Saturday, October 29, 2011

New this Week

Blue Nights by Joan Didion (Knopf)

Shares the author's frank observations about her daughter as well as her own thoughts and fears about having children and growing old, in a personal account that discusses her daughter's wedding and her feelings of failure as a parent.

Zero Day by David Baldacci (Grand Central)

From David Baldacci-the modern master of the thriller and #1 worldwide bestselling novelist-comes a new hero: a lone Army Special Agent taking on the toughest crimes facing the nation. And Zero Day is where it all begins....John Puller is a combat veteran and the best military investigator in the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigative Division. His father was an Army fighting legend, and his brother is serving a life sentence for treason in a federal military prison. Puller has an indomitable spirit and an unstoppable drive to find the truth.

Lost December by Richard Paul Evans (Simon & Schuster)

As heir to the Crisp Copy Center fortune, Luke has it made--until he burns through his entire inheritance in just one year of partying. Ashamed to ask his famous father for help, he finds employment--and romance--as an entry-level clerk. Can his new love get him back on track?

Hotel Vendome by Danielle Steel (Delacorte)

Devoting himself to his young daughter and his five-star hotel after his divorce, Hugues Martin reevaluates his prospects when his daughter eventually pursues an education in France and he falls in love with a woman who understands his professional passions.

Out of Oz: the Final Volume in the Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire (William Morrow)

The wonderful land of Oz is plagued by social unrest and, amid the chaos and threat of war, Elphaba's granddaughter comes of age and is ready to take up her broom.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just Jennifer

Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from My Grandmothers by AdrianaTrigiani (Harper, October 2011)

Adriana Trigiani, author of two best-selling series, the Valentines and Big Stone Gap, turns her pen to her family and her own Italian grandmothers, Viola and Lucy. While many memories of Italian American families focus on the kitchen and the large meals the matriarchs would constantly make, Trigiani focuses on the women and their lives. Viola grew up in Pennsylvania on a farm while both her parents worked in a local quarry. Before marrying, Viola worked at a pants factory and upon marrying, she and her husband began the Yoland Manufacturing Company which taught Viola to be a shrewd business woman, but allowed her to live a gracious life in Pennsylvania, doing much entertaining, raising a family and enjoying her always new car.

Lucia’s life paralleled Viola’s in that she was a seamstress in Hoboken, moving to Minnesota with her husband where she ran a shoe shop and was a courturiere both allowing her to support and sustain her family after her husband died when she was thirty-five. She never remarried.

As Trigiani frames her life against these two women, she focuses on the maternal importance in a child’s life. She extols her grandmothers’ work ethics and their commitment to their employees and customers each served. An interesting social history, his book is above all, a loving tribute to Trigiani’s two amazing grandmothers and grandmothers everywhere.

Just Jennifer

Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking and Surviving by Dan Fante (Harper Perennial, October 2011)

Author Dan Fante’s story parallels his father John’s life a little more closely than he probably would have liked in his honest, no-holds barred memoir that examines Dan’s life as part of the publicly functional family of screenwriter and author John and as part of a dysfunctional private family where alcoholism an depression is passed from father to son to brother, but where a raw talent exists if only it can be captured and focused. From his life as an awkward child to a restless young adult living hand to mouth on the opposite coast from his family, Fante writes with a raw honesty that feels invasive at times as he describes a very personal and ever evolving relationship with his father and with alcohol and how he fought to get both under control and into perspective in his life. Fante writes from the heart and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but comes to realize that the journeys he made and the family he had are all part of what made him who and what he is today, which, when all is said and done, is not such a bad thing.

Just Jennifer

Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God by Greg Graffin & Steve Olson (Harper Perennial, October 2011)

Holding a PhD in zoology and founding a successful sustainable punk rock band are more symbiotic than would appear at first glance. Greg Graffin co-founded the punk rock group Bad Religion at fifteen, went on to earn his PhD in zoology and currently teaches evolution at UCLA. He is also a naturalist (he doesn’t care for the term atheist). Along with his co-author Steven Olson, he explains his rather complex view of evolution, philosophizes about his life and inevitable death and includes many musings about his punk rock band, drawing often tenable, sometimes surprising parallels between the two. While both the scientific descriptions and the more memoir-esque chapters are each compelling, they don’t quite mesh to form an integrated whole. Still, Graffin has many interesting viewpoints that will give you pause and is so likeable overall that you will be seeking out his bands CDs to learn more about that side of him.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Just Jennifer

Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan (Algonquin Books, October 2011)

As Bijan is cleaning out her mother’s house, she finds her mother’s recipe trove; this unleashes a flood of memories, magnified since as a chef, much of Bijan’s life revolves around food. Bijan and her family were living in Iran until 1978 when they fled to California during the revolution. Bijan’s father, a doctor, her mother, a nurse, started an obstetric hospital in Iran and made it their family’s home. Bijan’s mother saw that the heart of the hospital and family home was the kitchen, providing delicious, nutritious food for families and patients. In the U.S. her mother embraced American cooking and quickly took to customs such as Thanksgiving dinner, infusing her food with the spices and memories of her home country and her family’s time spent in France.

