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Arrangements Made

Arrangements Made

posted by:
July 27, 2012 - 8:00am

ArrangedBestselling Canadian author Catherine McKenzie’s second novel, Arranged, is now available in the US, and it’s one that chick lit readers will not want to miss.

Anne Shirley Blythe is named after the character from Anne of Green Gables because her mother is obsessed with the series. Anne reasons that because she is named after a romantic heroine, it’s only natural that she would want her own happily ever after. She has a lot of great things going for her. She has good friends and a loving family. She’s a successful writer who is about to have her first book published. Unfortunately, Anne has a history of disastrous relationships. She keeps getting involved with the wrong men, and she begins to see that they are a lot alike. 

 

After another failed relationship, Anne finds a business card for Blythe & Company, which she thinks is a dating service. The card simply says “arrangements made.” When her best friend gets engaged, Anne makes a momentous decision and calls the number on the card. That’s when she learns that Blythe & Company is not a dating service as she had imagined. It’s an arranged marriage service. Anne finds herself going through the process and is soon on her way to a resort in Mexico to marry a man named Jack who she will meet the day before their wedding. That’s just the beginning of the story, though. 

 

What follows is a story about learning the difference between what you think you want and what you truly need. McKenzie has a real talent for creating characters with depth. Arranged is by turns funny, honest, and heartbreaking. Just when you think you know where the story is going, a plot twist changes everything!

 

Beth

 
 

A Cautionary Tale

A Cautionary Tale

posted by:
July 24, 2012 - 8:00am

GetawayIn Getaway by Lisa Brackmann, we meet recently widowed Michelle Mason, at loose ends due to her late husband’s disastrous financial dealings that left her almost penniless. They had a pre-arranged vacation planned in Puerto Vallarta and Michelle decides to head there for a short vacation. One night, she meets a handsome stranger named Daniel and after too many margaritas she invites him to spend the night in her hotel room. By morning, the hotel has been broken into by two masked goons who seem to have a grudge with Daniel. Michelle tries to return home, but a mysterious “package” is planted in her handbag and she is forced to stay in Mexico. She is rescued by Gary, who has some connection to Daniel and appears to be in possession of her passport. Gary forces Michelle into a dangerous game of espionage and it soon becomes apparent that she has no one she can trust. For a widow alone in Mexico, what is a woman to do?

 

Brackmann creates a wonderfully wild and incredibly readable thriller with Getaway. The setting and descriptions of Puerto Vallarta make this a perfect summer read for sitting on a beach or the balcony of a cruise ship. The suspense builds quickly and intensifies to the point where the reader will need to turn the pages quickly to get to the end. Michelle is a likeable heroine, with enough pluck and vigor to be able to weasel out of dire situations. Getaway is great for readers who like to follow a strong female who refuses the role of victim. 

Doug

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Morality Tale

Morality Tale

posted by:
July 23, 2012 - 8:45am

The LifeboatThe relationship between strong leadership and survival in an emergency are at the core of The Lifeboat, the debut novel by Charlotte Rogan. Speaking up, taking a stand, and following through with decisive action are usually recognized as qualities of an effective leader in a crisis situation. However, when the people you lead are adrift at sea on an overcrowded lifeboat, sometimes holding your tongue can be more effective.

 

The Lifeboat begins in a courtroom. Twenty-two-year-old Grace Winter is on trial, along with two other women, for a crime yet to be revealed. The story unfolds as Grace tells it, through alternating narratives of the current trial and her journaling of the three weeks spent in a lifeboat after the sinking of a luxury ocean liner in the Atlantic, two years after the sinking of the Titanic. Thirty-nine people are adrift in the filled-past-capacity boat, and the claustrophobic conditions only add to the mental anguish of the survivors. A power struggle between the sole crew member onboard and a strong-willed female passenger seethes beneath the surface of the group. 

 

All of the usual survival story arcs are at play here—lack of food and water, beating down of the sun, reliance on wind and weather-- but Rogan skillfully pushes these into the background. The true heart of the story is the survival of a sense of society and morality. Initially, the men take charge and make decisions for the group. As the days stretch on without rescue, the balance of power begins to shift. The women, led by the deceptively matron-like Mrs. Grant, soon take matters into their own hands. How will these actions be judged upon rescue?

 

The idea for The Lifeboat came to Rogan from an old criminal court case involving two soldiers who survived a shipwreck and found themselves floating on a plank that would only support one of them. Is it murder to ensure the survival of some rather than the probable death of all? Readers who enjoy survival stories like Jamrach’s Menagerie or psychological dramas like Room will read this in one sitting.  

  

Sam

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Thriller Award Winners Announced

Spiral11/22/63Winners of the 2012 Thriller Awards were recently honored at a gala held by the International Thriller Writers. Recipients included some old favorites as well as some newcomers.

