Friday, March 27, 2015


Cynthia Bond has masterfully and intricately stitched together a story at once as hopeful as it is horrifically disturbing. Her way with words and the turn of a phrase moved me through Ruby and Ephram's moments of beauty and painful agony in ways I had not known possible. Wow!

The places that Bond's novel took me were places that most people don't want to look or acknowledge. The atrocities that humans inflict upon one another and the human spirit's ability to survive despite all obstacles and odds--this is the theme that resonated to the core of my bones as I read. The amazing, redemptive, and healing quality of love (no matter how simply given) remind me that hope is possible.

I will let you read the publisher's synopsis below for the gist of the story line. I cannot recommend this book more highly; it is a stunning novel which I believe everyone should read!

My thanks to for the copy I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . .

The epic, unforgettable story of a man determined to protect the woman he loves from the town desperate to destroy her, this beautiful and devastating debut heralds the arrival of a major new voice in fiction.

Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby Bell, “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at,” has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city—the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village—all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother. When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town’s dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

Full of life, exquisitely written, and suffused with the pastoral beauty of the rural South, Ruby is a transcendent novel of passion and courage. This wondrous page-turner rushes through the red dust and gossip of Main Street, to the pit fire where men swill bootleg outside Bloom’s Juke, to Celia Jennings’s kitchen, where a cake is being made, yolk by yolk, that Ephram will use to try to begin again with Ruby. Utterly transfixing, with unforgettable characters, riveting suspense, and breathtaking, luminous prose, Ruby offers an unflinching portrait of man’s dark acts and the promise of the redemptive power of love.

About the Author . . .

CYNTHIA BOND has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles for more than fifteen years. She attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. A PEN/Rosenthal Fellow, Bond founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. At present, Bond teaches therapeutic writing at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

He Wanted the Moon

Having worked in several fields of service that included people with various forms of mental illness (nursing homes, 13 years as an ordained parish minister, now with a mental health office), I find the opportunity to delve into the inner workings and thoughts of those with any disorder an opportunity to better understand not only that person, but others as well. That's why I was eager to read Mimi Baird's account of her father's bi-polar disorder and how he was treated in the 1940s through the end of his short life in 1959.

Dr. Perry Baird was a highly acclaimed and very accomplished doctor who graduated with top honors from Harvard Medical School in 1928. He eventually married and had two daughters. Mimi, his eldest recalls her father lovingly and longingly as she had distinct memories of her father before he simply "went away" one day and virtually disappeared from her life. Because that's all her mother told her for years, she lived with the expectation that one day he might return. Later in life she learned the truth: her father suffered from manic-depressive psychosis as it was then called, and had spent months and years in and out of mental institutions during which time her mother had filed for divorce and remarried in an attempt to provide stability for herself and her two daughters.

After her father's death, Baird received a briefcase containing hand-written papers on which her father had recorded his experiences during manic episodes and time spent in (and escaping from) asylums. It had been his goal to write a book chronicling his experiences in hopes that it might assist in unraveling the mystery of his disease, help the medical and psychiatric professionals to devise better therapies, and aid those who love, live or work with people suffering mental illness to understand and empathize with the stricken.

He Wanted the Moon provides Dr. Baird's manuscript for readers. It is a fascinating read! To see his perspective on his manic episodes gives a perspective that is both slightly exhilarating and terrifying at once. What is fascinating is that, where available, the author has juxtaposed her father's writing with treatment records from the institution and his caregivers. What he perceived as super-human feats of strength or agility was reported as episodes of destruction or aggression by others. (For instance, he was thrilled to be able to bend steel bars with his super strength, even trying to bend them with his bare teeth. The hospital reports that he tore apart and destroyed several bed frames.)

The second part of the book is Mimi Baird's recollections of the journey to know her father through the paperwork she received and the people she was able to interview who knew her father. It seems a privilege to be allowed to walk beside her on that journey!

