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Posts Tagged ‘NetGalley’

Watching the first two episodes of the new HBO series “Girls,” I chuckled, cringed and laughed out loud. That was when 24-year-old Hannah announced to her parents that she believed she was “the voice of her generation,” or at least “a voice,” and needed $1100 a month for the next two years to finish her collection of essays. Her mother sputtered, “That’s ridiculous!”

Present-day me agrees with mom. But long-ago me recognizes the confident bravado of the young writer when everything is bright and shiny and possible. Still, as Hanna’s gynecologist asserts in the next episode, “I wouldn’t be 24 again.”

I can’t speak for Anna Quindlen (more on that in a moment), but I imagine that she would have a similar reaction to “Girls.” Her new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, reminded me that Quindlen is the voice of my generation, beginning with her “Life in the Thirties” column for the New York Times 25 years ago and continuing through her books. Like many other women of a certain age, I find myself nodding in agreement as I read her new one.

Early on, she writes, “There comes that moment when we finally know what matters and, perhaps, more important, what doesn’t, when we see that all the life lessons came not from what we had but from whom we loved, and from the failures perhaps more than the successes. … We understand ourselves, our lives, retrospectively.”

How true. As are her observations on collecting “stuff,” the choices that bless and burden our generation of women, how much of life is surprise and happy accident, the importance of girlfriends, “the joists that hold up the house of our existence.”

I could continue quoting, but you should have the pleasure of discovering what Quindlen has to say on your own. It’s like an ongoing conversation with your BFF about books, men, mothers, kids, work, aging. I can’t speak for Anna Quindlen, but she sure speaks for me.

Open Book: I’ve never met Anna Quindlen, but I feel like I know her through her books and novels, and having looked at a series of pictures of her at different ages in the current issue of More magazine, I know we sort of look alike, except for our noses.  And having read her over the years, I know we share remarkably similar interests and views. So much so that after reading a NetGalley digital copy of Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (Random House), I bought two hardcover copies — one for my college roommate for her birthday, and one for me just because.

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Trapped in waiting rooms, I turn to thrillers for escape. And doctors wonder why my blood pressure’s up.

Like Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst, Mark Mills is adept at historical espionage. His atmospheric fourth novel The House of the Hunted (Random House, digital galley via NetGalley) is set in the seemingly idyllic South of France in 1935, where ex-Britsh spy Tom Nash is enjoying the good life in a villa overlooking the sea. He’s squashed memories of his violent past and lost love Irina, but when an assassin breaks into his house in the middle of the night, Nash finds old habits die hard.

Who among his circle of close friends and entertaining expats wants him dead? Nash turns spy again, suspecting a genial hotel owner, German dissidents, exiled White Russians, local police, even as his old boss, all the while nursing a crush on the daughter of said boss and closest friend. If Mary Stewart had written the book, it would have been romantic suspense from lovely Lucy’s point of view, in love with the older man she has known since childhood. As it is, Nash does his best to protect her from the secrets of the past and save both their lives in the process. A bit slow at the start, the story accelerates nicely once Nash starts driving the twisting coastal roads with a killer on his trail and yet another waiting around the next curve.

David Baldacci’s The Innocent (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley via NetGalley) is a hunting-the-hunter tale, full of cliches and contrivances. I didn’t believe a word of it, but I couldn’t put it down.

The beginning finds lonely government hitman Will Robie taking out the bad guys, no muss, no fuss, and then waiting for his next mission. He’s the consumate, patriotic professional but with his own moral compass, so the day comes when he refuses to pull the trigger on a designated target.  Then he’s on the run, and with his skill set, should be able to survive. But there’s 14-year-old Julie, who witnessed the murder of her parents. and who desperately needs his help. Aw, shucks. Chase on!

Now, you may find pet psychics and sleuthing felines to be wildly implausible, but Clea Simon has no trouble convincing me of the detecting abilities of Pru Marlow and her clever tabby Wallis. She follows up her first Pet Noir mystery, Dogs Can’t Lie, with the entertaining Cats Can’t Shoot (Poisoned Pen, paperback galley).

