Best-selling author of medical and political thrillers Michael Palmer has passed away at the age of 71. First published in 1982, his debut novel The Sisterhood dealt with the controversial subject of euthanasia. Palmer went on to write close to 20 novels, the last of which, Resistant, is scheduled to be published in May of 2014.
Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Wesleyan University, as had fellow medical thriller author Robin Cook. Upon reading Cook’s runaway hit Coma, Palmer decided that he too could write novels of the same style. After attending medical school in Cleveland, Palmer worked as a physician in the Boston area for a number of years before writing took more and more of his time. Even after a decades-long career as a New York Times best-selling author, he continued to work part-time with the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. His sons Daniel and Matthew have continued the Palmer family writing legacy with novels of their own.
Maryland author Charles Belfoure’s debut novel The Paris Architect is gaining the attention of readers across the country. In 1942, Parisian architect Lucien Bernard is largely indifferent to what is happening to Jews in Occupied France. When he is asked to create a hiding place for the Jewish friend of a wealthy businessman, he can’t resist either the challenge or the compensation, so he agrees. Despite the danger, he begins designing places for others to hide from the Gestapo. His ingenious designs embed hidden cubbyholes into the architectural features of buildings. When one of his hiding places fails, he can no longer ignore the reality of the situation. Over the course of the novel, the horror of what is happening to Jews in his city becomes very real and personal to Lucien.
NPR’s Alan Cheuse compares this story to novels by Alan Furst. The historical and architectural details bring the story to life. This fast-paced World War II thriller leaves readers wondering how we would have reacted in the same situation, which makes it a good choice for book clubs. Discussion questions and additional information about Belfoure’s inspiration are also included in the book. The Paris Architect will appeal to readers who enjoyed Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and City of Women by David R. Gillham.
Belfoure, who lives in Westminster, wrote a fascinating series of posts about this novel for The Jewish Book Council blog. He will appear at several upcoming local events to promote his novel. A full list is available here.
Acclaimed poet Mary Oliver, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, celebrates the dogs she has loved with words of tender care on each page of Dog Songs. Pet owners and animal lovers alike will find a kindred spirit in the voice of Oliver, who has immortalized her wooly confidantes with compassion and humor in a tone reminiscent of the veterinarian memoirist, James Herriot.
Oliver is known for her elegant treatment of the natural world but Dog Songs reveals a rare and intimately domestic side to the poet’s heart. She invites us into her home and introduces us to the cherished pets of her past and present like the unforgettable souls of Bear, Luke, Benjamin and Percy. Whether on a long walk, down at the surf or curled on a couch, each dog’s personality radiates with bliss and, at times, secretive wisdom.
However, we are not spared the pain that unavoidably comes with loving a life outside your own. While grieving in the poem “Her Grave,” Oliver addresses her lost friend by asking “How strong was her dark body!/ How apt is her grave place./ How beautiful is her unshakeable sleep./ Finally,/ the slick mountains of love break/ over us.” Too often the death of a pet is portrayed as an unimaginable horror but Oliver offers a holistic alternative where heartbreak and light might linger. Although devastated, she holds onto the love she has shared with her fallen friend and stands in awe of the animal who has brought her such joy, warmth and spiritual fullness.
Lifelong fans of Oliver, acclaimed for Why I Wake Early, Red Bird and Thirst, will find this both a gratifying and surprising addition to her life’s work. The narrative tone of these portraits, accompanied with gentle line drawings, make this collection appealing to non-poetry readers as well.
With the ongoing 150th anniversary of the Civil War, quite a few books have been published recently dealing with many of the famous figures and battles of that era. However, one area that has not been explored very deeply is the role women played in shaping this period of history. In her book Maryland Women in the Civil War: Unionists, Rebels, Slaves and Spies, author and former Stevenson University History Professor Claudia Floyd examines some of the ways that women were able to make a difference behind the scenes whether they were for the Union or Confederacy.
