Tuesday, February 24, 2015

QUICK REVIEW: Poole's Paradise by John Vorhaus


WHEN YOU'RE ALEXANDER POOLE, EVERYONE'S YOUR TEACHER A skeevy stereo salesman, master of the bait and switch. A flaky folk singer and his dog that reads Tolkien. A drug dealer loan shark with a passion for trees. A ballsy townie chick who turns you on to Springsteen. Your wiseass roommate whose favorite pastime is smoking your dope. Your first college girlfriend who has sex with you to confirm that she's gay. Even your one true love. Together they point you to paradise - Poole's Paradise - but what will it cost to get in?

Paperback, 212 pages
Published October 4th 2014 by Createspace
ISBN 1500222097 (ISBN13: 9781500222093)

About the Author

John Vorhaus is known to one and all as the man who brought Radar Hoverlander – con artist extraordinaire – to life in the “sunshine noir” mystery novel, The California Roll, and its acclaimed sequel, The Albuquerque Turkey.

John is also well known as the author of The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You're Not, and its acclaimed sequel, The Little Book of SITCOM, which continue to be definitive sources of information and inspiration for writers from Santa Monica to Scandinavia.

An international consultant in television and film script development, Vorhaus has worked for television networks, film schools, production companies and film funding bodies in 28 countries on four continents. He recently worked in Bulgaria, recruiting and training writers for that country’s adaptation of Married… with Children, and in Tel Aviv, consulting on the Israeli version of The Golden Girls. He also travels regularly to Nicaragua, where he co-created the social action drama Contracorriente to provide positive role modeling for the poor, young and disenfranchised of that embattled country.

And oh by the way, he has written more than three million words on poker, just in his spare time.

Vorhaus is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and a member of the Writers Guild of America. He has taught at such institutions as Northwestern University, the American Film Institute and the Writers Program of the UCLA Extension. He is the author of a dozen books, including Creativity Rules! A Writer's Workbook, the novel Under the Gun, the Killer Poker series and, with Annie Duke, the bestselling Decide to Play Great Poker.

He sells everything but his soul through his Amazon author page,
http://tinyurl.com/jvauthorpageamazon, tweets for no apparent reason @TrueFactBarFact, and secretly rules the world from www.johnvorhaus.com.

My Thoughts
"Shut up! At the end of the day, can you not just shut the hell up?"  
I accepted this book based on the simple fact that I've read a couple of other books by this author, and really enjoyed both. I've found him to be a fun read, and I was happy to give his latest a try. The last two were part of a series with a fun-to-read con artist as the main character.

This time around finds a college student by the name of Alexander Poole who, like so many others, is always happy to make an easy buck, never one to turn down a warm body, and not afraid to get his hands a little dirty.

Well, this time around I just had a hard time getting into the story. At one point I thought to myself that this book felt like driving down a country road and spotting a sign for a corn maze. You think, “What fun!” So you pull over and pay $2 and begin winding around in the maze. But then an hour later you’re still wandering around in a maze of corn, lost and uncertain why you stopped in the first place.

Then about ⅔ of the way into the book, I started to feel a shift and was able to get into it a little more. But it still never really grabbed me and fell sort of flat. Author Vorhaus still has his talent for colorful, bantering characters, and he's always quick with a clever turn of phrase.
 “Oh, Dawk, the train of your stupidity glides upon the rails of my indifference…” 
But having read his previous work and knowing what a fun ride he's capable of taking me on, I was just a bit disappointed.

My final word: The author is a fine writer of entertaining characters and unusual angles, but certain moments got a little preposterous, and this story felt as if it were written for a younger crowd. It almost had a YA feel to it.There is a niche group for it, like the How To Build a Girl crowd who absolutely loved that novel while I just couldn’t get into it. The reviews on this have been quite good, so this may very well be an issue with a book just not clicking with me. I still remain a Vorhaus fan!

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review from the author, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

REVIEW: Real Food for Everyone: Vegan-Friendly Meals for Meat-Lovers, Vegetarians and Vegans by Ann Gentry


This is the cookbook for everyone who wants to eat a little healthier these days by incorporating more real foods into your diet, whether you're a true vegan, vegetarian, or meatlover.

