Bestselling novelist Gary Shteyngart is a really funny guy. He is a master of social satire and self-deprecating humor, reminiscent of Woody Allen or Phillip Roth. In Little Failure: A Memoir, Shteyngart turns to his own life and skewers himself, his family and two countries with a razor sharp wit.
Shteyngart (What kind of name is that? Keep reading, he’ll tell you, and good luck not laughing out loud when he does.) was born in the former Soviet Union. The only child of Jewish parents who affectionately called their asthmatic son Soplyak, meaning “snotty,” or Failurchka, which needs no translation, the family immigrated to the United States when Shteyngart was 6. Life for poor Russian Jews was not easy under the Communists, but America is fraught with opportunities for humiliation too.
Reading Little Failure is, at times, like listening to a clever borscht belt comedian: badda bing, badda boom, with a zinger in every paragraph. Whether comparing his after-school time at Grandma Polya’s house in America to “being fed like some pre-foie-gras goose,” describing Black Sea vacations Soviet-style or recounting his time as an Oberlin College student, Shteyngart has an eye for the absurd. With his deft blend of humor and pathos, he can relate family history under Stalin and the complex relationship with his father or his family’s glee upon receiving a pseudo-check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse with equal panache. On the The New York Times best sellers list, Little Failure will appeal to readers with an intelligent funny bone.
Billy Miller is about to start second grade and is very worried. He hit his head in a fall over the summer and is worried he won't be smart enough for school. Reassuring him, his father tells him this will be The Year of Billy Miller. Follow Billy through his second grade year in this charming novel by Kevin Henkes. Broken into four parts, Billy’s school year is told through his relationships with his teacher, sister, father and mother. Realistically portraying the worries of a 7-year-old, The Year of Billy Miller touches on a little bit of everything.
Does his teacher like him? When Billy thinks he has offended his new teacher he worries and wonders how to fix it. Can his little sister fill in for his best friend when a planned sleepover is cancelled? He really wants to stay up all night. Is he really too old to call his father “Papa?" That’s what the know-it-all Emma says. Will he be able to recite the poem for his mother in front of everybody? Will his mother like it?
Henkes delivers a poignant, realistic portrayal of Billy that is relatable to any elementary school student. Fans of realistic fiction such as the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary will enjoy this novel. Kevin Henkes is an award-winning author of over 50 picture books as well as numerous novels for children. The Year of Billy Miller is a worthy continuation of his great body of work.
How did it happen? How did humans, in about 30 years, entirely kill off a bird species that once numbered in the millions, if not billions? In A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction, researcher Joel Greenberg covers the incredibly fast decline and disappearance of this iconic bird. One of the best-known examples of the end of a species, Greenberg delves deep into the various theories and causes of its extinction.
The mass slaughter of these birds in the years 1850-1880 has been well-documented, and Greenberg describes in great detail the methods (nets, guns, traps, etc.) that were used to capture or kill them. Due to the pigeons’ tendency to flock in the thousands or more, they made for easy targets no matter what method used. While the pigeons were initially found in large numbers from the Eastern seaboard west to the Rockies, their last huge flocks were found mostly in the area of the Great Lakes. Greenberg posits that the pigeons could live only as members of these large flocks; without the protection and community that this provided the birds, they were unable to survive.
After the decades of the late 1800s, only a few were found here and there over their once large range. Finally, in 1914, the last of the Passenger Pigeons, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Greenberg’s book is an elegy marking the centennial of her death and that of her entire species. The national conservation movement, spearheaded by Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and others, came too late to save the Passenger Pigeon, but changed the mentality of the limits of human encroachment on nature. Though even with the scholarship and understanding that Greenberg and others have provided, we are left asking ourselves: how did it happen?
From sitcom writer to author of cozy mysteries, Laura Levine has had an eclectic writing career. Her newest novel, Killing Cupid, is a light mystery about a murder in a matchmaking company on Valentine’s Day.
When Jaine gets a call and is asked to write advertising copy for a Beverly Hills matchmaker, all she has to do is consider her meager bank account before quickly accepting the job. Upon starting at Dates of Joy, Jaine quickly discovers that Joyce is as much of con artist as matchmaker. Instead of marketing, Jaine is writing phony bios to go with the head shots of fake clients who happen to be models.
Joyce appears to be a charming woman to anyone seeking love in her matchmaking business, but after she cashes their check, they’re likely to never hear from her again. She cuts corners to save a penny and she isn’t above blackmail, so it’s no surprise that Jaine isn’t the only person who can’t stand her tyrant of a boss. When Joyce turns up murdered by a poison chocolate, the list of suspects is long. Jaine finds herself among them and must discover who the real murderer is to clear her own name.
