Saturday, October 23, 2010

What I'm Reading

Picture by Wonderlane
This post is partly inspired by a blog I read regularly, Rowdy Kittens. Tammy Strobel, the talent behind Rowdy Kittens, established a "book a week" challenge. That is, to read one book a week for a year. I really like the idea of setting a goal to read more. When I met Bob, he had a goal to read 10,000 pages a year.

This post will be updated regularly, and I will include a link on the right side navigation bar of my blog in case you want to check back in and see what I am reading and how it is going. Also, feel free to leave a comment if there is a book you have read and enjoyed and that you think I might enjoy as well. Fiction, non-fiction, if you enjoyed it, feel free to recommend it.

If you are looking to order your books, I want to recommend Four-Eyed Frog Books, the great local bookstore in the community where I live. They take online orders and ship across the country. If you want to buy a book and support a local brick and mortar store in my community, consider ordering from "The Frog."

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris
The David Sedaris that I love to read is back with this collection of essays. His observations are deliciously sarcastic, honest, and always make me laugh. From picking up trash in the French countryside, to musing about his journals and diaries through the years to getting colonoscopy. As NPR described it:  The best Sedaris essays crack you up with their wacky observations about bizzare things - taxidermied owls. the Pygmies, the bliss of colonoscopy sedation -  before improbably working their way around to surprising moving conclusions about the nature of love."

Cooked - Michael Pollan
I will ready pretty much anything this man writes. I appreciate how he can start from a simple spot (let's make bread) and then dive deep into it from a variety of levels ... wheat, bread starters, trying to craft the perfect loaf, interviewing master bakers and more. This book isn't just about bread, but that is where I really honed in since Bob has been doing a lot of break baking and experimenting since we moved to The Sea Ranch. I always learn loads when I read Pollan's stuff. If you are a foodie, food chemistry nerd, or just like learning, I recommend this book. 

Lean In - Sheryl Sandberg
I like this book. I remember when it first came out, there was a lot of buzz both for and against this book. My feeling is that anything that furthers the discuss of equality in the workplace and equality in corporate leadership positions is a good thing. Reading this book I could not help but think about my own doze or so years in the corporate world. Aside from my mentor, the number of women in leadership positions was minimal. I know there have been times in my own career when I leaned out instead of leaning in. Now that I am self employed, I find myself needing to lean in in a different way. Taking on more complex projects, stepping up and also branching out.

Daring Greatly - Brene' Brown
I've already read this book twice and it has several dog-eared pages and sticky notes. I first saw Brene' Brown on her Ted talk. I then had an opportunity to hear her speak at the 2012 World Domination Summit. What an engaging speaker AND she managed to get a whole theater people up and singing a Journey song.  But, about this book. It really resonated with me. Mainly because I think back to time in my life when I opted not to dare greatly and, instead, decided not to take a risk. However, for those time I did push myself, the reward was a deepened sense of confidence and a solid foundation from which to take on greater challenges. This book is staying on my shelf. For sure.

Blue Nights - Joan Didion
I read A Year of Magical Thinking last year and I really enjoyed Joan Didion’s writing style. That book focused on the sudden death of her husband and how she navigated the year that followed. Blue Nights, her most recent book, focuses on the loss of her daughter. It is personal, moving and at times raw.  It’s about the uncertainty of parenthood, life, aging and making your way in the world.  I admire her willingness to be so open with her readers, as she speaks about things that many of us feel, yet she gets the words out into the world so eloquently. The Boston Globe said ““Joan Didion is a brilliant observer, a powerful thinker, a writer whose work has been central to the times in which she has lived. Blue Nights continues her legacy.” 

Visiting Tom - Michael Perry
Michael Perry is one of my favorite authors. I started reading him when we moved to Northern California and he captures the quirks and characters of small town life. In his newest book, Visiting Tom, he weaves a story around his 80+ year old neighbor, Tom. His barn is filled with all manner of machinery and he even has an operable cannon he made himself. Tom actually reminds me of this old timer named Waldo that my dad and I would visit when I was a little girl. Perry’s writing style is a great blend of touching humor woven into the daily observations of life, in all its kindness, messiness and uncertainty. 

You Can Buy Happiness - Tammy Strobel 
I’ve been a fan of Rowdy Kittens, the blog maintained by this book’s author.  In fact, Tammy Strobel is the person that inspired me to up my ante when it comes to reading and to try to read a book a week. You Can Buy Happiness combines research on happiness with the downsizing story of the author and her husband.  Over the course of a few years, they go from a crammed two-bedroom apartment and a stack of debt to a debt-free life and owning a tiny home on wheels. What I really liked are the micro-actions included at the end of each chapter. I think this is a great book for people who feel overwhelmed by their stuff or just want to up the happy level in their lives and are not sure where to start. Much like Bob’s and my decision to move to a quieter community and take control of our work lives through self-employment, you can see a similar story unfold for the author. This book is not going to tell you to throw out all your stuff and move to a tiny house, but it will make you think about your priorities and perhaps inspire a little change. This book tied in nicely with the Project 333 challenge I am doing right now, which has the goal of paring down your wardrobe to 33 items that you will wear for the next three months. Bottom line, I recommend this book and also recommend Tammy’s blog. Worth the read..

Dreams of Life - Ron Miles
Any book that can get me to laugh, to cry and to feel a connection to the characters is a good book in my world. Dreams of Life has a story line that reels you in and keeps your attention until the very end. It artfully weaves mystery, romance, family drama and a little bit of the paranormal into a satisfying journey. I appreciated how the author was able to craft a story that spans multiple geographic locations and generations. For the scenes that took place on the farm in Iowa, the writing reminded me of the writing style one of my favorite authors, Kent Haruf's, which I like to describe as quiet yet powerful. Overall, I enjoyed the book and I hope the author will consider a sequel for these memorable characters.

Bright Shiny Morning - James Frey
California lures people but Los Angeles has a special glittery draw for the dreamers. This novel tells the story of those people drawn to LA and those that live, work and play there. James Frey is probably most known for his book A Million Little Pieces, which was billed as an autobiography but ended up being more of a semi-fictional memoir. I actually listened to an unabridged audio version of Bright Shiny Morning on our Lake Tahoe road trip earlier this month. The story is narrated by Ben Foster, who played Claire's boyfriend on Six Feet Under, one of my all-time favorite shows.  In this book you will been a young couple (Dillon and Maddie) who head to LA to escape the Midwest. You'll also meet Esperanza, the beautiful daughter of Mexican immigrants and Amberton, the Hollywood mega-star actor who has an problem keeping his hands off his personal assistants. While these characters have the strongest threads in the novel, there are dozens of more stories of those that are lured to LA for one reason or another. Worth the read.

Life List - Olivia Gentile
This book was placed in the fiction sections of our community library, but I quickly realized that this was actually a true story of a remarkable woman; a woman with a singular focus to see as many birds as she could during our life time. Phoebe Snetsinger came to birding when she was a house wife in the Midwest. She sought some sort of relief from the boredom of motherhood and started bird watching with another housewife. Something in her clicked and birding became an obsession. Her birding career would span over 40 years and would cover every continent and some very harrowing situations, including grueling hikes, a horrible rape and ultimately, she dies on a birding trip. This book was well-written and kept me engaged the entire way. It includes excerpts from the author’s research, interviews with Phoebe’s family, other birders and also includes excerpts from Phoebe’s autobiography. A good read, even if you are not a birder

Still Alice – Lisa Genova
The protagonist is Alice Howland, a university professor who finds that what she thought was forgetfulness associated with menopause or aging was actually the first signs that she was facing early-onset Alzheimer’s.  We see Alice’s spiral into dementia, slowly. We see how it impacts her work, her husband, her friends and her kids. From the author’s page: “Alice Howland is proud of the life she has worked so hard to build. A Harvard professor, she has a successful husband and three grown children. When Alice begins to grow forgetful at first she just dismisses it, but when she gets lost in her own neighborhood she realizes that something is terribly wrong. Alice finds herself in the rapid downward spiral of Alzheimer’s disease. She is only 50 years old.” 

