30 July 2015

Review: Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka BruntYou shouldn't judge a book by its cover or by its title. Despite the glowing reviews of Carol Rifka Brunt's debut novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home, there was something superficially off-putting to me (title? cover?), which meant I kept pushing this book to the bottom of my reading list.

Last week I was looking through my audiobook stash and decided to finally give the novel a chance. Within minutes I was spellbound and ended up finishing Tell the Wolves I'm Home, in a combination of reading and listening, all in one go.

If you want the bottom line, then here you go: A beautifully written, emotionally strong coming-of-age story with an authentic point of view and underlying themes of family and acceptance.

What's it about: Fourteen-year-old June Elbus has always felt at odds with the world, feeling understood only when she's with her uncle Finn exploring New York City. His death, in 1987, of a disease no one understood, leaves June anchorless on a black sea of grief. Just days after the funeral, though, she learns of a mysterious man named Toby, whom her mother accuses of killing Finn. As kids do, June has only ever seen Finn in terms of their special relationship. Although she was aware he was gay, she now realizes she may have never truly known him and that Toby may be the key to understanding who her uncle really was.

Being gay in the late 1980s: Set in the worst period of the AIDS epidemic, before the drug cocktails and when fear and judgments were running high, the novel also explores gay issues, as June discovers the parts of Finn's life that had been hidden from her. Brunt, writing from June's perspective, carefully and sensitively addresses Finn's lifestyle and sacrifices, keeping the voice of the young girl believable and true.

Siblings: Tell the Wolves I'm Home explores two sets of siblings: Finn and Danni (June's mother), and June and her older sister, Greta. Here again, Brunt has the relationships just right--that familiar mix of love and competition, protectiveness and exasperation. In addition, both sets of siblings go through the cycles of being close when young and then drifting apart when they start along their own paths. Sibling dynamics is one of the strongest themes in the novel, and anyone who has a brother or sister will see the truth here.

Other themes: Trust, loyalty, being comfortable in one's own skin, finding oneself, battling external expectations against your own wants, parenting, art, obligations to one's talents, love, grief, acceptance, forgiveness

Recommendation: Just read the damn book. Seriously. And if you haven't read it since it first came out, consider a reread.

Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition (Blackstone; 11 hr, 46 min) is brilliantly read by Amy Rubinate. Her voice is utterly believable as June: her inflections and emotions are perfect as is her level of drama. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to.

Published by Random House / Dial Press, 2013 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9780812982855
Source: Review (print) & bought (audiobook) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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29 July 2015

Wordless Wednesday 352

Black-Eyed Susan, 2015


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28 July 2015

Today's Read: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Bull Mountain by Brian PanowichWhat if your family had spent a hundred years building a solid reputation in the illegal substances business but you wanted out? When Clayton Burroughs came down off Bull Mountain, he not only walked away from his assumed destiny but he crossed the Rubicon, eventually becoming the sheriff of a neighboring town. But before the first cracks appeared, the patriarchs ruled with an iron hand:

1949: "Family," the old man said to no one.

The word hung in a puff of frozen breath before dissipating into the early-morning fog. Riley Burroughs used that word the same way a master carpenter used a hammer. Sometimes he just gave it a gentle tap to nudge one of his kin toward his way of thinking, but sometimes he used it with all the subtlety of a nine-pound sledge.
Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich (Penguin Random House / Putnam, 2015, p. 1, uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: northern Georgia, mostly contemporary times but with snapshots into the family's past
  • Circumstances: When Sheriff Clayton Burroughs is asked by federal marshals to convince his brother Halford, current head of the family, to give up the goods on a Florida gang in return for amnesty, the brothers' delicate ties threaten to dissolve into violence. There's no question that someone is going to get shot, but will the Burroughs boys end up on the same side of the gun?
  • Characters: Brothers Clayton, in the law-enforcement business, and Halford, in the drug business; Simon Holly, a federal agent; a variety of other Burroughs men, women, and children; members of the Florida gang; spouses and colleagues
  • Genre: dark family saga; Southern fiction; crime/thriller; brothers
  • Themes: loyalty, family, destiny, finding one's own path, protecting loved ones
  • Structure of the novel: The main action takes place in 2015 and involves Clayton and Halford, but the story is told by multiple people in different locations and during different times. So the plot doesn't follow a single path
  • Thoughts & recommendations: This is a gritty, violent book, but not necessarily gratuitously so. There are no distinct lines between good and evil, here. People may not have made the choices you would have, but their motivations are often reasonable. Panowich's writing is rich and accessible, pulling you into this family story. If you like the television show Justified, then you'd probably like Bull Mountain.
  • Miscellaneous: Brian Panowich is a professional musician turned full-time firefighter. He lives in Georgia and this is his debut novel. Although Bull Mountain is a standalone book, Panowich has expressed interest in revisiting the world he created in the north Georgia hill country.

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27 July 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi NovikI love fantasy and I love a good fairy tale retelling, so it's not surprising that I gave Naomi Novik's Uprooted a try. I may have expected to like the story, but I was surprised by how quickly I became invested in this book.

What's it about? Agnieszka grows up under the shadow of an evil forest--one that captures people and animals, corrupting them or trapping them forever. The village's sole protection is the wizard, known as the Dragon, who lives in the tower. The only thing he requires is a girl from the village to serve him. He picks a 17-year-old every 10 years, releasing the previous young woman as she is replaced. As the choosing approaches, Agnieszka is among the candidates, but the only thing she's worried about is losing her best friend, Kasia, who will surely be picked because she's the most beautiful. The Dragon, however, makes the surprise decision to take Agnieszka, who must make a new life in the tower. It is there that the girl learns her own true nature, the meaning of friendship, and perhaps even a way to defeat the forest.

The heart of the story: Although the framing plot concerns the battle between good and evil and how the wizards and witches and armies fare in their ongoing fight against the woods, there are several other important layers to the novel, such as Agnieszka's awakening to life, to herself, to magic, and to the world outside her little village. The core of the story, however, revolves around Agnieszka and Kasia's friendship, and here is where the strength and beauty of the novel can be found. I loved the maturation of their relationship as it grew from one of childhood playmates to one of partners in the war against the woods to that of adult companions as they both find their callings.