Whether you're trying to get in the mood for this holiday or find a good distraction from the day, this cozy mystery can help. With Jaine’s quirkiness and the effortless storyline, this book could be a beach read, if only it were a little warmer.
Jane Austen fans look to Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy as the model of gentlemanly behavior. And when Austen’s words were brought to life with Colin Firth’s portrayal in the classic BBC production the archetype was perfected. Two new contemporary romances tweak enduring P&P themes, introduce modern Mr. Darcys and deliver delightfully entertaining tales of love.
True, Manhattanite Elizabeth Scott is nearing her 30th birthday in the debut Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson. But unlike so many women her age, she has no interest in walking down the aisle. Rather, she wants to find success walking the ring as she reinvents herself as a top dog handler. In so doing, she hopes to put the scandal that cost her teaching job and her reputation solidly in the rear view mirror. Elizabeth attends her first dog show and is immediately distracted by the divine Donovan Darcy, who turns out to be the judge. Initially, the two are at odds, but gradually their mutual attraction grows. While meddling sisters and social prejudice interfere with this couple’s path to happily ever after, Austen devotees and dog lovers will relish their journey to ardent admiration and love.
Thirty-five-year-old American social-media master Vanessa Roberts is a thoroughly modern girl who enjoys all of her gadgets in Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doorenbos. She has her own PR firm, good friends (including Chase) and her beloved Aunt Ella. Her life is hectic, but she is happy. But when Ella, asks her to work her public relations magic on Julian Chancellor, Vanessa’s high-speed life slows down. Chancellor, a reserved Englishman, chronicled his year spent living as a Regency gentleman in My Year as Mr. Darcy and now needs help with the book’s U.S. marketing. Vanessa reluctantly agrees to help, but soon sheds that reluctance upon spying Julian shedding his breeches. Could this old-fashioned chap really be The One? Or, did Vanessa’s fast-paced life lead her to overlook true love? Austen lovers – prepare to be excessively diverted!
Weather forecasters predict snow. A storm is coming and it's going to be fierce. Residents in the town of Coventry, Massachusetts are accustomed to tough winters and make plans to stay indoors, watching movies and playing games, drinking hot chocolate and making cookies. However, this storm promises to bring more than snow and ice and, once it passes, life will never again be the same in Coventry. Christopher Golden’s novel Snowblind will have readers terrified of what could be lurking outside their windows on a blustery, snowy night.
An elderly lady answers the doorbell never to be seen again alive, a woman follows her yapping dog outside only to freeze to death steps from her door and a father in search of his son disappears into the swirling snow. In total, 18 people are dead following the blizzard and, as the town mourns, no one listens to the young boy who insists there were ice monsters on the prowl that night. His description of blue-white creatures with long, sharp icicle fingers, hollow eyes and mouths filled with razor-sharp pointed teeth fall on deaf ears.
Now, 12 years later, another storm is predicted with features that strongly mirror “The Big One.” Not only are residents on edge, some have started seeing the ghosts of victims from the previous killer storm. The author paints a scenario that is easily relatable and then slams the reader with a horror story so frightening it will leave you chilled to the bone. Golden can easily take a seat beside Stephen King and Dean Koontz when it comes to keeping the suspense and terror building to the story’s astounding conclusion. This is horror at its best, and I have never enjoyed being scared so much.
Who better to recommend a great love story than a romance writer? We asked several popular romance authors to tell us about the best romantic stories they have recently read. They responded, and we compiled their recommendations to help you find your next great read.
Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project is the big winner here! Both Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Robyn Carr enthusiastically recommend this quirky love story about a geneticist who seeks his perfect mate using a scientific survey, but ends up falling in love with a barmaid who wouldn’t pass even the first question. Phillips says that she adores this “funny and touching” novel, and Carr calls it a “brilliant love story, just brilliant.” That’s high praise from two bestselling authors who know a thing or two about writing a captivating love story.
Tessa Dare recommends Courtney Milan’s The Countess Conspiracy. Dare writes, “In Victorian England, Violet, Countess of Cambury, is one of the world's leading experts on the study of inherited traits (genetics). However, since female scientists weren't accepted or taken seriously in that era, Violet's best friend, Sebastian Malheur, has been presenting her theories as his own for years. That is, until the day he refuses to continue the charade and confesses his deeper feelings for Violet, threatening both their friendship and their secret collaboration. Sebastian, the hero, is charming, patient, intelligent and handsome — in short, just about perfect. But it's Violet who truly shines in this book. Romantic love is part of her happy ending, but her triumphs also include career fulfillment and a true sense of her own worth. It's a book that made me laugh, cry and cheer.”
