March 2011 VOLUME 2, ISSUE 5
NEW AND OF INTEREST
The First-Person Narrative Crisis
By Albert Riele Page 6
Life is a cake walk...make that an empanada walk
By Holly Scudero Page 11
Expanded Science Fiction & Fantasy Section Page 13
Prom and Prejudice
Fun and enjoyable ‘Pride and Prejudice’ adaptation Page 22
Hard sci-fi at its best By Jonathan Strahan, Editor Solaris, $7.99, 391 pages
Let’s not mince words here. Engineering Infinity is one of the best science-fiction collections to hit bookshelves in years, marrying hard sci-fi and big ideas with a whirlwind of talent and innovation. From time travel to world-building to body modification, each story is a universe unto itself, as complete as it is fascinating. Strahan gathers a Who’s Who of sci-fi trailblazers and envelope-pushers, including John C. Wright, Stephen Baxter, Charles Stross and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, to surpass readers’ expectations and deliver works
that stir the spirit and provoke the imagination. And he succeeds in stunning fashion with the dozen or so engaging stories in this collection. In Laika’s Ghost by Karl Schroeder, a mercenary is hired to protect a man on the run from both governments and Google after making a startling discovery about Mars. In Gregory Benford’s Mercies, a vigilante stalks time and space on a quest to prevent legendary murderers from plying their craft. And the collection wraps up with the genreSee Infinity, cont’d on page 9
The Disappearing Finish Line By Ellen Miester Page 25
I’d wrestle gators to read Karen Russell Page 28
122 Reviews INSIDE!
Art, Architecture & Photography The Wedding Dress By Oleg Cassini Rizzoli, $60, 304 pages Be sure to put on your best lace-trimmed, pearl-encrusted bib before opening this book! You won’t want to drool all over it! Oleg Cassini--one of the greatest names in fashion during the 20th century--has dressed some of the world’s most beautiful women in the last 70 years. This book is filled with photographs of all--or at least most of them. Many of the photographs are in color, but some of the black-and-white shots are even more stunning! This is a book for those who like glamour or style or ce lebr it y-watc h i ng or royalty-watching, but most especially FASHION. (Caps intentional there.) There are five main sections to the book. The Silhouette includes A-line, asymmetrical, one shoulder, Grecian, Empire, halter, illusion, romantic ruffles and finally, ribbons and bows. Under the heading “The Dress is an Envelope for the Body” is the mermaid, the sheath, the twin set, the corset, the knot, the bustle and the pick-up. (Don’t ask.) Following these are The Hemline, The Neckline and The Bold and the Beautiful. Of course, it’s only appropriate that there are several pages devoted to Mr. Cassini and his exotic history, but it’s also fair to note that not everything in this book is of his
creation. He’s amazingly generous to other designers’ past as well as present. But trust me on this -- most of all, this book is just simply flat-out gorgeous! Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz The Photographer’s Mind: How to See and Shoot Better Digital Photos By Michael Freeman Focal Press, $29.95, 192 pages At first glance, Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Mind is a treat simply for the gorgeous photographs which it contains. For anyone interested in photography, these photographs alone are worth the price of the book. A coffee table book, however, this is not. The photographs are only the beginning. The follow-up to the best-selling The Photographer’s Eye, this book is not a technical manual filled with f-stop and aperture settings to take great photographs. Instead, Freeman approaches photography and image composition as the art form that it can be. Organized under the headings of intent, style, and process, Freeman writes thought-provoking chapters discussing topics such as layers of subject, beauty, avoiding clich‚, balance, style, and motion. Freeman also thoughtfully includes web search boxes in many chapters, which contain the names of top See PHOTOGRAPHER’S, page 5
Publishing a newspaper
in aModern World
by heidi komlofske co-publisher of SBR & SFBR
Amongst the Technology This past weekend, I took my eldest daughter shopping for her birthday. We live in a relatively small town with really slim-pickins for “good shopping.” So off we went to the Big City. I remembered that they had an Apple store and said “Oh! Let’s go in there!” As usual, it was very crowded inside. You’d never know the economy was in a slump. Americans love their gadgets! What many do not know is that, even though we embrace the old and produce a printed publication, we also develop iPhone apps. Our first app was the Kids Book Review. And more non-book-related apps have followed since then. We’d have the ability to develop a iPad app if we had an iPad. We often drool over them, but have made the wise decision to wait until the coveted second generation iPad comes out this spring. But that doesn’t stop me from going to the Apple store like it’s church. Kneeling before the almighty iPad and saying the prayer “Please, God, let the next generation come out soon.” I set to work loading up our web pages to a few of the iPads in the store. It’s like a game to me. For quite some time now — probably too long — we’ve been chewing on the idea of knowing we need to offer the publications in eReader format. Kindle. Nook. Etc. See, it’s the “etc.” that has me bothered. What people don’t realize, first of all, is how much time it takes to lay
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out a printed publication. It’s like putting a puzzle together. Everything needs to fit. Everything needs to flow. So, after spending days laying out (now) three publications (San Francisco Book Review, Sacramento Book Review, and Portland Book Review), the last thing I want to do is start from scratch again and turn the publications into the various (and I do mean various eReader formats). Did you know that each eReader has its own requirements? We were invited to be in the beta program for Kindle publications. To be considered amongst the company of the New York Times is an honor. But I stare at the complicated set of instructions for converting your publication into the format they need, blink my tired eyes a few times, then close down the browser window. So, this brings me to technology. Technology can be great. But Ross often hears me say “I hate technology!” When you’re as heavily reliant on it as we, as developers of apps and producers of digital and printed newspapers, when something doesn’t work as it should, things come to a screaming halt while you troubleshoot the problem….or wait for them to fix their bug. It can be frustrating, to say the least. Companies are being shoved through the Technology Tube whether we like it or not. We are required to keep up with the Jones’. It’s keep up for die. That simple. However, keeping up is always a risk. It costs us money to keep up. Developing things for a multitude of platforms isn’t free. My time isn’t free, although I haven’t seen a paycheck in …. oh … I can’t even remember. Is there a Return on Investment for keeping up? This is such a new playing field that nobody really knows. Back in the Apple store last weekend, after I finished loading our websites onto the various demo iPads against one wall, I turned around to find this older man hunkered down at a table smack-dab in the center front of the store. Here, amongst all of the cool gadgets and computers sat this man with a small pile of books, contently reading. It made me realize that maybe technology ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
T hou s a nd s of b o ok re v ie w s at S a n Fr a nc i s coB o ok R e v ie w.com
Book Review 1776 Productions. LLC 1215 K Street, 17th Floor Sacramento, CA 95814 Ph. 877.913.1776 firstname.lastname@example.org EDITOR IN CHIEF Ross Rojek email@example.com GRAPHIC DESIGN/LAYOUT Heidi Komlofske firstname.lastname@example.org Rowena Manisay COPY EDITORS Megan Just Lori Miller Megan Roberts Sky Sanchez-Fischer COLUMN EDITOR Joseph Arellano EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Jen LeBrun Mary Komlofske WEBSITE/SOCIAL NETWORKING/ APP DEVELOPMENT Ariel Berg Robyn Oxborrow DISTRIBUTION Reliable Distribution Mari Ozawa MEDIA SALES email@example.com
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 © 2010, 1776 Productions, LLC.
Subscriptions Send $18.00 for 12 monthly issues to 1776 Productions, 1215 K Street, 17th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814.
IN THIS ISSUE Art, Architecture & Photography................... 2 Amongst the Technology................................ 2 Children’s....................................................... 4 The First-Person Narrative Crisis................... 6 Biographies & Memoirs.................................. 7 History........................................................... 9 Poetry & Short Stories.................................... 9 Cooking, Food & Wine.................................. 10 Life is a cake walk...make that an empanada walk......................................... 11 Expanded Science Fiction & Fantasy............ 13 Recipe for SOULPANCAKE = Equal parts of creativity and wit with a dash of mysticism..................................... 18 Popular Fiction............................................. 19 Romance....................................................... 20 Young Adult.................................................. 22 The Disappearing Finish Line....................... 25 Mystery, Crime & Thrillers........................... 26 Modern Literature........................................ 28 Relationships & Sex..................................... 28 Science & Nature.......................................... 29 Self-Help....................................................... 29 Historical Fiction.......................................... 30 Reference...................................................... 30 Spirituality & Inspiration............................. 31 Religion........................................................ 31 Music & Movies............................................. 31 Home & Garden............................................ 32 Health, Fitness & Dieting............................. 32 Sports & Outdoors........................................ 32
FROM THE EDITOR Well, spring is supposed to be in the air, but in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ve gotten more rain and fog than we care to remember in past years. We’re just itching to post oodles of gardening books...taunting Mother Nature to “Let the Sunshine In.” But, alas, those books will wait until the April issue. In this issue, we give you our annual expanded Science Fiction & Fantasy insert. A couple weeks ago, we ran ten straight days of great Science Fiction & Fantasy books on our website, which quickly leaped to the No. 1 most-read posts. We’ve done something different in this issue, you’ll see. Heidi got tired of laying out page after page of reviews, so she incorporated more articles, which we will start carrying forward in future issues. Each week on our website, you’ll see various columns written by published authors (The Back Page), one written by several of our book reviewers (The Critical Eye), and Holly’s Culinary Nirvana, a column devoted to cooking. Sprinkled in every once in awhile is Heidi’s column called Publishing a Newspaper in a Modern World. We’ve also been running “themed” book recommendations. For Valentine’s Day, we ran a 14-day countdown called Great Reads to Celebrate Love. Coming up will be recommended gardening books. You’ll find this issue to be more interactive than past issues, as we incorporate more hyperlinks into the digital version. Look for blue blocks, indicating that the text is hyperlinked to something for you online. Coming soon will be versions of the publication for various eReaders. Also in March, we launched the first print publication of Portland Book Review, which is licensed from us by Imagine Enterprises. You can catch their digital issue at portlandbookreview.com. We’ll be gearing up soon for our May issue that celebrates Children’s Book Week. This is Heidi’s favorite issue of the year. We work with several Bay Area elementary schools and let the kids learn how to write book reviews. It’s a whole expanded section devoted to their reviews -- and it’s such a fun read! Until next time, Heidi & Ross
Children’s Pretty Penny Sets Up Shop By Devon Kinch Random House Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 32 pages Pretty Penny Sets Up Shop caught my eye right away with illustrations that are as creative as they are distinctive. The story is interesting and somewhat unique. Pretty Penny wants to have a surprise birthday party for her grandmother, but has no money to get anything for the party. Asking Grandmother for the money out right would spoil the surprise. Pretty Penny is a little girl with big ideas, and as in the first two books of the series, she comes up with another big idea, this time to open a “Small Mall” tag sale in her grandmother’s attic. All in all, it’s one very cute story coupled with magnificent art. If your child is the type that wants to have books read to him or her again and again, you won’t mind because it’s fun to read Pretty Penny Sets Up Shop and enjoy the art. The more you look at the art, the more details you’ll discover. My recommendation is to buy it for your children or grandchildren, but take the time to enjoy it yourself, whenever you have a few spare minutes, it’ll make you feel great. Reviewed by Dave Broughton
A Dazzling Display of Dogs By Betsy Franco with illustration by Michael Wertz Tricycle Press, $16.99, 40 pages A Dazzling Display of Dogs is a collection of thirty-four hilarious poems about dogs and the things they do: chasing, farting, eating, barking, sniffing, walking, escaping, and more. Each brief poem is contained on one page and accompanied by the perfect (or is it perfectly odd?) illustration. The fun of this book is it looks at the usual through different eyes. Instead of a poem about a dog on a walk, there’s a poem about a senior dog teetering around the block. Instead a poem about a dog playing fetch, there’s a love poem from a dog to his tennis ball. Even colors are unexpected. Dogs are blue, red, orange. The best part is that this isn’t a book to just be read. This is a book to be experienced. The words are part of the illustrations: marching down sidewalk, perching on a dog’s nose, decorating bedspreads, moving in circles. To appreciate these poems you’ll find yourself twirling the book this way and that. The movement becomes part of the reading experience. Even a reader who isn’t a poetry fan will find they are captured by this unusual reading experience. Reviewed by Jodi Webb
I’m Not. By Pam Smallcomb with illustraton by Robert Weinstock Schwartz & Wade, $15.99, 32 pages Evelyn, a spritely, green crocodile, lives her life to the fullest. She’s up on the latest fashions, is full of exciting stories, creates exuberant art, and excels at imaginative games in which she’s always the hero: the Queen of England, a successful Arctic explorer, an amazing circus performer. For the narrator — Evelyn’s quiet, shy best friend — Evelyn can be hard to keep up with. And though the narrator admires Evelyn’s many talents, her relentless energy leaves the narrator feeling discouraged about her own perceived lack of verve. However, Evelyn doesn’t take her best friend for granted, and she helps the narrator identify her own unique gifts that make her not only an excellent friend but also an amazing little crocodile. The illustrations in I’m Not. are as exuberant as Evelyn herself, with lots of tiny extras that attentive readers will enjoy discovering. And though the narrator seems hopelessly plain at the beginning of the book, the book skillfully shows that even quiet friends are filled with fun—sometimes it just takes a little kindness to bring it out. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell
Superman Classic: Superman versus Mongul By Michael Teitelbaum, Inc. Mada Design, Illustrator HarperCollins, $3.99, 32 pages In Superman versus Mongul, the Man of Steel battles Mongul, a villain from space. Mongul is determined to take over the planet until Superman (a.k.a. Clark Kent) sends him and his alien ship back into space. “Superman ran faster and faster. The Man of Steel created a powerful cyclone. The whirling funnel of wind picked Mongul up off the ground.” Superman versus Mongul is a Level 2 Reader that eases beginning readers into the story with two pages listing the six main characters and a sentence about each of them. This cast of characters serves as an effective “practice page” for beginning readers to become familiar with words they’ll be seeing throughout the book. Although for the most part the book’s vocabulary is simple, it does introduce some unfamiliar words: “cyclone,” “funnel,” “cosmic” to challenge young readers. Also, the book is complex enough to hold the reader’s See SUPERMAN, page 5
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SUPERMAN, con’t from page 4 interest. There isn’t any word pattern or repetition, and the basic plot (Superman tries to send Mongul back to space) includes a few unpredictable additions such as a falling building and a battle in space. This book seems a good balance for achieving reading success without frustrating the young reader and without being too simplistic. Reviewed by Jodi Webb Painter and Ugly By Robert J. Blake Philomel, $16.99, 48 pages Painter and Ugly is a tale of friendship: best friends who happen to be sled dogs placed on separate teams in Alaska’s Junior Iditarod. One line says it best, “Painter was surrounded by dogs, but he felt alone.” Each dog does what he was trained to do, but even as they race through the snowy woods they still search for each other. When they finally do find each other what will happen? Will they sabotage their teams trying to be together? Will they stay with their new team? Will they somehow get on the same team? Everyone has known a friendship like that of Painter and Ugly. But the twist of showing friendship through the eyes of sled dogs adds so much to the book’s appeal. In addition to being a jumping off point for conversations about friendship, adults and children can also talk about Alaska, races, dogs, even distances. My son was especially interested in the distance of 80 miles (the length of the race). The emotional illustrations could tell the tale without words. They capture the action so effectively, you feel as if the dogs will run right into your lap. Reviewed by Jodi Webb Flappy and Scrappy By Arthur Yorinks with illustration by Aleksey Ivanov and Olga Ivanov HarperCollins Children’s, $3.99, 48 pages The dogs Flappy and Scrappy are best friends, but even best friends have misunderstandings. Emotions run high and friendship is tested, when the dogs encounter difficult situations. In Flappy and Scrappy, there are three different stories, which can be read together or independently. In the first story, Flappy gets upset because all the animals are speaking with their mouths full, and instead of saying hello, it sounds as if they are offending him. In the second story, Flappy wants to play ball, but Scrappy is not in the mood. The last story is about Scrappy’s sadness, when no one wishes him a happy
birthday. In the end, his friends are waiting to surprise him, and friendship prevails. Flappy and Scrappy is an I Can Read book category 2, and it is perfect for students in grades 1 and 2. The rhyming words are mostly short, there is lots of repetition, and it is a book that both boys and girls will enjoy. This easy reader is a cute, easy-tounderstand book that uses dogs to touch on topics of friendships, emotions, and good manners. The sentences are simple, and the vocabulary is very basic for developing readers. Reviewed by J Rodney The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale By Ying Chang Compestine; Sebastia Serra, Illustrator Dutton Juvenile, $16.99, 32 pages On the eve of the Chinese New Year, the Zhangs worry about having enough provisions for the celebration. Papa Zhang works for Mr. Li, the wealthiest man in Beijing, and questions his employer’s stinginess. Mama Zhang gathers eggs and sends son Ming to exchange the eggs for rice. Instead, an old man approaches Ming and offers to trade a rusty wok for the eggs. Ming says no, until the wok begins singing. Upon returning home, Ming’s parents are unhappy with the trade, but Mama scrubs away the rust and hears the wok sing. Suddenly, the wok bounces outside and ventures to the Li residence, and returns with food, gifts, and gold. Will the Li family share politely and learn a valuable lesson? The story is beautifully illustrated by Sebastia Serra. Vivid, bright images show detailed examples of preparing for the New Year celebration. Splashes of color draw attention and are sure to delight readers. Ying Chang Compestine shares a smart folktale that will keep young readers interested. While the opening pages of the story reminded me of Jack and the Beanstalk, the rest of the storyline examines themes of sharing, greediness, and treating others with respect. Reviewed by LuAnn Schindler Mischief in the Forest: A Yarn Yarn By Derrick Jensen PM Press, $14.95, 40 pages Derrick Jensen, described as an author, teacher, and the philosopher poet of the ecological movement, has written a children’s book. In Mischief in the Forest: A Yarn Yarn, we meet Grandma Johnson who is happy living in the forest by herself and knitting for her grandchildren who live in the city. She is a bit lonely, so she goes to the city to visit her grandchildren. On her return, however, she discov-
ers that her yarn has been strung throughout the forest by the animals that live around her. Having met her animal neighbors, Grandma Johnson no longer feels lonely. Moreover, her grandchildren seek out their neighbor animals in the city after visiting their grandmother and her friends. I think the story is a bit simplistic for children. The plot makes leaps children will question. For example, why does Johnson store her yarn in a shed? The story also needs more detail. For example, forest animals are depicted in the illustrations frolicking with the characters, but not one is specifically mentioned in text. That said, I love the premise, and I believe the book has an important message. Even when we think we are alone, we are not. We are surrounded by other creatures that share our space. Reviewed by Annie Peters Destiny’s Purpose: A Young Alpaca Living with Alopecia By Shannon Cassidy-Rouleau, Illustrated by Dennis Auth Big Tent Books / Castlebridge Books, $19.95, 32 pages Reading Destiny’s Purpose is like reading a comforting novel. The words are almost poetic, the pace leisurely. The book takes the reader on a journey they’re sure to enjoy. Born into a long line of show winners on an alpaca farm in Ontario, the new alpaca appears strong and healthy—destined for greatness, so he is named Destiny. We follow Destiny through the seasons of the year. We are introduced to “pronking,” when alpacas move with a stiff-legged bounce into the air, all four feet leaving the ground together and returning to the ground together, and a “kush” a resting position wherein the alpaca’s legs are folded under it. Then one morning, something is wrong. When the farmer opens the barn, Destiny is lying on the ground, shivers rippling across his body. The vet informs the family that he has “alopecia,” a disease where the immune system is confused and causes hair to fall out. In the days to come, the alpacas warn Destiny to stay away, and Destiny becomes an outcast. “Illuminated by the moon, three sinister figures took shape: glowing eyes, gleaming teeth, guttural snarls — ” Several months later, a storm knocks down a tree that damages the fence protecting the alpacas from dangerous predators. Late that night, the alpacas sense something is wrong. “Illuminated by the moon, three sinister figures took shape: glowing eyes, gleaming teeth, guttural snarls—.” In
a suspense-filled turn of events, the farm is forever changed, and Destiny finds his unique and surprising purpose. Author Shannon Cassidy-Rouleau has created a wonderful story that gently deals with alopecia, a little known disease where people lose their hair. Yet the story is not “about” alopecia; it is about Destiny and how by being himself, he discovers his purpose. Any child who has ever felt like an outcast will relate to Destiny’s story and will be surprised how things can change when one does what comes naturally. Sponsored Review Where Did Dinosaurs Come From? By Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld with illustration by Lucia Washburn Collins, $16.99, 37 pages As a parent, one of the most surprising discoveries for me has been how much children can understand when given the opportunity. Time again, I thought some book or exhibit was beyond my sons’ comprehension, only to find they took away more than I expected and built on that with repeated exposure. For that reason, I like Where Did Dinosaurs Come From? Part of the Let’s-ReadAnd-Find-Out series, this book is designed for children ages five to nine to “explore more challenging concepts.” With surprising detail, author Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld begins 3.5 billion years ago and summarizes evolution from one-celled, blue-green bacteria through the end of the Cretaceous period when all dinosaurs were extinct. Lucia Washburn provides numerous, colorful illustrations of creatures labeled with their names from each period and diagrams that make some concepts easier to understand. Truthfully, I was not exposed to some of the concepts in this book until I was in college, and I doubt many five year olds will completely comprehend this book on the first reading. However, the illustrations alone will provide a treat for any child interested in dinosaurs. Furthermore, with repeated readings over time, this book will provide a wonderful introduction to evolutionary history. Reviewed by Annie Peters
PHOTOGRAPHERS, con’t from page 2 photographers or images for further study. Freeman has created a wonderful book to which I will continue to return, both for the beauty of the photographs contained therein and for the inspiration and direction to take my photography to a new artistic level. Reviewed by Annie Peters
R e a d T H E B A C K PAG E b y p u b l i s h e d a u t h o r s a t 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
By Albert Riehle Professional Book Reviewer
For more than a year now, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing books for both the Sacramento Book Review and the San Francisco Book Review, and as is the case with book reviews, the subject has been newly released books. While I’ve always tried to pay attention to newly released literature prior to doing these reviews, I often skipped around, reading classics and recommendations from others mixed in with anything new I might find.
it, I’m sure) was beautiful, smart, funny, tougher than the guys, wanted by everyone, admired by all, and the perfect woman. This writer was so busy trying to convince her audience of the character’s divinity that she completely forgot to include a plot or a single other character in the book who was more than one-dimensional. It was like the book itself was background on a stage somewhere, meant only to add color to solitary performer giving a soliloquy.
