31 January 2012

Review: The Whistleblower (Movie)

When Lincoln, Nebraska, cop Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) accepts a temporary position in Bosnia as part of the U.N. peacekeeping team, she knows it will be tough work but she needs the money so she can fight for custody of her kids. Once on the job, Bolkovac is told to interview two young women who are in Bosnia with fake passports. When Bolkovac discovers they were victims of a sex-trafficking operation, she vows to protect the girls. The deeper Bolkovac digs, the more dangerous it becomes, not only for herself but also for the victims.

The Whistleblower, directed by Larysa Kondracki, is based on a true story. Although the beginning of the film, when we are introduced to the principal characters, is a bit slow, once Bolkovac arrives in Bosnia, the action picks up, and I was totally hooked. From the moment the sex ring is uncovered to the twists and surprises that are revealed as Bolkovac continues her investigation, I couldn't look away.

It's not an easy film to watch, but it's an important film. The women are tricked into prostitution, and the way they are treated is almost incomprehensible; the movie doesn't sugar-coat the situation. Suspense is high because, like Bolkovac, we don't know whom to trust on the U.N. team or which of the civilians hired to help rebuild Bosnia's infrastructure are good guys. Some the men Bolkovac worked with were willing to go to any extreme to keep the sex ring thriving and bringing in money. Bolkovac's determination and personal dedication to the victims were acts of bravery.

David Strathairn, Benedict Cumberbatch, Monica Bellucci, David Hewlett, and Vanessa Redgrave also star in the film, which came out on DVD and BluRay last week. The bonus material includes interviews with the cast and crew and the real-life Kathryn Bolkovac.

This is not a movie for the whole family, but it's one I recommend. Note that some of the movie is subtitled, but most of it is in English.


Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for the review copy of the BluRay.

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30 January 2012

Book Club Booster Giveaway: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Book: I'm sure you've been hearing the buzz surrounding The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. The novel made many, many best-of-2011 lists. Just in case you aren't quite sure what the book is about, here's the publisher's summary:

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.
So far, I've read only the first 50 pages of The Art of Fielding, so I can't review the book, but from the description and from reviews I've read on other book blogs, I can tell that it would have wide appeal. I'm usually attracted to books about relationships of all kinds, and Harbach's novel has promise.

To learn more about the The Art of Fielding and author Chad Harbach, you can check out the Facebook page or read an excerpt.

The Giveaway: If you are a resident of the United States and belong to book club, then I have great news. Little, Brown & Company's Book Club Booster promotion is sponsoring a fantastic giveaway of the Art of Fielding for your group. Yes, I said group.

One of you has a chance to win up to 10 copies of The Art of Fielding for your book club. All you have to do is fill out the following form and I'll pick a winner via random number generator on February 7. Little, Brown will send all the books to you or will send one book (up to 10) to each member of your book club--you can pick whichever method would work best for your group.

Now wait! That's not all! This giveaway is being hosted by different bloggers. Once all the winners are picked, Little, Brown's marketing department will use a random number generator to pick one book club that will also win a Skype chat (or call-in) with author Chad Harbach. That's right, one of the winning book clubs will be able to chat with the author.

I'm pretty excited about being one of the hosts of this Book Club Booster giveaway because I think the book will make a great book club selection. To help you get the conversation started you can check out the Reading Group Guide, available through the publisher's website.

Don't hesitate to enter here even if you've entered on another blog. Entering in two places increases your book club's chance of winning! Please remember that this giveaway is open only to those with a U.S. mailing address.

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28 January 2012

Weekend Cooking: Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou

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, 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.

_______

When a cookbook opens like this:
Some people set out to learn to cook. They pursue it. They look for teachers. They go to cooking school. They practice and study. I became a cook in a way that could scarcely have been more different from all of that, in a place so far from where I ended up that it feels like a beautiful, brightly colored dream. I learned to cook from memory. Let me tell you how. (p. 1)
How can you not fall instantly in love? Mourad Lahlou's Mourad: New Moroccan, is a gorgeous cookbook: glossy paper with full-page photos that capture the food, colors, and ambiance of Morocco. It has everything that helps a cookbook stand out from the crowd, such as descriptions of ingredients, suggested brands, personal introductions to most recipes, mail-order sources, "Chef-to-Chef" tips, and a well-thought-out index.

And Mourad is a winner, but it's a winner mostly for ambitious cooks who live in California or a big city or who have the funds and inclination to mail order uncommon ingredients. I absolutely love the flavors in Lahlou's recipes: aromatic chiles, preserved lemons, cumin, seeds, and fresh herbs. In addition, this is a book I'll turn to again and again to learn about Moroccan cooking, dishes, techniques, and spice mixtures.

On the other hand, although I would order a dish like Steamed Lamb Shoulder with Saffron Butter and Cumin Salt in a heartbeat, I don't think I'd ever make it, despite the fact that I always have lamb in my freezer. And here's why.

The recipe is well written and very easy to follow, and Lahlou provides ample information about the hows and whys. But before I can make this recipe, I first need to make
  • Aged Butter
  • Lamb Stock
  • Clarified Butter
  • Chicken Stock
  • Cumin Salt
No matter how willing I am to spend a day or two in the kitchen, I'm not going to make five recipes before I can make one dinner. Many recipes rely on preserved lemon (yum!), but you must prepare the lemons a month in advance before you can use them. Yikes! I don't plan a day ahead, let alone a month.

Other recipes call for particular types of fresh figs and peppers, things like yuzu juice and liquid glucose, lovely citrus such as Meyer lemons and blood oranges, and other wonderful ingredients unavailable in my small town. It's a shame, really, because if I lived in New York or San Francisco, I'd be more inclined to give many of the recipes a try.