David Sedaris - Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
This was not the typical Sedaris that I am used to. Animals are used to tell tales of morality. The highlight are the fantastic illustrations by Ian Falconer which really bring the stories to life. One Amazon reviewer made this comment, which I summarized how I felt as well  "Almost entirely missing is the tenderness, the hopefulness about the possibility of meaningful relationships that characterizes the rest of David Sedaris' work. Overall, this is a quick read and is an interesting juxtaposition to his other stories.
My Horizontal Life - Chelsea Handler
I was on a recent flight and there was a 65+ year old woman on the other side of the aisle reading a Chelsea Handler book and she laughed no less than a dozen times. I remember her a little bit from Girls Behaving Badly, but had not read any of her books. I saw this one at the library and picked it up. In a nut shell, this book summarizes her hilarious exploits with various one night stands. The one essay called "Side Marks" reminded me about the David Sedaris story when he flings a turd into the back yard during a party ... yes, I swear I have the sense of humor of a 12-year old boy. Anyway, Ms. Handler is going right up there next to Sedaris for me, when it comes to smart, sometimes foul, humor that is sure to get a laugh.
The Beauty of Different - Karen Walrond
I've been following Karen Walrond's blog, Chookooloonks, for a few years. She is also the person I sent an old school ice cream maker, so we could both check something off our life lists. When her book, The Beauty of Different, came out, I added it to my reading list by somehow it took me a while to get a copy.

The book features Karen's photography along with her writings. It's the kind of book that is lovely for the coffee table, or to keep on the nightstand in the guest room. The message is inspiring, it is those things that make us different that often make us beautiful. She profiles people and their stories and also mixes in fun lists, musings and thought-provoking quotes. It's easy to read this book cover to cover, or savor one chapter at a time with a cup of coffee. A lovely and empowering book and well worth the read.

The $100 Start Up - Chris Guillebeau
Chris Guillebeau is great about providing inspiration and practical information. This book is a great road map for anyone who has considered starting their own business. This book shares stories of regular folks who started their businesses very inexpensively. For some of these business owners it was a total jump from their current job (by choice or by recession. Others were looking to start a small side business that they wanted to grow. Some were pushed into jumping on their dream due to the recession and others finally figured out their passion and found a way to make it profitable. It includes stories of on-line only businesses, brick and mortar stores and more.

If you are thinking about starting your own business but have been lagging because of concerns that you have to have it "perfect" before you get started, this book will motivate you to take the jump. If you have an idea, but are not sure if it will be profitable, this book has some tools to help you work through your idea. Bottom line, this book is a great value, well written and sure to become a go-to resource for those considering starting their own micro business.

The Midnight Palace - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I really enjoyed two other works by this author, Shadow of the Wind and The Angle's Game. The Midnight Palace was actually one of his earlier books and was a Young Adult title. It takes place in Calcutta and is the story of twins who are linked by tragedy. It contains the similar dark urban settings of his other books, though this takes place in India, not Spain. There was some violent scenes in here, and it got me thinking about what is the appropriate level of gore, blood, murder  for young adult books. I am not sure what the youngest reader of this book would be, but for the right kid, it could probably cause some bad dreams. On the other hand, this is probably nothing worse than kids are exposed to on TV. OK, back from that tanget; this was good storytelling and a fast read. If you have read his other books, this is a good read to see how his writing is the same, and also how it has changed.

Heaven is Here - Stephanie Nielsen
Stephanie Nielsen experienced a horrific crash in a small plane a few years ago. This is a very inspiring story about the will to live, to redefine yourself and to continue to choose joy and living when it would have been easier not to. Stephanie Nielsen blogs at the Nie Nie Dialouges. At the time of her crash she was a mother of four children living in Arizona and thrilled to be able to be focused on her kids and homemaking. Her husband had recently got his pilot's license and they were flying when an accident happened on take off. Burned over 80% of her body, the odds were not in her favor. This books tells the story her growing up, meeting her husband, starting her family, the crash, and her ongoing recovery that first year after the crash. It also speaks to the power of love, faith, and family. Worth the read.

Choke - Chuck Palahniuk
This is by the author who wrote Fight Club. I didn't read that book but I did see the movie. Seemed like people either loved it or hated it, I thought it was OK. The cover is what actually grabbed my attention on this book as it reminded me of the Blood and Guts books we had in 4th grade that talked about anatomy. Here is the description from Amazon "Victor Mancini's a medical school dropout with a problem. He needs to pay for elder care for his mother, who's got Alzheimer's. So he comes up with the perfect scam: pretending to choke in upscale restaurants and getting “saved” by fellow diners who, feeling responsible for Victor's life, offer him financial support.Meanwhile, he cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops and spends his days working at Colonial Dunsboro, where his stoner colleagues are sentenced to the stocks for any deviation from the colonial lifestyle. Oh, yeah, and he's desperate to find the truth of his paternity, which his addled mother suggests may be divine."   Yep. That pretty much sums it up. I say proceed with caution on this one.

The Angel's Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
When I finished Zafon's novel Shadow of the Wind, I immediately picked up this book because I wanted to read more from this author. This story is also set in Barcelona, but happens in a time period before Shadow of the Wind and is a prequel of sorts. The tale weaves books, a mystery, a bit of the supernatural, and love in a well-described urban landscape of early 1900's Barcelona. I really enjoy how this author weaves his words. Since it was originally penned in Spanish, kudos to the translator as well. I just found out that prior to writing these books, the author penned some young adult fiction. I know have those on the library lending list and will let you know what I think about them.

Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Sometime when Bob and I go for walks, we try to imagine when we are old, where we will live and what our lives will be like. I mean old, old, like in our 80s. I tell Bob he will be a cute old man living by the sea going for walks. I knew there was a book by that name, and it was a classic, but I yet to read it. I found a copy at our local honor library and picked it up. This is one of Hemingway's classics. A simple story about an old man who is in desperate need to catch a big fish to survive. His body is failing him, but his sheer will keeps him going in search and chase of "the big one." He finally lands that fish, but it doesn't unfold like he expects. If you have not read this one before, carve out a few hours to read it (it's around 80 pages) and see if it resonates with you.

Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This book came as a recommendation from my friend Melanie, when she heard I was going to Spain. This book is set in the old Barcelona. It was so great to read this book while being in Barcelona, especially when references were made to streets that were were staying near. This is the story of the son of a book seller and a book that he selects from the cemetery of lost books. He starts to research the author of the book and it unwinds into combination mystery and love story. Beautifully written and expertly translated. Several times while reading I would have to stop and read Bob a passage from the book, because it was such a well crafted sentence or phrase. Bob ended up reading it too, and enjoyed it as much as I did.

