31 December 2012

Top Reads 2012: The Best of the Rest

I have already given you my Best of Imprint Friday and my Best of Weekend Cooking lists. Here are my Best of the Rest lists.

A few notes:
  • Remember, some of my favorite books (I'm talking about you, Canada) appear on my Imprint Friday roundup.
  • I haven't separated out audio from print or adult from young adult.
  • Click on the links to find my reviews.
  • I failed to keep good records in 2012, so I don't know how many books I read this year.
  • The review indexes on this blog haven't been updated since May. I plan to catch up with those by the end of January.
  • Tomorrow look for the What's in Name reading challenge link-up posts. Regular posting resumes on Wednesday.
Literary Fiction


The Cove by Ron Rash
It's Fine by Me by Per Petterson
The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
A Possible Life by Sabastian Faulks

General Fiction


The Century Trilogy (books 1 & 2) by Ken Follett
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Pure by Julianna Baggott
White Horse by Alex Adams
Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr

Nonfiction


Birdseye by Mark Kurlansky
Blizzard of Glass by Sally M. Walker
Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe
Flesh & Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

Now tell me, which of your favorites did I miss?

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29 December 2012

Weekend Cooking: Best of 2012

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.

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As I was putting together my end-of-the year posts and thinking about my best-of lists, I realized that I've never summarized my Weekend Cooking posts. So, in what I hope will be a new yearly tradition, here are my top cookbooks, beverage books, and Weekend Cooking posts for 2012. Click on the links for the full reviews.

Cookbooks
  •  Here's what I said about Crescent Dragonwagon's Bean by Bean: "I'm telling you, Bean by Bean is a book all of you can use. And because of the variations, one base recipe can often work for everyone, just by changing an ingredient or two." Recipe: CD's Beans & Greens Pasta with Lemon, Garlic, and Chile
  • What did I say about the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook? "If you haven't drunk the Cook's Illustrated (CI) Kool-Aid yet, you should. I've been a faithful reader of the the magazine since its very beginnings and have rarely been disappointed in a recipe." Recipe: Simple Lasagna with Hearty Tomato-Meat Sauce
  • From my review: "If you haven't heard of Jenny Rosenstrach's Dinner: A Love Story yet, you have now. And you'll be reading and talking about this book and Rosenstrach's blog for a long time to come." Recipe: Apricot-Mustard Baked Chicken
  • Judith Fertig's "Heartland: The Cookbook takes you into the fields and barns and kitchens of the American Midwest. . . . The book will capture your imagination and your taste buds." Recipe: Bacon, Cheddar, and Scallion Scones
  • Here's how I introduced my interview/review: "I've owned Katie Workman's The Mom 100 Cookbook for only a few weeks, but I've cooked out it so often, I'm not sure it's left the kitchen." Recipe: Mexican Tortilla Casserole (Don't miss this great author interview!)
Drinks
Although I reviewed several wonderful cocktail books this year, Eric Asimov's How to Love Wine and Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont's The World Atlas of Beer get my nod for their staying power. Drink fads come and go, but wine and beer are eternal.

Favorite Posts
Happy, healthy, and safe New Year to you all!

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28 December 2012

Imprint Friday: The Best of 2012

Welcome to this special edition of Imprint Friday in which I highlight my top picks from the imprints featured on Beth Fish Reads. When I decided to limit myself to only two books from each imprint, I hadn't realized that almost all of my most memorable reads of 2012 were published by this group. As a result, I can't tell you how many "But what about this book?" moments I had. In the end, though, the following books have stuck with me. (For my thoughts and more information, click on the links.)

From Algonquin Books


When I reviewed Jonathan Evison's The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving I called it "a thought-provoking story about two men trying to do their best in a world that doesn't play fair." I noted that that B. A. Shapiro's The Art Forger was "an engaging and successful literary thriller that will quickly rise to top of the genre."

From Amy Einhorn Books


Here's what I wrote about these novels: "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." "Be prepared: When reading [Dianne Warren's] Juliet in August, your physical world will seem to have disappeared; you won't be conscious of anything except what's happening in Juliet on a sunny August day."

From Ecco Books


I opened my post about Roger Rosenblatt's Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats this way: "Every once in a while I run across a book that is so full of truth and beauty, I want to underline every passage." I said this about Richard Ford's novel: "Canada is one of the best books I've read this year . . . hell, perhaps this decade." (Here's a link to my review for AudioFile magazine.)

From Harper Perennial


I wrote: "Unlike lighter books about women's relationships, [Thrity Umrigar's The World We Found] takes a more realistic look, highlighting what the friends cannot share as much as what they can." This edition of Louise Erdrich's The Antelope Wife is a complete reworking of an earlier, successful novel. I noted that "Erdrich's writing style is beautifully poetic, sometimes sparse, but always vivid."

From Picador


The art of the personal essay is alive and well: In Alibis, André Aciman "savors his journeys, sometimes pondering the impossibility of recapturing the past, and sometimes celebrating the special moments that do just that." In Some of My Lives: A Scrapbook Memoir, Rosamond Bernier's "intelligence, charm, and kindness shine through her stories, which just happen to be about Picasso, Henry Moore, and the Rothschilds."

