31 July 2010

Weekend Cooking: Grilled Pizza

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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I finally remembered to make pizza and take photos at the same time. It was an interesting experiment because Mr. BFR was not home during the grilling procedure, and I had to do a lot of tasks all at once. Plus the grill gets really hot, so it's not easy to get good photos. Oh well, I did my best.

I use a dough recipe from Lora Bordy's Pizza Focaccia, Flat and Filled Breads (William Morrow, 1995), and I more or less follow the grilling instructions published in a King Arthur Flour Baking Sheet a couple of years ago.

I make the dough in my bread machine, use my hands to form rustic pizzas, and grill them on my gas grill. I line half my grill with unglazed quarry tiles for finishing the pizzas. To see any of the photos full size, click on the image.

Pizza Dough
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup coarse-ground cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water (and a bit more if necessary)
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
Add the ingredients to your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Use the dough or pizza setting.

Forming Crusts and Initial Grilling
  • Olive oil for brushing
Just before the dough is ready, line one half of your grill with unglazed quarry tiles and heat the grill on high, using all three burners.

When the dough is ready, place it on a lightly floured surface and divide it into two or three equal balls. I make three pizzas out of this recipe because I like a thin crust. Put two balls of dough aside and cover with a tea towel. Sprinkle your peel with a bit of cornmeal.

Stretch out the the dough until it is the thickness and size you like. I make about a 10½-inch pizza because it fits my grill, peel, and tiles. Place the dough on your peel and brush the top of the dough with olive oil. Take the pizza to your grill, lay the peel on the tiles and then pick up the dough and place it, oil side down on the grill (remove the peel from the grill).

With the lid open, let the dough cook for 30 seconds. Take a spatula or your peel and rotate (do not flip) the dough 90 degrees. Then brush the top with olive oil and let the dough cook for 1 minute. Using a spatula or your peel, pick the dough up, flip it, and let it grill for 1 minute. Remove the crust from the grill without flipping it and transfer to a rack.

Repeat for the other crusts.

Making the Pizza
  • Pizza sauce (I use organic Muir Glenn)
  • toppings
  • Mozzarella cheese (I use part skim milk)
Close the lid on the grill to retain the heat.

Sprinkle your peel with some cornmeal, and place a crust on it, without flipping the crust. In other words, the side that was cooked for 1½ minutes should be facing up.

Spread on tomato sauce. Place your toppings. Top with cheese. Try not to go crazy with the cheese, otherwise the crust may get too dark before the cheese has melted. Or you can try turning down your grill.

Take your peel back to the grill and slide the pizza onto the hot quarry tiles. Close the lid and bake until the cheese has melted. This takes anywhere from 4 to 10 minutes depending on the temperature of your grill.

Repeat with your other crusts (I have two peels so I can cook the pizzas fairly quickly). Enjoy!

For pizza night this week I made a fresh basil and garlic pizza, a grated summer squash and hot pepper pizza, and an onion and black olive pizza. The basil was the winner for taste and the other two tied at a close second.

We have had a few different grilling techniques featured for Weekend Cooking this summer. Please share your own if you haven't yet done so.


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30 July 2010

Featuring . . . The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

This Friday and every Friday for the next several months I'll be featuring a book in the Harper Perennial Imprint. Some were recently published, some will be released later this year, all are worth a closer look.

I was sold on The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter when it came out in hardcover and was reviewed and loved by many book bloggers. I'm going to share some of those reviews in minute, but first take a look at the publisher's summary:

A few years ago, small-time finance journalist Matthew Prior quit his day job to gamble everything on a quixotic notion: a Web site devoted to financial journalism in the form of blank verse. When his big idea—and his wife's eBay resale business—ends with a whimper (and a garage full of unwanted figurines), they borrow and borrow, whistling past the graveyard of their uncertain dreams. One morning Matt wakes up to find himself jobless, hobbled with debt, spying on his wife's online flirtation, and six days away from losing his home. Is this really how things were supposed to end up for me, he wonders: staying up all night worried, driving to 7-Eleven in the middle of the night to get milk for his boys, and falling in with two local degenerates after they offer him a hit of high-grade marijuana?

