Tag: nonfiction

January 10, 2018

Book Talk | Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen Kurkjian

Book Talk | Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen KurkjianMaster Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen Kurkjian
Publisher: PublicAffairs, March 2015
Pages: 272
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The definitive story of the greatest art theft in history.

In a secret meeting in 1981, a low-level Boston thief gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a big score waiting to happen. Though its collections included priceless artworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others, its security was cheap, mismanaged, and out of date. And now, it seemed, the whole Boston criminal underworld knew it.
Nearly a decade passed before the Museum museum was finally hit. But when it finally happened, the theft quickly became one of the most infamous art heists in history: thirteen works of art valued at up to 500 million, by some of the most famous artists in the world, were taken. The Boston FBI took control of the investigation, but twenty-five years later the case is still unsolved and the artwork is still missing.
Stephen Kurkjian, one of the top investigative reporters in the country, has been working this case for over nearly twenty years. In Master Thieves, he sheds new light on some of the Gardner's most abiding mysteries. Why would someone steal these paintings, only to leave them hidden for twenty-five years? And why, if one of the top crime bosses in the city knew about this score in 1981, did the theft happen in 1990? What happened in those intervening years? And what might all this have to do with Boston's notorious gang wars of the 1980s?

Kurkjian's reporting is already responsible for some of the biggest breaks in this story, including a meticulous reconstruction of what happened at the Museum museum that fateful night. Now Master Thieves will reveal the identities of those he believes plotted the heist, the motive for the crime, and the details that the FBI has refused to discuss. Taking you on a journey deep into the gangs of Boston, Kurkjian emerges with the most complete and compelling version of this story ever told.

When two police officers knock on the door of the Isabelle Garnder art museum in the middle of the night, the security team has no idea they are about to be the victims of master thieves. Nearly three decades later, the robbery of priceless pieces of art remains unsolved. Hooked by the heist from the start, Stephen Kurkjian, former Boston Globe reporter and member of the famed Spotlight team, shares what we know…and what they suspect.

Loved:
  • The presentation of the crime’s facts and depiction of the museum’s desperation to recover the lost artwork speaks to Kurkjian’s journalist background. Even while sharing basic knowledge about the crime, Kurkjian retained his narrative sense, creating a hook that kept me turning pages.
  • I’d never heard of the heist itself. It was unimaginable to me that two guys, dressed (somewhat shabbily, if the stories are true) as police officers could waltz into an art museum and steal Rembrandts, Vermeers, and others.
  • What made it especially fascinating where the details about the art world and the art crime divisions, a force I assumed existed, but had never thought of much.
  • The background of the mob wars in Boston at the time. At first, they didn’t feel relevant (and to some degree, I’m not sure they are), but the dueling stories contrasted beautifully in Master Thieves.
Liked:
  • The interviews and portraits of the suspects, mobsters, police and museum officials created an emotional texture to Master Thieves that hooked me. However, it felt like Kurkjian occasionally went off on tangents about these people, forgetting to tie back why they were important to the Gardener robbery.
  • I loved the level of detail included, but the amount of it sometimes weighed down the story instead of lifting it up, especially when Kurkjian was reintroducing us to people.
Loathed:
  • Typos. Not the misprint kind, but the kind editing should catch. I found split sentence fragments and occasional sentences where it began and ended with the same clause. (ex. “He went to the market because he wanted to buy some bread, so he went to the market.”) It was probably just missed in editing, but it yanked me out of the story.
Snapshot Review:

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Perfect for

True crime fans, mystery and thriller lovers

4 Stars

Posted January 10, 2018 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 30, 2017

On My Radar | December 2017 Releases

It’s almost a new month and you know what that means: new books! I always love seeing what comes out just before and during the holiday season. This year’s December releases looks to be one of the best yet! Check out the books I’m especially looking forward to this year:

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesThe Truth Beneath the Lies by Amanda Searcy
Publisher: Delacorte Press, December 12th 2017

Fight or Flight.
All Kayla Asher wants to do is run. Run from the government housing complex she calls home. Run from her unstable mother. Run from a desperate job at No Limit Foods. Run to a better, cleaner, safer life. Every day is one day closer to leaving.
All Betsy Hopewell wants to do is survive. Survive the burner phone hidden under her bed. Survive her new rules. Survive a new school with new classmates. Survive being watched. Every minute grants her another moment of life.
But when fate brings Kayla and Betsy together, only one girl will live.

