Thursday, July 23, 2009

Everything Matters!

Ron Currie Jr's second novel, Everything Matters!, recently came out. And let me tell you, it's well worth reading. Junior Thibodeau has been encoded in utero with the knowledge that the world will be obliterated by a comet in 36 years. With this knowledge ever present, Junior lives his life as best he can. He's something of an alcoholic like his mother. His brother is a star ball player for the Cubs, and his hard-working father gets cancer. Bleak, I tell you, but this book is not bleak. Mr. Currie handles the Doom of us all with humor and a humanist touch. The story challenges the reader in many ways. It is told from the perspective of multiple characters, and some of Junior's story is told by the beings who gave him the burden of knowing how and when the earth will be destroyed. Part of the story plays out amid the political endgame of a planet realizing its doom. There are some amazing plot twists I won't talk about. But know that if you're willing to go along for the ride, it is a beautiful ride. Everything Matters! is a visceral, breathtaking novel. When I finished it, I sat in the chair, looking up at the clouds, at the birds, at the airplanes flying overhead, and believed in the title's truth. This is a book, a story, that lingers deliciously. I highly recommend this one. It would bring up some very interesting talk in a book club, that's for sure.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jackie's July Picks

Building A Home With My Husband by Rachel Simon

It's a wonder that Rachel and her husband, Hal, are together at all--they are very different people. Rachel is a writer and an advocate for people with disabilities with an admitted problem with physical things like the third dimension. Hal is an architect who designs the physical world and a musician who creates his own world. These two dated/lived together for 13 years, broke up for 6 years, and
then, finally, got married. Then their house got burglarized, prompting at first the need to move, but that was just not affordable in the current economy. So they decided on a green renovation. This of course results in all the expected trauma and drama--though theirs
goes to an extreme not experienced by many (I don't want to spoil it for you). But the interesting thing about this book is that it's not only the house that gets renovated--it's Rachel and Hal and who they are together that goes through the most amazing overhaul. This book is full of insights and philosophical ponderings about the relationships of people to each other, their geographic place, their material things, their memories and much more. It certainly has its funny moments, but don't be fooled by them--this is a book with great depth.

How Shall I Tell The Dog? by Miles Kington

This is the last work of British author and humorist Miles Kington, an editor for Punch, writer and reviewer for the London Times and columnist for 22 years in The Independent. Written as a series of letters to his agent, Kington explores the many ways to "cash in on cancer" with book ideas, displaying great grace and humor while staring down pancreatic cancer with less than a year to live. It's gallows humor to an extent, but very creative and very British, and shows the indomitable nature of the man. For instance, at one point he declares that one of the 100 things he wants to do before he dies is learn to whistle with two fingers in his mouth. Another idea was, as his last literary effort, to write "Cancer, the IFAQs" (infrequently asked questions), featuring
such topics as 'Who is the patron saint of cancer' (after all there is one for everything else, right?) or 'Do people who are born under the sign of Cancer actually suffer more from cancer than people born under other signs?'. Serious issues are addressed as well, but always in a light tone, making this a book of many laughs and very few tears, though much regret that such a charming voice is no more.

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen

44 year old Alice was sick. Months of tests and doctor's exams left her with a portfolio of diagnosis--early menopause, a bladder disorder, middle age loss of muscle tone, a malformed reproductive system because of her mother's use of DES, sore breasts from wearing underwire bras, anemia, depression, and a large lump in her lower abdomen. Finally a new doctor sends her to the hospital for an emergency CAT scan and the real problem is revealed--Alice is 6 months pregnant (despite having an internal exam by her gyn just 4 weeks before who somehow missed the fact there was a baby in there). Which is a REAL problem given all of the medications she's been taking, no pre-natal care until that point, her age and the condition of her uterus. Her story is horrifying--a litany of medical malpractice and callous behavior that ran a chill up and down my spine. Her agony is palpable and haunting. You won't forget her story.

