30 September 2014

Wordless Wednesday 309

Most Popular Instagram Photo, September 2014


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Book to Movie News: Gone Girl

GoneGirlMovieI know almost all of you have read or listened to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (click the link for my review). It was the physiological thriller of the year when it was first published. It's thus no surprise that the novel has been adapted for the silver screen; the plot is perfect movie fodder.

In case you're concerned about how closely the movie will follow the book, here's a clue: the screenplay was written by Flynn herself, so you know the essence of the characters and the story have been preserved. The film (from Twentieth Century Fox) is directed by David Fincher (House of Cards, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Neil Patrick Harris.

For those who you don't know the story, here's the studio's description:

The couple at the center of the story—former New York writer Nick Dunne and his formerly “cool girl” wife Amy, now trying to make ends meet in the mid-recession Midwest—have all the sinuous outer contours of contemporary marital bliss. But on the occasion of their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing—and those contours crack into a maze of fissures. Nick becomes the prime suspect, shrouded in a fog of suspicious behavior. Amy becomes the vaunted object of a media frenzy as the search for her, dead or alive, plays out before the eyes of a world thirsting for revelations.
From the trailer, it looks like the match of characters to actors is perfect. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see the movie when it comes out on October 3.


For more movie news, see the Gone Girl website, follow it on Twitter (hashtag #GoneGirl), and like it on Facebook.

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29 September 2014

The Best of Me Movie Set Visit: Part 1

Best of Me MovieAs many of you know, I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the filming of The Best of Me, a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel that will be in theaters on October 17. Thanks to Relativity Media, I flew down to New Orleans, met up with other bloggers, and was treated to a day of making silver screen magic.

I have a lot share about what I learned while on the set of The Best of Me. I loved the setting and learning about how movies are created, and I was fortunate enough to be part of a group interview for all four stars plus author Nicholas Sparks.

What's The Best of Me all about and who are those mysterious four stars? Here's a synopsis from the studio:

Based on the bestselling novel by acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me tells the story of Dawson (Luke Bracey / James Marsden) and Amanda (Liana Liberato / Michelle Monaghan), two former high school sweethearts who find themselves reunited after 20 years apart, when they return to their small town for the funeral of a beloved friend. Their bittersweet reunion reignites the love they've never forgotten, but soon they discover the forces that drove them apart 20 years ago live on, posing even more serious threats today. Spanning decades, this epic love story captures the enduring power of our first true love and the wrenching choices we face when confronted with elusive second chances. [Directed by Michael Hoffman]
Today I'm going to talk about the movie production and the location. On Friday I will share the best moments of the interviews, including photos of the stars and stills from the movie itself. Let's get started with a look at the NOLA skyline from my hotel room and photo of the bloggers after a long morning on the set. (To see the photos full size, click on the image. Use the back button in your browser to return to the post)


The day started early when we all piled into two vans to drive west out of New Orleans to meet up with the cast and crew. Our first stop was to Base Camp, which was made up of trailers, each of which had a different function, including temporary refuge for the actors and others. After a quick look around, we got back into the vans and finally arrived at the beautiful The Best of Me set.

The majestic and historic Magnolia Plantation was used for Amanda's childhood home. You may recognize the house because it has appeared in several films, including 12 Years a Slave and Crazy in Alabama. The house was built in the early 1800s, was a working sugar plantation, was used as a hospital for Union soldiers during the Civil War, and has been in the hands of the same family since 1870s.

Because the crew was filming interior shots, we weren't allowed inside the house, but we'll all get to see it in October when the movie comes out. One of the family members told us the windows, shutters, trimwork, and floors are original and that upgrades have respected the historic nature of the plantation.

As I mentioned, the director was shooting indoors that day, but he also was working on a couple of exterior scenes. To keep us and everyone else out of the line of the cameras, we watched the filming on monitors.

Despite the number of people wandering around, the sound level was kept low. Just before turning on the cameras, the director would shout "Rolling, rolling, rolling! Very quiet please." And we would have to move carefully, not saying a word or only whispering, until we heard someone shout "Cut!" At one point, a visitor to the set  (fortunately it was not one of the bloggers) accidentally appeared on film; let me just say that the director was not a happy camper. I'm so glad I didn't make that mistake because the entire scene had to be refilmed.

I was fascinated to learn that scenes are shot multiple times even when the first take looks great. For each retake, a change would be made. I noticed differences in lighting, in subtle hand gestures, and in props. There were even slight costume and hair changes. Later, the director and editor would have choices for both continuity and visual interest.

Although it was important to maintain quiet, I was surprised by how much activity was going on around the house and property, even when the cameras were rolling. Some groups were setting up the next shot, the bloggers were conducting group interviews (at a distance), a company was there filming promos, people were checking equipment, and someone was taking official cast photos.

In addition, there were food carts and medical people. It was fun to watch the costumers, hairdressers, and makeup experts on The Best of Me team as they followed the actors around, making adjustments as necessary. We visitors may have spent a lot a time sitting still and observing, but the cast and crew seemed to be in constant motion.

The grounds of Magnolia Plantation are absolutely beautiful; it was almost like being in a dream--at least for this Yankee. During the afternoon, we even had a visit from a wild alligator! I didn't get close enough to get a photo and was thankful there were gator wranglers (not kidding) on the set.

At the very end of the day, we were able to witness one of the problems with filming on location. The crew was in a race with the sunset to film two scenes that presumably were taking place in two different time periods but needed to be shot at the exact same time of day in the exact same spot. Actors and crew had to work quickly and accurately before the sun got too low. I was so impressed with how calm everyone looked; I think I would have been frantic.

After an exhausting day, we looked forward to getting back in the vans to have a late dinner in the French Quarter. The day wasn't over for The Best of Me people, though. After a quick bite to eat, they were returning for a night shoot.

