Linda Stankard

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With the economy on everyone’s mind, do-it-yourself projects are more popular than ever this spring. Even if you don’t know a C-clamp from a screwdriver, this new lineup offers a bevy of home improvement projects—from fixing faucets to whole-house overhauls—sure to inspire your “can do” spirit.

Norma Vally, the vivacious, confident host of Discovery Home Channel’s “Toolbelt Diva,” who demonstrates that femininity and fixing things go together beautifully, has two new books: Norma Vally’s Bathroom Fix-Ups  and Norma Vally’s Kitchen Fix-Ups. They come with bonus DVDs for live-action instruction, and are aimed at female DIYers, but Vally’s step-by-step approach and clear, explanatory photos will be welcomed by anyone tackling a fix-up for the first time. Both books address scores of projects “that increase in degree of difficulty—simple to moderate to advanced—with the last part stepping outside how-to and into design.” Even if you aren’t ready to take on installing new cabinets or recessed lighting, think of the savings if you could just unclog your own sink or patch your own drywall! Vally prepares you for each project first, asking you to consider various options. She tells you what to have on hand, what to shut off, what obstacles you might encounter and how to bypass them, and what prep work is necessary before you start. Then she walks you through each step of the project, providing complementing photos or illustrations for extra clarity. Pair with a tool belt for a great DIYer gift!

Do it in tile
While Vally’s books show how to install new tile or replace a cracked one, for a fully indulgent treatment of this versatile, durable material, Jen Renzi’s The Art of Tile (Clarkson Potter, $40, 320 pages, ISBN 9780307406910) is a must-have trove of information—and a feast for the eyes—with its catalog of more than 1,500 full-color tile choices. Renzi, a former senior editor at House & Garden and Interior Design, beckons you to “marvel at the breadth of materials at your disposal—from cement and concrete to cork and other eco-friendly options,” and to discover the versatility of a material like metal. On the practical side, Renzi also offers words for the wise, “cautionary tales, and helpful hints for achieving a beautiful installation.” From traditional uses around showers and sinks, to large-scale wall murals, to the concept of designing an entire home around tile, Renzi takes you through all the considerations involved: color, size, pattern, texture, function, and of course, resilience and beauty. She even takes you through the shopping process and codes her catalog so you can find the manufacturer or supplier of each tile shown.

Think small
Libby Langdon, from HGTV’s hit show “Small Space, Big Style,” has a book that’s perfect for apartment dwellers or owners of small homes. Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions offers her suggestions for, in the words of her subtitle, “making any room look elegant and feel spacious on any budget” and includes more than 300 color photos, floor layouts, before and after shots, and Langdon’s design “tricks of the trade.” After an overview chapter on “The Nitty-Gritty of Design,” Langdon devotes a chapter to solving space dilemmas in each room of a house (there’s even one on hallways) where she shows how limited size doesn’t have to mean limited effect.

Forget “matchy-matchy,” Langdon says, and instead “use contrast in your space.” A furnished room will appear larger than an empty one, so “keep this in mind when you’re moving into a new space or looking to rent/buy a space,” she advises. And also contrary to what you might think, Langdon explains how a large piece of artwork can make a small room feel bigger. “If your artwork is light, paint the wall dark,” and vice versa, she suggests. The contrast will make the art “pop off the wall” for a striking, eye-catching effect. As this book proves: little things do mean a lot!

In keeping with the growing trend toward smaller, more manageable homes (and payments), Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live by small-house expert Sarah Susanka, shows dozens of ways to re-imagine space without changing or enlarging a home’s footprint. In fact, a “build better, not bigger” advocate, Susanka considers even a small addition a last-resort option; every possible idea is considered before even a bump-out is suggested. While economy is important, Susanka also gives high regard to the environment, function and beauty that add to a home’s sustainability and desirability. “Something that is beautiful tends to be well cared for by all its owners over time,” and will simply be “more appealing to all future residents,” she writes. With 350 full-color photos, 40 drawings and tempting sub-headings like “double-duty dining,” “where to put the TV?” and “study at the top of the stairs,” this book will quickly have you sketching out the rooms in your own home to test your creativity and flair for maximizing the space you have.