Notes on the genre: I would classify Uprooted as a fantasy, but Novik includes many elements of fairy tales in Agnieszka's story. Baba Yaga is mentioned several times, although she doesn't make a direct appearance. In addition the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon has elements of Beauty and Beast. There is an enchanted (in this case very evil) forest, complete with strange and dangerous creatures. There are fruits that shouldn't be eaten, and waters that shouldn't be drunk. And, of course, there are wizard and witches who can cast a variety of spells and brew up magical potions. Agnieszka's journey to the tower also has elements of the hero's quest, as famously defined by Joseph Campbell: She is a reluctant hero who finds her inner powers and puts them to use for the greater good.

The characters: Despite the fairy tale elements, the characters in Uprooted are not one-dimensional. For example, although some people are clearly more good than evil, no one is without uncaring actions, mistakes, and uncertainties.The dynamics between the characters seem realistic and are developed at a believable pace.

Recommendations: Naomi Novik's Uprooted is a must-read for anyone who likes fantasy, magic, and/or fairy tale retellings. But I would also recommend the novel to those who like stories of strong female friendships, great characters, and stories about growing up and self-discovery.

Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition of Uprooted (Random House Audio; 17 hr, 43 min) is read by Julia Emelin. While I'm sure her pronunciations of the non-English words were probably spot-on, I cannot recommend the audiobook. Emelin's performance was stilted, with little variation in the inflections and full of odd pauses. Unfortunately, the audiobook had a strong negative impact on my enjoyment of Uprooted; in fact, I think this could have been one of favorite books of the year, if I had read the entire novel in print. By the time I switched off the audiobook, however, I couldn't get Emelin's narration out of my head, and it was too late for me to imagine my own voices.

Published by Penguin Random House / Del Rey, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780804179034
Source: Review (audiobook) & bought (print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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25 July 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Best Homemade Kids' Snacks on the Planet by Laura Fuentes

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. 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.

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The Best Homemade Kids' Snacks on the Planet by Laura FuentesAlthough Laura Fuentes has made her name as the founder of MOMables.com, you don't have to be a parent or even be a kid to find yummy treats in her new cookbook The Best Homemade Kids' Snacks on the Planet.

Fuentes's recipes offer twists on the classics (like homemade popcorn treats), tweaks on store-bought foods (like homemade goldfish crackers), and some ideas of her own (like grape poppers). We aren't huge snackers and we don't have kids in the house, but I like the idea of having some healthful alternatives when fruit just isn't going to make it.

Besides the recipes, Fuentes gives us lots of tips for packing and storing snacks, for stocking the pantry, and for making switches if you have allergies. Her directions are dead simple, meaning every recipe is doable, even for teens. The photos are really eye-catching, with their bright colors and fresh, appealing fruits and veggies.

The book is divided into fruits and vegetables (for example, apple and nut butter sandwiches), no-bake snacks (herb cream cheese and crackers), baked goodies (savory scones), store-bought makeovers (toaster pastries), substantial snacks (veggie wraps), drinks (smoothies), and special snacks (freezer pops). I'm attracted to the cracker recipes, the fruit breads, and some of the dips.

copyright Alison Bickel PhotographyIf you're parent who's concerned about the high sodium and sugar content of commercial snack food, this book could be a lifesaver. The recipes feature whole grains, fresh produce, and limited amounts of refined sugar.  But remember, you don't need to be a kid or a parent to find some new ideas for staving off mid-afternoon hunger or for packing to munch while on an afternoon hike.

The only downside to The Best Homemade Kids' Snacks on the Planet is that I'm not sure very many of us need recipes for things like trail mix and fruit and yogurt parfaits, and Fuentes has included several variations of each. On the other hand, providing multiple wrap and smoothie recipes is certainly understandable.

The beautiful photography (not every recipe is shown), wholesome ingredients, and easy directions make this cookbook worth buying or borrowing from the library. Check out Laura Fuentes's website for all kinds of family-friendly foods. Note that The Best Homemade Kids' Snacks on the Planet includes many more snack recipes than can be found on the website.

Here's a baked snack that would be appealing to kids (and adults) of all ages. They'd be good at a picnic, with beer on a hot summer evening, or--of course--as an after-school snack for the kids. To read the recipe, click on the image to enlarge it. (Note that this recipe comes from an unedited ARC.)


Note: Recipe and photo are screen shots from the eGalley; all rights remain with the original copyright holders.

Published by Fair Winds Press, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781592336616
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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23 July 2015

12 Ways into Colonial Africa

I don't know why I'm endlessly fascinated with colonial Kenya and the people who left Europe to start a new life there in the early 1900s. My interest has been given a boost by this month's release of a novel about Beryl Markham, who chalked up several "first woman to" accomplishments in her life. Whether you find the actions, attitudes, and lifestyle of the British ex-pats and the Happy Valley set horrifying, fascinating, or cringe-worthy, here are a dozen ways to transport yourself to the Africa of a century ago.

Beryl Markham

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain; West with the Night by Beryl Markham; Straight on Till Morning by Mary S. Lo

Beryl Markham grew up in colonial Kenya, earning a reputation as an excellent horse trainer and as an accomplished pilot. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (Ballantine, 2015) is a well-researched don't-miss account of Markham's life. As I wrote for Readerly, "Told from Markham’s perspective, the novel resembles a well-crafted memoir, taking readers on a roller-coaster adventure of incredible successes and deep sorrows." For Beryl Markham's story in her own words, pick up West with the Night (North Point Press, 2013). This autobiography is a very readable account of her African childhood and how she came to be the first woman to fly solo west across the Atlantic Ocean. Nonfiction fans might be more drawn to Mary S. Lovell's Straight on Till Morning (Norton, 2011), which has been proclaimed Markham's "definitive biography."

