Great Reads

Harkaway, Nick. Angelmaker

All his life, Joe Spork has been caught between the legacy of his grandfather Daniel, a brilliant and honest clockmaker, and his father Mathew, a vivacious and larger-than-life criminal mastermind who ruled London's underground world. As a child, Joe ran wild in Mathew’s world as Crown Prince of Crime, learning the hidden ways of the gangster. But after his father’s death and his mother’s retreat into a convent, Joe took up Daniel’s legacy, becoming a clockmaker and running the store he inherited from his grandfather.  When an old friend of Joe’s brings him a client with a fabulous piece of antique clockwork needing repair, Joe’s quiet life is disrupted with explosive consequences. The clockwork device is no toy, it seems, but is actually part of a weapon of mass destruction developed by a French genius a generation before but never deployed—until Joe repaired it and turned it on unknowingly.  Now Joe is caught between shadowy governement agents, a strange group of cultists calling themselves the Ruskinites, an old enemy from Britain’s past, and a now-elderly former spy named Edie Banister, all of whom want control of the device—the Angelmaker. And Joe must embrace parts of himself he’d thought long in his past if he’s going to not only survive, but save the world in the bargain.

This impressive, intriguing, and complex novel is impossible to categorize. Part steampunk romp, part espionage thriller, part gangster adventure, with dollops of romance and philosophy dropped in for good measure, the only thing one can call this novel for sure is great fun. You might not know quite what you’re reading, but you’re going to love it all the same. Muscular prose, endless inventiveness, and truly engaging characters put the icing on this particular cake.

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Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Jacob Portman always thought that his grandfather was embellishing tales about the time he spent in a Wales orphanage during WWII in order to frighten him; the photographs he showed him of children with strange characteristics could not possibly be real. But when Jacob's grandfather is murdered and Jacob swears he sees a horrible monster lurking nearby, he decides to investigate his grandfather's past in the hopes of discovering the eery circumstances of his death.

When he travels to the orphanage on a remote island, what he finds is not only peculiar, but supernatural: a house full of children with exceptional talents who live in a time loop, experiences a single day in time over and over. When the protection of their loop is threatened by the same monsters that killed Jacob's grandfather, he must decide whether to stay and help his new found family or go back to his own time.

This is a wonderfully unique story intermingled with real photographs. They perfectly illustrate the Gothic characters and setting. Don't miss out on this adventurous fantasy meets family saga.

Richards, Keith. Life.

Keith Richards, a musician and bibliophile who was greatly inspired by the Chicago Blues, recounts with an impressive candor and humor his journey with one of the most important rock’n’roll bands of all times, the Rolling Stones.  The focus is not on each of the band’s albums or how every song came about, but it centers on the Richards’ childhood poverty, struggle with heroin addiction, and marriages to actress Anita Pallenberg and later, model Patty Hansen--whom many believe saved his life. The often turbulent, brotherly relationship between the band members is fascinating. The book also contains many photographs, and even the Richards' famous recipe for Bangers and Mash.  It also provides an interesting perspective on how the music industry as a whole has evolved, from the days of single vinyl records up to to mega stadium concerts.

Richards’ lengthy memoir is sure to please even those who are not big rock’n’roll fans, from 18 to 80. Even if your primary genre is fiction, you will enjoy Richards’s frank and insightful, conversational narrative.

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Baker, Tiffany. The Gilly Salt Sisters

The Gilly women work in salt. Owners of Salt Creek Farm, the women undertake backbreaking labor to harvest salt from their marsh.  And every December Eve, it is their duty to throw a small packet of salt into the celebratory bonfire to predict the future of their tiny Cape Code community of Prospect.  Because of this long tradition and because the salt is believed to have mysterious qualities, the Gilly women are feared rather than loved—necessary for the town’s well-being, but outside its community all the same.  Claire Gilly has always longed for more, ever since childhood. She rejected the salt and rejected her family and, after a disastrous accident that left her sister Jo scarred by fire, Claire married Whit Turner, a scion of the wealthiest family in town, leaving the salt marsh for good.  But the salt wasn’t done with her, it seems. Long-buried family secrets come to the fore when teenaged Dee ends up pregnant by Claire’s husband and Claire’s first true love, now a priest, returns to town.

Whimsical and dark by turns, The Gilly Salt Sisters is not quite as strong as Baker’s debut, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. However, the characters are nuanced and the atmosphere and setting are evocative and sharply drawn. There is much to enjoy here.

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Kiernan, Caitlin R. Drowning Girl

India Morgan Philips, Imp to her friends, is insane.  And she knows it. The diagnosis of schizophrenia came as no surprise to her; both her mother and grandmother suffered from similar disorders, both ending their lives as suicides. An artistic, troubled young woman, Imp tries to control her disorder with medication and therapy, but those only go so far.  Her obessions—or intrusive thoughts, as her therapist wishes her to call them—sometimes get the better of her. This is the case when she meets Eva Canning, a woman who so strongly evokes a painting called “The Drowning Girl” which Imp had seen as a child that she throws Imp into a fever of artistic madness, compelling her to draw Eva’s face over and over and repeatedly scrawl the words to Lewis Carroll’s “The Lobster Quadrille” over everything at hand.  But who is Eva? A hitchhiker? A mermaid? A werewolf? The charimatic priestess of a doomed cult? In Imp’s fevered brain, Eva is all of these things and none of them. And so, in a desperate attempt to find her way through the labyrinth schizophrenia has made of her own past, Imp sets down her story—or stories, as her memory plays tricks on her—in a complex, layered, and utterly compelling narrative.

Haunting and magical, The Drowning Girl questions our understanding of reality. Kiernan’s Imp knows, in a way most of us do not, that she is an unreliable narrator in the story of her own life. What in our life and memory is true and factual, and what is a compelling or comforting fantasy we tell ourselves to cover over the truth? The Drowning Girl does not provide easy answers to these most fundamental questions.

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