Monday, July 28, 2014

Elbe River Germany

Thanks to

Monday, August 26, 2013

The of the Eighties

Anyone growing up in the 1980s remembers Strawberry Short Cake, He Man, Care Bears, and sideways ponytails, but it is easy to forget many of the political, social, and technological landmarks because of the nostalgic memories that dominate. That is precisely why The New York Times: The Times of the Eighties is the absolute best way to bring back the nostalgia of the past. This collection of articles from The New York Times features the actual articles and photographs that helped to define a generation. Brilliantly broken down into sections (Politics, Business, Health Care & Technology, Fashion, Life & Style, etc.), this book is the perfect way to examine the decade. Whether it be to reminisce or to share historical events with a younger generation, this book is amazing in that it blends the highly respected writing of The New York Times with the most important events of the ’80s. For example, Princess Diana’s wedding, the premiere of “Cats”, Reagan’s declaration to “Raze the Berlin Wall”, the evolution of the modern DNA test, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill impacted a generation and they are concisely and dutifully reported in this book. Whether you want to check facts, reminisce, or share history, The New York Times: The Times of the Eighties is a great read.

The Lady of Guadalupe

Tomie de Paola, the revered children’s book writer and illustrator, has worked wonders again with The Lady of Guadalupe. The beautifully illustrated book tells the story of the Virgin Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, Mexico. Beginning with the conversion of Juan Diego and his wife, de Paola tells the profound story of the Virgin Mary’s visitation to a humble Mexican native. With profound detail – in both the text and the pictures – the book is a magnificent way to introduce the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe to children or cherish the story (and the images) yourself. This amazing story, which is such a rich part of Catholic tradition, has been given due diligence in de Paola’s book – this is the best illustrated version I have ever seen.

Crime of Privilege

George Becket grew up knowing the life of the affluent and powerful, but never fully living it. He had friends in high places, and had the connections to get where he needed to go, but it also meant sharing in their secrets – something he didn’t realize would be such a heavy burden. In Crime of Privilege, Walter Walker powerfully portrays the world of the elite as seen through the eyes of an outsider – someone who has not been rejected by the powerful, but has been used as a pawn. In college, George witnessed some members of the Gregory family, a rich, powerful, political family, sexually assault a girl. He isn’t sure if it is rape, but he stops things before it becomes one. Even after the young woman’s father sends a messenger indicating that the truth must be told, George refuses to act and answers the investigator’s questions in a very perfunctory manner. Years after the fact, he has held their secret, refusing to blame anyone and questioning his loyalty. He has earned a position on the staff of the Cape Cod District Attorney, prosecuting drunk-driving charges and the like. George doesn’t exactly like his job or the fact that he is a recent divorcee, but he doesn’t question them until an older man approaches him and says that he believes the Gregory’s killed his daughter Heidi. Despite his best interests (and much resistance from his supervisor), George begins to investigate Heidi’s murder and finds layers of secrecy and unexpected uses of Gregory power. His quest for truth takes him from Idaho to Hawaii to San Francisco and beyond – all in an attempt to do what he realizes he should have done a long time ago. Walker’s writing is crisp and engaging making this story a suspenseful mystery for its duration. Crime of Privilege is a thrilling story marked with a very human narrator who realizes his flaws, admits his mistakes, yet yearns for the truth and justice. There are many unexpected twists and turns making this the ultimate beach read!

