31 May 2013

Imprint Friday: The Survey Edition

For the last three and a half years, I have featured or reviewed a don't-miss book from one of my favorite imprints for my Imprint Friday feature. As I walk the floors of BEA, discovering new authors and new books, I am also learning about new imprints and meeting new publicists. I thought I'd take a break this week and ask you to take a survey.

As I approach my 200th Imprint Friday post, I can't help but wonder what you think of my weekly feature. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer the following seven questions.



Thanks again, for taking my survey

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30 May 2013

Review: He Shall Thunder in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

You probably already know how much I love Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody books. Unlike some long series, Peters continues to keep the plots interesting, the level of humor just right, and the characters growing and changing.

The general premise of series, which takes place in the early part of the last century, is that Amelia and Emerson Peabody are well-known archaeologists who work primarily in Egypt. They are accompanied by their son, who is known as Ramses, and their two wards, David and Nefret. Trouble, mayhem, theft, and/or murder seem to follow them wherever they go. Each book involves some kind of crime that must be solved, which is played out against the backdrop of contemporary events and the growth and changing lives of the children.

In He Shall Thunder in the Sky, the fourteenth installment, the children are young adults, out of university and starting on their chosen career paths. The year is 1914, and the Peabodys are very much affected by World War I. The action centers most strongly around Ramses and his secret activities. Is he a coward escaping the battlefield and his duty to king and country? Or does he have something else up his sleeve?

Treading very carefully here so as not to give you even the slightest hint of what's to come in this book, I will say this: The end totally surprised me. I learned something about one of the main characters I didn't suspect, although more astute readers may have already figured it out. And I thought Elizabeth Peters made a brave and brilliant decision to change the course of the remaining five books. As the younger generation reaches maturity, we readers have to expect change, and I'm excited to see where Peters will take us next.

It's pretty much impossible for me to describe Peters's sense of humor. It can be a little embarrassing when I'm walking around the neighborhood or grocery store listening to a Peabody book and suddenly start laughing. People have a tendency to turn around and stare. Amelia's personality and some of the situations she and Emerson get tangled up in are just too funny not to enjoy fully.

So, I've pretty much told you nothing, I suspect. I listened to the audiobook more or less at the same time that SuziQoregon did. You can find her review tomorrow on her fab blog Whimpulsive. Check it out to learn her perspective.

The unabridged audiobook edition (Recorded Books; 17 hr, 7 min) was read by the wonderful Barbara Rosenblat. Her characterizations are so spot on that I cannot think of Amelia, Emerson, and the children without hearing her perfect inflections, wry humor, and consistent accents. Truly, the Rosenblat-Peters pairing was made in heaven!

Buy He Shall Thunder in the Sky at an Indie or other bookstore near you.
HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2000 (edition shown)
ISBN-13: 9780380976591
Rating: B+

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

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28 May 2013

Wordless Wednesday 239

Wheel, 2013


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Today's Read: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

What if turn-of-the-last-century New York was not what you think it was? Sure you'd find eastern European immigrants fresh off the boat, but you'd also find other-worldly creatures, the beings of folk tales. What would happen if, in the midst of the city, a Golem formed by a Polish Jew met a Jinni imprisoned in human form by a Syrian wizard? Would they have the same conflicts as their human counterparts?

The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship. The year was 1899; the ship was the Baltika, crossing from Danzig to New York. The Golem's master, a man named Otto Rotfeld, had smuggled her aboard in a crate and hidden her among the luggage.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (HarperCollins / Harper, 2013, p.1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New York City, 1899
  • Circumstances: The Golem and the Jinni had no control over their arrival in the city; they must learn to live alone in a human world, until they meet and recognize each other for what they are
  • Characters: Chava, the Golem, made of clay and protected by a rabbi; Ahmad, the Jinni, made of fire and beholden to a tinsmith; human immigrants; poor and rich New Yorkers; forces of evil
  • Genre: alternate history colored by folklore and religious mysticism
  • Themes: clashing cultures, immigration, loneliness, love, survival, friendship
Buy The Golem and the Jinni at an indie or other bookstore near you.
ISBN-13: 9780062110831

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

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27 May 2013

Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

I wonder if I should duck my head in shame that I've only just now gotten around to Mary E. Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Back in 2008, just months before I started Beth Fish Reads, I read about this young adult novel on one of my favorite blogs, Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast. I immediately bought the audiobook and put it on an mp3 player. Now, five years and several mp3 players later, I finally plugged in.

So for the two of you out there who haven't yet read The Adoration of Jenna Fox, here's the premise: Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox lives sometime in the future. It's after the big earthquake that changes the shape of California and technology is well advanced, but Jenna's America is not a dystopian one.

The book begins when Jenna wakes up after having been in a coma for almost a year after some kind of accident. She is struggling to regain her memory and get back her old life, which are made extra difficult because while she was still in the hospital, her mother and grandmother relocated her to the West Coast, leaving Jenna's father in their native Boston, where he must stay because of his work as a research geneticist. The more Jenna remembers, the more she senses something is not quite right--with her mind, her body, and her relationship with her parents.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox follows Jenna's journey to her reawakening to herself and the realities of her life after the accident. Pearson's world building is very cleverly done, especially because she set the time in the near future, in which people are coping with some of the problems that are today just beginning to rear their ugly heads, such as the effects of too many GMO products on the natural environment.

To keep from spoiling the story, I don't want to go into the characterizations too deeply. But I thought Jenna and her classmates reacted realistically to each other and to their circumstances. Pearson did a particularly good job with Jenna's grandmother, who is a little more traditional than the younger generations, and with the mysterious artist who lives next door.

I'm sure that many book clubs have discussed The Adoration of Jenna Fox over the years. The Macmillan website has a link to a reading guide with twenty-six great questions, ranging from the parent-child relationship to the future of technology. Teens and adults will find plenty to talk about after finishing this book.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Macmillan Audio; 7 hr, 44 min), read by the fabulous Jenna Lamia. Few narrators can capture the voice of teen as well as Lamia, and her talents shine in The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which is told from the first-person point of view. Lamia injects just enough emotion to allow listeners feel Jenna Fox's confusion and frustrations, anger and love without becoming overly dramatic. An audiobook treat.

Buy The Adoration of Jenna Fox at an indie or other bookstore near you.
Published by Macmillan / Henry Holt & Co., 2008
ISBN-13: 9780805076684
Rating: A-
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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25 May 2013

Weekend Cooking: Eat St. by James Cunningham

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.

