Eliza Borné

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We all know the feeling. As the holidays approach, gifts must be bought, parties planned, food prepared, the house decorated. With the bustle of getting ready for Christmas, it’s easy to miss out on the best part of the season: the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Stress takes over, and the holidays become more of a chore than a time for celebration.

In new Christmas novels by Ann Pearlman and Richard Paul Evans, we’re encouraged to put that stress away and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. The authors aren’t subtle in pushing their messages. The back cover of Pearlman’s The Christmas Cookie Club sums it up nicely: at Christmastime, “The most important ingredient is love . . .”

Pearlman’s debut novel is based, in part, on a true story; the author herself has participated in a Christmas cookie club since 2000. The prologue to The Christmas Cookie Club lists the strict rules of the fictional version. On the first Monday of December, 12 women will get together and exchange cookies. Each must bring 13 dozen cookies to the party—the extra dozen to donate to a charity. No chocolate chip cookies are allowed, and every participant must share their recipes. (Lucky for us, Pearlman lists the recipes at the beginning of each chapter. The chocolate-almond bonbons look especially tasty.) Every year, the women use the club as a way to catch up, share joys and losses and get in the holiday spirit.

Each chapter of The Christmas Cookie Club is devoted to one of the 12 members. Marnie, the club founder and “head cookie bitch,” narrates the intertwining stories. The women span age and experience; they range from their thirties to their sixties. Throughout the book, we learn each woman’s story: one has lost a son and another has recently adopted a baby. One woman is involved in an affair, and another is happily in a relationship with a man half her age.

Readers with large groups of friends will love this story of women who support each other through tough times. They will agree with Marnie’s comment at the end of the novel: “And maybe love is, ultimately, the best we get. It doesn’t solve everything, but in spite of it all, it’s the most significant thing we have.”

Pearlman joins the likes of Wally Lamb, Garrison Keillor and Gregory Maguire as a newcomer to the holiday genre. A psycho­therapist, the author is best known for her memoir from 2000, Infidelity. Depicting the effects of marital betrayal on her grandmother, her mother and herself, Infidelity was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. In 2004, the memoir was turned into a Lifetime movie. CBS Films has already bought the rights to The Christmas Cookie Club.

A second chance
Richard Paul Evans is no stranger to Christmas fiction. His first novel, The Christmas Box, has become a holiday classic with more than 8 million copies in print. Taking the inspirational message of his story to heart, Evans is the board chairman of The Christmas Box International, a charity that funds shelters for abused or neglected children. Although he initially resisted being pegged as a “Christmas writer,” Evans now embraces the genre. To explain this choice, he says, “I love Christmas and its true gifts; the ones of family and friends and giving of ourselves, as well as its deeper messages of God’s love.”

The Christmas List is Evans’ 14th novel. This retelling of A Christmas Carol stars real estate mogul James Kier as a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge. Instead of receiving visits from ghosts of the past, though, Kier embarks on his personal transformation after seeing his own premature obituary. The newspaper mistakenly pronounced him dead when another James Kier dies. After the obituary is printed, Kier has the unusual opportunity to see what others think of his legacy. Business associates and “friends” post about him on the newspaper’s online message board. The verdict is not good. Kier is called “the Grinch, Scrooge, and the Bergermeister rolled into one.”

In an attempt to redeem himself before it’s too late, Kier seeks out five of the people he has caused the most harm. He asks each person on his “Christmas list” for forgiveness and tries to make amends—not always with success. At the end of the novel, Kier makes a simple—but to him, revelatory—proclamation: “If you have someone to love, you are lucky. If they love you back, you’re blessed. And if you waste the time you have to love them, you’re a fool.”

Both Pearlman and Evans deliver heartwarming, inspirational stories about withstanding loss and the power of love. These messages are not new, but they are worth remembering in the season of giving.

Drawing a lesson from an unwanted gift
Just one year after its publication, Glenn Beck’s novel, The Christmas Sweater, has become something of a Christmas classic. Published in the fall of 2008, the book went on to become a #1 New York Times bestseller. If you haven’t yet read Beck’s first foray into fiction, the season is right to read (or give) this sad but inspiring tale.

Beck tells the story of 12-year-old Eddie, a boy who is ungrateful when his mother gives him “a stupid, handmade, ugly sweater” instead of a bicycle. When Eddie’s mother dies a few days after Christmas, the boy learns a painful lesson about faith, love and family as he finds his way after this terrible loss. Beck has said that the novel is more fact than fiction, since his own mother died when he was 13.

This month, Beck will stage a Broadway-style show,  “The Christmas Sweater—A Return To Redemption,” which will be simulcast to select movie theaters nationwide. In this inspirational performance, the radio and TV personality will share the real-life events that inspired the novel and chronicle how the message of The Christmas Sweater has impacted others. Younger readers will also enjoy the newly released picture book adaptation of the novel, a perfect holiday treat.
 

