World Book Day is Monday – Have Some Free Books!

World Book Day is coming up, and to celebrate, Amazon is has nine ebooks for free download, all translated works from around the world. They vary from memoir, mystery, literary, historical fiction, suspense, and fantasy. They’re great selections, including some award winners. I’ve been looking to expand my horizons and read more diverse authors. A couple of these are on my list, and I’m really excited to find out about the others. There are 4 days left to download these great reads!

Let me know what you think of this list, and comment what you’ll be reading on World Book Day!

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by [Ishikawa, Masaji]

The harrowing true story of one man’s life in—and subsequent escape from—North Korea, one of the world’s most brutal totalitarian regimes.

Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit.

 

The House by the River by Lena Manta

The House by the River by [Manta, Lena]

From acclaimed Greek writer Lena Manta comes an emotionally powerful saga following five young women as they realize that no matter where life leads them, the only constant is home.

Theodora knows she can’t keep her five beautiful daughters at home forever—they’re too curious, too free spirited, too like their late father. And so, before each girl leaves the small house on the riverside at the foot of Mount Olympus, Theodora makes sure they know they are always welcome to return.

Having survived World War II, the Nazi occupation of Greece, and her husband’s death, Theodora now endures the twenty-year-long silence of her daughters’ absence. Her children have their own lives—they’ve married, traveled the world, and courted romance, fame, and even tragedy. But as they become modern, independent women in pursuit of their dreams, Theodora knows they need her—and each other—more than ever. Have they grown so far apart that they’ve forgotten their childhood home, or will their broken hearts finally lead them back again?

 

Still Water (Sandhamn Murders Book 1) by Viveca Sten

Still Waters (Sandhamn Murders Book 1) by [Sten, Viveca]

The first book in Swedish author Viveca Sten’s enormously popular Sandhamn Murders series.

On a hot July morning on Sweden’s idyllic vacation island of Sandhamn, a man takes his dog for a walk and makes a gruesome discovery: a body, tangled in fishing net, has washed ashore.

Police detective Thomas Andreasson is the first to arrive on the scene. Before long, he has identified the deceased as Krister Berggren, a bachelor from the mainland who has been missing for months. All signs point to an accident—until another brutalized corpse is found at the local bed-and-breakfast. But this time it is Berggren’s cousin, whom Thomas interviewed in Stockholm just days before.

As the island’s residents reel from the news, Thomas turns to his childhood friend, local lawyer Nora Linde. Together, they attempt to unravel the riddles left behind by these two mysterious outsiders—while trying to make sense of the difficult twists their own lives have taken since the shared summer days of their youth.

 

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

The Great Passage by [Miura, Shion]

An award-winning story of love, friendship, and the power of human connection.

Kohei Araki believes that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years of creating dictionaries, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement.

He discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Along with an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. On his journey, Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work, inspired by the words that connect us all.

 

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

Last Train to Istanbul: A Novel by [Kulin, Ayse]

An international bestseller by one of Turkey’s most beloved authors.

As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.

But when the Nazis invade France and begin rounding up Jews, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing—not war, not politics, not even religion—can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfandaris and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety. Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom. From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey’s beloved bestselling novelist Ayşe Kulin.

 

The Gray House by Miriam Petrosyan

The Gray House by [Petrosyan, Mariam]

The Gray House is enigmatic and fantastical, comic and postmodern…Rowling meets Rushdie via Tartt…Nothing short of life-changing.” —The Guardian

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

A Read Russia Prize Finalist.

 

The Question of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak

The Question of Red by [Pamuntjak, Laksmi]

From award-winning Indonesian author Laksmi Pamuntjak comes a tale of profound love against the backdrop of myth, culture, and politics.

In this sweeping saga of love, loss, revolution, and the resilience of the human spirit, Amba must find the courage to forge her own path.

Amba was named after a tragic figure in Indonesian mythology, and she spends her lifetime trying to invent a story she can call her own. When she meets two suitors who fit perfectly into her namesake’s myth, Amba cannot help but feel that fate is teasing her. Salwa, respectful to a fault, pledges to honor and protect Amba, no matter what. Bhisma, a sophisticated, European-trained doctor, offers her sensual pleasures and a world of ideas. But military coups and religious disputes make 1960s Indonesia a place of uncertainty, and the chaos strengthens Amba’s pursuit of freedom. The more Amba does to claim her own story, the better she understands her inextricable bonds to history, myth, and love.

 

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

The Light of the Fireflies by [Pen, Paul]

From bestselling Spanish author Paul Pen comes a haunting and hopeful tale of discovering light in even the darkest of places.

For his whole life, the boy has lived underground, in a basement with his parents, grandmother, sister, and brother. Before he was born, his family was disfigured by a fire. His sister wears a white mask to cover her burns.

