30 November 2011

Wordless Wednesday 157

Fall Garden, October 2011


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29 November 2011

Today's Read: Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman

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.

Today's tease comes from a novel about a young man and a young woman from Maine who travel to Africa in December to complete an almost-impossible job. Jeremy, in 1899, hopes to build a railroad bridge over the Tsavo River, and Max, in 2000, hopes to track down a plant that could eradicate heart disease. Africa is a dangerous place for those who are ill-prepared.

When Orombe stepped out of the jungle, he paused at the sight of all the men, then shook his head. "No, a night hunt must be quiet. Just us two."

Jeremy looked at him in surprise. In the moonlight, the man's dusky features were hard to read. He thought about walking through the jungle at night alone with this one African holding a spear, a man he barely knew. Violent, his mother has said, sooner or later you will see these savages bloody and violent. (p. 83)
—From Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman (Europa Editions, 2012); quote was taken from uncorrected proof and may not match the finished text

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28 November 2011

Giveaway: Special Edition of The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

It's hard to believe that it has been ten years since Penguin published Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. The novel was one of my top reads in 2002.

In case you haven't yet read this award-winning book, here's the publisher's summary:

Sue Monk Kidd's ravishing debut novel has stolen the hearts of reviewers and readers alike with its strong, assured voice. Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the town's fiercest racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.
There is so much to love about The Secret Life of Bees, including the authentic characters, the southern setting, and the deeper issues it addresses (race, religion, parenthood). Although often considered a woman's book, the novel has universal appeal.

Kidd's debut has been a book club favorite for a decade and would be terrific for mother-daughter groups and teen readers as well. To help with your discussion, Penguin has published a reading guide and a Q&A with Kidd. Here's a little-known fact about the book: Pamela Dorman (of Pamela Dorman Books) is responsible for bringing the novel to print.

Giveaway: I am thrilled to be able offer a beautiful, boxed anniversary edition of The Secret Life of Bees (shown above) to one of my readers. Because I will not be doing the mailing, this giveaway is open to only those with a United States or Canada mailing address. Even if you've read the book multiple times (like I have), you'll want a copy of the anniversary edition. To enter, simply fill out the form. I'll choose a winner via random number generator on December 6.



Good luck!

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26 November 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik

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. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

_______

We're midway through the great American food holiday otherwise known as Thanksgiving weekend. Most of the country has had food on the brain as well as on the plate for days. Some of us think about food more often.

Adam Gopnik, columnist for The New Yorker, not only thinks about food but also thinks about why he thinks about food. In his latest collection of essays, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, Gopnick talks about everything from wine to potatoes and from Food TV to food in literature. Nothing is sacred and little is left forgotten.

Starting with the rise of the first true restaurants (in Paris, of course), Gopnik explores the changing culture of the 1700s that prompted people to leave their dining rooms to have a meal with friends and family in public. He then goes on to discuss the history and evolution of a variety of food topics, including recipes and cookbooks, the nature of taste, food movements, food writing, and kitchen skills.

There is so much packed into The Table Comes First, it's difficult to describe the depth and breadth of Gopnik's essays. Thus let me step back from the content for a minute to talk about style. I found Gopnik's enthusiasm to be contagious and appreciated how he was able to tie his explorations of food history into a personal experience. I also loved his many references to all kinds of books and writers, such as Rousseau, Darwin, M. F. K. Fisher, and Robert B. Parker. In the chapter on taste, he even cites a very popular young adult paranormal series:
One of the most piquant details in the Twilight saga, as any father of a prepubescent girl can tell you, is that the good vampires of the Cullen Clan refer to their voracious consumption of fresh animal blood as "vegetarianism"--and although I suppose some indignant vegetarian has objected, no one within the confines of the series ever disputes the designation. (p. 93)
Finally, one of my favorite sections was Gopnik's attempt to be a locovore in New York City. He took his kids with him on a foraging trip through Central Park with "Wildman" Steve Brill, talked to a rooftop beekeeper, and visited two working farms within the city limits. He also learned a thing or two:
If there was something to be learned, it's that the question of locality is one that can be either narrow and parched or board and humanizing. . . . To shorten the food chain is to pull it close, close enough to put that face on one's food and a familiar place on one's plate. To eat something local is to meet someone nearby. We had put the city . . . on a plate and eaten it up. The plates had stories, where they normally have only food. (p. 169)
If you're interested in food history, food writing, food in literature, or any food issue, you'll find a lot to keep you both entertained and informed in The Table Comes First.

I reviewed the unabridged audio edition of the book (Recorded Books; 11 hr, 4 min), read by the author for AudioFile magazine.

The Table Comes First at Powell's
The Table Comes First at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Random House / Alfred A Knopf (Borzoi Books), 2011
ISBN-13: 9780307593450
Source: Review (audio), bought (print) (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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25 November 2011

Imprint Friday (& Giveaway): The Book of (Holiday) Awesome by Neil Pasricha

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Amy Einhorn 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.

With the publication of The Book of (Holiday) Awesome, Neil Pasricha has become the first Imprint Friday author to have been featured three times. Awesome!

There's nothing like the holidays. They bring out the best, and sometimes the worst, in everyone. Luckily, Neil Pasricha is here to remind us that not only are the holidays great but there's actually even more to celebrate than we realize. From Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to such holidays as Mother's Day and Father's Day, Thanksgiving, and beyond, The Book of (Holiday) Awesome will show you why holidays are . . . AWESOME!
Whenever I need some cheering up or a reminder to stop and appreciate the little things, I turn to Pasricha. Every day on his blog, 1000 Awesome Things, Pasricha shares a moment of joy and reminds us that if we make an effort to look at the world with fresh eyes, we can find some happiness, even in ordinary circumstances.

