Up-and-coming novelist Nickolas Butler brings us Shotgun Lovesongs, an all-American tale of male friendship in Little Wing, Wisconsin. Although Hank, Ronny, Lee and Kip grew up together in the small rural town, they have grown into their own complex lives in strikingly different ways.
Hank stayed in the town to have a family and run his father’s farm, where it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet. Ronny became a battered rodeo star who lost his career to crippling alcoholism. Singer-songwriter Lee took his show on the road and is now a famous yet humble millionaire rock star. Lastly, there’s Kip, the Bluetooth-wearing stock-market trader, who has come home to revitalize the tallest structure in town, the beloved old feed mill. The four friends are drawn together again by Kip’s impending wedding.
Told in alternating perspectives, the novel achieves its tension and ultimate heart from the honest portrayal of conflict and comradery between these soul-searching men. Various masculine takes on marriage, love, loyalty and healing are all examined in this surprisingly rustic landscape. Readers who enjoy character-driven plots and fulfilling endings will find themselves satisfied with and surprised by this debut novel.
Also, keep an eye out for Nickolas Butler’s highly anticipated forthcoming short story collection, The Chainsaw Soiree.
How does a young mathematician on the cusp of a Yale doctorate end up as a journalist in one of the world's bleakest places? For Anjan Sundaram, it was a desire to experience firsthand the sights, sounds and emotions of a tormented and misunderstood country he only knew from passing news briefs. His story, recounted in his new memoir, Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo, calls attention to a region of the central African continent often on the world's radar for the wrong reasons.
Sundaram times his arrival well. It’s 2006, and there is cautious interest in the country's historic elections. Settling into the home of a friend's family in the lower class section of Kinshasa, he soon lands a job as a stringer for the Associated Press. Through his experiences, he conveys the turbulent, repressive history of this beautiful, yet troubled land beset by sexual violence, killings and mutilations. Despoiled by corrupt companies and governments, its abundance of natural resources has also cost the Congolese dearly. It is a place where death, as a rule, makes news only if it involves villages and armies or the U.N. Sundaram raises inexplicable contradictions as well, like a boy who dies of typhoid because his family had no money for treatment but whose elaborate, expensive funeral draws hundreds.
For a reporter with no previous journalism training, Sundaram tells a good story with his sharp first-hand narrative and careful observations, especially of children. He acknowledges missteps along the way, and his vulnerabilities become part of the journey. The author, who currently lives in Rwanda, turned down a lucrative career at Goldman Sachs to tell us about this downtrodden African nation, long gripped by civil war. For readers interested in world politics and humanitarian crises here is a rare look by someone determined to tell the story.
Are you a fan of superheroes? Do you enjoy a funny mystery? Have you recently started to read chapter books? If you answered yes to these questions, you are sure to enjoy the Kung Pow Chicken series by Cyndi Marko. We first meet our superhero siblings, second grader Gordon Blue and his little brother Benny, in Let’s Get Cracking! Gordon and Benny are playing follow the leader at their Uncle Quack’s lab when Gordon trips and falls into a vat of toxic sludge and Benny follows. The boys are quickly rescued by their uncle, but later Gordon notices that he’s feeling a little strange. Empowered by his new found superpowers, Gordon dons a disguise and becomes Kung Pow Chicken. Every good superhero needs a trusty sidekick, and Benny is eager to fill the role as Egg Drop. It’s not long before the town of Fowladelphia is in need of their help when everyone starts losing their feathers. Could Granny Goosebumps be behind the flock of naked chickens? And will they be able to solve the mystery before they get grounded?
Gordon and Benny return in the second book, Bok! Bok! Boom! While attending the opera, the main singer, Honey Comb, is kidnapped shortly after intermission. Fortunately, our superheroes are never far from their super suits, and soon Kung Pow Chicken and Egg Drop are ready to get cracking. Could the visiting world-famous sound scientist Dr. Screech be behind this sinister plot? Will this pair of chicken crime fighters be able to save Honey Comb? And can Gordon keep his identity secret from the snooping reporter Sam Snood?
