Monday, December 17, 2012

Sign up for World Book Night 2013

It's been a long time since I've written in.  So much has happened that it's best to skip over Hurricane Sandy and two weeks in France.

I did want to spread the word about World Book Night for 2013.  Not only have books been selected but they are accepting applications for givers.  The deadline for giver applications is Jan 25, 2013. Head to WBN USA website to apply. 

Here's the list of the 2013 World Book Night books:
Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale
David Benioff's  City of Thieves
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
Willa Cather's My Antonia
Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring
Pablo Coelho's The Alchemist (in English and Spanish)
Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers
Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time
John Green's Looking for Alaska
John Grisham's Playing for Pizza
Hillary Jordan's Mudbound
Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth
Michael Lewis' Moneyball
J.R. Moehringer's The Tender Bar
Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress
James Patterson's Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
Michael Perry's Population:485
Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman's Good Omens
Alexis M. Smith's Glaciers 
Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court 
Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward 
Favorite American Poems in Large Print edited by Paul Negri

I've read a few of the books on the list and plan to read as many of them as I can this 2013.  If these books were chosen to introduce nonreaders to an appreciation and love of reading,  every one of the books must be pretty amazing.  

In the weeks that I haven't been writing, I've been read David Benioff's City of Thieves and Lisa Scottoline's Look Again.  Reviews to follow!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated)

The blurb:

What makes pie dough flaky one day and tough the next?  Why do roasts often overcook?  What causes mashed potatoes to become gluey and heavy instead of creamy and light?  For something so basic, cooking can seem complicated.  The problem is that good recipes only get you so far.  Successful cooks seem to operate on intuition.  They have a sixth sense that switches on in the kitchen.

It turns out that all great cooks possess something more than culinary ESP.  They understand the fundamental principles of cooking - the unspoken rules that guide their every move in the kitchen.  These principles can be picked up through years and years of practice.  But there really is a secret to good cooking, and anyone can learn it. 

The editors of Cook's Illustrated, the magazine that put food science on the map, have spent the last two decades exploring the fundamental principles of cooking.  The Science of Good Cooking is a culmination of all this research, the distillation of tens of thousands  of kitchen tests into 50 practical concepts every good cook should know.  

These concepts cover the entire range of home cooking - from simply scrambling a perfect pan of eggs to making a souffle. Basic techniques like sauteing and roasting are covered, as well as baking and breadmaking.

These 50 concepts sound suspiciously simple: Gentle heat retains moisture.  Salty marinades work best.  Starch helps cheese melt nicely.  Sugar changes sweetness and texture.  Trust us; not only are these ideas easy to understand, but they are also easy to master once you understand how they work.  Use the concepts explained in this book and you will become a great cook - guaranteed.

The Science of Good Cooking doesn't just explain the science - it shows you the science with unique experiments performed in our test kitchen.  These experiments range from simple to playful to innovative -- showing why, exactly, you should fold (not stir) batter for chewy brownies, why you should grind your own meat for the ultimate burger, and why it's best to cover vegetables with aluminum foil before roasting them on high heat.  

And what's theory without good recipes? The concepts in the book are brought to life by more than 400 classic Cook's Illustrated recipes - the kind of recipes every cook struggles to get right, such as juicy roast beef, classic holiday turkey, creamy macaroni and cheese, and chewy chocolate chip cookies.  When these recipes are coupled with the simple science explaining how and why they work, the results are illuminating.

The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated) differs from the usual cookbook because it gives clear and scientific explanations of different cooking techniques and why they work.  I hadn't expected this level of analysis or detail and was pleasantly surprised. While I usually flip through most cookbooks looking for specific ingredients or recipes, I found that this is a book worth reading cover to cover first.  Other reviewers have listed all of the 50 main "teachings" that the book develops in depth.
I won't go into all 50 principles.  But as someone who is comfortable in the kitchen, I'm happy to say that I learned a great deal from the book.  I learned things on my own from favorite cookbooks and family recipes and The Science of Good Cooking pointed out quite a few "basic" rules that I hadn't learned and am happy to put to use.  I expect that the book would be helpful and interesting to cooks of all levels.

