Carin Pratt moved to Strafford, Vermont, four years ago from Washington D.C. where she worked at CBS News for 27 years, the last 20 as Executive Producer of Face the Nation. Her husband, John Echeverria, is a professor at Vermont Law School, and she has two grown sons. She likes to hike, cook, garden, bike, horseback ride. She reads a lot.
In this miserable campaign season, I was feeling the desperate need for a book that would make me laugh out loud. I found it in You'll Grow Out of It, by stand-up comedian and SNL writer Jesse Klein. She writes about being a tomboy, dating, buying a wedding dress, her encounters with the mysteries of lingerie, and baths (you have to read it). She writes basically about what it's like to be a woman in today's often ludicrous world. And she is hilarious.
If you like the movies The Town, and The Departed, and the city of Boston has a place in your heart despite it's flaws, this is the thriller for you. Two friends raised in a tough Brighton neighborhood go their separate ways after one violent night in their youth. One becomes a prize winning reporter; the other a bookie. Ultimately both have to face the realities of their past. Brighton is suspenseful, surprising and intensely atmospheric, AND it has more double crosses than an eighteenth century sampler.
I have never read a book anything like this one.
Oxford lecturer and veterinarian Charles Foster wanted to know how animals live, so he set out to act like them, as much as humanly possible. He dug a sett in a hillside and ate earthworms among the roots, like a badger. In a wetsuit, he slid into rivers and caught fish in his teeth, like an otter. He prowled the edges of East London and grubbed in the trash, like a fox. You get the idea. In telling of his adventures, he lyrically mixes in psychology (both animal and human), philosophy, biology and neuroscience, and adds a good dose of self-deprecating humor. I loved the whole thing.
One of the many wonderful things about the writing of Julian Barnes is you never know what he's going to feature as a subject. The Noise of Time is a fictionalized (based on facts) account of the life of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Although written in fragments, the book is a comprehensive and riveting treatment of the conflict between Art and Power -- Shostakovich and his music were denounced by both Stalin and the Communists -- and the toll that conflict takes on an artist.
Two-time Edgar Award winner John Hart has spun a corker again. This one, a totally absorbing crime thriller set in North Carolina, features more disturbed souls -- an ex-cop/con, a troubled detective, a sadistic warden, a rape victim, and an elusive serial killer, to name a few -- than you can count. Hart definitely can write, and you are drawn into the story and characters before you know it. Is there a bit of Southern Gothic? Well, yes. Melodramatic? A touch. Impossible to put down? You judge.
Almost 3,000 Americans (some famous, most not) traveled to Spain to fight Franco's Fascists in what Hochschild has called "the first battle of World War II." Most were untrained and under-armed but unfailingly idealistic, and ultimately, they fought a battle they were predetermined to lose. Adroitly and with empathy, Hochschild tells their largely forgotten stories.
Loneliness, like it or not, is an inescapable part of the human condition. In her new book, Laing examines both her own loneliness and the profounder loneliness of a handful of artists (Warhol, Hopper) in New York City. Like her earlier book, The Trip to Echo Springs, The Lonely City is a combination of personal memoir and cultural and artistic study and is a moving and sympathetic meditation on what it's like to be or feel alone.
If you want to know what living in London was like during the 1940 Blitz, when the desultory and destructive terror of German bombs rained down on the city, read Noonday. This is the third book in a trilogy (Life Class, Toby's Room) and while it can't hold a candle to her previous masterpiece about WWI, the Regeneration Trilogy, it showcases Barker's wonderful and well-researched depictions of life under siege.
Truth be told, if Simon Winchester wrote a 300-page discursive cultural history of the corn muffin, I would read it in a heartbeat. He's a fabulous and engaging storyteller. This bookend to his earlier work, The Atlantic, is about the huge Pacific Ocean region. Winchester defines the region by telling of 10 events, such as the invention of surfing, the bombing of the Bikini Islands, and the capture of the U.S. warship Pueblo. Idiosyncratic, yes, but it works. Even if you remember these events, you will learn something new.
The main character's name is revealed only at the end of the book, but that doesn't matter in this intricate, well-written novel. A woman travels alone to Greece to teach a writing class. Ten chapters enclose stories from the people she meets -- on the plane, in her class, throughout her career. And they all tell her stories, which in an ingenious way, manage to outline the life of the main character and the vagaries of personal relationships. A fascinating read.