We all know the feeling. As the holidays approach, gifts must be bought, parties planned, food prepared, the house decorated. With the bustle of getting ready for Christmas, it’s easy to miss out on the best part of the season: the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Stress takes over, and the holidays […]
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April 22, 2010, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and there is no time like the present to be an environmental advocate. To teach children about the consequences their actions have on plants and animals—and how small changes can help Mother Nature—picture books provide important lessons, simple instructions and fun illustrations.

Veteran author and illustrator Todd Parr (Reading Makes You Feel Good) gives children concrete reasons to care for the planet in The EARTH Book, a colorful first-person story. No task is too small; even the little things can “make a BIG difference.” For example, “I take the school bus and ride my bike because . . . I love the stars and I want the air to be clear so I can see them sparkle.” In passages such as these, Parr demonstrates the relationship between our choices and the environment: recycling equals a cleaner planet, using less bath water means helping the fish, bringing reusable bags to the market can conserve trees. The bright and blocky illustrations convey the diversity of life on earth, from carrots in the ground to big blue whales. Simple text delivers a powerful message, so early readers can discover—on their own—ways to commemorate Earth Day.

Save the animals, or they’ll be gone
Frances Barry celebrates the grandness of our endangered species—and how we can help them survive—in Let’s Save the Animals. The paper collage, lift-the-flap illustrations are a delight, and children will be entranced by the forest of the orangutan, the sea of the dolphin and the meadow of the butterfly. That joy will be sobered by the small-print facts on every page, such as one stating, “Amur tigers live in the forests of eastern Russia, which are being cut down.” The book’s final words pack a punch, stating that if we don’t save the animals, they will be “gone forever.” This message is echoed by a clever visual trick: One side of the flap shows silhouettes of endangered animals, but the opposite side of the flap is blank, showing a vast nothingness. The story ends on a positive note, however, explaining simple actions children can take to protect and save animals, from visiting a wildlife sanctuary to recycling paper.

“Cooking” for Mother Nature
Compost Stew is a rhyming how-to book on the importance of composting, the simple act of turning kitchen and yard waste into nutrient-rich soil. Mary McKenna Siddals’ energetic text shows how fun and easy it can be to turn “apple cores, bananas, bruised, coffee grounds with filters, used” into something “dark and crumbly, rich and sweet.” Ashley Wolff provides collage-style illustrations that portray a bustling and happy neighborhood where everyone is eager to help. Upon finishing this book, readers are bound to want to get in on the action, asking their parents about starting a compost heap. And Siddals ensures that their curiosity does not end with her book; she provides resources for aspiring composters, such as a web address with further instructions. The final page in the book is a “Chef’s Note”—or information on what (and what not) to put in a compost. (“Earth? Yes! Meaty? No! Synthetic? Stop! Natural? Go!”) This Earth Day, why not make a resolution to throw fruit peels, dryer lint and more in a compost instead of the trash can?

It’s the little things that count
We Are What We Do is a global movement to change the world one step at a time, based on the equation “small actions x lots of people = big change.” With 31 Ways to Change the World, the organization took suggestions from 4,386 children and compiled a list of earth-changing habits and activities, from “Don’t sing in the shower” (because shorter showers mean less wasted water) to “Stand up for something.” The book, which is intended for a middle-grade audience, is filled with cartoons, scribbles and photographs and has the feel of scrapbook. And it’s not all serious. Some tips, like “Talk trash to your parents,” are sure to leave kids in giggles (and energized to make a difference). The last tip in the book should be the most inspiring; readers are invited to fill in the blank with their own invented action to change the world, emphasizing the fact that saving the planet can start with you.

April 22, 2010, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and there is no time like the present to be an environmental advocate. To teach children about the consequences their actions have on plants and animals—and how small changes can help Mother Nature—picture books provide important lessons, simple instructions and fun illustrations. Veteran author and […]
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Jon Scieszka—author of hilarious children’s classics like The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs—is the king of boy books.

Although he doesn’t want to be pegged as an author who only writes for boys (“I have some of the craziest girl fans!”), Scieszka tends to write action-driven stories with goofy male characters. “I can hardly help it, having had five brothers and no sisters,” he said in an interview with BookPage.

It’s no secret that boys are usually slower to read than girls, have lower test scores and are less likely to read for fun. To combat this gap, Scieszka founded GuysRead.com, an interactive website filled with guy-friendly book suggestions divided into funny categories like “At least one explosion” and “Monkeys and/or apes.”

“Rather than imposing something from the top down, Guys Read is really the ultimate grassroots kind of movement,” Scieszka says. “We hear from our readers what they enjoy.”

Scieszka, who once worked as an elementary school teacher, says the current emphasis on standardized testing has made it even more difficult to connect boys with appealing books. “The whole country has followed this mania for testing, and it’s pushed it down to younger and younger grades, which has really had a terrible adverse effect on boys who are not developmentally ready. The boys are even less equipped to be successful in that world.”