ISBN-10: 1933615982 - Hardcover $40
Publisher: Cook's Illustrated (October 1, 2012), 504 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Authors:
Guy Crosby has been the science editor at Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen since 2005.  After earning a BS in chemistry from the University of New Hampshire and a PhD in organic chemistry from Brown University, he worked as a scientist, research director, and a vice president in R&D in the agricultural-products and food-ingredients businesses for more than 30 years  Crosby has taught at Stanford University, Harvard University and Framingham State University.  Today he is an external adviser for the University of New Hampshire and an adjunct associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.  Crosby is a professional member of the Institute of Food Technologists, the American Chemical Society, and the American Society for Nutrition.  He lives in Weston, Mass., with his wife Caroline.

America's Test Kitchen is a 2,500 square foot kitchen located just outside of Boston.  It is the home of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines and is the workday destination for more than 3 dozen test cooks, editors, and cookware specialists.  Our mission is to test recipes until we understand how and why they work and arrive at the best version.   We also test kitchen equipment and supermarket ingredients in search of brands that offer the best value and performance.  Their shows are aired on public television - America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country from America's Test Kitchen.  Learn more at and  More information is available at www.americas

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The List by Siobhan Vivian

The blurb:

It happens every year before homecoming--the list is posted all over school.  Two girls are picked from each grade.  One is named the prettiest, one the ugliest.   The girls who aren't picked are quickly forgotten.  The girls who are become the center of attention  Each one has a different reaction to the experience.

Freshmen:   Abby's joy at being named prettiest is clouded by her sister's resentment.
Danielle worries about how her boyfriend will take the news.  

Sophomores:  Lauren is a homeschooled girl blindsided by her instant popularity.
Candace isn't ugly, not even close, so it must be a mistake.

Juniors:  Bridget knows her summer transformation isn't something to celebrate.
Sarah has always rebelled against traditional standards of beauty and she decides to take her mutiny to the next level. 
Seniors:  Margo and Jennifer, ex-best friends who haven't spoken in years, are forced to confront why their relationship ended.

With The List, Siobhan Vivian deftly takes you into the lives of eight very different girls struggling with issues of identity, self-esteem, and the judgments of their peers.  Prettiest or ugliest, once you're on the list, you'll never be the same.

The List stood out for me.  I enjoyed reading it as an adult and I know that I would have loved it if I'd read it in high school.  The concept itself is catchy but it's the execution that makes it such a fascinating read.  Siobhan's eight main girls are complex and fully fleshed out without any of them becoming tedious, whiny or annoying or impossibly perfect.  

Siobhan shows each of the girls reacting very differently.    Not surprisingly, those scorned are particularly interesting: Freshman  Danielle, "Dan the Man"  starts tearing down copies of the List but they are plastered all over the school.  Gorgeous Candace is baffled and comes back with a harsh joke, ripping on the nearby blind girl, an innocent bystander.  Sarah tries to flip the word back at the world - by writing "UGLY" on her forehead.  Jennifer sets a record after having been voted the ugliest girl for all four years of high school - by this time she's learned to swallow her feelings and pretend to laugh. 
While being singled out as pretty doesn't affect the other four girls the same way either.  Abby has to deal with knowing that her best friend wasn't selected as the prettiest girl - and that her older sister Fern had been singled out as the ugliest girl not so long ago.  Lauren is new to public school, so the sudden surge of interest is stressful and confusing.  Lauren isn't prepared for all the politics that comes with her sudden popularity.  Bridget has body image issues - she's lost a lot of weight and can't stop herself from losing more.  The acknowledgment of how much she's blossomed puts more pressure on her. She worries that she's giving her beloved younger sister a bad example - and this adds to her stress.

Principal Colby calls all those named to her office in an attempt to repair the damage and stop the tradition, everyone knows that this isn't going to help.   The girls' friends and boyfriends try to behave decently but social pressures eventually do their own damage.  It takes much strength and toughness to handle the repercussions of being on the List - I found myself sympathizing with each of the girls as they tried to keep their lives on course.

Siobhan Vivian delivers an engaging and sympathetic story with humor and sensitivity.  The List is a book that I plan to share with my nieces and friends.

