Karen McCue

After years working as a corporate drone, I figured out that my job was getting in the way of much more interesting activities:  reading, cooking, travel, or an occasional ski day (weekdays only, over 25 degrees and sunny).  I landed in Petoskey and now call it my privilege to keep the books straight (the financial books, that is) at McLean & Eakin Booksellers.  

 

I have one grown son and many nieces and nephews who all live in wonderful places that I love to visit (SFO, BWI, PWM, DEN airport codes).  When I’m not reading almost anything recommended by one of the brilliant people at the McLean & Eakin, I’m cooking or enjoying the fresh air.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780399563058
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Pamela Dorman Books - July 23rd, 2019

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (NY Times bestselling author of  Kitchens of the Great Midwest) is a charming, quirky, and informative novel about two sisters with different talents who take divergent paths as young adults in 1950s Minnesota.  
Through fate and finagling, the younger sister, Helen, inherits the family farm and uses the profits to pursue her passion for the alchemy, manufacturing and riches of brewing beer – lager to be specific.  The estrangement with her only sister does not deter Helen, nor the ups and downs of the economy, trends, and competition in the beer business.
Edith, her older married sister, bakes award-winning pies.  She and her husband raise their family on a modest income until circumstances find Edith raising her granddaughter alone and struggling financially.  
Sounds dead serious, right?  Nope - the writing is laugh-out-loud funny, and neither of these strong, determined women has the time or the inclination for self-pity, evident right down to their Midwestern roots. As the craft beer market explodes and Edith is once-again thrown into a new job (at 79 !), she and Helen’s lives are bound to converge.
Besides being a fascinating primer in beermaking, this novel evokes the best the Midwest has to offer,  without the corn…  just the sweet aroma of hops, malted barley and rhubarb pie.


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Evvie Drake Starts Over: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780525619246
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ballantine Books - June 25th, 2019

Evvy Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes was a timely read for me….  I was in Midcoast Maine on vacation and realized this book is set in the same region.  The main character’s father is a retired lobsterman and my nephew is too, though not retired (he supplies our grub for the 4th of July!).   I just knew I would like this book, while absorbing all of the ocean-y smells of high and low tide.
Evvy Drake is in the process of secretly leaving her husband when she finds out he has died in a car accident on the day of her move.  In truth, he was a manipulative and controlling person, though the public saw only his "wonderful community doctor" persona.  So Evvy says nothing about leaving him to anyone, and though not mourning him exactly, she suffers from shock and maybe PTSD.  As she knocks around the too-large house he selected for them, she finds herself unable to go forward with her life.
Her best friend introduces her to a potential renter for the separate quarters within her house -  at the very least, it would help pay her past-due bills.  Dean Tenney, the guy seeking a short-term lease, is escaping New York where, as a major league baseball pitcher, he has lost his ability to pitch – a severe case of the yips.  She accepts her new tenant though they each have an identical condition as part of their lease agreement – she cannot discuss with him his failed arm and he cannot ask her about her marriage.
The story doesn’t go where the reader suspects it might, but not all relationships do, as the author knows well.  She is currently a pop culture critic and one of the hosts of the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour.   Through her varied cast of characters, she explores grief, love and forgiveness with humor and aplomb.  A delightful read!


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The American Agent: A Maisie Dobbs Novel Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062436665
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper - March 26th, 2019

Just published and just in time for avid readers of author Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobb series.  It is Fall 1940 and the Blitz is well under way in London.  Maisie Dobbs and her friend Priscilla are volunteering as ambulance drivers.  On one particular evening, they are accompanied and interviewed by an American war correspondent, Catherine Saxon, who is trying to become one of Edward R Murrow’s “Boys” – an elite group of CBS broadcast jounalists.  The next morning, Catherine is discovered dead – murdered - in her rooms.

