31 January 2011

Review: The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

At seventy-five years old, Betty Weissmann was taken totally by surprise when her husband, Joseph, decided he wanted a divorce. If her cousin hadn't offered his vacant cottage in Westport, Betty would have had nowhere to go. Joseph had frozen her assets, and she couldn't have managed to keep her beloved apartment on Central Park West.

To help their mother adjust to her new life, Miranda and Annie--both single and middle-aged--each sublets her apartment and moves to the cottage. While settling into Westport, Miranda, a true romantic, meets the handsome, rakish man next door. Meanwhile, Annie, always the practical one, has started seeing a reserved but nice author, who just happens to be the brother of the much younger woman Joseph fancies himself in love with.

If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, that's because Cathleen Schine's newest novel, The Three Weissmanns of Westport (just out in paperback) is a modern-day take-off of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. The novel begins with the basic premise of S&S, modernizes it, adds a few new twists, and keeps enough of the classic story to make it a fun choice for Austen fans.

If you haven't read the original or seen one of the Sense and Sensibility movies, not to worry. The Three Weismmann's of Westport can be read as women's fiction and will stand on its own. On the other hand, those familiar with Austen's characters and plot will enjoy anticipating events and comparing the Weissmanns to the Dashwoods.

The novel would make a good book club choice, generating discussion about mothers and daughters, relationships, marriage, and just how far (or not) women have come since Austen's day. A Reading Group Gold page is available from the publisher, which includes discussion questions.

For more on Cathleen Schine, be sure to visit her blog. To read an excerpt, listen to some interviews, and see Schine's tour schedule, visit the publisher's website.

Come back tomorrow to learn about another Austen-related book. Later in the week, I'll be hosting a giveaway for both books. Yep, one lucky reader will win two Austen-inspired books.


Published by Macmillian / Picador, 2011 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9780312680527
YTD: 13
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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30 January 2011

The Kitchen Journal 1

Welcome to The Kitchen Journal, an occasional series revealing life in the kitchen of Beth Fish Reads.

Snapshot: I developed three new recipes this week: (1) a lamb dish inspired by a Russian soup my grandmother used to make, (2) curried lentils with Swiss chard, and (3) a quick veal stew/one-dish meal. I developed a whole wheat sesame bread based on a recipe from Ken Haedrich's Country Baking book. I tried three new recipes, all from The Crabby Cook by Jessica Harper (featured as yesterday's Weekend Cooking post). We tried one new wine: Bogle's 2008 Cab (yum!).

In My Market Basket: I do not make a shopping list; instead I always buy salad ingredients, breakfast supplies, and whatever staples need to be replenished. Then I buy the fresh fruits and vegetables that look the best. In my basket this week were cabbage, rutabagas, Swiss chard, and mushrooms. I made a second run to the store to buy ingredients for the Crabby Cook Cookbook recipes.

Pick of the week: The lamb dinner, which you could easily make with ground beef if that suits your taste better. Note that I forgot to carefully measure my herbs and spices. I promise to do a better job with accuracy next time.

Not Really Russian Lamb

© cbl for www. BethFishReads.com

4 servings

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (or as needed)
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoky paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • black pepper and/or red pepper flakes to taste
  • pinch sour salt and/or sea salt to taste
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 small cabbage, shredded
  • 1 medium rutabaga, cut in half and then into 1/4-inch slices
  • 8 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (14-ounce can) diced tomatoes with juice
  • © cbl for www. BethFishReads.com
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Adjust the amount of oil by how lean or fatty your meat is. Add the lamb and cook, stirring to break up any lumps, until it is no longer pink. Add the onion and garlic and cook just until the onion begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the caraway seeds, paprika, oregano, peppers, and salt and cook, stirring, until well mixed. Add the remaining ingredients, and let simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes (depending on how you cut your vegetables). If the mixture begins to look dry, add more broth or a little water, cover, and continue to let it simmer until done. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings as needed.
© cbl for www. BethFishReads.com


From left: Sesame Bread, Quick Veal Stew (click to enlarge). I forgot to photograph the lentils.

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29 January 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: The Crabby Cook Cookbook by Jessica Harper

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

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You've worked all day or ran after the kids since dawn or sat on the couch watching TV and eating bonbons . . . no matter how you spent your day there comes that moment when the members of your family actually expect you to cook. And they want something good. Hot dogs and baked beans will last only so many weeks.

Enter The Crabby Cook Cookbook by Jessica Harper. No more 5,000 ingredients for a recipe that takes 49 hours to make. No! Harper offers you--the potentially crabby cook--almost 140 recipes that fit the lifestyle of regular people with regular families who have limited time to spend in the kitchen.

The cookbook starts out with a test to see if you qualify as a crabby cook. The second item says if you are the type of person who carefully reads through a recipe before you start to cook, then you are probably not a crabby cook. As you'll learn in a minute, I don't really read recipes very carefully and so I'm crabby . . . kind of.

