Sunday, November 28, 2010

To Nourish And Consume by Ryan O'Reilly

Brian Falk has returned home.  His parents still live in the lakeside town he grew up and where his family had a heritage of building boats.  Brian, on the other hand, gave up the expectation that he would be the next generation involved in the boatyard.  When he left to go to college, he didn't return for ten years.  Instead he spent the time traveling and writing, and lived in Boston.  As he nears thirty, he realises that big-city life is not what he wants.

Yet returning home is not an easy transition.  His high school years were consumed by a relationship he had with two of the "rich kids" in town.  His family was middle class, respected as artisans but not rich or famous.  As a tourist town, there were summer people who spent the rest of their moneyed lives in other locations.  Brian was friends first with Dabney, who started as a shy boy who grew up to be demanding and petulant.  They both became friends with Jackie; a beautiful girl who grew into a temptress who gained her power by making everyone around her emotionally dependant on her.  Brian left for college in disgust after both he and Dabney fell in love with Jackie, and she decided to go with what she had always known and chose Dabney for his money and connections.

Brian settles into town slowly, getting an apartment, working part-time for the newspaper and then starting to work at the boatyard with his dad while waiting for the time to be right to work on another book.  He connects with old friends, and meets a new woman, Alissa, the little sister of a former high school buddy.  He doesn't expect to see Dabney or Jackie again, but that is exactly what happens.  They are in town and try to draw Brian back into their games and deceptions.  Can Brian carve out the satisfactory life that has so far eluded him, or will he be drawn back into the competitive, shallow world of the moneyed tourists?

This book is recommended for readers who are interested in stories of individuals finding their life paths and resolving past hurts.  O'Reilly portrays a man caught between the past and the present, and the difficulty of deciding which will rule his world. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

In Outliers, The Story Of Success, Malcolm Gladwell shows research that puts forward the theory that success is a combination of factors.  While intelligence plays a large part, so do birth order, cultural assumptions, and above all hard work.  Individuals must have the ability to see opportunities and then have the skills to take advantage of them.

One of the earliest chapters focuses on professional hockey players.  They are overwhelmingly born in the first three months of the year.  Inexplicable coincidence?  No, more likely that this phenomenon is the result of age cutoffs in sports teams, so that those born in January, February and March are usually the oldest on their teams, so more developed and more likely to be noticed.  Those noticed are picked for more advanced teams where they get more training, better coaching and more practice and playing time, all of which give them the opportunity to become better players than those who are left on their first skill level teams.

This plays out over and over again when trends are seen.  The dot-com millionaires?  Almost all were born from 1952-1955, when the computer was first introduced to the public, and kids in schools could get hours upon hours of programming time.  Successful musicians?  Most practice hundreds more hours than those who just never quite make it to the top.  Both groups are talented, but one group takes advantage of opportunities and hard work to develop that talent.

In one study, bright children in California were tested and tracked for over forty years.  Although all started in the brightest groups, by adulthood they had fallen into the superstars, the average and those who didn't quite make it.  Luck of the draw?  That assumption can be challenged when the facts show that those in the bottom group almost overwhelmingly had parents who were uninvolved in their lives and who didn't help their children focus and refine their talents.  Parenting styles seem to make a big difference.

Gladwell has written a thought-provoking book.  His thesis can be summed up in this quote: "...success follows a predictable course.  It is not the brightest who succeed.  Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf.  It is, rather, a gift.  Outliers are those who have been given opportunities--and who have the strength and presence of mind to seize them. ...To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success--the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history--with a society that provides opportunities for all."  This book is recommended for readers that are interested in learning how the world works and how we might improve it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cake Boss by Buddy Valastro

Viewers of TLC's hit show, Cake Boss,  will be delighted to discover that Buddy Valastro, the genial host, has written his memoir.  Those not familiar with the show will also quickly become engaged in reading Buddy's life story.  Scumptious recipes, gorgeous photographs of the finished products and a great memoir make this a book to enjoy and share.

Buddy is the product of a traditional Italian family.  His family have been bakers for many generations, and he knew from a child that becoming a pastry/cake baker was the life he wanted.  The book traces the Valastro family history.  We get to follow the immigration of the family on both sides from Italy to America and hear how they became successes at their Italian bakery.