_______
First off, I have to admit that I hadn't heard of James Cunningham or his Eat St. Cooking Channel television series before I saw this cookbook. Thanks to Cunningham's stand-up comedian background, I bet the show is hoot. Besides, who can resist the aromas and sights of fun, tasty street food?

Eat St. is the companion cookbook to the television show, featuring more than a hundred recipes from food trucks and food carts throughout the United States and Canada (and even a few from the UK). Although warmer climates and bigger cities are the best represented, Cunningham doesn't ignore the little guys.

I love the colorful, clean design of Eat St. and its fun, appetite-inducing photographs of the finished dishes. I also like the behind-the-scenes spotlight included with each recipe. Some of these sidebars feature the hardworking cooks; others tell us a story about the menu, the inspiration behind the flavors, or a history of the food truck.

The book is organized by types of food, such as snacks, wraps, burgers, and desserts. As you can imagine, there are quite a few recipes that call for deep-frying. But what I wasn't expecting was how many recipes (especially in the snack chapter) would call for prepared ingredients, like refrigerator biscuit dough, frozen potato nuggets, and canned fruits.

It's always a challenge to convert recipes scaled for restaurant service and relying on professional equipment for use in a typical home kitchen. In Eat St., the most successful dishes for the home cook, well for the way I usually cook at home, are the pizzas, sandwiches, soups, and salads. For example, there is a slow cooker pulled pork sandwich that I definitely plan on making this summer, and we loved the lamb sausage on greens salad, which I found easy to make. And, although my homemade pizza crust is a winner, I can't wait to try some of the variations given in the cookbook.

Unfortunately, I found the overall feel of the recipes to be uneven. Some didn't provide directions for major components of the finished dish. For example, a nacho recipe calls for prepared chili, but there is no recipe for that chili, making it impossible to replicate the original dish at home. Yet (proving that I'm hard to please), other recipes, like one for spicy chicken in a cone, consist of seven subrecipes! Yes, most of those subrecipes are for spice mixes and toppings, but I'm likely to flip on by that dish for something a little more time efficient.

Fans of the television show and of Cunningham will love this cookbook as will those of you who are lucky enough to live in a city with an abundance of food-truck dining. If you are planning a trip to southern California, New Orleans, or Vancouver, BC (among other cities), you should definitely take a look at Eat St. before you leave home; you wouldn't want to miss out on some of the tastiest quick meals around.

Late-Summer Harvest Salad
Purple Carrot in Lansing, Michigan
Serves 4

Sherry-Maple Vinaigrette
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • Salt and pepper
Salad
  • 2 cups heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cups watermelon balls
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ cup shelled unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 2 Honeycrisp or Fuji apples, julienned
  • Smoked salt or other coarse sea salt
For the vinaigrette, in a small bowl (or jar), combine all ingredients. Whisk (or shake jar) until emulsified.

For the salad, in a large bowl, toss the tomatoes, watermelon, cheese, and nuts with vinaigrette to taste. Serve topped with the apples and smoked salt.

Buy Eat St. at an Indie or other bookstore near you.
Penguin USA / Pintail, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780143187486
Rating: B-
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright 2013 cbl for www.BethFishReads.com


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24 May 2013

Imprint Friday: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

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

I doubt I have to introduce you to Khaled Hosseini or even talk about why his new novel, And the Mountains Echoed, was on my must list for this month. Once I started reading this much-anticipated book, which begins with a fairy tale, I was lost in Afghanistan's world of contrasts.

Here's the publisher's summary:

Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.
Hosseini asks a simple question: How far would you go to save your family and children? In 1952, Saboor, a poor Afghan villager, makes the heart-wrenching decision to sell his young daughter to a childless upper-class couple in Kabul, setting off ripples (echoes) that will affect both families for more than half a century.

One of the distinguishing features of And the Mountains Echoed is its structure, which consists of a series of non-chronological character studies played out against Afghan history and the diaspora. Together these studies make up a linear tale involving love and loss, hope and despair.

Because Hosseini gives each person in this story of family, betrayal, and hidden truths his or her own voice, we come to know the characters and the defining moments of their lives from different perspectives and in different time periods. In this way, Hosseini builds a multidimensional world that makes it easy for us to see the many sides of Afghanistan, from the poor villagers to the richest political bigwigs and from the people who chose to stay despite the conflicts to those who fled to the safety and freedoms of Europe and America.

Celebrating in turn the joys and and strengths of family bonds and the heart-breaking sadness when family and friends prove false, Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed packs an emotional punch that leaves us momentarily stunned, as we take in the far-reaching consequences of a few simple acts.

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 And the Mountains Echoed at an indie or other bookstore near you.
Published by Penguin USA / Riverhead, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781594631764

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

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23 May 2013

Spotlight and Guest Post: A. X. Ahmad (The Caretaker): On Writing and Cooking

It's always exciting to discover a debut author who is quietly garnering high praise from print media and bloggers alike. A. X. Ahmad's The Caretaker is a literary thriller that doubles as a immigrant story.

Here is a quick summary of the premise. Ranjit Singh is an ex-captain in the Indian Army who has fled to the United States with his wife and daughter to escape his past. He is now working as the off-season caretaker for a senator on Martha's Vineyard. Plagued by hallucinations stemming from a traumatic event in his past and trying to cope with his wife's worsening depression, Ranjit is far removed from the America that's paved with gold.

When the furnace in his house goes out, Ranjit moves his family into the now-empty senator's house until he can see to the repairs. Unfortunately, the house is robbed, pulling the Singhs into a deadly game of political intrigue. Ranjit must evade the bad guys while figuring out what they think he knows, and at the same time, he must protect his family and hide his own misdoings.

When I first met A. X. Ahmad through e-mail, I learned that we shared something in common: a love of food and cooking. When talking about a possible guest post for Beth Fish Reads, Amin immediately suggested that he write about the role food plays in his fiction. A perfect match for me, my blog, and my readers! I hope you enjoy his post as much as I do.

On Writing and Cooking

I have a confession to make: I'm obsessed with novels that involve food and cooking. And until I wrote my first novel, I never really realized why.

Ranjit Singh, the protagonist of my debut novel, The Caretaker, knows how to cook only one Indian dish: khitchri, a mixture of spices, lentils, rice and vegetables.

