The majority of American brides have diamond engagement rings today, but that wasn’t always the case. The American expectation of a diamond engagement ring largely grew from the aggressive marketing of the DeBeers Company in the 20th century. J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements brings together a diverse cast of characters in a story centered around relationships and, of course, the engagement ring.
Kate, who lived through the turmoil of her parents’ failed marriage, has vowed never to marry. She and her partner Dan are very happy together, but she must set aside her feelings about marriage as she helps her cousin plan his wedding to his long-time partner. Evelyn married Gerald soon after the loss of her first husband. They have been married 40 years, and they now face their son’s crumbling marriage and his choice of a new relationship. James is a paramedic who married his high school sweetheart Sheila. Their life together is far from perfect, but they are working to stay together. Delphine’s relationship with musician P.J. is coming to an end because of his infidelity. She reflects back on their doomed relationship as she methodically trashes his apartment. In the midst of these stories, we also meet Frances Gerety, a fictionalized version of the woman who wrote the famous DeBeers slogan “A Diamond is Forever” in the 1940s. Frances works for the N. W. Ayer advertising agency in Philadelphia and has helped craft many of the marketing catchphrases for diamonds that we still recognize today. She never married, and her experience as a single woman working to promote engagements and marriage provides a counterpoint to the other stories.
Over the course of the novel, Sullivan slowly connects these seemingly unrelated stories. She presents no perfect characters and no perfect relationships, but the enduring nature of love and family shines through. This entertaining and rich look at relationships and marriage will be the perfect addition to your summer beach bag.
A biography of a language? That’s what Jean-Benoȋt Nadeau and Julie Barlow have undertaken, in The Story of Spanish, a linguistic history of the second-most spoken language in the world. Did you know that Spanish is the choice of over 65% of American high school students who study a world language? Nadeau and Barlow investigate the origins of the language, pinpointing the genesis to a small area in the north of Spain. The effects of Roman, Arabic, and Germanic invasions on the Iberian Peninsula and the terminology they left behind are well-documented with maps and charts, all of which created a recognizable version of Spanish today.
The medieval years were hardly the end of the evolution of the international language of today. A major development of the Spanish language pushing beyond a corner of southwestern Europe was the decision of Ferdinand and Isabella to support Columbus’ 1492 voyage. This changed the world in many ways, of course, but it changed Spanish considerably through contact with Native American vocabulary.
The authors discuss the ways Castilian (spoken in Spain) and Latin American Spanish now differ; though both remain easily understandable to speakers of each (similar to the English variations heard throughout the world). The blossoming of literature in Spanish over the past two centuries, and the current information age have also affected Spanish with words added from many far-flung sources. The simplicity of Spanish pronunciation, verb tenses, and vocabulary, in comparison to many international languages, has propelled it to a place of common recognition. Contemporary issues of the ways Spanish has made inroads to the United States and Brazil complete this interesting look into a subject that is at once familiar but rarely examined in this manner.
How does one continue after the death of a child? This is what two mothers contemplate when they are faced with the unimaginable. In The Still Point of the Turning World, Emily Rapp lays bare the utter devastation she and her husband experienced when their infant son Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a genetic disorder which is always fatal. Rapp, herself a writer, describes in a heartbreakingly poetic style the dreams and plans she had for Ronan before he was even born, and the course their life together took after the diagnosis. Reminiscent of Tuesdays with Morrie, Rapp draws on different religions, philosophies and myths as she delves deep into her grief and pain, assuming a role no parent wants to play. Rapp eschews the idea of measuring the worth of Ronan’s life by his developmental progress; instead, she learns to focus on the small ordinary moments with her son, determined to make his brief existence count.
In I’ll See You Again: A Memoir by Jackie Hance (with Janice Kaplan), Hance recounts the devastating day in July 2009 when a van being driven by her sister-in-law Diane crashed, killing Hance’s three daughters and five other passengers. Besides coping with the horrific reality of instantaneously losing all of their children, Hance and her husband Warren also had to deal with the family fallout and ensuing publicity. Diane’s body tested positive for alcohol and drugs, which was a complete shock to the family, and there were a number of bloggers and media outlets who blamed the parents for letting their three girls ride with Diane. The Hances’ quest to create meaning out of senseless tragedy led to the establishment of a foundation in honor of the girls, and in 2011, the birth of their fourth daughter. Like The Still Point of the Turning World, this is a painfully beautiful story of emotional frailty balanced with resilience, introspection in the face of loss, and boundless parental devotion. As Rapp muses, “children do not exist to honor their parents; their parents exist to honor them.”