Band of Sisters - Kristen Holmstedt
This was a well-written book that originally started as thesis research for the author. I'll be honest, I tend to have zero interest in reading about war and military life, and I downloaded this book only because it was free for a while through the Kindle store. I told myself I would give it a few chapters. I am so glad I stayed in for the long haul. Each chapter of this book tells the story of a woman in the military who is serving (or served) in Iraq. The women are as diverse as their military appointments, from convoy drivers, to a Black Hawk pilots, to a nurse. Even through this diversity, there is a common experience of them having to work harder to gain the respect of the male peers. These are tough women, no doubt, committed to their work and their country. Some of them had dreams of being military pilots even before women were allowed to fly. I appreciated that little point, because it is a good reminder to dream big, even if there appears to be a limitation. If you want a glimpse into what it is like on the ground during war for women, I found this to be a well-written and good read.

Spain 2011 - Rick Steves Travel Guides
I have been a diehard Lonely Planet guide user for over 20 years of travel. I think they are still a great resources for certain places in the world, but for Europe, I was really happy with the Rick Steves guidebook. That is where he focuses, and he's been hitting the road there for decades, so there is certainly things he has learned and can share. Plus I enjoy his philosophy of traveling light. I read this book pretty much cover to cover before we left on our trip and we also took it along. I would recommend this guide for Spain (there is now a 2012 edition), because it provided a good overview to the cities we visited and specific money and time saving tips for some of the major sites. We were able to skip ticket lines at the Prado and book discount train fare on Renfe based upon tips in this book.

Discardia - Dinah Sanders
The author of this book came to speak at our local book store. Bob and I went and enjoyed ourselves and liked her message of living more with less stuff. This book is chock full of ideas on how to shed the excess, whether it is physical objects or mental ones. I come from a family of people that like things. They save things in case they need them for later, they can't pass up a good deal, and sometimes the things become a burden and source of contention. I have had to work hard against my genes that make we want to collect, save and have extra stuff. It's a conscious battle. The name of this book comes from an holiday that the author invented. It is quarterly and is a time set aside to reprioritize, go through things and get rid of them. This book is broken down into easily digestible segments that provide specific direction on how to clear the mental and physical clutter and add more fun into your life.;never preachy and primarily motivating. This book is about bringing quality into your life instead of quantity. The Kindle download is current available for just $2.99.

Falling While Sitting Down (Short Stories) - Joshua Fields Millburn

I occasional check in to read the content over at The Minimalist. One of the writers there, Joshua Fields Millburn was offering his collection of short stories as a free Kindle download, so I figured why not. I will admit, I went in with kind of low expectation. I think there is a big difference between being a blogger and a writer of short stories or even longer fiction. Other items I have read by bloggers who tried to make the transition to long book form have fallen a bit flat. I will say I was pleasantly surprised. This collection includes short stories from the author as well a few other writers. All of the stories were above average, and a few particularly touched me. I think there is a special talent in being able to craft a short story. Every sentence needs to hold value. All of the authors in this book did a good job.

T is for Trespass - Sue Grafton
 While we volunteered at the Sea Ranch Library in December, the Sue Grafton books got a lot of check out, so I figured I would give it a shot. We actually listened to this as a book on CD when we drove down to San Diego, but I am still counting it in my book a week write up. This series starts with A is for Alibi and features a likable main character Kinsey Millhone, a detective who lives in the fictional town of Santa Teresa in California. This particular story intertwines stories of elder abuse, identity fraud and pedophilia. For sure unhappy topics, but our heroine is able to take care of the bad guys and save the day. I suspect Ms. Millhone always saves the day in these series. Anyway, it was easy to listen to with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. I would certainly pick up another on of these for a road trip, as it made the ride go very quickly.

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion
"You sit down to dinner and life changes in an instant." With her adult daughter in ICU with pneumonia, the author sits down to dinner with her husband in their home. He has a massive heart attack during the meal. Essentially at 9 PM her husband is alive, at 10:15 PM she is at the hospital being told he is dead and within and hour she is back home at her house. How quickly things change. This book tells the story of the year after her husband's death. The emotions, the disconnection, the trying to make sense of it all. It is very personal, very raw and its like we are invited into her body and mind to take this journey. Hard to read at times, mainly because it made me think about what my life would be like if something happened to Bob unexpectedly. Worth the read.

This Life is in Your Hands - Melissa Coleman
This memoir focuses on the authors childhood growing up on a farm with "back to the land" parents. It depicts the realities and hardship of the life, as well as warm memories and the feeling of success that her parents had in the early years of their relationship and on the farm. Things begin to unravel in a variety of ways in the family, and the most painful of possibilities becomes a reality when the author's toddler sister drowns in the farm pond. Well written and a great glimpse into the life of 1970's idealists who believed in organic farming and raising their family a natural way. The author's father, Eliot Coleman, is a bit of an institution in the world of organic farming and living off the land.

The Magic of The Sea Ranch - Rob Elder
Growing up, I knew there was a special magic about The Sea Ranch. When my parents bought their lot up here in the mid 70's they talked about how it was a great natural environment with unique houses. My dad raved about the fishing and abalone and my mom found the houses quite special. The people who live at The Sea Ranch were drawn here for a reason. For the scenic beauty, for the unique architecture, or to be in a place where everyone is living here because they want to be. Rob Elder, in his book, captures interviews with a wide range of Sea Ranch residents. From some of the first owners, to the community bakers, book store owner, architects and designers and more. I enjoyed reading the stories and it gave me a deeper appreciation for the unique stories of my neighbors. What the book really left me wondering about was who the future stewards of this community will be. The original owners are pushing 70 and 80 years old, will the "next generation" of Sea Rancher carry forward the visions.

State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
I have read most of Ann Patchett's books and have yet to be disappointed. The majority of this book takes place deep in the Amazon jungles and focuses on research being doing by a pharmaceutical company. As usual, Patchett has well-developed character who are very believable because of their passion and flaws. She paints an amazing heavy, wondrous and sometimes dangerous landscape in the jungle, sometime to the point that I felt like the bugs were crawling on me. Bottom line, an interesting story, well written and an easy way to spend a day. If you have not read any of Patchett's work, this would be a good entry, or I highly recommend Bel Canto.

Disgrace - J.M. Coetzee
The main character, David Lurie, leaves his job as a professor after having an affair with one of his students. He goes to South Africa to clear his head at his daughter's farm. It is in a remote area and he often wonders about her safety. The unspeakable happens one evening when three men rape his daughter, kill her dogs and leave him for near dead in the bathroom covered in accelerant with a matched tossed upon him. The story continues to unfold and touches on themes of justice, turning a blind eye and the relationship between fathers and daughters. This book was recognized with a Booker Prize and later a Nobel Prize for Literature. It came out in as a movie in 2008 with John Malkovich as the lead actor, but I have not seen that, so I can't speak to how true it is to the book.

Notes on a Life - Eleanor Coppola
This is a lovely memoir by the wife of famous director Francis Ford Coppola. It spans the time period from the death of her oldest son, Gio, in a boating accident in the late 1980's to the successes of Lost in Translation, the film directed by Sofia Coppola. It combines journal excerpts with additional stories, set in their Napa Valley home, to on-location sites such as New York, Italy, and Asia. These are the memories of a mother, wife, artist, and human. You get an inside peek into the world of a famous family, but told in a very real way. I came away seeing the author as a proud mother, talented writer and artist and one who may have sacrificed some of her own fame and success due to the role of supporting wife. Worth the read.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is actually quite a tender book, if you could imagine the story of a near 90-year old journalist and a 14-year old virgin. The NYT said "On the eve of his ninetieth birthday a bachelor decides to give himself a wild night of love with a virgin. As is his habit–he has purchased hundreds of women–he asks a madam for her assistance. The fourteen-year-old girl who is procured for him is enchanting, but exhausted as she is from caring for siblings and her job sewing buttons, she can do little but sleep. Yet with this sleeping beauty at his side, it is he who awakens to a romance he has never known."

