31 August 2011

Wordless Wednesday 145

Night Rides at the Fair, 2011

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30 August 2011

Review and Giveaway: Dark Souls by Paula Morris

Just minutes after sixteen-year-old Miranda lost her best friend, Jenna, in a car accident, she saw her friend disappearing into a cornfield. But no matter how many times Miranda shouted her name, Jenna didn't turn around or come back. The paramedics on the scene of the accident calmed Miranda down, telling her she was in shock. In the following months, however, Miranda starts to see and hear things others can't. Has she gone crazy or can she really see ghosts?

A half a year later, when her family visits York, England--the "most haunted place on earth" (p. 15)--Miranda isn't sure what to expect, so meeting the mysterious Nick Fullerton comes as a pleasant surprise. Nick can see ghosts too, and Miranda is relieved to have someone with whom she can share her secret. But is Nick who he says he is, and more important, can Miranda trust him?

Paula Morris's Dark Souls is a little bit ghost story, a little bit romance, a little bit mystery, and little bit history. The novel is geared to a young adult audience and looks at families and grieving against the backdrop of the city of York and its long and sometimes violent history. Miranda explores the city using a book called Tales of Old York as her guide--not only to the historic sites but also to the ghosts. As she meets both living and dead, she has to decide what is expected of her and who she can believe.

I don't want to say more because I'm afraid of telegraphing the book's ending. Let me assure you that there are are just enough clues to make the novel's conclusion satisfying but not so many that you'll likely figure it out too quickly. Morris has nicely woven fact and fiction to make Dark Souls a great read for fall and the Halloween season.

The giveaway: I'm excited to be able to host a giveaway of Paula Morris's Dark Souls. Thanks to the publishers, I have two copies of the novel to giveaway, and the only requirement is that the two winners each have a U.S. mailing address. To enter, just fill out the following form. I'll pick the two winners on September 12. Good luck! This is a novel you don't want to miss.



To learn more about Paula Morris, check out the This Is Teen Facebook page, where she will featured; you can also follow her on Twitter.

Paula Morris is the author of Ruined, and has published several novels for adults in her native New Zealand. She has lived in a number of cities around the world, including York, England. She now lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and teaches creative writing at the University of Stirling. Visit her online at www.paula-morris.com.


Dark Souls at Powell's
Dark Souls at Book Depository
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Published by Point, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780545251327
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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29 August 2011

Review: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

I recently revisited Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye by listening to the unabridged audio edition (Random House Audio; 16 h, 31 min) read by Kimberly Farr. Instead of writing a full review of a book I first read about twenty years ago, I thought I'd give you a quick summary and then share some of my thoughts.

Feminist artist Elaine Risley, returns to her childhood city of Toronto for a retrospective exhibit of her work. In the down time between dealing with the logistics of the show, she wanders the city and reflects on her troubled childhood, her difficult young adulthood, and the surprise of finding herself old enough and established enough to put together a retrospective show.

Elaine recalls her life in pieces,

You don't look back along time, but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away. (p. 1)
It is the "sometimes nothing" that is particularly problematic for Elaine. Throughout her life, she is periodically startled by a gap in her memory, a time period that seems lost. What she learns, long after her life has settled into comfort, is that she was the victim of childhood bullies who sometimes acted as friends, confusing the young Elaine who wasn't prepared for how cruel girls can be.

Elaine's current trip to Toronto is not what triggers her memories of that incident. But being back in the city causes her to think of those girls and how her relationship with them hardened her, shaped her ideas of feminist issues, and even informed her art.

As many have said before me, Atwood captured the disturbing truth of many girlhood friendships and how the origin of such meanness and competition was often found in the girls' mothers and in the generations of women before them. Atwood was born in 1939, and when she writes of friendships, sexual relationships, gender, motherhood, religion, and opportunities, she speaks to all women who came of age in the twentieth-century. Cat's Eye would make a great book club read, especially for a group that includes multiple generations.

Cat's Eye at Powell's
Cat's Eye at Book Depository
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Published by Anchor Books, 1988
ISBN-13: 9780385491020
Source: Audiobook edition: Review (see review policy)
My full audio review was written for AudioFile magazine.
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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27 August 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

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.

_______
Before I get to today's post, I want to take a minute to thank everyone who nominated Weekend Cooking for the Best Meme award for Book Bloggers Appreciate Week. I've decided to decline the nomination. I am thrilled that others have recognized the success of Weekend Cooking, which is nearing its 100th birthday (today is the 97th post), and that is honor enough for me.

I'm a bread person. Little is as satisfying as sliding a perfectly baked loaf of bread out of the oven; I love to make just the right bread for the meal I'm serving or for the sandwich I want to build.

I am a self-taught bread baker, and so I know it's possible to learn from a book and to perfect one's technique in a home kitchen. How much easier my journey would have been if I had started with Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread book. If you're new to bread baking, you can dive right in; if you're experienced, you may be surprised by how much you still have to learn. I was.

Through engaging narrative, beautiful photographs, and very clear instructions, Robertson helps even the timidest of bakers make the perfect loaf almost from the first try. In fact, Robertson introduces us to the people who tested his recipes at home, and their stories prove that anyone can bake good bread in a nonprofessional kitchen.

