Category Archives: Books

K.J. Howe is not a mystery: She simply has written a damn good thriller, “The Freedom Broker”

We were fascinated by The Freedom Broker (Quercus, $26.99), the debut novel by K.J. Howe. Actually, it’s better described as a mystery . . . a book that almost drowns readers as they swim throughout the world of freedom brokers, those whose sole job is to brings hostages home. “You’re alive,” says Howe, “but not really living, dependent on your captors for absolutely everything.” The tome introduced us to The tome introduced us of Thea Paris, a female freedom broker.

Those who know us know we relish the underbelly of life (think Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapped; better yet, think about Patty Hearst) so we wanted to chat with Howe about her words and wisdom, hoping there’s another trip to Paris.

There are many authors writing mysteries. How did you make sure your book idea was fresh and different?

From where do ideas come?
Growing up, I lived all over the world, as my father worked in telecommunications. I experienced many adventures in places like Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Austria and Switzerland. Several locales had a shadow of danger associated with them, so when I started writing, I chose the international thriller genre. It was an ideal fit.  I discovered there were a group of 30 elite kidnap negotiators who travel to the globe’s hotspots to bring hostages home. This led to the creation of Thea Paris.  For Thea, rescuing hostages is more than a job; it’s a calling, as she had a very personal experience with kidnapping when her brother was abducted at 12.Image result for K.J. Howe

Kidnapping intrigued me; it’s a purgatory of sorts. Hostages have to deal with intense hardship, loneliness, boredom and the terror of waking up every day wondering if it might be their last. I’ve spent the last three years immersed in this world to bring verisimilitude to the series.  I have the deepest respect for these freedom brokers who risk their own lives to help people in captivity.

For me, ideas tend to sprout when I’m researching a topic, and the story grows from there. When I read novels, I like to be entertained and also learn something.  I tried to integrate interesting facts about kidnapping in The Freedom Fighter so that people can understand more about this international growing crisis.

I know you worked with and interviewed Dr. Frank Grimm and Peter Moore before stepping in the shoes of a K&R negotiator. What did you learn that surprised you? What pre-conceived notions were blown away?
Spending time with these experts has been an illuminating experience. There are over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year—and that means around five people are abducted with every hour that passes.  Kidnapping has become an international crisis, and the problem continues to grow; terrorist organizations are using it as a fundraising mechanism, and displaced military and police in struggling countries are turning to kidnapping as a way of putting food on the table for their families.

One shocker was on the insurance side of the business. It is the one type of insurance where if benefactors know they are covered, the insurance may be null and void.  The reason for this is to protect against people “kidnapping” themselves and collecting the ransom.  Kidnap and ransom insurance coverage can go up to 50 million dollars.

It used to be that targets were mostly executives in foreign countries and high net-worth individuals. This is no longer the case.  Journalists, aid workers, missionaries and everyday people are targeted.  It’s important to be cautious if you are traveling to an area where there is a high risk of kidnapping.  My website www.kjhowe.com has a  map of the world that highlights hot zones.

Are you a mystery reader? Who are some favorite authors?
Crime fiction is my favorite genre. I’m an avid fan of authors like Greg Iles and his incredible Natchez Burning trilogy; David Morrell, the creator of Rambo and author of more than 40 bestsellers; Andrew Gross, whose latest book The One Man really resonated with me; and Lisa Gardner, as every book she writes is a guaranteed great read.

Are you scared to read mysteries at night?
I don’t mind dark fiction, day or night. I find it fascinating.  That said, sometimes I am scared to start a good crime novel in the evening, as I might stay up all night reading it!

Do you know Mary Roberts Rinehart, highly regarded as the first female mystery author who is now an icon?
Yes, if I’m not mistaken, the talented author of The Circular Staircase is attributed with creating the well-known phrase, “the butler did it” in her novel The Door, where the butler actually did the crime. Mary also spoke publicly about her breast cancer in 1947 when health issues were not openly discussed.  She was a trailblazer in the book world, and I have a great deal of respect for her work.