He learns to make it in the Indian Army, where he cooks it high up in the mountains, in the midst of a war. When he moves to America and lives on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, he cooks it to feed his depressed wife and young daughter. Later on, when his world falls apart and he’s in hiding, he scrounges the ingredients and cooks it again, savoring every bite.

In the book, I describe, step by step, how Ranjit makes khitchri: meticulously sautéing the spices, then the onions, measuring out rice and lentils, adding hot water, and finally, potatoes and peas. If you, the reader, follow each step, you can probably cook it, too.

When I wrote the book, I wasn’t sure why I included all these details. Only later did I realize the connection between cooking and my character. Ranjit Singh is a poor illegal immigrant in a new country but is too proud to admit that he’s homesick for India. His wife deals with her alienation by losing herself in Indian movies, but Ranjit clings to his roots by making and remaking khitchri, the one dish that he knows.

Cooking reveals character. That was my revelation. As writers, we create characters by showing the choices that they make: and what is more fundamental than the way we choose to feed ourselves?

I’m writing this at my favorite coffee shop in Washington, D.C. I come here every day. As soon as I walk through the door, they start making my breakfast: a turkey-and-onion omelet with whole wheat toast. Strawberry jam on the side. No butter. I sit at my usual table, and eat while I write.

I wonder what that says about me.
I've just started Amin's debut novel, but I can tell you right now that I plan to give khitchri a try. Indian spices with perfectly cooked lentils and rice sounds like the ultimate comfort food. No wonder Ranjit craves it.

As for Amin's breakfast? I'm not sure what it says about him, but I think I'm going to have to ask for the name of that coffee shop next time I'm Washington, D.C.

Buy The Caretaker at an indie or other bookstore near you.
Minotaur Books, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781250016843

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

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21 May 2013

Wordless Wednesday 238

Outbuilding, 2013


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Today's Read: A Certain Summer by Patricia Beard

How exactly would you live your life if your husband had been reported missing in action but was not declared dead? In 1948, Helen Wadsworth was lost in just such a limbo. How could she move on while still hoping Arthur will return to her and their son? But even more difficult, should she even be thinking of a life without him?

Nothing ever changed at Wauregan. That was island's purpose, its life force—and its myth. If there were questions, there were answers, either in the Rule Book devised by its founders and unaltered in half a century, or in the collective memory of its summer people.

The colony's traditions had survived two world wars and the Great Depression, yet in the summer of 1948, undercurrents and disruptions caused by the recent conflict swirled and sucked.
A Certain Summer by Patricia Beard (Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books, 2013, p.1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Wauregan Island off the New England coast
  • Circumstances: Helen and her son return to the island, looking forward to the comfort of the summer community
  • Characters: Helen and her teenage son, Jack; Frank and Peter, veterans and potential suitors; the island community
  • Genre: historical fiction with a bit of mystery; some romance
  • Themes: effects of war on relationships and marriage; differences between veterans and the loved ones left behind; coming to terms with loss; the magic of summer places
  • Miscellaneous: although billed as women's fiction and a good summer read, the novel examines deeper issues
Want to Know More?

In this short video, Patricia Beard discusses A Certain Summer and what inspired her to write historical fiction.


Buy A Certain Summer at an indie or other bookstore near you.
ISBN-13: 9781476710266

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

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20 May 2013

Review: Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman

From the Kentucky farm country to the center of Charleston and back again, Teddi Overman has spent a lifetime balancing her passions for high-end art and antiques with her rural roots. Despite success and a solid professional reputation, won through hard work boosted by helping hands, Teddi is haunted by her past, especially by the sudden disappearance of her younger brother, more than a dozen years earlier.

Beth Hoffman's second novel, Looking for Me, explores the sorrows and joys of traveling the path toward one's truest self. For Teddi and her brother, Josh, the journey stretched the bonds of family love to their limits. But were their choices really more painful and destructive than that of their mother, Franny, who gave up her dreams to tend to her husband?

Who we become as adults is shaped by our past and the gifts we are given by those who love us. Teddi looks deep beneath the rust and tarnish, the burns and nicks to see the beauty of an abused chair. She pauses to listen to the heirlooms tell their stories and takes the responsibility of restoring each antique to its pride and glory. Josh turned these same instincts to nature, preserving, protecting, and healing the plants and animals of his beloved wilderness.

Although Franny was never able to become a nurse and was far from a nurturing mother, her children inherited her desire to heal. If only Franny could recognize herself in Teddi and build on their similarities, she might find a way to help them both live with the uncertainty of Josh's fate. At what point do you move on? Do you ever stop looking and hoping?

Looking for Me is about the connections between people, within families, to nature, with the past. It's about a head-strong girl who loves her family and farm but who knows she can't stay. It's about how we never forget our loved ones and about how near impossible it is to live fully when our grief is mixed with hope and faith.

In fact, such dichotomous combinations color the novel. The writing is beautiful yet homey; the plot is simple yet complex; and we are in turns both smiling and teary. In a word, Beth Hoffman has written about real life. One of Hoffman's greatest strengths is in how easy it is to become emotionally involved with her characters. She writes from the heart and with such an authentic voice, we come by our love for her work as naturally as if we were reading about our own kin.

We are the authors of our lives, and, through choice or circumstance, some of us leave our stories unfinished or untold. Though it's taken me a long while to get here, I've come to accept that life, like the vast woodlands that surround my childhood home, is layered with mysteries. (p. 354; uncorrected proof)
Buy Looking for Me at an indie or other bookstore near you.
Published by Viking / Pamela Dorman Books, May 2013
ISBN-13: 9780670025831
Rating: A+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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18 May 2013

Weekend Cooking: Tequila Lime Chicken

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

_______
When I'm looking for a sure-fire success with the minimum of fuss, one of the first cooks I turn to is Ina Garten. I own most of her cookbooks, and they are all well used. Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family is one of my favorites.

Now that the weather here in central Pennsylvania has finally broken, we've officially begun our season of eating outdoors. To celebrate the first truly nice weekend, Mr. BFR suggested that we grill Tequila Lime Chicken, an easy, tasty centerpiece to any summer dinner. We served it with asparagus, a salad, and homemade dinner rolls.

The recipe calls for gold tequila, but I've had just as much luck with white (clear). Garten also suggests that you can add a tablespoon of minced cilantro to the marinade; I add a bit more than that. And I always squeeze my own lime juice, though I sometimes cheat on the orange juice. Leftovers make great sandwiches the next day.

