Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just Jennifer

MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche (Ballentine, January 2012)

When Rachel Bertsche moves to Chicago to live with her boyfriend and then marry him, she realizes she’s going to need a new, local BFF (Best Friend Forever). She had loads of BFFs when she lived in New York and when she was in college at Northwestern, but now as a married young woman in a new city, she’s not sure how to go about auditioning and finding a new BFF. Rachel begins a year long campaign to have 52 girl dates hoping to find her female soul mate. Some of her dates are past acquaintances, some she meets at classes, speed-dating, some she meets after she writes an online essay about her search, but for a year, she keeps her eyes open for a potential new BFF.

Rachel writes an honest story about her search for a new BFF, including the good dates, the ones she knew wouldn’t work and the ones who dumped her. She reads about friendship during this year and gathers statistics, some of which she proves to be true at the end of the year, but her quest is not entirely scientific. She explores the difference between loneliness and depression and helps her recently widowed mother who followed Rachel to Chicago, adjust to her new life and find a group of friends for her.

Through her year long journey, husband Matt is supportive of her search and even “double dates” with Rachel when her date is married or has a boyfriend. While Rachel’s story is touching and enjoyable in a “like me” sort of way, it strikes me that as a newly married woman she might want to put this much energy into her now married relationship, though if she is this comfortable with and has such confidence in her relationship with her husband, she has the perfect skill set to find and nurture a new BFF relationship, a person who may turn up when Rachel least expects it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New This Week

The Drop by Michael Connelly (Little Brown)

LAPD detective Harry Bosch simultaneously investigates a killer who has been operating undetected for thirty years and a political conspiracy that has its origins in his police department.

The Scottish Prisoner: A Lord John Novel by Diana Gabaldon (Delacorte)

In the eighteenth century, paroled prisoner-of-war Jamie Fraser and his old fried Tobias Quinn must travel from London to Ireland on a mission of intrigue surrounding a packet of documents and an ancient relic.

Justice by Karen Robards (Gallery)

Taking a job with a Washington, D.C. law firm after witnessing the murder of the First Lady, attorney Jessica Ford investigates a rape victim's suspicious recant on the stand, a situation that is complicated by the disappearance of Jessica's predecessor.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just Jennifer

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson (Grand Central, January 2012)

Every fifteen years, trouble visits itself on the Slocumb women of Mississippi and this year is no exception. Thirty years ago when Ginny (Big) turned fifteen, she gave birth to her daughter Liza. Fifteen years later, Liza gave birth to her own daughter, Mosey who is turning fifteen and being watched like a hawk by her mother and grandmother, while taking pregnancy tests on the sly, just in case (though Mosey knows for certain there’s no chance of that happening). The ladies’ troubles take a different form this time as Liza, at thirty, has suffered from a debilitating stroke and the landscaper who was cutting down the willow tree to put in a swimming pool, has just dug up the skeleton of a baby girl. Now secrets fifteen years in the making are emerging from this small Southern town and though Big is tough enough to let the town say what they will about her, and even Liz, it is Mosey who stands to be hurt the most and Big will not allow that to happen, even if it costs her the only man she ever loved who is now free to love her.

Joshilyn Jackson has written the story of three young women whose lives are very intertwined with each other, not just through blood, but through circumstance and the choices each has made and makes in her life. Told from each woman’s point of view, including Liza’s in her debilitated state, each woman’s past and present unfolds after the bones are found under the street and a town’s secrets and sins are slowly revealed, allowing each woman to be the captain of her own fate, knowing that whatever happens, Big, Liza and Mosey are each other and will remain that way no matter what happens.

Just Jennifer

Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte, January 2012)

Andy Barber, suburban Massachusetts assistant district attorney has been part of his community with his wife Laurie and their son Jacob for over twenty years. When the unthinkable happens, a fourteen-year-old classmate of Jacob’s is murdered, Andy, who has the reputation of being a diligent and thorough investigator and prosecutor, must now investigate friends, neighbors and Jacob’s peers. Andy is pressured by some of the community and colleagues to step down and let someone else not so close to the case take over the investigation, but Andy is adamant about continuing and is no more surprised than everyone else when his son is arrested for Ben Rifkin’s murder. As the Barbers prepare to defend and save their son, a chance Ben Rifkin’s parents never had, they begin to face things about their son no parent should have to confront and Andy’s past, a past he has kept carefully hidden from everyone, including Laurie, a past that will haunt them all for the rest of their lives.