Take it outside
No matter what size home you have, you can stretch your living area by taking advantage of its outdoor space. Backyards: A Sunset Design Guide by Bridget Biscotti Bradley is a lavish book with 400 sumptuous, inviting photos of outdoor and semi-outdoor backyard and landscaping ideas for relaxed living. Fire pits, courtyards, pools, ponds, patios and more—there’s a wide array of options for moving the fun outdoors—Bradley even offers advice for creating a regulation bocce court. She also demonstrates the importance of light and heat to a space and touches on other backyard topics such as pets, outdoor furniture, sheds and arbors and trellises. This book comes with a 3D Interactive Landscape Design DVD so you can create your own backyard and patio designs, then view them in 3D photographic realism from any angle. Whether you are dreaming of an outdoor spa, a play area for the kids, a quiet garden for contemplation or an intimate dining and entertaining spot, flipping through these pages will encourage you to spring into action on your project so you can start enjoying it this summer. Family and friends you invite over for a swim or a meal will certainly be glad you did!

That Mrs. Meyer really cleans up
Once you’ve rejuvenated your living space into a picture-perfect comfort zone, the challenge becomes keeping it that way. Enter Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home: No Nonsense Advice that Will Inspire You to Clean Like the Dickens, full of practical, expert advice on how to keep your lived-in home looking lovely. Millions are already familiar with Mrs. Meyer from the line of Earth-gentle cleaning products developed by her daughter, and this book embodies that naturalistic philosophy. The mother of nine (now-grown) children, Thelma Meyer has distilled more than 50 years of old-fashioned know-how into one highly relevant green guide to eco-friendly house-and-its-environs-keeping. She promotes good-for-you cleaning solutions (baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar) and explains how to get sparkling results without harsh chemicals. 
Always thrifty, Meyer offers “Waste Not, Want Not” sidebars with money-saving ideas, such as making “Muskoe” (must-go) out of leftovers, installing an inexpensive low-flow shower head, and when it’s time to clean the fish tank, using the outgoing water on your plants—“it’s great for fertilizing.” For jobs large and small, from getting gum out of the carpet to gunk out of the gutters, Meyer divulges her dynamo tactics for tackling tasks inside and out. Her easy-to-understand instructions on everything from canning tomatoes to cleaning a computer keyboard promote a lifestyle characterized by efficiency, self-sufficiency and economy. The family anecdotes she shares along the way lend a tender touch, a reminder that all this effort has a purpose higher than passing some white-glove test; it’s to make our dwellings habitable and hospitable, our homes into havens: organized, pleasant places to live, love, learn and grow.

Linda Stankard is a Realtor in Rockland County, New York.

With the economy on everyone’s mind, do-it-yourself projects are more popular than ever this spring. Even if you don’t know a C-clamp from a screwdriver, this new lineup offers a bevy of home improvement projects—from fixing faucets to whole-house overhauls—sure to inspire your “can do” spirit. Norma Vally, the vivacious, confident host of Discovery Home […]
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As John Ruskin so insightfully wrote, “There is in every animal’s eye a dim image and a gleam of humanity.” Perhaps our fascination with animals lies in our awareness of a basic kinship and our realization of each animal’s unique ability to teach us something about ourselves.

For those who want to learn something more about their pets and possibly themselves this summer, we have sifted through the season's pet books and selected a few of the best. This collection offers a wide range of animal-related material; you'll find everything from practical pet care strategies to amusing cat autobiographies, but however light-hearted the approach, all these books share an underlying respect and love for the animals who look to us humans for their well-being.

