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Some Sweet Day

Some Sweet Day

posted by:
October 24, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art ofr The Book of SomedayDianne Dixon’s second novel, The Book of Someday, links three seemingly unrelated characters in an intriguing story of betrayal, love, loss and maternal protection. Livvi is a successful author with an abusive past. She has recurring nightmares about a woman in a silver dress, but has no idea why or what the dreams mean. Recently, she has fallen in love for the first time but is confused by her boyfriend’s evasiveness and family secrets.

 

Micah is a talented photographer who has recently found out she has breast cancer. As a result, she is on a cross-country journey to try to make amends for past wrongs.

 

AnnaLee is a housewife with a young daughter. Her husband loves her, but he is a disappointment to her career-wise and their financial struggles have further strained their marriage.

 

Told from the alternating perspectives of these three characters, Dixon slowly peels back the layers of the story to reveal the interconnectedness. There is also introspection and self-discovery as each woman matures and better understands the gray areas of their past and present relationships with others.

 

Dixon is a screenwriter and employs brisk writing, succinct dialogue and concise descriptions to create context and keep the story moving forward. The complex characters and plot twists contribute to a dramatic tale which will keep readers up late at night to unravel the mystery. Fans of Jodi Picoult or Kristin Hannah will appreciate the unique ending, which answers some questions but doesn’t tie everything up too neatly. Highly recommended as a book club selection, or as a good couch read on a chilly fall day.
 

Melanie

 
 

Burning Down the House

Burning Down the House

posted by:
October 23, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art for Coming CleanAs a child, author Kimberly Rae Miller would pray that her home would catch on fire. Her prayer was answered but, to her horror, it came with some unforeseen consequences. In her memoir, Coming Clean, Miller writes about her experiences growing up as the only child of parents who were hoarders.
 

Miller makes it clear that hoarding isn’t just a messy home with too much clutter. Hoarding à la the Miller parents means never throwing anything away. It means online shopping so obsessively that delivered but unopened packages are stacked to the ceiling. It means sleeping on the edge of a mattress otherwise piled with junk, never opening the refrigerator since it contains moldy sludge and showering at the gym since to call in a plumber to repair leaking pipes would mean being reported to social services. Yes, it means moving to a new home to escape the detritus in the old house.
 

It would be easy to dismiss this book as piggybacking on the odd appeal of the popular reality TV show Hoarders. The descriptions of the Miller family’s living conditions are shocking and sad. Miller also relates the shame she felt as a child, colluding with her parents to present a picture of normalcy, and the guilt, too, after the wished-for house fire resulted in the deaths of her beloved pets. Yet, this story is multi-layered, and Miller is clear that she was raised by loving and intelligent parents who encouraged and supported her in academic and social pursuits. Coming Clean reminds us that imperfect people and good parenting are not mutually exclusive, and our circumstances do not define who we are. Visit Miller at her blog, TheKimChallenge, where she writes about food, fitness, perspective and love.

Lori

 
 

A Slave Narrative Lost and Found

Cover art for Twelve Years a SlaceIn school, we all learned about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but there was another book published around the same time that had an important impact on the discussion of slavery in America. That book was Solomon Northup’s memoir 12 Years a Slave. Northup was born a free man and lived most of his life in New York. In 1841, he was lured to Washington, D.C. where he was beaten, drugged and sold into slavery. For the next 12 years, he was a slave on a series of plantations in Louisiana until his family was able to find him and bring him home to New York in 1853. 12 Years a Slave is his unflinching firsthand account of what he experienced and witnessed during that time.

 

When it was published in 1853, Northup’s memoir became a bestseller, selling over 30,000 copies. After the Civil War, the book was out-of-print for many years. It was rediscovered by two scholars in the 1960s and reprinted in 1968. Now, it has been adapted into a film that brings the horrors of Northup’s experience to the big screen. Like many of us, the film’s director, Steve McQueen, was surprised when his partner brought the book to his attention. He writes, “The book blew both our minds: the epic range, the details, the adventure, the horror and the humanity. The book read like a film script, ready to be shot. I could not believe that I had never heard of this book.”

