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Life of a Nebbish

Life of a Nebbish

posted by:
February 18, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover art for Little FailureBestselling novelist Gary Shteyngart is a really funny guy. He is a master of social satire and self-deprecating humor, reminiscent of Woody Allen or Phillip Roth. In Little Failure: A Memoir, Shteyngart turns to his own life and skewers himself, his family and two countries with a razor sharp wit.
 

Shteyngart (What kind of name is that? Keep reading, he’ll tell you, and good luck not laughing out loud when he does.) was born in the former Soviet Union. The only child of Jewish parents who affectionately called their asthmatic son Soplyak, meaning “snotty,” or Failurchka, which needs no translation, the family immigrated to the United States when Shteyngart was 6. Life for poor Russian Jews was not easy under the Communists, but America is fraught with opportunities for humiliation too.
 

Reading Little Failure is, at times, like listening to a clever borscht belt comedian: badda bing, badda boom, with a zinger in every paragraph. Whether comparing his after-school time at Grandma Polya’s house in America to “being fed like some pre-foie-gras goose,” describing Black Sea vacations Soviet-style or recounting his time as an Oberlin College student, Shteyngart has an eye for the absurd. With his deft blend of humor and pathos, he can relate family history under Stalin and the complex relationship with his father or his family’s glee upon receiving a pseudo-check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse with equal panache. On the The New York Times best sellers list, Little Failure will appeal to readers with an intelligent funny bone.

Lori

 
 

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None

posted by:
February 14, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover art for A Feathered River Across the SkyHow did it happen? How did humans, in about 30 years, entirely kill off a bird species that once numbered in the millions, if not billions? In A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction, researcher Joel Greenberg covers the incredibly fast decline and disappearance of this iconic bird. One of the best-known examples of the end of a species, Greenberg delves deep into the various theories and causes of its extinction.

 

The mass slaughter of these birds in the years 1850-1880 has been well-documented, and Greenberg describes in great detail the methods (nets, guns, traps, etc.) that were used to capture or kill them. Due to the pigeons’ tendency to flock in the thousands or more, they made for easy targets no matter what method used. While the pigeons were initially found in large numbers from the Eastern seaboard west to the Rockies, their last huge flocks were found mostly in the area of the Great Lakes. Greenberg posits that the pigeons could live only as members of these large flocks; without the protection and community that this provided the birds, they were unable to survive.

 

After the decades of the late 1800s, only a few were found here and there over their once large range. Finally, in 1914, the last of the Passenger Pigeons, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Greenberg’s book is an elegy marking the centennial of her death and that of her entire species. The national conservation movement, spearheaded by Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and others, came too late to save the Passenger Pigeon, but changed the mentality of the limits of human encroachment on nature. Though even with the scholarship and understanding that Greenberg and others have provided, we are left asking ourselves: how did it happen?

Todd

 
 

Villainous Valentine’s Day

Cover art for Killing CupidFrom sitcom writer to author of cozy mysteries, Laura Levine has had an eclectic writing career. Her newest novel, Killing Cupid, is a light mystery about a murder in a matchmaking company on Valentine’s Day.

 

When Jaine gets a call and is asked to write advertising copy for a Beverly Hills matchmaker, all she has to do is consider her meager bank account before quickly accepting the job. Upon starting at Dates of Joy, Jaine quickly discovers that Joyce is as much of con artist as matchmaker. Instead of marketing, Jaine is writing phony bios to go with the head shots of fake clients who happen to be models.
 

Joyce appears to be a charming woman to anyone seeking love in her matchmaking business, but after she cashes their check, they’re likely to never hear from her again. She cuts corners to save a penny and she isn’t above blackmail, so it’s no surprise that Jaine isn’t the only person who can’t stand her tyrant of a boss.  When Joyce turns up murdered by a poison chocolate, the list of suspects is long. Jaine finds herself among them and must discover who the real murderer is to clear her own name.  
 

Whether you're trying to get in the mood for this holiday or find a good distraction from the day, this cozy mystery can help. With Jaine’s quirkiness and the effortless storyline, this book could be a beach read, if only it were a little warmer.

