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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
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No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World

Cover art for The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe book world is smitten with Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. The story centers around Island Books, a small, independent bookstore on Alice Island. The store is run by its curmudgeonly owner A.J. Fikry, a lonely, middle-aged man who has not recovered from his wife’s tragic death. As the story opens, three events occur that irrevocably alter A.J.’s world. First, he meets Amelia Loman, a new marketing representative from Knightley Press. Next, his nest egg, a rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane, is stolen. Then, an abandoned toddler named Maya is found in the children’s section of his store. This quietly witty story is about love, redemption and, of course, books. Author Natasha Solomons calls it “[a] charming and funny love letter to the written word – it will leave you smiling and with a large lump in your throat.”

 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry gained the attention of librarians and booksellers even before its publication. Librarians across the country selected it as their top pick for the April LibraryReads list. The LibraryReads list features librarians’ top 10 new titles published each month, and it’s a great resource to find out about hot books before they are published.

 

Throughout the story, A.J. describes other characters by referring to the titles of the books that they read. What book best describes you? Let us know in the comments!
 

Beth

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Between the Covers with Steve Berry

Cover art for The Lincoln MythSteve Berry, bestselling and highly acclaimed author of historical thrillers, including the Cotton Malone series, has over 17,000,000 copies of his books in print internationally. Get to know Steve as he answers questions about his latest bestseller and future writing plans, and even shares the strangest way he’s encountered his readers!

 

The Lincoln Myth involves Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Constitution, religious zealots and of course, Cotton Malone trying to save the country. Where do you get your ideas? Is it true that there is a little bit of you in Cotton?

 

The constitutional concept of secession has always fascinated me.  It's one of those arguments that have no easy answer.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is likewise interesting.  It is the quintessential American religion, and it played some key roles in our history.  When I found out that Abraham Lincoln was the first president to ever read the Book of Mormon, and that he made a secret deal with Brigham Young, I knew there was a novel there.  So I sent Cotton Malone to get to the bottom of things.  And he is basically me.  When I created him for The Templar Legacy, I used my personality, so we share a lot of traits, like the love of rare books.  He doesn’t like enclosed spaces, I don’t either.  He doesn’t like the taste of alcohol.  He has finicky eating habits.  That's me.  I, of course, don’t jump out of planes and shoot guns at bad guys, but I live that through him.  

 

You’ve said in the past that the most wonderful fiction always has a ring of truth to it. What’s the ring of truth in The Lincoln Myth?

 

The concept of a union of 50 states that is indivisible and forever is not necessarily accurate.  Lincoln did not fight the Civil War to save the Union, he fought that war to create the Union.  I doubt many of us realize that.  I didn't, until I did the research for this novel.

 

History is so important to you that you and your wife created History Matters to assist communities around the world with historic restoration and preservation.  In fact, you’ll be in Baltimore at the B & O Museum for a reception and book signing on May 21 for the Edgar Allan Poe House. Why does history matter?

 

History is who we are and where we came from.  To forget that or, even worse, to just allow it to rot away, robs the future of that past.  It's our duty to preserve what came before for the next generation.

 

With so many copies of your books all over the world, you must encounter people reading your novels all the time. What is the weirdest place you’ve ever seen a Steve Berry book being read? How about the most exotic?

 

Fiji is probably the most exotic.  The oddest happened in an airport.  The man sitting beside me started reading the latest hardback, then a woman sitting across from me did the same thing.  On the back cover of each book was a full color photo of me, yet neither made the connection.  That's the cool thing about being a writer.  You don't lose your anonymity, which is wonderful.

 

Your favorite holiday decoration is your Star Trek themed tree complete with Santa in a transporter. Have you ever considered writing science fiction or fantasy?

 

I'd love to write a sci-fi novel one day.  I even have one churning in my mind, and I just might do it.  I've always been a fan of that genre.

 

How big of a thrill was it to be asked to write the forewords for the upcoming re-releases of James Michener’s novels?

 

That was truly an honor.  He is, hands-down, my favorite writer of all time.  I have a complete collection of his novels that I've amassed for over 40 years.  To see my name on the same cover with his will be amazing.  I hope a new generation of readers will rediscover Michener.   He was genius.  I write today because of him.

 

Do you have any sneak peeks for our readers as to what’s in store for Cotton Malone’s 15th adventure? Can you share any news in the development of the series for the small screen?