From Riverhead


Ann Brashares's My Name Is Memory asks, "If you had the ability to remember all your past lives—millennia of deaths, lives, tragedies, and joys—would you consider it a blessing or a burden?" I reviewed both the print and audio editions of Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone. Over at the SheKnows Book Lounge I predicted "The Chaperone, like the young Louise Brooks, is clearly destined to be a star." (Here's a link to my review for AudioFile magazine.)

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27 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit (Movie)

Although we didn't go on opening day, Mr. BFR and I have already seen The Hobbit (directed by Peter Jackson). We opted for the two-dimensional version, and for us that was the correct choice. I'm going to assume that most of you know the story, so instead of talking about the plot, I'll talk about the choices Jackson and the writers made for the first of the three Hobbit films.

My overall first impression is very positive. Most significant, I loved the fact that Bilbo is portrayed as a sane, reasonable, and mature adult. My biggest complaint about The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies is that the Hobbits come off as young and stupid, when in fact they were all grown adults, and two of them were men of substantial property. In The Hobbit, Bilbo is a multidimensional character and very much an asset to the dwarfs' party.

I had my doubts about how Jackson was going to manage to create three movies from one short book, but I liked where the first movie left off and was pleased with the additions to the story. Jackson maintained some of Tolkien's humor but didn't sugar-coat the battle scenes, creating a great balance.

In addition, I was pleased to see the returning actors, which preserves the continuity with LOTR. The sets too were consistent with the first movies, and I enjoyed seeing familiar places (Hobbiton and Rivendale) from new perspectives and angles. Finally, the acting, special effects, and scenery, were--as I expected--spectacular. Oh, and Jackson wisely left out the slow-motion scenes that I so hated in LOTR.

Just to clarify: I have seen the LOTR movies multiple times and own the extended BluRay edition. I didn't hate the movies, but I had issues with them. So far, I have very few reservations about The Hobbit, and recommend it to fans of the book.

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26 December 2012

Wordless Wednesday 217

View from a Bay Ridge (Brooklyn) Rooftop, December 2012

For full effect, click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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25 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!


Hope your day is filled with good cheer.

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24 December 2012

Review: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Some of you may recall the Sookie Stackhouse reading challenge I hosted in 2009. Well, I admit to failing my own challenge, and I'm still catching up with the series.

I'm the first to say that I just loved Sookie in the early  novels. I thought she was full of spunk, cute as a button, and had a good dose of toughness. Plus I appreciated Charlaine Harris's sense of humor.

Unfortumately, the books have not held up to the early promise. I plan to finish up the series, mostly because I think there are only two books left, but I'm not as enamored of Sookie as I used to be. In addition, I miss the old womanizing Jason, the jealous Bill, the sexy Eric, the sarcastic Pam, and the hot Alcide.

In Dead in the Family, the tenth in the series, Sookie is recovering from her injuries sustained in the Fae war. At the same time, she is caught up in her relationships with the vampires, weres, and faeries. Although I didn't figure out who the bag guys were, I didn't think this installment added much to Sookie's story or the overall development of the characters, except maybe Eric.

If you're a big Sookie fan or, like me, you just have a need to finish the series, then you'll find Dead in the Family entertaining and a pleasant diversion. However, this installment is not Harris at her best.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books, 9 hr, 32 min) read by Johanna Parker. Parker is a joy to listen to, and her portrayal of Sookie is perfection. Her accent and timing fit Sookie like a glove.

Buy Dead in the Family at a bookstore near you.
Published by Penguin USA / Ace Books, 2011
Rating: C
ISBN-13: 9780441020157

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

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22 December 2012

Weekend Cooking: Guest Post & Recipe from Chef Michael Smith

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, 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.

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Do you remember last summer when I introduced your to the then-new Pintail imprint, which is part of Penguin USA? At that time I reviewed Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen and shared a wonderful appetizer recipe: Garlic-Rubbed Crostini with Mediterranean Tuna Salad.

I just love Chef Michael's easygoing style and wonderful range of flavors. Recently, the folks at Pintail asked the chef a few questions, and I'm so excited to be one of the blogs that was picked to share a question along with a wonderful recipe.

First the question and answer:
Q: Pick a favorite holiday ingredient and share why it's your favorite and a recipe you like to use it in.

A: Amarone for Amarone Braised Lamb Shanks. For as long as I've been a cook I've loved to braise. I love the transformation of a tough inexpensive piece of meat into tender cuisine. I love how patience is rewarded and the hearty rustic flavors emerge after careful cooking.
Amarone is a dry, red Italian wine that's known for its intense flavor. I have never tried it, but I plan to make the recipe Chef Michael is sharing with us. If you've followed my blog for any amount of time, then you know how often we eat lamb. In fact, I buy a whole grass-fed lamb (raised by friends) every year, making it our most-eaten meat.

Anyway, enough blabbing. I know you want to check out Chef Michael's holiday recipe.

Amarone Braised Lamb Shanks

Serves 4
Lamb shanks are an essential part of any cook's repertoire. They're intensely flavorful and also inexpensive. They do need a long, slow braising to fully tenderize, but they'll reward your patience with a richly flavored meaty and memorable meal. I think of them as a special-occasion treat, which is why I find it so easy to pour an entire bottle of one of the world's great wines into the pot!
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons (30 or 45 mL) of olive oil
  • 4 large lamb shanks
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 large sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 can (5-1/2 ounces/156 mL) of tomato paste
  • 1 bottle of Amarone or other big, flavorful red wine
  • A sprinkle or two of salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) of chopped fresh parsley
Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C).

