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Author P.D. James Dies at 94

1e44810ae7a09018b64e4210.L._V192596150_SX200_.gifP.D. James died at her home in Oxford, England this week. She was 94 years old.

A consumate stylist, James did not begin writing novels until she was in her late thirties. She went on to write twenty books, notably introducing the fictional Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh to the world.

According to a recent BBC interview she had no plans of stopping:

"With old age, it becomes very difficult. It takes longer for the inspiration to come, but the thing about being a writer is that you need to write," she told the BBC.

"I hope I would know myself whether a book was worth publishing. I think while I am alive, I shall write. There will be a time to stop writing but that will probably be when I come to a stop, too."

I had the chance to interview Ms. James for Omnivoracious a couple of years ago, upon the publication of her novel Death Comes to Pemberley, which is set in the world of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

The full interview is below:

 

511EpQoiqiL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Recently, we had the pleasure of posing some questions to the distinguished crime writer P.D. James. James has won numerous awards and has been inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame. At ninety-two years old, she is beloved by so many, having written some twenty novels, many of which have been adapted to television (as well as to movies, including one of my all-time favorites "Children of Men"). Her most recent novel is Death Comes to Pemberley, in which a murder takes place in the world of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice.

 

Omnivoracious:  How long have you been thinking about setting a detective novel in world of Pride & Prejudice?

P.D. James: The idea of combining my two enthusiasms, writing detective stories and Jane Austen, in one book had been at the back of my mind for a few years but I did not seriously start to plot it until some months after the publication of The Private Patient. 

Omni: What pitfalls were there in entering the world of another author? Did you feel you were playing in Austen's sandbox, or did it feel like your own?

P.D. James: As I re-read all Jane Austen’s novels at least once a year her world was not strange to me and I did not feel I was imposing on her creativity.  I enjoyed introducing new characters and I think the magistrate, Sir Selwyn Hardcastle, made a particularly effective contribution to the plot.

Omni: You seemed to bring more of the real world into Austen's. For instance, there are mentions of women's rights and other modern changes. Was your intention to break the hermetic seal and flesh out Austen's world—or did these added details just follow logically?    

P.D. James: I did not wish to break the hermetic seal of Jane Austen’s world.  The added details were matters of concern to most educated people of Jane Austen’s time and I thought it right to introduce them.

Omni: Who was your favorite character to write in Death Come to Pemberley (and was this your favorite character from Pride & Prejudice)?  

P.D. James: Darcy was my favorite character to write, and Elizabeth my favorite from Pride and Prejudice.   

Omni: You have traced your literary influences to four writers - Jane Austen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh. Do you enjoy each of these authors for different reasons, or do they share one or two of the same qualities?

P.D. James: I enjoy them for different reasons, but all have a virtue in common: the ability to write brilliant dialogue.

Omni: Do you have favorite books by these authors that you could recommend to our readers?

P.D. James: I would recommend A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, and any book by the other three.

Omni: You began writing in your late thirties. Before you wrote your first novel, Cover Her Face, how much writing were you doing? Did you write short stories, parts of novels? Or just letters and grocery lists?

P.D. James: I was busy earning a living so had little time, but I did write a short play for radio and received an invitation to submit another, but my first novel prevented this.

 

 

Dean Koontz Interviews His Dog, Anna, Who Interviews Him

Dean Koontz's latest novel is The City. On December 9 he's publishing a Kindle Single, Odd Thomas.

His dog Anna's, ahem, new book is Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn.

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Dean Interviews Anna

AnnaDEAN: Hey, sweetie, how does it feel to see your first book, Ask Anna, in print?

ANNA: Better than a bee stinging me on the nose, maybe not as good as being given a membership in the Sausage-of-the-Month Club. I'm a little worried about the celebrity thing, so I've ordered a custom disguise that makes me look like a poodle.

DEAN: There's an article in your book that reveals how people like Noah and Albert Einstein changed history by listening carefully to their dogs' advice. Are you aware of any more recent famous people who failed to heed the advice of their dogs?

ANNA: Tragically, yes. Mr. Johnny Depp's dog warned him not to play Tonto.

