Between 1854 and 1929, over 200,000 orphaned or abandoned children were transported from Eastern cities to the Midwest on what came to be known as “Orphan Trains.” The hope was that these children would find loving families to adopt them. Although this was the reality for some, for others it led to a life of mistreatment and servitude. In Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, Vivian Daly was one such child. Born into poverty, the majority of her family was killed in an apartment fire in the late 1920s, and she was put on a train bound for Minnesota. There, she passed through several unhappy homes before the kindness of a teacher led her to better prospects.
In present day, Molly Ayer is a foster child who has bounced from one family to another. She’s not happy with her current living situation but figures it has to be better than the juvenile detention center where she’s in danger of heading unless she finds a way to do 50 hours of community service. Her only option appears to be helping a now 91-year-old Vivian clean her attic. When their two worlds collide, Molly and Vivian find common threads in their pasts and subsequently help each other move forward into the next phase of their lives.
The inner strength and survival instincts of the two main characters, whose stories are both heartbreaking and hopeful, make for an engrossing story. Quietly suspenseful, readers especially will be hoping for a good outcome for all of the train riders who made the fateful journey with young Vivian. Kline explores both the seeming randomness of situations and circumstance, and the fateful ways lives can intersect to resolve past and present problems. Despite the weighty subject, this impressive work of historical fiction will make a good summer read. It’s also ready for adoption by a book club, containing discussion questions, an author interview and information about orphan train riders.
In Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger, we catch up with Andy Sachs, the ill-used assistant to Runway editor Miranda Priestly in the previous novel, The Devil Wears Prada. Ten years have passed, and Andy, after years of therapy, has started a rather successful magazine. In an unusual turn of events, she became reacquainted with Emily Charlton, the first assistant to Miranda and Andy’s sworn nemesis. The two women were able to put past differences aside and become fast friends. Andy is now working as a writer for a wedding blog. Emily thinks they can turn this idea into magazine gold. It doesn’t hurt that they're able to drop Miranda’s name to help them gain access to celebrities who then would let them photograph their elaborate and sophisticated weddings. Thus, The Plunge is born. In order to gain capital for the start-up costs, Emily arranges some meetings with potential investors. Andy meets charming Max Harrison, the son of a media mogul, at one of these meetings and sparks fly. Soon, Andy is out looking for a wedding dress of her own and preparing to walk down the aisle. Max’s mother makes it perfectly clear to Andy that she is not Harrison material, putting a damper on the proceedings. But Andy had faced a much bigger devil in the form of Miranda Priestly. She never realized that Miranda would play a part in her destiny.
Those who liked the first novel will enjoy catching up with Andy in the sequel, and with some of the characters from the first novel who pop up in surprise cameos. The audio version of the novel is read by Smash star Megan Hilty, and her delightful reading adds to the enjoyment of this novel.
On July 20, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) closed their annual conference with a gala event where they honored several writers for their outstanding work. Local author Mary Jo Putney received the 2013 RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. This award, which was renamed to honor Roberts in 2008, is presented to authors who have made a significant contribution to the romance genre. Putney has published over 29 novels. She is a nine-time RITA finalist and won the award twice. Her books are often bestsellers and are well-known by romance readers. Although she has also written contemporary and fantasy novels, Putney is best known for her exceptional Regency romances like her most recent novel Sometimes a Rogue. She now joins a distinguished group of RWA Lifetime Achievement Award winners that includes Kathleen Woodiwiss, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Sharon Sala, and Debbie Macomber.
At the same event, RWA also presented this year’s RITA awards for distinction in romance fiction. Simone St. James took the Best First Book RITA for her novel The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which Between the Covers blogger Lori shared last year. Eloisa James, who is a favorite among historical romance readers, broke her long streak of RITA losses when her novella Seduced by a Pirate won the Romance Novella category. Sarah MacLean’s A Rogue by Any Other Name, the first in her Rules of Scoundrels quartet, won for Best Historical. The full list of winners is available here. Congratulations to all of the winners!
Looking for something a little more substantial than your average beach read, but not ready to make the 350-page commitment to the latest and greatest literary masterpiece? Karen Russell, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist Swamplandia!, is ready to oblige with her second short story compilation, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Darkly humorous and always at least a little bit off-kilter, these eight tales sparkle with complex and fully realized characters that often can be so difficult to achieve in such a brief number of pages.
Though they are each quite different, all the stories share a common concern with perception that is repeatedly a driving psychological force for the characters, both internally and externally. Russell investigates how a person’s view of herself, of others, and of her surroundings affects how she acts and reacts. In some stories the manifestation of this interaction is stranger than in others. One character fights bitterness and hopelessness with determined optimism and disregard for his own illogic when year after year his team meets with inevitable defeat in the Antarctic. In one of the darker stories, a young woman’s acceptance of her very physical transformation into a silk-producing creature becomes the means of her own escape from bondage. And in the title story, a vampire and his wife who long for relief from their endless thirst find an illusory succor in sucking on lemons rather than necks, eventually leading to the demise of their relationship.
