31 January 2015

Weekend Cooking: Beating the Lunch Box Blues by J. M. Hirsch

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 don't know why my mind goes blank when it comes to packed lunches. I pretty much have trouble thinking beyond PB&J and leftover dinner. I'm lucky I work from home, so it's not my issue, but my husband faces this problem daily.

Last year one of the Weekend Cooking participants (I forget who I need to thank) reviewed J. M. Hirsch's Beating the Lunch Box Blues. I immediately bought a copy and handed it over to Mr. BFR, who got some great ideas to perk up his midday meal.

This colorful little book is much more than just recipes; it's brimming over with ideas for the packed lunch that will get you out of the boring ham-and-cheese rut. Some ideas are obvious, like using leftovers from dinner. But some are "smack me on the head for not thinking of it myself" ideas, like buying a rotisserie chicken just for lunch. Yeah, this little idea alone was worth the cost of the book. You can quarter the chicken and eat it as is (cold or microwaved), slice it up for sandwiches, or cube it for use in a variety of chicken salads.

Hirsch starts with an introduction that covers tips and equipment. Then he shares his favorite "cheats," which include not only that chicken but also a number of healthful convenience foods (store-bought hummus, for example). The chapters are divided by the major player (poultry, beef, noodles, fish) as well as by things like speed ("Fast & Easy") and size ("Little Bites"). You'll also find vegetarian and salad-based meals. I particularly like the "One Dinner, Two Lunches" features, which provide a dinner recipe plus two ideas for using leftovers the next day.

Most of the meals in Beating the Lunch Box Blues are geared for adults, which is a blessing for those of us who need something more sophisticated than Go-Gurt and graham crackers. Be warned, though, some packed lunches require fifteen minutes or so of morning prep, so if you're always running late for work, you'll want to skip those ideas.

The two scans show off the great design of the book (see the cover too). The one above is of a typical suggested meal page and the one to the left gives us two ways to use leftover meatloaf (the meatloaf recipe is included in the book). I swear, some of the lunches look so good that I kind of wish I had a commute (not really). I love the beautiful photos, and I'm more than little covetous of all the super containers.

Whether you pack your lunch every day or just a few times a week, J. M. Hirsch's Beating the Lunch Box Blues will give new life to your noontime break. This is a great book to own, but if you're on a budget or you don't need the recipes at hand, you might be happier checking it out from the library. Either way, I recommend it.

Published by Simon & Schuster / Atria, 2013
ISBN-13: 9781476726724
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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30 January 2015

Review: Before I Go to Sleep (Movie)

Before I Go to Sleep (movie)Although I'm a Colin Firth fan, I missed Before I Go to Sleep in the theaters. If you were like me, then you'll be happy to know that the Blu-ray + Digital HD edition came out earlier this week.

Director Rowan Joffe wrote the screenplay based on the novel (same title) by S. J. Watson. I haven't read the book, so I can't tell you firsthand how the plots of the two media compare, but a scan of reviews tells me that the screenplay follows the book fairly closely.

First the premise of Before I Go to Sleep, then I'll give you my thoughts.

Every morning the almost forty-year-old Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up with no memory of what has happened to her since she was in her mid-twenties. She doesn't recognize the man, Ben, who is her husband (Colin Firth) and has no memory of their marriage. Every morning, Ben tells her that she was in an accident that left her incapable of forming new memories, and he gives her a short recap of her life. After Ben leaves for work, the phone rings, and a man who introduces himself as Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) tells Christine to look for a camera she's hidden in her wardrobe and to play back the videos. When she does, Christine sees herself recording everything she remembers each day over the previous couple of weeks.

What she learns from her videos is that either Ben or the doctor (or both) have hidden the truth from her. She also realizes that she can't quite figure out which of the men is really trying to help her, and she doesn't know how to regain her memory.

The idea behind Before I Go to Sleep is good (although not original). It's hard to imagine how scary it would be to wake up every single day with no memory of the day before, and thus it's an excellent foundation for a psychological thriller. Kidman does a great job with the mix of fear, confusion, and dependency that an amnesia patient must feel. In addition, both Firth and Strong hit the mark of nice but not too nice / trustworthy but not really, so that we're not initially sure which of them has Christine's best interests at heart.

Unfortunately, I found the setup of the major action to be a bit slow. It felt like a long time before the heart of the thriller began to take shape and we could see the depth of Christine's situation. I also had some questions about Christine's memories. For example, she seemed a little too comfortable with the digital camera, which would have been new to her every morning.

On the other hand, the solid performances by Firth and Kidman are well worth seeing, despite the weaknesses of the screenplay. If you're fan of either Oscar winner or of Mark Strong, then you'll want to see Before I Go to Sleep. Just keep in mind that it will take a while before the story comes together.

The Blu-ray edition contains several bonus features, including in-depth looks into the three main characters: Christine, Ben, and Dr. Nasch. You'll also get a key code for the digital HD edition, so you can watch the movie on any almost any device.


Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment for a review copy of the Blu-Ray / Digital HD edition of the movie.

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29 January 2015

Review: Marine Park by Mark Chiusano

Marine Park by Mark ChiusanoFrankly, I always have trouble reviewing short stories. Of course, I can't talk about each of the seventeen stories in this debut collection individually, and of course, some had a bigger impact on me than others.

What I can say about Mark Chiusano's Marine Park is that, as a whole, the stories glow with authenticity. The personal relationships, especially between brothers Jamison and Lorris (who appear in several pieces), seems real enough to be universally familiar, even to those of us who didn't grow up in the far end of Brooklyn.

Chiusano captures life in the working-class neighborhood of Marine Park throughout the seasons and across generations. Regardless of profession, education, or age, the denizens of the close community move to the local rhythms fed by everyday occurrences like learning to drive, shoveling snow, picking out a Christmas tree, and attending a funeral.

Inevitably, however, some stories failed to drawn me in--one that takes place in a bar when a young man is out without his girlfriend, another that's about herpes. These and other less successful stories were more about an event or moment in time than they were about the people. But when he focuses on his characters, on husbands and wives, on brothers, and on friends, Chiusano is at his strongest.

