possibility dogsWith her critically acclaimed, bestselling first book, Scent of the Missing , Susannah Charleson was widely praised for her unique insight into the kinship between humans and dogs, as revealed through her work in canine search and rescue alongside her partner, golden retriever Puzzle. Now, in The Possibility Dogs, Charleson journeys into the world of psychiatric service, where dogs aid humans with disabilities that may be unseen but are no less felt.

This work had a profound effect on Charleson, perhaps because, for her, this journey began as a personal one: Charleson herself struggled with posttraumatic stress disorder for months after a particularly grisly search. Collaboration with her search dog partner made the surprising difference to her own healing. Inspired by that experience, Charleson learns to identify abandoned dogs with service potential, often plucking them from shelters at the last minute, and to train them for work beside hurting partners, to whom these second-chance dogs bring intelligence, comfort, and hope.

Along the way Charleson comes to see canine potential everywhere, often where she least expects it – from Merlin the chocolate lab puppy with the broken tail once cast away in a garbage bag, who now stabilizes his partner’s panic attacks; to Ollie, the blind and deaf terrier, rescued moments before it was too late, who now soothes anxious children; to Jake Piper, the starving pit bull terrier mix with the wayward ears who is transformed into a working service dog and, who, for Charleson, goes from abandoned to irreplaceable.

The Possibility Dogs is an inspiring story that shows how dogs can be rescued, and can rescue in return. (description from publisher)

electric ladyTo say that I was excited about the release of Janelle Monáe’s newest album, The Electric Lady, is an understatement.   Her 2010 album, The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III), is one of my favorite albums of all time.  That epic, sprawling R&B recording (that feels like a collaboration between David Bowie, Lauryn Hill, Beck, and Outcast) tells the story of Cindi Mayweather, an android sent back in time to save the people of Metropolis from a time-traveling secret society that prevents freedom and love.  Monáe’s first album, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) began the story and The Electric Lady continues with suites four and five out of seven.

But don’t let that complicated back story turn you away.  The Electric Lady is as fun as it is smart.  Collaborating with Erykah Badu (on the spectacular track Q.U.E.E.N.), Esperanza Spalding, Miguel, Solonge, and Prince, Monáe has created an exciting follow-up album. While there are stand-out tracks (Primetime and Dance Apocolyptic are two of my favorites), The Electric Lady is best listened to in full.

power hungryPower Hungry is the ultimate energy bar cookbook, complete with recipes and over 150 variations for protein bars, granola bars, endurance gels and bars, “knock-offs” of your favorite name-brand bars, and more.

Power Hungry recipes are 100% soy-free, completely adaptable to gluten-free and vegan diets; Paleo options and a raw bar chapter are also included. Control what you eat – Power Hungry calls for the best ingredients and high-quality proteins: rolled oats, multigrain cereals, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, all-natural protein powders, and more. They’re easy to make, customize, and freeze and you’ll save money – store-bought bars are expensive. Maximize taste and nutrition – all-natural ingredients, no junky additives with these completely portable, healthy, energizing snacks. Power bars will be  loved by everyone – whole families (lunchboxes, after-school snacks, parents on the run, road trips and travel), fitness buffs (pre-and post-workouts), individuals on special diets (gluten-free, vegan, raw, allergies), health-conscious eaters, busy students, active seniors, yogis, dancers, hikers, and campers. There’s something here for everyone. (description from publisher)

This year there have been a lot of fantastic books adapted to the big screen: Twelve Years a Slave, Catching Fire (The Hunger Games trilogy), The Great Gatsby, Warm Bodies, Admission, World War Z and The Book Thief  — just to name a few!  Right before an adapted movie comes out, many scramble to read the book first. In that rush it becomes difficult to find a copy that isn’t checked out.  To prepare for the new year and start planning your reading, here are some of the books that you may want to read before you watch (who doesn’t want to get to yell, “The book was better!” in a crowded theater?)

Following successful film adaptations of Twilight and The Hunger Games series, movie studios are continuing to bank on YA dystopian sci-fi and paranormal romance series. With planned releases of  Divergent by Veronica Roth, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, The Giver by Lois Lowry (finally!),  and The Maze Runner by James Dashner (the first part of the third book in The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay is also due to be released in November) fans of speculative teen fiction have plenty to read in preparation.