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
This is a book best enjoyed in one sitting. I've been thinking about aging recently. Not sure what has triggered it, perhaps approaching 40 next year, or seeing those around me aging quicker and quicker. Anyway, one line passage from this book struck me. It talks about how when we are younger, we spend all our time imaging what our future will be like. However, when we are older, we spend our time living in our past and remembering it. I wonder where that point is that it switches. Anyway, this book is a story of a man who lives a decent life, has an amicable divorce and so on. He gets thrown for a loop when he finds out he has inherited something from the mother of a woman that he once dated. There are a few gentle twists and turns, but mainly this is a book about a guy who thinks he has things figured out, but never really did. Lovely, somewhat moody writing. From the reviews, people either loved this book or hated it. This book received the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. This prize is awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe.

Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven - Susan Richards Shreve
An autobiography of a woman who spent some of her childhood at FDR's Warm Spring polio hospital. I was partially drawn to this book because the topic was polio and it was not something that I knew much about, except for the fact that we are very close to having it eradicated from the face of the earth. I am in Rotary, and one of the big global campaigns they have is to finally get rid of polio for good. There are just a few countries where new cases still come up, primarily Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. What was amazing to me was the intense surgeries that these kids would have to undergo, often multiple times, in hope of regaining some of the strength in their withered limbs. The book weaves stories of her life inside and outside of Warm Springs, talks about some of the people she met along the way, discusses relationships between mothers and daughters and more. I did find it moved a little slow at times, but still worth the read.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs
I came across this book by the cover. It features a young girl, dressed like she came from a different time. The most curious thing about her is that she is levitating about a foot above the ground. It's both curious and magical. Curious and magical is pretty much what describes this book ... or maybe even peculiar. The main character is Jacob, who witness a very gruesome tragedy involved his grandfather. His grandfather was a bit of a storyteller and told of a special home where "peculiar" lived; like the floating girl on the cover, or the invisible boy, or the child with a mouth in the back of her head. Through the course of the book, the two worlds collide and a wonderful story emerges. The best part is that the story is crafted around historical photos. So you will read about a peculiar child and turn the page and there is an historic photo showing the child in the situation just describe. Basically, the author used a bunch of actual vintage photos to craft his story.

A Tale of Two Valleys - Wine, Wealth and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma - Alan Deutschman
Having spent the first 20 years of my life living in Napa, where my high school mascot was the Vintage Crusher, a buff dude that crushed grapes, I felt like I knew a bit about the place where I grew up. Granted, I did move away in 1992 and have only been back for occasional family visits, but still, I do remember the place with a certain fondness. This book compares the rise of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. It was researched in early 2000 and much of it focuses on the quirky politics of Sonoma and the desire to control growth. The part about Napa focuses on the excess of the wine auction, the Silicon Valley gazillionairs who each want to buy a piece of the Napa Valley, and the crazy homes they build. Oh, it also paints a rather unfortunate picture of the town of Napa itself, pretty much saying it's full of rednecks and closed minded folks. I guess I just felt unsettled about this book. The author seems to present himself as some insider, after only living in the area for a year or so. After living in my new tiny town for a little over a year, there is no way I could paint a complete picture of my new home.

Blood, Bones and Butter - Gabrielle Hamilton
The tag line of this book is "The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef". This book reminded me of my friend Clay, who is gifted in the kitchen and is incredibly happy when he is messy after cooking a large meal and seeing his friends and family enjoy it, especially if it included some kind of strange meat. This is a very well written memoir by a chef of a small but acclaimed restaurant, Prune, in New York. Basically a telling of all the experiences and people over 20 years (often indirectly) that shaped her into the chef that she is today. From growing up in a creative house with a French mother who cooked all kinds of hearty fare, to her father, who had an epic summer party where he roasted whole goats, to a string of kitchen jobs where she gained her skills and penchant for hard work. This book is not a "behind the scenes" look like Kitchen Confidential (which I did enjoy), but rather stories of her life that shaped her into to the chef that she is today.  There is a three-part interview with the author, as interviewed by Anthony Bourdain on YouTube. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

The Spellman Files - Lisa Lutz
Described as "whip-smart sass", "delightful" and "faced paced and irreverent", the Spellman Files is a fun read. It's about a San Francisco-based family where the parents are PIs as well as the oldest daughter, Isabelle, a late 20-something who serves as the main character of the book. Life is not easy when you are in a PI family, everyone knows everyone else's business and you learn to expect that a family member is tailing you, has bugged your room or is listening in on your calls. Makes it quite awkward to date, to say the least. Other fun characters include the wild uncle Ray, which reminds me of the uncle character in Little Miss Sunshine, as well as Isabelle's little sister, Rae, a sugar-addicted teen who is also learning the ways of the family business. Had me laughing from cover to cover.

The Booklist Review states "Fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series will enjoy this clever debut (the first in a series) featuring Izzy Spellman, an irrepressible 28-year-old sleuth who works for her parents' San Francisco PI firm. Members of the dysfunctional and relentlessly nosy Spellman clan include Izzy's 14-year-old sister, Rae, who engages in recreational surveillance (a fancy term for tailing people just for kicks), and her uncle Ray, a cancer survivor and recovering health-food addict who regularly disappears on liquor-drenched "Lost Weekends." Scenes showcasing the relationships among the various Spellmans are often laugh-out-loud funny."
Worth the read.

Funny in Farsi - Firoozeh Dumas
Funny short stories written from the perspective of an Iranian immigrant. Tells stories of her childhood through marriage, from embarrassing things that parents due, to cultural misunderstandings and some of the just plain awkward thing about growing up, regardless of where you came from. I think I especially related to the author as a daughter of an immigrant (my day came from Austria in the late 50's). Very endearing and funny book. I recommend it!

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right - Atul Gawande
The author is a surgeon and the book provides several examples of why following a simple checklist can have often extraordinary results. Driven by a desire to reduce surgery mishaps and post-surgery infections, the author designed a basic checklist to be used before, and after a surgery. You can see the checklist at his webpage. When you read the list, it is very simple things, like confirming everyone knows what side of the body the surgery will be on, any allergies of the patient, etc. The greater thing at play here is that as things become more and more complicated and there is more to remember, it is possible that some of the easiest things (which can often bear the most success in a situation) are overlooked. Going back to a basic checklist makes sure the fundamental steps have been completed. He gives examples of this in the medical setting, air planes and also investment banking. A good read to remind you on what the basics are as you approach a task.

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
This is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Still a page turner like the first book, but I was disappointed in the ending. Certainly left you hanging and now I am going to have to read book three. Won't go into too much plot on this, as I don't want to be a spoiler, but the main characters end up back in the arena and the stakes are even higher. Book 3 on the library request list ... wondering if I'll be able to wait long enough or if I will just download it from Amazon.

