Today is a National Book Lovers Day and I want to use it as an excuse to share my latest discoveries with you. When you become a parent of a small child, sleep becomes a precious commodity. And if you have a couple of small children, sleep hours are few and far between. Yet, I am so addicted to reading that even with a house full of small children I manage to spend lots of late-night hours surrounded by my books, whispering to shadows “just one more page.” And since we all know that “just one more page” never works, there is always a price to pay the next day, when I have to run around on no sleep. But it is all worth it for me. If you are looking for a great novel recommendation, here are the last six that were worth staying up late for me.
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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
I don’t like time travel romances. I yawned through the Time Traveler’s Wife and got so thoroughly bored by some other ones I tried that I can’t even remember their names. So I consider it pure luck that I picked Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander without knowing one thing about it. This book had me at the checkout line. I read the first sentence, “People disappear all the time,” and kept reading all the way to the parking lot. It took me mere three days to get through all of 627 pages. I read so fast, sometimes I actually forgot to breath.
Just to give you an idea. On day 3 my husband came into one of the kid’s bedrooms upstairs to find out why kids were still running around doing their late night Elephant Dance (the purpose of which is to shake the floor) since it was well past their bedtime. He found me sitting in the corner of the room, behind the dresser (no less) with Outlander clutched in my hands.
My husband, “what’s going on?”
Eva (briskly, without raising head from the page), “I can’t talk.”
My husband, “Why not?”
Eva (blurts out in a breathless manner), “I need to keep reading this.”
My husband, “why don’t you go in the office then. I will put the kids to bed.”
Eva (with exasperation), “I can’t move.”
My husband (patiently), “Why not?”
Eva, “I don’t want to stop reading.”
The sheer scoop of the book is beyond simple summaries. It’s a history book, and it’s a fiction, and it’s a murder suspense and psychological thriller and love story. An Englishwoman Claire is a World War II combat nurse. At the end of the war she reunites with her husband (history professor by trade, spy- during the war). They go to Scotland to get to know each other again. The love is still there. They are trying for a baby. On a sightseeing tour they come across a mysterious circle of standing stones. These stones are steeped into local folklore and spooky legends. The next day Claire returns to the circle alone (probably following her destiny), and without a warning she is whisked back two hundred years. From here things get very exciting and stay exciting for the duration of this novel and all the consequent novels (yes, there are a couple of sequels).
Diana Gabaldon is a master of building anticipation. The minor secondary plots are as engaging as the main storyline. Great read all around! And if you get as obsessed with The Outlander, as I did, enjoy the extra treat of watching the new TV show by the same name.
The Bookman’s Tale: a novel of obsession by Charlie Lovett
I love books about books, and if there is mystery, intrigue, old family feuds, romance, adventure, crime and passion thrown in the mix as well all the better. In the heart of the matter is an old book that may or may not have been used by Shakespeare for inspiration, and which can prove once and for all that Shakespeare is indeed the author of his works (something that is debated to this day).
There are three storylines in different eras, but don’t worry it doesn’t get confusing. First there is Elizabethan era with various book sellers and Shakespeare himself in the picture and where the book in question starts its eventful journey. Then, there is Peter (the bookman) during 1990s as a young man trying to figure out his calling and courting Amanda, a rich heiress, who in some intriguing way is connecting to the whole book business. And finally there is present day, with Peter, now a book collector and an antiquarian bookseller, running to England to mourn the lose of his wife, and where he spookily comes across a Victorian watercolor portrait of his dead wife stuck inside an old book in a little bookstore.
I read the book in record time because every time I wanted to put it down a new development kept me glued. I enjoyed learning more about book auctions, collection and restoration. If you love books and historical fiction mixed with murder mystery then you will enjoy this book.
And if you are as impressionable as me, this book will immediately inspire you to make a book with your kids. Book making post coming up!
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
I was on my way to an appointment that was one hour away. One hour each way without kids, hm… that calls for an adult audio book. I had about five minutes to spare, so I stopped by a library near my house and grabbed this one off The Just Returned rack by the exit. I have a couple of friends who are such huge fans of Jodi Picoult that they read her every novel (and she wrote over twenty novels!), so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. Normally a school shooting is not something I would care to read. I just can not bring myself to relax into a story where kids get hurt. But this time I kept going and on the way back home from my appointment, I actually grabbed the hard copy of the book so I could get to the end faster.
It’s the story of the school shooting, the events that led up to it, and so much more. The story shifts between flashbacks and the present. There are kids, parents, teachers, cops, and town citizens. It’s painful to see how the gap between kids and parents grows wider with each passing year. If you have kids, this book will definitely force you to reach for a copy of How to Connect With Your Kids or some other parenting book.
