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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

 
 

2012 RITA Winners Announced

2012 RITA Winners Announced

posted by:
August 17, 2012 - 8:10am

New York to DallasBlack HawkMeasure of Katie CallowayEarlier this month, Romance Writers of America announced this year’s winners of their coveted RITA awards for excellence in romance writing.

 

Fan favorite Nora Roberts took the award for Romantic Suspense with New York to Dallas, written under her pseudonym J.D. Robb. The novel, which is part of her popular In Death series, follows detective Eve Dallas as she tries to catch escaped serial rapist and killer Isaac McQueen. With the help of her millionaire husband Roarke, Eve must confront her own personal demons and capture McQueen in this intense suspense novel.

 

Joanna Bourne’s Regency-set spy romance The Black Hawk won the RITA for Historical Romance. Injured by an assassin, Justine DeCabrillac is forced to seek the help of Adrian Hawker her life-long adversary and occasional lover. The killer has a plan to destroy Adrian as well, so the two must trust each other and work together to bring down their common enemy. Bourne’s writing is a fun blend of passionate romance and intrigue, and readers will quickly see the skillful writing that won her this award.

 

The award for Inspirational Romance went to The Measure of Katie Calloway by Serena Miller. Katie Calloway and her brother flee her abusive husband in Georgia, and she makes a new life for herself as a cook in a logging camp in Michigan. She begins to fall in love with the camp owner, Robert, but complications arise.  Her husband Harlan begins to search for her with plans to kill Katie and marry a rich woman. Can her new relationship with Robert survive her secrets? Miller’s strong characters add depth to this warm historical tale.

 

The full list of winners is available here.

Beth

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Playing with Identity

Playing with Identity

posted by:
August 16, 2012 - 2:19pm

Playing Dead“Have you ever wondered about who you are?”

 

Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin begins with a letter Tommie McCloud receives from a stranger, which throws her own identity and childhood into question. This leads the child psychologist and former rodeo competitor on a journey from her native Texas hometown, where she has just attended her father’s funeral, to the Chicago mob scene and meetings with a whole cast of seedy characters. At the heart of the story, though, the question remains: who is Tommie and who are her real parents? Through her journey, she collects little bits of information that eventually come together to reveal a family history far different than Tommie grew up knowing.

 

What sets this story apart from the usual family drama? First is the setting. Heaberlin, a former award-winning journalist and small-town Texas native, evokes a landscape with open ranges, oppressive heat and historical family ties to the land. Second is the plot structure. There is no solid ground. This is a story which continues to unravel, with every piece of the puzzle leading to more questions. Third is a flair for the dramatic. Rodeo competitions, hit men, kidnappings, unsolved murders and a mother with dementia (who of course holds important family secrets) all factor in to the story. A tale of twists and turns, Playing Dead will appeal to anyone who likes family sagas, mysteries or action/adventure stories. 

 

Melanie

 
 

Standout Voices in Contemporary Poetry

Life on MarsSlow LightningCrazy BraveYou wouldn’t think that the expanding universe, the glam-enigma of David Bowie, and the grief for a father could all be explored in one collection of poetry, however, Tracy K. Smith has done just that in her latest collection Life on Mars. In her poem “Don’t You Wonder Sometimes?” Smith contemplates The future isn’t what is used to be.  "Even Bowie thirsts/ For something good and cold.  Jets blink across the sky/ Like migratory souls." Smith addresses pivotal world events with rage and amazement, from Abu Ghraib prison to the D.C. Holocaust Memorial Museum shootings. Each poem is an odd and strikingly unfeigned examination yet, when read as a whole, the collection serves as a journey of intergalactic magnitude.

 

Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral, 2011 recipient of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, is a seemingly effortless yet complex interweaving of Spanish and English that challenges both literal and linguistic borders. This undaunted Latino voice contorts the boundaries of sexuality, immigration, and cultural consciousness. Each unexpected word crackles. "My right hand/ a pistol. My left/ automatic. I’m knocking/ on every door./ I’m coming on strong,/ like a missionary./ I’m kicking back/ my legs, like a mule. I’m kicking up/ my legs, like/ a show girl." If you’re looking for unflinching poetry that writhes across the page, this ruggedly poignant collection shouldn’t be missed.

 

Crazy Brave is a lyrical coming-of-age memoir by leading Native American poet and musician, Joy Harjo. Born in 1950’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo recalls her early struggles with an abusive stepfather, her seminal years at the Institute of American Indian Arts high school in Santa Fe, and her personal journey of inspiration. Harjo, a Muscogee (Creek) Native American, interlaces brute realism with tribal myths to create a haunting variation of the American dream. From the jazz of Miles Davis to transcendental memories of her ancestors, this slim but eloquently raw autobiography has wide readership appeal for those interested in the process of creativity, social injustice, U.S. history, and women’s rights.

