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Culinary Clash of the Titans

Culinary Clash of the Titans

posted by:
December 13, 2012 - 8:45am

CookFightWhen legendary restaurant critic Frank Bruni challenged his colleagues Julia Moskin and Kim Severson, both writers for the New York Times, to duke it out in the kitchen, they readily accepted. Their culinary contest is detailed in the unique new cookbook CookFight: 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes, An Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance. Moskin and Severson first faced a challenge to cook a dinner party for six guests on a budget of only $50. Bruni judged the contest for the newspaper and ruled it a tie. After that initial challenge, their friendly rivalry evolved into a yearlong series of contests that ranged from their Farmers’ Market challenge based around local, seasonal cooking to a Thanksgiving challenge in which both cooks crafted their spin on the perfect Thanksgiving feast. Each month, Moskin and Severson battled for culinary glory. Every chapter chronicles one month’s battle with the contestants’ menus, narratives explaining their different approaches to the battle, beautiful color photos of their dishes, and recipes. So who won their contest? You decide.

 

If CookFight whets your appetite for culinary competition, follow it up with Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. The recipes are taken from Quickfire segments of the first five seasons of Bravo’s hit television show Top Chef. This collection of 75 recipes from fans’ favorite “cheftestants” includes color photos, recipes, and behind-the-scenes information about the contestants. Intrepid fans will also learn how to hold their own Quickfire Challenges at home.

Beth

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Man's Best Friend

Underwater DogsPuppyhoodSeth Casteel, award-winning pet photographer and animal rights activist, presents amazing images of over eighty dogs in aquatic settings in Underwater Dogs. Each canine has an individual portrait which captures the unique personalities in exuberant action shots chasing a ball. From the human perspective, this game of chase seems simple – ball is thrown, dog retrieves it, and surfaces triumphantly. But beneath the water, there is a major drama playing out complete with bared teeth and arched bodies.  From leaping lab to diving dachshund, each dog approaches this game a little differently.  Some lounge in the water and paddle slowly, while others are aggressive and shark-like in their focus and determination. Of course, the elegant poodle still manages to maintain an air of refinement even when soaked. Casteel started this project by posting the photos on his blog, and since that time the viewership has surpassed 150 million.  

 

Who doesn’t love puppies? Photographer J. Nichole Smith offers photographs of twenty-five different baby canines in Puppyhood: Life-size Portraits of Puppies at 6 Weeks Old. The coffee table size allows the puppies to be shown in full actual life size at six weeks. These engaging photographs show all the details that make puppies so irresistible, from their pink bellies and tiny teeth to their soft ears and oversize paws. The book features purebred and mixed breed doggies in a variety of puppy pastimes such as sleeping, staring down the photographer, and of course, playing. All of the photographs will have readers yearning for their own puppy to cuddle. And indeed that is part of Smith’s plan, as her epilogue is complete with information on adopting all of the twenty-five pictured pooches, as well as providing contact information for a number of national shelter networks and the breeders of the purebreeds featured in the book.

Maureen

 
 

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

posted by:
December 10, 2012 - 9:30am

Blackberry WinterSarah Jio’s new novel Blackberry Winter weaves together the past and present in a captivating tale of loss and a mother’s love. Reporter Claire Aldridge is assigned to cover a snowstorm on the anniversary of a similar surprise storm that shut down Seattle on May Day nearly 80 years before. This kind of late-season storm is called a blackberry winter. Claire’s research for a feature article on the twin snowstorms uncovers the unsolved kidnapping of a child in 1933. On that cold night, a young mother named Vera Ray was forced to leave her young son Daniel home alone while she went to work the night shift. She kissed him goodbye and went to work as a maid at the Olympic Hotel. When she returned the next morning, Vera found that 3-year-old Daniel was gone. The only trace left behind was his teddy bear Max, which Vera found outside in the snow. Police said that the boy was a runaway, but Claire doesn’t believe that’s possible of a child so young.

 

Vera’s tragic loss hits home for Claire, who struggling under the weight of a crumbling marriage and the loss of her own baby. She takes it upon herself to find out what really happened to Daniel. As she searches through records and learns more, she is also finally forced to face her own loss. The narrative of Blackberry Winter alternates between Claire and Vera’s perspectives to bring both of their stories to life. Jio brings readers an emotional tale with a unique conclusion to the mystery of Daniel’s disappearance.

 

Beth

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Still Waters Run Deep

Still Waters Run Deep

posted by:
December 10, 2012 - 8:55am

Those We Love MostChange can happen in an instant. This is the central message in Lee Woodruff’s debut fiction book, Those We Love Most. On the surface, this is a story of old themes. Members of an upper-middle income, multi-generational family are devastated by a tragedy, and existing small cracks and relationship fissures are suddenly split wide open. Roger and Margaret Munson are an older couple with three grown children. They have a seemingly stable marriage, yet pursue separate interests much of the time. Their eldest child, Maura, is a product of her parents. Married with three young children, she and her husband live a comfortable if staid existence until one spring day when their eldest son is struck by a car and killed. The four adults all cope with the loss differently and must face past transgressions and secrets as part of their path to healing.