Karen Blixen & Elspeth Huxley

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen; The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley Out in the Midday Sun by Elspeth Huxley

Most people have heard of Karen Blixen from the movie named after her memoir Out of Africa (Penguin, 2011). Although the movie has a strong focus on Blixen's romantic relationships, the author wrote about her love of the country and its people, her thoughts on white colonialism, and her struggles to make her coffee farm at "the foot of the Ngong Hills" a success. Elspeth Huxley grew up in Kenya on her family's coffee plantation. Among her memoirs are The Flame Trees of Thika (Penguin 2000), which focuses on her childhood and the difficulties British expats had in adjusting to the rigors of Africa, and Out in the Midday Sun (Vintage Digital, 2011), which is set in the years between the wars and includes her experiences as a young adult, returning to Africa after college.

The Happy Valley Crowd

The Ghosts of Happy Valley by Juliet Barnes; The Bolter by Frances Osborne; Child of Happy Valley by Juanita Carberry

Even if you're not familiar with the names of the British expats who lived in Kenya a hundred years ago, you may have heard stories of the bohemian, jazz-age lifestyle of the Happy Valley set. These are the men and woman known for their lavish parties, heavy drinking, and liberal attitudes about sex. One of the more recent entries in the colonial Kenya canon is Juliet Barnes's The Ghosts of Happy Valley (Aurum, 2013). Part travel memoir, part archaeology, and part social commentary, this is the story of Barnes's journey to find the remaining traces of the people who gave Kenya its scandalous reputation. The Bolter by Frances Osborne (Knopf, 2009) shines the spotlight on Idina Sackville, one of the free-loving ringleaders of the Happy Valley crowd. Relying on letters, diaries, and family stories, Osborne gives us an unvarnished look in to the world of her great-grandmother. In Child of Happy Valley, Juanita Carberry (Random House, 1999) gives us a darker view of life in colonial Kenya. As the adults played, their children were largely ignored, all the while bearing witness to their parents' behavior.

Colonial Days on the Screen

White Mischief; Out of Africa; The Flame Trees of Thika

If you need a visual introduction to the Happy Valley lifestyle, you should start with White Mischief (1987), which is all about the infamous murder of the earl of Errol. The investigation of this case showed the world the intimate details of Happy Valley socializing. Many of the major players are portrayed in this film, including a young Juanita Carberry. Do I even need to tell you about Out of Africa (1985)? This film shows colonial Kenya from the eyes of author Karen Blixen. Beryl Markham's character is given the name Felicity in the movie. Huxley's memoir The Flame Trees of Thika (1981) was made into a 7-part miniseries and depicts the author's childhood experiences up to about World War I. The scenery alone is worth watching.

Of course many more books, movies, and television shows are available for those of us who are interested in Kenya in the early 20th century. Do you have any favorites?

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22 July 2015

Wordless Wednesday 351

Day Lily, 2015

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21 July 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: Murder, D.C. by Neely Tucker

Murder, D.C. by Neely TuckerSuppose you're a veteran reporter and no stranger to violence and you've come across a murder in the most dangerous section of a dangerous city. Why would yet another murder of yet another young black man in Frenchman's Bend catch your attention? Journalist Sully Carter wonders why no one seems to want to solve the crime, especially given that the victim is in fact not a homeless druggie but the only son of a rich and powerful Washington, D.C. family.

Sully Carter had a pleasant little bourbon buzz going. It was a fine afternoon in the first spring of the twenty-first century. He'd been out on a fast boat in the Washington Channel, taking in the sunshine and the brisk spring breeze and the view of the dead body being pulled from the water. It was all pretty cool and mellow until he decided to go over to Frenchman's Bend and see if that's where the guy got popped.
Murder, D.C. by Neely Tucker (Penguin Random House / Viking Books, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Washington, D.C., modern times
  • Circumstances: Sully Carter, stuck Stateside after a major run-in with a hand grenade in Bosnia, is looking for a story that will help him regain some self-respect. What looks to be a basic drug-related murder quickly hints at political and racial origins. Sully is stopped at every turn, but is determined to find his way through the maze of facts and rumors.
  • Characters: Sully, a war-zone reporter now on the crime beat; Alexis, a war-zone photographer and Sully's casual love interest and professional colleague; William (Billy) Sanders Ellison, the 21-year-old victim; Ellison's mother; various lawyers and politicians; various police officers and detectives; various newspaper people
  • Genre: murder mystery; journalist's perspective
  • Themes: race, class, PTSS, murder, politics
  • What I think so far: Sully is a great character; I like his NOLA/Cajun background and his wise-cracking way of speaking. The oddness of the victim's family situation is intriguing. I like the scenes in the newspaper office. The writing is colorful and descriptive, and the city itself is plays a huge role in the novel.
  • Things to know: This book is the second in a series (the first is The Ways of the Dead), but I haven't felt lost at all. Like his protagonist, the author was a foreign correspondent who is now on staff at the Washington Post, and his real-life background brings an authenticity to Sully's character and to the setting.
  • Bonus teaser: Alexis wants to know why Sully isn't on tap for an immediate return to an overseas assignment:
". . . I don't get to go back to another posting just because I want to. I'd have to convince them."

"Why would they need convincing?"

"Word is I got a drinking and attitude problem."

"This is new?"

"They seem to be taking it hard." (p. 29)
The Way of the Dead by Neely TuckerThe Giveaway

Thanks to Viking Books, I can offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address not only a copy of Neely Tucker's Murder, D.C. but also a paperback copy of  his first Sully book, The Ways of the Dead. That's right, one of my readers will win two Sully books by Tucker. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a U.S. mailing address and to fill out the form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on July 30. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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20 July 2015

Celebrating Percy Jackson and the Rick Riordan Universe

Percy Pack: 10 Years of Percy Jackson

Welcome to the second installment in my 6-month celebration of Percy Jackson's 10-year anniversary. Today I'm going to introduce you to some related books by author Rick Riordan and then share some highlights from the Sea of Monsters, the second book in the Percy Jackson series.