Last Light Over Carolina by Mary Alice Monroe

This new novel by the author of Time Is A River takes us to the coast of South Carolina and into the world of the shrimping industry, hit hard by the current economy and imports of foreign shrimp to American markets. It's the story of Bud and Carolina, whose decades of marriage is on shaky ground. It's also the story of a down on its luck town who, when emergency strikes, pulls together and takes care of its own while forgetting all the rivalries and resentments and worries that generally plague them. The story moves back and forth between the present and scenes from Bud and Carolina's past, giving depth and background to the characters to this well told story.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Attention Paranormal Romance Fans!

Are you having Buffy withdrawal? Well, if so, I've got a new book for you!

Death's Daughter by Amber Benson.

This book came out earlier this year, but recently caught my attention because it's written by Amber Benson, the actress who played Tara on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer television series, of which I am a fan. I had to see how she did.

The verdict--pretty darn good. Calliope Reaper-Jones had run away from the family business, going so far as to put a Forgetting Charm on herself so she could be "normal". The charm is broken by her father's assistant who comes to find her when her father, sister, and the whole
board of Death, Inc. are kidnapped. Calli is the only one who can help find them--if she's able to complete the tasks to become Death in her father's absence. This is a very readable book with lots of interesting twists and turns and plenty of creativity. It's the first
of a planned series.

It's a bit gorey at times, and there is some sex talk, but nothing worse than what anyone with cable is seeing in prime time really. I think this will be a great recommend for fans of Charleine Harris, Kim Harrison, Mary Ann Davidson or Kim Harrison--in other words, folks who like some funny with their paranormal.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Jackie's June Picks!

I know, it's the 3rd of July, and therefore no longer June. But I'm just getting to posting Jackie's recommendations that came out in June. That should mean they are all here, waiting for you!

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Oh, this is a juicy one! This is about witches--modern day and those involved in the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s, a debut novel written by one of the descendants of those witches who dreamed this story up while studying for her PhD qualifying exams in American and New
England Studies in Boston.

The main character, Connie Goodwin, stumbles upon an amazing thing while cleaning out her grandmother's long neglected house and working on her dissertation proposal near Salem. She discovers a name--Deliverance Dane--mysteriously hidden in an old Bible and her investigation of who that was leads her to the possibility of finding a New England grimoire, or spell book--something that has never before surfaced, and the suspicion that Deliverance Dane was one of the undocumented Salem witches. With the help of some new friends, including her advisor, who seems unduly obsessed with the possibility of this discovery, Connie goes on a wild ride through nearly 400 years of history to find secrets long buried that have a more personal connection to her than she ever dreamed.

This is a wonderful, fast-moving, yet scholarly, book that weaves fact and fiction seamlessly into a tale that you will not be able to put down. It moves back and forth in time, feeding you pieces of the puzzle and introducing many strong women characters throughout. To say this book is well researched is a vast understatement. Howe is one HECK of a storyteller!

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Sit up and take notice vampire fans, there is a new dynamic duo writing a spine tingling, fast paced and very smart trilogy that's going to hit the genre like a storm. "The Strain" is the first book in the series and sets up the concept of what amounts to a biological attack by a rogue master vampire on the human race, starting in NYC. The main humans that are fighting it are two doctors from the CDC, an old holocaust survivor who has been tracking this particular vampire all of his life, and an exterminator who specializes in rats. It's an interesting collection that works very, very well. The momentum of this book is relentless--by the second night of the infection, you won't be able to put it down. It's going to be a frustrating wait until this time next year for the second book to come out!

Sworn To Silence by Linda Castillo

There's a new name in the thriller category, but she fits right in with the heavy hitting veterans who have read a praised her amazing debut. The lead character is unforgettable--Kate Burkholder is the chief of police in the small Ohio town where she grew up, though Kate the child and Kate the woman are vastly different. Violence and trauma took away Kate's young Amish innocence and made her the tough "English" (the term the Amish use for the non-Amish) cop she is today.
But is she tough enough to stop a brutal serial killer terrifying her town, especially since the new murders have echoes in them from her past? Add a burned-out BCI agent and a cast of characters rife with small town quirks and you get a fantastic, page turning, electrifying read.

