NEW AND OF INTEREST
Man Booker PrizeWinner: The Sense of an Ending Page 15
Does it pay to be on the inside? Page 18
An Interview with Author Jeanne Wagner Page 25
Books of the Year: 2011 - Oddities & Curiosities
The MUNI past
By Grant Ute, Philip Hoffman, Cameron Beach, Robert Townley, Walter Vielbaum Arcadia Publishing, $26.99, 144 pages
I reckon I’ve ridden most of the Muni lines, taken every kind of vehicle -- electric rail, streetcar, trolley, motor coaches, yes, even cable cars (only when I have my fast pass). I love trains and photographs of old trains, so it’s not a stretch to enjoy this book on buses, another book from Arcadia Publishing, which specializes in nostalgic books See MUNI, page 77
Our AWESOME Holiday Gift Guide Pages 42 - 63
THE BACK PAGE: Optioning by author Elise Allen Page 74
163 Reviews INSIDE!
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IN THIS ISSUE Horror............................................................ 3 Philosophy...................................................... 5 Children’s....................................................... 7
EDITOR IN CHIEF Ross Rojek
Historical Fiction.......................................... 12
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Zara Raab Hubert O’Hearn Joseph Arellano
Mystery, Crime & Thrillers........................... 18
GRAPHIC DESIGN/ LAYOUT Heidi Komlofske COPY EDITORS Megan Just Lori Miller Diane Jinson Holly Scudero Robyn Oxborrow Kim Winterheimer
Modern Literature........................................ 15 Poetry & Short Stories.................................. 22 Self-Help....................................................... 24 An Interview With Author Jeanne Wagner......................................... 25 Popular Fiction............................................. 28 Romance....................................................... 32 Sequential Art.............................................. 36 Books of the Year 2011: Oddities & Curiosities.............................. 40 Holiday Gift Guide...................................42-63 Art, Architecture & Photography................. 64 Science Fiction & Fantasy............................. 66
EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Elizabeth Tropp Lisa Rodgers Justin Salazar Stewart Erin McDonough Shanyn Day Christopher Hayden
Young Adult.................................................. 70
Biographies & Memoirs................................ 86
The San Francisco Book Review is published bi-monthly by 1776 Productions, LLC. The opinions expressed in these pages are those of the individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the San Francisco Book Review or Sacramento Book Review advertisers. All images are copyrighted by their respective copyright holders. All words © 2011, 1776 Productions, LLC.
The Back Page: Optioning............................. 74 Business & Investing.................................... 76 Tweens......................................................... 78 Cooking, Food & Wine.................................. 83 Current Events............................................. 92 Humor-NonFiction....................................... 94 History......................................................... 96
FROM THE EDITOR Every year, I absolutely DREAD December. Even before wrapping up our October issue, we start requesting books from publishers that we feel will be outstanding for our Holiday Gift Guide. Once we finish the November issue, I let out a heavy sign, pull myself up by the bootstraps, and face the inevitable. It’s time to start the December issue. I actually had a lot of fun with this year’s Gift Guide, though. I wanted each gift category to have a unique look and feel. I’m also enjoying creating a digital issue and giving it all of the bells and whistles that the printed issue can’t allow. Coming in early 2012 will be HTML5 versions of each issue for tablets. We’re chomping at the bit to get going with that. For this issue, you’ll find more than 160 actual book reviews and a huge Gift Guide section for everyone on your list. The staff at 1776 Productions would like to thank the publshers and self-published authors who -- quite frankly -without them, there would be no book review publication. Happy Holidays!
Reference.................................................... 100 Science & Nature........................................ 103
President & CEO
Book Reviews Soon though, Susan learns that they might not be alone in their perfect castle. She sees and feels bedbugs where no one else does. Is she crazy or are they all just blind to what is really going on? The bugfest creeps up on you and Susan in fits and spurts, much like Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, then builds to a disgusting crescendo that you might not see coming. Much like Levin or Stephen King’s work, it is the things that we can’t see and the questions that no one can answer that are the scariest. Warning: Do not read this alone, or at night, or if you live in New York City. It might be too much for the faint of heart. Just kidding, read away and enjoy the tension, just ignore the hives. Reviewed by Gwen Stackler
Bedbugs By Ben Winters Quirk, $14.95, 256 pages Susan and Alex Wendt aren’t about to let an eccentric landlord and a strange comment about the basement keep them from renting their dream apartment. The place has room for Susan to paint, filled with light in all 1300 square feet, is just steps away from a park for their daughter, and is under their one-income budget. Perfect, where do they sign?
Them or Us By David Moody Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 354 pages In author David Moody’s world, you’re either a Hater or an Unchanged. Haters are “normal” people who, without warning or explanation, become savage, brutal killers in an instant. They take out strangers, friends, and even family members. All that the Unchanged can do is to fight back – and kill. Spreading worldwide violence and death topples governments and destroys communities. War seems imminent. It’s Us versus Them. Which side are you on? In his Haters trilogy, Moody presents readers with his unique and chilling vision of the apocalypse. Haters introduces Danny McCoyne and his family and it is through his eyes that the reader witnesses the first phases of societal destruction. Dog Blood picks up where Haters leaves off, and readers find a changed Danny, now a Hater himself, searching for his family amidst war. In Them or Us, a nearly destroyed human race struggles to survive through a savage nuclear winter. Nowhere is safe. Danny learns to control the Hate and becomes an asset to the Hater in command. As the enemy’s numbers dwindle, what will become of the Haters? What role does a human killing machine have in a post-apocalyptic society? Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin
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Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper By Robert Bloch Subterranean Press, $40.00, 336 pages Saucy Jack. The Ripper. The killer who became a legend. A horror story that has captured the imagination of the world for more than a century. A mystery with dozens of answers, some as farfetched as others are plausible. The seedling of a thousand tales. But few authors have drawn as much inspiration from Jack the Ripper as Robert Bloch, and fewer still have applied the legend with such dexterity, panache, and cunning. Collected within the pages of Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper are three short stories, a novel, a screenplay, and an essay, all exploring the Ripper’s legacy and impact. The Night of the Ripper is the centerpiece of the collection, an effective affair that marries fact and fabrication with ease, positing a solution to the mystery while enlightening the reader with some of the case’s more curious minutiae. While the original Star Trek screenplay Wolf in the Fold might be the most esoteric tale, each employs the Ripper to great effect, sometimes with the merest reference or cameo appearance. It is to Bloch’s credit that every entry maintains its own peculiar flavor and aftertaste. History fans, crime fans, and Ripperologists alike will all find something to cherish here. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas Harbor By John Ajvide Lindqvist Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 512 pages From the international bestselling author of Let the Right One in and Handling the Undead comes another unique and moving tale. Readers will wonder what Sweden is truly like during the winter, as Lindqvist sets this story on a remote island in the Swedish archipelago. It seems at first that Harbor is an ordinary tale of loss, as
the book opens with Anders and Cecilia living in a cute little cottage on the small island of Domarö with their adorable six-year-old daughter, Maja. One winter afternoon, before dinner, they go on a walk across the snow onto the frozen channel. There they discover an old lighthouse and go into to explore. They travel to the very top, looking out across the ice. Maja says she is bored and goes back down, venturing out onto the frozen channel . . . then she disappears. Anders and Cecilia looked away for a second and Maja has vanished. They begin searching the ice and the area around, looking for her, calling for her, become more panicked by the minute. A search is done over a number of days, but the little girl is never found. The loss of Maja destroys the familiar and Anders and Cecilia separate. Anders has problems getting back to any sort of normal life and spends more and more time in the cottage on the island, getting to know the people better and slowly lose his minds. He begins to hear weird sounds and feels that the spirit of Maja is close by, but at the same time he knows this cannot be true. John Ajvide Lindqvist has created a thrilling, psychological horror novel in Harbor. While it seems like Anders is just losing his mind over the loss of his daughter, and then the end of his marriage, turns into something else as he learns more about the island of Domarö and the payment it has exacted over its inhabitants for many decades . . . Harbor proves Lindqvist deserves to be added to the great horror writers of today, with his unique stories; normal, realistic characters; and his unforgettable depictions of the dark and terrifying places throughout Sweden that would be considered normal, until he inserts one of his terrifying tales. Reviewed by Alex C. Telander
San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 4
Book Reviews Category
Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything By David Bellos Faber & Faber, $27.00, 374 pages Imagine a world without Plato’s ideas, Dostoevsky’s Karamazovs, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Murakami’s latest novel, Sam Beckett, the Bible, and Koran — a world without most of your words, ideas, and images. That would be a world without translation. Translation is the human condition, says Bellos, a translator of French literature. “But a translation is never a substitute for the original, is it?”
Exactly. But what is it? Not focused solely on literary translation, this erudite and entertaining book ranges across the whole of human experience to describe why translation is at the heart of what we do and who we are, including the spread of religion to celebrity gossip, from poetry to global news, from the Internet to our appreciation of literature. It plays a key role in diplomacy, journalism, business, science, and law, but it doesn’t happen everywhere in the same way in a world of 7,000 languages, and infinite dialects, styles, and metaphors. Contrary to the story of Babel, people have always spoken different languages and always will. Without translation, there would be no world news, little reading, no repair manuals, no UN, and no hope for the world. We would be lost. This book would be a delight to any reader of translation, who delights in words, language, and history of ideas. Reviewed by Phil Semler How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass By Christopher DiCarlo Prometheus Books, $19.00, 398 pages Occasionally, a book has a great title, starts out great, but then decides to extend itself farther than it should and becomes just so much verbiage. How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass does exactly that, but with much gusto. The first part of the book delivers on the basic premise; a reader who follows the book’s advice will become a much better thinker, as methods of looking at questions are shown, and why we shouldn’t trust what we are told. However, it then leaves that behind, and goes into an attack on religion. Once it does that, it somehow manages to lose credibility. For the most part, the book provides really great tools for critical thinking; and in that regard, it should be mandatory reading. However, it then ignores all that it has described, and proceeds to paint anyone with even the slightest interest in the supernatural with the same large brush of ignorance. It becomes the atheist equivalent of the old Chick pamphlets. It’s not a bad book; it needed to stop at around page 216; after that, it’s just a mess. Ignore it after that point, and it’s an incredible book. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim
San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 5
Who Am I? And If So, How Many? By Richard David Precht Spiegel & Grau, $16.00, 283 pages Books on philosophy tend to be dry. Who Am I? is a fun quest throughout history, science, and philosophy, looking at how they combine and ultimately how each is an intrinsic part of the others. It is a fascinating look at how interconnected our philosophy is to our science, and how our views on each have changed over the centuries. There is a nice interconnectedness between chapters as well, as each chapter ends with a link to the next chapter. More Eastern philosophy could have been added to this mix, in which case it would have been interesting to see what that side of the globe would say about the current state of science. Nonetheless, Western philosophy is covered pretty thoroughly, and it is sort of cool to see how thinking itself has changed over the millenia, as philosophy has become more secular, with religion serving less as a frame and actually being taken to the sidelines. This is a nicely objective look at what is normally a very subjective topic, and it is highly recommended for anyone who wants to explore philosophy. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim Just a Bunch of Crazy Ideas By Pardu S Ponnapalli Xlibris, $15.99, 78 pages There has never been a more accurately or honestly titled book than that of Just a Bunch of Crazy Ideas. From kitty litter and calories to space exploration and the stock market, Ponnapalli ponders whatever crosses his mind in search of a solution, and those solutions run the gamut from surprisingly simple to mindbogglingly unfeasible. I must admit, there is a proactiveness and ingenuity to Ponnapalli that is really engaging. I appreciate anyone who
sees a problem and, instead of simply accepting it or bemoaning the unfairness of it all, tackles it head-on with gusto. His enthusiasm for each topic is obvious, and his willingness to appear silly or to be criticized is well-tempered by his overwhelming positivity. If you can imagine a melange of straightforward outside-the-box thinking, you’ve got an idea of Mr. Ponnapalli’s style. He pulls from his personal experiences -- including an ongoing struggle with weight management and a harrowing accident while hiking -- as well as his physics and IT background in order to examine problems both trivial and crucial. Yes, some of these ideas are pretty crazy. We certainly differ in our opinions on where the new Star Trek film should head, for example. And I don’t know about the feasibility of his building-cum-stepping-stones approach to the space elevator -- for instance, where could we build it that could offer both the necessary land and the population to make it a viable workspace? -- but I did experiment with both of his proposed revisions to chess with great results. The book is a bit of a mixed bag. As a handbook of solutions to major and minor problems, it falters a bit, but as a conversation sparker, Just a Bunch of Crazy Ideas is a success. Sponsored Review
For many more Philosophy book reviews, visit our website: S a n F r a n c i s c o B o o k R e v i e w. c o m
San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 6
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Asked to carry the goat’s dish out after supper, Big Anthony eats it instead and gives the goat hay and oats. In revenge, the goat eats his blanket. Strega Nona has magic powers. That night she gives everyone in the village a wonderful dream about food that makes them awaken with full stomachs. Without his blanket, Big Anthony shivers all night and is hungry the next morning. At the Feast of Epiphany when Big Anthony gets the good luck piece with the fava bean in it, he knows just what to do to make amends with the goat. DePaola’s whimsical illustrations have charm and his story delights. Reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan
Strega Nona’s Gift By Tomie dePaola Nancy Paulsen Books, $17.99, 32 pages In Strega Nona’s village, eight feasts are celebrated over the Christmas season, ending with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. On the eve before Epiphany, due to a legend, a special feast is prepared for the animals. The villagers eat simpler fare. Big Anthony has enjoyed the feasts so far, but on the eve of Epiphany, he is disappointed to be served plain pasta. Strega Nona’s animals get yummy dishes that make his mouth water, including a special dish of turnips stuffed with greens and ceci beans for her goat.
Zack’s Alligator and the First Snow By Shirley Mozelle (author), James Watts (illustrator) HarperCollins, $3.99, 32 pages Zack has a magic alligator keychain. When the little alligator, Bridget, gets wet, she grows into a life-size alligator who loves to laugh and play. Zack’s parents are at the lake ice fishing, and Zack has plenty of time to play in the snow around the lake. After building a snowman, he reaches into his pocket, and his wet mittens touch Bridget. She starts to grow. Soon she is grown and ready to play. A young girl joins Zack and Bridget. They make snow angels and slide on the ice. Bridget is hungry and dives through the ice fishing hole, eating all the fish in sight. After an afternoon of sledding, Bridget begins to shrink. Their day of fun is over. But Zack isn’t sad. He knows she will be back to
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play another day. This I Can Read book is perfect for new readers. The sentences are simple and the vocabulary is sprinkled with a few challenging words to help readers along to the next level. The story, imaginative and cute with charming illustrations, will keep new readers turning the pages. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck Lots of Bots!: A Counting Pop-Up Book By David A. Carter, Noelle Carter Robin Corey Books, $14.99, 16 pages Lots of Bots! adds another layer of interest to the standard counting from 1 to 10 book by adding robots—robots that pop up, hide behind door flaps, and move with the help of pull-tabs. Each page or number is a group of robots doing a different job. Some are familiar such as Vacuum Bots, others are bots doing familiar chores such as teeth brushing and still others are doing incredibly crazy things--like finding sunken treasure or performing in a circus.
Lots of Bots! is just the right size for younger hands and sturdily made to ensure that the “bots” keep popping up even after repeated readings. This book can do double duty: visually it’s creative enough to amuse preschoolers “reading” on their own but it also has fun text for when they’re enjoying read-aloud time with an adult. The illustrations are done in bright primary colors, and each page has enough detail that readers will have to do a bit or searching (and counting) to find all the robots, especially with the larger numbers. Reviewed by Jodi Webb
There Was an Odd Princess Who Swallowed a Pea By Jennifer Ward Marshall Cavendish Children’s, $16.99, 32 pages There are no books youngsters enjoy more than books that bring giggles bubbling up, and nothing makes giggles bubble up faster for kids than silly rhymes and burps. Yes, burps. Especially when it’s a princess doing the burping, and especially when that princess wears polka-dot undershorts! This silly princess has a voracious appetite and will swallow just about anything – a pea, a slipper, a crown, a rose, a wand, a witch, and more, much more. It just gets sillier and sillier. And the sillier it gets, the more those giggles will bubble up. This book is destined to become a favorite of young children, which means it will be a favorite of pre-school and kindergarten teachers as well as parents of young children. Based on the folk song “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” a funny song on its own, this fresh take will be great to read for groups as well as individuals. As if the silly rhymes weren’t enough, the fantastic illustrations are just as clever and funny as the rhyme. Pick up this charming picture book and let the laughter begin. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China By Ed Young, Libby Koponen, Contributor Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 58 pages Award-winning artist Ed Young takes readers back to the house his father built to keep his family safe during World War II. Living in Shanghai, China, during the times of the invasions, Ed’s father, Baba, wanted to have a home that was located close to the embassies, in the safest part of Shanghai, only the land cost too much. Ed’s father made a deal with a landowner to build a brick house with a pool, courtyards and gardens and agreed to let the landowner have it all back after he and his family had lived there for twenty years. The landowner agreed.
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Baba built a huge two-story house. During the day, the pool was for those rich enough to afford it, but at night it was for the family. Soon three other families joined Ed and his four siblings in the house. During times of bombing, Baba told enthralling stories, distracting the children from the war outside. This memoir tells of the games, customs and fun times as remembered by Ed and his siblings. The illustrations range from warm illustrations of his family members to collages including actual photos from the war. Each page is a delight, different in style and mediums and rich in details. Reviewed by Susan Roberts Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets By Kathleen Krull with illustration by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher Random House Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 40 pages Biographies are a hard topic for children’s books. Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets is a wonderful book on the life and times of one the most beloved puppeteers. It covers his life, even mentioning his death. It’s a wonderful and moving portrait of a man who was one of the first to use pop culture references in a children’s show, making it edgy and still retaining some childlike wonder of the world. This book gives a great sense of who he was and what he did that was so important. The illustrations are wonderful; they capture the scene beautifully and have a nice amount of detail. There are few artists who could have captured the fuzziness of Henson and the Muppets as well as Johnson and Fancher do here. Krull does an outstanding job of condensing Henson’s life story to such elegant simplicity. Although Henson’s achievements are on the cerebral side of things, making them hard to translate to children, they nonetheless give it a great try. This book is suited best for twelve to fourteen year olds, as it will fall flat for younger children and would be too simple for older children. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim
How Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter Inside a Tiny Blue Box By Linda Heller with illustration by Stacey Dressen McQueen Tricycle Press, $16.99, 32 pages Cross-cultural books can be a great way to learn about another culture. How Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter inside a Tiny Blue Box is about how Dalia uses the power of generosity to contain a wide variety of items inside a tzedakah, a box she uses to collect her spare change. She has a number of plans for that change, and how it will benefit those she loves. She then persuades her brother to
do the same thing by showing that it has a long history, making the boxes not just fun to have but a link to a long tradition. The illustrations are just whimsical enough to be fun as they show what Dalia and her brother plan to do with the money they collect. There is also enough story to keep the book from getting boring for kids who are being read to, and the historical significance is explained in a way to keep it interesting rather than just a cultural note. Given the curiosity of kids about cultures, this is a great book for older elementary school-age children. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim
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Animal Planet: Incredible Journeys: Amazing Animal Migrations By Animal Planet, Dwight Holing Kingfisher, $19.99, 128 pages Incredible Journeys tells the details of the migrations of more than 35 different animals on land, air, and water. Each animal’s double spread includes a brief “fact file,” migratory map, photographs and other images, reasons and routes of migration, and information unique to that species. There are also pages about general migration, environmental changes, and challenges unique to each type of animal (land, air, and water). Incredible Journeys effectively divides the information into brief snippets easy for students to digest, including breathtaking photographs. It is a welcome addition of new information to the general knowledge about migration that most students already know. This would be a welcome addition to any classroom library as it packs tons of information and specific details for individual species into just one book. The poster-size pull-out, while a good idea in theory, is just awkward to read and would have been a much better addition if it was designed to be removed from the book and hung on the wall. Although beautiful, it’s just waiting to be accidentally ripped by a young reader. Other than that, it’s a sturdy book that will withstand many readings. Reviewed by Jodi Webb Amelia Bedelia’s First Field Trip By Herman Parish with illustration by Lynne Avril Greenwillow Books, $16.99, 32 pages When Amelia Bedelia’s elementary school class takes a field trip to a farm, she wonders why they took such a long trip just to see a field. She wonders if Mrs. Dinkins’ green thumb is actually green and what color chickens’ eggs will turn if they are fed different foods. Just wait and see what happens when she’s asked to toss the salad. Learn all
about farm life in this fun-to-read, laugh-out-loud volume. You won’t be able to wait to see what happens next! Herman Parish brings alive timeless Amelia Bedelia for a new generation of children with his new series. Parrish revamps his Aunt Peggy Parish’s classic heroine, transforming her from a goofy grownup maid in Cameroon into a silly young schoolgirl who takes everything she hears quite literally. I love the changes. In fact, I enjoy the new and improved Amelia Bedelia even more than the original! My six-year-old daughter adored Amelia Bedelia’s First Field Trip and has read it many times. She loved Amelia Bedelia’s funny comments and humorous predicaments. I loved reading it to her as well. The book is bright and colorful, the prose is easy-to-read-aloud, and the heroine is unforgettable. We’ll definitely be checking out the rest of Parish’s series. This picture book is a new favorite in our house! Reviewed by Jennifer Melville Kitten’s Winter By Eugenie Fernandes Kids Can Press, $14.95, 24 pages It’s winter in this charming follow-up to Fernandes’s adorable Kitten’s Summer, and the curious orange-and-black calico kitten is out exploring her snowy world. As she hurries through the win- ter landscape, she encounters birds, squirrels, a fox, a raccoon, a woodpecker, a beaver, and many other animals, all doing their best to stay warm and cozy. When a blizzard blows in, the kitten finds herself struggling against the strong wind — and quickly makes her way back to her warm, comfortable home. The minimal rhyming text — “Snow blows, / Kitten hurries. / Pond freezes, / Fox scurries” — describes the animals’ restful actions in simple terms; nothing further is needed to explain the mixed-media illustrations, and part of the fun is identifying and discussing all the details of the landscape. Young readers will love searching in each spread for the kitten, who often hides mischievously — sometimes her whole body is visible, sometimes only a tail or footprints. This is a book to read again and again, in any season. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell
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Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns Too Much of a Good Thing Is Bad By Howard Binkow, with illustrations by Susan F. Cornelison We Do Listen, $15.00, 32 pages Howard B. Wigglebottom believes that you can never have too much of a good thing. He is in awe of the huge double-fudge chocolate brownie sundae presented to him by his uncle at 7 a.m. on his birthday. But after eating the whole thing, Howard does not feel so good. His mom packs special bubble gum for the students in his class. On the walk to school, Howard samples a few, then a few more, until he has so much gum in his mouth that he misses out on talking to the sweetest girl in school. What happens to Howard when he encounters a balloon vendor? With his mouth full of sticky gum, he orders 83 balloons! It is up, up, and away for Howard. What lessons will this funny bunny take away from his crazy day? Howard Binkow’s book Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns Too Much of a Good Thing is Bad will help youngsters think more sensibly about eating, playing games, and making positive choices. Binkow includes a helpful discussion for parents and teachers that covers topics such as pleasure and consequences, and discipline and moderation. Susan Cornelison’s illustrations are bright, cheery, and humorous. You’ll never get enough of Howard B. Wigglebottom! Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin
fore Princess Spaghetti can warn her father, he is taken prisoner and tied up. These pirates want treasure, and they expect Princess Spaghetti to help them find it. She has to save her father, and that means she has to help the pirates. But the pirates aren’t very bright. First Princess Spaghetti has to convince them to turn the map right side up. She has a lot of work to do before she can rescue King Cupcake, and it’s quite an adventure. Gillian Rogerson has written another charming, funny story about Princess Spaghetti. As if that weren’t a treasure enough to keep the pages turning, the rich illustrations by Sarah McIntyre are an absolute treat. This is a book that will be read over and over again, and with every reading, youngsters (and adults) will uncover ever more treasure in the brilliant illustrations. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck
Announcing the book industry’s
FIRST. . .
