The Red Pyramid – Rick Riordan
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; character – clever, outspoken hero and heroine, coming of age; Language – engaging; Story – character-driven, alternate history; Tone – suspenseful; Frame – London, Brooklyn, Washington D.C., Arizona, various locations in the Egyptian pantheon, contemporary
Siblings Sadie and Carter, separated except for two days/year after the mysterious death of their mother, are on a hair-raising chase to find their father after he blows up part of the British Museum. Their family traces its history back to the pharaohs, and both kids discover they have special powers and unusual connections to the gods of ancient Egypt. Can they race against time to prevent Set from destroying North America in a battle between the old gods and the magicians of the House of Life and rescue their father?
- Book #1 Kane Chronicles
- Ages 9 – 12
- School Library Journal Best Books 2010. Booklist, SLJ starred reviews.
- Similar authors: Rick Riordan, Cornelia Carolyn Funke, R.L. LaFevers, J.K. Rowling, Philip Kerr, Gordon Korman
The Spiral Path – Mary Jo Putney
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characterizations – familiar and well-developed; Language – engaging; Story –character-driven; Tone – steamy, dramatic; Frame – 2002, Hollywood, New Mexico, London.
Soon to be divorced actress Raine Marlowe asks her soon to be ex Kenzie Scott to star in her directorial debut film. She needs a bankable star for financing the movie, and he is it. The film closely parallels events in Kenzie’s life which creates issues for them and their relationship.
- Series: Circle of Friends Trilogy #2
- Red Flag: Kenzie’s victimization as a child prostitute
- Similar authors: Julia Quinn, Mary Balogh, Catherine Coulter, Julie Garwood, Catherine Cookson, Elizabeth Lowell
Genre: Literary Fiction
Broken Irish – Edward J. Delaney
Appeal Factors: Pace – moderate; Characterizations – Multiple POV; Language – lyrical; Story –character-driven; Tone – melancholy, moving; Frame – 1999, South Boston
Life in South Boston is grim for many of its residents: Jimmy is a youngish alcoholic who goes cold turkey after a car accident paralyzes a younger man in front of him; Coleen is a widow who can’t communicate with her 12 year old son or find anyone in the church to help her. Even though he has become wealthy, Terrence Walsh Rafferty can leave Southey behind, but can’t escape it. The threads weave back and forth with tragedy just around the corner.
- Red Flag: child abuse by priests
- 2012 Mass Book Awards Must Read
- Similar authors: Alice McDermott – Charming; Joyce Carol Oates – What Billy Lived For; Marge Piercy – Three Women; Jennifer Haigh – Faith
Blue Skies – Robyn Carr
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characterizations – familiar and well-developed, good secondary characters; Language – engaging; Story – plot-driven; Tone – heartwarming; Frame – Las Vegas, contemporary, airline industry info.
At the death of her ex-husband, commercial airline pilot Nikki Burgess regains custody of her children. As she rebuilds her relationship with them, she takes a position with a start-up airline in Las Vegas. Her flight attendant friends Dixie and Carlysle are part of the extended family making a new start. Old affairs and partnerships dissolve and new romances begin.
- Similar authors: Robyn Carr, Judith Gould – Till the End of Time, Katie Fforde – Wild Designs, Kristin Hannah, Linda Lael Miller, Nora Roberts
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Night Kills – Charlotte Hughes
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characterizations – familiar, character changes shallow; Language – engaging; Story – plot driven; Tone – suspenseful, witty; Frame – Comfrey South Carolina, contemporary.
Lee takes over the care of orphaned Stevie after her sister’s brutal murder. Many vicious secrets unfold. Lee and Stevie are in danger multiple times. Some HEA eventually.
- Similar authors: Mary Higgins Clark, Catherine Coulter, Lisa Gardner, James Patterson, Stuart Woods
Genre: Historical Romance
Angel in a Red Dress (orig published as Starlit Surrender) – Judith Ivory
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characterizations – familiar and well-developed; Language – engaging; Story – character-driven; Tone – steamy; Frame – English countryside, 1790’s with a background of the French Revolution.
