Food! · Humor · Julia P · Memoir · Non-Fiction · Travel

The Sweet Life in Paris | by David Lebovitz

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City
by David Leboviz
(Broadway, 2009, 304 pages)

I really enjoyed reading this book!  David Lebovitz is the former pastry chef from Chez Panisse (Alice Waters’s restaurant in California) and is currently a pastry chef living in Paris.  Lebovitz fell in love with Paris when he first visited in the 1980s and moved there to fulfill his dream of eventually living in the City of Lights.  This is arguably more of a travelogue than a food memoir, which is what I initially anticipated.  Each chapter is more of a vignette looking at how experiences in France are decidedly different from what David initially thought or expected.  We see how he adapts and works to acclimate himself to the city he now calls home.  Each chapter ends with a recipe (or 4), all of which I’m eager to try.  He explains his recipes in a very clear, accessible manner which is greatly appreciated 🙂

There’s a lot of humor in this book and I found myself comparing Lebovitz with David Sedaris a little (who also writes about his experiences living in France – check out When You are Engulfed in Flames).  I think this would be a fun book to read before you take a trip to Paris because you definitely get insight into the different cultural expectations and you can learn from David’s mistakes.  I’ll definitely be picking up some of Lebovitz’s cookbooks based on what I saw here.

Angie BK · Fiction · In the Library · Quick Read!

The Flight of Gemma Hardy | by Margot Livesy

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy
(Harper, 2012, 447 pages)

I picked up this book on a whim, and when I read that it was a new take on Jane Eyre, I couldn’t resist reading it! Set in the 1950s and 1960s, this book follows the life of Gemma Hardy, an orphan who lives with her uncle until he dies. It is easy to see the main themes of Jane Eyre throughout this book. However, these themes have different twists to them to fit the more contemporary time. It is fun to compare Gemma to Jane and see how the characters have the same resolve to make their life better. It is a quick and enjoyable read! I would highly recommend it to fans of Jane Eyre.

Biography · Celebrities · In the Library · Non-Fiction · Quick Read! · Ying L

And Nothing But the Truthiness | by Lisa Rogak

And Nothing But the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert
by Lisa Rogak
(Thomas Dunne Books, 2011, 293 pages)

Truthiness, is that even a word? If you are asking this question, you are not alone. It has been added to the 2010 third edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary.  Stephen Colbert coined this word during the pilot episode of his political satire program “The Colbert Report” on October 17, 2005.

truthiness  n. informal. the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.
– ORIGIN early 19th cent. (in the sense ‘truthfulness’): coined in the modern sense by US humorist Stephen Colbert (1964–).

This is an unauthorized biography of Stephen Colbert, the comedian and TV host. The book takes readers from his childhood through his appearance at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30, 2010. Rogak assembled an impressive amount of interviews, articles, quotes and performances to show how Colbert became the pop culture icon he is today. It’s interesting to peek through the information presented in the book and try to understand the real Colbert.

Colbert was born in Washington, D.C. in 1964 and grew up in South Carolina, the youngest of eleven children in an Irish Catholic family. Colbert’s interest in acting didn’t start off until later in high school. He attended Northwestern University as a drama major. His first professional performance job was with Second City Chicago. The chapter on his reporter/writer days at “The Daily Show” reveals the tremendous work involved to produce the show – very informative and entertaining.  Some famous names pop up here and there, such as Jon Stewart, Steve Carell and Amy Sedaris. I can’t help but mention the Colbert family’s tie to St. Louis.  Colbert’s father, James Colbert, was a physician and an educator. He was the dean of the medical school of St. Louis University for eight years.  When he accepted the job at thirty-two years of age, he was the youngest person to be dean of a medical school at the time.

I enjoyed this book and learned a lot about Stephen Colbert.  It’s a quick and fun read.  If you are a Colbert fan and/or are interested in celebrities in general, get a hold of this book.

