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Oprah Chooses Hattie

posted by: December 7, 2012 - 8:15am

The Twelve Tribes of HattieDebut author Ayana Mathis is having the best week ever! Oprah Winfrey just announced that Mathis’s novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her next Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection. Authors and publishers know that having your book selected for Oprah’s Book Club is like winning the publishing lottery. Her stamp of approval has catapulted many authors to the bestsellers list, and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is certain to make Mathis the next. Oprah praised the book saying, “I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.”

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie follows an African American family over the course of sixty years. After her father’s death, Hattie Shepherd fled Georgia with her mother and sisters to make a new life in Philadelphia. In 1925, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s children Jubilee and Philadelphia die of pneumonia, a loss that marks Hattie for the rest of her life. She goes on to have nine more children, raising them to face the harsh realities of the world. The novel focuses on the experiences of her adult children and granddaughter. With each chapter narrated by a different family member, the novel is like a series of connected short stories tied together by the common thread of family bonds. Mathis brings the Great Migration to life in this unforgettable story of a family’s resilience in the face of adversity. Readers can join in the discussion on Goodreads or Twitter (#OprahsBookClub) and watch Oprah’s interview of Mathis, which will air on February 3 on Oprah’s cable network OWN.

 


 
 

The Show Must Go On

posted by: November 19, 2012 - 8:45am

The Round HouseBewildermentGoblin SecretsBehind the Beautiful Forevers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Sandy wrought substantial damage to the building housing the offices of the National Book Foundation in New York City. Despite this disruption, the Foundation, which is the presenter of the prestigious National Book Award prizes, held its awards dinner on November 14 and announced the winners in four different categories.

 

Native American Louise Erdrich won the top honor for Fiction with her book, The Round House. Taking place on a North Dakota reservation, The Round House is a sensitive coming of age story and an unflinching look at contemporary tribal life as well as a tangled legalese whodunit. This beautifully written selection was discussed earlier in Between the Covers, as was the winner in the Nonfiction category, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Boo, a journalist, stayed in one of Mumbai’s poorest slum communities for several years and carefully chronicled the stories of the people and families living as the have-nots in a city acknowledged to be the wealthiest in India.

 

National Book awards are also presented for Young People’s Literature, won by William Alexander for his tale, Goblin Secrets, and its Poetry prize was bestowed upon David Ferry for his volume entitled Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations. As indicated by the eponymous title, eighty-eight year old Ferry includes both his original poems as well as his translations of other works which support the themes of his verses. Goblin Secrets is described by Kirkus Reviews as a mix of “steampunk and witchy magic” and features Rownie, a boy searching for his missing older brother in the city of Zombay. Opening with a witch who needs her clockwork chicken legs wound up with a crank so she can walk, Ferry has crafted a unique debut novel.

 


 
 

The Life and Trials of Amanda Knox

posted by: November 15, 2012 - 7:03am

A Death in ItalyThe Fatal Gift of BeautyIt has now been a full year since Amanda Knox, tried and originally convicted of murdering her British roommate in Perugia, Italy, was freed from the Italian prison where she spent almost four years. In A Death in Italy: The Definitive Account of the Amanda Knox Case, John Follain provides an exhaustive look at the proceedings. He builds background,  from the personal histories of Knox, her roommate Meredith Kercher and others intimately involved with the case, to the details of Knox’s and Kercher’s first days in Perugia and their social activities in the days leading up to the attack. He then follows the investigation, trial and subsequent retrial, ending with statements from the courts as to why Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were both freed. A third person who was also convicted, Rudy Guede, remains in prison. 

 

Follain is a crime reporter, and at times the narrative can feel bogged down with details and interviews which are not particularly relevant to the investigation. But overall it provides a good perspective on the case, and shows where errors on both sides were made. It also is a solid testament to the emotional impact of the crime on involved individuals, even those not related to the victim or the accused. A good companion to this book is Nina Burleigh’s The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox. It was published in 2011 before Knox’s and Sollecito’s convictions were overturned. Having lived in Perugia for the duration of the trial, Burleigh provides an impressive history of the Italian justice system, and how conservative religious theory, ancient paganism and organized crime all played a role in the outcome of the first trial. Both books are excellent reads for people interested in the case, and readers will return to the media version of the investigation and trials with a newfound perspective. 


 
 

National Book Award nominees

posted by: October 11, 2012 - 11:20am

EndangeredOut of reachNever Fall DownFinalists for the 2012 National Book Awards were announced yesterday. In the category of Young People’s Literature, three teen novels earned nominations. All three center around conflict and struggle, sometimes due to outside forces and sometimes from within.

