How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

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The Late Night with David Letterman comedy writer, Steve Hely, pokes fun at the publishing industry in this hilarious parody of all things literary. Pete has graduated and found a job rewriting college essays for others as he tries to figure out how to impress his ex-girlfriend at her wedding. Why not write the Great American novel and live the lavish lifestyle that accompanies such fame. When he actually succeeds in landing a semi-lucrative book deal for The Tornado Ashes Club, and his book makes the New York Times bestseller list, Pete begins to live the good life but suffer the consequences. A television interview lands him on the wrong side of the publishing industry as he impugnes other authors and begins a feud with another famous author. He goes head to head with this bestselling author at a Texas book festival and begins to see the error of his ways.

When asked about the impetus for this book Hely said he went to a bookstore: “Seeing the massive quantities of books of all genres and varieties, I got to thinking, ‘What if one book contained all of these?’ ” How I Became a Famous Novelist is a funny look at all things right and wrong with our current publishing world.

There’s No Place Like Here

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If you’ve ever wondered where those missing socks have gone, There’s No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern is the book for you.

Sandy Shortt is obsessed with missing things. She has arranged her home so that things rarely disappear because it is so distressing to her when they do. Her career is searching for missing persons. This obsession has gotten in the way of her relationships and her happiness. She recognizes that this is a problem, but isn’t sure how to deal with it. Then one day she goes missing herself, which clarifies many of her questions, but isn’t much comfort unless she can get back to her old life. This is an imaginative story that will help you to feel much better about those missing socks.

Italian for Beginners

> Cat Connelly is a 34 year old, single woman who has taken care of her father and sister after their mother left the family– working as an accountant and living her life without taking any risks. When her grandmother embarrasses her at her sister’s wedding and a man she is attracted to turns out to be married, she decides take her un-used vacation time and take a trip to Rome, a place she visited as a college student and which hold memories of happier times. Cat’s trip to Rome becomes a journey to find herself, to discover her passions and to reconnect with her past. Hamel has a knack for describing not just the city of Rome but the atmosphere, sounds and flavors as well. The small “moments” in Rome captivate Cat—old men playing chess in the park, the taste of crisp Roman pizza, families walking arm-in-arm, children playing soccer. There is romance in Italian for Beginners, but much of the story revolves around Cat’s self-discovery. The story is told with warmth and humor and excellent descriptions of the sights and sounds of Rome. The author even includes recipes for some of the Italian specialties served to Cat in the story. This is a delightful story—a great escape novel!

Sail Away with young Jackie Faber

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Sometimes we need to read just to escape from the trials and tribulations of life. This is when Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer comes in handy. You can’t get much further away than on the H.M.S. Dolphin in 1797. Little Mary Faber is an orphan on the streets of London. She and her gang scrape along well enough for survival, but she hopes for more out of life. She finds it when she decides to disguise herself and become a ship’s boy on the H.M.S. Dolphin. Life onboard as Jackie is good as long as she can keep her secret.

Bloody Jack is the first in a series written for young adults, but adults with any bit of Peter Pan left in them will love it. You have to truly suspend disbelief as you follow the story of the daring Jackie Faber, but it is worth it. She jumps from one adventure to another, never allowing decorum get in the way of justice or a good time. I alternated between shaking my head and laughing out loud as I dove into the delightful tales of Bloody Jack.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

>There are plenty of books with likable characters, or clever characters, or unique characters. But favorite characters? Those are much harder to come by. You know the ones I mean – the characters you wish were real so you could hang out with them, engage them in fascinating conversations, push them out into society and sit back to watch the fireworks. I have just made the acquaintance of such a character in Alan Bradley’s mystery novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Her name is Flavia de Luce, and she’s the youngest of three daughters of an aristocratic British family that has fallen on hard times. She’s diabolically clever, witty, full of vim and vigor, and an expert chemist with a passion for poison.

She’s also eleven years old.

When Flavia stumbles upon a dying stranger in the cucumber patch of her family’s estate, she sets out to discover his identity, the method of – and motive for – his murder, and his connection to her family: a connection that could have devastating consequences for those nearest and dearest to Flavia. Armed only with her trusty bicycle Gladys and her encyclopedic knowledge of chemical compounds – as well as a razor-sharp tongue and a talent for fibbing – Flavia worms her way into the investigation, much to the chagrin of the local inspector. You’ll cheer Flavia on as she makes discoveries and connections and ferrets out family secrets, and you’ll worry for her as her sleuthing brings her closer and closer to peril. Most of all, you’ll wish you could meet up with Flavia de Luce again soon – and, fortunately, you can! Flavia will be back in action in Bradley’s second novel in the series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, due out in March.

