30 March 2013

Weekend Cooking: Relish by Lucy Knisley

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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I first learned of Lucy Knisley a few years ago when I read and reviewed her graphic memoir French Milk, about the time she and her mother lived in Paris to celebrate the turning points of their lives. In her new book, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, Knisley focuses on the many ways in which food shaped her childhood and who she eventually became.

Born in New York City to a chef mother and a food-loving father, Knisley grew up in an atmosphere of delicious flavors and enticing aromas. From a young age, she accompanied her mother to restaurant kitchens and fancy catered affairs.

When her parents divorced, Knisley's life changed drastically in some areas and not at all in others. She and her mother moved to the Catskills, but rural life didn't immediately suit Knisley. She missed the city, with its gourmet shops and hundreds of restaurants. Yet food still ruled her life, as her mother became involved in farmers markets, hosting country parties for Manhattanites, and growing her own vegetables. Eventually, Knisley learned to appreciate the country, with its farm-fresh milk and garden-warm tomatoes.

Although she moved to Chicago to study art, she didn't forget her foodie background. She ate her way across the Windy City and worked for a while in a cheese shop, until the call of New York became too strong. Now back in her beloved city, Knisley is still cooking, drawing, and eating, looking forward to many more decades of the same.

Relish is a wonderfully written and drawn graphic memoir of Knisley's childhood, travels, discovery of new foods, and life-long foodie friends. Her obvious love of the best cookies, the flakiest croissants, and the crispest pickles shines throughout this charming story of a life in food. And have no fear, although her mother and father are horrified, Knisley still occasionally craves good old fast-food fries and burgers, even when in Italy.

I particularly liked reading about her trip to Mexico, when she and a friend, both about eleven years old, were allowed to explore the town on their own. I also had to chuckle about why she has absolutely no guilt about eating foie gras and roast goose. These and other stories make Lucy Knisley's Relish a don't-miss read. You'll love seeing the world of food through her eyes.

What foodie memoir is complete without at least a couple of recipes. Here's how Knisley makes summer pickles (click to enlarge; pp. 142-143)


Buy Relish at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
First Second, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781596436237
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)


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29 March 2013

Impirnt Friday: Life after Life by Jill McCorkle

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

For those of us who are fans of Jill McCorkle's that seventeen-year wait for another novel was well worth it. Her Life after Life, set in a fictional assisted living facility in Fulton, North Carolina, was released just this week.

Here is the publisher's summary:

Award-winning author Jill McCorkle takes us on a splendid journey through time and memory in this, her tenth work of fiction. Life After Life is filled with a sense of wonder at our capacity for self-discovery at any age. And the residents, staff, and neighbors of the Pine Haven retirement center (from twelve-year-old Abby to eighty-five-year-old Sadie) share some of life's most profound discoveries and are some of the most true-to-life characters that you are ever likely to meet in fiction. There's retired third-grade teacher Sadie Randolph, who has taught every child in town and believes we are all eight years old in our hearts; Stanley Stone, a prominent lawyer, now feigning dementia to escape life with his son; Marge Walker, the town's self-appointed conveyor of social status, who keeps a scrapbook of every local murder and heinous crime; Rachel Silverman, recently widowed, whose decision to leave her Massachusetts home and settle at Pine Haven is a puzzle to everyone but her; C.J., the pierced and tattooed young mother who runs the beauty shop; and Joanna Lamb, the hospice volunteer who discovers that her path to a good life lies in helping people achieve good deaths. As each character begins to connect with another, the mysteries and consequences of their lives are revealed. What they eventually learn about themselves and one another will profoundly transform them all. Delivered with her trademark wit, Jill McCorkle's constantly surprising novel illuminates the possibilities of second chances, hope, and rediscovering life right up to the very end. With Life After Life, she has conjured up an entire community that reminds all of us that grace and magic can and do appear when we least expect it.
I know you probably think a book about the people in a retirement center, especially when the central character is a hospice volunteer, will be too sad or depressing to bear. But if you think that about Life after Life, you're wrong. In truth, McCorkle's  novel is about families, community, and finding a way to inner peace.

At the core of the book is Joanna, who not only makes the elderly comfortable at the end of their days but also helps keep their memories alive by recording their thoughts, stories, dreams, and last words in her spiral-bound journal. She becomes close to her patients and keeps the memory of them alive by preserving their personal quirks, favorite colors, and best qualities. Here's what she wrote about one man:
I will think of him every time I smell tobacco or peel an avocado or hear mention of Angie Dickinson or the word bulge. I will continue to marvel at his ability to reflect back to people what they need to see and how it seemed he needed nothing. (p. 153; uncorrected proofs)
If fact, although the stories of Joanna and C.J. move the plot along (and sometimes to surprising places), I was particularly taken with the vignettes of each patient and Joanna's journal entries. Not every character is likeable but each is realistically portrayed and will likely remind you of someone you have known.

Rather than a novel about death and dying, Jill McCorkle's Life after Life is really a celebration of family (parenting, care giving, marriage) and community. The Pine Haven residents have a lot to say about life and friendships and looking forward, and you'll likely be thinking of them and sharing their stories even after you finish the book.

For more about McCorkle and Life after Life, listen to an interview she gave with NPR and/or watch a short video in which she talks about her writing life and the origins of the novel. Don't forget to visit McCorkle's website, and be sure to check out her tour schedule at the Algonquin website.

Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011. Don't forget to follow Algonquin on Twitter and Facebook and read their blog (where you can sign up for the Algonquin newsletter).

Buy Life after Life at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Workman / Algonquin Books 2013
ISBN-13: 9781565122550

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

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28 March 2013

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts 6

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts are my random notes about books I've read, movies I've watched, books I'm looking forward to, and events I hope to get to.