 

Lee Woodruff writes from personal experience about unexpected tragedy. Her husband, Bob Woodruff, was an ABC News Anchor who was injured in an explosion in Iraq in 2006 and suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result. She has written two non-fiction books about her experiences, one co-authored with him. Despite the somewhat predictable plot, Woodruff creates characters with depth and believability, and this is what keeps the reader engaged in this heartbreaking yet redemptive story. Although there are no real surprises in Those We Love Most, it is a thoughtful study about how people cope with grief as individuals and as a family unit. Is there one prescribed path individuals should follow when processing loss? Are beliefs in an afterlife or higher power necessary to come to terms with the death of a child? Far from sentimental, this book raises difficult questions about death, redemption and putting lives back together in a less-than-perfect fashion.

 

Melanie

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Oprah Chooses Hattie

Oprah Chooses Hattie

posted by:
December 7, 2012 - 9:15am

The Twelve Tribes of HattieDebut author Ayana Mathis is having the best week ever! Oprah Winfrey just announced that Mathis’s novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her next Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection. Authors and publishers know that having your book selected for Oprah’s Book Club is like winning the publishing lottery. Her stamp of approval has catapulted many authors to the bestsellers list, and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is certain to make Mathis the next. Oprah praised the book saying, “I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.”

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie follows an African American family over the course of sixty years. After her father’s death, Hattie Shepherd fled Georgia with her mother and sisters to make a new life in Philadelphia. In 1925, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s children Jubilee and Philadelphia die of pneumonia, a loss that marks Hattie for the rest of her life. She goes on to have nine more children, raising them to face the harsh realities of the world. The novel focuses on the experiences of her adult children and granddaughter. With each chapter narrated by a different family member, the novel is like a series of connected short stories tied together by the common thread of family bonds. Mathis brings the Great Migration to life in this unforgettable story of a family’s resilience in the face of adversity. Readers can join in the discussion on Goodreads or Twitter (#OprahsBookClub) and watch Oprah’s interview of Mathis, which will air on Feburary 3 on Oprah’s cable network OWN.

 

Beth

 
 

Photos Through the Years

Photos Through the Years

posted by:
December 7, 2012 - 8:45am

Eight Girls Taking PicturesWhitney Otto has created eight memorable female photographers in her new novel Eight Girls Taking Pictures. The novel is written episodically; each character appears in a separate short story, but there is a common thread running through the entire novel. The first story features photographer Cymbeline Kelley, studying photography in the early 1900s and discovering what it means to be a female artist in her time period. Cymbeline is the glue that holds the novel together. Even after her own story is completed, she is often mentioned in the stories that follow, so the reader will learn what happens to her as she ages. Many other characters are equally fascinating and the novel spans many years during the twentieth century. Charlotte Blum, a Jewish photographer in Germany during World War II, is falling in love with another woman. Miri Marx becomes a wife and mother and moves to an apartment in New York City, contenting herself by taking pictures of Central Park from her window. Each story begins with a photograph, allowing the reader to discover how this particular photo fits into the life of the photographer. Otto covers many themes in the novel, including what it means to be a women and an artist and how to balance what is expected of you with what you hope to achieve. Because the novel spans so many years, the reader can witness the changing times but still appreciate the similarities of these different women from separate eras.

 

Readers will remember Whitney Otto from the sensational How to Make an American Quilt. Eight Girls Taking Pictures follows that similar short story style and will satisfy fans of Otto as well as attracting new readers. The photographers she writes about are fictional but are loosely based on real women photographers, and Otto provides a bibliography in case she piques a reader’s interest to learn more. Truly a wonderful novel, Eight Girls Taking Pictures will also provide lively discussions for book groups.

 

Doug

 
 

Checking out for Good

Heads in BedsAs a cog in the wheel of an industry that survives on its image, Jacob Tomsky knows a thing or two about hotels. His new book, Heads in Beds, a Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, takes a sassy, insightful look inside the lodging establishments that employed him for over a decade. Humorously eye-opening and slightly bawdy, Tomsky's take on the hospitality business is everything you ever wanted to know (maybe) but were afraid to ask (really) about what goes on in the “heart of the house.” Little in Tomsky's background prepared him for his career path. Armed with a philosophy degree, he ends up working the valet stand at a newly opened luxury hotel in New Orleans, where he quickly moves from parking cars to front desk clerk to overnight housekeeping manager. Fifteen hour shifts come with the territory, as do lying, finessing, and bartering, all in the name of good customer service. Eventually he hits the big time when he is hired by an upscale Manhattan hotel, where for fun he and coworkers race down hallways on a power scooter at three a.m.

 

There are plenty of anecdotes that make this part-travel memoir, part-industry exposé a brisk, entertaining read. Some of it is disturbing, like knowing the housekeeper may be spraying furniture polish on your drinking glasses for that spotless shine. The author is also happy to share helpful insider tips, like how to get that coveted room upgrade and techniques for disputing mini-bar, also known as "fridge of joy" charges. Naturally, tipping figures prominently. Tomsky's honest introspection about the coworkers who form this closed society extends his writing to more than just a tell-all. With a clear-eyed wit, he deftly peels away layers of the hotel trade and its practices in order to enlighten even the most frequent traveler. Don't be surprised when the amusing and helpful appendices at the book’s end bring a wide smile.

