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An Everyday Obsession

An Everyday Obsession

posted by:
December 3, 2012 - 8:15am

The Dangers of Proximal AlphabetsTo the average observer, Ida, Jackson, and James are ordinary childhood friends. They imagine fantasylands, have sleepovers, and run amok outdoors, all in each other’s company. But they don’t stay children forever. In The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, Kathleen Alcott exposes the obsessions, insecurities, and weaknesses of the trio as they grow from closely enmeshed friends into troubled and estranged adults. 

 

Told from Ida’s point of view, much of the story focuses on Ida and Jackson, or I and J, as they call each other. From their earliest meeting Ida sees Jackson as uniquely hers, and Alcott’s simple and poetic prose unveils the seeds of Ida’s disquietingly intimate obsession with him. As an infant she cried when she was first separated from him, as a child she listens to his eerie sleep-talking conversations with James, and as an adult she proudly catalogues for the reader some of his most personal idiosyncrasies. James, Jackson’s younger brother, is slowly marginalized within the friendship into a mere witness to Ida and Jackson’s growing closeness. As they age, Ida and Jackson gradually become a couple and James drifts into mental illness. Jackson’s boyhood sleep-talking has transformed into more disturbing sleep-walking, and Ida’s response to his unconscious actions threatens to unhinge their strangely dysfunctional relationship.

 

Although quite short, this novel is packed with subtle emotions and extremely human relationships. The characters are all eccentric in one way or another, yet they seem so normal when viewed through Ida’s eyes. Part coming-of-age story and part psychological drama, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a thought-provoking and bittersweet read perfect for a cold fall night.

 

Rachael

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Religion, Philosophy, and Adventure

Religion, Philosophy, and Adventure

posted by:
December 3, 2012 - 7:45am

The Elephant Keepers' ChildrenPeter Hoeg has created a delightful novel with a cast of zany characters in his newest book The Elephant Keepers' Children. Fourteen-year-old Peter and his older siblings Tilte and Hans are thrust into a mystery when they are informed that their parents have mysteriously vanished. Hans manages to evade capture, but Peter and Tilte are caught and taken to Big Hill, a home for abandoned children and recovering addicts on the island of Fino. Determined to find their parents, Peter and Title plan and execute an elaborate escape, beginning an adventure that is destined to change their lives forever. They encounter several curious characters along the way, including Count Rickardt Three Lions, a recovering heroin addict and resident of  Big Hill, Leonora Ticklepalate, a nun in Fino’s Buddhist community and resident computer scientist and IT specialist, and Lars and Katinka, two police officers who are also star-crossed lovers chasing the children. Not everyone they encounter is out to help the pair. They are also being chased by a hapless bishop and her secretary, and a professor and his wife. Peter and Tilte are aware that their parents are up to something and they believe they are going to a conference in Copenhagen that will gather together great scientific minds and religious leaders of all faiths. Along the way, Peter reflects on his own brand of spiritualty and wonders what is left when you cut through the dogma.

 

Readers may remember Peter Hoeg from Smilla’s Sense of Snow but will encounter a very different novel with The Elephant Keepers' Children. Peter is an imminently likeable narrator, and the novel is full of humor, adventure, and incredibly memorable characters. There is also a philosophical undercurrent running through the novel that readers who enjoy a second layer will certainly appreciate. The tone and atmosphere are remarkably fun and there are a few great chuckles along the way.

