Category Archives: Nonfiction

Tassy Morgan’s Bluff – Review

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Tassy Morgan’s Bluff by Jim Stinson
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Location: San Andreas, CA
Publication date: June 28th, 2011
Source: Publisher – LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Amazon product description:

San Andreas, California. It may be a quaint town, but its residents have high hopes for its future as a tourist destination. There’s Bill the Fixer, the handyman who sidelines in chain-saw sculpted redwood totem poles; real estate agent Margaret Nam, who plans to make a mint rehabbing beach shacks; and Jimi, the well-to-do hairstylist whose chair is the epicenter of town gossip. Amid their town’s growing pains, widower Lincoln Ellis and Tassy Morgan, a recently divorced painter, meet and-much to their surprise-sparks begin to fly.

This is a book I had requested and won through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. My main interest in this book was because of the location, in Northern California. Sadly, that’s just about where my interest ended. I found this book to be incredibly stale and unoriginal. Although the small-town quirks and gossip was amusing at times, I felt that overall, the plot of the story was lackluster and the town was full of oddball stereotypes to compensate for a plot full of lawyer jargon and zoning and construction babble.Tassy Morgan is the sexy, sweet, yet crazy divorcee / artist. Lincoln is a formerly high powered Hollywood attorney who at 50, retires in San Andreas by buying the B&B across from Tassy’s shack.  High powered real estate agent Margaret Nam has her eyes set on running for mayor in the small town. Not letting anything stand in her way, she develops a personal vendetta against Tassy Morgan, who refuses to comply with city ordinances about the paint color of her shack. Now her house, and her budding relationship with the rich, and recently widowed, Lincoln Ellis is as much under town scrutiny as is the height of her fence and the color of her walls. If it wasn’t for the unsurprising romance and sexual tension between Tassy and Lincoln I would have considered this a book for elementary school aged kids. Its good for a summer beach read when you need to keep one eye on a book and one eye on the kids running around the waves.

Tassy Morgan’s Bluff
By Jim Stinson
Plume, 2011
280 pages
Book 24 of 2011
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Tassy Morgan's bluff : a novel


Between Here and April – Review

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Between Here and April
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction

Back cover synopsis:

When a deep-rooted memory sudden surfaces, Elizabeth Burns becomes obsessed with the long-ago disappearance of her childhood friend April Cassidy. Driven to investigate, Elizabeth discovers a thirty-five-year-old newspaper article revealing the details that had been hidden from her as a child — shocking revelations about April’s mother Adele. Elizabeth, now herself a mother, tracks down, one by one, the people who knew Adele Cassidy and who might give her the insight necessary to understand how a mother could commit that most incomprehensible of crimes. But answers are elusive and the questions raised lead Elizabeth deep into her own compromised life…

I wrote the back cover synopsis as a juxtaposition. The book is really not as thrilling nor as mysterious as it is made out to be. While reading this book, there were many elements that confused me, frustrated me, and just plain annoyed me. For one, I never really underst00d Elizabeth’s obsession with the disappearance of April Cassidy. The memory came about when Elizabeth went to see the play Medea, then soon started having feinting spells during anything that reminded her of the year April disappeared from class. The investigation was not all that interesting either. Elizabeth works as a journalist, so it was no problem for her to turn this obsession into a work assignment and be paid to go back to her hometown and interview old neighbors that hadn’t moved away.

One of the major disappointments in this book was learning about Adele Cassidy and how her side of the story would be developed for the reader. I felt it was a bit of a cheat to have 32 pages of a word-by-word transcript between Adele and her therapist. Although it showed a lot of insight into Adele and laid some foundations for why she did what she did, it still felt…too easy.

Another disappointment was with Elizabeth herself. I found her to make poor decisions throughout the course of the novel, and despite her husband’s random and new kinky sexual requests, I still don’t understand why she never told him about the one most traumatic moment in her life, which would explain why she’s so hesitant to play along with his requests. And for all her complaints about his as a neglectful and naive husband, she certainly did not act the saint in the relationship either.

All the men in this book were portrayed as egotistic, abusive, hyper-sexed and just naive and ignorant. There was not a single man with redeeming qualities in this book. Most of the women were portrayed as victims, or bystanders, held down and oppressed.

What I did like about the novel, yes there was something I liked about this novel, was Kogan’s descriptive writing and the ability to  create a sympathetic environment for a crime so heinous and disturbing. She really excelled when she began writing about war photography and war journalism. That was when I realized that her first book, Shutterbabe, is a memoir of her years as a war photographer.

