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Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today

Jane Isay. Harper, $27.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-242716-8

Isay (Secrets and Lies), a former book editor, shares what it is to be a grandparent and how to keep family conflicts to a minimum and joy at the maximum in this lovely treatment of a widely shared experience. She identifies three age groups for grandparents—young ones still at work and busy, retired ones with enough energy to care for active youngsters, and elder matriarchs and patriarchs—and follows the life cycle of the contemporary three-generation family, with sage advice and family stories throughout. The book is written to help the two generations of adults in a three-generation family deal with the conflicts, problems, and politics of family life, without striving for perfection. Part one teaches “grandparent prep” and adapting to change. Part two considers “the intangibles,” such as nurturing a child’s “moral imagination” and how grandparenting can function as a second chance, as with the illustrative story of a tough paternal taskmaster who metamorphosed into an indulgent “Paw-Paw” with his daughters’ kids. Parts three and four respectively cover difficult issues, such as dealing with distance and remaining involved despite advancing age. More thoughtful and inspiring than Lesley Stahl’s 2016 Becoming Grandma, this volume would make an ideal present from parents-to-be to their own folks. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff & Verrill. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives

William Stixrud and Ned Johnson. Viking, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2251-9

Stixrud, a clinical neuropsychologist, and Johnson, coauthor of Conquering the SAT and founder of tutoring company PrepMatters, provide compassionate, well-supported suggestions and strategies for how parents can help their kids deal with ever-more-competitive academics and extracurriculars. By studying the levels of stress and motivation in children, the authors discovered that “a low sense of control is enormously stressful and that autonomy is the key to developing motivation.” Their book guides readers toward laying off the “helicopter” parenting so prevalent today and instead allowing their children the freedom to make their own decisions. Stixrud and Johnson theorize that a sense of control is the “antidote to stress,” touching on common stressors for American kids, such as social media, demanding homework, and lack of sleep. The real-life case studies peppered throughout give relevance to the authors’ viewpoint, and FAQs from parents (such as, in the sleep section, “How much sleep does my child need?”) add to the book’s usefulness. The authors make a highly persuasive case for how parents can help their children segue from feeling stressed and powerless to feeling loved, trusted, and supported. Agent: Howard Yoon, Gail Ross Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Create Your Own Improv Quilts: Modern Quilting with No Rules & No Rulers

Rayna Gillman. C&T, $27.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-61745-444-8

Gillman (Hand-Printed Cloth) encourages readers to break from the confines of traditional quilting in this practical guide to the improv method. An avid quilter since 1974, Gillman decided to ditch patterns in 1996 when she took up improv quilting and began creating “wonky, improv, original” quilts instead. Rather ironically, she has written a clean-cut guidebook for being spontaneous, using what-if prompts to encourage readers to add their own creativity. She discusses designs and fabrics, including “repro” prints and batiks, before digging into the how-tos: “Start simple. Clear the decks. Start with solids. Select three colors. Use one geometric shape.” She recommends beginners start with the rectangle as a base and use black, white, and a “medium-value color that makes you smile.” Then she looks closely at the art of improvising, especially with strips and strings. She offers a gallery of other improvisers’ work—Catherine Whall Smith and Cindy Grisdela included—and cites examples and mistakes from her own quilts. For intermediate or experienced quilters looking to get into the improv technique, this is an excellent starting point. Color photos. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Tea Garden in Tivoli: American Garden Design Inspired by the Japanese Way of Tea

Bettina Mueller. Tea House, $34.95 (185p) ISBN 978-0-578-16202-7

Mueller (The World in a Bowl of Tea) uses her experience creating a Japanese tea garden in Tivoli, N.Y., to teach others how to do the same, in this bare-bones guide. The author goes light on practical tips, instead focusing broadly on key elements of the tea garden and how to make and serve tea. The book is divided into three sections: “Garden” highlights Mueller’s challenges with her own garden and the process of creating a garden path. “Tea” describes the practice of serving tea in the Japanese tradition, and how the ceremony is designed to arouse all five human senses, beginning with the feeling of stones underfoot on the path. “Flower Arranging” uses guidelines adapted from those published by the Urasenke Foundation, an organization dedicated to Japanese Cultural Heritage in America, to guide readers on how to gather and arrange chabana (tea flowers) in a natural way. The how-to element is light throughout, but with more than 200 photographs that highlight Mueller’s own garden and others she has toured, the book provides visual inspiration to gardeners and Zen enthusiasts. Color photos. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Value of Weeds

Ann Cliff. Crowood (IPG, dist.), $18.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-78500-278-6

Cliff, a self-proclaimed “untidy gardener” who runs a farm in Victoria, Australia, makes a passionate case for the value and versatility of weeds. “Weeds,” she writes, “are rascals, sometimes villains,” but they also have positive qualities such as “contributing biomass, healing the scars we inflict on the earth, and giving us food and medicine.” Cliff explores each of the ways weeds can be useful, delving into biodiversity and describing the benefits of cultivating goosefoot, for example, which has nutritional value. She admits that weeds such as sow thistle need to be controlled, but she is very convincing about the value of weeds for wildlife (they provide nectar and pollen for insects) and in water, where they provide oxygen and food for pond life. She identifies certain types of weeds as potential sources of vegetable dyes in a section about other uses for weeds, and even offers recipes such as dandelion flower wine and crab-apple jelly. Cliff fills her book with advice for growing and containing weeds, advice, and photographs, along with fun facts (lucerne roots can descend 40 ft.) and stories from life on the farm. Gardeners and anyone interested in horticulture will find that this is the little book of weeds they never knew they needed. Color photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix: 238 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor, and Fun

Niki Jabbour. Storey, $19.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-61212-670-8

