Stephanie recommended books that are great to curl up with in case of a snowstorm, like The Song of Achilles, Cloud Atlas, The Writing Class, and The Malice of Fortune. She also rhapsodised about George Saunders, especially his new collection, Tenth of December.
Sally recommended some of her favorite forthcoming books of 2013, saving her highest praise for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. (This isn't yet available to put on hold, but keep your eyes peeled--it's going to be big!) She also loved The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (author of Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge) and Benediction by Kent Haruf, the third book to visit his fictional town of Holt, Colorado that first appeared in Plainsong and then Eventide. To round things out, she also recommends two new books set in the South: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher and The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. This is a wonderfully written book about love and loss . June loves her Uncle Finn who is dying from aids in the 1980's when people did not know much about the disease or were open to different lifestyles. Her mother, Finn's sister, refuses to let her family be around her brother's lover who she blames for giving her brother aids. Uncle Finn and June have a wonderful relationship and June is devastated when he dies. She then meets his partner, Toby, and they form a special relationship to fill Finn's void in their lives. This book also explores sibling rivalry and family dynamics. This is a wonderful read.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This is the second of Hilary Mantel's trilogy exploring the life of Thomas Cromwell. In this book, Thomas Cromwell is plotting the replacement of Ann Boleyn with Henry VIII's new love interest Jane Seymour. The book chronicles the last nine months of Ann's life and concentrates on her trial and death. This story is familiar to all of us but in Miss Mantel's hand it is a page turner.
Burn Down The Ground: A Memoir by Kambri Crews. Crews tells the story of growing up as a Child of Deaf Adults in rural Texas. She tells the story of growing up with her quiet, loving mother who is working hard to support her family, while her father is an abusive alcoholic who is slowly destroying the family. She struggles to find a balance between the two worlds while trying to find a niche for herself.
ParaNorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. Norman Babcock is not like the other children, in fact, he is reminded daily by everyone around him about how different he is. Norman is able to see and speak to ghosts, fun right? One day, his great uncle Prenderghast informs him that he needs to use his ability to keep the Blithe Hollow Witch asleep. Seems simple, until he realizes that something has gone awry with his plan and now the earth is shifting beneath him. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Guilt by Degrees by Marcia Clark
Marcia Clark is best known for her work as head prosecutor during the O.J. Simpson trial. This is her second book involving her character District Attorney Rachel Knight. In her first book Guilt by Association, Knight's colleague is found dead at a crime scene and she must take over a high profile rape case. Instead, she grows more entangled with the circumstances surrounding the death of her colleague. In this follow up, Knight is asked to take on the case of a murdered homeless man. Just as she loses hope in finding any leads, clues are uncovered that link this murder to events in her first book. Marcia Clark certainly knows her way around the courtroom, but this novel gets us out of there and onto the streets of L.A.
Night Watch by Linda Fairstein
All this week, I've been waking up and thinking to myself Live this day like you're Alexandra Cooper. This is the 14th book in Linda Fairstein's popular Alexandra Cooper series. While on vacation in France with her restauranteur boyfriend Luc, Alexandra "Coop" Cooper is called back to New York to assist in a rape case involving an international banker. Meanwhile, back in France, the police in Luc's small village are trying to uncover the facts surrounding the death of a young woman who used to work for Luc. Can Luc be trusted? Is the international banker guilty? We'll have to read to find out.
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
A great book about James Garfield, one of our most improbable Presidents. His rise to the Presidency from utter poverty as a child, via Civil War heroics and a spate in Congress, is impressive on its own. But the really crazy thing about the book is that he was shot by a total nutball (whose story is also outlined) just a few months into his term! Then, amazingly, he survived the attack—and then his doctors basically killed him with their horrible medical practices. This was just before, for example, sterilization became a cornerstone of medicine (in fact at the time it was seen as quackery), and his doctors kept opening his wound and poking around in it to try to find the bullet with their non-sterile tools. They also fed him on a diet of rich foods like bacon and lamb chops every day even though he had a history of stomach issues. You can imagine. There’s also a fascinating story of a young Alexander Graham Bell (the very same as you’re thinking, yes) who was trying desperately to invent a machine to help find the bullet so it could be extracted before it was too late. Things got worse and worse and the activity of the entire country came to a complete halt as everyone anxiously awaited multiple updates a day as to Garfield’s progress. Mind-blowing and a real page-turner of a tragedy.