You both gave us thrills. Talk about Thrillerfest.
It is a conference held every July in Manhattan for thriller enthusiasts. I have the honor of being the executive director of this week-long event.  We welcome more than 1,000 people, including some of the top names in the genre.  We host a day at the FBI, where special agents talk about their area of expertise.  We also offer an event called PitchFest where aspiring authors pitch their novels to agents, editors and producers.  Add in workshops, spotlight interviews, panels and cocktail parties, and we have summer camp for anyone who loves page-turning fiction.  This year, we have a blockbuster line-up that includes Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, C.J. Box, Nelson DeMille, Charlaine Harris, Steve Berry, J.A. Jance, and many others.  Visit thrillerfest.com for more information.

I have Type II diabetes. My mother had Type I, and I know the struggle of living with the disease. Having known Mary Tyler Moore, who did much to fight diabetes, I know the struggles she confronted. What are your struggles? What keeps you from reaching for a piece of gooey cake you know you should not (must not?) have?
There are more than 29 million Americans who have this illness, and, sadly, the numbers are on the rise.  My character Thea Paris has Type 1 Diabetes.  I’m a former medical writer, and my grandfather had diabetes, so this issue strikes home with me.  I remember watching him inject himself with needles, and that left an indelible impression.  I wanted to feature a strong, talented woman with diabetes to inspire people with any chronic illness to keep striving for their dreams.  Anything is possible with the right determination.  As for that gooey cake, I try to always think long-term gain vs. immediate gratification!

 

Pregnant pause to read? Try “The Overly Honest Baby Book: Uncensored Memories from Baby’s First Year”

Your baby is turning one. Just think! Twelve glorious months of coo-cooing and goo-gooing. What wonderful memories!

Think again about that year and you’ll remember sleepless nights; peeing and pooing and changing the diapers at 3 in the morning; food on the floor, screaming and crying jags that seem to have lasted an hour. (Maybe it was really two hours?)

Let us introduce you to another member of the family: The Overly Honest Baby Book: Uncensored Memories from Baby’s First Year (Seal Press, $15). Dawn Dais’ slim hardbound volume is not only useful . . . it’s a perfect release for all the unwonderful baby memories.Displaying Overly Honest Baby Book cover.jpg A few samples:

The Year You Were Born (Also Known as the Year Your Parents Stopped Being Fun
Blanks to fill in include . . .
♥ The ways our generation is ruining everything for your generation
♥ Pack of condoms $ (wasted money)

Your Conception (So Much Magic and Maybe Also a Little Intoxication)
♥ How much booze was involved
♥ The number of turkey basters involved in this most natural of human processes
♥ The various curse words Mommy uttered when she saw the positive symbol on her pregnancy test

Our fave  is The Wide World of the Web (Mommy’s New Hobby: 2 a.m. Internet Searches)
♥ Can babies die from crying too much?
♥ Can parents die from ramming their own heads against a nursery wall?
♥ How much infant feces is too much infant feces in my mouth?

There are only places to paste in those perfect photos
♥ An ultrasound of your feet kicking Mommy’s bladder (your favorite way to pass the time)
The photo that crushed all our hopes that you would be the next Gerber baby

The illustrations by Jill Howarth add a delicious (and funny!) touch.

Ready for another kid?

Iggy Pop’s new film brings “Starlight” to the audience

Whenever I heard the name “Iggy Pop” I smile. Broadly. Karz-Cohl published his book (I Need More!) in 1982, followed by mine (Liza! Liza!, named on of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times). Now I learn that Cleopatra Entertainment LLC, the movie division of famed indie record label Cleopatra Records, has acquired all domestic rights to Starlight, a feature film by French film maker Sophie Blondy that has found a home on Blu-ray and VOD.

Set in the dunes near the North Sea, a small circus company is suffering from a serious lack of audience for their shows. Spectators are rare but the magic of the circus still thrives.

Each performer rehearses and performs new numbers, but this fragile balance will quickly shatter to unveil their real nature and their most obscure feelings. The circus will then become a place of romantic lust where each will use their powers to satisfy their desires.

