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  • Madina Papadopoulos 1:00 pm on 2017/10/20 Permalink
    Tags: , hand-crafted candy bars, mother estelle's easy home made candy cookbook, , the liddabit sweets candy cookbook, the ultimate candy book, truffles candies and confections   

    5 Candy Cookbooks to Make Halloween a Real Treat 

    The scariest but sweetest holiday of the year is upon us. Before long Halloween will arrive, with its fun-sized bars stuffed into orange buckets by gleeful children. But candies don’t need to be store-bought. In fact, making them at home makes them that much sweeter. Get some helping hands together, and flip through these 5 candy-themed cookbooks.

    The Ultimate Candy Book: More Than 700 Quick and Easy, Soft and Chewy, Hard and Crunchy Sweets and Treats, by Bruce Weinstein
    Dessert-connoisseur and QVC personality Bruce Weinstein knows a thing or a thousand about sweets. This book is a ‘sequel’ to The Ultimate Ice Cream Cookbook, wherein he guided readers on how to make mouthwatering cold treats. The similarly titled, Ultimate Candy Book boasts over 700 recipes. The recipes are easy to follow, and the opening chapter gives an in-depth guide to candy-making for newbies.

    Truffles, Candies, and Confections: Techniques and Recipes for Candymaking, by Carole Bloom
    Author Carole Bloom has quite a few sweet cookbooks under her belt (including two dessert cookbooks for the Dummies series). In this tome, Bloom spoils the cooking reader with directions on how to make truffles, caramel candies, and fruit candies. While most kids don’t want to get fruit in their Halloween tin, candied fruit might just make the cut! This book is for the more seasoned confectioner.

    The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook: How to Make Truly Scrumptious Candy in Your Own Kitchen!, by Liz Gutman
    Even when it’s not Halloween, many venture out to Brooklyn to taste treats from Liddabit Sweets. The boutique’s candymakers, Liz Gutman and Jen King, are known for many delights—The Twist Bar, Chai Latte Lollipops, Chocolate Mint Meltaways. Most cooks don’t give away their secrets, but Liddabit Sweets believes sharing is caring. The The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook means bringing a liddabit of New York into your hometown.

    Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From-Scratch, All-Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections, by Susan Heeger, Susie Norris, Joseph De Leo
    When kids grow up into adults, they have to give up childish things like trick-or-treating. It’s so unfair, but as teachers keep repeating, life isn’t fair. But those who are handy in the kitchen can make their own mature treats, and very immaturely choose not to share them with kids who come knocking at the door. Take the drugstore candybar to the next level, with elegant recipes like Candied Mint Citrus Zest Bark and Dark Chocolate Dipped Almond Coconut Bar (even the titles are a mouthful!).

    Mother Estelle’s Easy Homemade Candy Cookbook, by Hilda Cooper
    For those who are into vintage sweets, Mother Estelle’s Easy Homemade Candy Cookbook is a must. It will have cooks dejavu-ing, as their taste buds soak up the nostalgic flavors of a time gone by with scents of butterscotch, gummy gels, divinity, and so much fudge.

    What candy cookbooks do you love? 

    The post 5 Candy Cookbooks to Make Halloween a Real Treat appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 4:30 pm on 2017/10/19 Permalink
    Tags: be like bill, , hag-seed, , shakespeare retellings   

    21 Shakespearean Books to Read If You Don’t Want to Read Shakespeare 

    Shakespeare’s impact on literature and culture cannot be overstated; put simply, his plays have had a monumental effect on literature and the English language in general, and continue to inspire to this day. Yet for some, puzzling through that archaic language can be an intimidating challenge. No worries: here are 21 novels based on or inspired by the Bard that give you at least a fraction of the benefits of Shakespeare’s genius—without the iambic pentameter.

    A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley

    Inspired by: King Lear. Smiley’s story of a family farm being incorporated and divided between three daughters follows the fundamental plot of King Lear pretty closely, mapping the major elements to a modern world. Smiley takes the story to an even darker place than Shakespeare, however, and as a result captures the terrifying chasm of darkness at the heart of the narrative in a way that faithful stage productions sometimes can’t manage.

    New Boy, by Tracy Chevalier

    Inspired by: Othello. By setting her reworking of Othello in a middle school in Washington state, Chevalier underscores the primal forces examined in the original: jealousy, rage, vengeance. Far from mocking the savage forces driving the main characters, by making the characters children, Chevalier gets to the root of the matter faster, making this a brutal ride from beginning to end and conveying the power of the original almost effortlessly.

    Gertrude and Claudius, by John Updike

    Inspired by: Hamlet. Updike wasn’t the first writer to rework a Shakespeare play from an inverted angle, and he certainly won’t be the last, but by making Gertrude and Claudius, the morally-challenged parental figures whose machinations drive Hamlet insane, the protagonists instead of supporting players, Updike manages to drill down into what makes Hamlet one of the great stories of all time, even without the pretty language Shakespeare seemed to effortlessly produce. Updike went back to the source material Shakespeare himself used to construct his story, making this a shortcut to deep research on the play as well.

    The Gap of Time, by Jeanette Winterson

    Inspired by: The Winter’s Tale. One of Shakespeare’s more difficult plays (to defend and enjoy), The Winter’s Take seems like a tough sell for a reworking in a modern novel, but Winterson’s transformation of sexual subtext into text slams this story into high gear. Hedge fund manager Leo has an unspoken sexual spark with video game designer Xeno, and when he jealousy comes to believe Xeno is having an affair with his pregnant wife, Leo launches into a rage of violence that resembles the shocking opening act of the play in a wonderfully evocative way.

    Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

    Inspired by: The Tempest. Atwood’s great achievement with her novel is the fact that you don’t need to know a single thing about The Tempest to find the book pretty amazing. The revenge tale Atwood crafts is small-scale in the biggest way possible, centered on a theater festival and its wronged director. Atwood doesn’t hold back—one thing she carries over from Shakespeare is the idea that no idea is too silly, too shocking, or too broad, as long as you have the talent to pull it off.

    The Dead Father’s Club, by Matt Haig

    Inspired by: Hamlet. Haig chooses a different route from most authors re-working Shakespeare, in that his story, though modernized, is pretty faithful to the original: the ghost of Phillip’s father visits the young man and implores him to murder his brother to prevent him from marrying Phillip’s mother and taking over the family business. Phillip pursues this goal, but slowly comes to doubt whether his father is right, while the reader begins to doubt Phillip’s grasp on reality.

    The Taming of the Drew, by Stephanie Kate Strohm

    Inspired by: The Taming of the Shrew. One thing about Shakespeare’s plays: they sure were written in the 16th century. Offering all the sass and smart language of the Bard, plus some refreshingly inverted sexual politics, this take on the classic comedy switches the sex roles reads like a literary version of 10 Thing I Hate About You.

    The Madness of Love, by Katharine Davies

    Inspired by: Twelfth Night. Davies smartly ejects much of the madcap comedy inherent in Shakespeare’s original play, mining the confusion of the multiple couples in this story for pathos and a hint of horror. By following a small-scale modernization, the story’s complexity is preserved, but takes on a morose, solemn feel that rings truer on the page than the zany atmosphere of the play.

    Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston

    Inspired by: The Winter’s Tale. Another brave author taking on a difficult story, Johnston captures the savagery and violence of the play in the sexual assault of the main character, competitive teenage cheerleader Hermione Winters. The bones of Shakespeare are at times hard to see in this novel, but the effect is similar; anyone who wants to know what it might have been like for an audience to watch The Winter’s Tale back in the day can read this and get a pretty good idea.

    Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion

    Inspired by: Romeo and Juliet. If there’s a less obvious way to retell Romeo and Juliet than through zombie apocalypse, we don’t know what it is. Marion’s classic is inspired, however, because star-crossed lovers is an eternal theme that always works, whether the reasons you can’t be with your love involve family politics or, you know, an undead epidemic.

    Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler

    Inspired by: The Taming of the Shrew. The Taming of the Shrew is in some ways the easiest of the Bard’s plays to adapt to modern life, dealing as it does with (regretfully) familiar gender politics. Tyler is one of the few authors who manages to retell the story and keep the Bardiness intact while also making a book entirely her own; from the quirky heroine to the setting, this is an Anne Tyler novel, full stop, which just makes the Shakespearean aspects icing on the cake.

    Shylock is My Name, by Howard Jacobson

    Inspired by: The Merchant of Venice. Jacobson explores the perpetual question of whether Shylock is a hero or a villain by transcending the play entirely and bringing Shylock—the character—to modern-day England to make a case for himself. That might sound kind of wonky, but it works brilliantly, allowing Jacobson to not so much re-tell The Merchant of Venice as to repackage its concerns for a modern generation.

    The Prince of Cats, by Ron Wimberly

    Inspired by: Romeo and Juliet. Not so much a retelling as a reimagining of the Shakespearean sensibility in a modern comic format, Wimberly’s striking images and ability to apply classic Shakespeare lines in new and startling contexts (as well as write fresh lines that have the same brilliance of rhythm and imagery) makes this an exciting way to get the sense of what makes Shakespeare so important without actually reading one of his plays.

    Something Rotten, by Alan M. Gratz

    Inspired by: Hamlet. Why rework Hamlet as a hardboiled detective story? For goodness sakes, why not? Gratz sees past the old-school flowery language and the endless school essays to the essentials of Hamlet‘s appeal: it’s a murder mystery and a revenge tale, two things that, when combined, produce a noir atmosphere almost spontaneously.

    Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, by Adam Bertocci

    Inspired by: The Two Gentlemen of Verona. You might think retelling this play with the characters and plot trapping of the film The Big Lebowski is a gimmick, but it’s actually a genius way of modernizing the spirit of the thing—and the general spirit of Shakespeare transforms a classic movie into a modern-day Shakespearean tour-de-force.

    Ophelia, by Lisa Klein

    Inspired by: Hamlet. When pivoting off of a classic play, you can reinvent it, you can reset it, or you can do what Klein does and tweak the plot in one important way. In this case, she imagines that Ophelia doesn’t drown in Hamlet, but rather fakes her death and runs off to a nunnery as advised. She then narrates the story of what happened at Elsinore from her perspective, offering the modern reader a way into the story that’s fresh and new.

    Speak Easy, Speak Love, by McKelle Gorge

    Inspired by: Much Ado About Nothing. It’s possible that Shakespeare was a time traveler who visited the 1920s, because Much Ado About Nothing almost perfectly evokes the wild energy of that decade—something Gorge uses to great advantage in this retelling of the play. All the characters and plot points are there, as is the effervescent energy of the source material.

