Best-selling author Lisa Lutz's latest novel, How to Start a Fire, follows the lives of three women who became friends during their college years. Our reviewer writes, "With wit and a gift for capturing the repartee between siblings and old friends, Lutz brings us a memorable and ultimately uplifting saga of three strong, unique women." (Read the review.)
We asked Lutz to tell us about three books she's enjoyed reading lately.
Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker
I’m interested in medicine in general, but pre-modern medicine especially fascinates me. Blood Work is an absorbing and gruesome account of the history of blood transfusions, with a bizarre cast of characters from the procedure’s vanguard. It focuses on the 1600s and the physician Jean Denis, who is framed for murder after a failed transfusion attempt between a calf and a madman. But it’s also about the public’s perception and the politics of medicine, and it’s a great murder mystery. Although I must admit that I had to time my reading very carefully, away from meals.
This was the novel that stuck with me the most from last year. I read it cold, without having any notion of what it was about, and that’s how I’d want everyone else to read it. But if you must know something: It’s narrated by Rosemary Cooke, the daughter of two psychology professors. She has a brother on the run from the FBI and a sister, Fern. That’s all I’ll give away. This insanely brilliant, complex and funny novel is about family and much, much more. The writing is just so perfect and alive. I can’t recommend it enough.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
I’ve had Stewart’s Wicked Plants on my coffee table for ages, so I was thrilled to get a galley of her first novel, which is apparently the first in a series. It’s basically the origin story of the first female deputy sheriffs. In 1914, Constance Kopp and her two sisters go into town one day, and a silk factory owner runs over their buggy. Constance goes to great lengths to get reimbursed for damages, soon igniting a full-on war. With the aid of a local sheriff she learns to defend her property, and the first female “lawman” is born. It’s a totally absorbing, often funny tale based on real characters who make you proud that women like them existed back then. I’m looking forward to the next installment.
Thank you, Lisa! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
Our May Top Pick in Cookbooks is A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden by New York Michelin-starred chef, April Bloomfield! Did you know the leafy tops of carrots are actually secretly tasty? Bloomfield's recipe for Carrot-Top Pesto will completely change the way you look at this popular veg.
If you’ve never nibbled a carrot top, you have a happy surprise waiting for you. The greens are delicious: a little less carroty than the roots, and almost briny, like heartier borage. Arriving home from the market with not only a collection of sweet, colorful roots but also a big old tuft of bushy tops is like ordering pork shoulder and finding out that the kind butcher has snuck a couple of trotters into your bag.
I treat the tops as I would a tender herb, adding little sprigs to salads as I might parsley or dill. And because each bunch of carrots can bring twice the volume in tops, I make pesto. As much as I like the particular flavor of the tops themselves, I also like how they carry the flavor of basil, which comes through quite a bit considering how few leaves you use.
Makes about 1 cup
Combine the carrot tops and basil in a small food processor, pulse several times, then add the walnuts, Parmesan, garlic and salt. Pulse several more times, add the oil, then process full-on, stopping and scraping down the sides of the processor or stirring gently if need be, until the mixture is well combined but still a bit chunky. Taste and season with more salt, if you fancy.
Adam Johnson—who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013 with The Orphan Master's Son—returns on August 18 with a collection of six stories, Fortune Smiles (Random House).
In the new collection, his second, Johnson explores varied settings and characters, from a former warden of a Stasi prison to a young mother in Louisiana. He also returns to the subject of North Korea, the setting of The Orphan Master's Son, for the story of two Pyongyang defectors who struggle to assimilate to their new life in Seoul.
Setting the everyday details of life against extraordinary backdrops is something of a specialty for Johnson, who went to North Korea to research The Orphan Master's Son and ended up asking the sort of "verisimilitude questions" his minders had never heard before. Will you look for this one this fall?
RELATED CONTENT: Read more about this year's fall fiction releases.