An excellent reference book for serious feline fans or the newly initiated about to take on the responsibility of a kitten is The Humane Society of the United States Complete Guide to Cat Care by Wendy Christensen and the staff of the Humane Society. The comprehensive text covers all aspects of cat care, from the smallest details, like getting your cat's collar size correct, to larger issues such as proper nutrition, grooming and choosing the right veterinarian. Not surprisingly, this text advocates getting your pet from your local animal shelter not only will an animal's life be saved, but the authors hope that people who see first-hand the abundance of unwanted, innocent life sitting on death row will be more motivated to spay or neuter their animals helping to break the sad cycle of throw-away pets.

A chapter is devoted to stray (lost) and feral (never owned) cats, but for a more complete study, Living in Shadows: How to Help the Stray Cat in Your Life (Without Adding to the Problem) by Ann K. Fisher offers an analysis of this complicated problem and a step-by-step guide for tackling it. Fisher provides an invaluable service not only to the millions of homeless cats living in shadows, on the outside looking in, but also to the people willing to reach out to them.

If you're a puppy person or you want a gift for a new puppy parent, The Good Life: Your Dog's First Year by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Uncle Matty Margolis is a wonderful month-by-month guide that follows a dog's development from birth to adulthood, ending with a chapter containing 10 lessons in training fundamentals. Siegal and Margolis are experts in the field with numerous other canine collaborations to their credit, and they write with an engaging, down-to-earth style. Like the books above, The Good Life contains photographs and will help the new puppy parent become a veritable Dr. Dolittle, with advice on everything from feeding to first aid.

For a true veterinarian's perspective on animal care, Real People Don't Own Monkeys: And Other Stories of Pets, Their People and the Vets Who See It All by J. Veronika Kiklevich D.V.M. with Steven N. Austad is an eye-opening collection of warmly humorous, though often poignant, stories of the animals (iguanas, turtles, pigs and pythons along with the traditional cats and dogs) Kiklevich has doctored. More than mere entertainment, these engaging tales also serve to illuminate the personalities of the human owners these pets are either blessed with or subjected to and the result is captivating, provocative and sometimes disturbing reading.

 

Linda Stankard was adopted years ago by a dog named Sweetie and lately by a cat who has just given her four grand-kitties. They all live with two fish who keep a tight rein on them.

As John Ruskin so insightfully wrote, “There is in every animal’s eye a dim image and a gleam of humanity.” Perhaps our fascination with animals lies in our awareness of a basic kinship and our realization of each animal’s unique ability to teach us something about ourselves.

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Before videos, camcorders and digital cameras, there was the quilt. Not the quilts made of store-bought fabric, but those fashioned from necessity made from remnants of fabric that touched the family a piece of mother's Sunday dress, a sample of brother's shirt, a square from the curtain that hung over the kitchen window. Once these pieces, these scraps, were stitched together in a new configuration to make a whole, the quilt became a kind of family album a record of the past not in film, but in fabric.

In Clay's Quilt, Silas House's spirited debut novel set in the hills and hollows of Southern Appalachia, Clay Sizemore grows up knowing there are pieces missing from the story of his past. He has some snippets of memory of his life-loving, nurturing mother, but she died (was murdered) when he was only three years old, and he never knew his father. Clay comes into young adulthood still haunted by the unanswered questions of his parentage, despite the love and support he receives from his close-knit, colorful Kentucky family. While he struggles to understand himself and to piece together his own life story from bits of memory and handed-down family history, his Uncle Paul, the family quilter, is painstakingly creating a family album made of cloth, a quilt that will not only serve Clay as a keepsake, but as an enduring source of warmth and comfort.

With unobtrusive skill, House reveals the hidden complexities of simple rural life. A mail carrier and resident of a small Kentucky town himself, House creates compelling, authentic characters and paints the landscape in Clay's Quilt with a sure and gentle brush. A lot of living is going on beyond the humble walls of the tin-roofed frame houses, and while his characters are not perfect people, they are three-dimensional personalities whose lives are imbued with passion sexual passion, religious passion, passion for life, for family, for the land they call home, for music, dancing and fighting. Sometimes, sadly, these passions lead to shattering violence, and when violence shreds his world apart for the second time in his young life, Clay has a hard time holding onto his sanity. But with the help of the beautiful, exuberant fiddle-player, Alma, his beer-drinking, best buddy, Cake, his devoted, visionary Aunt Easter, and others in the Sizemore clan, Clay's Quilt becomes a whole a treasure to be handed down from one reader to another.