 

Cotton will return in 2015.  This one deals with another fascinating quirk from the Constitution.   It's called The Patriot Threat, and it will be on sale in March.  Alcon Entertainment is still developing a possible television series for Cotton.  Hopefully, it'll make it to the screen one day.  If anyone would like to know more about that, or me, or the books, check out www.steveberry.org.

Maureen

 
 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

posted by:
May 8, 2014 - 7:00am

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen OyeyemiWho’s the fairest of them all? Is it Snow, with her fair skin and hazel eyes? Maybe it is Bird, with her cap of dark curls and golden skin. Nigerian-born Helen Oyeyemi’s latest novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, takes classic fairy tale themes of beauty, stepmothers and sibling rivalry and reworks them around a 1950s New England town and a family’s secrets.

 

Eighteen-year-old Boy Novak lives in New York City with her sadistic father who works as a rat catcher, using blinded rats as bait. To escape her father’s abuse, she buys a train ticket for the  far-away stop of Flax Hill, Massachusetts. The fine-boned, flaxen-haired Boy meets and marries Arturo Whitman, local professor-turned-jeweler, widower, and father of Snow. Boy slides right into her role of benevolent stepmother and daughter-in-law until she and Arturo have their own baby, Bird, who is “born with a suntan.” Unbeknownst to Boy, her new husband and his family are African-American passing for white. Bird’s arrival pulls back the curtain on their carefully constructed public lives.

 

What is fair, either in beauty or in deeds? Arturo’s mother wants to send the darker-skinned Bird away to live with relatives; Boy views stepdaughter Snow as the interloper who needs to go. Oyeyemi uses a conversational writing style and alternates characters’ narration, including letters sent between the sisters, to explore issues of identity relative to race and gender. Boy, Snow, Bird warns us of the danger in allowing our reflection, whether in the mirror or eyes of the beholder, dictate who we are.

Lori

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A House to DIE For

 I Remember You by Yrsa SigurdardottirHesteyri: A beautiful location by the ocean, a popular summer tourist destination, an entrepreneurs golden opportunity. When friends decide to purchase and renovate a house to start a bed and breakfast, they find their dream quickly transforms into a nightmare. I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a spectacularly terrifying ghost story, and the most frightening and suspenseful novel I have read in recent memory. Readers meet the three friends as they are traveling on a small boat to the island, the location of their renovation project. It is a dreary and blustery winter’s afternoon and the seas are rough, indicative of a threatening storm. After disembarking at the uninhabited village, the captain encourages them to call if they need to leave before the predetermined departure a week later. He seems to struggle with divulging something menacing, but elects to hold his tongue. The author’s brilliant foreshadowing paints an atmosphere very different from the bright hopes and expectations of the main characters. Their house creaks and moans, there is a putrid stench which emanates periodically from the kitchen, wet footprints appear overnight, objects move on their own… and the disturbances are only beginning.

 

I Remember You is actually two tales which are told in alternating chapters. The second story line involves a doctor on the mainland who has recently relocated to the area. Having suffered the unbearable loss of his young son who disappeared three years before, he and his wife have just divorced and he is attempting to move on with his life. As the only professional in the town with any psychiatric experience, the police have called him to a preschool which has been extensively vandalized. Every item in the room is broken, every piece of artwork shredded and the word “dirty” has been written repeatedly on the wall. Even more bizarre is that it perfectly mimics a crime at an elementary school 60 years ago. The investigation reveals multiple classmates from the earlier crime have died under suspicious circumstances.

 

Discovering the truth behind these mysteries is a thrilling and terrifying adventure. Readers will appreciate the break in the ghostly hauntings when the storyline switches to the mainland. But only for so long, as it becomes evident there are sinister otherworldly events taking place there as well. If you are looking for a great ghost story, check out the Scandinavian thriller I Remember You.

Jeanne

 
 

Honeybee Buzz

Honeybee Buzz

posted by:
May 6, 2014 - 7:00am

The Bees by Laline PaullBritish author Laline Paull is setting the book world abuzz with her debut novel, an imaginative and gripping tale which takes place in a beehive. Paull began studying bees after a beekeeper friend died; the fascinating societal structure of the hive inspired her to write The Bees.

 

Flora 717 is a worker bee living in a hive valuing conformity. Born “obscenely ugly… and excessively large,” Flora is saved from immediate execution because a ruling class priestess wants to use her in an experiment. The hive’s rigid caste system relies on mind control and strict job divisions, which keep the hive operating for the good of the group, but its totalitarian mindset allows no individual freedom. Flora defies the limitations of her Sanitation class: She is able to speak, block other bees from accessing her thoughts and use her abilities to forge a unique role for herself when the survival of the hive is threatened.