ISBN-10: 0545169178 - Hardcover $17.99
Publisher: Push (April 1, 2012), 336 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Siobhan Vivian is the acclaimed author of A Little Friendly Advice, Same Difference, and Not That Kind of Girl, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year and an American Library Association Best Book for Teens.  She currently lives in Pittsburgh.  Learn more about her at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Game Changers by Mike Lupica

I'd come across Heat, one of Mike Lupica's earlier novels purely by chance.  I'm not much of a sports fan but the story of this young boy and his older brother trying to get by after the death of their father was about much more than just baseball.  Somehow,  Lupica wove in the problems facing a young illegal immigrant - the fear, the need to hide and the desire to fit in - into the story of this amazing athlete who has a chance to bring his little league team to victory as long as he isn't outed and deported first.   It's hard to explain exactly, but after reading Heat, I started reading as much of Mike Lupica's young adult novels that I could find.   Needless to say, I was excited to review his latest young adult novel, Game Changers.

Like Heat, Game Changers introduces us to a hero so likable, that you find yourself in his corner early in the book.  Ben McBain is a born quarterback: he loves football, he's understands the game, sees the entire field when he plays, he's quick, he's strong, and he brings his teammates together.  Unfortunately, Ben is also much smaller than the usual quarterback, which means that few of the coaches or grownups see him as a natural for that position.  Instead of whining about his luck, Ben plays smarter and he works harder than everyone else. Fortunately, he lives right next to a field which he and his three closest friends have dubbed McBain Field for all the hours they've spent there over the years.

The book opens with a new football season starting. Ben McBain is better than ever and he's excited for tryouts.  Their new coach O'Brien is a superstar in his own right - he played for the NFL and cares about the kids. Unfortunately for Ben, the coach's son Shawn O'Brien is trying out for quarterback too. Shawn is bigger, stronger, and is a shoe-in for the position.

Invariably, Shawn becomes the starting quarterback. When Shawn plays well, he excels.  But in tough times, Shawn gets nervous, he worries too much, and somehow he loses his game.  Ben's friends see this as an opportunity for Ben to take over.  But Shawn reaches out to Ben for his help and Ben soon finds himself spending his free time helping Shawn become a better quarterback. Shawn's sworn Ben to secrecy about their extra sessions. How much of a good guy does Ben have to be?

When can Ben finally tell his good friends what's going on?  And can Ben ever use what he's learned to win the quarterback position for himself?

In Game Changers, Lupica puts Ben McBain through the wringer.  Somehow, hard work, decency, and friends make things work out for the team, for Ben and even for Shawn.  Game Changers combines football, friendship, loyalty, and a good story.  I recommend it!

ISBN-10: 0545381827 - Hardcover $16.99
Publisher: Scholastic Press (May 8, 2012), 224 pages.  
Review copy courtesy of Amazon Vine and the publisher.

About the Author:
Mike Lupica is one of the most prominent sports writers in America.  He began his newspaper career covering the New York Knicks for the New York Post at age 23. He became the youngest columnist ever at a New York paper with the New York Daily News, which he joined in 1977. For more than 30 years, Lupica has added magazines, novels, sports biographies, other non-fiction books on sports, as well as television to his professional resume. For the past fifteen years, he has been a TV anchor for ESPN's The Sports Reporters. He also hosted his own program, The Mike Lupica Show on ESPN2.  In addition, he has written a number of novels, including Dead Air, Extra Credits, Limited Partner, Jump, Full Court Press, Red Zone, Too Far and national bestsellers Wild Pitch and Bump and Run. His previous young adult novels, Travel Team, Heat, Miracle on 49th Street, and the summer hit for 2007, Summer Ball, have shot up the New York Times bestseller list. Lupica is also what he describes as a "serial Little League coach," a youth basketball coach, and a soccer coach for his four children, three sons and a daughter. He and his family live in Connecticut.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

I received Touch Blue as part of a prize pack from Scholastic some time ago.  We'd just visited Maine in August and I wish that I'd read and reviewed this book in time for summer.  It's just the sort of book I'd want to pack for my niece for a weekend read.

The blurb:

"Touch Blue" and your wish will come true.

"Why take chances?" says eleven-year-old Tess Brooks.  "Especially when it's so easy to let the universe know what you want by touching blue or turning around three times or crossing your fingers."

But Tess is coming to know that it's not always that simple.  The state of Maine plans to shut down her island's schoolhouse, which would force Tess's family to move to the mainland - and Tess to leave the only home she's ever known.  Fortunately, the islanders have a plan, too: increase the number of students by having several families take in foster children.  So now Tess and her family are taking a chance on Aaron, a thirteen-year-old trumpet player who has bounced from home to home.  And tess needs a plan of her own - and all the luck she can muster. Will Tess's wish come true or will her luck run out?