 

Linda Stankard writes from Cookeville, Tennessee.

Before videos, camcorders and digital cameras, there was the quilt. Not the quilts made of store-bought fabric, but those fashioned from necessity made from remnants of fabric that touched the family a piece of mother's Sunday dress, a sample of brother's shirt, a square from the curtain that hung over the kitchen window. Once these […]
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Larry McMurtry has written so vividly and prolifically about the opening of the American West, he has become as legendary as his fictional heroes and heroines. With 23 novels, three essay collections and more than 30 screenplays in his literary "holster, including the Pulitzer Prize- winning Lonesome Dove, when McMurtry rides into town brandishing a new manuscript, hordes of readers gather 'round, eager for the latest tale. He has delivered again with Boone's Lick, an engaging story set in the 1800s. It is the account of a determined woman's trek from Boone's Lick, Missouri, to Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming to find her wayward husband and speak her mind. Ma, or Mary Margaret, is a dauntless character who gathers her family around her for this journey and their "joshing, bickering and fussing, their many shared adventures and the immutable bond that keeps them together makes this a very accessible family saga. You needn't be a Western fan or knowledgeable about the American frontier to delight in this breezy, fast-paced yarn, but McMurtry's expert portrayal of the dangers and deprivations his trekkers experience makes the era come alive.

The story takes place roughly a year after the Civil War has ended, a volatile and dangerous time on the Great Plains. Indian relations are tense; gold fever has moved its locus from Nevada and California to Montana and Wyoming; and thousands of homesteaders in their overburdened wagons are making their way along the Oregon Trail.

Into this menacing land McMurtry sends his band of stalwart trekkers: along with Mary Margaret go her teenage sons, Shay and G. T.; a swift-footed, independent minded daughter, Neva; and a baby girl, Marcy. She is also accompanied by her brother-in-law, Seth (who becomes the man in her life after she "quits her husband), her half-sister, Rosie, and the cantankerous Granpa Crackenthorpe. Despite their numerous misadventures, and confrontations with Indians and outlaws, the troupe makes it to Fort Phil Kearny where the climax unfolds on the eve of the Fetterman Massacre a real historical event providing a sweeping stage for the Cecil family's personal drama.

Whether you're a cowpoke or a cosmopolitan, the likeable characters in Boone's Lick will beckon you to hitch your wagon and come along. McMurtry rides again.

Linda Stankard writes from her home in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Larry McMurtry has written so vividly and prolifically about the opening of the American West, he has become as legendary as his fictional heroes and heroines. With 23 novels, three essay collections and more than 30 screenplays in his literary "holster, including the Pulitzer Prize- winning Lonesome Dove, when McMurtry rides into town brandishing a […]
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Anne Roiphe, author of 15 books including Up the Sandbox and Fruitful, asks in her moving memoir, Epilogue: "If life is a cabaret shouldn't there always be another act, at least until there isn't?" But having been "coupled" for almost 40 years, when her husband, Herman, unexpectedly collapses and dies in the lobby of their New York City apartment building, she is thrust into her new role as widow, i.e., a single woman without a man, and finds it daunting.

Simple things, like coming home from an evening out and opening her own door become poignant reminders that she is flying solo; her husband had always been the one to struggle with the key, unlock the door, swing it open.

Listening to her friends planning trips to exotic places, she withdraws at first. "I do not want to travel without H. I do not want to go out in the world alone." She aches for his physical presence, longs for his touch.