 

The movie, which the New York Post calls “brutally powerful and emotionally devastating,” is already generating Oscar buzz. The film’s A-list cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Alfre Woodard. The trailer is available here.

Beth

 
 

Hard Knox

Hard Knox

posted by:
October 21, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for CartwheelAmanda Knox is back in the news again with her retrial underway, and Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois couldn’t have come at a better time. duBois maintains that her book isn’t an actual account of Knox’s experience, but the story was inspired by the case.

 

Much like Knox, Lily studies abroad for a semester, though her experience is in Argentina and not Italy. Lily and another student, Katy, live with a host family. Initially, Lily is enthralled with her new surroundings in Buenos Aires as she goes to class and people-watches at cafés, but eventually she becomes bored and takes on a job at a local bar. After Katy is found stabbed to death, Lily, a coworker and her boyfriend are all implicated in the murder, and Lily is taken to jail.

 

The story is told from the perspectives of several key characters. The reader first sees Lily’s point of view as she arrives in Buenos Aires and starts to explore her new surroundings. The perspective then changes to her parents, the prosecuting attorney and Lily’s boyfriend, Sebastian.

 

Readers will feel like jurors at Lily’s trial. The conclusion to this story is more resolute than Knox’s, but the reader is still left to make up his or her own mind, and no two readers will have the same experience. Interested in a reading about the real Amanda Knox? Checkout her new memoir titled Waiting to be Heard.

Randalee

 
 

Helter Skelter, and Everything Before and After

Cover art for Manson“The paranoia was fulfilled” – that’s how Joan Didion described the murders carried out in 1969 by Charles Manson and his band of devoted followers known as “The Family.” Translation? The late sixties were already a time of intense political change and civil unrest. Throw in sensationalized murders and an equally dramatic trial, and this period was officially the craziest and most unsettling in American history, no matter one’s political or ideological leanings. In Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn traces the hardscrabble origins of the boy who grew up to become the infamous cult leader and murderer. Although Manson did have a somewhat unstable home life, he exaggerated or fabricated childhood tales of woe to win sympathy and devotion from his followers. In the true fashion of an “opportunistic sociopath,” as Guinn describes him, Manson used skills obtained in prison, like Dale Carnegie’s popular How to Win Friends and Influence People program, to manipulate followers and bring them under his control. His teachings that “Helter Skelter”, the end of an orderly American society, was close at hand led to the “Tate murders,” where pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others were brutally killed. Additionally, his followers murdered several other people before and after this most infamous crime.  

 

Guinn does an excellent job alternating national and world history with Manson’s development, meticulously chronicling his childhood and adolescence in and out of reform schools, his young adulthood as a petty repeat criminal, and his time in Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood that was the epicenter for the darker side of the hippie movement where Manson did much of his initial recruiting. Those who enjoyed Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders will appreciate this in-depth account of these suspenseful and chilling crimes. As James Lee Burke writes in his cover review: “Hang on, reader. This is a rip-roaring ride you won’t forget.”
 

Melanie

 
 

Tortured and Terrified

Tortured and Terrified

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

Cover art for The Edge of NormalFor three years, 10 months and 12 days, Regina LeClaire was held captive, the sex slave of a sadistic madman. It was only a bizarre twist of fate that led to her liberation and return to her family. Now, almost seven years later, she continues to see her therapist weekly to help cope with the post-traumatic stress and daily fears that keep her imprisoned in a self-imposed isolation. Everything changes, though, when 12-year-old Tilly Cavanaugh is rescued after being trapped for 13 months in a similar type of hell. Tilly’s parents ask Reeve, as she is now known, to help their daughter readjust to life outside of captivity. There is a significant difference between these two situations, however. Unbeknownst to anyone, Tilly had more than one abuser. The man she dubbed “Mister Monster” is still out there and she knows he is watching.

