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Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—a True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder

Ben Mezrich. Atria, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7189-2

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Mezrich aims to repeat the success of 2009’s The Accidental Billionaires—the basis for the movie The Social Network—with this breathless account of two billionaire oligarchs in post-Communist Russia. In the feeding frenzy after the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, venal businessmen grew rich as the bankrupt government sold state-owned companies at fire-sale prices. Boris Berezovsky, an early beneficiary of the sell-off, recognized talent in Roman Abramovich, a younger entrepreneur, and became his krysha (protector). Both flourished until Vladimir Putin became premier in 1999. Berezovsky underestimated Putin’s desire to eliminate the influence—thought not the wealth—of the oligarchs. They quarreled; Putin attacked Berezovsky, drove him into exile, and may have had him (and at least one associate, Alexander Litvinenko) murdered. Abramovich, who proved more amenable to working with Putin, continues to prosper. This is lowbrow journalism at its best: recreated dialogue, the author’s insight into everyone’s thoughts, characters and actions tweaked to protect sources and maintain a fiercely cinematic pace. Nevertheless, the bizarre events described in the book happened more or less as described, and between the action sequences, Mezrich, almost as if by accident, reveals the sad story of how Russian resources and infrastructure were looted by the fortunate few. Agent: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Endeavor. (June)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dreamy Quilts: 14 Timeless Projects to Welcome You Home

Lydia Loretta Nelson. C&T/Stash, $22.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-61745-028-0

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Nelson, a military wife and the mother of three boys, effectively uses quilts to decorate and personalize her family’s homes in the generic, often institutional spaces they frequently move into. This book skews towards people who, like the author, have young children. Projects include the very sweet “Greta Goose” quilt that would “look beautiful draped over a crib, on a wall, or in baby portraits.” Another quilt for wee ones is the slightly more rugged “Mr. Thornhill,” composed of blocks with a bow-tie motif and named after Cary Grant’s character in the classic film North by Northwest. Nelson’s basic instructions will inspire beginners with their calm simplicity. Additionally, her no-nonsense decorating ideas—from the “Modern Pioneer Runner” to a quilted dog bed—will help newbies imbue their living spaces with the comfort and warmth that quilts provide. This modern quilting title for old-fashioned quilters is best suited to novices and intermediate quilters who are comfortable with traditional hearts and flowers and soft colors. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Constantinople Quilts: 8 Stunning Appliqué Projects Inspired by Turkish Iznik Tiles

Tamsin Harvey. C&T, $29.95 paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-61745-011-2

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Even if you never get past the pictures of Iznik pottery tiles, Harvey’s book has merit, for the blues, greens, and rusts of Turkish ceramics crafted during the height of the Ottoman Empire are a feast for the eyes. Harvey, an Australian quilt-shop owner, explains the tiles’ history in Turkish locales, and then she gets down to the business of turning patterns on clay into quilt designs. Basic instructions begin with lessons on the sewing machine and on fabric and batting. How-to instructions include tracing designs, using templates, and using machine appliqué for corners and angles. The eight projects range from small to large, starting with a Geliboulu (aka Gallipoli, site of major WWI battles) carry-all. Harvey has also designed blue cushions and a bed scarf fit for a sultan of the Ottoman dynasty, two table runners (a two-toned blue, based on ceramics from the city of Nicaea, and a rich rust, drawn from a tile in the Eyüp Sultan Mosque), a square quilt (sewn by quilter Angela Perry), a cornflower-blue quilted garden from Topkapi, and a Turkish peacock in a Tree of Life. Clear instructions include pull-outs; difficulty level is intermediate. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rooted in Design: Sprout Home’s Guide to Creative Indoor Planting

Tara Heibel and Tassy de Give. Ten Speed, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-1-60774-697-3

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Showcasing designs that are unusual, innovative, and modern, Sprout Home garden boutique founders Heibel and de Give offer a green thumbs-up for home decor. They explain that the key to successful indoor gardens is marrying the right plants to the right location and conditions—all in a container that complements the style of the home. A chandelier “collection of smaller plants... hung together to make an overhead garden” or a self-watering container made of a two-liter soda bottle placed inside another container are two ideas that enable plant enthusiasts to create an indoor green environment with conscious flair. Even the authors’ nod to macrame elevates the “utilitarian, yet stylish craft” to new levels when it’s paired with the glossy, frilly shoots of a Hindu rope plant. While the authors concentrate more on design than the practicalities of indoor gardening, they do address many common issues, such as watering and lighting. Buried in the last few pages is a plant directory that answers questions of what plants work best in low light and with varying levels of water and soil. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Suck at Relationships So You Don’t Have To

Bethany Frankel, with Eve Adamson. S&S/Touchstone, $24.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4516-6741-7

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Frankel (Skinny Girl Solutions), a reality television personality and creator of the Skinnygirl brand, offers a comprehensive and candid guide on dating and relationships. Now in her 40s, Frankel reflects on her previous relationships and marriages, immediately confessing she’s a “disaster” in her own love life. While Frankel begins by noting her advice does not exclude same-sex couples, the book which follows is unmistakably heteronormative (not to mention insulting in its characterization of men as sex-obsessed simpletons.) It’s salvaged by generous, even-handed, and insightful interjections from Frankel’s therapist, Xavier Amador, who doesn’t hesitate to contradict her more biased statements. For her part, Frankel offers insights gleaned from her self-investigation that should ring true for anyone: don’t lose yourself, listen to relationship signs and how your body responds to them, and ensure control of the relationship remains 50-50. She employs many lists defining (and limiting) male and female behavior, all of which are easy to read and can be entertaining when not offensive. It is undeniable that Frankel has good advice to offer on relationships, though her book, which promises to apply to all individuals, will likely only appeal to her existing fan base and a limited subset of American women. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal with Separation and Divorce