Tequila Lime Chicken
Serves 4-6
  • 1/2 cup gold tequila
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (5-6 limes)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno pepper (1 pepper seeded)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (3 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 whole (6 split) boneless chicken breasts, skin on
Combine the tequila, lime juice, orange juice, chili powder, jalapeno pepper, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken breasts. Refrigerate overnight.

Heat a grill with coals and brush the rack with oil to prevent the chicken from sticking. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade, sprinkle well with salt and pepper, and grill them skin-side down for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn the chicken and cook for another 10 minutes, until just cooked through. Remove from the grill to a plate. Cover tightly and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

You can find the recipe online at the Food Network website. Photo credit: Food Network website.

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17 May 2013

Imprint Friday: The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble

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

To round out my celebration of Children's Book Week, I'm featuring a book from the relatively new Soho Teen imprint. When I read the premise of Joy Preble's new novel, The Sweet Dead Life, I knew it was a young adult novel for me. I liked that it had a contemporary setting and I was curious about how it was going to address the business of angels.

Here's the publisher's summary:

"I found out two things today: One, I think I'm dying. And two, my brother is a perv."

So begins the diary of Jenna Samuels, who is having a very bad year. Her mother spends all day in bed. Dad vanished when she was eight. Her older brother, Casey, tries to hold together what’s left of the family by working two after-school jobs—difficult, as he’s stoned all the time. To make matters worse, Jenna is sick. Really sick. When she collapses one day, Casey tries to race her to the hospital in their beat-up Prius and crashes instead.

Jenna wakes up in the ER to find Casey beside her, looking pretty good. Better than ever, in fact. Downright . . . angelic. The flab and zits? Gone. Before long, Jenna figures out that her brother didn’t survive the accident at all, and she isn’t just sick; she’s being poisoned. Casey has been sent back to help Jenna find out who’s got it out for her, a mystery that leads to more questions about their mother’s depression and their father’s disappearance.
Right off the bat I want to note that although The Sweet Dead Life does indeed have angels, Preble has taken a fresh approach. Yes, Casey is looking pretty good, but he's living at home, and he himself isn't quite sure what to make of those strange feathery nubs that are beginning to form on his back. Death may have made him clean up his act, but he's still a teenager and has the attitude to match.

It's fourteen-year-old Jenna, however, who steals the show. The novel is told through her journal entries, which allows us to see her unguarded thoughts. She may swear a bit more than the average young teen, but she's full of spunk and has a resilient spirit.

Two other aspects of The Sweet Dead Life are worth noting. First, the mystery of what happened to Mr. Samuels and why Jenna was poisoned is very well set up. There are several possibilities and a few red herrings to throw us off track, but the plot is not so twisty that we can't have fun trying to figure it out all on our own.

Second, I liked the fact that this young adult paranormal novel does not involve an all-consuming love story. In fact, the book focuses on family, especially bothers and sisters. Preble must have an older brother because Jenna and Casey's relationship is incredibly realistic. The Samuels household is absolutely not The Waltons, which makes it easy to care about Jenna's future.

If you're looking for a contemporary young adult novel with believable characters (never mind the angels) and an engaging plot, then be sure to pick up The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble. The balanced mix of mystery and light paranormal elements give the book a broad appeal, and the deeper issues of family, depression, drugs, and abandonment give the story some meat.

Soho Teen, an imprint of Soho Press, released its first book in January 2013. Its debut catalog offers a strong lineup covering a variety of genres. To learn more about the imprint, visit the website, like the Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter.

Buy The Sweet Dead Life at an indie or other bookstore near you.
Published by Soho Press / Soho Teen
, May 2013
ISBN-13: 9781616951504

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

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16 May 2013

Review: Big Nate Game On! by Lincoln Peirce

Are you familiar with Nate Wright? Although I've read reviews of other Big Nate graphic novels by Lincoln Peirce, Big Nate Game On! is the the first one I've read and it's a perfect choice for Children's Book Week.

The first thing I learned about Nate is that he definitely doesn't have a self-esteem problem. He's convinced he's the best at whatever he does. Now far it be it for me to discourage such a positive attitude, but, um, Nate doesn't exactly live up to his self-made reputation. Fortunately, his friends put up with him and he has just enough luck to see him through. His long-suffering coach is a little less tolerant, but coaching sixth-graders is no walk in the park.

The collection of comics in Big Nate Game On! lets us tag along as Nate makes a name for himself (not necessarily in a good way) in athletics. Each of the three sports he plays brings out a different aspect of his personality. On the BB court, Nate practices trash talking more than he does his dribble. During the summer, he tries to come up with a cooler baseball team name than the Chez Lindas, named after their beauty parlor sponsor. And when playing soccer, he has to overcome a bit of jealousy while convincing himself that he's the star of the team.

Nate, his friends, his coach, his cranky gym teacher, and even cats all add to the fun of this laugh-out-loud look at middle grade sports. You and your kids will get a kick out of Nate's antics. Take a look at the scan (click to enlarge it) to get an idea of just how much trouble Nate can get into.

Although you can certainly read Big Nate Game On! purely for fun, teachers and parents will find plenty to talk about, such as friendship, sportsmanship, coaching, jealousy, and playing fair. Although it might sound odd to suggest a collection of comics for a book club, I think this book would be perfect. Boys, especially, will laugh over Nate's efforts to outwit the coach, outplay the bigger boys, and outrun cats (he's scared of them!). Whether they read the book on their own or with others, young readers will love Big Nate Game On!

Here is a short video of Lincoln Peirce explaining how he comes up with ideas for Big Nate and demonstrating how he draws the gym teacher.


Buy Big Nate Game On! at an Indie or other bookstore near you.
Andrews McMeel, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781449427771
Rating: B+

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

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14 May 2013

Wordless Wednesday 237

Historic Granary, 2013


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Review: Not Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis

Did you know that this is Children's Book Week? I'm celebrating by talking about young adult and middle grade books I've read this month. Yesterday, I reviewed two selections for a mother-daughter book club; today's novel is nod to the late twentieth century and is told from a boy's perspective.

In 1977, Vinnie Gold wonders what more could go wrong in his life: His parents divorced, his mom remarried, he was mugged, his dog died, he got a bad case of acne, and now he has to move from the city to Long Island. He grumbles about learning to adjust to a new house, new school, and new friends, but--whoa!--check out the cute girl who lives next door.

