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The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: Thirteen Essential Plants for Human Survival

Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green, $29.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-60358-516-3

This passionate, quirkily informative book draws alternately on science and deep-ecology spirituality to weigh in with confident practicality on the “it’s-all-good” side of the invasive-plant controversy roiling the botanic community. Blair, who teaches about wild plants internationally, offers detailed advice on the gathering, preparation, and culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic uses of 13 pervasive plants that most gardeners and landscapers love to hate. Be it chickweed, plantain, or dock, Blair seduces readers with thorough descriptions of the harvest, preparation, and nutritive and medicinal value of each plant, together with recipes like knotweed banana crepes, lambsquarter shampoo, and thistle mallow dandelion cooler. A manifesto as well as a how-to guide, the book favors raw and sprouted concoctions and will appeal to vegans and live-food and foraging enthusiasts, as well as permaculturalists and foodies who relate to Blair’s enthusiastic optimism. But the author’s nonchalance about some serious issues, such as harvesting from potentially contaminated soils—eat just a little, judge by taste, use intuition, chlorophyll is protective—seems naïve if not alarming, and may undermine the credibility of this otherwise intriguing and useful book. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success

Ted Spiker. Penguin/Hudson Street, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59463-191-7

Spiker’s intimate, hilarious, and sometimes poignant guide to weight loss offers practical advice to anyone who has ever struggled with weight and body image. What makes this book work, where so many diet guides do not, is Spiker’s painfully honest disclosures, from his long list of “top [food] temptations” to his record of weight gain and his “maximum waist size.” Spiker, coauthor of the You series with Michael Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, doesn’t just describe his own struggles with weight, but offers stories from other people who have struggled with food and have figured out a healthy response. Spiker also calls on professional input from a number of experts, including colleague and friend (and TV celebrity) Oz. Readers looking for the standard diet book fare—recipes, lists of dos and don’ts—won’t find that here. Instead, they’ll find a refreshing and inspiring book with a wide range of suggestions for reframing their lives, including sustaining motivation and concentrating on process instead of goals. Most importantly, Spiker advocates personalized diets over a one-size-fits-all approach. Throughout the book, he gently nudges and encourages readers, winning their trust by sharing personal moments from his own weight-loss story. Agent: David Black, David Black Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Will My Kid Grow Out of It? A Child Psychologist’s Guide to Understanding Worrisome Behavior

Bonny J. Forrest. Chicago Review, $18.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61374-762-9

Neuropsychologist Forrest draws on her expertise as a clinician in this detailed but awkwardly structured guide aimed at enabling parents to identify issues with their children—whether social, cognitive, or developmental—that require professional help. Part one covers early intervention, providing direction for parents who aren’t sure whether their kids’ “differences” amount to more than just a phase. Part two, which makes up the bulk of the book, addresses common concerns, possible diagnoses, and treatment options. Individual chapters are devoted to such topics as infant mental health, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, OCD, and suicide. In part three, parents will find advice for navigating the often-confusing options available for help. Throughout, Forrest provides numerous case studies drawn from her own practice. Though she also places important data in three appendices—e.g., a year-by-year guide to brain development, with a checklist—this information might have been more accessible if it were integrated into the book. Despite Forrest’s laudable intentions, this combination clinical overview/parenting book does not make a significant addition to an already-crowded market. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency LLC. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Teenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kid Succeed

Rebecca Deurlein. Amacom, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8144-3465-9

This manual for parents of high school students provides a no-nonsense guide for preparing teens for independence, whether at college or in the workforce. Deurlein is a longtime teacher with two grown children and a doctorate in educational leadership, so she has dealt with this issue from all sides. The breadth of topics covered is impressive, ranging from the basics, like motivation and self-esteem, to concepts that rarely appear in other parenting works, like getting the most from parent-teacher conferences and the importance of dress and manners. Deurlein tackles both ends of the academic spectrum, suggesting that many teens benefit from the “positive peer pressure” and the challenge of an AP course in one chapter and then, in the next, saying straight out that “college isn’t for everyone.” Throughout, she reminds readers that even members of the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” generation must be allowed to stumble, “deal with the consequences,” and learn that, “as much as we want something, we don’t always get it.” Armed with Deurlein’s tips, any parent should be able to give his or her teen something much better than another trophy: the self-reliance and work ethic necessary to take the first few steps into adulthood. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Parenting with a Story: Real-Life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share

Paul Smith. Amacom, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-8144-3357-7

Smith extends the didactic model for corporate motivation that he introduced in Lead with a Story into the realm of parenting, giving doting fathers a collection of over 100 true-life stories to help them give advice to their kids. In general, the anecdotes illustrate such traditional moral values as courage, self-discipline, kindness, and humility. In general, the perspective is middle-class, middle-aged, and, perhaps, unrelatable for today’s children and teens. Current key topics like social media and sexuality, with which older parents may need the most help, are skipped. A few celebrity stories appear, such as one about Larry Bird choosing an agent, but for the most part, these everyday success stories and life lessons blend together blandly when presented in such rapid sequence. The author recommends that parents retell favorite selections in their own words; he even provides a chart at the conclusion to help match the right tales to the right situations. Smith creates a model for parents seeking to steer their kids toward good choices by traditional examples, but for those practicing more modern parenting styles, there’s less of value here. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mama Gone Geek: Calling on My Inner Science Nerd to Help Navigate the Ups and Downs of Parenthood

Lynn Brunelle. Roost Books/Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-61180-151-4

