The book world is smitten with Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. The story centers around Island Books, a small, independent bookstore on Alice Island. The store is run by its curmudgeonly owner A.J. Fikry, a lonely, middle-aged man who has not recovered from his wife’s tragic death. As the story opens, three events occur that irrevocably alter A.J.’s world. First, he meets Amelia Loman, a new marketing representative from Knightley Press. Next, his nest egg, a rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane, is stolen. Then, an abandoned toddler named Maya is found in the children’s section of his store. This quietly witty story is about love, redemption and, of course, books. Author Natasha Solomons calls it “[a] charming and funny love letter to the written word – it will leave you smiling and with a large lump in your throat.”
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry gained the attention of librarians and booksellers even before its publication. Librarians across the country selected it as their top pick for the April LibraryReads list. The LibraryReads list features librarians’ top 10 new titles published each month, and it’s a great resource to find out about hot books before they are published.
Throughout the story, A.J. describes other characters by referring to the titles of the books that they read. What book best describes you? Let us know in the comments!
Steve Berry, bestselling and highly acclaimed author of historical thrillers, including the Cotton Malone series, has over 17,000,000 copies of his books in print internationally. Get to know Steve as he answers questions about his latest bestseller and future writing plans, and even shares the strangest way he’s encountered his readers!
The Lincoln Myth involves Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Constitution, religious zealots and of course, Cotton Malone trying to save the country. Where do you get your ideas? Is it true that there is a little bit of you in Cotton?
The constitutional concept of secession has always fascinated me. It's one of those arguments that have no easy answer. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is likewise interesting. It is the quintessential American religion, and it played some key roles in our history. When I found out that Abraham Lincoln was the first president to ever read the Book of Mormon, and that he made a secret deal with Brigham Young, I knew there was a novel there. So I sent Cotton Malone to get to the bottom of things. And he is basically me. When I created him for The Templar Legacy, I used my personality, so we share a lot of traits, like the love of rare books. He doesn’t like enclosed spaces, I don’t either. He doesn’t like the taste of alcohol. He has finicky eating habits. That's me. I, of course, don’t jump out of planes and shoot guns at bad guys, but I live that through him.
You’ve said in the past that the most wonderful fiction always has a ring of truth to it. What’s the ring of truth in The Lincoln Myth?
The concept of a union of 50 states that is indivisible and forever is not necessarily accurate. Lincoln did not fight the Civil War to save the Union, he fought that war to create the Union. I doubt many of us realize that. I didn't, until I did the research for this novel.
History is so important to you that you and your wife created History Matters to assist communities around the world with historic restoration and preservation. In fact, you’ll be in Baltimore at the B & O Museum for a reception and book signing on May 21 for the Edgar Allan Poe House. Why does history matter?
History is who we are and where we came from. To forget that or, even worse, to just allow it to rot away, robs the future of that past. It's our duty to preserve what came before for the next generation.
With so many copies of your books all over the world, you must encounter people reading your novels all the time. What is the weirdest place you’ve ever seen a Steve Berry book being read? How about the most exotic?
Fiji is probably the most exotic. The oddest happened in an airport. The man sitting beside me started reading the latest hardback, then a woman sitting across from me did the same thing. On the back cover of each book was a full color photo of me, yet neither made the connection. That's the cool thing about being a writer. You don't lose your anonymity, which is wonderful.
Your favorite holiday decoration is your Star Trek themed tree complete with Santa in a transporter. Have you ever considered writing science fiction or fantasy?
I'd love to write a sci-fi novel one day. I even have one churning in my mind, and I just might do it. I've always been a fan of that genre.
How big of a thrill was it to be asked to write the forewords for the upcoming re-releases of James Michener’s novels?
That was truly an honor. He is, hands-down, my favorite writer of all time. I have a complete collection of his novels that I've amassed for over 40 years. To see my name on the same cover with his will be amazing. I hope a new generation of readers will rediscover Michener. He was genius. I write today because of him.
Do you have any sneak peeks for our readers as to what’s in store for Cotton Malone’s 15th adventure? Can you share any news in the development of the series for the small screen?
Cotton will return in 2015. This one deals with another fascinating quirk from the Constitution. It's called The Patriot Threat, and it will be on sale in March. Alcon Entertainment is still developing a possible television series for Cotton. Hopefully, it'll make it to the screen one day. If anyone would like to know more about that, or me, or the books, check out www.steveberry.org.
Two new cookbooks by three noted celebrity chefs offer modern twists on favorite comfort food which are sure to appeal to the most skittish of home cooks. Both volumes are beautifully photographed with functional layouts and come complete with tips and instructions.
