July 10, 2017

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A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World

Joan Nathan is the queen of Jewish cookbooks, and her latest is terrific. Be sure to read the introduction, a history of Jewish food that is completely fascinating, as well as a short but clear explanation of Jewish dietary laws, kashrut. The recipes included are all kosher, including substitutions as needed, although there is a caveat to check with your rabbi if you are not sure.

The forward is written by Alice Waters, so that was also a must read for me.

The book is divided as follows:

Soups and Their Dumplings
Grains and Such

There is also an excellent index and bibliography.

The recipes have basis in many countries, even some I never thought of as especially Jewish, like Mexico and Sri Lanka. All are interesting, some are trendy (Shakshuka, anyone?) and some are classic, like Matzo Brei, Chopped Liver, and Apple Kuchen (cake). But it’s the unusual that really drew me to this cookbook, starting with Ferrara Haroset with Chestnuts, Pine Nuts, Pears and Dried Fruits from Rome. We liked this so much at Passover I used it again as a filling for Hamentaschen, and it worked beautifully. I would never have thought of using tahina in cookies, but Tahina Cookies made a believer out of me – if you like Halvah or Mexican Wedding Cookies, try these cookies.

I was partial to a lot of the Italian Jewish recipes, like Tagliolini colla Crosta, Crusty Pasta with a Bolognese Sauce that has pine nuts, ground almonds and raisins in it and Roman Ricotta Cheese Crostata with Cherries or Chocolate. The Spinach-Feta Burekas is Bulgarian, but is called Buricchi by Italian Jews, and Borek by Ottomans and Balkan Jews. It is a laminated dough filled with spinach and feta, and reminded me of the Greek Spanikopita. I have never attempted a laminated dough and probably will substitute filo dough here.

The Roast Turkey with Challah-Chestnut-Cranberry Stuffing is as delicious as it sounds – I cut the recipe in half and used it for a stuffed turkey breast and it worked really well. Yuca Latkes with Cilantro Cream, Sweet Plantain Guava Kugel and Green Chile Relelleno Latkes all have Hispanic origins, sometimes by way of Miami!

The final recipe in the book is Libyan Saefra, King Solomon’s Cake, which Nathan believes predates baklava and is believed to be an aphrodisiac. This is a filled cake, and the filling is a spiced date mixture. The ingredients are very unusual but not hard to find – Cream of Wheat and semolina are used instead of flour, for example.

All of the recipes include their origin stories, some are longer than others but all are interesting. You can see the research and the love that went into this cookbook.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

KING SOLOMON’S TABLE by Joan Nathan. Knopf (April 4, 2017). ISBN 978-0385351140. 416p.

Author Spotlight: Emma Straub

July 8, 2017

Books Are Magic: Author Emma Straub’s new bookstore | Signature Views Mini-Doc – Author Emma Straub gives a tour of her new bookstore Books Are Magic, which recently opened in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, and discusses its origin.

Emma Straub is the New York Times-bestselling author of Modern Lovers, The Vacationers, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and Other People We Married. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and Elle. Her work has been published in fifteen countries.

Visit Emma Straub’s Amazon page

CAMINO ISLAND by John Grisham

July 7, 2017

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A library, a bookstore, and a Florida setting – count me in! I couldn’t resist and I’m happy to say this was a really good read. I tend to run hot and cold with Grisham’s books, sometimes I love his books, other times, not so much. I put this one in the love column for sure. And interestingly enough, it’s not a legal thriller.

The premise starts with a heist. Princeton University is home to the only original manuscripts of all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels as well as his notes, letters and papers. The manuscripts are priceless, to say the least, so when they are stolen, all sorts of agencies get involved in trying to find them.

The insurance company investigator needs help. They think that the owner of a small but very successful bookstore owner may have the manuscripts. The bookstore is on Camino Island outside of Jacksonville, Florida, (which bears a strong resemblance to Amelia Island, where Grisham has a home.)

The investigator zeroes in a Mercer, a novelist who grew up on the island. Mercer has just been let go from her teaching job, has mountains of student debt to pay off, and is three years late on her contracted next book.  The investigator offers to pay off her student loans and pay her a ton of money besides. All she has to do is stay in her former summer home for a six month period, befriend the bookseller, and see what she can learn. She learns a lot about rare books, so I did as well, and it was completely fascinating.

I loved the premise of the book and Grisham really brought it home for me. Luckily, the library at Princeton is apparently nothing like the one described in the novel, lest someone get the bright idea to make fiction a reality. Grisham is quite a diverse writer, and he once again goes off in a different direction from his legal thrillers. This is a thriller, just no lawyering involved here. There are some reviews who cast this with a chick lit light, but I really didn’t see it. I will say that some of my favorite Grisham books, besides his first few legal thrillers, are his non-thrillers like Playing for Pizza and Skipping Christmas. Camino Island is just another really good read.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CAMINO ISLAND by John Grisham. Doubleday; First Edition edition (June 6, 2017).  ISBN 978-0385543026. 304p.


BEFORE THIS IS OVER by Amanda Hickie

July 6, 2017

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Rumors of a deadly virus have already begun to spread, but Australia has so far remained safe. For Hannah, though, it is a concern. A cancer survivor always anxiously aware of any minute change in her own health, Hannah also has two sons and a husband to care for. And so when talk circulates of the virus’s potential spread, Hannah starts to prepare. Stockpiling food and other necessities is at the forefront of her mind in the beginning and she feels she’s done well enough at that, ensuring the men in her household don’t dip into the emergency stash along the way. But even she realizes that keeping her eldest son from participating in a school trip, when no infection has yet to reach their shores, might be a bit of a stretch.

And yet, her concerns are founded. The virus hits Australia while her oldest son is separated from the rest of the family. She berates her husband for heading into the office and keeps her youngest son home from school while the teachers and principal believe she’s being ridiculously paranoid. And again her concerns turn out to be founded when one of the men in the office and children at the school become infected. And when her son’s school trip is trapped by blockades and quarantine measures, Hannah’s husband finally agrees it’s time to take matters into their own hands.

I loved Amanda Hickie’s debut. In a time of ebola and zika, amongst others, the fear of viral apocalypse definitely seems like a reality we could very well face. Amanda Hickie herself was inspired to write the book based on her own fears after threats of a SARS outbreak.

And those fears ring true in Hannah. The story is tinged by that fear, imbued with a sense of paranoia and dread that infects the reader from the very first page. Which of course makes it a perfectly intense read.

Before This is Over is the kind of book that will appeal to a wide audience. The outbreak aspect makes it dark and satisfying for dystopian and post apocalyptic fans, but there’s a definite literary lean to the novel that will appeal to more than just genre fans. And considering the book raises a lot of questions, most importantly how far would you go to protect the people you love most, I think it would make a great pick for book clubs looking for a very discussion worthy and timely read.

7/17 Becky LeJeune

BEFORE THIS IS OVER by Amanda Hickie. Little, Brown and Company (March 28, 2017).  ISBN 978-0316355452. 400p.


KISS CARLO by Adriana Trigiani

July 4, 2017

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The 4th of July seems like a good time to talk about Adriana Trigiani’s latest, a book about Italian immigrants living the American dream.

I always look forward to a new book from master storyteller Trigiani, and she never disappoints. Kiss Carlo is another terrific Italian family story, this time set in the late 1940’s in Philadelphia. Dom and Mike are brothers who own a cab company, but when their father dies, he leaves behind a rift between the brothers that forces them and their families apart for more than a decade. Dom opens his own cab company and adds a telegraph office as well, run by Mrs. Mooney, a “colored” woman who loves the family like her own.

Nick is an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle Dom in a basement apartment. He works in the family business, driving cab #4, and Mrs. Mooney is like a second mother to him. He moonlights at the Borelli theater, where he does everything and anything from cleaning the floors to feeding the actors their lines.

Calla Borelli took over directing the plays from her retired father. The Borelli theater is a community theater that puts on productions of Shakespeare, but ticket sales have been steadily declining and the family is barely hanging on. Calla has to fire Nick, they can’t afford him anymore except at the last minute, he has to fill in for one of the actors, and Nick falls in love with the stage.

Nick has been engaged for seven years, since before the War, to Peachy, but as he is tempted by Calla, and in love with acting, he realizes he can’t see a future with her. In nearby Roseto, the town is expecting the Ambassador Carlo from their sister city in Italy for a Jubilee celebration. Nick is to deliver the telegram stating that the ambassador has been taken ill and won’t arrive, but instead, Nick convinces Mrs. Mooney to go with him while he poses as the Ambassador and all sorts of hijinks ensue.

All of Trigiani’s books are about “la famiglia” and no one does a better job of it; you can practically taste the macaroni and gravy as you read. If you are looking for a beautiful escape, look no further. Kiss Carlo is an intoxicating getaway, a vacation read I wouldn’t want to miss, and neither should you!

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

KISS CARLO by Adriana Trigiani. Harper (June 20, 2017). ISBN 978-0062319227. 544p.


Author Spotlight: Ken Segall

July 2, 2017

Author Ken Segall on the worldwide phenomenon of simplification

Ken Segall (former ad agency creative director for Apple, and author of THINK SIMPLE) discusses why society is trending toward simplicity, from both a business and personal standpoint.

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THINK SIMPLE: How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity by Ken Segall

Simplicity is arguably the most potent weapon in business—attracting customers, motivating employees, helping outthink competitors, and creating new efficiencies. Yet rarely is it as simple as it looks.
Ken Segall’s first book, Insanely Simple, was based on observations gained from twelve years working as Steve Jobs’s advertising agency creative director, first with NeXT and then with Apple. He saw firsthand that Jobs looked at everything through the lens of simplicity. His obsession with simplicity was not just visible in Apple’s products. You could see it in the way the company organized, innovated, advertised, sold at retail, and provided customer service.

In practice, simplicity was Jobs’s most powerful business weapon. It helped Apple distinguish its products and create entirely new product categories, and it put distance between Apple and its competitors. But, while Apple is a terrific example of a company that has been propelled by the power of simplicity, it is hardly alone.
Inspired by the ways Apple has benefited from the power of simplicity, Segall set out to find other companies that were traveling this path. He wanted to learn more about the thinking of their leaders. He felt that if he could chronicle the experiences of those who have successfully simplified, it would be an invaluable guide for everyone who would like to do the same.

This book is the result of his journey into simplicity in companies around the world.
Many of the “heroes of simplicity” profiled in this book are probably not on your list of usual suspects. Segall had conversations with over forty men and women from a wide range of industries, in companies big and small, established and up-and-coming, famous and below under the radar.

Each leader has a fascinating point of view about how simplicity has helped improve his or her company and set it apart from competitors. Each is unique, yet, as you’ll find, many display interesting similarities.

From Jerry Greenfield, you’ll hear how Ben & Jerry’s grew from local to global without losing its focus and simple values. From the CEO of one of Australia’s biggest banks, you’ll hear how simplicity is attracting new customers. From former Apple Senior Vice President Ron Johnson, you’ll hear how a simple idea aligned the team creating the worldwide network of Apple Stores.

You’ll discover how simplicity influences the CEOs of The Container Store and Whole Foods. You’ll get insights on simplification from the worlds of fashion, automobiles, entertainment, and technology. You’ll even get inside the blue heads of the Blue Man Group, who developed a business strategy to defeat complexity before it could take root.

No principle is more important for businesses today than simplicity. In this insightful and often surprising book, you will learn how to harness the power of simplicity to build lasting, profitable organizations.

THINK SIMPLE by Ken Segall.  Portfolio (June 7, 2016). ISBN: 978-1591847502. 256p.


Win the July ’17 bookshelf of signed thrillers!

July 1, 2017

Welcome to the July bookshelf of signed thrillers! Amazing books this month from some of my favorite authors and some new-to-me authors. To enter, go to the Win Books page. Best of luck!

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USE OF FORCE by Brad Thor: When the body of a high-value terrorist washes ashore during a storm in the Mediterranean Sea, Scot Harvath is hired by the CIA to determine if the suspect was involved in planning a major attack they’ve been fearing all summer.

THE LIBRARY OF LIGHT AND SHADOW by M. J. Rose: Sought by society patrons who admire her ability to create stunning “shadow portraits” revealing her subjects’ most scandalous secrets, a mystical artist in 1925 Manhattan renounces her gift in the wake of a tragedy and flees to southern France, where she confronts toxic people from her past.

PARADISE VALLEY by C. J.  Box: Setting a trap for a serial killer she has hunted for three years, investigator Cassie Dewell is disgraced when the operation goes horribly wrong, a situation that is further complicated by the loss of her job, the disappearance of a troubled youth and her determination to catch the killer at any cost.

DEADFALL by Linda Fairstein: Investigating the drive-by murder of a high-profile city employee, assistant district attorney Alexandra Cooper teams up with NYPD detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace to search for answers in secret societies, a big-game hunting operation, the illegal animal trade and covert government deals.

AFTERLIFE by Marcus Sakey: Between life and death lies an epic war, a relentless manhunt through two worlds … and an unforgettable love story, in a book that is soon to be a major motion picture!

WATCH ME DISAPPEAR by Janelle Brown: A beautiful Berkeley mom with a radical past vanishes while hiking, leaving her family to piece together her secrets, in this keenly observed novel for readers of Emma Straub and Maria Semple.

DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES by Holly Seddon: A shut-in who meddles in her neighbors’ lives and her twin, whose secrets have separated her from her husband and child, reevaluate complex family dynamics that have led to their respective circumstances before their lives are shattered by terrible revelations.

PERISH FROM THE EARTH by Jonathan F. Putnam: Steamboat owner’s son Joshua Speed enlists close friend and fledgling lawyer Abraham Lincoln to defend a young traveling artist who has been wrongly accused of a murder linked to a rigged card game.

FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager: Emerging a lone survivor of a serial killer’s massacre a decade earlier, a former college student struggles to ignore traumatic memories and move on as one of a group of other survivors who look to her for answers when one of them is found dead in a suspicious suicide.

THE FIFTH REFLECTION by Ellen Kirschman: A shocking police procedural told through the eyes of a police psychologist. When a young child goes missing, Dr. Dot Meyerhoff is pulled into the vortex of a terrible crime. Torn between her allegiance to the troubled investigator and her complicated connections to the missing child, Dot must find a way to help—or lose everything she holds dear.

PERSONS UNKNOWN by Susie Steiner: Enduring cold-case work as the price she must pay for a transfer back to Cambridgeshire and a better work-life balance, pregnant detective Manon Bradshaw becomes unwittingly embroiled in the murder of her former brother-in-law when the case threatens her family and pits her against close colleagues.


You can win autographed copies of all these books! If you are new to the site, each month I run a contest in conjunction with the International Thriller Writers organization. We put together a list of books from debut authors to bestsellers, so you can win some of your favorites and find some new favorites.

What makes this contest really special is that all of the books (except eBooks) are signed by the author! Books with multiple authors will be signed by at least one of the authors.

Penguin Random House books for giveaway were provided by the publisher. #PRHpartner

Don’t forget, if you subscribe to the newsletter or follow this blog, you get an extra entry into every contest you enter. Check out the Win Books page for more information on all these books and how you to enter this month’s contest.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!


June 30, 2017

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Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

Not sure how I missed this when it came out last year, but I found it now. Put out by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, it is much more parody than children’s book. I thought I might enjoy a little political levity while stressing out about politics but I am too far gone for this book to reach me.

WARNING: if you are a fan of the “dotty old racist”* in the White House, then this is not the book for you.

*Thank you, Jon Lovett, for this. Listen to “Lovett or Leave It, a week in review recorded in front of a live audience. It’s great,” a podcast from Crooked Media.

From the publisher:

What do you do when you spot a wild Trump in the election season? New York Times bestselling author and comedian Michael Ian Black has some sage advice for children (and all the rest of us who are scratching our heads in disbelief) in this perfectly timely parody picture book intended for adults that would be hysterical if it wasn’t so true.

The beasty is called an American Trump.
Its skin is bright orange, its figure is plump.
Its fur so complex you might get enveloped.
Its hands though are, sadly, underdeveloped. 

The Trump is a curious creature, very often spotted in the wild, but confounding to our youngest citizens. A business mogul, reality TV host, and now…political candidate? Kids (and let’s be honest many adults) might have difficulty discerning just what this thing that’s been dominating news coverage this election cycle is. Could he actually be real? Are those…words coming out of his mouth? Why are his hands so tiny? And perhaps most importantly, what on earth do you do when you encounter an American Trump?

