Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

emptyBook – There is something about the extravagant mansions of the early industrialists that elicits morbid curiosity. In Empty Mansions : the mysterious life of Huguette Clark and the spending of a great American fortune true stories about some eccentric mansions and the people that lived in them are revealed. This bestselling book is written by Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Dedman, and a cousin of the heiress Huguette Clark, Paul Clark Newell, Jr. The mystery of Hugette’s life required an extra bit of investigative work on the authors’ parts because Hugette was shy and very reclusive. She passed away in 2011 at the age of 105.

I found the story of Huguette’s father, W.A. Clark, impressive. He was a risk-taking pioneer in Montana that worked his way up to becoming wealthier than Rockefeller during his lifetime. Unfortunately, his copper mining business also began widespread damage upon the Montana ecosystem. The large fortune he left to Hugette provided her the opportunity to make some outrageous decisions in how she chose to spend it.

The Good Neighbors by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh

kinGraphic novel - Rue Silver is just an ordinary teenage girl. She’s got a great best friends, a boyfriend who’s in a band, a college professor father and a crazy mother. Who’s missing. Oh, and sometimes she sees things that can’t be real. No big deal. Okay, so maybe she’s not that ordinary. Her mother is a faery, which means that Rue isn’t entirely human, either. And her grandfather Aubrey has a plan – a plan that will wrest her town from the grip of the humans and leave it under the rule of Faerie. What happens to the humans who live there, well, Aubrey just doesn’t care. Rue cares. As much as she can.

The Good Neighbors (in three volumes, Kin, Kith and Kind) is a wonderful, eerie story about love, duty, and humanity. Rue goes from ordinary high-schooler to fully embracing her faerie heritage, with all that implies. Rue is culturally human, she grew up as a human, but she is fey too, and she finds it all too easy to leave human things behind. The story really belongs to her. The rest of the characters are more like stock fairy tale characters. It’s not a terrible flaw, given how fast-paced the story is. And, of course, Ted Naifeh’s art is stunning. The two-page spreads of faerie and human crowds are spectacular, and while the art never distracts you from the story, it definitely rewards a closer second (and third and fourth) reading.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

miniBook – In 1686, eighteen-year-old country girl Nella arrives in Amsterdam to begin her life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. She doesn’t know him well and finds his household strange and unwelcoming. His sister, Marin, runs the household and seems to lead a pious, austere life. The servants, Otto and Cornelia, are friendly, but cautious. In addition, Johannes is often absent and when he’s home, he’s preoccupied. Then, Johannes presents Nella with an extravagant wedding gift, a miniature version of their house. Nella is confused and overwhelmed by the gift, but with little to occupy her time, decides to begin furnishing it. She hires a miniaturist through the mail, and when the contents start to arrive, she is both fascinated and terrified. The miniaturist seems to be able to not only replicate their household down to the last detail, but also seems to be able to predict the future. As events begin to unfold, Nella struggles to figure out what’s real and what is an illusion. What I found most interesting about this book was the historical detail. Events transpire to illuminate both the lifestyles and attitudes of Amsterdam during this time period. The characters were interesting and complex. This story was full of secrets and intrigues and kept me guessing until the end.

Some Enchanted Eclair by Bailey Cates

some enchantedBook- Katie Lightfoot is a baker with a twist, she’s recently found out that she’s a lightwitch. What exactly that is, she’s not sure and is slowly figuring out. In this installment, Hollywood has taken over Savannah’s historic district. From her boyfriend Declan on security, to her friend Bianca as an extra, Katie’s whole group is involved while she’s happy to keep out and run her bakery. A fired caterer, a fixer, and an enterprising spirit pull her into the production and a dead body keeps her there.

The fourth in the series, Some Enchanted Eclair, is a fun romp through a deep-Southern community. I enjoyed revisiting the characters from earlier books and look forward to seeing exactly what a lightwitch is and how it impacts Katie’s life. Not only that, but the twist near the middle that shakes things up a bit is fodder for many more stories! If you’re looking for a fun, light read this as well as the earlier books in the series will surely delight.

China Dolls by Lisa See

china dollsBook – Meet Helen, Grace and Ruby – young women from very different backgrounds. Each fascinating with her own set of baggage and secrets.  However, they all share the same dream of fame and the three become fast friends working as dancers at the glamorous Forbidden City Nightclub in San Francisco in 1938 just as the World’s fair is set to open and rumors of war circulate.  The story spans 50 years and the girls tell their own stories through alternating voices.  They share in each other’s ups and downs and rely on one another through unexpected challenges and changes in financial situations.

Working at the prestigious club, these strong and independent women are looked upon as delicate “China Dolls” dressed in beautiful glittering costumes and makeup. They all hit bumps on their road to stardom, but manage to overcome the obstacles. But their bond of friendship is jeopardized with the bombing of Pearl Harbor that results in betrayal and the revelation of hidden secrets.