Andrew S · Biography · In the Library · Non-Fiction · Philosophy

The Pursuits of Philosophy: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of David Hume | by Annette C. Baier

The Pursuits of Philosophy: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of David Hume 
by Annette C. Baier
(Harvard University Press, 2011, 176 pages)

This is an insightful and accessible biographical and intellectual introduction to David Hume, the 18th century Scottish philosopher. The format is very engaging and not only gives the reader summaries of Hume’s various writings, but it also grants an opportunity to sample one of his shorter works. Each chapter begins with an extended section from Hume’s autobiographical essay, My Own Life, and the chapters then follow the course that Hume set. The opening paragraphs of Hume’s essay recount his childhood and early life, and Baier’s first chapter deals with Hume’s family relations, education, and his early loss of religious faith. All seven chapters follow this format, dealing with Hume’s stints in France, the writing of his Treatise of Human Nature, his work as a historian and librarian, and various other aspects of his life.

Baier gives her readers critical analysis of Hume’s major works while offering an entertaining and insightful look at his personality. The format, which grounds literary analysis in the structure of a biographical narrative, helps to show how the events of Hume’s life and his personality influenced the shape and subjects of his literary career. Baier manages to do this without descending into psychological reductionism. She very much accomplishes the goal she sets for herself, which is “to bring life and works together, guided mainly by Hume’s own words” (132).

Baier is mainly interested in summarizing Hume’s work, and given this goal, coupled with the brevity of the work, there is not a lot by way of original contribution to Humean studies. However, she does have a specific take on Hume, and offers some of her thoughts about his contributions in the afterward. A particular point of interest for me was her commendation of Hume’s “true scepticism,” which involved “avoidance of advancing theses on controversial matters which are claimed as gospel truth, where we are asked just to trust his say-so” (143). Hume was a skeptic – regarding both the basic ability of humans to gain fully accurate knowledge of the world as well as the basic tenets of theism – but he never allowed his skepticism to become a simple reversal of the religious dogmatism that he rejected. I think that this Humean skepticism could serve as a good corrective to some of the vitriolic versions of religious skepticism prominent today, such as the “new atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

For those who are approaching Hume for the first time, but would like a brief summary of his thought to direct their reading, this book would serve very well. If, like myself, the reader has tackled some of Hume’s philosophical works (for which he is best known) but would like to get a broader perspective on the other genres in which he wrote, it is also very enjoyable.


Erica M · Non-Fiction · Self-Help

Women, Food, and God | by Geneen Roth

Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth
(Scribner, 2010, 224 pages)

While this book is centered around the experience of a group of women at an obsessive overeating retreat, the practices are universally applicable to any obsessive situation. The facilitator and author teaches her students, and the reader, how to uncover what is actually beneath their eating behavior – pain and emotions from childhood. By becoming aware of these emotions through actively paying attention to our bodies and thoughts, we can gain control over our obsessive behaviors, Roth says. The story is peppered with the personal stories and struggles of her students which help to support her message. I would definitely read another of Ms. Roth’s books.

Award Winner · Fiction · In the Library · Julia P · Juvenile · Quick Read!

Kira-Kira | by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004, 244 pages)

Sometimes you just need to stop and pick up a Newbery Medal winner 🙂  Kira-Kira focuses on the intense relationship between two Japanese-American sisters, Katie and Lynn.  Lynn has always looked after Katie and taught her to approach life by looking for the kira-kira in everything (aka the glittering essence of life).  There’s no question that Katie looks up Lynn, but things start to change when the family moves from Iowa to Georgia in hopes of finding employment and finally buying a house.  Lynn gets sick and it changes the entire family dynamic.  Katie isn’t quite aware of what’s going on, only that Lynn has to stay home from school a lot more and gets the bedroom to herself.

The family is slowly crumbling under the weight of Lynn’s illness and everyone’s attempts to make her life pleasurable.  Their parents are always at work, Lynn’s sick in bed, and Katie is left to try and keep her sister happy while also watching over her little brother.  The story is sad, but the underlying message is that even though there are struggles in life, the important thing is to always try and focus on/remember the kira-kira in the world.

I definitely cried reading this book.  Not quite Bridge of Terabithia tears, but it got me.  It was a great read and definitely accessible for the age range it is geared toward.

Fiction · Juvenile · Ying L

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu | by Wendy Shang

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Shang
(Scholastic Press, 2011, 320 pages)

I don’t usually pick up children books. I checked out this one after seeing the title from an ALA mid-winter Cognotes award list. What a pleasant surprise!