Regardless of a few weaknesses, most of the stories Marine Park are emotionally solid, and several times I paused over Chiusano's prose, as here when a young man is thinking of his "no-good girlfriend":

He didn't need Margie. He knew that now. . . . He didn't need anyone. He was enough. He could make a new world, just out him, right here.
We're lucky that the young Mark Chiusano (in his early twenties), has long, promising career ahead of him. Read this collection and them put him on your watch list.

Published by Penguin Random House / Penguin Books, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780143124603
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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28 January 2015

Wordless Wednesday 326

Snowy Spruce, 2015


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27 January 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan

West of Sunset by Steward O'NanWhat happens when you suddenly find yourself on the back side of fame? From New York to Paris to Hollywood, F. Scott Fitzgerald had led the high life of the Jazz Age. By 1937, though, his star had burned out, and he found himself almost penniless, with a daughter to support and a wife in an asylum.

That spring he holed up in the Smokies, in a tired resort hotel by the asylum so he could be close to her. A bout of pneumonia over Christmas had provoked a flare-up of his TB, and he was still recovering. The mountain air was supposed to help. Days he wrote in his bathrobe drinking Coca-Cola to keep himself going, holding off on the gin till nightfall—a small point of pride—sipping on the dark verandah as couples strolled among the fireflies rising from the golf course.
West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan (Penguin USA / Viking, 2015, p. 1)

Mini-Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1930s, Appalachians, Hollywood
  • Circumstances & major topic: Exploring the last three years of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life, including flashbacks to earlier times.
  • Characters: Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, and their daughter, Scottie; various Hollywood stars (such as Humphrey Bogart); people from the publishing world (like Dorothy Parker)
  • Recommendations: I haven't read past the first paragraph, but Fitzgerald and the time period interest me. Plus I've enjoyed other O'Nan novels
The Giveaway

Thanks to the publishers, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of Stewart O'Nan's West of Sunset. All you have to do to be entered to win is to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on February 6. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. Good luck!

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26 January 2015

Graphically Reading: First Issues 2 (the Girl Power Edition)

 If you're into graphic novels and comics, then you've probably spent some time browsing the Comixology website. When there, one thing I always look for is their periodic free (or sometimes really inexpensive) first-issue sales. It's a great way to get a feel for a comic series, author, and artist without investing a lot of money and time. Here are five first issues I read this month.

Lumberjanes, Princess Ugg, comics Lumberjanes by Grace Ellis & Noelle Stevenson (Boom / Boom Box, 2014): Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are best friends and cabin mates at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin's camp for girls. When they venture out into the woods one night, they see some strange sights, but before they can safely sneak back into their bunks, they're caught by their counselor, who takes them to see the camp director. But instead of getting into trouble, the girls are given their Up All Night badges and sent back to bed. Just what lurks out in those woods? Verdict: Continue with the series: I love these spunky girls, with their distinct styles and personalities, the fun art, the promise of action, and the mystery of the camp. Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press, 2014):  Ulga, a battleax-wielding princess from mountain land of Grimmeria, is sent to the city to be educated at the famous Princess Academy, where the royalty of all five kingdoms send their young ladies. But before she has even arrived at the doors of the school, she has a confrontation with the retinue of Julifer, a pampered princess from Atraesca. Imagine their surprise when the girls later learn they're roommates for the duration of the school year. Verdict: Continue with the series: First, I just love the beautiful, detailed artwork, in a full range of colors. I love the medieval / fairy tale feel of the setting, and I can't resist the barbaric tomboy versus the fashionable city girl story line.

Rat Queens, The Sword, Wayward, comicsRat Queens by Med Dejmal and Kurtis J Wiebe (Image / Shadowline, 2013). The first issue I read was the Rat Queens Preview, in which we're introduced to the group of women mercenaries, who party as hard as they fight demons. The issue consists of snapshot introductions to Hannah, an elf; Mage, a dwarf; Dee, a human; and Betty, a hobbit. Verdict: Give this series a try: I will definitely continue reading, but can't make a full judgment based on this short prequel. The four friends have different personalities and promise lots of action ahead. The artwork has a minimal feel, yet the facial expressions and background details give the reader the good feel for the scenes. The Sword by Jonathan and Joshua Luna (Image, 2007). Dara Brighton, an art student, still lives at home with her mom and dad, partly because she's in a wheelchair. One night at dinner, when her sister is visiting, three strangers burst into the house, making demands and implying that Mr. Brighton might not be who he says he is. Before the tragic night is over, Dara makes a surprising discovery. Verdict: Continue with the series. I picked this one up because it's by the Luna brothers, and I love the mix of contemporary story with some fantasy elements. There's definitely a mystery here that I want to learn about. The colors of the panels are muted and earthy; facial expressions are easy to read, and the action has impact. Wayward by Jim Zub (Image, 2014): Redheaded Rori Lane, leaves her Irish father to start a new life in a new country with her Japanese mother. Fortunately, Rori is fluent in Japanese, so she shouldn't have that much trouble adjusting. But before her first day is over, she discovers that Tokyo has some "interesting" street cats and depths not seen by ordinary people. Does Rori have a secret calling? Verdict: Continue with the series. This is another one that mixes modern-day life with a bit of fantasy, good action, and some hidden powers. The colors pop off the page, and we really get a great sense of Rori's style and personality. I bet this series is fun.

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24 January 2015

Weekend Cooking: Harvest Grain Salad

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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Cooking Light January 2015My new meal-planning approach to dinners paid off in spades this week. I am starting my really busy editing season, which means long days and low energy for anything extra, including getting creative in the kitchen. Thank goodness for that dinner plan I set up on Sunday morning. I'm so happy to not have to tax my brain in the evening; just look at the dinner list and go.

Our dinners included a spicy lentil soup, a chicken and bean salad, and squash risotto. All good and easy to make because I put the pressure cooker to good use. The hit dish of the week, however, came as a big surprise: a grain salad.

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted a lamb chops with farro salad recipe in the January issue of Cooking Light. I knew right away I would not be following the recipe for cooking the lamb. We grill all year round, and I love the easier clean up, guaranteed success (my husband has the technique down pat), and good flavor. So that left the salad part.

