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Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History

Mark Bailey. Algonquin, $21.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-56512-593-3

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Unique cocktail recipes (orange wine, anyone?) accompany this collection of amusing Hollywood anecdotes about celebrities, from the days of William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood. Emmy-nominated screenwriter Bailey distills and arranges these literary snapshots and entertaining stories and trivia by historical period, focusing on a wide range of actors, writers, producers, personalities, and places. The stories center on drunken exploits and each celebrity is peppered with funny quotes: "I often sit back and think, I wish I'd done that, and then find out later that I already have," says actor Richard Harris, while Robert Mitchum claims "The only way to get rid of people is to out-drink them." Among the most absorbing are Preston Sturges' tradition of applejack-spiked afternoon tea, John Ford's tummy troubles due to his favorite "torpedo juice"—grain alcohol and pineapple juice mixed in a bathtub, and Elizabeth Taylor downing bottles of champagne for breakfast. Whether the Bourbon Old-Fashioned from The Players Club or the famed Trader Vic's Mai Tai, cocktail aficionados will find something to add to their mixology repertoire in this booze-fueled romp through the lives and domains of the rich and famous. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Easy Gourmet: Awesome Recipes Anyone Can Cook

Stephanie Le. Page Street, $21.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-62414-062-4

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Artfully presented and elegantly photographed, "i am a food blog" creator Stephanie Le's collection of dishes will resonate with foodies as well as those less familiar. Can't-miss comfort food like Pea & Bacon Risotto, Baked Mac and Cheese, pan-seared ribeye, and Curry Chicken Pot Pie will likely end up in regular rotation at the dinner table and live up to the titular promise of ease, but other dishes that seem simple on the surface (such as Lasagna, slow-roasted pork belly, or Beef Short Ribs & Mushrooms with Guinness) literally take hours to prepare. Other dishes are simple standards like Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary, Classic Carbonara, Roasted Vegetables, and Fish Tacos, but there's nothing particularly unique about them. Foodies will likely be drawn to look-at-me dishes like Crispy Duck with Maple Bourbon Sauce & Honey Sriracha Carrots, Bone Marrow Pasta, Pulled Pork Pancakes with Bourbon Syrup, and Soy Milk Donuts – all of which, to Le's credit, are fairly simple assuming readers are diligent in their preparation. To be fair, she's got some great takes on classics – French Onion Grilled Cheese and Lemon Meringue S'mores are ingenious and mouthwatering. Though the results are mixed, Le offers a thoughtful and often surprising collection of foods. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A New Day

Jon Secada. Penguin/Celebra, $24.95(256p) ISBN 978-0-451-46936-6

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Multiple Grammy award-winner Jon Secada charts his life story revealing the lessons he learned during his remarkable career in the music business. As the child of Cuban refugees, Secada learned early on what was required to build a life in a new environment. After his parent's immigration from Cuba to Spain then Costa Rica, the family settled in Miami. Secada's passion for singing began in childhood and, further encouraged by a high school music teacher, he became the first person to earn a master's degree in Jazz Vocal Performance from the University of Miami. He was at the center of the 1980's vibrant Latin music scene in Miami and his career as both songwriter and singer flourished during his collaboration with Emilio and Gloria Estefan. In 1992, Secada's album won a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album and he received a nomination for an American Music Award. Additionally, he sang at the White House for President Clinton and performed in a Broadway play. Secada candidly recounts his setbacks as well as his successes, including a failed first marriage, the dangers of having too much money too quickly, and the perils of celebrity. His intimate memoir details how the wisdom gleaned from his parents coupled with his faith contributed to his success as an artist, father and husband. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Best in the World: At What I Have No Idea

Chris Jericho. Gotham, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-1-59240-752-1

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World Wrestling Entertainment star Jericho (Undisputed) delivers the third chronicle of his unconventional life in and outside the ring, which should be a sure hit with his large fan base of "Jerichoholics." He recounts his life since 2007 when he returned to wrestling after his self-described "sabbatical," having left the WWE in 2005. Like his previous books, Jericho displays a keen understanding of the realities of being a character in the tightly-scripted wrestling world: "the second time you were made champion was the proof that you really deserved it and could make the company money by holding it." He offers an inside look at how wrestlers change their images to stay popular, as he details how he switched roles from his nice-guy persona to that of "the ultimate heel with no redeeming qualities," based on the villain played by Javier Bardem in the film "No Country for Old Men." Jericho also describes his encounters with the likes of Mickey Rourke, Metallica, and Bob Barker, as well as a long look at life on the road with his heavy metal band Fozzy. Overall, however, the book lacks the fast-pace of his earlier efforts; many of the stories sound like repeats of past exploits. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Big Book of Sides

Rick Rodgers. Ballantine, $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-345-54818-4

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Cookbook author Rick Rodgers (Thanksgiving 101), who has already penned over 40 cookbooks and worked behind the scenes on an additional 30, attempts to top himself by going large while aiming small. In an effort to help readers "choose luscious additions to the main course," Rodgers has amassed more than 450 side dish recipes, involving vegetables, grains, pickles, sauces, and the occasional bit of bacon or pancetta. The entries are inspired by a truly global sense of cuisine and the multitude of flavors bump against each other. Braised sweet potatoes with red curry sauce shares a page with sweet potato fries with jerk seasoning, followed by lemon sweet potatoes with meringue topping. In the realm of baked beans, there is the traditional Boston slow-baked, with salt pork and molasses, and variations like beer and maple beans, and even root beer baked beans. For dessert, there's strawberry and cream cheese salad, apple and sour cream noodle kugel, or fresh ambrosia salad with blood oranges and pineapple. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Indian for Everyone: The Home Cook's Guide to Traditional Favorites

