“Finding your soulmate” takes on disastrous meaning as repercussions echo through the centuries in Susan Barker’s The Incarnations.
Wang Jun’s life as a Beijing taxi driver is dictated by the monotony of routine, until the day he finds in his taxi cab a letter addressed to him. The letter comes from an anonymous sender calling themselves Wang’s “soulmate.” This person has been searching for Wang to tell him that they are two souls that have been reincarnated together into different, yet connected, lives for a thousand years. More letters follow, all appearing mysteriously, all recounting the events in these past lives ranging from the time of the Tang Dynasty to Chairman Mao’s regime, all detailing in blunt and brutal language how their past lives ended in betrayal and violence.
Wang is disturbed by the letters and becomes determined to find out who is stalking him and stop them once and for all. But can he successfully determine who is behind the letters? Is the mysterious letter writer someone he knows or are they a total stranger? And if he succeeds in finding his soulmate, what will the consequences of his actions be?
The Incarnations is a novel of interwoven narrative layers, from the letters written to Wang to the five past lives described in detail by the soulmate narrator, with Wang’s quest the thread tying them all together. Mixing historical fiction with aspects of magical realism, Barker captures snapshots of Chinese history in brilliant and ruthless clarity as she blends them into Wang’s search and into each account of the past lives.
A caveat:The Incarnations is also a violent novel. Barker candidly details the acts of violence – physical, sexual and psychological – each incarnation experiences or inflicts. But it is a thought-provoking story about obsession, loyalty and betrayal as well, raising questions about humanity’s fallibility and the cyclical nature of time. Without giving too much away, this book makes you reconsider what reincarnation may involve and makes you wonder about the people in your own life. Readers who enjoy exploring the darker side of history or humanity, or who appreciate books that are a bit of a mind twist should check out this book.
As if the cover featuring a deliriously excited raccoon wasn’t enough to get you laughing, every vignette in Jenny Lawson’s new memoir Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things will certainly do the trick. Based on her wildly popular blog The Bloggess and follow-up to her New York Times bestseller Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s thoughts about living with mental illness have touched readers who identify with her daily struggles.
Chock-full of helpful advice on how to properly approach the Australian government with a request to hug a koala while wearing a koala costume and featuring chapters titled things like “Things I May Have Accidentally Said During Uncomfortable Silences,” Lawson’s sense of humor never overshadows the fact that dealing with mental illness is difficult, but rather celebrates her uniqueness and tenacity in getting through the toughest days.
Recently, Lawson made international headlines by admitting to her hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers that she replied, “You, too!” to an airport cashier after being told to enjoy her flight. What followed was an avalanche of embarrassing moments, tweeted in by thousands of people, which started trending worldwide. The particularly cringe-worthy tweets are available on her blog. In Lawson’s world, we may all be crazy and flawed, but at least we’re not alone.
Devoted fans may also want to check out It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong or Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.
Rhys Bowen conjures all the ambiance and bustle of New York City at Christmastime in her newest mystery Away in a Manger. Just barely heard above the crowd, a high, sweet voice sings the old Christmas carol. Molly Murphy and her ward Bridie discover the source; a little girl of no more than six, huddling in a doorway, holding a tin cup and hoping the holiday spirit will make people generous. For in 1905, there are no laws or agencies to protect children in need. Deeply touched, Molly and Bridie speak to the girl and soon realize she is intelligent and well-mannered. Both the girl and her older brother have been cast out into the street to make money any way they can by a cruel aunt who barely keeps them alive.
Inquisitive Molly cannot keep herself from getting involved. It seems the children’s mother has disappeared and their father has died. All they have left of their old life is an obviously valuable brooch. If the mother had means, why are her children reduced to begging? Do the children have other relatives who would care for them? Molly resolves to unravel their past and provide them with a better future.
Away in a Manger is a sweet and simple account of children no one will welcome, paralleling the traditional story of Christmas. Rhys Bowen brings to light the plight of children before principled people took a stand in their defense. While this is the latest in a long running series, this title can be read independently. This lucid and powerful tale reminds us that generosity and goodwill triumph over greed and evil, a thought even more compelling in this day and age.
