In Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda, the reader learns a lot about Lee’s life and the events that would lead to him becoming the leader of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Born into Virginia aristocracy that included direct links to George Washington, Lee was destined for a distinguished life from birth. Still, Lee had some major obstacles on his path to military fame, including a less than idyllic family life. His father, ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee, fought alongside Washington in the American Revolution, but sank into a life of dissipation fueled by alcohol. Eventually, he abandoned the family. Thanks to his mother’s guiding determination, young Robert was able to succeed both scholastically and socially, and achieved prominent positions in both the United States and Confederate States armies.
Lee attended West Point and graduated second in his class without ever receiving a single demerit – not an easy feat in those days when moral rectitude and scholastic discipline were equally valued. As Korda notes, Lee held himself to a very strict code of moral conduct, perhaps due in part to his father’s poor example. Yet, Lee did not exactly impose his strictness to either his family or the soldiers he led. Although he could be a disciplinarian, he preferred to lead by example. He felt that his subordinates should know instinctively the correct choices. According to Korda, Lee’s inability to effectively communicate his wishes to his troops was a major factor in determining the outcome of the Civil War.
Whether you view Lee as a hero, villain or somewhere in between, Korda does offer some interesting perspectives on a very complicated man. While Clouds of Glory may not change your mind about Robert E. Lee, it does illustrate what a complex and sometimes contradictory character he was.
Maddy Freed is a struggling young actress living in Brooklyn with her director boyfriend Dan in The Actress by Amy Sohn. Dan’s film starring Maddy is selected as an entrant at the prestigious Mile’s End Film Festival and, following its premiere, both of their lives are changed forever.
Maddy earns critical acclaim and wins an acting prize at the festival, but she also captures the attention of the sexy and single Hollywood heartthrob Steven Weller. Weller is 40-something and trying to reinvent his career. He is immediately captivated by Maddy, and she finds herself whisked away to Venice to Steven’s palazzo — ostensibly to audition for the most sought-after role in Hollywood. But the chemistry between them is palpable, and Maddy soon finds herself enchanted by this Hollywood A-lister.
Their whirlwind affair is passionate and intense, and when the couple ties the knot, the tabloid wags are shocked. The rumors swirling around Steven and his sexuality have dogged him for years, and the speculation doesn’t let up after the wedding. Maddy is head-over-heels in love with her husband and refuses to consider the hateful gossip. But when her career outpaces his, and Steven’s absences are longer and more frequent, she finds herself wondering if she really knows the man she married.
Sohn delivers a stylish, salacious and sizzling summer story set in glamorous and scandalous Tinseltown. Ruthless actors, scheming agents and the pervasive press all play supporting parts in this page-turner about one young actress coming to terms with her own ambition and deciding what role she will play in life.
Joshua Ferris’ third novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is the most interesting story in which the narrator and protagonist is a dentist. It’s the chronicle of Dr. Paul C. O’Rourke, who offers oral care at his practice in New York City. Perhaps as a result of excelling in dentistry, Paul’s social life is nonexistent; he is a middle-aged, single atheist with no children, no pets and no contacts in his smartphone. The extent of his online presence is a scattering of posts on various baseball forums. His idea of “getting out” is staying in and watching the Red Sox game while simultaneously recording it on VHS.
Paul is seemingly content with his complacency, until his office manager discovers someone has made an official website for their practice—complete with staff bios and photos—without their consent. Days later, Paul and his staff are befuddled as someone creates multiple social media accounts in Paul’s name and begins proselytizing. This peculiar case of identity theft is more than slander; the culprit possesses intimate knowledge of Paul, and gradually reveals his secrets through a series of anonymous emails. Annoyed by the harassment, Paul responds to the emails in an attempt to discern the thief’s identity and motive.
What he discovers leads him to a series of introspective questions so existential that he begins to wonder who he really is. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour portrays a man who possesses no true self-identity, and insists on blaming the past and lying to himself to cope with his shortcomings. Ferris develops O’Rourke’s personality through an ongoing series of fantastic soliloquies disguised as the ramblings of an emotionally distraught dentist. Paul finds the unsettling truth to be that an identity thief posting on a faux-Facebook actually knows him better than he thinks he knows himself, and as he meanders between the past and present wondering how he has arrived at this point in his life, a beautifully reconciling narrative forms in his wake.
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia is a tale of suspense set in a withering old hotel and featuring some of the most delightful characters to grace the pages of a work of fiction this year. The novel literally starts off with a bang, and once the reader enters the hotel, they better be prepared to stay.
In 1982, room 712, a young girl witnesses a horrible murder-suicide that will affect her for the rest of her life. Fast forward to 1997. The Bellweather Hotel hosts a statewide high school music festival which attracts some rather curious characters. Rabbit Hatmaker, a bassoon player, and his sister Alice, destined for stardom, arrive with their gun-toting chaperone, Natalie. There they encounter Viola, the stern and horrible program coordinator, and the foul-mouthed Scottish conductor, Fisher Brodie. When Alice returns to her room to discover her roommate has committed suicide, she immediately goes for help. But the body disappears, and it soon becomes apparent that 712 is an unlucky room, and that the past may be haunting the present.
