Recommended Reading For Late Summer 2012
By Gillian Flynn
2012 – Crown, 432 pages
The buzz on Gillian Flynn’s latest bestseller has been growing by the minute. And it took only a brief scan of the book jacket to lead me to put Gone Girl on the top of my reading pile. Having raced through it, I can attest that all the buzz and rave reviews were right. If you want a page-turner to keep you awake long past midnight, Gone Girl is the one to reach for.
This psychological thriller focuses on the marriage of the Dunnes - a thirty-something couple, both strikingly attractive and seemingly perfect for each other. Husband Nick is a writer who returns to his hometown of Carthage, Missouri after losing his magazine job in New York City. Accompanying him is his wife Amy who is also a writer and famous since childhood since her parents are authors of a long running book series based on her called Amazing Amy. On the surface, they appear to have it all. Instead the reader will be told a dark and riveting tale of marital love, hate, madness and treachery.
When Amy goes missing on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunne is thrust into a world familiar to anyone who has followed any tabloid murder case of handsome men who can’t account for the disappearance of their wives. Because each chapter alternates between the viewpoints of the two main characters, both Amy and Nick have ample opportunity to tell their side of this savage, compelling story. And just when the reader thinks they have figured it all out, the plot shifts, forcing you to re-examine everything that has occurred so far.
From supporting characters modeled after Nancy Grace and Katie Couric to a protagonist obviously inspired by Scott Peterson, Gone Girl keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Tightly written and always suspenseful, Gone Girl is one of the best novels I have read in years. It is also laced with a delicious black humor. For example, in the opening chapter a less than thrilled Amy enters a McMansion in Missouri that will soon become their new home. “Should I remove my soul before I come inside?” she asks.
Indeed the main characters are witty, fascinating and far too clever for their own good. I kept thinking what a wonderful book this would be to take on a long plane ride. Trust me, the hours would – literally and figuratively – fly by. But whether you’re packing Flynn’s thriller as vacation reading material, or reaching for it on your night table, Gone Girl will hold your attention and keep you guessing from the opening pages until the bitter and surprising end.
(Sharon Pisacreta, August 2012)
Dead of Night: A Zombie Novel
By Jonathan Maberry
2011 – St. Martin's Griffin, 368 pages
New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry has become a major presence in the horror genre over the past five years, although he started his professional writing career in the late 70s. In 2007, Ghost Road Blues – the first book of the Pine Deep trilogy – introduced a remote rural Pennsylvania village that celebrates an annual Halloween festival but harbors a dark secret. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. He followed that up with Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising. He then hammered out a series of bio-terrorism novels with hero Joe Ledger in Patient Zero (2009), The Dragon Factory (2010), The King of Plagues (2011) and Assassin’s Code (2012) with another book, Extinction Machine coming out next year. Along with that, Maberry started a new horror series.
Maberry knows how to deliver. He does just that with Dead of Night. The very first chapter is short and chilling. “This is how the world ends.” Chapter two begins in the point-of-view of a medical examiner—fitting since he’s disoriented and yet pain-free. “He was sure he was dying. It was how he imagined death would be. Cold… not painful. That part was odd. In his dreams—and Lee Hartnup often dreamed of death—there was pain. Broken bones. Bullet wounds. Deep knife cuts. But this… this wasn’t painful. Not anymore. Not after that first bite…”
Oh yes. Zombies. At night. In the woods. Invading the very places you think are totally safe—and the heroine, at first, is a horrible, whoring, snotty woman any reader would instantly dislike. But local cop Desdemona “Dez” Fox has her own secret past, along with deep-seated reasons for her self-destructive behavior. That’s something Maberry does so well, giving his heroes and heroines deep motivations. He even does that with his cold, vicious villains.
This isn’t just any zombie novel. Dead of Night shakes a reader’s faith in black-and-white good vs. evil. It makes the reader feel compassion for the victims - the “hollow men” - by delving into the zombie’s mind. Fascinating, compelling and absolutely terrifying. Maberry’s writing style is intense, fast-paced and gripping. He knows how to keep a reader on edge, knows when to slow things down and then ratchet up the tension and action at just the right moment.
His Joe Ledger series has been optioned for TV by Sony Pictures, so there’s good reason this prolific author is so popular. Dead of Night ought to be read in daylight, but it will still scare the brains right out of you.
(Meg Mims, August 2012)
Beaten, Seared, and Sauced
On Becoming A Chef at the Culinary Institute of America
By Jonathan Dixon
2011 – Harper, 272 pages
Love the Food Network? Never miss a season of Top Chef? Or perhaps you’re a devoted foodie familiar with gastronomic legends like Paul Bocuse. If so, Beaten, Seared, and Sauced will serve up an engrossing reading experience for you.
