31 March 2010

Challenge: Cozy Mysteries 2010

One of my favorite challenges each year is Kris's (from Not Enough Books) Cozy Mystery Challenge. It runs from April 1 to September 30 and the requirement is to read 6 cozies. This year, the challenge has its own blog, called (duh!) Cozy Mystery Challenge. Head on over there to get the details on the challenge.

I love cozies, and they make perfect summer reading. Can't wait to get going on this year's books.

Thanks for hosting, Kris!

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Wordless Wednesday 72

Spring Skies


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30 March 2010

Today's Read: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake


MizB at Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Here's how it works: Grab your current read; let the book fall open to a random page; and share 2 “teaser” sentences from that page. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

Now it would start, this next part. The orphaned girl with the serious eyes and the mole at the base of her throat was now the doctor's wife, with a husband, a house, and a town. Marrying Will had pulled her through the dim gray curtain of unaccented time. The time spent in a a shared room at the top of a boardinghouse, her stockings drying on the ladder-back chair. She was going home. (p. 16)
—From The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (Source: Review copy, see review policy).

The Postmistress at Powell's
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29 March 2010

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley


Flavia de Luce, budding chemist with a penchant for mischief and poison, lives at Buckshaw with her father and sisters. One night, the eleven-year-old almost literally stumbles across the dying body of a stranger in the back garden. She is immediately on the case, racing to beat Inspector Hewitt to the solution and to find the murderer before the innocent go to jail or anyone else is killed.

One of the best parts of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is getting to know Flavia de Luce. She is simply a breath of fresh air. Her wit, her intelligence, her ability to reason, and her clear-headedness under duress do not for an instant hide the fact that she is preteen with a fabulous imagination and the luck to be living in 1950 England, when children were given much more freedom than they are today.

Here's what she thinks about being a Catholic attending an Anglican service:

Because it was trinity Sunday we were treated to a rare old romp from Revelation all about the sardine stone, the rainbow round the throne, the sea of glass like unto crystal, and the four beasts full of eyes before and uncomfortably behind.

I had my own opinion about the true meaning of this obviously alchemical reference, but, since I was saving it for my Ph.D. thesis, I kept it to myself. And even though we de Luces were players on the opposing team, as it were, I couldn't help envying those Anglicans the glories of their Book of Common Prayer (p. 116).
The mystery itself is beautifully set up, and it is great fun to follow along as Flavia attempts to put the pieces together. When her thinking goes astray, we are right there with her until, at the climax, we say, "Oh yes, you're right! Why didn't I see that sooner?"

Besides the very believable spats among the sisters, we are also treated to numerous literary and cultural references, such as this:
Miss Mountjoy rummaged in the desk drawer and dredged up a ring of iron keys that looked as if they might once have belonged to the jailers of Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo. I gave them a cheery jingle and walked out the door (p. 63).
Finally, as wonderful as life seems at Buckshaw--well, if you discount the small matter of the murder--we are subtly and constantly reminded that the war is still a part of life in 1950s England. Flavia is a bit mystified and doesn't quite understand the physiological effects the war has had on Dogger, her father's man, who suffers from shell-shock, or what today we call post-traumatic stress. She also cannot reconcile the man her father is at home with the man he must have been as a soldier. These nods to the war anchor the novel in time and place and provide the contrast to Flavia's joie de vive.

Although I received a review copy of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in spring 2009, I listened to the unabridged audio production read by Jayne Entwistle, who brilliantly captured the enthusiasm of eleven-year-old Flavia. Entwistle's pacing and inflections added both to the overall charm of the novel and to the tension of the action.

Here is the trailer for the book, narrated by Entwistle:



Flavia du Luce has her own website, where you can learn more about the author, see the awards the book has won, and find about the other books in the series.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie at Powell's
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Published by Delacorte Press, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780385342308

Challenges: New Author, Support Your Library, Audiobook, What's in a Name, 2010, 100+
YTD: 28
Source: Review and borrowed (see review policy)
Rating: A−

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28 March 2010

ROOB: Reading Our Own Books Game

I love to participate in challenges and to play games. You might remember that I lost the last one: BLOB. Oh well, I had fun. So much fun, in fact, that I joined another Twitter-born game that will start in April: Reading Our Own Books Challenge (ROOB) .

The general goal is to read books that we owned before March 15, 2010. This is similar to a clear off your shelves or TBR challenge, but we have a point system to make the competition a bit more fun.

The Points

  • −5 points for reading a book from your TBR stack (owned before 3/15)
  • −3 points for reading a review copy (review promised in April)
  • −2 points for reading a library copy
  • +6 points for reading a new book (owned or borrowed after 3/15)
The person who reads only from her TBR will win, but most of us have a library book or two and at least one review commitment. Unfortunately, I have a few review commitments, so will likely lose ROOB too, but I'm going to have fun playing!

Playing and Scoring

We count books started no earlier than April 1 and finished no later than April 30. Books started in March but finished in April and books started in April but finished in May do not count for the ROOB game. (I'm holding off starting some books, trying desperately to finish up others!)

At the end of the month we add up our points. The ROOB winner is the person with the lowest score. If I read 4 books from my TBR stack, 2 review copies, 3 library books, and 1 new book, here's how I'd figure my score:

(4 × −5) + (2 × −3) + (3 × −2) + (1 × 6) = −20 + −6 + −6 + 6 = −26

Now some of you may be wondering about reading speed and size of the books read. For example, I may read 10 books a month but someone else may read 15. I might read two 500-page books, but another player reads ten 100-page books What to do? No worries, we came up with a equalizer: We simply divide our final points by the number of books read.

