A HANDFUL OF STARS by Helene Saucedo

October 17, 2019

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A Palmistry Guidebook and Hand-Printing Kit

From the publisher:

“In Handful of Stars, the hand becomes an exquisite map . . . wise, trusted, and uniquely our own. Beautiful and mysterious.”—Kim Krans, artist and author of the New York Times bestseller The Wild Unknown TarotThe Wild Unknown Animal Spirit, and The Wild Unknown Journal

Packaged in a deluxe keepsake box, Handful of Stars by hand analyst Helene Saucedo is a beautifully illustrated, step-by-step guide to the ancient art of palmistry with a novel twist.

Preprinted perforated sheets designed by Saucedo especially for the book—along with a a nontoxic ink pad, ink roller, and gel pen—enable readers to create a palm print and record notations on a single sheet of paper.

Informative and entertaining, this unique volume appeals to novice hand analysts and makes a great gift for inquisitive minds of all ages.


This is a fun gift book, and the holidays will be here before you know it. Costco has out their Christmas trees, toys, and food gifts, etc. It’s happening, people!

So I’m not really a new-age kind of person, but I thought this book was interesting. Apparently, palmistry is more than just looking at your life-line or heart-line. You start with your hand analysis.

I learned that my hand flexibility relates to my level of adaptability and flexibility in my career and relationships. My hand showed that I am somewhat flexible, and I would say that’s probably right. Next up was thrumb size. I didn’t know that size matters <cough.> Using the scale presented in the book, I have a large thumb. It says that people with large thumbs are “determined go-getters who don’t take no for an answer. They’re ambitious and energetic with high standards.” I would say that is fairly accurate.

Next up was using the thumb to determine the balance of logic and willpower. My thumb has a larger top, which indicates logic. It says I’m “a planner, a person who makes choices based on calculated measures. This person may tend to overthink or overanalyze a situation.” So more logic (top half) than will (bottom half.) I am definitely a planner, but I’m not sure that I would say I overthink or overanalyze things.

Then it was time for “Thumb and Personality Type.” Based on the information provided, I am an extrovert, “a person who is excited to engage with others and is at ease in groups.” Nailed it.

There are lots more things to look at before you even get to the lines on your hands, and this book clearly explains what to look for and what it all means. If you’ve ever had an interest in palmistry, or are just curious, this is an excellent place to start. The book comes in a box with everything you need to figure all this out. The illustrations are clear and made this novice feel like a pro. I think teens and young adults would love this, and I had fun with it, too.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A HANDFUL OF STARS by Helene Saucedo. Harper Design (October 15, 2019). ISBN 978-0062899361. 80p.

 


THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR LIBRARY EQUALITY by Aisha M. Johnson-Jones

October 3, 2019

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The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program

From the publisher:

The African American Struggle for Library Equality: The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program unveils the almost forgotten philanthropic efforts of Julius Rosenwald, former president of Sears, Roebuck, Co. and an elite business man. Rosenwald simply desired to improve, “the well-being of mankind” through access to education.

Many people are familiar with Mr. Rosenwald as the founder of the Julius Rosenwald Fund that established more than 5,300 rural schools in 15 Southern states during the period 1917-1938. However, there is another major piece of the puzzle, the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program. That program established more than 10,000 school, college, and public libraries, funded library science programs that trained African American librarians, and made evident the need for libraries to be supported by local governments.

The African American Struggle for Library Equality is the first comprehensive history of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program to be published. The book reveals a new understanding of library practices of the early 20th century. Through original research and use of existing literature, Aisha Johnson Jones exposes historic library practices that discriminated against blacks, and the necessary remedies the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program implemented to cure this injustice, which ultimately influenced other philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates (the Gates Foundation has a library program) as well as organizations like the American Library Association.


I am stepping out of my usual review mode here. This book is obviously not a romance, nor women’s fiction, nor a thriller, nor cookbook. I probably should read more library texts, it is my profession after all, but I rarely do since I graduated with my masters in library and information science. That said, I am very glad I read this book, and think anyone who cares about libraries should read it as well.

