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April 2012

Book Review 12




Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes Page 26

A Conversation with Baker and Author, Stanley Ginsberg

26 59

By Jordan Magill Page 29

Babycakes Covers the Classics: A Conversation With Author Erin McKenna

A nightBy Philip to remember Wilkinson Capstone Press, $17.95, 64 pages, Format: Hard


Few tragedies are as famous as the sinking of the Titanic one hundred years ago. Numerous books have been written, and movies and television shows have been produced. It is hard to believe there is much left to say on the subject, yet Philip Wilkinson has a very fresh take on the topic. This is a highly detailed book, extraordinarily illustrated with photographs, charts, maps, and drawings that cover so many aspects of the ship and its tragic voyage. There is even a fold-out chart and poster. Each spread in the book has a different focus. Readers are treated to a history of the Golden Age of ocean liners and the buildClick/Tap for TITANIC, cont’d on page 21

By Sky Sanchez-Fischer Page 32

Would Hemingway Tweet? By Rick Skwiot Page 36

A Conversation With Edward Frenkel Page 48

96 Reviews INSIDE!

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CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Joseph Arellano Zara Raab Sky Sanchez-Fischer Rick Skwiot PUBLICATION DESIGN/LAYOUT: Heidi Komlofske COPY EDITORS: Diane Jinson Holly Scudero Robyn Oxborrow Kim Winterheimer Lori Miller Lori Freeze Cathy Lim EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Elizabeth Tropp Erin McDonough Shanyn Day Christopher Hayden Missy McEwen Derek Erickson WEBSITE: Heidi Komlofske

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Issue Contents Fiction


Children’s Historical Fiction Modern Literature Mystery, Crime & Thrillers Poetry & Short Stories Popular Culture Popular Fiction Romance Sequential Art Science Fiction & Fantasy Tweens Young Adult

Biographies & Memoirs Business & Investing Cooking, Food & Wine Current Events & Politics History Humor-NonFiction Science & Nature

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Feature Articles A Conversation With Baker and Author, Stanley Ginsberg By Jordan Magill

Babycakes Covers the Classics: A Confersation With Author Erin McKenna By Sky Sanchez-Fischer

Would Hemingway Tweet? By Rick Skwiot

A Conversation With Edward Frenkel By Zara Raab

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 3

From the



f you’re one of our regular readers, you’ll notice the transformation our publications have made in recent months. About a year ago, we made the very difficult decision to abandon printing, instead taking advantage of all that a digital publication has to offer. No, print is not dead, but you’ve got to admit that digital magazines sure offer a lot of bells and whistles. Ross and I now actually donate our printed Wired and Sunset magazines, preferring the digital versions instead. In this issue, we’ve included links so that you can easily purchase any of the books you’ve read about here. Click on the Facebook or Twitter links to follow us there. New posts every day, and a weekly book giveaway selection. Also new in this issue are the star ratings. We have a nice selection of Easter and Passover books, and some in remberance of the anniversary of the Titanic sinking. Coming up in our May issue of San Francisco Book Review, we have a very special insert celebrating Children’s Book Week. We have nearly 100 children reviewing books for us this year. The program is such a giant success that we will be launching a new monthly insert inside each of our publications: Kids’ Book Review, starting with our June issue. If you have a child who would be interested in reviewing for KBR, please visit this link for information. And please don’t miss our May issue! We hope you’ll find something you like in this issue. Welcome to Spring!

Issue Navigation. Tap/click to go to... Cover Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 4

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Mystery, Crime & Thrillers

the world-famous magician Harry Kellar but instead finds himself facing the unexpected death of Kellar’s beautiful assistant - onstage! Can the trio discover if it was an accident, murder, or something even more sinister and otherworldly? Thank you, Mr. Stashower, for giving readers just enough information about the theater life and magicians without resorting to endless information dumps. The book contains fascinating descriptions of life in turn-of-the-century New York City that draw you into the story full of characters with spunk. Like the life of a theatrical person, The Floating Lady Murder shifts back and forth between wildly exciting events and humdrum, everyday life. Imagine my surprise when, at the completion of the book, I learned that all the important clues and hints needed to solve the puzzle had been cleverly woven into the less exciting sections of the book. Clever sleight of hand, Mr. Stashower! Reviewed by Jodi Webb Bent Road: A Novel By Lori Roy Plume, $15.00, 354 pages, Format: Trade


Harry Houdini Mysteries: The Floating Lady Murder By Daniel Stashower Titan Books, $12.95, 256 pages, Format: Trade

««««« In The Floating Lady Murder, Harry Houdini – yes, THE Harry Houdini – although much younger and less famous, returns with his beautiful wife Bess and practical brother Dash. Harry’s determined to get his big break working for

Though I was in the end dissatisfied with this “suspense” novel, I have some misgivings and caveats about my impressions. It was after all, Roy’s first novel— however, with all the critical kudos, I expected better writing. If suspense is the deliberate withholding of information to keep the reader turning pages--and the three core elements of suspense are-- anticipation, empathy, and uncertainty--this novel fails on all counts. What kind of book is it, then? Smiley’s A Thousand Acrescomes to mind. However, that book’s a masterpiece and is no less than a retelling of King Lear. Here we have little allegory or symbolism. The writing is simplicity itself. We have the platitudinal Kansas landscape. Tortured secretive families. Incest. Laconic speech. The women characters have inner thoughts while the adult men simply act, particularly Arthur Scott, the protagonist. That’s not playing fair in a novel. I didn’t feel much empathy for the Scott family. In fact, I rather disliked the characters, even the children. The foreshadowing was creative writing one. And yet, Roy is promising. She could

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 5

Book Reviews

Mystery, Crime & Thrillers

have been creepier. She was coy about the church, which after all; it seemed to me, was one of the big problems of living in the novel’s small town. Will she let it out in her next book? Reviewed by Phil Semler The River Secrets By Diane Dunning Amazon Digital Services, $2.99, 167 KB, Format: eBook

««« Diane Dunning’s explosive debut novel calls all morality, religion, hypocrisy, and sensationalism into question. The River Secrets opens with the epitome of scandal: an illicit affair between a nun and a priest, a brutal murder by a bishop and a cover-up worthy of Hollywood with an ending sure to sear its memory into the depths of your soul. Sister Anthony loves her life as a nun in Father Francis’s convent. She believes wholeheartedly in

her faith (if not by all the rules and dogmas of the Catholic Church) and relies on her God. Without it, she’d be lost. This makes her excommunication ever more traumatic. To make matters worse, she is innocent. Or is she? Are there levels of sin and guilt? She may not have been the direct perpetrator of the heinous murder committed by their Bishop. She, however, did witness the cover up as a direct result of an affair between her and Father Francis. Does this make her guilty by association? How about him? These are just a few of the questions explored here. And, in Dunning’s hands, these issues are explored in a way that is simply divine. The ending will stun and excite you. Dunning has earned my recommendation and I look forward to reading her further works. Sponsored Review



Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 6

eBOOK $2.99 ISBN 978098482000

Book Reviews

Mystery, Crime & Thrillers

An inside look into the mind of a sociopath

Agent of Influence By Russell Hamilton iUniverse, $23.95, 437 pages, Format: Trade

««««.5 Agent of Influence is an action-packed mystery/thriller that is certain to entertain. Written by Russell Hamilton, the story begins with President-elect Zach Hardin and an attempt to topple the power of the USA and be replaced by Middle Eastern powers. Hardin is approaching the pinnacle of his career, while secret service agents Anna Starks and Alex Bryce battle against time, in order to expose his connection to Muslim organizations. Hamilton does well by utilizing a number of factual tidbits to support his fictional, yet true-to-life characters. The President-elect is a Yale student, a school known to be the alma mater of a few of our past Presidents. The issue of Hardin’s naturalization, as he was originally born in Cairo, Egypt, is similar to the issue that arose during the presidency of our current President, Barack Obama. With characters like Egyptian national Hussan, one can comprehend his ideals without condoning them. His extremism is evidenced by his dialogue “To truly bring the Muslim faith back to prominence, the entire animal of the West would have to be slaughtered…” There is much strength and depth with Hamilton’s characters, and the circumstances surrounding them make these characterizations work well for his story. Exotic settings throughout this fast-paced story also make for interesting reading. The reader travels with the secret services agents on their mission to expose Hardin, from various places around the world. From Egypt to the United States, to Las Vegas, and ultimately Washington, D.C., home of our nation. Agent of Influence is written with a clear-cut, faced paced prose style that keeps the reader’s interest. There is espionage, murder, action, and mystery all rolled up into one very exciting adventure. With many true-to-life nuances interwoven throughout the story, Hamilton accomplish-

Read it on your Kindle $9.99

es reliability of his characters. Some of the story is told as a flashback, which also makes for an interesting read. For those readers who love thrillers, this political mystery thriller is sure to deliver. Sponsored Review No Mark upon Her: A Novel By Deborah Crombie William Morrow, $25.99, 369 pages, Format: Hard

«««« Opening a new Deborah Crombie mystery is often a step into terra incognita. It is Crombie’s practice to weave her characters around a situation or discipline which is often unfamiliar to the reader, a technique also satisfyingly employed by her contemporaries Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George. Here, the sport of sculling is put on display. Rebecca Meredith, a London police detective and former Olympic hopeful, has drowned while sculling on the Thames at dusk. DI Gemma James and her husband, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, must first determine whether Rebecca was murdered. Their lives are further complicated by the recent addition to their family of an orphaned three-year-old girl. A volunteer-staffed search and rescue team and their highly intelligent dogs assist with the investigation. A loathsome and vicious mi-

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Book Reviews

Mystery, Crime & Thrillers

sogynist lurks at the heart of the mystery. These complications are standard Crombie, which will surely explain why we, her faithful reading public, stay up far too late, turning pages. Best of all, by the novel’s last page, she has tied up almost every loose end. Reviewed by Elizabeth Benford A Walk Across the Sun By Corban Addison SilverOak, $24.95, 384 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Corban Addison makes an impressive debut with his first novel, which is based upon true events. After a tsunami strikes the coast of their town, two teenaged Indian sisters find themselves orphaned and without a home. In an attempt to make their way to a convent school in England, they become victims of human traffickers and are exposed to the world of sex trade. On the other side of the globe, in Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Clarke is struggling with his own demons. After the loss of his child, his Indian wife abandons him. He subsequently decides to take a sabbatical in Bombay, in hopes of reconciling. When he begins to investigate the sex trade and human trafficking operation, it becomes his quest to put an end to these horrific crimes. This story really works for Addison as he brings the issue to light with beautifully written narrative. His personal research during travels to India is evidenced by insights and character/prose style that make the book’s characters believable and reliable. The chapters alternate between the sisters and Thomas Clarke, and ultimately become intertwined. For those who enjoy multicultural fiction, this book is a must read, and is certainly an extraordinary and emotionally moving work of literature. Reviewed by Jennifer Ochs

The Prague Cemetery By Umberto Eco Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27.00, 445 pages, Format: Hard

««« Umberto Eco is the author of several remarkable novels, including The Name of the Rose. Furthermore, he has received several prestigious European literary awards, including Italy’s Premio Strega and France’s Prix Medicis Etranger. Therefore, it should surprise no one that his current novel, The Prague Cemetery, is beautifully crafted. Despite admiring Eco’s considerable skill, however, I did not enjoy this novel. Set in nineteenth century Europe, this novel centers on Simon Simonini, a spy, forger and hater of Jews who drafts the Protocol of the Elders of Zion. Eco uses this one character to seamlessly spin conspiracies and foment societal upset amongst an extensive list of historical figures and events. Indeed, Simonini is the only fictional character in the book. Furthermore, without revealing too much, Eco creates the completely believable character necessary for the fantastic nature of the plot. Despite these promising earmarks, this novel is filled with hate, most of which centers on Jews. Eco doesn’t suggest he approves of this hatred. It’s simply what the characters feels. However, it is remarkably vile and unsettling. For this reason, I cannot recommend this novel. That said, the ease with which Eco convincingly spins conspiracies amongst real life events will leave the reader questioning who actually controls events today. Reviewed by Annie Peters

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 8

Book Reviews

lection. Early on, though, she feels a niggling personal connection. She recalls the strange dreams she had as a child about being lost in the woods, and her sister’s young daughter begins having the same dreams. What she feels seems related to the house and, especially, the folly that was built for stargazing. As Jude learns about a previously unknown member of the family who lived at Starbrough Hall, she is challenged by a number of mysteries that she simply must solve. In the meantime, she must come to terms at last with the death of her husband, her sometimes strained relationship with her sister, and the possibility of opening up to new love. A Place of Secrets is a captivating novel, particularly satisfying for those of us who like stories of long-buried secrets and old British homes. Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim


Popular Fiction

First a Torch By Richard Baker Ink & Lens, $22.00, 470 pages, Format: Trade


A Place of Secrets By Rachel Hore Henry Holt, $15.00, 400 pages, Format: Trade

««««« When auction house valuer Jude has the opportunity to investigate some books owned by an 18th-century amateur astronomer, she is intrigued. But more interesting is the location of the collection: Starbrough Hall, an estate near her grandmother’s childhood home and her sister’s current home. After some initial investigation, Jude ends up spending a few weeks in the home to do a full evaluation of the col-

First A Torch is written by Richard Baker, who previously earned the accolade of the Ernest Hemingway Award for Short Fiction with a story about Vietnam. Baker is a war veteran who served in the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam. First A Torch tells the remarkable military fiction story of a farm boy named Bix who befriends a Vietnamese man named Chau during the siege upon Dien Bien Phu. Baker builds his story with solid characters on both sides of the battle field. The siege upon Dien Bien Phu that lasted six months is setting for the story. The characterizations of Chau and Bix are well developed and make this historical military story a poignant and heartrending work of fiction. After rescuing Chau from a fight with racists, Bix and Chau develop a bond of friendship. They subsequently decide to travel cross-country with another friend they meet along the way, an ex-con named Steve. First A Torch is not only a

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Book Reviews

Popular Fiction

military story, but also an emotional tale of the adventures these men share during their cross-country excursion. Bix and Steve are compelled to defend the French base at Dien Bien Phu. In the fall of 1953, they decide to join the Foreign Legion, but Bix develops second thoughts. Bix “was beginning to doubt his decision about joining the legion…” For those who enjoy military fiction, Baker does an exceptional job conveying the images of a historical battle. His characters are rich as he entices the reader into evaluating both sides of the battle. Baker deftly portrays this siege and engages the reader throughout the course of the story. With his firsthand experience, Baker delivers a truly impressive war novel, examining what it means to fight and survive as a soldier, bringing the reader into the psyche of those who served and continue to serve in times of war. Sponsored Review The Gilder By Kathryn Kay Kensington Books, $15.00, 305 pages, Format: Trade

«««« Marina has a secret that she has kept for fifteen years, but she knows that if she spills the beans, she will harm two people she dearly loves. Keeping her secret is at the heart of this lovely debut novel. Marina has been fascinated with Florence since she was a teenager. Eight years later, at the age of 22, she arrives in Italy with her saved waitressing money, determined to attend a gilding class and make a new life for herself. She quickly meets Thomas and Sarah, a somewhat older bohemian couple, both of whom are artists. They become a threesome, with Sarah and Marina developing a particularly close friendship. As the relationships become more complicated, Marina’s idyllic life in Florence becomes less certain. The story jumps between present day and the Florence years during the late 70s. Now an established gilder in New England, Marina is haunted by the secret she has kept, and

decides to return to Florence to set things straight. The Guilder provides an engaging plot line, convincing and complex characters, absorbing relationships, and a charming Italian setting. What more could a reader want? Reviewed by Leslie Wolfson Forgotten Country By Catherine Chung Riverhead Books, $26.95, 304 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Since the day her sister was born, Janie has been tasked with the responsibility of keeping her safe. Terrified by stories told to her by her grandmother about every generation losing a sister, Janie guards Hannah like a mother. But when their family leaves Korea for America and the sisters grow up in American society, Hannah becomes more and more distant from her family and their heritage until one day she disappears entirely. Janie, pressed by more tragedy at home, sets out on a search to find her sister and return her home. What follows is a beautiful, haunting, and painfully honest tale of a family’s struggle through and life and death that spans countries and generations. Catherine Chung’s Forgotten Country is a wonderful read infused with Korean folk tales and beautiful imagery. Chung paints a complex and very real family fighting to keep a hold of each other to the point of almost destruction. Each character has their flaws and strengths that make them come alive on the page. It’s a beautiful story about a family falling apart and coming back together and learning to forgive one another. I would highly recommend this book, especially to people who love to learn about other cultures and their customs. Be prepared for a few heartbreaking and frustrating moments. Read with tissues close by. Reviewed by Hannah Walcher

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Book Reviews

Popular Fiction

Lessons in Laughing Out Loud By Rowan Coleman Gallery Books, $15.00, 352 pages, Format: Trade

