Thursday, October 16, 2014

How To Bake A Man by Jessica Barksdale Inclan

How To Bake A Man by Jessica Barksdale Inclan
Published by Ghostwood Books ISBN 978-0-957627-15-4
Trade paperback, $13.99, 256 pages

Becca Munchmore is 27 years old and the oldest student in her graduate level marketing class. She's worried about fitting in, and wearing her mother's old discarded denim skirt that she found in the Goodwill bag doesn't help.

She comes to the realization that school is not the answer. Her boyfriend left her to work in Africa to help the poor, she quit the job she had, and now she has a idea. She loves to bake; why not sell her baked goods to offices? Though her mother hates the idea, she loans Becca the money to buy supplies.

Now she just needs an office to start. Her best friend Dez lives across the country, but Dez' husband has a contact in a San Francisco law office and gets Becca an interview. Becca's delicious baked treats win over the friend, and she has her first client.

Sal, her downstairs neighbor, drives a taxi and works as a bouncer, but he wants to help Becca with her business. Since Sal has a car and she doesn't, she takes him up on his offer and along with Mom's occasional baking and freezer storage, Becca can make this work.

People in the law office love Becca's Best's muffins, cinnamon rolls and breads. She and Sal make twice daily rounds, and they even make friends with a few of the office staff. Except for Jennifer.

Jennifer is a lawyer with a bad reputation; people actually run and cower when she shows up. Jennifer also looks just like Becca, so much so that Jennifer's boyfriend Jeff, also a lawyer, begins to show an interest in Becca.

Becca thinks Jeff is way too nice to be in love with the horrible Jennifer, and when he kisses Becca, she falls for Jeff. Then she discovers that Jennifer is cheating on Jeff with a married lawyer. Should she tell Jeff?

This story could be a typical chick-lit novel, where the kind-hearted heroine gets the rich, handsome guy after he realizes the woman he is dating is no good, and that would have been okay. The story is interesting enough, and I liked the food angle. (The descriptions of Becca's baked goods made me drool.)

But the story takes a turn I wasn't completely expecting, and that elevates this novel to a good story. As I was reading How To Bake A Man, all I could think of was that this would make such a cute romantic comedy movie. The characters are interesting, the story has some twists-and-turns, and I could see Emma Stone or Rachel McAdams playing Becca in the movie.

How To Bake A Man is the perfect book to pick up on a Friday night after a hard week's work, it's a fun, light read. And it will inspire you to run out to the grocery store to stock up on baking supplies as Inclan includes her delightful recipes for the reader to recreate and enjoy.

rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Jessica Barksdale Inclan's tour. The rest of the stops are here:

Jessica Barksdale Inclán’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, October 13th:  Book Marks the Spot
Monday, October 13th:  A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, October 14th:  girlichef
Wednesday, October 15th:  Nightly Reading
Thursday, October 16th: Bookchickdi
Monday, October 20th:  Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, October 21st:  Giraffe Days
Wednesday, October 22nd:  WV Stitcher
Thursday, October 23rd:  Leigh Kramer
Friday, October 24th:  Books à la Mode
Monday, October 27th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, October 28th:  From the TBR Pile
Monday, November 3rd:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Tuesday, November 4th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, November 7th:  Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Jessica Barksdale Inclan's website is here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New In Paperback- This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 9780062236687
Trade paperback, $15.99, 320 pages

I have loved Ann Patchett since I read her phenomenal Orange Prize winning novel Bel Canto, about a group of people held hostage by terrorists in the home of the vice-president of a South American countryLast year's fantastic State of Wonder again dropped me into an unfamiliar world, this time the Amazon jungle where an American medical researcher has gone to find a missing colleague.

Patchett's latest is a brilliant book of essays, This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage. Patchett made a living writing non-fiction articles for such publications as Esquire, Harper's Magazine and Bridal Guide before hitting it big as a novelist.

The essays in this book take us through Patchett's life, as a daughter of divorce, a graduate student, a unhappily married woman, a dog owner, a friend, a writer, editor and bookstore owner. These essays feel like a patchwork quilt of her life.