When I went to library school, one of the required courses was on the history of libraries. At the time, I thought it was a silly class that should have been reduced to a single lecture, instead of an entire semester long course. In fact, much of the curriculum was based in ideology rather than practical matters. I had worked in libraries for about a dozen years by the time I went to library school, so I definitely had some inside knowledge, at least of how public libraries worked and the work that librarians did. I did learn some important skills to be sure, but I thought then, and I don’t know how much it has changed since, that there were big gaps in what they taught and what we actually needed to know. The merest hint of budgeting was mentioned, and literally nothing about designing libraries or equipping one, skills that I saw librarians struggle with regularly. I graduated in 2011, and did not take one class on web design or coding or anything remotely techie, and trust me, technology is an unavoidable and important part of the daily work-life of librarians.

But through all the classes I took, required and elective, I never heard of Julius Rosenwald or his program, and that is a disgrace. Carnegie is seen as the patron saint of libraries, and apparently we (the library community) have been shamefully remiss in not anointing Rosenwald as well. The fund financed all sorts of libraries, and even health care, for African American communities. It also funded fellowships and scholarships for African Americans. The fact that this wealthy white man took umbrage with how African Americans were educated and treated, is inspiring. Rosenwald’s influence should not, and cannot, be left unrecognized any longer.

This is an exhaustively researched story that should be included in the curriculum for “History of Libraries” at library schools everywhere.  It is a compelling story, and the pictures are enlightening. It is a short book, and one well worth reading, especially for librarians.  Julius Rosenwald deserves to be celebrated, and I am very glad Ms. Johnson-Jones has given his story to us.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR LIBRARY EQUALITY by Aisha M. Johnson-Jones. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (September 17, 2019). ISBN 978-1538103081. 120p.

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VEGETABLES UNLEASHED by José Andrés & Matt Goulding

September 30, 2019

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I have to be honest here. There is no way I could not love anything with José Andrés’ name on it. Or anything from the Anthony Bourdain imprint. So it is with extreme prejudice that I come to this review. If you are not familiar with Andrés, and the amazing work that he does, please visit his website: José Andrés

Andrés has a unique vision of food’s place in the world, as well as a very unique voice, which is on display here. I realized that before I even got to the first recipe. There is a page called “Translating the Language of José,” which has nothing to do with his English, but everything to do with his sense of humor and wonder. Like this:

         LET’S GO! YOUR FAST IS MY SLOW: A rallying cry for all of those around José whose fasts are his slow.
Example: Just 108 more recipes to develop. Let’s go!

 

There are incredible (and unusual) photos throughout the book. Like this one with the table of contents:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only are there gorgeous pictures, there is a ton of information on all manner of vegetables, how we eat them, and why we don’t eat enough. There are astounding statistics:

Did you know that 87 percent of American adults don’t meet their daily fruit requriement? Or that 40 percent of kids’ vegetable intake comes from French fries? FORTY PERCENT!

Well, I was shocked. He even admits his own daughters prefer burgers to broccoli, which shouldn’t shock anyone. And this:

5.2 million annual deaths worldwide attributed to a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Which makes this even sadder:

338 million pounds of produce Americans throw away every day

He gives advice on everything from gardening and composting, to kitchen tools and spices. And recipes. Lots of recipes.

Andrés introduces the idea of boiling your vegetables. You know, like your grandma used to. He claims it gives you the best method for maintaining texture and seasoning. He also admits that you will never see an Instagram photo of boiled cabbage. I’m not completely sold myself, I love roasted vegetables and do not want to move back to boiling. That said, I made his vegetable stock and it was wonderful. I made it in the Instant Pot and made enough to freeze for when I need some again. It was flavorful, not always easy to achieve with vegetable stock.

