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I like to read fiction with plots that drive forward with cinematic pacing. Not sure why. (But it probably has something to do with having studied filmmaking back in school.) However, I've delved into some historic non-fiction and biography a tad. But none of the boring ones! It's got to fit in with my healthy diet of spy thrillers.
Tim's Staff Picks:
Lisa Gardner weaves a compelling psychological thriller with three distinct threads. Three women - three separate characters - whose situations become entangled. A murder suspect, the detective investigating her, and an abduction survivor whose past resurfaces because it just might be connected to this new case.
Hidden pasts and family secrets float to the surface as these three women struggle towards the truth.
Evie is found standing over her husbands dead body, holding the murder weapon. But she says de didn't do it. Then there's D.D., the homicide detective who has reason to disbelieve much of what Evie says. And finally
Title: The Silent Patient
Anyone who loves Hitchcock films will love this book. The suspense slowly piles up like layered brushstrokes on a canvas, until -- all of a sudden -- you take a step back and see the full picture for what it is. Psychologically perplexing clues swirl like drifting smoke from a burning building. But what has been lost in the silence? If only Alicia would share something -- anything -- with her psychotherapist about what she knows...
Listen to the audiobook through Libro.FM!
The dual narrators for the different portions of the audiobook (Alicia's journal entries and then her psychotherapist's first-person narrative) were fantastic, and each voice actor was superb! Written by a screenwriter, this book moves forward like a film, and the narrators Louise Brealey and Jack Hawkins make it so easy to visualize a tense smile, or a subtly clenched fist.
PS. I also really loved the short interview with the author after the book ended; it was profoundly interesting to hear in his own voice what his writing process was like.
Title: The Gone World
Comments: The Terminus is coming. The end of the world, the end of everything. Not a black hole, but a White Hole, will appear in the sky and spread ice and insanity, first in the year 2666, but then creeping backward through time, occurring in our future earlier and earlier each time it's been observed. No, these futures are not predestined, only probabilities. But all the research and travel forward into "Deep Time" has shown the Terminus to be all but a certainty. We must find a different future.
Wow, the mind-bendy theoretical physics of this layered and robust story was seriously enjoyable. On one level, it's a crime procedural about finding answers to mysterious murders. On another level, it's a trip down a wormhole in a quantum-foam macro-field. The present is 1997, and we've had the ability to time-travel (but only round-trips into the possible futures and back) since the 1980s. While glimpsing a version of the future can help matters of national security a little (or can it?), it doesn't make solving the crimes a whole lot easier, since a lot can go wrong when you're hopping timelines in the multiverse...
Title: Erasing Memory
Oh, how I love a good crime noir! And this mystery feels a little like that, but maybe even better. It's lighter and brighter, like a black-and-white Bogart film with a dance number. Less "noir" perhaps, and a little more "blanc." The story and characters are full of beauty, sophistication, and even a somber hope that wrongs can be righted. With a perplexing murder and strange but dramatic clues, this first in a series sets the stage for Detective Superintendent MacNeice to join the ranks of classic gumshoe investigators like Adam Dalgliesh and Philip Marlow.
Title: Something in the Water
Remember when everybody was reading Gone Girl at the same time? I'm not sure why that didn't happen with this book, but it should have. It's far better. I actually liked the people in this story. It's a thriller that relentlessly wades into dark ethical waters, but you enjoy every bit of the chilling descent because it's with people you care about. Catherine Steadman's British-accented narrative voice is perfect on the page - somehow fun, but still very chilling. (Listen to the the audiobook version to get the full experience; the author, who's also an actor you've seen on Downton Abbey, performs her book herself, and it's phenomenal.)
Title: Past Tense
I discovered Jack Reacher about 10 years ago and very quickly devoured every title that Child had written up to that point. Now, like a strange autumnal ritual, I await the new thriller each year. The beauty of the series is that you can pretty much start anywhere. The first Reacher story that I ever read was "Persuader," which was a perfect introduction to the spartan, narrative style of Lee Child, but not the first one that Child wrote.