If you are interested in mental illness, a historical look at how the mentally ill were treated, or can connect with a woman's journey to discover who her father was and the impact he had on her life and the world, pick up a copy of He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him. You won't be disappointed!

From the Publisher . . .

A mid-century doctor's raw, unvarnished account of his own descent into madness, and his daughter's attempt to piece his life back together and make sense of her own.

Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Dr. Perry Baird was a rising medical star in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early in his career, ahead of his time, he grew fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he began to suffer from it himself. By the time the results of his groundbreaking experiments were published, Dr. Baird had been institutionalized multiple times, his medical license revoked, and his wife and daughters estranged. He later received a lobotomy and died from a consequent seizure, his research incomplete, his achievements unrecognized.

Mimi Baird grew up never fully knowing this story, as her family went silent about the father who had been absent for most of her childhood. Decades later, a string of extraordinary coincidences led to the recovery of a manuscript which Dr. Baird had worked on throughout his brutal institutionalization, confinement, and escape. This remarkable document, reflecting periods of both manic exhilaration and clear-headed health, presents a startling portrait of a man who was a uniquely astute observer of his own condition, struggling with a disease for which there was no cure, racing against time to unlock the key to treatment before his illness became impossible to manage.

Fifty years after being told her father would forever be “ill” and “away,” Mimi Baird set off on a quest to piece together the memoir and the man. In time her fingers became stained with the lead of the pencil he had used to write his manuscript, as she devoted herself to understanding who he was, why he disappeared, and what legacy she had inherited. The result of his extraordinary record and her journey to bring his name to light is He Wanted the Moon, an unforgettable testament to the reaches of the mind and the redeeming power of a determined heart.

About the Author . . .

Mimi Baird, a Bostonian, is a graduate of Colby Sawyer College. After working at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she later moved to Woodstock, Vermont, where she worked as an office manager at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. There she met a surgeon who had once known her father, a meeting that prompted her quest to finally understand her father’s life and legacy. Mimi has two children and four grandchildren. This is her first book.

Eve Claxton was born in London. She has been instrumental in creating six works of non-fiction as a co-writer or ghostwriter, and is the editor of The Book of Life, an anthology of memoir. She also works with StoryCorps, the National Oral History Project featured on NPR. Eve lives with her husband and three children in Brooklyn.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children

Sarah McCoy's upcoming novel, The Mapmaker's Children, is the story of Sarah Brown (daughter of abolitionist John Brown) and the part she played in the Underground Railroad during the antebellum period through the civil war, juxtaposed with the story of Eden Anderson who has come to live in New Charlestown, West Virginia--the very neighborhood Sarah Brown stayed in with the Hill family decades before.

The story has much to commend it. McCoy provides strong female characters with complex issues that will provide good fodder for book club discussion groups. The subjects of slavery, race relations, the Underground Railroad, abolition, the Harper's Ferry incident, and John Brown's tactics provide many historical and political angles to consider. Issues about relationships, the ability to have children, what makes "community" and what constitutes "family" offer readers and groups personal avenues into the story as well.

I did find it difficult to get engaged with the story for the first half of the book. (I suspect some readers with the same difficulty may have given up and not continued on.) For me, the issue was purely the format. McCoy employs the technique of switching between timelines for each "chapter." Since the segments, or chapters, are more like short vignettes rather than long chapters, the frequent shifts left me grasping for a good point to really dig in and get a foothold in the story.

That said, I am glad I stuck it out and kept reading because the story was, in the end, compelling. It was interesting to see how McCoy was able to tie the two time periods together. And I appreciated the way each was wrapped up in the end.

Thank you to Shelf Awareness for the Advance Reader Copy of The Mapmaker's Children which I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

Sarah Brown, the vibrant, talented daughter of abolitionist John Brown, is dynamically changed when she stumbles onto her father’s work on the Underground Railroad shortly after being told the shocking news that she won’t ever bear children. Realizing that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the movement’s leading mapmakers, hiding maps within her paintings while bigotry and hatred steer the country toward a bloody civil war.

