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November 2017

Celebrity Picks: Sarah J. Maas' Favorite Reads of 2017

SarahJ_Maas225Sarah J. Maas is the author of not one, but two, incredibly popular young adult series--Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses.  Both series are packed with drama, fantasy, fast-paced action and romance--a little more of the latter in her Court of Thorns and Roses series--and readers can't get enough.  The Tower of Dawn is the new installment of her Throne of Glass series that drew readers to her like ants to honey and this one, too, will be devoured quickly. We chose it as one of our best young adult books of November and a top 20 young adult book of 2017.

Sarah J. Maas is a dedicated fantasy reader and has her favorite series, too.  See her picks below, and look here for more celebrity favorites.

Sarah J. Maas' favorite reads of 2017

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The Captive Prince series by C.S. Pacat
Utterly brilliant. This series reminded me of why I fell in love with fantasy in the first place.

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The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
These books are so beautifully written that every single sentence is a feast for the senses.

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Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward
Paranormal romance at its best. I'm the biggest JRW fangirl, and I'm constantly counting down the months until her next release.

10 Years, 10 Books—A Look Back at Kindle Best Sellers

Kindle 10 YearsIt was 2007, the year Prince rocked the Super Bowl in the rain, Bob Barker hosted his final episode of The Price Is Right, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows wrapped up the saga of a boy wizard fighting the ultimate evil. It was also the year Kindle was born. Happy 10th birthday to Kindle, which gave us the ability to read countless books instantly and hold an entire bookshelf in the palm of the hand. Here are the Most Sold Kindle books for each year since Kindle was launched:

The Handmaid's Tale2017: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

It’s Margaret Atwood’s year — we’re just living it. The Handmaid’s Tale saw fantastic spikes in sales, and the TV adaptation won eight Emmy Awards. Atwood’s cautionary Tale, in which women are forced into roles as servants, reproductive hosts, or soulless hausfraus, has as much punch today as when it was published in 1985.


The Girl on the Train2016 and 2015: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train was such a literary juggernaut that it topped Kindle sales for two years running. The thriller, with its unreliable narrator who doesn’t know what she saw or remember what she did, was fast-tracked onto the big screen within two years of publication.


The Fault in Our Stars2014: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

There’s no getting out of a John Green book tear-free, as his legions of fans, or "Nerdfighters," know. The love story of cancer-stricken teens Hazel and Augustus is believable and inspiring. If you’re still in one piece after this one, try Green’s follow-up, the Amazon Charts best seller Turtles All the Way Down, about a teen struggling with anxiety issues. Keep the tissues handy.


Inferno2013: Inferno by Dan Brown

Dan Brown has a knack for turning art and literature into jaw-dropping criminal escapades. His 2003 blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, launched a literary trend of heart-pounding thrillers in  classical and academic settings, but nobody does it better. In this book, the fourth in the series, symbologist Robert Langdon races to save the world from a nefarious plot cooked up by an obsessive fan of Dante’s Inferno.


50 Shades of Grey2012: Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

The risqué content might make some blush, but this book, first in a trilogy, was a phenomenon. E L James turned her steamy take on Twilight fan fiction, initially self-published, into an industry. Her other Fifty Shades books are also mega-best sellers, and the two films spawned by the series (a third is due in 2018) have generated more than $950 million in global box office revenues.


The Help2011: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Kathryn Stockett hit a nerve with her book about a group of domestic workers in 1960s Mississippi who contribute to an anonymous tell-all that puts them in unspeakable danger. But while the danger may be unspeakable, the characters find their voices in their secret book, and Stockett found hers in The Help. The book got a boost from the 2011 movie adaptation, which won an Oscar for Octavia Spencer's performance.  


Girl with the Dragon Tattoo2010: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn’t just bring attention to former journalist Larsson, who died before the books were published. They also proved there was a market — an enormous one, in fact — for books in translation. The series inspired movie versions in two languages and found a role model in Lisbeth Salander, making an American hero out of an antisocial Swede.


