Blogging for review of many books....!!

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (Mass Market Paperback)


Review"A feast, a voyage, and a marvel." (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love )

"Laugh-out-loud funny." (Boston Globe )

"Powell writes like a culinary Chris Rock - profane, honest, and very funny." (Seattle Times )

"A really good book." (Washington Post Book World )

Product Description
Julie & Julia, the bestselling memoir that's "irresistible....A kind of Bridget Jones meets The French Chef" (Philadelphia Inquirer), is now a major motion picture. Julie Powell, nearing thirty and trapped in a dead-end secretarial job, resolves to reclaim her life by cooking in the span of a single year, every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her unexpected reward: not just a newfound respect for calves' livers and aspic, but a new life-lived with gusto. The film is written and directed by Nora Ephron and stars Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl Streep as Julia.

I really enjoyed Julie & Julia., March 31, 2007
By C. Gilbert "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)


A friend of mine lent me Julie & Julia at a point when I needed something to cheer me up. I have to admit that few things make me more suspicious than a book that derived from a blog. I also have a pretty low tolerance for chick lit in general, and this smelled like chick lit to me.

But anyhow. Despite going into the book with poor expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. I found it well-written and it felt honest. It had several laugh-out-loud moments. Best of all, I found myself genuinely liking the narrator/author. It was good fun. And that was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Although you can get some foodie kicks from Julie & Julia, it is not really about food. Do not read the book if you are looking for technical details, deep reflection about Julia Childs and French cooking, or kitchen tips and tricks. It is not that kind of book. Think light read with cooking as a kind of character quest.

One quarrel-- in her author's note Powell declares that "sometimes she just makes stuff up". That made me less comfortable with the book, honestly. As a memoir it has a lot of charm. As a novel, it has much less interest. I am not sure why that should be the case, but it took a little bit of the shine off for me to see that note at the beginning.

Anyhow. If, like me, you are looking for some cheering up then this could be a book for you. Bonus points if you find yourself an urbanite with a foodie-wannabee cooking habit, because then the funny parts are going to be even funnier. I had to wince when remembering some of my own attempts at homemade mayonnaise. Recommended.

Powell's Souffle Falls Flat, June 23, 2009
By Lindsay Johnson (Chicago, IL USA)


Many a blog turned book falls into the "nothing new" trap; what we get on paper is just a reproduction of what we got on the screen. In her attempt to escape this pitfall, Julie Powell goes to the opposite extreme and tries to do way too much. The premise lured me in: approaching 30 and flitting from one temp job to the next, Powell attempts to do the improbable, tackle all of the 524 recipes found in the first volume of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one calendar year. What could have been an interesting story of using a culinary challenge to provide structure and direction to an otherwise chaotic New York lifestyle turns into a book with an identity crisis. Part memoir about family and friends and life in New York, part story of getting closer to Julia Child through her iconic cookbook, part recounting the blogging experience near the time of its inception, part fictional re-imagining of the relationship between Paul and Julia Child - the book felt like a shouting match between styles and genres each fighting fiercely for attention.

Was the book diverting? Yes, and sometimes it was hilarious. However, there are a number of books out there that successfully do what Powell is attempting here. If you have your heart set on reading this book, go for it. However, I would also like to offer the following recommendations depending on what drove you to look at this book up in the first place:

If you are interested in Julia Child and how she (and others) have influenced American cuisine, I suggest "The United States of Arugula."

If you are looking for a food memoir, someone learning about cuisine to better understand themselves and a culture, try "Serve the People: a Stir Fried Journey Through China."

If New York is the draw, "Garlic and Sapphires" is written by the former restaurant critic of The New York Times and includes stories of restaurants (with reviews), home cooking, and some tempting recipes.

If you are looking for great, laugh out loud memoir that actually pulls off the blog-to-book transition, but does not have much to do with food, pick up "Bitter is the New Black."

There has been a huge surge in the publication of food-related books over the past few years and many of them are excellent, but "Julie and Julia" is just not one of them.

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (Hardcover)


Product DescriptionIn this groundbreaking epic biography, Douglas Brinkley draws on never-before-published materials to examine the life and achievements of our "naturalist president." By setting aside more than 230 million acres of wild America for posterity between 1901 and 1909, Theodore Roosevelt made conservation a universal endeavor. This crusade for the American wilderness was perhaps the greatest U.S. presidential initiative between the Civil War and World War I. Roosevelt's most important legacies led to the creation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. His executive orders saved such treasures as Devils Tower, the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest.

Tracing the role that nature played in Roosevelt's storied career, Brinkley brilliantly analyzes the influence that the works of John James Audubon and Charles Darwin had on the young man who would become our twenty-sixth president. With descriptive flair, the author illuminates Roosevelt's bird watching in the Adirondacks, wildlife obsession in Yellowstone, hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, ranching in the Dakota Territory, hunting in the Big Horn Mountains, and outdoor romps through Idaho and Wyoming. He also profiles Roosevelt's incredible circle of naturalist friends, including the Catskills poet John Burroughs, Boone and Crockett Club cofounder George Bird Grinnell, forestry zealot Gifford Pinchot, buffalo breeder William Hornaday, Sierra Club founder John Muir, U.S. Biological Survey wizard C. Hart Merriam, Oregon Audubon Society founder William L. Finley, and pelican protector Paul Kroegel, among many others. He brings to life hilarious anecdotes of wild-pig hunting in Texas and badger saving in Kansas, wolf catching in Oklahoma and grouse flushing in Iowa. Even the story of the teddy bear gets its definitive treatment.

Destined to become a classic, this extraordinary and timeless biography offers a penetrating and colorful look at Roosevelt's naturalist achievements, a legacy now more important than ever. Raising a Paul Revere–like alarm about American wildlife in peril—including buffalo, manatees, antelope, egrets, and elk—Roosevelt saved entire species from probable extinction. As we face the problems of global warming, overpopulation, and sustainable land management, this imposing leader's stout resolution to protect our environment is an inspiration and a contemporary call to arms for us all.



About the AuthorDouglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him "America's new past master." Six of his books have been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. His most recent book, The Great Deluge, won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He lives in Texas with his wife and three children.

Warrior for the American Wilderness! Theodor Roosevelt., July 29, 2009
By Sandra Lancaster "my real name" (Las Vegas, NM)


I have never cared much for biographies, I typically read Journals for work, and fiction to relax. But my husband, who works in the Publishing industry said I had to read this book (he had acquired a pre-publication copy of the book). It sat by my night-stand for a couple weeks until I finally gave it a go. Well, all my free time for the next few days was lost to this fascinating book about President Theodor Roosevelt (The Naturalist President).

Before I started the book I knew Roosevelt was a supporter of the National Parks, and that he was a great outdoors man. What I did not realize was how original an idea the parks were at this time. How things could have turned out very differently and much of what has been preserved today could have been lost forever, and Roosevelt was a central character in this crusade for the American Wilderness. He was the right man at the right time!

The author takes on a tour of Roosevelt's adventures life illustrating the role the great outdoors had on the formation of the man's qualities. How the great naturalists of the time From Audubon, to Charles Darwin and John Muir influenced Roosevelt. The most engaging part of this book for me were the stories of Roosevelt's adventures in the natural world, He was at times a Rancher, hunter, fisherman, and above all conservationist. Roosevelt was probably responsible for saving many species from extinction (Buffalo, Antelope, elk, even Manatees). This makes for fascinating reading and gives great insight into the man and who he was.

The book is so well written, it is easy to read and flows smoothly. This is not a dry look into the past but a well written, colorful look at our Naturalist President. My husband is two for two now. He also got me to read the excellent "Across the High Lonesome," another book I thought I'd never like. He is going to get way to full of himself!

Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science (Paperback)


More in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in green philosophy, May 7, 2009
By Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) (Sydney, NSW Australia)


Ian Plimer is a Professor of Geology with a background in mining. He is a strong independent thinker, with a particular flair for interdisciplinary integration and overview, although his books are a bit hard to read. They contain a lot of dense information, but are perhaps weak on highlighting what is more important, and at times a little too emotional and bulldozing for some.

This is a timely book that attempts to survey ALL the basic data and debate related to climate change, rather than cherry-picking solely in the interests of green ideology. The book is very similar to Lomborg's `The Skeptical Environmentalist' (with just as many back-up footnotes-over 2000-so at worst it is at least a useful reference for alterative views and debates).