Pasricha's latest collection of awesomeness helps take the stress out of the holidays, whether it's from December shopping madness or springtime get-togethers with family. Here are just a few awesome moments that caught my attention:
  • That moment near the holidays when there’s suddenly cookies, chocolate, and candy everywhere . . . Awesome!
  • Just barely wrapping a gift with that tiny scrap of leftover paper . . . Awesome!
  • When you can actually hear it snowing . . . Awesome!
  • Pulling out that old box of Christmas ornaments from when you were a kid . . . Awesome!
  • Catching someone you love admiring you from across the room . . . Awesome!
I predict that reading through the winter holiday awesome moments from Pasricha's new collection will become a Beth Fish Reads December tradition. The Book of (Holiday) Awesome is perfect for gift giving and for reminding yourself to see the non-materialistic moments of the craziness of the holiday season.

I hope you find a moment of awesomeness today, whether you're out shopping, spending the day at work or with your family, or participating in Thankfully Reading Weekend.

I'll leave you with one thought: Waking up to realize you can have leftover pie for breakfast . . . Awesome!

Giveaway:
Thanks to Amy Einhorn Books, one of my readers can win his or her own copy of The Book of (Holiday) Awesome just by filling out the following form. AWESOME! Because the giveaway is sponsored by the publisher, it is open only to those with a U.S. or Canada mailing address. I'll announce a winner (picked via random number generator) on December 1.



For Neil Pasricha's story of how and why he started looking for awesomeness, watch his TED talk:


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.

Book of (Holiday) Awesome at an Indie

Published by Putnam / Amy Einhorn Books, November 2011
ISBN-13: 9780399158599

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24 November 2011

Thursday Tea: Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley

The Book: Lost at Sea is my first Bryan Lee O'Malley graphic novel. Vasilly, one of my go-to sources for graphic books, is a fan of O'Malley, so I knew I had to give one of his books a try.

In expressive black and white panels, Lost at Sea focuses on Raleigh, an eighteen-year-old who fears she has lost her soul. She doesn't know what she's doing or where she's going. In short, she's a typical teenager on the brink of adulthood with roller coaster emotions. The setting is a road trip: Raleigh accepts a ride home with three schoolmates whom she doesn't know very well. That's a situation that can be uncomfortable for even the most self-assured adult, but it's almost torture for Raleigh.

I loved how perfectly O'Malley captured what it's like to be young and unsure. My heart went out to Raleigh as I remembered the awkward moments of my own youth, and I smiled when hope was found from an unexpected source. Don't miss this slice of life novel.

The Tea: November's cold, wet afternoons have been perfect for drinking tea. This week I tried Vanilla Creme Earl Grey from California Tea House. I usually like Earl Grey, and this blend didn't disappoint. It's smooth with a heavenly aroma. Here's the description: "We started by creating a fantastic Earl Grey with a blend of Assam, Ceylon and Nilgiri teas seasoned with the oil of bergamot. Next, we added bits of vanilla bean and cornflower petals to round it off ." Thanks to Julie from Booking Mama for introducing me to this company, and be sure to visit her blog to get a discount code before you order.

The Assessment: Kids drink tea, don't they? Raleigh is fairly well off and her mother likes to entertain, so I think the teen could very well have run across Vanilla Creme Earl Grey at some point. Even though she might be concerned about what the other kids think, I'd like to imagine that Raleigh would give this a try.

What About You? In the United States, today is Thanksgiving. I want to take this moment to tell all my readers from around the world that I'm thankful to have you in my life. Who knew when I started blogging that I would make so many friends. Whether you're eating turkey or it's just another weekday, let me know what you're reading and drinking.

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

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

Published by Oni Press, 2005
ISBN-13: 9781932664164
Source: Bought (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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23 November 2011

Wordless Wednesday 157

Waiting for Summer, November 2011

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22 November 2011

Beth Fish Picks Four Books for Gift Giving

Even if you're planning to shun the Black Friday crowds to join us in the third annual Thankfully Reading Weekend (information at Jenn's Bookshelves), you know you're going to have to go gift shopping . . . and it's going to have to be soon. I know how difficult it can be to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list.

If you're like me, you think books make the very best presents, but sometimes you are overwhelmed by all the great choices you see at the bookstore. My advice is to take a deep breath and let go of your worries. Now take a look at my four great recommendations to make your holiday shopping just a little bit easier.

Do you know about the Pocket Posh books published by Andrews McMeel? These cute pocket-size books are perfect stocking stuffers and make great quick gifts. Shown here is Pocket Posh Cocktails by John Townsley, which not only contains the recipes for many yummy drinks but also provides information on how to properly mix a cocktail, how to rim a glass, and how to measure correctly. Whether you're interested in a classic Stinger, a sweet Mojito, or a holiday Hot Toddy, you'll find the how-to's in this little book. Other food-related titles are Dining Out and Wine. Not into food and drink? No problem, look for Pocket Posh Suduko, First Aid, Sherlock Holmes, Crosswords, London, and more; I'm sure there's a title for everyone on your list. (ISBN-13: 9781449406806)

OMG, I can't tell you how much I adore one of this season's offerings from Sterling Children's Books. The Giant Book of Giants by Saviour Pirotta and illustrated by Mark Robertson will appeal to kids from about age five and older. In this beautifully designed picture book you'll find six stories about giants, starting with "Jack and the Beanstalk" and ending with a Sinbad story. In a new-to-me tale called "The Curious Giantess," Ida dreams about life among humans. When her curiosity gets the best of her, she visits the human village and learns some important lessons. Packaged with the picture book is a huge (four-foot-high) poster of a giant that kids can hang on their wall or door. The giant has pockets to open and locks to unlock and "plenty of playful extras, including flaps to lift and removable items such as a clock tower pocket watch, pipe organ harmonica, and even the giant's ear wax!" Great fun for boys, girls, and their parents. (ISBN-13: 9781402785962)