You Can’t Scare a Princess! By Gillian Rogerson with illustration by Sarah McIntyre Scholastic Press, $9.79, 32 pages Princess Spaghetti is back and fans of the earlier Princess Spaghetti book, You can’t Eat a Princess will be thrilled with her new adventure. The princess and her father, King Cupcake, are roller skating when a ship full of pirates, led by “the meanest, baddest pirate in the whole wide world,” Captain Waffle, sails up the palace moat. BeSan Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 11
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Song of the Nile By Stephanie Dray Berkley Trade, $15.00, 398 pages Selene, daughter of the infamous Cleopatra, has both welcomed and dreaded this day. She is getting a kingdom of her own, but at the price of marriage to Juba, at Emperor Augustus’ request. Selene does not enjoy married life, and
instead focuses on doing anything it takes to get back to Egypt, even if it means submitting to Augustus’ will. Rather than a historical fiction work, Song of the Nile is more of a historical what-could-have-been. The scope is much larger, as Selene has grown and matured into a young woman since the first book. She’s facing a much different prospect as she begins her marriage and reign of her kingdom with Juba at her side. The book also manages to delve deeper into Selene’s character by exploring difficult themes such a rape and marital fidelity. It has a much stronger flavor of magic throughout the book, as Selene’s Isis powers grow and develop. The author has done a good job of bringing Selene’s character to life. She sees herself as Queen of Egypt and she just as haughty as you would expect. Fans of the first book won’t be disappointed in this striking sequel. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller A Queen’s Journey By James D. Houston Heyday, $14.95, 111 pages As Americans, we have a burning passion for royalty. We devour any tidbit of news about them, and the marketplace is saturated with royaltythemed novels. What makes James D. Houston’s A Queen’s Journey stand out? His unfinished masterpiece introduces the world to a long-neglected monarch, Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani. If you’ve never heard of her, you’re missing out. Queen Liliuokalani could just as easily read Shakespeare as sit barefoot on a woven mat. Prepare to be swept off your feet by Queen Liliuokalani’s magnanimous personality and the tumultuous events surrounding her fall from power. A Queen’s Journey is the fictional tale of Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani and American reporter and narrator Jules. They first became friends aboard a ship in Honolulu, Hawaii, and their paths cross again when Queen Liliuokalani comes to the United States to plead her case before the President. Meticulously researched, masterfully crafted, and magically re-created historic figures bring alive a practically unknown segment of American history. While it took me a while to get into this novel, it was a real treat. After a few chapters, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next to Queen Liliuokalani. It was bittersweet knowing that she would lose her kingdom. What a phe-
San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 12
Category Historical Fiction
nomenal leader and amazing woman. My only complaint is that the novel was unfinished. As a reader, I was left terribly unsatisfied. I hate it when a novel doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion, tying together all loose ends and plot lines. If only the author had lived, this novel would have been one of the best I’ve read this year. As it is, A Queen’s Journey is a finely crafted work of art and a fantastic introduction to a forgotten queen. It’s a story I won’t soon forget. Reviewed by Jennifer Melville The Lady of the Rivers By Phillipa Gregory Touchstone, $27.99, 443 pages Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Bedford, nearly forgotten by history, descendent of Melusina, the river goddess, found early the mystery of the tarot cards, especially the power in the wheel of fortune card, and learned early the mortal danger of a woman with dreams. Once married to the powerful Duke of Bedford, Jacquetta’s only friend is her elderly husband’s young squire, the handsome Richard Woodville, whom she marries in secret when her first husband’s death leaves her a widow. Returning to Richard’s native England, they enter the court of Henry IV, falling deep into the rotting and violent heart of the Lancastrian crown. The mother of the White Queen has a story as rich and powerful as ever her daughter’s would be, a truly powerful prequel to Philippa Gregory’s other work. While the cavalcade of Edwards, Edmunds, dukes of this and earls of that can get confusing, this owes more to poor medieval naming practices than the fault of the author. Lady of the Rivers is a lovingly and realistically rendered account of this nearly forgotten great woman of history, her story told by the mesmerizing hand of one of the great historical storytellers of our time. Reviewed by Axie Barclay
The Silver Lotus By Thomas Steinbeck Counterpoint, $25.00, 368 pages Thomas Steinbeck, the eldest son of Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, presents his second novel (following 2010’s In the Shadow of the Cypress). The Silver Lotus is a multilayered, historical love story with a broad moral foundation and emotional depth that bears testimony to his rich literary heritage. The Pacific Rim, 1886: dashing American shipping merchant Jeremiah Macy Hammond is at the forefront of the New World, opening new trading markets across the Pacific. In the midst of political unrest in China, Hammond rescues a wealthy Cantonese grain merchant and his family, and in the process, falls wildly in love with the youngest daughter, Lady “Silver Lotus” Yee. Defying all conventions, the lovers begin their new life together aboard one of Hammond’s schooners, renamed The Silver Lotus in Yee’s honor. So begins a tale of seafaring, romance and cultural interactions that ultimately shape the Northern California coast. Eschewing traditional scene setting — and, for the most part, dialogue — in favor of direct exposition, the apparently languid pace of The Silver Lotus belies the wealth of narrative tension, from encounters with pirates to clashes over contemporary immigration practices. Combining the crystal clarity of a folk tale with the colorful descriptions of the best historical novels, The Silver Lotus comes highly recommended. Reviewed by Megan Roberts Three Maids for a Crown: A Novel of the Grey Sisters By Ella March Chase Broadway, $15.00, 432 pages This is the story of Lady Jane Grey, destined to go down in history as the English monarch with the shortest reign. It is also the story of her two sisters, beautiful and charming Katherine Grey and disfigured Mary Grey. The sisters
San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 13
Category Historical Fiction
share a strong bond, but it will be ultimately tested by the greed and ambition of their parents, who try to maneuver their daughters onto England’s throne. Much as The Other Boleyn Girl told Anne Boleyn’s story from another point of view, Three Maids for a Crown takes a fresh new look at Lady Jane Grey’s story. In a historical novel of this type, it’s hard to ignore what you know will be the eventual outcome. You know Jane will be beheaded after sitting on the throne for nine days. It’s historical fact. Jane’s execution comes fairly early in the book, so naturally the two remaining sisters have much more time for character development. Their characters come alive, and by the end, you truly care about what happens to these women, especially the youngest, Mary. Readers who love books set in the Tudor time period will find this look at Jane Grey’s life and family a new and interesting venture. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller The Cat’s Table By Michael Ondaatje Knopf, $26.00, 269 pages A young boy is making the sea voyage from Colombo to England in the early 50s. He’s been assigned to the “cat’s table,” the table farthest from the captain, with a couple other kids and a few “insignificant” adults. He and the two other boys form a natural trio and are sporadically taken under the wing of the adults. This results in a haphazard educational opportunity and lots of onboard mischief, some harmless but some not as much. Michael Ondaatje tells this story as it must have been for an 11-year-old boy to meet his new friends. A grown man now, his youthful memories open a small window into the 21-day journey and, as that journey progresses in his mind,
other memories impose from later in his life. Just as he gradually learned more of his new friends, so readers learn that there is much more to this story than simple reminisces. Its well-crafted and clear prose makes for a seamless read. Any reader who has ever wanted to alter the outcome of a past friendship will find this compassionate rendering a very satisfying read.” Reviewed by Rachel Wallace Payback at Morning Peak By Gene Hackman Pocket, $7.99, 391 pages Vengeance for his murdered family fuels seventeen-year-old Jubal Young as he pursues a band of drunks and outlaws through New Mexico’s gold mining towns. His mother’s thick books, his father’s wisdom, his loving and laughing sister, all these memories of his family haunt Jubal on his journey. Even a judge and his kindly help, along with his beautiful daughter, can’t dissuade Jubal from climbing a mountain for justice, vengeance, and redemption. In the tradition of Louise L’A mour, the first western novel by two-time Academy Award-winning actor Gene Hackman, Payback at Morning Peak helps rejuvenate the western genre with its meticulous research and absorbing characters. This book shares a lot of classic western qualities: the murdered family, the search for vengeance, the boy gunfighter, and bad outlaws. If gunfights, long rides, lone cowboys, nights out on the range, good heroes, and evil bad guys trip your trigger, so to speak, this isn’t a book to overlook. Reviewed by Axie Barclay
San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 14
The Sense of an Ending By Julian Barnes Knopf, $23.95, 176 pages I truly cannot remember any other book that contains so many acute observations which made me sit back, smile in surprise and nod approvingly of their wisdom. An example: “This was another one of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature. Look at our parents -- were they the stuff of Literature? At best, they might aspire to the condition of onlookers and bystanders, part of a social backdrop against which real, true, important things could happen. Like what? The things Literature was all about: love, sex, morality, friendship, happiness, suffering, betrayal, adultery, good and evil, heroes and villains, guilt
and innocence, ambition, power, justice, revolution, war, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the individual against society, success and failure, murder, suicide, death, God. And barn owls.” It’s the “And barn owls,” a reference to the poetry of Ted Hughes, that makes the second quote ring; the perfect wry twist like Harry Lime’s famous observation in The Third Man that all the Swiss have produced in 800 years of peace and democracy is the cuckoo clock. But that is the art of a Graham Greene or a Julian Barnes -- where other writers bleed detail all over endless pages, the great matadors say what is needed to be said, carefully yet with surprise. The story of The Sense on an Ending is intricately simple. Tony Webster, now retired and in his 60s reflects back on his life including the suicide of a school friend, Adrian Finn, who had taken up with Tony’s first girlfriend Veronica. Complications arise. I hesitate to use the word “mystery” in connection to Adrian’s death for that word implies skullduggery, ominous figures slipping out of the shadows, and people driving cars in dangerous fashion on rain-slicked streets. There is none of that here, but there is an absolute corker of a secret whose revelation is masterful. I dare not say too much, but the best surprises are the ones that were absolutely clear from the start. You won’t see them coming, trust me. The Sense of an Ending won the Man Booker Prize, but in the greater span of things, that really didn’t matter. What matters to me most as a reviewer and as a reader is that this is a book of great and witty truths, written by a genius of words. At the very least, this is the finest novel I have ever reviewed. Reviewed by Hubert O’Hearn Purgatory: A Novel By Tomás Eloy Martínez with translation by Frank Wynne Bloomsbury Press, $17.00, 288 pages Even readers who have consumed a steady diet of South American literature since the boom era may find immense pleasure in reading Tomas Eloy Martinez’s last novel. It’s a gut-wrenching tour de force. Purgatory revolves around Emilia Dupuy and her husband Simon, two newly-
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Category Modern Literature
wed cartographers who are torn apart by the Argentinean military regime of the 1970s. Either by malice or accident, Simon joins the ranks of the “desaparecidos,” one of the many thousands who disappeared during this turbulent era. Now living in New Jersey and exhausted by years of searching for Simon, Emilia is surprised to find her husband at a local cafe, looking exactly as he did on the day he disappeared. Is this encounter for real or is Emilia being haunted by her memories and desires? Martinez gives no easy answers to the central mystery, preferring to peel back, layer after layer, each moment that leads to Emilia and Simon’s separation and reunion. The novel travels back and forth between the past and the present, with casual cameos from a Nazi pseudo-scientist, Spanish royalty, and even Orson Welles. Disguised as a spectral romance, Purgatory is really a lamentation for the missing and for those left behind. It is a brilliant, bittersweet narrative that keeps a reader up at night long after the last page has been read. Reviewed by Rachel Anne Calabia Northwest Corner By John Burnham Schwartz Random House, $26.00, 291 pages If you’ve ever felt too much like your parents or that you’ve made irredeemable decisions, Northwest Corner will likely float your boat. John Schwartz displays an impressive mastery of subtle human observation along with the uncanny ability to apply artistic ruminations about the relationships between characters struggling with their personal demons. You feel like you really know these characters. It’s a story about Dwight, Sam, Penny, Ruth and Emma. Dwight is a middle-age former attorney trying to rebuild his life after making a terrible decision that ran afoul of the law. Sam, Dwight’s estranged college-age son, makes a terrible decision that also threatens to run afoul of the law. Sam abandons college and flees to California to find sanctuary with the father he wants
to loathe, fearing that he has become like his father. This sets the stage for a journey through some raw emotions between father, son, girlfriends, and Dwight’s ex-wife. Written in a crisp prose, the scenes move rapidly from one to the next. The only drawback is the somewhat excessive lugubrious mood cast by Schwartz. Granted, that’s probably the tone he intended, but it comes off as a bit too brooding. That said, this is a very artistic book. Reviewed by Grady Jones Girls in White Dresses By Jennifer Close Knopf, $24.95, 292 pages No matter how American society changes, it seems that there will always be pressure for women to get married and start a family. Isabella, Mary, and Lauren are three grown women who are definitely starting to feel that pressure as their lives turn into an endless cycle of weddings and bridal showers for their friends. But they have their own lives to deal with too. As these three women struggle with their careers and relationships, readers will be pulled deep inside their private circles, comforted with the fact that not everyone has a detailed life plan and a perfect job and an ideal boyfriend. Jennifer Close’s new novel Girls in White Dresses reads like a series of short stories that women everywhere will be able to identify with on some level. Told in a roughly linear fashion but alternating between the viewpoints of the three main characters, as well as some of their friends, readers will find themselves laughing and crying along with these women as they experience the highs and lows of modern life. Close has a very intimate style of writing that is impossible not to like, and the personal touches throughout make every chapter utterly believable. Reviewed by Holly Scudero
San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 16
Category Modern Literature
The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir By Ken Harmon Dutton, $19.50, 275 pages Sad that the holidays are over? Keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year with Ken Harmon’s The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir. In Kringle Town, not everything is holly, jolly, and bright. Gumdrop Coal, creator of the Coal Patrol, is determined to give Santa a break by delivering coal each Christmas to naughty kids so Santa can focus his energy on the good kids. When Gumdrop is fired, he decides to teach the parents of the naughty kids a lesson, hoping they’ll set their kids straight. But while Santa’s reindeer hog the jukebox and play air guitar at the Blue Christmas bar, someone murders a naughty parent and frames Gumdrop Coal. Coal goes on the lam, hiding in Whoville, slinking through Bedford Falls, and creeping through Pottersville. He even hitches a ride on Tiny Tim’s boat to the Island of Misfit Toys and asks Ralphie and his leg lamp for help. Author Harmon’s clever black and white noir illustrations set the mood and every page is filled with hilarious references to Christmas tradition and songs. Can Gumdrop Coal exonerate himself in time to save Christmas? Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin Time and Chance By Alan Brennert Tor, $14.99, 400 pages In theory, this book is a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid. In practice—as with the best examples of literary science fiction (Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife, Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale)—it exceeds the limitations of that classification. There’s no dystopian future here, no post-apocalyptic alternate reality to terrify the genre-phobic. Simply, Time and Chance is an exploration of Robert Frost’s “road not taken.” During a Broadway production of Brigadoon, successful but lonely New York actor Richard Cochrane tanks on
stage when he hears a voice nobody else can. When his mother dies shortly after, Richard returns to the sleepy New Hampshire town he left thirteen years before, giving up the woman he loved and his chance for a family to pursue his dream. But in a parallel universe, Richard never left. He became a frustrated insurance broker known as Rick, whose family now teeters on the brink of destruction. The two men’s lives, once separated by time and chance, mysteriously intersect and each is given the chance to follow that other path. Brennert is best known for his book-club staple historical fiction (Moloka’i, Honolulu). Time and Chance, written twenty years ago, takes readers not back into the past, but sideways into a parallel present. The journey is just as satisfying. Reviewed by Megan Roberts
A journey through the pain and darkness of self-hatred, self-destruction, and self-medication, has no end in sight. Toni, Terri, and Tina form a bond through the hell of it all. If they choose to accept, the gifted veil may show them the way to the light! ISBN 978-1-4363-2568-4
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San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 17
Mystery, Crime & Thrillers
The Insider By Reece Hirsch Berkley, $7.99, 330 pages When page four of a book has a body plummeting past thirty-eight floors of an office building, it is sure to be a suspenseful tale. New author Reece Hirsch makes a huge splash on the writing scene with The Insider. Within hours
of witnessing the death of his colleague Ben, Will is assigned to the very case Ben was working on – a secretive merger between Jupiter Software, the leading encryption software company, and Pearl Systems, the top maker of desktop computers. This deal has the potential to change the technology industry. Not 24 hours later, Will finds himself unwillingly violating insider trading laws by revealing details about the Jupiter merger to Russian thugs. Could this all be connected? In less than 48 hours, Will has managed to become the focus of two criminal prosecutions and involved with the mafia, Russian organized crime. Hirsch’s own legal background lends credibility to his characters, especially to Will, a lawyer trying to make partner. San Francisco is a beautiful backdrop for this mysterious, fast-paced thriller. It’s amazing that this is Hirsch’s first novel. He’ll be back with more great material! Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin Reamde: A Novel By Neal Stephenson William Morrow, $35.00, 1,044 pages Reamde is the name of a virus written by digital gold farmers in the fictional MMORPG T’rain. The virus will encrypt a player’s computer files and the decryption key is available only if the player brings 1,000 digital gold pieces to a particular character in the game (that equates to 73 US dollars). What is a mischievous but mostly harmless con leads to a domino effect of events that span the globe and involve the game’s founder, the virus writers, organized crime bosses, mercenaries and MI6, just to name a few. In Reamde, Neal Stephenson serves up another excellent yarn written with perception and attention to detail. His deft plotting of what would otherwise seem an unwieldy story becomes more and more impressive as pages are turned. And there are a lot of pages to turn. Readers convinced that no story needs 1,000-plus pages to tell it will probably not be converted by this title, but Stephenson fans will be right at home. Suspension of disbelief gets stretched a bit thin toward the end ,but even those new to Stephenson will want to stick around to see what happens to a rich ensemble of likeable characters. Reviewed by Rachel Wallace
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Category Mystery, Crime & Thrillers
Half-Past Dawn By Richard Doetsch Atria Books, $25.00, 368 pages Best-selling author Richard Doetsch last thrilled readers with The Thieves of Darkness and the amazing 13th Hour. In Half-Past Dawn, he delivers a whole new meaning to the term “thriller,” providing shocking revelations and realizations at the end of almost every chapter. Readers will be left wondering (and dreading) what will happen next, and be physically unable to stop reading. Jack Keeler wakes up one morning to find that there are many things wrong with the world. He has a strange wound over his right eye that has been hastily and badly stitched together, yet he has no memory of being injured. There is also a strange and intricate tattoo on his forearm – written in an unknown script – which he has no recollection getting. He does not hear the sound of his beautiful wife, or his happy twin girls. His house is all too quiet. And then he finds the newspaper with the headline NEW YORK CITY DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACK KEELER DEAD. Now he must find out what happened to the love of his life and his children, and learn why the world thinks he’s dead. Doetsch is looking to change this expected dynamic in Half-Past Dawn, providing unpredictable plot twists and startling discoveries. In The 13th Hour, Doetsch used a device that seemed fantastic in nature; in this novel, he takes on the human mind and memory – our most important asset – and yet when we start to doubt it, reality begins to be questioned. Stories this elaborately conceived usually have a weak ending, or cop out in some way; not so with Half-Past Dawn. Doetsch has done his homework and research, linking with an Asian people out of legend, to present an incredible story that will leave one wondering until the very end. Reviewed by Alex C. Telander
No Time For Kings By Mark Petruska Booklocker.com, $17.95, 326 pages What happens when you mix a sense of superiority so extreme it has evolved to a complete disdain for the general population with a burning desire to protect the planet from humanity’s sins? A man like Drake, whose eco-terrorist group Earth Fights Back has progressed from generally harmless deeds to acts of outright murder, all in the name of the environment. And when newspaper reporter Rachel Sullivan gets wind of what could be her breakthrough story, she jumps on it, not knowing the danger she’s putting herself and her family in. But when Drake starts leaving Rachel clues regarding plans for his biggest attack ever, it’s a race against time to decipher them before time runs out. Mark Petruska’s debut novel is of a quality not usually seen in self-published books. The story is interesting and thoughtful, reflecting how much time the author has invested in it. The main characters are complex and well-rounded, and each individual chapter is truly a pleasure to read; never once did a scene feel contrived, inserted purely to further the plot. Particularly admirable is Petruska’s formidable use of descriptive language and his ability to strike a balance between poetic passages and starkly, to-the-point sections. Sentences like “the stars blazed like miniature fires lighting a path to heaven” are a perfect example: beautifully provocative, but not overdone. The concept of eco-terrorism will strike a chord of activism gone too far with many readers, who will be both fascinated and sickened by the lack of humanity displayed in Drake, a character we’d all like to believe couldn’t really exist. This novel is engaging and well-written; once you start reading it, you’ll find it difficult to put down. Petruska’s future as an author looks bright indeed. Sponsored Review
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Category Mystery, Crime & Thrillers
Northwest Angle By William Kent Krueger Atria Books, $25.99, 357 pages William Kent Krueger is a new author to this reviewer and his recent release Northwest Angle was a pleasure to discover. If you read the inside jacket of this book, you might conclude that it contains the horror and suspense of a Stephen King novel. That’s not an accurate portrayal. Here’s the gist of the plot: A close extended family takes a houseboat vacation on the massive, and remote, Lake of the Woods located on the border between the U.S. and Canada. They are caught off-guard by a destructive storm that sweeps the family apart, dumping Cork and his adult daughter Jenny on a remote island. During Jenny’s search for anything to help them survive, she discovers a cabin that is also a fresh grisly crime scene. In the midst of the cabin she discovers a live Native American baby boy. Immediately, Jenny, Cork, and later the rest of their family are hunted by a killer who wants the child at all cost. Krueger’s characters are distinct and add depth to the plot, especially some of the older Native Americans he inserts in the story. He cleverly includes one completely unexpected twist. This book is difficult to put down. Reviewed by Grady Jones Temporary Perfections By Gianrico Carofiglio Rizzoli, $24.95, 332 pages In Temporary Perfections, Guido Guerrieri is a defense attorney in Bari, Italy, who agrees to investigate the disappearance of a young woman who vanished months ago without a trace. Author Gianrico Carofiglio knows whereof he writes. In addition to being a best-selling author in Italy, he is a former prosecutor in Bari and now serves in the Italian Senate. Carofiglio does not write an action-packed thriller that
leaves the reader on the edge of his or her seat. Rather, his style is slow and almost meandering. Guerrieri wanders off on tangents just as he wanders off on long walks late at night in Bari. Indeed, he even seems to reach the plot’s resolution by accident. Somehow, however, this does not detract from the novel. Instead, the reader comes away with a deep understanding of the characters, Bari, and the world of the young woman who disappeared. Temporary Perfections is akin to lingering over a long meal with many small courses. You don’t know exactly what it coming or where it might take you, but in the end, you feel satisfied. Reviewed by Annie Peters Kiss of Night By Debbie Viguié FaithWords, $14.99, 304 pages Raphael used to be a knight who fought in the Crusades. Rather than fight for the cause, he chose to fight for the killing, a fact that cursed him to wander the earth as a vampire. Now in modern times, a rival vampire has stolen one of Raphael’s most prized possessions, and he has to turn to two humans for help. David and Susan are understandably shocked at the existence of the paranormal world. But Raphael needs their help, because a centuries-old vampire feud is just about to have a final showdown in Prague. Recovery eludes Criminal Defense Attorney Rose London after she suffers a brutal assault and her assailant is acquitted. Troubles mount when she defends a young man wrongfully accused of murder. A mysterious caller identifying himself as Sweet Justice warns Rose that her client must plead guilty within seventy-two hours or else they will both die. Is Rose's assailant playing a demented game or is Sweet Justice a new predator?
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Category Mystery, Crime & Thrillers
Debbie Viguie takes the rampantly popular paranormal genre into a new realm with this inventive concept. Just what would happen to a vampire (a damned soul) who had turned to God? The plot has a predictably strong religious element, as it is published by a Christian publisher. However, that doesn’t detract from the mystery, action, and romance that give this plot all of its energy. It’s part paranormal romance and part theological mystery, but most of all it’s a new and exciting concept for the market. This is a promising start to a new trilogy, and the cliffhanger ending will certainly have readers asking for more. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller Department Thirteen By James Houston Turner Comfort Publishing, $17.99, 303 pages Aleksandr Talanov is a highly-trained ex-KGB agent with a past full of secrets he wants to forget. With the end of the Cold War sounding the death knell for his division – Department 13 – Talanov settles in Australia with a big house, a new wife, and a past. Now more than fifty guests have been killed during a party at Talanov’s estate and only through sheer luck were Talanov and his wife, Andrea, spared. On the run but not sure from who or why, the Talanovs struggle to discover the identity of their pursuers and what their connection is to Department 13. Although coincidence is often the gear by which a story continues to turn, I found the occurrences of it in Turner’s story to be just a tad too numerous to make it a truly gripping read. Need someone to fly a plane? Done! Need a sharpshooter in the wilds of the Swiss mountains? Done! Need fake IDs? Done! While all these happenings are not a problem by themselves, their combination creates a sort of deus ex machina whirlpool that sucks some of the conflict out of the story. However, I will concede that the plot itself is superb – as twisty and dark as espionage gets. Reviewed by Heather Ortiz
The Lesson Plan By G.J. Prager WhoooDoo Mysteries, $12.95, 240 pages Robert Klayman’s life hasn’t turned out as he hoped. A substitute teacher living in Los Angeles, Klayman is unmarried, lives in a tiny bachelor apartment with his dog, and has neither money nor a prestigious career. He’s in the midst of a mid-life crisis and attempting to careerjump into private detecting. “I thought up a career path you can’t find in one of those self-help guides at the local bookstore… I was hungry for action and all set to go,” Klayman says, “I just needed a way to get started.” His quiet, boring life is suddenly turned upside-down when he stumbles into the middle of a criminal drug ring. If he doesn’t hone his detective skills fast, he’ll quickly end up in dire straits. First-time-novelist G.J. Prager’s The Lesson Plan takes readers on a fast-paced adventure through Los Angeles, offering unique perspectives on its inhabitants and the human pursuit of success. I loved Prager’s short chapters, snappy commentary, and unique plot line. I’ve never read a murder mystery before that took place in the ranks of a prominent school district! Prager, a drama and literature teacher at a Los Angeles school, provides insight only someone on the inside can describe. While I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I found the underage, teacher-student sex to be inappropriate and repulsive. There’s too much of that in current events today to make it “cutting edge” and “witty.” I hope that in his future novels, Prager focuses more on character development and knockdown mystery and leaves bad romance alone. It’s not his strong suit. The Lesson Plan was a fabulous first novel and I’ll definitely try another book by this author. Sponsored Review
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Poetry & Short Stories
Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems By Tess Gallagher Graywolf Press, $28.00, 330 pages Midnight Lantern is a collection of selected poems spanning the last forty years, combined with thirty new works. On a more subtle level, however, Midnight Lantern is a trove of haunting insights and images of a master poet derived from the better part of a lifetime. Others better versed in poetry might write more clever remarks about Tess Gallagher’s ample skill. However, I can
write with absolute honesty that snippets of Gallagher’s poetry will stay with me as long as I have memory. How could anyone forget the image in Dream Donuts of the poet reading her dead husband’s poetry till he appears in her dreams as if through a side-door of a jazz club? Or the image of the clumsy skater in Bonfire who finds her balance to protect the precious violin she carries as a metaphor for how Gallagher carried her husband when they learned he was dying? And these two images are the mere tip of the iceberg. Midnight Lantern must be read, and once read, it will not be forgotten. Reviewed by Annie Peters The Other Walk: Essays By Sven Birkerts Graywolf Press, $15.00, 192 pages Cluttered attics, forgotten items on top of the refrigerator, and that one item you just can’t seem to find -- these mindless occurrences are what give Sven Birkerts inspiration for his essays. Birkerts shows us that plain, tossed-aside items can begin to bring out memories, such as those of an old friend or family member, and may you think twice before throwing out anything in the attic. Unlike many trips down memory lane, Birkerts doesn’t overwhelm with nostalgia but invites us into that part of his past to observe and slowly begin to understand our author and the events that have shaped him. Birkerts is a very inviting writer. He makes each chapter short with a steady pace that is quite comforting. While The Other Walk is a slow read, it is easy to settle into these stories and feel at home. Throughout these stories, Birkerts seems to be teaching us how to better appreciate the people we have met, or the items we toss aside, as these objects may have an interesting story behind them. Reviewed by Robyn Oxborrow
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Category Poetry & Short Stories
She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems By Caroline Kennedy Voice, $24.99, 313 pages She Walks in Beauty is a neatly woven collection about age-old notions and contemporary usages of womanhood in poetry. Kennedy endorses a highly loaded discourse on feminine portrayals in literature through esteemed poets such as Gertrude Stein, John Keats, H.D., Frank O’ Hara, Sappho, Rumi, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, Louise Glück, and many others. Her heady meditations on women’s metamorphosis vis-à-vis milestones, which also serve as chapter headers, are most timely like “Falling in Love,” “Making Love,” “Breaking Up,” “Marriage,” “Love Itself,” “Work,” “Motherhood” and “Death and Grief.” Such stepping stones delve into the psyches of a speaker’s relationship with his or her own subject and the reader while simultaneously rendering its relevance in the world. She Walks in Beauty is more than a noteworthy anthology of the greatest mouthpieces in prosody; this book renders the encounter of poetry styles necessary by both male and female artists, varying in mediums, aesthetics and viewpoints, but still equally rooted and gratifying to the journey of women through the lyric. In an effort to collaborate and cosign the movement of women into their own, as they “have always been the weavers of the world,” Kennedy ambitiously serves the universe with the inscriptions of a collective literary unit and experience. Reviewed by Erienne Rojas
Ode to Fragile By Shabnam Piryaei Plain View Press, $14.95, 90 pages A terrifyingly beautiful collection on the manifestations of fragility and vulnerability in the human body and soul, this haunting poetry anthology will leave you at the edge of your seat well after its final pages with passages like “at least a skeleton/ is something to hold” (“Beit Hanoun”) and “watch a woman devour herself/with no teeth” (“Song Arriving”). Pirayei is a gifted writer; her eerie verses are emotionally stark yet equally picturesque and fulfilling, especially in her ghastly depictions of abuse as seen in the poem titled “Struck,” which reads “between departure and absence/life thrusts an ephemeral blossom,/the body remembers/even after the heart lies down flat.” More so, many of these pieces speak to a time of Israeli political uncertainty and war, where “an Evin prisoner plasters his/heart to his cage” (“Song Arriving”) and “a fist is a cheap/deadly weapon” as in the poem titled “Interrogation.” This poet largely poses her heady observations on the decaying states of persona, both in coupling terms of corporeality and psyche. Such prose emerges on the page with a longful finesse and majesty, which she masterfully draws on to create a lingering, lyrical spirit out of the most finite and violent of circumstances. Shabnam Pirayei is a force to be reckoned with in literary circles. Reviewed by Erienne Rojas
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Self-Help What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite By David DiSalvo Prometheus Books, $11.99, 288 pages Being happy is not always what it should be about. What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite explores what makes our brains happy and why that kind of thinking is bad for us. The problem is that our brains seek the path of least resistance, and that can easily put us in the mode of least thinking. This book explores how to take the path of most resistance in order to encourage more effective thinking, and how we can encourage our brains to do so. Although it does get bogged down in technical language every so often, overall this is a great book. It explores some of the more interesting recesses of our minds and why they work the way they do. It is a really fascinating look into the workings of the brain, combining a physiological and psychological model, with chapters that are linked together like literary sausages, making it hard to put the book down. There is even a deleted scenes section for vignettes that were just too fun to not include but did not fit anywhere else. This makes for an interesting read for anyone looking for a fun read on neuroscience. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim
Rushing to Yoga By Marilee Bresciani Balboa Press, $11.95, 111 pages One of the easiest ways to describe Marilee J. Bresciani’s Rushing to Yoga is to explain that it’s a “light” version of Eat, Pray, Love. Rushing to Yoga drops the reader into Bresciani’s life and provides quick vignettes along her spiritual path. While the author doesn’t list Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir as one of her resources or references, Rushing to Yoga is also about the spiritual and love-seeking journey of a single woman. Instead of Bresciani relocating around the world as Gilbert does, one of the main themes of Bresciani’s work is that awakenings and insights can happen in a local coffee shop, in parks, alone, or surrounded by good friends, and even when rushing to a yoga class. Along her life’s path, Bresciani introduces the reader to one element that has helped ground her during her journey A Course in Miracles. Using short chapters, Bresciani’s work is easy to read, and she has a jaunty style. She takes the reader along with her, at what often seems a break-neck pace. She introduces us to friends who have impacted her journey, and each interaction illustrates that the simplest action can provide the fuel to find an introspective moment or two. Who hasn’t felt the contradiction of rushing to get somewhere we are expected to not feel rushed, such as a yoga class or a religious service? Such views have relevance to many readers. Bresciani allows the reader to get an idea of where she is coming from and why such a journey is so important. Bresciani’s vignettes are snippets and often her life’s frenetic pace is palpable. However, there are moments the reader may feel detached while wanting to understand more about Bresciani or to retrieve a deeper meaning from within a scene in her life. Sponsored Review
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eanne Wagner has published three chapbooks and two full-length books, The Zen Piano Mover and In the Body of Our Lives, just out from Sixteen Rivers Press. She is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including the 2004 Stevens Manuscript Prize (for The Zen Piano Mover), the Frances Locke Award, the MacGuffin Poet Hunt, the Ann Stanford Prize, the Brian Cliff Review Award and, most recently, the Inkwell Prize, judged by Mark Doty. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Nimrod, Atlanta Quarterly Review, The Cincinnati Review and Southern Poetry Review. Zara Raab: In many of your poems, the narrator evokes a somewhat cloistered childhood. Various poems evoke a jovial, but still distant father, a mother who is compared to the Aloe plant—with its “barbed and muscular beauty.” There are other mysterious female presences, a grandmother who sews your clothes by hand. This is a childhood rich in sensory details, the kind of childhood we’ve come to expect a writer to have. When did you begin writing, or thinking about writing? Why do you write? What motivates you?