Harper's introductions to the chapters and recipes will have you laughing. But more important, the dishes are all extremely appealing, and busy families will turn to this book on a regular basis. Whether you want a healthy on-the-go breakfast or a yummy easy-to-make dessert, the Crabby Cook has the answer.

I tried three recipes from The Crabby Cook Cookbook: a cocktail (hey, how else can I cope?), a soup, and a sandwich. First up was Lazy-Ass Minestrone. I admit I was a bit of an overachiever (and thus perhaps not a crabby cook) and added extra vegetables because . . . well, we actually like our veggies in this house. The soup ingredients I used are shown to the right.

I think the soup was supposed to be a kind of meal unto itself, but the Crabby Cook obviously doesn't live with Mr. BFR, who may not require meat at every meal but who does want some kind of substance. So to go with the soup, I made the Tuna Kahuna Panini. Again (so shoot me), I went for a variation and our ingredients are shown to the right.

Let me emphasize that I made the soup and the sandwiches and straightened up the kitchen in no time flat. Both dishes were absolutely delicious and totally easy to make. Really. I promise that you and your family will love this meal.

I guess I should admit part of the reason I got through dinner and cleanup with a smile on my face is because I started out by sipping the Crabby Cook's Lemon Drop drink. In fact, Mr. BFR had to stop at the state store last night to restock our vodka supply; we've been sampling Lemon Drops since Wednesday. Are you jealous?

Lemon Drop
2 to 3 drinks (see note)
  • 2 ounces of vodka
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce of Cointreau
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  • crushed ice
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add crushed ice, shake until well mixed and chilled, and strain into shot glasses. Note: Here's where I confess to never having read the line that says the recipe makes up to three drinks; I also seem to have missed the suggestion about serving the drink in shot glasses. Instead I poured the whole thing into a small wineglass, garnished it with a lemon slice, and drank the entire cocktail myself (overachiever that I am).

To learn more about the Crabby Cook, visit Jessica Harper's website and take some time to watch her videos, try some recipes, and subscribe to her newsletter. Trust me, you'll be laughing your way to the kitchen.

Note: if any of the photos are blurry, I blame it on the Lemon Drop!



Published by Workman, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780761155263
YTD: 12
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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28 January 2011

Imprint Friday: Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

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.

Last week I offered you a teaser from Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt. Today I'm spotlighting this fabulous book, and in early February I will treat you to an Imprint Extra from Caroline herself.

But let me step back a minute and tell you why I'm happy to bring this book to your attention. I'll start with the publisher's summary:

Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor, Isabelle, is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman, April, has left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. As these three lives intersect, the book asks, How well do we really know those we love—and how do we forgive the unforgivable?
If you've followed my blog for any amount of time then you know that one of my favorite premises is how one's life can change in a instant: owing to an accident, as the result of a poor decision, because someone else had a meltdown. Pictures of You starts from a similar situation--a day on which the unimaginable happens to two women and two families.

Pictures of You is a book that you (like author Beth Kephart) will read into the wee hours. Reviewers have almost universally praised Leveatt's use of language and her characterizations. Here are the opinions of two bloggers:
  • Robby from Once Upon a Book calls the novel "fantastic, beautifully written, beautifully structured, unique and familiar and completely overwhelming. It wasn’t flawless, but it was pretty close to it."
  • Julie from Booking Mama said that "the story was intriguing and yet heartbreaking, and I loved how complex each of these characters were."
Pictures of You is a book both to savor and to discuss. The novel is my book club's February selection, and I am anticipating a long and fruitful discussion. Look for my review and Caroline's Imprint Extra in early February.

To learn more about Caroline Leavitt and Pictures of You, see her playlist on Largehearted Boy, her blog, and her website. For an interview, check out Algonquin Books blog.

This book was spotlighted as part of both my Imprint Fridays feature and my Get to know Algonquin Books feature. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

Pictures of You at Powell's
Pictures of You at Book Depository
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Published by Algonquin Books, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781565126312

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27 January 2011

Review: The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent

Martha Allen is stubborn and strong willed--not the best traits for a woman on the verge of spinsterhood in colonial Massachusetts. At nineteen, she is too old to be a dependent, so her parents send her to live with her cousin Patience, who is pregnant with her third child. Even if Martha can't get a husband, she can certainly help out by cooking and cleaning and helping out her extended family.

Patience's husband, Daniel, has hired two indentured servants: the tall, strong, and mysterious Thomas Carrier and his younger companion, John, an amiable and hardworking Scotsman. Thomas and Martha each have secrets to hide, but as they work alongside each other trust builds, and their relationship deepens. Before they can think about the future, however, Thomas must settle some long-standing issues that go all the way back to Cromwell's rebellion.

The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent is the prequel to the very popular The Heretic's Daughter. I have not yet read Kent's first novel, so the characters and their stories were new to me, but the book seemed to stand on its own quite well.