Perfect for readers transitioning into first chapter books, this new series is full of bright, colorful illustrations. Packed with action and a healthy dose of humor, kids will love the adventures of Kung Pow Chicken. If you enjoy the first two installments, you won't have to wait long for book three, The Birdy Snatchers, which will be out this June and is available for reserve now.
As a boy, Jacob Portman was always spellbound by the stories his grandfather told him about children with strange powers who lived in an isolated house on a Welsh island. After his grandfather’s violent death, he receives a mysterious letter from a Miss Peregrine, travels to the island and discovers that his grandfather’s stories — and the children — are very much real. So what happens next to the Peculiar Children? Ransom Riggs’ much-anticipated new book, Hollow City, is the second book and sequel to his bestselling novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. In Hollow City, Jacob and the peculiar friends he meets in the first book have escaped Miss Peregrine’s island and are now traveling to 1940s war-era London. Their purpose for the journey is to try to help Miss Peregrine who, thanks to a spell, is now in bird-form. Along the way, they make new friends, become acquainted with some truly unique people and animals, and continue to battle the monsters who threaten the Peculiars’ existence.
Similar to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the characters in Hollow City have matured, and the issues and relationships they face have also become more serious. There is a balance of fast-paced suspense and horror melded with lighter and touching moments of friendships and loyalties, making this book and its predecessor good picks for both those who like fantasy or realistic fiction. Riggs continues the practice of using old, strange and, in some cases, disturbing vintage photographs to tell a story that combines real history with the fantastical. As many reviewers have pondered, in a “chicken or egg” fashion, did the photographs inspire the story or did the story create a search for unique photographs which would enhance the plot?
The film adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by Tim Burton, is in development, and is due out in 2015.
For local writer Deborah Rudacille, writing her latest book was a personal odyssey. The daughter of a Bethlehem steelworker knows the heart and soul of the Dundalk community she called home for many years. It's fitting that Rudacille will kick off the North Point Branch’s “Dundalk Dialogs,” the new adult speaker series that takes place this summer. Rudacille will discuss her latest book, Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town that chronicles the rise and fall of the Sparrows Point steel mill and the neighborhoods in its wake. The program, which includes a book talk and signing, will be held Tuesday, June 3 at 7 p.m. Rudacille recently answered questions for Between the Covers about the genesis for her story and her personal connection to Dundalk.
Between the Covers: Your book, "Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town", conveys a powerful message about what happens when the American dream fails right in our own backyards. What drove you to tell this story of the former Bethlehem Steel plant and the local community it shaped?
Deborah Rudacille: I grew up in Eastfield, and my family, like many of our neighbors, owed their homes and their livelihoods to Bethlehem Steel. When my parents bought their house on Harold Road my dad worked in the tandem mill at Sparrows Point and my mother worked as a secretary for United Steelworkers Local 2610. Most of the men in my family worked at Sparrows Point. So the rise and fall of the American steel industry wasn’t just theory for me — it’s the story of my own family and community.
BTC: You present an objective look at an industry in decline. Did the fact that the story was so close to home make it difficult to write at times?
DR: Yes. The reporting was easy and fun because I got to hang out with people who were much like the folks I had known growing up and to listen to their stories. But the writing was more challenging because I had to figure out a way to weave together their stories with those of workers who had very different experiences in a way that didn’t skirt the less savory aspects of the narrative — the systemic racism at the Point, for one — and situate them in the broader history of the American steel industry.
BTC: You use personal narrative along with workers’ interviews. Can you talk a little bit about how you conducted your research for this project? Were people open to talking about their experiences?
DR: Absolutely! Sparrows Point was more than just a job for most of these folks so they loved reminiscing about their experiences there. I started with family members and then worked outward, attending monthly retiree meetings at the union hall and luncheons at various senior centers and churches around town. I like to say that you can’t throw a stone in Baltimore without hitting someone with a Sparrows Point connection, which made it very easy to find folks to tell their stories — not just workers themselves but also family members, and of course people who had been raised in the company town. I also did quite a bit of archival research at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society, Baltimore County Historical Library, Museum of Industry and other archives.
BTC: There are so many threads running through your book — the danger of the mill work itself, the labor unions, racial tensions, safety and environmental issues, the “company town” concept to name a few. How did you go about framing your narrative?
