Friday, November 28, 2014


Cover Story

2013 Fall Books Guide

10/23/2013

There is no substitute for a good book — the kind with paper pages harvested from trees. Despite their cute names and smart functions and convenient sizes, today’s electronic books lack that unique organic spirit, like cyborg versions of the original.

But a book is a book, a safe keeper of stories. And it is also a story in itself. With every eager flip of its pages, oxygen is breathed into its fibers. The glorious DNA of every fingerprint ever licked for better page-turning traction is safely stored deep within the wooden grains. A library is more than a vast collection of knowledge and imagination. It imbibes life, emotion, conviction. It smells the way living things smell — authentic and rooted.

A library of e-books comparably is little more than a tablet of harnessed electricity — our modern world’s latest example of the quality, longevity and girth that is sacrificed for cheaply-made, yet over-priced convenience — a luxury that deprives the reader of the fantastic symbolic rewards of a turning the page.

It was difficult to choose which treasures to share in this year’s edition of our Fall Books Guide. We dabbled in diversity so that this guide would be a tour of truth, experience, nostalgia, love, sex, poetry, knowledge, curiosity, color, new ideas and different ways of living penned by an array of authors who took the time to so eloquently articulate it all.

Surely there is a book to suit the taste of just about everyone, promising a moment or two of solitude. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Des Moines Finest

 

The Naughty Girls Guide‘Naughty Girl’s Guide to Los Angeles’

By Sienna Sinclaire

392 pp., $31.22 paperback

Don’t leave this book lying around on the coffee table for the kids to find, mistaking the girl on the cover as one of Disney’s princesses. This book is Sienna Sinclaire’s gift to the all the sumptuous queens out there in search of adventure and intrigue. With the turn of each page, the information in “Naughty Girl’s Guide to Los Angeles” arouses the crouching sex goddess clawing in dormancy within the everyday lady. And perhaps no better teacher of scandalous trifle is more qualified to educate on the wining, dining and 69-ing fine points of L.A. than this model, dancer, sex coach and now how-to author.

Sinclaire primes the reader with a brief history on L.A., sexcessfully selling her thesis with a seductive foreplay of conversationally written tips, big-sister suggestions and fabulous epiphanies of fornication. Each chapter further undresses the hidden gems to bare the almost forbidden sultry secrets of Sin City for the shameless reader to seek out the hottest spots for shopping (Booty Parlor), fitness (pole- and lap-dancing classes) fashion and beauty (Pink Cheeks Anal Bleaching), sights (Marilyn Monroe’s love pad) and other savory secrets straight from the diaries of California’s closet sluts — a girl’s own exclusive decoder ring to the city upon which the American dreamers descend.

Laced with vivid, full-page photos of the sexy people, places and things, Sinclaire not only tells the tricks but also uses photographs of smooth-skinned women posing in the no longer “unmentionables” the book touts to visually aid in her conviction. The fun and erotic nature of this book doesn’t trump the useful travel guide that it is, but rather makes it one of the most entertaining, honest and informative how-to tools for the urban explorer. It not only teaches you how to be naughty inside and out. It gives you full permission. — Amber Williams

 

Me and Snap‘Me and Snap’

By John Bruner

144 pp., $15

One person’s lifetime is a collection of stories — short and long, simple and complex. The first chapter of John Bruner’s life is shared in what is likely to be the start of a series of such chronicles. This is a quick and feel-good read about two brothers growing up in the ’50s and ’60s in the western town of Carroll, Iowa.

Each personal recollection is chock full of witty adventures, mischief, humor and danger — near-death missteps, rat-infested sewer pools and dangerous falls from trees and down chimneys: “Risk, risk and more risk is what constituted the drumbeat to which our youthful lives marched.” Whether it’s a matter of just dumb luck or a divine act of “guardian angels,” how these boys managed to survive each other is a constant question as one story flows smoothy into another in no particular chronological order.

Bruner auspiciously captured small-town innocence in the fine facts behind the follies of these two brothers. The sincerity in his writing will fill readers with the love he possessed for his family and friends who comprise the cast of characters. It’s a laugh-out-loud, absolute joyful read that will only disappoint in that it comes to an end. This is a book everyone in the family can enjoy. — Phalyn Harwood

 

Life of Bill Knapp‘The Life of Bill Knapp’

By William B. Friedricks

276 pp., $16.90

“The Life of Bill Knapp” is a certain intrigue for anyone eager to learn about success, especially in the Greater Des Moines area. Many Iowans already know Knapp to be the man behind Iowa Realty as well as other significant commercial buildings and developments. A list in the book includes 60 properties that owe their existence to Knapp. But, who is this guy?