Or, he thinks, could this be the solution to all my problems?

Following Matt in his weeklong quest to save his marriage, his sanity, and his dreams, The Financial Lives of the Poets is a hysterical, heartfelt novel about how we can reach the edge of ruin—and how we can begin to make our way back.
What can I say? I love the premise, and I want to know what happens after Matt smokes dope. But the real reason I want to read this novel is because of the many enthusiastic reviews I came across last year when the hardcover was released. Here are three (click on the links for the full review):
  • Carrie from Books and Movies: "Mixing humor and poetry with observations of modern life, Walter has crafted a story that kept me turning the pages."
  • Lisa from Lit and Life: "Even though Walter may have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this book in terms of problems the Priors are facing, it never seems unbelievable. . . . Walter keeps it from getting too heavy, constantly throwing in characters and situations that made me giggle as I read the book."
  • Melissa at The Betty and Boo Chronicles: "I think one of the hallmarks of a good writer is one who can make you love and hate a character within the same sentence. And Jess Walter—who is a very, very, very good writer—succeeds at this with his main character of Matt."
The Harper Perennial edition of The Financial Lives of Poets will be released on September 7. For more on Jess Walter and his current tour schedule, visit his website.

This book was featured as part of my Spotlight on the Harper Perennial imprint. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. You might also want to visit the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

The Financial Lives of the Poets at Powell's
The Financial Lives of the Poets at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, September 7, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061916052

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Penguin's Anniversary and Giveaway

Today is Penguin Books' official 75th anniversary! I am so pleased to be able to celebrate this event with you.

Penguin has set up a website to celebrate their anniversary, and you should check it out. I loved looking through the Penguin 75 list (one book for each year), and was pleasantly surprised by how many I have read.

Visit the website to learn the history of Penguin Books and the answer to the question, Why a penguin?

Here is one video that I particularly liked, but the entire series, available on the website, is interesting.



The Giveaway

As part of the celebration Penguin offered me the opportunity to choose a book from the Penguin 75 list to give internationally to one of my readers. Here's the book I picked:

I bought and read Zlata's Diary in the late 1990s. I don't remember much of the details, but I do remember the emotional journey as I read about how Zlata's life changed from one of school, friends, family, television, and music to a world of bombs, hunger, cold, fear, and death. This book is not about the politics of Bosnia but about how a young girl reacted to seeing the destruction of her city.

I will never be able to think of Sarajevo again without seeing at least some of it through Zlata's eyes. Although it won't take you long to read this moving diary of a preteen survivor of a modern European war, you will remember it and think about it for a long time.

Here's the publisher's summary:
When Zlata's Diary was first published at the height of the Bosnian conflict, it became an international bestseller and was compared to The Diary of Anne Frank, both for the freshness of its voice and the grimness of the world it describes. It begins as the day-to-day record of the life of a typical eleven-year-old girl, preoccupied by piano lessons and birthday parties. But as war engulfs Sarajevo, Zlata Filipovic becomes a witness to food shortages and the deaths of friends and learns to wait out bombardments in a neighbor's cellar. Yet throughout she remains courageous and observant. The result is a book that has the power to move and instruct readers a world away.
I am happy to be able to offer one of you a copy of this book. The giveaway is open internationally. To enter, leave a comment telling me
  • The title of one war book you have read or would like to read.
  • Your email address.
This giveaway is open until I turn on my computer on August 9. Good luck and I hope you are as touched by Zlata's Diary as I was.

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29 July 2010

News: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins



I know you read the first two and you can't wait for the third . . . but are you ready for this?

The Official Mockingjay 13-District Blog Tour

Well, hold on to your hat, because August is going to be a big month for Suzanne Collins fans.

I am absolutely thrilled to give you hint of things to come. First, Beth Fish Reads is participating in the tour. Be sure to mark your calendar for Monday, August 30, when the tour stops here to honor District 13!


On that day, I'll publish a post about District 13 and will be holding an exclusive (secret for now!) giveaway.

Throughout August, you'll be able to visit all 13 districts, share your excitement for Mockingjay, enter giveaways, and read a variety of posts about the trilogy.