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesYear One (Chronicles of The One, #1) by Nora Roberts
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, December 5th 2017

It began on New Year’s Eve.
The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed—and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.
Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river—or in the ones you know and love the most.
As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.
In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.
The end has come. The beginning comes next.

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, February 6th 2018

Alaska, 1974.Untamed.Unpredictable.And for a family in crisis, the ultimate test of the human spirit.
From the author who brought you the phenomenon of The Nightingale.

 

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesThe Young Queens (Three Dark Crowns, #0.5) by Kendare Blake
Publisher: HarperTeen, December 26th 2017

Three black witches, born to a descending queen. One would rise to become queen in her place. Perhaps the strongest of the three. Perhaps the cleverest. Or perhaps it would be the girl born under the best shield of luck.
Katharine, Arsinoe and Mirabella - three young queens born to fulfil their destiny - to fight to the death to win the crown. But before they were poisoner, elemental and naturalist, they were children, sisters and friends . . .

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesCrown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey by Nicola Tallis
Publisher: Pegasus Books, December 12th 2017

"Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same.” These were the heartbreaking words of a seventeen-year-old girl, Lady Jane Grey, as she stood on the scaffold awaiting death on a cold February morning in 1554. Minutes later her head was struck from her body with a single stroke of a heavy axe. Her death for high treason sent shockwaves through the Tudor world, and served as a gruesome reminder to all who aspired to a crown that the axe could fall at any time.
Jane is known to history as "the Nine Days Queen," but her reign lasted, in fact, for thirteen days. The human and emotional aspects of her story have often been ignored, although she is remembered as one of the Tudor Era’s most tragic victims. While this is doubtlessly true, it is only part of the complex jigsaw of Jane’s story. She was a remarkable individual with a charismatic personality who earned the admiration and affection of many of those who knew her. All were impressed by her wit, passion, intelligence, and determined spirit. Furthermore, the recent trend of trying to highlight her achievements and her religious faith has, in fact, further obscured the real Jane, a young religious radical who saw herself as an advocate of the reformed faith—Protestantism—and ultimately became a martyr for it.
Crown of Blood is an important and significant retelling of an often-misunderstood tale: set at the time of Jane’s downfall and following her journey through to her trial and execution, each chapter moves between the past and the “present,” using a rich abundance of primary source material (some of which has never been published) in order to paint a vivid picture of Jane’s short and turbulent life. This dramatic narrative traces the dangerous plots and web of deadly intrigue in which Jane became involuntarily tangled—and which ultimately led to a shocking and catastrophic conclusion.

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesSo Over You by Kate Meader
Publisher: Pocket Books, December 19th 2017

Three estranged sisters struggle to sustain their late father’s failing hockey franchise in Kate Meader’s sizzling Chicago Rebels series. In this second entry, middle sister Isobel is at a crossroads in her personal and professional lives. But both are about to get a significant boost with the addition of a domineering Russian powerhouse to the Rebels...
Isobel Chase knows hockey. She played NCAA, won silver at the Games, and made it thirty-seven minutes into the new National Women’s Hockey League before an injury sidelined her dreams. Those who can’t, coach, and a position as a skating consultant to her late father’s hockey franchise, the Chicago Rebels, seems like a perfect fit. Until she’s assigned her first job: the man who skated into her heart as a teen and relieved her of her pesky virginity. These days, left-winger Vadim Petrov is known as the Czar of Pleasure, a magnet for puck bunnies and the tabloids alike. But back then... let’s just say his inability to sink the puck left Isobel frustratingly scoreless.
Vadim has a first name that means “ruler,” and it doesn’t stop at his birth certificate. He dominates on the ice, the practice rink, and in the backseat of a limo. But a knee injury has produced a bad year, and bad years in the NHL don’t go unrewarded. His penance? To be traded to a troubled team where his personal coach is Isobel Chase, the woman who drove him wild years ago when they were hormonal teens. But apparently the feeling was not entirely mutual.
That Vadim might have failed to give Isobel the pleasure that was her right is intolerable, and he plans to make it up to her—one bone-melting orgasm at a time. After all, no player can perfect his game without a helluva lot of practice...