    The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown

    Inspired by: Macbeth. Not so much a retelling of Shakespeare as a strange celebration of his work, in the context of a smart family dealing with tragedy. Brown’s characters will make you understand why some people are still more than happy to bend your ear endlessly about how fantastic Shakespeare’s plays really are. She takes plenty of bits and pieces of Macbeth for her story of three sisters crashing back into each other when they return home to deal with the illness of their mother (a Shakespeare scholar). You” come away with a love for her characters and a burning desire to read the Bard.

    Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty, by Jody Gehrman

    Inspired by: Much Ado About Nothing. If your worry about reading Shakespeare is the outdated language and impenetrable slang, rest easy: Gehrman not only sets the story in the modern day, she writes it in a sharp, thoroughly contemporary voice that is both hilarious and unflinching, following our narrator to the bathroom and back without missing a beat. As a result, all the lively energy of Shakespeare’s language is captured without directly quoting him once.

    The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey

    Inspired by: Richard III. One of the best mystery novels ever written uses Shakespeare’s Richard III as a catalyst. Playing with the idea that history is written by the winners, Tey has her convalescing policeman investigate the supposed crimes of Richard III from his hospital bed, referring to the play as a knowing perpetuation of propaganda and making the reader want to read it just to compare the Bard’s depiction of the king with the conclusion Tey comes to at the end.

    Macbeth, by Jo Nesbø

    Inspired by: Macbeth. If there’s one author whose plan to re-interpret Shakespeare should get you excited, it’s Nesbø, whose upcoming novel takes the Scottish Play and sets it in a small-town police department, with Inspector Macbeth dealing with a dark past of drug addiction as he investigates a drug deal gone horribly wrong. Macbeth is one of the easiest plays to relate to the modern sensibility, as its themes of power, guilt, and manipulation are unfortunately evergreen—as we fully expect Nesbø to demonstrate.

    The post 21 Shakespearean Books to Read If You Don’t Want to Read Shakespeare appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 4:20 pm on 2017/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Ideal Biography for Every Single President 

    Ask most anyone to name all 44 United State presidents, and the odds are good they’ll stall after a dozen or two. Which is totally understandable—between guys who were president for only a few weeks, toa few who were president twice non-consecutively, the numbering gets a little wonky (not to mention there are more than a few Presidents who are, honestly, forgettable).

    Still, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it, and for some reason that lesson seems more important than ever, so: here are our picks for the perfect biographies of all 44 men who have served as our chief executive.

    George Washington: Washington: The Indispensable Man, by James Thomas Flexner

    Flexner originally published a four-volume biography of our first president, an imposing set of books that was appropriately epic for the father of our country, but also bordering on unreadably dense. A few years later he condensed those nearly 2,000 pages into this much more streamlined book, adding in maps and illustrations and making the text more readable. The result is a near-perfect balance of research, storytelling, and historical perspective on a man buried under legend and propaganda.

    John Adams: John Adams, by David McCullough

    Despite his crucial role in the revolution, for a long time many regarded Adams simply as the guy who took over when Washington stepped aside—as an extension of the first president’s guiding hand. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, McCullough rectifies that, showing Adams to be a fascinating character and a potent political force. While McCullough has been accused of being partial to Adams and showing him in the best possible light at all times (an accusation that’s certainly true to some extent), this prejudice actually helps the book when combined with McCullough’s natural novelistic style, resulting in a work that has done much to elevate Adams to his rightful place in the hierarchy of leaders.

    Thomas Jefferson: American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, by Joseph J. Ellis

    Jefferson is probably the least knowable of all the presidents. Even his contemporaries didn’t seem to really “get” him, and he was so careful in his public and private communications, his personality remains opaque to modern audiences. Ellis’ genius move here is to write a biography that’s more of a psychological analysis than a life story. The result is a remarkably well-balanced look at Jefferson, shading in both his virtues (no one doubts he was a genius, or that he had firm principles he was prepared to fight for) and his deficits (conversely, no one likewise doubts he held a grudge like no other).

    James Madison: James Madison, by Ralph Ketcham

    Our fourth president is often forgotten by those who have been out of school for a while, but Madison was a key force in the early days of our country. His work guiding the composition and adoption of the constitution can’t be minimized, and when he stepped into the presidency, he’d already served the previous administrations in high-level roles. Ketcham had access to original documents and letters that no one else had been able to work with before, and this long, dense biography is an impressively complete look at a man often given short shrift.

    James Monroe: The Last Founding Father, by Harlow Giles Unger

    Unger achieves something with his look at the life of our fifth president that is rare in any biography: he brings Monroe to vivid life. While some have accused Unger of being less-than objective in his consistent praise of Monroe, he manages to sketch out the man, tracing his humble origins and showing how a man who wasn’t at the intellectual or charismatic caliber of his predecessors could become one of the most important presidents in history. Monroe emerges as a cunning, resolute man who was self-aware when it came to his own flaws, who asserted himself through stubborn insistence. Unger’s writing style is lively and compelling, too, making this an entertaining read to boot.

    John Quincy Adams: John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life, by Paul C. Nagel

    Most often remembered as a member of the two father-son president duos (the others being George H. W. and George W. Bush), John Quincy Adams is often something of a cipher. Nagel gained access to Adams’ diary, an impressively multi-volume personal account that makes this biography almost an autobiography, because so much of it is pulled directly from Adams’ own thoughts and writing. Not only does this allow Nagel to explore Adams intimately, it also gives a glimpse into what America was like in the early 19th century, when many Americans had been born citizens of the British Empire.

