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18 January 2017
17 January 2017
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
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)
- 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.
16 January 2017
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
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
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
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.
14 January 2017
This week I tried three new recipes. Each one was a winner and has been pinned to my Pinterest Recipes: Tried and Liked board. I will definitely make these again.
I've snagged the photos from the websites mentioned, and you'll find the recipes by clicking the links or visiting my Pinterest board. Note that I made changes to some of the recipes, so you might want to take a moment to see what I did.
Cold Sesame Noodles with Broccoli and Kale (from Bon Appetit): I tried an experiment this week, which was to cook something on Sunday that was specifically meant for our lunches. This cold noodle dish was so good, we both looked forward to noon. I recommend this dish for lunches, but I think it'd also be good for a summer dinner or to take to a potluck.
I did, however, change the recipe to suit our needs and the ingredients I had on hand. Here's what I did:
- I didn't have sambal oelek, so I used hot red pepper flakes, though any hot sauce would have worked too.
- I used spinach instead of kale because we were having kale with a dinner during the week and I wanted a different green.
- I used soba noodles instead of ramen because we like them better.
- I left out the mint because I forgot to buy it. I don't think I'd use it, though; the dish was perfect as it was.
The only thing I changed in this recipe was to use dried thyme. I didn't like the look of the fresh in the grocery store, and I was too lazy to see if there was any still growing in the garden. Oh and I added a handful of chopped grape tomatoes to the skillet just to use them up. Note too that I had to cook my chicken about 8 minutes at the end, instead of the suggested 4 minutes.
Roasted Vegetable Pasta with Walnuts and Sage (from Diabetic Living): Although neither of us is diabetic, I like looking through this magazine for its nutritious recipes, which are perfect for any healthy lifestyle. I almost always find something I'd like to try.
This recipe involves a few pots and pans, but the results were well worth the cleanup. It was so warming and perfect for a winter night. Plus it's vegetarian and surprising low calorie.
I made only a few changes to the recipe:
- First, I served it over brown rice because we had been eating noodles for lunch, and I really wasn't in the mood for more pasta.
- Second, I didn't use the low-fat cream cheese called for in the recipe. I had a little light cream I wanted to use up, so I stirred that into the sauce instead.
- Finally, I had about a quarter cup of white wine to use up, so I threw that in there too. I'm not sure this added very much to the final dish, but I was happy to get that bottle out of the refrigerator!
13 January 2017
Friday the 13th Is Your Lucky Day; or a Review of Warren the 13th: The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio & Will Staehle
It's Friday the 13th, but you're in luck! Not only have I befriended all the black cats for you but I'm here to introduce you to your new best friend: Warren the 13th, the coolest, quirkiest boy I know.
Warren's a smart, curious, hardworking boy who lives in his family's hotel. Sure he loves his home and his attic room, but being 13th does carry a downside. It's true--for example, he's an orphan, and his guardians are his lazy uncle and his evil aunt. Plus, no matter how diligently Warren tends to the hotel, he hasn't seen a guest in years.
Everything, however, is about to change. Warren the 13th: The All Seeing Eye, written by Tania del Rio and illustrated by WIll Staehle (Quirk Books, 2015), is all about the hunt for a treasure that Warren's aunt believes is hidden in the hotel. Warren, isn't quite as excited about this as you might think: He has a feeling the All-Seeing Eye might be as full of dark magic as his aunt is.
What is the eye? What will happen if it's found? Can Warren figure out the clues before his aunt does? Who is friend and who is foe?
Besides being a fun, slightly spooky (in a good way), action-packed story about a clever, unique boy, Warren the 13th: The All-Seeing Eye is a delight just to look at. The red and black color scheme threads its way throughout the book, and the fun fonts, creepy drawings, and mysterious clues kept me turning the pages. The collage I put together (originally created for Litsy) gives you an idea of the graphic design. Del Rio and Staehle have created a winning combination of art and story.
More luck is coming your way because Quirk Books, Del Rio, and Staehle are celebrating this year's first Friday the 13th (as in today) with Warren and his friends. First is a super new illustration that doesn't appear in The All-Seeing Eye, but it does appear on the cover of a brand-new short story and activity book that you can download at Scribd: "Warren the 13th and the Unlucky Day." The adventure takes place on Friday, January 13, and the puzzles tie back to the Warren's world. There's even a cookie recipe with Warren-inspired decorations.
I love this drawing of Warren hanging from the clock. Is he trying to hold time back or is hoping to speed ahead to Saturday? And is that a lightening bolt? I guess I'll have to read the story to find out what's going on.
Need even more good luck? The second Warren book--Warren the 13th: The Whispering Woods-- is scheduled to be released in the spring. Hey, isn't that about 13 weeks away? I can't wait to see what Warren and his friends will get into next. You can bet I'll be solving the new puzzles right along with the gang as they head off on their next adventure.
Young and old(ish) alike will be charmed by Warren the 13th, the puzzles, the stories, and the illustrations. The mysteries are perfect for the whole family. Remember: You don't have to be a kid to fall under Warren's spell.
To learn more about The All-Seeing Eye, check out Warren's official website. To discover what The Whispering Woods is all about, visit the Quirk Books website. Don't forget to read the special Friday the 13th story. And, finally, check out the Warren the 13th book trailer. Way too much fun.