Interwoven with Sarah’s adventure is the present-day story of Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, who moves to an old house in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. Sarah and Eden’s connection bridges the past and present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

About the Author . . .

SARAH McCOY is author of the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestseller The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee. Her first novel is The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Sarah’s work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso.

The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas.

Her novella “The Branch of Hazel,” featured in the anthology Grand Central (Penguin), releases July 1, 2014. Her third novel The Mapmaker’s Children releases from Crown May 5, 2015.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Feed Your Brain!

Unless we have obvious dietary-related health concerns (i.e. diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure), we may not stop to consider that what goes into our mouths affects ALL the systems in our body, including our brains. That’s why I was excited to have the opportunity to review Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson’s collaborative effort, The Healthy Mind Cookbook: Big Flavor Recipes to Enhance Brain Function, Mood, Memory, and Mental Clarity.

The book includes an introduction, three chapters on the science behind the project and the ingredients’ connection to brain function/health followed by seven chapters devoted to recipes in categories from soup to desserts. In the opening chapter, Katz and Edelson write, “Food and mood, food and memory, food and learning–all are being investigated, and there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that what we eat either primarily affects our brain or has secondary effects (for example, whatever you eat that’s heart healthy also may lower the risk of stroke, which is definitely a brain condition.)”

Chapter two begins, “The culinary pharmacy, open 24/7, is the place where you can dive in headfirst to the latest science behind nearly every ingredient in the book. The information here has been drawn from hundreds of peer-reviewed studies conducted with humans, animals, and in the lab, looking at the connections between foods and the brain.” I loved this chapter because the authors list out each of the healthful ingredients used in the cookbook along with the way that ingredient affects the brain. I had no idea that even herbs and spices would impact mood and functioning of your brain!

The recipe chapters are divided as follows: soups; vegetables; meat and seafood; anytime foods; dollops; tonics and elixirs; and sweet bites. Accompanying each chapter’s introduction, and scattered throughout the pages just like a well-seasoned dish, are beautifully photographed foods and dishes. The recipes themselves are well laid out. Although I have many years of kitchen experience under my belt (and I watch a lot of food-related programming), I believe that even a novice could follow these recipes for a successful outcome in their own kitchen. While the recipes contain the usual list of ingredients, preparation steps and detailed per serving nutritional information, the addition which I really appreciated is the storage tip at the end of many of the recipes. (I have, on occasion tossed left-overs because I was unsure if they would store or reheat well. No more waste with these recipes!)

I’ve only had the cookbook for a few days, but I can tell you that the Toasty Spiced Pumpkin Seeds and the Coconut Curry Cashews have already been a hit at my house. Both are quick and easy and make healthy snacks which are easy to bag up into serving sized snack bags for taking to work (or school). My daughter and I have a date to make the Meyer Lemon and Caper Hummus in the week ahead. I am finding it difficult to draw up my shopping list because so many of the recipes are calling out to be made!

Even if improving your health or the health of your family is not your top priority, or you are already doing a bang-up job of cooking healthy foods, you will want to get a copy of The Healthy Mind Cookbook. This book promises to be my first go-to cookbook when preparing meals for my family!

Thank you to for providing me with the review copy in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

A collection of more than 120 recipes formulated to optimize brain health, boost memory, improve mood, sharpen the central nervous system, and more.

Feed your mind.

Depression, ADHD, memory loss, agitation: These may seem like inevitable byproducts of modern lives spent multitasking, not getting enough sleep, and operating on digital overload. But while much of the brain’s work still remains a mystery, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the food you eat directly affects how well your brain functions. Brain health also plays a significant role in staving off diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

In The Healthy Mind Cookbook, Rebecca Katz has harnessed the latest research on the brain to identify the foods that can improve the brain’s ability to control cognition, emotion, and physical function—all of which dictate memory and mood. She then translates the very best of brain science into the kitchen, using delicious nutrient-dense foods as a tool for promoting a healthy mind from childhood through the golden years.

With a culinary pharmacy listing the benefits of key ingredients, complete nutritional details for each dish, and flavor-packed recipes for every meal of the day, including Avocado and Citrus Salad, Sweet Potato Hash, Turkish Lamb Sliders, and Chocolate Cherry Walnut Truffles, The Healthy Mind Cookbook will help lift the fog of everyday life so you can reach your full physical and mental potential.

About the Author . . .

As the senior chef-in-residence and nutritional educator at one of the country's leading cancer wellness centers, REBECCA KATZ, MS, is the culinary link bringing together physicians and patients with a common goal: eating well to maximize cancer treatments, minimize side effects, and improve outcomes. She is the founder of the Inner Cook, a Bay Area culinary practice that specializes in meeting the specific nutritional and appetite needs of cancer patients, and a senior chef at Commonweal Cancer Help Program in Marin County, California. Katz has been a guest chef and lecturer at top academic medical centers throughout the country, including the annual Food As Medicine conference.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

False Tongues - False Promises

I am a new reader of Kate Charles and unfamiliar with the Callie Anson character and her mysteries. Having been a literacy instructor with elementary school aged children, one of the concepts we try to teach young readers is that the title is the author's promise to readers regarding what the book is about. Imagine my surprise to discover that a book subtitled "A Callie Anson Mystery" had a character so named, but wholly uninvolved in the murder mystery which takes place in the text!

Sebastian Frost (a teen-aged boy) is killed, as it turns out, as a result of cyber bullying. His body is found near a church, however it is not the church which Callie Anson serves as curate. Furthermore, Callie embarks on a week-long conference back at her theological alma mater, Cambridge, just as the murder is discovered. She spends the entire time span of the novel nowhere near the crime scene and seemingly oblivious to the fact the crime has even taken place. Her fiance, Marco, is the family liason officer with the police department assigned to solve the crime and cuff the culprit--however, his main task is to babysit the family during the initial days of shock and grief, get them to inquests on time, steer them clear of paparazzi, and maintain communication between them and the official channels of the investigation.

Marco and Callie, for the most part, spend any conversational moments talking about their relationship angst, family drama and jealousies regarding past lovers (with whom Callie is at the conference for the week.) In the course of that conversation, Callie tells Marco about a packet of photos, notes and journal entries she recovered from the inside of the chimney in her room [conveniently, the same dorm room she lived in as a student]. This gives Marco the idea to look inside the chimney in the dead boy's room where he discovers the evidence that finally pieces the puzzle together for the inspector handling the case.

That is ALL the involvement Callie Anson has with the mystery. Period.

In the meantime, the novel includes lots of interludes about the conference Callie is attending, with a variety of characters that don't impact the mystery in any way. The interludes about the vicar with whom Callie works (Brian) and the vicar's family also have virtually nothing to do with the mystery. (One family in the parish have a son who was friends with the deceased and the vicar's wife ends up offering solace to the boy's mother.) All of these parts of the book were superfluous in my opinion. They did not even offer readers a red herring to follow. I eventually started skipping them all as I did not have the background to care what happened to the characters therein.

I wanted to like this book, however it was in the end a disappointment. I found the promise of "A Callie Anson Mystery" to be a serious misnomer, unless the mystery is in what way the character is connected to the crime. And then it is still unsatisfying because the connection is so remotely minute. I doubt I will read any other offerings by this author based on my experience with this book.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of False Tongues from Shelf Awareness in exchange for this review.

From Kirkus Reviews . . .

A trip to her old college offers deacon Callie Anson (Deep Waters, 2009, etc.) both challenges and opportunities.Callie hadn't planned on attending Deacon's Week, her alma mater's conference for recent graduates. Her memories of Archbishop Temple House are sweet, but her breakup with her classmate Adam is just too recent and painful. Even her budding romance with Family Liaison Officer Mark Lombardi can't take the sting out of her memories of Adam's announcement shortly after their graduation that he'd be marrying parishioner Pippa instead of Callie. But Tamsin Howells swears that Adam isn't coming to Deacon's Week, and Callie would love to see Tamsin and her old friends Val Carver and Nicky Lamb. So she bundles off to Kings Cross station only to be bedeviled by weekend repairs on the District and Circle Lines—and finds when she finally arrives at Archbishop Temple that Adam has decided to come after all. Back home, Mark confronts his Italian family's coolness toward his relationship with Callie and their determination to find him a nice Italian girl instead. At work, he's involved in a heart-rending case: the stabbing death of Sebastian Frost, young, athletic and promising, the only child of Richard and Miranda Frost, a doctor and a surgeon. As Mark tries to guide the Frosts through the challenges of a police investigation they'd prefer was unnecessary, Callie confronts mysteries of her own: the mysteries of the human heart. Callie has never been more appealing than in this sensitive exploration of love and loss.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

When this book popped up in my Nook special offers email one day, the topic caught me so off-guard I could not resist clicking the "Buy Now" button. Having been born in the later half of the 1960's, I had not heard of Michael Rockefeller's disappearance/death and I suppose I am just naive enough (and perhaps unwilling) to acknowledge that cannibalism as cultural norm existed beyond the 1800's (and perhaps continues to this day).

Hoffman's book does a wonderful job of laying out both the details of Rockefeller's last days as well as the geo-political situation which surely played a part in what happened to one of the heirs of America's most wealthy families. Hoffmann has done his research. The book includes extensive notes on source material used to make the case that Michael fell into the hands of a group of Asmat men who killed and ate him to reset the balance of their world following the massacre of several tribal leaders by the Dutch government which hand colonized the area.

This is not a book for the squeamish. Hoffman lays out in graphic detail the ritual the Asmat followed in their headhunting and cannibalizing of victims per their culture. It's also very frustrating to see how the political dynamics and the Catholic church's panache for hiding the truth played into this tragedy.

If you are interested in the dynamics of mid-century Papua New Guinea, curious about headhunting cannibals, or wonder what happened to Michael Rockefeller, you will want to read Savage Harvest. Then you can decide if you want to see the artifacts that Rockefeller gave his life for which are on display in New York City.

From the Publisher . . .
The mysterious disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 has kept the world and his powerful, influential family guessing for years. Now, Carl Hoffman uncovers startling new evidence that finally tells the full, astonishing story.

Despite exhaustive searches, no trace of Rockefeller was ever found. Soon after his disappearance, rumors surfaced that he'd been killed and ceremonially eaten by the local Asmat—a native tribe of warriors whose complex culture was built around sacred, reciprocal violence, head hunting, and ritual cannibalism. The Dutch government and the Rockefeller family denied the story, and Michael's death was officially ruled a drowning. Yet doubts lingered. Sensational rumors and stories circulated, fueling speculation and intrigue for decades. The real story has long waited to be told—until now.

Retracing Rockefeller's steps, award-winning journalist Carl Hoffman traveled to the jungles of New Guinea, immersing himself in a world of headhunters and cannibals, secret spirits and customs, and getting to know generations of Asmat. Through exhaustive archival research, he uncovered never-before-seen original documents and located witnesses willing to speak publically after fifty years.

In Savage Harvest he finally solves this decades-old mystery and illuminates a culture transformed by years of colonial rule, whose people continue to be shaped by ancient customs and lore. Combining history, art, colonialism, adventure, and ethnography, Savage Harvest is a mesmerizing whodunit, and a fascinating portrait of the clash between two civilizations that resulted in the death of one of America's richest and most powerful scions.

About the Author . . .

Carl Hoffman is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and the author of Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, his third book. His second, The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes, was named one of the ten best books of 2010 by the Wall Street Journal and was a New York Times summer reading pick. He has won four Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation and one North American Travel Journalism Award. A veteran journalist and former contributing editor for Wired, he has traveled to more than 70 countries on assignment for Outside, Smithsonian, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN, the Magazine, Wired, Men's Journal, Popular Mechanics and many other publications. He is a native of Washington, D. C. and the father of three children.