Angele, the diaphanous ballerina, her clown lover Elliot and the circus ringmaster, full of cruelty and disturbed by fits of schizophrenia on one side. Zohra in love with Elliot, haunted by an uncanny conscience on the other side. Secrets, jealousy, envy will progressively take hold of them and trigger some irreversible acts. The life of the circus will then take a whole new turn. What does all this have to do with Mr. Pop? Iggy appears throughout the film as an “angel” type character.

Starlight was selected and screened at Tallinn-Black Nights Film Festival (Estonia, 2013); Montreal World Film Festival (Canada, 2013); Moscow-International Film Festival (Russia, 2013); Rendez-vous with New French Cinema in Rome (2013); and Rotterdam International Film Festival (Netherlands, 2013).

Jeffrey Kluger’s revisits the world and wonders of Apollo 8

The Apollo 8 mission was equal parts fearless and reckless, ingenious and impulsive. The risks were substantial: The astronauts were flying a spacecraft that had killed a three-man crew in a launchpad fire just a year earlier; their rocket was unproven and had failed its most recent test flight; and they were facing an abbreviated training period for the unprecedented journey. . Meanwhile, the Russians were winning the space race, the Cold War was getting hotter by the month, and President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade seemed sure to be broken. In August 1968, NASA made a bold decision: In just 16 weeks, the United States would launch humankind’s first flight to the moon and astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders signed on immediately.Image result for apollo 8

Apollo 8 was the groundbreaking mission that produced the iconic earthrise photo that is credited with jump-starting the climate change movement; the mission that made all of the other moon missions possible, including the Apollo 11 moon landing; and the mission that climaxed most poignantly on Christmas Eve, when the astronauts pointed their camera out the small window of their spacecraft and beamed images of the lunar horizon crawling below and the Earth hanging in the distance to 3.5 billion people, forever changing the way we view our planet.

Blast off into a world of wonders that demands to be rediscovered. With the help of extensive interviews with the three astronauts and many other principals involved in the mission, as well as oral histories, NASA documents, and the mission audio archive, Jeffrey Kluger, co-author of Apollo 13 and veteran science reporter,  re-creates the drama suspense and triumph of this historic event in the must-read Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon  (Henry Holt and Co., $30).Image result for jeffrey kluger apollo 8

The full story of Apollo 8 has never been told, and only Kluger—Jim Lovell’s co-author on their bestselling book about Apollo 13—can do it justice. Here is the tale of a mission that was both a calculated risk and a wild crapshoot, a stirring account of how three American heroes forever changed our view of the home planet.

‘America and the Great War’ is a must-have book richly documented by the Library of Congress

We will be flooded with books as we near the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the first modern war. Yet one book stands by itself, as tall and proud and solidly integral as a solider: America and the Great War (Bloomsbury, $45).

Written by Margaret E. Wagner, senior writer and editor of the Library of Congress, the tome colorfully documents with more than 250 illustrations from the unmatched Library of Congress collections, many rarely seen and previously published, the days leading up to President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war against Germany; the fight of the American people to survive the war; and the heartbreaking uncertainty that came in its aftermath.

When the Great War engulfed Europe, America was witnessing an unprecedented surge in industrial and financial growth, the revolution that erupted in Mexico in 1910 that was still unfolding south of the border, and the fight for equal rights from Suffragettes and African Americans. America and the Great War chronicles the events and arguments, the calculations and tragedies that brought the United States into the first modern war on April 6, 1917.

Filled with the voices of individuals both well-known and previously unsung, it reveals the explosion of patriotic fervor as the country entered the fray, the near-miraculous expansion of its Army, its military engagements abroad, and its struggles against the suppression of civil liberties at home.

 

Cat Seto takes readers on a stunning visual tour of France with “Impressions of Paris”

We would be catty if we said that the latest book by Cat Seto is the cat’s meow.  But we’d never say something so punny (funny?) if Impressions of Paris (Harper Design, $19.99) wasn’t so delicious. Think of the tome as your ultimate guide to joie de vivre.