Romeo Alaeff is an artist and observer of the human condition. He also has a fun sense of humor. In I'll Be Dead by the Time You Read This (Plume Books), he wonders if animals worry about the same things people do. And assuming they do, what issues occupy their minds? Alaeff started with his beautiful black-and-white drawings of a variety of animals and insects and fish and then imagined what each creature might be obsessing over. For example, a unicorn thinks, "I wish someone would find me." I'll Be Dead is a fun stocking stuffer for Christmas morning. (ISBN-13: 9780452297456)

I'm huge fan of Artisan books, and I am in love with Shax Riegler's Dish: 813 Colorful, Wonderful Dinner Plates. I have spent several evenings pouring over Robert Bean's stunning photographs of a world of dishes, including gold-rimmed Limoges, colorful glass from Anchor Hocking, pink florals from Royal Winton, and kitschy pottery from a favorite diner. But Dish is much more than just a coffee table book. Riegler's text covers the history and evolution of patterns, such as the Indian origins of chintz plates, as well as the proper care of the dishes we own (washing and repairing, for example). Take a look at the video to get an idea of the depth and breath of Dish. Highly recommended for those who love antiques, china, pottery, beautiful table settings, and down-home kitchens. (ISBN-13: 978-1-579654122)


All four of these books are on my own shopping list. I hope one or more appeal to you or have inspired you to get to the bookstore this holiday season.

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21 November 2011

Review: The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood

Jessamine Luxton rarely leaves her home in Hulne Abbey, the now-unsanctified ruins of an ancient Catholic monastery. As the sole caretaker of her father, the teen spends her days cooking, sewing, and working the family gardens. Thomas--healer, herbalist, apothecary, or witch, depending on whom you ask--tends the sick in their eighteenth-century northern English village. When Thomas allows an orphaned boy, known only as Weed, to live with them and help with the medicinal plants, father and daughter have little idea of just whom they've welcomed into their home.

The Poison Diaries, the first in a trilogy by Maryrose Wood and the duchess of Northumberland, is a compelling young adult tale of good and evil. Infused with a Gothic atmosphere, including elements of arcane knowledge, awaking passions, and mysterious powers, the story is, however, much more complex than a standard morality play.

Weed's presence serves as a force of awakening and change in the Luxtons' lives. Thomas is continually stymied in his efforts to discover the source of the boy's deep knowledge of gardening and the healing powers of plants. His frustrations grow as he notices his daughter's affection for Weed and senses the teens' increasing trust in each other. And herein lies the dynamics of the story.

The reader is quickly drawn into the Luxtons' world, wondering if Weed is friend or foe, if Thomas is sane or crazy, and if Jessamine is naive or wise. Wood reveals clues slowly, expertly building the tension and mystery. Be prepared to read The Poison Diaries in one sitting because it will be near impossible to put the novel aside.

Although the book doesn't end in a cliff-hanger, the last pages will have you scrambling for the second in the trilogy. The Poison Diaries is an exciting Gothic tale that should have wide appeal. Young adult book clubs will find plenty to talk about, such as father-daughter relationships, young love, trust, honesty, and the quest for knowledge.




Published by HarperCollins / Balzer & Bray (Harperteen), 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061802362
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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

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19 November 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: Mighty Spice by John Gregory-Smith

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.

_______

I'm going to start today's post off with a short personal note. You may have noticed that, although I am happy to write about novels I'm less than pleased with, I have not posted any negative cookbook reviews. There are two principal reasons for this. (1) I didn't know if there would be any interest in the negative and (2) I am very aware of the costs of cookbooks, and I feel bad when a publisher sends me an expensive and beautiful cookbook that is a fail for me.

After a quick Twitter survey, I realized that people appreciate balanced and respectful negative reviews for all kinds of books. Thus, every once in a while, I will talk about a cookbook that didn't make it to the top of my list.

When I first heard about John Gregory-Smith's Mighty Spice, I knew I had to have a look at this cookbook. I love spicy food, and I'm not just talking chilies. I love cumin, garlic, and turmeric as well as vanilla, cloves, and ginger. Gregory-Smith is a man after my own heart.

Gregory-Smith loves spices so much, he used to own a spice company. He traveled to China, India, Morocco, Mexico, and every other part of the world known for exotic (read: non-British) flavors. Then he returned to England and began developing the recipes you'll find in Mighty Spice.

The cookbook is divided in the usual way, from salads to meats, vegetables, and desserts. Throughout Gregory-Smith includes features on specific spices and also includes a spice glossary at the back of the book. Almost all the dishes are shown in full-page, mouth-watering photographs, and every recipe has a list of "go-with" dishes to help you put together your meal.

I tried the Pomegranate, Fennel, Orange, and Watercress Salad shown at the right (scanned from p. 23 in the book), substituting baby spinach for the watercress. The recipe was easy to follow, and the salad tastes as yummy as it looks.

Unfortunately, as much as Mighty Spice calls to me, this is not a cookbook I can whole-heartedly recommend. Although the following issues don't completely turn me off, they may very well bother readers who are less confident in the kitchen. First, many recipes call for "a handful" of herb leaves or "a small bunch" of something. Many home cooks need more guidance, especially for strong herbs like mint and cilantro.

