Archive for June, 2010

If you liked “Hardcourt Confidential” – More Tennis Memoirs

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

  Hardcourt Confidential : Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches  by Patrick McEnroe  (Find this book in our catalog)

This has been garnering a lot of attention recently on television and in the press. “Professional tennis player, coach, and ESPN commentator McEnroe pulls back the curtain and presents and honest, no-holds-barred look into the ultimate gentlemen’s sport and the larger-than-life personalities that inhabit it.” (catalog notes)

If you liked this inside look into the world of professional tennis,  you may like to try these:

  On the line by Serena Williams

  Open: an Autobiography by Andre Agassi

  Getting a Grip: on my Body, my Mind, my Self  by Monica Seles

  A Champion’s Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis by Pete Sampras

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Angel Tungaraza is a wonderful and compassionate woman, who bakes cakes in Rwanda in the aftermath of the atrocities there.  Through her business and her friendships, we are able to listen to the stories of many of the people in her town. Some are happy, some troubled, and some throw light on the terrible things that occurred there. The authenticity of some of the stories is obvious as Ms. Parkin was herself an advocate for and counsellor of women and girls who survived. This is a book packed with events. Although it has been compared to The Ladies Detective Agency stories by Alexander McCall Smith, it is different in the style of writing, and in shedding light on a darker side of Africa. Ultimately it is full of joy and hope for reconciliation in Rwanda, and Ms. Parkin has introduced the reader to an interesting new character. 

For information on this book, to find book discussion questions and to read more about the author, click on the link below.

The Queen’s Dollmaker by Christine Trent

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Claudette, the daughter of a dollmaker, loses her parents in a fire that sweeps Paris. After fleeing to London and enduring much, Claudette begins to make dolls as she was taught by her father. As she becomes successful, she is noticed by the wealthy socialites of the city and, eventually, Marie-Antoinette herself asks to meet her. Little does Claudette know, however, that her friendship with Marie-Antoinette will bring her close to death as the blade of the guillotine rises and falls. This is a sumptuous period piece that gives insight into the life of Marie-Antoinette as the French Revolution begins. Though Claudette’s naivete is sometimes frustrating this is a very enjoyable and interesting book, with intrigue, romance and adventure. Recommended for any reader of historical fiction or romance. Book discussion questions are included at the back of the book.

Information on Christine Trent and her love of books and dolls may be found at

Mystery Award Winner – Jump by Tim Maleeny

Monday, June 28th, 2010

  Jump (Find this book in our catalog) by Tim Maleeny, was a Gold Medal winner in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year awards, Fiction-Mystery category.

This is what it says about Jump in our catalog:  “When the most hated landlord in San Francisco takes an unexpected jump off the roof of his own building, it isn’t too hard to find suspects. But the police want to call it a suicide, since both the Mayor and press are complaining about the dismal closure rate for homicide investigations. But ex-cop Sam McGowan knows it was murder. He also knows that anyone living on the top floor of the building should be a suspect, including himself. So Sam decides to get to know his neighbors…”

“This is one hilarious yarn, even though bloodshed begins with the first sentence. The initial spurt of gore emanates from Ed Lowry, a loathsome San Francisco landlord who has either fallen or been pushed from the top of the building that houses one of the most bizarre collection of tenants since One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. The “straightest” of these oddballs is Sam McGowan, a recently retired cop still mourning his wifes death from cancer and trying to decide if he should get mixed up in investigating the landlords demise. He does, of course, and soon discovers that virtually every one of his fellow residents had reasons for wishing the landlord dead.”  Read more of the ForeWord review…

Sail Away for Summer with Stories of the Sea

Friday, June 25th, 2010

  Seaworthy : a swordboat captain returns to the sea by Linda Greenlaw  Find this book in our catalog

“Linda Greenlaw hadn’t been bluewater fishing for ten years – not since the events chronicled in the books The Perfect Storm and The Hungry Ocean – but when her lobster traps aren’t paying off, her truck is on its last gasp, and the bills are piling up, she decides to take a friend up on his offer and captain a boat for a season of swordfishing. A decade older, and with family responsibilities, she’s a different person heading out to sea, but any reluctance is quickly tempered by the magnetic lure of adventure. And the adventures begin almost immediately: The ship turns out to be rusty and ancient, and even with a crew of four Greenlaw is faced with technical challenges. There are the expected complexities of longline fishing and the nuances of reading the weather. Her greatest challenge, however, comes when the boat’s lines inadvertently drift into Canadian waters and Greenlaw is thrown in jail. Capturing the moment-by-moment details of her journey, Greenlaw tells a story about human nature and the nature around us, about learning what can be controlled and when to let fate step in. Seaworthy is a compelling narrative about a person setting her own terms and finding her true self between land and water.”  (catalog notes)