There are serious claims in this book; a general one being that data and debate about climate change is being suppressed by green ideology. Here are some assertions:

* There is no scientific consensus on the causes of recent (~last 150 years) global warming.
* Data and debate from solar physics, geological, archaeological, and historical circles is ignored in the media and within the political process.
* Gross, unscientific, major distortions of data and debate is occurring, largely due to ideological agendas, and parallels Soviet Union agricultural science and policies.
* Amongst other examples, scientific fraud has been committed with relation to the `hockeystick' graph of Mann et al. regarding temperature in the last ~1000 years, which has been widely circulated (eg IPCC 2001), and which shows distorted temperature trends.
* The influence of changes particularly in the sun, and in cloudiness, cosmic rays and volcanoes on climate changes has been under-estimated.
* There is a correlation between solar activity and earth temperatures, including in the last 150 years of warming.
* Recent global warming since about 1850 is minor and largely not related to human activities, but part of a natural climatic variation since the Little Ice Age.
* There has been no global warming since 1998 (at May 2009), and analysis of solar activity suggests a natural cooling trend in coming decades, which has already begun.
* Influence of increase in C02 level on temperature in the atmosphere tapers off once a certain level is reached. (Rather than `runaway greenhouse', we have 'atmospheric buffer')
* The `precautionary principle' is not a scientific principle, it is a social and political one (I concur).
* There is no such thing as a `tipping point' in science (I disagree-e.g. the term `catalyst' comes to mind).
* IPCC climate models do not accurately model observed temperature trends since 1998, undermining their projected global warming models.
* Computer models used by the IPCC are `computer games', as global climate trends are too big and complicated to meaningfully forecast.
* The global climate is too big for humans to have any meaningful effect.

The books strength is the variety of data, the weakness is the convoluted writing style. At worst, one might contend that Plimer is guilty of obfuscation, but at least there is a broad overview, including real gems you won't hear from extreme greens:

* the very small size of the Amazon rainforest during the last ice age,
* Strong legal disclaimers about climate projections from the very same agencies that want to enforce major legal changes using such data,
* the strong correlation between sunspots and earth temperature
* solar activity has increased in the last ~few hundred years
* that warm periods in human history generally occur with human prosperity,
* Siberian Soviet-age historical temperatures were fudged below -15C because towns received a vodka levy when -15C was reached,
* Parts of Greenland have been cooling since the early 20th century,
* The US, France, Italy, and UK squabbled over ownership of a new volcano in the Mediterranean in the 1800s, which then promptly sank beneath the ocean (which Plimer hopes will happen to global warming advocates).
* Global temperatures have been warmer on several occasions in the last several thousand years, with no adverse effects, rather, they generally correspond to human prosperity.
* C02 has been much higher in longer geological history, with no adverse effects.
* The use of the `precautionary principle' in banning DDT use resulted in an estimated 40 million deaths from malaria
* Ice is a rock
* Water vapour is the main greenhouse gas
* Many western cities have water shortages because new dams are not being built due to green politics,
* `Being creative and riding the waves of change is the only way we humans have survived', `sustainable living', on the contrary `is such that with the slightest change in weather, climate or politics, there is disease, mass famine, and death'.

Suffice to say in short review, there are some good examples of environmentally-driven distortion and cherry-picking of data, in the worst cases fraud (e.g. Mann's hockeystick), but I suspect, there is also errors on his side.

An example which bugs me: new, unpredictably/spontaneously generated changes and processes can produce large, longer term effects, (classic catastrophism versus uniformitarianism). However, Plimer states: "there is no such thing as a tipping point in science". If I read him right, this shows to me a basic limit of perception (what about e.g. catalysts and saturation points in chemistry?). Charles Lyell, one of the early uniformitarians, couldn't see the `catastrophes' written into rocks that were staring him in the face, (new, unpredictable changes, can produce large scale effects)- and neither could Charles Darwin (one of his few errors of judgement); I suspect that Plimer may have a similar data analysis problem (but this is just my opinion).

All in all a good overview, and although I'm not sure I agree with some of his assertions, I see a lot of value in the books' broader discussion of data and debate than is typically found amongst all the hot air that surrounds and distorts climate science and policy.

Whish side is right? Plimer will convince you, July 11, 2009
By Ron House (Qld, Australia)


Ian Plimer is perhaps best known as the geologist who debunked creationism in "Telling Lies for God". Here he turns his attention to the global warming beliefs that are now resulting in huge (possibly disastrous) policy changes by governments in the hope of avoiding "climate change". In "Heaven and Earth", I think Plimer does pretty well.

First off though, if you are expecting a simple read, this book is perhaps not it. Not that it is difficult to read, but it is technically dense, the average page having maybe ten references to academic papers to support its claims. And it has its mistakes. There is a diagram on temperature forecasts which is not properly explained, another one which, so it is claimed on the web, has been withdrawn by its author for errors. Also the author has a recurring habit of writing the opposite of what he means; it usually happens on unimportant points, but it distracts from following the argument. For example, he writes that the early half of the little ice age was more variable than the latter half (p 75), then a little later says the opposite (p 79). I noticed maybe ten such examples on my way through. They are not by any means fatal to his argument, but I am sure his opponents would dig them out and present them as if they were. But in a 500 page book, absolute correctness from cover to cover is, I think, far too high an expectation. The real question is: does he carry his main arguments?

I believe that he does. He shows, for instance, that CO2 in geological history has been up to 25 times higher than it now is, and that in this era it is at its lowest in the entire history of life on Earth. He shows how malaria is a disease of poverty, not of temperature, and has existed in England in the coldest of times. He discusses the major 'snowball earth' glaciations that most likely took ice all the way to the equator, but which, luckily, preceded the appearance of multicellular life. (If such an ice age happened now, it is hard to see how any multicelled life, let alone human life, could survive.) The main impression the book left me with was 'being given the complete picture'.

The main question I was asking myself when I first started investigating global warming in depth was which side is right? I came to the conclusion that the realists are (climate has always changed, and current temperatures and temperature changes are within historical limits). So this book was not the factor that convinced me. The single fact that did so, however, is included here. Pages 371 onwards discuss the IPCC's climate models, which predict an increasingly warm tropospheric 'hot spot' in the atmosphere, providing a 'warm blanket' that is heating up the planet. This 'warm blanket' simply isn't there, as Plimer explains. It boils down to this very simple fact: on a cold night, if you want to get warm, you must have warm air around you somehow - turn on a heater, put on a blanket, whatever, but unless warm air surrounds you, you won't get warm. The planet does not have any warmer air around it than it ever had, so it simply cannot be heating up due to insulation. Since that is the central claim of global warmism, the theory must be wrong. All the rest is 'sound and fury, signifying nothing'. But Plimer takes on that sound and fury, and shows it for the flim flam it really is.

If I were writing such a book, I might not choose Plimer's organisation. He starts with the geological history of the Earth's climate, and moves on to the Sun, the Earth (volcanoes, extinctions, desertification, etc.), then Ice (ice ages, glaciers, antarctica), then Water (sea levels, acidification, corals),then Air (greenhouse effect, temperature, hurricanes, carbon dioxide), and finishes with a very entertaining chapter called 'Et moi' - perhaps not so rumbunctious as some of the more acidic writings of Bertrand Russell, but good reading nonetheless.

Plimer has had his share of run-ins with shysters, as witnessed by his court battle with creationists, and he doesn't shrink from taking on the latest bunch - even speculating about the judgement St Peter might one day settle upon one of them! The concluding section puts the sheer evil and lunacy of the warming scaremongering into sharp relief. At the risk of spoiling the whole story, here is his final sentence: "Human stupidity is only exceeded by God's mercy, which is infinite."

When the current climate insanity is finally exploded, this book will, I am sure, be seen as one of the turning points.

Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies (Hardcover)


Frightening look at the dark side of politics, July 28, 2009
By M. Scott


I bought this book yesterday, and could not put it down. There was a lot of information in it that I had heard on the news, and a lot I did not know about. Seeing it all together made me angry, and left me wondering how we, as a people, can take our country back from the crooked politicians who enter "public" service solely to get rich. It's disgusting. Obama had a lot of pretty words during his campaign, but he is absolutely just as corrupt as the worst career politician. And the people he has surrounded himself with are there for their own enrichment. These people want to control every aspect of our society, and they do not care anything about the best interests of the people. People need to stop being apathetic, and pay attention to what's going on. Obama and his Democratic congress plan to change our government and society in ways I suspect many people can't even imagine.

The Chicago Machine Revealed, July 27, 2009
By Brian Linn Smith Author of The Flying Deuce


Michelle did an awesome job of laying out the trail of corruption that follows the Obama administration. It made me realize that this administration is no different than any other. I love the way Michelle uncovers the little known facts about Obama's appointees. It made me clearly see their agenda and how they are in the process of paying back the people who got them there. It's commentary like this book that will shed light on what these politicians are capable of and help us to avoid being sold a bill of goods.


Brian Linn Smith
Author of
The Flying Deuce

America's Most Wanted Recipes: Delicious Recipes from Your Family's Favorite Restaurants (Paperback)


Product Description
Discover the recipes from America's most popular family restaurants and cook them at home for a fraction of the price!
Wouldn't it be nice if you could treat yourself to dishes from your favorite restaurants anytime? Now you can -- at home! In America's Most Wanted Recipes, Ron Douglas reveals copycat versions of carefully guarded secret restaurant recipes and shows family chefs how to prepare them at home, saving time and money. With these easy and mouth-watering recipes, families can enjoy a night out in their very own kitchens.

