22 May 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: One Slow Reading Week

2 recommended booksThis past weekend was a good news, bad news kind of affair. The good is that I'm finally finding some sanity with my workload, which meant I was looking forward to a weekend of reading, reading, reading.

The bad is that, well, after months of hard work all the chores, all the errands, and all the yard work were there staring at me in the face. Sigh.

The more good is that the flower beds are weeded, the deck plants are bought and potted, the room A/C units are installed, and I'm all ready for summer. Oh, and I even got a long walk in.

One of my slowest reading weeks ever, but I still think I came out ahead!

What I read last week

The Death of Dulgarth by Michael J. SullivanThe Death of Dulgarth by Michael J. Sullivan (Mascot Books, 2016). Oh the mixed feelings of being caught up in a beloved series. One thing I really liked about this last installment in the second trilogy of the Riyria books, is that it revealed a more emotionally vulnerable side of our main characters, ex-assassin Royce and ex-soldier Hadrian. At the same time, it had the expected good humor, snappy dialogue, fast action, and meddling by the Nyphron Church we fans have come to expect. This book could almost be read as a standalone because it contains a full story line, but it is best enjoyed after you're already familiar with the characters and their universe. The audiobook (Audio Studios; 13 h, 57 min) was brilliantly read by Tim Gerard Reynolds. As I've said many times before, the pairing of Sullivan's writing and Reynolds's performance is a match made in heaven. The audiobook concludes with a preview of The Age of Myth, Sullivan's new series, which takes place centuries before the Riyria books, but in the same world.

Review: Mars: The Pristine Beauty of the Red Planet by Alfred S. McEwen, Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, and Ari EspinozaMars: The Pristine Beauty of the Red Planet by Alfred S. McEwen, Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, and Ari Espinoza (University of Arizona Press, 2017). Attention all space lovers, photography buffs, and art enthusiasts and everyone who's ever looked into the night sky and wondered what it would be like to see another planet up close and through the seasons. In 2005 the HiRISE camera was launched into space aboard a Mars orbiter with the sole purpose of taking high-resolution photographs of the surface of Mars. This recently published oversize book contains hundreds of stunning images of the planet. We can see the expected craters and ridges and valleys, but we also see the movement -- flowing material, avalanches -- texture, colors, and patterns of our nearest neighbor. I can't tell you how beautiful this book is and how inspiring it is. If you are involved in any of the visual arts and crafts (including needlework, quilting, potting, and more), you'll be especially stuck by these images, gathering ideas for new projects. I just can't stop looking through this book, and hope that if we do indeed ever colonize Mars, we will be able to preserve its "pristine beauty."

What's on my reading stack? Here's a photo I shared on Litsy a couple of days ago when I thought I was going to be able to spend two whole uninterrupted days reading. No, I wasn't going to read a gazillion books in 48 hours, but these are some of the books I want to read soon and/or include in one of my upcoming weekly round-ups.

Let's hope we all have a great reading week. I plan to make headway through my stacks. After all, BookExpo is right around the corner, and I'll be distracted excited by everything new and shiny!

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20 May 2017

Weekend Cooking: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews

Review: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay AndrewsA new Mary Kay Andrews novel is a summer tradition for many readers, who appreciate Andrews's stories with their mix of drama, romance, humor, and sharp dialogue. With her new menu-style cookbook, The Beach House Cookbook, Andrews will find a place in your kitchen all year round.

The recipes in The Beach House Cookbook are inspired by Andrews's lifelong residency in the South and her deep love of ocean-side living. You'll fall in love with Andrews's style: Flea market finds mixed with estate sale antiques, seashells, and easygoing attitude make for enviable gatherings, whether for two or twenty-two.

The Beach House Cookbook contains gorgeous full-color photos of almost every dish plus glimpses of Andrews's beautiful home and family. The red, white, and blue colors and nautical theme are inviting and make you yearn for a beach vacation.

Review: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay AndrewsFortunately, the menus, which span a year of celebrations, will help you bring a little southern sunshine into your kitchen, no matter where you live. The menus include everything from drinks to dessert and promise a stress-free gathering for the cook–host as well as for the guests.

The meals, which are designed to serve 4 to 12, depending on the event, are well thought out and should have wide appeal. The majority of the menus are for evening entertaining, but some focus on brunch and one is for a picnic. Most are associated with a holiday or a special day (Book Bash Cocktail Party, Valentine's Day Dinner), and some are just because (Full Moon Party, After a Day at the Beach).

The recipe directions are straightforward and easy to follow and use no unusual ingredients. Almost everything can be found at a normal grocery store, even in land-locked areas. What's more, Andrews isn't shy of using shortcuts or prepared foods when it makes sense (for example, pre-shaved Parmesan cheese, canned black beans). After all, the idea behind The Beach House Cookbook is to help us "be creative in the kitchen, yet still spend time relaxing with family and guests."

