30 October 2010

Weekend Cooking: Halloween Treats

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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It's Halloween here at Beth Fish Reads and everywhere, especially at Jenn's of Jenn's Bookshelves, who has been hosting a month-long Halloween Fright Fest. I wanted to participate, but I don't really read horror. Instead I am going to frighten at least most of you with food.

What you see to the left is a photo of the world's largest bat species, often called a flying fox or a fruit bat. (Photo Credit: From Ellenm1 at Flickr; click to enlarge). These flying mammals are fairly large: They weigh three to five pounds and have a wing span of about five and a half feet.

Apparently all over the South Pacific and parts of Southeast Asia, flying fox bats are part of the traditional cuisine. For the rest of world, bats pretty much never appear on the menu.

I bet you're wondering just how you go about cooking one of these guys. Well, I was curious. I discovered several recipes, and I'll share a couple of ideas with you. As a first step, though, I wanted to know how to prepare a bat. I found these instructions on St. Sam's & St. Bede's Recipe Pages: "Shampoo the bat and rinse thoroughly." Ooooookaaaaay. Note that they don't tell you whether the animal should be alive or dead at this point.

Once you've given the bat a beauty treatment, you can start to cook it. Most of the recipes imply or state that you cook the bat whole--no skinning, field dressing (gutting), or butchering--by roasting or boiling. Afterward, I guess you are supposed to cut off the meat.

Here are some popular ways to serve bat: (1) with prunes and cream, (2) with coconut milk, (3) as porridge, and (4) in soup. If you are planning to cook bat anytime soon, just click the links to find the recipes.

If you are from the South Pacific or Southeast Asia, please tell me if you've eaten bat and whether you cook it at home. A bat is, after all, a mammal, and most people eat some kind of mammal. I should point out that at least two sites I checked warned that bat meat may carry SARS or Ebola virus, so I'll likely pass on the opportunity to sample.

Here's a fun video from the Cincinnati Zoo about the flying fox bat:



Be sure to check out Jenn's blog for more Halloween Fright Fest posts.


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29 October 2010

Featuring . . . Stretch by Neal Pollack

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.

Neal Pollack's Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude is a memoir you don't want to miss. It's a funny, mocking, and realistic tale of how a pudgy 30-something guy ended up becoming an advocate for the practice of yoga.

Neal Pollack was out of shape. The hair on his head was thinning and the hair on his face was pretentious—traits a New York Times critic gleefully pointed out while panning his second book. Combined with the predestined failure of his punk rock band, it was almost too much for Pollack to bear. He was willing to try anything to get his life back on track . . . even yoga.

While struggling to master difficult poses without kicking other yogis in the face, Pollack actually, remarkably, began to feel better, both in body and mind. Soon he found himself immersed in the "weird and circuslike" world of yoga. He participated in a 24-hour yogathon, attended yoga conferences and Asian retreats, went to yoga rock shows, started getting regular assignments for Yoga Journal magazine, and, finally, began teaching yoga classes himself.

Stretch mercilessly lampoons the bizarre, omnipresent culture of yoga, but it's also a story of profound personal transformation. Pollack started off mocking yoga. Now he's become one of its most enthusiastic proponents.
Admit it, this premise has you intrigued. The thing that caught my attention is that Pollack was not at all your typical candidate for taking yoga classes. He is a self-admitted meat-eating, pot-smoking, punk rocker kind of guy. And although he never lost sight of the holier-than-thou attitude that some yoga practitioners project, he kept an open mind and was able to recognize the positive changes he underwent thanks to his classes.
  • Kirkus Reviews calls Pollack "a highly entertaining guide as he investigates the good, bad and ugly of the yoga spectrum. . . . There is also a lovely authenticity to his discovery of his yoga fundamentalism."
  • The San Francisco Chronicle says, "Ultimately, Pollack lampoons himself more than the culture, and this is perhaps the most compelling evidence of Pollack's conversion: his inability to be snarky about yoga."
For more on Neal Pollack, visit his website. There is also a funny video interview with him on You Tube.

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. See the alphabetized review index to see what others are saying. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

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

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061727696

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28 October 2010

Review: Fables 3--Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

The third entry in Bill Willingham's Fables series, Storybook Love, is a collection of short graphic stories about the fable creatures (from fairy tales and folk tales and some early novels) who were long ago exiled from their homes and are now living among the mundies (humans) in the New World.

A few of the stories give us additional background on some characters, like the role Jack (of beanstalk fame) played in the American Civil War and how the Lilliputians found their wives. The main stories are a continuation from Fables 2: Animal Farm, and set us up for the next book in series.

There is plenty of action in these stories, and at times it is near impossible to stop reading until the end of the scene. In addition, there are plenty of instances of what I call art humor. My favorites in this book have to do with the businesses in Fabletown, for example, one bar is called the Yellow Brick Roadhouse, and Nod's Books is advertising its comics nook.