We had dinner at the Tableau Restaurant on St. Peter Street. I loved the wine selection and my dinner. I ate shrimp for four meals while I was in NOLA (I just couldn't help myself), and the BBQ shrimp and grits I had for this dinner was delicious. Here's the description from the menu:
Jumbo Gulf shrimp in a New Orleans style BBQ sauce spiked with local beer and served over stone ground chévre grits.
After dinner, it was time to return to the hotel, pack, and get a good night's sleep before heading back to the real world. Thanks so much to Relativity Media for this exciting opportunity. And thanks to Jawbone for the very cool wrist pedometer; what a great way to keep track of my fitness goals.

Don't forget to return on Friday, when I'll have photos of the stars, stills from The Best of Me movie, a special soundtrack movie trailer, and lots of fun things I learned from interviewing Nicholas Sparks, Luke Bracey, James Marsden, Liana Liberato, and Michelle Monaghan. I can't wait to see the movie on October 17.

In the meantime, you can follow all The Best of Me movie news by searching for hashtag #TheBestOfMe on Twitter or by liking and/or following the movie on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.

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27 September 2014

Weekend Cooking (& Giveaway): A Fine Romance by Susan Branch

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend 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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A Fine Romance by Susan BranchI'm not quite sure where I first learned about Susan Branch, but once I peeked inside one of her books, I became a fan. I adore her paintings, photographs, and recipes, but I really love her zest for life. She has a positive outlook and finds the beauty around her. Even when seasick, she remembers her ancestors who sailed in much less comfort and raises her teacup in awe of their bravery.

So what's A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside all about and what does it have to do with Weekend Cooking? Well, the book is an illustrated diary of the author's two-month trip to England in 2012--and it contains a descriptions of meals and even a few recipes!

Although Branch and her sweet Joe had been to England before, they always dreamed of returning. Once their second trip was booked, the couple decided to keep a diary of their experiences; A Fine Romance tells the story of that incredible journey.

The pair left New York aboard the Queen Mary 2 on May 3, 2012, arriving in England about a week later. From Portsmouth to Kent to the Lake District and back, Branch used words, paintings, and photographs to record everything they saw and did, including much of what they ate, over the next two months.

copyright Susan BranchWhat kinds of things does Branch share with us? Pubs, history, birds, walks, castles, cottages, people, and gardens. I laughed at her descriptions of getting used to driving on the "wrong" side of the road and car (I can tell you from personal experience it's not easy), and I was fascinated with the information about the historic sites they visited. I was glad to see that Branch included several pages about British authors (Kipling, Austen, and Potter, for example) whose homes they toured.

Her own observations are supplemented by charming literary quotes, sweet paintings, and beautiful photos. We even get a few recipes, from an upscale grilled cheese to simple lemon butter cookies. Take a look at the scan (click to enlarge it), to get an idea of her style and how fun this book is to read. I couldn't decide what pages to share because each one is interesting and visually pleasing. In the end, I just opened the book to a random spread and went with that.

Susan Branch's A Fine Romance will appeal to Anglophiles, artists, travelers, gardeners, and cooks. There are hours of enjoyable reading between the covers.

Giveaway. I was fortunate enough to meet Susan Branch at BookExpo America this past June, and she kindly signed a copy of her book for me. She was thrilled to learn that I was planning on offering that book to one of you. This giveaway is open internationally, so don't be shy. You'll get lost in A Fine Romance and start to dream of your own magical trip to the English countryside.

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on October 6. Once I've verified the winner, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!



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26 September 2014

Review: One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

One Plus One by JoJo MoyesGood thing I do not have very strict rules about what I'm willing to read. If I did, I might not have given JoJo Moyes's delightful One Plus One a try.

Although I'm not a dedicated fan of contemporary women's fiction, I need to remember that some authors, like Moyes, can take the basic formula and create something fresh. The major plot points may offer few surprises, but the journey from one stop to the next is where to find the heart of this novel.

What's all about? Hardworking but poor Jess Thomas remains upbeat and hopeful even after her husband leaves her to raise their math-whiz daughter and his Goth-silent son all on her own. When ten-year-old Tanzie has a chance to go to private school on a partial scholarship, Jess is tempted to do something ethically questionable to give her daughter a bright future. Meanwhile, successful dot-com entrepreneur Ed Nicholls is accused of insider trading after he divulges information in a desperate attempt to break up with a clingy girlfriend. Of course, the Thomases hook up with Ed, who ends up driving them to Scotland so Tanzie can participate in a math contest (the prize money would pay her remaining tuition). As you can imagine, the road trip is full of adventures and personal growth as the four learn to ask for both help and forgiveness.

Plotting and characters. If you boiled One Plus One down to its bare bones you would find the typical story of girl meets boy, girl doesn't like boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl and boy have a misunderstanding, girl and boy finally get back together. Fortunately, there is a lot of meat on this skeleton, and Moyes adds depth and humor as she takes us through these phases of her newest novel. One of Moyes's strengths is her characters, and we fall hard for the flawed but good-hearted people who pile into Ed's car that fateful day. We cheer on Jess, whose attitude to all problems is, "We'll sort something out." We cross our fingers for Tanzie who loves numbers more than people and needs a safe place to thrive. We want to protect Nicky, who has been abandoned twice and is the target of the neighborhood bullies. And we wish we could straighten out Ed, who is caught between his loyalties and selfishness and never meant to do wrong. We can't wait so see what they'll learn about themselves and each other after being locked in a slow-moving car for days on end.

Themes, issues, things to think about. Through the personalities of and interactions among the four main characters, Moyes explores bullying, friendship, family, love, honesty, ethics, the socioeconomic divide, forgiveness, and parenting. Among several takeaway messages this may be the most prominent: No matter how independent and self-sufficient you want to be, it's not a weakness to ask for help when you really need it.

