jfine@northshire.com's blog

Nine Lives

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Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans By Dan Baum Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385523202
Availability: IN WAREHOUSE - Usually Ships in 3-7 Business Days
Published: Random House - February 16th, 2010

I do not use the phrase lightly, but Nine Lives: Death And Life In New Orleans by Dan Baum is, most definitely, "an ambitious and important work". Baum's task in laying out an authentic and true delineation of the history and soul of this most unique city was truly daunting. In weaving together the disparate yet occasionally intertwined lives of nine distinct characters, Baum somehow manages to capture a revealing and compelling essence of each individual that not only brings them to life but, ultimately, exquisitely portrays just what it is that separates New Orleans from every other city in the nation.

Make no mistake about it, the "Big Easy" is, and apparently always has been, a place with many unseemly warts and more than its share of crime, corruption, and dirt-level poverty. Baum, in this tender but gritty expose, never shies away from that fact. The nine lives he chooses to revisit serve perfectly to illustrate the various race, class and political experiences that have collectively shaped New Orleans into the smoky "jambalaya" of cultural life that it is.

Perhaps the most masterful- and compelling- facet of Baum's N.O. tapestry is that even though he begins some of the character's histories over 40 years ago, and the vast majority of the book covers the years prior to 2007, the inevitable collective climactic experiences of each of the nine subjects during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina are simultaneously brilliant, raw, heartfelt, heartbreaking, dumbfounding, depressing and, even so, a little bit inspiring. The sights, emotions and travails of each of these memorable souls both before and during our nation's largest natural disaster- and perhaps most striking government failure- are undeniably powerful and bring an element of clarity to our understanding of the damaged but still beating heart of the city of New Orleans that we would not, could not, possess without experiencing it through the eyes of this unique collection of individuals. Thank you Dan Baum. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

My Life from Scratch

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My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time By Gesine Bullock-Prado Cover Image
ISBN: 9780767932738
Availability: Special Order
Published: Crown - June 8th, 2010

Writing a memoir is essentially an act of intimacy. To offer up one's life, thoughts, insights and feelings to an unseen, unknowable conglomeration of strangers- who will each read your words as solitary souls, your words to their "ears"- takes not just a bit of nerve and guts. And generosity.

Gesine Bullock-Prado's new memoir, Confections of a Closet Master Baker, is a lively and valuable addition to the genre. For you see, Gesine (pronounced Ge-see-neh) confides to us on numerous occasions that she is not truly a social animal by nature. She describes herself alternately as painfully shy, frequently inappropriate and basically misanthropic and sprinkles enough examples of this element of her persona throughout her book to keep us at arm's length. And yet a few pages later she will open up to us, trust us with specific and telling details of her world, welcome us in to her inner sanctum. Suffice it to say these push/pull polarity shifts shape our reading experience, keep us on our proverbial toes and, most importantly to the reader, create, intentionally or otherwise, an honest and near full circle view of the many charms and foibles of our hostess throughout our all-too-brief 240 page journey with her.

The book is cleverly organized into chapters by hour of the day. It is a charming and useful set up that allows us to witness the daily routine in the life of the country confectioner while also allowing Bullock-Prado to deftly weave in stories from the bakery's founding and various tales of life in her new quirky, challenging and ultimately heart warming home in Montpelier VT. Perhaps even more so, we are cleverly and bit by bit introduced to the very roots of this "master baker". In continuously drawing lines to her childhood, frequently through glimpses of her earliest years in Germany, Gesine deftly weaves a compelling back and forth narrative detailing the beginnings of her fascinations with the world's finest sweets and the traditions of her mother and grandmother that so profoundly shaped the baker she grew into.

Interspersed through the chapters are recipes for some of Gesine's favorite creations. The specificity and attention to detail is truly commendable. If you attempt to recreate Bullock-Prado's "Starry Starry Night" cookies or her delectable apple pie, for example, she is determined that you have every gram and nuance of detailed direction that you will need to succeed at recreating her masterpieces.