Well-researched with an extensive bibliography and endnotes, Floyd sheds light on some remarkable Maryland women who often risked their reputations, freedom and lives to assist with issues about which they were quite passionate. During the Civil War, Marylanders fought for both the North and South, although the state technically remained part of the Union. Floyd introduces the reader to some remarkably courageous women who took up both sides of the cause. Some are familiar (Harriet Tubman) and some obscure (Anna Ella Carroll) but they all helped in ways that included assisting slaves to freedom, nursing wounded soldiers, spying (for both North and South) and holding together their families torn apart by the loss of the security provided them by their absent male relatives.
Marvel Comics has issued the Ender’s Game graphic novel just in time for the movie. Based on the Hugo- and Nebula-awards winning classic science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. The story follows Andrew "Ender" Wiggin as he enters battle school at 6 years old. Earth barely survived an invasion from the Formics, an insect-like alien race. Genetically bread to be a prodigy, Ender shows his aptitude for military strategy through his remarkable results in both the combat and mind games presented to him by Earth Command. Rising through the ranks and entering Command School at an accelerated pace, Ender learns to rely on no one but himself and his own instincts, regardless of the rules. Can Ender save humanity from the impending war with the "Buggers"?
This graphic novel is a compilation of the Ender’s Game: Battle School #s 1-5 and Ender’s Game: Command School #s 1-5 comics originally released monthly by Marvel beginning in October 2008. While the graphic novel format does not go into as much depth as the novel, it does stays true to the story. The movie adaptation, starring Harrison Ford, will be in theaters November 1.
Dianne Dixon’s second novel, The Book of Someday, links three seemingly unrelated characters in an intriguing story of betrayal, love, loss and maternal protection. Livvi is a successful author with an abusive past. She has recurring nightmares about a woman in a silver dress, but has no idea why or what the dreams mean. Recently, she has fallen in love for the first time but is confused by her boyfriend’s evasiveness and family secrets.
Micah is a talented photographer who has recently found out she has breast cancer. As a result, she is on a cross-country journey to try to make amends for past wrongs.
AnnaLee is a housewife with a young daughter. Her husband loves her, but he is a disappointment to her career-wise and their financial struggles have further strained their marriage.
Told from the alternating perspectives of these three characters, Dixon slowly peels back the layers of the story to reveal the interconnectedness. There is also introspection and self-discovery as each woman matures and better understands the gray areas of their past and present relationships with others.
Dixon is a screenwriter and employs brisk writing, succinct dialogue and concise descriptions to create context and keep the story moving forward. The complex characters and plot twists contribute to a dramatic tale which will keep readers up late at night to unravel the mystery. Fans of Jodi Picoult or Kristin Hannah will appreciate the unique ending, which answers some questions but doesn’t tie everything up too neatly. Highly recommended as a book club selection, or as a good couch read on a chilly fall day.
As a child, author Kimberly Rae Miller would pray that her home would catch on fire. Her prayer was answered but, to her horror, it came with some unforeseen consequences. In her memoir, Coming Clean, Miller writes about her experiences growing up as the only child of parents who were hoarders.
Miller makes it clear that hoarding isn’t just a messy home with too much clutter. Hoarding à la the Miller parents means never throwing anything away. It means online shopping so obsessively that delivered but unopened packages are stacked to the ceiling. It means sleeping on the edge of a mattress otherwise piled with junk, never opening the refrigerator since it contains moldy sludge and showering at the gym since to call in a plumber to repair leaking pipes would mean being reported to social services. Yes, it means moving to a new home to escape the detritus in the old house.
It would be easy to dismiss this book as piggybacking on the odd appeal of the popular reality TV show Hoarders. The descriptions of the Miller family’s living conditions are shocking and sad. Miller also relates the shame she felt as a child, colluding with her parents to present a picture of normalcy, and the guilt, too, after the wished-for house fire resulted in the deaths of her beloved pets. Yet, this story is multi-layered, and Miller is clear that she was raised by loving and intelligent parents who encouraged and supported her in academic and social pursuits. Coming Clean reminds us that imperfect people and good parenting are not mutually exclusive, and our circumstances do not define who we are. Visit Miller at her blog, TheKimChallenge, where she writes about food, fitness, perspective and love.