Realistic fiction and a stand alone, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is another popular YA book set to debut next year (if you want updates, John Green has been pretty open about the process on twitter), and will star Shailene Woodley  (who is also staring in Divergent).

Not all of the books adapted for the big screen next year will be targeted at young adults. In August, Helen Mirren is set to star in what has been described in the New York Times as Slumdog Millionaire meets Ratatouille, The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais.  Gillian Flynn’s massively popular Gone Girl  is due for an October release, starring Ben Affleck and directed by David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club).  And if you really want to get a head start, the release of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James is planned for February of 2015.

on the mapCartography enthusiasts rejoice: the bestselling author of Just My Type reveals the fascinating relationship between man and map. Now, in On the Map, Simon Garfield takes on a subject dear to our fanatical human hearts: maps.

Imagine a world without maps. How would we travel? Could we own land? What would men and women argue about in cars? Scientists have even suggested that mapping – not language – is what elevated our prehistoric ancestors from ape-dom. Follow the history of maps from the early explorers’ maps and the awe-inspiring medieval Mappa Mundi to Google Maps and the satellite renderings on our smartphones, Garfield explores the unique way that maps relate and realign our history – and reflect the best and worst of what makes us human. Featuring a foreword by Dava Sobel and packed with fascinating tales of cartographic intrigue, outsize personalities, and amusing “pocket maps” on an array of subjects from how to fold a map to the strangest maps on the Internet, On the Map is a rich historical tapestry infused with Garfield’s signature narrative flair. Map-obsessives will be lining up to join Garfield on his audacious journey through time and around the globe. (description from publisher)

ocdthedudeandmeI recently finished the extraordinarily good Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and as much as I’d love to talk at length about my love for that book, Lexie already beat me to it. Shucks.  So, instead, I’m going to write about my second favorite young adult novel about a red-headed social misfit published this year — Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s OCD, The Dude, and Me.

Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in (has there ever been a young adult book about someone well-adjusted?  Would anyone want to read it?)  Diagnosed with OCD, she attends an alternative high school and has to see the school psychologist to work on her social skills.  With no friends and a rotten self-image, Danielle’s energy goes into rearranging her snowglobe collection, writing and reading, and pining for her crush, Jacob.  That is, until she meets Daniel, a fellow outsider who introduces Danielle to the cult classic, The Big Lebowski and they find themselves at Lebowskifest (something that I’m happy to report is real), a place where Danielle finally feels like she belongs.

Vaughn chose to introduce Danielle diary style — through her school essays, journal entries, and email exchanges– to great effect.  Witty and sarcastic, Danielle steadily grows up as the year passes.  As she gains confidence, she becomes more likable — a concept that may be inspiring to the self-deprecating among us.  Fans of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky should pick OCD, The Dude, and Me.

dinnertime survivalHave a fridge full of staples, a family of finicky mouths to feed, and only a few minutes to get something on the table? If this sounds all too familiar, chances are you’ll find dinner and more in this can-do approach to mealtime.

The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook is designed with the modern-day family in mind – too busy, with not nearly enough time to eat together – and makes delicious meals come together in a snap. With a focus on accessible recipes with only a few simple ingredients, this guide takes the humble pantry staple and transforms it in minutes into delicious restaurant-quality dishes. The more-than 125 recipes are organized, not by course or time of day, but by the way people really cook: categories like pasta, vegetable dishes, salads, chicken, slow-cooking, fish, and more make the dinner dilemma easy. Try Butternut Squash and Pear Soup, Bronzino Veracruz, Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto, Roasted Chicken Enchiladas, and Meatloaf Burgers. This revolutionary approach will change the way you see dinnertime. (description from publisher)

December 2

wolverineThe Wolverine– Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen

Summoned to Japan by an old friend, Wolverine becomes involved in a conflict that will force him to confront his own demons. There, adamantium claws will clash with samurai steel as Logan confronts a mysterious figure from his past in an epic battle that will change him forever. Rated PG-13

city of bonesThe Mortal Instruments – City of Bones – Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower

Clary Fray, a seemingly ordinary teenager, discovers she is the descendant of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret cadre of young half-angel warriors locked in an ancient battle to protect our world from demons. After the disappearance of her mother, Clary joins forces with a group of Shadowhunters who introduce her to a dangerous alternate New York City called Downworld, filled with demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other deadly creatures. Rated PG-13


smurf2Smurfs 2 – Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris.