 

Sarah Jane

 
 

Jane Austen Does The Bachelorette?

Imperfect BlissEssence Contributing Editor Susan Fales-Hill takes on Pride and Prejudice and the result is a delightful summer read called Imperfect Bliss. The Harcourt family of Chevy Chase, Maryland is at the heart of this story. They are a respectable middle-class family featuring a social-climbing Jamaican mother named Forsythia, an inattentive English father, and their four unmarried daughters. Forsythia has big dreams for her girls and even named each after a Windsor royal family member hoping for titled sons-in-law. But love and marriage are the last things on the mind of their second eldest, Elizabeth (Bliss), who finds herself living back home with her special-needs daughter following a messy divorce.

   

When younger sister Diana is picked as the star of “The Virgin,” a reality television dating show, all the Harcourts' lives change significantly. Their home turns into a set and the crew becomes part of their family. While Bliss tries to keep her daughter and herself out of camera range, the show’s attractive host, Wyatt and handsome producer, Dario, are persistent in their pursuit of her. Meanwhile, her other sisters, Victoria and Charlotte are dealing with issues of their own and the whole family must come to grips with their own reality. The humorous hijinks of the television show and the quirky characters comprising this family combine to create an engaging comedy of manners tinged with satire. 

 

Imperfect Bliss is a wickedly funny spin on the pitfalls of modern love and courtship.  This funny romantic comedy is a perfect beach bag book with its homage to Jane Austen and soft pokes at reality television.

Maureen

 
 

The End of Days

The End of Days

posted by:
August 13, 2012 - 9:00am

12.21The Maya calendar counts down to the end of the fourth age of man. Doomsayers believe that this means the end of the world is coming in December 2012. The novel 12.21 by Dustin Thomason is a thrilling story that will have many wondering if we all aren’t just a twist of fate away from the end of life as we know it.

 

In 12.21 Dr. Gabriel Stanton is experiencing a typical day in his lab at the Center for Disease Control in Los Angeles when he receives a shocking phone call from a local hospital. A patient has presented with the symptoms of Prion disease, an extremely rare, highly contagious, and rapidly-progressing sickness.  What follows next is a tense and exciting tale as scientists race the clock to determine the origin of the contamination and how it is transmitted. The main symptom is insomnia, which after several days leads to seizures, dementia, and death. Those infected have no hope of survival, as there is no cure. Ultimately the entire city of Los Angeles is quarantined.

 

Meanwhile Chel Manu, an expert in Mayan antiquities at the Getty Museum, is made custodian of an ancient codex. The dealer who acquired this artifact also develops symptoms of the disease and Gabriel and Chel work together to determine if there could be a connection to the devastating outbreak. With so much technological advancement, could the answer to the epidemic be found in a fabled lost Mayan City?

 

This is Thomason’s second novel, having co-authored the international best-seller The Rule of Four with Ian Caldwell in 2004. Thomason has also been the executive producer for multiple television series including Lie to Me. 12.21 is a fantastic story that readers will not want to put down until the last captivating page.

 

Jeanne

 
 

The French Chef at 100

DearieAuthor Bob Spitz spent several weeks traveling through Sicily with Julia Child in 1992 and admits that he developed “a powerful crush on her,” which inspired him to write Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. The book’s release coincides with the 100th anniversary of her birth, and it’s the perfect way to celebrate the rich life of this culinary legend, television pioneer, and cultural icon. Both the author’s admiration and Julia’s larger-than-life personality shine through in this in-depth new account of her life.

 

In 1942, Julia wanted to join either the Women’s Army Corps or the Navy WAVES. She was rejected by both organizations because at 6’3” she was considered too tall. Instead, she began to work for the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA). While working for the OSS, she met Paul Child, and they married in 1946. Paul and Julia moved to Paris in 1948, and Julia had a life-changing experience eating sole meunière on her first day in France. Food became Julia’s passion. She attended the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and began to teach cooking. She also co-authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is now considered a classic cookbook.

 

In 1962, Julia was featured on a segment of People Are Reading on Boston's WGBH to discuss her cookbook. She shocked the host by making an omelet on a hotplate on live television and unknowingly launched a revolution.  That first television appearance led to her successful cooking show The French Chef, the growth of educational television and what later became PBS, and the current popularity of the Food Network and celebrity chefs.  Julia was fearless in the kitchen and had a unique ability to make cooking seem completely accessible and fun. She made America wanted to cook along with her. Julia passed away in 2004, but her ground-breaking work will always be remembered. She changed the landscapes of both American food and television.  In the words of the lady herself, “Bon appétit!”

