As a child, author Kimberly Rae Miller would pray that her home would catch on fire. Her prayer was answered but, to her horror, it came with some unforeseen consequences. In her memoir, Coming Clean, Miller writes about her experiences growing up as the only child of parents who were hoarders.
Miller makes it clear that hoarding isn’t just a messy home with too much clutter. Hoarding à la the Miller parents means never throwing anything away. It means online shopping so obsessively that delivered but unopened packages are stacked to the ceiling. It means sleeping on the edge of a mattress otherwise piled with junk, never opening the refrigerator since it contains moldy sludge and showering at the gym since to call in a plumber to repair leaking pipes would mean being reported to social services. Yes, it means moving to a new home to escape the detritus in the old house.
It would be easy to dismiss this book as piggybacking on the odd appeal of the popular reality TV show Hoarders. The descriptions of the Miller family’s living conditions are shocking and sad. Miller also relates the shame she felt as a child, colluding with her parents to present a picture of normalcy, and the guilt, too, after the wished-for house fire resulted in the deaths of her beloved pets. Yet, this story is multi-layered, and Miller is clear that she was raised by loving and intelligent parents who encouraged and supported her in academic and social pursuits. Coming Clean reminds us that imperfect people and good parenting are not mutually exclusive, and our circumstances do not define who we are. Visit Miller at her blog, TheKimChallenge, where she writes about food, fitness, perspective and love.
In school, we all learned about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but there was another book published around the same time that had an important impact on the discussion of slavery in America. That book was Solomon Northup’s memoir 12 Years a Slave. Northup was born a free man and lived most of his life in New York. In 1841, he was lured to Washington, D.C. where he was beaten, drugged and sold into slavery. For the next 12 years, he was a slave on a series of plantations in Louisiana until his family was able to find him and bring him home to New York in 1853. 12 Years a Slave is his unflinching firsthand account of what he experienced and witnessed during that time.
When it was published in 1853, Northup’s memoir became a bestseller, selling over 30,000 copies. After the Civil War, the book was out-of-print for many years. It was rediscovered by two scholars in the 1960s and reprinted in 1968. Now, it has been adapted into a film that brings the horrors of Northup’s experience to the big screen. Like many of us, the film’s director, Steve McQueen, was surprised when his partner brought the book to his attention. He writes, “The book blew both our minds: the epic range, the details, the adventure, the horror and the humanity. The book read like a film script, ready to be shot. I could not believe that I had never heard of this book.”
The movie, which the New York Post calls “brutally powerful and emotionally devastating,” is already generating Oscar buzz. The film’s A-list cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Alfre Woodard. The trailer is available here.
In a world where nothing is what it seems and no one is safe to speak out against a tyrannical government for fear of disappearing forever, Kyla must be careful of the questions she asks and of every move she makes. In Fractured, book two of Teri Terry’s Slated trilogy, teenage Kyla has recovered some of the memories of who she was before she became a “Slated” and had her memory wiped clean of her past. Kyla is desperately looking for clues as to what happened to her friend Ben who disappeared after attempting to remove his “Levo,” a GPS and monitoring device fitted onto the wrists of all “Slateds” to keep tabs on them. Kyla fears that Ben is dead, along with so many others discarded by the “Lorders," those in charge of enforcing the laws of society.
When Kyla reconnects with Nico, a face from her past, she begins to “remember” things. But are they really her memories or imposters? Each step Kyla takes only leads to more questions, more danger and still people are missing. Kyla can’t even be certain if finding out who she was before she was slated will solve her problems or make them worse, but she knows one thing — she at least has to try.
Terry’s second installment to her trilogy is a fast paced read, aimed toward readers who enjoyed dystopian series such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It.
“The paranoia was fulfilled” – that’s how Joan Didion described the murders carried out in 1969 by Charles Manson and his band of devoted followers known as “The Family.” Translation? The late sixties were already a time of intense political change and civil unrest. Throw in sensationalized murders and an equally dramatic trial, and this period was officially the craziest and most unsettling in American history, no matter one’s political or ideological leanings. In Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn traces the hardscrabble origins of the boy who grew up to become the infamous cult leader and murderer. Although Manson did have a somewhat unstable home life, he exaggerated or fabricated childhood tales of woe to win sympathy and devotion from his followers. In the true fashion of an “opportunistic sociopath,” as Guinn describes him, Manson used skills obtained in prison, like Dale Carnegie’s popular How to Win Friends and Influence People program, to manipulate followers and bring them under his control. His teachings that “Helter Skelter”, the end of an orderly American society, was close at hand led to the “Tate murders,” where pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others were brutally killed. Additionally, his followers murdered several other people before and after this most infamous crime.
Guinn does an excellent job alternating national and world history with Manson’s development, meticulously chronicling his childhood and adolescence in and out of reform schools, his young adulthood as a petty repeat criminal, and his time in Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood that was the epicenter for the darker side of the hippie movement where Manson did much of his initial recruiting. Those who enjoyed Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders will appreciate this in-depth account of these suspenseful and chilling crimes. As James Lee Burke writes in his cover review: “Hang on, reader. This is a rip-roaring ride you won’t forget.”
Amanda Knox is back in the news again with her retrial underway, and Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois couldn’t have come at a better time. duBois maintains that her book isn’t an actual account of Knox’s experience, but the story was inspired by the case.
Much like Knox, Lily studies abroad for a semester, though her experience is in Argentina and not Italy. Lily and another student, Katy, live with a host family. Initially, Lily is enthralled with her new surroundings in Buenos Aires as she goes to class and people-watches at cafés, but eventually she becomes bored and takes on a job at a local bar. After Katy is found stabbed to death, Lily, a coworker and her boyfriend are all implicated in the murder, and Lily is taken to jail.
The story is told from the perspectives of several key characters. The reader first sees Lily’s point of view as she arrives in Buenos Aires and starts to explore her new surroundings. The perspective then changes to her parents, the prosecuting attorney and Lily’s boyfriend, Sebastian.
Readers will feel like jurors at Lily’s trial. The conclusion to this story is more resolute than Knox’s, but the reader is still left to make up his or her own mind, and no two readers will have the same experience. Interested in a reading about the real Amanda Knox? Checkout her new memoir titled Waiting to be Heard.
For three years, 10 months and 12 days, Regina LeClaire was held captive, the sex slave of a sadistic madman. It was only a bizarre twist of fate that led to her liberation and return to her family. Now, almost seven years later, she continues to see her therapist weekly to help cope with the post-traumatic stress and daily fears that keep her imprisoned in a self-imposed isolation. Everything changes, though, when 12-year-old Tilly Cavanaugh is rescued after being trapped for 13 months in a similar type of hell. Tilly’s parents ask Reeve, as she is now known, to help their daughter readjust to life outside of captivity. There is a significant difference between these two situations, however. Unbeknownst to anyone, Tilly had more than one abuser. The man she dubbed “Mister Monster” is still out there and she knows he is watching.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton is a gritty, suspenseful story that is as unsettling as it is spellbinding. The reader is, at turns, in awe of Reeve’s courage as she relives her past to help Tilly, and frightened as the villain continues his surveillance of his recently freed prize. Notable author Chevy Stevens summed it up best when she stated, “The Edge of Normal is a heart-pounding thrill ride that had me holding my breath to the very end. With a compelling, tough-as-nails heroine and a truly terrifying villain, this is a book you won’t soon forget.”
This is Norton’s debut fiction novel, and it has already garnered the Royal Palm Literary Award. Norton has previously had success as a true crime writer with The New York Times bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box which was co-written with Christine McGuire. This horrific account of a woman kept in a box under her captor’s bed except when brought out to be tortured has become required reading for the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit and obviously inspired some aspects of The Edge of Normal. Though not a novel for the faint of heart, this is an excellently written story that has all the markings of another bestseller for Ms. Norton.
Before The Beginning of Everything starts, Ezra Faulkner leads a pretty happy life. He’s the popular star of the tennis team with a beautiful girlfriend. That all changes the day he catches his girlfriend cheating on him at a party. After storming out of the party, he is hit by a car. In an instant, his tennis career ends and he goes from the most popular student at Eastwood High to the most pitied. Robyn Schneider’s new teen novel The Beginning of Everything picks up just after what Ezra calls his “personal tragedy,” as he gives up his tennis racket and joins the debate team, makes new friends, reconnects with old ones and falls in love again.
As Ezra settles in with his new less popular group of friends, he meets Cassidy Thorpe, a former debate champion who dropped out of her old private school, deserting her debate team and leaving a trail of secrets in her wake. Cassidy and Ezra are paired up as debate partners and eventually become friends as they prepare for debate tournaments and participate in flash mobs. It doesn’t take long for Ezra to fall for the mysterious Cassidy, despite his friend Toby’s warnings. Ezra tries to get to know Cassidy despite her reluctance to open up.