Review: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay AndrewsWith that in mind, the recipes themselves are along the lines of everyday, down-home dishes, the kinds of food real people serve to real families. You'll find nothing over-the-top fussy or exotic. I've marked several recipes to try, including the chicken enchilada dip, dry spice rub, roasted vegetable soup, marinated beef tenderloin, and cinnamon roll bread pudding. I'm also attracted to Andrews's cocktails— Tybee Tea with bourbon, Red Rooster with vodka—which look so cooling and delicious, especially for summer entertaining.

Younger cooks looking for tried-and-true recipes, menu ideas, and tips for easy entertaining will love The Beach House Cookbook. Of course, fans of Mary Kay Andrews's novels won't want to miss her personal stories and the inspiration behind some of her dishes. On the other hand, experienced cooks who have large recipe collections, may want to borrow this book from the library. Vegetarians and those on special diets should also borrow before buying.

(Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the review copy of this cookbook. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)

I love making quick pickles in the summer, they're a great way to use farmers' market produce and take almost no time at all. Here's Mary Kay Andrews's recipe. She doesn't say how long to let the cucumbers pickle, but I suggest at least a couple of hours.

Marinated Cucumbers and Onions
Review: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay AndrewsServes 6 to 8

  • 2 cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 1 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Place the cucumbers and onion in a large jar.

Bring the vinegar, sugar, and 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the celery seed and pepper, and pour over the cucumbers and onion. Seal the jar and refrigerate until time to serve.

Note: The recipe and scans come from the Mary Kay Andrews's The Beach House Cookbook and are used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holder.
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 May 2017

10 Books for Your Beach Bag

How do you know it's summer? When the book covers show the ocean, and the titles get all beachy. Even when you're land-locked, summer fiction makes you hear the waves and taste the salty air. All you need is a comfy outdoor reading spot, some good sunscreen, and an ice-cold drink. Ahhh, bring on the warm weather!

Here are 10 novels to put on your wish list: some are out right now and others will be waiting for you when you hit the beach for your summer break.

  • Books for your beach bagAnd There There Was Me by Sadequa Johnson (Thomas Dunne; April): Set in New Jersey, this is the story of a woman trying to make the best of a bad marriage while holding on to her dwindling self-confidence. Fortunately, she can count on her life-long best friend to bolster her up . . . or can she? Themes of marriage, parenting, friendship, and secrets.
  • The Beach At Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble (William Morrow; May 23): Four generations of fiercely independent women, all involved in the arts and all battling issues, are reunited at their family home on the Connecticut coast. Each has a different vision for the future of their ramshackle mansion, and as they sort out the contents of the house and their lives, they find their common ground. Themes of family, traditions, and motherhood.
  • The Beach House: Coming Home by Georgia Bockoven (William Morrow; May 16): When a teenage girl, suffering from a serious illness, asks to meet her biological mother, her father agrees to set something up at their California beach house. Melinda, nervously looks forward to getting to know the daughter she has never forgotten, but what will be the consequences? Themes of adoption, illness, teen pregnancy, and family.
  • Beach House for Rent by Mary Alice Monroe (Gallery; June 20): A budding artist looking for a summer refuge to complete a commission rents the home of an older couple looking for a way to earn some extra cash. The South Carolina coast, the birds, and a possible romance make Heather feel at home, but Cara wants nothing more to return to her house to heal after a traumatic event. Themes of an unlikely friendship, new beginnings, and overcoming setbacks.
  • The Captain's Daughter by Meg Mitchell Moore (Doubleday; July 18): Growing up as the daughter of lobsterman, Eliza counted the days until she could escape the small town life. But when she returns to Maine to help her widowed father, she begins to feel the pull of a quieter life. Caught between her husband and kids in suburbia and her family and old friends on the coast, Eliza begins to wonder, What if? Themes of family, marriage, rekindled romance, and making difficult choices.
  • Books for your beach bagCocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams (William Morrow; June 27): When Virginia arrives in Florida to settle the estate of her estranged husband, she is welcomed by her in-laws who introduce her to the pleasures of the Jazz Age. But the more she dances and drinks and lives it up, the more she suspects there is a sinister undercurrent to her new fun-filled social life. Can she and her daughter escape? Or do they know too much. Themes of Prohibition, family secrets, motherhood, and romance.
  • The Light in Summer by Mary McNear (William Morrow; May 31): On her own for the summer, single mother Billy returns to the family cabin on a Minnesota lake to relax, read, and dream. Her solitary days are interrupted by the arrival of new man and the reappearance of a guy from her past. Is this Billy's chance to finally have a happy relationship? Themes of love, grief, coming to terms with the past, and seeing a way into the future.
  • Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis (William Morrow; May 31): Although Quinn seems to have it all, her career and relationship are colored by her grief over her sister's death. After deciding to start over in a small California town, she tries to adjust from LA high life to beachside chilling. Just as she's beginning to feel at home, a lawyer contacts her with news that will turn her world upside down. Themes of new starts, sisters, and wants versus needs.
  • The Summer House by Hannah McKinnon (Atria; June 6): A family gathers at their Rhode Island vacation home to celebrate the patriarch's eightieth birthday. Can the siblings, in-laws, children, and grandchildren find a way to get along for the summer? They are pushed to the limits, especially when they learn that the house will soon be put up for sale. Themes of dysfunctional families, dealing with the past, finding hope for the future, and rediscovering family support and love.
  • Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green (Berkley; June 6): Three sisters are called home by their distant and self-centered mother as she begins to face end-of-life decisions. Although little love has been lost, the young women reunite, knowing they must put aside their bickering and jealousies to find a way to work together despite their very different personalities. Themes of aging, family duty, siblings, and ambition.

