18 September 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 2 Great Audiobooks and a Book in Print

2 Great Audiobooks, 1 Good BookThe joys of getting a new computer spilled over in other improvements. I now have a second monitor (swoon, why did I wait so long to do this?) and new computer speakers. I think that's going to be it on acquisitions for the office for a while.

In other news, we're starting to feel the hints of fall, with cooler weather and some changing leaves. The garden is winding down as well, though I'm keeping the annuals on the deck well watered, so they should last until the first frost. We took advantage of the beautiful Saturday afternoon to hike at a local nature preserve.

As I write this, we're looking forward to watching Ken Burns's newest PBS series on the Vietnam War, which premiered last night. I hope it's as good as the behind-the-scenes video.

What I Read Last Week

Review: A Column of Fire by Ken FollettA Column of Fire by Ken Follett (Viking, Sept. 12). If you like really well written and well researched historical fiction with characters you can fall in love in with, then you really need to read Ken Follett's Kingsbridge series. The first two books were set primarily in England in the 1100s and the 1300s, respectively, and this installment takes us to Elizabethan times, where we see how the town and cathedral have fared over the centuries. Follett seems to know his history, and I love the details of daily life. The intertwining of local families through love and hate, cooperation and competition plus the seesaw of Protestant, Catholic, Protestant trends (including the violence of the St. Bartholomew massacre and the failed Gunpowder Plot) drive the many-layered novel. From Bloody Mary through James I, English family fortunes and prospects hinged on the monarch's religion and level of tolerance, often influenced by the politics of Europe. If you're an audiobook fan, then you must spend 30+ hours with John Lee (Penguin Random House Audio). His consistent accents, solid characterizations, and impeccable sense of timing bring the book alive. I fully recommend this book in whatever medium you pick. (review copy provided by the publisher)

Review: Click'd by Tamara Ireland StoneClick'd by Tamara Ireland Stone (Disney-Hyperion, Sept. 5). This contemporary middle grade novel is about a young girl who attends a summer educational camp, where she develops a friendship app while perfecting her coding skills. Impressed with Allie's creativity and initial success, the judges of a teen coding competition invite her to enter the contest. While preparing for the competition, Allie decides to test her app during the first week of middle school by encouraging her classmates to download the game, which promises to find each player ten perfectly matched friends. The app takes off like wildfire, until a damaging flaw threatens to reveal private photos from participants' phones. Can Allie fix the code before she's barred from the contest and loses her best buddies? I enjoyed getting to know Allie and found the lessons she learned about friendship, asking for help, and facing setbacks to be nicely presented. The geeky girls were well-rounded: they were smart and capable but still giggled about their early teen crushes. I'm not quite sure the technological details of the app are realistic, but I still wanted to see if Allie was able to set things back on track. Middle grade readers will like this book more than adults. (review copy provided by the publisher)

Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay MooreThe Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (Knopf Books for Young Readers, Sept. 19). I don't claim to be any expert in what it's like to live in Harlem, but Moore's debut novel for older middle grade and young adult readers left me with a deeper understanding. At just 12 years old, Lolly has already experienced a lot of life's harshest realities: his older brother was killed as a result of gang violence; his parents are divorced; he's afraid to walk along certain streets, even in his own neighborhood; and he and his mother live in the projects, complete with broken elevator, urine-scented stairways, and unexplained power outages. The story begins at Christmas, just six weeks after Lolly's brother's murder, and follows the boy as he comes to terms with his grief and makes choices that will either pull him deep into gang life or offer him a way out of the projects. The characters speak in dialect, and the level of help (or not) that Lolly receives seems to be realistic. My heart went out to him, and I hoped the young boy would find a safe path. Other themes are friendship, creativity, LGBTQ, learning disabilities, and coming of age. This is a powerful story with wide appeal across the generations. Moore, who spent some time in Harlem as an adult, writes with authority and frankness. The audiobook (Listening Library; 6 hr, 19 min) was brilliantly read by Nile Bullock. His youthful voice and respectful rendition of Harlem dialect pull the listener into the story, and the emotional impact of his performance makes this a must-hear audiobook. (review copy provided by the publisher)

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16 September 2017

Weekend Cooking: The Science of Cooking by Stuart Farrimond

Review: The Science of Cooking by Stuart FarrimondI don't just like to cook and bake, I like knowing the hows and whys of creating successful dishes. I've owned and read a few books that delve into the mysteries of culinary chemistry over the years, but none was as fun and accessible as Dr. Stuart Farrimond's The Science of Cooking: Every Question Answered to Perfect Your Cooking (thanks to the publicist for a review copy).

