29 May 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 5 Short Book Reviews

5 short book reviewsHappy Memorial Day to everyone in the United States. Hope you've got something fun planned for today--either quiet time or cooking out with friends and family. It's raining here, but I'm confident it will clear up enough to enjoy at least some outdoor time this afternoon and evening.

I'm spending the day getting ready for my quick trip to BookExpo (aka BEA). Besides getting most of my packing done, I want to do a few house chores, organize my work so I'm not not lost when I get back from my trip, and maybe cook ahead to make it easier on Mr. BFR when I'm gone. We'll see how much time I have for the extras.

This week on the blog: I think I'm going to go very light this week on Beth Fish Reads. Besides today's post, I'll have a Wednesday photograph and a Saturday Weekend Cooking post. I don't think I'll have time to write more before I leave.

What I read last week: I had a great reading week, making up for last week's poor showing. I received several of these books and audiobooks from the publishers for review.

Review of Eight Flavors by Sarah LohmanEight Flavors by Sarah Lohman (Tantor Audio; 8 h, 33 min): This is a well-researched look at the history of how eight foods became staples in mainstream American households (black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha). Lohman talks about the intertwining of economics, exploration, politics, and immigration with our diets and introduces us to some of the people who were instrumental in bringing these flavors to the American public. The book was interesting, but if you're well read in food history you won't find much new or surprising. In addition, Lohman goes off on some tangents that seem to be more distracting than rounding out the text. Lohman herself reads the unabridged audiobook; her odd pauses and halting delivery likely took away from my overall enjoyment. (More on the audiobook at AudioFile magazine.) Regardless, this is a good place to start if you're new to the field of food history.

Review of The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk ArudpragasamThe Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (Flatiron Books; 2016): I read this book for my email book club and was surprised by how big of an emotional punch this slim volume delivered. The story takes place in about 24 hours at a refuge camp in Sri Lanka during their civil war and concerns a young man who once wanted to be doctor but is now a laborer who helps at the medical clinic by carrying the injured to triage and burying the dead. All alone in the world, he is surprised when a older man approaches him, offering his daughter in marriage with the hope of protecting her and giving her some kind of future if the war allows one. The book explores how life changes both materially and psychologically when war chases you from your home, takes your loved ones, and gives you few choices. Is it possible to find a way to become emotionally vulnerable again and make a real connection with another person? This is a book you won't soon forget.

Review of The Dying Detective by Leif G. W. PerssonThe Dying Detective by Leif G. W. Persson (translated by Neil Smith; Random House Audio; 15 h, 27 min): I was curious about this Swedish crime novel about a retired captain in the national police force who is brought down by a stroke. While recovering, Lars cannot stop thinking about a cold case involving the rape and murder of a little girl that took place decades earlier, and so he enlists the help of his best friend (also retired from the detective force), his brother-in-law, and his in-home aid. Once I started listening to the audiobook, I found it difficult to put down: I liked the characters and the way the case gnawed at Lars. I also liked the descriptions of Lars's struggle with regaining his old life and his frustrations with his new physical limitations. Erik Davies narrated the audiobook, bringing the characters to life by using appropriate accents (Swedish and Russian) and distinguishing between spoken and inner dialogue. My only issues had to do with the translation, especially the rendering of idioms. The literal translation was sometimes strange and I had to mentally rework the text into common everyday English. Regardless, I recommend this standalone Scandinavian mystery.

Review of The Whole Thing Together by Ann BrasharesThe Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares (Listening Library; 7 h, 36 min): This short novel is billed as young adult but the themes and characters make this a great adult crossover book. The book mostly takes place on Long Island at the beach house owned jointly by a long-divorced couple who never see each other. They share three children (now in their twenties) and each have a seventeen-year-old from their second (and current) marriages. The two teens have shared a room at the beach house all their lives, each getting the room every other week for the entire season, but they have never met because their parents have kept them apart. Although they share the same half-sisters, they themselves have no genetic connection. This is the messy, broken, and dysfunctional foundation of the summer that everything changes for these two families. I liked the story, though I sometimes felt the parents needed a good talking to. There are family secrets and drama and a few emotionally rough moments. The main themes are self-identity and seeing yourself as separate from your parents. Brittany Pressley did a nice job with the narration of the unabridged audiobook. Although not a particularly outstanding performance, she was expressive, kept the characters separate, and had a good sense of pacing. I would give both the book and audiobook an above average rating; not the best book ever but worth the read or listen.

Review of Eggshells by Caitriona LallEggshells by Caitriona Lally (Melville House, 2017): I had high hopes for this story of an isolated young woman who inherits her great-aunt's house in Dublin. She takes rambling walks around the city, believes in the Irish folk tales, and still imagines that she was left by fairies for her parents to find. Although she hides from her neighbors, she is determined to make a friend, as long as that person is named Penelope. I read about 40 pages of this novel and just couldn't find a way to connect to Vivian. I think her quirkiness was just too quirky for me. I have put the novel aside and doubt I'm going to pick it up again. You may have better luck, seeing as Kirkus, the New York Times and other print sources seemed to have loved the novel, which was also a finalist for Irish Book of the Year.

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (Touchstone; 2017): I've just stared a combo read and listen (audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell) of this time travel novel. I like it so far but hope it doesn't end up being an Outlander wannabe.