Roiphe frankly admits she is lonely without her mate, but knows he would want her to rekindle her joy in living. Bravely, she ultimately proclaims, "I will not let grief become my constant companion. I will refuse its offer to accompany me to the corner, to the night, to the next month." Her daughters place a singles ad for her in a literary journal: "Widowed novelist, near seventy, ex-Park Avenue girl, ex-beatnik, ex-many other things" and as she treads into new territory—Internet dating, meeting new men—she slowly regains her strength, her sense of self, her place on stage without her leading man.

In sickness and in health
Like Roiphe, Alix Kates Shulman (Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen) experienced the joy of a fulfilling marriage to an intelligent, caring man. Her book To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed is as much a tender portrait of her husband, Scott, both before and after his injury, and her marriage to him, as it is a guide to embracing fate—to love what is.

Like a script from a Hollywood movie, when she is only 17, Shulman has a sweet summer romance with Scott, but life's little subterfuges part them for 34 years, until he calls out of the blue and they reconnect in 1984. When she meets him again, the intervening decades have only improved him in her eyes. He's "a combination of the shy athletic youth I knew and this debonair, patrician-looking man of 55. The old attraction sparked into flames as he took one decisive step toward me." (Talk about romantic!) Two decades of Manhattan happiness later they are off to their remote summer place in Maine where Scott plans to work on his sculptures and Shulman to polish her latest novel-in-progress.

But their idyllic world is shattered when Scott, now 75, falls 10 feet from their sleeping loft in the dead of night. Miraculously, he survives, but as he slowly heals, it becomes apparent that the most insidious of his injuries are those to his brain, his memory.

Shulman faces a harrowing decision—should she devote much of what time she has left in this life to his recovery (which may be an exercise in wishful thinking), or place him in a nursing home.

With incredible bravado, fortitude and honesty about the enormous difficulties, Shulman takes on the role of caregiver. "Everything is a struggle," she writes, and as he improves, "now that his energy is increased, he demands my constant and unwavering attention." Shulman suffers loss, but she gains much, too. Their enduring love for each other shines through these pages, reminding us that while "Loss" is a sad song, it can really help to know the flip side by heart.

 

Anne Roiphe, author of 15 books including Up the Sandbox and Fruitful, asks in her moving memoir, Epilogue: "If life is a cabaret shouldn't there always be another act, at least until there isn't?" But having been "coupled" for almost 40 years, when her husband, Herman, unexpectedly collapses and dies in the lobby of their […]
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It gets hot here in Tennessee. And dry. But even in a drought year, to the stoic inhabitants of the Dust Bowl plains in the 1930s, this region would probably have seemed like a tropical rain forest. For nearly a decade, plains farmers endured the ravages of sudden, severe, dirt-hurling storms that destroyed their livestock and eroded the soil from the fields. When first-time author Heidi Julavits introduces a young family Bena Jonssen; her flirtatious doctor husband, Ted Jonssen; and little Ted, her newborn son into this parched, desolate, life-shriveling terrain in her unsettling novel, The Mineral Palace, the effect is almost Gothic.

With relentless Faulknerian images of foreboding and symbolism, Julavits presents Bena with a bleak environment, hostile to new love and new life. Some of these sights are merely dark oddities, like the dog with a missing leg Bena sees running after another dog carrying a prosthetic arm in its mouth, while others are more starkly unnerving like the thin, pregnant prostitute she witnesses hungrily sucking a discarded meat wrapper in the alley for sustenance. But Julavits skillfully weaves the sights on the physical landscape into metaphors for the perplexities and incongruities in Bena's life.

Bena has no desire to move from St. Paul, Minnesota, to the dusty town of Pueblo, Colorado, where her husband has accepted a job in a clinic. But since he is still dizzy, recovering from a mastoid infection, while she is "merely sore" from childbirth, she is the one who drives their Ford Touring Car across the plains. She knows her husband "looks elsewhere," but she observes his behavior towards other women without confronting him, and quietly begins to "look elsewhere" herself. Deeply troubled about her listless newborn, and plagued by the restless demons of her past, she becomes trapped in a perverse silence, unable to share her doubts and fears. Her little family is like the seed in the New Testament parable that gets tossed on poor soil what hope of survival can they have?

