2011 is nearly over, but so many great books were published this year! I’ve picked nine, new, nifty books to help inspire you as you ring out the old, and ring in the new. Some of these are “just for fun” and others might help you make life better and more fun in 2012. I’d love to know your comments about these!
BE INSPIRED: Dying to Do Letterman by Steve Mazan (HCI Books, October/November 2011) is Steve Mazan’s book, which grew out of his award-winning documentary film by the same name. It’s a self-conscious but interesting journey by this stand-up comic, chronicling his quest to do what he loves the most — stand up comedy. But he wasn’t satisfied to just get up and make people laugh. Mazan wanted a chance to do it on David Letterman’s show. En route to this nearly impossible dream, Steve was diagnosed with incurable liver cancer, and learned he might only have five years to live. While some might wallow in self-pity, Steve decided that before he left this world, he would put all his resources to living out his dream: performing on The Late Show for his idol, David Letterman. Steve’s wife Denise, is a supporting player, and she is really not lauded enough for her tremendous motivation to stay married and keep Steve healthy, while trying hard to keep Steve alive and healthy enough to father the children that, apparently are her dream (and that Steve doesn’t seem emotionally or physically ready to undertake). But the point of the book really is that one should never stash away their dreams, and they should live for today, while working towards a tomorrow, even if that tomorrow seems unlikely. Perhaps Dying to Do Letterman will motivate you to re-activate your quest for what you really want, in 2012. This book is available online or at bookstores or to order directly from the publisher, contact: www.hcibooks.com or (800) 441-5569.
A HEARTBREAKING STORY: While there are many excellent books picked up by mainstream publishers, sometimes it is the self-published ones that are most personal and interesting. That’s certain the case with Checking Out: An In-Depth Look at Losing Your Mind by Catherine Graves (2011). Ms. Graves was happily married to the man of her dreams, when his behavior began to change. She assumed the worst: that he was having an affair. But the reality was much worse than that. Her husband was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called a “glioma” and given a hopeless diagnosis. This book chronicles the gruelling and gruesome treatment and demise of her husband, but the book is also a very candid and well voiced view of how his illness and death affected her and her two children. What comes after including grief, guilt, mis-steps and eventually, a new way to live, is also part of Checking Out. I found the book surprisingly well written coming from a woman who is not a professional writer. If you or someone you know is either care-giver or patient, this book might provide a bit of comfort and some common sense a to deal with the practical matters, and the emotions, that impact a horrendous situation. The book left me feeling sad for Graves, but glad that she took the time and effort to put down her journey. I believe it will give hope and encouragement to her readers.
FIND BABY NAMES: One of the rights of passage for soon-to-be parents, is the purchase of a “baby names” book. I’ll be the first to admit that the cover and flip-page format of The Mix and Match Baby Names Book: Your Guide to Picking the Perfect Name for Your Child by June Rifkin (Adams Media; Spi edition, 2011) is cute. But honestly, I thought the book was gimmicky, and the flippy format, challenging to use. The idea is that you simply flip either side of the book to find “creative” names (e.g. Sarah Jessica Parker or Neil Patrick Harris). Um …..aren’t those last names, a given by the parents? My name wasn’t even in the book, and I noticed lots of other popular as well as unusual names, weren’t included either. I am not at all sure how the names in the flip book were selected, but there isn’t a wide range of multi-cultural suggestions, either. If you are truly clueless about how to put a first and middle name together, for a lot less you can simply “eeny, meeny, miny, mo” for first and middle names from a typical, “1000 names for baby” paperback. I really don’t see much difference between those and this book in terms of actual benefit, except the price. This glossy flip book costs $13.95). Is there really a need for another one of these books? Since the creator of this flip book of names is the author of another Adams Media, baby-centric title, perhaps the publisher thought it would be a nice companion title, but for me, it’s “no sale.” Still, it is attractive, and makes a good baby shower gift.
