Summer Reads 2011

Mindless Eating: why we eat more than we think

By Brian Wansink

According to Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, the mind makes food-related decisions, more than 200 a day, and many of them without pause for actual thought. This peppy, somewhat pop-psych book argues that we don't have to change what we eat as much as how, and that by making more mindful food-related decisions we can start to eat and live better. The author's approach isn't so much a diet book as a how-to on better facilitating the interaction between the feed-me messages of our stomachs and the controls in our heads. In their particulars, the research summaries are entertaining, like an experiment that measured how people ate when their plates were literally "bottomless," but the cumulative message and even the approach feels familiar and not especially fresh. Wansink examines popular diets like the South Beach and Atkins regimes, and offers a number of his own strategies to help focus on what you eat: at a dinner party, "try to be the last person to start eating." Whether readers take time to weigh their decisions and their fruits and vegetables remains to be seen. (Oct.) From Publishers Weekly.
Recommended by Sue Mulry

 

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President

By Josh Lieb

Grade 7-9-Lieb's first novel is a comedy/sci-fi fantasy about Oliver Watson, an overweight 12-year-old from Omaha, NE, who fools his family and classmates into thinking that he is slow-witted when in fact he is the world's third-richest person. He overthrows foreign dictators, owns corporations, is a successful inventor and investor, and is on the way to attaining his goal of world domination. This evil supergenius, who makes Artemis Fowl look ready for sainthood, has the appeal of a cartoon villain. His father and arch nemesis is too involved in running a local PBS affiliate and too uninvolved in his son. What Oliver really wants is his dad's approval and attention. He decides that the way to get this is to win the election for president of the eighth grade class at Gale Sayers Middle School. Lieb perfectly captures the wise-guy sarcasm and trash mouth of a seventh-grade evil genius. Readers will love the sci-fi/fantasy touches, from Oliver's elaborate underground lair to the transmitter implanted in his jaw and his installing root beer and chocolate milk at the school's water fountain (of course, only he knows how to make it work). The format-short blurbs of text interspersed with humorous black-and-white photos will appeal to reluctant readers. Although the book has as little subtlety as its title, certainly the theme of a boy wanting his father's love is a universal one. This is a book kids will be talking about.-From School Library Journal, Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Recommended by Robert Stoddard

 

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

By Jacqueline Kelly

Grade 5-8-A charming and inventive story of a child struggling to find her identity at the turn of the 20th century. As the only girl in an uppercrust Texas family of seven children, Calpurnia, 11, is expected to enter young womanhood with all its trappings of tight corsets, cookery, and handiwork. Unlike other girls her age, Callie is most content when observing and collecting scientific specimens with her grandfather. Bemoaning her lack of formal knowledge, he surreptitiously gives her a copy of The Origin of Species and Callie begins her exploration of the scientific method and evolution, eventually happening upon the possible discovery of a new plant species. Callie's mother, believing that a diet of Darwin, Dickens, and her grandfather's influence will make Callie dissatisfied with life, sets her on a path of cooking lessons, handiwork improvement, and an eventual debut into society. Callie's confusion and despair over her changing life will resonate with girls who feel different or are outsiders in their own society. Callie is a charming, inquisitive protagonist; a joyous, bright, and thoughtful creation. The conclusion encompasses bewilderment, excitement, and humor as the dawn of a new century approaches. Several scenes, including a younger brother's despair over his turkeys intended for the Thanksgiving table and Callie's heartache over receiving The Science of Housewifery as a Christmas gift, mix gentle humor and pathos to great effect. The book ends with uncertainty over Callie's future, but there's no uncertainty over the achievement of Kelly's debut novel.-Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Recommended by Robert Stoddard

 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

By Alan Bradley

Fans of Louise Fitzhugh's iconic Harriet the Spy will welcome 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce, the heroine of Canadian journalist Bradley's rollicking debut. In an early 1950s English village, Flavia is preoccupied with retaliating against her lofty older sisters when a rude, redheaded stranger arrives to confront her eccentric father, a philatelic devotee. Equally adept at quoting 18th-century works, listening at keyholes and picking locks, Flavia learns that her father, Colonel de Luce, may be involved in the suicide of his long-ago schoolmaster and the theft of a priceless stamp. The sudden expiration of the stranger in a cucumber bed, wacky village characters with ties to the schoolmaster, and a sharp inspector with doubts about the colonel and his enterprising young detective daughter mean complications for Flavia and enormous fun for the reader. Tantalizing hints about a gardener with a shady past and the mysterious death of Flavia's adventurous mother promise further intrigues ahead. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
Recommended by Camille Close

