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Delicious! a novel, by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! a novel, by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is better known for memoirs and cookbooks, but this is her first novel.  Of course, food plays an important role here!  Main character Billie Breslin has just moved to New York and landed a job at food magazine Delicious!  She's a talented cook herself, but an experience from her past makes Billie extremely reluctant to let anyone see this side of her or get to know the details of her life.  However, she forges several new friendships at the magazine, and at Fontanari's, a famous Italian food shop where she helps out on the weekends.

The magazine is housed in a historic mansion, and staff are dismayed when the owner decides to shut down the operation and sell the place.  Billie alone is kept on temporarily to reply to correspondence from readers.  One day while exploring the mansion's library that has been locked for years, she stumbles on a secret room, full of old letters and files.  She finds a cache of letters from a young girl, Lulu Swan, who wrote regularly to James Beard during the second world war.  Something about this touching and revealing correspondence inspires Billie to start a new quest, to find out what happened to Lulu, and to start writing new chapters for her own life.  

Number of Pages: 
380

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

"As incandescent as was her personality, Cleopatra was every bit Caesar's equal as a coolheaded, clear-eyed pragmatist, though what passed on his part as strategy would be remembered on hers as manipulation."

This quote gives you a little perspective on this updated biography of Cleopatra. Cleopatra stands as one of the most powerful women in history. She was the last Ptolemaic pharoah; an intellectual; a keen strategist; and proved a successful and just ruler for much of her reign. Yet, as a strong woman, she challenged the patriarchal structure of the budding Roman Empire, and as such, history has stripped her of most of her agency and achievements--we are left with the popular image of her witchy social graces and how her lust took down both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Stacy Schiff looks at Cleopatra's life and career as a whole, not just her sexual conquests. It is a biased biography, to be sure (as is most non-fiction I've read), but when one of the most powerful women in history has been reduced to the destruction caused by her lust, it's easy to see how biased other historians have been as well. Whether or not you reach the end of this riveting biography with a greater and more well-rounded appreciation for Cleopatra, you'll for sure begin to question the motives behind those in charge of relating history--past, present, and future. Anyone with an interest in the Hellenistic Era and Roman Empire will enjoy the drama set forth here as well.

I was hooked by this book, and the audio is excellent if you want to take a listen.

Number of Pages: 
368

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

In late 2010, cartoonist Sarah Glidden went along with two of her friends--co-founders of The Seattle Globalist--and a former Marine as they researched the impact of the Iraq War on the region and the refugee crisis. Glidden's focus to document the overall process of journalism and how it was conducted for this specific purpose, but it also comes to encompass the Marine's own experiences and reactions along the journey. Rolling Blackouts, constructed largely from transcribed audiovisual material collected on the trip, offers a glimpse into the horrors of war, complicated history, and voices of both the well-known and unheard victims of the region's violence.

I really enjoyed Glidden's graphic memoir, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a few years back and found this book to be as enlightening and thoughtful. There is so much food for thought here--the less-documented tragedies of refugees' displacement, ruminations on ethics in jounalism, U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, what it means to be progressive, and so much more. I found it really interesting, too, in the window of time it occurred--just after heavy U.S. military presence from the Iraq War and just before the uprisings from the Arab Spring. For a graphic novel, this is slightly more text-heavy, and Glidden's use of soft-toned watercolors lend to the reflective nature of the book. There are no clear answers, but there are plenty of viewpoints; reading this will likely spark plenty of contemplation and conversation. This is definitely one of my favorite reads this year.

Number of Pages: 
298

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La Juez que Creció en el Bronx by Jonah Winter; ill. by Edel Rodriguez

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La Juez que Creció en el Bronx by Jonah Winter; ill. by Edel Rodriguez

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx follows the life of the first Latin American to ever become a Supreme Court justice (and the most qualified one at that!). As a young girl raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, Sonia loved reading, studying, baseball, and playing games with her Puerto Rican American family. At age 8, she was diagnosed with diabetes, but she didn't let that stop her dreams of becoming a judge. She went on to graduate at the top of her high school class and attend Princeton, eventually breaking the glass ceiling and becoming a U.S. District Court judge and Supreme Court Justice. She achieved all this despite so many obstacles--this is truly a compelling, uplifting story for any reader.

I love this picture book biography of this incredible woman! It is so inspiring watching her persevere page by page, building to ever greater achievements. The illustrations are expressive yet simple, each focusing on Sotomayor's experiences as she reaches new heights. The bilingual text, in English and Spanish, enables the book to reach a larger audience and touch more lives...and I sincerely hope it will!

Number of Pages: 
40

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

By the 1950s and early '60s, as the United States ramped up its intention to become the world leader in space travel and discovery, it was still mired in the backwards thinking of the time--women and minorities were not allowed to participate. Jerrie Cobb and twelve other female pilots passed rigorous training and testing--often much more difficult than tasks given to their male counterparts--to prove they had as much of "The Right Stuff" as men to lead the way to space. They faced the overwhelming sexism and racism of nearly everyone--from the media to Mercury 7 astronaut John Glenn, and all the way up to then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson--with grit and panache to argue for equal rights for men and women on Earth and beyond.

