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Jane Austen Does The Bachelorette?

Imperfect BlissEssence Contributing Editor Susan Fales-Hill takes on Pride and Prejudice and the result is a delightful summer read called Imperfect Bliss. The Harcourt family of Chevy Chase, Maryland is at the heart of this story. They are a respectable middle-class family featuring a social-climbing Jamaican mother named Forsythia, an inattentive English father, and their four unmarried daughters. Forsythia has big dreams for her girls and even named each after a Windsor royal family member hoping for titled sons-in-law. But love and marriage are the last things on the mind of their second eldest, Elizabeth (Bliss), who finds herself living back home with her special-needs daughter following a messy divorce.

   

When younger sister Diana is picked as the star of “The Virgin,” a reality television dating show, all the Harcourts' lives change significantly. Their home turns into a set and the crew becomes part of their family. While Bliss tries to keep her daughter and herself out of camera range, the show’s attractive host, Wyatt and handsome producer, Dario, are persistent in their pursuit of her. Meanwhile, her other sisters, Victoria and Charlotte are dealing with issues of their own and the whole family must come to grips with their own reality. The humorous hijinks of the television show and the quirky characters comprising this family combine to create an engaging comedy of manners tinged with satire. 

 

Imperfect Bliss is a wickedly funny spin on the pitfalls of modern love and courtship.  This funny romantic comedy is a perfect beach bag book with its homage to Jane Austen and soft pokes at reality television.

Maureen

 
 

The End of Days

The End of Days

posted by:
August 13, 2012 - 9:00am

12.21The Maya calendar counts down to the end of the fourth age of man. Doomsayers believe that this means the end of the world is coming in December 2012. The novel 12.21 by Dustin Thomason is a thrilling story that will have many wondering if we all aren’t just a twist of fate away from the end of life as we know it.

 

In 12.21 Dr. Gabriel Stanton is experiencing a typical day in his lab at the Center for Disease Control in Los Angeles when he receives a shocking phone call from a local hospital. A patient has presented with the symptoms of Prion disease, an extremely rare, highly contagious, and rapidly-progressing sickness.  What follows next is a tense and exciting tale as scientists race the clock to determine the origin of the contamination and how it is transmitted. The main symptom is insomnia, which after several days leads to seizures, dementia, and death. Those infected have no hope of survival, as there is no cure. Ultimately the entire city of Los Angeles is quarantined.

 

Meanwhile Chel Manu, an expert in Mayan antiquities at the Getty Museum, is made custodian of an ancient codex. The dealer who acquired this artifact also develops symptoms of the disease and Gabriel and Chel work together to determine if there could be a connection to the devastating outbreak. With so much technological advancement, could the answer to the epidemic be found in a fabled lost Mayan City?

 

This is Thomason’s second novel, having co-authored the international best-seller The Rule of Four with Ian Caldwell in 2004. Thomason has also been the executive producer for multiple television series including Lie to Me. 12.21 is a fantastic story that readers will not want to put down until the last captivating page.

 

Jeanne

 
 

Where Joy and Sorrow Meet

In the Shadow of the BanyanGrowing up in a wealthy Cambodian family, seven-year-old Raami enjoys a privileged life until a civil war rips from her the only existence she has ever known. In an elegant autobiographical literary debut, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner brings to life the 1975 Khmer Rouge capture of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and one family’s extraordinary fight to live.

 

Told through the curious, fearful eyes of a young girl, Ratner’s story is more than the atrocities of revolution. Rather, it is about not losing faith in life’s beauty and goodness. With Raami’s tender, lyrical voice, the reader is introduced to pre-revolution Cambodia, as well as the new reality of forced labor and other unspeakable horrors. It’s a confusing world where being intelligent can mean death. Silence is the key to survival, and family members become lost. Before they know it, Raami, her beautiful mother and younger sister are forced into a peasant’s life. Raami becomes "koan neak srae," a child of these paddies. Her solace is remembering stories told to her by her stoic Sisowath prince father, who once said he writes because "words give me wings."  

