Thursday, May 31, 2012

you fancy huh?

The Emmy-winning Downton Abbey is a period drama series set in 1912 in the fictional city of Downton Abbey, and follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants during the reign of King George V. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, written by Lady Fiona, the Countess of Carnarvon (yes, that’s right, Countess), is basically the biography of Highclere Castle, focusing on Lady Almina and the Carnavon family. So, we have a fictional series on PBS that has become extremely popular, winning a ton of writing, cinematography and costume awards. And now we have a biography, written by a family member that spans the time period covered by the show’s second season.  The book is extremely historical. Lady Fiona shows us how the Edwardian castle operated from the daily chores of servants to the food served, the hunting on the grounds and the reception of royalty. She takes us inside the hospital Lady Almina set up at Highclere during World War I, saving hundreds of wounded soldiers. I am going to go ahead and chalk this bio up as a history lesson worth reading.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

african american history in the capitol.

I had never really thought of a street having a history until my friends and I re-made the Beatles Abbey Road album cover when we were in London. When you think about it, anything of consequence that happens outside usually happens on a street. Therefore, streets have more history than one might think. I mean, my entire childhood was spent on my neighborhood streets. Whoa, epiphany happening over here. Blair A. Ruble is someone who understands the significance of a street and its history, so much in fact that he wrote a biography about one.

Here’s a little background: In its cultural heyday, U Street was known as Black Broadway, housing the largest African American community in Washington D.C. The neighborhood includes the works of African American architects, including John Lankford, who was then referred to as the "dean of black architecture" and noted for the True Reformer Building at 1200 U Street NW. U Street has long been a center of Washington's music scene, with the Lincoln Theatre, Howard Theatre, Bohemian Caverns, and other clubs and historic jazz venues. I don’t know how many streets have biographies written about them, but U Street's is definitely the hippest.

Talk about STREET credibility. Ha, yeah that was me being funny.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

a little something for the herbivores.

Some of you are like me and think that eating low fat, plant based meals sounds absolutely atrocious. If loving bacon is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Well, I started singing a different tune after perusing Lindsay Nixon’s The Happy Herbivore and realized that eating green isn’t just for those of you like Little Foot and crew who don’t eat meat at all. Seeing as I am not someone who eats meat at every meal, I was totally into a lot of Nixon’s healthy recipes.  Eating vegan, even if it is just a few times a week, packs some major benefits for your bod. Those of you who want to begin a full-time vegan regimen can expect to lose major pounds in a matter of weeks. I honestly don’t know how vegans survived before this cookbook, which includes over 175 recipes. Their lives must have been much less fun. I have noticed that most of the ingredients required can be bought at your average grocery. Hello convenience. The only recipes I have tried so far are the smoothies, and I have absolutely loved them. There’s an entire Mexican section that I am dying to take a whack at. It includes nacho cheese dip.Vegan Mexicans? I’d pay to taste that.

***For a chance to win a FREE copy email your name, address and this book title to:!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

here, let me make you smarter.

I know summer is upon us, and we are all far more interested in reading for pleasure than reading for learning. Bare with me. Or just leave this review for the teachers. Go on; pick up your raunchy summer read you cowards.

Author, Ann L. Mullen, of Degrees of Inequality: Culture, Class, and Gender in American Higher Education is very clear in her opinion that the US has NOT delivered on its promise to address the country's underlying social inequalities, regarding class and gender. Notice that I said class and gender, not race. Mullen includes interviews with undergraduates from Yale University and Southern Connecticut State, demonstrating a clear line dividing wealthy and poor students even though the colleges are merely two miles apart.  An interesting, yet not surprising aspect of Mullen’s research suggests that universities play their part in informally deselecting certain students. Athletes, for instance, receive double the admissions advantage over ethnic-minority applicants. Even academically talented students from poor backgrounds are unlikely to apply to elite institutions.
Women tend to go to college majoring in subjects that lead to lower paying jobs than men. My opinion? Women are more thoughtful. They think of what they can do for people and the world. Their goals tend to lean towards making a difference rather than making a living. Let’s be honest, our bodies were specifically designed to carry tiny human beings, and we can’t booze up for over a year. THAT my friends is selflessness. And maybe, those jobs that are highly populated by women (human services, childcare, education, etc.), you know, the ones that HELP people, should have their pay increased.  Boys, let’s just agree to disagree on this one.

Friday, May 25, 2012

flight attendants have the best stories.