So for our example, my final score would be −26 ÷ 10 = −2.6

The best strategy for winning is to read books you've owned for a while and that are not specifically for an April review or blog tour. There is a big penalty for reading new books.

The point to this game is to motivate us to read some of the older books we've been dying to read. I can't find the down side to playing ROOB.

The Players
Honorary member: Jen from Devourer of Books

Winning

The winner is the person with the lowest score at the end of the month. The prize is bragging rights as the ROOB champion, until we play again. The losers will each pick a book from her stacks and send it the winner. I wonder, Is that prize or punishment for the winner?

Starting Your Own Game

If you'd like to start your own group or play solo along with us, feel free! We capped the number of players for our group at eight so that it would fairly easy to keep track of scores and so the winner would not be flooded with too many new books in May.

This is all for fun and not meant to exclude anyone. If you're on Twitter, then you know two things: (1) Twitter pressure is the strongest force on earth and (2) if you pop off Twitter for even a second, you lose out!

April is shaping up to be a great month for reading: ROOB and the Readathon (more on that later in the week).

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27 March 2010

Weekend Cooking: Say Hello to King Arthur

Weekend 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, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over 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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If you paid attention to my cookbook shelves, then you saw that I own several King Arthur Flour cookbooks. I also get their Baking Sheet newsletter and buy many, many of their products.

Let me say right up front that I am just a happy customer and have no vested interested in the King Arthur Flour Company. Weekend Cooking, however, is all about foodie topics--from cozy culinary mysteries to recipes to great products--and today I'm happy to feature this fabulous employee-owned business.

I've been ordering from King Arthur for almost two decades, and I use KA flour exclusively in my kitchen. When I started to get serious about baking bread, I experimented with a number of flours and yeasts and tools, and almost every time, KA came out the winner. I do use a different bread machine from the one they sell and a different stand mixer (old-time customers will remember the "mixer wars" that KA used to print in their catalog), but I don't think you could go wrong following their advice.

I have even visited their store in Vermont. I was spending so much time shopping that Mr. BFR ended up going back to the car to take a nap while waiting for me. The staff was unbelievably friendly and helpful, and I ended up chatting away with the clerk and even struck up a conversation with a customer who was buying equipment to make her first loaf of bread. It was so much fun. One of these days, I'll have to take another detour to or from Maine to stop by the store again. Yes, a baking store is a vacation destination for me.

Nowadays, I can buy my KA flour right from the grocery store, but I still order cool gadgets and pans, grain mixes, and special ingredients from the catalog. They have the best plastic bread bags!

Here's a short video about their grain production:



Now on to the recipes! The first comes from their Baker's Companion, which is a great all-round baking book that covers breakfasts, desserts, flatbreads, crackers, cookies, quick breads, and yeast breads. There are how-to sections and information about ingredients and tools. The book also contains nutrition information, a feature I always look for. This is a solid baking book you'll turn to again and again. The second recipe comes from their latest "Baking Sheet." I tried it out last night and we both deemed it a keeper. You'll notice my great love of all things maple syrup in these recipes.

King Arthur Baking Companion at Powell's
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Maple Cornbread
  • 1 cup (4¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (4¾ ounces) yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) milk
  • ¼ cup (2¾ ounces) maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick, 2 ounces) butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly grease an 8 by 8-inch square or 9-inch round pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt until thoroughly combined. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and serve warm.

Beth Fish's notes: I use a stone-ground cornmeal.

Banana-Maple Oat Breakfast Cookies
  • 1½ cups (12½ ounces, 2-3 fruits) mashed bananas
  • ¾ cup (6 ounces) plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt
  • ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) sunflower or vegetable oil
  • ½ cup (3¼ ounces) light brown sugar
  • ½ cup (5½ ounces) maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon maple flavor
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups (10½ ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1½ cups (6 ounces) KA White Whole Wheat Flour
  • ¾ cup (3 ounces) chopped dried fruit
  • ½ cup (2 ounces) chopped nuts
  • ½ cup (2½ ounces) sunflower seeds
Mix all the ingredients in the order listed. Cover the bowl and refrigerate 1 hour to let oats and flour absorb liquid.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

Spread the batter in prepared sheets into two ½-inch thick by 2½-inch-wide by 10½-inch-long bars. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes until light golden brown at the edges. Remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Cut cookies into pieces, about 3 inches long. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Beth Fish's notes: I use grade B maple syrup, which has a stronger flavor than most syrups you buy in the store, so I left out the extra maple flavoring. I used pecans for the nuts.

EDIT: I don't know why Mr. Linky is acting up with duplicate links. Just link on up and I straighten it all up on Monday.


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26 March 2010

Featuring . . . The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha

This Friday and every Friday for the next couple of months, I will be featuring a book that was published under the Amy Einhorn Books imprint. I am starting with the 2009 books and will spotlight them in alphabetical order by year.

Neil Pasricha hasn't forgotten the little (and some not so little) pleasures of life. In The Book of Awesome, he shares those moments with us. Here's the publisher's summary:

Sometimes it's easy to forget the things that make us smile. With a 24/7 news cycle reporting that the polar ice caps are melting, hurricanes are swirling in the seas, wars are heating up around the world, and the job market is in a deep freeze, it's tempting to feel that the world is falling apart. But awesome things are all around us-sometimes we just need someone to point them out.

The Book of Awesome reminds us that the best things in life are free (yes, your grandma was right). With laugh-out-loud observations from award- winning comedy writer Neil Pasricha, The Book of Awesome is filled with smile-inducing moments on every page that make you feel like a kid looking at the world for the first time. Read it and you'll remember all the things there are to feel good about.
Neil's book is based on his award-winning blog 1000 Awesome Things. I dare you to start reading it, you'll be lost there for hours on your first visit. Just what kinds of things are awesome? The smell of rain on a hot sidewalk, popping bubble wrap, your sweatpants, snow on Christmas Eve, and being near the front of a very long line. I can't wait to finish reading this awesome book (you know I had to say that!).