Manual for CLEANING Women? Or Manual for Cleaning WOMEN? I really have no idea, I just know that these are some of the best short stories I have read in age. Autobiographical -- she was a single mother, with all sorts of issues, who worked in emergency rooms and as a house cleaner, among other occupations -- these stories get to the nub of existence and observation. Sort of a combination of Raymond Carver and Alice Munro. As one reviewer noted, she's the best writer you've never heard of. Not to be missed.
Don't you just hate trying to get all that wet, slimy, seedy stuff out of a halved squash so you can cook it? First you have to find a sharp spoon, no mean feat, and then push it around the corners, often flipping the squash innards all over the counter and floor, and NEVER getting all of it. Well, I was skeptical when I saw this little tool but had to try it and I'm sold! It works! Hallelujah. Clean shiny Delicata for me tonight!
If you wince when someone says "between you and I," if you've always wanted to know when to use "which" or "that," if you are curious about the serial comma, and if you ever wondered why "Moby-Dick" has a hyphen (frankly I never NOTICED it had a hyphen, nevermind wondered why) this book is for you! A longtime copy editor for the New Yorker, Mary Norris has written an amusing, anecdote-filled book that (or which -- I still don't know.) covers a number of thorny punctuation problems.
Mitchell, the genre-twisting author of Bone Clocks, has turned his considerable (some say genius) talents into crafting a ghost story that if it doesn't keep you up all night, will at least keep you looking over your shoulder. And if you don't think soul-sucking vampires are your cup of tea, well, I didn't either, until I read this book. Terrific characters, wonderful, funny writing AND a good story. Thank you, David Mitchell.
William Boyd has always been adept at spinning a tale, and this is one of his best since Any Human Heart. In Sweet Caress, he tells the story of Amory Clay, an intrepid and beautiful photographer, who uses her camera to witness WWll and the Vietnam war, and her wiles and good looks to snag a succession of fascinating men. Smoothly written (and with photographs!), this is definitely a "just one more chapter before I turn off the lights" book.
With my baseball team so mired in the cellar it can't see the light at the top of the stairs, I was in search of a baseball book to help get me through the dog days. The Grind is that book. Washington Post sportswriter Barry Svrluga concentrates on the daily "grind" of the long baseball season, and how it affects starters and relievers, equipment managers, wives, minor league players and more. He covers the The Washington Nationals and uses members of that team as his examples. It's an unusual, intimate, and fascinating look at the innards of baseball.
Talk about ripped from the headlines... Don Winslow's epic Cartel is an engrossing novel about the Mexican drug trade based on the actual drug lord who tunnelled free from prison this past July. The spine of the book is the feud between DEA agent Art Keller and the drug lord Adan Barrera; the ribs are the collateral damage to Mexican civilization, it's art, and way of life, and people. Note: The Mexican drug wars are fairly known for merciless brutality and evil. This book leaves nothing to the imagination.
Best-selling author of The Paris Architect, Belfoure turns his attention in House of Thieves to 19th Century New York City. The son of a society architect rings up a tidy chunk of gambling debts. To save his son's life, the architect is pressed into service by a notorious gang of thieves to reveal fancy house layouts, entrances/exits and whereabouts of valuables in order to facilitate the gangs' thievery. To complicate matters, the architect's brother is a Pinkerton agent investigating the robberies. While the story borders on the preposterous, there's something addictive about it and the many period and societal (not to mention architectural) details.
Few relationships are as fraught as that between a woman and her hair. Show me a woman who hasn't had a bad hair day and I'll show you a ... fabulist. In 27 essays in this amusing and often moving book, a variety of women write about how they hate/love, want to change/keep, color/perm, cut/grow, perm/straighten ... well, you get the point ... their hair. At the very least, give this book to your hairdresser (after you read it, of course), because if you've got a good one, you owe her/him.
So far I've made eight of these recipes and haven't hit a clunker yet! Some, if you like to cook, may be familiar -- Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce, Ottolenghi's black pepper tofu, Paule Caillat's brown butter tart crust -- but it's great to have them all -- and many more -- in one book. A keeper!
In May of 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed the luxury ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, killing almost 1200 people. Dead Wake is Erik Larson's strangely suspenseful (in that we know what happened) story of that catastrophe. By interweaving tales of specific passengers, along with depictions of what was happening on the attacking U-boat, and the tracking of the U-boat by a secret British intelligence unit, Larson brings this horrific incident, which helped push the U.S. into WW1, to life.