- Great selection: With more than 200 recipes from 57 of America's most popular restaurants -- including The Cheesecake Factory, KFC, Olive Garden, P.F. Chang's, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, and many more -- no taste or craving will be left unsatisfied.
- Cut the cost: Watch your wallet without giving up restaurantquality food! You can save your family thousands of dollars each year by preparing these recipes just once a week.
- Skip the lines: Forget about waiting to be seated. You can have your favorite meals "on demand" from the comfort of your own kitchen. Time-saving tips and shortcuts will have dinner on the table in no time.
- Eat healthy: Low-fat alternatives and waist-slimming suggestions make these dishes delicious -- and nutritious.
- Impress your family and friends: These recipes are all fast, simple, and virtually indistinguishable from the originals. We bet your family and friends won't be able to tell the difference!


About the Author
Ron Douglas is a former finance director at JP Morgan and founder of the #1 copycat recipe website, www.recipesecrets.net. He lives in New York with his wife and two children.

Liked his first books better., July 22, 2009
By Denise "Niecy" (New York, NY)


I purchased this book and tried a few of the recipes. The tijuana philly steak sandwich from Applebee's was okay, so was the Olive Garden chicken scampi. The book is okay, I guess why I didn't like this book was because, when I purchased his first two books, almost every recipe I tried came out so good and almost exactly like the original. I even went as far as to say that I like his books better than Todd Wilburs "Top secret recipe" books. His recipe's just had a little something different to make it so much better. I think with this one I didn't find alot of recipes that I was willing to try. My advice to someone looking to purchase a copycat book is to get your hands on a copy and look to see if those recipes are the one's you want to try. I think my problem is I didn't like alot of the recipes in this book.

Restaurant tastes at home!, July 23, 2009
By H. Nakaguchi ""Wannabe Chef at home"" (Queens, NY United States)


I have heard a huge buzz in media recently about Ron Douglas's book. I went out and bought a copy and my family loves when I use the recipes in the book. I have always wondered if I can make many of the dishes when I eat out and now I can. Great book with great results!

The Defector (Hardcover)


Daniel Silva Continues his Brilliant Character Study in THE DEFECTOR, July 20, 2009
By allangiven.com


In the follow-up to his 2008 New York Time's Best Seller, MOSCOW RULES, author Daniel Silva picks up exactly where the action last left off, and THE DEFECTOR is a brilliantly crafted novel that is unparalleled in its genre. What makes THE DEFECTOR so unique is found within its main character, Gabriel Allon, one of the world's premiere art restorers who just happens to be an Israeli intelligence officer and assassin. Allon is one of the most incredibly complex and dynamic characters to be found in modern literature, and Silva's newest novel further builds and expands upon the Allon mythology, creating a fascinating character who must deal with the dichotomous nature of the two worlds in which he exists. In fact, it is here where Silva's greatest strength as an author is found, for he is able to blend seamlessly elements of both intense page turning action with subtle examinations of character. The result is a book that is simply brilliant.

Having a main character who is an assassin, and one who can kill easily and without remorse, seems an unlikely choice for an audience to become invested in, but with Gabriel Allon, Silva is able to craft a character who is so well realized that the reader becomes hungry to learn more about him. This is the ninth novel to feature the Gabriel Allon character, and in this outing, Silva examines the relationships between Allon and those he is closest too, including those relationships both professional as well as private. Allowing the reader to see this side of the character, including moments of absolute tenderness showing how much Allon cares for his wife Chiara and how deeply he loves her, is what transforms him from that of the seemingly invincible spy character that is so prevalent in the genre into something that is more human, and in turn, much more accessible to the reader. When asked if he had in fact created a love story, Silva states, "It's true. A heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat, and sometimes extremely violent love story, but a love story nonetheless. I feel as if I've developed a real bond with my readers, and I've learned something extremely valuable from them. While they're captivated by Gabriel's adventures, they also follow his personal trials and misfortunes very carefully-especially my female readers." This broad appeal to all readers, and the willingness to show a side of a main character that most other authors would shy away from is what makes THE DEFECTOR so intriguing. Knowing what is at stake for Allon, and knowing that he is simply not just an emotionless killer bound by duty to his country, is what helps build the tension of the novel. The love story actually then punctuates the action that unfolds while underscoring it with anxiety for the reader. You want Allon to succeed because you know what he will lose if he does not.

It is important to note though that having a love story in an intensely action orientated spy novel does not mean that the female characters in the book, such as Chiara, are shallow and without depth, only there to serve the purpose of allowing Allon to achieve a greater depth. This is so far from the case. What is most impressive about THE DEFECTOR is the fact that Silva has incorporated so many incredibly strong women into it. These are women who have the same amount of development as Allon, and are never used by Silva as mere periphery devices, but instead are presented with an equal amount of strength. As Silva explains, "Each of the remarkable women portrayed in the novel have a huge impact on the way the story is finally resolved. In real life I'm surrounded by strong women---anyone who's met my wife knows that---so it's only natural for me to cast women in heroic roles." This is such a crucial element to the success of THE DEFECTOR, for there exists no misogynistic undertones here, but rather a story populated with characters, both male and female, who are each allowed to develop on their own, while at the same time becoming compellingly interwoven with the others in the novel. The result is an incredibly dense and multilayered novel that hooks the reader and draws them into the intrigue of its world.

This world that Silva has so masterfully crafted is what gives the novel its relevance. The amount of research Silva does in preparation for his books is staggering, and the result is so vividly descriptive, both in regard to its physical as well as political landscapes, that it feels like even though it is a work of fiction, it is being ripped from the headlines, and characters such as these, in situations similar to these, are operating exactly in this manner somewhere in the world. This realism, set against the rapidly politically changing environment in modern day Russia, is what is most intriguing about this novel, and will have the effect of inspiring its readers to look more closely at the actual news headlines and to become more informed on Russia's relationships with the West.

With these elements, THE DEFECTOR is one of the best reads of the year, and even if you are not a fan of the spy genre, it is one you absolutely must pick up.

Defectors may flee, but they can never really escape..., July 22, 2009
By S. McGee (New York, NY)


When readers last encountered Gabriel Allon, Israeli spy and master art restorer, he was escorting the wife of an oligarch, Ivan Kharkhov, out of Russia, along with a journalist and FSB (KGB successor) agent. All four were fleeing Russia to save their lives, but as the events of this sequel show, it's hard to escape the long reach of the modern-day Kremlin or the fury of an outraged oligarch.

When this novel opens, Israeli master spy and assassin is back in Italy, restoring a Guido Reni altarpiece and debating the issue of having children with his wife, Chiara. Then Grigori Bulganov, the former FSB agent, vanishes off a street in London. Has he re-defected, returning home to Russia with insight into the way the British and Americans operate and dangerous knowledge about Allon? Or has he been snatched, in revenge for his betrayal? Allon needs to find out, even if it means flying in the face of direct orders from Shamron, his longtime boss, mentor and the head of "The Office". Not only is Allon's security at stake, but he made a promise to Grigori as they were driving to safety. "Promise me one thing, Gabriel," Grigori had said to him. "Promise me I won't end up in an unmarked grave" -- the traditional Russian punishment for betrayal. Nor is keeping that promise Allon's only motivation.

That promise and Allon's investigation are just the beginning of a dramatic series of events, as Gabriel must race to save the lives of those he cares for and deliver some measure of final justice to Kharkhov. It's not, properly speaking, a spy novel, but more of a suspense thriller in which the main protagonists happen to be spies or other forms of agents. The missions that Gabriel and his team tackle are deeply personal ones, culminating in a deeply personal act of vengeance at the book's close.

As with all Silva's books, the writing is careful and often eloquent. Still, anyone who has followed Gabriel and his team and occasional allies through all nine books in this series won't find many surprises outside the twists and turns of this particular plot. Gabriel is still torn between his desire for a peaceful life and his art and a deeper compulsion to do what only he (apparently) can do for his country; Shamron is still an elderly, tyrannical and rather ruthless 'retired' spy, etc. That's perhaps the single greatest flaw in this series -- while the characters' lives change (such as Gabriel meeting, falling in love with and marrying Chiara), the characters never really develop or change in significant ways. Thinking about this book after finishing it -- it's too good to stop and think while reading -- I realized that many of the passages about the thoughts of the main characters, removed from their context, could fit neatly back in to nearly any book in the series. It may sound like a quibble, but to me that means that while Silva is still able to craft a great thriller around one of the classic themes -- revenge -- his characters are getting a bit long in the tooth. Given the strength of some of his early, pre-Allon books (The Marching Season and The Unlikely Spy), I'd love to see this very good author turn his talents to some fresher material, before the plots also begin to feel repetitive. It's a tribute to Silva that this book -- which when I stepped back to think of it, was really just round two of Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon) -- was such a pleasure to read.