    Andrew Jackson: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham

    Jackson is one of the most significant presidents to hold the office, a man who utterly transformed the role of the chief executive and set history in motion. Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography is far and away the best book about Jackson’s life ever written. Curiously, it’s not a comprehensive life story; similarly to Unger’s treatment of Monroe, Meacham tries to get into the head of Jackson and paint a portrait of the man, as opposed to a recitation of events and decisions. Unlike Unger, Meacham has to rely on third-party accounts, and the result is a Jackson you understand, yet don’t feel like you truly know.

    Martin Van Buren: Martin Van Buren, by Ted Widmer

    Van Buren languished for decades as one of the least-regarded presidents, his administration sometimes considered a failure on almost every level. A proponent of small government, he tried to stick to his philosophical guns during one of the first major economic crises of the young nation, and for a long time, that was his legacy. Widmer brilliantly expands Van Buren’s legacy to more than just the relative failure of his administration, pointing out a lifetime of accomplishment and hard work and raising Van Buren’s profile to something closer to what the man deserves.

    William Henry Harrison: Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer, by Robert M. Owens

    At first blush, Owens’ book seems too narrowly focused: it concentrates primarily on Harrison’s time on the American frontier, as a military officer and governor of the Indiana territory. For the story of Harrison, however, this is everything—especially considering he died after just a month in office. During his years on the frontier, he wrestled with the two issues that would come to define the country in the 19th century: slavery and our relations with Native Americans. As the last president to have been born a British subject, Harrison is also a convenient dividing line in American history, and the examination of his experiences as the country rapidly spread over the continent is fascinating.

    John Tyler: John Tyler, by Gary May

    Our first “accidental” president (he ascended when Harrison died in office) had a relatively unremarkable tenure, and this short biography is suitably clean and direct. While the book confirms the general consensus that John Tyler was not an exciting or particularly deep man, it does put his presidency into context, and succeeds in making a fairly dull man at least a little interesting.

    James K. Polk: Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America, by Walter R. Borneman

    Polk is probably the most important and effective president to receive the least amount of historical attention; few people realize just how influential he was on the country’s political development. Borneman’s 2008 biography, in fact, was the first major work written about Polk in decades. It’s a fantastic book, providing crucial context on how Polk’s predecessors set up the environment he found himself in when he took office in 1845, a moment in history when the United States was on the cusp of becoming a more modern nation more familiar to today’s readers.

    Zachary Taylor: Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest, by K. Jack Bauer

    Despite a lengthy military career and a second chapter that culminated in becoming president, Taylor isn’t a particularly interesting personality; by all accounts he was just a guy, you know? The book Bauer produced is a must-read for anyone interested in presidential history for two reasons, though: first, the depth of research is astounding—Bauer crafts a complete picture of Taylor’s life and the world he inhabited seemingly effortlessly; second, this is one of the few presidential biographies where the author seems completely objective—there is very little worship in Bauer’s pages, in which Taylor seems to become less admirable as you make your way through the book.

    Millard Fillmore: Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President, by Robert J. Rayback

    The amazing thing about Millard Fillmore is that his early political life, in which he navigated the ruthless channels of New York’s political machine and the Whig Party, is one million times more exciting and memorable than his presidency—which, let’s face it, you’ve already forgotten about (or never learned about in the first place). Fillmore’s administration was so sleepy that very few people have bothered writing about him, and Rayback’s 1959 (!) book remains the best effort—and it’s a great book that finds a fascinating man in a dull president.

    Franklin Pierce: Franklin Pierce, by Michael F. Holt

    This short but effective biography offers great insight into one of the most disastrous presidencies in American history. Pierce is fascinating because he wasn’t stupid, or ineffective. As you read this book you’ll find a smart, charismatic man whose commitment to holding together a political and social center that was rapidly disintegrating led him to make some of the worst decisions possible, decisions that many people blame in part for the disaster of the Civil War. That makes Pierce a crucial president to understand despite his failures, and this is the ideal book to accomplish that.

    James Buchanan: President James Buchanan: A Biography, by Philip Shriver Klein

    In many ways, Buchanan’s presidency was doomed from the start; the question of who could possibly have steered the country away from the Civil War in 1857 has very, very few answers. As a result, Buchanan is usually lumped in on a short list of “worst” presidents and forgotten, which explains why Klein’s 1962 work remains the definitive Buchanan biography. Klein manages to argue that Buchanan wasn’t nearly the failure many regard him as, but rather a man who never had a chance and thus deserving of at least some sympathy and respect.

    Abraham Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln: A Life, by Michael Burlingame

    Some might suggest Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals as the best Lincoln book, and we wouldn’t argue—but Team of Rivals isn’t a biography. For that, Burlingame’s huge, dense work is your go-to choice, and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future. Lincoln’s life doesn’t lack for analysis, but Burlingame combines impeccably detailed research with a writing style that makes this a fun read as well as an educational one. Of course, when it comes to Goodwin’s classic, no one says you can’t read two Lincoln books, right?

    Andrew Johnson: Andrew Johnson: A Biography, by Hans L. Trefousse

    By all accounts, Andrew Johnson was an unremarkable and slightly sketchy man; he was selected as Abraham Lincoln’s running mate in 1864 mainly because he was the only sitting Senator from the Confederacy to remain firmly with the Union, and became President when Lincoln was assassinated. He’s remembered today mainly for being the first sitting president to be impeached, but his backstory is 100 percent American: born into extreme poverty, he made his way through life and rose through the ranks due to a combination of hard work and simple loyalty. He was a terrible president, but Trefousse finds the man inside the history.

