NEW BOOKS FROM BESTSELLING AUTHORS AT THE FIELD

It’s summer and that means it’s the time for all the bestselling authors to come out with new books.  In the next couple of weeks, you’re going to see new novels by such hot writers as James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Stuart Woods,  Sherrilyn Kenyon and Debbie Macomber.  

bullseye cover

While it’s hardly news that James Patterson has a new book coming out (he seems to emerge with a new book every couple of weeks these days), still it’s always good to know which series is about to get its next update.  This week it’s the Michael Bennett series that gets the new book: Bullseye comes out on August 1 (Monday!).  In the midst of high international tensions, nearing crisis proportions, a husband and wife assassination team arrive in New York City to kill a professor with a scandalous secret, and after that, they have their next target, the very popular President of the United States.  Michael Bennett is pulled away from his family to try to stop these assassins before they create an international disaster.

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Sherrilyn Kenyon’s bringing out a new book in her Dark Hunters series: Dragonmark, coming out this week. Illarion, the main character, was once a dragon, but that was a long time ago. Betrayed, changed into a human being, and forced to serve human armies as a dragonmount, fighting in their wars even though he loathed humans in every respect. Separated from his dragon brothers and everything he cared about, he has been suffering for ages. But now there’s a possibility he might be able to regain what he’s lost, but at a terrible price.  Is he human enough after all this time to be willing to let the world burn just so he can get what he wants at long last?

smooth operator cover

Many of Stuart Woods’ recent books have chronicled the adventures of his lawyer-hero, Stone Barrington.  But what happens when there’s a case too delicate for Stone to be able to handle it?  Then the powers that be call in Teddy Fay, a former CIA operative, master of disguise and man who’s willing to stretch the rules to do justice.  That’s what happens in Woods’ latest book, Smooth Operator, when the President calls upon Stone to do a delicate mission for her, and Stone has to supervise Fay’s somewhat idiosyncratic approach to justice and to the law.

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If you’re interested in something a little lighter, there’s always the very popular Debbie Macomber, who’s bringing her bestselling Rose Harbor series to an end in Sweet Tomorrows. Innkeeper Jo Marie Rose is still heartbroken after the departure of the man she came to love, Mark Taylor, who left abruptly to straighten out something in his past.  She refuses to stay stuck in grief and pain, and not only begins dating again, but takes an interest in a new boarder, Emily Gaffney, who’s rebounding from her own heartbreak and looking into the possibility of adoption.  As their lives intertwine and the characters need to take chances and figure out what they really want and what they’re willing to risk to get what they want, the series comes to a warm and satisfying conclusion.

 

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IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT TO THE MUSICAL, TRY THE HAMILTON AFFAIR

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so, you’ve heard about the multiple Tony-Award-winning musical, Hamilton, the sensation of the Broadway season, whose tickets are all but impossible to get at any price mere mortals can pay.  If you’ve heard the soundtrack, you know how terrific the music is and your appetite is just whetted to see the real thing, even if you have to wait years.

There is something you can do in the meantime, if you’ve been bitten by the Hamilton bug or if you’ve actually seen Hamilton (you lucky person, you!) and you want to have an idea of how accurate it is to Alexander Hamilton’s real life, or if you’re curious about Eliza Hamilton and her life with and without Alexander.

alexander hamilton bio cover

 Of course you could read the source material for the musical, Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, a scholarly (and very in-depth) biography of the Founding Father, but that’s a long nonfiction book (though it would count, for those who are doing the 2016 Reading Challenge, as a biography).

hamilton the revolution cover

 You could also check out Hamilton The Revolution: Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical, with a True Account of its Creation, and Concise Remarks on Hip-Hop, the Power of Stories and the New America,  by Lin Manuel Miranda, which is the next best thing to being at the show and seeing it for yourself.