The key to getting boys to read, Scieszka says, is to “show them a reason to want to be a reader, and support them in their interests.”

COMPETING WITH “THE SCREEN”
Another obstacle in getting boys to read is the instantly accessible entertainment available online and on television. That entertainment is more reachable than ever as younger kids have cell phones or even iPads, which Scieszka calls “just like crack or candy—some combination of both.”

The rewards that come from reading are “so different from what you get watching a screen, or even interacting with a screen,” Scieszka says, although he has become involved with creating different kinds of digital entertainment—like Spaceheadz, book one in his new series from Simon & Schuster.

Spaceheadz is about a group of aliens—two in the form of wacky kids, one in the form of a hamster—who invade Michael K.’s fifth grade class. Their mission is to get 3.14 million (and one) kids to say they are Spaceheadz—or else the world will turn off.

The aliens have learned everything they know about Earth from advertising, so their hilarious dialogue sounds like a kooky commercial mash-up. Readers are introduced to the story traditionally—through short, fast-paced chapters in a book packed with Shane Prigmore’s expressive illustrations—but they can continue it off the page with a whole slew of online media. For example, the hamster has a Twitter page, and Michael K.’s teacher has a website readers can really visit. There’s also a “Be SPHDZ, Save the World” website where kids can press a button to support the Spaceheadz cause. Since the website launched a few months ago, more than 12,000 kids have signed up.

Scieszka’s latest project is Funny Business, volume one of the Guys Read Library, which he edited along with Jordan Brown of Harper’s Walden Pond Press. Funny Business has a humor theme and is filled with stories from superstars such as Jeff Kinney, Adam Rex, Mac Burnett and Kate DiCamillo. (Scieszka is quick to point out that “there are plenty of women writers who have written stuff that really appeals to guys, too.”) He is now working on the second volume in the Library, a mystery- and thriller-themed book for which Brett Helquist is illustrating stories by the likes of Walter Dean Myers and Margaret Peterson Haddix.

In the introduction to Funny Business, Scieszka writes that he found “some of the best and funniest writers around” to contribute to the collection—but he explained in our interview that it’s not “the easiest potty humor.” Funny Business is what a guy might read when he needs something beyond those simpler stories.

“I really love the Captain Underpants stuff, how it mixed up visuals and text, but I know that just drives some people crazy,” Scieszka says. “There are misspellings intentionally in there—the grammar’s not right. The same thing happened to me when I was reading the Sweet Farts books or Sir Fartsalot. . . . It’s sort of like the cheap movie laughs when someone just gets kicked in the crotch. It’s sort of funny, but that’s not hard to do. There are a lot funnier things. So we always try to challenge our readers to aspire to something funnier, more thrilling, more mysterious.”

AN ONGOING ADVOCATE
During 2008 and 2009, Scieszka served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a post Katherine Paterson took over in January. Scieszka remains involved with the Children’s Book Council, “trying to promote children’s books in the best and most broad way.” A message he is passionate about now is the value of the picture book, which he says has “been a victim of that test mania of people thinking that their kids have to be overachievers,” a trend that garnered national attention with the publication of a recent article in the New York Times. The article reported that many parents are steering their children away from picture books in the belief that only chapter books can increase test scores—a claim that has provoked a furious backlash from many teachers and librarians.

“I think that’s a thing we can do out of the Ambassador program—talk to people and say, ‘no, go ahead, let your kids read picture books.’ They don’t have to have a test on everything.”

In all his years promoting books for boys, Scieszka has seen a great change in how people view the issue. Although boys’ test scores are “just as miserable” as they’ve always been, Scieszka says people can at least talk about the problem now. Ten years ago that was not the case; there was just an “unspoken understanding” that boys don’t read.

What is most exciting to Scieszka is the burgeoning credibility of genres that typically appeal to boys—like graphic novels, fantasy and science fiction.

He said, “A lot of those kinds of reading that I talked about way back when have really become accepted in the teachers and library world.”

Jon Scieszka—author of hilarious children’s classics like The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs—is the king of boy books. Although he doesn’t want to be pegged as an author who only writes for boys (“I have some of the craziest girl fans!”), Scieszka tends […]
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Want a behind-the-scenes look at the Pioneer Woman’s lifestyle? Assistant Web Editor Eliza Borné went to the ranch to interview Ree Drummond for our February issue—and came back with some video. Click through to watch! 

Want a behind-the-scenes look at the Pioneer Woman’s lifestyle? Assistant Web Editor Eliza Borné went to the ranch to interview Ree Drummond for our February issue—and came back with some video. Click through to watch! 
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Whether you’re planning a trip, imagining a radical move across the globe or simply hoping to explore from the couch, travelogues provide entertainment and inspiration.

