Imagine willingly telling strangers on the Internet your deepest, darkest secrets and letting them give you an assignment that you have to complete to protect your secret — that’s what Tabitha decides to do in Corey Ann Haydu’s Life by Committee. Tabby feels like her life is falling apart after her best friends abandon her and she kisses someone else’s boyfriend, a boy that she’s been flirting with online for months. When she’s given a used copy of The Secret Garden filled with someone’s thoughts on the book and a website link handwritten in the back everything changes. Intrigued by the website, “Life by Committee,” and frustrated with how things are going in her life, Tabby decides to join the group, which requires members to provide one secret a week and then perform a task to keep the secret safe.
As Tabby joins the website, she’s pushed outside her comfort zone again and again by group members as she reveals more secrets. As time goes on, she begins pushing away her only remaining friend and her parents as she becomes wrapped up in the website and the assignments they give her. Only when the assignments begin to go too far does Tabby begin to question her choices.
Haydu’s Life by Committee is a strong second book after her memorable debut novel OCD Love Story. Again Haydu has written about a character who is flawed, and all the more interesting because of it. Tabby makes some cringe-worthy choices and many mistakes throughout Life by Committee, making her a realistic, relatable character. Readers who enjoy Haydu’s books can look forward to two new titles set to be released in 2015.
Canadian cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki team up on This One Summer, a swirling, breathtaking graphic novel that recounts the time in a girl’s life when childhood innocence comes to a crashing end. Rose, an only child, goes to cottage country north of Toronto every summer with her parents. There, they meet up with another neighbor family, including Windy, who has been Rose’s slightly younger playmate for years. Windy, too, is an only child, and the two find themselves quickly reacquainting and sharing their days together. But Rose’s adolescent leanings, coupled with tension between her parents, mean that this summer will be different.
Jillian Tamaki’s purple-blue ink illustrations perfectly capture the churning, confusing and sometimes somber moodiness that Rose endures as the events of the summer pass. From carefree days splashing in the lake and watching slasher DVDs with Windy to dealing with her parents’ marital breakdown, Rose’s progression is clearly defined. Her first crush, on a convenience store clerk (who has troubles all his own), is well-depicted in all its unrequited awkwardness. Mariko Tamaki’s words are equally effective, as many older teens and adults will see their own lives in the thoughts and actions of the young friends. Frank language and mature topics such as depression and pregnancy are handled carefully but without patronizing to the intended age of the readership. Particularly successful is the way the Tamakis choose to tell the tale — without judgment or outspoken morality. The bittersweet conclusion is open-ended and purposely lacking forced resolution, showing that adolescence — and life itself — is a continuum that will go on long past that one summer.
When the name Abigail Adams is mentioned it generally conjures up an image of an iconic American figure, primarily known as the wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams. However, before she assumed either of these roles, she was a daughter and sister in a very extraordinary family. In Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters, Diane Jacobs introduces the reader to the woman who became the icon and the family relationships that shaped her.
Born the middle of three daughters to William and Elizabeth Quincy Smith of Braintree, Massachusetts, Abigail and her sisters Mary and Elizabeth were clever girls who managed to supplement their limited formal home education by reading any book they could get their hands on. Often using excerpts from the lifelong correspondence between the three sisters, Jacobs has meticulously pieced together the lives of these women in great detail. In an era where women had few legal rights and very few career options outside of wife and mother, Abigail, Mary and Elizabeth aspired to make their voices heard outside their family circle. While Abigail seems to have achieved the most success, her sisters were able to make their marks during the Revolutionary War era and beyond.
For those who either think they know the story of Abigail Adams or have enjoyed such books as David McCullough’s biography John Adams or are interested in early American history, this book is a must read. Jacobs is not only a thorough scholar but she has a delightful and engaging narrative style.
Author Christopher Beha explores the unrealistic nature of reality television and the unintentional consequences of releasing a sex tape in his new novel Arts & Entertainments. Handsome Eddie Hartley hung his dreams on becoming a famous actor after he left high school but didn't have the talent to back it up. Now, working as a drama teacher in the same Catholic high school he attended, he is desperately trying to make ends meet. His wife longs to have a baby, but their only hope lies in an expensive in vitro fertilization procedure that Eddie can ill afford. But when a sleazy media producer comes to him looking for dirt on a now famous ex-girlfriend, Eddie realizes that the old sex tape on his hard drive could be the answer to his prayers.
Arts & Entertainments is a contemporary look at today’s media-obsessed culture, and anyone who likes to keep up with the Kardashians will quickly take to this novel. Eddie is a sympathetic anti-hero, not looking for fame but trying to make a quick buck and, although his decisions are rash and never in his best interest, we can’t help but care about him. Eddie’s struggle is monumental. What he had hoped to gain is suddenly lost and he's back at square one. But Eddie never gives up hope and, even at his worst, the reader will continue to cheer him on. Arts & Entertainments is a modern character study that is full of heart and belongs on everyone’s summer reading list.
