Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Original Ginny Moon

I am Ginny Moon's biggest fan!

If you too find yourself longing for something, someone to root FOR these days, Ginny Moon is the one you are looking for! Benjamin Ludwig's debut novel, The Original Ginny Moon, is Ginny's captivating story of resilience and growth from the perspective of an autistic teenager finding her place in the world as she orders it.

From the beginning I was captivated by this girl who obviously had more to her story than her abilities let on to others. We, the readers, are allowed inside Ginny's way of ordering her world and life and we quickly realize that her Forever parents, counselors, and teachers are not fully comprehending the equation. I was frustrated on her behalf, scared for her, and hoping and wishing she could somehow find a way to let others see the world through her eyes.

I'm not going to give away plot details. You can read the publisher's plot summary below. I can tell you that Ludwig has drawn a stunning character in Ginny Moon! Her insights into the characters who share her world and story allow readers to get a clear picture of the people and circumstances which have shaped Ginny. I found myself experiencing so many emotional reactions to the people in Ginny's life! The writing is so well done I still find it amazing that this is a debut novel!

I want to thank Ludwig for allowing me the experience of seeing through a new set of lenses in the hours I spent with Ginny Moon. She is a character who will remain a part of consciousness for a long time to come! I will be encouraging everyone I know to pick up a copy of this book! Thanks to the publisher as well for the ARE I received for free in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

Meet Ginny Moon. She’s mostly your average teenager—she plays flute in the high school band, has weekly basketball practice, and reads Robert Frost poems in English class.

But Ginny is autistic. And so what’s important to her might seem a bit…different: starting every day with exactly nine grapes for breakfast, Michael Jackson, her baby doll, and crafting a secret plan of escape.

After being traumatically taken from her abusive birth mother and moved around to different homes, Ginny has finally found her "forever home"—a safe place with parents who will love and nurture her. This is exactly what all foster kids are hoping for, right?

But Ginny has other plans. She’ll steal and lie and exploit the good intentions of those who love her—anything it takes to get back what’s missing in her life. She’ll even try to get herself kidnapped.

Told in an extraordinary and wholly original voice, Ginny Moon is at once quirky, charming, heartbreaking, and poignant. It’s a story about being an outsider trying to find a place to belong and about making sense of a world that just doesn’t seem to add up. Taking you into the mind of a curious and deeply human character, Benjamin Ludwig’s novel affirms that fiction has the power to change the way we see the world.

About the Author . . .

A life-long teacher of English and writing, Benjamin Ludwig lives in New Hampshire with his family. He holds an MAT in English Education and an MFA in Writing. Shortly after he and his wife married they became foster parents and adopted a teenager with autism. The Original Ginny Moon is his first novel, which was inspired in part by his conversations with other parents at Special Olympics basketball practices. His website is available at

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food

Being a lover and reader of cookbooks, I have many more tomes than can fit in my small kitchen cupboard. The solution, for me, has been to try out e-cookbooks! I recently picked up Phan's latest offering, The Slanted Door, when it was a part of the publisher's specially priced offering that passed through my email one day. If you love cookbooks and enjoy adventuresome eating/cooking, you will want to pick up a copy as well!

I love that The Slanted Door offers readers a bit of history of the restaurant after which the cookbook is named. As you read, you get a sense of San Francisco and the food scene therein. A travel guide within a cookbook is a "win win" to me! Phan also includes other stories and anecdotes about what it takes to run a food business, what the food he presents means to him, and glimpses into family life and history that connect readers and would-be at-home chefs to the dishes presented. This is what makes me devour a cookbook!

I like that dishes from all parts of the menu are included in the cookbook. If you are intimidated to try a full-blown entre (and you really shouldn't be with Phan's step-by-step instructions and careful coaching in each recipe), you can always start with an appetizer! Abundant explanations and gorgeous photographs accompany each recipe and provide encouragement. What a delight!

In this modern era with global connections, it's hard to imagine that anyone would find the ingredients in Phan's dishes to be too exotic. I live in the middle of America, in the "fly-over" zone where grocery stores have limited shelf space. However, I feel confident that I could procure most of the ingredients to make any dish in the book readily and locally.

Having this book on my e-reader is great because I can set it on the kitchen counter and follow along with the recipe as I cook, thus saving paper. (Do note it helps to increase the length of time before your screen times out before you start cooking if you don't want to have to swipe the screen with messy fingers!) While it will take a bit of getting used to (also, set it out of splatter range!), it makes me feel even more technologically savvy as well. I will certainly be indulging in more e-cookbooks in the future!

From the Publisher . . .

The long-awaited cookbook featuring 100 recipes from James Beard award-winning chef Charles Phan’s beloved San Francisco Vietnamese restaurant, The Slanted Door.