I really enjoyed Touch Blue

  • learning about life as part of small long term community.  When the neighbors call out to Tess and Aaron, he's weirded out by the fact that they all know about him and his background.  I can certainly sympathize with Aaron's need for privacy and anonymity.  As Tess says, "Living on an island does have its share of good-luck/bad-luck parts. One good/bad thing is how everyone knows everyone else.  That's good luck if you need a stick of butter or help launching your boat. The bad luck is that it's near impossible to keep a secret on Bethsaida, because everyone knows everyone else's business." I loved reading about the life of a fisherman/lobsterman in Maine - I've always been curious about what it means to be a lobsterman and so joining Tess and her father and Aaron on their rounds was particularly interesting for me.
  • Tess and Libby - I loved the two sisters.   From the very start, you can feel how excited Tess and Libby are to have Aaron share their home.  Tess plans to show him all her favorite spots on Bethsaida, to talk about books, to go fishing.  Tess misses her best friend Amy and can't understand why she hasn't received any response to her many letters.  While Tess doesn't expect Aaron to take Amy's place, it's clear that Tess is hoping that Aaron will become a solid part of their family, that he'll enjoy being with them.
  • Aaron - prickly, reserved, and kind.  Aaaron's complicated because he's had a difficult life.   He does try to change things and doesn't give up.  He reaches out to certain people and his love for music gives him an "in".
There's quite a lot of action in the book - enough to keep a young kid interested and occupied.  There's the anticipation as Tess and Libby meet Aaron for the first time.  Aaron's first day as Tess tours him around the island. The inevitable confrontation between the town bully and Aaron.  Aaron and Tess's dad bonding (and excluding Tess) as they go fishing, checking the lobster traps.   The Fourth of July music session with all the drama and fireworks. Aaron's attempt to find his mother and the culmination of kids' joint efforts during the Annual Talent Show.  Touch Blue is funny, satisfying, and full of hope.  It's a book that I plan to share with my young nieces and nephews.

ISBN-10: 0545035325 - paperback $6.99
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.; Reprint edition (June 1, 2012), 192 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Cynthia Lord was inspired to write this book by her own experience as a Maine island school teacher, and by a community of islanders off the coast of Maine that once took in foster children in order to keep their school open.

Lord's debut novel Rules, was awarded a Newbury Honor and the Schneider Family Book Award, among its many distinctions.  Touch Blue is her second novel. Lord lives on the mainland in Maine with her family.  Learn more at

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon

I've long been a fan of Donna Leon's best-selling mystery novels set in Venice with her endearing Commissario Guido Bruentti.  I leapt at the chance to review Leon's new standalone novel, The Jewels of Paradise.

Like the Bruentti novels, The Jewels of Paradise is set in present day Venice and revolves around a mystery of sorts.  Caterina Pellegrini is a native Venetian who has numerous degrees and expertise in Baroque music.  She's pursued her career abroad and established a reputation as a researcher.  She accepts a short term research project in Venice but the job she's taken is shrouded in mystery and brings her in contact with strange characters.

On its face, the project is straightforward.  Caterina is asked to examine the contents of two ancient trunks and to determine who has a better right to the contents and any additional inheritance that might come from a largely forgotten baroque composer.  The two claimants are distant relations and natives of Venice with slightly unsavory reputations.  The composer's identity is kept a secret from Caterina until the day that she's selected and allowed access to the trunks.

Caterina's research takes her to stories of a notorious affair, a murder, rivalries, betrayal and mention of treasure.  There are ties to the Protestant Duke of Hanover, countess, and the Queen of Prussia.  But Caterina's investigation into the past somehow seems to spill over to the present as she begins to worry about her personal safety.  

More than anything, The Jewels of Paradise strikes me as a novel that pays homage to Venice and the art of music.  Unfortunately, I'm not well versed in music or Italian, so I didn't fully appreciate the nuances of the language or the plot.  Donna Leon does give her main characters a sense of humor, an appreciation of food and the beauty of Venice - all of which give the story a certain charm and pace.   I'd recommend The Jewel of Paradise for aficionados of music and Italy and of cerebral mysteries.  While I enjoyed The Jewels of Paradise, I much prefer Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Bruentti novels with a clear dead body, crime, and the pursuit of the criminal.  