Hollywood's go-to vegan chef, mom, and founder of Los Angeles' most popular and chic vegan restaurant Real Food Daily, Ann Gentry shares her secret recipes in Real Food for Everyone. You don't have to be a vegan to enjoy Real Food for Everyone. Moms, chefs, foodies, and families can all enjoy expanding their cooking repertoire with this book filled with easy to prepare, scrumptious, healthy recipes and tips for the real food pantry.

Whether you're a time-strapped cook or a seasoned pro in the kitchen, Real Food for Everyone demystifies vegetarian and vegan cooking by offering more than 100 deliciously fresh and simple to prepare recipes, many of which are gluten free, and all of which are satisfying and healthy dishes for everyone to enjoy. In addition, the many useful pantry sections provide information on cooking ingredients that might be unfamiliar. From breakfast favorites such as Sesame-Shiitake Tofu Frittata to simple homemade soups such as Black-Eyed Pea and Red Pepper Soup, adn from everyday favorites like Lasagna Rolls to decadent desserts like Chocolate Silk Pie, you'll find something satisfying and healthy to cook for everyone.

This is an updated and paperback edition of Ann's book, Vegan Family Meals.

Paperback, 272 pages
Published February 10th 2015 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
ISBN 1449466532 (ISBN13: 9781449466534)

About the Author

Ann Gentry is the creator, founder, and operating owner of Real Food Daily, the only restaurant in the Los Angeles area that serves a 100% vegan menu using zero animal by-products and foods grown exclusively with organic farming methods. She is the author of The Real Food Daily Cookbook. She lives in Los Angeles with her family."

My Thoughts 

I quit eating meat five years ago over ethical concerns, but I haven't been the best at it. What I mean by that is that while I am good at not eating meat (no beef, poultry or pork), I do eat fish and seafood, but more importantly (and detrimentally), I do eat lots of junk and stuff that is just not so good for me. (By the way, don't let anyone tell you that you have to worry about not getting enough protein if you don't eat animals. I only eat fish or seafood every perhaps 7-10 days, and yet my protein levels are on the high side. I do eat yogurt, so I get some protein there. And I eat beans, quinoa, nuts, and other protein sources.)

This means I'm always eager for a cookbook that helps me focus on eating healthy vegetarian food that also tastes good, and is quick and easy to make. So when I saw this cookbook offered up vegan-friendly meals that even meat-lovers would love, I had to give it a gander.

The author offers an introduction that explains why you would want to eat vegan (e.g. the health benefits, the environmental benefits, the ethical benefits, etc.), and then starts right in with the recipes.

First come the breakfasts, full of granolas and porridges and smoothies. Next up is snacks and sandwiches, with recipes like Mango Salsa and BLT Tartines. Then comes soups with little tasties like Rich Dark Onion Soup with Cashew Cream and Herbed Croutons, and Black-Eyed Pea and Red Pepper Soup. Then it is family-style salads like Harvest Kale Salad with Sweet Mustard Tempeh and Saffron-Orange Tahini Dressing and Mixed Oak and Green Leaf Salad with Sesame-Hiziki Croquettes, Garbanzo Beans, and Ginger-Tahini Dressing. Next you can set the table with simple meals like One-Pot Vegetables and Tofu with Sesame Rice and Lasagna Rolls with Tofu Ricotta and Everyday Tomato Sauce. Add on some hearty grains and vegetables like Barley Risotto with Spring Peas, Aspragus, and Leeks and Spicy Kimpira. And round it all out with desserts like Summer Blueberry Crumble and Peaches and Nectarines with Sweet Almond-Cashew Cream.

There is a source guide at the end of the book that lists "Natural Foods Companies", "Kitchen Tools and Small Wares", "Education", and "Organizations and Initiatives", and then a handy metric conversion chart.

The book has some beautiful photography, but not nearly as many photographs as I would have preferred. The chapters are interspersed with brief articles introducing things like superfoods or kitchen tips and informative bits about cooking techniques or equipment.

