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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler

What could be a better use of our Mardi Gras holiday than lying around eating King Cake and reading books about Louisiana life and culture? We've got to get all of our indulgences and debaucheries out before the start of the Lenten season (but who are we kidding, none of us are giving up our luxurious reading habits!).

Here's a list of great books about Mardi Gras, Louisiana, New Orleans and everything in between.

This extravagantly illustrated volume from a well-respected New Orleans expert covers such topics as the place of the old-line krewes in the evolution of Mardi Gras, women's groups, flambeaux, the Carnival foods, and more. Even with its loyalty to tradition, Carnival in New Orleans has changed dramatically since the 1980s. Terms such as Lundi Gras, Muses, Krewe d'Etat, and Orpheus are now part of the lexicon, while krewe names such as Venus, Mecca, and Freret survive only in trivia conversations and historical records. Fascinating and intimate, this book seamlessly intertwines the past with the present. The rich flavors of New Orleans-cultural and culinary-dance on every page of this handsome book.
Weird Louisiana by  Roger Manley
The essential travel guide to the land of voodoo, hoodoo, and backwater bayous, "Weird Louisiana" reveals everything weird, wacky, and wonderful about this state.
Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco by Marcia Gaudet and James C. McDonald
An anthology of essays that afford an understanding of southern Louisiana's diverse culture;
collected here, the essays portray a land and a people that are unlike any other.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has sold over three-quarters of a million copies and continues to earn critical acclaim. The story of one Ignatius J. Reilly, a "Don Quixote of the French Quarter", it is a masterpiece of human folly and tragedy.
Out of Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Josie, the 17-year-old daughter of a French Quarter prostitute, is striving to escape 1950 New Orleans and enroll at prestigious Smith College when she becomes entangled in a murder investigation.
Satchmo by Steven Brower
A biography in the form of an art book, "Satchmo" tells the story of Louis Armstrong's life through his writings, scrapbooks, and artworks, many of which have never been published before.
Louisiana Curiosities by Bonnye E. Stuart
This definitive collection of the Pelican State's odd, wacky, and most offbeat people, places, and things is filled with quirky photographs throughout and maps for each region. "Louisiana Curiosities" includes humorous state facts and amusing stories and serves as a combination almanac, off-the-wall travel guide, and wacky news gazette.
 Gaston Goes to Mardi Gras by James Rice
Gaston the alligator goes to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras and joins in the "courir du Mardi Gras," watches floats being made, participates in the Zulu parade, and sees other typical sights.
Gumbo Ya-Ya by Lyle Saxon
The living folklore of Louisiana returns in this new edition of the classic long considered the finest collection of Louisiana folk tales and customs ever chronicled. A charming look at the legends and practices of the bayou country, especially New Orleans, Gumbo Ya-Ya has endured as a classic in its genre.
French Quarter Fiction by Joshua Clark and James Nolan
Beautiful, poignant, tragic, and comic, this collection of works by preeminent writers--John Biguenet, Poppy Z. Brite, Robert Olen Butler, Tennessee Williams, and others--explores the mysterious heart of New Orleans.
Dinosaur Mardi Gras by Diane de las Casas
Get ready to stomp and chomp to that mambo beat When carnival time rolls into New Orleans, these hip dinosaurs want to boogie on down. Iguanodon wiggles to the music of a marching band, while Zigongosaurus dances zydeco and Pterodactyal swoops into the crowd. From singing tunes and tossing beads, these big beasts sure know how to party.
Madam by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin
New Orleans, 1897. Mary Deubler makes a meager living on Venus Alley, the illegal red light district. That all changes when bible-thumping Alderman Sidney Story forces the creation of a legalized district of vice that's mockingly dubbed "Storyville" in his honor. Despite her looks and intelligence, Mary doesn't think she can make it on Basin Street, where girls turn tricks in plush, velvet wallpapered bordellos. But thanks to gumption, twists of fate, even a touch of voodoo, Mary rises above her hopeless lot to become the notorious Madam Josie Arlington. Madam is a fabulous romp through The Big Easy and the irresistible tale of a woman's rise to influence and infamy in a world ruled by men.
 Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
First came the storms.Then came the Fever.And the Wall. After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct...but in reality, a new primitive society has been born. Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader's newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other's last hope for survival.
 Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts
Sitting deep in the bayou of Louisiana, Manet Hall has a secret that's been buried for 100 years. Its new owner is maverick Declan Fitzgerald, a man distracted by the alluring Angelina Simone, a woman with her own surprising connection to the mystery.
Unfathomable City by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker

A reinvention of the traditional atlas, one that provides a vivid, complex look at the multi-faceted nature of New Orleans, a city replete with contradictions.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Reading Group Selections - February 2014

The best books for reading groups are the ones that foster discussions - whether your book club members are boisterous or more subdued, talking about books is what those meetings are all about! Picking just the right book is always a thrill; love it or hate it - book club books are the ones that stand out.
Here are a few recent releases that would lead to great discussions in any book club!