Overall thoughts and recommendations. Good characters, thoughtful issues, and plenty of humor make JoJo Moyes's One Plus One the perfect weekend read. Jess and the gang remind us that it's never too late to create the family we choose and through that family we find our strength.

Audiobook. One Plus One is told from multiple viewpoints, and the unabridged audiobook from Penguin Audio (12 h, 19 min) highlights this by using four narrators (one each for Jess, Ed, Tanzie, and Nicky). Elizabeth Bower, Ben Elliot, Nicola Stanton, and Steven France make a great team, each one nicely conveying his or her character's personality. All the narrators were new to me, and I'm not sure who read which parts, but the performances blended well together, making this an enjoyable listen.

Penguin USA / Pamela Dorman Books, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780525426585
Source: Review (both print & audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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25 September 2014

Reading On Topic: Literary Roots

Reading: On Topic @ www.BethFishReads.comHow do you organize your books? My answer: I don't.

However, I often mentally group my collection into broad topics or categories. Today I want to talk about eight books I think of as having literary roots. Some of the novels provide a different perspective on a classic, others explore real-life people who were connected with a famous book or author, and one resets a favorite story in contemporary times. Welcome to this edition of Reading On Topic.

Ruth's Journey by Donald McCaig; Juliet's Nurse by Lois LeveenGetting Her Say

The literary connections of this pair of novels are easy to spot. In Ruth's Journey, Donald McCaig imagines the life of Mammy from Gone with the Wind. Not only do we learn the servant's name, we discover just how she came to Tara from her native Saint-Domingue (Haiti). McCaig focuses on Ruth's relationship with Ellen O'Hara (Scarlett's mother) and imagines Scarlett's childhood up to the famous barbecue at Twelve Oaks. (Simon & Schuster / Atria; October; ISBN: 9781451643534) Juliet's Nurse, by Lois Leveen takes us inside the home of the Cappellettis, where Angelica, mourning the loss of her own daughter, is hired as Juliet's wet nurse. Through the nurse's eyes, we discover the events leading up to the moment when, fourteen years later, Juliet meets Romeo and then her tragic death. (Simon & Schuster / Atria; September; ISBN: 9781476757445)

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood; Goodnight June by Sarah JioWho Was She?

This duo imagines the lives of five women who were well-known in the book world. In Mrs. Hemingway, Naomi Wood gives voice to all four of the famous author's wives, and from their perspectives we get to know the private Hemingway. Although a work of fiction, this story of the women, their marriages, and the man they loved is based on thorough research. (Penguin paperback; May; ISBN: 9780143124610) Can you even count the number of times you've read Goodnight Moon (to yourself or to a child)? Now ask yourself what you know about author Margaret Wise Brown. Curiosity drove Sarah Jio to explore Brown's life, and the result is the novel Goodnight June. Based on fact and fleshed out by imagination, this novel brings the author of the beloved book to life. (Penguin / Plume; May; ISBN: 9780142180211)

The Furies by Natalie Haynes; A Burnable Book by Bruce HolsingerClassics Gone Mysterious

The roots of these mysteries are found in ancient Greece and medieval England. The Furies by Natalie Haynes features an ex-actor who is mourning the death of her finance while starting a new career. Alex, now a drama therapist, teaches the Greek tragedies to a class of very troubled teens in attempt to help them face their personal issues. But what happens when the kids relate a little too closely to the stories of murder and revenge? (Macmillan / St. Martins Press; August; ISBN: 9781250048004) In A Burnable Book, Bruce Holsinger takes us back to the 1300s to solve a mystery surrounding a subversive book. Geoffrey Chaucer teams up with John Grower to find the manuscript, thereby protecting young King Richard II and saving the monarchy. Sharp period details color the action. (HarperCollins / William Morrow paperback; September; ISBN: 9780062240330)

Sway by Kat Spears; Dorothy Must Die by Danielle PaigeA Retelling and a Return

Rounding out this edition of Reading On Topic are a contemporary retelling of a classic and a novel that asks, What happened next? In Sway, Kat Spears takes Cyrano de Bergerac and sets the story in a modern high school. Every student knows that Jesse is the go-to guy for whatever you want, so when football star Ken asks for help to win a date with the beautiful Bridget, Jesse assumes it will be a snap. Until, that is, he gets to know the girl and starts to fall in love. (Macmillian / St. Martin's Griffin; September; ISBN: 9781250051431) Do you remember the ending of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Danielle Paige wants to know what happened after Dorothy killed the Wicked Witch of the West and finally found a way home. Dorothy Must Die revisits an Oz in which Dorothy has returned to rule and has let power go to her head. Can Amy--another Kansas-native, tornado-traveling girl--undo the damage and restore Oz to its former glory? (HarperCollins / Harper Torch; April; ISBN: 9780062280671)

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23 September 2014

Wordless Wednesday 308

Fall Garden, 2014


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22 September 2014

September 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.

This month, book clubs can pick either a memoir about sisters or a story of how friends and family can be found in unlikely places.

Sisters by Raina TelgemeierThe first selection, Raina Telgemeier's Sisters, is based on the author's memories of her early childhood. The summer before high school, Raina is about to face one of the most dreaded events in any young teen's life: a family road trip. Yes, a full week locked in an un-air-conditioned van with her little sister, Amara. What could be worse?

Both funny and thoughtful, this graphic novel paints a realistic picture of sibling relationships and the way it feels to be on the verge of young adulthood. Readers of all ages will recognize Raina's experiences at her family reunion and her love-hate moments with Amara.

Telgemeier's artwork perfectly complements her storytelling, augmenting the humor as easily as the more touching scenes. The drawings clearly show just how different (and yet the same) Raina and Amara are. The colorful panels make Sister a joy to read.

