Fifty years ago the country was rocked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His life and tragic death remain a cultural touchstone, and today's anniversary has resulted in a proliferation of published titles on the subject. Three of these new entries shed light on the man, the assassination and his enduring legacy.
Award-winning author James Swanson thoroughly documents the day Kennedy was killed in End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. From the Kennedys’ Texas train trip, to the shooting in Dealey Plaza, to the aftermath awash with confusion, Swanson does not miss a detail. The narrative unfolds hour-by-hour, and the reader is immediately caught up in this riveting account which defines all of the major players, from Jack and Jackie to Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. The research is remarkable, and the accompanying photographs add heft to this absorbing and important account.
Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis offers a different take on the assassination by focusing on the city which will become inextricably linked with President Kennedy. In a fascinating study, they describe the sociological and political forces which collided to create a tinderbox of activism, along with the colorful characters who stirred the political pot. Included are profiles of oil baron H. L. Hunt, Dallas Morning News publisher Ted Dealey and provocative congressman Bruce Alger.
Parkland by Vincent Bugliosi is a companion to the film of the same name produced by Tom Hanks, released earlier this fall and now available on DVD. Parkland focuses on the aftermath of the assassination by following key players in the hours and days following the shooting. The group of individuals includes the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital, the chief of the Dallas Secret Service and Abraham Zapruder, the cameraman who captured perhaps the most examined footage in history. Bugliosi, also the author of Helter Skelter, successfully delivers a richly detailed narrative of this circle of men and women involved in the historic tragedy of November 22, 1963.
National Book Award winner and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Alice McDermott’s first novel in seven years was definitely worth the wait. Someone is a thoughtful and heartbreaking look at one extraordinarily ordinary woman. Marie is first introduced to readers as a child of the 1930s, living amongst the Irish-American population of Brooklyn, awaiting the return of her beloved father from work. In this simple sketch, McDermott is able to immediately detail Marie’s community and family. In a non-linear framework, the stories which make Marie’s life are slowly pieced together much like mosaics in a stained glass window.
Marie lives with her brother Gabe and their parents in a Brooklyn brownstone. Gabe is destined for the seminary and Marie is hoping for a life as a wife and mother. Her only worry is that she will end up alone because of her plainness and quiet nature. Marie’s keen observations and vulnerability reveal the internal life of a fascinating woman. From her brother’s eventual loss of faith to her first heartbreak, from her parents’ deaths to the changing nature of her neighborhood, the reader is invited to experience with Marie the impact everyday events have on a life.
Someone was one of 10 titles selected by five judges for this year’s National Book Award long list. This marks another major achievement for one of this country’s finest writers. In McDermott’s hands, this seemingly innocuous and unimportant woman’s life is drawn as a powerful portrait highlighting the fact that each of us has a story to share. This remarkable book is a beautifully written celebration of family, community and history. Readers will long remember and cherish this heartfelt tale which quietly encourages self-reflection, understanding and empathy.
O.J. Brigance knows what it’s like to be a winner on and off the field. He had a remarkable career as an NFL linebacker, including as a member of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl winning team. Following that victory, Brigance joined the front office to help create more championship teams for the purple and black. But in 2007, he was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his life was forever altered. Peter Schrager, FoxSports.com senior writer, and Brigance share his inspirational story of perseverance and hope in Strength of a Champion: Finding Faith and Fortitude Through Adversity.
Upon diagnosis, doctors told Brigance he would have three to five years to live, years which would be marked by the loss of speech and mobility. But Brigance, familiar with hits on the field, refused to give up. Rather than follow a path of self-pity, Brigance viewed his diagnosis as an opportunity. With faith, determination and the love of his wife Chanda, O.J. fought back and raised awareness for this debilitating disease. No longer able to walk or speak, Brigance remained a vibrant presence in Baltimore’s front office and touched everyone in the organization as the team claimed another Super Bowl victory in 2013.