Thanks to @SuziQOregon who writes at Whimpulsive, one of the staples in my house is Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend. And because we really like it, I figured I'd use that (cooked easily in the rice cooker) instead of trying to hunt down the precooked farro that the original recipe called for. I made a couple of other minor tweaks to Cooking Light's salad and came up with a dish I'll be serving often.

Seriously, this was so good we could barely stop eating it. This was a great accompaniment to our simply grilled lamb, but I can see this in the summer with burgers, as a main-dish salad, or as welcome addition to a pot-luck.

Note: If you don't have a Trader Joe's near you, try any grain mix or your own favorite single grain. The blend contains couscous, orzo, mini chickpeas, and quinoa.

Harvest Grain Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4 or more
  • ½ (16 ounce) package Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend
  • 1¾ cups chicken broth
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon country Dijon mustard
  • Dried thyme (I forgot to measure. Let's say ½ teaspoon or to taste)
  • Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2½ ounces baby arugula, washed and dried
Cook the grain according to the package directions, using the chicken broth and omitting the butter. When done, let the cooked grain cool for a few minutes. (The grain should be warm but not hot.)

Meanwhile, whisk the zest, juice, honey, mustard, thyme, and pepper in a small bowl.

Place the cooled grain in a large serving bowl. Add the onion and the lemon mixture and toss well to combine. Taste and add salt as needed. Add the arugula and toss again. Serve. This was also good cold the next day.

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23 January 2015

Review: Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick

Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine KuderickWhat to say. Basically I'm speechless, blown away. And apparently I love poetry (see my review of Poisoned Apples).

First, a personal note: I'm not a parent, and although I'm close to our nieces and nephews, I had no idea of the social pressure some kids feel to engage in cutting. I'm well aware of the issue but didn't realize the pervasiveness of the problem.

Madeleine Kuderick writes about how fifteen-year-old Kenna Kegan was put under mandatory psychiatric care for seventy-two hours (via Florida's Baker Act) after a classmate, who is also a cutter, reports her to school authorities.

Kiss of Broken Glass is a series of emotionally ripe poems that reveal Kenna's journey to addiction, not of drugs or drink, but of self-inflicted wounds. Problems at home and social pressures at school may be the precipitating factors, but are things any worse for Kenna than they are for other girls who don't have a driving need to feel something . . . more?

And the pain doesn't feel like pain
but more like energy
moving through my body
in waves.

Rushing.
  Cleansing.
      Pulsing.

Purging all the broken bits out of me
like a tsunami washing debris to the shore. (p. 65)
For Kenna, needing to belong, even to the Sisters of the Broken Glass, is stronger than the fear of being a nobody. After she is taken to the hospital, she is forced to confront her addiction, but what does mandatory psychiatric lock-up really do for a teen? Besides, can anyone really turn her life around in three days and six therapy sessions? There are no easy answers or tidy endings.

I couldn't stop reading Kiss of Broken Glass. The power of Kuderick's words hit me hard, and I felt the truth of Kenna's story and the hope between the lines.

Although Kiss of Broken Glass is fiction, Madeleine Kuderick based the story on the experiences of her own daughter, who succumbed to peer pressure and was involuntarily institutionalized under the Baker Act when she was caught cutting. The book gives us a lot to think about, including many questions surrounding the nature of Florida's law as well as the more obvious issue of why our kids are compelled to hurt themselves. Sometimes the answers are evasive.

Published by HarperCollins / HarperTeen, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780062306562
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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22 January 2015

Imprint Thursday: A Teen Quartet

If you're a long-time reader of Beth Fish Reads, don't be thrown off. No, this isn't Friday, but it is imprint day. I love several of HarperCollins's teen imprints, and today I'm featuring Katherine Tegen Books and HarperTeen. Here are my reactions to two recent releases from each imprint.

Twisted Fate by Norah OlsonFirst up from Katherine Tegen Books is Norah Olson's Twisted Fate. This psychological thriller/mystery is a little bit creepy and maybe even disturbing, so you might want to keep the lights on when you're reading it. Two sisters, Ally and Syd, couldn't be more different, but when a new boy, Graham, moves into the neighborhood, they both eventually fall under his spell. Ally loses her heart completely to Graham, but Syd is less trusting. The story--which involves a missing child, teen romance, and family relationships--is told from several viewpoints. The clues are dropped slowly, and you'll be wondering which sister has the better instincts. The author is a former crime-beat journalist, so you can bet she gets the details just right. (age 13+; 9780062272041)

Willowgrove by Kathleen PeacockKathleen Peacock's Willowgrove is the third book in her Hemlock trilogy (published by Katherine Tegen Books). I have to confess that I haven't read any of the books (Hemlock and Thornhill are the first two) yet because I needed to take a paranormal break. But now I'm back in the mood for some handsome weres, and this action-packed trilogy looks good. The series promises teen love, conflicts between good and evil, questionable medical experiments, and teenage friendships. Apparently Peacock is not afraid to kill off her characters, so there are no guarantees; anything could happen. The overall story starts with a murder, the rise of lupine syndrome (or werewolf virus), and deep secrets. This paranormal/romance is not for the faint of heart. (age 14+; 9780062048714)

The Prey by Tom IsbellWhat's a young adult roundup without a little dystopian fiction? Tom Isbell's The Prey (from Harper Teen) imagines a world that has been devastated by a mega radiation event, which destroyed all electronics. A couple of decades later, in the Republic of the True America, children are captured and raised for use in medical experiments and for much more evil purposes. The divide between the haves and have-nots has never been wider. Twin sisters Hope and Faith, with the help of some boys, escape their captors, setting off a nonstop-action story as the group fights for survival and freedom. Told from alternating viewpoints, this novel offers a lot of excitement but is a little light on world building. It is the first in a planned trilogy, so perhaps more details will be revealed in the next book. (age 13+; 9780062216014)