Christina Bower Pinn’s husband Richard, a baronet, is divorcing her since she is unable to provide him with an heir. Christina needs some space to plan how to approach her father for support, a staunch proponent of the marriage, in order to retain some of her independence. Cousin Evie arranges for Christina to stay in the country house of a ‘gentleman friend’; the house is empty until the Earl of Kewischester (pronounced Kester) Adrien Hunt suddenly returns with a houseful of guests. The Earl has many pastimes – gardening, philandering, and rescuing French aristocrats from the guillotine for which ‘the mad duke’ is hunted on both sides of the Channel. Eventually, amidst the plotting, Adrien and Christina find their HEA. Readable, but strains credulity.
- Similar authors: Julia Quinn, Mary Balogh, Stephanie Laurens, Catherine Coulter, Julie Garwood, Lisa Kleypas
Genre: Historical fiction
Shining Through – Susan Isaacs
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characterizations – extraordinarily well-developed; Language – engaging, compelling, witty; Story –character-driven; Tone – suspenseful, evocative; Frame – New York, Washington, Berlin – 1940 – 45.
Linda Voss, half but totally nonpracticing Jew, is a legal secretary with a special skill – she’s fluent in German. She is also interested in world events, no nonsense, and brave. Linda marries her handsome, German-speaking attorney boss after his divorce, and the two of them go to Washington at the request of one of his partners and former father-in-law Edward Leland. Leland is a leader in the OSS and uses Linda’s skills to run the department, debrief refugees, and sort through intelligence information from Europe. Eventually, Linda goes to Berlin, against everyone’s wishes, to gather intelligence directly. An outstanding view of the war and one woman’s role in it.
- Similar authors: Jennifer Weiner, Josephine Tey, Heather Gudenkauf, Susan Isaacs, Alan Bradley, Diane Chamberlain, Sarah Jio
Promise Canyon – Robyn Carr
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characterizations – familiar, good secondary ensemble; Language – engaging; Story – character-driven; Tone – heartwarming; Frame – Virgin River, Northern California, contemporary.
Navaho Clay Tahoma takes a job as a vet tech/horse trainer near Virgin River to start a new life away from his ex-wife. He is captivated by Lilly Yazhi (Hopi) who has baggage of her own. HEA, but not as developed as other titles in the series. Jumpy, backgrounds feel contrived. Multiple plot lines – all underdeveloped. Reads more like a series outline proposal than a fully evolved story. Another story and cast from Virgin River. Disappointing.
- Series: Virgin River #11
- Similar authors: Robyn Carr, early Nora Roberts, Catherine Anderson, Linda Lael Miller, Katherine Eagle
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Shades of Twilight – Linda Howard
Appeal Factors: Fast paced; Characterization – extended family drama; Language – compelling; Story – character and plot-driven; Tone – dramatic, steamy; Frame – contemporary, Davencourt AL (northwest corner)
Roanna has always loved her cousin Webb even tho he married another cousin Jessie who was always cruel to Ro. Webb leaves the family after Jessie is murdered, cutting all ties. Ro, at the request of her grandmother, goes after Webb to bring him home to manage the family’s fortune and resolve the tangled relationships.
- Red Flag: Incestuous relationship between Jessie and her father is unsettling, uncomfortable.
- Similar authors: Linda Howard, Sandra Brown, Jackie Collins, Mary Higgins Clark, Julie Garwood
Genre: Historical Romance; regency
The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae – Stephanie Laurens
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characterizations – familiar and well-developed; Language – engaging; Story –character-driven; Tone – steamy; Frame – London, Scotland, 1829
The third Cynster sister is kidnapped, this time by the mysterious stranger himself, not one of his hired minions. Angelica Cynster has already identified him as her ‘hero,’ so when he asks for her help to save his clan, she agrees.