Book Events and Other Doings

It's almost April, and that means my busy editing season is winding down, and I'm back to regular full-time hours. Phew. I swear if it weren't for audiobooks, I'd hardly read at all during the first quarter of the year. Spring also means it's time to get thinking about BookExpo America, the major book event of the year and one that I look forward to every year. Need even more book fun? If you live in or around New York, I encourage you to attend Random House's second open house. I really enjoyed the December event, and I know the May open house is going to be great.


 Finally, if you don't know about Bloggers Recommend, owned and run by Jen of  Devourer of Books and Nicole of Linus's Blanket, then I encourage you to check out the site. Here's where to find the books your fellow bloggers just can't stop talking about. If you've fallen in love a new release and want to tell the world, please submit a blurb to the site by filling out the provided form. I am so honored to have been chosen to be a founding member of the advisory board.

Audiobooks

Because my print reading is so skimpy in February and March, I have posted reviews of most of the books I've listened to for both my personal reading and for AudioFile Magazine. One book I reviewed for AudioFile that I whole-heartedly recommend is Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein. It's a charming look at embracing the privileges of aging and enjoying a slower pace.


Over at the SheKnows Book Lounge I featured four good listens to celebrate International Friendship Month and three that tie into Irish-American Month.

Print Books

I've been continuing along in my spring graphic novel/memoir kick, so look for some more reviews coming up. I'll write about one new title on Saturday (it's a surprise for now), and hope to get a review for The Unwritten: Inside Man by Mike Carey and Peter Gross posted soon. I'm also enjoying This Close, a story collection by Jessica Francis Kane. I just love her characters.


I've written about some excellent biographies and memoirs for the SheKnows Book Lounge, including Russ Mark Federman's Russ & Daughters, a must for New Yorkers and foodies, and Days That I'll Remember by Jonathan Cott, about John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Movies and TV

We haven't been watching very much on television lately. We still like Shameless on Showtime and we've been trying to finish up the Midsomer Murders series on DVD. We're looking forward to the spring shows on PBS, HBO, and Showtime.


In the Stacks

Besides the wonderful books you'll find featured for Imprint Friday, I have the following March books near the top of stack. Although I have no dreams of becoming a writer (I love editing way too much), I've been looking forward to Natalie Goldberg's The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, which outlines her ideas on writing and life. I've really liked the first two Camilla Lackberg novels and can't wait to read The Stonecutter, which is part of her Swedish mystery series.


I've heard wonderful things about Elizabeth Graver's The End of the Point, which is about family and place over the course of four generations. Finally, A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, written by Marie Brennan has caught my attention. I'm not sure how to describe it in three words, so I won't try.

What's on your read, watch, listen, or review list?

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26 March 2013

Wordless Wednesday 230

Local Barn, 2013

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Today's Read: When She Was Gone by Gwendolen Gross

What happens to a suburban community when a seventeen-year-old girl goes missing right before she's supposed to leave for college? Are Linsey Hart's neighbors more worried about her fate or about being exposed for who they really are?

Mr. Leonard was the last person to see seventeen-year-old Linsey Hart before she vanished into the steamy blue of a late-summer morning. He was sitting on the black-lacquered piano bench in the bay window, practicing and singing, wordlessly, along with the Schumann Kinderscenen. The window was open only a crack, but Mr. Leonard could still detect the wormy smell of the sidewalk as the sun struck the puddles from last night's downpour. He held his fingers over the keys to listen to the silence between songs, the breath at the end of the poem lines. Mr. Leonard loved quiet as much as he loved sound.
When She Was Gone by Gwendolen Gross (Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books, 2013, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Sycamore Street, suburbia; life behind closed doors
  • Circumstances: a teen goes missing; secrets revealed; neighborhood torn apart
  • Characters: Linsey (seventeen and missing), Mr. Leonard (piano teacher), Abigail (Linsey's outcast mother), Reeva (neighborhood social director), Timmy (Lnsey's boyfriend), George (eleven-year-old neighborhood spy)
  • Genre: contemporary, coming of age, community in crisis
  • Themes: community; secrets; adultery; parenting; music
Buy When She Was Goen at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
ISBN-13: 9781451684742

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

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25 March 2013

Review: Lifesaving Lessons by Linda Greenlaw

You may remember Linda Greenlaw as being the only female swordfish captain in America and her brush with fame after the publication of Sebastian Junger's Perfect Storm. She has also appeared on television and has written several books, including memoirs and mysteries.

Although her latest memoir, Lifesaving Lessons: Notes from an Accidental Mother, includes stories about commercial fishing and lobster trapping, it's really about how Greenlaw took a fifteen-year-old girl, Mariah, under her wing and into her life, changing them both forever.

This is a difficult book to review because the circumstances in which Greenlaw became the legal guardian of Mariah are themselves difficult. In a nutshell, Greenlaw offered temporary shelter to Mariah when the teen's uncle fell off the wagon and needed some time to sober up. As Greenlaw and the entire small island community of Isle du Haut learned the truth of Mariah's home life, it was clear that the girl had been the victim of nearly lifelong abuse.

The result was three years of legal battles and domestic squabbles. With the support of the citizens of Isle du Haut, lawyers, counselors, and family services, the uncle was finally put in jail, and Greenlaw was able to give Mariah a stable, safe home. Finding tranquility and adjusting to each other as mother and daughter, however, proved to be much more difficult than either had anticipated.

In Lifesaving Lessons, Greenlaw is quite open about her uncertainties of becoming a mother to the often-difficult teen. In addition, with the blessings of her daughter, she reveals the details of Mariah's childhood and how the girl ended up running from her uncle in the middle of the night, seeking refuge with the few adults she thought she could trust.

You may feel you want to shy away from a true story of abuse and mistreatment, but I hope you don't. Greenlaw tells her story well, with a full mix of emotions, from humor and love to frustration, insecurity, and anger. She writes in a clear and honest style that is at once personal and universal. It is the hope of Greenlaw and Mariah that the book "will inspire or give strength to some other young victim to break out of the cycle of abuse" (p. 258).

