At a wedding I attended recently, I ended up having a long, open-bar-fueled argument with another guest over our favorite speculative fiction books. She loves Robert Jordan; I love George R.R. Martin. I won’t bore you with the details, but I do want to emphasize how vehemently opposed our tastes were, so that when I tell you that we both adored The Left Hand of Darkness, you’ll know: wow. that must be a seriously awesome book.

And it really, really is. This is about as pure sci-fi as sci-fi can get: a tale of fiction that speculates on the future of science and how it may alter human culture. And, in this book, even human genetics.

The story takes place on the planet Gethen, mostly known as Winter, where Genly Ai has been assigned as a diplomat. His mission is to bring the people of Winter into the broader galactic civilization. His task is complicated by the alien culture and politics of this world, where the human inhabitants are genderless beings whose sexual characteristics and reproductive abilities only surface during mating seasons, when they can become either male or female (depending on their chosen partner). LeGuin is a master: this novel is excellent. It’s not about aliens, or sex, or politics, but it is about the way all of those things affect friendship, culture, and human nature. Like all great science fiction, this isn’t a work with a limited scope or audience – it’s one that uses speculation about the future to make sharp observations and thoughtful arguments about the way we live now.

 

In April 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted a kitchen garden on the White House’s South Lawn.  As fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs sprouted from the ground, this White House Kitchen Garden inspired a new conversation all across the country about the food we feed our families and the impact it has on the health and well-being of our children.

Now, in American Grown, Mrs. Obama invites you inside the White House Kitchen Garden and shares its inspiring story, from the first planting to the latest harvest.  Hear about her worries as a novice gardener – would the new plants even grow? Learn about her struggles and her joys as lettuce, corn, tomatoes, collards and kale, sweet potatoes and rhubarb flourished in the freshly tilled soil.  Get an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at every season of the garden’s growth, with striking original photographs that bring its story to life.  Try the unique recipes created by White House chefs and made with ingredients just picked from the White House garden.  And learn from the White House Garden team about how you can help plant your own backyard, school or community garden.

Mrs. Obama’s journey continues across the nation as she shares the stories of other gardens that have moved and inspired her: Houston office workers who make the sidewalk bloom; a New York City School that created a scented garden for the visually impaired; a North Carolina garden that devotes its entire harvest to those in need;Davenport Iowa as “Playful City USA” using a decommissioned firetruck to visit parks throughout the city to encourage outdoor play as well as other stories of communities that are transforming the lives and health of their citizens.

In American Grown, Mrs. Obama tells the story of the White House Kitchen Garden, celebrates the bounty of gardens across our nation, and reminds us all of what we can grow together. (description from publisher)

Katie Workman, founding editor in chief of Cookstr.com and mother of two school-age kids, offers recipes, tips, techniques, attitude, and wisdom for staying happy in the kitchen while proudly keeping it homemade—because homemade not only tastes best, but is also better (and most economical) for you.

The Mom 100 Cookbook is 20 dilemmas every mom faces, with 5 solutions for each: including terrific recipes for the vegetable-averse, the salad-rejector, for the fish-o-phobe, or the overnight vegetarian convert. “Fork-in-the-Road” variations make it easy to adjust a recipe to appeal to different eaters (i.e., the kids who want bland and the adults who don’t). “What the Kids Can Do” sidebars suggest ways for kids to help make each dish. The Mom 100 Cookbook is sure to help you keep your family fed and happy every night of the week. (description by publisher)

September 4

The Five Year Engagement – Jason Segal, Emily Blunt

Beginning where most romantic comedies end, the film looks at what happens when an engaged couple keeps getting tripped up on the long walk down the aisle. Rated R

 

Woman Thou Art Loosed: on the 7th Day – Blair Underwood, Sharon Leal

Underscoring the impact of secrets, lies and deception when a husband and wife find themselves in the midst of a crisis after their young daughter is kidnapped. The couple must race against time to find their child, who is believed to have been abducted by a serial killer that symbolically murders his victims ‘On the 7th Day.’ During their desperate search, they begin to uncover details about their past that threaten to rip their marriage and lives apart. Rated PG-13

Safe – Jason Statham, Catherine Chan

A second-rate cage fighter is tormented by the Russian Mafia and wanders the streets of New York. He witnesses a young Chinese girl being pursued by the same mafia who want her for a priceless numerical code that they would kill for. Rated R

 