- Series: Cynster Sisters #3, final in the trilogy
- Similar authors: Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Glass Houses – Stella Cameron
Appeal Factors: Fast paced; Characterization – Good characters, brave woman, loyal man; Language – compelling; Story – character and plot-driven; Tone – suspenseful, humorous, steamy; Frame – contemporary, London, NYC, Seattle, Iowa
Olivia is a free-lance photographer hired to take pictures of a designer spread in Notting Hill. For those in the know, the photos are proof of a crime. Bad guys try to buy then steal the photos; they also try to push Olivia under a train. Olivia sends messages to an ‘FBI’ acquaintance on the Internet which are picked up by a NYC cop caring for his orchids – then it gets really complicated.
- #2 in the Talon & Flynn series
- Similar authors: Stella Cameron, Linda Howard, Sandra Brown, Jennifer Cruisie, Christine Feehan, Lisa Jackson, Julie Garwood
Wild Man Creek – Robyn Carr
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characterizations – familiar, good secondary ensemble; Language – engaging; Story – character-driven; Tone – heartwarming; Frame – Virgin River, Northern California, contemporary.
Colin Riordan recovers from his helicopter crash in Virgin River. Jillian Matlock retreats to Virgin River after being forced from her high power corporate position. As they heal and redefine their lives, they find a future together.
- Series: Virgin River #12
- Similar authors: Robyn Carr, early Nora Roberts, Catherine Anderson, Barbara Delinsky, Elizabeth Lowell
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Maybe this Time – Jennifer Crusie
Appeal Factors: Pace – quick; Characterizations – familiar romance types; Language – engaging, witty; Story – character-driven; Tone – heartwarming, amusing; Frame – southern Ohio, 1992.
Andie (Andromeda) Miller drops off 10 years of uncashed alimony checks to finally sever her relationship with ex-husband North Archer. North, who still loves her, asks her to intervene with two children and help him move them out of their haunted castle (with a moat) to Columbus where he can oversee their care. Ghosts, drama, over the top characters and Crusie’s usual humor lead to HEA for most.
- Red flag: the paranormal piece may throw off some of the usual Crusie readers.
- Similar authors: Jennifer Crusie, Joan Johnston, Susan Wiggs – Summer by the Sea, Janet Evanovich romances, Lisa Wingate
Beloved – Stella Cameron
Appeal Factors: Pace – quick; Characterizations – unbelievable; Language – engaging; Story – character-driven; Tone – steamy; Frame – London, 1828.
Ella, adopted daughter of the Earl and Lady Hunsingore, is in her first season even though she only loves “Saber,” Earl of Avenall. Saber’s experiences in India leave him with PTSD and the fear of total madness. Ella is endangered by someone who knows she was adopted from a brothel. Characters and plot are strained and unrealistic. Saber fights too hard then capitulates too easily. Bad guys are too weird and extreme.
- Red flag: a father and son share sexual partners; the vicar’s daughter is their latest and she is twisted from the get go.
- Series: Rossmara #4
- Similar authors: Stella Cameron, Mary Balogh, Stephanie Laurens, Catherine Coulter
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Over the Moon at the Big Lizard Diner – Lisa Wingate
Appeal Factors:: Pace – leisurely; Characterizations – familiar, a little flat; Language – engaging; Story – character-driven; Tone – heartwarming; Frame – Texas, contemporary.
Single mom paleontologist Lindsey Attwood is suffering a summer without her 8 year old daughter Sidney who is spending her first visit ever with her father and his new wife in Mexico. Lindsey’s reaction to pregnancy and Geoff’s abandonment has been to try and control every facet of her life and Sidney’s. She’s not doing well on her own and being at the edge of Sidney’s life for 8 weeks. Her sister Laura and best friend Collie persuade her to come to Texas to help with a fossil theft and a couple of magazine articles. Her arrival teams her with a giant white dog and a pretty interesting cowboy. She learns to relax and let her heart lead. Lindsey and Zach fall hard and fast, then things she didn’t know back her off from Zach. Geoff’s wife leaves him, and he and Sidney are thrown out of Mexico. According to reviews, the characters in this novel are more shallow than the previous two in the series.
