SHEET PAN by Kate McMillan

March 26, 2017

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Delicious Recipes for Hands-Off Meals

Sheet pan cooking is the latest trend I’ve noticed and there are several new cookbooks out or coming out. Recently released are 150 Recipes in a 13×9 Pan by Gooseberry Patch; One-Pan Wonders from Cook’s Country; One Pan & Done by  Molly Gilbert; and Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark (Clark is one of the food writers for the NY Times, and I’m hoping to get my hands on this one soon for review.)

Sheet Pan is a smaller, hard cover cookbook with nice, heavy paper and great photos that are perfect for inspiration. The chapters:

Easy & Delicious One-Pan Meals
Sheet-pan basics
Meat
Seafood
Vegetables

The first thing that caught my eye was “Garlicky Shrimp with Asparagus Fries and Meyer Lemon Aioli.” I didn’t have asparagus but zucchini, squash or mushrooms were suggested as substitutes. I had just gotten some zucchini in my CSA box so that was perfect.  I also had just picked up a bag of Meyer lemons at Trader Joes – when I see them, I buy them because they have a short growing season. I actually have a Meyer lemon tree in my yard but usually only get 2-3 fruit each year. It’s a baby tree, no taller than me yet so we are hopeful that as it grows it will fruit more. But I digress.

I was a little nervous about overcooking the shrimp and/or undercooking the zucchini so I put the zucchini fries in the hot oven for five minutes or so before I added the shrimp. It was a quick dinner to put together, about 10 minutes prep time and 12 minutes cooking and it was really delicious, my family loved it. And by lining the pan with parchment paper, cleanup was a breeze.

Not all the recipes are that quick. “Pork Chops with Apricots, Red Cabbage & Blue Cheese” takes about 15 minutes prep and cooks for 40 minutes or so. “Stuffed Eggplant Three Ways” takes about 25 minutes or so in the oven, “Roasted Caesar Salad with Salmon” only 15 minutes and “Vegetable Pizza Tarts” made with frozen puff pastry takes about 20 minutes.

I don’t mind if all I have to do is wait, that still seems like an easy dinner to me. And again, clean up is only one pan – and that’s why people are loving these sheet pan cookbooks. I work full time and I love to cook, but cleaning up is not fun so I really appreciate how easy it is to only have to deal with one pan.

This is a great cookbook for anyone who likes to cook but maybe doesn’t have all that much time or energy, especially after working all day. I made this tart but subbed green onion for the leeks, used creminis, and almonds for the hazelnuts. It was really good and really easy. Try it yourself — 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

MUSHROOM & GRUYÈRE TART WITH HAZELNUT HARICOTS VERTS

All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of a 17.3-oz/490-g package), thawed
5 ounces (155 g) Gruyère cheese, shredded
2 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise, white and pale parts thinly sliced
¼ lb (125 g) white mushrooms, brushed clean and thinly sliced
4½ tablespoons (70 ml) olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg beaten with
1 tablespoon water
¾ lb (375 g) haricots verts, trimmed
¼ cup (11/4 oz/40 g)
hazelnuts, roughly chopped

SERVES 2–4

1 Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

2 On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry into a 121/2-by-15-inch (32-by-38-cm)
rectangle. Fold into thirds, transfer to the prepared pan, and unfold, positioning the dough so there will be
room for the haricots verts on the pan. Fold over about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of each side of the dough to create a border.

3 Sprinkle the dough with the cheese, leaving the borders uncovered. In a bowl, toss together the leeks,
mushrooms, and 3 tablespoons of the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the cheese. Brush the borders with the egg mixture. Bake for 10 minutes.

4 In a bowl, toss together the haricots verts and the remaining 1½ tablespoons oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on the pan next to the tart. Continue baking until the tart is golden brown and the haricots verts are fork-tender, about 15 minutes longer. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, sprinkle the hazelnuts over the haricots verts.

5 Let the tart cool slightly, then cut into slices and serve the haricots verts on the side.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SHEET PAN by Kate McMillan. Weldon Owen (January 3, 2017). ISBN 978-1681881379. 112p.


