Literary fans of something old and something new now have an opportunity to see, in person, the art masterpieces at the heart of two respected writers' novels. Tracy Chevalier's hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring and Donna Tartt's eagerly anticipated new novel, The Goldfinch, feature paintings by Dutch masters now on temporary display in the United States. Johannes Vermeer's beloved "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and Carel Fabritius's exquisite "Goldfinch" are currently part of a 15-painting exhibition on loan to the Frick Collection in New York until January 19.
Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier's second novel, is about Vermeer's 16-year-old housemaid who becomes the subject of his painting. It was greeted with popular and critical success following its publication in 1999. In addition to some 4 million copies sold, the book was turned into a movie.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's sweeping new novel, is part suspense thriller, part coming-of-age novel. It centers on a young man named Theo, whose life is changed forever following a bomb attack at a New York museum that leaves his mother dead and him in possession of a rare Fabritius painting.
Now at the final American venue of a global tour, the paintings are traveling for only the second time in 30 years as the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague undergoes an extensive two-year renovation. Here is your opportunity to get up close and personal with the paintings behind the stories. Visit the Frick Collection for more information.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes, author of the Raised by Wolves series, has a newly released book, The Naturals. This novel is the first installment in a new Young Adult series. Barnes has a penchant for writing in the paranormal genre, but The Naturals is borderline realistic crime fiction.
Cassandra Hobbes is a “Natural,” even if she doesn’t know it yet. When she was very young, her mother Lorelai claimed that she was a psychic, when really she just profiled people based on small details she could glean from their appearance and comportment. Lorelai taught her daughter the tricks to profiling people so that she could help with her mother’s act. It is this ability to read people that sets Cassie apart.
After Lorelai’s disappearance and presumed death, Cassie had to move in with her grandmother because her father was serving in the military oversees. Cassie has never felt like she fits in with her family, so when she is confronted by an FBI agent who asks her to move to Washington D.C. and join a special team of talented teens, she jumps at the opportunity. The eclectic group of gifted teens is brought together under one roof where they can hone their skills and help the FBI by working on cold cases.
The Naturals is equal parts Shadowlands by Kate Brian and the television series Criminal Minds, with interactions that are reminiscent of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. The crime, action and sometimes gruesome depictions of murder scenes will take the reader on a wild ride, while the character development and smattering of romance will help to ease the tension.
By 1942, the United States government had fully committed to the idea of building an atomic bomb. The scope of that project would dwarf any other single undertaking in human history in cost and material. The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan details the experiences of 16 women who find themselves wrapped up in the secrecy and inadvertent social engineering of the Manhattan Project.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee was the first of the three biggest Manhattan project facilities and did not exist until the Department of Defense built it. For years, it didn’t even appear on any maps. The town started small, but as the project ramped up there was an increased need for housing, stores, sundries and recreational outlets. By the end of World War II, 75,000 lived in and around Oak Ridge. With so many able-bodied men in the military, women formed a vital backbone to the efforts at Oak Ridge. Some were transported in from the coasts without knowledge of their final destination. Others were from the surrounding area, lured in by the promise of well-paying, if secretive, government work. There were also the women scientists involved in the research, although they were often deprived of the accolades. Many of these women had never been away from home; many had never earned their own salary before. They found themselves someplace where the security and secrecy was oppressive. Some were even recruited to spy on their fellow workers.
Kiernan lets the women tell their own stories, and if many of them are similar, the cross-section is still broad. Especially interesting is the vast difference in experiences based on race, the United States still viciously segregated at the time. It’s also interesting to see how this group of clever young people made a dry county one of the best areas for the production and smuggling of moonshine in the U.S. Many of the women Kiernan interviewed were shocked at the war’s end to realize what exactly they had been working on. Most of them, though, remained in Oak Ridge - at least the town if not the facility.
O.J. Brigance knows what it’s like to be a winner on and off the field. He had a remarkable career as an NFL linebacker, including as a member of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl winning team. Following that victory, Brigance joined the front office to help create more championship teams for the purple and black. But in 2007, he was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his life was forever altered. Peter Schrager, FoxSports.com senior writer, and Brigance share his inspirational story of perseverance and hope in Strength of a Champion: Finding Faith and Fortitude Through Adversity.