Splash the olive oil into a Dutch oven or your favorite soup pot and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and brown them thoroughly, turning once or twice until all the sides are golden brown and caramelized. Transfer the shanks to a plate.

Add the onions, carrots, and garlic to the pot and sauté until the vegetables soften and brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Toss in the bay leaves and rosemary, spoon in the tomato paste, and pour in the wine. Stir everything together, then nestle the lamb shanks into the works. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover tightly and transfer to your oven. Braise until the meat is tender, about 90 minutes.

Carefully transfer the shanks to a platter, cover them with foil, and keep them warm in the oven while you finish the sauce. Place the pot over medium-high heat and boil until the braising broth reduces to a sauce-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and pour the sauce over the lamb shanks. Serve and share!

Kitchen tips: (1) Lamb shanks are full of connective tissue that dissolves in the braising liquid during the cooking, giving the sauce a beautiful silky smooth texture. (2) Amarone is made from partially sun-dried grapes, so it has an intense raisin-like flavor that easily and extravagantly flavors the rich, hearty lamb shanks.

Buy Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program
Published by Penguin USA / Pintail, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780670066919
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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21 December 2012

Imprint Friday: Some of My Lives by Rosamond Bernier

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Picador USA. 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.

My favorite type of memoir is one that's very light on the inspirational message and instead shares an interesting or unusual life, perhaps led during interesting times. Lecturer, editor, and writer Rosamond Bernier has certainly had a blessed life. In Some of My Lives: A Scrapbook Memoir (now out in paperback), she asks us to join her as she hobnobs with some of the most famous artists of the last century.

Here's the publisher's summary:
Rosamond Bernier has known many (one is tempted to say all) of the greatest artists and composers of the twentieth century. In Some of My Lives, she has made a kind of literary scrapbook from an extraordinary array of writings, ranging from scholarly articles for American publications to her many contributions to the art journal L’ŒIL, which she cofounded in 1955.

Through the stories of her encounters with Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Leonard Bernstein, Max Ernst, Aaron Copland, Malcolm Lowry, and Karl Lagerfeld, we come to understand the sheer richness of Bernier’s experiences and memories. Pithy, hilarious, and wise, Some of My Lives is a multifaceted self-portrait of a life informed and surrounded by the arts.
Bernier is American born, although she was raised in a European fashion and attended an English boarding school from a young age. Her initial introduction to artists and musicians may have came through family connections, but it is thanks to her own hard work, intelligence, sense of style, and personality that she earned her worldwide reputation as a leader in the arts.

The essays collected in Some of My Lives showcase Bernier's gift at storytelling and her ability, as other reviewers have pointed out, to capture the essence of the famous people she has known. This is not a tell-all memoir, nor does it dwell on the negatives (her failed marriages, for example). Instead, each short chapter concentrates on either a specific event ("Now It's London") or a specific person ("Picasso and Antibes").

Because Bernier knew so many of the greats in the art world, her memoir could have easily become a pretentious record of fancy parties and name-dropping. But her intelligence, charm, and kindness shine through her stories, which just happen to be about Picasso, Henry Moore, and the Rothschilds.

Whether you're an art and music aficionado or just a casual fan, you'll be fascinated by the essays in Rosamond Bernier's Some of My Lives. 

If you visit Bernier's website, you can read a short biography, see a video of her farewell lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and see a few of the photographs included in Some of My Lives. In her interview with Royal Young for Interview magazine, she talks about her book, getting stage fright, and her place on the world's Best-Dressed list. Her humor, knowledge, and charm are clearly seen in a video of her tribute to Roland Balay, given earlier this year (at age ninety-five).

Picador USA is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, visit the Picador's website. While there, take a look at the Picador book club and reading guides and sign up for their newsletters. For up-to-date news, don't miss their Tumblr site or Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

Buy Some of My Lives at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Macmillan / Picador 2012
ISBN-13: 9781250013972

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

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20 December 2012

Review: Death of a Macho Man by M. C. Beaton

As the countdown to the final holidays of the year continues, my mind craves escape reading (or listening). One treasured series is the Hamish Macbeth books by M. C. Beaton.

The stories take place in the northern highlands of Scotland and are as cozy as a mystery series can get. Police Constable Macbeth loves his village of Lochdubh, and no matter how good he is at solving murders, he doesn't want to be promoted and he doesn't want to move to the city. The townspeople complain that Hamish is lazy and a moocher, but they will defend him to outsiders if anyone else criticizes him.

In Death of a Macho Man, the twelfth in the series, Hamish lets his temper get the best of him when he agrees to fight the town bully, Duggan. But before the fistfight starts, Duggan is found dead, and Hamish is on the list of suspects. Although he's banned from investigating the case, he can't help getting involved. Of course he discovers the killer, but his job remains in jeopardy because police officers aren't supposed to get into fights. Will Hamish be able to talk his way out of a suspension?

If you're looking for a detailed police procedural, Hamish Macbeth won't be for you. The books are as much about Hamish's personal life and the doings in Lochdubh as they are about the murder. Most of the characters, including Hamish's on-again, off-again love interest, appear in almost every book, and it's a lot of fun getting to know them. I read the series because I find the stories light and entertaining; the murder is secondary.