Maisie is tasked by her longtime associate in Scotland Yard’s Special Branch to work with an American Agent, Mark Scott, to find Catherine’s killer.  Mark previously saved Maisie’s life during a risky mission in Germany, but she finds herself both doubting him and drawn to him as their investigation progresses.  Concurrently, the families of Maisie, her assistant Billy and Priscilla are all experiencing personal crises, in which the American becomes involved. 

Rich with historical references, tension and endearing characters, Winspear has captured the atmosphere of a nation, her citizens and the few Americans who have joined the War effort against a seemingly unstoppable Nazi Germany.  The devastation is palpable and the reader can almost hear the echos of “goodnight and good luck.”  A terrific read!


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To the Bright Edge of the World: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780316242837
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Back Bay Books - August 29th, 2017

To the Bright Edge of the World  by Eowyn Ivey just made my personal Top-10 as in, it has EVERYTHING – a tense but poignant storyline, nature and geographical elements in their most dazzling and brutal states, historical references, native mythical influences, fascinating and noble characters even with their flaws.  And love, loss and redemption.  Really, it’s a book for anyone to savor.

By the author of The Snow Child (a Pulitzer finalist), it is a fictional account of an Alaskan exploratory expedition funded by the US Military in 1885 to map the Wolverine and Yukon river territories.   Led by war hero and newlywed Colonel Allen Forrester, the small group is joined sporadically through their arduous journey by trappers, native tribal guides and possibly a mythical creature whose story spans decades.   Their deteriorating health becomes secondary as reality begins to erode with each harrowing encounter, storm and mountain pass. 

Back in Fort Vancouver Barracks and in desperate need of a diversion, the Colonel’s wife, Sophie, learns to use a camera and develop film to capture her passion for the surrounding natural elements.  As she bucks the traditional role in the military wives hierarchy, Sophie’s housekeeper/companion is recruited to be her assistant (work she welcomes and for which she is well-suited), as her work eventually achieves acclaim and publishing rights.

This work of historical fiction is in epistolary format and provides a “you are there” quality.  It expands the disparate voices and impressions of events through correspondence, journal entries, military reports and news articles.  The book is peppered throughout with fascinating pictures and maps.

It is apparent that the author’s roots, heart and current home are in Alaska; and that the painstaking tasks of collection and research for this masterpiece were a work of love.


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Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781501126062
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scribner - September 5th, 2017

I cannot write a review that would do justice to Jesmyn Ward's third book. If you were a fan of her first book, Salvage the Bones, the 2011 National Book Award winner for Fiction, then please read the NY Times Review of "Sing" by Tracy K. Smith, current US Poet Laureate. 


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Little Fires Everywhere Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780735224292
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Press - September 12th, 2017

The novel opens with a house fire that is quickly determined to be a case of arson. The rest of the book recounts events from the past year leading up to the fire.
The Richardsons are a very proper married couple with four children living the late 1990s dream in an expertly, historically, and most importantly, properly planned neighborhood in Shaker Heights, OH. Mrs. Richardson believes in planning, which has worked for the family pretty well up until the arrival of new tenants for the duplex she owns on the other side of town. Mia Warren, an artist, and her 15-year-old daughter Pearl have lived the ultimate nomadic life until their move to Ohio. The relationships between the Richardsons (landlord) and Warrens (tenants) develop, intertwine and challenge the status quo of these very different families. A challenged adoption, involving one of Mrs. Richardson's oldest friends, escalates the tensions between the two families as they choose different sides of the battle; and secrets emerge that once out of the bag, cannot be undone.
The author again combines her expert storytelling and character development with truer-than-life societal issues and racial tensions that evoke the Midwestern norms of that particular time period.   A great read! (Ng's previous novel was Everything I Never Told You.) 