Book club members will likely have their own stories to share of a family trip or their feelings about their sisters and brothers. Other topics of discussion include family dynamics, life with pets, and the consequences of not paying attention to the people around you. More great questions can be found on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested recipe is for a homemade chocolate bar, which you might want to share with your family the next time you're trapped in a car with them.

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi WingetIn Dianna Doristi Winget's A Million Ways Home, 12-year-old Poppy Parker's life is turned upside down when her only relative and guardian, Grandma Beth, has a stroke and is hospitalized. With nowhere else to go, Poppy is put into a children's shelter while the doctors determine the chances of Beth's recovery. After sneaking out of the home to visit her grandmother, Poppy is horrified to witness to a robbery-murder.

Taken under police protection by a kindly detective, Poppy is worried about her grandmother and afraid that the criminal will track her down. To help the girl cope, the detective suggests that Poppy get involved with retraining an aggressive K-9 German shepherd. Although she makes friends and loves working with the dog, all Poppy really wants is to be reunited with her grandmother. What will happen if Beth never recovers?

Despite some sad and scary scenes, this realistic contemporary novel remains age appropriate. Young readers will find it easy to relate to Poppy's ups and downs, as the girl struggles to accept and understand everything that happens to her.

Book club discussions will revolve around the importance of listening to rules that pertain to personal safety and the many forms of families. In addition,  animal lovers might want to talk about Poppy's work with the police dog. Don't forget to see the great questions on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested recipe is for Twinkie shortcake, which would appeal to one of Poppy's new friends.

Sisters: Scholastic / Graphix, 2014; ISBN-13: 9780545540599
A Million Ways Home: Scholoastic Press, 2014; ISBN-13: 9780545667067
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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20 September 2014

Weekend Cooking: Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend 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'm always happy when my love for graphic novels intersects with my love for foodie books. When I heard about Bryan Lee O'Malley's new book, Seconds, I couldn't resist getting a copy.

The title, Seconds, has several meanings in this story about Katie, a restaurant chef who seems to be living her dreams. The restaurant she helped create (called Seconds) has won the "Best Dinner Spot" award three years running, the staff and owners treat her with respect, and the customers love her food. Plus, after scrimping and saving and finding a business partner, Katie is on her way to opening her second restaurant, this time as a chef-owner.

Then one day, everything changes: the renovators at the new building want more money, her business partner is not answering his email, her ex-boyfriend shows up at Seconds, a flirtation with a fellow chef has gone sour, and a waitress suffers a bad burn. If only Katie could start this day over.

Sometimes it's best not to get what one wishes for. When Katie awakes from a dream to discover there is indeed a way to have a revised life, she decides to try it. But soon she becomes desperate to keep trying until everything is perfect, which, of course, can never be. Will she ever get out from under the horrible mess she's made?

Although this book is over 300 pages, I read it in one sitting. I liked Katie and the people in her life, especially Hazel and the young women's developing friendship. The premise is intriguing; who hasn't wished for a second chance to say something different, to make a better choice, to be a stronger person?

The colorful and nicely detailed artwork quickly drew me into the story. The characters' expressions and body language speak volumes, and I particularly like that the panels show a variety of perspectives--sometimes it's as if we were in the same room with Katie and other times we are given a bird's-eye view or see things from a character's perspective. I also like the way the colors change to signal Katie's dream states and the rewinding of the clock as she is about to start a second chance.

The scans of pages 22 and 23 show Katie and Seconds before things begin to go wrong. You can get a sense of Katie's personality and see what she likes to cook. (Click the image to see the scans full size.)


Seconds may not have recipes, but I loved the restaurant setting, following Katie's second chances, and thinking about the consequences of getting what one wishes for.

Random House / Ballantine, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780345529374
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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19 September 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (Extended Version Blu-Ray)

You've read the book and you may have even gone to the theater to see the movie. But I bet you haven't yet seen the Little Infinities extended edition of the fabulous The Fault in Our Stars movie

I just loved both John Green's book and the amazing movie that was made from it. I haven't yet seen the extended version (I'll be watching this weekend), but I can tell you that the theatrical edition was simply outstanding.

Shailene Woodley (who plays Hazel) and Ansel Elgort (who plays Gus) have an unbelievable chemistry. Their performances are so genuine that's it hard to remember they're just acting. Hazel and Gus's relationship is sweet, and the movie is perfectly emotional, with a balance of humor, love, and sadness. The cinematography is something to be savored, especially the way the lighting is used to create the mood for many scenes. Simply beautiful.

The movie has been called "The Greatest Romance Story of this decade," and the extended version was released on DVD and Blu-ray earlier this week. I cannot wait to see this edition, and I bet you can't either.

I am lucky enough to be a member of The Fault in Our Stars Ambassador Program. One of the fun things that the members participated in was submitting our favorite moments and lines from the film. Besides the ever-popular line about not being able to choose if you get hurt but being able to choose who hurts you, we came up with some great quotes. Click on the poster to get a better view and to see if your favorite line is included (don't forget to click the back button on your browser to keep reading and enter a giveaway).

One of the quotes that has really stuck with me is the line about falling in love the way you fall asleep. But, really, each of these moments brings back the movie to me! Do you remember the scene when Hazel and Gus are at the fancy restaurant in Amsterdam? They are so vibrant, and you can really tell that they're on the brink of adulthood; mature enough to enjoy and savor the food and drink but young enough to be a little bit in awe.

Do you have a favorite line or scene from the movie? I'd love to hear which one(s) in the comments. Okay??

Giveaway: I love this movie so much, and I know you will too. It's one that you'll want to watch again and again. So if you have a U.S. or Canada mailing address, you're in luck. As a member of the TFiOS Ambassador Program, I'm happy to be able to offer one of my readers a copy of the Little Infinities Extended Edition of The Fault in Our Stars. The Blue-Ray contains some great extras, including a book to screen feature and commentary by director Josh Boone and author John Green.