Demigods of Olympus by Rick RiordanDemigods of Olympus: There are certainly some bonuses when it comes to being a middle grade reader in the age of the Internet, and Riordan has taken full advantage in his new eBook, Demigods of Olympus, which is "an interactive adventure." Download the app and start your journey for free (additional stories are available as in-app purchases). The decisions you make affect the outcome of the story, so your experience will be uniquely yours. Doesn't it sound like fun? Here's the description of the app from Disney:
Your quest begins! Use your unique demigod skills in the exclusive, interactive, customized, and never-before-seen adventure stories written by New York Times #1 best-selling author Rick Riordan himself! You'll also have access to the entire Rick Riordan anthology all in one app! Not to mention download new Rick Riordan masterpieces as they're released! Exclusive, original Rick Riordan interactive demigod adventure story where your chosen archtype helps you use your demigod skills and leads the way through a customized narrative experience!
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick RiordanMagnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: Mark your calendar for October 6, when you can get your hands on Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, which introduces Riordan's newest hero, who just might be related to a Norse god. Explore the dangerous and exciting world of Viking myth by following the adventures of Magnus Chase. I've always had a deep interest in Scandinavia and the Vikings, and this new series is calling to me. Here's the publisher's summary:
Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers. One day, he’s tracked down by an uncle he’s never met—a man his mother claimed was dangerous. His uncle tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god. The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants, and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarök, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years. When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision. Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.
If you want to know more, visit the USA Today website and read and excerpt.

Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes by Rick RiordanPercy Jackson's Greek Heroes: If you're familiar with the Percy Jackson universe you may want to know about the Greek heroes and gods and the myths that inspired Riordan when he started the original Percy series 10 years ago. Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes is a great way to learn more about the ancient Greek heroes. The book comes out on August 18 and is available for preorder at all your favorite online stores. Here's the publisher's summary:
Who cut off Medusa's head? Who was raised by a she-bear? Who tamed Pegasus? It takes a demigod to know, and Percy Jackson can fill you in on the all the daring deeds of Perseus, Atalanta, Bellerophon, and the rest of the major Greek heroes. Told in the funny, irreverent style readers have come to expect from Percy, ( I've had some bad experiences in my time, but the heroes I'm going to tell you about were the original old school hard luck cases. They boldly screwed up where no one had screwed up before. . .) and enhanced with vibrant artwork by Caldecott Honoree John Rocco, this story collection will become the new must-have classic for Rick Riordan's legions of devoted fans--and for anyone who needs a hero. So get your flaming spear. Put on your lion skin cape. Polish your shield and make sure you've got arrows in your quiver. We're going back about four thousand years to decapitate monsters, save some kingdoms, shoot a few gods in the butt, raid the Underworld, and steal loot from evil people. Then, for dessert, we'll die painful tragic deaths. Ready? Sweet. Let's do this.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick RiordanPercy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters: As part of my celebration of a decade of Percy Jackson, I'm rereading the entire original series and then sharing 10 things I loved about each book. First, though, in case you aren't familiar with the second installment in the series, here's what The Sea of Monsters is all about (from the publisher):
. . . Percy Jackson finds his seventh-grade school year unnervingly quiet. His biggest problem is dealing with his new friend, Tyson--a six-foot-three, mentally challenged homeless kid who follows Percy everywhere. . . .

But things don't stay quiet for long. Percy soon discovers there is trouble at Camp Half-Blood. . . . To save the camp, Percy needs the help of his best friend, Grover, who has been taken prisoner by the Cyclops Polyphemus on an island somewhere in the Sea of Monsters, [known today as] the Bermuda Triangle.

Now Percy and his friends--Grover, Annabeth, and Tyson--must retrieve the Golden Fleece from the Island of the Cyclopes by the end of the summer or Camp Half-Blood will be destroyed. But first, Percy will learn a stunning new secret about his family. . . .
Ten Things I Love About The Sea of Monsters
  1. The Gray Sisters and their shared eye and tooth!
  2. Tyson! My heart goes out to him.
  3. I can't believe Dionysus has the satyrs peel grapes for him.
  4. Poor Tantalus, he'll stop at nothing to try to get a bite to eat.
  5. Hermes as a jogger!
  6. I love how Percy feels so confident when he's on the sea.
  7. Annabeth, who is so loyal, despite outward appearances.
  8. OMG, the Party Ponies and their fun weapons. Plus they live in a horse-trailer park!
  9. Too funny that "C.C." now turns men into guinea pigs because real pigs are too large and smelly.
  10. And, finally, I love it that Percy's successes do not go to his head. He's still humble and knows he has a lot to learn.
That's it for this month. Stay tuned for more Percy news and my thoughts on The Titan's Curse, coming up in August.

Don't forget to get Percy Jackson anniversary news by following hashtag #ReadRiordan across your social media sites and keep up with author Rick Riordan by following him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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18 July 2015

Weekend Cooking: I Am Love (Movie)

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. 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.

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I Am Love (film)Do you search the Internet for lists of foodie movies? Or is it just me? In any case, the 2009 Italian film I Am Love (directed by Luca Guadagnino) has made almost all of the food-lovers' movie lists. I finally got around to watching it this week, and I'm glad I did, though I have mixed feelings, as you'll see.

The movie centers around the Recchi family, who has made a fortune in the textile industry in Milan. In the opening moments, we learn the head of the family is ready to retire and passes the reigns of power to his son and one of his grandsons. This act opens the door to other family changes, none of which is easy.

I can see why I Am Love makes so many "best food movies" lists. Most of the important events take place at feasts, restaurants, and in kitchens. Some of the food scenes are absolutely sensuous; I've never had prawns affect me quite the way they did Emma Recchi, the Russian wife and mother to the new heads of the family business. Other meals were quite formal, as you'll notice if you watch the trailer.

I can also understand why the film has won much acclaim. Tilda Swinton, who plays Emma, is outstanding. It's hard to describe just how emotional her performance is. Truly impressive. Flavio Parenti and Alba Rohrwacher, who play Emma's children, and Edoardo Gabbriellini, who plays a chef, are also almost flawless in their roles. In addition, the cinematography--especially the use of light and the camera angles--is not to be missed. The film is beautiful.

Unfortunately, the movie dragged a bit for me, and I felt the growing suspicion / tension that something bad was going to happen was drawn out a little too much. In addition, I was sorry some of the side issues were glossed over so quickly.

In the long run, though, I Am Love is worth your time. It's an emotionally powerful movie, and, seriously, those food scenes are wonderful. One thing to know: the film is mostly in Italian with English subtitles.


I Am Love is available on DVD and via streaming.

