Susan’s Best Reads of 2019

I don’t read as much as I wish I could; I just don’t have time at the moment. It doesn’t help that I wind up with sometimes 600 page books in my hands, and those take longer.  I never know what I’ll read next, and I read a bunch of good ones last year. Here are some of my favorites:

One of the two best books I read this year, I’ve already blogged about: Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull, was amazing. Not just a history of Pixar films, it’s also the best darned, most entertaining book on business and employee management you will read. Pixar is a 5-star company for a reason.

The second of my Best Reads this year is The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James.  From approximately 1898 to 1912, a serial killer traversed the US by train – coming through New Haven’s Union Station on the way – with an MO of bludgeoning his victims with the back of an axe. Because of communications at the time, few people were able to connect the murders. James painstakingly, with the utmost detail, traces the dozens of murders and examines them, deciding if they were likely by the same killer or not, and why. He traces the paths through the states and the seasons, chasing the trail to a man who was most likely the killer. By the time he’s done, you are convinced and amazed. I could not stop reading this book. I read it while waiting for the school bus. I read it while cooking. I would have read it in the shower if I could have. If you love a mystery, if you love history, if you love crime stories, this book is a must.

I’m only 30 years late in reading Neuromancer, the Hugo-winning cyberpunk novel by William Gibson. I can see why it is held as one of the greatest novels of our time. Gibson predicts and writes about today’s modern computers and internet and gaming – long before they existed. The scenarios he describes are both familiar and futuristic at the same time. While not only visionary, it’s written in  a flawless style and with realistic, interesting characters. If you loved Ready Player One or The Matrix (which has to have been influenced by this book), you will love Neuromancer.

If you’re aware of social and racial issues, I strongly recommend Survival Math, by Mitchell S. Jackson. A professor of writing, in achingly beautiful prose worthy of Martin Luther King Jr., with the voice of a preacher without being preachy, Johnson breaks down the issues faced in his own family, examining how he came to where he is, how racism played into it without even being visible, and how despite all the odds, it’s possible to thrive. He covers harsh topics without flinching. The book is brilliant, spellbinding, and a superb read from a voice that soars with truth.

Far more than I expected, I loved Total Recall, an older door-stop of a biography on Arnold Schwarzenegger. From his birth in a tiny town in Austria (which still has only 2500 people) to his divorce from Maria Shriver, Arnold is witty and candid and down to Earth. No matter what you think of his politics or his movies or his personal life, this book may be older, but it was highly entertaining. His best friend just died in September of this year.

Not my favorite, but worth mentioning because of its local importance, is Frog Hollow  by Susan Campbell. Campbell, a former reporter with the Hartford Courant, digs into the history of the notorious Frog Hollow section of Hartford, and through tireless research shows the former glory of the neighborhood as not only an important area in Colonial times, but once a major manufacturing center (in 1898, Pope automotive made half the cars in the US). I was hoping for a deep sociologic dissection of the issues, but instead Campbell gives us an upbeat view from street level about the good aspects of Hartford and the people who live there, not just the doom and gloom of ad-selling news clips.

Last but not least, I’ll throw in a kid’s series you probably missed; with 18 years between my last two kids, I certainly did, but my youngest is so hooked on the British easy reader series Urgency Emergency! by Dosh Archer, I wound up buying most of them. The series is so witty and enjoyable you don’t mind reading them over and over again. Doctor Glenda, Nurse Percy, and the Pengamedics, in predictable melodrama, assist the maladies of Humpty Dumpty, The Big Bad Wolf, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, and many more. They are a delight. The library has several of the stories; be sure to read them all!

Fooled by Fiction – 11 Books with Surprising Plot Twists

Ever read  book and gotten to a part where you just had to put it down for a minute and go “WHAT???”. If you’ve ever felt a little pranked by a plot twist you didn’t see coming (and even liked it!), here are 11 books that fool you into thinking one thing, then a “big reveal” changes everything …

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court and she discovers she has an ability of her own.


The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. Melanie knows that she is a very special girl, but she doesn’t know why. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, a gun is pointed at her while two of people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh… wait till you find out what’s so special about this girl.

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben. Former special ops pilot Maya, home from the war, sees an unthinkable image captured by her nanny cam while she is at work: her two-year-old daughter playing with Maya’s husband, Joe—who was brutally murdered two weeks earlier. The provocative question at the heart of the mystery: Can you believe everything you see with your own eyes, even when you desperately want to?