By and large, despite all other topics covered- which, in addition to those mentioned above, include occasional flashbacks of her not so dreamy dream job in Hollywood before her "born-to-bake" revelation sent her packing eastward- the primary theme of Confections... is confecting, and that is where Prado's work shines brightest. There is a romance to the bake shops of old France and Germany, to the timeless traditional craft of forming near pure magic from the simple core elements of flour, butter, sugar and eggs. A charm that whispers and calls to the hungry child and closet gourmet traveler in all of us. Gesine lives and breathes this magic, romance and mystique. Although she may share with us the arduousness of making the near-impossible happen day after day amidst the numerous obstacles faced, always she returns to reminding us how integral to her very spirit the process of baking is. One may very easily begin this book saying, "Master Baker, where does she come off...?" By the end of this work, however, if not much much earlier, it is evident that through knowledge, passion and experience, Gesine Bullock-Prado is, beyond a doubt, a master baker- and a quite gifted chronicler of said master baking to boot.

The identity of her sister being heretofore not mentioned because, although it does frequently play a part in Gesine's story, the fact that big sis is the actress Sandra Bullock is, early on, rendered all but inconsequential by an inescapable fact that is revealed to the reader; Sandra is not the only Bullock girl who has something special to offer the world. Let's just hope the amount of attention this engaging and well crafted memoir will inevitably bring to the more introverted of the two sisters doesn't drive her away. We are all still very much in need of more of her culinary- and literary- magic to dazzle our greedy little palates.


Other VT Tidbits...
Gesine's bakery "Gesine Confectionary" was opened in Montpelier in 2005, and owned and operated by her and husband Ray until the end of 2008. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

The Places in Between

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The Places In Between By Rory Stewart Cover Image
ISBN: 9780156031561
Availability: Click Title for IN STORE Location
Published: Harper Perennial - May 8th, 2006

The timing could not be better for us all to revisit the amazing- walking- journey reporter Rory Stewart undertook across the deep snow covered mountains and between the disparate villages of Afghanistan in 2002. The Places In Between is notable not merely for the sheer brazen, foolhardy guts displayed by Stewart in taking on such an expedition, but even more so for the invaluable insight that his trip provides. The variety of cultures, geography and religious views encountered showcases the steep challenges faced by US soldiers over the many, many years of the recently ended war effort. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine


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Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer--And How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place By Suzanne Somers, Julian Whitaker (Foreword by) Cover Image
By Suzanne Somers, Julian Whitaker (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9780307587596
Availability: Backordered
Published: Harmony - October 5th, 2010

Cancer rates are steadily on the rise- both in the US and in the world (as western culture and its accompanying poor dietary habits- and industrial pollution- continue to spread). And, sadly, the prevailing medical strategy of treating cancer patients by attacking the symptoms of their disease with toxic chemicals and radiation demonstrates low long term survivorship rates in many patients and for many varieties of cancer. 

There are doctors out there battling cancer from a different perspective, doctors focusing on the internal physical imbalances that are at the cause of most tumor development and spread. Although Somers is by no means the first to draw attention to alternative views on cancer healing, her media clout and major publisher backing makes this a significant step forward in the fight to spread the news to all- current and future cancer patients and families- that there are frequently better ways to heal- and prevent- cancer than those currently presumed and accepted by the AMA and its pharmaceutical sponsors. 

Ms. Somers "in-your-face, traditional medicine" variety of zeal may turn some folks off- especially those inclined to disagree with her view points or to discredit her due to her resume (blonde actress, home shopping sales magnate) but, based on her personal experience and acquired knowledge, she is a woman on a crusade. 

In this reader's opinion, she has every reason to be. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

Patriot Reign

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Patriot Reign: Bill Belichick, the Coaches, and the Players Who Built a Champion By Michael Holley Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060757953
Availability: IN WAREHOUSE - Usually Ships in 3-7 Business Days
Published: It Books - October 11th, 2005

A thorough and unabashed look behind the scenes of the New England Patriot "machine". Fans of Belichick, Brady and the Patriots will not be disappointed as sports writer Michael Holley follows the trying but ultimately rewarding downs and ups of the Pats over a two year span, from the disappointing season after their first Super Bowl victory to their triumphant return as Super Bowl Champs in 2004. What emerges foremost from the profile is the precise difference in attitude and emphasis from the ground up - from college recruiting to big game preparation- that has set this NFL organization apart from its peers. As such, this is a must-read not just for Patriots fans, but for football and sports fans of all persuasions. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine


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