Here, Robertson explains the goal of Tartine Bread:
The "Tartine Bread" approach follows a loose set of concepts that we introduce in a single "basic recipe" and then build on throughout the book. As you gain an understanding of how bread "works," you will be able to make adjustments in timing and technique to achieve a broad range of results. The goal of making bread with a satisfying depth of flavor, a good crust, and a moist, supple crumb is a constant. (p. 13)
I usually bake with yeast, but Robertson's method begins with a starter (similar to sourdough) and relies on a slow rise. From his basic country bread, a whole world of baking opens up, from simple round loaves to pizza, semolina bread, baguettes, and even English muffins.

I admit that the initial process of getting a starter going seems daunting, but truth be told, it takes just a few minutes a day and then you're set. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, it's okay to skip a day or so, starters are somewhat resilient. Thank goodness it's almost cool enough to start baking on a regular basis; the photographs of beautiful country loaves are difficult to resist.

The following video tells you all you need to know about Robertson and Tartine breads. You'll find other Tartine Bread videos on YouTube.


Tartine Bread has found a permanent place on my bookshelves.

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

Published by Chronicle Books, September 2010
ISBN-13: 9780811870412
Source: review (see review policy).
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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26 August 2011

Imprint Friday: The Arrogant Years by Lucette Lagnado

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

I admit that until I looked through the Ecco catalog a few months ago, I didn't know who Lucette Lagnado was. I hadn't read her first memoir, and I didn't recognize her name, even though she has won awards for her investigative journalism. But something about the description of her second memoir, The Arrogant Years, called to me. I am so glad I decided to get to know "Loulou" and her mother, Edith, and I know you will be too.

Here is the publisher's summary:

The author of the award-winning The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit—hailed by the New York Times book review as a “crushing, brilliant book”—returns with this, the extraordinary follow-up memoir

In The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Lucette Lagnado offered a heartbreaking portrait of her father, Leon, a successful Cairo boulevardier who was forced to take flight with his family during the rise of the Nasser dictatorship, and of her family’s struggle to rebuild a new life in a new land.

In this much-anticipated new memoir, Lagnado tells the story of her mother, Edith, coming of age in a magical old Cairo of dusty alleyways and grand villas inhabited by pashas and their wives. Then Lagnado revisits her own early years in America—first, as a schoolgirl in Brooklyn’s immigrant enclaves, where she dreams of becoming the fearless Mrs. Emma Peel of The Avengers, and later, as an “avenging” reporter for some of America’s most prestigious newspapers. A stranger growing up in a strange land, when she turns sixteen Lagnado’s adolescence is further complicated by cancer. Its devastating consequences would rob her of her “arrogant years”—the years defined by an overwhelming sense of possibility, invincibility, and confidence. Lagnado looks to the women sequestered behind the wooden screen at her childhood synagogue, to the young coeds at Vassar and Columbia in the 1970s, to her own mother and the women of their past in Cairo, and reflects on their stories as she struggles to make sense of her own choices.
One of the strongest reactions I had to Lagnado's memoir was that she is only a year younger than I am, but her American experience of 1964 (when she came to the States) to 1973 (when she went to college) was worlds away from mine. Although I was perfectly aware of Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and in my own Ohio hometown, I was far removed from that life. I had to keep reminding myself that Lagnado and I grew up during the same time period.

Another fascinating aspect of The Arrogant Years is the juxtaposition of Loulou's childhood with her mother's. Edith grew up in an era, a country, and a community that limited her horizons. As Lagnado wrote: "My mother had led a life of sacrifice." Most women of Edith's generation did, but her sacrifices were particularly harsh. Although Edith was eventually able to pursue some of her dreams, she wanted more for her children, especially her younger daughter, "telling [Loulou] not to be like her, not to give up [her] hopes and ambitions."

Thus. despite arrogant years that were decidedly different from what most American baby boomers and their mothers experienced, Edith and Loulou's stories are, at the end, utterly familiar.

Lagnado's style is personal, and she tells her mother's and her own stories in an easy, approachable manner. I read the entire 400-page memoir in one sitting; it felt as if I were listening to a friend talk about her family.

Here are a couple other opinions:
  • Publisher's Weekly concludes: "Her memoir is a fully fleshed, moving re-creation of once-vibrant Jewish communities."
  • Donna Seaman, writing for Booklist Online, wrote: "Lagnado is spellbinding and profoundly elucidating in this vividly detailed and far-reaching family memoir of epic adversity and hard-won selfhood."
To learn more about Lucette Lagnado, follow her on Twitter, visit her Facebook page, or see her author pages on the HarperCollins website.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

The Arrogant Years at Powell's
The Arrogant Years at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, September 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061803673

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25 August 2011

Thursday Tea: Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter

The Book: I know I usually review or spotlight an audiobook for Thursday Tea, but this week I want to talk about a terrific book I read in print: Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter. This is historical fiction geared to a young-adult audience, but it has broad appeal to adults.

I was especially excited to read this novel for a couple of reasons. First, the story is told from the view point of Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony (called Marcus Antonius in this book). Second, I read and enjoyed Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra (nonfiction) last year and wanted to know more about her surviving children.