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesThe Art of Running in Heels by Rachel Gibson
Publisher: Avon, December 26th 2017

Running in five-inch stilettos is an art form
Leaving your fiancé at the altar on live television is a disaster. Lexie Kowalsky thought she was ready to get married in front of millions of people, but at the last minute she fled the set of television’s hottest reality show, Gettin’ Hitched. Wearing a poofy white dress and a pair of five-inch sparkly shoes, Lexie hopped a float plane for Sandspit, Canada. She figured no one would find her there. But she was wrong.
Sharing her flight was the Seattle Chinooks biggest star, Sean Knox. Lexie wasn’t just a reality-show runaway, she was his pain in the butt coach’s daughter. She was chaos and temptation and definitely off limits, but getting her luscious body out of that wedding gown, he couldn’t resist getting her in his bed for one amazing night.
Then a photo of Sean and Lexi breaks the internet—and suddenly they’re both swept up in a crazy plan to spin the whole story. But you can’t run from love—
 

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesEver the Brave (A Clash of Kingdoms #2) by Erin Summerill
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, December 5th 2017

Ever the Divided. Ever the Feared. Ever the Brave.After saving King Aodren with her newfound Channeler powers, Britta only wants to live a peaceful life in her childhood home. Unfortunately, saving the King has created a tether between them she cannot sever, no matter how much she'd like to, and now he's insisting on making her a noble lady. And there are those who want to use Britta’s power for evil designs. If Britta cannot find a way to harness her new magical ability, her life—as well as her country—may be lost.
The stakes are higher than ever in the sequel to Ever the Hunted, as Britta struggles to protect her kingdom and her heart.

On My Radar | December 2017 ReleasesEnchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini
Publisher: Dutton Books, December 5th 2017

The only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets, Ada was destined for fame long before her birth. Estranged from Ada’s father, who was infamously “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Ada’s mathematician mother is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada’s mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination—or worse yet, passion or poetry—promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes.

When Ada is introduced into London society as a highly eligible young heiress, she at last discovers the intellectual and social circles she has craved all her life. Little does she realize that her delightful new friendship with inventor Charles Babbage—brilliant, charming, and occasionally curmudgeonly—will shape her destiny. Intrigued by the prototype of his first calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and enthralled by the p;plans for his even more advanced Analytical Engine, Ada resolves to help Babbage realize his extraordinary vision, unique in her understanding of how his invention could transform the world. All the while, she passionately studies mathematics—ignoring skeptics who consider it an unusual, even unhealthy pursuit for a woman—falls in love, discovers the shocking secrets behind her parents’ estrangement, and comes to terms with the unquenchable fire of her imagination.

Posted November 30, 2017 by Ellen in on my radar / 0 Comments
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November 22, 2017

Review | A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

Review | A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev GolinkinA Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir by Lev Golinkin
Publisher: Doubleday, November 2014
Pages: 307
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A compelling story of two intertwined journeys: a Jewish refugee family fleeing persecution and a young man seeking to reclaim a shattered past. In the twilight of the Cold War (the late 1980s), nine-year old Lev Golinkin and his family cross the Soviet border with only ten suitcases, $600, and the vague promise of help awaiting in Vienna. Years later, Lev, now an American adult, sets out to retrace his family's long trek, locate the strangers who fought for his freedom, and in the process, gain a future by understanding his past.

Lev Golinkin's memoir is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of a young boy in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union. It's also the story of Lev Golinkin, the American man who finally confronts his buried past by returning to Austria and Eastern Europe to track down the strangers who made his escape possible . . . and say thank you. Written with biting, acerbic wit and emotional honesty in the vein of Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Safran Foer, and David Bezmozgis, Golinkin's search for personal identity set against the relentless currents of history is more than a memoir—it's a portrait of a lost era. This is a thrilling tale of escape and survival, a deeply personal look at the life of a Jewish child caught in the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and a provocative investigation into the power of hatred and the search for belonging. Lev Golinkin achieves an amazing feat—and it marks the debut of a fiercely intelligent, defiant, and unforgettable new voice.

Moving is scary. The uprooting of the place called home usually strikes fear in all of us, subconsciously or otherwise. Especially kids. Especially when the home you’re leaving is in the Soviet Union.

Lev Golinkin’s A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is a poignant, unexpectedly funny at times and terrifying at others, unique take on one of the more unspoken periods of modern history: the emigration of Jews from the U.S.S.R.

I knew life in the Soviet Union couldn’t have been easy, but Golinkin’s depiction of his Jewish upbringing and the struggles he and his family endured merely because of their ethnicity was heartbreaking. Golinkin’s narration was threaded with a sort of absence that children have when speaking of hard memories in their past. Instead of slowing down the narrative, it brought an emotional touch, a sense that the author was talking to me in real time instead of words on a page.

