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California Bookwatch

Volume 15, Number 3 March 2020 Home | CALBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Fashion Shelf Audiobook Shelf
Theatre/Cinema Shelf Biography Shelf Cookbook Shelf
General Fiction Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf Political Science Shelf

Reviewer's Choice

The History of the American Space Shuttle
Dennis R. Jenkins
Schiffer Publishing
9780764357701, $59.99

The History of the American Space Shuttle follows America's long efforts to build a successful space shuttle (some 30 years) and documents the many achievements and failures involved in the process. It surveys the development, technology, and testing process, packs in technical information about these missions and their crew members, and holds numerous color photos throughout as it examines all facets of the shuttle's evolution. The color photos of both the flight attempts and the individuals working on the shuttle project are exceptional and range from official NASA photography (the majority of the photos are from NASA archives) to personal contributions from private collections. The result is an outstanding survey that should be a basic acquisition for any astronomy or American space history holding.

The Fashion Shelf

1950s in Vogue
Rebecca C. Tuite
Thames & Hudson
9780500294376, $95.00

1950s in Vogue: The Jessica Daves Years, 1952-1962 follows the efforts of one of only seven editors-in-chief of Vogue Magazine and considers her impact on the evolution of fashion history in America and its influence around the world. This detailed survey comes from a fashion historian who presents themes to her biography and fashion history sketch, presenting the changing styles and influences using an oversized format that does justice to the numerous photos, illustrations, and spreads from Vogue's archives. Add unpublished photos, letters from Daves's own personal collection, and social and arts world insights for a powerfully in-depth survey that should be in any fashion or arts history collection.

The Audiobook Shelf

Hachette Audio

Four fine new audiobooks are top recommendations from the latest releases by Hachette, offering exceptional value in combining solid narrators with absorbing stories suitable for audio listeners. Stephen Wright's Processed Cheese (9781549153389, $40.00) receives an excellent narration by Robert Petkoff, whose smooth voice brings to life the story of a bag of money that falls out of the sky into Graveyard's hands. With all the wealth they could imagine, he and his wife Ambience embark on a journey to gain everything they've ever wanted. The only trouble is: the bag's owner wants his money back. And riches don't solve everything. A fun escapade evolves. Ian Rankin's Westwind (9781549156274, $35.00) receives an equally strong narration by Julian Rhind-Tutt which supports the introduction narrated by Randkin himself and the premise of his espionage thriller, which revolves around a crashed space shuttle, a politically isolated America, and British investigator Martin Hepton's certainty that something is changing the world when the most advanced satellite in Europe goes dark. James Patterson and James O. Born's The River Murders (9781549150159, $35.00) receives a fine reading by Greg Baglia, who brings to life the story of a private eye whose latest case, involving a missing teen cousin, leads to an unexpected government conspiracy and his brother's involvement in a murder charge. The two authors also collaborate on Lost (9781549149368, $35.00), which receives a different narrator's touch with Corey Carthew, who brings to life the story of a Miami detective who becomes the new leader of an international FBI crime task force, there to uncover clever Russian crime syndicates throughout the world and a deadly game which affects them all. These are all exceptional stories and narrators, especially recommended for leisure listeners.

The Theatre/Cinema Shelf

The Second City, second edition
Second City with Sheldon Patinkin and Liz Kozak
9781572842816, $40.00

The Second City: The Essentially Accurate History offers a newly revised, expanded second edition of a classic coverage of the comedy institution which formed many careers and hosted many famous personalities, and is a top pick for any performing arts collection strong in contemporary comedy history. Fans of theater, standup performances, and American comedy's evolution will find it a strong, in-depth survey of the comedy theater from its roots to the many personalities who got their start at The Second City. Color photos of these personalities accompany biographies, quotes, insights on The Second City's support systems and evolution, and more. Replete with black and white vintage photos, color shots, and discussions of the comedy club's goals and ideals as it moved to television shows that expanded the range of aspiring comedians, The Second City: The Essentially Accurate History is a 'must' reference for
any library interested in comedy's history and growth.

The Biography Shelf

Rachel Maddow
Lisa Rogak
Thomas Dunne Books
9781250298249, $28.99

Rachel Maddow: A Biography comes from a veteran journalist and provides the first biography of this news personality, documenting her entire story from her childhood and coming of age to her work as an activist for HIV/AIDS groups, her coming out as a lesbian at Stanford University, her relationships, and the evolution of her political beliefs. Maddow grew up in a conservative California town but defied her upbringing to evolve an approach to life that would lead her to become a news personality who cultivated an analytical approach to facts like none other. Fans of Maddow who avidly follow her show will be particularly interested in her growth and background, and will appreciate Lisa Rogak's attention not only to Maddow's world, but the cultural and social forces which shaped it.

