29 January 2015

Review: Marine Park by Mark Chiusano

Marine Park by Mark ChiusanoFrankly, I always have trouble reviewing short stories. Of course, I can't talk about each of the seventeen stories in this debut collection individually, and of course, some had a bigger impact on me than others.

What I can say about Mark Chiusano's Marine Park is that, as a whole, the stories glow with authenticity. The personal relationships, especially between brothers Jamison and Lorris (who appear in several pieces), seems real enough to be universally familiar, even to those of us who didn't grow up in the far end of Brooklyn.

Chiusano captures life in the working-class neighborhood of Marine Park throughout the seasons and across generations. Regardless of profession, education, or age, the denizens of the close community move to the local rhythms fed by everyday occurrences like learning to drive, shoveling snow, picking out a Christmas tree, and attending a funeral.

Inevitably, however, some stories failed to drawn me in--one that takes place in a bar when a young man is out without his girlfriend, another that's about herpes. These and other less successful stories were more about an event or moment in time than they were about the people. But when he focuses on his characters, on husbands and wives, on brothers, and on friends, Chiusano is at his strongest.

Regardless of a few weaknesses, most of the stories Marine Park are emotionally solid, and several times I paused over Chiusano's prose, as here when a young man is thinking of his "no-good girlfriend":

He didn't need Margie. He knew that now. . . . He didn't need anyone. He was enough. He could make a new world, just out him, right here.
We're lucky that the young Mark Chiusano (in his early twenties), has long, promising career ahead of him. Read this collection and them put him on your watch list.

Published by Penguin Random House / Penguin Books, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780143124603
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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28 January 2015

Wordless Wednesday 326

Snowy Spruce, 2015


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

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27 January 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan

West of Sunset by Steward O'NanWhat happens when you suddenly find yourself on the back side of fame? From New York to Paris to Hollywood, F. Scott Fitzgerald had led the high life of the Jazz Age. By 1937, though, his star had burned out, and he found himself almost penniless, with a daughter to support and a wife in an asylum.

That spring he holed up in the Smokies, in a tired resort hotel by the asylum so he could be close to her. A bout of pneumonia over Christmas had provoked a flare-up of his TB, and he was still recovering. The mountain air was supposed to help. Days he wrote in his bathrobe drinking Coca-Cola to keep himself going, holding off on the gin till nightfall—a small point of pride—sipping on the dark verandah as couples strolled among the fireflies rising from the golf course.
West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan (Penguin USA / Viking, 2015, p. 1)

Mini-Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1930s, Appalachians, Hollywood
  • Circumstances & major topic: Exploring the last three years of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life, including flashbacks to earlier times.
  • Characters: Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, and their daughter, Scottie; various Hollywood stars (such as Humphrey Bogart); people from the publishing world (like Dorothy Parker)
  • Recommendations: I haven't read past the first paragraph, but Fitzgerald and the time period interest me. Plus I've enjoyed other O'Nan novels
The Giveaway

Thanks to the publishers, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of Stewart O'Nan's West of Sunset. All you have to do to be entered to win is to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on February 6. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. Good luck!

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26 January 2015

Graphically Reading: First Issues 2 (the Girl Power Edition)

 If you're into graphic novels and comics, then you've probably spent some time browsing the Comixology website. When there, one thing I always look for is their periodic free (or sometimes really inexpensive) first-issue sales. It's a great way to get a feel for a comic series, author, and artist without investing a lot of money and time. Here are five first issues I read this month.

Lumberjanes, Princess Ugg, comics Lumberjanes by Grace Ellis & Noelle Stevenson (Boom / Boom Box, 2014): Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are best friends and cabin mates at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin's camp for girls. When they venture out into the woods one night, they see some strange sights, but before they can safely sneak back into their bunks, they're caught by their counselor, who takes them to see the camp director. But instead of getting into trouble, the girls are given their Up All Night badges and sent back to bed. Just what lurks out in those woods? Verdict: Continue with the series: I love these spunky girls, with their distinct styles and personalities, the fun art, the promise of action, and the mystery of the camp. Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press, 2014):  Ulga, a battleax-wielding princess from mountain land of Grimmeria, is sent to the city to be educated at the famous Princess Academy, where the royalty of all five kingdoms send their young ladies. But before she has even arrived at the doors of the school, she has a confrontation with the retinue of Julifer, a pampered princess from Atraesca. Imagine their surprise when the girls later learn they're roommates for the duration of the school year. Verdict: Continue with the series: First, I just love the beautiful, detailed artwork, in a full range of colors. I love the medieval / fairy tale feel of the setting, and I can't resist the barbaric tomboy versus the fashionable city girl story line.