To be fair, if you were going to make a study of Moroccan cooking, then the time spent up front to make stocks, spice mixtures, and preserved lemons would be well worth it. You also would be willing to ship in what you couldn't get at home. But for a cook (like me) who wants make a Moroccan dish maybe every other month, the payoff drops off quickly.

Again, let me stress that Mourad is jam-packed with great information about Moroccan traditions and cuisine. It's a book I'll cherish because of the personal writing style and the look into a culture I know little about. Further, there are, in fact, a number of recipes that are straightforward and use readily available ingredients. The bread chapter calls to me, as do the soups and salads.

Here's a yogurt spread that looks delicious and easy to make.

Yogurt-Herb Spread

Makes 2 cups
  • 2 cups (476 g) whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 small or ½ large cucumber, preferably Armenian
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons (4.5 g) kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons (2.2 g) grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon (1.5 g) ground white pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane
  • 2 teaspoons (2 g) chopped dill
To drain the yogurt: You'll need a deep bowl or other container and a wooden spoon or dowel. Line the bowl with a double thickness of cheesecloth. Spoon the yogurt into the center of the cloth and pull up the edges to form a pouch. Tie the ends around the spoon or dowel, adjusting the length so that the pouch is at least 2 inches above the bottom of the bowl. Refrigerate overnight to drain the excess liquid.

For the spread: The next day, remove the yogurt from the cheesecloth and put it in a large bowl. Discard the liquid.

Peel and seed the cucumber. Grate it on the medium-fine holes of a box grater to produce a pulpy mush. Put the cucumber pulp on a piece of cheesecloth, pick up the edges, and twist the cloth over the sink to remove as much liquid as you can.

Stir the cucumber into the yogurt, along with the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days before serving.

To serve: [Lahlou] likes this best with warm grilled flatbread or pita chips.

Mourad was an Indie Next pick for December 2011. For more on Mourad Lahlou's type of cooking visit the website for his restaurant, Aziza.

Mourad: New Moroccan at Powell's
Mourad: New Moroccan at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Workman / Artisan, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781579654290
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: C+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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27 January 2012

Imprint Friday: Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

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

After Jude Keffy-Horn loses his best friend to a drug overdose, he gets clean but ultimately finds a way to use his new lifestyle as an act of rebellion. Eleanor Henderson's Ten Thousand Saints, out this week in paperback, focuses on Jude's discovery of straight edge and much more.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Adopted by a pair of diehard hippies, restless, marginal Jude Keffy-Horn spends much of his youth getting high with his best friend Teddy in their bucolic and deeply numbing Vermont town. But when Teddy dies of an overdose on the last day of 1987, Jude’s relationship with drugs and with his parents devolves to new extremes. Sent to live with his pot-dealing father in the East Village, Jude stumbles upon straight edge, an underground youth culture powered by the paradoxical aggression of hardcore punk and a righteous intolerance for drugs, meat, and sex. With Teddy’s half-brother Johnny and their new friend Eliza, Jude tries to honor Teddy’s memory through his militantly clean lifestyle. But his addiction to straight edge has its own dangerous consequences. While these teenagers battle to discover themselves, their parents struggle with this new generation’s radical reinterpretation of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll and their grown-up awareness of nature and nurture, brotherhood and loss.

Moving back and forth between Vermont and New York City, Ten Thousand Saints is an emphatically observed story of a frayed tangle of family members, brought painfully together by a death, then carried along in anticipation of new and unexpected life. With empathy and masterful skill, Eleanor Henderson has conjured a rich portrait of the modern age and the struggles that unite and divide generations.
Because I haven't lived in a city in a long time, I was never that familiar with straight edge, which seemed a strange way to rebel and find a place separate from one's parents. Curiosity about that odd combination of teen anger and clean living will bring readers to the door, but it's Henderson's writing and characters that will draw them inside and keep them there until they've learned the whole story.

Henderson's skill at characterizations is evident in this brief reading. In just a couple of minutes, we already have a sense of Jude's mother:


As you can tell from the reading, Ten Thousand Saints is about more than Jude and his friends and straight edge. One of the major themes of the novel is parent-child relationships and way different generations struggle to find their unique place in the world. Henderson also explores grief, young love, fitting in, growing up, and how the decisions we make every day can have far-reaching effects.

Ten Thousand Saints has been showered with praise. Here are just a few examples (click the links for the full reviews):
  • Stacey D'Erasmo writing for the New York Times: "Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus."
  • Adam Langer writing for the Washington Post: "Her characterizations demonstrate Henderson’s greatest skill. Even the ones who receive comparatively little stage time are always precisely defined."
  • Diane writing at BookChickDi: "Great fiction can open up your mind and heart to characters and new ideas, and Ten Thousand Saints is great fiction."
The hardcover edition of Ten Thousand Saints was an Indie Next pick for July 2011 and made it to many best-of-2011 lists. To learn more about the Eleanor Henderson, visit her website.

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

Ten Thousand Saints at Powell's
Ten Thousand Saints at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062021212

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26 January 2012

Review: Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr

In 1974, rural Wisconsin was a few years behind the times, especially in terms of civil rights, child protective services, and women's liberation, When Michelle LeBeau, half-Japanese, arrives in Deerhorn to live with her paternal grandparents, she can tell right away she'll never fit in. Only her dog's companionship and her grandfather's devotion sustains the fourth-grader, who was abandoned first by her mother and then by her father.

When the first black family moves to town, Michelle is initially relived to be out of the spotlight, but as the town's bigotry begins to escalate, everyone in the tight-knit community must take a side, pitting husband against wife, brother against brother, friend against friend. That was the year Michelle learned that who people seem to be on the outside does not necessarily match who they are on the inside.