When the Emperor Was Devine - Julie Otsuka
Beautifully written book about an ugly topic, the internment of the Japanese during World War II. Each chapter represents a different narrator and family member through a different time of the experience. The packing/prepping, the train trip, the time at the camp and the return. Publishers weekly description "This heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental debut describes in poetic detail the travails of a Japanese family living in an internment camp during World War II, raising the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion.".

Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India - Miranda Kennedy
The title of the book speaks to the way in which a woman rides on as a passenger on a scooter in India ... side saddle. Even though it may make a woman more off balance and is actually more dangerous, it is more modest. The author lived in India for five years, drawn to the country like her great aunt and mother before her ... almost a rite of passage. The story that she crafts in this book is an examination of her personal views on marriage and relationships in light of the very female friends that she makes while in India. Geeta, a “modern girl” who attempts to squeeze herself into the traditional role of wife and mother; Radha, a proud Brahmin widow who denies herself simple pleasures in order to live by high-caste Hindu principles; and Parvati, who smokes and drinks whiskey, yet feels compelled to keep her boyfriend a secret from her family. Overall, I enjoyed the glimpse into these women's lives, though what I really wanted was more on the author's experience as being a female reporter in Indian and Pakistan in a post 9-11 world. Perhaps that will be her next book. 

I actually met this author, in passing, when Bob and I were on our honeymoon in India in 2003. We had just arrived in Delhi that morning, totally fried from a flight from a long flight from New Zealand, via Bangkok. That night, our friend took us to a small get together at an apartment. While on the rooftop terrace, one of the folks I met was Miranda, as well as another journalist Matt. I remember being a bit "star struck" as she was working for NPR as a reporter and I was a public radio nerd. Anyway, all that back story helped me enjoy her book more, since I could totally understand the landscape and chaos on which this story is built.

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
This book came highly recommended from a few people, so I just had to read it. Billed as a Young Adult title, it still kept me, a nearly 40-year old enthralled. It's a mix of Survivor/Reality TV meets the war zone.  As described in the School Library Journal: "In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broad casted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives. Collins's characters are completely realistic and sympathetic as they form alliances and friendships in the face of overwhelming odds; the plot is tense, dramatic, and engrossing." This was the kind of book that you have to read cover to cover. Fast pace, and you are drawn in. Looking forward to books 2 and 3 of this trilogy.

Bossypants - Tina Fey
Get this book, clear your schedule for an afternoon and read it cover to cover. You can thank me later. A fun memoir from Tina Fey, with musings on her childhood, high school drama geek years, college and then career. Also sprinkles in bits of being a parent. I enjoyed the interesting sneak peek behind the curtains at SNL (peeing in cups ... eeww). At the end of this book, not only will you find that not only is Tina Fey as hilarious as you thought she was, she is also a great business woman. A fun read, cover to cover.

The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir - Josh Kilmer-Purcell
What happens when a Manhattan couple (an ad executive and a VP with Martha Stewart's company) decide to buy the 200+ year-old Beekman farm in upstate New York? This book tells the tale. It's a mix of triumph, small town living, cute goats and relationship challenges. Kilmer-Purcell has a witty and endearing writing style, and you really want to root for him and his boyfriend to be a success. There goat raising, canning, home repairs, juggling of life in Manhattan and the farm, musings on Oprah and Martha and more. I fun and fast read. You can learn more about the Beekman Farm, learn a recipe or buy some goat milk soap from Beekman here: Beekman1802.

Getting the Pretty Back - Molly Ringwald
I didn't even realize that Molly Ringwald had written a book until I saw this interview that she did with Karen Walrond. I enjoyed reading that interview and getting new perspective of Molly Ringwald, besides the teenager from Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club. The book was a fast read and is written in a "girlfriend-to-girlfriend" tone. She decided to write this book when she turned 40 and I think it could be a fun present for someone reaching that milestone. My main take away from the book was do not cut the nose off the cheese. What, you might say? Yes, when cutting off a piece of cheese from a wedge, cut a long slice from the side, don't cut off the front part (or the nose). If you do that, the last person is going to get a big hunk of rind. By slicing from the side, everyone gets a little piece of rind and a lot cheese goodness. Thank you Molly, now I won't shame myself at the next wine and cheese event I go to.

The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein
This book is narrated from the viewpoint of a loyal old dog, Enzo. The dog's owner is Denny, a race car driver and Denny has a wife and daughter. The book includes a lot of references to race car driving and how it provides lessons for life. I didn't really enjoy that aspect of it very much, as I am not particularly interested in that sport. I am, however, a dog lover and some of the narrative and observations from the dog are spot on. I am kind of mixed on this review, as the main plot, which involves a lot of family drama may have been a bit predictable. I found myself skipping pages at times. I was most impacted by the opening and closing chapters, where the dog knows he is too old and damaged to go on and really wants to be free of this world. I think that part hit me so much, as we have a sweet old cat with failing health and I often wonder if we are doing the right thing ... if only he could tell me. Anyway, overall a mixed review for this one, even though the overwhelming feeling on was 5 stars.

Vida - Patricia Engel
Loved the voice of this author. Smart, sassy, thoughtful and evocative. From Publishers Weekly: "Engel navigates issues of class, ethnicity, and identity with finesse in her debut collection, linked stories about Sabina, a child of Colombian immigrants who grows up in New Jersey before heading off to find work and love in Miami. 'Diego was this guy that I met on Washington Avenue at three in the morning the summer I quit my job at the art gallery,' the 23-year-old Sabina says in her typically understated voice in 'Desaliento,' a story about how dallying with the handsome Argentinean hustler seems glamorous and subversive.  In the title story, Sabina, working in Miami, befriends an illegal Colombian immigrant who reveals a tale of being sold to a Miami brothel owner and later being rescued by the brothel's guard, now her boyfriend. Engel's prose is refreshingly devoid of pomp and puts a hard focus on the stiff compromises Sabina and her family have had to accept; there's a striking perspective to these stories."

Taft - Ann Patchett
I've probably mentioned before that Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. She has a marvelous way of developing characters and then putting them in real and often heart-breaking scenarios. I read Taft during a long day of travel from Orlando to San Francisco. The book is set in Memphis (Beale Street) and is narrated by the manager of the bar. It touches on themes of family, fatherhood, and how people often come into our lives for a specific reason. In the back of the edition I read, there was an interview with the author about this book and about "second book syndrome". Very insightful. If I ever get to meet Patchett, I will have her sign a copy of Taft, based upon what she said in the interview.

Rework - Jason Fried and David Hansson
I was at a party and my friend Dawn mentioned this great book she was reading. It was Rework. It had been on my "to read" list for a while. The townhouse we were renting in Orlando had a copy of this book on the shelf so I read it while we were on vacation. This book, written by the founders of 37signals, is basically 100 tips/tidbits/inspirations about work and business. No B.S., just a straightforward telling of the philosophies that drove the building of a successful business.  In many ways, Rework gives you a sense of permission to try things differently or to think about your work in a new way. Let's just say the "workaholism" and "stop being a hero" chapters hit pretty close to home. Worth the read.

Chez Moi - Agnes Desarthe
From "At forty-three, Myriam has been a wife, mother, and lover—but never a restaurateur. When she opens Chez Moi in a quiet neighborhood in Paris, she has no idea how to run a business, but armed only with her love of cooking, she is determined to try. Barely able to pay the rent, Myriam secretly sleeps in the dining room and bathes in the kitchen sink, while struggling to come to terms with the painful memories of her past. But soon enough her delectable cuisine brings her many neighbors to Chez Moi, and Myriam finds that she may get a second chance at life and love." Read this one on the plane. Quick read, but a slow book ... if that is a possible combination.