In school, we all learned about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but there was another book published around the same time that had an important impact on the discussion of slavery in America. That book was Solomon Northup’s memoir 12 Years a Slave. Northup was born a free man and lived most of his life in New York. In 1841, he was lured to Washington, D.C. where he was beaten, drugged and sold into slavery. For the next 12 years, he was a slave on a series of plantations in Louisiana until his family was able to find him and bring him home to New York in 1853. 12 Years a Slave is his unflinching firsthand account of what he experienced and witnessed during that time.
When it was published in 1853, Northup’s memoir became a bestseller, selling over 30,000 copies. After the Civil War, the book was out-of-print for many years. It was rediscovered by two scholars in the 1960s and reprinted in 1968. Now, it has been adapted into a film that brings the horrors of Northup’s experience to the big screen. Like many of us, the film’s director, Steve McQueen, was surprised when his partner brought the book to his attention. He writes, “The book blew both our minds: the epic range, the details, the adventure, the horror and the humanity. The book read like a film script, ready to be shot. I could not believe that I had never heard of this book.”
The movie, which the New York Post calls “brutally powerful and emotionally devastating,” is already generating Oscar buzz. The film’s A-list cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Alfre Woodard. The trailer is available here.
Amanda Knox is back in the news again with her retrial underway, and Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois couldn’t have come at a better time. duBois maintains that her book isn’t an actual account of Knox’s experience, but the story was inspired by the case.
Much like Knox, Lily studies abroad for a semester, though her experience is in Argentina and not Italy. Lily and another student, Katy, live with a host family. Initially, Lily is enthralled with her new surroundings in Buenos Aires as she goes to class and people-watches at cafés, but eventually she becomes bored and takes on a job at a local bar. After Katy is found stabbed to death, Lily, a coworker and her boyfriend are all implicated in the murder, and Lily is taken to jail.
The story is told from the perspectives of several key characters. The reader first sees Lily’s point of view as she arrives in Buenos Aires and starts to explore her new surroundings. The perspective then changes to her parents, the prosecuting attorney and Lily’s boyfriend, Sebastian.
Readers will feel like jurors at Lily’s trial. The conclusion to this story is more resolute than Knox’s, but the reader is still left to make up his or her own mind, and no two readers will have the same experience. Interested in a reading about the real Amanda Knox? Checkout her new memoir titled Waiting to be Heard.
“The paranoia was fulfilled” – that’s how Joan Didion described the murders carried out in 1969 by Charles Manson and his band of devoted followers known as “The Family.” Translation? The late sixties were already a time of intense political change and civil unrest. Throw in sensationalized murders and an equally dramatic trial, and this period was officially the craziest and most unsettling in American history, no matter one’s political or ideological leanings. In Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn traces the hardscrabble origins of the boy who grew up to become the infamous cult leader and murderer. Although Manson did have a somewhat unstable home life, he exaggerated or fabricated childhood tales of woe to win sympathy and devotion from his followers. In the true fashion of an “opportunistic sociopath,” as Guinn describes him, Manson used skills obtained in prison, like Dale Carnegie’s popular How to Win Friends and Influence People program, to manipulate followers and bring them under his control. His teachings that “Helter Skelter”, the end of an orderly American society, was close at hand led to the “Tate murders,” where pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others were brutally killed. Additionally, his followers murdered several other people before and after this most infamous crime.
Guinn does an excellent job alternating national and world history with Manson’s development, meticulously chronicling his childhood and adolescence in and out of reform schools, his young adulthood as a petty repeat criminal, and his time in Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood that was the epicenter for the darker side of the hippie movement where Manson did much of his initial recruiting. Those who enjoyed Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders will appreciate this in-depth account of these suspenseful and chilling crimes. As James Lee Burke writes in his cover review: “Hang on, reader. This is a rip-roaring ride you won’t forget.”