   North by Nortwestern: a seafaring family on deadly Alaskan waters by Sig Hansen and Mark Sundeen  Find this book in our catalog

“The captain took a drag on the cigarette and pushed through the door of the wheelhouse to the upper deck. He was met by a blast of arctic cold as he emerged into a frozen nightmare. Icicles clung to the eaves of the wheelhouse, and a crust of ice was caked on the rails. The boat rocked and pitched. Out in the dark gray morning he saw dim flashes of whitecaps, but mostly the monstrous waves were invisible, they were ghosts…”

  Seized: a sea captain’s adventures battling scoundrels and pirates while recovering stolen ships in the world’s most troubled waters by Max Hardberger  Find this book in our catalog

Seized throws open the hatch on the shadowy world of maritime shipping, where third-world governments place exorbitant liens against ships, pirates seize commercial vessels with impunity, crooks and con artists reign supreme on the docks and in the shipyards-and hapless owners have to rely on sea captain Max Hardberger to recapture their ships and win justice on the high seas.  A ship captain, airplane pilot, lawyer, teacher, writer, adventurer, and raconteur, Max Hardberger recovers stolen freighters for a living.  In Seized, he takes us on a real-life journey into the mysterious world of freighters and shipping, where fortunes are made and lost by the whims of the waves.  Desperate owners hire Max Hardberger to “extract” or steal back ships that have been illegitimately seized by putting together a mission-impossible team to sail them into international waters under cover of darkness:  a high stakes assignment – if Max or his crew are caught, they risk imprisonment or death.  Seized takes readers behind the scenes of the multibillion dollar maritime industry, as he recounts his efforts to retrieve freighters and other vessels from New Orleans to the Caribbean, from East Germany to Vladivostak, Russia, and from Greece to Guatemala.”  (catalog notes)

  Deadliest Sea: the untold story behind the greatest rescue in Coast Guard history by Kalee Thompson  Find this book in our catalog

“”The Perfect Storm” meets “Deadliest Catch” in this gripping true-life adventure story that recounts the tragic sinking of the “Alaska Ranger,” and one of the most remarkable rescue missions in maritime history.”  (catalog notes)

Book to Movie – Winter’s Bone

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

  Out recently in limited release is the movie, directed by Debra Granik and Winner  Best Picture at the Sundance Film Festival,  Winter’s BoneRead more…

The movie is based on Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (Find this book in our catalog).

“When Ree Dollys father skips bail, the 16-year-old knows if he doesn’t show up, her family will lose their home. Her goal had been to leave her life of poverty and join the Army, but first she must find her father, teach her little brothers to fend for themselves, and escape a downward spiral of misery.”  (catalog notes)

Orange Prize for Barbara Kingsolver

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

  On Wednesday, June 9 Barbara Kingsolver won the Orange Prize for her novel, The LacunaFind this book in our catalog

The Orange Prize for Fiction aims to ‘promote accessibility, originality and excellence’ in writing by women.  Read more…   “We chose The Lacuna because it is a book of breathtaking scale and shattering moments of poignancy.” – Daisy Goodwin, chair of judges.

This is what it says in our catalog:  “In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities. Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico-from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City-Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence. Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America’s hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. He finds support from an unlikely kindred soul, his stenographer, Mrs. Brown, who will be far more valuable to her employer than he could ever know. Through darkening years, political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach-the lacuna-between truth and public presumption. With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist-and of art itself. The Lacuna is a rich and daring work of literature, establishing its author as one of the most provocative and important of her time.”