But in Bena, Julavits creates a determined protagonist bent on securing at least some level of survival. Like the Mineral Palace itself, "built in 1891 to be one of the wonders of the Western Hemisphere" the Jonssen marriage is a decaying facade requiring more than cosmetic repairs, yet Julavits proves to be an unsparing writer, up to the exacting task of gutting and rebuilding. The Mineral Palace moves with the dark ferocity of a Dust Storm toward its wrenching conclusion swirling, obscuring, and destroying until its energy is spent and we come up at last shaken, but gulping the purified air.

Linda Stankard writes from Middle Tennessee, where she enjoys shade trees and spring water with renewed appreciation.

It gets hot here in Tennessee. And dry. But even in a drought year, to the stoic inhabitants of the Dust Bowl plains in the 1930s, this region would probably have seemed like a tropical rain forest. For nearly a decade, plains farmers endured the ravages of sudden, severe, dirt-hurling storms that destroyed their livestock […]
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Glamour has called them “the Saints of Somalia, equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo.” It’s a fitting description of Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two doctor daughters. Their must-be-heard story, told by Dr. Abdi with Sarah J. Robbins in Keeping Hope Alive, is one ofincredible humanitarian effort coupled with fierce courage, even as they face violent extremists. But it is also Dr. Abdi’s private story—her trials and tribulations as a Somali woman, as a mother, as a wife—as one small person with a big dream for peace.

In spite of the atrocities she has witnessed, Dr. Abdi writes with a lyrical gentleness about her homeland. Her grandmother, she tells us, came from “the region called Lafole, where the sandy roads of Mogadishu meet the soft brown earth of the Shabelle River basin.” Lucky to be raised by parents who had a then-rare “marriage of love,” she was able to become an educated woman, a lawyer and the first female gynecologist in Somalia. When civil war broke out in 1990, she also became a hero and a legend: the unwavering protector of tens of thousands.

As “victims and survivors flooded the main road that led out of Mogadishu,” many came to her farm and clinic. “I took them in, and I gave them whatever I had—cool water, a place to sleep, a portion of our farm’s harvest.” As the unrest continued, her 1,300 acres became a camp for up to 90,000 displaced people. With help and recognition from the United States and other countries, her clinic grew into a hospital; the children are now being educated, and there is hope, but the dangers persist.

In 2010, insurgents kidnapped Dr. Abdi, invading and destroying much of the hospital and her personal possessions. “These young men are our own sons as well—an entire generation that has grown up without law and order,” she writes. Public outcry helped secure her release, but she worries for the future when so many are born into a world of hate, growing up knowing only division, violence and poverty. “A Somali proverb,” she writes, “says that you don’t deliver a child, you deliver a society.”

A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dr. Hawa Abdi has sent an urgent message to the world in Keeping Hope Alive. Read it; heed it; pass it on.

Glamour has called them “the Saints of Somalia, equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo.” It’s a fitting description of Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two doctor daughters. Their must-be-heard story, told by Dr. Abdi with Sarah J. Robbins in Keeping Hope Alive, is one ofincredible humanitarian effort coupled with fierce courage, even as they face […]
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“The blunt truth is that men still run the world.” A baker’s dozen years into the 21st century, despite all the strides women have made toward equality (and despite being half the population), the female gender remains starkly underrepresented in leadership roles. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is a rallying cry for both genders to continue the hard work of previous generations toward a more equitable division of voice, power and leadership.

Currently the chief operating officer at Facebook, Sandberg also had a high-intensity position at Google when her first child was born, and she fully recognizes the hurdles involved, and the balancing act required, when a woman has a career and a family. After a brief three months “off,” she recalls the heartache of separating from her newborn: “I was returning to a job I loved, but as I pulled the car out of the driveway to head to the office for my first full day back, I felt tightness in my chest and tears started to flow down my cheeks.” But she heralds both Google and Facebook as progressive, flexible companies, and believes that other industries, seeing the success of these family-friendly models, are following suit. Improvements in technology that allow work to be done from anywhere with an Internet connection are also changing the way companies think about office hours and working from home.

