Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 208 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss has a cover that glows like the radium discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie, and the collage format allows the text, photos, illustrations, and documents to inform one another in a unique way.  Not only does Redniss use interviews with scientists, A-bomb survivors, and Marie and Pierre Curie’s own granddaughter, but she also utilizes Marie Curie’s own words from her diaries and letters.  The book chronicles not only the discovery of Radium and Polonium, but also how Marie and Pierre came to be working and living their lives together, as well as Marie’s life after the death of her husband.

What’s interesting about this book is that it not only examines the history of discovery and the resistance to commercialization held at the time by the Curie’s and other scientists.  There are some points in the book where the transition between the historic events and the more recent consequences of Curie’s discoveries could have been smoother, particularly the section about the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant meltdown that comes right after Marie has lost her husband and moves with her daughters closer to Pierre’s father.  Beyond that, those who have studied Curie in school may not know about her work with hospital X-ray units or how her work was carried on by her children.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss condenses a lot of historic fact into a small volume and offers supporting documentation for her findings.  This collection would be a great addition to school classrooms and could help make a hard-to-understand subject easier to digest.

***Another thank you goes to Bermudaonion for bringing my attention to this one***

About the Author:

Lauren Redniss is the author of Century Girl: 100 years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies and Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for nonfiction. Her writing and drawing has appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, which nominated her work for the Pulitzer Prize. She was a fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library in 2008-2009, became a New York Institute for the Humanities fellow in 2010, and is currently Artist-in-Residence at the American Museum of Natural History. She teaches at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

Source: Dey St. and William Morrow
Hardcover, 304 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming is one of the most honest, heartfelt, and engaging memoirs out there.  Cumming is the son of a Scottish family, and his father was verbally and physically abusive, but that’s just part of this story.  Despite the abuse, Cumming had dreams, dreams that he ultimately hoped to achieve and did, even if they just began as fantasies of escape.  As a young boy, he was given impossible tasks by his father on a Scottish estate where they lived as caretakers, and really they were given so that he could fail and be the subject of his own father’s wrath. His escape from that life was acting and school, but he was careful after several early incidents to never show too much passion or love for anything because his father would take it away.  Although his relationship with his father shaped some of his anxieties that he took with him later in life, it is his relationship with his mother that solidified his confidence in becoming the talented actor he is today.

“You see, I understood my father.  I had learned from a very young age to interpret the tone of every word he uttered, his body language, the energy he brought into a room.  It has not been pleasant as an adult to realize that dealing with my father’s violence was the beginning of my studies of acting.”  (page 4 ARC)

Parallels between Cumming’s past and that of his mother’s father, the grandfather he never knew, are drawn easily in his mind and throughout the memoir after he agrees to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s death in Malaysia sometime after WWII.  Like his mother, Cumming did not have a real relationship with his father, but unlike his mother, his father lived with him for most of his life until he left for Glasgow for acting school.  Shifting between past and present in his own life, Cumming also examines his relationship to his deceased grandfather and how memory is subjective and that most people remember in an emotional way.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming is not about how his father drops a bombshell on him that he is not his son.  The memoir is about how Cumming is his own man and nothing like the abusive, angry father he had, and in many ways how he is more like the grandfather he never met.  This is a contender for the Best of list this year because it is told with such honesty, self-reflection, and humor that readers will not be able to avoid examining their own lives and familial relationships.

About the Author:

Alan Cumming is an award-winning actor, singer, writer, producer and director. He recently starred in an acclaimed one-man staging of Macbeth on Broadway, and appears on the Emmy Award-winning television show The Good Wife. He won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in the Broadway musical Cabaret, a role he is reprising in 2014.  He hosts PBS Masterpiece Mystery and has appeared in numerous films, including Spy KidsTitusX2: X-Men UnitedThe Anniversary PartyAny Day Now and Eyes Wide Shut.  Photo by Ricardo Horatio Nelson.