The book is historical fiction, but the two main characters, Thomas Carrier and Martha Allen, were real people; in fact, they are Kent's ancestors. Thus the novel is based not only on research but also on family stories. As result, the setting, the details, and the personalities all seem believable.

The novel doesn't sugar-coat or romanticize colonial life in Massachusetts. Early settlers coped with their fear of ruffians and Native Americans, the pressures of social expectations, the absence of choices for women, and the lack of medical knowledge and skill. Furthermore, despite the expanse of ocean separating them from the mother land, British citizens were very much under the watchful eyes of royalist agents.

The Wolves of Andover is a solid entry in the historical fiction genre.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Hachette Audio, 8 hr, 42 min), read by Ellen Archer. Although Archer skillfully took the reader from description to conversation to action, I felt her deep voicing and somewhat stilted inflections for Thomas. especially when he revealed his secret past to Martha, was heavy handed and a bit droning. Regardless of those sections, I thought the audiobook was nicely produced, and it kept my attention.

The Wolves of Andover was an Indie Next pick for November 2010. To Learn more about Kathleen Kent and both her novels, visit her website. Note too that the novel was published under the Regan Arthur imprint; to learn more about that imprint, visit the Regan Arthur Books Perpetual Challenge blog.


Published by Hachette Group / Regan Arthur Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780316068628
YTD: 11
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: C+

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

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26 January 2011

Giveaway: The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

In February 2009, I reviewed Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer. I was totally taken with the protagonist, Mickey Haller, who "may defend scum, but he's good at what he does and he does know the law." The novel is not your average court-room, lawyer-genre mystery-thriller. There is action, and there are personal stories and plenty of complex clues and red herrings.

I was so excited to hear that The Lincoln Lawyer is being made into a movie. Haller is a character you're going to root for. I cannot wait until the film comes to a theater near me.

Just take a look at the trailer


Pretty exciting, yeah? And the cast is fantastic.

Giveaway: To celebrate the film adaptation and to introduce you to Mickey Haller, I am thrilled to be able to offer five (yes, that's five!) of my readers a chance to win a copy of the book and a movie poster. Because the giveaway is being hosted by the publisher, the winner must have a U.S or Canada mailing address. If you live elsewhere, perhaps you can find a North American buddy who will mail the book and poster on to you.

To be one of the five winners of a book and a movie poster, fill out the following form. I'll pick the winners by random number generator on February 13 (and will delete all personal data). Remember, even though you entered on another site, you can still enter here to increase your chances of winning.



Don't forget to learn more about the book and the movie on Facebook and on Hachette's website.

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Wordless Wednesday 114

Number 14

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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25 January 2011

Can I Challenge You?

As you know, I love reading challenges and I have a very hard time saying no. Here are some challenges I thought about joining, but with 18 on my list, I was forced to pass. I list them here, however, because I bet you won't be able to say no.

Have you read Wendell Berry? He is one of my favorite authors, and the only reason I'm not in the Wendell Berry Challenge, hosted by Carrie from Books and Movies is because I've vowed to do less re-reading this year. Here are two quotes to whet your appetite: "Ask the questions that have no answers. / Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias" and "When going back makes sense, you are going ahead." You can join at the two-book level.

If you have a hankering to read books from around the world, then Judith from Leeswammes' Blog has just the challenge for you. The Book Bloggers Abroad Challenge is a two-level winner: great book blogger-suggested titles plus a chance to get to know bloggers from other countries. This challenge is based on the popular Book Bloggers Abroad feature and will take you to more than two-dozen locations. You can join at the five-book level.


Here is very fun challenge hosted by several bloggers, but you can find information from Joann at It's All about Me (Time): The Whip-Up Something New Challenge isn't about reading, it's about cooking and it encourages you to make one new dish a month. This is one challenge I actually hope to participate in--after all, I can use my new recipe for a Weekend Cooking post too!


I don't know about you, but I've always wanted to go to Italy. I've been across the pond several times, but never to the land of good food, ancient history, awe-inspiring art, and beautiful scenery. Silvia from Book after Book is hosting the Italy in Books Challenge. Here's your chance to be an armchair traveler: fiction, nonfiction, light, or heavy--if it's set in Italy, it counts for the challenge. The welcome post has resources and you are encouraged to read twelve books.

Feeling too much pressure to read longer works to complete a challenge? Carrie from Books and Movies has the solution. She is hosting her third annual Essay Challenge. Essays are the perfect way to get a taste of authors you may have always wanted to read but did want to commit to yet. Although my favorite essayist is Emerson, there are plenty of modern essayist who write about everything from religion to humor, from business to parenthood. You can join on the ten-essay level.

Here's a great one for mystery lovers and another one I would have joined had I decided against re-reads this year: The Baker Street Challenge (on it's own blog) hosted by Bookish Ruth. This challenge is about all things Sherlock Holmes. Not only can you finally get around to reading the original Holmes stories and novels but you are encouraged to read some of the modern Holmes books and spin-offs. And non-fiction also counts. You can join for as few as three books.