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The Last Ballad: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062313119
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: William Morrow - October 3rd, 2017

The Last Ballad by acclaimed author Wiley Cash (A Land More Kind than Home) is a novel inspired by the true life events of balladeer and union organizer, Ella May Wiggins. In the late 1920s, poor white employees like Ella May are working shoulder-to-shoulder in the cotton mills with their black co-workers.  And they are all living in poverty. Although Ella May works 72-hour weeks on the night shift at American Textile Mill No. 2, she cannot support her children on $9.00 weekly wages, nor take time off when they are sick. The cotton mills in the southern Piedmont of Gaston County are the largest in North Carolina, and as the declining economy takes its toll on the textile industry, mill owners are cutting workers' pay while increasing their hours.   When Ella May is invited to travel to a union gathering on one of her mornings off work, she shows her mettle during a confrontation and emerges as a leader.
While other areas of the country are segregated in their fights for worker's rights, Ella May believes that equal pay for equal work applies to women, blacks, and other lesser-paid employees. She and her kids live in Stumptown, an African-American community, where neighbors support each other. So not only is Ella May labeled a Communist union organizer, she is also ostracized by a heavily segregated South.
As the fight to unionize escalates through the summer of 1929, Ella May's roles as breadwinner, union organizer, balladeer and mother are chronicled through a tragic end.
Wiley Cash documents this era and Ella May's plight in beautiful prose that captures not only the voices of pre-depression workers, but the historical significance as well.


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Zingerman's Bakehouse (Recipe Books, Baking Cookbooks, Bread Books, Bakery Recipes, Famous Recipes Books) Cover Image
$29.95
ISBN: 9781452156583
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Chronicle Books - October 3rd, 2017

Zingerman's Bakehouse was included in the New York Times (Food Section) Best Baking Cookbooks for Novices and Pros.  Zingerman's, a Michigan icon, has set a new standard of excellence for service, food, marketing, mail-order (and subsequently online) sales and business management (an entire series of books).  I can't wait to compare their recipe for ginger molasses cookies with my own; find out the secret to their wallet sized brownies and discover a new taste treat with the recipe for "new deli" crumbcake.  YUM!
The following NPR article says it all: click here to read it.


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Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen: A Cookbook Cover Image
$30.00
ISBN: 9780399578281
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Ten Speed Press - April 11th, 2017

Are you done with your holiday leftovers?  Are you not quite ready to hit the Cooking Light series per your well-intentioned New Year's resolution?  Are your tastebuds primed for a 180 degree turn from roasted turkey/beef/pork?
As the luckiest girl in the world this holiday season, I was treated to a stellar meal at Nopalito restaurant in San Francisco.  Even luckier, the Nopalito cookbook was festively wrapped with my name on it under the Christmas tree.  
This is rustic, regional, Mexican cuisine at its finest.  I have spent many enjoyable hours studying this cookbook.  The author, Gonzalo Guzman, was originally a line cook at Nopa restaurant.  Apparently the owners were so impressed with his communal staff meals, they conceived Nopalito as their next venture, with Guzman as head chef and partner of the two locations.
Ah, but this is not supposed to be a restaurant review, so back to the book!  
First, the heartfelt preface (by Stacy) introduces the reader to the author, his love for his homeland, and his peers' love for him.  The introduction continues his history and principles.  Next, the book is informative - some history, sourcing, methodology and an extreme glossary of ingredients (fascinating!).  It is relevant and timely as many of us try harder to source locally and seasonally.   And finally, it is passionate and the recipes induce mouth-watering cravings.  The priceless house recipes included in this book are the foundation of many of the finishes (queso fresco, crema and pickled red onions) or stand-alone items (spiced peanuts).  Like other passionate cookbooks, the authenticity of the ingredients (yes, you will embrace lard) and methods can be intimidating, but substitutions are included.  And depending on the recipe you choose, the list of ingredients is relatively short and not complicated at all.   
I feel ready to re-create the BEST MEAL EVER: carnitas with cabbage and carrot salad, tortillas, and tomatillo salsa.  But even if you decide not to make your own masa or tortillas, the salsa recipes included toward the back are worth the price of the book alone!