I like that at the end of the recipe, for instance Miso-Roasted Asparagus (yum!), he also suggests other vegetables that this would work with, along with other tips like if you want a sweeter finish, add a spoonful of honey or maple syrup. I like recipes with wiggle room. There are also some “chef-y” recipes like Carrot “Pasta,” which he indicates is not something “you’re going to serve on a Tuesday night to your hungry family of five.” True that. It is one of those recipes that consists of multiple recipes, the carrot sauce, carrot oil, and finally the carrot pasta. I have not attempted this.

I love the salad recipes, especially the ones where he explains the proper way to clean the lettuce. I know I’m weird but I avoid those bagged salads like the plague, or the ebola, or whatever horrible diseases they are contaminated with that scare me to death. I buy heads of lettuce. Different kinds, too. I love arugula, but my husband hates it. More salad for me that night. We all love romaine and butter lettuce and leaf lettuce and have you tried Little Gem? There is a recipe here for Little Gems with Warm Garlic Dressing that I have added to my list to try. It’s a very simple recipe with those flavor bombs, thinly sliced garlic and anchovies.

My daughter tried the Microwave Cacio e Pepe and it is now a favorite. Very simple recipe for one, made in the microwave. Now she has a new reason to use that oft-ignored appliance. I tried the Empanadillas de Espinacas (Spinach Empanadas) and they were really delicious, sort of a Greek spanikopita-like filling with spinach, scallions, feta and dill. I skipped the wonton wrappers and used the empanada wrappers I had in my freezer. I also tried the Vegetable Fried Rice, which was very good although my daughter said she would have liked it better with less “stuff” mixed in and more rice, which would have defeated my purpose in making it. That Beefsteak Sandwich was as good as it looks (see picture below) and super easy and quick, perfect for a no cooking night without ordering takeout.

All in all, I think this is a good cookbook and one I will be referring to often. As my vegetables start aging out of the fridge, I now have a good resource to help me avoid pitching them. Instead, I can turn them into something delicious.

More photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

VEGETABLES UNLEASHED by José Andres & Matt Goulding. Anthony Bourdain/Ecco (May 21, 2019). ISBN 978-0062668387. 368p.

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LADIES WHO PUNCH by Ramin Setoodeh

May 14, 2019

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The Explosive Inside Story of “The View”

From the publisher:

Like Fire & Fury, the gossipy real-life soap opera behind a serious show.

When Barbara Walters launched The View, network executives told her that hosting it would tarnish her reputation. Instead, within ten years, she’d revolutionized morning TV and made household names of her co-hosts: Joy Behar, Star Jones, Meredith Vieira and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. But the daily chatfest didn’t just comment on the news. It became the news. And the headlines barely scratched the surface.

Based on unprecedented access, including stunning interviews with nearly every host, award-winning journalist Ramin Setoodeh takes you backstage where the stars really spoke their minds. Here’s the full story of how Star, then Rosie, then Whoopi tried to take over the show, while Barbara struggled to maintain control of it all, a modern-day Lear with her media-savvy daughters. You’ll read about how so many co-hosts had a tough time fitting in, suffered humiliations at the table, then pushed themselves away, feeling betrayed―one nearly quitting during a commercial. Meanwhile, the director was being driven insane, especially by Rosie.

Setoodeh uncovers the truth about Star’s weight loss and wedding madness. Rosie’s feud with Trump. Whoopi’s toxic relationship with Rosie. Barbara’s difficulty stepping away. Plus, all the unseen hugs, snubs, tears―and one dead rodent.

Ladies Who Punch shows why The View can be mimicked and mocked, but it can never be matched.


By the time I heard about this book, it was too late to get a digital galley, always my preference. I love reading on my Kindle or iPad, especially at night, because I don’t have to wear my reading glasses. By the end of the day I’m tired and I find glasses annoying at best. Anyway, I requested a review copy from the publisher and they were kind enough to send me a finished copy (hardcover) and much to my surprise, the book on CD.