I love how author shows each character’s point of view and makes you think. “You can’t undo something that’s happened; you can’t take back a word that’s already been said out loud. You’ll think about me and wish that you had been able to talk me out of this. You’ll try to figure out what would have been the one right thing to say, to do.” Some parts of the book brought me to tears and some made me mad. This is the kind of story that stayed in my mind for a long time after I closed the book.
Stoker’s Manuscript: the lost secrets of Dracula by Royce Prouty
Let me state it for the record that I have never been a fan of vampire literature. I, of course, read the classic of the horror genre called Dracula by Bram Stoker, because it was on my list of one hundred books everyone should read in their lifetime (and don’t ask me how I came up with this list) and that was it between vampires and me. But I can not pass up a book about a book. The main character is a rare-book dealer living in modern Chicago, who is asked to authenticate the original manuscript of Stoker’s Dracula and deliver it to the buyer in Romania. Once he arrives in Transylvania he is thrown into the world of unexplained mysteries and bloodthirsty vampires. There is a bit of horror, humor and lots of suspense. The modern technology, like GPS, come out to counter the supernatural forces of the vampire world. Legends mix with rumors. The main character has to outsmart the vampires, while unraveling the mysteries of his own lineage. The things he unravels about his parents and their tragic death throw additional element of mystery into the story.
And no, Transylvania is not an imaginary place. It’s a historical region in central Romania that is stepped in Old World superstition and remains a truly medieval place today. You might also want to know that the original Count Dracula book is based on an actual historical personage (and if you want to learn more about it, like I did, I recommend reading about it here). What I loved best about this book is how seamlessly Royce Prouty blends fact and fiction. Although, in all honesty, it was only a handful of times when I stopped the reading to check the facts. Most of the time I was so drawn into the story that I couldn’t bother with fact-checking. Add it to your Halloween reading list for extra dose of creepy.
Nemesis by Jo Nesbo
When was the last time you read a book by Norwegian writer? Until recently my answer would have been, ‘not since high school.” Hello, Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. But I accidentally came across Nemesis written by a modern Norwegian author Jo Nesbo and I fell in love with his brilliant writing. I have just finished his fourth book and I’m going to keep reading. I heard that his last novel sold 160,000 in the first week of publication in Norway. His popularity is no doubt well deserved. I don’t know that many writers who can sustain the edge-of-the-sit drama for hundreds of pages. There is always a new twist that shocks, surprises, confounds, and the tension never easies right up to the last page.
The main character is Oslo police officer Harry Hole, an alcoholic with an investigative talent that matches only his recalcitrant personality. Besides the bank robbery, there is a love story. While Harry Hole’s girlfriend is away in Moscow, he gets together with his ex Anna, who is soon found dead in her bed. Now Hole has to investigate a bank robbery, while investigating the murder of his ex, while fighting the mysterious blackmailer and all the while without drawing attention to himself (which will make him a prime suspect in the death of his ex).
Every time I think I figured it all out, I turn the page to find that I was all wrong. This is a very multi-layered novel, and I love how all of it ties together at the end. I enjoyed reading descriptions of Oslo and its citizens. The characters, even minor ones, are very well drawn. The only thing I am sad about is that this book is not five hundred pages longer.
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
Salem witch trials never caught my attention and I only knew about them what I read in boring history books. This book ended up in my hands because I can never pass a National Bestselling without wanting to understand what so many people liked about it. I gave it ten pages before I was going to put it back on a shelf. It takes a great talent to take a boring historical event and turn it into a gripping piece of historical fiction. The Heretic’s Daughter did not go back on a shelf.
Author Kathleen Kent spent five years researching the topic. What’s more he happens to be a direct descendent of Martha Carrier, the main character of this story and one of the “witches.” I think it adds a little bit of something extra to the story. I kept thinking: it’s not just some made up character I’m reading about, it’s this author’s relative. Imagine the stories around the kitchen table? Besides, the intricacies of witch trials and the events that led up to it, the book explores the relationship between mother and daughter, the details of life in Puritan times, and the human nature.
A nine-year old daughter of Martha Carrier is the teller of the story. To read a story with such heart breaking events as seen through the eyes of a little girl who lived all that pain is even more heart-wrenching. I found the novel on the whole interesting and informative and the writing engaging. If you like a quality historical fiction with a good plot, you will enjoy this book.
Here is my happy reading place … until the winter comes.
These stories will keep you turning the pages and that’s what we want in a good book, isn’t it?
What have you read lately?