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Watership Down by Richard Adams - Book Review

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Watership Down: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780743277709
Availability: Click Title for IN STOCK Location
Published: Scribner - November 1st, 2005

This is an epic, heartwarming adventure for all-ages filled with compelling heroes and villains. Through his detailed portrayal of one sector of the animal kingdom, Adams takes us to another world, but one not so far removed from our own. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

Bottom of the 33rd

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Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062014498
Availability: Special Order
Published: Harper Perennial - March 27th, 2012

I must confess, when originally offered the opportunity to read an advance copy of Bottom Of The Thirty Third, I had some misgivings. I am a baseball fan for sure, but even a baseball fan can get itchy now and then when a low scoring game heads into the 10th, 11th, then 12th inning, and neither team seems to want the win. "33 innings," I thought, that's a lot of low scoring innings to profile. But then I paused. "Unless..." I began to think. Unless there was a particular variety of baseball magic in the air that evening. Unless the author somehow manages to capture the grace and humanity inherent to the game of baseball. Unless the untainted nitty gritty dignity of the minor leagues, and a love of the game that may or may not get a given player a shot at the major leagues, unless that comes shining through. Unless the few die hard fans freezing cold in the Easter morning chill, the scorekeeper, the announcers no one has ever heard of- unless they have a story to tell as well. Author Dan Barry has given us all that and more. A portrait of an endless game for the ages, a cross roads of humanity- some bound for glory (Boggs, Ripken and more), others obscurity- and a cross roads of American civilization played out in the former mill town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. On the one hand, it is a simple formula- take us through a few snippets of the game, then offer background profiles of the city or a given player or fan or coach, each in turn. Yet the simplicity is deceiving- this is the stuff that Pulitzers are made of. A warm, insightful revelation of a particular and memorable slice of Americana. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

Skinny Legs and All

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Skinny Legs and All: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780553377880
Availability: Click Title for IN STOCK Location
Published: Bantam - November 1st, 1995

Tom Robbins' unparalleled gift for weaving dazzling thematic tapestries from such seemingly disparate strands as art history, ethno-political insight, profane taboo-smashing and utter whimsy was never more strikingly on display than in Skinny Legs and All. This was the first Robbins novel I ever read, and still one of my all time favorite novels. Pure genius! ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

Nine Lives

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Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385523202
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 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 Cover Image
ISBN: 9780767932738
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Broadway Books - 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

Tour de Lance

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Tour de Lance: The Extraordinary Story of Cycling's Most Controversial Champion Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307589958
Availability: Hard to Find - May no longer be available
Published: Three Rivers Press (CA) - June 21st, 2011

In 2009, 37 year old Lance Armstrong decided to return from retirement after a multi-year absence from his prior seven year dominance of the Tour de France. Besides the interesting snippets of backstory- Strickland has been around Lance and the inner working of the upper levels of competitive cycling for years- the real fascination is watching one of the dominant figures of sport adapting to the new realities of his older body as he tackles- with a staggering degree of success- his especially challenging "come back Tour". ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine


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