Jacqueline Winspear, highly respected author of the Maisie Dobbs series, has created a standalone novel based on an unusual premise: the importance of food in a war effort. The Care and Management of Lies is a story of two young British women, Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, friends since early school days, who take very different paths in life. By mid-summer 1914, Kezia can think of nothing else but her imminent marriage to Thea’s brother Tom, who runs the family farm. Thea chooses a life of independence and has embraced the women’s suffrage movement and the peace protestors. While Kezia’s life is ordered and traditional, Thea’s is chaotic and fraught with peril. Kezia embraces her life as a farmer’s wife with rare creativity; while Thea avoids possible prison by responding to a friend’s overtures to join the Ambulance Corps in France.
As the war spirals into an entrenched stalemate, Tom reluctantly leaves home to serve his country. Kezia is determined that he not miss a single meal while he is absent. Each evening, she carefully plans her menu of uncommonly original recipes, sets Tom’s place at the table and writes letters filled with descriptions of her creations. While lovingly prepared, these meals are only a product of Kezia’s imagination. Soldier and civilian alike suffer from the blockade that prevents the island nation from successfully feeding its people and army.
Winspear has successfully woven a story of civilians and soldiers, friends and enemies, want and plenty. This is one of many works commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the War to End All Wars. Fans of Anne Perry’s World War I series and Charles Todd’s works featuring Bess Crawford as a World War I nurse will surely enjoy this original perspective on the subject.
Marina Keegan was an aspiring essayist, playwright and author of short fiction whose talents were burgeoning before she was killed in a car crash in 2012. She was most renowned for her essay “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which was featured in Yale’s 2012 commencement activities. Through the efforts of her family and friends, Keegan’s works have been assembled as a book, also titled The Opposite of Loneliness, a collection which deserves as much celebration as Keegan herself.
Keegan’s fiction is grounded and believable, populated with disarming characters yearning to divulge their intimacies to readers. In “Cold Pastoral,” a girl laments the death of a boyfriend she only recently began dating, and is racked with guilt as she witnesses his ex suffering more than she is. “Challenger Deep,” which portrays a small crew trapped in an unpowered submarine stuck at the bottom of an oceanic trench, is Keegan’s most unsettling, imaginative and beautiful tale.
Keegan’s essays gleam with scholarly poise as she acknowledges the complexities of approaching adulthood with a teenage candor. “Against the Grain” is a reflection on growing up with Celiac’s disease, and the embarrassing safety extremes her mother went to out of love. “Song for the Special” is a gentle reminder of humanity’s diminutive existence in the vast universe we inhabit.
What makes The Opposite of Loneliness so wondrous is not its posthumous publication; each piece is brimming with a nearly unattainable blend of worldly presence and youthful hyperbole. It’s so depressing that Keegan’s talents were stifled at such a young age. This collection resonates in reverie of the marvels that would have been.
Local author and news commentator Michael Olesker knows his Baltimore as well as anyone. For a quarter-century, the former News American and Baltimore Sun columnist has captured the changing pulse of the flawed hometown he loves, illuminating countless important issues along the way. Olesker's latest book, Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age, is a nostalgic-yet-edgy look back at a time of relative innocence for Baltimore and the country. Join him as he discusses this latest work on Tuesday, August 5 at 7 p.m. at the North Point Branch. The program, the third in the “Dundalk Dialogs” author speaker series, will include a book talk, signing and light refreshments. Recently, the author answered questions for Between the Covers about his new book.
Between the Covers: You have been a longtime chronicler of Baltimore’s history. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Michael Olesker: I’ve always felt that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a real dividing line in American politics and culture, as well as the real dividing line between the 1950s and ’60s. We recall the ’50s as an innocent time. We recall the ’60s as a time of social chaos: assassinations, wars, riots, terrific upheaval, some good, some bad, much of it quite difficult. But a lot of the ’60s changes were bubbling just beneath the surface in the ’50s. Several years ago, with the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaching, it occurred to me that quite a few Baltimoreans had a profound effect on the nation’s history, and they’d come of age here in the ’50s. Having grown up here in that era, I’ve always felt a real connection to that time.
BTC: You tell the stories of many of Charm City’s personalities, including Nancy Pelosi, Thurgood Marshall and Barry Levinson, coming of age before the complicated 1960s changed the way people looked at themselves and their country. Why were these stories important to share?
MO: As a product of the Baltimore City public school system, I always felt we were taught the Great Man theory of history. That is, presidents and prime ministers and kings change the world. But I think a lot of great change comes from the ground up. Nancy Pelosi’s father was mayor, but her mother ran an army of political women in a time when women were still political non-entities. That was a profound lesson. Thurgood Marshall was the product of a segregated school system and couldn’t get into the University of Maryland Law School because of his skin color. That was a profound motivator as he went on to change the nation’s schools. Barry Levinson was a kid soaking up movie and TV culture and knew that it didn’t reflect the world as he knew it. That was a great motivator for him.
BTC: What made you begin and end with the Kennedy assassination?
MO: My previous book, The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the Fifties, was a 50th anniversary look back at the legendary 1958 Colts who won pro football’s “greatest game ever played.” The response to it was so overwhelmingly heartfelt that the Hopkins Press folks suggested the 50th anniversary of Dallas was another real emotional hook for many people. I wanted to profile not only those people who went on to change the country but the Baltimore of that era — the working class town, the sixth biggest city in the country, the city of neighborhoods and people sitting on front stoops to catch up on the world — but a town on the verge of so many profound changes.