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The Very Marrow of Our Bones Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781770414167
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: ECW Press - April 3rd, 2018

The Very Marrow of Our Bones, by Christine Higdon is a debut novel that spans 40-plus years in the lives of the Parsons family.  In 1967, two women disappear from the town of Fraser Arm outside of Vancouver, British Columbia - Bette Parsons is the married mother of five and Alice McPhee is her neighbor.   Bette’s 10-year-old daughter, Lulu (Louise), finds a note addressed to her father that reads, “Wally, I will not live in a tarpaper shack for the rest of my life.  Love, Bette.”  Lulu tells no one about the note.  Subsequent investigations yield no results and the town and families are left wondering if the two disappearances involve foul-play, or were intentional on the parts of the women, or are even related.
The events leading up to Bette’s disappearance, along with the stories of her childrens’ lives in the aftermath are told in randomly chaptered time periods and from different points of view.  Extended relatives and friends become family as everyone struggles with the hole left by Bette.  The observations of the the local preacher’s daughter, Doris Tenpenny, are particularly astute and she becomes one of the family’s strongest allies when her instincts about another neighbor send off alarms.  And when the family comes together for an event 40 years later, the emotional impact on each grown child is apparent and diverse.  
A recent Kirkus Review states, “There are gaspworthy moments from the beginning to the very last chapter” and calls the book,   “An ambitious debut novel that will make you cry, cringe, and laugh.”  I wholehearterly agree – this is a great read!


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The Italian Party: A Novel Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250147837
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Press - March 20th, 2018

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch can be fully imagined as a movie adaptation featuring a perky American 1950s starlet playing against a sophisticated, way-too-good looking male lead.  Part romp and part spy thriller (more Pink Panther than John LeCarre), the story has both laugh-out-loud and tear-inducing moments sprinkled throughout.
Scottie and Michael are American newlyweds who have moved to Siena for different reasons in 1956.  Michael is running a Ford tractor dealership, while actually working as a CIA operative to prohibit the growth of the Communist party in the area.  Scottie has no idea, but has a big secret of her own.  Though Michaels’s real motivation for the move to Italy doesn’t emerge right away, the reader can see that a reveal of both of their secrets could solve both of their dilemmas.  Enter the supporting cast of characters:  Robertino, a local 14-year old who is tutoring Scotty in Italian, while working as Michael’s asset in obtaining (stealing) the local Communist Party’s membership rolls; the Mayor Ugo; Michael’s college friend and American Diplomat, Duncan; and best of all real-life Clare Boothe Luce, the actual ambassador to Italy.
As the story unfolds, more twists culminate in a satisfying conclusion.  This is a clever, fun read that shows a surprisingly diverse view of love in the 1950s.


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The Dakota Winters: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062258199
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Ecco - December 4th, 2018

Out this month and, no, it’s not about the weather in the northern Prairies.  It’s about Anton Winter and his famous TV host father, Buddy Winter, who live in New York City’s famous Dakota apartments.   Anton is recently home from the Peace Corps in late 1979 and recovering from malaria.  His father is trying to recover from a very public meltdown.  As Anton has time on his hands, he endeavors to bond with his father and reignite Buddy’s comeback.  All of the cultural references from that time and strata are included in Anton’s quest - the US  “Miracle of Ice” Olympic hockey team, the Kennedys, Bermuda Triangle, Johnny Carson, and most importantly, John Lennon.
This is the time period that leads up to Lennon's death – probably the most famous resident of the Dakota.  And John is included, or maybe imagined, heavily in Anton’s healing.  This book is part romp, part mystical – poignant and entertaining.  Author Michael Chabon said, “Deft, funny, touching and sharply observed.  A marvel of tone and a skillful evocation of a dark passage in the hotidy of New Yoirk City.”  I couldn’t have said it better.


