by:
May 4, 2012 - 3:01am

Copycat KillingThe Cat, the Wife, and the WeaponA Killer ReadCozy mysteries do their best to appeal to cat lovers, and some recent releases will definitely introduce you to some friendly felines.

 

Sofie Kelly is back with Copycat Killing featuring librarian Kathleen Paulson and her two magical cats, Own and Hercules.  In this particular outing, Kathleen is helping some local artists rescue their artwork when a deluge threatens to flood their studio. Unfortunately for one of the artists, they may have created their last piece. This is the second in the series, following Curiosity Thrilled the Cat. Penguin is republishing the first of the series as part of their “Read Humane” campaign, and donating $25,000 to the Humane Society’s Animal Rescue Team, for the prevention of cruelty towards animals.

 

The newest Cats in Trouble mystery is set in Mercy, South Carolina and features quilter Jillian Hart. Jillian is searching for her friend Tom, who has gone missing. Meanwhile, Tom’s half-brother moves into his house and proceeds to lose his diabetic cat.  The Cat, the Wife, and the Weapon, written by Leann Sweeney, also features a trio of cats as well as a rat terrier helping to solve the mystery. This is the fourth in the Cats in Trouble series.

 

A Killer Read is the beginning of a new series by Erika Chase and features Lizzie Turner and the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society.  When the Society gathers in a Southern mansion for their book club meeting, the members find themselves embroiled in an actual mystery when a stranger is shot with an antique gun.  References to well-known mystery novels abound and readers meet a unique pair of cats named Edam and Brie. 

 

So cuddle up with someone you love, either the two-footed or four-footed variety, and read one of these great new cozies.  You will be glad you did!

Doug

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