To Read:

June 15, 2007 at 5:24 pm (Books)

I was/am looking for books to read now that I have time to read, both on the weekends and while commuting on the T during the weeks, so I figured I’d start a list here with Amazon’s descriptions so that I can remember them later in order to get them out of the library. If you have any more suggestions, I’m open!

Jack Knife – Virginia Baker
This debut novel features an intriguing setup that, unfortunately, becomes bogged down in a too-busy narrative: American time travelers from the year 2007 find themselves in 1888 London on the trail of a dangerous interloper from their time, just as the escalation of the legendary Jack the Ripper murders has driven the city into a frenzy. Wary that they or their quarry, Jonathan Avery, might change history in a way that would eliminate their own time line, partners-of-convenience Sara Grant and David Elliot simultaneously search for their target while attempting to assist Scotland Yard Insp. Jonas Robb in thwarting the sadistic serial killer—who may be one and the same. What they don’t realize is that Avery has taken a much larger role in events, and that it may be too late to salvage their future. A keen sense of history (such as the inclusion of lesser-known Ripper suspects Francis Tumblety and Michael Ostrog) bolsters this fast-paced pale, but Baker piles on bite-sized scenes and jarring shifts among characters to overwhelming, disorienting effect.

Temping Fate – Esther Friesner
Ilana is relieved to get a summer job, but she wonders if she’s made the right choice when the Divine Relief Temp Agency sends her to Tabby Fabricant Textiles, where she meets the three unusual sisters who will be her supervisors. Tabby, Dimity, and Georgette refer casually to work that they’ve been doing for the past several centuries, brandish extremely sharp scissors, and seem to know every detail of Ilana’s life. When she is given an unusual typing assignment, Ilana wonders aloud why a textile business would be issuing death certificates. Georgette calmly replies, They’re not death certificates, dear….They’re death receipts. We’re the Fates. It’s what we do. Soon Ilana discovers that everyone employed by the agency works for the gods or the heroes. Learning that she isn’t the only one with a bizarre job gives her the impetus she needs to persevere through a summer filled with unusual experiences. She also becomes a close friend of Arachne (currently residing in her web at Tabby Fabricant Textiles) and weathers her older sister’s frequent wedding-planning anxiety attacks. Teens familiar with Greek mythology will have the most fun with this book, since they’ll pick up on the clever references to myths (I temp for Demeter and Persephone….It’s a great job, very down to earth), but even readers without this background will find Ilana’s story a perfect choice for their own summer reading.

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
On a distant world, orphan Locke Lamora is sold into a crew of thieves and con artists. Soon his natural gifts make him an underworld celebrity, leader of the flamboyantly larcenous Gentleman Bandits. But there is someone who covets Locke’s talents, his success, his very life, forcing him to put everything on the line to protect himself. With a world so vividly realized that it’s positively tactile, and characters so richly drawn that they threaten to walk right off the page, this is one of those novels that reaches out and grabs readers, pulling us into the middle of the action. With this debut novel, Lynch immediately establishes himself as a gifted and fearless storyteller, unafraid of comparisons to Silverberg and Jordan, not to mention David Liss and even Dickens (the parallels to Oliver Twist offer an appealing extra dimension to the story, although the novel is no mere reimagining of that Victorian classic). Fans of lavishly appointed fantasy will be in seventh heaven here, but it will be nearly as popular with readers of literary crime fiction. This is a true genre bender, at home on almost any kind of fiction shelf. Expect it to be among the year’s most impressive debuts.

Maybe a Miracle: A Novel – Brian Strause
Strause juxtaposes the caustic and the poignant in his first novel, a pitch-perfect teenage take on human failings and superhuman spectacle in central Ohio. Monroe Anderson, stealing away to smoke pot before his senior prom, discovers his vivacious, sensitive 11-year-old sister, Annika, face down in their pool. He saves her life, but she remains in a coma. A crowd of well-wishers pray beneath Annika’s hospital window, and it’s not too long before the miracles begin: rose petals rain from the sky; Annika’s hands bleed like stigmata. Soon Annika is inspiring letters, pleas and pilgrimages from the nation’s sick and grieving, whom Monroe alternately pities and scorns, as he does the family priest who promotes Annika as a latter-day Jesus. The media fuels the frenzy, and Monroe’s mother dolls Annika up for her visitors with feverish optimism. Monroe’s workaholic father and loutish older brother also reveal their fragilities in the crucible of Annika’s prolonged coma, an estranging rather than unifying force. The metaphysical runs up against the mundane with darkly comic ambiguity. “If Annika had the power to heal, wouldn’t she heal herself first… and go into the kitchen and make everyone pancakes?” Monroe thinks. Monroe’s barbed detachment and biting sarcasm, tempered by the awe that steals over him at unguarded moments, hold the reader even when the plot crawls.

The Book of Air and Shadows – Michael Gruber
In this ingenious literary thriller from Gruber (The Witch’s Boy), the lives of two men are changed forever by William Shakespeare and the letters of Richard Bracegirdle, a 16th-century English spy and soldier. Jake Mishkin, a Manhattan intellectual property attorney and a bit of a rake, goes on the run from Russian gangsters. Albert Crosetti, an aspiring filmmaker working for an antiquarian bookstore, finds that life is more exciting than movies—perhaps too exciting. Together, Mishkin and Crosetti travel to England in search of a previously unknown Shakespeare manuscript mentioned by Bracegirdle. Though the pace sometimes slows to allow Mishkin, Crosetti and Bracegirdle to divulge interesting aspects of their personal lives, these digressions only make the story more engaging. The suspense created around the double-crosses and triple-crosses works because of the close connection readers forge with Crosetti in particular. The mysterious murder of a Shakespearean scholar, shootouts in the streets of Queens and an unlikely romance all combine to make for a gripping, satisfying read.

I’m sure more will come later, but that’s all for now…


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