- Series: Texas Hill Country #3
- Similar authors: Elizabeth Berg, Jude Deveraux, Lisa Kleypas contemporary, Debbie Macomber, Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Genre: Young Adult Historical
Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
Appeal Factors: Language; Plotting; Character; Setting
Verity, a Scot spying for the British during WWII, is captured by the Gestapo after her plane, piloted by her best friend Maddie, goes down in Nazi occupied France. Over the course of several days, Verity writes a confession for her captors, betraying the location of British airfields and wireless codes through the story of how she met and became friends with Maddie. But Verity is a spy, skilled and utterly convincing, leaving the reader to discover in due course what is a lie and what is the truth.
I undertook reading this novel because of the overwhelmingly positive feedback it has received from critics and fans of YA literature alike. It’s not something I would be typically drawn to, which, honestly, colored my response to the novel. That said, Wein’s use of language is wonderful; her descriptions are highly visual and memorable. Her crafting – plot-wise – is also stellar. The first three quarters of the novel, I found, moved at a snail’s pace, and it was only because I knew going into the book that it was essential to read to the end to see how the whole story comes together that I kept at it. As Verity is telling the story through a series of papers she’s writing, I felt a bit of distance between myself and the characters, the events that led up to her capture. Other readers, however, did not feel similarly. The characters themselves are strong, well-written.
Possible triggers: Several mentions of torture (not graphic, but still enough to punch you in the gut).
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Something Like Normal – Trish Doller
Appeal Factors: Character; Tone; Story; Pace
Coming home from a tour in Afghanistan, Travis isn’t prepared to deal with his disapproving father, worried mother or his brother (who stepped into Travis’ shoes after he shipped out, taking his car, his girl). He’s not prepared to deal with the flashbacks, the nightmares, the hallucinations of his best friend who was killed not ten feet in front of him during a mission. But then there’s Harper; her steady, undemanding presence is like a balm. Over the course of his leave, Travis learns what it’s like to feel truly connected to someone, realizes that it’s okay to grieve, and embraces a future he never thought possible.
Travis’ frank, unflinching voice drives this short, quickly-paced novel, packing an emotional wallop as he struggles to come to terms with the changes in his life and with his family. There’s a lot going on – the deceased best friend, first love, trouble brewing in his family, etc. – but the story never feels weighed down by (unnecessary) drama or angst. A solid story with a main character you can’t help but sympathize with and root for.
Better suited for older teens: language, sexual references and occasionally crude humor (but, that said, it all feels true to the characters and not at all sensationalized).
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
My Life Next Door – Huntley Fitzpatrick
Appeal Factors: Character; Story; Tone; Pace
Samantha Reed’s mother made it clear: the family next door, big and boisterous and bringing the neighborhood down with the debris left on the unkempt lawn (so says her mother), is off-limits. So Sam watches them from her neat and tidy bedroom, climbing out her window to sit on the roof to be closer to a messy, affectionate lifestyle that is completely foreign to her experience. So when Jase Garrett climbs her trellis, claims a spot next to her on the roof, and charms her with his sweet, self-sacrificing ways, well, Sam is more than happy to be absorbed into the family next door.
There’s more to the plot than the romance – Sam’s mother, for instance, is a senator tangled up with an advisor that leads her astray – but what makes this book an absolute delight is the heat between Sam and Jase, the way Sam folds herself into the Garrett family, finally living her life the way she wants to live it, and did I mention the heat? The romance is swoon-worthy. Also? There’s Tim, an estranged childhood friend of Sam’s forced to clean up his act, who occasionally steals the show. For teens/adults looking for something along the lines of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, get My Life Next Door into their hands STAT.