In addition, there are a number of unusual ingredients that I can't find in the stores in my small town. For example, sprouting broccoli was completely new to me. It seems to be somewhat similar to broccoli rabe, but I'm not sure if I can make that substitution. Other recipes call for tamarind, fresh lemon grass, and curry leaves, which are difficult to get here. I'm not against hunting down ingredients, but I don't always have the luxury to travel from store to store or to mail order.

The third issue has to do with the photos. I understand that food stylists (photographers) aren't necessarily cooks, but in several cases the photos of the finished dishes did not match the recipe directions. For example, one shrimp dish called for shelling and deveining, but in the photo the shells are clearly intact. Citrus fruit is missing from the ingredients for a lamb recipe, but baked slices of citrus fruit are visible in the photo of the finished dish. I find these discrepancies to be disconcerting. Some cooks would be completely undone.

I am not, however, that easily put off, and despite the problems, I have several recipes marked to try. I was impressed with the variety of shrimp and lamb recipes, and I want to try some of the curries.

My suggestion is to look through the book before you buy. Ask yourself whether you can get the ingredients in your area. Then decide whether any of the problems I mentioned bother you. You might want to visit John Gregory-Smith's website, where you can find a sample recipe. There is also a 14-minute video of Gregory-Smith cooking a meal. He is entertaining and enthusiastic.

Vegetarian alert: There is an entire chapter devoted to vegetarian dishes, and the recipes look good and most are not soy based. The flavor range covers India, China, Mexico, and the Mideast.

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

Published by Sterling Publishing / Duncan Baird 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062095565
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: C
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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18 November 2011

Imprint Friday: Practical Jean by Trevor Cole

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.

I love black comedy, social commentary, and novels about women's friendships. Throw in a murder or two, and I'm definitely hooked. Trevor Cole's latest novel, Practical Jean, is a little bit of everything stirred up and baked into a delicious dark tale of an artist with practical plan.

Here's the summary:

Jean Vale Horemarsh is content, for the most part, with the small-town life she’s built: a semi-successful career as a ceramics artist, a close collection of women friends (aside from that terrible falling-out with Cheryl years ago), a comfortable marriage with a kind if unextraordinary man. But it is only in watching her mother go through the final devastating stages of cancer that Jean realizes her true calling. No one should have to suffer the indignities of aging and illness like her mother did—and she, Jean Horemarsh, will take it upon herself to give each of her friends one final, perfect moment . . . and then, one by one, kill them.

Of course, female friendships are quite complicated things, and Jean is soon to discover that her plan isn’t as simple as she initially believed it to be.
Growing up as the only dreamer in a structured family, young Jean often wondered where her down-to-earth parts were. Now that she has a plan to save her dearest friends from pain and suffering, Jean knows her mother is smiling down from heaven at her reborn practical daughter. If only Jean can figure out who to "save" first.

Once she's worked out the order and started to implement her plan, Jean is careful to make sure each friend has one last beautiful moment so she can die in a state of happiness. Everything starts out easy enough, until her police officer brothers get involved in the case. And then there's a little matter of a friend who actually deserves to get old and arthritic, the one who doesn't die, and the one who simply hasn't had her moment of happiness yet. Oh and don't forget about her philandering husband and her Celine Dion-loving acquaintance.

Jean may be acting out of love for her friends, but as the preface notes: "Here in Kotemee, all anyone can say now, is 'Thank God I was never a good friend of Jean Vale Horemarsh' " (p. 6).

If your book club is looking for a title to please a diverse group of readers ready for a fun discussion, suggest Practical Jean. Great characters, dark humor, and universal themes will guarantee a successful meeting.

Take a look at some other opinions, and don't forget to click on the link for the complete review:
  • Rhiannon from Diary of a Bookworm: "Trevor Cole amazed me with his on the ball narration from a woman's perspective and his keen insight into female friendships."
  • Shelleyrae from Book'd Out: "Subtly layered and well crafted this novel is an entertaining read."
  • James Grainger writing for Quill & Quire: "The large cast of characters gives Cole ample opportunity to exercise his gift for comic portraiture. . . . The sharp dialogue and even sharper character details ensure the novel’s intricately plotted scenes rarely lag."
Practical Jean was short-listed for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and was named a Globe and Mail Best Book for 2010. For more on the book and Trevor Cole's work visit his 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.

Practical Jean at an Indie
Practical Jean at Powell's
Practical Jean at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Harper Perennial, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062082503

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17 November 2011

Thursday Tea: The Drops of God by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto

The Book: The Drops of God by Tadashi Agi (author) and Shu Okimoto (illustrator) is the first manga graphic novel I've read, but it won't be the last because it's the first entry in a fun and informative wine-related series.

Shizuku Kanzaki is the son of one of the most respected and famous wine critics in Japan. Young Kanzaki has an incredible sense of smell but has defied his father by refusing to drink wine and by seeking employment in a beer company.

When the elder Kanzaki dies, Shizuku learns that his father had legally adopted a young man named Yutaka Kanzaki, an up-and-coming wine critic. His will states that his house, expensive wine collection, and estate goes to the son who correctly identifies twelve specific wines along with a thirteen, dubbed The Drops of God. To say that Shizuku is at a disadvantage is the understatement of the century. How is he to find the exact wines if he has never, ever tasted any wine? Lucky for him, he has friends to help him in his quest.

The Drops of God sets up the contest and introduces us to the players. In future volumes (will there be thirteen more?), we'll follow Shizuku and Yutaka as they race to solve the wine riddle. The novel has a lot going for it, starting with an exciting and action-packed story and multidimensional characters. The book is also surprisingly informative about wine, such as how and when to decant, how to read a wine label, and the names and histories of some stellar French vineyards.