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17 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday 446

Spring walk, 2017

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

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15 May 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Short Reviews of Short Books

4 quick book reviewsNot a whole lot of reading going on here because I took some time off to visit my mom for Mother's Day Weekend. Of course, I packed a bunch of print books, had my tablet for ebooks, and my phone for audioboks. I didn't, however, spend much time reading or listening -- it was more fun to visit with family.

The weather turned around again, and it was sunny and warm(ish), so we were able to do a lot of outdoor chores for my mother, and now she's all set to enjoy the summer. It wasn't all work, though; we laughed, gabbed, cooked, and ate too. A good weekend for sure.

Today I'm back to real life until it's time to get ready for BookExpo. I know it's two weeks away, but I bet the days will just fly by.

What I read last week

Michael J. Sullivan's Short StoriesThe Jester (Audio Sudios; 54 minutes) and Professional Integrity (Audible Sudios; 1 hr, 18 min) by Michael J. Sullivan are two standalone free audiobook short stories starring Royce and Hadrian, the heroes of the Riyria books that I've been gushing about lately. The stories are not quite as good as the full-length books, but I liked the new adventures and getting to know more about my favorite duo. In The Jester, the pair find themselves trapped in a maze with bad guys on their trail. The only way out is to solve a riddle -- can they do it in time? In Professional Integrity, Royce and Hadrian are asked to rescue a young lady, but from whom does she need rescuing? Although the stories did not advance the overall plot of the epic fantasy series, they were worth the listen, and the length made them perfect for an evening's walk. Tim Gerard Reynolds is the narrator for both, and he was fantastic as always. If you haven't yet read Sullivan's epic fantasy, I wouldn't start with these stories, but if you're fan of Riyria, then you'll want to be sure to add them to your list.

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya MenonWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Simon Pulse; May 30) is a cute contemporary young adult novel told in a he said / she said style. Since colonial days, children born of immigrant parents have had to balance cultural traditions of their family's homeland with modern life in America. Dimple is a twenty-first- century girl, looking forward to college and furthering her dreams of becoming a computer engineer. She respects her parents, but considers herself more American than Indian. Rishi harbors secret dreams of becoming an artist, especially in the world of comics, but he is dutifully planning on attending MIT to fulfill his parents' hopes. First, however, Rishi has to get to know the girl his parents have picked out as his future bride. When Rishi and Dimple meet at a summer computer programing seminar, they both begin to reassess their duties to family, their Indian culture, and their dreams. This fun rom-com explores real-life issues and has good cross-over appeal for adults.

Review: The Stone Heart by Faith Erin HicksThe Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second; April) is the second installment in the Nameless City graphic novel trilogy. The son of a diplomat who's training to become a warrior and an orphan girl who grew up in a monastery make unlikely friends, but they've grown to count on each other's unique skills and perspectives. When Kaidu's father's life is endangered by a rival faction who wants to rule the land with military strength and the secrets of an ancient power, the children come up with a possible path to future peace. The ending isn't exactly a cliff-hanger, but I need to know if Kaidu and Rat's plan will have the intended results. The Nameless City books take place in medieval Asia and have themes of social class, good vs. evil, religious differences, and family. The artwork helps bring Kaidu and Rat's world alive, adding to the characters' personalities and animating the action. The books are more historical fiction than fantasy and can be enjoyed on a several levels by readers of all ages. Note: you need to start this action-adventure series with book one to appreciate the overall story arc.

Review:  New Boy by Tracy ChevalierNew Boy by Tracy Chevalier (Hogarth Shakespeare; May 16). I had high hopes for the latest entry in the Hogarth Shakespeare series -- a modern retelling of Othello -- because the previous books in the series have been good, and I usually enjoy Chevalier's writing. The novel is told in five parts and takes place over the course of a single day at a Washington, DC private elementary school. Ghana-born Osei is the son of a diplomat, and on his first day at his new school he is noticed by everyone, most particularly because he is the only black student on the playground. Dee, a popular girl, is asked to befriend Osei, helping him feel at home at the school. The tragedy occurs in the classroom and on the playground, with sixth-grade relationships and 1970s prejudices propelling the action. Sadly, I found the book only okay and found it hard to buy into the concept of 11-year-olds as the main characters. The condensed timeline didn't work well either, and the plot would have been better served if the action had taken place over weeks or months instead of hours. I'm not as familiar with Othello as I am with other Shakespeare plays, so I wonder how much that affected my enjoyment. The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 5 hr, 23 min) was read by Prentice Onayemi. My full audiobook review will be available at AudioFile, but here's a hint: the performance did little to help me like this novel.

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