Penelope Leach. Knopf, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-101-87404-2

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Research psychologist Leach delivers a sobering look at the effect divorce has on families, a problem she says is at “epidemic levels.” She persuasively demonstrates that it makes children particularly unhappy, but insists she is not suggesting staying married “for the sake of the children.” Leach encourages couples considering divorce to employ a “child-centeredness” approach and consider each child as an individual. Her advice addresses a wide array of topics, including dealing with new spouses or partners, custody during holidays, and what to do if one parent moves far away. Leach peppers the book with comments from children, parents, and grandparents that underscore the importance of fostering the right environment. Leach’s heavy emphasis on research data stumbles with her occasional use of statistics from disparate countries, an apparent effort to speak to the “English-speaking world” as a whole that American readers may find instead makes the book less specifically applicable to their concerns. Otherwise, the ample information offered here serves as a solid foundation for the steps Leach recommends for “making the most of a bad job.” (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life

Laura Markham. Perigree, $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-16845-1

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In the peaceful parenting household, there are no time-outs. Stickers, toys, and candy are not rewards for good behavior. And when it comes to siblings, children aren’t taught to share, but to take turns. With this book, Markham (Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids) aims to help readers effect a subtle but powerful paradigm shift and raise children who are self-regulated and driven by empathy rather than a reward/punishment dynamic. Model conversations are idealized but artfully crafted—“I guess it hurt your feelings when your sister wouldn’t let you play with her and her friend... you still can’t stand outside her door and scream like that, sweetie”—and provide an entire vocabulary for the book’s philosophy. The book’s third part is directed specifically toward parents anticipating baby number two, but other chapters offer more than enough solutions for parents already up to their elbows in sibling rivalries and fights. The book draws on scientific studies as much as possible, but the available research findings are often inconclusive. Markham makes her case most through common sense, putting the responsibility on parents to exemplify peaceful, positive behavior that uplifts the entire family.(May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Skinny Habits: The Six Secrets of Thin People

Bob Harper, with Greg Critser. Ballantine, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-0-804-17890-7

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Readers may recognize Harper (The Skinny Rules) from his 10 years as trainer and coach on NBC’s The Biggest Loser. But even those readers who have no idea who Harper is should enjoy this simple and encouraging primer to losing weight. Besides urging readers to acquire a “skinny mind-set” and new “outlook on life,” Harper takes them through six habits that, according to him, will help them meet their fitness goals. As encouragement, he peppers success stories throughout the book. But it’s the step-by-step information provided for each practice, from “Make Contingency Plans” to “Dress for Thin,” that should help readers the most. Each chapter includes “Habit Homework,” which combines occasional tough challenges with simple tips and strategies for positive lifestyle changes. To add interest and credibility, Harper includes insights from such experts as Peter Gollwitzer, an NYU psychology professor, and Brian Wansink, a comedian turned nutritional science researcher. Even readers who think they know everything about weight loss strategies may find new information in this slim guide to weight management. Agent: Richard Abate. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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To the Fullest: The Clean Up Your Act Plan to Lose Weight, Rejuvenate, and Be the Best You Can Be

Lorraine Bracco and Lisa V. Davis, with Diane Reverand. Rodale, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62336-492-2

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Actress Bracco (Goodfellas, The Sopranos) and coauthors Davis and Reverand seek to help and motivate women in their 50s and 60s with this lively diet book. The regimen on hand is a 14-day, three-step liver detox/cleanse, followed by a lifelong plan prohibiting sugar, gluten, dairy, processed food, GMOs, alcohol, and caffeine but offering plenty of delicious organic alternatives. Step One begins with a two-day fast, along with two pre-packaged protein shakes and two vitamin supplements daily. Step Two, on days three through seven, continues the shake/supplement routine and reintroduces solid foods like lean meats, fruits, and vegetables, plus phytonutrient capsules; there is a sample meal plan for readers to follow. Step Three, days eight through 14, emphasizes eliminating toxins and boosting phytonutrient and water intake. The authors provide charts and sidebars, noteworthy statements about nutrition, women’s metabolism, and aging, along with inspiring encouragements and Bracco’s own “aha!” moments, which imbue the volume with enthusiasm. Her personal insight, candor, and positive attitude help make this rigorous diet seem feasible to women looking for a vital “third act.” Illus. Agent: David Vigliano, AGI Vigliano Literary LLC. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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No Excuses Fitness: The 30-Day Plan to Tone Your Body and Supercharge Your Health

Donovan Green. Hachette, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-316-38096-6

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Green, personal trainer to Dr. Oz, presents a three-pronged approach (exercise, nutrition, and mental discipline) in this inspiring fitness guide/memoir. Years ago, serendipity brought together Green—a Jamaican raised in the South Bronx—and Oz’s wife, Lisa (who wrote the preface), at a dojo in New Jersey. He soon became a regular on the physician’s popular show. Green describes his progression from youth as a “fat boy” in a rough neighborhood to his eventual interest in fitness and health. His plan suits all fitness levels, incorporating weight lifting, yoga, Pilates, and mixed martial arts. He also coaches readers on how to put together an at-home gym for less than $100. Fitness, Green claims, “starts in the mind.” To this end, he devotes an invigorating chapter to building resilience and positivity. Subsequent chapters address food, nutrition, and the “No Excuses Program.” The book also includes over 50 recipes, many Caribbean-inspired. Green fans will no doubt be thrilled with such a user-friendly guide, and the charismatic trainer is likely to pick up new followers with his disciplined but amiable “no excuses” 30-day fitness journey. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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