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle FalkoffMichelle Falkoff's Playlist for the Dead (from Harper Teen) touches on several difficult issues, including bullying and suicide. When Sam discovers Hayden's death by suicide, he uses the playlist suicide note to try to understand what happened. As he works his way through the songs, Sam begins to connect with new people and learns some surprising things about his best friend. Despite some beautifully written passages and a sensitive handling of gut-wrenching topics, Falkoff's contemporary fiction debut doesn't quite hold up. Among the problems, I found the playlist to be a bit gimmicky, often not adding much to the plot, and the pacing had a stop-and-start feel rather than a flow. Although not a five-star novel, readers interested in teen problems, might want to give it a try. (ages 13+; 9780062310507)

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20 January 2015

Wordless Wednesday 325

Lily, 2015


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Today's Read: Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht

Migratory Animals by Mary Helen SpechtWhat if your life suddenly seemed out of your control and you were forced to leave your work and loved ones behind? After five years in Nigeria as a climate scientist, Flannery's grant money has run out, and she must return to Austin, Texas, not knowing where or when she'll see her fiance, Kunle, again.

What Flannery first noticed when she arrived in Nigeria were the towering palm trees. It was like walking off the airplane into a land of giants. The next morning, Flannery, barefoot, crossed her new front yard and stood beneath one of the sturdy palms, her shoulder blades pressing into the grooved trunk. She tilted her chin to look up at the canopy when, suddenly, the tree shook its head at her. A flock of birds swept from the branches, crackling the leaves.
Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht (HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; Nigeria and Austin, Texas
  • Circumstances: When the funding for her work dries up, Flannery is forced to leave Africa. Back home in Texas, she discovers that many of her old college friends are also struggling with the realities of life. Later she must decide to stay in the United States or return to Nigeria.
  • Characters: Flannery, a climate scientist; Kunle, her fiance; Molly, her sister, who is suffering from the early signs of Huntington's disease; various college friends; various people in Africa
  • Genre: literary fiction; adult coming of age
  • Topic & plot points: making an adult life, family, friendships, mental health, marriage, economic independence, first world/third world
  • Major theme: Being in limbo: Flannery is between worlds; one friend is between depression and normalcy; her sister is between health and sickness; others are between rich and poor and marriage and divorce
  • Miscellaneous: The story is told from different view points and captures the nature of thirty-somethings in the modern world; the novel is an Indie Next pick for February
  • The author: Specht lived in Africa under a Fulbright grant and writes from personal experience, although Migratory Animals is fiction. She wrote about her relationship with a Nigerian man in a New York Times "Modern Love" piece.
  • Recommendations: I haven't finished the book but can recommend it to anyone who was, is, or will be in their thirties. In all seriousness, Mary Helen Specht has written an introspective and provocative novel that explores a time of change and growth for Flannery and her friends. Migratory Animals is for anyone who has struggled with the realities of adulthood.

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19 January 2015

Review: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher ScottonTo say that Christopher Scotton's The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is a coming-of-age story wouldn't be wrong but would distill this beautiful, many-layered novel to only one plane. Scotton's don't-miss debut touches on much more, including the environment, prejudice, family, love, socioeconomic issues, and friendship.

What's it about? In 1985, Kevin Gillooly, along with his mother, spends the summer with his grandfather, hoping to find peace and healing after the tragic death of his much younger brother. While Kevin harbors guilt (the result of his father's insensitive comments), and his mother seems lost to a bottomless depression, Pops and his housekeeper, Audy Rae, offer them patience, kindness, love, and tender care.

But small-town Kentucky is not exactly the quiet place that fourteen-year-old Kevin had imagined it would be. In the face of economic collapse caused by the closing of the underground coal mines, local politics and tempers run hot. Even as the beauty of the mountains and woods seeps into Kevin's bones, the boy learns that desperate times drive grown men to ugly deeds. By summer's end, fear and violence have erupted, forever staining those pivotal months in Kevin's life.

Among the layers. The more familiar Kevin becomes with Medgar, Kentucky, the more he comes to realize that a small town is made up of many kinds of people, some of whom only barely tolerate each other. The economy is on the top of the list of local concerns, as dishonest entrepreneurs buy up land and rights-of-way so they can blast off the tops of mountains to get at the coal, promising prosperity to one and all. More than just the scenery is marred, however, as family homes, wilderness areas, and waterways are destroyed in the path of progress. All kinds of hate and intolerance rise to the surface, fueling the fires of aggression.

What I loved. So many scenes have stuck with me from The Secret Wisdom of the Earth: Pops and his men friends sipping bourbon on the front porch, talking politics into the hot summer nights. Kevin and his new friend Buzzy exploring the woods, camping out, and helping each other through hard times. Kevin accompanying Pops on his veterinary rounds and developing the skills to be an assistant. Kevin's confusion and hurt over his mother's withdrawal. The colorful citizens of Medgar, who eke out a living in the hard-scrabble hollows or the local shops. And, of course, the moments of violence that shocked me as much as they horrified Kevin.

Recommendations. Christopher Scotton's The Secret Wisdom of the Earth sits in a special place in my heart. His characters became so real to me, I had to remind myself that I was reading fiction. The book is told by Kevin in retrospect, and it sometimes felt as if he were talking directly to me, as friend would tell a story. From Kevin's tender, sensitive descriptions of the people and places that were so important to him as a boy, I became emotionally invested in him and the events of that summer.

The language is absolutely gorgeous, and I love the way Scotton uses words; I often found myself pausing to savor his style. Here's just one sentence:

Black and white photos of the family and the hollow storied the off-white walls.
Whether writing about the typical, goofy antics of teenage boys or the horrors carried out in the name of greed and intolerance, Scotton perfectly captures each scene. I know I'll reread The Secret Wisdom of the Earth many times over the years, and I know the emotional impact of Scotton's prose will not weaken.

Audiobook. I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Hachette Audio; 13 hr, 32 min), read by Robert Petkoff. Look for my full review at AudioFile magazine, but in the meantime, do not hesitate to pick up this stellar, brilliantly read audio.

Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781455551927
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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17 January 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Way of Tea and Justice by Becca Stevens

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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The Way of Tea and Justice by Becca StevensSometimes I look at the title of a book and think, "OK, that sounds like it would work well for Weekend Cooking." That's what happened when I was asked if I'd like a copy of Becca Stevens's The Way of Tea and Justice. I'm sure that if I had read the full description, I would have passed this up. And truly that would have been my loss.

Although this little book does indeed talk about tea and even includes recipes for tea blends and suggestions for serving tea, it's really more about Becca Stevens's work with troubled women, the founding of the Thistle Stop Cafe in Nashville, and the way that tea--as a drink and as a symbol--brings the world together.

Stevens is an Episcopal priest at Vanderbilt University and has made it one of her missions to help and empower women who have faced adversity and have survived acts of violence. Besides founding a shelter (Magdalene) and a small shop (Thistle Farms), she, with the help of many others, opened the cafe, which provides much more than solace to its customers. It's a women-owned and run business that operates under fair trade practices for tea pickers around the world.

copyright cbl for www.BethFishRead.comStevens uses tea as a springboard for musings about a number of things from meditation and ritual to politics, history, and workers' rights. Throughout, we hear directly from the women who have sought shelter and help from Stevens and those who have been instrumental in furthering the principles of the Thistle Stop Cafe. The blending of the history and production of tea with the importance of working for social justice is thought provoking.

Although Becca Stevens's The Way of Tea and Justice is a bit more Christian than my normal reading, it made me grateful for the people who devote their lives to helping others and for giving hope and new life to women who would otherwise be lost. Brew yourself a cup of your favorite blend and spend an afternoon with Stevens.
If we knew which cup would be our last, we would sip it differently and taste it with all that we are.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Jericho Books, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781455519026
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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15 January 2015

Movie Review & Giveaway: Gone Girl

Gone Girl MovieWhen I reviewed Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl in 2012, I noted that the book exposes the "dark recesses" of a marriage, and I recommended the novel as a "good read." It was no surprise to me that the book was made into a movie because the plot had all the makings of a good visual story.

Now that I've seen the Blu-ray™ version of Gone Girl, I can confirm that it's an excellent movie. Before I get into the details, let me start with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment's summary:

On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits, and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?
I don't say this often, but I liked the movie better than the book. When author Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay for Gone Girl, she tightened the plot, without losing the creep factor and the surprises. Helping her along was David Fincher (director) and the impeccable cast. Not only were Affleck and Pike absolutely perfectly suited for their roles but so were Neil Patrick Harris (who played Desi), Carrie Coon (playing Go), and everyone else from Amy's parents to the local police.

The trimmed plot accelerated the action, and the actors' body language, exchanged looks, and on-screen chemistry made Gone Girl shine. Don't miss this one.


Home Edition Extra: The Blu-ray™, DVD, Digital HD™ version of Gone Girl was released this week. I just love the packaging of the Blu-ray™ edition: Not only does it come with the disk and a digital streaming code, but you also get the very cute Amazing Amy: Tattle Tale book. You'll love the story and the illustrations, especially after you get to know the real, grown-up Amy.

Gone Girl MovieGiveaway: Thanks to Think Jam and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of the Blu-ray™ edition of Gone Girl (complete with the Amazing Amy booklet) plus a copy of the paperback (movie tie-in edition). This is a great giveaway for movie buffs and readers alike.

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on January 22. Once the winner has been verified, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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13 January 2015

Wordless Wednesday 324

Winter Garden, 2015

copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read: Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm
What happens when a carefully planned crime goes terribly wrong? Two men go to prison, but a third thief gets away, absconding with some of the loot. Now that Riley and Alls are out on parole, can Grace bury herself in Paris, escaping detection?
The first lie Grace had told Hanna was her name. "Bonjour, je m'appelle Julie," Grace had said. She'd been in Paris for only a month, and her French was still new and stiff. She'd chosen the name Julie because it was sweet and easy on the French tongue—much more so than Grace was. The best lies were the simplest and made the most sense, in the mind and in the mouth. These lies were the easiest to swallow.
Unbecoming by Rebecca Sherm (Penguin USA / Viking, 2015, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; small-town Tennessee; New York; Paris
  • Circumstances: After the robbery of a local historical museum goes bust, Grace escapes to Europe, leaving her friends behind. Now she's working hard to stay hidden, though she's not necessarily living on the straight and narrow. Will Riley and Alls track her down? Does she secretly hope to be found?
  • Characters: Grace, an art school drop-out; Riley her long-term love; Alls, another partner in crime; various people in the United States and Europe who help or hinder Grace's cause
  • Genre: mystery, thriller
  • Themes & plot points: family, double-crossings, theft, love, identity, trust
  • Miscellaneous: Reviews have been mixed; Unbecoming seems to be one of those polarizing novels; most critics have loved the characters and the cat-and-mouse game but felt the plot sometimes got bogged down.
  • Recommendations: None; I haven't read far enough.

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12 January 2015

Review: A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

A Small Indiscretion by Jan EllisionAfter twenty years of a conventional marriage and motherhood, Annie Black's reckless youth comes back to haunt her, threatening to shatter everything she holds dear. But how sorry is Annie for her past behavior? And why?

Jan Ellison's A Small Indiscretion explores three phases of Annie's life: a few months in London when she was just nineteen and, decades later, both before and after a car accident that leaves her son, Robbie, fighting for his life. The novel takes the form of a confessional letter in which Annie reveals to Robbie all the gritty, uncomfortable details of her life and how they have ultimately affected him. In addition, even as Annie tells her secrets, she, in turn, is surprised by some of the very real consequences of her actions.

Despite the title of the novel, Annie has actually indulged in several indiscretions. Most prominent is her behavior in London, where she discovered love, sex, and alcohol and found herself in a grown-up world in which she didn't quite fit. When she meets the man who eventually became her husband--on a ferry to Ireland--she almost immediately senses his calming, stabilizing influence. Annie, however, doesn't tell him everything that went on in England in the weeks before they met, weakening their relationship almost before it has a chance to begin.