Learning about wine has never been so entertaining. I am totally hooked on the series and can't wait for volume 2 to be released next month. To see the style of the black-and-white artwork, click on the image to the right. The scene is from the beginning of the book and shows Shizuku and his soon-to-be-friend Miyabi Shinohara, the sommelière. (To read manga, read the panels from right to left and the bubbles within each panel from right to left.)

The Tea: Because I've been sick with a cough and a stuffy head, I've been drinking a lot of tea this week. In October I told you about the generosity of Heather from Raging Bibliomania, who bought me tea from a shop called Infusion Tea. I was looking forward to trying the unusual Genmaicha Japanese Popcorn green tea blend. Here's the catalog description: "Japanese tea blended with roasted rice for a savory cup that has a toasty, nutty flavor with notes of nori." The website adds: "During the firing of the rice, it is common for the rice to pop, not unlike popcorn, hence the name popcorn tea."

I brewed the tea according to the directions, and the first thing I noticed was the aroma--a combination of fish and grass. It might be because I'm sick, but I had a hard time bringing the cup to my lips. However, I went ahead and sipped. Although I didn't mind the taste, which was actually rather bland, the tea is not going on my top-ten list. I'll give it another chance once I'm feeling healthy, and I'll let you know if it makes a difference. Sorry, Heather! I so appreciate having the opportunity to taste the tea. Fingers crossed that I like it better next time.

The Assessment: Shizuku is Japanese. He absolutely drinks tea. He comes from a well-off family and has a decent job, so it's no stretch to think that he would buy fancy teas. Perhaps his incredible sense of smell would pick up on the more palatable aspects of the roasted rice and nori. In fact, he may be mocking me as an unsophisticated, idiot, barbarian Westerner who wouldn't know a good flavor if it jumped up and bit me. In that case, I'll drink the wine and serve the stinky tea to Shizuku.

What About You? And now we come to you. What's in that mug or glass? Anything good? Oh, and what are you reading this week?

The Drops of God at Powell's
The Drops of God at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

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

Published by Vertical, Inc., 2011 (English translation)
ISBN-13: 9781935654278
Source: Bought (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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16 November 2011

Wordless Wednesday 156

Early Morning Reeds & Reflection, November 2011

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15 November 2011

Review: The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg

Note: The Preacher is the second in a series by Swedish author Camilla Läckberg. This review assumes you've read The Ice Princess but contains no spoiler to either novel.

Camilla Läckberg's second Erica Falck / Patrik Hedstrom mystery returns the reader to Fjällbacka, a small Swedish fishing village, which is a popular tourist spot during the warmer months. When the police are called to investigate the murder of a teenage girl, they are surprised to discover that the body is arranged alongside the remains of two women who were reported missing more than twenty years earlier.

Patrik is put in charge of all three cases and soon uncovers many local secrets, from flimflam to adultery to blackmail. He has his hands full: Not only is the triple investigation complicated but several of his fellow police officers are messing up on the job. When a second young woman goes missing, Patrik is desperate to find her before she becomes another murder victim.

In the meantime, Erica is facing her own problems trying to adjust to impending motherhood and entertaining a series of unwanted guests. Being eight months pregnant during a heat wave isn't helping her mood either. Naturally, Erica discusses the cases with Patrik, but she plays a much smaller role in The Preacher than she did in the first book.

Although the majority of the story takes place in the present, Läckberg uses flashbacks and changes the point of view when describing the events surrounding the disappearances of the first two women. This device works well, giving the reader a deep sense of the horror of the earlier crimes.

Läckberg's strengths are in her characterizations and sense of place. The mysteries themselves are an odd mix of complex yet not that difficult to figure out. If you're interested in a straight police procedural that will have you guessing all the way to the end, then The Preacher is not for you. On the other hand, if you like good characters, a gritty crime, and a plot that moves beyond the investigation, you'll like Läckberg's work. Although this is no cozy, Erica and Patrik's relationship and the doings of the police force keep the reader engaged.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (HighBridge, 15 hr, 45 min) read by David Thorn. As I said in my review of The Ice Princess, his accents and pronunciations added to the Swedish feel of the novel. Thorn knows how to build the tension and does an excellent job with both male and female characters. If he continues to narrate Läckberg's books, I'll continue to listen.

The Preacher at Powell's
The Preacher at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs
Published by Pegasus, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781605981734
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: C+

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

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14 November 2011

What's in a Name 5: Sign Up

Welcome to the fifth What's in a Name challenge This challenge was originated by a young blogger named Annie, who hosted it for two years. When she decided to give up on being the host, I took over the challenge.

I credit this challenge with being one of the prime reasons for my becoming a blogger, so I am thrilled to be its new host.

Here's How It Works

Between January 1 and December 31, 2012, read one book in each of the following categories:

  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Black Hills, Purgatory Ridge, Emily of Deep Valley
  2. A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title: Moon Called, Seeing Stars, Cloud Atlas
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title: Little Bee, Spider Bones, The Witches of Worm
  4. A book with a type of house in the title: The Glass Castle, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Ape House
  5. A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Sarah's Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary
  6. A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title: Day of the Jackal, Elegy for April, Freaky Friday, Year of Magical Thinking
The book titles are just suggestions, you can read whatever book you want to fit the category.

Other Things to Know

  • Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).
  • Books may overlap other challenges.
  • Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.
  • Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged.
  • You do not have to make a list of books before hand.
  • You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.
On January 1, I'll publish 7 posts, each with a Mr. Linky (one for each category and one for your wrap-up post), on this blog so you'll have a place post links to your reviews (bloggers) or leave comments (non-bloggers) as you finish up each category. You'll be able to find these posts during the year by clicking on the button in the sidebar. (I'll create those links on January 1.)