Award-winning chef and restaurateur Charles Phan opened The Slanted Door in San Francisco in 1995, inspired by the food of his native Vietnam. Since then, The Slanted Door has grown into a world-class dining destination, and its accessible, modern take on classic Vietnamese dishes is beloved by diners, chefs, and critics alike. The Slanted Door is a love letter to the restaurant, its people, and its food. Featuring stories in addition to its most iconic recipes, The Slanted Door both celebrates a culinary institution and allows home cooks to recreate its excellence.

About the Author . . .

Charles Phan is the award-winning Executive Chef and Owner of San Francisco's The Slanted Door and 6 other restaurants. He is considered to be the inventor of modern Vietnamese cuisine in the United States.

Born in Da Lat, Vietnam in 1962, Charles and his family - parents and five siblings - relocated to Guam just before the fall of Saigon. They spent two years on Guam before settling in San Francisco in 1977.

Always having had a passion for food, Charles opened his first restaurant, The Slanted Door, on Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District in 1995. It was an immediate popular and critical success. The restaurant played a significant role in the revitalization of this vibrant area.

In 2004, the nationally acclaimed, The Slanted Door, became one of the principal tenants of San Francisco's historic Ferry Building and was instrumental in developing this landmark into one of the country's premier food destinations.

That year, he also won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef of California and in 2011 was inducted into the foundation's Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America.

Since then, Phan has opened six successful restaurants, all located in San Francisco, a city with a famously vibrant food scene. His enduring vision to showcase farm-fresh, locally sourced ingredients and prepare everything from scratch has kept The Slanted Door Group of restaurants on the forefront of San Francisco's dining scene.

Charles' first book, VIETNAMESE HOME COOKING, hopes to inspire readers to make interesting, fast, flavorful and healthy Vietnamese dishes in their home kitchens. The book won an IACP award in 2012.

His second cookbook, THE SLANTED DOOR, offers one hundred recipes of modern Vietnamese food, cocktail and dessert. The book comes at the right time to celebrate James Beard Award's Outstanding Restaurant in May 2014 and its 20th anniversary in November.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life

This is the most important and profound book I have read in a long, long time!

I was a parish minister for 13+ years and in that time I sat with countless families at the bedside of their dying loved ones. Most often that vigil took place in a hospital setting, whether the ICU or the hospice suite. Sometimes I was called to the nursing home and, on a few rare occasions, to a home. Dr. Zitter's insight and wisdom on a topic that most Americans spend their lives and energy avoiding at all cost provides us with clear insights and a care-filled journey through the inevitable. For a time I served on the local hospice board and tried to make sure that local and area clergy were kept "in the loop" on end-of-life care options that might provide better spiritual continuity for their members. Dr. Zitter's book should be required reading not only for all entering the medical field and palliative care teams, but for all seminarians, social workers and all who care about making sure that the way we leave this life matches the values with which we lived life. Any and all book clubs willing to breach the subject of death and dying will find a wealth of topics to discuss. I will be spreading the word about this wonderful, helpful book to anyone and everyone who will listen!

My deepest thanks to Dr. Zitter for taking on this important subject and for this sage book!! My thanks to the publisher for providing me the free review copy in exchange for this fair and honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

An ICU and Palliative Care specialist featured in the Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary Extremis offers a framework for a better way to exit life that will change our medical culture at the deepest level.

In medical school, no one teaches you how to let a patient die.

Jessica Zitter became a doctor because she wanted to be a hero. She elected to specialize in critical care—to become an ICU physician—and imagined herself swooping in to rescue patients from the brink of death. But then during her first code she found herself cracking the ribs of a patient so old and frail it was unimaginable he would ever come back to life. She began to question her choice.

Extreme Measures charts Zitter’s journey from wanting to be one kind of hero to becoming another—a doctor who prioritizes the patient’s values and preferences in an environment where the default choice is the extreme use of technology. In our current medical culture, the old and the ill are put on what she terms the End-of-Life Conveyor belt. They are intubated, catheterized, and even shelved away in care facilities to suffer their final days alone, confused, and often in pain. In her work Zitter has learned what patients fear more than death itself: the prospect of dying badly. She builds bridges between patients and caregivers, formulates plans to allay patients’ pain and anxiety, and enlists the support of loved ones so that life can end well, even beautifully.

Filled with rich patient stories that make a compelling medical narrative, Extreme Measures enlarges the national conversation as it thoughtfully and compassionately examines an experience that defines being human.

About the Author . . .