Horrified to be called out on a cat shooting, Pru soon discovers the white Persian isn’t the victim but the accused killer, apparently having set off an antique dueling pistol. The poor cat is so traumatized, Pru can’t tune into her thoughts, but she and Wallis trust their own instincts that there’s something fishy about the scene — and it’s not kibble.

My only quibble with Simon’s tales is the reminder of how many animals are in need of rescue and ever-after homes. But I think that’s probably a good thing.

Simon describes herself as a “recovering journalist,” which is also one of my identities, and yes, we know each other through Facebook and occasional e-mails. I don’t know Brad Parks, who describes himself as “an escaped journalist,” but I sure recognize his series sleuth, Carter Ross, an investigative reporter for a Newark, N.J., paper. You can still find cool, cocky, cynically idealistic guys like Carter in newsrooms across the country, although not in the troop strength of back-in-the-day. Look for the khakis, oxford-cloth shirt and attitude. Love ’em.

The Girl Next Door (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley through NetGalley), the third in the series, is terrific at capturing newspaper atmosphere and antics, but I wish the plot was stronger. Looking into the accidental hit-and-run death of a newspaper delivery woman for a tribute story, Carter finds evidence of foul play, perhaps dealing with the circulation department’s acrimonious labor negotiations with the tight-fisted publisher. Convinced he’s on to something despite his sexy editor Tina’s admonishments, Carter risks his career in pursuit of the story, facing such obstacles as a pretty waitress, an egghead intern built like a football player, a runaway bear, the tight squeeze of a cat door and the inside of a jail.

Carter’s snappy narration saves the day, but the interrupting scenes from the real villain’s perspective give away the killer’s identity way too soon. Too bad; this could have been a sweetheart with some rewrite.

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My recent appetite for books is bordering on the insatiable. No sooner do I check out a new book from the library or receive an ARC in the mail than I read about another title I that sounds great or someone mentions a book not yet on my radar. It reminds me of when I was a kid and would go to the library and check out a stack of books and read them one after another. The only problem with reading as fast as I can is that the blogging goes a bit by the wayside. But here goes:

Ashley Judd has a new TV series about an ex-CIA agent who is also a mom, so I can totally see Judd playing Kate Moore, the winning protagonist of Chris Pavone’s clever first thriller, The Expats (Crown; library hardcover). When Kate’s husband gets a high-tech job in banking security in Luxembourg, she happily ditches her CIA job — which hubby Dexter never knew about — and moves overseas to be a full-time mom to two young sons. But she soon tires of domestic chores, and begins eyeing another American expat couple with suspicion. Something about Bill and Julia doesn’t ring true. Are they assassins targeting a government official from their neatly situated apartment, or is Kate just paranoid? Maybe they’re after her and her old secrets. Surely they’re not trailing geeky Dexter. What could he be hiding?

Pavone shifts back and forth from present-day Paris to Luxembourg two years ago, sometimes flashing back to Kate’s career as a spy. Pay attention. Things start slowly, but before long, Pavone hits the black-diamond trail with all its risky twsts and heart-stopping turns. Both he and Kate are real pros at the espionage game. I hope there’s a sequel.

Peter Robinson, author of the excellent and long-running Inspector Alan Banks series, goes the stand-alone route in the absorbing Before the Poison (Morrow; review copy), which favorably reminds me of both Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’s novel A Dark-Adapted Eye and the Kenneth Branagh film Dead Again. Chris Lowndes, a 60sh Hollywood film composer still grieving for his late wife, returns to the Yorkshire Dales of his youth, buying a big old country house. Even before he learns its peculiar history, he finds Kilnsgate curiously atmospheric, as if past events have left trace memories, which Chris is now reading.

Or is he just suggestible by nature, especially after learning that Kilnsgate was once home to Grace Fox, who was hanged for poisoning her doctor husband in the early 1950s? The more Chris learns about lovely Grace, the more convinced he becomes that perhaps she didn’t commit the crime for which she was executed.

