Fascinating New Summer Reads!


By Susan Orlean

Kindle and e-book only, $1.99

There are animal lovers and then there are animal lovers. Susan Orlean is the latter. A longtime New Yorker writer known for her fascination with American culture, she explores yet another of her cultural fascinations in Animalish: pets and their place in our world. Taking a personal approach, she addresses her own obsession with animals (and I don’t mean just cats and dogs). In her unique approach–a mixture of literature and nonfiction–Orlean allows her voice to shine through, giving readers an intimate look into one of her great personal passions. Even non-animal lovers will be hard-pressed to not say “aww.” –Shirley Hong

The life and times of a girl who has always loved animals, or how I went from dreaming about Rin Tin Tin to having dogs, cats, chickens, fish, cattle, turkeys, and guinea fowl, with guest appearances by horses, lions, and canaries.

Courtesy of Amazon. Read about Orlean in the NY Times.

garden-of-beasts-erik-larsonIN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS

By Erik Larson

For around $15.00

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance–and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming–yet wholly sinister–Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.

Courtesy of B&N.com.

long-drive-home-will-allisonLONG DRIVE HOME

By Will Allison

215 pages. Free Press. $22.

A man driving with his 6-year-old daughter in the back seat gets a case of road rage after a teenage driver cuts him off on a quiet residential street. As the car careens toward them a second time, the dad, Glen, decides to teach the teenage boy a lesson, turning into his lane to give him a scare. The oncoming driver swerves into a tree and dies. While narrowly focusing his lens on the event and its consequences, Mr. Allison still manages to take in a panorama of human behavior. Not knowing what his little girl was aware of, Glen doesn’t admit his role in the accident to his wife or the police. Mr. Allison’s gift is in making that lie – and each new one it inevitably spawns – understandable, showing how this story could be anyone’s. Part of the book is written as a letter from Glen to his daughter, to read when she’s 18, explaining the consequences.


By Mark Watson

298 pages. Scribner. $15.

The ghost of Hugh Grant lurks within the pages of this novel, a pleasing London-set romantic comedy complete with a cast of quirky supporting characters. The plot description registers as predictable: A lonely, heartbroken radio host dispenses advice to others when his own life needs fixing, and finds love again in an unexpected place. The surprises come in the language. Leicester Square is said to be “sulky with drizzle.” A film director has “a gut which imposes itself through an inadequate tuxedo like somebody mooning through a gap in curtains.” And at a party, people take out their BlackBerrys each time they shuffle to another conversation “as if the gadgets contain instructions on how to move.” Which is all to say that in the telling of this story, Mr. Watson, a British comedian and writer, can be rather charming – like the actor destined to star in any adaptation of this book.

you-are-free-danzy-sennaYOU ARE FREE

By Danzy Senna

219 pages. Riverhead Books. $15.

Like a latter-day Nella Larsen, Ms. Senna writes about the mutability of race in this collection of stories. In Ms. Larsen’s Harlem Renaissance-era novel “Passing” a biracial woman poses as white, marries a racist and meets a tragic end. For the mixed-race women who populate Ms. Senna’s contemporary stories, toggling between black and white is easier but remains alienating, despite the election of a “blackish” president. One character, Jackie, morphs from black to white on a daily basis depending on how she styles her hair. On the days that she wears it straight, her black boyfriend refuses to hold her hand in black neighborhoods, “explaining that while he knew she was black, strangers might think otherwise.” Though Ms. Senna, who wrote “Caucasia” (1998), doesn’t seem to work terribly hard on her sentences (example: “She finished the story at the eleventh hour and went out for a drink with her friend Jose.”), she does bring daylight to issues a lot of people might have assumed were long settled.

the-lake-banana-yoshimotoTHE LAKE

By Banana Yoshimoto

Translated by Michael Emmerich. 188 pages. Melville House. $23.95.

“Is it all right if we try? If we see if I can do it? If I can’t now, I feel like I never will.” So begins this oddball love story between Nakajima, a young student, and Chihiro, a young artist, who both live in Tokyo. He’s still recovering from having been kidnapped by a members of cult as a child and – perhaps more damaging – his mother’s overcompensation upon his escape. Her mother’s recent death has left her feeling alone. Rather than treat themselves to some much-deserved therapy, they rely on each other. And these two novices at happiness turn out to be a good match. Chihiro describes Nakajima this way: “No one in the world is as peculiar as he is.” She means this as a compliment. Ms. Yoshimoto’s earlier novel, “Kitchen,” was an international best seller; reading the new one, you realize just how conventional most love stories are.


By Marcelo Figueras

Translated by Frank Wynne. 311 pages. Black Cat. $14.95.

Right away you know what’s going to happen at the end of this story. (You know because Mr. Figueras flashes forward at the beginning.) But recognizing that the book will lead to two boys’ separation from their parents is little preparation for its impact. Harry is 10 and his brother, who’s sleeping so soundly that he doesn’t wake up when his mother kisses him goodbye, is 5. The boys’ parents, a physicist and a lawyer, are suspected enemies of the military government that has just seized power in Argentina. The year is 1976. Before the parents disappear as two more victims of that country’s “dirty war,” the family hides in a safe house. They carry on normally for part of a year. Playing Risk, Harry tries to beat his dad (who at one point holes up in the Kamchatka territory on the board, hence the book’s title). He and his mother discuss the merits of his becoming an escape artist. By the time we circle back to the start, we’ve seen who they are as a family and understand what’s lost.

french-leave-anna-gavaldaFRENCH LEAVE

By Anna Gavalda

Translated by Alison Anderson. 108 pages. Europa Editions. $15.

Playing hooky from their everyday lives, three thirtyish siblings ditch a stuffy wedding to drop in on their brother, a tour guide at a chateau in the French countryside. They are: a young woman unsure of practicing law just as she is about to take the bar; a newly divorced mother; an adoring father; a young man who can’t get a woman. Being together again is a flashback to their youth. They swim in the stream, drink flat beer at a Gypsy camp on the grounds and sleep in the stables. They’re fully aware that their connection as siblings can’t remain primary. There are new families to be made, different homes to return to. And yet they’re happy for the weekend. This jaunty novella, a best seller in France and Germany, is a toast to the moment in time.

Courtesy of New York Times.

For more great reads:

A Jane Austen Education

Books for the Green Goddess In You

Swim Back To Me

© 2011 Copyright   Allison Stuart Kaplan  www.Askinyourface.com LLC

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  1. Some of these look good. Thanks

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