Lost Symbol2009: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol, the follow-up to Brown's breakthough novel The Da Vinci Code, continues the adventures of Harvard professor Robert Langdon, this time in Washington, where he is peering into the history of Freemasonry. The next two books in the series also have become huge best sellers, including the recently published Origin, which sits near the top of Amazon Charts' Most Sold fiction list.


Complete Kindle2008: The Complete User's Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle by Stephen Windwalker

Oh gosh. Um, this is a surprise. We’d like to thank the Academy. … All joking aside, readers were so excited when Kindle arrived that folks often used their first device to learn more about how to use it. The guidebook by Stephen Windwalker offered tips and tricks to unlocking the full power of the E-reader.


Pillars of the Earth2007: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Ken Follett was already a best-selling suspense author before publishing The Pillars of the Earth in 1989, but that mighty historical novel (nearly 1,000 pages!) set in 12th century England took him in an entirely new direction. Nearly three decades later he's just published the third book in his Kingsbridge series, A Column of Fire, which sits high on Amazon Charts' Most Read fiction list. This one weighs in at 927 pages, which is still tough to carry — unless, y’know, you have a Kindle.


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Celebrity Picks: Amy Tan's Favorite Reads of 2017

Photo credit: Julian Johnson

We tend to view a wildly successful person as if she has always been that way. You wouldn't be blamed for thinking so of Amy Tan, a wildly successful author. But in Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir, we learn that her life wasn't always as it is today. Supplied with candor and characteristic humor, Where the Past Begins takes readers into the idiosyncratic workings of her writer’s mind. This is a journey that explores memory, imagination, and truth, with fiction serving as both her divining rod and link to meaning. 

What does Amy Tan like to read when she's not writing? See her picks below, and look here for the latest celebrity favorites.



Amy Tan's favorite reads of 2017 


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Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey
In her poetry, Sealey captures with keen perception the expansive qualities of a life fully felt--morality, anger, betrayal, humility, race, and love--and so powerfully expressed that each poem leaves you astonished over what you've just experienced. These poems are marvels that should be read, re-read, and read aloud to others.

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The Encore by Charity Tilleman-Dick
In these conflicted times, we need stories of miracles. The Encore is a memoir about a young singer who endures near-death numerous times, two double lung transplants, and a verdict that she'll never be able to sing. This is a story about the unfathomable extremes of the human will and the many meanings of victory.

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The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks
I love every keen observation Oliver Sacks makes about nature, that of animals and humans, of the body and the mind. His words are like a benediction to life, and all the more palpable as Sacks confronts his own impending death. These are soulful essays that take us into self-reflection about the intricacies of our own consciousness.


The Winners of the 2017 National Book Awards

NBA-winnerLast night, at the 2017 National Book Awards ceremony in New York, judges announced the winners of the annual prize in four categories: Young People's Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction. The evening began with two lifetime achievement awards. President Bill Clinton presented the first to Dick Robinson, President and CEO of Scholastic, for his committment to children’s literacy. The second, presented by actress Anne Hathaway, went to Annie Proulx, author of the story “Brokeback Mountain,” which was made into a film in which Ms. Hathaway starred, and novels including The Shipping News. Accepting the award, Ms. Proulx said, ”I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, go ahead.”

Congratulations to all the winners of the 2017 award.


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Far from the Tree, By Robin Benway
In their citation, the judges wrote, “Far from the Tree is the poignant story of three young people discovering the complicated ways that families love. … In Benway’s able hands, readers feast on a big hearted and uplifting story about growing up, daring to count on others and most importantly, having the courage to reveal and embrace our own imperfections.”

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Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, by Frank Bidart
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Of Bidart’s collection, which spans five decades of his work, the judges wrote, “There are multitudes here: personal selves, invented characters, and historical figures worn like overcoats – sometimes disguising, sometimes revealing, but always presented, inhabited as query, as revelation. With mask and mirror, in persona or as confession, these poems present mind and body simultaneously ruthless and vulnerable, as they interrogate the arc of a life, of all lives.”