From the absurd to the chilling to the almost not quite ordinary, Russell uses this shorter format to excellent affect, creating a subtle yearning for each story to continue. Tantalizing and thoughtful, Vampires in the Lemon Grove is bursting with short summer treats that have just enough bite to keep you reading, whether you are stuck in the airport or relaxing on the beach.
As reform-minded voters were casting their ballots in Iran’s election last month, Iranian-born author Sahar Delijani was publishing her first novel. In her ambitious debut, Children of the Jacaranda Tree, opposition to the repressive regime led to a generation of displaced children in post-revolutionary Iran. Delijani gives voice to those left behind by the ensuing bloody purge that claimed thousands of lives. With her own family's experience close to heart, Delijani weaves together beautifully written and intimately entwined stories spanning from 1983 to 2011 of those lives forever changed for elusive freedoms past and future.
This was a revolution gone astray. Revolutionary guards, policemen, and morality guards patrolled the streets. So called "brothers and sisters" could not be trusted. The children of political activists, who ended up incarcerated or in mass graves, were left behind. They included Neda, born under horrific conditions while her mother was imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. There is Sheida, whose mother keeps hidden her father's execution for fear her daughter will follow the same path 20 years later. There is three year-old Omid, whose parents' "papery lives" of forbidden books, poems, leaflets, led to their arrest straight from the kitchen table. There are the caregivers, too, like Leila, who tends her sisters' children while their mothers serve out jail sentences.
Delijani, who was born in an Iranian prison, connects her many well-drawn characters through shared experiences, as they wrestle with a past that repulses as much as it begs not to be forgotten. It is the symbolic Jacaranda tree, with its stunning purple-pink panicles, that serves as a reminder to fight for, and free, the tree inside. For those who enjoyed Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis or Vaddey Ratner's In the Shadow of the Banyan the weight of history upon the next generation will look familiar, as will the determination to move forward.
It was a funeral that drew him across the pond and back to England. Time on his hands – and perhaps the expectation of nostalgia – led him deeper into Sussex, to the property where his childhood home had once stood. He couldn’t say what it was that drew him further down the lane and deeper into reverie. A few minutes more and he had arrived: the Hempstock Farm at the end of the lane. Whispers of memory kicked up like fog as he left the lane walking toward the farmhouse…he had known someone here, a girl named Lettie he thought. She had been his friend Lettie, who had called a duck pond an ocean and whose family had once been like his own for a time.
In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, master wordsmith Neil Gaiman beguiles his readers with a new and haunting story - his first for adults since Anansi Boys. In a tale that treads the line between memoir and magical realism, Gaiman invites the reader to join an unnamed middle-aged divorcee as he sits along the bank of an ordinary pond in once-rural England. As he sits, the memory of a simultaneously terrifying and enchanting event in his childhood emerges. The memories of dangerous magic in improbable settings, of his own childhood helplessness, of his faith in Lettie and the Hempstocks, come roiling back to the surface with unexpected force and consequence.
This is a story that will engulf both the man and the reader alike, leaving each a little refreshed and a little bewildered at its conclusion. It is a story about true self. It is a tale of sacrifice, and above all it is a tribute to memories, those which haunt us and those which have the power to bring us home again, if only for a little while.
Cookouts and farmers’ markets abound in summer, making it an exciting time of year for foodies. These three bright, beautiful cookbooks bring together the best tastes of summer with plenty of fresh ingredients and grilling.
Home Made Summer, the latest entry in Yvette Van Boven’s Home Made series, is filled with fabulous, sun-drenched food. Each recipe includes step-by-step instructions and beautiful photographs. Recipes like Éclairs with Lavender Filling, Mango and Cilantro Iced Tea, Crab Cakes with Fresh Citrus-Tomato Mayonnaise, and Prosecco and Elderflower Jelly with Melon are luscious and tempting. The recipes are sophisticated but not fussy, and Van Boven really makes the most of the fresh produce that summer provides.
Personal chef Jane Coxwell loves to cook with fresh ingredients and light flavors, making her recipes perfect for summer. In 2009, she began working as a personal chef aboard fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg’s yacht. Coxwell’s new cookbook Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes brings together beautiful photographs and accessible recipes inspired by her travels. With healthy, fresh recipes like Middle Eastern Watermelon Salad, Israeli Couscous with Shrimp and Zucchini, and Chicken and Beef Koftas, Coxwell’s food, featuring her own unique culinary style and its global inspiration, is fun and inspiring.