Shecter delivers a well-told story that begins by summarizing some key moments in the young Cleopatra Selene's life. The heart of the novel, however, is in what happens after the death of Cleopatra Selene's parents: her move to Rome and her eventual marriage to an African named Juba. The historic details are accurate, and Shecter creates a believable account of Cleopatra Selene's life from a naive young princess to the eve of her marriage.

One of the things I really loved about the novel were the contrasts between cultures both within Egypt (class and religious differences, for example) and between Egypt and Rome. Cleopatra Selene had to negotiate these worlds from her position as a woman and her changing status from princess to captive.

Youth and adults alike will appreciate the extras to the novel: an annotated cast of characters at the beginning and, at the end, an author's note about Cleopatra Selene's marriage and a section that helps sort out the facts from fiction. Cleopatra's Moon is an accessible, easy-to-read novel for readers of any age.

The Tea: Oh thank the gods (the Romans had a lot of them) that the days and evenings have finally cooled off. I'm back to afternoon hot tea! The first tea I turned to this season was Adagio's Earl Grey Bravo. This is one of my staples--just right for a little pick-me-up. Here's how the company describes it, and I couldn't agree more: "The perfect afternoon tea: zesty and exhilarating fresh citrus aroma, slightly dry to the nose, with a rounded and balanced orange rind flavor to match the tang of the Ceylon. Pleasantly dry finish with lingering citrus sweetness."

The Assessment: As far as I can tell, Romans did not drink tea. On the other hand, Egypt had ties and contact with India--a fact I knew about and one that is mentioned in Cleopatra's Moon--so perhaps young Cleopatra Selene did have tea when she was a child, and maybe she even liked a blend that was similar to Earl Grey. Regardless, I definitely enjoyed my tea while reading this engaging novel.

What About You? What are you drinking these days? Reading anything good this week?

Cleopatra's Moon at Powell's
Cleopatra's Moon at Book Depository
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Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.

Published by Scholastic / Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780545221306
Source: Review (see review policy).
Rating: B+

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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24 August 2011

Wordless Wednesday 144

Caught in a Web, 2011

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23 August 2011

Today's Read: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

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.

In the two years or so we'd been on the road, I did miss my mom. When I was really homesick in those first lonely, bumpy days at a new place, I wasn't lonely for my old house or friends, or anything else specific, as much as just the comfort she represented. It was the little things, like her smell, the way she always hugged too tight, how she looked just enough like me to make me feel safe at a single glance. Then, though, I'd remember it wasn't her that I was really yearning for as much as a mirage, who I'd thought she was. The person who cared enough about our family to never want to split us all into pieces. (p. 18)
—From What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (Penguin USA / Viking, 2011)

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22 August 2011

Review: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Note that a shorter version of this review was first published in Shelf Awareness for Readers on August 12, 2011

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang knew two things: No sacrifice for art was too big if "the outcome was beautiful enough, strange enough, [or] memorable enough" and "kids kill art." When Camille discovered she was pregnant, they found a way around the second fact. Their daughter, Annie, was incorporated into the action almost from birth. By the time Buster came along, the Fangs were performing as a family. Annie and Buster thus grew up as actors, taking on whatever persona was needed for their parents' current act and never breaking character, no matter what chaos ensued.

Beneath the surface of the fun and fast-paced The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson explores self-identity and families in the context of life lived as art. After years of sacrificing everything, even their names, to their parents' art, Annie and Buster struggle with recognizing reality. Almost no family outing was ever what it seemed to be on the surface, and the siblings learned to react to every mishap as if it were orchestrated. Once when Caleb fell in a grocery store, Buster immediately played a familiar role in a performance piece, showing no concern for his bleeding father until he was told it was an accident.

After a childhood of assumed identities, in which virtually every move was thought of in terms of how it would play out to some undefined audience, it's no surprise that the young Fangs picked careers that required direction: Annie became a screen actor and Buster, a journalist. After a couple of professional mishaps, the siblings find themselves back in their parents' home, but this time they aren't playing along with the family business.

Although Annie and Buster are determined to end the cycle of manipulation by their parents, they can't quite grasp the idea that life isn't scripted. It's only when the two are forced to question the truth of an extreme performance by Caleb and Camille that they can muster the strength to break from their parents. With that break, however, comes Annie and Buster's first taste of independence; are they up to the challenge?

Regardless of the facts of the life-changing situation, Wilson makes us wonder who's in charge: Did Caleb and Camille, having merged life and performance, foresee—or even purposely create—the split with their children? Or did Annie and Buster, having rejected their parents' realities, simply forfeit their place in the family Fang?

The Family Fang is an Indie Next pick for August 2011. To learn more about author Kevin Wilson, visit his website and his blog.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

The Family Fang at Powell's
The Family Fang at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061579035
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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20 August 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe by Alisa Huntsman

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've never been to Nashville, but when I get there, I know where I'm heading for dessert, even if I have to wait in line to be seated. The Loveless Cafe (named after the first owners) has been a go-to spot since it opened its doors in 1951. In 2004, Alisa Huntsman came onboard as the baking queen of the cafe, and in her Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe she tells you how you can bake her signature sweet treats at home.