When Buddy took over, he made some changes that improved the family business while maintaining the traditional Italian fare his customers had grown up loving.  He changed ingredients and expanded the cake decoration and custom cake part of the business.  Part of the change was the expansion of the business as Buddy makes a splash in the national bridal magazines, and finally on the TV show that has made the bakery a recognized business nationwide.  Regardless of the changes, the same core values continue the success of the business; love of family, hard work and the determination to send every customer home happy.

In addition to the engaging memoir, the book includes the recipes that made Carlo's Bakery famous.  There are recipes for traditional Italian pastries, cookies, cupcakes and cakes.  Along with the recipes are tips on kitchen equipment, quality ingredients, and cooking techniques.  This book is recommended for cooks everywhere and for readers interested in a feel-good, interesting story. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately

Growing up poor in Boston, Elsa is determined to help those worse off than her family.  Several events helped her carve out her lifework.  One was helping her mother care for her disabled niece, who died young.  Another was seeing the pictures of families, especially the children, dying of famine in Biafra.  Elsa becomes determined to become a nurse, and with hard work, manages to do so.  Shortly after her graduation, two things occur.  Her mother dies and 9-11 occurs.  Elsa is determined to go overseas to help however she can.

She contacts a relief organization and they soon come up with an assignment for her.  She will go to a small town in Afghanistan called Bamiyan and work in a clinic, helping the villagers.  Elsa is excited and scared, but agrees to go.  She is astonished at much she finds there.  The poverty is overwhelming.  For the next year, she will bathe only sparingly, as her bathroom is a bucket and a latrine.  There is no electricity and the food is sparse.  But Elsa finds her calling helping the sick villagers.  There are also people who have been injured by Taliban forces, and Elsa finds that many hate the Taliban for the things they do and inflict on their own people.  The way women are treated is another cultural shock.

Elsa makes a close female friend, Parween.  Parween was lucky enough to find a husband who valued her mind and taught her to read and write and do math.  They have a daughter and are a happy family.  When the Taliban moves into town, everything changes.  They blow up centuries-old heritage icons such as the huge Buddhas that have stood guard over the village.  They impose strict Muslim law and the women must cover up and cannot walk around town.  Finally, as the villagers start to revolt, they round up many of the men and massacre them; Parween's husband among them.

Roberta Gately has written a compelling debut novel.  It explores the fate of the Afghan people, and the nature of female friendships that can endure regardless of war, poverty and other troubles.  The reader is swept into Elsa's world, and with her, starts to understand the complexities of the region and the difficulties of helping in many cases.  This book is recommended for readers interested in female stories about overcoming challenges.

The Book Of Eli by Sam Moffie

Eli Canaan wakes up to find himself in heaven, or at least he thinks it's heaven.  He believes he has led a good life, except for the fact that he has been a serial adulterer for all his married life.  He cheats with new women, women who he's been involved with for years; any woman, any time.  Surely that can't be so wrong?

As he starts to try to navigate his new surroundings, he is assigned a guide.  A heavenly angel?  Sorry, not so.  Instead he finds his guide to be Groucho Marx.  Marx arranges a series of interviews for Eli to explain both how life on Earth works from God's perspective and how Eli's life is viewed from above.

Each visit gives Eli new perspectives.  He is taken to talk with Sigmund Freud, who explains how the relationship between human men and women works.  Donald Joseph, a master winemaker, explains addictions and how they work to Eli.  Jesus explains the role of humor in human lives and explains the basis of the Ten Commandments.  Immediately afterwards, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the only unhappy person Eli meets, explains why she is still an atheist, even in Heaven.  Ayn Rand explains her philosophical and economic beliefs, and then Eli is given the chance to meet with his mother and hear her story from her perspective.  The book ends with Eli's audience with God, and God's decision about what happens to him next.

Sam Moffie takes on the philosophical questions of why we are here, why we have estabished values in society, and how to get back on track when one has strayed.  He does so through the use of parables, but even more, through the use of humor and wit.  Eli is a wiseacre who is slowly led to understand the reason for human life and the role of religion in it.  This book is recommended for readers who are interested in a breezy look at what life means and how to make the best of it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let's Eat! by Denise Burroughs

Denise Burroughs grew up in a large Italian family, and in Let's Eat!, she shares her heritage and love of food in a series of recipes reflecting that tradition.  The book begins with several useful pages.  There are 10 Tips From The Kitchen, an equivalency measure (How Much Of This Equals That?), a page of Baking Tips, Baking Substitutions, a page on Preparing Marinades And Sauces, and a page called Is It Done Yet? which helps the cook determine doneness of various foods.