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16 July 2015

Coloring Book Giveaway: Mandalas by Wendy Piersall

Coloring Flower Mandalas by Wendy PiersallEverybody's doing it! Adult coloring is the new meditation. It's fun, it's relaxing, it's creative, and it's calming.

Artist Wendy Piersall has put together two mandala collections for those of us who like to color. Coloring Flower Mandalas, published just this spring, contains thirty designs inspired by the beautiful blooms we find in our gardens and in nature. The designs in her earlier book, Coloring Animal Mandalas, span the animal kingdom from butterflies to elephants to dragons. Together the books offer hours of quiet enjoyment.

Coloring Animal Mandalas by Wendy PiersallI love that I can take Piersall's designs in several directions, coloring the mandalas in realistic colors, in fanciful colors, and in whatever combination I want. Sometimes I fill in each area with a different pencil, and other times I combine spaces or divide spaces to make my finished picture unique.

I'm always curious about other people's coloring habits, so I'll share mine. I like to listen to music or an audiobook when I color. I usually work on a picture over the course of a few days, rather than rushing through all in one go. I generally work on a motif by motif basis, rather than start in one area and color from there. Finally, I photocopy the page from the book so I can start over if I don't like my decisions or in case I want to color the mandala again in a different style. Do you have any coloring routines?

Here are two examples of my work. The left one comes from the flower book and the right one from the animal book. Aren't they cool? I think so.


I'm so excited to be able to offer one of you (with a U.S. mailing address) a super coloring package, thanks to Ulysses Press. One lucky reader will get a copy of each of Piersall's books.

But what's the point of a coloring book if you don't have the supplies. So in addition to the books, the winner will also get a pack of 24 Prismacolor pencils! That way you'll be able to get busy coloring right away! BTW: These are the same brand of pencils I use to color my mandalas.

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on July 24. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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14 July 2015

Wordless Wednesday 350

Evening Sky, 2015


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Paper Towns: Book to Movie Giveaway

Paper Towns - movieBook first or movie first? Which is your preference? I'm a book-first kind of woman, but even if I hadn't yet read John Green's Paper Towns, I'd be impatiently counting the minutes until the movie is released. Just 10 more days . . . July 24. Not that I'm excited or anything.

The movie is directed by Jake Schreier and stars Nat Wolff (Admission, The Fault of Our Stars), Cara Delevingne, and Halston Sage. I was particularly happy to see that author John Green was one of the screenwriters, so I can rest assured that the movie will follow the essence of the novel.

In case you don't know the story, here's the summary from 20th Century Fox:

Adapted from the bestselling novel by author John Green, Paper Towns is a coming-of-age story centering on Quentin and his enigmatic neighbor Margo, who loved mysteries so much she became one. After taking him on an all-night adventure through their hometown, Margo suddenly disappears, leaving behind cryptic clues for Quentin to decipher. The search leads Quentin and his quick-witted friends on an exhilarating adventure that is equal parts hilarious and moving. Ultimately, to track down Margo, Quentin must find a deeper understanding of true friendship--and true love.
What this summary doesn't tell you is that Paper Towns explores a number of larger issues beyond love and friendship. One of these is learning to take off your rose-colored glasses and see life and people and situations for what they really are. I can understand why Paper Towns was a book club favorite because the story includes several themes related to being on the brink of adulthood and the hopes, dreams, and fears that older teens become obsessed with.

For more on the story and the making of the movie, watch this short film starring author John Green and some of the actors.


The Giveaway: I hope I've gotten your attention because thanks to 20th Century Fox, I'm able to offer one of my readers (with a U.S. mailing address) a fabulous prize pack to celebrate the opening of the movie Paper Towns. Here's what one lucky winner will receive:
  • $25 Visa card so you can watch the film in the theater
  • 3 Paper Towns buttons
  • 1 copy of the paperback book
All you have to do to be entered to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner on July 21 using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!



To stay informed, follow Paper Towns on Twitter or Instagram and check out the movie's Facebook page. Search for #PaperTowns across all your social media.

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13 July 2015

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Midsummer Check-In

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

A personal note: Last weekend was our annual three-day camping trip with close friends. This was the 39th year the group has met in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. I've been going since the 11th year and Mr. BFR has missed only two.

It's a great weekend of hiking, talking, drinking, eating, resting, reading, and relaxing. I didn't get much reading done this year, but I had a wonderful time nonetheless.

What to look for on the blog: I have two super giveaways this week and the second edition of my celebration of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.

The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg, Mr. Mac & Me by Esther Freud, Murder on the Champ de Mars by Cara Black

Audiobooks: Thanks to the daily rain, I haven't been taking my walks, which means I haven't had my usual amount of audiobook time, but I'm still listening. The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg is a charming book that's part memoir and part essays/internal dialogue by a Swedish entomologist. Robert Fass did an excellent job as narrator. Mr. Mac & Me by Esther Freud is novel about the effects of World War I on a Suffolk community told through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old. The Mr. Mac of the title is architect Charles Mackintosh, who indeed spent a year in England painting wildflowers. The actor John Banks was the narrator. I'm currently listening to Cara Black's Murder on the Champ de Mars. This mystery involves a complex case (set in Paris) in which a murder seems to have links to protagonist Aimée Léduc's late-father. The audiobook is read by Carine Montebertrand.

Backyard Witch by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Urban Bestiary by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Print reading: My reading list is about three miles long -- isn't yours? I've just finished reading the Backyard Witch by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge. This is a cute middle grade book with terrific black and white drawings, information about birdwatching, and a good message about friendship. I finally remembered to buy Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which arrived over the weekend and I can't wait to get reading. I love the cover and the story is supposed to be a fairy tale retelling, one of my favorite genres. I brought a copy of Lyanda Lynn Haupt's Urban Bestiary with me over the weekend (eBook version), but I never got around to opening it up. I'm looking forward to reading about the wildlife that lives all around us, even our own backyards.