In The Getaway Car, Patchett takes great umbrage when a woman tells her that "everyone has at least one great novel in them." She asks the woman if everyone has a one great floral arrangement, algebraic proof, five-minute mile or Hail Mary pass in them. The woman replies that no, but everyone has the story of their own life to tell. Just because you have it doesn't mean you can write it well.

Patchett then writes about the happiest time in the arc of her writing process:
"This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life."
There are so many great essays, and some of ones that spoke to me most are:

  • The Best Seat in the House- about Patchett's new love for opera
  • On Responsibility- about taking care of her failing grandmother
  • The Wall- about taking the LAPD police academy test and her father, a retired LAPD captain
  • Dog Without End- about the loss and of her beloved dog and the grief that followed
Patchett lovingly articulates what writing has meant to her life. I read each poignant and incisive essay slowly, wishing to savor the beautiful language and thoughts in each one. I know that this is a book I will return to again and again, gaining insight with each reading and finding new things to appreciate in them. It has a permanent place on my bookshelf.

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage is a wonderful book to give to someone who appreciates good writing, and I think women in particular will relate to Patchett's story of love and trying to lead a fulfilling life.

rating 5 of 5

Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books' website is here.
My review of State of Wonder is here.
My post on Ann Patchett's visit to Barnes & Noble on 86th St. in New York is here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Enter To Win One of 1000 Advanced Reader Editions of Tina Seskis' ONE STEP TOO FAR

William Morrow is giving away 1000 Advanced Reader Editions of Tina Seskis' upcoming novel One Step Too Far. If you like to read books before the publication date (and who doesn't?), this is a terrific opportunity to be part of the buzz before everyone else knows about it. Enter through October 27th.
You can enter by following the link to the Facebook page here:

It looks like a terrific read- Emily is happily married, with a beautiful family and a lovely home until the day she walks away and starts life over as Cat, working at a hip London ad agency. Why did Emily do that and will she be found out?

Fans of Gone Girl, Before I Go To Sleep and The Silent Wife will love this intriguing story. Enter to win and let all your friends know about the contest. Good luck!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ballroom by Alice Simpson

Ballroom by Alice Simpson
Published by HarperCollins ISBN 978-0-06-23203-3
Hardcover, $25.99, 320 pages

Ballroom is Alice Simpson's debut novel, and just as its title suggests, it is set in the world of ballroom dancing in 1999 New York City. The Ballroom is a dance hall that is a little bit shabby, and past its prime. We meet some of the people who dance there every Sunday night in Simpson's book and get a bit of their own stories, told in their own voices.

Harry is a 60-year-old retired shoe factory worker who teaches ballroom dancing on the side. He lives a spartan existence in a tiny apartment. Every Friday for years, 20-year-old Maria, his downstairs neighbor, comes for dance lessons at this apartment, lessons her father knows nothing about. Harry is planning on taking Maria to Buenos Aires to live on her 21st birthday.

Maria's dance partner is Angel, a hardworking young man whose dream is to own a dance hall/studio, with Maria as his business and life partner. He is the kindest man in this novel.

Joseph, 60-years-old, works for the telephone company and is umarried. He lives to dance with Sarah, a 38-year-old twice divorced woman who loves 1940's movies and doesn't understand why the men she knows don't act more like the men in those movies.

Sarah would give anything if the handsome Gabriel would choose her as a dance partner. Gabriel is wealthy, drives an expensive car and can have anyone he wants as his dance partner. He uses women like Kleenex and is married to a very unhappy woman.

Ballroom introduces us to this world, one with special shoes and flashy clothes, private lessons and, at least in this story, lonely people looking for a human connection and love.

I wanted to like this novel more than I did. I think it might have worked better for me if it concentrated on just a few people's stories, like Maria and Angel's for example.  The chapters that are longer, where we get a more in-depth look at Gabe and his strange relationship with his smothering, selfish mother or Maria's life with her hardworking father, succeed much more than the two or three page chapters.

The men in the novel (except Angel) are very cruel to women. They berate them while dancing with them or use them for sex and then dump them. They are horribly misogynistic. And Harry's plan to whisk away young Maria on her 21st birthday is just plain creepy.