DR: Well, as I said, that was the greatest challenge in writing the book. There were all these disparate threads and themes, and I knew that I had to include all of them to provide an honest and objective look at life on the Point. Ultimately, I decided to tell the story chronologically but focus each chapter on a different issue using the voices of my sources to carry the narrative forward. Once I settled on that structure, the writing of the book became much easier.
BTC: Roots of Steel, published in 2010, was your third book. Your previous books were science-focused. Can you tell us what is next for you as a writer? What else are you doing professionally?
DR: I’ve been working as professor of the practice at UMBC for the past couple of years, teaching journalism and science writing. I’ve also done some preliminary reporting for my next project, a kind of Catholic “Roots of Steel” which tells the story of the post-Vatican II church from the perspective of lay Catholics. I’ll be talking with people who have left the church as well as people who remain about their feelings on the sex abuse scandal, the status and role of women in the church and the struggle of LGBT Catholics and divorced and remarried Catholics to remain part of an institution that (officially at least) does not consider them worthy to receive the sacraments. As with Roots of Steel, it will tell a big story through the lens of individual experience.
Ephram Jennings has spent his life loving Ruby Bell. He’s loved her since the first time he saw her as a wild red haired child who was “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at.” After his beloved mother is committed to a mental institution and his heavy-handed father’s death, Ephram is raised solely by his devout sister, Celia, whom he calls “Mama.” Ruby grows up in the shadow of ancestors accused of witchcraft, with violence swirling around her until she finally packs up and leaves Liberty Township for New York City.
When Ruby returns, the town takes notice. Ruby’s red lipstick, fine clothes and perfume draw the attention of all the wrong kind. Over a decade later, the lipstick and heels gone, Ruby lives like a ghost, walking through the town in rags and caked in dirt. No one speaks to her, no one sees her. No one except Ephram. Under the filth, Ephram still sees Ruby for who she really is and longs for her fiercely. Having spent the whole of his life under the thumb of his Mama Celia and the discerning eye of the town and church, Ephram lacks the courage to speak his mind. He suffers from crippling headaches and finds himself vulnerable to the manipulation of others. The day comes when Ephram decides enough is enough and sets out to save Ruby Bell from the town and herself. He is unprepared for the reality of who Ruby has become and what she has succumbed to in her isolation.
In Ruby, a novel rife with heartache, tragedy, love and a touch of mystery, author Cynthia Bond weaves a story so thick and heavy it could pass for the southern grits served at the church picnics in Liberty Township. The story of Ephram and Ruby reverberates with the enduring power of love and explores the depths of the soul through Bond’s powerful words. Readers of Toni Morrison will appreciate the carefully crafted prose Bond presents.
Today, the world lost Maya Angelou. Yet we will never lose the irreplaceable voice she used to shape our world to make it a more compassionate and stronger place.
She is most widely known for her first memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which she reveals the hardships she endured being both an African-American and a girl in the Jim Crow South. In her memoirs, she expresses such complicated themes as race, identity and womanhood in an honest style that illuminates the human condition. In her last book, Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou investigated the loving yet complex relationship she had with her robust mother, an exceptional person in her own right.
Along with telling her own story, Angelou used her unique voice in other transformative ways. She was a poet. Her stimulating poetry is gathered in The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. She was a singer, a dancer, an educator and her voice continues to reach far beyond the literary realm. Angelou was a vigorous civil rights advocate, working alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Multiple presidents honored her linguistic power by having her speak as the heart of the nation. In her words and throughout her life, Angelou proved "one isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest." She embodied these virtues and instilled them in others, to the benefit of us all.
Summer weather is here, and these new cookbooks will help you wow the guests at your next cookout or tailgate party. These delicious and creative new spins on barbecue favorites are the perfect way to fire up your summer grilling season.
Food Network star Guy Fieri is kicking off summer with Guy on Fire: 130 Recipes for Adventures in Outdoor Cooking. The book is packed with color photos and Fieri’s tips to help you look like a star. Try mouthwatering new recipes like Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs with Spicy Relish, Chipotle Corn Salad with Grilled Bacon, Cast-Iron Beef Tenderloin with Huckleberry Sauce and Korean Fried Chicken Wings. Guy on Fire will help you make your backyard barbecue an official stop on the Flavortown Express.