Hootie Hoo! The Chew co-host and Top Chef fan-favorite, Carla Hall, offers an international spin in Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World. This sumptuous feast will tantalize the senses as readers travel the culinary globe in search of delectable delights. Featuring over 100 recipes, Carla selects a cooking technique or main ingredient and follows with international variations. For example, partnered with Italian-American lasagna are Irish shepherd’s pie and Mexican enchiladas. The mouthwatering variations are all readily accomplished at home, and Carla’s easy, conversational style is encouraging. The international spice chart is an education in seasoning, and is at the root of Carla’s philosophy that food is food around the world – it’s the spices that make all the difference.
For married couple Pat and Gina Neely, restaurateurs and hosts of the hit Food Network series Down Home with the Neelys, food is at the center of a happy home. In their latest cookbook, Back Home with the Neelys: Comfort Food from our Southern Kitchen to Yours, this dynamic duo revisits 100 family recipes passed down through generations and creates new dishes using the past as inspiration. Think Bourbon French Toast, Crunchy Fried Okra and Mama Rena's Brunswick Stew. Mmmmm! The Neelys share family anecdotes along with the recipes which will lead readers on their own journey down memory lane. While rooted in tradition, the Neelys also capture the spirit and flavors of modern and fresh Southern cooking.
Who’s the fairest of them all? Is it Snow, with her fair skin and hazel eyes? Maybe it is Bird, with her cap of dark curls and golden skin. Nigerian-born Helen Oyeyemi’s latest novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, takes classic fairy tale themes of beauty, stepmothers and sibling rivalry and reworks them around a 1950s New England town and a family’s secrets.
Eighteen-year-old Boy Novak lives in New York City with her sadistic father who works as a rat catcher, using blinded rats as bait. To escape her father’s abuse, she buys a train ticket for the far-away stop of Flax Hill, Massachusetts. The fine-boned, flaxen-haired Boy meets and marries Arturo Whitman, local professor-turned-jeweler, widower, and father of Snow. Boy slides right into her role of benevolent stepmother and daughter-in-law until she and Arturo have their own baby, Bird, who is “born with a suntan.” Unbeknownst to Boy, her new husband and his family are African-American passing for white. Bird’s arrival pulls back the curtain on their carefully constructed public lives.
What is fair, either in beauty or in deeds? Arturo’s mother wants to send the darker-skinned Bird away to live with relatives; Boy views stepdaughter Snow as the interloper who needs to go. Oyeyemi uses a conversational writing style and alternates characters’ narration, including letters sent between the sisters, to explore issues of identity relative to race and gender. Boy, Snow, Bird warns us of the danger in allowing our reflection, whether in the mirror or eyes of the beholder, dictate who we are.
Hesteyri: A beautiful location by the ocean, a popular summer tourist destination, an entrepreneurs golden opportunity. When friends decide to purchase and renovate a house to start a bed and breakfast, they find their dream quickly transforms into a nightmare. I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a spectacularly terrifying ghost story, and the most frightening and suspenseful novel I have read in recent memory. Readers meet the three friends as they are traveling on a small boat to the island, the location of their renovation project. It is a dreary and blustery winter’s afternoon and the seas are rough, indicative of a threatening storm. After disembarking at the uninhabited village, the captain encourages them to call if they need to leave before the predetermined departure a week later. He seems to struggle with divulging something menacing, but elects to hold his tongue. The author’s brilliant foreshadowing paints an atmosphere very different from the bright hopes and expectations of the main characters. Their house creaks and moans, there is a putrid stench which emanates periodically from the kitchen, wet footprints appear overnight, objects move on their own… and the disturbances are only beginning.
I Remember You is actually two tales which are told in alternating chapters. The second story line involves a doctor on the mainland who has recently relocated to the area. Having suffered the unbearable loss of his young son who disappeared three years before, he and his wife have just divorced and he is attempting to move on with his life. As the only professional in the town with any psychiatric experience, the police have called him to a preschool which has been extensively vandalized. Every item in the room is broken, every piece of artwork shredded and the word “dirty” has been written repeatedly on the wall. Even more bizarre is that it perfectly mimics a crime at an elementary school 60 years ago. The investigation reveals multiple classmates from the earlier crime have died under suspicious circumstances.
Discovering the truth behind these mysteries is a thrilling and terrifying adventure. Readers will appreciate the break in the ghostly hauntings when the storyline switches to the mainland. But only for so long, as it becomes evident there are sinister otherworldly events taking place there as well. If you are looking for a great ghost story, check out the Scandinavian thriller I Remember You.
British author Laline Paull is setting the book world abuzz with her debut novel, an imaginative and gripping tale which takes place in a beehive. Paull began studying bees after a beekeeper friend died; the fascinating societal structure of the hive inspired her to write The Bees.