Highly recommended to the author's fans; thriller readers will also enjoy it, although I'd suggest reading Moscow Rules before this one. (It's possible to read on a stand-alone basis, but you won't get the full background and context.) Die-hard spy novel afficionados may find that they prefer some of Silva's earlier books, which involve intelligence work as well as the tradecraft showcased in this one, or else read the works of Alan Furst or Olen Steinhauer. It seems to be open season on the part of suspense/spy novel writers on Putin's Russia; another new thriller I've just read and reviewed takes aim at some of the same themes (corruption and the oligarchs), albeit in a more oblique and less suspenseful manner -- Alex Dryden's Red to Black.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture (Hardcover)


Great Insights into Consumer Culture, July 8, 2009
By Wayne Johnston (Fort Lee, NJ)


I've always considered myself a sophisticated consumer, able to see through the marketing ploys of restaurants, car dealers, department stores, etc. to obtain real value. But then on the drive home from work I heard Ellen Shell on the radio, bought Cheap, and, almost despite myself, read it in two days.
It's frightening, eye opening, and not at all what I expected. I now know that the marketers are one step ahead of even the most savvy shoppers. By masking the true costs and value of merchandise, our perceptions of value are based to a surprising extent on the marketers manipulations. The disturbing thing here is that this occurs at virtually all price points. Whether we shop discount "big box" stores or high end department stores with "designer" merchandise, our perceptions of "beating the system" are illusory. Opening with a fascinating history of discounting, from the days where "cheap" was an insult to its rise as the holy grail of the mass marketer, CHEAP moves on to the economics and psychology that drive our purchasing patterns. It goes much farther, though, looking at the impact on the cultures and environments where these bargains are produced. In an increasingly globalized economy, we can't afford to ignore these impacts as--CHEAP ably shows--they are already at our doorstep. Extremely well written and thought provoking, this book offers a fresh and alarming perspective not only on our current economic condition, but on our own often self defeating behavior.
It's forever changed the way I'll shop...for the better.

Insightful and Well Researched, July 13, 2009
By James Kirwin (East Coast USA)


I like to read in bed and because the Wife is sensitive to light, I have bought numerous battery operated reading lights - all made in China. No matter what brands I purchase or how much I spend, within a couple of months the lights break and I'm left using a flashlight to read in bed until I go out and buy another. A reading light is quite a simple device consisting of a battery, LED, and wires all linked together in a circuit. This circuit is then encased in plastic, metal or a combination of the two. Although simple, these lights break within a few months. Sometimes the cases break, other times the soldering fails somewhere in the circuit. I try to repair them but the repairs inevitably fail after a few weeks. Over the past 5 years alone I have probably spent $150 on reading lights.

After reading Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppell Shell I now understand that my frustration is the result of the replacement of quality goods by shoddy ones made in China in order to maximize profit and minimize expense. This exchange of shoddy for quality has happened as Americans have pursued low price at the expense of all else. We save money in the short term by pursuing low prices but lose much in the process including long lasting quality goods and decent paying jobs.

Shell writes for the Atlantic and is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Throughout the book I searched for Shell's anti-capitalist bias, but didn't find it anywhere. Instead she writes "Trade is and must be free," and believes that regulation and unionization is not the answer to our obsession with low prices. She quotes Adam Smith liberally and suggests that Smith himself would not be pleased with the junk on the shelves of America's superstores. She writes that Smith advocated a system whereby workers earned a decent wage to purchase a decent life, and supporting that system were Smith's heroes - consumers buying the goods and services made by the workers at fair prices. These prices weren't inflated: the consumer received a quality product that performed the job it was intended to do.

Shell discusses the usual suspects - Wal-mart, dollar stores and discount chain stores - but she zeroes in on Ikea as a firm that has built a mythos around itself to shield it from the fact that it uses illegally harvested hardwoods from the Russian Far East and Asia (Ikea is the third largest consumer of wood in the world), and sources production to some of the lowest paying companies on the planet. Shell cites a table that sells for $69. A master craftsman admitted that he couldn't buy the wood for that price, let alone build the table. Ikea headquarters exudes an aura of cultishness that is more reminiscent of Scientology than of a business. There workers design products that are meant to be made and ship cheaply - not to be comfortable. The products are given cutesy names that slaps a "happy face" onto what in essence is a soulless product.

While every move by American giant like Wal-mart is subjected to scrutiny by environmentally minded intelligentsia, she notes that Ikea is given a pass:

"Wal-mart's relentless march toward world retail domination provokes scathing exposes in books, articles, and documentaries. But most media responses to Ikea verge on the hagiographic, swallowing whole the well-polished rags-to-riches story the company wrote for itself."


Everything Ikea does is geared towards lowering its costs. Ikea's store placement outside of cities and away from public transit, as well as its refusal to deliver makes its customers drive to it is a conscious decision by the firm to minimize the cost per square foot of its stores by buying cheap land. It ships disassembled products to save on shipping and on manufacturing. It regularly squeezes its suppliers, thereby preventing workers in some of the poorest places on the planet from getting better wages while encouraging environmental abuses.

Shell's criticism of Ikea hits home because I've bought from there. In fact the table that I'm writing on is from Ikea. Its wood grain is quite dense, unlike that from plantation farmed trees. Of course only its legs are wood; it's top is wood veneer and already shows signs of wear after just three years. Did the legs come from illegally logged old-growth forest in Siberia or Indonesia? How environmentally friendly can this table be if it is already falling apart after 3 years and will need replacement in another year or two? It's not friendly to the environment - but it is to Ikea's profits if I'm stupid enough to go there and buy another table. No, it's replacement will be a nice, well-worn American table from a second-hand shop.

Shell makes a convincing case that America's love affair with shoddy goods is bad for the environment and living standards abroad. Unfortunately she could have made a better case that shopping at Wal-mart and Ikea leads to lower living standards at home. Shell mentions a worker in furniture manufacturing who was laid off by an American furniture maker and picked up by Ikea - at much lower wages and benefits. However families who shop at Wal-mart save roughly $2700 a year on their purchases, and since Wal-mart caters to the lower demographics the savings is a significant part of the demographic's income. Shell argues that this savings is less than the family would have made had Wal-mart and the discount chains not driven jobs abroad, and because the jobs are gone forever Wal-mart consumers are locked into a decreasing standard of living that no amount of savings can justify.

Shell's work is heavily footnoted but because the footnotes aren't referenced in the text, I ended up reading them on their own after finishing the book. This is a small quibble with an otherwise fine and thought provoking book, but it would have made her arguments even stronger had the footnotes been referenced.

Shell's writing style is easy to read and her ideas are well supported and researched. Her conclusion that it is up to Americans to recognize that things that fall apart quickly - like reading lamps - don't provide good value in the long run leaves the decision whether or not to improve the situation up to us.

She believes that we need to educate ourselves on the products we consume - where they come from, how they are made, and what we consume is in line with our values. If we are comfortable buying cheap crap that falls apart, sending our dollars to the Chinese government that funds oppressive regimes in the Sudan, Burma and North Korea, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Overall this book is must reading for anyone interested in modern American consumerism.

Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It (Hardcover)


Put Down Everything Else You're Reading And Read This, July 13, 2009
By Kelly Belmar


This one's as solidly stunning as her first collection, Half in Love. Few flashy plot points, zero flashy sentences, but a confidence in the telling so acute that the characters' lives stay with you for a long time. Meloy GETS people, and she gets the West the way few writers do--the comfort and anxiety of slow open spaces, the barreling toward progress and development and peopled places not inconsistent with the ache for untouched land. This is by far the best collection of shorts this year.

Masterfully Eloquent Collection From a Gifted Observer of Human Frailty, July 17, 2009
By K. Anderson "Xanadude" (Los Angeles, CA United States)


This is my first exposure to the work of Maile Meloy, but if my enjoyment of this collection of short stories is any indication, I think I have just found a new favorite author! Speaking literarily, Meloy must be a Hydra or something. How else to explain 11 stories of acutely observed characters, graceful prose and achingly naked insights, each distinctly different in tone and approach?
Each story is a complete reality explored in the most poetic, economic language I've encountered since Truman Capote, plus she possesses a way with regional detail that rivals Carson McCullers. Some stories, like "Spy vs. Spy" will make you laugh out loud, while others, like "Travis B." will blindside you and won't be aware of your eyes tearing up until the words have become too blurry to read. The chilling "The Girlfriend" is like Stephen King if Stephen King could write.
I can't remember when I've enjoyed a book more or been as unhappy to come to the end.

Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story (Hardcover)


An affair to remember?, July 11, 2009
By Gretchen Schwenee


I have been on a 1960's reading jag lately, a kind of nostalgic look back at my parent's decade of youth. Helps me understand where they come from and it was an interesting time of change. I was excited to get an advance copy of this book as it looked to be a trashy but fun read, and I can say it delivered on both counts (trashy fun that is)! Did Jackie and Bobby Kennedy have a love affair after the assassination of JFK? This author makes the case that they did and it is fascinating reading. But how much real truth is there here? And even if it is all true is it something the public really needs to know? The book held a certain creepy fascination over me, I couldn't stop reading, yet a part of me thought I should. Its that kind of read. It is well written, and appears well documented but I would be interested to hear if there are any dissenting voices out there?

Speaking of 1960's and creepy fascination, Check out "Misfits Country" for a look into the mind of Marilyn Monroe and the making of her final film.

Great Summer Read, July 12, 2009
By Paul Black


This book was a quick and entertaining read. I particularyly found interesting how the personal relationship of Jackie and Aristole Onassis was put on hold for Bobbys political ambitions. There are tons of indisputable and juicy tidbits to this book that add up to a summer beach book best seller. Hats off to C. David Heymann

Rain Gods: A Novel (Hardcover)


Another winner from a Grand Master!, July 14, 2009
By Penelope Forrester "pennysinheaven" (TRAVELERS REST, SC, USA)


Burke wins again with this elegantly written tale of Texas Sheriff Hackberry Holland and his search for the killer of nine Chinese women and girls in a sparsely populated Southwest Texas County. We first met Hackberry as a young lawyer in an early Burke work, LAY DOWN MY SWORD AND SHIELD.

Hack, a Korean War veteran, and his able Chief Deputy, Pam Tibbs, must fend off agents from a couple of three-letter federal agencies as they seek a solution to the slaughter while attempting to protect a young, alcholic Irag veteran who witnessed the machine-gunning of the victims. Chock full of displaced New Orleans mob bosses, a hired serial killer, a lonely and talented songstress, and a hapless bar owner bent on protecting his family at all costs, Burke delivers a rip-roaring tale for those who only "surface" read, or those who delve the deeper issues and significances to be found in all his novels.

One often overlooked facet of Burke's work is his creation of strong, brave and talented women. RAIN GODS introduces us to three such women in this work - three women of very different lifestyles and talents - who demonstrate that courage, beauty and love is proven in diverse ways.

A beautifully written work constructed with Burke's usual haunting, involved narrative. Five stars!

(Mea culpa: Added 16 July 2009: To those who may have read my review earlier in the week, I apologize. I confused myself. You will note in the book that Hack spent time in a Korean POW camp. References are made to the Chinese jailers there. In my original review I mis-identified the victims of the mass murder as Chinese. The women were from Thailand. It comes with age. Penny.)

RICK "SHAQ" GOLDSTEIN SAYS: "A CHARACTER AND LANDSCAPE DRIVEN MASTERPIECE!", July 16, 2009
By Rick Shaq Goldstein "Rick Shaq Goldstein" (Danville, Ca, USA)


Way back when the written word was invented... I'm sure there were some lofty goals for its use. But the way James Lee Burke mystically organizes his words in this book is literally evocative... mesmerizing... and outright stimulating. This *ABSOLUTE-CLASSIC* story is a testament to what an artistic genius can create... with the end product assuredly more compelling than was ever hoped for when words were created. This book took me twice as long to read as a book of this length normally would. I found myself underlining his character descriptions... and literally reading them again slowly to myself for my own pure enjoyment. The author's descriptions of landscapes and sunsets... exulted past the boundaries of a murder mystery... and bloomed into fully formed poetry. I literally called a friend just to read some of my underlined verse.

The story takes place in a southern Texas town whose Sheriff is Hackberry Holland who among other things was a POW in North Korea. "I SPENT SIX WEEKS IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND IN WINTERTIME UNDER A SEWER GATE THAT WAS MANUFACTURED IN OHIO. I KNEW ITS PLACE OF ORIGIN BECAUSE I COULD SEE THE LETTERING EMBOSSED ON THE IRON SURFACE. I COULD SEE THE LETTERING BECAUSE EVERY EVENING A COUPLE OF GUARDS URINATED THROUGH THE GRATE AND WASHED THE LETTERING CLEAN OF MUD. I SPENT THOSE WEEKS UNDER THE GRATE WITH ONLY A STEEL POT TO RELIEVE MYSELF IN. I ALSO SAW MY BEST FRIENDS MACHINE-GUNNED TO DEATH AND THEIR BODIES THROWN INTO AN OPEN LATRINE." Holland uncovers nine murdered Thai women and girls in a ditch covered with dirt by a bulldozer. The subsequent search for the murderer leads to a non-stop readers delight involving a list of characters that range from a revengeful ICE agent that breaks the rules because he's never recovered from a personal tragedy involving his daughter being kidnapped... locked in a car trunk... and burned alive... to a gangster that runs a strip joint and "escort" service... another gangster who runs an "escort" service and who in the past buried a bunch of dead Russian prostitutes with stomachs full of heroine... and an almost limitless number of "BUTTON-MEN"... killers for hire... with a very jagged organizational chart reporting chain of command... with the most noteworthy Jack "Preacher" Collins... who in addition to being a cold blooded murderer is a religious fanatic. In the midst of this gaggle of hit men... is a poor sad-sack alcoholic Iraq War Veteran Pete Flores... who after too much alcohol ("One is too many... and a thousand is never enough!") gets involved as a driver on the fateful night that the Thai whore massacre takes place. When Pete flees the scene... he becomes the key witness that all the bad guys need to eliminate... so Pete and his "too-good-for-him" girl friend Vikki Gaddis go on the run. The bad guys are after them... and the Sheriff is after the bad guys... and the Sheriff is also after Pete and Vikki... to try to cut them a deal. And through it all the author's descriptions makes the reader feel like they're sitting on a Greyhound bus looking at the type of characters... who would be sitting on a Greyhound bus on hot southern Texas days and nights... and the landscape... sunrises... and sunsets... are so beautifully conveyed by the author... you feel... and believe... you're looking out the window of the bus... instead of sitting on your living room couch.

Some examples: "THE SKIN OF HIS FACE LIKE A LEATHER MASK, HIS LIPS THICK, ALWAYS SUPPRESSING A GRIN, THE INSIDE OF HIS HEAD CONSTRUCTED OF BONES THAT DIDN'T SEEM TO FIT RIGHT."

"HIS MOUTH WAS COMPRESSED, HIS MIRTH LEAKING FROM HIS NOSE LIKE AIR ESCAPING A RUBBER SEAL."

"THE HILLS FLICKERING WITH ELECTRICITY, THE HORN OF AN EIGHTEEN-WHEELER BLOWING FAR DOWN THE HIGHWAY LIKE A BUGLE FROM A FORGOTTEN WAR."

"A MAN WHOSE BACK LOOKED LIKE RED ALLIGATOR HIDE AND WHO SCREAMED IN HIS SLEEP PROBABLY WASN'T CUT OUT FOR COMMUNAL LIVING."

"HIS FACE WHITE, DISTORTED, HIS EYES WATERING, HIS NARROW HEAD AND LONG NOSE AND GREASED HAIR LIKE THOSE OF A MAN WHO WAS OUT OF SYNCH WITH HIS OWN ERA, A MAN FOR WHOM LOSS WAS A GIVEN AND INEPTITUDE A WAY OF LIFE."

"THE STARS WERE SMOKY, LIKE DRY ICE EVAPORATING ON BLACK VELVET."

"HIS EYES LUMINOUS POOLS BEHIND OCTAGON-SHAPED RIMLESS GLASSES, EYES THAT NICK COULD ONLY ASSOCIATE WITH SPACE ALIENS."

"HER EXPRESSION AS EMPTY AS A WOOD CARVING."... "HIS NECK AND FACE WERE DEEPLY LINED, LIKE THE SKIN ON A TURTLE."... "THERE WAS A SKINNED PLACE ON DANNY BOY'S RIGHT TEMPLE, LIKE A PIECE OF FRUIT THAT HAD BEEN RUBBED ON A CARROT GRATER."... "HER LIPSTICK LOOKED LIKE A FLATTENED ROSE ON HER MOUTH."... "HER FACIAL SKIN HAD THE TEXTURE OF BOILED PIG HIDE."... "ART ROONEY'S FACE HAD AN EXPRESSION ON IT LIKE THAT OF A BLOWFISH WITH A HOOK IN ITS MOUTH".

"IN THE DISTANCE, HE SAW A TRIO OF BUZZARDS CIRCLING HIGH ABOVE THE HARDPAN, THEIR OUTSTRETCHED WINGS STENCILED AGAINST A YELLOW SUN THAT REMINDED HIM OF LIGHT TRAPPED BEHIND A DIRTY WINDOW SHADE."

"AND THE MOON SAT ON THE HORIZON LIKE A HUGE, BRUISED WHITE BALLOON."

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of these enlightening, intelligent, thought provoking aphorisms... all wrapped around an outstanding thriller.