 

Breakfast with Buddha

By Roland Merullo

Raised in the North Dakota farmlands and now living in a solidly upper-middle-class suburb in New York, Otto Ringling has worked hard to achieve success. Despite work he enjoys, a loving family, the quintessential home, and memorable family vacations, he still senses something absent from his life. After the sudden death of his parents, Otto's plan to drive his sister Cecelia back to the family farm takes an unexpected turn. To his surprise, Otto finds himself chauffeuring not his sister but her spiritual teacher, Volya Rinpoche, a Mongolian monk. With the enigmatic Rinpoche riding shotgun, Otto takes the scenic route through New Jersey and on to North Dakota. Otto's seemingly solid beliefs are challenged as he tries to explain himself and the world he lives in to Rinpoche. Especially well written, Merullo's second visionary novel (after Golfing with God) captures the spiritual struggle for true belief and inner peace with wit, clarity, and subtle reality. Library Journal Reviews
Recommended by Carl Todd

 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel

By Jamie Ford

"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal
Recommended by Claire Wheeler

 

Blood, bones, & butter: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef

By Gabrielle Hamilton

The book's subtitle should arouse interest. How was the author's education inadvertent? What is the reason she was reluctant to become a chef? All will become clear upon completion of the final page of this lusty, rollicking, engaging-from-page-one memoir of the chef-owner of Prune restaurant in New York's East Village. Hamilton opened her eating establishment without any prior experience in cheffing, but the life experiences she did have before that bold move, told here in honest detail, obviously made up for any deficiencies in heading up a restaurant and also provide material for an electric story that is interesting even if the author hadn't become the chef-owner of a successful restaurant. An idyllic childhood turned sour when her parents divorced; her adolescence and young womanhood encompassed drugs, menial jobs, and lack of direction and initiative when it came to continued education. All's well that ends well, however, and her story does indeed do that. Add this to the shelf of chef memoirs but also recommend it to readers with a penchant for forthright, well-written memoirs in general -- Brad Hooper. Booklist, published by the American Library Association.
Recommended by Eileen Dwyer

 

Please Look after Mom

By Kyung-sook Shin

This novel from widely acclaimed Korean author Shin focuses on motherhood and family guilt. Park So-nyo, mother of four now-adult children, has gone missing in a Seoul train station on the way to visit them. The novel is told in four parts, from the perspectives of, first, her daughter, and then, her firstborn son, her husband, and finally, So-nyo herself. Composed almost entirely in second-person narration, the writing is sharp, biting, and intensely moving. So-nyo's children continually battle with their own guilt for not taking better care of her while reminiscing about the times when they were young, growing up in incredible poverty in the countryside. The children come to terms with their mother's absence in their own ways, and their father repents for a lifetime of neglect. When So-nyo's voice enters the narrative, the portrait of a troubled but loving family is complete. Secrets are revealed, and the heart of a mother is beautifully exposed. This Korean million-plus-copy best-seller is an impressive exploration of family love, poverty, and triumphing over hardship -- Julie Hunt. Booklist, published by the American Library Association.
Recommended by Eileen Dwyer

 

Fear the Worst

By Linwood Barclay

In Barclay's new thriller, Tim Blake, a car salesman in a Honda dealership in Milford, Conn., has more troubles than a Yugo up for its inspection sticker: his wife has left him to shack up with a car dealer rival; he has a devil-wears-Prada-style boss; and, worst, his teenage daughter, Sydney, has disappeared from her summer job at the Just Inn Time hotel. Barclay does a decent job of depicting the fright, fantasies and rage of a parent whose child faces prolonged and uncertain danger, but the narrator exists chiefly as a sketch or plot device rather than a complex, compelling individual. The author explores a timely social issue, human trafficking, but the villains behind it are even less defined than the narrator. Still, Barclay (Bad Move) earns a solid A for his page-turning plot. In short, this is a functional stripped-down Civic of a book that gets you there. (Aug.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Recommended by Kelly Kielbania