Another big draw for me is Davina Porter, who narrates the audiobooks. Porter knows her Scottish accents--yes, there are several--and her expressive reading is well suited to Hamish Macbeth. You can hear the humor in her voice, and she is one of the reasons I've stuck with the series. Death of a Macho Man is 6 hours, 41 minutes long and was produced by Recorded Books.

Buy Death of a Macho Man at a bookstore near you.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 1997
Rating: B
ISBN-13: 9780446403405

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

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19 December 2012

Wordless Wednesday 216

Gated Door, Brooklyn Borough, 2012

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

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18 December 2012

Today's Read & Giveaway: Two Graves by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

What if you learned that your long-dead spouse was really still alive? How would feel when you met again?

As the woman stepped forward, her surroundings vanished, her entire attention focused on the man who watched her approach. Thousands of times she had imagined this moment, spun it out in her mind in all its many variants, always ending with the bitter thought that it could never happen; that it would remain only a dream. And yet here he was. He looked older, but not by much: his alabaster skin, his fine patrician features, his glittering eyes that held her own so intently, awakened a storm of feeling and memory and—even at this time of extreme danger—desire.
Two Graves by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Hachette / Grand Central Publishing, 2012, p. 4)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New York City, South America
  • Circumstances: a revelation, an abduction, a killer, a chase
  • Characters: FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast; his wife, Helen; various agents and thugs
  • Genre: thriller 
  • Miscellaneous: the final book in a trilogy (Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance); avoid reviews, almost every one includes a major spoiler
The Giveaway

Thanks to Hachette Book Group and Grand Central Publishing, I am pleased to be able to offer one of my readers a copy of the latest Pendergast novel, Two Graves, by Preston and Child. Here's how to enter for a chance to win: Just fill out the following form and I will pick a winner on Christmas Day. Because the publishing company will be mailing out the book, the giveaway is limited to readers with a U.S. mailing address (no post office box addresses, please). I'll delete the data in this form once a winner has been selected and confirmed. Good luck.



Buy Two Graves at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
ISBN-13: 9780446554992

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

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17 December 2012

Review: Ice Age: Continental Drift (movie)

Looking for a great family gift or a backup plan for entertaining the troops during the holidays? I have the answer. Be sure to pick up a copy of the animated film Ice Age: Continental Drift, which was released on BluRay and DVD just last week.

In this Ice Age adventure, Manny, Diego, and Sid are separated from the rest of their community when the world's land masses are divided as a result of plate tectonics, triggered when a crazy squirrel-like creature tries to bury an acorn in the ice. As the continent breaks apart, the trio is set adrift on a iceberg and must find a way to get back home while surviving the many perils of their journey.

One of things that makes this movie perfect for family viewing is that it can be watched on two levels. Kids will love the adventure story, with its great scenery, terrific characters, and catchy songs. At the same time, adults will have fun identifying the references to literature, movies, and myths. Everyone will fall for the characters and the wonderful animation.

The all-star team that voices the characters is not to be missed. As the studio's publicists note, Ice Age: Continental Drift has the "coolest cast." Just a few of the greats are Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, and Peter Dinklage.

The disc extras include songs and "The Story so Far." I particularly liked the short piece about the creation of the animals and the discussion of the Odyssesy.

Thanks to Kids Discover, parents, teachers, and curious children can download a free five-page pamphlet called "The Science behind Continental Drift." The booklet is linked to the movie and includes pictures of the Ice Age: Continental Drift characters along with colorful and informative graphics and charts. Print out the pages for yourself or the budding geologist in your family.

Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for the screener copy of the movie.

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15 December 2012

Weekend Cooking: The Chinese Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein

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, beer, wine, 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. More information at the welcome post.

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Tell me I'm not the only one whose normally reasonable and healthful diet flies out the window for the entire month of December. Cookies, office parties, holiday drinks, and casual get-togethers have done me in. So on the few quiet nights we have at home, I try hard to restore some sanity at the dinner table.

When Donna Klein's The Chinese Vegan Kitchen showed up in my mailbox, I was grateful to have a source for tasty, yet healthful dishes to remind myself that sugar really isn't one of the principal food groups.

Many traditional Chinese dishes from throughout the vast country either already are vegan or can easily be adapted. Klein's recipes, inspired by dishes she was exposed to during the year she worked and traveled in China, incorporate the full range of flavors, from hot to mild, savory to sweet. All the recipes are easily accessible to Western cooks, and some of the dishes call for New World ingredients (potatoes, for example).

The Chinese Vegan Kitchen starts with an informative introduction that discusses each region of China in terms of flavors, ingredients, and cooking methods. A helpful glossary and metric conversion chart are included in the cookbook.

The chapters are divided in a familiar manner, such as soups, snacks, side dishes, and desserts. One of the main dish chapters is all about tofu and seitan dishes, but I'm pleased that most of the recipes are soy free.

Klein's directions are clear and easy to follow, meaning that even inexperienced cooks should have no trouble serving up delicious meals. In addition, Klein provides tips, ingredient substitutions, variations, serving suggestions, and nutritional information.

One thing I particularly love about The Chinese Vegan Kitchen is that the dishes are universally appealing; you don't have to be a dietary extremist to get some good use from this cookbook. Here are just a few dishes I have marked to try:
  • Pot Stickers with Cabbage and Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Velvet Corn Soup
  • Raw Beet and Scallion Salad
  • Barbecued Tofu wit Hoisin Sauce
  • Grilled Sesame Asparagus
There are also a ton of noodle and rice dishes I have my eye on.

