Monday, September 17, 2012

Best Book Bets - 9/18/2012

Fall into a Good Book

Seasons change but you shouldn't have to take the fall (sic) when it comes to picking out your next book. That's why I'm here. I crunch the numbers, defy the odds, and come up with a short list of sure things. Why? Because finding a good read shouldn't be a gamble. 


(W W Norton)
Skagboys by Irvine Walsh
CLOTH. Trainspotting,the manifest of the slacker generation was both repugnant and captivating, possessing all the magnetism of a car wreck. Walsh draped us in the skins of his pathetic characters who seemed fatally a by product of their era. (I love the puppet strings of this cover for just that reason.) So here comes the heralded novel's prequel. Every reviewer out there has proclaimed this the author's greatest achievement and with good reason. Walsh shows use the slow disintegration of his once optimistic and lovelorn characters, from the boy-of-privilege Renton to the sociopath Sick Boy,  as the world around them tears away their aspirations leading them to the deadly off switch of the heroin needle. None of their destructive behaviors are lauded but Walsh delivers a pathos that tugs at our hearts as we follow his characters stumble through Britain's teenage wastelands of the 80s. Not for the weak of heart or stomach but captivating writing that proves a stark snapshot of lives without direction.

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
CLOTH.  Leave it to Dennis Lehaine to discover for his new imprint another author with a similar new take on the mystery novel. Locke's second novel sets her tale in the new south, circa today. While his protagonist Caren investigates a murder in a centuries old plantation, Belle Vie, in Louisiana, she learns that not much has changed for the privileged in Dixie. As she uncovers more and more about the dead girl the more the ugly truth of the family and its town are revealed. You can feel the closeness of breath as the stifling air and plot lines thicken. It is part nail-biting mystery, and like The Help, part commentary of our times and how little has changed as the years have past. Prejudice doesn't wane, but resentment grows. Powerful stuff.
The Rebel Wife  by Taylor M. Folites
CLOTH.  Here's another tale steeped in the history and bitter emotions of The South and its reformation. This novel is a historical rather than a contemporary but here the central characters share a similar longing for earlier times. As in Gone With The Wind we have a woman trying to pick up the pieces after her homeland had been devastated. All wounds are still fresh and Southern hospitality has been reduced to a facade. Augusta is blue-blooded Southern, now a widow and mother with none of the privilege her antebellum past provided.  All the conventions of a Southern historical are here but all stereotypes are not what they seem. This solitary woman fights to defy the decayed society she has been left in. Scarlet would be proud.

Winter of the World by Ken Follett
 CLOTH.  I saw this shirt the other day that made me laugh. It read, 'I like big books and I can not lie...' While I'm sure that's not Sir-Mix-Alot's intention, I tend to agree with the inverted lyric, especially when they are written as richly as Follet's have been this past decade or so. Once known for tightly hone mysteries (Eye of the Needle, one of my favs) Follett has made the jump from the genre ghetto to the legitimate fiction section of the bookstore with such works of literature as Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. He takes the same mastery he has for suspense and applies it to the pacing, back story, and establishment of place and time in these sweeping historical novels. Here we have the continuation of The Century Trilogy with the same masterful bombast of length (960 pages.) Where Fall of Giants documents his characters through WWI, this second installment takes on WWII with the same exhaustive accuracy. Put a couple extra logs on the fire and prepare to be in it for the long haul. Only downside is waiting for him to crank out the final (I'm sure, hefty) volume.

Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers 

by Sally Cook and Ray Negron

NON-FICTION, CLOTH.  I know, the Yankums are in the playoffs and the Red Suxs are languishing in the basement, only weeks from putting down their gloves and setting up tee times. Coming from New England you can't help but be hesitant doling praise on the pinstripes, but this, well, this is one cool book no matter who you root for. Curmudgeon George Steinbrenner nabs a hooligan tagging Yankee Stadium and instead of turning him into the authorities or give him the Billy Martin treatment (George was one good yeller) he took the kid off the streets and gave him a chance to be a bat boy transforming the child's life from meaninglessness to meaning. He turns his life into one of service to his community; giving back like the Yankee owner had done for him. During his journey the boy rubs elbows with the likes of Reggie Jackson, Munson, Mantle, Catfish, A-Rod, Jeter, even Mrs. Lou Gehrig. This book will make it hard for me to talk ill of the team once spring training returns. 

Young Adult Hot Picks of the Week!

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
YOUNG ADULT, CLOTH. Coming off the hooves of last year's The Scorpio Races Stiefvater delivers another paranormal novel that proves her most original voices in the genre. Blue has recently received her ancestor's gift of clairvoyance. She sees a premonition of one of the privileged Aglionby boys, nicknamed The Raven Boys. She begins to become smitten over one of the Richie Rich bad boys, Gansey, haunted by the knowledge that whomever she falls in love with will die.  Talk about the kiss of death! The novel gives a unique spin on paranormal romance and has an authentic creepy side as we learn more of the boys otherworldly quest. If you devoured her earlier Shiver Trilogy I don't have to tell you how additively readable Stiefvater is. If this is your first time this is a good place to start (Scorpio Races a strong second.)
10 by Gretchen McNeil
YOUNG ADULT, CLOTH. Need a Fall read priming with nail biting suspense? Do you enjoy slasher-"don't look in the basement"-types of movies like Friday the 13th? If so, brew some hot chocolate, wrap yourself in a comforter, and be prepared for a romantic, funny spook show that will keep you up all night. This re-imaging mash-up of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians with And Then There Were None has the Scream movie series similar sense of humor as one by one the body count grows. Party kids on an island, storm on the rise, lose of power, and the discovery of a DVD threatening revenge; all the ingredients for a blood soaked weekend don't you think? It would be so easy to follow formula but McNeil knows just when to change things up and catch you by surprise. Even the climactic ending is not what you expect. Pleasant dreams, I mean screams!

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