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A Family’s Journey Through Darkness

January First“Schizophrenia is a little like cancer. You can’t trust that it will ever go away completely.” Michael Schofield begins with these reflections as he chronicles his journey to understand and combat his daughter January’s mental illness in January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her. For the first five years of her life, Michael and his wife Susan knew only a few certainties about January.  First, she was a genius, with an IQ of 146. Second, she had an extremely active imagination, to the point where she created her own private world and hundreds of imaginary friends. Third, she rarely slept and needed constant stimulation, keeping both parents in a state of total exhaustion and often despair. January was also more prone than the average child to tantrums and fits of rage, which intensified after the birth of her brother, Bodhi. The Schofields had hoped that a sibling would give January a much-needed companion, but were horrified when she tried time and again to physically harm the infant. After many wrong turns and countless battles with California’s mental health and education systems, January was diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia, a condition much more severe in children than in adults.

 

Schofield’s complete honesty, even when it means portraying himself in a less than flattering light, is one of the most powerful draws of this book. He lays bare the family’s physical, emotional and financial struggles. Conveyed particularly well are the immense frustrations the Schofields experience on a daily basis, as they deal with insurance companies, doctors who won’t return calls, and a child who does not respond to traditional reinforcements or punishments.  At present, the situation with January has improved, thanks in large part to a creative living situation – for several years the Schofields kept two apartments so January and Bodhi could live apart - and a drug cocktail which has reduced the severity of her hallucinations. As Schofield concludes, the family has learned to embrace the positive in each day but know that January’s condition may still deteriorate. To find out even more about Jani, visit Schofield’s website, which includes links to media coverage on the family.

Melanie

 
 

Just Desserts

Just Desserts

posted by:
October 4, 2012 - 7:03am

Fool for LoveThe Chocolate ThiefAmerica is a nation of foodies, so it’s no surprise that there are now  great romances centering on chefs and the food industry. Two examples of these mouth-watering romances will leave readers hoping for seconds. Beth Ciotta kicks off her new series with Fool for Love: A Cupcake Lovers Novel. After a bad breakup, Chloe Madison takes a short-term job as personal chef/driver/companion for Daisy Monroe in the small town of Sugar Creek, Vermont. The largest social organization in Sugar Creek is the Cupcake Lovers. Members meet to share recipes, and they have raised money for charity and sent their home-baked treats to troops for decades. When the Cupcake Lovers begin to put together a charity cookbook, Chloe is drafted to help with the book and to put Daisy’s nemesis in her place. The only problem with Chloe’s new job is free-spirited Daisy’s uptight, micro-managing grandson Devlin. His family depends on him to run the family businesses and handle any problems that come up in their lives. From the start, sparks fly between Chloe and Devlin, but can two people who are so different really be happy together? Fool for Love is filled with charming small town characters and a quirky extended family that will make readers want to come back to Sugar Creek to visit the Monroe family again soon. This book also includes delicious cupcake recipes gathered by Ciotta from her readers.

 

In Laura Florand’s The Chocolate Thief, Cade Corey is the heiress to an American chocolate company’s multi-billion dollar fortune. Her family’s Corey bars are an American staple, but her dream is to start a line of gourmet chocolates for her company. She travels to Paris to find a partner for her gourmet line. Sylvain Marquis, a gorgeous Parisian chocolatier, rejects her proposition outright. Sylvain is appalled by the idea that his chocolates could be mass produced and sold like those detestable Corey bars, but he is intrigued by Cade. Rejection after rejection from leading chocolatiers leads Cade to do something drastic. She breaks in to Sylvain’s store to find his secret recipes. News of Sylvain’s Chocolate Thief, who is identified as Cade in a New York Times article, creates a media frenzy around Cade and Sylvain. This steamy romance is as irresistible as Sylvain’s sinful chocolates.

 

Beth

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Women on the Verge

Women on the Verge

posted by:
October 1, 2012 - 8:00am

The PlaydateThe Playdate is a terrific psychological thriller from debut author Louise Millar. The story is told from the points of view of three very different women. Each has events in their pasts that they are trying to hide from one another. Pasts have a way of creeping up on you though, often in terrible and unexpected ways.