How to Eat a Cupcake: A Novel By Meg Donohue Harper, $13.99, 320 pages, Format: Trade



Willow Briar doesn’t know it, but her life is in desperate need of a shake-up. Overweight, with long-held emotional baggage, Willow can’t help but sometimes compare herself to her beautiful and perfect sister. Her life revolves around her job, working for a demanding talent agency, and her social life is pretty much limited to her best friend Daniel, whom she’s had a crush on for years. But when she picks up a pair of beautiful shoes from a mysterious antique store, shoes that seem to make her feel taller and slimmer, Willow begins to discover a new side of herself. Armed with new selfconfidence, Willow finally sets out to tackle the family secret that has haunted her for years, and design a new future for herself in the process. Rowan Coleman’s new novel Lessons in Laughing Out Loud initially may sound a bit contrived. Magic shoes? A mysterious dark family secret? But readers who dive into this story will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly they become absorbed in Willow’s story. The characters are likeable, and while parts of the story are predictable, as a whole it is a great read to lose oneself in. Coleman’s writing style helps bring it all to life, and the wit woven throughout the book will surely win over any reader who picks this one up. Reviewed by Holly Scudero

This debut novel by Meg Donohue is set in San Francisco and relates the story of the young Annie Quintana, who dreams of opening a bakery specializing in fine cupcakes. Her dream is set to come true because the wealthy Julia St. Clair is willing to fund the business. The problem is that Julia was once Annie’s best — and worst — friend, Annie’s mom having worked as a housekeeper for the St. Clairs. Donohue paints The City as a place where folks engage in massive quantities of eating and drinking, and she does a great job of making various locations — including the largely Hispanic Mission District — come to life. It’s likely that a number of male readers will, however, find this tale to be a bit too sweet for the taste. But females may willingly be caught up in the knotty struggles of XX-chromosome relationships. Cupcake winds up being a type of psychological mystery in which the reader wants to find out what happens at the end. Donohue displays a gift for dialogue in this debut and a certain sense of charm, but it’s hoped that she stretches herself a bit in her next release. Reviewed by Joseph Arellano

Read Meg Donohue’s article on our website:

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Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 11

Book Reviews



with varying degrees of concern. This book brings fun to the dark with its glow-in-the-dark features while addressing Bunny’s fears. It is a well-written story that will involve children from the very beginning, holding their interest throughout all of the many attempts with Papa to find a suitable nightlight. Bunny finds something missing from each of the suggestions, but Papa never gives up trying to find a solution for Bunny. Ultimately, Papa suggests they ask Mama for her help. Children will cheer when Mama’s idea solves the problem. Best read in the dark by the glow of a flashlight or night light, The Bunny’s Night-Light : A Glow-in-the-Dark Search will easily become a child’s favorite book to be read and reread each night. Children will identify with Bunny, which opens up the chance to discuss their own trepidations. What a wonderful bedtime story! Reviewed by Angie Mangino Itsy-Bitsy Baby Mouse By Michelle Meadows, Matthew Cordell (illustrator) Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, $15.99, 40 pages, Format: Hard


The Bunny’s Night-Light: A Glow-in-the-Dark Search By Geoffrey Hayes Random House Books for Young Readers, $11.99, 23 pages Format: Hard

««««« In the search for a nightlight for Bunny, Geoffrey Hayes’ glow-in-the-dark story helps ease children into readiness for sleep by working to dispel much of the scariness of night. All children see the world differently in the dark,

Itsy-Bitsy Baby Mouse is having quite an adventure. He is exploring all around the big, big house. He chases a fly and climbs up on the table. He nibbles crumbs on a plate of apple pie when suddenly he realizes he doesn’t know where he is or how to get back to his mama and papa. He’s so distressed he begins to cry. When he sees a ladybug creeping across the rug, he follows it. They climb up a big, fuzzy pillow, but when the pillow begins to move, Itsy-Bitsy Baby Mouse realizes they are on top of a sleeping cat. They creep slowly and quietly down the cat, then run and hide. They bump into a friendly mouse, and Itsy-Bitsy Baby Mouse asks for help finding his way back to his home. He describes it to the friendly mouse, who gives him some directions and sends him on his way. Just when he sees his home, the cat grabs his tail! Can he make it back to Mama and Papa?

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 12

Book Reviews


Michelle Meadows writes this charming and funny story in lovely rhyme. The illustrations by Matthew Cordell are lighthearted and perfect for this little story. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine By Allison Wortche, Patrice Barton (illustrator) Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 40 pages Format: Hard

««««« Violet seems to outshine Rosie and just about everyone else in class. Violet is the fastest runner, sings the highest notes, is the loudest storyteller, and looks fanciest on picture day. Everyone agrees Violet is the best. Except Rosie. Maybe Rosie is the teensiest bit jealous or maybe she is just tired of hearing so much about Violet being the best. When Ms. Willis gives each of the students a pot and seeds to grow pea plants, Violet is sure hers will be the tallest, and she makes her pot the sparkliest. Rosie makes her pot pretty and thinks it would be a nice place to grow. The children wait and wait. Finally, one day, Rosie sees her plant starting to grow. Violet’s plant pops through the same day. The next day, Rosie sees Violet’s plant is a tiny bit bigger and pushes a little soil over the top, but she feels guilty. When she finds out Violet has chicken pox, she knows what she has to do. Allison Wortche’s sweet story will charm little ones while quietly teaching a good lesson about doing the right thing. The enchanting illustrations by Patrice Barton complement the text perfectly. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck

George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale By Margaret McNamara, Barry Blitt (illustrator) Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, 40 pages, Format: Hard

«««« When George went to sleep, he was six years old. When he woke, he was seven. It was a very special day – his birthday! Young George Washington gets no birthday love from his mother at breakfast or from his brother Augustine during lessons. Augustine even tells him he’ll “never amount to anything.” George throws a stone all the way across the Rappahannock River to make a wish. When George visits his father in the orchard, George is cold and grumpy, but Father tells him to fetch a hatchet and get busy helping. When George accidentally chops down a cherry tree, his father is glad when he tells the truth about it, but makes him chop it up for firewood and carry it to the shed. Once in the house, his father tells him to powder his wig. Many of the myths of George Washington are woven into the silly story, but insets tell the truth of things. This is an interesting way to present history to kids – addressing myths and giving the reality – and it might work well with kids. The story is entertaining and makes George Washington fairly human and relatable, and the cute illustrations add to the fun. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck The Beetle Book By Steve Jenkins Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, $16.99, 34 pages Format: Hard

«««« This vividly illustrated, fact-filled reference book is a treasure trove of information about beetles. Each page features at least one visually arresting illustration of a beetle surrounded by facts broken into easily digestible,

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 13

Book Reviews


one- to two-sentence segments. The pages are organized by theme: beetle senses, battling beetles, hunters and scavengers, etc., and include beetles that best illustrate the theme. When beetles are blown up to larger-than-life scales, the page also features a silhouette that shows the actual size. While the average reader will not read this book in a single sitting, he or she will find the reading to be a rewarding experience. The Beetle Book will entertain with interesting facts — the African goliath beetle, for example, is as big as a person’s hand — and the illustrations are absolutely stunning. This would be a great reference book for any children’s library and a handy way to get kids interested in insects. Reviewed by Tammy McCartney Poem Runs: Baseball Poems By Douglas Florian Harcourt, $16.99, 32 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Everybody loves baseball, and baseball is not only our national pastime, it is the inspiration for books, movies, television shows, games, songs, and, occasionally, poems. Boys tend to dismiss poetry as not being very interesting, but boys love baseball, and all of the poems in this book are about baseball. The poems encompass the entire game — from warmups to the end of the season and every player — from the catcher to the pitcher to the infielders and outfielders — including a rightfielder who picks daisies. Both boys and girls are represented here, but it’s more on the boy side. And that’s a good thing. The poems are funny and charming and surprisingly insightful about what is important to different players. Each of the poems is illustrated with paintings by Douglas Florian, the author. The paintings are equally funny and charming. All in all, we have a collection of whimsical poems and paintings that will beguile kids, boys and girls alike, to keep on turning the pages, over and over, and reading this enchanting book again and again. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck

Penny and Her Song By Kevin Henkes Greenwillow Books, $12.99, 32 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Penny made up a wonderful song. She could hardly wait to share it with her family. When she got home, she started to sing it to her mother. But Mama was afraid she would wake up the sleeping babies and asked Penny to wait until later. Penny found her father. She began to sing her wonderful song, but Papa said she would need to wait because the babies were sleeping and he was afraid Penny would wake them. Penny went to her room. She tried to sing to her glass animals, but she wanted to sing to someone, not something. She tried to find things to keep herself busy and not think about her song. Finally it was time for dinner. Penny began to sing her song only to find out that singing at the table was not allowed. Would she ever get to sing her song? Kevin Henkes writes a fun little story for beginning readers, one to which many children will relate. His sweet pastel illustrations give life to this whimsical book. Early readers will delight in having such a charming book they can read on their own, and they will read it again and again. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck C. R. Mudgeon By Leslie Muir, Julian Hector (illustrator) Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $15.99, 32 pages Format: Hard

««««« C. R. Mudgeon by Leslie Muir, with art by Julian Hector, is a real pleasure. C.R. is a hedgehog that’s very stuck in his ways, and he thinks he likes it that way. That is, until a squirrel named Paprika moves into his neighborhood. She shakes everything up; among other things, she plants pretty flowers and starts a Mariachi band. She fully expects C. R. to be part of the band. At

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 14

Book Reviews


first, C. R. is put out about all the ruckus, and wants her to leave. But when Paprika gets ill, he knows just how to cure her. He takes care of her, and decides he likes having her in the neighborhood. There are many lessons that children can take from this book, but probably the biggest one is not to prejudge anything just because it’s different. Be sure to grab your maracas and give them a good shake, and you too can be part of a Mariachi band just like old C. R. By the way, parents and grandparents, when you buy this book be sure to read it yourself; it’s very funny, and stands up on that basis alone. Available wherever quality children’s books are sold. Reviewed by David Broughton Otto the Book Bear By Katie Cleminson Disney Hyperion, $16.99, 32 pages Format: Hard

«««« Otto the book bear lives “in a book on a shelf in a house” and finds his greatest joy in the children who read his story. When no one is looking, he leaves his book and explores the house. Then one day the family moves, leaving their books in boxes and Otto alone. Otto decides to leave the house but doesn’t like the city beyond its walls. He is downhearted until he discovers the public library and the other book people and animals who live there. The book ends happily ever after with Otto sleeping snugly next to a new friend. Otto the Book Bear is a entertaining read with charmingly drawn illustrations and an endearing main character. I particularly enjoyed the illustrations of tiny Otto exploring the house--he is dwarfed by a family photo and sits precariously on the space bar of a typewriter to write his stories-and of the book people at the end. My son, who pilots all the children’s books that cross my path, begged to read this one again and again. Reviewed by Tammy McCartney

Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts By Syl Sobel Barron’s Educational Series, $6.99, 48 pages, Format: Trade

««««« In Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts, Syl Sobel, J.D., has composed a book to give children both the facts, as well as a personal connection to our country’s process of electing the president. Covering such topics as who can be the president, the rules for electing the president, an understanding of the electoral college, presidential campaigns, and the order of succession, this book gives children (and adults) the basic information that every American citizen should know. Presented attractively, this book maintains interest on every page, simplifying the complex rules mandated in presidential elections. The end of this book continues offering helpful information. A glossary provides definitions that serve well both to explain terms and as a quick reference tool. The resource guide gives a wealth of books, references, and websites for a more in-depth exploration of elections and the United States presidents. Updated to the 2008 presidential election, this easily read and understood book is a key reference book for students to refer back throughout their education in U.S. history, encouraging them to be informed voters in the future. Reviewed by Angie Mangino Ancient Egyptians By Philip Steele Kingfisher, $3.99, 48 pages Format: Trade

««««« All kids are enthralled with ancient Egypt, and this book will delight beginning readers with a well-crafted history they can read on their own. It opens with the story of archaeologist

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Book Reviews


Howard Carter, who discovered and opened the tomb of King Tut. It goes on to give a picture of the Nile at the time, as well as religious beliefs, including mention of the 740plus gods and goddesses they worshiped. The kingdom of Egypt is explained with class distinctions clearly shown. There is a good deal of interesting information about the pyramids and temples of Egypt, as well as hieroglyphics-all favorite subjects of youngsters. There are sections on living in towns, farming, trade, what they ate, what they wore, and how they were entertained. The making of mummies is a fascinating business, as are the funeral processions. And there is more. Every spread in this wonderful early reader is illustrated with photographs, maps, charts, or richly detailed, colorful illustrations. Many spreads have fascinating factoids in brightly colored boxes such as “Going to the bathroom: Egyptian toilet seats were often made of wood. They stood above a pottery jar filled with sand.” Kids will love this intriguing little book. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck Gem By Holly Hobbie Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 32 pages Format: Hard

««««« One spring day, a little toad named Gem wiggles up through the mud, looks out at the newly green world, and begins a journey that will take her to a peaceful flower garden. Along the way, she nearly gets hit by a car, falls in love, flees from a hungry bird of prey, and stares eye-to-eye with a curious young girl. She winds up in a beautiful new home, with water to splash in and fireflies lighting up the night sky. Bookended with letters between a grandmother and granddaughter that pinpoint the inspiration for the book, Gem is otherwise wordless, and the feisty toad’s journey is

spun solely through gorgeous watercolor and pen-and-ink drawings that make this farmhouse and garden look like the most idyllic place on Earth. Each page is full of lively details, and young readers will love both imagining the story for themselves and having it narrated for them by creative adults. Tiny Gem is a reminder of the small wonders of spring and the charming, gentle creatures who just may be living in your own backyard. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell Pig Pig Meets the Lion By David McPhail Charlesbridge, $15.95, 32 pages Format: Hard

«««« When Pig Pig wakes up one morning, he’s shocked to find a lion standing on his bed, staring right at him. The lion, he quickly learns, has escaped from the zoo, but such details don’t matter much to Pig Pig. He and the lion run all over the house, chasing each other and knocking over chairs, while Pig Pig’s mother putts around the kitchen, oblivious to the havoc being wreaked nearby. Eventually, people from the zoo knock on Pig Pig’s door – but the lion is already sneaking out Pig Pig’s bedroom window. Will the lion have to go home? Or is he off to his next adventure? McPhail leaves much to the imagination in this latest Pig Pig volume, and readers can decide for themselves whether the lion actually exists, whether Pig Pig’s mother realizes what’s happening, and whether the lion will have to return to the zoo at the end. But there’s no need to think too much about what’s real and what isn’t. McPhail’s action-packed watercolor illustrations provide plenty of excitement for even the youngest readers. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell

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Book Reviews


The U.S. Constitution and You By Syl Sobel Barron’s Educational Series, $6.99, 48 pages, Format: Trade

««««« The Constitution is the most important document in U.S. history, yet many students don’t know much about it. In order for American students to grow into educated, informed citizens, they should know the thoughts and ideas that led to the creation of the Constitution, who the Founding Fathers were and what they stood for, and what their rights and responsibilities are as citizens. This book simplifies and explains a complex document for elementary and middle-school students. It is a resource that should be on every classroom shelf and in a child’s at-home library. Ask your student, “How does the U.S. Constitution work to protect you, your family, and your friends?” Can they tell you? Delve into this easy-to-read volume together and find out. Within its colorful pages, you’ll learn about the events leading to the writing of the Constitution, the rules for the government, the three branches of government, checks and balances, the people’s power, and so much more. A detailed glossary clears up hard works and makes it a great social studies resource for kids second grade and up. This book is relevant and important in this heated election year. Rediscover the Constitution together and help the next generation grow up politically literate. It’s really one of the best gifts you can give them. Reviewed by Jennifer Melville No More Kisses for Bernard! By Niki Daly Janetta Otter-Barry Books, $17.99, 24 pages Format: Hard

««««« Bernard has four Aunties who love him dearly. As his sixth birthday approaches, they show that affection with lots of kisses. Bernard is all boy as the charming illustrations by Niki Daly show and he finally has had enough. All these kisses drove Bernard Bonkers! “No more kisses” he de-

clares. On his birthday, Bernard is prepared. He is wearing his Knight helmet and pulls down his visor before the kisses can strike. Everyone is shocked and sad. His father suggests that they try a hug instead. Bernard agrees, but his Aunt Tallulah can’t resist and sneaks in a kiss on the nose. This drives Bernard to a new position and he declares “No more hugs.” His faithful dachshund by his side, he stands them off. How the aunts and his parents deal with these signs of Bernard growing up and learn to give Bernard his space, makes a touching story. It may help those young boys who feel they are too big for kisses; explore new avenues for showing affection. Even Bernard knows we never outgrow being loved. Reviewed by Beth Revers Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth By Jon Chad Roaring Brook Press, $15.99, 40 pages, Format: Hard