In The Immortal Nicholas by Glenn Beck, a simple farmer named Agios supplements his meager earnings by harvesting precious frankincense. Following a series of tragic events, he gives up on life and wanders aimlessly, numbing his sorrow with alcohol. When he meets Caspar who is searching for frankincense, Agios’ life is changed forever as he starts on a journey to meet the newborn baby that Caspar and his friends, Melchior and Balthazar, are seeking in the town of Bethlehem. Soon Agios learns that this child, Jesus, is destined to be the King of Kings, and he feels compelled to protect Jesus and his parents as they try to avoid capture by the evil King Herod.
Beck’s premise for this book is to try and give Santa Claus a Christ-centered reason for being. Agios represents Santa but he is more of a misguided soul doomed to wander eternally through the world than the jolly man most of us know. Until Agios fulfills his mission, he remains immortal and goes through many personal tragedies. While he does eventually change his name to Nicholas and begin handing out gifts to deserving people, the core of the story is about Agios and his struggle to find meaning in life.
The historical portrayal of Biblical era life seems accurate and even compelling, but the story is not a warm and fuzzy Christmas tale for children. Beck is aiming at adults here, and trying to bring the message of Christ into Christmas without the typical commercialization of the holiday season. Whether or not you are a fan of Beck, The Immortal Nicholas is an interesting alternative to traditional holiday stories.
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Jim Kokoris’ It’s. Nice. Outside. is a road trip novel unlike any other. Fifty-something John Nichols (former college basketball player, high school English teacher and author) is on his way from the Chicago suburbs to his oldest daughter's wedding in South Carolina in a minivan. His companion? His developmentally disabled, autistic 19-year-old son Ethan who is afraid to fly.
The family is fraught with issues. Nichols is divorced, due to an affair with a wildly inappropriate woman (he blames it on the stress of parenting a special needs son). Now that woman is repeatedly calling again out of nowhere. Despite this, he still loves his ex-wife and holds out hope of reconciliation. Meanwhile, no one likes his daughter's husband-to-be. His middle daughter, a famous sketch comedian, has been feuding with her older sister and may not show up for the wedding.
Nichols makes his way south, using up his frequent stay points at Marriott properties that have pools (swimming calms Ethan) and eating at Cracker Barrels (Ethan likes routine). All the while, he’s trying to sort out what happens next in life for both him and his son. A trio of stuffed bears along for the ride provides Nichols with a cathartic outlet, as he runs them through outrageous comic routines tailored to entertain himself as much as they do Ethan.
Kokoris does a great job fleshing out believable, empathetic characters as he portrays the dysfunctional family dynamic. He shows sensitivity in his depiction of Ethan while spotlighting the everyday challenges of parenting a special needs adult. This novel is both laugh out loud funny and poignant, and will appeal to readers who enjoy books by Jonathan Tropper or Jonathan Evison.
Attention all Captain America fans, Falcon fans, Marvel fans and fans of superheroes! Just in case you didn’t get the memo, I am pleased to inform you or remind you that there is a new captain in town that is ready and able to lay a smack down on members of Team Hydra with his handy-dandy red, white and blue shield. With that said, I present to you Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon, who was chosen by his trusted friend and colleague Steve Rogers to become the new Captain America. This story can be found in the Marvel Now series, All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant with Rick Remender as the writer and Stuart Immonen as the penciler.
So, how exactly does Sam fare as the new red, white and blue hero? Pretty good. Sam is on a mission to save the world. Steve Rogers, who no longer looks youthful after being restored to his natural old age, sends Sam off to stop Hydra, an international subversive organization, from carrying out a terrorist attack. Hydra’s current goal is to make the world secure for themselves by preventing overpopulation by any means necessary. They hope to accomplish this task by spreading across the U.S. a child’s blood that contains a pervasive toxin capable of making people infertile. This is a personal problem for Sam because not only does he wants to make the world a safe place, but he also wants to start his own family. While Sam battles his foes, he also battles what people think of him and what his parents would think of him if they were alive. In the All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant, Sam contests against members of the New Hydra: Sin, the daughter of Red Skull; Zemo; Batroc; Crossbones and Baron Blood. However, Sam does not fight solo. Fighting by his side are: his partner Redwing; sidekick Nomad, who happens to be Steve Rogers’ adopted son, and Misty Knight, who claims to work for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Does Sam complete his mission? Does Hydra succeed? Does Sam get sterilized by the toxin to prevent him from having his own family? Read the All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant to find out what happens. There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end. Therefore, if you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to stay tuned for more of the All-New Captain America. Visit Marvel.com to check out the latest news on your favorite characters, comics and graphic novels.