You also don't want to miss the Official Hunger Games Facebook Page, where the tour stop calendar will be listed along with news, polls, trivia games, videos, and more. You can also visit the Facebook page by clicking on the District 13 badge in my sidebar.

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to participating in this tour. Let the games begin!

Well, you didn't think I'd end the post without a shout-out to Gale did you?

In case you haven't yet read the books or need a quick refresher on the first two, check out my reviews: The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

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28 July 2010

Wordless Wednesday 88

Daisies, 2010


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27 July 2010

Today's Read: Angelology by Danielle Trussoni


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.

The creatures hissed from their rocky cells as we approached, venomous as snakes, their startling blue eyes fixing upon us, their mighty wings beating against the bars of their prison, hundreds of impenitent dark angels tearing at their glowing white robes, crying out for salvation, beseeching us, the emissaries of God, to set them free. (p. 200)
—From Angelology by Danielle Trussoni (Source: Review copy, see review policy)

Angelology at Powell's
Angelology at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.


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26 July 2010

Review: Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

Sumiko and her brother, Tak-Tak, live with their grandfather, aunt, uncle, and older male cousins on a flower farm in southern California. She is the only Japanese girl in her sixth-grade class, and the other kids haven't warmed up to her. Since Sumiko's parents died in a car accident, she has been careful to work hard on the farm and take care of her little brother.

Although she hears talk of the wars in Europe and in Japan, they seem very far away to the twelve-year-old. But once Pearl Harbor is attacked, the realities of World War II and true prejudice change Sumiko's life in unimaginable ways.

Although Cynthia Kadohata's Weedflower is marketed to middle readers, it is really a book for everyone. The drastic changes in Japanese-Americans' lives after Pearl Harbor are exemplified by what happens to Sumkio's family. Many of us know that American citizens of Japanese ancestry were put in relocation camps, but few us know the details or the anguish of the families affected.

In Sumiko's case, the family lost everything that they had worked two generations to build: farm, business, home, and personal possessions. Although they were full citizens, they were denied all rights and freedoms. Sumiko's family was split up and had no way of knowing if they would ever be reunited again. Dreams were shattered, and cultural traditions were destroyed.

One of the more interesting parts of Sumiko's story is when she and some family members are relocated to Arizona on what was Native American lands. The contrast between how the U.S. government treated Japanese-Americans and Indians is striking and eye-opening. Although considered potential enemies of the state, the Japanese were fed, had electricity, and were able to build irrigation ditches and grow food. The Native Americans, on the other hand, were given nothing. Not only was part of their land taken away but they had no access to resources or even to reliable education.

The narrative is told from Sumiko's viewpoint, which keeps the novel very much a coming-of-age story. The book tells it like it was and does not devolve into finger pointing. The basis of the novel is found in the author's own family history.

Weedflower won or was nominated for almost twenty awards. The historical novel would make a good book club pick for parent-child and for adult book clubs. Kadohata focuses on different levels of prejudice, conflicts among the generations, changing cultural identification, and Sumiko's accelerated maturity. The reading guide is especially helpful for parents and teachers.

I listened to the audiobook (Listening Library) read by Kimberly Farr. Farr is not only believable as a twelve-year-old but her accents are excellent. When I was masters student, I took two semesters of Japanese, and although I am not good with languages, Farr's pronunciations sounded authentic to me. My audiobook edition included an informative interview with the author.

To learn more about Cynthia Kadohata and her books and to hear an audio sample, visit the author's website.

Weedflower at Powell's
Weedflower at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Simon & Schuster / Atheneum, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780689865749
Challenges: Historical Fiction, 100+
YTD: 67
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

This review will also be linked at Julie's blog Booking Mama: "Every Saturday, [she hosts] a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books."

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25 July 2010

Don't-Miss Books to Read from BEA

I tried to be fairly discriminating when I picked up books at Book Expo America (BEA) last May, and it paid off because I came home with some that truly look good. I have been remiss in sharing my favorites; thus today's post.