Tip: If you're ever struggling to find a title to match a category, check out what other people have read so you can get ideas or be inspired. And remember to be creative.

To join in, sign up with Mr. Linky below. If you aren't a blogger, just add a comment. If Mr. Linky ever disappears, either try again later or click on Email Icon in the side bar and send me your information, and I'll add the link myself.

To use Mr. Linky: put your name or your blog's name in the top box and the URL (web address) of your blog in the bottom box. If you don't have a blog, use your tumblr account, your Facebook page or simply mention your intent to join the challenge in the comments.

Thanks to @DogEaredCopy, @marny_h96, @Zetablue, and @SuziQoregon for suggestions for, inspiration for, and confirmation of this year's categories. Feel free to suggest ideas for 2013 in the comments.

It's never too late to join!

I hope you like the categories! Have fun and good luck.

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12 November 2011

Weekend Cooking: Molto Batali by Mario Batali

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.

_______

Whenever I pick up a celebrity chef cookbook, I'm always worried that the techniques will be fussy, the ingredients hard to find, and the equipment too expensive. Mario Batali's Molto Batali is thus a breath of fresh air; it suffers from none of these flaws. The cookbook is truly for the home kitchen.

Printed on heavy, glossy paper and filled with stunning photos of almost every dish, Molto Batali is a book you'll turn to again and again throughout the year. In a very brief introduction, Batali explains that this book emphasizes seasonal cooking and features vegetables and grains. Meat plays second fiddle here, making this a versatile resource for both vegetarians and omnivores.

The cookbook is divided by months, starting (naturally) in January. Batali's no-nonsense style is refreshing. Nothing cute here, just good solid recipes with basic ingredients and straightforward directions. All but the most rural of readers will be able to find the majority of ingredients easily. A few, like soft-shell crabs, may be difficult in the heart of the country, but home cooks won't be frustrated by unavailable items.

A couple of things I love: the varieties of pestos, many of which are not herb based, and the desserts, which are blessedly simple in presentation and not too sweet. I also like the easy to follow directions, and it's fun to spot the occasional nuggets of Batali's personality--for example (from his Brussels sprouts with pecorino and thyme recipe):
4 ounces Pecorino Romano, cut into 1/4-inch cubes as best you can
Carefully add the Brussels sprouts to the pan (they will cause a spattering ruckus) . . .
The back of the book contains a glossary of ingredients, a list of mail-order sources, and a very usable index.

Here are some dishes that call to me:
  • Rabe, Potato, and Ricotta Ravioli
  • Semolina and Lemon Torta
  • Wilted Arugula with Pine Nuts and Lemon
  • Cellentani with Kale and Sausage
  • Warm Polenta with Spinach and Robiola

The other thing I love is that my dishes look pretty much exactly like the photos in the book. The other night, I made a small leg of lamb roast inspired by a recipe in the cookbook; I served it with Batali's turnip recipe, which I followed almost exactly (I threw in a couple of parsnips I wanted to use up). To the left is a photo of my dishes and the photos above and below are scanned from the book (click to enlarge). Not too bad, eh? By the way, if you don't like turnips, try this pesto on potatoes, pasta, or toasted peasant bread.

Turnips in Green Olive Pesto
Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 3 pounds of turnips, peeled and cut into 8 wedges each
  • 1 cup pitted large or jumbo green olives, such as Acolana or Cerignola
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh marjoram leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a soup pot, and add the salt. Drop the turnip pieces into the water and cook until tender but al dente, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the olives, onions, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor, and blend for 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and blend until it forms a thick, smooth paste.

When the turnips are done, drain them well in a colander and immediately toss them into a mixing bowl. Add the olive pesto, marjoram, parsley, and lots of black pepper, and mix gently. Allow the turnips to cook, and serve at room temperature.

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.

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

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, October 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062095565
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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11 November 2011

Imprint Friday: Fante: A Memoir by Dan Fante

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.

On Tuesday, I gave you hint of what to expect from Dan Fante's memoir Fante. If you read the teaser quote I shared there, then you already know that Dan didn't grow up basking in the easy life as the son of Hollywood screenwriter and novelist. Dan traces his family's love of drink and fisticuffs from eighteenth-century Italy to twenty-first-century California.

Here's the summary:

No two lives could have been more different, yet similar in a few essential ways than John and Dan Fante′s. As father and son, John and Dan Fante were prone to fights, resentment and extended periods of silence. As men, they were damaged by alcoholism. As writers, they were compelled by anger, rage and unstoppable passion.

In Fante, Dan Fante traces his family′s history from the hillsides of Italy to the immigrant neighborhoods of Colorado to Los Angeles. There, John Fante struggles to gain the literary recognition he so badly craves, and despite the publication of his best known work, Ask the Dust, he turns to the steady paycheck of Hollywood, working as a screenwriter to support his family. We follow Dan through a troubled childhood to his discovery of life′s vices through work as a carnival barker and later as he hitchhikes to New York City, where he drives a taxi for twelve years. While John Fante′s rage over his perceived failures as a writer and his struggle with debilitating diabetes make him more and more miserable, Dan struggles with alcoholic blackouts, suicidal thoughts and what he deems a broken mind.

John was a writer whose literary contributions were not recognised until the end of his life. Dan was an alcoholic saved by writing, who at the age of 45 picked up his father′s old typewriter in order to ease the madness in his mind. Fante is the story of the evolution of a relationship between father and son who eventually found their way back to loving each other. In straightforward unapologetic prose, Dan Fante lays bare his family′s story from his point of view, with the rage and passion of a writer, which he feels was his true inheritance and his father′s greatest gift.
Yes, that's a long summary, and yes, it tells you the basics of the Fante family story. What it doesn't tell you is how complicated, sad, and difficult life can be when you fail "to dodge the family bullets of booze, gambling, and depression." From his first drunk at age four until his last drunk in early middle age, Dan fought the external demons of his father and older brother and the internal demons of self-loathing, anger, fear, and suicide.