BON APPÉTIT
The premise of Lonely Planet’s latest anthology is one upon which we can all agree: “Wherever we go, we need to eat.” In A Moveable Feast, edited by veteran travel writer Don George, eating is something to relish on trips—sometimes it’s even the point of the trip. Thirty-eight essays will take you from a hospitable yurt in Mongolia, where Stanley Stewart happily samples sheep intestines and fermented mare’s milk, to barbeque capital Kansas City, where Doug Mack and his father have some long-anticipated bonding time over a plate of heavenly ribs. The essays are short and easily digestible—A Moveable Feast would be perfect for stop-and-go reading while you’re in transit to your next destination (or for anytime you want to fantasize about being somewhere more exotic). In one of my favorite essays of the collection, Alexander Lobrano writes of getting “almost teary” as he muses on a “magical meal” in Portugal—pork and clams in tomato sauce, juicy chicken, fried potatoes and rice. You may find yourself salivating as you read about these fabulous food experiences and charming international characters, and the stories will inspire you to remember your own magical meals while traveling.

GOT THE BEIJING BLUES
There’s a lot to love about Alan Paul’s Big in China, a story about plunging into life in a foreign culture—and rocking out with a Chinese blues band. Paul and his wife moved their three young kids to Beijing after she got a posting as China bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. A journalist with a flexible schedule, Paul became one of the few male “trailing spouses” in their neighborhood in Beijing, an identity he embraced as it allowed him to pursue creative opportunities he never could have imagined prior to moving around the world. He wrote an award-winning column for WSJ.com titled “The Expat Life” and fronted a blues and jam band called Woodie Alan with three Chinese men and another American. The group rose to prominence in Beijing, and Paul writes poignantly about performing in a multicultural band that became like a second family. Besides telling a good story, Paul honestly addresses the complexity of uprooting kids, making career sacrifices for a spouse and living in a foreign land. He writes, “One of the lessons I had taken from expat life was that no one was destined to live by any single reality.” In Big in China, Paul learns that “home” is where the people you love happen to be.

THE HAPPIEST COUNTRY
Lisa Napoli’s Radio Shangri-La will undoubtedly be compared to Eat, Pray, Love—in both, women in the midst of midlife crises find peace on adventures far away from the U.S. But Napoli’s destination of Bhutan is no Bali. Americans rarely visit this small nation in South Asia because of a steep tourist tax and limited plane access, and the country is remarkably sheltered from outside influences: Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, is the only one in the world without a traffic light, and the king legalized television in the country just 12 years ago. Napoli was working for NPR’s Marketplace when a chance encounter led to an invitation to advise Kuzoo FM, Bhutan’s youth radio station. Sick of producing 90-second segments, Napoli “felt hungry for knowledge, deeper meaning, time to synthesize the world.” So she went to Bhutan in a time of great transition for the country: new king, new constitution, impending democracy. And though she initially envisioned a “media-free universe,” she quickly realized that new technologies in Bhutan meant that things were changing fast. Radio Shangri-La is as much about the charming characters at Kuzoo FM and the culture of Bhutan as it is about Napoli’s personal transformation. Readers will enjoy learning about a part of the world far different from our own, a place where success is measured not by GDP, but by Gross National Happiness.

NEW GUIDES FOR THE WORLD TRAVELER
Several travel publishers are introducing new series and destinations in 2011—here are some of the most notable additions.

•DK Eyewitness Guides: This popular series is getting an overhaul in 2011, with pull-out maps and a cleaner look. New destinations added this year include Back Roads Germany, Chile & Easter Island and Cambodia & Laos.

•Fodor’s Guides: Celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, America’s oldest travel guide company is adding Honduras & the Bay Islands, Prague & the Czech Republic, Venice & the Best of Northern Italy and Essential India to their roster of more than 600 destinations.

•Lonely Planet Discover Guides: Brand new in 2011, this series of focused, full-color, portable guides covers hotspots like London and Paris as well as less traveled destinations like Peru, China and Barcelona.

•Pocket Rough Guides: Billed as “slim, stylish and pocketable” these smaller versions of the best-selling Rough Guides are full-color and city focused—the 10 destinations include Barcelona, Prague and Rome.
 

Whether you’re planning a trip, imagining a radical move across the globe or simply hoping to explore from the couch, travelogues provide entertainment and inspiration. BON APPÉTIT The premise of Lonely Planet’s latest anthology is one upon which we can all agree: “Wherever we go, we need to eat.” In A Moveable Feast, edited by […]
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You don’t have to go to art school or commission a designer to have a beautiful home—but a tasteful design book will provide you with plenty of inspiration. In these four books, you’ll learn to mix high and low interiors and incorporate plenty of bright color. Filled with gorgeous photographs, design books make lovely gifts for a loved one or yourself, and will be at home on any coffee table for years to come.

