Friday, February 29, 2008

The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones

This is a memoir by cookbook editor, Judith Jones. What's so interesting about the life of a cookbook editor? This is the woman who is responsible for introducing Julia Child to America, by publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This cookbook single-handedly changed American cuisine. Judith worked closely with Julia for many more years and cookbooks as well as working with other famed cookbook authors like James Beard, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Marion Cunningham and Lidia Bastianich.

This charming memoir weaves stories of each of these authors with over 50 classic recipes. Judith Jones is not just any cookbook editor--she played a vital role in reshaping not just American cuisine but the way cookbooks were published. A must read for any foodie!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Boy's Life by Robert McCammon

Zephyr, Alabama in 1964, is an idyllic place to grow up for 11 year old Cory Mackenson. On a cold spring morning, Cory and his father witness a car drive off the road and into the lake. The rescue attempt brings Cory's father face-to-face with a vision of death that threatens to haunt him forever.

Now, Cory is confronted with the secrets that are hidden in the shadows of the town - the violent clan of moonshiners living in the woods, the mystical woman who can speak to the dead, and the monster who swims in the river. As the mystery of a gruesome murder unfolds, Cory learns that not all things are what they appear to be.

McCammon does a great job of remembering what it's like to be a kid, and he captures all the magic and the mystery of being an 11 going on 12 year old boy in the summer of 1964. Fans of Stephen King and Ray Bradbury will love this book, and even if you're not, read it anyway - it's that good!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg

Recently widowed and in her fifties, Betta Nolan is having a tough time adjusting to life without her husband, Jack, who died of cancer. They were the type of couple that was so compatible, they met each other’s every need. As a result, Betta lost track of most of her friends and is now finding herself more alone than ever.

Before his death, both Jack and Betta talked about one day driving somewhere they don’t know, buying a house, and starting a new life. Wanting to fulfill that dream, Betta does just that: she leaves Boston and buys a large house formerly owned by a curmudgeonly old woman in the middle of nowhere in the Chicago suburbs.

Betta soon discovers that starting anew is much more complicated than she ever could have imagined. Realizing she can’t do this alone, Betta reconnects with her old college roommate, Lorraine. With the help of Lorraine and several unsuspecting acquaintances, including a handyman she meets in a coffee shop, her realtor, and the 11 year-old boy next door, Betta learns to muddle her way through widowhood, love, and creating a new life for herself.

Although the plot moves slowly at times, The Year of Pleasures is full of endearing characters that are so flawed you can’t help but like them. Berg is a Chicago writer who has authored over 15 books.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

Eloise Kelly is searching for the identity of a spy, the Pink Carnation. She is a graduate student at Harvard writing her dissertation on the three spies of the early 1800s trying to thwart Napoleon. There is quite a bit of information on the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, including their identities but no one seems to know who the Pink Carnation was. Eloise is giving a grant to go to London and find out. While in London, Eloise is fortunate enough to be giving access to letters and diaries passed down from the Purple Gentian. Much to the disdain of Colin Selwick, keeper of the archives and descendant of the Purple Gentian, his aunt takes a liking to Eloise. While reading the letters and diaries, Eloise finds out who the Pink Carnation is.

Amy Balcourt was born in France but at a young age moved to England with her mother. Her father and brother stayed behind, and her father was hanged. Amy vowed when she was old enough she would return to France and join the league of the Scarlet Pimpernel and avenge her father. But before she could, the Scarlet Pimpernel was unmasked and had to retire. This brought the Purple Gentian into action and Amy decided to join him. Eventually, Amy was sent for by her brother to return to France. Along with her cousin Jane and chaperone Miss Gwen, they made their way back to France. On the way, they had to share a boat with Lord Richard Selwick aka the Purple Gentian. No one knew that Richard was the spy, but Amy was drawn to him even though she believes him to be a traitor. What happens next is a great adventure, romance and mistaken identities.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation starts in the present and then goes to the past. It switches back and forth throughout. I enjoyed this book tremendously. I have been recommending it like crazy since I finished reading it. It is also the first book of a series. Eloise is back along with the spies! The next books are The Masque of the Black Tulip, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, and the newest one The Seduction of the Crimson Rose.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Duma Key by Stephen King