FOR THIS WE LEFT EGYPT? by Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel & Adam Mansbach

March 23, 2017

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A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them

My parents are gone, my children are adults and aren’t always home for the holiday, and we usually end up celebrating with friends. So I like to switch things up with new and different haggadahs, and there are many beyond the Maxwell House Coffee* Haggadah that I grew up on – and fell asleep during the long, long readings. (*free at many supermarkets for years.)

A few years ago I got the NEW AMERICAN HAGGADAH: A New Translation by Nathan Englander, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is beautiful and different. There is a timeline created by Mia Sara Bruch and commentaries by Nathaniel Deutsch, Jeffrey Goldberg, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and Lemony Snicket (really!) This is a beautiful book with gorgeous calligraphy and subtle contemporary artwork. 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.

But this year I am really mixing things up with this new Haggadah written by one of the funniest gentiles on the planet (Barry) and two of his Jewish and funny friends. It is laugh out loud funny and I love the illustrations, too, looking very much like 1960’s children’s book illustrations.

If you’re ready for a change and want to laugh instead of sleep through your seder, order as many copies as you need today from Amazon and you’ll have them in plenty of time for Passover. The first night is Monday, April 10th.

From the publisher:

The book you hold before you is no ordinary Haggadah. If you’ve ever suffered through a Seder, you’re well aware of the fact that the entire evening can last as long as the exodus from Egypt itself. There are countless stories, dozens of blessings, and far too many handwashings while the meal turns cold. Now prepare to be entertained by another version of the book that’s responsible for this interminable tradition.

With this hilarious parody Haggadah from the comedic minds of Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel, and Adam Mansbach, good Jews everywhere will no longer have to sit (and sleep) through a lengthy and boring Seder. In For This We Left Egypt?, the authors will be take you through every step of the Seder, from getting rid of all the chametz in your home by setting it on fire with a kosher blowtorch to a retelling of the Passover story starring Pharaoh Schmuck and a burning bush that sounds kind of like Morgan Freeman, set against the backdrop of the Promised Land―which turned out not to be a land of milk and honey but rather one of rocks and venomous scorpions the size of Yorkshire terriers. You then eat a celebratory brisket and wrap up the whole evening by taking at least forty-five minutes to say good-bye to everyone.

So gather all the Jews in your life (even the few who don’t appear to be long-suffering) and settle in for a fun way to pass the time while waiting for Elijah to show up.

I can’t wait.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FOR THIS WE LEFT EGYPT? by Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel & Adam Mansbach. Flatiron Books (March 7, 2017). ISBN 978-1250110213. 144p.


THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE by Meik Wiking

March 16, 2017

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Danish Secrets to Happy Living

I’m not much for self help type books. But all the other books that I’ve read from Danish authors have been thrillers – Sara Blædel, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Peter Hoeg – so when the publisher sent it to me, I thought it only fair to look at another aspect of life in the happiest country on Earth (according to National Geographic).

This is a short, happy read indeed. It’s also unabashedly full of pride in all things Danish, from the weather (really) to the furniture and accessories. It’s the “untranslatable quality of places, people and togetherness prized by Danes above almost all else.” (The Guardian).

It’s being comfy at home. Candles are a must. So are soft woolen socks (not so much here in South Florida). Furniture you can lounge on with your feet up. A gratitude journal works well here. Oh, and cake is a good thing. All stuff I can get live with – and maybe you can, too.

If the past couple of years have been all about purging your stuff (thanks to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo), then 2017 is all about living cozy and being happy. Much more my speed.

From the publisher:

Embrace Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) and become happier with this definitive guide to the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.

Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? The answer, says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is Hygge. Loosely translated, Hygge—pronounced Hoo-ga—is a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience,” Wiking explains. “It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe.”

Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.

The Little Book of Hygge introduces you to this cornerstone of Danish life, and offers advice and ideas on incorporating it into your own life, such as:

  • Get comfy. Take a break.
  • Be here now. Turn off the phones.
  • Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles.
  • Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe.
  • Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge.
  • Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.

From picking the right lighting to organizing a Hygge get-together to dressing hygge, Wiking shows you how to experience more joy and contentment the Danish way.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE by Meik Wiking. William Morrow (January 17, 2017). ISBN 978-0062658807. 240p.


WHY WE MARCH

March 7, 2017
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Signs of Protest and Hope–Voices from the Women’s March

There will be no denying the size and scope of the January 21, 2017 Women’s March – not with this historical record.

This is the second book to come out recording this event. See WHY I MARCH for another look.