By now, you've most likely heard something about 2000's cult-favorite horror novel House of Leaves. Author Mark Z. Danielewski's highly experimental writing style is often compared to that of James Joyce, but his inclusion of graphic elements—sections of text printed in shapes, multiple typefaces and font sizes, certain words printed in color—have set his novels apart in today's literary landscape. His new novel, The Familiar, is the first in a series with 27 planned volumes (yes, 27!), and it follows a 12-year-old girl named Xanther who finds an abandoned kitten on the side of the road one rainy day. Well, the story isn't quite that straightforward. Danielewski also explores Mexico, Singapore, a brutal gang in East L.A., two computer scientists in Marfa, Texas, and many more settings and characters—each with their own color-coded sections. Fans of more traditional linear narratives may want to take caution, but if you're feeling adventurous and are interested in a different kind of reading experience, then The Familiar is for you.
Xanther cracks the window, gulping air, and wow!, the spray actually warms her!
"Remember: they are only questions," Anwar has told her many times. Like he's also told her: "Remember, they are only answers."
Xanther starts breathing regular-like again.
And sure, just as there's rain out there, the number for rain is out there too.
Dancing on the pavement.
Dancing in the air.
Like music before music becomes music.
"Is everything okay?" Anwar asks.
"Huh?" Xanther responds, profoundly, rolling the window back up, too aware of what she must look like bu the look already cornering her dad's eyes. "Head in the clouds?" she tries.
"Those are some clouds."
"You know, just daydreaming," Xanther tries again.
"Tell me then," Anwar sighs. "Tell me your daydreams, daughter."
And Xanther can't stand worrying him.
She can't stand lying either. She really can't.
What are you reading today?
Best-selling author Pamela Schoenewaldt's new book tells the story of a German-American girl whose life is changed forever by the outbreak of World War I. In a guest blog post, Schoenewaldt shares five surprising facts about the German-American experience on the homefront during WWI.
My writing and research process for Under the Same Blue Sky (Morrow) was flavored by stories of relatives who came from Germany between 1870 and 1900. I was curious about their experience during World War I, when their native country and culture was vilified as the home of Huns, brutes and monsters. My great-grandparents, quietly harvesting corn in Iowa, must have been so astonished, so perplexed.
Naturally, my research went beyond family tales, but here are a few surprising facts about German-Americans during World War I.
German-Americans are the largest self-reported ethnicity in the United States
In 1910, nearly 10% of Americans were born in Germany or had German parentage. In much of the Midwest, German-Americans made up more than a third of the population. Most major cities had a significant “Germania” neighborhood. Assimilated and widely respected, German-Americans were spared much of the discrimination suffered by other immigrants. All that changed during World War I.
Immigrants were encouraged to let go of the past to become American
We all know the story of how our national identity was founded on the idea of a nation of immigrants, a golden gate typified by the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in 1886. By 1910, for various reasons, the mood had changed. Ever-more restrictive immigration policies were put in place. German-Americans, like Greek, Italian, Polish or Scandinavian-Americans, were often regarded with suspicion by many whose parents or grandparents had themselves been immigrants. President Wilson warned that “true” Americans give up their heritage. They close the door behind them. They forget where they came from. Imagine how that felt.
A telegram sent the U.S. into the war
The U.S. stayed neutral for the first three years of World War I (while making huge profits in munitions sales). Many German-Americans were even convinced that we’d ultimately side with the Kaiser. Then came the Zimmerman Telegram of 1917, a coded message from Arthur Zimmerman, the German foreign secretary, to the German ambassador to Mexico, offering to support a Mexican attack on the U.S. In return, Germany would reward Mexico with the return of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
In retrospect, the plan seems hardly credible: Mexico didn’t begin to have that kind of military power, and Germany was a tad busy in Europe. Still, the effect was electrifying. Suddenly, people looked at their German-American neighbors as potential traitors and enemies. Within weeks, we were at war.
Thanks to war propaganda, German-Americans became suspect
Newspapers, posters, schoolteachers, songs and speakers whipped up the public against “the Hun.” Speaking German in public was suspect, sometimes illegal. German-Americans were forced to demonstrate their loyalty by buying war bonds, sometimes bankrupting themselves. Some were made to crawl across factory floors to kiss the American flag. Patents by German-American inventors were taken away. Business were ruined, people beaten up, tarred and feathered, run out of town, sometimes killed. It’s an ugly story, repeated so often in human history, when public policy shatters peaceful communities.