Although I recommend reading the Fables books in order, there is a synopsis of the first two volumes at the beginning of Storybook Love so you can get caught up with the series. Remember though, these are not your childhood fairy tales; they are full of wheeling and dealing, bloody fighting, and sex.

There is a long list of artists on the title page of the book, but Mark Buckinham and Steve Leialoha are listed on the cover. The consistency of the characters, the details in the drawings, and the facial expressions are terrific and help keep me coming back to these books.

Storybook Love at an Indie
Storybook Love at Powell's
Storybook Love at Book Depository
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Published by DC Comics / Vertigo, 2004
ISBN-13: 9781401202569
YTD: 96
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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27 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday 101

Interior Dome Detail (Round Barn), October 2010


For more Wordless Wednesday, click here. (EDIT: the link in my comment doesn't work: try this one for more information.)

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26 October 2010

Review: Dance to the Music of Time (Parts 1 & 2) by Anthony Powell

I first read Anthony's Powell's pseudo-autobiographical four-part epic when I was a graduate student in the 1980s. Audible recently released the entire cycle in audiobook format, read by the wonderful Simon Vance.

Each part, or movement, includes three books, and I talk about the first two parts (six books) in this post and will discuss the final parts in a few weeks.

The first two movements of Dance to the Music of Time follow the life of Nick Jenkins from his public school days in the 1920s to his carefree post-university life in London to the early years of his marriage on the brink of World War II. Nick's generation came of age in an England that was rapidly changing. In just over a decade social class divisions were breaking down, big households were no longer employing domestic servants, automobiles were becoming commonplace, and women were enjoying increased freedom.

Through Nick's eyes, we revisit the universal lessons of youth and can sympathize and empathize as he experiences first love and begins to understand that money and status do not necessarily bring happiness. Dance to the Music of Time is less about the plot and more about the people who appear and disappear and reappear in Nick's social circle and about the world of salons, musicians, writers, artists, and models of 1930s England.

As we read, we have the advantage over Nick in that we know what will happen to London in the 1940s. We cringe at the cavalier manner in which his friends embrace socialism and at the naivety of those who go to Spain to fight on side of the Fascists. Later, we want to tell Nick he should be thankful he might be too old to participate in the war against Hitler and he'd be better off moving to the country before the bombings begin.

If you are interested in England between the wars and vivid characterizations, the first two movements of Dance to the Music of Time are for you. If you need plenty of action and a clear and steady story line, you may find your mind wandering. For me, the second time through the books has been just as fascinating as my initial introduction to Nick Jenkins.

As I mentioned, Simon Vance is the narrator for the new Audible Inc. audio edition of the Anthony Powell books. He does a fantastic job guiding us through Nick's story.

The Dance to the Music of Time books have prompted much debate about which characters represent which of Powell's real-life friends and acquaintances. If you're curious, you can start with the Anthony Powell Society website, which includes synopses of the books and probable character identifications. My copies of the books have the covers shown here; newer editions have different cover art.

Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement at an Indie
Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement at Powell's
Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement at Book Depository
Dance to the Music of Time: Second Movement at an Indie
Dance to the Music of Time: Second Movement at Powell's
Dance to the Music of Time: Second Movement at Book Depository
For the Audible edition, click on the image in the sidebar.
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by University of Chicago Press, 1995 [originally published 1951-1962]
ISBN-13: 9780226677149 & 9780226677163
YTD: 94 & 95
Source: Review (audio edition) (see review policy)
Rating: A & A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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25 October 2010

Review: College in a Nutskull compiled by Anders Henriksson

A few months ago, I received College in a Nutskull edited by Anders Henriksson, and I've been saving it for a lazy weekend. That weekend has just ended.

This fun--and sometimes a bit scary--book is a collection of college-student wisdom taken from exams, essays, and other sources. Henriksson simply organized the tidbits by subject matter. You may think the types of misconceptions and misspellings included in this book are rare at the college level, but you'd be wrong. I used to save them from my own students, and I can assure you such test answers and sentences from essays occur across the curriculum and around the world.

Let me share some of my favorites from the book:

  • Americans created a cornumyopia of new religions. Some of these allowed "speaking in tongues," where people sound like a dog infected with rabbis. (p. 7)
  • Rome was build in a day. Homes came with garden moratoriums. Amazing aqua ducks supplied fresh water. (p. 34)
  • An epic is like a docudrama, but more boring. (p. 48)
  • Peter the Great was a man of enormous projections who moved the capital to St. Peter's Bird. Late in life he was bothered by ticks due to Sysiphus. (p. 67)
  • Dwayne D. Ikenhowitzer was President of the fifties. (p. 79)
  • The currency of Mexico is the pinyata. (p. 113)
  • Women are still getting brain dents from head-butting the glass ceiling. (p. 132)
Pick up College in a Nutskull for a chuckle or two. It might make you increase the donation you make to your alma mater.