Reading almost all new releases now, I’ve begun to notice quite a few of the trends in the publishing industry…some good and some bad. The most obvious ones, however, are the bad trends, and perhaps the absolute worst trend of them all seems to be one of the most prevalent.
It was the worst of all of these self-indulgent personal fantasies I’ve read to date, and the sad part is that the writer has already written two follow-up books. It’s going to be a series! But that shouldn’t surprise me. The very first book I reviewed for the papers was about a chubby guy who worked as an accountant and became the greatest monster hunter of all time—and, of course, got the girl as well. The next book in that series is due out any time. At least this particular author thought to include a little plot along with the self-glorification of his alter-ego.
I’m speaking of the rash of first-person narratives where the main character is a very thinly veiled view of what the author wishes he or she could be. These writers create characters that are practically superhero in nature. Oh, they have flaws, of course, but they are the kind of flaws you might tell a prospective interviewer in a job interview. “I work too hard!” “I’m too conscientious.” “Dammit, I just care too much!” Aside from those “weaknesses,” the character is virtually without blemish. They are almost never the supermodel type or the movie hunk, because the writer cannot make that connection to themselves, honestly. Instead, they are the kind of average that seemingly no person of the opposite sex can resist. Sure, he’s got a beer belly, but the most beautiful woman in every room is somehow drawn to him like a moth to a flame. No, you won’t find her in the pages of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, but every man wants her and every woman wants to be like her. Novel after novel comes out reading like bad fan fiction and, instead of slowing down, it seems to be gaining momentum. This can only mean one thing: You people are buying it! There’s always been a place in the world for trashy literature. There’s nothing wrong with it. We all have our guilty pleasure reads, but at least there used to be some standards involved in even trash lit. No more! I recently reviewed a book where it seemed like not a single page went by where the author didn’t remind us that her main character (who is not her, she’ll swear to
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Just like the Twilight saga made frumpy girls cool, these books, one after another, relentlessly expose us to characters whose flaws are actually good qualities that most people aren’t bright enough to see. Those picked last for dodge ball in gym class and those who didn’t get asked to prom are armed with keyboards, no talent, and something to prove–and the results are these stories where the characters have no arc and the plot exists only to serve the glorification of the main character. And it’s only getting worse. More talented writers are being skipped over to fuel this trend where hacks with issues get published. I say enough! If you want to work your issues out, then find a shrink and pay by the hour like the rest of us. Don’t subject me to your delusions of grandeur. Shame on the publishers for putting this crap out there, and shame on you, most of all, for continuing to read it. As long as copies keep flying off the shelves, they’ll keep printing more and more of this compost. It’s time to stand up to these sad people. Demand multiple characters with depth and arc throughout the story. Demand a plot that serves more than as scenery for the writer’s self-glorification. Demand some quality in your books–even the trashy ones. If you don’t, soon enough, self-indulgent, self-serving books like these that exist to build the writer’s self-esteem will be all that’s left to read. I’m not exaggerating. With each month, more and more of these books hit the shelves and they will continue to do so until you say no.
ABOUT ALBERT RIEHLE
Albert Riehle consented to step away from the blogosphere and write book reviews for us, but feels badly about using his powers for evil instead of good. Wracked with guilt over becoming a critic, he often cries himself to sleep at night wondering what his heroes Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi would think of him for joining the Dark Side. Only the fact that his opinions about books (and everything else for that matter) are always right give him any comfort. When he’s not reading and reviewing, Albert is usually found working as a Sales & Marketing Manager. He enjoys long, romantic walks on the beach, but not as much as he loves short, spiteful sprints on the water. His beloved hometown Chicago Cubs have broken his heart 35 times and counting. Albert has broken far fewer television sets after learning to surround himself with soft, squishy items when the Cubs game is on so that when he throws them, he does less damage. Most of his blogs are like Fight Club; the first rule is that you can’t talk about them— or where to find them—but he occasionally remembers to update his flagship blog at http://albertriehle.blogspot.com. Finally, he’d like you to know that no animals were harmed in the writing of this bio, but if a spider had wandered across the screen, he probably would have gone medieval on its ass.
V i e w p o i n t s
The First-Person Narrative Crisis
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Biographies & Memoirs Gerrit Rietveld By Ida van Zijl Phaidon Press, $75, 239 pages Gerrit Rietveld is one of the top Dutch furniture designers and architects of the 20th Century. Little is known of this architect and designer outside of the Netherlands. This is the first real monograph of his life and work. His work has helped inspire furniture designers and architects to this day. He was one of the first to sell furniture that could be assembled by individuals and both modern and inexpensive; like the famous Red and Blue chair, and the Schroder House. He was a man with a vision, a rare combination of interior design and architecture. With such a rich vein of material to explore and new ground to cover this book does not do justice to Gerrit Rietveld. The writing is off; we get no idea of the character of Rietveld, unclear as to what made him tick. The chapters are a mess; leaving one to wonder ‘are they thematic or chronological?’ it jumps around. While the pictures of all his works are nice the way they are spaced makes this a hard read. They split up the text, and disrupt the flow of reading with several pages of pictures between pages of text. For such a great designer and architect, this is an unworthy book. Reviewed by Kevin Winter I Love a Broad Margin to My Life By Maxine Hong Kingston Knopf, $24.95, 229 pages Hong Kingston’s book is a brilliantly penned memoir written in a fluid, narrative poetry genre. She has perfected “turning a phrase” into a campaign all its own, while toting Thoreau and Whitman as running mates. The author reflects on turning 65, takes us on an extended journey into self, and eventually onto China, all while sojourning scenes from earlier transmigrations. The manuscript is not only a memoir, but also the author’s own liberal sentiments in poesy form. Kingston’s belief in reincarnation and her respect for those who do not share her views, keeps the reader on their toes. She shares cultural experiences with a primal pentameter that may equal or surpass anything her readers have ever experienced; telling stories that are gritty, simplistic and energetic all in one breathe. Those unfamiliar with the author’s previous work may find in the style a tiresome promenade. The spontaneous rants include
cultural phonemes and characters created in previous writings. However, the book’s layout is clean and minimally stylized. The ragged paper edge gives the hardback the feel of a collectible, an excellent gift for Kingston fans and poetry lovers. Reviewed by Sheli Ellsworth The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale By Susan Maushart Tarcher, $16.95, 288 pages You may have 300 friends on Facebook and 423 followers on Twitter, but when was the last time you actually sat down to dinner with your kids and had a real conversation? Would the world stop spinning if you couldn’t watch hulu? These are just some of the questions that Maushart wanted to answer when she and her three children started their experiment. Not only does she share her family’s reactions, she did an incredible amount of research into just how being connected in one way or another at all times has changed society as a whole. “Like many other parents, I’d noticed that the more we seemed to communicate as individuals, the less we seemed to cohere as a family.” I can just imagine what my family would say if I told them that we were going “screenless” for six months. Maushart and her family seemed to take it in stride. They actually exceed her expectations. Interspersed with the humorous experiences, she includes statistics and studies that address multitasking, family communication, student grades, and more, which makes what could be a very dry book entertaining and completely readable. If you have ever thought about throwing out your TV, canceling your Internet service, or doing without that data plan on your phone, The Winter of Our Disconnect is for you. If you are tired of finding your kids glued to their laptops and updating their status while they are busy ignoring you, grab it before it is too late. Reviewed by Gwen Stackler
Arthur Penn: American Director By Nat Segaloff The University Press of Kentucky, $35.00, 304 pages The history of entertainment is one where different eras run into each other. Arthur Penn: American Director is an interesting exploration of one director’s ability to master and shape a series of them, and allowing the industry as a whole to find its way. Penn is one of those rare people that managed to luck into an influential role, and found ways to help the industry to keep advancing. His virtual inability to back down as well as interest in trying new things has made him someone to look at. His career should be studied by any aspiring director. This is not the usual biography. The writer definitely has a feel for the subject, and it has the feel of a conversation where the reader has been allowed to listen in, even with the occasional wink towards the reader. Unlike other book’s notes, the notes in this volume are actually somewhat fun, adding information where it feels appropriate but not slowing the pace of the main narrative. Penn comes across as a living person with a full life. This book is a great read, and should be on the shelf of anyone who is even thinking about a career in movies. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim One Bird’s Choice: A Year in the Life of an Overeducated, Underemployed Twenty-Something Who Moves Back Home By Iain Reid House of Anansi Press, $24.95, 246 pages For the last decade, more and more college graduates are facing the decision of moving back home due to a declining job market. These graduates, and others, will feel a connection to Iain Reid’s story as he recounts his decision to move back to his childhood home on his parent’s farm. One Bird’s Choice is an entertaining novel that will keep readers engaged and laughing. Reid’s writing is both memorable and humbling. His is able to stay light-hearted throughout his story as he struggles to keep his part-time job at a radio station while getting used to his parents and their interesting farm animals. His parents will have many readers remember how it feels to get along with their own par-
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ents after being away for several months or years. We can’t help but feel irked as his parents kindly ask for his help, but also amused at their odd conversations. Their many different farm animals often steal the show as Reid highlights their distinct personalities in his story, and often feels as if they mock him. Reader will be glad they have read this book. One Bird’s Choice is something each generation can relate to, and also begin to try to understand the hard decisions facing the younger generations. Reviewed by Robyn Oxborrow The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life By Natalie McNeal Harlequin, $14.95, 192 pages Natalie McNeal was a self-described “promiscuous spender.” She overindulged in take-out, manicures, and shopping sprees. Not-so-suddenly, Natalie found herself more than $20,000 in debt, despite her decent salary and cushy lifestyle. So Natalie decided to do something about it: she started a blog—the popular TheFrugalista.com—and used it to come clean about her predicament. She blogged regularly about how she got into this mess to begin with, what she planned to do to get out of it, and her successes and failures adhering to her new lifestyle. As I read The Frugalista Files I couldn’t help thinking it was the book I’d always wanted Carrie Bradshaw to write on Sex and the City, the show that has undoubtedly created more unwilling Frugalistas than any other. In a culture that encourages overconsumption, it’s telling that even the former fashionistas still feel the need to be -istas of some sort. That said, as our country stumbles through the hangover that is the recession and its aftermath, McNeal’s message is appreciated. It might come across as a tad shallow at times, but McNeal writes with honesty, humor, and a lot of heart that make up for any Bradshawesque tendencies toward superficiality. Reviewed by Amanda Mitchell How I Planned Your Wedding By Susan and Elizabeth Wiggs Harlequin, $21.95, 213 pages The Perfect Wedding— does it exist? According to the Wiggs’ women it can— as long as you and your fiancée both agree on what constitutes perfect. In How I Planned Your Wedding, romance novelist Susan Wiggs and her daughter Elizabeth give a See WEDDING, page 8
WEDDING, con’t from page 7 rambunctious account of their sometimes unconventional, often creative and alternately hilarious and touching journey through the minefield of wedding planning. Considering the way this book was marketed, I expected knock-down, drag-out scenes between mother and daughter over everything from invitations to venues to dresses. So I was frankly surprised when the reality-TV moments were limited to the menu (you want to serve your guests breakfast as dinner?!?!) and the selection of bridesmaids (but surely all your cousins will be in your wedding party!!) In fact, in the alternate-point-of-view format that mom and daughter use for their book, there are whole chapters where Elizabeth steers the narrative and you don’t even hear from Mom. But far from a screeching harpy showdown, the Wiggs’ women deftly provide some astoundingly insightful revelations into the true meaning of what a wedding is really all about. A great story with suggestions and cheat sheets in each chapter make this wedding planning book gold! Reviewed by Heather Ortiz Everything I Never Wanted to Be: A memoir of alcoholism and addiction, faith and family, hope and humor By Dina Kucera Dream of Things, $14.95, 201 pages Both a situation comedy and a family tragedy, the author of this drug abuse memoir has done a laudable job. This life is really a hellish one, but like many reality shows featuring poor white folk, it is so absolutely over the top that it makes readers laugh out loud and thank God it is not them. The author/narrator, Dina, is a checker in a grocery store. Her mother, who has advanced Parkinson’s disease, and her grandson who has cerebral palsy, live with her. So does her oft-unemployed husband and his always-unemployed identical twin. It gets better. “This book was originally what people would call a ‘memoir.’ But because I’m a stand-up comic, it became something else. It’ a book about true things that have happened, written by a comic — and everyone knows comics are completely full of shit.” Pivotal to the story is the fact that her youngest daughter, Carly, became an OxyContin and heroin addict at age 14. In fact, all three of Dina’s daughters are addicts of either alcohol or drugs, and one of them an-
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nounced she was a lesbian after her husband went to prison for donning a ski mask and robbing a convenience store while high on crack. Dina herself struggles to remain off alcohol and pills. The author has successfully navigated a challenging task: integrating observation and exposition, her youngest daughter’s journal entries, remembered dreams, memories from her childhood, and her earlier years as a parent, and created a narrative tale with well-wrought scenes that are at times heartbreaking and at other times hysterical. Sometimes both. She has created multi-dimensional characters too, primarily through her convincing and very funny dialogue. She passes on some wisdom in this book, which about mid-way through takes a spiritual turn, including “Life happens even when we’re not in the mood for it.” And, “Bloom where you’re planted, unless you’ve been planted on a shit farm. Then you should repot and bloom in a better area.” I enjoyed this, and will recommend it to friends. Sponsored Review The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe By Gayle Tzemach Harper, $24.99, 288 pages When author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon traveled to Afghanistan in 2005 to research women entrepreneurs, she met Kamela Sediqi, who had clandestinely built a thriving business as a dressmaker while evading the Taliban’s watchful eye. With a business that grew to employ a hundred local women, Sediqi was forced to use her ingenuity to stay under the radar — and protect both her family and herself. The Afghanistan portrayed here involves much more than just burkas and Bin Laden, and Tzemach Lemmon paints an evocative portrait of a country whose portrayal in the U.S. news often fails to include the many struggling, heroic citizens trying to make it from day to day. Told in an engaging narrative style, Dressmaker takes readers deep into what would otherwise be a world closed off to outsiders. Tzemach Lemmon uses her skills as a both a journalist and a successful MBA to win her subjects’ trust and get to the truth of the story — even though she arrives in Afghanistan with no contacts and little knowledge of the country. She often pursues the tale at great personal risk. A mesmerizing read for fans of current events, entrepreneurial success stories, and women’s rights. Reviewed by Margo Orlando Littell
Finding Aster: An Ethiopian Adoption Story By Dina McQueen Inkwater Press, $18.95, 219 pages The path to parenthood is not set in stone. For people deciding to start a family, there are so many options, especially with today’s advanced scientific approaches. In Finding Aster: an Ethiopian Adoption Story, Dina McQueen bravely and beautifully describes the factors that helped shape her choice to adopt. McQueen’s choice to adopt was largely influenced by infertility issues, and the story is a helpful resource for people in similar situations. But her story is so universal that this is a must-read for those starting out on the path to parenthood. McQueen’s main hope is that potential parents commit to having discussions about making a baby and that those conversations include adoption as a viable way to create a family. She argues adoption need not be the last resort. Throughout the book, McQueen reflects on the international adoption process with an analytical eye and raises points that only someone who has been through the process could share. It proves to be an invaluable analysis of the adoption system. McQueen’s suggestions and questions are ones that all potential parents should consider. Most moving are the details of how baby Aster found her forever home. Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin The Quotable Chesterton: The Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton By Kevin Belmonte Thomas Nelson, $15.99, 322 pages The brilliant British writer G.K. Chesterton had a lot to say about everything. From 1895 until his death in 1936, he penned thousands of essays as well as major works of literary criticism, apologetics, fiction, and more. Author Kevin Belmonte has compiled 870 quotations into The Quotable Chesterton: The Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton. “Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.”
