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.


BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah

December 8, 2016
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Stories from a South African Childhood

When it was announced that Jon Stewart was leaving The Daily Show and all but unknown (to us) correspondent Trevor Noah had been tapped to take over, the news came with an understandable amount of trepidation. Noah had appeared just a few times on the show before the announcement and basically vanished until the transition, which meant viewers didn’t really have a chance to get to know him. Unless, of course, you’d sought out his stand up. Because Trevor Noah, while new to most of the US audience, had already made a name for himself elsewhere.

Noah is charming, smart, and funny, each of which holds equal weight in The Daily Show. But again, most of us knew little about him. And though personal stories have made their way into the show’s dialogue, this debut collection of essays offers up much more of a look inside the history and childhood that made him who he is today.

The title, Born a Crime, is true. Trevor Noah was born in South Africa during apartheid when the mixing of races (socially and otherwise) was illegal. Noah intersperses his beginning tales with a basic history of apartheid, explaining not only the law but how it came to evolve as well, offering up an honest look at a truly horrific and recent piece of world history.

Noah’s own reminiscences, while perfectly illustrating the charm and humor he’s known for, are fairly dark. He recounts, for instance, the time his mother threw him from a moving vehicle in order to escape the very possible violence about to occur at the hands of a minibus driver one Sunday. And he talks honestly about how his family handled the very fact that his very existence could have meant jail for them and/or an orphanage for him.

At the heart of the collection, though, is the fact that Noah’s mother, an extraordinary woman, is responsible for the man he is today. At a time when education and opportunity were all but nonexistent for a Xhosa woman, she pursued both. And she taught her son to think, to reason, and to dream.

Born a Crime is an amazing book that is eye-opening and shocking as well as funny. It’s addictingly readable and definitely one I’d recommend not only to fans of Trevor Noah and The Daily Show but to readers interested in an inside, and again honest, look at apartheid and South Africa.

12/16 Becky LeJeune

BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau (November 15, 2016).  ISBN 978-0399588174. 304p.

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THE MAGNOLIA STORY by Chip & Joanna Gaines

November 6, 2016
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with Mark Dagostino

In case you are not familiar, Chip & Jo Gaines are the stars of  HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Set in Waco, Texas, the couple shows a prospective buyer three homes, all fixer uppers. They determine a budget, pick a house and go to town on it. Chip is the contractor and Jo is the designer who has single handedly made shiplap the most sought after design element in any fixer upper.

The couple have four children and live on a farm with dogs and goats and chickens and a pecan orchard. They started off the show by fixing up their farm house, and have never looked back. They have since renovated and opened a B&B that sold out for the year within a few hours. They purchased an old mill with silos and turned it into a shop that sees thousands of customers a day. And they have an online Magnolia Market [https://magnoliamarket.com/] as well that sells all sorts of home decor, accessories and their own line of paint. This book, a memoir, is their latest project. and follwing soon is a design book. They have partnered with the Meredith Corporation to create a new lifestyle magazine, The Magnolia Journal (or subscribe here.) Yet they seem to remain the same down to earth happy family.

This book is the story of their lives, from childhood through dating, marriage, family, the businesses and God. Apparently God talks to Joanna and helps her make all her life decisions. These are people of strong, abiding faith who seek to live a life of good work, and it has rewarded them well.

I do enjoy the show and am constantly shocked at how inexpensive housing is in Waco. And FYI, if you don’t live within a 30 minute commute of Waco, they won’t fix up your house.

Joanna is half Korean, and writes about growing up in Kansas and being the “other”, different, and how that affected her. She considers herself to be an introvert. Chip is a good old Texas boy who apparently is as goofy and fun loving in life as he is on TV.

Their story is sweet and funny and a bit too religious for a heathen like me, but that’s a very personal thing. As of 10/31/16, the book is #2 on Amazon and debuts at #1 on the NY Times bestseller list on Nov. 6. They are doing something right and I couldn’t be happier for them.

11/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE MAGNOLIA STORY by Chip & Joanna Gaines. Thomas Nelson (October 18, 2016). ISBN 978-0718079185. 208p.

Kindle


RELISH by Lucy Knisley

March 26, 2016
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My Life in the Kitchen

I  haven’t read a graphic novel in quite a while, it’s not something I read regularly. They have to be pretty special to get me to pick one up and this one is.

Lucy Knisley grew up with a caterer mother and a food critic father and this is her story. She both writes and illustrates it, and as you can see from the cover, the illustrations are fun but also somewhat true to life. Starting as a young girl in New York City, she talks about the food she tries, and the food her family cooks and eats. Each chapter ends with an illustrated recipe.

Her parents divorce and she and her mother move to upstate New York to a small farm. There her mother gets involved in the community and starts a green market with local farmers that eventually becomes a mecca for foodies in the area. Lucy falls in love with food, but also with drawing and becomes a cartoonist.

Written with great warmth and humor, this is a graphic novel to be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good memoir and foodies everywhere.