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Two remarkable sisters are rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society” in Belle Époque Paris.
Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother photograph inspires the story of two women—one famous and one forgotten—and their remarkable chance encounter.
Twisted Sisters by Jen Lancaster
When a licensed psychologist tries to use her own TV-show advice to teach everyone a lesson about sibling rivalry, she's the one who gets schooled.
Burn by Julianna Baggott
The fate of the world is more fragile than ever as Pures battle Wretches and former allies become potential enemies.
Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley
A page-turning literary debut about a mother and her two teenage daughters who escape a polygamist cult and start over.
Hudson's arrestingly original debut will enthrall readers with Janie's tragicomic and moving story about coming of age in a non-traditional family amid the absurdities of the 1980s and Thatcherite Britain.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Michelle Reviews: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

I can say with an extremely secure sense of confidence that most reviews of Matthew Quick’s new novel, The Good Luck of Right Now, will include two things: an early mention of The Silver Linings Playbook and the word quirky. It is a hard trap to step out of. I’m sure that the mention of Silver Linings will boost interest, but I’m a bit leery of the word quirky. Quirk is niche and this book deserves more than that.

The Good Luck of Right Now is the story of Bartholomew Neil told entirely in letters to his mother’s favorite actor, Richard Gere. Bartholomew is approaching forty, grappling with the recent death of his mother, and his fear of what most of us would call a normal life. He’s never had friends, never had a girlfriend, never really had any relationships outside the shelter created by his mother. This isn’t an issue of overbearing parenting; Bartholomew is decidedly odd. He doesn’t understand many of the thoughts and emotions of others. He can’t read social cues and is often mistaken for “retarded.” Bartholomew’s life never really thrived, but when his mother was alive it wasn’t lacking either. Her death, and his self-imposed guru Richard Gere, awoke in Bartholomew a sense of possibility.

Father McNamee was Bartholomew and his mother’s priest. He has a true connection to God; unfortunately, when Bartholomew’s mother dies God stops speaking to him. That’s when Father McNamee decides to recant his vows to the church and move in with Bartholomew. He believes that helping Bartholomew is his way back into the good graces of the Lord. Father McNamee also has bipolar disorder; he ceased taking his medication and is spiraling into a dark void fueled by alcohol. McNamee is the first in Bartholomew’s new flock. By the end of the novel after an emotionally fraught road trip and a visit to Cat Parliament Bartholomew is well on his way to a new life with a different version of family.

Matthew Quick knows how to write about mental illness. It is a topic that he seemingly has a deep understanding, passion, and no limit of compassion for. Here he tackles a wide array of mental issues, but what is most impressive about it…why his novels about mental illness work when so many fail is that he writes characters not disorders. Bartholomew is odd; reading his words will probably lead you to believe that he has Autism or Asperger’s syndrome, but it really doesn’t matter. Bartholomew isn’t a person with a disorder. He is a person. He’s confused, damaged, lonely, and deeply kind. A label may not make readers feel differently about Bartholomew, but it would put him in a box. All of his issues would seem stem from that box. Quick would rather allow his character tell his story than have a diagnosis do that for him. 

I was hesitant to write a review of this novel. Matthew Quick’s books have come to mean a great deal to me. His style is simple and straightforward but peopled with such unique characters. In both The Good Luck of Right Now and The Silver Linings Playbook we are asked to look at the type of individuals society typically ignores, and when Quick has us look into their lives what we find is an amazing depth of feeling. Sure, there is quirk and there are misfits in abundance, but don’t think for a second that they detract from the ultimate goal of the novel. The Good Luck of Right Now is full of fear and fragility but they serve to affirm the power of self-acceptance, friendship, and love.

There is so much that I could say about this novel. Let it suffice to say that The Good Luck of Right Now will move you. It will make you think about the people on the edges of society not with sadness or pity but with a respect for what they can overcome and the kindness that exists in the world. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Remembering the British Invasion

This week marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles arrival in the United States. The group landed in New York City on February 7, and they performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Februrary 9. I’ve been a fan of The Beatles since I was a child. I’m also a giant book nerd, so I’ve read books upon books of Beatles trivia. Every year there are new books about the band along with revelations about recording sessions and nuanced meanings of songs. I’ve compiled list of a few Beatlescentric titles that I love and some that are recent releases that look great.

The Beatles Anthology by The Beatles 

Spanning the Beatles' years growing up in Liverpool and their ride to fame, all the way through to their breakup, "The Beatles Anthology" is warm, funny, poignant, and bold. This is the inside story of the group, in the members' own words and featuring previously unseen photos and memorabilia. This volume has been created with the full cooperation of Paul, George, Ringo, and Yoko Ono Lennon--through painstaking compilation of sources worldwide, John's words are equally represented.

 The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek Tiwary, Andrew Robinson, and Kyle Baker

The Fifth Beatle is the untold true story of Brian Epstein, the visionary manager who discovered and guided the Beatles - from their gigs in a tiny cellar in Liverpool to unprecedented international stardom. Yet more than merely the story of "The Man Who Made the Beatles," The Fifth Beatle is an uplifting, tragic, and ultimately inspirational human story about the struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.

The first volume in a projected trilogy by the world's leading Beatles historian.
 A Hard Day's Write by Steve Turner

A lavishly illustrated, rollicking account of the real people and events that inspired the Beatles' lyrics.
The Beatles are Here! by Penelope Rowlands

The arrival of the Beatles was one of those unforgettable cultural touchstones. Through the voices of those who witnessed it or were swept up in it indirectly, The Beatles Are Here! explores the emotional impact some might call it hysteria of the Fab Four s February 1964 dramatic landing on our shores.

A fitting tribute to possibly the greatest pop band ever - The Beatles. This outstanding hard-cover edition features over 1100 pages with full scores and lyrics to all 210 titles recorded by The Beatles. Guitar and bass parts are in both standard notation and tablature. Also includes a full discography.


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