After a construction accident that almost ended his life, and the subsequent ending of his 29 year marriage, Edgar Freemantle heads to Duma Key, a secluded area on the Gulf coast of Florida. Still recovering from his injuries and wanting to make a fresh start, he starts drawing. He becomes consumed with his art, soon moving from drawing to painting, and it's almost like there's an outside force controlling him. His artwork soon earns him a devoted following, and as he continues to paint, he unravels the family mystery of Elizabeth Eastlake, the elderly owner of the island, and he discovers the darker powers behind his paintings. Once again, Stephen King proves himself a master storyteller by creating memorable characters, and the juxtoposition of the everyday with the unexpected.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

Gabby Holland has recently moved to Beaumont, North Carolina to be closer to her boyfriend, Kevin. Gabby is waiting for Kevin to propose, but he doesn’t seem quite ready to commit. Although they are dating, Gabby has bought her own house in Beaumont and works as a physician’s assistant at the local clinic. She hasn’t made any friends yet, and her new neighbor, Travis Parker, is the last person she wants as a friend. Convinced that Travis’s dog has impregnated her dog, Molly, Gabby storms over to his house to give him a piece of her mind.

Little does Gabby know, Travis is the town’s veterinarian, and his dog is neutered. Intrigued by this feisty woman and determined to befriend his new neighbor, Travis invites Gabby to go parasailing with him and his friends. Gabby, not knowing anyone in town except Kevin and wanting to redeem herself, obliges. What starts as a casual friendship between Travis and Gabby turns into something romantic. As a result, Gabby has a choice to make.

Fast-forward eleven years, and Travis and Gabby are both happily married and are still living in Beaumont. Their bliss is abruptly put to an end when an unexpected event lands Gabby in the hospital. Now Travis is left to make a grave choice of his own that could have devastating effects for both of them.

Despite familiar scenes and characters, The Choice offers a vastly differ plot from Sparks’s previous books, and he doesn’t forget to give the reader a few surprises along the way. The Choice is both heart wrenching and hopeful, and Sparks’s fans will be reminded why they love this author so much.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This beautifully illustrated mystery novel will appeal to a wide range of readers. It will engage adults, even though it was written for the youth market. A New York Times Bestseller, the book was recently awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal. It has also been named a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing.

Set in the 1930s, Hugo is an orphan, apprenticed to his drunken uncle, a clock keeper in a Paris train station. He must live by his wits, covering for his uncle and thieving for food. Hugo’s deceased father was a clockmaker, who had discovered a broken automaton when working in a museum. During his life, he took copious notes in his attempt to resurrect the robot. Hugo has been entrusted with his father’s notebook and has inherited his obsession. When Hugo loses his notebook to a mean old shopkeeper, they both find their secrets threatened and their undercover lives run the risk of exposure.

In this book, the drawings and photos advance the plot, as in a graphic novel. Yet the book is almost more film-like in nature. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a true masterpiece and a delightfully magical book. It will charm children and adults alike, and provides a special treat for the lovers of film and art. This would be a terrific selection for families to read together.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No Control by Shannon Butcher

Lana Hancock was held for three days by a terrorist group. She was beaten and broken and the only one left to kill when at the last minute she was rescued by U.S. soldiers. One soldier stood out among the rest because Lana knew him to be Miles Gentry, a bomb expert, working with the terrorist group.

Eighteen months later, physically recovered but still emotionally damaged, Lana is getting on with her life. She has opened a nonprofit organization for kids and is hard at work on a fundraiser when Caleb Stone walks back into her life. Lana knew Caleb as Miles Gentry and her hatred for him is what kept her alive. Caleb was working undercover in the terrorist group and was helpless in stopping Lana from being beaten. By not interfering, he managed to save a school of children from being blown up but in doing so he gained Lana's hatred and his own guilt.

Now Caleb is back in Lana's life to protect her because the terrorist group believes Lana may have seen or heard something she shouldn't have. Lana did but she isn't talking. She thinks that if she acts like she knows nothing then they will leave her alone. But the group is going to kill her no matter what and the only thing standing between her and death is Caleb.