Despite all the other things going on in his life, Vinnie's main problem is that he's sure he isn't cool enough for Patsy, who hangs out with the football star. When Vinnie accidentally gets the number for her private phone line, he gets up his nerve to call her, but when Patsy answers, he can't speak. Later, he calls back to apologize for scaring her, disguising his voice.

And thus begins Vinnie's dual life. By day, he is the nerdy neighbor boy Vinnie, but by night he is the confident, witty Italian teen (whom Vinnie thinks of as Vincenzo). But, of course, Patsy doesn't know the identity of her midnight caller. Forced finally to agree to a face-to-face meeting at the school dance, Vinnie/Vincenzo comes up with a desperate scheme, hoping that Patsy will learn to accept him as he really is.

Audrey Couloumbis's Not Exactly a Love Story takes a realistic and sometimes funny look young teen troubles during a time when kids could still have secrets and life's dramas were not quite so public and rarely escalated. Because the young adult novel is told from Vinnie's perspective, it should have appeal to both boys and girls.

I found Vinnie to be a likable guy who tries hard to adjust to his changing family situation. This is not the story of an evil stepfather or arguing parents. And, in fact, Vinnie still has a good relationship with his father and comes to accept his mom's new husband. That doesn't mean he's wildly happy or is a sap, but he's a good kid who makes the best of things he can't change.

At the core of the novel is Vinnie's efforts to gain self-confidence and discover his true self while trying to win the heart of pretty and popular Patsy. In his everyday personality, he's a good student, he helps out at home, and enjoys caring for tropical fish. With his stepfather's encouragement, he rather awkwardly decides to take up a sport and become a bit more well-rounded. By night on the phone, though, Vincenzo is (so he thinks) suave and assertive, which sometimes works but also backfires. All this adds up to both fun times and a few cringe-worthy moments.

Vinnie's story is a universal tale of the trials and tribulations--and joys--of the awkward teen years, set in a time when high schoolers had more more freedom and privacy than they have today. In Not Exactly a Love Story, Audrey Couloumbis doesn't idealize the 1970s, but you can't help but wonder what today's kids are missing thanks to their full schedules, instant communication, and constant supervision. Lots for kids and their parents to ponder.

I listened to the audiobook edition (Listening Library; 6 hr, 13 min), read by Maxwell Glick. Glick did a great job channeling his teenage self. His reading is expressive and engaging and increased my connection to the novel and sympathy for Vinnie.

Buy Not Exactly a Love Story at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Random House / Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780375867835
Rating: B

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

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13 May 2013

Review: May's Selections for the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club

Remember when I introduced you to the Scholastic Mother Daughter Book Club for middle readers? I'm committed to featuring or reviewing all the books selected for this club because I think Scholastic has picked winning titles that have broad appeal.

Don't forget that the Scholastic book club site includes more information about the books, recipes, reading guides, and contests. The resources are perfect for book clubs, teachers, homeschoolers, and any one who wants to get more out of reading books with middle grade readers.

Did you know that this is Children's Book Week? I'll be celebrating all week, starting with this month's Scholastic selections, featuring two novels that deal with family issues.

Isla's favorite day of the year isn't Christmas or her birthday, but the day she and her dad get up before dawn and drive to a nearby lake and watch the whopping swans return from Iceland. The year she turns thirteen, however, everything seems to go wrong.

First, her best friend moves to Glasgow. Then on the day the swans return, there is an accident that injures some birds and separates the flock. Finally, a few days later, Isla's father collapses while running across a field. Thanks to her quick phone call to emergency services, her father is taken to the hospital, where doctors work to stabilize his heart.

Lucy Christopher's Flyaway is a contemporary novel about wildlife, hope, first love, and coping with illness and family crisis. Offsetting Isla's worries about her father is her growing fondness for a young cancer patient, Henry, she meets at the hospital and her unwavering concern for the wild swans.

Flyaway may deal with serious issues, but young readers will love Isla's strong spirit, her passion for wild birds, and her devotion to her father. I like that her budding relationship with Henry is age-appropriate and builds slowly. In fact, it's not really clear if the teens will end up as just friends or something more, which is how it should be for youngsters who are still getting to know each other.

One great thing about Flyaway is that there are so many topics for conversation. Book clubs that would like to avoid more mature subjects can concentrate on conservation issues, brother-sister relationships, and the different ways the three generations in the novel react to hospitals and modern medical care. Other groups might compare their reactions to Henry's illness and Isla's father's heart problems or explore family dynamics, hope, facing reality, and mortality.

The discussion questions at the Scholastic book club site cover these issues and more. The suggested recipe is for the cutest bird's nest cookies, which are a perfect match for Lucy Christopher's thought-provoking novel.

Ann M. Martin's first installment of a new Family Tree series is Better to Wish, in which 100-year-old Abby looks back on the significant moments of her life during the 1930s in Maine.

Abby's father is a strict man who works hard as a carpenter to support his family during difficult economic times. He is not always the most sensitive person and has trouble accepting people who are different from him. He is also ambitious and wants to rise in social status. Abby does her best to be a good girl and obey her father, but she often has a hard time understanding his rules. Although her mother is loving and supportive, she cannot always intervene.

Better to Wish covers quite a few of Abby's memories from the time she was eight up until she is in her early twenties. Although the novel moves quickly through time, Martin is careful to develop each character, and young readers will have no trouble connecting to Abby and her sisters. Besides describing the big events in Abby's life, the novel also examines some of the overarching issues of the time, such as the economy, social customs, marriage, and opportunities for girls and women.

Some of things that Abby remembers are cutting out paper dolls with her best friend, the year Thanksgiving was almost stopped because of a big snow storm, the day her family moved from their ocean-side cottage to a big house in town, and the boys she had crushes on. But, as for most of us, Abby's childhood was not a fairy tale. She also also recalls her mother's sadness over two miscarriages, the fate of her disabled younger brother, and her father's bad temper.

Book clubs will likely want to talk about the differences between Abby's life during the Great Depression and their own in the twenty-first century, such as what Abby did for entertainment, how she helped out at home, and the types of gifts she could expect. Other topics are Abby's relationship with her father, prejudices, the importance of social status, the nature of friendship, and the bond between sisters.

For more ideas, see the discussion questions at the Scholastic book club site. The suggested recipe for Better to Wish is a strawberry ice cream cake. Your young readers will immediately recognize the significance of the ice cream for Abby.