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out this form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on September 30. Once the winner is confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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18 September 2014

Review: Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann

Poisoned Apples by Christie HeppermannIn fifty short poems illustrated by haunting black-and-white photos, Christine Heppermann zeros in on the true messages we've been giving young girls for centuries and what those messages do to them.

Poisoned Apples is stark, beautiful, haunting, disturbing, and oh so very honest. Fairy tales and princess stories touch only the surface; no one talks about what happens after the wedding, the fate of the girls left behind, or how to become the chosen one.

Beauty, fashion, popularity, and sex appeal have the power to suppress the counterpressures to excel at school and work, to be respected for who we are, and to live our authentic lives. Heppermann exposes the contradictions and the dark side of waiting to be rescued by Prince Charming, who will likely be anything but.

The poems, which are based on the unrealistic expectations girls often carry with them past adolescence into young adulthood and beyond, address eating disorders, beauty and fashion, sexuality, men, feminism, and popularity and friendship. No hard-to-parse passages here; Heppermann's poetry is straightforward and strong. Poisoned Apples will help teens and women draw back the curtain of deception and let in the light.

Some passages:

It used to be just the one, / but now all mirrors chatter. / In fact, every reflective surface has opinions / on the shape of my nose, the size / of my chest, . . .
--"The Wicked Queen's Legacy"
Jill doesn't want me to feel bad. / Jill says Dylan isn't good enough for me. / . . . / Jill can't help it if Dylan asked her to the movie. / . . .
--"BFF"
She used to be a house of bricks, / . . . / She traded for a house of sticks, / . . . / Now she's building herself out of straw / as light as the needle swimming in her bathroom scale, / The smaller the number, the closer to gold, / . . .
--"Blow Your House In"

HarperCollins / Greenwillow Books, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780062289575
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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16 September 2014

Wordless Wednesday 307

Devil's Trumpet, 2014

© www.BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read: The Partner Track by Helen Wan

The Partner Track by Helen WanHow far would you go to further your career? What if you felt tremendous pressure from your family and from your community? These are very real concerns for Ingrid Young, who is on the verge of making partner at Parsons Valentine, a prestigious international law firm.

The Parsons Valentine dining room--affectionately known as the Jury Box--resembled nothing so much as a high school cafeteria, writ large. We were all older, sure, with expensive haircuts and finely tailored suits. The food was a lot better, and it was served on fine china, classic white with a platinum border. And then there was the view. Instead of a track or football field, our windows overlooked the grand expanse of Fifth Avenue and Central Park. No trophy cases or spirit banners, either, just a vast Ellsworth Kelly painting and a few signed Chuck Close prints adorning the otherwise stark white wall. But these were just trophies of a different sort.
The Partner Track by Helen Wan (St. Martin's Griffin [paperback], 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New York City; modern times
  • Circumstances: As Ingrid Young fights to make partner, she begins to wonder if she will advance on her merits or because she is a two-fer: a first-generation Chinese American and a woman. When an uncomfortable situation arises, she is forced to question the real costs of advancement in a white man's world.
  • Characters: Ingrid and her family; various fellow lawyers and clients; a love interest
  • Genre: contemporary fiction; women's fiction
  • Themes: family; ambition; corporate America; enduring discrimination; immigration; ethics
  • What reviewers have said: most reviews have mentioned the well-developed characters and the realism of Ingrid's situation; several mentioned Wan's use of humor to lighten the serious story line
  • A bit about the author: Helen Wan is herself a Chinese American lawyer and thus writes from a place of experience, although the book is entirely fiction. For an interview in which Wan talks about the book and herself, watch the BookGirl video on YouTube. More about Wan and her novel can be found on her website.
  • Recommendations: I haven't even started The Partner Track, but it looks like it would make a great book club pick based on the issues Ingrid faces.

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15 September 2014

Six Years of Beth Fish Reads: Thoughts

Over the weekend I passed my sixth year blogging as Beth Fish Reads. As I often do, I like to take the time to reflect on where I've been and where I'm going in the blogging world.

First, however, I have a question:

Is there any point in trying to find a balance between my online and offline life?
Seriously. I have spent six years chasing this elusive dream. I'm beginning to think there is no such place, and yet I haven't quite given up. Still, something always suffers. My current issue? I'm reading blogs on my tablet, which means I haven't been clicking through to leave a comment. No big deal, until I realize that I've barely been commenting at all. I'm going to work on that.

To make it worse, I've been spending Sundays offline (for the most part), which means I'm missing the immediacy of everyone's Sunday Salon posts, which are always so much fun to read. By Monday morning, I feel that I'm already behind. What to do, what to do?

If anyone has tips, suggestions, answers, or stories, I'd love to hear them.

Looking Back

The biggest change over the last year is that I've gotten over my need to have a new post up on the blog every single day. This has been a huge relief. I love having that self-imposed pressure off my back. Going by my steadily rising stats and traffic, my readers seem to be fine with this too.

The other major change is that I've written many fewer serious book reviews. Although I intend to return to longer, more in-depth analyses of at least some of the books I read, I needed the break. My reviews had lost a bit of their personality because I was falling into a formula instead of letting the book guide my writing. I have embraced my Bullet Review format, which sometimes appears as Today's Read (with Quick Facts and a teaser) and sometimes as a straight bullet list. Judging from my stats, you like the shorter format too.

Weekend Cooking has lost some its original contributors, but other bloggers have stepped in, so although the group has changed, the intimacy and camaraderie are still there. I love that it attracts book bloggers, photography bloggers, and food bloggers. I look forward to my Saturday post every week and love reading all of yours. For those of you haven't participated yet: Remember, you don't have to cook--share a food-related quote from a novel, a photograph of the farmers' market, a great meal at a restaurant, or whatever is remotely foodie. Note too, you do not have to post on the weekend, just link up on Saturday.

