6-DAY BODY MAKEOVER: Drop One Whole Dress or Pant Size in Just 6 Days–and Keep It Off by Michael Thurmond: Remember the Grapefruit Diet? The Hardboiled Egg Diet? Any fad diet that makes you drop weight quickly but is unsustainable for more than a few days? This is the newest entry into the marketplace of fast weight loss. Thurmond is known for his 6 Week Body Makeover, which emphasizes an exercise routine and diet based on your body type. So does this new book, but with a more restrictive diet. The idea is that you can jumpstart your weight loss by, in my case, eating nothing but fresh tuna and distilled water for six days. Different body types get different foods, but this is not a diet I would dare show my doctor. Still, if you are looking to drop a few pounds for a special occasion, and won’t mind gaining it back the day after, it probably won’t kill you. But don’t hold me to that. 05/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch.
52 PROJECTS: RANDOM ACTS OF EVERYDAY CREATIVITY by Jeffrey Yamaguchi: This is a wonderful little book from the creator of http://www.52projects.com website. Everyone has a creative streak and some of us are better than others at bringing it out. This little book has positive ideas to get the creative juices flowing. The first half of the book talks about why these projects are so important, how they work and why you should try them when you need some added inspiration. Then there are the 52 projects which range from writing assignments, photography and other artistic suggestions, and lots of fun, really different ideas like #2, “Find a Recipe for Key Lime Pie.” Now I live in south Florida so I know that there are more recipes for Key Lime Pie than you would think – but it doesn’t stop with just finding the recipe. Then it’s baking it, inviting friends over to eat it, taking pictures of the party and so on. Or #14, “Write down the lyrics to your favorite songs.” Or #50, “Go to the library” with additional suggestions of what to do when you get there. This book makes the perfect graduation gift, a nice little gift for no reason at all (my favorite kind of gift) for any of your creative friends. 06/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich: Mezrich, author of Bringing Down the House which became the film, 21, takes on the founders of Facebook – without even talking to one of them. This is purportedly nonfiction, but let’s call it creative nonfiction, and the bottom line is that it’s a fascinating, fun read. Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin met at Harvard as undergrads and became fast friends. They had a lot in common, they were both social outcasts yet brilliant in math. Zuckerberg gets the idea to hack into the school’s computer system and create a database for the male students to rate the female students. He almost crashed Harvard’s computer system in the process but they didn’t kick him out of school for it. That idea was the baby that grew up to become Facebook. Zuckerberg is the bad guy here, the one who created Facebook by stealing ideas from his friends and not paying anyone back. There is great irony in the founder of a social networking site alienating his friends in the process, and the ‘betrayal’ in the subtitle rests at his door. It’s also interesting that a social networking site was started by two guys who were socially inept, and even more interesting that Zuckerberg refused to talk to the author. What to believe? Who knows, but nonetheless, it’s a good story. 09/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
AGAINST MEDICAL ADVICE: ONE FAMILY’S STRUGGLE WITH AN AGONIZING MEDICAL MYSTERY, by James Patterson & Hal Friedman: Cory Friedman was a typical five year old boy. That is, until he wakes up one morning with an urgent need to shake his head. This need is just the beginning of years of uncontrollable ticks, verbal utterances, and other unmanageable behavior. Cory is ultimately diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. AGAINST MEDICAL ADVICE is a story told by Cory Friedman and his father, Hal. The reader gets an inside look at the living hell that this family went through in the thirteen years it took to “control” this illness. Cory was put on so many types of medications, they were soon unable to determine if the tics and other problems he was having was a result of the Tourette’s or of the medicine he was on. Nothing appeared to help; Cory’s symptoms just got worse. This is an honest, heart wrenching tale of Cory’s torment. Cory was willing to share this misery with others, in the hopes that someone with the same condition might gain something from this. I can’t say enough about how amazing this book is. I believe that this tale of perseverance, dedication, and love, would be beneficial to any family undergoing any sort of medical or behavioral problem. 11/08 Jennifer Lawrence
ALONG THE FLORIDA TRAIL by Bart Smith & Sandra Friend: Most people have heard of the Appalachian Trail (especially lately) but not too many are familiar with the Florida National Scenic Trail. It runs more than 1500 miles from the Everglades at the southern end of the state, through Pensacola up in the Florida Panhandle. While there aren’t any majestic mountains, there are flora and fauna unique to Florida, and while bears aren’t usually a problem, there are alligators and the endangered Florida panther. Friend spent five months hiking the trail to create this beautiful book that captures a part of Florida most tourists – and many residents – never get to see. 07/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show: Presented as a textbook (perhaps “faux textbook” would be more appropriate) it is entertaining and educational. Stewart has a way of pointing out the obvious; in chapter five, The Judicial System, the following discussion question is asked (p.101): “How many of the nine Supreme Court justices can you name? How many of the nine members of The Brady Bunch can you name? What does that say about you?” A lot of laughs and a lot of good points made. A really good book – and Publishers Weekly’s Book of the Year, deservedly so. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
AMERICAN BAND: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland by Kristen Laine: Anyone who’s ever been in marching band, or has a child in marching band, will want to read this intimate look at the Marching Minutemen of Concord High School, in Elkhart, Indiana. Laine spent a year with these kids and really got to know them, and their band director. I found all the band stuff fascinating because my only experience with marching band was when my daughter started high school last year, so it’s interesting to see a different perspective. The other major theme of the book is the strong emphasis on the Christianity of the band members. Frankly, I found it a bit unsettling as I am a staunch believer in the separation of church and state, and it also bored me, thus making the book more difficult for me to read and I found myself skimming at times. But despite that, the band stuff is interesting enough and unusual enough that I still have to recommend it anyway. 09/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
AMERICAN IDOL: THE UNTOLD STORY by Richard Rushfield: I admit I’m a fan, and frankly this book is not going to appeal to anyone who isn’t. The “untold story” is pretty much a rehash of all the goings on and gossip since the show’s inception, along with some background on Simon Fuller and how the show got to America. For fans it is part nostalgia, part explanation for some mistakes made along the way, but mostly confirmation of what we already know. Paula Abdul was the star power at the show’s inception but we all know who became the real star. I had forgotten a lot of this, like the two co-hosts the first year, and this book brought it all back along with some smiles, laughter and even a tear or two. With all the changes the show has gone through, especially this year, I found this book to be a fitting ending to the American Idol era. With Simon gone, the show just isn’t the same. 04/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE AMERICAN JOURNEY OF BARACK OBAMA by the editors of LIFE Magazine: This is a beautiful coffee table book just in time for the holidays. Learn about our new President-elect via candid pictures and posed shots from the campaign, as well as family photos of Barack, Michelle and the girls, along with a forward by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and essays written by some incredible writers – Gay Talese, Andrei Codrescu, Fay Weldon and others. A wonderful gift for any Obama supporter – I know I’ll treasure this book. 11/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
AMERICAN ON PURPOSE: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Tourist by Craig Fergusun: Who would expect a tough guy growing up in Scotland would dream of becoming an astronaut and an American citizen? He may have given up on the first dream, but he proudly fulfilled the second, becoming an American citizen in 2008. Shortly after that momentous occasion, he was invited to host the Washington Correspondents dinner, where he admits that was when he realized that he probably watches too much MSNBC. When he met President George W. Bush backstage before the dinner, he was expecting a “drooling moron.” Instead, he found Bush affable and chatty. Fergusun’s memoir is a delicious read, especially if you like his brand of humor, which I do. He admits to his drinking and drug problems, attempted suicide stopped only by the offer of another drink, and voices his opinion on a wide variety of topics, like why he avoids strip clubs: “If I was inclined to seek the company of a bunch of angry drunk women who hated me, wanted all my money, and were determined to tease me but not have sex with me, I would just open a bar in Edinburgh.” A comfortable, funny and patriotic read. 10/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, and Steven L. Hopp: Kingsolver has been an advocate of eating locally grown food for some time, and was able to put her beliefs into practice when she moved to a farm in Virginia. She spent a year eating only the foods they grew on her farm or that were grown in a hundred mile radius as much as possible, and wrote this fascinating book about that experience. Her husband, Steven Hopp, and daughter Camille also contributed. When people ask if she didn’t get tired of eating the same things all the time, Kingsolver gently points out that every month grows a new menu. They weren’t sure if their pantry would get them through the winter, but it did, although March was a tough month. My favorite part of the book was about the turkeys they raised. Apparently turkeys have been artificially inseminated for decades, but these turkeys were being raised by hand and Kingsolver wanted them to reproduce the old fashioned way. She finally found some information on turkey breeding au natural in an antique farming book, and her female turkeys soon gave up coming on to Steven and instead set their sights on the Tom turkey. What I liked about this book was Kingsolver’s tone; on rare occasion almost preachy, but for the most part just passionate, informative and often funny. Anyone with an interest in how and why we eat what we do should take a look at this book, which was most reminiscent of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. There’s also a website with lots of pictures and recipes: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/ 06/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE ART OF EATING IN by Cathy Erway: Foodies and fans of Cathy Erway’s Not Eating Out in New York blog will enjoy this companion book to her not eating out efforts that began in 2006. At 26, Erway, like so many of us, realized that her income could not support her eating out habits. Instead, she would use her love of food and cooking to prepare inventive and usually cost-efficient meals in her own kitchen. For two years, she followed a strict regimen of not eating out and discovered some interesting things about herself and New York food movements, blogging about it all the while. The Art of Eating In is a sort of behind the scenes look at those two years; a foodie memoir and a look at the New York food scene from another perspective. Erway’s story makes for some pretty entertaining and inspiring reading—you’d be hard-pressed not to want to try No Knead Bread or some of the other dishes she talks about in her book. I won’t be embracing all of Erway’s experiments in food, menudo as a hangover cure and the more out there underground food movements being a few, but I enjoyed reading about her forays into the various ins and outs of not eating out in the big city. 03/10 Becky Lejeune
ART OF THE CHOPPER by Tom Zimberoff: Motorcycles have always been hot and TV shows like American Chopper have revved up the heat even more. Tom Zimberoff is a photographer who is best known for his shots of rock ‘n roll stars like the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and many others. But he’s turned his lens to one-of-a-kind bikes and these pictures are just incredible. This is a beautiful coffee table book, high quality paper and gorgeous photos of the motorcycle as art. Put this on the top of your gift list for any chopper fan. 09/05
ASIAN DINING RULES: Essential Strategies for Eating Out at Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Korean, and Indian Restaurants by Steven A. Shaw: Steven Shaw is a New York Jew, which automatically makes him something of an expert on Chinese food at least. He’s also a serious foodie and a restaurant critic, and has crisscrossed the continent in search of the best in Asian food. He shares what he learns in this eminently readable and educational guide to Asian dining. He espouses befriending the sushi chef, and actually making yourself a regular at most restaurants to get the best food and best dining experience for the buck. He carefully explains the confusing items on various Asian menus, and tips us to always ask for all the menus, especially at Chinese restaurants. Apparently there often is a menu for tourists, i.e. Caucasians, and another, better menu for Chinese. He warns Japanese-Americans not to attempt to speak Japanese at a sushi bar unless you are fluent among other helpful hints. He also includes some history about the various Asian cuisines, how they came to America and why, as well as why some have not, like Filipino restaurants, despite there being more Filipinos in this country than almost any other Asian immigrants or descendents. A fascinating and fun read, especially if you love Asian cuisine or are at least curious about it. 11/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
AN ATHEIST IN THE FOXHOLE: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media by Joe Muto: Let’s start this by saying I am not a fan of Fox news and that I watch MSNBC regularly, so this book seemed right in my wheelhouse. I wasn’t really planning on reading it, just wanted to take a look at it, maybe skim a bit. I started at the beginning and that was it, I was hooked. Muto was fired from Fox because he was a mole, leaking Fox-damaging video to Gawker. But he’s also a good writer, and the conversational tone he uses is captivating, rather like hanging out in a bar with a friend and hearing his great story about how he was fired from this job that he both loved and hated. He gets in plenty of shots at Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and the rest of the Fox gang but also points out their good points; well, at least O’Reilly’s good points. He has a grudging respect for O’Reilly, claiming that if anyone at Fox news is “fair and balanced,” Bill comes closest, at least for a guy who is basically conservative. Most shocking revelation of the book was that Ann Coulter is a nice person when not on camera making her bizarre accusations and crazy statements of “fact,” a ploy she uses, quite successfully, to get her books on the bestseller lists. All in all, it was a very interesting book about how a show is produced at Fox news with some good gossip thrown in. This was fast reading, and a lot of fun. 7/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
AUDITION by Barbara Walters: I’m not usually celebrity happy, but I doubt you’d find any woman of my generation that doesn’t have at least a passing curiosity and some respect for this woman who has broken more glass ceilings than just about anyone in television. Walters has led, some would say, a charmed life, and in this memoir, she shares some of the bad along with the spectacular good to help put her life into a more realistic vision for her fans. It is remarkably readable, especially considering it is a doorstopper of a book with very few pictures, but let’s face it, the woman has lots to talk about. Besides her own history, she made history with her interviews of most of the world leaders of the 20th & 21st centuries, not to mention her popular celebrity interviews. A surprising fast, fascinating read. 06/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BAD DOGS HAVE MORE FUN: Selected Writings on Family, Animals, and Life by John Grogan for The Philadelphia Inquirer by John Grogan: This follow up to the phenomenon known as Marley & Me seeks to capitalize on that success with this collection of Grogan’s columns that have run in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Some are sweet, some are funny, some are sad, and all will tug at the heartstrings and are worthwhile reading, but the magic of Marley & Me is missing here. 01/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BEATEN, SEARED AND SAUCED: ON BECOMING A CHEF AT THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA by Jonathan Dixon: As an avid fan of Top Chef and the Food Network, I’ve always been curious about the process chefs go through to get where they are. Not all chefs go to cooking school, but the CIA has its fair share of superstar chef graduates. Their alumni include some of the most recognizable names in food world, including Duff Goldman, John Besh, Cat Cora, Anne Burrell, Sara Moulton, and Scott Conant. But it was Michael Ruhlman, I think, that was the influence here. Ruhlman is called an “honorary” graduate of the CIA because he stayed long enough to write his engaging book, The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, which frankly, is the better book. But Dixon’s experience was different because although he says he really did want to cook, he is a writer and this book is the dish he’s chosen to serve. It’s an exhausting, difficult process and I’m sure the dropout rate is high. The final course is on wine, and included an 800 page textbook that the students were basically supposed to not only memorize, but then apply during blind tastings. Don’t be expecting any recipes here, although there are a few tips sprinkled throughout the book. It is an interesting book for foodies, and a must read for anyone contemplating cooking school. 06/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BEHIND THE MYSTERY: TOP MYSTERY WRITERS INTERVIEWED by Stuart M. Kaminsky, photographs by Laurie Roberts: A must have for any mystery lover, this is a fascinating picture book of interviews with many of today’s most popular authors. The list is memorable and includes: Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillerman, the late Evan Hunter, John Jakes, Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, Elmore Leonard, Sara Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, Ann Rule, Lisa Scottoline, Martin Cruz Smith, Mickey Spillane, Joseph Wambaugh, and Donald Westlake. The interviews are interesting and personal, as are the candid photographs; they are taken at either the authors’ homes or Kaminsky’s home. The authors featured are all friends with Kaminsky, lending an insiders’ glimpse into the lives of those more mysterious to readers than the fictional worlds they create. My only complaint: a book like this should have been printed on better paper. The quality is acceptable but this is a very special book and deserved more. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BIKER’S HANDBOOK: BECOMING PART OF THE MOTORCYCLE CULTURE by Jay Barbieri: Barbieri is the TV producer of American Thunder on the SPEED channel, which I’ve never seen as I don’t think I get that channel. But I did like this book which is light, fun, and full of pictures as well as information. Helpful hints abound like if you have to fly to a bike rally and ship your bike, never admit it. Jay tells you what you need to pack for road trips and how to load a bike, offers some of his favorite places to ride (the Badlands among others) along with lots of great stories about all aspects of biking including Daytona Bike Week and why you should never, ever refer to motorcycle clubs as “gangs.” It is a great gift for the biker in your life – but only if they love Harleys. 11/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BILLY COLLINS LIVE: A Performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space by Billy Collins: I love poetry. And Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, is one of my favorites, especially when he is doing the reading. This book on CD is almost as good as attending a reading. Introduced by Bill Murray, Collins reads some new and some old favorites, then takes some questions from the audience. My 13 year old daughter, who delights in torturing me by telling me how much she hates poetry, became a captive prisoner in the back seat of my car on her rides to and from school while I played this CD. The first poem she heard was “The Lanyard”, a sweet, nostalgic and laugh out loud funny poem about that childhood arts & crafts artifact. Collins talks about how he made his mother a lanyard at camp and how that evened the playing field between them:
“Here are thousands of meals” she said,
“and here is clothing and a good education.”
“And here is your lanyard,” I replied,
“which I made with a little help from a counselor.”
Collins has made a poetry lover out of my daughter. What more of a recommendation could anyone hope for? 09/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BILLY JOEL: The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man by Hank Bordowitz: As a long time fan of Billy Joel, I really enjoyed this bio of the boy from Long Island who made good. But if I wasn’t a fan, as an objective book reviewer I would have to say that it left much to be desired. There wasn’t really anything new here, most of the anecdotes were gleaned from newspaper & magazine accounts and interviews with some old friends, but it seemed like I heard most of it before, and it was also fairly repetitious. Even the pictures were a bit of a disappointment, again there was nothing new there but I guess all that was to be expected as this book did not have the cooperation of its subject. In fact, Joel wasn’t even interviewed. I appreciated reading about the history of the some of the songs – who they were written for, the hows & whys were fascinating. But the book focuses most closely on his early life and the past ten years are so are just rushed through. A good book for any Billy Joel fan, but probably not so good for anyone else. 11/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BITCHFEST edited by Lisa Jervis & Andi Zeisler: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine: I’m not sure why, but I am fascinated by all things called “Bitch”. I recently tried an Australian wine with a lovely, pale pink label with the word “Bitch” embossed in a fancy script. The back label was even more extraordinary – it basically has the word “bitch” repeated for several rows before advising that life’s a bitch then you drink some more. And the wine – a lovely Grenache – was surprisingly good. So when I heard there was a forthcoming book called Bitchfest, well, I simply had to read it. It’s a terrific collection of essays on a variety of subjects from “Hitting Puberty” to “The F Word” to “Beauty Myths and Body Projects” to “Talking Back: Activism and Pop Culture.” While there are several writers represented, the viewpoint is pro-feminist and outspoken. A few of the pieces really struck a chord with me and were especially memorable: “I Kissed a Girl: The Evolution of the Prime-Time Lesbian Clinch” by Diane Anderson; “Teen Mean Fighting Machine: Why does the Media Love Mean Girls” by Gabrille Moss; “Double Life: Everyone Wants to See Your Breasts – Until Your Baby Needs Them: by Lisa Moricoli Latham and how can you not love a piece entitled, “Plastic Passion: Tori Spelling’s Breasts and Other Results of Cosmetic Darwinism” by Andi Zeisler. Buy this book to soothe your feminist soul and share it with a friend. 09/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Black Cloud: The Great Florida Storm of 1928 by Eliot Kleinberg: I recently had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Kleinberg speak about his new book at Borders. It was standing room only and with good reason – this is a fascinating story and Kleinberg is a hell of a storyteller. I immediately went home and started reading, and couldn’t stop until I turned the last page. This unnamed hurricane is the second worst natural disaster in American history, after the Galveston hurricane (Isaac’s Storm,) yet it has been pretty much forgotten. Kleinberg, along with Robert Mykle, who wrote a book about it last year called Killer ‘Cane: The Deadly Hurricane of 1928, are determined to change that.
