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When I first met Raeanne Rubenstein in 2007 and offered to write for her well established e-zine she was happy to entertain the idea. But after pitching several lukewarm concepts, which she politely declined, she said, “What I need is Book Reviewer”. Despite the fact that I’d never reviewed a book in my life I gleefully accepted. And although she was fully aware of my inexperience, God love her, Raeanne gave me a shot anyway. I guess there’s a lot to be said for exuberance.

With each and every column Raeanne made me a better writer as she wielded her virtual red pen and hit me between the eyes with her brutally-honest editing. And now, 104 columns and eleven years later I feel a little out of breath and a lot grateful for getting the opportunity to work with Raeanne,  DISH’s fearless leader and editor-in-chief, who has brought us 200 issues of this hot little magazine.

In honor of DISH MAGAZINE’S 200th birthday I offer The Best of All Booked Up: My Top 10 Titles from over a Decade. I am so proud to have been a part of it all.

By Julia Claiborne Johnson

$31.99 William Morrow

From author Julia Claiborne Johnson comes her debut novel BE FRANK WITH ME, now out in paperback, the story of what it means to be different in a world that’s expecting something ordinary.

Literary legend M.M “Mimi” Banning has found herself in a conundrum: after being holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years she’s lost her fortune to a Ponzi scheme and now she’s broke. In order to recover, the reclusive author must write a new book, something she hasn’t done in decades, and to ensure that she delivers her manuscript in a timely fashion, her New York publisher offers to send her an assistant. But Mimi is a thorny character who’s unused to unwanted company and only agrees to entertain the notion if the candidate is not an Ivy Leaguer or an English Major and who can drive, cook and tidy while being a sane, quiet computer whiz that’s good with kids.

Enter Alice Whitley a young woman who fits the bill and has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Put to work immediately as a full-time companion to Frank, Mimi’s brilliantly eccentric nine-year old son, Alice wonders if she’s out of her depth as Frank has the intellect of Steven Hawking, the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930’s movie star and very little in common with other fourth graders. As she leaves Mimi to her own devices, Alice learns what it is that makes Frank tick and becomes consumed, not only with finding out who his father is, but also where his eccentric and gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the equation. And as Mimi’s deadline draws near and an unfortunate series of events take everyone by surprise, Alice makes a discovery that will change the course of their lives forever.

From the very first word of this irrepressible book I was swept away by Julia Claiborne Johnson’s writing and her ability to deliver the bundle of joy that is a great read. Deeply poignant and laugh-out-loud funny this story is all-at-once unpredictable and satisfyingly comforting. I fell head-over-heels in love with each and every one of these characters who tap-danced in my imagination long after I’d finished the final sentence and I couldn’t help but recommend it to every person I met, even strangers in line for the ladies room.

BLACKOUTBLACKOUT Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
By Sarah Hepola

$29.00 Grand Central Publishing

Well-informed journalism meets confessional-style memoir in author Sarah Hepola’s new memoir, BLACKOUT.

 Sarah Hepola started out as a drinker who believed, innocently enough, that alcohol was the “gasoline of all adventure”. But as time went on, what seemed like normal behavior, being the life of every cocktail party, drinking in dark bars until last call and sleeping with any man who had a pulse, began to wear thin. She was blacking out regularly, losing large swaths of her nights and waking up in strange beds with no recollection of where she was or how she’d gotten there. In the harsh light of day, she would play detective, trying to piece together the previous nights’ exploits with the aid of receipts and text messages from friends who described her frightening crashes down marble staircases and personally insulting rants. Periodically, these situations would horrify and humiliate her to the point of wanting to quit the bottle: something she found herself trying to do one-day-at-a-time, for well over a decade.  

In the midst of all this debauchery, Hepola realizes that, in the light of day, she still has to make a living and finds she has a talent for spinning her drunken exploits into literary gold. So she continues on this path for years, all the while managing to silence the inner voices that are crying out to be heard. Living on a rollercoaster that takes her from getting clean and sober to coming back for one last call, Hepola finally manages to climb off the frightening ride she’s been on for most of her life and employing her skills as a detective,  turns her sleuthing inward in order to find the loveable, sensitive and creative person she has tried to suffocate for far too long.

Articulate, heartfelt, genuinely funny and painstakingly researched at the author’s personal expense, this is a cautionary tale for the burgeoning alcoholic. Hepola’s intimate-yet-universal story of a woman hiding in plain sight is written in an elegant prose which carries the reader along at a feverish pace. This unforgettable, un-put-downable, laugh-out-loud arresting portrait of one woman’s boozy misadventures is a read that shouldn’t be missed

Written by Beth Griffenhagen / Illustrated by Cynthia Vehslage Meyers

$15.00 penguin

I have always believed that good things come in small packages and that is certainly the case when it comes to HAIKU FOR THE SINGLE GIRL, a collection of hilarious and poignant haikus written by Beth Griffenhagen. Accompanied by Cynthia Vehslage Meyers’s insightful illustrations, this little book packs a wallop of entertainment into a short amount of space and is all at once familiar and enlightening.

Here are a few of my favorites:

I feel its approach
Inevitable as death:
Internet dating.

I walk home alone,
Bag covered in Cheeto dust.
Should this depress me?

Solitude causes
Loneliness, yes, but also,
Fits of ecstasy

Dating postdivorce…
The games changed, the rules haven’t.
Screw this, where’s the wine?

When it’s bad, you think,
I could be a lesbian.
Alas, oral sex.

Whether you’re single or not, reading HAIKU FOR THE SINGLE GIRL is an experience you’ll want to share with all your girlfriends because who doesn’t remember the pain and ecstasy of being on our own? The illustrations here dovetail so perfectly with the haikus that the pairing is sure to be an unmistakable hit and something you will want to revisit over and over again.

By Elizabeth Gilbert

$28.95 Viking

From Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, comes her first novel in 13 years, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS, an extraordinary story of one woman’s thirst for knowledge and longing for love in the age of Enlightenment.

Alma Whittaker is a woman who knows her own mind. Born at the turn of the nineteenth century in Philadelphia to Henry, a self-made pharmaceutical magnate from England and Beatrix, a brilliant Dutch Botanist from an esteemed family, Alma is nothing if not the offspring of her gifted parents. But as she grows into womanhood, it becomes quite clear that she will never be a great beauty as she is tall, broad shouldered and plain. Undeterred by these facts, she turns her attentions to the study of all things, reading every book she can get her hands on, which is not difficult considering the library at White Acre, her family’s estate, rivals that of any library in the world. Excelling in Botany, Alma becomes the foremost expert on mosses and eventually, she also becomes the most trusted person in her willful father’s life and she divides her time between her studies and the running of his global empire. But when she falls in love with Ambrose Pike, a gifted artist and free-spirit, all bets are off and her life takes a number of dramatic turns which take her around the world to places as far-flung as Tahiti and The Netherlands.

Gilbert has outdone herself with this impossibly-well-researched and beautifully written novel and it would seem that she knows a little bit about a lot of things, making her every bit as much of a renaissance woman as is her well-drawn, fascinating heroine. Ms. Gilbert’s flair for writing from a nineteenth century point of view while maintaining the insouciant and ironic voice of the modern age kept me marveling sentence  after glorious sentence and if you think I’m gushing here, you would probably be right. But I feel certain that you will feel the same from the moment you pick up this incredible book. A must read!

By Massimo Bottura

$59.95 Phaidon

From the land of fast cars and slow food, Modena Italy, the home of Ferrari and Parmigiano Reggiano, comes celebrated Chef Massimo Bottura’s spectacular new cookbook NEVER TRUST A SKINNY ITALIAN CHEF a testament to great food, great imagination and Massimo’s unending passion for food.

Chef Massimo, who’s 3 Michelin starred restaurant, Osteria Francescana was ranked #3 at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in 2014, believes that it’s imperative to transfer emotion through his cooking which is, after all, the point.  By honoring the traditions of his ancestors and propelling those traditions into the future, Massimo and his team have re-invented Italian food while retaining the original intent of each and every dish. ”There are three things that cannot be tampered with in Italy: football, the Pope and your grandmother’s recipes,” says Massimo. “Nevertheless, in the kitchens of Osteria Francesca we pry, poke and question the authority of our culinary traditions.”

From “Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich”, which will alter your expectations of this traditional sandwich from Bologna forever to “Tortellini Walking On Broth”, which begs us to ask the question, “How did you do that?”, the incarnation of each and every dish is presented by Massimo as he expounds upon its genesis in his own brand of poetic prose. He tells us of trial and error, inspiration and execution, the proof of which is pictured in the extraordinarily gorgeous color photographs which grace each and every page of this little masterpiece. Massimo’s food even displays a sense of whimsy and humor as is evidenced in the dish “Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart” where-in an accidental slip of the hand gave birth to an iconic dessert.

A cookbook unlike any other I’ve seen, Massimo’s long-awaited tome had me at page one. Not only does this cookbook read like a memoir, but the clean crisp images that abound also include photos of Massimo’s inspiration book which features some of the artwork, photographs and whimsical images that set this world-class chef’s imagination on fire. Of course, recipes for each and every dish are included here at the back of the book, but the journey to get to those recipes is where the true adventure lies and the result the author achieves here is nothing short of extraordinary. A must have for foodies and non-foodies alike this is a cookbook you definitely won’t want to live without.

By Sandra Tsing Loh

$25.95 Norton

Change is hard, especially when you’re going through “The Change” in the midst of it all. Writer and performer Sandra Tsing Loh tells us how she managed to get through it all, while keeping her sanity and brain function nominally in-tact in her hilarious new memoir, THE MADWOMAN IN THE VOLVO.

Our guided tour of Ms. Loh’s crazy adventure in hormone hell begins with she pulls off the 101 freeway, in order to have a meltdown of grand proportions. Granted, she has reason to be hysterical given the fact that she has recently extricated herself from her marriage after confessing to an extramarital affair, she’s raising two pre-teen daughters who now have to bounce back and forth between two houses and she has to re-create herself in a brave new world as a 49 year old woman. So when she calls a friend who suggests she might be heading into menopause, she is suddenly relieved. “Just menopause?” she says. “That would be awesome. I thought I was going mad or something!” Sure, that may sound great at the moment, but little does she know this “or something” is about to rock her world.

After doing research worthy of a Rhodes Scholar about the ins and outs, ups and downs and sideways summersaults ushered in by “The Change”, Loh begins to realize that there is no quick fix for her woes. Hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, erratic periods and sleeplessness are just the tip of the iceberg, and in order to combat these strange new afflictions she tries everything from an all-out assault on the world of exercise to drastically changing her diet to launching into the most elaborate “Happiness Project” known to woman kind. And as you climb aboard for the ride of her life, you will find yourself alternating between rooting for her and laughing so hard you might just pee your pants (another in the long list of menopausal symptoms, I am sorry to report). But Loh does her best to put it all in perspective by giving us a crash course in all things menopause which will save those of us who are going through “The Change”, not only from believing we are losing our minds, but from having to do all the research ourselves.

Chock-a-block full of great advice, Loh’s talent for storytelling makes this laugh-out-loud memoir extremely memorable. She not only cuts to the chase but she chases away any notions you might have had about menopause while making you feel like you might just live through the craziness that hormonal hell can bestow upon a woman. Un-put-downable and unparalleled in wit and wisdom; this one’s a must read.

By Ben Loory

$17.00 Penguin

From critically acclaimed author Ben Loory comes TALES OF FALLING AND FLYING, his second collection of short stories which is nothing short of extraordinary.

If Aesop’s Fables had a three-way with The Grimm Brothers Fairytales and The Twilight Zone and then gave birth to a book, it would look a lot like Ben Loory’s latest release which is chock-a-block full of fantastical characters who are just trying to understand what life is all about. Multi-dimensional ideas and out-of-size concepts pepper this collection which runs the gamut from talking animals to dead presidents and painters, zombies and a lemon tree that bares strange fruit. Although each of these stories is as unique as a set of fingerprints there is a tie that binds them: Loory’s limitless imagination. This is the component that allows the author to begin with one premise and stretch it in so many directions you can’t help but follow the zig-zag of each story’s trajectory no matter where it leads. And although none of these little gems end up anywhere near where you think they might, this fact only adds to the delightfully funny, thought provoking and entertaining writing which is the hallmark of Loory’s unconventional-yet-conversational style.

A confectionary treat for the brain, reading these stories gave me the same sugar high I get when devouring a box of Krispy Kremes. Loory has a talent for reaching out from the page to tickle your curiosity, your funny bone and your fancy while challenging every parameter you thought you understood about storytelling. And his masterful understanding of what it takes to make a sentence sing in a witty, winsome and deep way is just one more reason that this collection of short stories is one you’ll want to binge on over and over again.

COMING TO MY SENSES COMING TO MY SENSES A Story of Perfume, Pleasure and an Unlikely Bride
By Alyssa Harad

$16.00 Penguin

Writer Alyssa Harad is at a crossroads. Her Ph.D. in English hadn’t yielded the results she had hoped for and her career as a freelance writer is less than fulfilling. Then late one night, while working on a deadline, she stumbles across a perfume blog and her life is forever altered. This seemingly innocuous first step leads her to a world of change and discovery, the journey of which is chronicled in her new memoir, COMING TO MY SENSES.

Harad has never been much of a girlie girl and she’s never imagined herself as a woman who would care about something as frivolous as perfume. But after reading her first perfume blog, she is hooked and before long she is spending hours and hours reading about perfume and ordering small samples of the scents described in the blogs. When the first sample arrives, the smell of the golden-honeyed scent on her wrist carries her to such heights that she actually dresses up for the perfume, greeting her fiancé at the door and proffering her wrist to him for a whiff. “It smells like you,” is all he says. And that’s all he has to say.