The author also touches on more focused practices, such as macrobiotics, and offers up sources for obtaining more information.

I decided to try making guacamole for the first time, utilizing a recipe from the cookbook.

Cherry Tomato Guacamole

1 (4 oz) basket cherry tomatoes, halved if small, quartered if large
1/2 small white onion, finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbs fresh lime or lemon juice
3/4 tsp fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 firm but ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and coarsely diced

Toss the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lime juice, the 3/4 tsp salt, cumin, and garlic in a medium bowl. Let stand for 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Mash one-half of the diced avocados in a large bowl. Gently stir the mashed avocados and the remaining diced avocados into the tomato mixture, keeping the diced avocados intact. Season the guacamole to taste with more salt, if desired.

It was pretty darn good! It's definitely a keeper!

My final word: This cookbook is beautiful, and it is a great concept. My biggest complaint would probably be that it doesn't have as many really simple weekday meals as I'd like, and sometimes calls for less common ingredients. But it is great for the vegetarian/vegan who is looking to get a little more ambitious with their food prep.

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

REVIEW: Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement


A haunting story of love and survival that introduces an unforgettable literary heroine

Ladydi Garcia Martínez is fierce, funny and smart. She was born into a world where being a girl is a dangerous thing. In the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, women must fend for themselves, as their men have left to seek opportunities elsewhere. Here in the shadow of the drug war, bodies turn up on the outskirts of the village to be taken back to the earth by scorpions and snakes. School is held sporadically, when a volunteer can be coerced away from the big city for a semester. In Guerrero the drug lords are kings, and mothers disguise their daughters as sons, or when that fails they “make them ugly” – cropping their hair, blackening their teeth- anything to protect them from the rapacious grasp of the cartels. And when the black SUVs roll through town, Ladydi and her friends burrow into holes in their backyards like animals, tucked safely out of sight.

While her mother waits in vain for her husband’s return, Ladydi and her friends dream of a future that holds more promise than mere survival, finding humor, solidarity and fun in the face of so much tragedy. When Ladydi is offered work as a nanny for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she seizes the chance, and finds her first taste of love with a young caretaker there. But when a local murder tied to the cartel implicates a friend, Ladydi’s future takes a dark turn. Despite the odds against her, this spirited heroine’s resilience and resolve bring hope to otherwise heartbreaking conditions.

An illuminating and affecting portrait of women in rural Mexico, and a stunning exploration of the hidden consequences of an unjust war, PRAYERS FOR THE STOLEN is an unforgettable story of friendship, family, and determination.

Hardcover, 224 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Hogarth (first published 2014)
ISBN 0804138788 (ISBN13: 9780804138789) 

About the Author

Jennifer Clement's new novel Prayers for the Stolen was awarded the NEA Fellowship in Literature 2012 and will be published by Hogarth (USA and UK) in February 2014. The book has also been purchased by Suhrkamp, (Germany), Editions Flammarion, Gallimard (France), De Bezige Bij (Holland), Cappelen Damm (Norway), Hr Ferdinand (Denmark), Bonniers Förlag (Sweden), Laguna (Serbia), Euromedia (Czech Republic), Ikar (Slovakia) Lumen (Spain/Mexico), Guanda (Italy), Like (Finland), Libri (Hungary), Bjartur (Iceland),Rocco (Brazil),Israeli Penn Publishing (Israel, Muza (Poland) and Sindbad (Russia).

Jennifer Clement studied English Literature and Anthropology at New York University and also studied French literature in Paris, France. She has an MFA from the University of Southern Maine.

Clement is the author of the cult classic memoir Widow Basquiat (on the painter Jean Michel Basquiat) and two novels: A True Story Based on Lies, which was a finalist in the Orange Prize for Fiction, and The Poison That Fascinates.
She is also the author of several books of poetry: The Next Stranger (with an introduction by W.S. Merwin); Newton's Sailor; Lady of the Broom and Jennifer Clement: New and Selected Poems. Her prize-winning story A Salamander-Child is published as an art book with work by the Mexican painter Gustavo Monroy.