NEUTRAL IS OUT
Katie Ridder founded her design firm in 1995 and has since become known for her bright color palette and international influence. Take one look at the mesmerizing pictures in Katie Ridder Rooms, and you’ll soon see why: These interiors are truly works of art, at once sunny and bright, extravagant and balanced. In her introduction, author Heather Smith MacIsaac explains what makes Ridder’s rooms special: “No matter how lavish a project, no matter its style and degree of sophistication, it remains accessible, family friendly, absolutely inviting, and subtly practical.” Though not everyone can spring for custom wallpaper or a custom sofa to fit the shape of a space, we can all project relaxed hospitality in clutter-free rooms. There are many tips here that will be of use to any DIY home decorator, like lining the backs of bookcases with beautiful paper, or painting a dining room in a dramatic color to transform it “from the runt of the litter into best in show.” (MacIsaac rightly notes that dining rooms are typically only used and “dressed up” for special occasions.) After reading this book, you’ll be itching to add drama and flair to your house with sari-like curtains or Chinese lanterns, an upholstered headboard in the bedroom and bold wallpaper in the bathroom—anything that ups the wow factor and, as Ridder says, the “delight factor.”

STYLE AS SWEET AS PIE
Even if you live above the Mason-Dixon Line, like your tea unsweet and would never say “y’all,” you can still find plenty of inspiration in Southern Living Style. The Southerners among us—bless their hearts—will joyfully take pride in their region’s many fabulous interiors. This inviting guide is divided by room, with additional sections on “Defining Southern Style” and before-and-afters. So what is Southern style? It can be modern or traditional, but a proper Southern-inspired room should include some sort of ancestral influence—whether a portrait of Grandmother, a chest passed down for generations or cherished monogrammed family linens. A Southern home will also invite entertaining, comfortably mix functionality with formality and not shy away from color. Alongside pretty pictures of rooms, in this book you’ll find tips from decorators on getting the looks for yourself, with advice for both major re-dos and budget-friendly updates. One of the handiest features is the “pulling it all together” pages, which explain how to assemble the players in each room, from the most essential furniture pieces to fun accessories that make the space your own.

DECOR FROM THE BIG EASY
Bryan Batt may be best known for his role as art director Sal Romano on AMC’s hit show “Mad Men,” but Big, Easy Style joyfully celebrates his passion for design and decor. Batt was born and raised in New Orleans, and his philosophy in both life and design is laissez les bons temps rouler—“let the good times roll.” Readers are encouraged to embrace color, follow their hearts when making design choices and not be afraid of making mistakes. Based on the photographs of Batt’s Crescent City carriage house, it is clear that he has plenty of fun with his own design choices, like hanging huge papier-mâché flowers on the wall in homage to Mardi Gras floats. A helpful feature of Big, Easy Style is Batt’s list of favorite colors; with names like Petticoat White, Chocolate Mousse and Blue Hydrangea, you’ll be eager to start picking out paint chips. Fans of “Mad Men” will appreciate the glimpses into Batt’s childhood and personal life—his family owned the beloved Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park—and anyone with a space to decorate will be energized by his helpful, happy advice, like to work toward synergy between “a home’s great style and its owner’s personal flair.” They’ll also want to make a jaunt to New Orleans, where Batt and his partner, Tom Cianfichi, have owned a home accessories boutique, Hazelnut, since 2003.

A HOUSE FIT FOR A BIBLIOPHILE
Since everyone at BookPage is a booklover, most of us have the same problem: where to stash all the evidence of our addiction. Damian Thompson turns book accumulation into an art form in Books Make a Home, a dream of a guide for any devoted reader. Learn how to store your books more effectively (so you’ll have room to buy more!); how to arrange your books in artful displays; how to organize your collection; and even how to care for your books. (Rule number one: Do not allow them to lean!) Are you cohabitating for the first time and need a solution for combining two libraries? Having guests come to stay and want advice on how to thoughtfully provide reading material? You’ll find plenty of ideas here. Not surprisingly, the stars of the stunning photographs in Books Make a Home are books—stored in sleek kitchens, cozy bedrooms, corridors, office nooks, living rooms and even “loos” (Thompson lives in East London). In a chapter about arranging books in children’s rooms, the author quotes education reformer Horace Mann, writing: “A house without books is like a room without windows.” Any bibliophile would surely agree, and Thompson’s book provides show-stopping ideas for what to do with your beloved tomes.

You don’t have to go to art school or commission a designer to have a beautiful home—but a tasteful design book will provide you with plenty of inspiration. In these four books, you’ll learn to mix high and low interiors and incorporate plenty of bright color. Filled with gorgeous photographs, design books make lovely gifts […]
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Home may be where the heart is, but what living space—no matter how beloved—couldn’t use a little sprucing up? From quick-fix projects to complete overhauls, these five books provide inspiration and guidance for adding style to your abode.