Harry Potter Paperback Boxed Set (Books 1-7) (Paperback)


All Aboard Platform 9 3/4, July 11, 2009
By Logan


Harry Potter has done the impossible: he has defeated the Dark Lord, Voldemort, an evil wizard of tremendous power. And he did it before he knew how to walk or talk.

Now The Boy Who Lived is ready for his seven-year schooling at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he'll meet new friends and make new enemies on his way to becoming a wizard.

J.K. Rowling's story became an instant global phenomenon, attracting millions of children and adults from every background. Harry Potter has been translated in over 67 languages, and the last four books were the fastest selling books in history. Now, with the paperback release of Deathly Hallows, all seven books are available together in a beautiful box illustrated by Mary GrandPré, who also illustrated the books' cover art in the United States.

After the disaster that was the 1-6 box set (where some books were missing pages or even entire chapters), some buyers may feel a bit reluctant to buy this set. After receiving my copies, I checked each book and everything appears in order: the covers are in great shape, the box is in great shape, and all the pages appear to be intact (though I could be wrong; I haven't read all seven books just yet). At over $30 off the original price, I would definitely recommend buying this set while this great bargain lasts--I can find this same exact set in stores for over $70.

South of Broad (Hardcover)



Another Gift to the South, June 16, 2009
By W Ray "W Ray" (Bay County)


I read an advanced reader's copy of this new Conroy novel and must
say that it is simply beautiful from the first line. The story, set in
the late sixties till the nineties, mostly in Charleston, is centered on
the life of Leo King. Born into a devout Catholic family, Leo is haunted
by his brother's suicide, and trying to salvage a ruined adolescence with
the help of a handful of best friends, who have their own histories and
ghosts to deal with. Conroy often writes of salvation through friendship,
and this is his strongest novel yet on the subject. It is also an
unexpectedly Catholic novel, and at base, a very devout one. The South,
and the Low Country in particular, are exalted, beloved, and cherished in
prose so fine it breaks your heart. I don't want to spoil the story in
any way, but have to say that the last pages did that thing that modern
novels seem incapable of doing these days: it lifted my heart, ending on
just the loveliest, most affirming word (won't say what.)

Read the first line and you'll understand.

I would give this SIX or more stars if possible!, July 11, 2009
By BeachReader (Delaware)


I was lucky to have a fairy godmother loan me an ARC of this book. But I will be buying my own copy and re-reading it on August 11....I loved it that much.

SOUTH OF BROAD was simply A M A Z I N G and well worth the many years of waiting. I am looking forward to re-reading this so I can savor even more the language, the story, the atmosphere. WOW!

Conroy uses the most beautiful language -- it just made me want to read some sentences over and over. I found myself reading some parts aloud, just to hear the way the words resonated.

Not only is the writing beautiful, but Conroy's storytelling is so compelling and just captivated me. The characters are so well-developed....I even liked the ones that were supposed to be unlikable. These characters' unbreakable ties continue for years, though distance and circumstances separate some at different times.

One of the main characters was the city of Charleston, with all of its glory and all of its problems. Conroy's obvious love of Charleston shows in his luminous writing about it.

Some reviewers have described SOUTH OF BROAD as lyrical, poetic, compelling, breathtaking, passionate. I agree with all they say...I just loved this book.

I have been a Conroy fan since reading THE WATER IS WIDE in 1972 (based on Conroy's work as a teacher on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina). It was made into a movie, entitled CONRACK, a couple of years later. I have since read everything he has written, including his cookbook and THE BOO (hard to find, but I managed to do so). He wrote it just after his graduation from The Citadel in 1970. It is about Lt. Colonel Thomas "The Boo" Courvoise, the Commandant of Cadets at the Citadel.

Highly recommended.

Best Friends Forever: A Novel (Hardcover)


Review
"Former mousy types, rejoice! In Weiner's delicious latest, a popular girl hits trouble long after high school and only the geeky pal she once shunned can help." -- People

"This beach read will win readers over with its wit and wisdom. A clever, sad and sweet turn on Thelma and Louise [with] what may be the funniest not-quite-heist ever pulled off ..."-- Publishers Weekly

"Warmly and realistically drawn... Weiner, creator of widely popular female characters, injects an element of suspense into her latest, Best Friends Forever. This book begins on an unexpected note of violence, but the friendship of the title is at its heart. Two estranged onetime high-school chums -- one now a television weathergirl and the other one of Ms. Weiner's lovable, snack-obsessed frumps -- are thrown together to find out what happened in that opening scene and to hash out old grievances. Weiner writes comfortably about the real world." -- Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Jennifer Weiner is a master of the modern-day fairytale. In best-selling chick-lit romps like In Her Shoes, her heroines look just like us: self-deprecating, plagued by those few extra pounds - and ready for Prince Charming only once they've embraced their quirks. Weiner's latest effort is no exception, this time following a pair of friends - one fat, one thin - over two decades."-- Marie Claire

"The must-have beach read... In popular chick-lit-with-a-pulse author Jennifer Weiner's newest novel, Best Friends Forever, two childhood gal pals suffer a teenage-falling-out but reunite for an unexpected female-bonding adventure."-- Elle magazine

"A hilarious caper... resplendent in charm and poignancy...Weiner handles sorrow with a deft touch, blossoms in beautifully descriptive passages, and keeps readers glued to the page with curiosity and delight." -- Booklist, starred review

Product Description

Some bonds can never be broken...


Addie Downs and Valerie Adler will be best friends forever. That's what Addie believes after Valerie moves across the street when they're both nine years old. But in the wake of betrayal during their teenage years, Val is swept into the popular crowd, while mousy, sullen Addie becomes her school's scapegoat.

Flash-forward fifteen years. Valerie Adler has found a measure of fame and fortune working as the weathergirl at the local TV station. Addie Downs lives alone in her parents' house in their small hometown of Pleasant Ridge, Illinois, caring for a troubled brother and trying to meet Prince Charming on the Internet. She's just returned from Bad Date #6 when she opens her door to find her long-gone best friend standing there, a terrified look on her face and blood on the sleeve of her coat. "Something horrible has happened," Val tells Addie, "and you're the only one who can help."

Best Friends Forever is a grand, hilarious, edge-of-your-seat adventure; a story about betrayal and loyalty, family history and small-town secrets. It's about living through tragedy, finding love where you least expect it, and the ties that keep best friends together.

Funny and poignant, July 14, 2009
By Karin Gillespie (Georgia)


I finished the novel last night and really enjoyed it. Jen Weiner has such a lot of range. She can go from poignant to laugh-out-loud in just a few sentences. The novel is about a friendship that goes sour and then is resurrected and often has a madcap, Thelma and Louise-feel, especially when the two friends are "on the lam." Weiner fleshes out minor characters --her self-assured brother who meets with tragedy is particularly memorable--and keeps the pacing brisk, serving up a bit of a twist at the end.
My favorite part of the novel was the flashbacks to the girls' childhoods. Jen brilliantly captures what it feels like to be ten and to have a very best friend with whom you share everything.

I think this just made tops as my favorite summer read...it has it all!, July 14, 2009
By A. Chandler "artistalana" (Austin, TX)


When Addie and Valerie became neighbors as children, Addie was certain they would remain BFFs forever. However a negative high school incident left Addie (the overweight and loyal friend) hurt--and tore the two into two directions where they remained until, 15 years later, Valerie (high school cheerleader, now weather girl) entered Addie's life again...and with blood on her sleeve and in need of help.

Best Friends Forever is a story of suspense, friendship, adventure and secrets and is told via 1st person and 3rd person from two different characters and also weaves tales of the past into the present via flashbacks. Where these elements could be awkward if not done well, it actually not only flows perfectly, but adds great interest for the reader.

In spite of having read several great books recently I hadn't realized that the range of emotion (humor, suspense, love, tears, revenge...) within "Best Friends Forever" was just what I needed til I read it.

The character development is so deep that I felt certain the author must "know" pieces of these characters somehow in real life or experienced some of what she described within her own--Great depths to their personalities and interactions. You truly read into their souls and she captures details in her words that make for deep insight.

I also felt I was taken from childhood to adulthood in great detail (some will feel as though they are right back in highschool with her descriptions. ) and I both cried and laughed...it's actually a very deep story and nothing felt forced or contrived to me.

You'll want to go through the adventure of Addie and Val so much that you may need to grab your booklight for this one...I found it to be a true "page turner".

I felt empathy for Addie's struggles and adored Jordan and was captured by a roller coaster of emotions for Valerie.

And...I'm typically not a person you can surprise with a twist at the end of a book; I always see it coming it seems. But this one was a surprise.

To wrap up a tale and include such a range of emotion...suspense, heartbreak, humor, romance, and surprise all intertwined made for a truly great summer read.

Afterall, what more is left?!

Conclusion: excellent read...includes great characters, descriptions, adventure and a range of emotions spliced with some humor. A+

The Doomsday Key: A Novel (Hardcover)


Another winner--why do I even doubt?, June 23, 2009
By Susan Tunis (San Francisco, CA)


Yes, I doubted, very briefly. I'm ashamed. It's not that The Doomsday Key doesn't start off in a readable and totally entertaining manner. It really does. Rollins has what he does down to a science by now. He quickly reintroduces the main players (a few of whom we haven't seen in a while: Rachel Verona and Seichan) and establishes their relationships with each other. In addition to the ladies above, all the main Sigma players make their appearance, but as usual not all of them are heavily featured on this adventure. Seichan fans rejoice, she has a major role and experiences tremendous character development in this novel.

After the characters are reestablished, (again, as you'd expect) the action starts. A motorcycle chase here, a shootout there, a dash of international travel. Now, I love James Rollins with all my heart, but these opening salvos--while very well-written--felt a little... generic. My moment of doubt.

Happily, it didn't last long. Once Rollins set the main plot in motion, all such thoughts vanished. Seriously, WHAT was I thinking? For me, things really kicked into high gear with the introduction of a new character, Professor Wallace Boyle, whose lecture on peat bogs thrilled me to my soul. I know, peat bogs, who'd a thunk it? But again, that's Rollins' gift. He must look at the world through curiosity-colored glasses; he can find the wonder in the most unlikely of places and subjects. And even more brilliantly, he manages to string together a laundry list of disparate fascinating topics into the plot of a tight, tense thriller. And he does it again and again.

I know I'm being very, very vague about the plot. It would be a shame to give too much away. The central plot revolves around a plague from the past and a plague of the future: hunger. As characters in the novel expound, there will soon be a tipping point where there are far too many people on this planet to feed. Who gets to choose who lives or who dies? If you had the power and resources to make the hard choices, what would you do "to save the world?" And would you be a hero or a villain?

It is the exploring of the above questions that entails ancient artifacts, hidden rooms, booby traps, prophecies come true, missing bumble bees, miracle-performing saints, love triangles, the final resting place of Merlin the wizard, polar bears, teddy bears, and the world's healthiest apple. And I didn't even give you a hint of the real shocker!

A lot of thrillers make the goal, save the world, whatever, and end abruptly. Not so here. There was a nice... cooling down period after the action ended. It's a chance to check in with all the major characters, and a chance for Rollins to leave us with another of his signature cliff-hangers. This one isn't as brutal as some he's written, but those invested in the series will be left with a question to keep them wondering for the coming year.

A final note: Is it wrong that the author's afterwards have become my very favorite part of these novels? This may be the longest one yet (And for God's sake, DON'T read it before you finish the book!), and I am staggered by how much true stuff was worked into the novel. I mean, pretty much every too-amazing-to-be-true fact was, in fact, true. James Rollins, you rock my world!

Fun summer read with fascinating facts!, July 7, 2009
By Sara Chung (SF, CA)


I have come to love James Rollins reads for great action adventure tied into fascinating historical and archeological themes. His books have taken over a place that used to be reserved for Cussler's Dirk Pitt adventures. Doomsday Key started out kind of weak for me, the action is there but it all felt a bit too formulaic. I could almost read Rollins mind as he was writing "Ok, I need a car chase here and then a shoot out followed by...." Thankfully this feeling did not last as I got deeper into the story and the surrounding mystery. This time out the ancient Druids and the mystery of Stonehenge play a part in the plot, and in typical Rollins fashion more true unusual facts and pieces of ancient mysteries are woven into his fictional mystery. I agree with another reviewer, one of my favorite parts of a Rollins Book is reading the after-words and learning what the truth really is! This is another solid adventure read From Rollins and his fans should be more than satisfied.

If you're a fan of action adventure steeped in ancient mystery do try "A Tourist In The Yucatan!" A gritty thriller wrapped in the mystery of the ancient Maya!

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Paperback)


A compellingly brilliant account of power in America, June 5, 2008
By R. Stuart (Boston, MA United States)


A compellingly brilliant account of power in America and how it's shaped by religion. 'The Family' chronicles the ideas advanced by the elite Christian fundamentalist group of that name at the highest levels of government during the past half century. Through its White House and congressional connections, the Family has influenced the deployment of US power, especially in foreign policy during the Cold War and beyond. Led by the talented and Machiavellian Doug Coe, the group has operated sub-rosa in the corridors of power unhindered by democratic accountability.

Jeff Sharlet, a scholar-writer on the nexus of religion & politics, pursues three goals in this remarkable book: (1) To trace elite fundamentalism's lineage from Jonathan Edwards in the 18th c. through the 19th c. religious leader Charles Finney to the present; (2) To demonstrate the Family's behind the scenes role in deployment of American power; and (3) To challenge the purely secular American historical narrative by arguing the role of religion behind the facade of formal power.

Sharlet accomplishes the first objective with verve, the Finney chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Based on his research in the Family's archives, the second goal is achieved, especially on the group's involvement in blunting US de-Nazification policy in postwar Germany, facilitating Indonesia's Suharto's crushing of East Timor, and encouraging the Somalian dictator and other similar types. The author's third challenge is the most ambitious, but I believe he meets it.

In fact, if the critical sociologist C. Wright Mills who wrote the influential 'The Power Elite' (1956) were alive today, I expect he'd be among the first to welcome 'The Family' revelations on the secretive role of Coe's elite "followers of Christ in government, business, and the military" in the projection of American power.

Important now, and for years to come, June 1, 2008
By Peter Manseau (Washington, DC)


The Family is the best book available on the Christian right precisely because it unpacks the ways in which the people often described as such are neither Christian nor right. I don't mean that in the bumper sticker sense - I don't buy (and Sharlet does not suggest) that this elite group of religiously motivated power players are not real Christians because of their political interests (even if the group itself sometimes prefers not to use the word). Rather, he makes the case that such easy categorization does not do justice to, or sufficiently warn against, their actual influence and reach. The story we are often told - that there are "fundamentalists" and "evangelicals" who are easily understood because they are somehow separate from the world the rest of us live in, hidden in megachurches making megaplans -- is not found in this book. Instead, like a carpet expert explaining the patterns in an intricately woven Persian rug, Sharlet shows us how strands of fundamentalism have been woven into the fabric of the nation's history.

As a journalist, I know and have worked with Jeff Sharlet, but then everyone who writes about religion does or should. His work is particularly popular among writers who cover religion because he tells a story that many wish they were allowed to tell. The history recounted in The Family is one most media outlets deem too complex for the average reader. (What in the world does union busting have to do with religion? A lot, in fact.) Sharlet does not regard complexity as something to be avoided, however, and his true talent is in finding just the right key for unlocking it. He frames keen-eyed analysis and impeccable research within a gripping narrative that lets readers with even a passing interest in the ways religion has influenced American life and politics understand it in a nuanced way.

In an election season in which religion again and again rears its head, this book is particularly relevant. Yet its importance will not fade any time soon. The Family is a hundred year history that shows how we got to this strange place where candidates are forced to damn or defend pastors and everyone must genuflect to the idea that God is a part of the political process. The use of the word "secret" in the subtitle might imply to some that Sharlet is describing a hidden reality. After reading the book, signs of the Family's influence will be obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body's Natural Ability to Heal Itself (Hardcover)


Product Description

How many of us can honestly say we do not suffer from at least one of the following:

* Colds or viruses each year
* Allergies or hay fever
* Extra pounds that won't come off
* Restless nights
* Recurrent indigestion, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome
* Itchy skin, acne, or any other troubling skin condition
* Depression, anxiety, or frequent fatigue

If you were to seek medical advice for any of the above, you would likely be prescribed pills, topical lotions, injections, or even surgery. Such treatments are used to manage the symptoms and do not address the root of the problem. Too often, doctors treat these common ailments as inevitable costs of living a modern life. The result is a patchwork approach to health care that has become the norm.

In Clean, a New York City cardiologist and a leader in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Alejandro Junger offers a major medical breakthrough. Dr. Junger argues that the majority of these common ailments are the direct result of toxic buildup in our systems accumulated through the course of our daily lives. As the toxicity of modern life increases and disrupts our systems on a daily basis, bombarding us through our standard American diet and chemical-filled environments, our ability to handle the load hasn't accelerated at the same rapid pace. The toxins are everywhere, but Clean offers a solution.

Clean is an M.D.'s program that provides all the tools necessary to support and reactivate our detoxification system to its fullest capabilities, and can be easily incorporated into a busy schedule. The effect is transformative: nagging health problems will suddenly disappear, extra weight will drop away, and for the first time in our lives we will experience what it truly means to feel healthy.

Every day spent on the Clean program is a major step in healing not just the symptom but the root of the problem, effectively and simply. Dr. Junger's life-changing program restores what rightfully belongs to you—your health, vitality, and peace of mind.

I never create reviews, but for this I must., June 5, 2009
By Ronald Moscoso (Maryland)


Read this book, it is amazing. The simplicity, the imagination, the story telling, how alejandro junger explains our body is just amazing. No complicated terminology, everything is simplified. I saw Alejandro on Marth Stewart and since that day have been a firm believer of what he does. Congratulations to you Alejandro and to the people who have the desire to get clean. You might think you are clean, but until you do this program you will have realized the amazing change a body can make.

bottom line...it works., July 9, 2009
By Susan Towers (New York, NY USA)


I have to confess that I didn't find this the easiest book to read - it's a bit repetitive but the bottom line is that Dr. Junger knows what he's talking about, is a caring physician and he's on to something. I met him, read the book, followed the program and I have to say that by the second week, I felt a lot better. My skin glowed, I slept well and I just felt altogether much better (the flat tummy helped!). My seasonal allergies also seemed to evaporate. Finally - I lost ten pounds which had been dogging me for two years - so frankly I was thrilled. It's a little tough on your social life but I plan to juice more regularly, take some supplements he prescribed and try and do the Clean program annually. I've cut back on my dairy / bread consumption overall but it's made me rethink my diet substantially, which was what I wanted. I'd recommend this...

The Metabolism Miracle: 3 Easy Steps to Regain Control of Your Weight... Permanently (Hardcover)


Product Description
Do you keep gaining weight, despite your efforts to diet? Do the pounds accumulate around your tummy? Do you feel tired, irritable, and unable to focus? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you may be one of the millions who have Metabolism B, an inherited condition that causes your body to overprocess carbohydrate foods into excess body fat. There is a reason that some people can eat all they want (and seemingly never gain a pound), while the rest of us fret over every carb. Diane Kress, a registered dietitian and weight-loss specialist, has helped thousands with Metabolism B lose weight—and keep it off—with her revolutionary, scientifically based program. Now she shares its secrets here. Among the many life-changing elements of The Metabolism Miracle, you will discover:

• The reason why cookie-cutter approaches to dieting (subtracting calories burned from calories consumed) cannot work for those with Metabolism B
• The tools to lose weight and reprogram your metabolism permanently
• A foolproof method to improve your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar
• The return of your energy, focus, and sense of well-being
• Sample menus to help you take it one day at a time
• Delicious recipes (including vegan) tailored to match each step
• An active lifestyle plan to maintain your newfound body weight.

As someone who struggled with Metabolism B for years, Diane Kress knows firsthand the frustration of diets that don’t work. Based on the latest research, her own experience, and the experiences of her clients, she has developed this groundbreaking plan to help you take back your life—starting today.


About the Author
Diane Kress, RD, CDE, is the owner and director of the Nutrition Center of Morristown, New Jersey. She has specialized in weight reduction and diabetes for over twenty-five years. She researched and developed the Metabolism Miracle, the program that she has successfully taught to thousands of patients.

It is a miracle!, May 8, 2009
By Beth (Morristown, New Jersey)


For years I tried all kinds of diets saying to myself they should work if I really follow the rules, but they didn't. I thought I failed. Yet deep down I knew there was more to it. I'm not that lazy, yet the scale said otherwise. Then I learned about The Metabolism Miracle...and it is a miracle. In very clear language Diane Kress explains why my physiology doesn't fit the mold of all those other diets. She tells me why I am different and why those other diets will never work for me; something I knew but didn't understand. And it's backed up by fact based on Diane's research and physiology of the human body. A lot this has been known for a long time, yet no one has put the puzzle together like Diane has before. The book is full of information on how my body's metabolism works. The book explains each phase of the program in easy to follow steps and how your body will react to each step and it's full of data supporting each phase. In reading the book it seemed like there was an answer to each possible question - what if I slip (there's a plan to get back on track); what types of foods can I eat (not only are there sample menus, there are pages and pages of recipes); what do I do if I go out to eat; etc, etc. The book will be a reference book for me for years to come. I really am excited that I've found where I belong.

Miracle in the Works..., May 4, 2009
By Tammy Guild "Metabolic Miracle" (NJ)


I've been practicing the Metabolism Miracle and have lost over 60 LBS/8 SIZES and still counting... as I continue phase 2 and strive towards my goal. My bloodwork has reflected positive results as well! This is the life-plan that I can live with as I'm provided with knowledge and tools to keep myself on track. Guilt is a thing of the past. I've even continued my weight loss while going through arthroscopic knee surgery! With these results, energy increases and exercise actually becomes enjoyable! This diet has spared me from the downhill cycle I was on. It is a MUST for anyone who is struggling or about to give up the struggle. Don't give up.... just try this diet. It is HOPE in a book! The chocolate, cinnamon and zucchini muffins are amazing. REVIEW FROM LORI GUILD, NJ: For anyone not fortunate enough to meet and work with Diane Kress, you must read her book - The Metabolism Miracle. As a devout chocoholic and extreme pasta lover, I didn't believe for one minute I could last a week without either. I wouldn't go to a restaurant unless they served pasta, couldn't make it one day without chocolate, and used to tell people that if I died in a vat of chocolate, I'd go happily. Now, I am living testimony that controlling those urges can be done... and it's easy! Yes, I say easy - - because living for a few weeks without Carbs and finally controlling those urges is so much easier compared to a lifetime of rollercoaster dieting and constantly feeling like your best just isn't good enough. If I can do it, anyone can, and I can't do enough to convince people The Metabolism Miracle is truly a miracle maker. There is real hope out there for anyone who has struggled and it's right here. I'm sure there are many people who will read about this book and think it's just another diet book... and I feel sorry for them... because they'll never discover the truth. So don't pass it by... what do you have to lose? Put yourself in Diane's hands for a few weeks and you'll see a difference in yourself that will last a lifetime.

The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel (Paperback)


Characters you care about, a story that grabs you -- maybe more dogs should write novels, May 13, 2008
By Jesse Kornbluth "Head Butler" (New York)


I have finally found a new novel I can stand to read.

To my great astonishment, it's told by a dog. (I'm not a pet-lover).

It contains many insights about car racing. (I have no interest in car racing, and I look askance at sports analogies.)

And the author has described it as "Jonathan Livingston Seagull' for dogs." (That book is tied with 'The Giving Tree' as my Least Favorite Ever.)

So what do I find to praise?

The concept: "When a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man." Not all dogs. Only those who are ready. Enzo, a shepherd-poodle-terrier mix, is ready.

Enzo has spent years watching daytime TV, mostly documentaries and the Weather Channel (It's "not about weather, it is about the world"). And because Denny Swift, his owner, is a mechanic who's training to race cars, he and Enzo watch countless hours of race footage. So Enzo knows about the world beyond the Swift home near Seattle.

The situation is equally appealing: Enzo is old, facing death. While he has learned from racing movies to forget the past and live in the moment, this is his time to remember. And he can remember objectively --- as a dog, his senses are sharper, his emotions less complicated. With the clarity of a Buddha, Enzo can see. And he can listen: "I never interrupt, I never deflect the conversation with a comment of my own." So he's quite the knowing narrator.

And then the story: a happy family, brimming with good feeling and ambitious dreams. Denny loves Enzo like a son. Denny loves his wife Eve, who works for a big retail company that "provided us with money and health insurance." And Denny lives for Zoe, their daughter. Then Enzo smells something bad happening in Eve --- the dog is always the first to know --- and you start to brace yourself. But not enough, not nearly enough. Bad things happen to good people in this novel, and then worse things, and soon you are so angry, so hurt, so tear-stained and concerned that you do not think for one second to step back and say, hey, wait, this is just a story! A shaggy dog story, at that!

It works out. This is fiction, of course it works out. Not without cost to the characters and the reader. But the payoff is considerable --- a story that commands you to keep going, ideas that are a lot smarter than the treacle Garth Stein could have served up.

"How difficult it must be to be a person." Enzo nails that. "To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live." Who wouldn't? "Racing is about discipline and intelligence, not about who has the heavier foot. The one who drives smart will always win in the end." And there's more --- yeah, this could be summer reading in progressive high schools some day.

Or you could take a refresher course now in learning how to race in the rain.

Why wait?

A dog's eye view of humanity, May 18, 2008
By Nicole Del Sesto (Northern Cal)


I might secretly be a dog person, or maybe subconsciously ... but if you were to ask me I would tell you I'm not a dog person. Oh, but how I loved Enzo.

On the eve of his death, Enzo (a dog) tells what amounts to his master's life story. Stein's attention to detail was amazing - the book read like it was written by somebody who took the time to stop and think "what would a dog feel/do in this situation?" As a result, Enzo is memorable and lovable. He's at once a crotchety old man, and an innocent youth. He's wise, he's naive, and he is devoted.

I'm not going to lie to you, this book is very sad. But it is also laugh out loud funny at times, and filled with love, devotion, philosophy and hopefulness.

It's a beautiful book and definitely one of my favorites of the year.