In a rather touching tale of self-discovery amidst the landscape of the animal rights movement, Natalie Brown’s debut novel The Lovebird introduces us to a flawed character searching for change who ultimately finds it in herself. Margie comes from a troubled childhood. Her father smokes and drinks too much and seems unwilling to accept the death of his wife. It seems only natural for Margie to discover another lost and lonely soul, a professor of Latin raising his daughter after the death of his wife. Simon offers her love but also the chance to fight for the small creatures of the earth. Margie becomes vegan and an active member of H.E.A.R.T. (Humans Encouraging Animal Rights Today) and begins to perform slightly unsavory acts for the benefit of nature. But a life event changes her course, and suddenly she is thrust into the leadership of H.E.A.R.T., and her decisions will affect the course of her life forever.
The Lovebird is an engrossing character study, following Margie’s thoughts in the first person. As her story unfolds, the reader feels a deep sympathy for a character that, although often misguided, has complete compassion and care for others. The story takes an unexpected turn in the middle and readers will be surprised and delighted by Margie’s journey. Natalie Brown’s prose is thoughtful and expertly crafted, so readers who appreciate a good turn of phrase will certainly enjoy her writing. The novel is heartfelt and inspiring with an ending that readers will remember, a perfect choice for book groups.
What happens when a girl who shouldn’t have survived a violent attack hunts a killer who shouldn’t be able to exist? This is the story at the center of the hypnotic web that South African author Lauren Beukes creates in her new thriller The Shining Girls. In the 1930s, serial killer Harper Curtis found something magical that has made his murders almost unsolvable. The front door of his house opens onto different times, allowing him to travel back and forth through time to find his girls. He finds himself drawn to some girls because they shine; their lives are full of promise. He murders the girls, leaving trophies from his kills in other times at the grisly murder scenes. He is confident that he’ll never be found, so he begins to go back to visit his girls when they are children, years before he kills them.
Kirby Mazrachi is a survivor. In 1989, she was attacked by a serial killer and left for dead. She is determined to find answers. She becomes an intern at the Chicago Sun-Times and works with Dan Velasquez, a former homicide reporter who wrote about her attack. She begins to find answers, but Kirby quickly realizes that the more she learns, the more impossible it all seems. Tension builds as readers realize that Kirby and Harper are on a collision course to meet again. Beukes has created a chilling, genre-bending thriller that may ruin the childhood toy My Little Pony for you forever. For a sneak peak at the novel, watch this book trailer that will make you sleep with the lights on tonight!
Baltimore is front and center in Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation by Steve Vogel. Vogel, a Washington Post military reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist, focuses on a six week period during the War of 1812 – specifically, the British attacks on Washington and Baltimore.
Vogel’s experience is evident in this fast-paced military account peppered with characters essential to the story. The book opens in the summer of 1814 (two years after America invaded Canada) and the British forces are looking for payback. None is more focused on destroying the upstart nation than Rear Admiral George Cockburn. Cockburn would quickly become America’s chief nemesis with his priority of destroying Washington D.C. He eventually advanced on the nation’s capital and ordered the burning of the city’s public buildings, including the White House and the Capitol. Not content with that successful conflagration, he and his troops turned their attention to Baltimore.
In recounting the remarkable events that led to the last stand in Baltimore, other principals are introduced and their impact duly noted. In addition to the well-known actors in this drama such as James Madison and James Monroe, readers also learn more about Dolley Madison, who rescued so many White House artifacts and Mary Pickersgill, the seamstress responsible for crafting the flag. And a book about the Battle of Baltimore wouldn’t be complete without Francis Scott Key, an innocent prisoner of the British troops and witness to the brutal destruction during the defense of Fort McHenry that inspired him to write "The Star Spangled Banner". This is a colorful presentation of both sides of the story filled with details that complement the narrative of military events. The victory at Baltimore remains a turning point in American history that changed both the outcome of the war and the fate of our fledgling nation.
The Village: 400 years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues: A History of Greenwich Village by John Strausbaugh is a loving tribute to one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the world, Greenwich Village in New York City. In the modern era, Greenwich Village has been synonymous with radical art, poetry music and political change.
Since the very beginning of its settlement in the 17th century, the land that would later be known as Greenwich Village or just “The Village,” has always been an outpost for rebels and misfits. It was originally home to just a few hundred people, whose regular sources of entertainment included taverns and brothels. During the next 400 years, The Village continued to be home to radicals and rogues of every stripe.