 

Doug

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The Second Time Around

The Second Time Around

posted by:
November 30, 2012 - 7:45am

Rescue My HeartBarefoot in the Rain According to the Sinatra song, “Love is lovelier the second time around.” These two new romances prove him right with stories of couples giving love a second chance. Rescue My Heart by Jill Shalvis, the third in her Animal Magnetism series, brings readers Adam’s long-awaited story. When he was a teenager, Adam Connelly left behind Holly Reid, the only woman he ever loved, to join the military and make something of his life. After a rescue mission in Afghanistan went terribly wrong, Adam returned to Belle Haven, the veterinary clinic he runs with his brothers, to piece his life back together. He trains Search and Rescue dogs and coordinates rescues, but no longer works in the field. Holly is desperate to find her father who is missing on the mountain. When she asks Adam to help her, he can’t refuse. The longer Adam and Holly are together, the more he realizes that he never stopped loving her. Full of loveable dogs, steamy romance, and snappy dialogue, Rescue My Heart, like Adam and Holly’s relationship, was definitely worth the wait.

 

Fifteen years ago, Jocelyn Bloom, the heroine of Roxanne St. Claire’s Barefoot in the Rain, left behind her abusive father and her life in Mimosa Key, Florida. Her only regret is that when she escaped that world, she had to leave behind Will Palmer, the boy next door and her first love. Jocelyn returns to Mimosa Key after a tabloid scandal damages her reputation as a celebrity life coach in L.A., and she finds that Will is caring for her estranged father who now has Alzheimer’s. It’s time for Jocelyn to make some serious decisions in her life, and Will is determined that they give their love a second chance. St. Claire is known for her heart-pounding romantic suspense, but her new contemporary romance series shows her versatile talent. Readers will want to revisit her Barefoot Bay series soon.

 

Beth

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Here Comes the Hostage Taker

Here Comes the Hostage Taker

posted by:
November 30, 2012 - 7:30am

Love BombSomething old, something new, something borrowed, something explosive? In Love Bomb by Lisa Zeidner, Tess and Gabe’s wedding is hijacked by a rifle-wielding woman wearing a strapless white wedding gown. Her ensemble is completed with an antique gas mask and a small bomb strapped to her arm. Tess and Gabe wanted a simple home wedding with close family and friends. Tess’s mother, Helen, had the usual worries of weather and food that accompany hosting such an important event.  And of course, the guest list was a bit tricky as it included bitter exes, jealous girlfriends, and way too many psychiatrists. But those wedding day worries pale in comparison to the hostage drama that unfolds.

 

As the players in this theater, the wedding guests realize that this woman is seeking revenge for love lost. The guests each wrack their brains to try and seek a connection with the masked woman, and soon are confessing secrets and sins in the hopes of placating the “love terrorist.” Among the confessors are the bride’s thrice-married father, her recently divorced brother, and the groom’s sister’s movie-star boyfriend who is no stranger to stalkers. All of the psychiatrists try to take over the situation and talk to the hostage taker, but it is Helen who creates a bond with her and begins to pick up clues as to the woman’s identity. 

 

The reader learns of Crystal’s (the hostage taker) sad story before the wedding guests, and her motives are almost understandable. Despite the heavy artillery and potential for bloodshed, this is a comedy of manners about love gone horribly wrong. The hostages’ stories about failed love are the centerpiece of this story and are entertaining, depressing, and pathetic. This satirical story about the infinite varieties of passion and heartbreak reaches a tender, satisfying, and surprising conclusion. 

 

Maureen

 
 

Upward Mobility

Upward Mobility

posted by:
November 26, 2012 - 8:05am

NWNegotiating life outside of London's Caldwell council estate is a little like surviving a video game for the sympathetic characters in British writer Zadie Smith’s most recent novel, NW. The NW stands for the gritty northwest corner of London, where this story takes place. Just like a video game, cantilevering to the next level involves luck, mobility, chance encounters, and the ability to beat perceived demons. The fictional housing project known as Caldie to locals is ground zero for Smith's thirty-something survivors who now cope with the vagaries of their life beyond their rough beginnings. At its core are Leah and Natalie, longtime best friends whose divergent paths belie their internal struggles to thrive. While Natalie in her dogged fashion goes about shedding her old life (she becomes a lawyer), Leah appears stuck in a morass of her own making. Their march toward college, adulthood, and marriage is not without the hardship of merging the past with a present that is strewn with self-doubt, regrettable decisions, and misguided envy. Along the way, their messy lives entwine with others from the old neighborhood, including likeable Felix, a recovering addict whose desire for a respectable life proves illusive.