 

Beth

 
 

Where Joy and Sorrow Meet

In the Shadow of the BanyanGrowing up in a wealthy Cambodian family, seven-year-old Raami enjoys a privileged life until a civil war rips from her the only existence she has ever known. In an elegant autobiographical literary debut, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner brings to life the 1975 Khmer Rouge capture of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and one family’s extraordinary fight to live.

 

Told through the curious, fearful eyes of a young girl, Ratner’s story is more than the atrocities of revolution. Rather, it is about not losing faith in life’s beauty and goodness. With Raami’s tender, lyrical voice, the reader is introduced to pre-revolution Cambodia, as well as the new reality of forced labor and other unspeakable horrors. It’s a confusing world where being intelligent can mean death. Silence is the key to survival, and family members become lost. Before they know it, Raami, her beautiful mother and younger sister are forced into a peasant’s life. Raami becomes "koan neak srae," a child of these paddies. Her solace is remembering stories told to her by her stoic Sisowath prince father, who once said he writes because "words give me wings."  

 

Rattner's prose is as mellifluous as the Mekong River that Raami longs to see. Rich with similes, Rattner's images are as magical and lovely as they are harsh. In their fullness, the reader sees a Cambodia that is much more than a war-torn landscape and heartbreaking characters who reflect the human tragedy. A small child when the Khmer Rouge took over her country, Ratner strives to honor the lives lost during the genocides. "Sometimes we, like little fishes, are swept up in these big and powerful currents,” Raami's father tells her. Rattner's personal story describes their journey.

 

 

Cynthia

 
 

Murders Old and New

Murders Old and New

posted by:
August 10, 2012 - 8:00am

Age of DoubtThe Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri is the latest mystery novel involving Sicilian detective Inspector Salvo Montalbano. There is a heavy rain, and the inspector is making his way to work when he comes across a young woman whose car is about to become submerged in water.  He rescues her and takes her home to dry off, and she tells him a story of a wealthy aunt, a luxury yacht and a speedboat that is docked in the port of Vigata. Soon after, the owner of the yacht calls the police as a dinghy has been discovered carrying a disfigured corpse. Montalbano heads to the scene and must discover the identity of the unknown man and if there is any connection between him and the crew of the yacht. He remembers the mysterious woman, but when he tries to locate her, he finds that she has mysteriously vanished. Told with a wry sense of humor, the reader will definitely enjoy Montalbano’s quirky style, his passion for Sicilian food and his romantic endeavors. He often uses non-traditional methods in solving the case, and there is enough action and suspense to keep the reader guessing.

 

In the novel, Camilleri also pays homage to the classic mystery writer Georges Simenon who published nearly 200 novels in his lifetime. Inspector Jules Maigret was his most famous character, and in Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard, Maigret must tackle the case of a man who was stabbed to death in an alley, but his wife insists that the shoes and tie he was wearing at the time of his death could not be his. Camilleri writes in a similar style to Simenon, the novels are light and breezy and make an interesting diversion featuring an exotic locale.

 

If you are in the mood for something new or wish to return to a classic tale, these mysteries would be perfect for the dog days of summer.

 

Doug

 
 

A Feast of Knowledge

A Feast of Knowledge

posted by:
August 9, 2012 - 7:03am

The Cookbook LibraryNowadays it seems that every day a new cookbook is published, filled with gleaming pictures of succulent dishes and step-by-step recipes for tantalizing sweets. But where did the idea of the cookbook come from? And when? Anne Willan, founder of the La Varenne Cooking School and cookbook author, with help from her book collecting husband Mark Cherniavsky, tackle these and similar questions in The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook. Willan intelligently explores the evolution of the European and American cookbook as cooking and the culinary arts blossomed over the course of the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries.

 

Willan draws most of her information and recipes from her and her husband’s personal library of antiquarian cookbooks, and the text is studded with captivating illustrations and woodblock prints from their collection. Each chapter encapsulates a century and contains first a history of the cookbooks and cuisine of the time and then is followed by a selection of recipes that have been reworked for a modern kitchen. These recipes give the reader a sense of reaching backward in time to explore dishes that are both foreign and strangely familiar. Recipes vary widely in difficulty from a very simple pork loin roast from the fifteenth century to the tremendous Yorkshire Christmas Pie of Five Birds from the eighteenth century. But perhaps the most intriguing portions of the book are the inset articles that are sprinkled throughout each chapter. These short sections feature fascinating and often quirky themes, like the menus for the court of Mary Queen of Scots, a history of ice as a cooking ingredient, and how to set an elaborate eighteenth century table. Each vignette tangentially relates to the larger chapter that frames it and contains interesting factoids and trivia. 

 

Part cookbook, part culinary history, part history of the book, The Cookbook Library is as accessible as it is entertaining. You don't have to be a scholar to get some serious enjoyment from this unique read.  Cookbook enthusiasts and history buffs should definitely add this title to their to-be-read list.

Rachael