September 11

Girl in Progress – Eva Mendes, Cierra Ramirez

Grace is a single mom. She is too busy juggling work, bills, and the very married Dr. Hartford, to give her daughter, Ansiedad the attention she desperately needs. When Ansiedad’s English teacher introduces her students to classic coming-of-age stories, she is inspired to skip adolescence and jump-start her life without mom. While Grace becomes preoccupied with the increasing affections of her co-worker, Ansiedad enlists the help of her loyal friend, Tavita. Rated PG – 13

Snow White and the Huntsman – Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron

Snow White is the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen who is out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman who was dispatched to kill her. Rated PG-13

What to Expect When You’re Expecting – Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks

A look at love through the eyes of five interconnected couples experiencing the thrills and surprises of having a baby, and ultimately coming to understand the universal truth that no matter what you plan for, life doesn’t always deliver what’s expected. Rated PG-13.

 

September 17

Hysteria – Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy

In an age of invention, one man set out to find a medical cure for what ails women, and accidentally electrified love lives forever. London, 1880. Mortimer Granville is struggling to establish his career. When he arrives at the offices of Dr. Robert Dalrymple, London’s leading specialist in women’s medicine, he is hired on the spot. Granville’s improved lot in life makes him a worthy suitor for Dalyrmple’s daughter, Emily, but he also feels a kinship with her less-proper sister, Charlotte. Rated R

Cabin in the Woods – Kristen Connelly, Chris Hemsworth

A rambunctious group of five college friends steal away for a weekend of debauchery in an isolated country cabin, only to be attacked by horrific supernatural creatures in a night of endless terror and bloodshed. As the teens begin to exhibit standard horror movie behavior, a group of technicians in a control room are scrutinizing and sometimes even controlling every move the terrified kids make. Do they have any chance of escape? Rated R

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy

When seven cash-strapped seniors decide to ‘outsource’ their retirement to a resort in far-off India, friendship and romance blossom in the most unexpected ways. Bonus features included. Rated PG-13

 

September 25

The Lucky One – Zac Ephron, Taylor Schilling,

U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive – a photograph he found of a woman he doesn’t even know. Learning her name is Beth and where she lives, he shows up at her door, and ends up taking a job at her family-run local kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm. Rated PG-13

 

Marvel’s Avengers – Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner

Marvel makes cinematic history as it unites the superhero team-up of a lifetime. Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America assemble together for the very first time ever in this epic, action-packed blockbuster alongside Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. Rated PG-13

 

I recently visited Fargo, North Dakota. Really. A traveling companion picked up this t-shirt in a downtown art gallery, of all places:

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With a metro area some 200,000 strong, Fargo is home to a state university, quite a lot of railroad tracks, a surprisingly bumpin’ downtown area, and three library locations. For some perspective, the Fargo Radisson is the tallest building in town at 18 stories (and no, there’s no observation deck. The top floor is leased to a law firm and they’re very uptight about hotel guests exploring their floor – can’t imagine why). If you haven’t been lucky enough to visit this glamorous locale, check out these library materials for a peek into the sophisticated, swanky, utterly glam Fargo lifestyle.

  • Fargo: this famed “murder-comedy” follows Frances McDormand as a policewoman uncovering the truth behind a string of interconnected murders. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, whose unique style gives this movie an unforgettable tone.
  • Trains roll through Fargo at terrifying speeds. Honestly – they move about twice as fast through downtown Fargo as they do through downtown Davenport. The corresponding noise and whooshing wind is rather alarming, especially if you’re on foot waiting for it to pass. Strangers on a Train (the Hitchcock classic about a murder pact gone awry) and Murder on the Orient Express (the unforgettable Agatha Christie mystery) also involve trains, and plenty of murder – a distinctly Fargo-esque combination, based on my extremely limited and highly biased research.
  • Louise Erdrich was prominently featured both at the Fargo Public Library and at the hip downtown Fargo bookstore. Her stories about Native Americans past and present are rich with descriptions of the Great Plains and its people; Love Medicine, her first novel, is set in North Dakota and is excellent. Ditto her second novel, The Beet Queen. (side note: I also highly recommend The Painted Drum, although it really has nothing to do with Fargo and probably deserves its own post).

Classic Hikes of North America is a beautifully photographed and eminently practical account of the best back country journeys in the United States and Canada.

Peter Potterfield, an experienced hiker and photographer, has analyzed and graded these spectacular wilderness experiences with both beginners and avid hikers in mind. Included in the book is helpful information, such as: level of difficulty, trail conditions, recommended seasons, potential hazards and difficulties, resource information, and detailed maps of hiking routes.