The recipes are organized into main dishes, salads, desserts and drinks, and there are plentiful entries in each category.  The recipes are simple enough that the novice cook can feel comfortable attempting them while the experienced cook will welcome meals that are nutritious, appealing, and don't take hours to cook.  Burroughs is a professional woman, so understands the limited cooking time many households have each day.  The color photos spread throughout the book are quite enticing.

This book is recommended for all cooks.

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Rose Mae Lolly is defined by one central fact.  When she was eight, she went to school one morning and returned to find that her mother had left.  She left to escape the beatings and abuse of her husband, but left Rose Mae to take her place as the target of her father's drunken rages.  Rose Mae grew up knowing several things.  She knew how to flirt with men and get under their skin.  She knew the attraction of a controlling man.  And she knew she was getting out of her little Alabama town as fast as she could.

Fast forward fifteen years and Rose Mae Lolly has transformed into Ro Grandee.  Ro is the wife of Tom Grandee, a handsome man who most women would be attracted to, but who happens to be the man who fits the pattern Ro grew up with.  He controls her every move and beats her when she slips up.  Ro tries to fit the role of the perfect housewife, making the usual excuses of the beatings being her fault, or that if she tries hard enough to please Tom, he'll learn to control his temper.

A chance meeting at the local airport changes Ro's life.  She is approached by a gypsy, who offers to tell her fortune.  She tells Ro that she is in a battle to the death with Tom, and it will be her or him.  If she stays Tom will kill her eventually.  If she flees, he will come after her.  As Ro thinks about this in the days afterward, several things become clear.  The gypsy wasn't just a happenstance encounter; this was her long-departed mother who recognizes her life patterns in Ro's choices.  She also realises that her mother is right; if she doesn't leave Tom, she is dead.

Hitting the road with her pet dog and a new identity, Rose Mae returns for the first time in years to the town where she grew up.  After laying some ghosts there, she begins to have an idea where her mother can be found, and takes off for her new home, hoping to find refuge.  After finding her, mother and daughter must rebond and answer the hard questions of why they are each drawn to dangerous men and the nature of love.

Joshily Jackson has written an incredible novel that explores the lives of abused women and shows how their minds work to the outside world.  Settings are detailed and recognizable, and the characters are memorable.  Rose Mae Lolly will quickly become a favorite of the reader and they will cheer her on in her attempt to reconcile her early life with her adult one.  This book is recommended for readers interested in what makes people act in ways that seem outside the range of normal understanding. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Cries Of Vampira by Sean Robertson

It is August 15, 1130, a day that will live in the histories of two empires.  The king of the Vampira empire, King George and his brother, Prince Shannon, ride to celebrate the birth of the new Vampira heirs.  Triplets, Prince Koble, Princess Kristin and Princess Kylie, are the hope of the kingdom going forward.

Suddenly, the King and his brother are surrounded by troops of their deadliest enemy, the Grey Wolves, werewolves in human form.  Battle ensues and the end result is deadly.  Both George and Shannon are killed, as are the King and Queen of the Gray Wolves.  Their son, ten year old Gaad Grey, watches his parents killed by King George and vows undying enmity.

Seventeen years later, war still reins.  The triplets are now mature enough to take part in the defense of their land.  Princess Kristin is the foremost assassin in the land, while Princess Kylie works to bring peace between the Vampiras and the Grey Wolves, as she was able to do between the Vampiras and the humans.  Prince Kolbe is still a bit adrift, but a formidable warrior when his attention is engaged. 

News comes to their castle that the wolves have created a massive army, and that it is only hours away from a final assault on the Vampira stronghold.  Their mother, the Queen, makes plans for the defense of their land.  Can she and the triplets ward off the evil that Gaad Grey has planned for years to avenge the deaths of his parents?

