1. The Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross
Ansley thought her fiancé, Parish, loved her unconditionally until he dumps her. In order to escape the subsequent gossip and pity, she heads to New York City to visit her maternal grandmother, Vivian, whom she has never met. While Vivian is delighted to have the chance to reconnect with her family, she currently has problems of her own: her recently deceased husband’s creative tax shelters have brought down the wrath of the IRS, specifically agent 1432. As a way of coping, Ansley begins baking cupcakes, and as she mixes up batches of home-baked goodness, she realizes she may have stumbled on the answer to her and her grandmother’s problems. Striking the perfect balance between tart wit and sweet romance, Ross spoons up a thoughtful blend of chick lit and women’s fiction, complete with a tempting assortment of cupcake recipes, the icing on this irresistible culinary literary creation.
2. How to Bake a perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal
Ramona has a prickly relationship with her large, restaurant-owning family and a deep love for her daughter, Sofia, who Ramona had as a teenager and is now grown and pregnant. When Sofia's husband is injured in Afghanistan and she flies to Germany to be with him, Ramona is left to care for Sofia's 13-year-old stepdaughter, Katie, a scrawny child whose drug-addicted mother is in jail. Over the summer, Ramona struggles to keep her business afloat and find some solid footing with her family, bonds with Katie, aches for what her daughter is enduring, and rekindles a romance from 25 years earlier.
3. What Child is this? by Caroline Cooney
A heart-tugging story with an upbeat ending, told in alternating chapters by the young people involved. Eight-year-old Katie, an emotionally starved foster child, writes a wish on a paper bell that will be hung on a Christmas tree in a local restaurant. There, members of the community can choose a request and give a gift to a needy child. However, Katie doesn't ask for toys or clothing?she wishes for a family. Although the social worker says her request is inappropriate, Matt, a high school student who lives in the same foster home and works in the restaurant, hangs the bell on the tree. Liz, Matt's classmate, is upset when her uncaring father reads the wish, calls it ridiculous, and tears up the bell. Meanwhile, Liz's older sister struggles with her grief over the recent death of her baby. When Matt tells Katie on Christmas Eve that her wish will not come true, the devastated girl runs out into a blizzard, setting off a chain of events that brings about a resolution befitting a holiday tale.
4. The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sit down with the Dalai Lama and really press him about life's persistent questions? Why are so many people unhappy? How can I abjure loneliness? How can we reduce conflict? Is romantic love true love? Why do we suffer? How should we deal with unfairness and anger? How do you handle the death of a loved one? These are the conundrums that psychiatrist Howard Cutler poses to the Dalai Lama during an extended period of interviews in The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.
At first, the Dalai Lama's answers seem simplistic, like a surface reading of Robert Fulghum: Ask yourself if you really need something; our enemies can be our teachers; compassion brings peace of mind. Cutler pushes: But some people do seem happy with lots of possessions; but "suffering is life" is so pessimistic; but going to extremes provides the zest in life; but what if I don't believe in karma? As the Dalai Lama's responses become more involved, a coherent philosophy takes shape. Cutler then develops the Dalai Lama's answers in the context of scientific studies and cases from his own practice, substantiating and elaborating on what he finds to be a revolutionary psychology. Like any art, the art of happiness requires study and practice--and the talent for it, the Dalai Lama assures us, is in our nature.
5. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
This audacious, mesmerizing novel should carry a warning: "Reader Beware." Those entering the world of carnival freaks described by narrator Olympia Binewski, a bald, humpbacked albino dwarf, will find no escape from a story at once engrossing and repellent, funny and terrifying, unreal and true to human nature. Dunn's vivid, energetic prose, her soaring imagination and assured narrative skill fuse to produce an unforgettable tale. The premise is bizarre. Art and Lily, owners of Binewski's Fabulon, a traveling carnival, decide to breed their own freak show by creating genetically altered children through the use of experimental drugs. "What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?" muses Lily. Eventually their family consists of Arty, aka Arturo the Aqua Boy, born with flippers instead of limbs, who performs swimming inside a tank and soon learns how to manipulate his audience; Electra and Iphigenia, Siamese twins and pianists; the narrator, Oly; and Fortunato, also called the Chick, who seems normal at birth, but whose telekinetic powers become apparent just as his brokenhearted parents are about to abandon him. More than anatomy has been altered. Arty is a monsterpower hungry, evil, malicious, consumed by "dark, bitter meanness and . . . jagged rippling jealousy." Yet he has the capacity to inspire adoration, especially that of Oly, who is his willing slave, and who arranges to bear his child, Miranda, who appears "norm," but has a tiny tail. A spellbinding orator, Arty uses his ability to establish a religious cult, in which he preaches redemption through the sacrifice of body partsdigits and limbs."I want the losers who know they're losers. I want those who have a choice of tortures and pick me." This raw, shocking view of the human condition, a glimpse of the tormented people who live on the fringe, makes readers confront the dark, mad elements in every society.