Hooman Majd is an Iranian-American, a well-known and respected journalist who is critical of the Iranian government as well as the son of a high-ranking diplomat for the Shah. All of these factors would be good reason for Majd to limit his time in Iran. Majd has travelled in and out of Iran for years, often escorting U.S. journalists. He has published two previous books on the country, which were critical of the Iranian government. Majd grew up in the U.S. and Britain, but like many political refugees, he has always felt the pull of his home country. In his book, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, Majd recounts the nearly year-long stay in Tehran that he and his family embark upon.
This journey begins when his family moves there during a tumultuous time in Iran – on the cusp of the Arab Spring and the failure of the Green Movement reforms. Majd talks about the big issues while also discussing the minutiae of an American family trying to live in a country devoid of Starbucks and organic food stores. His narrative is often humorous, and it is at its best when discussing the average Iranian people, who have an incredibly self-deprecating view, a voracious love of politics and an admiration for American ideals.
Majd looks at Iranian cultural features like “sulking” and exaggeration and shows them in everyday life as well as how they play out in the domestic and international political arenas. What emerges is a portrait of a modern capitalist country that, while still repressive, has a very healthy political dialogue, including reporting on every juicy bit of gossip about leaders like they were the Kardashians. The people desire to stay Islamic but also to become more open and liberal. Majd sees the U.S./Iranian relationship as a version of a Persian “Big Sulk,” with an Iranian government ready to resume ties with the U.S., but only after the U.S. makes a demonstration of apology for past wrongs and expresses a desire for such a relationship. It’s an intriguing possibility, but one that the U.S. would be politically unable to explore. Ultimately, Majd is on a journey to discover the Persian identity, both his own and his homeland’s.
In honor of Earth Day, Green Living Can Be Deadly, the second installment in Staci McLaughlin’s Blossom Valley mysteries, is a cozy mystery that sparks the spirit of the day. While the books can be read as a set, they can be standalone reads as well. In McLaughlin’s series, Dana has returned to her hometown to live with her mother and boy-crazed sister after the death of her father.
Upon returning to Blossom Valley, Dana takes on a job with O’Connell’s Organic Farm and Spa, doing everything from feeding pigs to marketing and even investigating murders in her spare time. While manning the booth at the Green Living Festival, Dana runs into Wendy, a high school classmate and friend whom she hasn’t seen in years. Within hours of their renewed friendship, Dana comes upon Wendy’s blood-covered dead body in the neighboring stall. It’s after learning that Wendy doesn’t have many family members or friends that Dana decides to put her amateur sleuthing to good use, much to the chagrin of detective Palmer.
On account of Dana’s off-beat wit, unique way of looking at things and her wayward detective skills, this book is an amusing and easy read. If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, though, I will say that this book gives you all the clues you need to solve the mystery yourself. McLaughlin even includes Dana’s blog posts for those who may want some holistic living tips and tricks.
Baltimoreans may be tired of winter, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading Jennifer McMahon’s latest book, The Winter People, a ghostly tale of small town legends and entangled tragic family history. West Hall, Vermont, has always been a locus of strange sightings and disappearances. Many of the local legends feature Sara Harrison Shea, a farmer’s wife who in 1908 was found dead shortly after her daughter’s sudden death. The tragedies of the Shea family perpetuated rumors of curses and other odd occurrences that continue to resonate in the town.
In present day, Ruthie, whose family lives “off the grid” in the old Shea farmhouse, is puzzling over the disappearance of her mother and has just discovered an old copy of Sara’s diary hidden in the farmhouse. Katherine, a Boston transplant who moved to West Hall after the deaths of both her son and husband, comes across a copy of the same diary in her husband’s belongings. Slowly, through the chapters that alternate among Sara’s, Ruthie’s and Katherine’s stories, the mystery comes to light, and the shadowy links between all the characters are revealed.
McMahon spins an intriguing and unique story with smart, resourceful characters and whispers of old magic and ghosts. Love and strong familial bonds are at the heart of all three stories, making this a good pick for anyone who likes family sagas as well as mysteries. As each new layer is revealed, readers will be further drawn into the enigmatic world of West Hall and its dark history. Although the story is not overburdened with descriptive details, a harsh early 20th century farming existence and an artsy present-day New England town are skillfully conveyed. In fact, McMahon does such an exceptional job penning a New England winter landscape that you are bound to feel the chill of frozen Vermont while reading. Best to read in front of a fire – or someplace with warm weather if you’re lucky!
Colombian novelist and Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez passed away yesterday in Mexico City. He is considered the father of the “magical realism” subgenre of literary fiction, many authors having been influenced by his writing style. Born in a small Colombian town and raised by his grandparents, García Márquez was sent to a Jesuit school near Bogotá where he caught the writing bug. At first, he wanted to be a journalist, but soon after, in his late adolescence, he realized his true calling was as a novelist.
Best known for two mammoth international bestsellers, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, García Márquez wrote a total of six major novels, four novellas, five collections of short stories and a number of nonfiction works. Oprah Winfrey selected One Hundred Years of Solitude for her book club in 2004, and the novel is said to have sold over 50 million copies worldwide. Acclaimed Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes once referred to him as “the most popular and, perhaps, the best writer in Spanish since Cervantes.” Gabriel García Márquez is survived by his wife and two sons.
AMC’s new Revolutionary War television series, Turn, brings viewers into a world of espionage, covert operations, code breaking and double agents. The show is based on historian Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. In this case, fact is every bit as exciting as fiction. Rose tells the story of the Culper Ring, a small network of spies who operated under the direction of George Washington. This unusual group of spies worked unlike anyone before, and the Culper Ring’s activities laid the foundation for modern spy craft. Rose shares more about the groundbreaking band of spies in this interview.