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

Buy Flyaway at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Scholastic Press, 2011; ISBN-13: 9780545342148
Buy Better to Wish at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Scholastic Press, 2013; ISBN-13: 9780545359429
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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11 May 2013

Weekend Cooking: Campfire Cuisine by Robin Donovan

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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Wait a minute! Get your finger off that mouse. I know what you're thinking: you don't camp, so why do you need to read about Robin Donovan's Campfire Cuisine. Because I said so? No. Because if you ever go on a picnic, have a cookout, grill out on the deck, or spend the day at the park and long for something besides hotdogs and chips, then you need the recipes, advice, and tips Donovan provides in this terrific little cookbook.

Everyone knows that food tastes better when cooked and eaten in the great outdoors, especially after a day of hiking, swimming, or playing ball. But for some reason, even the most avid at-home foodies seem to fall apart when it comes to cooking outside. After an eye-opening (or should I say tummy-satisfying) camping trip with friends, Donovan began developing classic recipes "that are not only easy enough for camping but delicious enough that you would be proud to serve them at home."

Granted, the type of camping Donovan is talking about is what I call car camping, meaning you are not too far from your vehicle so you can pack coolers, a camp stove, and other kitchen supplies that would be impracticable for the backpacker. Her recipes work for any kind of outdoor cooking, from wood fires to charcoal and gas. And the majority of them also include instructions for making the dishes at home in your air-conditioned and mosquito-free kitchen.

I love the size of Campfire Cuisine (about 7 inches by 5½ inches), which makes it easy to slip this gem of a cookbook into a tote bag or kitchen-supply box.The clean green and brown color scheme with easy-to-read fonts and pencil drawings make the book a joy to use, and the tips and variations have their own special design, so you won't miss any of Donovan's good advice. The paper is heavy enough to withstand outdoor reading but not so heavy to make the book unwieldy.

So what will you find in Campfire Cuisine? Both useful information about cooking outdoors and delicious recipes you'll use even when at home. Part one is devoted to introducing us to the notion of camp cooking. Donovan talks about equipment, food safety, cooking techniques, do-ahead tricks, menu planning, and shopping. She even gives us instructions for building a fire, whether we're using wood or charcoal briquettes.

I particularly love the charts and lists. The two most useful are the food storage chart, so you can see at a glance how long eggs and meat will last in a cooler, and the cooking times chart, so you can feel confident about how long to cook that chicken.

One very clever thing that campers will appreciate: Donovan's recipes require only two types of pans: a 2-quart lidded pot and a 10-inch lidded skillet. How's that for keeping your packing simple? Of course, you'll likely want to bring along some of the suggested extras, such as a grilling basket, but you can make do if you're a minimalist.

On to the recipes, which are what you've all been waiting for. As I mentioned, the recipes are designed to provide maximum flavor with minimum fuss, which is what you want when camping or cooking at the park. Do-ahead ideas, such as mixes, and quick and tasty sauces and marinades are just some of Donovan's tricks. Here is the breakdown of the chapters:
  • Salad Dressings, Sauces, Marinades, and More: Besides what's listed in the chapter title, you'll find spice rubs and condiments; the Greek marinade and chipotle aioli both look good.
  • Breakfast: Eggs and French toast are nice, but fresh-baked scones, breakfast wraps, and polenta with sausage are nicer.
  • Sandwiches, Salads, and Such: The curried chicken sandwich, couscous salad, and gourmet grilled cheese variations are my top picks from this chapter.
  • Snacks and Appetizers: Here you'll find salsas, crostini and bruschetta, dips, and even savory s'mores.
  • Entrées: Donovan supplies recipes for fancy burgers but also includes recipes for stews, jambalaya, barbecued duck wraps, shrimp, vegetarian quesadillas, and meats of all kinds.
  • Cooked Vegetables, Grains, and Other Sides: From simple grilled veggies and baked potatoes to cheesy biscuits and roasted beets, this chapter provides easy sides to round out your dinner.
  • Desserts: There are only a few desserts here, but the cooked fruit, hot chocolate, and magic pie all sound yummy.
I don't know about you, but we practically live on our deck from the first warm days of spring until the cool temperatures of late fall finally drive us back inside. Summer is going to be a lot tastier this year with Campfire Cuisine at my side. In fact, I'm wondering if I should buy an extra copy to keep with the camping gear.

Bourbon-Glazed Chicken
This is the perfect excuse to bring along a bottle of bourbon for a late-night warm-up. You can substitute red wine, port, sherry, or balsamic vinegar for the bourbon. Or use flank steak instead of chicken.
Serves 4
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • ⅓ cup bourbon
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
Place the chicken breasts in a ziplock bag and pound to flatten to a thickness of 1 inch. Mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl until well combined. Pour into the bag with the chicken. Seal the bag and place in a cooler to marinate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. When ready to cook, place the chicken on a grill over high heat, reserving the marinade, and grill for 5 to 7 minutes per side, until the chicken is cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking, pour the leftover marinade into a pot and bring to a boil on a camp stove. Boil the marinade for at least 5 minutes (for food safety). Continue to boil until the sauce reduces and thickens. Spoon a little of the glaze over each chicken breast. Serve immediately.

Buy Campfire Cuisine at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Quirk Books, 2006
ISBN-13: 9781594746284
Rating: B+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright 2013 cbl for www.BethFishReads.com


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10 May 2013

Imprint Friday: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

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

Before I turned the first page, I knew nothing about Suzanne Rindell's debut novel, The Other Typist, except that it took place in the 1920s and it was an Amy Einhorn book. Because I started the book with no preconceived notions whatsoever, I was totally unprepared to be so completely knocked over the head by its impact.

First, the publisher's summary:

Rose Baker seals men’s fates. With a few strokes of the keys that sit before her, she can send a person away for life in prison. A typist in a New York City Police Department precinct, Rose is like a high priestess. Confessions are her job. It is 1923, and while she may hear every detail about shootings, knifings, and murders, as soon as she leaves the interrogation room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for filing and making coffee.

This is a new era for women, and New York is a confusing place for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. All around her women bob their hair, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. Yet prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her childhood. When glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under Odalie’s spell. As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully into Odalie’s high-stakes world. And soon her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.
Deep breath. Gather thoughts. How to talk about The Other Typist without spoiling things for you. Let me address about the structure of the plot and the time period and hope my infatuation with this book comes shining through.