In "Past Tense," Reacher's moral code is once again put to the test. Of course, he'll do what he can to set things right. But this time the mystery has surprising connections to his family tree.
Title: The Ink House
Written and illustrated by a U.K. designer (check out www.RoryDobner.com), this book is a delightful portal into a world where ink is a magical elixir through which creativity, fun, mischief and beauty are unleashed. You are the only human invited to join the gathering of eclectic animal friends as they hold their Annual Ink House Extravaganza while the Artist is away. Hurry inside, the party is about to start...
Title: The Best American Nonrequired Reading Series
Each year I seem to forget how great the "Nonrequired Reading" series is!
Inside, you might find some short fiction, poetry, or essays, but there might also be want-ads, Instagram posts, and police blotter updates. I love that virtually nothing is off limits!
The BEST thing about the series, though? How it comes into being every year. It's edited by San Francisco-area high school writing students who attend "826 Valencia," a creative writing and tutoring center. The student committee meets on Monday nights from 6 to 8pm, and each student brings their reading selections up for debate with the whole group, who then votes on what makes it into the anthology that year.
It's knowing about that process that makes this collection such a treasure to enjoy.
Title: Star of the North
A perfectly balanced book for summer! It's both a fun, escapist thriller and an informed look at the secretive regime. With North Korea in the news almost daily, I was a little nervous at first that I'd be able to relax and enjoy this one. But author D.B. John's narrative voice is so well crafted that you have nothing to worry about. It's a well-written, thrilling, & realistic tale of spycraft and subterfuge!
Title: Skavenger's Hunt
Mysterious clues! A journey with a ragtag team of puzzle-solvers. And TIME-TRAVEL! You'll have a blast with Henry Babbitt as he's led around the world by clues left by eccentric magnate Hunter S. Skavenger. Written by a filmmaker, the novel comes alive with wonderful visuals and cinematic, colorful emotions.
If you liked the mysteries in "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin or the streets of old Paris in "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick, then you'll love this one.
Title: Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches
Comments:This is one funny book! Imagine your high school writing assignments - the ones where you had to work on your inner monologue by creatively describing true events from your life - but then imagine they were written by an expert comedian and NYT bestselling author. (You possibly know John Hodgman from his tenure as a correspondent on The Daily Show, or his current podcast "Judge John Hodgman," but more likely as a PC from the Mac & PC commercials in the late 2000s.) Hodgman's stories are simply about growing up in Massachusetts, being an only child, or going to school in New York, or speaking at events as a nerd-fandom public figure, but they are the literary equivalent of great stand-up. His comedic timing and absurdity are perfect. And yet his experiences have meaning that can resonate universally. I didn't grow up an only child in MA, and I'm not on TV, but I feel like I can completely relate to his weird observations of the world.
Title: Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy
Did you like "The Day the Crayons Quit" and "The Day the Crayons Came Home?"
Then Roderick and Sleepy are your new best friends. Kinda. If only Sleepy would stop staring at you all freaky looking. And what even is Sleepy...some kind of Moose-Bear?
Through pages and pages of sarcastic, exasperated fun, you and Roderick might just find out why Sleepy really is a Goodnight Buddy.
P.S. Who's ready for a sequel? "Wakey the Good Morning Buddy."
Title: Hug Machine
You gotta just love the Hug Machine!
Is there anything the Hug Machine CAN'T hug?
Will the Hug Machine ever run out of Hug-Energy??
Nothing will stop the Hug Machine!
Title: The Informant
I first heard about this true story on the radio, not as current news, but decades after the case was closed. That's how compelling these true events are!
Reading the details and action as reported by Eichenwald instantly made this book one of my favorites. The FBI's investigation into a massive price-setting scandal in one of America's most influential corporations reads like a fiction thriller. But that's simply the backdrop.
