01 September 2015

Today's Read: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy StewartWhat would you think of three sisters who lived alone on an isolated farm at a time when women were supposed to marry young and have a man to protect them? If you think they might cave under threats and violence, think again. Constance Kopp is willing and able to do what it takes to defend herself.

Our troubles began in the summer of 1914, the year I turned thirty-five. The Archduke of Austria had just been assassinated, the Mexicans were revolting, and absolutely nothing was happening at our house, which explains why all three of us were riding to Paterson on the most trivial of errands. Never had a larger committee been convened to make a decision about the purchase of mustard powder and the replacement of a claw hammer whose handle had split from age and misuse.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1914; Paterson, New Jersey; surrounding towns and countryside
  • Circumstances: When a rich silk merchant, Henry Kaufman, crashes his car into the Kopp sisters' buggy, he refuses to make restitution. Little does he know that bullying and violence will not work on these strong women. The ensuing feud makes the newspapers and draws the attention of the law.
  • Characters: Constance, the eldest sister who tells the story; Norma, the middle sister; Fleurette, the much younger sister; Henry Kaufman, the silk merchant; Robert Heath, the sheriff; various townsfolk, women at the silk factory, a Kopp brother, and gangsters.
  • Genre: historical mystery
  • Themes: feminism, independent women, family secrets, fairness
  • Real life! Stewart wrote her novel based on a true story, which she came across when researching another book. Constance Kopp was one of the first women detectives and worked in conjunction with Sheriff Heath to catch Kaufman and his band of thugs. The incident involved shoot outs, threats, blackmail, and a sting operation.
  • Notes on the writing: I've read only the beginning of the book, but I've gotten far enough along to feel confident about Stewart's style and her sense of humor. This is sassy, action-packed, and filled with amazing period details and fantastic characters.
  • Some fun things to know: The title of the book comes from a real-life headline about the Kopps. Stewart clothed the sisters and furnished their house with items available in the 1908 Sears catalog. I learned these facts and more from a great NPR interview (click the link to read it yourself). You can see photos of the characters at Amy Stewart's website.
  • Bonus! At BEA this past May, Amy Stewart was handing out cards with the Girl Waits with Gun "signature cocktail." It's too fun to keep to myself, so I embedded the PDF here. Click the image to enlarge it or head on over to Stewart's website to download your own copy.

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31 August 2015

Review: The New Book of the Month Club

Book Of The Month ClubDo you remember the Book of the Month (BOM) Club? I have been a member off and on most of my adult life, so I was excited to see they've revamped and are making it more appealing than ever to be a member.

When given the opportunity, I accepted advanced access to their updated program because I was curious about the club's new look. The current program includes an impressive committee of judges, an online forum, and an easy way to pick which book you'd like to read every month. It's great to see this book-lovers' institution enter the new century.

How does it work? On the first of every month, BOM announces the judges' five current book selections. Members then have about six days to log in to the site, read about the selections, and pick the book they want to read that month. All books (hardcovers) are shipped at the same time (on the 10th of the month). After you've had a chance to start reading, you can log in to the club forum, where you can discuss the book with other members. Sometimes the BOM judge joins the conversation and sometimes even the author pipes in! This means you can participate in the new BOM almost as you would a traditional book club, if you'd like.

Thank You, Goodnight by Andy AbramowitzWho are the judges? The panel of twelve judges consists of award-winning authors (like Emily St. John Mandel), print journalists (like Christopher Cox from Harper's magazine), and online journalists (like Liberty Hardy, from Book Riot). For those who keep track: Most of the committee are women and (based on their profile images) there is one person of color.

What is the cost? If you want to try BOM on a month-by-month basis, the cost is $16.99 per month (for a hardcover book, shipping, and access to the website and forums). If you commit to three months, the cost is $39.99 ($13.33 per month), and the yearly plan costs $99.99 ($8.33 per month).

What did I read? I picked Andy Abramowitz's Thank You, Goodnight, selected by Judge Liberty Hardy.

My quick take: After nearly twenty years as a lawyer, a middle-aged man is unexpectedly inspired to write music again and revive his once-famous rock band. Can the foursome still make a hit album? This is a fun and funny look at trying to regain one's youth.
I'm glad I picked Thank You, Goodnight because I'm not sure I would have read it otherwise. My only disappointment is that this is the only BOM August selection that doesn't have an active discussion on the forum, so I wasn't able to take advantage of that feature--although, to be fair, I didn't have to wait to see what others were saying, I could have started a discussion myself. (See below for the other August selections.)

What's my recommendation? I encourage you to check out the new Book of the Month Club. It's a terrific way to learn about newish books; to connect with other readers, book journalists, and authors; and to buy hardcover books at a decent discount. Based on my past experiences with the BOM, they have a responsive customer service and are a reliable and trusted source for book lovers. Read the Book of the Month Club's FAQ for details on how the program works.

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29 August 2015

The Kitchen Journals: Late Summer Food Obsessions

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.

The Kitchen Journal @ www.BethFishReads.comThis has been an odd kind of week in my kitchen. First, the ten-day county fair is in full swing and we went over two nights to basically eat our way through it. We get all the forbidden foods: fries, sausage sandwiches, cinnamon buns, deep-fried chicken, peach dumplings with ice cream, pork sandwiches, lemonade, and all the rest of the wonderful-tasting, bad-for-you treats. Hey, it's only once a year, right?