Committed - Elizabeth Gilbert
This is a book I've been waiting to read. There were over 100 people ahead on me on the library check out list, but it finally arrived. I LOVED Gilbert's previous book, Eat Pray Love, and was looking forward to the follow up. At the end of Eat Pray Love the author had met a wonderful Brazilian man and she was looking forward to a new (unmarried) life with him. This whole book is Gilbert working through the requirements to get married to her Brazilian love due to an immigration issue from the US. They both had vowed to never marry again, but it was now a requirement if they were going to be together in the US. This book blends a lot of things: information on marriages in different cultures and historically, Gilbert's own fears and concerns about marrying again, and also the insight of a circle of women close to her. This book made me think about my own marriage in a new way. What I liked most about this book is the style of her writing, it's like she is talking to me as a friend ... conveying fears, hopes and dreams. I've now added all of her other books (pre- Eat Love Pray) to my library list.

Dirty Secret - Jessie Sholl
The tag line to this book is "A Daughter Comes Clean about her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding". So, have you seen that show Hoarders? Where people are on the brink of losing their home and/or families due to their hoarding. This book tell the story from the perspective of a hoarder's daughter. It's often easy to see these hoarders a freaks and spectacles for TV, but this is an honest look at what it feel like to be related to a person with this illness. Hard to read at times, other times hopeful. Worth the read.

Whip Smart: A Memoir - Melissa Febos
Every wonder what it's like to be a dominatrix in an underground New York club? Well, this is the book for you, a well-written memoir from a woman who started in the industry when she was a college student and needed extra income to feed her drug habit. Interesting insight into this subculture and some of the people who used her services, as well as how the author's own identity and relationship to the work changed through time. A good read.

From Publisher's Weekly: Febos's candid, hard-slogging debut about her four years working as a dominatrix at a midtown Manhattan dungeon cuts a sharp line between prurience and feminist manifesto. Having grown up on Cape Cod, Mass., then dropped out of high school before moving to New York City and enrolling in the New School in the fall of 1999, Febos slipped into drug use and needed a way to finance it. An attractive law-school graduate neighbor in her Brooklyn apartment building mentioned that she worked as a domme, and Febos decided to give it a go. She spanked grown men, professionals, fathers, and rabbis, sometimes inserted enemas, sodomized them with dildos, and otherwise verbally humiliated them, all for $75 an hour, plus tips. At first, Febos managed the grueling, unsavory work while high on heroin and cocaine, and gained a tremendous sense of confidence, even invincibility at being able to justify her livelihood as one of the few well-paid acting gigs in this city. In time, she also became addicted to her job; she eventually joined AA to help get clean of drugs, but kicking her addiction to sadomasochism was harder, and in this emotionally stark, excoriating work, Febos mines the darkest, most troubling aspects of human interaction.

The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman
Boy did I enjoy this book. I reads like a series of short stories, each focusing on a character that is somehow connected to an English-language newspaper based in Rome. From copy editor to obit writer to a dedicated reader. Each character is so believable, because they are flawed in some manner and expertly described. This is the first published book by the author and it got really rave review.

From Publisher's Weekly: In his zinger of a debut, Rachman deftly applies his experience as foreign correspondent and editor to chart the goings-on at a scrappy English-language newspaper in Rome. Chapters read like exquisite short stories, turning out the intersecting lives of the men and women who produce the paper—and one woman who reads it religiously, if belatedly. In the opening chapter, aging, dissolute Paris correspondent Lloyd Burko pressures his estranged son to leak information from the French Foreign Ministry, and in the process unearths startling family fare that won't sell a single edition. Obit writer Arthur Gopal, whose overarching goal at the paper is indolence, encounters personal tragedy and, with it, unexpected career ambition. Late in the book, as the paper buckles, recently laid-off copy editor Dave Belling seduces the CFO who fired him. Throughout, the founding publisher's progeny stagger under a heritage they don't understand. As the ragtag staff faces down the implications of the paper's tilt into oblivion, there are more than enough sublime moments, unexpected turns and sheer inky wretchedness to warrant putting this on the shelf next to other great newspaper novels."

Grant Writing 101 - Victoria Johnson
I volunteered to help with the grant writing committee at the local arts center. This book was very helpful for getting the lay of the land when it comes to responding to potential grant opportunities. It clearly steps you through the process, from finding out what grants are right for your organization, understanding grant components, questions to answer about your organization, preparing, writing, research and more. This book also gives clear examples on short, medium and long sample grant responses in the back, as well as other samples dispersed through the book. Of the four grant "how to" books, this one stood out as the clear winner.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating - Elisabeth Tova Bailey
This is a small book about a small animal ... a snail. The author is facing a long recovery from a rather mysterious illness. A friend brings her a snail from the woods. The little snail becomes her companion as she watches the snails daily patterns and rituals. Includes some scientific information on the amazing wonders of the snail as well (you'll never think of snail slime the same way again).

A Heart Most Worthy - Siri Mitchell
The Mitchell family has a writer in its ranks. My sister-in-law, Siri, has published nearly a dozen books. This is her latest and it was an enjoyable read. It’s historical fiction, which is a genre that I have not read much of in the past. This book takes place in the early 1900’s in Boston’s North End. It weaves the story of three young women who are Italian immigrants. They are connected through the work they do as seamstresses at an upscale dress making shop. What I enjoyed most about this book was getting a feel for what the neighborhoods were like and how people related with each other at the time. Urban landscapes are interesting backdrops to any story. Another interesting aspect for me about this book was the weaving in of the Spanish Influenza story line. If you look at the statistics of how many people died from the influenza, it's pretty staggering. All in all, a good read. Also, for a limited time, Siri's previous book, She Walks in Beauty, is available for free download on Kindle and Nook. Check it out.

Astrid and Veronika - Linda Olsson
I would describe this as a simple and quiet book. The story of an unlikely friendship between an 80-year old Swedish woman who has never left her village and is thought of as the town witch and a 30-something woman from New Zealand who moves into the cottage next door. Both women are carrying a burden (secrets/pain), yet find comfort in the kindness of each other and are finally able to get closure for those things that trouble them. I took my time with this book, reading a chapter with breakfast in the morning. It made me think about unexpected friendships in my own life that have been perfectly timed when I was in need.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void - Mary Roach
For sure, one of my favorite authors. This time Mary Roach takes on all things related to space travel. From food, to going to the bathroom, vomit to hygiene. Yep, all the good stuff! Since we are preparing for our trip to Florida to see the Space Shuttle launch, this was perfectly timed. I have a totally new respect for the space travelers and a better understanding of the challenges posed by zero gravity. If you have a good sense of humor or are at all intrigued by space travel, you need to read this book!

Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman
Story of a woman who participates, tangentially in a drug deal who is finally caught many years later and sentenced to jail. Piper Kerman is a blond-haired, blue-eyed Smith graduate who is pretty out of place from the rest of the women at Danbury Prison in Connecticut. This stories tells about the daily life in prison, and the interesting network of support that the women within the prison create for each other. Piper has a family, job and fiance waiting for her when she completes her one-year sentence, as well as a college education. She realizes this is totally a position of privilege, as many of the women she is serving time with will have a much harder time assimilating to the "outside" world after their release. I found it to be a fascinating read, a brief dip into the culture of one women's prison. Worth the read.

