21 January 2017

Weekend Cooking: Fannie's Last Supper (Film)

Fannie's Last Supper: Documentary FilmThe other day I was looking for some escape viewing (seriously, how much politics can a person take!) and stumbled across Fannie's Last Supper a documentary film by Chris Kimball, who until recently was with America's Test Kitchen.

The idea behind the movie--and book--was to re-create a 12-course meal from the original Fannie Farmer cookbook, which was published in 1896. The task was not just to cook the recipes but to cook them in as an authentic way as possible, starting with the cast-iron and masonry wood-burning stove.

Kimbell and Erin McMurrer, the director of America's Test Kitchen, spent 18-months researching and perfecting the recipes for a Victorian formal meal that would be over in just a couple of hours. They cooked over wood, they made their own gelatin from calves' feet, they developed their own food colorings from plants, and they spent days making the perfect stocks. Even the table was set with period (antique) dishes, silver, and serving pieces.

The documentary runs about 55 minutes and is fascinating to watch, although I wouldn't say it was my favorite food film ever. I couldn't help but wonder about the project: 18 months to re-create this meal, which not only fed about a dozen guests but scored Kimball a movie and book. Because the film is so short, it's definitely worth your time, but I bet the book is probably more informative.

Take a look at the trailer. The film is available on Netflix and maybe YouTube.

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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20 January 2017

Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. SullivanWhen I read Michael J. Sullivan's Age of Myth last summer, I felt like I had just discovered my new favorite fantasy author. I'm not sure why it took me another six months to get back to Sullivan, but I'm sure glad I did.

First, a little background: Sullivan started out as a self-published author, but his books were picked up by Orbit and then Del Rey. Theft of Swords is the reissue of Sullivan's first two books, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, which were released under a single title after being professionally edited.

There are four more books in the Riyria Revelations, which were reissued in two omnibuses. A second series, the Riyria Chronicles, consists of three novels and three shorter works. Finally, the Age of Myth begins a new series, called Legends of the First Empire.

What's Theft of Swords all about? It's the story of two thieves for hire: Hadrian Blackwater, a master with the sword, and Royce Melborn, a skilled picklock and solver of problems. They have a lasting friendship and solid working relationship, and their different personalities and motivations mesh well. In both books, they are hired to steal a sword but the jobs don't go as smoothly as they hoped, and the team, who call themselves Riyria, get caught up in bigger affairs, including the doings at court and schemes of the church.

Although the books focus on Hadrian and Royce, there are a number of side plots, all of which enrich the story and kept my interest. We have politics, religion, a slippery wizard, monks and farmers, prostitutes and titled lords, and even an evil beast.

Things I liked: First and foremost, I'm a fan of Hadrian and Royce. They're smart and good at their chosen profession, but they can still get into some trouble. I love their banter and the way they easily make both friend and foe. The secondary characters are clearly rendered, and I like, for example, the determination of the scholarly monk, the growth of the king, the spunk of the peasant girl, and confidence of the dwarf.

The interplay between the story lines and the pacing and transitions between the different settings work very well. You get a feel for Hadrian and Royce's personalities in the quieter moments and are caught up in worldly concerns when knights prepare for combat or villagers fight to save their homes.

All was not perfect: Although Theft of Swords was professionally edited in retrospect, these debut novels could have used a stronger editorial hand at the start (such as some cases of too much foreshadowing, a few scenes of excessive detail). The good news is that Sullivan becomes a stronger writer by the second half of Theft of Swords and, honestly, I was enjoying Hadrian and Royce's adventures so much I didn't care about the minor shortcomings.

Audiobook notes: I listened to the unabridged audiobook of Theft of Swords (Recorded Books; 22 hr, 37 min) read by Tim Gerard Reynolds. Reynolds nailed the characters' personalities, making it easy to connect with the good guys and hate the bad ones. He amped up the action scenes and brought a nice emotional level to his performance. Plus he pronounced all those difficult words (like Avempartha). If you're an audiobook fan, don't hesitate to listen.

Recommendations: Michael J. Sullivan's Theft of Swords is great escape reading, with many common fantasy elements wrapped around two fabulous characters whom you'll be happy to have met. You'll enjoy good action, root for a terrific friendship, be intrigued by a few secrets, and even find some moments to laugh. Although magic, elves, and dwarfs appear in the books, this is epic fantasy not the wand-waving world of Harry Potter.

Published by Orbit, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780316187749
Source: bought (audiobook) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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18 January 2017

Wordless Wednesday 429

Creek, 2017

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

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17 January 2017

Today's Read: Scarred by Michael Kenneth Smith

Review of Scarred by Kenneth Michael Smith (Audiobook)Could you engage in active military combat and come out unscathed? Zach Harkin, Union sharpshooter in the Civil War, found there were limits to what a man could endure. This is the story of his journey to self-healing.