RUSA Fantasy Choice – Lamentation by Ken Scholes

Monday, June 21st, 2010
  Lamentation by Ken Scholes (Find this book in our catalog) was named as the most outstanding fantasy book of 2010 by the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association.  RUSA honored the book in their annual Reading List, which seeks to highlight outstanding genre fiction that merit special attention by general adult readers and the librarians who work with them.
This is what it says about the book in our catalog:  “An ancient weapon has completely destroyed the city of Windwir.  From many miles away, Rudolfo, Lord of the Nine Forest Houses, sees the horrifying column of smoke rising. He knows that war is coming to the Named Lands.  Nearer to the Devastation, a young apprentice is the only survivor of the city…  Soon all the Kingdoms of the Named Lands will be at each others’ throats, as alliances are challenged and hidden plots are uncovered.  This remarkable first novel from an award-winning short fiction writer will take readers away to a new world – an Earth so far in the distant future that our time is not even a memory; a world where magick is commonplace and great areas of the planet are impassable wastes.  But human nature hasn’t changed through the ages:  War and faith and love still move princes and nations.”
Other books like Lamentation in our catalog:
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
Acacia. Book One, The War With the Mein by David Anthony Durham

Award-Winning Military History Book

Thursday, June 17th, 2010
  If Not Now, When?: Duty and Sacrifice in America’s Time of Need by Jack Jacobs (Find this book in our catalog) won earlier this year the Colby Award.  Named after the late ambassador and former CIA Director William E. Colby, the prize recognizes a first work of fiction or nonfiction that has made a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs.
This is what it says about the book on the Colby Award website:  “In his memoir, If Not Now, When?, Jacobs describes his childhood in post-World War II New York City, his experiences at Rutgers University where he joined the ROTC program, and how that decision eventually led him to his service in Vietnam.  As an advisor to a Vietnamese infantry battalion, Jacobs was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 13 allied soldiers during an intensive firefight despite severe wounds.”

Jen’s Jewels with Lauren Belfer

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Modern medicine is fascinating. We all know that the medical breakthroughs that scientists discover today will significantly change the world in which we live. With the help of technology, the wealth of resources available gives us hope that cures for arthritis and cancer are on the way. It’s hard to imagine how disease affected our world, even just fifty or sixty years ago, before today’s common vaccinations were discovered.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Lauren Belfer tackles that very question in her latest release, A FIERCE RADIANCE. Author of The New York Times Best-selling novel CITY OF LIGHT, she takes the reader on a fictional journey into the discovery of penicillin in her spell-binding new novel. Incorporating true medical advances of the 1940’s within the framework of her romantic suspense tale, she creates the perfect novel to kick-off the long, summer months.

As part of this interview, Harper Collins Publishers has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your summer reading.

Jen: The path to publication can sometimes be as interesting as the story itself. So that my readers may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Lauren: I grew up in Buffalo, New York, where my dad taught high school history and my mom taught art and design at the local college. I attended Swarthmore College, outside Philadelphia, where I majored in Medieval Studies. After graduation, I moved to New York City. I have an M.F.A. in fiction from Columbia University. I’ve worked as a paralegal at two law firms, as a fact-checker at several magazines, as an assistant photo editor at a newspaper, and as a file clerk at an art gallery. For eight years, I worked at CBS News, where I started as a secretary, and afterward I worked freelance in documentary film production as a researcher and associate producer.

Jen: What was the driving force behind your decision to become an author? Did you dive in head first, or did you write while working?

Lauren: I decided to become a fiction writer when I was six years old. I can’t recall what prompted this decision. I do remember that I always enjoyed hearing and telling stories. One day I woke up and knew that I wanted to become a writer. Except for a time in my early 20s when I thought about becoming a photojournalist, I never wavered in that conviction. When I was eight and nine years old, I wrote stories about animals and about powerful princesses. In high school I wrote poetry, for which I received rejection letters from all the best publications around the country. After I finished college, I still dreamed about becoming a fiction writer, but I had to earn a living, too. I’d get up early, before going to my job, to work on novels and short stories.

The first short story I ever published was rejected 42 times before it found an editor who loved it. The second short story I published was rejected only 27 times. This felt like a huge triumph, to go from 42 rejections to 27. All these rejections taught me a lesson about the subjectivity of literary judgments: what one reader hates, another reader loves. Submitting the work for publication is what matters. Persistence has been the hallmark of my writing life.

Jen: Your first novel, CITY OF LIGHT, became a New York Times Best-selling novel. For those readers unfamiliar with your work, please give us a brief overview of the plot.