College in a Nutskull at an Indie

Published by Workman Publishing, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780761154655
YTD: 93
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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24 October 2010

Challenge: Okra Picks

My friend Kathy from Bermudaonion's Weblog is hosting a fun reading challenge that runs from now through March 31, 2011. Here's the background:

Since I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the hospitality of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance [SIBA] at their last two trade shows, I know just how passionate those folks are about books. Each season, SIBA selects a crop of Southern books to handsell and those books are called Okra Picks. Okra Picks authors are given a sash to wear at the trade show, and believe me when I tell you those sashes are worn with pride!
In honor of the books singled out by SIBA, Kathy has set up the Okra Picks Reading Challenge. Take a look at the great books we have to choose from:

Fiction
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
  • I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg
  • Love, Charleston by Beth Webb Hart
  • My Only Sunshine by Lou Dischler
  • Virals by Kathy Reichs
  • Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon
  • The Typist by Michael Knight
Nonfiction
  • Carry the Rock by Jay Jennings
  • Greek Revival by Patricia Moore-Pastides
  • My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
  • Southern Plate by Christy Jordan
  • They Came to Nashville by Marshall Chapman
There are several levels of involvement. I'm going for the Goober level, which means I'll read 1-3 books off these lists. I already have the Pat Conroy book, so I'll likely start with that one.

To join in the fun and learn more about SIBA and the challenge, check out Kathy's blog.

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23 October 2010

Weekend Cooking: Witches, Wine, and a Giveaway

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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Are you getting ready for Halloween? Witches and daemons and vampires, oh my! A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is just what need to get you in the mood.

The novel is about a historian, who just happens to be a witch. Diana Bishop, however, is not at all interested in magic or nonhuman creatures. When she discovers a bewitched alchemical manuscript titled Ashmole 782 in the library stacks, she reshelves it and turns her back on it. Unfortunately, daemons, vampires, witches, and magic have not turned their back on her. With the help of geneticist-vampire Matthew Clairmont, will she be able to solve a mystery and recover an ancient treasure? (Viking, January 2011; ISBN-13: 9780670022410.)

So, what does this have to do with Weekend Cooking? Good question. It just so happens that author Deborah Harkness writes an award-winning wine blog called Good Wine Under $20. Just the name of her blog is enough to get my interest.

Harkness's blog has been recognized by major food and wine magazines and offers a wealth of information on vintages, grapes, food pairings, and recommendations. I discovered Good Wine Under $20 only this week, so I haven't fully explored all Harkness has to offer. Here is a sampling of what I found among recent posts: Weekend wines with recipe suggestions • Lessons in wine from France • Wine bought because of its name • Wine bought because of its label • Autumn whites and reds.

These are all fun and informative posts, and I'm happy to know I'm not the only one tempted by a good name or pretty label.

My own current favorite wine under $20 is a Feudo Arancio Nero D'Avola 2009. I was able to get a bottle for $9 at the Pennsylvania state store. We opened it and had it with pasta. It is dry, light, and goes down easy. I went back the next day to buy more but learned that it was sold out. I can get more Nero D'Avola next week, but it will no longer be on sale. She who hesitates is lost.

You might be curious about Deborah Harkness's wine suggestions for the type of creatures you might find around Halloween. Take a look:



I just love Harkness's style and sense of humor. If you're interested in winning a copy of her debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, plus a set of the buttons to show your allegiance to each of the magical species featured in the book, fill out the following form. I am really excited about this book and hope you are too.

The giveaway is open internationally. One lucky winner will receive the set of buttons right away and a finished copy of the book right after the new year, when it's available. You must fill out the form to enter. A winner will be picked on November 1 when I turn on my computer in the morning. (Add data will be discarded after the winner is chosen.)



For more on the book, visit the A Discovery of Witches website (warning: music plays automatically). Harkness has a Facebook page as well. And don't forget to explore Good Wine Under $20.


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22 October 2010

Featuring . . . Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle

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.

My first exposure to Lydia Peelle was her interview with singer-songwriter Gillian Welch, which appeared in Bomb magazine in fall 2009. I loved that interview so much, I knew that I would love pretty much whatever Peelle had to write. Before I tell you more about why I'm excited about this author, let me introduce you to her book. Her debut story collection is Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, and here is what the publisher has to say:

In Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, Lydia Peelle brings together eight brilliant stories—two of which won Pushcart Prizes and one of which won an O. Henry Prize—that peer straight into the human heart. In startling and original prose, she examines lives derailed by the loss of a vital connection to the natural world.

