bookcover: 
 The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors and History book cover
Author: 
Ana Sofia Pelaez
Publisher: 
St. Martin's Press
Non-fiction_: 
Rating: 
8
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781250036087

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Review: 

For as long as there have been families, one of the routes to developing culture and heritage has been through the family kitchen, which in this day of nuclear families, the internet, and the latest eating fads, is loosing continuity. This familial and historical aspect of cooking permeates every page of The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors and History. This is not a book merely of recipes, but a love-letter to Cuban cooking. The author, Ana Sofia Pelaez, clearly cherishes her subject, as does Ellen Silverman's camera. There is background from the author, and a sense of history of the recipes and culture. Now I want to visit Miami and seek out Cuban restaurants, and maybe even find my way to Cuba to stay in a casa particular (a private home with rooms for guests) and check out the family restaurants called paladares.

I have not tried all of the 100+ recipes; but I am in the process of making a dent in them. In my head which has no Spanish in it, their exotic names feel like some kind of magical incantation: Rabo encenido, batidos, quimbombó. I feel a little like I have a secret eye into the Cuban kitchen, knowing (now) that Cuban cooks are fiercely protective of their cooking secrets. Translating the food from the page to the plate feels like an adventure for me. Sadly, however, since I am not really familiar with Cuban cuisine, I have no way of knowing if my efforts (delicious as they have proven to be, even with my low carbing them), I really don't know if they hit or miss the traditional mark. I have not been intrusive with my changes. Instead of putting the picadillo filling into a ball of potato, I used peppers instead. I have to tell you, the recipe was delicious, and though the flavoring (a combination of olives, onions, garlic, cumin, pepper and cinnamon!) was like nothing I have ever had before, it felt familiar.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves Cuban food and culture, or to anyone who wants to expand their tastebuds. Let me draw the circle a little bigger. The truth is that if you have a mouth, you'll appreciate this book.

bookcover: 
Victoria Donda Bookcover
Author: 
Victoria Donda
Publisher: 
Penguin Random House
Non-fiction_: 
Rating: 
2
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Review: 

I was seduced to read this book by the premise. Not that it is like a fictional premise-it is Victoria Donda's life. Because of her politics, Victoria's mother "disappeared" and Victoria was taken from her, and given to another family. Victoria lived for years believing she was part of that family, then discovered the truth. When I heard what the book was about, I knew it would be a dramatic and interesting story. The premise and the promise of the story did not live up to its potential. The story was badly organized, and badly presented. There is only a small portion of the book that is actually about how Victoria lived, and how she discovered the truth. It is presented awkwardly, sporadically, and keeps going back and forth in a way that is sure to lose anyone's interest (I am sad to say.) The timeline is disorganized. I plodded through and wished with every page that there was not so much more of it still left to read. Sad to say, the best part of the book is probably the family pictures.

However interesting My Name is Victoria: The Extraordinary Story of One Woman's Struggle to Reclaim her True Identity should have been, I was far from swept away by the middle-school writing. The truth is that I cannot know if the book was badly written in its original language, or if the miserable English version (which is what I read) was bad and badly translated. I had to force myself to get through it, partially because of the book's 'style' and partially because it was so political. There were problems with presentation, and pacing, and frankly, the story just went on and on, not unlike this review. (I should have just stopped with 'poorly written.) If I were a student of Argentinian politics, I might have had more incentive to give the book a fair chance. Or maybe not.

I do have respect and sympathy for Victoria Donda, and I feel a certain pride in how she managed to take charge of her life in spite of her true family and life being stolen from her. Growing up the victim of a brutal regime must have been no picnic. I just wish the book had managed to tell her story in a better way.

bookcover: 
Since You've Been Gone book cover
Author: 
Mary Jennifer Payne
Publisher: 
Dundurn
Fiction: 
Rating: 
6
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781459728196

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Review: 

Edie and her mother Sydney practically live out of suitcases. They move frequently. We don't find out immediately that the reason why they move is that for the last five years, they have been hiding from Edie's abusive father. Soon after the book begins, Edie has to leave behind her pet cat as they abandon Toronto for London. Edie has to adjust to her new life in a new school in a new country, but before she finds her footing in London, her mother Sydney disappears from her night job. Edie steals some cash from school and sets out with her new friend Jermaine to try to find her mother.