Brigance received motivation and energy from the team as well, and shared special bonds with players and coaches. Upon hearing of Ray Lewis’ retirement, Brigance told him to go out a champion. And when illness threatened his appearance at the Super Bowl, he recovered and delivered a moving pre-game message to the team. At the conclusion of Brigance’s powerful speech, Coach John Harbaugh had no doubt that the Super Bowl would be Baltimore’s. Brigance shares wonderful behind-the-scenes stories and humorous anecdotes which will appeal to ardent football fans, but this story of one courageous man living a life of inspiration and faith transcends the football field. Learn more about The Brigance Brigade, O.J.’s foundation dedicated to equipping, encouraging, and empowering people living with ALS.
Roald Dahl is arguably the most popular children’s author of all time and with good reason. His books stand the test of time and continue to delight children around the globe. The multitude of adaptations in a wide variety of arenas is a testament to the enduring appeal of the magic of Dahl. Two of his most popular works are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year.
One of Dahl’s darker titles, The Witches, was first published 30 years ago and is the story of a young boy, his Norwegian grandmother and a whole lot of witches bent on eliminating the children of the world. This story won Dahl the prestigious Whitbread Award (now the Costa Book of the Year) for “Best Children’s Literature.” In 1990, the year of Dahl’s death, the book was adapted into a film starring Anjelica Huston and Rowan Atkinson. More recently, the book was transformed into an opera. Actress Miranda Richardson spectacularly narrates a recent audio version of this remarkable story that makes a great family listen.
Matilda, the story of Matilda Wormwood, a genius with awful parents, marks its 25th anniversary of publication. With illustrations by Dahl’s friend, Quentin Blake, this story captures the imagination of readers who can empathize with the main character and the nasty adults wreaking havoc in her world. The novel was adapted as a film in 1996 and a London musical in 2011. The musical premiered in the U.S. earlier this year and has set box office records. A recently released audio version narrated by Kate Winslet, capturing the essence of this tale, is garnering rave reviews. For a taste of the fabulous Ms. Winslet’s splendiferous performance, listen here.
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.
Montana Moore is a flight attendant with the dream of finding and marrying her perfect man in David Talbert’s Baggage Claim. After witnessing her mother’s fourth marriage and her younger sister’s surprise engagement, Montana seems destined to always be the bridesmaid.
While weighed down with baggage from past relationships, Montana remains an incurable romantic with her head in the frothy clouds of the friendly skies. She is determined not to show up to her sister’s engagement party dateless and deal with the pity and scorn of her family. Her resolution leads her to concoct a crazy husband-finding plan over the course of 30 days and 30,000 miles. Potential suitors include a young music producer, a respected pastor and a city councilman with sights on higher political office. This romantic quest is filled with laughs, life lessons and Montana’s ultimate realization that love may have been close to home the whole time.
David Talbert is a Morgan State University graduate and a highly respected playwright. He has written and directed 14 nationally acclaimed touring productions that have earned him 24 NAACP nominations and wins for Best Playwright of the Year and the prestigious Trailblazer Award. Talbert also received the New York Literary Award for Best Playwright of the Year. With the film adaptation of Baggage Claim, Talbert is the first African American filmmaker to adapt and direct his own novel. The film boasts an all-star cast that includes Taye Diggs, Paula Patton and Djimon Honsou, and is in theaters now. Check out the trailer for a sneak peek at this entertaining ensemble.
Thrills abound in three new titles featuring strong men solving crimes, catching bad guys and even saving the world. Catherine Coulter, best-selling author of the FBI Thriller series, teams up with crime writer J.T. Ellison for a new series featuring Chief Inspector Nicholas Drummond of Scotland Yard. Readers meet the dark and dangerous Drummond in the first entry, The Final Cut. American-born, but raised in the UK, he is called to New York to investigate the murder of a colleague and the theft of an exhibit of Crown Jewels. Drummond partners with FBI Agent Michaela “Mike” Caine and the two travel the globe in search of answers. This page turner has plenty of action and a hint of romance down the road.