He spends his hours with his cactus, reading his book on insects, or touching the one ray of sunlight that filters in through a crack in the ceiling. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before his own birth, about why they’re shut away.

A few days ago, some fireflies arrived in the basement. His grandma said, There’s no creature more amazing than one that can make its own light. That light makes the boy want to escape, to know the outside world. Problem is, all the doors are locked. And he doesn’t know how to get out…

 

Ten Women by Marcela Serrano

Ten Women by [Serrano, Marcela]

Award-winning Chilean author Marcela Serrano weaves a beautiful story about the universal connections between women.

For nine Chilean women, life couldn’t be more different. There is the teenage computer whiz confronting her sexual identity. A middle-aged recluse who prefers the company of her dog over that of most humans. A housekeeper. A celebrity television personality. A woman confronting the loneliness of old age.

Of disparate ages and races, these women represent the variety of cultural and social groups that Chile comprises. On the surface, they seem to have nothing in common…except for their beloved therapist, who brings them together. Yet as different as they all are, each woman has a story to share.

As the women tell their stories, unlikely common threads are discovered, bonds are formed, and lives are transformed. Their stories form an intricate tale of triumph, heartache, and healing that will resonate with women from all walks of life.

An International DUBLIN Literary Award Nominee.

 

[Image above design by: Candace]

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Sandman Universe! – A Special Thursday Edition of ‘What’s Next’ Wednesday

Comic books aren’t just for kids or for superhero fans or a specific breed of nerd. They are a fine form of literature. The best proof of this that I know of is The Sandman.

Okay, so I know it’s not Wednesday, but yesterday defeated me. So here’s a special Thursday edition of What’s Next Wednesday.

080818

Looks like an arbitrary series of numbers (I find it particularly satisfying as 8 is my favorite number. It’s just so symmetrical). What it is is a promise. That promise is a release date. There will be, on August 8, from the mind of one of my favorite creative geniuses, Neil Gaiman, more Sandman comics. While I realize this is rather (too) far away, I can’t hold on to my excitement anymore.

I am, have always been, and will always be, in Awe of Neil Gaiman. I’ve read and reread his novels and short stories. The Sandman was an obsession of mine for years. I regularly listen to his “Make Good Art” speech, and probably know it by heart (if you haven’t heard it, you should listen to it now. Well… not now. Finish reading this first.). I’m always on his website in search of news. Angel bought me a signed leather-bound copy of Ocean at the End of the Lane for Christmas, thus winning my heart forever. I learned that my favorite episode of Doctor Who was written by Gaiman (“The Doctor’s Wife”), and found that I wasn’t even surprised. And I died a little when he stopped doing tours and book signings in the US in 2013. So, I have a bit of an infatuation. One of the reasons I’m aiming for #1 fan status is the genius that is The Sandman.

I used to be a stranger to comic books. I had my reasons, flawed though they were. If you don’t read comics, I can tell you the world gets a bit brighter after you start. This began for me many years ago on Free Comic Book Day, which comes around every May the 4th. I went mostly to keep a friend company while in line, and ended up bringing home a haul of both free comics, and not-free comics. At some point while standing in line my eyes caught the several trade books of The Sandman on prominent display. I knew I had to have them. I think I spent upward of 2 hours and 100 dollars there that day, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And what I didn’t know is that comic books aren’t just for kids or for superhero fans or a specific breed of nerd. They are a fine form of literature. The best proof of this that I know of is Sandman.

The original comprised 75 issues, following the god Dream. They can be bizarre, creepy, funny, dark, and even at times Shakespearean. The genius of it is, when dealing with the world of dreams, the possibilities are boundless. After the original series came The Sandman Overture. Now, we await the release of Sandman Universe.

The Sandman comics are original, artistic, brilliant. The new Universe has been confirmed to branch out further to pursue new characters and dreamscapes. Here is a peek at what’s to come, and cover art to get excited about:

Daniel, the lord of Dreams, has gone missing and it causes chaos in the kingdom of dreams…A rift between worlds has opened, revealing a space beyond the Dreaming. Meanwhile, a book from Lucien’s library of all the unwritten books ever dreamed is discovered by a group of children in the waking world.

Simultaneously, a new House appears—the House of Whispers—joining the Houses of Secret and Mystery in the Dreaming. Its proprietor is a fortune teller called Erzulie, whom the inhabitants of the Dreaming suspect may be responsible for all the strange goings on.

Elsewhere, Lucifer has fallen again, only this time he might be in a Hell of his own design.

