Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story by Wyclef Jean is both the biography of Jean and the life story of the Fugees, one of the most successful hip-hop & R&B bands of the 1990s. Originally from Haiti, Jean is the son of a pastor and the grandson of a Voodoo priest. In this revealing new memoir, Jean recounts his early life – from his early years in the LaSerre slum to international superstardom in the 1990s. And finally, he describes his humanitarian work in Haiti and his unsuccessful bid for Haiti’s presidency.
After his early childhood in Haiti, he joined his parents in New York, where he was raised by his no-nonsense grandmother, the family matriarch. It took quite some time to get accustomed to his new life in America. He grew up in tough neighborhoods, often ravaged by drugs and guns. He also faced anti-Haitian prejudice throughout his youth in New York. Jean grew up in a very musical (and religious) household. He refers to his family as the “Haitian-American Partridge Family.” Because his father would not allow him to play secular music, his first band was a Christian rock group. He immersed himself in classic funk and rock songs and modified the lyrics so that the resulting song was a Christian one. Once he finally embraced secular music, there was no looking back. As one of the founding members of the Fugees and successful solo artist, Jean has sold millions of records. Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is the story of the Fugees and the recording of their mega-hit, The Score.
He says The Score is essentially the soundtrack of his relationship with Lauryn Hill. Although the relationship ended badly, it became an all-consuming affair that inspired the beautiful, soulful songs on The Score. After the Fugees broke up, Jean set out on his successful solo career, almost ran for the President of Haiti and is now focused on his family and music. Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story is highly recommended to biography readers. but also anyone interested in the history of hip-hop.
When legendary restaurant critic Frank Bruni challenged his colleagues Julia Moskin and Kim Severson, both writers for the New York Times, to duke it out in the kitchen, they readily accepted. Their culinary contest is detailed in the unique new cookbook CookFight: 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes, An Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance. Moskin and Severson first faced a challenge to cook a dinner party for six guests on a budget of only $50. Bruni judged the contest for the newspaper and ruled it a tie. After that initial challenge, their friendly rivalry evolved into a yearlong series of contests that ranged from their Farmers’ Market challenge based around local, seasonal cooking to a Thanksgiving challenge in which both cooks crafted their spin on the perfect Thanksgiving feast. Each month, Moskin and Severson battled for culinary glory. Every chapter chronicles one month’s battle with the contestants’ menus, narratives explaining their different approaches to the battle, beautiful color photos of their dishes, and recipes. So who won their contest? You decide.
If CookFight whets your appetite for culinary competition, follow it up with Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. The recipes are taken from Quickfire segments of the first five seasons of Bravo’s hit television show Top Chef. This collection of 75 recipes from fans’ favorite “cheftestants” includes color photos, recipes, and behind-the-scenes information about the contestants. Intrepid fans will also learn how to hold their own Quickfire Challenges at home.
Written in short, episodic passages by a boy as a memorial to his beloved friend, Michael Gerard Bauer’s short novel Just a Dog is a contemporary elegy, ably covering a rite of passage that many children must face. Corey’s uncle is a breeder of Dalmatians. The breeder loses track of one of his females, who later has a litter of puppies that are clearly not 100% Dalmatian. Most of the pups are given away to strangers, but 3-year-old Corey chooses and names Mister Mosely. He is a gangly, mostly white puppy with enormous paws, and just a few black patches here and there, including a heart shape on his chest. Each vignette that now 11-year-old Corey writes in his journal describes his memories of incidences with the lovable Moe, the family’s nickname for the dog.
An Australian import, the novel includes some terminology that will have kids learning new Down Under vocabulary, but context clues allow for full understanding. The familiar story of the relationship between a family and a pet is deepened by the serious issues that Corey’s parents must deal with when they become financially strapped. Corey’s little sister Amelia provides comic relief. Her relationship with the enormous yet gentle Mister Mosely includes episodes of dressing him up in various outfits, and using permanent markers to create a constant surprised look on his face.
Corey and the rest of his family face true, difficult emotions at the end of Mister Mosely’s short life. It is unlikely that most readers both young and old will be able to get through the novel without shedding a tear for Mister Mosely, as Bauer concisely and accurately depicts the loyalty, love, and pure heart a beloved pet provides to humans. All told, he's much more than “just a dog”.