The book is published by DK (out on September 19), so you know it's going to be a joy to read, with fantastic photos and great graphics. The Science of Cooking consists of page after page of cool kitchen stuff (note my sophisticated language). I can't get enough of this book.

One of Farrimond's goals was to separate cooking lore and culinary folk beliefs from the actual science of cooking by answering 160 kitchen questions and explaining everything from how many times it's safe to reheat rice to the physics behind various cooking methods. You might think the information would be dry and scholarly, but you would be wrong. Check out the following spread, which tells us all about steaming:

Review: The Science of Cooking by Stuart Farrimond

Besides cooking techniques, The Science of Cooking includes "myth buster" features, which reveal the truth behind common kitchen wisdom, such as never opening the oven door when baking a cake (in some cases it's okay). The "in focus" features concentrate on a specific ingredient, like eggs, four, and chocolate. Other sections explain things you've always wondered about--for example, why saffron is expensive (see scan; click to enlarge), the difference between wild salmon and farm-raised salmon, and how to get the most flavor out of your spices. (Proper storage plays a big role.)

Review: The Science of Cooking by Stuart FarrimondThe Science of Cooking covers how to buy kitchen equipment and ingredients, why different techniques work, what happens when you whip eggs, how to make the perfect rice, why gluten-free bread doesn't rise as high as wheat bread, and how to tell if your steak is ready to come off the grill.

This is the kind of book you'll want to flip through a little at a time. Curious about cooking fish in parchment? Farrimond has you covered (ha!). Want to know why different colored bell peppers taste different? Read about it here. (Sugar content is part of the story.) There is so much information packed into these pages, it's impossible for me to tell you everything. Although I've gone through the entire book, there are plenty of sections I want to study more closely. From meat to dairy, from veggies to chocolate, The Science of Cooking has the inside scoop.

If you're curious about what goes on in your kitchen, then you'll love Stuart Farrimond's The Science of Cooking. The book is a great addition to any cookbook collection and would make a fabulous present. Buy or borrow The Science of Cooking, pour your favorite beverage, and settle in for hours of informative entertainment. You'll be a more savvy cook and may even up your trivia scores.

Here's a quote I won't soon forget:
To your brain, physical burning and chile heat are identical sensations.
Yikes! (Tip: According to Farrimond, grab some dairy or mint to cool down your mouth.)

Note: The scans were used in the context of this review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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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15 September 2017

4 New Novels Set during World War II

Even more than 70 years after V-J Day, there seems to be no end to the stories told about World War II. Books about the war range from the examination of military tactics to true-life tales of heroism and terror. September brings four historical novels set during the war years, one takes place in Poland and is geared to middle grade readers, and the other three involve immigrants fleeing to safety.

4 new novels set during World War II

The Dollmaker of Krakow by R. M. Romero (Delacorte Press for Young Readers, Sept. 12): Set in Poland during the German occupation, this novel is based on the familiar folk tale motif of a toymaker whose toys come to life. The story of the reclusive Dollmaker and Karolina, the talking doll who brings him out of his shell, gives middle grade readers a look at the horrors of the war while also helping them learn that even one person can make a difference in the world by being brave enough to protect his friends. (First line: "There once was a little doll named Karolina, who lived in a country far from the human world.")

The Way to London by Alix Rickloff (William Morrow, Sept. 19): Sent from Singapore to live with an aunt in England, Lucy escapes one war to live a country battered by another. Always reckless, Lucy agrees to help a young man travel to London to find his mother. When the two cross paths with a soldier Lucy knew in Singapore, she begins to worry that her well-guarded secrets may be exposed. (First line: "Troop movements. Battles. Sinkings. Bombings. Russia resisting. England persevering. Japan rattle sabers. America dithering.")

We Were Strangers Once by Betsy Carter (Grand Central Publishing, Sept 12): In the 1930s, Manhattan was the destination of many Jews fleeing Europe ahead of trouble. This novel explores the story of how such immigrants fared in a city where they may been safe from concentration camps but were in constant danger of destitution, loneliness, and deportation. (First line: " 'Remember, he's a busy man. No idle talk. And don't forget to wear your gloves.' "

When It's Over by Barbara Ridley (She Writes Press, Sept. 26): Lena is one of the lucky ones, escaping Prague to settle in England, away from Nazi rule. London, however, is hardly a haven, and as she hopes for news of the family she left behind, Lena focuses her energy on forging a better future for her adoptive country while making sure she survives the Blitz. (First line: "Lena Kulkova stood at her tiny fifth-floor window, surveying the rooftops of the foreign city that she had come to love but was being urged to leave.")