Although this is not what I would call an inspirational memoir, the fact that Dan has survived to publish his own novels and poetry and write the story of his life is surprisingly moving. I say surprising because I didn't quite realize how much I cared about Dan's journey to sobriety and inner peace until the last few pages. My tears were of relief, of admiration, of hope, and of thankfulness for someone I've never met and a person who spent most of his life being someone I'm not sure I would have wanted to know. Real life is a tricky thing, and Dan's has been trickier than most.

In addition to his own story, Dan introduces us to the turbulent life of his father, John, and some of the many famous authors with whom John drank and gambled. Dan reveals the darker sides of the likes of William Saroyan, Darryl Zanuck, and William Faulkner, but not in tabloid fashion. All such tales are a means to help us see the reality of life with the Fante men.

Ultimately, Dan Fante's memoir is not so much about drinking, gambling, and fighting but a story of how love and forgiveness can help repair relationships and families, even "after a rocky thirty-year start." And, as the summary mentions, how writing can save lives.
The reason I write is not to change you but to let you know that you can change. I write about living and dying and falling love and throwing it all away--then surviving it. I write about madness and death. I write for the survival of my heart. I am swallowed by, and in love with, the miracle of the human condition. My heroes are real people struggling to find their place on a planet. A planet where fitting in has become a disease as powerful as cancer. (pp. 380-381)
Here are two other opinions (click the links to read the full reviews):
  • Publishers Weekly: "[Fante's] anecdotal, spare narrative is full of fine, pointed writing and searing memories."
  • The Los Angeles Times: "The book is frank and funny. Dan does not lionize or demonize his father, nor does he indulge in the self-pitying or self-gratifying aspects of memoir. It's an achievement in tone and delightful to read."
For some insight into Dan Fante, don't miss his playlist on Largehearted Boy's blog, you may be surprised by some the choices. For more on Dan's other work, visit his website. The P.S. section of the Harper Perennial edition of Fante: A Memoir includes a couple of John Fante's letters and some of Dan Fante's poems.

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.

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

Published by Harper Perennial, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062027092

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10 November 2011

Book Blogging Community: Something for Everyone

Every year around now, I like to take the time to let you know of all the great book blogging events you can look forward to during the holiday season. Here's what's coming up:

First I'd like to remind you that there's still time to nominate your favorite reads for the Indie Lit Awards. Visit the website and let us know which books deserve special recognition in the following categories: biography/memoir, GLBTQ, fiction, mystery, nonfiction, poetry, and speculative fiction. Don't be shy. Here's a chance to make sure a fantastic book or author gets some deserved recognition.


For the second year, Chronicle Books is hosting its Happy Haulidays giveaway. One blogger has the chance to win $500 worth of books plus one of that blogger's readers can win the same books plus the blogger's favorite charity can also win the books. So three winners, including a charitable donation. A pretty neat way to celebrate the season. You have until December 2 to enter; see the website for the rules.

You have until tomorrow to sign up for the Book Bloggers' Holiday Swap. This is loads of fun and an annual tradition. You can chose to swap with someone in a country other than your own or opt to stay domestic. It's a great way to make a new friend and get an exciting holiday package at the same time. Don't miss out. Visit the website and fill out the Goggle form.


Another fun event is the Book Bloggers' Holiday Card Exchange. This is an inexpensive way to share holiday cheer with book bloggers from around the world. You can offer to send to and receive cards from up to five bloggers. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Sign up by November 30; see the website for more details.

Don't forget to start haunting the Novel Challenge site for all the fabulous reading challenges coming up in 2012. I swear there are several new and creative challenges every single day. If you look, you'll find something just right for you. Don't forget to check out the perpetual challenges too. If you're relatively new to blogging, let me clue you in: reading challenges are a great way to get to know other bloggers, to stretch your reading, and to have some good fun.

Finally: come back next week when I announce the categories for the What's in a Name Challenge 5. I've been working hard on the WIAN5 categories, and I think you're going to love them. I can't wait to share. If you haven't yet finished up the 2011 challenge, no worries--you still have a few weeks until the end of the year.

Note too that there will be a 2011 Virtual Advent Tour, which will be officially announced any day now. This is a tradition that is much loved by book bloggers. Anyone can participate--it's nondenominational and you can make your post religious or not. It's all about celebrating the holiday season, winter, and your family traditions. Spread the feeling of goodwill with the book blogging community. For more information, check out last year's site.

Are you participating in all of these activities or only a few? Which is your favorite? If I missed any other events, be sure to let me know in the comments.

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09 November 2011

Wordless Wednesday 155

Ghost in the Window, Greenwich Village 2011

For the full effect, click to enlarge; for more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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08 November 2011

Today's Read: Fante by Dan Fante

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.

Today's tease comes from a hard-hitting, emotional memoir. To learn more about "a family's legacy of writing, drinking, and surviving," stop back for this week's Imprint Friday feature.