Since You've Been Gone is a tough story to read, a sad tale of survival. It is not a long novella and the content is unsettling mostly because it deals with hard truths like surviving physical and verbal abuse and bullying. The content is bleak enough that it would be a tough subject no matter the approach.

I do believe a lot of readers have been spoon-fed sweet romance novels, and are not predisposed to be understanding of a point of view character who is sympathetic, but not particularly likable. I felt empathy for Edie, even though she is drawn with a harsh crayon. The bully character Precious is anything but, but she seems to be an accurate character, and the blooming friendship between Edie and Jermaine feels realistic, if accelerated. Much of the story rings true. Although much of the story lies below the surface and I think it might stand up to analysis because Edie's decision-making processes reflect the nature of the issues she's faced, I feel the author could have added a few more scenes at certain points. I did read in one sitting, and recommend for young adult readers.

bookcover: 
All That Glitters bookcover
Author: 
Michael Murphy
Series: 
A Jake and Laura Mystery
Publisher: 
Random House
Action-Adventure: 
Rating: 
7
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Review: 

I like to read series sequentially, but though I am new to the Jake and Laura noir mystery series, I had no trouble figuring everything out. All that Glitters is a first person mystery in the voice of novelist and former Pinkerton Jake Donovan, whose diction is flavored like something out of 1933 Golden Era Hollywood movie. Donavon writes formula books about Blackie Doyle, and his long time girlfriend Laura is a Broadway actress just branching into talkies.

Jake and Laura travel from New York to Hollywood for Laura's part in The Midnight Wedding, a movie. The Carville Studio head pushes Jake into rewriting his troubled son's screenplay, and when the screenwriter is found dead, it is up to Jake to clear his name.

Michael Murphy does a credible job in making this era come to life. The characters are drawn to fit the time and include a various mix of stars, mobsters, (Leo Cartwright, Slick Ray Gambino), andAnnabelle (the LA cop). And of course, there's Donavon's redoubtable editor Mildred keeping him on track. Definitely a fun read.

The chemistry and banter is true to a style we recognize from the Thin Man series. The presentation of thirties Hollywood is light and brisk and a little effervescent.

bookcover: 
Low carb diet book cover
Author: 
Laura Lamont
Publisher: 
Watkins Publishing Limited
Non-fiction_: 
Rating: 
5
ISBN/ASIN: 

978-1-84899-213-9

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Review: 

As I like cooking and eating a little more than I ought to, I feel lucky that I learned about low carb diets. Probably the first one I was on was back in the dark ages, when my sister and I followed what was called the grapefruit diet, or maybe the Mayo Clinic diet, though it had nothing to do with the Mayo Clinic and a whole lot to do with 3 eggs, grapefruit and black coffee. Later I followed Stillman and Atkins, read those books, learned to cut out sugar, starches and how to count carbs. As a practically professional yo yo dieter, I have followed some form of low carb dieting for years. I looked over this book, Laura Lamont's New Low Carb Diet Cookbook when it first came out. It did not follow low carb dieting as I know it. I stuck it back on the shelf, where it has been nagging me for a review. So here it is.

What I like about the beginning of the book is that there is a discussion of low carb eating, and some diet tricks that might be of use to a dieter. Not eating after seven is a good rule to follow. Some of these tricks are good, like using spices which are supposed to help weight loss. Some are not so good, like suggesting milk at bedtime. (A cup of milk has 12 grams of carb, about 1.5 grams of sugar per fl ounce according to the USDA. People who understand 'keto' would know better than to do this, because it would surely knock you out of ketosis.) Yes, milk can encourage sleep, but it is also too carby for a low carb diet. Inclusion of beets, carrots and onions on a list of foods on a low cal diet would make sense, but putting them on a list of low carb foods that you can 'eat as much as you like' defies low carb rules. (Beets, carrots and onions contain enough sugar that you should control them in a low carb diet. Yes, they are lower on the glycemic index than, say, potatoes, but they are still something a carb/sugar sensitive person has to watch out for.) The 'science' discussion has nominal value when an offhand instruction to drink bedtime milk contradicts good sense. Another problem is how the diet is laid out. There's a quick discussion of a five day diet, lists of foods, and color coding, but that portion of the book is rushed. Because I come from a background of counting carbs (such as Atkins' system of induction levels of carbohydrates that gradually increase not only help the dieter stay on track, but also to learn moderation), I feel this book rushes through the actual diet, then goes into recipes.

