Posts Tagged ‘Secrets’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Heidi B’s Picks

December 17, 2014

I am an eclectic reader, and 2014 saw my reading choices all over the map. I love grown-up chick lit (sometimes known as the more serious Women’s Fiction, or even domestic fiction), coming of age stories, and anything related to how the human body works. Below are my five choices for books I read in 2014 that made an impact on me; most are not new, but new to me. Happy reading!

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This is a terrific book that often is unfortunately labeled as a “teen novel.” Chboksy’s debut novel is a cult classic as well as being critically acclaimed; no easy feat. Anyone who navigated adolescence (uh, all of us) can relate to some aspect of Charlie, an awkward wallflower and high school freshman that no one seems to notice. Well-drawn characters, realistic dialogue, and a plot twist at the end all make for a classic.  See my full review.

The ShiftThe Shift by Tory Johnson
The subtitle of this book is, “How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life,” but this is not a “diet” book. This is one woman’s narrative on how she shifted her entire life, her way of eating, and her place in the world, all in one year. Oh, and by the way, lost the 70 pounds that had dogged her for 40 years. Everyone I know who has read this book has read this in one sitting; a couple of people I know and love have made major changes to their health due to this book. Hat’s off to Johnson for an inspirational read.  See my full review.

Wishin' and Hopin'Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb
Who doesn’t feel even a tiny bit nostalgic when seeing the endless running of “A Christmas Story” on cable TV? Come on, admit it: you do. Wishin’ and Hopin’ is a delightful Christmas tale by veteran storyteller Wally Lamb; a racier, edgier, more irreverent 1960’s version of the classic Red Rider BB Gun tale A Christmas Story. Set in 1960’s Connecticut and told through the eyes of 10-year-old Felix Funnicello (cousin to Annette), this is a delightful, coming of age story with a nostalgic twist.  See my full review.

The Story of the Human BodyThe Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, Disease by Daniel Lieberman
The history of our bodies, in terms of evolution, is a complex and fascinating subject. Lieberman is a Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology, as well as being a gifted writer. He tells the story of human evolution in a manner that is readable like a biography, and as compelling at times as any thriller. What made humans become bipedal? (hint: to see over tall grasses!) Why did we move from hunting and gathering our food, to farming it? What aspects of our development contributed (and continue to contribute) to diseases that plague us? Lieberman is a talented and popular science writer. What could have easily have become mired in jargon is explained for the layperson. A fascinating read.  See my full review.

The Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
The premise in The Husband’s Secret is: what would do if your husband had a deep, dark secret that might shatter your life, and like ripples in a pool, the lives of others? This is grown up chick lit with stories of lives that intersect told in alternating chapters. A sharper reader may pick up on how these women’s lives intersect, but I never saw it coming. The ending was a blockbuster.

Best New Books of 2014: Emil S’s Picks

December 2, 2014

When a book calls my name, I will not turn it down. Somehow, the books know how to find me.

No Place to Hide No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald
“Cincinnatus” was the alias Edward Snowden used when he contacted Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian and a former constitutional lawyer. Cincinnatus referred to a real life hero, a farmer who in ancient times defended Rome against foreign forces, and then voluntarily gave up absolute power and returned to life on the farm. Edward Snowden was a former National Security Agency contractor, and the revelations brought about by him altered the course of history. This book – a curious blend of real life thriller, lecture, moral-ethic discussion, and petition – shows how invasive U.S. surveillance capabilities have become, and what it means in a world in which people increasingly find and display their inner lives online.  See my full review.

War of the WorldsWar of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz
Whales and other marine mammals are under severe threat from a number of human activities, not the least mankind’s insistence on waging war and preparing for war. The navy use of sonar creates noise storms that again and again cause atypical mass strandings and deaths of whales. The U.S. government regulators have become captives “to the interests they’re supposed to police,” and it is up to individuals and private organizations to help protect life in the oceans. War of the Whales is the true story of how environmental law attorney Joel Reynolds (of NRDC), marine biologist Ken Balcomb, and many others did everything in their power in order to reduce deadly, man made noise pollution and save some of the magnificent creatures that humankind share this planet with.  See my full review.

Everything Leads to YouEverything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Emi’s goal is to become a set designer in Hollywood, and as an intern on a movie set, she visits the estate sale of a legendary Hollywood actor. When Emi and her best friend Charlotte find a letter hidden in the jacket of an LP, the two of them – without knowing the content of the letter – begin searching for the intended recipient. The mysterious letter leads her to the alluring Ava, and life begins to take on film-like qualities.  See my full review.

Cycle of LiesCycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur
If the mountains of Le Tour de France are the dragons of that particular classic, then the riders are the knights. And when Lance Armstrong started slaying and devouring these opponents he seemed to be living a real life heroic poem of epic proportions. Armstrong had bravely defeated a monstrous cancer, made a mind-boggling comeback, and then developed into one of the most revered and remarkable athletes in the world. However, the tale took a nightmarish turn as evidence of highly advanced and organized doping mounted. Here is the story of Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall as understood by New York Times journalist Juliet MacurSee my full review.

Little FailureLittle Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
American author Gary Shteyngart was born as Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad (now [again] St. Petersburg) in the Russian empire that went under the name of Soviet Union. When he was seven years old, Gary and his family moved to the United States as part of a Jews-for-grains swap between the two superpowers. The Shteyngarts ended up in Queens, New York, and life in the land of the free was not easy for a “Socialist” boy with a weird accent. This memoir investigates a troubled family’s adventures and misadventures in two cultures, and it is moving, poignant, and at times outrageously comical.  See my full review.