Wish you read more nonfiction? Here is the easiest non-fiction challenge in existence: The Dewy Decimal Challenge. Jen of The Introverted Reader asks you to "Read any non-fiction book(s), adult or young adult." Yeah, it's just that simple. You can sign up to read one book up to four books and you have an entire year to complete the challenge. Come on, you can certainly sign up for this, can't you?

Here's a really fun challenge: The Cusak Challenge (yeah, as in John Cusack). Care of Care's Online Book Club came up with idea when she read an article in which Cusack talked about the books that have had an influence on him. The list is not very long and is a bit eclectic. Come join Care in this perpetual challenge. The commitment is to read eight great books, with no time limit.

Jen of The Introverted Reader is from the South and to celebrate her southern heritage, she is offering the Southern Literature Challenge. You can surely complete this challenge. Go with a classic: Gone with the Wind? Flannary O'Connor? Or perhaps you're more interested in current authors. Try Pat Conroy, why don't you? Did you know Fannie Flag has a new book out? You can join on the one-book level.


Well, there you have it--I hope I've convinced you to join at least one of these challenges for 2011.

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24 January 2011

Review & Giveaway: Iron Fey Series by Julie Kagawa

Last week I reviewed The Iron King, the first in the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa. Since then I've read two more entries in the series: the novella Winter's Passage and the full second entry, The Iron Daughter.

The following double review assumes you've read The Iron King, though I think the spoilers are quite minor.

The Winter's Passage begins immediately where The Iron King ends and focuses on the journey of Ash, the Winter prince, and Meghan Chase, the Summer half-breed, as they travel to the Winter Court. Although the gist of the novella is summarized in the beginning of The Iron Daughter, don't miss out on this eBook, which tells the story of Ash and Meghan's changing relationship as they return to Nevernever.

In The Iron Daughter, Meghan Chase, half human and half Summer princess, realizes that the Fey world is far more complex than it appears on the surface. Political ambitions and loyalties are not simply divided between the Summer and the Winter courts, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Meghan to know whom to trust. Best friends turn their backs on each other, traditional enemies become allies, and once-weakened fey have renewed strength. As the uncomfortable truce between the two principal courts reaches a breaking point, alliances shift, and it's up to Meghan to try to save Nevernever.

As in the first novel of the series, two of Kagawa's strong points are world building and characterization. Along with Meghan, the reader is introduced to new aspects of the Fey world and its multiple layers. The pace of the book is well balanced, and the pauses between the action scenes move the plot forward and provide fodder for further story lines.

The mix of ancient myth with modern technology in this urban fantasy continues to intrigue. What would modern humans lose if they ceased to think about the faeries in their quest for the most up-to-date gadgets? Although The Iron Daughter has a satisfying, and not altogether predictable, ending, you'll definitely want to know what happens next. The good news is that you won't have to wait long for the third Iron Fey book: The Iron Queen.

The Giveaway: The Iron Queen is coming out tomorrow and I can't wait to read it. I love Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series, particularly because both the characters and the plot are multidimensional and multilayered. This is not your average romantic fairy tale: characters can die, heroes can make mistakes, alliances can change, and love does not conquer all.

Here's your chance to read all three Iron Fey books. Harlequin Teen is offering one of my readers the entire set of Kagawa's Iron Fey series. Yes, one reader with a U.S. or Canadian mailing address will receive one copy each of The Iron King, The Iron Daughter, and the The Iron Queen.


I bet you anything you end up reading all three in quick succession. While you're waiting to see if you are the lucky winner of all three books, be sure to check out the Iron Fey Facebook page, where you'll learn about other Iron Fey activities and tour stops as fans count down to the release of The Iron Queen.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out the following form. A winner will be picked via random number generator on February 7 and the books will be sent directly from Harlequin Teen. All personal data will be deleted from my computer once the winner is announced.

EDIT: Google docs is having problems. Please either come back in a few minutes to enter the contest or leave a comment with your email clearly stating that you want to enter the contest but the form was nowhere to be seen.



Good luck in the giveaway, the Iron Fey books have become a favorite series of mine.




Published by Harlequin / Harlequin Teen, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780373210138 & 9781426858321
YTD: 9 & 10
Source: Review / Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+ & B+

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

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23 January 2011

I'm Official! Check Out the URL

Look at me! I have a new address. Yes, I finally mustered up the courage to use Blogger's built-in "buy a custom domain" feature. Let me tell you, I was shaking in my boots. So far everything is going just as predicted. I'm smiling from ear to ear.

All my links are still working, and you should be redirected here if you use my old address. But just to be sure, please add the new URL to your blog reader.

Doesn't www.BethFishReads.com look professional?

Please let me know if you have any trouble with the new address or with the links. My blog is still in transition, so I expect some glitches until midweek.