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing conveys an almost Faulknerian ache for the pre-modern South, for a landscape and a way of life lost to the ravages of money and technology.
I hardly know where to begin because there are so many things about Peelle's book that call to me. The southern setting, the exploration of how technology can change our lives, the lingering days of the innocence of childhood . . . these factors alone would make this a must-read book.

But then there is Peelle herself, whom I know only through her interview with Welch and her appearance in the New York Times blog "Paper Cuts." Here is part of her answer to Welch's question, Why short stories?
As for the stories, well, I knew it had to be stories. . . . When I moved here [Tennessee] I was so inspired by this place; I wanted to come at it from a lot of different perspectives, to look at it through the lives of a lot of different people, in many different time periods. I was especially interested in the evolving human relationship with the land. To look at the way our relationship with the land, and what we ask of it, has changed, and is changing, and how all these different people in different eras have coped with that.
Well, yes, I want to read about that. Peelle apparently listens to a lot of old folk music (like I do), and Reasons for . . . Breathing was at least in part inspired by that music:
Oh yeah, the old songs. They work in two ways for me: I use bits and pieces of them in the stories, but also think my ultimate goal is to write a story that could capture the feeling of one of those songs.
I'm not the only one singing the praises (sorry, couldn't resist) of Peelle's debut collection:
  • Melissa from the Betty and Boo Chronicles says: "I am loving this collection and Lydia Peele has now become one of my new favorite writers to watch. She has a wonderful style that I am enjoying immensely. . . .The only bad thing I can say at this point about Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing is that there are only eight short stories."
  • David from Largehearted Boy says: "Lydia Peelle's short fiction has earned comparisons to Alice Munro and Mary Gaitskill, but her voice is unique and strong. . . . These are impressive stories of the past colliding with the present, and the emotional chaos that ensues."
  • Maria Russo writing for the New York Times says: "“Lydia Peelle’s lovely, fluid voice lures you into a world full of heartbreak and devastation. . . Each of the eight stories in the collection is a small feat of craftsmanship, remarkably consistent in pacing and tone."
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing was an Indie Next pick for August 2009. To learn more about Lydia Peelle, I suggest reading her interview with Gillian Welch. If you choose this collection for your book club, you might want to look at the reading guide offered by Harper Perennial.

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. See the alphabetized review index to see what others are saying. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing at Powell's
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2009
ISBN-13:9780061724732

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21 October 2010

Review: The Exile by Diana Gabaldon

Jamie Fraser has just returned from France to a Scotland on the verge of an uprising in the mid-1700s. The British are in the Highlands, there's a price on Jamie's head, and the future leadership of the clan is in question. In the middle of these events appears Claire Beauchamp Randall, a Sassenach (an Outlander), wearing odd clothes and using some unfamiliar words.

Before Jamie can be sure who she is and if he can truly trust her, he realizes he has fallen love. But Claire is already married . . . to man who hasn't even been born yet. That's because she is really from the twentieth century and has been mysteriously transported through time.

Diana Gabaldon's The Exile is her debut graphic novel. It tells much of the story of the first Claire and Jamie book, Outlander, but from the viewpoint of the Scots. Thanks to the change in perspective, the story offers a bit of fresh material, but not much.

The renditions of the characters don't resemble the pictures I have in my mind, but I was able to move past that for the most part. I enjoyed the graphic novel as a way to revisit the first book in the series, but I wonder if readers new to the story would get as much out of this book as I did. The stripped-down nature of a graphic novel means that much of the emotional connections formed while reading the print version were just not there. Thus The Exile is not a substitute for Outlander but a supplement best read after finishing the original novel.

I was fortunate enough to hear Gabaldon speak at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, last month, and much of what she talked about at that event is included in the graphic novel as an introduction and an afterward. I was particularly interested in learning about the collaboration between Gabaldon and artist Hoang Nguyen.

Most of the panels of the novel are nicely detailed, and the use of lighting and other effects help set the mood as the story progresses. Nguyen's interpretations are pleasing and consistent, even if they don't reflect my own images of Jamie and Claire and the Scottish setting.

In any case, Diana Gabaldon fans won't want to miss this addition to the Outlander series. For more about Gabaldon, visit her website. You can get a peek inside the book and at the artwork by visiting the Random House website.

The Exile at an Indie
The Exile at Powell's
The Exile at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Random House / Del Rey 2010
ISBN-13: 9780345505385
YTD: 92
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B−
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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20 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday 100

Round Barn, Centre County, Pennsylvania, October 2010




For more Wordless Wednesday click here. For information about the barn, see the first comment.

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19 October 2010

Spotlight On . . . Libby Cone

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Libby Cone. I am very excited to introduce you to Libby and to her novel War on the Margins. As I have mentioned repeatedly a few times, I did my doctoral research in Guernsey and thus have a soft spot in my heart for the Channel Islands.

