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Outside Looking In

Brain on FireAs Susannah Cahalan waited in the doctor’s office the painting of Miro’s Carota, with its twisted, unnatural grin, seemed to smile down at her. She would revisit the colorful and distorted face over the next several months as she battled a mysterious neurological illness that almost permanently severed her connection with reality. In her candid and gripping new memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, the New York Post reporter reconstructs in a riveting fashion the journey that carried her to the brink of lunacy.

 

For twenty-four-year-old Cahalan the illness crept up innocently enough. She believed her flu symptoms were the result of bedbugs in her Manhattan apartment. Once she began experiencing numbness she sought out a doctor. Soon she was missing deadlines at work, and her increasingly erratic behavior now included paranoia and hallucinations. Cahalan and her family worried she was having a nervous breakdown. It was her first blackout at her boyfriend Stephen’s house that “marked the line between sanity and insanity,” she recalled. Doctors were baffled, and on March 23, 2009 she was admitted to the hospital. Eventually, a prominent neurologist's hunch followed by a brain biopsy confirmed that she suffered from rare autoimmune encephalitis. Recovery would take months. Her zombie-like behavior scared people who wondered what was wrong with her. She described running into an old high school friend as a "soul crushing moment." Her rock remained her family, Stephen and her parents, who never wavered.

 

Cahalan admits writing her story was difficult. With only flashes of memory intact she relied on interviews, medical records, journals, and hospital video footage to complete the picture. Absorbing and fast paced, the book’s short chapters read like a medical mystery that takes an eye-opening look inside the misfiring of the human mind and its ability to repair and emerge from the abyss.

 

Cynthia

 
 

Natty Boh and Pitchers from the Sunpapers

Baltimore BeerDays RememberedBaltimore CountyCare for a stroll down memory lane? How about a local history lesson? Check out this trio of books focusing on Bawlmer and its ‘burbs. Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing joins Days Remembered: Iconic Photography of the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore County: Historical Reflections and Favorite Scenes in a remembrance of things past.

 

Local author, former Sun food columnist, and founder of Baltimore Beer Week, Rob Kasper knows his food and drink. In Baltimore Beer, he traces the growth of the brewing industry beginning with the influence of the German immigrants who brought their craft with them from Europe. Loaded with anecdotes and moving from early biergartens to modern brewpubs, Kasper explores the breweries’ social and economic influence on the Baltimore area. “Ain’t the beer cold?”

 

Baltimore residents Barton and Elizabeth Cockey teamed up to produce a charming look at ye olde suburbia in their book Baltimore County. Divided into sections such as Transportation, Public Buildings and Schools, and Wars, this book takes the reader on a tour of county peoples and places and offers an informative narrative laced with personal recollections. Instead of photographs, the book is illustrated with artist Elizabeth’s paintings of the area.

 

2012 marked the 175th year anniversary of the Baltimore Sun. While no longer a “penny paper,” the power of its photographs to inform and inspire remains a constant. Days Remembered is a collection of images from the Sun spanning from the 1901 debut portrait photograph of Judge Sherry of the Maryland Court of Appeals to the Blue Angels flight over Fort McHenry this past summer. Grouped by decade and including pictures of Babe Ruth, marble step-scrubbing, Blaze Starr, the Berrigan brothers, and the integration of Southern High, this visual history perfectly captures the past one hundred-plus years of Maryland living.

 

Lori

 
 

Meet Jack Reacher

Meet Jack Reacher

posted by:
December 17, 2012 - 7:45am

Jack Reacher's RulesOne Shot, the ninth book in Lee Child’s bestselling Reacher series, has been adapted for the big screen in a new film called Jack Reacher. A sniper fires six shots into a crowd, leaving five people dead. The prime suspect, a former Gulf War sniper named James Barr, insists that he’s innocent and says, “Get Jack Reacher for me.” Reacher, a larger-than-life ex-military investigator, appears on the scene and concludes that Barr isn’t the shooter. Reacher teams up with a young lawyer to find the truth and uncover the puppet-master behind it all. With its pulse-pounding suspense, it is no surprise that One Shot was destined for the big screen. New fans and long-standing Reacher Creatures (a moniker for Child’s fans) will also want to check out Jack Reacher’s Rules, a new compendium of trivia, quotations, and advice. This definitive guide to all things Reacher is a fun treat for fans and a great way to get to know the world of Jack Reacher.

 

The filmmakers’ decision to cast Tom Cruise as the 6'5" Jack Reacher was widely criticized by fans of the series. In a recent interview, Child said, “It’s not just about the size. Reacher is also very smart. He’s very intimidating. He’s the coolest guy in the room, and Cruise can do that. On the screen, he nails it.” Can Tom Cruise fill Reacher’s shoes? Decide for yourself! The trailer is available now, and Jack Reacher will be in theaters on December 21.

Beth

 
 

Girls Gone Wild

Girls Gone Wild

posted by:
December 14, 2012 - 8:35am

Wild GirlsKate Riordan, the teenage heroine of Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell, has lived in the depressed, left-behind Appalachian river town of Swan River all her life. Swan River is just not the kind of town that people leave - and there's nothing particularly sinister about that, it's only that Swan River's falling-down shacks, meager businesses, and dark wooded roads inspire little ambition. Kate fears this. She has an older sister, Maggie, whose intelligence and talent might have propelled her out of Swan River for good, but instead Maggie works at the coffee shop and drinks wine coolers in the Tastee Freez parking lot with her girlfriends. And there is something else that Kate fears. Sometimes, in Swan River, a teenage girl will suddenly go wild for a night. Full of furious supernatural power, she may destroy lives and property. Even Maggie had a wild night once, during which she flew out a window and torched the library. Kate’s salvation, if she can avoid falling victim to Swan River’s twin perils of rage and inertia, is her education. Thanks to her mother's job as secretary to the headmaster, Kate attends an exclusive private boarding school called the Academy – although the Academy is not without its own perils.

 

Prose as sharp and pungent as a red autumn leaf describes Kate's vertiginous passage through her senior year at the Academy. And while Wild Girls touches on a number of themes that have become popular recently - boarding school, magical realism, mean girls - it never feels formulaic. Wild Girls is a great read for teenage girls and grownup girls alike.

Paula W.

 
 

The Mysteries of History

The Anatomist's WifeIndia BlackTravel back to 1830s Scotland and meet Lady Keira Darby, the young widow at the center of Anna Lee Huber’s gothic debut The Anatomist’s Wife. Keira has been living a quiet life in the secluded castle of her sister and brother-in-law since her husband’s death eighteen months ago. She is recovering from the scandal that she starred in when it was revealed that she illustrated the corpses her husband dissected. But a house party brings the titled society elite to her hiding place, and Kiera is forced to face her past. When one of the guests is murdered, the past bubbles up and all fingers point to Keira. The authorities are several days away and her brother-in-law asks her to help new inquiry agent Sebastian Gage in the investigation. As the two work together, they must deal with danger, lies, and of course a little bit of romance.

  

While waiting for the next Lady Darby Mystery, enjoy the company of India Black, a saucy, young brothel owner whose business caters to England’s finest civil servants and military men. India Black by Carol Carr introduces this feisty heroine who finds herself in deep trouble when a War Office official dies while visiting one of her employees. She is blackmailed by another British agent, Mr. French, into helping recover important military papers lost at her establishment. The future of Britain is at stake and India is quickly embroiled in a deadly game of intrigue involving diabolical Russian agents. India and French soon find themselves fending off attempts on their lives and fighting their growing attraction. This unique heroine adds to a strong mystery, and the good news for avid readers is that India Black and the Widow of Windsor is on shelves now and India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy is due in January.

 

Maureen

 
 

Where Fugees At?

Where Fugees At?

posted by:
December 13, 2012 - 8:01am

Purpose: an Immigrant's StoryPurpose: An Immigrant’s Story by Wyclef Jean is both the biography of Jean and the life story of the Fugees, one of the most successful hip-hop & R&B bands of the 1990s. Originally from Haiti, Jean is the son of a pastor and the grandson of a Voodoo priest. In this revealing new memoir, Jean recounts his early life – from his early years in the LaSerre slum to international superstardom in the 1990s. And finally, he describes his humanitarian work in Haiti and his unsuccessful bid for Haiti’s presidency.

 

After his early childhood in Haiti, he joined his parents in New York, where he was raised by his no-nonsense grandmother, the family matriarch. It took quite some time to get accustomed to his new life in America. He grew up in tough neighborhoods, often ravaged by drugs and guns. He also faced anti-Haitian prejudice throughout his youth in New York. Jean grew up in a very musical (and religious) household. He refers to his family as the “Haitian-American Partridge Family.” Because his father would not allow him to play secular music, his first band was a Christian rock group. He immersed himself in classic funk and rock songs and modified the lyrics so that the resulting song was a Christian one. Once he finally embraced secular music, there was no looking back. As one of the founding members of the Fugees and successful solo artist, Jean has sold millions of records. Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is the story of the Fugees and the recording of their mega-hit, The Score.

 

He says The Score is essentially the soundtrack of his relationship with Lauryn Hill. Although the relationship ended badly, it became an all-consuming affair that inspired the beautiful, soulful songs on The Score. After the Fugees broke up, Jean set out on his successful solo career, almost ran for the President of Haiti and is now focused on his family and music. Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story is highly recommended to biography readers. but also anyone interested in the history of hip-hop.

Zeke

 
 

Culinary Clash of the Titans

Culinary Clash of the Titans

posted by:
December 13, 2012 - 7:45am

CookFightWhen legendary restaurant critic Frank Bruni challenged his colleagues Julia Moskin and Kim Severson, both writers for the New York Times, to duke it out in the kitchen, they readily accepted. Their culinary contest is detailed in the unique new cookbook CookFight: 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes, An Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance. Moskin and Severson first faced a challenge to cook a dinner party for six guests on a budget of only $50. Bruni judged the contest for the newspaper and ruled it a tie. After that initial challenge, their friendly rivalry evolved into a yearlong series of contests that ranged from their Farmers’ Market challenge based around local, seasonal cooking to a Thanksgiving challenge in which both cooks crafted their spin on the perfect Thanksgiving feast. Each month, Moskin and Severson battled for culinary glory. Every chapter chronicles one month’s battle with the contestants’ menus, narratives explaining their different approaches to the battle, beautiful color photos of their dishes, and recipes. So who won their contest? You decide.

 

If CookFight whets your appetite for culinary competition, follow it up with Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. The recipes are taken from Quickfire segments of the first five seasons of Bravo’s hit television show Top Chef. This collection of 75 recipes from fans’ favorite “cheftestants” includes color photos, recipes, and behind-the-scenes information about the contestants. Intrepid fans will also learn how to hold their own Quickfire Challenges at home.

Beth

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Man's Best Friend

Underwater DogsPuppyhoodSeth Casteel, award-winning pet photographer and animal rights activist, presents amazing images of over eighty dogs in aquatic settings in Underwater Dogs. Each canine has an individual portrait which captures the unique personalities in exuberant action shots chasing a ball. From the human perspective, this game of chase seems simple – ball is thrown, dog retrieves it, and surfaces triumphantly. But beneath the water, there is a major drama playing out complete with bared teeth and arched bodies.  From leaping lab to diving dachshund, each dog approaches this game a little differently.  Some lounge in the water and paddle slowly, while others are aggressive and shark-like in their focus and determination. Of course, the elegant poodle still manages to maintain an air of refinement even when soaked. Casteel started this project by posting the photos on his blog, and since that time the viewership has surpassed 150 million.  

 

Who doesn’t love puppies? Photographer J. Nichole Smith offers photographs of twenty-five different baby canines in Puppyhood: Life-size Portraits of Puppies at 6 Weeks Old. The coffee table size allows the puppies to be shown in full actual life size at six weeks. These engaging photographs show all the details that make puppies so irresistible, from their pink bellies and tiny teeth to their soft ears and oversize paws. The book features purebred and mixed breed doggies in a variety of puppy pastimes such as sleeping, staring down the photographer, and of course, playing. All of the photographs will have readers yearning for their own puppy to cuddle. And indeed that is part of Smith’s plan, as her epilogue is complete with information on adopting all of the twenty-five pictured pooches, as well as providing contact information for a number of national shelter networks and the breeders of the purebreeds featured in the book.

Maureen

 
 

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

posted by:
December 10, 2012 - 8:30am

Blackberry WinterSarah Jio’s new novel Blackberry Winter weaves together the past and present in a captivating tale of loss and a mother’s love. Reporter Claire Aldridge is assigned to cover a snowstorm on the anniversary of a similar surprise storm that shut down Seattle on May Day nearly 80 years before. This kind of late-season storm is called a blackberry winter. Claire’s research for a feature article on the twin snowstorms uncovers the unsolved kidnapping of a child in 1933. On that cold night, a young mother named Vera Ray was forced to leave her young son Daniel home alone while she went to work the night shift. She kissed him goodbye and went to work as a maid at the Olympic Hotel. When she returned the next morning, Vera found that 3-year-old Daniel was gone. The only trace left behind was his teddy bear Max, which Vera found outside in the snow. Police said that the boy was a runaway, but Claire doesn’t believe that’s possible of a child so young.

 

Vera’s tragic loss hits home for Claire, who struggling under the weight of a crumbling marriage and the loss of her own baby. She takes it upon herself to find out what really happened to Daniel. As she searches through records and learns more, she is also finally forced to face her own loss. The narrative of Blackberry Winter alternates between Claire and Vera’s perspectives to bring both of their stories to life. Jio brings readers an emotional tale with a unique conclusion to the mystery of Daniel’s disappearance.

 

Beth

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Still Waters Run Deep

Still Waters Run Deep

posted by:
December 10, 2012 - 7:55am

Those We Love MostChange can happen in an instant. This is the central message in Lee Woodruff’s debut fiction book, Those We Love Most. On the surface, this is a story of old themes. Members of an upper-middle income, multi-generational family are devastated by a tragedy, and existing small cracks and relationship fissures are suddenly split wide open. Roger and Margaret Munson are an older couple with three grown children. They have a seemingly stable marriage, yet pursue separate interests much of the time. Their eldest child, Maura, is a product of her parents. Married with three young children, she and her husband live a comfortable if staid existence until one spring day when their eldest son is struck by a car and killed. The four adults all cope with the loss differently and must face past transgressions and secrets as part of their path to healing.

 

Lee Woodruff writes from personal experience about unexpected tragedy. Her husband, Bob Woodruff, was an ABC News Anchor who was injured in an explosion in Iraq in 2006 and suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result. She has written two non-fiction books about her experiences, one co-authored with him. Despite the somewhat predictable plot, Woodruff creates characters with depth and believability, and this is what keeps the reader engaged in this heartbreaking yet redemptive story. Although there are no real surprises in Those We Love Most, it is a thoughtful study about how people cope with grief as individuals and as a family unit. Is there one prescribed path individuals should follow when processing loss? Are beliefs in an afterlife or higher power necessary to come to terms with the death of a child? Far from sentimental, this book raises difficult questions about death, redemption and putting lives back together in a less-than-perfect fashion.

 

Melanie

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