{FOF Book Critic} Not-to-be-missed summer fiction


We’re still only half way through the publishing year, but, I’m sure I can already tell you two books that will be on every reviewer’s ‘Best Books of 2012’ lists,” says FOF book critic Linda Wolfe, the award-winning author of 10 books and a 12-year veteran of the National Book Critics Circle. “[These books] are [also] sure to be nominees for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle fiction award: Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s glorious sequel to Wolf Hall, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a stunning first novel by short story writer Ben Fountain.

“In addition, there are other bookish pleasures to be had this summer,” says Linda. “Books that will transport you, whether you’re off to some wondrous vacation destination or stuck sizzlingly at home.”


BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt. 410 pp.

I remember that when Mantel’s Wolf Hall came out in 2010, I read it very slowly, rationing myself to a score or so of pages a day to prolong the joy the book was giving me. Then, to my surprise, when I got within sixty pages of the end, I did something I hadn’t done since I was a pre-teen.  I went back and read the book all over again, until finally, I finished it.  Not without regrets.  I’d wanted this work of galloping wit and invention never to end.

Like many women I know, I was more than a little in love with Mantel’s brilliant, complicated Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s confidante and chief secretary, a statesman who was a humanitarian and social radical, a master of languages, an admirer of Latin poetry, and an adoring husband and father who could brandish a stiletto, cook up a gingery eel sauce, evaluate the worth of an oriental carpet, and stay loyal to his friends even when the rest of the world shunned them. So too, were a great number of women I knew, one of whom reminisced to me recently, “All day I couldn’t wait for it to be nighttime, so I could get in bed with Cromwell.”

Well, he’s back again, and he’s just as fascinating, albeit a little less loveable, for in Bodies, Mantel gives us the side of Cromwell–masked in the first book–that is capable of suppressing doubts and foregoing moral principles to hold onto power. He is dedicated to his master, the king, wants above all to serve Henry well and for his kingdom to prosper.  “His greatest ambition for England is this,” Mantel tells us. “The prince and his commonwealth should be in accord.  He doesn’t want the kingdom to be run like [his father] Walter’s house in Putney, with fighting all the time and the sound of banging and shrieking day and night. He wants it to be a household where everybody knows what they have to do, and feels safe doing it.” But, Henry has grown tired of his second wife,  Anne Boleyn, with whom he had fallen so passionately in love that in order to divorce his first wife and marry Anne he had torn the kingdom away from Catholicism and started his own religion. Now, when Henry hints to Cromwell that he wishes to be rid of Anne, who has turned out to be not only a nag and a shrew, but has failed to  produced a male heir to the throne, Cromwell thinks of his mentor, Cardinal Wolsey, who was forced from power,  humiliated, and hounded to his death when he didn’t aid Henry to marry Anne. “To his inner ear, the cardinal speaks.  He says, ‘I saw you…scratching your balls in the dawn and wondering at the violence of the king’s whims.  If he wants a new wife, fix him one. I didn’t, and I am dead.’”

Cromwell will fix Henry a new wife, bringing Anne to trial on dubious charges of adultery and, using trumped-up evidence, causing her and a handful of implicated courtiers executed. But his efforts come at  great cost. He has accumulated powerful enemies. But more importantly, he has deadened a part of  himself. “He once thought,” he reflects, “that he might die of grief: for his wife, his daughters, his sisters, his father and master the cardinal. But the pulse, obdurate, keeps its rhythm.  You think you cannot keep breathing, but your rib cage has other ideas, rising and falling, emitting sighs.  You may thrive in spite of yourself; and so that you may do it, God takes out your heart of flesh, and gives you a heart of stone.”

Mantel, I’ve heard, had originally planned her sequel to follow Cromwell to his ultimate fall from power, but was persuaded to tell the story  in three parts–the better to secure more book sales.  I don’t care that Bring Up the Bodies stops short of the denouement.  Now, I’ve got a third book to look forward to as eagerly as I awaited this one.