Gray early morning light seeped through the tall sycamores next to the riverbank. The hollow sound of a distant woodpecker broke the silence. The scope of a rifle followed the Confederate sharpshooter as he climbed a tree to his hidden platform. The scope's spider lines centered on the man's head and Zach Harkin squeezed the trigger.
Scarred by Michael Kenneth Smith (CreateSpace, 2016, prologue)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: l863-64, south of the Mason-Dixon Line; 1908, mostly Tennessee
  • Circumstances: When Union soldier Zach Harkin killed the man who killed his best friend, something snapped. He knew he couldn't point a weapon at another human being again. Mustered out of the army, he returned to his family in Tennessee to attempt to put the war behind him. Instead, Zach couldn't stop thinking of that final Confederate soldier he shot and the diary he recovered from the body. Determined to return the personal affects to the stranger's wife, Zach goes behind enemy lines to find a small farm in Georgia, hoping for redemption or some kind of closure.  
  • Genre: well-researched historical fiction
  • Characters: Zach Harkin, ex-sharpshooter; Chris Martin, reporter for Pulitzer who is interested in writing Zach's story; various real and fictional people Zach meets during his travels
  • What I liked: The period details in particular caught my interest, from the conditions at Andersonville to the way roaming soldiers treated civilians. I liked the way Zach is prompted to talk about his journey south by a reporter who interviews him and transcribes the story as a serial for a New York newspaper. The different perspectives of Sherman and Wirtz (the commander at Andersonville) gave me some things to think about. In addition, the novel is well-paced, and the transitions from the 1860s to 1908 were smooth and nicely handled.
  • Something I didn't like: My only real complaint is quite minor, but I feel I have to at least mention it. Smith has a tendency to tell rather than show. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, however.
  • Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (author published; 5 hr, 23 min) was narrated by Jeffery Lynn Hutchins, whose soft Southern accent added to my connection to the novel. Hutchins handled the dialogue particularly well, with a level of drama befitting a good storyteller. I listened to this short audiobook almost in one go; it was hard to turn it off.
  • Things to know: Michael Kenneth Smith's Scarred has earned some impressive praise, including a starred review from Kirkus. This is Smith's second book about Zach Harkins, but you do not have to read the first book to understand what is happening here. Scarred easily stands alone.
  • Recommendation: Although this book takes place during the Civil War, it isn't a story about the war. Instead it looks at the effects of war and one man's conflict among friendship, duty to country, and personal actions. Scarred would be a good match for Civil War buffs and historical fiction fans as well as anyone interested in a good story.

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16 January 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: What I'm Reading & What's on My Radar

12 books to read in JanuarySo far January's weather has me baffled. Last week we had snow, a thunderstorm (rain), an ice storm, and a sunny mild(ish) afternoon. What is with Mother Nature? I can't figure out what to wear from day to day.

Except for that one warm day, I've been cooped up inside. Not all bad, of course, because I've listened to a couple of audiobooks and I've been catching up on my cooking and my reading.

I keep vowing to ban the news from this house, but it's kind of like a train wreck, Mr. BFR and I just can't stop watching. ARGH.

What I'm Reading Now

12 books to read in January

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (Flatiron Books) is a psychological thriller set in contemporary times in London and elsewhere in the UK. I'm about halfway done, and all I'll say now is that it's hard to put down and I know that some bad, bad things are going to happen one or all of the three main characters. Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit Books) is an amazingly terrific story that is part fantasy and part historical fiction set in an imaginary world. Lots of action, terrific characters, good humor, betrayals, and friendships. Recommended audiobook (details in an upcoming review). The One Inside by Same Shepard (A. A. Knopf): I just started this earlier today and can already tell I'm going to love it. A man, his memories, the natural environment, and more.

On My Radar: Thrillers / Mystery

12 books to read in January

This Is Not Over by Holly Brown (William Morrow) is a psychological thriller with themes of motherhood, marriage, and secrets. The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry (Crown) is a mystery set in Salem, Massachusetts, that revisits some of the characters from the author's very popular The Lace Reader. Little Deaths by Emma Flint (Hachette Books) is a noir thriller set in 1965 Queens that asks, Did a struggling cocktail waitress kill her own children or is someone out to ruin her?

On My Radar: This and That

12 books to read in January

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Atlanta Monthly) is about a young girl who discovers that adults are often not who they seem to be. She is left to make sense of the world and her place in it. Signals by Tim Gautreaux (A. A. Knopf) is a short story collection that has already garnered much praise. Many of the stories are set in the South and examine contemporary life. Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang (William Morrow) is set in turn-of-the-last-century Shanghai. A Eurasian girl navigates prejudice, politics, and friendship against the background of a disappearance and murder.

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