Robinson neatly juxtaposes Chris’ first-person narrative with a rather dry account of Grace’s trial and the events leading up it, and then with Grace’s surprising journal entries chronicling her experiences as a World War II nurse in Singapore and the South Pacific. No wonder she haunts Chris’ imagination if not the halls of Kilnsgate itself. As for Chris, he’s an intelligent observer who likes classical music, fine art, good food, old movies and Alan Furst’s espionage novels. Mmm, I’d hit him up on Match.com, not that I’ve ever been there.

I’ve always been quite fond of Hamish Macbeth, the red-headed Scottish constable featured in more than two dozen nimble mysteries by M.C. Beaton. Hamish has a checkered romantic history, but he’s between lady friends in Death of a Kingfisher (Grand Central Publishing; digital galley from NetGalley). Not surprisingly, he’s attracted to pretty albeit married Mary Leinster, a newcomer to Lochdubh who has turned beautiful Buchan’s Woods into a tourist attraction, Fairy Glen.

But someone is up to mischief and then murder at Fairy Glen, heralded by the hanging of the gorgeous kingfisher who nests there. Then a bridge collapses, and the body count mounts as various characters meet their maker in extraordinary fashion. Death by rocket-propelled riding stairlift through the roof may seem a wee bit over the top, but the conclusion, involving international spies, is even more far-fetched. But still good fun.

Joshilyn Jackson’s A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley from NetGalley) is one of those good Southern novels with many funny characters and funny stuff going on, only “funny” is more “funny peculiar” than “funny ha-ha.”

Ginny Slocumb is nervous. She was 15 and unwed when she had her daughter Liza, who in turn, was 15 and unmarried when she gave birth to Mosey. Now Mosey is 15, and Ginny, known as Big, is wondering when Mosey might be expecting, except that her awkward, endearing granddaughter doesn’t have a beau, just a friend who is a dorky boy. And it may be that fate has already dealt the Slocumb women their 15-year-blow. Liza, a former drug addict, has been crippled by a stroke, and when Big decides to dig up the backyard willow tree for a swimming pool, the bones of a baby are unearthed. Where did they come from? Big has her suspicions, but Liza remains locked in her secret world, and the truth may destroy the family.

The three main characters take turns with the narrative, and Jackson creates three distinctive voices. She also is very good at evoking the sultry Mississippi heat and the class suffocation that stifles the town. A snobby matriarch borders on the cliche, and some secrets fail to surprise, but a lonely girl from the wrong side of town tugs on Big’s heartstrings.

Open Book: I’m nowhere near finished, so look for Part II in a couple of days.

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Cecil Valance is a Rupert Brooke-alike. The handsome young poet breezes into the home of fellow Cambridge University student George Sawle in the late summer of 1913, capturing the hearts of both George and his younger sister, Daphne. Before he leaves, he pens a poem about his weekend visit, “Two Acres,” in Daphne’s autograph book. With its paen to the English countryside and lines about lovers’ secret kisses in the shadows, the poem is destined to go down in history, much in the manner of  Brooke’s “The Soldier” (If I should die, think only this of me . . .), quoted by Winston Churchill and memorized by generations of schoolchildren.

The three days Cecil spends with the Sawles and his composition of the poem, including  ripping up one version and discarding it,  is beautifully detailed in the first section of Alan Hollinghurst’s involving  novel, The Stranger’s Child. In these first hundred pages, Hollinghurst constructs such an impeccable foundation for his sprawling family saga, social comedy/history that after I finished the book — another 350 pages — I went back and read this section again with admiration and appreciation.

Not that the next four episodes, which unexpectedly gallop across a century, leaping decades in the process, aren’t praiseworthy. But they miss the vitality of Cecil, or “Sizzle”, as he is known to his aristocratic family and friends. Of course, that’s one of the points Hollinghurst is making in writing of the vagaries of love and fame and mythmaking.