Laura Kaye suggests J. Lynn’s popular new adult novel Wait for You. Avery Morgansten is a college student running from her past when she meets boy-next-door Cameron Hamilton. They are instantly attracted to each other, but both Avery and Cam have secrets that they must face before their romance can blossom. Kaye says that it’s “fun and romantic and full of sexual chemistry. Totally to-die-for hero!” As a bonus, Kaye also highly recommends Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. She praises the series, saying it has “a smart heroine and the most likable hero ever!” The first book in Gabaldon’s epic genre-bending series, Outlander it is sure to gain even more fans when the Starz television series premieres this summer.
Ava loves words and wordplay, especially palindromes, due in part to her name being a palindrome: A-V-A. So are her sister’s, mother’s and father’s: Pip, Anna and Bob. It’s no wonder that palindromes are an important part of her life, along with writing in her diary and trying to decide what she wants to be when she grows up. In Ava and Pip by Carol Weston, fifth grader Ava uses her diary to share her feelings and thoughts about such critical issues as her sister’s shyness, her parents’ tendency to ignore her and her hope of becoming a writer.
Although Pip is 2 years older, Ava feels responsible for her sister and wants to help her overcome her shyness and be more outgoing. In an odd turn of events, she finds help from a new seventh grader named Bea, who seems to be everything that Pip is not: bold, confident and mature. However, Ava and Bea’s plan to turn Pip from a wallflower to a social butterfly may not be as easy as they believe.
Weston’s book is reminiscent of the Ramona and Beatrice stories by Beverly Cleary, particularly the relationships between the sisters and their parents. The character of Ava is well-drawn even if she does seem unusually precocious at times for a fifth grader. This book would especially appeal to children who are going through the trials and tribulations of middle school, and also those who love playing with words.
Valentine’s Day will be here soon. However, you don’t need the calendar to read February 14 in order to share some heartwarming picture books about love with your little ones. In The Runaway Hug, written by Nick Bland and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, a little girl named Lucy asks her mommy for a hug before bedtime. This hug is special because it’s the very last one that her mommy has and because of that, Lucy promises that she will return the hug back to her. Lucy decides that she must share this very special last hug with everyone else in her family. She shares this last hug with her daddy, the twins and the baby before sharing it with the family dog, Annie. But when Lucy tries to get the hug back from Annie, the dog runs away playfully and takes Mommy’s very last hug with her. Will Lucy be able to keep her promise to return the last hug to her mommy? Bland’s text meshes well with Blackwood’s illustrations, depicting a loving and somewhat chaotic home to which parents will easily relate.
Even though love is not something that you can see or touch, love can be found all around us in Love Is Real, written by Janet Lawler and illustrated by Anna Brown. Using rhyme, Lawler tells a story about how love can be found in simple acts of kindness. Adorable families of forest creatures show how everything they do throughout the day, from helping you get dressed in the morning to putting a bandage on a skinned knee, are examples that love is real.
Another book about love featuring forest animals is Love You More Than Anything by Anna Harber Freeman. Children will love the simple rhyming text and bright, playful illustrations by Jed Henry. Whether it’s ladybugs, playing on the playground or a bubble bath, there is nothing that the chipmunk parents love more than their little kids.
In The Martian by Andy Weir, the action is cranked all the way up to 11, which is an impressive feat for a story that unfolds over the course of a year and a half. Set in the not-too-distant future, this is the story of NASA’s third mission to Mars. A type of routine has set in with these missions to the Red Planet until a freak sandstorm causes NASA to abort the mission and evacuate the planet. As the astronauts prepare to leave the surface, one is struck and thought to be dead, so he is left behind by his crewmates. Knocked unconscious, Mark Watley awakes to find himself in a damaged spacesuit, alone, with no communications and no way to get off the planet. Smart, sarcastic, hard-working, imaginative and more than a little nerdy, Watley is the perfect hero. Left alone with limited supplies, Watley has to find a way to survive and meet his basic needs. Just as he starts to accomplish this, NASA realizes their mistake. As the world turns its attention to the drama unfolding across a sea of stars, Watley is forced to parry every challenge thrown at him by a harsh, unforgiving environment.
The Martian, with its roots in current space history, it is more a work of science “fact-ion” than science fiction. This debut novel by a promising new voice is a celebration of the esprit de corps and professionalism of NASA, as well as a celebration of the human spirit. Weir speaks to the basic human need to risk any danger, no matter the cost, to save another human in distress. The Martian will leave you breathless on its way to a fist-pumping-in-the-air conclusion, perfect for anyone who loved Apollo 13 or Gravity as well as readers of Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars.