April 10, 2017

Laughing through the Arab Spring

If a book has a blurb from Jon Stewart , and the author is known as the “The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World” I have no choice but to read the book. So I did.

I first learned about Bassem Youssef while watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. And I was intrigued. A few weeks later, I stumbled across the book at my library and grabbed it.

I like learning about different cultures, and I don’t know a whole lot about Egypt. I did have a co-worker from Egypt (who has since been promoted and moved to another branch of the library) and we talked on occasion about her family and her life in Egypt and here, so I have some understanding, at least of how her family lives. But she is no revolutionary, and Youssef is. So I was happy to read a very interesting point of view from a very funny Egyptian voice.

While I appreciate his humor, the Egyptian government did not. He was threatened and arrested but eventually fled Egypt and landed in California. Youssef is not just a comedian; his first career was as a heart surgeon. Besides not knowing much about life in Egypt, I know even less about their politics. Comedy is not especially welcome by an oppressive regime, and that was not a surprise. But Youssef’s life has been extraordinary so far, brutal at times, sad for sure, but his writing style, his satire, is laugh out loud funny.


From the publisher:

“Hilarious and Heartbreaking. Comedy shouldn’t take courage, but it made an exception for Bassem.” –Jon Stewart

“The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World”—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.

Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.

So potent were Youssef’s skits, jokes, and commentary, the authoritarian government accused him of insulting the Egyptian presidency and Islam. After a six-hour long police interrogation, Youssef was released. While his case was eventually dismissed, his television show was terminated, and Youssef, fearful for his safety, fled his homeland.

In Revolution for Dummies, Youssef recounts his life and offers hysterical riffs on the hypocrisy, instability, and corruption that has long animated Egyptian politics. From the attempted cover-up of the violent clashes in Tahrir Square to the government’s announcement that it had created the world’s first “AIDS cure” machine, to the conviction of officials that Youssef was a CIA operative—recruited by Jon Stewart—to bring down the country through sarcasm. There’s much more—and it’s all insanely true.

Interweaving the dramatic and inspiring stories of the development of his popular television show and his rise as the most contentious funny-man in Egypt, Youssef’s humorous, fast-paced takes on dictatorship, revolution, and the unforeseeable destiny of democracy in the Modern Middle East offers much needed hope and more than a few healing laughs. A documentary about his life, Tickling Giants, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, and is now scheduled for major release.

Something to look forward to.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

REVOLUTION FOR DUMMIES by Bassem Youssef. Dey Street Books (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0062446893. 304p.

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.

TURBO TWENTY-THREE by Janet Evanovich

December 10, 2016
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Stephanie Plum Series, Book 23


I still enjoy this series, but I was a bit disappointed in this latest entry. I thought last year’s Tricky Twenty-Two was the best book in years, so I was hopeful for this one. While Evanovich kept the shorter length which worked well in 22, this one felt longer. Really long.

It starts off silly, which we have come to expect and enjoy. Stephanie is out to pick up her latest bounty runner but he takes off in an ice cream truck. She causes it to stop, the subject takes off and a dead guy falls out of the back of the truck. Not just dead – frozen, dipped in chocolate and covered in nuts. A dead Bogart Bar, as it were.

Lula is back of course, and she’s hatched a plot with Randy Briggs. The two of them are creating demo tapes to submit to Naked & Afraid, the Trenton edition, with varying results. Meanwhile Ranger offers Stephanie a chance to earn extra money. She goes undercover at the ice cream factory to try and figure out what’s going on. But all she finds is another frozen body and she’s not happy about it.

Stephanie and Joe are still together, and she’s constantly tempted by Ranger as well. Her mother is ironing like mad, Grandma Mazur has a boyfriend, and all sorts of hijinx ensue.

I found the first half really slow moving but it picked up after that. The usual jokes, exploding cars and so forth abound and fans will enjoy.

12/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

TURBO TWENTY-THREE by Janet Evanovich. Bantam; First Edition edition (November 15, 2016).  ISBN 978-0345543004. 304p.


CURIOUS MINDS by Janet Evanovich & Phoef Sutton

August 17, 2016
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Knight and Moon Series, Book 1

In the first entry of the Knight and Moon series, Evanovich and Sutton have teamed up again (Wicked Charms) to introduce the eponymous Emerson Knight and Riley Moon. Moon is a Harvard MBA with her first job as an analyst for Blane-Grunwald, a large, privately held bank, and Knight is their largest depositor; young, good looking and a bit of an eccentric.

When Knight demands to see his gold deposits, Moon is dispatched to placate him at his home, Mysterioso Manor, which boasts wild animals roaming freely and a classic car collection. The two of them fall into an adventure looking for the missing Grunwald partner that gets significantly more dangerous as they stumble onto an evil plot to steal the world’s gold.

The humor occasionally borders on silly, but the one liners fly as fast and furious as the pages do in this auspicious start to the new series. Evanovich fans will find this series closer in style to the Stephanie Plum series rather than the slightly more sophisticated Fox & O’Hare series.

Copyright ©2016 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.

8/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CURIOUS MINDS by Janet Evanovich & Phoef Sutton. Bantam (August 16, 2016).  ISBN 978-0553392685. 336p.



THE ART OF MURDER by Elaine Viets

June 4, 2016
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Dead-End Job Mystery (Book 14)

The Bonnet House is a lovely old house that has been turned into a museum and gardens. This Fort Lauderdale landmark  is where Viets has set her latest Dead End Job mystery.