Men’s roles are evolving, too, which Sandberg celebrates. “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world,” she writes. She admits that a perfect 50/50 division of labor at home is not an easy accomplishment, but she unabashedly credits her husband’s willingness to be an equal partner as they tackle life and career challenges together as being essential to her peace of mind and success.

Told with candor and filled with a mix of anecdote and annotated fact, Lean In inspires women to find their passion, pursue it with gusto and “lean in” to leadership roles in the workplace and the world. “Women should be able to pursue professional success and personal fulfillment—and freely choose one, or the other, or both,” she says. And with chapters such as “The Myth of Doing It All,” “Seek and Speak Your Truth” and “Make Your Partner a Real Partner,” she lays out a practical, tangible (but flexible!) framework for making that possible.

“The blunt truth is that men still run the world.” A baker’s dozen years into the 21st century, despite all the strides women have made toward equality (and despite being half the population), the female gender remains starkly underrepresented in leadership roles. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is a rallying cry for both genders to continue […]
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Fresh Off the Boat, the new memoir by rising culinary star Eddie Huang, is one roller coaster of a ride. Written with headlong ferocity, the book takes us from Huang’s early Taiwanese taste bud revelations (“Soup dumplings, sitcoms, one-night stands—good ones leave you wanting more”) to the establishment of his restaurant Baohaus, a realization of his vision for a youth-culture-oriented hot spot in the East Village where no one would “kick you out, call the cops, or serve you shitty 7-Eleven pressed Cubans.”

But it isn’t a swift or easy ride; like many bright, talented, angry and angst-filled young people, Huang struggles to discover and embody his authentic self—a struggle compounded by his Asian upbringing in American culture. He vows to “detox” his identity and cleanse it of everything he doesn’t consciously want or choose. But the fight isn’t only internal; he takes it to the streets, is constantly in trouble and hopscotches through five schools in seven years. At 13 he was already hustling, “running NCAA pools, taking bets on NFL games and selling porno,” and by the time he’s in college it’s skirmishes with the law. One night, the situation gets out of hand and there’s a trip to Orlando’s 33rd Street Jail, and a conviction. Rather than “sit at home on felony parole,” Huang takes a hiatus to Taiwan for a while, where he is relatively free and able to contemplate his future.

By the time he returns, he’s on a mission: finding a place for himself in the world, “or making one.” Food is a lifelong interest, but before Baohaus materializes, Huang “samples” many other venues: hip hop, law school and stand-up comedy among them. But “the sky broke and everything was clear” once he knew he was going to open a restaurant—one that specialized in Taiwanese gua bao and, even more importantly, one that would be the manifestation of his “friends, family, and memories.”

Though much of Huang’s writing is raw and intense, there are dollops of tenderness and zen-like wisdom when he writes about someone or something he loves, such as his mother, his grandmother or well-prepared food: “The best dishes have depth without doing too much. It’s not about rounding up all the seasonal ingredients you can find, it’s about paying close attention to the ones you already have.”

Like the dishes he describes as “jumping off the plate,” Huang’s memoir jumps off the page. Its flavors are “big, deep, kid-dynamite-Mike-Tyson-knock-you-out-of-the-box” intense and will leave you wanting more!

Fresh Off the Boat, the new memoir by rising culinary star Eddie Huang, is one roller coaster of a ride. Written with headlong ferocity, the book takes us from Huang’s early Taiwanese taste bud revelations (“Soup dumplings, sitcoms, one-night stands—good ones leave you wanting more”) to the establishment of his restaurant Baohaus, a realization of […]
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We Americans have long been privy to the peaks and valleys in the Kennedy family story; we’ve watched them on TV, read about them, listened to their speeches and, at times, been appalled by their actions. The bright promise of JFK’s presidency, and the awful end of a would-be fairytale, have become a part of our collective American consciousness. Still, a comprehensive portrait entailing so many players is a tall order, which may be why J. Randy Taraborrelli considers his 17th book, After Camelot, his most challenging endeavor to date.