And in London, a young boy named Timothy Hunter sleeps, in his dreams he becomes the world’s most powerful magician, but in his nightmares, he becomes the world’s worst villain, which future will become reality? (Vertigo Comics)

 

Check out another comic by Gaiman: Only the End of the World Again

 

An Afternoon with Steven Pinker – Enlightenment Now

This weekend I had the extreme fortune to meet Steven Pinker and hear him talk about his new book: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. This book presents a hopeful view of the future, and the facts that support that hope. Our media frequently presents us with one side of the story, a side that shows a world which is violent and scary. But the truth is, progress has brought us farther than we tend to acknowledge, in terms of health, safety, education, and happiness. While we are far from solving all the world’s problems — we still have a lot of work to do — there’s little or no reason to think there is doom on the horizon.

It was a refreshing message, and the best part is that Pinker doesn’t rely on blind optimism, he doesn’t rely on his own opinion, but rather on statistics, truth, and logic. He’s got the state of the world down to a science, looking at it from a global perspective, and from almost every possible angle. It is impressive how much research this man has done. But not only has he done the research, he’s absorbed all of it. He is a true expert.

One of my favorite moments was when Pinker discussed a question he often gets: Isn’t it good to be pessimistic? Surely if we all looked at the world through rose-colored glasses we would become complacent and stop making progress, right? His answer: it’s not important to be pessimistic. It is important to be accurate.

Thank you Steven, and The Tattered Cover, for a fantastic event. It was truly a breath of fresh air.

Here are some pictures from the event. The second picture is a friend from my writer’s group/book club talking to Steven.

20180317_165239_HDR20180317_172449

Here is an official synopsis of the book:

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.

Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature–tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking–which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.

With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.

Hardcover, 576 pages
Published February 13th 2018 by Viking
ISBN: 0525427570 (ISBN13: 9780525427575)

 

 

There’s a Reason He’s Called King – A Book Review of “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams”

He doesn’t shy away from any topic, preferring honesty above all else. He’ll kill a kid in a minute. 

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a collection of short stories by Stephen King. This book is aptly named. Much of what you’ll find in the pages feels nightmarish. Some stories err on the terrifying, others delightful, others somewhat forgettable, and a couple outright shockingI can highly recommend this collection. It is, above all else, a fun ride.

I want to start this review with some back story about myself. Allow me a bit of self-indulgence to look back on my relationship with Stephen King novels, and I suppose, books in general….

I grew up on King, and I’m always reading King. I will always adore him, as I’ll always adore the horror and thriller genres. His books are a part of my childhood. To quote the King in On Writing: “I was built with a love of the night and the unquiet coffin, that’s all.”

When I was little, my dad was always reading. He read to us at night before bed, and he could always be seen with a weighty tome in hand in between doing chores around the house. While the rest of us were watching TV he was in his chair, his glasses pushed down to the end of his nose, absorbed in a book, and you could just tell that nothing else existed to him then, not the TV, not us, just the world inside the pages.

When I picture him in his leather armchair reading, I typically picture him reading Stephen King. He reads plenty of other authors, but King stands out. My dad has read everything King’s ever written. For as long as I can remember we bought him the newest hardcover Stephen King for his birthday, and then when King started releasing them more rapidly, for Christmas and Father’s Day too. He’s read them all.

It surprised me, much later in life, when I pointed out that King was one of his favorite authors and my dad simply…shrugged. “But you’ve read every single one of his books!” I protested.

“He’s alright,” my dad said. “His books are great, usually until the end. His endings are lame.” Then he went on to tell me all of the exceptions to this. There were plenty of exceptions. I think he just never stopped being mad about the ending of It.

I could only laugh at dad’s nonchalance, because by then I understood his stoicism. My dad never gets outwardly excited about anything, for some reason. But whatever he claims, I know he’s about as big a King fan as he is a fan of anything.

I attribute my love of reading to my dad. I have the fondest memories of him reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to my brother and I (I’ve since worked out that Douglas Adams is, in fact, his favorite). He read me the first Harry Potter novels. He helped me with my book reports. He once told me that there was nothing to do in his tiny hometown, so when he was younger he spent all his time at the library. He would check out a large stack of books, as many as they’d let him, finish them all, bring them back and get a new stack. He did this every week. I was – and am still – amazed by this. In part because I’m not a fast reader like he is. But mostly because…people just don’t do that anymore.

I can’t say that I’ve read everything King has published. I’m still catching up. But I can say that King was my first introduction into adult books. Even before my dad was reading us Hitchhiker’s Guide, I was sneaking books off of his shelves. I think I was eight or nine when I pilfered my first one: ‘Salem’s Lot. I hid it in my backpack, read it secretly at school, careful to hide it inside of binders and notebooks. I read it at night in my room, when I was supposed to be asleep. And yes, it scared the ever-loving shit out of me. But I read the whole thing. Because my dad had told me it was his favorite. (I was maybe too young to read something so horrifying, but then again maybe I wasn’t. I think I turned out fine. This is the reason I roll my eyes when anyone insists kids can’t handle certain content. They can, but that’s a topic of discussion for another day.)