I was aware of the hot Miami art scene, but did not know that Fort Lauderdale also has its share of artists and galleries. In this book, a young woman is taking an art class at the Bonnet House, and collapses in the parking lot surrounded by witnesses. She is dead by nicotine poison – Viets is nothing if not cutting edge here – vape liquid is the murder weapon. There are plenty of suspects and a friend of the victim hires Helen Hawthorne to find the killer. Well, she really wants Helen to prove that the victim’s ex-husband is the murderer, but Helen is keeping an open mind, especially after she finds out the current husband has taken out a large life insurance policy on his wife.

Meanwhile, a small enclave of expensive condos known as “Little New York” is having a raft of burglaries of gold coins. When an elderly man is killed during a robbery, the security team steps up and hires Coronado Investigations to find the robber.

There are lots of red herrings and a lot of fun along the way to Helen and her hot hubby solving these mysteries. Another terrific read from one of my favorite authors.

6/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ART OF MURDER by Elaine Viets. NAL Hardcover (May 6, 2014). ISBN 978-0451476135. 304p.

THE BOB’S BURGERS BURGER BOOK by Loren Bouchard & Cole Bowden

May 28, 2016
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I imagine most of the folks watching Bob’s Burgers (like myself) imagine what Bob’s punny burger of the day creations would taste like in real life. But Cole Bowden took it one step further. He chronicled his burger experiments with the extremely fun Bob’s Burger Experiment blog, eventually catching the eye of the folks behind the show, leading to the creation and release of The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book.

As the title states, these are “real recipes for joke burgers.” And they are freaking tasty burgers.

Burgers run the gamut of toppings and combinations. There’s the “Texas Chainsaw Massa-curd Burger” (my own first try), which features a habanero-studded patty topped with cheese curds and a wickedly tasty homemade ginger ketchup. Young Bob’s “Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger” may have been criticized by his dad, but only before he tasted it. That spectacular creation is stuffed with feta cheese, topped with chives and a sour cream mustard mixture, and served up with spicy fried pickles. Even Bob’s guaranteed-to-win-awards creation, “Bet it All on Black Garlic Burger” is included.

Each recipe comes with mention of the episode and season where it originally appeared, an intro to the recipe, clear and concise prep/cooking instructions, and building instructions as well. Most also

New Baconings Burger

include illustrations too. So yeah, you probably should be a little bit of a Bob’s Burgers fan to REALLY enjoy the book. With grilling season truly upon us, though, I think EVERY burger fan should buy this one. Includes 75 recipes.


5/16 Becky LeJeune

THE BOB’S BURGERS BURGER BOOK by Loren Bouchard & Cole Bowden. Rizzoli (March 22, 2016).  ISBN: 9780789331144. 128p.



August 6, 2015
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Rose Gardner has been the dutiful daughter for twenty-four years despite her abusive momma. Rose is a charming character, incredibly naïve and sweet, but she finally snaps; she tells off her momma and creates a list of 28 wishes on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt that includes things like wear high heels, kiss a man, and get cable TV.

While working at the DMV, she has a vision about herself being murdered; turns out her momma is the one who gets murdered and Rose is the prime suspect. Her mysterious new neighbor, Joe, is incredibly helpful and adds a bit of romance.

There is a lot of humor in this book that borders on but never quite crosses over to silly, and the mystery here almost takes a backseat to Rose and her declaration of independence.

This is the first book in a new series, with the next two following in September and October, respectively. It is light, fluffy Southern fun and should appeal to Mary Kay Andrews and Charlaine Harris fans.

Copyright ©2015 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.

8/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

TWENTY-EIGHT AND A HALF WISHES by Denise Grover Swank.  Crooked Lane Books (August 11, 2015).  ISBN 978-1629532196. 288p.

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




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



THE PORTLANDIA COOKBOOK by Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein & Jonathan Krisel

February 20, 2015

portlanCook Like a Local

This is the companion cookbook to the popular TV show that has just been renewed for 2 more seasons (that’s 6 & 7 in case you aren’t caught up!) It includes 50 recipes from a variety of sources.

If you haven’t seen Portlandia, it is a comedy sketch show starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. They play several different regular characters and the stories are all set in Portland. I hesitate to say they make fun of the local culture, but they do, with great affection.

The book is half comedy, half cooking with actual recipes, and they all tie in to an episode of the show. Fans will get the references, newcomers may be bewildered. For example, there is a recipe called “Butterflied Chicken Roasted Over Bread” that is a direct reference to the series premiere episode. That episode featured this nice young couple who are dining out and ask about the spatchcocked chicken on the menu. They are told it’s locally raised, and then the waitress brings them a dossier on the chicken whose name is Colin. They decide to visit the farm where he was raised to make sure he had a good life before they eat him, and it just gets crazier from there.portlan Colin

While I might actually try to make the Butterflied Chicken recipe, most recipes didn’t really inspire me to try them. The borscht had carrots in it, and I don’t remember my grandmother doing that (although the beets episode of the TV show is one of my favorites.) I did make one of the first recipes in the book, the “Brussels Sprouts with Bacon” which was great. It also had hazelnuts which added a nice crunch, but let’s face it, how can you go wrong adding bacon to a veggie dish!

As a cookbook, I wouldn’t really recommend it but any fan of the show will definitely want it.

portlan contributors

portlan intro

2/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE PORTLANDIA COOKBOOK: Cook Like a Local by Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein & Jonathan Krisel. Clarkson Potter; 1St Edition edition (October 28, 2014). ISBN 978-0804186100. 176p.