In After Camelot, Taraborrelli expands on his best-selling Jackie, Ethel, Joan and brings the whole Kennedy clan onstage. They are, he explains, “a family of complex, fascinating, and sometimes troubled personalities,” but despite unspeakable tragedy and loss, the Kennedys as a family “tried to hold on to the sense of hope, promise, and national service that had been so integral to the public personas of their fallen heroes.”

That struggle, despite its difficulties, is at the heart of Taraborrelli’s behind-the-scenes tale. In a fascinating chronicle that sweeps across a lengthy and tumultuous time period, from the impact of the inscrutable Kennedy patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, to his children, their spouses and the ensuing generation, Taraborrelli draws on extensive interviews and research to give each persona a distinct voice. We can hear Ted Kennedy inspire his audience when, with what must have been a heavy heart, he announced his withdrawal from the presidential race at the Democratic National Convention in 1980: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

The Kennedy ability to inspire, to find strength at times of intense sorrow or shame, and to uphold each other as a family, is perhaps what we admire most about them, and what makes After Camelot such a page-turning, emotionally riveting saga.

We Americans have long been privy to the peaks and valleys in the Kennedy family story; we’ve watched them on TV, read about them, listened to their speeches and, at times, been appalled by their actions. The bright promise of JFK’s presidency, and the awful end of a would-be fairytale, have become a part of […]
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“If you go back far enough,” Megan Smolenyak points out in her latest book, Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing, “we’re all cousins.” In fact, “mathematically, we all have millions of cousins.” That’s a lot of connections to wade through before even taking into consideration grandparents, parents, siblings, friends and long-lost loves!

Still, the exact nature of those connections often date back to pre-documented times, so while some hereditary mysteries may never be solved, Smolenyak, the former chief family historian for Ancestry.com and the author of five other books, including Who Do You Think You Are?, is renowned for her success at genealogical sleuthing. From tracing Barack Obama’s roots to the small town of Moneygall, Ireland, to lifting an obscure slave boy’s story to front-page news when she revealed his intricate connection to both Strom Thurmond and Al Sharpton, Smolenyak has a proven track record of unearthing ancestral secrets and solving perplexing problems. Working closely with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which strives to recover, identify and bury soldiers from any conflict, she has helped solve cases from WWI, WWII, Korea and Southeast Asia.

She shares her complex investigative adventures in a straightforward, evidence-driven manner that allows readers to feel the excitement of being hot on the trail, the disappointment of a dead end and the ultimate thrill of a new discovery. Whether it’s an old case, such as the story of Annie Moore, considered the first to arrive at Ellis Island, or one of current import, such as tracing First Lady Michelle Obama’s roots, Smolenyak attributes a large measure of her success to hands-on research. Everything apparently is not on the internet: “Countless insights to our collective past remain hidden in local, underfunded repositories, and even in our sophisticated twenty-first century, the only way to find these treasures is to get in the car or hop on a plane and do some intensive digging.” That intensive digging even turned up a puzzling question regarding her own family tree: Who fathered her uncle? The genetic impossibility of it being the man she knew as her grandfather has sent her on a DNA quest of personal proportions!

With provocative chapter titles like “Skeletons in the Turret” and “Paralyzed Prostitute,” Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing is a page-turner that simultaneously informs, intrigues and leaves you wanting more!

Learn five things you didn’t know about your DNA on The Book Case.

“If you go back far enough,” Megan Smolenyak points out in her latest book, Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing, “we’re all cousins.” In fact, “mathematically, we all have millions of cousins.” That’s a lot of connections to wade through before even taking into consideration grandparents, parents, siblings, friends and long-lost loves! Still, the exact […]

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