DEAN: Is there any down side to a dog being a successful author?

ANNA: Carpal-tunnel paw. Hollywood wanting to buy the film rights and recast me as a gerbil to be played by Adam Sandler in a furry suit. Perhaps a catty review here and there. Static electricity from the computer screen standing my fur on end, so that for hours at a time I go around looking as if I stuck my tongue in a wall plug.

~

Anna Interviews Dean

Koontz2ANNA: Hey, Dad, what's it like having to share the limelight with me now that I'm a published author?

DEAN: I have no jealousy whatsoever. I hope you enjoy a career that is bigger than mine. And don't worry: I would never--never!--put one of those annoying post-surgery cones around your head for no reason at all except envy or something. And I would never--never!--change your name to Pussycat and make you answer to it.

ANNA: Good to know. Sometimes we go for a ride in the car and you let me drive, and then you insist on sticking your head out the window. Are you mocking me when you do that?

DEAN: No, short stuff. It's fun! All the great smells!! My ears flapping in the breeze!!! People pointing and laughing!!!!

ANNA: Since my book is about advice, is there any advice I've given you that you're sorry you didn't take?

DEAN: That incident with the angry ferret comes to mind. But they sewed the thumb back on nearly where it was before, and I can still hitchhike with it if I ever need to.

ANNA: Hey, Dad, let me put the loop of my leash around your hand, and I'll take you for a walk.

DEAN: Great! Can we go to the park? Can we? Can we? Will you throw the ball for me? Better yet, the stick! Will you throw the stick?!?

~

> See all of Dean Koontz's books

> See Anna on Facebook

Excerpt: "The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps," by Diogo Mainardi

ThefallBrazilian author and journalist Diogo Mainardi's unflinching story about raising a son, Tito, with cerebral palsy, The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps is comprised of 424 short passages, each representing Tito's steps walking toward the hospital whose errors caused his disability. 

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Just before he was 6 months old, Tito went for another examination at Padua Hospital.

His neurologist lay him face down on the stretcher. At that moment, he should have rolled over onto his back. Instead, he merely waved his little arms about, but -- like a turtle -- he was unable to turn over.

That was the first sign that he had cerebral palsy.

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I had found out that my wife was pregnant exactly one year before.

I wrote about it on 23 February 2000 in my column in the magazine Veja.

I started by saying that, up until then, my rejection of fatherhood had been one of the rare, unquestioned certainties of my life. I went on to say that my wish -- and I quote word for word -- was to have "a turtle child, and whenever he became too agitated, I would just have to roll him onto his back and he would lie there, silently waving his little arms."

I got my turtle child.

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Some days after the examination at Padua Hospital, we received the results through the post. According to the neurologist, Tito had suffered "damage to the extrapyramidal system."

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I know how to read.

Reading is my job. I think by reading. I feel by reading. When we received the result of the examination at Padua Hospital, I read all about the extrapyramidal system. Nothing I read prepared me for what we were about to discover.

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Now I know what Tito has.

According to the neurologists who have examined him over the last few years, the damage to his thalamus was caused by his bungled birth. The thalamus is part of the extrapyramidal system. The damage is infinitesimal, so much so that no machine has ever yet managed to detect it. But it's serious enough to affect all his movements.

Tito can't walk, pick things up or talk normally.

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After examining Tito, the neurologist at Padua Hospital sent him to a physiotherapist at Venice Hospital.

During the weeks that followed, the physiotherapist put him through a series of tests.

It was only when all the tests were over that -- with a feeling of fear and panic -- I first heard the term which, from that moment on, would come to dominate my life.

Tito had cerebral palsy.

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The fear lasted a week.

Then it passed.

The reason why it took only a week for the fear to pass was a fall.

Tito was sitting on my lap. I was sitting on the sofa in the living room reading the newspaper. My wife, who was rushing about, caught her foot on the rug and fell flat on her face in front of us. When Tito saw her fall, he laughed out loud. We both pretended to fall over. And he laughed and laughed and laughed. And we laughed with him.

Tito's cerebral palsy immediately became more familiar. Slapstick was a language we all understood.