Afterwards by Rosamund Lipton
A great summer read, reminiscent of early Jodi Picoult mixed with Sophie Hannah. The book opens with Grace, mother of two, at her children’s school for an end-of-year celebration. When she sees the main building go up in flames and realizes her daughter is inside, she runs in to save her. Both suffer severe injuries, and in hospital, Grace finds that her consciousness can leave her physical body, which is in a coma, and wander the hospital (and even a bit beyond). As she watches and listens, not only does she learn more about her family, she also begins to suspect the fire was not accidental, but in fact a deliberate strike at her daughter—and to worry that the attacker will try again. Fast-paced and a little heart-wrenching. I wouldn’t recommend reading it on public transportation unless you are okay with crying in front of strangers. But it’s just perfect for the times when you need a book to take over your life for a few hours.
Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon is a very funny novel about a woman in a midlife crisis who agrees to anonymously participate in a survey about marital happiness. Between her obsessive connections to Facebook, Google searches and the survey, this married mother of two gets caught between reality and fantasy, and discovers things both enlightening and world-rocking.
*Optioned by Working Title in a major film deal.
Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shispstead. Winn Van Meter is heading for his family’s retreat on the pristine New England island of Waskeke. Wedding plans are being finalized as his daughter prepares to marry the father of her unborn child. Shipstead cleverly weaves a tale of who’s who, boozy parties, disappointing houseguests and ultimately, what really matters.
The Red House by Mark Haddon. The Red House is a domestic drama set in England where every character is coming to terms with something or experiencing a revelation. Eight people who hardly know each other, though some are related, are stuck together for a week in the countryside. There are infatuations, quarrels, jealousies, undercurrents and alliances.
Translated from the Swedish
Drowned by Therese Bohman is set in the idyllic countryside during a short-lived Swedish summer, gets under your skin from the first page, creating an atmosphere of foreboding in which even the aroma of coffee becomes ominous. The story seems simple, but the reader will hold their breath wondering who did it and why.
So Pretty It Hurts by Kate White. Bailey Weggins, the thirty-something, true crime journalist featured in Kate White’s murder mysteries investigates and writes for Buzz, a leading celebrity magazine. She is invited to a weekend party in a music mogul’s mansion in upstate New York. The guest list has plenty of celebrities and plenty of problems. The relaxing weekend getaway turns out to be more like an Agatha Christie whodunit. In So Pretty It Hurts, Bailey once again finds herself a moving target—running closer to the truth and farther from safety.
Incendiary by Chris Cleave. In an emotionally raw voice alive with grief, compassion, and startling humor, a woman mourns the loss of her husband and son at the hands of one of history’s most notorious criminals. Her working-class life is blown apart when the stadium where her boy was is blown up by terrorists. Incendiary is this mother’s appeal in a letter to Osama bin Laden, as their executioner, to understand her very desperate sadness of a broken heart.
The Time In Between by Maria Duenas. The Town Sira Quiroga is a young Spanish dressmaker engaged to a solid suitor when a suave salesman comes into her life and turns it from ordinary to extraordinary, but uncertain. Spain is in a civil war and the new regime is cultivating alliances with Nazi Germany. The Time in Between will appeal to fans of romance novels as well as mystery and historical fiction.
Blind Sight by Meg Howrey. Blind Sight introduces the seventeen-year-old narrator, Luke Prescott, who has been brought up in a bohemian matriarchy by his divorced New Age mother, a religious grandmother, and two precocious half-sisters. Having spent his lifetime agreeably between the poles of Eastern mysticism and New England Puritanism, Luke is fascinated by the new fields of brain science and believes in having evidence for his beliefs. He is writing his college applications when his father—a famous television star whom he never knew—calls and invites him to Los Angeles for the summer.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler. “It’s not you, it’s me — you’re great.” “I’m so sorry, but this just isn’t working out.” “I think we should see other people.” Whether it was the boy who dumped you in the sandbox for that kid with the bright red fire truck or the girl who abruptly stopped answering your notes during algebra, no one makes it through life without exposure to that miserable condition known as the breakup. And now we have Daniel Handler (who also writes as Lemony Snicket) giving us the lowdown on the rise and fall of one break in particular in Why We Broke Up.
Grilling for Life by Bobby Flay. Grilling is the most basic method of cooking there is. It dates back to the time of cavemen — food plus fire equals good. Healthy and never bland, Grilling for Life is my favorite grilling cookbook all year round; especially Smoky and Fiery Skirt Steak with Avocado-Oregano Relish and Grilled Chicken Breasts with Fontina and Prosciutto with Sage-Orange Vinaigrette.