Ciao America! An Italian Discovers the US - Beppe Severgnini
From Publishers Weekly: From his temporary home in the leafy suburbs of Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Italian newspaper columnist Severgnini turns a curious eye toward Americans, their bureaucracy and labor-saving gadgets. With the same critical lens through which he viewed England (in Inglese, which was a bestseller in the U.K.), the reporter sees through all America's gimmicks the fat-free, guilt-free, buy-now, pay-later mechanics of advanced capitalism but he is not adverse to her charms. Both repelled and attracted by the wonders of convenience living, he finds a joyous horror in channel-hopping, mall shopping and the pursuit of comfort, in our abuse of English ("La-Z-Boy is a veiled invitation to commit a cardinal sin") and our blatant lack of sartorial know-how ("The President of the United States jogs through the city in shorts that display his milk-white thighs"). In other hands, such a memoir could have been a jingoistic cliche-fest. Severgnini, though, is a master in the vein of Bill Bryson, and his every criticism is matched with admiration. Nor does he spare his own people from his caustic wit in fact, visiting Italians often come off as badly, if not worse, than his American subjects. The result is a sardonic tale of cultural bewilderment, an incisive peek into the mundane obsessions of our American existence that makes the commonplace be it a fixation with weather statistics or an air-conditioning complex seem not only insane but extremely funny.

Sarah's Key - Tatiana  deRosnay
From Amazon: De Rosnay's U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vél' d'Hiv' roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand's family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers—especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive—the more she uncovers about Bertrand's family, about France and, finally, herself.

Crooked Letter Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin
A story of boyhood pals and a secret that is carried between them. One becomes the town outcast, the other goes off to college and returns as the town constable. Lovely descriptions of Mississippi woven in this tale of a small town, carrying a burden based upon perception and also finally doing the right thing. Worth the read.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
"Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multi-million dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same." Oh, there is some good stuff in the book! A large, well-researched book that tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who's fast-growing cancer cells (nicknamed HeLa) were take from her in the 1950's without her knowledge. These cells went on to be the basis of much research and what let the cures for main things, such as polio. The heart of this book is how it tells the story of the family she left behind and the burden they carry knowing that these cells were taken without permission, used in thousands of experiments, and how they work to put that in context. This book appeared on many "best of 2010" lists, and I can see why. A conversation starter, for sure.

Little Bee - Chris Cleave
A young Nigerian woman and an English woman's lives are forever woven together when both end up at the same location and unfortunate events unfold. To disclose the event would give away some of the mystery that shrouds the first half of the book. For me, this book was about loss and sadness and the desire to try to make things right. To be living in the present, but to carry the weight of the past with you like a heavy, toppling load. Overall, I enjoyed this book. I will probably look for the author's first book, Incendiary.

A Week at the Airport - Alain de Botton
I came across this book through a link on NPR that had the Indie Booksellers 2010 Picks. This book describes a writers experience being the "Writer in Residence" at Heathrow's fancy Terminal 5. He is provided a desk to write at and access to all aspects of the terminal. His observations are penned in this book. From observing travelers, going behind the scenes where 80,000 airline meals are made a day, to visiting with the shoe shine man, it was an enjoyable read. The book also contains pictures to help illustrate his observations. If you find airports interesting and want a glimpse into one mans experience observing for a week, I would recommend it.

The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them) - Peter Segal
If you listen to NPR, you will recognize Peter Segal from Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me. The “naughty” things covered in this book include swinging, eating, strip clubs, lying, gambling, consumption and pornography. Some of the material is from previous research/writing he did and then there is some new material folded in. Really, the take away message is that the various people who either perform or participate in these various endeavors are just people, and their lives are not that particularly exciting. His description of attending a swinging party is more like hanging out with a bunch of accountants … nothing exciting to see here! Anyway, this book is a fast read that has a title that is more titillating than the content.

The Sea Ranch: Diary of an Idea – Lawrence Halprin
This was a great book to start the New Year off with. I read it all in one sitting. It reads like the private journal of one of the original designers of The Sea Ranch. Lovely thick pages hold copies of his early sketches of the landscape. The text details some of the early thoughts on what The Sea Ranch should be initially

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex - Mary Roach
This is the third book by Mary Roach that I have read, and it was equally enjoyable. Sometimes referred to as the funniest science writer in the country, Roach approaches a single subject and covers it from a lot of angles. Previous topics have included cadavers and the afterlife, now this book covers sex. One reviewer on Amazon summed it up quite well: "Author Mary Roach set out to find and write about sex research around the world (and about the yields of that research) and wound up following a lot of very strange paths. From a urologists office in Taipei to a sow furrowing operation in Denmark to a "toy" manufacturer in Chatsworth California, the author tracked down all leads that were presented to her and followed up to learn all there was about how the human anatomy works and why research on this subject is usually cloaked in euphemisms. At times she delves back into the 1800's to explain how we are where we are today and why. To say the book is funny is an understatement. The author has a gift for puns and uses it to maximum potential, taking material that could be somewhat dry and turning it into page turning reading. If you are interested in the science of sex and love to laugh, this is a wonderful book that will not fail to deliver."

Population: 485 - Michael Perry

Last month I read one of Perry's books and instantly fell in love with his wonderful writing style. Population: 485 is one of his earlier books. In addition to being a writer, Perry is a member of the volunteer fire department and an EMT. At times hilarious and other time heart-wrenching, he provides vignettes of his neighbors - either as fellow volunteers at the station or people he has to help when an emergency occurs. Aside from his wonderful writing, another reason I enjoy Perry's books is because he writes about small town life. Where we just moved, the neared population sign for Gualala reads something like Population: 525. Please, people, do yourself a favor and check out this author!

How to Cook a Wolf – MFK Fisher
This book was first published during WWII, when war time shortages called for extreme creativity in the kitchen, due to both a lack of ingredients and a lack of money. This book is a combination of cost and ingredient-conscious recipes as well as musings and a guide on how to retain one’s spirit of joy with food in hard times. The version that I read was updated in the 70’s, with bracketed comments from the author. This was the first of Fisher’s books I read and it was enjoyable. There were a couple of recipes that caught my eye, one was for tomato cake. It’s a spicy cake that has canned tomato soup as one of the key ingredients. It caught my eye due to the odd ingredient, not because I actually plan to bake one.

The Eight of Swords - David Skibbins
I picked up this book solely because the author lives in Sea Ranch. I found out about it when I was looking at the web page of the local book store. I do not typically read mysteries, but I thought I would give it a shot. I am glad I did. Warren Ritter is the main character, a Telegraph Avenue tarot card reader with a questionable past and a few identities. When he reads the cards of a teenage girl, he senses that some bad thing are just around the corner for her. She ends up kidnapped, then her mother is murdered. Ritter undertakes his own investigation, and is a potential suspect himself. The Warren Ritter character is interesting and this book leaves plenty of room for the sequel, particularly with some unknown things about his family. One of my favorite things about the book are the spot-on descriptions of Berkeley, especially Telegraph Avenue. From the book stores to the Blue Nile restaurant, it is exactly as I remember it from my late teens/early 20's. I am looking forward to reading the other books in this series. (Edited to add: during January 2011, I plowed through the other three books in the series. All a fun, quick read, with great characters ... now I hope that he comes out with a fifth book!)