 

The Help

By Kathryn Stockett

Four peerless actors render an array of sharply defined black and white characters in the nascent years of the civil rights movement. They each handle a variety of Southern accents with aplomb and draw out the daily humiliation and pain the maids are subject to, as well as their abiding affection for their white charges. The actors handle the narration and dialogue so well that no character is ever stereotyped, the humor is always delightful, and the listener is led through the multilayered stories of maids and mistresses. The novel is a superb intertwining of personal and political history in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s, but this reading gives it a deeper and fuller power. A Putnam hardcover (Reviews, Dec. 1 ). (Feb.) Publishers Weekly, A Reed Business Information Publication
Recommended by Theresa Labato

 

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

By Helen Simonson

Change is threatening the little world of Edgecombe St. Mary. Lord Dagenham is about to sell off part of his ancestral estate to developers, and Pakistanis have taken over the village shop. Major Ernest Pettigrew is definitely old school, but he has been lonely since his wife died, and though he is is prey to various unattached ladies it is with shopkeeper Mrs. Ali that he forms a bond, nourished by their mutual interest in literature. Meanwhile, his ambitious son Roger comes to town with a sleek American girlfriend and starts renovating a nearby cottage. And the village ladies are busy hatching plans for the annual Golf Club dance, for which this year's theme is "An Evening at the Mughal Court." There is a great deal going on in these pages-sharply observed domestic comedy, late-life romance, culture clash, a dash of P. G. Wodehouse, and a pinch of religious fundamentalism. First novelist Simonson handles it all with great aplomb, and her Major, with his keen sense of both honor and absurdity, is the perfect lens through which to view contemporary England -- Mary Ellen Quinn. Booklist, published by the American Library Association.
Recommended by Jennifer Adams

 

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughter and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School

By Kathleen Flinn

Starred Review. Flinn's engaging account of her studies at famed French cooking school Le Cordon Bleu should strike a chord with anyone who has dreamed of leaving the rat race and following a passion for food. The main course, Flinn's narrative of her trials and triumphs as she moves through the three levels of cuisine, is supplemented by plentiful helpings of drama, romance and near-tragedy in her personal life. Cassandra Campbell's reading is superlative: her American accent for Flinn slides gracefully into French, French-accented English and various accents for other international students. Her voice also exactly captures Flinn's shifting emotions, from fear and paralysis when facing the "Gray Chef" and resentment of selfish classmates, to pleasure when she wins praise for a well-prepared sauce and joy when she realizes she is starting to understand French better. Foodies and memoir fans will be enchanted. Each chapter ends with a recipe (which all helpfully appear in PDF on a separate disc). Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover (Reviews, June 25). Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Recommended by Julie Bartlett

 

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook has Gone Before

By Tony Horwitz

Captain James Cook was the first true agent of globalization; his three inconceivably long and arduous voyages of exploration filled in vast blank spaces on the map and opened unseen lands to Western trade, missionizing, conquest, and genocide. According to Horwitz, "Cook, in sum, pioneered the voyage we are still on, for good and ill." Journeying to key Cook sites, Horwitz retells the sailor's story and tries to re-create first contact from the point of view of the locals--Tahitians, Maoris, Aleuts, Hawaiians, and others--and judge the legacy of his landing. While admitting that Cook's arrival often proved disastrous to indigenous peoples, he also finds that in some places the navigator's amazing achievements have been downplayed for the sake of political correctness. Above all, though, Horwitz is fascinated by the character of Cook and the conditions of the times (he notes that a 40 percent casualty rate wasn't extraordinary for sailing vessels of the day), and as he searches for clues to these, his obsession becomes contagious. Abetted by his friend Roger Williamson, who also provides salty comic relief, Horwitz crisscrosses the Pacific, taking us back and forth in time while ably balancing the many elements of his tale. This thought-provoking travelogue brims with insight and will appeal to anyone who yearns for the days when there was something left to discover--while making them wonder if, really, we should have just stayed home. -- Keir Graff. Booklist, published by the American Library Association.
Recommended by Kathy McDonough

 
 
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