 

In creating the intricate life of this honeybee colony, Paull did everything from attending beekeeper classes to watching nature unfold in her backyard. She blends factual bee behavior, like building honeycomb nurseries or the “dancing” and antennae touching which bees perform to communicate information, with elements of goddess worship, Catholic prayer and the British monarchy in her creation of a detailed parallel world. As in nature, The Bees is sometimes chillingly violent. It is also surprisingly funny, with its swaggering Drone class reminiscent of any Animal House frat bro collective hopped up on testosterone.

 

The Bees is being compared to the modern classic Watership Down by Richard Adams for its thrilling adventure and social commentary wrapped up in an animal story. This story makes a perfect book club choice or escapist summer read as Flora 717 takes the reader on a wild flight. Is Flora a traitor or a savior? The bees in your garden will never look the same again.

Lori

 
 

Looking for More House of Cards?

House of CardsDid you already binge-watch the second season of House of Cards on Netflix? Are you on pins and needles waiting to see where Frank and Claire’s machinations will lead them next? These novels filled with intrigue and scheming are just the thing to help ease your post-season two blues.

 

Before it was a hit American series, House of Cards was a popular British miniseries inspired by a trilogy of novels written by Michael Dobbs, a former advisor of Margaret Thatcher. The author recently revised House of Cards, the first novel in the trilogy, and it has been re-released. This thriller revolves around Chief Whip Francis Urquhart and his Machiavellian political maneuvering and Mattie Storin, a driven young reporter who pursues a story about corruption that she can’t resist. Like the television adaptation, the novel is ruled by political intrigue. The remaining novels in the trilogy will also be available later this year, so stay tuned for more plotting, greed and corruption.

 

For more political scheming, try Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall, which brings 16th-century English politics to life. This fictional account of the life of Thomas Cromwell shows his rise to his position of advisor to the king and his skill as a consummate political schemer. The novel follows Cromwell’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering during the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII. Mantel’s well-researched, skillfully written novel is the first in a trilogy that you won’t want to miss.

 

If you’re looking for dark stories about ruthless, manipulative characters, Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley is the gold standard. Tom Ripley is entranced by the wealthy world of his new acquaintance Dickie Greenleaf. When Dickie’s father asks Tom to go to Italy and convince his wayward son to come home to New York, Tom agrees. He slowly becomes more and more obsessed with Dickie’s world and eventually assumes Dickie’s identity. Highsmith tells the story from Tom’s distorted yet charismatic perspective, leaving the reader both fascinated and horrified.

Beth

 
 

Futile Plans

Futile Plans

posted by:
May 1, 2014 - 8:00am

The Spinning HeartLife could be greener on the Emerald Isle these days, where Ireland's economic recession has wreaked havoc upon the residents of one small rural town. There are no jobs, no pension, no unemployment benefits. The effect is a domino-like collapse of livelihood and sanity for everyone in Irish writer Donal Ryan's insightful, darkly humorous debut, The Spinning Heart.

 

The title refers to a battered and flaking red metal heart on a front cottage gate belonging to the father of well-known resident, Bobby Mahon. Despite its beaten condition, the heart continues to spin on its hinge. It becomes a metaphor for Bobby and the other 20 blindsided souls, who each get a brief chapter to tell their story. They, too, need restoration after the town's big employer abandons them.

 

Pokey Burke is the corrupt, now-defunct builder who absconds with more than his workers' money. Soon everyone is pondering their hand-to-mouth existence and the fissures emerging in their community. The common thread is Bobby, Pokey's tough but well-respected former foreman whom everyone knows and generally respects. But even Bobby is not above reproach, as his possible complicity in his father’s death has people wondering.

 

Ryan’s snapshot into the recess of weary minds speaks to a wry, vulnerable sensitivity, and his writing in the vernacular hits home. The prose oozes with spot-on observations of the time, while his use of idioms smartly adds to the authenticity of the first-person narratives. Long-listed for the Man Booker prize, Ryan isn't the first author to swirl Ireland’s economic woes into a novel. Tana French did it in Broken Harbor, and closer to home, Stewart O'Nan did it with Last Night at the Lobster. Best laid plans are never guaranteed. “The future is a cold mistress,” Bobby’s father said. Tomorrow is like that.

