Nerdy Special List November 2015
Happy November! Hope everyone had a fun Halloween weekend. I dressed up as Princess Leia. Does that surprise anyone? Not slave Leia but the I’m-gonna-keep-my-bits-warm Hoth version.
From here on out, we might as well coast into the holidays. But we aren’t done with this year’s selection of good books. Here are the new releases we recommend.
From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:
Woman With a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine (Seventh Street Books, November 10)
It feels rare these days to read a book and feel like you’ve experienced something genuinely unique. Woman With a Blue Pencil is that rarity for me. Gordon McAlpine imagines the life of a character who’s been left on the cutting room floor. Sam Sumida is Takumi Sato’s Japanese-American protagonist who simply came into existence at the wrong time.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Sato’s publisher didn’t think a Japanese-American hero would be a commercial hit. So Sumida was replaced. Woman With a Blue Pencil intricately weaves together the revised novel, Sumida’s survival following his expulsion from the book, and letters from Sato’s editor—the woman with a blue pencil. Chock full of exciting action, brilliant plot twists, and timeless social commentary, Woman With a Blue Pencil is an exceptional treat.
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street Books, November 3rd)
Jennifer Kincheloe’s debut is hilariously entertaining. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Anna Blanc is an intelligent, sheltered, and restless young socialite who has a propensity to worm her way into trouble. So much so that her father has hired a constant chaperone to keep Anna out of questionable situations and protect her reputation.
But Anna’s rascally ways outsmart even her father. She bribes the unscrupulous chaperone and adopts the alias Anna Holmes in order to fulfill her dream of being a detective—she takes a position as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department.
While she’s supposed to be typing reports and removing small children from whorehouses, Anna sets out to find a rapist and solve a serial murder case the department seems to be hiding. Anna is very smart when it comes to logic and deduction. But the street smarts and common sense are not so abundant.
Kincheloe does a wonderful job of balancing those two qualities so that Anna comes off authentically awkward and empathetic. Her moxie is admirable and her compassion endearing. The dialogue is excellent, and Kincheloe’s depiction of Los Angeles in the early twentieth century is so realistic, it’s often palpable, sometimes even rancid with the smell of manure. The romantic element is predictable, but satisfying nonetheless. I was sad to turn the last page.
From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:
The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned From a Remarkable Bird by Tom Michell (Ballantine, October 27, moved up from November 5)
This utterly charming memoir helped me waddle out of a severe reading rut. In the mid-1970s, author Michell, then 23, left his native England for a position at an Argentinian boarding school. On a relaxing weekend jaunt to Uruguay, he comes across the horrific results of an oil spill: a large group of dead beached penguins. When one mighty little penguin shows signs of life, Michell has no choice but to rescue the plucky fellow, who he (quite hilariously) smuggles back to Argentina and ultimately names Juan Salvado.
If you’re given to anthropomorphizing, you’re going to love this book. If you’re not, I dare you to read this gem and not come away with a different feeling and understanding about the minds and emotions of animals. Juan Salvado is a sheer delight—to Michell, his students, his cleaning lady, school staff, and, I’m betting, most readers.
At turns warm and laugh-out-loud funny (I literally did lol at Michell’s efforts to clean the bird in the posh Uruguayan apartment he was using), The Penguin Lessons also provides interesting insight into Argentina and its people in the 1970s. A slim volume at just 240 pages, this would be a great holiday gift for the animal lover on your list.
From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:
A Likely Story by Jenn McKinlay (Berkeley Prime Crime, November 3)
A Likely Story takes place on the coast of Connecticut in a small town, and our heroine is Lindsey Norris, librarian and director of the Briar Creek Public Library. She and one of her suitors, Sully, take a water taxi out to a local island to deliver books to two older men who are brothers. When Lindsey and Sully aren’t met at the dock, they venture up to the Rosens’ house, only to find one brother missing and one brother murdered.
Things are resolved in interesting and satisfying ways, with a bit of a twist at the end, and readers should be happy with how the characters are moving forward with their lives.
The Promise by Robert Crais (Putnam, November 10)
Longtime Craisies have been impatiently awaiting this new entry in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, and they’re in for a treat. Elvis is hired to look for a missing woman, and immediately becomes embroiled in a case that might involve Al-Qaeda. Luckily he has a formidable team by his side: his partner Joe Pike, mercenary Jon Stone, LAPD officer Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie (the last two are from Crais’s standalone novel Suspect).
Look for my full review in Shelf Awareness for Readers later this month, as well as additional coverage here of Crais’s first novel in almost three years.
Which books are you looking forward to this month?