Defending Jacob is a smart thriller that deftly weaves the story of a family in crisis, a crisis they didn’t realize they were in the midst of, with the story of parents trying to save their only son and a community trying to protect itself, though from what it doesn’t know. While Laurie is not as much in the forefront as Andy, when Andy and Laurie have conversations, it’s as if you are listening to them rather than reading dialogue. The ending of the book is very surprising and unexpected, perhaps owing to the fact that Laurie was never portrayed as completely as Andy at first. Told in the frame of a grand jury investigation, as Andy recalls events in flashback, the narrative is very effective, though the ending might have been even more effective had the last scene been switched with his final testimony.

A very well-constructed, well-written thriller that plays on so many human fears and foibles, Defending Jacob is a much richer novel than it appears to be a first glance.

Mental Floss Giveaway

Mental Floss: The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory (Harper, November 2011)

The people at Harper (a division of Harper Collins) have sent a copy of the new book Mental Floss: The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory for us to give away. has been around for ten years, seeking out the rarest facts, known or unknown, to human kind. If you are the person all your friends go to when they need an esoteric fact, or are just a history buff, test your skills with the questions below. Comment with the answers, using your ASRC nickname, to have a chance to win the book. Deadline for comments is Saturday, December 3 at 3:00. The winner (and correct answers) will be revealed on Sunday December 4th and posted to the blog. Good luck!

Part I

Many fictional characters’ names are as familiar to us as our own family’s names, but what’s really in a name? How would the story changed if these main characters had been named (give the name the character became famously known as):

1. Pansy

2. Count Wampyr

3. Sherringford

4. Ormond Slacker

5. Connie Gustafson

Part II

Books also underwent a change of working title many times. By what names are each of these classics known as?

1. The Last Man in Europe

2. The Strike

3. Atticus

4. First Impressions

5. Timalchilo in West Egg -or- Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires

Extra Credit

These three words each describe a part of an animal’s head. Which animal is it?

Caruncle, Wattle and Snood

Friday, November 18, 2011

New This Week

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin’s)

Before Stephanie can even step foot off Flight 127 Hawaii to Newark, she’s knee deep in trouble. Her dream vacation turned into a nightmare, and she’s flying back to New Jersey solo. Worse still, her seatmate never returned to the plane after the L.A. layover. Now he’s dead, in a garbage can, waiting for curbside pickup. His killer could be anyone. And a ragtag collection of thugs and psychos, not to mention the FBI, are all looking for a photograph the dead man was supposed to be carrying.

Micro by Michael Crichton with Richard Preston (Harper)

The acclaimed late author of Jurassic Park and the award-winning author of The Hot Zone present the story of a group of graduate students who accept work with a mysterious biotech company in Hawaii only to be abandoned in a treacherous wilderness when they discover their employer's dark agenda.

Come a Little Closer by Dorothy Garlock (Grand Central)

Taking a nursing job in a small town after the end of WWII, Christina Tucker finds herself being romantically pursued by her employer's two sons and is targeted in a revenge plot by one of Dr. Barlow's former disgruntled patients.

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin (Regan Arthur Books)

The Complaints: that's the name given to the Internal Affairs department who seek out dirty and compromised cops, the ones who've made deals with the devil. And sometimes The Complaints must travel. Malcolm Fox, a member of the Internal Affairs department that roots out dirty and compromised cops, investigates a neighboring police force and finds a trail that leads to the suicide of a prominent politician and activist.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New This Week

Mrs. Nixon: a Novelist Imagines a Life by Ann Beattie (Scribner)

A literary assessment of the former First Lady from the perspective of a short story master draws on a wealth of sources to reconstruct her worldview, covering her early experiences as a community theater actress and her marriage to the thirty-seventh president.

Kill Alex Cross by James Patterson (Little Brown)

Detective Alex Cross is thwarted at every turn while he attempts to investigate the abduction of the president's son and daughter and also discovers a deadly contagion released in the capital's water supply that foreshadows a larger, more devastating attack.

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (Putnam)

California PI Kinsey Millhone investigates the death of Audrey Vance, a woman she helped arrest for shoplifting, and antagonizes just about everyone, including Audrey's fiancé, several loan sharks, a stone-cold killer, and a hapless burglar who knows more than is healthy for him.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Just Jennifer

Out of Oz: The Final Volume in the Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire (William Morrow, November 2011)

While most people can recall the Yellow Brick Road or Munckhinland of MGM’s imagination, fewer have read L. Frank Baum’s series that introduced the magical world of Oz to generations of readers young and old. Now, Gregory Maguire has faithfully reconstructed and repopulated this world for a new generation of Oz fans, in a series that began with Wicked, which many recognize as the impetuous for the smash Broadway hit that has left legions of fans feeling Popular.