Lucy Wu, a typical 12 year old (American-born Chinese), is crazy about basketball and amazing at free throws. She can’t wait to start her 6th grade year.  It’s going to be the best year ever. Lucy is getting her own room as her bossy and over-achieving sister is leaving for college. Lucy and her best friend Madison are looking forward to ruling the basketball court. Before school starts, she learns that she’ll have to share her room for a few months with a great aunt visiting from China. She also has to attend a Chinese language school on Saturday mornings. To make the situation worse, Sloane, a girl bully at school is intimidating Lucy from trying out for captain of the student basketball team.

The main characters are well-rounded, realistic, and likable. The writing style is smooth and engaging. There are quite a few surprises throughout the book. This is a great read for upper elementary and middle school kids. I must add that it’s a nice change to read about Chinese parents who are not very strict with their kids.

Andrew S · Art · History · Non-Fiction

Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates | by Martin Hopkinson

Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates by Martin Hopkinson
(Yale University Press, 2011, 112 pages)

I stumbled upon this book while browsing in my local public library, and I’m glad I did. The bookplates collected in this volume all come from the British Museum, with artifacts ranging from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. The opening essay charts the development of bookplates from their origins as status symbols for the few who could afford printed books to the widely available and mass-produced plates of the twentieth century.

The artwork of the plates includes woodcuts, pen and ink drawings, and various other mediums to create a wide-ranging and beautiful collection. Coats of arms, portraits, landscapes, scenes from classical literature, and, of course, collections of books, are some of the images that are represented by artists like Albrecht Durer and Rudyard Kipling.

This was a very enjoyable read. It can be browsed through quickly or lingered over. Either way, booklovers will appreciate this look at the artistic side of book paraphernalia.

Andrew S · Non-Fiction · Religion

The New Worship Awakening: What’s Old is New Again | by Robert E. Webber

The New Worship Awakening: What’s Old is New Again by Robert E. Webber
(Hendrickson Publishers, 2007, 180 pages)

Robert Webber was a kind of guru for evangelicals who were looking to appropriate ancient expressions of the Christian faith in a twenty-first century context. Until his death in 2007, he worked to help churches achieve this goal of what he referred to as an “ancient-future” synthesis. The primary way that he advanced this agenda was through introducing evangelicals to liturgical forms from the early church and showing how various modern worship traditions could helpfully blend contemporary worship with these more traditional forms. The New Worship Awakening argues for this approach and offers advice as to how such a blending can be achieved.

Webber’s hope was to sell evangelicals on the kind of liturgical renewal that took place in mainline Protestant churches during the twentieth century, and he met with a large degree of success. The worship of many tradition-oriented evangelicals is looking more and more like traditional liturgies that have been preserved in other parts of Protestantism and even Catholicism. This book does an excellent job of showing how the evangelical priorities of conversion, personal piety, and gospel-centered preaching are embodied in ancient liturgies. Anyone interested in the history and contemporary practices of Christian worship would find much here to stimulate their thinking.

Audiobook · Fiction · Humor · Julia P · Young Adult

Beauty Queens | by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
(Scholastic Press, 2011, 396 pages)

I listened to Beauty Queens after seeing it recommended as an audiobook in, I believe, Library Journal or Booklist.  Bray narrates the novel herself and she does a pretty impressive job – there are a number of characters and accents that she really brings to life.  The story begins with 50 teen beauty queens on a plane heading to compete in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant.  Suddenly they hit turbulence and crash on a desert (but not deserted) island.  Only a few of the girls survive the crash and they must work together to figure out how they can survive until they are rescued.

The beauty queens are all pretty much caricatures of what you might expect them to be – all with their distinct regional flare.  The story takes an interesting turn when we discover that not only are the beauty queens not alone on the island, but that a very powerful former Miss Teen Dream is responsible for relaying to the news that they have all died as she secretly masterminds an arms deal with a noted dictator.  As the girls struggle to survive they also learn something about what they have to offer – showing themselves that they are more than what society expects them to be.

This was a humorous, light read with a great message.  Obviously it’s catered to the YA crowd – I can see it having its largest audience with 8-9 grade girls.