Ecco.  307 pp.

Billy Lynn, Ben Fountain’s dazzling first novel, is bound for the literary peaks.  It’s the Great American Novel of the twenty-first century so far, the Catch 22 of the Iraq war, the sweet spot where satire and heartbreak, scintillating language, unforgettable characters, and sharp-eyed insight into American life combine to make a book unlike any other you’ve read.  Besides which, you’ll fall in love with Billy.  He’s not Thomas Cromwell, but he’s quite a guy!

Billy’s just nineteen, a soldier in Iraq, who, with the ten members of his small squad, nicknamed Bravo, engaged in a fierce gun battle with insurgents that was taped by a Fox “embed” and broadcast on national TV.  As the heroism of this small band of brothers goes viral through the culture, the Army quickly spots an advantage to bringing Billy and the eight surviving members of Bravo back home for a fourteen-day “Victory Tour.” A film producer latches onto them in the hopes of selling their story to Hollywood, members of the public go wild upon meeting them, pressing their flesh and spouting words like “terrRist, freedom, nina leven, currj, sacrifice,” and the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, a man named here as Norm Oglesby, arranges to have Bravo star–on the last day of their tour–in the stadium’s vaunted halftime spectacle, along with Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child.

A small town Texas boy who’d never left home before the war, Billy has by now, Thanksgiving Day, seen a great deal of America. “It’s the same everywhere Bravo has been,” he observes.  “The airports, the hotels, the arenas and convention centers…retail dominates the land. Somewhere along the way, America became a giant mall with a country attached.” And in Iraq, Billy has seen things he could never have imagined, including the legs of Lake, one of the troop’s members, seeming to walk after the rest of the man has been blown apart from them. “What’s happening now isn’t nearly as real as that,” Billy thinks at the stadium. “The realest things in the world these days are the things in his head….A leg.  Two legs.  Lake’s…As if waking from a long sleep, the legs begin to stir. Tentative at first, they move with a childlike air of sweetly baffled innocence, but eventually they rise, shake themselves off and set off in search of the rest of Lake.”

Billy’s scared about having to return to Iraq.  “The freaking randomness is what wears on you…the difference between life, death, and horrible injury sometimes as slight as stooping to tie your bootlace on the way to chow…turning your head to the left instead of the right.  Random.  How that shit does twist your mind.”  He’s a kid, but his experiences have made him feel older than his age, wiser than his fellow Americans. “They are bold and proud and certain in the way of clever children blessed with too much self-esteem, and no amount of lecturing will enlighten them as to the state of pure sin toward which war inclines. He pities them, scorns them, loves them, hates them. These boys and girls.  These toddlers, these infants.  Americans are children who must go somewhere else to grow up, and sometimes die.”

He’s also desperate to find himself a girlfriend.  The tour has provided him with a goodly dose of sexual experiences but he’s still a virgin, and he’s decided “Blow jobs suck, just by themselves. Well, sometimes they’re all right. Okay, usually they’re awesome as far as they go, but lately he feels the definite need for something more in his life.  It’s not so much that he’s nineteen and still technically a virgin as it is this famished feeling deep in his chest, this liposucked void where his best part should be.  He needs a woman.  No, he needs a girlfriend, he needs someone to mash into body and soul and he’s been waiting for it to happen these entire two weeks.”

Ben Fountain, whose only previous book was the 2006 story collection, Brief Encounters With Che Guevara, has said that he conceived Billy Lynn while watching the halftime show of the Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day 2004. “It was such a blithering, surreal, over the top mashup of patriotism and soft-core pornography that, once I actually started to pay attention to it, seemed emblematic of the general insanity of American life.  One of the weirdest things was that everyone – the people in the stands, the TV announcers, the people I was with–didn’t see anything unusual about the show.  It was just America being America. Couldn’t people see that the country was completely running off the rails?  I was coming to the realization that I had no understanding whatsoever of the country where I was born and have spent my entire life.  Billy Lynn is an attempt to gain some measure of understanding, or at least a reasonably accurate portrait of the current version of American psychopathy.”