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Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks: A Cookbook Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780804187046
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Clarkson Potter - October 23rd, 2018

Have you seen all of the episodes of Cook Like a Pro with Ina on Food Network? (click for more info.)  Much to my delight, the book includes even more tips and entertaining shortcuts.  As always, beautiful full-color photographs are included, which are so helpful when you want to see what the darn thing is supposed to look like, right?  I think the key descriptor in most of the book reviews regarding the never-before-published treasure trove (Food & Wine) of recipes (80+),  is “dependable” – an attribute I want when I’m cooking for company.
The book is organized in categories (drinks, salads, dinners, etc.) and includes a chapter of awesome breakfast dishes.  The "Pro Basics" chapter includes instructions for making your own ricotta (for the pure at heart) and homemade stock for soups and sauces.  The short-rib recipe is delicious and our family is making the shells with broccoli rabe and pancetta during Christmas week with one of the many featured salads.  Hungry yet?
Whether you’re adding to your Barefoot Contessa library (click here to view them all) or just want a terrific stand-alone, this is more than a cookbook for Ina fans!  And if Santa doesn’t bring you a copy, use that giftcard and gift yourself this book.


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Unsheltered: A Novel Cover Image
$29.99
ISBN: 9780062684561
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper - October 16th, 2018

As always, Kingsolver blurs the lines in the best possible way between the art of prose and political commentary.   Set in the real-life community of Vineland, New Jersey, Kingsolver tells two stories – one takes place prior to our last national election and the other in the 1870s.  
In the current time period, Willa and Iano Knox have moved from Virginia to an inherited structurally unsound house in Vineland after both of their employers have folded.  Iano has taken a non-tenured one-year position at a college 25 miles away, while Willa is taking care of their son’s newborn and Iano’s elderly Greek immigrant father who has immediate health issues.  Their adult daughter, Tig, has returned to live with them after years of traveling between causes.  And the Vineland house will only get a structural update and (an actual) new roof over their heads, if Willa can procure grant money based on historical significance.  Her mood swings between wistful and angry as she tries to figure out how they transformed from a happy, useful, middle-aged, middle-income life to a stressful, underperforming, middle-aged, financially-destitute life after doing pretty much everything right.  Bleak?  You never quite get that impression as Kingsolver interjects side-splitting scenarios (as in, Willa has just cussed a bluestreak in a very public place and realizes she did it out loud in English, not Greek) through her quirky cast of Knox characters.
In the 1870s, a newly married science teacher, Thatcher Greenwood, lives with his wife and her family in Vineland, which was established a decade earlier as an alcohol-free, grape growing, Utopian society.  His belief in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution sets off a battle with his employers, the town’s powers-that-be, and his family.  His only supporters are his young sister-in-law, Polly, and the adjacent neighbor, real-life Naturalist Mary Treat.  It all may seem slightly fantastical until you realize that Mary Treat was indeed a long-time correspondent with Harvard Botanist, Asa Gray and Charles Darwin himself; and made significant contributions in the fields of Botany and Entomology (I got lost in the wiki-rabbit-hole on that one).  Oh, and Thatcher’s house also suffers from unaffordable structural issues…  Seeing a parallel here?
Overall, Barbara Kingsolver has managed to define the word “unsheltered” for both of these families, in the literal, metaphorical, emotional and physical senses.  Without naming names, she masterfully evokes the feeling of impending disbelief caused by real-life events leading up to our recent election.  A nation unsheltered!  Brilliant.


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Dear Mrs. Bird: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781501170065
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scribner - July 3rd, 2018

Emmy’s dream is to become a Lady War Correpondent and she believes she has found the perfect job when replying to an ad in The London Evening Chronicle.  The actual position, however, is for a typist working for the well-known advice columnist, Mrs. Henrietta Bird, who is published in a women’s magazine. Unfortunately for Emmy, her new boss has rigid rules on what she considers Unpleasantness, and therefore consigns the most important and dire letters to the trash bin.  Emmy’s compassion wins out and, unbeknownst to Mrs. Bird, she starts replying to the letters on her own, signing Mrs. Bird’s name.  Dire conseqences!

Meanwhile, Emmy still has her volunteer job as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Service, which is getting nightly action during the Blitz.  Throughout the devastation, the author movingly (and hilariously) reflects the social activities of Emmy, her best friend, Bunty, and her co-workers that seem to frenetically increase in direct proportion to the bombings.

