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September 7, 2012

Vacation Blog: A Diary of My Reading Escape


A dozen great books were part of my vacation reading --- what a way to spend time away! Ah the places books can take you when you float in the pool. 


CLOSE MY EYES by Sophie McKenzie (2013) --- A publishing friend sent me a specially bound manuscript for a thriller that will be published sometime next year, which kicked off my reading adventure. Set in London the story opens as Sophie is rushing to meet her husband Art at the fertility clinic to discuss her next round of an in vitro procedure. Sophie had a stillborn daughter a few years before and since then she and Art have been trying desperately to have another child --- though she still mourns Beth. As we get to know Sophie, we learn that all is not as it seems,  the tension builds and builds and quickly CLOSE MY EYES turns into a page turner.



A KILLING IN THE HILLS by Julia Keller (On Sale Now)---- I had started this debut novel before I left home and packed it happy to have time to finish it. In the car as we were headed out of town I read our review and it made me even more excited to get back to it. Set in West Virginia, we are introduced to Bell Elkins, a prosecutor who is a divorced mom of a persnickety teen named Carly. One day Carly witnesses a crime in a coffee shop where three elderly men were killed. WHAT was the motive behind this seemingly targeted killing? The hills of West Virginia are home to something that is a threat to small time life making the hills of West Virginia as scary as those in a big city.



THE PANTHER by Nelson DeMille  (Oct 17th)---- This is Nelson’s best book in years! John Corey is back and this time he and his lovely wife Kate have been “asked” to go to Yemen. In Corey’s world being asked means you are going to be wheels up and transported a lot more quickly than you would like into a part of the world where not many people get “invited.”

As soon as I saw the book was set in Yemen, I remembered a conversation that I had in 2002 with Chris Whitcomb, an FBI Hostage Rescue Team operative who many of you may remember for the MSNBC commentary following 9/11. He wrote a book called COLD ZERO. I met him a few times and over dinner one night he told me a story about being in Yemen with the FBI after the Cole incident staying in a hotel investigating the bombing. There was a group of each of the alphabet teams on each floor and while CNN was reporting that they were meeting to discuss what was going on, they actually separated and the scene was anything but cordial. At one point he went to a Comm room and was passed a message that there was a tip that the hotel and all its occupants would be taken out that night. It was the night he decided that after 16 years enough was enough…and he was leaving the FBI Hostage Rescue Team.  

So when John and Kate land and find themselves headed towards the Sheraton Hotel where other operatives are staying, I sat right up. Nelson captures the tension between the intelligence divisions as well as not knowing who to trust from the insurgents on the ground. The story is so authentic. Corey’s got his wits about him right til the end made him one helluva hero. I never knew where the story was headed…a huge thing for me. It’s a big book --- literally --- coming in at over 175,000 words. That said, it was so good that I read it in a day. I was that wrapped into the story.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Corey has not lost his signature wit.

And here’s testimony to how good it is from someone besides me. My husband played 18 holes of golf instead of 36 the morning after he started it, anxious to come back and keep reading. That is HUGE praise!  


LOW PRESSURE by Sandra Brown (September 18th)---- Longtime readers know that a highlight of vacation time for me is an afternoon floating in the pool reading Sandra Brown’s latest book. Thus the float was engaged for a thrilling adventure. Bellamy Lyston has written a novel called LOW PRESSURE about her sister’s death on a stormy Memorial Day at a company picnic. Just what happened to Susan has never been clear, and thus Bellamy has brought some old ghosts to the surface. Susan’s boyfriend that night was Dent, a young man who her parents did not like. Flash forward to the present and Bellamy is the target of someone who does not love that she is muckraking up this story. Who comes to her rescue to help sleuth out the story? None other than Dent.

Sandra, as always has “killer” plotting; would be writers should take her  books apart and study them. For readers, the stories are pure pleasure for the edginess that comes from her talent. Twist twist twist….it’s reading that is like an exercise for your brain. Oh, and she writes great sex as well. Just in case you were wondering.


A WANTED MAN by Lee Child (September 11th)  Jack Reacher has his thumb out on the side of the road in Nebraska, looking for a ride to Virginia, or at least one that will take him part of the way. Cars drive by. Then one stops, hesitates and then approaches him and a ride is negotiated. The three people inside – two men and a woman --- are all wearing the same pants and shirts. He’s told they all work together at the same software company. As he rides he’s not sure what’s going on --- and since he’s Reacher, we all know that SOMETHING is going on. BAM. We are right! With terse prose the action ramps up with us seeing the world through Reacher’s eyes and that is a very scary place to be. Signature Lee Child --- so well done.




EVERY DAY by David Levithan (On Sale Now) --- I moved onto a YA title here that I had heard about at both BEA and ALA and had been looking forward to delving into. EVERY DAY has an interesting premise. Every day A awakes in a different person’s body and enters his or her life --- for just ONE day. This means summoning up their interests, hobbies and friends to “be’ that person for a day. All goes well until one day when A finds someone he wants to be with someone he has met in one of his bodies for more than one day. It’s so brilliantly done. Lots to think about. Great book for adults as well as teens.