Randalee

 
 

Darcy Double Shot

Darcy Double Shot

posted by:
February 13, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover art for Unleashing Mr. DarcyCover art for Undressing Mr. DarcyJane Austen fans look to Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy as the model of gentlemanly behavior.  And when Austen’s words were brought to life with Colin Firth’s portrayal in the classic BBC production the archetype was perfected. Two new contemporary romances tweak enduring P&P themes, introduce modern Mr. Darcys and deliver delightfully entertaining tales of love.

 

True, Manhattanite Elizabeth Scott is nearing her 30th birthday in the debut Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson. But unlike so many women her age, she has no interest in walking down the aisle. Rather, she wants to find success walking the ring as she reinvents herself as a top dog handler. In so doing, she hopes to put the scandal that cost her teaching job and her reputation solidly in the rear view mirror. Elizabeth attends her first dog show and is immediately distracted by the divine Donovan Darcy, who turns out to be the judge. Initially, the two are at odds, but gradually their mutual attraction grows. While meddling sisters and social prejudice interfere with this couple’s path to happily ever after, Austen devotees and dog lovers will relish their journey to ardent admiration and love.

 

Thirty-five-year-old American social-media master Vanessa Roberts is a thoroughly modern girl who enjoys all of her gadgets in Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doorenbos. She has her own PR firm, good friends (including Chase) and her beloved Aunt Ella. Her life is hectic, but she is happy. But when Ella, asks her to work her public relations magic on Julian Chancellor, Vanessa’s high-speed life slows down. Chancellor, a reserved Englishman, chronicled his year spent living as a Regency gentleman in My Year as Mr. Darcy and now needs help with the book’s U.S. marketing. Vanessa reluctantly agrees to help, but soon sheds that reluctance upon spying Julian shedding his breeches. Could this old-fashioned chap really be The One? Or, did Vanessa’s fast-paced life lead her to overlook true love?  Austen lovers – prepare to be excessively diverted!

Maureen

 
 

Chilled to the Bone

Chilled to the Bone

posted by:
February 13, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover art for SnowblindWeather forecasters predict snow. A storm is coming and it's going to be fierce. Residents in the town of Coventry, Massachusetts are accustomed to tough winters and make plans to stay indoors, watching movies and playing games, drinking hot chocolate and making cookies. However, this storm promises to bring more than snow and ice and, once it passes, life will never again be the same in Coventry. Christopher Golden’s novel Snowblind will have readers terrified of what could be lurking outside their windows on a blustery, snowy night.
 

An elderly lady answers the doorbell never to be seen again alive, a woman follows her yapping dog outside only to freeze to death steps from her door and a father in search of his son disappears into the swirling snow. In total, 18 people are dead following the blizzard and, as the town mourns, no one listens to the young boy who insists there were ice monsters on the prowl that night. His description of blue-white creatures with long, sharp icicle fingers, hollow eyes and mouths filled with razor-sharp pointed teeth fall on deaf ears.
 

Now, 12 years later, another storm is predicted with features that strongly mirror “The Big One.” Not only are residents on edge, some have started seeing the ghosts of victims from the previous killer storm. The author paints a scenario that is easily relatable and then slams the reader with a horror story so frightening it will leave you chilled to the bone. Golden can easily take a seat beside Stephen King and Dean Koontz when it comes to keeping the suspense and terror building to the story’s astounding conclusion. This is horror at its best, and I have never enjoyed being scared so much.

Jeanne

categories:

 
 

Romance Writers Recommend Great Romantic Reads

Cover art for The Rosie ProjectCover art for The Countess ConspiracyCover art for Wait for YouWho better to recommend a great love story than a romance writer? We asked several popular romance authors to tell us about the best romantic stories they have recently read. They responded, and we compiled their recommendations to help you find your next great read.

 

Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project is the big winner here! Both Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Robyn Carr enthusiastically recommend this quirky love story about a geneticist who seeks his perfect mate using a scientific survey, but ends up falling in love with a barmaid who wouldn’t pass even the first question. Phillips says that she adores this “funny and touching” novel, and Carr calls it a “brilliant love story, just brilliant.” That’s high praise from two bestselling authors who know a thing or two about writing a captivating love story.