I think fans of Alice Sebold, particularly Almost Moon, will really enjoy this book, due to the similar themes and topics of undetected and undiagnosed mental illnesses, and mother-daughter issues that haunt the characters.

Between Here and April
By Deborah Copaken Kogan
Algonquin Books, 2008
ISBN 9781565129320
280 pages
Book 22 of 2011
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Between here and April : a novel

Bossypants – Review

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Bossypants by Tina Fey
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir

This memoir/autobiography by Tina Fey is really a series of essays detailing some of the more memorable akward moments in her life from  her childhood in Chicago to her rise in fame. Tina Fey takes us through the backroads of her life in and out of the spotlight. Written as a series of essays detailing various aspects of her life, Fey lets down her guard. Her breezy writing style, one-liner jokes and a slight spattering of childhood photos has the feel of an intimate side-by-side chat with the actress.

As much as I loved this book, there was still so much that I wanted after I finished each chapter. There were many hot button topics that she lightly brushed on with her trademark wit, but never really got any deeper than that. Although I felt like I was having a side-by-side talk with the actress when reading the book, I still felt like she was holding back.

I came across this breakdown on another review of this book on Librarything, and I thought it accurately captured the breakdown of Bossypants:

46% Celebrity memoir
28% Essay collection
12% Feminist manifesto
9% Stand-up routine
5% Self-help manual

Some of the topics that she covered in her book were homosexuality, her Sarah Palin impersonation, a honeymoon cruise from hell and the difficulties for female comedians in show business. I’m not really sure what the overarching message is from the book other than something close to “girl power.” There is no chronological order to the book, as each chapter jumps topics and is a mix of funny bits and stories. There were a few moments where I felt she dragged on certain topics and it came across as slightly preachy. There were moments in her career that I had hoped she would expand on, but never really got to, such as her work as a writer on SNL. As much as I admire Tina Fey’s hardwork climbing up the ladder to commercial success, this book still left me unsatisfied.

By Tina Fey
Little, Brown & Co, 2011
ISBN 9780316056861
277 pages
Book 21 of 2011
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The Most Beautiful Walk In The World – Review

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The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
On sale: 5/24/2011

Part memoir, part Paris guide book, John Baxter takes us through a year of his life in Paris as a literary tour guide through the city of light’s 6th Arrondissment, better known as The Latin Quarter.

Written as a series of essays, each chapter chronicles a different part of Baxter’s life that either lead to his career as a literary tour guide, or what followed as a result. What I liked about the book is that Baxter offered a lot of insight into the famed Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, as well Paris itself. Many of his warnings and advice came in handy while I was there. The best time to read this book is either in Paris, or on your way to Paris because that is when you can see Paris through Baxter’s eyes. This is especially true of the Latin Quarter. Had it not been for this book, I would have missed the significance of much of this area of Paris in terms of its literary history. I loved that he included tips to get around the city in the back of the book. In fact, I had torn out these pages and carried them around me during my week stay. I liked that he complimented the narrative with quotes, songs and poetry, and that this wasn’t a typical chronological memoir.

What I didn’t like: Since this was an ARC copy, there were a few minor editing errors throughout the book (ie. William Faulkner being named twice in a list of authors.) I thought that it would help if the photos provided in the book had captions to help explain their significance. One chapter was missing a photo entirely and had an error message in the box. I also thought a nice added touch would have been for Baxter to create either a simple map or a reference guide for all the street names and their histories on one page. Something easy to refer to when trying to decide what spots to visit on a day trip.

Overall, this book was a great way to prepare myself for the literary side of Paris. Baxter’s writing style is very eloquent without being pompous, and his portraits of Paris at its best times and worst times are a great way to understand the mood of the city.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris
by John Baxter
Harper Perennial, 2011
302 pages
Via Harper Perennial
 Book 20 of 2011

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The most beautiful walk in the world : a pedestrian in Paris

The Maltese Falcon – Review

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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet
Age: Adult
Genre: Mystery

One of the original noir detective mysteries, the Maltese Falcon is a story about San Francisco detective Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer. On a typical day at work, a young lady enters into the offices of Spade and Archer to ask for help bringing her runaway sister back home. What soon ensues is a tangle of lies, and deception that suck Sam Spade into a chain reaction of murder, greed and lust.

