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The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

This is a book that I want to hand to everyone in the library, saying, “You’ve got to read this book!”
Since The Wise Man’s Fear is a sequel, though, I’d actually have to say, “First you’ve got to read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and then you’ve got to read this book!” People are going to think I’m crazy to recommend two gigantic books from the fantasy and science fiction section (kiss of death for a vast swathe of readers) even before they realize from the series title (in tiny print on the cover), Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2, that there is at least one more gigantic book to come.
I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the fantasy genre, so when I loved The Name of the Wind so much, I did wonder if it was derivative of other series and just seemed fresh and original to me because I’m not a Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, or Stephen R. Donaldson reader. But today I found a lengthy online discussion of all the connections and hidden meanings in the Kingkiller Chronicle thus far (most of which I probably missed, rushing through the books). The discussion is led by author and Kingkiller fan, Jo Walton, and her novel Among Others (reviewed here, March 2011) proves without a doubt that she knows her science fiction and fantasy.
The Kingkiller Chronicle is a humanistic fantasy; there are faeries, demons, archanists, and alchemists, but no epic battle scenes with giant moving trees or ogres fighting elves. Most of it is set up as Kvothe, the hero, telling the story of his life (which has been exaggerated, rumored about,  and mythologized) to a chronicler traveling through.
Sounds boring, and believe me, I thought so too, when I first realized with The Name of the Wind that I was going to be listening to a storyteller for over 700 pages. But Patrick Rothfuss makes Kvothe into a great storyteller; you forget you’re listening to a story, and become engrossed in it.
To be realistic, I know I won’t talk everyone into reading these books, so I’ll just say this: Try them if you’re looking for an absorbing read. Maybe, if you liked The Passage by Justin Cronin, but thought the good vs. evil tension could have been a little more subtle, or if you liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, but would be willing to forgo the elements of English historical fiction, you should pick up The Name of the Wind.
Perfect for an extended summer vacation read!

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

A ghostly air of ominousness hangs over this book from the start. You know it is going to end badly, you just don’t know how, but then, there’s a small twist and you think maybe, despite all indications to the contrary, things might end up OK. Because on examination, this sense of impending tragedy stems from human mistakes, missteps, errors of judgment, not some insidious evil or supernatural presence invading from outside. Can’t people do bad things and then go on to do good? Reform and redemption are possible, aren’t they?
Broke and in trouble, Danny had to get out of New York City quickly, and an invitation to work for a cousin he hadn’t seen in twenty years renovating a castle in some Eastern European country, he doesn’t even really know where, seems like his best means of escape. Danny still feels guilty about the last time he saw Howie (when they were both just kids) and he took part in playing a prank on him that went horribly wrong, but he hopes that Howie’s invitation is a sign of forgiveness. Isolated and completely cut off from the outside world once he’s at the castle, though, and seeing how the balance of power has shifted entirely to Howie — no longer the nerdy, pudgy kid that Danny remembers — Danny wonders if he’s made a disastrous mistake.

Inspector Armand Gamache Does It Again: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

I just came back from another visit via audiobook to Three Pines, the idyllic village hidden away in the woods of Quebec, populated by artists, intellectuals, and quirky individuals of all stripes who are horrified each time they discover that someone among them is a murderer. With the seventh book in this mystery series by talented author Louise Penny on the way in August, the charming villagers of Three Pines (and the outsiders who find their way to the B&B there) have to confront this shocking truth fairly often.
The first book about Three Pines and the courtly, crime-solving Chief Inspector Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, Still Life, was instantly compared to the classic English mysteries of Agatha Christie and there’ve been no shortage of favorable reviews and awards for the series ever since. Reviewers have recommended Louise Penny to fans of P.D. James, Donna Leon, and Dorothy Sayers, among others.
I have been suggesting the Armand Gamache books for a few years to readers looking for a traditional-style mystery series that’s not too violent but not a cozy; humorous but not cutesy; and has characters with some depth whom the reader learns more about over the course of the series.
I don’t read many mysteries, but today, listening to the end of The Cruelest Month (superbly narrated as all of the books in the series are by Ralph Cosham), it struck me that the books appeal to me in the same way Jane Langton’s Homer and Mary Kelly mysteries do. The likeable main characters are witty, kindhearted, and have a few realistic failings, while the dislikable minor characters are also so three-dimensional (for a mystery, anyway) that the reader can empathize with them, as well. Since there unfortunately hasn’t been a new mystery from Jane Langton since 2005’s Steeplechase, I’m glad that I have the rest of the Inspector Armand Gamache series to listen to.
BTW, this series should also appeal to readers who like descriptions of food in their books. The meals served up at the Three Pines bistro and bed and breakfast in Three Pines always sound delicious!

