Night Film by Marisha Pessl will be one of the most talked about books of the fall. This new thriller is riveting, impossible to put down and hair-raisingly creepy.
It's the story of a washed-up journalist ruined by the story that got away. Scott McGrath was once a successful investigative journalist who tracked down the darkest, seediest stories. The one elusive target that cost him his career was film director Michael Cordova. Cordova is the director of dark, transgressive films that are so disturbing they cannot be played in theaters. The films are only rarely shown at secret screenings in tunnels around the world.
During his initial investigation of Cordova, McGrath got a lead that the secretive film director may be hurting children. McGrath went public with the accusation and was subsequently sued by Cordova’s team of lawyers. Since he had no definitive proof, his career as a journalist was essentially over.
Fast-forward several years later. Cordova’s daughter, Ashley, has just committed suicide under mysterious circumstances, and McGrath again becomes obsessed with the dark, twisted world of the Cordovas. Follow McGrath into the world of Michael Cordova where reality is elusive and dark forces may be at work.
Pessl’s unique style will be one of the first things readers notice. She spins her dark labyrinthine tale by interspersing newspaper and website clippings throughout the book. The technique pulls the reader further into the book and adds to the overall authenticity of her story.
Readers who like creepy, disturbing stories will relish the dark paths McGrath will take to find the truth.
British historian Kathleen Walker-Meikle collects centuries-old examples of canine representation in her succinct but illuminating work Medieval Dogs, published by the British Library. While there has been considerable research into the earliest beginnings of the human/canine relationship, and countless looks into how dogs and people complement each other today, it is fascinating to look at the ways dogs were portrayed in what is considered to be a less enlightened historical time.
Brilliantly illustrated and well captioned manuscripts and paintings from around Europe are featured, along with brief but telling text. The pre-Renaissance art, without linear perspective, speaks to a bygone age. Stories of how dogs were part of abbey life among monks and nuns show a push/pull acceptance of the animals. In some cases, dogs were happily allowed to run free throughout abbeys, while in other cases, they were more grudgingly permitted — aside from sanctuaries and dining areas. As with medical treatment for humans, veterinary skills during the medieval years were basic and often fraught with suggestions that are chilling today. It's surprising to see how many breeds from our era, such as Greyhounds, terriers and spaniels, were already classified as early as the 16th century.
Loyalty is shown in many drawings of canines that remained with their fallen masters after a battle. Representations of the dogs in these and other illustrations (such as the many lapdogs depicted in royal settings) show how people of the period valued their animal companions. While rampant superstition during medieval times did not always portray dogs in the best light, their frequent appearances within the art and manuscripts of the period show the evolution of the human/dog relationship to what it now has become.
Superheroes in general are reaching new heights of popularity and, with an unbroken string of cinematic hits, that is especially true of the heroes of the Marvel Universe. Matt Fraction is one of the hottest comic book writers in the industry today, known for his cool, hip and edgy take on characters like the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Iron Fist, Thor and Iron Man. It is his work on another Avengers team member that is creating the buzz now. In Hawkeye Vol 2: Little Hits, Fraction and artist David Aja prove the quirky, wild fun they began in Hawkeye Vol 1: My Life as a Weapon was no fluke.
Hawkeye, or "hawkguy" as many of his neighbors insist on calling him, is a mere mortal on a team of gods, geniuses and super-soldiers. He has been a thief, a carney, a hero, and in the cinematic version, a highly trained government agent and assassin. Fraction clearly aims to tie all these threads together, or as he states in the first issue of the series, “…this is what he does when he is not being an Avenger…” Fraction’s Hawkeye lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, where most of his neighbors seem to know who he is and what he does for a living. When his neighbors face eviction at the hands of a local slum lord backed by an Eastern European mob, Hawkeye comes to the rescue in a way that is both hilarious and has long-term — and ever increasing — repercussions.
You almost never see Hawkeye in costume in this series and, while he crosses paths with villains, it tends to be inadvertent. The art and color scheme of these two books tie them together and give an overall “Mod,” almost 1960s feel, while still being completely modern. This series, while reflecting the cinematic Hawkeye more, are definitely written with adults in mind. This is a series for mature readers, as many of the situations and dialogue are not child-friendly. Fraction enjoys dropping the reader — and his hero — into the middle of action at the start of each issue, with Hawkeye uttering the phrase “Okay, this looks bad.” The worse things look for Hawkeye the more fun it is for the reader as Fraction takes us on a wild ride.
Hawkeye: Little Hits is just as strong as the first volume and continues the theme that you can be a hero and still be a train wreck at the same time. Fraction’s Hawkeye seems to embody the Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye from the Saturday Night Live sketch, spoofing the climactic battle from The Avengers movie when Renner turns to Captain America and says “I’m all out of arrows, I don’t have any more…so, uh, I guess I’m done, right? All right, I’ll be in the car. Stay safe!”