Poldark, Ray Donovan, True Detective

Watching: We don't watch a lot of television in the summer, but what we do watch is all on Sunday night. I've become an expert in managing the recordings and searching on-demand. We've been getting into Poldark on PBS. I love the acting, the costumes, and the scenery. We're a few episodes behind, but I think this is going to be tale of revenge. This season's Ray Donovan on SHO started last night. Although I'm totally hooked on the actors, there's a lot about the show that makes me cringe. We missed last night's season's opener but will catch up this week. The new season of True Detective on HBO is very complicated. I'm not as in love with it as I was last year, but the cast this year is terrific. I can't wait to see where the case is going and how the main characters are going to work out their messed-up personal lives.

What are you listening to or reading? What are you watching?

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11 July 2015

Weekend Cooking: Mason Jar Salads by Julia Mirabella

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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Mason Jar Salads by Julia MirabellaOne of my favorite ways to celebrate summer is to indulge in big, beautiful salads made from veggies I've brought home from the farmers market. We eat salads all year round, but field-fresh produce bursts with color and flavor.

When I saw the cover to Julia Mirabella's Mason Jar Salads, I knew I had to have a copy and then share the book with all of you. Aren't those layered salads just gorgeous?

But more than looks, these salads are designed to stay fresh for a few days and be safely transported to work or school. Mirabella may have answered one of my long-time food frustrations: what to do when you have to pack your lunch.

The origins of the book: Mirabella got the idea of experimenting with mason jar salads, lunches, and snacks because she wanted nutritious, packable meals that wouldn't take a long time to put together. The 50 recipes in Mason Jar Salads meet all three criteria: they use fresh ingredients, they are prepacked for transport, and they can be made ahead in surprisingly little time over the weekend.

Why you need the book: Okay, you're saying: I can throw a salad in a jar and I don't need pretty, so why should I buy the cookbook? Good thoughts. But here are the answers:
  • The salads and meals in this book will stay fresh and crisp for up to 5 days, meaning you prep on Sunday and grab and go the rest of the week.
  • The salads are layered in a very particular way to maintain freshness, and Mirabella gives you lots of advice so you can create your own mason jar salads.
  • Mirabella shares a number of tricks and hints, based on her own experiences, to make her recipes a success (one is to pack the salads tightly to reduce the amount of air in the jar).
copyright Julia MirabellaThings to know about mason jars: The use of mason jars is more than just a gimmick. Sure the assembled meals are beautiful to look at, but Mirabella talks about why she uses jars instead of other containers. For example:
  • Mason jars seal really well, this means fresher meals and leak-free transport.
  • Mason jars come in a variety of shapes and sizes and they're really inexpensive.
  • Mason jars are made of glass--no nasty plastic chemicals, no staining, and easy cleanup.
One crucial fact: Mirabella does not intend for you to eat out of the jar. This is really important to understand. If you tried to eat out of the well-packed jars, you'd likely just end up with a mess. She recommends keeping a bowl and eating utensils at your place of work, so you don't have to carry them with you every day. Her salads and other meals are built to be tipped into a bowl or plate and mixed together.

What are the recipes like? The recipes for the salads use fresh ingredients and homemade dressings. Prep depends on what's in your meal; for example, a grain-based salad obviously requires that you do some cooking before assembly. But seriously, there is very little work to do for each dish. And I love that the salad and smoothie recipes make just one serving. Mirabella includes some dips, spreads, snacks, and heartier dishes (pasta, soup), and those recipes serve anywhere from three to six.

copyright Julia MirabellaBottom line: You'll love Mason Jar Salads for more than just the wonderful recipes. Julia Mirabella gives you the information you need to start creating your own mason jar lunches. I know my husband and I will be using this cookbook a lot. Buy this one or pick it up at the library.

One thing I have to point out is that some of the recipes are a bit of cheat. Not the recipes themselves, which all look good, but the mason jar aspect. I probably didn't need a book to tell me I could put egg salad in a small jar, but I love the idea of packing hummus and veggies together in one container (see the photo at left).

Final notes: The photos were scanned from the book and all rights and copyrights remain with Julia Mirabella. (Click on the images to see them full size.) I'm not sharing a recipe because success depends on reading the introductory material and packing the jars properly. Instead, I'll leave you with the pretty pictures.

Published by Ulysses Press, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781612432892
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


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09 July 2015

6 Must-Read Novels from St. Martin's Press

I'm doing a little something different today. Instead of an imprint post, this is actually a "press post" because I want to talk about about the books from St. Martin's Press that are high up on my want-to-read list.

St. Martin's publishes such a great range of books--from beach reading to the best of literary fiction--that I always have a couple of their books calling to me. After looking over this roundup of six recent books, I bet you'll be adding titles to your reading list too.

Mystery & Magic

The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston; The Book of Speculation by Erika SylerPaula Brackston's The Silver Witch (Thomas Dunne Books, April 2015) caught my attention because it's billed as a "blending of historical fiction and fantasy," plus it's set in Wales. The story revolves around two women who live on Llangors Lake but at different time periods. Recently widowed, ceramic artist Tilda is looking to redefine her life and work through her grief. In ancient times, Seren, a shaman, also lived along the lake. Through the powers of emotion and magic, the two women find a connection across the centuries.

When I learned that Erika Syler's The Book of Speculation (St. Martin's Press, June 2015) was a book about a book, I was intrigued. I'm not sure what Simon is going to learn after he receives an unsolicited old book from an antiques dealer halfway across the country. Why is his grandmother's name in the book and how did Mr. Churhwarry find his New York address? And then there's this:

The book sits by the phone, a tempting little mystery. I won't sleep tonight; I often don't. I'll be up, fixating. On the house, on my sister, on money. I trace the curve of a flourished H with my thumb. If this book is meant for me, best find out why. (p. 11 / ARC)
Oh to Be Young Again (or Not)

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn; Weightless by Sarah BannanDelicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn (St. Martin's Griffin, June 2015) promises to be one intense psychological thriller. When seventeen-year-old Sadie is sent home from boarding school for almost killing another student, she discovers that life at her family's California vineyards is just too tame. If she starts using her full arsenal of tricks (secrets, sex, guilt), however, she could stir up some trouble. But once Sadie sets events in motion, is there anyone who can stop the inevitable violence? I might have to read this one with the lights on.