Here are six titles that I am looking forward to. In fact, when I was choosing books to feature, these held my attention enough that I wanted to sit down and start reading immediately. For each one, I have shared some text (some are from ARCs, so the exact wording may change a bit) and provided a link to the book's page on the publisher's website.

The books are presented in no particular order.

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning (William Morrow; June 2010) is historical fiction that takes place in Massachusetts just before the Revolutionary War.

Throughout Jane's life she'd not thought one way or the other about the sea—it was there, filling her days with the sound and smell and stickiness that traveled everywhere the air did—but she hadn't thought of it as a thing to love or hate or fear until that day, as she climbed on top it. The sea had drowned her Grandfather Berry, it was true, but it had also helped to feed her family and carry them trade goods from Boston and England and the West Indies and even China. She tried to remember that as she made her way over the gunwale with the assistance of a few well-placed and misplaced hands and began to think how low the rail that separated her from many fathoms of oblivion. (pp. 44–45)

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlet Thomas (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; September 2010), according to the publisher, "is a book about how relationships are created and destroyed, how we can rewrite our futures (if not our histories), and how stories just might save our lives." Despite the heavy description, the book looks like fun and crazy read.
The wind breathed heavily down the river, and I half-looked at the little ripples and wakes in the blackish, greenish water as I tried to hurry B home. There was no sign of Libby's car. I was watching the river and not the benches, so when someone said 'Hello,' I jumped. It was a man half hidden in the gloom. B was already sniffing his ancient walking boots, and he was stroking her between her ears. (p. 17)

We Were an Island: The Maine Life of Art & Nan Kellam by Peter P. Blanchard III (University Press of New England; 2010) is a beautifully produced book with text and photos about the true-life story of a couple who decided to escape the world in 1949 and lived for almost forty years on their own island off the coast of Maine.
Except for brief periods of travel, Art and Nan lived year-round—in all seasons and types of weather—in two buildings, which they had built largely with their own hands. Furthermore, they thrived in the absence of running water, electricity, and central heating and without many of the conveniences (which they would have termed "impediments") of life on the mainland. Their lifeline was a grey wooden dory, which they rowed four miles round-trip to Bass Harbor on Mt. Desert Island for mail and supplies. (p. 2)

Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton (Other Press; November 2010) "takes an English boy and his father's books on a tumultuous journey to unexpected fame in America and to the mysteries hidden at the heart of an extraordinary family." I like dark humor, and this novel promises to deliver.
There was a family. There was us. My father and mother, and Rachel and Luke, the Hayman children who became the Hayseed children. Rachel handled it quite differently from me but, then, her problems were quite different from mine. (p. 13)

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown; November 2010) is a biography. There have been so many novels and movies and plays about the Greek-Egyptian queen that it's hard to figure out what is true and what is myth. I love biography and I love this time in history.
Can anything good be said of a woman who slept with the two most powerful men of her time? Possibly, but not in an age when Rome controlled the narrative. Cleopatra stood at one of the most dangerous intersections in history: that of women and power. Clever women, Euripides had warned hundreds of years earlier, were dangerous. (p. 4)

The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; October 2010) "compels us to consider the inescapable connections between sons and their mothers, between landscape and family, and between remembrance and redemption." The story takes place in the American west and Machart has been compared to two of my favorite authors: Kent Haruf and Cormac McCarthy. I have high hopes.
Softly, a cool wind came up from the north and swirled the smoke around the kettle and out into the newly lit morning. Across the pasture, hidden in the far hedgerow near the creekside stand of trees, three half-starved coyotes raised their twitching snouts to catch a breeze laced of a sudden with the hot, iron-rich scent of blood. (pp. 5–6)
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I love this mix of quirky and literary, fiction and nonfiction. Now I just need to find the means to do nothing but read the hours away.

Do any of these look interesting to you? What books have you recently discovered that you're looking forward to reading?

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24 July 2010

Weekend Cooking: Review: Chocolat (Film)

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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I am going to assume that you've all seen Chocolat, a wonderfully sweet (yes, I said that) movie staring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, and Dame Judi Dench and directed by Lasse Hallström. It is one of my favorite movies: chocolate, romance, and Johnny Depp, what could be bad?