Tito falls. My wife falls. I fall.

What unites us -- what will always unite us -- is the fall.

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Abbott and Costello Go to Mars: On a voyage into outer space, Lou Costello gets his astronaut's boot caught in a storm drain and falls over when he wrenches it free.

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Francesca Martinez is a comedian.

She has cerebral palsy. All her performances revolve around that topic.

According to her, the term cerebral palsy can only have been invented to induce "fear and panic." That is why she likes to be described as a "wobbly" person. She is always wobbly, always about to fall.

Francesca Martinez's humor -- like Lou Costello's -- takes its inspiration from her falls.

Cerebral palsy is her astronaut boot caught in a storm drain.

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Francesca Martinez told the Daily Mail what had happened to her.

Her cerebral palsy, like Tito's, was caused by a medical error. Her mother was left unattended for some hours because "being a Sunday there were fewer hospital staff on duty." Francesca remained in the womb and was left without oxygen for seven minutes.

Cerebral palsy, she explains, "occurs when part of the brain fails to work. It affects one child in five hundred. Each case is unique, but usually people's muscle control and mobility are affected."

The best way to describe how cerebral palsy affects her is that she appears to be "slightly drunk." Her speech is slurred and her balance wobbly.

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Two weeks after learning that Tito had cerebral palsy, I wrote about it in my column in Veja:

My 7-month-old son has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. From the outside, that piece of news might seem utterly desperate. From the inside, though, it's different. It was as if they had told me my son was Bulgarian. If I discovered that my son was Bulgarian, the first thing I would do would be to consult a book to find out more about Bulgaria: gross national product, principal rivers, mineral wealth, etc. And that is what I did with cerebral palsy.

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After saying that cerebral palsy was a term that struck fear into the heart and that, for the first time in my life, I belonged to a minority, I ended the column in this shamelessly sentimental way:

I consider myself to be a humorous writer. For me, there is nothing funnier than frustrated expectations.
Frustrated expectations about social progress.
Frustrated expectations about scientific discoveries.
Frustrated expectations about the power of love.
I have always worked from that anti-enlightenment viewpoint. Now I've changed. I now believe in the power of love. Love for a little Bulgarian.

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From that moment on, Tito's cerebral palsy became a recurrent theme in my columns.

Over a period of ten years, I devoted eight columns to him.

If, as Francesca Martinez estimated, cerebral palsy affects, on average, 1 child in 500, I published a column on the subject, on average, every 500 days.

Cerebral palsy affected the lives of my readers as often as it affects life in general.

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In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Francesca Martinez stated: "That's the huge secret about disability -- anyone with experience of it knows that a disabled person is just a person they love."

In my first article about Tito, that was the only "huge secret" I had to reveal.

Astonishingly, for me and for Anna, Tito's cerebral palsy was never a cause for sorrow. Astonishingly, for me and for Anna, Tito's cerebral palsy never seemed a burden.

At 7 months, Tito was simply a person we loved.

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In mid-2001, we took Tito to see a neurologist in New York.

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Tito and me in New York.

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In New York, I became Tito's first mode of transport.

He would point left and I would go left. He would point right and I would go right. He would point at his grandmother and I would hand him over to his grandmother.

Tito would choose my fate by sending me off to the right or to the left.

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The New York neurologist was very encouraging.

After doing a few tests, he predicted that, in two years' time, Tito would be speaking normally. He also predicted that, in four years' time, Tito would be walking on his own.

Both predictions proved false.

Tito never spoke normally. He never walked on his own.

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Christy Brown had cerebral palsy.

During the first few months of his life, his parents took him to various neurologists in Dublin.

They all said that Christy Brown would remain forever in a state of "torpor," because he was an "idiot," "mentally defective," a "hopeless case" and "beyond cure."

In his autobiography, My Left Foot, Christy Brown described how he was able to overcome the worst prognoses, finding a way of typing and painting with the big toe of his left foot.

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Like Christy Brown's parents, Anna and I learned to ignore all the doctors' stupid prognoses, whether positive or negative. Like Christy Brown's parents, Anna and I learned to celebrate each step taken by Tito, however wobbly.