Although I don't have any objection to cookbooks without photographs, cooks should be aware that The Chinese Vegan Kitchen is not illustrated: no photos, no drawings. The only thing that does bother me is the inconsistencies in the index. Full recipes are listed for some ingredients (like carrots) but only page numbers are listed for other ingredients (like asparagus). This isn't enough to make me not buy the cookbook, but a good index is essential when searching for recipes.

Here's a recipe I hope to try soon.

Cashew Fried Rice
Makes 4 servings
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted (dark) sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 cups cooked white or brown rice, at room temperature, any clumps removed
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup chopped roasted cashews
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil; set aside.

In a wok or large nonstick skillet, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring constantly, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until softened, 30 seconds. Add rice and white parts of scallions and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add reserved soy sauce mixture and stir to thoroughly blend. Add the scallion greens, peas, and cashews; cook, stirring constantly, until heated through and well combined, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve at once.

Buy The Chinese Vegan Kitchen at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Published by Penguin USA / Perigee, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780399537707

Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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14 December 2012

Imprint Friday: Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

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.

Let me admit right from the start that I didn't know who Caitlin Moran was before I read her Moranthology. If you're more well informed than I am, then you already knew she is a long-time columnist for the London Times and that her first collection of articles, How to Be a Woman, won the 2011 Galaxy Book of the Year award.

Before I tell you about Moranthology, read the publisher's summary:
The follow-up to Caitlin Moran's breakout hit, How to Be a Woman—A hilarious collection of award-winning columns, available to American readers for the first time ever.

Possibly the only drawback to the bestselling How to Be a Woman was that its author, Caitlin Moran, was limited to pretty much one subject: being a woman. Moranthology is proof that Caitlin can actually be "quite chatty" about many other things, including cultural, social, and political issues that are usually the province of learned professors or hot-shot wonks—and not of a woman who once, as an experiment, put a wasp in a jar and got it stoned. Caitlin ruminates on—and sometimes interviews—subjects as varied as caffeine, Keith Richards, Ghostbusters, Twitter, transsexuals, the welfare state, the royal wedding, Lady Gaga, and her own mortality, to name just a few. With her unique voice, Caitlin brings insight and humor to everything she writes.
Right from the start, Moran's humor shines through as she tells the story of how she became a teenage columnist for the Guardian and eventually the Times. She is frank about her struggle find her voice, which she boils down to this: pointing out cool things while being silly and polite. Based on the articles in Moranthology, she has mastered her niche.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that behind the silliness and self-deprecating humor, Moran has an agenda, and many of the issues that are important to her are also important to me. If you watch the entire video embedded at the end of this post, you'll hear her switch from funny to serious as she talks about the Internet and the pay wall. Moranthology also includes her thoughts about cultural tolerance, libraries, the British royals, and social media.

Moran's issue pieces make up only one facet of the collection. Among the celebrity pieces reprinted here are her moving tribute to Elizabeth Taylor and hilarious interviews with Kieth Richards and Paul McCartney. Television and movie reviews cover Downton Abbey and Ghostbusters.

Read Caitlin Moran's Moranthology one article at a time or dive in and devour it in one sitting. Either way, you'll love the cool things Moran points out, you'll laugh at the silly stuff, and you'll appreciate her underlying politeness.

In the following video, Moran answers fans' questions


To learn more about Caitlin Moran, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For information about the imprint, please read the welcome note, posted here on June 18, 2010. To discover more Harper Perennial books, use the Topics/Labels pull-down menu in the sidebar. 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. For more about Harper Perennial, follow them on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook.

Buy Moranthology at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. (This link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2012

ISBN-13: 9780062258533
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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13 December 2012

Guest Post: Richard Kramer on How to Sell a Book

The name Richard Kramer is most strongly associated with several popular and award-winning television series, including Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life.

In his new novel These Things Happen, Kramer easily makes the transition to print, creating believable characters facing modern-day issues.

Things are bit crazy for young Wesley. First, he's agreed to live with his dad and his partner for a semester, and second, he's just realized his best friend is gay. Of course, Wesley has no problem with Theo's sexual orientation, but he does wonder about how that revelation will affect their relationship. Before Wesley has a chance to think, he and Theo are victims of a hate crime, and everyone's lives are turned upside down.

These Things Happen is a sensitively told tale of relationships, family, friendship, and tolerance.

I'm trilled to welcome author Richard Kramer to my blog today. He has a little something to say about how to sell a book.
Increasing Sales and the Glamour of Being an Author

There are many way to sell a book. What you are about to read is one of them.

I was in New York about a week ago, walking down Fifth Avenue on a cold bright day. The street was, literally, singing; a chorus insisted It's the most WONderful time of the year!, block after block, mercilessly, causing me to think that this must be what it is like to live in North Korea. Then, up ahead, like a star of Bethlehem, I saw a Barnes & Noble, a place where I could rest and also see if my just-published book These Things Happen was displayed on the shelves.

So, trashing the ten-dollar bag of chestnuts that looked and, I suspect, tasted like the desiccated brains of research monkeys (I am here to tell you: chestnuts don't taste like they did in 1961), I crossed the street and headed for the store. I claimed my little wedge of revolving door, pushed slowly and carefully so as not to topple the pregnant mom who was leaving with the wide-eyed two-year-old in her arms, and just as she was free I felt a tornado hit that threw me inside and hurled me to the store floor.

