What's In the To-Read Stack of Adult Books: Winter 2015

I've got a pile of books that I'm sure will end up spilling over into spring, since I can't seem to stay up past 9 p.m. anymore without turning into a pumpkin ... At any rate, most of these are new books, although a few are ones I somehow missed and others pointed out to me recently. I'm very excited about these titles, and hope you might add them to your stack, too.  Is it weird that I look forward to new books kind of like most people do a cruise or major vacation? At least I'm a cheap date.

Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins

I'm a sucker for psychological suspense, especially when it's written by women. There is so much buzz about Girl on the Train, that I don't know where to start. I'm number 315 on the local library waiting list, so it might be a few months before I get my hands on this one! Just released in January 2015, its a darling of the critics. Here's what Publishers Weekly thinks: 

* Starred Review * Rachel Watson, the principal narrator of Hawkins’s psychologically astute debut, is obsessed with her ex-husband, Tom. She’s having a hard time putting the past behind her, especially since she confronts it daily, during the hourlong commute to London from her rented room in Ashbury, Oxfordshire, when her train passes the Victorian house she once shared with Tom. She also frequently spies an attractive couple, four doors down from her former home, who she imagines to be enjoying the happily-ever-after that eluded her. Then, suddenly, the woman, pixie-ish blonde Megan Hipwell, vanishes—only to turn up on the front page of the tabloids as missing. The police want to question Rachel, after Anna, Tom’s new wife, tells them that Rachel was in the area drunkenly out of control around the time of Megan’s disappearance. Hawkins, formerly deputy personal finance editor of the Times of London, deftly shifts between the accounts of the addled Rachel, as she desperately tries to remember what happened, Megan, and, eventually, Anna, for maximum suspense. The surprise-packed narratives hurtle toward a stunning climax, horrifying as a train wreck and just as riveting. 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Released in early January, this teen-adult crossover novel has received three starred reviews and a lot of anecdotal praise. Here's what School Library Journal wrote about it:

Violet Markey is on the ledge of her school's bell tower, six stories up, and frozen in terror. Theodore Finch, the Freak, stands on the ledge nearby. Before she can panic, he calms her down and gets her back on solid ground. He even lets everyone think she's the one who talked him out of jumping. Violet, until recently, was a popular cheerleader and Finch has a well-earned reputation for being manic, violent, and unpredictable. But Finch won't let their encounter rest. He's suddenly everywhere Violet goes and even signs her up as his partner on a "Wander the State" school project. As the two drive around Indiana, Violet begins to see the lame tourist attractions through Finch's eyes, and each spot becomes something unique and special. He pushes and challenges the protagonist, and seems to understand the effect her sister's death made on her. But though Violet begins to recover from the devastating grief that has cocooned her for almost a year, Finch's demons refuse to let go. The writing in this heartrending novel is fluid, despite the difficult topics, as Niven relays the complex thought processes of the two teens. Finch and Violet, with their emotional turmoil and insecurities, will ring true to teens. Finch in particular will linger in readers' minds long after the last page is turned. Give this to fans of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park (St. Martin's Pr., 2013), John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012), or Jennifer Hubbard's The Secret Year (Viking, 2010).

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christoper Scotton

I'm naturally interested in this book, which I first heard about a few months ago from a librarian back home, because it takes place in my home state of Kentucky. Regardless, it seems to be generating buzz of its own, as Kirkus gave it a starred review and Amazon made it its Debut Spotlight of the Month for January.  Here's what Kirkus wrote:

Debut author Scotton sets a captivating modern morality tale in Kentucky's coal country, 1985. With the small-town aura of To Kill a Mockingbird, a man reflects on the summer he learned that tradition, greed, class, race and sexual orientation can make for murder. Multiple stories are at play in the coal town of Medgar: Bubba Boyd, the boorish son of a coal baron, is raping the landscape; local opposition leader and popular hairstylist Paul Pierce's homosexuality is used to attack his environmental position; and the narrator, Kevin, grieving the death of his younger brother, arrives at age 14 to stay with his widowed grandfather. With a mother trapped by depression and father subconsciously casting blame, Kevin's left alone in grief's pit, and it's Pops, a wise and gentle veterinarian, who understands his pain and guilt. In Medgar, mines are played out, and Boyd's Monongahela Energy digs coal by "mountaintop removal," pushing forested peaks into verdant valleys, leaving a poisoned landscape. Scotton's descriptions of plundered peaks like Clinch Mountain, Indian Head and Sadler, Pops' boyhood haunts, are gut-wrenching. As Kevin tags along on vet calls with Pops and befriends a local teen, Buzzy Fink "fresh friends from completely different worlds faced with the hard shapings of truth and deceit.” Scotton explores both the proud, stoic hillbilly culture that accepts Paul's "bachelor gentlemen" love and the hate-filled greed wielding the Bible as a weapon in service of ignorance and Mammon. And then Buzzy witnesses a brutal killing, a murder whose ramifications may cost Cleo, his brother, a prestigious college football scholarship. With glimpses of a mythical white stag and mad stones symbolic ofthe land's capacity to heal, Pop, Buzzy and Kevin "tramp " to an isolated lake and find themselves targeted in a Deliverance-like shooting. Scotton offers literary observation "a storm was filling the trees with bursting light" and a thoughtful appreciation of Appalachia's hard-used people and fragile landscape. A powerful epic of people and place, loss and love, reconciliation and redemption.

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar

I first heard of this because NPR's Morning Edition picked it as its inaugural bookclub choice, and a book group I belong to is looking forward to reading it this spring. I'm less into the crisis aspect of this story than the personal stories of the miners involved. Tobar has a fantastic reputation as a journalist and novelist, as well. Here's what author Ann Patchett, who is also the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, had to say about Deep Down Dark

"I know 2014 still has three months left to go, but I don’t expect to find anything I liked better than Héctor Tobar’s Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free. It is a masterpiece of compassion. I read it on vacation and I kept pacing around wishing that there was someone I could talk to about this book. I seriously considered trying to track down Héctor Tobar, whom I don’t know, just to tell him how extraordinary I thought it was. (Does Héctor Tobar need to hear this from me? No, no he does not.) You know the story – 33 men were buried in a spectacular mine collapse, stayed underground for two months, and then were rescued, all of them unharmed. But how do you write that book? We know what happens in the end and not much happens in the interim, and yet somehow Tobar makes the story riveting. He puts us down there with those men. He examines all the big questions: the value of life, faith, hope, despair, and resurrection. This is a quieter, deeper book than Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, but it is a more than worthy successor. It happens a lot in the bookstore, someone comes in and says, "My dad loved Unbroken. What should I get him next?" As of October 7, the answer is going to be Deep Down Dark."

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivy Harrison

I first heard about this one on NPR and was intrigued both because psychological suspense is one of my favorite fiction genres and because it's a novel ripped straight from the headlines. It's written by a Mormon, which gives it some authenticity. Here's what Booklist said in its review:

* Starred Review * As the wife of a Mormon bishop, Linda Wallheim should be the truest of the true believers, but goings-on in her small Utah community are feeding her doubts. Carrie Helm, a young mother, is missing, and it seems that she has fled an abusive relationship, leaving her five-year-old daughter behind. Carrie’s husband, Jared, has views that Linda finds extreme, and she suspects that he was involved in Carrie’s disappearance. The more Linda learns about the curious circumstances at the Helms’ residence, the more she finds herself in a crisis of faith. How did her husband, who should be aware of the goings-on within the families of the ward, have missed the signs of abuse? And what will become of Carrie’s daughter? Linda is a fascinating character—a woman who craves connection, but whose role within the church seems to foster a polite distance from potential friends. Her ties to both her family and her church are strong, but she is not beyond questioning her deeply held beliefs when necessary. The mystery surrounding Carrie drives the plot, but Linda herself is the most compelling thing about young adult author Harrison’s debut adult mystery about a world she knows well.