 

Callie is a single mother raising her daughter Rae, while Rae’s father is away in Sri Lanka with his new girlfriend. Callie is feeling alienated from her old friends and longs to return to work as a sound effects editor. She has become close friends with a neighbor, Suzy, but feels that Suzy can be intense, almost clingy with their friendship. Suzy is facing troubles of her own, raising three sons with almost little or no help from her husband, Jez. Jez is emotionally distancing himself from Suzy, and this makes her desperate to find a way back into his affections. Debs has recently moved to the row home right next door to Suzy.  Debs is older than Callie or Suzy and is used to living life on her own, and she is adjusting to life with her new husband. Debs also has little tolerance for noises of any kind. Airplanes flying overhead, a neighbor flushing the toilet or even vacuuming can create in her a sense of madness.

 

The Playdate is an incredibly tight thriller. The reader is aware that something unpleasant is going to happen, and as the novel progresses and secrets are revealed, the action intensifies. The story barrels forward to an intense conclusion, making The Playdate a gripping read.

Doug

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A Silent Voice Heard

A Silent Voice Heard

posted by:
October 1, 2012 - 7:45am

Love AnthonyStill battered by the smoldering remains of loss, Nantucket resident Olivia Donatelli struggles to find the meaning of her autistic son's short life in Lisa Genova's heart-tugging new novel, Love Anthony. Her journey of reflection leads to an unlikely encounter with another island resident that is as complex as the autism spectrum that defined her son's eight years of life.

 

Olivia is a mother tormented by grief. When she moves to the salty, picturesque island following the unexpected death of her son, Anthony, she brings with her too many lingering “what ifs.”  To obtain answers, she revisits her old journal entries of her life with Anthony and her estranged husband, David.  Her new job as a beach photographer brings distraction and as well as contact with another mother who faces her own personal loss.

 

Beth Ellis has been slammed by the proverbial Mack truck when she learns her husband has cheated on her. Reeling, she turns to writing as a way to pick up the pieces. It is her subject, a silent autistic boy she once observed, that provides the link between the two women’s parallel lives and their path to a renewal and understanding that only time can provide.

 

Although Genova has meticulously drawn characters in Beth and Olivia, it is the captivating, innocent voice of Anthony that provides the poignant glimpses into an autistic child’s mind.  In her story, Beth gives the boy a voice that is both wondrous and sad. Here the reader sees the neuroscientist Genova at her best, deftly conveying the complex neurological misfirings of the human mind in ways that are both compassionate and oh so real.  Like her previous books, Still Alice and Left Neglected, Love Anthony enlists the reader in a club that no one wants to join but that everyone can imagine.

 

Cynthia

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It's the End of the World As We Know It

The Dog StarsThe world has changed in Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars.  A pandemic has infected millions. Many have not survived, and those that have are shunned and avoided.  The novel begins nine years after the outbreak, and centers around pilot Hig and his aging dog, Jasper. Hig and Jasper live at an abandoned airport with survivalist and gun-nut Bangley.  Hig has refurbished a 1956 Cessna, which he takes on short flights in the area. He has to choose his paths with care. If he flies too far, he could run out of fuel.  Airports in the area can be dangerous places. Wandering groups of marauders appear that would kill you as soon as look at you.  Airport runways have fallen into ruin and there is a good chance Hig would not be able to land.  He could find himself too far from home, and not able to find the fuel he needs to get back.  He finds himself desperately lonely.  He is reminded of his wife Melissa who died during the pandemic.  Bangley is not much for conversation. Occasionally, Hig flies to deliver supplies to a group of Mennonites who have been infected with the blood disease, but he can never get too close with them. Suddenly, a tragic event happens that will change Hig’s perceptions and force him to make a decision that will alter the course of his life.

 

The Dog Stars is primarily a character study of a man who has lost hope.  It is a heartbreaking work, and the reader gets the sense of intense loneliness that Hig is feeling, trapped in this new world, fighting each day for survival.  Written in short passages and often single sentences, the story has a distinct style that is very readable and ultimately compelling.  This is a novel to be savored, and the reader will remember Hig long after they have finished the final page.