With his signature wit and a classic picture book style, comedian Michael Ian Black introduces those unfamiliar with the Americus Trumpus to his distinguishing features and his mystifying campaign for world domination…sorry…President of the United States.

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6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A CHILD’S FIRST BOOK OF TRUMP by Michael Ian Black. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (July 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1481488006. 32p.



June 29, 2017

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A Butternut Lake Novel

This was my first time reading this author, and I intend to read more of these Butternut Lake books. This was a really good, fast fun read, perfect for summer.

Of course it probably helps that the main character, Billy, is the small town librarian – that always gets me interested. She is a single mom, the result of a one-night stand, her first time having sex, when she was 18 years old. The father was a fishing guide in Alaska, and by the time she realized that she was pregnant, he had moved on with no forwarding address. Luckily, she has wonderful parents who support her and help her raise her son, Luke.

Fast forward several years and Luke is a young teen. Billy’s dad passed away, and they are both having a hard time dealing with it, but Luke refuses to discuss it. He has made a couple of new friends and is getting into trouble with them – getting suspended on the last day of school, then getting arrested for graffiti. This is a very small town in northern Minnesota, and the cop knows Luke is a good kid so he gets off with just a warning. But Billy is worried about how to handle this new person who is living in her son’s skin.

One day at work, Billy is looking out the window and sees a man driving a Porsche being ticketed. Cal is really good looking and turns out to be staying with his sister for the summer, while going through a divorce and selling off his partnership in a Seattle architecture firm. Eventually, Billy and Cal meet and there is a strong attraction, but things move slowly for a while. Billy is dealing with Luke, and Cal has his issues but they keep bumping into one another and things progress nicely.

This was a one night read for me. I loved these characters and the small town life – an idyllic summer read. Unfortunately, my library only has digital audiobooks of her earlier books – going to have to see what I can do about that!

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIGHT IN SUMMER by Mary McNear. Thomas Dunne Books (September 6, 2016).  ISBN 978-1250089090.  304p.


THE IDENTICALS by Elin Hilderbrand

June 28, 2017

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The problem with this book is that I liked the characters so much that I was truly sorry to turn the last page. I want to spend more time with them, I want to see what happens in the rest of their lives.

The title refers to identical twins, Tabitha and Harper Frost. Growing up, they were as close as you’d expect identical twins to be, but then their parents divorced. Eleanor, the tyrannical, blue-blooded mother, decreed that each parent would take custody of one child, splitting the fourteen-year-old girls apart. They both want to go with their easy going father, but a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors makes the determination and shapes the rest of their lives.

Harper goes off to live with her father in his ramshackle house on Martha’s Vinyard, while Tabitha lives in the family compound 11 miles away on Nantucket. Harper makes one bad decision after another and is often the talk of the town. But her latest peccadillo – an affair with her father’s married doctor, really pushed the Vinyard folk over the edge.

Tabitha, who also never marries, nonetheless has children with her partner. But the wedge between the twins becomes insurmountable after Tabitha gives birth to a second child, premature son, who dies a few months later. Tabitha blames Harper, but her grief is neverending, chasing away her daughter’s father, who eventually marries and has his own family.

Eleanor, the family matriarch, is a fashion designer, somewhat reminiscent of Gloria Vanderbilt. Tabitha lives with her surly, out of control teenage daughter in the guest house on the property, and works for her mother, managing the store on Nantucket. And then her father dies.

Harper plans the celebration party her father wanted, and her mother, sister and niece all attend, but the rift is still strong. He has left the house to both girls, leaving them with a dilemma; sell it as a teardown, or invest beaucoup bucks and renovate, selling for much, much more.

Meanwhile, Eleanor gets a bit tipsy at the funeral celebration and ends up falling down the stairs when she gets home, breaking her hip. Tabitha leaves her daughter alone, goes with her mother to Boston, where they will have to stay while Eleanor recuperates from surgery.

Harper goes to Tabitha’s house to take care of her niece and run the store. Eventually Tabitha goes to their father’s house to try her hand at renovating, so in effect, the women trade lives for a summer. And what a difference a summer can make.

Once again Hilderbrand has created a world I long to visit. This is another terrific read from one of my favorite authors.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE IDENTICALS by Elin Hilderbrand. Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (June 13, 2017). ISBN 978-0316375191. 432p.