10 February 2016

Wordless Wednesday 380

Silo, 2016

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09 February 2016

Today's Read: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Review: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel SavitWhat if you were seven years old in a war-torn land and suddenly found yourself all alone? Anna ended up on the sidewalk outside the apothecary shop near her apartment in Krakow. The year was 1939, and she had only a vague notion of the war her father had talked about.

When Anna Lania woke on the morning of the sixth of November in the year 1939—her seventh—there were several things that she did not know:

Anna did not know that the chief of the Gestapo in Occupied Poland had by fiat compelled the rector of the Jagiellonian University to require the attendance of all professors (of whom her father was one) at a lecture and discussion on the direction of the Polish Academy under German Sovereignty, to take place at noon that day.

She did not know that, in the company of his colleagues, her father would be taken from lecture hall number 56, first to a prison in Krakow, where they lived, and subsequently to a number of other internment facilities across Poland, before finally being transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016, p. 1; uncorrected proofs)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Poland, Germany, Russia, 1939 to about 1944
  • Circumstances: After her father is taken away without warning, Anna falls in with a mysterious man she calls "Swallow Man." His strategy for survival is to keep moving, never be recognized, never make friends. He had no intention of taking Anna under his wing, but she proves useful to many of his schemes for crossing borders and avoiding arrest. A few years into their partnership, they take up with a Jewish musician, who irrevocably changes Anna and the Swallow Man's relationship. They do what they must to survive, but each one also tries to hold on to at least a piece of what he or she once was. 
  • Genre: literary fiction. Some might argue that this is historical fiction, which I guess is true because it's set during World War II.
  • Audience: For some unfathomable reason, Knopf is billing this for ages 12+. Um, no. This is a fully adult novel. I can't imagine that children, or even teens, would grasp all there is in this book.
  • Characters: Anna, a girl with no family or home; Swallow Man, who takes Anna with him on the road; Reb Hirschl, who escaped the ghetto with only his clarinet; various people and soldiers they meet on the road
  • What to say: I'm not at all sure how to discuss this beautifully written and many layered novel. The whole book has a dreamlike quality to it, befitting of Anna, who was unintentionally abandoned and who then lived in near isolation from the rest of the world. All she knows is what she learned from her father and Swallow Man. The dream is, however, periodically punctured by the bald face of reality, and each hole threatens to destroy Anna and Swallow Man's cape of invisibility. 
  • Book club alert: The only way I can write about this book without completely giving everything away is to tell you this is the ultimate book club pick. There is so much to talk about and think about. First there's Swallow Man: Who is he, why is he in permanent hiding, why does he take care of Anna, and why does he allow Reb Hirschl to come along? Anna: The slow erosion of her innocent vision of the world around her is heartbreaking, but she seems strong, especially as she absorbs Swallow Man's lessons. But, we ask, Is she a true survivor and can she remain safe? Then there's Reb Hirschl, a character I didn't like at all. Yet his presence and attitudes and decisions will prompt discussion, especially if you disagree with him on a few key points.
  • The end: Let's just say that I had to read it twice and then discuss it via email with my friend Jill of Rhapsody in Books. We mostly agreed about what happens to the characters at the end, but we saw things slightly differently. Besides the end, we discussed some of the bigger issues and implications about the characters and were definitely on similar tracks. Finally, we were solidly united in thinking this is in no way a children's book.
  • Recommendation: Gavriel Savit's Anna and the Swallow Man is one of the most affecting books I've read in a long time. I can't stop thinking about it and wanting to talk about it. I almost didn't read the novel because I'm getting a little burned out on World War II stories, but this is something completely different. I urge you to give it a try and then please let me know how you interpreted the ending.

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08 February 2016

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Must-Read Books on My eReader

Recommended reading, winter 2016 from BethFishReads.comNew books! Who doesn't like to share the excitement? Whether I buy, borrow, or receive books for review, I love to tweet about the ones that are high on my want-to-read list.

The other day I realized that, although I'm good about spreading the love for the print books in my house, I fail to talk about my new eBooks. I regularly add eBooks to my collection, buying some, borrowing others from the library, and accepting others for review consideration. What's worse, though, is when it comes time to pick my next book to read, I often forget to check my eReader.