There are several things to love about Racculia’s novel. All of the characters in Bellweather Rhapsody are complex and interesting with a very detailed backstories. She weaves their stories together, and as the characters bump into one another, the sparks begin to fly. The Bellweather Hotel is described in such detail that the rooms of the hotel become almost characters in their own right. Readers who enjoy novels with a strong sense of place will not be disappointed. Embedded in the story are several mysteries that keep the reader involved. The characters become intertwined with one another leading to an ultimately satisfying conclusion. Racculia captures the intensity of a musical competition where no matter the circumstances, the show must go on. This summer, make it a point to check into the Bellweather, a visit you won’t soon forget.
Two novels highlight the beauty of the beach and celebrate the power of female friendship. Enjoy perfect summer escapes with Anne Rivers Siddons’ The Girls of August and Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer.
Siddons introduces readers to Maddy, Rachel, Barbara and Melinda when they are in their 20s, newly married and seeing their husbands through medical school. As the four become fast friends, they make a pact to spend one week together in August at a beach house. Though their lives change, the women keep this promise and travel to different beach houses over the years to reconnect. That is, until Melinda dies in a car accident and the August ritual is abandoned. Years later, Melinda’s husband remarries Baby, a 20-something who tries to resurrect the annual trip. The four end up at Baby’s remote family home on a barrier island off the South Carolina coast where jealousy simmers, secrets are revealed and friendship is tested. Siddons once again delivers an emotionally satisfying Southern summer tale with well-drawn women dealing with real, explosive issues.
Looking for a different beach? Travel north with Nancy Thayer to beautiful Nantucket. This lush setting is where Maggie and Emily meet as children and develop an unlikely, but strong, summer friendship. Emily is from a moneyed family whose mother wants nothing to do with the islanders. Maggie is the daughter of a local seamstress struggling to make ends meet. As the two get older, real life gets in the way and the girls drift apart. Emily wants more from life than simply being the wife of a successful husband while Maggie works hard, saves her money and longs for a passionate romance. It seems unlikely their paths will cross again until one wealthy Wall Street broker begins wooing both women. This engaging novel has romance and drama, but its centerpiece is the beauty and strength of lasting friendship.
Coming soon to the ABC network is a memoir turned television series, Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang. In his memoir, Huang describes how his immigrant family moves from D.C. to Florida so that his father can open his own restaurant. Huang goes on to describe what life was like growing up as a Taiwanese-Chinese-American, not just in the United States, but also in a community with little diversity.
The audiobook for this memoir is narrated by Eddie Huang, which gives the reader a greater understanding of his perspective. His direct manner of detailing his eclectic array of experiences is uncensored and sincere. Culture is a prevalent theme throughout the book and food is frequently a platform for Huang to discuss the topic.
After listening to the audiobook, I will be interested to see how Huang’s book translates into an ABC series that appears to be quite comical. While the book isn’t without humor, it seems to focus more on challenging what are considered to be cultural norms and showing the impact that assimilation can have on a boy and his family as a whole. If you find yourself a fan of Huang’s style, checkout his video series on vice.com.
Teacher, blog and forum editor, roleplaying game designer and writer Jeremy P. Bushnell’s debut novel The Weirdness is the perfect amalgamation of his mediums of creativity. Only someone who has spent their life marinating in nerd culture would be able to devise a plot and cast as imaginative and unique as Bushnell has in The Weirdness.
Billy Ridgeway is growing too complacent with his life; all he has to show for himself as a self-proclaimed “writer” is a couple of short stories and a novel vomited forth at the tail end of a post-college-dropout bender of forced artistry. While his former peers are paying mortgages and spawning children, he’s stalled making sandwiches for eight hours a day at a Greek deli.
Of course, this all changes one morning when Billy awakens to a suave-looking dude he doesn’t know sitting on his couch. Introducing himself as “Lucifer Morningstar,” the dude offers Billy some coffee, and with it an only slightly nefarious proposal that would launch his writing career. In a rare bout of good judgment, Billy declines and tries to go about his day; unfortunately for him, Lucifer is a supernaturally persistent guy, and he’s about to make things weird—like, warlocks and sex-wolves and plots to take over the world weird.
Bushnell’s novel is a swirl of contemporary geek humor and sci-fi, blended with a unique, refreshing writing style. He uses unconventional means—absurd similes, unexpected question marks, hypothetical maybes—to create an amusing feeling of doubt and disbelief in his narrative voice, which allows his characters to act with as much hyperbole as the reader wants to perceive. The Weirdness has to be read to be believed, and should not be missed by anyone who enjoys contemporary, surreal fiction.
By now, the secret is out: J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, has a new mystery series for adults written under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith. Last year saw the publication of The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first book featuring British private detective Cormoran Strike, and it made a splash when it was “leaked” that Galbraith was actually Rowling. Just released is the second Galbraith book, The Silkworm.