After a certain point, we even learned to celebrate his falls. In the early years, Tito would always hurt himself when he fell. Over time, he developed new ways of breaking his falls.

Knowing how to fall is much more valuable than knowing how to walk.

Punk Rock Girl

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.: A MemoirViv Albertine's new memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. is a book is divided almost straight down the middle. Side One is the story of her upbringing in the north London suburb of Muswell Hill: It's the mid-seventies, and the Sex Pistols are at the head of a massive, angry (or at least frustrated) cultural insurgence. Her rebellious tendencies have led her into the center of punk culture, and inspired by its outsized personalities and  confrontational style, she picks up a guitar, forsaking traditional training for the DIY ethos of the day. After her band with the pre-Pistols Sid Vicious (The Flowers of Romance--a possibly sardonic suggestion from Johnny Rotten) fails to launch, Albertine joins forces with The Slits, a ska-infused, all-girl outfit that, through the force of its collective will and audacity, elbows its way to the front of a stage filled with sharp, mostly male elbows. Everyone is wearing Vivenne Westwood's provocative clothing purchased from Malcolm McLaren's infamous boutique, SEX--at least as much as they could afford. Mick Jones of The Clash wanders in and out of the story, first as a gangly proto-punk spending all of his time and loose change trying to put together a band, and later as Albertine's on-again, off-again boyfriend (the classic London Calling track "Train in Vain" was inspired by her). It's a story in the best rock & roll tradition: Initiative leads. Ability chases. Success looms. Then someone bumps the turntable.

Side Two. The band has blown apart. Grownup problems ensue: education and career; marriage and kids; serious illness, divorce, and identity. The actor Vincent Gallo. Albertine moves through all of it, drawing from the same well of determination that compelled her to pick up the guitar for the first time. The two sides of the book may tell very different stories, but they share perspective and style that are both straightforward and ultimately uncompromising. If you love this music (and your library contains titles like Please Kill Me and Richard Hell's I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp), then this book is fascinating and essential. If not, it's fascinating and inspiring. It's occasionally coarse, and often terribly funny and fun.

In the spirit of the title, we asked Albertine three memorable examples of the three main themes: clothes, music, and boys.

 

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes
Your three memorable articles of clothing or outfits, where & when you wore them, where you got them, and what made them special.

My first cool outfit was by mail order, all the rage in the 1960s. It was a purple corduroy three piece suit, a fitted jacket, mini-skirt and hipster bell-bottom trousers with big belt loops. It came in pieces, so my mother had to sew it all together. Best of all there was a "Donovan" peaked cap included, like a Dylan cap, which I wore to death.

When I first went to Vivienne Westwood's shop "Sex" in 1975, I couldn’t believe that what I was thinking about and drawing at art college, someone else had thought to put onto clothes. I’d never thought of combining erotica, feminism and insurgency with items of clothing. I wore this look with my own embellishments from that day onwards and I didn’t have one peaceful journey through London for the next six years because of it.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaAs my 18-year marriage started to fall apart, because I’d started to play my Telecaster again (still a powerful weapon in the wrong hands), I began to think about how I was dressing. I had become very conventional, not wanting to be noticed, hiding away in a nice house by the coast away from London, and I had to think again about who I was, who I wanted to project with my clothes. You hear all these phrases like "mutton dressed as lamb," but I think good taste is good taste whatever age you are, and clashing prints with cuban heels now or matted hair and loads of black eye-liner back then are good taste - my version of good taste.

Music, Music, Music
Three inspiring/influential/rewarding musical experiences of your life. Bands that you’ve seen, shows that you’ve played, people you’ve met, or any other musical moment.

The first time a live show transported me was when I saw Fleetwood Mac play at a free night-time outdoor concert on a wild piece of land called Hampstead Heath near my home in North London. Everything about the evening was dark and mysterious and forbidden. Fleetwood Mac came on and played "Albatross," the guitars wailed over the tops of the black silhouetted trees, I felt like I was flying and swooping with them.