An Emmy Award–winning writer for Bill Nye the Science Guy, Brunelle interweaves stories of raising her two young sons and suggestions for uncomplicated family science projects in this quirky and often hilarious compendium. The book takes readers on an exuberant journey that combines maternal highs and lows with the joys of being a born science “nerd.” The author begins by describing her move with her sons and husband from Seattle to Bainbridge Island where she fruitlessly tried to combat house pests while still remaining “green.” Calamities like lice (giving rise to visions of “medieval paupers”), power outages, and broken arms, and childhood rites like campouts and baseball games, are handled with equal deftness by this science-cum-humor writer, who can convey the awe and wonder of motherhood without sounding corny. Each essay includes a teachable moment (or two) and an activity, such as making a straw oboe, conjuring up homemade “quicksand,” or constructing a lemon-battery-powered clock. A closing piece about jumping on the trampoline with her kids summarizes the author’s bittersweet feelings about watching her boys grow up. Brunelle recreates the magic of everyday family life with a scientist’s keen eye for detail and a parent’s faultless ear for mother-son dialogue. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beautiful Eyes: A Father Transformed

Paul Austin. Norton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-33779-2

Austin follows up Something for the Pain, his memoir of becoming an ER doctor, with an eloquent account of his experiences raising a child with Down syndrome. It begins in 1987 when he, a third-year resident, and his wife, Sally, a labor and delivery room nurse, receive the news that their newborn daughter, Sarah, has the congenital condition. As Austin watches his wife breast-feed Sarah, and later slips a flower behind his daughter’s ear as she sleeps in his arms, his love for her is unmistakable. He segues seamlessly between scenes of family life and disquisitions on the history and science of Down syndrome, arguing that we are defined by more than our genes. Though Austin doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges he faced, he also shows Sarah as an engaging, sociable child who loved movies, dancing, and drawing. While following her development from birth to age 22, readers also witness Austin’s transformation from a father who once had to “pretend” to be proud, to a man in genuine awe of Sarah’s many gifts. Parents of special-needs kids will find this story particularly inspiring, and its universal message of love and acceptance should speak to a much wider audience. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Pollan Family Table: The Best Recipes & Kitchen Wisdom for Delicious, Healthy Family Meals

Corky, Lori, Dana, and Tracy Pollan. Scribner, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4637-1

The women of the Pollan family collaborate in this collection of 100 recipes, offering three generations of kitchen wisdom and strategies for the return of the family table. Michael Pollan’s mother, Corky, and sisters, Lori, Tracy, and Dana, have assembled an “empowering book” and practical guide for home cooks struggling to make healthy and fulfilling sit-down family meals. Showcasing the very best Pollan family recipes, these fresh ideas help families achieve the “Common Pot”—a ideal dynamic marked by communal cooking, eating, and laughing together around the family table. Recipes are kid- and adult-friendly, made with easy-to-find store ingredients, require little experience, and are time-savers. Along with culinary terms, sage advice, and sections on home-made condiments, there are lists of essential utensils and pantry basics. They favor ingredients, such as simple grains and vegetables and common-sense cooking low in fat and processed foods. Meat, poultry, and seafood recipes abound, along with comforting soups and chiles, and meatless Monday dishes include dressed-up pasta and salads. Current Pollan kid-favorite desserts are featured, too. Each recipe page has market and pantry lists for cell-phone snapshots cooks take shopping. From dishes prepared by their mother to Grandpa Max’s love of fresh-grown ingredients and their continued family table tradition, the Pollans find inspiration devising a new routine for the family sit-down meal. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Marcus Off Duty

Marcus Samuelsson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-470-94058-7

Many New Yorkers like to think of themselves as citizens of the world, but Samuelsson has the credentials to prove it. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, he cooked his way across Switzerland, Austria, and France before settling as a celebrity chef at his renowned restaurants in Harlem, Red Rooster. In this, his fifth book, he draws from all the quarters of his lifetime, as well as from many other parts of the globe, and offers over 130 “recipes I cook at home.” The Swiss influence is apparent in dishes such as his Grandmother Helga’s meatballs in a crazy gravy made with chicken broth, cream, lingonberry preserves and pickled cucumber juice. East African cuisine is reflected in his doro wat, a chicken stew served over tortillas and topped with a chicken liver spread. There are French crepes, Americanized with rhubarb-strawberry compote and American baked potatoes made French with blue cheese. The collection is organized into nine somewhat random chapters. Early on, there is a section with ten “special days” recipes for holidays as disparate as Passover, Mardi Gras, and Kwanzaa. Then the final third of the book is organized by type with chapters on soups, sides, and desserts. In between is a helpful Cooking with Kids chapter, and the author’s playlists of “music to cook by,” which suggest that his love for seasonings extends to Salt-N-Pepa, run throughout. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Prune

Gabrielle Hamilton. Random, $45 (576p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9409-4

This is one of the most brilliantly minimalist cookbooks in recent memory: no preface, no introduction, no interminable recounting of all that Hamilton has witnessed in her 15 years as the chef/owner of New York’s Prune restaurant. Instead, nested throughout the 250 recipes, in a handwritten font, are scribblings, usually in the form of orders rather than suggestions, as if the reader were on her payroll. It’s an appealing tactic, in a masochistic kind of way, which at once conveys the thrill of restaurant cooking and the wisdom of the author, while making for a charged reading experience. “Don’t just slam them into the pan and manhandle,” she advises in a recipe for razor clams with smoked paprika butter. Her carrot-peeling advice is equally blunt: “Long fluid strokes please—do not chisel away at them into a cubist rendering.” At the end of an entry for salt and sugar-cured green tomatoes, she challenges the imagination by planting a suggestion, like any good boss would, “We should figure out something to do with the interesting cured tomato water.... Maybe the bartenders have an idea?” Twelve of the book’s 13 chapters are jammed with intensely flavored entries. The other, entitled “Garbage,” finds purpose for limp celery and smoked fish scraps, of which the author warns, “I’ll kill you if you waste it.” Perhaps a little fear is warranted after all. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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