Belmonte’s recent biographical work, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton, which contains more detail about Chesterton’s life and writing. Chesterton was a “master of paradox,” and the anthology is filled with examples, such as this passage regarding politics: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” Some quotations may seem obscure to the modern reader, but most are timeless in their message; as a whole they are a blend of humor, truth, and beauty. Read and be surprised Reviewed by Diana Irvine Walking Wisdom: Three Generations, Two Dogs, and the Search for a Happy Life By Gotham Chopra and Deepak Chopra Hyperion, $24.99, 254 pages Haven’t we all longed for the simplicity of a dog’s life at one time or another? After all, dogs really have it “tough” with cushy beds, ear scratches and belly rubs, and walks and playtime. Oh, and don’t forget sleep -- lots and lots of time for sleep. Together, authors Gotham Chopra and his father, best-selling author/guru Deepak Chopra, have written a wonderful book, Walking Wisdom – Three Generations, Two Dogs and the Search For a Happy Life. Drawn from conversations and shared events, father and son, and grandson (the third generation) spend time with the family pets, and insight draws them to share their observations about dogs and ways we can learn from them. Gotham and Deepak find that dogs have soulful wisdom and deeply spiritual qualities. Who knew? Honestly, I never quite saw that in any of the dogs my family had when I was a child. Then again, my father wasn’t a world renowned spiritualist finding enlightenment beyond the basic vessels where we usually find it. Walking Wisdom is a great read. Deepak offers the deeper realization/perspective on the traits man’s best friend possesses, and Gotham adds the banter of father/son conversations. The result is an interesting, often humorous, offering that can give us all hope for a simpler life; at least to aspire to it, whatever form our walks, belly rubs and ear scratches might take, to find the happiness dogs inherently possess. This book might make your tail wag. Reviewed by Laura Friedkin
Structured alphabetically by topic and sprinkled with biographical essays about Chesterton, the compilation is a good companion to
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History American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt By Daniel Rasmussen Harper, $26.99, 288 pages In 1811, a group of between 200 and 500 slaves revolted in the plantations surrounding New Orleans. Many of the men wore military uniforms and all were armed as they marched toward the city. Yet, most of us have never heard of them, even in our high school American History classes. Rasmussen tells the story of the revolt, with scant available material, in a narrative way that glues you to his words, unable to put the book down. The era, the planters, the plight of slavery, comes alive in a thrilling way. Then, Rasmussen goes on to attempt to pinpoint why it is never mentioned and became a forgotten revolt, and why the names of Kook, Quamana, Harry Kenner, and Charles Deslondes are foreign to us. Unfortunately, the reasons that he comes up with for me aren’t reason enough and this is where American Uprising fell off of the tracks. Maybe that is the point. There are no excuses for us not knowing the history of our country, all of it. Not just the glory days, but the days where we lost our way, made bad decisions, didn?t stand above the wrongs of all people instead of just the wrongs of the whites. That makes this book
important. If we can’t look back at everything, how can we, as a country, take the next step forward? Reviewed by Gwen Stackler The Nine Pillars of History: An Anthropological Review of History, Five Religions, Sexuality and Modern Economics, All as a Guide for Peace By Gunnar Sevelius AuthorHouse, $22.00.99, 332 pages History is filled with horrors. There are events like the Holocaust, the Nanking Massacre, and the death of every solider fighting for an ideal. Because we, as a society, know how these repugnant events can come about, wouldn’t it be great to know the opposite? Dr. Gunnar Sevelius has pondered the same thing and has come up with his answer to that question. In The Nine Pillars of History, the entirety of human history is discussed frankly and honestly. Never has a book been this bold, and still be genuine, to history. When a society heeds to these nine pillars, there is growth, happiness, and health. Much like how Germany and Japan, after World War II, became leads in the world economy, and the public’s lives improved. These pillars have also been with us since the hunter/gatherer days. Art has al-
ways been found in human history, and it is one of the most intriguing pillars. The book is delivered as a nonpartisan, nonreligious, and non-opinionated outlook on human history and its success. The book is also presented without an authoritarian narrative and feels more like a story than a lecture. That can be appealing, because the book is talking to you, and not at you. Along with that, each section is divided into numbers for easy referencing. For example, The Declaration of Independence is from Sections 627 to 659, and I can see people sitting around discussing Section 848 for years to come. I had to read the book twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything, because of the amount of information. Every time you read this book, something new and wonderful will pop out at you. The book covers a wide range of topics that will make everyone, from economic enthusiast to history buffs, squeal with delight. Sponsored Interview The Vintage Book of American Women Writers By Elaine Showalter Vintage, $18.95, 848 pages After writing A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, Princeton professor Showalter offers a companion anthology, making available works by important American women writers from 1650 to the present. The founding mothers of American literature were more likely to avoid publicity, as most women did until recently. Hoping
Poetry & Short Stories
Body Rhymes By Donna L. Emerson Finishing Line Press, $14.00, 30 pages When your eyes flicker across the last line of a particularly satisfying poem, one of two reactions is virtually guaranteed. Either you will instantly go back to the first line and begin rereading it, reveling in the parts that danced in your mind’s eye, or you will sit quietly for a few moments, silently reflecting on the magic left in the poem’s wake. I’ve always been one to experience the former more so than the latter, and several of Donna Emerson’s pieces in Body Rhymes had me journeying back to the beginning of the piece to again explore the flowing peaks and valleys of
language she so deftly employed. The meticulous word choice is often as effective as it is stirring. From the brutal melange of nostalgia and pain in The Orchard to the honesty and vitriol of The Princess Who Told the Truth, from the aching desire in Close to the Heart of Rose to the unabashed sentimentality of Heath and Audrey, Body Rhymes is unrelenting in its emotional demands on the reader. Your soul will be stirred, whether you wish it or not. The centerpiece of the chapbook is She Lay Asleep Wearing Oxygen, a multisectional examination of a woman’s last moments after a long illness. Taxing in its sincerity, it’s one of the most personal and revealing works I’ve encountered in a long time, and such pellucidity contributes to its impact. The entire book, in fact, feels like the rise and fall of a regular pulse, an EKG of emotional highs and lows, leading up to and through She Lay Asleep Wearing Oxygen
and into the subtle resignation and optimism of Grace Notes. It’s a fitting conclusion to an evocative project. Sponsored Review by Glenn Dallas The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands: Poems By Nick Flynn Graywolf Press, $22.00, 94 pages Nick Flynn’s new title refers to Walt Whitman’s famous poem about his father, “Captain O My Captain,” but Flynn’s poetic strategies have more in common with the contemporary poet Franz Wright. In Flynn’s work, metaphor in a range of voices seems to pour forth, gifts perhaps of Flynn’s openness to the world. The collection opens with “haiku
F i n d l o c a l a u t h o r e v e n t s a t 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 /c a l e n d a r
for fame seemed unfeminine and self-aggrandizing; they generally deprecated their creative accomplishments. Many published anonymously or under a pseudonym. As an example: When Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass received only scant horrible reviews, and little sales, Whitman reviewed it himself ‘anonymously’ as a work of American genius. Meanwhile, his great contemporary, Emily Dickinson, steadfastly refused to publish more than a handful of her thousands of poems during her lifetime. Women don’t figure in literary history because they have not been the ones to write it, we’re told, but Showalter’s anthology gives us a historical chronology of women writers in context, belonging to as well as affecting traditions. Today, we have many good, great, and popular women writers. Most of them are left out of this anthology since this book displays writers such as Anne Bradstreet, Lydia Maria Child, Kate Chopin, and Willa Cather who paved the way. Reviewed by Phil Semler
INFINITY, cont’d from page 1 busting John Barnes story The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees, a deft mix of social commentary and cutting-edge theorizing unlike anything I’ve read before. Engineering Infinity, in short, science fiction at its finest. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
(failed),” which imagines the threads that connect us, or fail to connect us, whether they are telephone wires or horizons on which a ship sails away. In a long, twelvepart sequence called “fire,” the poet addresses his mysterious “capt’n”, a stand-in perhaps for the homeless father the poet only met when he turned up at the shelter where the young Flynn worked. Such troubled beginnings are easily linked to the themes of abandonment and helpless rage that characterize Flynn’s work and that surface once more in these new poems. Flynn’s endorphic presence often keeps him “in the air,” so it’s not surprising he devotes a second sequence to “air” (and a third to earth). These poems tell of imprisonment “in a room made completely of air” and of torture treated ironically like children’s games. Instead of tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, we get “oblivion nothing emptiness night.” Reviewed by Zara Raab
Cooking, Food & Wine You Are What You Eat Cookbook: More Than 150 Healthy and Delicious Recipes By Gillian McKeith Plume, $18, 240 pages Does your tongue have a line down the middle? Is it dotted all over or sore? These are some of the questions Gillian McKeith asks readers to answer when considering whether their diets are healthy. In her book You Are What You Eat Cookbook, McKeith uses her extensive knowledge of holistic nutrition to suggest ways to make dieting delicious, simple, and successful. Her recipes are based on the philosophy that success starts with preparing foods in the right manner (rather than focusing on weight or calorie counting). She provides guides on how to best use spices, teas, fruits, and vegetables. The cookboo k includes sections on meals, juices, snacks, treats, and a particularly creative smoothie chapter. Each recipe begins with a personal note. She also explains why you are what you eat. For example, people who do not get enough iron are sleepy. She shares that her BestEver Beet Soup is perfect for reversing fatigue because it boots the body’s iron supply. Whether you are looking for a great cookbook or want extra motivation, knowledge, and understanding of nutrition, this book will do the job. And you may find out why your tongue looks like it does. Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin The Good Neighbor Cookbook: 125 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Surprise and Satisfy the New Moms, New Neighbors, Recuperating Friends, CommunityMeeting ... Cohorts and Block Party Pals in Your Life! By Sara Quessenberry, Suzanne Schlosberg Andrews McMeel Publishing, $16.99, 195 pages Occasionally cookbook authors come up with a new and unusual angle to present their recipes. The authors of this book did manage to do that: cooking for neighbors. The occasions may be a variety of reasons: birth of a new baby, death, illness, arrival of new neighbors, book clubs, neighborhood meeting or block parties. Though the concept is new, the recipes are not. Many are similar to recipes given in standard cookbooks with a new cutesy title. Nevertheless, these are good recipes, mostly relatively simple, easy to follow, well written with good, logical instructions, printed on one page or facing pages
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for convenience. Each has preparation and total cooking time along with serving sizes. Good cooking tips accompany most recipes. The book is an inexpensively produced paperback on sturdy paper stock with simple sketches as only illustrations. To relieve the monochrome, green ink as added. The cookbook is split into chapters for different neighborly occasions and recipes in each chapter are divided according to the courses of a meal. It is unclear how these courses differ from, say, new baby arrival or a welcome meal. The index is thorough and well crossreferenced. Reviewed by George Erdosh Cooking on the Light Side: Smart Recipes for Bright Skin and Vitality By Thienna Ho Thienna Inc, $39.99, 320 pages If you’ve always longed for bright, healthy skin, and increased energy, you’re in luck. Nutritional scientist Thienna Ho offers advice and recipes to boost your body’s verve in Cooking on the Light Side: Smart Recipes for Bright Skin and Vitality. Ho, who created the Sulfur Diet, touts the benefits of consuming foods rich in sulfur, primarily cruciferous vegetables such as those in cabbage, onion and garlic family. Ho claims she reversed her own skin damage by eating these foods. Inside the cookbook, you’ll discover more than 160 recipes that maximize sulfur intake by adding veggies, grains, nuts, legumes, and certain proteins to your diet. The opening section uses infographics to explain types of contaminants found in foods, bottled and tap water, and the human body. Photographs identify sulfur-rich vegetables to include in your diet. Several pages discuss various types of grains worth eating, along with cooking directions. Ho lists steel-cut oats, quinoa, and konnyaku (a “traditional Japanese health food” that is sold in gelatinous cakes or noodle shapes). She also shares tips for adding agar-agar to dessert or incorporating seitan as a meat substitute. Shitake mushrooms, Brazil nuts, and black walnuts get plenty of page time, as Ho shares tips and tricks for these menu items. Every recipe begins with a highlighted section atop each page with information about serving size, nutritional facts, prep time and cooking time. Recipes also feature photographs of the prepared food, an
alternative for something different, and a did-you-know section with an added bonus about a food’s nutritional value or method of preparation. For the most part, you’ll find the ingredients necessary for these recipes in your pantry. Options such as ham and artichoke quiche, white bean arugula salad, mushroom-pear oat risotto, chocolate cream cheese muffins, or jalapeno-garlic shrimp spaghetti will not only fill your tummy, but they will give you the needed kick you’ve been missing. Sponsored Review The Cleaner Plate Club: Raising Healthy Eaters One Meal at a Time By Beth Bader, Ali Benjamin Storey Publishing, $16.95, 312 pages For every parent facing the age old question of how to get kids to eat better food comes The Cleaner Plate Club. This book is more than a cookbook: it is a guide to feeding your children vegetables in a way they will enjoy. The authors, Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin, are both experienced and successful bloggers with children; they know what they’re talking about. This book starts with an illustrated guide to common vegetables, each accompanied by a kid-friendly recipe utilizing it. Then there is a section filled with recipes of all sorts: breakfasts (Asparagus & Spinach Frittata) and simple lunch ideas; dinners featuring fish (Fish Curry), poultry (Chicken Chili), meats (Meatball Stroganoff), or completely meatless (Pumpkin Gnocchi); and desserts (Ginger-CarrotRaisin Cupcakes). Sprinkled throughout are anecdotes and advice from the authors, as well as facts about healthy eating and the state of the food industry in America. The recipes are simple and delicious, the information is eye-opening and thoughtfully arranged, and the overall book design is extremely user-friendly and just plain fun. This book is a valuable resource for parents with children of all ages. Reviewed by Holly Scudero
Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-InYour-Mouth Cookies By Alice Medrich Artisan Books, $29.95, 384 pages This book is a delight to the senses right from the front cover. Enticingly photographed full color pictures of author Alice Medrich’s sugary creations will immediately suck you in, to page through this wonderful cookbook. Medrich focuses on some of the apparent differences in cookies by categorizing the recipes by cookie texture, celebrating the physical and, yes, sensual appeal of cookies. Very user friendly in layout, the book showcases Medrich’s experimentation with bleached vs. unbleached flour, leavenings, baking temperatures, traditional and new spices, even the unconventional unexpected inclusion of olive oil, herbs and even pepper! The directions for each recipe are easy to follow and read, with “upgrades” listed at the end of each outline, for variations on the recipe to achieve new flavors and different yet tasty results. It’s been some time since I baked cookies from scratch, but this book has tantalized me back into the kitchen, just in time to bake some of these wonderful creations for myself and loved ones for Valentine’s Day. Author Medrich has won the most “best cookbook of the year” awards in the dessert/baking category so I’m confident that this latest offering will teach me some of her winning tricks of the trade and the results will be a sensuous sugary delight. Reviewed by Laura Friedkin Indian Food Made Easy By Anjum Anand Key Porter Books, $24.95, 160 pages I’ve been a big fan of Indian food since discovering it while in college. As enjoyable as going out to eat can be, sometimes you just want to stay in, and that is where my troubles started. I had no idea how to prepare even the most basic Indian cuisine. In an attempt to rectify the situation, I’ve picked up a few Indian cookbooks but they all had the same two problems: complicated recipes; and, hard to procure ingredients. Anjum Anand’s Indian Food Made Easy has neither of those problems, and because of it neither do I! Indian Food Made Easy has more than 75 easy-to-follow, quick recipes. You’ll find whatever Indian food you are looking to See INDIAN, page 19
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Life is a cake walk… make that an empanada walk By Holly Scudero
Book Reviewer & Weekly Columnist for Holly’s Culinary Nirvana
y honey and I recently got invited to have dinner at the home of a couple of good friends. When I asked what I could contribute to the meal, my friend requested that we bring something for dessert. My first instinct was to reach for one of my tried-and-true recipes, like yellow cake or perhaps some classic chocolate chip cookies. Then I remembered a cookbook that I recently was given to review, and decided to look to it for ideas. A World of Cake is a fabulous book devoted to, you guessed it: cakes from around the world. It features cakes, cookies, and other desserts from our country and a plethora of countries around the world, with history, pictures, and highly-detailed recipes. You’ll find classics in here as well as obscure cakes you’ve never heard of before. Add in some fun little historical tidbits, little-known holidays, and variations galore and the result is a glorious, tempting cookbook that’s suitable for display on either a kitchen bookshelf or perhaps your coffee table. The last time I had looked through this cookbook was shortly after I got it and, if I recall correctly, I had to put it away because it succeeded primarily in giving me an intense craving for sweets. I wrote my initial review and hadn’t touched it since. Now that I had a purpose beyond aimless perusal, I was able to look at it with more detail. I had some guidelines for choosing a recipe to make for this dinner party. First, I wanted to find something that would “go with” what we were having for dinner, which happened to be enchiladas. Second, I wanted something relatively simple to make. Third and last, I wanted to be able to make it with the ingredients I had on hand. This was probably the hardest qualification; I always have an ample supply of flour and
sugar in my kitchen, but I was nearly out of butter. Plus, I had no eggs, and while that’s normally not an issue for me, baking tends to be a fairly exact science, and for these fancy recipes, I didn’t want to try going without when I didn’t even know what the end result was supposed to look like. My final selection was a recipe for Quince Empanadas, although I was going to be using one of the other filling variations, because quince are not in season right now (and I don’t think my local grocery store would carry them even if they were). I decided to try out the Mango-Pineapple filling. The recipe was fairly simple to make, although I did have issues with it sticking to my “prepared surface,” since I probably didn’t flour it thoroughly enough. My only other major issue was that I probably did not roll the dough out thin enough. Don’t fault me for that though; I had never even attempted to make empanadas before this, so I’m sure I’ll get better with time. The filling, which I delegated to my honey, seemed to go off without a hitch. We cut down on the sugar they said to add, but it still came out fruity and delicious, and we still have some extra filling left in the fridge; it has been a tasty addition to morning smoothies! I would definitely like to try this recipe again sometime. As I said earlier, I didn’t roll the dough out thin enough; this resulted in the recipe making only about half of the empanadas that it should have, and each one was more dough than filling. We bought a pint of vanilla bean ice cream to round out the dessert, and I feel the end result was found tasty and satisfying by everyone who tried it. The next step will be refining my technique and perhaps trying a different filling!
Mango-Pineapple Empanada Mango-Pineapple Filling 1 medium pineapple, cut into 1-inch chunks 2 mangos, diced½ cup sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch Empanada Dough ¾ cup all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon baking powder 1/8 teaspoon salt ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold 2½ tablespoons cold water Topping 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (optional) To make the filling: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan; cook over medium-high heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.
