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A Self-Made Culinarian

Yes, ChefMarcus Samuelsson has a fascinating story to tell in his refreshingly candid memoir, Yes, Chef. At its heart is food and family, guided by years of discipline and sacrifice. His lifelong quest to engage customers through their senses with a denouement of flavors has resulted in a winding culinary journey for the Ethiopian-born 42-year old. Today he sits atop the restaurant world.  

 

Samuelsson's passion began at an early age. Orphaned as a toddler, he remembers berbere, the reddish-orange spice mixture his mother sprinkled liberally on their food. Adopted by a middle class couple from Goteborg, Sweden, it was his Swedish grandmother, Helga, who encouraged her young grandson's interests. She introduced him to rustic cooking and layering of flavors. Her signature dish was a roast chicken, which she killed old-school style ("Come here, boom!").

 

The wiry, soccer-playing Samuelsson viewed all his cooking assignments as opportunities. From mopping as a kitchen boy in Sweden to restaurant stints in Switzerland and France and aboard cruise ships, Samuelsson absorbed the diversity of ethnic flavors. At age 24 he earned the position of executive chef of New York's Aquavit restaurant, and a three-star rating from The New York Times.

 

Samuelsson tells his story in an honest, retrospective manner. Growing up in a mixed race family, he didn't become aware of his black identity, and its challenges until older. He once ignored the only other black worker in a kitchen because he was worried what others would think if they were seen talking. That candor is refreshing, as is his poignant description of his return to Ethiopia. A bellwether in an industry known for ego-driven personalities, the reserved, award-winning Samuelsson is as comfortable cooking for a state dinner as he is in the kitchen of his latest New York restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem. Aspiring chefs and foodies will feel at home.

Cynthia

 
 

Murder in Tokyo

Murder in Tokyo

posted by:
July 19, 2012 - 7:01am

People Who Eat DarknessPeople Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Perry chronicles the disappearance of hostess Lucie Blackman in the summer of 2000, and the investigation that followed.  Blackman, a British citizen, had been working as a flight attendant for British Airways, but increasing debt made her consider a more lucrative career change.  Her best friend Louise had a connection to Tokyo and suggested that they join the ranks of foreign hostesses in the Roppongi district. 

 

Japanese men who have a desire to feel superior and important choose to visit hostess clubs, where tall, international women are trained to light their cigarettes, pour them drinks and keep them occupied by conversation so that their hourly rate will increase the longer they stay in the club.  A hostess can make bonuses by repeat business, or selling expensive bottles of champagne. But she must also arrange dates with the customers, at outside restaurants. Many hostesses are required to make five dates with a customer or risk losing her job. In July of 2000, Blackman made such a date. 

 

She called her friend Louise to tell her that she was going for a drive to the seaside and would be home later that evening. She called once more to let Louise know she was all right. Then she was never heard from again. It would be months before her body would be found and a suspect arrested. Her mother and father were divorced and barely speaking. She had two younger siblings wondering where she was. Many years would pass before there would be justice for Lucie Blackman.

 

Richard Lloyd Perry is the Asia editor and Tokyo bureau chief of The Times (London) and became fascinated by the case when he worked in Japan.  He wanted to pull the story together, to make Blackman into a real person and not just a sordid news headline, and with People Who Eat Darkness he has succeeded.  Thoroughly researched and very compelling, this is destined to become a true crime classic along the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold  Blood

Doug

 
 

A Doc for All Seasons

Nantucket is one of the most popular summer destinations on the East Coast, and visitors in need of medical attention will be lucky to find themselves in the care of a most colorful doctor. In Island Practice, New York Times staff writer Pam Belluck shares the story of Dr. Timothy Lepore, who has dedicated the last two decades of his life to providing health care to all residents. 

 

Something of a MacGyver, he can perform an appendectomy with a stone scalpel he carved himself. He also hunts with a pet hawk. Dr. Lepore is able to identify unusual symptoms, and diagnose rare diseases. He has identified and treated a baby with toe-tourniquet syndrome, a horse with Lyme disease, and a narcoleptic falling face-first in the street. While he has doctored Jimmy Buffett, Chris Matthews, John Kerry, and various Kennedys, the majority of his practice is made up of the natives who work low wage jobs in the tourist industry. For Dr. Lepore, payment is optional and can be bartered via such goods as oatmeal raisin cookies or an old handgun.    

 

Dr. Lepore wears many hats, including the island's football team medic, family practitioner, only surgeon, accidental homicide detective, occasional veterinarian, and medical examiner. He can be controversial and contrarian with unusual hobbies and political views. And he says it like it is, even when it comes to his own family. Lepore would rather see his son “playing piano in a whorehouse,” than his current employment with a malpractice attorney. But underneath the shenanigans and eccentricities, this is the story of a doctor devoted to serving his community and maintaining accessible health care. Lepore is a Nantucket institution; his story and the beautiful island setting combine for a winning narrative.   