I love telling stories about the number of insane people who have crossed my path in the past 26 years of my life. Between my travels and jobs, specifically as a substitute teacher, I have hundreds of wild tales. Some of my more silly stories are set on planes. My flight to San Diego was a hoot let me tell ya. I flew Southwest and their seating is on a first come, first serve basis. Being the last person to board the plane, I was sat next to this 83-year-old married couple. The wife, Kitty was on oxygen and she prefers to sit in the aisle, but she had to sit next to the window because of her tank. She was very flustered, so her husband John and I spent the flight entertaining her, calming her down and what not. Since I was so helpful, the flight attendant kept giving me free drinks. Then all of the sudden people around me were passing me drink coupons on account of I had the least desirable seating arrangement. I wound up with four drink coupons and two free drinks, AND I had given two of the drink coupons away, you know, to share the wealth. I ended up arriving in San Diego buzzed, Kitty kept expressing how much she adored me and enjoyed listening to my crazy antics, and John got to relax. Win, win, win.

Well, what I have is NOTHING compared to Heather Poole’s collection of crazy stories being a flight attendant for fifteen years. Cruising Altitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet is Poole’s memoir filled with hilariously honest accounts of her experiences in the air. Take a moment to think about the people you’ve had on your own flights; the drunks, the vommiters, the panickers.  I was forced to create words just to describe these people. Imagine having to calm down these types every day. I no longer wonder what it’s like to be a flight attendant. And I am glad I chose an alternative career…. as an unemployed teacher.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

tiffany lamps.

To give credit where credit is due, I am going to give a little shout out to Clara Drischoll, who invented and designed the stunning Tiffany Lamps and never received the credit for it. No lie. Everyone thought that stained glass master, Louis Comfort Tiffany created the popular lamps. In 2005, the truth came out, and art historians named Drischoll the mastermind, only a hundred years too late guys.

Clara Drischoll is not here to receive her proper praise, so Susan Vreeland decided to write a novel imagining her life. I presume it is tough to write a biography about someone who people didn’t know was important until sixty years after their death. Clara and Mr. Tiffany is set in New York City in the 1890’s. Clara is a strong-willed woman fighting to keep her passion alive in the male-dominated art world. Whether you’re artistic or not, you will enjoy this historical fiction. I cannot help but wonder what other men in history were the face of a woman’s artistic design.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

one of the best cartoonists working today.

I love when the Sunday funnies are actually funny. That being said, I love the Stephan Pastis Pearls Before Swine comic strips. Because Sometimes You Just Gotta Draw A Cover With Your Left Hand is a graphic novel compiled from the strips that ran between the summer of 2009 and the spring of 2010, and the gangs all here with their fabulous one liners that will definitely get a chuckle out of you.

For those you who are not familiar with this popular comic strip, let me give you a little taste of Pastis’ more recent work:

It's a cute kind of funny, am I right?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

we are all hopelessly flawed.

Don’t be confused, I said that WE are all hopelessly flawed. The Language of Flowers, the debut novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is the exception to that rule. Hell, Diffenbaugh herself is an exception to that rule. The novel is an emotional rollercoaster, filled with imperfectly beautiful characters that are nothing if not human, when Diffenbaugh herself is a fricken superhero. Let me explain…

The Language of Flowers centers on the foster care system and the children in it along with the adults whose lives they touch. Diffebaugh herself is a foster mother, became one to FOUR children when she was twenty-three and single. No lie. There is an article in Glamour magazine, one of the very few magazines I have ever subscribed to and don’t just steal from the doctor’s office, all about her story. You can already imagine how much truth must be packed into the story of our main character, Victoria Jones as she grows up in the system fighting to discover that her life could be so much more than the cards she was dealt.

my boyfriend is cute.

I had the most amazing time in San Diego!! Here are some pictures for those of you who give a what. We had a very busy five days...

Pacific Beach Boardwalk.

On the beach in Coronado Island.

In-n-Out Burger!!!

The Wedding in La Jolla.

Padres game for manfriend's birthday.

Happy birthday manfriend. Love, the universe.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

a story for the nature lovers.

Tomorrow I leave for San Diego with the manfriend. Five glorious days, and our very first vacation. Fricken romantic shit going on here people. Really, I invited myself (and my free airline miles from maxing out my credit card) to his friends wedding. Same difference. Needless to say, there will be little time for reading and reviewing while I'm gone.

