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Celebrity Picks: Michael Strahan's Favorite Reads of 2015



Michael-Strahan

Multiple choice question. Michael Strahan is:

a.) The NFL record-holder for quarterback sacks in a single season

b.) The successor to Regis Philbin as the King of Morning Television

c.) The author of the new motivational book, Wake Up Happy: The Dream Big, Win Big Guide to Transforming Your Life

d.) All of the above

The answer, as unlikely as it may seem, is "d." So what books inspire "All of the above"? See Michael's favorite books of the year below, and look here for more celebrity favorites. Learn more about the Amazon Books Editors' picks for the Best Books of the Year.


Michael Strahan's Favorite Reads of 2015

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Shift for Good by Tory Johnson
Tory's book is not strictly a story about weight loss, it's a story about being the best version of yourself. It's about finding and keeping your joy. Her personal experiences have inspired me to be better every day and I know they'll do the same for you.
 

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Yes, My Accent is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven't Told You by Kunal Nayyar
Kunal is one of the funniest and wittiest people I know! While the stories he shares about his life are unique, they are something we can all relate to. This book had me laughing out loud and brought up a lot of great memories of my own childhood.
 

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The Stranger by Harlan Coben
This book is the epitome of a great thriller. I had to read it sporadically because it really had me on edge. Harlan Coben's creativity never ceases to amaze me. In every book he's written, he always delivers the suspense.
 

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Terry Brooks on the Shannara Chronicles: From Page to Screen Fearlessly



Terry Brooks' Shannara series has been a pillar of the fantasy genre for decades, and many have wondered why there are no films or TV shows set in his rich world. Now there will be, with the January premier of the "Shannara Chronicles" television series. In his own words, Terry Brooks explains the twisty path traveled from page to screen—and why the show turned out far better than he ever dared imagine.

Shannara ChroniclesI am fast coming up on forty years of being published and fifty years of writing Shannara books. It does not seem like yesterday. It feels like long ago and far away. But for purposes of this article, let's pretend I remember that far back. I always said that I would be thirty years dead before anyone ever made a movie or TV show of one of my books. But it was enough for me just to have written the books and know they were so well received.

Then a few years ago I got an offer to go another way. It had always been about movies, but this new offer was about television. I liked the idea as soon as I found out that in television, writers are much more important. They call them showrunners. Like the word suggests, they pretty much run the show. Working with writers was an opportunity I craved, a chance to bring the stories to visual life while working with people from my own tribe. I jumped in feet first.

There's a saying in the book world: "Having your book made into a movie or a TV show is like having your child kidnapped by a cult." I've heard enough writer horror stories to know there is some truth to this, so I entered this experiment a bit wary. But to my astonishment, the process was nothing like I had feared. It was wonderful. I went with an offer from MTV—an odd choice at first glance since they are not known for fantasy productions—but the right one. They made such a strong commitment, and they followed through on every promise they made and a lot more. They based Season One on Elfstones of Shannara, and they made it a big, powerful and captivating production. And—OMG—they stuck to the story! They honored my wishes and preserved the heart of the book, they made changes that strengthened rather than weakened the plot, and at the end of the day it was much, much better than I ever could have hoped for.

Why did this work out so well?

This is hard to explain because much of it is based on instinct and vibe. But here is the gist of my reasoning based on the time I spent being involved.

Everyone felt like this was a family effort. Everyone talked about what a good job the others were doing, how helpful and kind they were to one another and how hard they were working for the show. There was never any suggestion that the end result would be anything but terrific. Compliments were the norm and unsolicited. The commitment of everyone working on the show was consistently aligned with finding ways to not disappoint the readers or the viewers, of making the show as true to the book as possible, and to make viewing it an experience that no one would ever forget.

I just never had any reason not to think that all of this would result in anything but success. It was a team effort up and down the line, and I cannot tell you how good that felt.

Sometimes the Magic Works was the title of a book I once wrote about my writing life. I believed it back when, and I believe it now. It happened here, once again, with The Shannara Chronicles.