Children love a good story, especially when it includes things loud, obnoxious, and inappropriate. Tumford’s Rude Noises, by author/illustrator Nancy Tillman, has both to spare. Tumford Stoutt, a roly-poly black and white cat who lives with his human parents on Sweet Apple Green, is no stranger to trouble. In rhyming, playful style Tumford burps, bangs, clangs, parades, and plays with his food, annoying everyone around him. This only makes him want more attention until he lands a time out. Will Tumford finally learn his lesson? All ages can relate to this tumultuous tale enjoying both the naughty and the nice parts. Readers will be charmed by the engaging photo-collage illustrations in bright primary colors, as well as Tumford’s delightfully expressive face and gestures. As usual, Tumford pushes the limits, but in the end no matter what Tumford does, he knows his parents love him unconditionally.
In rhyme and vibrant style, picture book readers were first introduced to that white-whiskered master of misbehavior in Tumford the Terrible. Bedecked in yellow galoshes and full of mischievous appeal, Tumford tries the patience of his parents and townspeople during the village fair but learns a valuable lesson – love and good manners matter - when he finally and sincerely says, “I’m sorry”. Tillman, who may be best known for her New York Times bestseller, On The Night You Were Born, has a collection of children’s picture books notable for their message and beautiful artwork, with Tumford tops among them.
For almost as long as monarchs have held court, dwarfs have found a foothold – however humble – amongst their courtiers. More often for the amusement or the curiosity of their host royals, the role of a court dwarf was like to be as ignominious a position as it was privileged. It is into the world of this overlooked margin of court society that author Katherine Marsh first thrusts her appealing protagonist, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.
Born to a loving mother and cosseted by the tiny close-knit community of Astraveld, Jepp has enjoyed a sheltered childhood. As the son of the village’s only innkeeper, Jepp has become accustomed to meeting strangers and hearing curious tales of faraway lands. Over time too, he has become accustomed to being considered a bit of a curiosity himself, at least to the inn’s less frequent visitors. One night in his fourteenth year, Jepp’s quiet and comfortable life comes to an abrupt crossroads with the arrival of a well-dressed stranger. The courtier, known to the reader as Don, offers Jepp what appears to be the opportunity of a lifetime – a position as a court dwarf at Coudenberg Palace, the lush seat of the Spanish Infanta. Jepp’s decision to follow his stars to court will forever alter his destiny, for good and ill.
Out of the sparse strands of the historical Jepp and those like him, Marsh weaves a startlingly graceful and poignant tale. Readers will come to care for this vulnerable yet strong, sensitive yet brave boy as he leaves his sheltered childhood behind to follow and mold his destiny. At turns heart-wrenching and gentle, suspenseful and reflective, Jepp’s story is one that will resonate with teens and adults alike.
Seth Casteel, award-winning pet photographer and animal rights activist, presents amazing images of over eighty dogs in aquatic settings in Underwater Dogs. Each canine has an individual portrait which captures the unique personalities in exuberant action shots chasing a ball. From the human perspective, this game of chase seems simple – ball is thrown, dog retrieves it, and surfaces triumphantly. But beneath the water, there is a major drama playing out complete with bared teeth and arched bodies. From leaping lab to diving dachshund, each dog approaches this game a little differently. Some lounge in the water and paddle slowly, while others are aggressive and shark-like in their focus and determination. Of course, the elegant poodle still manages to maintain an air of refinement even when soaked. Casteel started this project by posting the photos on his blog, and since that time the viewership has surpassed 150 million.
Who doesn’t love puppies? Photographer J. Nichole Smith offers photographs of twenty-five different baby canines in Puppyhood: Life-size Portraits of Puppies at 6 Weeks Old. The coffee table size allows the puppies to be shown in full actual life size at six weeks. These engaging photographs show all the details that make puppies so irresistible, from their pink bellies and tiny teeth to their soft ears and oversize paws. The book features purebred and mixed breed doggies in a variety of puppy pastimes such as sleeping, staring down the photographer, and of course, playing. All of the photographs will have readers yearning for their own puppy to cuddle. And indeed that is part of Smith’s plan, as her epilogue is complete with information on adopting all of the twenty-five pictured pooches, as well as providing contact information for a number of national shelter networks and the breeders of the purebreeds featured in the book.
Sarah Jio’s new novel Blackberry Winter weaves together the past and present in a captivating tale of loss and a mother’s love. Reporter Claire Aldridge is assigned to cover a snowstorm on the anniversary of a similar surprise storm that shut down Seattle on May Day nearly 80 years before. This kind of late-season storm is called a blackberry winter. Claire’s research for a feature article on the twin snowstorms uncovers the unsolved kidnapping of a child in 1933. On that cold night, a young mother named Vera Ray was forced to leave her young son Daniel home alone while she went to work the night shift. She kissed him goodbye and went to work as a maid at the Olympic Hotel. When she returned the next morning, Vera found that 3-year-old Daniel was gone. The only trace left behind was his teddy bear Max, which Vera found outside in the snow. Police said that the boy was a runaway, but Claire doesn’t believe that’s possible of a child so young.