 

The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton is a gritty, suspenseful story that is as unsettling as it is spellbinding. The reader is, at turns, in awe of Reeve’s courage as she relives her past to help Tilly, and frightened as the villain continues his surveillance of his recently freed prize. Notable author Chevy Stevens summed it up best when she stated, “The Edge of Normal is a heart-pounding thrill ride that had me holding my breath to the very end. With a compelling, tough-as-nails heroine and a truly terrifying villain, this is a book you won’t soon forget.”

 

This is Norton’s debut fiction novel, and it has already garnered the Royal Palm Literary Award.  Norton has previously had success as a true crime writer with The New York Times bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box which was co-written with Christine McGuire.  This horrific account of a woman kept in a box under her captor’s bed except when brought out to be tortured has become required reading for the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit and obviously inspired some aspects of The Edge of Normal.  Though not a novel for the faint of heart, this is an excellently written story that has all the markings of another bestseller for Ms. Norton.

Jeanne

 
 

The Good, the Bad and the Unbelievable

The Good, the Bad and the Unbelievable

posted by:
October 17, 2013 - 7:00am

From Scratch cover artJournalist Allen Salkin tells the story of one of the most amazing success stories in television history in From Scratch: Inside the Food Network. Today, the Food Network is a major entity that generates over $1 billion in revenue annually and reaches over 100 million homes. The network is known for making its stars household names, and both the network and its stars have tie-in cookbooks as well as their own lines of cookware, utensils and small appliances. The network even has its own magazine that features articles about food trends, lifestyle tips and, of course, recipes from its stable of chefs. In October 1993, when what was then called the Television Food Network came on the air, this success was beyond even their wildest imaginations. At that time, there were only a few celebrity chefs and even fewer television chefs. Stars like Julia Child, Martin Yan and Jeff Smith all appeared on PBS or the occasional cooking segment on a show like Good Morning America. No one could have imagined how the network would evolve or its meteoric rise to success.

 

Now, in time for the Food Network’s 20th anniversary, Salkin brings readers behind-the-scenes stories from the beginning to its current mind-boggling level of success. With this many big personalities, you know that it’s hot in this kitchen. Readers won’t believe the reactions of a couple of stars when their shows came to an end. They may be even more surprised by how much some stars struggled to become comfortable cooking on camera. When Alton Brown came up with his idea for Good Eats, he originally wrote down the three things he wanted to combine to create it. “Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, Monty Python.” During her first meeting with network executives, Rachael Ray announced, “I clearly don’t belong here, I’m not a chef. You’ve been duped.”

 

Salkin was given inside access to the network and its employees, including executives and stars, so he can bring readers the astonishing — and sometimes legendary — stories of what actually took place behind the scenes. He doesn’t hold back. From Scratch includes quotes, documents and scandalous stories that will surprise even longtime fans.

Beth

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Man Booker Prize Winner Announced

Cover art for The LuminariesYesterday, 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.

Maureen

 
 

Prepare for Takeoff

Prepare for Takeoff

posted by:
October 16, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Baggage ClaimMontana 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.
 

Maureen

 
 

Alice Munro Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Cover art for Too Much HappinessCover art for Dear LifeCanadian master of the short story Alice Munro has been named the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature by the Swedish Academy. Only the 13th woman in the history of the award to win, Munro has been one of the rumored front-runners in recent years, and prior to the announcement had been running second by oddsmakers Ladbrooke’s, slightly behind Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The first from her country to win the award, she is also the first North American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Toni Morrison in 1993.

 

Munro, 82, won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009, and has won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize on multiple occasions. Her signature style of writing often evokes small-town life in Ontario and other parts of Canada, often viewed through the observational lens of ordinary women with extraordinary stories to be told. Often covering the emotional and literary depth of novels, her realistic short stories develop characters, setting and plot using an economy of words and pages.

 

Earlier this year, Munro announced her retirement from writing. The Nobel Prize in Literature will be presented in Stockholm on December 10.
 

Todd

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