Cue brainstorm: Go public with my most-anticipated eBooks. Share, make a list, and get help prioritizing. If I pare down my choices, I might actually work my way through my eBooks. A woman can dream, right?

So, without further ado, here are a dozen eBooks (in alphabetical order) I'm looking forward to reading. All were/will be published in January and February 2016.

Amelia Earhart by W. C. Jameson (Taylor Trade Publishing): I've always been fascinated with Earhart's story and, of course, about what may have happened to her when her plane disappeared. This is a well-researched biography. • The Children's Home by Charles Lambert (Scribner): This novel is a kind of fantasy with fairy tale elements. The comparisons to some of my favorite authors caught my attention. • Dinning with the Famous and Infamous by Fiona Ross (Rowman & Littlefield): This looks fun and informative: a look at the eating habits of well-known authors, musicians, artists, actors, and more. Perfect for Weekend Cooking. • The Ex by Alafair Burke (Harper): This standalone legal thriller is high on my list. Burke is one of my go-to authors when I want well-written and gripping crime fiction.

Forked by Saru Jayaraman (Oxford University Press): Another title for Weekend Cooking. The unvarnished truth of what it's like to work in the restaurant business. Spoiler: Not all establishments respect their employees. • Good People by Robert Lopez (Bellevue Literary Press): I'm trying to incorporate more short stories into my rotation, and this collection has gotten a lot of buzz for its striking language. Looking forward to seeing for myself. • Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford (Harcourt Brace): Set in Yorkshire during WWII, this is a story of friendship, trust, and overcoming prejudices. The protagonists are young. • Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt (Houghton Mifflin): I don't know much about this novel, except it's a Gothic tale about two women and takes place in two time periods. I'm definitely curious.

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard (Mira): This is irresistible historical fiction about Hollywood in the 1920s. It focuses on the story of Jean Harlow's rise to stardom, her sacrifices and ambition. • Sara Lost and Found by Virginia Castleman (Aladdin): A novel based on true events. Two young sisters are suddenly orphaned and put into the family services system. It's a story of family, survival, and courage. • A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard (Scribner): A memoir from a man who spent ten years as a paramedic / emergency responder in the city of Atlanta. He talks about how his life was changed by his work and the people he helped. • Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard (William Morrow): A tale of friendship, love, and emotional surrender by one of my favorite authors. This novel looks like a winner.

Have you read any of these? Which one would you read first?

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06 February 2016

Weekend Cooking: A Trio of New Recipes

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.comAs most of you know, I'm a freelance book editor in my real life, but what you may not know is that editing work runs in cycles. February and March are traditionally very, very busy months for me, as I'm involved with helping prepare the books you'll enjoy next fall.

My cooking during this time relies heavily on the pressure cooker and slow cooker: two appliances that earn their weight in gold. I've been a fan of the pressure cooker for many years but only recently obtained an electric model. I feel comfortable with it already, mostly because I've used it a couple times a week since I've gotten it. I'm planning a post comparing my electric and stovetop pressure cookers, but for now I'll say that, despite a few limitations, I really love the ease of the electric.

Anyway, knowing that for the next eight weeks or so, dinners will be mainly tried-and-true easy dishes, this week I made three new recipes. I consider each one a success. I made some changes, as I'll point out, but I think you could make them just as written. These recipes are pinned to my Recipes: Tried and Liked board, so you can find them easily. (Note: all photos come from the pins.)

First up was Fennel Gratin with Walnut-Thyme Breadcrumbs from Bon Appetit magazine, which I served along with grilled salmon. We really loved the flavor of this, especially with the fish. Although I rarely cook with heavy cream, I indulged for a change and was happy with the results. The only problem was that it made too much for the two of us to eat in one sitting, and neither of us loved the way it reheated. Next time, I'll cut the recipe in half or make sure we have company.