The first difficult part (buckle your seatbelts, there’s a few in this book) came when Lev and his family finally got permission to leave the country. The catch? They could only take two suitcases and some cash. Everything else, especially items of value, belonged to the country, not them. Their personal documents, including passports, transcripts, projects, writings – they were all to be left behind. If you didn’t, the border check would find them…and you didn’t want that.

So when Lev left his homeland, all he had was a backpack with a few changes of clothes, a small turtle carving, and a bear. Oh, those eight crates of vodka? Those were used as bribery to ensure the family’s safe passage out of the Soviet Union to Vienna.

All of these elements are fascinating on their own, but what tied them all together was Golinkin’s narration. It was personal, vivid, emotional and yet detached all at once. It had an authenticity that brought his past and his present search together into one cohesive book that I couldn’t put down.

A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is a surprisingly refreshing yet emotional memoir of a harrowing escape and determined pursuit of the American dream. Golinkin’s work quickly became and still is one of my favorite nonfiction reads of the year.

4 Stars

Posted November 22, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 12, 2017

Review | Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Review | Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin DickeyGhostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
Publisher: Viking, October 2016
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places--and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes," Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America," or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living--how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made--and why those changes are made--Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we're most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

Even if the paranormal isn’t your cup of tea, there’s no denying a certain mystical element to American history. From the haunted streets of Salem to the plains of the Native American nations, there’s a piercing awareness that we’re not alone. Colin Dickey’s Ghostland was meant to tell this story.

I say “meant” intentionally. Dickey divvied up his book first into different types of ghost stories (graveyards, cities, etc.), then into various locations within each category. I was thrilled. Usually, I’m not a big paranormal fan, but the prospect of combining my recent love for true crime (thanks to My Favorite Murder) and our newfound desire to travel America, I was hooked. The chapter that sealed the deal? New Orleans. I went to the Big Easy a year ago for work, so I can’t wait to go back with M.

But I digress…

I was hoping Ghostland would tell me the ghost stories of America, paired with the unique history of each, and leave me marking my travel map with must-sees. Instead, Dickey dissects each tale with a faintly condescending academia, implying how people are crazy for not looking at these stories in a coherent light.

Sure, finding out the truth about the secret staircase in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home, House of Seven Gables, was fascinating. Unique. Defined America’s perception of not only the house but the author. But I wanted the story, not the analytics.

Chapter after chapter, story after story, Dickey analyzed each tale to death (no pun intended) so that I began skipping his critiques and read the short paragraph telling the story, then researching it on Wikipedia.

So why three stars? Because Dickey was honest about the book’s focus. I had built it up in my mind to be more than it was. His versions of the stories were engaging and fascinating, inspiring me to search them out for myself.

If you’re looking for tales about haunted America, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. But if you are hoping for a realistic perception and critical analysis of America’s ghost stories, Ghostland is for you.

3 Stars

Posted October 12, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 15, 2016

Review | Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts

Review | Ladies of Liberty by Cokie RobertsLadies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts
Publisher: Harper Perennial, March 2009
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
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In this eye-opening companion volume to her acclaimed history Founding Mothers, number-one New York Times bestselling author and renowned political commentator Cokie Roberts brings to life the extraordinary accomplishments of women who laid the groundwork for a better society. Recounted with insight and humor, and drawing on personal correspondence, private journals, and other primary sources, many of them previously unpublished, here are the fascinating and inspiring true stories of first ladies and freethinkers, educators and explorers. Featuring an exceptional group of women—including Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Rebecca Gratz, Louise Livingston, Sacagawea, and others—Ladies of Liberty sheds new light on the generation of heroines, reformers, and visionaries who helped shape our nation, finally giving these extraordinary ladies the recognition they so greatly deserve.

After getting hooked on Hamilton (“Just you wait!”…sorry), I was thrilled to find Cokie Roberts’ history of the ladies of liberty, the women so often overlooked in favor of the famous men in their lives. Roberts take a in-depth looks at the lives and effect of these women, starting shortly after the founding of the nation, bringing life back to these amazing characters in history.

Thanks to Hamilton, I actually had a pretty good handle on the more minor character Roberts delved into and found myself connecting to them more so than others. It was a good segue into what occasionally became an info dump, helping keep the book moving along.

I loved the amount of depth about Aaron Burr, a man I sadly knew very little about, and his daughter Theodosia. Those treason charges? I had no idea about that, but watching it through his and his daughter’s eyes (a person who is essentially an extension of him) was fascinating.

There were other people throughout history I recognized, such as Sacagewa (who I have a whole new respect for), whose stories brought life to Ladies of Liberty. The portrayal of Dolley Madison made me sad I didn’t get to meet her – she sounded like quite the character. The level of detail was fascinating.

However, it did have a downside. Occasionally the narrative was so bogged down by the detail that it felt smarter to skip ahead a few pages and get back to the story. It was hit and miss: half engaging, the other half a bit boring.

I felt like the narration went off on tangents occasionally. There were many stories about women I’ve never heard of (great!), but without the proper set up, their stories didn’t resonate with me (not so great). Sometimes it felt like Roberts found a really great history, and felt she had to stick it in somewhere…ah! Without the proper introduction, these histories fell flat, and I felt more irritated than intrigued.

Overall, a must for American history (or Hamilton) buffs. The level of detail and occasional personal touch Roberts adds in brings the stories to life. Maybe with a little more background, the rest of the stories would have stood out to me as well.

3 Stars

Posted August 15, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 1 Comment
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November 9, 2015

Review | Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

Review | Sous Chef by Michael GibneySous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney
Publisher: Ballantine Books, March 2014
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
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The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.
Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.
In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.

In my experience, there are three types of food books. The brilliant, the okay, and the horrible. It comes down to the strength and integrity of the narrative voice: how much do they make us believe/invest in them, their stories, and their lives? 

Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef is falls into the second category. The decision to make the entire story in second person is a brave one, and I applaud him trying to bring the reader into the world of the kitchen. It felt too disjointed and odd – I would have been more comfortable with the first person persona, seeing the based-upon-true-events day in the life through his eyes instead of his/my own. 

I became really irritated with the narrative about halfway through the book as he’s/I’m organizing the speech for the wait staff’s preservice with the kitchen. Gibney uses the phrase “You need to know” 24 times in two and a half pages (beginning on the bottom of page 67 to the very last sentence of page 69). This repetition drove me insane, draining away from Gibney’s very obvious love of food and the job. It wasn’t engaging; it was tiresome. 

The shining light is that love of food. Gibney, your second person narrator, appreciates food in a completely different realm than the majority of us. His narrative as he describes his knifes, their balances, and lull and noise of the kitchen…it’s breathtaking, but overwhelmed by the second person narration. 

Sous Chef is okay. It’s a strong book in the love of food, but the narration drops its power quite a bit. But for a quick read, it’ll do.

3 Stars

Posted November 9, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 2, 2015

10 Reasons You Need to Read “You Deserve A Drink” Today

10 Reasons You Need to Read “You Deserve A Drink” TodayYou Deserve a Drink: Boozy Misadventures and Tales of Debauchery by Mamrie Hart, Grace Helbig
Publisher: Plume, May 2015
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
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The riotously funny debut from the drinking star with a YouTube problem
Since launching her YouTube channel “You Deserve a Drink” in 2011, comedian Mamrie Hart has built an intensely devoted following of more than half a million viewers. Like her bawdy and bacchanalian show, Hart’s eponymous debut pays tribute to her boozy misadventures with an original cocktail recipe accompanying each hilarious tale. From the “Leaves of Three Martini,” commemorating the hookup to whom she accidentally gave poison ivy, to the “Bizzargarita,” in honor of the time she and a friend were approached by two uber-Republican couples who wanted to “swing” while on vacation in Mexico, You Deserve a Drink is as useful as it is entertaining.

1. Having a bad day? Mamrie’s quick, witty narrative is guaranteed to make everything better.

2. After reading the stories about Topless Tuesday, Tuesday will never be the same again.
3. Get tips on how to pass French, break the ice at a bachelorette party and deal with internet trolls. 


4. Find out how to talk your way out of a ticket, courtesy of Mamrie’s mama. 
5. Your worst travel story is nothing compared to Mamrie’s overnight layover in Malaysia.
6. Each chapter begins with a new cocktail recipe!


7. Missed spring break in college (or want to relive it)? Her spring break tales are hilarious
8. Her focus on the importance of friends reminded me to be grateful for mine.
9. Tip – always check for poison ivy.
10. You deserve a laugh.