Nina Revoyr's Wingshooters captures one kind of American small town in the post–civil rights era. That the novel is set in the upper Midwest and in the 1970s makes the betrayals, small-mindedness, and violence particularly difficult. The citizens of Deerhorn don't leave home unless forced to (as when men are drafted) because no one who goes away ever comes back the same. And being different, changing, is bad.

Although the other kids have shoved her and have even thrown stones at her, Michelle manages to maintain some of her innocence. While it's true that even the priest has never warmed up to her, she feels safe and secure in her grandfather's love and protection. When trouble brews over the black couple, who not only have the audacity to move to Deerhorn but are more educated than most of the locals (she a nurse; he a teacher), the girl sees the horrifying results of blind hate.

Other prominent themes in Wingshooters are child abuse (nonsexual), marriage, and gender roles. Michelle's love of the outdoors, her dog, and baseball round out her personality, making her more than just the witness to harsh realities. Revoyr's moving coming-of-age story will have wide appeal and is not to be missed.

Wingshooters was the recipient of several awards, including a Booklist Book of the Year 2011, a 2011 Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and the first annual Indie Booksellers Choice Award. It was also an Indie Next pick for March 2011. For more on Nina Revoyr, visit her website, where you'll also find a very thoughtful reading guide, or follow her on Facebook.

My review of the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books; 6 hr, 50 min) read by Johanna Parker will be available on the AudioFile magazine website.

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

Published by Akashic Books, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781936070718
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A

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

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25 January 2012

Giveaway: The Big Year (movie)

Last week I reviewed the movie The Big Year, starring Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, and Jack Black. The BluRay / DVD version is due out on January 31 and will appeal to the whole family.

Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I'm able to offer one of my readers a chance to win a copy of the DVD. This giveaway is open to anyone with a U.S. or Canada mailing address (no PO Boxes) and will be mailed out by studio's publicity team.

Just fill out the following form, and I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on February 1. Good luck!

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Wordless Wednesday 165

Startled Visitor, January 2011


Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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24 January 2012

Today's Imprint Read: Poser by Claire Dederer

What could possibly make a 21st-century supermom start to feel okay about the fact that she weaned her daughter at only 10 months? A Seattle control freak took a tentative step into a yoga class to heal a sore back and soon discovered the road to peaceful imperfection.

The next day Lucy and I were slated to go to baby co-op. This was a highly desirable baby class run at the neighborhood center. I had applied right after Lucy was born. At this cooperative preschool, babies socialized with one another while volunteer moms helped run the school. . . .

I dressed carefully, in my one really expensive striped T-shirt, my most flattering jeans, and a pair of Dansko clogs, the official footgear of overeducated liberal moms. Lucy sported a tie-dyed T-shirt . . . a pair of overalls, and a hand-knitted beret, a form of headgear which I felt sent the right message. I didn't plan to tell anyone that I had not knitted it myself, that it was a hand-me-down from a friend who actually did knit for her child. But its obvious handmadeness would imply that I was a craftsy type. It was quite a house of cards I was building with that knitted pink cap. (pp. 28-29)
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, by Claire Dederer (Picador 2012)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: North Seattle ("a first cousin of the Upper West Side") and beyond, modern times
  • Characters: Claire; her husband, Bruce; her daughter, Lucy; her son, Willie; their extended family; and a handful of friends, yoga teachers, and fellow travelers
  • Yoga: Not a yoga how-to and not a yoga manifesto but one woman's realization that although she "couldn't be bothered to learn the right way to do yoga" she would still "continue doing it to the best of [her] ability."
  • Themes: parenting, spirituality, self-awareness, control, letting go, acceptance, clarity
  • Genre: memoir
Want to Know More? Watch the embedded video of Dederer on AM Northwest (below). Visit the Picador website to find another video, audio interviews, an excerpt, a reading guide, and more. Check out author Claire Dederer's website and Facebook page.



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

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23 January 2012

Introducing Book Passages at SheKnows Book Lounge

I'm excited to announce that I'll be writing several monthly features for the She Knows Book Lounge. One of my regular columns is a teaser roundup.

This month I feature a variety of genres, including historical fiction, mystery, coming-of-age, and women's fiction. Click on through to see my debut "Book Passages" article.

While you're there, check out the She Knows book club, book reviews, hot book of the day, and other features for book lovers.

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Imprint Extra: Alex George on The Right Job for a Family

In my last Imprint Friday post, I introduced you to Alex George's A Good American, which I called "a near-perfect novel."

The book has three constants: music, the Meisenheimer family, and food. Almost by accident, the family finds themselves owners of a speakeasy. As the twentieth century progresses, so does the restaurant, morphing from bar to town diner to Tex-Mex over the course of decades.

I asked Alex if he would tell us a little bit about role food and the restaurant play in his A Good American.

The Right Job for a Family
One of the challenges that confronts all novelists is choosing the right jobs for their characters. In my novel, A Good American, the issue was complicated by the fact that, to provide a measure of continuity to the narrative—the story spans four generations of a single family—I wanted a business that could be passed on from one generation to the next.

Now, my family loves to cook, and to eat. My mother was a professional cook and caterer, my father, a skilled amateur. Their cookbook collection is vast and legendary. They have passed their enthusiasm on to my sisters and me (if not their talent, in my case). The old adage has it that you should “write what you know,” so it was an easy decision to have my fictional family be involved with food: They run a restaurant in a small town in rural Missouri.

What I hadn’t anticipated when I began was how the restaurant became a character in the story in its own right. The book begins with Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer as they emigrate to America from northern Germany. As their family integrates into American life, generation by generation, so the restaurant goes through its own metamorphosis which reflects a similar journey. The original establishment serves starchy German cuisine, although it soon acquires a more exotic edge of Louisiana flavors and spice. The next generation re-creates the restaurant as a quintessentially American culinary institution—the old-fashioned diner. Finally, and perhaps somewhat ignominiously, in its last incarnation it becomes a Tex-Mex place of questionable authenticity.