Since I am going to the land of granola heads, I thought I'd leave you with an appropriate read for the occasion. Let me start by saying that I am not some tree hugging nature lover. Especially after I was forced to kill a huge spider in my room the other day, and I’m pretty sure he had a gun. I enjoy the outdoors well enough. I am all for patio drinking, camp fires, and getting a tan. I like to hike on occasion, but I am more beach (tomorrow!!) than forest, and I typically don’t volunteer to sleep outside. I don’t think the manfriend has ever been camping in his life, but he has a green thumb. Or he would if he didn’t live in Queens. He grows herbs on the windowsill at his office. That is how desperate he is for a garden. Alright, enough boring you with the silly aspects of my completely adorable relationship, I will cut to the chase.

Last summer, communing with nature and apparently not wearing pants.

Where Lilacs Still Bloom is the almost true story of Hulda Klager and the fifty years she spent living on a farm in the Northwest. It’s actually the perfect read for this time of year. I suggest that you read it outside, on a nice sunny day, sipping on a mimosa. But that’s just me. Author Jane Kirkpatrick writes of Hulda’s life from youth to death. Hulda lived in a time when a woman’s role was clearly defined, but she wanted more. She became fascinated with the hybridizing of fruit as a young woman and throughout her life created hundreds of hybrid fruit and flower varieties, particularly lilacs. This is much more than a story of apples and lilacs. It is about a woman who loved her life yet still strove to make it better, not just for herself, but for everyone who crossed her path.You can still visit Hulda’s lilac gardens in Woodland, Washington. Check out their website at
**For a chance to win a free copy of this book email your name, address and this book title to!

Monday, May 14, 2012

a historical novel with a unique setting.

Ah, Venice. I visited this popular city in the extremely cold winter, which did not take away from any of its beauty. The island of Venice was just as I imagined it would be. Cobblestone streets, canals running throughout carrying tourists on gondolas, charmingly decorated shop windows, every building holding onto the classic architecture of the past. It all sounds very idyllic, because it is.

Yup, on a gondola ride with my brother.
Roberta Rich wrote a historical novel set in this fair city in the 16th century. The Midwife of Venice already has a reputation for being extremely well written and well researched by the author, which is something we all look for in a novel. Our protagonists are Hannah Levi, a Jewish midwife and her husband, Isaac, a merchant who has been kidnapped and sold into slavery. One evening, a Christian Count travels to the Jewish ghetto to find Hannah, desperate for her to assist his wife who is in labor and having difficulties giving birth. In 1575, a Jewish woman helping deliver a Christian baby is against the law and not only would it put her entire community at risk; it is considered a crime punishable by torture and death. Jeesh, the Jews could never catch a break. What stood out to me the most in this novel was Rich's portrayal of class and religious division, it was truly fascinating.

for the odd girl out.

Cliques are happening earlier and earlier these days. Second graders are buddying up with their bff's and leaving other kids out. 4th grade girls are writing some major blows on the bathroom walls about their fellow females (saw that one the other day). It's a harsh world out there. Susan Sprague has come out with a resource titled Coping with Cliques: A Workbook to Help Girls Deal with Gossip, Put-Downs, Bullying, and Other Mean Behavior that is sure to aide any young girl dealing with the trials and tribulations of adolescence, and how to deal with negativity on an emotional level. I would recommend these workbook "lessons" for middle school aged girls and younger, it's a bit too young for high schoolers.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

oh, hello muscular gentleman on the cover.

Yeah this one right here goes out to all the baby's mamas, mamas... mamas, mamas, baby mamas, mamas. Happy Mother's Day lady friends. Now, for your viewing pleasure...

Copper Beach is the start of Jayne Ann Krentz’s new paranormal A Dark Legacy series. Our main character Abby Radwell is a rare-book specialist with psychic powers that allows her to decode old “magical” books. When she begins to receive blackmail threats, she turns to Sam Coppersmith who comes from a family that has a long history of paranormal work and research, to help her find the culprit. I hate referring to male characters as the “hero” of novels, making my feminist mother proud. But Sam’s instant attraction to Abby is more Cary Grant than Tarzan, and the chemistry is hot. While he helps protect her, she uses her talents to help him find a book that his family has been searching for, for decades. It’s more of a partnership than a damsel in distress. I am extremely interested in watching these characters progress, especially Newton, Abby’s dog. He was my favorite. When you can write a good pet character, you’ve got my vote.

Friday, May 11, 2012

maybe this story technically isn’t happening, but it really does happen.

I don’t watch the news because I don’t want to know about all of the terrible things happening in the world. I am aware that there are some truly sick beings walking among us, I simply would rather not be aware of what gross hobbies they busy themselves with. I already keep pepper spray in my purse and get paranoid when a car has been behind me on the highway for too long. I don’t need any more reason to not want to sleep alone in my house. But thank you Cara Hoffman for terrifying me anyways, and setting your latest novel in WNY. Guess who lives in WNY? This girl does.