Vera’s tragic loss hits home for Claire, who struggling under the weight of a crumbling marriage and the loss of her own baby. She takes it upon herself to find out what really happened to Daniel. As she searches through records and learns more, she is also finally forced to face her own loss. The narrative of Blackberry Winter alternates between Claire and Vera’s perspectives to bring both of their stories to life. Jio brings readers an emotional tale with a unique conclusion to the mystery of Daniel’s disappearance.
Change can happen in an instant. This is the central message in Lee Woodruff’s debut fiction book, Those We Love Most. On the surface, this is a story of old themes. Members of an upper-middle income, multi-generational family are devastated by a tragedy, and existing small cracks and relationship fissures are suddenly split wide open. Roger and Margaret Munson are an older couple with three grown children. They have a seemingly stable marriage, yet pursue separate interests much of the time. Their eldest child, Maura, is a product of her parents. Married with three young children, she and her husband live a comfortable if staid existence until one spring day when their eldest son is struck by a car and killed. The four adults all cope with the loss differently and must face past transgressions and secrets as part of their path to healing.
Lee Woodruff writes from personal experience about unexpected tragedy. Her husband, Bob Woodruff, was an ABC News Anchor who was injured in an explosion in Iraq in 2006 and suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result. She has written two non-fiction books about her experiences, one co-authored with him. Despite the somewhat predictable plot, Woodruff creates characters with depth and believability, and this is what keeps the reader engaged in this heartbreaking yet redemptive story. Although there are no real surprises in Those We Love Most, it is a thoughtful study about how people cope with grief as individuals and as a family unit. Is there one prescribed path individuals should follow when processing loss? Are beliefs in an afterlife or higher power necessary to come to terms with the death of a child? Far from sentimental, this book raises difficult questions about death, redemption and putting lives back together in a less-than-perfect fashion.
Debut author Ayana Mathis is having the best week ever! Oprah Winfrey just announced that Mathis’s novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her next Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection. Authors and publishers know that having your book selected for Oprah’s Book Club is like winning the publishing lottery. Her stamp of approval has catapulted many authors to the bestsellers list, and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is certain to make Mathis the next. Oprah praised the book saying, “I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.”
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie follows an African American family over the course of sixty years. After her father’s death, Hattie Shepherd fled Georgia with her mother and sisters to make a new life in Philadelphia. In 1925, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s children Jubilee and Philadelphia die of pneumonia, a loss that marks Hattie for the rest of her life. She goes on to have nine more children, raising them to face the harsh realities of the world. The novel focuses on the experiences of her adult children and granddaughter. With each chapter narrated by a different family member, the novel is like a series of connected short stories tied together by the common thread of family bonds. Mathis brings the Great Migration to life in this unforgettable story of a family’s resilience in the face of adversity. Readers can join in the discussion on Goodreads or Twitter (#OprahsBookClub) and watch Oprah’s interview of Mathis, which will air on February 3 on Oprah’s cable network OWN.
Whitney Otto has created eight memorable female photographers in her new novel Eight Girls Taking Pictures. The novel is written episodically; each character appears in a separate short story, but there is a common thread running through the entire novel. The first story features photographer Cymbeline Kelley, studying photography in the early 1900s and discovering what it means to be a female artist in her time period. Cymbeline is the glue that holds the novel together. Even after her own story is completed, she is often mentioned in the stories that follow, so the reader will learn what happens to her as she ages. Many other characters are equally fascinating and the novel spans many years during the twentieth century. Charlotte Blum, a Jewish photographer in Germany during World War II, is falling in love with another woman. Miri Marx becomes a wife and mother and moves to an apartment in New York City, contenting herself by taking pictures of Central Park from her window. Each story begins with a photograph, allowing the reader to discover how this particular photo fits into the life of the photographer. Otto covers many themes in the novel, including what it means to be a women and an artist and how to balance what is expected of you with what you hope to achieve. Because the novel spans so many years, the reader can witness the changing times but still appreciate the similarities of these different women from separate eras.
Readers will remember Whitney Otto from the sensational How to Make an American Quilt. Eight Girls Taking Pictures follows that similar short story style and will satisfy fans of Otto as well as attracting new readers. The photographers she writes about are fictional but are loosely based on real women photographers, and Otto provides a bibliography in case she piques a reader’s interest to learn more. Truly a wonderful novel, Eight Girls Taking Pictures will also provide lively discussions for book groups.