After two decades of caring for critically ill patients, Jessica Nutik Zitter, MD, MPH is a strong advocate for a new approach to caring for the dying. She practices the unusual combination of ICU and palliative care medicine at Highland Hospital, the county hospital in Oakland, California. Having herself participated in the default and indiscriminate use of technology with the dying and witnessed the resultant suffering, Dr. Zitter has come to view this situation as a public health crisis. She is committed to reorienting our care of the dying to a more collaborative process whereby the patient, rather than her organ or disease, is the primary focus of care.

Dr. Zitter’s first book, Extreme Measures, Finding A Better Path to the End of Life, (Avery, an imprint of Penguin-Random House, Spring 2017), offers an insider’s view of intensive care in America and its impact on how we die. Her essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Huffington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and other publications. In 2005 she co-founded Vital Decisions, a telephone counseling service for patients with life-limiting illnesses.

Her work is featured in the Tribeca award-winning documentary, “Extremis,” which has been shortlisted for an Oscar, and is available on Netflix. This vérité film follows Jessica, her team and several patients and their families in the intensive care unit at Highland Hospital.

Dr. Zitter attended Stanford University and Case Western Reserve University Medical School and earned her Master of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Her medical training includes an Internal Medicine residency at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a fellowship in Pulmonary/Critical Care at the University of California, San Francisco.

Shadows On the Lake

Inspector Stefania Valenti is called to the mountain pass above Lake Como when the road crew constructing a new road to the Swiss border unearths human remains in the process. What ensues is a matter of political and historical intrigue involving one of the area's most well-known families and villas. The skeleton offers up clues that point to murder, but Inspector Valenti must discover the motives and what the now elderly family members may know about the circumstances surrounding the WWII era death.

I am a fan of mysteries and the fact that this one included some historical intrigue pulled me in from the start. I also enjoyed the chance to travel to Italy in my mind as I read the book. Although the villa and exact details of the town have been fictionalized, I did hop on the internet and do a little exploring of the mountains that form the border between Italy and Switzerland as a way of getting into the setting.

I found Inspector Valenti an entirely believable character along with those around her. To some extent the characters fall into the expected roles of any detective/mystery novel: the no-nonsense, "get it done" chief; the eagle-eyed inspector who doesn't miss a detail and has the uncanny ability to link details together (sometimes with the help of equally capable peers), and the underling officers who help out with some of the leg work. Add to this a blooming romantic connection, an ex-husband, and Valenti's school-aged daughter and that rounds out the main cadre of characters.

Although set in the present day, I enjoyed the connection back to World War II days: smuggling Jews across borders, worries over fascism and communism, etc. This made Valenti's quest for justice for the victim a cause I think anyone would want to see through to the conclusion.

The book was a quick, enjoyable read which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a mystery or detective novel. If it is a new genre to you, this is a good place to start! My thanks to the publisher for the ARC I received for free in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

A new atmospheric Italian mystery novel set in Lake Como, introducing the clever and captivating Inspector Stefania Valenti.

During the construction of a new road to the Swiss border in the mountains above Lake Como, the remains of a young man are unearthed on the powerful Cappelletti family’s property. On the case is Stefania Valenti, forty-five, divorced with a young daughter, and a brilliant, determined police inspector.

Her investigation takes her back to World War II and deep into the history of the region, a place that during the war attracted smugglers, deserters, secret agents, and fleeing Jews. Steeped in the beautiful atmosphere of Northern Italy, Valenti’s investigation brings to light a family’s secret, a tragic romance, and reveals a fascinating piece of Italian history.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Butcher, Baker: The True Account of an Alaskan Serial Killer

I picked up this book because, although Hansen went on his serial killing spree in Alaska, he is from my home state and I felt a need to find out if it was something in his early up-bringing in the Hawkeye State that set him on the path to such atrocity. The writing is clear and straight forward, taken from official records, interviews, etc. The book is especially good if you appreciate accurate timelines and sequences in your true crime.

From the Publisher . . .

The horrific true story of serial kidnapper, rapist, and killer Robert Hansen’s reign of terror in Anchorage, Alaska.

As oil boom money poured into Anchorage, the city quickly became a prime destination for the seedier elements of society: prostitutes, pimps, con men, and criminals of all breeds looking to cash in. However, something even worse lurked in their midst.

To all who knew him, Robert Hansen was a typical hardworking businessman, husband, and father. But hidden beneath the veneer of mild respectability was a monster whose depraved appetites could not be sated. From 1971 to 1983, Hansen was a human predator, stalking women on the edges of Anchorage society—women whose disappearances would cause scant outcry, but whose gruesome fates would shock the nation. After his arrest, Hansen confessed to seventeen brutal murders, though authorities suspect there were more than thirty victims.