«««« Intrepid explorer Leo Geo is about to embark on a miraculous journey to the center of the earth! Join him as he leaves his lab and heads down through the four different layers that make up our planet. First is the crust, followed by the mantle, the outer core, and the inner core. Along the way, he will encounter all kinds of unexpected things: fantastical creatures, unknown civilizations, possibly even magic! A lifelong love of science could never prepare Leo for this adventure! Jon Chad’s inventive sequential art adventure Leo Geo and his Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth is sure to delight inquisitive young readers everywhere. It is filled with exciting scientific facts about the makeup of the planet and the world around us. The story is simple and straight-forward – but still exciting enough to hold the attention of the youngsters in its target audience – and the

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Book Reviews


illustrations bring it all to life with a simple charm. The unique book design adds another element of fun to a book that is already a winner on all fronts. Reviewed by Holly Scudero Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It By Gail Carson Levine HarperCollins, $15.99, 80 pages, Format: Hard

gies, as Levine takes inspiration from Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel. Students in middle grade and beyond will want to try their hand at writing false apology poems based on their favorite books. Pencil drawings reminiscent of Roald Dahl fittingly complement the irreverent poems. Reviewed by Africa Hands

«««« From noted young adult author Gail Carson Levine comes a collection of cheeky false apology poems. Think of this book as an ode to William Carlos William and his famous poem “This is Just to Say” with a bit of Shel Silverstein humor added in. After jumping right in with a few poems, Levine provides a brief introduction to the art of writing false apology poems. False apology poems need no title, as can be seen in the table of contents, wherein each poem is titled “This is just to say.” These playful poems usually take the form of three stanzas in which the writer states an offense, describes the effect of the offense, then offers a false apology asking for forgiveness. Fans of classic fairy and folk tales will recognize the source of several of the false apolo-

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Book Reviews

These answers and many, many more are in this charming book. There are poems about all kinds of things: kids, queens, insects, vegetables, animals, musical instruments, shellfish, etc. There seems no end to the things represented in verse in this book. Some of them are real and some of them are figments of Jack Prelutsky’s fertile, wacky, and slightly loony imagination, and readers of his verse are eternally grateful for that imagination. If your kids like silly, silly verse, – and who doesn’t – they will love this book. In fact, you will probably love it as well. Jack Prelutsky, in his usual irreverent nonsense, has put together over one hundred wonderfully funny poems, and Jackie Urbanovic has illustrated every page with equally silly drawings. The best thing is, Prelutsky never condescends. Children (and even some adults) will learn new words, and learn not to be afraid to learn, while discovering the funny bones we all have. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck



I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus By Jack Prelutsky Greenwillow Books, $18.99, 144 pages Format: Hard

««««« If you have ever wondered how insufferable an asparagoose might be, you will find the answer here. Or what would happen if weasels get the measles. Or what goes through the mind of a child running away from home.

Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934 By Charles R. Smith Jr. & Frank Morrison, Illustrator Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $14.99, 112 pages Format: Hard «««.5 The story of the 1934 Negro League’s EastWest All-Star Game is a wonderful one. Because some of the finest athletes of the day were African American, they weren’t allowed to compete with white players of the day, so there was no true competition. Most people who love baseball have heard of the great Satchel Paige, but other players written about in this book are names most don’t know, although their talents were equal to the most well- known white players of the era. The 1934 East-West game was a real pitchers’ battle and came down to Cool Papa Bell from the East scoring the only run of the game in the eighth inning. This book has a lot going for it, but the decision to tell it in a rhyming format really gets in the way. Rhymes, near

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Book Reviews


rhymes, and forced rhymes with little in the way of meter in long, meandering sentences stops the reader from finding any flow. The “Fan in the Stands” sections, not written in rhyme, are welcome respites from the bulk of the book. The black-and-white charcoal drawings are fun and well done and add a lot of interest to the story. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck Storybound By Marissa Burt HarperCollins, $16.99, 416 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Burt has created a world to rival Inkheart in her debut novel for middle graders Storybound. Una Fairchild is an orphan who loves learning and reading. One day, in her favorite spot in the basement of the library where she hides from bullies, she finds a red book. The title is “The Story of Una Fairchild”. Intrigued she opens the book to find out what this other Una is about. After reading a few pages about a hero and a lady, Una is sucked into their world. Peter is a hero trying to pass an exam when Una appears on his test and starts slaying dragons. He is so going to fail this test. When they find out Una has been Written In, Peter knows they have a problem. There hasn’t been a WI in Story for a long time and he can’t promise her safety. Finally! A quest worthy of a hero. The pair set off to find a way to get Una back to the world of Readers and out of the world of Characters where she isn’t safe. The plot had lots of twisty bits that I didn’t see coming. I adored every moment reading. Heartily recommended! Reviewed by Pamela van Hylckama Vlieg

The Six Crowns: Fire Over Swallowhaven By Allan Jones Greenwillow Books, $15.99, 160 pages Format: Hard

«««« Princess Esmeralda, accompanied by a reluctant Trundle Boldoak as well as a minstrel named Jack Nimble, is pushing ahead with her quest for the badger crowns in this, the third book in the Six Crowns series. They are being led by a magical Phoenix feather as their search continues. They are also still being chased by the terrible pirate, Captain Grizzletusk. They arrive at the island-city of Swallowhaven to take on food and fresh water only to be taken prisoner. Swallowhaven is under siege and is readying to go to war against – who else – Captain Grizzeltusk and a huge fleet of pirate ships. Esmeralda, Trundle, and Jack convince the people of Swallowhaven to allow them to help in the fight. Thanks to the brilliance of their plans, the pirates are defeated, and Esmeralda and her friends can continue on their quest for the third crown, but it is a long dangerous journey. This third book in the series is a satisfying fantasy for young readers. The characters are well-drawn and engaging, and the story is quick and compelling. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck TITANIC, cont’d from page 1 ing of the ship, what was on the ship, how things got onto the ship, what made it run, who worked on the Titanic, and who the passengers were. One can see what the accommodations looked like and how each passenger would live during the voyage, from the richest to the poorest. Readers are treated to the superstitions that surrounded the ship and the tragic stories of real people who lost lives and loved ones. Adults and children eight and up will be fascinated. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck

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Book Reviews


Young Adult

a country that he does not understand. His grandfather takes him to visit shrines and Hiroshima. Eventually Ichiro begins to question where he belongs. One night he sees a raccoon in a tree stealing some fruit; he sets a trap but gets pulled into the Japanese underworld. He finds out it is not a raccoon but a tanuki, a spirit guide, and he is in a place where the gods fight their petty battles. Ichiro gets mistaken for the enemy and meets a god who explains what happened and the role that humanity played. Ichiro learns to accept what he is and what sort of future he could have. The storytelling and art mix well. While not everyone will be fan of the art, it does help to bring soul to all the characters. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Loss By Jackie Morse Kessler Graphia, $8.99, 258 pages, Format: Trade


Ichiro By Ryan Inzana Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, $19.99, 288 pages Format: Hard

««««« Graphic novels about teens of mixed ancestry are big in today’s market. In this book we follow young Ichiro as he visits his grandfather in Tokyo. His mother is Japanese and his father was American. His mother is looking for a new job, and Ichiro is coming to terms with spending time in

Billy Ballard is not just bullied but tormented by several kids at his high school. Not only does Billy have to deal with the constant barrage of insults, threats and physical abuse from his peers, but the teachers seem to ignore the situation. Things at home are no piece of cake, either, as Billy has become his grandfather’s caretaker while seeing him degrade from Alzheimer’s. Billy has also developed feelings for his best friend and doesn’t seem to know how to approach her about it. All of these situations get more complicated when Billy makes a deal with the white Horseman of the Apocalypse to take over his duties. That’s quite a bit to pack into a short novel. This was a difficult book for me to get through. Although I felt really bad for Billy and his situation, I just couldn’t connect with the story or with Billy. Much of the time is spent with Billy battling “the white,” which I found to be very slow and monotonous. I found myself wanting to skip several pages to get to the end. I found that this book was just not for me. I

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Book Reviews

Young Adult

did, however, really like Death. I was intrigued by him, and he gave Loss a much-needed dose of humor. Reviewed by Patricia Mendoza Fallen in Love: A Fallen Novel in Stories By Lauren Kate Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $15.99, 201 pages Format: Hard

««« Fallen In Love is the fourth book in the Fallen series. It is a little valentine for the many fans of Luce, Daniel, Miles, Shelby, Roland and Arriane: sweet stories in which the fallen teen angels expand their respective understandings of the variety and power of love. This is the only Fallen book that I have read. Finished, I visited Lauren Kate’s website, in an attempt to illuminate my sketchy understanding of her characters and their foibles. Not so easily done. A fast scan through the Amazon Readers’ reviews of the earlier novels yielded more questions than answers. No doubt young adults continue to possess passionate, wild, vivid imaginations. Provide them with a heady mix of time-travelling angels and insidious demons and they will happily, readily cobble together a bright and magic universe. For these readers, this book will serve to stave off full Fallen withdrawal until the next book in the series (Rapture, which previews here) becomes available in June. Those of us more literal-minded and fond of fleshed-out heroes and heroines will just have to wait for either the movie or the Lauren Kate/Stephanie Meyer mash-up. Reviewed by Elizabeth Benford A New Leash on Life By Erna Mueller CreateSpace, $14.99, 240 pages, Format: Trade

«««« A New Leash on Life is the winding together of several stories: a workaholic widower and his two lonely kids, a

crazy toy factory owner perfecting a new way to steal people’s money, and a human member of the K-9 Corps, who is killed in the line of duty and comes back as a dog. The dog/cop’s heavenly assignment is to bring the widow and his kids closer together, but what he really wants to do is find the people who killed him. It’s a roller coaster ride of intertwining lives, chases (both dog and car varieties), and even a little romance. Author Erna Mueller’s depiction of Spencer, the dog-whoused-to-be-a-cop, is hilarious and oddly believable! Spencer brings enough of his old cop personality to his furry new body to make him crabby, bossy, and constantly on the search for coffee. Getting inside his head as his loner cop self struggles with the lovable dog part of him, who wants to be teenage outsider Justin’s best friend, makes you root for Spencer even though he’s sometimes incredibly annoying. And watching Spencer struggle against his dog instincts creates some of the most memorable scenes in the book…watch for him wandering into a cat show! The adventure of Justin trying to figure out why the toy factory people are so interested in Spencer is fun enough to appeal to teen readers and complex enough that adults will want to “borrow” this book from their kids. The adult characters, with the exception of Spencer, are a bit bumbling, leaving all the excitement to the kids: Justin, his sister Vicki, and his girlfriend Shalha. Mueller’s portrayal of the teenagers is skilled. They’re brave, but not too brave. They argue, fly off the handle, do a lot of eye rolling. Very realistic. In my opinion this is the ideal book for the whole family to enjoy. Sponsored Review

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Book Reviews

Young Adult

Dreaming Awake By Gwen Hayes NAL, $9.99, 336 pages, Format: Trade

«««« I read Falling Under and Dreaming Awake back to back, and I have to admit where I liked Falling Under I loved Dreaming Awake! This is the rare case where the second book is better than the first. In book one, I fell for Haden but really didn’t like Theia until book 2. This story was magical, if you like dancing skeletons, faceless people, and women who have been cut apart and sewn back together, which I do. It was the perfect amount of creepy for me. This was a sort of fairy tale, but the handsome prince was a demon/human hybrid, and the heroine was definitely not sweet or good (at least in book 2) and I loved that. I enjoy regular fairy tales, but I really liked the grittiness of this and that Up is literally Down; and stepping through the rabbit hole took you to a place of horror and pain, but that it still had beauty. I believe this is the finale in the series, but if Gwen chose to write more about Haden, Theia, and all of their friends, I would definitely pick it up! I couldn’t help but fall under! Reviewed by Jaime Arnold The Vanishing Game By Kate Kae Myers Bloomsbury Kids, $16.99, 353 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Jocelyn and Jack are twins who ended up in foster care. Years later after finally settling down, Jack dies in a car accident. Jocelyn is devastated, losing the only real family she ever had. Then she receives a letter from her brother that leads her in a clue hunt back to their old foster home, Seale House. Needing help, she goes to

a childhood friend, Noah. Together they decode the clues one by one, but in the process are forced to relive their past horrors of Seale House. They race to uncover if Jack is alive, and the reason he might have faked his death. But Jack seems to be in trouble, and they run head first into danger. The Vanishing Game is full of non-stop action, with spooky events that keep readers on edge and unable to guess who, what, and how. The characters are very well developed and show how childhoods can shape people. The flash-backs to Jocelyn’s childhood are never dull, always providing insight to the characters and Seale House. The story’s conclusion leaves you trying to wrap your head around the truth, and looking back at the beginning from another angle. Reviewed by Amanda Muir Pretty Crooked By Elisa Ludwig Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99, 358 pages, Format: Hard

««« This debut puts the tale of Robin Hood in a modern-day setting. Willa and her mom have moved every year since she can remember — which also means she has started in a new school every single year. Being a new kid is hard enough, but this year she is starting at a fancy private high school in Arizona. Finding herself fitting in with the “Glitterati,” Willa soon discovers that they aren’t quite as nice as they seem. When they start making fun of other new girls by posting mean things on the Internet, Willa decides she is going to level the playing field ... by stealing from the Glitterati and giving to the girls they make fun of. The idea of the story seems fun, and readers will enjoy reading about Willa, especially when she learns theft techniques. What makes this book slightly less interesting is all of the setup it does for books later in the series. Many characters are introduced, and some

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Book Reviews

Young Adult

mysteries are beginning to form, but the excitement really only starts at the end of the book ... just in time for the reader to flip the last page. Pretty Crooked is an average start to a possibly really fun series — but we’ll have to wait to see how it all pans out. Reviewed by Shanyn Day Goddess Interrupted By Aimee Carter HarlequinTeen, $9.99, 304 pages, Format: Trade

««««« Goddess Interrupted picks up exactly where the first book in the series leaves off. Kate is busy spending her six months outside of the Underworld traveling through Greece with James and having a grand time. When she steps back into the Underworld and Henry isn’t even there to greet her she begins to wonder if her husband still loves her. Calliope finds a way out of her imprisonment and awakens an ancient titan. Kate realizes she is about to lose her husband before she can figure their new relationship out and her newfound immortality as well. She sets off deep into the Underworld to find her sister and Henry’s first wife- Persephone. Bringing Persephone back to the castle changes the game in fighting the titan but it also adds more haze to Kate’s already complicated relationship with Henry. When her power manifests as visions and she sees Henry kissing Persephone she decides to leave the Underworld forever. Forever, she finds is a long time. I adored this second book in what stands to be a strong trilogy. I can’t wait to read the next installment and see how Carter will further update Greek myth. This book is a love letter to romance and mythology fans. Reviewed by Pamela van Hylckama Vlieg

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Book Reviews


Cooking, Food & Wine

Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg, invite you to join them in an exploration of a cultural institution at the heart of the Eastern European Jewish Community. Beyond explaining the reason bakeries were so significant, they offer a wide range of easily digestible recipes that can be followed by any home baker. Bread is, of course, at the heart of any communal bakery, and here you will read about all of the tricks that went into sour rye, pretzel, bagels, and classic pumpernickel—and that is only for a start. If your taste runs to the sweet, then sink your efforts into mini coffee rings and chocolate babka and rugelach and rainbow cookies. Let these authors, both master bakers, serve as your guides. If you think Jewish baking is limited to challah and rye bread (or that rye was anything less than universe all of its own), than you have a lot of great baking ahead of you. Reviewed by Jordan Magill

Read our interview with Inside the Jewish Bakery author, Stanley Ginsberg on page 29. There’s a couple recipes, too! Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes By Joy Wilson Hyperion, $19.99, 242 pages, Format: Trade


Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking By Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg Camino Books, $24.95, 302 pages, Format: Hard

««««« A great cookbook is more than a mere catalog of excellent recipes. A great cookbook reveals a world to its readers, becoming a passport to enter somewhere otherwise never visited or a chance to return to a place lost to time. And, it should offer a catalog of excellent recipes. By that standard, Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking should be either on every cook’s shelf or at least on their wish list.

