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Best Jane Austen Fan Fiction
By Jo Baker
It has become a cliché to love Jane Austen, and many writers try to imitate her style. Longbourn is one of the few pieces of fan fiction that's worthwhile. It retells the story of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants, and it makes the Bennet home come alive. I felt as if I actually lived in the same house as Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters. The story is told mostly by Sarah, a housemaid who has worked there since she was orphaned. We get glimpses of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, but the "downstairs" plot stays focused on the lives of the servants. Plus, you learn a few secrets about the family that not even Miss Austen knew.
Best Gossip About TV News
Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV
By Brian Stelter
I worked in a newsroom for more than 10 years, so I read this for its behind-the-scenes stories of what happened at NBC's Today show. Why was Ann Curry replaced as co-host? Did she and Matt Lauer really not get along? How did ABC's Good Morning America come to break NBC's longtime winning streak? The best part of the book reports on "Operation Bambi," which reportedly was the code name for the plan to fire Curry. There also are chapters on the rise of GMA, the genesis of MSNBC's Morning Joe and the struggles at CBS. Stelter's writing is a little bumpy, but media wonks will revel in the juicy details.
Best Reporting on a Hurricane
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
By Sheri Fink
This is a devastating account of what happened at a hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. After the storm, Memorial Medical Center was flooded and lost power, stranding a large staff and nearly 200 patients, some of whom needed ventilators to breathe. Rescue operations were slow due to communication breakdowns, a lack of emergency preparedness, and massive failures of both the hospital's owner and the government. The staff said it was like a war zone. On the third day after the hurricane, some patients with slim chances of survival were administered drugs to help them die. Some called it euthanasia; others called it a necessary decision during an extreme disaster. This book is gripping and emotional, even requiring breaks to come up for air.
Best Biography of a Kansas City Jazz Legend
Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker
By Chuck Haddix
This is a marvelous biography about Charlie "Bird" Parker, who was born and raised in Kansas City. Chuck Haddix (host of KCUR 89.3's Fish Fry and director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri–Kansas City) tells lively stores about the saxophonist, who was known for his brilliant playing but also for his drug and alcohol abuse. Parker often disappeared before gigs to search out heroin. Having gone into withdrawal while traveling cross-country, he wandered off a train in the middle of the desert to look for a score. Among the fascinations in Haddix's book are the details he includes about Kansas City's history, including where Parker went to school and how he started playing music — and, of course, where the city's hopping nightclubs were in 1951. Haddix lovingly describes Parker's compositions and performances, making this a fine gift for a jazz fan.