I'm curious about Sarah Bannan's Weightless (St. Martin's Griffin, June 2015) for a couple of reasons. First, it's written in the first-person plural, creating an inclusive atmosphere by encircling we the readers in with the we of the book. And then this sentence from the publicity materials really sold me: "We are not hearing the perspective of the perpetrators or even the victim, but rather of the onlookers," and some of the story is told through social media (photos, Facebook, and texts). The victim in this case is high-schooler Carolyn, the new girl in town who rises quickly through the social ranks . . . until she even more quickly falls, as the result of an unfortunate video. Oh I'm so glad I wasn't a teenager in the age of the smartphone!

Take Me Away!

Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews; Summer Secrets by Jane GreenMary Kay Andrews's Beach Town (St. Martin's Press, May 2015) looks to be a fun combination of sun, surf, and romance mixed with some deeper issues. Greer is a movie location scout scrambling to keep her career on track after some setbacks. When she discovers Cypress Key, a quaint Florida town on the Gulf coast, she sets off to sell the movie idea to the mayor. He, however, is concerned with the environmental impact of the project and is protective of his town. I'm sure romance will be the ultimate winner, and I'm looking forward to a lazy afternoon of reading on my deck.

I decided to put Jane Green's Summer Secrets (St. Martin's Press, June 2015) on my reading list because I liked the premise and the hints of underlying complexities to the story. When she was young and working as a London-based journalist, Cat took advantage of all the big city had to offer. When too much partying finally alienates her from friends and family, her life begins to unravel. Years later, struggling with sobriety and single-parenthood, Cat decides to confront her past, seeking forgiveness and reconnection. What she finds, however, is that making amends isn't as easy as it seems in the movies, and some of those she hurt may in fact have been harboring dreams of revenge. I like my escape reading to give me things to think about.

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08 July 2015

Wordless Wednesday 349

In My Garden, 2015


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07 July 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: Death under Glass by Jennifer McAndrews

Death Under Glass by Jennifer McAndrewsWhat if your best friend and her ex-husband became targets of crime? Naturally, you'd be concerned for their safety. For Georgia Kelly, accountant and stained-glass artist, worry turns to fear when her friend Carrie discovers the door to her store has been unlocked. Georgia warns her not to go in:

"Oh, Georgia, I'm sure it's fine."

The door swung open and Carrie ducked inside. Maybe I did have a bit of paranoia going on. All those years living in the city might have made me somewhat overcautious. This was Wenwood for Pete's sake. It was more realistic for me to expect her shut off the store alarm and shout to me it was safe to enter.

I did not expect a scream.
Death under Glass by Jennifer McAndrews (Penguin Random House / Berkley Prime Crime, 2015, pp. 96-97)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: Wenwood, New York; modern times
  • Circumstances: Georgia Kelly has moved home from the city to reinvent herself as a stained-glass artist. Life in a small town is, however, anything but peaceful: local politics heat up over development issues and an office building is destroyed by arson. But when her friend Carrie becomes a target to crime and a local murder seems to be linked, Georgia can't help but get involved. Besides, the investigating police officer is that that cute guy she met a while back when her grandfather had a little trouble.
  • Characters: Georgia Kelly, artist/accountant; Carrie, antiques store owner/decorator; Diana, police officer; Christopher, police office; Grandy, Georgia's grandfather; various townspeople, lawyers, and other police
  • Genre: cozy mystery
  • Themes: friendship, greed, family
  • What I thought: This was a fun, light mystery that's perfect for a summer's evening. Interesting characters, a hint of romance, and few red herrings make for a good read. As with most cozy mysteries, the story is as much about the small town and the main characters as it is about finding the bad guy. I particularly liked the friendships of Georgia, Carrie, and Diana and thought that the growing attraction between Chris and Georgia was realistic and sweet.
  • Things to knows: This is the second in the Stained-Glass Mystery series, but I didn't feel lost at all, so you can start right here if you'd like. I plan to go back and read the first book, Ill-Gotten Panes, so I can learn more about Georgia's move from the city to her grandfather's house.
The Giveaway

Thanks to Berkley Prime Crime, I can offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of Jennifer McAndrew's Death under Glass. 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 random number generator on July 15. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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06 July 2015

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle StevensonSometimes I'm hesitant to read a book that everyone else loves because I'm worried my expectations will be too high. But I'm glad I didn't put off Noelle Stevenson's Nimona; it's a fun read with a tough, impulsive heroine,; good humor, and terrific art.

What's it about: Nimona shows up at the headquarters of the realm's infamous villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart, offering to become his sidekick. Blackheart is understandably unenthusiastic: not only has he been fine all these years by himself but he wonders how a teenage girl could possibly help him finally defeat his lifelong nemesis, the hero Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. As it turns out, Nimona is a game changer in the fight between good and evil.

What's it really about: This smart, funny comic starts out as a kind of mashup of common superhero, fantasy, and sci-fi stories. We have an academy that trains knights, complete with jousting. We have a hero-villain pair with a complicated history. And we have Nimona, who quickly reveals that she's actually a powerful shapeshifter. Oh and don't forget the futuristic technology (computers, weapons). After a relatively light beginning, the story evolves into something darker and more thoughtful. The big question is, Who or what is in need of being saved?

Themes: friendship, good vs. evil, breaking rules

What surprised me: The complexity of the characters. Nimona, Blackheart, and Goldenloin are introduced as stereotypical characters in a familiar story line, but Stevenson adds layers to their personalities and histories, allowing us to see them in new ways. I was expecting light and fun and got so much more.

The Art: I loved the contrast between the angularity of the character's faces and the rounder shapes of their bodies (click on the cover to get an idea of what I'm trying to say). The colors are vivid and the panels have just enough detail to give us a good feel for the action and emotions. The facial expressions are simple but telling.

Things to know: Nimona started out as an art project, which eventually became a web comic. Noelle Stevenson has won several awards for her work.

Who should read this: Um, everyone? Seriously, if you're at all inclined to read comics, you'll probably love this book. I'm not sure why Nimona was published under the Harper Teen imprint because there is nothing particularly young adult about the story. Noelle Stevenson's Nimona breaks new ground with a fresh look at a seemingly familiar story.