Maureen

 
 

The Survivor Who Wasn't

The WOman Who Wasn't ThereWhere were you on September 11, 2001? Almost all Americans who were old enough to remember that fateful day will have a story. At first glance, The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr. appears to be a tale of individual courage and triumph. Tania Head had one of the most remarkable 9/11 stories of all. She was working for Merrill Lynch on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower, and witnessed the first plane hit the North Tower. Badly burned, she barely escaped alive. She also lost her fiancé, who worked in the North Tower.

 

Head’s story was so powerful that when she shared it on survivors’ network sites, she quickly became an inspiration and a leader. She successfully lobbied to bring more recognition and funding to survivors, and led tours at Ground Zero. Shockingly, in 2007 a reporter uncovered that all of the information she provided, including details about her job and her fiancé, was false. But that was just the beginning. Why would someone go to such lengths to deceive?

 

Head’s story is presented as fact for most of the book, with her deception revealed only towards the end. Guglielmo directed a documentary, also called The Woman Who Wasn’t There, chronicling Head’s status change from heroic survivor to fraudulent imposter. This is an amazing story of vast deception and extreme irony. Although Head technically did nothing illegal, her falsification of information and betrayal of trust of the survivors was egregious. Her deception in the aftermath of such a horrific tragedy left many feeling further victimized. But ironically, in spite of the lies, her story led to more recognition and services for actual 9/11 survivors.  

Melanie

 
 

You Must Remember This

Total Memory MakeoverMarilu Henner of Taxi fame offers a unique memory manual in Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future. As one of a handful of people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), Henner discusses her strong recall ability. She shares how it has helped her, and offers advice for boosting recollection. Henner knew from an early age that her memory was different, but she did not know there were others like her until she began working with researchers at the University of California,Irvine. While the average person can recall up to 11 events from each year of their life, Henner remembers every day of her life since the age of 12 in detail. 

 

Henner’s approach to memory strengthening is not about using mnemonic devices or strategies. Combining anecdotes from her personal and professional lives with scientific data and exercises designed to spark specific types of memories, Henner gently guides readers on a tour through their past. Simple exercises have the reader revisiting personal events (21st birthday) or recalling major world events (President Reagan’s assassination attempt) and remembering details from the day. Other chapters include effective journal keeping and working with children to develop a strong memory at an early age.

 

Henner documents methods to stop turning painful memories into emotional baggage and maintains that strong memory will create a positive blueprint for your future. Would you still eat that doughnut if you remembered the thrill of fitting into skinny jeans five years ago? Would you ask for that raise if you recalled the confidence boost when your prom date said yes? Would you get out of a new romance sooner if it brought back memories of a bad ex? Shakespeare wrote that “the past is prologue,” an idea supported by the principles behind Marilu’s memory makeover, where the focus is on you.

Maureen

 
 

Move Over, Holden

Kasher in the RyeIn Moshe Kasher’s new memoir Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16, the stand-up comic chronicles his renegade, drug-addicted adolescence in California during the early ’90s with a careful balance of humor and painful honesty.

 

Following his difficult childhood – the challenge of having two deaf parents, starting therapy sessions when he was just six years old, and being dragged by his mother on a “vacation” to California that ends up being more like abduction – Kasher feels hopelessly broken and lost. He finds it impossible to fit in at his Oakland public school, so he gets involved with the wrong crowd and starts a downward spiral of gang violence, theft, vandalism, and drug use, all before he is even old enough to drive. It isn’t until several near-death experiences and three stays at a children’s psychiatric hospital that Kasher finally decides to turn his life around. But even with his new determination, how can he learn to break this tragic cycle if a life of confusion, anger, and self-destruction is all he knows?

 

Moshe Kasher manages to tell his story in a way that’s hilarious and heartbreaking without ever becoming sentimental. The anecdotes he tells of his wayward youth will have readers laughing at the ridiculousness of it all while rooting for Kasher throughout his journey. If you are a fan of David Sedaris’ essays or Bill Clegg’s memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, you will find much to enjoy in this honest, funny, and redemptive true story.

 

 

Alex

 
 

The Real Executive of Bravo

Most TalkativeAndy Cohen has been instrumental in creating many of Bravo’s hit reality shows, like The Real Housewives and Top Chef. He hosts Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, a talk show that’s essentially a live cocktail party where Cohen chats with tipsy celebrities and “Bravolebrities”.  His new memoir Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture reveals more about the man that his viewers already think of as a friend.

 

Cohen’s love of the television industry always shines through, from his life-long obsession with All My Children to his time working for CBS news. He shares how went from a boy hosting a fake talk show with a hair brush “microphone” in the backseat of his uncle’s car to the Executive Vice President of the Bravo reality TV empire. His continued excitement over meeting his celebrity idols like Joan Collins, Susan Lucci, and Diana Ross makes him very relatable to readers. Most Talkative also shows a more personal side of Cohen as he shares his emotional struggle with his decision to come out as gay to friends and family. 