Just browsing through Strausbaugh's history is a reminder of the Village’s amazing artistic output, in the late 20th century alone. Alan Ginsburg and Bob Dylan got their start in The Village, as did Andy Warhol, Jack Kerouac and Lenny Bruce. It was also an epicenter in the gay rights movement. The Stonewall Inn Bar had been raided many times before but the infamous police raid on a hot night in June of 1969. That particular raid has been memorialized as simply “Stonewall,” the event galvanized the LGBT community into civil rights activism. For anyone interested in New York City or American cultural history, The Village is a treasure trove of fascinating stories and personalities.
Bestselling political thriller author Vince Flynn passed away today at age 47, a victim of prostate cancer. Flynn was known as the creator of the popular character Mitch Rapp, a counter-terrorism operative who works for the CIA.
A native of Minnesota, Flynn began his career working for Kraft Foods, as a sales and marketing specialist. He aspired to be an aviator with the Marines, but was medically disqualified from officer candidate school. A self-imposed extreme program of reading everything he could get his hands on and writing daily helped him to overcome some of his difficulties with dyslexia. His love of espionage thrillers led him to try his hand at writing them.
He has published fourteen such books, creating a loyal fan following and becoming a fixture on The New York Times Bestsellers List. His conservative political views also made him a popular guest on the Glenn Beck program on Fox News. Flynn also served as a consultant on the fifth season of the television series 24. You can follow Mitch Rapp from the beginning in his first appearance on the page in Transfer of Power. His latest adventure unfolds in The Last Man, where Rapp must head to Afghanistan to track down a CIA agent who has gone missing. Readers can look forward to yet another Rapp thriller this fall; Flynn’s The Survivor is set to be released on October 8.
Whether they’re the shambling zombies from The Walking Dead or the terrifyingly fast ones from 28 Days Later, zombie fiction is more popular now than ever before. This weekend, a movie adaptation of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks will come to theaters. This new film starring Brad Pitt promises to be one of the big hits of the summer, but true fans of zombie fiction will want to read the book before heading to the theater.
After writing his bestselling book The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, Brooks went on to write World War Z. The novel is a collection of first-person interviews of survivors of a zombie outbreak that spread worldwide. The interviewer explains that he was hired to compile the United Nation’s Postwar Commission Report, but these personal stories were cut from the official report. He compiled and published them as a book to record the human experiences from that time. From the doctor who treated Patient Zero in China to a U. S. Army infantry soldier at the Battle of Yonkers, the survivor interviews bring both the events and the human element of the zombie war to life in a creative and haunting way. This novel is a must-read for zombie fiction fans. In honor of the movie’s release, a new full-cast audio production is available on both CD and Playaway. This recording is voiced by a list of Hollywood actors and Sci Fi fan-favorites such as director Martin Scorsese, The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont, Nathan Fillion, Simon Pegg, and Mark Hamill. If you still want more zombies, BCPL has many books and movies available.
Havaa’s father once told his young daughter that a true chess player thinks with his fingers. The eight-year-old girl would remember his comments when a year later her father's fingers were savagely cut off by government security forces in war ravaged Chechnya. It is one of the many atrocities in Anthony Marra's beautifully realized literary debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, where the spiral of murder and torture is as much a part of the landscape as the myriad of landmines, checkpoints, and disappearances in the night.
Spanning a decade of war with Russia from 1994 to 2004, Marra exposes the underbelly of his complicated Caucasus region by weaving together the lives of the damaged souls in its wake. At its core are two doctors whose pasts must be reconciled as they cycle toward their fates. There is Akhmed, a neighboring doctor who rescues Havaa, now being hunted by the "feds" after her father is kidnapped for aiding the rebels. Akhmed flees with the girl, careful to avoid a neighbor's war damaged son who is now an informant. They end up at a nearly abandoned hospital heroically run by a brilliant, sharp witted ethnic Russian doctor named Sonja. She reluctantly agrees to hide the child in exchange for Akhmed's help. An artist at heart, Akhmed would rather be drawing his patients than amputating their mangled limbs.
Marra enriches his compelling, richly-detailed writing with surprising bursts of humor, sidebars, and characters whose stories are plentiful and achingly poignant. It is a place where death is prevalent but hope is instinctive. It is about being ready when the time comes; just like Havaa's "just in case suitcase" her father had her pack, waiting by the door. Readers of The Tiger's Wife or The Cellist of Sarajevo will recognize here the challenge of living with dignity at the greatest of costs.