CHECK OUT NEW CHICK-LIT: I told myself that I wouldn’t review any more “chick lit” with 30 (or nearly)-something angst in it, but It’s A Waverly Life by Maria Murnane (AmazonEncore 2011) captured my attention both with it’s colorful, puzzle piece cover, and the somewhat adorable personality of the main character: Waverly Bryson. Waverly is dubbed: “The American Bridget Jones,” and that is probably a good comparison. You want her to win! Waverly lives in San Fran and has just left her secure job in Public Relations (it’s always a glam life for girls when it’s chick lit) . This lovely young woman knows very little about life and love but somehow,, she is able to write a dating advice column (I did cringe at this) and a quirkly and somewhat lucrative greeting card line (really?). Of course, she’s in love with the handsome and charming Jake McIntyre (a prince charming name if I ever heard one) who (naturally) is a physical therapist for the NBA in Atlanta (because male characters have to be equally as lucky in life with glam jobs, as their leading ladies). But all this aside, the book does have a roller coaster ride for Waverly (girl gets guy, girl loses guy, girl gets guy back) and the story is well crafted and fun to read. I sat there in one sitting and read it until the end. And, there are some actual “lessons” about friendship, communication, reaching out to others, and knowing your heart. Sure, it’s cheesy, but I really enjoyed it!
FANTASIZE ABOUT ROYALTY: Oh darn! I really wanted to like The Lost Queen Of England by H. Elizabeth Own (iUniverse 2011) because I am still fascinated by the late Princess Diana. This fictional, self-published book about the former Princess of Wales poses a big “what if” she had not died in that Paris crash, but survived (thanks to a decoy Diana)? The story that follows has Diana not just surviving, but being aided by the Royal Family to assume a new identity and new life in Egypt. From there, the newly-disguised, dark-haired, kohl-eyed beauty, gets involved with another “royal” this one, an ancient queen in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. The idea is that one “lost queen” will find another, cute idea. And, of course, there is plenty of intrigue, and love. The story line is interesting and clever, but the idea that the the real Queen of England would help Diana “disappear,” or that Charles would allow Diana to leave her sons behind with a terrible deception and a truth they could never divulge, is pretty preposterous. So is the idea that Diana would leave everything she loved behind (especially William and Harry) just to avoid the paparazzi, or that she would study and become an Egyptologist (if I remember correctly, she hated school and didn’t do well in her classes, so learning another language and studying archeology seems like a stretch). I just couldn’t imagine Diana doing anything described in the book. It was just too strange, and for that reason, I didn’t enjoy it. Worse, although most of the book is attention grabbing, the ending was wilted and left me disappointed that I’d invested my time to read 423 pages to the finish line. You may disagree, but this is my book review, so I’m telling it as I see it.
DELVE INTO THE WORLD OF DARK ARTS: Another book with a lot of potential that left me a bit out in the cold, is The Dark Glamour: A 66 Park Avenue Novel, by Gabriella Pierce (William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition 2011). I’m not a fan of the vampire/witch genre, but if you like these types of subjects you ‘ll appreciate this modern and clever approach. I immediately groaned when I quickly learned the premise: a newly-married witch named Jane Doran simply books from her wedding to hide out from Lynne, her mother in law (also a NYC witch). Why would you leave your new husband of hours, to go into hiding? Well, if you are Jane, it’s because of Lynne’s plans for her witch granddaughter to replace her late heir, her 6 year old daughter Annette, (who died two decades ago). There is a car accident, and lots of witchcraft. This, thanks to a plan (with her now missing newlywed husband, Malcom) who has thoughtfully left Jane access to a special safe-deposit box filled with seemingly endless cash (so she can get a killer, Manhattan apartment), and a glass unicorn that belonged to the deceased, Annette. The strange and convoluted plot twists and turns and goes on and on. With some aid from a Wiccan, Jane hiding out as “Caroline Chase becomes “Ella,” a sexy Brazilian baroness. As the plot twists and turns, Ella finds herself attracted to another man, and on and on and on…Confused? I was! I lost interest halfway into this weird and complicated tale, but to be fair, I think plenty of people will find it very entertaining. Watch for a sequel. It’s bound to happen.
COOK UP MEMORIES: My grandmother was the cook in our family as I was growing up. She created amazing daily meals, many with recipes from “the old country” that I never really appreciated until I got much older. By that time, she was pushing 90. I realized grandma wouldn’t be around forever and I wanted to preserve her recipes. My mother never seemed that interested making grandma’s “ethnic” food. But mom was also accomplished in the kitchen, a woman who definitely “mastered the art of French cooking”). It was up to me to get those recipes down on paper before it was too late. But, alas, grandma’s recollection of ingredients and measurements were so sketchy, I couldn’t re-create those special dishes. Not so for Lee Clayton Roper. Her book, A Well-Seasoned Kitchen (The Cookbook Marketplace; 1ST edition, 2009) is a large cookbook with beautiful photographs. It is not just a recipe book, however. It is a collaboration between mother and daughter, featuring the recipes that brought their family and friends together. When Lee’s mother Sally began to suffer from the effects of early-stage memory loss, Lee engaged her mother both actively and in memory, to create a cookbook that would pass on cherished recipes to others. Sally passed away during the creative process, but Lee completed it in her honor. A Well-Seasoned Kitchen is a memoir, a tribute to a beloved mother, and a nice way to capture cherished recipes before they would lost, forever. I enjoyed the recipes, some of which are super-easy and delicious, some sound like they should be challenging (e.g. rack of lamb with nut crust) and are surprisingly simple. However, there are plenty of recipes (e.g. a pavlova with three sets of ingredients and steps) that will be appealing to the more accomplished cook. You can buy this book online but even better, check out the Well Seasoned Kitchen website http://www.seasonedkitchen.com where a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Alzheimer’s Association.