The Cookbook Shelf

The Secret Garden Cookbook
Amy Cotler
Harvard Common Press
9781558329935, $19.99

The Secret Garden Cookbook: Inspiring Recipes from the Magical World of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden focuses on the food references throughout Burnett's iconic children's story and provides 50 recipes updated for modern kitchens. These hold a decidedly British flavor and dessert emphasis, as in Currant Buns, a Fruit Tea Loaf suitable for English teas, and traditional Pease Pudding. Accompany discussions focus on recipes and The Secret Garden's influences and cultural explorations alike which, when paired with appealing color illustrations, add a dimension of literary and culinary insight not typical of the usual cookbook structure. Fans of The Secret Garden and culinary explorations will find this a delight.

Derek Bissonnette
Cider Mill Press
9781604339009, $19.95

Dumplings: Over 100 Recipes from the Heart of China to the Coasts of Italy provides cooks with a global ethnic consideration of dumpling recipes that can be used for soups, main courses, or side dishes alike. The fillings vary from plain meat- and cheese-filled fare to spicy soup dumplings, embellishments on traditional dumplings such as Pork and Roasted Squash Potstickers, and sweet dessert dumpling dishes such as a Blueberry Varenyky. Full-page color photos abound in a cookbook that at times stretches the traditional idea of a dumpling (including baked fare such as vegetarian Empanadas or Cornish Pasties), but includes many winning creations under the umbrella of the dumpling concept.

Easy Keto in 30 Minutes
Urvashi Pitre
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
9780358242161, $22.99

Easy Keto in 30 Minutes: More Than 100 Ketogenic Recipes from Around the World covers main courses, desserts, and snacks that are in keeping with the keto low-carb diet, but offers a much simpler preparation format than many keto diet books. There are some surprises to the definition of 'easy' and these lie in the focus on prepared ingredients that streamline the cooking process, making it easy to literally throw together ingredients for dinner. Thus, an Indian Paneer Tikka which typically involves much cheese-making effort starts with cubed paneer that requires access to an Indian market, pairing this with ingredients that can be either thrown together last-minute or marinated for up to 3 days before cooking. Some of the dishes call for make-ahead ingredients that, once made, may be kept on hand, such as Harissa. Others streamline the process by using frozen ingredients, such as frozen chopped kale. Keto cooks will find this an easy way of producing wholesome keto meals on a budget and in a rush.

Weeknight Keto
Kristy Bernardo
Page Street Publishing
9781624149351, $21.99

Weeknight Keto: 75 Quick & Easy Recipes for Delicious Low-Carb Meals focuses on weekday Keto recipes that range from one-pot meals to skewers, skillet dishes, and hearty main-course salads, all of which excel in low carbs, flavor, and ease. Some use only a handful of ingredients, most take only 30 minutes to put together, and Kristy Bernardo focuses on texture as well as flavor to assure that Keto-based recipes satisfy the palate on more than one level. Whether home cooks are new to the Keto concept or already well versed in its boundaries, Weeknight Keto abounds in a range of classic dishes modified to Keto dietary rules as well as new dishes such as a Sheet Pan Salsa, Chicken & Peppers.

The General Fiction Shelf

The Burlington Transcript
Stan Freeman
Hampshire House Publishing
9780989333382 $16.95

Paul MacDonald is a reporter for a small-time Vermont newspaper who faces not only divorce, but the special challenge of having a husband and wife (who work in his office) move into the apartment upstairs. The challenge lies in the fact that he hates the husband and has a crush on the wife, making their proximity dangerous. The Burlington Transcript, the newspaper job they share in common, reaches all of northern Vermont. It's the kind of small paper reporters typically use as entry-level positions to better jobs; not something that they tend to cultivate for years. Unfortunately, Paul's desire to make a career out of this small-time paper position didn't sit well with either his wife or his in-laws, and now it's about to wreck havoc in a very different manner, as well. Stan Freeman does an outstanding job of capturing this milieu through the eyes and experiences of not just Paul, but characters whose lives swirl and transform around him. The psychological inspections, newspaper reporting atmosphere, and small-town encounters are wonderfully written and quietly engrossing, keeping readers involved in Paul's reluctant forward movement to the end, when news dreams become surprising reality.