Sherry and John Petersik, the upbeat couple behind the popular blog younghouselove.com, cheer on DIY-ers in Young House Love. Filled with the Petersiks’ goofy humor and constant encouragement, this idea book is filled with “243 ways to paint, craft, update and show your home some love.” Even if you’ve never picked a paint color in your life—let alone undertaken a transformation of your entire house—you’ll feel bolstered to head to the nearest hardware store and get to it. Easy-to-browse, photo-filled chapters include suggestions for every part of your home, exterior included. The projects range from free (rearrange your living room); to inexpensive (make your own headboard); to pricier but worth the impact (hang wallpaper on a focal wall). Many of the projects are appropriate for apartment dwellers and renters, and decorators on a budget will appreciate the ideas for repurposing what you already have (the Petersiks are self-proclaimed cheapos). DIY newbies will gain confidence from this young couple’s advice to “embrace what makes you happy.”

HEART OF THE HOUSE

Canadian interior designer Candice Olson, host of “Divine Design” on HGTV, turns her eye toward what may be our most lived-in rooms in Candice Olson Family Spaces. Olson showcases a series of “challenges” and “solutions” to demonstrate how she took lackluster, cluttered and dated family rooms and turned them into stylish, highly functional spaces. And if you don’t happen to have a large basement lair just waiting for a makeover—or the budget to gut a room or buy custom cabinetry—Olson’s suggestions are still food for thought. (Organize a multipurpose space into zones; turn two stacked and slip-covered twin mattresses into a daybed, which can double as guest beds at night.) Some of her ideas are downright ingenious; I was stumped on how to configure a playroom/guest room/weight room until I saw the “after” picture of this particular re-do. (The clever solution involves panel doors that partition off not-kid-friendly weights.) This is a great guide if you want to organize your family room and give it some oomph.

HOMEY AND HIP

Uber-hip design team Robert and Cortney Novogratz—parents to seven children, successful house flippers, HGTV stars, proponents of a “vintage modern” aesthetic—give you the tools to capture their style in Home by Novogratz. The cheerful narration takes readers from the Pioneer Woman’s ranch in Oklahoma (where the designers redecorated an attic bedroom) to sunny Trancoso, Brazil (where they built a Swiss Family Robinson-?inspired tree house). The pages burst with color in this cool and friendly tome, which pays homage to both high-end furniture and quirky thrift store gems. One of the book’s handiest elements is the budget analysis at the end of every project; the tallies will help you know what you’re up against before you start planning your dream home. And if you’re not in the market for an updated urban pad—or beach cabana, as the case may be? You’ll still love the eye candy and the doable how-tos that would add flair to any home.

OBJECTIVE ART

Part memoir, part encyclopedia of objects, The Things That Matter by designer Nate Berkus is a passionate exploration of the stuff that gives life meaning. From a restless childhood in Minnesota, to his first job, to the nightmare of vacationing in Sri Lanka when the 2004 tsunami hit, Berkus describes his life—and his evolving philosophy of design. He also takes readers into the beautiful homes of 12 other people (along with his own), all the while telling the stories of the possessions that add spark to these knockout spaces. Because, as Berkus writes in his introduction: “The truth is, things matter. They have to. They’re what we live with and touch each and every day. They represent what we’ve seen, who we’ve loved, and where we hope to go next. They remind us of the good times and the rough patches, and everything in between that’s made us who we are.”

DESIGN AMERICANA

Thom Filicia found fame as one of the “Fab Five” on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and in American Beauty he further showcases his decorating chops. In 2008, Filicia passed a “for sale” sign in front of a house near Skaneateles Lake in central New York. He knew it was impractical to buy a property more than four hours from Manhattan, but Filicia recognized love when he felt it. He bought the Colonial-with-potential and embarked on fixing it up. This book—an ode to the Finger Lakes region and a testament to American design—chronicles that journey, empowering readers in the midst of their own renovations. Filicia’s enthusiasm for learning the provenance of his house and using local vendors for materials and furnishings is infectious; the tips on making smart design choices are useful. His ultimate message rings true: “All the time and effort spent collecting and purchasing is just the beginning. The design is in the living.”

Home may be where the heart is, but what living space—no matter how beloved—couldn’t use a little sprucing up? From quick-fix projects to complete overhauls, these five books provide inspiration and guidance for adding style to your abode. Sherry and John Petersik, the upbeat couple behind the popular blog younghouselove.com, cheer on DIY-ers in Young […]
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2015 BookPage Summer Reads

Two new novels set in privileged northeastern communities showcase the darker side of family life.

Julia Pierpont’s anticipated debut reminds readers of a universally acknowledged fact: It’s a strange feeling when you realize your parents are human. For most of us, it happens in late adolescence or even early adulthood—when Mom and Dad start speaking up about job conundrums or relationship woes, or even (God forbid) sex. 

Among the Ten Thousand Things hinges on a devastating event that forces Kay Shanley, 11, and her 15-year-old brother, Simon, to prematurely confront a painful secret. In an explosive opening scene, Kay intercepts a package from her father’s lover—a printed chronicle of his affair, complete with explicit emails and a cruel letter addressed to Kay’s mom, Deb, who was meant to receive the R-rated evidence. Once Kay and Simon learn of their father’s infidelity, nothing is ever the same—though the events after the crisis are neither neat nor predictable. 