3/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

RELISH by Lucy Knsisley. First Second (April 2, 2013). ISBN 978-1596436237. 176p.

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates

January 17, 2016
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This book has been one of the most talked about books of 2015, won the National Book Award and tops many of the best books of the year lists. I’ve put off reading it because I knew it was going to upset me, and it did. But it is, in my humble opinion, one of the most important books of my lifetime. That is a big statement – and it’s true. And it seemed an excellent way to start the new year.

The book is a collection of letters that Coates writes to his 15-year-old son about racism in America. I grew up at the tail end of the 1960’s and into the 70’s with forced busing, free love, and what I sincerely hoped was (and marched for) a significant shift away from the conservative, narrow minded views of middle class America to a brighter, more inclusive future. For a while there, it seemed to be going that way but the past few years America has fallen back – or, maybe, as Coates explains it, it never really went away. Coates insists that racism in America is a permanent fixture, and he is not trying to make it go away, but rather teach his son how to live with it.

American history is explored and explained in a way that is truly eye opening. But it is the use of the body, specifically black bodies, that Coates expounds on that is both terrifying and tremulous, and hopefully continues to provoke much needed conversations.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. The language is lyrical and powerful, the subject matter moving and emotional and important, and the themes all encompassing and worthy of deep discussion.

Buy this book.

For further reading, The Atlantic (where Coates is a regular contributor) has an online book discussion that may be perused. It has ended, but the comments are worth reading.

1/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (July 14, 2015). ISBN 978-0812993547. 176p.

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HEADS IN BEDS by Jacob Tomsky

November 25, 2015
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A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

Jacob Tomsky works the front desk of high end, luxury hotels. Here he offers up the inside dirt on what really goes on, how to get the most bang for your buck, but really his point is how to beat the system – all told in a most entertaining fashion. Think of it like Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for the hotel industry.

Not all of his tips are, how shall I put this…ethical? But he explains why you shouldn’t worry about it. Personally, I have to sleep at night so his tips on how to avoid paying for in room movies and the minibar just didn’t sit right with me. But I will definitely use his tips on how to avoid paying the cancellation fee, how to get upgrades, why and when you need the concierge, and why you should always use and tip the bellman.

I listened to the audiobook, which the author reads, and he does a really good job. I actually had to stop it a few times to take notes! But for the most part, the note taking portion is in the appendix. The book itself is by turns funny, horrifying and always interesting –  at least to anyone who has ever stayed or is planning to stay in a hotel. A fun and informative read.

11/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

HEADS IN BEDS by Jacob Tomsky. Anchor (July 30, 2013). ISBN 978-0307948342. 320p.

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MY KITCHEN YEAR by Ruth Reichl

October 3, 2015
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136 Recipes That Saved My Life

For years Ruth Reichl has been recognized and revered for her work. But in 2009 with the folding of Gourmet, the critic/writer/editor was suddenly unmoored. She found solace in her kitchen, though, and that’s the heart of her latest release, My Kitchen Year.

This is no ordinary cookbook. My Kitchen Year is a book to be read as much as it is a book to be used. In fact, it’s something of a conversation between Ruth and her readers. Recipes are loosely built, leaving room for personal tastes and interpretations, and are accompanied by Ruth’s own writings on what was happening at that particular time in the days and months after Gourmet was shut down.

Recipes are arranged by season, featuring ingredients at the height of freshness, and while the dishes themselves run the gamut of food types and flavors – Easy “Bolognese,” Ma Po Tofu, “Tandoori” Chicken, Matzo Brei – , they all have one thing in common: comfort. From the Shirred Eggs with Potato Puree all the way through to the Quick, Easy Do-Ahead Dinner for Two People: A Ten Minute Meal (lamb chops with baked potatoes and shredded Brussels sprouts), Ruth takes readers on a journey through that year all the while sharing the dishes that helped her along the way.

My Kitchen Year is a fabulous cookbook filled with enticing recipes, gorgeous photography, and lots of heart. It’s perfect for Reichl’s fans as well as anyone who has a love for good food.

10/15 Becky LeJeune

MY KITCHEN YEAR by Ruth Reichl. Random House (September 29, 2015).  ISBN 978-1400069989. 352p.


YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler

July 30, 2015
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Narrated mostly by Amy Poehler (with help from Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Kathleen Turner, Mike Schur, Patrick Stewart et al)

Amy Poehler is funny and nice, and apparently a lot of really funny people like hanging out with her. This is one of the best audiobook memoirs because of all the readers – they really add something to the reading experience.

I was not a “Parks & Recreation” fan. We watched the first season, thought “eh” and stopped watching. Apparently (according to friends and family members who LOVE it) it got a lot better after that initial season. So after listening to this book and my friends and family, it is in my Netflix queue.

Amy talks about her life, her friends and her work. She talks about growing up outside Boston, motherhood, SNL, Parks & Rec and more. She also talks about her family, but sadly, she is divorcing (already divorced?) so that was in the back of my mind as she spoke lovingly about her husband.