Almost Astronauts is a compelling account of the Mercury 13 women, introducing young readers to the prejudices of the time, unjust policy, and the eventual inclusion of women into the field of air and space travel. This book will be the topic of this month's Kids Book Club discussion next Wednesday, and I can't wait to hear what our attendees think!

Number of Pages: 
133

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

Daniel Ellsberg entered adult life as a hawk, eager to enlist as a Marine and serve his country. He was a bright young man who became a Pentagon insider and saw action in Vietnam, but as the war progressed, Ellsberg began to form doubts of his own. When he finally got his hands on the top-secret Pentagon Papers--a 7,000-page tome documenting every aspect of the United States' involvement in Vietnam since 1945--he was appalled by how the government handled the U.S. involvement and that American citizens were dying by the tens of thousands for political hubris, blunders, and laissez-faire approach. Ellsberg took it into his hands to leak the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, setting into motion a new era of the American public and popular opinion clashing mightily against its government, and consequently earned himself the title of "the most dangerous man in America."

Steve Sheinkin is a brilliant author of histories for young adults; even as an adult, I found the clip of the book and level of detail to be incredibly fascinating. I learned so much about the politics motivating the Vietnam War and how the media of the time influenced Americans. Sheinkin is so adept at building suspense, you quickly lose yourself in the story as if it is all unfolding this very day. I absolutely loved his award- and honor-winning book, Bomb, and am so happy to find that Most Dangerous carries the same heft and talent.

Number of Pages: 
370

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

Early 19th-century London still had quite a few advances to make, including a safe and efficient waste management system. This turned into a deadly problem when, in 1854, the Broad Street pump began dispensing cholera with its water supply. It took eight days before the source of the cholera was suspected and access to the pump was removed, but it took even longer before public health and government officials were willing to let go of the idea that the outbreak was a result of "miasma"--an airborne pathogen--and accept the fact that water can transmit diseases as well. By the end of this disaster, over 600 people had died. This exciting, terrifying, and wonderfully disgusting book follows the crusade of Dr. John Snow and the Reverend Henry Whitehead, which would ultimately change the way we view health and disease, urban planning, the environment, and even biological and nuclear warfare.

I had so much fun listening to The Ghost Map. To be sure, it is not for the squeamish--the details of living conditions in London and the ways in which cholera destroys the body will make you think twice every time you turn on the faucet (and thank MSD each time as well). But if you're like me and can revel in the putrescence and have a fascination with epidemiology, you will find a thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening blend of history, biology, and sociology. Highly recommended!

Number of Pages: 
299

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

At the start of World War Two, Stalin made (yet another) political blunder in thinking that he could get on Hitler's good side, but instead his support wound up opening the floodgates to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Among the atrocities visited upon the country was the siege of Leningrad, one of the most horrific and destructive sieges in history. Amid this turmoil, composer Dmitri Shostakovich was called upon to share his seventh symphony to rally support against Nazi totalitarianism, but his life and work as an artist within the Soviet Union's Communist regime was not always so vaunted...

Symphony for the City of the Dead examines the intersection between artistic expression, politics, and history during the extraordinarily tulmutuous era of Russia's Communist Revolution to its participation in World War Two. I found it fascinating to learn in more depth how the Revolution impacted certain aspects of cultural life in Russia as well as to read more about the Russian point-of-view during WW2, both from the figures holding office to life on the streets in Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg). I listened to it on audio, which enhanced the experience as the production includes excerpts of Shostakovich's music (I got a copy through the fabulous and free-to-all summer audiobook program Sync). While this is billed as Young Adult non-fiction, it is an engaging read for teens and adults alike.

Number of Pages: 
456

Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald

Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald

Meags Fitzgerald became obsessed with photobooths in high school, and her passion only grew. After tons of research, travel, and soul-searching, she has produced this fascinating graphic novel that blends history, biography, memoir, travelogue, mechanics, art, and popular culture. Her focus is primarily on chemical photobooths, a vanishing breed becoming rarer by the year and perhaps extinct as manufacturers cease producing its components. She highlights many of the inventors of the photobooth's development as well as many people around the world currently fighting to track, refurbish, and create art with these unique machines. You are guaranteed to discover new information and get caught up in Fitzgerald's commitment.

I requested this through Inter-Library Loan. Please let us know if you need help requesting!

Number of Pages: 
277

Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin

Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin

In this 2013 Gryphon Award Winner, Jason Chin introduces emerging readers to the lifespan of an island in the Galapagos. Over millions of years, the island undergoes its volcanic creation and becomes host to many species of animals, that in turn evolve in response to the island’s particular environment. Jason Chin paints a glorious rendition of the island’s ever-changing geological and biological landscape, giving an almost mythical feel to this natural event. Younger readers in preschool and kindergarten will love the overall story arc and gorgeous pictures of wildlife, while fascinated older readers will be delighted to find that Chin provides more detailed information on related topics of Charles Darwin, plate tectonics, and endemic species at the end of the book.

Number of Pages: 
40