That’s what Fountain has given us, and what happens to Billy during his hours at the stadium, the girl he finds, the decisions he has to make, and the new kinds of threats he must now fight, make for exciting, hilarious, chilling reading.  This book will explode into your consciousness like an IUD.


MÉNAGE by Alix Kates Shulman
Other Press.  269 pages

If ever there was a perfect summer read, it’s this wicked romp by Shulman, author of four novels including the feminist classic, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen. Ménage tells the tangled tale of a husband, his wife, and the total stranger the husband, on a whim, invites to live in his and his wife’s luxurious suburban home.  His motives for this odd offer are complex.  The stranger, an East European novelist now down-at-heels, was once the darling of the intellectual community here and abroad, spoken for by Sontag, lionized by the literati.  The husband, Mack, a wealthy architect and collector of all the wondrous things money can buy thinks of the writer, Zoltan Barbu, as another possession, a celebrity whose residence in his home. Particularly, if while staying there, Zoltan completes the long-awaited masterpiece he’s said to have been working on for years, it will add to Mack’s own prestige.  Moreover, his wife, Heather, is a would-be novelist; perhaps having Zoltan living with them will help her with her own writing; certainly it will provide her with the intellectual companionship Mack is too preoccupied with work and the occasional sexual escapade to offer her.

You think Heather might resent this “gift” of a live-in author?  Uh-uh.  She’s totally taken with the man from the moment she sees his “tall slim figure in a black cloak–dramatic, operatic” and especially when  Zoltan, “adept at entrances,” kisses her hand, lightly brushing her knuckles with his lips and faintly teasing her arm “with the glossy lock that had  fallen over his right eye.”

From there on in, you’ll be turning pages, bursting into laughter, scratching your head, absorbed in the antics of this engaging threesome–and how all of them ultimately get exactly what they want from their turbulent time together.  A heady mix of lively dialogue, right-on social observation, and fun-pokes at literary pretension and  suburban life, this novel is full of surprises.


The SHADES OF GREY Trilogy by E.L. James.  Vintage.
Shades of Grey. 382 pages
Fifty Shades Darker.  395 pages
Fifty Shades Freed.  468 pages

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains information about the ending of each book in the Shades of Grey trilogy.

It looks like everyone who is thirty and fabulous has read the Shades of Grey trilogy, and I suspect that many a fifty and fabulous woman has already done so. But, for those of you who are still catching up, let me add my voice to the great E.L. James clamor.  The woman can write. She’s not a particularly good stylist–her sentences are flat, even dull, her descriptions of characters tend to involve merely a mentioning of  someone’s eye color.  But when it comes to sex scenes, she’s detailed and graphic, and besides the hot stuff, she’s got a wonderful mystery going, one that keeps the pages flying by. Innocent but spunky Anastasia Steele–her name says it all–is swept off her feet by gorgeous, entrepreneurial Christian Grey, who supports humanitarian causes but has sexual appetites that make Ana uncomfortable. He’s into S&M sex, albeit in a corporate sort of way. In Book One, he proffers Ana a lengthy contract specifying activities that are essential to his pleasure, like spanking, whipping and cuffing, but which allows her to indicate the specific types of canes, whips, and restraints she would like to consider off-limits. This legalistic sexual dominator is a) young – only twenty-six  years old and b) rich – he has his own (vaguely described) cutting-edge technology and shipping company.  The mystery is: what has made this paragon of a man weird in the bedroom (or in the“Playroom” where he keeps his exotic erotic equipment)?