Well researched by author Lisa See this is a rich story of dreams, relationships, and the endurance of the human spirit.

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

no plotBook - Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It’s a no-holds-barred, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing, an international challenge where thousands of people commit to an insane goal: to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November. No Plot? No Problem! is NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s instructional manual for the project. It covers everything from why you might want to try such a crazy project in the first place to how to motivate yourself past the week two slump, as well as offering tips and suggestions for how to plan your attack on your novel. I re-read this every year, a week at a time, to help me through my novel writing. I like Baty’s irreverant style and the attitude he brings to the project: it’s a nice reminder that even an insane goal is fun and worth pursuing.

If you’re interested in joining NaNoWriMo, it’s not too late! You can still sign up for an account on the official site to track your progress and meet other writers. Join us on two Saturdays this month, November 15th and 22nd, for afternoon write-ins. Share the companionship of other writers, compete in Word Wars, earn an entry into the 2014 Naperville Region Library Crawl prize drawing, and, of course – write!

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

houseBookHouse of Leaves is the scariest book I have ever read. It’s not gory or gross or even immediately frightening – there are no monsters or demons or serial killers. It’s just completely terrifying.

The story takes place in several layers. Johnny Truant is our primary narrator, telling us about this manuscript he was helping his neighbor Zampano write. Then there’s the film Zampano is writing about, a documentary made by world-famous photographer Will Navidson about the house he and his family have moved into. At first the house seems perfectly normal, and then one day they discover a hallway doesn’t seem right. They double-check the blueprints, they measure the house inside and out with a laser sight, and there’s no way around it – the house is three-quarters of an inch larger on the inside than it is on the outside.

And then it gets bigger.

I think it’s the different levels of narrative that make House of Leaves so effectively terrifying. In trying to figure out whether or not the film is real in Johnny’s world, you start to forget that Johnny’s world isn’t necessarily your own, and everything seems to bleed together around the edges. House of Leaves isn’t the kind of book you can read all at once and get it over with; even if you could get through it in one sitting, it’ll haunt you later.

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

girlsBook - Lorrie Ann and Mia have been friends since they were young girls. Lorrie Ann seems perfect, the “good girl” from a bohemian and loving family. In contrast, Mia struggles to deal with her mother, who’s often drunk, haphazardly babysits her younger brothers and describes herself as having a “little black stone for a heart.” Despite their differences, the girls share everything and know everything about each other. Then, tragedy strikes Lorrie Ann’s family and events begin to spiral. As the story unfolds over the next fifteen years, Mia is forced to examine her beliefs about her friend, motherhood, families and about what it really means to be “good.” I found this debut novel to be thought-provoking and the characters were interesting. I reflected on the reliability of our memories and how the years and maturity can alter them. This book was realistic in that situations weren’t always resolved in the nicest or easiest way and different characters offered viewpoints, giving varying angles and “truths.”

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale

Catch Me If You CanBook - Catch Me if You Can is the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. Frank was a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and a teaching assistant at a college all before he was twenty years old and all without a high school diploma. Catch Me If You Can tells his exploits as one of the most successful con men in history. I was absolutely floored when I heard some of the things he was able to get away with. I had to remind myself over and over that the era was a very different one and that computers were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are now, but still, the things people will believe when wrapped up in a believable package were almost sad.

One thing that really struck me in listening to this book, which Frank Abagnale has stated was exaggerated to a degree due to the co-writer’s editor’s demands, was the complete lack of malice in all of his actions. Not once did he set out to ‘get’ the little guy, he always targeted big corporations or banks with his scams. The man is brilliant and has since transferred his way of thinking towards helping the FBI and banks combat fraud.

I listened to the audiobook version and loved it. His story was also adapted into a movie and he is the only living person with a Broadway play based on his life.

Hater by David Moody

haterBook – David Moody’s Hater isn’t really a zombie novel, but it’s got a lot of similar trappings: friends and strangers turning on one another, individual survival becoming much more important than the trappings of modern life. It’s firmly in the “survival horror” genre, of which zombie novels are only the most popular form. The point of a survival horror story has nothing to do with what the monster is or why it’s dangerous, only whether or not the main characters are going to survive.

Moody’s concept is original and interesting. Instead of turning into zombies, people just become murderously violent, for no reason at all. We eventually find out that the “Haters,” as they’ve been dubbed by the media, aren’t driven by hate at all but by fear – a sudden, crippling fear that they’re going to be attacked and they have to defend themselves first. “Haters” can’t deal with normal people, but when they get into a group of their own they’re perfectly fine, because they know they’re among their own kind. It makes more sense than zombies, to be perfectly honest, and has the added benefit that the Haters are intelligent and can be interesting point of view characters.

I can’t uncritically recommend Hater. I thought the writing was stilted and the characters predictable. If you are looking for something to indulge a survival horror buzz, though – for instance, if you’re going into withdrawl from The Walking DeadHater will keep it going for you.