Lauren: CITY OF LIGHT takes place in my hometown, Buffalo, New York, in 1901 – a time when Buffalo was one of the centers of the nation, one of the most vibrant, exciting, and prosperous places in the country. In 1901, hydroelectric power was being developed in nearby Niagara Falls, and electrification was transforming society. I grew up in Buffalo during its bleak years of recession, however, and I didn’t even know about its glory days when I was young. I learned about this years later, when I happened to stop by the local historical society when I was in town visiting my parents. Once I discovered the city’s glorious past, I felt compelled to portray it in a novel. CITY OF LIGHT centers on a strong, independent woman, Louisa Barrett, whose position as headmistress of a prominent school for girls gives her access to the most important people in the city. But Louisa has a secret, and everything she does is to protect that secret.

I was very lucky with CITY OF LIGHT, which was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book, a Library Journal best book of the year, a number one BookSense pick, and a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. City of Light was a bestseller in Great Britain and has been translated into seven languages.

Jen: In terms of the creative process, what was the most challenging part of writing your first novel? And, what did you learn about yourself in the process?

Lauren: CITY OF LIGHT took six years to research and write, and I did the research and writing simultaneously. Often I’d discover something unexpected in my research that I decided to include in the novel, and I’d work it into the lives of the characters. For example, one day when I was waiting in the library for some rare books to be brought out, I glanced at a history magazine which included an article about the awful conditions in orphanages around 1901. What I read was so horrifying that I knew I had to portray it in my novel, and I created a subplot to include this. Alternately, as the characters took on lives of their own, they’d become interested in various issues that in turn I’d research, so that I could help them pursue their interests. (I say this somewhat facetiously, but in fact, when fiction writing is going well, the characters do seem to take over.)

During the six years that I worked on CITY OF LIGHT, I sometimes wondered if anyone would ever want to read what was turning into a five hundred page book about Buffalo. Sometimes I felt despair about whether I would be able to combine all the subplots I had in mind and keep the plot suspenseful for the reader. Whenever I thought about giving up, however, I remembered the 42 rejections for my first published short story, and the 27 rejections for the second, and I pushed myself forward.

Jen: Your latest release, A FIERCE RADIANCE, is a superb historical novel which includes intrigue, romance, and even espionage. Set in New York City in December 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it follows the scientific discovery of penicillin as a viable medication. How did you arrive at the premise? And, what made you want to explore this topic?

Lauren: The topic of A FIERCE RADIANCE is very personal to me and touches on my own family. For all the years I knew her, my aunt kept on her bureau a photo of her brother in the 1920s, when he was 9 or 10 years old, a blond boy paddling a canoe with his father, both of them laughing, in high spirits. This was the last photo she had of him, because he died at age 11 from a fast-moving infection contracted after a Fourth of July celebration. Antibiotics probably would have saved his life – except antibiotics didn’t exist then. Years after his death, my aunt mourned him. She reflected on the future he was denied and told me about the never-ending anguish of her parents. The light and happiness went out of her parents’ spirits after he died, she said, and she grew up in a home filled with sadness. Her mother never hugged her again, and her father slipped into depression. I wondered how different my aunt’s life would have been, and the lives of her parents, if he’d survived.

When I spoke to friends about this story, they often responded by telling me stories of their own: about a grandmother or grandfather, an aunt or uncle, a brother or sister, son or daughter, who died from a sore throat, or from the scratch of a rose thorn, or from a blister caused by new shoes – the story of a beloved family member who died because antibiotics didn’t exist.

These stories compelled me to write A FIERCE RADIANCE.

Jen: In terms of research, approximately how much was needed in order for the story to ring true with its readers? And, what was one of the most fascinating facts you uncovered?

Lauren: I struggled with how much science to put into the novel so that readers could understand the issues involved with the development of antibiotics but not be overwhelmed by this part of the story. I never lost track of the fact that I was writing fiction – about individuals and their families. The science had to be presented through the eyes of the characters and through their struggles and dreams. I knew nothing about the history of antibiotics when I began to work on the novel, and the research took years. In trying to learn and understand this history, I felt as if I were learning a foreign language – and I had to become fluent in this language, before I could create rounded, believable characters who were living and pursuing the science every day.