Just in case you've missed the film, here's what's it's about. In the late 1950s Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk move to a small French village to open a chocolate shop. Unfortunately, the devout local mayor is appalled that the store will open during Lent and does every thing he can to turn the villagers against Vianne. Meanwhile, the chocolatier seems to be able to match the perfect treat to each customer. When the gypsies come to town, the clash between the townsfolk and the outsiders reaches a climax. Will Vianne decide to pack up and be on her way or will everyone find a way to get along?

It's hard to explain the magic and fun you'll find in this Academy Award-winning film. And for those who like more than boy meets girl, don't worry, the movie has some depth. If you haven't seen Chocolat, rush right out to rent it; if you have seen it, why not give it another look?

Here's the trailer:




If Mr. Linky is down, please leave your links in the comments and I will add the links later.

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23 July 2010

Featuring . . . Everything Is Going to Be Great by Rachel Shukert

This Friday and every Friday for the next several months I'll be featuring a book in the Harper Perennial Imprint. Some were recently published, some will be released later this year, all are worth a closer look.

I am a fairly eclectic reader, but there are a few genres I'm attracted to more than others. Two of them are coming-of-age stories and travel memoirs. When I realized that Rachel Shukert's new book Everything Is Going to Be Great is both genres in one, I knew I was going to have to read it.

Here's the Harper Perennial summary:

When she lands a coveted nonpaying, nonspeaking role in a play going on a European tour, Rachel Shukert—with a brand-new degree in acting from NYU and no money—finally scores her big break. And, after a fluke at customs in Vienna, she gets her golden ticket: an unstamped passport, giving her free rein to "find herself" on a grand tour of Europe. Traveling from Vienna to Zurich to Amsterdam, Rachel bounces through complicated relationships, drunken mishaps, miscommunication, and the reality-adjusting culture shock that every twentysomething faces when sent off to negotiate "the real world"—whatever that may be.
And what's more, Shukert has a reputation for being funny. This is not a spiritual or inspirational memoir, it's a look back on a carefree reckless time that can happen only when we're in our twenties. Although I'm sure Shukert had a wild time, I was glad to see that Entertainment Weekly concluded their review by saying, "But lurking beneath the jabs and one-liners is an affecting—and pretty unforgettable—coming-of-age tale."

I missed out on the backpacking through Europe craze that was popular in the 1970s because I was focused on school. And by the time I crossed the ocean for the first time, I was twenty-eight and a doctoral student, and I was there as a professional. I'm glad I'll have a chance to live vicariously through Shukert.

Everything Is Going to Be Great will be released on July 27. If you're in New York City, you can attend a signing that night at McNally Jackson, a bookstore that was just featured by Dawn at She Is Too Fond of Books. To learn more about Rachel Shukert, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

This book was featured as part of my Spotlight on the Harper Perennial imprint. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. You might also want to visit the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Everything Is Going to Be Great at Powell's
Everything Is Going to Be Great at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, July 27, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061782350

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22 July 2010

Thursday Tea: Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

I finished listening to Cynthia Kadohata's Weedflower (read by Kimberly Farr) sometime last week. This was my first exposure to Kadohata's work, and I am now a fan. I hope to have a full review of the book next week, but here's a quick synopsis.

The central character is twelve-year-old Sumiko, a California native whose parents were born in Japan. The family has a small, but successful flower farm, and Sumiko is the only Japanese student in her class at school. The bulk of the story takes place after Pearl Harbor and focuses on the dramatic changes in Sumiko's life, including the family's relocation to internment camps. The contrast of life before and during the war as told by a young girl makes for a powerful historical novel.

The Tea. As everywhere in North America, it's been a hot, hot summer in central Pennsylvania, so I've turned to iced tea. This week I've been drinking Adagio Tea's Decaf Strawberry tea. As with most of the fruit-flavored teas, I find that I like them better iced than hot. Strawberry has been a nice afternoon treat. Here's how the company describes the tea: "Black tea from Ceylon, decaffeinated [and] flavored with summer strawberries." As always, I drink it black and unsweetened.