This is a very different book about WWII London, a great debut by AJ Pearce and simply a great read.


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The Secrets Between Us: A Novel Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062442208
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - June 26th, 2018

The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar is the much-anticipated sequel to The Space Between Us (2006) and it is a treasure.  The novel picks up after Bhima has lost her long-term job as a servant for Sera Dubash due to a secret that is exposed, making the situation untenable for both women.  Bhima is completely adrift and desperate to find work so she can continue to support her granddaughter, Maya, through college, with whom she lives in a Mumbai hovel.

Unexpected circumstances present Bhima with opportunities to develop a business for which she is well-suited from her years bargaining at the markets for Sera’s family.  Supplemented by part-time work in the household of a lesbian professional couple, she takes on a business partner – a destitute woman, Parvati, who is a pariah across all of the castes of Mumbai.  As Maya’s life expands through a growing friendship and emotional support of her grandmother’s new employers, Bhima’s business takes off, and all of the women’s lives are enriched.

The updated situations weaving through this novel are relevent in today’s cultures everywhere.  As usual, Ms. Umrigar’s piercing humor and brutally descriptive prose (you can almost feel the heat and closeness of Bhima’s slum), are balanced by the gentle, accepting nature of her main character.  But not as usual, she has written an ending that leaves no questions unanswered.  If you haven’t read The Space Between Us, you will still easily be able to pick up the story in this sequel.  But fair warning, after reading this one, you’ll want to re-read or buy the first book!


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A Place for Us: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781524763558
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: SJP for Hogarth - June 12th, 2018

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is the first book published by the new SJP for Hogarth imprint.   If you didn’t already know, you would never suspect this novel was written by an author, Fatima Farheen Mirza, only 26 years old.  The tempo is unrushed, but not slow; each sentence careful, but direct, and the narrators’ voices are true, but not caricaturistic.   
The book opens with the wedding of Hadia, an American Muslim doctor in California.  Her younger brother, Amar, has attended at her request after a long estrangement from the family.  The tensions felt by the family are palpable as they all wish for nothing to ruin this day for Hadia.  And Amar struggles.  Though it seems the story will center around Hadia’s life up to this day, it instead recounts how the family dynamic, their culture and faith impact each of the siblings and their Indian-born parents.  Though the book’s timeline is not linear, it provides both snapshots of singular events and beautifully wrought chapters of the conflict each family member experiences with their faith and place in a changing world.  
A timely and beautifully rendered story!


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The Lowland Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780307265746
Availability: Special Order
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - September 24th, 2013

From Pulitzer Prize winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri, comes this multi-generational story of a family scarred and scattered by tragedy in the late-1960's Calcutta. 
Close brothers, Subhash and Udayan, grow up in Calcutta where privilege vs. poverty is a remnant of a society created under former British rule.  They begin to forge different paths prior to and during their university years.   Subhash studies to become a scientific researcher and eventually moves to Rhode Island to study and work, while Udayan marries and becomes more involved with the Naxalites, a communist rebel movement seeking to end the inequity and poverty that plague his homeland.   As tragedy ensues, the outcome for each present and future family member plays out with far-reaching consequences. 
Lahiri's prose eloquently covers a broad span of time, history, geography and society yet captures each character's intimately evocative voice and story.


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Truth in Advertising: A Novel Cover Image
$24.99
ISBN: 9781451675542
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Touchstone - January 22nd, 2013

This is the author's debut novel, and it is apparent from the first chapter that Kenney has used his extensive experience as a copy writer well.  As a contributor to The New Yorker, readers might be familiar with some of his stories in the humor collection Disquiet, Please.
The book opens with the main character, Fin Dolan, on a set where his national diaper account is being filmed.  The laugh-out-loud moments are numerous - a mix-up in casting the baby, temperamental clients, quirky co-workers, and in this scenario, a schedule-challenged VIP starring in the commercial.  The subject of diapers alone provides unlimited humor, some highbrow and some a bit raunchy.
But this book is much more than just a behind-the-scenes look at the advertising business.  Fin's estranged father is dying.  Fin - in his late thirties - is the youngest of four and their abusive father left the family when Fin was twelve.   None of his siblings are willing to participate in what turns out to be an anticlimactic event - his father's death - and the subsequent arrangements that have to be made.  Fin has had relationship and other detachment issues most of his life, but doesn't really know that or begin to work through them until he deals with his father's death and the things he learns about his father's life.
Unlike so many new cable series and films where each member of the cast is brilliant and the over-the-top witty dialogue sounds the same (spoken at the speed of lightening), John Kenney's characters are diverse, multi-dimensional and so believably true.  The writing is fast, smart, modern, funny and poignant.  One of my favorites reads this year. 


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CookFight: 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes, an Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance Cover Image
$29.99
ISBN: 9780061988387
Availability: Special Order
Published: Ecco - October 30th, 2012

Another cookbook that reads like a novel (see review on the Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends). Add the competition element that heats up with boasts and snarky comments between the contestants, and we've got a winner! The authors are New York Times food writers and refer to one another affectionately as "Work Wives." When NYT Restaurant Critic and collegue, Frank Bruni, challenges them to a cook-off to be featured in the paper, it is the start of something big. Kim and Julia set off on a year-long continuous competition that turns into the book, Cook Fight. Frank's original throw-down, The Budget Challenge, featured a six-person dinner party (sans liquor and pantry items) for $50.00. The chapters then go on to include The Comfort Challenge, The Children's Challenge; and subsequently the Picnic, Weekday, Bake-off, Thanksgiving and Open House Challenges. They are arranged by month and I know I will revisit this book often throughout the year. We made the Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe for Christmas 2012 and it was a hit! The concepts and perspectives of these two women for each challenge are diverse and fascinating. Although Kim and Julia are completely different personalities and temperaments, they have motherhood, work and a love of food in common. In the end, everyone - including the reader - is a winner.


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Yes, Chef: A Memoir Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780385342605
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Random House - June 26th, 2012

Marcus was born in Ethiopia and orphaned by the time he was three. He and his sister were adopted by a Swedish family, and in his Grandmother Helga's kitchen, his love of cooking was born. Armed with the love, warmth and high standards of his upbringing, Marcus pursues his aspiration to create a world view of food. As his talent and knowledge develop, he learns about more than just food in France and Switzerland's cutthroat kitchens; the mercurial trends of New York restaurants; the pressure of his White House dinner; and the discovery of everything encompassed by the word family as he travels back to Ethiopia to meet his birth-father. His revelations about relationships, success (and failures !), regret and sacrifice, are all documented honestly, and at times, with self-deprecating humor. Marcus's journey from the rigors of European culinary training to the opening of his own restaurant, Red Rooster, in Harlem are chronicled in this intelligently-written memoir that reads like a novel.


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A Land More Kind Than Home: A Novel Cover Image
$24.99
ISBN: 9780062088147
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: William Morrow - April 17th, 2012

In a small western N. Carolina mountain town, nine-year old Jess Hall and his mute older brother, Stump, witness something they don't fully understand, but know is bad. As a result, a charismatic evangelical preacher and his church elders attempt to cure Stump, with tragic consequences. The County sheriff's investigation into how and why this tragedy occurred unfolds, while the secrets that Jess holds compound his grief and guilt. This story is told in alternating chapters by three people: Jess Hall; Adelaide Lyle, the local midwife and protector of the community's children; and Clem Barefield, the sheriff, whose has also known tragic loss. First-time novelist, Wiley Cash, perfectly captures the voices and cadence of these distinct characters as well as the time period and geography of the region with its hollers and coves. This is a literary and poignant story about fathers and sons; forgiveness and absolute evil.