‘Salem’s Lot was the first, but not the last book I would secretly borrow from my father’s bookshelves. (I am, I might add, slightly proud of the fact that neither of my parents had any idea I did this until I told them a few years ago.) From that moment on, I was hooked on King. Part of my love for him is nostalgic in nature. But there’s a reason he’s called King…. It’s his name, yes, I know…but he is The King. With few exceptions his prose is lovely, his characters are complete, his plots both epic and honest. He doesn’t shy away from any topic, going where even horror writers hesitate to, preferring honesty above all else. As a friend of mine (a King fanatic) likes to point out, he’ll kill a kid in a minute.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams came out a few years ago. Several of these stories were published elsewhere already. Several others were previously unpublished. I had not read any of them. Bazaar was pretty far down on my TBR list, but something about it kept calling to me. Possibly it was the cover art. I am obsessed with the cover art; I mean I really just can’t look away.

I dig short story collections, though I spent years putting them on the back-burner. I’m glad I didn’t put off reading Bazaar. This was one I couldn’t stop thinking about. When I was at work, when I was hanging out with friends or with Angel (my live-in boyfriend, love of my life, and a decided non-reader), I just wanted to keep reading more stories. (Please don’t tell Angel.)

By far the most delightful story in this collection is “Ur”. In “Ur,” a college English professor decides he’ll finally join the ranks of those who read on the internet and order himself a Kindle. When it arrives, he’s surprised to discover it’s pink (this was when the Kindle was new and only came in white). He’s also surprised to discover that he can buy Ernest Hemingway novels that don’t exist, at least, not in our particular reality. If you love books, you will love this story. Though the ending was not what I expected (you’re not wrong, dad), it was so much fun. And if you know where I can buy a pink classic Kindle, please let me know.

Some of the stories are based on supernatural phenomena. This is always well done, and rarely campy, even in “The Little Green God of Agony”, which has all of the makings of a black and white horror flick from the ’60’s. And I’m still trying to figure out how, in “Mile 81”, King can make a man-eating car worthy of my worst nightmares. As if I need more reason to be afraid of cars (driving easily makes up more than half of my anxiety), there is a recurring theme of the killer car in this collection. Horrific stories of car accidents feature prominently throughout. The most important of these is “Henry Wouk is Still Alive.” There are car accidents in “Batman and Robin Have an Altercation”, “Ur”, “Tommy”, and “Bad Little Kid”. Not to mention the story “That Bus is Another World”, which takes place entirely in a car while stuck in New York City traffic. Although I’ve never been physically run over by a car as Stephen King has, I do share his fear of reckless drivers. There is enough about cars in this to make you stick to walking for at least a week.

Undoubtedly some of these stories won’t leave you. For me, there were three. “The Dune” was one (yes Mr. King, the ending to this story is absolutely perfect). The others were “Ur” and “Afterlife”. In “Afterlife”, King explores one possible theory of…you guessed it, the afterlife. It’s entirely new, as far as I know. After you read it, I can almost guarantee you’ll continue pondering the possibilities long after. It’s dark, funny, and playfully philosophical.

If you do pick up this book, check the table of contents. Make sure it’s one of the editions that includes the story “Cookie Jar”. Some early editions don’t have it, and it’s not a story you want to miss. It has elements of science fiction and fantasy. It’s an interesting portrayal of mental illness, of war, and of whimsy.

This book won’t let you down. Even in those stories that just don’t work for me (“Morality”, “Summer Thunder”, and “The Bone Church”, which is actually a poem, and certainly not my cup of tea), I found that I could appreciate something in all of them, and that they never overstayed their welcome.

 

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

By Stephen King

495 Pages

Published November 3rd 2015 by Scribner (first published 2013)

ISBN: 1501111671 (ISBN13: 9781501111679)

 

Next will be a review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman

 

Christmas in March!

I’m having just the best week, and I’m here to share the joy (and maybe brag just a little bit). Mostly because I came home to a lovely package with “Penguin Random House” on the side of the box. It’s Christmas in March!

I’m a sucker for giveaways, which I guess just means I love free stuff. Who doesn’t! But I never win, at least until now. I was entered into this particular giveaway after becoming a member of the Penguin Random House Reader Advisory Panel, and much to my surprise, I received this bag stuffed full of new hardcovers!

(Angel was far less excited. “That’s all we need,” he said, “more books.” I guess he does have a point, since we’re moving in September, and I’ve acquired about twice the amount of books since our last move. Yes my love they’re heavy, but still, they’re free! And they look like great reads!)