Almost forty, freelance writer Jonathan Dixon finds himself at a professional crossroads. A former staff writer for Martha Stewart Living, Dixon heads for Hyde Park, New York to enroll at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). He takes all his savings and signs up for two years of intensive training, even though he isn’t certain what he will do with that training once he graduates.
He admits the end result was unclear. “I knew I wanted to cook for the rest of my life and I wanted to do it for other people…We are what we nurture. I’d nurtured writing. I hadn’t nurtured cooking. But I felt it there in me, and I was here to coax it out and see how it flourished.”
Many readers will no doubt sympathize with Dixon since many of us have entertained a fantasy or two about going to cooking school. But while the CIA does indeed get one prepared for a life in a professional kitchen, Dixon’s account makes it clear that the experience is not an especially pleasant one.
For one thing, the schedule is grueling, beginning with twenty-four weeks of classes divided into eight 3-week sessions. Once this is completed, each student is required to find an 18-week externship in a restaurant anywhere in the world – usually for minimum wage or less. And during the externship “students could expect to work about ninety hours a week, with just one day off.” The externship is followed by six weeks of academic classes, and then another twenty-four weeks of practical classes.
Of course, no one expects the training to be easy. The Culinary Institute of America is the most prestigious cooking academy in the country. Described by Dixon as a ‘Disneyland for cooks,’ the CIA is home not only to the nation’s second largest collection of cookbooks, but to a faculty that includes members of the U.S. Culinary Olympics Team. It is also a faculty filled with far too many divas, most of whom seem to relish their reputation as terrors in the kitchen.
Such bullying behavior is unnecessary and counterproductive, especially compared to the harmonious Baking & Pastry Class taught by Swiss pastry chef Rudy Spears. Dixon writes, “He wore kindness and patience like a nicely tailored suit…By the second week, everyone was excelling.”
Temperamental chefs aside, the book is a great resource for anyone who takes a serious interest in cooking. If you want to know how to perfectly roast a chicken, tell if a piece of broccoli is fresh or dice an onion into exact ¼ inch pieces, Dixon provides the details.
And prepare to be surprised at just what is involved in earning a culinary degree. Who knew there was a class called Culinary Math, or that students in the Meat Information & Fabrication Class would be asked by their instructor to slaughter 100 chickens at a nearby farm? It was also interesting to learn that at least a third of all students at the CIA failed the Wines & Beverages Class.
Dixon’s story is ultimately about the rewards of perseverance. For despite the exhausting curriculum and the frequent humiliations, he discovers that satisfaction he was searching for in the beginning. Most important, he realizes that “To do something right carries with it a set of demands that you will be able to do it again, that you irreversibly elevate your standards…there is a best possible way to do everything.”
What he does with his new standards he reveals only at the end of the book. By that time, I was as relieved as he was that his time at the CIA was over. But thanks to what I learned from Beaten, Seared, Sauced, next time I watch Top Chef, it will be with a newfound respect for the skills of all the contestants and what it took to acquire them.
(Sharon Pisacreta, August 2012)
Lady of Devices and Her Own Devices:
A Victorian Steampunk Series
By Shelley Adina
2011 – CreateSpace, 202 pages
Lady of Devices: Paperback - Lady of Devices: Kindle
Her Own Devices: Paperback - Her Own Devices: Kindle
First, a disclosure: Shelley Adina is a friend and colleague from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program (where we both earned advanced degrees.) Shelley first published in romance and won a RITA Award. She has subsequently delved into a variety of genres from Inspirational to Horror to Steampunk. Her writing is strong and her characters are totally believable.
In her Victorian Steampunk ‘Devices’ series, Shelley introduces the reader to the London of 1889. “Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.” Seventeen-year-old Claire Trevelyan, a viscount’s daughter, is expected to catch a rich husband while knowing the finer points of womanhood – embroidery, holding court over the tea table, and dancing at balls. Claire has other ideas, though, such as chemistry and engineering.
When her father kills himself after losing all his money, Claire is thrust into the world after a riot – taking the family’s magnificent steam-run car, of course - and must live by her wits. London’s underworld is a rough place, however, and Claire quickly learns that the niceties of society have no place there. In Lady of Devices, Claire survives – barely – and makes a new “family” out of a rag-tag band of orphans. It’s more of a YA adventure novel that introduces the “world” of the steampunk era and how Claire learns to negotiate her way.
Readers will enjoy the exploits a determined young woman, empowered with confidence after a tragic turn of events, and cheer Claire on. The satisfaction of seeing a great character triumph over evil comes into play. And Claire realizes there is always a price to pay in the end since she cannot abandon her new friends and return to her former world. The “Mopsies” are delightful, as are Tigg and Snouts and the rich details of London’s East End.