The Assessment. Sumiko's family is Japanese and they are most definitely tea drinkers. Even though Sumiko is a California girl, I'm not quite sure what she'd think of adding strawberries to her brew. But then again, she's fairly modern, so she just might enjoy it. As for me, iced tea is always a good choice when reading about (and living in) summer heat.

What about you? Let me know what you're reading or listening to this week. And I'm always curious about what's in that your mug or glass.

Weedflower at Powell's
Weedflower at Book Depository
For Audible and Simply Audiobooks, see the sidebar.
For Adagio Teas, see the sidebar.
These links lead to affiliate programs.


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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21 July 2010

Wordless Wednesday 87

Evening on the deck, Summer 2010


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20 July 2010

Review: Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin

Laura Martinez, wife, mother, daughter, sister, and neonatal nurse finds herself pulled in all directions and can't seem to prioritize her time. When her seventy-seven-year-old mother, Helen, has a stroke, Laura starts to feel overstressed as she juggles her various roles. While trying to find a way to help Helen heal, Laura learns some truths about her family history and searches for a way to make peace with her mother and gain hope for the future.

Lynne Griffin's Sea Escape is an emotional journey that spans three generations of women. It is through Laura that we learn the current situation and the progress of her mother's recovery from her stroke. The past is revealed from Helen's memories of her parents and of her own marriage, and her perspective is augmented by the letters her long-dead husband sent her when he traveled the world as a soldier in Korea and later as a reporter.

Griffin does a nice job with the shifting viewpoints and jumps in time. The reader is never lost, and the revelations of significant moments are well timed. The writing is vivid and moving, but unfortunately, there are several aspects of the story that are bothersome.

In particular, Laura's and Helen's behavior is sometimes a bit unrealistic (can't say what without spoilers). Further, although most readers will be more than satisfied with the ending, some of us will find it difficult to fully accept the convergence of the plot lines as Griffin has written it.

Despite some flaws in the plot, there is much to like about Sea Escape. It is easy to relate to the characters' joys and sorrows, and Griffin's descriptions of Helen's hospitalization and rehab are true to life. The novel will appeal to readers who are attracted to stories that revolve around families, marriage, and parent-child relationships.

Sea Escape at Powell's
Sea Escape at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781439180600
Challenges: 100+
YTD: 66
Source: Review copy (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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19 July 2010

Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) of Edgecombe St. Mary is the epitome of decorum. He's a member of the golf club, is on speaking terms with the local Lord Dagenham, and keeps his late wife's garden neat and tidy.

The widowed Mrs. Ali Jasmania Ali, owner of the village shop, has a sharp mind and kind heart. Although she was born in England, most of the villagers have a hard time seeing past her Pakistani background.

The two are unexpectedly brought together the day the major's brother dies. Will their families and friends understand their surprising and blossoming friendship?

The major of Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is comfortable in his world of familiar routine. His social-climbing son is a thorn in his side, but Roger is safely tucked away in London, out of sight and mostly out of mind. Mrs. Ali feels fortunate to have inherited her husband's business but is resentful of her in-laws' plans that Abdul Wahid, her nephew, be trained to take charge of the shop. When their lives collide and overlap, the major and Mrs. Ali rediscover their inner spunkiness and embrace a bit of selfishness.

Simonson's novel is an utterly charming look at village life, second chances, British snobbery, Anglophile Americans, religion, family pressures, secret jealousies, ageism, and most of all unlooked-for middle-age love.

Although I received an ARC of the novel, I chose to listen to the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio), read by Peter Altschuler, whose British and Pakistani accents for both men and women were near perfect. His American accents seemed slightly forced, but that may have been a conscious decision, strengthening the contrasts among the cultures. Altschuler did a particularly good job conveying the wide range of emotions and levels of humor found in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand at Powell's
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Random House, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781400068937
Challenges: 100+
YTD: 65
Source: Review and borrowed copy (see review policy)
Rating: A-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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17 July 2010

Weekend Cooking: Apple Cake

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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Today I want to share a family recipe for Apple Cake. I'm posting it now and not it the fall because it is a great cake to take camping or to the shore or on a weekend getaway. It stays moist and good for several days and is fast and easy to make; well, you do have to peel and slice the apples. The photo shows the cake in an aluminum pan because I baked it to take to a cookout.

