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Bloggers

 

Memories of War

Memories of War

posted by:
August 28, 2012 - 10:20am

The Yellow BirdsDebut author Kevin Powers takes us to the Iraq War and back in his poignant novel The Yellow Birds. Narrating from a secluded cabin in the mountains of Virginia, twenty-one-year-old veteran John Bartle recalls his hellish experiences in Iraq’s Nineveh Province and his current struggles to rebuild a life ravaged by post-traumatic stress.

 

Private Bartle’s story begins in basic training, where he quickly befriends an eighteen-year-old recruit named Murphy. They become inseparable, and Bartle takes it on himself to protect Murphy and get him back home safely. But once they arrive in war-torn Iraq, these two young soldiers discover that neither is ready to face the physical and psychological battles yet to come. What unfolds is a testament to friendship and loss set against the horrors of war, as well as a moving portrayal of how war affects not just soldiers but also their families and friends at home.

 

Powers, an Iraq veteran himself and recent M.F.A. graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, has the voice of a poet and wrote The Yellow Birds largely based on his own war experiences. Early praise from authors like Colm Toibin and Ann Patchett hails this novel as a “superb literary achievement” and proclaims it a modern classic. In fact, New York Times bestselling author Chris Cleave has compared Powers to Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy for his use of spare, lyrical prose.

 

Rich with flashbacks, metaphors, and written in a stream-of-consciousness style, The Yellow Birds will stay with you long after the final page. Readers who enjoy this new novel may also want to try Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain and Fobbit by David Abrams, two equally wonderful stories that take a satirical spin on the Iraq War.

 

Alex

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The Price of Beauty

The Price of Beauty

posted by:
August 27, 2012 - 8:30am

Great-Aunt Sophia's Lessons for BombshellsLisa Cach introduces Grace Cavanaugh who is a bit of a frump, a strong feminist, and an impoverished grad student in Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells. Grace needs to finish her dissertation in Women’s Studies, which is based on the thesis that beauty in women leads to misery. As she struggles with her work, she receives an offer to act as a companion to her great-aunt who she has only met once as a child. Grace jumps at the chance to head to Pebble Beach, for what is sure to be a summer of comfortable quiet during which she will be able to focus on her studies. But Great Aunt Sophia has other ideas, and for Grace it becomes a summer to remember.

 

Sophia is a former B-movie star who at eighty-five still attracts attention wherever she goes. She decides that Grace is a project and upon hearing her thesis, Sophia sets out to prove Grace wrong. Sophia’s object is to change Grace outwardly which will then improve her self-esteem and create an empowered and desirable woman. Before Grace can blink, she has a trainer, a personal shopper, and some truly awesome lingerie. As Grace’s appearance slowly changes, so too does her view of herself and her perception of beauty. Grace quickly attracts the attention of Declan, a bad boy with a commitment phobia, and Andrew, Sophia's handsome but deadly dull doctor. Grace’s head is telling her to go for Andrew, but her pesky heart and that sexy spark keeps leading her to Declan.

  

In the end, Grace's thesis is turned on its head and she finds personal satisfaction in her appearance and appeal. This fun story goes past a simple ugly duckling transformation tale with plenty of wonderful and unique characters, a whole lot of humor, and a sprinkle of spice! 

 

Maureen

 
 

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

DreamlandImagine waking up in the middle of the night on the floor, disoriented, clutching your leg in pain. How did you get there? Why aren’t you still asleep in bed? And what happened to your leg? After actually living through this frightening sleepwalking scenario, David K. Randall, a journalist for Reuters, decided to investigate his personal nightmare, determined to find out  how he could prevent it from happening again. His book, Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, leads us into the mysterious and occasionally bizarre corners of neurobiology, psychology, and sociology that deal with how and why we sleep.