ISBN-10: 0802120644 - Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (October 2, 2012), 256 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
A New Yorker of Irish/Spanish descent, Donna Leon first went to Italy in 1965, returning regularly over the next decade or so while pursuing a career as an academic in the States and then later in Iran, China and finally Saudi Arabia. Leon has received both the CWA Macallon Silver Dagger for Fiction and the German Corrine Prize for her novels featuring Commisario Guido Brunetti. She lives in Venice.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Precious Blood by Jonathan Hayes

I discovered Jonathan Hayes and his debut novel, Precious Blood, through this year's ThrillerFest.  ThrillerFest is a conference organized and largely taught by International Thriller Writers - a generous,  unpretentious group.  For those of us who love to read thrillers and aspire to write, it's one of the most amazing experiences.  You get to learn from, speak to, interact with some of your favorite authors.  There's Craftfest,  which is dedicated to developing your craft of writing.  This is followed by AgentFest - a sort of speed dating event for unrepresented writers and literary agents to meet.  Every year you hear of success stories from AgentFest.  Finally, ThrillerFest proper which has several seminars and talks going at the same time. Each covering different aspects of the thriller genre.  It's amazing to be among these authors and to find them accessible and participating in the experience.  ThrillerFest 2013 is scheduled for July 10-13 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York.  Early Bird registration has begun at

Jonathan Hayes' Precious Blood touches on NYC during the time of 9/11.  The hero is NYC medical examiner Edward Jenner who worked throughout the horrifying days after 9/11.  The aftermath left Jenner emotionally scarred and he'd left the field of pathology.  But when one of his closest friends calls for his help, Jenner is forced back to help in the forensic investigation of the brutal mutilation of a young woman.

The victim is found naked and nailed to the wall.  Jenner is certain that there is a serial killer prowling NYC.  Jenner has taken it upon himself to help  his friend's niece, the victim's roommate and a witness to the crime.  The young woman's stay brings about all sorts of complications for Jenner - in his personal life and professional - and draws the attention of the dangerous and unstable killer.

While I enjoy a certain amount of violence and action in my thrillers, my threshold for gore is quite low.  As far as graphic violence goes, Precious Blood is quite explicit.  That was something that kept me from fully enjoying the novel. On the other hand, the plot is complex and the lead characters are well fleshed out. If you enjoy the grittier, violent, thrillers, then Precious Blood will give deliver both in excitement and thrills.  It has the added bonus of giving us an inside view of what NYC was like during the frantic days after 9/11 from the point of view of someone who truly lived it.

About the Author:
Jonathan Hayes, a veteran forensic pathologist, has worked in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York, performing autopsies and testifying in murder trials since 1990.  Born in Bristol, England, he attended medical school at the University of London before moving to the United States to train pathology at the Boston University Medical Center and in forensics at the Dade County Medical Examiner's Office in Miami. Since 1993, he has held a teaching appointment at the New York University School of Medicine. He lectures nationally on forensic science. Hayes is also a former contributor at Martha Stewart Living and writes regularly for the New York Times, New York, GQ,  Gourmet, and Food & Wine. He lives in New York City.  Precious Blood is his first novel.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Last Refuge: A Dewey Andreas Novel by Ben Coes

The blurb:

In The Last Refuge, Dewey Andreas must face his bigger challenge and most fearsome opponent yet.

Off a quiet street in Brooklyn, New York, Israeli Special Forces commander Kohl Meir is captured by operatives of the Iranian secret service, who smuggle Meir back to Iran where he's imprisoned, tortured, and prepared for a show trial.

What they don't know is that Meir was in New York to recruit Dewey Andreas for a secret operation.  Meir had been tipped off that Iran had developed a nuclear bomb and was planning to use it to attack Israel.  His proof was a photo of the bomb with the words, "Goodbye Tel Aviv" written in Farsi.

Dewey Andreas, a former SEAL and Delta, owes his life to Meir and his team of Israeli commandos.  Now to repay his debt, Dewey has to attempt the impossible -- to both rescue Meir from one of the world's most secure prisons before he's executed and to find and eliminate Iran's nuclear bomb before it's deployed.  All without the help or sanction of Israel or America (or risk near certain detection by Iran before the plan is in place).