Photo (c) Emily Brooke Sandor
To make the dough: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two baking sheets. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor or blender. Add the butter and pulse for 10 to 15 seconds, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water, a few teaspoonfuls at a time, and pulse until the dough can be gathered into a ball. To shape: Roll the dough to ¼-inch thickness on a floured work surface. Cut the dough into 4-inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each round. Moisten the edges with water, fold the dough into a crescent, and press the edges closed. Seal by pressing the edges with the prongs of a fork. To bake: Place the empanadas on the prepared pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are golden brown. Transfer the empanadas to a rack to cool. If desired, dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
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March 2011 VOLUME 2, ISSUE 5 E X P A N D E D
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Science Fiction & Fantasy Worth the Wait - Oh Yes! The Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 2) By Patrick Rothfuss DAW, $29.95, 1008 pages
In 2007, Patrick Rothfuss sprung into the fantasy field a New York Times bestselling author with the release of his first book, The Name of the Wind. It was, at first glance, a standard fantasy novel of a young man learning to use magic in a university setting. Yet Rothfuss created a rich world, with well-developed characters that many experienced and best-selling authors would give their first (and maybe second) born children to have credited to their name. The book was one of those that after finishing, one hands to another saying “you must read this, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.” And with that debut, Rothfuss’ newly created fan base eagerly awaited the sequel to be release the following year. And they waited. And waited. About two years into the wait, fans started becoming agitated. Rothfuss explained on his blog, that the book would come out when it was done, and that he didn’t want to release something that wasn’t “perfect.” And the wait continued for two more years. Until now. In December 2010, DAW sent out ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, finally putting an end to speculation and creating a new wave of anticipation. The new question - “Is it worth the wait?” And yes it is. While you can’t tell what the differences are from what draft Rothfuss was working on from 2008 to the release of the ARC, there is no drop in quality, and in many ways, this is better polished novel than the first, with characters growing into the potential shown in The Name of the Wind and the world that Kvothe inhabits becomes broader. And even during the three months from when the ARCs were printed, to the final version of The Wise Man’s Fear, Rothfuss continued to edit. The story is the history of Kvothe, a magician, hero, rogue and legend in his own time. You learn his past as he recounts it to the Chronicler, a historian that “accidentally” discovers Kvothe hiding in a small village as the innkeeper and bartender. Kvothe’s historical recounting of his past is told in the first person, while the rest of Kvothe’s current life is narrated in the third-person, which is not as offsetting as it might sound. Kvothe’s gypsyish family had been killed by the Chandrian, a legendary force of evil whose origins have been shrouded as myth and legend. Kvothe was the only one to survive, and his desire to learn about the Chandrian leads him to enroll in the University, with its vast archive of books. There he makes friends and enemies, and through his experiences, we learn about how sympathetic magic works, binding two items together and manipulating one to See WISE, cont’d on page 14
E X PA N D E D WISE, cont’d from page 13 cause an effect in the other. The large magical secret Kvothe seeks is that of Naming, knowing the true Name of something, giving the knower power over that thing (thus the name of the first book - The Name of the Wind.) Keeping the two stories together took some work, but Rothfuss moves from one to the other, almost seemlessly, keeping the reader interested in both the “current” story of why Kvothe is hiding, and also how he became the man that needed to hide in the first place. The Name of the Wind ended in the current setting with an attack by mercenary possessed by one of the Maal, a creature of the Fae. Book Two starts the following day, as Kvothe cleans up from the prior night’s mess, and goes back to telling the story of his second year in University, and further exploring his world. Three years was a long time to wait for this book, but the payoff was well worth it. Very few people will find much wrong with it, and plenty right. Now the only problem will be waiting for the next book. And this time there are no promises as to when it will be release. It will come when its ready, and with these first two keeping the bar high, Book 3 should also be worth almost any wait as well. Reviewed by Ross Rojek Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures By Robert E. Howard Del Rey, $18, 547 pages This densely packed volume contains the earliest and most definitive versions of the tales of Robert E. Howard’s historical adventures stories currently available. This collection of berserk, swash-buckling, Viking, and Crusade-laden tales visits medieval Europe and nearby regions; the accompanying pageantry and romantic battles of the age work as a backdrop for characters like Diego de Guzman, who certainly make a unique impression. The introduction and appendixes in back further explain and explore the historical adventures and Howard himself. Although he only lived to the age of thirty, his career lasting only twelve years, Howard left a prodigious amount of material that shaped the future of the historical fantasy genre from the 1930s onward. Howard is best known for his creation of Conan the Cimmerian and is regarded as the foundering father of the fantasy subgenre in sword and sorcery. This tome also boasts a variety of illustrations by John Watkiss, who as an adolescent studied Howard’s early short stories, sketching the characters in combination with his studies of human anatomy. Reviewed by Axie Barclay
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The Age of Odin By James Lovegrove Solaris, $7.99, 592 pages The Norse gods are real, and they are preparing for Ragnarok in the 21st century, enlisting ex-soldiers into their army through the Valhalla project. In fact, the shorthand description for The Age of Odin is military science fiction infused with a healthy dose of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The Age of Odin, by British author James Lovegrove, takes this idea and runs with it full tilt. When retired soldier Gideon “Gid” Dixon realizes the only thing in his life that gave him happiness and success was fighting, he is enticed by the aforementioned Valhalla project, and cannot pass up the opportunity to join. Gid has a hard time believing the big man in charge of the Valhalla project is actually the Allfather of Norse myth, Odin. Odin is preparing for the fated final battle, and as Gid joins Odin’s forces, he brawls with and fights alongside Thor, becomes enamored with Freya, is healed by Odin’s wife, Frigga, and learns of the treacherous deeds of Loki. Lovegrove’s narrative makes no apologies for the over-the-top concept of the story, he takes it as seriously as possible, and tells a story that is gripping. In totality, Lovegrove has written a book that is difficult to put down. In some senses, the novel reads as a very high-octane masculine fantasy, but again, Lovegrove’s storytelling ability helps to gloss over any shortcomings. The novel is told in the first person and works very well to convey the protagonist’s thoughts and, of course, how Gid sees the Norse gods as real. Gid is not well-versed in Norse mythology so it takes a bit for him to fully guess at the gravity of his situation. Lovegrove injects humor into the story, mostly through Gid’s snarky comments. Perhaps the greatest strength of the novel is Lovegrove’s ability to end each chapter on a hook that begs the next chapter. My only minor complaint was the ending, at least how I initially thought Lovegrove was going to close the novel. Throughout the entire book, Lovegrove adds a lot of swerves into the story, probably the greatest and most over-the-top is the antagonist. The ending is no different. All told, a thoroughly entertaining novel that I would recommend to those looking for a “summer blockbuster with a Norse flair and thought.” Reviewed by Rob Bedford
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Uprising: Vampire Federation By Sean McCabe Signet Select, $9.99, 512 pages When a teen comes to Detective Joel Solomon with claims of ritualistic vampire killings, Joel is hesitant but an experience in his youth gives him a sense that the teen may be telling the truth. His investigation leads him into the path of Alex Bishop, who works for the Vampire Intelligence Agency that serves the Vampire Federation that governs the vampire society. Together, they must stop a cult before they return vampires to creatures that lurk in the night and see humans as only a food source. As much as I loved all of the action in this novel, the characters fell flat for me. I couldn’t relate to any of the characters because I couldn’t get a good feel for any of them. The story is told in alternating perspectives that seems to cut the story in pivotal moments where we may learn something important. However, the story did certainly have compelling plot points that were promising and kept me reading to the end. I’d recommend this book for paranormal, thriller, and urban fantasy fans that may like some blood, guts, and gore with their story. Reviewed by Missy Wadkins Darkwar By Glen Cook Night Shade Books, $16.99, 570 pages Glen Cook’s Dark War trilogy tells the story of a young primitive meth named Marika whose life is unalterably changed when barbarians out of the north destroy her village. This sets her on a path that will lead her into the stars. It also shapes the fate of her race and their planet. Originally published in the ’80s separately, Darkwar combines the Marika stories into a single book. The meth are a cat-like people with a strict hierarchal society in which males are subservient to females and all meth are subservient to the Silth, a sorority of mystic, magic-wielding meth who control the planet. Marika, after the destruction of her homestead and her worldview, finds herself a Silth novitiate just as the order of things on her planet begin to come undone, and she is drawn into
the center of that change. Combining fantasy and science fiction in this trilogy, Cook is a master at work. His books are always enjoyable while requiring the reader to think. Darkwar raises such diverse topics as gender roles in society and how the meeting of two alien races might have drastic impacts on the cultures of each race. Reviewed by Jonathon Howard Thirteen Years Later By Jasper Kent Pyr, $17.00, 513 pages 1825. The tsar finds he is in grave danger and prays to God to deliver him -- him and Russia. For the danger comes not only from within the Russian army, from among his most trusted men, but also from a bloodthirsty threat, generations old, that seeks to claim its due, at last, from Alexander himself. Thirteen years after the events of 1812, Colonel Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov finds himself thrown from a life of relative peace into a chase for the vampires across Russia, in order to protect his country, his tsar, and his son. Set against the rebellion of the Decemberists and the death of Tsar Alexander I, Thirteen Years Later is an excellent followup to Twelve. Aleksei, as a character, has matured and changed, as have many other characters that previously appeared in Twelve. This is where vampire and historical fiction meet, much to the benefit of both and enjoyment of the reader. While this reviewer felt a stronger knowledge of Russian history would have added to her enjoyment of the book, it by no means inhibited her reading satisfaction. Reviewed by Axie Barclay Dragons Deal (Dragon Series) By Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye Ace, $15.00, 385 pages Any book that begins with a dragon throwing up is bound to be entertaining, and this collaboration by Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye certainly meets those criteria. The third book of the “Dragons Wild” series, the late Robert Asprin’s book was completed by his oft-times co-writer Jody Lynn Nye. Taking place in New Orleans, a new king of the Mardi Gras parade has emerged in the form of newly successful entrepreneur Griffen McCandles, and not all are pleased with the society of dragons’ choice of king. Griffen himself has
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E X PA N D E D a lot on his plate, not least being newly acquainted with his pure-blood dragon heritage, a gambling operation, and a pregnant sister. While others conspire to ruin him, Griffen investigates the murder of one of his employees, realizing that some will stop at nothing to spite his success. Rife with murder, intrigue abounds in this latest tale of dragons in the Big Easy. Having not read the previous two installments, this one seemed to stand alone well, is a light and quick read, and combines dragons and gambling in a bang-up blend of humor and danger. Reviewed by Axie Barclay So Close the Hand of Death By J.T. Ellison Mira, $7.99, 416 pages Crime novels are suppose to be about suspense and intrigue. Without that, the tension is gone and everyone is waiting to the final showdown. Much like a horror movie that loses its tenseness, So Close To the Hand of Death is a prime example of that. This book, the sixth in J. T. Ellison’s Talyor Jackson series, has lost its edge. No longer are the mysteries and suspense holding readers in, but past transgressions try to supply the thrills. It just falls flat. The cat and mouse game between Jackson and The Pretender, has lost its novelty. The best thing about this book is the concept. There are murders going on like that of the Boston Strangler, the Zodiac Killer and Son of Sam, and it is up to Taylor Jackson to solve it all. I also love the strong female character that Ellison writes, and her supportive cast. The supporting cast does a lot to help bring people into this world of super villainous murderers. Unfortunately, this one relies too heavily on the past book in the series. New readers should be warned that this book can get a bit confusing without the past books. Fans also might want to stay clear because it is getting to redundant. Reviewed by Kevin Brown Midnight Riot By Ben Aaronovitch Del Rey, $7.99, 298 pages Peter Grant is a probationary constable who dreams of becoming a detective for the London Metropolitan Police. One evening, while guarding a crime scene, he discovers his talent for speaking with the dead. This attracts the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale (also the last registered wizard in England) who investigates crimes involving magic, ghosts and other paranormal activities. He takes Peter
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as his apprentice and together they find themselves deep in London’s underbelly where the gods and goddesses of the rivers mix with mortals, and the ancient spirits of riot and rebellion come out of the shadows. Midnight Riot has a charming protagonist, lively characters and a fast paced plot. Readers familiar with the streets of London will enjoy the level of detail Aaronovitch devotes to its many landmarks, bridges and particularly to local police procedurals. Carefully combining the gritty components of a hardboiled detective novel with the fantastic elements of urban fantasy, Aaronovitch succeeds in creating a believable universe with a well constructed magical hierarchy and a battle brewing between the river gods of the Thames. Its conclusion leaves the reader vaguely disappointed as though Aaronovitch could not sustain the momentum built during the course of the novel. Fortunately, for readers enchanted by Peter Grant’s new wizard apprenticeship there’s an upcoming sequel: Moon Over Soho. Reviewed by Wendy Iraheta The King of the Crags: The Memory of Flames, Book II By Stephen Deas Roc, $25.95, 400 pages In book two of The Memory of Flames trilogy, Zafir is now Speaker of the Realms but her determination to try Queen Shezira for treason has weakened her position. Prince Jehal, no longer close to Zafir, continues in his behind-the-scenes scheming and, as unrest increases in the Realms, the simmering threat of the Taiytakei lurks just off page. These intrigues, while exciting in their own right, pale in comparison to the majesty and terrible beauty of Stephen Deas’ dragons. Long enslaved to humans via the Alchemists’ potions, they are slowly getting free and they are mighty displeased. The dragon battles are simply brilliant and illustrative of why Deas’ dragons continue to be the highlight of the story. Similar to book one, the writing style tends to be over-explanatory but this is evened out by the author’s ability not to tip his hand when it comes to character motivation. Unfortunately, the depiction of female characters continues to be a bit flat but the trilogy’s style of hiding a character’s true intent leaves room for this to change in
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the next installment. Fans of book one are sure to be pleased with this addition, and the dragons alone are enough to pull in new fantasy readers. Reviewed by Rachel Wallace Zoo City By Lauren Beukes Angry Robot, $7.99, 381 pages Zinzi December is a tough ex-journalist who runs 419 scams and finds lost things for a living. Her mashavi, or special talent, to find things comes in the form of a sloth; a result of her former life’s sins, a sign of penance and a warning to others that she’s been ‘animaled’. When she’s hired to find a missing singer, Zinzi travels with Sloth on her back and plunges deep into the Johannesburg slums where criminals rule beside their animal companions. In Zoo City Lauren Beukes blends science fiction, urban fantasy and the tropes of noir fiction with a strong narrative voice to show readers a gritty view of the marginalized living in South Africa. She packs the narrative with color and intersperses psychological papers and interviews to add depth and perspective. Beukes balances the reader’s curiosity about the ‘zoos’ with intrigue and carefully maintains a sense of mystery about Zinzi’s secret past. In one telling scene where Zinzi and others anticipate the Undertow’s arrival, we are never told what it is, but the horrific effects of its presence create an immediate sense of terror. Beukes succeeds in treating a segregated culture not by taking us to an alien planet, but by keeping us on Earth and depicting a near future where criminals wear their sins like a scarlet letter. Reviewed by Wendy Iraheta Of Truth and Beasts: A Novel of the Noble Dead By Barb Hendee, J.C. Hendee ROC, $26.95, 440 pages Barb and J. C. Hendee are compositional geniuses. They both bring to the table an amazing set of skills and mastery of the English language. It is the skill of these wordsmith surgeons that gives life and identity to this book. Of Truth and Beast is part of the expansive ongoing series, and the book does its best to not lose the reader too far in past events. The story never feels muddled or dragged down. The book centers on the young mage Wynn, as she hunts down another orb that, if not found, could be used by “the ancient enemy” to de-
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stroy the world. It is a straight and thoughtful plot with few twists. The lack of turn in events hurts the book’s overall intrigue, but helps out in making it simple and amusing. I feel there is elegance in simplicity. Of Truth and Beast is delightful written. Each sentence and paragraph is meticulously thought out accordingly. It has wonderful imagery and great timing. Any fan of the series will enjoy this book, and it will not alienate newcomers to the series. Reviewed by Kevin Brown Hyenas By Joe R. Lansdale Subterranean, $25, 104 pages Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are friends, but close as brothers. White and black, straight and gay, rich and poor, they’re the ultimate odd couple, fiercely loyal to each other and their friends. After Leonard gets into a hysterically brutal bar fight with three goons, one of them asks him and Hap to use their rarified skill set to dissuade his younger brother from hanging out with suspected criminals. Hap and Leonard take an interest, only to find themselves wrapped up in a thug’s master plan... one that might have deadly consequences for Hap. In this all-tooshort return to the adventures of Hap and Leonard, Lansdale treats the reader to a fast-paced romp chock full of sharp scenery, darkly comedic moments, and the hilariously crude banter of his beloved protagonists. Hyenas is at once a great introduction to Lansdale’s inimitable writing and a terrific advancement of the long-running exploits of friends and characters. And as always, it seems effortless. The inclusion of a short story featuring Hap’s early days— a brief but stunning tale of the dangers of adolescence— is just frosting on a thoroughly entertaining and enthralling cake. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas The God Gene, Promise of Prometheus By Stephen Seager Westcom Press, $17.95, 307 pages Holding the grip of a cold Smith & Wesson in her hand, a prepubescent girl faces her demons, all the while keeping a promise. That is the side story of The God Gene. I fell in love with this secondary plot but could not find myself able to enjoy the main story. The book suffers from a weak plot and tries to fit politics, religion and science fic-
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tion into one book. It forgets its main components, the drive and merriment of the narrative. The book cares more about religion than about Bach Holden stumbling around Utah looking for his dad’s murderer. The book’s duel narrative means it switches from the nineteenth-century frontier to modern day. The cast of characters in the main plot feels discontented. Even the main character, Bach, is misplaced in the story, especially when it comes to his sexuality. The book’s greatest strength is its ability to up the stakes. Each scene drives the next one while adding more disturbance. Unfortunately, the ending falls flat and feels rushed. While a spectacle and controversial, The God Gene is too paper-thin to be enjoyable. Reviewed by Kevin Brown The Alchemist By Paolo Bacigalupi Subterranean, $20.00, 97 pages Yellow, viscous liquid boils in a glass vial. Herbs, books, and stains pepper tabletops. The stench is thick enough to cut with a knife. Alchemy is at work. Can the potionmaking ugly stepsister of science and magic save the world? This is the premise behind Hugo and Nebula award winner Paolo Bacigalupi’s eloquent and entertaining shared world novella The Alchemist. Created jointly with author Tobias S. Buckell (whose story in this world is The Executioness) Bacigalupi’s superb story is of a people on the precipice. Profligate magic use has led to the rise of the bramble, a fast-growing weed impervious to any sort of destruction save a combination of fire and sword. But the bramble grows too quickly to really be stopped, and nations are succumbing to its onslaught. Enter the alchemist. A former coppersmith, the alchemist realizes that one of his former mines had the unique ability to hold back the bramble’s advance. Desperate to save his city, he gives up his lucrative profession and turns to the less savory career of alchemy. Years pass, and it seems he will never discover the reason the mines were impervious to the bramble. Then, in an accident involving his own beloved daughter, he uncovers it. But will his innovation save humanity or end it? A tightly woven plot peopled with enchanting and complicated characters makes its ninety-seven pages seem not enough. Readers will rapidly become emotionally connected to the protagonist’s successes and failures, and to the family he heads. The detailed world of Bacigaulpi’s imagining is a
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pleasing mix of apocalyptic fiction and epic fantasy. Drink deeply of the medicine The Alchemist gives and be filled with vigor and vitality. Reviewed by John Ottinger Brayan’s Gold By Peter V. Brett Subterranean, $20.00, 88 pages Brayan’s Gold, a novella-length entry in the world of Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man recounts Arlen Bales’s first major job as an apprentice messenger. His job is to ferry a box of thundersticks to Count Brayan’s Gold Mine, which lies atop a treacherous mountain. Being Arlen’s first real mission as a messenger, it of course doesn’t go quite so smoothly. The mission begins when Arlen butts heads with his mentor, Curk. Arlen is much more strong-headed than Curk would like, but having grown up with a father who lived in fear, Arlen sees much of his father in his mentor. When Arlen and Curk are threatened by raiders, Curk runs while Arlen stands up to the bandits, and he later battles the much feared demons who are humanity’s enemy. In sum, Brayan’s Gold is highly enjoyable episode in Brett’s greater tale that will enjoyed by his existing fans and could serve to draw in new readers. The story has plausible character interactions, tense battles with multiple demons, and highlights of the themes of Brett’s novels--overcoming fear, doing what is right, and an overall sense of adventure. The book includes beautiful illustrations by Lauren K. Cannon who also provides a terrific cover. Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale By Mike Resnick Pyr, $16, 321 pages In an alternate history, there was a time when glistening brass covered the flat grassy plains, and horseless carriages traveled the Indian trails. A different reality, where the rustic Wild West didn’t lose out to the metallic world of industrialization. Instead, they melted together. In The Buntline Special, the most famous gunfight of the west is retold in that alternate history. In Resnick’s world, Thomas Edison moves out to Tombstone to cooperate with
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Ned Buntline. The two men fill the little silver-mining town with electric street lamps, hand-held Gatling guns, and metallic “women of the night.” In that aspect, Resnick succeeds in make a beautiful world of steam and dust, shining in details. The world is different, creative and you want to visit it. There is also a nice balance, and contrast, between characters. Doc Holiday is the no-nonsense gunfighter with one foot in the grave while his adversary, Johnny Ringo, is a “zombie” trying to live before he dies again. The book falls flat in its storytelling. The plot comes to a halt in many sections, while characters repeat themselves and their motives over and over again. Much like a zombie gunslinger, the book’s pace is sluggish at best and the lack of a progressive plot kills it dead. Reviewed by Kevin Brown Atlantis and Other Places By Harry Turtledove ROC, $24.95, 448 pages Harry Turtledove is one of the more interesting writers of time-traveling science fiction. In Atlantis and Other Places, he does not disappoint on any level. He explores the continent of Atlantis both famed painter Audobon and a Conan Doyle pastiche. He also explores the concept of gay marriage with Bush and Bin Laden, uses one of the worst puns ever, and has too much fun with the concept of alternate worlds. Although some of the stories are a little too subtle (such as “The Daimon”), most of the stories divergence from their real world counterparts are generally obvious. He has a lot of fun with the language, getting local dialects right and not doing a straight English translation as is the usual case; in a case such as this where linguistics are as much a part of the place as the hills and grass, it adds a lot to the atmosphere. Although I should dock a star for pun involving the “Royal Drive”, I’ll allow it as the rest of the stories are a lot of fun to read. This is a book that I would heartily recommend for anyone who has an afternoon open for some exploration. Reviewed by Jamais Jochim What to Do When You Meet Cthulhu: A Guide to Surviving the Cthulhu Mythos By Rachel Gray, edited by William Jones Elder Signs Press, $14.95, 296 pages H.P. Lovecraft is an undisputed master of horror, and his Cthulhu Mythos remains a landmark example of the genre’s potential. The creepy, insidious nature of his storytelling unsettled the most steadfast of readers and elicited paranoia in the most rational among us, and his creations continue to haunt and terrorize to this day.
So it’s about time someone created the guidebook so desperately needed to navigate the highways and byways of sanity-shattering terror he introduced to the world. Offering tremendous detail on Lovecraft’s short stories and longer works, What to Do When You Meet Cthulhu is the ultimate Ultimate Survival Guide, jampacked with advice and how-to checklists to save your very mind and soul from destruction. It’s a wonderfully thorough introduction for those unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s works, and occasional joking references will delight true Mythos fanatics alike. With a quick glossary of threats and key terms included for good measure, Gray’s book offers your best chance at eluding the Elder Gods and their grotesque minions… if only for a little while. Thank you, Rachel Gray, for your intrepid and daring effort. If madness hasn’t yet overtaken your fragile mind, I hope to see your name in print again soon. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
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Available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Xlibris
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Recipe for SOULPANCAKE = Equal parts of creativity and wit with a dash of mysticism… By Kaye Cloutman
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Photography by Lulu Del Rosario A crowd overflowing to the streets, cash registers swiping credit cards non-stop, the lovely decked-out trees outside and the chilly weather of Castro Street in the charming downtown area of Mountain View last Thursday night almost felt like the holidays just started all over again. What was the commotion all about? Actor Rainn Wilson (The Office) has a new book out (Soulpancake, Hyperion, $19.99, 9781401310332) and sold like hotcakes… err… pancakes. Based on the popular website, www.soulpancake.com, the new book urges readers to get creative and dig deep into topics such as love, sex & relationships; life & death; art & creativity; the brain & the soul and science & technology. Packed with thoughtprovoking essays, bold questions and mind bending art from nearly 100 up-and-coming artists, the book takes you on a creative and philosophical journey. With his co-authors and family in tow, the humorous actor rocked Books Inc. Mountain View and provided his audience an unforgettable literary experience you can’t download. Our team was truly fortunate to pick Rainn’s brain in the staff room, which ironically felt like we were filming a scene from The Office. And to add even more hilarity to the situation, Rainn picks up the phone and gives random directions to a caller who can’t find her way to the bookstore only to reveal in the end that he really doesn’t know his way around town as well, only travels with his Moped and gave his sage advice of investing in a GPS.
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A Stirring Discussion with Rainn Wilson Kaye Cloutman: Without waffling, tell me the reason behind the name Soulpancake? Rainn Wilson: Since Spirit Taco was taken, my friends and co-creators brainstormed for names that dealt with spirituality, philosophy and creativity. We spent an entire day going over some fun irreverent ones but decided unanimously on Soulpancake because it meant stirring things up and mixing them all together… and we knew that it was a name that won’t make you forget once you heard it. KC: Your subtitle says Chewing on Life’s Big Lessons… What is your position on mastication? RW: I am all in favor of mastication… but it has to be quiet mastication… I hate loud masticators. KC: How was the transition from being an actor, to doing the website and then becoming a published author? RW: It’s a passion project that I kinda kept on the back-burner but it’s something I really believe in. And so anything that you believe in and feel strongly about there’s always time for in your life and I am fortunate to have these great collaborators that help run the website as they have really done a marvelous job and deserve much of the credit. KC: In your book, you discuss about the power of music. Who do you look up to in the music industry? RW: My favorite band is Radiohead and I look up to them in a number of different ways. Their music moves me and I frequently visit their website.