Come back in April for a fun contest I'll be hosting. One lucky reader will get a signed copy of The Book of Awesome. Thanks to Neil for coming up the idea (which is a secret for now).

This book was featured as part of the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge (click to join the fun). For information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010.

The Book of Awesome at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, April 2010
ISBN-13: 9780399156519

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25 March 2010

SheKnows Book Club: Discussion

Tonight is the first live discussion of a SheKnows Book Club book! We'll be talking about Irene Zutell's Pieces of Happily Ever After. I plan to stop in add to the discussion, along with my fellow She Knows Book Club Bloggers, and, I hope, you'll be there too.

Here's the publisher's summary:

What happens after happily ever after? Alice Hirsh is about to find out . . . Alice, a former New Yorker who thought she'd never feel at home in the bizarre world of the San Fernando Valley, was adapting, raising her 5-year-old daughter while trying to keep her job and make her new house a home. When her attorney husband lands a trophy client--box-office queen Rose Maris--things begin to look up. Then Alex starts working late--a lot. He crunches his paunch into a six-pack and trades his Gap ensembles for Armani everything. Soon, Rose and Alex's affair blazes in the tabloids and Alice is plunged into trash-gossip hell. Her life crumbles around her as she navigates her newly single self through suburban LA--a place rife with porn stars, psycho soccer moms and nutty neighbors. Is there a chance to wrest Alex from the Sexiest Woman Alive? And if so . . . would Alice want him back? And what about George--her college sweatheart? Or Johnny, a walking charm-bomb paparazzo? As Alice inventories the rubble of her life, she desperately searches for her bearings and is forced to ask herself what she really wants from life, love and herself.
If you've read the novel, sign in at the SheKnows Book Club Message Boards from 6:00 to 10:00 PM EST to talk about the book.

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Thursday Tea: The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens

I'm almost done listening to Lori Lansens's The Wife's Tale. On the day of her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Mary Gooch begins to critically assess her marriage, her husband, and her life for perhaps the very first time. As her list of firsts grows, she begins to discover a personal strength and independence that no one, not even Mary, knew she had.

The Tea. I'm finishing up the Harney & Son's Holiday Tea I bought last Christmas. Fortunately, it's available year-round, because it's one of my favorites. It's a "black tea spiced with citrus, almond, clove and cinnamon." I'm thinking of buying more and trying it as an iced tea this summer.

The Assessment. Mary Gooch definitely drinks tea. I'm not sure that Holiday Tea would have been in her cupboard at the beginning of the book, but who knows what you'd find near the end. She used to drink her tea with four sugars and a lot of cream, but eventually she starts drinking it like I do: black and unsweetened.

What about you? I'd love to know what you're reading or listening to this week and what your drinking.

The Wife's Tale at Powell's
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Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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24 March 2010

Wordless Wednesday 71

Evening in Brugge


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23 March 2010

Today's Read: An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor

MizB at Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Here's how it works: Grab your current read; let the book fall open to a random page; and share 2 “teaser” sentences from that page. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

"Always remember," [Da would] say to her, "when you're telling a really good story, there's no law to stop you making things up. If you've got their attention, they're not going to be thinking about whether you actually know what one of your characters was feeling and thinking inside. They'll believe you do if you say it convincingly. You're spinning them a dream, and we all do love good dreams, so." (p. 24)
—From An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor (Source: Review copy, see review policy).

For more on Patrick Taylor, see my review of his An Irish Country Christmas, posted earlier this month.

An Irish Country Girl at Powell's
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Review: The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham

Susan Higginbotham's Stolen Crown follows the events of the British crown from 1464 to 1496. When King Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville, a woman of no great rank or political power, he did not think through the far-reaching effects that his decision would have. The strife between the houses of Lancaster and York in the late fifteenth century tore apart families and friends, from the lesser Woodvilles to the powerful Nevilles, Tudors, and Staffords.

We hear the story, in alternate sections, as told by the queen's youngest sister, Katherine Woodville, and by Henry Stafford, whom Katherine married when she was about seven years old. The choice of these points of view was excellent. Kate and Harry's youth and closeness to the king and queen allowed them to be privy to information hidden from others at court. Furthermore, they would have been eyewitnesses to many of the royal family's personal moments.

The Stolen Crown is what historical fiction is supposed to be: a great novel that accurately recounts a bit of history with characters that come to life as you read. Whether she is describing the Greenwich court, Harry's first battles, or Kate's mixed feelings at the death of Edward IV, Higginbotham pulls the us in, keeping us fully invested even when we already know what the factual end must be.

Be sure to see the fabulous guest post that Susan Higginbotham wrote for Beth Fish Reads (posted yesterday), in which she talks about her reactions to traveling.

The Stolen Crown at Powell's
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Published by Sourcebooks, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781402237669

Challenges: New Author, Historical Fiction, Tournament, 2010, 100+
YTD: 27
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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22 March 2010

Guest Post: Susan Higginbotham on Traveling

The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham takes us to England in the latter half of the 1400s, during the reign of Edward IV. The night six-year-old Kate Woodville discovers the king has secretly married her widowed sister, the little girl thinks only of gold chains and castles and knights. When she herself becomes the child bride to young Harry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, she is instantly one of the highest-ranked females in the country, although it would be years before she understood her true position.

When the conflicts between the houses of Lancaster and York come to head, Harry and Kate find themselves caught in the middle of their divided families. With England's crown at stake, on which side will the young couple align themselves?