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The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen
Riverhead Books/ Penguin Random House
In The Future Is History, Gessen charts the effects of changing political leadership on the lives of four Russians who came of age in the 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev’s “glasnost” led to increased openness. It was an approach to the West which didn’t last. “Writing with the verve and empathy of a novel and the depth and perspective of an intellectual history, Masha Gessen diagnoses Russian society with ‘recurrent totalitarianism,’ a chronic disease that was once in remission, but has lately resurged.”

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Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
Scribner/ Simon and Schuster
Ward is the first woman to ever receive the National Book Award for fiction twice – her novel Salvage the Bones won in 2011. In their citation, the judges wrote that “Sing, Unburied, Sing is a narrative so beautifully taut and heartbreakingly eloquent that it stops the breath. Through fully imagined characters both living and dead, this road novel moves beyond the road into the bigger story of what it means to be an American in the rural south both now and decades before this moment.” Sing, Unburied, Sing, was an Amazon Best of the Month pick for September 2017.

The Best Books of the Year: "Beartown"

BackmanEvery so often you read a book that is simply magic. No, not the Potter kind of magic, but a kind that has an air of completeness in its creation, its telling, and its impact on the reader. Beartown is magic. Pulling us in from the very first sentence, author Fredrik Backman takes readers on a journey far away and unexpectedly within ourselves. Here, he answers some of our questions and takes us behind the scenes of Beartown.

See all of our selections for the Best Books of the Year.

Penny Mann: You write from your gut, and Beartown is very different from your previous novels—what compelled you to tell this story?

Fredrik Backman: Probably the combination of having a lot of spare time and very little self-awareness, as usual. It started as a script for a TV show, actually, but as it turns out I am not fit to be in a room full of people who like “meetings” and say things like “out of a production budget standpoint.” I just get into fights with production companies, so eventually my agent and my wife and my dad suggested that maybe I should just go “sit alone in a room and write and not … talk to people.” So I did. It’s much better for me, because novels have no budgets. If you want a dragon, you can have a dragon. Have three, if you want. What was the question again? Yes! No! There are no dragons in the novel. But there is a lot of sports. And I think I wanted to try to tell a story about my love of sports, both the best and very worst sides of it. Because being a sports fan as an adult forces many of us to face our own hypocrisy. The things we let athletes get away with just because they’re important to our teams, and the whole host of arguments that we invent to protect what we love fascinates me. I’ve been such a big part of it, I felt I could write a story about some really horrible aspects of sports because I’m … well … not an outsider. I’m not an academic trying to dismantle it from an intellectual perspective. I’ve lived with sports my entire life. It actually saved my life on a couple of occasions, I think. So this is a story about that love, and the horrific consequences it can have when a community tries to cover up a crime committed by their star player. When people ask me about my “inspiration” for it, I tend to say that the inspiration for many of the worst people in it comes from myself. Good people can make really bad choices. So this novel was a lot of looking myself in the mirror, and a lot of tough questions. What would I have done? Would I have been one of the bad guys or one of the good ones? And how many of us get stuck in between?

P.M.: A Man Called Ove was inspired, in part, by people and situations in your life. Is this also true for Beartown?

F.B.: It’s always the case for me. It’s like orange juice, it takes a lot of oranges to make one glass of juice and it probably takes 30 real people to create one fictional character that I believe in and can write about.

P.M.: One of the beautiful things about Beartown is that the town itself is a character--the setting is at once vital to the story, and yet it recedes into the background as the reader gets swept up in the emotional experiences of the characters. Why did you choose this sleepy, woodsy hockey town as the backdrop to this story, which has some very universal themes?  

F.B.: Because I know it, probably. There’s a million places like that, and I think I like small places more than big cities because in big cities people can spend their whole lives without ever having to hang out with anyone who is not exactly like them. People find their groups where everybody dresses the same, talks the same, has the same political views and likes and dislikes all the same things. In a small town you don’t have that choice: People there are going to influence you, whether you like it or not. It makes for better stories, I think.