 

Cynthia

 
 

Literary Gifts

Literary Gifts

posted by:
December 6, 2012 - 9:05am

The Books They Gave MeMany of us can remember receiving a life-changing book and the story behind it. Maybe it was a childhood birthday present, a memento from a failed relationship, an impulse buy, a bequest from a late relative, or a suggestion from a favorite teacher. Whatever the reason, the ways in which these special books enter our lives can often be as powerful as the books themselves. The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Life, Love, and Lit, based on editor Jen Adams’ blog of the same name, chronicles over two hundred anonymous anecdotes about the books we give one another and why.

 

These candid submissions – with themes ranging from “How did she know?” to “What was he thinking?!” – celebrate the humorous, profound, and sometimes disastrous connections that our lives make through literature. A good number of the stories focus on breakups, but the collection never feels dull thanks to the constant stream of different voices and experiences. In fact, this charming, accessible little book can easily be read in one sitting. For those looking for further reading, this collection doubles as an extensive book list, cataloging a variety of classic novels, memoirs, poetry, self-help guides, and even dictionaries. Color illustrations of each featured title provide appealing visuals from beginning to end. The Books They Gave Me is a bibliophile’s dream and encourages readers to reflect upon their own treasured books. As one contributor beautifully puts it, “I believe that giving a book to a person is like giving a piece of your soul to them.”

Alex

 
 

An Everyday Obsession

An Everyday Obsession

posted by:
December 3, 2012 - 9:15am

The Dangers of Proximal AlphabetsTo the average observer, Ida, Jackson, and James are ordinary childhood friends. They imagine fantasylands, have sleepovers, and run amok outdoors, all in each other’s company. But they don’t stay children forever. In The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, Kathleen Alcott exposes the obsessions, insecurities, and weaknesses of the trio as they grow from closely enmeshed friends into troubled and estranged adults. 

 

Told from Ida’s point of view, much of the story focuses on Ida and Jackson, or I and J, as they call each other. From their earliest meeting Ida sees Jackson as uniquely hers, and Alcott’s simple and poetic prose unveils the seeds of Ida’s disquietingly intimate obsession with him. As an infant she cried when she was first separated from him, as a child she listens to his eerie sleep-talking conversations with James, and as an adult she proudly catalogues for the reader some of his most personal idiosyncrasies. James, Jackson’s younger brother, is slowly marginalized within the friendship into a mere witness to Ida and Jackson’s growing closeness. As they age, Ida and Jackson gradually become a couple and James drifts into mental illness. Jackson’s boyhood sleep-talking has transformed into more disturbing sleep-walking, and Ida’s response to his unconscious actions threatens to unhinge their strangely dysfunctional relationship.

 

Although quite short, this novel is packed with subtle emotions and extremely human relationships. The characters are all eccentric in one way or another, yet they seem so normal when viewed through Ida’s eyes. Part coming-of-age story and part psychological drama, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is a thought-provoking and bittersweet read perfect for a cold fall night.

 

Rachael

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Religion, Philosophy, and Adventure

Religion, Philosophy, and Adventure

posted by:
December 3, 2012 - 8:45am

The Elephant Keepers' ChildrenPeter Hoeg has created a delightful novel with a cast of zany characters in his newest book The Elephant Keepers' Children. Fourteen-year-old Peter and his older siblings Tilte and Hans are thrust into a mystery when they are informed that their parents have mysteriously vanished. Hans manages to evade capture, but Peter and Tilte are caught and taken to Big Hill, a home for abandoned children and recovering addicts on the island of Fino. Determined to find their parents, Peter and Title plan and execute an elaborate escape, beginning an adventure that is destined to change their lives forever. They encounter several curious characters along the way, including Count Rickardt Three Lions, a recovering heroin addict and resident of  Big Hill, Leonora Ticklepalate, a nun in Fino’s Buddhist community and resident computer scientist and IT specialist, and Lars and Katinka, two police officers who are also star-crossed lovers chasing the children. Not everyone they encounter is out to help the pair. They are also being chased by a hapless bishop and her secretary, and a professor and his wife. Peter and Tilte are aware that their parents are up to something and they believe they are going to a conference in Copenhagen that will gather together great scientific minds and religious leaders of all faiths. Along the way, Peter reflects on his own brand of spiritualty and wonders what is left when you cut through the dogma.

 

Readers may remember Peter Hoeg from Smilla’s Sense of Snow but will encounter a very different novel with The Elephant Keepers' Children. Peter is an imminently likeable narrator, and the novel is full of humor, adventure, and incredibly memorable characters. There is also a philosophical undercurrent running through the novel that readers who enjoy a second layer will certainly appreciate. The tone and atmosphere are remarkably fun and there are a few great chuckles along the way.

 

Doug

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