—Terry Brooks

 

Amazon Books Editor's Note: We got a sneak peek at the series premier a few weeks ago, and we left the viewing thrilled by the charismatic characters, the jewel-bright setting (Seattle after an apocalypse?!), and the smashing action scenes. —Adrian Liang

See a clip of The Shannara Chronicles here. The Shannara Chronicles airs on January 5, 2016, on MTV.


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Celebrity Picks: Amy Cuddy's Favorite Reads of 2015



Amy_Cuddy_255Building on her popular 2012 TED Talk, "Your Body Shapes Who You Are," Amy Cuddy's Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges teaches readers simple techniques to overcome fear in pressure-packed situations. In naming it our Spotlight Pick for the Best Books of December, Amazon Book Review's Erin Kodicek said, "Learning about the tenuous time in her life when she was paralyzed with doubts about her intellectual capacity ... lends Presence a certain emotional center you don't find in many books of its type."

See Amy's favorite books of the year below, and look here for more celebrity favorites. Learn more about the Amazon Books Editors' picks for the Best Books of the Year.


Amy Cuddy's Favorite Reads of 2015

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Missoula by Jon Krakauer
If you'd have asked me to name ten authors who were likely to write a book about sexual assault on college campuses, Jon Krakauer wouldn't have made my top 100, which is exactly what makes Missoula so compelling. He came to it with openness and honesty and the same difficult questions many people have about this complicated, pervasive problem. Rather than answer those questions for us, he presents the unembellished stories of several women, including what may seem like mundane details of their interactions with friends, family, and members of the community – and this is what allows us to see how these sexual assaults insidiously rattle victims to their core.
 

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Plainsong by Kent Haruf
I've never read something so bare and so warm. Set in a tiny town in my beloved Colorado, Kent Haruf, who passed away last year, gives us a collection of humble characters, including a pregnant teenager, a pair of older brothers who've lived and farmed together their whole lives, and a local teacher and father of two young boys whose wife has withdrawn into a depressive cocoon. Somehow they find and care for each other exactly as they need to be cared for. It may be frugal on its surface, but Plainsong gives us some of the richest relationships in literature.
 

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Quiet by Susan Cain
Quiet has liberated millions of introverts to be authentic without fear or regret—and to flourish as their authentic selves. Before Quiet: my introverted business school students would rather have been labeled 'jerk' than 'introvert'. After Quiet: my introverted business school students fully embrace and find strength in that part of themselves. On top of all that, it's as if Susan Cain is having a personal conversation with each reader. I don't know of another author who balances probing analysis with personal warmth as well as she does.
 

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Now in Paperback: Best of the Month Romances



Amazon Book ReviewRomance readers are a lucky bunch. Most romances are initially published in paperback (or ebook format), and you can gobble them up without worrying about whether you have to decide between paying the phone bill this month or feeding your need to read. But some of the best romances are first released in hardcover.

Here's a list of hardcover romances that we previously selected as Best of the Month picks and that are now available in paperback.

 

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Burned by Karen Marie Moning - Now is the perfect time to pick up the seventh book in Moning's Fever series, as book eight will be released on January 19, 2016. Epic, complex, and hot, Moning's story is told from several points of view but the focus is on Mac, who now has to contend with her former friend becoming her enemy even as her bond with sexy immortal Jericho Barrons is put to the test.
 

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Trust No One by Jayne Ann Krentz - With the murder of her boss, Grace Elland's past seems to have resurfaced, and Grace has to rely on the expertise of venture capitalist and former Marine Julius Arkwright to help her stay alive while they figure out who is behind the killings.

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Hush by Karen Robards - Money and murder set the stage in Robards' thriller about a woman who becomes FBI agent Finn Bradley's main suspect until she comes under fire, and Finn has to protect her before she is silenced, too.
 

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Last One Home by Debbie Macomber - If you like stories about getting a second chance at love and life, pick up Macomber's sweet story of three sisters whose bonds were broken a decade before by one sister's rash decision - but who now have the chance to mend them and build a stronger relationship.
 