Published by HarperCollins / HarperTeen, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062278234
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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04 July 2015

Weekend Cooking: Sour Cherry Pie

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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copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.comHappy July 4 to all my American friends. Because it's the holiday and because sour cherries appeared at my local farmers market this week, I thought I'd share my recipe for a wonderful summer treat: sour cherry pie.

This recipe has been in my files for years, and I no longer remember its origins. The pie has just the right balance of sweet and tart for our tastes, and I think the almond extract is a brilliant addition.

Now where's that vanilla ice cream?

Sour Cherry Pie (from the files of Beth Fish Reads)
1 nine-inch pie
    copyright cbl for Beth Fish Reads
  • 1 double pie crust
  • 5 cups pitted sour cherries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 splash of almond extract
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line the bottom of the pie pan with one crust. Note: You can blind bake the bottom crust if you're worried about sogginess, but I usually skip this step.

In a large bowl, combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, and almond extract. Gently mix until the cherries are coated and the sugar and cornstarch look like they're beginning to dissolve. Put the cherries (and juices) into the crust-lined pie pan.

Cover the top of the pie with the second crust, crimping the edges to seal. Cut a few slits in the top crust to let the steam out. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling.

Let cool completely on a rack before cutting.

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02 July 2015

8 Books to Satisfy the Nonfiction Reader in You

The other day I was chatting with friends on Twitter about reading nonfiction and was encouraged and inspired by them to write about true stories that I've read and/or that have caught my attention. Here then is roundup of eight nonfiction reads picked at random from my shelves. Look for more suggestions in the coming weeks.

Science and Medicine

Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean; The Nurses by Alexandra RobbinsMargaret Lazarus Dean's Leaving Orbit (Graywolf, 9781555977092, May 2015): This award-wining account of the end of the American Dream in space is both well researched and very personal. If you're too young to remember the first manned space program or weren't yet born when we first stepped foot on the moon, it's hard to convey the collective excitement and interest Americans had for NASA and space travel. Dean brings those feelings alive in Leaving Orbit, detailing a variety aspects of the U.S. space program, from the vehicles to the funding issues to the personalities. I agree with the Kirkus reviewer who predicts that you won't be able to stop reading.

Alexandra Robbins's The Nurses (Workman, 9780761171713, April 2015): This book-length piece of investigative journalism looks at the women and men who become our anchors when we're at our worst. Robbins followed four RNs for a year, shedding light on the truth of what it's like to be a nurse. These important healthcare providers are caught between patients and doctors and between policy and compassion, working long hours under enormous pressure. But The Nurses isn't just a song to the profession, it's an insiders' look at the way hospitals really work. Be prepared to be both shocked and awed.

Manners and Secrets

Sorry! by Henry Hitchings, Members Only by Julie TibbottHenry Hitchings's Sorry! (Picador, 9781250056153, December 2014): One of the many things I learned when I lived (briefly) in the UK was that despite our historical connections, social norms in England are not necessarily the same as they are in the States. I haven't read this one yet, but the publisher's summary caught my attention: "Sorry! presents an amusing, illuminating, and quirky audit of English manners." Hitchings uses a "blend of history, anthropology, and personal journey [to help] us understand the bizarre and contested cultural baggage" of what passes as good manners. Looks good, eh?

Julie Tibbott's Members Only (Zest Books, 9781936976522, February 2015): This is a fun and informative look at all things secret society. Ever want to better understand the Knights Templar, wish you knew what it really means to be a Freemason, curious about cults, or how about getting a peek inside the famous Magic Castle in L.A.? I loved learning the meaning behind various familiar symbols, the requirements to join exclusive clubs, and some of the associated stories and scandals. This was great fun to read.

Spies and the Mafia

The Wolf and the Watchman by Scott C. Johnson; Gotti's Rules by George AnastasiaScott C. Johnson's The Wolf and the Watchman (Norton, 9780393349436, May 2014): I'm not at all sure why I haven't read this yet because it sounds amazing. Johnson writes about what it was like to be the son of a real-life CIA spy. Here's what I've learned about Johnson's book: Although being the son of a spy sounds kind of glamorous, the reality is that your father makes his living by hiding the truth and manipulating situations to gain knowledge and data. In reaction, Johnson grew up to be a foreign correspondent, making his living uncovering the truth about wars and other global situations. Johnson writes about the tensions and reconciliations that colored his relationship with his father, especially when their careers were at cross-purposes.

George Anastasia's Gotti's Rules (Dey Street, 9780062346872, January 2015): What is it about the American Mafia that fascinates us? We can't seem to get enough movies, books, and TV shows about the mob. Anastasia takes a look at the Gotti family and the code they lived by to run the infamous Gambino syndicate. Using firsthand accounts, insiders' information, interviews, and FBI files, Anastasia unveils the truth behind the legend. It's probably no surprise that the Mafia code is less about honor and more about power and greed, but the details of the crimes and violence and of the behavior of the bosses are fascinating and startling.

History and Mystery

Napoleon by Andrew Roberts; American Ghost by Hannah NordhausAndrew Roberts's Napoleon (Viking, 9780670025329, November 2014): Biography is one of my all-time favorite genres, especially when as well-written as is this account of the famous general. Although other biographies exist, Roberts's is the first to have been based not only on historical accounts but also on the tens of thousands of surviving letters from Napoleon himself. This is an amazingly accessible and utterly fascinating story of a man who has often been misrepresented and misunderstood. He was smart and curious, loved art, and ran an army and empire while trying to stay true to his vision and hold off his detractors. From Napoleon's birth to his political rise and fall, you'll be glued to the pages.

Hannah Nordhaus's American Ghost (Harper, 9780062249210, March 2015): True confession: I'm never going to read this book! I'm pretty much a wimp when it comes to ghosts, and this true story is probably a little too creepy for me. My husband, however, is looking forward to American Ghost and will give me the scoop when he finishes reading about the author's great-great-grandmother and the reports of her haunting of a present-day Santa Fe hotel, which used to be her home in the 1800s. To determine the veracity of the stories, Nordhaus studied her family history and the pioneer life as well as twenty-first-century psychics and ghost hunters. Will Nordhaus's investigation prove the existence of the ghost? I'm waiting for somebody to tell me.

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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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