From the publisher:

Celebrate the Women’s March with this inspiring collection of 500 images of the most powerful, uplifting, clever, and creative protest signs carried by marchers across the United States and around the world. Organized thematically, the photographs in Why We March–featuring messages about reproductive rights and immigration, cabinet picks and police violence, climate change and feminism–together paint a striking portrait of the hope, defiance, anger, and passion that sent more than 5 million people into the streets to protest.

“Women’s Rights = Human Rights.” “Love Trumps Hate.” “Nasty Women Unite.” “Build Bridges, Not Walls.” These messages are a rallying cry for this burgeoning movement, and this collection will serve as both a valuable encapsulation of this unprecedented moment in political history and a powerful reminder of why we march.

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All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Planned Parenthood.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHY WE MARCH by Artisan. Artisan (March 7, 2017). ISBN 978-1579658281. 264p.

 


RADIANT CHILD by Javaka Steptoe

March 2, 2017
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The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Winner of the 2017 Randolph Caldecott Medal
Winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

As my regular readers know, I don’t review many children’s books but I can’t resist reading the Caldecott winner each year. They are always excellent children’s books and this year was no exception.

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

From the publisher:

Somewhere in Brooklyn, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist, not knowing that one day he would make himself a king.

Jean-Michael Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.

I love Basquiat so this book was a natural for me. I didn’t know about how difficult his life was as a child, only that he died young of a drug overdose. Learning about his early influences and his compulsion to create his art was really interesting. I was reminded of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev, about a Hasidic boy with a passion for art that is forbidden by his family and his culture. Nevertheless, as a young child he wakes up to find drawings on the wall next to his bed. Basquait also drew during the night.

My only criticism of the book is the child Basquait is inspired by Picasso’s “Guernica” when his mother takes him to see it. That famous, disturbing piece is reproduced on an angle in the book, but is not labeled in any way, so unless the reader is familiar with it, there is no way to tell what it is.

But that is minor criticism indeed. This is a gorgeous book and a fantastic introduction to art for the elementary age child.  “In his house you can tell a serious ARTIST dwells.” You certainly can.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

RADIANT CHILD by Javaka Steptoe. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 25, 2016). ISBN 978-0316213882. 40p.


WHY I MARCH

February 27, 2017
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Images from the Woman’s March Around the World

There will be no denying the size and scope of the January 21, 2017 Women’s March – not with this historical record. This is the first book to come out recording this event. WHY WE MARCH is another visual record of this event and will be available 3/7/17.

From the publisher:

On January 21, 2017, five million people in 82 countries and on all seven continents stood up with one voice.

The Women’s March began with one cause, women’s rights, but quickly became a movement around the many issues that were hotly debated during the 2016 U.S. presidential race—immigration, health care, environmental protections, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights, among others.

In the mere 66 days between the election and inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, 673 sister marches sprang up across the country and the world. ABRAMS Image presents Why I March to honor the movement, give back to it, and promote future activism in the same vein.

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All royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to nonprofit organizations affiliated with the March.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WHY I MARCH by Abrams Books. Harry N. Abrams (February 21, 2017). ISBN 978-1419728853. 264p.


VICTORIA by Helen Rappaport

February 22, 2017
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The Heart and Mind of a Young Queen: Official Companion to the Masterpiece Presentation on PBS

From the publisher:

The official companion to the Masterpiece presentation on PBS, Victoria delves into the private writings of the young Queen Victoria, painting a vivid picture of the personal life of one of England’s greatest monarchs.

From the producers of Poldark and Endeavour, ITV’s Victoria follows the early years of the young queen’s reign, based closely on Victoria’s own letters and journals. Now explore this extensive collection in greater depth, and discover who Victoria really was behind her upright public persona.

At only eighteen years old, Victoria ascended the throne as a rebellious teenager and gradually grew to become one of the most memorable, unshakeable and powerful women in history. The extensive writings she left behind document this personal journey and show how she triumphed over scandal and corruption. Written by author and Victoria historical consultant, Helen Rappaport, and including a foreword by Daisy Goodwin—acclaimed novelist and scriptwriter of the series—Victoria details the history behind the show. Revealing Victoria’s own thoughts about the love interests, family dramas and court scandals during her early reign, it also delves into the running of the royal household, the upstairs-downstairs relationships, and what it was like to live in Victorian England.

