Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, December 28, 2015

Preparing for a new year of books with these January & February reads

I hope you're all having or have had a very happy holiday season and are getting ready to tackle another new year of great reads.

No doubt, many of you received some wonderful books as gifts but does that ever stop a determined reader from seeking more literary goodies to stack on their shelves? Not to mention the gift cards to your favorite bookstore that were stuffed into your Christmas stocking or slipped into a greeting card.

This handful of January and February titles should be a sweet incentive to greet 2016 with a sense of hope and a promise of page turning delights to come:


 Speaking of page turning delights, I happen to be enjoying one right now as Katarina Bivald's debut novel, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, is an ode to the pleasures of reading with friends.

When former bookseller Anna travels from her home land of Sweden to meet her American pen pal Amy in her small home town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, the first big surprise that comes her way is the discovery that Amy has passed away. The townspeople are insistent that Anna spend her vacation at Amy's house, as that is what she would have wanted.

While she is reluctant to accept the hospitality of this dwindling town without any form of payment, Anna winds up settling down for a while and ultimately decides that the best way to honor Amy's memory is by starting up a used bookstore with her friend's vast library of literature.

The residents of Broken Wheel are not usually inclined to read but in order to stop the neighboring town of Hope from mocking Anna's efforts, they begin to rally around the book shop and with a few helpful suggestions, find a few books that change their lives for the better. This novel is a sheer joy so far and I hope that anyone who loves books rushes out to read and pass it along to others. Bivald writes like a seasoned pro and captures not just the fun of reading but the offbeat charms of small town America as well(January 16):

  Another book inspired novel is about to come from Iain Pears, one that sets up different realms of reality that connect to form a story telling whole.

 In Arcadia, one of those worlds is in Oxford of the 1960s, where English professor Henry Lytten is working on a fantasy novel. His young neighbor Rosie happens to enter the fictional world that Henry has created, where she meets Jay, a young boy about to begin an apprenticeship but the path to that world have been created by a device from a dark future brought forth by Angela, who has her own reasons for making this all happen.

Pears is best known for An Instance at the Fingerpost, another elaborate tale of wonder, and this book sounds like an intriguing challenge. It also sounds a bit like Cloud Atlas meets The Neverending Story, quite the entertaining mash-up, if you ask me(January):


The world of ballet is far from the gentle graces of the dance,as Sari Wilson's Girl Through Glass artfully shows us. Mira enters the competitive field of New York City's ballet scene at age eleven in 1977, fueled to excel at all costs.

Her struggles are linked to Kate, who returns to New York upon receiving a letter that offers closure for a dark part of her past. Once a dancer herself, Kate's scholarly path was not her first choice but one that she thought would satisfy her artistic dreams shattered by a hidden truth.

The beauty of ballet and it's less lovely side has been highlighted before yet Sari Wilson's tale takes a deeper look into the emotional toll that it takes on it's female dancers and displays just how much pretty can hurt(January):

 Award winning author Elizabeth Strout returns with My Name is Lucy Barton, where the title character is slowly recovering from a serious operation. Being bed bound, she can't avoid a visit from her mother, who Lucy hasn't spoken to in years.

While mother and daughter attempt to catch up, a few old wounded memories are opened up, revealing an emotional infection that is more painful than the physical one that Lucy is suffering from.

Strout's writing tends to be painfully good, which can make it hard to read at times but her work is the type of inner agony that is worth going through the fire for(January).


 Renowned writer Herman Wouk has reached that point in his life when an autobiographical look back at his past seems to be most fitting, as the subtitle of his upcoming memoir, Sailor and Fiddler, is "Reflections of a 100 Year Old Author."

The first half of the book goes into his days in the Navy, which inspired his prize winning novel The Caine Mutiny, and the latter details what embracing his faith has done for his life. Wouk also talks about the real life influences that aided him in his other works since as Marjorie Morningstar, Youngblood Hawke and the Winds of War saga novels.

 His keen wit and sharp insights are definitely as timely as ever, giving readers a real opportunity into seeing what goes into creating such memorable characters as Wouk's infamous Captain Queeg, a man trapped in his own rigid state of mind. Such richly written people are worth learning more about as well as their creator(January):


 Katy Simpson Smith's Free Men follows a trio of desperate criminals that form an unlikely bond as they make their way through the backwoods of the American South in 1788.

Bob is a chatty fellow who comforts himself from the sorrow of his time in slavery with his tall tales while Cat is hardily much of a talker, yet his own sad stories of the past are quite a mouthful.

 After the two of them meet up with  Istillicha, A Native American seeking restitution for his tribe's losses, the three new companions run into a group of travelers in an encounter that leaves six men dead and three men on the run from an eager bounty hunter. This lyrical tale of troubled men running into trouble promises to be a journey worth taking(February):

Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country goes further ahead in time, as former Korean War veteran Atticus Turner leaves 1954 Chicago to search for his missing father in New England.

 Accompanied by his Uncle George, who puts out a safe driving guide for African Americans on a regular basis, and old school friend Letitia, Atticus discovers that his father is being held captive by The Order of The Ancient Dawn, lead by a vicious father and son act who also have big plans for Atticus in their ritual pursuits.

This blend of horror fantasy with real world social problems should be a smartly scary look at what terrors lie beneath the surface of Americana. Certainly sounds like a hair raising read on both counts(February).

The new year should be a happy one for books, at least, and a good way to start that off is by having a nice after-holidays shopping spree. Don't feel bad if all you bought for your fellow readers was a gift card-it is hard to choose the perfect present for that special bookworm who seems to have everything there:

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