My first experience with Dashiell Hammett was The Thin Man, set in New York. I absolutely adored The Thin Man and was looking forward to reading The Maltese Falcon, particularly because the book is set in San Francisco. That being said, I was slightly let down by The Maltese Falcon. I did not find Sam Spade to be near as endearing as Nick Charles and I don’t think he was meant to be. Spade lied, he cheated, and he took advantage of women just to further his case. I didn’t connect with the characters at all and that took away from the book. Nearly all of the characters were terrible people who did terrible things for their own personal benefit, except for Spade’s secretary.  In typical Hammett form, there was plenty of witty rapport between the characters which this book a quick read. Since this wasn’t a who-dun-it type of mystery, there weren’t too many plot twists. I did like the story itself and the back story for the much searched for Maltese Falcon. I loved that it was set in San Francisco and for other local Hammett fans, there is a weekly Dashiell Hammett tour in SF, tracing all the sites mentioned in the book.

The Maltese Falcon
By Dashiell Hammett
Vintage Books, 1929
ISBN 0394717724
229 pages
Book 17 of 2011
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The Maltese falcon

Not Buying It – Review

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Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine
Age: Adult

In an experiment sparked by a particularly arduous Black Friday shopping trip, author Judith Levine and her husband Paul impose a year-long moratorium on extraneous shopping and try to live off just the basic necessities.

I have so many issues with this book, I don’t even know how to articulate them. I will use bullet points to illustrate what I did and did not like about this book.

  • During this year of “no-shopping” Levine and her husband underwent $25,000.oo in renovations to one of their 2 houses. (One in Vermont, and an apartment in New York.)
  • $7.oo per pound of coffee is a necessity, yet socks and q-tips are not?
  • Written as a diary, with each chapter dedicated to a month: Levine’s rants were boring, long-winded and particularly whiny. Why impose such strict sanctions if you’re going to complain about the entire ordeal or look for loopholes by mooching off of generous friends?
  • There were many, many filler entries about local and nationwide politics that felt unnecessary and took away from the consumerism aspects of the book. I would have preferred a shorter book without the political preaching.
  • Levine spent more time discussing economic policy and consumerism’s effects on society than she did discussing her own experiences with the no-shopping experiments. I still have no idea what she considers a basic necessity and what is a luxury. All I gathered is that she hated every minute of her experiment.

Although I appreciate the concept of the experiment, and think its always good for everyone to be more conscientious of what they are buying and whether or not it is a needed purchase, Levine’s writing really turned me off. I found myself skimming through a majority of the book. I didn’t connect to her as a reader, and I certainly didn’t feel any pity for her plight at being unable to go to the movies or the theater.

Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping
by Judith Levine
Free Press (imprint of Simon & Schuster), 2006
ISBN 0743269365
257 pages
Book 15 of 2011
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Not buying it : my year without shopping

Ugly Beauty – Review

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Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’oreal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good by Ruth Brandon

Age: Adult

A dual biography of the legendary founders of the cosmetics industry — Helena Rubinstein and L’Oreal’s Eugene Shueller — and a gripping and disturbing story of gender, power, and politics that stretches back to the evils of World War II and beyond.

I opted to use the back page synposis for this book rather than writing my own summary. There is so much going on in this book I had no way to summarize it in my own words in 3-4 short sentences.

At first glace, one would think this was a book about the cosmetics industry and its scams and shames over fooling women into spending hard-earned money on cosmetics that don’t deliver on their promises. Although Brandon does cover some of those topics, the main focus of this book is on Eugene Shueller and his involvement in the Nazi movement in Germany before, during and after World War II. The first chapter is dedicated soley to Helena Rubinstein, and her rags to riches story of success. The rest of the book is devoted to Shueller, the founding of L’Oreal, and Shueller’s political, and economic views towards business and life. Although there is some compare and contrast between Rubinstein and Shueller, the main emphasis of the book is on the founder of L’Oreal.

I found this book to take a really incredible look at an aspect of World War II that we don’t learn much about in history class. The effects of the war on local businesses, their involvement, and the aftermath of the war. Shueller was associated with the Nazi movement, in a very negative way, although his main line of defense was that it was mainly for economic reasons. Rubinstein, being a Polish Jew, was pretty much the exact opposite of Shueller in every way possible. While both had a keen eye for finances, and financial decisions, Rubinstein’s business was run by family members in charge of the headquarters in almost every continent. Rubinstein was best friends with Coco Chanel, and Chanel’s influence on Rubinstein is evident. Both share many similarities in their personalities and how they run their business based on ingenuity, creativity and a desperate desire to abandon their poverty-ridden past and enjoy the riches of their present.