Schneider’s story is a funny, realistic teen novel that deals with Ezra’s ability to overcome his “personal tragedy,” and deal with life’s many issues that come after. The Beginning of Everything is perfect for fans of John Green’s novels who are looking for a new book that’s funny, while at times heartbreaking.
Two very different cats play lead roles in new largely wordless books for young readers. International feline superstar Hello Kitty makes her graphic novel debut in Hello Kitty: Here We Go! by Jacob Chabot. After a quick introduction to her friends and family, HK’s global adventures begin. Making her way through locations real and imaginary, the jet-setting cat finds new friends, exciting places to explore and strange new creatures to assist her along her path. Each short vignette features Hello Kitty charming her way to adventure, fun and happiness.
Multiple Caldecott-winning author/illustrator David Wiesner’s new picture book centers on a tuxedo cat with the completely opposite mood from Hello Kitty. The amusingly misnamed black-and-white feline Mr. Wuffles! is a curmudgeonly creature with no interest in the toys that his owner brings him. Until suddenly, a new toy appears in Mr. Wuffles’ world – that of a small spaceship commanded by a group of tiny green aliens. Wiesner’s ability to realistically illustrate the movements of a lazy cat who suddenly becomes interested in the visitors is remarkable. The aliens’ ship is in need of repair after being batted around and chomped by Mr. Wuffles. They receive aid from an unexpected group of under-the-radiator insects who have also been terrified by the cat. Ant, ladybug and alien “speak” to each other through art to assist each in mystifying their feline tormentor and concocting an escape for the otherworldly creatures. In this short video, David Wiesner introduces Mr. Wuffles! and his artistic process.
Lovable each in their own way, these two furry, whiskered cats bring their adventures in paneled, graphic novel format, introducing young readers to visual literacy and expanding their imaginations.
Journalist Allen Salkin tells the story of one of the most amazing success stories in television history in From Scratch: Inside the Food Network. Today, the Food Network is a major entity that generates over $1 billion in revenue annually and reaches over 100 million homes. The network is known for making its stars household names, and both the network and its stars have tie-in cookbooks as well as their own lines of cookware, utensils and small appliances. The network even has its own magazine that features articles about food trends, lifestyle tips and, of course, recipes from its stable of chefs. In October 1993, when what was then called the Television Food Network came on the air, this success was beyond even their wildest imaginations. At that time, there were only a few celebrity chefs and even fewer television chefs. Stars like Julia Child, Martin Yan and Jeff Smith all appeared on PBS or the occasional cooking segment on a show like Good Morning America. No one could have imagined how the network would evolve or its meteoric rise to success.
Now, in time for the Food Network’s 20th anniversary, Salkin brings readers behind-the-scenes stories from the beginning to its current mind-boggling level of success. With this many big personalities, you know that it’s hot in this kitchen. Readers won’t believe the reactions of a couple of stars when their shows came to an end. They may be even more surprised by how much some stars struggled to become comfortable cooking on camera. When Alton Brown came up with his idea for Good Eats, he originally wrote down the three things he wanted to combine to create it. “Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, Monty Python.” During her first meeting with network executives, Rachael Ray announced, “I clearly don’t belong here, I’m not a chef. You’ve been duped.”
Salkin was given inside access to the network and its employees, including executives and stars, so he can bring readers the astonishing — and sometimes legendary — stories of what actually took place behind the scenes. He doesn’t hold back. From Scratch includes quotes, documents and scandalous stories that will surprise even longtime fans.
Yesterday, New Zealander Eleanor Catton was announced as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Britain’s highest literary accolade, for her second novel, The Luminaries. At 28, Catton is the youngest author to be honored with this award, and her book, at 832 pages, is the wordiest winner.
The Luminaries is the story of interwoven lives set during the New Zealand gold rush of 1866. Prostitute Anna is arrested the day that three men with connections to her disappear from the same coastal New Zealand town. Catton’s remarkable web of unsolved crimes and mysteries creates an intricate plot with memorable characters. The Luminaries is rich in historical and geographical detail yet delivers this haunting story within a story in a contemporary tone.
Other titles on the shortlist this year include A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Harvest by Jim Crace, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.
Earlier this year the Man Booker Prize Foundation stirred up controversy when it announced that the field of eligible candidates will be broadened going forward. The prize will now be eligible to writers from any country, including the United States, as long as the book is published in English and in the United Kingdom.