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22 January 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: Farmers' Market Desserts by Jennie Schacht

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

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Last fall I was lucky enough to get a copy of Jennie Schacht's Farmers' Market Desserts. I realize that it's not farmers market season for many of us who live north of the equator, but it's never too early to start getting ready to use wonderful, fresh, and locally grown ingredients. And for my Southern Hemisphere readers, you can visit your favorite farm stand tomorrow.

The first thing you'll notice when you pick up Farmers' Market Desserts is how pretty the book is. Leo Gong's photographs--from farm and market scenes to the finished dishes--are stunning. Don't you love the cover? You'll want to spend some time just looking at the pages. But, of course, what's a cookbook if you don't want to make the recipes?

Have no fear, everything in this book looks yummy. The chapters are divided into types of fruit and by season. Besides the expected berries, apples, and stone fruit, there are recipes for citrus fruits, dried fruits, and tropical fruits so you can turn to the book all year round. Throughout you'll find plenty of tips for buying fruit plus wonderful stories about family farms and markets from across the United States.

The ingredients are generally easy to find, but Schacht provides substitutions just in case. Because there are variations for most of the recipes, you can confidently adapt the desserts to fit the season or individual tastes. The directions are clear, and I like that they are unintimidating to the inexperienced baker. The cookbook includes plenty of baking, cooking, and serving tips.

I thought I'd share the following recipe for Key Lime Bars for two reasons. First, they have become a favorite of mine and, second, they can be made in all seasons. Based on Schacht's advice, I've made them both with common limes and with common lemons, because good Key limes are hard for me to get. I've had success with both variations.

Key Lime Bars

24 bars

Shortbread Crust
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for finishing
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated Key lime zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into 10 pieces
Filling
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup fresh Key lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated Key lime zest
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
1. Preheat oven to 350F, with a rack in the lower third. Line the bottom and sides of a 13- by 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, extending it about 2 inches beyond the pan all around to aid in removing the bars from the pan.

2. To make the crust, stir together the flour, 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar, lime zest, and salt in a bowl. Scatter the butter over the top. Using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture has the appearance of wet, clumpy sand. It should hold together in clumps when you gently press it with your fingers.

3. Scatter the mixture evenly in the prepared pan and use your hands to pack it firmly onto the bottom. Bake until lightly golden, about 20 minutes.

4. While the crust bakes, make the filling. Stir together the sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl. Add the eggs and stir until completely smooth. Add the lime juice and zest and the half-and-half and mix slowly but thoroughly to create a smooth mixture without many air bubbles.

5. When the crust is ready, remove it from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325F.

6. Pour the filling over the hot crust and return the pan to the oven. Bake until the filling is just set, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, then refrigerate for 30 minutes for easiest cutting.

7. Use the extended ends of the paper to lift the large bar from the pan to a cutting board. Using a sharp, heavy knife, and wiping the blade clean with a damp kitchen towel between cuts, cut lengthwise into 4 equal strips, then cut crosswise into 6 equal strips to make 24 bars. Pack the cooled bars between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

8. Serve cold or at room temperature. Sift confectioners' sugar over the bars just before serving.


Published by Chronicle Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780811866729
YTD: 8
Rating: B
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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21 January 2011

Imprint Friday: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

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.

Most of you have probably at least heard of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. It was the winner of the 2008 Bellwether Prize for "for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice." The novel tells the story of a young biracial girl trying to find her place in the world after a personal tragedy.

Here is the publisher's summary:

Rachel, the daughter of a danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop.

Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief, that she comes to understand how the mystery and tragedy of her mother might be connected to her own uncertain identity.
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky seems all at once to touch on both a specific issue (growing up biracial) and universal issues (self-identity, grief). It is not a book that has easy answers but is one that you will want talk about and mull over.

The best way I know to introduce you to the novel is to encourage you to watch this short video in which Durrow talks about the inspiration for her book and tells us what it's all about without giving anything away.


Bloggers have been almost unanimous in praising Durrow's writing. Some have felt the weight of Rachel's family tragedy, and some have wanted fellow readers to help them sort out their feelings. Here are two enthusiastic views:
  • From Bookslut: "Durrow knows how to write sympathetic characters and to maintain a reader’s interest. This short novel is one easily finished in a single sitting, not only because of its length, but also because Durrow knows how to write a book that is hard to put down."
  • From Love 2 Read for Fun!: "[A] book that touched me like no other book has. . . . When I finished this book, I had tears in my eyes. A heart-wrenching story written so beautifully. If you haven’t read it, you are truly missing out."
And finally, I wanted to share this 2-minute vlog review from the Capital Area District Library in Lansing, Michigan. The reviewer gives us a fuller sense of Rachel's story (again with no spoilers).


The Girl Who Fell from the Sky was an Indie Next pick for February 2010 and also made the Indie Reading Group List for winter 2011. To learn more about Heidi W. Durrow, visit her website, where you can also find an interesting video about her paternal grandmother. National Public Radio's All Things Considered aired a piece with Durrow in spring 2010; you can read their review and listen to the story on the NPR website.