Hope you like this as much as my family does.


Apple Cake
  • 5 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4-6 medium tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • Sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9- by 13-inch pan.

Beat the eggs, sugar, and oil in a large bowl until well mixed. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Mix well.

Pour one third of the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Arrange the apple slices over top in a single layer. Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar to taste. Pour the remaining batter on top. Sprinkle with more cinnamon and sugar.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until brown on top and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


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16 July 2010

Featuring . . . Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor

This Friday and every Friday for the next several months I'll be featuring a book in the Harper Perennial Imprint. Some were recently published, some will be released later this year, all are worth a closer look.

Some of you know that I'm not a huge fan of short stories. So you might be wondering why I'm featuring Justin Taylor's debut collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever. Well, a couple of things: First, is this, from The New York Times book review: "Taylor’s real strength is his expertly drawn characters." Vivid characters are almost a sure win for me, so that one sentence caught my attention.

Then I read the Publishers Weekly review: "Each story is spare and clean and speaks the truth in beautiful resonant prose." Oooh. Okay. I'm sold.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Each story in this crystalline, spare, oddly moving collection cuts to the quick. Taylor's characters are guided by delusions and misapprehensions that quickly bring them to impasses with reality. Moving through this collection the reader will meet a young man who has reasoned away certain boundaries in relation to his budding, girl cousin; a high schooler whose desire to win back his crush leads him to experiment with goth magic; a man whose girlfriend is stolen by angels; and a Tetris player who, as the advancing white wall of the Apocalypse slowly churns up his driveway, decides that Death is a kindness.

Fearless and funny, Taylor imagines this and more, in a collection that paints a dark picture of his generation--one that is upwardly mobile yet adrift, fumbling for connection but hopelessly self-involved. And it's all held together by a thread of wounding humor and candid storytelling that marks Taylor as a distinct and emerging literary talent.
Any author who can give me great characters; good, clean writing; and unique situations will make it to my wish list. A search for blogger reviews confirmed my thought that Taylor is a writer to watch (click on the links for the full reviews):
  • From My Books. My Life: "It is not a 'feel good' book. But it is very, very well-written. Taylor writes in sparse language more akin to Hemingway than Dickens but not really like any author I’ve read before."
  • From Bri Meets Book: "Not all of the stories worked for me, but even in those that didn’t, there was a sentence that struck me with its unabashed nature, or beauty."
  • From Good Books and Wine: "Stylistically, Taylor is excellent. The words just seem to flow off the page. This book reminded me a bit of Chuck Palahniuk's writing."
  • From Hipster Book Club: "Everything in Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever may not be the best thing ever, but it’s the best debut fiction in years."
To learn more about Taylor and his work, visit his website.

This book was featured as part of my Spotlight on the Harper Perennial imprint. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. You might also want to visit the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever at Powell's
Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, February 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061881817

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15 July 2010

Review: The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard's The Maytrees is a love story. It's about how Toby Maytree fell in love with Lou Bigelow in the years just after the war. It's about life in a shack on the beach outside of Provencetown. It's about families and friendships, betrayal and forgiveness, birth and death. It is ultimately a character study and a novel of place.

Dillard's writing is spare but beautifully crafted. Each page contains dialogue, ideas, or descriptions that make you take notice. I've never before scribbled down so many keywords while listening to an audiobook. Here are some of the quotations that I later tracked down.

Two thoughts on wisdom:

Downstairs she cracked kindling on her knee and boiled the kettle. Why sadder but wiser? Why not happier and wiser? What else could wisdom be? She drank coffee black. She would not fall apart. (p. 85)
_______

--Let's pretend we're old, Lou remembered saying, back when they were young. They had been watching hurricane waves rip the outer beach. To walk back they aligned adjacent legs like a pair in a three-legged race.