For inspiration for your next summer cookout, look no further than The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appétit, edited by Adam Rapoport. This complete guide to grilling covers all of the basics, but it also provides inspiration for to explore more unique flavors. Recipes like Chicken Skewers with Coriander Marinade and Lemon Salsa, Bombay Sliders with Garlic Curry Sauce, Best-Ever Barbecued Ribs, and Stone Fruit Slaw will take your cookout far beyond the traditional hamburgers and hotdogs.
An orphaned koala takes center stage in this real-life tale from Australia. In Jimmy the Joey: the True Story of an Amazing Koala Rescue, noted naturalist and author Deborah Lee Rose and photographer and filmmaker Susan Kelly take the reader on a journey from the moment Jimmy is found and rescued to his eventual release back into the wild. Likely the survivor of a koala-auto collision that took his mother's life, Jimmy is quickly whisked to the Koala Hospital, a one-of-its-kind rehabilitation center and sanctuary located in Port Macquarie, Australia. There, only estimated to be six weeks old, Jimmy is wrapped in a wool pouch mimicking his mother's, fed koala formula, and gently rocked to sleep. Which koalas do a lot - in the wild, more than 18 hours a day is spent sleeping. As small as a jellybean when first born, koalas need intense care for the first year of their lives. The Koala Hospital has been able to create as close to natural surroundings and nurture for young koalas who must grow and thrive before being released into the wild.
Susan Kelly's photographs of the impossibly cute Jimmy are spellbinding. As he grows at first on formula and then on an adult koala's main food source, eucalyptus leaves, Jimmy's bright shiny eyes, grasping claws, and soft grey fur are evident in each stage. Jimmy meets another recovering koala, Twinkles, who is further along in her rehabilitation. He quickly learns to climb trees, eats leaves on his own, and eventually grows stronger. Excellent resources are included for further information on the Koala Hospital and koalas in general. Interesting facts about the teddy bear-like creatures, such as their unique ability to consume eucalyptus leaves which are poisonous to most animals, and the meaning of the word koala (which means "little drink" in an Australian aboriginal language, as they get most if not all of their water from the leaves), fill out this exceptional introduction to a singular animal. A reminder of the need for continued conservation of the koalas' habitat is also featured, along with a map of where koalas are found in their native Australia.
What is normal? Normal often defies definition, especially for teenagers. Dealing with physical and emotional changes on a daily basis is tiring, so throwing a mental illness into the mix creates a recipe for disaster. Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett is a fictional first-hand account of a boy dealing with schizophrenia and junior high, and not having much success with either.
Cameron’s medication quiets the voices in his head, but it also makes him feel sluggish and not present in his life. He experiments by taking himself off his meds, questioning the advice of both his doctor and his parents. He feels strong enough to handle the voices on his own, and for a time he feels better, especially when a new voice emerges. "The Girl" is sweet, kind, pretty, and wants to be his girlfriend. So what if she isn’t quite real? If he can just act "normal" enough to avoid suspicion, then they can be happy. Unfortunately, an actual girl has taken notice of Cameron and threatens his self-created utopia.
Averett, a clinical psychologist, has created an eye-opening look into the mind of a mentally ill teen. The "voices" are all written in different fonts, and they are all truly unique from each other and from Cameron. Unusual in teen literature, Cameron’s family are included as loving, supportive, and concerned for his safety and happiness. The junior high setting adds a level of discomfort to the experience, taking the reader back to their own adolescence and how out of place you can feel in your own mind and body. While not completely "normal", Cameron’s struggle for control, of his health, mind, and life, is a brave one, and readers will root for him to find balance and happiness.
Charlie Davis is a political reporter for the Los Angeles Times, but becomes an investigator in search of his wife when she goes missing. Out of Range by Hank Steinberg is an action-packed adventure that leads Charlie and readers to Uzbekistan, the country where Charlie and his wife Julie fell in love. Six years ago, the young couple lived happily in Uzbekistan where he worked as a reporter and they were awaiting the birth of their first child. But tragedy soon struck as they were caught up in a massacre which wounded them both and took the life of their friends’ young son. Following that brush with death, Charlie resolved to keep his family safe. They returned to the security of the States and Charlie began his staid job at the Times.
Fast forward six years and the danger has resurfaced. While on a trip to Disneyland with their two children, Julie is forced from her car and vanishes. Following Julie’s kidnapping, Charlie becomes the police’s primary focus. Since the cops aren’t on the right trail, Charlie is determined to find out who took his wife. While investigating Julie’s days leading up to the disappearance, he finds clues indicating that perhaps Julie wasn’t the happy stay-at-home mom he thought she was. She’s been hiding secrets which now threaten her entire family. All roads lead Charlie back to Uzbekistan, and while attempting to rescue his wife, he must thwart a terrorist plot, outsmart his own kidnappers, and deal with MI6.
This debut thriller is from the creator of the television series Without a Trace. Steinberg illustrates the dangerous world of international espionage in a fast-paced tale that is full of twists and turns with an intriguing cast of characters.