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The Expats: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780307956354
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Crown - March 6th, 2012

What a thriller this author's first novel turned out to be! Kate Moore and her family move to Luxembourg for her husband, Dexter's, work as a network security consultant. In what would normally be a challenging cultural transition for any normal mother and wife, Kate is not normal. Her previous job writing position papers for an innocuous US government department was a cover for her work as a CIA operative - a fact of which her husband and friends are unaware. As the family settles into their new environs, a friendly American couple befriends Kate and Dexter. Due to several incidents and possibly her paranoia, Kate begins to suspect that her husband's job might be a cover for something criminal and their new friends might not be who they purport to be. Communication from her old cohorts at the CIA adds credence to her suspicions and Kate fears that her past is coming back to haunt her. This fast-paced intelligently written book was hard to put down. The author combines Kate's hardened spy mentality with the real emotions of a mother and wife, whose relationship is suffering from trust issues, both real and imagined. The plot is laid out using non-sequential chronology - moving between future events, Kate's past experiences in the CIA, to present day Luxembourg - effectively keeping the reader guessing. A very contemporary and well done novel.


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Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780393070217
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - December 5th, 2011

I am anxiously anticipating Extra Virginity: The Sublime & Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller, because at my age, I can use some extra virginity.  Seriously.  And who doesn't need a little scandal for dessert?  The subject of fraud relating to the production and selling of Extra Virgin Olive Oil was introduced by the author in his explosive Aug-2007 article in The New Yorker in which he described the extent of the fraud as follows: "In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force.  (“Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks,” an investigator told the author.)”  In a rich narrative, Extra Virginity documents the history of this age-old product as a food-group, health and beauty aid and necessity in certain religious rites; through the current actions of the artisans, activists, analysts and advocates who are trying to keep the industry "pure."


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Off the Menu: Staff Meals from America's Top Restaurants Cover Image
$40.00
ISBN: 9781599621029
Availability: Special Order
Published: Welcome Books - October 11th, 2011

Ever wonder what restaurant employees eat for their Staff Meal?   Or for what reason(s)?   In Off the Menu, the author of this jam-packed-book-full-of-foodie-heaven has featured Staff Meals from 150 fine restaurants across our great culinary nation.  And Michigan is well-represented by Siren Hall in Elk Rapids and Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor.
For some restaurants, the Staff Meal is the test-run of a new menu item.  For others who include their local suppliers, it is an opportunity to try a new product (think seasonal heirloom tomatoes).   For most, it is the only time that the front and back of the house can sit down together to commiserate on the day's specials, events, successes and failures....  or  just about their day in general.  Like a family that might be passing ships as they dash out the door in morning , but make it a policy to sit down to the dinner meal together.
Not only are there great recipes, but this book includes a feature on each restaurant and an interview with the owner, manager or chef.   Wanna know what food trend that Alex Young (executive chef at Zingerman's )  would like to erase from the annals of history?   You'll have to get the book!


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The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends: New Recipes, Stories & Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780307590558
Availability: Special Order
Published: Clarkson Potter Publishers - September 20th, 2011

Readers of the authors' previous book, How to Eat Supper, will not be disappointed. As co-creators of Public Radio's popular show, The Splendid Table, this follow-up book continues the tradition of the show to educate, create and advocate while entertaining the reader throughout. While How to Eat Supper deals with weekday meals, "Weekends" is for seeking out and exploring diverse neighborhood markets, products and cooking techniques to share with family and friends. The beginning of the book features chapters laid out as individual menus - Vietnamese, Mexican, Vegan, Italian, etc. - and each menu includes appetizers, main course, sides and dessert. The chapter continues with shopping hints, recommended brands, helpful culinary tools and unique techniques specific to each ethnicity or menu. The schedule for preparing the meal (many items prepped or completed a day or two ahead) is a valuable tool not often used in traditional cookbooks. The rest of the book has over 100 recipes with recommended wine pairings and several options for leftovers. And as always with Lynn and Sally, the recipes are intertwined with stories, how-tos, quotations, anecdotes, history, education, humor, trends and advocacy. To call it a cookbook, would be a disservice.


 

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