Flora 717 is a worker bee living in a hive valuing conformity. Born “obscenely ugly… and excessively large,” Flora is saved from immediate execution because a ruling class priestess wants to use her in an experiment. The hive’s rigid caste system relies on mind control and strict job divisions, which keep the hive operating for the good of the group, but its totalitarian mindset allows no individual freedom. Flora defies the limitations of her Sanitation class: She is able to speak, block other bees from accessing her thoughts and use her abilities to forge a unique role for herself when the survival of the hive is threatened.
In creating the intricate life of this honeybee colony, Paull did everything from attending beekeeper classes to watching nature unfold in her backyard. She blends factual bee behavior, like building honeycomb nurseries or the “dancing” and antennae touching which bees perform to communicate information, with elements of goddess worship, Catholic prayer and the British monarchy in her creation of a detailed parallel world. As in nature, The Bees is sometimes chillingly violent. It is also surprisingly funny, with its swaggering Drone class reminiscent of any Animal House frat bro collective hopped up on testosterone.
The Bees is being compared to the modern classic Watership Down by Richard Adams for its thrilling adventure and social commentary wrapped up in an animal story. This story makes a perfect book club choice or escapist summer read as Flora 717 takes the reader on a wild flight. Is Flora a traitor or a savior? The bees in your garden will never look the same again.
Did you already binge-watch the second season of House of Cards on Netflix? Are you on pins and needles waiting to see where Frank and Claire’s machinations will lead them next? These novels filled with intrigue and scheming are just the thing to help ease your post-season two blues.
Before it was a hit American series, House of Cards was a popular British miniseries inspired by a trilogy of novels written by Michael Dobbs, a former advisor of Margaret Thatcher. The author recently revised House of Cards, the first novel in the trilogy, and it has been re-released. This thriller revolves around Chief Whip Francis Urquhart and his Machiavellian political maneuvering and Mattie Storin, a driven young reporter who pursues a story about corruption that she can’t resist. Like the television adaptation, the novel is ruled by political intrigue. The remaining novels in the trilogy will also be available later this year, so stay tuned for more plotting, greed and corruption.
For more political scheming, try Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall, which brings 16th-century English politics to life. This fictional account of the life of Thomas Cromwell shows his rise to his position of advisor to the king and his skill as a consummate political schemer. The novel follows Cromwell’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering during the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII. Mantel’s well-researched, skillfully written novel is the first in a trilogy that you won’t want to miss.
If you’re looking for dark stories about ruthless, manipulative characters, Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley is the gold standard. Tom Ripley is entranced by the wealthy world of his new acquaintance Dickie Greenleaf. When Dickie’s father asks Tom to go to Italy and convince his wayward son to come home to New York, Tom agrees. He slowly becomes more and more obsessed with Dickie’s world and eventually assumes Dickie’s identity. Highsmith tells the story from Tom’s distorted yet charismatic perspective, leaving the reader both fascinated and horrified.
Baltimore author Rob Kasper will discuss his book Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing, at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6, at the Perry Hall Branch. This program is sponsored by the Friends of the Perry Hall Library. Kasper, who also had a prolific career as a writer and reporter for The Baltimore Sun, recently answered questions for Between the Covers about his book.
How long had the idea for Baltimore Beer been, well, brewing, before you put pen to paper? At what point did you decide to make a serious study of Baltimore beer and the history of local breweries?
About 10 years. One day at The Sun I got a call saying National Premium was no longer being bottled (it has since been revived). Reading the clips to write the story, I realized there was no current history of Baltimore breweries. Originally I had a contract with the publishing arm of Bibelot bookstores to write the book. They went bankrupt and the project lay dormant, then I got a contract with History Press and finished the book.
What was the most interesting or the oddest piece of information about Baltimore beer or breweries that you discovered in your research?
Three things come to mind that show how breweries were a major part of Baltimore’s social fabric. One, how German the city of Baltimore was. In addition to all the breweries, city council notes were printed in German and English until World War I. Two, how the Lone Ranger’s silver bullet and some National Premium executives coaxed the owner of the Washington Senators into letting the Orioles move to Baltimore in 1954. Three, when a fisherman caught Diamond Jim III (a rockfish tagged by American Brewing Company) and won $25,000, the fisherman argued that catching the fish was civic achievement and therefore tax free. A judge was amused but said the fisherman owed $6,000 in taxes.
For more than three decades, you were a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for The Baltimore Sun. What are a few notable moments or highs from your career with the newspaper?
I won a handful of national writing awards for my columns which buoyed me, but the most gratifying part of the job was the feedback from readers – phone calls, letters and comments from folks I bumped into who had read something I had written. Mostly they liked what I had written, but sometimes not.
You’ve made a career in Baltimore, but you grew up in Kansas. How did you find your way to the East Coast?