Over 2500 lives were lost, and that is just an estimate. Black Cloud not only covers the storm, it also covers the historical significance of it. Sixty something white bodies were buried in the cemetery in West Palm Beach. Almost 700 bodies of African Americans were buried in a mass grave in a potters field that was left unmarked for 73 years. Even more disturbing was the fact that who knows how many more African American bodies were simply burned, leaving a black cloud hanging over the ‘Glades (and giving Kleinberg his title.) His research was exhaustive. There are still survivors of the storm living in the area that were available to be interviewed and their stories are simply heartbreaking. It’s a story that needed to be told, and is told well. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton: I listened to the audio book version, read by the author who did a fantastic job. Hamilton is not only a chef, she is a gifted writer with an M.F.A. in fiction writing to prove it. This book is her story, of growing up with a French mother and a father who took to roasting whole lambs at their back yard barbeques. When they split up, Gabrielle was set adrift and ended up working in restaurants, lying about her age. She got into drugs, embezzlement and a host of other decidedly un-chef-life behaviors that make for a fabulous, fascinating story. She ended up with an Italian husband and her own restaurant, Prune, in New York City, where people wait for hours every Sunday for her brunch and quietly make fun of the readers who now flock to their neighborhood mecca. I have reservations for later this month. 7/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER: THE INADVERTENT EDUCATION OF A RELUCTANT CHEF by Gabrielle Hamilton: Within just a few lines of beginning Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones and Butter, her intense passion for cooking becomes very clear. Her journey to becoming chef and owner of New York’s Prune restaurant began when she was just a child. Memories of her mother’s pantry, the butcher shop, the dairy, and the apple orchards as well as the dishes prepared with the many ingredients from these places make up just the first portion of the book. After her parents’ divorce, Hamilton’s first jobs were in restaurants. Though becoming a chef never seemed to be at the forefront of her plans for her future, it is nonetheless the life she returned to over and over again. Hamilton’s unique voice and eloquent style are completely engaging and it comes as no surprise that she also has a very strong love of the written word and a talent for writing that must be as great as her talent in the kitchen. Praised by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Hamilton’s memoir definitely lives up to the hype. 03/11 Becky Lejeune
BORDER FILM PROJECT: Photos by Migrants & Minutemen on the U.S. Mexico Border by Rudy Adler, Victoria Criado, Brett Honeycutt: “It’s hard to know what it’s like to cross the border because no one’s ever really visually documented the experience—until now” -Steve Hartman, CBS News Correspondent
At this very moment, the United States-Mexico border is a powder keg. On one side, impoverished people hampered by severe unemployment are preparing to sneak in to America. On the other side, a heavily-armed, vigilante group (Minutemen) are patrolling the border to keep the migrants at bay. Meanwhile, legislators on Capital Hill are debating the relative merits/drawbacks of a flawed immigration bill. While there is no quick and easy solution to this problem, The Border Film Project provides a fleeting glimpse of what it life is like for these disparate groups of people.
The Border Film Project has no agenda and takes no political position. Instead, it tries to put a human face on the immigration dilemma through the lens of a camera. As part of a collaborative art project, disposable cameras were distributed to Migrants and Minutemen alike. Both groups were instructed on the use of the camera and were asked to take random photos of a typical day. They were also given pre-paid envelopes for returning the cardboard cameras. As an incentive, the Migrants were given Wal-Mart gift cards and the Minutemen were provided Shell Oil gift cards. Seventy-three cameras were returned with over 2,000 photographs. The resulting images are nothing short of astonishing.
The book has minimal text except for background information on the project. It does include an occasional footnote that was provided with a camera’s return. Otherwise, the photographs themselves tell the entire story. Or, at least, the visual story of seventy-three individuals. The images appear as if they were taken by professional photographers; some are artfully composed, some are purposefully blurred, some are classical examples of portraiture. Each photo is powerful in its own way.
The greatest strength of The Border Film Project is its compassion. Migrants and Minutemen are all human beings. As such, both groups are treated with dignity and respect. Without a preconceived notion on the issue of immigration, it would be impossible to determine who is “good” and who is “bad” based on the book’s structure. What does become clear is that the current border policy is broken and badly needs repair.
Check out the interactive, online version of The Border Film Project. 06/07 Dan Cawley
BORN ON A BLUE DAY: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Austic Savant by Daniel Tammet: This memoir has a most unique voice in Daniel Tammet, one of only 50 people in the world who has both autism and synesthesia. Tammet has Aspergers syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Synesthesia is neurological in origin and allows him to see numbers and words as colors and shapes; hence, born on a “blue” day literally means that the particular date of his birth he sees as blue. Synesthesia is an exceedingly rare occurrence, especially in combination with autism. Tammet knows he is different from a young age, but it doesn’t bother him, even when other kids make fun of him. He is able to withdraw into his own world and leave the outer world behind. He is high functioning as he can move in society without too much trouble. And as he grows up, he discovers he is also gay.
While Tammet is extraordinarily good in math, especially his ability to express prime numbers, and he set a European record for reciting as many digits as he could of pi. It took him five hours and nine minutes to recite 22,514 digits of pi without error. But his real gift is that he has an uncanny ability to quickly learn new languages and become fluent in them in a very short time. The BBC offered him the opportunity to learn a new language in front of cameras in one week. They asked him to learn Icelandic, gave him some study materials and took him to Iceland for 4 days. At the end of the week, he was interviewed on a live Icelandic talk show entirely in Icelandic for two hours. The Brainman documentary also brought him to the attention of US television, and he appeared on David Letterman.
I found this book difficult to read at times, and found myself skimming a lot of it. There are pages and pages of mathematical figures and such and frankly, I am no savant. But it was a very interesting story for sure and I can see why it is so popular with book groups. 10/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BORN ROUND: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater by Frank Bruni: I loved Ruth Reichl’s account of being the restaurant reviewer for the New York Times in her fascinating, fabulous memoir, Garlic and Sapphires. She retired and was succeeded by William Grimes, and when he left Frank Bruni got the coveted position. My mistake was assuming that Bruni’s memoir would similar to Reichl’s; to me a “full-time eater” was a reference to his job eating at and reviewing restaurants. I know that one should never assume anything, but I did, so this book was a bit of a disappointment to me. Bruni wrote a memoir, mostly about his eating disorders, how he overcame them, and being gay, and as an afterthought, his stint as food critic for the Times. I liked the last eighty pages or so, the rest I could have lived without. I am not a big fan of memoirs dealing with addictions, be they drugs, alcohol, food, or sex, so this book just didn’t work for me. 11/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey: Another semester has come to an end, and I celebrated by reading this hilarious memoir. Tina Fey discusses a bit of her childhood and how she got that scar, her Republican parents, her husband Jeff (and a few aliases she assigns him,) motherhood, her daughter, her beginnings at Second City all the way through the Sarah Palin days at SNL and 30 Rock. I had already figured out that Tina Fey is brilliant, but I also learned that she is unusually loyal to her friends and colleagues, and while she takes her success seriously, like most working moms she struggles with balancing it all and not feeling guilty. But mostly this book is laugh out loud funny, and whoever was nearby while I was reading it, promptly went out and got their own copy. Take a break from all the insanity that is our world today, and indulge your funny bone with this great escape. 05/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt, Knopf: This is the best memoir I have read in a long time. Just go out and buy it. You will find yourself drawn in immediately and you will not be able to put it down. Blunt is now a hero of mine and she will be a hero of yours. Remember how much you loved ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN’? How it took you to a part of the country in contemporary times and to a way of life you barely knew existed? How it plunked you down and opened your eyes? How you came to love it? This is similar to the experience of BREAKING CLEAN. But it’s cold and barren and isolated. It’s northeastern Montana and the challenges to live here are dangerous and frightenening. And if you don’t fill with tears in the chapter called Winter Kill I can’t imagine what is wrong with you! There are a million wonderful quotes hailing all aspects of this book – – but from me let me say I know it’s a book you should read and share with friends – – especially young women.
PS: If Judy Blunt wanted to write a shopping list I’d be pleased to read it. ~This review contributed by Ann Nappa
Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History by George Crile: This is the fascinating story of how Charlie Wilson, a hard-partying Congressman from Texas, undertook a personal mission to assist the mujahideen rebels of Afghanistan to defeat the forces of the Soviet Union. The consequences of this have shaped our times. On the one hand, this greatly accelerated the downfall of the Soviet Union as a superpower and on the other hand, it left billions of dollars worth of high tech munitions in the caves and on the plains of Afghanistan which we would later come to regret. So this is a story worth hearing.
And a fine story it is. With rich characters, not only Charlie himself, but also a rogue CIA agent on the outs with the “old school” boys of the CIA and a military genius who figured out the appropriate “arms mix” to insure victory and then faded from view because he had no more worlds to conquer.
The process revealed in the telling is just as fascinating as the characters. How Charlie was able to work effectively behind the scenes in Congress, forging an incredibly powerful network of allies from both parties and from all regions of the political spectrum. For example, his years in the Texas legislature sitting next to Barbara Jordan gave him an entree to and credibility with the Black Caucus in Congress. And all of this was accomplished at a time when the CIA was under fire at the White House and in Congress. And while dating a variety of gorgeous women and doing serious damage to his liver.
Many years ago, I had a history test on which the only question was – Do leaders shape events, or do events shape leaders? This is the riveting story about one man who most certainly shaped some of the most important events of our time. With repercussions that perhaps are still yet to come. ~This review contributed by Geoffrey R. Hamlin.
THE COLDEST WINTER: AMERICA AND THE KOREAN WAR by David Halberstam: On June 25, 1950, seven divisions of elite North Korean troops crossed the border into South Korea with the intention of gaining control of the entire Korean peninsula in three weeks. Sixteen years later on June 25, 1966, I got married and in the fourth year of my marriage was sent to the DMZ in Korea, where the “three week war” was still being contested. While not likely to garner the publicity of his defining book for the Vietnam War, The Best and the Brightest, Halberstam’s treatment of the Korean War, written three decades after it began is arguably his best effort ever. Halberstam himself considered The Coldest Winter the best book he ever wrote, the culmination of forty-five years of writing about America’s postwar foreign policy. In the book, he provides astonishingly vivid and nuanced portraits of all the major figures — Eisenhower, Truman, Acheson, Kim, and Mao, and Generals MacArthur, Almond, and Ridgway, while also giving us tightly crafted narrative journalism, chronicling the stories of individual soldiers on the front line and the challenges they faced. It was for me a disturbing but uplifting read. 02/08 Jack Quick
Confessions of a Tax Collector: One Man’s Tour of Duty Inside the IRS by Richard Yancey: Richard Yancey was a failure. He had numerous, low paying jobs over many years and was living with a woman who had inherited wealth – she was supporting him, and rubbing his face in it. He was a very successful student, however, and when he finds a blind ad in the paper looking for someone with his impeccable grades, he decides to investigate. Turns out to be a job as a revenue collector with the Internal Revenue Service, and thus begins Yancey’s engrossing tale of life with the IRS. This is the stuff of nightmares; he seizes people’s homes, cars, businesses, basically destroys lives, but he’s very, very good at it. Yancey worked for the IRS for twelve years while secretly longing to be a writer, and this is his compelling story. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
CONSIDER THE FORK by Bee Wilson: I loved this book about how we eat and how we cook. Wilson delves into the history of knives, chopsticks, fire, ice & refrigeration, food processors, sous vide machines and of course, the fork, and lots more. Her writing style is conversational rather than instructional, making this an incredibly interesting and easy read. I found myself surprised constantly, from learning that the processing involved in turning sugar into the product we find on supermarket shelves is extremely labor intensive to finding a 1940’s precisely designed ergonomic kitchen. The knife favored by Asian chefs works perfectly well with the eating implements, chopsticks, that they use while the Italians dreamed up the fork for obvious pasta-twirling reasons. I learned why restaurant kitchens call their broiler a salamander and why I’m not the only one who loves wooden spoons, my Cuisinart and my immersion blender. This is fascinating reading for anyone who cooks, or eats. I loved this book. 3/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
CRASHING THROUGH by Robert Kurson: Bob Lujano is a staff member at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama where I work out. In 1979, Bob lost his arms above the elbow and his legs at the hips to a rare form of meningitis. Yes, he is in a wheelchair but he isn’t disabled. Try to keep up with him in the swimming pool, or on the track. Don’t even think of taking him on in wheelchair rugby as he has won 5 US Quad Rugby National Championships with the Lakeshore Demolition and 3 medals playing rugby for Team USA. He was one of the stars of the 2005 movie about the sport titled Murderball. Mike May is a similar remarkable person. Blinded in a childhood accident, he learned to drive a motorcycle, hike alone in the woods, and downhill ski, while also working as the CIA’s first blind intelligence analyst as well as being a successful inventor, entrepreneur and family man. While no one has yet been able to replace Bob’s missing limbs, Mike was able to have his eyesight restored at age 46. This book tells the story, with all its ups and downs of what happened to this remarkable man whose brain had forgotten how to process visual input. Whatever problems we think we have pale in the face of the accomplishments of people like these. If you don’t get goose bumps from this book, have your pulse checked by a professional. 08/07 Jack Quick
CREDIT REPAIR by Robin Leonard & Margaret Reiter: This 10th edition is so far superior to the 9th edition (2009) as to render the previous version almost obsolete. The chapters have been reorganized into a more logical sequence. Chapters have been added that deal with “hot topics” including short sales and reverse mortgages; money raising options including Craigslist and Amazon; the new Credit Card ACT and how it impacts borrowers; and identity theft prevention. The authors have clarified their recommended action steps to build a positive credit history. Throughout the text additional resources are noted. Many of the recommended resources cost no money. The authors recommend obtaining some of the books and Consumer Reports magazines via a local library. The accompanying CD contains all forms referenced in the text. As always with Nolo publishers, free legal updates are available on their website. 08/11 Kimberly Bower Note from the BookBitch: If you need more help with credit repair, try Sky Blue Credit
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM by Deirdre Dolan: I am a huge fan of the show, so I was really excited to get this book and it exceeded my expectations – and how often do you get to say that? It basically covers the show through its star, Larry David, from his stand-up days through Seinfeld through Curb. It runs through a season-by-season episode guide from day one through season five, but so much more than that. I really enjoyed the interviews with David and his co-stars and directors, and the pictures are great. Besides the obligatory candid on set shots and so forth, there is a section of pictures of artifacts from the show like Dr. Sewell’s prescription pad and the Cashews & Raisins mix that had a low count of cashews, and another section with pictures and descriptions of Larry’s various houses each season. Yes, these are people’s homes, not a stage set. A fun read with a lot of bang for the buck, and a must-have for any fan of the show. And who isn’t? 11/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS by Conn and Hal Iggulden: Just in time for Father’s Day, this is the perfect gift for any man who is still young at heart. The Dangerous Book is jam packed with anything and everything a guy could ever need. From instructions on knots and how to make invisible ink to advice on girls, this book has it all. Think of it as an all-encompassing boy scout manual. I wouldn’t normally review something like this. How do you really review a gift book, right? I took one look at it and had to share it. It’s a neat concept and I highly recommend buying a copy for yourself and that person that is impossible to shop for (dad.) 06/07 Becky Lejeune
DECIDING THE NEXT DECIDER: The 2008 Presidential Race in Rhyme by Calvin Trillin: Is it wrong to gloat? In rhyme, no less? Not if you’ve been as disillusioned as most Democrats over the past eight years. Although to be fair, Trillin has some fun with Obama:
Experience was what he seemed to lack.
And to be frank, they pointed out, he’s black.
and Biden too:
Joe carries many thoughts inside his head,
And often leaves but few of them unsaid.
It is rather amazing how Trillin captured the highlights of the election process as it was happening. If you’re going through election withdrawal, here is the perfect antidote. 12/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Depraved English by Peter Novobatzky: A reference book that charts a very specific territory. This is a collection of obscenities and obscure disgusting words. Impress your friends with words like callipygian (having nicely shaped buttocks) and mazophilous (fond of breasts). Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larsen: Nonfiction about the Chicago World’s Fair with a parallel story about a serial killer in the same area at the same time. This book got all sorts of accolades and I can understand why; both stories are fascinating and compelling. But I had issues with the amount of detail the author provides, especially with the World’s Fair – it felt like he had the names of every person who worked at building it. The book alternates chapters between both stories which made for a very jumpy book and forced me to try and remember who some of these people were. Too much information is not always a good thing. Includes about 40 pages of footnotes. 06/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
DEWEY: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron & Bret Witter: This book is purported to be the Marley & Me for cat lovers. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I think it means the publisher hopes to make as much money on this book as they did on that one. Statistically speaking, there are more cat owners in this country than dog owners, so who knows. All I can tell you is do not pick up this book without a box of tissues, it is a tear-jerker from the first chapter about finding this tiny frozen kitten in the book drop with his tiny frostbitten paws, until the end, nineteen years later when cancer got him. In between, Myron somehow convinced the library director, board, and town attorney to let her keep him in the library. Dewey became a sort of good-will director for the library, and the town. One chapter after another describes how he touched people’s lives, how wise and knowing he was, his favorite toys, food, and hiding spots, and how folks drove in to the tiny town of Spencer, Iowa, just to see this remarkable cat. The appeal to cat lovers is obvious, not to mention librarians, but beyond that, I’m not so sure. In that regard, Marley & Me seems to be much more universal in its appeal; yes it’s about a dog, but it’s more about a family and perhaps therein lies the difference. All I can say is after living with my cat, Edgar-the-psycho-kitty, this book restored my faith that there are good cats out there, and reinforced even more strongly that luck is needed in acquiring one. 09/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
DISHWASHER: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States by Pete Jordan: The unsung heroes of the food service industry are often behind the scenes. Pete Jordan was one such hero. Pete washed dishes. In his new book, Mr. Jordan recounts a decade long journey scrubbing our nation’s pots and pans. His goal was to “bust suds” in every state before turning thirty five. Along with restaurants and cafeterias, he winds up in the most unlikely of places: a fish cannery, a ski resort, a dinner train, and an oil rig.
These dishwashing jobs were left as easily as they were attained. He quit whenever he felt like not working. The longest position held was six months. The shortest, forty-five minutes. None of his employers received a two-week notice. Mr. Jordan was initially attracted to dishwashing because (1.) he was broke and (2.) jobs were plentiful. What began as a lark became a calling. From 1989-2001, he immersed himself into the profession. His accounting of being a “plongeur” is simultaneously fun and funny. Jordan makes washing dishes seem (almost) glamorous. He has a keen eye for his surroundings and a deadpan delivery.
Especially fascinating is the glimpse he provides into our restaurant subculture. Psychotic chefs, surly waitresses, and stoned busboys are all part of Jordan’s world. He dines off half-eaten plates and sneaks free drinks from the bartender. Dishwasher also provides a treasure trove of dishing history, factoids, trivia, and slang. Jordan discusses early efforts of unionizing the dish-trade. He describes ancient methods of kosher cleaning. He writes about famous celebrity dishwashers: George Orwell, Ronald Reagan, Malcolm X, Little Richard. Over the course of time, Pete Jordan emerges as an accomplished “dish-dog” and a bit of an underground phenomenon. He created a dishwashing magazine, appeared on NPR’s This American Life, and even received an invitation to the David Letterman Show. Sadly, he never accomplished his goal. After 88 restaurants in 33 states, Dishwasher Pete hung up his towel. These days, he can be found repairing bicycles in Amsterdam. 11/07 Dan Cawley
DOGFIGHT: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse by Calvin Trillin: This is the follow up to 2008’s DECIDING THE NEXT DECIDER: The 2008 Presidential Race in Rhyme, with an occasional “Pause for Prose.” It starts with the primaries in all their glorious insanity, including this bit about Michelle Bachman, entitled “Michele: A Serenade by Iowa Social Conservatives” (with apologies to the Beatles):
Michele, our belle,
Thinks that gays will all be sent to hell.
and continues on for many more irreverent verses. Shots are taken at Obama as well, like this from “First Debate”:
So Democrats looked on with some dismay
“The President,” some said, “is MIA.”
