Author

Joanna Poncavage

Joanna Poncavage has 15 articles published.

Joanna Poncavage
Joanna Poncavage had a 30-year career as an editor and writer for Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine and The (Allentown, Pennsylvania) Morning Call newspaper. Author of several gardening books, she’s now a freelance journalist.

America Ferrera’s “American Like Me” Captures the Immigrant Experience

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America Ferrera, award-winning actress for ABC’s hit comedy, “Ugly Betty,” turned activist in 2016 as co-founder of HARNESS, a human rights organization that connects various communities with pop culture leaders. Focusing on the immigrant experience, Ferrera produced a new book, American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures (Gallery Books), a collection of 31 first-person essays about growing up between cultures. One of six children of Honduran immigrants, Ferrera writes, “Honduras was my phantom limb. I always felt its presence, but I couldn’t see it, touch it or wave it in the air to prove ‘this right here is a part of me!’ ” She acknowledges what she lost as an immigrant: hundreds of years of connection and history, and…

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Longmire Lives: Continuing Craig Johnson’s Saga

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Never underestimate the power of a long, tall cowboy with a big hat and a big heart. Depth of Winter (Viking Books), the 14th book in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series debuted at No. 5 on the New York Times Bestseller list, attesting to the popularity of crime novels set in remote, fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, under the shadow of the Bighorn Mountains, near the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Mystery fans with a penchant for western locales have found a home in the unstoppable juggernaut that is Sheriff Walt Longmire’s loyal fanbase that began in 2004 with The Cold Dish. The A&E television series, “Longmire” kicked off in 2012; its six seasons are now on Netflix. But it’s Craig Johnson’s authenticity that keeps…

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Two New Movies Prove Appeal of “Little Women”

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What can a 150-year-old novel still offer up to readers in the digitally enhanced 21st century? As proof of the timeless appeal of  Little Women (Bantam Classics), the new movie in theaters Sept. 28 is the 7th film version of the classic. It’s a modern retelling: Newbie director Clare Niederpruem brings Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy into the present day, with contemporary equivalents of 19th century teenage angst (and a father in some endless military conflict instead of the Civil War.)   Niederpruem previously directed Episode 1 of the television woman warrior fantasy series, “Outcast.” Her “Little Women” actors include Melanie Stone as Meg, Sarah Davenport as Jo, Allie Jennings as Beth, and Taylor Murphy as Amy. But wait: There’s more! Another…

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Book-to-Screen on Trials of Bookshop Ownership

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If you have read The Bookshop (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Penelope Fitzgerald, you will want to see the movie to answer some questions: How can a movie portray a book’s delicately described inner states? How can subtle emotions and flitting feelings be shown on the screen? And if you have seen the movie, you will want to read the book, if only to learn more about what is going on in its characters’ minds. In fact, this book and movie is just about the perfect pair for book clubs that enjoy reading and viewing before discussing a particular title. Read the book, see the movie, and compare and contrast. Director of the movie, Isabel Coixet (“My Life Without Me”) took some…

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Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” Now an Operatic Movie

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In Italian, “bel canto” means “beautiful singing.” Readers of Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel, Bel Canto (Harper Perennial) could only imagine the music that is so crucial to its plot. No longer. The romantic thriller now has an operatic soundtrack of classic arias. The new movie version, in wide release Sept. 14, stars Julianne Moore as world-renowned opera singer Roxane Coss, with a voice supplied by world-renowned opera singer Renee Fleming. And what an operatic plot it is. A powerful Japanese industrialist has been invited to a birthday celebration in an unnamed South American country. Because the country’s government wants him to build a large manufacturing plant there, and because he is a lover of opera, he has been lured to the…

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How Oxenberg Saved Her Daughter from Cult Clutches

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Sometimes a book is ripped from the headlines. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Captive (Gallery Books), a blow-by-blow account of actress Catherine Oxenberg’s determination to save her daughter and bring down the Nxivm sex cult, reads like fiction. But you can’t make a story like this up. Oxenberg says Nxivm brainwashed her daughter, India, and turned her into someone ready to recruit sex slaves into a secret society that branded members with the initials of the group’s founder, Keith Raniere. Raniere is now in prison, and several of his high-ranking Nxivm leaders have been arrested, including Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman, whose millions allegedly financed retaliatory legal action against anyone who fell out of Nxivm favor. Charges include racketeering, sex trafficking, forced…

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“Just The Funny Parts:” One Woman’s Mark on TV Comedy

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A woman walks into a room. She’s the only female comedy writer there. She leans in, writes a funny book, and has the last laugh. Lots of laughs. Just the Funny Parts (Dey Street Books) is Nell Scovell’s story of how she went from wise-cracking kid to writing for David Letterman to Hollywood, where she put funny words in the mouths of Homer Simpson, Bob Newhart, Kermit the Frog, Coach, Murphy Brown, Lily Tomlin Stephen Colbert, and even Barak Obama for a White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Millions have laughed at her jokes, including, probably, you. Who can forget the hilarious, heartbreaking moment when Miss Piggy, on the Red Carpet, has a wardrobe malfunction and her tail pops out. “I’m a lady, and…

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Nick Drasno’s “Sabrina” Makes Graphic Novel History