 

No stranger to literary rebellion, Smith’s brassy tinkering with narrative style asks a lot of her readers. She divides the story into sections, with the largest given over to Natalie and conveyed in 185 snapshots, some only a sentence long. The author of several highly regarded novels, including White Teeth, Smith is adept at drawing out the heart and soul of her characters and sandwiching them between the rough edges of a diverse, violent, and modern city. In this case, it is a world too layered to fully understand and too fluid to remain still.

 

Cynthia

 
 

A Warped Sense of Reality

The Girl BelowThere is an unsettling mystery at the heart of Bianca Zander’s debut novel, The Girl Below, a tale of family secrets and self-discovery set in modern-day London. When Suki Piper was a little girl, she lived with her parents in a basement flat in Notting Hill. One night, her parents threw a party in their building’s courtyard. During the revelry, Suki and a few others became trapped underground in a World War II-era air raid shelter on the property. Suki has no memory of how she escaped, and this incident haunts her repeatedly, in dreams and also in waking moments when she is suddenly transported back to the party. She has other strange memories, including a hand which would reach out to her from a wardrobe and an unnerving statue of a girl in her neighbor’s flat. In the present day, Suki is in her late twenties and having a tough time. After a decades-long lonely existence in New Zealand trying to reconnect with her father, she has returned to London. Having little success with a job search or friendships, she becomes reacquainted with her former neighbors, a nice but dysfunctional family. Suki is once again launched into her past and must make sense once and for all of her fractured family and the missing pieces.

 

Suki can be a frustrating narrator, coming across as fairly lazy, impulsive and immature. Yet as she embarks on her search and more is revealed about her unstable family and upbringing, she becomes a more sympathetic character. Childhood events are relayed as Suki remembers them, giving a large portion of the story a fantastical, magical bend. Among her influences, Zander cites authors as diverse as Haruki Murakami, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sarah Waters. From these inspirations, a unique story is spun.  

 

Melanie

 
 

Unfaithful

Unfaithful

posted by:
November 23, 2012 - 7:05am

The Good WomanAt the center of The Good Woman by Jane Porter is Meg Brennan Roberts, who has always been good. As the oldest of a large Irish-American family, she is the good daughter, always available for support for her siblings, especially now that their mother’s cancer has returned. She is a good wife to Jack, her loving, successful architect husband and a good mother to three wonderful children. She has a good career as a publicist for a small winery in Napa. But lately, Meg has been having thoughts that are anything but good.

 

It all starts on a business trip to London with her younger, handsome boss Chad Hallahan. The international locale and whirlwind of fine food and wine prompt Chad to passionately express his feelings for Meg. She is flattered, and upon returning home cannot get him out of her mind. His declaration coincides with her recent feelings of emptiness, second-guessing her life choices. All of that, combined with the recent emotional distance of her husband, leads Meg right into Chad’s arms.

 

The guilt is overwhelming, but when she is with Chad, she feels like herself again and is blissfully happy.  Unfortunately, that happiness comes at the cost of everyone else in her life and who they need her to be. She chooses her family, but Jack discovers the affair, kicks her out of the house, and turns their children against her. Her family is shocked at their good girl’s behavior and heaps judgment upon her. This is an emotional story that packs a lot of punch. Porter captures the sisterly relationships perfectly and shares the story of infidelity without casting Meg as victim or villain. It is a real life story about tough choices and the aftershocks of mistakes. Readers will rejoice as this is the first of a trilogy, guaranteeing future meetings with the fabulous Brennan sisters.

