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The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival

in the Caribbean. Rita M. Gardner, illus. by Mike Morgenfield. She Writes Press, $16.95 paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-63152-901-6

Their father claims they are in paradise, but shadows fall over Eden for an American family forced to settle in a beautiful but volatile and poverty-stricken Dominican Republic ruled by dictator Rafael Trujillo. In this poignant, jarring memoir and coming-of-age story, Gardner recounts the pain, sacrifices, secrets, and infrequent joys of a dysfunctional family heading towards catastrophe. Throughout, storms serve as rich metaphors for pain, tragedy, and isolation, while natural beauty and family love clash with violent personalities and cruelty. Gardner has written a rich, haunting book that vividly captures her childhood and makes everyday turmoil vital through precise and honest prose.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Ambivalent Memoirist: Obsessions Digressions Epiphanies

Sandra Hurtes. CreateSpace, $12.95, paper (217p) ISBN 978-1-4923-5972-2

Hurtes offers up a scathingly honest memoir full of compassion and wit that infuses ordinary events with intimacy and intensity. A divorce and overbearing parents complicate Hurtes's attempts to reinvent herself in Brooklyn Heights. Teaching college English courses and preparing her first essay collection, she must address her own pain and doubts, as well as her parents' experiences during the Holocaust. Hurtes makes her raw, intimate struggles relevant to anyone who has loved, lost, and grappled with indecision and missed chances. Writing as art and psychological salvation is at the heart of this book, taking "readers deep below the surface" of words toward personal vindication.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Soul Is Among Lions: Pages from the Breast Cancer Archives

Ellen Leopold. Valley Green Press, $9, paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-9898737-0-3

In this important collection of articles and essays, righteous outrage, education, and the redeeming power of love inform powerful narratives of women battling breast cancer. Leopold's book documents not only the fear and pain of the disease but also the economic, political, and gender conflicts women have faced seeking proper treatment. Among the many highlights is Katharine Lee Bates's poignant account of the death of her life partner, Katharine Coman. In "Shopping For The Cure," profit-induced charities are exposed, while the public cheerfully buys into corporate interests in "The Tyranny of Cheerfulness," exchanging activism for "cause marketing." Urging readers to be advocates of change, this collection expose a culture almost as destructive as the disease that it unwittingly accommodates.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Midlife Cabernet: Life, Love & Laughter After Fifty

Elaine Ambrose. Mill Park Publishing, $12 paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-9883980-7-8

Ambrose faces the frights, frustrations, and fancies of aging in this refreshingly honest and laugh-out-loud funny survival guide for middle-aged women. Infusing her prose with sarcastic dark humor, the author offers homespun recommendations on dating and sex, raising adult children, and the physical effects of aging—all with brazen cheer. From stressful divorces and facing Christmas alone to disastrous sexual misadventures nothing is sacred or off limits. The author's prose is lively and entertaining, with statements like "one of the many advantages of living in the last third of life is that I don't accept crap from anyone." Sure to be irritated and edified, women over 40 will find a lot to like here.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Catalyst: How Confidence Reacts with Our Strengths to Shape What We Achieve and Who We Become

Steven Smith and David Marcum. Veracity, $9.99 e-book (110p) ISBN 978-0-9915680-0-0

In Smith and Marcum's fascinating study of what constitutes true confidence—a "catalyst" of human achievement—the authors examine research on character strengths, expose how strengths can become weaknesses or "counterfeits," and offer an exploration of how both strengths and weaknesses might play out in readers' lives. The authors make thoughtful, well-argued points about which traits come from places of strength and which come from a places of weakness and overcompensation. Readers will certainly recognize some of the character traits discussed here in themselves. And while the authors could have provided more tools to help readers dissect strength and weaknesses in their own lives, this is an engaging study that will be useful to most people.

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story Of The 1956 Los Angeles Angels

Gaylon H. White. Rowman & Littlefield, $38 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8108-9289-7

Before the Brooklyn Dodgers departed the fabled Ebbets Field in New York City in 1958 for the City of Angels, one of the key reasons leading to the exodus was the public frenzy for an much admired minor league player, Steve Bilko, and his red-hot Los Angeles Angels two years earlier. Former Denver Post sportswriter White relives that miracle season when the beer-guzzling, hefty Bilko, with his mighty bat, ignited the lowly minor league team in the Pacific Coast League during a historic year. Written in a subdued voice without any sensational prose, Bilko, known as the Sergeant of Swat and Mr. Biceps, is a stirring tribute of a superstar shining on a small stage, guiding "baseball's last great minor league team," slugging 313 homers in the minors, but the highly hyped athlete's luck fizzled in the majors with only 76 round-trippers. However, Bilko dazzled the sports world for the incredible 1956 season, at a time when Yankee star Mickey Mantle pursued Babe Ruth's home run record nationally and baseball fans held their breath. Weaving in anecdotes from Bilko's teammates and rivals both in the minors and the pros, White's precise, powerful account of a remarkable, unlikely athlete who peaked too early without achieving too much when his dream finally came true. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Healthy Slow Cooker: Second Edition: More than 135 Gluten-Free Recipes for Health and Wellness

