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National Book Award Winners Announced

National Book Award LogoWinners of the 64th annual National Book Awards were announced last night at a black-tie dinner held at Cipriani Wall Street. This morning, the literary world is abuzz about James McBride’s win in the Fiction category for his novel The Good Lord Bird. With a strong list of finalists, many considered McBride’s novel to be an underdog. McBride seemed shocked by the win. He shared that writing the novel became an escape for him during a difficult season of his life. McBride also expressed his pleasure about the win, remarking, “Had Rachel Kushner or Jhumpa Lahiri or Thomas Pynchon or George Saunders won tonight, I wouldn’t have felt bad because they are fine writers, but it sure is nice to get it.”

 

Mary Szybist was presented with the Poetry Award for Incarnadine: Poems, her second collection of poetry. The award for Young People’s Literature was given to Cynthia Kadohata for her novel The Thing About Luck. George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America won the award for Nonfiction.

 

Congratulations to all the winners!

Beth

 
 

Fresh from the Oven

Fresh from the Oven

posted by:
November 18, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Bake It, Don't Fake ItCover art for The Holiday Kosher BakerCover art for Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a DayWith a chill in the air and the holidays right around the corner, now is the perfect time to experiment with recipes from these new cookbooks. Heather Bertinetti’s Bake It, Don't Fake It!: A Pastry Chef Shares Her Secrets for Impressive (and Easy) From-Scratch Desserts is the go-to guide for those of us who want to impress family and friends with tasty desserts made from scratch. With recipes like Raspberry Almond Tart with Chantilly Cream, Dulce de Leche Cheesecake, Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, Bourbon-Chocolate Pecan Pie and Red Velvet Macarons, Bertinetti’s desserts will dazzle your family and friends, but her foolproof tips and techniques make them accessible for even less-experienced bakers. This book is filled with mouthwatering recipes and plenty of color photos to make it easy for you to create these tempting treats. It includes a foreword by TV personality and Food Network star Rachael Ray, and it is part of Ray’s new line of cookbooks published by Atria Books.

 

Paula Shoyer brings together a year of holiday baking in The Holiday Kosher Baker: Traditional & Contemporary Holiday Desserts. Arranged into sections for each holiday, the recipes vary from easy to challenging. Shoyer presents a mix of traditional and modern recipes that exhibit her unique flair. You’ll be tempted to serve her elegant Raspberry and Rose Macaron Cake, stunning Ombre Layer Cake or whimsical Tie-dyed Mini Black and White Cookies at your own family gatherings. Shoyer has appeared on the Food Network’s Sweet Genius and is a frequent magazine contributor. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

 

Who doesn’t love the smell of bread baking on a chilly day? The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois is a revised and updated version of their runaway bestseller. Their secret is that the dough is made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Hertzberg and Francois prove that even inexperienced bakers can make bread at home without kneading or special equipment. This new edition includes step-by-step photos, 30 more recipes and a chapter of gluten-free breads.
 

Beth

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Girls of Atomic City

Girls of Atomic City

posted by:
November 13, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for The Girls of Atomic CityBy 1942, the United States government had fully committed to the idea of building an atomic bomb. The scope of that project would dwarf any other single undertaking in human history in cost and material. The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan details the experiences of 16 women who find themselves wrapped up in the secrecy and inadvertent social engineering of the Manhattan Project.

 

Oak Ridge, Tennessee was the first of the three biggest Manhattan project facilities and did not exist until the Department of Defense built it. For years, it didn’t even appear on any maps. The town started small, but as the project ramped up there was an increased need for housing, stores, sundries and recreational outlets. By the end of World War II, 75,000 lived in and around Oak Ridge. With so many able-bodied men in the military, women formed a vital backbone to the efforts at Oak Ridge. Some were transported in from the coasts without knowledge of their final destination. Others were from the surrounding area, lured in by the promise of well-paying, if secretive, government work. There were also the women scientists involved in the research, although they were often deprived of the accolades. Many of these women had never been away from home; many had never earned their own salary before. They found themselves someplace where the security and secrecy was oppressive. Some were even recruited to spy on their fellow workers.  

 

Kiernan lets the women tell their own stories, and if many of them are similar, the cross-section is still broad. Especially interesting is the vast difference in experiences based on race, the United States still viciously segregated at the time. It’s also interesting to see how this group of clever young people made a dry county one of the best areas for the production and smuggling of moonshine in the U.S. Many of the women Kiernan interviewed were shocked at the war’s end to realize what exactly they had been working on. Most of them, though, remained in Oak Ridge - at least the town if not the facility.

Brian

 
 

Must Love Dogs (and Cats!)

Must Love Dogs (and Cats!)

posted by:
November 12, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for ShakeCover art for Beautiful Old DogsCover art for KittenhoodAmericans adore our pets, and these eye-catching new photography books will bring smiles to the faces of animal lovers. When Carli Davidson bought a camera with a high-speed shutter, she began taking photos of animals and posting some online. Those photographs went viral. Her new book Shake features photographs of over 60 dogs along with Davidson’s answers to questions about her photography style. These pictures of exuberant dogs caught mid-shake are both comical and endearing. The New York Times aptly calls Davidson’s work a "hilarious portrayal of flying fur, flopping jowls and bulging eyes." Shake is a lively and vibrant companion to Seth Casteel’s Underwater Dogs books.

 

David Tabatsky brings us another look at man’s best friend with Beautiful Old Dogs: A Loving Tribute to Our Senior Best Friends. The book combines stunning photographs by the late Garry Gross and essays from Anna Quindlen, Victoria Stilwell, Doris Day, Dean Koontz, Marlo Thomas and many others. Gross, who was a noted fashion photographer for many years, was passionate about caring for senior dogs, and that is reflected in his photographs. Beautiful Old Dogs is an emotional and loving tribute that will touch dog lovers. As Gross said, they are “[d]ogs with soul in their eyes.”

 

If you’re more of a cat person, Sarah Beth Ernhart’s Kittenhood: Life-size Portraits of Kittens in Their First 12 Weeks may be more your speed. This oversized book features life-size photographs of kittens during the first weeks of their lives. These irresistible and adorable kittens will charm cat lovers. Ernhart captures the infectious playfulness and cuddliness of kittens in this collection of stunning photographs.
 

Beth

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A True Champ

Cover art for Strength of a ChampionO.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.
 

Maureen

 
 

For All the Saints

Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the CatacombsArt historian Paul Koudounaris has developed a grotesque but incredibly interesting research niche as he uncovers Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. In this, the follow-up to his 2011 Coup de Coeur award-winning Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, Koudounaris continues to delve deep into the centuries-old mystery of the veneration and bejeweling of full skeletons and individual bones of Christian “saints” in Europe. In the past, the relics have made their appearances only once a year at festivals, but the author was granted unprecedented access to examine and photograph these unique marvels.  

 

Beginning in the early middle ages, the remains of various Christian martyrs were buried in the Roman catacombs. Long forgotten, the skeletons filled the underground passages until the era of the Protestant Reformation. In the late 1500s through the following century, many Catholic churches were looking for relics that would help to invigorate their parishioners to remain devoted. These churches, mostly in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, were sent authenticated bones from The Vatican with official documentation identifying them as having belonged to early Christian martyrs. In the intervening years, many of these unofficial saints have been “decanonized” by Roman Catholic officials.

 

Individual examples and stories of the relics and the stunning manner that they are displayed make up the bulk of this fascinating look at the crossroads of religion, art and history. Sumptuous photographs of the artifacts in all their dazzling glory, including a breathtaking double-page spread of the “Chapel of Bones” at the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, complete this unique volume.

Todd

 
 

To Turn a Blind Eye

To Turn a Blind Eye

posted by:
November 4, 2013 - 7:00am

Witnesses. Accomplices. Killers. One thing is clear from Wendy Lower’s chilling new book Hitler’Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fieldss Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. Regardless of the prism through which German women viewed the Third Reich’s maddening quest for racial purity few escape Lower’s dogged search for the answer to “why?”  Why did this “darkest side of female activism” rear its head and consume a generation of women that found themselves thrust into a war they did not want but nonetheless embraced for their own selfishness and ambition.

 

For the thousands of women coming of age in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the dividing line between home front and battlefront was practically nonexistent.  While most women found ways to distance themselves from the violence of the war, a third of the female population was actively engaged in a Nazi Party organization. Many volunteered to be sent to the Eastern Front where some of the worst atrocities against Jews were documented. Clerical, teaching and nursing jobs became the sinister underpinnings of the Nazi machine, where new career tracks beckoned young women seeking a steady paycheck. How these women, some barely out of their teens, others young mothers, evolved into indifferent bystanders or cold-blooded killers, is the thrust of Lower's dramatic account.

 

Lower sorts her 13 "main characters" into three categories: witnesses, accomplices and killers. It is the latter perpetrators of genocide that evoke the most study. Women like Johanna Altvater, a secretary  who lures Jewish children with candy only to shoot them, or Liesel Willhaus, wife of an SS commander who shoots Jewish slave workers from her balcony with her child in tow, are impossible to fathom. Lower, who is a Holocaust historian, explores shocking behaviors like these in this 68-year-old story of one of the most disturbing puzzles of women's behavior. Hitler's Furies has recently been named a finalist for the National Book Award.

Cynthia

 
 

More Than a Smile and a Wagging Tail

Devouted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty and Life with DogsDogs have become ubiquitous in American society. Their physical abilities and emotional connections with humans have been studied and marveled about for generations, no moreso than today. Rebecca Ascher-Walsh has now compiled a collection of short vignettes celebrating the human-canine connection in Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty and Life with Dogs. Handsomely illustrated with candid photographs of the dogs and the humans with whom they share their lives, this is a perfect book to dip in and out of as time permits.

 

While some of the two- to four-page stories are, perhaps, more “extraordinary” than others, it is likely that readers will find themselves smiling, tearing up or both as the connection between dog and man is recounted. Some of the amazing stories include dogs that have bravely served the military both in the theatre of war and with veterans back on the home front. Other pieces involve therapy dogs, including those that serve as lifesaving alarms for people who suffer from blood sugar fluctuations and those dogs who provide comfort to humans dealing with mental or emotional trauma. Still more feature canines that have come to the rescue in crisis situations, sometimes almost unbelievably, saving their human companions through intelligence and will.

 

Short blurbs about the breed of dog showcased and other information related to the story round out each article. A list of resources to learn more about organizations that support these incredible feats and encourage better dog welfare is also included. Its handy, easy-to-hold trim size and heartwarming accounts will make Devoted a sure favorite with animal lovers young and old.

Todd

 
 

Women and the Civil War

Women and the Civil War

posted by:
October 30, 2013 - 7:00am

Maryland Women in the Cival War:Union, Rebels, Slaves and SpiesWith the ongoing 150th anniversary of the Civil War, quite a few books have been published recently dealing with many of the famous figures and battles of that era. However, one area that has not been explored very deeply is the role women played in shaping this period of history. In her book Maryland Women in the Civil War: Unionists, Rebels, Slaves and Spies, author and former Stevenson University History Professor Claudia Floyd examines some of the ways that women were able to make a difference behind the scenes whether they were for the Union or Confederacy.

 

Well-researched with an extensive bibliography and endnotes, Floyd sheds light on some remarkable Maryland women who often risked their reputations, freedom and lives to assist with issues about which they were quite passionate. During the Civil War, Marylanders fought for both the North and South, although the state technically remained part of the Union. Floyd introduces the reader to some remarkably courageous women who took up both sides of the cause. Some are familiar (Harriet Tubman) and some obscure (Anna Ella Carroll) but they all helped in ways that included assisting slaves to freedom, nursing wounded soldiers, spying (for both North and South) and holding together their families torn apart by the loss of the security provided them by their absent male relatives.

Regina

 
 

Canine Poetics

Canine Poetics

posted by:
October 30, 2013 - 7:00am

Dog SongsAcclaimed poet Mary Oliver, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, celebrates the dogs she has loved with words of tender care on each page of Dog Songs. Pet owners and animal lovers alike will find a kindred spirit in the voice of Oliver, who has immortalized her wooly confidantes with compassion and humor in a tone reminiscent of the veterinarian memoirist, James Herriot.

 

Oliver is known for her elegant treatment of the natural world but Dog Songs reveals a rare and intimately domestic side to the poet’s heart. She invites us into her home and introduces us to the cherished pets of her past and present like the unforgettable souls of Bear, Luke, Benjamin and Percy. Whether on a long walk, down at the surf or curled on a couch, each dog’s personality radiates with bliss and, at times, secretive wisdom.

 

However, we are not spared the pain that unavoidably comes with loving a life outside your own. While grieving in the poem “Her Grave,” Oliver addresses her lost friend by asking “How strong was her dark body!/ How apt is her grave place./ How beautiful is her unshakeable sleep./ Finally,/ the slick mountains of love break/ over us.” Too often the death of a pet is portrayed as an unimaginable horror but Oliver offers a holistic alternative where heartbreak and light might linger. Although devastated, she holds onto the love she has shared with her fallen friend and stands in awe of the animal who has brought her such joy, warmth and spiritual fullness.

 

Lifelong fans of Oliver, acclaimed for Why I Wake Early, Red Bird and Thirst, will find this both a gratifying and surprising addition to her life’s work. The narrative tone of these portraits, accompanied with gentle line drawings, make this collection appealing to non-poetry readers as well.

Sarah Jane