Here’s what I got:

Cloister by James Carroll – Released March 6.

Father Michael Kavanagh is shocked to see a friend from his seminary days named Runner Malloy at the altar of his humble Inwood community parish. Wondering about their past, he wanders into the medieval haven of The Cloisters, and begins a conversation with a lovely and intriguing museum guide, Rachel Vedette.

Rachel, a scholar of medieval history, has retreated to the quiet of The Cloisters after her harrowing experience as a Jewish woman in France during the Holocaust. She ponders her late father’s greatest intellectual work: a study demonstrating the relationship between the famously discredited monk Peter Abelard and Jewish scholars. Something about Father Kavanagh makes Rachel think he might appreciate her continued studies, and she shares with him the work that cost her father his life.

At the center of these interrelated stories is the classic romance between the great scholar Peter Abelard and his intellectual equal Héloïse. For Rachel, Abelard is the key to understanding her people’s place in intellectual history. For Kavanagh, he is a doorway to understanding the life he might have had outside of the Church. The Cloister is James Carroll at his best.

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Meet Sunday Night, a woman with physical and psychological scars, and a killer instinct.

Sunnie has spent years running from her past, burying secrets and building a life in which she needs no one and feels nothing. But a girl has gone missing, lost in the chaos of a bomb explosion, and the family needs Sunnie’s help. Is the girl dead? Did someone take her? If she is out there, why doesn’t she want to be found?

It’s time for Sunnie to face her own demons—because they just might lead her to the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon – Released February 6

Ky beats sabotage, betrayal, and the unforgiving elements to lead a ragtag group of crash survivors to safety on a remote arctic island. And she cheats death after uncovering secrets someone is hell-bent on protecting. But the worst is far from over when Ky discovers the headquarters of a vast conspiracy against her family and the heart of the planet’s government itself.

With their base of operations breached, the plotters have no choice but to gamble everything on an audacious throw of the dice. Even so, the odds are stacked against Ky. When her official report on the crash and its aftermath goes missing—along with the men and women she rescued—Ky realizes that her mysterious enemies are more powerful and dangerous than she imagined.

Now, targeted by faceless assassins, Ky and her family—along with her fiancé, Rafe—must battle to reclaim the upper hand and unmask the lethal cabal closing in on them with murderous intent.

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend

Born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1882 to immigrant parents, Frances Frankowski covets the life of her best friend, Rosalie Mendel, who has everything Fanny could wish for—money, parents who value education, and an effervescent and winning personality. When, at age fifteen, Rosalie decides they should run away to Chicago, Fanny jumps at the chance to escape her unexceptional life. But, within a year, Rosalie commits an unforgivable betrayal, inciting Frances to strike out on her own.

Decades later, the women reconnect in San Francisco and realize how widely their lives have diverged. While Rosalie is a housewife and mother, Frances works as a secretary for the Office of Naval Intelligence. There she is introduced to Ainslie Conway, an intelligence operator ten years her junior. When it’s arranged for Frances and Ainslie to marry and carry out a mission on the Galápagos Islands, the couple’s identities—already hidden from each other—are further buried under their new cover stories. No longer a lonely spinster, Frances is about to begin the most fascinating and intrigue-filled years of her life.

Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.

Drawing on the rich history of the early twentieth century and set against a large, colorful canvas, Enchanted Islands boldly examines the complexity of female friendship, the universal pursuit of a place to call home, and the reverberations of secrets we keep from others and from ourselves.

God: A Human History by Reza Aslan

In Zealot, Reza Aslan replaced the staid, well-worn portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth with a startling new image of the man in all his contradictions. In his new book, Aslan takes on a subject even more immense: God, writ large.

In layered prose and with thoughtful, accessible scholarship, Aslan narrates the history of religion as a remarkably cohesive attempt to understand the divine by giving it human traits and emotions. According to Aslan, this innate desire to humanize God is hardwired in our brains, making it a central feature of nearly every religious tradition. As Aslan writes, “Whether we are aware of it or not, and regardless of whether we’re believers or not, what the vast majority of us think about when we think about God is a divine version of ourselves.”

But this projection is not without consequences. We bestow upon God not just all that is good in human nature—our compassion, our thirst for justice—but all that is bad in it: our greed, our bigotry, our penchant for violence. All these qualities inform our religions, cultures, and governments.

More than just a history of our understanding of God, this book is an attempt to get to the root of this humanizing impulse in order to develop a more universal spirituality. Whether you believe in one God, many gods, or no god at all, God: A Human History will challenge the way you think about the divine and its role in our everyday lives.