The second time has to be when I saw the Sex Pistols live at Chelsea School of Art. I was transfixed by Johnny Rotten, not because he was extraordinary, but because he was as near someone like me that I had ever seen on stage and I found that shocking, inspiring and fascinating. He couldn’t sing or play an instrument (like me), he came from North London, a poor family, below-average schooling, bad housing (all like me) and yet unlike me, he wasn’t ashamed, apologetic or embarrassed about any of this. The next day I went out and bought a Les Paul Junior and started to learn to play guitar.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaI stopped playing music for twenty five years. I felt it wasn’t an interesting medium anymore. By 2008 a couple of things had happened, the internet (making it possible to reach people without the conduit of record company men), I became healthy again and I went back to art school one day a week to explore my thoughts and feelings creatively. All this made me want to pick up the guitar and play and write songs again. Big changes in your life aren’t always about eureka moments, sometimes it’s just painfully slow, hard work and dogged determination.

Boys, Boys, Boys
Three who had a profound effect on her life, good or not so good.

The thing is, in the 1970s, ordinary girls and women were very repressed and oppressed, we had no role models, I never once met an interesting woman, in the arts or music who I could imagine being. They weren’t even in the media. The first woman who resonated with me was Yoko Ono. So I was influenced by boys. I wanted to do things boys did and I dated boys that interested me on that level. That realisation has made boys less interesting to me. What do I want or need from them now? Especially now I have my own home and a child. If it’s just about companionship, for years on end…well, that person is hard to find, male or female.

The three boys I nominate are: my first proper boyfriend, Magnus (who I still know and love, we are neighbours), he was interesting, well-read, an amazing artist, from a poor background, and I followed in his footsteps for a while to gigs and art school. I was thirteen, he was fifteen and we went out together for three years.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaNumber two has to be Mick Jones (guitarist with the Clash) who I met at art school when I was nineteen. I watched as he tried over and over again to form bands, full of passion, love of music and determination, which was very rare in a young person back then. He was also extremely intelligent, self-taught, interested in politics and all aspects of life. From him I learnt how to run a band. We are still friends and love each other too.

Number three is myself. I am the boy now. I am whole. I don’t look to a man to complete me, to inspire me, to lead me somewhere I haven’t quite got the courage to go to by myself. It’s taken fifty or so years to get here. Love and romance sure do look different from this perspective. Most relationships look a bit pathetic to me to be honest. I am questioning what two people are doing, clinging together for years and years on end, way past the relationship’s sell-by date. I would like a new paradigm to be the norm, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

Photos 1 and 2 by Carolina Ambida; photo 3 courtesy the author

Moosewood Cookbook 40 Years Later: A Guest Post by Mollie Katzen

MoosewoodCkbk400It's hard to believe, but the Moosewood Cookbook turns 40 this year with a beautiful commemorative edition that includes a new introduction by author Mollie Katzen.  

According to the New York Times, Moosewood Cookbook is one of the top ten best-selling cookbooks of all time and for many of us it revolutionized the way we think about vegetarian cooking.  First published as a spiral-bound notebook with hand-written recipes and simple illustrations,  this classic cookbook has stood the test of time and is still one of the most popular guides to making delicious home-cooked vegetarian dishes.  Restaurants today pride themselves on menus highlighting seasonal ingredients, but in the pages of this cookbook Mollie Katzen has been showing home cooks how to make the most of in season fruits and vegetables for decades.

We asked Katzen to write a guest post for us, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her first cookbook*, and to share her favorite recipe from the book which turns out to be Califlower-Cheese Pie.

*Since Moosewood Mollie Katzen has written several cookbooks, including her most recent, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.


The original Moosewood Cookbook originated, in part, from random notes used to help keep track of what my friends and I were cooking in the tiny kitchen of our modest 1970s restaurant. “Vegetarian” was in the early stages of becoming a “thing,” but it was highly unofficial. We were greatly inspired by international dishes as remembered from various world travel (actual or via the “ethnic restaurant” route), discovering cuisines from other countries that placed far less emphasis on meat and more on creative preparation of garden- and orchard-sourced ingredients.  (At that time, hardly anyone in the United States had heard of tabouli, pesto, hummus, or many other then-considered-exotic items that are now ubiquitous.)

