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Spread the Love of Reading – One Person at a Time

World Book Night – believe in the power of books. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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The Ambiguous ‘Charms’ of Mitchell Zuckoff’s ‘Lost in Shangri-La’

Cover ImageAs a reader I often find myself wondering about little tangential topics, quirks, or details that cushion a story. As my eyes move over one page my thoughts might still be caught a few paragraphs back, roaming around with questions that itch for a little more info. What was that war all about? Does this tiny country really exist? How did the author manage to survive?

Charms candy was that little itch for me in Lost in Shangri-La. 

It seems that Tootsie Roll Industries would have little to do with Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La. However, Tootsie Roll Industries is the owner of Charms Candy; the very candy that provided the Gremlin Special’s crash survivors with enough sustenance to survive in the jungle.

“Breakfast was water and more Charms, still their only food on the third day after the crash,” writes Zuckoff. “They separated the candies by color, eating the red ones until they tired of them, moving on to yellow, and so on.”*

Due to the hardiness of Charms Candy under a variety of conditions, the candy became a standard part of American soldiers’ military issue around the time of World War II. The individually wrapped candy squares, made from sugar and corn syrup, came in an assortment of fruit flavors and were a staple of soldier rations.

The treat meant to sustain military forces, however, has taken on a more ominous tone in recent years. The Curse of Charms Candy is of unknown origin, but superstition claims that if a soldier eats, or even keeps the candy in their possession it brings bad luck.

In the article US Marines Ditch Their Unlucky Charms, one sergeant says, “Chew on a lemon Charm and you’re heading for a vehicle breakdown. Suck on a lime and it rains. Raspberry – for the highly superstitious – means death.”

Journalist Ashley Gilbertson of the New York Times found the same beliefs among forces in Afghanistan. “Never eat the Charms, the troops say; they’re unlucky. It’s just a superstition, of course – I’ve never met a soldier who could tell me why they were unlucky – but the G.I.’s take it seriously. I sometimes think that if I ever got separated from my unit in the field, I’d just follow a trail of discarded unopened Assorted Charms to find them again.”

You can link over to BookBrowse.com where you will my full review of Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La as well as thousands of reviews and intriguing sidebars.

* Taken from Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredibly Rescue Mission of World War II

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Post by Megan Shaffer


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Sink Your Teeth into Gabrielle Hamilton’s ‘Blood, Bones & Butter’

Cover ImageReader beware – chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter is smoking hot! Serving it up raw and gritty, Hamilton is absolutely fearless as she slices through the chapters of her life. From her idyllic childhood as a girl in rural Pennsylvania to the tough, renegade chef presently rocking NYC’s East Village, Hamilton cranks it from page one with her edgy literary style.

The “blood” of Hamilton’s title is literal and tightly establishes Gabrielle’s ties to both her parents and her four older siblings who together “ran in a pack – like wild dogs.” As a child Hamilton was captivated by her artistic parents and drank them in in great, awe-filled gulps. “My parents seemed incredibly special and outrageously handsome to me then. I could not have boasted of them more or said my name, first and last together, more proudly, to show how it directly linked me to them. I loved that our mother was French… that she had been a ballet dancer at the Met in New York City when she married my father.”

Hamilton tenderly takes her time to lay the family foundation that will both form young Gabrielle as a child and shatter Hamilton as an adult. She warmly observed and absorbed the eclectic cooking style of her mother, and from her father “…learned how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends.”

Through the simple joy of childhood memories Hamilton solidifies the family bond, and no event makes a deeper impression on young Gabrielle than that of her father’s legendary annual  lamb-roast. It is this magical “feast” for hundreds of friends from “as far away as the townhouses of New York City” where Hamilton’s recognition of family and culinary senses become inextricably bound.

When Hamilton’s parents suddenly split up, Gabrielle is left alone amidst the busted bones of her now broken family. Cash-strapped and only thirteen, she begins to work it the only way she knows how. Finding her way to the familiar, Hamilton begins to grind it out kitchen after kitchen working her fingers to the bone from New York to Ann Arbor through Europe, and back again. Ultimately, the all-nighters, crusty floors, endless prepping and the sordid yet seductive world of food serve to sharpen Hamilton’s artistic skills and caustic wit.

