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One Maryland One Book 2013

King PeggyAn American woman’s journey from embassy secretary to African royalty is this year’s choice for the One Maryland One Book selection. King Peggy: An American Secretary, her Royal Destiny and the Inspiring Story of How she Changed an African Village chronicles the story of Peggielene Bartels of Silver Spring, Maryland, who learns in 2008 she is the new king of Otuam, a poor Ghanaian fishing village of 7,000. This book was previously reviewed on Between the Covers last year.

 

Now in its sixth year, the Maryland Humanities Council program brings people together from across the state through a shared reading experience, book-centered discussions and other programming. A calendar of free public events will be available on the MHC website this summer. Last year’s book, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, attracted almost 7,000 readers in Maryland’s only statewide book club.

Cynthia

 
 

Here There Be Dragons

A Natural History of DragonsIsabella Hendemore, now Lady Trent, has had an adventuresome, successful, and often harrowing life researching the lives and habits of the mysterious, dangerous dragons that dwell across the world. Though she has written many books on the subject, rumors and speculation abound about her journeys to far-flung mountaintops and desert plains in search of these elusive creatures. But Lady Trent has finally written her memoirs, and boy are they exciting. The first volume, A Natural History of Dragons: a memoir by Lady Trent, is the beginning of a new series by fantasy author Marie Brennan set in a world where dragons are just another type of exotic creature to be studied, hunted, captured and exploited. As a child, Isabella is entranced by the small dragon-like sparklings in her garden, even though natural history is not considered a proper subject of study for young ladies. Her obsession with discovering more about dragons only grows as she matures into adulthood and gets married. When the opportunity to study dragons firsthand arises, she and her husband set out on a thrilling and groundbreaking expedition that carries a deadly cost.

 

As with her previous Onyx Court series, Brennan excels at breathing life into her characters and settings. She looks beyond this first book, casting out storylines that will intrigue readers to follow the adventures in later novels. So hold on to your bonnets, dust off your microscope, and get ready to dig into Brennan’s new fantastical world in A Natural History of Dragons

Rachael

 
 

Vermont Vet

Vermont Vet

posted by:
April 5, 2013 - 8:15am

The Patron Saint of Lost DogsDr. Cyrus Mills returns to Eden Falls, Vermont and the Bedside Manor for Sick Animals in The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout. Bedside Manor was Cyrus’ father’s veterinary practice and with the passing of his dad, Cyrus is the freshly-minted owner. However, Cyrus, who was long-estranged from his father, wants to sell the old place to a national chain and get back to his life. He doesn’t even practice veterinary medicine, but prefers the isolation of his career as a vet pathologist. Cyrus also needs fast money and plans on using the proceeds from the sale to help him defend against potentially career-ending litigation at home in Charleston. Plans change when Cyrus realizes the Bedside Manor is in financial trouble and he is given one week to prove that the practice could be a profitable investment. During this week, Cyrus cares for a variety of household pets and finds himself reconnecting with his former community and the crazy cast of characters who populate the small town. But not everyone is happy to see Cyrus and at least one banker and an anonymous blackmailer have set him in their crosshairs.

 

During the course of the week, Cyrus’ personality changes as he learns to open up to the people who are supporting him in his endeavor to turn the practice around. He is also forced to face some truths from his past, including new information about his mother and father. Nick Trout is a veterinary surgeon who has written best-selling memoirs about his experiences caring for animals. In his first novel, he offers a well-written, fast-moving, entertaining tale populated with plenty of unique two and four-legged characters. Ultimately, this is the story of one man and the dramatic way his life changes once he opens his heart and lets people and animals into his world.

Maureen

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Lights Out

Lights Out

posted by:
April 5, 2013 - 7:01am

Last DaysIn Last Days by Adam Nevill, we are introduced to the Temple of the Last Days, a severe apocalyptic cult started in England and led by the enigmatic Sister Katherine. She began as a visionary, but soon detached herself to the life as a recluse, surrounding herself with her favorite acolytes and treating the remaining cult members with reproach and disgust. The cult traveled from England to a farmhouse in France, and eventually ended up in Arizona where Sister Katherine wound up beheaded and several members committed suicide.

  

Years have passed but interest and speculation about the cult never ended. Enter Max Solomon, CEO of Revelation Productions and general new age guru, who wants to make a documentary on the Temple of the Last Days.  He enlists a young filmmaker named Kyle who is well known in the indie film business for making gritty, realistic films on paranormal topics.  Kyle, heavy in debt, agrees.  Max sets up filming locations and connects him with members of the cult who were lucky enough to escape its clutches before it landed in Arizona.  Kyle soon realizes that these living remains of the cult are broken souls, and reliving past days will not be easy for them. During filming, strange things begin to happen, from unexplained footsteps on the floor above to unexplained noises coming from basements below.  There is talk of presences, but no one can explain what or who these presences might be.  Kyle is skeptical until he begins to see shapes in the darkness, shapes carved into the very walls themselves. And then the former members begin to die.