From its raspberry red and robin's egg blue color scheme to the beautiful photographs, Desserts invites you to pull up a kitchen chair and start dreaming of your next baking adventure. Unlike many restaurant cookbooks, this one has a comfortable, down-home feel, which is telegraphed by the simplicity of the cover photograph. Look at that red velvet cake on its vintage cake stand! I'm sure I could re-create both the dessert and the presentation.

Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe will soon be a batter-splattered, well-used cookbook in my house. Pretty much every single recipe looks tasty and easy to make, and the variety promises the perfect dessert no matter what the occasion or season.

The categories are classic (such as pies, cakes, crisps, and puddings), but the choices will appeal to the most modern of bakers. Besides the rich heaven that is Root Beer Float Cake, you'll also find plenty of seasonal fruit pies and cobblers as well as snack-type desserts, such as thin, buttery Coconut Chews.

The ingredients are easy to find at the grocery store, but just in case, Huntsman provides a short list of sources. The recipe directions are numbered and detail each step, including tests for determining doneness and ideas for serving. Even the recipes with the longest titles, like Biscuit Pudding with Drunken Caramel Sauce, are broken down into just a handful of easy-to-follow instructions.

Home bakers will appreciate the extras that Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe offers. Throughout, Huntsman includes tips, general information, and interesting facts about the Loveless Cafe. Thanks to the well-constructed index and chapter tables of contents, it's a snap to find your next dessert, whether you search by ingredient, category, or title. (Note: photo was scanned from p. 99 of the cookbook.)

After reading the introduction to the cookie chapter, I started gathering the ingredients for the One-Bowl Brownie Drops:
What can't a good cookie do? It staves off hunger, it's perfectly portable, and, crumbs be damned, you can even sneak one or two into your pocket. Put out a plate of cookies in any room, and it will demonstrate a gravitational pull that rivals celestial bodies. (p. 160)
I plan on baking later in the weekend; I'll let you know how they turned out.


Published by Workman / Artisan, September 2011
ISBN-13: 9781579654344
Source: review (see review policy).
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)



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19 August 2011

Imprint Friday: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Harper Perennial. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

Matthew Norman and his fabulous Domestic Violets is not new to Beth Fish Reads. You might remember when I first started talking about my book crush last April.

I case you've forgotten the premise, I'll post the publisher's summary before I tell you more about why this novel will make it to your favorite reads of 2011 list.

Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day.

The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite co-worker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.

Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way.
Yes, I can assure you that Tom's adventures will have you laughing and cringing. Everyone—man or woman—will be able to relate to Tom and his family because each character seems so real; it's as if you knew them or had one of two of them in your own family. I particularly love that Tom has a book in manuscript while both his parents have been published, although his mother's collection of short stories has gone out of print.

Let me share a short scene with Tom and his mother to give you a sense of Norman's writing style. Here's the setup: Tom has just arrived at his mother's house, and she is working in her garden. The only other thing you need to know is that the book opens with Tom trying to overcome a little problem with ED:
"I like the choice of flowers," I say. "Would a violet by any other name be so . . . purple? Shakespeare wrote that. You can look it up if you'd like."

"They're prettier and more vivid in the wild, I suppose, but domestic violets are nice, too. The Greeks believed they symbolized fertility and potency, you know."

As I quietly let the irony of this knee me in the groin a few times, we settle into two of the three wicker chairs.
I can't leave Domestic Violets without one last note: I was particularly amused by Tom's life in the corporate world, and I closed the book thankful that I found a way to be my own boss, without having co-workers or endless meetings. I'm so glad I never had to contend with some of Tom's colleagues.

The reviews for Norman's debut novel have been almost unanimous in their high praise. Take a look at few opinions:
  • Amy from House of the Seven Tails says, "This book is smart, extremely funny, well-written with genuine dialogue and seriously flawed, realistic characters who are as charming as they are jerky and easy for me to love."
  • Kristen from BookNAround says, "Refreshing, humorous, and appealing, Domestic Violets is a book that shows us our present, sends us up, and delivers the good feeling that is so hard to pull off without being too treacle."
  • Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania says, "Matthew Norman gives us Tom Violet in all his goofball glory and takes us on a journey filled with laughter, absurdity and surprising poignancy."
Domestic Violets is an Indie Next Pick for August 2011. To learn more about Matthew Norman, visit his great blog, The Norman Nation, and don't miss his "Dog for Sale" post from last month. Be sure to mark your calendar for the Book Club Girl on Air show featuring Norman; it will air September 8 at 7:00 pm EST. You can follow Norman on Twitter; his handle is @TheNormanNation. Finally, book groups and readers will want to check out the discussion questions, available on the Harper Perennial website.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. 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. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Domestic Violets at an Indie
Domestic Violets at Powell's
Domestic Violets at Book Depository
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Published by Harper Perennial, September 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062065117

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18 August 2011

Review: Fables 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) by Bill Willingham

Sometimes series get bogged down after while, sometimes they drag, sometimes they become predictable. That is decidedly not the case with Bill Willingham's Fables books. Each one continues to be complex and imaginative. The series does not retell traditional fairy tales; instead, it places familiar characters in a completely new setting.