Irreverence is the theme of this book, so if you haven’t recovered from the Romney debacle, or can’t stand poking fun at Obama’s second run, then steer clear. But if you want to look back and laugh, or know someone who would, this book is ideal (and perfectly sized for a stocking stuffer.) 12/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
DOGTRIPPING: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure by David Rosenfelt: This author, who created one of my favorite mystery series featuring Andy Carpenter, and who writes superb standalone thrillers, has lent his unique voice to a memoir of sorts; the story of his move from California to Maine. As the subtitle indicates, this was no ordinary move. Carpenter fell in love with Debbie, his wife, and she is a dog lover so he became one too. To an extreme, some might say. Together they founded the Tara Foundation, a large dog rescue organization that has found homes for thousands of dogs, primarily Golden Retrievers and other large dogs. The dogs that are too old or sick to be placed really get lucky; they go home with David & Debbie. So when David & Debbie decided to move, they brought the old timers with them. It took months of preparation and some really dedicated fans to make this move and this is their story. The voice is uniquely David, so if you love his other books like I do, you will love this one too. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me think about all those dogs who aren’t lucky enough to escape the shelters. Give this book to every dog lover in your life and they will thank you. 8/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
DON’T GO TO THE COSMETICS COUNTER WITHOUT ME by Paula Begoun: This is the newest, 2012 edition of this very popular book. Begouin analyzes makeup and skin care products and gives a Consumer Reports type rating to them. When it first came out in 1992, it was truly groundbreaking but now I have some issues, chief of which is Begouin now has her own skincare and makeup line which amazingly scores in the “best” rankings for every product. Her products may very well be fantastic, but it does make the rest of her ratings somewhat suspect as bias is now firmly in place. I was also surprised that some brands were completely overlooked; I would have liked to see how Costco’s marriage with Borghese cosmetics stacked up as well as a newcomer (to me, at least,) Ulta and their line of products. But beyond these critiques, I don’t see the point of buying this book. All the information is readily available on the author’s website, which she advises us is http://www.cosmeticscop.com but which miraculously, automatically turns into http://www.paulaschoice.com/ online. Not to mention this book is a doorstopper; at 950 pages, no one is schlepping this book anywhere, never mind to the cosmetics counter. Save your money, borrow from your library or check out the products that interest you online. 4/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
DON’T SING AT THE TABLE: Life Lessons From My Grandmothers by Adriana Trigiani: I must confess that Trigiani is one of my favorite authors and I’d read her grocery lists if they were published. This book is her second foray into nonfiction, several years after Cooking with My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Bari to Big Stone Gap, and this is another gem. All of Trigiani’s novels are about families, usually big, Italian families, and in this new book we learn where all that inspiration came from. Even their names will be familiar to fans – Lucia, better known as Lucy, and Yolanda, who morphed into Viola. These are strong women who taught their families, especially their daughters and granddaughters, all about life and how to deal with it. Filled with humor and pathos, this book is a joy to read. As the holidays approach, or maybe even encroach on our busy lives, do yourself a favor and take a little time to savor this book. Then wrap it up nicely and give it to your favorite female relative or girlfriend. 12/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow: I wasn’t sure what to expect but I am such a huge Maddow fan that if she published her grocery list I’d read it. Happily, this is no grocery list. It is a thought provoking look at the United States and how and why we go to war. I learned a lot about our history, the constitution and the legalities of war, and how various presidents and Congress manage to manipulate all that. I watch her show and have seen her interviewed so I know how brilliant she is, but this is no paean to intellectualism or even a platform for some political agenda; instead it is an eminently readable, educational yet entertaining book – not an easy feat. This is one impressive debut. 4/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
EARLY BIRD: A Memoir of Premature Retirement by Rodney Rothman: Rothman was 28 years old when he lost his job as a comedy writer on a sitcom produced by David Letterman. Since he was a New York Jew, he decided he would ultimately end up retiring to South Florida, so he got the idea of getting an early taste of what that would be like. He sublet a room from an old woman in Century Village in Boca Raton, Florida and moved in for six months of shuffleboard, cruising with the Red Hat Club, and the ubiquitous Early Bird dinners. Rothman also includes some interesting history on how Florida became the Mecca of retirement and portraits of many of the residents of the retirement community and what their lives are like. Lots of laughs amid the tedium and of certain interest to anyone who is thinking about retirement or knows anyone who has retired to South Florida. 07/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
EARTH (THE BOOK): A VISITORS GUIDE TO THE HUMAN RACE presented by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: The latest “textbook” from Jon Stewart certainly lives up to its predecessor, America. Obviously, Stewart has expanded his horizons. The idea behind this book appears to be that there are no humans left on Earth, and the aliens have arrived seeking archeological information about this uninhabited planet. Earth attempts to explain our lives and how we live them by exploring science, religion, society, the life cycle, culture and certainly pop culture. In the “Life” chapter, evolution is explained, including this on adaptation: “Crustaceans like this lobster evolved strong claws that protected them from predators, but proved no match for rubber bands.” Samantha Bee demonstrates facial expressions that show our various emotions from joy and fear to jealousy and boredom. Each chapter includes FAQ’s, which in this book means, “Future Alien Questions” like, “Q: Was it better to be a man or a woman? A: A man.” One of my favorite pages was in the culture section on – what else – books, and included this: “Harry Potter was a boy wizard whose adventures were so popular they caused massive deforestation leading to a 1-degree rise in global temperature.” And this: “Oh, I see you noticed Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow on our shelf. Yeah, we totally read it all the way through…” Great fun and probably one of the best textbooks out there. FYI: Lots of full frontal nudity, including a very scary picture of Larry King. 10/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
EAT ME: THE FOOD AND PHILOSOPHY OF KENNY SHOPSIN by Kenny Shopsin & Carolynn Carreño: Kenny Shospin’s restaurant is one that I’m sure many New Yorkers are familiar with. With his notorious attitude towards media, health inspectors, and even potential clientele, Shopsin is likened to the Seinfeld Soup Nazi. Some even believe the infamous character may be based on him, but we’re likely never to know for sure. In Eat Me, Shopsin abandons his “no media” rule and shares over 100 of his delectable creations with the public. This is the perfect cookbook for foodies like myself who are likely never to be able to experience these items first hand. From a simple egg salad to Shopsins’ famous Yin-Yang Rice Bowls – meant to be paired with soup – this collection of inventive dishes is sure to tantalize your taste buds. In addition to the recipes, the book also features Shopsin’s own anecdotes about everything from his family and loyal customers to his views on pancakes and salads. The book also features the once 6-page menu, great for help in creating your own Shopsin’s dinner at home. 01/09 Becky Lejeune
EAT THIS, NOT THAT: Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds-or More! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding: Buy this as a present for yourself, but if you can’t get to it during the holidays, don’t worry. I’m thinking New Year’s Day is a good day to start reading it; you can always start with the page devoted to hangovers. But most of the other pages in the book will apply to every busy person. The editors of Men’s Health Magazine have gone out and gotten nutritional information on some of the most popular restaurant food, including fast food like Wendy’s and McDonalds, not-quite-as-fast food like Boston Market and Chipotle, and even sit down restaurants like Chili’s and Red Lobster. Then they give us a page by page, side by side comparison of what to eat: “eat this” and “not that”. I saw one of the authors on the Today Show and was so shocked by what he was showing, I immediately ordered the book.
The premise is that people eat out, a lot. And they make food choices based on what they perceive to be the healthiest, low calorie choices, with an occasional indulgence. But menu items with such healthy, low calorie sounding names like the Turkey Burger from Ruby Tuesday pack in an astonishing 1171 calories and 58 grams of fat, the 3 Piece Dark Rotisserie Chicken with sweet potato casserole and the Market Chopped Side Salad from Boston Market serve you up 1410 calories, 80 grams of fat and a whopping 3020 milligrams of sodium, and the Chicken Burrito from Chipotle gives you a hefty 1169 calories, 47 grams of fat, and 2856 milligrams of sodium. Instead, the authors suggest you order Ruby Tuesday’s 7 oz. Top Sirloin with green beans and baby portabella mushrooms for a mere 464 calories, Boston Market’s Roasted Sirloin with garlic dill potatoes and spinach for a much more reasonable 580 calories, and Chipotle’s Chicken Burrito Bowl sans rice and tortilla for a much healthier 489 calories.
The authors also point out some startling realities of fine dining, explaining the caloric and fat traps of menu items at steakhouses – porterhouse for two is usually enough meat for four, with everyone getting a complete day’s worth of saturated fat; sushi bars – soy sauce has over 1800 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, and avoid the croquetas at tapas bar – “think fat bomb.” Just to keep it real, they also includes pages of comparisons between the foods we eat everyday, breakfast cereal, salad dressings, even cookies – Fig Newtons good, Pepperidge Farm Soft Baked bad, and ice cream – Breyer’s All Natural Vanilla Fudge Twirl good, Haagen Dazs Vanilla Fudge bad. Actually, even the Haagen Dazs sorbet is bad.
Obviously I think this book has an important message. It’s very visual with page after page of photographs of the foods we love to eat, but don’t love us back. It’s eye opening, enlightening and a bit frightening, but should be read by anyone who orders food through a drive through window or isn’t cooking every meal themselves. 12/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
AN EDGE IN THE KITCHEN: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives — How to Buy Them, Keep Them Razor Sharp, and Use Them Like a Pro by Chad Ward: I love to cook almost as much as I love to read, so it really isn’t a big surprise that I would enjoy a book about knives – the good, the bad, and the super-expensive. This is probably the definitive book on knives: what to buy and why, where to buy, and how to buy them. And once you’ve procured your knives, how to use them properly, and most of important of all, how to take care of them. Ward is a funny guy, he knows he’s a bit knife-obsessed and doesn’t look down upon anyone who isn’t. This is a very practical guide as well, he not only doesn’t push the custom made, multiple thousands of dollars knife, he recommends knives in every price range. He can get you going with the basics for under a $100, and I never would have even thought that possible. Want to spend more? No problem, he’ll help you there too. If you’re shopping for your favorite foodie or newlywed couple, this excellent resource is your guide to buying the best knife at any price. 8/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE ELEMENTS OF COOKING: Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen by Michael Ruhlman: I love books about food, and this is a really good one. So good, in fact, that after I borrowed a copy from the library to read, I went out and bought my own copy. This collection of essays is a a sort of primer for the home chef, and includes a fabulous section on something as basic as stock – not only does it come in cans & boxes at your local grocery store, you can easily make it at home. Many of those French cooking terms are explained in plain English, and I especially loved his advice on what to purchase for a new kitchen – he reminds us that if you look in most restaurant kitchens, especially those of top rated chefs, you will see some of the oldest, grungiest beat-up looking pots and pans, despite their celebrity lines available at your local Bed, Bath & Beyond, which Ruhlman deems overpriced and unnecessary. He suggests finding your local restaurant supply company, and gives specific suggestions as to what to look for and pricing. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book. All in all, an excellent primer for the new cook and an interesting read for the more experienced one. 04/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
EVERYTHING IS MISCELLANEOUS: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger: People like to ask me about books – I’ve been asked to name my favorite books, the books I would take to a desert island, and the books that have changed my life. My favorites change from year to year, I would need an entire cruise ship to fill with enough books to sustain me on a desert island, and while books in general have changed my life, I’ve never had any sort of epiphany while reading, at least not that I can recall. Until now. Reading Everything is Miscellaneous gave me my moment. It was a “EUREKA” moment, rather like that lovely story about Archimedes in the bathtub. Lest you think I’ve completely taken leave of my senses, let me get down to it.
This is a book about many things, but what I am focusing on here is organization. Specifically, the organization of books, in a library. 95% of all public libraries use the Dewey Decimal System, which has worked reasonably well for quite a long while. Other libraries use a different classification system culled from the Library of Congress, while bookstores tend to use something called BISAC, the Book Industry Standards and Communications. But what Mr. Weinberger wonders is this: if we have computers and are using them, why are we limiting ourselves to such specifics? And it made me wonder too. Yes, books need a specific place on the shelf, but we can look for books, search for books, in other ways that have nothing to do with the physical location of the book, but rather with the need of the reader.
But that’s only a small part of this fascinating book. Weinberger examines how Google has changed our lives, the wonder of Wikipedia, looks at the business model of the digital music industry and what it portends for the future of all businesses, and even why Staples is so successful. I read this book several months ago, and have just reread it, and I may have to read it yet again. 12/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
The Exact Same Moon by Jeanne Marie Laskas: This is the marvelous sequel to Fifty Acres and a Poodle, where Jeanne marries Alex, they buy a farm, and live happily ever after…until this new book comes along. Jeanne’s mother becomes paralyzed from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and Jeanne finds herself commuting back to the city to help out. Sometimes it takes a crisis to force people to examine their lives, and this one causes Jeanne to rethink her decision not to have children. Alex, with two grown children from his first marriage, is supportive and open to anything she wants. Jeanne explores her relationship with her mother, her husband, and her own desire to become a mother in this tender, funny, heart-wrenching-yet-heart-warming story. Lest this sounds maudlin, it is not – there are laugh out loud moments sprinkled throughout, from befriending the scary old woman recluse down the road to stealing her mother’s plants back from the new owners of her home to the horror of converting the entire farming community into satellite TV junkies. Laskas’ style of writing just draws the reader in, making us feel like a part of her amazing family, and creating an intimate, appealing and ultimately satisfying escape into her gentle world of farming, laughs and love. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
F5: Devastation, Survival and the Most Violent Tornado Outbreak of the 20th Century by Mark Levine: On April 3, 1974, the United States was hit by at least 148 tornados spawned from one “megastorm” that killed hundreds and caused billions in property damage. Six of these tornados were rated F5 with sustained winds of over 260 miles per hour. This book tells the story of that day in a rural Alabama county where dozens of individual tornadoes reeked havoc. I grew up in central Alabama in one of the infamous tornado alleys. I have had the experience of having one pass directly overhead (they really do sound like a freight train) and have helped clean up after a dozen of them. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer power of one of these beasts, nor its ability to change lives and alter landscapes in seconds. If you have never experienced one, this reads like fiction. If you have, then you know it is fact. A hurricane, tsunami, blizzard, volcano eruption, even earthquake – generally there is some warning. With tornados, you may die in the wreckage of your home while the dinner table at your neighbor’s house isn’t even disturbed. Entire houses can be picked up and set back down hundreds of feet away with children safely sleeping inside. The sheer capriciousness of these storms actually gives them a certain majesty, not unlike a “big cat” or other predator. Levine has captured about as much of these monsters as any human can – which is still only a modicum of their reality. 05/07 Jack Quick
Father Joe: The Man Who Saved my Soul by Tony Hendra: Tony Hendra is a British comedian and comic writer (he prefers the term “satirist.”) American audiences may be most familiar with him as the Ian Faith character in the rock satire This is Spinal Tap. This book is the surprising story of his spiritual journey from his teens to the present day and the role played in it by his spiritual advisor, a Benedictine monk named Father Joe.
The beginning of their relationship is hardly auspicious. Young Hendra is sent to the monastery for confession and punishment when he is caught in the early stages of adolescent grouping with a neighbor’s wife. Hendra is given a glimpse of a better faith when Father Joe suggests that the only sin involved was selfishness.
Later in their relationship, as Father Joe advises Tony that his career is in the world and not in the monastery, he comments that “more husbands and wives should be canonized.” Hendra does go on to live in the world and have a very successful career at the National Lampoon and other places, but he regularly feels the need in time of trouble to travel back to the monastery and visit with Father Joe. Despite Father Joe’s cloistered existence, he seems to fully grasp the problems created by a fast-past modern society and life in the entertainment industry. As the story concludes, Mr. Hendra brings his son to visit the dying monk.
This book is The Seven Story Mountain of our time and will be considered one of the most important books of this decade. It is not light reading, however and may not be appreciated by those readers and worshippers who prefer their God “lite.” Read it anyway. Any book with a sentence like “The first exercise of love is listening.” is worth reading and pondering. 06/04 ~This review contributed by Geoffrey R. Hamlin.
FIRE-BREATHING LIBERAL: How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress by Robert Wexler: Wexler is my congressman, and I’ve voted for him in every election in which he’s run. So I come to this book with a prejudicial view – I like the guy. How can you not like a guy who was honest enough to admit to Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report that he has tried cocaine? True, as Colbert pointed out, Wexler was running unopposed so he could have admitted to just about anything and been re-elected. This is his story. His years in Congress have been turbulent, to say the least. I also live in the district with the infamous “butterfly ballot” and it was my neighbors who gave the election away by mistake. Wexler discusses those issues, as well as the Supreme Court decision (Gore v. Bush), Clinton’s impeachment and why he thinks Bush should be impeached, his visit with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and lots more Washington insider stuff. Wexler makes it all fascinating and entertaining, a winning combination for any book, but especially one steeped in politics. 7/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
FISH! A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, & John Christensen: There is a Pike Place cookbook coming out in March, so I decided to revisit this classic business book and see if it still holds up. Originally published in 2000, the world, especially the business community, has changed a great deal since then. Could the ideas espoused here still work? I think so. The premise of the book, told as an inspiration tale, a “fish tale” if you will, is that the Toxic Waste Dump is floundering and a new manager is brought on board (if you’ll pardon the fish puns.) She visits the famous Pike Place Fish Market across the street from her office and finds the employees there having fun and selling lots and lots of fish. Can you run a business where the employees are passionate about their work, having a great time with each other and the customers, and still make a profit? You bet, and this little book will show you how it’s done. Should be required reading for every manager. If you’ve never read it, or maybe read it when it first came out twelve years ago, pick it up and take another look. It will inspire you all over again. 12/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
FODOR’S SMART 1,001 TRAVEL TIPS: A must read for would-be world travelers. How else can you learn to pack your own chewing gum if you are going to Singapore since its not sold there, and oh yes, be careful of the water in Mexico – use boiled or bottled water even for brushing your teeth. A well-written and somewhat quirky guide that even armchair travelers can enjoy. Even native English speakers can have difficulty with Scots’ English, so don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Also, watch out for New Zealand’s one health hazard -“duck itch”. In Holland be aware that coffee shops also sell (legally) marijuana, hash, and drug paraphernalia, which can be used on the spot. And if you are a book lover, no matter where you go, pack an empty tote bag or duffle inside your luggage as you will need the extra room to bring home the books. 11/07 Jack Quick
FOOD FOR THOUGHT by Philip J. Romano: Over 200,000 people pay daily homage to the genius of Romano. They do so by eating at Fuddrucker’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, eatZi’s, Shuckers or Cozymels. Romano developed and has successfully operated and marketed each of these national restaurant concepts/chains. In his book he shares the reasons for his success, which include placing service first over profit and getting people to work with you rather than for you. Sounds simple, but you must be doing it right to build a $10 billion restaurant empire. Nicely written and interesting background for all of us who tend to eat out more than at home. 03/06 Jack Quick
FOOD RULES: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan: Pollan is the genius behind In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and a few other books on food and where it comes from. He is also one of the stars of the Academy Award nominated documentary, Food, Inc., for me a life changing film about the food industry in this country and one of the most enlightening and frightening films I’ve ever seen.
The thing is that Pollan is not one of these militant, radical vegans or anything. To me he comes across like the voice of reason. He eats meat, but sparingly and only free range beef and organic. He does his research and for this book, also put up a request on a New York Times food blog for people to send him the rules about eating that they grew up with. This book is a compilation of his own rules and those he’s collected. It’s a tiny paperback and at its simplest, is a collection of wisdom on how to eat for health and well being. It is an easy read and often amusing.