I am so excited to welcome author Susan Higginbotham to my blog today. I asked her tell us a little bit about what it's like to travel when doing research for her wonderful historical novels.

On the Road with History

I am geographically challenged, as my Loved Ones will gleefully tell you and support with examples. I was at a truly embarrassing age before I really sorted out the concepts of east and west (north and south I had down pretty well, being from the South), and if I had to do one of those psychological tests that entail drawing a map of the United States, I'd probably end up in a mental hospital. So it's been invaluable for me to travel across the Atlantic (see, I know my oceans now!) to see the places I've written about in my novels.

When I travel for research, I get to see the structures in which my characters dwelled and worshiped and the countryside through which they journeyed. I can get a sense of proportion, of texture, and of distance; I can get a feel for the climate. But for me, the most valuable part of travel, both as a writer and as a reader, is the spine-tingling feeling of standing in a place, knowing that the people you’re writing about once stood there too. That’s something you just can’t get from looking at a picture in the book or on the Internet.

Unfortunately, I can't get to all of the places I've written about, and even when I am able to visit a place, I still have to make the mental leap into the past. The ruined castle that I see in the twenty-first century was once someone’s home, bustling with servants and retainers and horses, its bare walls hung with tapestries, its kitchen humming with activity. The people who lived in that castle had much in common with me, but in countless ways, they were different, and I as an author of historical fiction have to remember that as well.

The past, as L. P. Hartley said, is a foreign country. Travel is just one means a novelist can use in her quest to get her readers there—but it’s by far one of the most pleasurable ways. Here’s to happy travels for all of us, whether we make our journey in person or through the pages of a book.
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I know just what you mean, Susan. Whether I'm in center city Philadelphia or within the walls of Brugge, I have had that indescribable feeling when thinking about the generations of people and families who stood there before me. Each individual had hopes and dreams but likely had no idea that he or she would have an effect on readers and writers in the twenty-first century.

Please come back tomorrow to read my review of The Stolen Crown.

The Stolen Crown at Powell's
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For more on Susan Higginbotham, please visit her website and her blog.

Susan Higginbotham's meticulously researched historical fiction brought to life by her heartfelt writing delights readers. Higginbotham runs her own historical fiction/history blog and is a contributor to the blog "Yesterday Revisited." She has worked as an editor and an attorney and lives in Apex, North Carolina, with her family.

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21 March 2010

Readalong 2: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien


It's time for the second set of questions for this month's Lord of the Rings Readalong. Our host for The Two Towers is Teresa from Shelf Love, has come up with some great questions.

1. Where are you in your reading? Are you finding it slow going or is it a quick read?

I've finished The Two Towers. I listened to the unabridged audio edition of the book, so reading was neither slow nor fast, but I found it hard to put the book down. After the slower pace of The Fellowship of the Ring, this novel is action packed, taking us to our first battles. Strange alliances are made, and the characters are forced to make critical decisions that could affect not only themselves but all of Middle Earth.

2. If you’re a rereader, how does this reading compare to past readings? If you're a first-time reader, how has The Two Towers met—or not met—your expectations? What has surprised you most in your reading?

Although other participants in the readalong have already mentioned it, I'd like to comment on the strength of this novel. The middle entry of many trilogies suffer from being a transition book, a vehicle to get the reader from the setup to the climax. Tolkien, however, crafted a novel that stands up well on its own. New characters are introduced, all plot lines are advanced, and there is a good mix of action and suspense. As I mentioned in my first discussion of The Two Towers, the personalities of main characters grow, and their qualities are tested. In some cases, the strength of an individual is surprising or inspiring.

3. In Book 3, we visit lots of new places and meet lots of new characters. There's Fangorn and the Ents, the riders of Rohan, Saruman at Isengard. Which are your favorites? Least favorites?

I already mention how much I like the Ents and Éowyn. I finally got to meet Faramir of Gondor again! He is one of my favorites. I admire the way he treats Frodo and Sam, with just the right mix of distrust and fairness until he learns their story. He digs deep enough to get the information he needs to make a wise decision about the Hobbits' fate, while respecting the secrets they must keep. Although we learn he is Boromir's brother, and we see that his men respect him, we do not yet know much about his father. In Lord of the Rings, events, relationships, individuals, and places may be hinted at and foreshadowed, but these are revealed only slowly, as they are in real life.

4. Have your opinions of the main characters from Fellowship changed at all in The Two Towers?

No. I don't think my opinions of the main characters have changed, but this may be the result of how familiar I am with the books. We see new aspects of their personalities, such as the burden of Frodo, the resourcefulness and loyalty of Sam, the practical bravery of Gimili, and the self-doubts of Aragorn. The important characters are realistically portrayed: they make mistakes, lose their temper, or can be foolish, but in the end, their true nature shines through.

5. Are there any scenes that strike you as particularly memorable? Anything you could do without?

Oh no! Don't cut anything from LOTR! I like every bit of it. I love the horrible scenes when Frodo and Sam meet Shelob and discover the power of Galadriel's light and of the sword Sting. Sam's dilemma and his ultimate choices are key to the tale's conclusion, yet his struggle is not overdone. Of course, I love it when Pippin and Merry meet up with Aragorn, Gimili, and Legolas again. The sharing of their adventures over food and drink is a welcome break after the death and destruction of battle.

6. And the obligatory movie question: If you've seen the movie, has it affected your perception of The Two Towers? If so, how?

I'll touch on just one thing here: the relationship between Frodo and Sam. I never understood why Peter Jackson had to make Frodo turn against Sam. Although Frodo feels the weight and pull of the ring, his personal strength is that he never shies away from what he must do and never doubts the loyalty of Sam. The distance between master and servant is ever shrinking, and their bond never breaks. As I've said before, I am able to keep the movie and the novel separate; it's only when I make these side-by-side comparisons that I get upset with the films.