the hamilton affair

There is another alternative.  The Hamilton Affair, by Elizabeth Cobbs, tells the stories, side by side, of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, from their so different origins (his as a bastard in the Caribbean island of St. Croix, hers as a much-loved daughter of one of the wealthiest New York families) through their meeting and their tempestuous lives together.  Hamilton cut a swathe through the Revolutionary War generation, making devoted friends (such as General George Washington) and lifelong enemies (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and of course Aaron Burr).  Elizabeth stood by him despite his infamous affair with a married woman which became one of the biggest scandals of the Federalist Era (he even wrote a pamphlet explaining how he’d gotten involved with this other woman and then blackmailed by her husband — try to imagine a modern day politician being that open about his affairs!).  The book chronicles their married life together and Elizabeth’s long life after Alexander, in which she shamed the Congress to support Alexander’s children, among other things, and ended up starting an orphanage and essentially raising 160 children in addition to her own.

Fascinating characters, an inherently interesting period of American history, and lovely writing: give The Hamilton Affair a try!

LOST IN TIME: VALLEY OF THE MOON

valley of the moon cover

What if you found a place to live where everything seemed so much simpler, so much more old-fashioned, than the world around you?  Wouldn’t that seem rather appealing, especially if your life was somewhat chaotic and difficult?  What if that place was really stuck in the distant past and you could travel to and from that place, spending some time in the late 20th century and then stepping back decades to the beginning of the century to calm things down?

This is the question at the heart of Valley of the Moon, by Melanie Gordon. The main action of the book takes place in the 1970’s, where Lux, our single mother protagonist, is struggling to make ends meet and take care of her young son by herself.  When she takes a break by herself to the Sonoma Valley in California, she finds herself in a strange and beautiful community, populated by people wearing old-fashioned clothes, with equally old-fashioned manners and speech, as if they were from another time.  She comes to realize that they really are from another time, the early 20th century, and that in this particular place they will always be living in the early 1900’s.  She can go back and forth, unlike the people who live in the valley, and so begins a story of a woman torn between two eras: the 1970’s, where she is bringing up her son, and the world of Greengage, the place cut off from the passage of time.

What would you do if you only felt you belonged to a place that couldn’t exist in the modern world?  Read Valley of the Moon and find out how Lux resolves her poignant dilemma.

 

PARASOLS, DIRIGIBLES, WEREWOLVES, STEAMPUNK AND FUN: THE NOVELS OF GAIL CARRIGER

imprudence cover

If you are a fan of Gail Carriger, all I need to tell you is that the second book in her Custard Protocol series (yes, that really is the name of the series, and it makes sense in context), Imprudence, has been released, and you’ll be rushing to put it on hold or take it out and devour it in a couple of gulps (that’s what I did).

If, however, you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of the bizarre and wonderful characters in Gail Carriger’s world, then (a) you don’t know what you’re missing (but I’ll work on that), and (b) you really shouldn’t introduce yourself to that world with this book.  You could probably manage, but you would be so confused trying to figure out who’s related to whom and how and who’s a vampire and who’s a werewolf and what are these preternaturals and metanaturals anyway that you wouldn’t have the energy to enjoy the fun of the book.

soulless cover

No, the place to start if you want to figure out what these series are all about is the first book in the Parasol Protectorate (the first series), Soulless. In that book we are introduced to Alexia Tarabotti, a Victorian spinster of a certain age who is not taking any nonsense from anyone, as we discover in the very first chapter. She’s attacked by a vampire at a formal party and, rather than freaking out about it, she whacks the creature with her parasol, telling him that he’s a fool to try to attack someone like her.  Not, as it turns out, because she is a woman of such character that she could defeat any vampires with the force of her personality (though she might be able to do that, too), but because she is a preternatural: a person who has no soul, and who is, therefore, capable of turning various supernatural creatures, like vampires and werewolves, mortal by a touch. She accidentally kills the vampire in question and then is investigated by Lord Conall Macoun, a Scottish werewolf (the alpha of his pack) and an agent of Queen Victoria’s BUR (Bureau for Unnatural Registration, the means by which Queen Victoria’s government keeps track of werewolves and vampires and other unnatural types, as well as keeping them in line).  As other vampires turn up dead, she becomes a prime suspect, and needs to find out what’s really going on as well as maintaining proper Ladylike behavior.  She is helped in her endeavors by some pretty impressive characters, including (my personal favorite) Ivy Hisselpenny, a somewhat daffy young woman who wears the most amazing hats (even for Victorians), lovingly described by Carriger and disapprovingly observed by Alexia, and Lord Akeldama, a fabulous vampire surrounded by handsome young male assistants.