Is there a more debonair spy than Bond, James Bond? Fans will be thrilled at his return in William Boyd’s Solo. Boyd is the third author commissioned by the estate of Ian Fleming to write an official Bond novel, and he returns Bond to the 1960s where 007’s assignment takes him to an African country ravaged by civil war. As Bond attempts to determine the forces fueling this brutal campaign, he uncovers a conspiracy which takes him from Africa to London to Washington. This gripping thriller captures the essence of Bond and is complete with all the cool gadgets, liaisons with beautiful women and narrow escapes expected of the super-spy.
NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat and journalist Jameson Rook partner in the fifth entry in the bestselling series written by Richard Castle, hero of the popular ABC show Castle. In Deadly Heat, Castle’s creations continue their quest to locate the former CIA agent who ordered the execution of Heat’s mother. As they dig deeper, they unearth the motive behind that murder and uncover an alarming and active terror plot. Further complicating their search for justice and attempt to stop the terrorists is a serial killer who is threatening to make Heat his next victim. The action, romantic tension and dynamic characters are guaranteed to keep readers riveted.
Colors arouse emotions, but the feelings evoked are as unique as each person. Jessica Young tackles this concept in My Blue Is Happy. Readers follow one girl as she explores with family and friends and shares her original ideas about colors. Her best friend likes pink because it’s pretty, but our protagonist finds it annoying, like a piece of gum stuck to your shoe or a bug bite. Chocolate is ordinary says her dad, but this little girl thinks it’s special like chocolate syrup. The girl travels through her world in nine colors, concisely expressing her ideas about each. Illustrator Catia Chen’s vibrant acrylic illustrations capture all the personalities of the colors. Sure gray can be cold like a rainstorm, but if you’re cuddling with grandma on a cozy chair it’s warm and fuzzy. Young deftly explores the idea of contrasts and encourages readers to carefully consider the different feelings colors suggest.
In Henri’s Scissors, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, color is the star, helping an aging artist reinvent his creative self. Winter covers Mattise’s early years and journey toward becoming an artist, but her focus here is on the last years of his life, following an illness that left him unable to paint. When faced without a creative outlet, Matisse was overjoyed when he picked up a pair of scissors and started cutting colored paper. He transformed his sick room into a secret fantasy garden filled with vibrant flowers and showy birds. The illustrations, acrylic and cut-paper, are simple, yet perfectly depict the joy Matisse felt while amidst some of his finest works. This is a tender homage to a man whose legacy is such everlasting beauty.
Diplomas – check. Now what? The familiar dilemmas facing recent college graduates are played out in Gemma Burgess’ fresh new series, Brooklyn Girls, also the title of the first book. While the focus is on Pia, Burgess carefully introduces readers to her roommates Angie, Julia, Coco and Madeleine, who all share a brownstone in Brooklyn.
Pia is stylish and fun, but likes to party and is unsure of her future. When she finds herself unemployed following a night of heavy drinking and an ill-advised Facebook photo, Pia is at a crossroads. Her parents cut off her allowance and insist that she return home. But after years of boarding school and college, Brooklyn finally feels like home. If she wants to stay, she needs a job fast. Waitressing is an epic failure, and her art history degree is useless. She jumps at the chance to purchase a food truck knowing there is a market for cheap and healthy breakfast and lunch alternatives. Thus, Skinny Wheels is born. The business booms and Pia also finds love, or at least like. She has always avoided relationships following a bad break-up, but when Aidan enters her life she is instantly smitten. Her life is full of ups and downs, and Pia is soon faced with roommate issues and the nice man who loaned her start-up money. Turns out he is a not-so-nice loan shark complete with menacing thugs.
Gemma Burgess has successfully recreated the emotional roller coaster that is the hallmark of post-college life with humor and honesty. Burgess wrote this series to capture the bonds of friendship during the tumultuous 20s, when you’re broke but having too much fun to care. Viewers who enjoy Lena Dunham’s HBO series, Girls, should appreciate this less gritty, but still realistic look at five young women getting ready to start real life. Look for the next installment featuring Angie in the spring.