This book was spotlighted as part of both my Imprint Fridays feature and my Get to know Algonquin Books feature. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky at Powell's
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Algonquin Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781565126800

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Bloggiesta: Labels / Tags Mini-Challenge

I am obsessed with my label system, I admit it. And thus my favorite Bloggiesta task is to work on cleaning up my labels. And so I've become the traditional labels/tags mini-challenge host.

This post has been revised from previous Bloggiesta events, so even if you've done this challenge before, you might want to skim through.
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This is the home of the Bloggiesta Labels/Tag Mini-Challenge. I hope you'll take this one on because you know your labels need some help. If you don't know what Bloggiesta is, pop on over to Maw Books Blog and read all about it. It's not too late to join in the fun.

Why Should You Care about Your Labels?

Each of your posts should be clearly tagged or labeled so that visitors can easily find the material that is important to them. Your labels should be broad enough to direct visitors to a number of related posts but narrow enough to make them useful.

What do I mean? Let's say you have a series of posts about attending author events (signings, readings, and so on). I come to your blog because I want to read these posts. The first thing I'll do is look for your labels gadget (Blogger) or categories/tags list (Wordpress). Then I'll scan the list looking for "author events," "author signings," or "author readings."

In the best case, you have all such posts grouped under one recognizable label ("author events," for example). Once I click on the link, I'm all set to read. You might also have a label called "author signings" so I if I'm interested in only those posts, I can find them easily too.

In the worst case, you have these posts labeled only by the author's name. When I see that label, I have no idea if I'm going to get a book review, interview, spotlight post, or wish list post. I don't want to waste my time clicking on a number of author links in the hopes I'll find what I want, so I'll likely give up and move on to the next blog in my reader.

Another bad choice is to have a label that isn't clear. "Authors in the wild" is cute, but what does it mean? Will all your visitors know that this is the link to your author events posts?

When thinking about how to label your posts, always remember that they guide your readers to the content of your blog. You want this to be as easy as possible for your visitors.

How to Label?

Ah, well, this is up to you. If you are totally confused, do some blog hopping and look at different bloggers' labels or tags. What do you like, what do you dislike? Here are just a couple of types of posts and a few ways to approach your labeling.

  • Review posts: Some people add a label for every author reviewed on their blog. This can be useful, but you can end up with hundreds of labels for which there is only one post. Some people label their reviews by genre and medium (eBook, audiobook, print), which is almost always a good idea. You might want to think about labeling reviews by year of review or year of publication.
  • Personal style/advocacy: You can use your labels and tags to help promote your blog's viewpoint or strengths. For example, if you like to bring attention to debut authors then you should have label that will make it easy for your readers to find that content. In some cases, you might want to consider adding more information to your labels, such as "Debut Author - 2011" or "Indie Bookstores - Detroit." If you are on Wordpress, you can use your tags and categories in a similar manner.
  • Memes/Awards: You can label your meme posts by the meme's title. This is helpful to your readers, who might remember you had an interesting book in a Mailbox Monday or a Friday Finds. If your meme post is also a review or opinion post, it might be a good idea to give it additional labels so that visitors who usually skip memes won't miss something good.
  • Opinions/Conversations: Opinion posts and conversation starters should be clearly labeled because these are just the types of posts that people revisit. They think, "Didn't I see a good post about the importance of using the library on this blog last year?" If they find the label "library" in your label list, they'll soon find the post they want.
How Labels Can Work with Tabs

I don't use author names or book titles in my labels because I don't want a lot of labels that cover only one post. Instead, I have a tab at the top of my blog that direct readers to my reviews by title. I am in process of adding pages (with links in the sidebar) to my reviews by genre and author. These lists save me from creating a lot of labels.

Your Mini-Challenge

I admit that I created this mini-challenge because I really need to clean up my own labels. In fact, this should be my main Bloggiesta task. I have published many new posts and have taken my blog in new directions since the last Bloggiesta, and I really should review each and every one post and all my labels!

You might not want to examine every post on your blog, but you really should think about the state of your labels. Ask yourself if they are currently useful and how they could be better. So here's the deal:
  1. Set and state a goal (fix labels on all posts, fix labels on review posts, set up labels for the all 2011 posts)
  2. Meet goal
  3. Blog about this mini-challenge (in a separate post or as part a Bloggiesta progress post or in your wrap-up Bloggiesta post)
  4. Come back here leave the link to that post in Mr. Linky
If you leave a link in Mr. Linky, you'll be eligible for a great bookish prize.

A Little Help

If you are using Blogger then you have access to a label gadget. Open it up, look at your options, and see if you have the settings the way you want them to be. Here are four links with some advice on using and editing labels:
If you are using Wordpress then you have both categories and tags. I don't use Wordpress, so I can't give you technical advice, but I can direct you to some articles that explain the difference between the two. Categories are larger (reviews) and tags are specific (historical fiction, fantasy). Here are four links that should offer help:
Good luck and remember that everything you do during Bloggiesta will benefit your blog and your readers. Be sure come back to Mr. Linky so you'll be eligible for a prize! (Not sure what the prize will be, but it'll be international.)

