Summer is officially over! Adieu l'été, bonjour l'automne! The smell of school is in the air, daylight yawns sleepily as the shadows stretch in waking, and the rush to the holidays, mad as birds, looms! Here’s a list of some of my very favorite season’s-end reads to stave off the inevitable decline of your hard-won summer zen:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of my absolute favorites this year, by fantastic fantasist Neil Gaiman (award-winning author of The Graveyard Book). Mentioned previously (here), I loved it so much I thought it deserved another recommendation. A short story that grew into a brilliant novel that I wanted never to end, it’s a modern fairy tale of sorts if one of Gaiman’s own imagining, composed of the waking memories of a man who comes home after a long time away. Things he thought the daydreams of a lonely boy might actually be real, such as the strange, powerful trio he befriends in the house at the end of the lane; a girl who claims that her little pond is actually an ocean (but only when it wants to be); her mother who plucks secrets seemingly from the air; and the old woman who remembers the world before the moon was made (and may have had a hand in its making). Bittersweet, fanciful, and more than a little frightening (like the best of fairy tales) it’s definitely worth reading more than once.
The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley, I discovered as a crazy random happenstance; it was delightfully serendipitous. This contemporary fantasy wasn’t even on my radar but should’ve been; it has all the elements that remind me of the top British writers in the genre, such as the aforementioned Neal Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and J.K. Rowling (with a little bit of Dr. Who thrown in). It’s clever, humorous (in a clever way), suspenseful (without being overly clever), and a fresh new take on the secret government agency theme. A girl wakes up to find herself surrounded by a circle of dead people who are all wearing latex gloves. She has no memory of who she is, or how she got into the mess she is in, but in her pocket she discovers a letter that begins: “Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine. The scar on the inner left thigh is there because I fell out of a tree and impaled my leg at the age of nine… But you probably care little about this body’s past… the name of the body you are in? It’s Myffanwy… I would say that it’s my name, but you’ve got the body now, so I suppose you’ll be using it.” Hooked? I sure was. I highly recommend you find out the rest…
Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes, seems misleading because it gives the impression of being a love story, promising a grand heartstring-plucking romance, and it delivers that, but it’s also a deeply emotional exploration of what life means to different people, and how they deal with the heavier aspects that can make living a struggle. Lou Clark is perfectly happy in her little town, working in a little tea shop, living her little comfortable life. Until she loses her job and finds herself working as an in-home caretaker for the wealthy Will Traynor who feels as though he’s lost so much more than he can bear after a terrible motorcycle accident limits what was once a fabulous, jet-setting lifestyle. He’s definitely not prepared for this girl who seems to have so much more depth than expected of someone not as experienced as he in the worldly sense. And she wasn’t expecting this bitter, jaded shadow of a man to show her how to really live. Also, I wept at the end. Hard as.
Revenge Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger, is the sequel to the New York Times best-selling novel The Devil Wears Prada (which was adapted into a wonderful film starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway and is still one of my favorite not-so-guilty pleasures). I had a difficult time deciding whether to include this title because I’m torn between deciding whether I enjoyed it, or really disliked it. My personification of the characters has been greatly influenced by their cinematic counterparts and, for me personally, revisiting them even if only across the pages of a book is like seeing what happens after the movie’s end credits. It’s been ten years since Andy quit as assistant/whipping-boy to Miranda Priestly and her life is better than she could have dreamed. Now running her own successful magazine (with none other than Emily Number One) and engaged to a handsome and well-born entrepreneur, everything is finally falling into place. Until the so-named Prada-wearing Devil incarnate herself somehow manages to throw her fashionably evil shadow over Andy’s life once again. I wasn’t happy with the character development, or the ending, but then again, literary life can’t be like the movies.
The Cuckoo’s Calling, by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, isn’t Harry Potter. It isn’t The Casual Vacancy either. It is, however, a well-written, involving mystery that could’ve been penned by a man named Robert Galbraith; the only thing it has in common with the other books written by Rowling is that they were written by Rowling. There’s tongue-in-cheek humor, great character development, and a mystery that is actually mysterious, but the style is (I feel) a sparkly new writerly facet from one of the most successful writers ever. Cormoran Strike is a private investigator down on his luck. His beautiful fiancée has only just officially become his ex-fiancée, his clients are mostly of the non-paying kind, and life in general seems to like kicking him even though he’s about as low as you could get. Fate hands him a chance to turn things around when a case falls right into his lap, investigating the police-ruled suicide of media darling supermodel Lula Landry which her brother vehemently refutes. Lula wasn’t known for being the most stable celebrity, but there may be more to her wild nature than a privileged upbringing.
Written In Red, by Anne Bishop, is a bright new spin on contemporary tales of blood-drinkers and shapeshifters, and the first in an exciting series. Anne Bishop, author of my favorite dark fantasy series The Black Jewels Trilogy, has a way of picking apart tired story-threads and weaving them into something unexpected, dark, and entrancing, but grounded in realities that, while definitely fantastic, are character-driven and fully-formed. In a world where the dominant species are decidedly not human, Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue, able to see into the future when her skin is cut, and a rare commodity sequestered with others of her kind to be bled for those with wealth enough to pay for the privilege. Escaping her stifling, cloistered life takes her into the dangerous world of the Others, the powerful races who once stalked the darkness in non-human shapes but took on (somewhat) more human form, if only to better keep mankind from ruining the world. Hired on as a Human Liaison (basically someone who keeps ignorant humans from being killed and eaten by aggravated members of these fierce, predatory races), Meg must contend with beings who know as much about interacting with regular humans as she does (which isn't much) , the people hunting her as lost property, and Simon Wolfgard who seems just as likely to eat her as he is to give her a pat on the head. Except Meg doesn’t act or smell like human prey…
Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website and reserve a copy today!