Rindell sets up the plot of The Other Typist very carefully, pulling us in by subtle increments until we're hooked before we realize it. Soon after we're introduced to Rose and then to Odalie, we are told that something happened that involved one or the other or both of them. We don't know the particulars, but we begin to form some opinions. Then, as we read, the story shifts beneath us, like sand, and we begin to second-guess Rose, Odalie, and even our own thoughts.

We have questions, and we can't stop reading until we find the answers. We recognize turning points in the plot and Rose specifically spells out others, but we can't quite grasp the significance of these events. We need to learn more. And so it is that we--like Rose--are dragged deeper and deeper into the world of Odalie. We are never completely comfortable there, but we can't help but want to stick around.

Have I confused you? Have I caught your attention? I hesitate to tell you more than what you get from the publisher's summary because I think this is a book that is best experienced blind. I'm even reluctant to give it a genre label; tags such as psychological thriller, historical fiction, and character study simplify The Other Typist and don't covey the almost creepy emotional depth and compelling story arcs that keep the reader so fully invested in Rose and Odalie's relationship.

To say that The Other Typist is historical fiction is only part right. Yes, it takes place over the course of almost a year, starting in 1924. And, yes, flappers, speakeasies, bobbed hair, and rum runners all solidly place the novel in its time period. But Rindell didn't write what I would call traditional historical fiction. The time and place are utterly important and necessary for the story to work, yet the real focus is on the dynamics between Odalie and Rose and how they react to the somethings that happened.

Suzanne Rindell's The Other Typist is a hard-hitting novel that you'll mull over for days and weeks. You'll leaf back through the book, searching for the hints and clues you missed, dissecting conversations, and reassessing your thoughts about the characters. Oh and that epilogue . . . yeah, that's a section that requires a reread or three. Book club members should start planning their next meeting right now. The Other Typist will keep you talking long after the meeting should have ended.

Amy Einhorn Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010, or click the Amy Einhorn tab below my banner photo. To join the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge, click the link.

Buy The Other Typist at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Putnam
/ Amy Einhorn Books, May 7, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780399161469

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

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09 May 2013

Review: Lowcountry Summer by Dorothea Benton Frank

When Caroline Wimbley Levine reached the far side of her forties, she found herself living in her childhood home of Tall Pines, a plantation in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, trying to fill her late-mother's shoes. At first it didn't seem so difficult; she had at least two beaux, her son was off at college, her brother was happily living with his girlfriend, and her crazy almost-ex-sister-in-law was minding her own business. Summer was just around the corner and life seemed good.

In retrospect, Caroline should have probably asked Millie to read the signs so she could have been more prepared. The heat brought all kinds of trouble, and Caroline wasn't sure she was up to the task of taking charge the way her mother could have. By midsummer, there wasn't a soul in the Wimbley family who wasn't grieving, dealing with personal issues, or having problems with love. Caroline, with help from her loved ones, was determined to put everyone back together again before autumn.

In a word, Dorothea Benton Frank's Lowcountry Summer is a delight. The book is funny and sexy, but Frank includes enough serious issues to make the novel a smart read that's perfect both for vacation and for book clubs.

Caroline has her hands full and tries to do the best she can for her family. Although she makes a few mistakes along the way and gets herself into some uncomfortable situations, her heart is always in the right place. I loved her loyal streak and genuine kindness and absolutely appreciated her fondness for gossip and willingness to sling a sarcastic comment or two when needed. She is a very genuine character.

As I mentioned, Lowcountry Summer would make a terrific book club selection. Topics for discussion include alcoholism, parenting, middle age, relationships, societal expectations, forgiveness, second chances, and Southern living. I suggest that you whip up a batch of Millie's famous biscuits and get out the sweet tea because your reading group will want to settle in for a good long talk about Caroline and her clan.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Harper Audio, 12 hr, 12 min), read by Robin Mills. What can I say? Mills was the absolute perfect narrator for Lowcountry Summer. Her accent and perfect timing brought Caroline and the entire Tall Pines gang to life. Mills's narration had a touch of true performance to it but never crossed the line to too dramatic. She delivered the humor and the sadness with equal skill and kept me so engrossed, I finished the audiobook in record time.

To get a taste of Lowcountry Summer, either read the opening paragraph and watch a short video, which I posted last week, or listen to the beginning of the audiobook by clicking on the "Preview audio" link at the HarperCollins website.

Buy Lowcountry Summer at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
HarperCollins / William Morrow, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780061961175
Rating: B+

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

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07 May 2013

Wordless Wednesday 236

Porch Swing and Flower, 2013

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Today's Read & Giveaway: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

What would you do if your semi-scandolous life caught up with you and you had to leave Europe before things got out of hand? It's the early 1920s, and fun-loving Delilah Drummond has no intention of going to America, where she couldn't get a legal drink. Instead, she agrees to Kenya—to her ex-stepfather's lakeside property—just until things blow over, of course.

Don't believe the stories you have heard about me. I have never killed anyone, and I have never stolen another woman's husband. Oh, if I find one lying around unattended, I might climb on, but I never took one that didn't want taking. And I never meant to go to Africa. I blame it on the weather. It was a wretched day in Paris, grey and gloomy and spitting with rain, when I was summoned to my mother's suite at the Hotel de Crillon. I had dressed carefully for the occasion, not because Mossy would care—my mother is curiously unfussy about such things. But I knew wearing something chic would make me feel a little better about the ordeal to come. So I put on a divine little Molyneux dress in scarlet silk with a matching cloche, topped it with a clever chinchilla stole and left my suite, boarded the lift and rode up two floors to her room.
A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn (Harlequin / Mira, 2013, first paragraph)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Kenya, at Fairlight outside of Nairobi, 1923
  • Circumstances: there are questions about Delilah's inheritance after the death of her most recent husband; to avoid scandal and lawsuits she relocates to Africa
  • Characters: Delilah; her cousin Dora; safari guide J. Ryder White; various ex-pats
  • Genre: historical fiction with a love story
  • Themes: love; staying true to oneself; conservation; prejudice; colonization
  • Personal: I love this time period in Africa; a hundred pages in, the characters and setting fit with what I know of the place of the time; I'm sure I already know the ending but I'm hooked anyway
The Author

A sixth-generation native Texan, New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn grew up in San Antonio, where she met her college sweetheart. She married him on her graduation day and went on to teach high school English and history. During summer vacation at the age of twenty-three, she wrote her first novel. After three years as a teacher, Deanna left education to have a baby and pursue writing full-time. Fourteen years and many, many rejections after her first novel, she signed two three-book deals with MIRA Books.