Seto takes you on a dazzling and enlightening tour of Paris, from familiar sights to hidden surprises, to reveal this legendary city as never before. Combining informative and entertaining vignettes, stories and notes with more than 100 stunning full-color illustrations, she draws parallels between the city and the art it inspires.

Her charming visual style has echoes of Raoul Dufy, Maira Kalman and Pop Art, yet is uniquely and freshly her own. From beloved landmarks to bio-dynamic farms in the countryside, readers will witness both a classic and a revitalized Paris. This book is a thoughtful reflection on the artist’s creative process and a must-read for Francophiles, travelers and flaneurs of all kinds.

Oui!

A month of best books from Simon & Schuster . . . make the time!

Simon & Schuster’s literary line-up for May is a winner. Here are the best books to read and savor. You’ll even learn a few things!

The Broken Road (May 2, $19.99), the first book in a much-anticipated new trilogy by beloved storyteller Richard Paul Evans, is an engrossing, contemplative story of redemption and grace and the power of second chances. It is an epic journey you won’t soon forget. Chicago celebrity Charles James can’t shake the nightmare that wakes him each night. He sees himself walking down a long, broken highway the sides of which are lit in flames. Where is he going? Why is he walking? What is the wailing he hears around him? By day, he wonders why he’s so haunted and unhappy when he has all he ever wanted-fame, fans and fortune and the lavish lifestyle it affords him. Coming from a childhood of poverty and pain, this is what he’s dreamed of. But now, at the pinnacle of his career, he’s started to wonder if he’s wanted the wrong things.  Then a twist of fate changes everything. Charles is granted something very remarkable: a second chance. The question is: What will he do with it?

A timely and relevant look into America’s Doomsday preparedness, Garrett M. Graff’s Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die (May 2, $28) tracks the evolution of the government’s plan for surviving a catastrophic attack on U.S. soil.  The book provides the eye-opening truth about the multibillion-dollar Continuity of Government (COG) program. Used only once—on September 11th, 2001—this complex Doomsday machine still exists but remains out of sight: book coverIt shadows Presidents wherever they travel, tracks the whereabouts of congressional leaders hour by hour, and is ready to be unveiled at America’s darkest hour. Calling upon, for the first time, thousands of pages of recently declassified plans and White House documents, Raven Rock—which takes its name from the Pentagon’s sprawling secret 650-acre bunker complex in the Pennsylvania mountains—is equal parts a presidential, military, and cultural history.

At 27, Lauren Marks had everything she wanted in life: She was pursuing a PhD, she was an actress, a director, a voracious reader, had a dedicated boyfriend and a loving family, and was an extensive traveler. One night, while traveling in Scotland, Lauren suffered a sudden brain aneurysm. Although she was lucky to be alive, Lauren was left unable to write, speak or read. Her identity before the aneurysm now seemed to be crafted around a language she could no longer access, because of a diagnosis she couldn’t understand. A Stitch of Time:  The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life (May 2, $26) is Lauren’s gripping account of her recovery from the injury and her life with aphasia. Although an uncommon term, aphasia affects 1 in every 250 people, making it more common than Parkinson’s or M.S. Lauren’s loss of language is told through stories of her life before, during, and after aphasia, using the journals she actually kept while in recovery.

Dr. Rock Positano, an internationally renowned foot specialist in New York City, was introduced to Joe DiMaggio by the dean of New York sports writers, Bill Gallo, in 1990. During the time Dr. Positano successfully treated the Yankee Clipper, a friendship slowly developed. book coverThe stories and experiences he shared with Rock Positano comprise Dinners with DiMaggio: Memories of an American Hero (May 9, $26), an intimate portrait of one of the great stars of baseball and one of the icons of the twentieth century.

Similar to Saving Private Ryan in the way it reminds us of the strength of family in moments of unspeakable uncertainty, the difference with The Jersey Boys (May 9, $28) is that this story is true. A WWII saga like no other, the tome tells the story of Bill and Benny Mott—both Navy men—who embark on a complex rescue mission to save their youngest brother after he finds himself a POW in the Pacific.
What makes it even more remarkable is that Sally Mott Freeman is the daughter of one of the brothers, which adds a whole separate layer of intrigue and purpose to this important book.