The series is a rare and delightful blend of supernatural hijinks, alternate history, steampunk-type technology, romance and speculative fiction.  The fun of the books turns on the characters themselves, starting with the indomitable Alexia, the gruff and irascible (with a heart of gold, of course) Macoun, the sly and sophisticated Akeldama, and the wonderfully ditzy Ivy (and her hats!), and the way they interact with each other amid the intricacies of shapechanging in Carriger’s world (the question of what the presence of soul has to do with whether someone can shift or become a vampire, for instance, is novel in the extreme), all spiced with Carriger’s dry but funny sense of humor.  How can you not love it when Alexia’s major mechanical defense against the bad guys is a series of parasols (all very proper and Victorian) which spray acid and shoot darts and the like?

blameless cover       timeless cover    changeless cover   heartless cover

Read through the first series, Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless and Timeless, as the characters marry and change and don’t change and find their new places in the wide world of the British Empire, and then you’ll be ready to follow the next generation, Prudence, a/k/a Pru (daughter of Alexia and Macoun and a metanatural with the power to take on the supernatural abilities of anyone she touches), and Ivy’s twin children, Primrose (a/k/a Prim) and Percival (a/k/a Percy), as Prudence, raised by vampires AND werewolves, acquires a dirigible and starts traveling to the distant corners of the Empire — India in Prudence and Egypt in Imprudence.  Along the way, she discovers some other kinds of shape-changing creatures and gets in all kinds of trouble, romantic and otherwise, and she is an entertaining character to share these adventures with (a different kind of entertaining point of view character than Alexia, her mother).

prudence cover

If you like steampunk, if you have an offbeat sense of humor, if you enjoy alternate history novels with speculative fiction elements, if you’ve been looking for adventures that involve vivid and strong female and male characters, by all means pick up Gail Carriger’s books, in both series.  You’ll find a lot to love.

JULY THRILLERS TO KEEP YOU COOL

Are you ready for a great thrill ride of a book?  Then check out July’s new thrillers which run the gamut from creepy nightmare stuff to post apocalyptic survival to convicts and dogs working together.

the last one cover

In The Last One by Alexandra Oliva, the name of the game is survival. Zoo, the protagonist, is a contestant in a survival style television reality show.  The premise of the show is that twelve people are selected and sent to the woods to face various challenges to test their endurance and their abilities.  The contestants are kept from any real knowledge of what the challenges are, and cut off from all contact with the outside world, to make the show seem more real.  However, in the middle of the competition, Zoo encounters what seem like real corpses and real destruction.  Is this part of the show, or has there been some real disaster in the outside world that she’s not aware of?  At first Zoo treats it as another of the artificial challenges set up by the show’s producers, holding herself together with her confidence that this is just a show and the producers of the show wouldn’t really let her or the other contestants die.  Except that it’s not an artificial challenge.  Something terrible has happened in the real world and Zoo has to navigate what she believes is a fake survival challenge that may turn out to be the real thing. This book has been compared to Station Eleven (a wonderful book, by the way) and The Passage, and if you’re doing the 2016 Reading Challenge, this could count as a post-apocalyptic novel.