    Ulysses S. Grant: Grant, by Ron Chernow

    Chernow is poised to do for Grant what he did for Alexander Hamilton, though it remains to be seen if a hip hop-infused Broadway musical will be made from this new book. What is certain is that Grant is as fascinating a character as Hamilton—a man who went from a personal and professional nadir in 1861 to being in charge of the Union armies by 1864, and President of the United States by 1868—only to preside over one of the most corrupt administrations of all time. If anyone can plumb the central mystery of Grant’s contradictions, it’s Chernow.

    Rutherford B. Hayes: Rutherford B. Hayes, by Hans L. Trefousse

    Few presidents left as little mark on history as Hayes, a man who barely scraped into office through the Compromise of 1877 and whose strong sense of ethics and morality could have been formidable but were instead limiting. Trefousse is once again the go-to historian to get a sense of Hayes as a man and a politician; this briskly-paced biography underscores Hayes’ essential goodness while detailing his failure to translate that rectitude into concrete policies or a lasting legacy. Hayes is one of the most opaque men to serve as chief executive, and Trefousse does better than most in piercing that blank facade.

    James Garfield: Destiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard

    Millard’s classic biography is more like a work of historical fiction than a biography, but that’s what makes it work so well, especially for a president who served six months before being assassinated—and who would have survived the attempt had his doctor’s sterilized their hands and instruments or been monumentally incompetent in general. Garfield barely had time to establish a legacy as president, but Millard manages to capture the man and even hint at what might have been in what is regarded as one of the best presidential biographies ever written.

    Chester Arthur: Chester Alan Arthur, by Zachary Karabell

    Chester Arthur is no one’s favorite president, and yet he managed one notable achievement in his 3+ years in office after taking over for Garfield: the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. This was all the more remarkable considering that Arthur was known as a shady machine politician when he took office. Karabell’s excellent if brief biography paints a portrait of a surprisingly multifaceted man; you might think Arthur is a footnote in the list of presidents, but he’s a much more interesting figure than you suspect.

    Grover Cleveland: Grover Cleveland, by Henry F. Graff

    Grover Cleveland was elected president twice, in non-consecutive terms, and actually won the popular vote when Benjamin Harrison was elected in 1888—and yet he’s often overlooked. Even more surprising is the fact that Cleveland was actually an effective president. While he might not be on anyone’s Top 10 list, he has a solid list of achievements and dominated American politics for years. Graff paints a portrait of a man who was, if nothing else, decisive: Cleveland never dithered or hesitated, which was a blessing when he tackled the late-19th century depression that hit the country as he resumed office.

    Benjamin Harrison: Benjamin Harrison, by Charles W. Calhoun

    Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd president, is hardly the most exciting man to hold the position. The common wisdom is that he was neither incompetent nor exceptional. Calhoun, however, manages to make his biography of Harrison interesting by arguing that Harrison is actually responsible for setting in motion the evolution of modern presidency—that he was actually the first activist president, and his busy administration was a key moment of evolution from the less powerful and more isolated 19th century-style presidents into the modern conception of the office. That Calhoun is very convincing in this argument makes this a necessary read for any presidential scholar.

    William McKinley: William McKinley and His America, by H. Wayne Morgan

    McKinley is an important president regardless of his achievements simply because his election represented a shift from the post-Civil War political landscape to the Progressive Era. Even so, McKinley’s administration is generally well regarded, and Morgan manages to sketch out the personality of a man whose portraits convey exactly zero of his inner life. Morgan finds a perfect balance between the context of McKinley’s presidency and the life story of a man who was the last president to have served in the Civil War and our second president to be assassinated while in office.

    Theodore Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy, by Edmund Morris

    Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most famous presidents of all time, and everyone is probably familiar with the high points of his story—his frail, sickly youth, his aggressively physical adulthood, his adventures with the Rough Riders, etc. Roosevelt wasn’t just famous for his personality, though; he’s easily one of the most effective and influential presidents to have ever served, and Morris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning three-volume set is the appropriately deep dive into Roosevelt’s life and political career that you need to read in order to understand not just Roosevelt’s incredible influence on America but the life that shaped him as a man and a politician.

    William Howard Taft: William Howard Taft, by Jeffrey Rosen

    The main thing people remember about Taft, our 27th President, is that he was so fat he once got stuck in a tub in the White House—which is a shame since the story is fake news. Taft remains the only person to ever be president and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which makes him one of the most interesting historical figures of all time even if his administration usually gets middling marks, and Rosen’s brisk biography does a great job of humanizing the man while reminding us of his very real achievements.

    Woodrow Wilson: Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, by John Milton Cooper

    Theodore Roosevelt returned to run for a third term as president in 1912, running against Woodrow Wilson, and Cooper’s unusual biographical approach is to treat them both as equally important to the question of who was Woodrow Wilson, the president who tried to keep the U.S. out of World War I and then guided the country through it. The war overshadowed Wilson’s progressive legislative achievements, which were substantial—and Cooper makes a sound argument that Wilson’s policies weren’t that different from what a 3rd Roosevelt term might have looked like.

    Warren G. Harding: Warren G. Harding, by John W. Dean

    Harding is a frequent candidate for the worst president of all time, a man whose administration was plagued by scandal and whose policies set the country on a downward spiral. Dean—infamous due to his connection to Watergate—is a Harding apologist, but that’s what makes his biography the best one to read. Most other Harding bios are either clearly critical of our 29th president or weakly defensive; Dean is full-throated in his defense. Where he fails to convince is where Harding truly failed as president, and where Dean makes you think is where Harding has, perhaps, received unfair treatment.