 

Each chapter in this fascinating book deals with a different sleep conundrum, from sleep exhaustion in the military to the effect of artificial light on circadian rhythms to whether you can commit murder while sleeping. Over the course of the book a deceptively simple formula emerges—what you do while you are awake affects your sleep, and how you sleep affects your mind and body while you are awake. Intriguing tidbits of information sneak their way into the pages with such frequency that the reader marvels at how little she seems to know about such a vital bodily function. 

 

Though not a scientist himself, Randall’s forays into the realm of sleep science are well backed by an abundance of research, as evinced by the lengthy bibliography he includes at the back of the book.  His prose remains accessible, captivating, and often humorous while still keeping science at its core.  Dreamland provides an enigmatic taste of the often unsolved mysteries of sleep science that is sure to satisfy both the curious and the casual reader. 

 

Rachael

 
 

Fierce Women

Fierce Women

posted by:
August 24, 2012 - 8:30am

Tigers in Red WeatherTigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann is the story of two cousins growing up in Tiger House on Martha’s Vineyard. The first cousin, Nick, is getting married to the devilishly handsome Hughes when he returns from the war. But Hughes returns a different man, slightly distant and living in his own head. Nick requires variety and excitement, but what Hughes provides is stability and normalcy, and they begin to drift slowly apart. Helena is the second cousin, and she was engaged to a man who was killed in the war. She instead marries Avery, who works in Hollywood in the film industry. Later, Helena discovers that Avery’s sole purpose in life is to maintain a collection pertaining to a dead actress and this drives a wedge between the couple.

 

Years pass, and Nick gives birth to daughter Daisy. Helena has a son named Ed, and the children become good friends. One fateful summer in the late fifties, Daisy and Ed discover the body of a young maid left beaten, strangled and covered in a blanket. This discovery affects all of the residents of Tiger House. Relationships deteriorate, secrets are kept and then revealed, and the world spins off its axis.

 

Klaussman, the great-granddaughter of Herman Melville, creates a compelling story. It is told in five parts, each focusing on one of the characters, and several scenes are replayed featuring a different point of view. This technique allows the reader to get a clear picture of the troubles facing Tiger House as well as the extent of the dysfunction within. Because of the unique storytelling style and the strong character development, this would be a good choice for a book club.

 

Doug

 
 

Who Would You Choose?

Who Would You Choose?

posted by:
August 24, 2012 - 8:00am

I Couldn't Love You MoreDon’t be fooled by the cover. Jillian Medoff’s new novel I Couldn’t Love You More looks like a light beach read from the outside, but inside that cover, readers will find a challenging novel about family bonds and the choices we make. Medoff creates characters who feel very real, and she skillfully pulls readers into a story that will make them laugh and cry along with her characters.

 

All in all, Eliot Gordon is happy with the life that she has created with her partner Grant and their blended family. She loves Grant’s daughters Charlotte and Gail, who they are raising along with Hailey, their daughter together. Like her stepdaughters, Eliot comes from a broken home, and she has a complex but loving relationship with her mother and sisters. But when Eliot’s ex-boyfriend Finn, who she has always considered “the one who got away,” arrives in town, Eliot begins to reexamine her life. Finn’s appearance also leads to a series of events that culminates in the unimaginable. Eliot is forced to make a choice that no parent can fathom when two of her children are caught in a life-threatening situation, and Eliot can only save one. The rest of the novel explores the fall-out from Eliot’s split-second decision.

 

Praised by authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, I Couldn’t Love You More is funny, relatable, and wrenching. Medoff explores complex family relationships and the reality of being a stepparent with remarkable honesty and depth. This novel is tailor-made for book club discussions and includes a Reading Group Guide.

Beth

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Yes We Canada!

Yes We Canada!

posted by:
August 23, 2012 - 7:03am

America, But BetterIn these days of political polarization in the United States, an unlikely party has come to the rescue of our fractured populous. In America, But Better: The Canada Party Manifesto, humorists Chris Cannon and Brian Calvert lay out an “intervention from your continental BFF”. With the scantest of seriousness, the authors skewer American stereotypes on issues such as illegal immigration, gun control, obesity, and marriage equality. Starting with a cheeky foreword by none other than Abraham Lincoln, the witty and pointed observations about the direction of America are by turns hilarious and mildly shaming.