Ana takes him on, and the plot of the tale is one that women have adored for centuries.  Think Lord Rochester in Jane Eyre, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Maxim de Winter in Rebecca – the kind of man who seems haughtily aloof or fiercely moody but who in fact has a heart of gold, the kind of man whose external defenses can be breached and whose tormented soul can be psychologically repaired by a good woman’s love. In Book Two,  Ana rescues Christian from the demons that have pursued him ever since his abusive early childhood, and yes, dear reader, she marries him. In Book Three, despite complications like quarrels over Ana’s career goals and the attempt by a villainous book editor to destroy Christian, the couple lives happily ever after. Still having hot sex, but of a more loving and consensual kind.

The books are sheer fun, and if you haven’t read them, put them on your “To Do” list.  For laters, baby, as Christian would say.

{FOF Guru Review} Secrets of a Skinny Chef

Jennifer Iserloh spends all day, every day thinking about, talking about, cooking and taste-testing food…And she looks like this. —->

Why wouldn’t we want to know her secrets? Secrets of a Skinny Chef (Rodale, 2010) is a compendium of 100 guilt-free recipes that Jennifer developed throughout her career as a celeb chef and apprentice to culinary greats such as Scott Bryan and Tyler Florence. She has also developed recipes for major media outlets including SELF, Prevention, The Today Show and InStyle.

With low-calorie, low-fat recipes such as Hot “Wings” with Spicy Sauce and Italian Cheesecake, it’s “the foods that you already love…  just a little healthier,” explains Jennifer. But does stripping recipes of fat and calories mean we lose the flavor too? FOF Book Guru Sharon Murner cooks the book, then weighs in here:

1.     Did you enjoy this book?

Yes, and I still am. There are some awesome recipes that make you think that you ought to be gaining weight, such as the delicious Italian Cheesecake and the Tiramisu Parfait, but you won’t.

2.     What was unique about this cookbook?
The recipes themselves and the tips, such as her skinny secret for ‘Good’ party dips like her Creamy Mexican Bean Dip with Whole Grain Tortilla Chips. (You’ll have to read the cookbook for the ‘secret.’)

3.     What would you want to ask the author, now that you’re done reading?
I’d love to know what brand of nonstick cooking spray she prefers since many of the recipes call for this ingredient.

4.     Would you recommend this to other FOFs? Did you find yourself telling friends about the book as you were reading it?
I would definitely recommend this cookbook. I did tell friends about the recipes I tried and loved.

6.     What recipes did you try and love?
I’d recommend the Maple Apple Waffles. I also liked the Cream of Broccoli Soup with Cheddar which is altered to be ‘skinny’ by using reduced-fat cheddar cheese and sour cream, taking it down to 126 calories for a 1 cup serving–yea!  I also loved The Baked Meatballs with Zesty Marinara and the Scalloped Potatoes with Ham. I loved the trick of using sweet potatoes as well as red potatoes and reduced sodium ham to make this recipe ‘skinny.’ Last but not least, I enjoyed the Blueberry Cobbler with Yogurt Topping for dessert. Of course, there are many more, but these were my faves! Hope I didn’t make anyone too hungry.

7. What cooking substitutions from this book would you implement in your own recipes?

Jennifer’s substitutions such as reduced fat milk, greek yogurt and sour cream have been easy to implement in my own cooking.

8.     Is this book similar to any other books you have read? Which?
The other go-to diet cookbook I’ve used for years is The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet by Herman Tarnower and Samm Sinclair Baker. I find I like Jennifer’s recipes better because they are more varied and modern.

9.   If you had to classify this book would you call it a “must own” a “pass” or a “skim it” cookbook?
It’s a ‘must own’ in my opinion especially if you want to eat well and not have to worry about gaining weight.

10.   Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
This cookbook inspired me to try different recipes [than I’d normally cook] such as Buttermilk Yogurt Dressing and Supermoist Turkey Burgers (you really can’t tell the difference between turkey and beef in this one!). I’ve truly liked every single recipe I’ve tried.

Want to review books for FOF?


Calling all bibliophiles. The books are stacking up at the FOF offices and we are looking for smart, insightful FOFs to read and review them!