Genre: Graphic Novel
Makeshift Miracle: The Girl From Nowhere (Book 1) – Jim Zub, Shun Hong Chan
Appeal Factors: Art; Web Component
Lonely and depressed, Colby Reynolds feels disconnected from his peers and the world around him. Struggling to find a place among both, he takes off on a walk only to end up miles outside of town when something falls from the sky, carving a crater into the ground. Curiosity gets the better of him and he sneaks forward to see a girl laying unconscious at its heart. He takes her home, finds clothes and food for her, and quickly realizes that she knows nothing of what led up to her descent to Earth. Meanwhile, a man is searching for her. A man who knows startlingly little about the world around him.
That summary? Covers the entire plot of the 120 page graphic novel. The story is shallow, concentrating on a very short period of time, which does not allow for character growth or any substantial progress once Colby finds the girl. However, the art is lovely. The star of the book. At a certain point, I gave up on the limited text to enjoy the color palette, how those colors conveyed mood, etc. Because the story lacked substance, I’d likely say skip the purchase of the hardcover, and head over to the web comic to appreciate the artwork. [Note: The last time I viewed the online component it was missing two chapters. Updates are added twice a week.]
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Ashes of Honor – Seanan McGuire
Appeal Factors: All the appeal factors! More specifically: Character; Story; World-building; Pace; Tone; Did I mention all the appeal factors?
Genre: 2012 SUMMER READING: Mystery
The Chalk Girl – Carol O’Connell
Appeal Factors: Character/Plot/Writing
The latest in the Mallory series is a well-conceived mystery set in NYC with all the intricate characters from the series in place: foremost among them–the enigmatic Kathy Mallory–sociopath NYC detective who does not get human connection in the same way that everyone else does. She is fascinating–a clean freak, precise in everything she does, Computer geek/hacker, diabolical, brave and compelling. This books revolves around a 8-year-old girl who is a material witness to a serial killer’s crime and she has Williams syndrome–a genetic problem that only infuses this plot with even more energy. O’Connell never disappoints, her writing contains hidden gems of humor and sagacity–pacing is good–starts with swarming rats in Central Park and gets even more frantic after that. Start with Mallory’s Oracle and read them in order. I would love to combine this series with Chelsea Cain’s Heartless series and her protagonist/villain Gretchen Lowell–a female psychopath. with my mystery discussion group.
Genre: 2012 SUMMER READING: Mystery
Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby – Ace Atkins
Appeal Factors: CH/Pace/Plot
Atkins nails Spenser and his relationships with Susan and Hawk, as well as the detectives he often works with. Atkins even resurrects an old foe and does him justice (no pun intended). He also gives us a new character–teenager Mattie who is thirsting for justice for her mother’s death years ago. She could become a series regular like Paul was before her and Sixkill seems to be. If you are a Parker fan: you will be pleased with few exceptions (syntax problems with MA/Boston place names) but fast pace, great dialogue, humor and action pervade. I’d gladly read more by Atkins.
Genre: 2012 SUMMER READING: Suspense
The Inquisitor – Mark Allen Smith
Appeal Factors: Pace/CH/Plot
This is quite graphically violent and not for the faint of heart. Concerns some psych & physical torture and a child is involved. Those caveats out of the way–this was a fast-paced thriller about Geiger who is an invented person (damaged childhood, you think?) and has become a freelance torturer for hire–an “information revivalist.” Brutal but very compelling. Written like a screenplay–not a surprise from background of author–quick and dialogue strewn but also great insight into some of the secondary characters & victims. It worked because I believed it and did not want to–it’s like watching a train wreck–could not put the book down.