Unfortunately, Dewey's first moves have caught the attention of Abu Paria, the brutal and brilliant head of VEVAK, the Iranian secret service.  Now Dewey has to face off against, outwit and outfight, an opponent with equal cunning, skill and determination with the destruction of Israel's largest city hanging in the balance.

I hadn't read any of Ben Coes' earlier novels before diving into The Last Refuge.  I've reading more thrillers in the last few weeks and The Last Refuge sounded action packed what with Andreas having to rescue Meir, the Israeli commando from a secure prison and to find and acquire a nuclear bomb.

I gravitate towards actions series with flawed lead characters, so I quickly grew to like Dewey Andreas.  We learn early on that the political regime in Iran is corrupt and unreliable and that the White House is attempting a political solution to halt Iran's nuclear research.  When Kohl Meir is kidnapped from US soil, the story is very black and white.  While the US is unable to take official action and unwilling to interfere, we know that Dewey Andreas is equally unable to walk away.

Andreas must find a way to track down Meir with his limited resources - he is an unemployed private citizen with a mission that most governments would balk to undertake.  Coes makes clear that Andreas' operates on a code of honor and it's a code that the politicians can't afford to follow.  Though it is clear where Coes' sympathy lies, when Andreas contacts the Israeli government and Meir's family, I immediately root for Andreas and the Israelis.  The Iranians in The Last Refuge are largely two dimensional villains and this is the story's weakness.  The Iranian secret police, politicians, nuclear scientists are wholly unsympathetic with the exception of one man who tries to prevent the attack. This brave man speaks out for the terrorized citizens who are against the extremism that rules Iran.  With that caveat, it was easy for me to overlook the flatness of the Iranian villains in The Last Refuge because of the strength of the leading character Dewey Andreas.  Andreas is larger than life and an unstoppable killing machine but he operates with a distinct moral code and deep loyalties.  Though he's quite different from Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Ben Coes' Dewey Andreas reminded me a bit of Jack Reacher with his incredible reflexes and abilities and his willingness to dive into danger for what he believes in.  If you enjoy an action packed thriller, I recommend giving Ben Coes' The Last Refuge

ISBN-10: 1250007151 - Hardcover $25
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 3, 2012), 416 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Ben Coes is the author of the acclaimed novels Power Down and Coup d'Etat.  A former speechwriter for the George H.W. Bush White House, he was a fellow at the JFK School of Government at Harvard, the campaign manager for Mitt Romney's successful run for governor in 2002, and is currently a partner in a private equity firm.  He lives in Wellsley, Massachusetts.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Continuing Legal Education for NY State

If you live in NYC and have the time and inclination to commit to 50 hours of pro bono service, I recommend signing up for the Bridge the Gap seminars offered by the NY State Courts.  The lectures are for both newly admitted and experienced attorneys and give an overview and practical training over the course of three days.  

The next session is scheduled from Oct. 16, 2012 to Oct 18, 2012 at NYC Civil Court, 111 Centre Street, New York, NY.  Attendees who contribute 50 hours of pro bono will earn 16 CLE credits and 6 pro bono credits. 

I attended the Spring lectures with my friend Margaret but was late to perform my pro bono work.  Since the start of September, I've been volunteering at the No-Fault Divorce Clinic and at Housing Court in Brooklyn.

If you should have any questions, contact the CLE office at (212) 428-2105 or toll-free for calls from outside New York City at 1(877) NYS-4CLE.

If you aren't ready to commit to pro bono work,  you might be interested in signing up with Lawline for their CLE subscription.  Lawline is offering a 1-year CLE package for $299.   If you're interested, head to or call 1-866-240-9077.  This particular package expires on 10/31.  I've listened to a several Lawline lectures online. They're undeniably convenient as you can listen almost anywhere and anytime.  The lectures vary in their usefulness, I prefer the practical lectures and gravitate towards those covering real estate practice and tax practice.  

Another good source for CLE is your local bar association.  AABANY, the Asian American Bar Association of New York,  organizes practical and interesting CLE lectures in the area of real estate practice.   Margaret Ling of the Real Estate Practice Group develops and organizes particularly effective and valuable CLEs.   The AABANY CLEs are open to non-members for a marginal fee. 