A Small Indiscretion has been receiving quite a lot of critical praise, but for me it was only okay. My first issue was with the structure of the novel, which jumped through time, sometimes leaving me momentarily unsure if Annie was talking about before or after the accident. Second, although Annie's nineteen-year-old self could be forgiven some indiscretion, I'm not convinced that her forty-year-old self could. I was often unsympathetic to her plight, distancing me from her story.

On the other hand, it's just these elements that would make A Small Indiscretion a good book club pick. Discussion topics could include marriage, motherhood, youth, redemption, forgiveness, love, revenge, and keeping secrets. Jan Ellison's website includes a page with thirteen thoughtful questions that cover these and other issues.

Recommendation: Give this one a shot if you're interested in the question of whether you can ever really outrun your past or you ever think about how much a husband and wife should share about their lives. Ellison gives her readers food for thought, even if A Small Indiscretion will not be a home run with everyone.

Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Random House Audio; 10 hr, 15 min), read by Kathe Mazur, whose sensitive performance enhances the novel. My full audiobook review (mostly positive) will be available from AudioFile magazine.

Published by Random House, January 20, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780812995442
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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10 January 2015

Weekend Cooking: Of All the Gin Joints by Mark Bailey

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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Of All the Gin Joints by Mark BaileyI first spotted Mark Bailey's Of All the Gin Joints last summer in the Algonquin booth at BEA. The book contains a mix of Hollywood boozy gossip, stories about celebrities and their hangouts, and cocktail recipes.

I'm having a hard time writing about this book because, frankly, I have mixed feelings. On the fun side, I enjoyed reading the inside scoop of many of the people who were big in the film biz from 1895 to 1979. Some of the stories are funny (Humphrey Bogart carrying around a stuffed panda), and some are almost hard to believe (did John Barrymore really drink his wife's perfume when he couldn't find any alcohol in his house?).

On the less fun side, I found it a little sad that some of the actors I've loved watching on the silver screen had major problems with alcohol. Apparently Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were notorious for public drunkenness, and Lee Marvin was once so inebriated he couldn't remember where he lived. Ava Gardner
was a gal who like to get hammered and get hammered fast. her drink of choice was a concoction of her own invention that she called Mommy's Little Mixture. . . . dump every type of liquor you can find into a jug or pitcher or punch bowl and suck it down.
I think my favorite parts of Of All the Gin Joints were the vignettes on the Hollywood clubs, bars, and restaurants where the rich and famous used to hang out. For example, the Magic Castle is a private club in the Hollywood Hills that was originally built as a place for magicians to gather. The castle is known for its nightly magic shows staged for only members and their guests. Johnny Carson, Steve Martin, and Tony Curtis belonged to the club.

The movie-set stories are also entertaining, and I liked learning the actors' favorite drinks. Edward Hemingway's illustrations, especially the caricatures, are little gems.

Recommendations: Of All the Gin Joints is a book that would appeal to film buffs and those interested in Hollywood history. For the rest of us, I suggest checking it out from the library. You'll find some interesting tidbits, but I'm not sure it's worth the bookshelf space. Note that Library Journal gave Mark Bailey's Of All the Gin Joints a starred review, so maybe it's just me.

Port and Brandy
A favorite of Richard Harris
1 drink
  • 1.5 ounces Port
  • 1 ounce brandy
Pour into a snifter or wineglass. Then maybe light a cigar

Published by Workman / Algonquin Books, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781565125933
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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09 January 2015

Stitch Fix Styling Service: Unboxing Fix 11 Plus Tips & Info

Stitch Fix 11: unboxing and tipsAlthough I'm hardly a fashion maven (okay, friends, stop laughing hysterically), I'm going to tell you about a fashion shopping service that I love and that I'm sure you've heard of: Stitch Fix.

I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself and a little bit about Stitch Fix, then I'll take you through my latest shipment (arrived yesterday), and give you some tips on how you can have success getting great clothes that fit your personal tastes.

About me. Back in 2012, my younger friends (women around age 30) were talking about Stitch Fix and the great clothes and accessories they got from the service's stylists. I was hesitant; after all I'm closer to (or even older?) than their parents, so what would Stitch Fix have for me? Right before BEA that year, I decided to give it a shot, if I hated everything in the box, the most it would cost me would be $20 (more on that in a minute). I filled out the Style Profile, scheduled a fix, and crossed my fingers. To my delight, the box contained several items I liked. I kept one blouse. Since then, I've scheduled a box each season, and the selections have been getting better and better -- fitting my tastes and budget. This month was the second time I kept every single item they sent me! How about that for good service?

Stitch Fix 11: unboxing and tipsAbout Stitch Fix. For the complete rundown, check out Stitch Fix's FAQs, which give you a clear idea of everything you can expect (including the size range). In a nutshell, you fill out a Style Profile, in which you tell the stylists everything about you: age, weight, height, tastes in clothing, budget, lifestyle, and more. Then you Schedule a Fix and add a note to your personal stylist, telling her if you have any special requests (for example, you might need new dresses for work).

For each fix, you pay a nonrefundable $20 fee; you pay no additional fees (including shipping) and are charged for only what you keep. Each box contains five items (clothes and accessories). When your box arrives, you have three days to try on the items, make a decision, and return unwanted items in the prepaid, preaddressed return envelope. Once you've decided what you want, you check out and leave feedback. If you buy all five items, you get a 25% discount on the entire purchase.

Stitch Fix 11: unboxing and tipsMy latest box. For this fix, I had specifically told my stylist that I wanted a tote or a bag, if there was one she thought I'd like, plus tops to get me through the rest of winter. I said that I didn't want pants, skirts, dresses, or jewelry. My stylist listened to me, and I love everything I got. Click the image to see the photos full size

The first thing I opened was the Eperia Clarita black messenger bag. It's a cross-body bag with an extra handle that's big enough for all kinds of gear when I'm out and about. I love the zippered main compartment, the cute lining, the matching zip pouch (not shown), and the details.

The next item was the Splendid Delanie knit olive vest. I was not in love with this at first sight because I wasn't sure about the collar. But once I put it on, I knew I'd get a ton of wear out of it; it's soft, warm, and a great neutral color. Next out of the box was the silk Amour Vert Halton Blouse in navy and pink. I love silk because it's comfortable most of the year, and this cheerful blouse fits me perfectly and can be dressed up or down.