As most of you know by now, the Channel Islands were occupied by the Germans during World War II. What many of you may not know is that persecution of Jews was no less present there than on the Continent.

In an odd kind of coincidence or convergence of . . . well, something, Libby and I have much in common. We both started out life in the sciences, we both ended up in the book world, and we both focused our research on the Channel Islands.

Libby concentrated on Jersey, and her book War on the Margins features documents and letters dating from the war and explores the lives two Jewish artists, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, who lived together, hiding their true relationship by saying they were stepsisters. They were extremely active in the Resistance in Jersey, and their story is amazing.

Libby talks about how she came to be an author.

The Road to Reinvention

I have lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for twenty years, having moved here from Boston in 1990 to do a nuclear medicine fellowship at Penn. Had anyone told me that I would be thinking about writing a novel ten years later, I would have laughed. But Pennsylvania has been a great place of transition and reinvention for me. When I first arrived, it took a while to become acclimated, to stop pronouncing the first "l" in "Schuylkill," to realize that Broad Street was Fourteenth Street, to eat a soft pretzel. But I also began my career here, at the late lamented Graduate Hospital in 1991, and my roots began to grow.

I think being away from the scrutiny of family and others who have settled expectations can be a very good thing in one's growth as an adult. I surprised myself with my own readiness to embrace a career after so many years of training. The harder lessons came later, as I found myself in the middle of the 1997–1998 Allegheny debacle, when a large Pittsburgh-based healthcare system with a ruthless and arrogant CEO took over the Graduate system, only to go bankrupt a year later. That was when I realized that it was power politics, and not merit, that ruled the day. I learned, probably later than most, that people in expensive suits could look me in the eye and lie; that money and power trump quality and altruism; that no good deed goes unpunished. Yes, I am thin-skinned.

Fortunately, I was an early user of the Internet, and this brought me my husband, a guy from Lansdale, who is still the most straightforward and unpretentious individual I have ever met. Philadelphia was (and is) the hotbed of progressive Judaism, which also began to draw my interest. I realized that, as far as the suits in the administrative offices were concerned, my career was just a job like any other. I sought something more meaningful. I began to take Adult Ed courses. Then I matriculated as a part-time graduate student in Jewish Studies at Gratz College in Melrose Park while working mostly full-time as a radiologist.

I was looking up Manx cats on the Internet one day when, instead of finding the Isle of Man, I ran across the Channel Islands and saw some information about their occupation by the German forces during World War II. Being as stubborn as I am thin-skinned, I delved into this little-known story of the Holocaust in microcosm. When I found I was boring everybody at lunch with the topic, I knew it was thesis material. My adviser, who doubtless plows through many doorstop dissertations, suggested I do an offbeat treatment. Thus the idea of the novel was born.

No doubt as I was reinventing myself as a writer, I was identifying with the Surrealist artists Claude Cahun (Lucille Schwob) and Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe), who, at a similar age, were reinventing themselves as Resistance propagandists on the occupied Island of Jersey. They, too, were resentful of bureaucracy, which, in the case of the occupation, was the tool used to control the Islands' inhabitants and to single out and further oppress the handful of remaining Jews.

War on the Margins became the poster child for self-publishing. A few months after I self-published the paperback, I heard from a British publisher. The hardcover was brought out in the UK, and the e-book in the United States, by Duckworth in 2009. Writing is still not paying the bills, but in terms of career satisfaction, it is endlessly exciting. While I still enjoy reading CT scans, the possibilities of a blank Page 1 in an Office document never fail to thrill me.
_______

Thanks so much, Libby. It is fascinating to me how you stumbled across the German occupation of the Channel Islands and how you couldn't turn your back on the story of these women and the Jewish population of Jersey. The letters and documents found throughout your novel bring the stark reality of the occupation to light. Look for my review of War on the Margins in the next couple of weeks.

Photos: The photos of Moore and of Moore and Cahun's tombstone are from Libby Cone. The photos of a German bunker by the sea and a German-built silo in a field (click to enlarge) were taken by me in 1983 (scanned from slides; sorry about the quality). The German presence was still very much felt in the 1980s.


War on the Margins at Powell's
War on the Margins at Book Depository
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War on the Margins has been nominated for a People's Book Prize.

Libby Cone earned an MA in Jewish Studies in 2006 and War on the Margins grew from her thesis. She lives in Philadelphia.

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18 October 2010

Review: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Alice lives with Ray. She wasn't always called Alice; there was an Alice before her and there will be an Alice after her. She knows there is no way out except to die, and she's sure she has figured out how that will happen.

Elizabeth Scott's short novel Living Dead Girl is a difficult book to read, but you won't want to stop reading. You'll likely finish it in one sitting, perhaps because Alice has no one and it seems somehow wrong to abandon her.

