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Oprah’s Choice

Oprah’s Choice

posted by:
December 27, 2013 - 6:00am

The Invention of WingsOprah’s newest selection for her Book Club 2.0 is Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings. Kidd, who’s The Secret Life of Bees remains a perennial book club favorite, is “thrilled and honored that Oprah Winfrey chose my novel as her new book club selection." The title, due out in early January, is sure to be a favorite among book clubs with Oprah calling it “layered and gripping.”

 

Inspired by the life of early 19th century abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimk, Kidd writes in her author’s note that her aim was to write “a thickly imagined story inspired by her life.” The result is this beautifully written novel with the dual portrait of two women bound by the horrors of slavery as its centerpiece. Sarah, the daughter of a wealthy Charleston plantation owner is desperate to break free from the confines of her time. She is denied the opportunity to pursue her passion of a legal career and struggles to find outlets for her creativity, intelligence and convictions. Hetty, nicknamed “Handful,” a slave in the household, is also keenly intelligent, brave and brandish a strong rebellious streak. Told in first person, the chapters alternate between these women’s perspectives as the reader follows them and their unique relationship from childhood through middle age.

 

Kidd will not disappoint her legions of fans with this masterly told story of fascinating women striving for liberation and empowerment during a devastating historical time. Check out Oprah’s announcement here to find out more about this exciting literary pick.

Maureen

 
 

A Whiff of Powder

A Whiff of Powder

posted by:
December 26, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art for Promise of BloodThere is a new subgenre of epic fantasy that seems to be growing called flintlock fantasy. Traditional epic fantasy has a Medieval or Renaissance type setting; technology is limited, and religion and magic dominate. Not so in one of the best new contenders in this subgenre, Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. Promise of Blood is the first book in the new Powder Mage Trilogy. McClellan’s world is poised on the brink of modernity, with steam power, labor unions and massed armies using cannons and muskets. Much as the modern era was kicked off with the violence of the French Revolution and rise of Napoleon, Promise of Blood begins with a popular military commander ousting the corrupt hapless king and his unfeeling nobility. Soon the cobblestones of “Election Square” — voting being carried out by guillotine — runs red with blood as Royalists seek safety from the revolution behind barricades.

 

Into what otherwise sounds like a retelling of Les Misérables, McClellan adds magic, lots of varied magic. The King is supported by his Royal Cabal of Privileged, which are like the traditional wizards of epic fantasy novels. The revolution is led by the Powder Mages, less powerful than the Privileged. They gain their power from ingesting gunpowder and bullets. The Powder Mages are a reflection of the new modern era about to be born. Other groups integral to the story are Knacked, those who only possess one single ability, and the Predeii, sorcerers older and more powerful than the Privileged. Lastly, there are the old gods, who are not pleased with the Revolution, and they are not forgiving.

 

Promise of Blood is full of battles, magic and mundane. It is rife with court intrigue and the maneuverings of a land in revolution. It features a cross section of characters from different cultural strata. It works on every level. The only good thing about reaching the end of the book is the knowledge that book two in the series comes out in February!

Brian

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You’ve Been Lied To, FYI

You’ve Been Lied To, FYI

posted by:
December 23, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art for The De-TextbookHow much of the information you “know” is actually misinformation in disguise? Maybe your first grade teacher simplified a few things in history class, or science hadn’t quite caught up with reality yet, or your parents were just telling you what their parents told them. All (well, some) are revealed in The De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn’t Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew by the editors of Cracked.com, a U.S.-based humor website.
 

With a tongue-in-cheek, often slyly humorous style, The De-Textbook takes you from the basic things we are doing wrong everyday (like breathing and sleeping) through more advanced misconceptions in biology, history and psychology, to name a few. This is definitely a book geared toward a more adult audience, as some of the more subtle jokes and innuendos may be confusing to a younger audience, and that's not counting an entire chapter on sex education. Each section is filled with short snippets of information that are hilariously presented accompanied by numerous pictures and illustrations, also hilariously presented. If we had textbooks this engaging in school, maybe we all would have actually learned something.
 

So if you’re curious (or rather, suspicious) about whether ostriches really hide their heads in the sand, or whether the Dark Ages were really all that dark, or perhaps you're wondering how many planets there really are in the Solar System and why scientists can’t seem to make up their minds about it, The De-Textbook is a great place to start. Trivia buffs and fans of Cracked or similar humor sites like The Oatmeal will especially enjoy this one.

Rachael

 
 

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

Cover art for Mary Poppins, She WroteMary Poppins, Julie Andrews and Walt Disney: for most of us, the three are linked together with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, tea parties on the ceiling and Jane and Michael Banks of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. The name P.L. Travers, however, is recognizable by only the most diehard of Poppins fans, as she is the author of the Mary Poppins children’s book series, as well as the subject of the biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson.