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. This week I am recommending two very different memoirs by two very different chefs. First is Yes,Chef by Marcus Samuelsson (June 26th release date.) I always appreciate a memoir where the author is willing to take an honest look at their life choices, and I believe Samuelsson does just that. Born in Ethiopia, Marcus (may I call you Marcus?) was orphaned at 18 months of age and along with his older sister, adopted into a loving family in Sweden. When Marcus learned the career he dreamed of as a professional soccer player was not to be, he joined the food service track in high school and found his real gift. Stints in top kitchens around Europe proved a great training ground, but it was at Aquavit in NYC he found his stride and entered the world of culinary star. It's safe to say you don't reach those heights without a great deal of ambition and a few wrecked kitchens along the way. It was relatively recent that Marcus developed a deep interest in his Ethiopian roots and he has incorporated that culture into his kitchen. He is now chef/owner of Red Rooster in Harlem, where I would love to dine.
Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris by Lauren Shockey. The second chef book is Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris by Lauren Shockey. Following her training at the French Culinary Institute Shockey followed the common path of arranging stages at various restaurants (basically unpaid internships consisting of crazy hours but with a huge opportunity to learn) each with their own focus. An interesting journey of culture and learning what you think and hope makes you really happy may not in fact bring you joy.
Trail Of The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz. For a fun ride to greet the beach season, go with Lisa Lutz's Trail Of The Spellmans. This one is the 5th entry in the entertaining Spellman Files series (also known as Document 5). The Spellmans are a dysfunctional family of private detectives. There's no such thing as normal when you have a family devoted to the gathering of leverage and unwillingness to accept concepts such as "privacy" and "personal space."
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. After watching her mother succumb to cancer in her 40s, ultimately leading to the dissolution of her marriage, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself at age 26. This memoir is for any girl who loves hiking, dreaming about hiking, has ever gone through something, has ever been married, has ever lost a mother, has ever been 26. Heck it is for every girl! And boys too. After returning it to the Library I immediately bought a copy from Barrett Bookstore because it is just that good.
I’d read The Dream of a Common Language so often that I’d practically memorized it. In the previous few years, certain lines had become like incantations to me, words I’d chanted to myself through my sorrow and confusion. That book was a consolation, an old friend, and when I held it in my hands on my first night on the trail, I didn’t regret carrying it one iota—even though carrying it meant that I could do no more than hunch beneath its weight. It was true that The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California was now my bible, but The Dream of a Common Language was my religion.
Pariah This film is about 17 year-old Alike in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood (where I live, holla!) who is just beginning to embrace her identity as a lesbian. She lives in a conservative household though with a very religious mother who refuses to accept Alike's sexuality. A very powerful movie with a wonderful father/daughter dynamic. I'm a sucker for those. Adepero Oduye's performance is extraordinary.
Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison. We all know what ultimately happened to Russia's Romanov family, but author Kathryn Harrison imagines a special and brief friendship between the your Tsareivich Alexei suffering from hemophilia and Gregory Rasputin's eighteen-year-old daughter Maria in the months following the royal families house arrest. Enchantments is a love story about two people who come together as everything around them is falling apart. The prose is magical. Historical Fiction.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. All is not well in 1920's Alaska as a couple lives in near isolation together as they struggle to carve a life out of the forbidden landscape. Then one afternoon they share a playful moment and build a snowchild out of the fresh snow. In the morning, the snowchild is gone with only steps leading away from where the snowchild was. Is the child real or not real? Has their longing created a child out of snow, mittens, and a scarf?
The Tiffany Aching Adventures by Terry Prachett. One of my favorite humorists, Prachett delivers in this series a strong heroine who is practical, forthright, and independent who is trying to learn how to take care of the people in her homeland of the Chalk. She is their witch. However, growing up is hard for a witch and while trying to growing up, Tiffany makes her own share of mistakes and as the books come to the dark climax in I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany must face the consequences that came from fixing a prior mistake.
The Color of Earth by Tong-hwa Kim. These three graphic novels are about the author's mother's childhood in Korea prior to World War 2. The fresh honesty and prospective about growing up ring true and solid even a world away in another century. These books are beautifully illustrated and you find yourself turning the pages very quickly as you grow up alongside the heroine.
My Year With Eleanor : A Memoir by Noelle Hancock. This narrative nonfiction book introduces the character Noelle Hancock who has just lost her job. Noelle realizes that she has no idea what she wants out of life and also realizes that she is afraid of change. She bravely makes the decision to follow the words of Eleanor Roosevelt : "Do one thing every day that scares you". By using this quote as her mantra Noelle learns who she is and what she can become.