Genre: 2012 SUMMER READING: Urban Fantasy
Kiss the Dead – Laurell K. Hamilton
Appeal Factors: CH/Frame/Plot
As a long-time fan, I am really disappointed in the way this series is spiraling–the sex is not really all that interesting anymore. Anita’s work as a Marshall is actually the thing that kept me reading–her relationships are getting tiring–the vampire politics still compel but the hissy-fits her lovers continue to have are boring. She is derivative of herself. Too little Jean-Claude. Plot was functional but disjointed. Her vampire/dual-natured beings still intrigue in her world but she can write better than this. Need more substance to continue with the series. Maybe she should write fewer or shorter novels in this series.
- #21 in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Before I Go To Sleep – S. J. Watson
Appeal Factors: Tone: Suspenseful; Pace: Becomes fast-paced
A woman has an unusual kind of amnesia, where she forgets everything EVERY DAY and needs to learn it all over again each day. I didn’t know who led the more tortured existence: the frustrated amnesiac who didn’t even recognize her (now middle-aged) self, or her endlessly patient husband, doomed to explain everything to her each day of their lives. At some point she begins keeping a journal and her doctor calls her each day to remind her to read it, but the reader soon finds out that she is seeing the doctor and keeping the journal in secret. There were many twists and turns, the pace becoming more frantic as the reader tries to figure things out along with the main character. I did figure out the major twist – I couldn’t imagine it could have ended any other way once it occurred to me – but I still found it a quick and compelling read.
Genre: 2012 Summer Reading: YA Mystery/Hate Crime/Gay Fiction
Shine – Lauren Myracle
Appeal Factors: Storyline: Character-driven; Tone: Atmospheric; Writing Style: Thoughtful
Having not managed to plow through her Internet Girls trilogy despite its popularity among our teens, I was very pleasantly surprised by Myracle’s latest effort.
16-year-old Cat has retreated into herself for the past three years for reasons only hinted at for 3/4 of the book but finally described in detail towards the end. What has brought her out of herself and back to dealing with people is her determination to find out who brutally beat her one-time best friend, Patrick, in what was clearly a gay-bashing attack. Cat has an uphill battle; no one else in this southern backwoods community, including law enforcement officials, seems really interested in finding the truth of the hate crime, even while the victim lies in the hospital in a coma.
Characters, setting, and dialog all ring true. Cat learns and grows in believable and complex ways, as do to a lesser extent other, secondary characters; backwoods setting and dialog contribute to this authenticity.
The element of mystery is strong. Many possible suspects keep the reader guessing.
Myracle deals with sensitive topics such as homophobia, abuse, molestation, violence, and drug use with honesty and compassion. Nonetheless, I think the book is better suited to high school rather than middle school readers, because of the prevalence of all of those topics and because of a graphic description of a molestation.
The ending is perhaps a bit too good to be true, but overall this is a realistic and thoughtfully written, ultimately hopeful coming-of-age story for older teens.
Genre: 2012 Summer Reading: Ghost Story
The Night Strangers – Chris Bohjalian
Appeal Factors: Tone: strong sense of place; Storyline: intricately plotted
In this convincing ghost story that becomes increasingly horrific as it progresses, the guilt-ridden New York pilot of a downed plane in which many people died seeks with his wife and young twin daughters to start over in an old, creepy Victorian home in New Hampshire. Almost immediately he is visited (tortured really) by several victims – ghosts – of the crash. In addition to the ever-present, implacable ghosts whose particular ways of dying are revealed in grisly detail, the sense of menace in the story is also deepened by a group of “herbalists” whose practices and motives are questionable to say the least. My sense of foreboding and dread increased with each page, as I was less and less able to imagine a happy ending. Throughout, Bohjalian made me believe in and sympathize with all of the characters, and believe that these terrible events really could happen.
Genre: 2012 Summer Reading: Mystery/Psychological Thriller
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Appeal Factors: Tone: darkly humorous; fast-paced; Writing style: compelling
Husband and wife, both unemployed, are coming up on their 5th wedding anniversary. But even aside from their employment status, all is definitely not well in their marriage. Then the wife disappears (is murdered?) the morning of. Husband becomes more and more of a suspect and his lies and weird behavior do nothing to further his credibility. Lots of plot twists, some of which I saw coming but I was still thoroughly engaged. Story became more and more creepy but also compelling as I got to know these disturbing, self-centered characters. Greatest appeal: darkly humorous writing style revealed largely through individual characters’ thoughts and descriptions of events. Hilarious. I laughed out loud. And couldn’t put it down.