As a consequence, the nights we ate at home were rather spartan in a silly effort to combat the fair food. I'm not quite sure why we all think we have to do that. Anyway, we had mostly vegetable dishes: stir-fries, soups, chilies, and that kind of thing. All this was made easy because I had a lot of great veggies from the farmers market to play with.

In fact, this is one of my favorite food seasons and here are just some of my current obsessions.

Prune plums: I just can't seem to get enough of these sweet-tart little fruits. We've bought a half bushel and have been eating them almost all day long. So, so delicious. I need to cook up the rest this weekend and am thinking of a plum claflouti or maybe a plum cake. On the other hand, this plum tart from Ina Garten looks pretty heavenly.

For more sweet and savory recipes using prune plums, check this 2008 NPR article: It's the Time of Year to Go Plum Crazy. That pork looks delicious. . . . Okay, who am I kidding? I know I'm going to be baking up dessert.

Tomatoes: I love, love, love the Juliette tomatoes that are popular at the farmers market right now. They are like a mini Roma -- much meater and more tomato-y than grape tomatoes or regular cherry tomatoes. I've been throwing these into everything from salads and sandwiches to yogurt. And, of course, we can rarely resist picking up one or two whenever we happen to walk through the kitchen.

The orange tomatoes are a low-acid variety and also fairly meaty. I buy an heirloom variety, but I believe there are more modern orange cultivars too. I've used these beauties in salads -- especially a tomato and cucumber dish with a mustard vinaigrette. The rest of them are going into a stuffed cabbage casserole I plan to make Friday night (right after I finish this post).

Peppers: It is hot chili pepper season here in central Pennsylvania, and we adore them. This week I got jalapenos and poblanos. They went into our vegetarian chili, we've roasted them with other veggies to eat over rice, and my husband slices them up to add to his omelets in the morning. The poblanos are a little tricky: the heat doesn't hit you right away. They like to sneak up on you!

If you don't like a ton of spicy, then be sure remove the seeds and ribs, where most of the heat resides. And please, please, please wear kitchen gloves when handling these babies to avoid feeling like your fingers are on fire. Also: never rub your eyes or touch "delicate" body parts after handling hot peppers! Our irresistible way of eating hot peppers is to make these grilled poppers.

Apples: Apples? Yes, apples. I love summer apples. And if you think you aren't an apple fan, then I'm guessing you don't buy your apples straight from an apple grower. In fact, I think of apples in the same way as I do tomatoes: those red things you buy at the grocery store don't taste anything at all like the real fruit. Farm fresh apples are definitely one of my obsessions, and we buy different varieties each week from August through November, when our outdoor market closes.

For me, the tarter the better, and this week, Summer Rambos are my apple of choice. These are crisp and tart and heavenly. My husband wants a little bit sweeter, so we also got Paula Reds, which are very similar to McIntosh apples, but crisper. The lighter green apples are a new one for us: Ginger-Golds, which are crisper and tarter than Golden Delicious, but juicy and the sweetest of the three we got. We'll eat the apples as is, saving the baking for fall.

What are your current food obsessions?

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27 August 2015

Getting to Know You: 2 Nonfiction Recommendations

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah HepolaBlackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola: Blackout is a brutally honest look at life under the influence of alcohol. From her first sip of beer at the age of seven through most of the following thirty years, Hepola's world revolved around drinking. She wasn't a homeless, deadbeat drunk; instead she had a respectable job, meeting her writing and editing deadlines with the help of a bottle or two. In the after-work hours, however, she often drank herself into blackouts, waking up in a stranger's bed or with no recollection of how she got home. In her frank, straightforward memoir, Hepola writes of her love of drink, her deepest insecurities, and her fear of becoming sober. This can't-stop-reading memoir gives alcoholism a context within Gen X sociocultural pressures and post-feminism expectations. (Grand Central Publishing, 2015, ISBN: 9781455554591)

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail SantamariaJoy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria: The poet Joy Davidman is best remembered for her brief marriage to C. S. Lewis, beloved author of the Narnia series. Santamaria's well-wrought biography, based in part on unpublished family papers and letters, focuses on Davidman's struggle to overcome her sheltered childhood to find her own footing, both professionally and spiritually. Although she was successful as a writer, Davidman didn't find deeper fulfillment until she was exposed to Lewis's books on Christianity. After years of correspondence with the famous author and as her first marriage unraveled, she traveled to England, sure that Lewis would return her growing infatuation. Although the two shared an immediate intellectual connection and friendship, several more years would pass before the couple married, just when Davidman was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Santamaria confirms that Davidman deserved her reputation for being aggressive and socially awkward but also details the poet's significant positive influence on Lewis's late work. More important, however, Santamaria makes the case that Davidman should be remembered as a smart, productive, and strong person in her own right, not just as the woman who lured Lewis out of bachelorhood. (Houghton Mifflin, 2015 ISBN: 9780151013715)

NOTE: These short reviews first appeared in Readerly magazine and are reprinted with permission.

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26 August 2015

Wordless Wednesday 356

Pink Flower, 2015

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

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