Upon diagnosis, doctors told Brigance he would have three to five years to live, years which would be marked by the loss of speech and mobility. But Brigance, familiar with hits on the field, refused to give up. Rather than follow a path of self-pity, Brigance viewed his diagnosis as an opportunity. With faith, determination and the love of his wife Chanda, O.J. fought back and raised awareness for this debilitating disease. No longer able to walk or speak, Brigance remained a vibrant presence in Baltimore’s front office and touched everyone in the organization as the team claimed another Super Bowl victory in 2013.
Brigance received motivation and energy from the team as well, and shared special bonds with players and coaches. Upon hearing of Ray Lewis’ retirement, Brigance told him to go out a champion. And when illness threatened his appearance at the Super Bowl, he recovered and delivered a moving pre-game message to the team. At the conclusion of Brigance’s powerful speech, Coach John Harbaugh had no doubt that the Super Bowl would be Baltimore’s. Brigance shares wonderful behind-the-scenes stories and humorous anecdotes which will appeal to ardent football fans, but this story of one courageous man living a life of inspiration and faith transcends the football field. Learn more about The Brigance Brigade, O.J.’s foundation dedicated to equipping, encouraging, and empowering people living with ALS.
Americans adore our pets, and these eye-catching new photography books will bring smiles to the faces of animal lovers. When Carli Davidson bought a camera with a high-speed shutter, she began taking photos of animals and posting some online. Those photographs went viral. Her new book Shake features photographs of over 60 dogs along with Davidson’s answers to questions about her photography style. These pictures of exuberant dogs caught mid-shake are both comical and endearing. The New York Times aptly calls Davidson’s work a "hilarious portrayal of flying fur, flopping jowls and bulging eyes." Shake is a lively and vibrant companion to Seth Casteel’s Underwater Dogs books.
David Tabatsky brings us another look at man’s best friend with Beautiful Old Dogs: A Loving Tribute to Our Senior Best Friends. The book combines stunning photographs by the late Garry Gross and essays from Anna Quindlen, Victoria Stilwell, Doris Day, Dean Koontz, Marlo Thomas and many others. Gross, who was a noted fashion photographer for many years, was passionate about caring for senior dogs, and that is reflected in his photographs. Beautiful Old Dogs is an emotional and loving tribute that will touch dog lovers. As Gross said, they are “[d]ogs with soul in their eyes.”
If you’re more of a cat person, Sarah Beth Ernhart’s Kittenhood: Life-size Portraits of Kittens in Their First 12 Weeks may be more your speed. This oversized book features life-size photographs of kittens during the first weeks of their lives. These irresistible and adorable kittens will charm cat lovers. Ernhart captures the infectious playfulness and cuddliness of kittens in this collection of stunning photographs.
Art historian Paul Koudounaris has developed a grotesque but incredibly interesting research niche as he uncovers Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. In this, the follow-up to his 2011 Coup de Coeur award-winning Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, Koudounaris continues to delve deep into the centuries-old mystery of the veneration and bejeweling of full skeletons and individual bones of Christian “saints” in Europe. In the past, the relics have made their appearances only once a year at festivals, but the author was granted unprecedented access to examine and photograph these unique marvels.
Beginning in the early middle ages, the remains of various Christian martyrs were buried in the Roman catacombs. Long forgotten, the skeletons filled the underground passages until the era of the Protestant Reformation. In the late 1500s through the following century, many Catholic churches were looking for relics that would help to invigorate their parishioners to remain devoted. These churches, mostly in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, were sent authenticated bones from The Vatican with official documentation identifying them as having belonged to early Christian martyrs. In the intervening years, many of these unofficial saints have been “decanonized” by Roman Catholic officials.
Individual examples and stories of the relics and the stunning manner that they are displayed make up the bulk of this fascinating look at the crossroads of religion, art and history. Sumptuous photographs of the artifacts in all their dazzling glory, including a breathtaking double-page spread of the “Chapel of Bones” at the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, complete this unique volume.
Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House by Barry Martin is a truly one-of-a-kind story. When Martin, head of a construction project, first hears of the octogenarian Edith Wilson Macefield, all he knows is that she’s feisty, fiery and will not give up her modest home to the developers constructing the shopping mall around her…not even for a million dollars. As he does with every one of his sites, he makes rounds in the neighborhood to apologize for the noise and to tell the residents to contact him with any concerns.