She Walks In Beauty : A Woman's Journey Through Poems by Caroline Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy uses the world of poems to pay tribute to the complex and fascinating subject of womanhood. Her book covers a multitude of milestones including love, marriage, motherhood and grief. Such topics have an introductory page written by her which is then followed by a series of poems that support her thoughts.
Burn Down The Ground : A Memoir by Kambri Crews. This memoir tells the story of young Kambri Crews, the daughter of deaf parents, and her childhood in rural Texas. Her mother, a kind woman who was fully involved in the deaf community, was a strong contrast to her father: an angry and violent man. This book explores the range of Kambri's feelings toward her father- love and adoration followed by fear and finally acceptance.
Blue Asylum : A Novel by Kathy Hepinstall. This novel takes place during the Civil War, a time period where a woman's voice is rarely heard. The wife of a Southern plantation owner is arrested by her husband and tried in a court of law. It is determined that she is insane and she is sent to an asylum where she meets and falls in love with a Confederate soldier.
I Wish I Were Engulfed In Flames : My Insane Life Raising Two Boys With Autism by Jeni Decker. Jeni Decker's memoir details her life with two autistic sons, a husband who avoids household chores, an Australian Shepard and an albino frog. This sometimes shocking story tells of her determination to raise two healthy kids and hold onto her sanity at the same time. This book is funny and inspiring as we read of Jeni's wish to be the "new normal”
Lady Almina And The Real Downton Abbey : The Lost Legacy Of Highclere Castle by Fiona Carnarvon. This true story is a study in contrasts. First there is the difference between the rich who live an an Edwardian home called Highclere Castle and their servants who keep life there running smoothly. Secondly there is the relative ease of life in the castle and the difficulty of life at war. The main character, Lady Almina chooses to bridge that gap by tending to the wounded soldiers in her home.
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
One of the most riveting novels I've ever read. This book sets you down behind the iron curtain of North Korea and immerses you in the insanity and naked brutality of the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il's regime. Following a plot that is so bizarre that it can only be set in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, this story will make you look at the Hermit Kingdom in a whole new light.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
This translated fantasy novel is a hefty tome, but it is well worth the read. It follows the story of two soul-mates whose paths have yet to reconnect. In a world that is not quite right, mixed with mysterious undertones and dark forces, these two confront the demons of their past. But will they ever reunite?
Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found by Sophie Blackall
Illustrator Sophie Blackall gives her visual interpretations of the Craigslist personals. Inspired by her own "missed connection," Ms. Blackhall created a blog and subsequently this book to share these treasured encounters. From amusing entries such as "Furry Arms in Morning Lecture," to more poignant selections like, "The Whale at Coney Island," you will find yourself pouring over this charming collection.
True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel
Read this unbelievable memoir before they finish making the film! New York Times Magazine journalist, Michael Finkel was fired from the newspaper as a result of his manipulation of facts in a cover story on child slavery in Africa. On the eve of the New York Times' announcement of his departure, Finkel receives a phone call from a reporter in Oregon asking about the murders. Christian Longo, a man accused of murdering his wife and three children, fled to Mexico and started impersonating Michael Finkel of the New York Times. As a result the former journalist reaches out to Longo and the two men embark on an unexpected friendship.
The Lifeboat -- by Charlotte Rogan
A debut novel, set two years after the Titanic disappeared in the Atlantic. Narrator Grace Winter has survived the disastrous sinking of another ocean liner and a long ordeal on a lifeboat, which drifted away from all hope of rescue and was lost at sea for several weeks. Aboard the leaky, small vessel are men, women, and children – some are working for the good of all, but others resort to hoarding the small food and water supplies and sabotaging efforts at survival. Grace, a newlywed who watched her husband give up his own chance at life to save her, must decide whose side she is on when it becomes clear that not all will survive.
"Being Elmo" (Doctumentary)
Even if “Sesame Street” isn’t a fixture on your DVR, the Muppet character Elmo is familiar to everyone – he’s the fuzzy red guy brought to life by puppeteer Kevin Clash. Looking behind the energetic Muppet to make a documentary about Clash seems unlikely, but “Being Elmo” succeeds because it’s an incredibly inspiring story. Kevin Clash grew up commandeering his mother’s sewing machine to create his own characters and entertaining daycare groups of children, all in preparation for the day when he would knock on Jim Henson’s studio door and see his dreams come true. A dedicated artist in his own right, Clash’s story will leave you in tears one moment and truly inspired the next. It’s a heartwarming film for children of all ages.