The Girl Before by JP Delaney. Seizing a unique opportunity to rent a one-of-a-kind house, a damaged young woman falls in love with the enigmatic architect who designed the residence, unaware that she is following in the footsteps of a doomed former tenant.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night, when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately lands on the parents. What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and deadly secrets.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them. But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. And neither is Teddy Daniels.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind and desperate to heal from the loss of her child & a painful past. As police try to get to the bottom of the hit-and-run accident, they are frustrated by unexpected twists in the case.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  A zookeeper’s son sets sail for America, but the ship sinks and young Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a handful of remaining zoo animals. Soon it’s just Pi and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, lost at sea for months together. When they finally reach land, the tiger escapes, leaving Pi to relay the story of their survival at sea to authorities, who refuse to believe his tale and press him for the “truth”.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The rise of a terrorist organization, led by a waiter named Tyler Durden who enjoys spitting in people’s soup.  He starts a fighting club, where men bash each other, which quickly gains in popularity, and becomes the springboard for a movement devoted to destruction for destruction’s sake. But who is Tyler Durden?

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. Perfect socialite couple Jack and Grace seem to have it all. But why are they never apart? Why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? How can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim? And why are there bars on one of the bedroom windows?

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for her sister Kate, who has been battling leukemia most of her young life. As a teenager Anna begins to question her moral obligations in light of countless medical procedures and ultimately decides to fight for the right to make decisions about her own body. The ending of this emotional novel is a stunner.

 

 

 

Sample Some Tasty “Cozy Mysteries”

The words “cozy” and “mystery” may not seem to go together at first glance, but with the growing popularity of the mystery novel subgenre,  they somehow do. What makes a mystery “cozy”? They are usually set in small towns, with amateur or atypical sleuths solving the crimes, and Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrotethere isn’t a lot of swearing, gore, or sex. Think “Murder, She Wrote” with a hundred different themes.

The theme of the series is usually evident in the series name and the often-punny book titles. There seems to be a theme for every interest: Knitting (Dyeing Wishes : A Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery), Gardening (Harvest of Murder : A Gardening Mystery), Books & Reading (If Books Could Kill: A Bibliophile Mystery), and of course, Cats (Paws and Effect : A Magical Cats Mystery). But one of the biggest themes is Food.

We’ve assembled some mysteries sure to appeal to the Foodie and Amateur Detective in you!

Goldy Bear MysteriesCatering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson by Diane Mott Davidson. This series follows caterer Goldy as she solves murders and tries to keep her fledgling business afloat. Catering is a risky business indeed!

Hannah Swensen MysteriesThe Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke by Joanne Fluke. Hannah Swensen is a cookie baker whose gingersnaps are almost as tart as her mouth and whose penchant for solving crime definitely stirs things up.

Bakeshop MysteriesMeet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander by Ellie Alexander. Welcome to Torte – a small-town family bakeshop where the coffee is hot, the muffins are fresh, and the cakes are definitely to die for.

Comfort Food MysteriesDo or Diner by Christine Wenger by Christine Wenger. Trixie Matkowski  agrees to take over her aunt’s diner in upstate New York, and is looking forward to the small town atmosphere she knew as a child…. until murder is on the menu.

Tea Shop MysteriesShades of Earl Grey by Laura Childs by Laura Childs. Theodosia Browning is the  owner of Charleston, South Carolina’s  Indigo Tea Shop, where a mystery is always brewing…

Cheese Shop MysteriesThe Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames by Avery Aames. Charlotte Bessette runs Fromagerie Bessette, or as it’s more commonly known by the residents of small-town Providence, Ohio – the Cheese Shop. Another small town with a large number recipes to make and murders to solve.

 

How to Find a Read-alike

If you are like me, when I find a series I love I burn through it in record time and then am left mourning that I have finished the series. Finding a new series can be difficult, so invariably I turn to NoveList for help.

NoveList is an online database available through Cheshire Library’s website (for other libraries, check your local library’s website to see if NoveList is offered there) that offers recommended reading lists. You can sort by age and genre and even by topics such as “fast-paced and amusing” or “moving and haunting” and even “snarky and compelling”. However my favorite part of NoveList is the Read-alike links.