The series so far:
Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling

Listen to a sample of the Blackstone audiobook edition of The Cruelest Month here.

Speed Dating with the Must-Read MassBook Authors

Speed Dating with Must-Read Massachusetts Authors, sponsored by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, was a great event at this year’s Massachusetts Library Association Conference. Twelve Must-Read titles in each award category (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult) have been selected as finalists for this year’s Massachusetts Book Awards. Winners will be announced at the end of the summer.
Putting a twist on the usual “listen to authors speak and then strain to hear audience members ask inaudible questions” program, Speed Dating with Must-Read Massachusetts Authors allotted each of eight authors four (4!) minutes and four minutes only at the podium, to drop tantalizing details about his or her new book. Then the authors rotated around the room to talk for four minutes with audience members at each of eight tables.
All of the Must-Read authors at this event got high marks for being good sports and cheerful, patient conversationalists. (Figurative high marks, that is. We weren’t really awarding points.) Some highlights:

The Quickening by Michelle Hoover. Author Michelle Hoover said this novel has been called the Anti-Little House on the Prairie for its depiction of women’s lives on hardscrabble Midwest farms in the early 1900s. The author researched so well that when she read her description of milking a cow, we in the audience thought she must have grown up doing it. One of the poetry judges who happened to be at my table commented that the excerpt the author read aloud describing the milking of a cow was pure poetry.

Safe from the Neighbors (Knopf, 2010) by Steve Yarbrough. Author Steve Yarbrough, an Emerson College professor, takes the bare bones of actual events from his Mississippi childhood, including the death of friend’s mother during a night of rioting, and constructs a richness of imagined detail around them for this novel (his eighth book.) Read The Washington Post book review here. The author’s calm, pleasant demeanor and soft Southern accent won over the group at my table.

This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia. In her first novel, set in upstate New York, author Kate Racculia launches the story by having a young widower discover (in a shoebox of keepsakes) a postcard his wife wrote but never mailed, to a person he’s never heard of : “Mona, I’m sorry. I should have told you. Anyway, I left you the best parts of myself. You know where to look.” Looking way too young to have a novel published, the author lives in Boston, Mass., has the cutest Web site and a great smile!

& Poetry
The Great Penguin Rescue by Dyan deNapoli. Did you know there were penguins in South Africa? I didn’t, until I heard “The Penguin Lady” talking about her experience teaching 75,000 volunteers how to rescue, clean, and release 19,000 penguins after an oil spill off the coast of Africa. The author is an enthusiastic speaker, an accomplished scientist, and seemed like a good person to have along on any emergency rescue mission.

Had Slaves by Catherine Sasanov. Poet Catherine Sasanov lives in Jamaica Plain, and always knew about her Southern ancestry. What had never been passed down in the family lore was that her great-great-great-grandfather in Missouri had owned slaves. This book of poetry comes out of her research trying to trace the lives of those eleven African-American men, women, and children from scanty records and family papers.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Almost all the copies of this book about people who hoard stuff got snapped up at the speed dating event. Is that significant? Do all those librarians have piles of books, magazines, and newspapers covering every inch of furniture and floor space in their houses? (Just kidding…) Co-author Gail Steketee good-naturedly endured our jokes, probably the same at every table, and explained how hoarding is actually a serious mental illness, afflicting young and old, that stems more from a difficulty in parting with stuff than from the desire to have more stuff. Read The Washington Post‘s review here.

Young Adult Fiction
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork. The Boston author of young adult novels  Marcelo in the Real World and Behind the Eyes, as well as an adult novel The Way of the Jaguar, Francisco X. Stork told us that he was born in Mexico and came with his family to El Paso, Texas when he was nine. By calling the main character in The Last Summer of the Death Warriors Pancho Sanza, and Pancho’s best friend, D.Q, he pays homage to Don Quixote, which he said is one of his favorite books, often reread. Check out the author’s crisp and professionally done Web site, even if just to see the flashy way the book cover appears on the screen.

The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith. This Massachusetts author wooed our table with chocolate and bookmarks, which, of course, made us all love her, but we were also intrigued by her excitement in telling us more about her first young adult novel, set in Boston, which has a ghost story, interracial teen romance, and elements of historical fiction. The Other Side of Dark is told in the teens’ different voices, and you may sample the book on the author’s Web site. Sarah Smith is the author you want with you on any date that involves scary stories told around a campfire with a flashlight illuminating the storyteller’s face.

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