 

Last Days is a gripping read, well detailed and full of interesting characters. The book creates an eerie atmosphere that will have the reader looking over their shoulder while making sure the lights are on.  Fans of Stephen King and Dean Koontz will enjoy this new voice in contemporary horror.

Doug

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Higher Powers

Higher Powers

posted by:
April 4, 2013 - 8:01am

The Vatican DiariesTiming could not have been better for John Thavis's entertaining and candid new book, The Vatican Diaries: a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church. While the long-time journalist stirs in lighter, less sacrosanct moments about life in and out of the Apostolic Palace, there is serious discussion of many aspects of this Vatican City-State visited by millions each year. 

 

Nearly three decades of experience covering the Holy See for Catholic News Service has provided the recently retired Rome Bureau Chief with a heap of material on the men in red. In ten highly readable chapters, Thavis traverses more territory in “arguably the world’s most hierarchical organization” than on his motorino throughout this ancient city. Intriguing chapter headings, like “Hemlines and Banana Peels” and “Cat and Mouse,” provide a fascinating peek at the culture behind the headlines.  In a chapter called simply “Bones,” Thavis highlights the difficulty of protecting and conserving the plethora of antiquities that come out of the ground while moving forward with modern development as mundane as a parking garage. Thavis calls it the “politics of the bones.”

 

No subjects are off limits either, as the Minnesota native seems to have witnessed it all firsthand.  He takes on the sexual abuse scandals and other controversies swirling around papal decisions, including provocative observations on the last two popes.  Lighter subjects, too, are explored, including free-speaking priests who get into trouble and the mindset of Vatican protocol where things shouldn't go wrong but often do. Even bell ringing has its own challenges. There is chapter on it. Thavis dispels the myth of "Vatican secrecy" in his introduction. "More than 3,000 people work in the Vatican's administrative machine, and many of them will share information if given the opportunity," he says. It is fortunate for readers that Thavis has opened up his reporter's notebooks.

Cynthia

 
 

Hilarious and Hip: An Immigrant Story

Fresh Off the BoatEddie Huang is co-owner of the hugely successful Baohaus, a Taiwanese bun shop in New York’s East Village. Fresh off the Boat, his provocative new memoir, is a refreshingly current take on the immigrant story and a very funny book. Huang recounts his upbringing in Orlando, Florida. He attended a mostly white school, struggling to stay true to his Taiwanese culture, while also wanting to fit in. For his school lunch, his mother usually prepared a home-cooked Taiwanese meal. He didn’t want food that smelled or looked any different from that of his peers. He talked his mom into allowing him to take the processed pre-packed meals and juice boxes.

 

He describes going into wealthy white homes where the kids had so many toys, he didn’t know what to play with first. He does not shy away from his tough upbringing but maintains a light, irreverent tone, no matter the subject.  In time, he came to embrace his own culture. He is proud of his Asian-American background but refuses to be anything but himself. He criticizes Hollywood’s emasculated version of Asian-American men, loves partying, hip-hop, basketball and football.

 

Throughout Huang’s life, his love of food remains constant and his passion for food culture is infectious. Equally infectious is Huang’s humor, perhaps best captured in the audiobook version. Huang is the narrator and his hip, street-smart humor comes off best in his distinct Brooklyn accent. Besides audiobook listeners, Fresh Off the Boat will also find fans among memoir readers, pop-culture enthusiasts and foodies.

Zeke

 
 

Lissy and Jenny's High School Reunions

Lissy and Jenny's High School Reunions

posted by:
April 1, 2013 - 7:01am

Here I Go AgainWhy Can't I Be YouMany of us wish that we could have a “do-over” in our lives. That’s exactly the opportunity that the heroines of these two new novels receive with interesting results. Jen Lancaster’s Here I Go Again is a hilarious trip back to the future. In high school, Lissy Ryder was the ultimate mean girl. Now, she is returning to her 20th reunion under less than desirable circumstances. Over the past few months, her husband left her, and she lost her job. Unemployment, combined with astronomical credit card debt required to keep up her lifestyle, has resulted in Lissy being forced to move back home with her parents. She goes to the reunion, and the way she treated people in high school comes back to haunt her. When she gets a chance to go back to 1991 and change her life, Lissy tries to make things right, but she finds that her actions have unexpected results in the present. Fans of Lancaster’s memoirs will recognize her fast-paced, chatty writing style and ubiquitous pop culture references.

 

In Allie Larkin’s Why Can’t I Be You, heroine Jenny Shaw’s life is a mess. Although her boyfriend dumps her at the airport and runs away with her luggage in the trunk of his car, she still gets on a plane for a business trip to Seattle. At her hotel, someone calls her Jessie from across the lobby. On a whim, Jenny answers. Soon she finds herself pretending to be Jessie Morgan, a long-lost classmate in town for her high school reunion. As she gets to know Jessie’s high school friends, Jenny sees the kind of friendship she longs for in her own life. Pretending to be the free-spirited, wild child Jessie, Jenny is able to open up and try things she never would have as herself. Eventually, Jenny realizes that when she’s being Jessie, she’s more true to herself than ever. Why Can’t I Be You is a story of finding yourself in the last place you would have expected. Larkin is an exciting new voice in chick lit, bringing readers strong characters and stories with real heart.