The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs is the output of more than two decades of Tristan Gooley’s experience being in tune with the land and helping others learn to do the same. Sometimes I question Gooley’s sense — like when he gets himself lost in an abandoned underground slate mine — but I cannot question his fortitude or his know-how. When stuck in the aforementioned abandoned slate mine, he was resourceful and used the “dip” of the rocks underground to find his way. For those with no idea what “dip” is, or how to use it, he explains in a way that anyone can understand. Obviously, he found his way out, or he would not have been able to write this book. His techniques must work.
Lost Art is at times laugh out loud funny, but Gooley has all the gravitas of any scientist when he is explaining the finer points of how not to die in the wild — even something as simple as figuring out how to tell when approaching civilization. He explains all of his how not to die lessons in language that is easy to understand and fun to read. His love for the wonders of the world around him bleeds through the page. Soon, the reader will be locating tracks of mice and deer, and they, too, will feel his passion for the glory of the natural world.
This book is a must for any fan of the outdoors. Gooley’s passion for wonder and knowledge is infectious. Also look out for his previous book, The Natural Navigator, in which Gooley explains how to find one’s way just by using the world around them.
December 12 marks the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and three new books celebrate his legacy. Ol’ Blue Eyes remains an iconic figure in American culture with his mystique enduring long after his death in 1998.
Sinatra the Chairman by James Kaplan is a detailed examination of the life and career of this legendary performer. By delving into his complex relationships and prolific career, Kaplan exposes the multi-faceted layers that made this man —singer, actor, mogul, friend and lover. This is the follow-up to 2010’s Frank: The Voice and picks up in 1954, after Sinatra won an Academy Award and was firmly re-entrenched as a top selling recording artist.
Award-winning author Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters was first published in 1999 and is being re-issued in time for the anniversary of Sinatra’s birth, along with a new introduction from the author. This book serves as both a unique homage and an insightful portrait of a complex man. Hamill’s beautifully written portrait brings to life a man whose entertaining touched so many generations.
Frank & Ava: In Love and War by John Brady fully explores this volatile relationship which shaped both their lives. Ava had two short-lived marriages behind her and a succession of high profile suitors when she and Frank met. The spark was instantaneous and the two began a tempestuous affair, despite Frank’s marriage which ended soon after in divorce. Frank and Ava’s subsequent marriage was a series of fights, separations and reconciliations which ultimately ended in divorce. Despite the not-so-happy ending, Brady’s exploration of this glamorous couple is compelling. Gossip columnist Liz Smith said of this duo, "If I had to go back in Hollywood history and name two people who were most desperately and passionately in love with each other, I would say Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were it."
Want more? Check out this list of music, movies and more books featuring the Chairman of the Board.
Be wary of the kind stranger that invites you into their home because they just might try to hurt you. This is one of the many lessons that you will learn from Mary Kubica's novel, Pretty Baby.
On a cold, rainy day in Chicago, Heidi Wood stands on a train platform awaiting the arrival of the Brown Line to take her home. While waiting, she notices a mysterious, frazzled teenage girl drenched in rain and feels sorry for her. The girl calls herself “Willow” and, although she is without an umbrella, a decent coat or a place to call home, she is not alone. Willow has Ruby, her baby girl, tucked inside her coat to keep her warm and protect her from the rain. After Heidi spots Willow and Ruby at the train station a few more times, she realizes that they are in desperate need of help. She invites them into her home without the approval of her husband, Chris, and her 12-year-old daughter, Zoe. By inviting the strangers into her home, the charitable Heidi slowly reveals her dark side. Furthermore, Heidi accidentally opens up her old wounds that never healed properly and she manages to damage her marriage to Chris and her relationship with her daughter.
Pretty Baby touches on many topics, such as foster care, adoption, homelessness, teenage parenting, abortion, cancer, infidelity, post-traumatic stress disorder, bereavement, child abuse, rape and murder. Although Pretty Baby has a slow start, it picks up the pace as it goes. Kubica kept my interest to the very end and raised tons of questions — such as “Just who is Willow?” I liken Pretty Baby to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl because it also has a husband and wife point of view.
Author Mary Kubica is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller The Good Girl. Pretty Baby is her second novel. To learn more about the author, visit her website.