I'll get a lot of wear out of the two Olive & Oak sweaters--the Bernette Mixed Knit in teal green and the Glenn Cable Knit in fuchsia. They are soft, warm, and comfy on their own but would work well under a jacket or over dress pants as easily as over jeans.

Stitch Fix 11: unboxing and tipsEach item fits my style and my body. Note too that the styles are fairly classic and ageless but still up to date, which is exactly what I wanted. If you like frilly and girly or trendy and urban, you'd get those styles in your box instead.

Two notes. One thing to understand about Stitch Fix is that they do not send you outfits, not that you couldn't wear some of the items together. Instead they are sending you pieces to augment your wardrobe. Second, for each clothing item, you get a style card (at right), which shows you two suggested outfits, so you have some help in how to put together your own look.

Tips. I know that, as with any service, some people who've tried Stitch Fix have not been happy. I don't know if I've just been lucky or if it's because I've tried my best to represent myself and my wants clearly. Here are some things I think have helped me have such good luck:

  • Style Profile: I filled this out as accurately as I could. I didn't lie about my weight, age, height, or clothing size. I was very clear in the comment section about what I like to wear and what I don't like. I have revisited this section often and made changes when needed.
  • Pricing: In the profile, you'll have a place to set your budget. Although I don't want to make mine public, I will say that I didn't pick the lowest price range for any of the categories. Only once in 11 boxes did I send something back because I thought the quality was bad.
  • Pinterest: Create a style board at Pinterest (here's mine) and link it to your Style Profile. Although I haven't made notes on every photo I've pinned, I do try to say something helpful so my stylist can look over the pictures and get to know my tastes. For example, in the note she included in yesterday's fix, my stylist said she noticed I had pinned several vests, so thought I might like one.
  • Feedback: Here is the key. When you check out after you've decided what to keep, you have a chance to leave feedback on each item and then on the box as a whole. Do this! Keeping in mind that you don't want to be mean, you still must be very honest for both the things you keep and the things you return. I say up front that something doesn't fit, isn't my taste, or is a bad color. Sometimes I love something but I already own a similar item. I try to be very, very clear about what I love and what I don't love about each item, whether I keep it or not. I think this is key. Your stylists can't read your mind.
  • Requests: Finally, when I schedule my fixes, I add a note to my stylist saying exactly what I want. For example, each box before BEA, I mention my trip to New York and ask for something that will take me from convention floor to a dinner out. They always come through.
I've been getting a box every eight weeks or so, and each time I love Stitch Fix more and more. So there you have it. If you have further questions, just ask and I'll try my best to answer.

I actually hate this kind of thing, but I'd be dumb not to mention it: if you'd like to try Stitch Fix, and you use my referral link, then I get a small credit to my next fix. Note that this post is entirely mine: not sponsored in any way.

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08 January 2015

Review: Mud (movie)

Mud (movie review)Because we really know how to party in the BFR household, we celebrate New Year's Eve by inviting friends over for dinner and a movie. Okay, so the dinner usually takes me two days to make and snacks and drinks flow freely, but it's still a pretty tame event.

While looking around for viewing choices, we came across Mud (2013), starring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, and Jacob Lofland; featuring Reese Witherspoon; and directed and written by Jeff Nichols. We were attracted to its southern setting, the actors, and the story line. (Bonus: Sam Shepard has screen time.)

Two young Arkansas teens--Ellis (Sheridan) and Neckbone (Lofland)--live along a river, where their families struggle to bring in money. Although they have to work during the summer, the two friends make time to go exploring. On an island in the Mississippi, the boys find a strange sight: a power boat suspended high in the trees, deposited there by flood waters. After nosing around, they realize someone has been living there, and before they can leave the island, they run across Mud (McConaughey), a local fugitive, who's waiting to be reunited with his girlfriend (Witherspoon). Despite being wary of Mud, the boys ultimately decide to help him.

This coming-of-age story really centers on Ellis, as he copes with his deteriorating home life, navigates his first crush on a girl, and gets involved in the very real dangers of helping Mud. The plot develops slowly, but the boys' friendship and interactions with Mud and their families kept our interest until we reach the heart of the action. The acting was excellent, and it was very easy to care about what happens to young Ellis.

Look for this on a streaming service; it's worth adding to your queue.


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06 January 2015

Wordless Wednesday 323

Chain, 2015

cbl © www.BethFishReads.com

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Today's Read: Heap House by Edward Carey

Heap House by Edward CareyWhat if you could hear objects talking to you? Young Clod Iremonger's "talent" helps him learn more about his family's sacred belongings, but it also leads him to some unexpected discoveries when those objects begin to disappear. As chaos and danger threaten, will Clod be able to save the day?

It all really began, all the terrible business that followed, on the day my Aunt Rosamud's door handle went missing. It was my aunt's particular door handle, a brass one. It did not help that she had been all over the mansion the day before with it, looking for things to complain about as was her habit. She had stalked through every floor, she had been up and down staircases, opening doors at every opportunity, finding fault. And during all her thorough investigations she insisted that her door handle was about her, only now it was not. Someone, she screamed, had taken it.
Heap House by Edward Carey (The Overlook Press, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: alternate history Victorian Britain, in a strange house on top of London's rubbish heap
  • Circumstances: When fifteen-year-old Clod and downstairs servant Lucy Pennant team up to figure out what's gone wrong with the Iremongers' Birth Objects, they uncover strange family secrets.
  • Characters: Clod Iremonger, a sickly teen; mean Aunt Rosamud; feisty servant Lucy Pennant; various Iremonger cousins and adults (not all of them pleasant)
  • Genre & audience: Gothic mystery for middle grade and young teen readers, but fun for the whole family
  • Themes: family; friendship (a bit of romance?); secrets; upstairs / downstairs; sense of self; our relationship with our belongings
  • General thoughts: I've truly just started this, but I'm taken with the fun creepiness of the book and the fractured names of the Iremongers. I like that the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Clod and Lucy and that the Birth Objects are crazy things, like safety pins and bathtub plugs, and that they have ordinary human names. I also can't resist the black-and-white drawings (by author Edward Carey) and the maps of the house.
  • Miscellaneous: This first in a planned trilogy. If you want to know more about the books, see some of the drawings, and discover your very own Birth Object (mine's a key!), check out the Iremonger Trilogy website.
  • Recommendations: I haven't read enough to make a real recommendation, but if you like Gothic, a clever story, and a bit of creepiness mixed in with some deeper themes, then you'll want to give Heap House a try.

