Maybe it’s just me or possibly it’s a baby boomer thing, but does anyone else agree there’s something about our culture that dictates we be the best at whatever we try—parenting, our profession, chosen hobbies, etc.? Mediocrity just doesn’t cut it. Imagine then, the pressure to excel if you’ve graduated from an Ivy League school. In Deborah Copaken Kogan’s latest offering, The Red Book, Harvard alumni come together for their 20th reunion, a gathering which portends to be an event to remember.
Published every five years, The Red Book is a much-anticipated volume, updating former Harvard classmates with coveted facts about fellow alumni—mates, offspring, jobs, accomplishments, etc. The book provides not only information, but also a means for comparing oneself to one’s peers. With those facts in hand, graduates arrive at the reunion either solo or with families in tow. Let the games begin.
Cassel Sharpe, wearing only his underwear, awakes to find himself slowly slipping off the icy roof of his school dorm. He’s clueless about what landed him in such a precarious position (with certain death below) and is equally unsure about navigating his way back safely. Thus begins White Cat, the first book in The Curse Workers series, by Holly Black.
Cassel comes from a family of workers, a worker being someone—who with the slightest touch of a fingertip—has the power to place spells, change memories, or even kill. Although his grandfather, mother and brothers each possess one of the above-mentioned skills, Cassel appears to have been skipped when the special talents were being passed out. He tries to live a normal life away from the family madness by attending school at Wallingford.
The last thing editorial assistant Billy Webb expected to stumble upon in his new job was an unsolved murder. But when fellow employee Mona Minot approaches him about references to something deadly in the company’s research files, Billy is immediately intrigued. And thus the two begin their amateur sleuthing in Emily Arsenault’s novel The Broken Teaglass.
A nubile co-ed is missing from the same small, rural Mississippi town where another young woman had disappeared twenty-five years earlier—the mystery unsolved, her body never found. So begins Tom Franklin’s stellar novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.
Socially-awkward Larry Ott was 16 years old when Cindy Walker, both beautiful and popular, asked him out on a date. That momentous occasion—at least through Larry’s eyes—was the point when his young life began a downward slide from which it would not recover. Walker was never seen again. Although no evidence was ever found connecting him to the girl’s disappearance, the townspeople unanimously convicted Larry without the benefit of any trial. Shunned and taunted, he became the local pariah.
My husband moved to Fredericksburg thirteen months before I did. The three-hour commute between our two worlds birthed my obsession with recorded books. Even though we now share only one home, the obsession remains. Once I began listening to The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman, I became so engrossed in the story that I looked for any reason to drive…indefinitely.
The title character—the cookbook collector—plays only a minor role, but one around whom all others orbit. Tom McClintock was a renowned lichenologist who filled his somewhat reclusive life with cookbooks, both obscure and valuable. Upon his death, McClintock’s estate is inherited by his niece Sandra. In need of money to help her daughter gain custody of her children, Sandra approaches used/antique bookstore owner, George Friedman, about purchasing the entire collection. George agrees to review the cookbooks and brings along his free-spirited clerk, Jessamine Bach, for assistance. George very seldom displays anything but his gruff side, yet he secretly pines for the lovely Jess.
In her stunning new novel, State of Wonder, Ann Patchett captures the claustrophobic nature of the dense jungle where danger--in the form of poisonous insects and snakes--is present at every turn and a person’s daily existence depends only upon a few bare essentials.
Dr. Annick Swenson has spent a major portion of her life in the Amazon researching potential medical cures. When she and her mentor discover a tribe whose women can regularly conceive children well into their seventies and beyond, Vogel Pharmaceuticals agrees to fund the ground-breaking study. But Dr. Swenson goes rogue, cutting off all communication with the company executives. To make matters infinitely worse, no outsider has the slightest idea where in the jungle the research compound is located.
Alice Humphrey--daughter of a world famous film director and his movie star wife--has been unemployed for months yet refuses to ask her wealthy parents for help. When the ideal job as manager of a new NYC art gallery falls into her lap, Alice leaps at the opportunity…without considering the legitimacy of the offer. In Long Gone, by Alafair Burke, Alice has no clue her hasty decision will lead to a murder…or that she will be the main suspect!
At the opening of a new art exhibit, Alice meets Drew Campbell. Over the course of their conversation, Drew mentions he has an anonymous investor ready to open a gallery. He asks if Alice might be interested in managing the project. The only caveat is that the premiere show must feature the work of the investor’s boyfriend. The art in question turns out to be a series of hackneyed photographs which, from Alice’s perspective, display zero artistic merit. But she remains undaunted and looks forward to molding future shows.
I’m going to Brooklyn to visit my daughter, and as with every excursion to the “Big Apple,” I make a list of must-see places. Usually I include a tea house, a photo gallery, and a farmer’s market. (If you’re a locavore, NYC’s markets are BEYOND compare!). But this time I’m making a reservation at Prune--Gabrielle Hamilton’s acclaimed West Village restaurant. Coincidentally, Hamilton is also the author of Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. Her book, like her food (or so I’ve heard), is exceptional!
Hamilton’s childhood in rural Pennsylvania was unconventional and idyllic. Her father was a stage designer, frequently involved with Broadway productions; her mother, French and a former dancer, spent her days aproned in front of a six-burner stove. The clan lived in a crumbling, 19th-century silk mill. They regularly hosted legendary parties—complete with spring lamb roasting on a spit and an endless variety of creative themes.
I don’t know about you, but I’m always drawn to accounts of people who forgo traditional lives to pursue the unknown. Some make the move to remote locations; others choose to follow unusual career paths. In The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love, author Kristin Kimball leaves behind what many might label an enviable existence as a freelance writer in New York City to stake a claim on a 500-acre, ramshackle farm.
Kristin’s been assigned to write an article about Mark, who’s making a name for himself in the ever-changing world of farming. Rather than being able to interview her subject—who remains on a constant treadmill of chores—she finds herself hoeing broccoli and slaughtering pigs…all in her urban finest. The next day brings her no closer to Mark as she’s assigned to work the tomato fields. With time running out and only a few scribbles recorded, Kristin implores Mark to answer her questions. Their brief encounter will lead to a major life change for them both.
Emma has just graduated from college when she meets Dexter. She’s smitten with his beauty and drawn to his easy self-confidence. For his part, Dexter realizes that Emma is probably the most intriguing person he has ever met. That’s high praise, indeed, from a guy to whom women flock in great numbers. One Day by David Nicholls follows the two over the course of almost twenty years.
While Emma has plans to change the world, life simply happens—and in a big way—to her handsome friend. Despite her considerable talents, Emma can’t seem to jumpstart her career. Dexter, on the other hand, falls into a media job. His natural attributes make him an instant success, and considerable fame and fortune follow shortly. But what Dexter was certain was the path to happiness leads him instead to a hollow existence.