Blood, Bones & Butter is not just for foodies. Though you will find seasoned passages on “ceviche and Israeli couscous and mushroom duxelle and robbiola cheese” among others to relish, they merely serve to strengthen and fortify Hamilton’s solid story threads. Be warned however, that Hamilton’s style is not for the faint of heart and she makes no apologies for who she is. Her smacking, straight-up honesty is highly acidic and a bit hard to take at times, but eventually Hamilton settles into herself “like butter on toast.”

I could toss up the cooking metaphors all day long, but in the end chef Hamilton writes like a rock star. Every page holds a killer quote and Hamilton’s hard-core intensity is intoxicating. Blood, Bones & Butter has serious moxie driven by the love and language of all things culinary, and its promise of family, friendship, and food is sure to please.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

**The edited version of this review can be seen at BookBrowse.com.

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Everyone’s Reading Selection ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ Hits the Big Screen

The Everyone’s Reading program is well under way for Metro Detroit public libraries. In case you missed NLR’s post the first time around, The Lincoln Lawyer by best-selling author Michael Connelly is the title for this year’s selection. Whether you’ve already burned through the book or not, grab a big bucket of popcorn because The Lincoln Lawyer is about to hit the big screen.

The Everyone’s Reading Reader’s Guide states that best-selling author Michael Connelly “has set the standard for writing well-paced, well plotted, and well-crafted crime fiction” and has published “an impressive 22 novels, multiple short stories, and one non-fiction collection of crime stories.” Adding to the excitement surrounding this year’s author is the fact that The Lincoln Lawyer will come to life in theaters this weekend.

Image of "Michael Connelly"In this live interview*, former journalist Michael Connelly says of his transition from covering crime to writing about it, “I had the opposite track. I wanted to write the novels first and then I thought, well, how do I get to the position where I know anything about this world?” After 15 years of covering the crime beat for both the Los Angeles Times and the Sun-Sentinel, Connelly was ready to write.

“I was always looking for things no one knew about,” says Connelly of his days covering  the crime beat. One such unknown has become the premise for Connelly’s character Mickey Haller. Haller appears in Connelly’s 16th novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, and is loosely based on a true to life Los Angeles defense attorney who works out of the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. The Lincoln Lawyer was released in 2005 and is Connelly’s first-ever legal thriller.

In the film adaption of The Lincoln Lawyer,  Mickey Haller will be played by none other than Matthew McConaughey. The fast-paced thriller will also include other well-known stars such as Ryan Phillippe and Marisa Tomei. Michael Connelly says that he is “comfortable with the changes” to his work in the film’s version, and that “they were able to capture the spirit of the book.”

The movie version of The Lincoln Lawyer is scheduled to open in theaters this Friday,  March 18, 2011. For more, link to The Lincoln Lawyer trailer or the official movie page at Lionsgate.

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

*all quotes in post taken from live interview with New Day

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Author Taylor Stevens Aims to Thrill with “The Informationist”

Cover Image“I have no desire to make a political statement or to educate. It’s like, if you enjoy it, that’s awesome. That’s enough for me.”

So states debut author Taylor Stevens in an interview piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram* earlier this week. Stevens recently released her first thriller “The Informationist” to high praise, and seems to have no agenda other than aiming to please.

The Informationist is a fast-paced thriller fueled by the high-octane character of information specialist Vanessa “Michael” Munroe. Munroe is inevitably being compared to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, but Stevens’s heroine Munroe seems to be holding her own. The New York Times calls The Informationist an “accessible, crisply told tale” and notes that Ms. Stevens “has a knack for both evocative details” and “strangely compelling character traits.”

The past life of Stevens is evocative in its own right, and those interested in the book will easily get snagged by her incredible bio. Admittedly, I knew nothing of the author’s past until I caught the blurb under Stevens’s picture on the jacket. “Born into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe, and denied an education beyond the sixth grade, Taylor Stevens broke free of the cult in order to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond.”

If sensation sells then Stevens should be in great shape. Not only is her book supposedly full of intrigue, but her life story is as well. Stevens was born into a cult known as the Children of God, which is now called The Family International. Stevens hopes, however, to downplay that side of her life which left her deprived of an education and locked away with no food for her attempts at writing at just fifteen years of age.

