Aminatta Forna sets her newest novel, The Hired Man, in a rural Croatian village in the summer of 2007. As she did in her Commonwealth Writer’s Prize-winning book The Memory of Love, Forna again examines people living in the aftermath of conflict and the insidious influence of violence which lingers long after the war has ended.
Duro Kolak is a middle-age man; small, quiet Gost is his hometown. He lives alone since the rest of his family, like many of the villagers, has moved away. Duro picks up odd jobs, hunts with his dogs, Kos and Zeka, and occasionally visits the pub. Change comes to Gost in the form of an English family who buy a shabby vacant house as a summer retreat and a real estate investment. Duro knows the house well, as it belonged to childhood friends, and he offers to help Laura and her teenage children repair the house. Duro also becomes the family’s guide to insular Croatian culture.
Forna, through Duro, alternates the contemporary story of Duro, Laura’s family, and the house restoration with the tangled back story of Duro and the Pavić family who were the previous owners of Laura’s vacation home. Duro’s reminiscing begins with his friends Krešimir and Anka Pavić with whom he swims and shoots pigeons. Idyllic memories these are not, and as the roof is repaired and an exterior mural uncovered on the Pavićs’ old home, the reader is gradually led into the dark dynamics of altered friendships, a Gost before and during the disintegration of a country and the horror of ethnic cleansing.
Forna paces this elegiac work deliberately, allowing the two storylines to slowly coalesce into a narrative of love and war and a search for the truth. The Hired Man is a beautiful and brutal tale, built on the rotten foundation of war crimes barely plastered over by the new peacetime.
National Book Award winner and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Alice McDermott’s first novel in seven years was definitely worth the wait. Someone is a thoughtful and heartbreaking look at one extraordinarily ordinary woman. Marie is first introduced to readers as a child of the 1930s, living amongst the Irish-American population of Brooklyn, awaiting the return of her beloved father from work. In this simple sketch, McDermott is able to immediately detail Marie’s community and family. In a non-linear framework, the stories which make Marie’s life are slowly pieced together much like mosaics in a stained glass window.
Marie lives with her brother Gabe and their parents in a Brooklyn brownstone. Gabe is destined for the seminary and Marie is hoping for a life as a wife and mother. Her only worry is that she will end up alone because of her plainness and quiet nature. Marie’s keen observations and vulnerability reveal the internal life of a fascinating woman. From her brother’s eventual loss of faith to her first heartbreak, from her parents’ deaths to the changing nature of her neighborhood, the reader is invited to experience with Marie the impact everyday events have on a life.
Someone was one of 10 titles selected by five judges for this year’s National Book Award long list. This marks another major achievement for one of this country’s finest writers. In McDermott’s hands, this seemingly innocuous and unimportant woman’s life is drawn as a powerful portrait highlighting the fact that each of us has a story to share. This remarkable book is a beautifully written celebration of family, community and history. Readers will long remember and cherish this heartfelt tale which quietly encourages self-reflection, understanding and empathy.
With a chill in the air and the holidays right around the corner, now is the perfect time to experiment with recipes from these new cookbooks. Heather Bertinetti’s Bake It, Don't Fake It!: A Pastry Chef Shares Her Secrets for Impressive (and Easy) From-Scratch Desserts is the go-to guide for those of us who want to impress family and friends with tasty desserts made from scratch. With recipes like Raspberry Almond Tart with Chantilly Cream, Dulce de Leche Cheesecake, Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, Bourbon-Chocolate Pecan Pie and Red Velvet Macarons, Bertinetti’s desserts will dazzle your family and friends, but her foolproof tips and techniques make them accessible for even less-experienced bakers. This book is filled with mouthwatering recipes and plenty of color photos to make it easy for you to create these tempting treats. It includes a foreword by TV personality and Food Network star Rachael Ray, and it is part of Ray’s new line of cookbooks published by Atria Books.
Paula Shoyer brings together a year of holiday baking in The Holiday Kosher Baker: Traditional & Contemporary Holiday Desserts. Arranged into sections for each holiday, the recipes vary from easy to challenging. Shoyer presents a mix of traditional and modern recipes that exhibit her unique flair. You’ll be tempted to serve her elegant Raspberry and Rose Macaron Cake, stunning Ombre Layer Cake or whimsical Tie-dyed Mini Black and White Cookies at your own family gatherings. Shoyer has appeared on the Food Network’s Sweet Genius and is a frequent magazine contributor. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Who doesn’t love the smell of bread baking on a chilly day? The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois is a revised and updated version of their runaway bestseller. Their secret is that the dough is made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Hertzberg and Francois prove that even inexperienced bakers can make bread at home without kneading or special equipment. This new edition includes step-by-step photos, 30 more recipes and a chapter of gluten-free breads.