Although I’ve never worked in a restaurant, I’ve eaten in a fair few (the best kind of research, in my opinion). I enjoyed writing about food—it’s a challenge to convey smells and tastes in the comparatively arid medium of print. My research involved scouring ancient Mennonite cookbooks, poring over wonderful photographs of diners from across the country, and reading countless recipes for gumbo online. I did do some cooking too—but my culinary skills are nowhere near as accomplished as those I give my characters. (One of the benefits of writing fiction is that the world I create in my head is often better than real life.)

Since I finished writing the book, I have pined after some of the characters; they feel like old friends to me now. But almost as much, I miss the food. The Meisenheimer family and their restaurant provide fuel and sustenance to their neighbors over an entire century. All that bratwurst, meatloaf, and jambalaya nourished me too.
And me too! I loved how the cuisine changed as different individuals and generations took over the Meisenheimer business. And you know what a foodie I am—I'm ready to walk into the joint, pull up a seat, and see what kind of food they're serving today.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Alex.

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.

A Good American at an Indie

Published by Putnam / Amy Einhorn Books, February 7, 2011 (preorder it now!)
ISBN-13: 9780399157592

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22 January 2012

Giveaway Reminder

In a couple of days, I'll be hosting a giveaway of one copy the movie The Big Year, which I reviewed last week. As a fun way to help you remember to have a big year in 2012, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has this mini checklist, which you can grab, resize, and print out.

Put it on your refrigerator or in your office, and don't forget to follow your passions.

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21 January 2012

Weekend Cooking: Street Food by Carla Diamanti and Fabrizio Esposito

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, 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.

_______

Some food books are for cooking from, some are to read, and some take you to exotic places in the world. Carla Diamanti and Fabrizio Esposito's Street Food does all three.

Every page of this informative book is chockfull of photos of mouth-watering foods from around the world. The dishes aren't from 5-star restaurants but are from the carts, booths, and food trucks you find on the streets of almost every city in every country.

Street Food is divided into sections by area (Europe, Chindia, Middle East, for example), and then by country and/or city. The introduction to each region and city gives us some culinary history, describes typical meals, and tempts us with descriptions of flavors. We not only learn what dishes to seek out but also how to eat the food properly.
[Lebanon's fuul soup] is served in ceramic bowls to patrons who eat standing outside the shop and in cardboard bowls to those in a hurry. (p. 80)

Regardless of whether we're talking about street food or a restaurant meal, Japanese etiquette is very strict about eating. (p. 113) [the text includes advice]
The authors also name streets, squares, and other specific locations to seek out the best of the best in street food. Whether you're traveling to a big city in America or to small town in Senegal, you'll want to check out Street Food before you go.

The book includes about two dozen recipes for typical street foods. It appears that the recipes were chosen to be accessible to most people, wherever you live. No very strange ingredients are called for, though you'll want to go to a well-stocked supermarket. Frankly, I was less interested in cooking from Street Food than I was in reading it and looking at the beautiful photographs. Here are some of the recipes:
  • Arancini (fried rice balls) from the Mediterranean
  • Baklava from the Middle East
  • Dragon's beard candy from Chindia
  • Samosa from Africa
My only complaint about the book is that the pages are dense. There is no spacing between paragraphs and paragraphs are set flush left (no indentation), so the text is solid on the page. Of course, there are two to four photographs on every spread, so readers aren't faced with acres of type, but it does make the book slow going.

Recommended reading for travelers (armchair and literal) and food lovers.

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

Published by Tandom Verlag / h.f.ullmann, 2011
ISBN-13: 9783833156151
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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20 January 2012

Imprint Friday: A Good American by Alex George

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.

From the very first line ("Always, there was music") to the very last, Alex George's A Good American had my heart in its hands. It still does.

Here's the publisher's summary.

An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.

It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead ("What's the difference? They're both new"), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.

Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf.

A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette's grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors' story, comes to realize he doesn't know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James's family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette's progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.

Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, A Good American is a novel about being an outsider-in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family. It is a universal story about our search for home.
All Americans (except Native Americans) were once immigrants. For some of us, the path to becoming a good American is still fresh, is still told at family gatherings. We have black-and-white photos of grandparents and great-aunts—hand over heart, posed in front of a flag—taken on the day of their citizenship. Alex George's A Good American is their story . . . and our story.

George has crafted the near-perfect novel. It's an immensely emotional tale in which the characters become a part of your life. You cry over the Meisenheimer family's tragedies, you chuckle at their foibles, and you are shocked at their secrets. You want to eat in the family's restaurant (speakeasy, diner), and you want to listen to their music (jazz, blues, jukebox). In fact, you already know the Meisenheimers because A Good American is the true story of our country in the twentieth century. It's about the journey from Europe to the United States, from being poor to doing okay, from being constrained by old ways to having the freedom to choose.

A Good American is likely the best book I'll read in 2012. Don't just take my word, here are some other opinions (click for the full reviews):
  • Publishers Weekly: "[George] evokes small-town life lovingly, sometimes disturbingly, and examines the ties of family, the complications of home, and the moments of love and happiness that arrive no matter what."
  • Michael Magras of Many Thrones, One Pretender: "The novel is a showcase not just for George’s obvious passion for music—in a lovely phrase, he refers to the blues as “the cracked holler of remorse”—but for his encyclopedic knowledge of it."
  • Alabama Booksmith: "Every staff member at The Alabama Booksmith has read or is reading this amazing book, and Jake has already gone on record as stating that 'This is the best book I’ve read in years.' "
Imprint Extra Alert: Stop back on Monday to read a post from Alex George, written especially for the readers of Beth Fish Reads.