P.M.: This novel has quite a large cast. Did you set out knowing you wanted to tell Benji's story as much as the others’?

F.B.: Yes. I set out to tell everyone’s story, I just had to take some of them out as I went along. But I liked the fact that I could let a character grow into the story; they could be supporting actors in the beginning and leading actors by the end.

P.M.: Some of the character references in Beartown are noticeably vague--"Kevin’s mom," "the bass player," Was this intentional?

F.B.: Again, yes, but it’s not just a matter of creating a feeling, it’s also a matter of attention economy on the readers’ behalf. If EVERY character has a name that’s quite a lot of names to keep track of. So once in a while I like to give them a title instead. The most important thing for me in telling a story is always that the reader doesn’t get lost.

P.M.: Beartown highlights the extraordinary impact that sports can have on families and communities, and it isn’t always good. I know you’re a fan, but do you think sports have become too important and influential? Is Beartown meant as a cautionary tale in some respects?

F.B.: Sports are both good and evil, great and bad - everything we really care about is always like that. We invest so much feeling into it, of course it’s sometimes going to make us better and sometimes bring out our very worst qualities instead. In the case of Beartown, the town’s economy plays a very big role in sports, and vice versa, and then a lot of things become … political. And that changes the whole premise of the story. To me one of the most important lines in the book is: “What is a society? It’s the sum total of our choices.” It’s impossible to say when sports become TOO influential, it’s just a constant struggle with ourselves to be brave enough to ask ourselves tough questions, I think. To keep re-drawing the line as we become smarter. But with all that said: I could have written this story about a small town with one very successful company at the center of it, a company that employs everyone and in that way affects them all. The star of the hockey team could have been a genius entrepreneur. The questions would have been the same. Are we, as a society, prepared to let some people live above the law, if they’re important enough to our economy and well-being?

P.M.: You’re working on a sequel. Any details you’re willing to tease? Will there be some resolution to Benji’s story?

F.B.: It’s called “Us Against You”, directly translated from the Swedish. And it deals a lot with violence. One of the opening lines is: “It’s so easy to make people hate each other, it’s a mystery we don’t do it all the time.” And yes, it’s a lot about Benji. I would say he is the main “engine” of the story this time around.


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Celebrity Picks: Tim O'Reilly's Favorite Reads of 2017

Photo credit: Peter Reilly, Faces of Open Source

When Tim O'Reilly speaks, Silicon Valley listens. So maybe we should listen, too. His new book WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us does not mean what you might initially suppose. True, WTF? can represent a sense of dismay, but in O'Reilly's book title it represents a spirit of optimism--What's The Future?-- specifically, his belief that technology will change our lives for the good if we focus on that goal.

What books inform Tim O'Reilly? See his picks below, and look here for the latest celebrity favorites.


Tim O'Reilly's favorite reads of 2017 


A good book is a tool for living. It helps us see the world and ourselves more deeply. Here are three unexpected books that will make you smarter and better and happier more effectively than any self-help book!


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Who Gets What - and Why by Alvin E. Roth
Jonathan Hall, the chief economist at Uber, turned me on to this book. Roth got his Nobel prize in Economics for his research on marketplaces and what makes them tick. Jonathan told me that it was his bible at Uber, and he'd learned so much from it. I devoured it, and it shaped my understanding of Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and ultimately led me down a path to understanding what the rise and fall of technology platforms teaches us about the marketplace failures of our current economy.

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Principles by Ray Dalio
I love the way Ray wove lessons from his own life and work into a broader guide to better decision-making. Our society is in dire need of what Ray variously calls "an idea meritocracy" and "believability-weighting." I hope that his book will spark wide scale experiments in how to put these principles to work. Not everyone can use Ray's principles to manage a hedge fund, but if we were using them to frame - and answer - the great questions that bedevil our nation today, we'd all be far better off.

