Nerdy Special List August 2015
I’m traveling right now but the Nerdy Special List must go on. I’m excited every month when the recommendations start coming in from my illustrious contributors, but I think this month the list is especially spectacular. Hope you’ll find at least one or two books to add to your reading list.
From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:
The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year of Looking on the Bright Side Transformed My Life by Janice Kaplan (Dutton, August 18)
Part memoir, part research project, The Gratitude Diaries is all inspirational. Janice Kaplan, former Parade Magazine editor, made a New Year’s resolution to look at her life differently. She theorized that one’s attitude was more important than the events that occurred—someone could win the lottery and still not be happy—but if that person reframed their perspective they could be happy regardless of circumstances.
To test her theory, she dedicated a year to identifying all she could be thankful for in her day-to-day existence as well as researching the scientific side of gratitude. This book is the journal of her findings.
Readers will likely discover it is extremely difficult to avoid looking for the positive in their own lives as they read The Gratitude Diaries. It’s packed with easily initiated ideas and fascinating information about the benefits of gratitude. I rarely feel I can recommend a book to absolutely anyone, but I don’t know a single person who couldn’t benefit from more happiness in their life. The Gratitude Diaries is a wonderful way to start finding it.
The Investigation by J. M. Lee, translated by Chi-Young Kim (Pegasus, August 15)
In the midst of World War II, Sugiyama Dozen, a Japanese war veteran, is the Fukuoka Prison Ward Three guard and censor. When Sugiyama is found murdered, young guard Watanabe Yuichi is charged with investigating the case while taking over Sugiyama’s duties. At first the crime appears to be open-and-shut, but the smart, contemplative Watanabe isn’t convinced and his probing unearths amazing discoveries.
The Investigation is a stunning tribute to the power of the arts first and a murder mystery second. The juxtaposition of the two makes this novel reaffirming.
Inspired by a true story about a Korean poet, The Investigation is beautifully written. The insightful translation allows for a crystal clear and universal understanding of Lee’s powerful themes and characters, making The Investigation a soul-resonating read.
From Rory at Fourth Street Review:
Andersonville by Edward M. Erdelac (Hydra Publications, August 18)
Lourdes Barclay, a mysterious man posing as a black Union soldier, purposefully sneaks into Camp Sumter, aka Andersonville prison. He has a mission, a secret, and a vendetta, but he quickly realizes that his first priority is simply to survive the hellish prison.
Ruled by the mysterious Captain Wirz, tortured by the sadistic Sergeant Turner, and terrorized by the group of prisoners called the “raiders,” most soldiers pray for escape. Not Barclay. He realizes the suffering radiating from Andersonville is the result of more than just human evil.
Historically, Camp Sumter was filled with human misery beyond comprehension, yet Erdelac expertly adds a layer of the supernatural to great effect. This Civil War horror novel (if that’s not a genre, this novel can spearhead the effort) is thoughtful, Lovecraftian, and well researched. Although it’s not for the faint of heart—much of the horror is vividly described and based on fact—I would recommend this novel to fans of Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and alternate histories.
For those who may be hesitant to pick up a “horror” novel, I wanted to add there is nothing truly scary about this book in the fictional sense. Yes, there are secret societies, forces of good and evil, and a few hellhounds, but the real terror lies in the suffering of the soldiers. What makes that terrifying, for me, is that it happened, without the added demonic influences.
From Erin at In Real Life:
Trust No One by Paul Cleave (Atria Books, August 4)
Jerry Grey is a crime writer. Or he was. And he still sometimes is. Or might be. As his mind descends into early-onset Alzheimer’s, it’s not clear whether or not the brutal murders with which he’s so intimately familiar occurred only on the page. He confesses to crimes everyone else knows are fictional—or are they? Jerry is sure they aren’t, until he’s…not. People are dying, and Jerry can’t rely on anyone or anything around or within him.
As Jerry fights to chronicle the changes he’s experiencing, he loses all trust in his memory and his reality. It’s a terrifying premise, and one that Cleave presents with the mastery of a storyteller who is unafraid to venture into territory most writers would steer well clear of.
This isn’t a comfortable read—it’s not meant to be—but it is a thrilling one. And while it’s not horror, it’s one of the most frightening tales I’ve ever read.
From Shannon at River City Reading:
The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips (Henry Holt, August 11)
After both Josephine and her husband have struggled to find work for far too long, she is thrilled when she’s hired to work on “The Database.” In a windowless building that takes up several city blocks, she works in a small office, entering strangely coded numbers in an increasingly mind-numbing task. Over time, Josephine’s once supportive husband grows distant, and work on The Database wears at her until she is desperate to discover its true purpose.
In just 192 pages, The Beautiful Bureaucrat packs in the tension of the best thrillers with a double dose of “WHAT IS GOING ON?” for good measure. And Helen Phillips uses every inch of those 192 pages to tell her story, forcing readers to puzzle out the narrative until the very last moment. (Read Shannon’s full review here.)
Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer (Atlantic Monthly Press, August 4)
Eighteen-year-old Patrick, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has been obsessed with death since a traumatic childhood incident. He signs up for an anatomy course at Cardiff University that requires students to dissect cadavers to determine the cause of death.
Though all the bodies supposedly belonged to people who died of natural causes, Patrick is convinced Number 19—the identifier given his cadaver—was murdered. No one believes him, and as he tries to gather evidence to prove his theory, he just might get to meet his own death.
Patrick is a memorable character with a singular narrative voice, serious in his own head but quirky and unintentionally witty to those around him. The novel’s subject matter is dark but so is the humor, and there’s a healthy dose of heart. Rubbernecker should turn the reader into just that—someone who can’t look away from it.
What are you looking forward to reading this month?