The group that the L.A. Times dubbed “The Bling Ring” was an unlikely band of seven privileged, fame-obsessed teenage thieves who gained entry into multiple celebrity homes in 2008 and 2009 using information that was widely available online. Perhaps the most astonishing part of their crime spree was how long they were able to get away with it and how easy it really was. Entertainment journalist Nancy Jo Sales brings us the full story in The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped off Hollywood and Shocked the World.
Sales first published the story in a 2010 Vanity Fair article titled “The Suspect Wore Louboutins.” It is now expanded in this in-depth exposé. The thieves monitored their victims’ whereabouts using social media posts and websites like TMZ. They found the celebrities’ mansions using Google maps and a website mapping locations of celebrity houses. When they went to the victims’ homes, they found that many of the houses were unlocked or that the alarm systems were disabled, making it simple for them to enter the homes and take whatever they wanted. They stole about $3 million worth of clothing, jewelry and other property over the course of a year. The list of their victims is a who’s who of young Hollywood stars, including Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge and Orlando Bloom. They reportedly broke into Paris Hilton’s house multiple times before they were apprehended.
The group’s crimes inspired the film, The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson and written and directed by Sofia Coppola, available on DVD in September.
You have your backpack, freshly sharpened pencils, shiny new crayons and all the other items on the school supply list. But are you really ready for the first day of school? That’s what Patrick is worried about in Monstergarten by Daniel J. Mahoney. A first-grader told him that he had to be scary for his first day of monstergarten. Teaming up with his friend Kevin, Patrick practices making scary faces, his fearsome roars and showing his claws. But even after all his practice, Patrick is worried that he will not be scary enough. Fortunately, his monster mommy gives him the best advice – just be yourself. Children will be able to relate to Patrick in this brightly illustrated picture book.
Sometimes it is hard to just be yourself, especially someone else is telling you what they think is best. That’s what Penelope, a hippo, faces in You’re Wearing That to School?! by Lynn Plourde. Tiny, a mouse, means well and is trying the help his eccentric best friend Penelope fit in for her first day of school. From what to wear to what to bring to show-and-tell, Tiny wants to make sure that Penelope’s first day will be a success. Will Penelope heed Tiny’s advice? Or will she stay true to herself and prove that being unique is the best way to have a successful first day of school? Parents will also enjoy sharing with their kids the “Tips for a Hippo Happy First Day of School” that can be found at the end of the book.
After years of being relegated to uses as a soup green or worse, a plate garnish, kale has made a stunning comeback in the past few years. Darling of the dietary world, it frequently ranks near or at the top of the best foods for optimal nutritional impact and is thus often referred to as a “superfood.” Two new cookbooks focus on ways to use kale to maximum effect. The more no-nonsense of the pair, Kale: The Complete Guide to the World’s Most Powerful Superfood by Stephanie Pedersen, contains over 70 recipes divided into categories such as beverages, ways to incorporate kale into breakfast, lunch, snacks and even desserts that feature this bittersweet green. A helpful introductory section covers the types of the vegetable, techniques for selecting kale and its many nutritional benefits.
A more whimsical but no less informative cookbook is Fifty Shades of Kale: 50 Fresh and Satisfying Recipes That Are Bound to Please by Drew Ramsey and Jennifer Iserloh. Beautiful photographs of the many varieties of kale and the mouthwatering recipes themselves add to the allure. Mild winks to the book series the title references are included, but do not get in the way of the text or food. Appealing ideas such as kale and kiwi gazpacho; a warm kale salad with beets and ginger; and even chocolate chip kale cookies incorporate this newly rediscovered gem into contemporary recipes. One of the resources listed at the close of the book, thekaleproject.com, contains more recipes and assorted information to satisfy your “green tooth.”
Daisy Whitney’s When You Were Here is a realistic teen novel that takes place during one particular summer of Danny’s life. All Danny’s mother wanted was to see him graduate from high school, but she succumbed to cancer two months before the momentous day. As he faces graduation, and college after, Danny is all alone in the world; the only exception is his loyal dog, Sandy Koufax. His only human comfort since his mother's passing has been his ex-girlfriend, Holland, whom he still loves. This only causes him more trouble and heartbreak. A few days after graduation, a letter from the caretaker of the family’s apartment in Japan convinces Danny that he needs to travel to Tokyo to learn more about his mother’s life and cancer treatments.
When Danny arrives in Tokyo, he meets Kana, the caretaker’s daughter, who was friends with his mother. Kana shows Danny what his mother did during her last months in Japan, taking him to his mother’s favorite places, and eventually to her doctor. Meanwhile, the two become friends, with Kana becoming someone Danny can confide in about his love for Holland and his grief from losing his beloved mother. As the story progresses, Danny learns that his mother wasn’t entirely truthful with him, and that there are secrets he needs to fully uncover.