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The Dead Play On by Heather Graham - A musician's death in New Orleans is originally thought to be suicide, but Tyler Anderson isn't convinced that foul play wasn't involved. Enter Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn, private detectives who've developed a reputation for figuring out even the strangest crimes.
 

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The Christmas Bouquet by Sherryl Woods - A bouquet caught at a Christmas wedding sends medical student Caitlyn Winters down a path of love and family that she never expected to tread.
 

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Born of Defiance by Sherrilyn Kenyon - Kenyon pairs a winning romance with nonstop action as warrior Talyn Batur gets entangled in a plot to overthrow the crown.
 

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Immortal by J. R. Ward - This finale to J. R. Ward's Fallen Angels series goes out with a sizzling-hot bang as humanity's savior Jim Heron finally confronts the question of his own heart and soul.
 

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The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle - After traveling the world as a humanitarian worker, Gia Andrews returns home for the final days of her father's life. Her father's conviction of her stepmother's murder, a relationship with a man who has his own secrets, and the town's resentment of her snowballs into a thriller you won't want to miss.
 

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Mr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber - This New York Times bestseller was also made into a Hallmark movie, so you know that Debbie Macomber will play your heartstrings but good in this holiday tale of a young woman's return to her hometown and the boy (now man) next door.
 

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Celebrity Picks: Elizabeth Gilbert's Favorite Reads of 2015



Elizabeth-gilbertWith her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love,  Elizabeth Gilbert penned not only a #1 New York Times Best Seller, but also an inimitable account of rising beyond fear and changing one's life mid-stream. Her new book, Big Magic, leads readers through her own process of overcoming insecurity in the pursuit of a fulfilling, creative life.

We asked Elizabeth for her own favorite books of the year. See her picks below, and look here for more celebrity favorites. Learn more about the Amazon Books Editors' picks for the Best Books of the Year.


Elizabeth Gilbert's Favorite Reads of 2015

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Rising Strong by Brené Brown
I have long been an admirer of my friend Brené Brown's groundbreaking work on wholeheartedness, vulnerability, courage, and compassion. In this, her latest book, she examines what it really feels like to fail — to fall flat on your face in the arena of shame. Without once diminishing the true cost of failure, she shows how it is indeed possible to rise up after a failure with resilience and grace — coming back not only stronger but (miraculously) perhaps even kinder.
 

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The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
This is a beautiful memoir about love and loss, written by the poet Elizabeth Alexander, about the untimely and sudden death of her husband. It's a heartbreaking story, but also soul-lifting. Theirs was a true love story — a happy marriage between real and flawed adults, in the real and flawed world — and true love stories are rare and precious. Alexander honors that love to the utmost of her ability as a writer...and her ability is vast.
 

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Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
This is my favorite novel of the year, and a lot of critics are agreeing with me on this. It's a smart and delicious romp of a historical novel, based on the true story of three young sisters in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1916, who stood up to the local Mafia. These are the best female characters I've seen in print in a long while, and I adored their story. My hope is that book clubs across the country will fall in love with Girl Waits with Gun and that it will become a big word-of-mouth hit. My other hope is that Hollywood will buy the movie rights, because this story is too good not to be made into a terrific film.
 

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"The Thousand Dollar Dinner": The Original Culinary Smackdown



1000-Dinner-JacketBetween programs like Top Chef, Iron Chef, MasterChef, and Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, it's hard to swing a jambon at your television without hitting some kind of cooking competition. But the roots of this phenomenon are much deeper than you might think. In The Thousand Dollar Dinner: America's First Great Cookery ChallengeBecky Libourel Diamond recreates the night in 1851--menu and all--when a group of wealthy Philadelphians commissioned chef James Parkinson to outdo their New York counterparts in a contest of epic culinary proportions, resulting in a 17-course meal including braised pigeon, turtle steaks, spring lamb, and rare wines and liquors. Eat your heart out, Guy Fieri. With a side of Beef Tongues.

Enjoy this overview from the author, along with a few images from the book.