No Control is a great read. It has suspense, romance, and forgiveness. This is the second book by Shannon Butcher. Her first book was No Regrets, another great romantic suspense book. Another fun fact is her husband, Jim Butcher, is the author of the Dresden Files books.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky

Hugh and Dana Clarke have the quintessential life. They are young, wealthy, and successful: Dana a decorator and Hugh a lawyer. Eager to start a family, Dana becomes pregnant with their first child. As the doctor places baby Lizzie in her arms for the first time, Hugh and Dana can't help but notice that child has strong African American features. They are completely baffled, and they aren't the only ones who notice.

Hugh’s parents, Eaton and Dorothy, come from a strong Anglo American lineage that is well documented. They are appalled at their new granddaughter’s appearance, and question Dana's fidelity, especially since their neighbor and Dana's friend, David, is black, but Hugh insists that the child is his. Driven to prove to everyone that his wife did not have an affair, Hugh makes his family take a paternity test, and the results show that he is Lizzie's biological father.

With Hugh’s family clearly researched, everyone is pointing fingers at Dana, as her mother died when she was five, and she really never knew her father. However, things aren’t always as they appear, as Hugh and Dana will soon discover.

This dramatic page-turner will have readers thinking about race in our society long after the last page is turned. Delinsky does a superb job of building up the suspense with plenty of twists along the way.

Delinsky is a prolific writer and has authored over 15 novels. Her earlier works are mostly in the romance genre, and her more recent fiction falling into the category of provocative or psychological fiction. Click here to read the review of Delinsky’s 2008 book, The Secret Between Us. Be on the lookout for While My Sister Sleeps, set to be published in early 2009.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

New Oprah Book Club Selection

On January 30, Oprah annouced her latest book club selection, A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle.

From the Publisher: "Building on the astonishing success of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle presents readers with an honest look at the current state of humanity: He implores us to see and accept that this state, which is based on an erroneous identification with the egoic mind, is one of dangerous insanity. "

"Tolle tells us there is good news, however. There is an alternative to this potentially dire situation. Humanity now, perhaps more than in any previous time, has an opportunity to create a new, saner, more loving world. This will involve a radical inner leap from the current egoic consciousness to an entirely new one."

"In illuminating the nature of this shift in consciousness, Tolle describes in detail how our current ego-based state of consciousness operates. Then gently, and in very practical terms, he leads us into this new consciousness. We will come to experience who we truly are—which is something infinitely greater than anything we currently think we are—and learn to live and breathe freely."

Visit Oprah's website to learn more about her newest book club choice.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Appeal by John Grisham

Over 60 residents of Bowmore, Mississippi have died from cancer due to the city's contaminated water, and many others are very ill. In fact, because of the rash of cancer cases, the area has been referred to as "Cancer County." The law firm of Payton & Payton has almost gone bankrupt representing Jeannette Baker, a Bowmore resident who lost both her husband and son to cancer, in the ongoing trial against Krane Chemical, the company who has been illegally dumping their toxic waste into the city's water supply for years. After much deliberation, the jury has reached a verdict and has awarded Jeannette $43 million for wrongful death and punitive damages.

Although ecstatic about the win, husband and wife law partners Wes and Mary Grace Payton realize that a check hasn't been cut and that Krane's attorneys will undoubtedly appeal the verdict to the state supreme court. And that is exactly what Krane's Chemical's head, Carl Treadeau, vows, "no dime of Krane's money will ever be touched by those ignorant people."

Being the savvy businessman that he is, Treadeau takes advantage of the upcoming election for a state supreme court justice to ensure his promise is delivered. He receives a tip on a business that, for the right price, will rig an election. Fueled with private monies from right-winged interest groups, Tony Zachary and Barry Rinehart, who work for said business, prey on the right unsuspecting attorney. Will Treadu’s pawn win the election, and if so, will he override the Baker verdict?

Taking a short departure from the genre to write 2006’s nonfiction title, The Innocent Man, and recently the football story, Playing for Pizza, legal thriller veteran Grisham is back, and I am sure that many of the author’s fans will agree that this is where he belongs; The Appeal proves just that. This fast paced novel opens the reader to a world of politics in law where justice might not always prevail.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

This book was a fun read; it was easy to get through and full of interesting tidbits. Rory writes very directly and gives a non-fiction read a lot of sass. In her down to earth manner, Rory tells her readers to stop being dumb and start using their heads when it comes to the food they put into their body; revealing many of the disgusting chemicals and practices that come in our processed foods. She sheds light on the myth of low-fat and fat free, and shows a girl how she can become healthy and skinny as they always wanted.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