BTC: Why did you decide to write in the present tense?
MO: In my mind, the past never entirely goes away — it still flutters around us, still moves the world in ways we don’t always notice. I felt, from the very first sentence I wrote, that the ’50s were still alive and that, by writing in the present tense, I’d give my narrative a greater sense of immediacy.
BTC: You write that, for newspapers, the Kennedy assassination signaled the “opening moment of long decades of coughing and wheezing their way out of existence.” You have lived through a lot of changes. Where do you see the news gathering business in 10 or 20 years?
MO: We’re currently in a shaking-out period where even the brightest people haven’t figured out where journalism is heading. What’s become clear to me — from years at newspapers, from years on nightly TV news and from years teaching at one of our local colleges — is that a lot of people don’t have the attention span they once had, nor the patience for long-form reading. They want instant gratification, easily digestible bites of information, and then they move on to the next amusement. Millions of us now live moment-to-moment lifestyles but don’t know the history of the last 10 minutes, much less 10 years. I hope my book is a chance for people to see, in an entertaining way, how we began to get where we are.
BTC: Do you think there is any charm left in Charm City?
MO: Absolutely. I think the city’s best years are still ahead of it. Are we losing some of our inimitable “Bawlamer” uniqueness? Sure. But change is always inevitable. What’s shocked all of us is the speed of all this change.
Former intelligence officer Amber Lough is trying her hand as an author of young adult fantasy with The Fire Wish. The backdrop for this book is the Middle East in a time full of mysticism and intrigue. The humans live in and around Baghdad while the jinni population inhabits a sprawling underground cavern.
The chapters of this novel alternate between two 16-year-old girls, Zayele and Najwa. Zayele’s father arranged for her to marry Kamal and become a princess of Baghdad, but the prospect of living this sheltered existence seems stifling to her free-spirited tendencies. In what seems like another world, Najwa is weighed down with responsibility and, while she is ready to rise to the occasion, she finds her abilities suppressed by the elders in her community. Both girls are caught in a war between the jinni and the humans. When the desperate Zayele makes an impulsive wish, it forever alters both of their lives and connects them in ways they never thought possible.
The Fire Wish is the first installment of Lough’s new series, and this dual perspective, fast paced fantasy contains everything from action and adventure to romance. Fans of Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King will surely find this book just as magical.
On July 26, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) closed their annual conference with a gala event where they honored writers among their ranks for their outstanding work. The RITA Awards are given for distinction in romance fiction.
The Best First Book RITA went to Laura Drake, who gave up her job as a corporate CFO to pursue a career in writing. Her journey to success wasn’t an easy one. It took her 15 years to sell a book, so receiving the award and a hug from none other than Nora Roberts made the victory even sweeter. Her novel The Sweet Spot is the story of a couple coming back together after their life and marriage are torn apart by tragedy.
Sarah MacLean won her second RITA award for her Rules of Scoundrels series. This year, she won the coveted trophy for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, which I wrote about on Between the Covers earlier this year. The winner in the Paranormal Romance category is Susanna Kearsley for The Firebird. Kearsley skillfully blends history, the paranormal and romance in this novel. Nicola, a woman who secretly has the ability to read past events by touching artifacts, finds herself on a journey through Russia to prove the authenticity of a small wooden bird called the Firebird.
We’ve made this list of these winners and many more, so you can read the best romances of the year!
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the moment that set the history of the rest of the 20th century in motion. Believed at first to be a war that would take weeks or months to settle, the war dragged on for four long, tragic years until the armistice was signed in 1918. Many new titles have been written that bring a better understanding of this period and the catastrophe of the war.
R.G. Grant’s World War I: the Definitive Visual History, from Sarajevo to Versailles is a terrific introduction to many facets of the conflict. DK Publishing, partnering with the Smithsonian, brings manageable text and countless period photographs here to best explain the personalities, weapons and cultural artifacts of the time period. In The Long Shadow: The Legacy of the Great War in the Twentieth Century, David Reynolds discusses the ramifications of the war, and rethinks some of the theses that have become too-easy explanations for its causes and results. He also looks at its decades-long impact on the art and literary world and how it brought about Modernism. Howard Blum’s Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Tale in America is a fascinating tale of espionage and intrigue is. New York City and other American cities were targeted by German spies to discourage munitions and other supplies from going across the Atlantic to the Allied forces, long before United States troops became officially embroiled in the conflict itself.
Novels set in the time period are perennially popular, such as the Maisie Dobbs mysteries. Now, that series’ author, Jacqueline Winspear, returns with the elegiac and stunning The Care and Management of Lies. Two very different young women come together in the backdrop of the war that has taken away the men in their lives. And Max Brooks’ graphic novel The Harlem Hellfighters is fiction rooted in the heroic tales of the famous African-American 369th Infantry Regiment who fought for France due to antiquated, racially-motivated rules within the American Expeditionary Forces.