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For a different kind of thriller, tending toward the occult/horror, you could try Wolf Lake by John Verdon. How’s this for an intriguing premise: four people, with practically nothing in common otherwise, in four different locations, have the same nightmare on the same night, involving a dagger with a carved wolf’s head on the hilt. All four are subsequently found dead, apparent suicides, their wrists cut, the cuts made by a dagger with a carved wolf’s head on its hilt.  What ties these deaths together?  It turns out all of the dead people were “treated” by a Richard Hammond, a controversial psychologist who engaged in strange hypnotherapy sessions with each of them at his spooky house in the middle of the Adirondacks at Wolf Lake. The police investigation seems to avoid certain things, and Dave Gurney, the protagonist of this series, digs deeper to find out what’s really going on, putting himself in danger not only from the murderer but also from sinister corners of the Federal Government.  Trapped by a blizzard himself on sinister Wolf Lake, Gurney matches wits with one of the most dangerous men he’s ever faced, with his wife’s sanity, as well as his own, on the line.

OUTFOXED COVER

These books a little dark for you?  Looking for something exciting and intriguing with (to quote from Shakespeare in Love) a bit with a dog?  Try Outfoxed by David Rosenfelt.  As you could guess from the cute terrier pictured on the cover, this book turns on dogs, or rather on a specific dog. Andy Carpenter, a defense lawyer by profession, is dedicated to the charity he works for on the side, the Tara Foundation, which rescues dogs and helps them get adopted.  His most recent project has been to bring rescued dogs together with selected convicts to help the dogs become more adoptable and give the convicts a focus for their time behind bars.  He’s especially happy about the combination of Brian Atkins, who’s got only 18 months left on a five year sentence, and his interaction with Boomer, a wire terrier rescued from a neglectful owner. The bond between man and dog is such that Andy hopes Brian will adopt Boomer after he gets released, but all Andy’s optimistic hopes are dashed when he arrives at the prison one day and discovers that both Brian and Boomer have escaped.  Things get worse when the main witness against Brian at his original trial is murdered.  Brian is arrested, though he protests his innocence. Andy ends up with a new client and a new dog, and as he digs into the facts of the murder, he begins to discover that things are darker than they seem, and that he may be putting them all in great danger.

 

ALTERNATE HISTORY: THE ULTIMATE WHAT IF?

One of the most intriguing things about the whole genre of alternate history novels is seeing how one change, or a couple of changes, to the past can make an entirely different present.  The best of these books are the result of a lot of thought, a lot of world-building, and can illuminate our present world in new and fascinating ways.  I always think of them as time travel without the annoying paradoxes (“yeah, but if you went back and changed that, then you wouldn’t need to go back and change it in the present so you wouldn’t have gone back and changed it, but then you would have to go back and change it . . . “ , and on and on).

We have a number of recent arrivals at the Field Library that explore the possibilities of alternate histories, ranging from Victorian Britain to 1940’s Europe to present day America.  Check them out and see if you don’t start looking at the present world a little differently.

smoke cover

Take Smoke by Dan Vyleta, for instance.  The big concept in this book, set in Victorian England, is that you can tell the difference between good and bad people because the bad people emit smoke, like smog, and the good people don’t. Thinking about the terrible smog that enveloped London in the Victorian era (and if you want a wonderful description of that smog, you could hardly do better than the beginning of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, but I digress), the idea that it’s caused by all the bad thoughts and emotions people have is fascinating and makes a kind of perverse sense. And of course, this being Victorian England, the upper class people do NOT smoke; it’s only the wretched working class people and poor who are demonstrably bad because they are surrounded by smoke and exude it from every pore. Except that maybe it’s not that simple, after all.  The sons of the upper class are sent to boarding schools (as they were in this world), and among other things they are taught how to suppress their smoke tendencies, and little by little the secrets of this world, and the truth of the smoke and how it’s used by the upper class to maintain control, are revealed.

book of esther cover

What might have happened if there had been a Jewish country at the time of World War II? In the Middle Ages, there was such a kingdom, Khazar, which was later absorbed into Turkey.  What if it hadn’t been? What would the response of such a country be to the rise of Hitler?  That’s the intriguing question at the heart of The Book of Esther,  by Emily Barton.  In the mid to late 1930’s, streams of Jewish refugees pour into the Khazar khaganate, fleeing from the incipient Nazi regime, and then Germany attacks Khazaria itself.  Only Esther, the daughter of the country’s chief policy advisor, recognizes what an existential threat Germany presents to the country. Unfortunately, since she’s a woman, she can’t raise an army in this very traditional society. So she sets out to find this legendary valley of Kabbalists who, rumor has it, can change her into a man so she can be her country’s Joan of Arc and save their whole civilization from the nightmare of Hitler.