By the time the book’s second section begins at Corley Court, the Valances’ ancestral home, a hideous Victorian monstrosity, a dozen years have passed. Cecil is long dead, killed by a German sniper during World War II. His marble effigy lies in Corley’s chapel — the hands are all wrong, thinks George Sawles — and Daphne has become Lady Valance. She has married Cecil’s younger brother, Dudley, and has two children, Corinna and Wilfred. Also on hand for a “Cecil” weekend are several newcomers to the story, including a young gay artist, Revel Ralph, with whom Daphne is carrying on an intense flirtation, and Sebby, Cecil’s literary executor, who may have been another of his lovers.

Practically every male character in the book is either gay or bi-, and society’s changing attitudes toward homosexuality is a recurring theme throughout the novel. “The love that dare not speak its name” is still muffled in the book’s third section, circa 1970, when the focus shifts to two new characters — Paul Bryant, a bank clerk with literary aspirations, and Peter Rowe, a schoolmaster at Corley, now a prep school. But the closet door is swinging open in the 1980s as Paul pursues Cecil’s aging relatives and friends for a biography that will perhaps out the poet and reveal other Valance family secrets. Is Corinna really Cecil’s daughter? The final section is set in 2008, when domestic partnerships are widely accepted, but questions still remain about Cecil’s life and legacy, which is as it should be in a novel where memory is text and subtext.

Hollinghurst’s writing is lush, lyrical, elegant and witty, occasionally arch and very knowing as he winks at the country house novels of E.M. Forster and Evelyn Waugh in a series of exquisite set pieces, with a nod to such contemporaries as Ian McEwan’s Atonement and A.S.Byatt’s Possession. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you love Brideshead Revisited and are anxiously awaiting the second installment of Downton Abbey on PBS, find yourself a chintz chair and a copy of The Stranger’s Child.

Open Book: I read a digital galley of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child (Knopf) via NetGalley. It expires on my Nook this week, which means I’ll soon be buying my own copy.

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Isabella, Mary and Lauren are the central 20something characters in Jennifer Close’s debut book of linked short stories, Girls in White Dresses. Despite the title lifted from the lyrics of “My Favorite Things”  — the theme of a bridal shower the friends are forced to attend — the book shouldn’t be confused with the raunchy summer flick Bridesmaids or frothy chick-lit novels. It’s smart and witty, reminscent of  works by Melissa Banks, Pam Houston, even Laurie Colwin, all of whom charted the coming-of-age of previous generations. Isabella, Lauren and Mary could well be named Lisa, Jodi and Kim.

The challenges of the post-college years remain the same as the friends deal with bad bosses, shared apartments, and relationships going nowhere. There’s a lot of drinking and talking with gal pals, moments of social awkwardness (Isabella’s ski vacation with a new guy and bunk beds), the inevitable inappropriate behavior (Lauren’s attraction to a “dirty, sexy bartender”), and the what’s-wrong-with-Mr. Right blues (Mary’s prospective mother-in-law is a control freak named Button).

All the while the friends watch their other friends march down the aisle.

” ‘Are you ever afraid that you aren’t going to meet anyone?’ Isabella asked Lauren one night. They were finishing their last drinks  at the bar, and Isabella finally asked the question she’d been thinking for a while now. She didn’t want to say it out loud. She was embarrassed that she even thought it, and waited for Lauren to lecture her about being a strong woman. Instead, Lauren finished her drink, crushed an ice cube in her teeth, and said, ‘All the time.’ ”

But even after Isabella meets Harrison, obstacles remain. Should she give up her hard-won job in publishing in New York to follow him to Boston? 

“It seemed like it all happened easier for everyone else. Look at Harrison’s friends. They just got married and had kids and didn’t seem to think about it too much. Maybe that was her problem. She was thinking about it too much. Or maybe the fact that she was thinking about it meant it wasn’t right.”