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27 May 2017

Weekend Cooking: 6 Foodie Links to Bookmark

6 fun foodie linksHappy whatever holiday you're celebrating this weekend -- my calendar lists holidays for the United States, the UK, Australia, and France. Plus it's the beginning of Ramadan and Shavuot is right around the corner.

Will anyone be reading blogs today? I have a tiny bit of work to do this morning (finishing up a ten-month-long editing project) and then I'm off all weekend! I plan to do some holiday cooking (deviled eggs, broccoli slaw, and potato salad are my assignments for Memorial Day with friends) and a lot of reading.

I also need to make sure I have everything ready for my quick trip to New York. Can't wait to indulge in all the book things and spend time with my book-loving buddies.

Here are some fun links I found around the Internet. (photo: where I plan to spend most of the weekend)

  • 10 Cooks Share Their Favorite Things to Make in the Instant Pot (from Kitchn). As you know, I'm big fan of my pressure cookers. I'm often asked for ideas and recipes, and this link has some good ones, including my favorite--beans and lentils.
  • These Are the Best Cuts of Steak to Grill (from Huffpost). Here's a cool infographic that could save the day when you're looking for a good cut of beef to cook on the grill. I'm going to add another tip: be wary of steaks from grass-fed cattle; they never seem to have enough fat to make them nice and tender for quick grilling. At least that's my experience from farmers' market beef.
  • The Guide to Petite Sirah Wine (from Wine Folly). My current favorite wine is Petite Sirah, so I saved this page from a reliable wine site. If Petite Sirah isn't to your liking, search around for another grape. You'll find info on tasting notes, history, and serving tips.
  • 10 things to Know About Starting a Food Truck Business (from the Balance). Okay, so I would much rather eat at a food truck than work in a food truck, but just in case you've been dreaming of a new venture, here's some solid (albeit not earth-shaking) advice.
  • Don't Poison Your Dog With Breakfast (from Extra Crispy). If you own a dog, then you know that as soon as you drop food on the floor, Fido is there to clean it up. But did you know that some common foods in your kitchen could actually harm your best friend?
  • 10 Refreshingly Easy Summer Squash Recipes (from Country Living). It's still a little early here in central PA for garden-fresh summer squash, but it's never too early to start thinking about how to use all that bountiful harvest. I've got my eye on a few of these recipes. (Warning: this is a slide show -- ugh!)
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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25 May 2017

9 Books to Put on Your Reading List

So many great books, so hard to keep up with what's new and interesting. Today I hope to tempt you with books that might have slipped off your radar. Whether you like memoir or mystery, contemporary stories or history, I hope you find something to add to your reading list.

9 Books to Put on Your Reading List
  • All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg (Berkley; May 2017): Psychic realms, psychological disturbances, the past, and the present all collide as a young mother tries to hold on to reality and keep her family together. Set in 1970s Vermont, this novel explores mental health, family legacies, and rural America.
  • The Cure of La Fontaine by M. L. Longworth (Penguin; April 2017): A new restaurant, a possible curse, and a haunting past lead to murder and mayhem in Aix-en-Provence, France. The latest entry in the Verlaque and Bonnet mystery series is as much about the food as it is about the crime.
  • I Found You by Lisa Jewell (Atria; April 2017): This multi-layered contemporary novel, set in England, involves three men--a missing husband, a man with no memory, and a predatory tourist--and the women whose lives they're affected. A well-paced dark mystery with "intriguing characters" (Shelf Awareness).
9 Books to Put on Your Reading List
  • I'm Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork (Penguin; March 2017): Attention Scandinavian crime fans! This police procedural set in rural Norway involves a disturbing murder of a young girl and the possibility of more deaths. A twisty plot and a flawed female protagonist will keep your attention until the end.
  • Man of the Year by Lou Cove (Flatiron; May 2017): In 1978, Howie Gordon decides he wants to be Playgirl's Man of the Year and enlists his friend's son, thirteen-year-old Lou Cove, to manage his bid for centerfold fame. A true-life coming-of-age story that captures both an era and a family in transition.
  • Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid (Tin House; July 2017): Over the course of a 1980s Blacksburg, Virginia, summer, a family grapples with past grief and shattered relationships, both among themselves and with food. Told from four different perspectives, this novel explores emotional attachment, the bond between sisters, and the hope for hope.
9 Books to Put on Your Reading List
  • Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller (Penguin; June 2017): Fuller's debut novel is set in the Lakota Oglala Sioux Nation in South Dakota and follows two cousins over the course of decades as they struggle to balance their traditional heritage with American culture. The story explores themes of family, being an outsider, and self-acceptance.
  • Roads by Marina Antropow Cramer (Academy Chicago; May 2017): This World War II story, set in Yalta and beyond, looks at the effect of war on an ordinary Russian family that is simply trying to stay alive and together. With the Nazis on one side and the Communists on the other, where can they find safety and how, if they are separated, will they discover each other's fates at the end of the war?
  • The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (Touchstone; May 2017): This time-travel novel transports a contemporary woman surgeon to fourteenth-century Italy, where she finds herself in the middle of political conspiracies, the plague, and the art world. Mystery, well-researched historical details, and romance make for top-notch reading.

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24 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday 447

Pansy, 2017

Click the image to see it full size. For more Wordless Wednesday click here.

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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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