What kind of child gets abducted? Why doesn't that child try to escape? Scott's novel addresses these questions and more. Alice herself has few explanations for how the stupid girl she used to be ended up with Ray, but she knows exactly what keeps her living in hell, despite being aware that her days are numbered. She barely eats, but she can't stop growing.

The older she gets, the less appealing she becomes to Ray. The less appealing she becomes, the more she thinks about the other Alices--past and future. She wonders if her parents remember her and if they would still love her after everything Ray has made her do.

You may not agree with Alice's choices, but you will absolutely be affected by her story. Scott takes you into Alice's life, and Alice will remain in your head and heart for a long time. You'll want to talk about her.

The recommended target audience for Scott's novel is age 16 and up. I believe in letting children read what they want, and Living Dead Girl is no exception. This is an important and powerful novel. Simon Pulse has put together a reading guide geared to teachers, but parents and book clubs should also look at the questions and activities.

This is the first Scott book I've read, and I am not surprised by the number of awards and nominations Living Dead Girl has earned. The Simon Pulse website includes several videos of Scott talking about the novel. This one contains no spoilers but will give you a bit of the history behind the book.


I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Brilliance Audio) read by Kate Reinders, who did an amazing job portraying the teenage Alice. The emotional intensity of the novel was enhanced by Reinders's performance.

I am currently exploring the rest of Scott's novels. For more on Elizabeth Scott, visit her website and blog.

Living Dead Girl at an Indie
Living Dead Girl at Powell's
Living Dead Girl at Book Depository
For the audiobook, see the far right sidebar.
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781416960591
YTD: 91
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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16 October 2010

Weekend Cooking: Review: Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee

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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You might recall a few teaser tips on food and cooking posted here way back in August. Those tips were from Harold McGee's newest book Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. I have been of fan of McGee's for years, starting with his book On Food and Cooking. He is one of my go-to guys when I want to know the how and why behind a technique, tool, process, or any other kitchen question I might have.

Keys to Good Cooking is just what I expected from McGee: a well-researched, well-written reference. The book is divided into twenty-four chapters, each one focusing on a category of ingredients (fruits, meats, dairy), on tools (small and large), or on techniques. One major topic in Keys to Good Cooking is food safety, including proper handling, cooking, storing, and buying.

I'll take you quickly through the breads chapter, just to give you an idea of what the book is all about. McGee introduces us to bread safety, how to shop for bread and for baking ingredients, and how to store bread. Next we learn about different types of flours and how they they are used. There are sections on salt, yeasts, sour dough starters, and other typical bread ingredients.

The heart of the breads chapter are the sections on technique: proper ingredient ratios for different kinds of breads, how to mix and knead, how to let bread rise, how to form loaves (and other shapes), and how to bake. There is also information about rolls, bagels, pizzas, quick breads, and doughnuts.

In the breads chapter, I loved this tip:
Staling is easily reversed by reheating the bread to at least 160F/70C and redisturbing the starch. Because reheating also drives moisture out of bread, it leaves the bread somewhat drier afterward.

To restore a partial or whole loaf of stale bread, moisten its crust to prevent scorching, and bake in a medium oven for 15 minutes or until hot and soft inside.
I usually just make bread crumbs or croutons from stale bread, but it's great to know there is an easy way to make it soft again.

Each chapter is arranged in a similar manner: safety, shopping, storage, methods of cooking, and then specific information for each food item in that category. There are buying and cooking tips for fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat products, grains, and beans. There is advice on buying appliances, cookware, and other kitchen tools. There are sections on cooking methods and ingredient substitutions. This is truly a great resource, you'll turn to again and again.

Note that there are no illustrations and no recipes per se. You will find directions for making yogurt, basic steps for stir-frying, tips for making nut butters, and instructions for making a meat stock, for example, but this is not a conventional cookbook.

The Keys to Good Cooking will appeal to new cooks and experienced cooks. I think it would be especially helpful for cooks who want to increase their confidence and free themselves in the kitchen.


Published by Penguin Press, October 2010
ISBN-13: 9781594202681
YTD: 90
Rating: A
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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15 October 2010

Featuring . . . Numb by Sean Ferrell

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.

Today we have something completely different. What would happen if you couldn't remember who were and you had lost your ability to feel pain? That's exactly what Sean Ferrell explores in his debut novel, Numb.

Here's the publisher's summary:

"Early one morning‚ after a sandstorm had ripped through north Texas‚ I wandered into Mr. Tilly's circus. I wore a black suit and blood ran down my face. When some of the carnies came up to me, I said, 'I'm numb.' This became my name."