“I encourage you to use this book to celebrate life and love. They’re both made better with sugar, butter, and cream,” Joy Wilson writes in her fabulously colorful new cookbook, Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes. “There’s an undeniable connection between sweet treats and smiles; I hope this cookbook inspires both.” Whether you’re a seasoned kitchen master or as just finding your culinary self, this cookbook has something to offer. I’ve been cooking for my family for years, yet I discovered so many new tricks in this book! Do you know how to make your own brown sugar out of granulated sugar and molasses? Do you know how to make your own vanilla extract when your supply runs out or how to season a cast-iron skil-

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Book Reviews

Cooking, Food & Wine

let? Joy the Baker will teach you how! I loved the chapter headings. They simply demand that you skim through the pages. Chapter two is irresistible: “Pancakes pancakes pancakes and other lesser breakfast items.” The vibrant pictures make me want to abandon my diet and get busy in the kitchen. I can’t wait to try the “Single Lady Pancakes” and the “Carrot Cake Pancakes.” The “Man Bait Apple Crisp” is delightfully, deliciously dangerous. This is not a health food cook book. If you’re on a diet, be warned. However, I totally agree with Joy when she says, “Almost everyone loves dessert. People are just looking for an excuse to eat cake for breakfast.” There isn’t a single recipe in this book that fails to impress. Joy the Baker Cookbook will be on my shelf for years to come. I’ll take it out every time I want to impress guests with something amazing. I think I’m craving some “S’mores Brownies” right now! Reviewed by Jennifer Melville Bean By Bean: A Cookbook: More than 175 Recipes for Fresh Beans, Dried Beans, Cool Beans, Hot Beans, Savory Beans. Even Sweet Beans! By Crescent Dragonwagon Workman Publishing, $15.95, 370 pages, Format: Trade

«««« The 175 recipes in this bean cookbook, Bean by Bean covers the foods of every continent, ranging from very simple to sophisticated. The author, Dragonwagon, gives a 22-page introduction about beans and other legumes, everything you need to know from growing to cooking. The book is a medium-format trade paperback, inexpensively produced using green only for color to offset the black-and-white text. Simple, cutsie sketches using green and black break up the text. The writing is good, though the frivolous humor is not to everyone’s taste. The recipes are very good, covering the spectrum from appetizers through hearty casseroles, even some sweets using beans. The many sidebars, some more than a page long, give useful information, facts, quo-

tations, personal stories, and even folk songs. Each recipe comes with recipe tags denoting vegan, vegetarian, glutenfree, and those containing meat. Many give a variation on the recipe. Ingredients are mostly readily available. Though the author promotes using dry beans, many recipes start with canned beans and, unfortunately, she doesn’t give conversions. Because of uninterrupted text, recipe layout is not userfriendly, forcing the cook to flip pages back and forth during cooking. The well cross-referenced index is excellent. Reviewed by George Erdosh The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch By Martin Gitlin, Topher Ellis Abrams Image, $19.95, 306 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Historic books on food and cooking are excellent resources in a library but unlikely to occupy useful space on your bookshelf. The Great American Cereal Book is a massive volume filled with historical facts from beginning to end—and as suggested by its title, it is all about ready-to-eat cereals. Gitlin and Ellis take you from the very beginning of this truly American invention in 1863 (when granula was born) until the present. The authors divide the book into eight sections according to periods: 1863-1899, 1900-1915, 1916-1948, 19491970, 1971-1980, and 1981-2010. They list cereals created in each period in alphabetic order; for example, there are an astonishing 196 during the most recent period, not including those still on the shelves from previous periods. The book is profusely illustrated with cereal boxes, cereal advertisements, and characters advertising the products. Each cereal listed has a long list of fact associated with it, such as when it was created, who long on the market, what’s in it for you, imitations from other manufacturers, and so on. The research on this book is very thorough and definitive with added pages of all sorts of interesting cereal facts. Reviewed by George Erdosh

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Looking for some down-home cookin’? Download the Unofficial Guide to Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 28

A Conversation With Baker and Author, Stanley Ginsberg By Jordan Magill Jordan Magill: So you write about growing up in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst. Do you remember the bakery in the neighborhood? Stanley Ginsberg: The smell... Going with my father on Sunday morning and opening and the door and walking in and getting hit in the face with this blast of hot fragrant perfumed air that just smelled of vanilla and almond and chocolate. It was just incredible. The crunch of a roll, right there, a kaiser roll, and feeling the soft inside. You bite it and it just dissolves. JM: You’re very active in the artisanal food movement. Can you talk a little bit about that the issues facing the local baker? SG: Its really very simple. There are big solid and valid business reasons in terms of economies of scales [for the success of wholesale bakers]...a small baker can’t compete. If you have have to buy baker at 50 lb bags that is very different from a whole sale baker who can buy it in 2000 lb skids and just throw it all in one batch and use dough conditioners and they don’t have to worry about small issues like they don’t have to wait around for the dough to rise, they don’t have to worry about gluten formation. Everything is mechanized to the minute. And the problem with that is that it demands compromises in terms of food quality. The bagel is a perfect example because what happened is at stage of commodification more and more compromises were made. So now commercially there’s really no such thing an authentic bagel anymore. There are just bread doughnuts. What you have left has no relation to the actual bagel. JM: And did that effect your and Norm Berg’s decision to write Inside the Jewish Bakery? SG: Part of the reason we wrote the book is simply to preserve these things. Until I met Norm I had not seen a real onion roll in probably fifty years and I had seen a Russian coffee cake in probably thirty. These things just loom very large in my past. There is nothing more fundamental

as an activity than feeding a community and feeding the people you care about. For all of the professional bakers and children of bakers I know, baking is more than a job, its a calling. JM: Do you have any other bakery memories or motivations that you’d like to share? SG: The mystery beyond the swinging doors. The swinging doors separated the front of the house from the bakery. Ever since I was a kid, continuing to now, I’ve always been fascinated by what lays beyond the door. When I lived in Phili there was a bakery and I used to stand at a counter in such a way that I could look into the back and see them working. I think that that fascination is one of the things that prompted me to write the thing. JM: Inside the Jewish Bakery pays such a lovely tribute to a disappearing world. SG: In a lot of ways it is kind of a eulogy. Hopefully it will be enough to motivate some people to bring these things back. I know that there are people, amateurs, who are very motivated by a lot of the recipes. And I would love to know that we had a part in preserving these things and passing them on to another generation. That would be a great thing. JM: Do you have a favorite recipe? SG: That’s like asking me what’s my favorite child. My favorite pastry is almost certainly Russian coffee cake. I can’t think of anything I’d rather make or eat. On the other hand, I also find making rye bread incredible therapeutic, really dense heavy rye breads like the corn rye or the old school deli rye. I love making kaiser rolls, the folding of them, they’re so different. You start with the same dough as onion pockets – which is another one that I’m crazy about – it is like each one has its own place. One of the things we tried to do is de- romanticize the realities of baking and also create a history, create context, because for me recipes are nice, but without context they don’t have a time or place.

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 29

Onion Board (pletsel) Makes three 12 oz. boards For dough: 4½ cups bread flour 1¼ cups water 2 Tbs vegetable oil 1 large egg 3 Tbs Sugar 1 Tbs malt extract or honey 5 tsp instant yeast, aka rapid-rise or bread machine yeast 1½ tsp table salt For topping: 2 medium onions, chopped 2 Tbs poppy seed 1 tsp salt Dissolve the malt in the water, then add the egg and oil and whisk lightly together. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your mixer, combine the flour, sugar and yeast. Mix with a whisk or the flat (paddle) beater at low speed. Add the liquid ingredients mix blend until the dough forms a shaggy mass, 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle in the salt and mix for 1 minute more. If kneading by machine: switch to the dough hook and knead at low speed for 5-6 minutes until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and stretches when pinched and pulled. Turn onto a well-floured work surface and knead by hand for 30-60 seconds. If kneading by hand: turn the dough onto a well-floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic and stretches when pinched and pulled, about 8-10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and put it in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, turning it upside down so that there’s a thin coating of oil on the top surface. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let the dough ferment for 45-60 minutes, until doubled in bulk and a finger pressed into the dough leaves an indentation that doesn’t spring back. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, punch it down, and knead gently.

Preheat your oven to 400°F, making sure your baking surface is in the top third of the oven. Divide the dough into three 12-oz. pieces, roll into a thick sausage shape and stretch to a length of about 12”. Cover with plastic wrap or a lightly dampened tea towel and let rest for 15-20 minutes to relax the gluten and allow proofing to start. Place one of the dough sausages on a well-floured work surface so that the wide side faces you. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough first from side to side to a width of about 16”, and then use your hands to stretch to a length of about 12”. Try to stretch the center as thin as possible without tearing, while leaving about 1” of thicker edge. Transfer the stretched dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a fork to thoroughly prick the thin centers; this will prevent rising and the formation of bubbles in the dough. Spread one-third each of the chopped onion, poppy seed and salt on top. Immediately place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the center turns a medium brown and the edges puff up. Remove to a rack and let cool for at least one hour. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces or freeze them and thaw overnight in the refrigerator when needed. Excerpts from Inside the Jewish Bakery by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg © 2011 Camino Books Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 30

Rainbow Cookies Makes 4-5 dozen cookies For cookies: 1 cup Almond paste, at room temperature 1 cup egg, beaten ½ cup shortening ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 tsp table salt 1¾ + 2 tbs cake flour, unsifted 1¾ tsp Vanilla extract 1 ½ tsp Bitter almond oil or almond extract 15-20 drops red food coloring 15-20 drops yellow food coloring 15-20 drops green food coloring ¼ cup Apricot or raspberry jam, melted Simple Chocolate Icing: 2¼ cups powdered sugar ¼ cup water ½ tsp light corn syrup or honey ½ tsp Vanilla extract 3-4 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder Preheat oven to 400°F with your baking surface in the middle. In a mixing bowl, mash the almond paste using a fork. Using the whisk at medium (KA 6) speed, blend the almond paste and ¼ cup of the beaten egg until smooth and lump-free, 3-4 minutes. Add the butter, shortening, salt and remaining egg and beat until soft and light in color, 7-8 minutes. Add the flour ½ cup at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. Continue creaming until the batter is evenly mixed, with a very light texture. Divide the batter into 3 equal portions of about 10oz each, and put each into a separate bowl. Add a different food coloring to each and whisk until thoroughly blended. Pour the contents of each bowl into three separate wellgreased 8” x 8”/20cm x 20cm square cake pans and bake until a tester comes out dry, 10-12 minutes. Remove to a rack and let cool thoroughly. (If necessary, you can bake the batters in several stages: simply remove the cake from the pan, rinse and dry, re-grease and bake the next color.)

Melt the jam in the top of a double boiler or on very low heat to avoid burning. Brush as thin a layer of jam as possible on top of the green layer and immediately put the yellow layer on top. Repeat for the red layer, so that you end up with a multicolored block, with the jam as the glue. Wrap the block in plastic and return into one of the baking pans. Use a second pan on top to compress the layers. Add 2-3 lb of weight and refrigerate for 24 hours. Make the simple icing by heating the water and corn syrup to boiling, then stirring in the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla extract until well blended and lump-free. Take off the heat and let cool: the icing will be at optimal spreading temperature when it feels neither hot nor cool on your lips. Remove the cookie block from the refrigerator and cut into four 8” x 2” x 2”/20cm x 5cm x 5cm bricks. Using a metal spatula, apply a thin coating of icing to the top and long sides of each brick in a single smooth stroke, if possible. Let cool until the icing has almost hardened and use a sharp knife to cut the bricks crosswise into ½”/1.25cm slices. These freeze very well.

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Excerpts from Inside the Jewish Bakery by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg © 2011 Camino Books Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


resh-baked chocolate chip cookies, just slightly undercooked, so as to allow for that gooey element that soothes the belly and the psyche, whoopie pies, moist cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, cinnamon buns on a Sunday morning….I could go on and on. I love sweets and I can’t deny that. I have been lavishing in sugar since a babe, and I always leave room for dessert. Now here’s my horror. I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies (including dairy, egg, sugar!, and wheat) and may or may not (but have been living like I do) have Celiac disease. Imagine my horror. A life subjected to bland, off-white flavors and a bowl of strawberries for my birthday? That defeated sinking in my stomach, and my heart (no joke) when I had to pass the sweets, no, this cannot be.

Over the years I can assure you, fair reader, that I have dodged that near-sighted way of thinking and, together with my chef husband and dessert extraordinaire of a father, have enjoyed many of a hot summer’s day lapping up a

concoction of sweet flavors to satisfy my cravings. However, it is a chore to come up with substitutions (and though some find it fascinating to gather flavors and exact measurements I am deficient in this gifting). But I live by prayer and have come to see a huge one answered when this delightful morsel landed on my doorstep last year. I unwrapped it anxiously, and there it was: shiny and smiling at me, Babycakes Covers the Classics, by the one and only Erin McKenna. My amazement has not diminished one teaspoon since that day as I continue to run to the warm and enticing pages again and again, like a childhood memory of waiting for those Whoopies to cool on the rack, I go back. Imagine my thrill when I got the word that I would be interviewing the woman who gave me hope again, the one who revealed that I would not be living in exile any longer…the creator of this confections craze. Now I hand the licking spoon to you, I know you want your share of the taste too. I hope you enjoy, and rest assured, we can’t see the drool you’ll soon be swabbing away, so have at it, take a (big, sloppy) bite. After she picked up the phone I couldn’t help but spill it (little professional containment here), “First, I just want to say that you’ve saved my life. I have suffered for four years [without all the goodness that others enjoy so lavishly! I

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Viewpoints Article

THE FULL PLATE: Babycakes Covers the Classics

call that suffering, in a sense] and because of you this year I will have my first birthday cake in four years.” To which she was very appreciative for the gushing compliment, “Ahhhhhh, that’s so cool!” I was like a kid in the Willy Wonka Factory (and I was gonna follow her wherever she led) on this call so be prepared. Feel free to indulge as well. Sky Sanchez-Fischer: What allergy prompted you to enjoy all the forbidden foods? Erin McKenna: Well, it really started out at as a hobby at home because I have such a big sweet tooth; just going without desserts wasn’t an option for me. I started playing with alternative flours and different ingredients to substitute for dairy and wheat; I am really sensitive to sugar as well. I just started testing things out and then maybe a year later I had the idea for the bakery and I know people who suffer from multiple allergies so I thought it would be a good idea… just make a place where they could go and just feel normal, just a regular neighborhood bakery where they wouldn’t have to worry about anything. I wanted to create that freedom for people that had these restrictions. SSF: Are there any foods that you miss and are currently working on recreating? EM: Something I have in my mind that I want to recreate is bagels. But I don’t want to put anything on the market unless it’s incredibly good, because there’s enough subpar stuff out there. SSF: Whose goods inspire you? EM: I feel very inspired by different chefs like Julia Child. She was just so very much herself and was really one of a kind in every way and also some local chefs like Mark Wagner, basically Mario Batali’s right-hand man. He’s very inventive and mad-scientish. Just doesn’t have boundaries with baking. SSF: In your new fabulous cookbook, Babycakes Covers the Classics, what is your favorite recipe? EM: Plain donut with the cinnamon sugar! SSF: What has your journey in the bakery, writing and creating taught you? EM: If you can imagine it you can do it. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy getting there but you can get to that goal. You know, it started that way with the bakery with me, and then that came to fruition and then recipes and the expansion and you know, it’s kind of a boring classic but it’s true ‘if you can think it and imagine it and visualize

it, it can be yours. Work hard and stay focused. SSF: What was the most difficult part of writing the book? EM: I have to say not fighting with my husband [smile in her voice] while writing it because he wrote it with me. I did all the recipes but he helped with the introduction and all of the chapter intros and he’s like a very uptight editor type of guy and you know, I’m more of a free-spirit so we were kind of at each others necks. Trying to stay calm in the whole process was probably the biggest challenge. My strategy is just not to be there when he’s working on it. [I took that as advice and stuck it in my cap for future use]. SSF: You’ve got your blog, cookbooks, bakery…where do you see yourself in five years? EM: Yeah, hopefully in the next five years…I see myself just collaborating with a lot of artists, different walks of life and expanding the world of Babycakes in as many ways as I can imagine. I have three locations, one in New York, one in LA and one in downtown Disney in Orlando…It’s kind of like having dogs, when you see the cute puppies…awww, just one more! Well, we will take any location she can spoon up…and I got myself a mighty fancy treat dishing with Erin McKenna. She was full of delight and gave this novice an ample dose of inspiration. Thank you Babycakes!

About Sky Sanchez-Fischer Sky Sanchez is a native Sacramentan. She writes, blogs, substitute teaches and tutors and is always on the lookout for one more job to add to her bursting at the seams schedule. When she is not at her computer or flipping through writer magazines, she is on all fours summoning her unicorn abilities for her three and a half year old or plugging in one half of the ear buds from her thirteen year old son’s iPOD, usually followed by “Ya, I like that, but turn it down.” She shares a partnership, both in business and by law, with her best friend and biggest fan and proofreader. She writes for the Sacramento Book Review and the San Francisco Book Review, and contributes to Sacramento Talent Magazine and Stories on Stage blog. She also scribbles out her own blogs at and skysf.