I hope it will also inspire others to become accidental parents themselves. We cannot allow young victims to hide under the shroud of shame. These children have done nothing wrong and need strong, brave adults to help them find a way to live happy, fulfilled lives supported by a found family that can provide safety and love.

My review of the unabridged audiobook edition of Lifesaving Lessons (Brilliance Audio, 6 hr, 19 min), read by Linda Greenlaw, will be published by AudioFile magazine.

Buy Lifesaving Lessons at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Penguin USA / Viking, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780670025176
Rating: B

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

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23 March 2013

Weekend Cooking: Minette's Feast by Susanna Reich

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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Last year on the 100th anniversary of Julia Child's birth, almost everyone in the food world had some way of remembering the famous cook. When my review of Jessie Hartland's Bon Appétit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child caught Susanna Reich's eye, she kindly offered to send me a copy of her children's book about Julia Child's cat.

Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, written by Reich and illustrated by Amy Bales, is a wonderful addition to my collection of books by and about the great American icon. The story of Minette is also about Julia Child when she first moved to France and began her studies of French cooking.

Let me tell you, that Minette was one lucky cat to live with such a fantastic cook and such lively owners. But, despite Child's growing skills in the kitchen, Minette was not always interested in eating the same thing that her humans ate. She was, after all, a cat and so loved to hunt and couldn't resist her favorite dinner: mouse!

Even if your youngsters would turn their noses up--like Minette--when served one of Child's delicious dishes, they won't be able to resist this fun tale of the French cat who found her way to one of the best kitchens in the world.

The pencil and watercolor illustrations, by Bales, are beautiful and charming, capturing the spirit and personality of Julia and Paul Child as well as the curiosity and playfulness of Minette. You can get an idea from the cover art as well as from the scan (click to enlarge). Showing us the cafes and streets of Paris and Child's cramped third-floor kitchen, Bales's artwork enlivens Reich's engaging tale about the much loved cat.

Author Susanna Reich closes Minette's Feast by telling us that all the dialogue in the book comes right from Child's own writings, including her personal letters. Reich also provides a fuller introduction to Julia Child and a glossary of the French terms used in the text. I fell in love with this sweet story, and so will you.

Buy Minette's Feast at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781419701771
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)


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22 March 2013

Imprint Friday: My One Square Inch of Alaska by Sharon Short

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

This week is a special edition of Imprint Friday. Here's what happened. I reached for the book I had scheduled for today--a novel published by one of the imprints I feature regularly each week--but Sharon Short's debut novel My One Square Inch of Alaska caught my eye, and once I started reading I was lost, the other book temporarily forgotten.

As always, let me start with the publisher's summary:

A pair of siblings escapes—along with a Siberian Husky—the strictures of their 1950s industrial Ohio town on the adventure of a lifetime.

Talented high-school senior Donna Lane yearns to leave her Midwestern home in pursuit of a career in design, but she feels obligated to stay and care for her helpless father and her younger brother, Will. In fragile health and obsessed with the television show Sergeant Striker and the Alaskan Wild, Will’s dearest companion is a mute Siberian Husky named Trusty. The arrival of two outsiders inspires Donna to consider her dreams anew. Then Will falls sick, and Donna packs up their yellow convertible—with Will, Trusty, and a road atlas—and sets off for the Alaskan Territory. A portrait of a singular American moment, My One Square Inch of Alaska is a moving tale of exploration and love—human and canine—that dares to believe the impossible.
I am so taken with this beautiful novel, I hardly know how to talk about it. As a consequence, I'm afraid this post is a bit disjointed. I want to talk about the setting, the characters, and Short's writing style.

The story takes place in 1953, when students still had duck-and-cover drills in school and people talked about building bomb shelters in their backyards. Organized labor fought with management for safety in factories, advertising companies were just venturing into the new medium of television, and McCarthyism was beginning to shake Washington. Although My One Square Inch of Alaska doesn't dwell on these issues, Short manages to work in signaling details in such a way that we are fully immersed in the time period. There is no doubt that we have been carried back a half a century through time.

But most impressive are Short's characters, from Donna and Will to the most minor of people we meet for only one page. Each individual stands out clearly, enriching the story and making it difficult to remember that we're reading fiction. Of course, Donna, burdened too young with too many responsibilities, wins our support and our empathy (she'd never want our pity) as she tries to do what's best for her family while still holding on to a little piece of her self. Young Will wins our hearts with his unwavering enthusiasm for all things Alaska and his determination to hold on to his dream, even as he accepts what his future will bring.

Short's characters are complex and conflicted. Their troubles are everyday problems that any one of us could face. Sometimes we agree with their decisions, and sometimes we don't understand why they don't see the situation the way we do--just as it is with our friends and family. Short doesn't give Donna quirky neighbors, only realistic ones, making it easy for us to form strong connections with them.

Finally, I'd like to talk about Short's writing style. Some authors draw me in because of the poetry of their words, but with Short, it is the honesty of her writing. The truth and authenticity of Donna's memories of the pivotal year of her life simply bowled me over. That's not to say there isn't poetry in My One Square Inch of Alaska but that the novel is more down to earth, more personal than that. Donna tells her story in the way any of us would when finally opening up to a person we trust. Be prepared because once you start listening to what Donna has to say, you'll be glued to your seat until she's finished her tale.

Many books have made my eyes well up, but only a few have ever left me sobbing. My One Square Inch of Alaska is a strongly emotional experience. Thank you Sharon Short for telling me about Donna and Will, I will be thinking about them for a long time.

Plume is a don't-miss imprint of Penguin USA. Since 1970, the paperback imprint has published many best-selling authors, including Toni Morrison, Kelley Armstrong, and Dorothy Allison. The imprint is also known for its outstanding original fiction, such as work by Sarah Jio and Jennifer Niven.

Buy My One Square Inch of Alaska at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Penguin USA / Plume, 2013 (anniversary edition)
ISBN-13: 9780452298767

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

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21 March 2013

Review: Amulet Book Two: The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

Last December I raved about the first of Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet books, a graphic novel series for middle grade readers that, as I said in my review of The Stonekeeper, combines elements of fantasy, adventure, and steampunk. I had high hopes for Amulet Book Two: The Stonekeeper's Curse, and I'm happy to report that Kibuishi didn't let me down.

