Former brown thumb Kassinger picks up where her last book, Paradise Under Glass, left off, turning from her personal adventures nurturing a home garden to broader questions about plant life that puzzled scientists for centuries. What makes a plant a plant? What purpose do leaves serve? How do plants make more plants? Kassinger digs through the scientific history to weave a surprisingly rich tale of early experimentation, comically misguided theories, and lots of hot plant-on-plant action.
Why I picked it up: The title and jacket image looked like a snoozefest, but the subtitle hinted that this way more than your garden-variety (ha!) history of horticulture.
Why I finished it: I’m always fascinated by weird jobs, and Kassinger tracks down some great ones, including a nursery owner in Florida who can create a single tree bearing five different kinds of citrus fruit, and the scientist who breeds jet-black petunias for no discernible purpose (yet).
It's perfect for: My friend Rene, one of the volunteers who maintains the gardens at church. She claims not to be very scientific or mathematical, but she’d get a kick out of the many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century “natural philosophers” (as scientists were then called) and their cockamamie theories that belied common sense and basic observation. Ovists, for example, believed that inside every egg lay a perfectly formed, miniature version of the adult organism, and refused to believe that sperm had anything to do with reproduction.
@bookblrb: A former brown thumb explores broad questions about plants that have puzzled scientists for centuries.
Eve Harmon has always enjoyed Christmas, but this year it reminds her of everything she doesn't have. Almost all her friends are married now, and that's what Eve wants, too. Love. A husband and kids of her own. But the B&B she manages, and even Whiskey Creek, the small Gold Country town where she was born and raised, suddenly seem…confining.
Eve's worried that her future will simply be a reflection of her past. There's no one in the area she could even imagine as a husband—until a handsome stranger comes to town. Eve's definitely attracted to him, and he seems to have the same reaction to her. But his darkly mysterious past could ruin Eve's happily ever after—just when it finally seems within reach. And just when she's counting on the best Christmas of her life!
Visit www.BrendaNovak.com now to discover more about The Heart of Christmas and Brenda Novak’s Whiskey Creek series.
Shad Marone shot and killed Jud Bowman at his home. The sheriff of Puerto de Luna, New Mexico, quickly puts together a posse to go after Marone. They need a tracker, but the only likely candidate is Lopez, a man in jail for cattle rustling. The sheriff reluctantly takes Lopez along after after he convinces the sheriff he has personal reasons for wanting Malone brought to justice.
Why I finished it: Yeates’ ink-washed, black and white art conveys the textures of dustiness of both the town and the desert landscape, and his gunfights are cinematic. The fact that it’s printed in a larger than normal format (it’s about the size of my French graphic albums) made it easy to read and fun to linger over the images, all without the aid of a magnifying glass. (My eyes are getting bad.)
Readalikes: Hombre, my favorite western by Elmore Leonard. The main character is a half-Apache cowboy (played by Paul Newman in the excellent movie based on the book) forced to ride outside the coach by the other passengers because of his heritage. But when bandits attack, everyone needs him. Lopez faces similar sentiments from the white members of the posse he joins, though his motivation for taking part in the chase doesn’t become clear until the latter half of the book.
@bookblrb: In New Mexico, a posse that includes a cattle rustler goes after a murderer.
Santiago Durán walks straight out of Di Monroe’s dreams--crutches and all--into her heart. There’s only one problem: she’s already married.
Di’s parents died suddenly when she was nineteen, leaving her shattered and grateful for Stephen’s rescue. Over the past ten years, her identity has faded into her husband’s logical, controlling shadow, but with familiarity lies comfort. When she heads to New Orleans for an editing convention, she meets Santiago--handsome, smart, and despite being affected by Becker’s muscular dystrophy--someone who sees the real Di, who appreciates her and wants her to shine. Pregnant after their one-night stand, Di realizes putting her ‘mistake’ behind her won’t be easy.
?Caught between her loyalty to her husband and the uncertain paternity of her baby, Di soon begins falling for Santiago, drawn to his strength and confidence, yet also his compassion and vulnerability. With Santiago’s help, Di experiences new passion, kindles hidden desires, and uncovers the sheltered part of herself she thought she’d lost long ago. Together, they discover that love is more than mere chemistry, but instead, means you’ve found the person with whom you can be yourself.
Sandra Tsing Loh, author of Mother on Fire, describes her roller coaster year of going through The Change.
Why I picked it up: The angrily smashed tube of lipstick on the cover drew me in before I knew it was a book about menopause.
Why I finished it: I'm years away from menopause, but I was drawn in by Loh's honesty and wit about hormonal rage and other things the women must endure in order to "graduate" to their next phase of life. She is also very candid about an extramarital affair that destroyed her marriage. Trying to get into shape with her new boyfriend, she finds herself frustrated, angry (and hungry!) as she suffers and sweats and starves herself on zero calorie meals. She is not losing weight, but her boyfriend is eating satisfying meals and getting into better shape quickly.
