Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

strangeBook – Mr Norrell is a practicing English magician. He actually does magic, which is considered beyond strange by all of his colleagues, who focus on research and analysis. And he is about to make a name for himself when Jonathan Strange appears. Jonathan Strange is also a practicing magician, and what’s more, he is young and handsome and a part of Society, which is not really something Mr Norrell can manage. Of course they will study together, and of course they will be rivals.

This is not a book for everyone. It’s long. There are rambling, divergent footnotes. It combines Regency romance sensibilities with war narratives and an approach to magic that’s based more on medieval English folklore than on The Lord of the Rings. There’s a tonal shift three-quarters of the way through that reminds me of nothing so much as Jane Austen writing the adventures of Richard Sharpe. And if you’re like me, that makes this book perfect. This is one of those books I would like to recommend to everyone, even though I know there are so many reasons why many people would not like it. I just love it so much, I would like to be able to share that love with everyone. Do you have any books you feel that way about?

Festive in Death

festiveBook - Festive in Death is the 39th book in this series and while you don’t technically need to read them in order, they’re nowhere near as much fun to read if you don’t.

When Eve’s nemesis, Trina, stumbles over a dead body with one of her friends, Eve is enmeshed in an investigation where the deceased is hard to like. A womanizer who juggles and uses is found dead with a kitchen knife pinning a note through his chest that says, “Santa Says You’ve Been Bad!!!” Sifting through the muck of his relationships and planning for the ever exasperating holidays, Eve does what she always does, looks for justice, regardless of the victim.

I love this series. Saying that, I’m totally biased when it comes to the Christmas themed stories. Some of my friends rolled their eyes and said, “Here we go again, same old, same, old,” but I love that. I love the fact that each year Eve is a little more comfortable with her new extended family, with shopping, and there is an awesome excuse to look into the lives of the bit-players from earlier in the series. I will continue to not only read, but purchase these books for as long as JD Robb keeps writing/publishing them.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

zooBook – Zinzi December finds things. It’s her Talent, the mildly useful side effect that comes along with her Sloth, a physical manifestation of her guilt over her brother’s death that also renders her unfit for work in polite society. She only finds lost things, not lost people, but when her latest client is murdered, she has to take on a missing persons case. Songweza, half of the twin teen pop sensation of the moment, has disappeared, and her manager needs her back before the new record drops.

I had a fantastic time with this book. A South African urban fantasy with a heist plot, it was very different from Beukes’s outstanding serial-killer thriller The Shining Girls, but just as excellent. This feels like it should be a movie, the better to show off the contrast between Zinzi’s lower-class lifestyle and the glitzy pop music glamor of her employer’s world. I also really liked the way Beukes recast the animal companion trope – they’re a little bit like the daemons of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy with a grittier edge. Anyone who’s a fan of Jim Butcher or Seanan McGuire should enjoy Zoo City.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

leavingBook – Thirteen-year-old Jenna Metcalf is searching for her mother, Alice, who has been missing for more than a decade. She disappeared after a tragic accident at the elephant sanctuary where she worked with Jenna’s father. Jenna’s father has been institutionalized in a mental hospital since that day and can’t provide any information. Her grandmother becomes upset whenever Jenna tries to broach the subject of her mother. Jenna is haunted by the lack of closure – did her mother abandon her or did she die? She becomes determined to learn the truth and in the process finds two allies: a disgraced psychic, Serenity Jones and a seldom sober PI, Virgil Stanhope. I learned a lot about elephants and their survival as Jenna reads through her mother’s journals and notes on her scientific study of elephants. This book is a page-turner with surprising twists and turns. Picoult has written over twenty popular novels, including My Sister’s Keeper, Handle with Care and The Tenth Circle.

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!