I don’t listen to very many audio books because I find my mind wanders, but nonfiction I can do. I also used to have a ridiculously short (8 minute) commute to work. My new job is a 20 minutes commute which works much better for book length material. But then I was stumped by this 20th century technology. Did I have anywhere to even play a CD? I am all in on digital technology and love Audible and my library’s digital audio books. Much to my surprise, my car (2 years old) had a CD player in it. Who knew! So I decided to listen.

I was also trepidatious about the reader – the author reads the book and that is often a recipe for disaster. The best readers are professional, often actors, often famous actors, and know how to read to keep the listener’s attention. Most authors know how to read. Period. But Setoodeh did a really good job. He sounded just dishy enough to give the book the flavor he intended and I was pleasantly surprised. My only complaint was that disc 6 (out of 8) was defective, I had to wait to get the printed book back from my mother-in-law (who loved it, by the way) to read the bit I was missing. But all in all it was a very positive listening experience.

I am a long time fan of The View; I’ve watched it, off and on, for most of the 20+ years it’s been on. I was usually working when it aired, so I recorded it for many years, especially the Rosie-then-Whoopi-then-Rosie&Whoopi years. I’m not sure when I stopped but it’s been at least a few years I would say, so now I just catch it when I’m home, or occasionally when the ladies make the news and I can find clips on YouTube. So I definitely had opinions on the show and its hosts and was looking forward to reading all the dirt. Why not, life is short – you may as well have fun now and again!

The biggest takeaway for me was twofold; Barbara is an excellent liar and no one, not one single host, ever left on their own accord. They were all fired and Barbara, despite her protestations to the contrary, had a hand in most, if not all of them. Even Barbara’s retirement seemed somewhat sketchy to me. My take: it seemed like she was goaded into doing things that made her lose control of the show. Then she was coerced into retiring, which turned into a year long retirement extravaganza during which she reconsidered and did not want to retire. But retire she did. There were definite intimations of her frailty, both physical (her “shuffling”) and mental (memory loss.) I can’t feel too sorry for her though, her career was longer than almost anyone else in television except for maybe Tom Brokaw (and that’s just a guess.)

All that said, Barbara is given full credit, and rightly so, for creating a new daytime television dynamic, changing the landscape of daytime talk shows forever. The most obvious clone is “The Talk” but it seems to me all the daytime political shows, even the cable network shows like “Morning Joe” and Trump’s fave, “Fox and Friends”, all seem to have been gleaned from “The View.”

If you are/were a fan of “The View” you won’t want to miss this book. If you like celebrity gossip, the same. I enjoyed it.

5/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

LADIES WHO PUNCH by Ramin Setoodeh.  Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (April 2, 2019). ISBN 978-1250112095. 336p.

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THE 100 MOST JEWISH FOODS, edited by Alana Newhouse

April 19, 2019

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A Highly Debatable List 

From the publisher:

With contributions from Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Maira Kalman, Melissa Clark, and many more!

Tablet’s list of the 100 most Jewish foods is not about the most popular Jewish foods, or the tastiest, or even the most enduring. It’s a list of the most significant foods culturally and historically to the Jewish people, explored deeply with essays, recipes, stories, and context. Some of the dishes are no longer cooked at home, and some are not even dishes in the traditional sense (store-bought cereal and Stella D’oro cookies, for example). The entire list is up for debate, which is what makes this book so much fun. Many of the foods are delicious (such as babka and shakshuka). Others make us wonder how they’ve survived as long as they have (such as unhatched chicken eggs and jellied calves’ feet). As expected, many Jewish (and now universal) favorites like matzo balls, pickles, cheesecake, blintzes, and chopped liver make the list. The recipes are global and represent all contingencies of the Jewish experience. Contributors include Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Gail Simmons, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Maira Kalman, Action Bronson, Daphne Merkin, Shalom Auslander, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Phil Rosenthal, among many others. Presented in a gifty package, The 100 Most Jewish Foods is the perfect book to dip into, quote from, cook from, and launch a spirited debate.


