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Thursday, June 12,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

The Godfather, Part IV

by Neil Rajala

Thursday, June 12 — There's nothing that says summer's nearly here like looking outside and still seeing some daylight as the clock nears 10:00pm. My back deck is getting more and more use - for reading of course. Here's what we're reading:



THE MOB AND THE CITY

C. Alexander Hortis

Forget The Godfather. According to the author of this impressive new history, Coppola was too caught up in the romanticism and myth-making of the Mafia to render what happened inside the Italian crime families of New York accurately. Mr. Hortis is a scholar and historian whose research shows a somewhat different, but no less fascinating version its history.

His new book shows how important the geographic layout, ethnic mix, sociological strata and business opportunities of New York City were to the rise of the families and the ways they were able to flourish for so long. After poring over hundreds, if not thousands of original documents, the author writes a detailed history of the Mafia that, while somewhat less sensational than the movies, is no less compelling. For the most part, the violence we've come to associate with their business dealings was more fiction than fact. The so-called "men of honor" in the 20s and 30s who refused to deal in narcotics is shown to be entirely a myth. The  intergang warfare - most famously the Castellammarese War of 1929 to 1931 - upon deeper examination is shown to be quite exaggerated, both in numbers killed and in the coherence of the motivations behind it. While The Mob and the City is admittedly more academic than the picture of the godfathers and their families we've come to imagine, the book places the story of the Mafia on much more solid historical and cultural footing than we've seen before, which in itself makes it an exciting and profound read.



THE RISE AND FALL OF GREAT POWERS

Tom Rachman

A dizzying mystery of a story told with incredible warmth and humor, Mr. Rachman has done it again. A lot of booksellers were among the early champions of his last novel, The Imperfectionists, and everybody's on board again. If anything, we're letting more people onto the bus.

Matilda "Tooly" Zylberberg makes a great protagonist - an odd-girl-out, but funny and charming. The big question, that becomes bigger and bigger with each new chapter, is who is she? Where did come from? Who are (or were) her parents? Are they any of the people she's been trotting the globe with her whole life? And if not, who are Paul, Humphrey, Sarah and Venn? Those questions become more important with every new revelation, every new plot twist. It's a delicious kind of suspense indeed, and one with a great, satisfying payoff of an ending. kobo eBook



THE HOMESICK TEXAN'S FAMILY TABLE
Lisa Fain

The idea behind this book is so simple and straightforward you hardly need me to describe it - the title says it all. Ms. Fain is a Texan who finds herself as an adult living in New York City. How does she stay connected with home and her roots? By celebrating the glorious Texas cooking she grew up with on her popular Homesick Texan blog. She introduces us to her favorite foods and cooking techniques from the state where European, African and Hispanic cooking collided so dynamically (and deliciously) all those decades ago. The cross-cultural mingling shows in recipes like Bread and Butter Jalapeno Pickles, Peach and Bacon Guacamole and Potato Breakfast Tacos - all tempting and all quite unfussy. I'm inspired to create a Homesick Yooper collection now. Finally - a place to publish my pasty recipe. kobo eBook

I stole a question last week from Publishers Weekly, and the responses I got were, once again, thoughtful and fun. I'll go back to making up my own this week. This one's for the parents - What favorite book from your childhood have you eagerly pressed into your own kid's hands?

Until next week,


Neil

NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.

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