Alaska State Trooper Walter Gilmour and writer Leland E. Hale tell the story of Hansen’s twisted depredations—from the dark urges that drove his madness to the women who died at his hand and finally to the authorities who captured and convicted the killer who came to be known as the “Butcher Baker.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The History of Wolves

I stumbled upon Emily Fridlund's debut novel quite by accident, but once I began reading, I felt I had locked eyes with a wolf in the wild: fully entranced, it sent shivers of excitement, terror, and disbelief up and down my spine in an instant.

The plot synopsis from GoodReads says, "Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her 'Freak', or 'Commie'. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family's orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn't, their son may die.

Superbly-paced and beautifully written, HISTORY OF WOLVES is an extraordinary debut novel about guilt, innocence, negligence, well-meaning belief and the death of a child."

I felt such worry for Linda in that given her own less-than-conventional upbringing, she was not equipped to care for 4 year old Paul Gardener in a way that would allow her to understand that something was amiss. I wanted at several points to shout out, "That's not normal! You should tell someone!" But alas, no one had done that for her, so how was she to know?

There were also times when I wanted to gaurd Linda herself, to reach out and grab her by the arm and say, "Come on, we've got to get out of here. This isn't going to turn out well!" It really made me feel I was witnessing a tragedy and powerless to stop it.

Throughout the book, Linda relies on her obsevational skills and instincts. That would be great fodder for book club discussion! In fact, there is much about Linda's own ruminations regarding her life and experiences that would fuel great discussion! (For example, the differences between thoughts and actions, parenting styles, and if there is social boundary between religious beliefs and a community's need to protect its most vulnerable members just to name a few.) It would be great to hear the differing views between readers, each coming to the book with their own background assumptions and experiences.

Once I started, I found it very hard to put this book down. I gave History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund 4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.

From the Author's Website . . .

One of the most daring literary debuts of the season, History of Wolves is a profound and propulsive novel from an urgent, new voice in American fiction.

Teenage Linda lives with her parents in the austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outsider at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is faced with child pornography charges, his arrest deeply affects Linda as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.

And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Linda finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. But with this new sense of belonging come expectations and secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a summer, Linda makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Linda confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love.

Winner of the McGinnis-Ritchie award for its first chapter, and A BEA Buzz Book and An ABA Indies Introduce Selection, Emily Fridlund’s agonizing and gorgeously written History of Wolves introduces a new writer of enormous range and talent.

About the Author . . .

Emily Fridlund grew up in Minnesota and currently resides in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Her fiction has appeared in a variety of journals, including Boston Review, Zyzzyva, FiveChapters, New Orleans Review, Sou'wester, New Delta Review, Chariton Review, Portland Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. Fridlund's collection of stories, Catapult, won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and will be published by Sarabande in 2017.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Nourishing Meals Delivers

This book is a godsend to folks who have dietary concerns which affect their health. Many people are looking for options which include dairy-free, gluten-free or soy-free dishes to provide optimal nutrition for their families.

This book is FULL of helpful tips, background information, and research. The best part is that it doesn't simply offer readers a small handful of recipes. We are talking about 484 pages filled with 365 easy-to-follow, delicious recipes you can start using on day one! And good news . . . you can find most of the ingredients at your local grocery store without having to find any specialty shops or mail-order sources. (Although on the off-chance you live on a secluded island accessible only by sea plane, online shopping sources are also included among the inclusive appendix at the back of the book.)

My thanks to Blogging For Books for the free copy I received in exchange for this honest review. From the Publisher . . .

It can be daunting to live a whole foods lifestyle in today’s busy world—even more so to prepare plant-rich, allergen-free meals that’ll get the whole family around the table. Popular blogger Ali Segersten and functional medicine expert Tom Malttere are a team devoted to teaching their children—and readers—the importance of living a whole foods lifestyle. Nourishing Meals makes it easy and fun with dishes that burst with flavor, such as their Cherry Pecan Salad, Butternut Squash and Pinto Bean Enchiladas, Chipotle-Lime Roasted Chicken, and Banana Coconut Cream Pie.

Every recipe in the book is free of the most common allergens: gluten, soy, eggs, and dairy, as well as refined sugar. And these dishes are designed to appeal to everyone, including vegan, vegetarian, seafood, and meat-eaters. In addition to wonderful food, Ali and Tom offer easy, doable steps to help you change your family’s health, tips for making the transition easier, and ways to get the kids excited about wholesome foods. They map out the best foods and recipes for every stage of having a family, from pre-conception and pregnancy through each year of a child’s life. And they explain in accessible terms what makes their recipes so effective for achieving optimal health. Originally self-published with an avid following, this edition will feature more than 30 new recipes, and many of the original recipes have been updated. This new edition will also include 100 beautiful all-new food photos featured in two inserts.

With an easy, tasty recipe for every day of the year, it’s never been simpler to adopt a healthy, whole foods lifestyle!