The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe learns valuable lessons about first impressions and forgiveness in this latest installment of the beloved and best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi are approached by their part-time colleague, Mr. Polopetsi, with a troubling story: a woman, accused of being rude to a valued customer, has been wrongly dismissed from her job at an office furniture store. Never one to let an act of injustice go unanswered, Mma Ramotswe begins to investigate, but soon discovers unexpected information that causes her to reluctantly change her views about the case.

Other surprises await our intrepid proprietress in the course of her inquiries. Mma Ramotswe is puzzled when she happens to hear of a local nurse named Mingie Ramotswe. She thought she knew everybody by the name of Ramotswe, and that they were all related. Who is this mystery lady? Then, she is alerted by Mma Potokwani that an unpleasant figure from her past has recently been spotted in town. Mma Ramotswe does her best to avoid the man, but it seems that he may have returned to Botswana specifically to seek her out. What could he want from her?

With the generosity and good humor that guide all her endeavors, Mma Ramotswe will untangle these questions for herself and for her loved ones, ultimately bringing to light important truths about friendship and family—both the one you’re born with and the one you choose.

Grey by E.L. James

See the world of Fifty Shades of Grey anew through the eyes of Christian Grey.

In Christian’s own words, and through his thoughts, reflections, and dreams, E L James offers a fresh perspective on the love story that has enthralled millions of readers around the world.

Christian Grey exercises control in all things; his world is neat, disciplined, and utterly empty—until the day that Anastasia Steele falls into his office, in a tangle of shapely limbs and tumbling brown hair. He tries to forget her, but instead is swept up in a storm of emotion he cannot comprehend and cannot resist. Unlike any woman he has known before, shy, unworldly Ana seems to see right through him—past the business prodigy and the penthouse lifestyle to Christian’s cold, wounded heart.

Will being with Ana dispel the horrors of his childhood that haunt Christian every night? Or will his dark sexual desires, his compulsion to control, and the self-loathing that fills his soul drive this girl away and destroy the fragile hope she offers him?

‘What’s Next’ Wednesday – “The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror”

Next week, on March 13, I’ll be hitting the bookstore to pick up The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror, by Mallory Ortberg. The Merry Spinster is a collection of short stories, twists on classic fairy tales. They have been described as mischievous, terrifying, funny, and feminist. I think everyone has been hearing about this book for a long time. I know I have. Though I’m largely unfamiliar with the author (I wasn’t fortunate enough to have caught Ortberg’s website The Toast — which was popular for retellings of classic stories — during its brief lifespan), I am excited about this book’s possibilities. Ortberg has a reputation for being fearless, funny, and emotionally honest.

I’m excited to read it for several reasons. I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately. As a fiction writer I am always, on some level, deconstructing and learning what makes a story work. I have a particular interest in how a writer can move readers in a limited number of words (writers of flash-fiction are both fascinating and mysterious to me). I also have a nostalgic fondness for fairy tales, and an awareness of how antiquated the messages in fairy tales tend to be. That’s why I read every modern retelling of fairy tales that I can get my hands on.

I’m also a fan of all things twisted and scary. This book promises a generous helping of horror. Given many classic fairy tales are horrific on their own (I only recently learned of the original ending to Cinderella, and the original Sleeping Beauty will give you nightmares), I look forward to seeing if it lives up to the expectation.

All of this is enough. Add in the fact that the tales are told from a feminist perspective, and I am well and truly sold.

 

Leave me a comment if you’re looking forward to reading The Merry Spinster, if you are one of the fortunate few who read an advance copy, if you know the author. And especially if you have recommendation of gems within this genre.

Or just let me know what you’re reading today.

 

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror

By: Mallory Ortberg

240 pages

Expected publication: March 13th 2018 by Holt Paperbacks

ISBN: 1250113423 (ISBN13: 9781250113429)

‘What’s Next’ Wednesday – “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” by Michelle McNamara

I can never resist learning about the kinds of people who found their true calling in life and followed it wholeheartedly, even if it meant going to a dark and difficult place on a daily basis.

It’s Wednesday — historically my toughest day. It’s possible I’m alone in this, or at least in the minority. I think many people struggle with Mondays, but not me. I feel good most Mondays. In fact, I feel downright optimistic as I’m catching the train first thing in the morning, headphones in place, coffee and book in hand. By Wednesday, however, the optimism and vitality have begun to fade. They’ve given way to anxiousness, a feeling that I’m not being productive enough outside of work. This is why I’m a big proponent of the two-day work week.

But… this blog is dedicated to positive expression. Something we all need, and something I need today especially. So, in the spirit of lifting spirits (my own, and hopefully yours), I will have a weekly Wednesday post featuring new books or soon-to-be-released books that I can’t wait to read.

Today on that bright horizon is a book released just yesterday: I’ll Be Gone in the Darkby Michelle McNamara. The subtitle of this book is: “One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.” Michelle was a journalist whose life’s work was investigating an elusive serial killer who raped and killed women in California for over a decade. He was never caught.