The Beltway Sniper. The Green River Killer. The Boston Strangler. Great unease prevails in a community when there is a cold-blooded killer on the loose. Police work tirelessly and civilians are extra cautious about venturing out. But what happens when the investigation drags on without anyone being apprehended and the number of victims continues to climb? This is the story in Joyce Maynard’s latest book, After Her, a novel as much about a serial killer as it is about the complicated relationships between parents, children and siblings. When sisters Rachel and Patty are teenagers, women begin turning up dead in the mountainous area just beyond their home in northern California. The killer, dubbed the “Sunset Strangler” because of his method and time of day he kills his victims, always seems to be one step ahead of law enforcement. The sisters’ father is the local detective assigned to solve the case, and his spirits and physical health decline as the killer continues to elude capture. Eventually, public opinion turns against him, and he is removed from the case, leaving an unfinished chapter in his career. Thirty years later, his daughter Rachel is still trying to make sense — and make peace — with her now-deceased father’s professional and personal struggles.
Maynard crafts a story that is family saga, history lesson and murder mystery melded together. There is suspense, but also poignant moments showcasing the lasting bonds of family. Ultimately, in order to find the missing piece of the puzzle, Rachel must confront unexpected secrets of her father’s past. Maynard based After Her on the real-life case of the Trailside Killer, and the investigating detective and his family. On her website you can watch a trailer for the book with interviews with the real-life sisters behind the story.
Maryland romance author Laura Kaye is launching her new Hard Ink series this month with Hard As It Gets. Becca Merritt is desperate. Her brother Charlie is missing. Before he disappeared, Charlie sent her a message that said, “Find Rixey, the Colonel’s team, Hard Ink Tattoo.” With no other options, Becca goes to Hard Ink Tattoo and finds Nick Rixey, a former member of her father’s Special Forces team. Nick has no interest in helping the Merritt family. After Colonel Merritt betrayed Nick’s team, they were ambushed, and the survivors’ military careers were destroyed. Despite his feelings about Becca’s family, Nick decides to start checking up on her. He gets drawn into the intrigue when he saves her from an intruder who breaks into her house. Soon, Nick is working with Becca and reassembling his old team to help her find Charlie and save him from an organized crime ring.
Set in Baltimore, Hard As It Gets is a strong start to Kaye’s gritty new romantic suspense series, which will continue to follow the men of Hard Ink as they uncover the truth about the incident that destroyed their military careers. Filled with plenty of action and some steamy love scenes, this series and the hard-edged men of Hard Ink will appeal to readers who like Maya Banks’ KGI series or Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. novels.
Earlier this year, Kaye’s unlikely path to writing romance novels was the subject of a fascinating Huffington Post article. After sustaining a traumatic brain injury from an everyday accident, Kaye developed Post Concussion Syndrome. She began experiencing behavioral changes, one of which was newfound creative ability. Though she had never written fiction before, she wrote a 450 page novel in only 11 weeks! Kaye’s unlikely injury was a twist of fate that led her to this unexpected new career.
Literary fans of something old and something new now have an opportunity to see, in person, the art masterpieces at the heart of two respected writers' novels. Tracy Chevalier's hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring and Donna Tartt's eagerly anticipated new novel, The Goldfinch, feature paintings by Dutch masters now on temporary display in the United States. Johannes Vermeer's beloved "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and Carel Fabritius's exquisite "Goldfinch" are currently part of a 15-painting exhibition on loan to the Frick Collection in New York until January 19.
Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier's second novel, is about Vermeer's 16-year-old housemaid who becomes the subject of his painting. It was greeted with popular and critical success following its publication in 1999. In addition to some 4 million copies sold, the book was turned into a movie.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's sweeping new novel, is part suspense thriller, part coming-of-age novel. It centers on a young man named Theo, whose life is changed forever following a bomb attack at a New York museum that leaves his mother dead and him in possession of a rare Fabritius painting.
Now at the final American venue of a global tour, the paintings are traveling for only the second time in 30 years as the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague undergoes an extensive two-year renovation. Here is your opportunity to get up close and personal with the paintings behind the stories. Visit the Frick Collection for more information.
By 1942, the United States government had fully committed to the idea of building an atomic bomb. The scope of that project would dwarf any other single undertaking in human history in cost and material. The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan details the experiences of 16 women who find themselves wrapped up in the secrecy and inadvertent social engineering of the Manhattan Project.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee was the first of the three biggest Manhattan project facilities and did not exist until the Department of Defense built it. For years, it didn’t even appear on any maps. The town started small, but as the project ramped up there was an increased need for housing, stores, sundries and recreational outlets. By the end of World War II, 75,000 lived in and around Oak Ridge. With so many able-bodied men in the military, women formed a vital backbone to the efforts at Oak Ridge. Some were transported in from the coasts without knowledge of their final destination. Others were from the surrounding area, lured in by the promise of well-paying, if secretive, government work. There were also the women scientists involved in the research, although they were often deprived of the accolades. Many of these women had never been away from home; many had never earned their own salary before. They found themselves someplace where the security and secrecy was oppressive. Some were even recruited to spy on their fellow workers.
