Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Shannon Hale

Five Great Reads For the Cold Weather


Ah winter.  Time for hot chocolate, weather advisory alerts, and staying indoors.  And when you’re stuck inside the only things to do as we all well know are binge Netflix and read.  Here are some worthwhile books to help get through to spring.

The Thin Woman (1984) By Ellis Haskell –  Overweight interior decorator Ellie Simons hires professional escort (and aspiring writer and chef) Bentley T. Haskell to provide her protection during a weekend with her dreadful relatives.  Complications of course ensue and things eventually turn deadly.  This was Book One in a much adored series of novels starring Ellie, Bentley, Cousin Freddy, and many, many more colorful characters.  Cannell not only crafts good puzzles but has a delightfully dry very British wit and a knack for writing scenes and tableaus that are as funny as they are charming.  

Book of a Thousand Days (2007) By Shannon Hale – This young adult fantasy novel is a fresh take on Brothers Grimm’s classic fairy tale Maid Maleen. After her mother’s death, Dashti a mucker from the steppes finds work as a maid to the great beauty Lady Saren.  Lady Saren’s father the Lord of Titor’s Garden proclaims she must marry Lord Khasar but turns our Saren’s already engaged to young Khan Tegus.  Daddy locks Saren and Dashti both in a tower and says they’ll stay there for seven years-or until Saren agrees to marry Lord Khasar.  A beautifully rendered fantasy with a female friendship at its center it won a host of awards including the Whitney award for Best Speculative Fiction, Cybils awards for Best Fantasy and Science AND Best Young Adult Fantasy, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults award.

The Poison Tree (2011) by Erin Kelly – This riveting psychological thriller begins with Karen and her young daughter Alice picking up Karen’s lover Rex who’s served a ten year stint in prison.  Flashback to the late 90’s when Karen meets Biba a flamboyant would be actress and moves in with her and her enigmatic brother Rex.  It’s all fun and games but the siblings share a tortured family legacy and things eventually turn bloody.  Full of twists and turns, it was a brilliant debut novel for Kelly who has gone on to write more thrillers since.  

The Partner Track (2013) by Helen Wan – Ingrid Yung is a first generation Chinese American woman, poised to become the first minority woman to make partner at the distinguished Wall Street firm Parsons, Valentine, and Hunt.  But when an offensive incident at a summer outing creates a PR crisis for the firm, Ingrid is drafted to spearhead the new Diversity and Inclusion Initiative while also closing a major deal.  Soon Ingrid will find herself questioning everything she’s worked her whole life to achieve.  Wan gives us a wonderful and relatable protagonist with excellent insights into the experience of Asian Americans and the cutthroat environment of Big Law Firms.  

Lilac Girls (2016) by Martha Hall Kelly – Manhattan, 1939.  New York socialite Caroline Ferriday falls for a married actor while becoming increasingly involved in supporting France’s war effort.  Kasia Kuzmerick a Polish Catholic, girl whose adolescence is interrupted by Germany’s invasion of Poland and her own involvement with the Resistance.  And one day infamous German surgeon Herta Oberheuser finally accepts a position at Ravensbruck.  Their lives will converge in ways, that are unexpected and occasionally horrific.   Told in first person narrative from the Pov of three very different women, Kelly’s debut novel was a grand triumph capturing not only three distinct voices but also brilliantly brings the times to life.  And for the record she’s relating are all true.

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Five YA Novels Adults Can Enjoy Too


Besides spawning blockbuster film franchises, one of the things that’s made such series as Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight so iconic is that they were hugely popular not just among their targeted “young adult” audience but among people old enough to drink as well.  It just goes to show that YA fiction has come a long way and it’s possible these days to find books that will appeal both to tweens AND their parents alike.  Here are some examples.

Daddy-Long-Legs (1912)  By Jean Webster. This epistolary novel follows young Jerusha “Judy” Abbott an orphan, who receives a full college scholarship including monthly allowance from a trustee at the orphanage who asks that she write him a letter each month, but he asks that she write to “Mr. John Smith,” since he prefers to remain anonymous.  Knowing only that her mystery benefactor is a tall long legged man, Judy addresses the letters to “Daddy-Long-Legs” as she keeps him informed of her life at an all-girls Eastern College.

The Black Pearl (1967) By Scott O’Dell. This Newberry Honor book is a coming of age story that stars sixteen year old Ramon Salazar whose father Blas Salazar is the most famous pearl dealer in Baja, California.  Salazar’s best pearl diver is Gaspar Ruiz known as “The Sevillano,” and Ramon dreams of following in Gaspar’s footsteps.  After days of dangerous dives, Ramon finds the Great Pearl of Heaven – a magnificent Black Pearl.  Little does he know this is only the beginning of his troubles.

Charmed Life (1973) By Diana Wynne Jones. Before there was Harry Potter and Hogwarts there was Jones Chrestomanci series.  Set in a parallel universe, Chrestomanci refers to a British government office in charge of regulating the use of magic and enchantment, that works out of Chrestomanci castle headquarters and residence to the current Chrestomanci (Christopher Chant) himself.  Charmed Life is the first of the series where orphaned young Eric (Cat) Chant and his evil, manipulative sister, Gwen, are sent to live at Chrestomanci castle.  It won the annual Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, a once in a lifetime achievement award.

The Giver (1993) Lois Lowry. This Newberry medal award winning novel was a young adult dystopia novel LONG before young adult dystopia became a thing.  Eleven year-old Jonas lives in a community where pain and strife have been eliminated thanks to a cultural commitment to “Sameness.”  Jonas is chosen to become the Receiver of Memory (aka a living storage unit of all memories before Sameness) and soon becomes conflicted by the new emotions he’s experiencing in stark contrast to the colorless society in which he lives.  It’s widely ranked among the best YA novels of all time; but it’s also one of the most challenged books as well.  (Ironically proving Lowry’s point.)

The Goose Girl (2005) By Shannon Hale. Based on the classic Grimm fairy tale of a princess who is displaced by her evil lady in waiting and thus takes the role of a goose girl rather than her rightful place as Queen.  Hale finds new life and depth in the story with complex characterization and great use of magical realism.  It became the first in the popular series known as The Books of Bayern but in  order to really appreciate the series (and the world Hale painstakingly builds) it’s best to start with the beginning and how Princess Anidori-Kiladra in her early years learned the language of birds.

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