I did learn a few interesting tidbits, such as you never walk away from a partner during a dance (even if they say rude things to you) and that women pay instructors to dance with them for an evening at dance halls. Who would have thought.

rating 3 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of Alice Simpson's stops are here:

Alice Tour Stops

Wednesday, September 10th: Tutu’s Two Cents
Thursday, September 11th: she treads softly
Monday, September 15th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, September 16th: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 17th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Thursday, September 18th: Walking With Nora
Friday, September 19th: Not in Jersey
Tuesday, September 23rd: Drey’s Library
Friday, September 26th: Books, Books Everywhere
Monday, September 29th: Book Loving Hippo
Tuesday, September 30th: Buried in Print
Wednesday, October 1st: Book by Book
Friday, October 3rd: Stephany Writes
Monday, October 6th: Consuming Culture
Wednesday, October 8th: Reads for Pleasure
Wednesday, October 8th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, October 9th: bookchickdi

Alice Simpson's website is here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Look At Fall Non-Fiction

Reprinted from the Citizen

Last month’s Book Report covered the great fall fiction books that were publishing. This month’s column will focus on nonfiction releases for those who prefer a dose of reality.

Funny seems to the be the tone this fall as several people best known for their humor have written memoirs. At the Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City this past May, four funny people appeared there to amuse the crowd with a taste of their books.

Neil Patrick Harris takes a unique approach in his memoir “Choose Your Own Autobiography”. His book is based on the series of children’s books, “Choose Your Own Adventure”, popular in the 1980s. At the end of each chapter of Harris’ life story, you can choose what you think should happen next, and then turn to the appropriate page.

I read a sample chapter at BEA, and it’s very funny and makes his book standout in a crowded field, with Harris’ goofy sense of humor on good display. The book publishes October 14th, and you can read an excerpt at

Martin Short made two appearances at BEA, and he stole the show from his panel cohorts. Short’s memoir “I Must Say- My Life As A Humble Comedy Legend” covers his five-decade career, starting with SCTV, through Saturday Night Live, in movies like “The Three Amigos” and “Father of The Bride”, as well as his personal life, filled with way too much loss. Short is a comic genius and this book is sure to be brilliant. It publishes on November 4th.
Martin Short

One of Short’s costars on “SCTV” was Andrea Martin, who has created a new career as a Tony-winning actress (“Pippin”). Her memoir “Lady Parts” published a few weeks ago and is getting rave reviews. Told in a series of essays, Martin covers her career on TV and in film (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), famous people she has worked with, motherhood, relationships, and chimps in tutus, as only she can.
Andrea Martin

Short also appeared in discussion at BEA with actress/comedienne Amy Poehler, whose book “Yes, Please” promises to continue in the successful vein of books by Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling.  

Her book is billed as a collection of “stories, thoughts, ideas, lists and haikus” from her days growing up in Boston, working on “Saturday Night Live”, in Hollywood and being a mom to two little boys. It publishes on October 28th, , and many people are excited about this one. 
Amy Poehler

Actress/Writer/Director Lena Dunham of HBO’s “Girls” appeared at BEA to talk about her upcoming book “Not That Kind of Girl” and she had the crowd in the palm of her hand as she discussed her book.  She is smart, funny, fearless and very outspoken. Her book of essays published last week, and you can find more information at

On the serious side, there are some standouts as well. Jeff Hobbs’ book “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” tells the story of a young African-American man raised in crime-ridden Newark who ends up at Yale University.

His father was in prison, his mother brought him to the library, and the dichotomy of that life continued to haunt him as he got an academic scholarship to Yale, but once he got there, became one of the biggest drug dealers on campus.

Hobbs was Peace’s roommate, and his book explores the difficulty of trying to live a decent life in America. It touches on motherhood, crime, race, class, education, family and friendship. It has garnered great praise from many reviewers. 
Robert Peace

“A Deadly Wandering”, by Pulitzer Prize winner Matt Rictel, discusses the dangers and the science behind inattention as it relates to texting-while-driving. He examines it through the case of Reggie Shaw, a Utah college student who kills two scientists on their way to work.