Genre: 2012 Summer Reading: Memoir
Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant – Dyan Cannon
Appeal Factors: Tone: Bittersweet; Writing Style: Candid
This is Dyan Cannon’s story of her life with Cary Grant and the years following their divorce. More than half the book is devoted to Grant’s pursuit of Cannon and their very romantic and star-studded courtship. Then comes the short-lived marriage, ill-fated from the beginning, mostly because of Grant’s unresolved issues from his horrible childhood combined with Cannon’s immaturity and lack of a strong sense of self. The end of the book recounts Cannon’s recovery from the end of the relationship, including the drugs and drinking that took over her life for a time, and her love for her daughter. Throughout, Cannon describes herself and Grant also as “seekers.” She ultimately finds what she is looking for in life: not so much “God” as “Love” as the sort of defining force in the world.
This will appeal to people who enjoy reading about celebrities’ lives, friends, problems, and growth as individuals.
Genre: 2012 Summer Read: Historical Fiction
The Sandcastle Girls – Chris Bohjalian
Appeal Factors: Storyline: Character-driven; Tone: Romantic but Violent; Writing style: gritty
Bohjalian offers a parallel narrative that alternates between the gritty details of the Armenian genocide of 1915 and the story of a young novelist in contemporary New York City researching the details of her heritage. The genocide is seen through the lens of a love story between a young American woman, Elizabeth, accompanying her father on a mission to aid the survivors of the ongoing atrocities of the Armenian genocide, and a young Armenian engineer, Armen, who has lost his wife and daughter in the massacre and ensuing violence. The young NYC novelist is their great-granddaughter. The absolutely brutal details surrounding the genocide are relieved somewhat both by the structure of the novel, which repeatedly pulls us out of the horrific chronicle of the events in order to give us the great-granddaughter’s perspective; and by the letter-writing romance between Elizabeth and Armen.
I think this novel will appeal to readers who liked Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay. Both are parallel narratives that offer well-developed characters along with a romance, are extremely well-researched so that the reader learns much about the time period, and both contain an element of mystery and well-kept secrets that last for decades.
Genre: 2012 Summer Reading: Romance
When in Doubt, Add Butter – Beth Harbison
Appeal Factors: Storyline: character-driven; Tone: Amusing
This very quick read was delightfully engaging. It’s the story of likable Gemma Craig, a 37-year-old private chef who has seemingly come to terms with her single status and her busy life of work, small extended family, and friends – with the emphasis on work. This is a light, humorous account with well-drawn characters. Mostly it’s the story of Gemma’s everyday life involving her 6 clients and a one-night stand she engages in at the beginning of the book and that she can’t seem to put behind her. And, surprisingly I thought, there were many appealing details about food and cooking, so much so that I found myself eating my way through the book, making a quick trip to the local bake shop (which in itself isn’t all that surprising, but the volume of treats I came away with was unusual even for me) and also wanting to cook delicious gourmet or comfort food. That was the only surprise, however: every single twist and turn was altogether predictable and transparent. Yet that fact didn’t really detract from this fun, appealing read.
Nanci Milone Hill
Genre: Narrative Nonfiction
Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America – Erik Larson
Appeal Factors: Disturbing, Suspenseful, Gritty, Richly-Detailed
This is a thoroughly intriguing detail of the Chicago World Fair of 1893. Amid the throngs of people who visited the fair, was Dr. H.H. Holmes – a serial killer who trapped young female fair-goers. Larsen parallels the wonders of the “modern age” with the grisly details of Holmes’ atrocities.
Written in a narrative style, this work should appeal to anyone with an interest in history or true crime.