Sean Robertson has created a new series.  The Cries of Vampira is the first book in his anticipated saga of the Vampira empire.  The novella creates the characters and lays the plotlines that will be brought to fruition in later books.  Robertson is a fresh new voice in fantasy sci-fi, and readers will want to read the rest of these books after finishing this one. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

And The Pursit Of Happiness by Maira Kalman

And The Pursuit Of Happiness is artist Maira Kalman's celebration of democracy and the founding fathers.  Part art book, part graphic novel, the reader will be drawn through her exploration of what democracy means in the United States, and learn about the lives of many of the prominent men who created our amazing system of government.

Many readers will recognize Kalman's unique artistic renderings.  She is a frequent provider of New Yorker magazine covers.  She illustrates children's books, and her work has been featured in museums and by designers in their lines.  She uses vibrant colors and Grandma Moses-like depictions of scenes for striking illustrations that are memorable.  Inspired by the inauguration of Barack Obama, this book is her tribute to the democracy and the people that made his election possible.

There are chapters devoted to various Founding Fathers.  The book is organized by months.  January is devoted to the Obama inauguration.  February is devoted to Abraham Lincoln while March celebrates the philosophical underpinnings of democracy and its forms such as town halls.  April is about the laws of the land.  May discusses our military and the price we owe these brave defenders of freedom.  June discusses Thomas Jefferson and his many interests, while July is devoted to Benjamin Franklin and other scientists and inventors.  August is about the explorers who discovered America and the issues surrounding immigration today.  September talks about cities; specifically New York City.  October covers Congress, while November is devoted to our national foods.  December is reserved for George Washington.

This book is recommended for all readers.  Everyone will learn new facts and the knowledge is imparted in a breezy fashion that make the learning fun.  The illustrations are vivid, brilliant, amazing.  Maira Kalman has created a visual feast and we are the richer for it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Steven Lamb is a twelve-year old boy much like any other.  Except that he is a twelve-year old boy whose family is forever known as the one whose child eighteen years ago was kidnapped by a serial killer.  That child was Steven's uncle.  He never knew him, but for his entire life his entire family dynamic has revolved around this stark fact.  His mother, the child's sister, has drifted from man to man, never trusting anyone.  His grandmother still spends hours at the window, waiting for Billy to return.  His body was never found, and she still holds out hope.

Casting around for a way to heal his family, Steven naively starts a secret correspondence with his uncle's purported killer.  Arnold Avery has been in prison for years, six child killings to his tally with others like Billy suspected.  Arnold knows that he is unlikely to ever leave prison, and his days are mindnumbingly routine.  There aren't many visitors to a pedophile killer.  When the correspondence starts, he suddenly has purpose again; he wants to get out somehow and find Steven.  Steven, who believes he can trick Avery into revealing Billy's gravesite on the nearby moor, has no idea what he has touched off.

The action accelerates when Avery manages to escape prison during a riot.  He heads straight to Steven's village.  He knows when he is recaptured he will never leave prison again, and is determined to have one last kill; one that will revisit his power on this family as he takes another child from them.

Readers are advised to have plenty of lights on to read this book.  Arnold Avery is one of the most chilling killers in recent memory, and the views inside his head won't soon be forgotten.  Belinda Bauer has created memorable characters who ring true.  Both Steven's and Avery's characters' actions are as believable as they seem inevitable.  This book is recommended for mystery and suspense readers.  They will, as I have, find a new star in suspense writing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


When Hannah Legare was 11, her father went on a fishing trip in the Charleston harbor and never came back. And while most of the town and her family accepted Buzz's disappearance, Hannah remained steadfastly convinced of his imminent return.

Twenty years later Hannah's new life in San Francisco is unraveling. Her marriage is on the rocks, her business is bankrupt. After a disastrous attempt to win back her husband, she ends up back at her mother's home to "rest up", where she is once again sucked into the mystery of her missing father. Suspecting that those closest are keeping secrets--including Palmer, her emotionally closed, well-mannered brother and Warren, the beautiful boyfriend she left behind--Hannah sets out on an uproarious, dangerous quest that will test the whole family's concepts of loyalty and faith.



1. The giveaway starts Sunday, November 7th and ends on Friday, November 19th at midnight.

2. There will be three winners, chosen by random number generation.

3. Winners must have street addresses (no P.O. Boxes) in either the United States or Canada.

4. For one entry, leave a comment (with your email!). You will get an extra entry for any/all of the following; being or becoming a follower, blogging to this giveaway or tweeting about it. If you blog or tweet, please include the link.