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Or, coming a little closer to home, imagine a modern day United States, just like the real one in every way except that the Civil War never happened. This is the starting point of Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters, and it leads to all kinds of horrifying situations.  For one thing, slavery is still legal in four states (the Hard Four, as they’re known in this world), and runaway slaves are pursued by agents of the Federal Government, including our protagonist, a young black man known as Victor.  On the trail of an infamous runaway called Jackdaw, Victor tries to infiltrate an abolitionist cell, as memories of his own childhood on a plantation threaten to resurface.  He tracks this Jackdaw through the reaches of the Underground Airlines, through churches and garages, hotels and parking lots, but starts uncovering more than he bargained for, including a chilling insight into the bargain the government has made with the Hard Four and what the government is willing to do to keep that bargain.  A world very much like our present one, but subtly different: Underground Airlines shines a disturbing light on our history and our current state of race relations.

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Not that we’re playing “Can You Top This,” but the only thing that’s more worrisome and chilling than a world in which the Civil War never happened might be a world in which the Cold War turned hot, and that’s what one of the masters of alternate history, Harry Turtledove, brings us in Fallout. After World War II, America and the Soviet Union unleashed their nuclear arsenals upon each other.  Millions died. Millions more were displaced. Harry Truman, President of the U.S., prepares to assassinate Josef Stalin, while he plans a counter move.  Land war rages in Europe, with France and Italy trying to decide which is the winning side so they can join before it’s too late. While everybody’s distracted by these events, China is about to invade Korea and Joseph McCarthy rages in the United States.  In a world with nothing left to lose, all the players on the world stage pretty much go mad, and we, the readers, are drawn into our worst nightmares, skillfully played out in the hands of someone who’s spent a lot of time imagining all the possible consequences and fallout.

 

TALES OF A YOUNG ANARCHIST: HOW TO SET A FIRE AND WHY

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How can you not love a book whose first person narrator opens the story by explaining why she stabbed a fellow high school student in the neck with a pencil?  Lucia, the narrator and protagonist of How to Set a Fire and Why, by Jesse Ball, is not your classical young adult going through growing pains.  Her father is dead, her mother is in a mental institution, and she lives with her paternal aunt in a small garage outside a house.  She’s acerbic, intelligent and hard to get along with, but she is a great character and you want to spend time with her, if only to find out what she’s going to do next.

Lucia explains why she stabbed the high school athlete at the beginning of the book: after being warned, he touched her late father’s Zippo lighter. Her one regret is that she didn’t stab him deeper.  Her getting kicked out of her high school as a result doesn’t bother her at all, since she had no real attachment to that school, and even her aunt doesn’t take it too seriously (evidence early in the book of what kind of eccentric her Aunt Margaret is — Lucia refers to her as an anarchist).

Her experiences in her new school aren’t much better than in her old school (though she doesn’t feel the need to stab anyone in this school).  While she makes a couple of friends, she still doesn’t really fit in anywhere.  One thing that intrigues her is the reference to an “arson club,” though when she digs deeper, she discovers that it, too, isn’t exactly what she hoped.

The author drops one terrible thing after another on Lucia’s shoulders: it’s not enough that her father is dead and her mother is completely out of touch mentally, it’s not enough that she’s living in a place so small there’s only one bed and her aunt has to sleep sitting up in a chair so Lucia can have the bed, it’s not enough that she gets into trouble at school wherever she goes.  She also has to face her aunt’s stroke and the health problems that follow from that.  And when she does get accepted into a special school for brilliant young people, her behavior problems make it impossible for her to attend there.  Though Lucia is incredibly resilient and handles all these blows with aplomb uncharacteristic of a kid her age, it does feel (a little) as if the author is stacking the deck against her a bit too much.