The Magician's Assistant - Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett would make my list of ten favorite authors ... if I was to keep such a list. She crafts the most wonderful characters. You wish you could meet them in real life, have coffee with them, be a fly on their wall ... the kind of characters that make you sad when the book ends. The Magician's Assistant in this novel is Sabine, and the magician is Parsifal, though the opening line of the book states that he is dead. Sabine and Parsifal are also recently married, though their relationship is not traditional. Upon Parsifal's death, Sabine learns of his family in Nebraska. A family he never spoke of. The book takes place in Los Angeles and Nebraska. Key themes include love, families and their secrets and magic. A beautiful, meandering story, I really did not want it to end. Bottom line, Patchett is a super-gifted writer.

Truck - A Love Story - Michael Perry
Perry tells the story of two loves. One is an old love, his 1951 International truck, which has sat is a rusted condition for the past several years. The other is his new love, Annelise. The book weaves the story of his truck repair with his brother-in-law with the meeting and falling in love of his future wife. Throw in more of Perry's observations on small town life and gardening and it's a fabulous read. Perry writes from the heart and I always get a little teary eyed at least once while reading his books ... not always for sad reasons. I recently found Perry's web page, and Facebook page, which means more great writing to tide me over until I can get on to his next book.

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow - Faize Guene (translated by Sarah Adams)
This book was published when the author was 19 and ended up being a French best seller and is set in public housing project called "Paradise" on the outskirts of Paris. This is actually a "young adult" book, but was still a fine read for us older folks. It tells the story of 15-year-old Doria and her illiterate mother, having been abandoned by Doria's alcoholic father, who fled back to Morocco to marry another woman. Guene has a sharp wit and provides great descriptions of the setting and people in her book. It was a quick read and a good diversion. You even get an optimistic ending with this one!

Righteous Porkchop - Nicolette Hahn Niman
The tag line for this book is “finding a life and good food beyond factory farms.” The book opens with the author taking a job at Waterkeeper Alliance as an environmental attorney and tells the story about how she files suit against large-scale pork producers for water pollution. The book paints a pretty grim picture of large-scale confined animal operations (CAOs), particularly as it relates to pork. A lot of the information I had been exposed to through various sources, but it's always a good reminder about how much our food production is screwed up. Well-researched and well-written with a lot of foot notes with additional references if you want to dig deeper into specific issues. The book also highlights small-scale meat producers that are getting it right: small operations, grass-fed, respecting the natural life cycles of the animals, etc. The final chapter of the books gives some guidance on how to select more human meat and dairy options.

M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table - Joan Reardon
This book provides intertwined biographies of three women who have either written about, or significantly shaped food culture in the United States: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child and Alice Waters. Two places, France and California, are important in the lives of these women. All three are introduced to the pleasures of the palette and table in France. They all end of living in California, at one point or another. The book includes two-chapter biographies on each woman and an opening chapter on France and a closing chapter on California. Aside from knowing Julia Child as that woman on TV and Alice Waters' name associated with Chez Pannise in Berkeley, everything in this book was new and interesting to me. It also made me want to read some of M.F.K. Fisher's works. Recommended if you like stories about successful women, food, places, or friendships.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife - Mary Roach
I love this author's writing style. She puts just enough humor and wit into her books to keep you engaged in what could be otherwise weird subjects. I loved her book Stiff, which was all about cadavers. This book covers the various scientific forays into understanding the afterlife. Each chapter can be read as a stand-alone mini vignette and addresses some person, experiment or approach to trying to understand the afterlife. From side-show bits to research undertaken at top universities, it was an interesting read.

Coop: A Family, a Farm and the Pursuit of One Good Egg - Michael Perry
The back of the book pretty much sums up this wonderful book. Not sure I could have said it better. "Living in a ramshackle Wisconsin farmhouse - faced with thirty-seven acres of fallen fences and overgrown fields, and informed by his pregnant wife that she intends to deliver the baby at home - Michael Perry plumbs his unorthodox childhood for clues to how to proceed as a farmer, a husband and a father. Whether he's remembering his younger days - when his city-bred parents took in sixty or so foster children while running a sheep and dairy farm - or describing what it's like to be bitten in the butt while wrestling a pig, Perry flourishes in his trade-mark humor. But he also writes from the quieter corner of his heart, chronicling experiences as joyful as the birth of his child and as devastating as the death of a friend."

Christmas Cookie Murder - Lucy Meirer
I will admit I picked this book up at the library only because the cover was so funny. It has very shocked Santa and Mrs. Claus cookies looking at skull and cross bone cookies with Santa hats. The book itself was marginal. I don't read a lot of mysteries, but it seemed pretty predictable and I didn't feel any connection with the characters. This is one of a series of the "Lucy Stone" mysteries. The other books in this series have other holiday-themed titles, like The St. Patrick's Day Murder holiday-themed titles, like The St. Patrick's Day Murder and The Trick or Treat Murder. I'll take a page-turning John Grisham any day.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years – Donald Miller
Miller hit the NY Times best seller list with his previous title, Blue Like Jazz. In this book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Miller makes the case that our lives are one big story. Is your story going to be an interesting one or a boring one? This book covers Miller’s soul searching while he was working on the screenplay for Blue Like Jazz. He realized he had ended up in a pretty boring/comfortable place in his life. While Miller comes from a Christian perspective, and there is references to God and some bible passages in the book, it is not to such a level that one gets bogged down in the reading. It just positions his thoughts within his spiritual frame of reference. I appreciate books that remind us to live our lives in an authentic, purposeful and exciting manner. Many memories are created when we try new things, push ourselves beyond our fears and really LIVE! If your life was turned into a movie, would be a movie that people would want to watch?

The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World - Chris Guillebeau
This book has the tag line of "Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World." Sounds pretty big for a little book, right? This book may help push you in the right direction to to realize some of your dreams and goals related to a work, starting your own business or taking on any kind of goal that is nontraditional. Itching to get out of your cubicle? This book may be a great start.

A Thousand Splendid Suns- Khaled Hosseini
Beautifully written book that spans three generations of women in Afghanistan. It is set during changing political times, within several cities. Hard to read at times, utterly depressing at others, but still a book that leaves you with a sense of hope. Hosseini is a wonderful story teller, capturing subtle details to create vivid scenes. This was the popular second book written by the author of The Kite Runner.

Simple Car Free- Tammy Strobel
This is an 80-page e-book written by Tammy Strobel, who I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I received this book as part of an e-book collection I purchased that had themes of simplifying your life, minimalism and creativity. This e-book covers the topic of transitioning to a car-free lifestyle. Tammy and her husband made a conscious decisions about where to live and the kind of work they do to make a car-free lifestyle easier. Topics in this e-book include: overcoming the fear of being car free, bike buying tips, road confidence, bike-friendly cities, health aspects, attire, general bike maintenance and upkeep, weather challenges, and more. What I really like is the wonderful conversational tone of Tammy's writing. If you have ever toyed with the idea of being less car-dependent, or even car free, this is a wonderfully helpful and inspiring resource that may be of interest.

The Dead Beat - Marilyn Johnson
I have always found obituaries and interesting read. When we got the Sunday paper, I would scan through the obits, read the ages of the deceased and their life achievements. The thought of encapsulating someone's life in 4 to 5 inches of column space seemed like a huge task. Marilyn Johnson's book focuses on the people who do just that, those that write obituaries. She interviews obit writers in both the US and England, selecting ones whose obituaries she has enjoyed reading.   It also talks about the different type of obituaries and how the format has changed through time. This is one of those books where I said to myself "wow, you really CAN write a book on just about any topic".