21 August 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Quick Book Reviews

3 short book reviewsHappy eclipse day! I worked over the weekend so I could take this afternoon off to view the event. According to my weather app, it's supposed be partly cloudy all day with a 45% chance of rain at the peak of the eclipse. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I get to see at least something.

Just a little public service announcement: If you bought eclipse-viewing glasses, please, please do a little research and make sure you have a pair that is truly protective. A number of poorly made glasses were on the market, and you do not want to risk your eyesight.

Besides work, I spent much of the weekend in the kitchen. I made 2.5 pints of nectarine-peach chutney, a large batch of granola, some peach-banana ice pops, and about a pint of tomato jam. I love stocking my freezer with summer's bounty. I didn't get much print reading in, but I sure had a ton of audiobook time!

Review: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle BrownWatch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown (Spiegel & Grau, July 11): Billie, a much-loved wife and mother, goes on a solo hiking trip and is never seen again. A year later, while preparing for the court hearing that will issue the death certificate, Jonathan finally begins to sort through his wife's belongings. At the same time, Olive begins to have visions that her mother is still alive. As the two dig deeper into Billie's private life, they realize just how little they knew her. Besides the mystery of what really happened to Billie, the novel explores the grief and uncertainty of not being able to process the loss of a loved one when you have no body, no witnesses, and very few clues. Although some of the secrets were easy to figure out, the character development of Jonathan and Olive was nicely done. The author threw in a couple of side themes that made the book more current, but I'm not sure they advanced the plot. We also meet a few characters who seem to be central to the story but who are later dropped. The unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 13 hr, 15 min) was read by Tavia Gilbert and Kaleo Griffith. Gilbert performed the bulk of the audiobook and did a fine job with all my key points: pacing, characterization, and expression. Griffith read the few sections that were meant to be excerpts from Jonathan's memoir about his wife. He too did a good job. I'll delve more into the performances for AudioFile magazine, but the bottom line is that the book is worth your time, even if it won't be the best audiobook you'll listen to this year.

Reveiw: The Half-Drowned King by Linnea HartsuykerThe Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker (Harper, August 1): I have a thing for Vikings, and so couldn't resist this historical novel of revenge and family. Our heroes are Ragnvald and his sister, Svanhild, each of whom pick a different path to power in their desire to live up to their grandfather's great reputation as a feudal king of Norway and to regain the lands they lost after their father's murder There are battles and blood, alliances and betrayals, unexpected love and deep heartbreak. At the core of the saga is King Harald, who is building an army and trying to fulfill his prophesied destiny of uniting Norway under one ruler--him. Although a good land warrior, the teenage king is still inexperienced at sea and still young enough to be influenced by his uncle. The novel has all the things I love, but for some reason I was not swept away to the 9th century. The writing is good, and the historical details were believable, but the story dragged a bit, despite the battles, duels, raids, and kidnappings. I can't really pinpoint why this book wasn't a total winner for me. The novel is the first in a trilogy. I plan to continue with the saga, but I'm not counting the days until the next book is released. The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 15 hr, 33 min) was read by Matthew Lloyd Davies, who did a decent job. He has a nice sense of pacing and seemed to have no trouble with the Norse words and names, but I wasn't lost in the story. Davies has a clear voice, is easy to understand, and reads with a nice level of expression. I would be happy to listen to any book he read; I think my issue here was the novel not the narrator.

Review: To the Back of Beyond by Peter StammTo the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm (Other Press, October 3): I picked up this novel at BEA after talking with the nice people at the Other Press booth. I've read at least one of Stamm's novels (Agnes) and some of his short stories and love the way he creates a mood and delves into his characters' psyches. Here, we meet Astrid and Thomas, a seemingly ordinary couple with school-age children, sitting in their back garden on their first night back from their summer holiday. When Astrid goes inside to check on their son, Thomas gets up, opens the gate, and begins to walk. The short novel alternates the stories of the couple. Unlike Watch Me Disappear, this is not a mystery but an examination of how life can change, sometimes for no real reason. How does Astrid make sense of what happened, what does she tell the children, and when does she go to the police? What is Thomas thinking? Does he intend to leave his family and life with nothing more than what he's wearing and what's in his pockets? If something happens to him while he's walking, who will know and how will he be rescued? Does he even what to be saved? I know I'm reviewing this book way too early (since it won't be available for another six weeks or so), but I don't want you to miss it. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes the choices we make hardly seem like choices at all. Without truly noticing, we're on an entirely different path from before, wondering how we got there.

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19 August 2017

Weekend Cooking: Review of The Founder (Movie)

Review: The Founder (movie)Is there anyone on earth who hasn't eaten at a McDonald's? Maybe on some remote Pacific island or in the wilds of the Yukon Territory, but it's hard to believe there's a person living who has never even heard of the fast-food chain.

I'm not sure why the film Founder (directed by John Lee Hancock) didn't get more buzz. I understand that it was a critics' choice, but the public ignored it. Put me in the fan column.

From the first sounds of sizzling burgers to the last notes of the credit music, I was glued to my screen. Before watching this movie, I knew only the bare-bones story. The hamburger franchise was started by two brothers in California, but Ray Kroc was the guy who made McDonald's the worldwide phenomenon that it is today.