One of the rules: “avoid food products that make health claims.” A company with the resources to get FDA approved health claims for their products doesn’t necessarily make them healthy – think margarine. Once touted as the healthy alternative to butter, we now know that the transfats it contains are worse than the saturated fat in butter. Or as Pollan puts it, “the silence of the yams” doesn’t make them less healthful. More rules: “Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.” (Xanthan gum anyone?) “Eat only foods that will eventually rot.” Not Twinkies, which Pollan took on book tour with him and after two years, remain as fresh as the day he bought them. And a couple of my favorites: “Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce,” and “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” Thought provoking to say the least. 02/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee: I love Chinese food, and I love humorously written, well researched food books, so when I heard about this one, I couldn’t wait to get my chopsticks on it. I am really glad I did. This is a fact-filled, fun read about the history of Chinese food in America, that includes amazing research that took the author all through China and Japan. Japan, you say? Why yes, because our beloved fortune cookies are not Chinese in origin, but rather Japanese. In fact, we are now exporting “American fortune cookies” to China. The idea of delivering food to people’s homes started with a savvy Chinese restaurant owner in New York City. And Lee explores the relationship between Jews and Chinese food, including a chapter devoted to the only Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant in the southeastern United States, and its Peking Duck scandal. She goes looking for the origin of one of our most popular dishes, General Tso’s chicken, and explains why chop suey is disappearing off of Chinese restaurant menus all across America – hint: neither dish is Chinese in origin. This is a quick, fun read, perfect to read in small bites and guaranteed to make you hungry. 05/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
FOUR KITCHENS: MY LIFE BEHIND THE BURNER IS NEW YORK, HANOI, TEL AVIV, AND PARIS by Lauren Shockey: After finishing college, Lauren Shockey surprised her parents by going to culinary school. She decides that she will round out her cooking education by completing stages (kitchen internships) at four different restaurants with very different viewpoints. She begins her journey at Wylie Dufresne’s wd-50 in New York then travels to Vietnam to work at La Verticale. From Vietnam, Shockey then travels to Tel Aviv to work in Carmella Bistro. Finally, she ends her journey in Paris at Senderens. Shockey describes her time at wd-50 in great detail but her vastly different experience in Hanoi focuses little on the kitchen aspect and more on the local cuisine while Tel Aviv’s central focus becomes more about Shockey’s friends and personal exchanges. In Paris, the focus once again becomes the kitchen, but the transitions all lead up to Shockey’s conclusions at the end of her journey: enjoying food and cooking for others is not necessarily all it takes to make it in a restaurant career. It’s an expensive lesson to learn, but at least she has the kitchen skills to really impress her friends and loved ones! Four Kitchens is entertaining, but is missing a little of the wow factor other food memoirs out there offer. I did find Shockey to be very honest and insightful throughout the book, though. 09/11 Becky Lejeune
FREE FOR ALL: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert: This one is for the librarians. I checked out the customer reviews on Amazon, and it doesn’t seem to be appreciated nearly as well by library users, and since I work in a library, I have a biased view, which of course I’m happy to share. Borchert is an assistant librarian in a suburban Los Angeles public library, which means he doesn’t have his coveted masters degree in library and information science. But he does have several years experience in dealing with the public, and that’s what he shares in this funny, breezy book. If you think libraries are quiet, dull places of study, then you haven’t been to a public library lately. Borchert’s library may be suburban but has had its share of drug dealers working out of the men’s room, moms brawling in the stacks, and regulars that include a man desperately seeking to buy a South American wife, and Henry, the daily crossword puzzle aficionado/nut. He discusses the hiring process and employment practices of civil service jobs – pass probation and you’ve got a job you can retire from. But it’s the little stories, one after another, that bring this book to life. Written in conversational style, it’s rather like spending a few hours in a bar with a friend who’s unloading about work, like the story about the Indian girl who was hired because she was quiet and helped make the library diverse, but was fired when some young boys were singing offensive rap songs and she exploded like an atom bomb in the middle of the library, practically ripping their heads off. Or the story about the proud parents of the child doing a science fair project on which the absorbency of diapers, and in doing his research Googled the word “diapers” and found a picture of a 50-year-old man wearing one along with a very satisfied smile. But only other library/civil service workers will appreciate the chain of command that must be followed when you see a body go flying past your window. 12/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
FROM ANIMAL HOUSE TO OUR HOUSE: A LOVE STORY by Ron Tanner: My house is under renovation. It is 25 years old and in need of new bathrooms and kitchen. So I’m very interested in other people’s renovations, on TV and now in books. The “animal house” of the title is an old 4500 square foot condemned Victorian in Baltimore that had been owned by a fraternity for ten years, long enough to leave 3 full trailers of trash inside the house. The house was destroyed, barely left standing, and Ron bought it. He fell in love with the possibilities and was stubborn enough to ignore all the warnings. It took several years to make it habitable, and along the way he talked his girlfriend into moving in and working on it too. Honestly, I could have lived without all the girlfriend drama and would have killed for some photographs; this is a book that is just crying out for photographs. There are a few in the book trailer. Instead, I had to settle for slow moving prose and the author’s sketches. It was an interesting story, an interesting reno for sure, but not a great book – this is strictly for those who want to see what’s it really like behind the scenes of those 30 minute renovations on the DIY channel. 5/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl: A quintessential New York book that is so delicious I devoured it in one sitting, if you’ll pardon the food metaphors. Reichl was the NY Times restaurant critic for many years, and this is the inside scoop on how that worked. She learned on her flight in from Los Angeles to take the job that her picture was already hung in every kitchen of every important restaurant in NY. She decided she would need to invent a new persona, someone who could dine anonymously and ended up creating several. Her claim to fame came with an early double review of the famous NY eating establishment, Le Cirque – one review was as the recognized restaurant critic for the Times, the other as an anonymous diner. It cost the restaurant their coveted fourth star and made people sit up and take notice of the newcomer. The book details her meals and her life as a critic with humor and pathos. Reichl is a passionate foodie and her descriptions will fascinate and satiate the reader. 05/05
THE GASTRONOMY OF MARRIAGE by Michelle Maisto: In Michelle Maisto’s debut, a food memoir that also traces her relationship as she and her fiancée begin building their life together, Maisto shares her passion for cooking and her journey through her new engagement. She walks the reader through her city, her neighborhood, her food memories, and the ups and downs of planning a marriage in the midst of her everyday twenty-something life. With her own thoughts on other culinary writings, the various complications and adventures of combining households (and kitchens), and food itself, Michelle invites readers to experience a little bit of her world. As an eager foodie myself, The Gastronomy of Marriage is a fun look into someone else’s kitchen and their cooking exploits. Maisto writes about food—and the rest of her life—with an elegance and passion that readers will truly enjoy. The book also includes a collection of the recipes discussed within. 09/09 Becky Lejeune
HAPPY ACCIDENTS: 12 Offbeat Essays Exploring the Irony in the Ordinary by David Boyne: A fun and sometimes touching collection of essays that each look at a little slice of life. “Hurry Up and Wait” explores the phenomenon of waiting in line for complicated coffee as the tattooed baristas gossip amongst themselves and with their customers, while a man who is illegally doubleparked is close to apoplexy. Another essay looks at bumper stickers and one of my favorites, at step-parenting. Well written, imaginative and a great way to spend a few hours. Available for the . 03/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HEAT: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford: This is a fun read for anyone who enjoys the Food Network, Mario Batali, or has a healthy curiosity about what goes on in a high end restaurant kitchen. Buford gave up his “real” job as an editor at the New Yorker to work full time for Batali in the kitchen at Babbo. Buford is charming and honest about his fun and foibles, from being deliberately bumped 40-some-odd times a shift (by the higher ranking kitchen echelon to keep him in his place,) to the wines that are really used in the restaurant, the blisters on his hands (tongs are useful!), or flying off with Mario to help at a charity event. It’s a foodie’s delight and I couldn’t put it down. 08/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HEROES FOR MY DAUGHTER by Brad Meltzer: Brad Meltzer has three children and they are not all boys. As soon as he published Heroes For My Son, his daughter kept asking about her book. Meltzer has delivered. This book is bigger and dare I say even better than the first, but maybe being a daughter myself I’m a bit prejudiced? No matter, this is a beautiful book, a keepsake, a treasure to be handed down from one generation to the next. As in the Son book, there is a page for you to add your own, personal hero, as well. Meltzer’s heroes aren’t all women, but women predominate as they should in a book aimed at girls. He includes 55 heroes as diverse as Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, the passengers on United Flight 93, and Lucille Ball. Each story inspires and these are meant to be read aloud, together. With Mother’s Day right around the corner, I suggest Moms buy this book as a gift for their daughters and granddaughters, and everyone buy this book as a gift for their mom. Then go read together. 5/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HEROES FOR MY SON by Brad Meltzer: This is a giant step away from the thrillers and even graphic novels Meltzer is best known for. Meltzer says he’s been thinking about this book since his first child was born, and it shows. This is a lovely book, a gift to be shared and cherished with children and grandchildren and anyone else who needs a hero. It is a series of photographs and very short essays, no more than a few paragraphs, about the men and women Meltzer finds the most inspiring, and why he wants his son to know about them. These heroes range from the expected like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Albert Einstein to lesser known heroes like Andy Miyares, a Special Olympics swimmer and Barbara Johns, a high school student at the heart of Brown vs. Board of Education. Fifty-two heroes in all, from the most personal, Meltzer’s mother who died from breast cancer, to everyone’s hero, Captain Sullenberger who landed a plane in the Hudson River. There’s even a page at the back of the book with room for the picture and story of your own hero. It’s just a beautiful book to share with those you love. Meltzer has created a legacy. 05/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Hiding Places by Daniel Asa Rose: After his divorce, the author decides to take his 2 boys, ages 7 & 12, to Europe to find the hiding places their relatives used to escape the “not-sees” during the Holocaust. I loved the premise of a man instilling his family history, making memories, for his sons. Reading it was an emotional roller coaster that had me laughing and crying and left me both elated and exhausted. A truly amazing book that I could not put down. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HISTORY DECODED: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time by Brad Meltzer: There are a few reasons why I love this book, and the conspiracies are the least of it. Don’t get me wrong, the conspiracies which range from Lincoln to Kennedy to the gold (or lack thereof) in Fort Knox to the real Da Vinci Code are fascinating reading, and sure to appeal to fans of TV’s “Brad Metlzer’s Decoded” and all conspiracy and history buffs. But it is the way the material is researched and presented that really pushed this book to the top of the heap. The research is meticulous, and being Brad Meltzer, famous, bestselling author and known conspiracy theorist, with friends like Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, certainly gave him access to people and materials that most mere mortals wouldn’t get near. But it is the physical book itself that really blew me away – this is a stunning book, literally a piece of art. The book is hard cover and textured and filled with ephemera. If you are familiar with Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine series, then you will understand. But that was a novel, and this is factual. Each chapter contains an envelope with replicas of things like the wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth and his will; a code used by the Knights of the Golden Circle, thought to have helped Jefferson Davis hide the Confederate gold; the airline ticket for Dan Cooper, the only American skyjacker who was never caught; facsimiles of the form used to report UFO sightings to the government along with a report of a 1947 UFO sighting in Mt. Ranier, Washington. And while I love eBooks and their convenience in holding a massive quantity of books and accessibility (I don’t need reading glasses for my ) a book like this simply cannot be replicated electronically. And I truly love that. Put this on your holiday wish list and even better, buy a copy for all those people who are hard to shop for and they will thank you. 10/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HIT LIT: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers by James W. Hall: Hall is a mystery writer and a creative writing professor at Florida International University. As a mystery writer, he has sold millions of books, but not millions of copies of one book like the bestsellers in Hit Lit. As a writing teacher, he taught his students to “plagiarize” by taking a favorite book and breaking it down into minute pieces. How many words in the first chapter, when does the protagonist appear, what percentage is dialogue, and so forth. Then his students would create their own story, using the formula they created from their favorite book. The remarkable thing is that more than half of that first class who performed this exercise had their books published, a ridiculously high number of debuts from one writing class. One of those students was Dennis Lehane.
In Hit Lit, Hall takes apart twelve of the biggest selling books of all time. You know them, probably read most of them. Gone With the Wind. The Godfather. The Da Vinci Code. To Kill a Mockinbird. Jaws. Most have spawned hugely successful films as well. But what do these books have in common? Hall dissects them and shares with us the appeal factors that are in all of these extraordinary books. This is fascinating reading, and a must read for anyone who works with the public in the book industry – public librarians and booksellers for sure, and for avid readers and writers everywhere. If you can understand why people like something, it becomes easier to find other books they’ll like. This one is going on my reference bookshelf. 5/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HOUSE: A Memoir by Michael Ruhlman: From the back cover and flap info on this book I was expecting a written version of This Old House or Extreme Makeover. But what I got instead was a story about a writer and his family and how they live; an old house renovated by an architect, a contractor and his team; and a fascinating history of suburbia, Cleveland-style. Ruhlman, author of the wonderful Soul of a Chef, reveals more of himself than the actual construction efforts and it makes for compelling reading. 11/05
HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman: There are any number of how-to writer’s guides out there but this is not one of them, this is a how-NOT-to guide. Mittlemark and Newman use their combined years in the publishing industry to put together a guide using the most common mistakes made by authors. With advice on everything from plot and style to setting and character development, each chapter is full of useful information on what to avoid when writing your book. By outlining the pitfalls of writing with amusing and interesting examples, Mittelmark and Newman have created what turns out to be a quite funny and easy to read guide that will prove to be a very useful tool to any writer out there. Whether you are finally trying your hand at your first novel, or you’re trying to sell your first completed novel, How NOT to Write a Novel can help along each step of the process and clue you into just what you need to do to clean up your manuscript and get it published. 04/08 Becky Lejeune
HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else by Michael Gates Gill: Michael Gates Gill grows up in a very comfortable way, then builds a very successful career in advertising with a prestigious firm. But after twenty-something years, a new, young boss is brought in who wants to surround himself with new, young employees, so buh-bye Mike. After an affair that produces another child, buh-bye marriage. Mike finds himself wondering how to survive with no health insurance and the strong possibility of brain cancer. He wanders in to a nearby Starbucks, where a young African-American woman is sitting at the next table. She asks him if he wants to work for Starbucks, and before he knows it, he is. Health insurance is the big draw, but Mike soon learns that feeling useful again is a pretty nice feeling. If you’ve ever worried how you’re going to make it through retirement, or if you are a Starbucks addict, like moi, then this is a very thorough and enjoyable look at the inside of the company through the eyes of one of its happier employees. 09/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HOW TO BOOZE: EXQUISITE COCKTAILS AND UNSOUND ADVICE by Jordan Kaye and Marshall Altier: Booze and humor: always a great pair. Jordan Kaye and Marshall Altier have put these two things together in a funny, and sometimes pretty raunchy, bar book filled with tips on the perfect drink, history of classic cocktails, and frat-boy level humor in How to Booze. As a bar book, I actually love the indexing. The guys have divided the index by spirit and then within each spirit by how well-stocked your liquor cabinet may be. Looking for a simple drink with gin? Try a classic gimlet, which is by the way, the recommended drink for your second date. Prefer rum? Someone with a well-stocked (geeked out) bar might prefer a Mai Tai Roa-Ae to serve at a barbecue. I’d say any of the drinks inside would make a good accompaniment for reading Kaye and Altier’s “Unsound Advice.” Like I said, booze and humor always make a good pairing. 06/10 Becky Lejeune
HOW TO COOK LIKE A TOP CHEF by The Creators of Top Chef: Right out of the box let me say you will not learn how to cook like a “Top Chef” from this book. You will learn how the “top chefs” do what they do, however, and that is a pretty satisfying read. Can’t review this book without mentioning the glaring error of a wrongly credited photo; the picture is of Graham Elliot Bowles and is attached to the Rick Moonen bio. But these creators of Top Chef dish the dirt, show us the tattoos, and share lots of Season 6 recipes, none of which I will make. Probably. If you are looking for a gift for your favorite foodie, this is an excellent place to start. 11/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HOW TO EAT A SMALL COUNTRY: A FAMILY’S PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, ONE MEAL AT A TIME by Amy Finley: Fans of Food Network’s Next Food Network Star will remember Amy Finley as the perky winner of season 3, whose short run show, The Gourmet Next Door, disappeared after just one season. Anyone who wondered why finds out in How to Eat a Small Country. Finley gave up her short stint as a TV chef when her husband threatened to leave. In an effort to put their marriage back together, Finley suggested that they all (husband, wife, and two small children) move to France where they could travel and eat and basically learn how to be a family again. Their trip, arguments and all, is chronicled in Finley’s new food memoir. I was struck by how great Finley is as a writer. Her vivid (and some might say gruesome at times) descriptions of food and cooking methods are fantastic. Amazingly, she also pulls no punches in describing her family life, her frustrations, her fears, and her hopes. I liked Finley and her show quite a bit. I liked her book just as much. 06/11 Becky Lejeune
HOW TO SET HIS THIGHS ON FIRE: 86 Red-Hot Lessons on Love, Life, Men, and (Especially) Sex by Kate White: When the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine writes a book with a title like this, you get exactly what you expect; a book length version of Cosmo minus the pictures. If you love all the cutesy columns about getting along with your bitch of a boss, pleasing your man and making sure he pleases you, and you want some inside dish on celebrities, this is the book for you. Back in the day, and by that I mean the Helen Gurley Brown days, Cosmo was new, inventive and shockingly bold about s-e-x when every other woman’s magazine was avoiding the topic completely. But the cat was let out of the bag a long time ago and there’s no stuffing it back in again, so frankly, this book just bored me. The best thing I can say about it is it’s written in 86 very short, very put-downable chapters, making it a great book to read at traffic lights. 06/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HUSTLING IN AMERICA: The Secrets To Success For International Entrepreneurs Seeking To Turn Their American Dream Into Reality by Charles Kollo: If you are even remotely thinking about starting a business, make this book from successful entrepreneur and author Charles Kollo your initial investment. I have participated in the startup of three companies and wish that I could have had the benefit of his book for each of them. Packed with ideas and tips gained from Kollo’s personal experience as an FBE (Foreign Born Entrepreneur), this book will be invaluable whether you are trying to start a business in a foreign country, if you are a minority trying to start a business in your own country, or simply anyone who wants to make his dream of business ownership a reality. Hustling in America answers the 22 key questions you need to address in starting a new business and provides invaluable resources for such key topics, as market testing, form of organization to choose, initial financing, maintaining personal relationships, compliance with governmental regulations, choosing attorneys and other specialists, and how to do more with less. Kollo’s advice is practical, pertinent, and realistic. Whether you intend to create a traditional brick and mortar business or want to enter the world of e-commerce and cyber space, this book can greatly enhance the likelihood of your being successful. Charles Kollo’s experience with entrepreneurship began when, after obtaining a master’s degree in Entrepreneurship from Ecole des Dirigeants et Createurs d’Entreprises in Paris, France, he worked for a business incubator and supervised entrepreneurs. After immigrating to the United States, Kollo founded the successful http://www.shelterous.com in November 2011, which was selected as one of the best projects at the Harvard Extension School of Business Conference 2012. His areas of strength are business development and detecting opportunities in new markets. Additional information about this remarkable book as well as entrepreneurship in general is available at Kollo’s website, http://www.hustlinginamerica.com. 7/13 Jack Quick
I AM AMERICA (AND SO CAN YOU!) by Stephen Colbert: ‘Tis the season for gift books, and if you’re the type who likes to stash away a couple of gifts “just in case” – heading every list of perfect gifts for people you forgot should be this book that fits all sizes, all religions, and all political parties. Except librarians – this book contains pages of stickers, so you may want to remove them lest you find your patrons affixing “The Stephen T. Colbert Award for the Literary Excellence” to random books in your collection.