THE REVISED FUNDAMENTALS OF CAREGIVING by Jonathan Evison (On Sale Now) --- Evison’s last book WEST OF HERE was a book that just never clicked with me and that usually means I would question whether to read more by that author. But one of our readers, Robin Beerbower was CRAZY about this book and gave it a huge shout out at the Librarian Shout ‘N Share at BEA, which made me think…give it a whirl. Benjamin has lost everything, his wife, his family, his job, his home. Desperate for a new start he takes on an hourly job as a caregiver for a 19-year-old boy with advanced Duchenne muscular dystrophy named Trey. Trey is sheltered for his mom and is dying to just be a teen guy. So when Ben and he plan a road trip to see Trey’s dad the action gets crazy. Very different from a book I would normally read, but it has such a heart that I found myself really rooting for Ben and Trey’s adventure.



SON by Lois Lowry (October 2): How many of you read THE GIVER? Published in 1993, it won the Newbery Award in 1994. It was the first in what has become a quartet of novels that closes with SON. (MESSENGER and GATHERING BLUE were the other titles. Here we meet some of the same characters that we met in the earlier books, but also experience a powerful new story cast in a Dystopian world,. At twelve each child is given a role --- for Claire, she will be charged with bearing children; it is planned she will have up to three. But something goes wrong with her first birth to a son and she is suddenly she finds herself cast into a new role, working at a fish hatchery. But she cannot forget her son. Thus fourteen –year-old Claire is a now in quest of her son eager for a chance to see him one more time. And after that once she wants to see him again --- and be his mother. But she lives in a world where that is not allowed. Reading it made me want to go back and re-read the quartet. It’s beautifully done and made all the more poignant as it is dedicated to Lowry’s son who was killed in West Germany where he was an Air Force pilot. She gave a powerful talk about this book --- and her son at BEA. One of those brilliant author talks that stays with you!


SOME GIRLS, SOME HATS AND HITLER by Trudi Kanter (October 9th) ---- A version of this book had been self-published in 1984 and was re-discovered by a British editor in 2011. This will be the first time it is available to a wide audience. It’s a memoir of Trudi’s life growing up as a fashionable hat designer in Vienna. She falls for a man who sweeps her off her feet named Walter Ehrlich and life is lovely until Hitler rolls into Austria and this Jewish couple is desperate to leave the country any way they can. They learn of visas being given to those who want to leave, but time is running out quickly as the tanks march into town. My friend Edie grew up in Austria on the other side of the city and has shared with me stories similar to this. Such indignities as being ordered by the Nazis to wash the streets that have oil-painted writing on them. Trudi and Walter make it to London where they encounter a new set of hardships. Just when one thinks we have read everything about World War II, a slim book like this brings another heartbreaking story.



WHAT HAPPENED TO MY SISTER by Elizabeth Flock (On Sale Now) --- Years ago ME & EMMA was one of my favorite books. If I had been picking Bets On picks back then, it would have been one! Here Carrie Parker, the protagonist of the first book is now nine years old. She and her mom are picking up the pieces of their new life to move to a new town. Carrie has been ordered by her mother to NEVER mention Emma’s name again. Thus when they arrive in a new town, Carrie is guarding her every word. Carrie meets a new family with its own set of issues in this new town and lots of secrets unravel. But let’s just say, that what I thought happened is not what did. And now I want to go back and read ME & EMMA all over again. Just great.



THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe (October 2012)  --- In 2007 Mary Anne Schwalbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that already had metastasized to her liver. As she began to undergo treatment, she and her son Will, then a NY  publishing executive, discussed what they were reading to pass the time. Both avid readers they shared books, dissecting them both falling in love with some books together while others were not shared joys.

This book is one of my favorite books of the year thus far. Will does a wonderful job of sharing his mom’s life with readers. She was a humanitarian who traveled the world in war-torn areas trying to bring right where the world was so very wrong.

Will does such a wonderful job of telling her story, as well as that of the very special bond that two of  them  formed while reading together. I confess that I was glad that I was in the water  when I was reading so when my own tears flowed while reading some of the ending pages they splashed into the water.

It’s also the kind of book where you are not just building a reading list from reading it, you also are sharing the life stories from it over the dinner table. My son Cory and his friend clearly saw how the book had moved me as I told story after story from the book. At one point. Cory who normally is not known for his outbursts said, “Why does someone like that have to get cancer and die? She was doing so much good. What a loss!"

It was…a huge loss for Will’s family and the world. But what a gift to see how these books they shared came to be such a part of the story of her last years. After she passed away Will found a stack of books that she planned to suggest that they read. It was like she was leaving him a reading game plan for the future. I cannot wait for a larger audience to read this book.



Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (April 2013)  Krueger here departs from his Cork O’Connor series with his first stand-alone title, and it is a winner. Set inNew Bremen, a small town in Minnesota in 1961 during what we know as “The Kennedy Years” this coming-of-age story is beautifully told in a style that reminds me of some of my favorite Southern writers. It wraps around you and suddenly you look up and wonder where you are as the writing has been so vivid and clear that your sense of place has been redefined,.

It’s plotted with the care that readers know to expect from Krueger, writing that says to you “this is a right fine storyteller telling this tale.” It ambles and flows like that summer of 1961 staccato-ed with the fireworks on the 4th and lazy days of growing up --- and then is punctuated by acts of violence that shatter the status quo. The son of a preacher Frank is just thirteen when death comes to his small town and the story is told from his viewpoint forty years later. Wrongs have happened, rights have to be done and looking back he can see how for that long summer while his brother was stuttering his way through life, more happened to his family than they all saw at that time. Cannot wait to see reader reaction to this book that takes Krueger in a new direction.