PLAN TO PARTY: The holidays may be over, but the urge to entertain can strike any day. After all, who doesn’t love a party? After the holidays is the perfect time to create some cheer with a gathering. If you know how to throw a great party, the planning is all part of the fun. The photos alone from Plan to Party, Simple & Special Entertaining In Your Home by Elizabeth Mascali and Dawn Sandomeno (Yorkshire Publishing 2010) will have you excited about your next get-together. These two enterprising young women are self-styled party experts with a blog called partybluprintsblog.com. Plan to Party uses a formula of “blueprints,” or, if you will, a soup-to-nuts planning process to take your germ of a party idea, and turn it into a full blown whoop-de-do for friends, family, whomever. I really liked the idea, and loved the photos, but as to how useful it will be, that’s a mixed bag. This book is all blueprint and very little “beef”. That may make it challenging to use for those who need a party planning book to help them out in the first place. The initial 30 or so pages are all about the women (way too much). Much of the rest of the book seem to be filler pages that add heft but not so much value. And the rest of the pages are useful, but they include so much of the basic planning detail that you probably have already picked up, that I kept thinking the book should have been called:”Plan to Party for Dummies.” Clearly these ladies are creative, but where does that translate to the reader? I like the idea that the authors were thorough, but there is so much minutiae that your own personality can’t come through unless you are already creative enough to do it without spending the money for this book! There are just four party plans in the book: Wine Country Crush; A Night in Venice: Chocolate Soiree; and What a Girl Wants. The menus are lovely but with few actual recipes. I also found it annoying unique to New York, such as Jacques Torres chocolate, or Rice Balls from Ginos in Brooklyn. You can create this as a carbon copy if you wish. One of the other things I didn’t like is that the authors suggest unique suppliers and ingredients that might not be readily available in your home town. True, you can substitute something local, but if you have never tasted Jacque Torres awesome chocolate, or a true, Italian rice ball from Bensonhurst, how will you know what’s comparable? A few more recipes would have been useful. Why didn’t the authors offer the recipe for rice balls, as they are not difficult to make (and it would be more economical as well). *I just picked on the rice balls, but there are other examples as well. That being said the shopping lists are comprehensive, the time frames for planning and hosting the parties seem sound, But do we really need to be told how to “ask for an assistant to clear the salad plates, and help plate and serve the entree?” So much of Plan to Party is just common sense and nothing new, gussied up in a pretty package. Party planning can be as simple or as complicated as you wish, and following a blueprint gives you a plan, but not necessarily the one that’s best for your situation, and your guests.
SPICE UP YOUR LIFE, LITERALLY: Food enthusiast John Gregory-Smith is passionate about spices. So passionate, in fact, that he launched his own spice brand in the UK, called the Mighty Spice Company. He also has created a cookbook called The Mighty Spice Cookbook (Duncan Baird Publishers, 2011) that showcases recipes that use no more than 5 spices per recipe. Humans have been using spices as early as 50,000 BC. Mentioned in the Bible, used by the Egyptians for embalming, early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation…and of course food. The recipes in Might Spice may not make you into a gourmet cook, but it might get you really thinking about how much fun it is to cook with spices. The recipes are for the most part, easy to follow and the ingredients are not so exotic that you couldn’t find most of them on the supermarket shelf. There are about 100 recipes showcasing 25 key spices, but it is clear the the author has a fondness for several, including lemongrass, garam marsala, and cilantro. It appears that a lot of the recipes are Indian or Asian-centric, but nearly all of the recipes will appeal to a wide range of palates and levels of culinary sophistication. The photography is beautiful and the dishes look delicious. This is a great book to buy now, and experiment with all year long.