The Shanley family is outwardly accomplished though inwardly troubled. Jack, the father, is an acclaimed, though controversial, artist (one memorable scene involves an installation art piece gone horribly, horribly wrong). Kay has trouble fitting in at school and understanding her father’s affair, and she expresses herself by writing smutty “Seinfeld” fan fiction. Simon is a computer game-playing, pot-smoking, sullen teenager—impatient with his sister and ticked off at both parents. Deb, a former professional ballerina and a doting mom, tries to keep life as normal as possible for her children while processing her anger at Jack.

Pierpont is a strong, confident writer, and her well-observed characters feel deeply human. She is also a deft storyteller; many readers will be floored by an unexpected narrative twist in the middle of the novel that upends the conventions of plot structure and adds depth to the second half of the book—a welcome, if initially unsettling, surprise. Among the Ten Thousand Things is an impressive debut—a family drama alternately bright and bleak from a gifted young author.

Read our Q&A with Julia Pierpont.

A NOT-SO-PERFECT SUMMER
Even bleaker is The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak, set in a “Connecticut postcard-perfect” town. In alternating chapters, the story is told by Cheryl, the second wife of a successful businessman, and her stepson, Teddy, who has recently been kicked out of Dartmouth. Both Cheryl and Teddy feel a deep dissatisfaction with daily life in Little Neck Cove, and throughout an eventful, often violent summer they turn to each other—not to mention painkillers and booze—to cope with neighborhood busybodies and gossips. 

Cheryl feels like an outsider among the Country Club set (it doesn’t help that her husband’s first wife fell drunkenly to her death off a dock). She is stuck in a loveless marriage; for pleasure, she anonymously calls random numbers from the phonebook to see who will respond to her sultry voice. Cheryl also holds a scandalous secret, the keeping of which creates much of the novel’s tension. Teddy binges on sex and drugs.

The Invaders is a stiff cocktail without a chaser: It will wake you up, though it’s hard to get down. It lacks subtlety and feels as though it were written to shock—though some scenes are also wickedly funny. Little Neck Cove seems like a terrible place to live, though readers won’t mind gawking at its melodramatic residents for a while before returning to their own, more peaceful lives.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 

Two new novels set in privileged northeastern communities showcase the darker side of family life.
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It’s been nearly a year since Defending Jacob, William Landay’s third novel, was published—but this chilling psychological thriller doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After months on the New York Times bestseller list, it recently came in at a whopping #3 on our Readers’ Choice list of the Best Books of 2012. (There’s also a movie in the works from Warner Brothers.)

Like John Grisham and Scott Turow, Landay is a former attorney who turned to writing crime fiction. Also like those superstars, he is adept at crafting an irresistibly suspenseful tale. Defending Jacob is about an assistant D.A. in an affluent suburban Massachusetts town whose life is completely turned upside down when his 14-year-old son is accused of murder. So what does he do next? The father sets out to defend his own son in court.

If you are one of the many readers who got hooked on Defending Jacob, I hope you’ll enjoy these suggestions for what to read next.


Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Novels like Defending Jacob are so compelling, in part, because they make us think about how life can irrevocably change in a single moment. In Lupton’s second novel (after 2011’s Sister), that moment is the outbreak of a fire at an elementary school—where Grace’s son is enrolled as a student and her teenage daughter works as a teaching assistant. Was it arson? And how are Grace’s children involved? Like Defending Jacob, this is a family-centered thriller that focuses on the great lengths a parent will go to protect his or her child.


Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

It may initially seem that a thriller and a massive nonfiction book have little in common—but in fact they address similar themes. How does a child grow up to commit criminal acts? How do parents react to major unforeseen life events? How do they move on after these events, if such a thing is even possible? For one chapter in his book, Solomon interviewed (and spent hundreds of hours with) the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre. This chapter is incredibly thought-provoking and sobering and would make an appropriate supplement to Defending Jacob—especially in light of the tragedy in Newtown, CT. (Solomon has written thoughtfully about that event, as well.)


Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

Bohjalian’s 1997 book about a midwife accused of murder (by performing an emergency c-section) is one of my favorite courtroom novels of recent memory, pitting doctors against midwives and townspeople against one another—all the while raising plenty of ethical dilemmas. Like Defending Jacob, this novel takes place in a small community and shows what it’s like for a family after a criminal accusation.


We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Defending Jacob begs comparison to Shriver’s 2003 Orange Prize-winning novel, in which a teenager commits a grotesque act of violence against his classmates. As you read descriptions of parental anguish and the violent actions of a disturbed boy, you will want to cover your eyes. For better or worse—this book may give you nightmares—you will be unable to stop reading thanks to Shriver’s clever plotting.


The Good Father by Noah Hawley

This is another natural pick for readers who enjoyed Defending Jacob. In both novels, the narrator is a father who is unable to believe that his son committed murder—though in this case, the son is an adult, and the victim is a prominent presidential candidate. Why did the son do what he did? Could his parents have prevented the act of violence? A harrowing (and heartbreaking) story.

