Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: Fitness Running

I'm delighted to have a copy of Fitness Running and have already dog-eared several sections. From speed drills with photos to completing your own health assessment, this book is the runner's instruction manual.

If you, like myself, are trying to figure out how to improve your running, this book will help. I used to run, even trained for a while, but two kids and four years later my online resources have vanished (probably defunct) and many of the books I've found at Barnes & Noble are for elite athletes or people starting from absolute zero. This book spans the gap nicely and covers both basics (stretches) and advanced tactics (marathon training based on your VO2 Max) without focusing on the gear — something even the most helpful magazines do almost entirely.

Here's where a slightly out of shape person can turn to start running no experience and know what the next level even looks like. Here's where a beginning runner can turn to the photos about pronation and understand how to improve footfall. Here's where runners of all levels can make their own goal-based training programs with ease. I know I have.

Fitness Running, 3rd Edition
Richard L. Brown, PhD
Human Kinetics Publishers, Paperback $21.95
View the book at Barnes and Noble

Review based on a free copy of this book, courtesy of LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Review: A Song for Issy Bradley

Beautifully written story of how the Bradley family copes following the loss of its youngest member, 4-year-old Issy. 

I loved the mixed perspectives of all the family members and how the stories weave together as the book culminates, forming a full view. Bishop Ian Bradley begins as a one-note Mormon witness, passing off verse and religious stories for every situation, but Ms. Bray redeems him into a real character as the book progresses. I didn't know much about the Mormon religion prior to reading this book, but Bray provides an overview that doesn't feel like a conversion tutorial. This is an empathetic story about loss and its handling, both by a church community — including the mishandling of information for children —, parents, and different-aged children.

While the topic isn't a light one, Bray's gentle touch eases the reader through.

A Song for Issy Bradley
Carys Bray
Random House, Hardcover, August 2014
 View the book at Barnes and Noble

Review based on a free copy of this book, courtesy of LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Delicious!

New paperback cover for 2015
Billie Breslin is just the kind of girl I'd befriend: hungry and bookish. 

Always agog and somewhat bumbling, this romantic comedy lead stumbles onto the foodie magazine scene in an enviable scenario (somewhat reminiscent of Reichl's own haphazard trajectory), where she endures bullying and a repeat caller who comically messes up the magazine's recipes. Hoping to prove her writing chops from the editor's assistant position, Billie's new job at Delicious! magazine still leaves wiggle room for a weekend job dishing Italian sides at a close-knit family shop, the fodder for Billie's first published article and an unsurprising romance.

The book's unexpected turn comes when Billie unearths a series of letters between a teenaged girl and James Beard written during World War II and hidden in a secret room of the magazine's boarded-up library. As Billie follows the late librarian's clues to find the hidden letters, her search also leads to deepened friendships and self-discovery, and, naturally, a makeover. (I said romantic comedy, right? Totally a Drew Barrymore moment.)

I've closely followed Reichl's writing for numerous reasons — okay, mainly the food writing with a large side of intrigue — and was excited to find her foray into fiction such a believable transition. Yes, there are several plot wrinkles that feel heavy-handed, but they're minor and, in my opinion, forgiveable. The characters, Billie in particular, are well-drawn and familiar, friendly people whom you want to like, making it easy to be drawn along with the story. But Reichl's imagined letters to James Beard are the real gems in this book, rich with history and curiosity.

I definitely recommend this story to the foodies out there, but also to the poolside readers interested in historical fiction and romance, for chick lit it be.

Delicious! A Novel
Ruth Reichl
Random House, Hardcover, May 2014
 $26 / Paperback $16
View the book at Barnes and Noble

Review based on a free copy of this book, courtesy of LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: The Age of Miracles

A thrilling, ominous story of girlhood that calms one science fiction scenario into an unexpected, daily extension of current global warming predictions.

Meet 11-year-old Julia, a lonely preteen entrenched in a typical suburban life. When the world's rotation begins to slow and the extra minutes caught in a day bloom, the life she's managed so far — balancing her best friend with a sad single-child's home life, her soccer habit, and a secret crush on Seth Moreno — spirals into something unrecognizable. Yet even with the ever-changing rules governing the planet and the daylight hours, Julia's rush into adulthood is startling in its normalcy.

This is the most calm and appealing horror story you'll ever read. Karen Thompson Walker builds a slow, hungry tension with everyday scenarios, like making breakfast, that are interrupted by the doomsday events unfolding around her characters. Even your mom could read this sci-fi, and my mom hates that stuff.

Julia's life is so childishly complex and well rendered, I recognized so much of my own sixth grade experience inside of it, despite the vast differences in setting. It's easy to whip through the author's excellent prose, but I wanted to make the story last, just in case the world didn't, I guess. But I won't tell you more about that. I'll just say: read it.

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker
Random House, Hardcover, June 2012
View the book at Barnes and Noble

Review based on a free copy of this book, courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Conversationally Speaking

Ah, you’re back. I know, I know. My caffeine high wore off and I couldn’t focus properly on your fuzzy green sweater anymore. I wonder where you go when I’m not paying attention to you…. Oh, but I don’t mean to interrupt. You’re leaning forward like you want to ask me something, tucking that wayward strand of reddish hair behind your ear as you frame your question.

Where do you find the time to read?

I shift my weight, re-crossing my legs on the other side, buying a spot of time. It’s a oddly uncomfortable topic. As no doubt you know from our weekly contact, my baby is about five months old now.

Well, I lick my lips, he was a bit of a slow eater to start, and I was falling asleep waiting at least thirty minutes for him to breastfeed, ten times a day the first month. So I started reading a book during our sessions and was soon reading more than four books a week using only that time. Not small books either, I shrug. Took me one week to blow through The Help by Kathryn Stockett. He’s faster now, bigger too, but I can still get through at least two books a week that way.

Don’t you love that books are so portable? So easy to squeeze into whatever rifts shuffle through your day? But you’re right, during those ten minutes my eensy monster is asleep without me, I’m unlikely to spend my free time reading, I stop to breathe deeply. Forgive my ramble.

What about audio books? you ask.

How did you know? I wonder, narrowing my eyes. You know me so well, it's nearly evil.

Indeed I am now listening to audio books while rocking the little guy into one of the naps he so resists taking, lying next to him every evening as he drifts away. One per week, at least. That’s on top of the regular old, flappable, page-style books.

Just last week, I finally caught up with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — something I’ve been meaning to read for ages — which is beautifully read and whips smoothly along.

Oh and there he is now, cooing to himself from the bed. I’ll bet he’s sucking on one of his socks, smiling up at his old friend the ceiling fan. I scurry toward the bedroom. Grab you some more tea while I’m up?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: The Handmade Marketplace

Crafters are a genial bunch, helpful at the core. So who better to ask for business advice than several dozen of your crafting peers? The Handmade Marketplace is a commonsense guide to beginning a craft business given in an organized, start-to-finish format with pop-in tidbits from more than 20 craft-friendly neighbors.

Written nearly as informally as a roundtable discussion, Chapin's encouraging tone urges you along. Crafters often stumble into a business following a homemade product's accolades from friends and relatives. They then cluelessly navigate the business world with how-to books geared to brick-and-mortar stores, not small, handmade items made in living rooms.

Most useful sections for newcomers include publicity advice — blogging, putting together press kits, developing marketing networks. Use Chapin's tips on how and where to sell, with pricing recommendations, and your business will flourish from the start.

A few years ago, I launched a knitting business, selling hand-knit wares at craft shows and one brick-and-mortar store, which swiftly folded. If I'd had Chapin's advice, I'd have started the blog and online sales first and sold through the store with a backup plan in mind. But with limited resources, I spent money on the wrong ones and ended up closing shop within two years.

Here's what you can do instead: pick up The Handmade Marketplace and make use of professional, artisans' perspectives, flush with advice that's easy to follow.

Handmade Marketplace: How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and On-Line
Kari Chapin
Storey Books, Paperback, February 2010
View the book at Barnes & Noble

Review based on a free copy of this book, courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: The Vegetarian Option

Laid out a bit like your grandmother’s holiday table — everything in its carefully doilied place —, The Vegetarian Option separates recipes by ingredient into more than fifty small sections. Despite this fusty approach, Hopkinson manages a feat most vegetarian cookbooks don’t even attempt: singular focus on the vegetables. While he turns to a handful of rice and pasta dishes at the back, Hopkinson embraces even unpopular veg like watercress, sorrel, and turnips with expert ease. Imagine what he does for the usual suspects.

Recipes range from quick, two-step prep to several complicated paragraphs of work before a final, though impressive, meal emerges. Simple dishes like spaghetti al aglio and peperocino (i.e. garlic and pepper) and broiled eggplant with pesto are hearty and manageable dinner options for even novice home cooks. Or spend a few hours creating the asian fried turnip paste or mushroom cannelloni, multi-step meals with breathtaking results.

Despite the high level of ingenuity in his recipes, Hopkinson’s ingredients are widely accessible and budget friendly. Some of the more creative dishes, the tomato jelly with basil and goat cheese for example, feature ingredients like agar agar — an easy to use vegan thickening agent rarely used outside of the raw food realm but available at a decent supermarket. It's the experimental pairings and texture variations that set this cookbook apart.

A few sample recipe titles:
Cheese-crusted fried parsnip stripes with romesco sauce
Cream of fennel soup with garlic butter
Red pepper and potato stew with jalapeno relish
Warm asparagus custards with tarragon vinaigrette

Hopkinson’s compiled a thorough, adaptive collection with enough diversity to keep you thumbing its pages seasonally. Though he's thrown in a few easy ones, his recipes aren’t the simplistic, 30-minute fare so popular lately. But if you’re looking for a vegetarian Sunday dinner that will impress people, start your browsing here.

The Vegetarian Option
Simon Hopkinson
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Hardcover, April 2010

View the book at Barnes & Noble

Review based on a free copy of this book, courtesy of the publisher.