If you type in a book title or author, NoveList will produce a list of results that include three very handy links: Title Read-alikes, Author Read-Alikes and Series Read-alikes.

What is a Read-alike?

A read-alike is a book, author, or series that shares some of the basic characteristics  of another book, author, or series. It means that if you enjoy, say, author Marcia Muller, you may also like books by Laurie R. King, Kate Wilhelm, or Iain Pears,

For example, type in  Lord Peter Wimsey (one of my favorite British mystery sleuths), click on Series Read-alikes, and you will get a list of recommendations that include the Phryne Fisher mysteries by Kerry Greenwood (stories that have also been turned into a wonderful BBC drama: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) and the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries by P.D. James, among many others.

Bingo! Two more series just waiting to be devoured.

Try NoveList. It works! Cheshire Library cardholders can link to NovelList from the Reading Resources page on the CPL website. Scroll down and you’ll find a Reading Resources link on our homepage or click on How Do I…? in our upper left menu and click the Find a Good Book link.

This Year’s Best Crime Novels So Far

Today we are featuring a guest post by Cassie Peters:

Crime novels offer glimpses into the minds of those who choose to either take the law into their own hands or ignore it entirely. Through the author’s words, we are able to contemplate, observe, and judge the motivations that make the criminals tick. If learning about the underworld is within your literary interests, here are some of the best crime novels of 2018. Following a long tradition of crime-based literature, many of these novels are brilliant subversions of the well-known and popular genre. Get ready to take a harrowing leap into the minds of 2018’s fictional criminals.

The Outsider by Stephen King

Terry Maitland is a Little League coach, family man, and all-around beloved pillar of the community who was arrested for the mutilation and murder of a young boy. Honest cop Detective Ralph Anderson struggles with deciphering all available evidence for fear of convicting the wrong suspect, until his wife Jeannie asks all the right questions that leads the investigation to the truth. Meanwhile, time-warping details both obscure and provide glimpses into hidden, deeper truths. Stephen King’s The Outsider is a masterful twist on the classic crime genre. A smooth and effortless tale of modern day crime with just the right amount of noir, politics, and psychedelics. Not a lot of writers can so pleasurably disorient readers like King.


Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz

An orphan who at 12 was enrolled in a top-secret government training program for assassins escapes to become an unlikely vigilante in Hellbent. The novel is the latest in author Gregg Hurwitz’s international bestselling series of books in the Orphan X series. It’s a sordid look into the all-too-fragile lives that evolve on their own amid government motives and conspiracies. Crime and conspiracy take on a humanitarian form via bullet train-paced prose. 

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

What if Mary Poppins was a sociological suspense-thriller that didn’t hold anything back? There’s nothing mystical or magical about Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny, but she manages to masterfully subvert expectations via her sublime prose. It’s no secret that the lives of the characters in the story are in danger, including young children.  The mystery is whether or not you’ll be able to make it through the slow simmer of how a wholly trustworthy figure can transition into a rationally irrational monster. Library Journal says, “What initially feels like routine, unremarkable women’s fiction morphs into a darkly propulsive nail-biter overlain with a vivid and piercing study of class tensions”.  Peppered with social realist truths amid subtle but constant mounting dread, The Perfect Nanny submits a poverty-stricken view of Paris that culminates in one of the most satisfyingly horrible endings yet.

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

FBI rookie Caitlin Hendrix is assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit to find a serial killer who leaves behind grisly clues. In this  dark, disturbing portrait of murder from the perspective of a career forensic psychologist, Agent Hendrix works with the FBI’s serial crime unit and a legendary FBI profiler to dissect the motivations behind a killer based on the available evidence. Into the Black Nowhere is a gripping novel that doubles as a crash course in sociology, critical thinking, crime research methodology, psychological testing, and criminal theory. Based on the exploits of the infamous Ted Bundy, Gardiner’s novel succeeds at a creating a realistic depiction of how serial killers function that is horrendous and unflinchingly educational at the same time. Don’t worry – you won’t need an actual degree in forensic psychology to enjoy this book. However, you should be prepared to learn a thing or two about the criminal mind – insights that might be too dark or true to be forgotten. Watch your step.

This feature post written for Cheshire Library Blog by Cassie Peters.