Although I will not spoil this installment in the series, I can't help but reveal a minor spoiler for the first book. If you want to remain completely in the dark, then you might want to skim or skip the first couple paragraphs.

When book one ends, Emily and her little brother, Navin, have one clear mission. With the help of their mechanical friends they must travel to the city of Kanalis and find a cure for their mother, who has been poisoned. Once at the hospital, the kids learn that the only way to save their mother is to climb a mountain and pick a magical fruit. Sounds simple, but there's a twist: no one who has gone searching for the fruit has ever been seen again.

Meanwhile, the evil elf king is on their trail. He wants to capture Emily so he can tap the power of the amulet she wears. He sends his son and his best warrior to bring him the girl . . . dead or alive. The king has covered all his bases, even ordering the warrior to kill the prince if the boy's rebellious tendencies get the better of him.

The Stonekeeper's Curse keeps young readers (and their parents) on the edge of their seats. Can Emily learn to control her powers? Will she find the fruit and figure out whom to trust? Will the elf king succeed in capturing the amulet? Can the elf prince find a way to escape his father's control? Kazu Kibuishi builds tension, works in tricky dilemmas, introduces new characters, and pumps up the action, nicely avoiding the sophomore slump of many series.

Young readers will love the animal creatures and the mechanical beings and will quickly become fans of Emily and Navin. Kibuishi's characters display a wonderful mix of strength and self-doubt, so no one comes off too good to be true. Although we're all sure Emily will prevail, the plot isn't simple or straightforward. Expect a few surprises as the children gain confidence and learn to believe in their own instincts.

As I mentioned in December, I just love Kibuishi's artwork. The colors in the Amulet books really call to me (check out the two scans; click the images to enlarge them) and it's easy to understand the characters' personalities by their facial expressions and body language. After I finished reading the story, I went back to the beginning so I could spend more time with the illustrations.

If you're looking for an action-packed fantasy with a steampunk bent, pick up the Amulet books. They are perfect for middle grade readers and their parents and make an excellent choice for book clubs. There are many topics to discuss, including family relationships, the nature of power, and the meaning of friendship. The kids face several ethical dilemmas, and these too could jump-start a discussion.

Buy Amulet Book Two: The Stonekeeper's Curse at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Scholastic / Graphix, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780439846837
Rating: B+

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

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19 March 2013

Wordless Wednesday 229

Leave a Light On, 2013

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Review: Life of Pi (Movie)

By now pretty much everyone has heard of the Academy Award-winning film Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee and based on the book by Yann Martel. I missed seeing the movie in the theater but recently watched the BluRay at home.

In a word, the movie was amazing. The special effects, the acting, and the absolutely gorgeous scenery alone make this a don't-miss movie. But of course there is also the moving story of the shipwrecked Pi and his weeks surviving in a lifeboat with a hungry full-grown tiger while coping with the loss of his family and trying to hold on to the hope of being rescued.

The novel was not an immediate or obvious choice for the big screen, and few directors could have pulled it off as spectacularly as did Ang Lee. Suraj Sharma, who played Pi, had the burden of carrying the bulk of the movie. What makes his performance especially impressive is that Life of Pi is his first role. According to the BluRay extra features, Sharma didn't really have any acting ambitions, and no one was more surprised than he was to have been picked for the role.

In my opinion, Life of Pi has deserved all its awards and critical acclaim. Here's the official trailer:


Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for providing me with a review copy of the movie.

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18 March 2013

Review: Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph

Fifteen-year-old Nina Perez loved her small coastal town in the Dominican Republic. She went to school and sold flowers to help out her mother. Nina had such a green thumb, she was known as the flower girl, and she was proud of her nickname. Her mother had high hopes for Nina, and when she worried that her daughter was taking too much interest in handsome young tourists, she sent her to Nueva York to live with her son, Darrio.

When the streets in Darrio's Washington Heights neighborhood turn out not to be paved with gold but are the home of drug dealers and scantily clad teens, Nina is more than homesick, she feels utterly out of place. And when she suspects the money her brother sends home every week is earned from shady dealings, she is scared for him and their future.

Lynn Joseph's Flowers in the Sky is a modern-day immigration story with a twist. Unlike most of the people Nina knew growing up, she doesn't want to come to America to marry a rich man. She is comfortable with who she is and finds joy every day. Her sadness comes only with the prospect of leaving the island and is deepened the first time she sees her brother's apartment, her new home:

It was like waking up on Christmas morning and finding nothing under the tree. Not even chocolate. The room was bare. Completely stark, as if it had been emptied of life to make room for what? Me? (p. 42)
Thanks to the advice of one of the neighborhood grandmothers, Nina tries to make the best of things and even attempts to re-create her beloved garden on the fire escape outside her bedroom window.

Complicating matters are Darrio's secret means of making money and her attraction to Luis, an eighteen-year-old with a bad reputation. Unlike many teen books, Flowers in the Sky is not about an all-consuming love that cannot be denied. Nina's behavior with Luis seems true to a girl who was raised by a strict mother. In addition, her inability to act on what she learns about her brother is also realistic. She knows what he is doing is wrong, but she is at a loss of what to do both to help Darrio and to protect her mother from learning the truth about her son.

Flowers in the Sky is an engrossing tale of how a smart young girl finds her true self just when she thought she was falling apart:
And like glass exploding into hundreds of sharp pieces, my soul suddenly expanded from its fragile place into shards of truth. I had the answer to my question all the time. It was so simple. The most important thing of all is to live your life fully and not hold back. (p. 235)
Although the novel is published under the HarperTeen imprint, I think its best audience is twelve- to fourteen-year-olds, who will have no trouble connecting to Nina and understanding her feelings. Book clubs, parents, and teachers will appreciate the reading guide questions on the HarperCollins site, which cover the major discussion topics, such as immigration, family expectations, education, and hopes and dreams for the future.