The Way the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie MacDonald

July 12, 2012

A sweet, dark, rich novel set in the Cold War era of rural Ontario, Canada and told through the eyes of Madeleine McCarthy, an eight year old To Kill a Mockingbird Scout-like character.

Madeleine is a smart, precocious child whose Royal Canadian Air Force father Jack is transferred from Germany to the barren Centralia Air Force Base, not exactly a plum posting. Jack is assigned to the base to watch a Soviet defector who is secreted into the United States to work on missiles, but Jack’s mission is undercover.

The amazing thing about this novel is that the structure is not static – it starts as a slow and innocent narrative, an almost idyllic portrayal of life in the 1960’s, as Madeleine describes rural military base life, her drop-dead gorgeous mother Mimi’s antics, and her protective older brother Mike. The plot darkens with the discovery of a child’s body in a barren field; with that, the novel becomes a becomes a twisty, labyrinth of secrets.

Madeleine hides from her parents a teacher who steals her innocence. Her father has his own secrets that threaten to destroy his family as well as national security. The ending, related through Madeleine’s adult eyes, is riveting and unexpected. Ultimately, this is a compelling novel about secrets, relationships, and coming of age violently in a topsy-turvy world.

Learn more about author Anne-Marie McDonald.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

June 26, 2012

When author Jennifer Miller contacted me through Goodreads to recommend that I read her book, she had clearly done her research. She’d seen how much I enjoyed Special Topics in Calamity Physics and figured that her debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly, would be right up my alley. Its part coming-of-age story set at a New England prep school, part mystery that spans 13 years and three perspectives, and all sinister secret societies, gothic architecture, and intrigue.

Iris’s recent loss of her best friend, not to mention being caught by her concerned parents while talking to her imaginary mentor, Edward R. Murrow, land her in a new school in a new town with a new start. Wanting to become a hard-nosed reporter, dedicated to discovering the truth and uncovering injustices in the world, Iris joins the school newspaper, The Oracle. Her pitches for stories are repeatedly rejected in favor of fluff pieces, and Iris begins to nose around into the reasons behind the cover ups and lies that seem so rampant at Mariana Academy.

The history of the school begins to unwind, slowly at first, and then more and more quickly. The story skips between Iris, her biology teacher Jonah Kaplan (a Mariana Academy alum), and Lily Morgan, a classmate of Jonah’s who grew up in the house that Iris’s family now rents. Jonah and Lily’s stories intertwine and skirt around the truth of what happened at Mariana 12 years before, leading to the death (or perhaps suicide?) of Jonah’s brother (and Lily’s boyfriend), Justin.

I don’t want to say much more and spoil anything for you, so pick this up and try it out for yourself. And if you enjoy this one, be sure to take a look at Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman and The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Family Album by Penelope Lively

December 23, 2009

Penelope Lively’s new book Family Album presents itself as the story of an old fashioned (or out of fashion) large family of six children, growing up at the family estate of Allersmead.  This family is certainly everything that the perpetually smiling matriarch Alison has ever wanted, as she frequently tells anyone who will listen ….. “this lovely big family and a lovely home…. What mattered was the family, always..”  Whether this was what her husband Charles wanted is a matter of conjecture, as Charles is remote, sarcastic and always holed up in his study, writing.  Charles is present in body at selected important family events but emotionally he is a black hole.  Ingrid is the inscrutable Swedish au pair who comes as a young woman to help Alision with her brood and is still there 35 years later.

As for the children, Paul, Gina, Sandra, Roger, Katie and Clare, they are marked in their own ways by the discrepancy between the picture perfect family presented to the world (and to the children themselves) and the reality behind the façade.  Adulthood finds them scattered across the globe and none have produced children, apparently not seduced by Alison’s vision of the importance of family.  They rarely visit Allersmead, with the exception of Paul, the eldest, who hasn’t really ever managed to leave.
Lively is a good writer, and prolific, but this novel certainly doesn’t break new ground, nor is it particularly compelling.  A couple of secrets are revealed towards the end, but only the necessity of writing this blog entry caused me to finish the book. If you like books about the changing roles of women, about families and contemporary society in general, however, this unchallenging read may fit the bill.

Click here to find this book in our catalog.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

December 16, 2009

This novel does not open with “It was a dark and stormy night…”, but it certainly would be an apt beginning.  A modern day Gothic, The Thirteenth Tale is ripe with secrets, suspicions, dark  rooms, howling storms and a mysterious past.

Books are Margaret Lea’s life.  She was written a few minor biographies, and spends much of her life assisting her father with his antiquarian book shop.  She prides herself in reading works of ‘value’, not popular fiction.  Vida Winter is the most popular of British authors.  She is famous for a number of popular novels, none of which Margaret has read.  Therefore, when Winter contacts her, requesting that Margaret write her definitive biography, Margaret is very reluctant.

After agreeing to consider the project, Margaret begins to investigate Winter.  She finds that over the years Vida Winter has given various accounts of her life.  And, she finds one of Winter’s book in her father’s shop entitled The Thirteenth Tale, which has only twelve stories.  Her interest peaked, Margaret ventures to Winter’s isolated estate to begin the work.  After a lifetime of secrecy, Vida Winter is ready to tell the truth about her life.  However, she is only willing to do it her own way, and in her own time.  She convinces Margaret to stay in her house and to hear her story.  Slowly, Margaret begins to realize that the secrets are not just in Winter’s past, they are in her house.

In the best style of du Maurier and the Bronte sisters, The Thirteenth Tale is a delightful, if slightly dark and spooky, novel.  Setterfield is a former professor of French literature.   The Thirteenth Tale is her debut novel.  I think you will look forward to her second book, due out next year.  I certainly do!

Click here to find this book in our catalog.


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