The Help

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Definitely the best book I have read this year is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This is an excellent debut novel written by a Mississippian about her home town of Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960′s civil rights unrest. There is such a deep history to the black/white relationships in the homes of the south. During this time period black maids were employed in many of the homes of white people, even those that struggled with money issues. These women had distinct social lines drawn, however relationships between the help and their employers were as different as all people are unique.

Miss Skeeter Phelan has recently graduated form Ole Miss and come home to fulfill her dreams of becoming a writer and her mother’s dream of marriage to the correct man. She is encouraged to find a story to write that has never been done before when communicating with a New York editor. After hearing of an iniative that every household should have a separate bathroom for their colored help so the families won’t be exposed to diseases spread by the coloreds, Skeeter develops an idea of interviewing the black maids about their feelings toward serving white families. Through the struggle interviewing and secretly writing these stories we meet wonderful characters. Abileen specializes in childcare and is lovingly raising her 17th child in the household of a white woman that doesn’t have an idea how to love her own daughter. Minny is a young, scrappy and rebellious cook that has been fired from a host of homes for talking back. They reluctantly begin sharing their thoughts with Skeeter while terrified about the hurt that could result if the truth gets out about the people represented.

Stockett has written a deeply moving book that shows the complex rainbow of relationships between the races of hate, mistrust and apathy but also love, companionship and dependence. It is a wonderful story that continues to evoke thoughts and emotions long after the end.

Below Zero by C.J. Box

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Below Zero , “Edgar-finalist Box’s ninth novel to feature Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, begins with a bombshell: could Pickett’s foster daughter, April, who apparently died six years earlier in a horrific conflagration when overzealous FBI agents confronted a group of dissident survivalists (see 2003’s Winterkill), still be alive? Pickett’s 17-year-old daughter, Sheridan, begins receiving disturbing text messages from someone claiming to be her dead sister, and Pickett’s entire family is forced to relive the tragedy. Even worse, whoever is sending these messages is traveling cross-country with suspected serial killers targeting people whose carbon footprint is too high.” Publisher’s Weekly

This is Where I Leave You

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Jonathan Tropper’s new novel, like his previous novel How to Talk to a Widower, is a wonderfully funny/sad story about family and relationships, with believably flawed and realistic characters. Judd Foxman’s marriage has just fallen apart when he receives news that his father has passed away. His father’s last request was that his family sit Shiva for him–a Jewish period of 7 days of mourning. Judd cannot fathom his dysfunctional family being forced to spend time together for 7 whole days. The family spends the week re-hashing old histories and resentments and forging new relationships and understandings of themselves and each other. This is Where I Leave You is both laugh-out-loud funny and bittersweet and I enjoyed all of the character interactions. Tropper writes with insight and emotion and illustrates the connections between family members that last a lifetime.

Dust and Shadow

> Since August of 1888, when the body of Martha Tabram was found in the dismal streets of London’s Whitechapel district stabbed to death thirty-nine times, the identity of history’s most infamous serial killer has fired the imaginations of professional investigators, writers, and the public at large. Over the course of three months the killer who came to be known as Jack the Ripper would terrify the citizens of London, taunt the press and police with letters and grisly souvenirs from his crimes, and take the lives of six unfortunates (the polite Victorian term for prostitutes) in vicious nighttime attacks. To this day the crimes remain unsolved.

But in Lyndsay Faye’s fantastic debut novel Dust and Shadow, Jack the Ripper finally meets his match in the form of the world’s foremost detective, Sherlock Holmes. Consulted by a desperate police force, Holmes – along with his trusted biographer Dr. John Watson – is as shocked by the unprecedented brutality of the crimes as the rest of London. But with the aid of his steely resolve, uncommonly keen powers of observation, and cunning intelligence – as well as the help of an intrepid unfortunate named Mary Ann Monk, who serves as the detective’s Whitechapel informant – Holmes tracks the brazen killer through the foggy, gas lit streets to a thrilling denouement. With appearances by familiar names like Mycroft Holmes and Inspector Lestrade, and plenty of twists and turns in the plot, the well-written and meticulously researched Dust and Shadow is sure to please fans of Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper scholars, and mystery lovers alike.