Light in the Ruins

Chris Bohjalian is known for crafting stories that are historically accurate and emotionally touching. He also is known for exploring subjects which are often ignored in literature. The Light in the Ruins is the perfect example and is a compelling story that masterfully blends the tragedy of World War II Italy with a savage murder spree over a decade later. With moving characters, gripping voice, and unexpected twists, The Light in the Ruins is another Bohjalian treasure. The novel alternates between the war years of 1943 & 1944, and the somewhat recovered Italy of 1955. Set in the Tuscan countryside, The Light in the Ruins focuses on the Rosati family: a marchese, his wife, and their three grown children, and the property which they call home (an expanse of land that has vineyards, stables, and an ancient burial site that harbors Etruscan artifacts). Cristina, the youngest, is eighteen at this time and while fascinated by the airplanes that pass over her countryside villa, has been fairly sheltered from the reality of the situation partly because of her privileged upbringing, and partly because of the family villa’s location from town. Her brother, Marco, has been called off as manual labor for the Germans in Sicily (despite his engineering background), and her other brother Vittore, an art historian, has been conscripted by the Germans in Florence, despite his outward contempt for them. Flashing forward eleven years, a vicious killer has begun to take the lives of the remaining Rosati family members, brutally murdering them and taking out their hearts. Although we know little about the killer, their chilling narrative accounts from 1955 are enough to haunt readers who desperately want to get to the bottom of the mystery and spare the remaining members of a family that has seen more than its fair share of tragedy and heartbreak. As the story unfolds in 1943, Cristina begins to fall in love with Lieutenant Friedrich Strekker, a one-legged war veteran who, in stark contrast to his German counterparts, is a kind and caring soul. Her family, especially Vittore, and Marco’s wife, Francesca, are disapproving because they understand what the Germans have done to Italy and its people, yet Cristina sees the good in Friedrich, and tries to make sense of the confusion surrounding their blossoming relationship. In the midst of the chaos and turmoil that surrounds the family’s villa, they must make important decisions about who to save and who to spare; what to do to protect themselves and what they must do to protect their country. Bohjalian does a wonderful job showing the dilemmas that arise during wartime and the challenges that everyone must face as a result. Blending the murder mystery and the Rosati’s trials during war, The Light in the Ruins is a complex and powerful story. The emotional scars of the war are oftentimes more damaging than the physical wounds, as shown by Serafina, the young female detective assigned to the case who finds that her past intersects with the Rosati’s in a way that could not have been predicted. This is a fabulous read that beautifully intertwines elements of historical fiction, romance, and suspense. In true Bohjalian style, the story and characters will stay with you long after you have completed the novel.

Tomato-Basil Polenta Stacks

This dinner dish looks a lot fancier than it is. It is a fairly easy vegan, gluten-free dish, but it is delicious and impressive. While I took a shortcut to save time and used a frozen vegetable blend that had baby red potatoes, onions, mushrooms and green beans, you can easily use fresh vegetables and adjust the cooking time. I also broiled the polenta rounds in my oven, but you could grill them if you prefer. Regardless, this is a great summer dinner that looks as great as it tastes. Tomato-Basil Polenta Stackes with Vegetables 2 large heirloom tomatoes, thickly sliced 1 tube polenta, any variety, thickly sliced (you could use home-made polenta and cut into rounds with a cookie cutter) 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided 1 package frozen vegetable mix with potatoes, onions, green beans and mushrooms (I used Alexia brand)(see above) 6 cups fresh spinach 1/2 cup vegan mozzarella 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, gently torn Salt and pepper, to taste 1. Turn oven on to high broil. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread polenta rounds on baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Broil for 10 minutes, then turn over. Sprinkle each polenta round with cheese and broil for an additional 5 minutes. 2. While polenta rounds are broiling, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining olive oil and frozen vegetables. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes begin to turn golden. Add spinach and stir for about 2 minutes, or until wilted and potatoes are cooked through. 3. Spoon out about 1/2 cup vegetable mix onto a plate. In the center, place a thick tomato slice. Top with a polenta round. Top with another tomato slice and one more polenta round. Top the stack with fresh basil and salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.


Grammy nominated Christian singer, Matthew West’s book Forgiveness is a beautiful blend of his song-writing and powerful stories of forgiveness. As the editor of a collection of incredibly touching and personal stories, West focuses on forgiving others, forgiving yourself, asking for forgiveness, and embracing God’s forgiveness. Between the stories, West reflects on forgiveness and also explains how these particular stories influenced his music. This book is a short compilation that can be picked up in moments of need and does not have to be read all the way through. While some of these stories are inspiring, others are comforting (it is reassuring to recognize that others have struggled with forgiveness in the ways that we have). Forgiveness is a delightful blend of the works of Christian writers, personal vignettes, and faith-based inspiration and is a comforting and refreshing read. Plus, because the book is an excellent companion to West’s song of the same name (see below), the lyrics are interspersed throughout the book in a beautiful manner and connect to the powerful stories of forgiveness.