Loh describes her misadventures in keeping her pre-teen daughter off Facebook and settling her aging father’s legal troubles while trying to figure out what is happening with her body. Why the weight gain? Why the crying in the car? She calls a highly organized friend to unload. When that woman politely asks her when she had her last period, Loh begins to realize what her symptoms could mean.
It's perfect for: My friend Wendy, who believes in the power of positive literature and laughter. This isn't of the "look on the bright side all the time" variety of books, but I know that she will appreciate the way that Loh manages to admit her imperfections while also proving to be someone who can make us laugh and provide assurance that all will soon be well.
@bookblrb: One woman’s roller coaster year going through menopause.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You and One Plus One, a new novel previously unavailable in print in the U.S.
1946. World War II has ended and all over the world, young women are beginning to fulfill the promises made to the men they wed in wartime.
In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other war brides on an extraordinary voyage to England—aboard HMS Victoria, which still carries not just arms and aircraft but a thousand naval officers. Rules are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier’s captain down to the lowliest young deckhand. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined despite the Navy’s ironclad sanctions.
“Wonderfully romantic and moving.”—Daily Mail (UK)
“A wonderful read: a tale of fate and destiny that remains utterly unsentimental.”—Sunday Express (UK)
“A scintillating novel of friendship, family and love.”—Woman & Home
Mitchell was hit by a bus four years ago and sent to Hell. Since then he has worked as an intern to Septimus, Satan’s right hand man, trying to help placate the devil about the increasing numbers of dead coming to Hell because Heaven isn't doing its part. Mitchell has a decent afterlife and three good friends he hangs out with during his dwindling free time. (Satan requires overtime and weekends, of course, especially as the dead pile up.) When the opportunity arises to steal a time-travel device, Mitchell goes for it, hoping to save his friends from early death and possibly change their eternal resting place.
Why I picked it up: It's a clever, funny premise that Hell needs to have bureaucracy.
Why I finished it: It was the friendship and a few of the touching moments as the friends took in their own deaths up-close. And Mitchell and his friend, Medusa, have the type of Sam and Diane relationship that had me rooting for them to get together.
It's perfect for: Pranav, my former student, who devoured the Harry Potter books when he was in middle school. In high school he needs something a little more sophisticated but still funny. Hosie mentions that the humidity in Hell wreaks havoc on everyone's hair, making Mitchell look like an albino hedgehog (his hair is short and blond). And he’ll laugh when he reads that the office building Mitchell works in has a 666th floor "where the true torment happens." It is reserved for reality television stars.
@bookblrb: Mitchell, an intern in Hell’s vast bureaucracy, steals a time machine and tries to save his friends.
A journey through the otherworldly science behind Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated film, Interstellar, from executive producer and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne.
Interstellar, from acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, takes us on a fantastic voyage far beyond our solar system. Yet in The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne, the physicist who assisted Nolan on the scientific aspects of Interstellar, shows us that the movie’s jaw-dropping events and stunning, never-before-attempted visuals are grounded in real science. Thorne shares his experiences working as the science adviser on the film and then moves on to the science itself. In chapters on wormholes, black holes, interstellar travel, and much more, Thorne’s scientific insights—many of them triggered during the actual scripting and shooting of Interstellar—describe the physical laws that govern our universe and the truly astounding phenomena that those laws make possible.
Rebecca Harrington noticed it was very easy, using the Internet, to find out about the diets of well-known historic figures. In the spirit of Benjamin Franklin (an inveterate scientific chronicler well known for trying out theories on himself and recording the results), she started eating perpetually overweight President William Taft’s diet of boiled fish, mutton, and glutinous biscuits. When she told her friends what she was doing, they insisted that she try eating like more modern celebrities instead. Soon Harrington was throwing dinner parties for her friends, making Greta Garbo's celery loaf (inedible), Liz Taylor's steak and peanut butter concoction, and the whipped eggs in warm milk that Marilyn Monroe cooked every morning. Fashion maven Karl Lagerfeld's ten-Diet-Cokes-a-day habit was difficult to adhere to, as was Beyoncé's cleanse of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup, which she swallowed nine times a day with a "salt water flush for digestive purposes." Harrington followed each diet for roughly ten days, and tells of her experiences on each. (After a while, her friends wouldn't come over for her dinner parties anymore unless she offered to order pizza for them to eat, too.)
Why I picked it up: The pitch reminded me of A.J. Jacobs' enjoyable The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.
Why I finished it: Harrington was funny througout. She talks to Gwyneth Paltrow’s book It’s All Good as she cooks recipes from it: "That's a lot of salt, Gwyneth." and "Goji berries are better when they are soaked in water. Thanks, buddy!” Harrington swears by Paltrow’s book in the end, although she says it would bankrupt her as it cost three times more than her regular food because it requires kale, raw honey, various imported organic foods, and raw "wet almonds," among other things.
