by Sarah Dunant


By Sarah Dunant

In 1527, Fiammetta Bianchini, an irresistible courtesan who has bedded Rome's choicest nobles, hastily flees her home as Spanish and German troops invade the city, raping and pillaging as they go. Stripped of her lavish gowns and prestige, she makes her way to Venice, where she struggles to build a new client list and regain her elite status. Her aides-de-camp in the opulent, and still peaceful, Venice include one former arch-enemy and a blind, hunched female healer. Add in a quick-witted dwarf— Fiammetta's always-loyal sidekick Bucino, who spiritedly narrates this smart novel—and in less sure hands you'd have a circus. But with a story-teller like Sarah Dunant at the helm, In the Company of the Courtesan is a captivating adventure. As in her last book, 2004's The Birth of Venus, Dunant re-creates Renaissance Italy without a misstep, here bringing Venice's canals, churches, back alleys and behind-the-scenes machinations brightly to light. As Fiammetta and Bucino's fortunes rise and fall and rise again, Dunant's boisterous but affecting story never flags for a second.

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By Taylor Branch

The concluding volume of Branch's trilogy about the Martin Luther King Jr. era, following the Pulitzer-winning Parting the Waters and then Pillar of Fire, is a magnificent chronicle of three years that include many of the period's highest and lowest points: passage of the Voting Rights Act, the crusade against poverty, and King's assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Beginning with an account of the 1965 Selma marches that allows readers to pick up the story in mid-action, the book paints vivid, nuanced portraits of King and his cohorts as the nonviolent wing of the civil rights movement faced challenges by radicalized Black Panther sentiment and the escalating war in Vietnam. King remained a fighter, denouncing the Vietnam effort (against his advisers' counsel) and broadening his civil rights campaign into northern ghettoes. Without omitting King's weaknesses, Branch makes a convincing case that he came as close as anyone on the world stage to embodying his ideals. As enjoyable as it is erudite, At Canaan's Edge is by far the best account yet of a time when one man helped bring about a sea change in America's racial consciousness.

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THE BILL FROM MY FATHER by Bernard Cooper A fascinating chronicle of the author's relationship with a toxic, aggressive father whom he refuses to desert.

EVERYTHING I'M CRACKED UP TO BE by Jen Trynin A former rocker puts her 1997 moment of fame and subsequent career slump into riotous perspective.

ICE by Mariana Gosnell Frostbite; hail; how it feels to be on an iceberg when it flips.... That cold stuff covering 10 percent of the earth is way more intriguing than you'd think.

CLIFFS OF DESPAIR by Tom Hunt A gripping look at Beachy Head in England, whose cliffs are the world's third most popular suicide spot.

A STRONG WEST WIND by Gail Caldwell The Pulitzer winner writes evocatively about her loving parents and the Texas Panhandle.

A compilation of public addresses, letters and writings read by King and others, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. includes 1963's "I Have a Dream" speech. A Knock at Midnight is a moving collection of King's sermons. Both collections are newly out on CD.

"So many women say, "I thought when my daughter grew up we'd be friends,'" says author Deborah Tannen. In her new book, she explores why that can be tough—and what can help.


One reason is that each underestimates her own power and overestimates the other's. Daughters don't realize how much control they have—over how often they talk, for instance—and moms don't realize how much impact their opinions can have. They may think they're giving advice, but often criticism is implicit.


Don't talk about the Big 3—hair, weight, clothes—unless it's a compliment, and stop there. Say "You've lost weight, you look great"; don't add "Keep it up." And when girls get older, try keeping in touch via e-mail—it's less intrusive.


Ask yourself, "Would I talk to anyone else the way I'm talking to my mom?" Women I talked to admitted hanging up on their moms—you wouldn't do that to anyone else.


Not entirely. But we can't let the fact that some interactions are bad overshadow how wonderful the relationship can be. As one woman said to me, "Who else can I tell I got a great deal on toilet paper?"