Rat Queens, The Sword, Wayward, comicsRat Queens by Med Dejmal and Kurtis J Wiebe (Image / Shadowline, 2013). The first issue I read was the Rat Queens Preview, in which we're introduced to the group of women mercenaries, who party as hard as they fight demons. The issue consists of snapshot introductions to Hannah, an elf; Mage, a dwarf; Dee, a human; and Betty, a hobbit. Verdict: Give this series a try: I will definitely continue reading, but can't make a full judgment based on this short prequel. The four friends have different personalities and promise lots of action ahead. The artwork has a minimal feel, yet the facial expressions and background details give the reader the good feel for the scenes. The Sword by Jonathan and Joshua Luna (Image, 2007). Dara Brighton, an art student, still lives at home with her mom and dad, partly because she's in a wheelchair. One night at dinner, when her sister is visiting, three strangers burst into the house, making demands and implying that Mr. Brighton might not be who he says he is. Before the tragic night is over, Dara makes a surprising discovery. Verdict: Continue with the series. I picked this one up because it's by the Luna brothers, and I love the mix of contemporary story with some fantasy elements. There's definitely a mystery here that I want to learn about. The colors of the panels are muted and earthy; facial expressions are easy to read, and the action has impact. Wayward by Jim Zub (Image, 2014): Redheaded Rori Lane, leaves her Irish father to start a new life in a new country with her Japanese mother. Fortunately, Rori is fluent in Japanese, so she shouldn't have that much trouble adjusting. But before her first day is over, she discovers that Tokyo has some "interesting" street cats and depths not seen by ordinary people. Does Rori have a secret calling? Verdict: Continue with the series. This is another one that mixes modern-day life with a bit of fantasy, good action, and some hidden powers. The colors pop off the page, and we really get a great sense of Rori's style and personality. I bet this series is fun.

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24 January 2015

Weekend Cooking: Harvest Grain Salad

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. 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. For more information, see the welcome post.

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Cooking Light January 2015My new meal-planning approach to dinners paid off in spades this week. I am starting my really busy editing season, which means long days and low energy for anything extra, including getting creative in the kitchen. Thank goodness for that dinner plan I set up on Sunday morning. I'm so happy to not have to tax my brain in the evening; just look at the dinner list and go.

Our dinners included a spicy lentil soup, a chicken and bean salad, and squash risotto. All good and easy to make because I put the pressure cooker to good use. The hit dish of the week, however, came as a big surprise: a grain salad.

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted a lamb chops with farro salad recipe in the January issue of Cooking Light. I knew right away I would not be following the recipe for cooking the lamb. We grill all year round, and I love the easier clean up, guaranteed success (my husband has the technique down pat), and good flavor. So that left the salad part.

Thanks to @SuziQOregon who writes at Whimpulsive, one of the staples in my house is Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend. And because we really like it, I figured I'd use that (cooked easily in the rice cooker) instead of trying to hunt down the precooked farro that the original recipe called for. I made a couple of other minor tweaks to Cooking Light's salad and came up with a dish I'll be serving often.

Seriously, this was so good we could barely stop eating it. This was a great accompaniment to our simply grilled lamb, but I can see this in the summer with burgers, as a main-dish salad, or as welcome addition to a pot-luck.

Note: If you don't have a Trader Joe's near you, try any grain mix or your own favorite single grain. The blend contains couscous, orzo, mini chickpeas, and quinoa.

Harvest Grain Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4 or more
  • ½ (16 ounce) package Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend
  • 1¾ cups chicken broth
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon country Dijon mustard
  • Dried thyme (I forgot to measure. Let's say ½ teaspoon or to taste)
  • Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2½ ounces baby arugula, washed and dried
Cook the grain according to the package directions, using the chicken broth and omitting the butter. When done, let the cooked grain cool for a few minutes. (The grain should be warm but not hot.)

Meanwhile, whisk the zest, juice, honey, mustard, thyme, and pepper in a small bowl.

Place the cooled grain in a large serving bowl. Add the onion and the lemon mixture and toss well to combine. Taste and add salt as needed. Add the arugula and toss again. Serve. This was also good cold the next day.

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Copyright

All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2015. All rights reserved.

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