    Calvin Coolidge: Coolidge, by Amity Shlaes

    Shlaes, a former editor at The Wall Street Journal, is the ideal biographer of Calvin Coolidge, who served as our 30th president during the Roaring Twenties and exited, stage left, pursued by the Great Depression. Shlaes has the economic understanding to offer up a wholehearted defense of a president who generally inspires very little excitement in the modern reader, arguing that Coolidge’s smart economic policies kept the plates spinning much longer than might have otherwise been the case, elevating Coolidge’s reputation several pegs as a result.

    Herbert Hoover: Herbert Hoover, by William E. Leuchtenburg

    Herbert Hoover is a prime example of the fallacy of prior results: he was a talented, intelligent man who would have made a great president had the economy not utterly collapsed from under him, the result of economic principles no one at the time entirely understood. Hoover’s paralyzed response to the incredible crisis of the Great Depression leaves him at the bottom of most lists of presidents—and deservedly so—but Leuchtenburg’s short, dense biography reminds us that Hoover had plenty of achievement in his life, and deserves a better reputation overall that he enjoys.

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt: FDR, by Jean Edward Smith

    One of our greatest presidents deserves one of the greatest biographies ever written, and Smith comes through with her epic, well-written, and impeccably researched 2007 book. Smith offers a panoramic view of FDR, a man born into wealth and affluence who wound up a champion of the middle class and poor, a president whose efforts to guide the country out of the Depression were failures until World War II came along—and yet a man who is still routinely included in the top five presidents of all time.

    Harry Truman: The Accidental President, by A.J. Baime

    Baime’s new biography finally gives Truman the attention he deserves. As the title implies, Truman is still regarded by many as an “accidental” president who was a safe, boring choice for the vice presidency and who was never supposed to be president himself. And yet Truman was a better chief executive than many realize—if for no other reason than the way he navigated the first four months of his first term, stepping into FDR’s oversize shoes and somehow keeping everything on track despite never having been taken into FDR’s confidence when the man was alive.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower: Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith

    Eisenhower is often associated with complacency, with the 1950s post-war haze. Smith argues forcibly—and successfully—that Eisenhower was a dynamic and effective president who oversaw the country’s transition from war to peace, from the past to the present, from hot war to cold war. Smith’s focus on Eisenhower’s military career might seem at first a mistake, but the fact is Ike’s presidency was an extension of his military career despite his clear understanding of the necessary division between the military and the civilian government.

    John F. Kennedy: An Unfinished Life, by Robert Dallek

    Kennedy has long been more legend than human being, and Dallek works hard to carve away the mythology to get at the person behind the famous images and the politician behind the desk. His focus on Kennedy’s early life and medical issues, plus his ability to dig up new original sources concerning Kennedy’s affairs and indiscretions, is coupled with a sober assessment of Kennedy as president, resulting in a nearly-perfect biography of an imperfect president.

    Lyndon Johnson: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro

    Lyndon Johnson was a masterful politician, a consummate wheeler-dealer, and a ruthless part boss who surprised everyone by pursuing ambitious policies once he found himself in office. He was also a flawed man who allowed the Vietnam War to completely consume his presidency before his work was done. Caro’s incredible book series about John is huge—but as you read you come to realize it could probably be twice as long, so packed with achievement was Johnson’s career both pre- and post-presidency.

    Richard Nixon: Richard Milhouse Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, by Roger Morris

    Few presidents were so clearly driven by psychological factors as Nixon, a man who always felt slighted, persecuted, and disrespected. After a long decade in the political wilderness during the 1960s, Nixon made an improbably comeback to become president in 1968, and somehow combined brilliance with a seething rage and paranoia that drove him to destroy himself—but not before poisoning the political discourse of the country, permanently. Morris’ fantastic biography digs into Nixon, the man, who is essential to understanding Nixon, the president.

    Gerald Ford: Gerald R. Ford, by Douglas Brinkley

    Ford is usually regarded as the most accidental of the accidental presidents—a man who was appointed Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned who then became president when Nixon resigned, and who then lost his bid for proper election in 1976, having served less than three years in the office. Brinkley doesn’t exactly make a case for Ford, under-appreciated genius, but he does make Ford’s career seem less haphazard in retrospect, noting his close relationship with Nixon that made his status as heir-apparent clear and the vicious political battle Ford fought against the surprise candidacy of Ronald Reagan at the convention in 1976—a battle Ford won.

    Jimmy Carter: Jimmy Carter, by Julian E. Zelizer

    Carter was a political outsider elected in reaction to the lingering stink of Watergate, but his outsider status meant he had a huge learning curve. Zelizer reminds the reader of Carter’s achievements, especially the SALT II Treaty and the Camp David Peace Accords, while noting that in some ways Carter was in a no-win situation as the economy stagnated, dooming him to the appearance of failure no matter what happened.

    Ronald Reagan: Reagan: The Life, by H.W. Brands

    Reagan remains a divisive figure in the increasingly polarized political climate of the U.S., and past biographers have found him to be an opaque figure—a man so used to being on camera and under scrutiny that his true self was difficult to pinpoint. Brands manages to cut through partisan sniping and understands that Reagan was his contradictions—and his contradictions (a conservative firebrand open to compromise, a president who talked tough but pursued careful policies) were what made him successful.