Can you recommend a solid CLE provider?  Where do you go for your CLE needs?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman

The blurb:

Rachel and Alice are an extremely rare kind of identical twins -- so identical that even their aunt and uncle, whom they've lived with since their parents passed away, can't tell them apart.  But the sisters are connected in a way that goes well beyond their surfaces:  when one experiences pain, the other exhibits the exact same signs of distress.  So when one twin mysteriously disappears, the other immediately knows something is wrong -- especially when she starts experiencing serious physical traumas, despite the fact that nobody has touched her.  As the search commences to find her sister, the twin left behind must rely on their intense bond to uncover the truth.  But is there anyone around her she can trust, when everyone could be a suspect?  And ultimately, can she even trust herself?


In Beautiful Lies we read about identical twins, Rachel and Alice who share a rare link.  Not only are they identical but they shared the same placenta when in utero.  Since their childhood, they've literally felt their twin's pain and their bodies reflect the hurt and damage that their twin suffers. While the twins look exactly alike, their temperaments are distinctly different, possibly a reflection of the trauma that they suffered during the car crash that killed their parents.  Alice was conscious of the entire trauma while Rachel had been rendered unconscious.  Now, in their teens, Alice is the gifted artist, the emotional, troublemaker, and less stable twin.  Rachel is more solid both in school, in her friendships, in dealing with their aunt and uncle who serve as their guardians, and in accepting "reality".

In early October, Alice and Rachel spend the evening with friends in the local carnival.   Alice skips out on the group but never arrives home.  Rachel is certain that something has happened to her sister but after Alice's many escapades it is difficult to convince her family and the police that there is something wrong.  As Rachel desperately tries to find her twin, we begin to wonder who to trust and what is true.

I loved Beautiful Lies - it begins as a well written, engrossing Young Adult novel.  As the tension mounts and the novel progresses, I began to realize just how carefully crafted and masterfully written it is.  Some novels have twists and turns but in Beautiful Lies, Jessica Warman delivers a rare gift of a mystery.

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2338-3  Hardcover $17.99
Walker & Company (Aug. 21, 2012), 416 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Learn more about Jessica Warman at

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham


Accessible and engrossing, Tumbleweeds  tells a love triangle of sorts involving Cathy, John and Trey.  Each of them are standouts in their own right - good looking, athletic, smart, and wildly popular.  John and Trey had been best friends and leaders even as children.  When Cathy moved to Kersey, they took her into their group and forged a special bond that stretched and held through high school and the complicated ups and downs of teenage love.

John and Trey are football stars in high school.  Cathy is an intellectual who makes her own way.  When a mistake in judgment leads to irrevocable damage and tragedy, the three friends separate.  When Trey returns nearly 25 years later, the reunion threatens to bring into the open secrets and Cathy and John have long kept hidden.   As closely held secrets come to the surface, so does the threat of violence and betrayal.

Leila Meacham draws you into the lives of Cathy, John and Trey.  While I sometimes could predict the characters' dilemmas,  I still wanted to know how they resolved their problems.  Much like a good soap or drama, Tumbleweeds kept me engrossed until its satisfying end.

ISBN-10: 1455509248 - Hardcover $26
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 19, 2012), 480 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Leila Meacham
is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the bestselling novel Roses.

Monday, September 17, 2012

John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

John Saturnall is a young boy growing up fatherless in a small village in England during the early 17th century.  While there are whispers that John's mother is a witch, her neighbors trust in her knowledge of plants, herbs, and medicines. It's from his mother and her special book that John to read and to identify and use  plants, herbs, and spices.   As the religious wars grow heated, a new pastor leads the villagers in a hunt for the "witch".   With their home destroyed, John and his mother hide in the woods as winter approaches.  After John's mother dies, he is found sent to Buckland Manor house, where his mother had worked years before.

Starved, filthy, and desperate, John knows that Buckland Manor is his last hope.  One of the younger kitchen staff enlists John's help with a job and John finds his way to the kitchens.  There is a moment in the book, during John's first visit to the kitchens where he stuns the cooks with his ability to identify the spices and flavors in a special dish.  This feat catches the attention of the Head of the Kitchens and wins him a place in Buckland Manor.  It's in these kitchens at Buckland Manor that John finds a home.   As he advances and grows into his gift, young John's cooking challenges are legendary.  John cooks for the King of England.  When Lady Lucretia enters into a fast to protest an unwanted engagement,  John is tasked with tempting Lady Lucretia to eat again.  And when Civil War erupts,  Lady Lucretia and John work to ensure the manor's survival.