Imagine pulling up to the curb at an exclusive city restaurant. The maître d' whisks you inside and guides you to a plush private room. In the middle of the room sits a huge mahogany table set with the finest china, silver, and crystal. A beautifully decorated menu is cradled on a silver stand next to each place setting. Ornamental sugar sculptures, statuettes, and striking flower arrangements are artfully displayed down the center. Tall, exquisitely decorated cakes, meringues, and other elegant desserts are arranged on a massive carved sideboard. A buffet holds rows of wine and liquor bottles, ice buckets of champagne, and pitchers of water. Your own personal waiter stands just behind your chair waiting to cater to your every gastronomic whim.

Although it might sound like the setting for a modern celebrity event or New York restaurant opening, this over-the-top scenario actually took place in 1851. And the city was Philadelphia, not New York. Thirty gentlemen – fifteen from New York and fifteen from Philadelphia – were the lucky participants. No strangers to fine dining, the impetus for the luxurious meal stemmed from an annual culinary competition between the two wealthy groups. After enjoying a magnificent banquet hosted by the New Yorkers at the very posh Delmonico's, the Philadelphians politely invited them to James W. Parkinson's restaurant in their city.


1000-Dinner-Parkinsons-SThis 1859 photograph shows Parkinson's Restaurant and Confectionary on 311 Chestnut Street, complete with "Parkinson" carved in a stone frieze above one of the entrances.


Parkinson successfully rose to the challenge, creating a seventeen-course feast famously referred to by Philadelphia newspapers as the "Thousand Dollar Dinner"" (since it reputedly cost $1,000, an enormous sum equivalent to over thirty times that amount today). The timing for this event couldn't have been better. The restaurant industry was experiencing rapid growth as people flocked to the cities to find jobs. Both Philadelphia and New York were leaders in this restaurant revolution and had developed a culinary rivalry.

Delmonico's began in the mid-1820s as a wine shop/confectionery and rose to become a restaurant dynasty that ended up ruling New York's appetite for expertly prepared food and service for nearly a century. The Parkinson family also used their confectionery skills as a springboard—first making a splash through their popular sweet shops and then expanding into the restaurant business. James Parkinson had quite a flair for marketing - his Philadelphia store was the first in America to feature visits with Santa Claus at Christmastime. He was also a tireless advocate for American foods, continuously voicing the idea that an "American style" of cooking truly exists.


1000-Dinner-Food-SGalantines of Chickens, à la Reine. This fanciful dish, similar to what Parkinson served as part of his fifth course, is typical of the elegant, imaginative cold dishes that were so popular in the nineteenth century.


For the Thousand Dollar Dinner, Parkinson chose items sure to dazzle and delight, including turtle, small game birds and intricate sculptures made out of patisserie, dishes rarely seen today. Each course featured a different fine wine pairing, particularly noteworthy as they were pre-phylloxera – before the infamous plant louse devastated thousands of acres of European grape vines.

Parkinson provided the most impressive presentations and freshest ingredients. For the Baked Rock, à la Chambord featured during the fish course, he pulled out every stop, sending privately hired anglers to Virginia to catch fresh rockfish (also known as striped bass), and bring them back to Philadelphia. The fifth course was comprised of several elegant "cold dishes," elaborate gastronomic masterworks designed to showcase a chef's ornamentation skills. These included decorative molds made from cold cooked foods set in aspic (a savory, transparent gelatin) such as Galantine de Dinde a la Gelee. The jelly encased around the cooked meat not only looked pretty, but it prevented air and bacteria from reaching the meat and turning it rancid, therefore enabling the display of these fancy dishes, like museum pieces under glass.

Perhaps the most unusual of the seventeen courses was the ninth course - pièces montées and vegetables - Parkinson's version of entremets, which means "between dishes" in French. By the mid-nineteenth century, it had become very fashionable for elegant banqueting menus to feature special preparations of rare, early season, or out-of-season vegetables as a light course toward the end of dinner. To charm his guests, Parkinson presented them alongside pièces montées, impressive works of art made from edible ingredients such as sugar, cake, and almond paste.


1000-Dinner-Chef-SThe only known portrait of James W. Parkinson, a caricature titled, "A Real Royal Personage," from the Confectioner's Journal, 1875 


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