Note that the quotations included here are from an advanced readers copy of the book and may differ from the published edition.

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

Buy Flowers in the Sky at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
HarperCollins / HarperTeen, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780060297947
Rating: B

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

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16 March 2013

Weekend Cooking: The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman

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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I wonder if I even need to introduce you Deb Perelman, who has lived the dream of having her personal cooking blog go viral and then be lucky enough to have been asked to author a cookbook. Her The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, published last year, is the result of eight years of hard work.

If you've never visited smittenkitchen.com you should make a point of browsing the site. Perelman writes in an engaging style and is not shy about sharing the inspiration for her recipes, chatting about tips and tricks, and writing about her failures as well as her successes.

One of the prime reasons Perelman's blog is so popular is that she's a self-proclaimed obsesser when it comes to the details of a recipe. She takes notes and fusses over measuring, timing, and every little technique that goes into creating a dish. That way she can re-create her meals and share her recipes with others. This also helps guarantee that others will have great results when they follow her directions.

It's also good to know that Perelman cooks and bakes in a New York City apartment kitchen. You know, the kind of space never intended for anything but coffee, wine, and popcorn. Although I'm sure her appliances are top-notch, it's nice to know that we don't need a farmhouse kitchen to make her recipes. On the other hand, she lives in the city, and that means she has a world of ingredients at her fingertips or at least fairly close by. Whereas most of the recipes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook call for common ingredients, many of us will never see a fresh fig or decent clams in one of our local stores or markets.

I bet one of the big questions you have is, Why buy The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook when I can get the recipes for free on Perelman's blog? Putting aside the question of print versus e-sources, you want the book because it contains mostly brand new recipes. In addition, the recipes that look familiar have been tweaked, adapted, or varied, so that the book is both fresh and new.

However, I should point out that some of the text will look familiar to those of us who read the Smitten Kitchen blog. For example, although the braised short ribs in the book call for beer and the ones on the blog call for wine (there are other changes as well), Perelman's commentary for both is pretty much the same. I don't think this is a negative, but I thought I should mention it. By the way, the beer-braised short ribs in the book are outstanding, and I plan on making them again for friends.

Because there are so many fantastic recipes on Deb Perelman's blog and because the recipes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook reflect similar flavors and techniques, I'm not going to share a recipe here. Instead, I encourage anyone who is looking for a way to transform everyday dishes to extraordinary meals to buy the book and check out the Smitten Kitchen blog.

Buy The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Random House / Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780307595652
Rating: B+
Source: Bought (see review policy)


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15 March 2013

Imprint Friday: Beautiful Souls by Eyal Press

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.

Whenever we hear about a true-life hero we wonder how we would react in a similar situation. In some cases, it's easy: Yes, I would risk everything to save my child from harm. In other cases, it's not so easy: If I report my fellow employee, I may lose my job and jeopardize my family's well being.

In Beautiful Souls (out in paperback last month), Eyal Press examines the lives of four ordinary people who stood up against the tide to do what they thought was the right thing. Before I get to the particulars, here is the publisher's summary:

History has produced many specimens of the banality of evil, but what about its flip side, what impels ordinary people to defy the sway of authority and convention? Through these dramatic stories of unlikely resisters, Eyal Press’ Beautiful Souls shows that the boldest acts of dissent are often carried out not only by radicals seeking to overthrow the system but also by true believers who cling with unusual fierceness to their convictions. Drawing on groundbreaking research by moral psychologists and neuroscientists, this deeply reported work of narrative journalism examines the choices and dilemmas we all face when our principles collide with the loyalties we harbor and the duties we are expected to fulfill.
In this short book, Press takes the question of individual heroism to a greater plane. He doesn't ask what motivates us to stand up for a friend or relative or how a fireman finds the strength to enter a burning building. Instead he wants to know why some people possess the courage to do the right thing for strangers, despite great personal cost, such as losing a job, being shunned by the community, or risking arrest or death.

To explore the issue of personal courage, Press chose four individuals. Three are from wartime: A police officer who helped Jewish refugees in Switzerland in 1938, a Serb who lied to protect Croats from being killed; a young man who refused to partake in the Israeli Army's missions against Palestinians, and a broker who blew the whistle on her company, reporting wrongdoings to the SEC.

Each person is the subject of a single chapter, in which Press sets up the historic situation, introduces us to the rebel, and presents the facts of the defiant act. The stories were gleaned from personal interviews and the public record. Then Press looks deeper into each case, calling on literature, history, and psychological and philosophical studies about courage, defiance, moral fortitude, and altruism.

Although there are no clear answers, there are plenty of questions and much to ponder. For example, Press cites Thoreau's writings, especially his essay on civil disobedience, and makes the distinction between acting for the greater good and acting as an expression of personal standards. In the first case, you are motivated to, say, abolish slavery everywhere, but in the second case you are motivated to free only your own slaves to maintain your own "moral purity." Is one somehow better or more courageous than the other?

Most interesting to me is that, despite the great personal costs, ordinary heroes say they would do the very same thing again, even knowing their acts will negatively change their lives forever.

Eyal Press's Beautiful Souls is not inspirational reading, though you may be inspired; it's an examination of what it means to have the strength of your convictions. As Press says: "This is a book about . . . nonconformists, about the mystery of what impels people to do something risky and transgressive when thrust into a morally compromising situation: stop, say no, resist. (p. 5)." I'd like to think I'd be so brave, but I'm not completely sure.

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 Beautiful Souls at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Macmillan / Picador 2013
ISBN-13: 9781250024084

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

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14 March 2013

Imprint Extra: Giveaway of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Can you believe it's been ten years since Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner was first published? Over that decade, the novel has been read by tens of millions of people all around the world.

To celebrate the event, Riverhead Books has released a special 10th Anniversary Edition of The Kite Runner, which includes a new foreword by Hosseini.