The film, starring Michael Keaton as Kroc and Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonald brothers, lets us all in on very start of the original and iconic fast-food family restaurant. I was unaware of Dick and Mac McDonald's history and was fascinated with their concepts, which are the foundation of all fast-food establishments, even today, more than 60 years after they opened their first successful hamburger joint.

The process through which Kroc ends up owning and, in fact, founding the McDonald's Corporation, is eye-opening. He certainly had the drive and (pardon the pun) hunger to be successful, but whether he was ultimately evil or a genius, I leave up to you to decide.

Michael Keaton is the uncontested star of the movie. He is in almost every scene and truly carries the film. His acting was believable, from his early frustrations to his power grab near the end of the movie.

The set details are very impressive. I loved the clothing and hairstyles as well as the cars, buildings, phones, and even the billboards. It all shouts 1950s. Even the early McDonald's restaurants, which many of you may be too young to remember, were spot on. (Note: I'm too young to have seen or eaten at an original McDonald's, but I do remember the look of first restaurants, when there was no indoor seating.)

The movie is now available for streaming, and I highly recommend you take the two hours to watch. You can make popcorn, but it might be more appropriate to have a burger and fries instead.


NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.
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18 August 2017

Travel the World in 5 Books

Now that we're in the second half of August, everyone is busy, busy, busy. If you aren't gearing up for the solar eclipse, then you're likely getting ready for school to start. Or maybe you're taking that one last summer vacation before fall. No matter what your plans for the last days of summer, there's always time to travel the world through the pages of a good book. Here are five novels that are each set in a different country. Settle into your favorite reading spot and prepare to be transported across the border.

Travel the World in 5 Books
  • Stay with Me by Aybami Adebayo (Knopf, August 22): Set in Nigeria. This is the story of a marriage that must walk the line that separates the modern world from tradition and cultural expectations. Genre: literary fiction. First line: "I must leave this city today and come to you."
  • Living the Dream by Lauren Berry (Henry Holt, August 15): Set in England. This is the story of two friends who are in the post-university limbo years of still trying to find that elusive path to who they want to be when they grow up. Genre: contemporary women's fiction. First line: "The third floor of the Soho office block smelled of instant coffee and disappointment."
  • Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary (Catapult, August 22): Set in Ireland. This is the story of a lonely teenage boy feeling confined by his circumstances and the older, well-off woman he falls in love with. Genre: coming of age. First line: " 'The world's a frightening place.' "
  • The Bettencourt Affair by Tom Sancton (Dutton, August 8): Set in France. This is the true story of one of the biggest scandals of recent years, involving the 93-year-old heir to the l'Oreal fortune and her family's not-so-buried secrets. Genre: biography. First line: "She's the world's richest woman, worth $36 billion at last count, but no one could envy her."
  • Leona: The Die Is Cast by Jenny Rogneby (Other Press, August 1): Set in Sweden. This is the story of a troubled violent crimes detective and her most recent case: a bank robbery that is said to have been committed by a naked, bloody seven-year-old girl. Genre: crime fiction. First line: "No one had noticed her yet."

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16 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday 459

White flower, 2017


click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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15 August 2017

Review & Giveaway: To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

Review: To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton SummieI used to think I wasn't a short story kind of person, but either I've changed or I've finally discovered the types of stories that appeal to me on a deep level. Caitlin Hamilton Summie's To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts (Fomite, August 8, 2017) is just such a collection.

Although the pieces in To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts stand alone, each satisfying as a complete story, they are in fact linked through theme. Many are set in the upper Midwest, and some share characters. The stories center on everyday issues: parenthood, family, deaths, births, aging, and changing economies, for example.

We meet characters at cross-roads: a young man who has rushed his pregnant wife to the hospital weeks before her due date, a mother who has left her daughter in front of her dorm on the first day of college, a graduate student adjusting to life in a wheelchair. There's a nostalgia for the past mixed with an eye to future, a desire to understand the family history but then take it into the new century.

The stories in this collection are firmly anchored to the environment--both natural and built. You don't have to have grown up in rural America to connect to the idea that Summie's characters have been shaped by the landscape of their youth. For example, she shows us both sides of life on a Minnesota farm: the poetic ("the first dark morning of winter when stars freckle the sky as we head out to do chores; the chorus of cows lowing as they come back into the barn from pasture") and the blunt reality ("the blizzard which tore through town when I was ten was full of wind and whirling snow and made of a cold raw enough to kill a man").

The universal issues and dilemmas at the heart of Summie's stories and her focus on families give To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts wide appeal. You'll want to talk about these characters as if you knew them, and you'll want to revisit these stories more than once.

About the Author: Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season Review, and Long Story, Short. She has stories forthcoming in Hypertext Magazine and The Belmont Story Review. Her first book, a short story collection called TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, is forthcoming in August from Fomite. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. Find her online at caitlinhamiltonsummie.com.

Note: Although I know Caitlin personally, the thoughts expressed in this post are entirely my honest opinion. Thanks to Caitlin and Rick Summie for a review copy of the book and for the following giveaway.

The Giveaway

Thanks to Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, I can offer one copy of To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts to one of my readers. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is to have a USA mailing address and fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on August 24. Once the winner has been confirmed and his or her address is passed along to the publicist, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good Luck.

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2017. All rights reserved.

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