The German-American cultural community and identity were in many ways devastated by the war
Nearly 1 million German-Americans “disappeared” in the 1920 census because they claimed other ethnicities. Many German newspapers, community and cultural organizations never reopened, or never regained pre-war status. Music by German composers had been banned. Bach and Beethoven only slowly returned to repertoires. Yes, we won the war, but included in the collateral damage was a huge cost in cultural diversity and the richness in our communities.
Author photo by Kelly Norrell
Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
Katherine Locke’s New Adult romance Second Position follows two ballet dancers struggling to recover after a car accident destroyed their relationship and sent their careers into a death spiral. While Zed lost his leg in the accident, Aly lost her drive, and she’s on a leave of absence from the Philadelphia Ballet Company in order to recover from an emotional and physical breakdown. For being so young, these two have a very intense history, and it’s interesting to watch them as they attempt to delicately step toward new lives—and toward each other. If you’ve got a penchant for drama and anything ballet related (Center Stage, anyone?), the first book in Locke’s District Ballet Company is for you.
Aly may have lost her sparkle, but she didn’t lose grace. She stands perfectly still, her eyes fixed on her phone as she scrolls down the screen. Everything about her is still long, elegant lines, everything a ballerina should be.
Of course. She was—or is—the youngest principal dancer in Philadelphia Ballet history. One of the youngest in American ballet. She was born to dance. So was I, but I guess terrible things happen to terrible people. I stand heavily on my left leg. The bite of the prosthetic into the stump of what used to be my knee is punishment for my thoughts.
For four years, I wanted nothing more than to run into Aly, to find out what went wrong and how we lost everything on the side of the highway that day.
Do you think you'll be picking up this romance novel for your eReader?
Looking for a fun, fast project to bring a little pop of color into a room? Victoria Hudgins, founder of the lifestyle blog A Subtle Revelry, outlines this straight-forward DIY for Colorful Rolled Tea Lights from her new book, Materially Crafted: A DIY Primer for the Design-Obsessed.
Any excuse is a good excuse to make a day at home a special one, and these colorful rolled tea lights will brighten up a room in more ways than one. I love the vibrancy of colored beeswax, and these small candles almost look like confetti strewn about!
Skill level: Beginner
Time needed: 30 minutes
Using an X-Acto knife, cut the beeswax sheets into three 4 x 2" (10 x 5 cm) pieces per candle.
Make the wax malleable by warming it up in your hands for a moment. Overlap the short ends of two of the pieces slightly and press together. Add the third piece in the same manner to connect the three pieces into one long skinny piece (about 11½ x 2" [29 x 5 cm] long).
Press a tea-light wick into the wax at one end. Starting from that end, gently roll the wax strip tightly around the wick to form a spiral.
Press the end of the roll into the candle base to connect.
Excerpted from Materially Crafted by Victoria Hudgins with the permission of Abrams | STC Craft. Photography by Jocelyn Noel. Read our review of this book.
It's another big week for new paperback releases, with a strong roster of titles for both fiction and nonfiction readers:
My Salinger Year
By Joanna Rakoff
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780307947987
Rakoff's compelling recollections of her first job—working in the New York City literary agency that represented, among others, reclusive writer J.D. Salinger—was one of our favorite memoirs of 2014.
By Ruth Reichl
Random House • $16 • ISBN 9780812982022
In her delightful first novel, the former editor of Gourmet and author of the best-selling memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples combines a young food writer's coming-of-age story with an alluring World War II mystery. The paperback edition includes a reader's guide.
The Shell Seekers
By Rosamunde Pilcher
St. Martin's Griffin • $15.99 • ISBN 9781250063786
It's hard to believe, but this 1987 bestseller from the beloved British writer has never previously been released in an American trade paperback edition. Why now? This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Pilcher novel September and the 15th anniversary of The Winter Solstice. So her U.S. publisher is releasing new editions of all three books. Adapted for both film and television, The Shell Seekers is the kind of engrossing family saga that makes it an ideal beach read.
Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9781594632921
Ng's moving debut novel, which landed on many best of the year lists and was selected by Amazon as the top book of 2014, opens with a stunning relevation: "Lydia is dead." In meticulously constructed layers, the novel reveals the repercussions of the teen's disappearance and death on her Chinese-American family in small-town Ohio. The paperback includes a Q&A with the author.
A Spy Among Friends
By Ben MacIntyre
Broadway • $16 • ISBN 9780804136655
When it comes to treachery, it's hard to top the story of Kim Philby, who headed Britain's spying efforts against the Soviet Union while secretly working for the enemy. In this masterful biography, which has been optioned for TV by Lionsgate, MacIntyre focuses on Philby's close friends Nicholas Elliott, of Britain's MI6, and James Angleton, of the CIA, both of whom were blindsided by Philby's betrayal.
By Laline Paull
Ecco • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062331175
The heroine of Paull's fascinating novel is an unlikely character: Flora 717 is a worker bee with lowly status in her hive. But when environmental issues put the hive under stress, Flora takes on new roles and begins a climb to power. Based in fact but keenly imagined, this is the ultimate in "buzz" books.
Patricia Park reimagines the perennial Jane Eyre as a Korean-American young woman in Queens in Re Jane. Our reviewer writes, "Park’s portrait of Korean-American life feels authentic and is ultimately endearing. Charlotte Brontë would be proud." (Read the review here.)
We asked Park to tell us about three books she's enjoyed reading lately.
After I turned in the last manuscript pages for Re Jane, I finally turned my eye back to the stack of books on my TBR (To Be Read) list. I read fiction and nonfiction, and I’m thrilled to share my latest reading rotation with you now:
I was woefully late to the Frank McCourt conversation; I finally read it because my dentist told me Frank McCourt was her teacher at Stuyvesant High School. Angela’s Ashes touched me on so many personal levels—themes of migration and reverse migration, steeped in the blue-collar world. It reminded me of my father’s own immigrant struggles—scrapping and saving to make it to America (or in McCourt’s case, making it back to America) with nothing more than a suitcase and a dream. I have never read more delicious descriptions of floury potatoes or milky tea or fried toast (pig heads, maybe not so much). And all told with such humor! I don’t come from a family of big readers, but it was the kind of book that immediately made me want to buy it for everyone I loved. I forced my older brother to listen to the audiobook, and as we laughed at McCourt’s hilarious retellings of his otherwise miserable childhood, I think the experience brought us (if a little) closer together.
I’ve read Lahiri’s short stories, but hadn’t read her first novel until just recently. Then I reread it for a conference presentation I was giving on Show Vs. Tell in literature. Lahiri does an enviously skillful tell—one expository paragraph with details like “ashtrays the size of serving platters” and whiskey and wine bottles stacked on top of the refrigerator will do the work of pages and pages of scenes. I love the way she presented the main character Gogol’s attempts to fit in—with both his Bengali and his American identities. I think his struggle is one that many of us “hyphenated-Americans” deal with on a daily basis.
What a wealth of information about the Brontës! With each page turn I found myself learning a new Brontë fact, and it changed the way I (re)read Jane Eyre. Brontë had set out to show that a female lead “as plain and as small as myself” deserved her own novel, at a time when convention dictated that only beautiful female characters got airtime in literature. There was a real-life St. John Rivers—modeled after Brontë’s friend Ellen’s brother, a rather straight-laced clergyman who saw in Charlotte the makings of a good pastor’s wife. But she turned him down with the following quip: “I have no personal repugnance to the idea of a union with you—but I feel convinced that mine is not the sort of disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you.” There was also a real-life Rochester. While teaching in Brussels, Brontë carried on an emotional affair with the married professor Monsieur Heger, whom she first described as “small, ugly, short-tempered and, above all, Catholic.” The Brontës is a 1,000-page whopper, but what a comprehensive and quite readable biography of a prolific family.
Thank you, Patricia! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Allana Taranto)