Since tonight is the first night of Passover, this seemed like a good opportunity to talk about this book. And it is a book that is begging to be discussed. Maybe not with your book group, unless it is a predominantly Jewish book group, because really, no one else is going to care. But if you belong to a synagogue, sisterhood, Hadassah, or JCC type book group, bring it on!

Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet magazine. They had posted just the list of foods online and the response was quick and passionate. Thus this book was born. Just FYI, I did not get the “gifty package” of this book; the publisher sent me the advanced reader copy which is a paperback and missing things like page numbers. But all the important stuff is there, certainly more than enough upon which to base this review.

Each food is discussed by a different author and while not all are Jewish, I would say most are. I didn’t know who most of these authors were, but there is a lovely “About the Contributors” section in the back of the book. Sprinkled in among the Jewish names I didn’t know are celebrity/TV chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Eric Ripert, and Dan Barber; famous Jewish foodies and cookbook authors like Ruth Reichl, Joan Nathan, and Gail Simmons, and Jewish notables like the always-in-my-heart-West-Wing (but many, many other productions,) actor Joshua Malina, fashion designer Zac Posen, and the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and star of Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil,” Phil Rosenthal. It is a fairly homogeneous group, and that is to be expected.

Each food is discussed and there are several recipes as well. Some are definitely controversial – let’s start with the obvious, bacon, but also Chinese food, and sushi. All right, it is “Kosher Sushi” so I’ll give it a pass.

I learned stuff, too, which is always a plus. Stella D’oro Swiss Fudge Cookies make an appearance in a piece written by Ian Frazier (who I know from his writing at The New Yorker). Silly me, I always assumed that Stella D’oro cookies were Italian, and the company was founded by the Zambetti family. But it was based in the Bronx in the 1930’s, in a very Jewish (80% he claims) neighborhood and they made cookies that did not contain dairy, thus rendering them pareve, and kosher. When the family sold the business to Kraft, they decided leaving out dairy was too expensive so they put it back in, lost the “pareve” label and sales plummeted. They went back to the original recipe, sold the company, strikes happened, they moved from the Bronx to Ashland, Ohio, and are still there. I loved the last line of this essay: “That the Swiss Fudge Cookie has its own story of suffering, exile, and survival makes it even more Jewish, I believe.” I believe, too.

All the usual suspects are here: lox, babka, chopped liver, schmaltz (and gribenes!), matzo, gefilte fish, challah, Hebrew National hot dogs, etc. And by usual, I mean Ashkenazic Jewish foods, the foods of my childhood, my life. But the Sephardim are also represented by pomegranate, Yemenite bread and soup, carciofi alla Giudia and more.

There is a lot of knowledge here but also a lot of laughs. This was also a nostalgic read, in a way, since a lot of these foods have disappeared from my life. I haven’t had kreplach since my grandmother died when I was a child. But I’ll be having matzo, chicken soup with matzo balls, charoset, chopped liver, macaroons, sponge cake and more tonight.

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For all my Jewish readers, I wish you a joyous Passover!

4/19 Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

THE 100 MOST JEWISH FOODS by Alana Newhouse. Artisan (March 19, 2019). ISBN: 978-1579659066. 256p.

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SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl

April 13, 2019

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My Gourmet Memoir

Ruth Reichl has led a very food-centric life and has written extensively about it. In a bit of exciting news,

“Former Gourmet editor and New York Times critic Ruth Reichl says that a memoir about her early days as a food writer [Comfort Me With Apples] is going to be the subject of a new eight-part series on Netflix.”

This book is about how Ruth came to be editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, the changes she made, and how it all went away. In case you weren’t sure if she was traumatized by the magazine’s closing, Ruth has written a novel about it, Delicious! and a cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (and I loved both those books.) Now she has finally written the memoir that she seems to have been avoiding, and it, too, is terrific.