Jeanne Wagner: I started writing poetry in the early 1970’s and I wrote for about two years, then decided I wasn’t good enough, so I gave it up for 15 years. I started up again when my brother died. I wished I’d had something for him, something personal, so I started to write poetry more seriously. My brother was only 57 when he died of lung cancer. He was always something of parent figure to me, as he was seven years older. ZR: In your poem, “An Advent Calendar of Rain,” the poet’s brother, and I quote, “is chanting Latin late at night in his upstairs bedroom; /that’s him lying prone, book splayed across the pillow,/reciting Virgil out loud”. Did that happen in your childhood? It must have had affected you. JW: Yes, that’s an actual detail from my childhood. When we were children, my brother read poetry to me––Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, Yeats, all those old guys. That was part of the impetus for wanting to be a poet. I began writing very late, when I was in my forties. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and at some point I realized if was going to be a writer, I’d have to actually begin writing, not just write in my head. And I’ve always loved poetry.
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ZR: Poets often seem to have a central event in their formative years, a coming of age story that informs much of their later work, even if it is only below the surface. I gather your mother died when you were still fairly young. How did that affect you, and your impulse to write? JW: I don’t think it did effect my impulse to write. I don’t consciously use poetry to work through emotional or autobiographical issues. Of course, I often use family as subject matter, but the purpose is always the poems itself. I often conflate persons and incidents, even invent them if it suits my purpose. ZR: In that long poem, “An Advent Calendar of Rain,” as in other poems, you write about the priest coming to your house to recite blessings, about her brother upstairs from you reciting Virgil in Latin. Do you think the Church liturgy influenced the rhythms of your poems, consciously or unconsciously? JW: That’s an interesting question. The influence, if it’s there, is probably not so much the rhythms of the Catholic liturgy as the content. I went to a Catholic school, my family was Catholic, though not at all devout. Catholicism was bound to effect me. But I wasn’t sent to Catholic school until I was eight, and by then it was too late for my indoctrination. I had already decided that religion was not for me. However, I was still terribly affected by the idea of living under “the aspect of eternity,” as Kierkegaard puts it. I’ve always felt that religious ideas were terribly important, even when rebelling against them. You could say I am obsessed with God’s absence, the way a celibate can be obsessed with sex. ZR: What writers or other poets have influenced your writing? JW: The only writer whose work I’ve studied thoroughly, down to reading all his biographies, is Rilke. I read his poetry in German many years before I began writing. I’ve never really looked to other writers as single sources of inspiration, as mentors. I’ve never been good at being mentored. I just kind of do my own thing. My influences are
more indirect, almost osmotic. But I think there’s definitely a down side to this independence of spirit. ZR: Tell us about your publisher, Sixteen Rivers Press. I gather it’s a collective of poets in the Bay Area. Tell us how that works. JW: In the beginning, the founding members of Sixteen Rivers Press, started out by publishing their own books. Now they admit new members through an annual open submission period, during which up to two new manuscripts a year are selected. After being chosen, every member has to work within the collective for a minimum of three years. All profits from book sales go to the press. The group is extremely supportive. The authors participate in the publication of their own books. I learned a lot about copyediting and promotion. I’ve always been reluctant to promote my own books; in the past, I just put them all in the closet and forgot about them. Sixteen Rivers has set up a lot of readings for me and for Christina Hutchins, whose book, “The Stranger Dissolves,” is coming out at the same time as mine. It’s made me get out there and face the public. When I was accepted into the Press, everybody gave me a copy of their own books. I read them all. That was really daunting, because the quality of the work was so high. You have a year or so to revise and add poems to your manuscript, and I worked hard to bring my manuscript up to the levels of the other poets in Sixteen Rivers. ZR: The title of your new book is “In the body of our Lives.” Many poems employ highly tactile, visceral imagery, even or perhaps especially when dealing with things that might otherwise be abstract, like language. So for example, you write that as a child you thought of Sanskrit as a language “written with sand:/grains sprinkled on the ground like a Navajo /sand painting with words./I could feel the way its crystals glinted in the sun.”  In the poem, “Van Gogh’s Ear,” you use this lovely image of pressing “out all the creases” in words, aligning them carefully, “pausing for a second before I slip them/one after the other,/into the obscured portal of an ear”. Any number of your po-
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ems focus on bodies––the dressing of them, gesturing with them, finding in them imagery and meaning. The poem “The Fitting” is another very tactile poem. Can you talk about that? JW: “The Fitting” is actually about my grandmother, who had been a seamstress. She made some of my clothes when I was growing up. This gave me a fascination for clothes as fabrications. A lot of my images are, as you say, about the body. It’s partly, I think, a fascination with borders, with the ideas of unity and separation from the whole. The Catholic influence is there, too, no doubt. It’s the idea of the body as nakedness and as a falling from grace. It’s not guilt I’m writing about though; it’s more about a failure of connection and completion. ZR: Many poets have day jobs, but yours, at least for a few months of the year, is rather unusual for a poet. You’re a semi-retired tax accountant and during the tax season you put aside your creative work for something more practical. Does that discipline of crunching numbers feed your poetry in any way? JW: It may not affect my poetry, but it affects my attitude about poetry. When I’m in the tax season, the poetry disappears. If I were to write an essay about poetry, It would probably be concerned with a lot of factual issues. I’d want to describe and quantify what was happening in the poetry world. ZR: What books are you reading now? JW: I was reading Colm Toibin’s The South, but my puppy ate the last few pages. Sounds like the old homework excuse. I’m reading Dean Young’s book, The Art of Recklessness. It’s discusses postmodernism and the idea that our creativity needs equal parts of imagination and conscious thought, the idea that writers should inhibit their rationality. He makes a case for a good balance between the rational and the intuitive. I’m also reading Brian Turner’s Here, Bullit, and Linda Pastan’s Queen of a Rainy Country. ZR: How do you decide what you are going to read? JW: Here, Bullitt I saw Brian Turner on PBS. I found his
book at a reading and I was curious about whether his art could live up to the monumental topic of the Iraq war. It definitely does. As for The Art of Recklessness, I picked it up because I read a review. And I’ve always been a Linda Pastan fan. ZR: Do you have any advice to give young writers just starting out? JW: I’d simply emphasize the importance of tying yourself down in the chair, not waiting for it a poem to happen to you. The important thing in poetry is to write your own poems, not to get caught up in the conformities of style. Don’t think about what poetry ought to be, think about what your own poems want to be.
About the Interviewer, Zara Raab 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. In leaving behind the rural counties, she became a part of the human potential movement of the 1960’s, and that movement perhaps more than anything, shapes her life and her work. Since she was a teenager, she kept journals, and sometimes returns to those early notebooks for ideas. 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. In addition to reviewing for the San Francisco and Sacramento Book Reviews, she also review books and writes essays on literature for various publications, including the Redwood Coast Review, Poetry Flash, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Colorado Review, and The Boxcar Poetry Review.
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O’Brien Family Christmas By Sherryl Woods Mira, $16.95, 282 pages If the plot of this romance seems a little thin, perhaps it is because the author has written over one hundred romances and mysteries. In this story, she returns to the O’Brien family, which has been featured in previous novels. If you
absolutely love ‘60’s Doris Day movies wherein the heroine inexplicably spurns the hero (even though we are all aware that they are destined for one another), you will enjoy this book. Laila Riley has quit the family business due to her embarrassment over a passionate affair with a younger man. Unfortunately, he is a playboy and part of the conniving O’Brien clan. Without much persuasion, she joins the family for their Christmas in Dublin, where the courtship continues with her new celibate rules for dating. To further complicate the O’Brien’s machinations, the matriarch, Nell, age eighty, has resumed her acquaintance with the love of her young life. But can a romance across the pond work out for these former flames? And won’t the objections of her eldest son, Mick, put a damper on the courtship? For those who love Harlequin romance books and the O’Brien adventures, this will make perfect holiday reading. Reviewed by Julia McMichael The Lantern By Deborah Lawrenson Harper, $25.99, 387 pages Eve, caught up in a whirlwind romance, moves into a large, grand old house in France with her lover, Dom. They’re charmed with each other, the gorgeous countryside and all the curious details of the property, which presents new wonders to them every day. But soon after they settle in, odd occurrences start rattling Eve’s sense of security. A writer, she begins researching the previous inhabitants of the house, a family whose blind daughter became a famous perfumer but then disappeared. Eve makes a new friend who tells her bits and pieces about Dom’s ex-wife, whom he refuses to talk about, and the details worry Eve further, even as Dom retreats into himself. The Lantern alternates between the story of Eve and the older story of Bénédicte, whose sister left the home to become the perfume maker. Bénédicte is struggling to keep the family’s property afloat, even as her parents die, others who had lived and worked on the estate move away, and her complicated brother also leaves but still causes her distress. Events in the present mingle with events of the past, and Eve and Dom must come to terms with each other and the dark secrets of their estate. The Lantern is overall a satis-
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Category Popular Fiction
fying gothic tale that owes a debt to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim California Girl Chronicles By Michelle Gamble-Risley 3LPublishing, $19.95, 180 pages Brea Harper is a classic California girl: blond and beautiful, but smarter than the rest. When her job as an editor at a local magazine disappears, she moves to Los Angeles on a whim to pursue her lifetime dream of becoming a scriptwriter. But more adventures await her than just a struggle to break into the business. Brea also gets sucked into a series of romantic mishaps with three men. Lance, who suggested she move in the first place, is her “roommate with benefits,” whom she shacks up with until she can get her own place. Drew is the singer in a local band, with whom she has intense chemistry, but for some reason, can never get any kind of relationship off the ground. And Kale is a Hollywood producer who mentors Brea and truly loves her, but can’t save her from herself. Naturally, the combination of these three men is a catastrophe waiting to happen, and when her romances collide, life really gets complicated. Michelle Gamble-Risley’s debut novel, California Girl Chronicles, Book 1, is a wild ride. Like so many romance novels, the storyline is rather lacking in substance but rich in romantic encounters. Brea freely admits to loving sex, and that definitely shows in the frequency with which it occurs; the sex is hot and steamy, but many readers will find those passages altogether too short to be satisfying. Her job in a bikini shop provides a good deal of comic relief, breaking up both the sexy and more serious parts of the plot with ease and allowing the author’s wit to shine through. Readers disappointed with what can easily be labeled a non-conclusive ending can take comfort in the fact that this is only the first book, and Brea’s escapades will surely be continued in future volumes. Sponsored Review
Blow Me By Lennie Ross Lulu, $15.00, 291 pages Skye, Dawn and Chloe are three forty-somethings trying to navigate the shallow materialistic landscape of the L.A. dating scene in search of the Single Woman’s Holy Grail: a husband, a career, and a family. From the viewpoint of their chaotic unfocused existence, the dream of a stable life seems like a godsend. But has the message of Girl Power actually warped their expectations of having it all? Blow Me would probably pack a much more powerful punch if it actually tried to make a point. Instead, the reader is subjected to the Sex In The City-type antics of three women who spend most of their time bartering sex for shopping sprees and passing judgment on family, friends, and strangers alike. Even worse, all three characters labor under the laughable premise that if they can just land a rich husband, all their worries will be over. Really? Hey, the 1940s called; they’d like their insulting stereotypes back. Ross has a reasonably good turn of phrase and admirable pacing, but the chauvinistic overtones of Blow Me all but obliterate them. Not a terrible read if you’re into Prada, Gucci, Louboutin and don’t like your female characters too enlightened or empowered. Reviewed by Heather Ortiz Mercury Rises By Robert Kroese AmazonEncore, $14.95, 314 pages Averting the Apocalypse is one of those things you just can’t quit, no matter how hard you try. With two dodged cataclysms under her belt, recently canned reporter Christine Temetri finds herself adrift, opting to abandon her role as sidekick to angels for a simpler life volunteering in Africa. But instead of peace of mind, she discovers another plot to destroy the world. Her
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Category Popular Fiction
journey will reunite her with snarky force-for-good Mercury, her less-than-angelic pal, and together with a befuddled FBI bomb expert, the Earth’s future will once again rest in her hands, whether she likes it or not. Mercury Rises, the action-packed and anarchic follow-up to Mercury Falls, is a hilariously funny adventure tale that manages to match the original’s manic energy while raising the stakes. A complicated mythology is expanded with ease, and necessary info from the first book is scattered throughout in unobtrusive dribs and drabs. By the last fifty pages, the plot is in full steamroller mode, and my only dissatisfaction with the climax is that I have to wait for the next installment in the series. I am most definitely looking forward to it. Kroese has outdone himself with Mercury Rises. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas The Silent and the Lost By Abu Zubair Pacific Breeze Publishers, $24.95, 456 pages The author imaginatively populates the largely unknown Bengalese Liberation War and portrays the mass killings that transpired. One timeline traces the revolution from March 1971 through the December victory of the liberation forces -- aided by Indian forces -- that established Bangladesh. Zubair focuses at the family level: the fates of a young married couple studying at Dacca University, their families, friends, and professors. Vivid characterizations and searing descriptions of wartime violence arouse sympathy for the freedom fighters, as do the hardships inflicted upon them by the eventually defeated Pakistani (West Pakistan) national forces. This suffering includes countless acts of rape resulting in large numbers of war babies. The second timeline, launched in 1997, tells of Alex, a rescued and adopted war baby, now a successful Los Angeles professional in his mid-twenties. His wife’s decision to marry him has cut her off from her parents, who cannot accept him because of his shameful origins. Alex visits Ban-
gladesh to understand his personal history and its larger context. This sprawling and compelling romantic epic dramatizes the price paid for freedom while weaving a remarkable lesson in later twentieth century history. Sponsored Review Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses By Meredith Mileti Kensington, $15.00, 373 pages Mira Rinaldi is a professional chef with a successful restaurant in New York City and a new baby. Unfortunately, the rest of her life is in shambles. Her husband is leaving her for the restaurant’s new mâitress d’ and trying to take complete control of their restaurant in the process. Soon, Mira finds herself on her way home to Pittsburgh to stay with her father and try to rebuild her life. Meredith Mileti’s new novel Aftertaste tells an engaging story of a career woman living life in the fast lane, until things unexpectedly start to fall apart. Mira is a character that many professional women can identify with, trying to juggle a successful and growing business with the demands of friends and family. Her fiery Italian temper adds an irresistibly likeable flaw. This book has a subtle but appealing hint of self-righteous chick lit mixed into an otherwise completely enjoyable serving of contemporary fiction. Mileti has a compelling writing style, adding liberal dashes of dry wit to an already rich and flavorful story. The characters are appealing, and the friendships and family bonds are inspirational and comforting. This novel is a wonderful way to while away a weekend. Reviewed by Holly Scudero
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Category Popular Fiction
Remember Me By Cheryl Robinson NAL, $15.00, 375 pages Author Cheryl Robinson’s latest novel is about “family, friendship, and forgiveness.” There are many issues touched upon by Robinson in Remember Me, such as interracial friendships, lying, betrayal, and adultery. One of the most prevalent themes Robinson weaves through her novel is the underlying message of how a split-second decision can change lives. This is the story of two friends -- one black, the other white -- and its chronicles their relationship from teenage years through adulthood. The women become the closest of friends and later virtual strangers, as an act of betrayal destroys their friendship. There are several instances of lifealtering consequences sustained as a result of poor choices. Subsequently, a tragic accident brings the two friends back together, compelling each of them to re-examine their past and explore the possibility of reconciliation. Remember Me has beautiful themes interwoven throughout the story. However, there are a few instances where Robinson loses me. There are occurrences that are somewhat confusing. The story travels back and forth from past to present in the voices of Mia and Danielle, the two main characters. Regardless, Robinson does an excellent job in presenting the points of view of both characters, allowing the reader to understand the depth of their relationship. The strength and depth of their friendship is easily conveyed, and keeps the readers’ attention. Forgiveness is central to this story, and definitely makes for an enjoyable read. Reviewed by Jennifer Ochs
for years, certain that their marital and familial happiness is a ticking bomb and that one day a catastrophe would come along to destroy it. As the search for Michael begins, they are both certain they know who took him, but they are loathe to reveal the details of their suspicions, as doing so would open up chapters of their lives they’d much prefer to leave closed forever. With the stakes higher than ever, however, the past elbows into the present, and the Winters must confront not only their fears for the future but their unresolved terror of the past. With swift point-of-view changes and a deft handling of the mystery of who took Michael and why, Tucker has created an insightful, meditative novel about past mistakes and marital bonds that is also a suspenseful whodunit. Her questions about motherhood, sisterhood, marriage, parenthood, and culpability are powerfully woven all through these characters, leaving readers as relieved as the characters are with their final untangling. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell
The Winters in Bloom By Lisa Tucker Atria Books, $24.00, 288 pages When five-year-old Michael Winter is abducted from his backyard, it is every parent’s nightmare. But David and Kyra Winter have, in some ways, been living this nightmare San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 31
Book Reviews round out the cast, making this installment as fun for new readers as for longtime fans. Reviewed by Rachel Wallace
Romance The Black Hawk By Joanna Bourne Berkley Sensation, $7.99, 324 pages Joanna Bourne’s latest historical romance is another satisfying addition to her series centering on agents of the British Service. Adrian Hawkhurst and Justine knew each other when they were younger and spying across The Continent. She has retired to London but they have not been in touch. That is, not until she is stabbed on the way to bringing him critical information. Now they must discover who it is that wishes them ill before the would-be killer strikes again. Adrian has been a beloved secondary character in Bourne’s previous novels and, in this title, he takes center stage. The mystery is interwoven with flashbacks to Adrian’s past with Justine and, in this way, readers learn what they have meant to each other. When a mission they participated in upon first meeting becomes relevant to their current investigation, it becomes clear that a conspiracy is brewing in London to discredit Adrian. Bourne’s deft touch as a series writer continues. Old and new characters alike
In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster By Stephanie Laurens Avon, $7.99, 448 pages This is the second book in the Cynster Sisters Trilogy and after an amazingly wonderful first book, Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue, expectations were high for the sequel. The mysterious Scottish laird once again attempts to kidnap one of the Cynster sisters in order to placate his mother and save his clan from financial ruin. Eliza finds herself kidnapped from the bosom of her family and bundled out of England with no one aware until a family acquaintance, Jeremy Carling, catches a glimpse of her on the road. Jeremy is quite different from the typical Laurens hero in that he is a scholar, doesn’t excel in the martial skills, and unfortunately comes across as a little blah. Eliza also did not have any extra characteristics to really make her stand out, which is unfortunate. The story itself is almost a re-hash of the story from the first book, and as a result, comes across as somewhat boring. If a reader has not read the first book in the series, they will most likely enjoy this one; but for those who were fans of Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue, this book may finish with a sense of disappointment. Reviewed by Debbie Suzuki In the Arms of a Marquess By Katharine Ashe Avon, $7.99, 353 pages Beautiful and witty Octavia Pierce is quite a catch. Like all society families, hers wants to see her happily married to a wealthy gentleman. It shouldn’t be hard, right? Lord Crispin meets all the requirements except one: He doesn’t set her heart on fire. The one thing
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Octavia’s family doesn’t know is that her heart was stolen seven years before by the handsome Lord Ben Doree … that is, before their lives were torn apart in an ugly storm of betrayal and hurt. When Octavia and Ben’s paths unexpectedly cross again, Octavia takes a leap of fate and enlists Ben’s help in getting to the bottom of a blackmailing scheme plaguing her suitor, Lord Crispin. Fate has other plans. Things quickly get steamy, but their hurtful past keeps reemerging and threatening to tear apart their blooming love. As far as Regency romance goes, In the Arms of a Marquess is entertaining and perfectly delectable. It took quite a while for the hero and heroine to romantically connect, but when they did it was worth the wait. The plot was unique and engaging, the characters were multi-dimensional and likable, and the passion was palatable. While a bit too political for some, I liked the multi-cultural flavor that makes this novel stand out from others of the genre. If you’re looking for some fresh historical romance, In The Arms of a Marquess is a novel you don’t want to pass up. Reviewed by Jennifer Melville The Last Cowboy By Lindsay McKenna HQN Books, $7.99, 384 pages A cowboy struggling to make it on his family farm in Wyoming. A brother who has lost all his money on Wall Street and moves back in. A fellow rancher who no one likes in the valley and is the arch rival to the main lead character. A city slicker doctor who wants to learn how to ride her horse, and to fall in love again. These are the main characters of The Last Cowboy. It features Jordanna, as the lovely doctor from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Slade as the tough-as-nails rancher who is struggling to make his monthly mortgage. Slade has been burned from a marriage gone wrong; he feels that he is not ready for another woman in his life. To save his ranch he must win the Tetons Endurance Ride, but when he gets
gravely injured what will happen to his new fond love and his ranch? The characters are stock characters that you find in every romance book: the cowboy who slowly falls in love with the lady while ignoring his feelings at the same time, the evil man who attempts to break them both, and many more. Fans of this type of book: you will find a story that you know well. Reviewed by Kevin Winter A Season of Angels By Debbie Macomber Avon, $9.99, 384 pages During the Christmas holidays, three little angels named Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy are sent down to Earth to answer three sets of prayers: a woman who desperately wants to have a baby, a little boy with a widowed mother who wants a new father, and a preacher’s daughter who wants a husband. The angels are ready and willing to help, even if they do sometimes get distracted by modern conveniences. As the three stories are woven together and the angels do their best to help, predictable romantic hijinks ensue. At the pace that Debbie Macomber releases new books, it’s really no surprise that sometimes they can feel overly formulaic. The biggest flaw of this book is the fact that it is a re-issue of a novel that was originally published in 1993. Although some things never go out of style, it can occasionally feel a little dated, and it’s not up to the standard of Macomber’s newer works. Still, this is a sweet read that her newer fans will probably enjoy. It’s full of everything you expect from a fluffy Christmas romance, including that feel-good feeling you get during the winter holidays. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller
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Until There Was You By Kristan Higgins Harlequin, $7.99, 378 pages You always know when you pick up a Kristan Higgins book that you’re going to get a quality romance written about real people with real flaws facing real situations. Despite its dated plotline, bad boy returns home just in time to fall for the once nerdy girl, Until There was You is no different. Posey Osterhagen looks and acts nothing like your typical ideal romantic heroine. As a tiny, some might say scrawny brunette adopted into a huge family of tall, blonde, voluptuous German-Americans, she couldn’t do a heaving bosom if she tried, and as the owner of an architectural salvage business, Posey is more likely to be found in heavy duty work boots than Jimmy Chou’s. Liam Murphy isn’t your typical male lead either. Although a bad boy in high school, “around the age of fourteen Liam discovered the power of sex appeal,” he was redeemed by falling in love and marrying the sweetest girl in school. Sixteen years later he’s back in town, finding love the last thing on his mind. His hands are full as a single father of a teenage daughter. Readers can’t help but to root for the two independent but imperfect characters as they get a second chance at doing it right. Reviewed by Lanine Bradley One Whisper Away: Ladies in Waiting By Emma Wildes Signet, $7.99, 336 pages Emma Wildes has quickly become one of my favorite authors, and this book will not change my opinion in any way. It IS a more laid-back romance (not the wham-bam, thank you ma’am kind—thank goodness!) with many interesting characters. My only quibble was that the ending seemed rather
rushed, as though the author suddenly realized she was close to her quota and had to speed things up a bit. However, I totally loved the hero, the Earl of Augustine, who is half-British and half Iroquois/ French. He exemplifies the best of both sides of his heritage, especially regarding his half-sisters and young daughter; the Iroquois value their women very highly, which made the Earl somewhat of a rarity amongst British nobility. He’s not happy about being an Earl, and intends to return to the US as soon as he can find suitable husbands for his three entirely-British half-sisters. Lady Cecily Francis is about to be betrothed to Lord Drury, who bores her silly, but with whom her sister Eleanor is quite enraptured. But then Cecily meets the Earl and everything changes in the blink of an eye. This is the first of a series – Ladies in Waiting – and I’m looking forward to the succeeding books. Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz In Total Surrender By Anne Mallory Avon, $7.99, 375 pages This is the third book in the Secret series by Anne Mallory, and is her eleventh book. The story follows Phoebe Pace as she finds herself with Andreas Merrick. Andreas is the roughneck repenting criminal that falls for Phoebe and finds his love, at first, rejected. Phoebe has priorities with her family, which comes first. The story eventually ended with them getting together. For me, Phoebe as a main character was intriguing. She is both gentle and yet courageous. While I feel that Andreas is more the stereotypical character, while Phoebe was just the opposite and a bit unpredictable. I hope that in the other books, which I have not read, her character is better explained. Andreas was too formal of a character so his actions were unbelievable. The relationship between the two was so strong that it overwhelmed the plot. It also caused
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the pace of the story to slow down at times that seemed unintentional. Creating a more heighten atmosphere was difficult because the two main character’s chemistry overshadowed the plot. My favorite part was the dialogue, which was crisp and very lively. I would have liked to see more balance between the story and the character, but overall it was still a good book. Reviewed by Kevin Brown What a Duke Wants By Lavinia Kent Avon, $7.99, 372 pages Don’t judge this book by its cover, because if you do you’ll miss an enthralling and completely captivating historical romance. The cover’s description is stereotypical and cheesy. Reading it predisposed me to disliking this story. I’m so glad I gave it a second glance. Isabella Masters has a dark past seeped in secrets that could put her away for good. Although she was raised as a lady, Isabella hides from her pursuers as a lowly nursemaid. When her path unexpectedly crosses that of the Duke of Strattington, her safe existence turns on its head. The steaminess just doesn’t stop. The Duke promises to take care of Isabella and sets her up as his mistress, but her pursuers find her and threaten to expose her secrets. Can their love survive the avalanche of danger, mystery, intrigue, and romance that threatens to either tie them together forever or tear them apart? Lavinia Kent’s What a Duke Wants is chock full of interesting and lovable characters, unpredictable plot twists, and passionate scenes so hot they threaten to burn up the page. I had never read any of Kent’s novels before and this was a fabulous introduction. I can’t wait to try another of her novels. What a Duke Wants captured my full attention from page one. I simply could not put it down. Regency Romance at its best! Reviewed by Jennifer Melville
The Ideal Man By Julie Garwood Dutton, $26.95, 322 pages While out jogging Dr. Ellie Sullivan witnesses the shooting of an FBI agent by a couple known as the Landrys who the FBI has been hunting for a long time. Speculation immediately abounds that Ellie may be able to identify the Landrys and this puts her life in danger, as all past witnesses have either mysteriously died or disappeared. Agent Max Daniels finds himself intensely attracted to Ellie and appoints himself as her protector until the Landrys can be caught. He also finds out that the Landrys are not the only ones who may mean Ellie harm. The chemistry between the two is intense and will make the reader hold their breath to see when the two will finally cave and admit that they love each other. Garwood’s humor abounds and will leave the reader wanting to smile and laugh out loud at moments. The only disappointment is a side story involving Ellie’s sister that could have made a great companion book to this one; it is wrapped up too quickly and leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied. Still, this is a wonderful book for Garwood’s historical romance fans and contemporary romance fans. Reviewed by Debbie Suzuki
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MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus By Art Spiegelman Pantheon Books, $30.00, 300 pages Few books have made as much impact as Maus has. MetaMaus explores this impact, as well as providing some of the original notebook material on the graphic novels. The life of Art Spiegelman is also looked at, especially as it pertains to his classic. Also included are the transcripts of his con-
versations with his father, which were then converted into the graphic novel, as well as a DVD that includes a lot of the original material that became Maus, as well as a digital copy of The Complete Maus. The book covers a lot of ground. Besides an interview with Spiegelman, there are also the transcripts of the sessions with his father, a look into his father finding his mother after the concentration camps were shut down, and how Maus was made in terms of the actual process. There is also the single most powerful graphic representation of the effects of the Holocaust, as the family tree of his father is shown, both pre- and post-Holocaust, showing the devastation wrought to families. Maus demonstrates its power and why it is such an important work even by looking at just its skeleton.