This is the true life story of a woman who takes a chance on living out a dream at a point in her life when most people would have taken the safe choice. Kathleen, an American living in London is trudging through her corporate life when she unexpectedly loses her job. Instead of running home, her super-supportive boyfriend convinces her to do something she'd always wanted to do--she enrolls in the famous French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. This memoir is about the crazy challenges she faces by moving to Paris, getting married and surviving one of the most grueling culinary programs imaginable. If you loved Eat, Pray, Love, you'll be sure to enjoy this tale of triumph. For those with a weak stomach, the vivid descriptions of the traditional French cuisine might be a bit much!

Sorcery and the Single Girl by Mindy Klasky

Jane Madison is a witch. It is very recent development in her life. It happened when she moved into the cottage behind the library that she works at and stumbled upon a cache of books on spells and crystals and the history of witches. In the first book of this delightful series, Girl's Guide to Witchcraft, is were you can read all about Jane becoming a witch.

Now in the second book of this great series, Jane is trying to get into the Washington, D.C. chapter of witches. If she fails the test to get into the coven, she loses her valuable books and Neko, her familiar, will be turned back into a statue. The first meeting she attends with the coven, Jane feels like the unpopular girl. One witch, Haylee, befriends her and Jane is quite relieved. On the romantic front, Jane meets Graeme at her best friend Melissa's bakery. After her last boyfriend was such a disaster, Jane is a little weary. But after Graeme learns she is a witch, he is very accepting and Jane lets her guard down.

Trying to find free time to be with Graeme is proving to be difficult. She works all day at the library and her warder, David, wants her to study at night and then with him on the weekends and her lunch breaks to hone her skills for her big coven test. And Graeme is always traveling to London for business. On top of that she is keeping Graeme a secret from David and Neko.

Jane is trying to juggle her job, her witchiness, her friends, her family and her new potential boyfriend. Plus, she is getting threats from someone who knows she is a witch. Will she pass the test? Will she get the guy? Will she get Neko to stop stealing her limes? What is a witch to do?

In October 2008, the latest book about Jane Madison, Magic and the Modern Girl, will be released.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pontoon by Garrison Keillor

Evelyn Peterson, a Luthern and long-time resident of Lake Wobegon, recently passed away in her sleep. Knowing at her age that death is imminent, she left a letter to her daughter, Barbara, stating her wishes. Evelyn said that she wants to be cremated, her ashes poured into her favorite bowling ball, and then sealed shut. For her memorial service, she requests that "Moon River" by Andy Williams be played while the bowling ball is thrown into Lake Wobegon where she will reside for all eternity.

The days following her mother's death is a time of great revelation for Barbara, as she learns that her mother lived a double life which included a long-time love affair with a salsa dancer from Vegas.

Eveyln is one of several kooky characters you will meet that reside in this small Minnesotan town. There is Debbie Detmer who has returned to Lake Wobegon to be married on the pontoon, Agnes B, while flying Elvi come down during the cermony and a hot air balloon whisks them away. Then there is Kyle, Evelyn's grandson, who is determined to give his grandmother the proper send-off by dropping the bowling ball into the lake from his parasail.

Keillor accurately captures small town Minnesotan living, and although it may seem like he exaggerates some parts for humorous appeal, anyone who has lived in this state knows that he is pretty much dead-on. Pontoon is a laugh-out loud adventure that anyone would enjoy.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Queen of Bedlam by Robert McCammon

Set in 1703, The Queen of Bedlam by Robert McCammon gives us an adventurous glance into the New York City of that time. Twenty-three-year-old Matthew Corbett, a magistrate’s clerk, is on the trail of the Masker, a killer who is targeting prominent businessmen. Matthew stumbles upon the bodies of two of the Masker’s victims, one of them Eben Ausley, the headmaster of the orphanage Matthew once called home. Matthew becomes a junior associate of the Herrald Agency, a problem solving firm, and discovers a link to the crimes – an elderly patient in an asylum known as “the Queen of Bedlam." Matthew and his associates make a dangerous foray into the headquarters of Professor Fell, a villain who trains young criminals-to-be.

This sequel to Speaks the Nightbird ends with a cliffhanger that promises us more adventures with the intrepid Matthew Corbett.