It’s been nearly a year since Defending Jacob, William Landay’s third novel, was published—but this chilling psychological thriller doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After months on the New York Times bestseller list, it recently came in at a whopping #3 on our Readers’ Choice list of the Best Books of 2012. (There’s also a movie in the […]
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Everyone has a different opinion of Valentine's Day. It's a groan-worthy Hallmark holiday. The most romantic day of the year. An occasion to watch bad romantic comedies with friends. An excuse to eat an entire box of Russell Stover candies.

No matter how you feel, you can probably agree that books that celebrate love—whether pulse-pounding romantic love, obsessive love, familial love or love between friends—are books to cherish. In honor of Valentine's Day, we want to share our nine favorite literary love stories of the early 2000s. Now grab a hunk of chocolate and keep reading . . .

Bel Canto (2001)

Would any list of love stories be complete without this novel? The relationships in a group of terrorists and hostages sound anything but sexy—but trust me that this unusual cast will have you crying and sighing after about 30 minutes of reading. Bonus: You'll find yourself in love with opera after author Ann Patchett has cast her spell.
Read more in BookPage.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)

Audrey Niffenegger's story of Henry (a punk-loving, time traveling librarian) and Clare (an artist) has become a contemporary classic. It's clever, heart-breaking and romantic—and I envy the reader who hasn't discovered it yet.
Read more in BookPage.

The History of Love (2005)

"Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering." Need I say more about Nicole Krauss's wonderful book?
Read more in BookPage.

The Myth of You & Me (2005)

Leah Stewart's graceful story attempts to answer this central question: Can a friendship ever be mended once the bonds of trust have been shattered? This is one of our favorite novels about the complicated love between friends.
Read more in BookPage.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005)

Lisa See writes beautifully about two girls in 19th-century China who build a friendship that exceeds even their love for their own families.
Read more in BookPage.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) 

Junot Díaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel addresses teenage love, obsessive love, unrequited love and more. It's hip, high-energy and hysterical.
Read more in BookPage.

The Post-Birthday World (2007)

Lionel Shriver's cleverly constructed novel (think Sliding Doors) is about passionate love, comfortable love and the love that could have been. If you love to ask "What if?" this book is for you.
Read more in BookPage.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008)

This delightful novel about the people of the Channel Island of Guernsey includes a tender love story that will make your heart flutter. Even better, the novel itself is practically an ode to booklovers. (And the way author Annie Barrows finished the book for her dying aunt Mary Ann Shaffer is lovely, too.)
Read more in BookPage.

My Abandonment (2009)

This pick falls into the "unconventional" category of love stories, but we think Peter Rock's spare, haunting novel is one of the most fascinating stories of parent/child love published in recent years.
Read more in BookPage.

Everyone has a different opinion of Valentine's Day. It's a groan-worthy Hallmark holiday. The most romantic day of the year. An occasion to watch bad romantic comedies with friends. An excuse to eat an entire box of Russell Stover candies. No matter how you feel, you can probably agree that books that celebrate love—whether pulse-pounding […]
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Kathleen Krull has written about many prominent figures, from Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president; to Cesar Chávez; to Houdini. She has a reputation for integrating facts with interesting anecdotes, and packaging the whole story in a narrative that will keep children interested and curious to learn more.

Her latest book, The Brothers Kennedy, affirms this reputation. In it, Krull chronicles the lives of Joe, John, Robert and Edward Kennedy, starting when they were children in Boston, discussing current events at the dinner table and excelling in sports and at school. The boys developed a sense of fairness and public service at a young age, but they were also struck by tragedy. At 29, the oldest brother, Joe, died while serving in World War II.

As we all know, John and Robert died far too young, as well, and Edward was left to carry the family’s torch, serving in the Senate for 46 years until his death in 2009. Krull acknowledges these tragedies, but she does not dwell on them. Rather, she emphasizes the family’s remarkable accomplishments, such as President Kennedy’s putting a man on the moon, or Robert’s fight against poverty. Repeatedly, Krull evokes the qualities of hope, compassion and loyalty. She writes, “The brothers Kennedy inspired these in one another. And so they have inspired others ever since.”

Watercolor illustrations by Amy June Bates beautifully express the brothers’ lives. Some display happier times—campaigning for office; eating dinner as a family; jumping into Cape Cod. Other illustrations, such as Robert and Edward embracing after John’s death, capture the pain that the family knew.

Even young readers unfamiliar with the Kennedys will enjoy Krull’s telling of America’s most famous political family. With real quotes, a timeline and historical notes built into the book, they will gain an ample history lesson, in addition to hearing a good story. Perhaps most important of all, they will be inspired to serve others.

Kathleen Krull has written about many prominent figures, from Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president; to Cesar Chávez; to Houdini. She has a reputation for integrating facts with interesting anecdotes, and packaging the whole story in a narrative that will keep children interested and curious to learn more. Her latest book, The […]

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