Stephanie Szymanski

It all begins underneath a white crepe-paper wedding bell during a dull wedding reception. John's wearing a crumpled boutonniere, Jane's in a dress that hugs her in all the wrong places, and yet they find themselves wrapped up in clever and flirtatious repartee that somehow gets them wrapped up in each other in a cramped coat closet. After this initial intimate encounter, they decide that this random lusty moment could be the start of something substantial, romantic, maybe even refreshing. The near-strangers agree to tell each other all their dreams, passions and secrets through letters no e-mail in Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott. What follows are engaging, alternating chapters that reveal the lives of these two emotional roller coasters.

The letters open with quirky and charming nicknames Depraved Robin Hood, Freeway Flasher and the stories start to flow. The two trade tales of failed love affairs, including entanglements with a Parisian destined for mandatory military service, an attractive married couple, an unpredictable college dropout with a cowboy hat and a mysterious problem, a Latina man-eater, and a sensual pastry chef who is the mother of a poised and precocious six-year-old. Soon, the series of recklessly honest, witty confessions turns into something more as it becomes clear that John and Jane are reaching out for some kind of redemption, understanding and, most of all, love.

Almond, who teaches creative writing at Boston College, is best known for his memoir Candyfreak, and Baggott has published three previous novels and a book of poetry, as well as children's books under the pseudonym N.E. Bode. Their two-sided tell-all details the pitfalls of modern love and is sprinkled with death, love, punk bands and nasty run-ins with postal carriers. Which Brings Me to You is a sure to be the most insightful and intelligently written novel you've read in quite some time.

Stephanie Szymanski is a writer in Pennsylvania.

 

It all begins underneath a white crepe-paper wedding bell during a dull wedding reception. John's wearing a crumpled boutonniere, Jane's in a dress that hugs her in all the wrong places, and yet they find themselves wrapped up in clever and flirtatious repartee that somehow gets them wrapped up in each other in a cramped […]

When we first meet 17-year-old Lem Atlick, he's selling encyclopedias door-to-door in a south Florida trailer park in the blistering heat to earn money to go to Columbia University. Always the successful salesman, he is invited into the mobile home of an anxious married couple, Karen and Bastard, and despite his discomfort with their odd behavior, he attempts to sell his educational goods to them. However, this transaction is cut surprisingly and violently short when his two customers are shot right before his very eyes by a rather charming young man named Melford Kean, who prefers to operate under the title assassin, as opposed to murderer, and generously doles out lectures on the benefits of vegetarianism and Marxism.

Lem soon finds himself unwittingly hurled into a world full of corrupt police chiefs, lisping rednecks, a formerly conjoined twin with a mysterious schema, drug smugglers and hog lots that conveniently double as places to hide dead bodies, all while still trying to attain the affections of the charming, sole female saleswoman, Chitra. Staying alive and innocent has never been so difficult.

The Ethical Assassin is David Liss' first non-historical novel, which may surprise many of his fans. Though the setting is a departure for him, the story is still full of the intelligence, humor, intrigue and suspense that marked his earlier works, which include The Coffee Trader (2004) and the Edgar Award-winning  A Conspiracy of Paper (2001). This time, Liss takes his readers to the rural town of Meadowbrook Grove, right into the thick of its delicate and dangerous secrets. The reluctant hero's journey involving criminal affairs and bizarre characters is not only engaging, but also refreshingly funny. The Ethical Assassin is a vibrant novel that is difficult to put down.

Stephanie Szymanski is a writer living in Pennsylvania.

When we first meet 17-year-old Lem Atlick, he's selling encyclopedias door-to-door in a south Florida trailer park in the blistering heat to earn money to go to Columbia University. Always the successful salesman, he is invited into the mobile home of an anxious married couple, Karen and Bastard, and despite his discomfort with their odd […]

What would you do if your company had a shocking secret that only you knew? Anyone suspicious of contemporary corporations will love the answer provided by Australian author Max Barry, who offers an intriguing and extremely funny look at the business world in his new novel, Company. Barry, who sold computers for Hewlett-Packard before launching his writing career, depicts the irrational, paranoid and self-seeking aspects of corporate life with razor-sharp realism.

Fresh out of business school, Stephen Jones is eager to make an impression at his new job in Training Sales for the Seattle-based Zephyr Holdings. However, it soon becomes clear to Jones that he doesn't actually know what Zephyr Holdings does, and none of his co-workers seem to know either. Jones vows to get to the bottom of why the company's customers are all internal, why the attractive receptionist who is rarely behind the desk drives a better car than most of the other employees, why elevator buttons suddenly go missing, and, most importantly, who took the sale representative's donut.

Jones quickly realizes that discovering the truth is not all that it's cracked up to be, and his ethics are put on the line as he learns Zephyr's actual purpose and realizes that Zephyr employees aren't actually what they think they are. Forced to become a cog in the company's secret machine, Jones promises to expose the corporation for what it really is without losing his job, the trust of his co-workers or the admiration of the enticing and enterprising Eve Jantiss.

Barry's voice is fresh and full of deadpan wit as he scrutinizes everyday ordinary events and proves them to be bizarre and, more surprisingly, real. Those who are not business-savvy won't feel lost; the book's language and tone are accessible to everyone, and readers will get wrapped up in the modern-day environment and engaging characters who are obsessed with working out, ceramic bears and not getting fired. Company is an entertaining page-turner that is sure to have readers looking at their own place of employment in a brand-new and critical way.

Stephanie Szymanski is a writer in Pennsylvania.

What would you do if your company had a shocking secret that only you knew? Anyone suspicious of contemporary corporations will love the answer provided by Australian author Max Barry, who offers an intriguing and extremely funny look at the business world in his new novel, Company. Barry, who sold computers for Hewlett-Packard before launching […]

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