 

Tessa Dare recommends Courtney Milan’s The Countess Conspiracy. Dare writes, “In Victorian England, Violet, Countess of Cambury, is one of the world's leading experts on the study of inherited traits (genetics).  However, since female scientists weren't accepted or taken seriously in that era, Violet's best friend, Sebastian Malheur, has been presenting her theories as his own for years.  That is, until the day he refuses to continue the charade and confesses his deeper feelings for Violet, threatening both their friendship and their secret collaboration. Sebastian, the hero, is charming, patient, intelligent and handsome — in short, just about perfect.  But it's Violet who truly shines in this book. Romantic love is part of her happy ending, but her triumphs also include career fulfillment and a true sense of her own worth.  It's a book that made me laugh, cry and cheer.”

 

Laura Kaye suggests J. Lynn’s popular new adult novel Wait for You. Avery Morgansten is a college student running from her past when she meets boy-next-door Cameron Hamilton. They are instantly attracted to each other, but both Avery and Cam have secrets that they must face before their romance can blossom. Kaye says that it’s “fun and romantic and full of sexual chemistry. Totally to-die-for hero!” As a bonus, Kaye also highly recommends Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. She praises the series, saying it has “a smart heroine and the most likable hero ever!” The first book in Gabaldon’s epic genre-bending series, Outlander it is sure to gain even more fans when the Starz television series premieres this summer.

Beth

categories:

 
 

Houston, We Have a Problem…

Cover art for The MartianIn The Martian by Andy Weir, the action is cranked all the way up to 11, which is an impressive feat for a story that unfolds over the course of a year and a half. Set in the not-too-distant future, this is the story of NASA’s third mission to Mars. A type of routine has set in with these missions to the Red Planet until a freak sandstorm causes NASA to abort the mission and evacuate the planet. As the astronauts prepare to leave the surface, one is struck and thought to be dead, so he is left behind by his crewmates. Knocked unconscious, Mark Watley awakes to find himself in a damaged spacesuit, alone, with no communications and no way to get off the planet. Smart, sarcastic, hard-working, imaginative and more than a little nerdy, Watley is the perfect hero. Left alone with limited supplies, Watley has to find a way to survive and meet his basic needs. Just as he starts to accomplish this, NASA realizes their mistake. As the world turns its attention to the drama unfolding across a sea of stars, Watley is forced to parry every challenge thrown at him by a harsh, unforgiving environment.

 

The Martian, with its roots in current space history, it is more a work of science “fact-ion” than science fiction. This debut novel by a promising new voice is a celebration of the esprit de corps and professionalism of NASA, as well as a celebration of the human spirit. Weir speaks to the basic human need to risk any danger, no matter the cost, to save another human in distress. The Martian will leave you breathless on its way to a fist-pumping-in-the-air conclusion, perfect for anyone who loved Apollo 13 or Gravity as well as readers of Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars.

Brian

 
 

One Person's Junk, Another's Treasure

Cover art for Junkyard PlanetEver wonder what happens to your old cell phone when you e-cycle it? What about the everyday recycling that is put out on the curbs? Oddly enough, these items will likely make their way to China or other developing countries, where there are growing manufacturing bases and therefore large demands for recycled materials. In his first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, journalist Adam Minter expounds on the convoluted routes of recycling, with particular focus on the history of the American scrap metal trade. Although these topics may not seem palatable for reading material, Minter creates a fascinating and readable narrative about individuals who have made it their business to see worth in what others discard, and the processes which have been created to recycle materials.  

 

Statistics in Junkyard Planet are mind-boggling. Companies in one town in China, for example, recycle approximately 20 million pounds of American Christmas tree lights annually. In 2007 alone, U.S.-based Huron Valley Steel recycled over one billion pounds of shredded car parts, material that 50 or 60 years ago would have ended up in a landfill. Further, Minter goes behind the scenes and introduces us to many individuals, here and overseas, who have made a living in the recycling and scrap trades. It’s a profession with job security and very little worker turnover, where those who have dedicated their lives to the business take great pride in the work they do.