Full of beautiful photography from the series and genuine imagery from the era, Victoria takes you behind the palace doors and discover the girl behind the queen.

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This is a beautiful book made with heavy paper and stunning photographs. I loved seeing portraits of the real Victoria and the other characters, and all I can say is the casting and the makeup are amazing. Victoria’s diary entries are fascinating, as are the reproductions of letters. This is a treasure trove for any fan of the TV series and of British history.

2/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

VICTORIA by Helen Rappaport. Harper Design (January 31, 2017). ISBN 978-0062568892. 304p.


THE RAIN IN PORTUGAL by Billy Collins

February 18, 2017
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Poems

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a new book of poetry and I couldn’t be happier. I got to chat with him a bit last summer at the American Library Association annual conference and he was as charming as ever.

I’ve loved his poetry for a long time, and when the Palm Beach Poetry Festival got going, he was one of the first guests of honor. To hear him read his work is just, well, fantastic, and now I hear his voice, his inflections, when I read it myself.

Here is a clip of Billy reading three of these poems on A Prairie Home Companion:

This is his twelfth book of poetry, and it made me laugh and think and cry, all the sorts of emotional response that good writing, especially good poetry, will imbue. Some of my favorites…

“Lucky Cats” begins:

It’s a law as immutable as the ones
governing bodies in motion and bodies at rest
that a cat picked up will never stay
in the place where you choose to set it down.

So true!

I have felt this sensation when traveling but have never been able to express it as succinctly and beautifully as this, from “Bashō in Ireland”:

The sensation of being homesick
for a place that is not my home
while being right in the middle of it

“Early Morning” made me laugh out loud. Another cat poem, it begins:

I don’t know which cat is responsible
for destroying my Voter Registration Card
so I decide to lecture the two of them
on the sanctity of private property,
the rules of nighttime comportment in general,
and while I’m at it, the importance
of voting to an enlightened citizenship.

“Speed Walking on August 31, 2013” was written as a memorial for the brilliant Seamus Heaney (if you haven’t read his translation of Beowulf, do yourself a favor and get it – this illustrated edition is spectacular.) That was followed by “December 1” which is a poem celebrating what would have been Billy’s mother’s birthday:

If my mother were alive,
she’d be 114 years old,
and I am guessing neither of us
would be enjoying her birthday very much.

This poem reminded me of my mother and my loss and made me cry.

turkey-vegetable-platterI sent my son the poem “Thanksgiving” because he spent this past holiday with his girlfriend’s family in Chicago and sent me a picture of this beautiful vegetable platter laid out to look like a turkey. I’d seen pictures online (like this one) but hadn’t known anyone who actually went to all that trouble, and here Billy gently poked fun. He reads it in the YouTube video above.

Poetry is such a personal thing – I will end with a poem (that Billy reads in the video) so you can decide for yourself if you want to read more. I hope you do.

On Rhyme

It’s possible that a stitch in time
might save as many as twelve or as few as three,
and I have no trouble remembering
that September has thirty days.
So do June, November, and April.

I like a cat wearing a chapeau or a trilby,
Little Jack Horner sitting on a sofa,
old men who are not from Nantucket,
and how life can seem almost unreal
when you are gently rowing a boat down a stream.

That’s why instead of recalling today
that it mostly pours in Spain,
I am going to picture the rain in Portugal,
how it falls on the hillside vineyards,
on the surface of the deep harbors

where fishing boats are swaying,
and in the narrow alleys of the cities
where three boys in tee shirts
are kicking a soccer ball in the rain,
ignoring the window-cries of their mothers.

2/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE RAIN IN PORTUGAL by Billy Collins. Random House; 1St Edition edition (October 4, 2016). ISBN 978-0679644064. 128p.

Kindle


FOOD, HEALTH & HAPPINESS by Oprah Winfrey

February 13, 2017

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115 On-Point Recipes for Great Meals and a Better Life

So as every dieter in America probably knows, Oprah bought a chunk of Weight Watchers and is selling the diet like crazy. This cookbook (that has no other name on it!) is the 2017 early entry in the diet cookbook market.

This is part memoir, part cookbook with charming handwritten notes strewn throughout. Oh, and Weight Watcher points attached to every recipe.