Anupy Singla. Agate/Surrey, $35 (288p) ISBN 978-1-57284-162-8

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Singla's (Vegan Indian Cooking) latest guide to Indian cooking may be her best yet. Over the course of the book's 100 plus recipes, she guides home-cooks through classic Indian cuisine, offering courses that are complex enough for experts but approachable enough for the novice. After covering the key qualities of basic spices, Singla instructs readers on how to create the many masalas (spice blends) and chutneys they'll be relying on later to create Vegetable Samosas, Aloo Gobi, Tandoori Chicken, and the many lentil and bean-based dals that Indian cuisine is known for. Those easing their way in will appreciate cross-cultural riffs like Grilled Ginger-Garlic Chicken and Pav Bhaji, aka Veggie Sloppy Joes, a popular street food served atop buttered, toasted bread. While many of Singla's recipes will work for vegans, she goes a step further by offering vegan variations on meat-based dishes like Indo-Chinese Chile Chicken (a spice-laden mashup that substitutes tempeh for meat) and Punjabi Chile Chicken (subbing tempeh, extra-firm tofu or seitan). Though the length of her recipes may seem daunting, her style, a blend of rote instruction coupled with coaching and informative asides alerting readers to key steps in the process, assures readers they're on the right path, and is sure to increase confidence and success. Those looking for an introduction to Indian cuisine they can grow with would do well to give this some serious consideration. An impressive and useful addition to the canon. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing

Erin Beresini. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-544-05532-2

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Sportswriter and world champion triathlete Beresini has written a fascinating first book about the compelling, and oftentimes wacky world of obstacle course racing—ORC, as its proponents call it—and its meteoric success. "By 2013 more than 3 million people had run an obstacle course," including Beresini, who used ORC to fill her need for competition after an injury prevented her from participating in Ironman triathlons. Her book is both a chronicle of her involvement as well as an in-depth look at the three major ORC event organizers: Tough Mudder, a team challenge that gives people such obstacles as "dunking them in neon ice water or running them through fields of charged wires," the Spartan Race Series for individuals racing to see if they can survive a combination of mental and physical challenges, and the Warrior Dash. Beresini chooses to run the Spartan "Ultra Beast," with a course that includes "2,100 feet of barbed wire, 250 sandbags . . . and 115 spears." Throughout the various events leading up to it, Beresini captures the thrill of ORC as well as defines the key to a successful race. "The trick is to find the sweet spot where obstacles are tough and scary enough that people are challenged, but still want to return." (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Cowboy for Christmas

Lacy Williams. Harlequin/Love Inspired Historical, $5.99 mass market (288p) ISBN 978-0-373-28292-0

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In Williams's tepid and tedious fourth Wyoming Legacy romance (after The Wrangler's Inconvenient Wife), Daisy Richards has slowly learned how to compensate for the loss of her arm following an injury. Ricky White is a new ranch hand on her father's property, and responsible for the accident that harmed Daisy. What follows is purported to be a historical romance with a Christian theme, but while characters occasionally pay lip service to the Christian ideals supposedly guiding their actions, these ideals rarely influence their behavior. Daisy is neither modest nor decorous, even in church. Ricky professes that he is a changed man due to salvation, yet he perpetrates a campaign of dishonesty against Daisy. Williams relies on calamity rather than plot. The ending is baffling, with the facts of the conflict suddenly changed at the last moment, rather than resolved. And despite the title, there are no cows and no cowboys to be seen. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Penguin's Song

Hassan Daoud, trans. from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth. City Lights, $14.95 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-0-87286-623-2

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A young man, treated as an invalid because of his physical deformities, sits at home every day reading and listening to his parents bicker. Daoud's (The House of Mathilde) novel is an elegiac account of loneliness and separation. Set in post-Civil War Beirut, it captures not the immediate horrors of war, but the long emptiness of ruin that follows it. It has been 13 years since the nameless young man and his parents have been pushed out of Beirut's city center, leaving his father's shop and their home behind. Others have acclimated quickly to their new homes, reopening stores and restaurants in entryways and underneath stairwells outside the old city, but this family remains frozen in their apartment at the edge of the desert, mourning the life they have lost. The son is left to study his books and keep his father company while his mother visits with the woman downstairs. The young man fixates on the beautiful young girl who lives in the apartment beneath them. He listens as she walks through the rooms below and watches from his window, but held back by his timidity and the contagious inertia of his parents, he cannot approach her. Daoud captures the essence of the isolation of a broken city without getting weighed down in politics or specific historical events. This is a haunting story inhabited by the ghosts of past lives and demolished buildings, where desires are left unfulfilled and loneliness sweeps through every soul. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Young Woman in a Garden: Stories

Delia Sherman. Small Beer, $16 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-61873-091-6

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Lightly flecked with fantasy and anchored in vividly detailed settings, the 14 stories in Sherman's first collection are distinguished by their depictions of determined women who challenge gender roles in order to make their way in the world. In "The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor," a servant girl parlays her acquaintance with an ancestral ghost into a professional relationship with the descendant whose house it haunts. The title story toggles between present and past as an art history student researching the life of an Impressionist painter unravels the hitherto unknown role his model played in the creation of his art. Although Sherman (The Porcelain Dove) grapples with serious themes, she leavens a number of her tales with gentle humor, notably "Walpurgis Afternoon," in which a pair of lesbian witches comically discompose an ordinary suburban neighborhood when their Victorian estate springs up in a vacant lot overnight. Readers who enjoy sophisticated modern fantasy fiction, both light and dark, will greatly admire Sherman's skill with a variety of narrative forms and the gentle touch of her magic wand. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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