 

Real Housewives fans will love that Cohen dishes about the ladies and what things are really like behind the scenes of the shows. He covers the creation of the first Real Housewives, and how it grew to include seven franchises today. Fans will love to see more about how the women interact and find out which ones Cohen didn’t want to include on the show.  What really happens at the legendary Real Housewives reunion tapings?  Read Most Talkative to find out!

Beth

 
 

City of Light and Transformation

Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me DownDreaming in FrenchAs a child, Rosecrans Baldwin went to Paris with his family and became transfixed by its beauty. Later, as a twenty-something, Baldwin uses a connection to secure a job at an ad agency in Paris in need of a native English speaker. In the humorous and breezy memoir Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, he moves himself and his wife Rachel to France, where initially all the brilliance and luster of the City of Light shines upon them. That is, until he realizes that his facility with French isn’t quite as strong as he thought. Too quickly, the countless hassles of daily life in another culture start to take their toll. Bureaucratic red tape is overwhelming. Despite these obstacles, the small joys of Parisian life constantly astound the young couple. Baldwin manages to write his debut novel (the since-published You Lost Me There), adding his name to the long list of Americans finding creative inspiration in Paris.

 

A very different look at the expatriate-in-Paris experience is Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Alice Kaplan describes post-war Paris and the many Americans who were inspired to travel to Paris for varying lengths of time. Each of the three women she focuses on came to Paris for a year to study abroad. The city made an indelible impression on their futures, whether it was the “Frenchness” Jackie Kennedy later brought to the office of First Lady, or how the intellectualism of the city reinvigorated Susan Sontag’s writing and sense of purpose. The political upheaval Angela Davis witnessed in France inspired her to play an integral role in the Civil Rights movement back home. The transformative power of place is clearly displayed in this look at the ways we can become products of our environment.

Todd

 
 

Rambling Man

My Cross to BearMy Cross to Bear has all the usual trappings that we’ve come to expect from a rock biography. There are the standard stories of groupies, squabbling with other band members, chemical excess and failed marriages. Beyond the basic musician biography ingredients though, there’s also a fascinating life story that remains very Southern throughout.

 

Gregg Allman begins his life in Nashville, Tennessee, eventually travels all over the world and currently lives in Savannah, Georgia. Throughout his fame, fortune and travels, he never ventured far from his roots in his outlook and tone. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book is “hearing” the voice of Gregg Allman and his Southern phrasings. One fine example: he loses his virginity and declares the experience to be "the best thing since black-eyed peas.”

 

My Cross to Bear opens at the Allman Brothers’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. At this point, Gregg Allman is a severe alcoholic. He sincerely tries to stay sober for the ceremony but fails miserably. This was one of the lowest points in his life. He embarrassed his family, the rest of the band and most of all, himself. This seems to be a turning point and at that moment, he decides to turn his life around.

 

Like many musician biographies, much of the story is about Allman’s struggles with various addictions throughout his life. The real story here is that of the Allman brothers themselves (Gregg and Duane). Their story is one of humble beginnings, unimaginable fame, wasted fortunes and incalculable loss, including the tragic death of both Berry Oakley and Duane Allman. Duane Allman’s spirit is really the guiding force in the book. Older brother Duane could be credited with starting the Allman Brothers Band; his guitar work was a key element in the Allman brothers’ distinct sound. One gets the feeling that Gregg never felt that he quite measured up to big brother, Duane.

 

My Cross to Bear is satisfying, entertaining read from beginning to end. Quite simply, it is a Southern-fried version of the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” story. What’s not to love about that?

Zeke

 
 

Jen’s Life Lessons for Reluctant Adults

Jeneration XIn Jeneration X, humor writer Jen Lancaster takes on growing up and acting her age. She tackles important challenges like buying a house, getting a mammogram, and hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in typical Jen style. Her wickedly funny writing and short essays make this book the perfect accompaniment to a hot summer afternoon at the pool.

 

As with her previous bestselling memoirs, she writes Jeneration X in a series of related anecdotes rather than a chronological story.  Jen provides readers with commentary and snarky footnotes to explain her Gladys Kravitz-like compulsion to spy on her neighbors and the problem with swimsuits with skirts.  Jen’s readers are already familiar with her husband Fletch, her friends and family, and her menagerie of pets, so reading a new book always feels like catching up with an old friend over cocktails. To learn more about all things Jen, visit her blog, Jennsylvania.

 

Jeneration X features several appearances by Jen’s best friend and partner in crime Stacey Ballis, whose new novel Off the Menu will be published this summer. The novel follows Alana Ostermann, an assistant to a celebrity chef. She’s happy with her life until she meets RJ, who makes her realize that it is time to reassess her life. To celebrate the book’s release, Stacey is holding a contest to win a lunch date with Stacey and Jen (aka Stennifer). The deadline for entry is July 1; contest details can be found here.

Beth