The crash not only killed two men, but it destroyed Shaw as well. Rictel takes us through the accident, the investigation, the trial, and finally, the redemption of Shaw, who goes on an obsessive series of speeches across the country to prevent this tragedy from happening again. This is a tough but fantastic read.
A Deadly Wandering

And finally, Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim’s book “Bleeding Orange- 50 Years of Blind Referees, Screaming Fans, Beasts of the East and Syracuse Orange”, written with Jack McCallum, publishes November 4th. A book signing with Boeheim will be held at Downtown Books & Coffee in Auburn on November 13th at 7pm. Be sure to get a signed copy for the basketball fan in your life. More info can be found at
Jim Boeheim

Saturday, October 4, 2014

And the winners are...

Congratulations to the two winners of the Gone Girl movie tie-in book-
Erin Morrissey and Sharon Thomas. Look for your copies in the mail, courtesy of 20th Century Fox movies. (Winners chosen by random number generator.)

Thanks to all who entered and don't forget to see Gone Girl with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike- it's fantastic!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Movie Review- Gone Girl

I had the opportunity to attend a press screening of the 20th Century Fox movie, Gone Girl, based on the runaway bestseller of the same name by Gillian Flynn. The movie is one of the most anticipated of the fall season, and it more than lives up to expectations.

Director David Fincher, one of the most respected and successful directors in filmmaking (Se7en, Zodiac,, The Social Network), does a masterful job ratcheting up the tension in a movie where many of moviegoers already think they know what is going to happen and what the big twists are. I had a knot in my stomach as I watched, even I knew what was coming. That is talent.

Ben Affleck gives his best performance yet as Nick Dunne, a man who comes home to find a coffee table upturned and broken and his wife missing. He brilliantly shows us the different sides of Nick, who is all gray here; there is no black or white to him. Slowly we learn more about Nick and his marriage to the unhappy (or is it frightened?) wife Amy. We see the beginnings of their courtship and marriage, and where it stands five years later, amongst job losses, relocation and a family illness.

Rosamund Pike is genius casting. Amy is supposed to be a cipher, and having a more well known actress in the role may have changed the way the audience viewed Amy. Pike is fantastic, and there is already well-deserved Oscar buzz for her. She goes places you can't even imagine.

All of the casting is terrific. I love Carrie Coon, having first seen her on Broadway in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, where she shined in the role of the young professor's wife. I also love her in HBO's The Leftovers, and I hope more people get to see how talented she is playing the role of Nick's twin sister Margot.

Kim Dickens, another under-appreciated actress (HBO's Treme), is wonderful as Detective Rhonda Boney. She follows the clues where they go, trying to solve the case and not jump directly to conclusions as her young partner does.

Tyler Perry plays the Johnny Cochran-like lawyer who specializes in defending men who end up being publicly skewered on Ellen Abbott's cable news network show. (Missie Pyle plays a good Nancy Grace-like character.) For those who only know Perry from his comedies, he is surprisingly effective here. He knows how to own the screen when he is there.

Neil Patrick Harris is Desi Collings, a former boyfriend of Amy's who shows up on the scene. Why does he show up to help find Amy? Is he a suspect? The audience I saw the movie with laughed at some of Harris' lines that were meant to be creepy, not funny, but I think the fact that Desi is a wealthy playboy-type, is too close to a creepy version of his Barney Stinson character from How I Met Your Mother, and that may have confused some people.

Gone Girl is one fantastic popcorn movie. Even those who read the book will feel the tension and the performances are pitch-perfect. Gillian Flynn also wrote the screenplay and Fincher imbues the movie with such atmosphere; each detail is spot-on.

This is not a movie to take your fiancee to; what is has to say about marriage may frighten them. The media may not like it either; our fascination with filling the 24-7 news cycle with the torrid and tawdry details of people's tragedies should give us all pause. And beware- the twists and turns will make your head spin.

Visit the website for Gone Girl here.
Watch the trailer here.