Our food was largely plant-based, although that term was not yet in anyone’s vocabulary. The notebook was an attempt to more or less standardize our “cuisine,” which was varied and eclectic and often quite spontaneous—determined largely by the produce delivery of the day and the imagination and skill level of the cook. We had a casual approach to everything (including the idea of standardization itself), so this would ideally help us keep things somewhat consistent.  An inveterate journal keeper and art school graduate, I turned these notes into a booklet, speaking with an informal voice through my own hand-lettering (didn’t own a typewriter; computers decades short of existing) and pen-and-ink illustrations.

In 1974, I photocopied the booklet and sold copies through a local bookstore. Over the next couple of years, it ended up selling thousands of copies. In the fall of 1977, the national edition (the one many people have come to know) was first published by Ten Speed Press. It was not an overnight sensation; it actually took a few years to catch on and begin to sell. To this day, amazingly, the Moosewood Cookbook has never been out of print.

For Moosewood Cookbook’s 40th birthday celebration, Ten Speed and I have collaborated on an upgraded package with a fresh new look, built to last. For those of you with old, stained, notated, dog-eared, scotch-taped, rubber-banded (and in some cases, coverless) copies from yesteryear, you might appreciate this newly refreshed edition—whether for yourself or for someone who is new to this tome, inspired more by  curiosity, perhaps, than nostalgia.  In any case, we are thrilled to celebrate this milestone with you.  We hope these recipes—and this style of cooking, in general—will call out to you, giving you a range of ideas to keep your cooking fresh in all ways and helping you make or keep your kitchen a place of creativity and enjoyment.  --Mollie Katzen

 

CauliflowerCheesePieRecipe

 

Best Children's Books of 2014

BOTY2014KidsCollageThis year there seemed to be as many great children's books in the first half of the year as the second, great news for all of us book lovers who didn't have to wait until the big fall books to find the gems.  Case in point, The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems--our top pick for 2014 that released in April--is hilarious whether you're 4 or 44. 

Deciding on the top 20 children's books is always difficult, but I won't complain about having so many beloved books to choose from over the course of 2014.  Below is a sampling of the Best Children's Books of 2014, the top five (of a total of 20) across all ages.  You can also see the top 20 for each category:

Top 5 Children's Books of 2014:

1. The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems (ages 3-5): A new book in the beloved Pigeon series, even the flies think the pigeon needs a good scrub.  Hilarity ensues as pigeon does everything he can think of to avoid a bath but when the inevitable happens, the pigeon is pleasantly surprised.

2. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm (ages 9-12): The clever, funny, and uplifting story of 11-year-old Ellie, who is entering a new chapter of her life when her grumpy scientist grandfather ends up living with them under strange circumstances.  As Ellie discovers new friends and interests, she and her grandfather form a unique bond that results in the gift of possibility for both of them.

3. The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (ages 9-12): Historical fiction for young readers at it best, The Boundless successfully mixes history, folklore, and imagination into a sweeping adventure story. Will and Maren's paths cross twice around the Boundless, a train of epic proportion.  Though they live very different lives, they are united in the face of the murderers, thieves, and deception aboard the train's inaugural run.  

4. The Heroes of Olympus Book Five: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (ages 9-12): The final book in the Heroes of Olympus series, Riordan brings his A-game to end the story of these Greek and Roman demigods' battle to save the world from Gaea's destructive force.  Action-packed adventure, witty characters, and suspense make this one a page-turner from beginning to end.

5. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume One by Kate DiCamillo (ages 6-8): Award winner Kate DiCamillo kicks off a new chapter book series with a character readers may remember from one of ther Mercy Watson books, Leroy Ninker.  A sweet and funny story about a would-be cowboy and the horse he loves, this is a great book for reluctant readers and young enthusiasts alike.

You can see all of our favorite chidlren's books of the year here.

Guest Essay: David Baldacci, on the Origins of "The Escape"

In David Baldacci's latest novel, special agent John Puller hunts down an escaped prisoner who's become the most wanted man in America--his own brother. The Escape is an Amazon Best Book of the Month for November.