KC: How does it feel to be given the opportunity to share and discuss the value of writing your own Life’s Little Lists? RW: It was great, I think my co-authors and I did a really great job to kind of narrow down all of life’s big questions into these nine chapters. It really distilled thousands of questions down to nine sub-categories and then we kinda picked the very best ones. Making lists is a really fun way to just get people to jump in, a lot of times people say “Oh just write an essay about…” Well, some people have a hard time writing essays you know what I mean? Or sometimes they say build a piece of art that means so and so… But I have come to realize that many people express themselves better when there are questions asked. It makes them ponder. You know the thing one thing I like about
making life’s lists is that it’s a great nonthreatening way to pick up a book, making a list and dive in to look at some of these questions in a humorous non-threatening manner. We’ve enjoyed doing them and we hope the readers do too. KC: Lastly, how do you find Snooki’s new book A Shore Thing? RW: Snooki’s new book is amazing. Her examination of the time when she vomited in a hot tub is heart-wrenching. It’s like I was there covered in little chunks of corn as well.
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Popular Fiction Love Letters By Katie Fforde St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 400 pages When the university-educated Laura Horsley’s job at a local bookshop ends, she falls into a job putting together a first-time literary festival to be held at a stately home, in conjunction with a simultaneous music fest. She knows what she’s doing until she’s sent off to Ireland to find the reclusive author Dermot Flynn, who had two huge successes years ago, but not a peep has been heard from him since then. She doesn’t think this is quite her thing, but off she goes anyway. She finds him, he makes an off-hand joke, which she takes seriously, and off they go! She has imbibed a bit too much liquid ‘courage’ and passes out, then sneaks out in dark of night. Still, he has agreed to attend the festival—with one huge proviso—no advance publicity! But then, he also requests her assistance with a class he’s teaching at a nearby college. Once back in Ireland, Dermot becomes reclusive again, while Laura tends to ignore all his communications, whether by phone or mail. Finally, he chases her down and confronts her with his life and all his foibles laid bare. Dare she reciprocate? Surrounded by wonderful supporting characters and the lovely scenery of middle Britain and Ireland, this is a rather laid-back but charming, witty, and literate romp. It’s part romance, part escapeism, all enjoyable. Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz Caribou Island: A Novel By David Vann Harper, $25.99, 293 pages After thirty years of marriage and two grown children, Irene and Gary have grown apart. Years of diverted plans, wasted dreams, and tragedy draw deep gorges between the couple, something that one day of hauling logs through Alaskan sea squalls to a remote island can’t put right. It was this dream, of a cabin on an island in the middle of a glacier-fed lake, that brought them to Alaska, but kids and busy nothings of living diverted these plans, leaving both individuals isolated in their marriage. Irene, however, is unhappy with Caribou Island, and the primal wilderness will stretch her and Gary farther apart than ever, as their grown-up daughter, caught up in her own life’s drama, watches them helplessly.
While the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue is distracting, the sharp-edged narrative and dead-on character descriptions, with the land itself like a character in its own right, the book is reminiscent of some of Jim Harrison’s work on Michigan. A study of men and women and the complications of relationships, especially the strain of living in remote areas, is beautifully examined and realistically presented, with precisely chosen prose as crisp and sharp as an Alaskan snow. Reviewed by Axie Barclay Golden State By David Prybil iUniverse, $21.95, 368 pages What do you get when you combine a co-dependent woman from a trailer park who looks for love in a mother exhibiting the early signs of Alzheimer’s and the prison pen pal classifieds, a miserable writer who pounds out obituaries in the office basement, but finds light in his newfound stripper crush, a widower who laments on lost days and lingers in daydreams while selling tuxedos, and an overextended and controlling realtor who seeks her worth in clientele percentages while making everyone around her feel rejected? Let’s also add a dash of the impending governor race where an equally colorful lineup of characters runs for term, the brightest hue being Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mix all of these elements together and you have one hilarious, as well as promising, unveiling in Golden State. David Prybil has created a motley crew of characters who writhe from the page against the backdrop of a state in need of change. The characters’ agony, triumphs, and ever-present hope in the American Dream is heartfelt and achingly honest, a mirror to the subplot, which is based on fact. Planted in the capital of California, Sacramento, the story follows a cast who exemplify the tenacity of the search, for whatever their personal desires are. For one the search leads to Russia where he pines for love, another to the dismal dankness of a strip bar, each yearning alike in the pursuit of validation. In concise chapters, laced in a conversational pace, the reader is invited to sink into the lives of these hopefuls. Prybil’s use of smart language drifts from formal to colloquial, whichever the occasion calls for, and he instills the backdrop of lively image in every scene. At times, some of the language can teeter on cliché and, in fact, does cross over (“It was like a fairytale,” “He was like putty in her hands”), which can be offputting. But then he promptly redeems his
talent by giving his readers dialogue and story that gleam. Much like the realistic environment of state citizens then and now, his characters, in their weakness and challenge, are made strong. This novel exhibits the quest for what we all want, the dream and the interconnected journey along the way. www.davidprybil.com Sponsored Review Those Radio Days By A.S. Merwin Lulu.com, $15.99, 168 pages Radio seems to be rarely explored as a background. It just doesn’t seem as lively a setting as, say, a television studio. This is a shame, as Those Radio Days shows. The book follows the early life of Herbie, from kindergarten to college, with all of his misadventures in between. It’s an interesting and fun little trip. Although it has a good rhythm, this is definitely not a book for kids. The issue is not swearing or graphic violence (there is some of the former and little of the latter), but rather the frank nature of the sex; although muted in later chapters, the sex is rather explicit, and may turn away some readers due to the young age of the participants. Although it does set up Junior Ellsworth as a force in Herbie’s life, even when he is absent, it could have been done a little differently and still have been effective. However, past that, the book is an excellent story of a young man with some interesting issues. It’s always interesting to see what makes an artist do what they do, and this is definitely that. Herbie’s twin fascinations with radio and baseball, favoring the former because of a childhood illness, make for interesting reading. With the major events given a baseball announcer’s voice backing them, and the history of his issues with his father, it makes for interesting reading. As Herbie grows older and finds his footing, it is like following a boy you want to succeed; you celebrate when he does, and cringe when he screws up. For those interested in why radio was and is a force in our lives, this is an enjoyable trip for a quiet afternoon. Sponsored Review
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The Other Life By Ellen Meister Putnam, $24.95, 320 pages Imagine a doorway that leads to a different dimension. In that dimension is another life in which different choices were made. You went out with Jeff instead of Tom in high school, or you wore a yellow jacket last Sunday, instead of a blue one. Much in the tradition of the chaos theory, these little choices can add up to big changes. In The Other Life by Ellen Meister, the main character, Quinn Braverman, can see that opposite life. Instead of running away into this other life, she goes there to get a better understanding of herself. The book is well-written and has one of the most character-driven plots around this side of our dimension. While the science behind Quinn’s portal jumping adventure is not discussed in full, how she does it is not the main focus. The main focus is the power and emotion of the book. I have always loved the concept and idea of “what if?” to think about what could be and what might be. This is a gripping tale about choices and self discovery. Don’t let yourself get stuck in a dimension in which you don’t read this book. Reviewed by Kevin Brown
INDIAN, cont’d from page 10 cook for yourself within the pages of this book from the most popular curries to tandoori monkfish, from delicious naan to tasty samosas. Anjum Anand has done an excellent job simplifying these recipes without sacrificing flavor. Despite her efforts, there remain a few recipes with ingredients that can be difficult to get your hands on, but she provides substitutes as well as where to go online for hard-to-find ingredients. I love this book, and the food that is coming out of my kitchen as a result. Reviewed by Jonathon Howard
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Romance Icebreaker By Deirdre Martin Berkley, $7.99, 304 pages To those persons who think romance novels are just a bunch of fluff – I give you the books of Deirdre Martin. These are indeed contemporary romance novels, but they spill over with real characters doing real things, just like real people! They laugh, they cry, they experience hardship, they work hard and play hard, and sometimes suffer losing a job, or a lover. They’re profane, and sometimes their actions may be over the top, but basically, they’re solid family folks. They’re also very sexy (sensual) people! Her current series is primarily about an Italian family in Brooklyn, N.Y., but with tentacles reaching in many directions — not what you’re thinking, either. One brother, Anthony, is an award-winning chef (married to another award-winning chef, although she’s French) and another brother, Michael, is a former hockey player, now a coach for the New York Blades. The books vary from an emphasis on hockey to those with an emphasis on food. Many of the characters wander from book to book. They are all routinely wonderful. Of course, having a hockey team in the middle of things provides opportunities to bring in new characters and this book presents a new (imported) defenseman as captain. Adam Perry has been accused of being too aggressive, and the team hires Sinead O’Brien as his attorney. Ice chips and sparks fly as these two battle to come to grips with the situation and each other. Fabulous read! Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz Family Affair By Debbie Macomber William Morrow, $16.99, 102 pages Ever since her husband divorced her for another woman a year and a half ago, Lacey’s confidence has been shot. She has no faith in love and she can’t muster the nerve to ask her slave-driving boss for a raise. She lives in a small apartment with her cat, where she is frequently tormented by her handsome neighbor, Jack, who flirts with her despite having a girlfriend. She knows this because of the frequent brawls she hears through the wall, and one night, when the fighting is especially loud, anger lands her at Jack’s door. While she asks them to keep it down, Jack’s
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cat (named Dog, we later learn) escapes into Lacey’s apartment and has his way with Lacey’s in-heat cat. Later, Lacey asks Jack to share the vet bills, but is furious when Jack invites her on a date instead. It is only then she discovers Jack’s “girlfriend” is actually his sister, and Lacey must open her hardened heart to love for the first time since her devastating divorce. Debbie Macomber first published Family Affair in 1994 as part of a now out-of-print compilation about feline-focused love stories. Here, her story stands alone in a novella. It is a quick, enjoyable read with a tight, straightforward plot. This small book with its attractive cover would make a great collector’s item for Debbie Macomber fans. Reviewed by Megan Just Juno’s Daughters: A Novel By Lise Saffran Plume, $15.00, 336 pages Indeed. When babies have babies, who ends up being the parent? Perhaps women who want to be their kids BFFs will enjoy this book. As an older reader (one who thinks parents should be parents, utilizing guidance and discipline in order to help their kids mature well while staying out of trouble in the process), I had a hard time with single-mom Jenny, alias Juno. I was a single mom, too, once upon a time, but I can’t believe it’s okay to have a 17-year-old (much less a 13-year-old!) daughter in the presence of pot-loaded brownies at local parties, as a matter of routine. Even if they have green toothpicks as markers, not cool in my book. Both daughters use profanity in front of Mom, and she says nothing. The older daughter has a shoplifting experience. This is hardly good mothering, especially when both Mom and older daughter are competing for the attentions of the same guy, who’s a tad older than Mom. Nudity? Got that, too. The basic premise is interesting, incorporating everyone in the small town into a Shakespeare play, as is the setting in the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. Still, the writing doesn’t seem quite polished enough for a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz
Wedding of the Season: Abandoned at the Altar By Laura Lee Guhrke Avon, $7.99, 384 pages One can always count on Laura Lee Guhrke to deliver a fresh and interesting romance, and Wedding of the Season is no different. This book is set in the early 1900s, and Guhrke plays up the technological advances of the era by giving the heroine, Lady Beatrix, a car, mentioning electricity, and so on. This is a definite change from the Regency, but the plot and the characters remain incredibly conventional to historical romance. While this maintains a bit of familiarity for readers who find the period too modern, it also dampens any of the uniqueness of the period, thereby making Beatrix, Will, and their conflict just as easily set in the Regency period. In Wedding of the Season, Beatrix’s wedding to the Duke of Trathen is disrupted by the appearance of her ex-fiancé, the Duke of Sunderland. Beatrix and Will parted when she refused to follow him to Egypt, and instead cared for her dying father. Guhkre’s nice writing makes the familiar conflict between a proper heroine and a wild hero interesting, but the plot tends to circle around and around the same argument, and the chemistry between Beatrix and Will is much muted. Another downside is that this book builds slowly and then ends much too abruptly, a trend I’ve begun to witness in Guhrke’s more recent releases. Wedding of the Season is something different, yet familiar, and Guhrke continues to deliver an enjoyable, if too comfortable, read. Reviewed by Angela Tate Angel at Dawn (Novel of the Upyr) By Emma Holly Berkley, $7.99, 338 pages You can always count on Emma Holly to deliver a stand-out book. Though Angel at Dawn is a sequel to Devil at Midnight (both a spin-off from her FitzClare Chronicles), it can be read alone without missing anything. Surprisingly, this book takes place in the 1950s, but Holly’s skill is such that she makes
the setting exciting, particularly when the action moves to Hollywood. The story begins when Grace Michaels travels to Texas with her boss, Naomi (aka Nim) Wei, in search of the perfect man to star in their teenage vampire movie. Ironically, that man is Christian Durand, a 500-year-old vampire sired by Nim Wei. The twist in the story is that Grace doesn’t remember Christian, despite meeting him (as a ghost) when he was mortal. Holly makes a slight misstep with their reunion by tossing in a cliché, but thankfully it is largely forgotten when Christian agrees to act in Nim Wei’s film, I Was a Teen-Age Vampire. The writing shines brightest when describing the making of the film and detailing the kitsch of the 1950s. It is sharpest when weaving Christian and Grace’s courtship into the narrative of the film. Holly’s trademark scorching-hot sensuality is present, but the romance remains firmly in focus. An added bonus is the appearance of favorite Upyr characters and a synopsis for the film. Angel at Dawn is highly recommended for readers in the mood for something unique, romantic, and gripping. Reviewed by Angela Tate Bella Maura: Book One of the Beautiful Justice Series By Dawn Dyson Creation House, $17.99, 310 pages When Sienna Emory receives a cry for help from friend Cheney, she doesn’t hesitate to help her friend get off the drugs and alcohol that have overtaken her life. What Sienna, a talented religious novelist, doesn’t expect to find is Cheney’s handsome neighbor and his unusual daughter. In Jonathan Driscoll, Sienna discovers the soul mate she had despaired of ever finding; in Bella, she finds a girl guided by God himself. Soon, the two are planning a future shared in spreading the word of God through their respective talents, but is their love enough to protect Bella from a world that won’t understand her and from the evil that stalks Sienna? Dawn Dyson has created a beautiful, optimistic world the first of this exciting new Christian romance series. It is clear she has spent a good deal of time developing the characters that inhabit her world--especially Sienna. She is practically perfect in every way: smart, beautiful, generous, deeply devoted to her God, and willing to do nearly anything to help the four girls she’s adopted as her own. Her only flaw, it seems, is her unfortunate past, which is only alluded to here. Jonathan, on the other hand, is humanly flawed; he, too, has a shadowed past, See BELLA, page21
BELLA, cont’d from page 20 and has spent much of his daughter’s life trying unsuccessfully to fix Bella’s mother. Dyson has a beautiful writing voice, and some of the poetic musings on the nature of humanity and the world that she inserts periodically are breathtaking to behold. While some might argue that the love story here is too perfect, not to mention too chaste, I found it to be a refreshing change of pace from the usual stormy affairs that dominate traditional romance novels. This is a heartfelt novel that will appeal to the hopeless romantic in every woman. Sponsored Review The Golden Prince By Rebecca Dean Broadway, $14.99, 400 pages King Edward VIII famously abdicated the British thrown in 1936 in favor of marrying twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Yet this was not his first brush with abdication. There were rumors that he fallen in love with another non-royal young lady years before, defying tradition and greatly angering his traditional father King George V. Rebecca Dean’s novel The Golden Prince is a marvelous fictional account of then Prince Edward and the family of sisters who changed his life forever. When Prince Edward takes a blind corner too rapidly in his Astro-Daimler and knocks Rose Houghton from her bike, his life will never be the same. He drives the unscathed young woman back to her home at Snowberry Manor and makes friends for the first time of his life. Prince Edward, or David as he allows the Houghton girls to address him, falls hopelessly in love with the youngest sister, Lily. Things quickly become serious between David and Lily and he proposes marriage to her. When his father discovers the news he flies into a violent rage and demands that David immediately call things off. David refuses and continues seeing Lily clandestinely. Will the strength of Lily and David’s forbidden love be enough to overcome centuries of tradition? This novel is a must-read for lovers of historical fiction! The characters are unforgettably complex and the sub-stories are just as interesting as the main plot. The Golden Prince is entirely entertaining and a true treat for your anglophile sensibilities. Reviewed by Jennifer Melville Save as Draft By Cavanaugh Lee Simon & Schuster, $23.99, 336 pages Up-to-the-minute, this breezy, fast read may resonate best with the “connected” generation … or not. Love, after all, is ageless and universal. The story of Izabell Chin and her love life flies past with the speed of e-mails, texts, and other miscellaneous
Internet entities (Twitter, Facebook). And, of course, there is online dating, which is where it all begins for this apparently new national sport known as “hooking up.” After a fabulous first date with Marty, thanks to e-Harmony, Izzy suddenly realizes she’s madly in love with her BFF – a fellow attorney named Peter whom she’s known for two years. They move in together, get engaged, and run into more than the usual snags, mostly due to his very pushy and super-demanding boss. Included in the online communications are several girlfriends of Izzy, plus her parents, Peter’s parents, Marty (and his Mom) and assorted others. The most revealing notes are those that weren’t sent. Of course, had they been sent, the book would be, oh, maybe 125 pages long and that would never do! Some of the points are realistic – communication, after all, is the name of the game. We need to talk to each other more than we do. You will need to pay attention to the “to’s” and “from’s” and dates, and most especially, the “save as drafts”—notes do not always follow each other in chronological fashion. Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz Unveiled By Courtney Milan HQN Books, $7.99, 384 pages With Unveiled, Courtney Milan has succeeded in creating a romance which stirs every emotion, makes you feel, makes you think, and makes you keep turning the page. Ash Turner has uncovered evidence of the Duke of Parford’s bigamous marriage, therefore rendering the duke’s children illegitimate and making himself -- a distant cousin -- heir to the title. Ash travels to Parford Manor to await Parliament’s decision to accept his evidence and declare the duke’s children, including his eldest son, legitimate. Lady Margaret, the duke’s daughter, has remained in Parford Manor in order to nurse her dying father and spy on Mr. Turner. The plot appears straightforward, and the first third of the book follows in a manner seen in many other books. However, Milan turns the table partway through the book, and makes the story so much more than a simple revenge plot. As characters, Ash and Margaret are flawed and unique, each unwavering in what they believe to be right and true. This makes their romance that much richer, for their conflict only serves to make them an even better match for one another.