The night I was born my father was boozing at a club in Hollywood. The next day he played golf. It took forty-eight hours before he finally made an appearance at the hospital. By that time Mom had named me Daniel Smart (her maiden name) Fante, and John Fante had no say in the matter. (p. 40)
—From Fante: A Memoir by Dan Fante (HarperCollins / HarperPerennial, 2011)

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07 November 2011

Review: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson isn't your ordinary car mechanic. She's a skinwalker who was raised by werewolves and has been befriended by vampires. In Moon Called, the first entry in Patricia Briggs's urban fantasy series, some of the Fae folk have outed themselves to humans, but werewolves, vampires, and walkers haven't. Thus when the local Alpha male werewolf is the victim of a failed coup d'etat, resulting in the kidnapping of his daughter, the pack can't go to the police for help. Mercy, however, is in a unique position to help . . . but only if the weres will let her.

One of my good friends has been trying to get me to read Patricia Briggs for years. I've resisted, not because I thought the books sounded uninteresting but because I didn't think I needed to get involved in another urban fantasy series. In addition, thanks to the current rage in paranormals, I doubted I'd find anything new. Good thing my friend's persistent or I would have missed out on a smart, action-packed novel.

What makes Moon Called different? A couple of things. Mercy Thompson is a great character: smart, strong, no-nonsense, and streetwise. Furthermore, there aren't too many female piston-head heroines out there, and Native American skinwalkers don't often appear in urban fantasies. Part of what makes Mercy appealing is her desire to live as normal (that is, human) a life as possible, despite the fact that vampires and other Fae tend to bring their cars to her garage.

The book is narrated by Mercy, and here is a hint at her personality:

Insulting witches is right up there on the stupid list with enraging Alpha werewolves and cuddling with a new wolf next to a dead body: all of which I'd done tonight. I couldn't help it, though. Defiance was a habit I'd developed to preserve myself while growing up with a pack of dominant and largely male werewolves. Werewolves, like other predators, respect bravado. If you are too careful not to anger them, they'll see it as a weakness--and weak things are prey.

Tomorrow I was going to repair old cars and keep my head down for a while. I'd used up all my luck tonight. (pp. 49-50).
The storyline itself is complex and involves information about vampires and werewolves in American and how the skinwalkers, unique to the Western Hemisphere, differ from their Old World brethren. Politics, jealousy, prejudice, and a little romance drive the story, as Mercy and her friends try to figure out who's been killing wolves before anyone else gets hurt.

Although some of the needed background sections are slightly slow, the dialogue and action scenes quickly brought me right back into the plot. Moon Called will appeal to those who like strong women characters, urban fantasies, mysteries, and/or paranormals.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Penguin Audiobooks; 9 hr, 14 min) read by veteran narrator Lorelei King. I've listened to other other books she's read, but I think the match up of King and Mercy Thompson is fantastic. Thanks to King's ability to build tension, underplay the sarcasm, and capture the emotion, I had a very hard time turning off my mp3 player.

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

Published by Penguin USA / Berkley-Ace, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780441013814
Source: Bought (audio); borrowed (print) (see review policy)
Rating: B

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

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05 November 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: 52 Loaves by William Alexander

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 over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

_______

You all know how much I like to bake. I bake bread a couple of times a week, and I even make my own crackers and pizza dough. I bake by hand, I use my stand mixer, I use my food processor, and I even use a bread machine (but never for the baking), depending on my time constraints, the bread I'm making, and my mood. Some people think I'm bread crazy, but they haven't met William Alexander.

William Alexander, author of the memoir 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust, is truly obsessed with bread. Despite many failures at making what is now called artisan bread, he decided to commit to baking one loaf every week for an entire year, until he perfected his technique.

So is this a book about baking 52 loves of bread? Well, yes . . . and no. This is indeed the story of how Alexander learned to make fantastic peasant bread, which consists of only four ingredients: water, flour, salt, and yeast. In fifty-two short essays, Alexander describes his year-long journey from doorstop loaves to wonderful crusty, holey, slightly sour boules.

Using a conversational style and plenty of self-deprecating humor, he shares what he learned about flour, water, sourdough starters, ovens, kneading, and creating steam. He throws in a pinch of chemistry, a dash of math, and a handful of history to help us truly appreciate one of the most common and ancient foods.

But a funny thing happened on the path to bread heaven, which is foreshadowed by the section titles Alexander uses for his memoir. Each part is named after one of the traditional hours of prayer practiced by Catholic monks: Vigils, Lauds, Terce . . . Vespers, and Compline. Why he chose this method of dividing his year of baking experiments becomes clear as you read the book.

So why did I call Alexander obsessive? For a start, he wasn't satisfied with simply buying flour. Instead, he turned his vegetable garden into a mini-wheat field. Months after planting, he harvested it, threshed it, and milled it (can you say Little Red Hen?). He visited bakeries, took workshops, traveled to France and Morocco, searched the Internet, lived in a monastery, and bought shelves of baking books. And every week, without fail, he baked a loaf of peasant bread--no scones, no brioche, no challah. The man was on a mission and nothing got in his way.

Despite Alexander's single-mindedness, 52 Loaves is much more than a weekly kitchen journal. It's also the story of his personal transformation from being shackled to the notion of perfection and an end goal to enjoying the process and having fun along the way. In the final chapter, he talks about what he learned. The list ends like this:
Choose one thing you care about and resolve to do it well. Whether you succeed or not, you will be the better for the effort.

Bread is life. (p. 323)
Although the book includes a couple of recipes, this not a cookbook or even a beginners guide to baking bread. Instead, it's an invitation to visit Alexander's kitchen, where you can sit down at the table, meet his family, share his interest in baking, and perhaps slice into that perfect crusty loaf.

For more about William Alexander, visit the 52 Loaves website where you can read about the book and watch a super slideshow video -- be sure to watch it all the way through, the sound in the last frame will make your mouth water.

Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads; their books are often spotlighted as part of my Imprint Fridays feature. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

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

Published by Algonquin Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781565125834


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