There were gasps, cries of Oh, my God!, many people calling me sir and wanting to give me water. I was dazed, on my back, not hurt as much as puzzled. Was I dead, a few weeks before Christmas, in the Forty-sixth Street Barnes & Noble, the one with the DVDs and sale books on the second floor? I got up, bravely brushed myself off, and found myself face to face with the two teenage boys whose high spirits in the wedge of door just behind me had caused my fall.

Photo by Richard Kramer
They apologized, over and over; they must have meant it, because they both ignored the dozen texts that came in for them both in the tense succeeding extended minute. I will admit that I might have, just a little, milked the situation, in hopes that someone might bring me a chicken pesto panini from the third-floor café, or at the least a cookie. But that moment passed because something very strange—maybe not so strange to other authors reading this—happened then.

Two characters from my book were standing there. In the flesh, off the page. And looking very worried.

There were Wesley and Theo, the two sixteen-year-olds from These Things etc., the sons of enlightened parents, the first a kid who was come to live with his dad and his dad's partner for a semester, the second his lifelong best friend who has just stunned the school (and Wesley, and even himself) by coming out in a school assembly at the end of a post-election victory speech. These were the hormonal little jerks who had knocked me on my ass.

"Mister?" the Wesley said.

"Sir?" said the Theo.

"What's wrong with you two assholes?" I asked, which set off a series of sorrys.

Then I heard a woman's voice. "You're right," she said. "That's what they are. And they're very, very sorry. As am I. Right, Dustin? Right, Lincoln?"

Dustin and Lincoln quickly agreed. The woman, it turned out, was Lincoln's mom. "What can we do for you?" she wanted to know.

And in that moment, when I could have asked for any number of things, I realized something had happened: I had truly become an author. "Well," I said. "I've written a book." I gave her the title. A clerk, who had come over to see how she could help, confirmed that they had it in stock.

"I'll buy five copies," the mom said.

"I'll sign them," I told her.

"We'll read it," offered Wesley/Lincoln and Theo/Dustin.

"Tell your friends," I said, then.

And that explains the spike in sales of These Things Happen at the beautiful Barnes & Noble on Forty-sixth and Fifth.
Thanks so much, Richard. Too funny! Okay, not the part about your falling down, but I love how your author instincts immediately set in, proving your excellent sense of self-preservation.

Buy These Things Happen at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Unbridled Books, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781609530891

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

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11 December 2012

Wordless Wednesday 215

Hanukkah Cheer, 2012

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Today's Read: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

Would you ignore the warning signs if you had a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream? When Sarah Watson is given the opportunity to travel from Boston to Prague to study the papers of her beloved Beethoven, she decides a break-in, rumors of hell portals, and a mysterious suicide aren't going to stop her.

The night before she leaves for Europe, a strange symbol appears on the ceiling of her apartment:
"I think someone broke into the apartment," said Sarah. . . . "But I don't think they took anything."

Alessandro made a quick check of his belongings, and returned to confirm that nothing was missing, not even his stash of pot.

"Why they no take our TV?" he said, insulted. "Is very nice TV."

Sarah showed him the strange symbol, but Alessandro had no idea what it meant either.

"I think what we need is a nice grappa," he suggested. "Tomorrow you sleep on plane."

After a grappa, Sarah still had no idea what the symbol meant, who could have put it there, or why. But after two grappas, she didn't care.
City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (Penguin USA / Penguin Books, 2012, p. 37)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Prague, plus Boston and Venice
  • Circumstances: Sarah travels to Prague to conduct research but is soon caught up in solving a murder that just might involve alchemy and time travel.
  • Characters: Sarah, a music graduate student; a handsome time-traveling prince; a 400-year-old dwarf
  • Genre: mystery, humor, romance, paranormal, music, and adventure all wrapped up together 
  • Miscellaneous: Magnus Flyte is the pen name for the writing duo Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey
Buy City of Dark Magic at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
ISBN-13: 9780143122685

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

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10 December 2012

Review: A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

In an interview, in a short video (embedded here), and in the subtitle, Sebastian Faulks calls his latest book a novel. A Possible Life, however, is made up of five parts, each of which is set in a different time and place. Moreover, the parts are not arranged chronologically.

The first story is about Geoffrey's transformation from British school master in a private (public in England) school to Allied spy in France to Nazi concentration camp escapee. The second story follows Billy as he grows from a child left at a Victorian workhouse to a literate family man of modest means. Elena, raised on a farm in a futuristic Europe, becomes a famous scientist who studies the connections between psychology, genetics, and the soul. In the mid-1800s, Jeanne leaves a Catholic orphanage to become a maid and then a trusted household member of a French bourgeois family. In the final story, Anya, a hippie musician, travels the road to fame in the last decades of the twentieth century.

The five parts of A Possible Life are not linked in a conventional way. In fact, the characters and events do not appear in more than one story. Instead, Faulks connects them on an unexpected level by examining the same set of themes in each, although with different combinations of emphasis. To at least some degree, each story addresses success, mental health, spiritualism, the soul, and relationships.

For example, at least one character in each part suffers from a psychological crisis, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, or mental breakdown. In addition, the protagonist of each story is on an upward journey, either socioculturally or in terms of career, sometimes with unpredictable results.