Doug

 
 

A Sweet Treat

A Sweet Treat

posted by:
September 28, 2012 - 7:01am

When in Doubt Add ButterMaryland native and bestselling author Beth Harbison has another hit on her hands with her new novel When in Doubt, Add Butter. Engaging, witty, and warm, this book is a sweet treat for a lazy afternoon. Gemma Craig is a private chef who spends her days catering to her clients’ unique needs and whims. She has the job that she has always wanted, and it pays just enough to keep her afloat financially. Each day is devoted to a different client. On Mondays, she cooks for the Van Houghtens in their beautiful Chevy Chase home and contends with uptight Angela’s crazy dietary restrictions that include no dairy, no beef, no onions, no soy, no nuts, no honey, no cinnamon or “warm spices,” and no garlic. Paul McMann, a.k.a. Mr. Tuesday, is a busy lawyer whose tastes run to comfort foods. Mr. Tuesday is never home, but the two of them regularly exchange flirty notes about the food. On Wednesdays, Gemma sees Lex Prather, a flamboyant social butterfly who could be played by Tony Randall. His tastes run to classic high society fair like oysters Rockefeller and Waldorf salad. Thursday nights, she cooks for the Olekseis, a large family headed by widower Vlad who Gemma worries may be involved in the Russian mob. Fridays are set aside for Georgetown social-climber Marie Lemurra who was recently on a reality show and strives to connect with B-list celebrities and politicians.

 

Gemma’s life is right on track until she gets fired by Marie for an unfortunate incident involving a peacock and the bumper of Gemma’s car. (Really, how was she supposed to know that they had a pet peacock?) Then, Gemma learns that someone is sabotaging her weekend catering jobs, and her well-ordered world starts coming apart at the seams. After a one-night stand with a mysterious man named Mack, things get even more complicated. Gemma has to pick up the pieces and figure out how to put her life back together.

Beth

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Death and Depravity

Death and Depravity

posted by:
September 27, 2012 - 8:45am

MonsterWanton debauchery, an all-consuming thirst for vengeance, satanic worship, madness, an undead predator-- any of these characteristics could be utilized to describe a monster. Readers encounter a plethora of individuals that qualify for this label in Dave Zeltserman’s new release Monster. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the creature fashioned from different human body parts and brought to life by Victor Frankenstein is easily classified as the monster. Zeltserman’s novel is the story of the unfortunate and unwitting brain donor used in the mad doctor’s creation. Written in a style that mirrors Shelley’s original work, this is a dark and menacing tale about a tortured man trapped in the body of an abomination.

 

Friedrich Hoffman is a young man convicted of killing his betrothed a week before their marriage. After suffering an agonizing and horrendous death on the wheel, he awakens on a slab in Frankenstein’s laboratory. His intelligence and memory are intact and he quickly comes to suspect his creator’s involvement in his beloved’s death as well as his own false conviction. The black magic employed in the creature’s reanimation leave Friedrich powerless to exact revenge on his enemy. Friedrich is not the only innocent victim to be ensnared in Frankenstein’s web. Something even more sinister and disturbing is planned in an abandoned castle in a remote mountainous region south of Geneva. Friedrich’s remaining humanity is called into question as he struggles with whether to intervene or be complacent with the sordid plans of Frankenstein and the evil Marquis de Sade.

 

Monster is a gripping gothic horror tale, brilliantly told. Zeltserman is an accomplished author of mystery, horror and noir. He has earned the Shamus, Derringer and Ellery Queen's Readers' Choice awards and could very well be on track to another winner with Monster.