--Those days will come soon enough Maytree said. His gravity startled her. Now those days were here. . . . She was loose in her skin as a rabbit. She felt French knots on her shins. Now she wanted a book not to knock her out but only to move her. And when will the days of wisdom come? (p. 200)
Youth's view of the old:
How constantly, Lou thought, old people claim to have been once young. As if they don't believe it. That old people were old never jarred her, but it shook the daylights out of them. (p. 26)
And some of the joys of aging:
In the past few years she let go her ties to people she did not like, to ironing, to dining out in town, and to buying things not necessary and that themselves needed care. She ignored whatever did not interest her. With those blows she opened her days like a pinata. A hundred freedoms fell on her. She hitched free years to her lifespan like a kite tail. Everyone envied her the time she had, not noticing that they had equal time. (p. 131)
It's funny that of all the memorable and beautiful prose that fill this short novel, the bits I took note of when listening to the audiobook were all from Lou's point of view and were about aging. Why, I wonder, did I not jot down the lovely descriptions of the dunes or stars or ocean? Why not anything from Maytree's thoughts? Why not a passage about love? If you ask me what the book is about, I'll say it is a love story. And yet, it is Lou's growing old that stayed with me.

The audiobook edition (Harper Audio), was brilliantly read by David Rasche. It would have been easy for Rasche to have added drama or too much emotion to his performance; instead, he reads the novel in a way that allows listeners to make their own connections to the story and to be moved by Dillard's words on their own terms.

The Maytrees at Powell's
The Maytrees at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Harper Perennial, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780061239540
Challenges: Women Unbound, 100+
YTD: 64
Source: Review copy (see review policy)
Rating: B+
The Harper Perennial imprint on Beth Fish Reads
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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14 July 2010

Wordless Wednesday 86

Midsummer Harvest, 2010


For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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13 July 2010

Winner of Shiver and Linger

The winner of the signed copies of Linger and Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is


Carol M!!!!!

Here's her favorite literary couple: "I have to say, without a doubt, that it is Eve Dallas and Roarke from J.D. Robb's (Nora Roberts) In Death series."

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy the books as much as I did.

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Today's Read: Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin

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.

Men in my mother's life made a habit of leaving. Holden was no exception. Four hours after he got there, he was ready to take off. Early on, after our argument over the do not resuscitate order and my brief disappearance, he actually pretended to be interested in how business was going for Christian. He asked me to remind him again what grades Henry and Claire were in. Soon polite conversation descended into silence and the hospital room became airless; our mother was the only family member with an excuse for not talking. (p. 67)
—From Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin (Source: Review copy, see review policy)

Sea Escape at Powell's
Sea Escape at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.


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12 July 2010

Review: The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen

Lindsey Rose is destined for fame. She's developed some of the most well known ad campaigns for some of the biggest companies in the world. Life in New York is exciting . . . but Lindsey doesn't exactly know because she lives her job. In fact, the only real friend she has is Matt, and she is able to maintain that relationship because they work together.

At twenty-nine years old, Lindsey is just about to become the youngest vice president her firm has ever had. And then she isn't. And then she does the first reckless thing she's ever done in her life. And then she finds herself without a job and living with her parents in Maryland.

Sarah Pekkanen's debut novel, The Opposite of Me, does indeed explore opposites, especially the differences between Lindsey and her twin sister, Alex, and between Lindsey's old high-powered career and her new easygoing job.

But the novel goes deeper, taking as its central theme the idea that from a young age we fall into the roles and self-image we are rewarded for. Unfortunately, those roles don't always reflect who we truly are. Further, once our eyes are opened, there is no map showing us the way to escape our own and others' expectations.

Although The Opposite of Me has many elements of contemporary women's literature, Pekkanen rises above standard chick lit to focus on issues other than happily ever after. It is easy to care about Lindsey and her family, and we root for her ultimate success on her journey to self-discovery. Despite being a bit predictable, the book is an enjoyable read.

I would recommend the novel for book clubs because it offers a variety of discussion topics. Additional themes are child-parent relationships, sisters, twins, careers, boyfriends, and relationships with business colleagues.

A reading group guide is available for The Opposite of Me. To learn more about the book and Sarah Pekkanen visit the Debutante Ball blog and Pekkanen's personal website.

The Opposite of Me at Powell's
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Washington Square Press, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781439121986
Challenges: Current Debs, 100+
YTD: 63
Source: Review copy (see review policy)
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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