Colbert is bold, brash, funny as hell and writes utterly without conscience. Chapters address such heady topics as the family, higher education, sports, immigrants, the class war, and the future (with appropriate cautionary note: “Warning! Do Not Read Until the Future!”) “Fun zone” pages abound, including my personal favorite, a science experiment to “disprove evolution” in your own backyard. You need a fish bowl, a pitcher of water, a live hamster, and a hardcover copy of Darwins’ Origin of the Species – and let’s leave it at that. I love this book, and so can you. 11/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
“I LOVE LUCY” A Celebration of All Things Lucy: Inside the World of Television’s First Great Sitcom by Elisabeth Edwards: I have been a Lucy fan since I was a kid. In what I thought was an odd coincidence, my son was born on William Frawley’s birthday, but it turns out this author either got it wrong or there’s a typo. No matter, my daughter was born on Lucy’s birthday. I collect Lucy books and just stumbled across this one, published in 2011. It’s a nice coffee table book that is loaded with pictures and tons of information. It starts off all about the 1950’s and gives lots of information like the average price of a house was $9000-11,000, the average annual salary was $3500-4500, and cars cost $1500-2000. And gas was less than $.25 gallon! If only. There are some great pictures of ads from the 50’s as well. Then the book moves on to the beginnings of the show, how it was cast and filmed, then brief info about each actor and each episode. It’s like a Lucy encyclopedia including awards, Neilsen statistics, recipes, song lyrics and more. But the best part is all the pictures, which includes tons of stills from the episodes and even better, a lot of behind the scenes and family photos. It’s a lovely book and a worthwhile addition to my collection. 6/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
I SEE YOUR DREAM JOB by Sue Frederick: The subtitle of this book A Career Intuitive Shows You How to Discover What You Were Put on Earth to Do, kind of says it all, in a way. Frederick, a career counselor who began using her own intuitive talents and numerology to help her clients, explains the basis of the practice and how it can be used to determine a person’s career path. Traditional astrology—sun symbols—come into play as well and the combination is a bit like a career aptitude test result as seen through your horoscope. It’s an interesting concept and one that actually has basis in multiple faiths across the globe. Numerology itself goes back to philosopher Pythagoras and beyond. I See Your Dream Job is a different sort of career guide, but beyond that, a fascinating bit of food for thought. Readers can figure out their own numerology and read the general information provided by Frederick, as well as examples of other clients and Frederick’s own experiences. The book also includes a workbook section. 09/10 Becky Lejeune
THE ICE MAN: CONFESSIONS OF A MAFIA CONTRACT KILLER by Philip Carlo: For over forty years, Richard Kuklinski, aka The Ice Man, carried out contract killings for six different mob families in New York and New Jersey. To many, he was a normal guy with a wife and three children. To his colleagues, he was a brutal and reliable hitman. He has claimed responsibility for anywhere between thirty and two hundred murders throughout his career. At one point, he even claimed to be partially responsible for the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Phillip Carlo’s chilling account is the result of hundreds of hours of personal interviews. This in-depth look at the life of one of the most notorious guns for hire will have you looking over your shoulder and wondering just how well you know your own neighbors. 09/07 Becky Lejeune
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot: This was the book I treated myself with when I had a few days off and I loved it. Who knew a book about cells could be so fascinating? Skloot first heard about Lacks in a biology class and became somewhat obsessed with the story of this woman and researched her for years. Lacks was a poor black woman who ultimately died of a terribly aggressive cervical cancer when she was just 30 years old, back in 1951. Without her knowledge or permission, doctors at Johns Hopkins, one of the few hospitals that had “Negro” facilities, took cells from her during an exam that were, for the first time, able to be kept alive and reproduce in a laboratory setting. It was a turning point for science – her cells, known as HeLa cells, were vital in developing much of modern medicine, starting with the polio vaccine. But her family continued to live in poverty, never profiting from this extraordinary woman’s gift to science. Or to paraphrase one of her surviving relatives, how come doctors get to use her cells and we can’t afford to go to doctors? This is an absolutely fascinating story and one terrific read. 12/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
I’M LOOKING THROUGH YOU: GROWING UP HAUNTED by Jennifer Finney Boylan: I assumed this book was about ghosts and haunting. Instead, it’s more about dealing with one’s inner ghosts. The Boylans move in to a dark and mysterious old mansion, named the Coffin House after the previous owners. Strange happenings are a common occurrence for them. Jennifer Boylan, born Jimmy, repeatedly sees the spirit of an older woman with starry eyes. Jennifer felt like she was herself a ghost living in a body that was not hers. She finally confesses her feelings to the world years after she’s moved out of the Coffin House. She has a wife and children of her own. She’s long toiled over the gray area between men and woman. Years after her sex change, she returns to her childhood home with a group of “ghostbusters” in the hopes of revealing more about the ghosts she encountered growing up. Is it possible that the ghost she saw as a teen was simply an embodiment of herself in the future? Boylan’s writing and witty comments keeps the reader involved in the reliving of her childhood. Her honesty is genuine and downright painful at times. Admittedly, I didn’t exactly get was I was expecting from this book. In actuality, I think I got more. 05/08 Jennifer Lawrence
THE IMPERFECT ENVIRONMENTALIST: A Practical Guide to Clearing Your Body, Detoxing Your Home, and Saving the Earth (Without Losing Your Mind) by Sara Gilbert: If the author’s name sounds familiar, it should; Sara Gilbert played Roseanne Barr’s middle child during the megahit’s long run. Now she’s all grown up and one of the hosts of The Talk, and an author. This book tries to help the overwhelmed women out there who want to live a cleaner, environmentally safer life, but need a little help to make it easier. This is a book you can sit down and read through, or just pick up and look up whatever issue you are trying to deal with. Each topic is clearly labeled and begins “Cut to the Chase, Hippie: What’s the Least I Need to Know?” Here is where Gilbert really shines, giving quick tips that really make sense, and work. That paragraph is followed up with “Intriguing…I Can Handle a Little More” which goes further in depth, and it ends with “I Need Some Facts to Bore My Friends With,” which really gets down to the nitty gritty. For instance, the page called “Pest Control: Because Sometimes Asking Mice to Leave Nicely Doesn’t Work” offers the quick advice to shop at your local health food store for pesticides and to check the label for ingredients you recognize. That is followed by an explanation of the types of chemicals people tend to turn to and some side effects, along with more details about safer alternatives. Finally, the “facts” section includes even more options and how they work, and some advice on trying to decide which way to go. There are also icons used on every page, with a symbol chart up front that I found myself having to refer to frequently, so probably less effective and not needed. Nonetheless, there is a lot of great advice here and easy ways to incorporate this greener lifestyle into your own. This book is a keeper, and a valuable reference tool. 8/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman: After hearing this author speak, I immediately ran out and got all his books. This one is a memoir of a few years he spent in China teaching doctors English, studying wushu (martial arts) and learning about the culture. Fascinating and funny. I found the video at Blockbuster (thanks Ann) and it was enjoyable seeing Salzman play himself. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser: A memoir set in Italy and San Francisco about a woman who gets over her husband’s leaving her for another woman by having several trysts with a married man. Italy & sex usually works really well for me, but not this time. I hated the way it was written in the second person, especially as it was her own story! If I could have read it as a word document, I could have changed all the “you’s” to “I’s” and the “yours” to “mine” and been much much happier, not to mention less likely to throw the book across the room. Also, this woman is a travel writer and writes about these fabulous little hotels all over Europe yet never names them. Maddening! On the positive side, I did learn some cool bastardized Italian slang. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
JULIA’S CATS: JULIA CHILD’S LIFE IN THE COMPANY OF CATS by Patricia Barey and Therese Burson: I am, like most of the world, a long time fan of Julia Child, but when I was given this book by a friend, I was surprised. In the books I’ve read and the TV shows over the years, not to mention Julie & Julia, I don’t remember ever hearing about her love affair with cats. The painting, Cats with Asparagus” given to Julia by her artist friend Rosemary Mannell, hung in her kitchen and is now part of the Smithsonian exhibit, but still, I never really thought about it. The authors here did their research and found evidence, including lots of pictures, that Julia truly did love cats. They even found a quote where she said if she hadn’t found cooking she might have ended up a veterinarian. She almost always had at least one kitty, and even smuggled a kitten into her no-pets-allowed retirement home. Julia died in her sleep, the sleeping kitty sharing her pillow. As I read it I kept getting the feeling that this may have started out as a children’s book. It still reads, most of it anyway, at a very easy pace, and in fact, I found some of the writing, especially in the earlier part of the book, annoying in its simplicity. Nonetheless I persevered and as a foodie,a long time fan and a fellow cat lover, ultimately found it enjoyable. 8/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
JULIE & JULIA: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell: Put this book on your favorite foodie’s gift list immediately. Julie Powell was feeling a tad depressed, so to cheer herself up, she decided to tackle Julia Child’s masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The goal she set for herself was to prepare every recipe in the book in one year and she blogged about it, way before blogs were much known. That blog was expanded on and turned into this very funny, very brave and heartwarming book. 09/05
KISS MY MATH by Danica McKellar: You know how you sometimes get those strange and illogical recommendations from Amazon.com? Well, math is apparently a mystery to the good folks at Plume Paperbacks who sent me this book aimed toward making teenage girls like, you know, math and stuff. After all, her previous book was MATH DOESN’T SUCK, so maybe she is doing something right. Actually as a Georgia Tech graduate, I am pleased to announce that I found no errors in their calculations and in many ways can see why this book could/should be popular with young teenage girls. With chapters like “Didn’t That Guy Say He Was Going to Call? – Using Variables to Translate Word Problems” and step by step instructions starting “Duh. Okay, we don’t panic…” this would seem to hit its targeted audience quite well. If the shoe fits, etc. and so forth, but having no teenagers in the house, and having long ago solved the mystery of “Amanda, Davana, and Emily all have the same phone (fat chance), and they’ve all started collecting ringtones for them. Amanda has twice as many ringtones as Davana, and Emily has 3 more ringtones than Amanda. If together, they have a total of 103 ringtones, how many ringtones does Davana have?”, I think I’ll go back to my first love – real mysteries. Thanks anyway, Plume Paperbacks, particularly for the chapter “Creative Uses for Bubblegum.”. 06/09 Jack Quick
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: A behind the scenes look at what goes on in restaurants (sometimes more than you wanted to know!) along with recipes and shopping and cooking tips. He is brutally honest about his profession and the people that work in it. A funny and fascinating read for anyone who has ever wondered “how did they do that” while dining out. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
KNIVES AT DAWN: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d’Or Competition by Andrew Friedman: I am a foodie. I love to cook and I love to watch the Food Network and cooking reality shows. When I received this book, I had never heard of this biannual culinary competition – Bocuse d’Or. I started reading and was immediately hooked. The biggest celebrity chefs in the world were center stage – Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Bocuse d’Or USA Vice President Jerome Bocuse, along with their protégés. Then when I was about half way through the book, I was watching Top Chef I was stunned when, as Friedman put it on the Top Chef blog, “America’s favorite cooking competition program, Top Chef, will meet the world’s most prestigious cooking competition, the Bocuse d’Or.” The winner of that night’s episode, Keven Gillespie, won the chance to compete for a spot on the American team being sent to compete in the Bocuse d’Or. It was recently announced that Kevin won his preliminary round and will compete in the semi-finals to earn a spot on the final team America.
Friedman did a great job with the book. He brings this amazing two year process to the Bocuse d’Or competition to life, and it is just fascinating reading. He follows all the people involved, shares emails and conversations and pictures, through the final event. The competition itself sounds rather like Iron Chef on steroids. It’s a five and a half hour grueling competition inside a glass walled stadium in Lyon, France, with thousands of fans from every country screaming and carrying on throughout. This is a book about food, yet it really is an exciting page turner. Put this on the list for any foodie in your life. 12/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown, by Michael Cunningham, Crown Journeys: As Cunningham walks through Provincetown I felt as if I was peering over his shoulder. He introduced me to people, places poetry, pilgrims and porches. I know he has some secrets left, but that makes me want to explore Provincetown on my own. History, tips on where to pee, where to cruise, and other tourist pointers mix effortlessly with Cunningham’s supreme ability to describe and interpret a place he calls home for a portion of the year. You share his respect for his neighbors, friends and the idiosyncrasies of this remote place. I felt I’d taken a mini vacation when I put this book down. P-town is a place I visited as a child and then forgot. Now I plan to go back. But even if you never go, Provincetown is a wonderful spot to follow Cunningham to.
PS: This is a new series for Crown Publishers. From the opening letter in an early copy: “There is no better way to see a place than on foot. In a world where things seem only to get faster, the idea of going somewhere you love and walking around and absorbing the surroundings seems almost decadent. It is in this spirit that Crown Journeys was born.” Future editions feature great writers writing about the places they love. Among the more interesting offerings to come are Laura Esquivel on Mexico, James McPherson on Gettysburg, Tim Cahill on Yellowstone, Roy Blount Jr. on New Orleans, Christopher Buckley on Washington, D.C., Bill McKibben on the Adirondacks and little Myla Goldberg on Prague. ~This review contributed by Ann Nappa
LARRY’S KIDNEY: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant–and Save His Life by Daniel Asa Rose: With a title like that, do you really need to know more? Well, maybe a little. Dan is a nice guy, a bright guy who likes to travel and write. His cousin Larry isn’t quite as nice; in fact, they’d hadn’t spoken in decades before the fated phone call came. Larry was dying. It’s hard to say no to a dying cousin, even if he is annoying. So when Larry proposed that Dan help him travel to China, where Dan had been twenty-something years earlier, and help him, Dan said yes and off they went. Dan left behind a wife and kids, and Larry left behind, well, nothing. But what Larry forgot to mention was that he was not only going to China in search of a kidney, which, by the way, is illegal in China for foreigners, he also was meeting his mail-order wife. Larry’s fiancée was about on par with most false advertisements; she wasn’t petite, she didn’t speak perfect English, etc. So how to find an illegal kidney in China? One idea Dan had was to attend synagogue (yes, they have some Jews in China.) He went, then waited until the service was over, stood up and announced his cousin needed a kidney, which worked better than I certainly would have expected. Despite all the insanity, or probably because of it, this crazy story makes for a funny, interesting read. 07/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
LIFE, DEATH & BIALYS: A Father/Son Baking Story by Dylan Schaffer: When Dylan was a kid, his father, Flip, took off, which happens to lots of kids. Except he left his kids with a mother who was mentally ill. Needless to say, the children suffered through their childhood, but Dylan grew up to be a very successful attorney and writer, despite his earlier hardships – or perhaps because of them.
While he was writing his first novel, Misdemeanor Man, Flip called and asked him to take a baking class in New York with him. Flip was dying of cancer. Dylan had severe misgivings, but it’s hard to say no to your dying father, so he agreed to this venture. Flip wanted to learn to bake bialys, and signed them up for a class in artisanal baking at a New York City culinary school. He arranged for lodging at a dump in the Bowery, and Dylan figured that Flip would be dead before the class even started. But then there would have been no book to write. Instead, he survived, and they spent a week together in NYC, exploring the city, learning to bake and learning to forgive, or at least deal with all that anger and pain. Alternately moving, heartfelt and funny, this is a memoir to be savored; there is no happily-ever-after here, but rather a slice of life, raw as the dough they pummel together. Schaffer’s memoir is most reminiscent of Tuesdays wth Morrie, but ultimately feels much more real. 09/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE LINEUP: The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler: This is great stuff for fans of the mystery/thriller genre. If you’ve ever wondered how Detective Hieronymus Bosch got his name or why Connelly writes tunnels, your questions are answered here. Robert Crais has a conversation with Elvis Cole about their relationship, Lee Child talks about Reacher and his vision for the series, and on and on with writers as diverse and wonderful as Faye Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, David Morrell, Anne Perry, Laura Lippman, Jeffrey Deaver and many more. I loved this book, it is just fascinating reading. This would make a great gift for the mystery reader in your life. Note: These essays were originally published for Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop and given as gifts to customers, so if you are one, and some of them sound familiar, that is why. 12/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
LITTLE CHAPEL ON THE RIVER : A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most by Gwendolyn Bounds: I loved this memoir about the big city girl moving to the country. Bounds is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who lived in an apartment across the street from the World Trade Center. The opening chapter about her experience on September 11 is mesmerizing but not maudlin. After Bounds loses her home, she has a hard time finding a new one and ends up visiting friends in a small town called Garrison in upstate New York. They take her to the local pub, Guinans, that’s been run by the same family seemingly forever. Bounds falls in love with the place and finds a house to rent nearby. The book is an homage to small town life and people and the security they offered her after the ordeal she’d been through. Bounds introduces us to the residents and it becomes easy to see why she ended up buying a home there. It’s poignant but fun, and an altogether wonderful read. 07/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE LITTLE GUIDE TO YOUR WELL-READ LIFE by Steve Leveen: An utterly charming book for any bibliophile. Leveen espouses organizing, making lists and keeping a “bookography” of the books you’ve read, using gentle suggestions and vignettes to persuade. He also legitimizes audio books, a refreshing change from the usual purist literati disdain. A wonderful gift book for yourself or the reader in your life. 06/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
LITTLE PRINCES: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan: In 2004, Conor Grennan quit his job and set off to travel the world. His first stop: Nepal. Here he would spend three months volunteering at the Little Princes orphanage, a haven for children left on their own thanks to civil war. Nine months later, Grennan returned again to Nepal and Little Princes. This time, he discovered that the children weren’t orphans at all, but the victims of child trafficking. Grennan vowed to reunite these children with their families, eventually founding Next Generation Nepal. NGN’s impassioned mission is an ongoing effort brought to light in this amazing story that proves that one person really can make a difference. The issues in Nepal are shocking, but Grennan’s honest account of his time in Nepal and his work with the children of Little Princes is truly inspiring. 1/11 Becky Lejeune
LOST IN SHANGRI-LA: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff: The story of the crash of The Gremlin Special made headlines in 1945 but when journalist Mitchell Zuckoff came across mention of it, it had all but been forgotten. Twenty-four servicemen and women stationed in Hollandia in New Guinea during WWII had planned an afternoon site-seeing tour of the island. It was May 13, 1945—Mother’s Day—and they were in need of some down time and entertainment. They were to fly over a valley that sat in the midst of the island’s mountainous center; they called it Shangri-La. When the plane crashed, only three survived. But the treacherous terrain and dangers of the area made rescue almost impossible. After rejecting plan after plan, the military hatched one that would prove to be an adventure in and of itself. By now it may be cliché to say that Lost in Shangri-La reads like fiction, but it’s the truth. Zuckoff has a style that is engaging and readable and this story is one that honestly seems straight out of fiction already. Zuckoff’s use of first-hand accounts and his careful research are evident as is his effort to tell the story without any agenda other than to keep it alive. 5/12 Becky Lejeune
THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN: A PERSONAL JOURNEY INTO THE DISTURBING WORLD OF JAMES BOND by Simon Winder: On the surface, this looks like an exciting behind-the scenes look at the creation of James Bond and his effect on popular culture, and it is, but it is actually more an exciting behind-the-scenes look at British history in the 20th century. Which is something I would probably not read a book about voluntarily, but danged if it wasn’t in fact way more interesting than the James Bond part! I always kind of had the idea that the UK was a huge world power who easily dominated in WWI and II, and just stepped back to let the US take over because they really wanted more time for gardening and watching the World Cup and stuff. Of course I realize now that I got this idea from reading a lot of trashy novels whose main aim was not exactly historical accuracy, but still I was a bit shocked to discover how really grim the situation was.
They had just barely got through WWI and could hardly afford another war 20 years later, so WWI basically plunged the nation into total economic dysfunction. Add to this the collapse of the Empire, which had been a large part of the nation’s self-image for hundreds of years, and you have the perfect environment for a hero like Bond to capture the public imagination.
Winder tells this story with lots of personal anecdotes and juicy tidbits about the main players at the time, and makes a history book actually interesting. Who knew? 01/07 Jenne Bergstrom
THE MASCOT: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood by Mark Kurzem: The cover of this book tells part of the story; a young boy dressed in a miniature Nazi SS uniform posing with Nazi soldiers. The rest of the story is not so easily understood. Alex Kurzem lives in Australia, his grown son Mark working at Oxford in England. Alex has kept a secret his whole life; he’s not who his family thinks he is, and in fact, he isn’t sure who he is. As he ages, he is troubled more and more by bits of memories coming back, and a desire to find out who he really is. Even his wife doesn’t know that he’s Jewish, and he turns to Mark to help him solve this lifelong mystery; that he is that young boy, a Jew, in the Nazi uniform. How that came to be, and how a five year old child survived the wholesale slaughter of all the Jews in his tiny Latvian town, is the most remarkable story. 09/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Massacre in Mexico by Elena Poniatowska; Octavio Paz, Introduction; Helen R. Lane, Translator: This oral history is a painful, systematic telling of the events that led to what has to be one of the worst civil crimes ever committed in a democratic country. After months of conflict between university students and the authorities, the Mexican police and army fired on a peaceful demonstration of hundreds of students in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, in Tlatelolco, Mexico, just prior to the 1968 Olympics. Because the Olympics were scheduled to begin the following week, the eyes of the world were focused on Mexico, but the government denied any involvement. This chronicle brings together testimony from a variety of witnesses, including parents, students and local residents; headlines and statements from newspapers; official documents from various student organizations; transcripts of tape recordings; army dispatches; and Poniatowska’s thoughtful take on it all. The way the material is presented makes it all the more distressing as it is so matter-of-fact, one story after another, one vignette more heart wrenching than the next, so that cumulative effect is devastating. There are pictures as well, but the text is much more horrifying. Most of the official records are still sealed, but recently some pictures were made available that proves the government’s involvement in this disgraceful piece of Mexican history.