I’ve been a fan of murder mysteries, thrillers, and horror novels for most of my life. But somehow I never read much true crime until recently. There’s something fascinating about the genre, and admirable about those who write it. McNamara’s book has been described as a masterpiece. It’s also been described as a glimpse into the mind of a woman obsessed. I can never resist learning about the kinds of people who found their true calling in life and followed it wholeheartedly, even if it meant going to a dark and difficult place on a daily basis.

There is tragedy behind this book, and its author, if you don’t already know the story. Michelle McNamara died suddenly in 2016, before she was able to finish her book.  It was finished by a friend and fellow researcher, and her loving husband. (If you haven’t seen it, and you’re a comedy fan, I highly recommend Patton Oswalt’s stand up special on Netflix: Annihilation. It’s one of the best stand-ups I’ve ever seen, and he tells some beautiful, if heartbreaking, stories about his late wife.)

I think the wonderful thing about true crime researchers and writers is that, when it’s done well, they help give answers and closure to victims’ families. I hope that the book’s success will also give Michelle’s family comfort in knowing that her life’s work will not go unnoticed, or unappreciated.

Patton Oswalt will be touring to discuss his wife’s book next week (today through the eighth) in: Brookline MA, Naperville IL, Beverly Hills CA, Portland OR, Seattle WA, and San Francisco, CA. For those of you who are close, and are planning to go, I’m so jealous!

 

Are you a reader of true crime books, and if so, what’s your favorite? What book releases are you looking forward to today?

 

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

By: Michelle McNamara

With and introduction by Gillian Flynn, and afterword by Patton Oswalt

352 Pages

Published: Published February 27th 2018 by Harper

ISBN 0062319809 (ISBN13: 9780062319807)

 

Book Review – The Fifth Season – Why it should be at the top of your TBR list

I’m willing to bet that if you read this book, you will continue through the series. In fact, the very last line will give you absolutely no choice.

The world is ending, and this apocalypse promises to be so much worse than the others. Father Earth has been shattered at its center by a mysterious man, one of several individuals born with the ability to connect to the earth, move it, manipulate it, save it, or break it. People who, in this world, are not considered people. Orogenes.

Essun has been hiding the fact she’s an orogene for over a decade. One day she comes home to find that her son, who was only two years old, is dead, brutally murdered by his father. Her daughter is missing.

Young Damaya’s orogeny has been discovered, and her parents have called to have her taken to the Fulcrum, where orogenes are trained, and controlled. A pale man arrives to bring her to her new life. He promises that he loves her, and will end her life if she dares step out of line.

Syenite has mastered her orogeny faster than most who train at the Fulcrum. With her power and control comes a new responsibility: to become pregnant by the most powerful orogene in existence.

So begins The Fifth Season, the first book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. With a mother who loses her son, her quest to find her daughter and have her revenge. With a little girl betrayed by her parents, frightened of everything, including herself, as she’s forced into indentured servitude. With a powerful young woman who finds she never knew what being a “rogga” in this world truly means. And a man who just wants it all to end.

The Fifth Season deserves every bit of praise it has gotten, and more. With this first installment, Jemisin shows us that she is a legendary writer, and not afraid of anything. The story is told from three alternating points of view, three different timelines. She writes in past and present tense, and third and second person (Essun is you). And nowhere amidst this out-of-the-box structure does it ever feel disjointed. Rather, this bending of the rules leaves you with a feeling that you are experiencing something entirely new.

Jemisin leaves questions unanswered in this first installment. Who is the narrator? What are the guardians, and what do they want? What are the stone eaters, and what do they want? The magic system — which is unlike anything we’ve ever seen — is hardly understood by even those who wield it. About this, and other world-building elements, Jemisin is intentionally vague at times. And that’s okay. She does not underestimate her readers, and so refuses to spoon-feed us. She wants us to be empowered to tease out these details for ourselves.

If you don’t typically read trilogies, if you are a stranger, or even a deliberate avoider of the fantasy and sci-fi genres, I urge you to branch out for The Fifth Season, because odds are, this book is for you. The themes of the story are complex, and heavy. The characters are complex, and diverse! It is an interesting and amusing read, and it is also a powerful metaphor addressing: oppression, responsibility to the earth, and responsibility to our children.

I am someone who rarely reads past the first book in a series. I picked up The Fifth Season because of peer pressure (which shows that peer pressure can be great for your health if coming from the right peers). Some friends of mine raved about this book; they would not shut up about it for weeks. Now…I have a hilariously Long TBR list, as I’m sure most of us do. I’m not one to drop everything to read something because it’s popular. I’m very skeptical of “popular” books. But there was something about their sheer enthusiasm, and the promise of a twist ending (I can never resist a twist). I decided I had to drop whatever else I was reading, whatever else I was doing, and go pick it up at my local B&N. Either it would be as special as it sounded, or I would know to only take future recommendations from those friends with a grain of salt. I’m so happy that it turned out to be the former.