Milan has a measured, but sure touch to her prose, though at times it can be too conscious of itself, and her characters come across a tad wooden. However, this is infrequent, and Milan balances the seriousness with humor and sensuality. The plot offers a number of excellent twists, and ultimately, is incredibly moving and unique. Try Unveiled for surprises and heartfelt themes. Reviewed by Angela Tate The Guy Next Door: Ready, Set, Jett\ Gail’s Gone Wild\Just One Taste By Lori Foster, Susan Donovan, Victoria Dahl HQN Books, $7.99, 384 pages The three stories in this book form another triangle, but their main theme is hot sex and lots of it. Like any good sandwich, however, the middle story here was, to me, the steak between two slices of bread. Not plain white bread, to be sure, but just not as engaging as Susan Donovan’s Gail’s Gone Wild. How many single moms would insist on chaperoning not one, but two, nubile young teenagers on spring break in Key West? And how many could get wild like Gail? Scrumptious story, even though Jesse wasn’t all that honest with her to begin with. Lori Foster’s Ready, Set, Jett will appeal to those folks who like really alpha males. Personally, I like to have some say about what happens to or with me, but Jett didn’t give Natalie very much chance to express her own opinion about things. But she had secrets, too, mostly of the self-defense variety. They were such opposites, it took a blizzard to show them how the other half lives. Just One Taste by Victoria Dahl left me sort of non-plussed. It’s called a romance, but Beth didn’t even know who her hero was at the end of the story, after an hour of totally hot, wild sex. That fact bothered Eric more than a bit: being constantly called by his brother Jamie’s name, could be a real turn-off. If you want steamy spring-break tales—this book’s for you. Hot! Hot! HOT!!!!! Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz Emily and Einstein By Linda Francis Lee St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 368 pages Lee takes a breather from her hilarious and witty Texas-set novels to try more conventional story set in New York City. Emily and Einstein holds traces of the author’s trademark sass and down-home appeal, and the twist, while strange, is sort of endearing, but neither do much to give life to the trite tale of a widow who discovers her dead husband’s bitter secrets. There are many interesting elements in this story, such as the dynamics between Emily and her dead
husband Sandy, the suffocating atmosphere of upper class New York society, the relationship between Emily and her sister, and their relationship with their second-wave feminist mother, as well as the literal canine afterlife of her dog of a husband, but there was at once too much going on in the story and not enough. Lee does dig out a number of choice emotional nuggets, but they come few and far between, leaving a void during the more clichéd moments in the plot, and for those expecting a nice romance to enjoy, it falls flat beneath a pile of more clichés. Perhaps it’s the new setting and the rarefied world of New York society, but the humor and emotion, and more importantly the realistic characters seen in Lee’s other books are snuffed out by the conventions of the plot. Look to Emily and Einstein for no more than comfort, which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but doesn’t make for a very compelling read. Reviewed by Angela Tate Against the Wind By Kat Martin Mira Books, $7.99, 400 pages Nearly everyone knows that a romance has a happy ending, but it’s the way the hero and heroine finally get to that happy ending that fills out the story and makes it an enjoyable reading experience. Of course, there are all sorts of romance novels, enough to provide almost any reader with an appealing story. But still, certain other requirements need to be met as well. Good writing and good editing are essential — but this book has neither. A competent or favorite author can make the occasional misstep without alienating readers, but if the reader is new to that author, can such an experience be overcome? This book troubled me in so many ways I can’t list them all here. I felt this 300-page story was stretched to 400 pages because of too much plot. The poor heroine, Sarah Hollister Allen, was constantly bombarded with new threats because of the lifestyle of her late husband. He’d abused her and she’d had enough, so left him and took their small daughter. Finally, the FBI steps in, and thanks to the hero’s investigator brothers, it turns out that all the good guys together don’t begin to know the extent of corruption that resulted in Sarah’s husband’s murder. Of course, the requisite sexual tension (on EVERY page — lust and desire; desire and lust) added a few extra pages, so did the detailed, frequent love scenes. But then we find out she’s been lying all along! Not for me, thank you! Reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz
T H E B A C K PA G E , w r i t t e n b y p u b l i s h e d a u t h o r s a t 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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Young Adult The Iron Witch By Karen Mahoney Flux, $9.95, 289 pages Donna Underwood’s most fervent desire is to be normal. When she was seven, her father was murdered, her mother driven insane and her arms magically mangled in an attack carried out by dark elves. Since then her world has consisted of trying to fit in and hiding the intricate designs tattooed in metal on her arms, the mark of the alchemist magic used to save her life. Now, ten years later, Donna, aided by Xan – a mysterious guy with fey blood— is racing to save her best friend Navin from the dark elves that have returned to Ironbridge; even if it means betraying the secrets of the centuries-old alchemist clan that raised her. I truly enjoyed the journey I took with The Iron Witch and Mahoney has a great rhythm in her writing. The only disappointment was the lack of detail around certain aspects of the story. What is it, exactly, that the alchemists do? What were Donna and her family doing in the forest the night of the dark elf attack? This is the first book of a series so I didn’t expect a full revelation, but I couldn’t help but feel that a little more information would have made the story even stronger. Reviewed by Heather Ortiz Bloody Times: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Manhunt for Jefferson Davis By James L. Swanson Collins, $16.99, 199 pages A special adaptation for young readers, this rich little piece of history digests Swanson’s best-selling book, Bloody Times. Although in this fast paced account of the fatal ending to the American Civil War and its immediate aftermath, Swanson does not dwell on the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth nor the ghoulish thievery and reburial of Abraham Lincoln’s body. The author produces a compelling narrative that is sure to lead young readers deeper into the subject of American history. In addition to the tasty treats of dialogue from personal diaries from the period, the author includes numerous illustrations and pictures. Moreover, he uses boldface type for words that may be unfamiliar to young readers. Other handy tools Swanson
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uses include a glossary of terms, a Who’s Who of Confederate and Union officials, a note to the reader, and places to go. Indeed, Swanson does not underestimate young minds grappling with the issues that sparked the Civil War when he raises the question of a trial for the Confederate president. “If he was found innocent, then the South was not wrong -- it did have the right to leave the Union.” One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War ripped apart our country, Swanson’s work gives young minds a reason to want to know more, and a road map of further reading. Reviewed by Casey Corthron Trapped By Michael Northrop Scholastic Press, $16.99, 224 pages This book struck me as The Breakfast Club meets The Day After Tomorrow. Seven teenagers find themselves stranded at school after a massive nor’easter blankets them in 10 feet of snow and they are cut off from the rest of their small town. Initially they think they will just be stuck there overnight, but as the storm continues for days, they begin to wonder if they will survive the storm. I thought what there was of the story was riveting but there just wasn’t enough. Scotty, the narrator and one of the stranded teens, states right off the bat that not everyone makes it so as you read you keep wondering is he not going to make it? Maybe she’s the one who won’t make it? Then as you get to the ending things speed up and all of a sudden you are left with a lot of unanswered questions. I kept looking to see if there were more pages because it felt unsatisfying to leave it like that not knowing what happened to some of the students, their parents, or the rest of the town. Still it was a gripping story that kept me anxious to get to the end. Reviewed by Debbie Suzuki Fall For Anything By Courtney Summers St. Martin’s Griffin, $9.99, 330 pages Eddie knows her father’s suicide isn’t as simple as that and has questions that need to be answered. She also knows her best friend has some of those answers, but refuses to tell her. On a chance encounter, Eddie meets Culler Evans, her father’s student,
Prom and Prejudice By Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, $17.99, 231 pages This book opens up: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date,” thus starting a cute adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Instead of seeking husbands, the girls are on a hunt for prom dates. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books so I am always a little apprehensive when I read adaptations, but I loved this one and finished it in one sitting. Lizzie is a scholarship student at Longbourn Academy and has to put up with a lot of torment from the richer, snobby residents of the school. Her only closest friend is her roommate, Jane, who is in love with a student, Charles, at Pemberly Academy. Through Charles, Lizzie meets Darcy who initially snubs her when he finds out she’s a scholarship student, but soon he becomes entranced by her personality. All our favorite characters are present in some fashion and the story was well updated to fit into a teenager’s life in modern society. I laughed and sighed over the cuteness of some passages. This was a wonderful, easy, fun read even for diehard Pride and Prejudice fans. By Debbie Suzuki who is also haunted by her father’s death. Together, they embark on a journey to try to find answers they only hope are there. While I love a lot of stories for the writing, I think the best part to novels by Courtney Summers is the magical way that she breathes life into her characters. From Eddie to her best friend and the somewhat mysterious Culler, the characters are remarkably realistic with the raw emotions so real it almost takes your breath away. The premise is hauntingly real and as intense as the grief that Eddie feels, while the ending will leave your mind reeling for hours after. Though it does deal with the heavy subject matter of suicide, Fall For Anything is a great thought-provoking book that contemporary and young adult lovers alike can enjoy. It will leave you utterly breathless. Reviewed by Missy Wadkins XVI By Julia Karr Speak, $8.99, 325 pages It’s 2150 and in fifteen-year-old Nina’s world, her upcoming sixteenth birthday means being tattooed as a sign that you are ready and willing to have sex with any guy that may want you. Nina doesn’t fall for the hype and wants no part of this “new freedom.” When her mother is stabbed and left for dead, Nina has more to worry about than turning “sexteen.” She sets out to find her living father whom she always thought was dead.
To me, what makes this novel is the characters. Our heroine, Nina, isn’t like most girls her age. She’s smart, artistic, courageous, and so very protective of her younger sister. I struggled through the first half of the book because of its slow pace with world-building and descriptions. However, the second half really picks up and that’s where the story and the characters really start to shine. The author does a wonderful job of presenting facts and telling a story about how the world could evolve in the future. I found the ending to be an unexpected, but pleasant surprise. XVI is recommended for fans of dystopian novels and also anyone who may want a little edge and a lot of emotion in their read. Reviewed by Missy Wadkins The Lying Game By Sara Shepard HarperTeen, $16.99, 307 pages Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars has attracted readers, and viewers of the TV show, from all over the world, drawn to it with a curious yet tentative interest. The debut novel of her new series, The Lying Game is just as seductive as the previous series. The mystery, intrigue, and whodunit appeal will turn readers into avid fans of this wonderful introduction to The Lying Games series. Sutton and Emma are both orphans and look exactly alike. A person couldn’t tell one from the other, and that’s not abnormal— they’re twins. However, in every other way, See LYING, page23
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LYING, cont’d from page 22 the difference between the two is huge. One is a princess, and one is a pauper. One has more friends than she can count, the other can count all of her friends on one hand. One has a stable family; the other has been moved from dozens of foster homes. One’s dead, and one’s alive. Emma is lured to Sutton’s life by the glitz and glamour, but once she finds out that Sutton’s absence is not merely a coincidence with her arrival, things start to get dangerous, fast. Emma’s elation quickly folds into panic as she uncovers Sutton’s dark side. What she doesn’t know is that Sutton is right beside her, learning all she’s learning and finding out what really happened to her. Reviewed by Alex Masri The Water Wars By Cameron Stracher Sourcebooks Fire, $16.99, 240 pages Fifteen-year-old Vera lives with her family in the Republic of Illinowa. In this futuristic world, global warming has led to a world without freshwater and families struggle to get enough to stay hydrated. On her way to school one day, Vera meets a boy named Kai who claims to know where there is a hidden river. Shortly after their friendship begins, Kai disappears and leaves Vera with more questions than answers. On a mission to find Kai, Vera and her brother Will embark on a whirlwind journey that includes pirates, slavers, greedy corporations, and the burning question of whether Kai’s coveted river truly exists or not. Although written from Vera’s point of view, I felt as though she was just an eye for the audience to see the story through and I don’t feel as though I have a good sense of her true character. The other characters also felt a little flat for me. Disappointing enough, this also includes Kai - who only had a few lines before he was kidnapped. However, what the story lacked in character development, it more than compensated in action -- even if some of the scenarios were a little unrealistic. At 240 pages, Water Wars is a quick read with a powerful message. I would recommend this novel for those who enjoy dystopian novels with a hint of sci-fi thrown into the mix. Reviewed by Missy Wadkins Vesper: A Deviants Novel By Jeff Sampson Balzer + Bray, $16.99, 304 pages Emily Webb is a geeky, shy high schooler. However, when a girl, who is also named Emily, is murdered, things start to go awry. Emily has no idea what’s happening to her, but at night she transforms from nerd to
thrill-seeker. She is becoming fearless with only two things on her mind: find her mate and find the murderer. But things are never as easy as they seem when the murderer turns his sights on Emily and the hunter is suddenly the hunted. From the very first page, I was hooked on Emily’s story as she is interrupted from jumping out of her window by her friend calling to tell her about the other Emily’s murder. Emily was a stand-out character that takes us on a thrilling journey as she struggles to figure out what she is. The other characters, no matter how small their part, were developed well enough and were believable. The story never dragged. It had action around each and every corner. There was also a hint of romance, but it didn’t overwhelm the plot. Vesper is a quick-paced and welcome addition for anyone wanting a new twist in a YA book. I’d recommend this to anyone from age 12 to 100 who likes a good paranormal read with a little bit of mystery thrown in. Reviewed by Missy Wadkins Bloody Valentine (A Blue Bloods Book) By De La Cruz, Melissa Hyperion Children’s, $14.99, 160 pages If you are a fan of the Blue Bloods series then this is definitely a companion novel you will want to pick up. It contains three short stories and I enjoyed all three which is surprising, considering I am usually not a fan of short stories. If you are a die-hard Jack/Schuyler fan then this story is for you as Jack agonizes over formalizing his relationship with Schuyler. Oliver’s story also introduces readers to one of the characters that will be at the center of the author’s new series, Witches of East End. The witch in the story definitely has some interesting powers and will leave you eager for the new series to begin. The only story that left me a little dissatisfied was Allegra’s. In her story we go back to her past where she meets Schuyler’s father for the first time. We also get more insight into how Charles Force viewed his bond with Allegra. The downside is the story ends much sooner than expected. Just when you get to the juicy part the story ends and we never find out what happens between Schuyler’s mother and father. Still a must read for fans of the series. Reviewed by Debbie Suzuki
Blood & Flowers By Penny Blubaugh HarperTeen, $16.99, 352 pages In a world where humans and Fae live together, Blood & Flowers tells the story of Persia and her traveling theatre group. Despite the fact that the Fae’s magic is not to be trusted, Persia’s group seems to be living in harmony with the Fae. When a few wrong words are said, we’re taken on an adventure as their world is turned upside down. I think what I loved about this book the most was that, while it was told from Persia’s point of view, it was about many other characters as well. Characters that were well-developed and very easy to relate to. The slow development of the relationship between Persia and Nicholas was also realistic; and I loved how that felt. While the story was wonderfully written and easy to enjoy, I did find myself a little perplexed by the choppy and abrupt ending. Though overall, the story left me emotionally invested in the plot and its wonderful characters. With a small hint at social commentary, this novel is a delightful read in its own unique and weird way. I’d recommend it to YA readers who like fantasy, faeries, and creepy puppets. Reviewed by Missy Wadkins
Steel By Carrie Vaughn HarperTeen, $16.99, 304 pages Jill Archer is a fencer, and she’s good at it. At least, she thinks she is. On a trip to the beach, Jill finds a rusty piece of sword in the sand that transports her back to the time of pirates on a real life pirate ship. From there, we embark on a journey that not only includes high-seas adventures and a vengeful pirate, but also a willful girl hell-bent on proving herself. Not only do I find the concept of this story completely unique and entertaining, but I also found the action-driven plot to be more than what I was expecting. Jill was an amazingly strong heroine who always pushed for what she believed in. I also enjoyed the fact that there were pirate queens, as well as polite pirates that put the boys of today to shame. The only thing lacking for me was the relationship between Jill and Henry -- it just seemed to be there, instead of being developed. The ending was also a little predictable, but enjoyable nevertheless. Although it starts slow, Steel quickly picks up and keeps you captured until the very last page. This is a fun read for pirate lovers and time travel fans alike. Reviewed by Missy Wadkins
A Touch Mortal By Leah Clifford Greenwillow Books, $17.99, 432 pages Angels and fallen angel books seem to be all the rage these days. This story adds a unique spin to the genre by adding in a new group called “siders” made up of people who committed suicide and now live in this gray area of not an angel but not a demon. The first half of the book dragged along and I was disappointed that we don’t get to see more of the romantic development between Eden and Az. As the book goes on there were too many characters and new terminology to keep track of. It was not until the end that things really started to get exciting and even then some of the actions had me scratching my head wondering how they came about. Eden was not the most likeable characters and came across as petulant which made it hard to feel sorry for her even when she does get the short end of the stick. Not one of my favorite paranormal YA reads but the concept was interesting and the series has potential. Hopefully the next book will be more captivating now that a lot of the background explanations are out of the way. Reviewed by Debbie Suzuki
Take Me to the River By Will Hobbs HarperCollins, $15.99, 184 pages When Dylan heads for the tiny ghost town of Terlingua, Texas, he’s expecting a week of canoeing on the Rio Grande with his uncle and cousin, Rio. His uncle makes his living guiding canoe trips on the river. But, on arrival, Dylan learns his uncle is in Alaska on a river job since the local economy is suffering. Dylan stays with Rio, though, and the two boys decide to take the river trip alone. Both are experienced canoeists. Still, the part of the river they are navigating is dangerous at best, and soon after they set off, Hurricane Dolly is on her way to meet them. Even more frightening dangers await them when they meet up with a murderous gangster who has kidnapped a young boy after a deadly shoot-out. Hobbs’s writing winds and soars and drops and crashes like the river itself, as the boys navigate rapids, rocks, and hidden debris--all while struggling against additional flooding from the storm and worrying about the gunman’s growing impatience. Every bend in the river, every cave, every cliff-side is rendered distinct. This book takes you on the ride of your life, with a guide who knows his rivers. Reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan
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The Disappearing Finish Line By Ellen Meister
If you’re like most writers, you spend a lot of time thinking about some elusive writing goal. Whether it’s landing a literary agent, finishing your memoir, publishing a novel or getting your first short story acceptance, it looms like a magnificent finish line. And beyond it, bliss. Eight years ago, after months of soul-crushing rejecI’ll give the naysayers their due. There is indeed nothtions, I got the call writers dream about—a big literary ing special about publication day. No one knocks on agent was in love with my book and wanted to represent your door with an oversized check. me. Despite the sudden onset of head-spinning, I man- The press doesn’t call. Your relatives aged to bridge-and-tunnel my way from the suburbs are oblivious. I spent most of the day to the agent’s Manhattan office for a face-to-face chat. walking from room to room wonThroughout the conversation, I was wide-eyed and as- dering what I was forgetting to do. tounded. Was this really happening to me? Everything Surely there was something, wasn’t about the meeting was glorious until the agent asked there? The Question. But no. Other than my strange “Where do you see yourself as a writer five or ten fugue state, it was an ordinary day. years from now?” And the bliss I anticipated? It did “If I can walk into a bookstore and see my name on come, but it wasn’t what I expected. the cover of a novel,” I gushed, “I’ll die happy.” Sure I was thrilled the first time I saw In the excruciating silence that followed, I realized my book on the New Fiction shelf in my mistake. It was not the answer the agent wanted to my local bookstore. But the headiest hear. She wanted to know that I had ambitions to write feeling came in discreet waves when more books, to hone my craft, to reach for the bestseller I least expected it, like seeing the list. book in the library, covered in proStill, she agreed to represent me, and the next chapter tective plastic. Or walking down the in my quest for publication began. There were more lows street toward the bookstore where I than highs over the next year, as I struggled through was doing my first appearance. rewrites and a submission process just as angst-ridThe real surprise, though, was how I felt when the den and depressing as those long dust settled … exactly as I did that months of querying literary agents. day I first met my agent. Eight years ago, But that goal of publication kept And now, eight years later, the after months of soul- most poignant lesson I’ve learned me going. And sure, I had read all the writis that for driven people like us, crushing rejections, ing books that warned about how there’s no such thing as reaching I got the call writers anticlimactic it would feel. But I a goal. Not really. As soon as we’re dream about—a big knew that didn’t apply to me. I was close enough grab the prize, anotha pragmatist, after all, and didn’t er appears in the distance. The writliterary agent was in expect publication to make my er who succeeds in publishing a first love with my book teeth whiter, my hair fuller, my book wants to publish a second. The and wanted to reprechildren more polite or my husauthor who makes the New York band less contentious. I just wanted Times bestseller list wants to win a sent me. my moment of bliss. prestigious award. The critically ac-
claimed literary icon wants to win the Pulitzer. Indeed, it’s like walking toward the horizon. No matter how far you get, it’s always the same distance away. As for me, my fourth book is under contact and my third, THE OTHER LIFE, is about to hit a store near you. While I await publication, I try to apply what I’ve learned. And I do understand that no matter what happens, another goal will appear on horizon. For right now, though, I can’t help thinking that if it becomes a bestseller, I’ll die happy.
---------------------------------------Ellen Meister is the author of three novels, THE OTHER LIFE (Putnam 2/2011), THE SMART ONE (HarperCollins/Avon, 8/2008) and SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA (Morrow/Avon 8/2006), as well as numerous short stories, including an entry in the recent MILK & INK ANTHOLOGY. She currently curates for DimeStories, a literary podcast program, and runs an online group for women authors. Ellen lives on Long Island with her sweet husband and three well-mannered children, and is at work on her fourth novel, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER. For more information, visit her website at ellenmeister.com.