The bonus DVD is an archivist’s dream. It includes essays on Maus, a digital copy of The Complete Maus, and a lot of the material that Maus was based on. Not only can you read the original graphic novel, but you can listen to some of the original audio recordings of the interviews; although the book itself provides transcripts, hearing the stories from the man himself adds some poignancy to the book. Combined with the original artwork for Maus, it allows for a rare look into what goes into the making of comic books. As a testament to what is one of the seminal works on the Holocaust, MetaMaus explores why the Holocaust was chosen, and why Speigelman went with mice. It tells the story of a son moved by the story of his father, one which he had to piece together for decades until he managed to get the old man to tell it all. It gives a lot of insight into the why’s and wherefore’s of “Maus”, as well as showing us how
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Category Sequential Art
it was made, virtually step-by-step. If you are serious about comics or the Holocaust, this book should be on your shelf. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim Power Lunch, Book 1: First Course By J. Torres, Dean Trippe Oni Press, $12.99, 40 pages Bullies are a problem that many kids will have to face in school, especially when they get into middle school, and they are around older and bigger students. Joey is a kid with a secret: if he eats certain foods, he will gain certain super powers for a short period of time. At school he befriends a fellow student named Jerome who is picked on by a bully named Bug. Jerome is the classic nerd character, and Bug is the classic bully character that picks on Jerome. Joey shares his secret with Jerome and they quickly become friends. Joey helps Jerome avoid Bug, but when Joey tries out for the soccer team, Jerome gets punched by Bug. Joey talks to Jerome about what happened, and Joey then goes to Bug and stands up to him to show that he is not afraid of Bug. This is a work for children that are approaching or already in middle school. It talks about bullies, how they can hurt you, and being true to yourself. The art is a little weak, but this is made for kids. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Sketch Monsters, Book 1: Escape of the Scribbles By Joshua Williamson, Vicente Navarrete Oni Press, $12.99, 40 pages Emotions for a young child, especially one just starting to come into their own, can be a difficult process. It is confusing and scary, and you do not always know how to act or react to different situations that you have never been in before. In this short graphic novel we meet young Mandy. Mandy
does not show emotions; from her older sister leaving for college to the game winning basket playing basketball, she keeps the same emotionless persona. Her older sister gives her a sketch book, and in it Mandy draws monsters that come to life at night. Mandy must capture these monsters before they wreck havoc, and she gets into trouble. Mandy has to come to the realization that expressing emotions is all right, that you can be happy and sad, and feel hurt. This is the perfect book for 8-10 year olds. The writing is simple, and easy for them to read on their own. It is easy to follow the story, and along the way they will learn about different types of emotions. The art is nice and neat, it and really adds to the story. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Wormwood: Gentlemen Corpse By Ben Templesmith IDW Publishing, $24.99, 132 pages Ben Templesmith is best known for his unique art style, especially in the 30 Days of Night series. In this third volume of Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse he does plenty to introduce a new reader who hasn’t either of the earlier volumes to the main character. Wormwood is a species of ancient worm that has existed for a long time, before humans began walking Earth, accruing knowledge and information through an unusual method: by inhabiting the body of a corpse. Anyone looking upon this decaying corpse sees whatever their mind chooses to invent, while friends of Wormwood see the corpse and its little invertebrate inhabitant. In Calamari Rising, Wormwood thinks he might finally be getting some time to himself to relax and enjoy this world... then a giant, inter-dimensional wormhole opens in the sky, letting in thousands of flying octopus-like things. It doesn’t take long for Wormwood to recognize them as a very old foe, and they’re here to take over the planet and wipe out humanity. As his friends begin attacking these calamari
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Category Sequential Art
creatures, Wormwood comes up with the only plan he can think off: launching himself through the wormhole and destroying it. Then there will be some hope for Earth, and he’ll have to deal with whatever is on the other side. Wormwood Gentlemen Corpse: Calamari Rising is an entertaining graphic novel, with Wormwood as an unusual and interesting central character. The art style is classic Templesmith which is itself unusual and interesting, catching any graphic novel reader’s eye in an instant. Reviewed by Alex C. Telander The Devil’s Concubine By Palle Schmidt, Peter Snejbjerg IDW Publishing, $17.99, 104 pages Following the misadventures of two hired hit men, The Devil’s Concubine is a classical story of a crime caper gone bad. Jean-Luc is the main character is the hard as nails veteran who is looking for that last score so he can retire, or at the least, get out of the business. The other half of the team is Linda, a free-wheeling, trigger happy, young woman with little experience, but loves the adventure and excitement. How will these two ever get along? The team bumbles and statically outwits a dangerous group of opponents. The book, overall, is just dang fun to read, with a feeling of a bloody action film. The art style perfectly fits the theme and feel of the book. Those are the book’s strong points. Sadly, the plot flutters in and out of importance with some confusing twists. After a while, the two “heroes” become boring and flat. Jean-Luc and Linda put themselves into dangerous positions, but by the end, I did not really care about them at all. The action and surprises make an engaging book, but the characters were as relatable as cardboard cutouts. For action fans, pick this book up. For people that like good storytelling, go somewhere else. Reviewed by Kevin Brown
Stephen King’s N. By Marc Guggenheim, Alex Maleev Marvel, $19.99, 112 pages There is a place you must not go; must never go; for that way leads to madness! You see, there is a place in rural Maine known as Ackerman’s field; in fact, I shouldn’t really be telling you this; make sure no one reads this. In this field – that few know exists – are seven important stones, sort of like Stonehenge, only far more powerful and important. You see, if you look at these stones in a certain way, like through a camera lens, you will see an eighth stone. But that’s a good thing, because we need eight stones to be there to keep that portal to the hell dimension closed; otherwise that thing will be let free. This is the story of Ackerman’s Field, told from Sheila’s viewpoint about her brother, a psychiatrist named Johnny who had a patient he referred to as N. Through his journal entries, Sheila – and in turn the reader – learn about this mysterious character called N and his travels to Ackerman’s Field. What he learned of the stones and what they are protecting; the reader also learns about his untimely end and how Johnny himself inevitably got involved. But the question is how many lives will this mysterious and terrifying place take? Originally told as a multi-part graphic video series, it was published as a short story in Stephen King’s Just After Sunset collection, and is now told in glossy, colorful graphic novel version, giving life and form to creatures and characters from Stephen King’s imagination. Alex Maleev’s artwork evokes the frightening and captivating, while Mark Guggenheim’s words move the story along at a gripping and nail-biting pace. You don’t have to be a Stephen King fan to enjoy the great graphic novel story that is Stephen King’s N. Reviewed by Alex C. Telander
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Category Sequential Art
V i e w p o i n t s
George R.R. Martin’s Doorways By George R.R. Martin with illustrations by Stefano Martino IDW Publishing, $21.99, 104 pages Way back when, before The Song of Ice and Fire series, international best selling author George R. R Martin was a big guy in Hollywood, working on the Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast television series. The Doorways pilot was filmed and in the process of final editing but never given airtime, disappearing into a vault of dead shows. Martin still feels sad and attached to this story, as he indicates in his introduction. Now he has brought it back to life in the form of a graphic novel with art from Stefano Martino. The story opens with Dr. Thomas Mason, an ordinary man living in an ordinary life. All that changes when a doorway opens up in the fabric of reality and a young woman named Cat steps into his life, stealing his mind and perhaps his heart. Cat has the ability to travel through these doorways, taking them to different places in time and space within the blink of an eye. The problem is that there are beings trying to stop and kill Cat, so she has to keep running. With Mason’s help she passes through a doorway where he finds himself potentially sealed off from his normal life forever. With creatures on his tail looking to wipe him out, he doesn’t have time to waste. The story of Doorways is compelling in the great way Martin has delivered science fiction before, with harsh and detailed illustrations from Martino that sucks you right into the story. The question remains if there will be any more stories to tell after this volume . . . only time will tell. Reviewed by Alex C. Telander
learn from the professionals
Science & Nature By D. Wayne Dworsky
The Back Page The trials & tribulations of being a professional writer.
The Full Plate: Life, One Bite at a Time
Writing The Ba y By Zara Raab
sanfranciscobookreview.com San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 39
ight at the moment, I’m actually curious to know why it is that curious has a U in it, whereas curiosity doesn’t. The word must have originated either with or without, so how did the U either get shoved inside like that extra pair of slacks you’re never going to need on vacation but get squished in the suitcase anyway, or snipped off like an unwanted wattle in plastic surgery? These are the questions that try men’s souls… …and likely your patience. However, I do think it’s important to know what sort of mind you’re dealing with here, particularly if you’re going to follow my recommendations and start ordering in books by the crate. My theory on reviewers of any form – and in my career I’ve regularly reviewed for money the fields of television, theatre, music, ballet and books – is that you should find a reviewer whose tastes closely parallel your own and reasonably entertains you. When you find one, stick with him or her. Much the same definition applies to friendship. Right, so what time we meeting round the pub then? The books below don’t have a lot in common with one another, but I couldn’t in good conscience stack them up against the contenders in either the Novel or Non-Fiction categories. As an example, would it really be fair to stack Oliver Jeffers’ wonderful book for small children, The Heart and the Bottle up against Dan Vyleta’s decadent Austrian Nazi collaborators in The Quiet Twin? I doubt if poor Dan would stand a fighting chance. That wasn’t just a cheap and obvious joke by the way. The ability to tell a complete story in a thousand words (or many less in Jeffers’ book) that can teach a lesson while metaphorically cuddling the reader to
sleep is a pure art form of writing unto itself. Dr. Seuss may not have written a modern-day Hamlet, but there’s no record of Shakespeare quilling out an Elizabethan Winnie-the-Pooh either. So there. Read The Heart and the Bottle to your youngest child, then loan it to your older child, then grab it back for yourself and keep it by the bedside for the lonely nights when you think No One Cares. Slightly longer in form than children’s books are short stories. The surest way for a writer to get printed in popular literary magazines is to write an article titled either ‘The Death of the Short Story’,or ‘The Revival of the Short Story’ (making memo to self…write…one of…those). My way of looking at it is that a writer should write until the story he or she wants to tell has reached its natural conclusion, then type out the words The End and don’t look at the word count until then. We really don’t need thirty pages of describing the silverware at that divine dinner party just so you can flog a skinny piece as a novel. Size matters in the bedroom (sorry to break it to you so harshly), but not in the library. There were two collections of short stories that I admired closely enough that I’m willing to call it even and call it a day. Roddy Doyle’s Bullfighting comes from the one current writer who has never, ever bored me for even a single page. Perhaps it is that we share the same Irish sensibility of observing the world with
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Books of the Year 2011
desperate eyes and quip-filled mouths; regardless, these stories of men who have advanced in life just past the point where the amount of that which was is greater than that which will be are letter-perfect sketches. A delightful surprise awaited me after I had reviewed the young Canadian writer Michael Christie’s The Beggar’s Garden. These tales of modern life, essentially centered on the under-classes of society combine into a magnetic documentary of urban survival. The surprise was that i had no idea Christie and I share the same hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Like, ever cool, eh? Regarding a non-fiction curiosity, I really admired and was intrigued by the late Stanley Greenspan and Gil Tippy’s book Respecting Autism. The subject area is so narrow that i couldn’t in good conscience stand it up against the works of Chris Hedges or Christopher Hitchens. However, Respecting Autism has an immediate practical value that not even Hedges or The Hitch can match. The book is composed of clearly told case studies with a strong message of what a parent should avoid and demand for their autistic child’s education. Following the weaving path taken by one of my idols, Dorothy Parker, I do enjoy reviewing a how-to book now and then. I was disappointed that I didn’t read any cookbooks this year that sent me into a kitchen frenzy. Instead of slicing onions, I kept my golf balls from slicing into fescue after reading The Golf Delusion. It’s a beautifully illustrated (as all golf books seem to be) look at a golf school housed in, er, a downtown basement smack in the middle of London. A little book that made me want to go clap clap clap was The Meowmorphosis by the living and quite dead tea, of Coleridge Cook and Franz Kafka. This is a work of really deft comic satire, wherein your old friend from high school lit classes Gregor Samsa wakes up one day not as a
monstrous bug…but a lovable kitten. You get a fine tour through the works of Kafka, while Cook never forgets that it’s ‘story first.’ To be honest and risk damnation by correct literary circles – I enjoyed this mash-up a hell of a lot more than I did the original. Lastly, I was truly tempted to include this with the Novels of the Year. However, if ever there was a book which deserved the title of Oddity it is this one: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. A tale set in England about a group of schoolchildren with most unusual powers, it is clearly the kick-off novel for a series. The writing shines with brilliance on every page with exquisite black-and-white photography to back it up. Just to give something away – those photos of highly unusual children are actual archive pictures, not re-stagings for the novel. That gives the whole package a ring of veritas that to my mind trumps anything Harry Potter or (shudder) Twilight ever offered. This is the Book of the Year in this category. And so…you read sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another year older and deeper in debt to writers, publishers, editors, and the dear and wonderful publicists who bring great books to my attention. As such, I want to put out a public thank you to them all. I’ve rarely met personally with any of these people, but I consider each and every one a friend. So let me close off by wishing a Merry Christmas, Mazel Tov, and Happy New Year. Hubert O’Hearn has been a newspaper columnist and arts reviewer for the past fifteen years. From their beginning in Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada, his book reviews have grown to include ten publications across North America. He is also available to perform his lively and humorous discussion of books – A Book and a Martini Live! – in support of charitable causes. Always appreciative of comments and book suggestions, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of Hubert O’Hearn’s work is housed at bythe bookreviews.com and blogspot.com.
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2011 Holiday Gift Guide From our workshop to your home. Something for all the readers in your life.
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F o r t h e Fa n b oy Star Wars: The Blueprints
By J.W. Rinzler Epic Ink Books, $500.00 ISBN 9781603801911 Star Wars: The Blueprints brings together, for the first time, the original blueprints created for the filming of the Star Wars Saga. Drawn from deep within the Lucasfilm Archives and combined with exhaustive and insightful commentary from best-selling author J. W. Rinzler, the collection maps in precise, vivid, and intricate detail the very genesis of the most enduring and beloved story ever to appear onscreen.
Watch the trailer
Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation
By Pamela Glintenkamp/ Gore Verbinski, Preface/ Jon Favreau, Foreword Abram Books, $50.00 ISBN 9780810998025 A behind-the-scenes record of the state-of-theart innovations that have driven moviemaking magic, the book features candid stories from the filmmakers, artists, and technicians who were there, breaking barriers and changing the history of cinema with their early work on cultural landmarks, such as the Star Wars saga, the Indiana Jones series, E.T., Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park.
The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic
By Frank Parisi, Daniel Erickson Chronicle Books, $40.00 ISBN 9780811875004 This gorgeous, full-color volume features the detailed art behind this highly anticipated release from BioWare and LucasArts. With character sketches, interviews, and artwork featuring the games new weapons, starships, and previously unexplored worlds, The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic is the ultimate chronicle of the newest Star Wars experience.
F o r t h e Fa n b oy The Batman Files
By Matthew Manning Andrews McMeel Publishing, $100.00 ISBN 9781449408220 Unearthed from the depths of the Batcave by Mathew K. Manning, The Batman Files begins with Wayne’s childhood drawings and continues along a time line of significant events in Batman’s life. Complete and authentic in every way possible, all of Batman’s friends and foes--from Poison Ivy, Catwoman, the Riddler, and Penguin, to the Joker, Batgirl, Mr. Freeze, and of course, Robin--appear throughout the dossier to provide a framework of the Caped Crusader’s entire career.
1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die: The Ultimate Guide to Comic Books, Graphic Novels and Manga
By Paul Gravett Universe, $36.95 ISBN 9780789322715 Visually amazing, this critical history of comic books, manga, and graphic novels is a musthave for any comic buff or collector. This volume is the perfect introduction to a dynamic and globally popular medium, embracing every graphic genre worldwide to assess the very best works of sequential art, graphic literature, comics, and comic strips, past and present.
The Cult of LEGO
By John Baichtal, Joe Meno No Starch Press, $39.95 ISBN 9781593273910 In this full-color coffee table book, you’ll find page after page of photos showcasing the fantastically creative and complex models built by the LEGO community. You’ll marvel at a lifesize stegosaurus, a microscale Yankee Stadium, a 22-foot long World War II battleship, a MINDSTORMSpowered monster chess set, and a remote- controlled Jawa Sandcrawler (with moving conveyor belt!).
Chil dren’s Cl assics
The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth
By Norton Juster, Leonard S. Marcus, Jules Feiffer Knopf Books for Young Readers, $29.99 ISBN 9780375857157 A universally beloved childhood classic. In the 50 years since its original publication, millions of children have breathlessly followed Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond. Now Leonard Marcus, has created a richly annotated edition of this perennial favorite. Marcus’s expansive annotations include interviews with the author and illustrator, illuminating excerpts from Juster’s notes and drafts, cultural and literary commentary, and Marcus’s own insights on the book. The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth also includes an introduction that shares the fascinating background on the book’s publication—Juster and Feiffer met as young neighbors in Brooklyn, New York, and thus began a fortuitious collaboration on a project that would become an instant classic—as well as its enduring place in the world of children’s literature.
The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth
By Norton Juster, Leonard S. Marcus, Jules Feiffer Knopf Books for Young Readers, $29.99 ISBN 9780375857157 The Phantom Tollbooth is a universally beloved childhood classic. In the 50 years since its original publication, millions of children have breathlessly followed Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond. Now Leonard Marcus, a nationally acclaimed writer on children’s literature, has created a richly annotated edition of this perennial favorite. The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth also includes an introduction that shares the fascinating background on the book’s publication—Juster and Feiffer met as young neighbors in Brooklyn, New York, and thus began a fortuitious collaboration on a project that would become an instant classic—as well as its enduring place in the world of children’s literature. The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth is the perfect way to honor a classic and will be welcomed by young readers and fans of all ages.
Classic Cook books
Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food
By Lucy Lean Welcome Books, $45.00, ISBN 9781599621012 Updated classic recipes from the most innovative and accomplished chefs working today. Inspired by turn-of-the-20th century regional American cookbooks, Lucy Lean, former editor of Edible LA, has delved through thousands of traditional recipes to define the 100 that best represent America’s culinary legacy, and challenged today’s master chefs to deconstruct and rebuild them in entirely original ways. The result is the ultimate contemporary comfort food bible for the home cook and armchair food lover.
The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: 2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Cooking Magazine
By Editors at Cook’s Illustrated Magazine America’s Test Kitchen, $23.63, ISBN 9781933615899 Cook’s Illustrated Magazine has stood the test of time and distinguished itself among the pack by having a singular focus--developing recipes that work the first time and every time; it’s as simple as that. For the first time since the magazine’s inception, more than 2,000 of Cook’s Illustrated’s landmark recipes have been carefully compiled into a wide-ranging compendium that shows you how to make your favorite dishes better.
The Silver Spoon New Edition
By Phaidon Press, Editor Phaidon Press, $49.95, ISBN 9780714862569 This bible of authentic Italian home cooking features over 2,000 revised recipes and is illustrated with 400 brand new, full-color photographs. A comprehensive and lively book, its uniquely stylish and user-friendly format makes it accessible and a pleasure to read. The new updated edition features new introductory material covering such topics as how to compose a traditional Italian meal, typical food traditions of the different regions, and how to set an Italian table.
Dolci: Italy’s Sweets
By Francine Segan Stewart Tabori & Chang, $35.00, ISBN 9781584798989 Join Francine Segan on a virtual tour of Italy with more than 125 recipes for cookies, cakes, pastries, frozen confections, and more. In addition to beloved classics and traditional holiday fare, readers will find contemporary sweets enjoyed by Italians today—including a light and luscious “updated” Tiramisù that does not use raw eggs.
Cooking with Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques
By Frederic Bau (editor), Clay McLachlan (photographer), Pierre Herme (foreword), L’Ecole du Grand Chocolat Valrhona (contributor) Flammarion, $49.95, ISBN 9782080200815 This cooking school in book form opens with 100 step-by-step techniques: chocolate basics (tempering, ganaches, pralines), candy fillings, decorations, doughs, creams and mousses, ice cream and sorbet, sauces, and baker’s secrets. Each method is explained in text and photographs; fourteen are further clarified on the ninety-minute DVD. Organized into nine sections, 100 recipes are simplified for the home cook: classics (Sachertorte, pro fiteroles, molten chocolate cake), tarts (chocolate-pear, nut-caramel), snacks (macaroons, waffles, brownies, choco-ginger churros), frozen desserts, special occasions (dark chocolate fondue, hazelnut-praline Yule log), and candy (truffles, lollipops, coconut bars).
The Art of French Baking
By Ginette Mathiot, editor Clotilde Dusoulier, translator Annabel van Nieuwkerk Phaidon Press, $45.00, ISBN 9780714862576 Beautiful, elegant and delicious, French desserts are easy to create at home as only a few basic recipes are needed to make some of the world’s most renowned cakes and tarts. The Art of French Baking is the definitive collection of authentic French pastry and dessert recipes
Design Star: Lessons from the New York School of Flower Design
By Michael Gaffney Half Full Press, $34.95 ISBN 9780971955240 In the current economy prospective brides, party givers, and commercial businesspeople are looking for ways to create their own sophisticated arrangements rather than hire expensive third parties. With author Michael Gaffney’s foolproof methods, Design Star brings readers into the world of the professional floral designer with secrets, tips, and formulae for great design, and stepby-step instructions on everything from Classic English design to Exotic Tropical design.
America’s Test Kitchen Menu Cookbook: 51 Menus for Every Occasion Plus Strategies that Guarantee Less Stress and Better Food
By America’s Test Kitchen, $35.00, ISBN 9781933615905 Organized around the seasons with menus that serve eight, plus a special holiday and for-a-crowd chapter, The America’s Test Kitchen Menu Cookbook takes all the guesswork out of putting together flavorful and practical menus. Packed with tips that will help you shop and budget your time, this book is a must-have for anyone who likes to entertain.
By Michael Ruhlman Chronicle Books, $40.00,, ISBN 9780811876438 Twenty distills Michael Ruhlman’s decades of cooking, writing, and working with the world’s greatest chefs into twenty essential ideas, from ingredients to processes to attitude, that are guaranteed to make every cook more accomplished. Whether cooking a multi-course meal, the juiciest roast chicken, or just some really good scrambled eggs, Ruhlman reveals how a cook’s success boils down to the same twenty concepts.
Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations
By Martha Stewart Clarkson Potter, $75.00, ISBN 9780307396464 In this exquisite and very personal book, Martha Stewart welcomes you into her world, where she entertains in the expressive and beautiful style that she has made so famous. Whether a simple blueberry breakfast on a Sunday morning in Maine or a more lavish holiday dinner at Bedford, each of the gatherings is equally memorable, for what Martha cherishes above all is spending time and sharing delicious food with her family and friends. “A meal of substantial finger foods with ingenious cocktails, a sit-down formal dinner, a buffet supper, or something more relaxed such as a backyard barbecue—each is a welcome and inviting way to entertain,” writes Martha. Featuring elegant and casual affairs held throughout the year and a diverse collection of enticing recipes, Martha’s Entertaining shows us— in the broadest and most lovely fashion—what it really means to entertain and host today. From an afternoon Easter egg hunt for children to a festive Halloween dinner held inside her horse stable; from a sophisticated cocktail party on a friend’s yacht in New York Harbor to a spring garden fête amid the most glorious beds of peonies, Martha’s parties offer a glimpse inside her beautiful homes. Each is unforgettable and endlessly inspiring. All of the events feature menus and stories for dreaming and planning, as well as delicious yet approachable recipes. Set among Martha’s dining rooms, kitchens, gardens, and patios, this is her most intimate book yet, a new classic for hosts and home cooks of every generation.
Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food
By Jacques Pepin Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40.00, ISBN 9780547232799 Essential Pépin spans the many styles of Jacques’s cooking: homey country French, haute cuisine, fast food Jacques-style, and fresh contemporary American dishes. Many of the recipes are globally inspired, from Mexico, across Europe, or the Far East. In this book, the world’s most famous cooking teacher winnows his favorite recipes from the thousands he has created, streamlining them even further.
Ritz Paris: Haute Cuisine
By Michel Roth, Jean-Francois Mesplede Flammarion, $60.00 ISBN 9782080200792 This celebration of the grand culinary tradition at the Ritz Paris features inspirational stories of three great men and is completed with sixty recipes. At the age of thirteen, the young sommelier Cesar Ritz was summarily dismissed by his employer who told him he lacked the flair and talent to succeed in the hospitality business. Of course, Ritz went on to become one of history’s greatest hoteliers, creating the Ritz in Paris and its world-renowned restaurant L’Espadon with the help of renowned chef Auguste Escoffier.
The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria
By Ferran Adrià Phaidon Press, $29.95, ISBN 9780714862538 The Family Meal is the first home cooking cookbook by the world’s greatest chef, Ferran Adria. It features nearly 100 delicious recipes by Ferran Adria that anyone can prepare, inspired by the dishes eaten every day by the staff at his legendary restaurant El Bulli, awarded World’s Best Restaurant five times.
Off the Menu: Staff Meals from America’s Top Restaurants
By Marissa Guggiana Welcome Books, $40.00, ISBN 9781599621029 Off the Menu is a no-holds-barred trip behind the kitchen door, introducing you to every chef, sous-chef, line cook, server, bus boy, bartender, hostess, sommelier, dishwasher, and manager—all of whom you will come to adore. Off the Menu, an homage to cooking with love and leftovers, makes accessibility a delight. Lush, colorful, homegrown, and delicious, it is packed with lessons, tips, substitutes, anecdotes, and American wine and beer suggestions.
By Jacob Kennedy Bloomsbury Press, $45.00, ISBN 9781608194889 In Bocca, Kenedy brings his own brand of Italian regional cooking out of the restaurant and into the home. Kenedy’s cooking is simple and delicious, covering the full range of regional specialties: Tuscan porcini soup, Venetian tagliatelle with pigeon ragù, Lazian asparagus and prawn frittata, Sicilian fried mullet, and Neapolitan coffee with zabaione. For fans of Andrew Carmellini, Mario Batali, the Frankies (Spuntino), and Giada de Laurentiis, for foodies who must have the next “it” chef’s cookbook, and for lovers of great Italian cuisine, Bocca will be essential reading.
Bluestem: The Cookbook
By Colby, Megan Garrelts, Bonjwing Lee Andrews McMeel Publishing, $40.00, ISBN 9781449400613 Bluestem offers helpful tips from a professional kitchen alongside seasonal wine notes and 100 full-color photographs that capture the simple beauty of Bluestem’s composed dishes. Guided by their childhood memories and inspired by the world around them, the Garreltses offer a Midwestern sensibility, while enabling cooks of all experience levels the opportunity of replicating Bluestem’s contemporary taste and signature dishes at home.
The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia
James Halliday Australian Wine Companion 2012 Edition
By James Halliday Hardie Grant Books, $29.95 ISBN 9781742700342 The ultimate, bestselling guide to wineries and wine in Australia, this new edition has been completely revised to bring up-to-date information to winemakers, faithful collectors, and wine lovers alike. More than 8,000 wines were tasted for this edition, and tasting notes are offered alongside vintage-specific ratings and advice on optimal drinking, as well as each wine’s closure, alcohol content, and price.
By Tom Stevenson DK Publishing, $50.00, ISBN 9780756686840 Reflecting recent changes in the dynamic world of wine, with special sections devoted to the countries of Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia is the most up-to-date and comprehensive wine reference in the world. A remarkable achievement, bridging the gap between the needs of the novice and the experienced professional, The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia is fully illustrated, highly accessible, and contains authoritative information on every wine-related topic.
By Tamara Murphy Chronicle Books, $35.00 ISBN 9781452101750 Wine tasting + wine trivia = major fun! This exciting board game tests everyone’s wine knowledge with each sip.
FA S H I O N I TA
GUCCI: The Making Of
By Frida Giannini, Editor, Katie Grand, Contributor, Peter Arnell, Contributor, Rula Jebreal, Contributor, Christopher Breward, Contributor Rizzoli, $85.00, ISBN 9780847836796 Edited by Gucci Creative Director Frida Giannini, with essays and inserts by contributors including Katie Grand, Peter Arnell, Rula Jebreal, Christopher Breward and Stefano Micelli, Gucci: The Making Of is a dynamic record of a much-coveted brand that will be a must this season for anyone with a love of fashion and an interest in contemporary culture. This comprehensive volume showcases the genius of the fashion house through an exclusive lens with inside looks into the inspirations behind the design.
Chanel: The Vocabulary of Style
By Jerome Gautier Yale University Press, $100.00, ISBN 9780300175660 Through these dazzling photographs, Chanel: The Vocabulary of Style identifies key elements that have defined Chanelâ€™s style for generations, such as jersey and tweed, formerly considered menswear fabrics, and the little black dress, which transformed a hue previously reserved for mourning into a statement of elegance. Pearls were her staple, and she often embellished outfits with her signature camellia. Eleven chapters compare the original forms of these enduring trademarks with their later expressions over the years and to the present day, letting the vocabulary of Chanelâ€™s style speak for itself.
FOR THE SUNDAY FUNNIES READER The Carl Barks Big Book of Barney Bear By Carl Barks, Craig Yoe (editor) IDW Publishing, $34.99, ISBN 9781600109294 Hidden in rare, Golden Age comics only Scrooge McDuck could afford are wonderful, full-color fantasy and fun stories as only Barks can write and draw ‘em! Collected for the first time in a deluxe, hardcover, full-color tome, are all of these masterpieces, meticulously restored. The Barks’ Bear Book is edited and designed by Eisner-Award-winning comics historian Craig Yoe, with a fascinating introduction and special cover is by Barks-devotee Jeff Smith, the best-selling graphic novelist of the Bone comics series.