If you’re looking for tips from a barbecue champion, pick up Melissa Cookston’s Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room: Southern Recipes from the Winningest Woman in Barbecue. Cookston, who has appeared on shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and BBQ Pitmasters, includes recipes for smoky barbecue favorites and her must-have Southern sides and desserts. Color photos and easy-to-follow instructions will help home cooks get the same delicious results as the pros. Recipes include basics like rubs and sauces as well as showstoppers like Grilled Quail with Bacon BBQ Sauce, Cayenne Grilled Peaches and Fire-Grilled Pork T-Bones with Hoe Cakes and Mississippi Caviar.
For lighter fare, try Better Homes and Gardens’ new cookbook Fresh Grilling: 200 Delicious Good-for-You Seasonal Recipes. These recipes celebrate the fresh flavors of summer and help you provide lighter, healthier alternatives. Their recipes for Chili-glazed Salmon Burgers, Grilled Vegetable Tostadas with Mole Sauce and Heirloom Tomato Salad with Grilled Tuna and Cannellini Beans will make your mouth water.
Other notable new grilling cookbooks include The Nolan Ryan Beef & Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes from a Texas Kitchen by baseball legend Nolan Ryan and The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook: More Than 100 Years of Sizzling Food Writing and Recipes.
Travel to the French department of Dordogne and meet the delightful Police Chief Bruno Courreges in the novel The Resistance Man by Martin Walker. Bruno spends his time in St. Denis pining over one lost love while trying to maintain the affections of a new girlfriend. He finds solace in food, wine and the adorations of a rambunctious puppy named Balzac, but his free time is often cut short by deadly events. Bruno is pulled into planning the funeral for a veteran of the French Resistance, one who has some curious currency that may have come from a wartime train robbery. There have also been a string of robberies across the French countryside, including the home of a former British spymaster, and residents are looking to Bruno to get results. An antique dealer is found battered to death and the contents of his van stolen, it appears to have some connection with the thefts. When the main suspect turns out to be the man’s former lover who is now on the run, Bruno has to put all of his skills to the test to track down the killer.
Martin Walker is the senior director for the Global Business Policy Council and the editor-in-chief emeritus of United Press International, and uses skills acquired from these positions to craft quite a story in the sixth installment of the Bruno Chief of Police series. Combining French politics, international affairs and gastronomical delights, Walker creates an intriguing world where events beginning in the French countryside often extend to the entire European continent. Readers wanting to start with the first novel of the series will want to read Bruno, Chief of Police first. Readers who enjoy the French setting should also try Claude Izner or Fred Vargas.
Since its publication in 2012, John Green’s teen novel The Fault in Our Stars has been wildly popular with teens and adults alike. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you certainly will this summer when the film adaptation, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, comes to theaters.
Hazel Grace Lancaster has had 33 half-birthdays. She and her family choose to celebrate them and, well, anything these days. Since she was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at age 13, nothing has been guaranteed. That cancer metastasized to her lungs, and now, she’s being kept alive by her oxygen tank, her BiPAP machine and a wonder drug called Phalanxifor. At least, she is for now. Hazel’s mother forces her to go to a weekly support group for teens with cancer. That’s where she meets Augustus Waters. Gus, who is in remission from osteosarcoma, and Hazel are drawn to each other, but Hazel has reservations. She is a grenade waiting to explode. She knows that her life won’t be a long one, and she wants to protect Gus from the eventual pain of losing her. Despite Hazel’s misgivings, the two grow closer, but they both know that happy endings aren’t real.
Green’s novel is simultaneously funny, beautiful and painful. Hazel and Gus are wise beyond their years. Don’t worry. The Fault in Our Stars is not a typical tragic romantic story, the likes of which, incidentally, both Hazel and Gus would hate. It is a story about living your life to the fullest, no matter how long it may be, and asking the big questions even when the answers aren’t easy. The razor-sharp dialogue and Hazel’s astute observations keep the novel from seeming sappy or contrived.
The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most buzzed-about movies this year. It will be in theaters on June 6, but you can check out this sneak peak right now.