MASTER DETECTIVE, THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF ELLIS PARKER, AMERICA’S REAL LIFE SHERLOCK HOLMES by John Reisinger: With a title like this, the book better be good, and it is. Ellis Parker conducted an independent three-year investigation onto the crime of the century – the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby – and concluded that the wrong man, Bruno Hauptmann, had been arrested, tried and convicted for the crime. Even though Parker had a confession from the man he claimed was the real killer, Hauptmann was executed as scheduled. Was Parker right? Did an innocent man die? You will have to decide for yourself. Don’t let the long title turn you off. This one reads like fiction, well written fiction. 01/07 Jack Quick
MAZEL TOV: Celebrities’ Bar and Bat Mitzvah Memories by Jill Rappaport and Linda Solomon: With a couple of pages devoted to each celebrity, a few embarrassing pictures (Donny Deutsch & Jeremy Piven spring to mind) this book will make a fun bar or bat mitzvah or Chanukah gift. From designer Michael Kors to the “Fonz”, Henry Winkler, Richard Dreyfuss to that hottie, Josh Bernstein, to the “Bark Mitzvah Lady” (don’t ask,) cute pictures and stories abound. The bar mitzvah is a momentous event in the life of a Jew, it is when they are considered an adult and agree to live under Jewish law. There is a religious ceremony, which is often skipped by the guests as they make a beeline for the party. Parties have become lavish affairs (check out MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 if you need a frame of reference) but this book concentrates on a different era. It’s worth the price alone for Gene Shalit’s memories and his picture, sans mustache, or for Kirk Douglas’s memories of doing it twice – he celebrated a second bar mitzvah at age 83. As Donny Deutsch points out, “I don’t think anybody ever remembers their tenth birthday, but the bar mitzvah is a milestone in your childhood.” 11/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
MEMOIRS OF AN OUTLAW by Robert Tanner: Tanner has given us a wonderfully personal account of what the Iraq War was like from the viewpoint of a Marine who was there. From training to deployment to boots on the ground dealing with locals and IED’s, we can feel the heat and sweat and fear and relief. We can also feel the hypervigilence of being on patrol and the tedium of doing nothing in between. More importantly, he describes the bonds of brotherhood that are forged under those circumstances and he does not gloss over the loss of those who will not return. This is a strictly personal account, with no political commentary. I have placed it on my bookshelf next to the collection of Ernie Pyle’s dispatches from World War II called This is Your War. It worthy of its place. 6/13 Geoffrey R. Hamlin
METAMAUS: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus by Art Spiegelman: Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History was the first graphic novel that for me, defined the difference between a comic book and the power that a graphic novel could have and also won the Pulitzer Prize. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began is the continuation, and both were based on the author’s interviews with his father, an Auschwitz survivor, and his experiences before, during and after the war. Originally published 25 years ago, the books are considered classics and were required reading for both of my kids. This new book is a look at everything that went into the first two, along with interviews, original sketches, and much, much more. It is a fascinating read that also comes with a DVD. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the DVD to play in my DVD player or on two different computers, and it actually crashed one of the computers. Reading customer reviews on Amazon, apparently this is a common problem as almost all the reviews reference it. Despite that, I still recommend the book, especially for teachers who use Maus in the classroom, for a real behind the scenes look at Spiegelman’s inspiration and process. 10/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
A MILITARY MISCELLANY by Thomas Ayres: Whatever your feelings for or against the military you are bound to find a few gems in this new volume of fascinating and little-known facts, anecdotes, lists, and stories from America’s rich military legacy. Like, the only President since World War II without military service – Bill Clinton, or how thousands became drug addicted during the civil war and were provided free morphine afterwards by the Federal government. Read it or just it open it to any page – there’s plenty of fascinating lore here that will reel you in for a spell. Like, did you know the Pentagon was designed to handle 50,000 workers and visitors each day? To handle the traffic, the cloverleaf traffic intersection was designed and proved to be so successful it became the standard for the Interstate highway system. 10/06 Jack Quick
MY LAST SUPPER: The Next Course: 50 More Great Chefs and Their Final Meals: Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes by Melanie Dunea: This is a coffee table book and a really good conversation starter. Lots of famous chefs, some not so famous, and at least one who is not even a chef but rather a celebrity cook named Rachael Ray (and she is the first to admit that she is not a chef so please don’t send me hate mail!) They all get a page for a great and often unique photograph, and another to talk about what they’d like for their last meal, where they want to have it, who they’d want to share it with and most interesting to me, who they’d like to prepare it. My non-scientific guess after perusing this book is that at least 85% of these chefs want to cook their own last meal. I think Bobby Flay put it best: “The one thing about my last supper is, I’m cooking it. I like cooking even more than I like eating.” The layout makes it a really great book to just pick up and open to any page. This is actually a sequel to the 2007 My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals / Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes by Melanie Dunea. 1/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
NEVER GOIN’ BACK: Winning the Weight-loss Battle for Good by Al Roker: Al Roker had much publicized bariatric surgery a little more than ten years ago and has successfully kept the weight off. In a 2006 survey published in the Annals of Surgery, doctors found anywhere from 20-35% of patients gained weight back within ten years of gastric bypass surgery, so Al has beaten the odds. This is his very personal story about how he achieved permanent weight loss, the setbacks along the way, and why he is still fighting the battle of the bulge every day. He goes into his overweight childhood, his promise to his dying father that he would lose the excess weight, and glosses over his three marriages. Today Show fans will enjoy a bit of dish about Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and other cast members, and a peek at the some of the production of the show. The book reads like Al talks, and fans will gobble this up. 1/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
NEW AMERICAN HAGGADAH: A New Translation by Nathan Englander, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer: There is a timeline created by Mia Sara Bruch and also commentaries by Nathaniel Deutsch, Jeffrey Goldberg, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and Lemony Snicket. Now that credit has been given where credit is due, let me say that this is one beautiful book. It is very different than most of the Haggadahs I’ve used; it is much larger and it is a hardcover. For those unfamiliar, a Haggadah is the story of Passover and the books used at the Passover Seder are generally read cover to cover. Usually everyone has their own copy so they can follow along, which is fine for the free, classic Maxwell House Haggadah that many, many families have used for over fifty years, or the one my family has used for many years, A Family Haggadah by Shoshana Silberman, another paperback that I gradually collected until I had enough for everyone. That Haggadah is perfect for Reform Jewish families with young children as it is a fairly abbreviated version and doesn’t take that long to go through. But my children are grown now and there were all adults at my Seder table this year, so we decided to give this New American Haggadah a go.
I must confess, we did not read it cover to cover. Instead, we started at the beginning and passed the book around the table, and everyone skimmed through until they found something that appealed to them and then they read those pages. First of all, this is a beautiful book with gorgeous calligraphy and subtle contemporary artwork. Second, there is no transliteration of the Hebrew. If you can’t read Hebrew then you would have to skip those parts. But this book is a thought provoking translation that, at least for my guests, inspired conversation and discussion of many things, from the actual Seder to contemporary politics. This book sparked conversation that made this one of the most memorable Seders I’ve ever been a part of, and that makes it my book of choice for Seders in years to come. Hope it comes out in paperback next year, I could use a few more copies! 4/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
NEW RULES: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer by Bill Maher: If you enjoy his HBO show Real Time, you will enjoy this collection from the “New Rules” segment of each show plus some new “new rules”. Accompanied by photographs and organized alphabetically, Maher skewers everyone from politicians to celebrities to popular culture – mostly popular culture – cell phones, McDonalds, etc. Good stuff. 09/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE NEW NEW RULES: A FUNNY LOOK AT HOW EVERYBODY BUT ME HAS THEIR HEAD UP THEIR ASS by Bill Maher: If you are a fan of the HBO series, Real Time with Bill Maher, and either miss the show now that it is on hiatus for the holidays or want to relive some of the most memorable moments of the past couple of seasons, then this is the book for you – and me. Even though he is misogynistic, he still makes me laugh (and for my friends who don’t understand why I say that, just read this book, he spells it out for you.) For those who aren’t familiar, Maher’s “new rules” are generally political in nature, often insulting to someone or other, and usually pretty funny. This is a light, fast read good for some laughs, especially for liberals. 12/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
NOTE TO SELF: On Keeping A Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Samara O’Shea: A delightful little book. Each chapter includes an entry from Ms. O’Shea’s personal journal as well as amusing anecdotes from historical and contemporary authors, actors, politicians, and others in support of her life long fascination and satisfaction from keeping a daily journal. From Samuel Peppys in the 17th Century to blogging on the Internet, anyone who aspires to write, or just enjoys reading will find a few jewels in here. A few samples: John Wilkes Booth wrote this after fatally wounding Lincoln “I shouted ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’ before I fired. In jumping, broke my leg. I passed all his pickets, rode sixty miles that night with the bone of my leg tearing the flesh at every jump. I can never repent it, although we hated to kill.” Louisa May Alcott on her literary achievements. “My winter’s earnings – School (teaching) $50, Sewing $50, Stories $20 if I am ever paid.” And that greatest advice of all from William Shakespeare, “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Among others included – Tennessee Williams, Anais Nin, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sylvia Plat. Enjoy. 08/08 Jack Quick
OF DICE AND MEN: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt: When I was first married in 1981, my husband worked out at sea for two months at a time, working 12 hour shifts each day. That left a lot of down time, and one of the ways the men passed the time was playing Dungeons & Dragons. It was all men, an international crew from Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and a few Americans. When he came home, he tried to explain this game to me but it was difficult for me to comprehend without actually seeing it played, which I never did. Once he moved up to the engineering department and worked a regular day job at home, he stopped playing. In an ironic twist, my daughter was invited to play at the local comic book store. This group meets each week and she loves it. I still wasn’t quite sure what it was all about but now I am, thanks to this new book. Ewalt has been playing a long time, and manages to explain the game, and more importantly the passion of the players in a way that makes it all clear and understandable, without actually having to see it or play it. In its simplest form, it is a role playing game. There are hundreds of those, mostly played online these days, but D&D, as it is affectionately known, has not made that transition. It is still played face to face, mostly by men but certainly there are plenty of women playing as well. But Ewalt goes further than just explaining the game, he also discusses the history – in its early years it was rumored to be Satanic and there were rumors of young men committing suicide because of the game. It has long been assumed that only geeks played, and frankly that has been my experience, but the game continues to flourish nonetheless. If you’ve heard of it and were curious, or have been playing a long time, this book is a fascinating read either way. 10/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
OH NO SHE DIDN’T by Clinton Kelly: I am a big fan of “What Not to Wear” and “The Chew,” and Clinton Kelly stars on both of those shows. This book is subtitled, “The Top 100 Style Mistakes Women Make and How to Avoid Them” but probably should have also been sub-subtitled, “Clinton decided to skip therapy and just write this book”. Here he vents and spews about all the fashion faux pas that women make that drive him up a wall, and there are a lot of them, from wearing flip flops (guilty!) to socks with clogs (Mario Batali gets a pass but no one else does) to red lipstick (guilty again) and poorly fitting everything from jeans to jackets. This is some nasty shit, but it is funny too, and had me laughing out loud more than once, despite my fashion shortcomings. This is the whole other bitchy side of the sweet, good-natured Clinton we see on TV. 10/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
ON BULLSHIT by Harry G. Frankfurt: A short essay on the etymology and usage of the word “bullshit”. Would have made an entertaining magazine piece, but a book? I think not. And it’s not funny, as the title would seem to imply. If I wrote anymore this review would almost be longer than the book so I’ll just say save your $9.95. Seriously. 07/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
OPENING DAY: THE STORY OF JACKIE ROBINSON’S FIRST SEASON by Jonathan Eig: Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, the first man to break the color barrier in baseball. Eig takes you through his first season, from the time he is called up to the majors, working things out with his teammates, the harassment of opposing team members and fans, all the way to the world series. The Yankees took the title that year, but it took them seven games to beat Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. A must read for baseball fans. 04/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
OUR DUMB WORLD: Atlas of the Planet Earth, 73rd Edition by the Onion: If you are not familiar with the Onion, “America’s Finest News Source” and the originator (I think) of pseudo news, get thee over there immediately. Today’s headlines, as I write this: “Mel Brooks Starts Nonprofit Foundation To Save Word ‘Schmuck'”, “Christian Charity Raising Money To Feed Non-Gay Famine Victims” and most appropriately for this site, “Third-Person Limited Omniscient Narrator Blown Away By Surprise Ending.” But Our Dumb World isn’t about news, per se, it’s an atlas, and if you weren’t sure about this, the cover helpfully steers you towards the Onion’s skew by proclaiming “Now With 30% More Asia” and such highlights as “Fewer Clouds on Maps” and “Long-Standing Border Disputes Resolved.” A sampling from the page on the South, “Where the Mistakes of the Past Come Alive” include this gem on my home, Florida: “The Silent Holocaust: Though on the surface Florida appears to be a tropical paradise, inside this state lurks a dark, gruesome secret: Each year, thousands of Jews are sent here to die.” The Onion doesn’t leave a stereotype unturned, from Malaysia, “An Allah-Inclusive Terrorist Resort” to India, “Please Hold While We Die of Malaria” to French Guiana, “The Colony That France Totally Forgot It Still Had” to Germany, “Genocide-Free Since April 11, 1946.” All the map lovers in your life, and even those who can’t fold a map, will find something to laugh at here. 11/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
OUR HOUSE: THE STORIES OF LEVITTOWN by Pam Conrad: This book literally fell into my hands one day at the library. It’s a children’s story book about Levittown, New York, one of the first developments built on Long Island for those soldiers returning home from World War II and looking for a place to live. Originally selling for less than $8000, all these houses were identical at one time. Over the years people expanded them, renovated them and so forth until Levittown is no longer recognizable as a town with identical houses. I grew up not far from Levittown and one of my mother’s friends lived there and we visited often. My brother bought one of those houses many years ago and lived there for a while. So I was curious about this book. It is a compilation of stories, one from each decade starting in the 1940s and ending in the 1990s, written from the perspective of a child who lived there during that time. It was an interesting book, and I liked learning how the town changed over the years from that child-like perspective. While the book is fiction, there are lots of facts interwoven – I remember the teacher’s strike of the 1970’s, for example. It’s a nostalgic look back for me, and I loved the photograph used on the inside covers, it is remarkable. 09/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN: A Chef’s Memoir of Hot Kitchens, Single Motherhood, and the Family Meal by Gillian Clark: I like food memoirs as a rule, and I’m happy to say that this was no exception. I don’t like those whiny women overcoming adversity memoirs, and while this had touches of whininess and oodles of adversity, the main focus was still in the kitchen and that worked for me. Clark owns one of the most successful restaurants in Washington D.C., and this is her story about how she got there. Divorce, single mothering, and getting fired from more jobs than I wanted to count were just some of the troubles faced and overcome in this ultimately interesting and uplifting memoir. 07/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
PACKING FOR MARS: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach: This book is for everyone who ever dreamed of becoming an astronaut, or even if you didn’t, those who are curious about what really goes on in space. Roach takes a complex subject and makes it easy, breezy reading, with a twist; you learn tons about the space program without even trying. If only schools could use this approach to teaching science, we’d have a lot more interest, not to mention well educated students. But I digress. Roach looks at the history of the space program, where it began, how those chimps were sent into space, and more, then answers questions that were always in the back of my mind but never even fully realized, like how smelly does it get in that space shuttle after a week? Science writing has never been so fun. Check it out and learn enough incredibly interesting yet truly useless facts to impress your friends. 08/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE PERFECT $100,000 HOUSE: A Trip Across America and Back in Pursuit of a Place to Call Home by Karrie Jacobs, illustrated by Gary Panter: Jacobs is an architect critic and editor of Dwell magazine, and she set off to find a good house for not a lot of money. Guess what: she couldn’t do it. Sorry if that ruins the ending, but please – a whole book that missed the point? The point being that if there was a perfect $100,000 house in America, then that would have made an interesting book. The search for it, and not finding it, makes it the literary equivalent of the over-hyped Geraldo fiasco of Al Capone’s vault. And while the illustrations are nice, I would have preferred photographs. Not a perfect book by any means. 08/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
PERFUMES: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez: Who would think a guide book to perfume would be a fun read? I certainly didn’t but then I found myself laughing out loud while reading the “Feminine Fragrance” chapter written by Sanchez, where she pronounced, “”What scent drives men wild?” After years of intense research, we know the definitive answer. It is bacon.”
I’m the sort of person that has instant aversions (usually followed by instant headaches) to a lot of perfumes and colognes. I found one I liked several years ago, and I stick with it. Unfortunately, my perfume of choice isn’t included in this guide. My teenage daughter selected a perfume about a year ago, her first, and that one wasn’t in the guide either, so I can’t call it definitive. It is, however, informative. Their explanations of the various types of perfumes – feminines, masculines, chypres, loud, quiet, etc. – are clear and comprehensible, and there are lists of the best perfumes (Shalimar? Really??) in the back of the book. If you like perfume, and wonder why you like different ones on different days and for different occasions, this book will help explain that, and help you choose. 04/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
PLAYBOY’S SILVERSTEIN AROUND THE WORLD by Shel Silverstein: I’m a mom who knows Shel Silverstein from his wonderful books of poetry for children, including one of my favorite books ever, The Giving Tree. I knew that he also wrote songs, including the megahit made popular by Johnny Cash, A Boy Named Sue, that I remember from when I was a kid. But I didn’t know that he was good friends with Hugh Hefner, and that he started out doing cartoons for Playboy in the 1950’s & 60’s and was a frequent guest at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner sent Silverstein around the world to do travel cartoons for the magazine, visiting such diverse locales as Moscow, Paris, Haight-Ashbury and the White Sox Training Camp. This book is a collection of those works and includes a rare look at the lesser-known (at least to me) side of Shel Silverstein, including his fascination with nudist camps and beautiful women. This book also works on a nostalgic level, looking back at a chaotic time in this country interpreted by Silverstein’s unique art and voice. Interestingly enough, a biography, A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein by Lisa Rogak also came out early last year, but it was slow going and I gave up on it. This collection is a much quicker, easier way to gain insight into this truly gifted artist’s life and soul. 02/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE PSYCHOPATH TEST: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE MADNESS INDUSTRY by Jon Ronson: When journalist Jon Ronson is asked to investigate a strange manuscript being sent around to various academics throughout the world, he stumbles upon a new idea: an investigation of psychology and psychopaths. Driven by a conviction that his own brain chemistry may be worthy of some sort of testing, Ronson begins to wonder about the higher ups in the psychology industry, whether their various and many diagnoses can be trusted, and as specifically pertains to psychopathy in particular, what qualifies a person as truly psychopathic. Along the way, Ronson pokes into early psychopath treatments and explores the idea that some of the world’s top CEOs may indeed fit the profile. Hilarious, insightful, and highly disturbing, The Psychopath Test will probably lead readers to wonder about some of the same issues driving Ronson in his search. Whatever your own conclusions may be in the end, there’s no doubt that Ronson writes highly entertaining nonfiction. 06/11 Becky Lejeune
QUIT DIGGING YOUR GRAVE WITH YOUR KNIFE AND FORK: A 12-Stop Program to End Bad Habits and Begin a Healthy Lifestyle by Mike Huckabee: I don’t usually like these types of books, so I don’t usually read these types of books, much less spend my own money on one, but after seeing Mike Huckabee doing the talk show circuit, I was intrigued enough to overlook his politics and take the plunge. A short book filled with personal success that is truly inspirational, especially to anyone who has had health problems or loves someone who does. 06/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE READING PROMISE: MY FATHER AND THE BOOKS WE SHARED by Alice Ozma: This is a memoir by a young woman that pays homage to her father and the gift he gave her; he read aloud to her each night. That may not sound remarkable to a lot of readers but consider this; they started when she was in fourth grade and didn’t stop until she left for college. Most importantly, they never took a night off. No matter what. They called it the “streak” and they originally set a goal of 100 nights (although this is disputed,) which they then continued to a 1000 nights and then, well, they just continued. Let me also add that Alice’s dad is a children’s librarian, and they read lots of great books, from the Frank L. Baum Oz books to Shakespeare. Sadly, they didn’t keep a log of every title they shared, but there is a fairly extensive list at the end of the book nonetheless. But this is less a book about books, and more a memoir of a young girl coming of age with a single dad. It’s warm, inviting and ideally illustrates one of the true pleasures of reading; escapism. Alice has given us a gift for readers, librarians, and maybe most important of all, families. I am planning on buying this book as a baby gift for a pregnant librarian friend who is due shortly – in fact, I’ll probably give it to her now. 05/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch CBS Sunday Morning interview with Alice Ozma & her father
A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance by Jane Juska: This is a memoir of a retired English teacher from Berkeley, California who decided to take control of her life. Divorced for many years, she was a single mom raising her son alone. He grew up, and she became lonely, so she placed this personal ad in the New York Review of Books:
“Before I turn 67–next March–I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”
She received lots of responses, more than she ever expected, from a variety of men of different age groups and geographic locations. She seemed especially drawn to New York, to the men and the city itself. She met a handful of men, had some heartbreak and some good times, and drew on her experiences to write this book. With various references to classical music and fine literature, this book is alternately intelligent, sweet, and salacious, which works for me! Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
RUNNING AWAY TO HOME: OUR FAMILY’S JOURNEY TO CROATIA IN SEARCH OF WHO WE ARE, WHERE WE CAME FROM, AND WHAT REALLY MATTERS by Jennifer Wilson: Not long before the swift downturn of the economy in 2008, Jennifer Wilson and her husband had decided to take their family on an extended trip to Europe to trace their family heritage. Wilson’s great grandparents immigrated, independent of one another, to the United States from the tiny town of Mrkopalj in Croatia. Having never been to Croatia, and with none of the elder members of the immediate family to question about their background, Mrkopalj became Wilson’s family’s destination. Their experiences and friendships over the course of their temporary relocation are chronicled here in Running Away To Home. Their examination of their lives and their genealogy (and the history of Croatia) make for entertaining reading in the form of an armchair travel experience tied in with a modern day memoir. 11/11 Becky Lejeune
Sea Biscuit: an American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand: Been listening to the audio book all summer (I have a real short commute!) and it is just a wonderful, fascinating story. My 9 year old daughter loved it too! Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE SEARCH: HOW GOOGLE AND ITS RIVALS REWROTE THE RULES OF BUSINESS AND TRANSFORMED OUR CULTURE by John Battelle: If you were one of the smart investors who managed to purchase shares of Google during their initial public offering in 2004 at $85 a share, then you probably know that Google topped out at over $700 a share this year, and has been hovering just under that mark for several weeks now, making Google one of the richest and most successful companies in the world. Battelle takes a look back at the company, at their early beginnings; a business biography of sorts. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were roommates at Stanford and created their incredibly powerful search engine, but didn’t realize the implications – at first. Battelle is the founder of The Industry Standard and original editor of Wired magazine, and frankly, a bit full of himself. But to give the devil his due, he was around damn near at the beginning of this thing, and recognized what a beast the boys were unleashing: a “database of our intentions.” This book was originally published in 2005, so many of the theories espoused by Battelle have come to pass; sales of information based on our searches, ads personally directed at each individual search, not to mention all the other Google services that are used, saved, and searchable by the government. In case you hadn’t noticed, Big Brother has arrived, and he’s wearing a Google sweatshirt. 12/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
A SECRET GIFT: How One Man’s Kindness–and a Trove of Letters–Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression by Ted Gup : I have a friend who has made a habit of reading a Christmas themed book each year around the holidays, and this year I decided to adopt his habit. While I don’t celebrate Christmas for religious reasons, I do enjoy the holiday tremendously, and this seemed like a really good way to get into the spirit. And it was.