Cornell physics professor Paul McEuen won the award for Best First Novel for his smart new techno-thriller Spiral. When Nobel laureate and nanoscience expert Liam Connor is found dead at the bottom of a gorge, neither his colleague Jake nor his granddaughter Maggie believe that his death was a suicide. They begin to search for answers and find encoded messages from Liam that divulge his secret knowledge of a biological weapon called “Uzumaki” (Japanese for spiral) dating back to World War II. Jake and Maggie must join together to search for the killer and stop a deadly terrorist attack.

 

Stephen King’s 11/22/63 took the award for Best Hard Cover Novel. Jake Epping finds out that the storeroom at a local diner is a portal to 11:58 a.m. on September 9, 1958. Jake agrees to take go back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination to honor a friend’s dying wish. After going back in time, he embarks on a new life as George Amberson in a small Texas town near Dallas and falls in love with a woman named Sadie. As 11/22/63, the date in question, draws closer, Jake races to stop the assassination. Can he really change history?

 

Other honorees included fan favorites Jack Higgins, Ann Rule, and Richard North Patterson. The complete list of winners is available here.

 

Beth

 
 

Beltway Underbelly

Beltway Underbelly

posted by:
July 20, 2012 - 8:00am

The 500Matthew Quirk’s first novel, The 500, refers to the elite men and women who really control Washington D.C. and therefore the world. One man involved with these power players is Mike Ford, a young recent law school graduate. Mike was recruited while at Harvard Law School to join the Davies Group, Washington’s most powerful consulting firm. Mike’s job has him rubbing shoulders with the members of this selective circle which contrasts wildly with his upbringing spent in the realm of small-time con men.

 

As a child, Mike’s father taught him the intrinsic lessons of grifting, identifying marks, and manipulation. Mike wanted out and knew his best chance was through education. Hard work in college and law school was his ticket to the straight and narrow – or so he thought. He soon learns that crooks transcend social strata and becomes embroiled in a high stakes con game. As Mike ascends the Davies Group’s hierarchy, he gradually realizes that his employer is supporting a sinister political conspiracy. 

 

This thrilling debut offers political intrigue, fast-paced action, humor, and a likeable and strong leading man. As a former reporter for Atlantic Magazine, Quirk nails the details of the politics and setting of Washington D.C. and is being hailed as the next John Grisham. The 500 will have international appeal as it has already been translated into twenty languages and Quirk is hard at work on a sequel. Additionally, movie rights were sold just days after the book, so put your casting cap on as you read this potential future blockbuster!

 

Maureen

 
 

An Aching Howl

An Aching Howl

posted by:
July 17, 2012 - 7:00am

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeFragile tendrils of emotion swirl together in an attempt to mend the brokenhearted in Carol Rifka Brunt’s stirring debut, Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Set in mid-1980s New York, this coming of age story unfolds against a burgeoning AIDS epidemic and a teenager’s tender awakening to love, loss, and acceptance.

 

June Elbus is a shy, medieval history-loving fourteen-year-old who likes to dress up and retreat to the woods to escape reality. When her beloved uncle, the renowned artist Finn Weiss, dies from AIDS, June is devastated.  Her preoccupied parents prefer not to discuss the reasons he ended up with the illness. Her mother regrets her own missed opportunities at being an artist, while her father seeks simply to keep the family peace. June and her older sister, once inseparable, are now estranged. Even Finn's final gift, a portrait of June and Greta titled "Tell the Wolves I'm Home," turns out to be as complex as the sisters' relationship.

 

Vulnerable and grieving, June begins meeting secretly with her uncle's partner, Toby. Their tentative relationship, eked out of neediness and curiosity in the beginning, evolves into a heartfelt friendship that leads each to understand better the man they both loved, whether or not that love was appropriate. Soul searching never comes without revelations, and Toby and June are confronted with the reality that one never truly belongs to any one person.

 

In June's voice, Brunt lays bare her characters, including Finn, who even in death remains the catalyst for what lies ahead.  An emotionally wrought, thoughtfully rendered work that tackles the issues of the day - AIDS and forbidden relationships, Brunt's story reaches into a reservoir of understanding and compassion that is the ultimate requiem for a loved one.

 

Cynthia

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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

posted by:
July 16, 2012 - 9:05am

The Song Remains the SameIn Allison Winn Scotch’s The Song Remains the Same, Nell Slattery wakes from a coma in an Iowa hospital to find that she remembers nothing about her life. She is one of only two survivors of a plane crash. Her mother, sister, husband, and best friend are there to tell her about the life she has forgotten, but Nell soon begins to think that the perfect life they tell her about isn’t real. Each of them has an agenda, and they are all telling her half-truths and rewriting her past. 

 

Nell has to choose between starting her life with a clean slate and searching for her past. She wants to believe that she can use this opportunity to reboot her life and become the new, fabulous Nell. She doesn’t want to be the tightly-wound woman whose life was filled with neutral colors and old resentments. Nell’s sister Rory gives her an iPod with a playlist called The Best of Nell Slattery, all songs that played important roles in her life. The music helps Nell catch glimmers of her memory. Eventually, her memory begins to return, and she believes that if she can find the truth about her father, a famous painter who abandoned her family to live as a recluse, she will be able to put together the pieces of her life. Nell finds that the more family secrets she unearths, the more confused she becomes.