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How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life by Russ Roberts
I expected this book to be an explanation of free-markets and the ideas from The Wealth of Nations, and was delighted to discover that instead, it was about Adam Smith's first great work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which is about the impulses that drive people to do good for others. And like the book to which its title gives homage, Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life, this book makes accessible a great work that might otherwise go unread, and that has so much to teach us about happiness and human nature.

P.S. It's hard to pick just three. I love suggesting books to others (would love to do some favorite novels another time, or poetry!) so if they ever offer this again, I'd be glad to do it again.



Weird Science: South Pole Edition


The IceCube Laboratory Under the Aurora Australis, taken with a fisheye lens (Robert Schwarz, IceCube/NSF 

There's strange stuff happening in Antarctica. Mark Bowen gets to the bottom of the search for extraterrestrials—neutrinos, that is—with his book, The Telescope in the Ice: Inventing a New Astronomy at the South Pole. Here he provides five facts about an almost incredible new tool for exploring our universe.

The Telescope in the Ice is about the building of IceCube, which Scientific American has called the “weirdest” of the seven wonders of modern astronomy. I’ve been “embedded” in the project since 1998, so I offer an insider’s view of the unusual group of dreamers who have built this crazy telescope: the mistakes they’ve made, the blind alleys they’ve gone down, the solutions they’ve found, their conflicts, their teamwork—and their successes.

Located at the U. S. Amundsen-Scott Research Station at the geographic South Pole, IceCube is unlike most telescopes in that it is designed not to detect light, but a strange elementary particle called the neutrino. This is not an easy thing to do, so the Fellowship of the Cube, as they sometimes call themselves, have had to be extremely persistent. The project began in 1987, and they didn’t detect their first extraterrestrial neutrinos until 2012, a quarter of a century later. In the meantime, the project almost died three or four times. There’s plenty of adventure in this story—both on the ice at South Pole and in the science of neutrino astronomy.

Five things you should know about IceCube.

This telescope is actually is made out of ice: A cubic kilometer of diamond clear ice, a mile and more beneath the polar surface, outfitted with a grid of more than 5,000 light sensors. The ice itself is the basic detector: when a neutrino collides with an atomic nucleus in the ice in or near the sensor grid, or even in the bedrock below it, the neutrino will die and give birth to a charged particle that travels in the same direction as the neutrino, dragging a cone of a pale blue light along behind it. By tracking this streaking particle as it passes through the grid, the physicists can determine the direction of the parent neutrino.

The neutrino is sometimes known as the ghost particle. It may be the most plentiful particle in the universe—several hundred billion will pass through your eyeballs by the time you finish reading this sentence—but it is rarely seen, and it won’t hurt your eyes, because it barely interacts with any kind of matter. This makes it very hard to detect. As Nobel laureate and amateur stand-up comedian Leon Lederman once said, “A particle that reacted with nothing whatever could never be detected. It would be a fiction. The neutrino is barely a fact.” Your average neutrino will pass unscathed—and therefore undetected—through a slab of lead one light year, or six trillion miles, thick.


The Laboratory in WInter Under a Full Moon (IceCube/NSF)

Not a surprise, but guess what: the South Pole is a hard place to work. The temperature rarely rises above zero Fahrenheit, and in winter it can drop below a hundred below. There is only one “day” a year there. The Sun rises and sets at the equinoxes, on about September 21st and March 21st, but the working season is limited to about four months, because the military transport planes that shuttle people and equipment in and out of the station are only allowed to fly when it’s above minus fifty. A skeleton crew of “winterovers” keeps the station and the scientific experiments running for the eight or nine cold, dark months of winter. They say it is sublimely beautiful under the extraordinarily clear, star-filled skies, with red and green aurorae shimmering overhead.

The real adventure is in the science. Yes, there is plenty of derring-do on the ice in this story, but what really drives these people is the thrill of the chase. In fact, the man who dreamed the project up thirty years ago and has led it ever since, physicist Francis Halzen of the University of Wisconsin, has never been to the pole.