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 33

Book Reviews a book that looked at what was going on in each county in the years before Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated. Society and armchair historians like to simplify things to the point where we lose sight of the real catalysts and causation of war. Jack Beatty tells the whole story and breaks it down, one country at a time, in a way that no other book I have read before does. The Russians wanted peace at any cost to ward off a revolution. The Brits had their hands full with Home Rule and Ireland. The United States were juggling an on-and-off relationship with Pancho Villa that had Wilson loved by the press one day and vilified the next. The entire world had their hands full and it almost seems that Germany was above it all, watching and waiting for the perfect time to strike. The Lost History of 1914 makes you look at the lead-up to war in so many new lights that at times it can be blinding. It is a challenging read and one like no other. Reviewed by Gwen Stackler



Samurai: The Japanese Warrior’s [Unofficial] Manual By Stephen Turnbull Thames & Hudson, $19.95, 192 pages, Format: Hard


The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began By Jack Beatty Walker, $30.00, 400 pages, Format: Hard

«««« There are countless books that focus on WWI, what happened when, what country did what, who won, and what was left when the whole thing was over. Never have I read

The knight, the ninja, the spartan, the legionnaire, the gladiator... all warriors and soldiers that stir the fantasies of young adventurers. But do any noble warriors compare to the majesty and honor of the Samurai? Now, imagine if a how-tobook on Samurai culture, penned by one of their greatest swordsmen and scholars, was mistakenly launched through time and space and landed squarely on your book shelf? That’s the idea behind Samurai: The Japanese Warrior’s [Unofficial] Manual, the latest from Thames and Hudson’s line of unofficial manuals on some of history’s greatest cultural badasses. From training and combat maneuvers to conduct, ceremony, and history, Samurai condenses centuries of tradition into a few hundred pages of tips and advice for the aspiring Bushido devotee. With several rich, full-color sections adding gravitas and wonder to the text, Samurai is an engaging read, ripe with

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 34

Book Reviews


detail and style. There is some tongue-in-cheek humor peppered through the books -- particularly in The Cultivated Samurai chapter -- which offers a lighter touch to the oftrigid and occasionally brutal requirements of the Samurai lifestyle. (And everyone could use a laugh after a few pages on the proper execution of seppuku, right?) Reviewed by Glenn Dallas Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot By Joseph Cummins Quirk Books, $18.95, 224 pages, Format: Hard

««««« It’s one of the most iconic acts of rebellion in history, one that seizes the imagination and brushes away the dusty film of dates and places, bringing to life the passion and fervor of patriotic self-interest and a burgeoning sense of national pride. The Boston Tea Party is an event everyone remembers, even if the specifics on the whys and wherefores are a bit fuzzy. But while Boston’s is the most famous, it’s hardly the only tea-centric act of rebellion in American history. Ten Tea Parties chronicles the nitty-gritty details behind the copycats and predecessors alike, delving into the local politics and individual motivations behind ten different instances where colonists tossed tea to make themselves heard. Cummins does an impressive job of removing the whitewashing of centuries and examining the people behind the events, which are always more complicated, more human, and more fascinating than the stories in a textbook. His unanswered questions at the end of each chapter are the best part, acknowledging that some pieces of history, especially the actions of individual players, are lost forever. Ten Tea Parties not only explores a curious trend in American history, but it offers valuable insight into politics today. It’s a great read. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas

Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America By Christopher Bram Twelve, $27.99, 371 pages, Format: Hard

«««« In the 1960s, gays openly became whipping boys. For anyone compelled to target a minority aspiring to climb out of their unwanted niche, Jews were taboo (too soon after the Holocaust) and AfricanAmericans were about to be blessed by the Civil Rights movement. The women’s movement was uninspiring and Islam not yet on the radar. Christopher Bram, a shining star among contemporary gay writers, traces the semi-successful social acceptance of homosexuals in the last half of the 20th century. He covers the 1960s boldly, even brilliantly, pitting Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, welcoming James Baldwin and with anecdotes tumbling over each other from all directions. Revealing, sympathetic, and witty, the mood summarily ends as Bram steps into the 1970s, highlighting Edmund White who isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And then, arriving in the 1980s, one senses emotional detachment, perhaps masking sadness or anger. The book, so captivating initially, lapses into a critique of page and stage, illuminated by Tony Kushner’s evanescence. A promising, fascinating book, Bram fails to keep up the pace, a disappointment for his fans, both straight and gay. Reviewed by Jane Manaster

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his morning I caught myself being very un-Hemingwayesque, I felt. I had just written a note to my publicist and publisher regarding a blogger’s mention of my new novel: “I Facebooked it, Tweeted it and blogged it.”

freaking book! That’s why I locked myself in a room and agonized for years over the fate of make-believe people: to share that fictional world with others.

Artists and composers don’t sweat weeks, months or years over a canvas or a concerto to lock the product in a closet where it’ll never be seen or heard. It’s only natural to want to share your vision and your story— That, in addition to sending out some 50 individ- which Facebook has capitalized on. But, to me, it feels ual emails in the past 24 hours, responding to readers unnatural to do so on Twitter. and potential readers of my novel, promoting me and my book unSelf-promotion comes at a cost to der the guise of being digitally soinnately shy, introverted people (i.e., cial: “Thanks much! Let me know most writers) who are happiest when what you think. And if you feel locked alone in a room—though you the urge, please post a comment are never alone once your characters on Amazon. ” Hoping they could start breathing and coming to life. read between the lines: “RememWhen trying to productively pitch ber that ‘A’ I gave you in the writin and help market my book, I feel ing workshop, despite your lame myself, my true writerly self, looking effort? It’s payback time.” over my shoulder, shaking his head in disapproval. I try to mask the baldly selfpromotional nature of my comWorse, a pivotal character in my munications to friends and colnovel is Hemingway himself, reinleagues with the caveat “My publisher made me do it!” carnate, sent from Writers Heaven (different admission While most folks understand and excuse your com- requirements there) to contemporary Key West to help mercial intrusions (within limits), I know there’s no one my protagonist, Con Martens, a blocked, destitute and holding a gun to my head. I just want people to read my drunken writer, get back on track. So, like Con, I feel Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 36

Viewpoints Article

THE BACK PAGE: Would Hemingway Tweet?

Hemingway looking over my shoulder as well, puffing have come to see how one—perhaps not me—might disdainfully on his pipe. benefit by fully embracing and using it. “Screw you, Hem!” I hear myself say. “You were no stranger to self-promotion—cagily crafting a public persona, a brand, to sell books: war correspondent, biggame hunter, deep-sea fisherman. And the braggadocio! So spare me the moral superiority.”

I see that the rules have not changed, just the way you play by them. I likely would have been just as lost as a self-promoter in Dickens’ time. And what if Hemingway was alive today, how would he handle hashtags? I suspect quite well. As he wrote to his editor Maxwell Perkins in 1928: “This bull market in beautiful letters In short, Hemingway was a master of self-promo- isn’t going to last forever and I do not want always to tion. As was Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, with be one who is supposed to have made large sums and their noted public performances, readings and lectures. hasn’t and doesn’t.” Me, not so much. While Hemingway cautioned about writing for the market and for money—“Certainly if no nation can exist half free and half slave, no man can write half whore and half straight”—he was no slouch pushing his works and his brand publicly, and tough in business negotiations.

About Rick Skiwot Rick Skwiot is the author of the Hemingway First Novel Award winner Death in Mexico, the Willa Cather Fiction Prize finalist Sleeping With Pancho Villa, the critically acclaimed childhood memoir Christmas at Long Lake, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Memoir of a Sensual Quest for Spiritual Healing. His latest novel, Key West Story, was released January 2012 by Antaeus Books, Inc.

However, luckily for him, although he didn’t have the Internet to spread the word about his works, he had noted writers, such as Sherwood Anderson, touting him early and often in important print venues. And once Hem’s celebrity status was established, the press fawned over his exploits—the fishing, the hunting, the More THE BACK PAGE Articles: wives, the plane wrecks. All of which helped sell books.

The Secrets of Highly Productive Writers By Meg Donohue, Author of How to Eat a Cupcake

Alas, print review venues have shrunk (along with big-game-hunting venues) while competition for reThe Working Writer views has skyrocketed with the burgeoning number of By Chris Semal, Author of Trial of Tears books published each year—thanks again to the digital thing. With Historical Fiction, Lead With Fact, but ConOver the years, I have been dragged, fingernails scraping, into the digital world: from typewriter to word processor to computer and Kindle; from ink pen and telephone to email, blog posts and Tweets. And I

sider the Drama By Leon H. Gildin, author of The Polski Affair and The Family Affair

Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 37

Book Reviews


Science & Nature

unfolds. The author suggests that by understanding the nature of habits, we can, as individuals as well as corporate entities, change a person’s will or create a societal movement.As advertisers, we can anticipate what people want before they know.Duhigg sees habit as a powerful tool to appreciate individual and group direction, giving the analyst a unique perspective. Charles Duhigg has gotten around.He is currently an investigative reporter for the New York Times.He is a winner of several prestigious awards.He regularly contributes to This American Life, NPR, PBS’s News Hour, and Frontline. He is a young man with a great future, driven to unravel some of the mysteries that surround us.The Power of Habit will open your eyes and clear the air—summer reading at its best. Reviewed by D. Wayne Dworsky Amazing Science! - Volume 1 By Jason Gibson, $24.95, 2 discs, Format: CD


The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business By Charles Duhigg Random House, $28.00, 373 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Duhigg depicts a clever diagram to uncover why we do what we do.He does so by identifying a craving, which gives us a cue, which leads to a routine, reinforced by a reward. Using this ingenious paradigm, the truth about our habits

You will be dazzled by the light and clear presentation of science concepts that jump off this disc in an amazing way. Amazing Science is reminiscent of the classic 1950’s TV series, Mr. Wizard. For those old enough to remember, Ron Herbert hosted the Saturday morning program, which taught a lesson on science. Jason Gibson has put together a unique perspective to teach young children important, basic science concepts in his newly released DVD series. The first disc of this two-disc, volume 1 series, consists of 12 experiments, and the second one 11 experiments, utilizing household items that any child can assemble. As children are encouraged to duplicate the experiments, they become engaged with science concepts from the start through hands-on participation. While the experiments teach scientific concepts, kids have fun putting them together.

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Book Reviews

Science & Nature

The presentations are wholesome and inviting, detailing the elements utilized to carry out the experiments. The presentations are a little marred by hesitations and stuttering, punctuated by “you know’s.” However, children may not notice them and be more affected by the motivating style of the presenter. Although some of the presentations are rough, each lesson will motivate and help mold a malleable, young mind. I believe Amazing Science has an amazing future. Reviewed by D. Wayne Dworsky Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive By Bruce Schneier Wiley, $24.95, 384 pages, Format: Hard

«««« Bruce Schneier wrote Liars and Outliers to explain the way trust works in a society, why most people follow the rules, and how those that don’t are needed but must be kept within reasonable limits. Although the author is known for his computer security discussions, this book is not about computer security. Instead, it is a sociology study on how society trusts its members in group sizes from small to large. It addresses what motivates people, including morals, reputation, the law, and a desire for security. This book offers insights into a plethora of ways people are shaped by those around them and how human nature affects their actions. The reader will see various common interactions, from buying from a merchant to reading an email scam letter, in a new light. From a security perspective, society can motivate people to behave correctly, not just through laws and police, but also by appealing to people’s sense of doing right, patriotism, or by giving awards to people who act correctly. I found this holistic view of people’s thought processes useful. Reviewed by Annie Peters

Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit By Joseph Epstein Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00, 256 pages Format: Hard

««««« Like forbidden fruit, why is gossip so appealingly seductive? Why, even when it’s known that this form of hearsay has not been corroborated, does the listener attend to the story. It is said that gossip is vice enjoyed vicariously, and many of us succumb to its provocative allure. In this entertaining exposure of the role of gossip in society, the author talks about the morality of this form of communication and delves into the activities of gossips currently and in the past. As examples, he labels four great gossips of the western world: the Duc de Saint-Simon in his memoirs from the reign of Louis X1V and the shenanigans in the court at Versailles; Walter Winchell, a notorious unscrupulous public gossip from the last generation; Barbara Walters from the current media; and Tina Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. Gossip pervades both the private and public sector; its inherent danger is the damage that may be provoked by unsubstantiated assertions. Yet on the other hand, gossip may lead to whistle-blowing and cleansing of corrupt behavior or actions. Gossip is like a virus infecting all forms of communication, and currently it will fly rampant as the political scene fires up. For tidbits about personalities, political figures, literary personages, and more, this is the book for you. Reviewed by Aron Row

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Sacramento Book Review • April 2012 • 39

Book Reviews


Current Events & Politics BUSTED! THE BIG CON: How the Media, Politicians, and Wall Street’s Game of Charades Are Destroying Our Country By Jay D. Glass Donington Press, $8.95, 220 pages, Format: Trade

««« The corruption of America’s federal government, mass media, and financial industry represents a sorry chapter in the history of each institution. Taken together, their ethical corrosion is seen by many as nothing less than the collapse of American society and American world leadership. That’s the starting point for Jay Glass’s useful book, an attempt to identify the common faults destroying these three former cornerstones of America’s foundation and bring truth to power. It’s an ambitious argument and Glass’s unusual biography – he is both a trained neuroscientist and a former venture capitalist – diffuses the impulse to assign his views to either side of the left–right partisan divide.

Glass hangs his argument on the metaphor of a game of charades and employs well-known case studies – Lehman Brothers’ collapse, the BP oil spill, MSNBC’s complicity in the stock market bubble – to explain in layman’s terms the intricacies that insiders manipulated and that puzzled outsiders. The subject matter is so vast that Glass ventures beyond the parameters of the book’s title into other areas of cultural decline, from the state of education to the War on Drugs. One digression in particular, both unknown and caustically funny, is worth the trip. Apparently, the U.S. is no longer in the top five in rodeo bull riding. Now, that hurts.v Sponsored Review Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street By John Nichols Nation Books, $15.99, 192 pages, Format: Trade

««« In February 2011, newly elected governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker attempted to do what many state and local governments have done over the past couple of years. Declaring that it was a budget emergency, he attempted to push through a law that would have stripped many of the bargaining rights of state and local unions in collective bargaining. What he thought would be a cake walk victory, since the Republicans controlled both chambers in Wisconsin, instead turned into a nightmare. There were rallies and protests in front of the state capitol. The Democrats left so no quorum could be reached. And protesters occupied the capitol for many days in a row. It captivated a nation that was coming to grips with diminished economic returns. In this work, John Nichols describes the movements that made this possible. The book is all over the place. He repeats the same line over and over, which becomes boring. His historical interpretations of the revolution are dubious at best. And comparing it to the Arab Spring makes no sense. There are better books on this topic available. Reviewed by Kevin Winter

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Book Reviews


Business & Investing

well as the reports from an assortment of victims, and provides timely information for the naive buyer. Beginning with modern technology, computer scams and misleading ads on the internet are revealed. Marketeers from corporations to peddlers are out to get your money and apply all sorts of devious schemes to lure prospective buyers into their snares. Frequently, the consumer himself is responsible for falling for a bargain which is no more than a scam in disguise. Elliot serves as a consumer mentor, elucidating the deceitful strategies practiced by individuals and businesses. While many are familiar with these con tactics, regrettably such devious rip-offs take new twists and can trip even the more experienced player. Fortunately, the book includes advice not only on how to avoid the traps, but also on how to redress some of the wrongs. For those interested in preserving their cash, the book serves as an eye-opener on how the public is manipulated to spend on phony deals. Reviewed by Aron Row Fixing the Housing Market: Financial Innovations for the Future By Franklin Allen, James R. Barth, Glenn Yago Prentice Hall, $34.99, 195 pages, Format: Hard


Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals By Christopher Elliott Wiley, $24.95, 209 pages, Format: Hard

«««« Part of one’s basic education should include learning to recognize and avoid scams. Con artists parallel the emergence of new products and rely on the gullibility of the consumer. Chris Elliott is both a journalist and consumer advocate who writes from his own personal experience as

The housing market is a mess. Ever since the collapse of the housing bubble millions of people have lost jobs and thousands of homes have been foreclosed on. Many people are trying to come up with answers to fix this mess and to help the economy recover. This book covers the US market collapse in a few spots, but the main focus is on the future and worldwide housing market. With millions of people living in slums in cities around the world, the authors feel that there needs to be innovative solutions to solve the coming housing problem. The only way for people around the world to rise in economic standing is to have a place that you can call home with a clear title and property. This book, despite what some people will think, is not just about the United States. They do have an interesting part about China and their housing bubble as well. The authors are well informed, though with three authors