So Much Pretty follows the lives of three young women. One disappeared and was murdered, and the other two have their suspicions about the crime, which leads to a more horrifying crime. Hoffman flawlessly jumps back and forth through time. Get ready to wash your eyeballs out people.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

a story told in five voices.

Jessica Maria Tuccelli’s debut novel, Glow is not exactly what I expected, and not in a bad way. It is not your average historical fiction about slavery. So if it’s normally your style to read quickly, flying through the pages like a savage, don’t. Glow is on the shorter side, but it is also dense. Packed full to the brim with beautiful writing that deserves our time and care.

This novel is written in five different points of view, reaching back as far as 1834 and back up to 1941, so you need to pay close attention as you read. Racial violence is in full force for these (both) Native AND African American characters as they intertwine in each other’s lives. I have never read an historical novel that connected these two groups of people. It was very much a history lesson. Nice work Tuccelli, you’re the first person who has made me use my brain since I finished grad school.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

everyday joy.

Did you know that researchers have estimated that 60% of your happiness is genetic? They think 10% of your happiness is determined by circumstances, which leaves 30% controlled by YOUR will. I don’t know if this will make you more depressed people feel better, or worse. Either you’ll take comfort in knowing that your emotions are not entirely your fault, or this will give you another reason to resent your parents. Regardless, you still have 30% that’s your responsibility. Own it friends.

Activate Joy: Live Your Life Beyond Limitations by AlixSandra Parness (who has quite the resume being an ordained minister, Doctor of Divinity and trained clairvoyant), is a self-help book dedicated to helping you find joy in every aspect of your life. Some of her fourteen chapters include how to be joyful, how find YOUR joy, how to connect with joy, and how to handle when joy is lost. Getting to know your “yabbits” or doubts and becoming more empowered. I will tell you that Parness is a little out there with her energies and alignments, but I know that some of you have used up all of your other options. So, before you get too comfortable on rock bottom, give this a try.

Monday, May 7, 2012


It all began with an exotic dancer named Leela. Doesn’t it always? Journalist, Sonia Faleiro spent five years shadowing Leela around the underground world of Bombay’s dance bars, looking for a story. And oh did she get herself a story, one that is tragically true titled, Beautiful Thing.

Citizens of Indian have been flocking to the “up and coming”Bombay, leaving their former lives behind them. Leela included, leaving her terrible childhood and appalling family, running away to the city in her early teens. She quickly discovered the lucrative work of exotic dancing, occasionally sleeping with her customers for the big bucks. To think, this is the high point of young Leela’s life. When the dance bars were banned in 2006, Leela and hundreds of girls like her were left to the seedy streets and the even seedier pimps. It’s a heartbreaking story that will fill your head with uncomfortable knowledge of Bombay’s notorious sex trade. Hm, I’m thinking maybe it’s time to stop complaining about my college loans now; at least I get to keep my clothes on when I feel like it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

one hell of a side man.

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! I wish I had planned something a bit more dark complected for your reading pleasure...but I don't. Deal.

And you know what Bobby Keys?  “Every night is a Saturday night” used to be my philosophy also, along with “if it smells good, eat it.” Then I applied to grad school and that was all shot to hell. Well, not the “if it smells good, eat it” philosophy, I still comply with that one. I'm feeling lucky that this very special holiday landed on a Saturday this year. And I’m just saying, it must be nice to be a famous sax player for the Rolling Stones since 1970.

His biography Every Night's a Saturday Night: The Rock 'n' Roll Life of Legendary Sax Man Bobby Keys is written like you’re having a conversation with Bobby himself. I mean, sometimes he didn’t know if he remembered his memory correctly, whatever, no big deal, keeping a diary is so not rock ‘n’ roll. All that matters is:
1. He’s funny
2. He was friends with John Lennon and Yoko (which I was super curious about that one)
3. He’s got great stories, and tons of them

I haven’t read such an entertaining bio in a long time.

Friday, May 4, 2012

a mystery series with a british accent.

I haven’t read through the Maisie Dobbs Novels by Jacqueline Winspear, but I know a lot of people who have and they cannot say enough good things about this mystery series set in London in between the spring of 1929 and the summer of 1932. Here is a list of all the titles for those of you who would like to add them to your “to read” list this summer.