Archie Marries . . . By Michael Uslan, Stan Goldberg & Bob Smith, Illustrators Abrams ComicArts, $24.95, ISBN 9780810996205 The eternal love triangle that has been the cornerstone of Archie comics for almost seven decades is finally untangled in this sevenpart story written by Michael Uslan and illustrated by veteran Archie artist Stan Goldberg. The journey begins when Archie finds himself strolling up Memory Lane, and marries the wealthy and cultured Veronica Lodge. Later we see what happens when he strolls down Memory Lane and marries the wholesome, peppy girl next door, Betty Cooper.
Archie Archives Volume 3 (Dark Horse Archives 3) By Various Dark Horse, $49.99, ISBN 9781595828330 Archie Andrews and his crew of bosom buddies are some of the best-known characters to ever emerge from the pages of comic books. we’’ve seen Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead, and the rest of the gang through seventy years of teenage antics, filtered through the lens of our respective generations. Now Archie fans of all ages can go all the way back to the beginning of it all with Dark Horse’’s beautiful Archie Archives!
FOR THE SUNDAY FUNNIES READER The Complete Little Orphan Annie, Vol.7 By Harold Gray’s, Dean Mullaney IDW Publishing, $49.99, ISBN 9781600109959 Introducing two of the strip’s most incredible characters: The Asp - who has sometimes been likened to the Grim Reaper - and Mr. Am - who has been said might be a representation of the Almighty. Harold Gray is at the top of his game as he also introduces the mysterious Shanghai Peg and the frightening villain Boris Sirob, who actually kills both “Daddy” Warbucks and The Asp. “Daddy” dead?
Bloom County: The Complete Library, Vol. 3: 1984-1986 By Berkeley Breathed IDW Publishing, $39.99, ISBN 9781600107559 Bloom County: The Complete Library Volume 3 collects every strip from July 1984 through February 1986. Many fondly remembered strips are in this volume, including the classic 1984 presidential elections featuring possibly the finest running mates ever for such a campaign: Opus and Bill the Cat. Additionally, this book contains many insightful, biting, and downright hysterical annotations by Berkeley Breathed as he comments on his strips in his own uniquely irreverent way.
Bloom County: The Complete Library, Vol. 4: 1986-1987 By Berkeley Breathed IDW Publishing, $39.99, ISBN 9781600108990 Book Four of Berkeley Breathed’s Eisner Award-winning series and New York Times best-seller features some of the most fondly remembered Bloom County cartoons, both from a humor standpoint and from a biting, political one. This is the period for which Breathed won a Pulitzer Prize, the highest award in journalism, for editorial cartooning. Breathed is one of only two cartoonists to win a Pulitzer for editorial cartooning (Garry Trudeau was also a recipient for Doonesbury)
For the Shutterbug Lost Worlds: Ruins of the Americas
By Arthur Drooker, Pico Iyer, Contributor ACC Publishing Group, $49.95, ISBN 9781851496747 More than 100 large-format photographs depict extraordinary sites in South and Central American Mexico and the Caribbean. A unique visual exploration that vividly captures the haunting mystery and visual poetry of historic ruins throughout the Americas. This extraordinary collection perfectly portrays the architectural, geographic and historical significance of ruins that are considered world wonders and little known gems. Included are monumental temples of Mexico’s Mayan civilization, a Colonial era palace on the island of Haiti, earthquake-ravaged cathedrals in Guatemala, and astonishing Incan citadels in Peru’s Sacred Valley - culminating with the breathtaking beauty of Machu Picchu.
By Ellen von Unwerth Taschen, $69.99, ISBN 9783836528085 Ellen von Unwerth, one of the world’s most original and intimate fashion photographers, pays homage to the most delectable women walking the earth right now. Fräulein features more than 1,000 provocative photographs of icons such as Claudia Schiffer, Penelope Cruz, Natalie Portman, Kate Moss, Vanessa Paradis, Britney Spears, Eva Mendes, Lindsay Lohan, Dita von Teese, Adriana Lima, Carla Bruni, Eva Green. Von Unwerth’s color and immaculate black-and-white photographs celebrate sex, femininity, romance, and the sheer joy of living in the moment.
All Access: The Rock ‘N’ Roll Photography of Ken Regan
By Jim Jerome, Ken Regan (photographer) Insight Editions, $75.00, ISBN 9781608870332 With a wealth of timeless images and revealing stories from his private photoshoots, Access delivers an intimate look at the artists, performances, and unforgettable moments that define popular music.
Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana, Volume II
By Jane Katcher, Editor, Ruth Wolfe, Editor, David A. Schorsch, Editor Other Distribution, $95.00, ISBN 9780300175806 This handsome book, the second volume of selections from the Jane Katcher Collection, presents a superlative group of American folk and decorative arts created primarily in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lavishly illustrated with 470 color illustrations, this book, like its companion volume, is essential for anyone interested in American folk art, Shaker craft, early American furniture, and Native American artistry.
By James Hamilton Pavilion, $35.00, ISBN 9781862058941 Examining the work of the illustrator Arthur Rackham, this monograph traces his achievements throughout his illustrious career. Rackham’s illustrations for such works as Alice in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and Rip Van Winkle have attained the classic status of the writings themselves—and indeed, in some cases, they have become synonymous with them.
Discovering Leonardo: The Art Lover’s Guide to Understanding Da Vinci’s Masterpieces
By Paul Crenshaw, Rebecca Tucker Universe, $45.00, ISBN 9780789322685 Learn the secrets behind such famous paintings as Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, as well as Adoration of the Magi, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, and many more. Each work featured in Discovering Leonardo: The Art Lover’s Guide to Understanding Da Vinci’s Masterpieces tells a story that becomes more fascinating as layer upon layer of symbolic meaning is revealed.
For the Tourist Mediterranean Architecture: A Sourcebook of Architectural Elements
By Jock M. Sewall Schiffer, $100.00, ISBN 9780764338915 Wander through the romantic settings afforded by the four main groups of this architectural style, the rustic vernacular; the simple and direct Mission Style; the Estate and Villa, with its elaborate detail and mass; and finally the formal Palazzo, which is Mediterranean Architecture in its most ornate and organized form. This is a comprehensive visual reference for architects, interior designers, real estate developers, and students; and a look book extraordinaire for the homeowner working on a vision.
The Travel Book
By Lonely Planet Lonely Planet, $50.00, ISBN 9781741792119 This is not a guidebook. And it is definitely ‘not-for-parents’. Cool stuff to know about every country in the world. Everyone knows the world’s highest mountain, but do you know which country banned chewing gum? Or what’s the world’s stinkiest fruit? Or who invented roller skates? Or which building leans more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Or where can you eat fried spiders as a snack?
1000 Ultimate Sights
By Lonely Planet Editors Lonely Planet, $22.99, ISBN 9781742202938 Iconic buildings, awesome canyons, weird monuments, vast animal migrations, spooky dungeons and romantic vistas are just some of the man-made marvels and natural wonders in 1000 Ultimate Sights. Make your own list, hit the road, and start exploring the world’s most breathtaking sights.
Natural History of San Francisco Bay
By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto, Kathleen Wong University of California Press, $65.00, ISBN 9780520268258 Bustling with oil tankers, laced with pollutants, and crowded with forty-six cities, the bay is still home to healthy eelgrass beds, young Dungeness crabs and sharks, and millions of waterbirds. Written in an entertaining style for a wide audience, Natural History of San Francisco Bay delves into an array of topics including fish and wildlife, ocean and climate cycles, endangered and invasive species, and the path from industrialization to environmental restoration. More than sixty scientists, activists, and resource managers share their views and describe their work--tracing mercury through the aquatic ecosystem, finding ways to convert salt ponds back to tidal wetlands, anticipating the repercussions of climate change, and more.
Fo r t h e Touri st
Great Journeys: Travel the World’s Most Spectacular Routes
By Lonely Planet Editors Lonely Planet, $39.99, ISBN 9781742205892 Lonely Planet’s selection of the world’s most spectacular journeys in a lush hardback edition. Expert content with stunning images, practical planning tips and inspiring background information. Thematic coverage including famous literary journeys, great walks, classic rail journeys and more.
The Traveller’s Guide to Planet Earth
By Lonely Planet Publications Lonely Planet, $22.99, ISBN 9781741798852 The combined effort of the Lonely Planet and BBC EARTH presenting the experience of 50 Extraordinary Destinations from the BBC’s Spectacular Documentary Planet Earth for people who want the experience in their hands in book form. This is probably the most exquisite and fascinating travel book you will ever read and enjoy. The photographs are indescribably breath-taking and the text is so descriptive and fascinating. In addition to the information which is in the documentary, the book details fifty different trips to amazing parts of our earth which are available to travelers. The book reveals little known (and some well-known) places to visit for extraordinary learning experiences: from Mountains to Fresh Water, to Caves, to Deserts, to Ice Worlds, to Great Plains, to Jungles, to Shallow Seas, to Seasonal Forests, to Deep Ocean.
For the History Buff Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918
By Harry Kessler, Laird Easton (editor & translator) Knopf, $45.00, ISBN 9780307265821 These fascinating, never-before-published early diaries of Count Harry Kessler— patron, museum director, publisher, cultural critic, soldier, secret agent, and diplomat—present a sweeping panorama of the arts and politics of Belle Époque Europe, a glittering world poised to be changed irrevocably by the Great War. This refined world gives way to vivid descriptions of the horrific fighting on the Eastern and Western fronts of World War I, the intriguing private discussions among the German political and military elite about the progress of the war, as well as Kessler’s account of his role as a diplomat with a secret mission in Switzerland.
The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922
By Ernest Hemingway, (Author), Sandra Spanier & Robert W. Trogdon (Editors) Cambridge University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9780521897334 With the first publication, of all the surviving letters of Ernest Hemingway (18991961), readers will, for the first time, be able to follow the thoughts, ideas and actions of one of the great literary figures of the twentieth century in his own words. This first volume encompasses his youth, his experience in World War I and his arrival in Paris. The letters reveal a more complex person than Hemingway’s tough guy public persona would suggest: devoted son, affectionate brother, infatuated lover, adoring husband, spirited friend and disciplined writer. Unguarded and never intended for publication, the letters record experiences that inspired his art, afford insight into his creative process and express his candid assessments of his own work and that of his contemporaries.
Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008
By Henry Louis Gates Jr. Knopf, $50.00, ISBN 9780307593429 Henry Louis Gates, Jr., gives us a sumptuously illustrated landmark book tracing African American history from the arrival of the conquistadors to the election of Barack Obama. By documenting and illuminating the sheer diversity of African American involvement in American history, society, politics, and culture, Gates bracingly disabuses us of the presumption of a single “black experience.” Life Upon These Shores is a book of major importance, a breathtaking tour de force of the historical imagination.
Always Faithful: US Marines in World War II Combat
By Eric Hammel Osprey, $40.00, ISBN 9781849085380 In his latest book, Marine Corps historian and author of more than 40 books, Eric Hammel, has assembled one hundred combat photos from the Pacific Theater of Operations of the Second World War. Together, these tell the story of the Marines’ costly victory over the Japanese. In Always Faithful, readers are invited to take in the combat slowly, as it unfolds, image by image. Arranged by theme—from dramatic images of beach assaults to heartbreaking photographs of the injured and killed-in-action—Always Faithful seeks to depict the essence of the War in the Pacific and the core of what it means to be a Marine.
The Civil War: A Visual History
By Parragon Books Parragon Books, $14.99, ISBN 9781445440378 Featuring vivid photographs, lithographs, and artist sketches from the Civil War alongside the letters, speeches, and memoirs that capture the emotions of those who experienced it, The Civil War: A Visual History explores American history in a new and exciting way. Paired together, these mixed media representations tell not only the story of story of a warring nation, but of the livelihood of its people and the limits of its technology. This approach provides a sense of history that can t be found in a simple textbook.
The New Atlas of World History: Global Events at a Glance
By John Haywood Princeton University Press, $49.50, ISBN 9780691152691 This stunningly illustrated atlas features 55 specially commissioned fullcolor maps that cover the whole of human history, from 6 million years ago to today. Ideal for quick reference or for an authoritative overview of the human story, The New Atlas of World History provides an unrivaled global perspective on pivotal moments throughout history, from the origins and distribution of early humans to the shifting balance of world power today.
For the Music-Lover Stephen Sondheim: A Life
By Meryl Secrest Vintage, $16.95, ISBN 9780307946843 The first and only full-scale and definitive biography of the most important composer-lyricist in musical theater today. Drawing on personal conversations with Sondheim himself, as well as interviews with his friends, family, collaborators, and lovers, Secrest offers new insight into the enigmatic and very private Stephen Sondheim.
A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians--from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between
By Stuart Isacoff Knopf, $30.00, ISBN 9780307266378 A beautifully illustrated, totally engrossing celebration of the piano, and the composers and performers who have made it their own. With honed sensitivity and unquestioned expertise, Stuart Isacoffâ€”pianist, critic, teacher, and author unfolds the ongoing history and evolution of the piano and all its myriad wonders: how its very sound provides the basis for emotional expression and individual style, and why it has so powerfully entertained generation upon generation of listeners.
Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany
By Stephen Sondheim Knopf, $45.00, ISBN 9780307593412 Stephen Sondheim returns with the second volume of his collected lyrics, Look, I Made a Hat, giving us another remarkable glimpse into the brilliant mind of this living legend, and his lifeâ€™s work. As he did in the previous volume, Sondheim richly annotates his lyrics with invaluable advice on songwriting, discussions of theater history and the state of the industry today, and exacting dissections of his work, both the successes and the failures.
By Joep Pohlen, Geerta Setola Taschen, $69.99, ISBN 9783836525091 Looking back as far as man’s first efforts to communicate with visual signs and drawings, Letter Fountain is a completely unique typeface handbook: in addition to examining the form and anatomy of every letter in the alphabet (as well as punctuation marks and special characters), the book cross-references type designs with important works of art and art movements from Gutenberg’s times until today. Further attention is given to the esthetics of the digital age and typographical recommendations such as the choice of the right typeface for a job. Rounding out the guide are an in-depth comparison between sans-serif and serif typefaces, an essay about measuring systems and indications, advice about typographic rules, plus a manual for developing digital fonts.
Books: A Living History
By Martyn Lyons Getty Trust Publications, $34.95, ISBN 9781606060834 From the first scribbling on papyrus to the emergence of the e-book, this wide-ranging overview of the history of the book provides a fascinating look at one of the most efficient, versatile, and enduring technologies ever developed. Many of the great individual titles of the past two millennia are discussed as well as the range of book types and formats that have emerged in the last few hundred years, from serial and dime novels to paperbacks, children’s books, and Japanese manga. The volume ends with a discussion of the digital revolution in book production and distribution and the ramifications for book lovers, who can’t help but wonder whether the book will thrive—or even survive—in a form they recognize.
Charles Dickens: The Dickens Bicentenary 1812-2012
By Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, The Charles Dickens Museum Insight Editions, $39.99, ISBN 9781608870523 Charles Dickens is the definitive interactive illustrated guide to the man and his works. Produced in association with the Charles Dickens Museum, London, it follows Dickens from early childhood, including his time spent as a child labourer, and looks at how he became the greatest celebrity of his age, and how he still remains one of Britain’s most renowned literary figures, even in the twenty-first century.
Books About Books
Art, Architecture & Photography
The Glass House By Philip Johnson Skira Rizzoli, $25.00, 73 pages The Glass House is one the most iconic structures in American modern architecture. Its simplicity gave it a grace that is rarely felt in homes today. It opens up to the natural world, yet at the same time, it is part of the natural
world. It’s hard to tell the difference between indoors and outdoors with this house. Few people realize that its creator lived in that house, and on the property, with many other buildings that he designed over the years. He added a floating pavilion on a man-made lake. He added a small library. At the same time as the Glass House, he built his Brick House; the exact opposite of his iconic Glass House. While modern architecture might confound and confuse people, you can’t disagree that it is a sight to behold. In this collection, we get a view of not only the Glass House, but his other less known creations. These creations are now preserved as a park. This is a nice, short collection of pictures, giving us different views of each work. It’s a way for people to explore these amazing buildings without having to travel to Connecticut. Reviewed by Kevin Winter EDITOR’S NOTE: The 2012 Glass House public tour season runs from May 2 - November 30 (closed Tuesdays). Tickets for the 2012 tour season will be available in February. Advance reservations are highly recommended. Sign up for the Glass House mailing list to receive first notice of ticket releases. philipjohnsonglasshouse.org/visit/ Canteen Issue Seven: The Hot Author By Canteen Magazine Canteen, $14.00, 128 pages This is a bit unusual. In all my time reviewing books, I have not come across this: a literary magazine in book form. Yet this is, in every sense, a literary magazine. It is based out of New York City, and a Harlem-based tutoring program. It is not from one of the academic presses, say a Harvard Review. It is the traditional combination of short fiction and poetry. Nice mixtures of photographs that do not deal with the poems or the stories are used as place markers throughout the book. What makes this stand out is that the publisher took sixteen hot authors and had professional photographers take pictures of them, and each author contributed a short piece about themselves. As the editor put it, it’s a way to glam up authors instead of the Jersey Shore. It’s hard to say beyond that what makes this so special. The fiction was all right, and the poetry was nothing to get excited about. Reviewed by Kevin Winter
San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 64
Category Art, Architecture & Photography
Tatt Book: Visionaries of Tattoo By Joseph Ari Aloi Universe, $29.95, 288 pages Everyone should get tattooed. They remind us of our mortality, since by nature they’re ephemeral. Regardless, this book is for the hipster on your holiday gift list. The coffee table book features some of the leading names in tattooing and a stunning collection of artwork showcasing the strongest and most creative work. With almost four hundred gorgeous color and black/white photographs, this book is a tribute to the men and women who advanced the trade, and those who decided to get inked. Tattoos are either iconographic or decorative. Since content and design is a fundamental of art, you can see for yourself the tension between aesthetics and ornamentation. Also investigated are the meanings of tattoos, lore and traditions, motives, and tattoo as visual taboo. Tatt Book is an art book. Each of the international twenty artists is given a short bio, and it showcases the artist’s tattoo work and personal artwork. The artists in this book are pushing the boundaries and confines of the form and content, forging new out of an ancient craft. It’s a book to look at, to see. Another beautiful art book from Universe Publishing, an imprint of Rizzoli New York. Reviewed by Phil Semler Touching the Art: A Guide to Enjoying Art at a Museum By Luc Travers Touching The Art, $24.99, 69 pages Has it ever occurred to you that you might not be making the most of your museum visits? Oftentimes, visitors find themselves aimlessly shuffling from one wing to the next, staring at numerous works, reading the attached informational plaques, then moving on. You’re seeing the art but not experiencing it. You might as well be staring a postcard of the work for all the good this visit is doing you. Thankfully, Luc Travers has a solution to your quandary in Touching the Art, his guidebook for igniting (or re-ig-
niting) your interest in our artistic treasures. His handbook hopes to marry a critical eye and observational skills with a resurgent passion for interacting with great art, and his enthusiasm for the subject is obvious. Some of the exercises are quite similar to those from a composition course I took in college, and I found them just as effective here. Travers encourages the reader to not just look at the art, but to study it, to put oneself in the place of the artist or the characters, and to really delve into the purpose of the piece. What was it about this particular scene, this person, this location, that the artist deemed so necessary to express? Travers’ advice is well supported by the high-quality reproductions of example works in the book -- the photo paper offers wonderful depth and liveliness of color -which allow the reader to practice the author’s techniques and suggestions as they read. Touching the Art is a testament to how important our artistic past is, and how we can better share in its gifts. What a marvelous read. (Note: The author is not responsible for any art actually touched during the exploration of your burgeoning sense of artistic appreciation. So don’t try to blame it on him.) Also available as an e-book at LucTravers.com for $14.99. Sponsored Review
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San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 65
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Star Wars: Heir to the Empire (20th Anniversary Edition) By Timothy Zahn Del Rey, $30.00, 468 pages This book is a must read for any Stars Wars fan. The story picks up where Return of the Jedi leaves off, five years after the Death Star is destroyed. Han Solo and Princess Leia
are married and expecting twins. Although the Emperor and Darth Vader are long gone, another adversary poses a threat: Grand Admiral Thrawn, who has taken over an Imperial fleet and is preparing for war. The Rebel Alliance must take action. Luke Skywalker is a new Jedi Knight and his adventures continue as he prepares to protect the new republic. This 20th Anniversary Edition is annotated by the author. Personal notes make this a truly interesting read; he includes tidbits as to why and how he wrote particular scenes, what he was seeking to achieve thematically, and how he tried to link character histories. “One of the great and satisfying aspects of Star Wars is that no one is deadweight. All of the characters have their chance to shine, to come up with the clever way to think or fight their way out of whatever predicament they happen to be in at the moment. Maintaining that balance was yet another of the challenges-and fun parts-of writing Heir.” Zahn’s notations with reference to the films are also an enjoyable feature to this edition. “Each of the three classic Star Wars movies includes a Star Destroyer in its opening scene. All of my Rebellion-era books do the same.” If you are a true blue Star Wars fan, this book is a must-have. Reviewed by Jennifer Ochs Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles By Larry Correia Baen, $25.00, 425 pages The Chairman of the Imperial Japanese Council is dead. Jake Sullivan, knight of the Grimnoir Society, knows this because he helped kill him. So when Jake is told that the Chairman wants to speak to him from the Beyond, he takes the news with a heaping tablespoon of disbelief. When the Chairman’s spirit confirms that a predator that consumes magic and leaves devastated worlds in its wake has landed on Earth, Jake knows he has little choice but to act on the ghostly message. Unfortunately, it’s just one more problem to toss onto an ever-growing pile. Following a botched attempt to assassinate the president, public opinion has turned against Actives in general and the Grimnoir in specific. Jake and the other knights must now clear their names, rescue their fellow knights, trust
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Category Science Fiction & Fantasy
one of their greatest enemies and protect the very people who protested against them. Just another day in the life of a Grimnoir knight! In Spellbound, Correia delights readers yet again with the same unforgettable characters, inventive magical system, and superb pacing that he introduced in Hard Magic. Spirit phones, magic nullifiers, curses, and one seriously impressive demon are just the tip of the plot iceberg! Reviewed by Heather Ortiz The Night Eternal By Guillermo Del Toro, Chuck Hogan William Morrow, $26.99, 371 pages The Night Eternal is Book III in the Strain Trilogy. In this final installment, the Earth is experiencing nuclear winter with primarily darkness covering the planet, and only a couple of hours of sunlight daily. The main character, Ephraim Goodweather, is a scientist with the CDC, who continues to tackle the problem of the strigoi. Another important character, Vasily Fet, is a pest control exterminator who lends his expertise to Goodweather, and puts together a network of resistant humans. The premise continues from Book I: A virus is spreading on Earth, turning people into vampires. Del Toro and Hogan attempt to meld the worlds of science, fantasy, myth and reality into one. However, it was not the most convincing of stories, mainly because in the mix of these concepts, the traditional vampire lore is somewhat lost, so the storyline loses credibility. However, what Del Toro and Hogan do accomplish is a suspenseful, action-filled, quick read, leading the reader to want to turn the page and read on. In speaking of the will of the Master, “who understood the dark side of human nature completely, but not love,” in contrast to Eph, who states “this is love … it hurts -- but this is love …” the intention of the authors is brought out. The story culminates with a moving scene between Eph and his son Zack. Del Toro and Hogan effortlessly portray vivid scenes of this fantasy world of vampire-monsters. Del Toro is known
for directing such films as Blade II, Hellboy I and Hellboy II, Pan’s Labyrinth and most recently, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Hogan is known for his acclaimed novel Prince of Thieves. It would be interesting to see this collaborative effort transcend to the big screen, as many of the scenes depicted in this final chapter of The Strain Trilogy are written in classic Del Toro style. Reviewed by Jennifer Ochs The Magician King By Lev Grossman Viking, $26.95, 400 pages A powerful magician on Earth and king of the magical land of Fillory, Quentin Coldwater is living a life that only the most fervent daydreamer could even dare imagine. But when a royal quest goes awry, Quentin and Julia—an underground magician in her own right—find themselves dumped back on Earth with no way to return. Now Quentin must depend on Julia’s knowledge of the underground magic scene in order to find their way back before the magic that sustains Fillory disappears forever.
“watched He liked the dryads, the mysterious nymphs who over oak trees. You really knew you were in
a magical fantasy otherworld when a beautiful woman wearing a skimpy dress made of leaves suddenly jumped out of a tree.” The Magician King is difficult to appreciate because while the author deftly proves that he has the ability to create an interesting and complex environment of his own while describing Julia’s edgy journey through the underground magic scene, he then effectively obliterates the significance of his creation by filling in the rest of the book with scenes ripped straight from the Narnia chronicles, right down to the talking animals. Add in the fact that Quentin’s character could whine about finding a pot of gold held by a naked woman on a sunny day in May and you pretty much end up
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Category Science Fiction & Fantasy
with a story that may have a lot of magic, but sports very little soul. Reviewed by Heather Ortiz The Settlers of Catan By Rebecca Gable with translation by Lee Chadeayne AmazonCrossing, $14.95, 616 pages In the year 850, the small village of Elasund faces a harsh famine after yet another raid by its neighbors. After months of intense debate, the majority of the villagers decide to seek a new home: a distant island once found by the trader Olaf, which promises fertile land and new beginnings for all. A trying month at sea follows as the villagers, led by brave foster brothers Candamir and Osmund, seek their new home. But when fate washes them ashore on the legendary isle of Catan, a whole new set of problems arises as the people try to start anew. Rebecca Gable’s novel The Settlers of Catan provides a background story for the wildly popular board game. Originally published in German in 2003, the English translation will not disappoint fans of historical fiction novels. Serious gamers may appreciate getting a glimpse into what drove the famed settlers of the title. The story is well-developed and expansive, although the ending seems a little unfinished. Readers will fall in love with the lush landscape of Catan as the characters explore, create their new village, and develop factions within the group. Don’t be put off by the length of this novel; it’s worthwhile to read every page. Reviewed by Holly Scudero Neverwinter: Book 2 By R.A. Salvatore Wizards of the Coast, $27.95, 352 pages A flurry of blades and a pile of dead thieves means that it is time for the next book in a Dungeons and Dragons series. Neverwinter is the second book in the Neverwinter series and continues on the tradition of being a typical hack
and slash story. The book takes place right after the events in Gauntlgrym. Drizzt, and his new partner Dahlia, continue to right wrongs. Most of the plot centers around Drizzt braking the law in order to bring criminals to justice. The implicit feel of the book is one of just being a placeholder until the next book comes out. There is not much resolve in the overall plot scheme. One problem I am having with this series, and the character of Drizzt as a whole, is that it looks like R. A. Salvatore has become complacent. I am not a big fan of the hack and slash approach to D&D, but at least Salvatore wrote decent storylines. Not this time. The book is mostly fights and Drizzt’s internal struggles with morality. Dahlia really hits a stride and even becomes a much more interesting character than Drizzt. I would put much of the blame for the faults in the book on the bland story. It never became interesting or engaging. The only thing that kept me reading was the beautiful imagery that Salvatore attaches to everything. If anything, this is just an average D&D book. Reviewed by Kevin Brown Legacy of Kings By C.S. Friedman DAW, $25.95, 456 pages In terms of modern fantasy, you can’t go wrong with C.S. Friedman. With her latest book, we get the conclusion to the breathtaking Magister Trilogy. In the world that is threatened by souleaters, we find a place where witchcraft and sorcery are two distinct styles of magic, a place where Magisters are both feared and loved. The new High King must work with Magisters, whom he views as evil, to stop the threat of the souleaters. But can Colivar overcome his reluctance to tell the truth about souleaters and Magisters, can the different groups work together, and can they even kill a Queen? All hangs in the balance.