Although Faulks calls A Possible Life a novel, to me it reads as a collection of individual short stories that focus on similar issues. Regardless of the terminology, the vivid characters and strong sense of place make this book one of the best of the year.

In the following short video Sebastian Faulks discusses his novel:


My review of the audio edition will be published by AudioFile magazine.

Buy A Possible Lie at a bookstore near you.
Published by Macmillan /Henry Holt, 2012
Rating: A
ISBN-13: 9780805097306

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

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08 December 2012

Weekend Cooking: Rocky Road No-Bake Cookies

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, beer, wine, 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. More information at the welcome post.

_______
Yes, I'm on a King Arthur kick (I was going to say roll but thought that might make you groan). Last week it was wonderful dinner rolls, this week it's yummy no-bake cookies I made for a Christmas cookie exchange.

I have mentioned the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion before, and even shared a recipe (ginger snaps), but I haven't actually reviewed it. I turn to this cookbook for consistently reliable cookie recipes, no matter what the occasion.

Besides offering the full range of cookies: iced, dropped, rolled, no-bake, and bar, from fancy to plain, the cookbook is a great resource for bakers of all skill levels. The experts at King Arthur Flour share their immense experience, offering tips about ingredients and techniques. Beginners will be happy to learn the basics (how to separate eggs), veterans will be grateful for new tricks (icing in two stages), and everyone will appreciate the informative sidebars (best cookie cutting implements).

I offer two sets of ingredients for the following cookies. The first is exactly as the Cookie Companion suggests, which I've made a few times to rave reviews. But today I am going to a cookie exchange that turned out to be quite the challenge because several in the group have allergies and intolerances. I decided to adapt the original no-bake recipe to fit everyone's needs. The changes are listed in brackets.

The oatmeal cookies taste great, but I think I like the original recipe is better. Nonetheless, I'm pleased to be able to share a cookie that all the exchange participants can enjoy.

Rocky Road No-Bakes
Makes 30 cookies
  • 3 cups crisp rice cereal [I used old-fashioned oats]
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread [I used almond-chocolate spread]
  • 2 cup sliced almonds, sprinkled lightly with salt and toasted
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
Place the cereal in a large bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan set over low heat, or in a small bowl in the microwave, melt the chocolate chips and nut spread together, stirring until no lumps remain. Pour the melted mixture over the cereal and let cool slightly. Stir in the toasted almonds and marshmallows. Drop by tablespoonful onto waxed paper or lightly greased parchment paper and chill until set.

Beth Fish Read's notes: The cookies are delicious, but it was more difficult to form the balls using oatmeal instead of the rice cereal.

NOTE: if Mr. Linky gives you trouble, add your link to the comments, and I'll add you to Mr. Linky when it's back up and running.

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07 December 2012

Imprint Friday: Alibis by Andre Aciman

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Picador USA. 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.

Sometimes I think the art of the essay was left behind decades ago in favor of the more self-absorbed memoir in short pieces. But then I'm reminded of André Aciman, and I'm grateful that a master has made it to the twenty-first century. His Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere has just come out in paperback.

Here's the publisher's summary:
Celebrated as one of the most poignant stylists of his generation, André Aciman has written a luminous series of linked essays about time, place, identity, and art that show him at his very finest. From beautiful and moving pieces about the memory evoked by the scent of lavender; to meditations on cities like Barcelona, Rome, Paris, and New York; to his sheer ability to unearth life secrets from an ordinary street corner, Alibis reminds the reader that Aciman is a master of the personal essay.
The elsewhere in the subtitle of Aciman's collection encompasses not only physical space but also time and memory. His essays have a nostalgic air but are not indulgent or melancholic. And they are truly essays: not short stories, not memoir, not travel pieces.

In Alibis, Aciman savors his journeys, sometimes pondering the impossibility of recapturing the past, and sometimes celebrating the special moments that do just that. But no matter where he is, Aciman is aware of the connections between time and place, whether he remembers walking his sons home from the school bus or imagines Monet at work in his studio.

I especially liked the comparison Aciman made between himself and his wife. She, who lived all her life in America, travels Europe looking for new experiences and relishing the idea of getting lost in the surroundings. He, who lives in exile from his native Alexandria, is looking for the old and familiar, hoping to be found.

Here's a paragraph I marked from p. 141:
And this is what I've always suspected about Tuscany. It is about many beautiful things—about small towns, magnificent vistas, and fabulous cuisine, art, culture, history—but it is ultimately about the love of books. It is a reader's paradise. People come here because of books. Tuscany may well be for people who love life in the present—simple, elaborate, whimsical, complicated life in the present—but it is also for people who love the present when it bears the shadow of the past, who love the world provided it's at a slight angle. Bookish people.
Treat yourself to André Aciman's Alibis. But don't rush through it. Read it essay by essay and then shelve it where you can return to it to share a passage, to dream of Paris, or to think about your own elsewheres.

Picador USA is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, visit the Picador's website. While there, take a look at the Picador book club and reading guides and sign up for their newsletters. For up-to-date news, don't miss their Tumblr site or Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

Buy Alibis at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Macmillan / Picador 2012
ISBN-13: 9781250013989

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

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06 December 2012

Review: Amulet 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

Shortly after I discovered graphic novels a few years ago, I bought Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet: The Stonekeeper, book 1 of a series that is now up to volume 6 of a projected ten-book project. I don't know why waited so long to read it, but I'm so happy I rediscovered this book on my shelves.