These days, most Fables live in the modern world among us Mundies because they've been run out of their homelands by The Adversary. Life in Fabletown (hidden in New York City) and on the farm (for creatures that cannot take on human form) can be pleasant and even loving and fun, but there is a constant underlying worry that The Adversary will finally catch up with them.

East meets West in the first story in Fables 7: Arabian Nights (and Days). The enemy has invaded Bagdad, and it's not just the Western occupying Mundy forces. Thus Sinbad—along with his advisers, harem, and slaves—arrives in Fabletown seeking refuge. Although Sinbad is treated with respect, Prince Charming's administration insists that all of Fabletown's inhabitants be free.

After some deliberation, Sinbad agrees to follow Fabletown's laws, declaring that he'll emancipate his slaves. Unfortunately, his primary adviser cannot accept Western ways and so decides to seize power for himself by releasing a dangerous D'Jinn. Can the Gingerbread House Witch and the North Wind find a way to save Fabletown with minimal collateral damage?

The second story in Fables 7 is about two wooden beings, Rodney and June, who fall in love and want to become human so they can marry and have children. They are given a chance to meet with Geppetto, who has the power to grant them their wish. The couple's transformation will require a great sacrifice, and that situation sets us up for future story lines.

The scan at the right (click to enlarge) shows life on the Fables' farm. I picked it so you could get an idea of the great artwork and colors and to let you see one of the lighter scenes. I also carefully avoided any kind of spoiler.

If you decide to read Willingham's Fables series, you'll want to start with the first volume and read them in order. The stories build on each other, and the characters grow and change and are affected by their experiences. You'll also want to look carefully at the drawings—Willingham and his artists include many visual and puns throughout the books.

Note that the Fables series is drawn by a team of artists: Mark Buckingham, Jim Gern, Steve Leialoha, Jimmy Palmiotti, Andrew Pepoy, Daniel Vozzo, Tod Klein, and James Jean.

Arabian Nights (and Days) at Powell's
Arabian Nights (and Days) at Book Depository
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Published by DC Comics / Vertigo, 2006
ISBN-13: 9781401210007
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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17 August 2011

Wordless Wednesday 143

Butterfly on Butterfly Bush, 2011


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16 August 2011

Starting from Page 1: Six for Late Summer

August is half over, and in the United States that means it's time to squeeze in a few more days of freedom before the kids go back to school and to scramble to finish all those warm-weather projects you never did get around to doing.

I was looking over the barely touched stack of books that I was sure I was going to read this summer and realized I will likely never find time to read every book that calls to me. As I mentioned earlier this summer, one way I choose my next book is by reading the opening lines to see what grabs me. Here's what I read yesterday.

Sally Goldenbaum
The Wedding Shawl
Penguin / New American Library
ISBN-13: 9780451233196
Cozy mystery

It would be a night of murder, they'd been told. And there'd be lemon squares, too.
Joanna Briscoe
You
Bloomsbury, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781608194834
Fiction
It's haunted, she thought.

They emerged from the lanes on to the upper reaches of the moor, and Cecilia understood that the baby girl was still there: there in the sodden cloud shadows, there in the bracken.
Amanda Kyle Williams
The Stranger You Seek
Random House / Bantam, 2011
Thriller
The sun had not even burned dew off the grass under the live oaks, but the air was thick and soupy already, air you could swim around in, and it was dead-summer hot.

Inside the car she had not yet noticed parked on her street, a patient hunter dabbed at a trickle of perspiration and watched as Westmore Drive began a sleepy jog toward midweek.
Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Scholastic Press, 2011
Young adult dystopian
I was sitting at the edge of clearing, trying not to stare at the body on the ground in front of me. Dad had said we'd be done before dark, but it had been hours since the sun had gone down and he was still only waist deep in the hole, throwing shovelfuls of dirt over his shoulder.
Leila Cobo
Tell Me Something True
Hachette / Grand Central, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780446519366
Fiction
The air feels sweet and moist and just the slightest bit warm when you get off the 9 p.m. flight to Cali. It clings to your skin, but in the faintest, most tenuous way, like the sheerest of gauze blouses touching but not touching your arms as you breathe.
Jacques Strauss
The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.
Farrar Straus Giroux
ISBN-13: 9780374144128
Fiction
When I was eleven I was too old to cry in front of my friends, but not too old to fake a stomachache at a sleepover if I was suddenly overcome with homesickness because my friend's mother and made mutton stew and prayed before the meal and bought no-name-brand toothpaste that tasted funny.
From the opening lines, which of these would you read first? I haven't yet decided.

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15 August 2011

Review: English Tea Murder by Leslie Meier

Note that a shorter version of this review was first published in Shelf Awareness for Readers on July 15, 2011.

Lucy Stone—reporter for the Tinker's Cove, Maine, Pennysaver—is taking her first trip across the Atlantic. The tour of England, led by a local college professor, is a chance for Lucy and her friends Rachel, Pam, and Sue to see something of the world. When one of the tour members dies before the plane has even landed, Lucy can't help but wonder whether the death was indeed an unfortunate accident.