Fiction is tough to push and much is being made of Stevens’s past, which is no doubt generating added interest in The Informationist. However, Stevens seems to be straightforward in her interviews and pragmatic in her approach. “I hope that people feel it is worth their money and their time, which is even more valuable than money,” the author says in the Star piece, “But what I hope ultimately matters most to people is the fact that I can tell a good story.”

News sources indicate that Taylor Stevens will release her second Vanessa Munroe installment, The Innocent, sometime next year and has been contracted for a third book as well.

-Support your local bookstores, universities, and libraries. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Information/Links

The Informationist Trailer – Part 1

The Informationist Trailer – Part 2

The Informationist Trailer – Part 3

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Writers Live! Features author Heather Sellers

Cover ImageChances are, if you meet author Heather Sellers she won’t recognize you later – even five minutes later. This is not an act of snobbishness on behalf of the Hope College professor however, but rather the bizarre consequence of a disorder called “face blindness.”

Medically termed prosopagnosia, face blindness is a disorder that causes impairment in the recognition of faces. Prosopagnosia isn’t a vision problem, but one of memory that widely ranges in degree. Face blindness at its most severe can cause the lack of recognition of close friends, family, spouses or even one’s own children.

Until Sellers was in her 30’s, she had no idea what was wrong with her. While reading one day Sellers stumbled upon the term “face recognition.” The phrase immediately resonated with the author, and upon further research Sellers was finally able to tag a diagnosis to the blindness that had dogged her for so many years.

Sellers book, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face-Blindness, and Forgiveness, is a memoir of her experience with face blindness. While so many years of frustration might lead one to bitterness and anger, Sellers has found a certain peace and claims the disorder “has renewed my faith in humankind on a daily basis”.

If you live in or around Birmingham, Michigan, you’ll have a chance to hear Heather Sellers tell her story in person. The author and Hope College professor will be appearing at the Baldwin Public Library as part of their Writers Live! program.

According to the program site, Sellers will read excerpts from “You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know” and “talk about the process of writing a memoir and how telling our own story can help us to see others more clearly.” The Writers Live! appearance will take place at the BPL on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm. As always, please call first to confirm date and time.

Related Links

Oprah’s November Pick

NPR’s Living With Face Blindness: Who Are You, Again?

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone!

Friends Don't Let Friends Read Alone

Friends don’t let friends read alone, at least that’s what Baldwin Public Library’s Kathryn Bergeron believes. Bergeron is Baldwin’s systems librarian and also acts as the main facilitator of the BPL’s “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone” book club.

The club launched late last spring as the “Young Professionals Book Club” and was originally designed to draw in the college crowd. Though the library has several programs designed to engage the community’s older and younger populations, Bergeron felt the college-aged demographic needed to be addressed.

“College students come in to study and to get books and DVD’s and we wanted a chance to reach out to them,” noted Bergeron of the original idea behind the club. “There had been a lot of talk about an evening book club… so we kind of started there but we wanted to let it evolve a little bit and see what it wanted to become. Book clubs are kind of their own entity… they have their own personality.”

By fall that personality was taking shape, and the evolving book club changed its name to “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone.” “Most of the people who are in it are still young professionals, but it’s not limited to anyone,” shares Bergeron. “Anyone who wants to show up is more than welcome to. I think that the venue and the time lends itself more to young people, but we have other people… and I’m more than happy to see them.”

That venue is the Zuma Coffee House in Birmingham where the book club meets one Tuesday evening each month. The coffee house is a natural draw for the trendy set, but Bergeron also chose it as a show of community support. “We’ve worked with Zuma in the past and they’ve been very supportive of us… and we wanted to do something to give back to them… . We’re really grateful to Zuma for hosting us every month.”

So how does Bergeron make her title selections? “We have a collection of book club books, first of all, at the library and we pull from that… . We try to change up the books so that, yes, you might have one that is incredibly depressing but then the next one is going to be something probably more fun or more happy, so you can kind of juxtapose the books against one another.” The group just finished The Undertaking by poet Thomas Lynch  and will discuss Alexander McCall Smith’s  The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for their February title.

Overall, Katherine Bergeron is pleased with the success and growth of the book club. “… I’m really glad that it is something that we were able to try and I think that it’s worked out very well so far and I hope that it continues to blossom.”

The “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone” book club is open to all and will meet at Zuma Coffee House at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 to discuss The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Books are available upon request at the Baldwin Public Library.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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