Bijan takes this all a step further, attending the Cordon Bleu in Paris, incorporating not only her experiences and memories, but her mother’s as well, in her cuisine and her restaurants. The result is a memoir of not one, but two vibrant women, and a culture rich in tradition that is not just being handed down and preserved to and by the next generation, but being woven into an entirely new tradition. Recipes filled with the flavors and scents from Bijan’s life growing up, her time in Paris and her family’s creations are included.

Just Jennifer

The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith (Henry Holt, January 2012)

Geiger woke up in his late teens on a New York City bus with no memory of who he was or of a past life. The life he created for himself is that of an information gatherer, or torturer; it is a lucrative business and with no past, Geiger is able to live simply and focus on his job and the present. Geiger, though willing to inflict pain on people for money, does have some standards, one of which is that he won’t work on children. When one of his benefactors refers a client to Geiger who then shows up with twelve-year-old Ezra Matheson rather than the boy’s father, Geiger knows something is not right and that his client is not looking for a missing de Kooning, but something he doesn’t want even Geiger to know about. With the help of journalist and partner Harry Boddicker, Geiger takes the boy into hiding and works against the clock trying to find out his client’s true motive and save the little boy and himself.

Tautly-paced and plotter, The Inquisitor is a thinking book as much as it is an action thriller. There are some graphic scenes of torture, though Geiger’s rival torturer Dalton’s work is much cruder. Geiger is a very complex, interesting character, for whom debilitating migraines are a part of his life, but often lead to insight about his past. He is a character that you will want to meet again, though not in his loft, brought by someone who has stuffed you in a metal trunk.

Just Jennifer

Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia by Blake Butler (Harper Perennial, October 2011)

Sleep, and the absence of sleep, has fascinated and obsessed many of the great thinkers and writers throughout the ages (“…to sleep, perchance to dream…” --- Shakespeare or “Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day.”---Friedrich Nietzsche). Now, Blake Butler who has the ability to capture the essence of our most fleeting, ephemeral thoughts, traces insomnia throughout cultural and scientific history, positing that it may play as an important role in some psyches as its counterpart sleep does. Is waking the opposite of sleeping? And if so, is insomnia really just being awake? Or rather a third, perhaps dreamlike, state of cognizance? With elegance and sometimes edgy language, Butler explores these states citing empirical data, along with historical references and examples from art and literature, along with his own personal observations and experiences, finds the thing deep inside each of us which we are often afraid of or don’t like to reveal. Thoughtful and thought provoking, Butler frames this thing we often take for granted, the ability to sleep, or not, in an entirely different light.

Just Jennifer

Falling for Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned to Cook, Traveled to Seville, and Fell in Love by Anna David (Harper, October 2011)

In the latest memoir of a young woman finding wisdom in and reframing her life using a book by a strong twentieth century woman as a guide, David, author and sex-and-relationship expert on G4's Attack of the Show finds herself in her early thirties without a steady relationship and no prospects on the horizon. She has just had an intense, non-sexual, two week relationship with a California artist whom she cannot get out of her head when she returns to her everyday life in Manhattan. Stumbling, literarily, across Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, offers David hope and helps her jump start her life, redecorating her apartment, learning how to cook, dressing well for herself and learning that she is worth taking the time to do these things for, even without a mate. Along the way, David searches for love in places Brown suggests (dog walking) and in places she doesn’t ( and finds that she may just be her own perfect match. While not everyone will go to the lengths David did, going directly to Brown’s resource for vitamin advice, David’s journey is a good reminder that nothing beats a perfectly roasted chicken or a fabulous ensemble (complete with a well-fitting bra) to lift one's…well, spirits.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New This Week

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster)

From the author of the bestselling biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, this biography is based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years--as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues.

The Litigators by John Grisham (Doubleday)

Law firm partners Oscar Finley and Wally Figg see a chance for huge financial gain when they learn of a pending class action lawsuit against the makers of Krayoxx, a popular cholesterol-reducing drug suspected of causing heart attacks.

The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro (William Morrow)

A ragtag network of humans--Eph, a brilliant scientist; Vasiliy Fet, an exterminator; and Gus, a former gangbanger--are determined to disrupt and destroy the vampire new world order. The third and final novel in the stunning bestselling trilogy about a vampire invasion and the band of men and women who must stop them

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New This Week

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory (Touchstone)

When the death of Joan of Arc shows her the dangers faced by strong women, Jacquetta, a psychic descendant of a river goddess, studies alchemy and becomes the secret wife of Richard Woodville before returning to the court of Henry VI.

Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin (Pantheon)

A sobering tale set against a backdrop of the 1937 attack on Nanjing follows American missionary and women's college dean Minnie Vautrin's decision to remain at her school to help during a violent Japanese attack that renders the school a refugee center for 10,000 women and children

Zone One by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

In a post-apocalyptic world decimated by zombies, survivor efforts to rebuild are focused on Manhattan, where civilian team member Mark Spitz works to eliminate remaining infected stragglers and remembers his horrifying experiences at the height of the zombie plague

Bonnie by Iris Johansen (St. Martin's Press)

When Eve Duncan gave birth to Bonnie, she experienced a love she never knew existed. Eve's entire life came into focus and nothing was going to stand in the way of giving her daughter a wonderful life--the kind of life she herself never experienced. And then, the unthinkable happened. On an ordinary class trip to a local park, seven-year-old Bonnie vanished. Eve found herself in the throes of a nightmare that permeated her days and nights, and from which there was no escape. In the trilogy that began with Eve and continued with Quinn, Eve Duncan gets closer and closer to answering the questions that have tormented her. But the deeper she digs, the more she realizes that Bonnie's father, John Gallo, is a key player in solving this monstrous puzzle. And that Bonnie's disappearance was not as random as everyone had always believed. Eve, Joe, Catherine, and John find themselves in a deadly dance where answers will be uncovered, and justice might finally be served-- if they can all stay alive long enough to make it happen.

A Christmas Wedding by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo (Little Brown)
The tree is decorated, the cookies are baked, and the packages are wrapped, but the biggest celebration this Christmas is Gaby Summerhill's wedding. Since her husband died three years ago, Gaby's four children have drifted apart, each consumed by the turbulence of their own lives. They haven't celebrated Christmas together since their father's death, but when Gaby announces that she's getting married--and that the groom will remain a secret until the wedding day--she may finally be able to bring them home for the holidays. But the wedding isn't Gaby's only surprise--she has one more gift for her children, and it could change all their lives forever. With deeply affecting characters and the emotional twists of a James Patterson thriller, The Christmas Wedding is a fresh look at family and the magic of the season.

Friday, October 7, 2011

New This Week

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)

Two former high-school sweethearts return to their hometown for the funeral of a mentor and confront the choices they've made since they last met, in this new novel from the author of The Notebook and Nights in Rodanthe.

The Marriage Plot Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Madeleine Hanna breaks out of her straight-and-narrow mold when she enrolls in a semiotics course and falls in love with charismatic loner Leonard Morten, a time which is complicated by the resurfacing of man who is obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is his destiny. By the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides.

The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell (Putnam)

While a young black porter struggles with first-day duties on board the Robert F. Kennedy funeral train, a woman sneaks away from her disapproving husband to pay respects to the assassinated senator, and a wounded soldier awaits a reputation-restoring interview.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New This Week

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje (Knopf)

Boarding a 1950s ship and sequestered to an out-of-sight dining table with other marginalized children, an eleven-year-old boy shares rollicking adventures while traveling to various world regions, learning about jazz, women, and a shackled prisoner along the way.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (Scribner)

Over five years in the writing, The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman's most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel. In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman's novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael's mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker's wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior's daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets--about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

The Night Strangers by Christopher Bohjalian (Random House)

From the bestselling author of The Double Bind, Skeletons at the Feast, and Secrets of Eden, comes a riveting and dramatic ghost story. In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts. The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous? The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply. The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

Rin Tin Tin: the Life & Legend by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster)

He believed the dog was immortal. So begins Susan Orlean's sweeping, powerfully moving story of Rin Tin Tin's journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon. From the moment in 1918 when Corporal Lee Duncan discovers Rin Tin Tin on a World War I battlefield, he recognizes something in the pup that he needs to share with the world. Rin Tin Tin's improbable introduction to Hollywood leads to the dog's first blockbuster film and over time, the many radio programs, movies, and television shows that follow. The canine hero's legacy is cemented by Duncan and a small group of others who devote their lives to keeping him and his descendants alive. At its heart, Rin Tin Tin is a poignant exploration of the enduring bond between humans and animals. But it is also a richly textured history of twentieth-century entertainment and entrepreneurship and the changing role of dogs in the American family and society. Almost ten years in the making, Susan Orlean's first original book since The Orchid Thief is a tour de force of history, human interest, and masterful storytelling--the ultimate must-read for anyone who loves great dogs or great yarns.