Although English Tea Murder is the 17th entry in the Lucy Stone cozy mystery series by Leslie Meier, readers new to the series (like me) will quickly catch on to the fact that Lucy is happily married, has a group of close women friends, is unused to travel abroad, and often finds herself tangled up in a murder mystery. It is my understanding that this is the first novel in the series to take place outside of Maine.

In true cozy fashion, the book covers more than just the murder, and it is fun to follow Lucy as she pokes around the Tower of London, bargains with vendors at Portobello Market, and walks the pier at Bath. One of the running story lines is Lucy's first encounter with life in a foreign country, and readers sympathize with her as she tries to adjust to the foods and customs of modern England and laugh as she and her friends are forever foiled in their attempt to enjoy a traditional high tea. Meier's descriptions of historic sites and shopping trips (including Harrods) will have you planning your next vacation.

At its heart, however, English Tea Murder is a mystery, and even as Lucy relishes being a tourist, the reporter in her cannot help but observe her fellow travelers. Something seems a bit off, and she has nagging thoughts that there is some kind of conspiracy or coverup. Finally, after a couple of unexplained accidents and a second death, Lucy—and the police—are on the case, trying to figure out which tour member (including a grieving mother, troubled college students, and a medical doctor) may have had the means or motive to carry off the murders. Thanks to the complex relationships among the characters and an unexpected dilemma for Lucy, it's not that easy to predict the ending of this satisfying cozy.

I enjoyed getting to know Lucy Stone and I'm looking forward to reading some of the earlier novels to get a sense of her family and life in Tinker's Cove, Maine.

English Tea Murder at Powell's
English Tea Murder at Book Depository
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Published by Kensington, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780758229311
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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13 August 2011

Weekend Cooking: Season to Taste by Molly Birnbaum

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.

_______

Despite graduating from Brown with an art history degree, Molly Birnbaum had spent most of her college years dreaming of culinary school. She read cookbooks the way her friends read novels, and she spent hours baking, cooking, kneading, and chopping.

Two weeks after graduation she had already applied to school and was starting work in a professional kitchen--a prerequisite to enrollment in the Culinary Institute of America. Two months after that, Birnbaum was hit by car when she was out jogging. Her head, pelvis, and knee injuries would heal, but her sense of smell seemed to be gone forever.

In Season to Taste, a fascinating account of the years after her accident, Birnbaum relates her personal depression and frustration about losing her sense of smell and the results of her research into the genetics, neurology, and psychology of the olfactory sense. She visited clinics, met with leading researchers, read novels and memoirs, toured a flavor factory, and learned about the perfume business. Birnbaum then brought all of this information together in a well-written, straightforward account of what it means to smell . . . well, nothing.

Birnbaum takes a reporter's approach to her memoir (and, in fact, she attended journalism school), and the mix of personal and objective is particularly appealing. As part of her own story, she discusses the utter devastation of being anosmic (unable to smell). Taste is strongly connected to smell (think about how you can't taste anything when you have a bad cold), and without it, food loses all appeal. For Birnbaum, a budding chef, that loss was particularly rough--food came down to texture and a vague sense of sweet, acid, and salt. Away from the table, she describes her fear of not being able to smell smoke, spoiled food, noxious chemicals, or leaking gas and her realization that she lost a critical way in which humans sense danger.

Through her examination of the scientific literature as well as novels, memoirs, and poetry, Birnbaum discovered that smell is also strongly connected to emotions, memory, and sexual attraction. Without the sense of smell, she seemed to lack strong connections to places and people. Furthermore, Birnbaum suddenly had trouble cooking, sometimes even when following a recipe exactly. Her sense of self was beginning to slip away as her dark mood and disappointment intensified.

Birnbaum, however, was one of the lucky people who suffer from anosmia. At first, her ability to smell would return randomly and in very short spurts. Eventually, she was able to detect a few distinct odors. Later, she noticed that her ability to smell was strongly linked to her emotions. In an odd twist, after Birnbaum regained some of her olfactory powers, she discovered she often was unable to identify smells, sometimes misidentifying foul odors as pleasant.

Rather than being inspirational, Birnbaum's memoir is more in the style of nonfiction author Mary Roach. She uses her personal experience as a springboard to talk about the powerful connection between smells and emotion, memory, food, cooking, and eating. Season to Taste is highly recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs and/or easy-to-read science-oriented nonfiction. Food fans will find plenty to hold their interest, including Birnbaum's experience in a professional kitchen, her encounters with other cooks who have a diminished ability to taste, and her relearning how to cook a simple fresh meal for her boyfriend.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rebecca Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

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

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, July 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061915314
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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12 August 2011

Imprint Friday: What You See in the Dark by Manuel Munoz

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

It's summer and that means it's time for some high-class escape reading. Manuel Muñoz's What You See in the Dark is the perfect choice for a warm August night. But you might just want to leave a light on—this retelling of the filming of Hitchcock's Psycho is riveting and just a bit spooky.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Bakersfield, California, in the late 1950s is a dusty, quiet town too far from Los Angeles to share that city’s energy yet close enough to Hollywood to fill its citizens with the kinds of dreams they discover in the darkness of the movie theater. For Teresa, a young, aspiring singer who works at a shoe store, dreams lie in the music her mother shared with her, plaintive songs of love and longing. In Dan Watson, the most desirable young man in Bakersfield, she believes she has found someone to help her realize those dreams.