A man with no memory who feels no pain, Numb travels to New York City after a short stint with the circus, following the one and only clue he holds to his hidden history: a brittle, bloodstained business card. But once there, word of his condition rapidly spreads—sparked by the attention he attracts by letting people nail his hands to wooden bars for money—and he quickly finds himself hounded on all sides by those who would use his unique ability in their own pursuits of fame and fortune. It is a strange world indeed that Numb numbly stumbles through, surrounded by crowds of suck-ups and opportunists, as he confronts life's most basic and difficult question: Who am I?
I was drawn to Numb for two principal reasons. First, of course, I wanted to know who Numb was and how he became numb. But I was also curious about Ferrell's take on fame and how the American media and public decide who becomes a celebrity and why.

I love what people have been saying about Numb:
  • All Purpose Monkey wrote in the Savannah Morning News: "Ferrell sure as hell has served up a book that makes you think about how we define ourselves. . . . And when an author has the chops to both entertain readers as well as make them think, that’s a beautiful thing."
  • Sarah at Blue Truck Book Reviews said: "The plot is perhaps a little light on the details . . . but the swift pace is somehow perfect. To slow down would be to feel perhaps a little too deeply how much everything hurts a person who feels no pain."
  • J.C. from Biblio Blogazine said: "Numb’s story is the story of us all. Searching for ourselves, understanding who we are, defining our place in life and amongst society is an ageless theme. Ferrell gives it a new face and twist in this intriguing story."
To learn more about Sean Ferrell, 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. See the alphabetized review index to see what others are saying. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Numb at Powell's
Numb at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2010
ISBN-13:9780061946509

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14 October 2010

Spotlight On . . . Kate Ledger

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Kate Ledger. You have heard me talk about Kate before because her book, Remedies, was published as an Amy Einhorn Book, an imprint that I strongly recommend to my readers.

Since I first featured Remedies, the novel has gone on to be an August 2010 Indie Next Pick, a book club selection for Self magazine, and the community read for the Twin Cities Jewish Book Fair.

Kate is a Pennsylvania author through and through. She was born and bred in the Philadelphia area, and the city not only plays a role in her novel but has the power to seduce her into taking a walk on the wild side.

Bringing It All Back Home

I was born in Philadelphia, and I lived there until I was almost twenty-two. I still come back to visit, but I haven’t called Philly home for nearly twenty years. The truth is, however, the places you live leave their marks on you. They stamp you with their nuances and their vibes. And if it happens you’re a fiction writer, some of those marks creep up in surprising ways as they make appearances in your work.

Remedies takes place in Baltimore, where I was living at the time I began writing the book. But Philly is present in the story. Remedies is the story of a complicated Baltimore family that’s on the brink of falling apart, but Philly appears as the city of escape, where reunions take place that put characters in touch with their pasts. It’s the site of confusion, of recognition. It’s the site of potential change, of falsified hope, and the desire to recreate one’s circumstances and identity.

I can explain how I envision the writing process, at least the process of writing fiction. You take a topic you’re interested in, and you begin to ruminate about it. There’s a great swirling of things you know and that you’ve experienced, of people and voices, some of which make sense and some of which appear only tangentially relevant. The visual description of it, in my mind, is Dorothy sitting in her house caught in the cyclone. She’s looking out the window and pieces of her life are floating by: Auntie Em in a rocking chair, a cow, some familiar people in a rowboat, Miss Gulch on the bicycle who then transforms into a witch. In the writing process, all swirling outside the window makes sense because it’s familiar, but the pieces are unmoored, and out of context.

The beauty of writing—of creating—is that moment of reaching out the window into the cyclone to grab what’s floating by. You’re telling a story, but the components come from both the conscious and the subconscious. The pieces don’t make sense, at least not in a linear, rational way. As you write, and you fit some of these fragments together, you take note of some of the connections. Other connections you understand later, after the book is done. I heard a memoirist give a talk recently in which he said, “As you write about your life, you discover your stories.” The opposite seems to me to be true about fiction: As you write fiction, your stories discover you.

I wasn’t thinking consciously about Philly as I was writing; at least, I wasn’t thinking: Hmm, Philly, what does it mean to me? I put a character on an Amtrak train and let her get off at 30th Street Station. Ultimately, she has an affair in the city that makes her discover some truths about her life. In hindsight, long after I’d finished writing the book, I remembered one afternoon in my own life history—an afternoon on a Philly street—when I’d sought a kind of transformation. My own story was much more innocuous than my character’s, but similar in the themes of finding oneself.

It was the mid-1990s. I no longer lived in Philly, but had come back to visit my parents as a twenty-something. I had a job I was uncertain about. I was single and eager to fall in love. I was intent on becoming a fiction writer, but hadn’t yet begun to write a book. I was trying to figure out my life and who I was, what sorts of things represented me, and, in turn, how I represented the things I cared about. That same weekend I was in town, my brother, two years younger than I am, happened to be visiting, too. His life was in similar stage of taking shape. He told me he was thinking about getting a tattoo. What I’d been thinking about was getting my navel pierced.