Euphoria by Lily King

Euphoria was released last summer, and since then has steadily garnered accolades. Just this past week it was named to the National Book Critics Circle Award shortlist. The New York Times also named it one of the Ten Best Books of 2014. Here's the Library Journal review:

* Starred Review * Inspired by an event in the life of Margaret Mead, this novel tells the story of three young anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea. Professional superstar Nell Stone and her Australian husband, Fen, flee one tribe, and, with the help of English anthropologist Andrew Bankson, settle with the Tam, an unusual, female-dominated tribe. A love triangle soon develops among the three. The attraction Bankson feels for Nell saves him from loneliness and suicide, but it heightens tensions between Nell and Fen, ultimately exploding in violence. This three-way relationship is complex and involving, but even more fascinating is the depiction of three anthropologists with three entirely diverse ways of studying another culture. They disagree on the extent to which it is possible and even necessary to intrude on a culture in order to understand it. These differences, along with professional jealousy and sexual tension, propel the story toward its inevitable conclusion.

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

The third in a recent series of Lamott's essays, Small Victories was published in November. I was deeply moved by the first two books in the series, one of which I reviewed here. I find her faith mixed with disarming humor particularly refreshing. Library Journal said:

* Starred Review * Lamott (Help, Thanks, Wow; Some Assembly Required) is one of the foremost liberal Christians writing today. The author has always been appealingly and even daringly candid about the particulars of her life: single motherhood, inner darkness and doubt, and alcoholism, as well as the vagaries of her personal life. As a writer, she is also perhaps the best popular essayist America has produced in decades. This collection brings together a range of heartfelt journalistic and spiritual writings, which have all the pleasures and accessibility, the humor and surprise, of her longer books ... VERDICT: A must for all Lamott fans and a fine point of entry for newcomers.

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

I missed this one, which one of my book groups (so many book groups, so little time) will read in February. It was released in paperback last winter, and sounds right up my alley. Who doesn't love a book set in France? Library Journal wrote:

Englishwoman Grace Monroe travels to Paris in search of answers as well as escape from her unhappy marriage after receiving a bequest from the mysterious Eva d'Orsey, a woman she has never heard of. The novel's chapters alternate between Grace's Paris sojourn in 1955 and Eva's story, which begins with a job in a New York City hotel in 1927, at the age of 14. Tessaro (The Debutante) has written an entertaining novel with two protagonists readers will care about, and if the answer to why Eva has left her fortune to Grace is fairly obvious early on, it doesn't matter. VERDICT: A compelling plot in a truly magical Parisian setting, fascinating information about the way perfume is made, and great secondary characters make this a charming read. Tessaro does a marvelous job of conveying the atmosphere of a fairytale trip to 1950s Paris by a woman who finds herself, and romance, in the City of Light. Readers of the works of Emily Giffin and Laura Florand will enjoy.

The Submission by Amy Waldman

I managed to completely miss this contemporary novel, which was published in 2011, and named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year, an NPR Top Ten Novel of the Year, and a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year. It received starred reviews across the board. Here's what Publishers Weekly wrote about it:

* Starred Review * Waldman imagines a toxic brew of bigotry in conflict with idealism in this frighteningly plausible and tightly wound account of what might happen if a Muslim architect had won a contest to design a memorial at the World Trade Center site. Jury member and 9/11 widow Claire Burwell presses for the winning garden design both before and after its creator is revealed as Mohammed "Mo" Khan, an American-born and raised architect who becomes embroiled in the growing furor between those who see the garden as a symbol of tolerance and peace, and various activists who claim patriotism as they spew anti-Islamic diatribes. Waldman keenly focuses on political and social variables, including an opportunistic governor who abets the outbreak of xenophobia; the wealthy chairman of the contest, maneuvering for social cachet; a group of zealots whose obsession with radical Islam foments violence; a beautiful Iranian-American lawyer who becomes Mo's lover until he refuses to become a mouthpiece; and a trouble-sowing tabloid reporter. Meanwhile, Mo refuses to demean himself by explaining the source of his design, seen by some as an Islamic martyr's paradise. As misguided outrage flows from all corners, Waldman addresses with a refreshing frankness thorny moral questions and ethical ironies without resorting to breathless hyperbole. True, there are more blowhards than heroes, but that just makes it all the more real.

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