The evil wizard Gargamel creates a couple of mischievous Smurf-like creatures called the Naughties. But when he discovers that only a real Smurf can give him what he wants, and only a secret spell that Smurfette knows can turn the Naughties into real Smurfs, Gargamel kidnaps Smurfette and brings her to Paris. It’s up to Papa, Clumsy, Grouchy, and Vanity to return to our world, reunite with their human friends Patrick and Grace Winslow, and rescue her. Rated PG

December 10

battleoftheyearBattle of the Year – Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso

Los Angeles hip-hop mogul and former B-Boy Dante wants to put the country that started the sport back on top. He enlists his hard-luck friend Blake to coach his team. Blake must use every tactic he knows to get twelve talented individuals to unite as a team if they’re going to bring the trophy back to America.Rated PG-13

December 17

lonerangerLone Ranger – Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer

A thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes. Native American spirit warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice – taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption. Rated PG-13

2guns2 Guns – Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington

DEA agent Bobby Trench and U.S. naval intelligence officer Marcus Stigman are working undercover for a narcotics business. After a distorted attempt to infiltrate the drug cartel, they soon learn the secret of their dubious affiliation. Rated R

elysiumElysium – Matt Damon, Jody Foster

In the year 2154, two groups of people remain: the extremely wealthy, who reside on an immaculate man-made space station named Elysium, and the rest, who occupy an overpopulated, destroyed Earth. Max decides to embark on a mission that could bring equality to the opposed worlds. Rated R

percyjacksonPercy Jackson – Sea of Monsters – Logan Lerman, Sean Beam

Based on the publishing phenomenon, Percy Jackson and other young demigods continue to fight, but this time in the sea, to fulfill their destinies. To save their world, Percy and his friends must find the fabled and magical Golden Fleece. Embarking on a treacherous odyssey into the uncharted waters of the Sea of Monsters (known to humans as the Bermuda Triangle), they battle terrifying creatures, an army of zombies, and the ultimate Evil. Rated PG

prisonersPrisoners – Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal

Keller Dover is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki arrests its driver but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads, Dover knows his child’s life is at stake and decides he must take matters into his own hands. How far will he go to protect his family? Rated R.

familyFamily – Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer

A mafia boss and his family are relocated to a sleepy town in France under the witness protection program after snitching on the mob. Despite Agent Stansfield’s best efforts to keep them in line, Fred Blake and his family can’t help resorting to old habits by handling their problems the ‘family’ way. Chaos ensues as their former Mafia cronies try to track them down, and scores are settled in the unlikeliest of settings. Rated R.

December 24

jobsJobs – Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney

A riveting story of a true American visionary, a man who let nothing stand in the way of greatness. It chronicles the iconic innovator and entrepreneur’s early days. He was a college dropout who co-founded Apple Computer Inc. and was then forced to leave. More than a decade later, Jobs returns and single-handedly sets a course that will turn the once-tiny startup into one of the world’s most valuable companies. His epic journey blazes a trail that changes technology-and the world-forever. Rated PG-13.

insidious2Insidious Chapter 2 – Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson

The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world. Rated PG-13


December 31

donjonDon Jon – Joseph Gordon-Levitt,  Scarlett Johansson

Jon is handsome, good old-fashioned guy. His buddies call him Don Jon due to his ability to ‘pull’ a different woman every weekend, but nothing compares to the bliss he finds alone watching porn. Barbara is a beautiful, good old-fashioned girl. Raised on romantic Hollywood movies, she’s determined to find her Prince Charming. Wrestling with good old-fashioned expectations of the opposite sex, Jon and Barbara struggle against a media culture full of false fantasies to try and find true intimacy. Rated R