 

For those truly concerned about the health of the planet, however, Minter encourages people to reduce the amount of products they buy. As he puts it: “Recycling isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for consumption,” as the business of recycling is profit-driven, not motivated by environmental concern. Minter has personal knowledge of this topic as he grew up in a family of multi-generational scrap dealers. Anyone interested in environmentalism or economics will find Junkyard Planet an intriguing read. The photographs alone are worth a look!  
 

Melanie

 
 

Golden Anniversary of the British Invasion

Cover art for The Beatles are Here!Cover art for Beatles vs. StonesOn February 9, 1964, the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and more than 70 million television viewers tuned in. This landmark appearance transcended television and these photos offer a glimpse at history in the making. On February 9, CBS will air The Night that Changed America featuring performances from a wide range of musicians in a spectacular salute. Over the last 50 years, the Beatles have been the subject of much study, but two new titles offer fresh perspectives on the phenomenon, the era and the men behind the Fab Four.

 

 
The Beatles are Here! by Penelope Rowlands features essays and interviews with other musicians, fans and writers. Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel, Fran Lebowitz and Joe Queenan are among those who share their personal recollections. Rowlands does an excellent job of not only depicting the hysteria but also recognizing the cultural and economic impact the Lads from Liverpool had on individuals and the American music industry. Rowlands herself was an ardent Beatlemaniac and this collection arose from her own experiences. She is one of five screaming girls captured in an iconic photograph that has been published around the world and serves as the book’s cover.

 

Historian John McMillian explores the Beatles in light of their relationship with that other band from Britain in Beatles vs. Stones. In the 1960s the two biggest bands in the world were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The two were often depicted as rivals, but this was more media myth than actuality. In an effort to increase profit, managers fueled the flames of this fake feud through clever marketing. Thus, the Beatles were cute and likeable, despite their hardscrabble Liverpool backgrounds, while the Stones, mostly from the London suburbs, were cast as the edgy bad boys. McMillan’s primary source research adds to the engaging narrative, which transports readers across continents as he explores these two legendary groups, their relationships and their enduring impact.

Maureen

 
 

Sugar Coated Deception

Sugar Coated Deception

posted by:
February 6, 2014 - 7:55am

Cover art for Once Upon a LieFans of mystery writer Maggie Barbieri and her Murder 101 series, rejoice! Her newest mystery, Once Upon a Lie, introduces us to her new series featuring protagonist and baker extraordinaire, Maeve Conlon. Readers will empathize with the family challenges that comprise her waking hours. She has two teenage daughters, one completely wild and the other fixated on achieving in school as her ticket out of their small town, an ex-husband who left her for one of her close “friends” and a cancer surviving best friend/employee with love-life issues. Add to this her dear father, a retired cop with Alzheimer’s who resides locally in a nursing home – except for when he manages to escape confinement to take walks along the river. She finds solace in the Comfort Zone, the bakery she owns and loves but which barely provides enough income to pay the bills. Maeve is a kind and compassionate person who tries her best to care for her family but constantly fears that she isn’t doing enough.

 

The story begins with the murder of Maeve’s cousin Sean, who is found in his car with his pants unzipped and a bullet in his head. Despite being raised in a close-knit Irish family where everyone lives within a block from each other, she feels very little sorrow at his death. She remembers him as a bully who tormented her as a child and only attends his funeral services out of family duty. She doesn’t give his death a second thought until investigating officers start to focus on her father as their main suspect. Unable to understand how the police could seriously believe an old man with dementia could be responsible she is determined to help prove his innocence. Unfortunately, circumstances are such that he could have had the opportunity, and Maeve begins to wonder if her father could be exaggerating the degree of his confusion.

 

The mystery of the killer’s identity will have readers guessing until the very last page. This novel explores family dynamics and how far a person would go to protect the people they care about. Maeve is a complex character that readers will find captivating, and will make them wish they could stop by her shop for a cup of coffee and a pastry.

Jeanne