Shelley Adina deepens all of her characters further in Her Own Devices, though. Adventure is still a main part, but the reader is introduced to far more intrigue when Claire must balance the fine line between her former world (with her mother’s expectations, along with Lord James Selwyn—who proposes a marriage of convenience) and her new world as the “Lady.” Add in Claire’s growing attraction to Andrew Malvern, a Royal Society engineer, who reciprocates her interest and who is building a new device that runs on “electriks” plus a hefty dose of intrigue, and the reader will be fascinated.
Book three is coming out in October, Magnificent Devices. Readers of this series will certainly be steaming in anticipation for the next installment.
(Meg Mims, August 2012)
If You Give A Dog A Donut
By Laura Numeroff (author) and Felicia Bond (illustrator)
2011 – Harper Collins, 32 pages
Anyone who has cared for a child since 1985 is probably very familiar with Laura Numeroff’s classic If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. One of the most delightful picture books of the past generation, it was quickly followed by a number of books featuring the selfsame hungry mouse, along with If You Give A Pig A Pancake, If You Give A Moose A Muffin and If You Give A Cat A Cupcake.
The latest entry in Numeroff’s wonderful series is If You Give A Dog A Donut, illustrated by Felicia Bond. In fact, Bond has provided the illustrations for each of the If You Give books and her pictures perfectly capture the energy and whimsy of the text.
As always, the story begins when a child gives an animal something to eat. This time, an unsuspecting young boy gives his dog a donut. The dog now needs some apple cider to wash it down with. This, in turn, leads to adventures involving apple trees, a baseball game (played with proper equipment of course), a victory dance, a water fight, a pirate treasure hunt, and kites. Not surprisingly, this makes the dog thirsty again so he’ll need another glass of apple cider followed by…well, any reader of the series can guess the rest.
All Numeroff’s If You Give books are amusing and fun. And while the original If You Give A Mouse A Cookie remains the most charming of the series, this latest installment comes close – which is high praise indeed. It’s also nice to learn that Numeroff donates a portion of all royalties to the non-profit First Book, a national organization promoting children’s literacy.
Of course, what deepens a child’s love for books are stories as lovely as this. So don’t be surprised after you’ve read If You Give A Dog A Donut to your child, if he or she doesn’t ask for a second reading. And a donut to go along with it.
(Sharon Pisacreta, August 2012)
A Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
By Salley Mavor
2010 – Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 72 pages
Ages 3 and up
Salley Mavor is a fabric artist. She spent ten years developing her style. The delightful and fascinating pictures in this book will keep your child entertained while a parent reads aloud the familiar nursery rhymes. Each page is a work of unique art that took a month to fashion, and brings the scene to life with its embroidery, sewing, and found items fashioned into characters or objects.
Pocketful of Posies – A Treasure of Nursery Rhymes was named a 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner in the Picture Book category, and also won a Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
Mavor’s website (click here to see her traveling exhibit) has several illustrations showing the details and lengths she goes to in illustrating the endearing nursery rhymes. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Mavor fashions “miniature, shallow stage sets, with figures imposed on embellished fabric backgrounds.” She also utilizes beads with hand-drawn faces, shells, driftwood for furniture or house roofs, even acorn caps for characters’ hats.
At 72 pages, it’s an eyeful to be treasured day and night. And at $14.95, a real steal for its beautiful and unique artwork.
(Meg Mims, August 2012)
Zoe Gets Ready
By Bethanie Deeney Murguia
2012 – Arthur A. Levine Books, 32 pages
Ages 4 and up
Most of the week Zoe has little choice in what outfit she puts on. Her clothes are picked out for her on school days, rainy days and soccer days. But Saturdays are different. On Saturday, it is her turn to choose whatever she wants from her closet. However that decision is not as simple as it sounds.
First Zoe must decide what sort of day it will be. Will it be a Pocket Day spent collecting treasures like frogs and acorns? Then again, it could be a Blend-In Day calling for clothes that will help make her seem invisible. Of course, it could be a Stand Out Day, requiring bold colors. But wait, what if it’s a Twirling, Dizzy Whirling Day demanding a big purple skirt. However such a skirt would be totally wrong for a Cartwheel Day when it’s best to be dressed in a polka dot leotard and yellow pants. As Zoe imagines an outfit for every sort of possible day, Mom is growing more impatient by the minute. And Zoe’s final fashion decision will make perfect sense to any child, while making adults smile.
Murguia also illustrated the book, and her colorful pictures complement the imaginative scenarios. And for those children who already appreciate a little glam, the hardcover jacket is covered in glitter.
(Sharon Pisacreta, August 2012)
August - September 2012