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Category Science Fiction & Fantasy
This book moves at a quick pace because it has a lot of ground to cover; and many plot points from the previous two books to wrap up. Friedman does a good job of moving the story along, only getting bogged down at two minor points. The ending does feel a bit rushed, and it is a bit anticlimactic. I almost wished that there was a fourth book in the series, then it would not have felt so rushed. Reviewed by Kevin Winter I, Robot: To Protect By Mickey Zucker Reichert Roc, $24.95, 448 pages Anyone who can recite the three basic laws of robots has been influenced, either knowingly or not, by Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. Now, some sixty years late, famed science fiction writer, Mickey Zucker Reichert, is doing a trilogy based on these works. The first book is called I, Robot: To Protect. The book follows Dr. Susan Calvin in the year 2035, making this a prequel to the original. The human race has begun to focus inward with nanotechnology. Calvin’s problems begin shortly after some of her nanotech patients begin to act violently and self-destructively. When her superiors turn a blind eye to the situation, it is up to Calvin to find out what is happening. The book is by definition a guilty pleasure. By reading it, I feel like I am cheating on Isaac Asimov. I had to keep reminding myself that it is an inspired story, so it is okay. Riechert is great at telling a story, but some of his characters feel too perfect. Calvin is almost infallible and never reacts properly to the situations around her. It is overall not a bad book, but it isn’t great or as good as the original I, Robot. Most diehard fans will not be pleased with this new take, but I am intrigued to see where this story is going. Reviewed by Kevin Brown
TV Goes to Hell: An Unofficial Road Map of Supernatural By Stacey Abbott and David Lavery Ecw Press, $14.95, 324 pages The TV show Supernatural chronicles the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester, monster-hunting brothers on a never-ending road trip across America. Numerous tie-ins and episode guides have sprung up to accompany it over the years. But TV goes to Hell is something altogether different: a collection of scholarly and academic musings on the themes, characters, and storylines of the show, now in its seventh season. While your mileage may vary on some of the articles, most of them are thought-provoking and interesting, even if you disagree with a given piece’s premise. (For instance, I think one article overestimates the show’s reliance on cribbing from the works of Neil Gaiman.) But the writers clearly know their show lore, utilizing it to examine topics ranging from religion to feminism, fandom to the business aspect of television. The articles exploring the show’s use of humor, music, and the brothers’ efforts at costuming were notably enjoyable reads. For a creative, dark, and funny show that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, Supernatural could do a lot worse than this. TV goes to Hell will give Supernatural fans and non-fans alike plenty to think about. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
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San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 69
Shatter Me By Tahereh Mafi HarperCollins, $17.99, 352 pages Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi is a quick and electrifying read. It is about a girl named Juliette who has the power to bring death to anyone she touches. The story is captivating. It starts off drawing me in to know why Juliette is imprisoned and unable to talk to anyone. The story develops with Juliette in a cell and after many days she is able to talk to
someone, someone of the opposite sex, Adam. Both Adam and Juliette are kick-ass characters. The only person who will not die from Juliette’s touch is Adam. A romance unfolds and they escape together from the people who want to use Juliette for a bad cause. The story progresses pretty quickly with details, actions, and romance. My favorite part is learning about the abilities Juliette possesses. Not only is her touch fatal, she is one strong heroine. Although she has been imprisoned for a long time, she does not give up on her life and she knows what is wrong and what is right. She has her own opinions and makes decisions when she finds out what is going to happen to her if she stays with her captors. Shatter Me is one powerful novel. I cannot wait for the second installment in this series. I can hardly put the book down. If you enjoy books like Divergent by Veronica Roth and Delirium by Lauren Oliver, you will love Shatter Me. Reviewed by Ivy Leung Wolfsbane (Nightshade, Book 2) By Andrea Cremer Philomel, $17.99, 390 pages The second in a series, Wolfsbane begins where Nightshade left off with Calla and Shay in the custody of the Seachers. Calla’s not sure if she can trust her captors, as they’ve been her lifelong enemies, and the feeling is partially returned. But when the Searchers give her the option to save the pack she left behind while being in control of her own destiny, Calla decides to trust them. As she learns the truth behind her past, she becomes even closer to Shay. Yet she still feels a strong connection to Ren, the fellow-alpha wolf she left behind. Will Calla be able to save her friends and decide which boy she loves? Andrea Cremer continues her unique take on werewolf mythology, and this series is a must-read for fans of YA romantic paranormal. However, Wolfsbane doesn’t stand on it’s own. It’s very much the middle book in a trilogy, and feels a little plodding and full of info-dumps until it explodes into life in the final third. If you haven’t read the first in the series, then start there and be prepared to count down the days until the final book in the series, Bloodrose, is released in 2012. Reviewed by Kelly Garrett
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Category Young Adult
The Death Cure (Maze Runner Trilogy) By James Dashner Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 325 pages The Death Cure starts out where The Scorch Trials left off. Dashner pulls no punches with the conclusion of his Maze Runner Trilogy. If Thomas has learned one thing on this adventure, it was to trust no one. Well almost no one. His best friends Minho and Newt are the only two people who haven’t screwed him over since he woke up in the maze. Wicked promised Thomas and friends that the trials are over. They just needed to collect a little more data so they could possibly manufacture the cure for The Flare. Thomas is wary, and rightly so. He has been out into the world and seen what The Flare does to humans. It drives them insane, makes them cannibalistic, and takes away every part of a person that makes them human. Not trusting Wicked to do the right thing, Thomas and his ragtag crew go on the run to find the rest of the children from the maze and to try to find the truth. The Death Cure was a less-than-thrilling conclusion to a slow-moving trilogy. The plot devices were weak and the end of the book came much too swiftly and easily after the meandering pace set through the first two-thirds of the book. Reviewed by Pamela van Hylckama Vlieg Lola and the Boy Next Door By Stephanie Perkins Dutton Juvenile, $16.99, 384 pages Seventeen-year-old Lola has it pretty good. She lives in an old Victorian house in the Castro area of San Francisco with two loving fathers, gets to follow her passion of design by creating fun costume-y clothes to wear every day, and has a dream boyfriend: Max, a hot 22-year-old rock singer. Then one day the neighbors
move back in to their house after being gone for two years, and she must face Cricket Bell, the very cute and talented guy who broke her heart. Isn’t she over him now? Did he ever care for her — and could he still? Author Stephanie Perkins crafts another utterly charming tale of young love, complete with quirky, delightful characters. After her debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss, her second book doesn’t disappoint: in fact, it even brings back Anna and St. Clair from that book as Lola’s co-workers at a movie theater. The plot devices in this book are similar to those of the first, but Perkins can be forgiven for that because her stories are just so fun to read. Plus, those who live in the city (or just like to visit a lot) will enjoy all the great references to San Francisco. Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim Juliet Immortal By Stacey Jay Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 304 pages What if one of the most famous love stories, Romeo and Juliet, was based on a true story that unfolded very differently from the version familiar to everyone? Instead of taking her own life, Juliet was murdered by Romeo in a dark deal to earn himself immortality. In a twist of fate, Juliet is also offered immortality if she joins the battle against those like Romeo to defend true love. The story line is unique and the cover is gorgeous. The downfall of the story is that Juliet and one of the lovers she needs to protect, Gemma, are just not that likeable. In fact, Gemma is such a horrible person that it’s hard to believe that she is destined to find her soul mate and live happily ever after. Surprisingly, Romeo, the villain, is the only character that is engaging. Despite his actions, the reader almost wants to feel sympathetic toward him.
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Category Young Adult
The other downside to this book is the conclusion. The pacing of the story is well done until the end, and then things move so quickly and fall into place too easily that it can make the reader’s head spin trying to follow what happens. Reviewed by Debbie Suzuki Sign Language By Amy Ackley Viking, $18.99, 336 pages A debut novel from author Amy Ackley, Sign Language is much more emotionally charged than originally anticipated. Abby North is a 12-year-old dealing with more than just normal preteen woes. Her dad is sick and isn’t doing very well. The beginning of the book is spent getting to know Abby and following along as she learns of her dad’s illness. Ackley does an amazing job of writing from that preteen perspective, and Abby’s reactions to what she witnesses are spot on. Soon Abby is clued in to what the illness really is (cancer), and her life slowly starts to unravel as her family deals with the terminal illness. Sign Language is focused very narrowly on cancer’s effect on Abby, which could surprise a reader looking for several stories within the plot. That being said, Ackley does a beautiful job of showing the progression from the early to late stages of cancer, and can do the topic justice because it is so focused. A strong debut, Sign Language is a powerful emotional read that explores a serious topic through the realistic voice of a 12-year-old. Reviewed by Shanyn Day
The Iron Knight By Julie Kagawa Harlequin, $9.99, 386 pages If you have not read any of the Iron Fey series, you definitely want to start. Meghan is now queen of the iron fey and has been parted from her beloved Ash, who would die living in the constant presence of iron. Ash makes a vow to find a way to return to Meghan and takes the reader on his journey to become human. Julie Kagawa has outdone herself in The Iron Knight and this is by far the best book in the series. Ash and Puck are once again journeying together and balance the fine edge of their past friendship and the vow Ash has made to kill Puck. Their bantering is entertaining as always, but the reader also gets to see a more serious side of Puck. Favorite characters, such as Grimalkin, once again make appearances as the story would just not be complete without them. The best thing about this book is that it’s full of twists and turns. Just when one thinks they have figured things out, there is a new surprise. This series is enchanting and this book is definitely not to be missed. Reviewed by Debbie Suzuki My Not-So-Still Life By Liz Gallagher Wendy Lamb Books, $15.99, 192 pages A reader happening upon My Not-SoStill Life by Liz Gallagher may not realize it is meant to be a companion novel to The Opposite of Invisible. While companion novels are generally readable on their own, it seems My Not-So-Still Life would fare better if the reader has previous knowledge of the characters. Many readers will not connect with Vanessa because of the extreme measures she goes to in attempts to change
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Category Young Adult
her life. These outrageous decisions fuel the plot of the book as she is constantly recovering from her poor decision making. Vanessa’s main characteristic is that she is an artist, and she spends a lot of time creating art and working her new job at an art store, which is the most enjoyable aspect of the book. The conclusion of My Not-So-Still Life wraps up quickly, with Vanessa seemingly learning many lessons in quick succession. Her spontaneous bad decisions make the good learning seem very unlikely to stick and thus quite unrealistic. Perhaps a good read for a reader interested in art, but there are likely other better suggestions out there. Reviewed by Shanyn Day Alison Wonderland By Helen Smith AmazonEncore, $13.95, 190 pages Soon after finding that her husband has cheated on her, Alison Temple applies to work for Ms. Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation, an agency of women in London. After a few years of working for Ms. Fitzgerald, Allison- a.k.a. Alison Wonderland- gets recruited for a secret case. Things get nasty as those on the other side of the line mistake information and believe Alison is onto them. Meanwhile Alison’s best friend Taron claims her mom is a witch, and that she herself wants an abandoned baby. Alison’s mailman is psychic, but never with any news for her, and her inventive neighbor Jeff has a crush on her. What is a woman to do? Alison Wonderland is a whimsical story about dealing with daily life. The book is filled with regrets, hopes, and melancholy as Alison moves through her life. I found the beginning of the book not very catching and the climax lacking. The plot is mostly about mistaken information, with more irony that anything else. The story flows nicely, although there seems to be no direction. There are small parallels to Alice in Wonderland, which readers will enjoy puzzling out. Reviewed by Amanda Muir
Wanted (Pretty Little Liars #8) By Sara Shepard HarperTeen, $8.99, 259 pages Chances are, if you have a teenage girl in the household, she’s at least heard of the infamously addictive series by Sara Shepherd, Pretty Little Liars. What, however, engrossing magnetism caused these slender, brightly colored paperbacks to line former nail varnish shelves and carve out a sizeable niche in ABC family’s network? Wanted, a title that reflects the irony of Pretty Little Liars’ rise to popularity, shows that and more. Aria, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna — four girls, formerly five, have been pushing the reset button on their lives for three years since the night their fifth member disappeared, circumstances unresolved. It seems, however, that the empty spot will soon be filled again, for Ali’s twin sister Courtney is recovered from a stormy, netted past. Perhaps they will again be the coveted, envied princesses of Rosewood Day. But then again, they aren’t called Pretty Little Liars for nothing, and if not for their past deeds, it will be for new ones. Vapid? Sure, why not? It’s certainly not the deepest book you’ll read. Mystery, history, and the silver spoon (knife, and fork set in this case) … perhaps that may be the only way to get to the teen demographic. If that’s the case, well, don’t deny that we haven’t seen it before (ahem, SVH anyone?) and loved it just as much! Reviewed by Alex Masri
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ver read a book and think, “Hey, this would make a great movie!”? I think it a lot. I’m also based here in L.A. and work as a television writer, so I often hear about people looking for books to adapt into movies or TV projects, or read about books that have been picked up in development deals. Still, I had no idea how any of it actually worked. And the closer I got to having my first solo YA novel, Populazzi, out in the world, the more interested I became in the process. So I did some research, asked around, spoke with other authors whose books have been optioned, and I think now I’ve got a reasonable handle on how it all goes down. In my vague imaginings, and from blurbs I’d read in the trades, it seemed the process went something like: Studio Wants Book, Studio Pays Writer Vast Sum of Money for Book (ideally on one of those giant, sweepstakes-winner-sized checks), Movie Ensues.
tally large enough to house those oversized checks), it almost never plays out that way. Instead, a studio, production company, or even an individual (we’ll say production company for the sake of this argument) will option the book, which isn’t quite the same. It means the production company buys the exclusive rights to the book for a certain amount of time, and for a certain amount of money. The “certain amount of money” is usually relatively small (it does not require a mammoth check), and the length of time can vary from a couple months to well over a year. The production company will want a more time for less money; the author will want more money for less time. Once the option is in place, the production company can do what it takes to set up a movie deal without worrying about anyone else taking the project. As an example, let’s imagine a book based on this blog, The Back Page, and a production company called NOA Films (NOA for Not An Acronym – it’s as clever as I get early in the morning). NOA happened to be tipped off to TBP from a book agent, but could have also spotted
As I now understand it, while that could happen (soundstages are toSan Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 74
Optioning by Elise Allen
it in a bookstore, read about it in a magazine, or had it recommended by a friend. However it played out, NOA found and loved TBP, and totally wants to make it into a movie. But as a production company, they don’t have the resources to cover the film’s budget, plus distribution, plus advertising… it takes a lot to make a film, and they need a studio to help shoulder the risk. How does NOA entice studios? Like a flower luring bees, it will add gorgeous, studio-attracting petals to the book – petals like a director, screenwriter, and/or actors. NOA will want enough pieces in place that it’s a compelling package, but not so many that the studio feels there’s no room for their say. The petal-attaching process can take awhile, which is why NOA wants plenty of time on the option. When you’re negotiating an options contract, the price and length of time for the option will be the biggest issues, but they won’t be the only ones. Among the many things you’ll settle at this point is the purchase price for the movie. In other words, when a studio does say okay, how much will they pay you for the right to actually make your book into a movie? (This is where the larger checks come in, btw. Probably not astronomical unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins, but something to write home about.) You’ll also negotiate your credit on the film (“Based on the novel by…”), the percentage of the film’s profits you’ll receive, possible box office bonus, and all kinds of other details that you won’t want to handle on your own. Some of these issues will need to be hammered out right away, other details can be tabled for good-faith negotiation later. Most likely, you won’t have the experience to know which are which, or what makes a good option deal, so if an option looms in your future, make sure you have (or find) an experienced agent or lawyer to handle the proceedings and have your back. So at this point, NOA has successfully optioned TBP and all is well. But what if NOA can’t get a studio on board before the option runs out? If the option has an extension built in, then NOA can execute it, paying a preagreed additional sum for a pre-agreed additional time
period. If not, the rights revert back to the author, who can start the process all over again with another production company. That’s it – The Life and Times of a Book Option Agreement! Thanks for listening, and I hope that filled in any blanks you might have had in the process. Now if only I were an animator and songwriter – I could do the whole thing like “I’m Just a Bill” on Schoolhouse Rock…
About Elise Allen Elise Allen has among the most random television-writing resumes ever, with credits that run the gamut from Cosby to Dinosaur Train. She recently fulfilled one of her many life’s ambitions by writing for the Muppets. Another ambition, anytime-access to Disneyland’s Club 33, is for the moment still a pipe dream. Elise has a sick penchant for running marathons, and can’t seem to stop even though fifteen really should be enough already. She lives in L.A. with her husband, daughter, and insatiable food-hound of a dog, Riley. For more, visit or follow Elise on Twitter at www.twitter.com/EliseLAllen or go to her website, eliseallen.com.
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Business & Investing
Corporate Governance: Financial Times Briefing By Brian Finch FT Prentice Hall, $44.99, 210 pages Corporate governance, it is a phrase that has taken on new meaning over the past couple of decades. A rise in scandals at prominent companies has given a whole new definition to corporate governance. It is still one of the most poorly
defined words for investors, activists, and CEOs. Corporate governance is supposed to control how companies are run for the benefit of their shareholders. It is a way for shareholders to get information about the company, have input in how the company is run, and participate in the company through votes and meetings. The Financial Times puts out a series of briefings every once in a while for the busy professional. They are designed to give practical knowledge, and real-world examples in a short amount of space. Brian Finch gives us a quick rundown of what is corporate governance, how it works, and ways to make it better. There are several problems with this book. It is for a British audience; any U.S. executive who uses this book will be in the dark. The writing style is hard to follow and very dull. It would be difficult for managers to stay awake through this one. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler McGraw-Hill, $18.00, 244 pages This book looks at conversation in a way that literally shapes our lives, our relationships, and our world. The author’s ideas are based on 25 years of research with interviews of more than l00,000 people. He teaches us four skills which are important in any conversation, namely: how to talk to a rebellious teenager with candor and respect; how to stand up to a colleague or boss when you are disappointed or disagree on a point; how to salvage a broken relationship with a loved one; and how to address family tensions during the holidays. A lesson to be learned from this brilliant book is the fact that crucial communications transform people and their relationships. They also help us create a new level of understanding. Examples of this take place in a family when a marriage is performed or a new child is born. Reading this book allows one to understand dialogue that focuses on what actively happens in a conversation when one applies self-awareness and knowledge to the conversation at hand. Further, it shows how to effectively blend and use both intellectual and emotional intelligence to enable
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Category Business & Investing
valuable conversations. The author suggests that people involved in dialogue stay focused, particularly when the going gets tough. A speaker must focus on what they are trying to communicate and be honest about their motives. Reviewed by Claude Ury The Social Media Sales Revolution: The New Rules for Finding Customers, Building Relationships, and Closing More Sales Through Online Networking By Landy Chase and Kevin Knebl McGraw-Hill, $25.00, 256 pages One of the neat things about television is the recap episode; it usually does not work as well for literary works. The Social Media Sales Revolution is a good book for those interested in how to use social media to expand their business. For those who think it is just a passing fad, this book may just convince them that it is not, as this book explores Facebook, Twitter, and even blogs in extreme detail. The book explores the usefulness of social media and how it can help a business owner exploit it to the fullest. The only problem is that it feels almost like a recap of the biggest trends rather than an original work. Those who have mastered social media to any degree are already familiar with much of the book. It’s great for a checklist, but anyone with experience will be underwhelmed. This book is definitely best for someone new to social media. It’s a great book if you need to find out what the social media pool is all about and learn how to get swimming in it. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim The Darwin Economy By Robert H. Frank Princeton University Press, $26.95, 240 pages Robert Frank of Cornell University predicts that Charles Darwin will eventually be recognized as the real intellectual father of economics. An explanation is made of how Darwin thought more about collective action and taxation. Darwin felt that human beings compete not just for
resources but for a realistic position in the mating game. Many economists spend their days proving mathematical theorems which are laid out in this book and too technical for the present audience. As John Maynard Keynes explained, during the Great Depression economies mired in deep downturns seldom recover quickly on their own. Government, Keynes concluded, is the only actor with both the ability and the motive to stimulate spending sufficiently to put people back to work. A lesson to be learned from this book is that government plays a prominent role in the economic and social life of every successful society. Countries whose citizens have the most favorable opinion of their governments tend also to be ones with the best public goods and services, the lowest levels of perceived corruption, and the highest per-capita incomes. Those with the weakest governments, like Haiti, Somalia, or Sudan, have poorly functioning markets, extremely low-per-capita incomes, high levels of crime, and citizens who regard their governments as ineffective and corrupt. Reviewed by Claude Ury
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San Francisco Book Review • December 2011 • 77
Leaf & the Sky of Fire: Twig Stories, Vol. 2 By Jo Marshall CreateSpace, $12.95, 320 pages Jo Marshall has created an innovative story around a group of creatures called Twigs. The Twigs are very small, stick-like beings that live in knotholes of trees, existing off the bounty that the forest provides. Being so close to, and dependent on, nature, the Twigs are sensitive to changes in
the seasons outside of the normal. So when a strange Twig from another forest arrives, riding a starling, Leaf and his family find themselves on an adventure saving Twigs from an invasion of Barkbiters. Barkbiters, or bark beetles, are sensitive to cold and are usually controlled by winter, which thins their ranks. However with abnormally warm winters, due to global warming, they continue to breed and invade more trees, attacking and displacing the local Twigs and killing the trees they live on. Leaf and the Sky of Fire approaches the issue of global warming and the changes that occur from it on a very readable basis for tween and YA readers. While the story is fantasy, the problems are very real world. The Rocky Mountain Bark Beetle is considered at epidemic levels throughout the Western United States, affecting almost 4 million acres of forests. Using the Twigs as major characters for the story, Marshall allows for an entertaining way to educate children on how changes in one aspect of the planet (shorter and warmer winters) can have unforeseen consequences that lead to new and potentially hazardous problems. An excellent book for middle-grade readers. Sponsored Review Ivy and the Meanstalk By Dawn Lairamore Holiday House, $16.95, 227 pages Dawn Lairamore has quite an imagination, and her young readers will be ever grateful she does. Ivy’s Ever After, Lairamore’s popular debut novel, left readers wanting more, and she has delivered just that with this imaginative romp for heroine Princess Ivy. She saved the kingdom of Ardendale once, but can she do it again? Her sidekick, dragon Eldridge, is along to help her get where she needs to go and fight off the bad guys. Ivy’s friend, stable-boy Owen, takes on a much larger role in this story and readers will be aware of what just might be a budding romance. Is there more to come? Ivy faces tremendous obstacles from the very beginning of this magical fantasy. She has to travel far and wide as more and more obstacles are thrown her way. She is helped through her greatest test by the unlikeliest of heroes. This is a terrific book young girls (eight and up) will love. The characters are well-drawn, the story fun and compel-
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ling, and the writing clear and strong. In the frame of familiar fairy tales, readers will be able to relate easily to Ivy’s adventures. This book will charm young readers. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky By Joe R. Lansdale Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 227 pages The Dust Bowl of the 1930s is a plague on already struggling farmers, and young Jack Catcher knows this better than most. His mother has been taken by illness and his father by despair. The land itself is choking on the dust. So when two fellow storm orphans find him, he accepts their offer to take a car and head for greener pastures. Their journey will show them the worst both humanity and Mother Nature can bring to bear. Lansdale abandons the darkly comic gothic trappings of his usual fare for All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky, his first young adult title, and one that echoes in all the best ways his classic work The Big Blow. A story about life’s harsh lessons and the new definition of family in the wake of tragedy, All the Earth avoids many of the maudlin and cloying missteps of its contemporaries, instead providing a wellpaced adventure and three exceedingly likable misfit characters. Not only that, but the gentle poetry in Lansdale’s descriptions (through Jack’s observations) proves a beautiful counterpoint to much of the darkness the characters encounter. I can only hope this book will find its way onto recommended reading lists of all sorts. It most definitely deserves it. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman By Ben H. Winters HarperCollins, $5.99, 256 pages Seventh-grader Bethesda Fielding is assigned a special project to solve a mystery in her life. Bethesda decides
to find out who Ms. Finkleman, the mousy music teacher, really is. Bethesda digs right in and soon finds the fascinating past of Ms. Finkleman is that of a punk rock star! Needless to say, Bethesda’s project is a huge hit with other students and brings Ms. Finkleman out of the shadows. She tells Bethesda, “My life is not a joke, or a game, or a school project. It belongs to me.” The project sets things in motion that will change a lot of lives. The principal assigns Ms. Finkleman to use her punk-rock background for the seventh-grade choral class in a competition with other schools. Tenny, a boy most see as a loser, is called upon by Ms. Finkleman to save the day. The idea of the story is clever and most characters engaging, but the negative stereotyping of the principal, viceprincipal, some of the teachers, and even some of the kids can be quite off-putting. Young readers will probably look past that and enjoy the story, so if reading is the goal, this will probably keep the pages turning. Reviewed by Rosi Hollinbeck The Princess Curse By Merrie Haskell HarperCollins, $16.99, 336 pages You may think you know this story. Twelve princesses are cursed to dance their shoes to pieces every night, prompting their father to offer a reward to anyone who can break the curse and set the princesses free. But these princesses aren’t going to be rescued by a prince. Reveka is an apprentice herbalist who unfortunately possesses a massive curiosity streak. She wants to know what is happening and wants the prize. As she investigates further, she finds that she may have gotten in over her head. In a market where fairy tale retellings are currently gaining more and more popularity, it’s nice to see a book that actually surprises you for a change. The Princess Curse obvi-
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ously is based on “The 12 Dancing Princesses,” but it also has elements of many other fairy tales, as well as bit of herbalism and mythology. Add a bit of romance, and this is a perfect book to read on a rainy day. Reveka is a great main character; her successes and flaws combined make her more dynamic. Recommended to middle grade readers who love fantasy, or older readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller Benjamin Franklinstein Meets The Fright Brothers By Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury Putnam Juvenile, $12.99, 150 pages Years and years ago, the Modern Order of Prometheus placed numerous great minds from history into suspended animation, so that their wisdom would serve later generations in times of crisis. Benjamin Franklin awoke early, and now works with his young friend Victor to keep the world safe from all manner of threats both bizarre and diabolical. But when vampires appear to have invaded Philadelphia, can Ben and Victor solve the mystery behind the vampires and that weird bike shop offering great deals? Joyous silly and revisionist, Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers is a terrific mix of history and storytelling, dropping in genuine tidbits of knowledge even as the authors unleash these historical icons into their weird little private sandbox. Ben is enthusiastic and goofy, like that uncle everyone seems to have; and Victor is a great protagonist, full of sparks but hardly perfect. His more closeminded moments in the book make him far more believable than most of the effortlessly perfect heroes of other young adult books. Missing the first book in the series didn’t hamper the read at all, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where Ben and Victor find themselves next. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All By Jane Yolen Philomel, $16.99, 251 pages Who is the fairest in the land? It might be Summer, who’s dark hair, red lips, and white skin reflect the colors of her father’s garden. Summer is content with her fairytale life, until her mother dies while giving birth. Before long, Summer has a new stepmother in her life, who brings dangerous new objects with her. Summer knows her stepmother isn’t as good as she seems on the surface, and what Stepmama is planning will change Summer’s life forever. Sound familiar? You may recognize the elements of a Snow White fairytale, but Jane Yolen has employed her trademark imagination to this wellknown fairytale and brought the setting to the mid1900s in West Virginia. Yolen has transformed the traditional fairytale elements (like the magic mirror) into modern terms, but without losing any of the magic of the original story. The book’s main flaw is that it is on the shorter side, and the ending does feel a little rushed. Still, it’s a minor drawback, and this tale would be a perfect choice for readers who enjoy retold fairytales. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller Of Mouse and Magic By Allan R. Gall Two Harbors Press, $12.95, 278 pages Manny is born the runt in a litter of six other mice. Yet he does not let his smaller size stop his big dreams. Rather than being just an ordinary field mouse, Manny wants to be Zeus, Lord of Lightning, Titan of Thunder, with enough power to make life safe for all mice everywhere. Get to know Manny and his family in Of Mouse and Magic, Allan R. Gall’s debut novel. As Manny and his sib-
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lings get older, their parents teach them about the art of surviving on Farmer Frank’s Farm. They learn how to forage for food and avoid predators like foxes, owls, snakes, and hawks. Kids will enjoy referring to the map of Farmer Frank’s Farm as they read and identify locations and landmarks throughout the story. Life outside the farm is very different from life on the farm. Gall’s characters are reminiscent of those found in Brian Jauchius’ Redwall series. Manny meets many lovable, charming friends throughout his journey and he learns that friendship can come from the most unlikely places. This wholesome book teaches kids about loyalty, family allegiance, tolerance, and self-reliance. Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin Squish #1: Super Amoeba By Jennifer L. Holm, Matt Holm Random House Books for Young Readers, $6.99, 96 pages Squish is just your normal kid trying to get through school. He has a best friend who always talks him into giving him his lunch, another friend who can’t seem to stop talking (she’s a little oblivious), a bully that won’t leave him alone, and detention for being late. All in all, Squish is your normal kid… except for the fact that he’s an amoeba. Fans of the Holms siblings’ other books will recognize Squish as a character in Babymouse 14: Mad Scientist. Squish carries all the charm of the Babymouse books, but perhaps with less arguing with the narrator and fewer pop culture references. Here the authors have created a new cast that can have a new set of adventures. Of course, this is an introductory book, and most of the focus is spent on introducing the various characters. It’s a bit short on plot, but that should be remedied with future volumes. This should be a great crossover series, as it will appeal to both fans of the Babymouse series and new readers (especially boys) who were reluctant to pick up the pink graphic novels. It’s a promising start to a graphic novel series for younger readers. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller
A True Princess By Diane Zahler HarperCollins, $15.99, 192 pages Lila just isn’t cut out for servant’s work. Rather than be sold off the spiteful miller and his family, she decides to take matters into her own hands and runs away. Along with her friends Karina and Kai, Lila sets off to make her own way through the Bitra Forest. Unfortunately, while in the forest Kai falls under an evil spell, and the only way to break it is to find a magical jewel. Lila and Karina have a few days to find the jewel hidden in nearby castle. The only problem is the castle is overrun with princesses hoping to pass a magical test and become the prince’s bride. Here the author turns her attention to the tales of “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Snow Queen” and twists them together. Readers who enjoyed Zahler’s previous fairy tale-inspired novel will also enjoy this one. It’s got the same great female heroine characters and a plot that is true to the original tales while still being unique on its own. The book’s one flaw is that it is quite short, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for character development. Although clearly aimed at the tween market, this would also be a fun and quick read for older readers interested in the subject. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller
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We’ve got Issues. M a y 1 1
VOLUME 2, ISSUE 6
F R E E
NEW AND OF INTEREST
An Interview With Writer and Publisher Thomas Farber Page 4
Zombie is the New Undead Page 11
Children’s Book Week Expanded Section Pages 13-19
Betcha Can … Men Can Write Believable Female Characters Page 20
More than just a big party By Steven T. Jones CCC Publishing, $17.95, 312 pages
Burning Man, the xeric bacchanal held annually in Nevada, turned 25 last year. Improbably surviving its early years, the counter-cultural art festival and social experiment overcame the legal and logistical challenges of its tumultuous teens and has finally matured into relative tranquility. But, like any modern twenty-something might ask in an introspective moment – I’ve arrived, but so what? Steven Jones tackles this question is his book, The Tribes of Burning Man. Jones doesn’t hide his belief – and hope – that the
event is changing the American counterculture. Don’t worry if you’ve never been; Jones gives a thorough description of daily life on the playa. The meat of the book, however, is a year-by-year look at the event from 2004 through 2010. He chronicles the familiar (La Contessa, Paul Addis, Borg2, and of course the obligatory quotes from Larry Harvey), but comes into his own relating lesser-known stories, such as the role of a large-scale sound camps, or the stresses of conceiving and executing big art projects. See TRIBES, cont’d on page 7
Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps Page 25
Festivus for the Restivus Page 29
146 Reviews INSIDE!
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Cooking, Food & Wine
Cutie Pies: 40 Sweet, Savory, and Adorable Recipes By Dani Cone Andrews McMeel Publishing, $16.99, 160 pages With the popularity of cupcakes and cake pops, it was only a matter of time before someone invited a mini pie… a cutie pie! Everything about this book is cute and small, not just the recipes but the whole size, style, and design of the book itself. The recipes are widely diverse, including everything from traditional sweet pies (Strawberry Rhubarb Ginger anyone?) to savory (Egg, Potato, Cheese, and Ba-
con) to twists on favorite flavors (Peanut Butter and Jelly or Campfire S’Mores pies). Fans of cute cake pops will enjoy the pie pops, small turnover-style pies with a lollipop stick inserted. In addition to their overall cuteness, cutie pies are also a great option for people who want to control portion size, or create a handheld food to eat on the run. The recipes are simple and easy, making them accessible for novice or beginning bakers alike. A nice feature is the option for vegan or gluten-free diets; just because you can’t eat certain foods doesn’t mean you need to lose out on the fun. Highly recommended for pie fans and adventurous bakers. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller From Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens By Editors of Cook’s Country Magazine Boston Common Press, $29.95, 214 pages Any America’s Test Kitchen cookbook I ever reviewed I found to be excellent, and this one did not disappoint. This cookbook, however, is a little different. No page-long discussion of test kitchen results for each recipe. Here the recipes came from individuals (grandmothers?) from all over the country. The brief paragraph-long head note gives a bit about the recipe and quotes from the recipe owners. The recipes range from easy to slightly complex, all rewritten for uniformity by the editors, easy to follow using readily available ingredients. Following the recipe is the short feature “Notes from the Test Kitchen,” which gives suggested changes to further improve the result. Before you undertake a recipe, read and follow this advice. The layout is very good, placing nearly all recipes on single pages for the convenience of the cook. Several full-page illustrations brighten the pages, and many thumbnail-sized, black-and-white photos help you visualize techniques. Recipes range from Church Socials and Potlucks, Sunday Suppers, Comfort Foods, Breads, all the way through desserts, and even preserved foods. The well cross-referenced index is excellent. Both novice and experienced cooks will find this volume useful. Reviewed by George Erdosh
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Category Cooking, Food & Wine
Vegan Pie in the Sky: 75 Out-ofThis-World Recipes for Pies, Tarts, Cobblers, and More By Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Terry Hope Romero Da Capo Lifelong Books, $17.00, 223 pages Renowned vegan chefs Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero have done it again with Vegan Pie in the Sky, the third in a series of cookbooks devoted to the art of baking vegan. This delightful little cookbook focuses not just on pie, but also on tarts, cobblers, cheesecakes, and a plethora of other delicious desserts. Never made a pie crust from scratch before? No problem, as this book provides both recipes for different crusts as well as step-by-step instructions for making it perfect every time. Not sure if your kitchen is properly equipped for baking? There are chapters included on both essential kitchen equipment and necessary ingredients. The recipes have been extensively tested, and little tips are included throughout to ensure that even the most novice pie maker will be successful. The authors sprinkle their signature wit throughout every page, so readers will be laughing even as their mouths water in anticipation of which delicious treat to try first. With recipes for every pie you can think of, and several you’d never even thought to try, this cookbook is destined to become a go-to guide for home bakers everywhere. Reviewed by Holly Scudero Gluten-Free Makeovers: Over 175 Recipes--from Family Favorites to Gourmet Goodies--Made Deliciously Wheat-Free By Beth Hillson Da Capo Lifelong Books, $19.00, 294 pages Diagnosed with celiac disease in 1976, author Beth Hillson’s doctor turned her loose with the fateful words: “Just avoid gluten.” This Julia Childs-,inspired chef shuddered at the
thought of naked burgers and plain potatoes and from that event, found herself creating a glutenfree recipe book and wheat-free flour mixes. Her approach to gluten-free is living with, not living without. Look for alternatives, not at what you can’t eat. Be curious, Hillson advises, be imaginative, substitute boldly, and have fun. ,One of the major benefits of this book is its section on substitutions for maintaining not only a glutenfree diet but also an egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free, corn and oat free, etcetera meal plan. This is very helpful to the gastronome with more than one dietary need. It also includes a complete menu planner, a detailed guide on stocking a pantry, and descriptions of the ingredients essential to the gluten-free pantry. This is not a quick-fix to give a meal a superficial makeover, but rather a guide to learning to create delicious and gourmet wheat-free meals of your own. If you’re looking to gain an in-depth understanding of cooking without gluten, Gluten-Free Makeovers is an excellent go-to guide and resource to refer back to again and again. Reviewed by Axie Barclay Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes By Lisa Yockelson Wiley, $45.00, 513 pages This book begs to be different. Though an excellent baking book, nothing follows the usual and accepted standards of a baking book. It is a beautiful, large-format book, perfectly suitable for the coffee table for guests to browse through its pages. The many full-page color photos are stunning with mouthwatering food examples. This book is not for the beginner, though a novice will learn everything about baking in the first 32 pages: ingredients, their role in baking, techniques, the baking process, terminology, and equipment. The recipes are a snap to follow, but expect to spend some time on most. The author’s language and writing are great, and she precedes many recipes with extensive essays. Yet her poetic language often interferes with clear understand-
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Category Cooking, Food & Wine
ing and some instructions are ambiguous even to me (a seasoned baker). The recipe titles are a further problem: many are so convoluted as to be unclear of what you’ll try to accomplish. For example: A Nice, Untidy Torte, #2; Lemon Cake, Sublime and Divine, Lemony Sugar Wash with Glazed Lemon Threads or The Don’t-Dispute-Your-Mother Cake. Some ingredients are hard to find and you may also need to upgrade your baking equipment. The well crossreferenced index is excellent. Reviewed by George Erdosh Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make By Melissa Clark Hyperion, $29.99, 396 pages It’s always a pleasure to read cookbooks and columns written by Melissa Clark. Not only is she an evocative food writer, able to exactly pinpoint the allure of chicken thighs, but she is also an affable essayist; the introductions to her recipes take readers along as she remembers discovering a new use for rhubarb and strawberries, or recounts her family’s enjoyment of clams when she was a child. Clark’s recipes sometimes seem as much about her as about the food -- a good thing when the writer is both winningly personable and an excellent cook. Clark’s recipes rely heavily on seasonal foods ideally purchased at local greenmarkets, and her book is organized by month to encourage in-season eating. These dishes do not generally require anything exotic enough to scare away home cooks. Indeed, most ingredients can be purchased at a well-stocked supermarket. And Clark knows that cooking is as much about recipe-following as it is about tweaking: at the end of most recipes is a What Else? section that suggests substitutions, additions, and techniques. Though only Brooklyn readers will be able to shop alongside Clark at the farmer’s market, in this book she proves to be a personable guide to cooks everywhere. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell
A Tuscan-American Kitchen By Cassandra Vivian and Vivian Pelini Sansone Pelican Publishing, $19.95, 416 pages Filled with family stories and histories with a full 70-page introduction, this cookbook is ideal as a give-away for family members. In fact, the authors mention that they have written this updated version of the 1993 edition after requests from family and friends. If you already own the first edition, there is no reason to invest on this copy. This simply prepared cookbook had a low budget. Recipes within a chapter follow as continuous text without break. Layout is poor, as many recipes require cooks to turn pages back and forth. The order of the chapters appears to be random. Apart from some tiny thumbnail-size sketches, the book lacks illustrations. It is also in sore need of editing. The writing is not very good; it reminds me of cookbooks of the early 20th century. Yet the recipes are good and rarely contain hardto-find ingredients. They are easy to follow. But it is the book that is user-unfriendly. Recipes for other preparations say “see index” instead of providing page numbers. The English and Italian indexes of recipes are incomplete and not cross-referenced. Reviewed by George Erdosh
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Biographies & Memoirs
The Big Juice: Epic Tales of Big Wave Surfing By John Long and Sam George, editors Falcon Guides, $18.95, 301 pages Surfing is a combination of balance, strength, nerve, intuition, and hard-won knowledge of the sea. A sport to some, a religion to others, there is nothing quite like it on Earth. And for surf enthusiasts who need more adrenaline and
challenge, the final frontier is big wave surfing. Whether paddling in or being towed, the potential of conquering a wave stories tall is where it’s at. The Big Juice chronicles the highs and lows of big wave surfing, as told by the men and women who have come to define the sport. From wipeouts so brutal they’re lifethreatening, to the discovery of secret surf spots a hundred miles offshore, from waves that have swallowed entire neighborhoods, to the friends and heroes lost to the unforgiving ocean, the stories in The Big Juice are exhilarating, heartrending, and fascinating. Punctuated by absolutely stunning photography of these monstrous waves -- and the intrepid souls who embrace the challenge of taming them -- this is a glimpse into a totally alien world, and the incredible force nature brings to bear. It’s a celebration, a warning, a tribute, a memorial, and a historical document all at once. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark By Brian Kellow Viking, $27.95, 417 pages I was looking for just the right anecdote to lead off this review. It needed to be both bright and telling of Pauline Kael’s personality, as well as indicative of those qualities that brought her legions of fans and a rather impressive selection of haters. I’m going to go with this one. Charlie Seligman, who had been a fact-checker at The New Yorker before going on to become an editor, shares the following in Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark - “She was funny and lethal right up to the end,” said Seligman. “One day when she was near death and I was trying to divert her with chatter about working as an editor, I said, ‘It never ceases to amaze me how many people who call themselves writers actually can’t write.’ And she said, very weakly, ‘Yes - they say things like ‘It never ceases to amaze me’.” That’s just the sort of death ray one-liner that always makes me fall to my knees and bow down to the speaker. Far too many people are far too polite, which makes them far too boring to quote. Pauline Kael, the late film critic best known for her 1968-1991 stint as the movie reviewer for The New Yorker, was never, ever boring. She wasn’t overtly
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Category Biographies & Memoirs
rude; there was no enjoyment of hurting people. Rather, she was like the honest hunter who only kills when necessary. Brian Kellow’s biography is at its best in two areas. One, he ably digests Kael’s favorite and damned movies year by year. It is the shrewd biographer who chooses a subject so quotable that she livens up every page. Equally, Kellow does a fine job of examining the professional rivalries with Kael’s fellow critics. Anyone who thinks that all the people composing an artistic circle are happy little bunnies given to creativity and nuzzling mutual support has never spent any time in an artistic circle. Drunken Klingons armed with knives is much closer to the truth. Any opinion expressed which runs contrary to one’s own is a knife crack to confidence composed of egg shells. Yes it’s all rather silly, but if there weren’t people with delicate psyches and sharp minds, there would be no writing at all. Or movies. Or acting. Or music. There would probably still be architecture, but who’s going to pack up the family on a Saturday night to go look at a lobby plinth? Reviewed by Hubert O’Hearne American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America By David O. Stewart Simon & Schuster, $30.00, 410 pages Questions still remain about the mysteries surrounding the adventures of Aaron Burr, the vice president who fell from grace after killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Stewart writes about the ambitious Burr at the zenith of his political career, before he explores the questions that threatened to reshape our nation. How did Burr get ostracized from Jefferson’s cabinet, and then from Washington politics? What was Burr really up to with all of his secrecy and ciphered messages? How was the double agent, General James Wilkinson, able to escape prosecution after the government discovered he had been taking Spanish bribes for years? How was Burr able to win acquittal of all charges levied against him? What happened
to him after his stunning legal victories? Stewart weaves the vivid threads of characters who found themselves ensnared in history’s most daring scheme to recall the passion of Burr’s imagination, how from the ashes of political disgrace he foisted a small army with the pursuit of ruling an American Empire. With everything in place for revolution, Burr’s trusted general betrays him at the last moment. But, was it loyalty to the American union or the income from Spain that caused Wilkinson to reverse the tide? Reviewed by Casey Corthron Trust Me, I’m Dr. Ozzy: Advice from Rock’s Ultimate Survivor By Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Ayres Grand Central Publishing, $26.99, 274 pages So when did the Prince of Darkness become a doctor? In his new book, Trust Me, I’m Dr. Ozzy: Advice from Rock’s Ultimate Survivor, some of Osbourne’s best recommendations are set forth. The book features Ozzy’s replies to often hysterical, reader-submitted, medical and lifestyle questions, many of which appeared in Rolling Stone and The UK Sunday Times. Although there are humorous words of advice from Dr. Ozzy, he does respond with honesty in dealing with some of the submissions. For instance, a woman who had experienced a loss receives a heartfelt reply from Ozzy, who discusses the loss of his guitarist Randy Rhoads. “Grief is a natural process, and everyone goes through it at some point in their life,” he says. Ozzy suggests joining a counseling group “or at least find someone you can talk to about it.” He admits that he did not take this advice; “I locked the grief away, so it manifested itself in other ways, like drugs and alcohol.” In contrast, the comical side of Ozzy is seen in a submission from a concerned father for his four-year old daughter and her addiction to playing the Angry Birds game. Ozzy states: “I don’t understand a single word of this question. Why do you have birds on your iPad, and why are they pissed off?”
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Category Biographies & Memoirs
All in all, this book is a fun read. It almost serves as a memoir, as Ozzy speaks of events and personal experiences in his life. His counseling suggestions will certainly draw a chuckle; and for anyone who is familiar with the Prince of Darkness’ sense of humor, you will find this read thoroughly entertaining. Reviewed by Jennifer Ochs Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness By Alexandra Fuller Penguin Press, $25.95, 235 pages Alexandra Fuller earned a fast name for herself with Don’t let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. Her new book centers on the story of her mother, Nicola Fuller of Central Africa. Exuberant, teasingly disrespectful, it shifts her first book into the shadow. Nicola is exasperating and adventurous. For instance, she takes flying lessons and becomes airborne, with a terrified instructor, a song on her lips, and no idea how to land. The author, now living in the U.S., grew up in Africa. As she vacations in her homeland, now in the throes of shedding colonialism, she portrays her family struggling to make ends meet as economic and political bad times try to crush the good: her dad’s intriguing jobs that come to an end too soon; Nicola’s mental fragility; and her Scottish stiff upper lip at the tragic loss of one baby after another. When Fiddler on the Roof was shown in Japan, audiences saw it as a universal, not simply a Jewish story. Likewise, Nicola Fuller is everyone’s Mom, and the family dynamic is fitting any place, even if the location is not as exotic as the lush gardens of Central Africa. Reviewed by Jane Manaster
This Is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl By Paul Brannigan Da Capo, $26.00, 388 pages Brannigan’s knowledge of the underground punk scene fills out this Dave Grohl biography. He essentially traces the evolution from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana, via Washington D.C., to create an entertaining retelling of the history of hardcore punk as it iterated in the mid-1980s where Grohl, a hyperactive suburban Virginia boy, found his passion for destroying a room. Grohl found himself in the quintessential grunge band Nirvana, after making a name for himself in Scream, the band his mom gave him permission to drop out of high school to tour with, and subsequently, the first East Coast hardcore band to tour Europe. Cobain is quoted as saying, “He beats the drums like he’s beating the sh## out of their heads!” As one might expect, the book spends a fair share of time in the time around Nirvana and with the focus on the tragic Cobain and the controversial Courtney Love. At the suicide, there is a turning point in the story; the focus moves more dryly onto Grohl and his subsequent projects, including the Foo Fighters. It becomes more critical of the major-label, music publishing industry. It ends on a note of Nirvana nostalgia, as if to acknowledge, that for all intents and purposes, it is the association with this band that will be Grohl’s legacy. Reviewed by Robin Martin Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath By Tony Iommi Da Capo Press, $26.00, 369 pages Tony Iommi is the lead guitarist for the band Black Sabbath. Considered by some to be the pioneer of “heavy metal,” Black Sabbath had enormous influence on the music industry. In his
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Category Biographies & Memoirs
memoir, Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, Iommi recounts the events in his life that lead him to form the band. He explains of how events impacted and influenced his life. From early years -- domestic violence between his parents, friendships with band mates Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward, and Geezer Butler -- to events such as the death of his former lead singer Ronnie James Dio, Iommi discusses his experiences and struggles. The book features memorable accounts of experiences on the road while the band was on tour. Iommi discusses his intimate relationship with band members, the effects that drugs had on all of them, his relationship with singer/guitarist Lita Ford, and the band’s rivalry with other successful bands of the time, including Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. On March 13, 2006, Black Sabbath was inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All in all, Iommi concludes, “I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved. We spawned a whole new generation of music, of players … It’s extremely rewarding.” Reviewed by Jennifer Ochs The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon By William M. Adler Bloomsbury Press, $30.00, 349 pages Bob Dylan called Joe Hill “the forerunner to Woody Guthrie.” Hill was a member of the International Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”), and he wrote the songs that built solidarity among union members. The songs also made Hill a target of the capitalist and legal authorities. In 1914, Hill was convicted of murdering a Salt Lake City grocer in a trial so mismanaged it appears to place the burden on Hill to prove his innocence, rather than on the State to prove his guilt. He was executed by firing squad in 1915, despite tens of thousands of pleas for justice from people around the world, including President Woodrow Wilson.
The main part of the story covers events from Hill’s arrest to his execution. It’s an engrossing story, really, and Adler shows that what evidence there was actually pointed away from Hill and toward a career criminal who was operating in that area. What I didn’t care for was Adler’s tendency to insert his own prejudices into the book, for example, his reference to the opinion of the Utah Supreme Court as a “model of judicial demagoguery.” Otherwise, it’s a well-researched story of labor-capital relations in pre-World War I America. Reviewed by Paul Mullinger Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon By Caseen Gaines Ecw Press, $19.95, 232 pages A word that always has me worried when it’s in a title is “unauthorized.” Generally, that means that someone important did not endorse the book. In this case, Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee Wee, has not endorsed Caseen Gaines’ book. Too bad for him, because this book is well researched and is possibly the closest thing to the truth behind the playhouse that fans will ever read. The book is set chronologically as it follows Reuben’s career as a Groundlings theater student to his “indecent” in the 1990s, and ending with Pee Wee’s resurrection on Broadway. The book is filled with interviews by former cast members and former managers. The coolest feature is an episode guide to the five seasons of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, with each one including a synopsis, trivia, and facts. I grew up in the time of Pee Wee’s popularity, so it was a treat to go back and revisit old friends and learn new things. I found Gains’ narration to be unbiased, as he was a fan of the show as well. Some of the interviews may case Reuben in an unpleasing light, but Gaines was thoughtful enough to always include counter arguments to make it fair. The story really focuses on the politics and microman-
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Category Biographies & Memoirs
aging that went on behind the scenes. The book is a great nostalgic trip and will be wonderful for any fan, new or old. Reviewed by Kevin Brown Someone Else’s Twin: The True Story of Babies Switched at Birth By Nancy L. Segal Prometheus Books, $25.00, 301 pages Thirty-eight years ago, a set of identical twins was born in the Canary Islands. Through some confusion at the hospital, one of the baby girls the parents brought home wasn’t theirs, and the mistake wasn’t discovered until well after the girls reached adulthood. The revelation – that one of the “twins” wasn’t even biologically related to her sister or parents, and that the real twin had been raised in a different family where she didn’t belong – created a firestorm in the media even as it tore apart the lives of those involved. With Someone Else’s Twin, doctor and researcher Nancy Segal examines the circumstances that may have led to the switch, how the discovery affected the three women directly involved and their families, and the court case that followed. She also examines other examples of twins switched at birth, as well as twins reared apart for other reasons. Segal’s writing is a little dry at times, but the information in this book is so fascinating that most readers will hardly notice; it is clear that she is an expert on these kinds of scenarios. This is a true human interest story that will strike a chord with parents everywhere. Reviewed by Holly Scudero Ask What You Can Do: Our Days in the Early Peace Corps By James C. Stewart CreateSpace, $24.95, 662 pages Not many people push themselves beyond their limits. We get comfortable with the mundane, and we attempt
to be average at best. But there are those out there who work hard towards being more. This is the story of those that tried their best every day. The book, Ask What You Can Do, follows the life of James C. Stewart as he joins the Peace Corps and travels to the the Philippines in the 1960s. In this powerhouse memoir, every day from March of ‘61 to James’ completion in ‘64, is described in fantastic detail. He was only one of six hundred or so volunteers that went into the Republic of the Philippines, but his account morphs from volunteer to volunteer leader. The book is incredibly informative and a tell-all of life at this time. One remarkable thing is the detail and knowledge of Filipino culture that Stewart makes sure to comment on in the book. Every twist and turn is provided with a nice background that didn’t weigh the story down or feel out of place. It has been 50 years, and yet Stewart’s book reads as if it all this happened yesterday. His narration doesn’t feel forced or out of place. It is human, real, and raw. Every page is almost like a snapshot from the time period. People in the book are less like emotionless shadows and more like pulsating, growing characters. Every death in the book stings, and every bright moment shines. My favorite part of the book is the the pure heart and soul of it. It’s not the different section or chapters, but the overall theme that makes this book outstanding. It’s about people--normal people--giving up so much to be part of something bigger. I would say I learned a great deal after reading this book. I learned what kind of people joined the Peace Corps back then and what kind of personality it takes to survive in it. The book is an eyeopening experience that I will never forget, nor will anyone else who reads this book. Sponsored Review
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Category Biographies & Memoirs
Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood By Emily Leider University of California Press, $34.95, 424 pages In 1937, the public voted Clark Gable and Myrna Loy as King and Queen of Hollywood. Now, more than 70 years later, the name Clark Gable is still a familiar one, while Myrna Loy is much less so. Myrna is best remembered as the wife in the Thin Man series with William Powell, and from that role she came to be known in Hollywood as “the perfect wife,” a title she came to resent, especially since her four marriages ended in divorce. This is a must read for anyone who is a Myrna Loy fan. The title of the book
suggests that it is not a juicy tell-all, and it’s not; Myrna was a fiercely private person. She also, as the title suggests, was one of the few Hollywood stars who did not sleep around or create scandal. Although she was a dedicated student, she dropped out of school at 17 to begin her career as a dancer, performing in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater along with the then unknown Joan Crawford. From there, she began working in silent films, then talkies, and over her six-decade career made 124 films in all. This enjoyable book is highly readable and extensively researched. Reviewed by Leslie Wolfson
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Current Events & Politics Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens By Christopher Hitchens Twelve, $30.00, 798 pages I am not a man given easily to tears, particularly those shed for public figures, particularly when they die. Still, there can be exceptions reserved for those rare people who truly have entered and affected my life. I still miss Graham Greene. I am ashamed to admit I cried more when Hunter S. Thompson pulled the trigger than when my father died. The two writers taught me about life and how to attack it with words. I know that I will cry when Christopher Hitchens dies. He has already lost his magnificent voice to esophageal cancer, which tells me the time is likely nearer than it is far. There is not in our time another journalist who so precisely chooses the right word, phrase, or example to illuminate his thoughts. His ability to accurately quote from memory great swaths of George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, various poets, scholars, and speeches is legendary. Equally legendary is his habit of
writing everything in one draft. Many of us have tried that trick. Hitchens actually succeeds. Cry for him? I should hate him. These essays from the previous decade combine the best of Hitchens’ literary reviews, political commentary, and social observation. Even when I don’t agree with him -- on the Iraq War or his indifferent attitude towards Graham Greene -- I find that my mind is better for examining his rationale. Just with the book reviews, I can give Hitchens the highest praise that I know: Whether his opinion of the subject is good, bad, or indifferent, he makes me want to read the book. I am thankful for having lived in his time. I am not a man given easily to tears, particularly those shed for public figures, particularly when they die. How can one miss and mourn those one never actually knew? Still, there can be exceptions reserved for those rare people who truly have entered and affected my life. I still miss Graham Greene. I am ashamed to admit I cried more when Hunter S. Thompson pulled the trigger than when my father died. Well, the two writers taught me about life and how to attack it with words. My father - well perhaps another time ... I know that I will cry when Christopher Hitchens dies. He has already lost his magnificent voice to esophageal cancer, which tells me the time is likely nearer than it is far. The other day I wrote a note to Martin Amis; so good a friend to Hitchens that Amis moved his family from London to New York to be there for comfort, humor and all the best qualities of humanity. But I wrote Martin that I would love to be there when the atheist Hitchens meets God. I imagined God making a little icebreaking joke. God: I didn’t think you existed. Hitch: I know you don’t. H i t c h e n s himself would probably do much better than that. He’d get the tenses right, for one thing. That is one of the many things in Arguably that makes me bow to the master. There is not in our time another journalist who so precisely chooses the right word, phrase, or example to illuminate his thoughts. His ability to accurately quote from memory great swaths of George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, various poets, scholars, and speeches is legendary.