To see what the other participants think, check out the Mr. Linky in Teresa's post. Next month, it's The Return of the King, and then I'll be leaving LOTR for another few years.

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20 March 2010

Weekend Cooking: Chocolate Raspberry Squares

Weekend 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, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over 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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Last week I had several requests for the chocolate raspberry oat bars I mentioned in my cookbook shelves post. So that's what today's Weekend Cooking is all about.

The recipe comes from Quaker Oat's Favorite Recipe Collection, which was published on the company's 120th anniversary. The great thing about these bars is that the fruit flavor comes from preserves, so you can use your favorite or whatever you happen to have on hand. (Note: measurements are U.S. standards)

Chocolate Raspberry Squares

Yield: 36 squares

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups Quaker Oats (quick or old-fashioned, uncooked)
⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, chilled and cut into pieces
¼ cup chopped almonds (optional)
¾ cup raspberry preserves
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup (3 ounces) vanilla milk chips or semisweet chocolate chips (optional for drizzling)

1. Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugars, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture is crumbly. Reserve 1 cup oat mixture for topping, set aside. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of ungreased 8-inch square pan. Bake 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir almonds into reserved oat mixture.

2. Spread preserves evenly over partially baked crust to within ¼ inch of edges; sprinkle evenly with 1 cup chocolate chips and then sprinkle the reserved oat mixture on top. Pat topping gently. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely.

3. If desired, melt the vanilla or chocolate chips and drizzle over the top. Let bars stand until set. Cut into bars and store tightly covered.

Beth Fish's notes: I'm usually too lazy to drizzle any chocolate on top and the bars don't really need the extra chocolate. I've used different preserves, but my favorites are raspberry and apricot.


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19 March 2010

Review: Flawless by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell

Flawless by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell tells the true-life story of the robbery of the underground vault of the Antwerp Diamond Center. This is true crime at its best: from the personalities involved to the months of planning, to the investigation, and to the aftermath of the heist.

On February 15, 2003, the School of Turin (as the gang of thieves is called) entered and robbed one of the most impenetrable vaults on earth. The millions of dollars worth of diamonds, gold, gems, and currency has never been recovered.

Flawless reads like a fast-paced novel or movie script, moving seamlessly among the criminals' work setting up the robbery, the history of the diamond district, the nature of the diamond business, and the personalities of the people investigating the crime. The story of the diamond heist covers more than two years of hard work on the part of the thieves, who operated out of at least two countries. We learn how Leonardo Notarbartolo infiltrated the Diamond Center and managed to relate even the most minute details of the security system to his co-conspirators. From these data, the School of Turin was able to devise the tools and methods for circumventing numerous security blocks and pulling off the robbery without resorting to violence.

Throughout the story, we are struck with the amazing mix of skill and luck on the part of both the thieves and the investigators and the subtle and obvious gaps in the Diamond District's anti-theft measures. At times we are left shaking our heads as we learn of the center's policies: What were they thinking?

On a more personal note, one of my favorite parts of the book is the description of the diamond business. Yes, indeed, millions of dollars worth of sales are done on the basis of a handshake and reputation alone. My grandfather was a jeweler who dealt in diamonds and other stones and often told stories of this: no contracts, no lawyers, just a handshake and a promise, often between strangers. The contrast of that trust among the diamond dealers with the high security, alarms, and thick vaults of the individual jeweler's place of business has intrigued me since I was quite young.

Flawless tells an exciting story that shines light not only on a specific crime and group of criminals but also on the many faceted world of diamonds.

Be sure to see Scott Selby's fabulous guest post for Beth Fish Reads, which includes the book trailer (posted yesterday).

Flawless at Powell's
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Published by Union Square Press, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781402766510

Challenges: New Author, 100+
YTD: 25
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A

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Featuring . . . Ten Degrees of Reckoning by Hester Romberg

This Friday and every Friday for the next couple of months, I will be featuring a book that was published under the Amy Einhorn Books imprint. I am starting with the 2009 books and will spotlight them in alphabetical order.

Hester Rumberg's Ten Degrees of Reckoning is a true story of shipwreck, survival, and healing. Here's the publisher's summary:

In 1993, Judith and Michael Sleavin and their two children set out to live their dream: to sail around the world. But one night, a freighter off the coast of New Zealand altered its course by a mere ten degrees. And changed everything. After surviving forty-four hours in the water, with a back broken in several places and paralyzed below the waist, Judith miraculously survived. Doctors would later say she suffered one of the worst cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome ever documented. News of the collision made headlines around the world, but, distraught, Judith never talked to the press. Her body was broken, and so was her soul.

Twelve years later, Judith turned to her best friend, Hester Rumberg, and asked her to write what was too painful for her to write. The result is a gripping, unbelievable yet true story of one family’s love, of profound loss, and of a remarkable woman who decided to live when others might have decided otherwise. But always it is a stunning account of survival, a meditation on the strength of friendship and community. It is a universal tale of how any of our lives might be unexpectedly altered, how we might have to change what we hope for, and how we can move forward in times of tragedy.
This is one Amy Einhorn Book that I can't wait to read because it touches on many areas that interest me. I grew up in a sailing family, and although we never set out to circumnavigate the globe, we took short cruises in the Great Lakes. I have always been fascinated by survivor tales and the strength of the human spirit to keep going when it would be so much easier to simply give up. I can't imagine the terror, pain, and sorrow that Judith carried with her as she made her way to New Zealand.