Suffering through the hardships of a farm life during the Great Depression, Knapp’s ambition strengthened as he grew older. He quickly came to master the art of the deal — seeing it, negotiating it and closing it, skills that have defined Knapp throughout his life. Visionary that he is, these skills also brought him greatness in business, politics and revitalization, as he’s equally known for giving charitably to his community.

This biography enlightens readers to Knapp’s journey in pursuit of success, opening a window to his personal and business relationships, joys and sorrows and the legacy he has built. It is a must-read for those yearning for a better understanding of the transformation of central Iowa. — Jolene Goodman

 

A Passion For Him‘A Passion for Him’

By Sylvia Day

288 pp., $11.43

Never mind “Walking Dead.” Sylvia Day’s erotic romance novel, “A Passion for Him,” is a better reason to stay up at night. This steamy story will consume readers with the world Day created for heroine Amelia Benbridge, set in London during the late 1700s. For years Amelia grieved over the loss of her best friend and childhood love, Colin. No one, not even her betrothed, stirred even the slightest comparable desire since his passing, until a masked mystery man locked eyes with her at a masquerade.

Despite Count Montoya’s warnings of the masked man’s reputation, Amelia makes it her mission to find him again. She searches for any trace of his whereabouts, further deepening the mystery and the fantasy as this story unfolds. The intensity turns into pure animalistic passion upon their eventual reunion.

“A Passion for Him” is a seductive, between-the-sheets read for couples or alone. — Rachel Sinn

 

The Paladin Prophecy‘The Paladin Prophecy’

By Mark Frost

560 pp. $13.15

You don’t have to be much of a science-fiction reader to love this story with a mythological twist. The main character, Will, has superhuman powers his parents try to keep hidden from the local community. That works for Will, who prefers to have a low profile while attending school. Like most of his peers, Will enjoys participating in extra-curricular activities and sports, but because any outstanding achievements could potentially draw attention to his uniqueness, his parents encourage him to hold back.

The secret soon overwhelms after he suspiciously earns the highest score in the school’s history on its standardized tests and is recruited by a private school. Conflicts arise as Will’s plan to conceal the truth starts to unravel, and strange things start happening to his family. Events throughout the story may seem predictable at times but are thrilling enough to keep you wondering. — Skylar Lee Faust

 

Fondue Bible‘The Fondue Bible: The 200 Best Recipes’

By Ilana Simon, Robert Rose

320 pp., $24.95 paperback                

Authro Ilana Simon covers her subject like cheese sauce on bread. From the cheese fondues that originated in the Swiss highlands, to the oil fondues of Burgundy’s vineyards, to the Mongolian fire pots and the invention of chocolate fondue (at a New York trade show in the 1960s), she melts the regional specialties of the world to dip with guests.

In the spirit of contemporary times, a considerable number of recipes are tailored to low-fat diets — wild mushroom, tomato curry, bagna cauda and raspberry. Her broth fondues begin with stock recipes, which are heavily skewered with white stocks (made with raw bones and meats). Besides the recipes, Simon gives many tips on basics, from avoiding scorched chocolate to picking out the right equipment for a specific fondue. -— Jim Duncan

 

Foodie Top 100‘Foodie: Top 100 Restaurants Worldwide’

Chronicles by Glam magazine food editors

290 pp., $19.95 paperback

The critics enlisted to make these selections include numerous famous names, from Ruth Reichl and Charles Campion to Jonathan Gold and Vir Sanghvi. That alone makes this a compelling list. It’s also a very provincial list. France and Japan account for more than half of all restaurants honored. Of France’s 29 selections, 21 restaurants are from Paris. None are from Lyon. Of Japan’s 29 restaurants, 25 are from Tokyo or Kyoto, and only two from Osaka. The United States lands a third-best 21 choices, with 15 coming from New York City, four from San Francisco and the remaining two from Chicago. Even on a longer list of the 100 best American restaurants, the domination is more severe — 48 from New York City and 21 from San Francisco. None are from New Orleans.

Still, the lists are fun because they are so easy to bitch about. The food photography in this book is consistently beautiful in a way that makes one want to travel just to eat. — Jim Duncan

 

The Train in the Night‘The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss’

By Nick Coleman

288 pp., $18.72

One morning Nick Coleman awoke suddenly deaf in one ear and with his brain making loud, mechanical noises in his head to compensate for that hearing loss. The hearing loss exasperated his misery by threatening Coleman’s job as a music critic.

Coleman tells his true story with compelling discussions about “taste” and “art” cushioned with sonic sentiments. In writing about his ears, Coleman shows his heart. His love of music, family and life come through as loud and clear as his love of words. His friendly voice offsets the poignant parts of this story that had me reading past midnight. — Kathy Ericson

 

Untitled‘Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less’

By Ellie Krieger

291 pp., $18.71

The popular novel “Julie and Julia” stands in great contrast to Ellie Krieger’s “Weeknight Wonders.” In the former a real-life Julie challenged herself to cook her way through Child’s cookbook, 524 recipes in 365 days. Who has the time, money or the inclination for that? Definitely not I.

Krieger’s “Weeknight Wonders” is more my speed. The “30 Minutes or Less” particularly caught my attention. When testing several of the recipes, I used a kitchen timer. Would a rusty cook be able to beat the clock and affirm the book title’s claim? I did!

While I did not test every recipe, this cookbook has enough to keep any cook entertained for weeks. My copy is already full of bookmarks on pages with recipes I am eager to cook. And I can surely find 30 minutes. — Karen Ericson

 

Inspiration on Demand‘Inspiration on Demand’

By Joshua Coburn

50 pp., $11.73

Eastern Iowa author Joshua Coburn is that rogue, fluffy cloud — pure white and opaque — drifting across an otherwise empty canvas of blue sky. With his tattooed forehead and blown-out ear lobe piercings, he traverses a sea of regular folks with a Zen charisma that says to a passerby, “Smile, it changes your life and your world.”

That is one in a collection of self-coined expressions which comprise his latest book “Inspiration and Demand.” This is not a front-to-back read (though it would only take minutes to do so). Its power lies in simplicity and in the fate of one arbitrarily pointing finger: Open the book, close your eyes and point to the page. There is your advice, your wisdom, your “inspiration on demand.” Written as if Coburn had carried a note pad around for a year and jotted down each stroke of genius that escaped his subconscious, the book proves that less is often so much more. Each entry speaks, screams, whispers to the user Coburn’s enlightened notions of pure positivism, as if by cosmic direction, you turn to the page that says exactly what you needed to be told.

Read it. Use it. Then pay it forward. Much like Coburn says about the smile, this book is “infectious and should be shared.” — Amber Williams

 

The Good Life Lab‘The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living’

By Wendy Jehanara Tremayne

320 pp., $13.53 paperback

I judged a book by its cover — the bright illustration and unique binding caught my eye. The title intrigued me just as much. Who doesn’t want to live the proverbial “good life?”

This book chronicles the true story of the author’s dramatic life changes. Once a career-driven New Yorker with a demanding job and debt, Tremayne grew tired of the compromises and efforts her lifestyle required. She quit the job and traveled, took some time to figure things out. She wanted to get away from commercialization and consumerism, so she decided on a life “off the grid” — a life that is more made than bought. She decided to get back to nature, to reuse and recycle, a new life away from the big city and a new way of living.

This first-person memoir is divided into three sections: life imagined, life hands-on and life lab. The pages are rife with instructions and resources for anyone who might decide to follow Tremayne’s example. This book is inspiring and will make you question your own life’s choices. What does your “Good Life” look like? Are you living it? If not, what might you do to make it happen? Even if the author’s “Good Life” does not match your own idea of how the Good Life looks, this book will make you think.