Kiernan lets the women tell their own stories, and if many of them are similar, the cross-section is still broad. Especially interesting is the vast difference in experiences based on race, the United States still viciously segregated at the time. It’s also interesting to see how this group of clever young people made a dry county one of the best areas for the production and smuggling of moonshine in the U.S. Many of the women Kiernan interviewed were shocked at the war’s end to realize what exactly they had been working on. Most of them, though, remained in Oak Ridge - at least the town if not the facility.
O.J. Brigance knows what it’s like to be a winner on and off the field. He had a remarkable career as an NFL linebacker, including as a member of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl winning team. Following that victory, Brigance joined the front office to help create more championship teams for the purple and black. But in 2007, he was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his life was forever altered. Peter Schrager, FoxSports.com senior writer, and Brigance share his inspirational story of perseverance and hope in Strength of a Champion: Finding Faith and Fortitude Through Adversity.
Upon diagnosis, doctors told Brigance he would have three to five years to live, years which would be marked by the loss of speech and mobility. But Brigance, familiar with hits on the field, refused to give up. Rather than follow a path of self-pity, Brigance viewed his diagnosis as an opportunity. With faith, determination and the love of his wife Chanda, O.J. fought back and raised awareness for this debilitating disease. No longer able to walk or speak, Brigance remained a vibrant presence in Baltimore’s front office and touched everyone in the organization as the team claimed another Super Bowl victory in 2013.
Brigance received motivation and energy from the team as well, and shared special bonds with players and coaches. Upon hearing of Ray Lewis’ retirement, Brigance told him to go out a champion. And when illness threatened his appearance at the Super Bowl, he recovered and delivered a moving pre-game message to the team. At the conclusion of Brigance’s powerful speech, Coach John Harbaugh had no doubt that the Super Bowl would be Baltimore’s. Brigance shares wonderful behind-the-scenes stories and humorous anecdotes which will appeal to ardent football fans, but this story of one courageous man living a life of inspiration and faith transcends the football field. Learn more about The Brigance Brigade, O.J.’s foundation dedicated to equipping, encouraging, and empowering people living with ALS.
Americans adore our pets, and these eye-catching new photography books will bring smiles to the faces of animal lovers. When Carli Davidson bought a camera with a high-speed shutter, she began taking photos of animals and posting some online. Those photographs went viral. Her new book Shake features photographs of over 60 dogs along with Davidson’s answers to questions about her photography style. These pictures of exuberant dogs caught mid-shake are both comical and endearing. The New York Times aptly calls Davidson’s work a "hilarious portrayal of flying fur, flopping jowls and bulging eyes." Shake is a lively and vibrant companion to Seth Casteel’s Underwater Dogs books.
David Tabatsky brings us another look at man’s best friend with Beautiful Old Dogs: A Loving Tribute to Our Senior Best Friends. The book combines stunning photographs by the late Garry Gross and essays from Anna Quindlen, Victoria Stilwell, Doris Day, Dean Koontz, Marlo Thomas and many others. Gross, who was a noted fashion photographer for many years, was passionate about caring for senior dogs, and that is reflected in his photographs. Beautiful Old Dogs is an emotional and loving tribute that will touch dog lovers. As Gross said, they are “[d]ogs with soul in their eyes.”
If you’re more of a cat person, Sarah Beth Ernhart’s Kittenhood: Life-size Portraits of Kittens in Their First 12 Weeks may be more your speed. This oversized book features life-size photographs of kittens during the first weeks of their lives. These irresistible and adorable kittens will charm cat lovers. Ernhart captures the infectious playfulness and cuddliness of kittens in this collection of stunning photographs.
Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House by Barry Martin is a truly one-of-a-kind story. When Martin, head of a construction project, first hears of the octogenarian Edith Wilson Macefield, all he knows is that she’s feisty, fiery and will not give up her modest home to the developers constructing the shopping mall around her…not even for a million dollars. As he does with every one of his sites, he makes rounds in the neighborhood to apologize for the noise and to tell the residents to contact him with any concerns.
He could not have anticipated the call he soon receives from Edith asking him to drive her to a hair appointment. After a while, he finds himself walking over to visit her while she’s putting out seeds for the birds, watching Lawrence of Arabia and reciting poetry. Soon, he’s drawn into the fascinating details of her life, which contains multitudes of tales that could fill five lifetimes. From being a 14-year-old spy for the British in Nazi Germany to memories of receiving a clarinet from her cousin, the American swing musician Benny Goodman, Martin is pulled into the hidden yet wondrous existence of the resolute elderly woman.
Martin’s firsthand account of his tender companionship with this small but mighty force of a woman undoubtedly makes this a touching read. All at once, he is concerned, bewildered and very much intrigued by Edith, who stands her ground. When social services start calling, she reveals her wish to pass away on her couch, the very same place her own mother passed. Without denying Edith her independence, Martin begins to assist her as her physical strength declines so that she can die the way she’s always lived—on Edith’s terms.
This biography verges on indescribable in the way humor, compassion and sadness are simultaneously intertwined to recount the infallibility of the human spirit and pricelessness of human kindness.