ToBeRead Tuesday!

It’s Tuesday! The best day of the week for book lovers!

(I plan to make this a weekly thing, FYI).

In case you didn’t know it, most books are released for sale on Tuesdays. So, every Tuesday of every week of the year (except for maybe those years when Christmas falls on Tuesday), a bunch of books are released into the world. Authors’ hopes and dreams — their deepest thoughts and darkest secrets and most imaginative ideas — are let loose on the public. Many hold their breath, waiting to see how their endeavors will be received by the reading and critiquing public.

Today is a great day for new books, and also a tough day for me. There are soo-many-great-books  released today, and I’m having a tough time getting through them all!!!

Here are the ones I’ve highlighted to read:

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran. The story of a young boy loved by two women. One is his biological, undocumented mother; the other, his foster mother, a woman unable to have her own children. Haunting and lovely, a story of true love breaking hearts.

 

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

 

The Dry by Jane Harper. This one is getting A LOT of attention on many must-read lists. It’s next for me!

“I was surprised to realize that The Dry was Jane Harper’s debut novel. The writing is fantastic, and the plot – where many mystery/thrillers fall short these days – was completely unpredictable in the best ways possible. Federal Agent, Aaron Faulk, returns to his hometown in Australia to mourn, and inevitably investigate, his best friend’s apparent suicide. What comes next is a series of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way until the end. I repeatedly found myself shocked and pulled in by Harper’s fast paced and engrossing writing. Truly a fantastic read and hopefully the first of many to come from Ms. Harper.” –Penny Mann, The Amazon Book Review

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik. A high stakes drama set against the harsh beauty of the Maine wilderness, charting the journey of four friends as they fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident, The River at Night is a nonstop and unforgettable thriller by a stunning new voice in fiction.

 

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson. The author of the wildly popular The Kind Worth Killing returns with an electrifying and downright Hitchcockian psychological thriller—as tantalizing as the cinema classics Rear Window and Wait Until Dark—involving a young woman caught in a vise of voyeurism, betrayal, manipulation, and murder.

 

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian.  (What I’m reading now!) When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge. The morning of Annalee’s disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee’s husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs’ Victorian home. As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee’s disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body?

SEE! This is why my TBR list grows sooo out of control!!! So many great books this week (most of them mysteries, at least on my list). I’ve got to go so I can GET READING!!!

 

Quick Reads + CRM Review: Lisa Gardner’s “The 4th Man”

If you read like me, there are times you want something good to read but don’t have the time to read a full novel. Or maybe you want a little more information about something than what you get from a newspaper or magazine article, or just a non-fiction essay. But you don’t want to or don’t have time for 300+ pages.

This is why I keep a stock of Kindle Singles on my Kindle. Sometimes these get printed, but, more often, they’re only available in digital form, or as an inexpensive audio book. The beauty of them is that they’re cheap (digital versions are usually under $3) and quick.

Lately, my favorites of the Kindle Singles are written by well known mystery/thriller writers. John Grisham, Chris Bohjalian, David Baldacci, Lee Child . . . they all have good ones available. Other fiction writers, as well. Diana Gabaldon, Debbie Macomber, Jodi Picoult. They all have them waiting for you to read.

A lot of times these quick stories are “and then what happened?” stories. Sometimes they’re “what else happened?” stories. And, every once and awhile, they’re “what happened between books?” Sometimes they seem to be stories that just didn’t fit into a book. USUALLY they come out a month or two before a new novel.

And I love them. They often remind me why I like the characters or get me psyched to read something new.

So that’s why I love Kindle Singles. Let me tell you about my latest favorite: Lisa Gardner’s The 4th Man.

Combining the characters from her books, Gardner writes a compelling little story of Boston detective D.D. Warren coming together with ex-FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his partner, former police officer Rainie Conner. The three of them come together to solve a five year-old cold case with three viable suspects.

The case? “A young woman is found strangled in the stairwell of a college library, only her sneakers missing. With no physical evidence, no signs of sexual assault, and no witnesses, all the police have to go on are the three men who were in the library with her: her boyfriend and two campus security guards . . . all of whom have secrets, none of whom can be proven guilty.”

Warren, Quincy, and Conner must delve into the backgrounds of all three suspects, snaking out secrets and lies to figure out if one of these three suspects is guilty of murder, or did they miss someone? Could the guilty party be an elusive 4th MAN?

I loved The 4th Man. Quick, engrossing, and fun. And a great way to get ready for Gardner’s upcoming book: Right Behind You (starring Pierce Quincy and Rainie Conner).

The dreaded reading slump + CRM Review: Roxanne Gay’s “Difficult Women”

It happens about once a year. That time when no book seems good, when I can’t fall into a novel and just wander aimlessly through life.

The dreaded reading slump.

That was me in November. I just couldn’t get into any books. At all.

Life was busy, and the holidays were approaching, and I didn’t have time, for one. But I also just couldn’t.

And then, just when I had a weekend to really sit down and find my reading pace, to get back in the perusing groove, life exploded a bit. The way only 2016 could bring on a life explosion.

The day after Thanksgiving, the day after his birthday, my husband was hospitalized for an abscess on his kidney. They had to biopsy it to make sure it wasn’t cancerous (that lead to a few days of nail biting), and drain it because it was very infected. Once he got the all-clear (no cancer), he was good to go home.

This began a month of worrying about him (he’s got a rare bacteria swimming around in his blood system). We had a couple of months of  signals that something was coming –obvious only in hindsight — before he developed the abscess: he was exhausted beyond normal and had flu like symptoms without having the flu.

Luckily it’s all been diagnosed and he seems to be getting better. He’s still taking antibiotics, and may be for some time, but he’s got some energy back and he’s not sick.

The we had to get ready for Christmas and our annual Festivus party. Decorating, cleaning, shopping, and cooking. Plus real life was continuing. Plus I was worrying about him. And the rest of my family.

See, my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer last February. She lives in Arizona, so it’s tough to get to see her as often as I would like. I want to be there to help, but life is here in Ohio, so I can’t just run and go. My stepdad is AMAZING, but I worry about him, pretty much doing it all himself. That made 2016 personally tough.

(Note to all: my mother-in-law died a few years ago of lung cancer. I hate this disease.)

So, when Ted got sick, I freaked. In my mind and in my heart, I freaked. When they said it might be cancer, I freaked more, screaming the scream of the anguished, in my head (and in the car, on the way to and from the hospital). Even when the doctor told us that he was almost certain it was not cancer, I worried.

(And did you know that a large, metropolitan hospital may not have pathology open on the weekends? Or maybe it was just because it was Thanksgiving weekend–but still!)

Any way, he ended up all clear and came home with a drainage tube and bag, which was removed a week later.

And December was a roller coaster of a month, as far as health goes. My mom, who lives in Arizona, got the CANCER FREE scan we’ve all been praying for (and this was the BEST Christmas present).

But then, that same day, we dealt with a blood test for my daughter that came back with a MAYBE for leukemia. She’d been complaining about sore muscles and joints, and the doctor was just worried enough (as was I) to get a blood test. (If you didn’t know, children with Down syndrome are more likely to develop leukemia than typical children, although they respond better to treatment.)

Her doctor wanted us to get a more thorough blood test, but she wanted us to wait a few days, because if it was viral (and not leukemia), all of that would hopefully be out of my daughter’s system and we would see her counts at normal levels (or close).

So, from Monday to Thursday we held our breath. School let out, and she got the blood test. And then we held our breath again waiting for the results.

Thank goodness for a doctor who is also a mother. She called me that evening, as soon as she got the results. My daughter’s numbers were NORMAL, so no leukemia!!! YEA!!!!!

Oh, and in the middle of this roller coaster of a week, I had a mammogram, which I really wasn’t worried about, until all this happened. Then I was a little nervous. But it came back fine, and I’m fine.

And my daughter is fine.

And my mom is doing fine.

And my husband is doing fine.

Of course, during all of this, I needed books. But I didn’t have time to find the right books. I needed an easy book, one that would take my mind off of everything and let me just float away for a little while. I needed easy and fun or nail-biting, but not deep.

I needed a book tonic, and I didn’t have time to find one.

So I was in a slump. Because my mind was in a whirl, and it was just too hard to find a book that could take me out of the whirl, even for a little while.

As soon as it was all over, my slump was over. I got my reading groove back. I’m back in the zone.

With that, and a healthy family, I feel like we’ve started 2017 right.

Okay, onto my first read of 2017: Roxanne Gay’s Difficult Women.


 

My Thoughts

(I don’t usually do a premise with a collection. It’s a collection of short stories, so there are a BUNCH of premises!!!)

A collection of short stories, Difficult Women exactly what it promises. Stories about difficult women. Varying socio-economic statuses and difficulties, all these women live rare (I hope), quirky, disturbing lives.

There’s the woman who goes to a fight-club in her off time, with a co-worker who is the only person who understands her. There are the sisters who were abducted as children, and now, as grown women, are inseparable, although one is married. There is the black engineer who moves to Northern Michigan in an attempt to put her past behind her. There is a couple who deal with their infertility during hunting season.

A couple of times in Difficult Women Gay creates mini-collections, using the same setting to tell readers stories of the women who live there. She uses the small, Upper Michigan town to tell a variety of stories of women trapped in a smallish northern town. She also uses a gated community (I think it’s gated; it’s that type of community, at any rate) to tell a variety of stories from that community.

This group of stories are sometimes difficult and some of the women are a little off-kilter (again, I hope), but they’re enlightening, and my favorite kind of stories. Because, as crazy and difficult as these women are, Gay does a great job of explaining them a bit. By going to the dark corners of her character’s minds, she often tells us why some these women are so difficult (although some of them are just crazy, tbh).

I say this every time I read a collection of stories, but short stories aren’t my favorite. But somehow this one really connected with me. Maybe because I’m a woman and I can be difficult. Maybe because it does tell stories of women doing slightly (and some not-so-slightly) crazy things because its the only way their lives can work and make sense. And because it’s so different.

It’s beautiful and raw and dark and real. I cannot imagine living some (most) of these lives, but Gay helps me understand them. At times these stories made me down-right uncomfortable (as the mother of daughters, especially), but that’s what good fiction does sometimes. It takes you to places you don’t go in everyday life, opening up new and different views.

Difficult Women was a wonderful start to my reading life in 2017. Quick, different, and interesting. I highly recommend it!

I received an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Details

Title: Difficult Women

Author: Roxane Gay

Publisher: Grove Press (January 3, 2017)

Pages: 272 pages (read on my Kindle as an ARC)

ISBN: 978080225392

 

CRM Review: “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

Alexander Rostov was neither scientist nor sage; but at the age of sixty-four he was wise enough to know that life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate, and our opinions evolve–if no glacially, then at least gradually. Such that the events of an average day are as likely to transform who we are as a pinch of pepper is to transform a stew.                                                                                                                                                     Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow 

The Premise

In 1922 Count Alexander Rostov was 30 and a spoiled Russian aristocrat, living a life of “Dining. Discussing. Reading. Reflecting.” He was of the upper class, the type of man the Bolsheviks loved to kill.  His saving grace was a poem attributed to him, on that was “considered a call to action” after the failed 1905 revolt.

For that reason, the presiding judge of The Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs declared that although Count Rostov “succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class,” and should be put against a wall and executed, the poem has made him on of “the heroes of the prerevolutionary cause.” Because of this status, Rostov is sentenced to return to Metropol, where is has been living in large suite for the last four years. BUT

should you ever set foot outside of the Metropol again, you will be shot.

However, his beautiful life of luxury in the large suite of rooms is over, and he is conscripted to a small attic room with the few items that room can hold. Using his ability to always find the best in a situation, he expands his small attic room to storage, and finds a way to spread out a bit and make the most of a cramped life.

It is with this same ingenuity that he survives and flourishes for the next 34 years at the Metropol, watching as Russia transforms and changes from the county he loves. The Count finds purpose, love, friendship, adventure, and intrigue all within the walls of this glorious hotel.

My Thoughts

This is one of those books that you wish could go on and on.

It took me awhile to get into this A Gentleman in Moscow. I don’t blame this on Towles’ writing, but on myself, or on the physical book, maybe. I usually read books on my Kindle, because they’re so portable. But my copy of A Gentleman in Moscow is an actual, physical tumblr_m19d9iyZpl1qm9j6po1_250.gif(wonderful smelling, rich pages, clear font) book. And, as wonderful as they are to read, they are just not as easy to carry from one place to another.

So I was really only reading it at home, and getting distracted with other books on my Kindle. And, in late November, life threw me for a loop, and I wasn’t reading much at all.

Also, it’s a thoughtful, insightful story, so it’s not fast-paced (until it is!).

But it was the best book ever to finish on New Year’s Eve, as my last book of 2016. It had all the feels: Amusement, sadness, intrigue, nostalgia, love.

And, speaking of Count Rostov, he is the best and most interesting of characters. He takes his confining circumstances and makes the most of them, creating a wide and varied world within this one building. A man of education and refinement, he uses these to make his world a little brighter, and to brighten the world of those around him. Because the Metropol is so central to Moscow, both for the party elites and those visiting dignitaries, Rostov’s view of the world isn’t as small as it could be.

His relationship with the young Nina Kulikova, a lively girl living in the hotel with her father, is wonderful. She is a Russian Eloise, learning the secrets to the hotel (and to life) with the zeal of a child. Without much thought, Rostov is pulled into her adventures, and he becomes the equivalent of a young, fun uncle. This relationship becomes crucial to Rostov and the story in many ways, as do many of the smaller details in early chapters.

This is very much a character-driven story: It’s the story of a young man saved from death only to live what could become a life of tedium, a life that he turns into an enormous life of adventure and plenty. But Rostov’s many adventures within the Metropol are always tempered with the reality of the USSR — showing how the common man was denied even the smallest of luxuries, even as those in power are provided with the best food and other luxuries (while still allowing the finery to belong to ‘the people.

Readers get a glimpse of the wonder that is Rostov. In stating early in his confinement that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them” and that “imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness,” we see him make the most, and even more, of his circumstances. Throughout the book, Rostov’s character is shown to be the driving force in keeping him engaged in life, and in keeping many others safe and happy.

But the character-driven parts of the book are tempered with smaller adventures and day-to-day mishaps, keeping this from being just the introspections and thoughts of one displaced gentleman. (I’ve read those kinds of character driven books, and I’m sure you have as well–the writing and description is wonderful, but the details drag on and on.)

And suddenly it IS plot-driven. There’s a huge bit of intrigue, where many of the smaller details of the book show up as important pieces of a puzzle.

So A Gentleman in Moscow combines the best of both worlds–a character-driven book with a plot! I loved it. It left me with a huge book hangover (but I’ve already recovered, because it’s a new year!!!).

All I can say is READ IT. It’s a wonderful, thoughtful book. I LOVED it.

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Book Details

Title: A Gentleman in Moscow

Author: Amor Towles

Publisher: Viking

Pages: Hardcover, 480 pages

ISBN: 978-0670026190