When You Were Here is a coming-of-age novel dealing with the changes that most teenagers go through after high school. In this case there is the added drama of Danny’s loss, which adds another layer to the story. Older teens that are fans of realistic fiction will enjoy Whitney’s latest novel.
Nearly every small child has a special stuffed animal, and two recent picture books take a look at these imaginative friendships. In No Fits, Nilson!, written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, the title character is depicted as a towering blue gorilla who dwarfs his constant companion, a young girl named Amelia. With his black porkpie hat, tennis shoes and collection of six wristwatches, Nilson exudes cool, although he is prone to temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Throughout the story, Amelia must remind him to stay calm. Acrylic paintings in a muted pastel palette done on printmaking paper lend a retro quality to this gentle, sweet book that speaks to patience, sharing and working past minor setbacks.
Paul Schmid’s Oliver and His Alligator takes a look at a small boy’s apprehensions about the first day of school. Pastel pencils combine with soft digital colors to bring to life tousle-haired Oliver and his alligator, whom he brings to class “in case things got rough.” And when Oliver feels immediately shy and unsure, with a “munch, munch!” his alligator swallows a woman who greets him, and then his classmates in quick succession. Children will enjoy the humor of the situation, possibly wishing they had an alligator of their own to vanquish anxiety. But Oliver soon comes around to thinking that he may be missing out on something by sitting quietly by himself. Oliver and His Alligator makes for a welcome addition to the canon of books that address first day jitters.
As sumptuous and richly textured as the Renaissance age she resurrects, Blood and Beauty’s descriptive language beguiles the reader from the start, sweeping away the veils of a half a millennium to reveal the all too human nature of some of the papacy’s most notorious players: Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. From her first foray into the conclave of cardinals at the book’s opening, author Sarah Dunant hooks the reader, sparing none of the earthy details of Rodrigo’s physical surroundings and fostering no sense of reverence for the chasm of time separating the modern reader from historical figures. Instead, Blood and Beauty reads as though we are joining the author on the scene of a current event, as breathless with anticipation as the citizens waiting outside on that sweltering summer’s day.
Thoroughly researched, Dunant’s narration often lends the flavor of the objective journalist, parsing through the rumors and mystique of the Borgia legacy to hint at another layer of truth behind the real people and events as they bloomed to life. The scope of Durant’s task is ambitious. Contemporary and historical accounts of the Borgias suggest so intricate a web of deceit, power lust and manipulation that a sensationalist approach might all too easily have suggested itself to a writer.
Instead, Dunant refrains from judgment in her analysis, casting a more sympathetic portrayal of Lucrezia, and skillfully demonstrating the transformation of a teenage Cesare from a youth to the hardened, brutal character who would later inspire Machiavelli. The resulting multi-layered personalities prompt an altogether more subtle, nuanced interpretation of the infamous Borgia clan, rendering their story that much more compelling.
Recommended for those readers who favor a certain historicity in their narratives. Fans of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and any number of Sharon Kay Penman’s works will be drawn to Blood and Beauty.
David Oliver Relin did not live long enough to witness the publication of his new book, Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives. It is a top-notch, inspiring account of two brilliant physicians from opposite ends of the world, one a Harvard-educated adrenaline junkie from America, and the other a disciplined trader's son from a remote Nepalese village. The unlikely duo combine their generous talents for one lofty goal: to cure preventable blindness. In 1995, they founded the Himalayan Cataract Project as a way to treat thousands of impoverished Himalayans in that isolated, mountainous region.
For ophthalmologists Geoffrey Tabin and Sanduk Ruit, the means to an end seemed simple yet difficult. In developing countries, cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness among the poor, including children. In wealthy countries, it is a common and treatable ailment of the elderly. "Some conditions of existence are more painful than others," Ruit tells Relin. Ruit would know; growing up, the nearest doctor was a six-day-walk away. He watched as his siblings died of curable illnesses.
Relin transports readers to Ruit's temporary eye hospital, formerly a filthy military post in the village of Kalikasthan, where young and old shuffle in from scorching heat to have red-brown dust scrubbed from their faces. The high energy Tabin, who early on abandoned a medical career to pursue athletic passions, was inspired by Ruit. Together, their respective stories led the dynamic pair to their calling. Thousands have been cured with their simple surgery that costs a mere pittance.
Relin, who co-authored the now controversial bestseller Three Cups of Tea with Greg Mortenson, committed suicide in November 2012. In telling this compelling and hopeful story of two medical pioneers, the author was not immune to the poignancy of what he was witnessing. When an elegant 56-year-old seamstress, who was forced to sell her sewing machine, finally sees again, Relin thrust into her hands a wad of bills. "For a sewing machine," he said.