 

This is a quick read, peppered with sidebar promises of what will change if the Canada Party is elected to run the US: “We will continue building oil pipelines, but they will carry maple syrup. If there’s a spill, at least the animals will be tasty.” One chapter describes the benefits of combining similar cities within the two countries as a cost-saving measure, including Van Francisco, Queboston (two places where no visitors can understand the locals), and Dalgary. Another takes on corporations as people, use of the metric system, and of course, a primer on hockey. Wry, silly, and smart, America, But Better is a not-so-gentle nudge that pokes fun at American Exceptionalism, and the way the rest of the world views us as a nation.

Todd

 
 

We Will Rock You

MercuryThe Man Who Sold the WorldMickGet out your bell bottoms, glitter, and eyeliner and celebrate the music of the 1970s. Delve into the exploits of three rock gods in new biographies, just published in July. It doesn’t get much more fascinating than the life stories of Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by rock journalist Lesley Ann Jones attempts to reveal the real Freddie Mercury. Jones traces his fascinating journey from a young boy raised in India and Zanzibar to the lead singer of Queen, one of the most successful super-groups of the 1970s. Jones depicts Mercury’s childhood, his rise to fame, and his friendship with Elton John. Jones traces Queen’s trajectory into super-group status, complete with the usual stories of rock and roll debauchery.  

 

The one and only Ziggy Stardust is the subject of Peter Doggett’s new biography, The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s. Doggett chooses to write about Bowie’s most influential decade. He begins his analysis with “Space Oddity” from 1969 and rounds out the book, covering Bowie’s 1980 LP, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). A rock journalist and critic for decades, Doggett is considered to be one of the few writers who could pull off an effective, insightful look at Bowie’s impact on music and popular culture. Indeed, this new biography has already garnered positive reviews. Library Journal calls it “a complete treat.” Rob Fitzpatrick from London’s Sunday Times says the book is “astonishing and absorbing.”

 

Few bands are as influential and long lasting as The Rolling Stones. Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Mick Jagger  is a candid “tell-all” of the flamboyant front man. Based on interviews with friends, family members and other musicians, Mick is gossipy and salacious. This one is for readers who are interested in Jagger’s sexual exploits, drug use, and opinions on everything from Lady Gaga to Kanye West.

Zeke

 
 

Vigilante Justice

Vigilante Justice

posted by:
August 21, 2012 - 7:30am

The DemandsMark Billingham returns with The Demands, the tenth novel featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. Police officer Helen Weeks walks into her local news agent, on the day that the shop owner, Javed Akhtar, is about to crack. He pulls a gun on Helen and takes her hostage, demanding that she contact Tom Thorne and persuade him to investigate a murder. Akhtar’s son Amin was arrested in an altercation that lead to a fatality and was sent to a prison for young offenders. There he was wounded in his cell and sent to the hospital wing, where he committed suicide. It was an open and shut case that did not warrant an investigation, but Akhtar is not so sure. He knows that his son could not have committed suicide and the only way to reopen the case is by taking drastic measures of his own. What follows is a knuckle-biting thriller as Tom Thorne hunts for the killer while Helen is trapped with a man who is at the end of his rope.

 

Fans of Billingham will remember police officer Helen Weeks from the stand-alone thriller In the Dark. Helen was pregnant with her son Alfie and was trying to solve the murder of her partner, Paul. Weeks is a strong, interesting character with a good sense of self preservation, and her return to the Thorne series is a welcome addition. Billingham’s writing gets better with each subsequent novel, and he is a master at building and sustaining tension and suspense throughout his novels. In the Dark works as a gritty police procedural and gripping suspense thriller that is sure to please. 

 

Fans of Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride or Ken Bruen will definitely enjoy these novels. Mark Billingham has truly entered the ranks of the best crime novelists of today.

Doug

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American Royalty

American Royalty

posted by:
August 20, 2012 - 7:03am

Mary's MosaicJack 1939Here in America, we don’t have a Charles, Diana, and Camilla nor a William and Kate. We do, however, have the Kennedy clan. From the enchanted Camelot era to the recent tragedy of Robert Kennedy Jr.’s wife’s suicide, this extended family’s accomplishments and foibles play out in the press and provide fodder for books to satisfy a public curiosity which shows no sign of waning. Two recent releases, the true crime Mary’s Mosaic by Peter Janney, and the fictional Jack 1939 penned by Francine Mathews, mine the Kennedy history and mystique while each traveling a very different path.

 

Who really killed Jack Kennedy?  Trying to sort out the conspiracy theories surrounding the President’s death is akin to falling down a rabbit hole.  Author Peter Janney takes on the 1964 murder of Washington DC denizen Mary Pinchot Meyer in Mary’s Mosaic and ties the fatal—and unsolved-- shooting of the well-connected Meyer to the events surrounding the assassination of her lover and confidante JFK. Heavily researched and footnoted, Janney posits that the CIA engineered both deaths because Meyer’s pacifism and use of marijuana and hallucinogens were influencing President Kennedy’s views leading to policy decisions contrary to what the CIA felt best for the nation. Janney implicates CIA officials including his own father, Wistar Janney, and Mary’s former husband Cord Meyer in the tangled web of DC agendas and cover-ups. Reading like a who’s who of the Cold War era, Mary’s Mosaic will appeal to those well-versed in the Warren commission report as well as Kennedy family buffs.  

 

Jack Kennedy and family also make an appearance in Francine Matthew’s novel Jack 1939. Set in the Europe of pre-World War II, Kennedy is anointed a secret agent by President Roosevelt who is bucking for a third term in office; Jack’s mission is to interrupt the German machinations interfering with Roosevelt’s ambitions. Matthews, a former CIA analyst, mixes history with a spy thriller in this fascinating and fast-moving story of what-if conjecture.

 

Lori

 
 

Goodbye, Norma Jean

Marilyn & MeMarilyn at Rainbow's EndMarilyn in FashionOn August 5, 1962, the nation was shocked to learn of the death of Marilyn Monroe. She rocketed from from popular movie star to legend and her star has never faded. Three new volumes commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn’s death share different aspects of her story. 

 

In Marilyn & Me: a Photographer’s Memories, Lawrence Schiller writes a personal account detailing his early career days as a photojournalist. One of Schiller’s early assignments was Marilyn Monroe, and he shares the particulars of the friendship he built with Marilyn on the sets of two of her last movies, including the unfinished Something’s Got to Give. This is an intimate memoir of a young photographer's relationship with Marilyn Monroe just months before her death and contains his extraordinary photographs, some of which have never been published.     

 

Darwin Porter attempts to solve the mysterious circumstances surrounding Marilyn’s death in Marilyn at Rainbow's End: Sex, Lies, Murder, and the Great Cover-Up. A Hollywood journalist, Porter outlines a fairly thorough listing of the conspiracies and dark secrets behind what some see as Hollywood's most notorious mystery. While making a case that Marilyn was murdered, this investigative book lays out the evidence and allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.  

  

Marilyn in Fashion by Christopher Nickens and George Zeno combines elaborate photography and behind-the-scenes accounts to reveal how Marilyn meticulously crafted her image, right down to her shoes. From the pink satin Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend’s gown, and the pleated white dress from The Seven Year Itch, to the revealing nude sheath worn to sing happy birthday to President Kennedy, Marilyn had an enduring sense of personal style. In an era of Peter Pan collars, poodle skirts, and saddle shoes, Marilyn made fashion sizzle with sex appeal, and her look is imitated to this day.

 

Maureen