Judith Finlayson. Robert Rose Inc., $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7788-0479-6

Finlayson's extensively revised second edition of 2006's highly successful Healthy Slow Cooker reflects the changes in how healthy eating is now defined. Rather than focusing on low-fat, low-calorie recipes, this book addresses, among other things, the issue of wheat consumption and the fact that many diseases are now associated with gluten. The author explains that "the strategy for healthy eating is quite simple: eliminate processed foods from your diet and habitually eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, including an abundance of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds."Included is a wide range of recipes for breakfast, soups, starters and snacks, vegetarian entrees and main dishes made with poultry, fish, beef, and lamb. She adds nutritional analysis for recipes as well as "bits of recipe-relevant information (for example, the ginger in Carrot Soup with Orange and Parsley is a great digestive)" "Make Ahead" tips are also given to allow home cooks to take "full advantage of the convenience provided by a slow cooker."Some of the delicious dishes include Black Sticky Rice Congee with Coconut, Nettle and Asparagus Soup, Moroccan-Style chicken with Prunes and Quinoa, Ribs with Hominy and Kaleand Vegetable Curry with Lentils and Spinach. An extremely informative, well laid out volume with dishes that are straightforward and easy to execute, this book makes it possible for every home chef to easily cook and eat healthier. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Gourmet Jewish Cookbook: More Than 200 Recipes From Around The World

Denise Phillips. Thomas Dunne, $29.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-04593-5

As this is not her first foray into Kosher cooking, Phillips (Book of Jewish Cooking, The Gourmet Jewish Cookbook) expands on an intimately familiar topic. Unfortunately, that doesn't translate onto the pages. The food is tasty but not particularly Jewish. There are classics like "Stuffed Brisket" or "Jerusalem Kugel" and some updated dishes like "Italian Matza Salad" and "Passover Beef Lasagne," but most of the recipes have nothing to do with Jewish history. There is no "gefilte fish" or "stuffed cabbage" (Ashkenazic Food) or modern takes on "chreime" or "ma'amoul" (Sephardic food). There is the borrowing of other cultures' cuisines while making the recipes kosher, but kosher doesn't equal Jewish. There are a few saving graces. On the top of each recipe is a good guide for appropriate holidays to serve the dish, the dish's dietary components [if it is meat, dairy, pareve (neither), dairy-free, gluten-free, etc] and there is a nice section in the back that explains the Jewish festivals and provides menus for said holidays. This is a good book to have for those interested in cooking kosher dishes, otherwise, there are better "Jewish" options. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty

Daniel Schulman. Grand Central, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4555-1873-9

Mother Jones senior editor Schulman's group portrait of the amazingly wealthy, strong-minded Koch brothers is a critical, but surprisingly nuanced tale of money and influence. Casting new light on one of America's most ambitious families, this "unauthorized" biography will disappoint Koch haters. The Wichita-based Koch money (now totaling billions of dollars) comes from oil grown into a closely held conglomerate with a mixed environmental record. David and Charles have used their wealth to fund the libertarian Cato Institute and more recently, contribute to the Republican Party, and campaign against Obamacare and climate change. They have consequently been on the receiving end of White House enmity. Schulman concentrates on the family's intramural battles: the central conflict begins with an ugly 1985 lawsuit for control of the family money; the four brothers have battled each other in court for decades. Frederick, Charles, and fraternal twins David and Bill—ranging in age from 74 to 82—come off as worldly, intelligent, accomplished, and difficult. This is a complex story of epic sibling rivalry, with important political dimensions. (May)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Jeff Koons: A Retrospective

Edited by Scott Rothkopf. Whitney Museum (Yale Univ., dist.), $65 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-300-19587-3

In Artforum editor-in-chief Michelle Kuo's prologue to this lavish catalogue for Jeff Koons's touring retrospective, she claims: "We have seen the future, and it is Jeff Koons." While discussions of contemporary art are prone to exaggeration, Koons perhaps earns more than his share of hyperbole and disdain. Happily, the contributors to this volume, edited by Whitney Museum of Art curator Rothkopf, wax rhapsodic about Koons, while recognizing that his work provokes unease in his viewers. The majority of the book is devoted to brilliant reproductions of his iconic work, from his oversize balloon animals to pornographic photos of the artist with his ex-wife. His creations are recognizable by their lavish audacity, and the catalogue's high production values do them justice. Likewise, critics and writers, including novelist Rachel Kushner and art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, successfully address the full range of Koons's aesthetic and cultural concerns. Koons is a ridiculously wealthy artist with considerable media savvy; rather than shy away from such truths, this retrospective faces them head-on. 306 color and 36 b&w illus. (July)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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