Beth

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To Catch a Thief

To Catch a Thief

posted by:
March 29, 2013 - 7:01am

The Bughouse AffairTravel to San Francisco, 1894 to meet a pair of delightful detectives in The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. This first in a new historical mystery series by two Grand Master Award winners (who just happen to be married), introduces partners Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon. Sabina is a former Pinkerton operative and John honed his skills in the Secret Service. The two combined forces to establish a successful agency in the quickly developing city of San Francisco. Sabina is widowed and dedicated to her job, and John is a bachelor hoping for a more personal relationship with his lovely partner.

 

The two are working on separate cases while also following press reports of the resurrection of Sherlock Holmes, who has miraculously returned to life and picked San Francisco as his new base of operations. Sabina’s case involves the hunt for a slippery lady pickpocket who finds her marks at a large amusement park and other crowded venues. Quincannon is on the trail of a burglar who is targeting the homes of wealthy residents. He finds himself traveling to seedy bars and parlors in the disreputable Barbary Coast while tracking his elusive thief. Eventually, the two realize their cases are connected and the criminals have stepped up their game to include murder. The detecting duo find themselves working feverishly to capture these lawbreakers before additional crimes can be committed, all while dealing with the Sherlock Holmes pretender who has become a surprising rival.

 

Muller and Pronzini have both entertained readers with their memorable characters Sharon McCone and The Nameless Detective respectively. With this series, this talented couple offers two intrepid detectives in an intriguing historical setting. Readers will be anxious to follow the next case these two embark upon and curious about whether the romantic sparks will continue to fly.   

Maureen

 
 

In the Wave's Wake

In the Wave's Wake

posted by:
March 28, 2013 - 7:03am

Facing the WaveCars on top of boats on top of roofs. Mountains of debris in flattened urban landscapes. Sea-salty inland lakes miles away from the Pacific coastline. These were all fairly common scenes after the March 11, 2011 earthquake off of the northern coast of Japan caused a series of massive tsunami waves that decimated the eastern coast of the Tohoku region. Only months after the disaster first struck, Gretel Ehrlich, an American travel writer, came to personally view, experience, and record the wreckage and the perseverance of the people and places impacted most by the quake and tsunami. Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami is the insightful, poetic, personal chronicle of her expedition.

 

After she arrives, Ehrlich makes her way slowly up and down the devastated coastline, stopping by villages, cities, temples, and emergency shelters along the way. She comes to see the depth and variety of responses to the catastrophe in the people she meets and those she travels with, especially her drivers and translators, and their families. Through her conversations, the reader gradually realizes how profoundly Japan’s long acquaintance with the tsunami as a natural phenomenon has permeated its culture and worldview. Impermance, uncertainty, and acceptance of what cannot change are rooted in the Japanese character that Ehrlich’s portrayal reveals. Still, moments of happiness and joy punch through the sorrow and anxiety that the author and those she meets experience. 

 

Wrenching, inspiring, and compelling, Facing the Wave is an emotional reminder that even though we may no longer see it mentioned on the nightly news, the aftermath of a disaster of this scale lingers for those who lived through it and those who care enough to remember.

 

Rachael

 
 

The Thorn in Your Side

With or Without YouJoan Crawford, move over. Kathi Ruta is here, and her daughter, Domenica “Nikki” Ruta, has penned a memoir every bit as disturbing as Christina Crawford’s. In With or Without You, Ruta recounts a childhood devoid of innocence, as she is both witness to and victim of numerous crimes. Nikki is the only child of single mother Kathi.They live on the Ruta family compound in Massachusetts. Unlike another family compound in wealthy Hyannisport, the clannish Rutas reside on marshland in blue-collar Danvers in dilapidated housing. Kathi is a manicurist, at one point a prosperous car service owner, but most regularly a drug dealer who liberally indulges in her merchandise.

 

Ruta shares horrifying tales of growing up with Kathi. The squalid living conditions are punctuated by a revolving series of drug-buying customers who serve as surrogate family; one “uncle” is a known pedophile. Kathi promotes drug use, providing Nikki with her first Oxycontin and stuffing her Christmas stocking with a nickel bag. She keeps Nikki home from school to watch classic movies on TV (ironically, a favorite was Mommie Dearest) and harangues her daughter with language that could blister paint off the walls. Yet Kathi knows her intelligent, book-loving daughter deserves more and cobbles together a private school education which includes boarding school and college, partly funded by drug money. During an especially flush period, they travel to Europe.

 

Dysfunctional parent-child relationships are complicated.  Ruta conveys her mother not as one-dimensional, but larger than life and complex; intensely loving and capable of pushing her daughter to succeed conventionally while simultaneously sabotaging her efforts. With her mother’s demons dogging her along the way, Ruta struggles to launch her own adulthood while deciding what role her mother can continue to play in her life.  Recent memoirs in this same vein include Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle and The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok.

Lori