And that’s good. — Karen Ericson

 

Doctor Sleep‘Doctor Sleep’

By Stephen King

544 pp., $30

Creating a satisfying sequel tends to be tricky, but when the original in question is “The Shining,” the pressure to deliver is as high as the Overlook Hotel’s heat-pumping broiler. Stephen King’s 1977 horror masterwork casts a long shadow over the pop-culture landscape, and any follow-up is destined for unfavorable comparison. Fortunately, while some characters and themes of its predecessor return in “Doctor Sleep,” the sequel largely stands autonomous. When last we saw Danny Torrance, he was a 5-year-old fleeing from his maniacal, homicidal father. Now Dan is a middle-aged recovering alcoholic who uses his shining abilities to help hospice patients reach the other side. But his quiet life is shattered by a group of psychic vampires who feed on shining children and attempt to kidnap Danny’s tween shining protégé.

“Doctor Sleep” isn’t as terrifying as “The Shining,” but it doesn’t set out to be either. The main arc of Dan’s struggle — to avoid repeating his father’s mistakes and to be a worthy mentor — give this sequel a resonance with character that’s distinctly unique. — Greg Goode

 

Alex‘Alex: The Commandant Camille Verhoeven Trilogy’

By Pierre Lemaitre

384 pp., $18.71

French author Pierre Lemaitre brings readers a thriller not written for the weak-stomached. The storyline takes off quickly. Alex Prévost is kidnapped off the street. Her captor beats her, strips her of her clothes and forces her into a wooden crate hung in the air with the intention of “watching her die.”

Commandant Camille Verhoeven is left with almost nothing to work with in his investigation. No one knows who Alex is, where she lives or works — she’s a mystery. Verhoeven takes her for an innocent, but in looking for the girl, a shockingly unexpected plot begins to unravel. In a story of murder, revenge and evilly twisted characters, “Alex” navigates readers through numerous twists and turns, constantly begging the question, “Just who is she?” As the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, detectives realize the whole picture is no longer a matter of truth, but of justice. — Caitlyn Ryan

 

Daddy Long Legs‘Daddy Long Legs, the Natural Education of a Father’

By John T. Price

224 pp., $14.95

John Price is a college professor and an eloquent writer. He clearly takes great pride in the treasures of his home state — namely the Loess Hills and his beloved Fort Dodge area river valley. He would be proud to see his name appear after a Google search for “tree hugger.”

Price juggles these perspectives of nature with those of his family in an up-and-down travel through his wandering and creative mind. The stories of both his and his wife’s health scares are gripping, as are the conversations with his grandmother and the unearthing of family secrets. Price effectively dances with the Grim Reaper without accepting the invitation home. From this perspective, his book is a success, but the endless stories about his kids and the critters they all refuse to kill is painful. Worms. Mice. Triops. Spiders. On and on and on.

Price was trying to connect the dots for readers giving the book the title “Daddy Long Legs,” but a reader can only take so many personal stories about someone else’s children. As a father myself, and a kid at heart, I was clearly intrigued by the storyline and the local ties. The book has its true moments, and at times I couldn’t put it down, but within minutes I would find myself looking for the recycling pile (I hug trees, too).

I suspect that Price will write more books. Before he does, I offer him the following advice: Buy a flyswatter — and some Raid. — Shane Goodman

 

No Regrets‘No Regrets: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir’

By Ace Frehley with Joe Layden and John Ostrosky

305 pp., $16

Ace Frehley is one of the original members of KISS, and his autobiography details his on-again, off-again relationship with the band members in the glory years of the 1970s, the reunion tours, and his less-than-famous but true-fan-pleasing efforts with his own band. Stories detailing his specific disdain for Gene Simmons will amuse KISS and non-KISS fans alike.

The debauchery involved in the 1970s lifestyle proved to be Frehley’s Achilles heel, but this Bronx boy grew thick skin at an early age through gang life with the Duckies, school troubles and a mysterious father. Surprisingly, his upbringing with religion was a factor in keeping him coming back after horrific car crashes, stormy relationships and chemical addictions. KISS fans know the main stories, mostly as told by Simmons and Paul Stanley, but “No Regrets” digs deeper into the KISS storylines, providing a glimpse into the Spaceman’s mind — or what was left of it — as he recklessly pursued the treasures and pleasures of rock-and-roll stardom, including his personal relationships with Neil Bogart, Bill Aucoin, Sean Delaney, Anton Fig and even John Belushi.

Simmons and Peter Criss also published their memoirs (Stanley’s is to come out next spring), but much like the band’s solo albums that were released in 1978, Frehley’s rises above. “No Regrets” defines him and his tumultuous rocket ride. — Shane Goodman CV

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