The most compelling piece of information I learned during my research was that antibiotics won’t work forever. The problem of resistance has already become so severe that several strains of bacteria are resistant to even the strongest antibiotics. Scientists are trying to develop new types of antibiotics, that will kill infectious bacteria in new ways, but it’s a tough battle. My great fear is that in a few decades we’ll return to the era when children died from a scratch on the knee.

Jen: Your main character Claire Shipley, a well-respected photographer for Life Magazine, is given the monumental assignment of documenting the clinical trials of penicillin. Why did you choose to tell the story from a woman’s perspective?

Lauren: I always conceive my stories and plot lines from a woman’s perspective. I hope I create strong male characters, too, but my lead characters are female. This gives me (as a fellow woman) a passionate concern for the complex issues that motivate the central characters in my novels. I need to feel close to my characters in this way, and give them some of the experiences which I’m familiar with, in terms of raising children, being married, and balancing work with family life.

Jen: Her love interest, Dr. James Stanton, is the mastermind, if you will, behind the trials. Why does he allow Claire to play an active role in the process? What does he see in her that allows him to let down his guard?

Lauren: James Stanton first meets Claire Shipley in her professional capacity, as a prominent photographer for Life Magazine assigned to do a story on a medical test that he’s conducting. They fall in love as equals, each successful in their chosen work. Claire’s independence allows him to let down his guard. Later they discover the vulnerabilities that each has tried to hide.

Jen: How does Claire’s relationship or lack thereof, with her ex-husband significantly impact the way she deals with her estranged father and even with Dr. Stanton? Is her need for independence merely a defense mechanism to protect herself from further disappointment and pain?

Lauren: Independence is part of Claire’s nature. Because she’s so independent-minded, she reacts to disappointment and pain by taking refuge in her confidence that she can support herself and her son both emotionally and financially.

Jen: Detective Marcus Kreindler has the gargantuan task of finding the killer despite the roadblocks from the government. What about this case makes it so personal for him?

Lauren: For Detective Marcus Kreindler, this case is indeed very personal. He thinks of the murder victim (and I don’t want to reveal too much to people who haven’t read the book) as his daughter. He’ll do anything to find the killer. In a broader sense, he’s fiercely independent, with years of work experience, and the more the government fights him, the stronger his commitment becomes to resolve the case on his own terms.

Jen: Consisting of over 500 pages, this novel depicts a volatile period in our country’s history. You touch briefly upon the Japanese internment camps mandated by FDR. In your opinion, what can we do to ensure that history will not repeat itself in spite of the constant threat of terrorism in our country today?

Lauren: History is constantly repeating itself, and sadly I’m not sure there is anything that we, as individuals, can do to stop this. Blind prejudice tends to triumph when people are afraid, or are made to feel afraid, about their futures and the futures of their families. As a fiction writer, I’m interested in how individuals react to the pressures put upon them by their societies and by history itself.

Jen: What do you hope your readers take away from this novel?

Lauren: Most important, I hope readers will enjoy A FIERCE RADIANCE as a good story, with compelling characters. I hope readers will come to care about these characters, about their choices and their fates, as if the characters were members of their own families. I also hope readers will take away a sense of the fragility of life, and of the appreciation we must always have for our loved ones, who can be taken from us in an instant, whether from war, or disease, or an accident crossing the street.

Jen: What’s next for you?

Lauren: I’ll be spending the next few months visiting book stores to talk about A FIERCE RADIANCE. After so many years spent home alone writing, I can’t wait to be out in the world again meeting readers.

In addition, I’m well into my third novel – but I’m very superstitious about work in progress, so I can’t say anything more than that.

Jen: Do you have a website? E-mail notification of upcoming releases? Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Lauren: My website is

On the HarperCollins website, readers can sign up for Author Tracker, so they’ll know where I’ll be appearing. And I love to do phone chats with readers and learn what’s moving and interesting to them. Readers can contact my publicist at to set up events, or they can learn more about my novel at

Jen: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your touring schedule to stop by and chat with my readers. A FIERCE RADIANCE is a phenomenal novel. I look forward to seeing it at the top of the New York Times Best-seller List. Congratulations!

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Lauren. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail me at and you’ll win.

What is the name of the man in charge of the penicillin trial?

Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Cecily von Ziegesar, author of the popular Gossip Girls series. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…