It's perfect for: My sister-in-law Becky. She has subscriptions to People, Us Weekly, and several other celeb-watching magazines, plus she posts on Facebook all the time about various dishes she is making. I even heard her talk about how much she coveted a butt like Pippa Middleton’s after seeing pictures of her at Kate and William’s wedding. Maybe the celery loaf will get her there!
@bookblrb: Rebecca Harrington tries out the diets of historic figures and movie stars.
Isobel is about to start her senior year in high school when her mom announces she is marrying Richard Wickham. They are all going to move from Seattle to his gothic family mansion on a small island in Puget Sound. His family name and the estate mean everything to Richard, and he is determined that his new family not tarnish its legacy. Leaving her best friend, her social life, and the city she loves, Isobel’s life seems to be falling apart. Richard’s son, Nate, may be the only bright spot in her future.
During her first night in her new home she believes she is visited by the ghost of Nate’s younger sister, who died in a boating accident along with her mom. At her new school, she discovers the other island residents think the Wickham place is cursed, and that either Nate or his dad killed Nate’s mother and sister. After a series of strange events, Richard convinces Isobel’s mother that Isobel may be mentally ill. Forced into therapy, Isobel is counseled to take charge of her life. She does, researching the Wickham family past and discovering there are secrets she must unravel.
Why I picked it up: I have enjoyed a number of Cook’s books, so when I found this one I couldn’t wait to read it. (My favorite is Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, a clever take on a bullied teen girl getting back at her tormentor.)
Why I finished it: The relationship between Isobel and Nate starts horribly. Each blames the other for ruining their family, but there is a mutual attraction that overcomes their disdain for each other. Nate understands Isobel’s loneliness and isolation at school, since he’s a victim of the island rumor mill. Though he is skeptical about the origin of messages that seem to come from his dead sister, he supports and tries to help Isobel.
It's perfect for: Lanie who loves libraries. Isobel spends much of her free time in the small one on the island, trying to sort out what is going on and befriending a young librarian who just might hold the key to her quest.
@bookblrb: Isobel is visited by a ghost that implicates her mom’s new husband in a murder.
Police Inspector Simona Tavianello has given in to her retired husband Marco's desire to vacation in the mountains. The trip isn’t as boring as she feared. When they stop to pick up some local honey, they discover a dead body in the beekeeper's house. When the investigation shows that the man was killed with Simona's gun, she can't resist sticking her nose into things despite her husband's pleading that they just relax for once.
Why I picked it up: My boyfriend is a beekeeper, so when I saw this mystery in the publisher's catalog I was very intrigued, particularly since the title implied it tied into a bigger mystery that I find very troubling...just where are all the bees going, and why are so many hives under threat?
Why I finished it: I loved that this series stars a brainy, bold, plump, ivory-haired vixen of a cop, and that her husband is a total foodie. Every meal they ate together was described in such mouth-watering detail, it made me want to visit Italy to taste what they were eating. Plus this book includes what must be the sexiest description of a honeybee ever.
Readalikes: This book borders on science fiction in its explorations of GMO, nanobots, and corporate manipulations of nature and consumers. Despite far reaching twists and conspiracies, I think this would be a wonderful match for readers who enjoyed senior citizen, detective, and beekeeper Sherlock Holmes in The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King.
@bookblrb: A vacationing police inspector and her husband discover a dead body in a beekeeper’s house.
Pond’s fictionalized memoir about working at a diner in Oakland in the late 1970s centers around Margaret, an art school student given to drawing while drinking coffee. After she trades a drawing for a free meal and tour of the kitchen at the Imperial Cafe, she starts to go there more often. In a moment of clarity after seven cups of coffee, Margaret realizes she wants to work there. After being hired as a dishwasher, the place loses some of its magical sparkle; it’s hard, exhausting work. But it feels like she’s in an independent movie and has to “stay to find out how it’s going to end.” Along the way she becomes one of the wise-cracking waitresses, privy to all the behind the counter romances and drama.
Why I picked it up: Pond is the wife of artist Wayne White. She and her husband seemed hilarious and happy in the documentary about him, Beauty is Embarrassing. In the film she was shown working this graphic novel (I think), so I wanted to give it a shot.
Why I finished it: When Lazlo, the Imperial Cafe’s manager, first meets Margaret, he tells her that her drawing of a diner counter “really captured the way the asses hang over the stools.” Margaret tells him a story about Shirley, a waitress there, who, when asked by a customer “Can you help me? I need to use the restroom,” replied, “Well, Hon, I’ll give you the key, but I ain’t gonna hold it for you.” Later, as part of her job interview to become a dishwasher, Lazlo makes Margaret tell him a joke. (It’s dirty, too.)
Readalikes: Waiter Rant, about waiting tables at an upscale restaurant. It’s a look behind-the-scenes at what the wait staff has to put up with from psycho customers to bad bosses. This book is also a behind-the-scenes look at food service, though the staff at the Imperial Cafe is like a dysfunctional family, and the waitresses there are expected to flip the customers some crap to keep them in line.
@bookblrb: An art student starts working in an Oakland diner in the 1970s, becoming privy to the behind-the-scenes drama.