 

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer examines the complexities of parent-child relationships with a unique twist. Sophie does not understand her mother’s dedication to the bonobos of the Congo, and she resents her life of forced compliance. When the sanctuary is attacked by armed revolutionaries, they must flee into the jungle with the apes. Sophie finds herself a surrogate mother to an infant bonobo named Otto, and she understands for the first time the worries of being a parent as they struggle to survive. View the author’s introduction to Endangered as well as footage from his trip to the Congo.

 

Family strife also figures prominently in Out of Reach, the lyrical debut by Carrie Arcos. Rachel’s idol has always been her big brother Micah; however, there is a darkness in him that threatens to engulf them both. Micah is a drug addict, albeit a “high-functioning” one, and he has always been able to control himself long enough to win the battle with his addiction. When he fails to come home one night, Rachel blames herself. As she searches for Micah, her own inner darkness rises to the surface and the lies that have woven through the fabric of their family begin to unravel. View the emotional book trailer.

 

Patricia McCormick earns her second National Book Award nomination with Never Fall Down, a novel based on the true story of a young survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields. Read the previous Between the Covers review.

 


 
 

Celebrate Roald Dahl Day

posted by: September 12, 2012 - 8:11am

The BFGJoin in the celebration of the life and work of Roald Dahl, the renowned author whose books have delighted children and adults alike for over 50 years.

 

Roald Dahl Day takes place on September 13 every year, but this year is even more special because 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of The BFG. In this novel, an orphan named Sophie is taken from her bed by a giant who takes her to Giant Country. The giant doesn’t want to harm Sophie because, as he explains, he is the world’s only friendly giant. He is the BFG—the Big Friendly Giant. Unlike other giants who eat “human beans,” the BFG collects good dreams to give to children. Sophie and the BFG band together to save humans from the other giants.

 

To learn more about Dahl’s extraordinary life, try Michael Rosen’s new children’s biography Fantastic Mr. Dahl. This book tells the story of how a boy from a Wales grew up to write beloved children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda. Rosen, who declares himself Dahl’s biggest fan, tells Dahl’s extraordinary life story with affection and humor.

 

If you would like to celebrate Roald Dahl Day tomorrow, read your favorite Roald Dahl book, or try one of the fun activities here!


 
 

The Final Season

posted by: September 12, 2012 - 7:03am

PaternoJoe Paterno long identified with Virgil’s reluctant Trojan hero Aeneas, who eschewed individual glory on his way to founding Rome. Aeneas fulfilled his destiny in a way that the late Penn State coach admired. Aeneas, like Paterno, was a team player.  In his new biography, Paterno, author Joe Posnanski paints a complicated picture of the consummate team player and his rise and fall as a coaching legend.

 

Posnanski cleverly organized Paterno’s story into five operatic acts, beginning with his success-driven upbringing in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and concluding with the tragic repercussions of the 2011 Penn State sexual abuse scandal.  By the end, and in a span of about three months, the winningest coach in college history had been consumed by scandal, cancer, and ultimately death.

 

Excellence and success meant different things to Joe Paterno. Examples of both are in plentiful supply in Posnanski’s book. There are anecdotes and testimonials but also contradictions. A former writer for Sports Illustrated, Posnanski visualized a different book when he was granted full access to Paterno last year. Then the Jerry Sandusky case erupted.   A chapter entitled “Sandusky” explores the emotional armor of these powerful men.  Apparently there was no love lost between the two. There are some interesting sidebars about Paterno’s impressions of the second most popular coach in Happy Valley.  

 

Although the author’s tone is generally sympathetic, it is still a white-hot topic as to why Paterno, a lifelong rule follower who valued his young men, did not step up for those most vulnerable. "One of Paterno's great strengths, and perhaps one of his great flaws was his fierce loyalty and absolute trust in the people closest to him," according to Posnanski. That observation remains the crux in evaluating the aggregate of a remarkable 46-year career that reached the pinnacle of heights before plunging to the depths of misery.


 
 

Maeve Binchy, 1940-2012

posted by: July 31, 2012 - 9:44am

Light a Penny CandleTara RoadThe world lost a special storyteller yesterday when bestselling Irish author Maeve Binchy died at age 72. Binchy’s literary successes spanned the globe, as more than 40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Condolences poured in from readers, including Ireland’s Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, who commented, “We have lost a national treasure.”