Here’s how it works: Apply to be an FOF book guru, here. If selected, we’ll contact you about what books we have in stock and send you books periodically. Write us a fabulous review within one month of receiving the book, and we’ll publish it and send you your next book!

Goodbye, Granny Glasses!

Guys will make passes at FOFs who wear these glasses.

Fifteen years ago, FOF Felice Dee bought her first pair of reading glasses. Her young daughter took one look and said “Oh, mommy, you look just like grandma!” Horrified, Felice searched New York for more flattering frames and couldn’t believe the lack of options. Soon after, she left a successful career as an interior designer (“I was ready for a change…”) and opened her eponymous eyeglasses shop. She’s since developed a cult following among Hollywood stylists who trust her to fit their stars with perfect spectacles. “It’s most important to me that all of my clients leave looking great,” says Felice. “Even if it means telling them they can’t buy a frame they love, because it doesn’t fit right.”

Here, Felice offers tips for fitting the perfect pair, and five of her fave frames for FOFs.


Arum Frames, $565: “Instead of ‘readers’–which can age you–look for regular frames that you can wear on the bridge of your nose but have a flat top, so you can peek over to see far away. Love these Swarovski embellished frames!”

Zero G Astoria Leopard Frames, $450: “Your glasses should be adjusted to fit your face perfectly–just like you tailor a dress–so that they don’t slide down your nose, pinch or feel heavy. This super-light, titanium pair gives your nose a vacation.”

Felice Dee Downtown Frames, $445: “Make sure your eyes are centered in the lens. Glasses should frame your eyes just like a picture frame frames a portrait. These are the perfect accessory for your LBD.”

Kirk Originals Martha Purple Frames, $440: “If you have gray hair, stay clear of warm tones and opt instead for navy, purple, burgundy, black. These saturated colors can take years off your look and still be age appropriate. If you are blond and fair-skinned, tortoise is always a classic and classy look.”

Red Rhinestone Computer Glasses, $39.99: “These readers are handy to have all over the house – in your night table drawer, near your makeup kit, in your kitchen for reading recipes, in your travel case, etc. For some strange reason, reading glasses never seem to be where you need them when you want them, so finding a pair affordable enough to stash in different places is a very justified convenience.”
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{Reading} 6 Spiritual Books That Changed Their Lives

“A good book has no ending,” said author R.D. Cumming. The best books provoke, inspire and stay with us long after the last page. Here, FOFs share 6 life-changing spiritual books and the lessons they learned from them. Has a book profoundly impacted your life?

1. FOF Rosanne Henrickson: Be All That You Can Be by John C. Maxwell

“This book is about how to reach our potential and to help others. I’m on my fifth reading! We all have challenges on our journey toward our goals and dreams. This book has helped me to become a better person and to reach my God-given potential by helping me take positive action, have discipline, take risks, be committed, embrace challenges and help others pursue their goals and dreams.”

2. FOF Cheryl Savage: Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch

“Sometimes people are looking for a ‘sign’ from God. This book challenges that. It’s argues that communication with God can occur within yourself–your intuition. I am a very spiritual person. There is nobody else responsible for our journey in our life but us. My mother used to always say, ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you get back on that horse.’ Conversations With God talks a lot about that.”

3. FOF Mary Nedvins: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

“The book is about how to live life to the fullest and to pay attention to everything around you. Tolle would say, next time you wash your hands, pay attention to the way the soap and water feel on your skin. Don’t just wash your hands. It’s life-changing.”

4. FOF Jan Melk: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle

“This book teaches you to be aware of the present. It taught me not to spend a lot of time thinking about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow, but to be really aware of what’s happening NOW. With that awareness you feel in control, peace and grounding.”

5. FOF Sherry DeRosa: The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles by Bruce Lipton

“This book provides scientific evidence that our DNA is not determined at birth but instead, is determined by our belief system. In the past, I sought science as an alternative to accepting spiritual truths. The book revealed that life was not an issue of science OR spirituality, it was an amalgam of science AND spirituality.”