Jennifer Clement was awarded the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Fellowship for Literature 2012. She is also the recipient of the UK's Canongate Prize. In 2007, she received a MacDowell Fellowship and the MacDowell Colony named her the Robert and Stephanie Olmsted Fellow for 2007-08. Clement is a member of Mexico's prestigious "Sistema Nacional de Creadores."

Check out the author's website

My Thoughts 
Now we make you ugly, my mother said. 
Ladydi lives in a small mountain village in Mexico. The men have all left for work in the US, their families abandoned and left behind. Drug traffickers rule here, and young girls are in constant danger of being stolen for the slave trade. Because of this, mothers try to “make their daughters ugly” any way they can, to make them less desirable to the kidnappers. Ladydi was named thus by her mother in honor not of Lady Di the woman, but of the shame and sorrow Di bore by her husband’s infidelity-- something that Ladydi’s mother understands.

Her mother is quite the character, being a vengeful, alcoholic kleptomaniac. She swears if she ever sees Ladydi’s father again, she will kill him dead!

Then there are Ladydi’s friends-- the other girls from the village: her harelip best friend Maria, beautiful Paula, and Estefani.
I loved Maria. Out of everyone in that godforsaken-godforgotten-hottest-hell-on-earth place, as my mother liked to call our mountain, she was the kindest person of all. She would walk around a big red fire ant before she'd step on one.
They live their lives on alert: on alert for kidnappers, stinging scorpions and ants and venomous snakes, evading helicopters dropping the herbicide Paraquat, which can cause permanent damage when it hits living flesh rather than poppy fields. There is always a sense of urgency to their lives conflicting with the slow, heated, languid pace of Mexican life.

Life on the mountain is hard. There is never enough of anything, except heat and humidity, ants and scorpions.
Ever since I was a child my mother had told me to say a prayer for some thing. We always did. I had prayed for clouds and pajamas. I had prayed for light bulbs and bees.

Don't ever pray for love or health, Mother said. Or money. If God hears what you really want, He will not give it to you. Guaranteed.
The only outsiders to ever come to the community are the teachers, volunteers who are required to serve a year in community service. They come with little understanding of mountain life, and are received with resentment by the likes of Ladydi's mother.
After a while we learned not to get too attached to these people who, as my mother said, come and go like salespeople with nothing to sell except the words you must.

I don't like people who come from far-away, she said. They have no idea of who we are, telling us you must do this and you must do that and you must do this and you must do that. Do I go to the city and tell them the place stinks and ask them, Hey, where's the grass and since when is the sky yellow?
He said, How can you all live like this, in a world without any men? How?

My mother took in a breath. It seemed that even the ants on the ground stopped moving. Jose Rosa's question stood in the hot wet air, as if spoken words could be suspended. I could reach out and touch the letters H and O and W.
They live in a world of women where women don't matter.
A missing woman is just another leaf that goes down the gutter in a rainstorm, she said. 
My final word: This book is really hard to review. On the one side, I liked the easy-to-read style, the lovely little metaphors thrown in here and there. I liked most of the characters, particularly Ladydi. Some characters like Mike seemed almost pointless, shallow and one-dimensional, created solely for a single moment. Some events preposterous or improbable. After I finished the book, I found myself unable to discern my feelings. I think I liked it, but then I kind of questioned at moments while reading it "What is the point?" Effective writing, likable characters, a tragically charming story. Overall I liked this story, but I just fear that it will be forgotten all-too-soon.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through Blogging for Books, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Friday, February 6, 2015

ON MY RADAR (2/6/15 edition): Books that have hit my radar...

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O'Brian

Shipwrecked on a remote island in the Dutch East Indies, Captain Aubrey, surgeon and secret intelligence agent Stephen Maturin, and the crew of the Diane fashion a schooner from the wreck. A vicious attack by Malay pirates is repulsed, but the makeshift vessel burns, and they are truly marooned. Their escape from this predicament is one that only the whimsy and ingenuity of Patrick O'Brian—or Stephen Maturin—could devise.