Ted Gup’s 80 year old mother was cleaning out her attic and made him a gift of an old suitcase filled with family mementoes. He was delighted, as she knew he would be, but also intrigued. For mixed in with the baby books and wedding paraphernalia was a large manila envelope, crammed full with letters addressed to a Mr. B. Virdot. There was also a newspaper clipping from 1933, with a personal ad. The ad asked people to send a letter to this Mr. Virdot, and tell him why they needed a little financial aid to make their Christmas merry this year, in the midst of the Depression. He offered to keep it anonymous, and to send out $10 to 50-75 deserving families. He got so many responses, he ended up sending out $5 to 150 families instead.
While $5 doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, it would be worth about $80-$100 today. It wasn’t go to change anyone’s circumstances, but it would allow a struggling family to have a nice Christmas dinner and perhaps buy a child a toy. But investigative reporter Gup never heard of Mr. B. Virdot, and soon learned it was pseudonym used by his grandfather, Sam Stone. Gup started researching, and this book is the result of his findings – a family history that he never knew about, and a Christmas gift that changed lives. You can read more about this amazing story online and watch a CBS Sunday Morning interview with the author. 12/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
SELF PROMOTION FOR AUTHORS by Larry Moniz: Subtitled A Step by Step Guide to a Professional Style Publicity Campaign, this short e-book (117 pages) contains a lot of good information, which can be helpful to those inexperienced with media and marketing. While readily admitting that “you get what you pay for” and a do-it-yourself campaign is unlikely to produce the results of a $250,000 promotion plan, Moniz also recognizes the reality that few authors have access to the funds for such a campaign. With that caveat and the fact that it’s an easy one-sitting read, I would recommend this to any beginning author or author wannabe as a good starting point in building your “brand”, and getting those pesky books to move off the shelves at a more gratifying rate. If you learn nothing else from the book, take note that the “brand” is you, not the book. If you can achieve name recognition, book sales will follow. Just ask J. K. Rowling. 07/07 Jack Quick
SERIOUSLY…I’M KIDDING by Ellen DeGeneres: This book was horrible! No seriously… I’m just kidding. It wasn’t really horrible. Rather, it was enlightening and funny. DeGeneres is one of the few people who can make you laugh through a blow-by-blow of her preparation for a colonoscopy. After the blow-by-blow she tells you the importance of regular colonoscopies. Not only should you get one, but you should keep getting them. Forever. Or until you stop eating. Or breathing. Whichever comes first. Her book is straight talk for anyone who can’t handle the truth unless it comes on a spoonful of laughter. Not to worry, she touches on subjects other than colonoscopies. She’ll keep you laughing while subliminally planting thoughts in your head about life, love, friends, family, and happiness and about not eating almonds in a casino. It would be best not to read it in a place where laughter would confirm your lunacy. 10/11 Kimberly Bower
SEX & THE CITY: The Movie by Amy Sohn: If you loved the show, and have seen the movie at least once, then this is the book for you. Not much reading required, it’s a collection of photographs from the movie, including many pictures of scenes that were cut. The thing to do, according to Sarah Jessica Parker, who was touting it on The View last week, is to find the outfits that didn’t make it into the film. Enjoy the backstage secrets like the belt that was worn so frequently with so many outfits that they named it, the behind-the-scenes tidbits from all the stars and the producer, the insiders tour of NYC, and of course, the fashion. A fun book and a great gift for any Sex & the City fan. 06/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet, translated by Adriana Hunter: In a word, boring. It reads like a laundry list of sexual events, one more tedious than the next. In all fairness, I read the first 150 pages or so and skimmed the rest. This is the least erotic book I’ve read on sex since, well, Satisfaction, the Kim Cattrall sensation. Even though it’s a memoir I still expect some sort of plot, something to happen to someone somewhere along the line that I will actually care about. There are no characters other than a list of names along with various nameless bodies with nothing to connect them to, Catherine and her boyfriend, and we never get to know anything about either of them except that she likes group sex and gets tired of being the one to initiate it. Her language, which is translated of course, leaves me cold. I think the big deal about this book is that it is written by a woman, which makes it the female sexual equivalent of say, the memoir by Wilt (“I slept with 20,000 women”) Chamberlain. Utterly without merit. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
SH*T MY DAD SAYS by Justin Halpern: To my knowledge, this book is the first book based on tweets – a Twitter micro-blog. Julie & Julia was the first blog book, and it did pretty well, movie and all. Sh*t is being made into a television show with the more family friendly title, “$#*! My Dad Says” (pronounced “bleep” – originally to be called “Stuff My Dad Says”) starring William Shatner. But read the book first so you get the full flavor of the language; after all, a quote should be quoted. The thing is that often the profanities are shocking or jarring, but they make this book sing. Some of my favorites:
On Asking to Have the Candy Passed to Me During Schindler’s List: “What do you want-the candy? They’re throwing people in the fucking gas chamber, and you want a Skittles?”
On Managing One’s Bank Account: “Don’t get mad at the overdraft charge…No, no-see, there’s your problem. You think of it as a penalty for taking out money you don’t have, but instead, it might help you to think of it a a reminder that you’re a dumb shit.”
On Driving Through West Hollywood, Where I Lived My First Year in L.A.: “There seem to be a lot of gay people there…Oh please, as if that’s what I meant by that. Trust me, none of them would ever want to fuck you anyway. They’re gay, not blind.”
But lest you get the idea that this book is just a series of 140 character zingers, it is not. Halpern provides the backstory on many of the posts, and puts things into perspective. It’s still a very short, very funny book. Follow Halpern on Twitter to keep laughing. 08/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
Sixpence House by Paul Collins: Charming memoir about a year spent in Wales, in a small town called Hay-on-Wye. Hay is a rather unique place on this earth; the population is approximately 1500, yet there are 40 bookstores. And even more remarkable, at least to me, only one of those bookshops carries new books, the rest are antiquarian, including one that is housed in a castle and boasts the largest collection of antiquarian American literature in the world. The author moved his family to Hay to finish writing his first book, Banvard’s Folly, and with the intention of buying a home there. They put bids in on a few homes, but the inspections were invariably disheartening – it seems that homes that are more than a century old tend to have the sort of imperfections that need buckets of money to fix. So the Collins’ moved back to the States, and this lovely book was born. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE SKY’S THE LIMIT: Passion and Property in Manhattan by Steven Gaines: True confession time: when I was 16 years old, I had rhinoplasty, popularly known as a nose job. In the 1970’s, nose jobs were all the rage in my affluent suburb and I knew many girls who had them. They would visit a surgeon’s office and look through a book of “noses” to select the one they wanted for their face. The only problem was that most of these girls ended up with the ubiquitous “ski slope” nose; cute, small, with an upward tilt at the tip. Nose jobs required a hospital stay of a few days, general anesthesia was the rule, and the girls were sent home with a hard rubber protective device taped to their face over their bandage-packed noses. Except for one doctor; a radical who didn’t believe in general anesthesia or cute, one-size-fits-all noses selected from a book. His name was Dr. Howard Diamond.
Dr. Diamond had his own unique ideas about rhinoplasty. His patients had their faces numbed, certainly, but they were awake during the procedure, awake enough to hear the good doctor instruct a visiting physician from England to “hit it harder” and for a patient’s foot to lash out and upset an instrument tray. He had the arrogance of a surgeon sure of his superiority; during the pre-surgical visit, he would examine the nose in question and dictate exactly what he was going to do. In my case, he informed me that he would remove the bump and that would make my nose appear shorter without requiring anything further of him. He had a beautiful office on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, with a private hospital on the premises. And I was sent home with a small bandage, no packing, no hard rubber protection, just a few stitches. My nose suits my face and is unique to me, and every nose I knew he did was unique to its owner – and not a “ski slope” in the bunch.
Why am I spilling my guts about this in a book review? Because on page 6 of The Sky’s the Limit, I read this:
“One of Fifth Avenue’s largest maisonettes, a fifteen-room triplex at 817 Fifth with forty feet of frontage facing the park, was for many years the home and office of Dr. Howard Diamond, the grand master of rhinoplasty in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Thousands of princesses from all five boroughs and New Jersey made the pilgrimage to Dr. Diamond’s subterranean operating rooms to sleep under anesthesia for a few hours and awaken with the doctor’s famously all-purpose ski-slope nose with his distinctive planed bridge.”
I am a Diamond Princess. And being such, I knew this paragraph to be incorrect. This book is a work of nonfiction so therefore it must contain only fact. But I know it doesn’t, so it calls into question the veracity of the rest of the book. With that in the back of my mind, I continued reading and got to this section on page 48 regarding the popularity of co-ops in NY:
“Because buying stock in a private company is a private transaction, there is no public listing of sales or prices, so all figures quoted in the industry – and in this book – are the word-of-mouth figures that filter through the porous real estate community and wind up in brokers’ computers, sometimes unsubstantiated.”
There you have it; a nonfiction book of gossip and innuendo. Certainly lots of the information contained in this book is substantiated, there is a lengthy list of sources at the end. But not all of it, and that is unacceptable.
In the interest of fairness, I must say that I read a review copy, not a finished book. I wrote the publisher of my concerns and asked where Mr. Gaines got his information from. I never did receive an answer about his source, but was informed that the book had gone to print with the paragraph intact. Therefore, while I can say it is an interesting book about real estate in NY with lots of good gossip about celebrities and their trials and tribulations in buying and selling their homes there, I can’t say any more than that. I don’t know what is true and what is not, and that really bothers me. 06/05 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
SNORKELING THE FLORIDA KEYS by Brad Bertelli: There are a lot of travel books on Florida, and several just on snorkeling but I really like this one. Bertelli includes 40 of the best places to snorkel in this part of the state, but includes a lot more than that. Each location has a story as well, making this book way more than just a travel book but rather an enjoyable read about pirates, sunken treasure, and marine life. Each section also includes a “fun fact”, another interesting tidbit about that particular place. Bertelli gives the history of each location, gives credit to the people who were instrumental in preserving these beautiful waters and discusses exactly what snorkelers should be looking for and how to stay safe at each spot. Locations include popular ones like Bahia Honda State Park and John D. Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, but also lesser know locales like Coffins Patch Reef, Indian Key and a shipwreck of the City of Washington. My only complaint is that I wish there were color photographs included with each location rather than the black and white drawings & photos that populate the book. There is a small section of color photographs included and they are beautiful, and it is expensive to include more, but it would have perfected this book. Anyone with a desire to snorkel the Florida Keys should find this book instrumental in planning a trip or great fodder for just dreaming about it. 6/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
A SPORTSCASTER’S GUIDE TO WATCHING FOOTBALL by Mark Oristano: Whether you are a casual fan like my wife, or live for fall weekends as I do, you will enjoy this concise guide to American Football. Focusing primarily on the pro game, the principles are applicable at all levels, with some relatively minor rules variations. Oristano even includes neat things you can say like “The first time you recognize zone blocking, say softly to yourself but loud enough for others in the room to hear – Nice Zone Blocking Scheme. They will be impressed with your knowledge level and if they ask you to elaborate just respond, “Keep watching. You will pick it up.” He explains Zebras – the men in the striped shirts who attempt to maintain order, the laundry – flags thrown by zebras to indicate infractions, the two minute drill and remember “they pay them to play through pain.” Quite enjoyable. 01/10 Jack Quick
STRETCH: THE UNLIKELY MAKING OF A YOGA DUDE by Neal Pollack: People come to yoga for different reasons. Literary comic Neal Pollack’s reason was that a national reviewer referred to him as doughy. In an attempt to help, his wife dragged him to a local chain gym for beginner yoga classes. Soon, Pollack found himself wanting more. In an almost obsessive attempt to deepen his practice, Pollack immerses himself in yoga culture, researching and trying various styles at numerous studios throughout the country. And through it all, he maintains his hilarious sense of humor, relating to readers the ridiculous, the strange, and the fascinating aspects of yoga and the people he meets along the way. From his early days of awkward bends and accidental farts through to his becoming a teacher himself, Pollack takes readers along on his laugh out loud journey through yoga. Whether you have an interest in yoga or not, Pollack’s engaging style makes this one memoir that I can get behind. Pollack, for the most part, doesn’t take himself too seriously and though his goal is definitely to introduce readers to this new world that he’s become enamored with, he has no problem expressing his opinions, to the amusement of readers. 09/10 Becky Lejeune
SUCK ON THIS YEAR: LYFAO @ 140 Characters or Less by Denis Leary: I like Denis Leary and I like his humor, so I hunkered down with his new book and had a good laugh. For about 6 minutes. Then I turned the last page and thought, is that all there is? Then I saw Leary on TV making the talk show rounds and finally got it. He says if you want to read a book, try Franzen or Tolstoy; his book is more of a “comedy pamphlet” and he says you can read it, cover to cover, in just 12 minutes (see the book trailer). And it’s funny stuff – it’s comprised of his tweets on some of the more ridiculous popular culture highlights of the past year . If you want to start your new year laughing, this is the book for you. Added bonus: a portion of the proceeds from sales go to the Leary Firefighters Foundation. 1/11 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
SUZE ORMAN’S 2009 ACTION PLAN by Suze Orman: I am stuck so deep in the middle class that I can barely see my way out of it, and the way things are right now I’m rather content to stay where I am. Either way, Orman always sounds like she’s speaking directly to me, and I like that. This book is no different. I bought The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke for my son as he graduated college, in hopes that he might actually read it and learn something from her, but I don’t know that he ever did. Either way, Orman is smart, and she forces the reader to take a long, hard look at what they are doing with their money and why. She addresses your credit rating, how to improve it and why you should, along with the mundane realities of life – retirement, paying for college (my daughter is a junior in high school!), real estate, and so forth. She’s cautiously optimistic, helps you prioritize obligations and explains why in clear, easy to understand language, without a lot of the financial jargon you find in other books in this genre. She’s very, very good at what she does. If you can’t afford to buy the book, do yourself a favor and borrow it from your local library. 01/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
TALKING TO SIRI: Learning the Language of Apple’s Intelligent Assistant by Erica Sadun: I finally gave up my Blackberry and got my first iPhone in April, the 4S with the ebullient Siri. But she just frustrated me and my husband too – and he’s a computer guru! He even turned her off completely. This little book was extremely helpful to both of us. I learned how to make phone calls, have Siri read my messages, and add items to my lists. She still isn’t perfect, but there is a lot less frustration for sure. My husband is playing nicely with Siri these days too. If you want to learn how to use Siri, this is the book for you, especially considering the phone doesn’t come with a book. 11/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE TENDER BAR by J.R. Moehringer: This book is styled as a memoir, but it is really more of an expression of gratitude to all of the individuals and institutions that helped Mr. Moehringer grow from a small boy into a man who knows how to write about what he is seeing and what he is feeling.
The premise of the book is that a neighborhood bar became not only the boy’s missing father, but his big brother, his buddy, his schoolhouse and his training facility. But in justifying the premise, Moehringer makes it clear to the reader, if not to himself, that he was both exposed to some very helpful people and bright enough be able to understand their gifts.
Attempting a book about drinking and a drinking establishment is frought with peril. Generally, such books err either on the side of over-romanticizing the gin mill or becoming preachy about the evils of alcohol. Books of the first sort tend to be favored by people who think themselves equally serious drinkers and readers. In addition to having read a lot of books over the years, I have been in a whole lot of barrooms. In almost everyone, the “regulars” would tell me that their establishment was “just like Cheers.” They weren’t. Books of the second sort tend to be produced by the newly sober, but badly spoiled personalities who are flush with their initial success. These books have no more to do with real sobriety than the romanticized bars had to do with the utopian Cheers. Moehringer avoids both those traps and produces to my way of thinking, a unique and readable product.
Follow him as he grows, through his father’s leaving, his fight to get into Yale and his work for the New York Times. It is an interesting story. I would recommend this book as a nice change of pace for the reader and good food for thought about our own lives and those who have contributed to them. 10/05 ~This review contributed by Geoffrey R. Hamlin.
TEXTS FROM LAST NIGHT: All the Texts No One Remembers Sending by Lauren Leto & Ben Bator: First thing, Lauren Leto & Ben Bator are not authors, they are collectors. Their collection is available online at their website, Texts From Last Night. As to what they are collecting, well, here’s my understanding of it. People go out and party, get drunk or stoned or whatever, and send embarrassing/funny text messages to their friends and/or significant others. Then someone – either the sender or the receiver – posts these little gems on the website, where they are read by millions of eager fans, and Leto & Bator’s favorites end up in this little book.