This compelling and fascinating chapter of the Revolutionary War probably isn’t much like the story that you remember from your high school history class. Turn showrunner Craig Silverstein explains, “What we’re told in school is that it was a very David vs. Goliath tale, that we fought the British for our freedom. In reality, it was a war fought between neighbors; it was fought house to house … It wasn’t like we were repelling an alien invasion force; it was more like a divorce.”
Turn premiered on AMC on April 6. Get a taste of this exciting new series.
Two new novels written by children for children are sure to inspire any young writer.
Young author Jake Marcionette hit the bestseller list at 13 years old with his debut novel, Just Jake. Jake Ali Mathews is moving from Florida to Maryland to start sixth grade in the fourth new school of his young life. Full of confidence and experienced at being the “new kid,” Jake makes a plan to attain his previous level of awesomeness at his new school, Kinney Elementary. Inspiring confidence and fortitude, Jake’s “Rules of Awesomeness” guide him well, although it takes some time to achieve his goal. Readers will easily relate to this thoroughly likable character as he navigates the social scene at Kinney Elementary School and deals with his mean older sister. Illustrated with a combination of color cartoon and photograph collage by Victor Rivas Villa, Just Jake is a wonderful read. Fans of Gordon Korman’s Swindle series and Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries will enjoy Just Jake.
The Adventure of a Lifetime is the first novel for 13-year-old Ravina Thakkar. Published with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois, Thakkar’s novel is a fantastic tale of a young girl with a love of reading. When a special teacher gives her a copy of the new Amber the Brave book, 9-year-old Betty is ecstatic. After the book wakes her up at midnight and asks if she wants to go on an adventure, Betty is sucked into her own adventure of a lifetime with Amber herself. She and Amber must work together to defeat the evil Doctor Sly and find the portal to return Betty to real life. Fans of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series will enjoy this fantasy that brings a storybook to life.
In Emma Pass' debut novel, ACID, the year is 2113 and the U.K. has been taken over by the Agency for Crime Investigation and Defense, or ACID. The agency has imposed strict laws that prohibit alcohol and smoking while enforcing a curfew and arranging life partners for people when they turn 17. The population is divided by job status and salary, and ACID has created a tangible barrier between the classes.
Jenna Strong lived a privileged life until, at 15, an accident took her parents and forever changed her life. She was found responsible for the death of her parents and sentenced to life in a co-ed prison for adults where she had to learn to take care of herself. With the help of the prison doctor, Alex Fisher, she learned martial arts and began to take control of her fate.
Alex conspired with an organization to break Jenna out of jail, but he was killed in the process, leaving Jenna with a sense of guilt and a debt to be paid. After being rescued, Jenna’s appearance is transformed, and she learns that her memories had been altered by ACID. With her freedom restored, Jenna decides to take her life back and pay off old debts along the way.
This young adult, dystopian novel is Emma Pass’ first book and has only recently become available in the U.S. Pass has already earned her accolades in the U.K. with her intricately created and fast-paced thriller.
Romance writers across the country were recently thrilled to receive that special phone call sharing the news that their books were finalists for a RITA Award. RITAs are the highest honor of distinction in romance fiction, and are awarded in 12 categories. The categories cover the wide range of romance readership, including erotica, paranormal and historical.
The Romance Writers of America (RWA) bestows these awards to highlight excellence in published romance novels and novellas at its annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, in July. Want to see how many you’ve read? Check out the complete list, which also includes Golden Heart (excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts) nominees. Have you read any of the RITA Award nominees? Let us know what you thought in the comments. Congratulations to all the finalists!
The winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize were announced this afternoon. In addition to the awards for journalism, prizes are also given in the area of Letters, Drama, and Music. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch took this year’s prize for Fiction. The judges said that The Goldfinch is "a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart." A favorite in the category, The Goldfinch was featured on many lists of the best books of 2013 and has been very popular with BCPL readers.
Other winners include Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall for Biography, 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri for Poetry, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin for General Nonfiction, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor for History and The Flick by Annie Baker for Drama.
For a list of all the winners, click here.
Two beloved children’s book characters are featured in a couple of new series for young chapter book readers.
Author Megan McDonald adds to her Judy Moody and Stink collection of stories with Judy Moody and Friends, a series focusing on Judy’s friends. With bright, bold colors, the illustrations by Erwin Madrid make these shorter novels appealing to newly independent readers. Jessica Finch in Pig Trouble starts off the series with Judy’s friend Jessica preparing for her birthday party and really wanting a pig for her gift. After a fight with Judy, she disinvites her to her party. Rocky Zang in The Amazing Mr. Magic has Judy’s best friend Rocky trying his hand at magic. Judy helps out as his bumbling assistant until she gets mad and stomps off. Capturing the charm and mood of the original series, Judy Moody and Friends is sure to be a hit with fans of Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones series and Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series.
Fans of Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, can get to know Hank as a second grader in their new series, Here’s Hank. Thanks to an observant fourth grade music teacher, Hank is diagnosed with dyslexia in the original series. Before then, despite his tremendous effort and to the great frustration of his father, Hank just couldn’t get his schoolwork done. In A Short Tale about a Long Dog, Hank’s father promises he can get a dog if there is improvement in all of his grades. Despite his best efforts, Hank doesn’t improve his math grade. Mr. Zipzer gives him one chance to take care of his dog, but puts him on warning. Hank is a realistic and relatable character. Young fans will enjoy reading about Hank’s efforts to do his best and empathizing when he fails. A bonus for young readers is that the Here’s Hank series is published with a relatively new font called “Dyslexie,” which is designed to make the letters more distinct and “weighted down.” According to the authors, these attributes help kids read faster and with fewer errors.