In command now of a new ship, the Nutmeg, Aubrey pursues his interrupted mission. The dreadful penal colony in New South Wales, harrowingly described, is the backdrop to a diplomatic crisis provoked by Maturin's Irish temper, and to a near-fatal encounter with the wildlife of the Australian outback.

Paperback, 384 pages
Published July 17th 1993 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1991)
ISBN 0393309061 (ISBN13: 9780393309065)

The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac by Sharma Shields

A dark, fantastical, multi-generational tale about a family whose patriarch is consumed by the hunt for the mythical, elusive sasquatch he encountered in his youth

Eli Roebuck was nine years old when his mother walked off into the woods with "Mr. Krantz," a large, strange, hairy man who may or may not be a sasquatch. What Eli knows for certain is that his mother went willingly, leaving her only son behind. For the rest of his life, Eli is obsessed with the hunt for the bizarre creature his mother chose over him, and we watch it affect every relationship he has in his long life--with his father, with both of his wives, his children, grandchildren, and colleagues. We follow all of the Roebuck family members, witnessing through each of them the painful, isolating effects of Eli's maniacal hunt, and find that each Roebuck is battling a monster of his or her own, sometimes literally. The magical world Shields has created is one of unicorns and lake monsters, ghosts and reincarnations, tricksters and hexes. At times charming, as when young Eli meets the eccentric, extraordinary Mr. Krantz, and downright horrifying at others, The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac is boldly imaginative throughout, and proves to be a devastatingly real portrait of the demons that we as human beings all face.

Paperback, 400 pages
Published January 27th 2015 by Holt Paperbacks
ISBN 162779199X (ISBN13: 9781627791991)

The Deep by Nick Cutter

From the acclaimed author of The Troop—which Stephen King raved “scared the hell out of me and I couldn’t put it down.…old-school horror at its best”—comes this utterly terrifying novel where The Abyss meets The Shining.

A strange plague called the ’Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget—small things at first, like where they left their keys…then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily…and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as “ambrosia” has been discovered—a universal healer, from initial reports. It may just be the key to a universal cure. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab, the Trieste, has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But now the station is incommunicado, and it’s up to a brave few to descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published January 13th 2015 by Gallery Books
ISBN 1476717737 (ISBN13: 9781476717739)

Of Things Gone Astray by Janna Matthewson

Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight …

On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people all lose something dear to them, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work.

Meanwhile, Jake, a young boy whose father brings him to London following his mother’s sudden death in an earthquake, finds himself strangely attracted to other people’s lost things. But little does he realise that his most valuable possession, his relationship with his dad, is slipping away from him.

Of Things Gone Astray is a magical fable about modern life and values. Perfect for fans of Andrew Kaufman and Cecelia Ahern.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 3rd 2015 by The Friday Project
ISBN 0007562470 (ISBN13: 9780007562473)

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

With the compelling narrative tension and psychological complexity of the works of Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, Kate Atkinson, and Michael Connelly, Edgar Award-nominee Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone is a smart, fiercely compassionate crime story that explores the mysteries of memory and the impact of violence on survivors—and the lengths they will go to find the painful truth of the events that scarred their lives

In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved.

Twenty-five years later, the reverberations of those unsolved cases quietly echo through survivors’ lives. A private investigator in Vegas, Wyatt’s latest inquiry takes him back to a past he’s tried to escape—and drags him deeper into the harrowing mystery of the movie house robbery that left six of his friends dead.

Like Wyatt, Julianna struggles with the past—with the day her beautiful older sister Genevieve disappeared. When Julianna discovers that one of the original suspects has resurfaced, she’ll stop at nothing to find answers.

As fate brings these damaged souls together, their obsessive quests spark sexual currents neither can resist. But will their shared passion and obsession heal them, or push them closer to the edge? Even if they find the truth, will it help them understand what happened, that long and faraway gone summer? Will it set them free—or ultimately destroy them?

Paperback, 464 pages
Expected publication: February 10th 2015 by William Morrow & Company
ISBN 0062292439 (ISBN13: 9780062292438)