As a long time fan of Gourmet magazine, I was sad when it shut down. But it wasn’t my life, as it was Ruth’s, so the feelings cannot even be compared. She starts at the beginning, from her first meetings with the publisher and owner, while she was still the New York Times restaurant critic. (I loved her book about that experience, Garlic & Sapphires.) She met with friends to discuss the possible job change, and when she finally got the job offer, the money was six times what she was making at the Times, and impossible to resist. Off she went and her life changed dramatically.

This book contains a few recipes, including one for a Jeweled Chocolate Cake, which sounded great. I was curious about the possibility of turning that cake into cupcakes. I held this review for a few days and tweeted at her, but sadly, I was ignored. I will figure it out myself – necessity is the mother of invention. And I have the Google-verse at my fingertips.

If you’ve read Reichl’s other memoirs, you will undoubtedly enjoy this one. If you haven’t, it’s as good a place as any to start. For foodie fans everywhere.

4/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl. Random House (April 2, 2019).  ISBN 978-1400069996. 288p.

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THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean

April 5, 2019

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From the publisher:

A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK

WASHINGTON POST TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018

“A constant pleasure to read…Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book.” —The Washington Post

“CAPTIVATING…DELIGHTFUL.” —Christian Science Monitor * “EXQUISITELY WRITTEN, CONSISTENTLY ENTERTAINING.” —The New York Times * “MESMERIZING…RIVETING.” —Booklist (starred review)

A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries—from the bestselling author hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.


This is a book beloved by librarians, to no one’s great surprise. On the other hand, I didn’t love it. Yes, it is an interesting story but I was not a fan of the writing. The book jumps all over the place, not moving back in forth in time but back, forth, sideways, back, forward, back, sideways, etc. It was dizzying at time. Why am I reading about this library director, I read about her several chapters ago. Now here is more info on another library director. I found it hard to get into this book and if my book group hadn’t picked it, forcing me to finish it, it would have been in my did-not-finish-and-certainly-not-reviewed pile. Yet here I am.

I started this book a few months before it came out. I put it down and picked it up several times, usually after reading a good review somewhere. But honestly, I don’t think a book written about librarians and libraries is ever going to get a bad review, at least not from the librarians who review for the journals like Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. On the other hand, I don’t have any restrictions.

It wasn’t a horrible book; the story was interesting, at least from what I could piece together. I read it over many months so I admit to forgetting some stuff as I went along. But I didn’t care enough to go back and reread any of it. I love libraries and usually like reading about them. I missed the story about this fire to begin with, as did most people as it happened the same day as Chernobyl, which pretty much guaranteed it would be a non-story. What Orlean does is take the story of the fire and interweave it with the history of the library, going back a few hundred years. But it was just too jumpy for me, I would have preferred a chronological telling leading up to the fire and beyond. I didn’t get that. For what it’s worth, I didn’t care for Orlean’s bestselling The Orchid Thief, either, and never finished reading it. And that book was also beloved and was even made into a very strange movie called Adaptation.

4/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean. Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (October 16, 2018). ISBN 978-1476740188. 336p.

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BECOMING by Michelle Obama

February 21, 2019

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From the publisher:

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.


When this book came out last year, I knew I would read it eventually, but I had to get myself into the right frame of mind. As regular readers know, I am not happy with the current administration. I look at this book, a great deal of which is about the Obama presidency, with longing and admiration.

It was like taking a journey back to a kinder, gentler time, at least during the Obama administration. Mrs. Obama is pretty candid and open about her foibles, her successes, and why it all mattered so much. She talks a lot about their marriage, their problems and how they solved them. She talks about her struggles with her career and juggling work and family. She explains why she’ll never forgive Trump for endangering her family and why she didn’t smile at his inauguration. She talks about Sandy Hook, the only day in Obama’s eight year presidency that he requested his wife’s presence in the Oval Office. She is as open and forthcoming as she always seemed to be while she was the First Lady. Her voice rings true.

Michelle Obama embodies the quintessential American story. We learn about her upbringing on the South Side of Chicago, her close knit family living in their small apartment. We learn about her education and the opportunities she was lucky to receive, the guidance from her parents, her close relationships with them, her brother and her extended family. The values that were instilled in her as a child have lasted a lifetime and how she passed those values on to her children, despite their growing up in the White House.

