Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Accidental Bestseller

Several years ago, I met a charming author from the Atlanta area, Wendy Wax, at a writers' conference. We had a nice conversation about libraries, writing, and the publishing industry. I'd received one of her books as a gift, and I remember reading and liking it, but her name sort of fell off my radar until recently, when I came across her 2009 release The Accidental Bestseller.

Kendall Aims is a bottom-of-the-midlist author whose personal and professional lives are both falling apart. Her editor barely acknowledges her existence. She can't complete the last book in her contract. She's just lost out on a big award. She comes home to the news that her husband's leaving her. Her kids are going off to college. Alone and abandoned, Kendall undergoes the Mother of All Meltdowns. Her three best friends, also published authors, band together to help the only way they know how: by collaborating on Kendall's book. The only problem is that each of them puts a little too much of herself into the story, and their act of kindness will create major disruptions in the lives of all four authors.

This was a fun read for me, mainly because a lot of it is a thinly disguised roman à clef of the romance-writing world. Deciphering who's a stand-in for which well-known editor, or which giant publisher is being described under a different name, had a certain appeal for me. The plot structure allows the author to explain how a book goes from idea to finished product, and that was interesting, too. Anybody who wants to learn more about book publishing might enjoy this book, but I'd also recommend it to fans of humor-laced books with a "flawed and feisty heroine," the kind of gal Mary Kay Andrews and Susan Elizabeth Phillips write about.

A little humor and a lot of heart made The Accidental Bestseller a pleasant read. I liked it well enough that I went right ahead and put Wax's 2010 title, Magnolia Wednesdays, on hold. I'll let you know how it turns out.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Name is Memory

Anne Brashares, New York Times Bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, has produced yet another beautifully executed romance filled with intrigue and fantasy. Her new (adult) book, My Name is Memory, blasts us through history and the many lives of Daniel and Lucy (as they are known in their present life). Brashares poses the question of what a person would do if they had spent not just one lifetime, but many lifetimes searching for the same lost love, only to lose them over and over again?

Welcome to the frustrating world of Daniel Grey, a teenager who is old beyond the years of his current body. Daniel has the ability to remember, in excruciating detail, all of his past lives, dating back to the year 541 in North Africa. As Daniel says, "I have fallen in love, and she is the one who endures...I always search for her; I always remember her. I carry the hope that one day she will remember me." To him, Daniel's memory is both a gift and a curse. For you see, despite always loving Lucy (or Sophia, as Daniel prefers to remember her as), he has never grown old with her. Theirs is a painful, haunted history, filled with heartbreak and love torn apart.

The present-day love story is interwoven with details about Daniel and Lucy's previous encounters, and the heartbreak that tore them apart. Central to their heartache is Daniel's older brother from his first life, who is as different from David as two souls can be. Joaquim is spiteful, violent, and unpredictable. What's worse, he too, has the ability to remember his past lives, and will stop at nothing to prevent Daniel and Lucy from being together lifetime after lifetime. Daniel must find a way to stop Joaquim once and for all if he is to have any chance of finally being with the woman he has unequivocally loved for fifteen hundred years.

Though technically classified as a romance, there are elements of mystery, thriller, and fantasy laced into this finely crafted plot. As with The Last Summer (of You & Me), Brashares has mastered the craft of creating characters in a way that most writers can only dream of. The subtle nuances of each character's personality are captured so completely that it's hard to believe they are works of fiction, and not people you have known and loved all of your life. They will stay with you long after you've read the final page.

--Jenn C.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Horribly Good Read

I picked up Dan Wells's debut novel I Am Not A Serial Killer because I thought it looked like an interesting thriller (have I mentioned I'm on a thriller kick lately?), but I ended up getting so much more than I'd bargained for. It's kind of hard to categorize this book - it's part coming-of-age, part thriller, part horror, and all riveting.

Teenager John Wayne Cleaver lives in Clayton, a small city in an unspecified state. He's known for a long time that there's something wrong inside himself: he lacks empathy. He can't connect with other people, not even his family; on top of all that, he's obsessed with serial killers like Bundy, Dahmer, and Gacy. He and his therapist talk about the rules of behavior he's set up for himself, and even though John's fascinated by death and dead things (it doesn't help that the family business is a funeral parlor), he's quite clear that there are lines he dare not cross, for fear of becoming the monster he knows lurks inside.

He's got everything under control - until the day a horribly disfigured body is found behind the laundromat. Then another body shows up, and John recognizes the work of a kindred spirit. At least he thinks he does, until curiosity gets the best of him and he discovers the horrible truth behind the sudden spate of murders. He knows he's the only person in town who can stop the killing, but is it already too late?

Fans of the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay may enjoy this book, for its first-person narrative voice. Like Dexter, John speaks directly to the reader, and also like Dexter he's got a twisted code of right and wrong, and an elaborate set of rules that allow him to blend in with "normal" people. Stephen King fans might like this one too, especially fans of earlier King works like It, where kids confront evil armed only with their wits.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Moving Childhood Memoir

A couple of Saturdays ago - you know, one of those days when it was too hot to breathe outside, let alone do yard work - I sat down with a pre-publication copy of a book that had been sitting on my table for a long time. I only stopped to fix a sandwich for lunch, and by the time I'd finished the book, it was getting dark outside. Sometimes a book grabs you and won't let you go until you reach the end, and that was my experience with Thomas Buergenthal's tale of growing up under the Nazi regime, A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy.

At first glance, it's hard to allow that the words "lucky" and "Auschwitz" belong in the same sentence. Buergenthal and his parents found themselves imprisoned first in a Polish ghetto, then a work camp, and finally Auschwitz. Through a series of what can only be described as luck, however, the family wasn't separated until they arrived at the death camp, and even then Thomas and his father managed to stay together for several months. Thomas evaded at least two "selections," times when all the other children around him were removed from their parents and killed. He encountered fellow prisoners who helped him survive, and when the war was over he was reunited with the last surviving member of his family.

It's no wonder that his life experiences led the author to work in the field of international human rights; he now serves as a judge at the International Court of Justice in den Haag. The book carries a forward by Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a fellow Auschwitz survivor, and those who are familiar with Wiesel's Night may also find this a worthwhile read. I'd certainly recommend it for high-school students, who are still close enough to their own childhoods to identify at least with the narrator, even though they've not been exposed to the horrors he saw as a young child. It would also make for a terrific book club selection. Stop by the library and check it out for yourself.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Fall Releases

The hectic summer days are passing: the kids are back in school, the blistering heat and crushing humidity are finally relenting, and we find ourselves with a little breathing room before the frantic pace of the holidays is upon us. Enjoy your down time with one of these great new books, set to release this fall. Follow the links to reserve your copy today!

September Releases

Safe Haven – Nicholas Sparks

The author of The Notebook and Dear John returns with another inspirational romance. When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Katie seems determined to avoid forming friendships, but reluctantly befriends Alex, a widowed store owner.

Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to let down her guard, putting down roots in the close-knit community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family. Even though she is starting to fall in love, Katie still carries a dark secret that haunts her. She realizes that she cannot run from her past forever, and that in order to have love, she must face her demons.

Getting to Happy – Terry McMillan

Fifteen years after Waiting to Exhale, McMillan revisits Savannah, Gloria, Bernadine, and Robin. Each is at her own midlife crossroads: Savannah is facing single life again-at fifty-one. Bernadine has watched her divorce settlement dwindle, and has convinced herself that a few pills will help. Robin’s dream of getting married has gone unrealized. Gloria learns that being at the wrong place at the wrong time can change everything. All four are learning to heal past hurts and to reclaim their joy and their dreams; but they return to us full of spirit, sass, and faith in one another.

October Releases

The Confession – John Grisham

The master of legal thrillers has produced yet another gripping page turner. What happens when the only person who can save an innocent man from being executed is the man who committed the crime? In 1998, Trais Boyette abducted and strangled a high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

Nine years later, Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his entire life, he decides to do what’s right and confess. But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?

The Reversal – Michael Connelly

Can’t get enough courtroom drama? Try this new nail-biter from the author of The Scarecrow. After 24 years in prison, convicted child killer Jason Jessup has been exonerated by new DNA evidence. Convinced that Jessup is guilty, defense attorney Mickey Haller agrees to prosecute Jessup’s retrial. With LAPD detective Harry Bosch as his investigator, Haller sets off on a case fraught with political and personal danger.

Opposing them is Jessup, now out on bail, a defense attorney who excels at manipulating the media, and a runaway eyewitness reluctant to testify after so many years. With the odds and the evidence against them, Bosch and Haller must nail a sadistic killer once and for all. If Bosch is sure of anything, it is that Jason Jessup plans to kill again.

--Jenn C.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another Debut Novel, Another Thriller

I don't know what it says about me that I've been reading a lot of thrillers lately, but gosh, do I enjoy them! Continuing the trend from my previous post, The Mullah's Storm by Thomas W. Young is another thriller that's a first novel, too.

Air Force Major Michael Parson serves as navigator on a C-130 and he's flown over the mountains of eastern Afghanistan ferrying high-profile prisoners and detainees plenty of times. But when the plane crashes, he encounters two enemies: the harsh, unforgiving winter climate of the Hindu Kush, and the Taliban forces who are trying to free one of their most important spiritual leaders. The mullah, along with Parson and an Army interrogator, are the only survivors of the crash. The Americans need to get the mullah back to Bagram before the Taliban catches up to them. Between the weather and his pursuers, Parson's not sure which will be more brutal in the end.

Anybody looking to escape a hot, sticky North Carolina afternoon, for a few hours anyway, may enjoy this book. I'd also recommend it for fans of Alex Berenson's The Faithful Spy, and those who like a good thriller in a very contemporary setting.


Monday, August 23, 2010

New Soviet-Era Thriller!

Attention fans of Tom Rob Smith's Child 44: be on the lookout for The Holy Thief, William Ryan's debut novel, which hits shelves in September.

The place: Moscow. The year: 1936. Stalin's purges have started, no one's safe from denunciation, and to make matters worse, the city is shocked by a brutal murder. On the face of it, it's merely a gruesome crime, but as Captain Alexei Korolev begins his investigation, he senses there might be more to it than just a random act of violence.

There's intrigue involving the NKVD, the criminal underworld of the Soviet capital, a stolen religious relic, and the question of just how much one can really know of another person in a totalitarian state where every gesture, every word, must be carefully guarded. Reserve your copy today!