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It’s the story of a young woman’s murder, and how the crime and its aftermath rock the fragile lives of those who knew her. Not necessarily an unusually rare storyline. Yet for Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina (Drawn and Quarterly), there is something totally unique: it takes its place as the first graphic novel (or comic, as its author calls it) ever been nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the leading literary award for works in English. Among a growing number of graphic novels with increasingly dark themes, Sabrina is now in the running for honors rivaling the 1992 Pulitzer Prize of Maus, the graphic novel about the Holocaust that depicted Nazis as cats and Jews as mice. Since Maus, noted others with serious…

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An Obama/Biden Caper You Could Not Have Imagined

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Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer (Quirk Books), a work of fiction, may bring tears to your eyes. Yes, it’s that good of a whodunit, with its plot tied up neatly with no loose ends. You may laugh until you cry because this book is that funny. But mostly, you may weep with joy for reuniting with a couple of old friends you’ve missed so much. Hope Never Dies’s leading characters actually were leaders of a different sort from 2009 to 2017: Joe Biden and Barack Obama. Now they’re together again in a rollicking, wise-cracking buddy caper. Just a few months after he’s left his vice presidential office, Joe Biden is trying his best to become suburban Joe, laying tile…

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4 Indie Bookstores Offer Their Top Suspense Reads

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Sunscreen? Check. Swim suit? Check. Summer suspense? Grab some of these. There’s nothing like a good, gripping tale to help you unwind. We randomly polled four independent bookstores that specialize in murder and mayhem about new bestsellers in the suspense category. Surprisingly, there were no overlaps as each store named four titles selling well, in no particular order: Murder on the Beach Mystery Book Store, Delray Beach, Florida: Cheryl Kravetz, a bookseller at the Murder on the Beach Mystery Book Store, named the following four as her top sellers: 1.) The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn (William Morrow). A woman returns to her home after a 10-month absence, too terrified to step outside. Shades of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear…

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Annihilation: Sci-Fi Thriller Starring Natalie Portman Has Scary Monsters, But Maybe Not the Kind You Expect

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With apologies to Natalie Portman, the star of Alex Garland’s upcoming Paramount movie, Annihilation, has to be the primal forces of nature itself. The film is an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s Nebula Award-winning book, Annihilation,  which is about a strange coastal locale known as Area X, enclosed by a guarded barrier and investigated by a vague government agency called The Southern Reach. The book opens as a biologist, a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor enter this unknown, altered environment. Their expedition is not the first, but it’s the first made up of only women, for reasons that are never fully explained unless you count that the women were “chosen by a complex set of variables.” In the book, the…

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The Daughter Who Slipped Away: Thomas Jefferson, Race, Class and the Search for a President’s Lost Family

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After 40 years of research by historians that was supported with extensive DNA study, the stories that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings, are now accepted as fact. Now to the family archives comes a new book, Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison, a professor of American history at Villanova University. “Their lives provide a unique vantage point by which to study the complicated American Revolution itself,” said Kerrison at the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C., where she recently spoke about her book for Black History Month. Thomas Jefferson—Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence, and third president of the United States­­­­—had six children with his wife,…

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Eve Ensler of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ Turns Her Body Inside Out

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Just when it seemed impossible that Eve Ensler had anything left to expose about her life, her art, her activism and her vagina, she proved us wrong by turning her body and soul inside out. Her book, In The Body of the World (2013, Metropolitan Books), chronicles her Stage 4 uterine cancer diagnosis and treatment, and makes surprising connections between her disease and the cancers of war, poverty and pollution that plague our planet. And now through March, Ensler performs her play, also titled “In the Body of the World,” at the Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City Center Stage 1. Reviews call the play, directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus, dazzling, gritty, unblinking and hopeful. (Ticket information is at…

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‘Laura Meets Jeffrey’: An X-Rated ‘Literary’ Love Story

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James Wolcott in “Vanity Fair”: “Jeffrey Michelson’s reflections on fighting and fucking are like a bolt of bourbon, a careening chronicle of orgies, S&M, hanging and banging with the stars, and related calisthenics.” Anka Radakovich in “British GQ”: “Laura Meets Jeffrey” is a fascinating nonfiction “erotic memoir.” Jeffrey Michelson chronicles the wildest, most intense sexual scene in New York City’s history. This book is raunchy, dirty and disgusting. I couldn’t put it down.” Norman Mailer from his foreword: “Objective, funny, salacious, and perversely—dare I say it—uplifting!” For Valentine’s Day, I offer you “Laura Meets Jeffrey,” a hot, wild, real-life memoir. I do so, however, with a warning. Reviewers have called it “undeniably brilliant” and Norman Mailer called it “literature,” but this…

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It’s Alive!: ‘Black Mirror’ & TV’s New Golden Age of Science Fiction

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Think of science fiction as a mirror for our times. Just as television’s first “Twilight Zone” (1959-1964) reflected cold war fears and anxieties, “Black Mirror,” the more recent Netflix anthology series is very much of the moment. Plots range wildly, from a dating site with ulterior motives. Genetic engineering by a creepy Captain Kirk clone. An underclass on stationary bikes earning credits for food while they generate electricity. One episode, “San Junipero,” about two women who are more than best friends won two 2017 Primetime Emmys, and was nominated for a Hugo Award for best dramatic sci fi short. “Black Mirror” segments are very much about how we are changed by technology, says Lisa Yaszek, science fiction historian and critic.…

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