Maureen

 
 

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility

posted by:
November 19, 2012 - 8:05am

Grace Grows Grace Grows by debut novelist Shelle Sumners proves once again that opposites attract. After growing up in the wake of her parents’ ugly divorce, sensible Grace Barnum has worked hard to create an ordered world for herself. She knows that her life is on the right track. She has a safe job editing textbooks. Grace lives with her boyfriend Steven, a reliable patent attorney who she is comfortable with but isn’t certain she truly loves. She carries anything that she could possibly need throughout the day in her purse (which she calls Big Green), so she is never caught unprepared. Grace is a perfectionist, and she works hard to live up to her own expectations. Then, she meets her neighbor’s dogwalker Tyler Wilkie. Tyler is a musician who just moved to New York City. His life is as different from Grace’s ordered world as you could possibly imagine. As their friendship deepens, Grace is confused by her feelings for Tyler who writes beautiful songs to share his feelings about her from the start. Grace has to learn to let go of perfection and open her heart to the love and life that she wants and needs. Sumners tells the story of this slow-building romance with wit and honesty, making readers want Tyler and Grace to overcome the obstacles and find a way to be happy together. This is a love story that will appeal to fans of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner.

 

Tyler’s handsome exterior and poet’s soul charms the reader along with Grace. Sumners brings his voice to the novel through the soulful lyrics of his original songs, which were written by her husband, singer-songwriter Lee Morgan. The soundtrack to Grace and Tyler’s story is available on the author’s website.

Beth

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Tantalizing Tales of the Strange

I am an ExecutionerI Am an Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran is an unusual collection of nine stories that tackle love and ecstasy, each with elements of the grotesque. Each story becomes odder with each turn of the page. “The Infamous Bengal Ming” recounts one catastrophic day in the life a heart-breaking sincere tiger who finds himself irreversibly in love with his zookeeper, Kitch. Told from the tiger’s perspective, it becomes obvious that even the kindest of intentions can have deadly repercussions.In “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Golarajan” we find Gopi, who has recently been fired by CompUSA. He takes this opportunity to fulfill his dream of being a doctor by checking out medical books from his local library and opening his own practice in a filthy old pet store. In a cringing series of events, Gopi and his wife, Manju, become lost in the murky realms of pride, illness, and deception.

 

For readers who like exploratory narration, this rich, unsettling collection plays with nontraditional points of view and alternative storytelling. From the single collective voice of a community to a group of insects under attack from humans on their planet Lucina, each new world feels both familiar yet foreign. Although it is impossible to guess where Parameswaran will lead you, be assured, where you will end up will be like no place you’ve ever been. Be forewarned.

Sarah Jane

 
 

A Love Letter to Spy Novels

A Love Letter to Spy Novels

posted by:
November 12, 2012 - 8:10am

The Double GameBaltimore author Dan Fesperman has written a tribute to classic spy novels - in the form of another spy novel. For espionage aficionados, Double Game is a dream book because Fesperman ingeniously scatters clues from classic spy thrillers throughout his riveting new book.

 

Reporter Bill Cage has been obsessed with spy novels since he was a boy. His father, a Foreign Service officer, introduced him to masters such as John Le Carre, Len Deighton, and Graham Greene. It is former spook and novelist Edwin Lemaster, however, who has the most impact on Cage, and the fictionalized Lemaster is the center of Double Game.

 

As a young journalist, Cage gets the interview of a lifetime with his idol, Lemaster. Unfortunately, in an attempt to please his new bosses, he ends up betraying the author. Fast forward many years later: Lemaster returns to Cage’s life in a most unexpected way. Cage begins to receive anonymous messages suggesting that the great Lemaster may have a dangerous past. These messages set Cage off on a chase that will reveal dark secrets from his own background.

 

Double Game stands on its own as a suspenseful, fast-paced spy story but much of its appeal is Fesperman’s homage to the genre itself. In referencing many of the very best spy novels, readers will want to search out classics they have overlooked and re-read old favorites.

 

Zeke