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Baldacci2The year was 1983. I was sitting in my law school class at the University of Virginia. It was my first year there and I didn’t really know anyone. We had name placards that we had to slide into slots in front of us so the professor could call on us by name. No pressure. Sitting next to me was a young man in full military dress blues. I found out later the JAG (Judge Advocates General) School--which trained military lawyers--was located right next to the law school. Military lawyers-in-training would also have classes with us regular folks. I remembered being quite impressed. Over three decades later I conjured up that old memory to write a scene in my new novel, The Escape.

In creating the John Puller series and wanting to immerse myself in the military world as much as I could without actually enlisting, I flew to Fort Benning in Georgia to spend three days with the infantry and the elite Army Rangers. (See photos below.) Jumping off parachute towers, firing sniper rifles, escaping from upside down Humvees and trying to keep up with two rock-hard Command Master Sergeants in performing the Army’s functional fitness training regimen was just what I needed to write the sort of books I wanted to. And most importantly of all, listening to soldiers from privates all the way up to generals tell me why they wanted to put on the uniform and risk their lives. That sort of information you simply can’t get by searching online.

The Escape is ultimately a book about brothers. So being the history buff that I am, I included a bit of history about two siblings from long ago, one famous, one not. We all know the story of General George Armstrong Custer, the flamboyant and publicity-seeking Civil War veteran who is best remembered for leading his Seventh Calvary to slaughter at Little Big Horn. What many folks may not know is that George had a younger brother named Thomas Custer, who was awarded not one, but two Medals of Honor during the Civil War for capturing two Confederate Regimental Battle flags. The second instance cost him a gunshot wound to the face, but did not stop him from riding back to his lines with the captured flag. This very same brother, along with an even younger brother, Boston, followed their older brother George to the very end, dying with him at Little Big Horn. Love can truly make you blind. But family is also forever.

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> See all of David Baldacci's books

> Follow him on Twitter

> Visit his website

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Amazon Asks: Patricia Cornwell, on Her New Novel, "Flesh and Blood"

Flesh and Blood is Patricia Cornwell's twenty-second novel featuring forensic sleuth Dr. Kay Scarpetta. This time Scarpetta pursues a sharp-shooting serial sniper, and her investigation leads too close to a family member--her own flesh and blood. Flesh and Blood is an Amazon Best Mystery-Thriller of the Month.

Cornwell

Describe your new book in 10 words?

Cornwell2Scarpetta is unstoppable.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

My iPhone is loaded with a huge library of Kindle titles that make it easy for me to read while traveling. Some of the latest are Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin, A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and All We Had by Annie Weatherwax.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

Book that changed your life, or made you want to become a writer?

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Books can change the world and fix what is horribly broken.

What are you obsessed with or stressed about now?

The Bermuda Triangle and Jack the Ripper (not stressed, just hugely motivated).

What's your most prized/treasured literary possession?

A book about Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture that was signed by Agatha Christie (which was a gift from her to someone named "Lucy Boo." I sure wish I knew who that was).

Pen Envy -- book you wish you'd written, or character you wish you’d created?

Okay, I admit I wish I'd created Sherlock Holmes.

What's favorite method of procrastination, temptation or vice?

Playing with our bulldog.

What do you collect?

Art by Dr. Seuss and really cool belt buckles.

Best/worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

Best: Don't take no for an answer. Worst: Do something else because you'll never make a living as a writer.

~

> See all of Patricia Cornwell's books

 

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Johnny Iuzzini's Rich Butter Cookies

Our Day 3 cookie recipe comes from Johnny Iuzzini, an award-winning pastry chef who has worked with top restauranteurs around the country, and served as head judge on the Top Chef spinoff, Top Chef Just Desserts.  Iuzzini published his second cookbook, Sugar Rush: Master Tips, Techniques, and Recipes for Sweet Baking, at the end of September and it includes his favorite cookie, seen below.