Illustrated with more than 200 color photographs and hiking directions, here is inspiration and information in a single volume. There are routes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Big Beaver–Little Beaver Loop in the North Cascades National Park of Washington State, and the Slate Range in the Canadian Rockies, Alberta and British Columbia, and many more. These are journeys to dream on, and Potterfield puts them within reach of any aspiring hiker. (description from publisher)

Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson is a charming collection of updated recipes for both classic and forgotten cakes, from a timeless yellow birthday cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, to the new holiday standard, Gingerbread Icebox Cake with Mascarpone Mousse. Make every occasion–the annual bake sale, a birthday party, or even a simple Sunday supper–a celebration with this charming collection of more than 50 remastered classics.

Each recipe in Vintage Cakes is a confectionary stroll down memory lane. After sifting through her treasure trove of cookbooks and recipe cards, master baker and author Julie Richardson selected the most inventive, surprising, and just plain delicious cakes she could find. The result is a delightful and delectable time capsule of American baking, with recipes spanning a century. Richardson guides home bakers–whether total beginners or seasoned cooks–toward picture-perfect meringues, extra-creamy frostings, and lighter-than-air chiffons.

With recipes to make Betty Crocker proud, these nostalgic and foolproof sweets rekindle our love affair with cakes. (description from publisher)

I’m going to tread very lightly with this review, because to spoil any plot point of Gillian Flynn’s masterful suspense novel Gone Girl would be a crime against anyone planning to read it.  Nick and Amy Dunne were once young and in love.  But now, on the fifth anniversary of their wedding, their relationship is crumbling and neither spouse seems happy.  It is on this day that Nick receives a phone call from a concerned neighbor:  the Dunne’s front door is wide open, the living room is trashed, and Nick’s wife nowhere to be found.  Anyone interested in the true crime genre could tell you that the husband is always the first suspect, but did Nick really do it?  Told in alternating chapters of Nick’s perspective when Amy goes missing and Amy’s diary entries chronicling their relationship, the novel plays with the narrators’ unreliability to keep the reader guessing every step of the way.

I’ve heard a ton of buzz about this book all summer and trust me, it is all well-deserved.  The fast pacing and many twists and turns make this book painful to put down, even for just a minute.  This is no average whodunit; in addition to being a captivating mystery/thriller, this is also an intriguing character study about what happens when relationships go wrong and when your spouse isn’t quite what they seem to be at the beginning of the relationship.  I finished this book three days ago after reading it in two sittings, and I still can’t stop thinking about it.  I highly recommend Gone Girl to anyone looking for a unique mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Inspired by her beloved blog, dinneralovestory.com, Jenny Rosenstrach’s story is many wonderful things: a memoir, a love story, a practical how-to guide for strengthening family bonds by making the most of dinnertime, and a compendium of palate-pleasing recipes.

Claiming that a committed family dinner every night helps strengthen the bonds of a family, Dinner: A Love Story provides recipes for easy-to-prepare family dinners including roast vegetables with polenta, spicy shrimp with yogurt, and homemade pizza. With simple strategies and common sense, Jenny figured out how to break down dinner—the food, the timing, the anxiety, from prep to cleanup—so that her family could enjoy good food, time to unwind, and simply be together.

Every meal is a real meal, one that has been cooked and eaten and enjoyed at least a half dozen times by someone in Jenny’s house. With inspiration and game plans for any home cook at any level, Dinner: A Love Story is as much for the novice who doesn’t know where to start as it is for the gourmand who doesn’t know how to start over when she finds herself feeding an intractable toddler or for the person who never thought about home-cooked meals until he or she became a parent. This book is, in fact, for anyone interested in learning how to make a meal to be shared with someone they love, and about how so many good, happy things happen when we do. (description from publisher)

The once little-known condition of hoarding has become a household phrase – in part due to the popularity of the Emmy Award-winning television show Hoarders, which has captivated audiences with its stark and heartbreaking look at the people who suffer from this paralyzing condition. Now The Hoarder in You helps you overcome your worst hoarding compulsions.

Our fascination with hoarding stems, according to Dr. Robin Zasio, from the fact that we all fall somewhere on the hoarding continuum. From compulsive shoppers to hobbyists and collectors to ordinary, run-of-the-mill pack rats – to some degree or another, we all hoard. Dr. Zasio shares behind-the-scenes stories from the show, including some of the most serious cases of hoarding that she’s encountered – and explains how we can learn from these extreme examples. She also shares psychological and practical advice for de-cluttering and organizing, including how to tame the emotional pull of acquiring additional things, making order out of chaos by getting a handle on clutter, and creating an organizational system that reduces stress and anxiety. (description from publisher)