I think this is a great book for history buffs, for fans of L’Oreal and Helena Rubinstein and the fashion/cosmetics industry. There is a lot in this story, it was well written, and well paced. My only problem is that Brandon offers up a lot of information without really giving the reader time to process everything. She goes into tangents, particularly about Helena Rubinstein, with stories that don’t really connect to the rest of the paragraph. I sometimes had to wonder what one story had to do with the other. Despite the rocky start, the book was very enlightening.

Read the first 100 pages HERE

Similar Books: The Gospel According to Coco Chanel

Book 6 of 2011

Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’oreal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good 
by Ruth Brandon
Harper Collins, Feb 1st, 2011
253 pages
ARC copy – sent for review by publisher


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Ugly Beauty by Ruth Brandon: Book Cover

The Art of Eating In – Review

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The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir, nonfiction
Location: Brooklyn

Based on a highly popular New York blog, Brooklyner Cathy Erway went two years without eating out in restaurants in one of the biggest and most culinary metropolitan cities in the nation. How? She made copy-cat meals of restaurant favorites at home, learned how to forage for food and entertain friends with dinner parties during her quest to forgo convenience for quality.

I connected very strongly with this book right from the start. Cathy is a wonderful narrator. She is quirky, introspective, and her social commentaries throughout the book definitely provide some good food for thought. My biggest compliment to her writing is that she is not preachy. Let me say that again, but in all caps: SHE IS NOT PREACHY. I have read, or tried to read, far to many books about cooking and healthy eating that have just been riddled with judgement and a “holier-than-thou” attitude, and that is a major turn-off. That was my biggest qualm about Animal, Miracle, Vegetable by Barbara Kingsolver. I think I got through 2 chapters before I gave up on the entire concept.

The Art of Eating In is in a way, what I expected Animal, Miracle, Vegetable to be. After reading through her blog, Cathy’s book is not a retelling of her posts from the past 4 years. She provides a lot of unique insights and knowledge into food culture in America. She is incredibly well read, citing a number of books, writers, columnists, journalists etc, throughout the book. Each chapter has a different focus, a different anecdote and ends with two or three recipes that were discussed in that same chapter. The subtitle of this book, however is a lie. For one thing, Cathy did not learn to love the stove. She began the book with a healthy background of home cooked meals and eating-in. Although a switch from eating out to cooking in can be extreme, Cathy had an advantage because she already possessed considerable cooking skills from the start.

Since this book and the blog is written by a 20-something year old in New York, that should be definitely taken into consideration when picking up this book. She leads a single lifestyle through most of the book and a scheduling flexibility of 10pm dinners that parents do not have. She also lives in a major metropolitan city where pretty much everything you want to do or try is available at all hours of the day.

The way the book is written reminds of French Women Never Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. It has the same mix of memoir/biography/recipe/cookbook with a unique spin on youthful urban society.

Being in my 20s and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m lucky enough to have just many foodie resources as Cathy to explore at my own pace. Food being my third favorite hobby (right after reading and knitting) I found her challenge to be interesting. Although I don’t experiment with or cook as much as I want to, I definitely don’t eat-out frequently for a challenge like this to make much of an impact on either my wallet or my waistline. I’ve stopped eating at national chain restaurants for well over a year (except the occasional Panda Express and McDonald’s cravings) and now look for places with intriguing and unique menu items — Lobster corn dogs as one example.

This is by far my favorite non-fiction book read of 2010 and I’m really glad I stumbled upon it.

The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove
 by Cathy Erway
Gotham Books, 2010
ISBN 9781592405251
320 pages


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Half Read Books

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I’ve been caught in a reading slump. I don’t know if I’m just distracted with my Child Development classes, or with all the excitement over the Giants entering the World Series, but I haven’t been able to finish any of the recent books I’ve checked out from the library. It took me about a month to finish The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (which I liked, but didn’t love). One book actually made me really mad that I wasted my time reading 50% of it, and another book just wasn’t as enticing.

There will be a formal review for The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, but here are my brief reviews of the books that did not make the cut:

How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World

by Jordon Christy

This is a of a self-help book aimed at the fresh out of college, younger 20-somethings. I found many things wrong with this book, and I had to stop reading it during the chapter of “never let the boys call you, never make the first move because you’ll fail in the relationship” (That’s me paraphrasing the chapter). I found it a bit hypocritical when the author tells the reader to turn off the TV and stop following the media coverage of ditzy celebs, but then every example about poise, dress or anything else is set by some leading celebrity. There was no advice in this book that you wouldn’t find in the current month’s Cosmo magazine, and I didn’t really get the selling point of this book. The goal was to impress upon young women to act with the grace and charm of an Audrey Hepburn, but I felt that Christy got too tangled up in all the celebrity name & quote dropping to actually produce any quality advice.