IceCube is helping to usher in the new era of “multi-messenger astronomy.” With the recent detection of gravity waves, which won this year’s Nobel Prize in physics, and IceCube’s ability to detect neutrinos, astronomers now have two new messengers in addition to light to bring us news from the distant cosmos. This is an epochal development, since light has been pretty much our only cosmic messenger, ever since the first woman stepped out of her cave and looked up at the twinkling stars. It is also brand new: Just this August, three gravitational wave instruments detected the merger of two neutron stars, told optical astronomers where to look, and dozens of telescopes observed the resulting gamma ray burst—the first time two different messengers brought us news from the same object. Exactly a month later, IceCube detected what was most likely an extraterrestrial neutrino, again told optical telescopes where to look, and they found an active galaxy called a blazar, one of the brightest objects in the universe, exactly where the neutrino was pointing. (More on this on my blog.)


One of IceCube's optical modules surrounded by the deployment team that is about to lower it into its eternal resting place in the ice (IceCube/NFS)

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Best Books of the Year: Nonfiction

A few of our selections for the Nonfiction of 2017, along with some thoughts about why we liked them. See all 20 picks, or browse all of our Best Books of the Year across 15 categories. 

BOTY-SapiensHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

One of our favorite books of 2015 was Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens, a book that tackled evolutionary concepts from a historian’s perspective, ultimately asking the question, Does all this progress make us happier, our lives easier?  Homo Deus looks in the opposite direction: toward our future. In his review, Amazon editor Chris Schluep wrote:  Homo Deus is the kind of provocative, food-for-thought read that drew so many of us to his work in the first place. According to Harari, our future could be very different from our present - dark, technocratic, and automated - but reading about our possible fates, presented in Harari’s illuminating style, sure is fascinating.

You-PlayYou Play the Girl by Carina Chocano

Chocano brings to bear her experience as a widely published journalist and critic (of books and film) in this collection of essays examining what it has meant to be the "girl" through decades of pop culture, from Playboy magazine to Thelma and Louise to Frozen. It's not exactly news that women are most often relegated to secondary character status - reactors rather than actors - but Chocano's mix of memoir, humor, and insight nevertheless strikes chords.


BOTY-Lost-CityThe Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

In 2012, author Douglas Preston joined a team of explorers searching for Ciudad Blanca (“The White City”), a legendary ruin hidden in the dense jungle of eastern Honduras. To this point the city – also known as “the Lost City of the Monkey God” - was literally a legend; while various hucksters and hoaxers had claimed to have discovered the abandoned metropolis, no credible evidence had ever been presented, and its very existence remained shrouded in doubt. In addition to the objective hazards of tropical disease, wild boars, and the deadly fer-de-lance viper, locals stoked the mystique, describing various curses awaiting would-be discoverers. Don’t pick the flowers, or you’ll die.

But this team had an advantage that previous searchers had lacked: LIDAR, an advanced laser-imaging technology able to penetrate the dense jungle canopy – just enough – and return detailed elevation profiles from which subtle, man-made anomalies could be identified. Almost immediately, two major sites emerged, their scale and architecture indicating a civilization to rival another local, more famous power, the Maya.

The announcement had consequences. The fledgling Honduran government, having gained power through a military coup, sought to use the discovery to bolster its status with the population, while the academic community ripped the expedition with accusations of Indiana Jones-style exploitation and shoddy scientific methods, cries which could be uncharitably interpreted as sour grapes. Encroaching deforestation and the prospect of looters created urgency to conduct a ground survey, and the team ventured into the wilderness and all the hazards that awaited, including an unexpected and insidious danger that cursed the team well beyond their return home.

The author of over 30 books, including number of bestselling thrillers co-written with Lincoln Child, Preston knows pace, and he packs several narratives into a taut 300 pages. Indiana Jones criticism aside, the story of the discovery and exploration of the ruin is solid adventure writing, and he walks a fine line in dealing with the archaeology community’s response, reporting on the bases for their criticism where they chose to provide it. And by invoking Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, Preston speculates on the mysterious, sudden demise of the White City and its inhabitants, drawing ominous parallels between their fate and possibly our own. Lost City of the Monkey God is a tale that manages to be both fun and harrowing, a vicarious thrill worthy of a place on the shelf next to David Grann’s The Lost City of Z.

BOTY-American-FireAmerican Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse

A passionate love affair is often described as an “inferno,” but in 2012 and 2013, boyfriend and girlfriend Charlie Smith and Tonya Bundick turned the metaphor into reality as they lit 70-plus fires in derelict buildings across Virginia’s Accomack County. Monica Hesse’s spare but memorable prose sketches the true story of a once-prosperous county now in sharp economic decline, its derelict buildings easy targets for Smith and Bundick. But Accomack County’s plunging fortunes is the simplistic explanation for the arson epidemic, and Hesse pushes that aside to plumb the complicated personal relationships, the tight-knit community, and the stories told in small towns that can shape a person’s destiny just as surely as one’s actions. When Smith and Bundick set fire after fire—sometimes several a night—the exhausted volunteer firefighters in Accomack County band together to stop the arsonists putting a match to their way of life. Hesse can do with a handful of words what other writers do with paragraphs, and as she traces the intersecting paths of the amateur arsonists and the authorities determined to capture them, she reveals that every crime has its own personal, sometimes inscrutable DNA. --Adrian Liang

BOTY-DraftDraft No. 4 by John McPhee

One of the great joys of being a book nerd is the rare offer from an accomplished writer to peer inside their head, to probe the process that makes their work, well, work. The best examples (Stephen King’s On Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, etc.) go beyond the nuts and bolts of prose – how to tell a story in three acts, e.g. – to talk about how they view their craft, however idiosyncratic or replicable. Draft No. 4 falls squarely into this category. With this collection of eight essays, McPhee – the author of Coming into the Country, Encounters with the Archdruid, and countless other celebrated works of longform nonfiction – shares his experiences as a working writer, recalling the methods, tools (mental and otherwise), and relationships that helped him produce some of his most memorable books and articles. It’s less of a how-to than a this-is-how-I-did-it approach, offering plenty of astonishment and inspiration for aspiring writers (and just plain readers), if not easy solutions. An deft blend of art and memoir, Draft No. 4 might seem like the entertaining, amiable reminiscences of a favorite uncle, if it wasn’t also so informative and insightful

Celebrity Picks: Ainsley Earhardt's Favorite Reads of 2017

Photo credit: Brian Tully

So what does a FOX News anchor do in her spare time? If you're Ainsley Earhardt, you write #1 best-selling books. In Through Your Eyes: My Child's Gift to Me, Earhardt reflects on her experiences as a mother and what it's like to view the wonders of the world through a child’s eyes. Sometimes we need the wisdom and perspective of a child to remind us what is important and what should be celebrated and remembered.

What does Ainsley Earhardt like to read? See her picks below, and look here for the latest celebrity favorites.

Ainsley Earhardt's favorite reads of 2017 


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Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand
Beautiful day takes place on the island of Nantucket. I lived there for one summer in college and have been visiting ever since. Therefore, this book is very special. The author makes each page come to life by incorporating actual Nantucket landmarks, restaurants and beaches in the pages of her novels. In addition, who doesn't love a wedding? The Carmichael family has been visiting the island forever and one of the daughters is getting married on Nantucket. She is the hopeless romantic, but her sister is the pessimistic realist and does not believe love lasts. Their mother died of cancer years prior and left her children a notebook detailing what their weddings should be like. You will feel emotional highs and lows and will have a hard time putting the book down. It's the best Elin Hilderbrand book I have read.

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
This story is about the relationship between a pushy, tough mother and her abiding daughter. The mother is extremely hard on her child, but you come to understand why as the book progresses. I learned so much about Chinese tradition, the pressures young women faced in ancient China to reach physical perfection, the desire to please their mothers and marry into a higher ranking and the expectations to have sons. The painful practice of foot binding was detailed. It was a hard and excruciating process for a young girl, but also her ticket to a better life. You will find yourself crying, grieving loss and appreciating the rewards for their tolls and hardships.

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The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
As a mother to a 1 year old, I don't have as much time for leisure, adult reading, but I always make time to read with my daughter. One of Hayden's favorite books is called, The Pout Pout Fish. It is a cute, lyrical children's book about a pouting fish who mopes through his underwater life complaining and being negative. The other sea creatures try to cheer him up, but are not successful. The pouting fish reminds them that he was born with a frown and he will never change. Until.... an unfamiliar, female fish swims into his territory. She plants a big kiss on him (which my daughter loves because I use that opportunity to kiss all over her precious face) and turns his frown upside down. The pout pout fish finally finds love, happiness and companionship. It's a cute book to read at bedtime with your children.


Let's Talk Turkey. And Pie. Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

ThanksgivingPhoto200WThanksgiving is just around the corner and on our Foodie Favorites page the Books and Kitchen editorial teams have brought together some of our picks in cookbooks, kitchen necessities, and recipes from chefs Christopher Kimball and Gail Simmons to get ready for the full-on feast.  Below is some bite-sized info about the Thanksgiving recipe ideas, with links to each

Kimball_Milkstreet_Turkey_300HWhether this is your first time cooking the turkey or the twentieth, sometimes it's just nice to try a new recipe or technique.  I've tried about everything but deep frying the bird and that only because I can't quite justify buying another large kitchen/barbecue appliance. At least not yet... 

In Christopher Kimball's Milk Street cookbook, he's got a turkey recipe that's absolutely piqued my interest for this year: Brown Ale Turkey and Gravy.  Forget brining - Kimball goes with the tried and true baste, but only twice over the course of the 3 1/2 hour cooking time; and the basting blend sounds even better than herb butter.  Because it incorporates beer (nothing hoppy, Kimball recommends Newcastle Brown Ale which seems to be readily available), garlic, onion, herbs and a strange (for this application) ingredient.  Interested?  I  thought you might be...

>View the recipe on the Amazon Book Review, and in the pages of Christopher Kimball's Milk Street cookbook


Kimball_Milkstreet_Stuffing_300HOf course if you're having turkey you must have dressing, or stuffing, or whatever your family calls it. We go with stuffing at my house, and it's always oh-so-good but the chopping of endless herbs and veggies is a real time suck on a very busy day of cooking.  To accompany Christopher Kimball's above turkey recipe, his Milk Street cookbook also has a recipe for Easy-Bake Herbed Dressing

What makes this stuffing special?  Kimball uses that beloved time saver, the food processor, to create an herb butter which is then used to season the bread cubes before baking.  You will still have to chop some celery, but overall the flavors here are spot-on as is the time commitment. 

>View the recipe on the Amazon Book Review and you'll find it in the pages of Christopher Kimball's Milk Street cookbook


Simmons_ChocBanoffeePie_300HWith many meals I have a favorite course or dish and that's usually dessert.  This year I decided to make something a little out of the ordinary in the way of dessert.  Don't get me wrong--there will be a pumpkin pie on my table, but the showstopper is going to be from Gail Simmons' new cookbook, Bringing It Home: Chocolate Banoffee Pie

A chocolate wafer crust filled with homemade dulce de leche, sliced bananas, crunchy peanuts and topped with a mound of whipped cream, chocolate shavings and more chopped peanuts.  Need I say more?  This will take a little longer than some pies, simply because of the dulce de leche cook time, but good news!  That part can be made up to a week in advance. 

>View the recipe on the Amazon Book Review and you'll find it in the pages of Bringing It Home


You'll find links to all of the above recipes, plus our editors favorites in kitchen ware and cookbooks on the Foodie Favorites page.  Check back soon when we share our picks for a season of holiday baking.

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