This was a very emotional read for me. I have been a great admirer of Mrs. Obama since she came on to the national stage and this book just reinforced those feelings. Her story made me laugh and made me cry, but most of all made me remember a better time in America. And best of all, hope of that happening again.

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BECOMING by Michelle Obama. Crown Publishing Group; First Edition edition (November 13, 2018). ISBN 978-1524763138. 448p.

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THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION by James Carl Nelson

February 20, 2019

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The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919

Nelson is a historian by profession and his book is a well researched study of a little known invasion of Russia by American soldiers occurring from the end of World War I for about a year. The American Expeditionary Force cold weather chapter, took place along with troops from England, France  Japan and Czechoslovakia.  There are several  versions of the reason for U.S. intervention but the one used by Nelson was in order to defend the enormous amount of supplies, including weaponry, against use by the Bolsheviks.  Russia was in the midst of a civil war, and the Reds (Bolsheviks) were fighting the Whites (those opposed to the socialism advocated by Lenin and Trotsky).

The foreign soldiers were landed in both Murmansk and Archangel both cities that enjoy bitter winters for most of the year. From there the Americans and their allies fought the Bolos (as the Bolsheviks were termed) in towns and villages along the northern portion of Russia. The Armistice ending the war between the allies and Germany was declared on November 11th, 1918. The not so small war in Russia dragged on for several more years with the troops involved wondering why they couldn’t join their fellow soldiers in going home.  The men could not find a reason to enter into this conflict, experienced low morale and just wanted out.

Dry and dusty this book is not.  Most of the Americans came from Detroit, Michigan and the research there by the author found many actual writings by the soldiers.  Most probably descendants of the troops readily made available diaries, letters and other writings.  Plus local Michigan newspapers in their archives would definitely  have had coverage of the conflict including references to the local men taking part in it.

The book is a description of a little known conflict occurring a century ago and mainly using the words of the combatants to describe it. The only reference to politics taking part in sending soldiers there is to lay blame on President Woodrow Wilson for allowing himself to be talked into sending soldiers with no real idea of what to do with them. Maybe so but Wilson is the president who campaigned for reelection in 1916 using the slogan “He kept us out of war” and than getting the United States into a blood bath in Europe shortly after his reelection. In any event, his blase attitude permeated the entire adventure into Russia with nothing really accomplished.  Moreover, Mr Nelson in summing up his book suggests that the Russian attitude towards the U.S for the invasion in 1918-19 is one of the reasons that America has been kept at a distance for more than a century.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION by James Carl Nelson. William Morrow (February 19, 2019). ISBN 978-0062852779. 320p.

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41 REASONS I’M STAYING IN by Hallie Heald

February 4, 2019

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A Celebration of Introverts

From the publisher:

In a world of seemingly unending social obligations, we could all use a night off.

In 41 Reasons I’m Staying In, illustrator and self-proclaimed introvert Hallie Heald imaginatively portrays engaging and sometimes outlandish excuses to avoid leaving home.

With each page comes a new room and character, pursuing their obsessions, hobbies, interests, and sudden whims with gusto:

plotting world takeover, learning magic, mooning over a crush, evading taxes, and beyond.

This dark and humorous celebration of introverts offers a unique look into their private worlds and reminds us of the deep fulfillment and joy we can find in spending time alone.

 


I am not an introvert but even I enjoyed this charming book!

While the book looks like a children’s book, it is for adults. The illustrations are wonderful, as you can see. And I like the premise of the book. As much of an extrovert as I am, I, too, enjoy staying in on occasion – especially if I can look through a book like this. Buy it for the introvert in your life, they will thank you.

About the Author

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

41 REASONS I’M STAYING IN by Hallie Heald. Morrow Gift; 1st Edition edition (January 29, 2019). ISBN  978-0062749895. 96p.

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