Maisie Dobbs (2003)
Birds of a Feather (2004)
Pardonable Lies (2005)
Messenger of Truth (2006)

An Incomplete Revenge (2008)

Among the Mad (2009)

The Mapping of Love and Death (2010)

A Lesson in Secrets (2011)

I asked a friend of mine to help me review the most recent installment, A Lesson in Secrets because I would prefer to begin at the beginning, and I cannot give you an honest review of a book that I haven’t read yet, duh. Let me set the mood for you: It is 1932 and the Nazi party is present in England. Maisie is an English private investigator. Her methods are a bit unusual and include psychological analysis, meditation and even a mild psychic awareness (which is the open state of awareness in which the conscious mind can tap into the psychic mind). When there is a murder at a private university, Maisie is called to work undercover for the British secret intelligence as a university instructor. While her superiors are single-mindedly concerned with the threat of communism, Maisie sees the growing threat of the early Nazi organizations.
Well Maisie, we could have really used you as a nonfictional character in the real world.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

a break from the norm.

Let me begin by saying that Mark Leyner has written a book titled, Why Do Men Have Nipples? I just wanted to help you properly set your expectations of his latest work of fiction, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack. Your previous expectations sky rocketed I'm sure. Leyner is unlike any other fiction writer today. I mean, sometimes I feel as if he writes his books while on acid. In Nutsack (nuts are funny) there were a lot of confusing rambles that mildly grossed me out and at times, had me contemplating Leyner's sanity. Mostly, I was fascinated. I've always wanted to get into the head of someone who's tripping, and this was as close as I could get.

I wish I could fully explain what the novel is about, but I'm having a hard time putting its literary elements into words. An episode of It's Always Sunny is far more coherent. Send me a hit of acid and I'll try again.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

hey, it's hump day. let's talk about some writing that means something.

I have two real life story reads for you folks today...

Many assume that to write an engaging memoir, you must have led a fascinating life, at least at some point. I don’t believe that’s true. I believe that a truly great storyteller can make any story appealing to his or her readers. Growing up in a cult or selling your body on the streets of Tiawana always helps make things exciting, of course. But you could also just be like Imran Ahmad, just an Islamic boy trying to get by.

The Perfect Gentlemen is Ahmad’s story of growing up as a Muslim immigrant in London. He is a fantastic writer, and at the beginning of every chapter he lists his age and the year, starting as a little kid and ending at the age of forty-three. I like a man who keeps things nice and organized.  Ahmad had all the same dreams as any typical boy. He wanted a pretty car, and a pretty girl (preferably someone his parents didn’t arrange for him). He wanted to be debonair and truly understand the faith in which he was raised. He had a lot of questions and he wasn’t afraid to address them. In a nut shell, The Perfect Gentlemen is light hearted, funny and you cannot help but eat up Ahmad’s charming personality.

We all have our special ways of handling stress and sadness that enters our lives. Some of us jog, some of us do artistic things, like paint, some of us drink heavily…etc. Kayak Morning is the story of a man who chose kayaking to help him deal with his daughter’s death.
Two years after his daughter’s untimely death, author Roger Rosenblatt is still healing. As a certified loner, he enjoys the solitude on the water. He writes to us his reflections on the grieving process.  It is as if this book is his therapy as he recalls everything he loved so much about his daughter. Rosenblatt shares with us his journey to find peace in a way that may help those suffering from loss find their own.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

a fine piece of baseball writing.

My favorite time of year has begun, baseball season! I am a born and raised, die hard Yankees fan. It’s in my DNA. For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to make it to a couple of games a season. Now that I’m shacking up once a month with the manfriend in Queens, it’s much easier to catch a game. We are actually planning on going to the Subway Series. Yankees vs. Mets in June, very exciting stuff going on people.

Speaking of the Mets, R. A. Dickey (with the help of Wayne Coffey) released his biography at the end of March titled, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball. For those of you who are unaware, Dickey is currently a starting pitcher for the New York Mets. Not only is he one of the top starters in his league, he is also a husband, father, and hardcore Jesus fan. Dickey writes openly about the obstacles he has faced in his career and personal life. Fourteen years ago, right before he signed with the Tigers he found out that he had no ulnar nerve in his right arm. His signing bonus instantly dropped from 800k to 80k, just like that. His career started off pretty rough, but he has found real success with the Mets. I would like him better had he not gotten all depressed when shit hit the fan, and cheated on his wife. Ah well, it is a biography about redemption after all. And if she can forgive him, so can we. I’m crossing my fingers, hoping I get to see him pitch in June.