25th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Scotland and England)





71st book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

Cooking With Amar’e: 100 Easy Recipes for Pros and Rookies in the Kitchen

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Source: It Books
Hardcover, 272 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Cooking With Amar’e: 100 Easy Recipes for Pros and Rookies in the Kitchen by Amar’e Stoudemire and Chef Maxcel Hardy III is not only 100 easy recipes that are well balanced, but also the recipes are broken down from easiest to hardest.  Moreover, this is a journey — the journey of NBA pro basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire learning how to cook for his own family, from learning what basics he should have in his pantry to how he should hold a knife with his large hands and chop vegetables to meet the needs of a recipe.  Recipes are labeled with basketball terminology, with the easiest recipes called layups, those that require a little bit of skill are considered jump shots, and the most challenging recipes are called slam dunks.  Each recipe also includes tips on storage, serving suggestions, and how to streamline preparation.

This cookbook also outlines what equipment essentials are needed in the kitchen, but cautions that good equipment can be purchased within the household budget.  And Chef Hardy III cautions that fancy gadgets should be considered on an as-needed basis, such as a superb blender for those who have shakes and smoothies on a regular basis.  Another cool tidbit is the inclusion of a special blend of spices that the chef uses in quite a few recipes, allowing users to make a bunch ahead of time and store it for use in later recipes.

For my husband’s birthday, I made The Ultimate Burger recipe, with a few modifications.  The recipe was easy to gather ingredients for — scallions, onion, the special spice blend, 2 pounds of ground beef, egg, garlic, kaiser rolls, cheese, and pickle spears.  It calls for the ground beef to be mixed with onion and the spices thoroughly before making the patties that you can either grill or in the pan.  This recipe is considered a jump shot, perhaps because of the preparation it takes for the meat, but I found the recipe relatively easy.  Only modification I made was to use provolone and Swiss rather than the Muenster cheese the recipe called for — we also didn’t use the mayo for the buns, but these are all personal preferences.  Overall, everyone seemed to enjoy the burgers I made for my husband’s birthday dinner.  Anna’s husband said the burgers were “moist, flavorful, and delicious.”  He also said it was one of the best homemade burgers he’s had.  Anna and her daughter both liked the burger, calling it juicy.

Cooking With Amar’e: 100 Easy Recipes for Pros and Rookies in the Kitchen by Amar’e Stoudemire and Chef Maxcel Hardy III is an excellent cookbook for those looking for new twists on American staples like hamburgers, but also looking to get a little more adventurous in their cooking.  From homemade sweet potato fries to fried okra and baked brie.

About the Authors:

Amar’e Stoudemire is a power forward for the New York Knicks and a six-time NBA All-Star. A married father of four, Amar’e is dedicated to helping children learn. Along with his wife, he founded the Alexis and Amar’e Stoudemire Foundation to creatively inspire youth to get an education and avoid poverty, and he authored a semiautobiographical children’s series, STAT, to inspire young readers. Amar’e is also an actor, producer, motivational speaker, and co-owner of Hapoel Basketball Team of Jerusalem.

Chef Maxcel Hardy III is a chef to the stars and the personal chef for NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire. With more than thirteen years of culinary experience, Chef Max has created for award-winning musicians, actors, athletes, and dignitaries. Outside of the kitchen, he created Chef Max Designs, his chef apparel line, and in 2011 he founded One Chef Can 86 Hunger. The foundation’s mission is to fight the hunger crisis in America and educate people on a healthy lifestyle cost-effectively; the foundation has also created culinary programs for inner-city communities.

41st book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross

Source: It Books
Hardcover, 192 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross is not a biography, but an an examination of Kurt Cobain’s impact as a musician and artist on the music industry, fashion, and yes on the national dialogue about suicide and addiction.  Cross and Cobain did have friends in common, and he has relied on first-hand accounts and statements made by Nirvana’s members and Courtney Love, his wife at the time of his death.  Cobain’s impact on music is clear from the times Nirvana’s albums made the “best of” lists of magazines, alongside the band’s videos.