The Black Bean & Kale Tortilla Soup is a Rachel Ray recipe. The accompanying photograph makes this look like a salad, but really, it's soup; apparently the photographer went wild when styling this pic. I used chicken stock instead of vegetable stock, and of the suggested soup toppings, we used scallions, radishes, limes, and Cheddar cheese. Oh, and I simplified the tortilla part. Rachel Ray has you slice corn tortillas, salt them, and then bake until crisp. I simply crushed some premade white corn tortilla chips; I didn't feel the need to make my own.

Finally, I made Hungarian Beef Stew, which is an Ellie Krieger recipe and appeared in Cooking Light magazine. I didn't change anything about this recipe, except I cooked it in my new electric pressure cooker. But I'm sure that it would taste just as awesome if it were made in the oven as the recipe suggests. Next time, if I make it in the pressure cooker, I'll use about a cup less liquid because nothing is boiled off during the cooking process. This was also great reheated the next day. For those who want to know how I made this under pressure: I followed steps 1 and 2 using the Instant Pot's saute setting, then I put everything else in (including veggies) and cooked at high pressure for 14 minutes. Then I turned the cooker off and let it release pressure naturally for 15 minutes, after which I turned the valve to release all the remaining pressure instantly.

What new dishes did you make this week?

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04 February 2016

Review: Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Review: Juniors by Kaui Hart HemmingsIt's been many years since I lived in Hawaii, but the islands still have a place in my heart. I know much has changed over the years, but I can usually find moments of recognition when I read novels set in present-day Oahu. Kaui Hart Hemmings's Juniors is no exception, and I found a lot to love in this story about a teenager trying to find her place in the world.

What happens? Lea Lane, part Hawaiian, has spent a lot of time visiting family in Oahu but grew up as a California girl. In the middle of her junior year in high school, her mother, a middling actress, takes a job that relocates them to Hawaii. Although she has a few friends there, Lea is unprepared for the social pressures of going to a prestigious private school and never feels she really fits in. It only gets worse when she and her mother move into the guest house on the grounds of a family friend's estate: the children are among the cool kids and their parents travel in high society. The more Lea gets to know the West family (the friendly landlords), the more confused she becomes about what she wants from herself and from life.

The opening: I loved the opening scene of Juniors, in which Lea is participating in an exercise in truth and self-awareness with her classmates at school. It's a brilliant way to be introduced to Lea and her life before moving to the estate.

Authenticity: Few outsiders see the real Hawaii. You really have to live and work there to get a glimpse of the layer floating beneath the Aloha spirit. I hardly profess to be an expert, but I can attest to the truth that making a home in the islands is a totally different experience from vacationing there. Hemmings is brilliant at revealing what the tourists don't see, including the complex social and cultural ramifications of one's ancestry.

In addition, Hemmings really nails family issues and parent-child relationships (also perfectly depicted in her The Descendents). We see two different situations in Juniors: Lea and her mother were always two against the world until they move to the West estate. Under the influence of their friends, they each make poor decisions, threatening to destroy their closeness irrevocably. The Wests give their children all the freedoms that maintain the family image, but offer them little more than that. Whitney and Will have learned the importance of a good facade, but do their parents see them for who they are?

Finally, few authors can capture the teenage / high school experience as well as Hemmings. Lea is faced with real-life situations, such as figuring out the sincerity of newfound friendships, discovering alcohol, wondering about having sex, coping with not being invited to a party, and wanting to be cool but still wanting to be herself. Lea's emotions, desires, and confusion are immediately recognizable, and you'll understand her inner turmoil, even if your teenage issues were a little different from hers.

Recommendations: Although Kaui Hart Hemmings's Juniors is billed as a young adult novel, it's really a contemporary story for anyone who has a teenager or was a teenager. This is not a story of teenage angst, there is no classic love triangle. Instead it's about a girl whose vision becomes clouded by possibilities and wannabes. We hope the fog lifts so she can find her way back home.

Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Listening Library, 8 hr, 55 min) read by Jorjeana Marie. Marie does a fantastic job channeling her inner teenager, hitting the cadences and emotions perfectly. I loved her expressiveness and characterizations and that she made it so easy for me to relate to and root for Lea. Highly recommended.

Published by Penguin Random House / Putnam Books, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780399173608
Source: Review--audio (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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