Cormoran Strike is an unusual man. The illegitimate and estranged son of a rock star, a former military special investigations officer and missing a leg thanks to an encounter with an IED, The Silkworm opens with Strike’s star on the rise. After unraveling the suspicious circumstances surrounding a supermodel’s death in The Cuckoo’s Calling, the hoi polloi are flocking to Strike’s detective agency, which is finally turning a profit. Mousy and odd, his new client Leonora engages Strike to locate her husband, Owen Quine, a has-been author desperate for a bestseller. While Quine may be missing, his latest novel is not. Unauthorized copies of his Bombyx Mori are popping up all over London, and since the perverted story disgustingly skewers a number of barely disguised book world luminaries, Quine’s enemies are becoming legion. Strike and his secretary/assistant Robin pick up the case, finding themselves at odds with the local police.
Rowling’s writing style is straightforward as she moves these plot-driven whodunit stories along at a steady clip, and her characters are likeable and well-drawn. Readers will return to this entertaining series to find out if Strike maintains a clean break from a long-term but toxic relationship, or if Robin attains her goal to move beyond office secretary to become a detective herself in spite of her stuffed shirt fiancé’s objections.
Ah, summer. That time of year when the fridge is covered in cream-colored envelopes with fancy fonts. It’s wedding season, and if you’re spending all your time buying gifts from registries and listening to a bridal march for what feels like the 100th time this summer, why not take a break from all those taffeta bridesmaids dresses and have yourself a little vacation to southeastern France in Ellen Sussman’s new book A Wedding in Provence?
Olivia and Brody are excited to spend their wedding weekend at a charming B&B owned by their friends in Provence. In their 50s, they are optimistic at their second chance at a loving marriage. Their family and friends are in attendance, ready to celebrate with them. However, even in this idyllic setting, old family jealousies and new problems threaten to overturn the joy of their wedding weekend. Olivia’s daughters, Nell and Carly, are coming from two disastrously different romantic situations: Carly’s longtime boyfriend has decided to skip the wedding altogether, and Nell, mourning the loss of her dead boyfriend, picks up her seatmate on the plane to attend the wedding with her.
Carly and Nell are not the only ones with secrets to keep. Emily and Sebastien, the owners of the B&B, are weathering a difficult time in their marriage, Brody’s father has just left his mother after 55 years, and then there’s wild card best man Jake, who seems harmless, but has his own hidden agenda.
Fans of romances with an edge and of Sussman’s other novels, such as French Lessons or The Paradise Guest House, will find this novel a summer soap opera to read while waiting for the bridal party to have their photos taken and cocktail hour to begin.
The local farmer’s market has come alive with the colors and flavors of seasonal vegetables, so now is a great time to dive into The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook and add more greens to your table.
Fans will remember Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell as the two NYC executives who gave up their jobs, purchased a goat farm in Sharon Springs, New York, and became successful reality TV celebrities on The Fabulous Beekman Boys and The Amazing Race. The cookbooks are certainly popular. Food & Wine magazine rated the The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook as one of the best of 2013. Brent and Josh include personal anecdotes in the introduction to many of the recipes and have added beautiful color photographs of many of the dishes and photographs of life on the Beekman farm. Recipes have a classic feel, feature easy-to-find ingredients and are simple enough for cooks with little kitchen experience. Imagine the delight when you show up at the next company picnic with a chocolate beet cake or a multi-hued tomato tart!
Between the Covers posed some questions to Brent and Josh about the cookbook:
Between the Covers: The cookbook is divided into four “seasons” of recipes. Which season inspires you the most to make creative dishes?
Brent and Josh: Our entire company is based around seasonal living, so we draw inspiration from and try to make the most of what each season offers. It's not fair to choose favorites.
BTC: In the introduction, you encourage the reader to use the cookbook as an heirloom that could inspire future generations of cooks. What is an heirloom recipe?
B&J: An heirloom recipe is one that is made so frequently in your family that it has its own folklore and mythology built around it. In order to become an heirloom, we think a recipe has to be delicious, easy to make and include readily available ingredients. These are the types of foods that we find comfort in.
BTC: Can you tell us about any family member that inspired you to work with food?
B&J: Brent takes a lot of inspiration from his grandmother and great-grandmother who managed to put delicious meals on the table even in the hard-environs of the West Virginia coal mining communities. Josh's uncle, an ex-pat living in the south of France, taught him that technique is secondary to having the best, freshest ingredients.
BTC: Can you tell us a bit about the test process that takes you from an idea to a finished, polished recipe?
B&J: We cook dinner every single night that we are at the farm. Most of the recipes for all of our books have their origins in these meals. We harvest what is ready to be harvested and then ask ourselves, "What can we do with this?"
BTC: How do you divide your kitchen duties?
B&J: Brent is the creative thinker. Josh is the master of execution.
BTC: Do you have any words of encouragement for kitchen novices who really want to start eating fresher at home?
B&J: Think of your trip to the market as a grand adventure. Choose one new fresh ingredient each week and learn how to make it shine in something you cook.
If you would like to meet Brent and Josh, they will be appearing at the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday, September 27 at 5 p.m.
For more information about the Beekman boys, read The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers by Josh Kilmer-Purcell.