6. FOF Kathy Gheen: You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism by Brad Hirschfield

“This book is by an Orthodox Rabbi who was a fanatic as a young man and realized the peril of thinking that there is only one truth. Hirschfield shares his own personal insights regarding Judaism, Islamic and Christian perspectives and how we can learn to discuss our differences rather than clash over them. I believe his message that ‘conflict is an opportunity to learn and grow — and often to grow closer to one another’ can be life-changing and maybe one day world-changing. He has devoted his life to spreading the messages of inclusiveness, tolerance and peace.”

{Reading} Summer Must-Reads

We lucked out —  an FOF and former New York Times book reviewer, Linda Wolfe, lives in the apartment next door to the FabOverFifty offices! We asked our brilliant neighbor for her summer book picks. Luckily she obliged… 

1. The Free World, by David Bezmozgis
For the joy of discovering a wonderful new writer: Well, he’s not brand-new. A book of his short fiction, Natasha and Other Stories, came out in 2004. But I missed it, so he’s new to me. And what a swell find he is! In The Free World, the Krasnovskys, a family of Soviet Jewish emigrès, wait impatiently in Rome to discover if they can be placed in the U.S. or Canada or must go to Israel, which is definitely not a place they’d care to settle in. {Read More}
For one thing, there they’d be so worried about destruction they might as well have stayed home; for another, they’re tired of patriotism. As one character explains, after living his life in the Soviet Union all he wants is to get to a country with the fewest parades. The family is so well drawn that each individual begins to seem as real as a member of one’s own family, appealing yet aggravating, fabulous yet flawed. There’s the womanizing son Alec, his melancholy wife Polina, his brash brother Karl, his noisy nephews, his warm-hearted mother, and the family patriarch, Samuil, his grouchy father. Slowly revealed, their pasts form an epic tale of generational conflict marked by unshakeable devotion and unseverable attachment. 

Each member of the Krasnovskys has his or her own reasons for emigrating. Alec has been stunted by the conformity of Russian life, the way no advancement or achievement was possible for him in the Soviet Union of the 1970s, Polina is seeking adventure, even though it means being torn away from her sister, the only person she has ever truly loved, Karl wants to make money, bundles of it, and the West seems to offer boundless, if not necessarily legal, opportunities, Mrs. Krasnovsky was once a physician but has subsided into mere grandmotherhood and wants religious freedom for her descendants, and Samuil, a hero of World War II who still treasures his medals and worships the Soviet Union, sees no reason to leave but is dragged unwillingly along by the others.

In Rome the family has turbulent adventures: suspenseful encounters with black marketeers, touching affairs with unsuitable partners, unfortunate pregnancies, unending disputes. But whatever the miseries he’s created for his characters, Bezmozgis’s take on the family’s plight is wry and humourous. This is book that will make you laugh as well as cry.

The critic for one esteemed publication compared Bezmozgis to Philip Roth. I can see why. Like Roth, he dabbles in tragedy behind a mask of jokiness. He’s not raunchy, like Portnoy’s Papa, yet he’s every bit as witty. But here his resemblance to Roth ends. Roth’s fictional absorption is with himself; Bezmozgis is far more interested in the lives of others.

2. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
For traveling, via fiction, to a far-away exotic world: The heroine of Ann Patchett’s fascinating new novel is a young research scientist, Dr. Marina Singh, who works in the mundane headquarters of a big Minnesota pharmaceutical company until she’s sent to the wilds of the Brazilian jungle to investigate the dubious work of her dismissive one-time teacher, Dr. Annick Swenson. Swenson is supposed to be developing a new fertility drug that will allow women of any age – even old age – to bear children. {Read More}
The lordly Swenson’s research facility is up some tributary of the Amazon, she takes no phone calls, opens no mail, and allows no one to know her exact whereabouts. Marina must first wait to see her for weeks until she puts in an appearance at her apartment in the torrid city of Manaus, with its “thick brown soup” of a river, its “blinding torrential downpours that seemed to rise out of clear skies and turn the streets into wild rivers that ran ankle deep,” and its market where “the smell of so many dead fish and chickens and sides of beef tilting precariously towards rot in the still air made her hold a crumpled T-shirt over the lower half of her face.”
Why does Dr. Swenson make herself so hard to reach? What is going on at her research center? Why has a colleague of Marina’s died there? And has Dr. Swenson gone mad, or has she merely lost her moral compass – if she ever had one? This book, with more than a touch of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, is a mystery as well as a stirring evocation of a primitive world and a deft exploration of the character of two brilliant women. As the novel unfolds, the self-effacing Marina will in time discover Swenson’s secrets, but in the process she must take on her teacher and gain the strength to expose the shenanigans of the drug company, whose CEO just happens to be her lover.
You’ll be with Marina, learning her thoughts as if inside her head and experiencing her alien surroundings with her distinctive eyes and ears, throughout this stunning tale.
3. Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
For being transported into a different, long-vanished, world: Brooks, author of the incomparable March, set during the years of America’s Civil War, and Year of Wonders, set in England during the Middle Ages, this time takes us back to Martha’s Vineyard in the year 1660. There, teenager Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a Puritan missionary to the island’s “salvages,” that is, its native population, forms an unlikely friendship with Caleb, né Cheeshahteaumauck, nephew of an Indian high-priest and healer. The relationship between the pair blossoms, and eventually sees the two of them leave the island and, in one of the book’s most fascinating segments, take up residence in a swampy, smelly Cambridge, Massachusetts. {Read More}
Bethia becomes an indentured servant at a prep school, while Caleb studies to get admitted to Harvard, whose first school was built as an institution for the education and religious conversion of Indians, until more appropriate loves and painful tragedies separate them and the world they once knew splinters. Brilliantly researched, the book renders its long ago period exquisitely, and enables the author to effortlessly explore the efforts of well-intentioned early settlers and native Americans to understand and get on with one another. They were efforts that would – as history tells us – be doomed to failure for centuries to come by avarice, suspiciousness, fear and violence.
4. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
For you history buffs out there: Larson, who wrote the bestseller The Devil in the White City, has a way with nonfiction that makes it compulsively compelling reading. His latest book, as its subtitle says, is about an American family living in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. What a time! And what a family! The father is William E. Dodd, America’s ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937, the mother his eminently proper wife Mattie, and their two children, twenty-eight-year-old Bill and twenty-four-year-old Martha. She’s the star of the family, a glamorous flirt who earned a reputation as a latter-day Scarlett O’Hara. {Read More}
She attracted, and toyed with, American literary stars like Thomas Wolfe, Carl Sandburg and Thornton Wilder, and had sexual affairs with a parade of prominent Nazis, including the chief of Germany’s foreign news service, a German flying ace, and the head of the country’s Gestapo. (There probably could just as easily have been, had Germany’s Chancellor been so inclined, Adolph Hitler himself; the at first empty-headed Martha was thrilled when he kissed her hand at a party.) Still, as she matured, Martha grew disillusioned with Naziism, as did her parents. At first they’d easily accepted conditions in Berlin, blithely ignoring the atmosphere of terror that was building all around them: the SS beatings of American tourists; the abrupt vanishing of Berliners who expressed reservations about Hitler; the persecution of the Jews. “We sort of don’t like Jews anyway,” Martha told a friend one day. And her father, surprised but pleased by the numerous luxuriously furnished mansions available in Berlin, had taken one of the grandest for an exceedingly low rent, only to be annoyed to discover the Jewish owner’s wife and children living in cramped quarters on the top floor.
But the clueless Dodds will eventually come to realize the hideousness of the Nazi regime, and in doing so, they will make the inner journey that America itself will make, a journey from looking the other way to being ready to take up arms against Hitler. Larson’s achievement is to make this story, one you may think you already know, fresh, new, and utterly transporting.
5. Go the F@#k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo
For total unadulterated fun: If you haven’t already bought this book, hie thee off to the nearest bookstore or Go Immediately to the online kind – no, don’t press the Kindle or Nook button. This is a book to own in its striking hard covers. Not necessarily for you to keep, but for you to give to the parents of your oh-so-adorable grandchildren. And if you don’t have any grandchildren yet, save it till you do, because it’s already a classic, and will be one for years to come. {Read More}
It’s Mansbach’s take on Goodnight, Moon, and the other sleepy-time books that toddlers love, and that they ask their parents to read over to them. And over. And over. And then fetch them a glass of water. And another. It’s bedtime poetry for the exhausted parent, plus downright gorgeous illustrations of cherubic kids and dozing lions and tigers and kitty cats and froggies. It’s a pretty book that’s pretty damned insightful and speaks truth to convention.

