Halloween is long past, but readers can recreate the ambiance with Chris Bohjalian’s (Midwives, The Double Bind) new book The Night Strangers. Set in a small town in upstate New Hampshire, a community’s sinister secrets are gradually unearthed, creating a satisfyingly creepy tale.
The setting says it all. An isolated town with spotty cell phone reception. A spooky Victorian house with a mysterious door in the basement. Disturbing rumors about the former owners. Enter Chip, who moves his family to this house after a passenger plane he was piloting crashes and kills almost everyone on board. As they settle in, the family discovers unnerving elements about their new home, including hidden weapons and a heavily bolted door in the basement. They also meet some unsettling townspeople, the “herbalists”, who have taken a special interest in the twin daughters. As the story further unfolds, the reader follows Chip in his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and his slow descent into a world of ghosts and voices from the beyond.
This is a refreshing read because it is, simply, a ghost story with plenty of psychological terror (think Stephen King’s earlier books like The Shining) and a subtly frightening cast of side characters. And like any good horror story, the family doesn’t see the danger until it’s too late. All the signs are there, questions are raised, but (sigh) the family stays. Although this book is a departure from Bohjalian’s usual style and lacks any real shocking twists or mind-bending ending, it is still a mature tale with a conclusion that leaves much room for discussion. Interestingly, the author himself lives in an old home with a strange door in the basement…
Since the disappearance of her sixteen year-old daughter four years ago, Lauren Lawton has had to cope with the suicide of her husband and the silent struggles of her younger daughter who self mutilates because of her unhappiness. Lauren’s pain is exacerbated by the fact that she believes she knows who abducted her child. She is outraged that the police have been unable arrest the suspect. So begins the newest novel by Tami Hoag, Down the Darkest Road.
In an attempt to rebuild their lives, Lauren and her daughter Leah relocate to the quiet and beautiful town of Oak Knoll. The peace that they are seeking is not meant to be as it quickly becomes apparent that the alleged kidnapper has also moved to the community. Are they being stalked? Is her youngest daughter the man’s next target? Will the police just stand by and do nothing, again? Lauren has developed an acute mistrust of the police; however she hasn’t dealt with the members of the Oak Knoll Sheriff’s Department before. This community has been the setting for Hoag’s two previous spine-chilling books Deeper than the Dead and Secrets to the Grave.
The series is set in the 1980’s and is filled with humorous references of that era. The interesting twist to these thrillers is reading about the forensic technology and police practices of that time. There is no DNA database and ViCAP is just wishful thinking. We follow the dedicated law enforcement personnel as they attempt to solve crimes with limited tools by today’s standards. Any of these novels can be read as a standalone, but if you enjoy this novel you will definitely want to check out the others!
Behind the Beautiful Forevers has everything a reader could ask for – drama, fast-paced narrative, compelling characters, and a fascinating setting. Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo has written an incredibly engaging, deeply human story. Her powerful new book takes an unflinching, intimate look at poverty in one of the world's most interesting, dynamic, and economically uneven cities: Mumbai.
Journalist Boo tells the stories of the residents of Annawadi, a slum set in the shadow of Mumbai's gleamingly modern International Airport, and just steps away from luxury hotels. Sitting atop tons of garbage and next to lakes of sewage, Annawadi is home to nearly three thousand squatters. They are making a living off of the refuse of their wealthy neighbors while trying to improve their lot in life. For more than three years, Boo lived among the families and recorded their stories. While she was initially treated with suspicion, over time the residents of community began to trust her and share their stories, sorrows, and hopes for the future.
Boo primarily focuses on human drama that plays out in the lives of one family and a few of their neighbors during her time there. Readers meet Abdul, a teen who sorts garbage each day, providing his family's only source of income; Zehrunisa, a formidable matriarch and Abdul's mother; Asha, Annawadi's powerful political negotiator; and Asha's bright daughter, Manju (the slum’s "most everything girl") who hopes that education will be her ticket to a better life. Boo tells their stories with clear, understated prose that remains fiercely riveting from beginning to end.
Readers of The Washington Post and The New Yorker will be familiar with Boo's relentless journalism and crystal-clear writing style. Throughout much of her career as a journalist, she has focused on telling the stories of society's poor and neglected citizens. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is set to be the most critically acclaimed title of the year. It has been praised in nearly every major media outlet for the author's fearless reporting, unblinking honesty, and understated prose. Boo’s ability to tell an incredible story makes Behind the Beautiful Forevers a book not to be missed.
Comedian Chris Hardwick, former host of MTV’s Singled Out and recent contributor to Attack of the Show, Chelsea Lately, and Web Soup, has a message for all geeks, gamers, dorks, and dweebs. You can actually use your nerdy traits to improve your life and find personal fulfillment!