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05 January 2015

Review: Descent by Tim Johnston

Descent by Tim JohnstonSometimes a book draws you in so thoroughly you lose yourself in its world. That's the way Tim Johnston's Descent was for me. What follows is a very mildly spoilery review (I reveal only what I need to in order to be able to talk about the novel at all).

The basic plot is simple: While on a family vacation, eighteen-year-old Caitlin takes an early morning run up a Colorado mountain accompanied by her younger, bicycle-riding brother. Only the boy, Sean, returns--in the back of an ambulance, battered and broken after an accident. His sister is nowhere to be found, presumed abducted.

How long do parents wait for the return of their daughter? At what point, if ever, can they return home and attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives? For Grant and Angela Courtland, the answer may be never. In the aftermath of that horrific July day, each remaining member of the family deals with his or her loss differently, unable to find a way to heal without certain knowledge of Caitlin's fate.

Johnston is a master storyteller, equally at home with conveying the emotional landscape of his characters as he is in carefully crafting the tempo of the action scenes. Grant's devastation, Sean's lack of direction, and Angela's retreat hit us hard. Their family bond has been shattered, scattering them onto separate paths, and their reactions are understandable and heart wrenching.

But it's in the building of tension--the taut lines of uneasiness, of horror, of oh-my-god--that Johnston excels. He made me do something that I've never done before when reading a book: At one point, not only did I shout No! out loud but I actually had to put the book down and pace around for a few minutes because I could not bear to read what was coming next. Brilliant, real, absolutely amazing writing.

Quick take: Tim Johnston's Descent is a complex psychological novel, studded with precisely balanced action. Do not miss it.

Published by Workman / Algonquin Books, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781616203047
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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03 January 2015

Weekend Cooking: Spiced Almonds

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.

_______
spiced almondsBecause everyone is still pretty much in vacation mode or frantically pulling the house back together before returning to work or school or whatever constitutes real life, today's Weekend Cooking post is going to be short and sweet.

First, I want to thank everyone for their continued support of this little meme. I love all your posts and blogs and look forward to new discoveries from you each week. I'm not planning any changes here, but I do hope to include more cookbook reviews in 2015. Here's wishing all of you a happy, healthy, foodie new year.

I've written about three of Ellie Krieger's cookbooks on this blog (So Easy, The Food You Crave, Weeknight Wonders), so it might not come as a big surprise that today's recipe is one of hers.

We were invited to a Christmas open house in early December and were asked to bring something to munch on. I had no clear idea of what I wanted to make, so decided to do some Web browsing for Krieger appetizers. All it took was one look at this recipe and I knew I had a winner.

We took these easy-to-make spicy almonds to the party and then I made another batch for my New Year's Eve party. They were a hit at both events.

Spiced Almonds
Spiced AlmondsYield: 2 cups (about 8 servings)
  • 2 cups whole unsalted almonds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
Toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a bowl.

In a small bowl stir together the cumin, garlic powder, cayenne, and salt. Heat the oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Stir the spices into the oil and cook, stirring until warm, about 30 seconds. Add the almonds and cook, stirring frequently until the nuts are warm and the spices are evenly distributed. Add the hot pepper sauce and stir to distribute. Remove the almonds from the pan and allow them to cool before serving.

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02 January 2015

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Year-End Edition

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

I was not a good stats keeper in 2014. In fact, I was so bad that I didn't even index my reviews until yesterday. Yeah, I was that bad. This means my year-end wrap-up post is lacking many of the entries I usually include. So, without any further disclaimers, here's what I got.

Looking Back

  • First and last book reviewed in 2014: The first book I reviewed was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and the last one was Lily Blue, Blue Lily by Maggie Stiefvater; both were audiobooks.
  • Total number of books written about: I wrote about more than 250 books last year, either on the blog or for a freelance assignment. I didn't divide this number into books actually read versus books featured/spotlighted, but I think I read about 170 books.
  • Total number of audiobooks & hours listened: A quick count puts me at 73 audiobooks last year for a total of 924 hours.
  •  Male versus female authors: I don't have exact numbers, but it looks like I read significantly more female authors than male authors in 2014.
  • Some favorite features: The eMerging eReader, Graphically Reading, and Reading On Topic
Looking Forward
  • Staying the same: I'm not planning any major changes to Beth Fish Reads in 2015. I'm looking forward to another year of book reviews and bookish posts, Wordless Wednesday photos, and Weekend Cooking link-ups.
  • Possible major change: Although I swore I'd never have a self-hosted blog, I'm beginning to seriously consider a move to Wordpress. I won't do this on my own, however, so it will be a while before I make the switch, if at all.
  • Book content: The heart of this blog will always be basic book reviews, but I like coming up with a variety of ways to talk about books I'm excited about. So look for some new features in 2015.
  • Nonbook content: I continue to enjoy taking photos and sharing them with you either here or on Instagram. I still love to putter around the kitchen, share recipes, and review cookbooks and food writing, so Weekend Cooking will remain a Saturday feature. I reviewed about 15 movies last year and have plans to keep on writing about what I'm watching. I pushed the envelope in 2014 by talking about eReading apps, by reviewing products, and by sharing what I learned when I bought my new camera. I'm working on a couple of fun posts along these lines, and I can't wait to make them public.
I pulled back a bit from social media for most of December so I could spend time with family and friends during the holiday season. Now I'm feeling refreshed and ready to jump back into the fray of Twitter, Instagram, and blogging. Here's wishing each one of you a happy, healthy 2015!

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

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