During our teenage years, in the 1980s, South Street in Philadelphia had been on fire with alternative culture. For an eight-block stretch on the east side of downtown, punk fashion raged with dramatic style: leather chokers, studs, Mohawks, fishnets, high-top boots, dyed hair. As teenagers, my brother and I had been equally non-flamboyant in our style, but we’d often ventured to South Street to buy tapes and posters and to marvel at the boldness of punk style. But that particular weekend a decade or so later, as we returned to Philly, we were struck with the desire to recreate ourselves with symbols that still felt daring and alternative. We drove across town to South Street to stamp ourselves with something new.

The neighborhood was still much as we remembered it, a crowded avenue of colorful storefronts, and we found a few tattoo parlors where we looked through artists’ samples. They were intriguing, fanciful, and bold. The fact about a tattoo, though, is you have to know what message you want it to convey about you. I could see in my brother’s face that neither Tweetie Birds nor Chinese characters seemed to hold enough meaning. We wandered further down South Street and went into a store to ask about the price of navel piercing. But I, too, began to feel uncertainty about what exactly I was trying to say with the gesture.

After a while, having made no decisions, we headed to a rooftop lounge and ordered drinks. The street looked cartoonish from up above. We had a good time talking, and soon the afternoon sun was fading. We both acknowledged it was too bad we no longer both were living in the same city, especially both being twenty-something, unsettled, and uncertain about what was coming next in our lives. It was clear as we sat there neither of us was getting tattooed or pierced that day. But it was also clear some other transformation had taken place. The afternoon had resulted in a kind of growing up—the kind you experience when you take note of where you are in your life, when you recognize you’re not alone in what you’re feeling, and when you realize that things, however they turn out, will probably be okay. We drank a few beers and went home.

Recently, I reminded my brother of that afternoon, and he grinned appreciatively about The Day We Went to South Street and Nothing Happened. Philly was where I experienced a lot of things. It was the city where my heart was first broken by a boyfriend. It was where I began writing about medicine, which became the focus of my career as a magazine writer. The city is symbolic of a multitude of things to me, but I discovered in the process of writing a work of fiction that self-discovery is among them. (It might be interesting to know that, for yet another character in the novel, navel-piercing figures prominently, too.)
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Thank you so much, Kate. I love the analogy of the debris flying by the windows in The Wizard of Oz. I also love the story of your visit to South Street. I can picture you two taking a look at your options; playing with the idea of getting a little crazy; and then going somewhere to have a drink, catch up on your lives, and do some people watching. What a great memory. (Photo credits: the ants on the old Zipperhead store and the mosaic from South Street by David Saddler; South Street buildings by Eric Hart. Click on the images to enlarge.)

Here is a short video in which Kate introduces us to Remedies:


Kate Ledger grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Akiba Hebrew Academy and the University of Pennsylvania. She received a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction from the University of Arizona. She lives in St. Paul, MN, with her husband and children. To learn more about Kate, visit her website.

Remedies at an Indie
Remedies at Powell's
Remedies at Book Depository
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13 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday 99

Yellow Crab Apples after the Rain, 2010

For more Wordless Wednesday click here.

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12 October 2010

Today's Read: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

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.

Here's mine:

The thing you don't see while you're still there on Earth is how easy it is to change your mind. When you're in it and you're mixed up with feelings, assumptions, influences, and misconceptions, things seem completely impossible to change. From here you see that change is as easy as flicking a light switch in your brain. (pp. 49-50)
—From Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

Today is the launch day for A. S. King's newest novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which has already become a Junior Library Guild selection for fall 2010. Once you start reading this sassy, funny, touching novel, you won't be able to stop.

Here's the publisher's summary:
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.
Look for a full review in the weeks to come. In the meantime be sure to check out A. S. King's website and blog for more information, tour dates, and contests.

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11 October 2010

Review: The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is one of my favorite artist/authors of graphic novels, and his The Lost Thing did not disappoint me. The story itself is about the lost things and creatures all around us that we don't notice because we are so involved in our own worlds. What happens when someone actually takes the time to know and help a lost thing?

As is Tan's style, each image in the book is rich with color and detail. a bit of smoke here, a pipe there, a little creature in the corner, and graffiti on the wall. Both the story and the images can be read on different levels, making the book appeal to a wide range of readers.

For more on Tan, be sure to go back and read the fabulous guest post that Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader wrote for me last May. Here is a short video I found based on The Lost Thing that demonstrates Tan's artistry. You can also visit Tan's website for a closer look at some illustrations from the book.


The Lost Thing at Powell's
The Lost Thing at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs

Published by Hachette Austrailia, 2000
ISBN-13: 9789867399076
YTD: 89
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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