Before long, Harad becomes not lonely a voyeur the world of perfume officianados but she becomes a participant, discovering a world of quirky characters both on-line and in the real world. She becomes a woman obsessed with discovery, not only of the exotic world of perfume but of the woman inside who’s been waiting to waft into being for more years than she’s realized. And as she morphs into a creature she never thought she had the power to become, she begins to plan her wedding and with it, a life that is becoming more magical by the minute. And in the midst of her awakening, all of her senses begin to come to life which both astonishes and comforts her.

Harad’s descriptions of various scents are as intoxicating as the perfumes themselves; poetic and luscious, full-throated and melodic. She describes one scent as having “the raw sweetness of wine and wild honey, with the tang of Muscat grapes and falling leaves running through it, giving it light and movement-a scent of October light and blue autumn skies” while describing yet another perfume as “an astonishing scent of trampled grass, broken branches, bruised flowers and electricity.” This enchanting and engrossing memoir, all at once witty and entertaining, sensuous and emotional is certain to carry you away.

By Rowan Coleman

$27.00 Ballentine Books  

From International bestselling author Rowan Coleman comes her latest novel WE ARE ALL MADE OF STARS, the compelling story of life and death, love and loss, and the moments caught in between.

Stella is a hospice nurse who works nights. She has undergone serious changes due to the fact that she and her veteran husband, Vincent, have been unable to connect ever since he returned from Afghanistan an injured man. And where once she fought to save lives as an ER nurse, she is now content to help patients navigate the choppy waters of death. Stella helps her patients write their final letters to loved ones which she promises to send only after the patient has died. But when one of her patients confesses to a painful situation which Stella feels she could mend, she is torn as to whether or not to send the letter before her patient dies, therefore allowing that patient to make amends with the letter’s recipient while there’s still time.

Meanwhile, Hope, a young woman whose life has been ruled by constant bouts with a life-threatening disease, is a patient at the hospice who is recovering from a serious near-death episode. Almost recovered and ready to go home, she wonders whether or not she can find the inner strength she needs to make a head-on run towards her life. And with Stella’s guidance, she starts to find her way one small step at a time.

And then there’s Hugh, a young man who is not a hospice patient, has spent his life alone, afraid to become too entangled with other people and their problems. But when he intersects with Stella in an unexpected way, a chapter in his life, long buried, resurfaces, which has the power to change everything. Whether or not he’s ready to make that change remains to be seen, but the pull towards a happy ending is a powerful thing and something he might not be able to resist. And as these characters come full circle, the magic elixir of life tugging at their heartstrings, each of them understands that all they can do is reach for redemption, take the reins and hold on tight.

This book had me at word one and I was compelled to stay up way past my bedtime, several nights running, until I had finished the final sentence. A feast of emotions, insights and unexpected epiphanies, this story saw me shedding unbridled tears of both joy and sorrow. If you are a Jojo Moyes fan, you will love Rowan Coleman’s writing which is imbued with a little bit of magic and a whole lot of style.

I SEE YOU MADE AN EFFORTI SEE YOU MADE AN EFFORT Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50
By Annabelle Gurwitch

$25.95 Blue Rider Press

You may have heard people say “fifty is the new forty” and you may want to believe it’s true, but according to actress and humorist, Annabelle Gurwitch, nothing could be farther from the truth. She explains all the reasons why this is so in her new book, I SEE YOU MADE AN EFFORT Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50.

This hilarious collection of essays about the indignities of turning 50 features Gurwitch’s wry observations about life in the middle lane and her many trepidations about the fact that she is suddenly slowing down. Shocked as she is that out of nowhere her body has migrated from sexy to so-so, she can’t help but make us laugh when she runs down the inventory of her rapidly disintegrating sense of self, or at least the self she used to know and love. Everything in her bedroom is “a minefield of erection killers” she tells us, listing as examples the spanx thrown carelessly at the foot of the bed and the tube of hormone replacement cream that sits on the bedside table. And when she confesses her overzealous fantasy of having a steamy affair with her Millennial computer technician, she takes us on the ride of a lifetime that ends with her standing tall against the wall-the only position in which she’s sure she’ll seem appealing. Trying to raise a teenage son suffering the indignities of puberty is no picnic either, explains Gurwitch, especially when you’re going through menopause at the same time.

Is this the beginning of the Eileen Fisher years? She asks us. Are her days as an employable actress all but over? She wonders in the middle of the night. And will she ever be able to retire or is she destined to be a part of the “never-tirement” generation? The questions go on and on. But one thing is for sure; there is absolutely no question that Ms. Gurwitch has a talent for making us laugh. A gifted storyteller with a penchant for the absurd, Gurwitch has struck a homerun. Too bad she might have to limp around the bases to get there. / Issue 200 - March 2018
Turnpage Blk

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