The Smart One and the Pretty One

by Claire LeZebnik

I don’t normally read chick-lit, but this one caught my eye because it is a story of two sisters. Ava and Lauren reunite in their hometown of Los Angeles after finding out that their mother has cancer. Ava, as the older sister, is the mature lawyer always with a plan. Lauren is the younger sister, more frivolous and adventurous. I connected with the sisters from the start, there are a lot of similarities between Lauren & Ava that correlate to my relationship with my sister. My connection to the book was stranded on just the relationship of the sisters. All the men in the book were either obnoxiously arrogant or the complete opposite. I didn’t develop any sympathy for any of the characters and subsequently my interest in the book started to droop after the fourth chapter. I tried and failed at getting into chick-lit. That’s what I get for falling for a catchy synopsis.

Gilmore Girls + 10 years

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10 years (minus 6 days) the world was introduced to the fast-talking, smart and witty Gilmore Girls.

Although the show ended three years ago in 2007, it still continues to be a huge part of many lives and a constant image on television screens across the US. This show carries a lot of resonance with me because I grew up with Rory. We were about the same age during the course of the show. Rory and I had a number of similarities:

1. Always carried a book with us

2. Pro and Con lists

3. On the student council at school

4. Taste in music, movies and books.

5. Continued our education after high school to an institution of higher learning.

6. Bottomless pit of a stomach – love of coffee/burgers and fries

Although I didn’t make it into an ivy league school, I am constantly inspired and motivated by this show and Rory Gilmore herself. Her desire to learn, to improve her skills to try something new keeps me on my toes, encourages me to do my best.

In celebration of the show, the characters and everything The Gilmore Girls stood for, this post is my ode to Gilmore.

We start with Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. The unbeatable mother-daughter team that makes every other mother-daughter combo pale in comparison. With their wit, their coffee fueled humor and charming demeanor, these two women show us that smart is cool, and smart is normal. I also love their caffeine addiction and junk-food/constant eating habits.

Richard and Emily Gilmore…do they even need an introduction? They were continually one of my favorite parts of the show. Their old-school elegance clashing with Lorelai’s modern ways of thinking always made for fun spats and dramatic fights.

WBBDance1.jpg image by Flamingo
And the two best comedic actors of the show… The sassy and snippy Michel Gerard and the bumbling Kirk.
Now for some fun and random behind the scenes trivia.
  1. The average script for an episode of the show runs 75-80 pages, as opposed to 45-50 for a standard hour-long television show.
  2. Liza Weil originally auditioned for the role of Rory and didn’t get the part. The producers liked her so much that they wrote her the role of Paris Gellar.
  3. Luke wasn’t originally meant to be a series regular. He was in the pilot and once producers figured out the chemistry between him and Lorelai they extended his role in the show.
  4. In the beginning of the show, Kirk held a number of odd jobs with a number of names before the writers made him a frequent character by name of Kirk. In the pilot, his name was Mick and he showed up at Lorelai’s to install the DSL.
  5. Alexis Bledel (who plays Rory) hates coffee, even though her character loves it. She usually drinks tea inside of the coffee mugs.
  6. Scott Patterson (who plays Luke) used to be a major league pitcher for the Braves, and Dodgers among others before hanging up his cleats to take acting classes.
  7. Keiko Agena (Lane) is about 15 plus years older than Alexis Bledel, even though they play best friends of the same age on the show.
Websites for Gilmore Girls Fans
  1. Shameless self-plug for my Rory Gilmore Reading List.
  2. Gilmore Memories. A great site for episode recaps, trivia and show clips.
  3. The WB for new GG episodes uploaded every Monday.
  4. ABC Family for their in-depth Gilmore Girls show site.
Ah Gilmore Girls. I can watch you every single day, from episode 1 to episode 7 and start all over again right after the last episode.
Although I didn’t get to it today, a post for another day will be all about the fashion of the Gilmore Girls. I know I am not the only person to covet and yearn for a chance to dig through Rory’s closet during her college years. Now that would be an endless ramble of all that is cute and chic.
Well, for now I leave you with the friendly faces of the Stars Hollow residents.