Close gets so much so right, from the many mixed emotions of becoming a “grown woman,” to the telling details of trying on one persona after another like so many dresses.  You have to laugh when one character trades in a grueling work-out class for more gentle exercise only to discover “her yoga mat smelled like feet, which got in the way of transcendence.”

Open Book: I read a digital galley of Jennifer Close’s Girls in White Dresses (Knopf), which the publisher made available through NetGalley. But I think I’m going to buy a copy for a young 20something, class of 2012.

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Last summer, Justin Cronin’s The Passage had me warily looking up at trees lest one of his soul-sucking “virals” be lurking in the limbs all ready to rend me limb-to-limb. This summer, thanks to Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, no more looking up at full moons while walking the dog.

Granted, my chances of being attacked by a werewolf are about nil, considering that at the beginning of Duncan’s wild tale, Jake Marlowe gets news that he’s the last of his kind. Poor Jake. He’s a world-weary 200-plus-years, but it doesn’t look like he’ll live to be 400 (normal werewolf lifespan). In fact, he’s probably not going to make it past the next full moon because the highly organized anti-occult hunters close on his trail are just waiting until his next transformation. It wouldn’t be sporting to kill the man while he’s not a monster.

Jake only goes to ground in Wales, where he was turned in 1842, to finish up his memoirs, full of lust, gore and philosophical musings. But then the chase is on because someone wants Jake alive — a beautiful woman fronting for the vampires who think werewolves may hold the secret to letting them walk in the sunshine.

Yes, there are vampires but not True Blood ones. No sex for these foul-smelling, supercilious creatures, unlike the horny lycanthropes permanently on the prowl.  Jake prefers expensive escorts so he can remain emotionally detached, but that’s before he spots an American woman on a train. Life might be worth living after all.

The Last Werewolf  is often darkly funny (“Reader, I ate him”), full of knowing literary and pop culture references. The thriller is also beautifully written as Jake describes the life lupine.  “The thought, ‘wilderness,’ stirred the ghost animal, ran cold fingers through the pelt that wasn’t there; mountains like black glass and slivers of snow and the blood-hot howl on ice-flavoured air. . .”

However, The Last Werewolf is not for the faint of heart, the weak of stomach, or anyone put off by explicit sex and graphic violence. Yes, it’s been optioned for a movie. And yes, wouldn’t you know it, Duncan leaves us hungry for a sequel. Meanwhile, no moonlight walks for me. Jake Marlowe may be a soulful anti-hero, but he really is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, nature red in tooth and claw.

Open Book: I read the digital galley of Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf (Knopf) through NetGalley. To quote Duncan, a howl of appreciation to all involved.

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I really should stop reading mysteries before bedtime. But the days are long and light-filled into the evening, and I forget. I start a new novel, and the sun goes down, the stars come out, and I just keep on reading into the wee hours. The next day — like today — I’m sleepy and don’t want to write, but I before I start reading another mystery — or just take a nap — I best tell you what’s been keeping me up nights.

Let’s start with the title-appropriate Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson (HarperCollins).  Life is one long one-night stand for Christine Lucas, but not in the way you might think.  She wakes up in a strange bed next to a strange man every day because a brain injury has resulted in years of memory loss. A look in the mirror reveals a middle-aged version of the young woman she still feels like; notes on the mirror tell her the man in her bed is her husband, Ben. A phone call from an unknown doctor prompts her to retrieve her journal from its hiding place in the closet. It’s full of the memories that sleep erases every night. “Don’t trust Ben,” she reads. Why not? She can’t remember.

Watson’s first thriller offers first-rate psychological suspense as Christine’s journal entries begin to fill in the blanks. She reads that she has recently started having visceral flashbacks of real memory. But what she remembers conflicts with what Ben has told her and the pictures he shows her. Perhaps she’s imagining that she once wrote a book and had a child. Ben reassures her daily with great patience and concern.

A story from an amnesiac’s perspective involves a certain amount of repetition, but Watson doesn’t overdo it as Christine realizes — every day — that the only person she can really trust is herself. If only she could remember. . .

Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Houghton Mifflin) offers such fascinating characters and atmosphere, I didn’t mind the meandering storyline in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Private investigator Claire DeWitt is sort of a New Age-noir Nancy Drew, who has been solving mysteries since her Brooklyn childhood with the help of her dreams, omens and a book by a mysterious French detective. Alcohol, cigarettes, pot, and memories of her mentor, Constance Darling, also inspire Claire as she searches for attorney Vic Willing, who disappeared during the storm. Perhaps the green parrots he used to feed are a clue, maybe the tough street kids he befriended. She compares tattoos and war stories with teen-age Andray, who reluctantly hooks her up with a gun and also has a connection with Constance.

“The thing about this city,” Andray says at one point. “It knows how to tell a beautiful story. It truly does. But if you’re looking a happy ending, you better be lookin’ somewhere else.”

Years ago, I dubbed Ruth Rendell something of a literary Hitchcock because she comes at her stories from unexpected angles. Now, in Tigerlily’s Orchids (Simon & Schuster), she does a version of “Rear Window” on a block of London flats. A widower named Duncan, who lives next door to a secretive Asian family, peers across the street, making up stories about the inhabitants of Lichfield House even as Rendell reveals their secret lives.

Charming slacker Stuart Font is planning a housewarming party in the flat he recently bought with an inheritance, but he’s having trouble with the guest list. He’d just as soon that Claudia, the married woman with whom he’s been having an affair, not come, especially with her powerful attorney husband. Olwen, the unkempt woman upstairs, is deliberately drinking herself to death. But the three young women who share a flat will be attractive additions, and he’ll also ask the hippie classics buff and the new woman who just moved in. He’s not much on the creepy building super and his vulgar wife, but Stuart asks them as well.

Rendell builds suspense slowly as she raises “people-watching” to a fine art. The party proves explosive, yet the requisite murder doesn’t happen until later,  almost an afterthought. By then, readers have eavesdropped on a half-dozen characters’ private lives and lies, and mysteries have emerged. The most intriguing concerns the beautiful Asian woman across the street, whom Duncan calls “Tigerlily,” and with whom Stuart becomes obsessed in true Rendell fashion.

Town meets gown in Charlotte Bacon’s elegantly written academic mystery The Twisted Thread (Hyperion Voice). When a popular  student at elite Armitage Academy is murdered in her dorm room shortly before graduation, her friends confide in Madeline Christopher, the novice English teacher. Madeline is at first flattered, and then threatened, by what the girls tell her. She turns to Matt Corelli, a local cop who has his own checkered history with the prep school.

Bacon moves among the perspectives of Madeline, Matt, Fred, an art teacher carrying on the family legacy, and Jim, the school’s middle-aged maintenance worker, well-versed in the school’s basement tunnels. Each has a back story that Bacon neatly twists into the well-knotted narrative that also includes a secret society, a charismatic headmaster, furtive love affairs, overprivileged students, suspicious townies and  — to up the ante — a missing newborn.

Peter Lovesey’s likeable curmudgeon Peter Diamond returns in Stagestruck (Soho Press), an artful tale provoked by a horrific opening-night incident at Bath’s Theatre Royal. Diamond reluctantly investigates;  just walking into the theatre gives him the willies, but his superior is angling for a part in an upcoming production of Sweeney Todd.

Lovsey’s humor and plotting are razor-sharp as Diamond and company question a cast of distinctive theater types, from the ambitious understudy to the oily artistic director. The theatre is supposedly haunted by a grey lady, and alternately blessed and cursed by tortoiseshell butterflies. Diamond’s impatient with the superstitions, but dogged about solving the mounting mysteries, including his own phobia of the footlights. The curtain comes down in a stunning finale.

Open Book: I read digital galleys of all of the above mysteries. Four were supplied by the publishers through NetGalley; Simon & Schuster has its own digital “galley grab.” I’ve more mysteries to read before I sleep, or they expire on my nook. Curses! Deadlines all over again.

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