Deanna’s novel Silent in the Grave won the 2008 RITA® Award for Novel with Strong Romantic Elements and the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best First Mystery. The Lady Julia Grey series has been nominated for several other awards, including an Agatha, three Daphne du Mauriers, a Last Laugh, four additional RITAs, and two Dilys Winns. Dark Road to Darjeeling was also a finalist for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Historical Mystery as well as a Romantic Reviews’ finalist for Best Book of 2010.

Be sure to visit Deanna Raybourn's website and follow her on Twitter.

The Giveaway

Thanks to Big Honcho Media and Harlequin, I am pleased to offer two of my readers a copy of Deanna Raybourn's A Spear of Summer Grass. The only restriction is that you must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address. Fill out the form, and I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner on May 15. Once the winners have been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information. Good luck!



Buy A Spear of Summer Grass at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
ISBN-13: 9780778314394

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

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06 May 2013

Giveaway & Party Idea: Safe Haven (BuRay)

You might remember that last summer I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit the Safe Haven movie set. In February, I wrote about my day on the set and also included a writeup of what author Nicholas Sparks had to say about the process of turning a novel into a film.

Although I went to see the film the first week appeared in the theaters, I have been anxiously awaiting the DVD / BluRay release so I can watch the parade scene very carefully to see if I might have made the cut. I couldn't tell on the big screen. Fortunately, my wait is over because the BluRay edition will be released for sale tomorrow!

Here's the synopsis of the film, just in case you don't know yet:

Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough star in this spellbinding romantic drama based on the novel by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook). When a mysterious, beautiful woman named Katie (Hough), moves to Southport, North Carolina, she sparks the interest of the locals, especially Alex (Duhamel), a handsome widower. Although she is attracted to Alex, Katie is reluctant to trust him–that is, until a new friend (Cobie Smulders) convinces her to give Alex a chance. But before long, a dark secret from Katie’s past threatens her happiness in this thrilling romance directed by Lasse Hallström (Dear John).
Once you get your copy, why not invite some friends over to watch it with you. Thanks to Think Jam, you can turn your movie night into a fun-filled "Women's Night In" by taking advantage of the following food and drink suggestions. Although Southport, North Carolina, is known for its seafood, you can serve some of the "land food" if that suits you better.
Appetizers and Finger Foods
  • Crab cakes
  • Seafood chowder
  • Fried Shrimp with cayenne aioli
  • Crab dip
  • Sugarcane skewered scallops
Non-Seafood Ideas
  • Pimento cheese
  • Deviled eggs
  • Fried chicken
  • Cheese straws
  • Vidalia onion tart
  • Tomato pie
Drinks
  • Bourbon punch
  • Mint julep
  • The Ramos gin fizz
  • Lavendar and peach bellini
I'm not quite sure what I'd serve, but I think crab dip, deviled eggs, cheese straws, and mint juleps might make for a nice and easy southern-themed evening.

The Giveaway: Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Home Entertainment, I can offer one of my readers his or her very own copy of the BluRay edition of Safe Haven. But no promises that you'll see me in it! All you need to do to enter for a chance to win is to have a U.S. mailing address and to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner on May 15 using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll delete all personal information. Good luck!

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04 May 2013

Weekend Cooking: Adventures with Bon Appetit

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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Although I love my cookbooks and the Internet, I still get a few magazines. My all-time favorite was Gourmet (moment of silence for its passing), which I subscribed to from about 1978 until it ceased publication. I've gotten Bon Appetit for the same number of years, and I look forward to each issue.

I know it's going to sound corny, but I have a routine when I get a new issue of a cooking magazine in the mail. I like to sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and a pack of sticky flags and mark all the recipes that look good to me. (See the markers sticking out of the top of the magazines in the photo?). Then I try to make one or two of those dishes.

I thought I'd share some of my adventures with Bon Appetit over the last three months. I am not a very good food photographer (yes, I need to work on that), so I've used the photos found on the magazine's website. All the dishes I tried are found there; follow the links for the recipes.

March

The cover of the March issue is soups, and I'm one of those people who could eat soup almost every single day. I had marked a few to try, like Chicken and Biscuits, but for some reason I never made any of them. Well, I know the reason: I'm insanely busy in March and don't do much cooking. What I did make was a wonderful Beer-Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Red Cabbage. I made this with boneless pork chops (because that's what was in the freezer) and instead of baking it in the oven, I grilled it. The cabbage is a side dish and was yummy.

April

The April cover is the one you see in the photo above. Doesn't that stack of pancakes look awesome? I didn't make them, but boy were they tempting. Instead I celebrated spring with a flavorful White Bean and Radish Salad. We had it as a side dish with grilled cheese sandwiches and then ate it for lunch during the week. This is a definite keeper and would be terrific at a summer cookout or on a buffet.

For my husband's birthday, I made the Strip Steak with Onion Marmalade. This was good, but I didn't use their suggested seasoning, which I thought was going to be way too salty. The butter baste (hey, it was a birthday!) didn't really add anything to the flavor,  so wouldn't do that again. We liked the onion marmalade, though, and put it in the grilled cheese sandwiches I mentioned earlier. Now that was an wonderful discovery.

May

May's cover featured a gigantic fried-chicken sandwich. I'm not that interested in fried food, but I did find a few fabulous recipes. Have you ever made a savory bread pudding? If not, you should give them a try. They are the ultimate comfort food. We loved the Parmesan Bread Pudding with Broccoli Rabe and Pancetta so much, we were tempted to eat the whole pan in one sitting. Really, it was that good. I used regular bacon because I had it in the house, but other than that, I pretty much followed the directions.

We also really liked the Steak and Soba Stir-Fry, although I'm not sure if I really needed a recipe for such a simple dish. Another winner was the Brown Rice and Beans with Ginger Chile Salsa, served with avocado and Cotija cheese. This stood on its own for dinner but would go well with tacos or enchiladas if you wanted to add meat to your meal.

I still have a lot more recipes to try from these issues of Bon Appetit. Sometime this summer, I'll reassess the likelihood that I'm really going to make any of the others, and cut out and file the ones that still look good.

Photo credits: the three food photos are from Bon Appetit.

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Copyright

All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2017. All rights reserved.

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