5. Winners will be emailed and must respond within three days in order to claim their prize. After three days, another winner will be chosen and notified.

Good luck!

Making Light Of Being Heavy by Kandy Siahaya

Kandy Siahaya is a "fat chick".  She's had a weight issue most of her life, and is what most people and doctors would classify as obese, being over 350 pounds.  Making Light of Being Heavy is her book detailing her life and struggles with weight her entire life.

She starts by telling of her childhood; being the largest kid in every class she was in; having the boys on the bus start the "Hey, hey, hey, it's Fa-a-a-a-t Albert" whenever she got on the bus.  Clothes were an issue and she was steered to the Chubby section, which specialized in clothes that were never quite the same as the cool ones the slim girls were weighing.

Siahaya believes that overweight is less a matter of what is eaten and how much exercise is done.  Rather, she believes in a genetic factor as the overall determinant of whether a person will be slim or overweight in their life.  She cites an interesting study that matched adopted children against their adoptive parents and their birth parents.  There was a positive correlation between the adopted children and their birth parents.  If the parents were overweight, the children tended to be, and the same held true for slim parents and kids.  There was no correlation with the adoptive parents, and Siahaya believes this shows that eating styles and family lifestyles (active or sedentary) has little effect on how a person's body will end up.

There are chapters that discuss the various diets she has gone on over the years, with sample week's meals laid out.  She discusses the fact that healthy foods are so much more expensive than the unhealthy diets many have.  She also discusses various exercise programs, and how many are difficult for the truly obese who can not flexibly move and are often too heavy for the exercise equipment limits.

As the title implies, the tone is light.  The author has maintained a positive feeling about herself, and refuses to let her life be limited by this issue.  This book is recommended for heavy people looking for insight and for slimmer individuals who can have little experience with the issues discussed here.

Haint Blue by Carl Linke

From the first pages of Carl E. Linke's Haint Blue, the reader is transported south to Beaufort, South Carolina, and its Lowcountry heritage and traditions.  Spanish moss festoons the trees in front of stately old homes.  Feasts of shrimp and grits, oysters, hushpuppies, sweet tea and pecan pie fight the air for dominance with magnolias and gardenias. The book's title comes from an old belief that ghosts (haints) won't cross water and painting ceilings, doors and windows haint blue protects the inhabitants from them.   Church is a big priority, followed closely by the fortunes of the local high school and college football teams.  Above all else is the closeness to the land and the fortunes tied to the bounty found by fishing and farming.

But there is a darker side.  This is an area built on the cruelty of slave labor.  The descendants of those slaves, the Gullah people, are still here, mired in poverty with few prospects for work as the old powerhouses of the economy, seafood, tobacco, textiles and furniture leaves for other areas.  Outside interests want to buy up property because of its location and charm, but then build megamalls and residential subdivisions that take away the very things they chased to the area.  There are still vestiges of voodoo, Tarot cards, hexes and superstition.

Kip Drummon is caught in the middle.  He bought the local oyster factory six years ago, and built a life in Beaufort for his wife and stepson.  Now, he is being pressured by investors to sell the property, and they are playing hardball, buying off his suppliers and giving better prices to his buyers, squeezing the life out of the company bit by bit.  His wife hates the area and wants to move back to her native Charleston.  But on the other side, the workers who have worked in the factory their entire lives depend on him.  Without the factory, there will be nowhere for them to make a living wage.  Will Kip be able to keep his head and make the right decision?  He is haunted by a deep secret that influences everything he does, and along with the other pressures, it threatens to come out. 

Carl Linke has written a solid debut novel.  He has captured the feel of the Southern Lowcountry so well that the reader can close their eyes and be there immediately with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that seem more realistic than the room they sit in.  His descriptions of tailgating parties, a typical Southern church service, the suddenness of weather changes, the aftermath of hurricanes, and the tensions between those born in the area and those moving in are spot on.  The reader will want to find out what happens, and how Kip resolves his dilemma.  This book is recommended for readers interested in regional writing that also hits broader themes of how the country moves forward to a new economy, and how people from different backgrounds can live together.