A Good American
is an Indie Next Pick for February. To learn more about Alex George, visit his website or Facebook page or follow him on Twitter. Book clubs and other readers will want to see the reading guide, available on the publisher's website.

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.

A Good American at an Indie

Published by Putnam / Amy Einhorn Books, February 7, 2011 (preorder it now!)
ISBN-13: 9780399157592

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19 January 2012

Thursday Tea: Dead Low Tide by Bret Lott

The book: Charleston, South Carolina, is the seat of Southern charm, naval history, and the wealthy community of Landgrave Hall. The rags-to-riches Dillard family is having trouble fitting in with their new neighbors, and it doesn't help that Huger and his father are repeatedly caught on the links at 2:30 AM. They do this because Unc Dillard is too vain to let anyone see him hit the ball; it's not easy to play golf when you're blind.

One night as Huger and Unc moor their boat before teeing off, they discover the mutilated body of a woman floating in the water. With the help of the gated community's security guard, they report the murder to the proper authorities. But before the coroner can arrive on the scene, the Dillards are confronted by naval officers from a nearby base. Very soon, Huger and Unc are entangled in an investigation that involves friends and neighbors from both sides of the tracks as well as civilian, federal, and military law enforcement.

Although Dead Low Tide is a follow-up to an earlier Bret Lott novel (The Hunt Club), the book stands alone nicely. Readers are given enough background information to understand how the Dillards moved from a double-wide in the woods to their 4,200-square-foot "cottage" off the seventh green and how they wound up as people of interest.

The circumstances behind the murder are complex and have deep roots. As a consequence, the reader--like the Dillards--is unsure whom to trust, and Lott keeps us guessing all the way to the end. A consistent thread throughout the novel is Huger's personal growth, which has him shaking off long-held guilt and fear to clear the way to a satisfying future. His prospects leave Lott space to revisit the family again.

There's a lot going on in Dead Low Tide besides finding a solution to the murder, which makes this literary thriller a good choice for book clubs. Topics for discussion include family secrets, physical handicaps, social class differences, immigration, and the power of the military.

For my review of the audiobook, visit the Audiofile magazine's website.

The Tea: In November I told you about Adagio's Ginger Tea, and this week I gave it another try. I still love the spicy aroma of this flavored black tea. It's very warming on a wet winter afternoon. Here's how the company describes it: "ginger is renowned as one of our favorite teas, combining the fresh, warming heat of ginger with the rich tang of Ceylon black tea."

The Assessment: Although Dead Low Tide takes place in Charleston, tea isn't mention very often--or maybe I just didn't notice because I was caught up in the story. I'm sure some of the hoity-toity Landgrave Hall residents have fancy teas in their cupboards, but the Dillards likely stick with the grocery store brand. They may be living on the correct side of Broad, but their hearts aren't that far out of the woods.

What About You? You know the drill--here's where I ask you what you're drinking this week. Oh, and you know I also like to hear what you're reading.

Dead Low Tide at Powell's
Dead Low Tide at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

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

Published by Random House, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781400063758
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B

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

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18 January 2012

Wordless Wednesday 164

Full Moon, January 2012


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17 January 2012

Review: The Big Year (Movie)

For serious North American birders, having the opportunity to take a "big year" is a lifelong dream. The idea is for competitors to spend from January 1 to December 31 crisscrossing the continent to see how many different bird species they can spot or hear during that time.

In Twentieth Century Fox's The Big Year, Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) is the current reigning champion determined to hold on to his record. Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is retiring from big business and treating himself to a year of birdwatching, and Brad Harris (Jack Black) is a computer programmer who is scrapping together both vacation time and money to check off as many birds as he can. The Big Year follows the three men as they pursue their goal of being the best birder in the world.

The movie stars three great comedic actors, and viewers are in for treat. One of the pleasant surprises about the film, however, is its depth. Not only is the scenery beautiful and birding aspects of The Big Year fascinating but the message to not give up on your dreams is universal. Kenny, Stu, and Brad learn, each in their own way, that success has many meanings. Follow your passion, and you cannot help but grow and learn something about your true self and what's most important in your life. A bonus is the fun bird-filled soundtrack.

The film is directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) and includes a cast of many recognizable faces, including Angelica Huston, Brian Dennehy, Rashida Jones, and Kevin Pollak. The Blu-ray and DVD will be available on January 31.

Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for the following information and photos about some famous birders.

Famous Birders

Brad, Kenny and Stu are not the only people fascinated by ornithology. They are joined by a well-known bunch of famous faces including Daryl Hannah, Paul McCartney & Prince Philip. Here, we’ll take a fun look at the array of celebrities who have a passion for feathered friends much like our leading men.

The Duke of Edinburgh is an accomplished bird photographer, writer, and wildlife advocate. Due to his extended time spent on the royal yacht, Prince Philip began photographing rare seabirds. In 1962, he published Birds from Britannia, a collection of pictures of some of the world’s rarest birds. Additionally, Prince Philip later became president of the World Wildlife Fund.

Daryl Hannah isn’t just an actress--she’s also an environmentalist and a birdwatcher! It is unknown whether Hannah is an avid or casual birdwatcher, but she has stated in interviews that she enjoys bird watching. Regardless of her level of activity in the bird watching arena, Hannah is a fierce advocate of the environment and of various species, birds included.

As a teenager, Paul McCartney was a big fan of the BBC nature show Look--he even wrote to its host (wildlife artist Peter Scott) asking for “the drawings of them ducks, if you’re not doing anything with them.” Since his youth, McCartney has been a passionate advocate for birds and other wildlife, including the endangered skylark, which he used to watch in Liverpool as a child.