He could not have anticipated the call he soon receives from Edith asking him to drive her to a hair appointment. After a while, he finds himself walking over to visit her while she’s putting out seeds for the birds, watching Lawrence of Arabia and reciting poetry. Soon, he’s drawn into the fascinating details of her life, which contains multitudes of tales that could fill five lifetimes. From being a 14-year-old spy for the British in Nazi Germany to memories of receiving a clarinet from her cousin, the American swing musician Benny Goodman, Martin is pulled into the hidden yet wondrous existence of the resolute elderly woman.
Martin’s firsthand account of his tender companionship with this small but mighty force of a woman undoubtedly makes this a touching read. All at once, he is concerned, bewildered and very much intrigued by Edith, who stands her ground. When social services start calling, she reveals her wish to pass away on her couch, the very same place her own mother passed. Without denying Edith her independence, Martin begins to assist her as her physical strength declines so that she can die the way she’s always lived—on Edith’s terms.
This biography verges on indescribable in the way humor, compassion and sadness are simultaneously intertwined to recount the infallibility of the human spirit and pricelessness of human kindness.
Twelve years ago on the day she was born, Cassie Romano’s town was flooded to make way for a new dam and the residents of Old Lower Grange were moved uphill to a brand new town, New Lower Grange. The whole town turned out to celebrate the flooding except for Cassie’s family. They were busy racing to the hospital to deliver Cassie eight weeks earlier than planned. In Meg McKinlay’s children’s novel, Below, Cassie is envious of her family’s memories of a place she will never know and she grows up imagining a mysterious town underneath the still waters of the manmade lake. Fascinated with the past, she has spent hours studying old pictures, maps and historic documents and knows where every oak tree stood and where every road leads.
When a summertime drought causes the water levels in the lake to recede dramatically, Cassie and her friend Liam stumble on a long kept secret, a secret that was submerged under 200 of water. Despite their own physical limitations, they work together to solve the mystery below the water.
Below is based on the author’s own experience as a teenager standing next to a drowned town and wondering what remained underneath the water and the mud.
Jo Baker’s engaging new novel Longbourn focuses on the life of housemaid Sarah and her fellow servants for a behind-the-scenes retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Fans of Austen’s novel will be intrigued by the lives of the underclass in Regency England, no less intriguing and dramatic than those of the gentry they serve.
Sarah, orphaned and raised almost as a daughter to housekeeper Mrs. Hill, fills her days from early morning to late night with the strenuous labor it takes to run a country household. Baker fills her novel with detailed accounts of the housemaid’s chores, from emptying the chamber pots to heading to town in the rain and cold to purchase ornamental roses to decorate the Bennet girls’ shoes. Readers will learn fascinating period housekeeping hints, like the fact that cold tea leaves sprinkled on floors will bind with dust, hair and insects, making sweeping easier.
Even as she supports the sisters in their complicated courtships, she dreams of a life of her own. She becomes flustered in her dealings with Mr. Bingley’s handsome, flirtatious footman Ptolemy, the man charged with delivering letters. His goal is to open a tobacco shop one day. Mysterious James Smith, the newly arrived servant with hazel eyes and a secret cache of seashells, intrigues her as he lightens her daily work burdens and takes an interest in her. Sarah wonders “Could she one day have what she wanted, rather than rely on the glow of other people’s happiness to keep her warm?” Longbourn is a book to savor almost as much as its inspiration.
Fannie Flagg’s new novel The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion will remind readers of why they originally fell in love with her writing. The story’s wit, wisdom and colorful cast of characters are utterly captivating.
Having just survived her three daughters’ four weddings in less than two years, Sookie Poole is ready to enjoy some peace at last. She is looking forward to spending her days tending her birdfeeders, relaxing, traveling with her long-suffering husband Earle and caring for her eccentric mother Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Her biggest concern these days is that one day she will go crazy like all the Simmonses do. There’s a fine line between eccentric and crazy, and in the Simmons family they all end up in the Pleasant Hill Sanitarium eventually. Then, Sookie receives a certified letter and learns a shocking family secret. She begins to search for answers and learns much more about Lenore’s past. Layers of the story unfold and Flagg takes readers back to 1943, Fritzi Jurdabralinski and the women who ran the Phillips 66 gas station in Pulaski, Wisconsin.
This story is a perfect fit for readers who enjoy novels by Adriana Trigiani, Rebecca Wells and Ann B. Ross. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is an absolute delight. Like Flagg’s bestselling Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café, this story moves between past and present, telling a family’s story with effervescent humor and irresistible Southern charm.