 

P.L. Travers was born in Australia and christened Helen Lyndon Goff; she later adopted Pamela Lyndon Travers as a pseudonym. Travers valued her privacy, and felt protective of the Mary Poppins characters and stories. Lawson explains that each contained elements of Travers’ own rather peripatetic and often difficult life. Initially, Walt Disney encountered resistance from Travers when he approached her about adapting her Poppins books to a film version. The “real” nanny is sharp-tongued, mysterious, controlling and a bit vain. Travers felt Disney would “replace truth with false sentimentality” and called Disney’s movie-making “vulgar.” In the end, Disney’s coffers trumped Travers’ misgivings, and the Julie Andrews version of Mary triumphed on the silver screen.

 

Expect to hear more about P.L. Travers after the  December release of the new movie Saving Mr. Banks which follows Disney as he woos Travers for the film rights to the now-classic movie Mary Poppins.   
 

Lori

 
 

Hilarious and a Half

Hilarious and a Half

posted by:
December 19, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art for Hyperbole and a HalfAllie Brosh has been publishing her stick figure drawings on her blog Hyperbole and a Half since July 2009. Her sense of humor and quirky drawings made the blog incredibly popular. Now Brosh has taken the blog a step further, publishing her first book filled with her familiar simple, but hilarious drawings. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened contains a mix of classic stories from the blog and brand new ones.
 

Longtime Hyperbole and a Half readers will enjoy revisiting favorite pieces like “The God of Cake,” a story from Brosh’s childhood in which she became obsessed with her grandfather’s birthday cake, and did everything she could to devour the entire thing. While new stories like “Lost in the Woods,” a tale in which Brosh, her mother and younger sister end up lost in the woods for hours after her mother decides that the girls need to learn about nature, will make readers — new and old alike — laugh out loud. Readers will also enjoy brand new pieces about Brosh’s comical dogs — the simple dog and the helper dog. Hyperbole and a Half does take a turn for the serious with Brosh’s two-part piece on her experiences with depression. Both parts are refreshingly honest, but not without her unique brand of humor.
 

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened is a hilarious collection of stories and drawings. Brosh’s storytelling ability combined with her comic drawings make for a fun and insightful book.

Laura

 
 

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

posted by:
December 18, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art for A Seaside ChristmasCover art for Sleigh BellesCover art for Sleigh Bells in the SnowIf you wait all year for the Lifetime, ABC Family and Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie lineups, these three new romances will be the perfect way to relax and unwind from the holiday hustle and bustle. Sherryl Woods brings readers back to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland in A Seaside Christmas. Songwriter Jenny Collins grew up as the only child of a single mother. Her world was shaken when her mother married into the big, close-knit O’Brien family, and Jenny suddenly had a new baby brother. After a very public breakup with country music bad boy Caleb Green, Jenny decides to leave Nashville and go home for the holidays to regroup and find her place in her new family. She is shocked when Caleb follows her home to win her back. Is Caleb there for her or because he knows that her song can help him break through as a solo artist?

 

In Sleigh Belles, Beth Albright continues her Sassy Belles series, which she describes as Steel Magnolias meets Sex and the City. Local news reporter Dallas Dubois has a chronic case of trying to get over Cal Hollingsworth, an affliction that she has suffered from since her high school crush on him. When the director of the local children’s Christmas play can’t continue, Dallas’s station manager demands that she take charge, but what does she know about working with kids? Directing the play puts Dallas in regular contact with Cal who soon begins to see the real woman behind the mean-girl reputation. Albright’s hilarious one-liners and abundant southern charm make this story a winner.

 

In Sarah Morgan’s Sleigh Bells in the Snow, Jackson O’Neil left his successful business to go home and save Snow Crystal Resort and Spa, his family’s business. Kayla Green wants to escape everything related to Christmas and the bad memories that the holidays bring up for her. She is coerced into spending a week at Snow Crystal to win Jackson’s business for her PR firm. Once she’s in Vermont, Kayla is completely out of her element and finds that saving Snow Crystal won’t be as easy as she thought. Her attraction to Jackson is undeniable, but she doesn’t think she can ever risk her heart again. Like Kayla, readers will be enchanted by the O’Neil family and Snow Crystal.

Beth

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Cookie Tray Showstoppers

Cookie Tray Showstoppers

posted by:
December 18, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art for European CookiesIt’s cookie-baking season again and there are a number of places to look for new recipes to add to your repertoire. A new book from Krisztina Maksai, European Cookies for Every Occasion, takes on old-world favorites with a contemporary twist. Focused specifically on the sweet treats of Central Europe, Maksai’s conversational introductions to each recipe are a good counterpoint to the clear, all-business side of the techniques used as she creates each of the morsels. Clearly coming from a 21st century perspective, she indicates the value of using organic ingredients (such as lemon zest) and her concern over artificial dyes.