I read the book soon after it first came out and long before I started blogging. I still remember the vivid characters, the friendship between the boys, the secrets revealed in adulthood, the contrast of life in Afghanistan versus the United States, the exploration of father-son relationships, and the intensity of the story.

The opening paragraph has the power to bring it all back to me:

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past, I've learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.
If you haven't yet read The Kite Runner, doesn't that make you want to know more? If you are already familiar with the book, then you know what happened that winter, and those sentences will cause the plot to begin to unfold for you.

Whether you're new to Hosseini or want to revisit the book, I have good news! Thanks to Riverhead Books, I'm thrilled that I'm able to offer one of my readers a copy of the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. All you have to do for a chance to win is to fill out the following form.

I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner on March 25, and once the winner is confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Winners must have a US or Canada mailing address (no PO Boxes, please). Good luck!



Riverhead Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, visit the Riverhead website. While there, explore their terrific book list, check out authors in the news, and view some fun videos. Stay in the know by following them on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

Buy The Kite Runner at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Penguin USA / Riverhead, 2013 (anniversary edition)
ISBN-13: 9781594631931

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

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12 March 2013

Wordless Wednesday 228

On Sunday's Walk

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Today's Imprint Read: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

What if you were a fifteen-year-old Afghanistan girl, living in a hut on the outskirts of town, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man who had three wives? Now let's say your mother dies and your father and his family don't want you and the shame you represent, so they marry you off to a stranger, a man thirty years your senior who lives hundreds of kilometers away. Here is Mariam on the third day in her new home as she realizes she is no longer free:

Mariam had never before worn a burqa. Rasheed [her husband] had to help her put it on. The padded headpiece felt tight and heavy on her skull, and it was strange seeing the world through a mesh screen. She practiced walking around her room in it and kept stepping on the hem and stumbling. The loss of peripheral vision was unnerving, and she did not like the suffocating way the pleated cloth kept pressing against her mouth.

"You'll get used to it," Rasheed said. "With time, I bet you'll even like it."
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Penguin USA / Riverhead, 2007, p. 72)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: mostly Kabul, from the early 1970s to the early 2000s
  • Circumstances: Mariam's home life with Rasheed; her relationship with Laila, Rasheed's second wife; life for women in Kabul during wartime and under the Taliban
  • Characters: Mariam, Rasheed (her husband), Laila (Rasheed's second wife), Laila's children, Tariq (Laila's childhood love)
  • Genre: literary fiction; beautifully descriptive of Kabul and the women's sphere
  • Themes: changing conditions in Kabul, marriage, motherhood, miscarriage; spousal abuse, women's rights, war, friendship, sacrifice, self-worth
  • Miscellaneous: winner of starred reviews and an Indie Next pick
Giveaway Alert

Come back on Thursday to enter a giveaway for a Hosseini novel.

What to Know More?

Learn about Khaled Hosseini by visiting his website where you can find videos, discussion questions, and information about his foundation to help the Afghanistan people. He's granted many interviews about A Thousand Splendid Suns, including with NPR and with BookBrowse. In the following video, Hosseini talks about the novel and his childhood in Afghanistan.


Riverhead Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, visit the Riverhead website. While there, explore their terrific book list, check out authors in the news, and view some fun videos. Stay in the know by following them on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

Buy A Thousand Splendid Suns at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Penguin USA / Riverhead, 2007
ISBN-13: 9781594483851

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

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11 March 2013

Review: Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni

review of Angelopolis by Danielle TrussoniWhen I reviewed Danielle Trussoni's first book about Verlaine and Evangeline, Angelology, in August 2010, I noted that the novel was "a literary and intelligent tale of good and evil." Trussoni's follow-up novel, Angelopolis, out on March 26, is a little more thriller and a little less literary but still made me think. In the following review, I assume you've already read Angelology.

Angelopolis begins a decade after Verlaine saw Evangeline unfurl her wings and take flight from the Brooklyn Bridge, leaving him confused and alone. Now an accomplished angel hunter, Verlaine has mixed feelings when he finally crosses paths with her in Paris. With her life in danger, Evangeline has only enough time to slip Verlaine a package before she is captured by an enemy angel.

The story takes us from Paris to St. Petersburg and from there to Bulgaria, the Black Sea, and finally Siberia as Verlaine races to save Evangeline. Meanwhile, he and his fellow angelologists search for the meaning behind the beautiful Fabergé egg she gave him, hoping it will help them discover a means for defeating the nephilim once and for all.

Drawing on biblical and apocryphal writings, Trussoni creates a world in which angels have never forgiven humankind for supplanting them as God's favored beings. Angelology supplies the background to this millennia-long conflict and introduces us to the Society of Angelology, which is devoted to the study of angels. In Angelopolis the focus shifts to archaeology, genetics, and history and tells us more about the angels who live among us and who have shaped human beliefs and politics through the ages.

I loved Trussoni's alternate interpretation of history—especially of Fabergé, Rasputin, and the European royal families—and the way the angelologists pooled their knowledge and research in their quest to understand Evangeline's heritage and to develop a weapon to kill or subdue their enemies. I was pleased that Angelopolis retained the thriller elements I enjoyed in the first book while dropping what I think of as the "Dan Brown ending."

On the other hand, the novel wasn't without some flaws. In particular, I believe there were some inconsistencies and far-fetched luck in the final scenes, and I'm confused about some of Verlaine's actions and thoughts on the last pages. Still, the book ends just as the world is about to change, and I'm looking forward to the next installment in the series.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio, 9 hr, 38 min) read by Edoardo Ballerini, who did a wonderful job keeping me engaged in the story. His pacing and characterizations fit the text, and to my untrained ears, his accents and pronunciations of foreign words were believable. Usually I'm thrown off when a series changes narrators, but I wasn't bothered here, probably because it's been a few years since I listened to the first book.