    George H.W. Bush: Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, by Jon Meacham

    Meacham’s glorious biography of the elder Bush is an inspiring story of a man of wealth and power who sought to serve his country instead of simply enjoying his position in society. Bush was a capable chief executive in the shadow of a colossus named Reagan, a man who lacked personal charisma forced to run against a man who was more or less made entirely of charisma. Meacham’s sober finds in Bush senior a very good man who always did his best, and who did in fact achieve quite a bit while in office.

    Bill Clinton: First in His class, by David Maraniss

    Although this biography was written while Clinton was still serving his first term as president, it remains a must-read. Maraniss manages to get to the heart of Clinton’s success in this book, showing him to be a man less of natural talent and more of untiring, indefatigable ambition—ambition he applied to serving his country. Whatever your opinion of Clinton the man, you can’t deny he was one of the best politicians of the late 20th century, and this book gets down to why that was the case in readable, entertaining prose.

    George W. Bush: Bush, by Jean Edward Smith

    While Smith is not shy about criticizing Bush in this fantastic biography—even ending with an open question regarding Bush Jr.’s status as Worst President Ever (although who knows, that slot may be filled by a new name soon enough)—there is plenty of acknowledgment that Bush sometimes did the right thing, and sometimes showed a canny talent for the job he won twice. The fact that the Bush you meet in this book is very similar to the Bush you saw on TV for eight years is actually to the man’ credit.

    Barack Obama: Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, by David Garrow

    Obama is polarizing—those who hate him really hate him, and those who love him tend to adore him. This means that Obama’s own autobiographies are regarded as either works of genius or self-serving myth-making. Garrow’s biography is energetic and finds the truth in-between—Obama’s own writing, it contends, is certainly shaped by Obama’s political ambitions to present our 44th president in a certain way—but this is far from an anti-Obama screed. It is, in fact, perhaps the first truly objective look at Obama’s life and administration.

    Donald J. Trump: Trump Revealed, by Michael Kranish

    If you want to understand how Donald Trump became president (and whether you regard this as a miracle or a disaster), Kranish offers up perhaps the first serious attempt to understand Trump’s life. That doesn’t mean he’s not critical of Trump—and often. But it does sidestep some of the overheated rhetoric that the never-Trumpers engage in and the lavish praise the god-emperor faction offer up, making it a compelling and informative read.

    The post The Ideal Biography for Every Single President appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sarah Skilton 3:00 pm on 2017/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: adam langer, andrew sean greer, bestseller, , cherise wolas, , , less, lucia graves, olivia goldsmith, the angel's game, , the resurrection of joan ashby, the right time, the thieves of manhattan,   

    6 Novel Novels About Novelists 

    Films-within-films (Tropic ThunderSingin’ in the Rain), plays-within-plays (Shakespeare does this a lot), and songs referencing songs (“You probably think this song is about you…”) provide entertainment while also poking fun at the business side of art. Naturally, novels are the perfect medium with which to tackle the publishing industry. Not only are these authors positioned to pull back the curtain on the lives of agents, publishers, and editors, but they’re eminently qualified to share the agonies and ecstasies of writing itself. Using humor, irony, and grace, whether they’re hot off the presses or set within the last century, these books bring special meaning to the adage “Write what you know.”

    The Right Time, by Danielle Steel

    A bright, precociously successful writer of complex thrillers, novelist Alexandra Winslow was told during her formative years that men will only read her genre of books if they’re written by other men. The warning stayed with her, and as a result, she decided to pursue her passion under a male pseudonym. Having overcome more heartache than most by her teen years, including an absent mother and the death of her beloved father (who shared his love of mysteries with her), Alex’s latest difficulties are compounded as she realizes the double life she’s living is slowly destroying her. Will she find the strength to reveal her true self to the rest of the world? Will the time ever be right for her to step out of her own shadow?

    The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, by Cherise Wolas
    Joan Ashby’s writing career is off to dazzling start. Adored by critics and readers alike for her dark prose, she’s poised to become a lifelong literary star. Children were never in the picture—until Joan’s husband Martin changes the rule they agreed to and urges her to succumb to motherhood. Raising her two boys isn’t easy, and her creative ambitions struggle against “the consumptive nature of love.” Wolas’ powerhouse debut novel promises to take readers on an emotional ride, while tackling questions about the ways in which women are sometimes forced to choose between love of family and self-actualization.

    Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

    “Minor novelist” Arthur Less is about to turn 50, and his younger, former lover Freddy is getting married. Down and out, and determined to escape the torturous nuptials—while not appearing as though he’s escaping—Less decides to accept every ham-fisted, bizarre invitation he’s received for the year. His writerly itinerary, which will take him from NYC to Paris, Berlin, and Morocco, includes teaching a class, attending an award ceremony (in which high schoolers are the judges), and interviewing a more successful author. A surprise narrator (whose identity is kept secret until the end) adds poignancy and tenderness to this lovely and comedic story.

    The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (translated by Lucia Graves)

    “A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story…A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.” So begins a haunting, gothic love story set in 1920s Barcelona. Orphaned pulp novelist David Martin leaves his newspaper job behind when he receives a mysterious publishing offer that may prove to be a Faustian bargain, especially when people begin dying and David suspects that the crumbling, abandoned house he’s living in holds terrifying secrets.

    The Thieves of Manhattan, by Adam Langer

    A biting, genre-bending satire of the publishing industry, with hilarious literary in-jokes and slang aplenty (a “frazier” is a large advance for a book, a la Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain; an “atwood” is “a mane of curls sported by the author Margaret Atwood”; and a “tolstoy” is a large pile of manuscripts), Thieves depicts a down-on-his-luck writer who agrees to put his name on an absurd novel and pretend it’s true, so he can take advantage of the misery-memoir trend. “I wasn’t sure if I felt more frightened by the thought that his scheme would work or the thought that it wouldn’t, that I would ruin whatever reputation and self-respect I might have had for nothing, or that lying would make me…successful.”

    Bestseller, by Olivia Goldsmith
    As a bestseller herself, Goldsmith (The First Wives’ Club and many more) knows the heartaches and triumphs of the publishing world, and she recreates it here with intimate aplomb. Five authors whose books were selected by powerful publishing house Davis & Dash vie for the coveted number-one slot on the fall list. But the writers aren’t the only ones desperate to climb the ladder of success. Up-and-coming editors and their shady mentors, back-stabbing agents, brokenhearted parents, struggling indie bookstore owners, and midlist ghostwriters abound in this scandalous tale. There’s even a husband-and-wife writing team that splits up when one of them pretends the work was a solo effort. Enjoy!

    What novels about novels would you recommend?

    The post 6 Novel Novels About Novelists appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Joel Cunningham 6:30 pm on 2017/10/17 Permalink
    Tags: caroline little house revisited, , LHOTP, , prairie home companion   

    Journey Back to the Prairie in Sarah Miller’s Caroline: Little House, Revisited, a Discover Great New Writers Pick 

    True story: When I was a child, I wanted desperately to live on the banks of Plum Creek*. I’m not the only American kid who wanted the Little House life; Roxane Gay felt similarly, she told me in a recent interview for The B&N Podcast. We all raced to read Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen and The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, both of which brought modern takes to Little House, but Sarah Miller’s Caroline: Little House, Revisted goes back to the original source material, telling the story of Caroline Wilder—wife, mother to Laura and her sisters, and pioneer.

    The booksellers who handpick the books we feature in our Discover Great New Writers program loved Caroline, and so we asked Sarah to take us behind the scenes of the book, and this is what she told us. – Miwa Messer, Director, Discover Great New Writers

    (*I would have settled for a sod house, if my parents had let me.) 

    Sarah Miller

    How did this story start for you, Sarah? What it a character or a particular moment, or something else?
    I like to blame all this on Cherry Jones—she performed the Little House audiobooks, which hit the market while I was working at a children’s bookstore. The owner of the shop tried one out and came back raving about how great it was, so I tried one. And the next…and the next… As I listened, I began to hear more than what I’d read on the pages as a child. The way Cherry Jones voiced Ma’s words, her tone and inflection — as well as my own adult perspective—made me realize how much Laura Ingalls Wilder had left unsaid, especially where her mother was concerned.

    There’s a moment in Little House on Prairie when Pa is a day late returning from a trip to town, 40 miles away. Laura wakes in the night to find Ma sitting in her rocking chair with Pa’s pistol in her lap, keeping vigil for his return. I can still tell you the intersection where I was sitting when I heard that scene and realized for the first time that for all her outward calm, Ma is barely holding it together.

    That woman was my age, I realized, and not only that, it turns out the real Mrs. Ingalls was pregnant with her third child the year her husband decided to pull up stakes and settle the family in Kansas. Can you imagine? From then on, I couldn’t stop wondering what her life had really been like.

    What do you want readers to know about Caroline?
     Once upon a time, I was a bookseller, too. If I were still, I’d be handing this to anyone who loves historical fiction, as well as folks who gravitate toward stories centered around warm family relationships. (Plus every last Laura Ingalls Wilder fan who walks through the door, of course.)

    How have readers responded to your book?
    Feelings for the Little House series run deep — I thought I knew that knew that going in, but even so, I’m amazed by how readily my Caroline is tapping into those emotions. It’s only been a few days, and already I’ve gotten messages on Facebook from readers telling me that returning to the world Laura Ingalls Wilder created is “a gift.” More than one person has said they loved it so much, it brought them to tears — at the beginning. I’d hoped people might cry at the end, but I never anticipated anyone being so moved by the first chapter or two.

    What surprised you most while you were writing Caroline?
    There was a point when I realized that Caroline Ingalls was not as old-fashioned as she seems at first glance. Somehow, without most of us noticing how she did it, she saw to it that all four of her daughters became educated, capable women. Mary went to college. Laura and Grace taught school. Carrie filed her own homestead claim and worked at the De Smet newspaper. All of them seem to have acquired a notion that it was ok to nudge at the boundaries of what was expected of women at the turn of the century.

    What do you love to read?
    I’m naturally drawn to historical fiction, biography, and memoirs. I’ve also got a soft spot for fairy tales retold. Really though, I’m susceptible to all kinds of excellent books. Didn’t think I liked science fiction…until I read The Giver and Ender’s Game. Didn’t think I cared all that much about suspense…until I read Gone Girl and The Fierce Kingdom.

    Is there an author you find yourself recommending again and again?
    Patricia Wood. At my house, we talk about the characters in her novel, Lottery, like they’re family.

     Was there a book that made you realize you were a reader?
    I don’t remember not being a reader. That said, there’s a small voice in my head insisting that I mention Harriet the Spy. I wanted to BE Harriet. That may have been when I realized that the things you read in books can follow you out into your actual life.

    Caroline: Little House, Revisited is available now.

    The post Journey Back to the Prairie in Sarah Miller’s Caroline: Little House, Revisited, a Discover Great New Writers Pick appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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