Former president of the United States of America Jimmy Carter is an avid birder! Jimmy and his wife, Rosalyn, have birded throughout the world. Rumors in the birding community speculate that their combined life list is around 1,500 species! In interviews Jimmy has spoken about checking out bird ringing stations in Israel and searching for African Hoopoes in Zimbabwe.
You don't have to be compiling your life bird list to enjoy The Big Year. It's a well-acted film that will make you want to spend time on your own hobbies, enjoy life, and--of course--keep your bird feeders full.


Givaway alert: Stop by next week for a chance to win a copy of the The Big Year. Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for a review copy of the film.

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16 January 2012

Review: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Varvara Nikolayevna, the orphaned daughter of a immigrant bookbinder, is taken in by the Russian court to serve the royal seamstress. After Empress Elizabeth's closest advisers realize the girl can read and speak several languages, she is given another, secret job. Varvara is to become a spy for the empress, revealing all she sees and hears in the palace, in return for serving Grand Duke Peter.

When the Lutheran Sophie arrives at the Winter Palace, rumor has it that the young princess is meant to marry the grand duke. To help Empress Elizabeth decide on the betrothal, Varvara is ordered to befriend Sophie and show her the ways of the Russian court--and to report her every movement to the empress. As Varvara gets to know the future Catherine the Great, she begins to have torn loyalties, putting her own life and future in jeopardy.

Eva Stachniak's The Winter Palace is a very well researched historical novel of the rise of Catherine the Great from guest of the royal court to her seizure of the Russian throne. The story itself is told through the eyes of a servant girl, who is at times an unwilling participant and at others an active manipulator of the affairs of the court.

It's Varvara's insider/outsider perspective that makes The Winter Palace shine. The girl is privy to inner workings of the palace, and she knows how to uncover the most guarded secrets. Varvara sees all and reports what she must her to various masters, while also acting in her own best interests.

Here in the Russian court, I could have warned the pretty newcomer from Zerbst, life is a game and every player is cheating. Everyone watches everyone else. There is no room in this palace where you can be truly alone. Behind these walls there are corridors, a whole maze of them. . . . Every word you say may be repeated and used against you. Every friend you trust may betray you. (p. 6)
Stachniak's subject--the story of Catherine's rise to power--is an exciting one all on its own, as was made clear by recent the Massie biography. Still, the novel brings a freshness to Catherine's transformation from minor nobility to Russian empress and manages to do so without twisting the facts in any glaring way. It's important, however, to remember that The Winter Palace is a novel with Varvara at its hub and the workings of the Russian court as its arena.

Varvara is a likeable witness, and readers will be as taken up in her life as they are in Catherine's. The Winter Palace will appeal to readers just getting to know about Russian history in the years of Elizabeth's reign. For those who are already familiar with Catherine's rise to power, the novel will flesh out the facts, providing a more personal perspective.


Published by Random House / Bantam Books, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780553808124
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+

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

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15 January 2012

Audiobook Round-Up for She Knows Book Lovers

I'm excited to announce that I'll be writing several monthly features for the She Knows Book Lounge. One of my regular columns is an audiobook round-up.

This month I feature a thriller starring a strong female protagonist; a fun contemporary novel that involves a widow, five bachelors, and food; a historical romance; a novel about facing a parent's worst nightmare; and a heartwarming story of small-town life on the Colorado plains. Click on through to see my debut "Audiobook Round-Up" article.

While you're there, check out the She Knows book club, book reviews, hot book of the day, and other features for book lovers.

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14 January 2012

Weekend Cooking: Review: The Intolerant Gourmet by Barbara Kafka

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, 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.

_______

It seems to me that food intolerances and food allergies are on the rise. Either more people are having difficulties or we're better at recognizing food reactions. Barbara Kafka, award-winning cookbook author, is now both gluten and lactose intolerant. Her food intolerances, however, have not stopped her from enjoying food and spending quality time in the kitchen.

In her The Intolerant Gourmet: Glorious Food without Gluten & Lactose, Kafka proves that there is plenty of good eating for everyone. As she points out in her introduction, the 300 recipes in this book do not rely on fake dairy or other processed foods. Kafka developed recipes for real dishes that you can serve on week nights or for celebrations.

Although some lactose-intolerant people don't have problems with butter or low-lactose cheeses, The Intolerant Gourmet uses absolutely no dairy in any form, including butter. Thus it's a useful resource not only for the lactose intolerant but also for people with a true milk allergy, for those who keep kosher, and for vegans (although there are many meat recipes in the book).

The cookbook is divided up in the usual way and the recipes are appetizing, use fairly normal ingredients, and are easy to put together. Kafka makes many ingredients (beans, for example) from scratch, which allows her to control what she's eating. If you don't have health issues with using products such as canned beans and store-bought mayonnaise, you could easily substitute.

What makes this book so special? First is the chapter titled "How We Do It," which covers basic cooking techniques, complete with adaptations for the intolerant gourmet. Here you'll find safe methods for dredging foods, deglazing pans, and thickening sauces. At the end of the book are two chapters on making safe-to-eat basics, including spice mixes, stocks, tempura batter (with rice flour), and beans. There is also practical, useful information on how to cook with tolerant grains, which is summed up in a handy, easy-to-read chart.

One store-bought product Kafka relies on is gluten-free pasta, which she says she has difficulty making from scratch. Home cooks will be grateful for the chart that compares pasta brands by cooking times, visual appeal, and taste. Kafka includes tips for helping you achieve success with these products.