5 Stars

Posted October 2, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 14, 2015

Review | Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott

Review | Sin in the Second City by Karen AbbottSin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott
Publisher: Random House, June 2008
Pages: 302
Format: Hardcover
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Step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club, the most famous brothel in American history–and the catalyst for a culture war that rocked the nation. Operating in Chicago’s notorious Levee district at the dawn of the last century, the Club’s proprietors, two aristocratic sisters named Minna and Ada Everleigh, welcomed moguls and actors, senators and athletes, foreign dignitaries and literary icons, into their stately double mansion, where thirty stunning Everleigh “butterflies” awaited their arrival. Courtesans named Doll, Suzy Poon Tang, and Brick Top devoured raw meat to the delight of Prince Henry of Prussia and recited poetry for Theodore Dreiser. Whereas lesser madams pocketed most of a harlot’s earnings and kept a “whipper” on staff to mete out discipline, the Everleighs made sure their girls dined on gourmet food, were examined by an honest physician, and even tutored in the literature of Balzac.
Not everyone appreciated the sisters’ attempts to elevate the industry. Rival Levee madams hatched numerous schemes to ruin the Everleighs, including an attempt to frame them for the death of department store heir Marshall Field, Jr. But the sisters’ most daunting foes were the Progressive Era reformers, who sent the entire country into a frenzy with lurid tales of “white slavery”——the allegedly rampant practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into brothels. This furor shaped America’s sexual culture and had repercussions all the way to the White House, including the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
With a cast of characters that includes Jack Johnson, John Barrymore, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Howard Taft, “Hinky Dink” Kenna, and Al Capone, Sin in the Second City is Karen Abbott’s colorful, nuanced portrait of the iconic Everleigh sisters, their world-famous Club, and the perennial clash between our nation’s hedonistic impulses and Puritanical roots. Culminating in a dramatic last stand between brothel keepers and crusading reformers, Sin in the Second City offers a vivid snapshot of America’s journey from Victorian-era propriety to twentieth-century modernity.

Such a title. How can I resist a book that claims to tell the story of the “battle for America’s soul” right from the first page? I didn’t think that the history of two madams in 1800s Chicago would grab me, but, oh, did it. 

I immediately fell in love with the Everleigh sisters. These women epitomized the American dream. Sure, some people might not agree with this idea, but they envisioned it, planned it, and went out to get it. The psychology of two women who recreated their history to intentionally set themselves up as the most famous madams in America was intense, intriguing, and admirable. I wondered how they would do in today’s world, with the aid of technology to recreate their backgrounds. 

At first, I didn’t have the same fascinating with the reformers – I felt like they were taking away time from the most enchanting story of the two sisters. After I finished Sin in the Second City and thought over my notes, I realized that the reformers played a bigger role than I initially realized – they were the contrast, the foil, and to move into the historical, the representations of one era fighting against another. 

The same storytelling I fell in love with in Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy shone through in Sin in the Second City. Abbott brought the world of 1800s Chicago to life. I didn’t know the dark history of Chicago, the story of white slavery, or the history of courtesans. Each one intrigued me. Nothing stood so firm in the book as the theme of America’s transition from the Victorian era to the 20th century. I knew the basics of the story from history classes, but delving into the world, interacting with the people, brought the change to life. 

I didn’t expect to be intrigued by this particular era of American history. Typically, I find myself entranced by Civil War history or the Revolution, the Prohibition, but not Victorian era turning to the more modern world. Now, I can’t get enough. 

4 Stars

Posted August 14, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 10, 2015

Review | Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy and the End of the Edwardian Era by Greg King and Penny Wilson

Title: Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Era

Author: Greg King and Penny Wilson
Publication Date: February 2015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Lusitania: She was a ship of dreams, carrying millionaires and aristocrats, actresses and impresarios, writers and suffragettes – a microcosm of the last years of the waning Edwardian Era and the coming influences of the Twentieth Century. When she left New York on her final voyage, she sailed from the New World to the Old; yet an encounter with the machinery of the New World, in the form of a primitive German U-Boat, sent her – and her gilded passengers – to their tragic deaths and opened up a new era of indiscriminate warfare.