I’m willing to bet that if you read this book, you will continue through the series. In fact, the very last line will give you absolutely no choice.

The Fifth Season won a Hugo Award for Best Novel, and this week it was announced that the third installment The Stone Sky has been nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Novel. I cannot wait to read it!

If you read The Fifth Season, let me know what you thought about it. If you read the rest of the trilogy, let me know that too! But please, no spoilers.

 

The Fifth Season

Length: 468 pages

Published August 4th 2015 by Orbit

ISBN 0316229296 (ISBN13: 9780316229296)

Hugo Award for Best Novel (2016)Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2015)Locus Award Nominee for Best Fantasy Novel (2016)World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2016)The Kitschies Nominee for Red Tentacle (Novel) (2015)

[Next will be a review of Stephen King’s book of short stories: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams]

The Essential Human Element

I think a lot of us share a compelling need, at times, for solidarity, including me. I believe that need, above all else, is the reason people like us find so much joy and solace in literature. It’s that feeling you get when you read a book and the character thinks just like you do or feels something you feel and you learn that you’re not alone. To me, that’s the mark of a well written story: the ability to be raw and honest, to be unfailingly human.

First, let me say I don’t know how you got here, but I’m so happy you did. Welcome and thanks (in advance) for reading.

Writing the first post in a series on one’s book blog feels like an awkwardly personal homework assignment: list points A, B, and C, wrap up with a nice conclusion of what you hope to accomplish, and don’t forget to site your sources. I’m not really going to do that, though that’s how I started thinking about this post. Instead, I’m just going to say things, and forego the organization my inner AP English nerd is screaming for.

Maybe I’ll start this blog the same way I started my dating profile a few years ago (and no it’s not still out there, so please don’t look for it):

“Hello, I’m a twenty-something bookaholic. I love: coffee, music, animals, being outside, being inside, sarcasm, the oxford comma and Really Really Big Books. I believe in: personal responsibility, freedom, existentialism, free t-shirts, The Matrix, and Really Really Big Robots. I hate: Allergies! And injustice and oppression also. I am an aspiring: novelist, musician, superhero, stand-up comedian, poet, philosopher, adventurer, entrepreneur, and Olympic gold medalist. OK…not that last one. ”

I guess, I’m just a girl who’s here to write about stuff I love, and what I think about it.

On a more serious note, I’ve never believed in one universal, human condition. Now that I say that, I find it a bit ludicrous, and I also find it obvious that the most basic, universal human condition is facing the inevitability of our own death, but I’ll stray from that line of thought for now, because who would start off a blog by reminding her readers they’re all going to die one day?

You won’t. You’ll be fine… 😉

Bear with me. I don’t really believe in one universal, human condition. I think there are conditions that many people share, but I don’t think we are born with the knowledge of any of them. As Jean-Paul Sartre — the father of existentialism and one of the most fascinating human beings who has ever lived — is famous for putting forth: Existence precedes essence. I’m not really here to philosophize, I only say this because I cringe at blanket statements, and because I don’t believe that anyone ever really needs anything. Especially someone like me, who has always had more than she will ever “need”. I don’t even believe that every human being needs happiness, especially not in a structural, societally-defined sort of way. I think it’s easy to try and break down human motivations into categories of, say… Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – health, security, relationships, self-esteem, cheese, self-actualization…Doctor Who…Okay, so I don’t remember psychology class all that well — but one thing I’m learning is that human beings are so much more complex than that.

That being said, I think a lot of us share a compelling need, at times, for solidarity, including me. I believe that need, above all else, is the reason people like me, or us, find so much joy and solace in literature. It’s that feeling you get when you read a book and the character thinks just like you do or feels something you feel and you learn that you’re not alone. To me, that’s the mark of a well written story: the ability to be raw and honest, to be unfailingly human.

Then there’s this blog. I don’t know much about blogging. I’m also an extremely private person. But, I’m here because I read, and I write, and because I’m a creative type surrounded by so many non-creative types in my everyday life that I am practically bursting at the seams. The purposes behind this blog, then, may be simple, and may even be easily shoved into the categories of: a need for solidarity, or a need for a structured, societally-defined sort of happiness. But, whatever the reasons are, I’m here, and I’m ready to try this thing. At the very least, I hope it will be a satisfying outlet. Wherever “outlets” fall on the Maslow pyramid, I’m not sure, but I think people need those too, sometimes.

So, welcome to RootReads. (Because who doesn’t love alliteration?)