Gardener Jabbour (The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener) enthusiastically encourages readers to explore international vegetable and herb varieties as she tours her own “global” garden that contains crops from India, Italy, Lebanon, and Mexico, among other places. She organizes her book into a “if you like this, try... ” structure, so cabbage lovers, for instance, are encouraged to try komatsuna, an Asian green that tastes similar to cabbage with mustard overtones, and people who are fond of cucumbers are introduced to cucamelons, which have the crisp and crunchy taste as cucumbers plus a citrus twist. For each new variety, the book includes directions for growing and eating and, importantly, a paragraph selling readers on the variety. “Have I got the broccoli for you!” Jabbour jokes while introducing Piracicaba broccoli. Loaded with lush photos throughout, this attractive book will appeal to gardeners and gourmands alike. Color photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Seasonal Kitchen: Farm-Fresh Ingredients Enhance 165 Recipes

Kerry Dunnington. Artichoke, $19.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-9904185-6-6

In this solid collection of comfort-food classics, Baltimore caterer Dunnington (This Book Cooks, Tasting the Seasons) offers a practical approach to cooking. Organized by event (happy hour, dinner, etc.) rather than the seasons as implied by the title, Dunnington’s selections are surefire hits for dinner parties as well as weeknight meals. She suggests simple, flavor-packed updates on classics (lemon-rosemary chicken wings, pork tenderloin with roasted coffee and allspice, pineapple upside-down pancakes), as well as more inventive dishes such as wild-rice salad with cherries and feta, fire-roasted seafood chili with shrimp and crawfish, and a clove-spiked red-plum cake. Dunnington brings to the table thoughtful vegetarian options such as quinoa cheeseburgers with curried cucumber yogurt sauce; gingered coconut and celery soup; and almond cookies, which only call for sugar, almond paste, and an egg white. Dunnington’s instructions are simple and direct, and ingredients are pared down to just the essentials without sacrificing flavor. Novice cooks can easily source ingredients, and veterans would also do well to peruse this welcoming title, as they’re sure to pick up a few new ideas. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Modern Comfort Cooking: Feel-Good Favorites Made Fresh and New

Lauren Grier. Page Street, $21.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-62414-459-2

Comfort food doesn’t have to be predictable or even soothing on the palate, as this compendium by Grier (the food blogger behind Climbing Grier Mountain) proves. She mashes up classics with unlikely accents, and just when a recipe seems to be wacky enough, she adds an additional (and sometimes confounding) dimension. The results can be random, as if a bunch of trendy ingredients were subjected to a game of Mad Libs. Banh mi breakfast tacos feature bacon and cheddar, a tuna melt is seasoned with turmeric and topped with mozzarella cheese, and there’s a matcha milkshake made with bourbon. There are some strong ideas here, such as a hot fried-chicken and egg sandwich and a vegetarian osso bucco (with carrots substituting for veal) served with a Gouda polenta. Other dishes feel more like bar food of the early 2000s, such as the Asian deviled eggs with chile sauce, Reuben rolls in puff pastry, and falafel waffle. A few dishes, such as the honey-barbecue Cornish hens, crispy parsnip fries, and zucchini meatball subs, could make it into a weekly repertoire. For the most part, however, the emphasis is on novelty rather than lasting appeal. Photos. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Retro Recipes from the Engine 2 Cookbook: More Than 130 Lip-Smacking, Rib-Sticking, Body-Slimming Recipes to Live Plant-Strong

Rip and Jane Esselstyn. Grand Central, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4555-91190

Rip Esselstyn, a triathlete and former Austin, Tex., firefighter, expands on his 28-day Engine 2 plan that emphasizes a plant-focused diet and exercise and, writing with his sister Jane (Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook), presents this solid collection of 130 meatless dishes. After a quick introduction, the authors dive right into breakfast, with savory breakfast oats, a riff on classic oatmeal that incorporates turmeric, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms, and a granola composed entirely of seeds and a little maple syrup. Culinary left turns are on display throughout the book: DIY tater tots filled with hummus, and a Southwestern polenta bowl; however, the authors also include standard fare such as avocado toast and veggie burgers. With the exception of the aptly titled Epic Brats, a recipe that calls for readers to make their own meatless bratwursts as well as toppings, the recipes come together fairly quickly. While Engine 2 devotees are sure to find this collection a must-have, even carnivores will likely find a dish or two here worth considering. Agent: Richard Pine, InkWell Management. (Dec.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the relationship of the book's co-authors. It also listed an incorrect subtitle.

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Chinese Soul Food: A Friendly Guide for Homemade Dumplings, Stir Fries, and More

Hsiao-Ching Chou, photos by Clare Barboza. Sasquatch, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-63217-123-8

In her first book, Chou, a food writer and cooking instructor, provides 80 sturdy recipes for dishes that have stood the test of time, along with tips and brief lessons on topics such as “understanding soy sauce.” The daughter of immigrants, Chou was raised in Columbia, Mo., where her parents ran a Chinese restaurant. Many of the dishes in the book could be on the menu at any Chinese eatery in the American heartland: the book includes recipes for fried rice, Kung Pao chicken, orange beef, and hot and sour soup. There are five dumpling choices, along with instructions on how to boil, steam, or panfry them. Soup dumplings get an entry of their own. Chou thickens her fillings not with gelatin but with the natural collagen from simmered pork skin. A chapter on Chinese New Year entrées includes lively options such as saucy Dungeness crab and fragrant crispy duck breast. In a nod to Chou’s Midwestern childhood there is cauliflower stir-fried with country ham, while a chapter titled “Guilty Pleasures” celebrates non-Chinese classics such as General Tso’s chicken. Photographer Barboza showcases the cuisine, often with bright green vegetables offset by the warm, brown tones of meats, sauces, and noodles. This is a fun guide to creating favorite restaurant recipes at home. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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