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment
Therese Doucet
D. X. Varos, Ltd.
Paper: 9781941072622, $18.95
Ebook: 9781941072639, $6.99

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment presents the dilemma of a daughter sold to a nobleman by her father. Fearing enslavement or worse, the gentle, studious Violaine instead finds her world studded with mystery and wealth, powered by a mysterious new husband who never reveals himself to her. Unlike the classic fable Beauty and the Beast, Therese Doucet's ethereal and surrealistic story embraces the plight of a young woman who is separated from those she loves, given everything she could desire to live a good life behind walls, and who faces an irresistible mystery that begins to take over her life. Political, social, and psychological insights accompany Violaine's journeys to keep readers immersed in a story that defies easy categorization. From romance and fairy tale allusions to historical and philosophical foundations, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment may best be described as a surreal journey through the changing, challenging world of the European Enlightenment era. This is powered by a feisty young woman who searches for and struggles with a different kind of love that turns out to hold her in thrall just as she finds ways to return the favor. The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment's gripping story will delight readers seeking both complexity and evocative reading.

The Soul City Salvation
Jonathan LaPoma
Almendro Arts
9780998840383, $18.95, Print
9780998840390, $4.99, Ebook

The Soul City Salvation introduces Jay's journey from New York to Soul City, California, where he crashes on a friend's couch and plans on using travel to more closely examine the roots of his ongoing anxiety. Jay wants to conquer his psychological issues so he can move from being a teacher to being an effective actor, songwriter, and poet. Although Soul City is only an hour from Hollywood, sometimes it seems as though these dreams remain more elusive than ever. Will Jay ever achieve his dreams to learn the real meaning of freedom and live a life of achievement? As The Soul City Salvation follows the narrator's progression and revelations, readers receive a philosophical story of growth, insight, and discovery that follows the highs and lows of one man's life. As he searches for safety, recognition, and a well-lived life and appealing future, readers are treated to a coming-of-age story that moves beyond the usual focus on young adults to consider an adult's evolutionary process.

Only when he moves far from his roots can Jay examine them and his trajectory more closely. And only when the story concludes does the reader realize that Jay's journey of introspection and growth mirrors many of the struggles faced when moving into a new world, examining values, passions, and lives, and making decisions about how to form connections and approaches that will last for the remainder of life. Readers looking for an introspective journey will relish The Soul City Salvation for its ever-changing evolutionary realizations which offer rich food for thought long after Jay's story concludes.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

A Thousand Miles to Nowhere
David Curfiss
Gripping Press
9781734273106, $14.95 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

A Thousand Miles to Nowhere is an intensely riveting apocalyptic thriller that opens with an immediate bang that blends a sense of place and end days with a vivid struggle. Matt Tanner is one of the survivors of the zombie virus that destroyed the world over a decade earlier, leaving him and a relative handful of others to forge a new community. Now a stranger has infected everything and leaves him with only two options, which are further affected by the fact that the stranger carried a personal message for him from someone Matt had believed to be long gone. David Curfiss's attention to action, moral and ethical questions, and psychological tension create an apocalyptic story that goes beyond the usual focus on survival and rebuilding. Matt questions many of his own motivations and revised realities as he traverses this strange new world, and thus readers receive an astute, thought-provoking story steeped with insights about second chances, sacrifices, and motivations for acting for the greater good. A Thousand Miles to Nowhere is a powerful story complete under one cover and elevates the zombie apocalypse story to another level entirely. It will delight thriller readers of dystopian fiction who look for more than the cursory trappings of a survival piece, delving into the roots of individual choice, community, and sacrifice and couching all in an action-packed plot that will keep readers thoroughly engrossed to the end.

Michele Packard
Independently Published
9781655144257, $9.99

Teller is the final Matti Baker story in the Aesop series, and thriller readers seeking non-stop, high-octane action will find this concluding Matti book (and its predecessors) just the ticket for a winning read. Teller opens with Matti's death. And this is not the first time she dies, in Teller. The story lies in the aftermath and in her fight to not only come back, but face devastating losses that turn out to be opportunities in disguise. As in the previous Matti books, Michele Packard excels in crafting a feisty female protagonist who is assertive, proactive, creative, defiant, and bent on revenge and retribution. Matti's confrontations with forces of evil are absorbing because they are powered by dialogue and encounters which support personality traits rarely seen in a female protagonist, building a memorable character who is a driving force in her world, actively confronting events around her. Thoroughly absorbing, consistent with the other series books, yet nicely complete in and of itself, the only downside to Teller is that it appears to be the concluding volume to Matti's adventures. One can only hope that, like Matti, resurrection in some form is possible. And, knowing Matti, this is not an unreasonable hope, at all.