Acclaimed journalists Tom Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie provide a behind-the-scenes, revelatory account of John F. Kennedy’s wily campaign to the White House with The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK’s Five-Year Campaign (May 9, $28). The most comprehensive account based on a depth of personal reporting, interviews and archives, the book reveals him as a tough, shrewd political strategist who kept his eye on the prize. JFK and his young warriors invented modern presidential politics. They turned over accepted wisdom that his Catholicism was a barrier to winning an election and plotted a successful course to that constituency. They twisted arms and they charmed. This is one of the great campaign stories of all time, appropriate for today’s political climate and the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth.

From James Dodson comes a funny and nostalgic journey of self and sport in which the author completes his golfing “bucket list.” Dodson recently rediscovered a list titled “Things to Do in Golf” that he’d written when he was 13 years old. Realizing he had yet to complete the list, Dodson (now in his 60s) expanded the list into a golfing “bucket list” of the people and places he had yet to meet and see in the golf world. book coverFrom rounds with John Updike to intimate conversations with Arnold Palmer to scoring a memorable 13 on a hole at St. Andrews, The Range Bucket List (May 9, $25) is an exhilarating armchair adventure.

Many people recognize Sidney Blumenthal’s name as a journalist and political advisor, but what you may not know is he has been formidably building a major contribution to Lincoln scholarship that focuses on Lincoln’s political life. https://catalog.simonandschuster.com/Thumbnails/9781501153785.jpgWith Wrestling With His Angel:  The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. II, 1849-1856 (May 16, $35), Blumenthal vividly and insightfully describes the most decisive period of Lincoln’s political life—after losing re-election to the House of Representatives, Lincoln is exiled back to Illinois to practice law, where he helps create the Republican Party.

From Andrew Pyper, the internationally bestselling author of The Demonologist, comes a radical reimagining of literature’s most haunting protagonists, their most sinister traits found in one terrifying man. Straight from the canon of horror fictions like Frankenstein, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Dracula, the monster featured in The Only Child  (Maay 23, $25) tells Dr. Lily Dominick three things: That he is more than 200 years old, that he personally provided the inspiration for those three horror classics, and that he is her father. Fusing the page-turning tension of a first-rate thriller with a provocative take on where thrillers come from, The Only Child will keep you up until its last unforgettable revelation.

We discover two delightful books meant for “young readers” . . . may we add they are also for the young-at-heart!

We came across two books meant for the wee ones, but we simply cannot stop reading them ourselves. No wonder we are young-at-heart!

Carrot and Pea (HMH Books for Young Readers, $16.99) is a charming and creative celebration of embracing differences and standing out in a crowd that will teach and remind everyone that our differences make us unique and wonderful . . . and most important, they make us, us.

Colin is tall and orange. He is definitely not a pea. He’s a carrot. He has nothing in common with his friend Lee, a round, green pea. He can’t roll, or bounce. In fact, Colin can’t do any of the things Lee and his pea pals can do. How can Colin and Lee ever be friends?

Morag Hood has written stories and painted pictures since childhood, and this delight is her debut picture book. She also created the nifty artwork, collaged from orange and green plastic grocery bags.

Next up: Frankie is an adorable shelter puppy who has just arrived at his new home. He’s so excited by the things he finds . . . A new home! A new bed! A new ball!

But wait… another dog already lives here. His name is Nico. That’s Nico’s home. Nico’s bed. Nico’s ball.

It’s not easy being the new dog in the house. Will Frankie be able to find his place here too?

Humorous and heartfelt, Frankie (HMH Books for Young Readers, $12.99), the latest from Geisel Honor-winning author-illustrator Mary Sullivan, introduces not one, but two new dogs with big personalities as they struggle to get along and find their places in the pack. The whimsical and wondrous book is based on her real-life experience. Frankie will surely win over fans of Sullivan’s previous books, Ball and Treat, as well as the hearts of dog-lovers everywhere.

Sullivan has donated a portion of sales to the Austin (Texas) Pets Alive,  the shelter that first took (the real) Frankie in and helped him find a new permanent home!