“I would argue that no rock star since Kurt has had that same combination of talent, voice, lyric-writing skill, and charisma — another reason he is so significant, two decades after his death.  The rarity of that magic combo is also part of the reason Kurt’s impact still looms so large over music.” (page 11)

This slim volume easily makes the case for Cobain’s impact on music before the onslaught of per-song downloads, and his lasting impressions on the Hip-Hop genre.  Readers will get a true dose of how the music world influenced fashion and how in the case of Grunge, which Cobain never understood how it could be attached to him or his music, was harder to bring to high-fashion houses.  Given that flannel and cardigans in Cobain’s style, which was born out of his monetary troubles, were easily obtained for a few dollars at local thrift stores or even just Kmart, fans were not interested in buying $6,000 trench coats or other high-priced fashion items made to resemble those thrift store finds.

“Many rock stars have an impact on fashion, but Kurt’s influence has truly been a bizarre outgrowth of his fame, and one that will last (even if his music will undoubtedly be his greatest legacy.).  Kurt very much planned his musical career, writing out imaginary interviews with magazines in his journals long before he became famous.  But he never considered that if he became a star, his ripped-up jeans and flannel shirts might one day end up on the runway’s of New York fashion shows.” (page 65-6)

Cross touches upon the studies of suicide rates following Cobain’s death and how his death led to the inclusion of resources in reports on suicide to help those in need.  Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross is a book that focuses on the influence of a music talent on our culture without offering judgment on his personal choices in life.

About the Author:

Charles R. Cross is a Seattle-based journalist and author. He was the Editor of The Rocket in Seattle for fifteen years during the height of the Seattle music mania.

13th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Robert Plant: A Life by Paul Rees

Sources: It Books, HarperCollins
Hardcover, 368 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Robert Plant: A Life by Paul Rees is an unauthorized biography of one of Led Zeppelin‘s front men — the one some called a golden god.  Beginning with his early years in grade school, Plant was not destined to be the straight arrow his father wanted him to be.  His antics started as a young adolescent stealing small instruments from well-known musicians that visited local clubs.  He was initially influenced by the sway of Elvis, miming his records on the sofa with a hairbrush for a microphone.  But Rees also provides a background on the region and its hardships, which shaped his father and his older family members.  The hardships the family faced also shaped their attitudes toward a young man finding his love of music and barreling headlong into it.

Rees prose is engaging, like an old friends talking to one another, and the smattering of quotes from friends and family about the events that shaped not only Plant, but also the band, make readers feel like their watching a documentary unfold.  And like most documentaries with producers close to the subject, some of the more sordid details of drug use and sex are muted — though a salacious tale about the band and its members has likely been done before and does not need to be repeated.  Rees has a greater focus on the music Plant created in a series of defunct bands, his poor luck with bands when he started out, and his wild success as the lead singer of Led Zeppelin.

“He had felt fear gnawing away at him.  The dread of how he might appear to all the thousands out there in the dark.  Here he was, a man in his sixtieth year, desiring to roll back time and recapture all the wonders of youth.  Did that, would that, make him seem a fool? In those long minutes with himself he had looking in the mirror and asked over and over if he really could be all that he had once been; if it were truly possible for him to take his voice back up to the peaks it had once scaled.  He had so many questions but no answers.” (page 1)

As a young husband, he’d made a pact with his bride that if he had not made it by his twentieth birthday in a successful band, he’d give it up to support his family.  It was just before he was set to find a real job that he was asked to join Jimmy Page to create Led Zeppelin.  Plant soon finds himself separating his personalities in two directions — the devoted family man and the consummate rock star.  Several tragedies and the weight of drugs and violence lead to the band’s demise and Plant’s moving onward — creating more music.