I have posted more than 300 Wordless Wednesday photos and have never missed a week since I started. I'm still very active on Instagram and love the photography community. (All the photos that appear here were originally posted to Instagram.) I even had the nerve to write a camera review post.

Looking Forward

I have a couple of new regular features in the works for Beth Fish Reads. There are so many great books out there I want to talk about and write about, even if I can't manage to read everything that comes into my house. I did some brainstorming and am excited about the results. I've also decided to revive some features I've let lapse, like Stacked-Up Book Thoughts.

The new format of Imprint Friday (which also recently included a look at a small press), is my first step in this direction. For example, I simply couldn't wait to tell you about some of the 2014 releases from Twelve Books (posted last Friday), and I liked writing about them even though I haven't finished reading (or even started) all of the books yet. Why wait?

So look for more book talk in the coming year to supplement my reviews.

You may have noticed an abundance of book-to-movie posts lately. This is a reflection of movie industry trends on the one hand and the fact that I'm now working with several publicists who deal primarily with movies, both theater and Blu-Ray releases. I hope to have some more great giveaways and other movie news in the coming year. Note that some of my movie posts are going up on my Tumblr blog and Facebook page.

You can also expect to see more Sound Recommendations, reviews of graphic novels, entries in my The Emerging e-Reader series, coverage of the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club, and--of course--plain old reviews of what I've been reading.

Big Thanks

It's been said hundreds of times, but it never gets old. The very best part of blogging is not the opportunity to do fun things but the friendships I've made both online and in real life. Through those friendships, I've gained much more than expanding my reading horizons. The connections are real and strong, and I thank you all for more than I ever thought possible when I hit that publish button on September 13, 2008.

I plan on being around for a long, long time and I hope you all will be too.

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13 September 2014

Weekend Cooking: My Drunk Kitchen with Hannah Hart

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend 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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My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah HartDo you know Hannah Hart? Even if you don't know her name, the chances are good that you've heard about her My Drunk Kitchen YouTube videos, which started out as way for Hart to connect with a few friends and ended up being watched by a gazillion followers.

After about three years of videos, Hart's recipes, tips, and philosophy have been collected into book form. My Drunk Kitchen is full of good fun, adult humor, recipes of a sort, and lots of drinks.

Here's a warning, though: If you're looking for an actual cookbook with step-by-step instructions, timing, and oven temperatures, you might be a wee bit disappointed. On the other hand, if you put your pretensions aside, pour yourself a great big drink, look in your cupboards, and get crazily creative, you'll end up with a smile, even if you haven't managed to make dinner.

Hart's quirky sense of humor and playful outlook are evident throughout the book. And the designers have done her text and Robin Roemer's photos justice by using bright colors, slanted text, eye-catching fonts, and cute graphics.

Frankly, I don't know what else to say. You'll like Hannah Hart's humor or you won't. I don't love every episode, but I admire her generally upbeat attitude. The book was fun to read and would make a great gift for Hart's fans. The most important thing to remember is that My Drunk Kitchen is comedy, not a usable cookbook.

Here's a sample video, which gives you an idea of what Hannah Hart is all about. This episode appears in the book as the chapter titled "Things in a Blanket." Note that this video is not for family viewing. (Check out Thursdays: My Drunk Kitchen for all 95 videos.)


HarperCollins / Dey Street, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780062293039
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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12 September 2014

Imprint Friday: Twelve

Have you heard of Hachette Book Group's unique imprint Twelve? The amazing range of books and the singularity of the imprint's philosophy put Twelve on my favorite imprint list. Twelve was founded in 2005 with the idea of publishing a single, significant book each month. As the publisher explains, their goal is to offer:

Works that explain our culture; that illuminate, inspire, provoke, and entertain. We seek to establish communities of conversation surrounding our books. Talented authors deserve attention not only from publishers, but from readers as well. To sell the book is only the beginning of our mission. To build avid audiences of readers who are enriched by these works – that is our ultimate purpose.
I love the concept of finding twelve books that deserve individual attention and that belong on everyone's reading list. The books I'm featuring today (from the 2014 list) meet and exceed the imprint's desire to publish books that will make you think and that will prompt wide discussion. I haven't finished reading all of these titles yet, so look for full reviews in the coming weeks.

The Scarlet Sisters by Myra MacPhersonThe Scarlet Sisters by Myra MacPherson introduces us to two woman who were brazen enough to stand up for what they believed in. Women didn't have many choices in the late 19th century, but sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin were not easily subdued. Among their many claims to fame, singularly and together, were being the first women to open a brokerage firm, the first woman to run for president, and the first women to publish a right-wing weekly. They were, in fact, considered too radical and scandalous for the U.S. women's movement, so the sisters eventually moved to the UK, where they continued their fight for equality. Author MacPherson is no stranger to gender inequalities or to the repercussions of being a strong, smart, opinionated woman in a man's world. Well-researched and based on firsthand accounts and historical documents, The Scarlet Sisters is as easy to read as a novel but will have you proudly waving your feminist flag.

Living with a Wild God by Barbara EhrenreichI love the subtitle of Barbara Ehrenreich's Living with a Wild God: "A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything." How does a mature scientist turned objective journalist reconcile her view of the world with a long-repressed spiritual moment experienced by her teenage self? In this frank and thought-provoking memoir, Ehrenreich looks back on her family's difficulties, her lifelong search for the answers to the big questions (What does it all mean?), and her solid atheist beliefs, all colored by a singular mystical moment early on a California morning. Balancing her personal visions with her scientific background, Ehrenreich struggles to find explanations. Her insistence on entering the blurry space between the religious and secular spheres gives her coming-of-age journey an individual slant. In the end, readers will wonder where their own beliefs fall in Ehrenreich's world and whether the author found the peace she was seeking. I bet this would make a great book club selection.