I couldn’t help compare it to Bossypants (best of the comedic memoirs) and the Mindy Kaling book and frankly, it didn’t quite measure up. Nonetheless, it was definitely an enjoyable read, probably more so as an audiobook.

7/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler. HarperAudio; Unabridged edition (October 28, 2014).  ISBN 978-0062350886. Listening Length: 7 hours and 31 minutes

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IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? by Mindy Kaling

July 27, 2015
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Narrated by Mindy Kaling

There is something that is just so likeable about Mindy Kaling, and after listening to this book, that feeling has just been reinforced. She is, or at least appears to be, nice. Not an airhead for sure. Not a Hollywood egomaniac either – or if she is, she hides it well. And I don’t mean that she isn’t self confident because she is, and she definitely is self aware and smart, qualities that I greatly admire. And she’s funny as hell. This book is laugh out loud funny and also really smart, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mindy put together a collection of essays from her childhood, when she first started out writing for television, lots of inside info from The Office, and lots more. I loved the stories about her first writing job in Queens, her People magazine photo shoot, her family, Hollywood gift bags and well, pretty much all of it.

This is a fun read, especially to listen to as she reads it herself. Her next book, Why Not Me?, comes out Sept. 15. I am looking forward to it!

7/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? by Mindy Kaling. Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (November 1, 2011).  ISBN 978-0307939807. Listening Length: 4 hours and 37 minutes

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LEAN IN by Sheryl Sandberg

January 31, 2015

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Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

I don’t read a lot of business type books, but I received an invitation from Random House to host what they were called “an authorless event” around this book, and I took them up on their invitation. They sent me flyers about Lean In, bookmarks and a DVD with a few brief messages from the author, including one geared towards book discussion groups. They also sent me book discussion guides.

After reading the book – which I ripped through in one Sunday afternoon – I could see why there has been so much hype around this book. The title alone, “lean in,” has become part of the vernacular. The book is part memoir, part career advice, and eminently personal. It reads as if Sheryl were there in the room, just having this conversation with you, the reader. She talks about some of the difficulties she’s overcome, and ones she still faces. She talks about her personal life, the “myth of having it all” in which working women seamlessly juggle a career (not just a job), a family, keeping a home, and do it all without any help. She calls BS on that, in her own way, and talks about guilt, the importance of choosing the right partner, and even suggests way to get your partner to do their fair share.

Sheryl’s dream is that half of all executive positions in America will be held by women, and half of the people doing the majority of the parenting will be men. She dreams big, and so far it’s worked for her. She is the first to point out that she is very lucky to be able to afford hired help, and to have such a supportive husband, but even with all her blessings, she still carries guilt around.

She talks about the importance of raising our children to respect leadership and talks about how little girls who show leadership are called “bossy” and little boys who do likewise are encouraged. She talks about why women should “sit at the table” and not fade into the background, why girls should raise their hands and speak up, even when being admonished for doing so, while it is acceptable for boys to do the same thing.  She has facts and figures to show that women are hired or promoted based on their accomplishments, while men are judged on their potential.

One of the more interesting statistics was about how people feel about feminism:

Currently, only 24 percent of women in the U.S. say that they consider themselves feminists. Yet when offered a more specific definition of feminism — “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”– the percentage of women who agree rises to 65 percent.

Frankly, I was surprised that number wasn’t even higher.

This is a well researched book with footnotes that are clearly laid out in more than 30 pages of notes in back, and there is a detailed index as well. Since I mostly read fiction, I forgot how wonderful it is to have an index when you are looking for a quote like the one above. The icing on the cake is that Sandberg founded a women’s empowerment nonprofit, LeanIn.Org.

In my day job, I’m a librarian for the Palm Beach County Library System and I’m the programming librarian at my branch. That means I’m responsible for creating a community oriented variety of programs that will hopefully inspire, educate and entertain, and on a really good day, maybe stimulate some discussion that lasts long after the program ends. I decided to build a program around this book, and my recent Business Women’s Networking and Book Discussion did just that.

I was fortunate to have access to a couple of really good resources, Susan Berger, our Business Librarian, and Sharon Geltner, the Small Business Development Center Certified Business Analyst at Palm Beach State College. Both women have done programs at my library, so I invited them to each speak briefly about the free resources available to businesses in Palm Beach County.

Then it was my turn to facilitate a book discussion of the Sheryl Sandberg book, and it was enlightening and better yet, started the seed of something bigger – a Lean In Circle. This is an inspirational and important book, and I urge anyone who works to read it – both men and women. There is a new edition called Lean In for Graduates, which expands on this book with additional chapters “offering advice on finding and getting the most out of a first job; résumé writing; best interviewing practices; negotiating your salary; listening to your inner voice; owning who you are; and leaning in for millennial men.”

1/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Knopf; 1 edition (March 11, 2013). ISBN 978-0385349949. 200p.