Ten Degrees of Reckoning was an Indie Next pick and consistently gets 4.5- to 5-star ratings at commercial book sites, social book sites, and online reviews.

For more information about the book, Hester Romberg, and Judith Sleavin, visit the Ten Degrees of Reckoning website.

This book was featured as part of the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge (click to join the fun). For information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010.

Ten Degrees of Reckoning at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780399155352

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18 March 2010

Guest Post: Scott Andrew Selby (Flawless)

As I'm sure you know by now, Flawless by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell tells the story of "the largest diamond heist in history." The true story of how Leonardo Notarbartolo infiltrated the Antwerp Diamond District and discovered the Achilles heel of one of the world's tightest the security systems is as exciting as any made-up thriller. My review will be posted tomorrow.

Today, I am pleased to welcome Scott Selby and his first-ever guest post for a book blog! Many of us have attended book readings or signings, but have you ever thought about such an event from the author's viewpoint? Scott tells us what it's like and offers some tips for the audience.

Inside a Book Reading

I became a published author of a nonfiction book (Flawless: Inside the World’s Largest Diamond Heist) just a few weeks ago and so have now done a few readings. My first reading was at one of my favorite bookstores, McNally Jackson in New York City. It was a strange and exhilarating feeling to be there talking about my book, when I had spent so much time there before as a member of the audience listening to other people speak about their books.

My co-author, Greg Campbell, had done untold numbers of readings to promote his two prior books, so he approached our first reading together as an old pro. For me, it was all new. I’ll share with you what I’ve learned from that first reading and the readings we’ve done since then. I’ll include a few pointers on giving a reading as well as being in the audience for one.

We mostly wanted to talk about our book and some of the behind-the-scenes stuff but decided that it was important for us to make sure we actually did read something from Flawless. While the process of reading at an author event can be a bit boring for the author as well as for the audience if it goes on too long, it worked really well to read for two to three minutes just to give the audience a feel for the book's prose.

I read from the prologue, which worked well as it introduces the book, and so those in the audience who were not familiar with Flawless could easily appreciate it. Our prologue describes in detail the scene on the morning following Valentine’s Day weekend 2003 when the Belgian detectives first descended to the Antwerp Diamond Center’s vault and saw the wealth of diamonds, gold, and other treasures scattered amidst the less valuable remnants of opened security deposit boxes.

Next, Greg and I took turns talking about the heist itself and how the Turin-based thieves got away with an estimated €100–400 million worth of loot. We also talked about the larger settings of the criminal underworld in Turin and the Antwerp Diamond District. Instead of simply rehashing what we cover in detail in our book, Greg and I first focused on giving a broad overview of these subjects and then quickly moved on to some of the more colorful background stories.

The audience seemed to especially enjoy short anecdotes about how we learned some of the details that we need for Flawless, like how Greg managed to get to the vault level of the building and how we obtained the blueprints to the place. We also had some funny stories about the various people we met while working on this book, including my own interactions with the building’s manager back in February 2006 when she yelled at me for working on this project.

We kept our presentation down to about twenty-five minutes or so and then took questions from the audience. We were lucky that everyone asked questions that were about the book itself, I’ve been to plenty of readings where people ask about the most random things that have little to nothing to do with the topic at hand. If I needed a moment to think, I’d say “That’s a great question,” before answering, buying a few seconds to process everything.

I think if you are asking questions at a reading, the best thing would be to just ask a single question and make sure it’s relevant. I remember one reading I went to on a book about economic theory and the environment, and someone kept trying to ask questions about some kind of plastic polymer. The poor author had no idea what to say.

At a reading in Colorado, we did get one woman who prefaced her question by saying that she had three different questions to ask. When she said that, I felt super anxious that this was going to be one of those difficult situations in which a single person takes up all the question-and-answer time, but surprisingly, it turned out fine. All three questions were concise and relevant.

Afterward, we signed books which was fun. I always asked people how they spell their name as I quickly learned that even a common name like Christy could be spelled any number of ways. I also asked people if they wanted something funny, just their name, or just a signature. After the audience had dissipated, we stuck around to sign stock for the bookstore and say a heartfelt thanks to them for having us there. And with that, the reading was over and the high from public speaking faded fast.

Thank you, Candace, for giving me the chance to write my first guest post.
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Thanks to you, Scott, for agreeing to be a guest here on Beth Fish Reads and for offering some great advice on book readings. I try to stick to specific and relevant questions, but I can see how easy it is to get carried away when one is excited about a book or an author.

Look for my review of Flawless tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's the book trailer.



Flawless at Powell's
Flawless at Amazon
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For more on the book and the authors, visit the Flawless website.

Scott Andrew Selby is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. He also has a masters degree in Human Rights and Intellectual Property Law from Sweden’s Lund University, where he wrote his thesis on diamonds. He is licensed to practice law in California and New York.

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17 March 2010

Wordless Wedhesday 70

Sunrise (New Jersey Shore)


For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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16 March 2010

Review: Taroko Gorge by Jacob Ritari

Journalist Peter Neils is back in Taiwan on another assignment, this time with a young photographer, Josh Pickett, to write about a Buddhist temple. When they have a couple of days to themselves, Neils suggests a visit to Taiwan's most famous national park, Taroko Gorge.

On a school bus of Japanese middle-school students, girls are gossiping about boys, boys are flirting with girls, and almost all are wondering how they got stuck going to Taroko Gorge for their school trip--Hawaii would have been so much more fun.

By the end of day, three girls are missing, and the American men may have been the last to see them. Before the Taiwanese detective has finished the preliminary questioning, the students, teacher, park manager, and journalists have each come up with his or her own theory. Distrust, accusations, fear, and ultimately the truth have life-altering effects on all those involved in the incident.