The ISIS Gambit
Brad Carlson
Independently Published
9780998259420, $12.99. Paper, $2.99. Kindle

In The ISIS Gambit, Hezbollah brings conflict home from the Middle East when it launches an attack on the east coast of the US, forcing the American president to respond in a way that inadvertently plays into ISIS's hands and their broader purpose. This sequel to The Gambit needs no prior familiarity in order to prove accessible to newcomers. It opens with a fine juxtaposition of the daily concerns of ordinary Americans who find their lives suddenly and disastrously changed by a series of attacks launched from their own waters. The ISIS Gambit is an outstanding thriller. It is especially recommended for fans of Tom Clancy, who will find familiar many of the military and political moment-by-moment, changing events. These juxtapose different personalities, leaders, and objectives with startling precision and force, designed to keep readers engaged and on their toes.

Sam and James: A Test of Will
A.A. Freda
iUniverse Inc.
9781532082894 / 9781532082870 / 9781532082887
$20.99 Paper/$3.99 Kindle

Barnes and Noble:


Sam and James: A Test of Will is the third book in the series, but stands nicely alone and takes place seven years after the last book. Sam and James Coppi are now married, with a new family, a successful business, and a Colorado ranch far from their investigative roots. A.A. Freda excels in combining the tension of a thriller with a feisty, strong female protagonist who may now be raising a family, but who hasn't given up her determination to fight - even if it's for her wayward husband. As the story juxtaposes challenges to love with professional investigative snafus, readers receive a satisfying, unusual balance between two very different worlds. When circumstances immerse James in the threat, it's Sam who is forced to step up both in court and in her personal life, to save him. Thriller readers who enjoy blends of political and social challenge and personal angst will relish the approach, determination, and courage of the characters in Sam and James: A Test of Will. The story is filled with surprises and intrigue designed to keep mystery and thriller readers thoroughly engrossed right up to the end.

The Political Science Shelf

A Ladybird Book About Donald Trump
J.A. Hazeley, N.S.F.W. and J.P. Morris, O.M.G.
Ladybird Books Ltd.
9780241422724, $15.95

Readers unfamiliar with the Ladybird imprint might at first deem A Ladybird Book About Donald Trump fit for picture book young readers; but nothing could be further from the truth. Hidden in its short stature and a little over fifty pages with facing pages of color illustration is a decidedly adult spoof on Trump which considers his words, presidency, and ironies with pointed observations that adults will find hilarious. The format allows for especially intriguing juxtapositions of fact and critical irony. In true British form, the ability to poke fun and ridicule at Trump while using an especially simple, polite format that seems to be a children's guide makes this book a top winner among all the spoofs, humor, and commentary on the market today. It's now accessible to a much wider audience who will find its size and commentary creates stellar observations easy to digest, hard to ignore, and especially well thought out.

The Liberal Record: Everything You Need to Know
Marcelo Brazzi
Independently Published
9781645708223, $19.99, Paper, $29.99, Hardcover, $3.99, Kindle

The Liberal Record: Everything You Need to Know reviews and contrasts the political agendas, values, and interactions between the two major parties in America, and should be required reading for any citizen interested in how the country became so politically polarized in recent decades. It comes from a spacecraft engineer on NASA's Apollo program and a computer science instructor at California State University who uses his analytical skills to create a reasoned probe into the methodology and impact of party politics. This background successfully documents how these approaches are decimating the democratic process in this country. Marcelo Brazzi assumes no prior knowledge of the history of democratic institutions, opening his survey with a coverage of the democracies of early Greece and Rome and the 'laws of politics' that evolved from them. From American exceptions to these processes and how they are mirrored in social issues and interactions through the years to links between social woes and political stalemates, Brazzi surveys not only how discord happens and why it exists, but makes some important arguments for the revision of Democratic perspectives to change their overall impact in the American political arena. This analysis is especially strong in its cross-comparison not of party approaches, but uniquely American habits of perception and rules of order as they compare to the rest of the world. It should be noted that there are minor but regular grammatical snafus throughout. The Liberal Record would represent an even stronger case where it given a final proofreading. That said, it's a hard-hitting, wide-ranging discussion that liberal Democrats, in particular, will want to consider. The opportunity to cross-compare the track records of the two parties using well-researched facts affords invaluable information on and insights about both parties.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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phone: 1-608-835-7937

Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
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phone: 1-707-795-4629

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