There are a wide variety of recipes, from several soups including tomato, Mulligatawny and Turkey Chili to fun things like Skinny Cornbread and Art Smith’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken. There’s even a version of Daniel Boulud’s famous potato crusted sea bass; in Oprah’s world, Daniel isn’t mentioned but then again that’s not unusual.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: When I know Better, I do Better
Soup is Love
What are You Really Hungry For?
The Faith of a Mustard Seed
A World of Possibility
A Healthy Indulgence
Greens, Glorious Greens
Epilogue: Finding a New Path on My Journey With Food
A note about Weight Watchers SmartPoints
Meet the Chefs*

*So this was my ah-ha moment! Oprah is known for many things but cooking is not one of them. So while she is listed as the only author, and none of the recipes would lead you to think anyone other than Oprah created them, this page near the very back of the book, Meet the Chefs, tell a slightly different story. So let’s meet them:

Eduardo Chavez (sexy drinks)
Rosie Daley (previous author of another Oprah diet cookbook and contributor of the Peppered Tuna recipe)
Taryn Huebner (Turkey Burger)
Mei Lin (Top Chef winner and Turkey Lasagna recipe)
Art Smith (Unfried Chicken & Fried Chicken)
Sonny Sweetman (Halibut a la Grecque)

And that’s all the credit anyone is given, which irritates me just the tiniest bit. But I digress.

The recipes are all interesting and mostly healthy. Along the bottom of each recipe is the prep time, cook time, number of servings, the Weight Watchers smart points, and calories, making it easy to figure out whether or not you want to make something.

The best part of the book, to me, is the personal stuff. The pictures of Oprah and her family and friends, especially sitting around the table, and all her handwritten comments (in teacher perfect handwriting?) make this book worth buying. The healthy recipes are a nice bonus.

oprah-pasta-primavera

 

oprah-red-pepper-sausage-fennel-soup

2/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FOOD, HEALTH & HAPPINESS by Oprah Winfrey. Flatiron Books; 1 edition (January 3, 2017). ISBN 978-1250126535. 240p.


MARCH: BOOK THREE by John Lewis

February 2, 2017
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Co-author Andrew Aydin
Illustrator Nate Powell

I don’t read a lot of graphic novels – in fact, it feels like I start every one of my reviews this way!

This book is part of a series of biographical graphic novels written by John Lewis about his life and career. Book Three starts in the early 1960’s.

What brought this book to my attention was the awards. It won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Then at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference last month, the following awards were announced:

The Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, which recognizes an African American author of a book for kids

The Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young-adult literature

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

The YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction

This was record setting – no other book has ever won 4 awards from ALA. So I wanted to read it. Luckily, my library had a copy on the shelf.

From the publisher:

Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one ofthe key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.
By the fall of 1963, the Civil Rights Movement has penetrated deep into the American consciousness, and as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis is guiding the tip of the spear. Through relentless direct action, SNCC continues to force the nation to confront its own blatant injustice, but for every step forward, the danger grows more intense: Jim Crow strikes back through legal tricks, intimidation, violence, and death. The only hope for lasting change is to give voice to the millions of Americans silenced by voter suppression: “One Man, One Vote.”
To carry out their nonviolent revolution, Lewis and an army of young activists launch a series of innovative campaigns, including the Freedom Vote, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and an all-out battle for the soul of the Democratic Party waged live on national television. With these new struggles come new allies, new opponents, and an unpredictable new president who might be both at once. But fractures within the movement are deepening … even as 25-year-old John Lewis prepares to risk everything in a historic showdown high above the Alabama river, in a town called Selma.

I loved this book. I must admit I pretty much cried my way through it, it is not an easy read. But what a story! Congressman Lewis has has lived an amazing life, and continues his work for civil rights to this day.

The illustrations by Nate Powell are all in black & white, and are viscerally stunning. Bombings, speeches, and arrests are somehow brought to life but the violence is never over the top or gratuitous. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement, not to mention President Johnson and Robert Kennedy, are easily recognized.

This book is a testament to what civil disobedience can accomplish, and feels very timely right now. This is a truly inspirational read, and I highly recommend it.

2/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MARCH: BOOK THREE by John Lewis. Top Shelf Productions; First Edition edition (August 2, 2016).  ISBN 978-1501115677. 320p.