The End of Always by Randi DavenportRandi Davenport's novel The End of Always explores tough issues, particularly domestic violence in a Midwest family at the turn of the last century. All young Marie Reehs wants is to escape the fate of her mother and grandmother and leave the fear, cruelty, and beatings behind her. Between the unwanted attentions of an older man and her sister's equally strong desire to maintain the status quo, Marie finds it difficult to sustain hope. When she meets the charming August, she is sure she has found her happy future at last. But like her foremothers, she may have misjudged the man and the brand of love he was able to give. Although fiction, The End of Always is based on the true-life story of the author's great-grandmother and the very real threat of violence women felt then and still feel today. The juxtaposition of the beautiful prose with the ugliness of Marie's situation makes this an engaging read. The fact that the events and people are, for the most part, true will make you cringe. Are women really any safer today than they were then?

What Is Visible by Kimberly ElkinsHave you ever heard of Laura Bridgman? She was once one of the most famous women in the world. What were her accomplishments? She caught scarlet fever at the age of two, which left her deaf and blind. Five years later, she enrolled in the Perkins Institute and became the first deaf, blind person to learn language--decades before Helen Keller entered the spotlight and history to create an enduring legacy. What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins gives Bridgman her well-deserved due. The novel opens with a meeting between a very young Helen Keller and an elderly Bridgman. Keller wants to know everything about the older woman, who begins to tap out her tale. I am fascinated with Bridgman's journey to learn to communicate and the circumstances of her rise to fame. Thanks to Elkins's thorough research and deep empathy, the world will once again remember the woman who found a way to preserve her humanity and dignity by learning to spell her thoughts onto the palms of others.

Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian PotterTrue crime meets wine connoisseur in Maximillian Potter's Shadows in the Vineyard. Who knew that the wine industry could lead to poisoning, suicide, and a full-blown criminal investigation? When the proprietor of the Domaine de al Romanee-Conti vineyard, origin of the most expensive and most coveted wines in the world, received a note demanding that he pay €1 million or the vines would be destroyed, he regretfully failed to take immediate action. Sticking to the facts of the case, Potter weaves a tale that is as well-paced and gripping as any thriller novel. From the history of the famous wine to the details of the French detectives' operations and from the major players to the local traditions and culture, Potter draws us into the drama, building the tension up to and through the perpetrator's confession. The book started out as an article for Vanity Fair, but after interviews, tours, wine tastings, and newfound friendships, Potter knew there was much more to say. Wine lovers and teetotalers alike will love Shadows in the Vineyard.

Glass Jaw by Eric DezenhallEvery day the news is filled with some kind of scandal: from sports (the latest is the Ray Rice) to politics (most famously Nixon) to business (remember Enron). In Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal, Eric Dezenhall talks about how events spin out of control and offers sage advice on what to do when you find yourself embroiled in controversy. You don't have to be among the rich and famous to benefit from his lessons: We can all use some tips on how to avoid stabbing ourselves in the foot, how to think before tweeting, and how to offer a sincere public apology. I'm particularly interested in how social media can be used (or maybe should not be used) to calm the waters, what makes a scandal, and what roles the entertainment industry and twenty-four-hour news channels play in augmenting every little mistake. Dezenhall uses familiar events, from many sectors to illustrate the do's and don'ts of surviving the media heat. The discussion is broken down into easy-to-digest, short sections, and each chapter ends with a succinct takeaway thought. Important reading for everyone who has an on-line presence.

I hope you have found at least a couple of books to add to your wish list. There is so much good reading here, you might want to consider marking your calendar so you never miss the monthly offering from Twelve.

To learn more about the Twelve imprint and to see the complete list of books they've published, visit their website. You can also follow them on Twitter, like their Facebook page, and check out their YouTube channel (be sure to watch the What Is Visible video).

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11 September 2014

In the Spotlight: Left Behind (Movie)

Left Behind (2014 movie)Are we living in the end times? Although this question is hardly new, television and the movies have recently taken up the theme of the rapture. One of the most exciting entries in this genre is Left Behind, a faithful adaptation of the best-selling book written by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. The movie is scheduled to open in theaters on October 3.

In case you aren't familiar with the premise, here is the studio's summary:

Left Behind follows Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage) who is piloting a commercial airliner just hours after the Rapture when millions of people around the globe simply vanish. Thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic, Rayford is faced with a damaged plane, terrified passengers, and a desperate desire to get back to his family. On the ground, his daughter, Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson) is among those left behind, forced to navigate a world of madness as she searches for her lost mother and brother. Shot mostly in and around Baton Rouge, LA., Left Behind was produced by Paul Lalonde and Michael Walker and co-written by Paul Lalonde and John Patus.
Whether you believe in the biblical prediction or not, the idea of the rapture is fascinating. What would the world be like if a large percentage of the population suddenly disappeared, leaving behind only their clothes and belongings? It's difficult to imagine the fear, chaos, and hysteria of the initial hours.

Left Behind (2014 movie)

The movie, directed by Vic Armstrong, promises to be as action packed as it is thought provoking. Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage takes the lead as a commercial pilot, who is in the air when the rapture occurs. Not only must he prevent the plane from crashing but he must also keep the remaining passengers and crew calm, all the while worrying about the fate of his family.

The action, however, is not limited to the confines of the plane. We witness the devastation on the ground and the panic of the people through the eyes of Cassi Thomson, who plays the pilot's daughter.

After seeing an advanced screening of the film, the novel's co-authors expressed their satisfaction with the adaptation of their work. All book to movie fans love to hear that the authors are happy, and according to an article at CP Entertainment, all is well on that front. In fact, the publicists and IMDb both quote LaHaye as saying that Left Behind "is the best movie I have ever seen on the rapture." Jenkins noted that it "does justice to the novel."