One of my all time favorite cookie recipes is the Rich Butter Cookie. Not only for its extraordinary flavor and delicate texture but because it is so versatile. You can garnish and personalize the cookie with any type of salt, spices or dried fruits tailoring it to your families palate.-- Johnny Iuzzini


Rich Butter Cookies with Pink Peppercorns and Sea Salt
JohnnyIuzzini_RichButterCookies_cropMakes about 3 dozen cookies

The base of this cookie is a sablé dough that I learned from Thomas Haas, a fourth-generation pastry chef hailing from the Black Forest region of Germany and one of my mentors as a young pastry cook. Because the egg is precooked before it is added to the dough, it lends richness but does not bind the dough, which is very tender.

Unlike their cousins, pink peppercorns are not “peppery” but more fragrant and almost floral in comparison. Add a pinch of sea salt to the tops of the cookies and they contain everything a good dessert should have—tender crumb, crunch, a bit of flowery spice, sweetness, and saltiness all in one bite.

  • 1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced (283 g)
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar (250 g)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt (2 g)
  • Yolks of 4 hard-boiled large eggs
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling (375 g)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons crushed pink peppercorns, for garnish
  • Coarse sea salt, for garnish

Put the butter, sugar, and kosher salt in a standing mixer bowl and toss with your fingers to coat. Attach the bowl to the mixer with the paddle and beat on medium-low speed until a sugary paste forms with no visible lumps of butter.

Meanwhile, using a rubber spatula, press the egg yolks through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and scrape any egg yolk stuck to the strainer into the bowl. Add the yolks and vanilla seeds to the butter and mix until well incorporated.

Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the flour; stop to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula several times. Mix until just incorporated. Put a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface, dump the dough onto it, and cover with another sheet of parchment. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough ¾ inch thick.

Transfer the dough to a sheet pan and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour. Remove the dough from the freezer and let stand for 10 minutes. When partially thawed, roll the dough between the parchment sheets until it is ½ inch thick. (Peel back the parchment and dust the dough with flour if it sticks to the paper.)

Line 2 baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment. Use a 2 ½-inch plain cutter to cut out rounds of dough and transfer them to the lined sheets, about 1 inch apart. Reroll the scraps and cut cookies until the dough is used up. Cover the pans and freeze for 30 minutes, until ready to bake.

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Remove the cookies from the freezer and brush them with the beaten egg. Sprinkle a pinch of pink peppercorns over the top along with a few flakes of coarse salt. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until the edges of the cookies are light golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes on the pan before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Note: If you have 2- or 2 ½-inch pastry rings, butter them and cut the cookies to that exact dimension using the appropriately sized cutter. Since this dough has so much butter, it spreads easily, so baking them in rings helps keep them perfectly straight so you can see the rich, cakey layers from the side when you unmold them. 


Sugar Rush is Johnny Iuzzini's second cookbook.

SugarRushJohnny_Iuzzini_headshot

If you missed our earlier cookie recipes you can find them here:

Graphic Novel Friday: Grant Morrison's Tragic Triumph

A few hours after I finished The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, something happened: I got it. Now, I can’t shake the sense that I read the best superhero single issue of the year.

Morrison’s Multiversity project (available digitally on comiXology and Kindle, and in our third party marketplace) is a grand one for DC Comics: eight single issues--each a #1, and each issue features a parallel earth, complete with its own heroes and villains. Morrison promises that all of these #1 issues will eventually form a larger whole, a macro-look at DC’s Multiverse, a collection of 52 parallel earths targeted by a villainous collective known as The Gentry. Sounds convoluted, but the beauty of starting at #1 every time is that readers can jump in anywhere and catch a glimpse of a world that is brand new.

Pax Americana #1 features a world populated with heroes who resemble those from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (or, rather the Charlton Comics hero analogues that Moore used to populate his story). Readers may recognize The Question/Rorschach, Blue Beetle/Night Owl, Dr. Manhattan/Captain Atom, and so on, but this is only the top layer of Morrison’s story, and a familiarity with its framework is not at all necessary. Rather than follow the same deconstruction path that Moore paved, Morrison writes a love letter to superhero ideals while horribly undoing them.

Pax-americana-quitely

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Grant Morrison's Tragic Triumph" »

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