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Book Reviews

Business & Investing

it is hard to tell who did what with so many people involved. At times they repeat themselves across paragraphs, as if one person wrote one paragraph and then another wrote the same thing two paragraphs later. The solutions are highly technical and will not solve the immediate problem. Reviewed by Kevin Winter When Core Values Are Strategic: How the Basic Values of Procter & Gamble Transformed Leadership at Fortune 500 Companies By Rick Tocquigny FT Press, $27.99, 252 pages, Format: Hard

««« Many business books have been written about core values: how to create core values in your company, maintain core values, and hire people with the aim to strengthen your core values. With many big companies facing ethical issues, these type of books abound in the market. Proctor and Gamble is one of the biggest firms that makes products used in households, from soap to detergent. Even in my house I have three P&G products. They have been in business for a long time, over one hundred years, so they have developed an internal culture that promotes values across the company, from new hires to the people at the top. They believe in always doing the right thing, growing your business, promoting from within, and educating and training staff constantly. This collection takes a look at the people who have worked at P&G and left the company to pursue other opportunities, and how P&G affected them later in life. In reading this book, the chapters will blend together; each one basically says the same thing over and over. Also, this really reads like a big public relations piece for P&G. You do not learn much beyond many business buzzwords. Reviewed by Kevin Winter

Who’s in the Room: How Great Leaders Structure and Manage the Teams Around Them By Bob Frisch Jossey-Bass, $29.95, 224 pages, Format: Hard

«««« At the helm of every organizational chart, one faces the fact that a senior management team makes a company’s central decisions. In essence, critical decisions are made by the boss and other members of a company’s management. This is done without consulting the employees and without inviting employees to the room where decisions are made. This study is based on interviews with CEO’s at organizations like the Red Cross, Mastercard, and Ticketmaster. This method for decision making enables senior management teams to gain their full potential and creates a drastic drop in people coming into their offices asking “Why wasn’t I in the room”. Of interest to this reviewer is that in l939, psychologist Kurt Lewin,,a pioneer in the field of organizational behavior and change management, concluded from his study of adolescent boys that there are three basic leadership styles. Those styles are namely authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire or delegative. An authoritarian leader controls power by himself and makes all important decisions. A democratic leader encourages active participation by stockholders and demands a consensus of opinion prior to making a decision. Finally, the laissez-faire leader does not make decisions on his own, but in a subtle manner delegates power to his subordinates. The lessons learned in this outstanding book include understanding the way decision-making is handled and clarifying the effective use of the three methods for better decision making in organizations. Reviewed by Claude Ury

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Book Reviews


Historical Fiction

more than a dinner date, as Thomas Jefferson is back in the flesh and is ready to experience all that this century has to offer. Arrowsmith, a retired history teacher, finds himself in the middle of an odd love story between his friend Rachel and Mr. Thomas Jefferson. The ghost of Jefferson becomes the catalyst for this story, as Jefferson’s reemergence forces Jack to face his own demons. He lost both his son and wife within a year and never fully accepted their passing. The book is a tale of two men--one from our time and another from the eighteenth century--coping with loss and redemption. The best part of this book is the characters. Jack and Rachel are full-bodied and felt like real people. Jefferson is the star of the book, as he is both pronounced and entertaining. While it is Jack’s exploration of growth that is the center plot, the book really gets its motivation from Jefferson’s reaction to modern life. Imagine this slave owner’s response after discovering that the 44th president is African American! The book has a certain quirkiness to it that makes it a fast read. The pacing of the story is also a well done balance of humor and excitement. The book feels like a journal of a close friend, which made each discovery more personal and unforgettable. Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me is a fun, emotional exploration of human interactions that everyone will find to be captivating. This is a story that will touch your heart and make you think, regardless of what century you call home. Sponsored Review Rebel Wife By Taylor M. Polites Simon & Schuster, $25.00, 294 pages, Format: Hard


Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me By Peter B. Boody Bartleby, Scrivener & Co., $16.99, 323 pages, Format: Trade

««««« How much would you pay to have dinner with any American president? For Jack Arrowsmith, it cost around $1,400 for one dinner with Thomas Jefferson. And that was just the start of the journey between these two men. This is

I knew it was coming and finally there was the passage I had been waiting for, very near the end: ‘He tears at my bodice, pulling and ripping at my skirts.’ It’s a wise author who delivers on readers’ expectations. As soon as one knows that the novel at hand is about a young and wealthy Reconstruction era widow in the deep South surrounded by hard men, it’s as sure a bet as has ever been invented that there’s going to be bodice tearing. Not that I’m trivializing Taylor M. Polites’ rather enjoyable novel; or if I did, I’m sorry. Modern fiction would be even duller than it usually is without conventions. For

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Book Reviews

Historical Fiction

instance, all science fiction is a morality play, where if you meet a sweet-natured young man in Chapter One, if he’s not killed off in Chapter Two, he’s going to be the greatest ray gun warrior in the history of the Galaxy by the end of Chapter Seven, because he’s been pushed too far. The art of it is in the telling. On that score, Polites does let go the reins, rather than just shove the plot elements into the Write-o-Matic 5000 and see what comes out. Our widowed heroine, Augusta, was married to Eli, a very wealthy Republican who is looked up to by the former slaves; this story being set in 1875. Eli dies quite early in the book, and his death is not pretty. What emerges from there is a plot based on two considerations: will Augusta, known as Gus, find where Eli’s money went; and will she adopt her late husband’s reformist attitudes towards the black people? Polites’ writing does occasionally follow the magnetic pull towards pot boiling -- as narrator, Gus has the nasty melodrama habit of speaking in rhetorical questions. ‘Who was Eli really? Who are we, any of us?’ (I carry a little card with my name and address on it, because you just never know when you might not know.) However, when the writing rises, it puts any souffle you’ve had to shame. When Gus’s mind starts to drift and dream under the effects of laudanum, there are some excellent sequences, and the supporting characters -- particularly a former slave named Rachel -- are well-drawn and compelling. All in all, a fun read and one perfectly suitable for cruise ships, beach bags, and that Aunt of yours whose heart still pitty-pats for Rhett Butler. Reviewed by Hubert O’Hearn

The Sister Queens By Sophie Perinot NAL, $15.00, 498 pages, Format: Trade

««««« “How typical of men to think that by their brotherly embrace they are the authors of history and fortune,” writes Sophie Perinot in her spectacular debut novel The Sister Queens, “Marguerite and I know better. ‘Tis sisters who shape the world plain and simple.” Marguerite and Eleanor were as close as sisters come, and even after they both make spectacular matches and move far apart, their love for each other cannot be tamed. Marguerite married King Louis IX and became Queen of France. Although married to Europe’s handsomest monarch, Marguerite is ignored by her husband and patronized by his overbearing mother. Eleanor marries a much older King Henry III of England and became his much-adored wife. Her life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, either, and a series of events nearly tear her apart forever from her sister. The novel follows the women from childhood through their 30s and all the ups and downs along the way. This is a true coming-ofage story, a tale of sisterhood, relationships, and of timeless womanhood. You will laugh and cry with them, want to scream at times, and cheer at others. How could these two amazing characters have been lost to history? Thank you, Ms. Perinot, for breathing life into these amazing women and sharing their beautifully-crafted tale with the world. The Sister Queens is historic fiction at its absolute finest. I simply cannot wait to see what this author does next. She’s already won herself a spot on my list of favorite authors. This book, in all of its colorful prose, deep and eccentric characters, and historical brilliance, can be summed up with one word: Phenomenal. Brava! Reviewed by Jennifer Melville

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Book Reviews

Historical Fiction

The Mist of God: Volume Three of the Magdala Trilogy By Peter Longley iUniverse Publishing, $33.95, 683 pages, Format: Trade

««« Joshua is dead, crucified by the Romans and condemned by the Jewish elders who feared that his teachings challenged their spiritual superiority within the hierarchy of Jewish Law. After his tomb is discovered empty, his body removed, Joshua’s followers fall into disarray. Yet even though he is gone, Maria of Magdala refuses to be subdued. Within her womb, she carries Joshua’s son and everywhere she sees the light of his divine presence. Linus Flavius carries with him the guilt of Joshua’s crucifixion – he oversaw Joshua’s final moments. But the teachings of Joshua’s followers touch him, and he finds himself becoming a part of their growing community. Soon, Joshua’s followers are found in all corners of the empire and beyond. But will the prejudice of their own people be their final downfall? In The Mist of God—the final book in the Magdala trilogy—Longley concludes his epic retelling of the life of Joshua and the spread of Christianity. In the final piece of the story, we’re introduced to new characters, such as Paulus (known as Saul of Tarsus,) the Nazarene’s greatest enemy-turned-advocate, Marcus, a merchant prince and half-brother to Ben Joshua, the controversial son of Maria and the messiah.

Spanning the farflung trade routes of the Roman Empire and beyond, Longley weaves a plausible tale of the rise and spread of Christianity, as well as the deviations of belief that inevitably rose among its followers. Longley’s style has matured yet again, and his prose flows evenly along one twisty riverbed of a tale. My only complaint: the multiplicity of names that some characters were saddled with. But that’s more a by-product of the effort made to show how Joshua’s message was spread. Overall, an intriguing read and a great alternate telling of a very old story. Sponsored Review

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Book Reviews


Modern Literature

paying for losing her own. Kristin arrives as a refugee, injured after her train has been blown up. An art restorer, hailed in school for her technical skill, she is haunted by the picture she could never paint as much as by the one she could. Elegant and captivating, Olaf Olafsson is a masterful storyteller, working with a fine tip brush and moving his characters with the skill of a chess master. Hailed as a work in the tradition of Michael Ondaatje and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Restoration does not disappoint. Reviewed by Axie Barclay The Snow Child By Eowyn Ivey Reagan Arthur Books, $24.99, 389 pages, Format: Hard


Restoration: A Novel By Olaf Olafsson Ecco, $14.99, 326 pages, Format: Trade

««««« Wartime Italy. A forged Caravaggio. A remote villa. A search for the painting and a missing man grows more intense as the German and Allied front line moves ever closer, and the lives of two women mysteriously cross again... This lyrical and captivatingly complex novel of World War II Italy moves gracefully through the lives of two women, Alice and Kristin, as the front line presses down upon them. Alice, mistress of the villa and surrounding tenant farms, awaits her absent husband’s return, caring for the orphaned children the war has left in her care as a way of

Jack and Mabel have moved to the Alaskan wilderness planning to build a new life together after giving up hope for children. Mabel is consumed by grief, and Jack is harried by the fear that he’s too old to carve out a homestead in this unforgiving territory. When the first snows begin to fall, the two surprise themselves by playing like children, building a snow girl and fighting with snowballs. By morning the snow girl has toppled and small tracks lead into the woods. In the following days, both catch glimpses of a little girl, but none of the local homesteaders is missing a child. Gradually, tentatively, the child becomes a part of their lives. The situation reminds Mabel of a fairy tale, “The Snow Maiden,” in which a childless couple builds a snow child that comes to life. Is this child like the snow maiden? Neither Jack nor Mabel knows, but each comes to love her as a daughter. The child brings joy and hope to their lives, but how long will she stay? A consummate wordsmith, Eowyn Ivey has crafted a beautiful book. The vivid descriptions of Alaska’s stark majesty are breathtaking. With its deftly choreographed gestures and carefully orchestrated silences, the couple’s love is deep and lovely.The Snow Child engages all the senses and leaves the reader with a full heart. Reviewed by Tammy McCartney

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Book Reviews

Modern Literature

Thirst By Andrei Gelasimov, Marian Schwartz (translator) AmazonCrossing, $14.95, 116 pages, Format: Trade

«««.5 Kostya Konstantin served in the Russian army. He returned from the Chechen war different. How? When a grenade exploded in his a r more d personnel carrier, his buddies t hought he was dead. Kostya’s face was badly burned by the time they realized he was alive and pulled him to safety. Thirst begins after Kostya returned home. He develops a pattern of working a few months then hiding in his apartment for weeks while binge drinking. The story hops between his mostly unhappy childhood, his current life, and the events on the day he was burned. His disfigurement is so severe that most people recoil when they meet him. He endears himself to readers when we learn he is a gifted artist. Tension occurs when one of his fellow soldiers turns up missing in the city. Kostya knows his missing friend has also struggled adjusting to civilian life. Kostya and two other comrades from the war embark on a mission to find their lost friend. Kostya and his army buddies must confront their demons as they try to help their friend. The sentence structure is simple and the story short, but it packs a lot of feeling and turmoil into each page. Reviewed by Grady Jones

gaging story-within-a-story, but pay close attention, as another narrative lurks in the background. This third story unfolds in the background, as our misguided endeavors imperil our own planet, offering further depth and meaning to the piece. Unfortunately, it’s something casual readers might miss if they skip the author’s short essay afterward, as this message could easily be lost in the bombast of Ragnarok or the gentle beauty of the thin girl’s tale. This makes Ragnarok an interesting experiment in layered narrative and nuance. It’s a lesson in impermanence, be it impermanence of belief, impermanence of life, or impermanence of innocence. It’s a lot to present in a short time, and while the true effectiveness of this message is debatable, it remains a visceral and eye-catching read. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods By A. S. Byatt Grove Press, $24.00, 177 pages, Format: Hard

««« A young girl is evacuated from her home during wartime, losing herself in an elaborate retelling of Norse myth. As she reads, she worries over her absent father, the birth of gods and monsters, the death of Baldur, the descent of Ragnarok, and the trials and tribulations of beings too human and not human enough unfold before her. On the surface, Ragnarok: The End of the Gods is an en-

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rofessor of Mathematics at University of California, Berkeley, Edward Frenkel has become, in recent years, a writer and filmmaker, co-writing and co-directing, with French filmmaker Reine Graves, and playing the lead in the film Rites of Love and Math. He also wrote a screenplay for a full feature film The Two-Body Problem with Berkeley novelist Thomas Farber. ZR: One of your areas of expertise is symmetry, is that right? EF: Yes, symmetry is one of the central concepts in science. Most simply put, an object is symmetrical if it can be transformed in non-trivial ways without changing its shape and position. Snowflakes are symmetrical, as are butterflies or diamonds. In mathematics, symmetry becomes a more precise concept. For example, a mathematical equation can also be symmetrical. And in quantum physics, the elementary particles, these tiny pieces of matter, also have symmetries. My research is about finding common patterns of symmetry on the interface of math and quantum physics. ZR: You showed great mathematical promise at a very young age in Russia, and yet you were not admitted to the top university in Moscow. Why? EF: At Moscow State University in those days, there was a policy of discrimination at the entrance exams against students targeted as Jewish. I had to endure a four-hour oral exam during which I was asked questions significantly more difficult than those asked of other applicants. None

of my answers were accepted as correct, even though the examiner later told me privately that he was very impressed with my performance. ZR: What happened then? EF: The Institute of Oil & Gas in Moscow had a small applied math program, where a lot of bright Jewish students ended up. While a student there, I met some amazing mathematicians who mentored me. So I was able to do some cutting-edge research and I got invited to Harvard as a Visiting Professor when I was 21. I then got my Ph.D. there in one year and became a Junior Fellow and then Associate Professor at Harvard. Then the University of California at Berkeley made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. The story of my education in Moscow––it’s a story that more people should know about. A lot of lives were broken at that time by the system in the Soviet Union. We need to talk more about it, to prevent this from happening in the future. ZR: In recent years, you’ve made the extraordinary leap into filmmaking. Tell us how that came about. EF: It does sound like a leap of faith, but for me it was a natural continuation of my work in mathematics. What interests me the most is bringing together different fields: algebra, geometry, physics. With many different branches of mathematics, the study of mathematics has become more fractured. I like building bridges between different fields, and to use these to gain new insights. I wrote review articles and books over the years, introducing the topics I was working on to other mathematicians and physicists. Then I started talking to non-mathematicians. The film Rites of Love and Math was my first project, because I was fascinated with cinema. I thought,

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Viewpoints Article

where do you even begin when you want to reach people who are not mathematicians about mathematical ideas? Most people just shut down when you broach the subject. They think they won’t be able to understand it. I had to find a more creative way. The idea of our film Rites of Love and Math was not to talk about the subject directly, but to let people see and feel it. Math requires the same kind of love and passion as poetry, art, and music, it’s a creative process of going against the unknown. I wanted to convey that in an emotional as opposed to cerebral way. While working in Paris, I met a wonderful French filmmaker Reine Graves. Together, we made this film about a tattoo of a mathematical “formula of love,” an homage to a 1965 film by the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. It’s a fantasy, an allegory, and a meditation on what most people consider to be incompatible notions: mathematics, beauty, and love. ZR: You have also written a screenplay, which was recently performed at the Aurora Theater here in Berkeley, called The Two-Body Problem. The play uses the mathematical problem of “the two-body problem” as a metaphor for the problem of love between two human beings. EF: The Two-Body Problem started as a screenplay that I wrote with a great writer and my good friend Thomas Farber. Later we did a theatrical adaptation, directed by Barbara Oliver at the Aurora Theater. Our screenplay is about the connection and collision between the real world and the abstract world. In mathematics, “the two-body problem” has a unique solution. But in the real world, that’s not the case. The relationship of two people is complicated and it doesn’t always have a solution. One of the characters in the play, Phillip, is a mathematician, and he is trying to come to terms with this dichotomy between mathematical truth and human truth. He is so used to being able to solve all problems, but in real life situations, these recipes cannot always be applied.