When a famous actress arrives from Hollywood with a great and already legendary director, local gossip about Teresa and Dan gives way to speculation about the celebrated visitors, there to work on what will become an iconic, groundbreaking film of madness and murder at a roadside motel. No one anticipates how the ill-fated love affair between Dan and Teresa will soon rival anything the director could ever put on the screen.

This thoroughly original work is intense and fascinating in its juxtapositions of tenderness and menace, violence and regret, played out in a town on the brink of change.
There are several things that attracted me to Muñoz's novel, including the Psycho connection, the time period, and the contrasts and similarities between the script and small-town life. What I wasn't expecting was the intriguing noir style of the book, from the way the Hollywood people are referred to by their roles (the Director, the Actress) to the second-person narrative to the mystery of what people do when shrouded by darkness. Jealousy, desire, mothers and sons, and of course murder—both on screen and off—sit in the driver's seat, and you're thankful for the ride.

What You See in the Dark should be near the top of your list for must-read August reading. Here are some other thoughts:
  • Publishers Weekly starred review ends with this sentence: "The lyrical prose and sensitive portrayal of the crime's ripple effect in the small community elevate this far beyond the typical noir."
  • Belinda Acosta, writing for the Austin Chronicle concludes: "What You See in the Dark strikes emotional chords so deep and with such precision, it almost makes you believe you've discovered a new art form."
  • Teri Harman, writing for the Desert News, notes: "The plot of the novel is an interesting combination of thriller, love story and exploration of the dark side of the American dream."
For more about Manuel Muñoz, visit his website. On the home page, you'll find the book trailer, which is introduced with this note: "The trailer illustrations, inspired by Hitchcock’s classic storyboards, are by the superb artist Chad Sell." New West Books & Writers has posted a interview with Muñoz, and the author has also been featured on Largehearted Boy, where he shares a unique play list.

Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

What You See in the Dark at Powell's
What You See in the Dark at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Algonquin Books, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781565125339

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11 August 2011

Thursday Tea: Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan

The Book: Last month on an Imprint Friday I featured the Amy Einhorn book Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan. I so loved the audio of Dolan's first David Loogan novel, I had to listen to the audio of Very Bad Men too.

Here are the elements: a bank robbery that took place 20 years ago, the mentally unstable Anthony Lark, a killing spree, a news reporter, a senator, a senator wannabe, a kidnapping, a few road trips, and Loogan and his mystery magazine Gray Streets.

The problem is, Loogan isn't quite sure how all these elements come together to make a coherent whole. And the longer it takes him to figure things out, the more chance there is for very bad men to do very bad things.

I can't imagine a better narrator for the Loogan series than Erik Davies. His inflections and pacing perfectly match Dolan's writing style, making it difficult to turn off the mp3 player. Even if you've already read Dolan's novel, follow my lead and do a reread via audio--it's one of the best ways to experience the crazy, dark ride that is Loogan's life.

The Tea: Despite the cooler weather, I'm still on iced tea here. This week I made my sun tea with Celestial Seasoning's Bengal Spice tea. This is pretty much the only herbal tea I drink, and I really love it. Here's the description: "Brimming with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves, a cup of our aromatic Bengal Spice tea is like a trip to an exotic spice market in a faraway land. This adventurous blend is our caffeine-free interpretation of Chai, a piquant Indian brew traditionally made with black tea."

The Assessment: Sorry, this match-up was a total fail! There is no way Loogan is drinking iced herbal Chai tea. Really. Now if I had poured some scotch or a beer into my mug, I bet Loogan wouldn't hesitate to join me.

What About You? Have you discovered a good tea or even a new wine this week? What are you reading or listening to?

Amy Einhorn Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010, or click the Amy Einhorn tab below my banner photo. To join the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge, click the link.

Very Bad Men at an Indie
Very Bad Men at Powell's
Very Bad Men at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs

Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.

Published by Putnan/ Amy Einhorn Books, 2011
ISBN-13:
9780399157493
YTD: 77
Source: Bought (see review policy).
Rating: A

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.

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10 August 2011

Wordless Wednesday 142

Lines and Curves, 2011

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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09 August 2011

Giveaway Winners: Van Booy & One Day

I had two giveaways that ended yesterday. Here are the winners.


I'm pleased to announce the winner of the Van Booy book giveaway, sponsored by the publisher. The winner will receive three signed Van Booy books. Congratulations to

Amy from the House of the Seven Tails

Hope you enjoy the books as much as I did!


I'm pleased to announce the winners of the One Day giveaway, sponsored by Focus Features. The winners will each receive the fabulous prize pack shown at the right. Congratulations to

Jess from The Cozy Reader
Vonda L

Hope you enjoy the book and the great swag!

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Reviews: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves & Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

This year's Nerds Heart YA has just about done me in. I'm a couple days late reporting my bracket, but I blame the books. I was given two great but totally different books to review, and the decision hasn't been easy.