Cynthia

 
 

The Winter Bride

The Winter Bride

posted by:
April 29, 2014 - 8:00am

The Winter BrideDamaris Chance feels no compulsion to marry but instead longs for a cottage by the sea. Freddy Monkton-Coombes is enjoying the rewards of his rakish ways, which will be severely curtailed if his mother has anything to say about it. In The Winter Bride, Annie Gracie revisits the Chance sisters and shares the stories of this magnetic and damaged duo.

 

Damaris Chance’s unhappy past involves a blackguard sea captain who hurt her so deeply that marriage is no longer an appealing option. But her guardian, Lady Beatrice, convinces her to make her debut and enjoy a season of lighthearted fun. Meanwhile, Freddy’s season is filled with all the single ladies tracking his every move and a mother who won’t stop nagging about marriage. He is also determined to honor his promise to his friend Max to watch out for the Chance sisters. When Freddy discovers Damaris roaming through unsavory parts of town at all hours of the night, he demands to know her secret.

 

Damaris has been surreptitiously selling her painted pottery in an effort to secure her dream cottage. While not a scandalous secret, during the course of their conversation, the two reach a most unorthodox decision and agree to an arranged marriage. Freddy can continue his womanizing ways, and Damaris will have her cottage. As the two spend more time together during their “engagement,” they share confidences and dreams. Is marriage really such a bad thing after all? Gracie continues her Chance Sisters series with another charming romance centered by a charismatic couple while positioning the players to be featured in the next two seasons. Spring and summer can’t come soon enough! 

Maureen

 
 

Anything but Child's Play

Anything but Child's Play

posted by:
April 28, 2014 - 8:00am

RipperWhat do a group of computer-savvy youths, a television psychic, a devoted grandfather and a murder spree have in common? Ripper. This is the name of the online computer game that six teenagers use to puzzle out historic murder mysteries, such as the case of Jack the Ripper. Each player has an assumed identity and his or her own particular area of criminal expertise. Ripper is also the title of Isabel Allende’s newest novel, an ingenious whodunit that will baffle readers as thoroughly as it does the police department investigating the series of murders tormenting its city.

 

After a psychic predicts a bloodbath in the city of San Francisco, the Gamemaster proposes the Ripper players attempt to crack these most peculiar murder cases. Their theoretical game takes a tragic turn when Indiana, the mother of the Gamemaster, goes missing. It will take all of their resourcefulness to try to find her before she is added to the list of victims. Readers will enjoy this plot-driven storyline that progresses steadily even as the body count rises. The story intensifies toward a dramatic conclusion that will have people revisiting early chapters of the book in astonishment.

 

In a departure from her previous novels featuring magical realism, bestselling author Allende brings her character-rich writing style to this modern day suspense story. According to Booklist, “Allende creates a compassionate and gripping mystery stoked by the paradoxes of family and community and the consequences of abuse.”

Jeanne

 
 

The Return of Penn Cage

The Return of Penn Cage

posted by:
April 25, 2014 - 4:41pm

Natchez Burning by Greg IlesThis week, Greg Iles fans are celebrating the release of Natchez Burning, the author’s first new novel in nearly five years! Natchez Burning brings readers back to hero Penn Cage, and it marks the start of a new trilogy from Iles. When Penn’s father Dr. Tom Cage is accused of administering a lethal injection to Viola Turner, a nurse who he worked with in the 1960s, Penn is desperate to save him. His investigation sends him on a journey through his father’s past, unearthing long-hidden secrets that may have come back to haunt Tom and put his family in peril. The shocking truth that Penn eventually finds involves a splinter cell of the Ku Klux Klan called the Double Eagles and crimes hidden for 40 years.

 

Natchez Burning is an unforgettable, cinematic story that Book Page calls “William Faulkner for the Breaking Bad generation.” This is a must-read for fans of John Grisham’s Sycamore Row. At nearly 800 pages long, this novel seems daunting, but the pages fly by. Iles is a masterful storyteller, and this is some of his best work. Before reading Natchez Burning, long-time fans of Penn Cage will also want to read The Death Factory.  Iles wrote this novella, which was released exclusively in ebook, to tie up loose ends from The Devil’s Punchbowl.

 

The road to Natchez Burning was a long and challenging one for Iles. His father, who inspired his character Tom Cage, passed away in 2010. Then, Iles faced life-threatening injuries from an automobile accident in 2011. Iles shares more about how those events impacted his writing process for this remarkable new novel in this video.

Beth

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