{Reading} Beach Book Bingo

7 FOF authors reveal their all-time favorite summer reads.


1. Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom (2010)

“Well-written stories of love that will make you read the entire book in one sitting. Order two glasses of wine and get going.”

–FOF Kris Radish, best-selling Bantam-Dell author who writes about friendship, sisters and celebrating life. Check out her just-released novel Hearts on a String.


2. Going to Extremes by Joe McGinnis (1980)

“This book was written during the building of the oil pipelines in Alaska in the ’70s, but is resonating now, especially since Joe, the author is currently renting the house next to Sarah Palin while he does research for a new book about her! One of my favorite books ever.”

–FOF Barbara Hannah Grufferman, author of The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More (2010), a compilation of expert advice on how to stay fabulous after fifty.


3. Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1955)

“Ms. Lindbergh wrote this book 55 years ago. Amazingly, the messages are as pertinent to a woman’s life today as they were then. She wrote the book in a period of retreat by the sea, and she assigns a different seashell as a metaphor for each stage of a woman’s life. A few years ago, for the holidays, I gave it to each of my female clients along with a unique shell that I felt represented her.”

–FOF Jaki Scarcello, author of Fifty and Fabulous, a series of interviews conducted with women around the world who hit their stride after fifty.


4. Letters to Our Daughters by Kristin Van Raden & Molly Davis

“I lost my mom a year ago and it brings me great joy and comfort reading this gorgeous, gorgeous collection of letters and photos of mothers and daughters who share their courage and triumph, pain and loss, wisdom and love.”

–FOF Amy Ferris, author of the bare-it-all, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis, a book chronicling every one of her funny, sad, down-and-dirty stories about mid-life.


5. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and 6. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

“I love stories of women’s lives–friendship, family–and the relationships that are most critical to our well being and the ones that sustain us through the ups and downs of life and love.”

–FOF Virginia DeBerry, a New York Times best-selling author and former plus-size model. Her most recent book, What Doesn’t Kill You, came out in 2009. You can see all her books, here.


7. Mystic Grits: A Southern Girl’s Journey to Wisdom by Darelyn DJ Mitsch

“This book will make you laugh, cry, reflect and love your friends and family even more. It’s a fabulous journey through a southern girl’s life as she becomes an incredibly wise and successful woman. I can’t wait for the movie!”

–FOF Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, studies the factors the help and hinder high-achieving women in the workplace. Her latest book Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction came out this June.


8. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

“One of the most truly charming and hilarious books I’ve ever read. This is the memoir of writer/naturalist/zookeeper, Gerald Durrell, who writes about his family’s years in Corfu, where he began to collect local animals as pets. His brother was famous travel writer, Lawrence Durrell. I laughed out loud.”

–FOF Jill Jonnes, historian and author of Eiffel’s Tower about Belle Epoque Paris.


Images via Kris Radish, Barbara Hannah Grufferman, Fifty and Fabulous, FabOverFifty, Simon & Schuster, Outsmart Your Brain, and Jill Jonnes