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The United States of Beer: A Regional History of the All-American Drink

Dane Huckelbridge. Morrow, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 9780062389756

Huckelbridge (Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit) switches his focus to "the ubiquity across the length and breadth of American civilization" of beer, of which Americans consume six billion gallons on a yearly basis. As in his earlier work, Huckelbridge delivers a fascinating look at American history, arguing that the local production of beer—"beginning with the earliest American settlers, and continuing on up to the craft brews of the present day"—reveals how local beers "actually helped to shape the distinctive regional cultures that would cohere and combine to build a nation." Displaying an enormous understanding of American history as well as a fine wit, Huckelbridge starts with the beer shortage that was a "source of stress" for all aboard the Mayflower, and notes that drinking beer was "as much a part of office life in New England" as Excel charts today. He engagingly analyzes the Dutch influence on beer-making in New York, explains the role of local corn production as an influence on the beer made in the South, details how the German migration to Midwest America in 1848 led to the darker lagers that of breweries such as Busch and Schlitz, explores how Prohibition led to the production of the "sweeter, more watery, and less flavorful" beers that still dominate the market, and looks at the "unexpected innovations" of West Coast companies such as Anchor Brewing that led to the birth of microbrewing. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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I'm Just A Person

Tig Notaro. Ecco, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-226663-7

For four months in 2012, stand-up comedian Notaro descended into a decidedly unfunny period of her life: she survived a bout with the life-threatening bacterial infection, Clostridium difficile, only to find out that her mother had died; not long after she buried her mother, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy. In this deeply captivating memoir, Notaro opens her raw wounds, candidly sharing her most intimate thoughts about life before and after her illnesses. Notaro chronicles her early struggles with her mother and stepfather, and her departure from her home in Houston to make it on her own in Los Angeles. She discovers her gift for comedy, performing night after night at open mikes, and eventually lands an audition for a show that the comic Sarah Silverman has written just for Notaro. In a moment of uncertainty, she panics and exclaims "I'll go on, I can't go on," a theme that echoes throughout the book: "When you're struggling to secure the role of yourself, you do wonder whether you know who you are. Up until that audition, I felt confident I did." After her illnesses, Notaro slowly returns to the stage, gaining a large following when she introduces her new routine with the words: "Hello. Good evening. Hello. I have cancer, how are you?" By January 2013, Notaro feels reborn and ready to set out on a new life, and these days she's happier than ever. Notaro's searingly honest and sometimes humorous memoir will wrench readers' hearts and inspire them in equal measure. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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83 Minutes: The Doctor, the Damage, and the Shocking Death of Michael Jackson

Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne. St. Martin's/ Dunne, $27.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-250-10892-0

In this tiresome account, Richards and Langthorne provide the already well-known details of Jackson's dysfunctional family, his alleged pedophilia, and his descent into drug addiction following the burns he suffered during the filming of a Pepsi commercial. Richards and Langthorne attest that January 27, 1984, was the beginning of the end for Jackson, as he grew more and more dependent on narcotics to ease his pain. After Jackson meets Conrad Murray in 2006, Murray assumes the mantle of the King of Pop's personal physician, and their lives are intertwined forever. The authors ramble on needlessly about Murray's native country of Grenada in addition to pointing out that the debt-ridden Murray was just as much in need of Jackson as Jackson was of easy access to drugs. Sprinkling their allegedly objective chronicle with judgments about "bizarre" nature of the "tragedy," they conclude that Murray was negligent in his care for Jackson and speculate against all evidence that the singer might still be alive if Murray had practiced good medicine. In the end, the authors succeed in illustrating little more than what readers most likely already know. Agent: Carrie-Ann Pitt, Blink. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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It's All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook

Gwyneth Paltrow. Grand Central Life & Style/Goop, $35 (288p) ISBN 978-1-45558-421-5

Continuing her restorative eating approach, actress and cookbook author Paltrow (It's All Good) presents a collection of 125 favorite recipes for "the chronically busy." Recipes have a family focus and feature kid-friendly, healthy breakfast dishes such as almond-orange or chocolate cinnamon overnight oats and a ginger chia pudding. "Pick-Me-Ups" include prepare-ahead chicken or shrimp chopped salads, wraps, and vegetable-rich Mexican and Thai style noodle pots. Main dishes include polentas and pasta with rapini or curry lime roasted cauliflower, and there are plentiful seafood dishes. For "Something Sweet," choose fruited shakes or coconut-heavy confections such as pudding, key lime tarts, and cookies. Paltrow's trick for uncomplicated, delicious meal-making is her list of go-to pantry basics from specialty food shops: Asian sauces and pastes, a spectrum of vinegars and oils, gluten-free whole grains, and other items such as kuzu root, bonito flakes, hemp seeds, and coconut sugar. Not all the recipes are quick to assemble, but they are "approachable for cooks with any lifestyle and any skill level," making it easy to eat well and mindfully. Paltrow's recipes offer refreshing ways for home cooks to regain balance in their lives and on their plates in face of today's on-the-go lifestyle. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown

Gerri Hirshey. FSG/Crichton, $27 (528p) ISBN 978-0-374-16917-6

Reviewed by Mary Kay Blakely

Hirshey’s compelling biography of Helen Gurley Brown chronicles a peculiarly American sexual history, beginning with the breadwinner-housewife marriages that birthed the baby boom generation. So it’s more than a little amazing that when in 1964 Brown published Sex and the Single Girl—in which she acknowledged having 178 affairs before marrying David Brown at age 37—she didn’t think encouraging unmarried women to enjoy sex was radical or revolutionary. She described the book as mainly practical, sharing what she and her girlfriends had been talking about for nearly two decades. If a woman had challenging work and great sex, children and husbands could come later.

This 500-page biography, thoroughly researched and reported, covers Helen’s childhood in rural Arkansas, sometimes inflating difficulties common to Depression-era families. Brown’s mother, Cleo, made thoughtless comments that damaged her self-confidence. (Didn’t all mothers of her generation do that?) A fatal elevator accident killed her father, leaving his 10-year-old daughter with “daddy issues” for life. Brown’s older sister, Mary, contracted polio and lost the ability to walk.

Those childhood difficulties may or may not have triggered the neuroses Brown battled throughout life. She sought psychiatric help for depression at age 22 and financial insecurity plagued her.

Weight preoccupations caused other neurotic behavior. She exercised fanatically at home and at the office, where she once stripped down to her underwear to work out in the stairwell.

While Hirshey offers copious evidence of Brown’s eccentricities, she also documents truly admirable traits. A solid work ethic powered her through 17 low-wage clerical jobs before she was finally promoted to a copy writing position at the ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding. As editor of Cosmopolitan, she worked 70–80 hours per week. An exacting perfectionist, she was admired by her staff as a fair and thoughtful boss with business acumen learned on the job: she managed a tight budget, repackaged book chapters into articles, expanded ads, and increased circulation. She lived leanly and sent a quarter of her monthly salary home to her difficult mother and paralyzed sister.

Brown’s compete makeover of Cosmopolitan overloaded the magazine with self-help articles about sex, beauty, fashion, girlfriends, jobs, money, and pleasing your man. She drove most of her writers bonkers at least once (myself included), rewriting copy that might make her “girls” mad, guilty, sad, wounded, or insulted. She made some tremendous blunders (refusing to examine AIDS and the need for safe sex) and ignored important issues (both abortion and birth control were illegal in some states), exempting herself from controversy because she was “a pragmatist, not an activist.” But, as Hirshey concludes, she ruled with naïveté and sincerity that were impossible to fake. (July)

Mary Kay Blakely is a professor of magazine journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism and coeditor of Words Matter: Writing to Make a Difference (Univ. of Missouri, Apr.).

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro: Master the College Funding Process and Give Your Child Lifelong Financial Skills without Losing Your Cool

Jodi Okun. 15th Street Publishing, $25.95 (214p) ISBN 978-0-9973-5272-6

Okun, a former college financial-aid counselor and independent consultant, offers an insider’s perspective on the complex and often confusing workings of the financial-aid system. Not surprisingly, she states, many fear that they have too much money to qualify for financial aid, or not enough to be able to afford college at all. Add to that worry a tricky system where simple mistakes can derail academic dreams, and you have the perfect recipe for stress. Okun seeks to demystify the process and share her expertise. Her approach is threefold, starting with the precollege years, from middle school through high school, looking at what to do and when to do it. She then explores the application process and different kinds of aid, including grants and scholarships. She also includes work-study options and other ways to lower costs. Lastly, she examines cost-management skills for college students and graduates. Along the way, she shares tips and talking points, imparting easily extractable and useful kernels of knowledge. Offering concerned parents an insider’s expert guidance, Okun provides an invaluable tool for navigating the treacherous financial aid landscape. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Marked for Death

Timothy Oliver Stoen. CreateSpace, $19.95 trade paper (386p) ISBN 978-1-5117-5743-0