The Two-Body Problem is a study of the psychology of a creative person, and how their intellectual pursuit is sometimes helpful, sometimes detrimental to their understanding of the real world. The screenplay also tries to break the stereotype of mathematicians as asocial and enclosed in themselves. Our character is more multidimensional–– he is an intellectual in love with his profession who also has a fascinating and fulfilling personal life. Photo credit: Nahoko Spiess

About the Interviewer: Zara Raab Zara lives in Berkeley and is one of the first women to graduate in architecture from UC Berkeley. She grew up along California’s North Coast, attending school in Portland when she was fourteen, and later Mills College and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) for college and graduate school. In her twenties, she traveled, living in Paris, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., where she made a living as a freelance editor and writer, participating for a time in the Capitol Hill Poetry Group, before returning to the West Coast to raise her children. Early California is a subject of her book Swimming the Eel, just as the drama of family life is the subject of The Book of Gretel. Her poems appear in many literary reviews and magazines, including The Dark Horse, The Evansville Review, River Styx, Crab Orchard Review, Nimrod, Dos Passos Review, Arts & Letters, and others. She also reviews books and writes essays on literature for various publications, including the Redwood Coast Review, Poetry Flash, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Colorado Review, San Francisco/Sacramento Book Reviews, and The Boxcar Poetry Review.

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Book Reviews


Science Fiction & Fantasy

Not that, as the scion of a wealthy San Francisco family, he has to earn his living. When his editor sends him on assignment to the chilly northern coast of California, he meets the charming heiress Marchent, who is selling the mansion she’s inherited, along with an enormous fortune, from her Uncle Felix, much to the fury of the two delinquent younger brothers left out of the will. The mysterious Uncle Felix, an explorer and antiquities scholar, peers down at Reuben from a large photograph, along with five of his colleagues, all dressed in safari jackets and khakis. Reuben falls in love with the house, its high-beamed ceilings and vast rooms full of priceless artifacts and indecipherable manuscripts. He also falls for Marchent, but in the midnight hours after their lovemaking, disaster strikes as the delinquent younger brothers attack the house, killing Marchent and seriously knifing Reuben. When veteran gothic writer Anne Rice deftly introduces another visitor into the mayhem, Sunshine Boy begins to contemplate good and evil, and to change, in beastly, dark, and startling ways. Reviewed by Zara Raab Was a Time When: A Novel That Asks, “What Happens WHEN, Not IF, Resource Depletion, Population Pressures, and Climate Change Push The World of Our Grandchildren Into a Great Collapse?” By Sam Penny TwoPenny Publications, $14.98, 232 pages, Format: Trade


The Wolf Gift By Anne Rice Knopf, $25.95, 404 pages, Format: Hard

««««« Reuben Golding, better known as “Sunshine Boy,” is his girlfriend’s boy toy and a handsome young newspaper reporter in this Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection.

CosandJo is a young Neu-human archeologist in the year 3100 when he makes an astonishing discovery – the recorded memoirs of one Samuel Julian Hardy. Child genius, scientist, realist, survivalist, and eventual leader, Sam Hardy has left behind an amazing treasure – an eye witness account of the collapse of human civilization. Sam’s account covers the years between 2015 and 2100 and describes the trajectory of the failing economy, the occurrence of multiple natural disasters, the rampant break-out of war, and the world-wide pandemics, all of which eventually decimated the world’s population to less than a billion inhabitants. Fascinated by this personal account, CosandJo and his colleagues eager-

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Book Reviews

Science Fiction & Fantasy

ly listen to Sam’s retold experiences, determined to learn what they can so as to ensure that their Neu-human society doesn’t make the same mistakes. Once you wrap your head around the idea that Penny’s book is meant to be a sort of on-going Worse-Case Scenario, then you can relax and start to enjoy the intellectual exercise it embodies. While the timing of the on-going disasters—both man-made and natural—border on the suspiciously convenient, there’s no denying that the events themselves have every probability of happening, especially in light of how our current society views things like conservation. While I do wish Penny had given more props to those groups and efforts that arefocused on renewable energy and conservation (instead of simply painting our current society as being only made up of complete and total dunderheads), I do still appreciate the fact that most of the events portrayed in Was A Time When have the potential to be spot-on at some point in the future. With a solid timeline and a keen eye toward cause-and-effect, Penny paints an intriguing picture, not of What Might Have Been, but more of What Probably Will Be. Sponsored Review

ent Barbarian tribe. Donovan sets out to bring back what he assumes will be a haughty princess, but he never expects to fall in love with her! Donovan & Brandela’s love, forbidden by both of their races, will change the world of Ryyah forever. The fantasy genre is already populated with books featuring Elves of all forms, but somehow Watson has succeeded in crafting a something unique with World of Ryyah: Birth of the Half-Elves. This world is not particularly well-fleshed out yet, but readers get a sense of some of the dynamics at play here: sparsely-populated human regions, fierce barbarians, several distinct groups of Elves, and a definite distrust that exists between the races. But as this novel is only the first in a promised epic series, there is plenty of time for the author to expand on these ideas. Themes of love, loyalty, and courage are prevalent in this story, and you can’t help but be enchanted by the magic that is strongly woven throughout the world – and the story. Lovers of fantasy novels will find themselves eagerly awaiting the next in this series. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys the genre. Sponsored Review

World of Ryyah - Birth of the Half Elves By H. L. Watson Two Harbors Press, $14.95, 192 pages, Format: Trade

Girl Genius Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guadrian Muse By Kaja & Phill Foglio Airship Entertainment, $22.95, 152 pages, Format: Trade

«««« When Donovan was twelve years old, his village was raided by barbarians; his father killed, his mother taken, and he and the other village boys nearly suffered the same fate. But the raiders made the mistake of taking their captives through the Elven woods. The Elves killed the slavers, but mysteriously decided to spare the boys; instead, the boys were trained in the ways of the Elven Rangers under the tutelage of the beautiful Alayna. Over the years, the boys proved to be a valuable asset to the Elven king, but never more so than when young princess Brandela is taken hostage by a differ-

«««« Did you know that Jagers are capable of higher thinking? Girl Genius Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse TP continues to explore Castle Heterodyne and Agatha and company’s misadventures as they continue trying to fix it. In this episode, they need to deal with a guardian of the castle, as well as Agatha’s mother. Once a proper place is found to stop the main story, Maxim shows us how to get a hat, and Jager honors demands that he can’t just buy one. Detail is part of steampunk, and the detail is incredible

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Book Reviews

Science Fiction & Fantasy

here; not only does it feel organic, but there are details within details, all of which add to the world and humor. The writing is brisk, making for a well-paced comic that gives you just enough time to catch your breath between rollicking action sequence and exposition that’s actually built on later in the comic. Although normally just bonus material, even the add-on comic helps keep the series in check, so someone reading several of these in one sitting has a chance to breathe once in a while. Girl Genius always lives up to hype, and The Guardian Muse is no exception. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim Westward Weird By Martin H. Greenberg, Kerrie Hughes (editors) Daw, $7.99, 311 pages, Format: Mass

«««« It’s perhaps not entirely fair to start out a review with a sentence of two of obituary, but this may be the last book to come into print under the editorial control of Martin H Greenberg. Sadly, Martin Greenberg died in June, 2011. He was prolific as an editor, being responsible for more than 2100 books in a long career. He will be missed. This is a completely entrancing anthology. Don’t be deterred by the title. Westward Weird is not the best hook in the world but, believe me, this combination of the Wild West, science fiction, fantasy, and a little horror is superb. We have everything, including the offer of a BBQ with the Devil, a sequel to War of the Worlds by H G Wells, vampires, werewolves, zombies, steampunk, and time travel. You couldn’t hope to find a more eclectic selection and not one bad egg. Indeed, I would go so far as to say several of these stories should be in the running for awards at the end of the year. It’s invidious to pick out favorites but look out for the contributions by Seanan McGuire, Steven Saus, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and J Steven York. Reviewed by David Marshall

Unbroken (Outcast Season, Book 4) By Rachel Cain Roc, $7.99, 308 pages, Format: Mass

««««« Mother Earth is waking and she is furious. Unless the Wardens can pull of a miracle, she is set to use the free Djinn to wipe mankind from her surface. This volcanic conclusion to the Outcast Season is a titanic struggle with Cassiel the once powerful Djinn, now in human form at its center. Who do you turn to when mankind is ending? Can you ally with evil and survive the alliance? The head of the wardens decides he must, but Cassiel knows her sister and foresees disaster. They must fight plague fire and overwhelming unnatural forces and survive if they are to have a hope of saving even a remnant of mankind. This is a must-read for fans of the series Weather Warden and the Outcast Season, both set in the same world. Powerful unworldly forces, lightning fast action, and characters that will make your heart ache fill this story. Don’t start here or you will miss some wonderful reading. Do start reading with the Weather Warden series if you like action, the paranormal, and romance wrapped into a powerful whole. Rachel Caine is best known for her Morganville Vampires series, but don’t miss out on this one. Reviewed by Beth Revers Jack of Ravens (Kingdom of the Serpent, Book 1) By Mark Chadbourn Pyr, $17.95, 422 pages, Format: Trade

««« Jack Churchill awakes in the wild fields of Celtic Britain with no idea of how he ended up there. Jack’s only mission is to return home and be with the woman he loves. He finds his way to the Otherworld, a place where time is no longer meaningful but a great Evil is trying to stop Jack from returning to modern times. This results in Jack

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Book Reviews

Science Fiction & Fantasy

skipping through ages like smooth rock skipping across a lake, avoiding traps set by the Evil. Will he ever get home, or will his action spark the end of days, Ragnarok? This book is average in storytelling and pacing. The story starts off strong but never raises the stakes of the plot. It is not enjoyable or boring, but static. The book is hit-and-miss with characters; while actions and motives seem strong, the dialogue comes off as weak and one-dimensional. It seems as if Jack is the only character that is truly fleshed out. The time jumping within the book is fun and creative, but I really wanted to explore the tiny pockets of time that Jack visited a little longer. I feel that the book tries hard to be well balanced, but all it became was average. Reviewed by Kevin Brown Voyage Across the Stars By David Drake Baen, $12.00, 665 pages, Format: Trade

«««« Classic stories are classic for a reason. This omnibus by David Drake is based on the Greek epics. It worked well in 1984 and 1994 when the two books were originally published and are still vibrant military sci-fi stories today. The novels set in the Hammer’s Slammers universe are about voyages: one going home, and one growing up and going away. The main character in the second story in introduced to us in the first, so they tie together very well. The settings are varied and fascinating, the concepts thought-provoking and the action fast and furious. If you are a devoted Drake reader from way back, these are well worth a second look. If this is a first time for you, dive in. The books are full of action, drama and diverse characters, but not for the squeamish — they can get very bloody. The mayhem is not for shock value alone, it is always driven by situation and character. This is wonderful military science fiction and not at all dated. These books are as fresh as anything being newly published today and as timeless as the classics the stories are based on. Reviewed by Beth Revers

Surfing the Gnarl By Rudy Rucker PM Press, $12.00, 120 pages, Format: Trade

«««« Rudy Rucker is weird. And I say that with all the respect and esteem in the world. His novel Master of Space and Time is one of the most gleefully bizarre books I’ve ever read, and parts of it have been lodged in my brain ever since. He is deserved considered an icon in the science fiction genre, and his work has opened countless eyes to the possibilities of language. He’s virtually impossible to encapsulate, but Surfing the Gnarl makes an impressive attempt at doing so. It features two short stories -- the first on the far end of fantasy’s richly anarchic bell curve, the other firmly lodged in cyberpunk’s social commentary middle ground -- as well as an expansive personal essay and an interview with creative comradein-arms Terry Bisson. The centerpiece essay is also the highlight of this collection, allowing Rucker to meander deftly from explaining what “gnarl” has to do with his writing, right into an exploration of science fiction and fantasy’s role in society, and the infinite potential they hold to change how we view the world. This latest entry in PM’s Outspoken Authors series is the best yet. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas Invisible Sun By David Macinnis Gill Greenwillow, $16.99, 384 pages Format: Trade

« Invisible Sun, a companion novel to Black Hole Sun, features returning characters Durango and Vienne. They are now “dalit,” a loose equivalent to a dishonorably dis-

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Book Reviews

Science Fiction & Fantasy

charged soldier, and after they hack a corporate server they brush against what appears to be a political coup. On Mars this has as much, indeed more, to do with corporations than with traditional government entities. This novel is as action-packed as Black Hole Sun, and several plot points tie back to the first book. However, it stands on its own for readers new to the author’s vision of a settled Mars. While the action was certainly engaging, this reviewer would have enjoyed the book more had it featured better character consistency and development. Durango and Vienne hold their own fairly well, but the supporting cast feels more like plot devices than true characters. Additionally, in a novel geared toward young adults, there is a disappointing vein of sexism running through the novel. One example of many: even the female characters, in what amount to professional disputes, default to reducing each other to sexualized epithets. It is hard to recommend this title. Reviewed by Rachel Wallace The Alchemist of Souls By Anne Lyle Angry Robot, $7.99, 528 pages, Format: Mass

«««« Imagine if the New World explorers brought back something even more amazing in their journeys: not just chocolate or tobacco, but a different race of humans. In this fantasy version of history, Skraylings are a race of creatures encountered in the expanding British Empire, and the world will never be the same. Mal Catlyn is the star of this book, and has found himself as a bodyguard to the Skrayling Ambassador. His life becomes even more complected as assassination threats are not his only worry. The book does a great job of setting the environment and making it really feel like sixteenth century London. I loved how the book feels very original in its concepts. It is hard to do historical fantasy like this, but to take it and make

it your own is an accomplishment. The book does start off very slow, but eventually picks up the pace for an climatic ending. The lack of the excitement at the beginning really hurts the book. The story is very character driven, and as the story progressed, I found myself more emotionally tied to these characters. With a deep understanding of history and a perfect blend of magic, this series is off to a great start. Reviewed by Kevin Brown Secrets of the Fire Sea By Stephen Hunt Tor, $27.99, 464 pages, Format: Hard

««««« The fourth novel in the Jackelian series by Stephen Hunt, is here, and it is one of the best in the series. And I use the word “series” loosely. Each book in the Jackelian series is a stand alone adventure. In this installment, we are transported to the island of Jago. Jago is not a normal island, but an island continent surrounded by flowing magma. The plot follows the adventures of young Hannah Conquest and also the exploits of dark, grimy, detective Jehtro Daunt and his steam-man assistant Boxiron. Like a modern day Jules Verne, Hunt’s world is that of steam-powered fantastic machines while still having an antiquity feel to them. This book does not fail to deliver great settings, odd machines, and amazing characters. It is the characters that really shine in this book. Everyone is well defined and has their own motives and flaws. Hunt’s biggest flaw is his pacing. While it can be be sluggish from time to time, the wild twist and turns helps in adding intrigue. In a way, they both cancel each other out to make for a pleasant read. As a fan of Stephen Hunt, I would have to say that Secrets of the Fire Sea is the best out of the series and a great book to read. Reviewed by Kevin Brown

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Book Reviews


Sequential Art

tional incident or an unintentional vacation to a barer and better place, these stories have the potential of seedlings from classic-era Simpsons episodes. My main complaint is that the stories aren’t longer! The first story in particular is a wonderful set piece to a longer adventure, and I wish there had been a chapter two to explore the story further. That goes double for the fourth and finest of the tales. The idea that a secret has been lurking inside the Olmec head in the basement all these years? Genius, and a wonderful touch for the long-time fans. These might not be laugh-out-loud adventures or the first sign of a Simpsons renaissance, but they are enjoyable glimpses of an all-too-familiar family doing what they do best. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas Chico & Rita By Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba SelfMadeHero, $24.95, 216 pages, Format: Hard


Simpsons Confidential By Matt Groening BongoComics, $15.99, 127 pages, Format: Trade

«««« After five hundred episodes, you’d think that every imaginable Simpsons story has been told. But leave it to the talents at Simpsons Confidential to prove you wrong, offering a quintet of entertaining and diverting tales featuring America’s favorite family of yellow-toned suburbanites. Whether it’s Marge taking up catering or Cletus becoming Homer’s neighbor, Bart’s antics causing another interna-