 

Binchy wrote sixteen novels beginning with Light a Penny Candle in 1982, which was rejected 5 times before publication. Her most recent novel, Minding Frankie, told the story of a close-knit Dublin community helping raise a motherless baby. Several of her novels, including Circle of Friends were adapted for the big screen. Her work was frequently on the New York Times’ bestseller list and Tara Road was a selection for Oprah’s Book Club.

  

Binchy’s stories transported readers to Irish villages and cities, and introduced memorable characters who dealt with issues of family, friendship, faith, and love. Humor and warmth permeated her writing and brought her readers to a cozy place filled with joy.   


 
 

Thriller Award Winners Announced

posted by: July 20, 2012 - 8:30am

Spiral11/22/63Winners of the 2012 Thriller Awards were recently honored at a gala held by the International Thriller Writers. Recipients included some old favorites as well as some newcomers.
 

Cornell physics professor Paul McEuen won the award for Best First Novel for his smart new techno-thriller Spiral. When Nobel laureate and nanoscience expert Liam Connor is found dead at the bottom of a gorge, neither his colleague Jake nor his granddaughter Maggie believe that his death was a suicide. They begin to search for answers and find encoded messages from Liam that divulge his secret knowledge of a biological weapon called “Uzumaki” (Japanese for spiral) dating back to World War II. Jake and Maggie must join together to search for the killer and stop a deadly terrorist attack.
 

Stephen King’s 11/22/63 took the award for Best Hard Cover Novel. Jake Epping finds out that the storeroom at a local diner is a portal to 11:58 a.m. on September 9, 1958. Jake agrees to take go back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination to honor a friend’s dying wish. After going back in time, he embarks on a new life as George Amberson in a small Texas town near Dallas and falls in love with a woman named Sadie. As 11/22/63, the date in question, draws closer, Jake races to stop the assassination. Can he really change history?
 

Other honorees included fan favorites Jack Higgins, Ann Rule, and Richard North Patterson. The information about the Thriller awards is on the International Thriller Writers website.
 


 
 

Is all publicity good publicity?

posted by: July 9, 2012 - 2:22pm

This Bright RiverThe CradleWithin the book industry, having a review of one's work published by the New York Times is a huge benefit that likely will increase any author's sales. It certainly adds to the author's visibility. That is, if the reviewer has fully understood the book published. Take, for example, the recent fiasco that befell novelist Patrick Somerville and his new work of fiction, This Bright River. A couple years back, his debut novel, The Cradle, was plucked from near-obscurity with glowing praise by well-respected Times book reviewer Janet Maslin. Lightning struck twice for Somerville, or so it seemed, when Maslin chose to review his current follow-up. But then the problems started.

 

Unfortunately, Maslin misread a crucial event in the prologue of the new novel that Somerville purposely left ambiguous. Because of her error, Maslin read the novel through the wrong lens, and her generally middling review refers to the book as having a "lack of focus" and is "sometimes foggy". The author's wife read the review aloud to Somerville, who "pressed [his] head deeper into the couch, trying to get to its springs and asphyxiate". This, among much more, he describes in a Salon essay published last week titled Thank You for Killing my Novel. Within it, we learn of the process that resulted in the Times publishing a correction, including the long, amusing email back-and-forth between the author and Ed Marks of the Times' Culture Desk.

 

All this leaves readers with an obvious conundrum. How much can we trust reviewers? When even someone as well-regarded as Janet Maslin can botch an assignment, it can be tricky. One solution is simply to take even the most well-read reviewer's opinion as simply that. Just one person's opinion.


 
 

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

posted by: June 7, 2012 - 2:52pm

Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesOn Tuesday, it was announced that legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury had passed away at age 91. A long-time supporter of libraries and librarians, Bradbury's most famous and sometimes considered controversial work, Fahrenheit 451, remains a perennial choice of summer reading lists, the canon of 20th-century literature, and a target of book banners. Bradbury began writing that celebrated novel in the basement of a library. His writings ranged from short stories, screenplays, and novels such as the haunting Something Wicked This Way Comes and the beloved coming-of-age title Dandelion Wine.

 

Another of Bradbury's classics is The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories that, using thinly-veiled references to the Cold War, had people guessing who was colonizing whom. Through science fictional constructs, Bradbury excelled at forcing humans to look at the decisions they make. Elegies have come in from many sources, as far ranging as Neil Gaiman, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and President Obama.


 
 

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