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Category Current Events & Politics
Equally legendary is his habit of writing everything in one draft. Many of us have tried that trick. Hitchens actually succeeds. Cry for him? I should hate him. These essays from the previous decade combine the best of Hitchens’ literary reviews, political commentary, and social observation. Even when I don’t agree with him -- on the Iraq War or his indifferent attitude toward Graham Greene -- I find that my mind is better for the exercise of examining his rationale. Just with the book reviews, I can give Hitchens the highest praise that I know: Whether his opinion of the subject material is good, bad or indifferent, he makes me want to read the book. I am thankful for having lived in his time. Reviewed by Hubert O’Hearne Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas By Troy Parfitt Western Hemisphere Press, $20.95, 416 pages Here’s a travelogue by Troy Parfitt, a man who sets out to explore the twenty-two provinces of China, but discovers he doesn’t really like the places he visits. He abandons the venture after seventeen and returns to Taiwan, where he has lived and worked for some ten years. This sets up a most curious dissonance. Mostly, he’s written a road book as he travels among the mainland Chinese, spending only a day here and another day there, digging out nuggets of information about the places and their history, capturing moments of interaction, and offering insights. This makes the book impressionist in spirit (i.e., it’s not journalistic realism, nor is it genuinely autobiographical). Why China Will Never Rule the World is highly editorialized. When you gather so much experience in such a short period of time, and the publisher imposes a physical constraint on how much will appear in print, you distill the mass into a heady spirit, the essence you hope will be intoxicating to your readers. The title says it all and, if
it speaks to you, you will find the book enlightening and entertaining. Put simply, here’s a literate and intelligent human being, capable of wit and possessed of a good eye for description. Better still, the prose style is engaging. Yet this is what I imagine Marvin, the Paranoid Android might have written in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Not that either this author, or the original Marvin, is actually paranoid. Marvin’s just consistently downbeat and, depending on your point of view; that’s the strength or weakness of Why China Will Never Rule the World. So if you want snapshots of potential tourist destinations for those interested in Chinese history, a river cruise to the Three Gorges Dam, or of life in Beijing (which he claims to like), interspersed with explanations of why Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shikai were villains, why both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong lost the civil war, and why Mao lost the peace, this is the book for you. As a postscript, Nanjing is the cleanest city and both the Terracotta Army and the Tsingtao Brewery are worth a visit. This leaves the final third of the book in Taiwan. The contrast in tone is quite dramatic as we come to understand why he prefers residence on the island. Except, after mature reflection, he decides he’s had enough of the Chinese on both sides of the Straits and returns to Canada. This is writing as therapy, exorcising ghosts of the past and looking forward to life in the “old country.” Sponsored Review
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Crap I Bought On eBay: 101 Crazy Bizarre, Seriously Weird, Ridiculously Raunchy Items Exposed By Cary McNeal and Beverly L. Jenkins Running Press, $13.00, 256 pages eBay is one of the modern wonders of the Internet, a global flea market where you can find anything and everything, no matter how weird, rare, unexpected, or flat-out nauseating. From magic spells for growing your own clone
to bejeweled hamster coffins, to Viagra clocks, to a piece of Watergate office carpet, eBay has it ... whether you want it or not. McNeal and Jenkins offer up a smorgasbord of the weirdest and most baffling tchotchkes and bric-a-brac humanity has to offer in Crap I Bought on eBay, and their commentary is both hilarious and utterly merciless. Inducing snickers galore, the items they uncovered range from the weird to the disgusting, the nonsensical to the offensive. (Careful if you read this in public! A few of the items in the book are for adults only, and I got some weird glances on the train from fellow commuters who wandered by.) Nonetheless, the snark of McNeal and Jenkins perfectly balances the utter weirdness and silliness that populates their book. From dinosaur dung to Vanilla Ice action figures, they’ve seen it all. No doubt with a few regrets. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas Dear Asshole: 101 Tear-out Letters to the Morons Who Muck Up Your Life By Jillian Madison and Michelle Madison Running Press, $13.00, 208 pages Crossing paths with jerks, dingbats, and assholes is inevitable these days. On a daily basis, you encounter the rude, the inconsiderate, the obnoxious, and the borderline-reprehensible. Don’t you wish you could just tell them off once and for all? Well, Jillian and Michelle Madison feel your pain, and have crafted Dear Asshole, a cathartic humor exercise disguised as a one-stop shop for rejoinders and putdowns for assholes galore. Obviously, these aren’t intended for actual dispersal -though I suspect the perforated edges will lead to one or two passive-aggressive types leaving notes galore. Taken at face value, some are too specific to be useful. (You’ll empathize with nearly all of them, though.) The ones that are spot on, such as the taxi driver and the drive-thru bank teller, are a delight, as are the totally undeliverable ones, such as the asshole who broke into your car. But nonetheless, they make for a fun bit of reading, and some mean-spirited camaraderie with fellow non-assholes. (I’d have to disagree, though, that Connecticut is the
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Category Humor Non-Fiction
birthplace of assholes. I think of it more as an asshole finishing school, the place assholes come to really hone their craft.) Reviewed by Glenn Dallas Dumbemployed: Hilariously Dumb and Sadly True Stories About Jobs Like Yours By Phil Edwards and Matt Kraft Running Press, $13.00, 240 pages Has your boss ever made you do something that made absolutely no sense? Has a coworker ever done something that you thought was insane? Have comments from customers made you reconsider your career in life? If so, you are “dumbemployed.” Fans of the Web site dumbemployed.com will recognize the concept here. In 300 characters or less, share the stupidest, most weird, and unfortunately true stories from the working world. The stories come from a wide audience, focusing on everything from your basic cubicle worker to fast food employees, to upper-level managers. As with any humor book, some stories are funnier than others, but there will be plenty here to make you laugh, roll your eyes, or simply wonder what the heck is going on. And mixed in are those stories that are funny and yet hit so close to home you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Mix that with some helpful tips, quizzes, and lists, and you’ve got the perfect book about the average American workforce. Whether you love your job or hate it, Dumbemployed has something for everyone who’s ever worked for a living. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller
The Onion Presents: Christmas Exposed By The Onion Staff Quirk, $12.95, 144 pages Christmas is fast approaching, and what better organization exists to chronicle the newsworthy stories of the holiday season, big and small, than The Onion? From Jesus dreading his 2000th birthday to the weed delivery guy who saved Christmas, your funny bone will be jostled and your heartstrings will be tugged (whether you like it or not) by the stories featured within the pages of The Onion Presents: Christmas Exposed. While the book is somewhat hit-or-miss comedywise, depending on the article, there are some real winners lurking among the chuckle-inducers and the smirk-bringers. (“Ghost of Christmas Future Taunts Children With Visions of Playstation 5” was among my personal favorites.) The stories range from the tongue-in-cheek silly to the scathingly dark and satirical. Admittedly, I wish that the original posting dates for the articles had been included, because while of the articles are timeless, others would benefit from some context. The Onion is a household name at this point, so you no doubt know what to expect from this holiday-themed collection. For the most part, I recommend this one for non-fans, casual readers, or Onion completionists. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
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Silent Killers: Submarines and Underwater Warfare By James Delgado Osprey Publishing, $24.95, 264 pages Calling the ocean a hostile environment and the largest battlefield on the earth, author and marine archeologist James P. Delgado tells the story of the military actions below its surface. Delgado’s account is long and detailed, starting before the first undersea war mission in1776, through World War I and II , to our present reliance on nuclear submarines. Accompanying the text are a substantial number of photographs and diagrams. One can watch how the ar-
chaic submersibles of the past have since evolved into their streamlined form. One can also follow the literary legacy of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Though sensationalistic, Silent Killers will serve as an entertaining reference work for those who seek the fuller history of this undersea endeavor. Filled with maybe one hundred names of ocean warriors, inventors, and submarines, the reader interested in a casual history may find themselves baffled by the details. This book will, however, reward the historian and student who wants the specific details. The book also comes supplied with an index. One will find here some of the stories that have made the newspaper headlines, like the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, and the Triton, the first submarine to fully sail around the world underwater. For those involved in the chronicle, the experience of the sea has not been sublime, but instead hostile. Reviewed by Ryder Miller Chinese Painting 3rd Edition By Lin, Ci Cambridge University Press, $19.99, 164 pages Part of the “Introductions to Chinese Culture” published by Cambridge University Press, Chinese Painting gives a modest overview of traditional painting as an abstract form. Lin Ci, an art historian in China (the work is translated), explores painting from ancient scrolls to Buddhist grottoes to modern art. He writes sparely on the distinct styles of Chinese painting, along with hundreds of illustrations. Traditional Chinese painting sought to portray the harmony between the natural world, of mountains and streams, and human emotion, evoking ancient Chinese philosophy. These paintings are well represented in this study, but what’s surprising to me was the last chapter on modern and even contemporary painting. The author says, “Painters will have to recognize and deal with markets and their temptation.” Chinese art has truly evolved; no longer concerned with “harmony” or the social realism of Mao, artists like Fang Lijun, who ends this survey, now work to meet the demand of the market, just as they do in the West. Only now they describe a generation which lives between traditional forces and a new
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and sometimes rootless Chinese society. This book is not for sale in the People’s Republic of China. Reviewed by Phil Semler Union Station in Washington, DC (Images of Rail) By Rachel Cooper Arcadia Publishing, $21.99, 127 pages Union Station in our nation’s capital is one of the transportation hubs in the country. It is the place to catch a train that will take you all across the country. Whether you want to take a quick ride up to New York or take a long trip across the country to San Francisco, Union Station is the place to go. The station is also centrally located, only a few blocks away from the United States Capitol Building. In this book we get to explore the history of this beautiful station through pictures, from when it was first planned and built in the early part of the 20th Century to its redevelopment and remodel in the 1980s. It has been an awe inspiring building. It is truly a masterpiece of architecture. Rachel Cooper does an excellent job going through the many phases of the building, from when the railroad was king, to now being a combination of things at the building including an Amtrak station, a Metro line, a shopping center, and food court. The pictures are informative and they take you back to another time. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Seattle: Then & Now By Clark Humphrey Arcadia Publishing, $21.99, 95 pages Seattle, is an eccentric city. It’s the birthplace of Grunge music. It’s known for being a left-leaning, innovative, and willing-to-experiment kind of city. People go to Seattle to experience this kind of flavor, a flavor that you will not find in many other cities. In this book,
Clark Humphrey takes the reader on a tour of Seattle, both the Seattle of old and the Seattle of new. It is the Seattle that many people might not know—from the early days of when the roads were mud and dirt tracks to the present day I-5, modern high-rises and apartment buildings. Seattle has changed over the decades, and parts of it might have lost its individual charm. Mr. Humphrey does an excellent job combining the old and new photographs of the same, if not similar, locations. We get to see Seattle grow and change throughout its history. Looking at the old roadways, we can see how they change, how the businesses change, and how the types of building change. Neighborhoods that use to have charm have given way to modern-looking buildings with no charm. Reviewed by Kevin Winter The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen, and the King’s Mother By Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin, and Michael Jones Touchstone, $26.00, 342 pages The War of the Roses, fought by the Houses of Lancaster and York for the British Royal Crown, was a war that eventually led the House of Tudor to the throne. In this book, three authors -- two academic historians and one author known more for her historical fiction -- tackle this complex, and relativity unknown, period of British history. They focus on three women who played major roles in the conflict: the mother of Henry VII, Queen of Edward IV, and the little known Jacquetta of Luxembourg. The introduction discusses the problems of writing about these three women, such as the lack of resources, as women were not supposed to be involved in the public sphere. One of the reasons for writing this book was to show that there is a story behind the great man. This is a book that will appeal to history students as well, though no citations exist in the work. The book helps bring to life a period of time that is largely veiled by the mists of history. Reviewed by Kevin Winter
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James Madison By Richard Brookhiser Basic Books, $28.00, 287 pages The author has written a brilliant book on our nation’s fourth president and the main individual responsible for the Bill of Rights. He founded not only our first American political party, but also the American system of party politics. This biography is the first to provide an assessment of the slavery question. We are shown that a great deal of Madison’s correspondence with Jefferson consisted of news flashes and gossip, while having a stake in religious freedom in Virginia. Madison was an avid reader and wrote on the experiences of other countries; he wrote essays, along with memos to himself in which he digested and arranged what he had learned. His great attribute was persistence (he attended every session of the constitution convention in Philadelphia in which the delegates met six days a week). Madison and Jefferson had two goals: peace and expansion as a means of hindering panic and oppression. American commerce, they believed, was important to the world and could be used as a weapon instead of armies. Madison’s job as Secretary of State, we are told, was to handle America’s dealings with the world. His job as politician was to win the presidency, but his most serious challenge came from Monroe who was somewhat critical of his administration. In conclusion, Madison became president in a system he helped create, but faced a divided party and world war. Madison gave us his best thoughts throughout his life. Reviewed by Claude Ury Armies of Heaven By Jay Rubenstein Basic Books, $35.00, 448 pages The crusades were some of the most violent causes ever fought. This pilgrimage to the Holy Land became a bloody siege that nearly brought forth its own apocalyptic consequences.
Armies of Heaven by Jay Rubenstein breaks down the ins and outs of the first crusade and the four gory years that followed. The book starts with a short introduction to sum up the events that lead to the 1095AD quest to Jerusalem. Rubenstein applies all of the legends, myths and truths from this time period and uses them to create a clear story of those events. The book is about as raw as the stories beginning told. Rubenstein found a great way to tell an exciting story built on an extensive historical foundation. The back of the book is filled with notes from each chapter citing sources. The story is fast paced and this reviewer was surprised by how quickly the book was finished. This work is a perfect blend of military and religious history, with some great inner politics on the side. It is a brilliant piece of work and would be the shining jewel to a historian’s shelf. Reviewed by Kevin Brown Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America By Enrique Krauze Harper, $29.99, 560 pages Enrique Krauze is no stranger to ambitious tasks. His previous book was essentially a biography of Mexico and weighed in here in the U.S. at almost nine hundred pages. With Redeemers, Krauze sets his sights on all of Latin America. Overambitious? Perhaps, but Krauze divides and conquers his subject by examining the twelve most influential leaders in Latin America, from Marti to Chavez. Krauze uses these figures as entry points for a discussion about the ideas that these leaders espoused; how those ideas shaped each person’s home country and region as a whole; how each individual grappled with their philosophy and honed it; and how power influenced both the philosophies and the people themselves. Krauze is a good writer, and each chapter could easily function as an independent work. This makes weaving a fuller narrative difficult, but each leader’s story is so engaging that Krauze keeps the reader on the line. Even so,
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Redeemers is not for the fainthearted; this is a serious book for people with a serious interest in Latin America. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell 1812: The Navy’s War By George C. Daughan Basic Books, $32.50, 512 pages An American sailor stands with all hands on deck while a skipper of the Royal Navy boards for inspection at the point of broadside cannons. The American admiralty looks askance while his nemesis hauls away his crewmen under the established tradition of British impressment. But, as the man-o’-war sails away, American pride seethes, until the day our country stands up and proves its worth. This vivid edition carries us back to the era of Madison when our nation quibbled over whether or not having a navy was a waste of money. Daughan depicts the political climate influenced by the Napoleonic wars, British impressment, and imperialistic ambitions for Canada’s porous borders which blended into the tinder box that ignited our second war with England. With a sailor’s heart, Daughan follows the action of blue water battles on the Great Lakes, deep water fusillades, besieged ports, the razing of our nation’s capitol, and the victory at New Orleans that forever earned international respect for American resolve. Expertly researched and illustrated, Daughan recounts the courage and skill of the men who gave birth to the United States Navy. Reviewed by Casey Corthron Gladiator: The Roman Fighter’s [Unofficial] Manual By Philip Matyszak Thames & Hudson, $24.95, 200 pages With the popularity of the Starz channel television program Spartacus, fans are clamoring for more information about gladiators. Author and Roman historian Philip Matyszak’s book Gladiator: The Roman Fighter’s Unofficial Manual is written as a training manual. This tongue-in-cheek guide covers how to become a gladiator (be an unsuccessful
criminal, lose a war against Rome, be a surly slave, or owe more money than you can pay), how to find a good gladiator school (called a ludus), how to hone your skills and thrill the crowd, and what to expect in the arena. Learn about how gladiators came to be in a fun, fact-filled timeline, and read inspirational quotes by Seneca (“It’s about how you live, not about how long you live”) and other historical figures who provide first-hand accounts of life in Rome during the era of Roman fights. With one hundred fourteen illustrations (twenty-two in color) of mosaics, statues, carvings, vases, weapons, and more depicting the art of the gladiatorial fight, the training experience comes alive. If you manage to avoid death and reach retirement age, learn how life will treat you after your time in the arena. Hudson’s writing style is fun, educational, and informative and makes a perfect gift for any history enthusiast. Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin
MUNI, cont’d from page 1
on cities. Anyone my age, who’s seen the changes in San Francisco since the 1950s, would like this book, especially if you still like to ride the “Blackpool boat car” down Market as part of the historic trolleys. The book’s hundreds of old photographs of the great San Francisco Municipal Railway are fascinating. Today most of us in San Francisco have a hate relationship with Muni, those who have to ride it. Still, we depend on it, have opinions about it, and maybe even love it (a little, even the cable cars). Muni was established 100 years ago, the first publicly owned transit system in America, when a government of “better intentions” could actually do something helpful. Hop on, don’t delay! Reviewed by Phil Semler
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The Elements of Photography, Second Edition: Understanding and Creating Sophisticated Images By Angela Faris Belt Focal Press, $39.95, 436 pages Focal Press has released this revised and expanded second edition by fine art photographer and educator Angela Faris Belt. It covers both technical and conceptual skills and is divided into six main chapters which include subject selection, metering and exposure, framing, apertures and focus, shutter speeds, materials, processes, and presentation. Interspersed throughout these sections are Image Discussions, Chapter Exercises, and Portfolio Pages—the latter representing the work of over forty different artists
in more than 300 full-color images. By advocating an interdisciplinary approach to photographers, this author aptly describes the thought processes involved in the visual alchemy of creating images, exceeding the usual “how to” limitations of other books in this field. She illustrates why technical aspects influence visual appearance and communicative effectiveness of the photographic image, regardless of media or ultimate utilization. Diverse and stunning examples beautifully support the text and provide additional inspiration. Not only does this book explore the dichotomy between fine art and commercial photography, but it also deftly integrates technique and vision, thus enabling photographers to take their work to the next level. More importantly, it promotes the notion that anyone can give substance to their ideas through the language of photography. Reviewed by Richard Mandrachio Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks By Ken Jennings Scribner, $25.00, 276 pages Certainly this book won’t appeal to everyone, only map people. Which I, being one, can attest that virtually everything you will ever want to know about cartacacoethes, cartophilia, Google Earth, and other trivia to satisfy your “mapatite” can be found within the geekish humor of Jennings’s latest release. Perhaps you will remember in 2004 when Ken Jennings captured the record as “Jeopardy” champion with a seventy-four-game winning streak. His writing style employs all the wit and data rich vernacular you would expect from a guy who made more than $2.5 million outsmarting the other contestants. He spends ample time recalling childhood years when the obsession over maps either strikes a person, like it struck him, or it doesn’t. Jennings doesn’t expect everyone to understand Mapheads. Indeed, he admits to being married to someone significantly less interested in geography; however, he shares enough cool facts about our planet and our navigation upon the globe to keep even non-Mapheads enthralled. You may never understand why a map collector would pay $1 million for a raggedly drawn, out-of-date navigational chart.
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But, if you ever spent your childhood days with your nose in an atlas, you will really enjoy this geo-cache. Reviewed by Casey Corthron How To Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You’ll Ever Write By Sandra E. Lamb Ten Speed Press, $18.99, 428 pages Sometimes a reference book really can be all that. How to Write It does everything it can be to be a writer’s best friend, and accomplishes it rather handily. Contained within its covers are a number of templates for different kinds of letters, as well as thoughts on what makes them problematic. Each letter is described in detail, and includes a number of tips on how to write the perfect letter, other writing topics and meticulous detail. By using the tips provided, writers can become better at their craft, regardless of whether that craft is in letters, blogs, or communication in general. Although the writing does tend to be dry, making it come off as a textbook more often than not, that is the only major flaw of the book. Each section goes into detail about the common problems with writing, as well as suggestions on how to write better letters and blog entries. This is a very thorough treatment on how to write, and something anyone interested in bringing their A-game should definitely check out. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim Studio Lighting Anywhere By Joe Farace Amherst Media, $34.95, 128 pages Lighting has always been a problem with amateur productions. This book helps to alleviate that problem, with solutions for every price bracket. Lighting solutions are considered from a number of angles, sometimes literally; the angles at which the various lights are set up is considered for maximum
effectiveness. Otherwise, solutions involve hardware, from lamps to umbrellas. Although top-end items are considered, the focus is on the amateur and thus great equipment from the lower end of the price spectrum is considered. For any photographer, this is an outstanding book. In order to fully illustrate the concepts, photographs are used, and then the room used is broken down in terms of where the lighting came from and what was used to get it there. Chapters are broken down by types of lighting, from lamps to reflectors, and each is discussed in detail, including equipment at various ends of the spending spectrum. The only major issue is that outside lighting is not covered, but that is covered in the first chapter. The book serves as a thorough lighting course and is heavily recommended for anyone interested in creating their own studio, no matter how large or small it is. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim Natural-Light Family Portraits By Jennifer Goerge Amherst Media, $34.95, 128 pages Award-winning photographer, Jennifer George, writes an A to Z how-to book in The Digital Photographer’s Guide to Natural-Light Family Portraits, which is filled with photographic examples of her work. Read how to create emotional connections to tell a story as you build relationships with your families. Learn how children’s wide array of moods presents photo opportunities and teens appreciate unusual, candid, creative shots. George, who teaches and guest-lectures internationally, is a certified professional photographer sharing her knowledge of using clothing, backgrounds, textures, diffusers, angles, and depth of field, in addition to natural light, to capture those forever moments that melt hearts and create memories in a family’s life to be passed down from generation to generation. Inset throughout the book are key tips to remember, in-
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cluding websites to visit for more on photography. With Photoshop tricks for clean, editing techniques, tips for business plans, logos, social media engagement, web sites, blogs, promotions and events, her goal is for you to succeed in the level of family portrait photography that you desire. Amateurs and professionals alike will gain something from The Digital Photographer’s Guide to Natural-Light Family Portraits. Reviewed by Linda Welz Train Your Dog By UK Association of Pet Dog Trainers Hodder & Stoughton, $15.95, 208 pages The UK Association of Pet Dog Trainers teaches you a new way to train your pet in Train Your Dog . This book helps readers understand that dog owners should think about the dog and his understanding of your commands. Why is this important? Some people often smack, shake, shout, and hit their dogs with plastic bottles to get them to obey. If you are doing this, your dog has not failed you; you have failed your dog. Dogs do not intentionally do things wrong to irritate their owners. No matter how much you believe your canine is humanlike, he’s a dog and does doggish things. All dog owners need to get to know their dog(s) — not just his personality — but what to expect from his breed. His genes can influence how he learns and what you need to teach him. When you teach your dog, reward him with tasty treats that he really loves — not something that you prefer. You need to control the environment they live in until they understand what you want. Train Your Dog is an outstanding read because it helps you be an effective dog trainer by using loving techniques that will never escalate to abuse. Reviewed by Vivian Dixon Sober
Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students By Mignon Fogarty and Erwin Haya Henry Holt and Co., $12.99, 304 pages Let’s face it: The English language is confusing. There are all sorts of rules, except when the rules don’t apply, or there are exceptions, or things just plain don’t match. Who can keep it all straight? Grammar Girl can! Mignon Fogarty is best known for her Grammar Girl podcasts, and here she’s complied all sorts of useful tips, tricks, rules (and their exceptions), myths, and other information into a comprehensive writing guide. Its intended audience is students, but honestly, this is a great writing guide for any person who occasionally needs help with their writing. The tone of the book is fun and easy to read, and not at all what you would expect from a grammar book. The quick and dirty tips sprinkled throughout make this a great reference guide, and the pop quizzes help teach and reinforce concepts. The examples are easy to understand (and sometimes a little fun), so you won’t ever get “affect” and “effect” confused again. This is one of the best writing guides out there, and you simply cannot beat the price tag for what you’re getting. Highly recommended for students, veteran writers, or anyone who needs more help with their writing. Reviewed by Alyssa Feller
For many more Reference book reviews, visit our website: S a n F r a n c i s c o B o o k R e v i e w. c o m
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Science & Nature
Moon: A Brief History By Bernd Brunner Yale University Press, $15.00, 291 pages Nothing holds the secure space in the human imagination that the Moon occupies. Far-flung planets don’t have its familiarity, and planet-bound mysteries and icons don’t have its mystique. The Moon has shepherded the rise of
life on Earth, defined our tides, months and years, and inspired myths, legends, religions, and stories. Moon: A Brief History is a love letter to the moon, exploring its role as religious and supernatural centerpiece, sci-fi jewel of wonder and possibility, political prize, and fountainhead of scientific inquiry. Populated by lunar-centric black and white pictures and art from throughout history, Moon is the most thorough accounting of that celestial orb’s influence on society and culture I’ve ever read. The details are fascinating and curious, from the most obscure myths to the most famous legends and images, and even the most devoted astronomy buff will be surprised and delighted by the fruits of Brunner’s exhaustive research. The night’s most famous denizen couldn’t ask for a better chronicle of its life, its legend, and its mysteries. Brunner has crafted a masterful tribute in Moon: A Brief History. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution By Eugene V. Koonin FT Press, $69.99, 516 pages Evolution is a heated topic in today’s classrooms, with many states mandating that they also teach Creationism, or emphasize that evolution is nothing more than a theory. In this book Eugene Koonin takes a look at biological evolution: evolution at a cellular level, a level that we can’t see with the naked eye, a level that is important for all life. In this highly technical work, Dr. Koonin follows the path of biological evolution from the days of Darwin through Modern Synthesis to the modern Genome Project, where they can actually look at an individual species’ genes and follow the path of said genes. The history of evolution is handled in two well written chapters; he has to spend time on this topic, but he does not want it to distract him from his larger goal. The majority of the book is split up by different types of organisms, viruses, and the search for the common ancestor, which sounds like a fool’s search. This book is not written for the lay person; it is written for scientists. It is meant to further the scientific debate. Dr. Koonin does a good job, and hope-
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Category Science & Nature
fully he will spark some debate within the scientific community. Reviewed by Kevin Winter Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World By Lisa Randall Ecco, $29.99, 442 pages Lisa Randall’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and Modern World is written in understandable terms. Randall deals with many modern concepts of physics and introduces them to the reader with ease. A preliminary background in science is given with a discussion of Galileo, his concepts, and theories. A brief history and discussion on molecules, as well as atomic theory is offered, up to the present day, which leads to a discussion in modern science and physics, specifically the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC is discussed in great length along with its hope to discover information on the origin of mass. Conflicting concepts of science versus religion are also briefly touched upon. Randall’s book is well-written and gives the reader a lot of information not only about science, but the scientist as well. There are several illustrations, which are useful tools to further explain difficult concepts. Randall proves her writing skill in aiming this book for the general reader, without losing the complexity of the concepts. Her knowledge offers the reader a glimpse of the future to see the potential of science, in particular physics. The book makes for an enlightening and exciting read. Reviewed by Jennifer Ochs
The Culture of Astronomy By Thomas Karl Dietrich Bascom Hill Publishing Group, $22.95, 459 pages Investigator Thomas Karl Dietrich tells the story of the roots of astronomy in The Culture of Astronomy, a book that is more about astrology than modern science. Isaac Newton, who was fascinated by the old cosmological cultural lore, was the bridge between those earlier times and modern astronomy. The field of old was filled with mysticism, religion, and philosophers. Dietrich excels in the telling of the tradition that was supplanted by the modern science of astronomy. Though The Culture of Astronomy would have been more accurately titled The Culture of Astrology, Dietrich would not have been likely to get his message across. Not everyone fully appreciates astrology; here, he argues that the fruits of astrology should not be discarded. For example, some of the ancient determinations of the length of the year and the size of celestial bodies were more accurate than we would have predicted. One however may get lost in the all the astronomical numbers and influences. The book does serve as an interesting exploration of the international interest in the astronomical. Some of the cultural stories are also from Western Society. All told, this book is a great victory for astrologers. Reviewed by Ryder Miller Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Strikingly True By Geoff Tibballs Ripley Publishing, $28.95, 254 pages Did you know that Hugo Chavez banned singing in the shower in Venezuela in order to conserve water? Or that Hoover Dam has its own police department? Or that a mud volcano in Indonesia spews enough mud daily to fill 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools? Or that, thanks to its nu-
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Category Science & Nature
merous moons, Jupiter can have multiple eclipses simultaneously? These are just a few of the dozens of bizarre factoids and true stories that populate Strikingly True, the eighth volume in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! collection. Dedicated to the weird and wonderful of the world, the Ripley’s collection revels in the bizarre, the unlikely, and occasionally, the grotesque. Like the Guinness Book of World Records with an attitude, Strikingly True offers brief features on artists who work in dead ants and body paint, a fire-eater who performs with molten lead, and stories that span the spectrum from the World’s Fair to escape artists, from peculiar household anecdotes to astonishing turns of luck. Populated with numerous photos -- many of which are designed to add a sense of grounding tangibility to unbelievable events and objects -- this book is a testament to a world that never ceases to surprise us. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build By Peter Goodfellow Princeton University Press, $27.95, 160 pages What do humans and birds have in common? We are both builders, and evidence of our work can be seen in any neighborhood (homes and nests). In his fascinating new book Avian Architecture, author and lifelong bird watcher Peter Goodfellow shares how birds design, engineer, and build their nests. This informative resource is accessible and reader friendly. Chapters are arranged by nest type (i.e. scrape, holes and tunnels, aquatic, mud, and hanging) and includes detailed architectural blueprints and descriptions on materials and methods. Readers will pore over the 300 gorgeous full-color illustrations and photography. More than 100 unique bird species worldwide are profiled. For example, the Australian Brush Turkey buries eggs
in a 5-foot deep mound of plant material, and the chicks take an entire day to dig out and never see their parents. Because they are so intriguing, Goodfellow includes a chapter on Bower birds. Bower males build a structure of bright materials to attract females, and includes vigorous dance movements and complex songs in the courtship ritual. Ornithologists, nature lovers, and fans of architecture will love learning about these amazing structures. Plan a bird watching trip to put your new knowledge to use and see how many types of nests you can discover. Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin
Are you a science & nature buff? Well, then, check out our VIEWPOINTS column called Currents In Science & Nature by D. Wayne Dworsky SanFranciscoBookReview.com
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A bi-monthly book review publication reviewing books from more than 30 different genres. In this issue, we feature a huge holiday gift guide...
Published on Dec 12, 2011
A bi-monthly book review publication reviewing books from more than 30 different genres. In this issue, we feature a huge holiday gift guide...