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20 January 2011

Brush Up Your Shakespeare Giveaway: Winner

I am so pleased to announce the winner of the Brush Up Your Shakespeare prize pack sponsored by Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters (now officially published and in your local bookstore). Congratulations to


I know you'll have fun with the magnets, enjoy watching the DVD, and love reading The Weird Sisters.

Thanks so much to Eleanor for hosting this giveaway.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Published by Putnam
/ Amy Einhorn Books, January 2011
ISBN-13: 9780399157226

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Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Meghan Chase is just about to turn sixteen and can't wait for her life to begin to change. She was thinking along the lines of a drivers license and little more attention from her stepdad, but what she got was a whole lot more--and we're not talking gifts.

Meghan always thought she was a bit different and sometimes imagined she saw things out of the corner of her eye. But when a changeling is substituted for her half-brother, she is forced to admit that the human world is only one version of reality. Meghan makes the choice to venture into Nevernever to try to bring her brother safely home.

Julie Kagawa's The Iron King is the first in a series centered around Meghan Chase, the half-breed daughter of the king of the Summer Fey and a human mother. I am no expert in the subgenres of fantasy/paranormal, but I would classify this novel as an urban fantasy. Meghan is clearly and absolutely of the modern world and the faery world co-exists with the twenty-first century.

In 2009, I had my first tastes of urban fantasies and was totally enthralled. When world building and character development are skillfully crafted, I cannot resist. Kagawa's Iron Fey series has both and more. The creatures, kingdoms, and rules that govern Faeryland are consistent and contextually believable. The interlinking of the ancient hidden world with modern America will make you look twice as you walk down the street or peek under your bed. And the depth of the principal characters in Meghan's life bring color, mystery, and humor to the tale. The charm and antics of Robbie, better known as Puck; the passion and power of Ash, a prince of the Winter Fey; and the sarcasm and loyalty of Grimalkin, the fey cat, keep the Summer princess on her toes as the three males try their best to keep her out of danger.

Despite these strengths, if the plot and the pace of the action were not nicely drawn, the reader would simply be entertained. Instead, Kagawa has created a story that will have you thinking about what technology has done to modern imagination, the meaning of loyalty and tradition, the strength of forbidden love, and the hidden power within us all when we are forced to defend the people we love the most.

I'll be talking about this series some more in the days to come--I am lost in Nevernever with Meghan, Ash, Puck, and Grim.

The Iron King at Powell's
The Iron King at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs

Published by Harlequin / Harlequin Teen, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780373210084
YTD: 7
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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

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19 January 2011

Wordless Wednesday 113

Winter Weeds, January 2011


For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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18 January 2011

Today's Read: Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

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.

Isabelle veers, trying not to hit the trees. The car slows, lurching forward. Time turns elastic, stretching out, slowing. Then, shocked, she sees a woman with short, spiky blonde hair, a red dress frilling around her knees, coming into sharp focus, rising up like one of Isabelle's negatives in the milky developing fluid, and the woman is just standing there in front of her car, not moving, staring as if she knew this would happen and she were somehow waiting for it. pp. 10-11
—From Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, 2011)

In the next couple of weeks I'll be featuring this gripping new novel for an Algonquin Books Imprint Friday as well as posting a full review. Pictures of You is also the February title for my Skype book club, and I can't wait to discuss. it.

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17 January 2011

Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Aleksandar Ferdinand--the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his commoner wife, Sophie Chotek--is secreted out of the Austro-Hungarian palace only hours after he becomes an orphan. In the dead of night, loyal countrymen, Otto Klopp (master of mechaniks) and Count Volger (fencing master), help Alek into a Cyklop Stormwalker to begin their escape to the Swiss Alps.

Meanwhile, young Deryn Sharp wants nothing more than to join the British Air Service and become a pilot. There is just one large problem: The service doesn't accept girls. Nevertheless, her brother, Jaspert, has been coaching her in aerology and the use of a sextant. She plans to pass the entrance tests and muster in disguised as a boy.

After air battles and land skirmishes, Alek and "Dylan" Sharp meet on a glacial field in Switzerland. The teens, each hiding behind a false identity, must decide whom to trust.

Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan is a steampunk novel that offers an alternative look at the start of World War I. Deryn and Alek's world is divided by two principal ideologies: One that believes in breeding and harnessing living machines and one that relies on building nuts-and-bolts inanimate devices. Although the particulars are fresh, the foundation of Leviathan's Europe is utterly familiar; thus the reader is immediately at home.

The action will keep you turning the pages, but the characters make the novel shine. Deryn is so likable, you cannot help but root for her; she is smart and capable but is also a bit lost in the world of boys and sometimes finds it difficult to keep her gender hidden. Alek is both brave and fool-hearty, and we hope that he will find a way to deal with his parents' deaths and his changing status.