You don’t have to agree with Lucia’s philosophy as she sets it out in her pamphlet entitled “How to Set a Fire and Why” to appreciate her bravura approach to the world, and to root for her, even as she makes decisions that lead to questionable results.  She’s an impressive creation, a young woman who’s true to herself even in bad circumstances, with a voice like a modern day Holden Caulfield and an energy that carries her readers along with her through anarchy and beyond.

 

MARS AND THE REST OF THE UNIVERSE: NEW SCIENCE FICTION AT THE FIELD

the long way to a small angry planet cover

Are you a science fiction fan?  Or are you someone who has a kind of stereotyped idea of science fiction based on popular movies (the Star Trek movies, the Star Wars series and the like) and who has decided you really don’t care for science fiction as a result?  Whichever you are, you’re likely to enjoy A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, a new science fiction book here at the Field Library. If you had to characterize it, you’d probably put it in the category of “space opera”, the sort of science fiction that takes place on a ship with a community of beings working together for a common goal (“to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”, to quote a famous series), but with some wonderful twists and turns. To begin with, most of the characters are not human, and those who are human are not stereotypes of white American/western European people.  There are beings from different planets, with different genders and completely different kinds of relationships, and they’re treated as ordinary (or at least no weirder than the human beings). The ship in question is tunneling through wormholes to a distant planet, a trip that might set all the characters up for life, financially, or it might destroy them all.  There are plot twists and turns, tight escapes, dangers the diverse and fascinating crew have to face, and through it all we have our main character, a Martian clerk named Rosemary who’s joined the ship to see the universe and get away from her past, and her becoming a part of this unusual and quirky crew in this well-developed universe.

arabella of mars

And while we’re on the subject of young women from Mars, why not check out Arabella of Mars, the first book in a new series by David Levine?  This one is a sort of alternate history science fiction, with steampunk style and a sort of Wild West attitude toward proper behavior.  In this universe, space exploration began in the late 1700’s, and by the 1800’s there is a thriving English colony on Mars, where our protagonist, Arabella, is growing up.  She’s happy to be living on her family’s plantation on Mars, working with her father’s automata, chasing her brother across the Martian landscape with her nanny, but her mother is concerned that she will never turn into a proper lady that way, so Arabella is sent to the most exotic location she could imagine: London, England, on planet earth.  Between the much stronger gravity of the planet and the much more stifling expectations for young women in Regency era England, Arabella is not a happy camper.  When her father dies unexpectedly and she uncovers a plot against her brother’s life, Arabella ditches her attempts at English Lady propriety, disguises herself as a boy, gets a job on a commercial ship serving the Mars Trading Company.  There her skill with clockwork (the steampunk side of the book) brings her to the attention of the mysterious Indian captain of the ship.  Her adventures on board ship, like so many other aspects of her story, bring to mind actual historical events and experiences (the British colonial experience in India, for instance, or the sea wars of the Napoleonic era) but set in a universe just different enough that these more familiar historical events take on a new perspective.  While this is the first book in a series (and I’m very glad the author and publisher have made this clear; as I’ve already said many times, it drives me crazy to read through a book and only discover at the end that it’s not a stand-alone but part of a series and therefore doesn’t come to a conclusion), it can be read on its own for the fun of it.

READ IT BEFORE YOU SEE IT: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

Perhaps you’ve seen the trailer for the upcoming movie The Girl with All the Gifts and are wondering what the story is all about.  You’re in luck, because the movie is based on the book by M. R. Carey and we have it in the Field Library (there are other copies in the Westchester system), and the book is absolutely wonderful!

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

When the book first came out, the reviews and the jacket copy were a little coy about what Melanie’s “gifts” were, and I can understand why.  The author does a terrific job of showing the world from Melanie’s point of view, and she doesn’t know what she is, certainly not in the beginning, and all she can do is notice the way people, like the military guards who transport her from her room to the schoolroom every day, treat her.  Not having anything to compare her life to, and being just a kid, Melanie simply assumes that everybody lives this way, and only when disaster strikes does she realize that she and her fellow students are not ordinary human beings and that they are a danger to the ordinary humans around them.