Taroko Gorge by Jacob Ritari explores so much more than the disappearance of three fifteen-year-old girls. The story is told from at least four viewpoints: Peter Neils, experienced American journalist; Michiko Kamakiri, insecure Japanese schoolgirl; Tohru Maruyama, responsible (male) Japanese class representative; and Hsien Chao, Taiwanese detective. Each perspective is colored by the personal history of the character and by private truths that perhaps shouldn't be shared.

As we piece together the lives of a handful of diverse individuals who were involved in the events of a few hours in a national park, we are forced to consider several larger issues, including fate, religion, and multicultural contact. Can we control our own fate or do seemingly harmless lies, misunderstandings, and thoughtless comments have power over others? Once Detective Chao comes on the scene, suspicions are quickly formed and expressed. Later, we wonder if the accusers are responsible for how the innocent react.

Ritari examines fate in terms of both interpersonal interactions and religious and spiritual experience. Although Neils claims he stopped believing in God when he was fourteen, he acts as a hub or bridge connecting the Buddhist monks he meets, his Catholic missionary brother, and Pickett's druggie American version of Buddhism. Among the students, Michiko plays a similar role as she tries on various spiritual capes and struggles with understanding a classmate's immersion in Mahikari, a "new religion."

Two other themes found in Taroko Gorge are intergenerational issues and how culture and history affect the way the Japanese, Taiwanese, and Americans respond to each other and to the emergency of the missing schoolgirls. The novel can be read on a number of different levels, and it is difficult to resist the temptation to immediately restart the book after finishing the last page.

Although we learn a truth about the incident, Ritari leaves us on our own to ponder the future of the main characters.

I felt something. But what it was, I didn't care to think about. Every day thousands of prayers were poured inside, for the living and dead, recovery from illness, recovery of lost things, patience, wisdom, courage. Millions of prayers if you counted everyone across the world. And where did they go? They must go somewhere. Nothing in this world really disappears. (p. 239)

Taroko Gorge at Powell's
Taroko Gorge at Amazon
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Published by Unbridled Books, July 2010
ISBN-13: 9781936071654

Challenges: New Author, eBook, Global, 2010, 100+
YTD: 24
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A


I read Taroko Gorge as part of the Spotlight Series, developed to "help . . . spread the word on quality books published by small press publishers." For more information and to join future spotlight projects, visit the series's blog.

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15 March 2010

Review: Beautiful Dead by Eden Maguire

Publisher's Summary: Beautiful Dead by Eden Maguire.

Darina's year goes from bad to worse when her boyfriend, Phoenix, is killed in a knife fight, making him the fourth student from their high school to die that year. She's certain that she's going crazy when she sees him and the others in an abandoned barn, but when Phoenix kisses her, she's convinced he's come back to life.

Jonas, Summer, Arizona, and Phoenix have been brought back from limbo by the enigmatic and sometimes frightening Hunter and are allowed to remain in the world of the living for one year in order to set right a wrong linked to their deaths. In exchange for being allowed to see Phoenix, Darina agrees to help the undead teens find justice, starting with Jonas whose year is nearly up.
Why I Abandoned the Book: I read a quarter of the book before I gave up on it. The principal problem for me was that the reader is immediately thrown into Darina's world with no explanation. Although this can work well as a plot device, here I simply felt lost. Too much happened too quickly for me, and I made no emotional connection to Darina and her situation. As a result, I did not share her shock at seeing her dead friends walking and talking. The writing style was a bit choppy, but had I related to the story, I think I would have gotten past that.

A Quick Look at Reviews: Other reviewers were not bothered by the same things I was. S. Krishna's Books commented: "the reader is plunged straight into the story with Darina. This makes the novel very exciting and as a result, the reader is hooked from beginning to end." Jenn's Bookshelves said: "Maguire’s writing style is very readable and flows well." The commercial book sites give Beautiful Dead 4 stars, and the social book sites also give the novel about 4 stars. I encourage you to visit the Teen Fire ning site and read the first chapter and see the book trailer.

Beautiful Dead at Powell's
Beautiful Dead at Amazon
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Published by Sourcebooks / Fire, March 2010
ISBN-13: 9781402239441

Challenges: New Author, Young Adult, 2010, 100+
YTD: 23
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: DNF

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14 March 2010

Review: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (Graphic Novel)

When I learned that Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice was turned into a graphic novel, adapted by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus, I had to get a copy for myself.

The graphic version follows the original story line but leaves out several minor characters and scenes, and we barely see Kitty and Mary. Although a true fan of P&P (like me) will want to read the adaptation, the book is more like a colorful CliffsNotes summary than the classic novel. The important plot points are covered, familiar dialogue is presented, but the reader is not drawn to the characters and does not become lost in the tale.

The drawings themselves are well done, but the Bennett sisters (as was pointed out by other bloggers) have a somewhat modern look. Mr. Darcy is handsome enough, but Mr. Wickham is not as charming as he should be when we first meet him.

Regardless, if you can't get enough Austen and if Pride & Prejudice is a favorite book, you'll want to add the graphic novel to your collection. The scanned page is from beginning, and shows the artwork and dialogue. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)


Published by Marvel Comics, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780785139157

Challenges: Graphic Novel, Buy & Read, 100+
YTD: 22
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: C

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13 March 2010

Weekend Cooking: A Look at My Book Shelves

Weekend 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, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over 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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On Thursday afternoon (on Twitter, where else?), I got a couple of requests to reveal what cookbooks are on currently-cooking-from shelves. As many of you know, I own close to 1000 cookbooks. Obviously, I'm not cooking out all them on a daily basis. Most of my collection is housed on the second floor; the cookbooks that live downstairs are the ones I use frequently.