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Mystery, Crime & Thrillers A Shortcut to Paradise By Teresa Solana with translation by Peter Bush Bitter Lemon Press, $14.95, 284 pages A Shortcut to Paradise by Teresa Solana is a murder mystery that pokes fun at the literary world of Spain. Solana, whose novel is translated from Catalan, sets the murder of Marina Dolc in Barcelona. The murder takes place on the night Dolc is awarded a literary prize, and the runner-up says some unfortunate words about losing. The second-place author, Amadeu Cabestany, is arrested for Dolc’s murder, and his literary agent hires Borja and Eduard to prove his innocence. The two brothers — Eduard Martinez and Borja “Pep” Masdeu — are not the most skilled at solving murders. They tend to make inroads in the case more by accident than by skill. However, they dive into the case and give it their best shot. Dolc, a successful novelist, was not well loved nor did many critics like her work. Borja and Eduard, the witty duo with almost an allergy to the literary experience, need to sort through the crime while keeping their wits about them. A humorous mystery, this is Solana’s second. (The translation is into British English, not American English.) Reviewed by Elizabeth Humphrey Dying for a Date By Cindy Sample L & L Dreamspell, $16.95, 269 pages Laurel McKay isn’t sure what she’s looking for when she joins the Love Club, a dating service for professionals fed up with online dating. But she got more than she bargained for when the first two men she accepts for dates end up dead, with Laurel being the only common denominator. Now she’s got one detective determined to prove she is responsible, and another who thinks she might be the next victim. It’s up to Laurel and her ragtag crew of amateur sleuths to figure out what’s going on. Cindy Sample’s highly enjoyable book Dying for a Date combines the fun of a spunky and smart heroine with an exciting murder mystery. Chick lit has never been more fun! Readers care about Laurel because they can identify with her: a newly divorced mom, a stressful office job, and the horrors of dating after marriage all converge in this story, and the resulting guilty plea-
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sure will tempt you to stay home in your pajamas with a pint of your favorite ice cream. Laurel is a well-rounded, believable character, and her friends and coworkers are given just enough detail to impart a strong sense of realism, despite the sensational plot. The mystery aspect of the story is very detailed, and while parts of it are slightly predictable at times, there are enough surprises to keep readers hooked. Sample’s writing style is clean-cut, with clear descriptions, strong dialogue, and an overall good grasp of the English language. The addition of a romantic element helps make this novel complete; there is enough conflict between Laurel and Detective Hunter to be credible, but it is not overdone as in many romantic novels. Overall, this is an excellent entry to the world of romantic mysteries. If you’re looking for a light, entertaining, and mildly thought-provoking read, pick up this one. Sponsored Review Separate from the World: An AmishCountry Mystery By P. L. Gaus Plume, $13, 209 pages Professor Michael Branden’s weekend begins by witnessing a young student leap to her death from the college bell tower. He then becomes involved investigating a possible murder of an Amish man and the kidnapping of an Amish child. All your favorite Amish-County Mystery characters are back in P.L. Gaus’s newest novel, Separate from the World. As the investigations proceed, Branden and his close friends, Sheriff Bruce Robertson and Pastor Caleb Troyer, discover the existence of a controversial genetics study researching the effects of inbreeding within the Amish community. Could the study and the tragedies be somehow linked? To make matter even more difficult, two respected Amish leaders are divided over how the community should approach the scientific study. A modernthinking preacher argues that the Amish have been using herbs for centuries to treat maladies and there is nothing wrong with using modern drugs to treat modern aliments. The bishop feels that any use of current day medication or participation in the genetic research is forbidden. Amish families are being torn apart by the moral disagreement. Gaus masterfully writes about the mysteries and controversies that occur in a close-knit community like the Amish. Fans can’t wait to see what he writes about in his seventh Amish-Country Mystery. Reviewed by Kathryn Franklin
Stranger: A Death Valley Mystery By Melissa M. Garcia iUniverse, $28.95, 295 pages Sometimes the road to ruin is often paved with good intentions. That is the motto of most of the characters in Stranger: A Death Valley Mystery. The good intentions of Police Detective Will Stellar leads him down a path he will never recover from, and the good intentions of sibling Ric and Alex Delgado makes their quiet life more frantic. Stranger, the second novel by Melissa M. Garcia, starts off with a dead body in a motel, and the book twist and turns until it is full of more red herrings than a Seattle fish market. Garcia uses a unique blend of movement and dialogue from each person in the book and gives everyone a personality, a soul, and a hint of life.That realness helps in making almost anyone a killer, and it left me guessing until the very end. Another intriguing device used by Garcia is the use of the “whydoit?” Many times, a crime novel cares more about the mys-
terious “who” and the killer’s identity. In Stranger, we get a refreshing new outlook on how important the motive is to a crime. Any two-bit hood with a gun can be a killer, because murder is an effect. The book wants you to care about the cause, and the importance of each character. With the skill of a painter, Garcia creates beautiful and soulful players for her play. At the end, I was as conflicted about the real killer as was Detective Stellar. Another thing that worked was the theme and how each person was dealing with the same problem in different ways. Everyone had a similar conflict of family over duty. This is a mystery novel done right and is as enjoyable as a cool drink on those hot desert nights. Sponsored Review The Vyne: Mystery of the Hidden Ember By Daniel Walls Two Harbors Press, $17.95, 379 pages Ash Meadows has scars that mysteriously bleed and an inner Mystery that may save the world. The Vyne is replete with unusual characters, including: a mad scientist who aspires to world domination; an amphibian “wharfling” who acts as Ash’s godfather; a female zombie-drone whom Ash loves; a See VINE, page27
An intense, taunt and brilliantly told crime thriller. Two seeminly unrelated crimes. Two seemingly unrelated killers. And two mysteries waiting to be solved.
San Jose author and veteran police officer $17.95
The murder of the Mayor of San Francisco’s daughter sets the stage for this intriguing and spellbinding crime thriller. Two police detectives are assigned to catch a cold-blooded rapist and killer. In this gritty, realistic tale of homicide, unrelated mysteries of two murderers seem to come together and make little sense. What does a man rotting away behind the stench-enclosed walls of Angola Penitentiary have to do with an evil and cruel rapist and killer now on the run from California to Texas? What is the relationship to the killing of the Mayor’s daughter?
w w w.b lo o d over b ad ge.c o m
G o t o 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 /c a l e n d a r f o r a u t h o r e v e n t s
VINE, cont’d from page 26 tentacle-headed slave master who plans to rule the world; a monster pirate with evil powers; a cyclops; a notorious river privateer; a witch doctor; and a white dragon who knows all. The plot revolves around a medallion called the Enigma. Competing parties want the Enigma for its power to locate the Chrysalis with its secret of eternal life. Nearly every chapter takes a reader to a different, fantastical location. Mini-plots abound, each bursting with dare-devil action. This book needs a good rewrite and some careful editing. Spelling errors are numerous, as in “ringing his hands,” and “shuttered at the thought.” The author misused words. Often the syntax was strange. The book’s promising adventures were hampered by the poor writing. Reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan Someone’s Watching By Sharon Potts Oceanview Publishing, $25.95, 352 pages Robbie Ivy tends bar at The Garage in South Beach and makes beaded jewelry for a hobby. Separated from her boyfriend, Jeremy, she’s dating fun-loving Brett. Having left a highly stressful CPA position, Robbie is enjoying her uncomplicated life. Then her father shows up, after eighteen years of silence, with the news that Robbie has a halfsister, Kate. Kate and a school friend are missing. Soon the friend’s dead body is found. Robbie joins the search for Kate and turns to Jeremy for help. Together they navigate the seamier side of South Beach life on a hunch that Kate’s been kidnapped. Brett still wants to date Robbie, though his dates start feeling like combination PR events for clients -- clients who perplex Robbie and even make her uneasy. Brett’s boss, Mike, seems unduly interested in her search for Kate. Paths cross unknowingly. A mysterious man wearing a floppy hat and dark glasses keeps showing up, as does a black car with darkened windows. Often Robbie feels she’s being watched. She is, but who is the watcher? With lean, spare writing that maintains suspense throughout, the author deftly weaves the various characters’ stories into a plot that explodes in revelations. Reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan
Dead Center By Joanna Higgins The Permannent Press, $28, 272 pages In Dead Center, Dr. Benjamin Weber, respected pediatrician and family man, is arrested and charged with the murder of his friend Pete Hyland twenty years prior. In that time, Higgins has married Hyland’s widow and adopted his children. His wife, Karen, has always believed in her husband’s innocence, that he did not kill her first husband, whose death was the result of a shooting while the two men were hunting. However, as the story develops and new evidence surfaces, the family’s faith in Weber is shaken. His daughters, in particular, no longer believe he is innocent. The reader, too, is kept in the dark about Weber’s guilt until the end, a masterful touch given that Weber is a major viewpoint character. The story is wellwritten, with some beautiful description of Hawaii, but the shifts in viewpoint as well as in time are sometimes confusing. The characterization of Weber’s adopted daughters, torn between loyalty to their adoptive dad and memory of their birth father, is compelling although the dialogue is at times stilted. The courtroom scenes and interior monologues, however, are riveting in their depiction of the crime as conflicting detail, confused by time and deceit, is brought out, leading the reader to the truth. Reviewed by Stacia Levy A Nose for Hanky Panky By Sharon Love Cook Mainly Murder Press, $15.95, 252 pages Rose McNichols is a journalist for a small-town paper, who reports on local events and writes the newspaper’s advice column as Auntie Pearl. Rose has a nose for news, so when the gorgeous Vivian Kingler, Ph.D. is murdered in this sleepy little town, Rose can’t help but get involved in the investigation. The sheriff, Cal Devine, who happens to be Rose’s old love finds himself consumed with his own set of domestic troubles which seem to divert his attention from the murder investigation, making it impossible for him to put together the clues that Rose keeps uncovering. A Nose for Hanky Panky is author Sharon Love Cook’s first mystery novel and as an avid reader, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope there are more to come. Sharon’s characters are so well defined that you are immediately drawn into the story, this combined with her engaging and humor-
ous writing style; it’s hard to put this book down. You absolutely must wait till the last chapter to find out who murdered poor Vivian. Though there are clues along the way, I doubt you’ll know ‘who done it’ until the truth is revealed! Sharon Love Cook is also a cartoonist and created the artwork for the cover of this book. If you enjoy a good mystery, you’ll love A Nose for Hanky Panky. Reviewed by Doreen Erhardt
writing is the tightest I have ever read. There isn’t a word or sentence of dialogue that is misplaced or over-indulgent. Like I said, he gives you the shotgun seat into the case and while we may know a bit more about Casey than his partner Jack does, the finish is an eerie kaboom that has your heart racing and wondering just when the next book is coming out. We can only hope that this is his first book of many. Sponsored Review
Blood Over Badge By Wayne Farquhar 3L Publishing, $17.95, 256 pages Wayne Farquhar is a 28-year veteran of the San Jose Police department and it shows in his writing. The reader is given the shotgun seat in the complicated murder of the San Francisco Mayor’s daughter. Complicated because there isn’t a lot to go on and the lead detective, Jack, is breaking in a rookie partner. Jack has heard good things about his new partner, Casey, but his seeming unwillingness to share personal details about his life doesn’t sit well with his wife when they meet. No matter, Casey shows that he has good instincts and pulls his own weight on the case. The reader gets the feeling that he is indeed hiding something, but it feels like nothing more than a rookie playing all of the angles and trying to make himself come out on top. The thing that Jack can’t figure out is how in the hell a convict in Angola State Penitentiary, half a world away, knows details about the case that haven’t been released to the public. Was their perp inside with this guy at one time or what? Connecting the dots leads them to a stolen SUV in Texas and the murder of a Nevada State Trooper before they get much further along. It is a wild ride for the killer and something less than a joy ride for the detectives. I read a lot of self-published and debut authors and I have to say that Farquhar’s
Myth By E. McCloskey Xlibris, $19.99, 315 pages Anna Tyler is in love with Ben, her college roommate. Her other roommate, Lou, invites them to his parents’ lake home during winter break. Ben brings his new girlfriend, Katie. When Anna stomps off into the woods to walk off her anger, she comes across two men, Darren and Pete, who seem to be hunters. Soon Anna finds that she and Darren can read each other’s minds. For reasons Darren won’t reveal, Pete is stalking Anna -- and has been for awhile. If Darren touches people, sparks (the dangerous kind) fly. When he touches Anna, she only feels pleasant thrills. Myth opens like chick lit, but McCloskey’s witty writing soon pulls a reader into a delightful mystery/thriller with a surprising plot twist in every chapter; Anna is not who she thought she was. Ben is not who she thought he was. Charming Darren and ominous Pete are full of secrets. Family ties are full of revelations. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? McCloskey keeps you guessing to the last. Sometimes the narration was over-explanatory; but, for the most part, McCloskey’s writing catches you up in the intrigue. Her settings are vivid. Her characters are full of life. Anna, humorous and poignant by turns, is an enjoyable protagonist to spend time with. And good thing, too: While this is McCloskey’s first novel, it’s the first of a series. McCloskey is a good find. Sponsored Review
Arrrrgggghhhh! i should have checked the san Francisco book review website before buying this book!
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Modern Literature Destiny and Desire: A Novel By Carlos Fuentes with translation by Edith Grossman Random House, $27, 415 pages Carlos Fuentes, author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, opens his latest novel on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. There, we meet our sinister narrator, the severed head of Josue Nadal. While recounting his story, Josue takes readers on a journey through Mexico’s critical history and conspiracies to unveil its many demons. While Fuentes offers biting political commentary over Mexico’s “war on drugs,” he also delivers comedy, satire, and fantasy to balance Josue’s bleak storytelling. Central to his life is Jerico, a blood brother, fellow musketeer, and literary foil. Together, they create an alliance of values, beliefs, and a list of obligations set to seal their fate as kindred spirits forever. In Destiny and Desire, Fuentes’ literary mastery and ease of evoking historical knowledge is immediately apparent. Initially, the prose seems contradicting: dense and uninviting, yet beautiful and intriguing, a clear indication of what Fuentes’s intention was with such an unlikely narrator. Only in death can Josue tells us the story of his life. Alive, his reality was so painful he sees life through a series of intellectual abstractions. Fuentes’ latest feat is a work of noble aspirations and promises a patient reader a rich display of verbal brilliance and literary allusions. Reviewed by Wendy Iraheta
Swamplandia! By Karen Russell Knopf, $24.95, 316 pages Ava Bigtree can’t wait until she’s old enough to wrestle alligators like her mother, the star of Swamplandia!, the biggest tourist attraction for miles. But her dreams disappear like swamp gas when her mother gets sick and dies, leaving the Bigtree family with a hole in their lives and no headliner to bring in the paying customers. Now Ava’s ethereal sister Ossie has decided to talk to and date ghosts, her book-smart, street-ignorant brother Kiwi has run away to the mainland to get a real job and a real education, and her stubborn father, Chief Bigtree, convinced that he can reinvent Swamplandia!, has disappeared on a mysterious errand of his own. Obviously it’s up to Ava to save her family and her beloved Swamplandia! In Swamplandia! Karen Russell plays in a landscape that’s a little outlandish, a little spooky, a little whimsical and wholly phenomenal. Using forcefully vibrant imagery, Russell builds such an engrossing diorama that even when the going gets surreal, it seems perfectly natural. Both the swamp and the city become strange new landscapes when seen through Russell’s turn of phrase. I guarantee that if you pick this book up, you’d rather wrestle a ten-foot gator than put it down! Reviewed by Heather Ortiz
Best Women’s Erotica 2011 By Violet Blue, editor Cleis Press, $15.95, 206 pages Best Women’s Erotica 2011 is another titillating collection from editor Violet Blue, featuring nineteen sensual stories that leave the reader feeling very satisfied. Each story is unique and pushes boundaries, no doubt causing some readers to have their comfort zone challenged, but they’ll still find a new favorite story to curl up in bed with. What’s interesting about this year’s collection is that the writers bring a sense of pride in accepting different forms of sexuality. These stories are more vocal in challenging the media
views of sexuality, and those who choose what gets them hot. For instance, Velvet Moore’s “Picture Me Naked” shows our leading lady learning how a simple act of publicly finding a naked picture of herself in a bag of items her ex-boyfriend returns to her can reshape they way she participates in public eroticism. “Two For One,” by Alyssa Turner, has our heroine finally finding relief from constant traveling with two well-attuned masseurs. Many of these stories will quickly have readers stealing these fantasies for their own mental collection; whereas other tales may take a while to grow on you. However, this collection shows that erotica is still bursting with originality, and has limitless creativity. Reviewed by Robyn Oxborrow
Amaryllis in Blueberry By Christina Meldrum Gallery Books, $15, 365 pages I am a persnickety reader. I view each book as an investment of my time that I will not be getting back. I do not have the luxury of wasting a part of my life on tired plots or poor writing. For that reason, I cannot recommend Christina Meldrum’s Amaryllis in Blueberry highly enough. In Amaryllis, Meldrum tells the story of a married couple, Dick and Seena, and their four daughters. The setting pivots back and forth between Michigan and West Africa in the 1970s, and the story opens to find one of the main characters on trial for murder in Africa. These aspects alone are proof that this is not some tired retelling of a familiar plot. However, Meldrum creates more than an interesting story line: she understands the tools of her craft. For example, Meldrum uses a revolving point of view, permitting the reader to see the action through each character’s unique perspective. Furthermore, she uses techniques like allusion and imagery to create layers of meaning, much like the unfolding amaryllis bloom of the title. In sum, Meldrum has written a novel that makes the time spent reading a true pleasure. Reviewed by Annie Peters
Relationships & Sex
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A Compendium of Kisses By Lana Citron Harlequin, $13.95, 224 pages Who was your first kiss? How long did it last? (C’mon, admit that you timed it!) Was playing kissy poo worthy of the hype? Lana Citron makes out the history, mystery, and chemistry of kisses in her latest book, A Compendium of Kisses. Divided into four chapters, in addition to the etymology lesson, Citron shares the anatomy of the love bite, nature and geography of a kiss, history of smooching, and cultural pecks. Each chapter gives lip service to multiple sub-categories, but these short bursts of
Pictures of You By Caroline Leavitt Algonquin Books, $13.95, 336 pages Life isn’t always in focus. Adjusting the F-stop on the camera doesn’t always add perspective either. Caroline Leavitt proves this in her latest novel Pictures of You. Set against the backdrop of Cape Cod, Leavitt tells the story of two married women on the run. April Nash and husband, Charlie, have what seems to be the perfect marriage and family. Their son, Sam, struggles with asthma attacks, but something’s amiss with April. Isabelle Stein discovers her husband Luke is not only having an affair, but his girlfriend’s pregnant. The worlds of these women collide, in the form of a car accident, and when Sam first glimpses Isabelle, he believes she’s an angel who can lead him to his mother. Leavitt creates believable characters that portray a gamut of emotions: uncertainty, fear, remorse, anger, desire. As the characters struggle to accept loss and love, the bond that connects the accident survivors grows. This book stands out as a tale of survival. The internal struggle of each main character comes across as real, like a battle many readers may face on a daily basis. The drive to do what’s best for every party concerned makes an emotional connection. Reading the last few pages, I couldn’t stop tears from spilling. When a book makes that kind of impact, it’s worth quality reading time. Reviewed by LuAnn Schindler
information read more like a Twitter feed about kissing statistics and trivia. The book begins with a 13-page spread covering the definition and origin of the word. Graphics of Morse Code, Braille, sign language, text and emoticon versions show that a kiss is more than just a kiss, no matter what language. I’m not sure why this isn’t considered a chapter in the text and is treated as set aside information. The history and trivia or cultural sections explain in great detail the significance of puckering up. If you’re longing to become a kissing expert, this book will arm you with a great deal of knowledge. However, the disjointed feeling of the book’s layout and tidbits of data leave readers desiring something more. Reviewed by LuAnn Schindler
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Science & Nature Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth By Mark Hertsgaard Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00, 339 pages Whenever I open a book based on scientific research and review of the literature, I don’t want to feel distracted by sentimental references. It seems Mark Hertsgaard directed his thesis to his daughter, Chiara. If I wanted to read such a book, I would not have looked in the science and nature category. Although the title embraces the prospect of global warming over the next fifty years, the inside message does a feeble job to support his contentions. This is not to say that the book is poorly written or lacks in concrete science, but it does so in drawn-out speculations about what might be. The author needs to draw a line in the sand and then cross it to show the dangers. After 100 pages, the reader begins to feel Hertsgaard’s passion, but it’s marred
with tangential examples. The book offers entertainment as it exploits every aspect of the subject and is punctuated with rather clever quotes from literature to enhance the author’s deeper message. Overall, the book is 3.5 stars, but the importance of the subject and the resources the author uses to convey his message persuade me to lean toward 4 stars. Reviewed by D. Wayne Dworsky The Science of Kissing By Sheril Kirshenbaum Grand Central Publishing, $19.99, 272 pages The practice of kissing has a long history, and was during the middle ages, when literacy was lacking, the way to close a deal with an X and a kiss. Since then it has taken on other roles mostly in the realm of indicating affection. But not everyone kisses with the lips as lovers or the French do. There are the sniffers whose noses examine the skin surface for recognition, something like the Eskimos. The book is divided in
three parts beginning with the historical background of the kissing habit, onto the physiological changes wrought by this act, and finally how the brain interprets the oscillatory operation. Filled with engrossing details and intriguing anecdotes, find out how the hormones direct your reactions, while the brain waves scribble interpretations of the act. Pucker up your lips and paint them with the reddest glow, this is the lure to the opposite sex. No wonder so many women are constantly fixing their lips with their tiny make-up mirrors, it is an open invitation for a kiss. This is a fast reading book about an action performed automatically to fit different occasions. A peck by an acquaintance is okay but how I hate a slobbering smooch! Reviewed by Aron Row How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming By Mike Brown Spiegel & Grau, $25.00, 288 pages Astronomy isn’t a field known for its public controversies, but the demotion of Pluto from planethood resounded throughout the media and popular culture with astonishing fervor. And Mike Brown, the