Another reason not to start out with the report that the book is a zombie novel is because that immediately gives the potential reader a slew of images and tropes in his or her mind, and you are much better off coming to Melanie on her own terms and getting to know her as an amazing character rather than fitting her into a stereotype.

All I can say is that this book was so gripping, and the characters so real and vivid and NOT stereotypical (the kindhearted teacher, the gruff and by the rules military man, and Melanie herself), that when it first came out in 2014, I took it out immediately and could not put it down. I ended up taking it with me to work (!!) and sneaking quick reads in spare moments because I HAD to know how it came out.

I’m not going to give anything away, but I will say the ending was both totally unexpected and strangely satisfying. This is definitely a book to read before you see the movie, because I can’t imagine how the movie could possibly do this fascinating and engrossing book justice.  Don’t believe me?  Read it for yourself!

Oh, and by the way, for those of you doing the 2016 Reading Challenge, this book definitely qualifies as a horror book.

 

WEIRD, FUNNY AND WONDERFUL: FURIOUSLY HAPPY

furiously happy cover

Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson.  Just look at that cover. How can you not want to find out more about a book with a cover like that? And yes, I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in this particular case, the cover is an excellent representation of what’s inside.

So if you’re doing the 2016 Reading Challenge (and it’s not too late yet to join in — lots of fun and lots of people to cheer you on and read with you), Furiously Happy counts as “book with a main character with a mental illness,” so this is a very easy, very enjoyable way to fulfill that requirement. I read it in one day without even pushing hard, and you will just whiz through it yourself.  And if you’re not doing the Reading Challenge, you still should read Furiously Happy and not be deterred at all by its being written by and about a person who struggles with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental and physical illnesses.

Why should you read it?  Because it’s funny.  The subtitle of the book is “A Funny Book about Horrible Things,” and that’s extremely accurate, though not all the things she writes about are horrible (some are just run of the mill life-can-be-difficult things).

It’s not just smile-wryly-at-life’s-peculiarities funny, either.  It’s laugh-out-loud-so-much-people-stare-at-you-wherever-you’re reading kind of funny.  It’s the kind of funny where you want to read the best lines aloud to whoever’s near you, only you can’t choose just one line or two lines or a dozen lines and half the time the real humor comes from context so you end up reading a whole page to someone else, and that someone else will probably end up either grabbing the book out of your hands or else insisting you stop reading so she or he can read it for her or himself.

The goofy looking raccoon on the cover is an actual thing.  It’s a dead raccoon that has been stuffed, that the author named Rory and keeps in her home as (sort of) her emblem animal.  She has been known to sneak up behind her husband when he is having important business conferences by Skype and slowly raise Rory behind him so the person on the other end of the conference call thinks Jenny’s husband is actually about to be attacked by a scary raccoon.  She thinks it’s a good way to see who your real friends are.  Her husband thinks he needs to lock her out of the room when he’s on Skype conference calls.

In the course of this book, Jenny discusses taking antipsychotic medications, what’s going on in her head when she’s talking to her therapist (I was reading this chapter while riding on Metro North and my seatmate, whom I’d never seen before, finally asked me what on earth I was reading that was so funny), a trip she and a good friend took to Australia, her thoughts on the helicopter-parenting phenomenon and why people really overschedule their children (her explanation is brilliant and funny and NOT the one you’re thinking of), and a number of other topics. Even her descriptions of her arguments with her husband (who must be a saint, judging by this book) are hysterically funny.

Amidst all this humor and this bizarre but entertaining stream of consciousness stuff, she manages to sneak in some deep and moving insights about what it’s like to have a mental illness, how hard it can be to live with depression and anxiety, and how important it is to recognize the strengths you gain from living with and surviving mental illnesses.

Jenny Lawson comes across as the kind of wild and quirky friend you definitely want with you in an adventure or even in a boring place.  If you can’t actually spend time with her, do the next best thing: read Furiously Happy.