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13 September 2017

Wordless Wednesday 463

Aster, 2017

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

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11 September 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Books I Loved, Books I Didn't

Books I Loved, Books I Didn'tFor everyone who lives in Florida or the Caribbean, my thoughts are with you. I hope your homes, your family, and your pets are safe and sound. The photos and videos look so scary. I can't imagine what you all are going through.

Some of you know that I've been on a great organize my books project. My ultimate goal is to put all my unread books--print, e, and audio--into a single database. I've been keeping up with my print books for months now, and as of Sunday morning, I'm totally up to date with my audiobooks. My big stall is the eBooks. I'm not sure why, but I just haven't gotten a handle on them. I'll figure it out one of these days (I hope).

I had an "interesting" workweek getting used to my new computer and Windows 10, but I love my new machine and my productivity is speeding up.

What I Read Last Week

Review of Leigh Bardugo's The Language of ThornsLeigh Bardugo's The Language of Thorns (Macmillan, Sept. 26) is a collection of three dark fairy tales or fables that involve trickery and magic. I loved the stories, the haunting world, and the beautiful illustrations that accompany the text. One story involves a clever fox, another a witch in the woods and a mystery, and the final story is about rich man and his daughter. As all good tales, each one teaches a life lesson. I read a review copy from the publicist and am a little confused because the back cover mentions six stories, although my advanced reader copy contains only three. Regardless, I always like Bardugo's work and can highly recommend this collection to her fans and fans of newly minted fairy tales.

review of Celeste Ng's Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere (Penguin Press, Sept. 12) is going to be on everyone's best of 2017 list. Set in the Cleveland-area community of Shaker Heights, the novel exposes the glossed-over underbelly of a small upper-middle-class neighborhood of privilege and expectations. Ng nails the dialogue, the sociocultural mores, and the consequences of meddling in other people's business. Race, class, education, family, dreams, life choices -- so many fires with such far-reaching destruction. A starkly truthful story that grabs you by the collar and pulls you in close. Run out tomorrow and buy this book. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio, 11 hr, 27 min) read brilliantly by Jennifer Lim, who erased the wall between listener and earbuds. It was near-impossible for me to hit that stop button. (audio review copy from the publisher)

Review of Marta McDowell's The World of Laura Ingalls WilderMarta McDowell's The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Timber Press, Sept. 20) should be on your holiday gift list for Little House fans of all ages. There is so much to love about McDowell's examination of Wilder's connection to the natural environment. Wilder fills her work with references to the flowers, wild fruits, garden produce, and cash crops that sustained her family on their journeys back and forth across the Great Plains. It's a delight to see the links between episodes in the beloved books with the realities of farming or buying seed or foraging that the Wilders and other families like them contended with. The style is down to earth and respectful and the full-color illustrations (some from various editions of Wilder's novels), maps, and photographs really bring the text to life. Biographical and historical details inform the botanical information, helping us see a fuller picture of Laura Ingalls Wilder's universe. The last part of the book includes information for visiting places where Laura lived, seeing period gardens, and for creating your own little prairie. Plant lists and resources round out the book. I picked up an advanced reader copy at BEA but have preordered a finished copy because this is a book to treasure.

Books I Broke Up With

Two Books: Solar Bones / The Blade ItselfI had high hopes for Solar Bones by Mike McCormick (Soho, Sept. 12), but the one long mostly unpunctuated sentence was just too much for my editor's brain. I may give it a second try, but I kind of doubt it. Everyone else seems to love this Irish story, and the novel was long-listed for the Booker Prize. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercombie (Orbit, Sept. 2015) has been on my audiobook list for a couple of years. It's billed as epic fantasy with plots of war, politics, and conspiracies. I wanted to love this, but I just didn't. I'm not sure if the issue was Steven Pacey's performance or the book. Or maybe it just suffered from being next after Little Fires Everywhere. I plan to try again in a few months. (both books were provided to me by the publishers)

What I'm Reading Now

Ken Follett's A Column of FireI'm currently listening to Ken Follett's newest entry in his Kingsbridge series, A Column of Fire (Penguin Audio; 30 hr, 19 min). I adore this series, which is set in a cathedral town in England. This installment takes place during Mary Tudor's reign, and religious turmoil is coloring our favorite characters' everyday life. Thank goodness the wonderful John Lee has returned to perform the audiobook. I love his characterizations, accents, pacing, and level of expression. I can tell already that this long audio is going to be worth every minute of your time. It comes out tomorrow.

I'm in between print books as I write this post, and I'm not exactly sure what I'll read next. I think I'll pick either a contemporary thriller or a contemporary middle grade novel. I have several books in mind in each category, and I think either would provide a good contrast to Follett's historical fiction.

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