As this final installment begins, all is not well in the once peaceful, happy Oz: a civil war is in the offing as Emerald City is planning on invading Munchkinland, the ever lovely Glinda is being held under house arrest and the Cowardly Lion is on the lam. Where is Dorothy when you need her? Never fear, she’s once again growing impatient with Uncle Henry and Auntie Em and she’ll be back for this final tale, Toto too, as will the green granddaughter of Elphaba, now all grown and ready to come into her own wickedness, or will she be able to save Oz and restore it to its once shining self.

Compulsively readable, Out of Oz reunites everyone’s favorite characters from Maguie and Baum’s chronicles. The pages are brimming with rich detail of imagined lands. Maguire doesn’t stop until the very last page when ultimately everything is set to rights and the sun finally sets on this retelling of Oz.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Just Jennifer

The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell (Putnam, January 2012)

New York City Detective Kathy (to no one) Mallory is still on desk duty when the rats begin to fall from the sky in Central Park. A waif-like girl, Coco, who knows an awful lot about rats and their habits, is the jumping off point for three gruesome discoveries in the trees in Central Park that lead Mallory (who has taken herself off of desk duty so fast her boss has barely had time to react) and her partner Riker on a wild chase through the city, looking for a murderer, finding a pedophile, a cold society matron and a vengeance plot fifteen years in the making, a plot that will lead to the undoing of many lives.

Mallory, the former foster child of a cop, is as tough and detached as they come, but the little girl in her midst has touched something deep inside that perhaps no one, including Mallory, knew existed. Surrounded by her father’s former cronies who do their best to make sure she doesn’t self-destruct, Mallory makes sure justice is served, and carried out, even after the final sentence has been handed down.

Nothing is wasted in this narrative. There are no red herrings to tease, every piece that is revealed is there it place in an intricate puzzle that when finished, provides a most disturbing landscape. A marvelously flawed main character and a tightly plotted mystery make this series one of the best police detective series around. A character and a story that will stay with you and leave you longing for more.

Just Jennifer

Mozart’s Last Aria by Matt Rees (Harper Perennial, November 2011)

Anyone who was intrigued by Mozart’s life, personal and professional, and his professional rivalries and jealousies (Salieri, anyone?) will enjoy this latest novel by award-winning crime writer Matt Rees. December, 1791, Nannerl, or more formally, Madame Maria Anna Berchtold von Sonnenburg, Mozart’s sister, learns her brother is dead and that he confided to his wife Constanze just months before, that he felt his life was in danger. Upon his deathbed, Constanze claims Mozart told her he had been poisoned, but died before he was unable to reveal his poisoner. Nannerl travels to Vienna to pay her final respects to her estranged brother, not realizing these respects will include finding her brother’s murderer as she becomes caught up not only in Vienna’s high society, but in the jealous world of composers and lovers that her brother was a part of. An accomplished musician in her own right, Nannerl is able to insinuate herself into many situations easily, even posing as her brother, not realizing she is putting herself in as grave danger as her brother was in before his death.

Richly imagined, Mozart’s Last Aria will appeal to fans of mysteries as well as those who enjoy well-researched historical novels whose main characters once lived and who have sparked imaginations over the years. Lacking is Nannerl’s motive for looking into her estranged brother’s death and other details, present in the setting of the story, that would make her a more rounded, well-imagined, even likable, character. The rich culture of Viennese society is made more elegant by the inclusion of details of the musicians and their works during this prolific time.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New This Week

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Houghton Mifflin)

Nineteenth-century Europe ”from Turin to Prague to Paris ”abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Conspiracies rule history. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate Black Masses at night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. From the unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Europe is in tumult and everyone needs a scapegoat. But what if, behind all of these conspiracies both real and imagined, lay one lone man? What if that evil genius created its most infamous document? Eco takes his readers on an unforgettable journey through the underbelly of world-shattering events. Eco at his most exciting, a book immediately hailed as a masterpiece. Translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon.

The Sisters by Nancy Jensen (St. Martin’s Press)

Growing up motherless and under the thumb of a cruel stepfather in hardscrabble 1920s Kentucky, Bertie Fisher and her older sister, Mabel, are torn apart by a painful misunderstanding that reverberates through the lives of their daughters and granddaughters.

11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner)

Receiving a horrific essay from a GED student with a traumatic past, high-school English teacher Jake Epping is enlisted by a friend to travel back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a mission for which he must befriend troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.