Self-Help The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done By Ph.d., Piers Steel Harper, $25.99, 320 pages Procrastination is the thief of time, and many of us find that this proverb describes what happens when we stretch our deadlines and concomitantly raise our anxiety levels. Steel, a psychologist who specializes in the study of procrastination defines it as ‘an irrational deferment of tasks despite knowing that it against our best interest to do so’. Think of all the assignments, study tasks, and other obligations like paying the credit-card charge that some of us put off in spite of ourselves. The book covers the evolutionary aspects of procrastination, as the executive brain (prefrontal lobe) commenced controlling the essential primitive limbic (impulse oriented) system. Distractions in the form of the internet and videos currently add to the procrastination process. Going off-task is a problem leading to deleterious consequences affecting economics, politics, and global considerations, though I would suggest other terms
be devised to differentiate the impersonal ramifications of procrastination from the effect this flaw has on the individual. This is rather a superficial treatise on the subject of putting things off which affects those with low self-esteem and reads more like a motivational self-help manual. Its message is to never put off till tomorrow, that which you can do today. Reviewed by Aron Row Purpose-Centered Public Speaking: How to Develop and Deliver Purposeful Talks, Speeches, and Presentations with Less Fear and More Confidence By Gary Rodriguez LeaderMetrix, $23.99, 173 pages Purpose-Centered Public Speaking: How to Develop and Deliver Purposeful Talks, Speeches, and Presentations is a long fancy title for a book that is basically Relax! Now Try This. The book is a combination of workbook, pep talk, and resources that anyone can use, whether they are a seasoned speaker before thousands of people or just preparing to speak up at the weekly meeting for management in their department. The book is full of examples of
speeches by author Dr. Gary Rodriguez and others--both the successful ones and the ones that were disasters. Both are equally helpful in illustrating his tips on creating a successful speaker. By applying the tips to your own speech or speaking style you can notice your flaws(and hopefully your strengths). Rodriguez addresses everything from choosing a subject to plagiarism to arranging your notes to the way you stand. So many times he brings up aspects of public speaking that most people probably never even thought about before. How closely do you analyze your audience? Do you consider how your audience will actually remember your information? What about the familiar “eye contact?” Rodriguez shows us the difference between “making eye contact” and “wish you would stop staring at me.” This isn’t just the old tired advice packaged into a book. Many times, the advice given is an eye opener. Occasionally, it felt as if Purpose-Centered Speaking would benefit from a bit of humor to lighten the mood or that there was repetition of information, but overall, this book was a grand success. Not only should everyone who has to speak in public (and who doesn’t?) read it, but they should keep it on their book shelf to reread before each engagement both to help them refine their
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man who discovered Eris—the celestial body heralded all-too-briefly as the tenth planet—found himself at the center of a media firestorm. In How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, Brown chronicles his quest to discover new additions to our stellar family, as well as his curious role in the demise of our beloved nine-planet solar system model. Writing a thoroughly entertaining astronomy book is no small feat, and How I Killed Pluto succeeds with ease. Brown strikes an excellent balance of scientific exposition and personal storytelling, offering romantic and family interludes alongside the high points of his quest. His writing has immense charm and his enthusiasm for the topic is undeniable. (The chapter titles are a particular treat: “The Moon Is My Nemesis” and “Mean, Very Evil Men” were my personal favorites.) Even the brokenhearted pro-Pluto faction will find a lot to enjoy in this one. What a treat. Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
speech and to give them that little boost of confidence we all need. Sponsored Review You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment By Thich Nhat Hanh Shambhala, $24.95, eBook I believe Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the greatest thinkers currently living. If more people followed his teachings on mindfulness and compassion, I think many of the problems facing us would improve. That said, it should come as no surprise that I greatly enjoyed listening to Hanh’s latest work, You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment, as read by Lloyd James in the unabridged audiobook. In this work, Hanh does not reveal any startling new ideas. Instead, Hanh reviews timeless, essential Buddhist thought and practices and helps the reader to apply those practices to his or her daily life. In You Are Here, Hahn emphasizes mindfulness as a key to living each and every moment to its fullest. Chapters topics include: the possiSee MAGIC,, page 31
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Historical Fiction The Mistress of Nothing: A Novel By Kate Pullinger Touchstone, $24, 250 pages In Victorian England lived a historical figure named Lady Duff Gordon who traveled with her lady’s maid, Sally Naldrett, to Egypt, hoping the dry weather would ease her tuberculosis. Mistress of Nothing is a fictional account of the journey told by Sally. As they adopt Egyptian ways of eating, dressing, and living, Sally is fooled into believing they have both changed. But when Sally shatters an unbreakable rule by falling in love, Lady Duff Gordon reverts to her English self and casts Sally out of her household. Sally finds herself jobless in the unfamiliar, friendless streets of Cairo. Reading Mistress of Nothing was like reading about a fantasy world because the rules that bound Victorian gentry-servant relations were so completely different from
today’s world. The book constantly explores the relationships people form across boundaries, and asks the question, “Are any of these relationships real?” Telling the story from Sally’s point of view made it even more powerful. Although Sally can guess at other’s feelings and reasons, not knowing raises many questions for readers to ponder. This is a book you can’t stop thinking about. Reviewed by Jodi Webb The Witch’s Daughter By Paula Brackston Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 305 pages Every new residence requires a new Book of Shadows and Elizabeth just began a new one. In rural England, Elizabeth feels she’s finally found a place that is safe, except that she can’t shake the pesky neighbor girl, who is an awkward outcast at school who always wants to hang around her. Elizabeth begins to tell the girl stories, witch stories, and teaches her the way of the hedge witch, teaching the girl the way Elizabeth’s mother taught her, three hundred years before. For Elizabeth was once Bess, a girl
with a loving family, until the witchfinder of Wessex found himself a true witch in Bess’s mother. Bess flew into the arms of the local warlock, who taught her power her mother only dreamed of, and made the girl immortal. Centuries later, he still pursues her, seeking payment for her life. The author adroitly handles the movement from one time to another and the vivid detail make this book a pleasure to read. The characters are lively and interesting to follow. With the sense of doom ever on the horizon along with the scent of lavender, The Witch’s Daughter is a great read, for everyone from the teenage girl in the house to her grandmother. Reviewed by Axie Barclay The Sea Captain’s Wife: A Novel By Beth Powning Plume, $15, 384 pages The endless vastness of the ocean can enchant anyone. In The Sea Captain’s Wife, that is the scenario that happens to Azuba
Reference Curly Girl: The Handbook By Lorraine Massey and Michele Bender Workman Publishing Company, $13.95, 188 pages Hair isn’t just curly or straight. If it isn’t straight, it is s’wavy, wavy, or it has curls of the following types: fractcal, zig-zag, cherub, corkicelli, botticelli, or corkscrew. In Curly Girl, Devachan Salons coowner Lorraine Massey provides an identification checklist for each style, including photos of individual curls, as well as curly girl models and celebrities with each type of hair. Taylor Swift, for example, has cherub curls, and Megan Fox has wavy hair.) But regardless of the type of curl, Lorraine Massey has spent more than ten years leading a battle cry for curly girls to ditch their flat irons, hair dryers, and chemical straitening treatments to embrace their curls. “Free your hair and the rest will follow!” she says.
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Curly Girl includes specific instruction with lots of illustrative photos for the care of each type of curly hair. There are also chapters that cater to curly kids, curly men, multicultural curls, coloring curly hair, and curly up-dos. A series of “Curl Confessions” shares entertaining personal stories of how individuals came to accept their curly hair. Curly Girl is truly a bible for anyone who has -- or might be in denial of -- curly or wavy hair. Reviewed by Megan Just The Productive Writer: Tips & Tools to Help You Write More, Stress Less & Create Success By Sage Cohen Writers Digest Books, $16.99, 203 pages I have a shelf full of creative writing manuals, some of which take a rather dreamy approach to attracting the muse. Not so with Sage Cohen’s book. This is a woman with a detailed strategy to help you become the
productive writer she knows that you can be. While being warmly supportive, Cohen makes writing of any type an art which can be approached in a business-like fashion. She helps the writer make goals and detailed plans for achieving those goals, create a platform, determine what is within the writer’s control and what is not, create appropriate record-keeping systems and workspace, address time management, create rituals to increase productivity, address fear, use social media and online technologies, revise, seek publication and create a supportive community. An accomplished writer in her own right, Cohen does not turn writing into a business, but she does bring a certain directed focus to the task. This is not a woman who advocates waiting for the muse to flit in from her endless coffee break. For those like myself who like a take-charge approach, The Productive Writer is empowering and encouraging. Reviewed by Annie Peters What Color Is Your Parachute? JobHunter’s Workbook By Richard N. Bolles Ten Speed Press, $11.99, 59 pages According to statistics cited in What Color is Your Parachute? Job-Hunter’s Work-
Golloway. Azuba has salt water in her veins and marries a sea captain to keep herself close to the ocean. The book is about her life and adventures, all which is set in the 1860s. The book is amazingly true to life. Each section is like a page ripped from a musty old diary found in Beth Powning’s attic. The husband and wife relationship is the real star of the book, as Powning spins a massive heart tugging yarn. The characters are real and truthful. Not everyone is a saint, and, as the story progresses, the readers get to see some spectacular human experiences. On the other side of the coin, Powning has done her research. The book even comes with a glossary for those that are not sea worthy. My favorite part of The Sea Captain’s Wife is the places Azuba goes. Each port and place is described exactly as it should for the time period. It may seem minor, but it give the book so much of depth. If looking to get away this weekend, do yourself a favor and get this captivating tale. Reviewed by Kevin Brown
book, three million people find jobs and another two million jobs remained unfilled each month, even in difficult times. In this third-edition companion to What Color is Your Parachute?, Dick Bolles argues that those who get jobs do so because they have inventoried themselves, know the jobs appropriate for them, and have the energy to persevere because they know what they are dying to do. This small volume provides detailed worksheets to enable job seekers to discover their “favorite transferable skills, fields of knowledge, peopleenvironments, working conditions, levels of responsibility and salary, values and goals.” Completing the worksheets should reveal each person’s dream job. However, if that fails, the last page briefly provides a “fallback” strategy. I believe the worksheets in this book could be very effective in helping to discover latent transferrable skills or fields of knowledge. It also bodes well for long-term employment and satisfaction to know what you value, what salary you need to a make, See COLOR, page 31
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Spirituality & Inspiration Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program By Sharon Salzberg Workman, $14.95, 208 pages Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg is an accessible, 28-day program to introduce meditation to those who do not currently meditate. It is accompanied by a CD with four guided meditations. Salzberg introduces meditation by gently explaining how or why one would want to meditate. Reviewing some of the scientific studies that strengthen the argument, Salzberg primes her readers, preparing them to understand the major benefits to meditation. Starting with week one, Salzberg guides the reader to work on individual areas: con-
centration, mindfulness, and loving kindness. Throughout the book, Salzberg shares stories of others who have been learning meditation. Each chapter of the program is organized into a practice preview, the meditations, and frequently asked questions, reflections, and the takeaway. The takeaway is especially useful in helping to guide the reader to bring the meditation practice into daily living. Salzberg also includes nuts and bolts of practice — tips to integrate the meditation practice in various ways. If meditation is something of interest, Real Happiness is certainly worth buying. Reviewed by Elizabeth Humphrey Karma and Reincarnation: Unlocking Your 800 Lives to Enlightenment By Barbara Y. Martin and Dimitri Moraitis Tarcher, $16.95, 298 pages John Lennon sang about instant karma. Said it was “gonna get you, gonna knock you right in the head.” Karma is a word we hear
all the time. But just what is karma? Author Barbara Y. Martin is a renown metaphysical teacher and clairvoyant. Coauthor Dimitri Moraitis cofounded The Spiritual Arts Institute with Martin and is a teacher and spiritual healer. Together they have compiled a fascinating book Karma and Reincarnation: Unlocking Your 800 Lives to Enlightenment. This is a book to be mulled over and studied. Karma is something we generate – like cause and effect. It is closely connected to our freedom of choice and willpower. According to Martin and Moraitis, “the ultimate purpose of our right of free choice is to choose … to act in complete harmony with the eternal laws of life.”
How the reader chooses to utilize the ideas presented in the book can impact many facets of life – in financial matters, personal relationships, careers, body, soul, nature and spirituality. Truthfully, this book is challenging to review, because it really is a matter of what you believe. If you’re open to exploring metaphysical theories, this book could change the way you think and what you ultimately do. Perhaps that’s just what the authors had in mind. I for one will be studying and learning from this book for some time. It encourages the reader to be a student. Learn about karma and how it plays into your life, and how it goes into the beyond. This book will open the door to that way of thinking. Reviewed by Laura Friedkin
Together they learned by doing, leading to a conclusion of a basic lesson learned about Jesus, grace and the only way to be perfect. Reviewed by Angie Mangino
hol followed. All this and his journey back to faith is chronicled in Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows. Ten years later, God’s grace still resonates powerfully in Bakker’s life as evidenced in his new book, Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self and Society. Bakker and writer Martin Edlund have crafted a book appealing to all — Christian or not — to accept God’s grace and live it fully. The book flows nicely from chapter to chapter with a mix of persuasive narrative, scripture, touching stories, and well-placed humor. Without a doubt, many will disagree with Bakker’s beliefs and Bible interpretation. However, his call for compassion and appreciation of the dignity of every person, especially the ostracized, is admirable. It will certainly be a catalyst to some good discussions. Reviewed by Diana Irvine
Religion How to Be Perfect: One Church’s Audacious Experiment In Living the Old Testament Book of Leviticus By Daniel M. Harrell FaithWords, $19.99, 216 pages The Old Testament is difficult for many Christians to understand and with which to relate, written in a time that is so different from that lived today. Most difficult of all of its books, however, is the Book of Leviticus, which challenges even many Jews. This, however, did not stop Daniel Harrell, pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, to attempt this Leviticus project with eighteen members of his church
who utilized Facebook to create community for it. They learned though different, in many ways it applies today. “I was tempted to title this book How to Be Perfect and let the intentional misspelling convey the irony regarding the audacity of this project. Try as we might, nobody’s perfect,” Harrell begins in his introduction. Nevertheless, imperfect as his community may have been, “a lot was learned – about Leviticus, about God, about ourselves.” “How then is a modern -day ancient Levite to keep the Levitical law? Needless to say, it proved a real challenge.” This book follows this community in their enthusiasm, disappointment, hope, and failures. We learn of others who joined in on Facebook with their comments, questions, criticisms, and encouragement.
Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society By Jay Bakker FaithWords, $19.99, 203 pages Jay Bakker’s firsthand experience of God’s grace came after a great fall. His parents were publicly disgraced as a result of a financial scandal involving their Christian TV ministry in the late 1980s. Their son’s spiral downward into drugs and alco-
Music & Movies Woody Allen (Masters of Cinema) By Florence Colombiani Phaidon Press, $9.95, 102 pages Few American auteur icons have caused a personal stir of the caliber we’ve seen in the lifetime of Woody Allen. In the series of snapshots offered by Cahiers Du
Cinema, portraying Masters of the Cinema, Colombani grants us insights into Allen’s private life made popular by the tabloids after his authorized biography by Eric Lax was published in 1991. More than a thumbnail biography, Colombani focuses on Allen’s pastiche: art imitating life, mirroring art. Through his films we see both the revolutionary flare of his genre, and the evolution of Allen’s character. With Woody Allen -- the writer, actor, director, musician -- the artist cannot be viewed
COLOR, cont’d from page 30 and the type of environment in which you enjoy working. If considering a major career change without knowing what that career will be, this workbook could prove invaluable. Reviewed by Annie Peters
MAGIC, cont’d from page 29 separately from the person. As Colombani proves, Allen is best reviewed by his work. Defined by the leading women who characterized his virtu, we see the stages of Allen’s life unfold through a series of objet d’ art. A bold eccentric who thought nothing of missing the lauded Oscars ceremony to play the clarinet with his jazz band at Michael’s Pub the night Annie Hall swept Hollywood, Allen has since suffered in the box office for trying to make his point instead of trying to make us laugh. Reviewed by Casey Corthron
T H E C R I T I C A L E Y E . . . w h a t ’s i t l i k e t o b e a b o o k r e v i e w e r ?
bility of happiness and peace, the heart of practice, practicing skillfully with the past, healing wounds, cultivating true love, the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, and becoming truly alive. Furthermore, the choice of James as the reader is excellent. His calm and soothing tone perfectly complements the text. You Are Here contains a wealth of wisdom to which I will return again and again. Reviewed by Annie Peters
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Home & Garden How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew By Erin Bried Ballantine Books, $15.00, 266 pages In a high-tech world, consumed with the Internet, social networking, and instantaneous information and media, the kinds of real-life knowledge and experience our grandparents offered are little valued. We are so busy “friending” one another that we don’t know how to truly comfort someone. Scoring points on the Wii takes the place of actually knowing how to drive a golf ball.
“If you spend a night in the woods and you don’t know how to build a fire, you’re going to be cold.” – Bill Holloman The author, Erin Bried, wrote this book without the contribution of her grandfather’s knowledge, but in the process, accumulated the knowledge of many others. How to plant a tree, how to hang drywall, how to be brave and support your family, how to save money, how to get a haircut, how to shake hands, how to iron a shirt, how to kindle romance, how to make a good cup of coffee, how to lead a dance partner, and how to work hard. These and many other common sense, back-to-basics tips not only tell you how to do things, but show how to what’s really important in life. Reviewed by Axie Barclay
City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing By Lorraine Johnson Greystone Books, $15.95, 256 pages Farming can happen anywhere, and Lorraine Johnson is out to prove it in her new book City Farmer. Presiding popular belief dictates that food growing is a rural activity, but recent trends show gardens and more creeping into urban areas. Johnson discusses the history of personal food gardens during wars and times of economic hardship, and shows how these ideas are making a comeback during this time of economic recession and renewed in-
terest in where our food comes from. There are chapters on gardens of all sorts, from sanctioned community gardens to guerilla gardens that make use of vacant, city-owned lands. The author also discusses the idea of urban foraging, and even the art of backyard chicken coops. While there is a definite bias toward food activism, readers can’t deny the appeal of using city land to provide fresh, healthy food for people who need it. This book is an educational tool and a source of inspiration for the frustrated gardener hidden in us all. One can’t help but walk away from it with a desire to grow something, even if it’s just a pot of basil on your kitchen windowsill. Reviewed by Holly Scudero
Health, Fitness & Dieting The Flex Diet: Design-Your-Own Weight Loss Plan By James Beckerman Touchstone Fireside, $24.99, 273 pages At the beginning of every year, millions of people step on the scale and bemoan those extra holiday pounds. They resolve to change their eating habits, lose weight, and get healthy. It’s not an easy task. In fact, many of us go through this pattern every year, not only at the beginning of the year, but again when swimsuit season rolls around, or some special event on the calendar, perhaps a class reunion, a wedding, or a vacation to Hawaii. There are so many diet plans out there, it is easy to become disheartened. After all, with so many choices, how do we truly
know which ones will work? We want results NOW. We haven’t got the time to cull through the best, most effective parts of each diet plan to create our own plan of attack. And we don’t have to, because author James Beckerman, M.D., has written an appealing new book The Flex Diet – Design Your Own Weight Loss Plan, pulling the best most effective steps from a wide array of diet plans. It’s about flexibility. Too often we fall off course, splurge, and then kick ourselves because we strayed. We’re weak. Yes, when
we put ourselves on a tough regimen, we vilify certain food groups. Beckerman’s book still does that, suggesting the elimination of particular foods and drinks from our food choices. What I like most about this book is the attributes or reasoning presented with each flex solution, to explain why this or that step can work. The Flex Diet might be the diet for you – because you can customize and combine various solutions into a plan that works for you. Reviewed by Laura Friedkin
Sports & Outdoors Candlestick Park By Ted Atlas Arcadia Publishing, $21.99, 128 pages I certainly wasn’t the only one waxing nostalgic with the World Series victory by the Giants. I was born in San Francisco in 1954, the year the Giants last won the series (in New York!). Many folks reminisced how they been attending games for 30, 40, 50 years, and would go with their parents and grandparents. The Giants moved into Candlestick in 1960. Believe it or not, this park has iconic
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status in the hearts and minds of older Bay Area sports fans. Atlas tells the story of the men who built the stadium, the players who performed on the field, the performers who provided entertainment, and, of course, most importantly – the fans, especially the kids, who never forget their first day at Candlestick, as I remember it in 1961.The book features hundreds of historical photographs documenting Candlestick Park, a striking example of modernism and the first reinforced-concrete stadium.
The Giants’ home for 40 years, it played host to two World Series, including in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. Renovated to a dual-purpose stadium in 1970, it became the home of the San Francisco 49ers. Pope Paul II visited; it hosted the last Beatles concert; and on January 10, 1982, we stood with our mouths wide open and our hearts firing, witnessing “The Catch.” With the 49ers moving to Santa Clara in 2014, Candlestick will be demolished. Reviewed by Phil Semler
se i t r ve d A th Wi
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T hou s a nd s of b o ok re v ie w s at S a n Fr a nc i s coB o ok R e v ie w.com
A bi-monthly book review covering books from more than 30 different categories