Besides Cage, the movie stars Lea Thompson, Cassi Thomson, Michael Murray, and Nicky Whelan. The official trailer gives you a sense of the heart-pounding drama and the basic story line.


To learn more about the movie, cast, and crew, visit the Left Behind website, where you can see behind-the-scenes photos and extra videos. Join the conversation and keep up on the movie news by liking the Left Behind Facebook page and following its Twitter feed (use hashtag #LeftBehindMovie). Finally, check out the movie's YouTube channel.

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by ThinkJam, but all thoughts are completely my own.

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09 September 2014

Wordless Wednesday 306

Sunflowers in Death, 2014


Click to image full size. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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Today's Read: The High Divide by Lin Enger

What if you did things in the name of the army that you just couldn't put out of your mind? In 1886, Ulysses Pope thought back not to his service in the Civil War but to the role he played in fighting the Plains Indians. Although he couldn't reverse the past, he hoped he could find a way to bring to peace to those he hurt and, at the same time, put his personal demons to rest.

That summer was cool and windless, the clouds unrelenting, as if God had reached out his hand one day and nudged the sun from its rightful place.

Way out on the lip of the northern plains the small town lay hidden in fog, the few moving about at this hour ghostlike, not quite solid: the shopkeepers, the man driving his water-wagon, the dressmaker with her quick, smooth strides. In a clapboard house a stone's throw from the river, a lean, square-shouldered man knelt before an old flattop trunk.
The High Divide by Lin Enger (Workman / Algonquin Press, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: the High Plains, 1886
  • Circumstances: Ulysses Pope leaves his family, without warning, to seek redemption; his sons and, later, his wife head out into Indian Territory, following scant clues and rumors, to learn his fate.
  • Characters: Ulysses Pope, a man of secrets; Gretta Pope, a Danish immigrant; Eli and Danny, their young sons; various people they meet on their travels
  • Genre: historical fiction; literary fiction
  • Themes: family; guilt; war; the fading of the Old West; white expansion into Indian lands; environmental issues
  • What I wrote (in part) for the Bloggers Recommend Newsletter: "Enger's concisely and beautifully crafted story of family, secrets, and the passing of the Old West balances the wonder and dangers of the wilderness with a deeply emotional and complex psychological landscape."
  • More thoughts: Although the plot is multilayered, Enger skillfully dovetails the story lines, bringing Ulysses's quest for forgiveness, Gretta's struggle to understand and make peace with her husband, and the boys' adventures neatly together. All the Popes are strong and independent, and yet underneath their individuality flows a strong current of unspoken love and loyalty. As the character study / adventure story takes shape, each member of the family displays a unique form of bravery, both when facing the uncertainties of life on the move and when examining his or her own soul.
  • Recommendations: For those who like literary fiction, stories set in the late 1800s, and writers who can bring the beauty of the natural landscape alive. One of of the best new novels of the fall season.

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08 September 2014

This Is Where I Leave You: Book to Movie Giveaway

I read Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You way back in 2009, and although I was blogging then, I didn't post a review. The novel is receiving a revival of well-deserved buzz because the movie version, directed by Shawn Levy, will be in theaters on September 19.

Here's the premise, in brief: While Judd is coming to grips with the dissolution of his marriage, his sister calls to tell him that their father has finally succumbed to cancer. For Judd, going home for the funeral and to sit shiva is fraught with sadness, sibling rivalry, suppressed memories, and--eventually--healing.

Although the premise of This Is Where I Leave You (TIWILY) may sound intense, Tropper's wry sense of humor and ability to perfectly capture dysfunctional family dynamics will have you smiling through your tears.

As I mentioned, the movie based on the novel is opening in about two weeks. The big question everyone has when it comes to transforming books to movies is, Does the screenplay convey what I loved about the novel? Fortunately, in the case of TIWILY, the answer seems to be yes. One big factor is that Tropper himself wrote the screenplay. The principal difference I've seen so far is that the family's last name was changed from Foxman (the novel) to Altman (the movie). Here's a short video in which author Jonathan Tropper, director Shawn Levy, and some of the actors talk about the process of taking the story from print to silver screen:


I can't say enough about the amazing cast, including Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, and Timothy Olyphant. Individually and as a group, the actors execute the difficult mix of poignant and humor without missing a beat. The stellar cast is rounded out by Jason Bateman, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver, Connie Britton, and Rose Byrne, all of whom have incredible comedic timing and the ability to convey genuine emotions.

Lovers of the novel will be relieved to learn that Tropper preserved memorable dialogue from the book, including the opening phone call between Judd and his sister. The official trailer (see below) shows how thoughtfully director Levy brought Tropper's characters to life. Despite any discrepancies or changes that had to be made for the movie, the characters' personalities on film seem to match what I remember from the book.

Those of you who are new to TIWILY are in for a treat. Based on the cast alone, I'd say this is going to be one of the don't-miss movies of the fall.


The Giveaway: Thanks to Warner Bros. Pictures, I'm happy to be able to offer one of my U.S. readers a fabulous prize pack consisting of a copy of the book This Is Where I Leave You (with the movie-tie in cover) and a $25 Visa card to use for buying tickets to see the movie! All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is fill out the form at the end of this post. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on September 17. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer.

After you've read the book, go see the movie (or see the movie first and read the book second). Then be prepared to talk about the story with your friends and family or, for more fun, join in the book and movie discussion on Twitter by searching for and using the hashtag #TIWILY. Whether you love or hate Judd's family, I bet you'll have a lot to say about the way the siblings interact and come together (or not) during stressful times.

For even more about This Is Where I Leave You, visit the movie's Facebook page, where you can connect with other fans; see posters, photos, and videos; and get behind-the-scenes information. Follow Warner Bros. on Twitter and Instagram to learn about the stars and keep up with the movie news (#TIWILY).

Finally, here's the form for the giveaway. Good luck to all my U.S. readers.



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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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