China Dolls by Lisa See (2014)

chinadollsThree young Asian American women meet at the Golden Gate International Exhibit in 1938. They forge immediate friendships and end up entertaining in the San Francisco nightclub scene. Each woman holds dark secrets that are slowly revealed as they struggle to survive during the war years. Friendship, family, love, and betrayal are examined from their diverse points of view in Lisa See’s China Dolls.

Join our Novel Idea discussion group on Wednesday, May 13 at 7pm to talk about China Dolls. Get your copy of the book at the front checkout desk.

Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation by Ann Bausum (2014)

stubbySergeant Stubby appeals to both military history buffs and dog lovers. This remarkable story follows James Robert Conroy and his brave canine companion, Stubby, from their early days to the battlefields of France during World War I, to their homecoming as heroes and then retirement. The soldiers’ lives during wartime are contrasted with the bond between soldier and dog. Photographs of Conroy and Stubby enhance the book.

In 1917, Conroy enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard and his unit became part of the 26th (Yankee Division) of the U.S. Army. Stubby was a stray that showed up at training on Yale University’s athletic fields and favored Conroy. He learned how to follow along with the soldiers as they paraded on the athletic fields and even learned how to salute. Stubby was smuggled and stowed away on the ship taking Conroy’s unit to France. Supposedly after officers became aware of Stubby’s presence, Stubby charmed them and became the official mascot of the unit.

James Robert Conroy returned to the States as a hero and Stubby became a celebrity.

Ann Bausum’s book was released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of World War I. If you are interested in reading further about World War I see All Time Faves: Our Favorite books about World War I.

Not All Tarts are Apple by Pip Granger (2002)

NotAllTarts_UK_largeSeven-year-old Rosie, who lives with her aunt and uncle in the Old Compton Street Café, is the darling of their Soho neighborhood.  Her low-class neighbors are made up of con men, thieves, shady lawyers, fortune tellers, pimps and prostitutes.  One day, a girl at school tells everyone that Rosie’s mum is a tart.

Rosie’s world is turned upside down and she fears her secure life with her aunt and uncle will come to an end.  What transpires is a hilarious tale of good guys and bad guys told from a little girl’s perspective.  Pip Granger’s Not All Tarts are Apple is a charming and entertaining story.  The British vocabulary just adds to the good old humor.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (2014)

norawebsterIt took me a while to get into the story of the recently widowed Nora Webster in Colm Toibin’s latest novel, but I ended up enjoying this patient exploration of a woman’s life. After her beloved husband passes away, Nora struggles to take care of her four children while living on a meager widower’s pension.

Narrator Fiona Shaw’s authentic Irish accent enriches the story that takes place in small town of Wexford, Ireland, where Nora raises her two young boys. Nora’s sisters, aunts, and friends all offer assistance and advice as she navigates the unfamiliar terrain of her new life. In Nora Webster, the transition of Nora from grieving widow to resilient independent woman is a wonderful journey for the reader.

The Archbishop in Andalusia by Andrew M. Greeley (2008)

archbishopThe reader is greatly assisted by the floor plan of La Dona Teresa’s Palacio showing the bedroom where she was attacked (she readily survived) and the courtyard pool where attractive ladies sat, in full view from the windows, enjoying the warm Spanish sun. The first pages of The Archbishop in Andalusia also include a much-needed name list of the Spanish aristocrats and other characters in the story.

While Archbishop John Blackwood “Blackie” Ryan is visiting Cardinal Diego Sanchez y Romanos, El Moro in Seville, the good Cardinal organizes a dinner party in Blackie’s honor and seats him next to the beautiful and disturbing Dona Teresa. Subsequently Blackie becomes Dona’s spiritual advisor and helps solves the locked door mystery shrouding her brutal attack. Dona Teresa is beset by live-in relatives who would interfere with her choice of spouse and gain control of her resources, but Blackie intervenes to find who is responsible for the Duchess’ misfortunes.

If you enjoy this Blackie Ryan installment, check out Andrew M. Greeley’s other works.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris (2014)

nphbioNeil Patrick Harris’s autobiography is not your regular autobiography—it’s a choose your own adventure book. Written in second person, the book mimics the format of the Choose Your Own Adventure series he grew up reading, where the reader is given choices and asked to turn to a specific page to follow that choice to its conclusion. These include pursuing a career as a teenaged doctor, learning magic, and meeting the man of your dreams—but be careful, some roads lead to death by quicksand!

In this unusual autobiography, Neil covers his childhood, how he first got started in theatre and television, and his time on Doogie Howser, and later, How I Met Your Mother. The chapters on his personal life “behind the scenes” and about his family are my favorite and you can really feel the love Neil feels for his husband and children. The print version gives you the full experience of the format, but the audiobook makes up for this by including recordings of speeches Neil has given, one as a thirteen year old, and one as an adult, receiving a Tony award. The format does make the audiobook tricky, but it was handled well, asking the reader not to turn to a page number, but to “keep listening” or “wait awhile.” Included in both are drink and food recipes, as well as instructions for magic tricks.

Choose Your Own Autobiography is a fun and fascinating detour from the usual memoir fare and it’s done in a way that only NPH could do.

The Murder Man by Tony Parsons (2014)

murdermanAfter a transfer from the anti-terrorism unit to homicide, DC Max Wolfe is immediately involved in the investigation into the grisly murder of investment banker Hugo Buck. When a homeless man is killed soon after in the same way, it seems there’s a serial killer on the loose who specifically targeted both men. What is the connection between the victims and will there be more deaths before Max and his colleague, DCI Mallory, discover the identity of the killer?

In this first book in the Max Wolfe series, author Tony Parsons creates an interesting main character who struggles to raise his five-year-old daughter, Scout, on his own, while mourning the loss of his wife. He is also able to craft a puzzle that keeps you guessing until the end. The Murder Man is a good read-alike for those who enjoy the Mark Tartaglia series by Elena Forbes.

Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)

neuromancerWilliam Gibson’s critically acclaimed Neuromancer tells the story of Henry Dorsett Case, a master computer hacker forced into a life of petty street crime after crossing an employer who wrecked his nervous system as payback. As Case spirals down a self-destructive path on the streets of near-future Chiba, Japan, a mysterious benefactor offers to repair his nervous system – allowing Case to once again explore the myriad gleaming pathways of Cyberspace – in exchange for a highly dangerous, confidential job. Case accepts, and is plunged into a tangled web of conspiracies with dire implications.

Neuromancer is fascinatingly paced: the first half or so reads like a series of connected short stories, while the latter half begs to be read in one sitting. The plot is a gripping tale of intrigue, and the characters are compellingly written, but where the novel really shines is in its prediction. Gibson’s deeply atmospheric prose envisages a world dramatically changed by incredible advances in computer science and biotechnology combined with growing corporate influence on political and legal matters.

Neuromancer’s frankly portrayed adult subject matter and occasionally unsettling themes definitely aren’t for everyone. But for everyone else, it comes highly recommended to those looking for an engaging sci-fi thriller.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (2014)

silentsisterIt’s usually pretty easy to get quickly drawn in by Diane Chamberlain‘s novels, and this one does not disappoint. In fact, The Silent Sister is a great page-turner.

Riley MacPherson is the protagonist in this story. She is a young woman in her mid-twenties who has the unpleasant and depressing job of clearing out her childhood home after her father passes away. She discovers that her family kept many secrets during the time she was growing up, including a really huge one concerning her older sister. Very enjoyable!