The Wind Through the Keyhole -- By Stephen King
The Dark Tower Series is Stephen King’s opus. He wrote the first book when he was 23 years old. The seventh and final book in the series was published in 2004. Unlike many of his other full-length novels, the Dark Tower Series is not a horror story, but instead the tale of an epic quest. Roland is a gunslinger, a type of knight in a parallel world to our own. He is the last gunslinger left alive in his world. Roland’s world is “moving on” which is King’s Way of saying it is dying. In his journey to find out what’s destroying his world, Roland will journey into our world and back again to find out what is poisoning the dark tower, the center that holds all worlds together. This book takes place between the fourth and fifth book, but it is a stand-alone story. With the tiny bit of background information I just gave you, you can read and enjoy this new book and get a small glimpse into a different side of Stephen King.
Drift -- By Rachel Maddow
Rachel Maddow is the liberal host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, and she’s now the author of one of the best reviewed non-fiction books of the season. Drift is about how far this country has drifted from Thomas Jefferson’s original goal of a country without a standing army. She examines the wars and policy changes which led to the United States becoming a nation that is involved in perpetual and extremely costly wars, and looks at ways we can get the American military back on course. Lest you think this book is just liberal propaganda, none other than Fox News CEO Roger Ailes blurbed it, saying “Rachel Maddow makes valid arguments that our country has been drifting towards questionable wars, draining our resources. Drift is a book worth reading.”
Sally's (the one to the left) Picks
Making Piece -- by Beth Howard. Beth's story of a year in her life revolves around two things: grieving the death of her husband and making apple pies. While the emotional side of the story was often gut-wrenchingly painful as well as occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, it was the pie-making interludes that captured my imagination. Her descriptions were so vivid and the instructions so approachable, it was all I could do not to put the book down and start baking then and there. Good news for reader/bakers-- she includes several recipes at the end of the book. If you try any of them, let us know how they turn out!
The Presidents Club : Inside The World's Most Exclusive Fraternity -- by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. This is a rich collection of stories about members of an uber-elite club: former presidents of the United States. Staying away from the obvious, the authors bring to light anecdotes about the relationships that developed after their terms were over. While there are any number of positive, uplifting stories within the book, it is the underhanded dealings that will keep the pages turning. Don't let its size deter you, the chapters can be read independent of each other. Dip in and read a bit here and there, you just might get hooked!
Sally's (the one on the right) Picks
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death and hope in a Mumbai undercity -- by Katherine Boo, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope that they will have a better life. With intelligence, humor and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another this book is an amazing read. The New York Times Book Review calls this book "Extraordinary"-I couldn't agree more.
Icy Sparks -- by Gwyn Hyman Rubio. This is the story of Icy, a ten year old girl growing up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky during the 1950's. Icy is unable to control the croaks, groans and spasms that afflict her- as an adult she will learn that she has Tourette's Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder. Icy is tormented by her classmates and removed from school and sent to an asylum. When Icy returns home she begins a friendship with eccentric Miss Emily who knows first-hand how it feels to be an outcast. Both sad and funny, Icy Sparks is a New York Times Notable Book.
Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected - by Stanley Kunitz. If you read no other poetry book, take a look at this one. In honor of National Poerty Month, I'm drawing attention to this collection by Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006). He was named Poet Laureate of the United States in 2000, and continued writing and promoting poetry until he passed away at the age of 100. His unique and meaningful poems center largely on the themes of life and death, and he was once quoted as saying, "The deepest thing I know is that I am living and dying at once, and my conviction is to report that dialogue." My favorite in this collection is "The Layers."
The Gilly Salt Sisters - by Tiffany Baker. This is an unusual story about a small town in Cape Cod. The story centers around two estranged sisters, Claire and Jo. Their family farm, Salt Creek Farm, produces all of the salt for the town and the surrounding areas, and the salt believed to have unexplained powers. Every restaurant must have bowls of salt on all of the tables, and every grocery store must stock it or else they are doomed to fail. Every year, the town gathers for a bonfire and one of the sisters throws salt on the flame - if the flame turns blue there is a good year to come, red means love, and black is bad news for the town. Secrets, scandals and a beautiful setting keep the story moving and engaging.
The Up Series (DVD) This longitudinal documentary series began in 1964 with fourteen British children chosen to represent a diverse array of socio-economic classes. A new film, looking at their lives and development was produced every seven years. The latest installment, 56 Up, debuts on BBC this May. The series asks the question: Does socio-economic class predetermine future success or failure?
The Big Oyster - by Mark Kurlansky. Before it was the Big Apple, New York City could have rightfully been called the Big Oyster. Kurlansky cleverly tells the story of the greatest city in the world- its history, its culture, its cuisine- through the lens of that gastronomical delight: the oyster. The Big Oyster will satisfy foodies and history buffs alike.