Picture an animated feature film about 1948 Havana. The film depicts bright colors, sweeping visuals, and pays homage to such jazz music greats as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. This film, though animated, is not for children. It is a very adult story about a man and woman who are musically talented and in love. Add to this sweeping romance a soundtrack that whisks the listener from Havana, Cuba to New York in a simple, yet alluring tale of misunderstanding and passion. Sounds intriguing, yes? Now, eliminate nearly every word, remove all of the music, and simply rely on the graphics to tell the story. Through line drawings, color, and pure visuals, try to imagine this story with no real context. This is the problem with Chico and Rita, the graphic novel. The reader doesn’t have a frame of reference, unless they’ve seen the animated film. For all intents and purposes, the story, which requires a certain amount of adult sophistication, does little to appeal to the intellect. Sadly, the hard-backed book cannot stand on its own. See the movie. Buy the music CD. Purchase the book only if you want to see all of the pretty pictures. Reviewed by Alicia Latimer

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Book Reviews

Sequential Art

Highschool of the Dead, Vol. 5 By Daisuke Sato, Shouji Sato Yen Press, $13.99, 160 pages, Format: Trade

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 11 By Nagaru Tanigawa Yen Press, $11.99, 176 pages, Format: Trade



Zombies are popular in American pop culture. From the original Night of the Living Dead to the modern Walking Dead, Americans have long been fascinated with zombies, the impact an attack would have on society and what would happen to those who managed to survive. In Japan zombies are not as popular, and only Highschool of the Dead truly covers zombies, though they are never called zombies in the book; they are only referred to as “them.” In this volume the high school students have made it safely to the local mall, where they run into a wide assortment of survivors, plus one young police officer who is inexperienced. The other survivors range from your typical street thug to businessman and more. The students are debating when they will leave and where they will go. Eventually they have to make a medical run to a local clinic. At the clinic they run into zombies and have to fight them off. Like previous volumes, the artwork can be hard to follow, with so much in the way that it clutters everything. The storyline is getting old. The characters are not really evolving beyond their one-dimensional state. Reviewed by Kevin Winter

Sometimes a manga deserves a day off. The SOS Brigade takes a break in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Volume 11, right after escaping from an other-dimensional mansion. They celebrate the new year together, which includes solving a murder mystery, kite-flying, and the apparent re-appearance of an extinct species of wolf. They uncover one or two secrets in the woods, but this is the most low-key you will ever find the SOS Brigade. Although the art is a little more simplistic than most manga, it fits the book rather well. The emphasis is on character-building, and we learn quite a bit about the characters in this one. Although the plot of the series is not moved along a lot, it’s fine in this case as it allows us to catch up with the characters, as well as showing the more subtle side of Haruhi’s powers. Not all manga needs to be action-packed or emotionally draining; this is a very nice break from the fast-paced manga most are used to. This is the book you’ll be reading next to a warm fire while drinking hot chocolate as the snow settles in around you. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim

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Book Reviews


Poetry & Short Stories Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: Stories of Crime, Love and Rebellion By Gary Phillips, Editor, Andrea Gibbons, Editor PM Press, $19.95, 356 pages Format: Trade

«««« The spirit of revolution is alive and well within the pages of Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!, a collection of crime stories centered around acts of rebellion, protest, and unrest. In less than four hundred pages, you’ll encounter miners on the moon fighting for better safety, black students plotting against a Klan rally, and Jewish craftsmen defending their unionizing efforts with brutal force. There’s a cop scrambling to solve a mystery amidst rampant rioting, elderly women aspiring to civil disobedience, and visions from a near-future Paris that has descended into warring factions. The stories of Send My Love span the spectrum from noir to historical fiction, and there are some real gems between its covers. Major names from not only the crime beat, but also the sci-fi and fantasy genres, make worthwhile contributions to the set, including names like Cory Doctorow, Sara Paretsky, and Kim Stanley Robinson.

As with any short story collection, there are a few clunkers, but overall, Send My Love offers a great twist on the familiar. Heck, it’s hard to find fault with any collection that kicks off with a story by Paco Ignacio Taibo II. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas The Artist of Disappearance By Anita Desai Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23.00, 156 pages Format: Hard

««««« The landscapes Anita Desai evokes in these brilliant, haunting novellas are richly populated by exotic flora and fauna: leopards, luminous deadly mushrooms in the grass, silver-haired monkeys, owls and nightjars, jackals and lantana bushes, blue-flowering ageratum and, most memorably in “The Museum of Final Journeys,” an ancient, weary elephant. One character visits a derelict estate, where priceless artifacts (kimonos, masks, scrolls, clocks, weapons) of mysterious origins molder. Another inhabits the burned-out mansions of childhood, haunted by memories and harassed by filmmakers. The atmosphere Desai creates is one of oppression, defeat, and suffocation by the tight class strictures and customs of Indian society and by an intricate and grand past civilization that, crumbling, spreads its ruin into both present and future. The two or three ordinary workaday characters we encounter have an odd cheerfulness; their modernity and adaptability strangely contrast with the ruins about them, which they find quaint or succeed in ignoring altogether. These stories recall at some moments the dark tales of Edgar Allen Poe or the eerie metaphysical narratives of Jorge Louis Borges, and, at others, the stories of Charles Dickens’s orphaned boys — but without the final note of redemption. Reviewed by Zara Raab

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Book Reviews



There are immediate fireworks between the two, and the sexual tension between them is practically tangible as they work together. Both characters are independent, strong and skilled, but they both have their own personal demons to fight, and readers will fall in love with them. Favorites from the earlier books also make an appearance as Spencer enlists the help of Dare, Trace, and Jackson to help protect Arizona and, of course, Dare’s lovable and sexy assistant, Chris, is the voice of reason when it comes to how to best support Arizona in regaining her trust of others. This series just continues getting better and better. Reviewed by Debbie Suzuki Blank Slate By Shanell Keys AuthorHouse, $14.99, 183 pages, Format: Trade


A Perfect Storm By Lori Foster HQN, $7.99, 448 pages, Format: Mass

««««« Lori Foster has done it again! A Perfect Storm is another can’t-put-down addition to the Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series. Readers first met bounty hunter Spencer Lark and Arizona Storm, the woman Jackson rescued from human traffickers, in Savor the Danger. Despite her past traumatic experiences, Arizona is a strong, skillful fighter who is determined to champion the underdog and shut down other human trafficking rings. She knows when she needs help and decides to turn to Spencer as a partner in her latest takedown.

Nurse Jennifer Morrison is the caregiver you’d want to encounter if - like John Doe - you had lost your memory in a car wreck. Jen is a nurturer, so when no one appears at the hospital to claim John Doe, she takes him home to live in her guest house while he builds a new life. Jen and John slowly move toward love, only to be derailed by the arrival of a very pregnant woman: John’s wife, Julie. She takes him home but, before she gives birth, he regains his memory. What follows is fast, furious, and hair-raising. At every important juncture, the complex Blank Slate plot relies on coincidence to move forward. I wanted to root for Jen and John, but I felt I barely knew them. There are some teaser sub-plots: a lonely old woman, who haunts the ER, a pregnant cancer victim, Jen’s son’s heart murmur. Each amplifies on Jen’s coping skills and generous heart, but all are summarily resolved and do not seem essential to the central story. Pregnant Julie is a vehicle, rather than a character. Read this book if you like some menace with your romance. Deus ex machinas notwithstanding, there is promise in this author. Sponsored Review

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Book Reviews


Biographies & Memoirs

boy could become a man. Along the way, they see examples of what America used to be, how we could be more efficient in what we do, so as to soften our footprints, and what we can do when we pull together. Although we still have a ways to go, there is hope if we put a little more effort into the environment. The one major recommendation of this book is that the family is real, with kids who tease and support each other, and parents who make mistakes or get mad at the kids. However, the book needed to focus more on the philosophical implications of the boy and a little less on the environment. Although the father’s path towards a new perspective is shown, the son’s needs more mentions; after all, it was his bar mitzvah. Otherwise, this is a great book for those who are losing faith in society as a whole, as it shows that we can work together towards a brighter future. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder By Karen Spears Zacharias MacAdam/Cage Publishing, $25.00, 308 pages Format: Hard


The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast: One Family’s CrossCountry Ride of Passage by Bike By Matt Biers-Ariel Mountaineers Books, $18.95, 256 pages, Format: Trade

«««« Some kids get off too lightly in rites of passage. The Bar Mitzvah and The Beast is the story of a family that biked across America for an environmental petition, so that one

Readers who cannot stomach graphic descriptions of child abuse, should definitely not read this memoir.The author, Karen Spears Zacharias, was intimately connected with the mother of the abused child, Karly. She has written a highly personal and emotional accounting of events: how she met Karly’s mother, Sarah, and their once close relationship, the events that led to Karly’s murder at the age of 3, the trial, and the tragedy’s aftermath. The story itself is heartbreaking, of course.As the little girl continues to be abused, readers will choke down anger while the cops focus on the wrong person, (Karly’s biological father) instead of recognizing the outrageous crimes of the stepdad.This murder could clearly have been prevented, if only several of the people involved in the abuse investigation had made better choices. Zacharias consulted police files and conducted personal interviews to write the book.For such an emotional topic, some of the dialogue and narrative is lackluster and reads

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Book Reviews

Biographies & Memoirs

as if it were copied directly from the police reports. Clearly, the author is a devout Christian, but her religious references will definitely turn off any non-believers. Reviewed by Leslie Wolfson Escaping from Reality Without Really Trying: 40 Years of High Seas Travels and Lowbrow Tales By Robert Jacoby Cloud Books, $17.95, 526 pages, Format: eBook ««««.5 Escaping From Reality Without Really Trying: 40 Years of High Seas Travels and Lowbrow Tales is not your typical memoir. Jacoby uses versatile language to recall events in the life of a non-conforming seaman who has travelled around the globe on more than one occasion. Through these stories, we learn of the not-so-politically-correct seafarer, Ronnie, who has some interesting perspectives on society and the world. Jacoby spent hours interviewing this seaman recalling tales of his overseas adventures that spanned the years of 1967 to 2006. This independent and free-spirited sailor has lived a life that is unfathomable to most. Having seen and done things that most people wouldn’t accomplish in a lifetime, this seaman provides an eidetic account of his expeditions and encounters across cultures throughout the world. Although the language used is quite graphic at times, the reader is drawn in by the blatant honesty of this seafarer. This is definitely the kind of book that can be read with a beer in hand, as Jacoby states in his author’s note “Now, go grab a cold one. You’re gonna need it.” Ronnie was not the type of man to settle down and become an ordinary citizen. Rather, through his words and accounts of his travels, we learn of a man who feels somewhat suppressed by the world around him, so he sets sail to see the world and escape the encumbering society in which he found himself in. “It’s ridiculous that children are nurtured to be independent, and when they do become independent, they’re condemned for it.” At times there is some

harsh language used, so this book is not recommended for young readers. However, the situations confronting this seaman throughout his life prove to be an experience for the reader willing to take the journey with him from port to port. Escaping From Reality provides an inside look at an individual who left everything behind to travel the world in hopes of finding bigger and better things in life. What this seafarer finds on his expeditions certainly proves to be not only an interesting trip for the reader but provides many laughs along the way. Sponsored Review James Madison and the Making of America By Kevin R. C. Gutzman St. Martin’s Press, $27.99, 363 pages, Format: Hard

«««« The title is an appropriate one. Professor Gutzman’s book is a biography of James Madison, but it is much more than that. It is, literally, the story of how thirteen essentially sovereign states were able to form the United States of America. A good portion of the book follows the notes that Madison took during the Philadelphia Convention that resulted in scrapping the unworkable Articles of Confederation and creating our Constitution. Madison is often called “The Father of the Constitution”, but Gutzman shows that the term “Father” is perhaps a little too generous. In fact, Madison came out on the losing end of many of the votes taken, and he saw no need for the Bill of Rights that his friend Thomas Jefferson and others insisted upon. But despite his misgivings, Madison could recognize that the document created was the best that could be done, and he worked hard for its ratification, a story that makes a very interesting chapter of its own. The balance of the book is a fascinating account of Madison’s role in forming the institutions and the policies that characterize the United States of America. Reviewed by Paul Mullinger

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Book Reviews


Humor Non-Fiction The Onion Presents: Love, Sex, and Other Natural Disasters: Relationship Reporting from America’s Finest News Source By The Staff of The Onion Quirk Books, $12.95, 144 pages, Format: Trade

«««« From the staff of America’s Finest News Source, The Onion Presents Love, Sex, and Other Natural Disasters. This volume contains more than one hundred love stories, from the awkward to the restraining order. With stories like “SWM May Have Lied About Liking Sunsets, Long Walks,” “Voyeur Concerned About Lack of Sex In Neighbors’ Marriage,” and “Couple Forgets 70th Wedding Anniversary,” these latest news stories present the latest in America’s love and sex epidemic. If you like your relationship news to range from the raunchy to the tongue-in-cheek to the hilarious, this is the volume for you. It presents the latest news about relationships and sex in true Onion form, chock-full of relationship tips, engagement rings that tell time and temperature, girlfriends who want to “do stuff,” the latest reader polls, and much more. Bar skanks will promise to kiss, girlfriends will have failed to see Apocalypse Now, and husbands will try to cheat.

While other news venues are superficial, mediocre, and crass, The Onion has been misinforming readers since 1988, with more than ten million online readers each month and two million in print. Reviewed by Axie Barclay A Bad Idea I’m About to Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure By Chris Gethard Da Capo Press, $16.00, 242 pages, Format: Trade

««« Chris Gethard has elevated awkwardness to an art form. He regales the reader with tales of a man whose curious combination of anxiety and enthusiasm has brought him peculiar moments most of us could only dream of. From the time he spent with a goat for college credit to his misadventures in jiu-jitsu, from bumps on his junk to an impromptu trip to Mexico, Gethard’s stories will give you engaging glimpses into his life, taking you from pity to empathy and laughter to recognition in seconds. Peppered throughout the funnier excerpts are genuine tales of self-exploration, as he comes to terms with anxiety, depression, and his own self-sabotaging nature. The highs and lows of these various stories are easily identifiable for anyone, gracefully mixing humor and humility. He’s a singular voice, to be sure. A Bad Idea I’m About to Do isn’t always an easy read, and it’s certainly not for everyone; some of the stories are unflinchingly brutal in their honesty, deconstructing mistakes and missteps that have obviously festered in Gethard’s head for years. But that just makes his stolen moments of humor all the more impressive, as he teases chuckles out of you at the most unexpected times. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas

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Book Reviews quently insightful) romp through the minutia of gay-dom is what you get with this book. His advice ranges from whether to tell your parents (he’s not always in favor) to how to handle aging with grace and style. And, of course, he covers sex and blowjobs (to him, these are not one in the same). But where he really takes the cake is with his multiple discussions of fashion and style. He clearly knows his stuff and just wishes the rest of the gay population did too. That is why he is here. Read and learn! How To Be Gay is a quick read with equal parts pictures and text and is highly enjoyable regardless of your sexual orientation or gender. Pick it up and prepare to be amused – and maybe even educated! Reviewed by Elizabeth Raymond


Popular Culture

Zombie Eye for the Living Guy: Look Undead, Cook Undead, Dress Undead, & Live Undead By Alexander Colby Marion Street Press, $12.95, 173 pages, Format: Trade


How to Be Gay in the 21st Century By David Leddick White Lake Press, $14.95, 70 pages, Format: Trade

«««« “There’s nothing wrong with being gay. It’s like being Swedish. A little different but in no important way.” I spent the vast majority of the 45 minutes it took for me to consume Leddick’s instruction manual laughing. His advice is often spot on, sometimes a little wacky – but always amusing! He clearly has given some serious thought to the proper and improper ways of conducting yourself as a gay man in today’s world. And lucky are those who get to hear his words of wisdom... at least he thinks so. Hard hitting literature, this is not. A humorous (and fre-

Some of us would love to live the simpler life of the undead. Zombie Eye for the Living Guy looks at the considerations of such a life, as well as the inherent limitations. Not only are different types of zombie lifestyles explored, but so are menus, clothes, and even hygiene. For someone looking to become a zombie without actually becoming one of the undead, this book explores a lot of areas that need to be considered. There is even a button to help you survive an attack from undead slayers. This is definitely an interesting book to read. However, it does not really go into much depth as far as the zombie lifestyle goes; there are no mentions of national clubs or websites, for example. At the same time, it can not decide if it wants to be a handbook or humorous, and because of that some of the humor tends to fall a bit flat. The photographs are brilliant, and act as a definite example of what it takes to be a zombie. This is a great book for those looking for something different around Halloween, and Romero fans will love it, but otherwise it feels too incomplete. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim

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Sacramento Book Review - April 2012  

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