Credit this book’s publication to the Julie & Julia phenomenon. Take a successful blog/website, turn it into a book, hope for a movie and pray for millions of dollars to roll in. I liked the Julie & Julia book, and loved the movie. This book? Not so much. On the other hand, my seventeen year old daughter is an avid fan of the website, and so are some of my college age co-workers. Target audience, I suppose, are Millennials. I am a Boomer, and don’t find chapters on Farts, Cheaters, Drinks or most of it especially funny. Why the publisher felt the need to turn this into a book is beyond me. Their target audience is way happier reading them online or on their iPhones, so I’m not really sure who is going to buy this book. Maybe as a gag gift? This book made me feel like a cranky old fart. 01/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THINGS COOKS LOVE: Implements, Ingredients, Recipes by Marie Simmons (Sur La Table): I’ve never been to Sur La Table, a premier cooking store, and this book should have convinced me it was time to check it out. It didn’t. It’s not that I don’t love cooking, or cooking stores, or this book – because I did. I’m just over buying expensive kitchen utensils that have limited use. That said, this is a fun book – all sorts of interesting things that you don’t see everyday, and tips on how to use them and why you should. I enjoy all sorts of food books – memoirs, cookbooks, and so forth, and this is just a little different twist on the genre. Writing about gadgets and pots and pans isn’t as pedestrian as it may sound – especially when they are as interesting as a pommes Anna pan to a mattone. Some criticism has been leveled at this book, calling it no more than a glorified Sur La Table catalog – and an expensive one at that at $35 – but it really is much more than that. Yes, the pictures are catalog worthy, and you can go to their website and purchase a set called “things cooks love” for the discounted price of $650. Or you can just read the book and learn how to use some of the things you inherited from your grandmother and weren’t quite sure what to do with, or learn what really essential items every kitchen should have and what to look for in those items. The book is sectioned by country and type of food, turning it into a culinary journey of sorts. And be sure to try some of the recipes, as simple and delicious as Roasted Garlic Mashed Russets with Olive Oil, or the Sea Bass Filets with Roasted Red Pepper and Almond Sauce. 7/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THIRTEEN AND A DAY: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America by Mark Oppenheimer: My daughter will become a Bat Mitzvah in a few weeks so it seemed serendipitous that this book should come out now. The basic premise of the book seemed to be a sociological study of the ritual of Bar/Bat Mitzvah – literally, “son/daughter of the commandments” AKA the coming of age at 13 in Judaism. The author visited synagogues from New York, Florida, Texas, Alaska etc. and the various styles of celebration were examined. What surprised me, however, was how judgmental the author was in his discussions – especially since he confesses to be a non-practicing Jew who never celebrated his own Bar Mitzvah. He didn’t approve of the excess of everything in New York City or Westchester, but liked the religious simplicity of the Chasidim in Alaska. I would have liked to see a broader study and a less judgmental one, but it was interesting. 07/05
THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save us All by Marilyn Johnson: This Book is Overdue is an unscientific study à la Studs Terkel of a profession that is often taken for granted and usually overlooked. Johnson has written an homage to librarians everywhere. All sorts of librarians, from “Frederick Kilgour, the first to link libraries’ computer catalogs to one another back in the late sixties” to George Christian & Janet Nocek, the Connecticut librarians who sued the federal government as John Doe over the Patriot Act, to the virtual librarians of Second Life and several of the blogging librarians too. Johnson celebrates these librarians as heroes of the information age in an always interesting and often humorous way. It’s warm, witty, and wise, just like many of the librarians portrayed within and a terrific read. NOTE: I got to spend some time with Marilyn at the Florida Library Association 2010 annual conference. Read all about it on the BookBitchBlog. 04/10 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi: Beautiful, middle-age, love at first sight story set in beautiful, old, love at first sight Venice. Too good to be true, yet it’s not a novel – it’s a memoir. A sort of Bella Tuscany meets An Italian Affair…the author takes us to live with her in Venice. We get to go shopping in the marketplace, dine at local trattorias, sip wine on the beach at sunset, and we’re included in her wedding plans. A few recipes are included from the writer/chef/bride. Delicious reading indeed! Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THREE LITTLE WORDS by Ashley Rhodes-Courter: Ashley Rhodes survived 9 years and a total of 19 foster parents. “Three Little Words” describes the many cases of abuse Ashley experienced in the near decade that she spent in the foster care system. Ashley and her brother, Luke, were forced to live in foster homes overrun with children and suffered unspeakable abuse. The odds were against her in a system that still has problems. Yet she not only survived, she flourished. Throughout her experience in the foster system she attempted to reach out to authorities about the atrocities that she and her foster siblings faced. Each time she was ignored; she was simply an unruly child seeking attention. After she was adopted, Ashley went on to become an advocate for the foster care system and her voice was finally heard. One of the most powerful parts of the book is the three little words alluded to in the title. They aren’t “I Love You” as many would expect, but “I guess so” which is what Rhodes said to a judge on the day of her adoption. 05/08 Jennifer Lawrence
THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS by David Morrell and Hank Wagner: Interesting to me that our library has this book shelved as “non-fiction”. I suppose as a literary analysis rather than a story collection that is correct. Anyway, Morrell whose First Blood was the basis for the Rambo films, and Wagner who is a regular contributor to Mystery Scene magazine have selected 100 examples of supposedly trendsetting thrillers, each introduced by a contemporary writer of the genre. The entire work ebbs and flows and tends to wander around, but you will likely find a few new titles to add to your reading list. At least, I did. 10/10 Jack Quick
THX THX THX: THANK GOODNESS FOR EVERYTHING by Leah Dieterich: This is a compilation of thank you notes written from a thankful and hopeful heart. These are not ordinary thank you notes. A few are addressed to people but the majority of them are directed at emotions, experiences, locations and relationships. Thx Thx Thx is easy to browse; sometimes thought-provoking and other times funny. Although it would be an obvious choice for a coffee table book at home a broader use would be to place ThxThxThx on the tables in waiting rooms at hospitals or in doctor’s offices. 10/11 Kimberly Bower
TOMATOLAND: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook: If you’ve ever wondered why those supermarket tomatoes are beautiful but completely tasteless, this book has all the answers for you. This is a very disturbing, well researched story that started out life as a James Beard award-winning article, “The Price of Tomatoes.” This is also a history of the tomato, where it was first grown, how it came to Italy and America, but so much more than that. Estabrook discovered that tomato workers are virtually slaves, in fact he emphatically states that slavery is alive and well in the state of Florida. He discusses the Florida Tomato Committee, the folks that ensure that all tomatoes that leave the state are hard, spherical, green without a hint of red, and can withstand 10 foot drops off the back of a truck onto the pavement without cracking or any other damage. Scary. toxic chemicals are necessary to grow “perfect” (my word) tomatoes in Florida, which has the wrong climate for optimum growth but the best climate for fungus, not to mention a plethora of bugs and diseases, all trying their best to wipe out the crops. Then more chemicals are sprayed onto the green tomatoes when they reach their warehouse destinations, chemically turning them red and beautiful. But beauty is only skin deep; the vitamins and nutrients normally found in tomatoes are severely lacking in these, as well as the delicious tomato flavor. I’m sorry to say that my library is a stone’s throw from the Thomas Family Farm, which is just one of the farms named in this book for their outrageous practices in both growing food for human consumption and the violation of basic human rights of their employees. I have driven by that farm more times that I care to think about and never gave a thought to what may be going on there. Now that I know I don’t know what I can do about it, but at least I can voice my disgust here, thank my farm cooperative, urge everyone to buy local produce, and read this book. 2/12 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
TOO SOON TO SAY GOODBYE by Art Buchwald: Art Buchwald’s kidneys were failing. He needed dialysis to get his leg amputated, but then decided no more dialysis. He was in complete renal failure, checked himself into hospice and began the process of spending his last few weeks dying. Except he didn’t. At least not for several months. He became the “Man Who Would Not Die” and got to say goodbye to everybody who meant anything to him – some of them more than once. He plans his funeral, his eulogy, the food being served; discusses heaven, living wills, and all the other things no one discusses about death. This is pure Buchwald, dying on his own terms and determined to make us laugh as he does it – a truly fitting goodbye from an American icon. 02/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
TRAFFIC: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt: Am unlikely topic but what an amazing book. As Vanderbilt points out, people spend more time in their car than ever, and he examines why we do what we do in our cars. He claims to have gotten his inspiration while driving on the Jersey Turnpike, but really applies everywhere. So are you an “early merger” or “late merger”? Do you merge way before you know the lane will end, when you first see the warning signs? Or do you wait until you have no choice and the lane ends? And if so, does that make you a selfish jerk who makes it harder for everyone else? Or are the people who merge early really the ones gumming up the works. But there is so much more covered here, from why new cars get into more accidents than old ones, why traffic signs don’t work, the problem with cell phones and of course, road rage. This is well researched and fascinating reading in Vanderbilt’s very capable hands. 8/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE TRIUMPH OF THE THRILLER: HOW COPS, CROOKS, AND CANNIBALS CAPTURED POPULAR FICTION by Patrick Anderson: Anderson is the thriller reviewer for the Washington Post, and one of my favorite reviewers. Not because I always agree with him; I don’t. But his reviews are always to the point, he never seems to be trying to impress his readers with his own smarts, and even when he doesn’t like a book, he’s never nasty (although there may some authors who disagree.) I expected a lot from this book and he delivered. Anderson traces the evolution of the thriller from its earliest beginnings to what has become the modern day thriller. I think he may have overstepped the bounds of what truly differentiates a thriller from other crime fiction, but it’s a small quibble. There are tons of recommendations, including the authors Anderson feels are the best out there today: Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Thomas Harris, and George Pelecanos. I don’t know that I could come up with a top four, and if they would be the same, but I admire the man for trying, and for explaining the genre as fully as he does. 04/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
TWITTER WIT: Brilliance in 140 Characters or Less by Nick Douglas: If you were wondering what Twitter was all about, curious about the hottest micro-blogging trend, or just wanted to know what everyone was Tweeting about, then this is the quick read for you. Highlights of the earliest Twitter days are recorded here for posterity, including such gems as these: from willdurst, “I think the proof there is intelligent life on other planets is the fact they’ve chosen not to contact us;” from adamisacson, “Buying groceries online is convenient but deadly boring. As a result, most things in our fridge start with ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C;'” from munki, “Don’t say ‘y’all’ when what you mean is ‘youse guys,'” and from kevinmarks, “You know, most of the Harry Potter book plots would be over in 3 chapters if they had a decent search engine.” Enjoy, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookbitch. 10/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch.
THE UNITED STATES OF ARUGULA: HOW WE BECAME A GOURMET NATION by David Kamp: It’s happened gradually so you may not have noticed, but these days the United States has become a nation of foodies. Jack-in-the-Box is serving foccacia sandwiches. The supermarket has ten kinds of olive oil. The Boar’s Head Saloon in my little tiny hometown actually has Hefeweisen beer. On draft!
It’s pretty amazing that even in the 1950s, newspaper articles would put the word “pasta” in italics because it was such a foreign word, and now chefs like Mario Batali are cooking sweetbreads on national television and becoming rich and famous from it.
This is the story of how that happened, and ooh, it is dishy! Kind of like Bill Bryson’s A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING, it gives the historical facts about its subject, but the real fun is in the personalities behind the story. Like how Craig Claiborne, the original New York Times food critic, had some very strange issues with his parents. Or how the staff of Chez Panisse would have rather wild parties after the restaurant closed. Even those old Time-Life international cookbooks have a somewhat scandalous backstory.
It’s really a page-turner, and a great read for anyone even remotely interested in food and cooking. The only thing missing is the recipes. 01/07 Jenne Bergstrom
THE VISUAL MISCELLANEUM: A Colorful Guide to the World’s Most Consequential Trivia by David McCandless: This book is a unique and artful way of looking at statistics of popular culture, going way beyond pie charts and bar graphs. The book is very colorful and interesting, but I have to question the validity of a lot of the information when Wikipedia is listed as the only source for many of the statistics given. The book also has some technical issues; for instance, there is a comparison of “annual methane emissions in equivalent C02” that is titled, “Farty Animals.” Cute, right? There are simple blue pictures of a woman, a pig, a cow and so forth, with a bright yellow cloud of varying sizes behind each, but there are no numbers, just the diagrams. So I learned that cows fart more than women – but was there supposed to be more info than that? Something about C02 perhaps? On the next page is an illustration of the United States with the title, “How Rich? Yearly earnings of world’s wealthiest nations as combined earnings of US States.” The picture shows the western majority of the US in purple, the middle in yellow, the southeast in orange and the northeast in blue, but again, there are no numbers and no references. Not sure what I am supposed to be learning from this diagram. Then there is “The Poison” page, which has diagrams of various cocktails that illustrate the proportions of the ingredients. Very cute, interesting and useful in fact. The next page has the same layout featuring hangover remedies. But then it turns to salad dressings, which could also be good except they left out the names of the various dressings, rendering the information useless. All in all, a great idea that needs a little more research using more authoritative sources than Wikipedia (a good starting point for sure, but not a good ending point) and a lot more proofreading. 11/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch NOTE: Received this from the publisher, HarperPerennial – I noticed in your review some of the misprinted diagrams that you pointed out, and I did just want to let you know that those were due to an unfortunate printer error which we’re working to correct. (Alas, it was unable to be fixed upon the first printing.) However, David McCandless will be posting those corrected diagrams on his website http://www.informationisbeautiful.net, along with some bonus material as a thanks to his readers and to make up for the misprinted diagrams.
WAITER RANT: Thanks for the Tip–Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica (AKA The Waiter): Do you know anyone who works in the food industry? Did you love No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain? If you answered yes to either of those questions, put this book on your must read list immediately. What Bourdain did for the kitchen, i.e. the “back of the house”, Dublanica does for the front of the house. Learn why professional waiters won’t spit in your food – they prefer much more creative and insidious ways of responding to your complaints. You will learn why it’s okay to eat fish that’s been frozen, if done properly; why you should avoid dining out on holidays like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day; and why you cannot offer lavish praise in lieu of a monetary reward for your waiter. All this and more from a man who was the head waiter at a high end Manhattan restaurant and blogged himself into a book deal. 11/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson: Travel narrative at it’s funniest. This book leaves one yearning for the great outdoors despite the risks and the hardships. I listened to it on tape read by the author, which gives a real feeling of intimacy. If you’ve never been hiking, are passionate about it or anything in between, Bryson brings it all home. Just started listening to In a Sunburned Country, in which Bryson explores Australia.
THE WAR STATE: The Cold War Origins Of The Military-Industrial Complex And The Power Elite, 1945-1963 by Michael Swanson: Don’t let the title scare you away from this engaging narrative. (I have a very personal interest in this as a cousin gave up his Air Force career as the result of the stress of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He said he couldn’t sleep thinking about all the people about to die.) The author knows his material and manages to present it in a very entertaining manner. Swanson makes a persuasive case that control of our country has effectively been ceded to a small power elite of individuals in business and government who report to no one and who guide the nation no matter which political party is in power. To support his argument Swanson uses previously unavailable information about the Cold War from the perspective of the Soviets. Swanson’s research is detailed and authoritative. One particular interesting aspect is Swanson’s tracing the connection from the US initial efforts to install the Shah of Iran to our current problems in that region. Whether or not you agree with Swanson’s conclusions this should be a must-read for anyone interested in post World War-II international affairs, which should be everyone since all our lives are affected daily by the results of these actions. 9/13 Jack Quick
Waxworks by Frieda Hughes: Ms. Hughes is an artist and an author of children’s books. She is also the daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. She has her mother’s ability to wield words like a scalpel, cutting very precisely and very deep. Waxworks is a collection of poems all of which are Ms. Hughes reflections on figures of legend and history and art, much as if she were looking at their statues. Fittingly, one of the poems concerns Madame Tussaud herself, looking for models of her famous creations in people in the London streets. There is the best and worst in all of us. We are all potentially murderers and betrayers. Other poems deal with characters ranging from Thor to Burke and Hare. I found particularly compelling her poem about Job, which begins “When Job was a woman/ God thought she was perfect.” Later in the poem, the voice of God speaks to her in the form of one of her “father’s ” crows. To no avail. This is a compelling and often grisly work. I would like to say that Ms. Hughes has also inherited her mother’s demons and in particular feelings about her father, but Ms. Hughes is too much her own voice to be so rudely explained and pigeonholed. She is worth admiring in her own right. This review contributed by Geoffrey R. Hamlin.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING by Kyle Garlett: Brain cramp – we have all experienced those moments of mental meltdown when the thought process inexplicably shifts a gear and stumbles. Afterwards we look around furtively to assess the damage, and more importantly to see if our moment of weakness has been witnessed. Hopefully, the damage is slight and the witnesses are few. However, when your brain cramp occurs in or pursuant to a major sporting event before as many as millions of people, well, it becomes a regrettable but unforgettable episode. Garlett has perfectly captured some of the most famous or infamous moments in sports, from Ohio State coach Woody Hayes running onto the Gator Bowl field and striking an opposing Clemson football player, to the riot at Chicago’s Comiskey Park during Disco Demolition Night which caused the home town White Sox to forfeit a game. The Heidi Bowl, Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard Round the World”, the Miracle on Ice, the Curse of the Bambino, Leon Lett’s lost Superbowl score, as well as his fumbled fumble recovery – all these and more are nicely detailed in this must have book for avid sports fans. Definitely recommended. 07/09 Jack Quick
WHEN WILL MY GROWN-UP KID GROW UP?: Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett & Elizabet Fishel: Not usually the type of book I read, but since I can relate, I thought I would give it a look-see. When my kids were little, I read parenting books, when they were teenagers I went back to the books. Now they are in their 20’s, so why not read about it – I read, it’s what I do. This book put some things in perspective for me and reassured me about other things. The writing style is breezy, not preachy, and real life situations are discussed. If you’re on the verge of becoming an empty-nester or have one whose returned, or even never left, this book is for you. I found it of interest and even comforting. 10/13 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
aWho Cut the Cheese? – An A-Mazing Parody about Change (and How We Can Get Our Hands on Yours) by Stilton Jarlsburg: Funny and clever, everything a parody should be. In my humble opinion, Who Moved My Cheese needed to be lampooned. Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
WHO THE HELL IS PANSY O’HARA?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World’s Best-Loved Books by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy: It just so happened I knew who Pansy O’Hara was, but I was intrigued enough by the title to read the rest of the essays in this intriguing little book of the true stories behind some of the world’s most popular books. This book will not appeal to the literati, not when it includes behind the scenes looks at J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, and The Guinness Book of World Records along side Erich Remarque and All Quiet on the Western Front and the Brontë sisters. But as a book lover of all kinds, I really enjoyed it. It’s a fun and enlightening read. 09/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
WHY MY THIRD HUSBAND WILL BE A DOG: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman by Lisa Scottoline: I love the Scottoline novels, and that same gentle humor, love of family and the intrinsic Italian all come out in this collection of Philadelphia Inquirer columns. Philly folks undoubtedly are already familiar with Scottoline’s weekly column called “Chick Wit” but the rest of the country is in for a treat. Here we meet the real life characters Scottoline’s fictional characters are based on; her mother Mary, gay brother Frank, her beloved father, her BFF’s and her brilliant daughter Francesca. Most women will relate and will laugh at Scottoline’s warning to never take your bra off, even while relaxing at home, in case you end up having to go to the emergency room, or her two ex-husbands, “Thing One” and “Thing Two.” I especially related to her adoption of a dog when her daughter left for college – I adopted a kitten my daughter’s senior year in high school because he would never leave me for college. Of course, Scottoline already had three dogs, two cats and chickens, among other pets, but the point was the same. The stories are just a couple of pages longs, easy and delightful reading, and made me laugh out loud. A wonderful holiday gift for any woman – or enlightened man. 12/09 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
WHY WE BUY: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill: This book has become a sort of classic on retailing, and I’ve never read it. Since there is an updated version coming out at the end of the year that will include the Internet, I wanted to get a look at this book first. I haven’t worked retail for several years, (singing a new version of the Amy Winehouse song my friend Nancy dreamed up called, “Never Going Back to Retail”) but certain aspects of retailing are affecting libraries, particularly with regard to branding, displays, and customer service. So I went to the Underhill book to learn about signage, shopping habits and so forth, and learn I did. Underhill’s company spent twenty years basically spying on people in their native shopping environments, and writes about it in a very readable, often amusing way. In fact, reading about his operatives invisibly following shoppers through department stores immediately brought to mind the Josie Marcus, Secret Shopper series by Elaine Viets. Anyone with a retail store really needs to read this book before they open their doors. It will be fascinating seeing how the world marketplace, the Internet, has changed the science of shopping. 09/08 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
WRITING TOOLS: 50 ESSENTIAL STRAGEGIES FOR EVERY WRITER by Roy Peter Clark: I should preface this review by saying that I’ve been reading Mr. Clark’s writing tips for quite a long time via the Poynter website where they first appeared. Poynter is geared towards journalists, but I think these writing strategies are of help to any kind of writing – journalism, fiction, school reports, whatever. The tools make a remarkable collection and a very valuable book for anyone who is interested in improving their writing. A lot of what he says sounds like common sense, and it is – but sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics, and nudged further along, which he does quite well. So starting with “Part One: Nuts and Bolts” which includes such wisdom as “Begin sentences with subjects and verbs” and “Fear not the long sentence.” Part two is called “Special Effects” and includes such gems as “Prefer the simple over the technical” and “Set the pace with sentence length.” Part three is called “Blueprints” and includes things like “Work from a plan” and “To generate suspense, use internal cliffhangers.” The last part is called “Useful Habits” and these are the rules to live/work by: “Do your homework well in advance”, “Break long projects into parts” and “Learn from your critics,” among others. The book is very readable and it is obvious that Mr. Clark did his homework and “owns the tools of [his] craft.” 09/06 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch