So many choices for a summer read

Stone fruit, long days, baseball and endless reading choices are some of my summer favorites. Come summer I have less pressure to read books for upcoming discussions and tend to range farther afield in my choices.

Since we do spend time on the road each summer, e-books and audiobooks have a greater presence than when I stick closer to home. The public library is my go-to source for audiobooks that Dan and listen to long trips.  Once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to download titles that are available for up to 3 weeks. An inexpensive Bluetooth speaker makes it much easier to hear if your car is not so equipped.

We’re hoping to listen to The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, a fact-based novel of Westinghouse, Edison, and Tesla in 1888. Joshua Hammer’s telling of the rescue of Mali’s treasured Islamic and secular manuscripts from impending destruction by Al Qaeda is the narrative of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. Mysteries or thrillers can also be a good traveling pick. I’m looking at The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King, the first in a series of Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories. We have also enjoyed John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers, and Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927. Any of their books would be fine picks – good readers with easy on the ear accents, engaging narratives that sustain your attention without distracting from the road ahead. Try out a new genre, if you dare.  We loved Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. A mix of dystopic and classical storytelling, it was a great listen.

Above is a photo of some of the books I hope to read as the summer progresses. A bit of everything, fiction based on fact, memoir, literary fiction and mystery. I’ve listed them all at the end of the post. The plan is to review as many as possible. Some are certain to appear on my book groups lists. If the library waitlist treats me kindly, I’ll also read Daniel Silva’s latest, House of Spies, and  Louise Penny’s Glass Houses.

Right now I’m finishing up Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows. Toews is an award-winning Canadian novelist. This is a family story of two sisters, Elfrieda, a concert pianist, and her sister, who has a more well-rounded life despite some poor decisions. I’ve been listening to Behold the Dreamers since before it became one of Oprah’s Book Club picks. It is Imbolo Mbue’s story of two families, one in the 1% but with many problems money cannot solve, the other an immigrant family desperate to stay in the U.S. with the father working as the driver for the wealthy family. Set in New York where spectacular wealth and barely-scraping-by live barely a few miles apart.

Before I forget, plan to stop at local bookstores while you are visiting new places. Yesterday I picked up Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in narrative form while at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, WV. There are knowledgeable booksellers in independent bookstores just about everywhere. Invest in the future of the book. Patronize these shops wherever you find them. IndieBound is one good source to scout them out.

Finally, what have I finished already? Anita Shreve’s The Stars Are Fire, Joanna Trollope’s City of Friends, Charles Todd’s A Casualty of War, Bianca Marais’s Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow and Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend. All would be fine choices to pack in your carry-on and those I have reviewed are linked.

Titles Pictured Above

  • Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif
  • Celine by Peter Heller
  • The Leavers by Lisa Ko
  • The Golden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang
  • The World Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews
  • The Lost History of Stars by Dave Boling










‘The Woman in Cabin 10’ is another summer thriller

IN A NUTSHELLUnknown - Version 2

  • Unknown-4The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Scout Press 2016)
  • In 40 words or less: A journalist lands the assignment to report on an ultra-luxury cruise ship. A break-in at her home before departure makes her wary and vulnerable. When she sees evidence of a crime on the ship her veracity is questioned and her safety endangered.
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Locale: London, North Sea, Norway
  • Time: Now
  • Read this if you are a fan of The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl.

There’s something about summertime. It seems wherever you turn there is another psychological thriller vying for your attention. Granted, they are often the perfect length for a long flight or some time at the pool, preferably with a dip or a nap or two thrown in.

British women writers have taken the US by storm with female protagonists who may not be completely believable.  The latest entry, The Woman in Cabin 10, starts with a heart-stopping scene. Lo Blacklock, the narrator, awakens in the middle of the night to find a masked intruder in her apartment. In confronting him she is wounded and to save herself ends up locked in a room without any way to exit and with no way to communicate. After smashing her way out, she is physically and emotionally battered. Even while trying to work with the police, secure her apartment and replace her stolen phone and credit cards, she and her boyfriend have an argument. And then there’s a magazine assignment on an ultra-luxury cruise just one day away.

Ruth Ware sets up a classic locked room mystery on the North Sea.  The 10 cabin, ultra-luxury ship is on its maiden cruise to drum up publicity and major investors. The ship is a project of a British businessman and his ailing heiress wife and, aside from Lo, the other passengers are major photographers, writers or venture capital advisors. On the first night out, Lo returns to her cabin having had little sleep since her attack and too much to drink. She wakes up to some commotion in the adjacent cabin and thinks she sees a body go overboard and blood on a glass panel. The cabin was allegedly empty and no one seems to be missing from the passengers or crew.

Lo is desperate to uncover the truth. Ruth Ware has done a masterful job of balancing Lo’s occasional self-doubt with her resolve. The novel has numerous twists and turns, all in the very confined quarters of a small ship at sea. Lo is uncertain of the trustworthiness of her fellow passengers, including a photographer, Ben, she had a relationship with several years earlier.

Interspersed in the on-ship narrative are occasional web articles, forum strings, and emails questioning Lo’s possible disappearance since her family, boyfriend, and co-workers have heard nothing from her despite the ship’s high-tech capabilities. These serve to emphasize how alone Lo is on this cruise.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is a fast-paced grabber of a book. Despite the early attack,  Lo fights off a victim mentality and pushes back at every attempt to minimize her contentions. Earlier in her life, Lo suffered panic attacks. When Ben suggests to others that an interaction of her medications and alcohol may have caused her to imagine the body, Lo loses trust in the one person she thought was on her side. The challenge of dealing with anxiety is part of Lo’s story. In its telling, it enhances the acceleration of the plot.

If you enjoyed The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl or Widow, Ruth Ware’s latest might be just the book to take away with you.

My to-be-read list is summer ready!

Ahhhh! Even if your student days are far in the rearview mirror, somehow summer has its own unique rhythm. Now’s the time to change your reading horizons in all sorts of ways. Grab a book and head to a park bench at lunchtime – your desk can manage without you. Try out an audiobook for that road trip. Negotiating a title with your fellow passengers may introduce you to an author or genre you’d never have selected on your own.

For me, summer is the time to queue up books that take me to another place and imgres-2time. Last summer, two particular titles really fit the bill. The Truth According to Us, Annie Barrows’ novel of small-town West Virginia in the summer of 1938, just out in paperback, has an enticing combination of family drama, labor unrest and explication of the New Deal program that brought writers to small communities across the country to preserve their histories.

In The Oregon Trail, Rinker Buck brings the reader along as he and his brother follow the trail from imgres-3Missouri to Oregon using equipment and tools of 150 years ago. Buck, a seasoned journalist in the midst of a personal crisis, decides this is just the change he needs. As a child, he and his siblings were taken on unusual journeys by their father, an accomplished, loving but difficult man. Needing another skilled horseman for the trip, Buck invited his brother who was dealing with physical and emotional problems of his own. Not particularly close since childhood, the extraordinary physical challenge of the undertaking tested and strengthened their relationship.

Page after page, the reader joins them on the trail, often within spitting distance of 18-wheelers. Along the way they take meals and spend the night with locals in small towns across the route; on farms, in dying communities set aside after an interstate usurped their role as staging point or provisioners. They meet old-fashioned craftspeople that keep their rig going when repairs are beyond their skill. Weather, rough terrain, exhaustion, and injuries leave them minutes from abandoning the quest. It was a joy to accompany them from the air-conditioned comfort of my home!

So what’s on the list for this summer? First up, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, ChrisUnknown-5 Cleave’s latest about Europe in 1939. Mary North takes on the task of teaching students that were not accepted in homes in the countryside as most children were sent for safety from London. Tom, charged with supervising the school, and Alistair, Tom’s best friend now serving as a military officer, both fall for Mary.

On a more serious note, Tribe, Sebastian Junger’s Unknown-4assessment of the damage we have brought on ourselves by loosening the communal bonds of society. He contends that combat veterans overcome their fears and insist on returning to their units after injuries because of the tribal ties they create.  Junger suggests it is the breaking of these bonds that fuels PTSD.

Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, 2012 National Book Unknown-2Award winner, is one of the finest novels I have ever read. Her latest, La Rose, is another family-centered novel of contemporary Native American life with a storyline drawn from tragedy.  Erdrich brings a unique perspective to the complexity of the tribal and state justice systems. Snagging a copy of La Rose at the library was a real coup!

Another Louise is near the top of my TBR pile. Louise Penny has created the  magical hamlet of Three Pines in Quebec. Unknown-3With an assortment of quirky locals, poor internet and cell coverage, a cafe, bookstore, and a B and B, it is the perfect retreat except for the occasional murder. Chief Inspector Gamache is the warm, intuitive yet analytical detective who uncovers the culprits and the underlying stories. Through the course of the Three Pines series, his wife and his second (now his son-in-law as well) add a comfortable and familial tenor to the stories.

Now that I’ve shared the top of my pile, I hope you’ll do the same. Please go to the bottom of this post (on the website) and click on COMMENTS so that I (and others) can see what you are reading.  I’ll keep sharing if you will!

Award-winning books you’ll never hear of

images-2When I’m wearing my book group facilitator hat, I often seek out reviews of books written in the country in which the story is set. As an American, it’s difficult to tell how true the cultural tone rings and the reviewer’s perspective is invariably different. Since I’ve found these foreign newspapers’ book sections I’ve noticed something. There are many, many excellent titles that never make it to US shores. And the same holds true in reverse. (Interested? Here’s the web version of the Guardian‘s Bookmarks weekly email)

International publication rights are closely monitored and may be very restrictive. This week the message came through to me loud and clear. First, there was a contest for a pile of summer titles, only open to US residents. All the titles were US editions and could not be mailed across borders where the rights may be held by other publishers. For example, a novel may be published here by Penguin US, and not published in Canada for another 6 months.

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced this evening in London.  Created in 1996 in response to the dearth of women on the shortlists for the major British literary prizes, it was originally called the Orange Prize. To be eligible, a book must have been published in English in the UK by a UK publisher within the previous year. Titles could have been published in another country previously if this was its first publication in Great Britain.  This year’s winner is The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney, published April 9, 2015, in the UK by John Murray Publishers. Tim Duggan Books, a Penguin Random House imprint, will release it in August in the US.

2016 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist
2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist

What does it really matter if a book has a delayed release in another country? Often it doesn’t matter at all. But many books, including winners of major national literary prizes, never receive foreign publication.  A few years ago I was fortunate to hear Ishmael Beah speak about his novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, at the Library of Congress National Book Festival.  He mentioned how hungry the people of Sierra Leone are for books. The rights for publication in many African nations are bundled with European rights. The combination of smaller, poorer markets and high transportation costs result in few top name books making it into their shops. According to Beah, entrepreneurs make semi-annual trips to the US to buy up by the pound container-sized loads of “remainders” that stock the shops and book stalls throughout much of Africa.

Those of us with ready access to a neighborhood bookstore are so fortunate. Professional booksellers are always on the look out for upcoming titles to tempt the patrons. Many are affiliated with IndieBound which provides curated book lists and marketing materials to member stores. They also maintain an online locator and archives of booklists by month and interest. Some even have relationships with foreign publishing houses to make very special orders possible.

IMG_3194Whether you are traveling to the beach or a distant continent, take the time to seek out local bookstores. Ask about titles that have won literary awards or are of particular local interest. It may be the unknown gem you can share with your friends. And don’t be surprised if the American bestseller you brought with you looks completely different in its foreign version. To many of us, a book is a book is a book. But on the printed page, it is big business.


It’s a marathon, not a sprint – Book Expo Part 1

UnknownBook Expo may have started last Wednesday but my preparation began long before. Every day I read several newsletters about upcoming book releases, literary awards and what’s hot in the world of books. I have my eye out for titles I’ve been hearing about or favorite authors with new or upcoming releases. A month in advance, Book Expo releases online listings of more than 500 authors who will be autographing their books at the event. There are hundreds of exhibitors with thousands of new titles they are looking to bring to the attention of the attendees, so developing a plan is really key.

Before leaving home, I built an agenda with the authors/titles I wanted to bring home, knowing that many were at the same time or required tickets. Of course, all these plans play a distant second once it’s time to navigate the show floor. IMG_3994This is a view from above of a section of the exhibition area. As many of the big publishers have consolidated (think Penguin and Random House), their booths have become larger. Some small/independent presses are finding it too costly to attend or share booth space with others.  There are also consortiums, smaller presses who band together for purposes of marketing and distribution. And the best information really comes from the seasoned professionals who really know their titles and will take the time t o share their knowledge.

The big guys have a lot going for them – high traffic locations on both sides of the aisle creating a showroom rather than a booth. And they have carpeting with padding.  That may not sound important but each day attendees walk miles from booth to booth AND spend as much as an hour at a time waiting for a signing. Comfort underfoot is a real draw. And of course, there are the books.  The larger publishers give away more titles and have big authors signing in their booths. They often have ridiculously long lines as well.

It takes great restraint to turn down free books when they are offered, but it is vital for survival. I know I won’t be reading dystopic fiction or most graphic novels, and the “all romance, all the time” booths hold little attraction. While my tastes run more to literary fiction, memoirs and narrative history, I do love a good mystery and an occasional thriller. I only pick up young adult (YA) titles and children’s books if I plan to gift them.IMG_4002 I try to be critical as I place the books in a (branded) tote, knowing that I have to either carry them or ship them home. I flew Southwest to Chicago in anticipation of filling a small duffle with my Friday afternoon gatherings and dropping them at curbside check-in.  The books I sent by UPS will arrive tomorrow.

Next up is the post on the Adult Book and Author Breakfast.

By Friday, look for “What the heck is Book Group Speed Dating?”

Please let me know if there are books you are just waiting to see published.  You never know, I may have a copy!