Do we dare: This is the cat’s meow!

 

 

“Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince” is a “cornflake and ham hock” winner

Ben Greeman’s book on Prince is a hot thing. Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince (Henry Holt and Co., $28) is a farewell to the mercurial funk-rock star. It’s also a love letter, a critical study, a personal essay. Yet readers will undoubtedly find it as compelling for what it is not as for what it is.

Dig If You Will the Picture is not is a traditional biography or a conventional critical consideration. It is not filled with gossip and “gotcha” moments. It is not simply a survey of Prince’s greatest hits. Rather, it’s a singular attempt to investigate the whole of Prince’s work and thought, to isolate the meaningful moments in his music, to think about the ways in which he provided the soundtrack for a generation, to define what genius means in pop music.

Greenman brings his encyclopedic knowledge of Prince and his music to the man and the time in which he lived—moving from his own suburban upbringing in Miami to Prince’s history in Minneapolis, from brash early albums like Dirty Mind through breakout classics like Purple Rain to mature complex works like Art Official Age.

In these pages, Prince is considered as a musician, certainly, but also as a gender theorist, an activist, and an independent businessman. Greenman illuminates the hidden corners of Prince’s vast discography: Do you know the mid-’90s manifesto “Style”? Do you know the mid-’80s B side “Shockadelica”? Do you know the outtake “2020”?

You should.

And you will.

As George Clinton raves: “When it comes to funk and words, lyrics and language, there couldn’t be a better pairing than Ben Greenman and Prince. From my experience with both of them, this is the perfect match, like ham hocks and cornflakes.”

Dig If You Will the Picture answers countless questions about one of our most mysterious and misunderstood pop icons, including:

  • What were Prince’s thematic preoccupations?
  • How did he change pop music forever?
  • How did he make so much fantastic work?
  • Did he really do it all himself?
  • Why did he go to war with his record label?
  • What did he think about sex, God, and the difference between them?
  • What were his politics?
  • How big was his Afro when he was young?
  • And what was with that symbol, anyway?

Dig If You Will the Picture meets Prince at his own level, as a pop-culture provocateur, a brilliant manufacturer of meaning, a complex and philosophical man, brooding introvert, singular talent—and a hell of a good time.

The greatest mystery in Arctic exploration history has been solved! Meet Paul Watson and the “Ice Ghosts”

Deep-sea mysteries continue to baffle us. Take the case of Sir John Franklin. For nearly 170 years, the mystery of the lost expedition of Franklin has been the greatest cold case in the history of Arctic exploration. In 1845, Franklin and the crews of the HMS Erebus and Terror set out to discover a path to the Orient through the icy waters of the far northern latitudes. They were never heard from again.

Preserved: The mummified returns of one of the crew members of John Franklin’S 1845 expedition

From 1847 to 1859, no fewer than 36 expeditions set out in search of the vessels. Each effort was met with icy silence. The fate of Franklin and his men remained shrouded in mystery until, in missions that blended new technology and faith in traditional Inuit beliefs, the ships were at last discovered—the Erebus in 2014 and the Terror just last year.

In Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition (W. W. Norton & Company, $27.95), Pulitzer Prize–winning author Paul Watson takes readers on an unforgettable journey into the unforgiving North in search of the vanished Franklin and his crew of 128 lost souls. Watson was on the icebreaker leading the mission that discovered the Erebus in 2014, and he broke the news of the discovery of the Terror in September.

Ice Ghosts achieves what solution to a long-standing mystery does: The nook masterfully weaves together history and contemporary reporting in a full account of these events, which, as Watson reveals, only found success when longtime prejudice against Inuit forms of knowledge was set aside. Watson chronicles how local Inuit contributed to the hunt for the ships and how Inuit lore passed down orally for generations was crucial to making discoveries for the ages.

A riveting mystery story as well as a tale of scientific innovation and relentless pursuit, Ice Ghosts is that rare book that seamlessly marries gripping adventure narrative with intrepid analysis. It is an epic adventure readers will carry with them long after the final page is turned.