John Saturnall's Feast started slow but it drew me in once John arrived at Buckland Manor.   John's friendship with the young kitchen boy, Philip,  marks a turning point in John's life and in the novel.  There is the added complication of John's love for Lady Lucretia and his heated encounters with her fiance.  John and his story grow, become special, and make for an absorbing read.   
  • ISBN-10: 0802120512 - Hardcover $26.00 416 pages.
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1 edition (September 4, 2012), 416 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Lawrence Norfolk is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Lempeire's Dictionary, The Pope's Rhinocerous, and In the Shape of a Boar.  Lempriere's Dictionary was named a New York Times Notable 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

ISBN-10: 0307594033 - Hardcover $25.00
Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 2, 2012), 352 pages.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Prime Program.

Will Schwalbe's mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after having battled breast cancer years earlier. This time Mary Ann Schwalbe's prognosis is much worse. In the early days of her treatment, Mary Ann and Will find themselves discussing books - from books that they'd read to books that they're currently reading and those that they choose to read together. Of course, their discussions about books are also about the characters, the dilemmas that they face, and how best to live one's life.

The End of Your Life Book Club is a lovely and moving tribute to Will's mother. Mary Ann Schwalbe is an amazing woman in her own right. We learn of her accomplishments as a young Radcliffe graduate, the first woman to head the Admissions office at Harvard and Radcliffe, and a devoted and accomplished figure in the area of Refugee rights - all of which are impressive and enough to draw you in. Mary Ann Schwalbe's other accomplishments are less easily listed but perhaps even more unforgettable. Will paints a clear picture of a woman of unconventional grace and generosity of spirit. She is determined to make a difference, to bring hope and to be a force of good - it sounds strange but when you learn about Mary Ann Schwalbe, it's hard not to see her as someone for whom doing the right thing is an essential part of her life. She is unfailingly generous to those who need help while invariably forgoing cabs for NYC buses. It's so difficult to describe what I loved about the book. I loved learning about Mary Ann and the things that moved her. Reading about her courage, her stoicism and her grace throughout her struggle with cancer was particularly poignant. As a bookworm, I found the conversations about the books fascinating as well and have copied down the list of books that Will and Mary Ann Schwalbe read.

Mary Ann Schwalbe reminded me of my mother - someone who loves people, finds them interesting, and who will give unstintingly. I came to care for Mary Ann Schwalbe deeply and am grateful to Will for writing this book, for sharing these moments and memories of a woman of extraordinary courage, grace, and heart.

About the Author:
Will Schwalbe, founder of, has worked in publishing (most recently as senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion Books); in new media; and as a journalist, writing for various publications including The New York Times.  He is the coauthor with David Shipley of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Every Day by David Leviathan

What would you do if you woke up in a different body every morning? How much would you be willing to disrupt your "host's" life? Would you sacrifice your own adventures to keep the other person's life intact? Or would you be willing to move their life around for a chance to be with the girl you love - even if she doesn't recognize you when she sees you?

A is sixteen years old and for as long as he can remember (Every Day!), he's lived his life waking up in a new body every day. He's come up with his own code of honor, his own rules that keep him from disrupting the lives of those people that he visits. He tries to do good, be kind, improve their lives as much as he can. Things are going relatively smoothly - as far as possible - until he meets and falls in love with Rhiannon. Rhiannon with the boyfriend who doesn't appreciate her and fails to treat her right. A finds that he can't forget her and whether he wakes up as a girl or boy, A wants to be with Rhiannon.

A starts breaking all his rules. He returns to her town, her school, her favorite places. He shares his secret. Rhiannon begins to recognize A in all his different shapes and identities.

Based on an unusual premise, supported by crisp and engaging writing, driven by sympathetic and unforgettable characters, Every Day is a story about love, identity, sacrifice and keeping one's true self. It's a wonderful read - a book to share!

ISBN-10: 0307931889 - Hardcover $16.99
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (August 28, 2012), 336 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

A bonus - through Amazon David Leviathan shares a short story that describes A's life before Every Day.  Head to Amazon for the exclusive short story.