Before I talk about the books, let me tell you about the Nerds Heart YA. This bracket-style competition brings attention to books that deserve more buzz and "feature characters, or are penned by authors, who fall within the following categories: Person(s) of Color (POC), GLBT, Disability, Mental Illness, Religious Lifestyle, Lower Socioeconomic Status, and Plus-Size."

Bleeding Violet, the debut novel of Dia Reeves, focuses on sixteen-year-old Hanna Järvinen, half-Finnish and half-African American who was rejected by her mother from birth. Hanna lived with her father, Joosef, in Finland and in Dallas, Texas, until his death, after which she moved in with her paternal aunt. When Aunt Ulla reveals her intention of permanently committing Hanna, who has bipolar disease, to a mental institution, the teen hits her over the head with a rolling pin and hitchhikes to Portero, Texas, hoping her mother (whom she's never met) will take her in.

Catherine Ryan Hyde's Jumpstart the World also centers around a sixteen-year-old. Elle is moving into a new apartment and will be attending a new school. Her mother found the apartment and arranged for the movers. Nothing too different here . . . except Elle's mother is not moving with her daughter. Instead, she's going back home to her new man, who doesn't want to have a teenager in the house and who thinks Elle's old school is too expensive. Thus the teen finds herself alone and on her own. Fortunately, the nice neighbors, Frank and Molly, are friendly and Elle manages to meet a few kids on her first day of school.

Both books deal with mother-daughter issues, abandonment, and adjusting to a new home, but that's pretty much the end of their similarities. Hanna has been diagnosed with bipolar disease and doesn't always take her medication. When she is off her meds, she hallucinates and talks with her dead father, making her an unreliable narrator. Things get complicated when she moves to Portero because not all of what Hanna sees is the result of her illness. The town is a portal (thus its name) to other worlds and other creatures, who are none too friendly to humans. Hanna's mother is sure her daughter will be killed and wants her as far away from danger as possible. When Hanna proves tougher than anyone could imagine, she is allowed to stay and learn the secrets of the town. The major themes in Bleeding Violet--a surprisingly deep, fast-paced, and well-written paranormal--are mental illness, racial identity, maternal abandonment, and death.

Elle's mother leaves her for a man and seems little concerned for daughter's safety. Elle's angry behavior and distrust of others is understandable, and the teen often behaves in ways she knows will upset her mother and will keep others at bay. At school, she falls in with the crowd of kids who are on the outside or are different in some way (including sexual identity), and at home she finds herself developing a crush on her neighbor Frank. When an accident reveals Frank's transgender nature, Elle is confused and feels betrayed. Ultimately, she must find a way to look beyond the surface and learn the importance of acceptance, true friendship, and love. The major themes in Jumpstart the World--a somewhat predictable contemporary novel--are sexual identity, abandonment, and self-acceptance.

The Winner: Choosing between these books was difficult, but ultimately Bleeding Violet is the novel that must move on in the bracket contest. The world building, strong female lead, and gripping plot make this book a winner. One of the refreshing aspects of the novel is the idea that being normal and fitting in are relative things and may depend on where you are, who you know, and what else is going on around you.

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
Published by Simon Pulse, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781416986195

Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780375866654

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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08 August 2011

Review: Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell's latest stand-alone psychological mystery, Tigerlily's Orchids, is set in a north London neighborhood and focuses more on the characters than on the murder.

Each resident in Litchfield House has an obsession, from the self-absorption of the young, handsome, and newly rich Stuart to the pedophile urges of the caretaker, Wally. When the neighbors gather at Stuart's flat-warming party, they barely know each other, but the events of that evening set off a year-long downward spiral of exposed secrets, murder, and death, forever linking the group.

Tigerlily's Orchids is a textbook example of the power of showing instead of telling. Through Rendell's attention to detail and use of changing view points, readers learn the innermost desires of each individual as well as his or her public image. For example, we meet Olwen, the sixty-year-old widow in flat 6, who has waited her whole life to be in the position to drink as much as she wanted, and in fact, she hopes to drink herself to death. Olwen believes it's her right to do as she pleases, although she didn't figure on becoming too infirm to buy her own gin. When she finally has to ask the other residents to deliver her booze to her door, readers see Olwen in a different light--as a drunk whose addiction can be exploited.

The murder comes late to the book, and although the victim is easy to predict, the perpetrator is not. Fortunately, readers expecting a straightforward suspense thriller will find they are more interested in the story of the neighborhood than they are in the death. In fact, the solution is almost incidental.

Tigerlily's Orchids is an engaging character study but is not without flaws. The murder has unexpected and far-reaching effects among the characters, but Rendell spends little time on its investigation or on the investigation of other exposed crimes. In addition, some plot lines are followed too closely, whereas others are left too much to the reader's imagination. Finally, although trivial, readers may wonder why a secondary character like Tigerlily warranted title billing.

Despite the few weaknesses, Tigerlily's Orchids will appeal to Rendell fans and fans of psychological thrillers and character studies.

My review of the unabridged audio edition (Simon & Schuster, 7 hr, 50 min), nicely read by Nickolas Grace, will be published by AudioFile magazine.

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

Published by Scribner, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781439150344
YTD: 74
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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