A hundred years after her sinking, Lusitania remains an evocative ship of mystery. Was she carrying munitions that exploded? Did Winston Churchill engineer a conspiracy that doomed the liner? Lost amid these tangled skeins is the romantic, vibrant, and finally heartrending tale of the passengers who sailed aboard her. Lives, relationships, and marriages ended in the icy waters off the Irish Sea; those who survived were left haunted and plagued with guilt. Now, authors Greg King and Penny Wilson resurrect this lost, glittering world to show the golden age of travel and illuminate the most prominent of Lusitania’s passengers. Rarely was an era so glamorous; rarely was a ship so magnificent; and rarely was the human element of tragedy so quickly lost to diplomatic maneuvers and militaristic threats.

The story of the Lusitania is a new interest for me; I have always heard the story in passing, but after reading Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, I was hooked. I found King and Wilson’s Lusitania while looking through GoodReads a few weeks ago and picked it up at the library, hoping King and Wilson’s Lusitania would share more information to fuel my latest fascination.

King and Wilson’s Lusitania focuses on a few first and second class passengers, telling their story in incredible detail. Many of these passengers I hadn’t heard about before in my reading, so that held my attention. I found it a little strange, however, that King and Wilson don’t follow a third class passenger: in fact, they rarely mention the more than 1500 people who stayed in the Lusitania‘s third class accommodations. 

I hoped for more information on the U-boat commander Schwieger, but this nonfiction only devoted a chapter to the man that changed not only the course of the Lusitania‘s history, but the rules of warfare in general. For a man who had such an impact on so many lives, I found it a little strange that he was portrayed as a minor character. 

After the boat sails, the narration was strong and engaging: King and Wilson follow the chronological order of the ship’s last voyage. The order before was a little confusing: the narration bounced back and forth between the past and the time on the dock without a clear train of thought. Not a big deal, but was a little hard to follow at times.

In the end, Lusitania was an okay read. It wasn’t bad by any means, but I found myself yearning for more information, for more details on the passengers…just more. 


Posted July 10, 2015 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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June 18, 2015

Review | When Paris Went Dark by Ronald C. Rosbottom

Title: When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944
Author: Ronald C. Rosbottom
Publication Date: August 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The spellbinding and revealing chronicle of Nazi-occupied Paris

On June 14, 1940, German tanks entered a silent and nearly deserted Paris. Eight days later, France accepted a humiliating defeat and foreign occupation. Subsequently, an eerie sense of normalcy settled over the City of Light. Many Parisians keenly adapted themselves to the situation-even allied themselves with their Nazi overlords. At the same time, amidst this darkening gloom of German ruthlessness, shortages, and curfews, a resistance arose. Parisians of all stripes-Jews, immigrants, adolescents, communists, rightists, cultural icons such as Colette, de Beauvoir, Camus and Sartre, as well as police officers, teachers, students, and store owners-rallied around a little known French military officer, Charles de Gaulle. 

WHEN PARIS WENT DARK evokes with stunning precision the detail of daily life in a city under occupation, and the brave people who fought against the darkness. Relying on a range of resources—memoirs, diaries, letters, archives, interviews, personal histories, flyers and posters, fiction, photographs, film and historical studies—Rosbottom has forged a groundbreaking book that will forever influence how we understand those dark years in the City of Light.



A must for history lovers, especially those who can’t resist the allure of Paris. I found this book on GoodReads and grabbed a copy from the library. The depictions of Paris are stunning, but the story of the City of Light under occupation was both strange and fascinating. The strange denial and forced normalcy of the remaining citizens cast an odd pall over Paris that lasted throughout the war.


I was disappointed that Rosbottom stayed within the psychological story of Paris’ occupation. He doesn’t delve into the darker history, like the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, instead focusing on the Germans’ fascination and tourism with Paris. I didn’t know about Germany’s infatuation with the City of Light, which was fascinating, but I wanted to know it all, from the good to the ugly. Rosbottom’s When Paris Went Dark more often than not focused on the good/not-so-bad. 


Rosbottom’s ancedotes were interesting, but they occasionally weren’t enough to pick up some of the more dry parts. Hitler’s tour of Paris to be the most fascinating story included in When Paris Went Dark because it showed the complexity of his personality and mindset. Rosbottom’s depiction of Hitler as a conqueror and a tourist is such a fascinating combination, making me see Paris in an entirely different light.


To be fair, to truly enjoy this book, one must be interested in this topic. This isn’t an overview: it’s an in-depth, detailed look at Paris under occupation only. However, When Paris Went Dark is an interesting read, one that has little tidbits of history that isn’t commonly taught in our history classes. 


Posted June 18, 2015 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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