 

Jeanne

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Make it Work

Make it Work

posted by:
September 27, 2012 - 7:03am

Project Runway: The Show That Changed HistoryTim Gunn's Fashion BibleProject Runway is wrapping up its tenth season, and this landmark program featuring aspiring fashion designers is as popular today as when it first started. In the first full-color program guide, Project Runway: The Show That Changed History, all nine seasons are represented. Featuring hundreds of pictures of the hosts, designers, fashions, and more, this is the ultimate fan source. In addition to the photographs, there are highlights of seasons past, and interviews with designers, stars, and judges. Go behind the scenes of a television and fashion institution and learn how the show began and evolved over the years, and discover what some of the fan favorites are up to today. Enjoy commentary from host Heidi Klum throughout, as well as interviews with the behind-the-scenes crew and producers, top designers, judges, and of course, Tim Gunn.

 

And speaking of Mr. Gunn, Project Runway’s mentor and fan favorite offers a fashion-related title in Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible:The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet. Gunn is also the chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne and a former faculty member and chair of fashion design at Parsons' New School for Design. He shares his impressive fashion knowledge and presents an exhaustive history of clothing and accessory. From suits to sportswear, jeans to Crocs, Gunn surveys Western fashion and recounts the contributions to the way we dress and accessorize, and highlights revolutionary designers. In tracing the origin of our closets, Gunn combines his trademark sense of humor with a personable tone. This comprehensive volume not only informs, but serves as a reminder that while fashion is about fun and innovation, the quickly changing dynamics and fickle consumers lead to designers being in one day and out the next.

Maureen

 
 

Tommy Gun in a Black Violin Case

Gangster SquadPaul Lieberman’s Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles brings a new mob story to light. In the 1940s, L.A. officials were extremely concerned about gangster crime, so they created a new off-the-books squad of eight officers to combat mob crime called the Gangster Squad. The squad’s members were still listed on the rosters of their old stations. They had no office; they operated out of two old Fords and met in parking lots and on street corners. They made no arrests, handing cases off to homicide, robbery, or vice. Each squad member was assigned his own Tommy gun, which one squad member was known to keep under his bed in a black violin case. The gangster squad’s goal was to make life difficult for mob criminals. Since they were a shadow group, they didn’t bother with warrants. They bugged everything from television sets to a mobster’s mistress’s bed to gain intelligence on their targets.

 

Local gangster Mickey Cohen was one of the squad’s major foes. Pursuing Cohen was an obsession for Sergeants Jerry Wooters and Jack O’Mara, two very different men whose only common goal was taking down Cohen. Their separate plans to catch Cohen collided one night in 1959 at Rondelli’s restaurant in a shooting that resulted in the death of Jack “The Enforcer” Whalen. The fallout from that night brought this chapter in L.A.’s history to a close. Lieberman’s journalism background is evident in the way that he tells the story. He did extensive research and interviewed surviving members of both the squad and the mob. If this sounds like a story made for the big screen, it is. Gangster Squad will be coming to a theater near you. The film, which stars Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn, arrives in theaters in January 2013.

Beth

 
 

Ghosts, Moors and Village Secrets

Beneath the ShadowsA couple and their infant daughter move from the hustle and bustle of London to a remote cottage in North Yorkshire. Soon after, the husband Adam disappears, leaving the baby in her carriage on the front doorstep. So begins Sara Foster’s debut novel, Beneath the Shadows. A haunting, psychological tale, the reader is transported to a beautiful but desolate English village, complete with secretive townspeople and a history of ghosts and unexplained occurrences.  

 

When the wife, Grace, returns to the village the next year, she begins talking to the locals and discovers more about her husband’s boyhood. She also learns about more unsettling issues, including hauntings, characters from local folklore and even strange details about the cottage her husband inherited from his grandparents. Her city friends and family are encouraging her to sell the cottage and run, but Grace cannot yet bring herself to do that. Even as an unknown person or people are sending her increasingly sinister warnings to leave, she needs to know the fate of Adam and if he really did abandon his family.  

 

This book has all the elements for a good autumn read: the moors, cold weather, snowstorms threatening to cut off the village, hints of the paranormal and the ever-present danger of harm coming to a mother and daughter trying to rebuild their lives. Fans of the Bronte sisters, Daphne du Maurier or Jennifer McMahon will be intrigued by this story which slowly unravels to lay bare a town’s and a family’s history and secrets.  

Melanie