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Ellen's Picks

Book Cover Lynne Truss
Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door

Nonfiction
The author of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves takes her ornery approach to confront the detestable state of manners in the new millennium. In the hands of anyone else, this topic could easily come off as whining and griping. But, in the hands of Truss it is a laugh-out loud funny exposition on the way we respond to strangers. Well researched and laudably self-effacing, Truss makes some incredibly valid and edifying points about our complete disconnection with those around us and corporations' new approach to customer service. That you can almost hear the English accent through the pages doesn't hurt at all.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

 
Book Cover Steve Turner
A Man Called Cash

Biography
In this biography, the author tries valiantly to provide some balance to the life of Johnny Cash. For the most part, Turner is successful. From his devout religion, to his drug abuse, to his uneven recording history; Turner frames them all as expressions of a multi-faceted man. One leaves the book with a small understanding of the enigma and a whole lot of rock and roll history.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

 
Book Cover Peter Mayle and Gerard Auzet
Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips, and Recipes

Cookbooks
Peter Mayle once again returns to France to share their gifts with American audiences. As Mayle explains in his introduction, Auzet suggested the idea for this book after so many visitors to his bakery requested something to take away with them. It begins with a history of the Auzet family bakery and a couple "secrets." It ends with recipes interspersed with fun facts about bread lore. A charmingly simple book for those who are passionate about their bread.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

 
Book Cover Julie Powell
Julie & Julia

Nonfiction
Julie Powell is about to turn thirty; she has accepted her lot as a secretary, is facing a syndrome which may affect her ability to bear children, and can't quite figure out what went wrong. So, she embarks on a quest. She will cook every recipe in Julia Child's masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. While she does it, she will blog about her experiences. This book is a perfect balance of cooking, neuroses, and professional strife, utterly endearing and honest. Oh, and sometimes she cooks brains.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

 
Book Cover Jordan Crane
The Clouds Above

Graphic Novel
This is a charming little graphic novel about a boy named Simon and his cat named Jack. Poor Simon gets locked out of school one day for being tardy. To escape the wrath of his evil teacher the duo goes to the roof. The adventures begin when they find a staircase to the clouds. Each page is its own panel representing a part of the adventure. The art is a pleasing combination of detail and soft lines with colors that are muted but wide in their palette and usage. And the cat, oh the cat. He's yellow and fat and ornery and perfect.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

 


Lost by Gregory Maguire
Horror
Hoping to at last create an adult work of fiction, Winnie Rudge travels to London to research the topic of her latest book, Jack the Ripper. The plans have been set. She will travel to London and stay with her step-cousin John Comester in the flat he occupies at the top of the Rudge family home. Before she departs things start going wrong, but in London things go worse than she could ever expect. John is nowhere to be found, there are workmen tearing up the kitchen, and there is an infernal knocking inside the chimney. And this is only the beginning. Maguire interweaves references to children's stories, A Christmas Carol, and the story of Jack the Ripper into a spellbinding tale of ghosts, both personal and otherworldly.
Recommended by Ellen, December 2005

Necklace of Kisses by Francesca Lia Block
Fiction
Weetzie Bat, the heroine of the Weetzie Bat novels, is now forty. Her Secret Agent Lover Man is now just Max. There are no more enchanting kisses. Cherokee Bat and Witch Baby are in college. In short, Weetzie's life has lost it magic. She decides to take a break and visit the Pink Hotel to refind herself. What follows is pure, numinous, Francesca Lia Block. Block delicately renders the cast of the Weetzie Bat books at this new stage, enforcing the lesson that magic can be found at any age.
Recommended by Ellen, August 2005

Iron Wok Jan by Shinji Saijyo
Graphic Novel
Since an early age, Jan Akiyama was trained by his grandfather to cook with magic. He aspires to be the greatest Chinese cuisine chef of all time. When his grandfather dies, he goes to work at the Gabancho Restaurant. Despite his talent, his competitive attitude and gruff behavior irritate his coworkers, especially the equally talented, Kiriko. Manga fans, comic book lovers, and foodies will all revel in the exploits of this highly driven chef.
Recommended by Ellen, August 2005

Mai: The Psychic Girl by Kazuya Kudo
Graphic Novel
Mai is a normal 14 year old girl living in Japan. Everything changes, though when Mai takes what she thinks is just another standardized test. The test judges a students telekinetic powers and is given by the super powerful Wisdom Alliance. They soon discover that Mai is actually the descendant of a line of powerful psychic women. Now, the Alliance has plans for Mai and will stop at nothing to see them through. That is, of course, unless Mai has anything to do with it.
Recommended by Ellen, August 2005

Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan
NonFiction
Rats live off what humans waste; thus, wherever there are numerous humans there are numerous rats. This is no where more true than in New York City. Sullivan looks at the history of human and rat relations during New York's long history. This history can be surprising, saddening, and at times completely enlightening.
Recommended by Ellen, June 2005

Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food by Susan Marks
NonFiction
Betty Crocker was "born" in 1921. She was an all-American homemaker who shared her cooking tips with millions of women through mailings and over the radio. Betty grew into a icon of happy homes and domestic bliss. Women across the country turned to her in desparate need when cakes wouldn't rise, the Depression left them hungry, and rationing made baking a scientific feat. Later she became a pioneer of food science and pre-packaged foods. As much social history as biography Finding Betty Crocker is a well-written and thoroughly entertaining look at one of America's most beloved corporate icons.
Recommended by Ellen, April 2005

Shutterbug Follies by Jason Little
Graphic Novel
Bee is working in a New York photo lab instead of going to college. One of the perks of the jobs is seeing all the depraved pictures people take. But when an "artist" brings in a roll of film that depicts a murder, things get out of hand and Bee takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of the crime. Along the way she involves her best friend, a punk rock cabbie, the "artist's" assistant and the waiter at an Indian restaurant. Pulsing with the rhythms of New York City this graphic novel is a light-hearted romp that will entertain graphic novel fans and mystery lovers alike.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2005

Sleepwalk and Other Stories by Adrian Tomine
Graphic Novel
The reader is confronted with stories that are at once completely banal and yet deeply disturbing in this collection of issues from the highly acclaimed comic book, Optic Nerve. The stories in this collection, get under your skin and stay there. Tomine's art is subtle but intense. He portrays facial expressions with a depth unmatched by other contemporary comic artists. Furthermore, the tone and texture of the art corresponds seamlessly with the events being rendered. Sleepwalk will leave you wondering about the neighbors...
Recommended by Ellen, January 2005