Nerdists (a clever pairing of the words “nerd” and “artist”) skillfully combine creativity, focus, and a sense of fun in order to achieve his or her full potential. In this self-help/humor/philosophy title, Hardwick recommends treating your life like a role-playing game (RPG). This means using personal data to quantify, measure, and graph your success as you reach your goals. Gain experience points (XP) by completing tasks like working out three times a week, paying your bills on time, and meeting deadlines. Watch your character and yourself quickly get to the next level.
With chapters on anxiety, time management, fitness, and maintaining your finances, this book is perfect for the self-improving nerd. Hardwick gives plenty of helpful tips, such as ignoring your brain (don’t believe everything you think) and becoming a “Charlie Rose of your own mind” (ask yourself a lot of questions). He recommends taking hints from evil geniuses: have a goal, stay focused, and never back down.
Filled with strikingly honest personal examples, hilarious anecdotes, and genuinely positive affirmations, The Nerdist Way is recommended for anyone who has ever let their overly stimulated brain get in the way of living the life they want.
More and more home cooks are getting their due, thanks in part to blogging. Writer and mom Jennifer Reese, known for the popular, humor-laced site The Tipsy Baker (tipsybaker.com) shares insights from her kitchen as she works her way through recipes in her vast cookbook collection. The blog led her to pen her own tome, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch --Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods, a guide for those tempted by the cook-it-yourself trends. Published in October, Reese’s book was named a notable cookbook of 2011 by the The New York Times, and with good reason.
Those of us who enjoy reading cookbooks can attest not only to the accessible, practical nature of the recipes, but to the page-turning quality of the prose. Reese’s personality shines through as she recounts her honest, insightful attempts at making such family kitchen staples as peanut butter and vanilla extract. Like a best girlfriend, she tells it like it is, advising whether it’s worth your time and energy to make homemade marshmallows (it is!) or if you should spend hours crafting hotdogs (don’t even think about it). Recipes for those items Reese deems worth making are clear, simple and easy to execute.
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is the quintessential how-to, why-to, when-to manual for home cooks looking to save money, improve flavor, and avoid artificial ingredients.
The sun eventually did set on the British empire. The process of its descent makes for some interesting reading in both novels and non-fiction books as authors explore the impact of the withdrawal of British rule on non-native families living abroad.
Author Alexandra Fuller’s latest book Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an account of her parents’ migration from the British Isles to east Africa and is the story of immigrants adapting to and adopting a new country and adjusting once again as British colonialism yields to self-rule. Fuller’s mother, especially, has a voice in this book as the family moves throughout east Africa’s farming communities.
The same themes of family history intertwined with recent African history are carried out in When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin. Godwin, a journalist now living in the United States, was raised in Rhodesia; he and his sister left the country but his parents remained even as Robert Mugabe rose to power and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. Godwin’s description of his aged parents’ life under Mugabe’s rule is harrowing but he, as does Fuller, conveys the attachment of his parents to a country which has become inhospitable and often dangerously hostile to them.
Monique Roffey’s novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle examines the marriage of a white couple, George and Sabine Harwood, living in Trinidad. The newlywed Harwoods arrive on the island in 1956 as George has been offered a three year employment contract. Sabine, wilting under the heat and culture shock, can’t wait to return to England but George thrives as an Englishman living in a British colony and refuses to leave. Broken promises figure in both the Harwood marriage and Trinidad’s move to independence and this Orange prize short-lister blend of fiction and fact is an interesting window into a lesser-known former British colony.
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's most successful blockbusters are adaptations of popular books. The recent Academy Award nominees refect this, especially when it comes to family films. Here are some of the children's titles that brought magic to the movies this year:
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick became the visually stunning film Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese. This tale of an orphaned boy living in a Paris train station was the surprise winner of the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book in 2008. Selznick’s creative style mixes pages of text with wordless pages that opens the reader’s imagination and invites them to create parts of the story for themselves. Selznick’s newest title Wonderstruck is similarly illustrated.
The Adventures of Tintin is adapted from the classic graphic novel series of the same name written by Belgian writer/artist Herge. Tintin is a young reporter who gets caught up in dangerous adventures as he completes his story assignments. Modeled after the boy scout values, Tintin always knows what is right and acts in the most upstanding manner. He is a role model for children (and perhaps adults everywhere.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II marks the end of the film journey into J.K. Rowling’s magical world. The books are now over 14 years old and a whole new generation of readers are jumping on the Hogwarts express and following Harry as he learns to be a wizard and discovers both good and evil along the way. The Harry Potter books have spawned movies, video games, board games, toys, websites, and even a theme park. The audiobooks are magnificently narrated by the Grammy award-winning Jim Dale. A fun fact—Jim Dale holds the Guinness World Record for creating 146 different character voices for the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!