Robert Plant: A Life by Paul Rees leaves analysis of the personalities behind and merely relies on outside sources, interviews, and other insights from those who were there to give shape to a tumultuous time of a rock star.  But beyond that, the biography offers up a human look at a rock god, though one with a limited view.  Readers will feel like its rehashed and glosses over the real man in favor of critiquing the music.  It seems like his early beginnings in music, Plant’s career after Zeppelin was up and down, but he never seemed to lose his love of music.  Just wish there was more fresh research.

About the Author:

Paul Rees has written about music for more than twenty years. In that time he has interviewed everyone from Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna to Bono, Take That, and AC/DC. His work has appeared in many publications, including the Sunday Times Culture, the Telegraph, the Independent, and the Evening Standard. He was also editor of two of the UK’s most successful and long-standing music publications, Q and Kerrang!, for a total of twelve years.

This is my 80th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

The Best of PUNK Magazine by John Holmstrom and Bridget Hurd

The Best of PUNK Magazine by John Holmstrom and Bridget Hurd, with a foreward from Deborah Harry (yes, the singer from Blondie) and Chris Stein (co-founder of Blondie), is a compilation of the best articles and artwork from the magazine, and it opens with a fun depiction of New York City — “The PUNK Map of N.Y.C.: For jerks who just don’t know their way around.”  The drawings of the rivers and the streets and the realistic, and yet, out there cartoons are likely to generate smirks, if not genuine smiles.

As someone born in the late 1970s, but in love with punk music and Blondie, this collection is something that provides not only more background about the emergence of punk, but also the  whimsical fun and sort of not-a-care-in-the-world feel of the genre.  PUNK magazine had a lot to live up to as the voice of 1970s New York, but it also had a lot to break away from in terms of what was expected of a music magazine.  Clearly, PUNK was a magazine dedicated to snarkiness in all its forms — visual and textual — and it worked well.  It was gritty, it was real, and the glamor was no where in its photos or its comics, but that seems to be why the magazine stood out.  There was a whole lot of youthful exuberance in the beginning of this magazine as nicknames were handed out and spaces were renamed — like the PUNK Dump.

The opening interview with Lou Reed is just the tip of the mosh pit with this magazine.  Reed is so candid, it’s almost like he forgot he was being interviewed by a magazine, and it is unlikely anyone told him the interview would be turned into a comic strip.  The comics are filled with typical masculine and bathroom humor at times, but the drawings are enough to carry the jokes beyond their static line.  A really cool moment in the collection is the results of the Patti Smith Graffiti Contest, where some are so tasteful and others are just outrageous.

By the third issue, the magazine’s editors knew they were a hit when the Ramones snagged a record contract in part because of the magazine’s coverage of their band.  One particular gem in the collection is Holmstrom’s explanation of punk:  “sound — faster and louder; humor — like the novelty songs of the 1950s and 1960s; fashion — no glam, just the classics: shades, blue jeans, t-shirt, sneakers; minimalism — less is more.  No bombast; attitude — similar to the hippie ethos “Do your own thing but let me do mine,” but more like: “F**k you! I don’t care what you do, just leave me alone!”; do it yourself — publish your own ‘zine, make your own record; retro rock/conservatism — mining the tradition of rock ‘n’ roll from the 1950s and early 1960s, while rejecting everything after the hippies took over in 1967.”

The Best of PUNK Magazine by John Holmstrom and Bridget Hurd is a great compilation, but you may not want to leave it on the coffee table with conservative parents or in-laws around.  It’s got some bawdy humor, creative ideas, fantastically candid photos and interviews with punk rock stars of the time, and so much more.  Reminiscent of MAD Magazine and the like, but it really has a garage feel about it — a passion of the listener, the true fans of PUNK.

About the Author:

John Holmstrom is a cartoonist and writer and co-founder (with Legs McNeil) of Punk magazine. He illustrated the covers of the Ramones albums Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin, and created the characters Bosko and Joe, which were published in Scholastic’s Bananas magazine from 1975-1984, as well as in Stop! Magazine, Comical Funnies, Twist, and High Times. Holmstrom’s work and unmistakable artistic style has become the key visual representation of the Punk era.

This is my 13th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.