All the great seafood lovers grew up in the Midwest. That is because when folks out here were eating rockfish on Fridays, we were chewing on fish sticks. When I came to Maryland to work at The Sun, (after a five-year stop at the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times and a one-day – yes, one-day – stint at the National Observer) I tasted crab soup, crab cakes, steamed crabs and soft crabs. There was no going back. I once beat Brooks Robinson in a celebrity crab picking contest – not bad for a guy from Dodge City. But I later got demolished by Shirley Phillips, of Phillips Seafood. She used a knife to slice up the steamed crabs. The way she wielded that knife, you wouldn’t want to cross her.
Okay, we need to ask: Your favorite beer?
Well, like Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, the girl who cain’t say no, my favorite depends on whom I am with. At Brewer’s Art it is Resurrection; at Union Craft it is Duckpin; at Heavy Seas it is Loose Cannon; at Pratt Street Ale House it is Extra Special Bitter; at DuClaw it is Black Jack Stout; at Flying Dog it is Snake Dog. The beer I still pine for is pilsner from the long-gone Baltimore Brewing Company. That was exceptional. I make do substituting with Victory Prima Pils and the Pendulum Pilsner from RavenBeer.
Tell us a little about Baltimore Beer Week, a nonprofit that celebrates local brewing, which you helped to found.
My contributions to Beer Week pale compared with those of Joe Gold and Dominic Cantalupo and the late Mick Kipp. But basically it is a 10-day celebration in October of all things beery in Baltimore. There are tastings, beer dinners and tours of breweries, including the classic old American Brewery, now home to the nonprofit Humanin. I try to provide historical background and remind beer drinkers that the good stuff they are enjoying today was built on the shoulders of generations of brewers before them.
Life could be greener on the Emerald Isle these days, where Ireland's economic recession has wreaked havoc upon the residents of one small rural town. There are no jobs, no pension, no unemployment benefits. The effect is a domino-like collapse of livelihood and sanity for everyone in Irish writer Donal Ryan's insightful, darkly humorous debut, The Spinning Heart.
The title refers to a battered and flaking red metal heart on a front cottage gate belonging to the father of well-known resident, Bobby Mahon. Despite its beaten condition, the heart continues to spin on its hinge. It becomes a metaphor for Bobby and the other 20 blindsided souls, who each get a brief chapter to tell their story. They, too, need restoration after the town's big employer abandons them.
Pokey Burke is the corrupt, now-defunct builder who absconds with more than his workers' money. Soon everyone is pondering their hand-to-mouth existence and the fissures emerging in their community. The common thread is Bobby, Pokey's tough but well-respected former foreman whom everyone knows and generally respects. But even Bobby is not above reproach, as his possible complicity in his father’s death has people wondering.
Ryan’s snapshot into the recess of weary minds speaks to a wry, vulnerable sensitivity, and his writing in the vernacular hits home. The prose oozes with spot-on observations of the time, while his use of idioms smartly adds to the authenticity of the first-person narratives. Long-listed for the Man Booker prize, Ryan isn't the first author to swirl Ireland’s economic woes into a novel. Tana French did it in Broken Harbor, and closer to home, Stewart O'Nan did it with Last Night at the Lobster. Best laid plans are never guaranteed. “The future is a cold mistress,” Bobby’s father said. Tomorrow is like that.
Damaris Chance feels no compulsion to marry but instead longs for a cottage by the sea. Freddy Monkton-Coombes is enjoying the rewards of his rakish ways, which will be severely curtailed if his mother has anything to say about it. In The Winter Bride, Annie Gracie revisits the Chance sisters and shares the stories of this magnetic and damaged duo.
Damaris Chance’s unhappy past involves a blackguard sea captain who hurt her so deeply that marriage is no longer an appealing option. But her guardian, Lady Beatrice, convinces her to make her debut and enjoy a season of lighthearted fun. Meanwhile, Freddy’s season is filled with all the single ladies tracking his every move and a mother who won’t stop nagging about marriage. He is also determined to honor his promise to his friend Max to watch out for the Chance sisters. When Freddy discovers Damaris roaming through unsavory parts of town at all hours of the night, he demands to know her secret.
Damaris has been surreptitiously selling her painted pottery in an effort to secure her dream cottage. While not a scandalous secret, during the course of their conversation, the two reach a most unorthodox decision and agree to an arranged marriage. Freddy can continue his womanizing ways, and Damaris will have her cottage. As the two spend more time together during their “engagement,” they share confidences and dreams. Is marriage really such a bad thing after all? Gracie continues her Chance Sisters series with another charming romance centered by a charismatic couple while positioning the players to be featured in the next two seasons. Spring and summer can’t come soon enough!