Buy Angelopolis at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by Penguin USA / Viking, March 26, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780670025541
Rating: B
Source: Review (see review policy)
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09 March 2013

Weekend Cooking: Review: D'lish Deviled Eggs by Kathy Casey

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.

_______
I can't vouch for other countries, but in the United States, one of the classic picnic foods is deviled eggs. These popular appetizers also make their way to festive tables, especially at Easter and Passover, two holidays that feature a lot of eggs.

Kathy Casey's D'lish Deviled Eggs shows us how to elevate these treats from ordinary to gourmet, with flavors and garnishes for almost every occasion all year round. More than just a recipe collection, this cookbook offers advice on technique, presentation, and menus.

Right off, I was attracted to the beautiful photography in D'lish Deviled Eggs. Just take a look at the cover; those pretty eggs would brighten up any buffet spread. Most home cooks will be happy to know that just about every recipe includes a stunning photo of the finished, nicely decorated deviled egg. What's more, Casey includes a section on how to build the perfect egg, from the boiling and cooling all the way to the piping and topping. No need to feel intimidated, Casey is with you through the entire process.

I loved the section on pretty egg dishes as well as the list of eggy holidays. No month is complete without at least one serving of deviled eggs. From the obvious Fourth of July to the more obscure Dry Martini Day and World Egg Day to the why-not of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day, Casey has a recipe that eggs-actly [sorry!] fits the flavors of the day.

The recipes are surprisingly global; I found Thai curry eggs, smoked salmon eggs, Greek eggs, and Mexican salsa eggs. In between you'll find decidedly American recipes, such as Buffalo, onion mix, green eggs and ham, and ranch. Truly, there is something for everyone in this little gem of a cookbook.

I made the Sunny Roasted Red Pepper Deviled Eggs. The yolks are mashed with red pepper pesto, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, orange juice and orange zest, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes. The orange is very subtle and perfectly balances the heat of the mustard and hot pepper. They were delicious, and the garnish of sliced almonds and smoked paprika was as easy as it gets.

I cut the recipe down to make only four eggs. Because I was making them for recipe and taste testing only, I didn't pipe my filling, but I absolutely would do this (so easy to accomplish) if I were serving the eggs for company.

You might wonder about the worth of owning an entire book dedicated to deviled eggs, but I highly recommend Katy Casey's D'lish Deviled Eggs. It opened up a whole new world of party food, and I'm looking forward to getting out my egg platter and serving up some beautiful, tasty treats to our friends and family.

For more about Kathy Casey and eggy ideas, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Buy D'lish Deviled Eggs at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781449427504
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)


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08 March 2013

Imprint Friday: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

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

It all started at a garden writers' convention and a free bottle of good gin. After mixing up a few jalapeno and gin cocktails to share with her fellow writers, Amy Stewart wondered why gardeners don't know more about booze and why bartenders don't know more about plants. And thus The Drunken Botanist was born.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Sake began with a grain of rice. Scotch emerged from barley, tequila from agave, rum from sugarcane, bourbon from corn. Thirsty yet? In The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart explores the dizzying array of herbs, flowers, trees, fruits, and fungi that humans have, through ingenuity, inspiration, and sheer desperation, contrived to transform into alcohol over the centuries.Of all the extraordinary and obscure plants that have been fermented and distilled, a few are dangerous, some are downright bizarre, and one is as ancient as dinosaurs but each represents a unique cultural contribution to our global drinking traditions and our history. This fascinating concoction of biology, chemistry, history, etymology, and mixology with more than fifty drink recipes and growing tips for gardeners will make you the most popular guest at any cocktail party.
If you've been following Imprint Friday, then you already know I'm big fan of Amy Stewart's (see my reviews of her Wicked Bugs and The Earth Moved). The Drunken Botanist is classic Stewart, chockfull of fascinating facts presented with her trademark humor and easy-to-read style.

The core of the book consists of descriptions of individual plants. For each one, Stewart provides botanical data, the history of how that plant came to be used in alcohol, how the drink/spirit is made, and how to grow the plant. From the common wheat, rye, and barley to the unexpected candidates (parsnips!), Stewart tells us how humans have used grasses, grains, herbs, flowers, nuts, seeds, trees, fruits, and spices to make every conceivable type of adult beverage found around the world.

And don't think this is some boring treatise on how to blend your love of gardening with your taste for rum. No. The Drunken Botanist is just plain fun to read. You can start at page one and read the book to the end, or you can pick and choose your favorite flavors, learning how they found their way into a bottle. Stewart doesn't skimp on including quirky facts, describing interesting people, giving us advice on how to drink and how to shop, and even telling us about the bugs that sometimes find their way into the vats.

Rusty Nail
Here are some of the questions she answers in The Drunken Botanist:
  • Water with your whiskey? Yea or nay and why?
  • Can bourbon distillers really make a case for terrior?
  • What's the result of a marriage between herbs and wine?
  • What did George Washington have to do with rye whiskey?
  • Which plant vital to beer can grow six inches a day?
  • What plant is found in more alcoholic drinks than any other?
  • How did trademark laws affect angostura bitters?
  • What does creme mean when used to describe liqueurs?
  • Can birds get drunk?
You'll learn all this and much, much more as you explore the many plants that are found in your favorite after-work drinks.

Of course, what book about booze is complete without some cocktail how-tos? Fortunately, Stewart doesn't let us down. She gives us recipes for classic daiquiris and old-fashioneds as well as more unusual drinks such as the lavender martini and blushing Mary. We also find information about how to make our own infusions and liqueurs and guides for growing our own ingredients.

As Amy Stewart notes, every good drink starts with a plant. So whether you're a gardener, drinker, cook, or all three you'll find hours of fascinating reading in The Drunken Botanist.

For more information about the book, including some recipes and gardening tips, visit The Drunken Botanist website. I also encourage you to check out Stewart's tour schedule. I sure wish she were visiting a city near me.

Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011. Don't forget to follow Algonquin on Twitter and Facebook and read their blog (where you can sign up for the Algonquin newsletter).