So what kind of dishes will you find?
  • Tolerant waffles
  • Vegan black bean feijoada (stew)
  • Spinach meat loaf
  • Shrimp kebabs
  • Deep Winter Potage
  • Chestnut Doughnut Holes
Some of the dishes are definitely on the fancy side (quails) but there are many more dishes (flank steak, salads, soups) that you can easily make for a weekday dinner.

If you are new to food intolerances, stumped for creative ideas, or want to make sure you won't sicken a dinner guest, The Intolerant Gourmet is a book you'll want to have.

Vegetarian alert: Vegans and vegetarians should take the time look through the book before buying. About a third of the chapters focus on meat, fish, and poultry, and many of the soups use meat stocks and broths. Other recipes use eggs. On the other hand, the cookbook includes a number of flavorful recipes--from sides and sauces to main dishes and desserts--that will fit their diet.

Here is a dessert that Kafka says is always a great success.

Yum Yum Nut Sweets
makes 16 squares
  • ½ teaspoon safflower oil
  • 1 cup whole roasted unsalted almonds
  • 1 cup whole walnuts
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 300F. Grease a 7- or 8-inch square baking pan with the oil. Set aside. Place the nuts in a food processor and chop until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Put the contents into a small mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar and egg whites. With a spatula, scrape the contents of the bowl into the oiled pan and press into an even layer. Bake for 1 hour for soft cookies or 1½ hours for crisp cookies. Remove from the oven. Allow to cool. Cut into 16 squares.

Chocolate variation: Melt 2½ ounces of 70% dark--not milk--chocolate in a double boiler. Add to the mixing bowl after the sugar and egg whites. Proceed as directed.

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

Published by Workman Publishing / Artisan, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781579653941
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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13 January 2012

Imprint Friday: Caribou Island by David Vann

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.

They say that opposites attract, but sometimes a couple brings too many differences to a marriage and too few points of commonality. David Vann explores just such a couple in his Caribou Island, recently out in paperback. Here's the publisher's summary:

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Gary and Irene’s marriage is unraveling. Following the outline of Gary’s old dream and trying to rebuild their life together, they are finally constructing the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place. But the onset of an early winter and the overwhelming isolation of the prehistoric wilderness threaten their bond to the core.

Brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest, Caribou Island is a drama of bitter love and failed dreams—an unforgettable portrait of desolation, violence, and the darkness of the soul.
Although it's certainly not everyone's dream, I've always been attracted to the idea of a cabin in the woods with a fair mix of self-sufficiency. I'm not so sure, however, I'd take it as far as Gary by hauling logs in a canoe to a lonely island in the harsh Alaskan environment. In fact, Alaska acts almost as a third wheel in the couple's relationship, and without it, Gary and Irene might have had a running start. As it is, their own limitations are magnified in the face of the cold and wet, the bears and mosquitoes.

Caribou Island isn't a happy novel; it's a look at stubbornness gone too far, crippling insecurity, mixed up hate and love, and the inability to see reality. It's also about the other Alaska, the one you don't see on postcards.
Irene slumped down inside the cabin, out of the wind for the most part, ducked her head down, her chin inside her jacket, folded her arms, closed her eyes.

A fair representation of her three decades in Alaska, slumping down in rain gear, hiding, making herself as small as possible, fending off mosquitoes that somehow managed to fly despite the wind. Feeling chilled and alone. Not the expansive vision you'd be tempted to have, spreading your arms on some sunny day on an open slope of purple lupine, looking at mountains all around. (p. 204)
Vann takes you into the wilderness and into the heart of a family on the brink of disaster. You'll survive, but will they?

Take a look at some other opinions (click the links to get the full reviews):
  • Caitlin Roper, writing for the Los Angeles Times: "Vann clearly has gifts for capturing emotional isolation and suffering. But it's his ability to spin a riveting story from these dark materials that is distinctive."
  • Wendy from Caribousmom: "David Vann writes with honesty and sharp-edged realism that is hard to ignore. Not every reader will want to travel through this story with Vann, but for those who do, it will be a ride they will not soon forget."
  • Ti from Book Chatter: "You don’t enjoy a story like this, but you experience it and appreciate it on a different level. Vann is a very talented writer and at this point, I’d read anything by him."
I have always had good luck with authors who have written for Outdside magazine, and Vann is no exception. To learn more about David Vann, 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.

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

Published by Harper Perennial, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780061875731

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12 January 2012

Thursday Tea: A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

The Book: I'm currently in audiobook mourning because I'm now completely caught up with George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Sob. Roy Dotrice read A Dance with Dragons to me in a mere 49 hours.

I discussed the first four books in the series in these posts: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows. And because it's pretty much impossible to do a quick summary of the fifth book without giving away spoilers, I'm not going to try. If you have never heard of this series, I suggest you read my A Game of Thrones review. Thus today's post is not much of a review and more just some thoughts.

The fight for the Seven Kingdoms, as I mentioned when talking about A Feast for Crows, has indeed grown complex. There are several factions fighting for the Iron Throne, which is currently held by a boy king, who is prime for manipulation by many at court. In the meantime, several contenders for the throne are duking it out in the north and in other major centers of power. Who will win which battles is anyone's guess.

One interesting aspect of Dragons is that the powerful are becoming weak (though still clever, and still survivors), and the weak are becoming powerful (though still not very savvy). This makes the politics of the Seven Kingdoms and the multilayered alliances unpredictable.

A Dance with Dragons leaves us hanging in terms of several story lines. I hate the fact that I'm caught up and now must wait, wait, wait until the next book comes out. In the meantime, thank goodness I have the HBO series.