 

This is a gorgeous cookbook full of excellent step-by-step photographs explaining the process of making each cookie. The book is broken into four main sections, starting with Quick and Easy, then Moderately Easy, Moderately Difficult and, finally, Challenging Cookies. Also included is a short list of essential baking tools and an introduction of how Maksai became the baker she is today. In it, she explains the importance of tasting various dark chocolates to select the right one for the application, and also describes why using a double-boiler may not be the best choice for melting chocolate.

 

Cookie ingredients that are particularly popular in Europe make numerous appearances in the book, such as various jams, marzipan and poppy seeds. Maksai was born in Romania, moved to Germany as a child but grew up in Hungary. Since then, she has lived in Austria, the United States and Hungary once again. This blend of cultures is evident in the cookies she highlights within this elegant cookbook. Krisztina Maksai’s YouTube channel even includes a video of her constructing a stained glass gingerbread house which includes a smoking chimney!

Todd

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Love, Italian Style

Love, Italian Style

posted by:
December 17, 2013 - 9:00am

Cover art for The Supreme Macaroni CompanyAdriana Trigiani completes her Valentine trilogy with her new novel The Supreme Macaroni Company. Valentine Roncalli, who took the reins of her family’s business, the Angelini Shoe Company, in the previous novels, now comes into her own. The novel picks up right where the previous one ended. Valentine is newly engaged to Gianluca Vechiarelli, an Italian tanner and son of her beloved grandmother’s new husband. They announce their engagement to the Roncalli family during the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, and the two of them embark on their lives together. The story pulls readers into the world of Valentine’s boisterous Italian-American family as she and Gianluca plan their wedding, and we see the challenges that Valentine faces growing the family business and learning to balance work and family. Throughout the course of the novel, it is clear that happily ever after isn’t always easy. In this novel, Trigiani does what she does best. She tells a story about family. Filled with warmth, humor, joy and sorrow, The Supreme Macaroni Company is all of the things that readers have grown to love about Trigiani’s novels.

 

In addition to writing this novel, Trigiani has been working on another exciting project—a film adaptation of her debut novel Big Stone Gap. Written and directed by Trigiani herself, the film stars Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfman, Patrick Wilson and Whoopi Goldberg. Filming is now complete, and Trigiani says that the movie should be released in about a year.

Beth

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What price would you pay?

Cover art for Dead SetNew York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey delights adults and teens alike with Dead Set. After the unexpected death of her father, Zoe and her mother must move to the Tenderloin area of San Francisco while they wait for dividends from her father’s life insurance policy. To deal with her troubles in the real world, Zoe escapes into her dreams where she finds comfort and friendship from her dream brother, Valentine. A mysterious something — or someone — has also joined them in her dream world.

 

Back in the real world, Zoe happens upon a dark and dingy old record store. Most people walk right past the back room with the beaded curtain, but Zoe is curious and goes inside. There she discovers a collection of albums that contain something other than music. The grooves on these records contain lives — souls of people who have passed on but lingered in this world. Emmett, the proprietor of the record store, promises to help Zoe reconnect with her father. All it would cost her is a piece of herself. It starts with a lock of her hair.  The next time, the price is a tooth. How much would you pay to spend another moment with someone you loved and lost? And at what point does the price become too much?

 

Kadrey is best known for his Sandman Slim series. This dark, twisted, stand-alone fantasy novel will appeal to those already familiar with his work as well as those who enjoy a quiet horror story with a strong, albeit sometimes lost, female character.

Christina

 
 

Beyond Darkness... Beyond Desolation

Cover art for The Hobbit Movie GuideCover art for The Hobbit Visual CompanionCover art for The Hobbit Art and DesignHobbit fans rejoice! The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug premiered in Los Angeles on December 2, and will be opening nationwide on December 13. This grand fantasy was co-written, produced and directed by Peter Jackson and is the second installment of a planned trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkein’s novel, The Hobbit. The storyline follows the events of last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry and Orlando Bloom are just a few of the featured stars. An epic film demands companion guides, and fans of the series and movie buffs alike will enjoy the following sumptuous titles.

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Official Movie Guide is a behind-the-scenes guide to the making of the film, and features interviews with key cast and crew. Enjoy exclusive interviews with Peter Jackson and other filmmakers who share production insights. The rich illustrations take readers deeper into the world of Bilbo Baggins with an abundance of photos of the actors, creatures, costumes and special effects.

 

 
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Visual Companion offers background into the world of Middle Earth, and includes character profiles and notes on various landmarks. This lavishly illustrated companion follows The Company of Thorin Oakenshield as they embark on a dangerous journey to Erebor, where the dragon Smaug awaits. Introduced by Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, and complemented with beautiful illustrations, the Visual Companion offers an impeccable narrative of the Company’s passage to Erebor.

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design celebrates the creative vision behind this movie. Readers will enjoy the unrestrained exploration into the design and development of the environments, cultures, creatures and artifacts encountered by the characters during their epic journey. Filled with hundreds of images, including conceptual art and supplementary photographs, the comprehensive commentary provided by the film’s cast and crew is enlightening and informative.
 

Maureen