It's really about the person in the middle of it all, the whistleblower working for the company but helping the FBI. His name is Mark, and it's his humanity, and confusion, and courage, and mistakes make the already thrilling plot (secret wiretaps, double-crossings, hidden money, lies & deception) so amazing. As he is pulled deeper into the conspiracy, Mark is at risk of losing sight of his own reality.
(Did you happen to catch the movie version starring Matt Damon? I happened to like it, but even so, the book is better.)
Title: I Am Pilgrim
Comments: Now THIS is a spy thriller! From an author who clearly knows how to pace a story--Hayes is a screenwriter dating back to 1981's action film The Road Warrior--this debut novel is more literary than your average popcorn blockbuster beach-read. With a delightful balance of introspection without authorly wordiness, and action that doesn't jump the shark, this story starts out strong and only builds from there. As you read on, the vignettes of flashbacks that both inform the present plot and deepen our protagonist's history slowly fall away until you're left with only the uncertain future, into which you must daringly charge against all odds with Pilgrim to stop something horrible from happening, or die trying. I simply cannot wait for Hayes' next book, The Year of the Locust - it's been nearly 4 years in the making.
Title: On Tyranny
What can history show us about current affairs? Quite a lot. This focussed look at how tyranny of all types arose in the 1900’s gives us an opportunity to place a context around our own political events in the U.S. today.
Somehow it lowers the blood pressure a little to have a volatile situation discussed in such calm, knowledgeable tones. What I love about Snyder’s conclusions here is his use of historic precedence, like a math formula simply spitting out a known result.
Snyder is not preachy. He’s not a doomsday screamer, but rather a quiet-talker relaying the confident knowledge of others who have come before us. He reminds us of the many writings of those from the past century who lived through similar, and far worse, times.
Title: On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
I love the magic in the forest, and the rays of light streaking through the trees, and the cozy cabin in the rain.
The illustrations here convey all the rainy, wet, sloppy fun of exploring a forest. I particularly like the squishy mushrooms and snails!
All the beauty of a bored-mood-turned-wonder-wanderer is wrapped up in these pages.
Title: I Am Not a Chair!
Sometimes it's hard to explain exactly why you like something. I picked this up and just started laughing as I merely flipped through it the first time.
It's the personality in Giraffe's face that gets me! With illustrations like this the characters are really alive, and you feel as happy as Giraffe does to make new friends, as annoyed as Giraffe is to be sat upon (repeatedly!), and determined along with Giraffe to speak up. (My favorite expression might just be Giraffe's nonplussed face of silent suffering as a bird stand.) This book's ironic wit is top-notch. The humor ends up being something beautiful. And as fun as the frustration is, the relief - and the twist ending - are totally worth it.
Title: I Just Ate My Friend
A good friend is hard to find; A tasty friend is hard to NOT EAT.
Brilliantly written and illustrated by first-time author Heidi McKinnon, this simple story is universal, even if you haven't eaten a friend lately. We all struggle for belonging, and for finding where we fit. But do you fit ALL THE WAY INSIDE your friend's mouth?
This hilariously dark story is about friendships that last - and therefore about impulse control. (Well... portion control, at the very least.)
Title: A House That Once Was
Comments: This is such a magical poem about our connection to the physical items and spaces that are woven into our timeless idea of home.
I delight in an unanswered question that makes one think, and wonder, and IMAGINE.
(Ask me about my theory regarding the bluebird that's hiding on virtually every page!!)
Title: All the Animals Where I Live
Wander through these pages.
The meandering snippets of thought, the gorgeous illustrations that were monoprinted by hand, all somehow made me feel like a child again, exploring rooms in my grandparents' farmhouse where the love and memories swirl in the late afternoon sunlight.
I love Wednesday and her patient camaraderie with her fellow creatures. (Coyote may be the one exception.)
The animals depicted here lead the story with just their presence...and the art, so full of movement and activity.