Do be warned that there are some rather graphic descriptions and some harsh language in this book, so those sensitive to that sort of thing should probably stay away.

Castillo has garnered praise already from the likes of Sandra Brown, Lisa Scottoline, Chelsea Cain, Alex Kava and C.J. Box. I think all of their fans will love this book, and I'd throw in Lisa Gardner and Lisa Unger into that mix as well. (What is it about the name Lisa and thriller writing, I wonder?) She's definitely going to be an author to keep our eye on.

Goat Song by Brad Kessler

Writer Brad Kessler and his photographer wife, Dona, had a successful Manhattan life, but longed for the country: for fresh air and the chance to grow their own food. At last they found the perfect place in Vermont, and decided to become dairy farmers--specifically goats. They string fencing over a 3 acre square, refab an old chicken coop into a barn, and buy their first 4 goats. And so the adventure
begins. And what an adventure it is. This is a love story between human and animal, past and present, earth and food. Kessler has an eye for detail in his storytelling that lets you hear the soft "talking" of the goats, smell the hay, feel the sun on your face and the cool forest breeze on your skin. And while there is plenty of the nitty gritty of life with goats (manure and hormones, antics and worries), there is also the joy of being there when a man realizes his dream as his first tomme of cheese glistens from it's mold in perfection and promise on a warm summer night. It's the cold but mesmerizing trek through snow covered woods trying to figure out where a coyote went. It's helping your neighbors just because you can, and savoring the spice of food grown, picked and cooked with your own two hands. I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert

This new novel by renowned author Kate Walbert gives us glimpses into the lives of 5 related women over four generations. It begins in England in 1914 when Dorothy Townsend chooses to starve herself to death in the name of women's suffrage, leaving her two children
orphaned. So begins the legacy of how this family's women deal with what was called in the 19th century, "The Woman Question". Bouncing about in time to show various vignettes between the women and their families over the years, it's a fascinating study of society's treatment of women and their various reactions to it over the past hundred years or so.

Once Dead,Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison is the author of the very popular adult paranormal fiction series known as "The Hollows". She's trying her funny charm and fiendish imagination on the teenage crowd now, still dealing with what I at least would call paranormal beings--angels. It's a very
complex world full of Time Keepers (humans who can bend time and control angels), Dark Reapers (angels who scythe humans when fate says it's their time) and Light Reapers (angels who try to prevent that fate from happening), Guardian Angels of various aptitudes, and more. Madison has learned all of this since she was scythed on the night of the junior prom, but there were some complications with all of that. The Dark Reaper went rogue and stole her body, but she managed to steal his amulet (a kind of power source) which has left her soul on Earth and given her the illusion of a body so that no one but the angels actually know she's dead. The whole book is a cat and mouse game of them trying to find each other and take back what was stolen from them. I think this is a fine start to a new series that should capture teen-age interest, let alone please Harrison's mighty legion of fans.

The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner

A young woman, blond and beautiful, disappears from her home one night, leaving her 4 year old child alone, a possible witness to whatever may have happened. The husband, who works nights, is immediately suspected of some sort of foul play, especially since he is uncooperative with the police after reporting his wife's disappearance several hours after he discovered it. It's true that he's hiding something, but it's not what the police think. This is a book of many levels of intrigue and mystery, well written and fast paced with plenty of surprises.

A Thread of Truth by Marie Bostwick

This is a sweet story, apparently second in a series about the women involved in a quilt shop, though it stands alone just fine. This one is about a woman, Ivy, on the run with
her kids from an abusive husband. After a couple of years of drifting, she finds a true home in the small Connecticut town of New Bern, and a job she's good at: taking care of internet orders for the quilt shop. One day the shop is filmed for an upcoming television special and Ivy is accidentally caught on tape. Her husband comes after her and Ivy learns the true value of her co-workers and friends as she fights for her new life and the freedom and safety she wants for her family. This is very much a female power/bonding sort of novel, with a bit of religion mixed in without a lot of fanfare. Fans of Kate Jacobs and Earlene Fowler will certainly embrace this series whole-heartedly. It would also make a fine book club read.