Buy The Drunken Botanist at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Workman / Algonquin Books 2013
ISBN-13: 9781616200466

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

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07 March 2013

Life of Pi: Book to Movie and Giveaway

Several years ago, the book blog world was abuzz with praise for Yann Martel's award-winning novel Life of Pi. This month, we're talking about the award-winning movie based on the book. It was directed by Ang Lee and is out next week on BluRay and DVD.

In case you're unfamiliar with the story, here's the studio summary of the film:

A "magnificent and moving" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) motion picture event that has been hailed as "a masterpiece" (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times), taking in over $500 million in worldwide box office. Life of Pi follows Pi Patel, a young man on a fateful voyage who, after a spectacular disaster, is marooned on a lifeboat with the only other survivor, a fearsome 450-lb. Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery, Pi and his majestic companion make an amazing and unexpected connection.
The premise of the story combined with phenomenal special effects make this one of the must-watch movies of the year.

Because I love both books and movies, I'm always fascinated by the process of turning a story of words into one of moving pictures. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment in conjunction with Think Jam talk about bringing Life of Pi to the silver screen:
The film's journey began with Yann Martel’s beloved book, one of the biggest publishing events of the past decade. The novel won the prestigious Man Booker Prize, and was a New York Times bestseller for over a year, so picking a director who could translate the source into a cinematic spectacle was essential.

Producer Gil Netter explained his choice by saying: "Ang Lee is an artist with whom I've long aspired to work, and is one of those magical talents who could masterfully take charge of the material." Lee is well known for taking on ambitious projects and began working on Life of Pi four years ago. Yann Martel was very happy with Lee’s involvement; he recently said "Ang was the perfect choice because he makes emotionally powerful movies. His projects run the gamut from the small and the intimate to the spectacular."

Watching his book being translated into film was a heady experience for Martel, who notes that "Life of Pi has been translated into forty-two languages. To see it translated on film as a movie is like the forty-third. The language of cinema is a universal one and to see the story translated that way is a thrill."

One of the hardest parts of the film-making was creating Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger with which Pi shares his epic journey. For obvious safety reasons they could not film with a live tiger on the boat so Lee relied on visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer and his CG team to help create this fearsome character. The result of their hard work is clear for all to see and Richard Parker looks as real on-screen as the four actual Royal Bengal Tigers which were used as physical and performance references.

Casting the lead character, Pi, was another big decision for Lee. Surprisingly Suraj Sharma, a newcomer who had not even intended to audition, was cast in the role. Sharma summed up his experience by saying "I can’t even say how much I’ve gained from being in the film. Like Pi, I feel I experienced something remarkable–emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually."
Movie-goers around the world have loved Ang Lee's interpretation of the novel. Whether you've already seen Life of Pi in the theater or have been waiting to watch at home, mark your calendar for March 12, which is when the BluRay/DVD goes on sale.

Giveaway: In the meantime, thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Think Jam, I can offer one of my readers (US mailing address only) a copy of the BluRay, which includes three documentaries and other special features. To enter for a chance to win, just fill out the form. I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner on March 15. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information.



Good luck!

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05 March 2013

Wordless Wednesday 227

February Sky


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Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I know what some of you are thinking: Does every young adult novel these days have to be part of a dystopian trilogy? And I admit that the market seems to be flooded. Regardless, some series do stand out above the crowd.

As I wrote last summer when I reviewed Divergent, the first in a futuristic series set in a crumbling Chicago, Veronica Roth's character development and world building drew me into the story. If you are totally unfamiliar with the series, see my earlier review for the setup, which I won't repeat here. This post contains no spoilers for Insurgent, but I can't avoid some spoilers for the first book.

Insurgent picks up almost immediately after the first book ends. Sixteen-year-old Tris Prior is still reeling from the initial battles of civil war in which she was forced to use violence and in which she witnessed the deaths of loved ones. There is little time for her to recover, however, because her participation in the revolt was caught on camera, and the central government has included her in their group of most-wanted individuals.

It soon becomes apparent that Tris is being hunted down for more than her use of a gun. In a society that relies on conformity for keeping the peace, anyone--like Tris--who has a strong free will is considered to be dangerous. Thus Insurgent follows Tris and her allies as they struggle to stay alive while attempting to find the key that will expose the central government's use of mind control to keep its citizens in line.

Although I loved Divergent, I had mixed feelings about Insurgent. I was pleased that Roth continued to developed Tris's world, introducing additional characters and showing us surprising aspects of individuals we thought we already knew. The use of and ongoing research into mind-controlling drugs continued to fascinate me, prompting me to consider a variety of ethical questions. In fact, many of the items in HarperTeen's discussion guide for the first book center around such issues (I didn't find a reading guide for Insurgent.)

The principal problem with Insurgent is Tris's relationship with the boy who goes by the name of Four. Although Tris is stronger and more independent than Bella (of the Twilight books), the novel is still full of the angst of teen romance. Tris and Four's on-again/off-again status changed so often, it was getting difficult to keep track. Not only was it tiresome to read about but it diluted the moments when Tris was forced to choose between fulfilling her own desires and advancing the greater good. I felt the relationship issues got in the way of the much more interesting societal problems and distracted my attention from the twists and turns of the larger plot.

Now you might be wondering if I plan to read book three. I do. First, the strength of the Divergent gives me hope that book three will return to the roots of the series, putting Tris and Four's romance on a side burner. Second, Insurgent ended on a major revelation about the world at large, and I really have to know what happens next.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Harper Audio, 11 hr, 22 min) read by Emma Galvin. Once again, Galvin demonstrated her skill at conveying a wide range of teenage emotions. Her excellent pacing and consistent characterizations added to my enjoyment of the story. If Galvin is the narrator of the next book in the Divergent series, I'll be sure to listen.

Buy Insurgent at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by HarperCollins / Katherine Tegen Books, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062024046
Rating: C+
Source: bought (see review policy)
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