The Amulet series is a mix of fantasy, adventure, and steampunk and is perfect for middle grade readers and their parents.

Two years after Emily Hayes's father died in a car accident, her mother moves the family to a small town so they can live in an abandoned house once owned by Mrs. Hayes's grandfather, Silas Charnon. While exploring their new digs, Emily and her brother, Navin, discover a pretty necklace that Emily decides to wear. Later that night, they are awoken by a thumping noise coming from the basement. When the family goes to investigate, Mrs. Hayes is kidnapped by a strange creature. Emily and Navin chase the monster, entering an alternate world in which they learn the secrets of the amulet necklace and look for help saving their mom.

From p. 75
Amulet 1: The Stonekeeper is a fast-moving story that's full of fanciful creatures, mysterious messages, and awesome machines. Emily is forced to make several decisions, including whom to trust and when to use the power of the amulet. The rescue mission is exciting and has unexpected results, which set up the basis for the next book in the series.

I just love the muted blues and teals of the illustrations, which are punched up with a bit of pink (click the scan to enlarge it). The expressions on the characters' faces telegraph quite a bit of emotion, and Kibuishi clearly conveys motion and speed.

The Stonekeeper is a fun and engaging read all on its own but it would also make a great book club selection. Topics for discussion include family responsibilities, brother-sister relationships, loss of a parent, and moving to a new home. I don't want to give away the story, so I have to be vague here, but several of Emily's choices would also make great discussion points, especially because Navin often disagrees with her.

In the following video, Kazu Kibuishi introduces the series and then talks about the production process. The colors in the video are much more vibrant than the finished book.


Buy Amulet #1: The Stonekeeper at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Scholastic / Graphix, 2008
Rating: B
ISBN-13: 9780439846813

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

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04 December 2012

Wordless Wednesday 214

Creepy Santa

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Today's Read: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

What's a modern wizard to do when new beings start appearing in post-Katrina Louisiana? Drusilla Jaco (DJ) has enough problems just keeping the humans unaware of the paranormals, but when someone or something begins to murder wizards, her life is turned upside down.
The minute hand of the ornate grandfather clock crept like a gator stuck in swamp mud. I'd been watching it for half an hour, nursing a fizzy cocktail from my perch inside the Hotel Monteleone. The plaque on the enormous clock claimed it had been hand-carved of mahogany in 1909, about 130 years after the birth of the undead pirate waiting for me upstairs.

They were both quite handsome, but the clock was a lot safer.
River Road by Suzanne Johnson (Tor / Tom Doherty, 2012; opening paragraphs)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New Orleans and surrounding areas
  • Circumstances: paranormal creatures looking for war; serial killer of wizards
  • Characters: DJ (wizard sentinel) and her partner, Alex Warin (a shifter) plus a dead pirate, merpeople, weres, and more
  • Themes: murder, betrayal, clashing cultures, relationships/dating
  • Genre: urban fantasy (with some humor), mystery
  • Miscellaneous: this is the second book in a series
Want to know more? Check out Suzanne Johnson's blog.

Buy River Road at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
ISBN-13: 9780765327802

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

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03 December 2012

Review: Flesh & Blood so Cheap by Albert Marrin

Almost all of us have heard about the Triangle Shirt fire of March 25, 1911, in which 146 people died, most of whom were Italian Catholic and Russian Jewish women in their teens and early twenties.

Albert Marrin's Flesh & Blood so Cheap tells the story of that tragedy to young audiences. The book is not however strictly a children's book, and Marrin does not talk down to his audience.

Several things made this a winner for me. First is the structure of the book. Marrin starts with a discussion of immigration and life in New York City at the turn of the last century. From there, he turns to the garment industry specifically, explaining the rise of sweatshops and the labor movement. Then Flesh & Blood focuses on the details of the Triangle Shirt fire, ending with far-reaching effects of the event. Thus readers get a full sense of the complex circumstances that led up to the fire and then understand the ways in which it still affects us today.

Marrin writes in an engaging style, defining words and concepts along the way. In addition, just about every page of the book is illustrated with historical photos, profiles of the people involved, and maps, making the story personal and accessible to readers of all ages.

In public domain
What makes this book truly shine, though, is Marrin's ability to clearly place the fire in the context of political and social history from the 1800s to modern times. Some of the lessons we should have learned from the Triangle Shirt fire are still relevant today, and Marrin outlines these issues in a balanced way, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.

Readers may be surprised by the wide range of topics covered in Flesh & Blood so Cheap. Besides some of the obvious themes of labor laws, unions, and immigration, the fire and the people involved have connections to organized crime, Tammany Hall, social class divisions, modern labor conditions in Asia, and the decline of American-made clothing,

Thanks to its bibliography and list of Internet resources, the book is highly recommended for teachers, homeschoolers, and anyone wanting to know about the horrible fire in particular and the labor movement in general. I'm not surprised that Albert Marrin's Flesh & Blood so Cheap is a National Book Award Finalist; it should be used as a model for nonfiction for young readers.

This post will be linked to Kid Konnection, hosted by Julie at Booking Mama.

Buy Flesh & Blood so Cheap at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Random House/ Alfred A. Knopf / Borzio Books, 2011
Rating: A+
ISBN-13: 97803758688944

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

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