Many of the recipes were also a problem for me, because my definition of low carb does not coincide with the author's. I have learned on my own how to adapt most recipes to be lower in carbs than a standard recipe. Not that I am special in that way; I am sure any avid low carber could read these recipes, and modify them to actually be low carb. It's not a challenging skill-set to cut out the starches, and maybe replace some ingredients with lower carb ones. I applaud that the author made an effort, but would recommend skipping the breakfast starches, and the dessert chapter. Some of the meat and vegetable recipes show promise. I only hope that other dieters come to this book with a history like mine, so they can weed out some of her advice(Trust me-banana smoothies are NOT low carb) which I believe is well-meant but mis-directed.

bookcover: 
Cover of Goodnight sleep tight
Author: 
Kristina Andres
Publisher: 
Gecko Press
Genre: 
Juvenile_: 
Rating: 
9
Description of Sales Url: 
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Review: 

The full title of this picture book is Goodnight Sleep Tight, Eleven-And-A Half Good Night Stories with Fox and Rabbit.

Fox and Rabbit live together in a little house beyond the molehills. In the first story, Fox accidentally locks Rabbit out, and Rabbit ends up falling asleep curled up on the porch, as Fox eats his way through three bowls of pasta and all the sauce in the house, then goes out to find more food. While he's out, Rabbit climbs in through the chimney and goes to sleep in Rabbit's bed which is still warm. When they finally get back together, they don't recognize each other and decide it is because they are covered with night dust, because they went to sleep so late. But they stay pitch black until their visiting friend, Elephant, takes them for a swim in the lake. Trust me. Elephant is the smart one.

The stories are all about the country bedtimes of Fox and Rabbit, and are just the right length and tone for a bed time ritual. Depending on the age of your reluctant sleeper, you might bring a pretend bowl of pasta, raspberries, an elephant, sandwiches, fish, a flock of sheep, and a clock into the bedroom as bedtime props.)

While this book is not exactly Wind in the Willows, it has its charms. The biggest attraction of Goodnight Sleep Tight is Kristina Andres' collection of illustrations, which have a belovedly familiar quality. We would definitely recommend getting the hardback so your bedtime babies will get the full benefit of the picture book experience.

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bookcover: 
Author: 
George Hatcher
Series: 
Ambulance Chasers
Publisher: 
Casa Hatcher Press
Action-Adventure: 
Rating: 
9
ISBN/ASIN: 

978-0-9983762-0-2

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Review: 

Book 4 in the Mario (Ambulance Chaser) is the new book in the series, titled Free Fall. This book takes you through the free-falling and wild 1970’s When Mario has hit his mid 20’s and all the post-Vietnam, post-war protest and now joyful living and European getaways. The book is very spot on with the time and very adult with the sex. If you love to travel, sex, food and descriptive detail, this is the book for you.

Mario is a bit older now, but still the boy from the Barrio. He has become a successful businessman, but after being almost killed in book 3, he decided to take a change from being an Ambulance Chaser to instead, Aviation Chaser which takes him and his team of gorgeous women around the world. Along the way, he meets Sami and Jason who grew up very differently than he did, and yet their taste for the good life matches his and he becomes friends and more with them.

Along the way, trouble as always seems to find Mario and he learns who his true friends are and who the enemy. You will find this book a great romp through the 70’s and through Europe with all the dear friends from books 1 -3 making main and cameo showings. Do not miss the latest in the series.
Nancy Louise
December 27, 2017
"No writer knows what they are doing till twenty years after the published book sits on the shelf and the child that had not yet been born, reads it, tells the tale of it, and tells the tale of it."
Nancy Louise McCormick

I am currently reading Hannah Pakula's The Last Empress. It is a history that follows both the individual who makes it and the surrounding masses of humans who also make it as they follow (or have no choice) the leaders good and poor the rocky road to their dreams. History does not truly change, only its colors and manners we chose to exhibit.

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