If you are unsure about steampunk, you might want to try Leviathan because it is quite accessible. The machinery is, of course, key to the story, but Westerfeld makes sure the reader doesn't become bogged down in new terminology. Furthermore, the novel is wonderfully illustrated by Keith Thompson, and the black-and-white charcoal (pencil?) drawings are not to be missed.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Simon & Schuster, 8 hr, 20 min) read by Alan Cumming. Cumming was a great pick for Leviathan; his expressiveness, accents, and pacing kept me glued to my mp3 player. As I listened, I was fortunate enough to have a print copy at hand so I didn't miss out on the fabulous artwork.

Both the audio and the print book end with an author's note that talks a little bit about the nature of steampunk and where (besides the obvious) Leviathan departs from historical fact.

Leviathan's story continues in Behemoth (also narrated by Cumming), and I can't wait to listen to it. I'm holding out, however, until I buy a print copy, so I can see Thompson's illustrations as the novel progresses.

The book trailer gives you sense of both the story and the illustrations (it is not narrated by Cumming).


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

Published by Simon & Schuster / Simon Pulse, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781416971733
YTD: 6
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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

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15 January 2011

Weekend Cooking: Ina Garten's Vegetable Tian

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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One of my go-to cookbook / recipe authors is Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. The simple but delicious recipe I'm sharing today is one I make quite a bit in the summer when the tomatoes are at their peak of ripeness.

I have also made this casserole in the winter using canned diced tomatoes with excellent results. The casserole is just not as beautifully layered as is the summer dish.

In fact, I made the tian for my New Year's Eve dinner this year, and I think it's going to become a permanent part of the menu. Everyone loved the taste, and I loved serving a colorful and healthful dish that required no last-minute fussing.

The photograph of the half-baked dish (above) and the video (below) come from the Food Network. Enjoy!

Vegetable Tian

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
  • Good olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut in half and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound medium round potatoes, unpeeled
  • 3/4 pound zucchini
  • 1-1/4 pounds medium tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus extra sprigs
  • 2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with olive oil.

In a medium saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the onions over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Spread the onion mixture on the bottom of the baking dish.

Slice the potatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes in 1/4-inch thick slices. Layer them alternately in the dish on top of the onions, fitting them tightly, making only 1 layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme leaves, and thyme sprigs and drizzle with 1 more tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Uncover the dish, remove the thyme sprigs, sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake for another 30 minutes until browned. Serve warm.

Here is a video of Ina making the tian so you can see just how easy it is.



EDIT: I almost forgot to mention that there is a new monthly foodie challenge: Click on the link to learn about Whip Up Something New.


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14 January 2011

Imprint Friday: Exley by Brock Clarke

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.

Brock Clarke should be a familiar name to you. Not just for today's featured title, Exley, but also for his An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England. I need to warn you: Exley is one of those novels that you pick up just to browse and find yourself still engrossed an hour later. Yeah, it's that kind of book.

Take a look at the publisher's summary:

For nine-year-old Miller, who lives with his mother in Watertown, New York, life has become a struggle to make sense of his father’s disappearance, for which he blames himself. Then, when he becomes convinced that he has found his father lying comatose in the local VA hospital, a victim of the war in Iraq, Miller begins a search for the one person he believes can save him, the famously reclusive—and, unfortunately, dead—Frederick Exley, a Watertown native and the author of his father’s favorite book, the “fictional memoir” A Fan’s Notes. The story of Miller’s search, told by both Miller himself and his somewhat flaky therapist, ultimately becomes an exploration of the difference between what we believe to be real and what is in fact real, and how challenging it can be to reconcile the two.
I was serious when I said that you can't just browse Exley. At least I couldn't. I was curious right from the first page and especially from the second paragraph (told in Miller's voice):
So why don't I begin there: the day I went to see my dad in the VA hospital. Exley's book begins toward the end, but he calls it a beginning anyway. Because this is one of the things I learned from Exley: anything can be a beginning as long as you call it one.
And so I needed to know about the beginning that might not have been a beginning. Before I had a copy of the book in my hands, I read a couple of reviews that caught my attention:
  • The Kirkus starred review calls Exley a "seriously playful novel about the interweave of literature and life."
  • The NPR review says: "In the hands of a less talented writer, the novel's layers, twists and identity puzzles could strain the belief of even the most credulous reader; but Clarke's narrative assurance and unfailingly realistic characters allow him to pull off the literary equivalent of a half-court shot."
This is a novel that will generate discussion about families, about how a book can have the power to change our lives, and about what happens if we refuse to stop pursuing our dreams.

Exley was an Indie Next pick for November 2010 and was named a best of 2010 by Kirkus. Be sure to check out Brock Clarke's website for more quotes and an excerpt as well as photos from the novel's setting.

This book was spotlighted as part of both my Imprint Fridays feature and my Get to know Algonquin Books feature. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

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

Published by Algonquin Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781565126084

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Copyright

All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2014. All rights reserved.

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