In the early 1970s, first-time author Stoen joined what he thought was a “utopian movement called Peoples Temple,” led by a charismatic leader named Jim Jones, and spent the next seven years as Jones’s personal attorney. Stoen’s deeply moving memoir traces his path from true believer to horrified spectator as Jones orchestrates the deaths—mostly through suicide—of 912 people in Jonestown, Guyana, an event that shocked the world in 1978. The Jones story has been told before, but Stoen’s role as an early participant in the growth of the Peoples Temple in northern California and San Francisco, as well as its move to its own community in Guyana, adds much to the story. Stoen admirably attempts to explain the “concern about economic inequality” that led many to embrace Jones, as well as the slow slide into manipulation and a desire for power in which Jones “turned himself over to Satan.” Stoen is also excellent in his description of the post-massacre media firestorm in which he was falsely accused of using his long fight to regain custody of his son to push Jones “over the edge,” as well as his successful struggle to overcome the guilt he felt over the experience and the tragic history of the Peoples Temple. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption

Shane Cragun and Kate Sweetman. Greenleaf, $21.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-62634-286-6

Proclaiming that “we live in an Age of Disruption,” Cragun and Sweetman, founders of the consulting firm SweetmanCragun, offer familiar solutions to an equally familiar problem: dealing with the seismic shifts endemic in the modern business era. The coauthors warn executives that it is no longer enough to simply be a “Leader-Caretaker” and challenge them to “Confront the Brutal Fact,” by determining how relevant they are and what value they add. As a template for understanding recent changes, the authors discuss the “Global Shockwave 20”: major historical events between WWII and the present, in technology, management theory, economics, global competition, and geopolitics. Using examples both corporate and military, and consulting assorted experts, they work on helping readers understand why organizations become irrelevant and fail, how to avoid the bad decisions that lead to catastrophe, and how to increase the performance of individuals and organizations. Chock-full of flow charts, bullet points, and wall-to-wall buzzwords, this is a well-intentioned but unoriginal primer on change management. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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La Americana: A Memoir

Melanie Bowden Simón. Skyhorse, $19.99 (278p) ISBN 978-1-5107-0255-4

Within six months of getting a cancer diagnosis, writer and journalist Bowden Simón’s mother is dead, setting her daughter off on an emotional roller-coaster of journey to Cuba, where she falls in love. Her account vividly captures the agony, joy, and peacefulness from this period in her life. Bowden Simón is 25 in April 2001, four months after her mother’s death; she leaves Talk and New York, desperate to get away from the city that reminds her too much of the mother with whom she shared her blond looks, a sense of humor, and a deep appreciation for theater. She meets Luis her first night in Havana when she jumps into his cab, and their very unexpected romance begins. He doesn’t speak English, has a young child, and lives in an impoverished country where the average monthly income is $10 and the government funds a heavily armed military presence. Despite many odds, including a crackdown by President Bush, tougher restrictions on travel to Cuba, Luis’s difficulty getting a visa, and the strangeness of how their connection looks to some, their relationship grows over visits, emails, and calls. Bowden Simón’s travels and struggles are beautifully rendered in this evocative valentine to her mother, Cuba, and the power of love in the unlikeliest of places to heal a broken heart and spirit. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Baseball Whisperer: A Small-Town Coach Who Shaped Big League Dreams

Michael Tackett. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-5443-8764-5

In a remarkable tribute to an exceptional coach with a special summer baseball program in a small town in Iowa, Tackett, an editor in the Washington, D.C., bureau of the New York Times, shares the journey of Merl Eberly, a “baseball whisperer” who from 1961 to 1997 nurtured young hopefuls dreaming of being big-league players. Eberly, considered the patron saint of second chances and lost causes, had a troubled past but steadied his life with a solid marriage and a leadership of his Clarinda A’s baseball team, which stressed discipline and team play. Tackett addresses the drawing power of Eberly, who coached the team for over four decades, also serving as its general manager under his death in June 2011, attracting many players nationally, including Hall of Famer shortstop Ozzie Smith, Philadelphia star Von Hayes, and pitching standout Buddy Black, who became a San Diego Padres manager. One of Eberly’s teammates says he loved the sport and Clarinda, revitalizing the youngsters to “learn so much more than the game of baseball.” Highlighting the late coach’s themes of using baseball as a means of transforming boys into men with values and standards, Tackett’s story touts a man from small-town America who was a major influence on our national pastime. Agent: David Black, David Black Agency .(July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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