 

The Song Remains the Same is a story of self-discovery, healing, and forgiveness. It is by turns funny and heartbreaking. Allison Winn Scotch creates a memorable character whose emotional journey will leave readers wondering if any of us ever really change. If everything that you know about your life disappeared today, could you choose to be someone new or would you inevitably be the same person you were before?

 

Beth

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The Good Wife

The Good Wife

posted by:
July 16, 2012 - 8:30am

The Cottage at Glass BeachIf you can’t be on the sandy shores this summer, take a virtual trip with Heather Barbieri as she transports readers to the magical world of Maine’s Burke’s Island in The Cottage at Glass Beach. Nora Cunningham was born on the island, but at age 5 left with her father for Boston following her mother’s disappearance. 

 

Today at 40, Nora is dealing with the fallout from her Attorney General husband’s scandalous affair which has created a media sensation. She gratefully accepts her Aunt Maire’s invitation to return to the beautiful island of her birth with her two daughters, Annie and Ella. While her aunt is happy to have her back, not all of the residents are so welcoming. The silence surrounding her mom’s disappearance creates a dark current throughout the story as Nora tries to fill in the blanks. The slow pace of the island allows Nora to gradually figure out her new life post-husband. She is able to gather pieces of the puzzle that is her past while embarking on a new romance with a mysterious shipwrecked sailor who is suffering from amnesia. 

 

Barbieri’s Burke Island is as mysterious as it is picturesque. It is rich with Gaelic roots and traditions which make it easy for the reader to accept the touches of magic sprinkled throughout. Nora is a delightful character as are the supporting cast, especially her daughters and Aunt Maire. Barbieri includes fairy tale elements mixed with real life family drama and manages to create a truly magical place and a beautifully written story.      

Maureen

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Distant Love

Distant Love

posted by:
July 13, 2012 - 9:30am

The NewlywedsThe new book by Nell Freudenberger is a quiet, understated novel about home, loss, sacrifice and love. The Newlyweds is the story of an unusual marriage in which both husband and wife attempt to find happiness in a relationship that is different than either imagined. George and Amina enter the marriage with very different assumptions, hopes and dreams.

 

George meets Amina through an online dating site, AsianEuro.com while she is a young woman, coming of age in Bangladesh and he is a fairly conventional suburban man in Rochester, New York. After beginning a friendship online and corresponding for nearly one year, they decide to marry. George goes to Bangladesh to meet his new bride. Shortly thereafter, Amina leaves her village and begins her new life in Rochester. With only a basic grasp of English, she struggles to fit in. Slowly, she begins to carve out a life for herself. She also learns a more nuanced version of English, in which she’s finally able to discern sarcasm.

 

With her unadorned prose and keen eye for detail, Freudenberger does an excellent job of describing suburban life through the lens of this young Bangladeshi woman. Life in the United States is different than Amina imagined. She sincerely wants to belong and make this new life work for her but she also mourns the loss of her home, her culture and the life she might have had in Bangladesh. Her relationship with her parents is especially difficult. She tries to both take care of them and convince them that she’s really ok, all from thousands of miles away.

 

The Newlyweds works beautifully as both an immigrant story and an unconventional, heartbreaking love story. Amina is compelling character that stays with the reader long after the last sentence has been read. The Newlyweds would be an excellent choice for fans of Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy or Monica Ali.

 

Zeke

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A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

posted by:
July 13, 2012 - 8:45am

Afterwards“Motherhood isn't soft and cozy and sweet; it's selfish ferocity, red in tooth and claw.”

 

How far would you go to protect your child? In the novel Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton, Grace Covey is put to the ultimate test. She is attending sports day at her son’s school, and her seventeen year old daughter Jenny is on the top floor, working in the nurse’s office. The building catches fire and Grace races headlong into the building to save her daughter. She awakens in the hospital but all is not as it seems. She can see her body, in a coma, lying in a hospital bed, and quickly realizes that her daughter Jenny is in a similar situation, severely burned but also having an “out of body” experience. Both women are able to see and hear what is happening around them, but are unable to communicate with anyone but each other.

 

Grace witnesses her husband’s pain and his inability to connect with their younger son, Adam. Adam withdraws into himself since he has no one to comfort him. Grace’s sister-in-law Sarah is a police officer and when the cause of the fire turns out to be arson, Sarah starts working on the case to discover the culprit. Grace and Jenny are looking for answers and find themselves privy to conversations with people who don’t know they are there.

 

This is Lupton’s second novel, after her hugely popular Sister, and she truly creates a unique reading experience. The novel is written from Grace’s point of view, and although she is having a strange experience, the core of the novel is her fierce love for her children and her strong desire for answers. The novel works as a suspenseful mystery and at times is very dramatic and even heartbreaking.  Afterwards is also an interesting character study, and Lupton really shines in her character development. You get to know the Covey family and are very curious to follow Grace to the novel’s conclusion. Readers who enjoyed The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and mystery lovers are sure to enjoy this novel.  

Doug

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