Some books stay downstairs permanently, others get rotated out by season. This is not a purposeful cycle, it happens naturally. If I were to photograph these shelves next fall, you'd see a lot more vegetable and vegetarian books, farmers market books, and grilling books than you'll see today.

I'm going to go through the shelves quickly--some of these books were reviewed in previous Weekend Cooking posts, some will be reviewed in the months to come. Some of these may be out of print by now. I bake bread a couple times of week, so you'll see lots of bread books. But enough with the introduction . . . let's look at the books (click on the photos for full size).

Shelf 1. If you can find Michael Field's Culinary Classics and Improvisations, pick it up. He presents a master recipe and then three or four recipes for using the leftovers. I turn to this every time I make a ham, turkey, or large roast. Art Fare was published by the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art and includes recipes from that city's chefs. The two Ellie Krieger books are my new absolute favorites. I reviewed Lidia Bastianich and What to Cook earlier. I have all of the Ina Garten books; these are the two that are downstairs at the moment--love them all. I have made almost everything in Marion Burros's Keep It Simple; note how worn it looks. I like both Beatrice Ojakangus (my maple cinnamon rolls are in here; recipe in a future post) and Lora Brody. The last one is Marie Simmons's A to Z Bar Cookies.

Shelf 2. I really like Beth Hensperger's bread recipes, and this shelf contains two of her books. The Londons' Fresh Fruit Desserts cookbook is pretty much my go-to book for fruit desserts. This is another one you shouldn't pass by. I have most of Nigella Lawson's books; I don't cook out of them every week, but I like her style and attitude. Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home is practically falling apart, I use it so often. I reviewed Crescent Dragonwagon's Soup & Bread book earlier. You can't go wrong with any King Arthur Flour book; this is their cookie book. Ken Haedrich's Country Baking has my favorite cracker recipe in it.

Shelf 3. Like I said, the King Arthur Flour baking books are fabulous. This self has a general baking book, their 200th anniversary book, and a whole grains book. I have a few of the Time-Life books I picked up at yard sales; this one is Fresh Ways with Lamb. We buy a whole lamb every year, so I use this book for ideas. The spiral book is from a women's group my mother belonged to. Fish: The Basics by Shirley King is just that: a good, solid book on how to cook all kinds of seafood. Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen is a nice one for farmers market season, as is Ruth Spear's The Classic Vegetable Cookbook. The skinny red and blue book is by Quaker Oats and has an oat-raspberry bar we love. Oops! I almost forgot Seasons of Central Pennsylvania by Anne Quinn Corr; this has local recipes and photos.

Shelf 4. First up is another Marie Simmons book; this one is Muffins A to Z. Peter Reinhart's bread books are wonderful (I have several), this one is Artisan Bread Every Day. I love Paula Wolfert, and have most of her cookbooks; here is The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. Bert Greene is another author I like (he died too young in 1988); his Greene on Greens is downstairs right now. I have three Silver Palate books, and they are all worth owning. I used to give The New Basics to new cooks. Lorna Sass is the queen of the pressure cooker, and I own all of her books (and I love my pressure cooker); here is Pressure Perfect. The title of Deborah Madison's cookbook is all that's needed: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Of all the Julia Child books, The Way to Cook (it weighs a ton!) is the one I turn to again and again.

Hope you enjoyed this visit to my cookbook shelves.

Thanks to Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog and Swapna from S. Krishna's Books for the encouraging me to write this post. If someone reminds me in the fall, I'll mention the books that found their way to the current shelves over the summer (and only those books, so it'd be a shorter post).

FTC: I bought most of these books, a couple were review copies, some were gifts. I can't keep everything straight.


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12 March 2010

Featuring . . . Remedies by Kate Ledger

This Friday and every Friday for the next couple of months, I will be featuring a book that was published under the Amy Einhorn Books imprint. I am starting with the 2009 books and will spotlight them in alphabetical order.

Kate Ledger's Remedies focuses on the fragile marriage of a modern Baltimore couple. The Publisher's Weekly's starred review calls it: "an impressive portrait of a family in crisis, executed with finesse and assurance."

Here's the publisher's summary:

Simon and Emily Bear look like a couple that has it all. Simon is a respected doctor. His wife, Emily, shines as a partner in a premier public relations firm. But their marriage is scarred by hidden wounds. Even as Simon tends his patients' ills, and Emily spins away her clients' mistakes, they can't seem to do the same for themselves or their relationship.

Simon becomes convinced he's discovered a cure for chronic pain, a finding that could become a medical breakthrough, yet he is oblivious to the pain that he causes at home. Emily, struggling to move beyond the devastating loss she and Simon suffered fifteen years earlier, realizes she hasn't felt anything for a long time--that is, until a lover from her past resurfaces and forces her to examine her marriage anew.

In a debut novel on par with today's top women writers, Remedies explores the complicated facets of pain, in the nerves of the body and the longings of the heart. Depicting modern-day marriage with a razor-sharp eye, Remedies is about what it takes, as an individual and as a couple, to recover from profound loss.
I was immediately attracted to the basic premise of Remedies. I have no firsthand experience with Simon and Emily's loss, but I know people who have. Tragedy and sorrow affect families, couples, and individuals differently, and this is a topic that I find fascinating to explore.

I'm also excited about Remedies because Kate Ledger is a Pennsylvania author. That means I plan to feature her as part of the Literary Road Trip project. So look forward to a guest post or interview later in the spring.

Visit Kate Ledger's website to learn more about her and her novel.

This book was featured as part of the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge (click to join the fun). For information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010.

Remedies at Powell's
Remedies at Amazon
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780399155895

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