The Tea: I've raved about Harney & Son's Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea. before and I'll do it again. It's so warming and smells so wonderful, it's perfect for cold winter afternoons. Here's the company's description: "medium-bodied black tea . . . naturally sweetened to perfection by a blend of cinnamons, orange, and sweet cloves. The remarkably assertive tea effuses a hot spicy aroma and sets off miniature fireworks on the tongue that'll have you exclaim WOW!"

The Assessment: With the Seven Kingdoms in disarray and winter coming on, it's hard to say who even has tea. There's ale to be had and wine, of course, but tea would be more difficult to find. However, I guarantee Jon Snow and his brothers in the north would kill for hot cinnamon tea, so I'm calling this a match.

What About You? What would I find in your glass or mug this week? And don't forget to let me know what you're reading.


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

Published by Random House / Bantam, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780553801477
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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11 January 2012

Read It First: Books to Film

I'm excited to announce that I'll be writing several monthly features for the She Knows Book Lounge. One of my regular columns is about books that have been adapted to the screen.

This month I feature two books to movies that are currently in the theater, two that are out on DVD/BluRay, and one book series that's been made into a television show. I also offer a bonus "if you liked this book, try this one" for each title. Click on through to see my debut "Read It First" article.

While you're there, check out the She Knows book club, book reviews, hot book of the day, author interviews, and other features for book lovers.

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Wordless Wednesday 163

Water Tower at Sunset (for Daryl), 2012


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10 January 2012

Indie Lit Awards: Memoir / Biography Short List

As I've mentioned many times a couple of times, I'm thrilled to be on the voting board for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards. In case you missed any of my announcements and don't know what these awards are, you can find information at the awards' blog

I'm serving on the panel for the biography and memoir category, and I'm pleased to announce this year's short list. As per the judging panel guidelines, I will not be posting about these books again until after the winners have been announced.

The Independent Literary Awards 2011: Biography/Memoir Short List

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Amy Chua
ISBN-13: 9780143120582 / Pe
nguin Group USA
An awe-inspiring, often hilarious, and unerringly honest story of one mother's exercise in extreme parenting, revealing the rewards-and the costs-of raising her children the Chinese way.

All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. What Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reveals is that the Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions and providing a nurturing environment. The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicles Chua's iron-willed decision to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, her way-the Chinese way-and the remarkable results her choice inspires.
Bossypants
Tina Fey

ISBN-13 9780316056878 / Hachette Group, Reagan Arthur Books
Before Liz Lemon, before Weekend Update, before Sarah Palin, Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon--from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you boss.
I Pray Hardest When Being Shot At

Kyle Garret
ISBN-13 9781555716868 / Hellgate Press
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, eighteen-year-old Robert Stuart had a decision to make: keep working at the steel mill in Warren, Ohio, or volunteer to serve his country. Stuart's father had served in the first World War, and service was in his blood, so he enlisted in the Marines.

Anne Davis had a decision of her own to make. The girls in her high school were going to send letters to alumni who were going off to war. She looked at the list of soldiers and saw a familiar name: Robert Stuart.

The letters Anne sent would mark the beginning of a relationship that would span sixty years, two marriages, two children, and three wars.

Over half a century after those first letters were sent, the Stuarts' grandson, Kyle, began chronicling their life together. He would discover pieces of a family history that only he dug deep enough to learn. But in the back of his mind, one concern lingered: the story of a person's life can only have one ending, and his grandfather's health was deteriorating.

I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At is a true story of love and war, of three generations and two romances, one of sixty years, the other of just a few months. Pray deals with one generation trying to connect with another and how it affected them both.
Little Princes
Conor Grennan
ISBN-13 9780061930065 / HarperCollins, William Morrow
In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan traded his day job for a year-long trip around the globe, a journey that began with a three-month stint volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home, an orphanage in war-torn Nepal. Conor was initially reluctant to volunteer, unsure whether he had the proper skill, or enough passion, to get involved in a developing country in the middle of a civil war. But he was soon overcome by the herd of rambunctious, resilient children who would challenge and reward him in a way that he had never imagined. When Conor learned the unthinkable truth about their situation, he was stunned: The children were not orphans at all. Child traffickers were promising families in remote villages to protect their children from the civil war--for a huge fee--by taking them to safety. They would then abandon the children far from home, in the chaos of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

For Conor, what began as a footloose adventure becomes a commitment to reunite the children he had grown to love with their families, but this would be no small task. He would risk his life on a journey through the legendary mountains of Nepal, facing the dangers of a bloody civil war and a debilitating injury. Waiting for Conor back in Kathmandu, and hopeful he would make it out before being trapped in by snow, was the woman who would eventually become his wife and share his life’s work.

Little Princes is a true story of families and children, and what one person is capable of when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. At turns tragic, joyful, and hilarious, Little Princes is a testament to the power of faith and the ability of love to carry us beyond our wildest expectations.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Nina Sankovitch
ISBN-13 9780061999840 / HarperCollins, Harper
Nina Sankovitch has always been a reader. As a child, she discovered that a trip to the local bookmobile with her sisters was more exhilarating than a ride at the carnival. Books were the glue that held her immigrant family together. When Nina's eldest sister died at the age of forty-six, Nina turned to books for comfort, escape, and introspection. In her beloved purple chair, she rediscovered the magic of such writers as Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. Reading, it turns out, can be the ultimate therapy.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair also tells the story of the Sankovitch family: Nina's father, who barely escaped death in Belarus during World War II; her four rambunctious children, who offer up their own book recommendations while helping out with the cooking and cleaning; and Anne-Marie, her oldest sister and idol, with whom Nina shared the pleasure of books, even in her last moments of life. In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, Nina's daring journey shows how we can deepen the quality of our everyday lives--if we only find the time.
To see what books made the short lists for fiction, nonfiction, GLBTQ, mystery, poetry, and speculative fiction, visit the Indie Lit Awards blog.

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