 

Rattner's prose is as mellifluous as the Mekong River that Raami longs to see. Rich with similes, Rattner's images are as magical and lovely as they are harsh. In their fullness, the reader sees a Cambodia that is much more than a war-torn landscape and heartbreaking characters who reflect the human tragedy. A small child when the Khmer Rouge took over her country, Ratner strives to honor the lives lost during the genocides. "Sometimes we, like little fishes, are swept up in these big and powerful currents,” Raami's father tells her. Rattner's personal story describes their journey.

 

 

Cynthia

 
 

Murders Old and New

Murders Old and New

posted by:
August 10, 2012 - 8:00am

Age of DoubtThe Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri is the latest mystery novel involving Sicilian detective Inspector Salvo Montalbano. There is a heavy rain, and the inspector is making his way to work when he comes across a young woman whose car is about to become submerged in water.  He rescues her and takes her home to dry off, and she tells him a story of a wealthy aunt, a luxury yacht and a speedboat that is docked in the port of Vigata. Soon after, the owner of the yacht calls the police as a dinghy has been discovered carrying a disfigured corpse. Montalbano heads to the scene and must discover the identity of the unknown man and if there is any connection between him and the crew of the yacht. He remembers the mysterious woman, but when he tries to locate her, he finds that she has mysteriously vanished. Told with a wry sense of humor, the reader will definitely enjoy Montalbano’s quirky style, his passion for Sicilian food and his romantic endeavors. He often uses non-traditional methods in solving the case, and there is enough action and suspense to keep the reader guessing.

 

In the novel, Camilleri also pays homage to the classic mystery writer Georges Simenon who published nearly 200 novels in his lifetime. Inspector Jules Maigret was his most famous character, and in Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard, Maigret must tackle the case of a man who was stabbed to death in an alley, but his wife insists that the shoes and tie he was wearing at the time of his death could not be his. Camilleri writes in a similar style to Simenon, the novels are light and breezy and make an interesting diversion featuring an exotic locale.

 

If you are in the mood for something new or wish to return to a classic tale, these mysteries would be perfect for the dog days of summer.

 

Doug

 
 

Supercharged Sci-Fi

Supercharged Sci-Fi

posted by:
August 7, 2012 - 9:00am

AmpedWhat if you could instantly make yourself smarter, faster, and stronger? In the near-future world of Amped by Daniel H. Wilson, people can do just that. Scientists have created a brain implant called the Neural Autofocus, a tiny computer chip that upgrades normal human abilities. This “amp” is a miracle cure for people with learning disabilities, vision impairments, and certain disorders, but the rest of society is worried that this technology blurs the line between human and superhuman. The nation becomes divided and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court decides that amped individuals are not protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, thus stripping them of their civil rights. 

 

On the day of this landmark ruling, we meet twenty-nine-year-old teacher Owen Gray. Owen has had an amp in his brain since childhood to control his seizures, but he soon discovers that the technology inside his head holds a dangerous military secret. Now Owen is on the run and takes refuge in rural Oklahoma, where he finds a trailer park haven for fellow “amps” and meets an ex-soldier named Lyle Crosby. Lyle was part of an experimental military group of superhuman amps, and he wants Owen to join their ranks to fight back against a fear-mongering senator and his anti-amp organization called the Pure Human Citizen’s Council. Owen wants to help, but first he has to unlock his hidden talents that make him question what it means to be human.

 

As with last year’s hit Robopocalypse (soon to be a Steven Spielberg film), Amped explores current issues like bigotry and the slippery slope of digital technology. Wilson holds advanced degrees in robotics and artificial intelligence, so he is definitely in his element with this startling and action-packed technothriller. If you enjoy fast-paced science fiction, Amped promises to be one of the most exciting books you’ll read this summer!

 

Alex

 
 

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

posted by:
August 6, 2012 - 8:30am

Just Say YesWallflower in BloomLove and reality television collide in two new breezy summer offerings from proven favorites in the world of chick lit. Be sure to pack these fun novels with the sunscreen and hat when heading to the beach or poolside!

 

Phillipa Ashley introduces us to Lucy Gibson in Just Say Yes. Lucy’s dates with Nick Laurentis have been mostly limited to the bedroom because the majority of his free time is spent as a competitor on a British reality television show. After his victory on the show, he proposes to Lucy in front of the 10 million people watching the drama unfold. Lucy is overwhelmed and rejects the proposal.  Instantly, she is public enemy number one and paparazzi prey. Lucy heads to the seaside and a friend’s cabin in an effort to escape the media firestorm. Here she meets handsome Josh, owner of nearby cabins. Josh is unaware of Lucy’s true identify and the two are instantly attracted to each other. But what about Josh’s girlfriend? And what will Josh do when he finds out who she really is?  

 

Claire Cook’s heroine Deirdre Griffin also travels to the world of reality television in Wallflower in Bloom. Deirdre has always been the unnoticed member of her family and until now she has settled for that role.  But when her brother/boss demands more of her time, she finally quits as his personal assistant.  Unfortunately, Deirdre also finds out that her boyfriend has a pregnant girlfriend on the side, and he plans to put a ring on that woman’s finger instead of Deirdre’s. What’s a wallflower to do?  Why compete on Dancing with the Stars of course!  Following Deirdre’s days in the spotlight and her humorous journey toward self-discovery is a perfect way to spend a summer day.

 

 

Maureen

 
 

A Modern Catch-22

A Modern Catch-22

posted by:
August 3, 2012 - 9:00am

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBen Fountain’s new book, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a deeply personal novel about one young man’s experience as a soldier in Iraq and his subsequent visit home in which he tries to make sense of his own life and country. The novel features Billy Lynn and his accompanying Bravo Squad soldiers as they attend a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys game. The book covers this single day, with occasional flashbacks to Billy’s home life and his military life as a soldier in Iraq. Members of the Bravo Squad are being hailed as heroes after a harrowing firefight with Iraqi insurgents. They’ve been invited to the game, with a special halftime show in their honor, complete with a performance from Beyoncé. The entire story is told from inside Billy Lynn’s head. It is a deeply personal account that exposes the incredible disconnect between a soldier’s life in the Iraq war and life in the country he returns to. Fountain brilliantly captures elements of American culture that take on an absurd, grotesque quality when seen through this uniquely cross-cultural lens.

 

Fountain has written a book that is as much about family, grief, media, consumerism, sex and politics as it is about war. It has been hailed as “one of the most important books of the decade….as close to the Great American Novel as anyone is likely to come these days.” Just published in May of this year, it is quickly being considered one of the best novels written about the Iraq War. Billy Lynn is often compared to another classic war novel, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Both books depict the effect war has on individual soldiers and both are darkly humorous takes on modern American culture and military life.

 

Fountain successfully takes on huge targets: the Bush years, the NFL, the Iraq war and American consumerism. In lesser hands, a book of this nature would feel heavy-handed and one-sided. Luckily for us, Ben Fountain writes like a dream. He is one of those rare writers who can write with both immediate urgency and nuance. Like the best satirists, he is able to inspire dark humor, sympathy, heartbreak and anger, all in equal measure. In the end, Fountain’s real strength is Billy. Readers will cheer, laugh and weep for Billy Lynn, a nineteen-year-old soldier who has seen and done more than most of us could ever fathom.

 

 

Zeke

categories:

 
 

Regency Fun with Two Nerdy History Girls

Scandal Wears SatinWhen You Wish Upon a DukeRomance writing legend Loretta Chase brings readers Scandal Wears Satin, the second novel in her Dressmakers series. Sophy Noirot’s family’s dressmaking business is suffering. Her sister recently caused a scandal by marrying a duke, and the mother of his former flame has decided to take her revenge by having the elite of society boycott Maison Noirot. Sophy, the family’s born salesperson/shark, must find a way to use the scandal to her advantage and bring the business back from the brink of disaster. Always resourceful, Sophy devises a plan that hinges on Lady Clara, her best customer, marrying well. When Clara runs away, Sophy steps in to help the girl’s brother the Earl of Longmore, a rake who Sophy has always considered dimwitted, find her. Sophy and Longmore fight their attraction while trying to rescue Clara. Chase has a legion of fans for a reason. Her steamy romance and excellent storytelling make her a must-read for historical romance fans.

 

Isabella Bradford, a pseudonym of historical fiction author Susan Holloway Scott, has created a new series follows the three unruly Wylder sisters who were raised in the country but are now joining London society. The series begins with When You Wish upon a Duke. Lady Charlotte Wylder is betrothed to the Duke of Marchbourne. When they finally meet, there is an instant attraction between them. Charlotte is not what March expected, and the two of them struggle as they fall in love and find their places in their marriage. When You Wish upon a Duke will leave readers anxiously awaiting the rest of the series!

 

When they are not writing fiction, both of these authors share their love of history on Two Nerdy History Girls, a blog that features all things Regency. Readers who want to know more about the historical details of the places, clothing, and society of Regency England will be delighted by their well-researched posts.

 

 

Beth

categories:

 
 

Maeve Binchy, 1940-2012

Maeve Binchy, 1940-2012

posted by:
July 31, 2012 - 9:44am

Light a Penny CandleTara RoadThe world lost a special storyteller yesterday when bestselling Irish author Maeve Binchy died at age 72. Binchy’s literary successes spanned the globe, as more than 40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Condolences poured in from readers, including Ireland’s Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, who commented, “We have lost a national treasure.”

 

Binchy wrote sixteen novels beginning with Light a Penny Candle in 1982, which was rejected 5 times before publication. Her most recent novel, Minding Frankie, told the story of a close-knit Dublin community helping raise a motherless baby. Several of her novels, including Circle of Friends were adapted for the big screen. Her work was frequently on the New York Times’ bestseller list and Tara Road was a selection for Oprah’s Book Club.

  

Binchy’s stories transported readers to Irish villages and cities, and introduced memorable characters who dealt with issues of family, friendship, faith, and love. Humor and warmth permeated her writing and brought her readers to a cozy place filled with joy.   

Maureen

 
 

Nancy’s Worlds

Nancy’s Worlds

posted by:
July 31, 2012 - 8:30am

Fountain of Age:StoriesIn her latest collection of short stories, Fountain of Age: Stories, author Nancy Kress offers her readers nine glimpses into futures fantastic, paired with human impulses as old as time.

 

In "End Game" an extraordinarily gifted seventh-grade boy named Allen is carried screaming from math class. He has come to a revelation that will alter the focus of his world and the world of those around him, half a lifetime in the future. In "Images of Anna" photographer Ben is increasingly flummoxed when the glamor portrait shots he takes of his latest client turn out to be anything (and anyone) other than he’d expected. In "Laws of Survival" Jill, a shattered survivor of The War, finds the most unlikely means of healing while trapped aboard an extraterrestrial outpost with 19 dogs. In "By Fools Like Me" Hope’s grandmother grapples with the morality of relinquishing a cache of sinful Pre-Crash artifacts to her society, which is hobbled as much by its ignorance of history as by its fear of repeating it.

 

Kress works in the media of human emotions upon the surfaces of extraordinary situations with the subtlety and skill that Andrew Wyeth once applied egg tempera to panel. The stories contained with Fountain of Age are provocative, mildly disturbing, and at times oddly wistful. They represent a curious blend of styles, at one turn reminiscent of O. Henry, at another, Shirley Jackson, yet in every respect distinctly Kress’ own.

 

Kress is recommended for readers who are short on time but crave well-crafted situational tales capable of fully absorbing the imagination. Those who have already read and enjoyed Fountain of Age may also enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Shadow Puppets.

 

 

Meghan